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Syria: Obama’s Bay of Pigs?

The CIA’s secret armies —humiliation and disaster, once again.

Rebel forces, secretly armed and trained by the CIA, attempt to overthrow a brutal dictator despised and vilified by Washington. Hit by devastating airstrikes, the rebels put out a frantic call for American help.

Sounds like the latest reports from Syria, where Russian planes have been attacking rebel forces including groups backed by the CIA, and rebel commanders are pleading for aid from the U.S.

It also sounds like a tragic drama that played out more than half a century ago, at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.

Remember the Bay of Pigs, back in April 17, 1961, when some 1400 Cubans, secretly armed and trained by the CIA, stormed ashore at Cuba’s Bahia de Cochinos and were immediately bloodied by Castro’s small air force.  They desperately appealed to their U.S. backers for help. But President John Kennedy, who had inherited the operation from the Eisenhower administration, refused to provide air cover. He was afraid of being drawn into a very bloody and embarrassing war that, as he saw it, could only damage America’s interests at home and abroad.

Kennedy apparently swore he’d never walk into another trap like that again.

But there we are, listening to Al Jazeera English this morning and as their correspondent in Beirut reports that two Syrian rebel organizations—equipped and trained by the CIA– have been hit by Russian airstrikes and are calling for American help.

But who were those U.S.-backed rebels? When we last checked, most media reports about Washington’s attempts to arm and train Syrians were focused on a $500 million dollar program to create an army of  “moderates” to take on Bashar al-Assad. That program, the Pentagon recently admitted, had tuned out to be a total fiasco, Only 4 or 5 rebels were still in action.

It turns out, however, that the CIA has also been running its own program to train and equip other groups battling Assad. Indeed, there have been a few vague articles about that effort, but the information has been spotty, the facts few-and-far between.

But with Russian and Iranian military now fully involved—a total of ten countries involved in bombing ISIS) this conflict the area has become a dangerous tinderbox—a game of chicken. A wrong move could be disastrous.

Thus it seems very unlikely Obama will agree to supply any kind of anti-air missiles to the Syrian rebels the CIA has been backing. Such a move would open an even more precarious confrontation with the Russians. There’s also the chance those missiles could wind up in the hands of even more radical groups.

Viewing all this, you would think Americans would be demanding to know what’s going on. What kind of commitments have been made by American representatives. To whom and to what end.

Who, for instance, determines which rebel groups to support? With what criteria? It turns out that one or more of the CIA-backed groups may be coordinating actions with the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

I thought the U.S. was staying clear of radical jihadists. Maybe not. But who’s deciding? And who’s watching the deciders?

How much has the CIA spent on its efforts in Syria? We don’t know. How many rebels have they trained and equipped? What promises have been made to them? Don’t know that either.

There are plenty more questions.  What are America’s supposed allies in Syria—like the Saudis and Qataris—what are they up to? Who controls where their weapons and money go? Could their own goals and actions drag the U.S. into even more perilous waters? How many “independent contractors”—mercenaries—have been enrolled in this battle?

There are those who say this is secret, classified stuff. It can never be made public. The executive branch has thousands of experts guiding and shaping policy. And Congress has tireless committees composed of wise men and women who oversee the Pentagon and the CIA’s massive, clandestine operations on the nation’s behalf.

After what we’ve witnessed in the Greater Middle East over the past decade and more, such reassurances ring very hollow.

But don’t hold your breath if you expect any serious, adult debate on these issues from America’s Congress–nor most of its media.

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BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of  “Deep Strike” a novel about Russian hacking, rogue CIA agents, and a new American president. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

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