The Strategic Support Branch, or SSB, is (allegedly) a previously undisclosed clandestine military organization created by United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. A spokesman for Rumsfeld acknowledged the unit's existence on January 24, 2005, and anonymous sources cited by the Associated Press said the unit originated when special forces commanders lacked needed interrogators during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
It uses "reprogrammed" funds, without explicit congressional authority or appropriation. It has been known by several names since its start as Project Icon on April 25, 2002. The SSB operates technically as an arm of the Defense Intelligence Agency's nine-year-old Defense Human Intelligence Service - a department which until now has concentrated on managing military attachés assigned openly to U.S. embassies around the world. It is speculated that Rumsfeld founded this group to bypass the limitations of the CIA.
The SSB deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces. These teams conduct operations mostly outside of the United States of America to gather HUMINT (Human Intelligence). Methods used are said to range from prisoner interrogation, wartime target scouting, and the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A Pentagon memo states that some of these foreign agents may include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if revealed.
Due to the disclosure of an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, it has been found that these military forces have focused their operations on "emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia." This is usually the realm of the Central Intelligence Agency.
After an article in the Washington Post exposed the unit on January 23, 2005, officials from the Pentagon said the SSB had quietly helped with interrogations and other elements in the search for and capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Its first known commander but apparently not the earliest is Army Reserve Colonel George Waldroup. He was previously investigated in his civilian career as a federal manager by the Justice Department in the case of an alleged deception of Congress concerning staffing problems at Miami International Airport. He was also the first commander of Sector Control Point - Baghdad, part of the Iraq Survey Group. In February of 2005, he resigned as head of the SSB due to internal issues.