Secret Armies: An Exclusive Look At 10 Secret U.S. Forces

Marc Ambinder, the author of the new eBook the President's Secret Army — the elite units of the Joint Special Operations Command — assembled for BuzzFeed this look at the military units whose mere existence the government goes to great lengths to hide.

From the janitors who replace the toilet paper at Area 51 to the team that gathers intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command to the most highly trained signals intelligence collectors at the National Security Agency, an enormous amount of taxpayer money is spent trying to keep what these entities do on a daily basis a secret. And for good reason.

But the government often trips over itself to obscure even the basic outlines of secret units, even when in an age of ubiquitous information when it's hard to keep quiet about anything.

About three-quarters percent of the information you'll read below has been compiled from official government sources writing in unclassified papers and on their LinkedIn profiles. The rest comes from my reporting. No real secrets were harmed during the course of this production; I've left out several entities whose very existence is properly (at least to me) classified.

The National Security Agency headquarters.


F6 (The Special Collection Service) — In embassies across the globe, National Security Agency analysts work together with CIA teams to intercept signals intelligence (SIGINT) from denied areas — countries the US has to spy on. The folks who work on these teams are part of SCS, a joint CIA-NSA organization. It is not acknowledged by the NSA, although its internal division code, F6, can be found in material released through FOIA requests. If the CIA needs to break into a foreign embassy and bug a room, or set up fancy SIGINT collection equipment in a hotel across from it, its officers will work with SCS members based in the U.S. Embassy.

Ground Applications Program Office — The more anodyne the name is, the more interesting the activities tend to be. GAPO, based at Ft. Belvoir, runs secret technology and procurement programs for Delta Force and for the most highly classified Army intelligence projects. Try to Google it, and you'll come up with next to nothing. But a LinkedIn resume of a former GAPO director says the job is “Responsible for the development, fielding, and sustainment of 190 programs, projects, and equipment evaluations with an annual budget in excess of $500 million, each with its own cost, schedule, and performance standards. Its commander is “[s]elected by senior executives to manage the two top classified programs within the United States Special Operations Command.”

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