Sean Naylor is the intelligence and counterterrorism reporter for Foreign Policy magazine. From 1990 to 2013, he was a reporter for the Army Times. Named one of the 22 “unsung” influential print reporters in Washington by American Journalism Review in May 2002, he earned the White House Correspondents’ Association’s prestigious Edgar A. Poe Award for his coverage of Operation Anaconda. His book, “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command,” can be pre-ordered at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

SOFREP: Why was JSOC’s mission set so limited during the 1980s?

SN: Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the U.S. military was preoccupied with preparing for large-scale war with the Warsaw Pact, a conflict in which JSOC would play, at best, a peripheral role. JSOC was conceived as a counterterrorist organization, and the terrorist groups it expected to confront were those using terrorism to make a political point rather than establish a caliphate or kill thousands of Americans in one attack. The classic mission for which the special mission units trained was to counter a terrorist hijacking—of an airliner, in the case of Delta, or a cruise liner, in the case of Team 6. It is one of the ironies of JSOC that although the command has far outgrown its original vision, it has never conducted either of these missions in the real world.

SOFREP: How did the War on Terror transform JSOC and how do you see the command evolving in years to come?

SN: JSOC experienced a massive expansion of missions, budgets, force structure and, as we have discussed above, public profile during the post-9/11 era. For a wide variety of missions, it has become the go-to force for the president. Crucially, under the leadership of then-Lieutenant General Stan McChrystal, it morphed from an organization designed to conduct short, sharp missions on a very infrequent basis to a war-fighting machine capable of running a dozen or more missions a night, every single night, across multiple countries.

In the years ahead, I expect JSOC to develop even more of a global footprint, with operations continuing in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and North Africa, and perhaps in Mexico, depending on the course that the drug wars there take. The command is also developing a greater cyber capability. In addition, JSOC is already engaged in the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. How the next president decides to use the command against that enemy will do much to determine JSOC’s immediate future.

SOFREP: JSOC is constantly under the microscope by journalists, and often alluded to by the same as being some sort of sinister organization. Why do you think journalists are so interested in JSOC when there are dozens of other classified units and many other classified programs and projects out there?

SN: I’m not sure that I’d agree that journalists “often” allude to JSOC as a “sinister organization,” but there’s no doubt that the command has attracted much more media attention since 9/11. This has happened for a number of reasons: