Who is Gen. Michael Nagata, the Man Tapped by Obama to Train the Syrian Rebels?

October 03, 2014
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Jeremy Scahill

co-founder of the and author of the book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which has just come out in paperback. His film, Dirty Wars, was nominated for an Academy Award.

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Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill talks about Gen. Michael Nagata, a longtime special operations operative. While stationed in Pakistan, Nagata wrote a classified briefing attacking the reporting of Scahill and Seymour Hersh after they published separate articles exposing secret U.S. military operations inside Pakistan. Documents later leaked by Chelsea Manning backed up the findings in Scahill and Hersh’s reports. Nagata’s report was never publicly released, but Scahill says he learned about it from a member of Congress.

JEREMY SCAHILL: I watched with kind of amazement in the past week—many people—I’d be surprised if almost anyone has heard of this guy, but his name is Brigadier General Michael Nagata, was just put in charge of training Syrians to fight against ISIS. He’s a special ops hunter-killer veteran. I had a weird intersection with Brigadier General Michael Nagata when he was the U.S. defense attaché in Pakistan, because he was the person put in charge of smearing me and Sy Hersh to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee when we started reporting on the operations of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, in Pakistan and talked about how they were doing these bin Laden-type raids, two years before Osama bin Laden was killed, inside of Pakistan. So, the guy who then smeared me and Sy Hersh to the House Intelligence Committee has now been put in charge of training the Syrian forces to fight ISIS.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. You have to explain this again. Say his name, and talk about what it is he said about your work, and what you had exposed at the time.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it’s a classified report, so—I mean, I know this because I was told by a member of Congress, who—not a congressional aide, by a member of Congress who read this classified report. I did a report in The Nation magazine in late 2009. I was on Democracy Now! talking about it. In fact, there’s a clip in the Dirty Wars film where I talk about how a military official called me and threatened me, saying that if I did this story, that I was going to be, quote, "on thin ice." And there is that. And that man, Kirby, is now—John Kirby is now one of the most senior U.S. military officials, the guy who actually threatened me.

We did the report. It was about special ops and Blackwater and JSOC in Pakistan. The report came out. It caused a huge scandal inside of Pakistan. The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, was publicly denouncing the story. The U.S. military attaché was summoned by the Pakistani prime minister and president to answer to these covert U.S. operations. And the U.S. Congress started to inquire about it. And so, a military official, who was at the time the defense attaché in Pakistan, Brigadier General Michael Nagata, was put in charge of investigating not only my article, but a article by Seymour Hersh about how JSOC was developing plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And a member of Congress told me—who had seen the report, told me that it accused me and Seymour Hersh of weaving together innocuous facts into a fairytale narrative and that none of it is actually true. That man, Brigadier General Michael Nagata, was just placed in charge of what is going to become the covert aspect of this overt air campaign in Syria and Iraq.

And he is being—if you google his name—it’s N-A-G-A-T-A—Michael Nagata, he is being praised by people like General James Mattis, who was, you know, one of the main people that ran the Iraq War and oversaw the battle of Fallujah. He is being praised by Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the man who was Stanley McChrystal’s intelligence czar at the Joint Special Operations Command at the height of their Murder Incorporated operation in Iraq. This man is winning praise from all of them and is now in charge of this—the emerging covert aspect of the overt war. And he also was a guy who, to Congress, smeared me and Sy Hersh. And the reporting that I did there, that they all claimed was false, was later vindicated in its entirety when Chelsea Manning leaked the WikiLeaks cables.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think this says about the current war in Iraq and Syria?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, I think that there’s a degree to which President Obama is only nominally in control of his military policy. I don’t mean to imply that there’s a coup, that the generals, you know, have taken over or something. But what we are looking at is a situation where the most dark forces of the U.S. military and the CIA have been given carte blanche from the White House to fight the exact kind of war that they always have wanted to fight, where there is very little accountability, a huge amount of money and maximum flexibility in a borderless war. And it is going to largely be fought through airstrikes and covert operations on the ground. And, you know, 10 years from now, you and I could sit down, and we’ll look back on this the same way that we now look back on what the U.S. did in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when it funded networks that were tied to Osama bin Laden—

AMY GOODMAN: When the U.S. funded.

JEREMY SCAHILL: When the U.S. funded networks tied to Osama bin Laden. And we know how that story went. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the people that Brigadier General Michael Nagata is going to be training now in Syria and Iraq later come back and attack the United States in some form.

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