The Air Force Office of Special Investigations: Postured for the Future

By Williamson, Christine E. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations: Postured for the Future


Williamson, Christine E., Air & Space Power Journal


PRIOR TO THE terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the majority of Air Force members knew little about one of the most critical mission priorities of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI): providing threat information to Air Force commanders. Since its inception in 1948, the AFOSI has kept commanders, whether at home or deployed abroad, apprised of threat information that could adversely affect the mission or safety of Air Force personnel. Today, the command has become substantially more integrated into joint ventures as well as law-enforcement and intelligence communities in order to maintain a global perspective and protect Air Force resources in an ever-evolving threat environment.

With the onset of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the counterintelligence (CI) and antiterrorism (AT) missions of the AFOSI garnered attention at all levels of Air Force leadership. Although they are fundamental aspects of the AFOSI mission, CI and AT for the most part remain unknown to the people they protect. Col Kevin J. Jacobsen, commander of the AFOSI's Expeditionary Field Investigations Squadron in Southwest Asia during the combat phase of Iraqi Freedom, summed up the postcombat scenario in the Iraqi theater of operations: "This is an OSI-style war, dependent on source networks and threat collection and analysis."1 This crucial element of the AFOSI mission has never been more apparent to Air Force commanders than it is today, and it will continue to serve as a key element of the Air Force war-fighting team of the future.

Evolution of an Antiterrorism Program

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, political scientists predicted a new multipolar world-one devoid of the balance of power that had existed for almost five decades between the world's two superpowers. The AFOSI agent of the Cold War era focused on threats from foreign-intelligence services such as those of the Soviet Union and East Germany. Certainly, this was a difficult task, but the lines were drawn much more clearly with respect to who might try to sabotage Air Force assets or recruit Air Force spies. The current climate, in which the United States stands as the world's only superpower, has seen the emergence of rogue nations whose opposition to America and its policies facilitates the harboring of terrorists and support of their causes.

Detecting emerging terrorist threats and their potential impact on Air Force operations became an essential part of the AFOSI's function by the 1970s, as the command's agents in Iran saw their mission evolve from uncovering foreign-intelligence threats to deterring terrorist ambitions against Americans serving in that country. Venturing into relatively new territory, those agents envisioned the changing threat environment as the shah's popularity waned and US service members became targets for assassination. With little policy to guide them and few AT programs in existence, they-along with a support element from Headquarters AFOSI-successfully developed an aggressive AT program in the throes of the Islamic revolution as the Department of Defense's (DOD) only CI agency in the country.2 Their model, the genesis of the AFOSI's AT program, provided a concrete foundation for current AT operations.3

This program progressed during the 1980s and 1990s as the rise in international terrorism posed a threat to US forces. After the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the AFOSI created its Antiterrorism Specialty Team to provide a rapid-response CI/AT capability wherever Air Force commanders deployed. The team's agents, who receive training similar to that of special forces, were among the first US military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan at the onset of Enduring Freedom. The constant rotation between training and deployment gave this team invaluable experience and provided key lessons that the command has used to improve its support in a deployed environment. …

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