The Pentagon has built the world’s largest secret army over the last decade, amassing approximately 60,000 troops who make up the undercover force, a Newsweek exclusive report revealed on Monday.
According to the report, service members in the force often work under masked identities as part of a program called “signature reduction.” More than 10 times the size of the CIA’s covert elements, the secret army works on both foreign and domestic assignments in both military uniforms and civilian attire, in real life and online. The troops reportedly hide in well-known private businesses and consultancies.
Newsweek’s report comes after a two-year investigation in which the news outlet scanned more than 600 resumes and 1,000 job postings, numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, and countless interviews with both participants and defense officials. The report shares a glimpse into an entirely unregulated realm of the American military – the size of which is yet unknown.
Congress has never held a hearing on the secret force, and its existence raises concerns relating to U.S. laws, the Geneva Convention, the code of military conduct and accountability.
The program works with 130 private companies to facilitate the secret army, including making false documentation and paying the bills and taxes of troops working in disguise, as well as creating invisible devices that are undetectable and used to photograph and monitor activity in remote areas of the Middle East and Africa.
The so-called “shadow warriors” are almost entirely special operations forces, working behind enemy lines in places like North Korea and Iran. Another large portion of the force is made up of military intelligence specialists, including collectors, counter-intelligence agents and linguists.
The fastest-growing group in the secret army is comprised of cyber fighters and intelligence collectors who operate undercover online, using “nonattribution” and “misattribution” techniques to conceal their identities and locations.
A recently-retired officer responsible for managing signature reduction and “special access programs” (SAPs) told Newsweek that no one knows the extent of the program.
“Everything from the status of the Geneva Conventions—were a soldier operating under false identity to be captured by an enemy—to Congressional oversight is problematic,” he said, speaking on a condition of anonymity due to the highly classified nature of the topics. “Most people haven’t even heard of the term signature reduction let alone what it creates.”
According to the report, the undercover army uses countless concealment techniques, even going so far as to completely alter the appearance of an individual using silicone. The program can also change the age, gender, increase body mass, and change fingerprints.
When asked if the silicone applications are actually effective, one source laughed and told Newsweek, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”