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January 29, 2009

Body Armor Recalled

Over 18 months ago there was controversy over the procurement of body armor for our troops. Then, as now, the argument was over testing results between Dragon Skin Body Armor and the armor supplied by Pinnacle Armor. Except now, the Army has recalled as many as 16,000 sets of ceramic plates over the question of whether they had been fully tested.

An anonymous source at the DoD indicated that it acting proactively in advance of an Inspector General's report that is expected in a few days, and which will apprarently reiterate the earlier contention that the testing of the plates was inadequate.

"This decision reflects the Army's commitment to do everything within its power to be sure only the very best equipment is fielded to its soldiers," the official said. He said, however, that there have been no reports of defects in the plates or deaths or injuries resulting from their use. The plates are being recalled so that soldiers will not worry that they are wearing unsafe armor, he said.

There is no question that both companies have a vested interest in selling their armor products to the military. It is hard to say what the motivation might be for the Inspector General to keep "digging until something was found that was not very solid" as was written in the Washington Times article. The motivation for a lack of full disclosure of testing data? "I can't imagine."

One thing is clear. No matter who is the President or which party is in the majority, our fighting forces in theaters of operation like Afghanistan and Iraq deserve only the best possible equipment. That should be the easy decision.

January 28, 2009

FireWatch: Live Podcasting Tonight on Gaza, GITMO, Iran and More

Just a bit of a programing note to alert readers that we will be Live Podcasting FireWatch tonight in its normally scheduled slot: Wednesdays, 11:00PM Eastern.

Tonight, hosts Steve Schippert and Marvin Hutchens will discuss the unfolding events in Gaza and what the future holds for Hamas there, the controversy surrounding the Executive Order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facilities within the year, a less-than-friendly Yemeni regime awaiting the release of 94 al-Qaeda detainees from Gitmo cells, a letter from President Obama being drafted by the State Department to Ayatollah Khameini of the Iranian mullah regime and the dire situation in Somalia as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terrorists have unseated the unsupported Transitional Federal Government and declared sharia law in Baidoa.

Other topics may be discusses as well. A good barometer of potential discussion points can be found in recent DailyBriefings archives.

The listener call in number is (646) 716-4392, and ThreatsWatch readers are encouraged to call in and take part in the discussion with added viewpoints, questions and comment.

11PM EST Tonight: FireWatch (FW090128) - ThreatsWatch Radio

Post Inauguration Threats (v1)

From a simple observational point of view, our Nation in the earliest days of the new Obama era faces significant threats. First and foremost, I believe, is the knee jerk reaction to the out-going President. That began when the assemblage on the Mall chanted as President and Laura Bush left the Capitol.

Na na na na na na na na

Hey hey hey


A close associate of mine, a former Democratic Congressman, agreed that it was one of the more disrespectful displays he had witnessed. That notwithstanding, and despite what is now cast as an unpopular (in some circles unjustified) and widely misunderstood Global War on Terrorism, one simply needs to examine a few of the immediate first week examples of policy shifts that are at best, worrisome. For the moment, this will only touch a few of the highlights.

Illegal Immigration - the "soft glove approach"
What are they thinking? OK, this started before the inauguration, but can this be a serious tactic in preventing illegals from crossing the border?

The Border Patrol's spokesman in Washington, Oscar Saldaña, told Efe that the "corridos" entitled "La carta" (The letter), "La tumba" (The tomb) and "El funeral" (The Funeral) are part of a publicity campaign to send to Mexico a message about the dangers of trying to cross the border without legal papers.

Our economy is more likely to stem the flow of illegal immigrants than a few songs. Besides, as written in a currently incomplete and therefore not published post, the problems in Mexico are far greater than the flow of illegal workers, whether they become "guest workers" or whether they are deported.

The GWOT (without the "ism")
First there was the attempt to cleanse the rhetoric of words like "jihadism" and "Islamic fundamentalism." So, now, we are fighting terror, but not terrorism? Where really is the distinction, except in the minds of those who feel better about not calling the act an "ism."

Defunding the DoD
I have already been told that the approved FY'09 Defense budget is expected to have a 3% reduction sometime early in 2009. Further, I am told that the Defense Appropriations Committee goals are to reduce "plus-ups" to 2006 levels, but that there is a White House desire to get that down to 1998 levels. It needs to be understood that not all "plus-ups" (otherwise known in negative terms as "earmarks") are bad. Often times, programs of merits find themselves out of synch with the budget request and appropriations cycles (October is generally budget request time for agencies for the next fiscal year and February is generally the deadline for "plus-up" requests to Congressional staffs). Not all earmarks are pork!

Recently, Secretary Gates made a point that country's economic woes (as I see it mostly brought on by greed in the housing market based on a presentation I saw given by a representative of the Dallas Fed recently), might cause a reduction in defense programs and a change in procurement.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday warned that the defense funding "spigot" is closing in the face of a national economic crisis and an acute problem with the Pentagon's weapons-buying practices. "With two major campaigns ongoing, the economic crisis and resulting budget pressures will force hard choices on this department," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his first hearing as President Obama's Pentagon chief.

One of the programs at risk is the Future Combat Systems program . Another program that could also fall prey to these reductions is what is often referred to as the "Future Warfighter" program.

When the time comes, and it will come, that we need to re-gear up to fight another fight, whether it's a time when we need modernized and combat ready equipment, or Future Warfighter vehicles etc. Jumping topics a slight bit, if the US auto industry compresses, or we lose heavy equipment manufacturing capability etc. We lose.

January 27, 2009

Threats in the Age of Obama

The election of a new President is always seen as an opportunity to critique the past (in many cases the immediate past), and project our hopes and wishes into the future each candidate for the nation's highest office promises. There is no shortage of books, white papers, monographs and other narratives designed to influence and spark discussion on issues of national import.

And today we add to that pile with the publication of a new book, Threats in the Age of Obama, a compilation of intellectually diverse essays on a wide range of national and international security issues edited by the Center for Threat Awareness Senior Fellow Michael Tanji and including a chapter by CTA Senior Fellow and ThreatsWatch managing editor Steve Schippert.

As Michael Tanji wrote in opening Threats in the Age of Obama, the book contains very independent thinking from its contributing subject matter experts (SMEs).

In the next four years:

  • - Are we set for progress or regression on weapons proliferation?
  • - Will the face of terrorism even look the same?
  • - Will Pakistan be a bigger terrorism threat or nuclear risk?
  • - Is our IT and Communications infrastructure prepared for the onslaught?
  • - Under President Obama, what will become of American missile defenses?

Michael summarizes the purpose of the book in his introductory essay:

If you are on a mission to change the way government works, particularly in the national security arena, this is one of the few places where some independent thinking is to be found. It is with that in mind that we offer our view of some of the more pressing threats the Obama administration will have to deal with in these early days of the 21st century.

You are always welcome to engage us on related issues here at ThreatsWatch, and in the near future we hope to record a series of podcasts and host virtual discussions with the various contributors to the book.


Contributing authors include, in alphabetical order, Dan tdaxp, Christopher Albon, Matt Armstrong, Matthew Burton, Molly Cernicek, Christopher Corpora, Shane Deichman, Adam Elkus, Matt Devost, Bob Gourley, Art Hutchinson, Tom Karako, Carolyn Leddy, Samuel Liles, Adrian Martin, Gunnar Peterson, Cheryl Rofer, Mark Safranski, Steve Schippert, Tim Stevens, and Shlok Vaidya. And last, but really first, editor and contributor, Michael Tanji.

Exploring the Fiscal Angle

I am not a subject matter expert on economics or labor, so shake a healthy portion of salt onto the following . . .

The fact that layoffs are expected to grow, and that there is no shortage of work - just not necessarily full-time work or work in your area - clamors for a different approach to job hunting. There are the Sologigs and DICEs of the world, which I'm told work pretty well, but how many of the listings in such services are temp-to-permanent positions and how many people who use such services are really, truly free lances? It's a small data set to pull from, but people who want steady work but not day jobs(so to speak) are really getting the short end of the stick.

It doesn't help that the nature of much of the work now not getting done is location-dependent, but it would be extremely helpful if the employers who need location-independent work done would actually allow people who happen to be anywhere to do anything they need done. It's not like there isn't a chunk of a whole country that has proven the case for such a model.

So what does all this have to do with threats to national security? Consider:

  • An un- / under-employed workforce is rife with discontent and disillusionment. Draw whatever historical parallels you want, when people are hurting economically for long periods of time, that's when "revolutions" of some sort tend to pop up and ugly things begin to happen.
  • Economic recovery speeds confidence in the government and facilitates the security of the nation (at least in a traditionalist sense). You get the relative luxury of worrying about threats both present and far-flug when you're not worried about how you're putting food on the table and if you are going to have to work till you are 90.
  • A solution to the modern labor problem (moving from day-job of questionable value and waning interests to steady work of inherent value and constant interest) now means we as a nation are going to be in a better state the next time an economic crisis of this nature hits.

I hate to abuse a buzz-word but I think it is high time someone crafted a 2.0 way of matching work with workers; a brokerage that dealt with the dynamics of modern work and workers, included trust and skill rankings (a'la eBay or Amazon), and allowed both employers to find people (easier) and helped workers manage their time/resources (harder). You see fits and starts of this in gov't circles, usually associated with emergency planning, but every workforce has people with skills they were not hired for; the fact that we don't leverage those skills speaks to our inefficiency and ultimately our ineffectiveness.

I think the person(s) who can code and deliver such a solution are going to be well-known in labor circles, but largely un-sung in the national security sphere (which will be a shame).

January 25, 2009

Reality Sets In

I find it humorously interesting that people that rode the wave of how bad the past Administration was running intelligence operations, once the curtain is pulled back, suddenly realize that all their third-hand knowledge and dated outlooks really didn't serve them well.

Part of the problem of critiquing intelligence activities is that unless you've done it, you don't really know what it's all about. Unless you've done it recently your opinions are even less valid. Sources may provide good info but in what context? It takes one who has done it to know when another who has done it is talking out their fourth point of contact.

Not that everything that was done was flawless (clearly, see my last post), but let's be honest: intelligence law, policy and practice were not crafted in the age we live in today (technically, socially, geo-politically). For the most part those who are in positions to interpret and execute said law and policy aren't exactly in tune with the world outside of Washington. It takes a proverbial wake-up-call for people in such positions to realize just how delusional things were; and to simultaneously realize that they don't have time to have the sorts of discussions they would like to have when totally retooling how the IC does business. At the moment of impact even the best of us can hit a slice.

I am confident that more changes to how the IC does business are coming, but I am equally confident that such changes will be more in line with what modernity advocates are promoting and less what the privacy and civil liberty crowds are asking for.

Gitmo Justice Jumble?

I have no first-hand knowledge of what has gone on at Gitmo, but if this is true, it speaks to the real issue behind a critical POW/Enemy Combatant/GWOT situation:

In a court filing this month, Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo who asked to be relieved of his duties, said evidence was "strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks."

He said he once accidentally found "crucial physical evidence" that "had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten."

Personally I think the rules on who should be in Cuba and who shouldn't are fairly clear cut, but even if they were not, you can't argue that you're doing the right thing if the evidence indicates you don't know WTH you are doing. All lawyer jokes aside, who runs cases at this level of import in such a fashion? My Cousin Vinny?

To be sure, detainees with intelligence value or who were rounded up as part of an intelligence operation are going to be a metaphorical pie with a lot of fingers stuck in it, but how much of that is legitimate and how much is just people playing standard Washington rice-bowl nonsense? How many detainees are being held just because someone forgot where the exculpatory evidence is?

There is a reason to be cautious here, but if we're being true to our principles, there is also a reason to be vigorous in our pursuit of justice.

January 23, 2009

Released Gitmo Prisoner Now al-Qaeda in Yemen Leader

Making good on a campaign promise, President Obama issued an executive order to shutter the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year. A recent disclosure about the post-Gitmo activities of a former detainee, however, clouds the future of that decision:

A Saudi man who was released from Guantanamo after spending six years inside the U.S. prison camp has joined al-Qaida's branch in Yemen and is now the terror group's No. 2 in the country, according to a purported Internet statement from al-Qaida.

The announcement, made this week on a Web site commonly used by militants, came as President Barack Obama ordered the detention facility closed within a year.

The Yemen branch - known as "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" - said the man, identified as Said Ali al-Shihri, returned to his home in Saudi Arabia after his release from Guantanamo about a year ago and from there went to Yemen. The Internet statement, which could not immediately be verified, said al-Shihri was the group's second-in-command in Yemen and his prisoner number at Guantanamo was 372.

"He managed to leave the land of the two shrines (Saudi Arabia) and join his brothers in al-Qaida," the statement said.

Documents released by the U.S. Defense Department show that al-Shihri was released from the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in November 2007 and transferred to his homeland. The documents confirmed his prisoner number was 372.

Al-Shihri's apparent return to al-Qaeda and terrorist activities further discredits the narrative, proffered by some human rights activists, that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are little more than unfortunate victims of an indiscriminate and over zealous American dragnet. In addition, the case of al-Shihri illustrates the hazards of recidivism and the dangers of regarding, treating, and housing the remaining detainees as ordinary prisoners.

Gitmo - NIMBY!

As noted a couple of days ago in the Daily Briefings, President Obama has requested a 120-day suspension of all Guantanamo Bay military tribunal proceedings. Judge granted as new administration weighs closing GITMO and beginning civilian trials in CONUS. Despite the potential logistical nightmare created by the potential closing of the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as well as the associated legal and diplomatic issues, the plan is now spurring partisan political responses. Human rights issues aside for the moment (not even sure if they are relevant), the suspension of the military commissions could permit Khalid Sheik Mohammed to escape death as the planner and perpetrator of the World Trade Center attacks. Again, setting aside the fact that he and the other al Qaeda detainees alleged to be part of the September 11th attacks want to die as martyrs, are they to be "resettled" elsewhere and not get what they deserve?

For sure, the Texas Congressional Delegation is making itself quite clear on the issue.

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has written a letter to President Obama "telling him, 'Don't move these dangerous terrorists to Texas - we don't want them there.'"

"I think governing is a lot harder than campaigning," Cornyn said. "I think he needs to be very cautious about precipitous action that could well endanger American citizens."

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) offered legislation Thursday, H.R. 630 preventing a federal judge from allowing the detainees to be transferred to detention facilities in the U.S.

"If terrorists suddenly get the same rights as citizens, then we've turned the world upside down," Smith said. "We don't think there should be a limit to their detention as long as they are a clear and present danger."

Apparently, Congressman Murtha sees it differently, saying, "They're no more dangerous in my district than in Guantanamo." While not making a value judgment on human rights, it is clear that many of the detainees, especially KSM and his al Qaeda cohorts, are not like "other prisoners."

January 20, 2009

Today's Essential Truth - A Comment

Today, Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. I write this because of an email I received this morning from an acquaintance who wrote in part, "we anticipate the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American to become President of the United States. We have hoped for this day, waited for this day, and are thrilled that this occasion will be upon us today, January 20th."

I responded, I hope politely and diplomatically, that I thought now was the time that it should stop being "Obama, the first Afro-American President" and become "Barack Obama, the 44th President." One of the more compelling points of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, perhaps one of the most iconic speeches in American history, was that he dreamed that his children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

President Obama, I wrote, "will sink or swim, not because he is 1/2 Black, but because he is a good leader and a smart man (or not). His ability to make decisions in the face of crisis will define his Presidency, not his color. And there will be plenty of crises to face. Frankly, if his election is the culmination of Dr. King's dream, then Dr. King, I believe, would object to characterizing Obama in that way."

This country stands out among the others in the world because of our ability to have a peaceful and smooth transition of government, passing the leadership from one man and one party to another.

It is clear that the challenges facing our 44th President, both domestic and foreign, will be great. The transition from President Bush to President Obama does little to change that. How this country faces those challenges will write the history of the next 4 years.

Catch 22: The 'No Win' Nature of Real Change

Patrons of the public transit system in any major American metropolis are privy to a wide range of conversational topics, with or without eavesdropping. Recently, an interesting exchange was overheard while hurtling through time in space in the congested quarters of a Northeast subway car. A man, well shy of middle age but presumably more than a few years removed from his fraternity days, drew close to his fetching companion and addressed the end of the George W. Bush era. "Thank God he's leaving office," the man began irreverently, "I think we've all had enough of American imperialism."

Interesting. For decades, a cacophony of voices both domestic and international chided the United States for aiding or otherwise supporting Third World strongmen. He might be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch went the "real politick" adage and philosophy they so earnestly despised. Such a Machiavellian attitude had to change in the opinion of the critics because, from Batista in Cuba to the Shah in Iran and everywhere in between, America's support of illiberal regimes has impoverished and/or murdered thousands worldwide while fostering a pervasive and justifiable hatred of the United States. In this vein, America's cordial relationship with the authoritarian regime in Riyadh has even been bandied about in some quarters as a legitimate grievance that manifested itself in the 9/11 attacks.

That the successors to our SOBs, ostensibly motivated as they were to emancipate their people from tyranny (Castro, for example), have installed regimes every bit as illiberal and repressive as their predecessors has evidently been lost on these critics. Similarly, American opposition to the excesses of our so-called SOBs-- like placing an arms embargo on Batista and ultimately denying him exile in the United States, not to mention CIA's misguided support for Castro's movement against Batista-- fall on deaf ears. But no matter, because America really shouldn't be in the business, if it can be conceivably avoided, of colluding with men who espouse values antithetical to our own. Out with tacit or material support fort Third World dictators? Will do. No more of the "real politick" world view? Check.

And then we come to Iraq. Adjourning further discussion on the rationale behind the invasion for another day, one salient feature of the Iraq War remains unassailable: America toppled Saddam Hussein and sought thereafter to plant the seeds of a future democracy, not to install another barbarous dictator and American puppet. If ever there was a break from the much lamented status quo, this was it. America replaced a ruthless tyrant and worked to instill the mechanisms of a fledgling democratic state. WMD notwithstanding, critics of America's "our son-of-a-bitch" foreign policy begrudgingly acknowledge this laudable endeavor and welcome its full admittance and maturation in Iraqi culture, right? Hardly. Most quietly demur, criticizing America for imposing its values on sovereign nation. Others haughtily accuse of America of imperialism.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Within the faux-enlightened/dissident group think that pervades too much of Western thought, America is apparently permanently consigned to this geo-strategic "catch-22."

January 18, 2009

Simply Chilling

While working on another piece, I was distracted when I noticed an article, Mexico "narco junior" teenagers kill drug rivals. These "narco-juniors," some as young as 15, are being recruited by the drug cartels often in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. For what? Apparently, the drug cartels have concluded that enlisting kids as killers adds an element of surprise in their attacks against rivals. It is also reported that the "juniors" are immune to long prison sentences.

Mexico's justice system is struggling to deal with the increasing number of minors involved in organized crime because by law the teenagers are not treated as criminals and are normally released after counselling in a juvenile delinquency centre.

So here are quotes from two kids that should send a chill up and down everyone's spine.

"There are lots of us and we get $300 (206 pounds) for each kill," said 17-year-old Eduardo, a middle-class student who was arrested in December after an army raid on a drug safe house in Tijuana.

"I had been doing it for about five months, it was easy money," he told Reuters in a police detention centre, wearing designer clothing. Police said he killed at least one man.

The fact is that this trend has been occuring for some time in Mexico. As I've mentioned a few times in the past, the blending of youth gangs and criminal gangs like MS-13 in the United States with drug cartel activities makes this ruthlessness a concern for all people north of the border.

Believing that this practice will not spread would be naïve.

January 16, 2009

The Continuing "Myth" of RFID Security

The most recent issue of MIT's Technology Review raises a point that has been discussed by many senior executives in the authentication industry. Despite all of the hype and publicity, just how secure are the new Radio Frequency Identity chips that are supposed to be safeguarding, not only cargo being transported through our ports and cities, but our very identities as contained in Passports and the new "enhanced" drivers licenses?

Two key points from the article:

"As long as the remaining problems are ignored, though, it's unlikely that the technology will become good enough to protect international borders without compromising the privacy of thousands or millions of people" "While new ID technology seems likely to stay, it could become a fiasco if officials don't pay attention to the work of hackers and security researchers. These people try to expose weaknesses before they can be exploited maliciously. It's much less painful to swallow the news from them than to wait until a problem becomes embarrassing -- or devastating."

Based on some information I was provided in a conversation with an expert in the field, the infrastructure of the much-ballyhooed Oyster Card system used in the London transit system has broken down multiple times illustrating the shakiness of the still to be completed infrastructure to read the embedded RF chips.

Dutch security researchers rode the London Underground free for a day after easily using an ordinary laptop to clone the "smartcards" commuters use to pay fares, a hack that highlights a serious security flaw because similar cards provide access to thousands of government offices, hospitals and schools. There are more than 17 million of the transit cards, called Oyster Cards, in circulation. Transport for London says the breach poses no threat to passengers and "the most anyone could gain from a rogue card is one day's travel." But this is about more than stealing a free fare or even cribbing any personal information that might be on the cards. Oyster Cards feature the same Mifare chip used in security cards that provide access to thousands of secure locations. Security experts say the breach poses a threat to public safety and the cards should be replaced.

The hackers used an ordinary laptop computer to clone the "smart card" and then used it to program new cards.

Also related to the infrastructure question is the cost raised by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) that essentially concluded that the implementation of the use of the RFID technology to accomplish the Electronic Product Code in the Pharmaceutical industry in which RF chips have been all but declared the "solution" to counterfeiting, might approach a 1% cost increase.

"Until it is known what technology is chosen and the accompanying costs for implementation, it is difficult to determine the impact on costs," Chrissy Kopple, vice president of media relations for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), told RFID Update. "We anticipate significant differences in labor costs between 2D [bar code] and RFID in terms of reading the bar code, however we have also anticipated the potential for higher exception handling labor and processing costs due to unreadable RFID tags."

Now, when I was first confronted with RFIDs in the 2002-2003 timeframe, the question was "how is your solution different?" It was already assumed that RFID was the "standard" because of its adoption by the DoD and by large retailer and packaged goods companies. Even when witnessing the EPC/RFID presentation at the FDA meeting on Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in 2003, while it wasn't clear that the chip was more than a supply chain tracker and locator, it was VERY clear (at least to me), that decisions had already been made (even if by the fact that EPC/RDIF got 15 minutes to present while everyone else got 4 minutes).

The next month or so following the first FDA meeting led to press hailing RFID as an identifier, a verifier, an authenicator etc. The question is whether the Rx industry, with all of the proof and empirical evidence that RFIDs can be cloned and/or reprogrammed, will relegate it to its rightful place (tracking a package through the supply chain, but not verify the authenticity of a product). Yet the "myth" expands...FDA has all but bought into EPC via RFID; DoD is using it for containers and a variety of applications; retailers are using it; RF is in the e-Passport, all with the assumed security. Ask the folks at RSA.

In a paper co-authored with staff at the University of Washington and internet security firm RSA, the team detailed how the RFID chips can be cloned from distances of up to 50 metres. They also found that a key anti-cloning technique recommended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had not been used on the tags.

The problem of counterfeiting is a serious one. Leaping to the conclusion that one approach is the sole solution is "odd." In almost every case, the solution will involve a set of technologies.

January 15, 2009

Policy Is Only Half The Equation

I do so love documents like this latest ODNI Fact Sheet. And while I think its way too early to start assessing the presidency of George W. Bush, listening to him say on the air that the we have "transformed" the intelligence community just drives home the point that no one actually involved in this business should expect change unless they sack up, stand up, and take control back from the wonks.

FISA Modernization, EO 12333, and security clearance reform are great examples. Everyone knew these were amazingly out-of-date and untenable, but 3,000 people had to die before we bothered to do anything about it. Makes you wonder just what was so bloody serious before 9/11/01 that took up policymaker's time?

Cybersecurity is a serious problem, but it is also a five-year boogie-man that gets dusted off and polished up and re-invented every time there is a lull in the world of the kinetic or someone's carelessness results in a digital kick in the groin. The fact that you can't tell the difference between a cyber security story from the mid-90s and one written today tells you all you need to know about what sort of priority it really gets.

Analytic Transformation . . . well, we've got plenty of evidence, both public and private, that makes it clear that that is largely a lot of programmatics wrapped around a buzzword. Lots of early, small successes, but its far from pervasive much less the status quo it needs to be. You would think that in an information-centric enterprise like the IC the speed at which info-age change spreads would be much faster than it is, but you'd be wrong.

That you have to put forth a special effort to realize that pay-for-performance is a good thing, that joint duty could prove useful (even if that utility is rarely leveraged), that a well- and regularly-educated workforce should be a priority speaks to the attitude and disposition of those who have run this business for too long. Advancement is still largely clique-based, and like high school, those with actual skills and prospects don't stick around long.

Every one of the points they raise in the fact sheet are successes in a policy sense, but therein lays the rub: policy not put into effective, extensive practice is just paper. In the wonk's world the fact that you could get a dozen+ agency heads to agree to a few paragraphs of heavily caveated English is a success; that no one bothers to truly implement anything to the depth and breadth that is necessary doesn't matter.

I guess if you wanted to add to the "cons" list of the Panetta pick you could do so based on this latest PR effort. A career policy guy is not going to bother to verify implementation; a practitioner (not a career manager) would understand what needed to be done to implement policy and make it happen.

I suppose there is always hope.

RE: Sad State of Affairs

Continuing the discussion on intelligence from Jeff Stein and Michael Tanji, I've carried it to The Tank on National Review Online with Panetta, Preservationists and Problems with U.S. Intelligence. My observations are from a somewhat unique perspective as an outside analyst, whereas Michael has inside experience and Jeff has been a DC-based intelligence journalist for years.

I've studied conflicts, regions and groups and written a fair amount of analysis over the years. Some of it has been well received, some of it not. Some of it proved on the mark, and again, some of it not so much. But that's OK -- that's analysis. For me, one thing has always been constant; I have simply never been afraid to be wrong. I have, however, been very afraid of being still and unimaginative in my general analytical approach. What relatively little I have been able to produce -- with limited resources in comparison to the professional intelligence community -- I have always been open to being wrong and being criticized (with the latter being quite instructive). If I knew all the facts with unlimited data, I'd be performing the job of either a historian or Nostradamus.

But what good are all the resources in the world if the approach is dictated, consciously or unconsciously, by an instilled and institutionalized abject fear of being wrong? Intelligence analysis is about determining and communicating what we think we know about what we think we know. If it were dealing with known facts, it would be the New York Times (OK, very poor example) and not a National Intelligence Estimate.

Those who consume intelligence products -- from the President's Daily Briefing, to National Intelligence Estimates, to on-demand regional/conflict/groups reports and analyses and (closed-door) congressional reports and testimonies -- must acknowledge the inexact nature of intelligence and stop demanding perfection. They must understand -- and acknowledge to the writers and presenters -- that they are dealing with intelligence analysis and not historical record. This will go a long way toward improving the product put before them, which is used to make critical national security decisions.

My perspective and experiences and vantage point may be somewhat (or quite a bit) different from either of them, but my observations and resultant conclusions are not. And when the same problem is seen from different angles and the same conclusions are reached, it is a good indicator that the problem(s) is real and readily apparent. The willingness to confront them and correct them, well that's a different story.

UPDATE: You never say never, but I suspect a mortal fear of envisioned run-ins like this with bureaucratic supervisors will ensure I am probably never going to work on the "inside."

That fear and the oft-required relocation from NYC to DC have stopped the outbound resume flow several times. I'd probably blow a gasket and get bad marks under "Works and Plays Well With Others". Or worse.

January 14, 2009

Sad State of Affairs

Jeff Stein drives home the point that this is what you get when:

  • You don't have the stones to do analysis
  • You don't have the brains to do analysis
  • You treat analysts like LEGO blocks

Contrary to the common expectation - for those that actually bother to read declassified NIEs and the like - intelligence analysis isn't telling people what they already know. 'Climate change can lead to instability...' No kidding? As a matter of fact, analysis in popular culture is more representative of what it should be behind closed doors because, once you suspend disbelief on how they get the information, it inevitably turns out to be exactly the right piece of information a decision-maker needs exactly when he needs it. Unfortunately in real life good information is rare and usually late, so decisions are made with what is lying around and delivered by people who communicate in such a way so as to never be wrong.

And I'm not saying that analysts on the job today are not smart, they are, but odds are their first serious exposure to critical thinking and analytic techniques was in the introductory training class they took when they joined (if they even got a slot in a class yet). The bulk of the workforce has been on the job for what, five years tops? Forget target knowledge, forget institutional knowledge, forget knowing anything but how to flail around the latest fire and lightly repackage the news, which leads me to . . .

There is "current intelligence" and then there is nothing else. It's a chronic condition across the dysfunctional community. Everything needs a task force or working group where they have to collaborate and work jointly; no one can just research and think about problems. We're developing a cadre or gray beards but not because they're wise old (wo)men, but because they're aging prematurely.

The Fix?

Do it right and forget what the commentariat and pure-play politicians think. People who know intelligence know the difference between bad analysis and bad information. Lay blame where it belongs, not on the easy target. Most "intelligence" problems are information problems, or more precisely the lack thereof. Politicians: Don't hold a witch-hunt for collectors who do their jobs. Analysts: fill out your reporting eval forms; meet your collection manager and craft good requirements.

There is no fixing the newbies save for time on task. You could jump start things by making it attractive to mid-careerists to return to the fold. Read any book on why employees leave (hint: it's not about the money) and it applies to the IC. Fix those things and watch the Lorax come back.

There are slow, heavy thinkers and there are fast, quick thinkers and neither thrive in the environments of the other. Stop mining the former to back-fill the latter; stop expecting the latter to provide the depth of insight only the former are likely to have developed. Kill the generalist mindset (the formula for how the community drives people away) and build up true expertise. The old timers had it, but then in their day information was slow, rare and expensive.

Bin Laden On Gaza: Declaring Jihad In Absentia

So Usama bin Laden has declared yet more jihad, this time in response to Israeli operations against Hamas in Gaza. And naturally, there are scores of headlines and analysis abound since the recorded message has been released. Yet the one piece of viable analysis missing from what I've read thus far seems so obvious to me. Earlier, I shared some thoughts at The Tank on National Review Online.

Well, there's certainly been no shortage of analysis available in the hours since the message was released. One such bit of analysis comes from Peter Bergen, a widely recognized expert on al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Bergen posits that the tape shows that Gaza and the Palestinian cause are important to bin Laden because he is "not going to say much unless it's sort of a big deal. And the Israeli attacks on Gaza would certainly be a big deal for bin Laden."

No it's not. No more than it ever was in the past.

Bin Laden's support for the Palestinian cause is less direct and more tangential. The bin Laden Gaza message is primarily a large dose of PR, if you will. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the greatest single unifying issue on the much-coveted 'Arab street.' And al-Qaeda's disgraceful loss in Iraq -- and utter rejection by Iraqi Arabs -- has done much to damage its street-image and self-image. Bin Laden speaking on Gaza is an opportunity to piggy-back on Arab public sentiment towards a conflict his organization is not engaged in, a battle his organization has not waged (despite much rhetoric) in an area where his organization has failed to successfully establish itself. If there's any "big deal," that's it.

Bergen makes good points about security concerns and chains of custody for bin Laden messages, among other things. But to describe the Gaza conflict as a big deal without the proper context of its popular Arab and/or broader Muslim appeal misses the mark.

For what it's worth, I'm with James Robbins on this one.

He is like a color commentator who has long since left the game and only states the obvious when on screen, but whose previous track record and personality keeps him bankable; and who knows, maybe someday he'll do something memorable again. Meanwhile it's jihad this, ummah that, Al Aqsa and the other thing -- it's a shame we haven't been able to terminate his contract.

I'll not be the one - nor will James, I am certain - to pooh-pooh the al-Qaeda organization and its ability to wage its chosen terror war. But bin Laden on Pakistan or Iraq or Somalia or threats of attacks on the West is one thing. Gaza is another.

This is not to say his concerns or beliefs regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas are feigned. But his weight and impact regarding the popular Palestinian issue? Let's recognize it for what it is.

This Time, Iran Really Was Sending Humanitarian Aid

No, really. Iran's Press TV said so.

The New York Times reported that the Israeli Navy blocked Iran's humanitarian aid shipment from docking and unloading at the Gaza port facility.

The Israeli Navy intercepted an Iranian ship carrying humanitarian aid for people in Gaza, Iran's state-run radio reported Tuesday.

The Iranian ship was stopped 20 miles off the coast of Gaza, according to the radio report, which also said that the ship, carrying food and medicine, left the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas two weeks ago.

The ship had been set to arrive at the port of Gaza on Saturday, reported Press TV, the government network. Press TV said the ship passed though the Suez Canal on Friday and had been waiting for permission to enter Gaza.

The ship did not receive permission to pass through the Israeli embargo of Gaza, Ahmad Navab, an Iranian official in charge of the aid, told the radio station. He said efforts would be made to try to send the aid to Gaza through the Rafah crossing at the border of Egypt and Gaza.

Iran would like the world to receive this news as evidence of Israeli aggression and lack of concern for the well-being of Gaza's Palestinian civilians. Unfortunately, Iran's past 'humanitarian aid shipments' have had a strange habit of exploding inside Israel's borders.

Perhaps the Gambians supplied Hamas with Iranian missiles, rockets and the like. It could happen, you know.

Up Hizballah's Sleeve

There have been many questions and suggestions about Hizballah's motives and actions to the north during Israel's preoccupation with Gaza operations in the south. I would suggest that Yoav Stern nails it, and the following should be considered as strongly as any analysis out there.

Ibrahim al-Amin, an associate of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the editor of al-Akhbar, wrote on Wednesday that, "The actions in the field are ongoing, the ones out in the open and the ones that remain hidden in southern Lebanon, especially in the area in which UNIFIL operates south of the Litani River." Al-Amin was referring to the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed to monitor the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

In other words, Hezbollah has been extremely active, apparently also in areas where it has been forbidden to do so militarily. And looking ahead, when will Hezbollah have a better opportunity to change the regional rules of the game than it does now, during Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza, when cross-border fire receives greater legitimacy than during quiet times?

This should not be taken to mean that Hezbollah is interested in opening a new front, at least not at this stage. Lebanese commentators assert that the scenario in which a Palestinian group, probably Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, does the dirty work for Hezbollah, is the one that we are seeing now and are likely to see more of in the coming days, although not a confrontation of a greater magnitude.

I said to Hugh Hewitt Monday that if Iran really wanted to open a second front to the north again as it did in 2006, it probably would have done so by now. Yoav Stern explains why with succinct clarity in the Ha'aretz analysis linked and cited above. They may yet change their minds, but I clearly concur with Stern.

Public Relations, Propaganda, Call It What You Will

A story from the Toronto Star looks to tell the story of increased Israeli communications efforts, this time actively engaged in the real-time InfoWar aspect of the hot conflict at hand. Unfortunately - and predictably - the writer from the newspaper's Middle East bureau conveys his observations with healthy doses of skeptical eye-rolling.

Call it public relations, call it propaganda, call it what you will - in the brutal conflict now unfolding, Israel seems to be making a far greater effort to tell its side of the story, and to do so convincingly, than it did during its last war, waged against Hezbollah militants in neighbouring Lebanon in 2006.

Granted, the country's public relations performance during that inconclusive conflict was widely regarded as a disaster.

"They are doing a much better job now," said Eytan Gilboa, chair of the communications department at Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

"The message is clearer. The objectives of the military operation are clearer. There is much better use of new media."

For those who like to watch buildings and other objects go up in smoke, the Israeli Air Force is posting short videos of the war on YouTube, with titles such as "Israeli Air Force precision strike on Qassam rockets," or "Israeli Air Force strikes Hamas government compound."

"For those who like to watch buildings and other objects go up in smoke"? That is a wholly degrading open. The videos are not made available for their entertainment value. They are to show openly what Israel is targeting, which is to say Hamas and their weapons and terrorist infrastructure.

One has to wonder if the Toronto Star journalist would characterize Hamas' communications and video release efforts with the same debasing framing.

Would he characterize Hizballah's engineered media campaign of 2006 as such by likewise saying "Call it public relations, call it propaganda, call it what you will"?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But one will never know. Because throughout the story, which crosses into subtle commentary rather than journalism, nothing is said about the fact that Israel is responding to successful media campaigns by terrorist groups designed to shape international opinion and arouse loud condemnation. And both Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas have been wildly successful at doing precisely that.

And that is the whole point of the Israeli communications efforts. They have in the past failed to effectively counter the terrorists' manipulation of public opinion by always being reactionary from a stale, dusty podium rather than pro-active in an InfoWar that is played, won and lost in real-time.

But you won't find that in this story. You just have to know it.

Securing The Philadelphi Route: Tunnels and Rafah

In yesterday's PrincipalAnalysis, The Israeli Long View In Gaza, we considered how Israel and Egypt may cooperate along the Gaza-Egypt border in order to enable the Palestinian Authority (ie Fatah) to rebuilt itself in Gaza in order to eventually challenge Hamas's primacy there.

With a sufficiently degraded and battered Hamas, Egypt could support a Fatah resurgence by permitting its supply and support through the Gaza-Egypt border, including the Rafah over-land crossing as well as through select tunnels currently peppered across the Philadelphi Route, a narrow strip of land. Just as Hamas needed its weapons and ammunition stores destroyed as much as possible, likewise the same must be built up and established for Fatah.

Reports indicate that Israel is considering re-taking the Philadelphi Route and holding it. This indicates Israel's commitment to clamp the tunnel smuggling routes beneath the east-to-west border corridor. It can destroy the tunnels as it detects them. But it may also be selective, as the key here is that Israel would essentially control them. It would maintain a presence above the smuggling tunnels with the ability to destroy them - or not - and also have the benefit of a co-interested Egyptian force at the Egyptian entrances.

Cooperation details on tunnel monitoring and interdiction are unlikely to make public reports, or so one would hope. But the aim of a Israel-Egypt-Fatah nexus at the visible overland Rafah crossing is already openly apparent. Talks in Egypt, as reported by the Washington Post, include the suggested solution of an EU-PA visible joint control of the Rafah crossing, supported by both Israel and Egypt. Hamas clearly objects.

The talks in Egypt center on the question of how to keep Hamas from smuggling weapons across the Egypt-Gaza border. A senior Israeli official said Israel and Egypt are in basic agreement on a plan that would allow the European Union and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to share responsibility for monitoring the border and the crossing point at Rafah.

"We think the Egyptian position is very reasonable," the senior Israeli official said. Egypt has said that it is reluctant to have any international monitoring presence on its borders.

But the Israeli official said the Islamist Hamas movement is adamantly opposed to any deal that would permit the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the secular Fatah party, to return to Gaza. Hamas, which won 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, routed Fatah forces in June 2007 and has had control of Gaza ever since.

If you've been following ThreatsWatch discussion and analysis of the situation in Gaza, you know what Hamas knows: Fatah has joined forces with Israel and Egypt, each of them seeking to resurrect the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in order to reduce or destroy Hamas' monopoly on power and violence there. This is the "long view" on Gaza beyond suppression or elimination of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilian population centers.

January 13, 2009

All Quiet on the West Bank

It is instructively ironic that the most vociferous and at times violent and/or vile protests and demonstrations against the Israeli assault on Gaza's Hamas terrorists have occurred in places like Paris, Ft. Lauderdale, Toronto and Damascus. Equally instructive is the relative silence from the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank. An AFP report notes the muted reaction from West Bank Palestinians, even in the face of (Hamas) calls for a broad, general uprising and a third intifada. Pay attention to the reasoning suggested by Bassam al-Salihi. While he is of course an interested 'third party,' namely a communist party, his explanation serves to support what we have suggested here; the absence of a real and viable alternative to Fatah or Hamas is a key contributor to the constant Palestinian inertia toward conflict.

Despite an appeal by Hamas for a third intifada, few in the West Bank appear to have much appetite for a new uprising in a mark of deep Palestinian divide and growing disenchantment with their leaders.

The first intifada erupted throughout the Palestinian territories in 1987 as anger at 20 years of occupation boiled over after six residents of Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp were run over and killed by an Israeli army vehicle.

But although the death toll from Operation Cast Lead is fast approaching the 1,000 mark, making it the deadliest ever Israeli offensive on the tiny strip of land, there have been no large-scale protests in the West Bank despite appeals by Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal.

Neither has there been, aside from isolated incidents, an outpouring of attacks on Israeli targets. "The Palestinian population no longer has any confidence in its national leaders, that's why there has been no mass mobilization against the Israeli operation in Gaza," said Bassam al-Salihi, a leader of the Popular party, which were formerly known as the communists.

Salihi said the public's disillusionment with their politicians stemmed in large part from their seemingly endless feuds.

The power of both Fatah and Hamas is indelibly linked to their provisions of public services. It is certainly key to their regenerative abilities, even after any military operation(s) decimate terrorist ranks and weapons. This is their strength, and the reason Hamas can claim victory simply by surviving this or any subsequent Israeli assaults. As my colleague Marvin Hutchens remarked in discussion of the same, for every old man Hamas feeds or assists, his sons and grandsons come into the fold, influenced by Hamas - through their provisions - perhaps joining its efforts if not joining the organization. And through this, Hamas retains the ability to regenerate, maintaining popular support and continuing to guide and influence through the mosques and neighborhood centers used to distribute food and other aid. Israel can never fully defeat this. It quite necessarily requires a Muslim, Palestinian alternative. Can Fatah be this, given time and space to moderate? History certainly is not friendly to the perceptible odds. But there remains no viable alternative and the status quo of a dominant Hamas is wholly unacceptable. One thing is for certain in the Palestinian Territories. While Hamas continues to get hammered in Gaza to the west, it's all quiet on the eastern front for the rest of the Palestinians.

ThreatsWatch With Hewitt: Discussing Gaza

On Monday, Hugh Hewitt had ThreatsWatch back for another discussion on the state of affairs and potential direction of things to come for Israel, Gaza, Hamas and Fatah. We talked about the current IDF operations creeping into densely populated Gaza City, comparisons to the sieges of Fallujah, possible Israeli propaganda under the guise of an unnamed "Fatah official," Hamas leadership holed up in a Gaza hospital (a war crime, for whatever that is or isn't worth as a charge against Hamas) and the prospects of Iran widening the conflict as they did in 2006.

Related Items:

January 12, 2009

Flashback and Fast Forward: IDF v. Hamas

A February 2007 note on Iranian supply of advanced anti-tank weapons to Hamas is instructive for a bit of background on how the Hamas arsenal got to where it is in Gaza today (or perhaps was in Gaza up until recent days.) The following is from 2007's Karine-A Redux: Saggers In Gaza, which includes images of the weapons.

The Sagger anti-tank weapon is not as effective as the Kornet, the type believed to have been used in the Palestinian tunnel raid that resulted in the capture and continued captivity of IDF corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006. But it is a significant upgrade from the past weapons stocks held by Hamas and their cooperative network of Palestinian terrorists.

Saggers Captured Aboard Karine-A ShipIran is the likely originating source of the Sagger anti-tank weapons and would not be the first time they were sent to Gaza Postmarked Tehran. Numerous Saggers were among the 83 crates of weapons shipped from Iran and intercepted by Israeli SEALs before it could reach Gaza aboard the Karine-A.

The TIME magazine article (linked at the above) on the Israeli interdiction of the Karine-A cargo ship loaded with Iran's weapons shipment to Hamas is a good report.

Fast forward to today, and you see bold Israeli advances into the heart of Gaza City. Israel, thus far, is ignoring the loud international outcry and instead pressing on and wading into the enemy. That the terrorists have chosen to enmesh themselves and garrison among Palestinian civilians is and unfortunate - though not deterrent - condition. The first graphs of an International Herald Tribune report from Sunday tells you what you need to know about how the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) operations are going thus far - and the resultant state of Hamas.

Israeli troops pushed into a heavily populated area of Gaza City from the south on Sunday in fierce fighting, and senior Israeli officials said for the first time in the two-week-old war that they believed that the Hamas military wing was beginning to crack, and that Hamas leaders inside Gaza were looking for a cease-fire.

Israeli officials also said Sunday that the military had started to send reserve units into Gaza for the first time since the war began Dec. 27, in what could presage an expansion of the fighting.

Three quick things about the two important paragraphs above.

  1. 1.) The IDF casualty figures are dominantly low. Their terrorist kill ratio is equally dominantly high, though you wouldn't know this from the loud and condemning media characterization of collateral civilian casualties, which remain far lower than perceived.
  1. 2.) Some may question the unidentified Israeli official's claim that Hamas is quietly seeking a ceasefire, or even the characterization that Hamas is near the breaking point. Ask yourself, in all the destruction seen, what significant tactical defeat has been dealt the IDF in Gaza by Hamas. The answer is none. How Hamas goes about (quietly) pressing for a ceasefire without publicly appearing to actually be doing such is another entry for another day. But the chances that the characterization that Hamas is is as probable as it is logical. Of course, you are not likely to read about it (or a Hamas acknowledgment that they are taking a debilitating hammering.)
  1. 3.) Reserve forces (not to be confused with reservists) are generally called in when either the primary force is proceeding as planned and a crushing phase is being rolled out, or when the primary force has met with disaster and requires immediate relief via counter-assault. I leave it to the objective observer to arrive at the proper conclusion for the IDF and Hamas in Gaza today.

If Israel continues to ignore international condemnation and ratchet up the pace of operations, effectively beating Hamas to the ceasefire finish line, they may well leave Gaza with a Hamas severely degraded and with a decapitated and gutted operational terrorist leadership. This would set the stage for the rebuilding of a challenging Fatah force in Gaza - an actor preferred by both the Israeli and (importantly) Egyptian governments. Both would (and plan to) assist in standing up this force.

This is the operational end game I was driving at in last week's PrincipalAnalysis, A View To A Kill: Why Israel Is Likely Preparing Future Fatah Battlespace Against Hamas in Gaza.

Israel is getting close to the tipping point setting this in motion, and the flashback to the Karine-A and subsequent Iranian shipments of advanced arms to Hamas provides some context as to why Israel simply must see this through. And they appear quite intent on doing just that.

UPDATE: I intended to note the apparent huge success and impact of the IDF's targeting of Hamas weapons caches and stores in the early phases of the current Operation Cast Lead. What attacks have been made on the Israeli Merkava main battle tanks have been with roadside bombs - notably the Iranian EFP design, which can be manufactured inside Gaza rather than smuggled, thanks to effective Iranian training in Iran and Syria. The relative silence of Saggers indicates either a suicidal withholding of the anti-tank missiles in the face of an IDF armored push or the inability to produce them on the battlefield. Hamas possession of Saggers was not a myth, but known. So it is not unreasonable to conclude that many, if not most of them, have been destroyed.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Hugh Hewitt readers and listeners. Since this item was posted, we have published a new PrincipalAnalysis on Gaza, The Israeli Long View In Gaza: Considering Israel v. Hamas Phase II - With Egypt, Enable Fatah in Gaza.

I will be on the air with Hugh at 7:20 EST discussing Gaza and the context provided here. Online readers can stream Hugh's show Live via New York City's AM 970 The Apple.

January 9, 2009

School is Cool

Tip of the hat to Shlok for pointing out this latest missive on the importance of education in national defense:

The most important long-term investment we can make for a strong military is in the health and education of the American people. If we want to ensure that we have a strong, capable fighting force, we need to help America's youth succeed academically, graduate from high school and obey the law.

This is issue was discussed previously in this space:

Fixing our education system may seem like a tangential issue when one considers the serious problems our national security apparatus faces today, but from a strategic perspective this is not something we can ignore for long. Eventually the gray beards that didn't fall under NCLB will be gone and who will mentor and train up the data-regurgitators? Who will explain that reciting the tenants of Realism to a rogue regime or increasingly aggressive near-peer adversary is a recipe for a beat-down? Who will remind future analysts that repeating raw intelligence reporting without some intellectual value-added is actively contributing to the next intelligence failure? The security of our nation depends on a lot of things, but at its core it depends on the intelligence of the people sworn to protect it against her enemies; if those people cannot truly think there is no weapons system in our arsenal that can save us.

Jokes at the expense of Senator Kerry aside, an educated populace is important all-around, not just for the elites in the civilian world, but at the tactical, operational and strategic level as well:

Slots for advanced military and intelligence schools are few and highly competitive. Why? Limiting education perpetuates ignorance. Forge an inter-agency agreement that allows community staff to enroll in each military service's graduate school correspondence program. Take a hint from elite schools like MIT, Harvard and Stanford and offer relevant education via an OpenCourseWare model or podcasts. For a nominal investment the knowledge available to the workforce expands dramatically.

January 8, 2009

The Most Dangerous Thought This Week

In a Thursday testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly revealed that his department is seeking technology that can disrupt cell phone and other wireless communications in the event of a crisis.

The justification?

"A deceptively-simple tool, the cell phone, was also put to deadly effect by the Mumbai attackers," Kelly reminded.

True, but what the Mumbai attacks also revealed was just how ineffective the response from authorities can be and the importance of people being able to communicate ad hoc to overcome those shortcomings in order to save their lives. While it may be unfair to compare the skills and abilities of the NYPD versus the police and counterterrorism forces in Mumbai, the fact remains that the police cannot be exactly where you need them every time you need them.

Giving the authorities the ability to disrupt or deny a ubiquitous communications medium like cell phone signals is tantamount to telling people that they cannot defend themselves, their loved ones and their property. Competent attackers will have plans, and back-up plans and back-ups to their back-ups; most citizens have done no planning and need to make their decisions on the fly. Without timely information the people are left ignorant and vulnerable.

Safranski: More on 'Appointment Intelligence'

In a similar manner as Michael Tanji has written this week in his "Appointment Intelligence" commentary, Mark Safranski also considers Why Leon Panetta May Be the Right Man for CIA Chief.

The truth is that the CIA has been in an existential crisis since at least 1991 that has waxed and waned, but it never recovered the competence in clandestinity or the esprit de corps it enjoyed in its glory years under Allen Dulles or the brief revival ushered in by William Casey and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The CIA now bleeds talent to better-paying private military companies like CACI or Blackwater and engages in domestic political intrigue and gross waste like any other government agency. Post-9/11 "intelligence reforms" badly battered the CIA as an institution without building up its original core mission of HUMINT collection and strategic influence operations to a robust and dynamic capacity.

The lion's share of the IC budget and agencies is under the control of the Department of Defense and these agencies from the NSA to the DIA do a fine job, but the United States needs a world-class civilian intelligence agency that conducts espionage, covert operations, and analysis from a strategic perspective and in domains or environments where military personnel are simply poorly suited, implausibly deniable, or not competent. The CIA needs to be removed from partisan maneuvering at home and focused abroad where existing and emerging threats to national security can be found.

Will Leon Panetta be able to reform and reinvigorate the CIA? Will the Obama administration permit him to do so? These are questions to which we have no answers, but he is the first nominee to head the CIA in a long time with the potential to do so. Which is why so many veterans of the IC, despite wide political differences, are hopeful and why aging "Watergate babies" in the Democratic caucus are gritting their teeth.

But does Leon Panetta actually intend to "reform and reinvigorate the CIA"? And, if this is his intent, how does he seek to do so?

For my part, this remains a fundamental and unresolved question. Unanswered, the potential benefits and strengths of his appointment remain moot. For, at least on the surface, he has in the past given the appearance of being more inclined to become entrenched on one side of the prevailing 'world view' battle ongoing within the CIA rather than exuding any ability to revive and revitalize the agency's intelligence gathering and analytical responsibilities.

Both commentaries from Michael Tanji and Mark Safranski remain important to consider, as they explore the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Panetta appointment to Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both Michael and Mark are widely respected and are among the most level-headed thinkers around on the subjects of intelligence and warfare, respectively.

Israel Attacked from the North

My colleague Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and I have a new piece out analyzing today's rocket attacks against Israel from Southern Lebanon. In part, we look at why Hizballah might be unwilling to engage Israel in conflict. Among our points:

HIZBALLAH'S RELUCTANCE TO ENGAGE? Hizballah's denial of responsibility for the rocket attacks is consistent with prior statements from the militant group indicating that it does not want to engage Israel in a full-out war. Even though Hizballah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah described the July 2006 war with Israel as a "divine victory," the combat was in fact incredibly costly to Hizballah militarily. In a comprehensive article in the Winter 2009 issue of Middle East Quarterly, Professor Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University argues that Hizballah "suffered perhaps US$4 billion damage to its institutions and enterprises." Most significant from the perspective of Hizballah's military capabilities, Israel estimates that it "lost about a third of its elite fighting force." This harmed Hizballah because, while the group has no problem attracting new volunteers, "turning them into skilled military operators is a lengthy and complex process."

NASRALLAH'S CONCERNS. Nasrallah also has personal safety and political concerns that may be deterring him from engaging Israel. As Zisser notes, the February 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, for which Nasrallah blamed Israel (Israel has not publicly claimed responsibility) "shattered the legend of Hezbollah's invincibility." It made Nasrallah aware that he could meet with a similar fate. On a political level, Hizballah has become more involved in Lebanese politics since the 2006 war, and has gained significant power within Lebanon's government. It hopes to make significant gains in the June 2009 parliamentary elections. Dragging Lebanon into another devastating conflict could undermine the organization's political ambitions.

To read the full Intelligence Briefing, click here.

January 7, 2009

Surveillance: Let it Go

The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

As addressed previously, there are a number of reasons why programs like this are not what they seem, but from a civil rights and liberties perspective and an intelligence perspective. Some key clues in the story itself:

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

Now, I'm not down with honest-to-God spying on people who are exercising their civil rights, but even if your Subaru bio-diesel conversion is held together with protest bumpers tickers, odds are your personal information, movements and habits are in more grocery store shopper's club databases than they are in any government database. Being kept track of by someone, somewhere, is a fact of life. Your virtual self is more regularly and vigorously examined, parsed and utilized by private concerns than any public entity. Don't believe me? Almost no one reading this is on the no-fly list; Everyone reading this gets junk mail, telemarketing calls, and myriad 'special offers' in email.

The documents and law enforcement sources say the operation began in 2005 with a simple request from Maj. Jack Simpson, a field commander in special operations. In late February, he called Lt. Greg Mazzella in the intelligence division and asked for a threat assessment of protests expected before the scheduled execution dates for two men on Maryland's death row.

After trawling the Internet, an analyst reported a "potential for disruption" at both executions. Mazzella dispatched a corporal who needed experience in undercover work to the Electrik Maid community center in Takoma Park, where death penalty foes were organizing rallies.

Just as we saw with the infamous TALON database, put people who are not intelligence professionals on the job and you get a database full of junk. From an intelligence perspective: garbage in, garbage out. I'm not casting aspersions on any of Maryland's finest, but based on this story alone it seems like the rigor that you would have had if this were a CIA, DIA or NSA operation targeting operatives overseas was lacking.

As long as people keep raising this abomination from the dead, I'll keep handing out the garlic and wooden stakes:

Peaceful protest is great, but not all protestors are peaceful. Just like the vast majority of cops, soldiers and intelligence officers are honorable, dedicated people doing their jobs to the letter and spirit of the law; it only takes one bad apple to ruin the reputation of everyone else.

When you are unused to dealing with certain situations or actors, the natural reaction is over-reaction. We all do it to one extent or another and we shouldn't expect people charged with the responsibility of keeping us safe to be immune. The day they ignore a potential threat is the day something horrible happens and they get blamed for not doing enough.

Intelligence, done properly, can be extremely useful. This is especially true in law enforcement organizations. We should not be jumping on the police for trying to get pro-active (most law enforcement being reactive), we should be arguing for more resources and a creation of new or re-tooling of existing organizations in order to provide meaningful intelligence without violating people's rights. It can be done, we just need to care enough to make it happen.

January 6, 2009

The Roots of Muslim Rage: Recalling Bernard Lewis' 1990 Essay

Nowadays, there seems to be no shortage of self-professed (and often self-aggrandizing) experts on the Middle East, Islam, and/or Western-Islamic relations. Most recite shopworn narratives and are eminently forgettable, while some succeed in imparting at least a measure of insight on arguably the seminal issue of our time. Fewer still are indispensable reservoirs of enlightenment and as such have attained "must-read" status. Bernard Lewis is one of those precious few.

Nearly two decades ago, in September of 1990, Mr. Lewis expressed his views on the origins of Muslim rage. His forum was The Atlantic magazine. For those disinclined to read the article in its entirety, several opening paragraphs provide an excellent historical primer:

Like every other civilization known to human history, the Muslim world in its heyday saw itself as the center of truth and enlightenment, surrounded by infidel barbarians whom it would in due course enlighten and civilize. But between the different groups of barbarians there was a crucial difference. The barbarians to the east and the south were polytheists and idolaters, offering no serious threat and no competition at all to Islam. In the north and west, in contrast, Muslims from an early date recognized a genuine rival--a competing world religion, a distinctive civilization inspired by that religion, and an empire that, though much smaller than theirs, was no less ambitious in its claims and aspirations. This was the entity known to itself and others as Christendom, a term that was long almost identical with Europe.

The struggle between these rival systems has now lasted for some fourteen centuries. It began with the advent of Islam, in the seventh century, and has continued virtually to the present day. It has consisted of a long series of attacks and counterattacks, jihads and crusades, conquests and reconquests. For the first thousand years Islam was advancing, Christendom in retreat and under threat. The new faith conquered the old Christian lands of the Levant and North Africa, and invaded Europe, ruling for a while in Sicily, Spain, Portugal, and even parts of France. The attempt by the Crusaders to recover the lost lands of Christendom in the east was held and thrown back, and even the Muslims' loss of southwestern Europe to the Reconquista was amply compensated by the Islamic advance into southeastern Europe, which twice reached as far as Vienna. For the past three hundred years, since the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the rise of the European colonial empires in Asia and Africa, Islam has been on the defensive, and the Christian and post-Christian civilization of Europe and her daughters has brought the whole world, including Islam, within its orbit.

To reduce a Bernard Lewis piece to a two paragraph summation does a disservice to both the author and the reader. All, therefore, are strongly urged to read and digest the unabridged version. Nevertheless, and as is often the case with Lewis, a great deal of insight and instructive analysis can be gleaned from even a modest sampling. In the extracted excerpt above, Lewis provides historical context to the often acrimonious relationship between the Islamic world and "Chistendom," or Europe, or what we today have been conditioned to regard as the West.

By endeavoring to date the rivalry--"the struggle between these rival systems has now lasted for some fourteen centuries"--Lewis has in effect torpedoed the naively self-comforting Western notion that the roots of the dispute, and thus its resolution, begins and ends exclusively with the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Further, in citing the "long series of attacks and counterattacks, jihads and crusades, conquests and reconquests," Lewis implicitly refutes those who seek to lay the blame exclusively on one side or the other (usually the "West" in many Western circles).

Obviously, if we are to speak with any fluency on the possible solutions to the present Western-Islamic impasse, we must invest every effort to learn and understand how we got here from there. Reading the likes of Bernard Lewis and others is a good start.

Hewitt Interview: Hamas and Iran, Fatah and Israel

The audio from Monday's interview with Hugh Hewitt on his national radio program is available here if you missed the program and were interested in listening. Addressed in the 8-minute discussion was the Hamas-Iran dynamic, the formidable arsenal now in Gaza, and the Fatah-Israel dynamic as it applies to the Gaza Strip going forward. Mr. Hewitt's final question is in reference to Monday's PrincipalAnalysis: A View To A Kill.

Download the interview with Hugh Hewitt in MP3 format here.

A special thanks to Hugh Hewitt for his invitation to discuss such an important matter.

Cross Border Impact

The practice is not new. It's just that the general American public hasn't been aware of the problem, that is, until this past weekend when an article appeared in the New York Times and was picked up. The "snatch and grab" variety of kidnappings has become a business. While the victims are often beaten and abused, the plan is not to hold the person for any extended period. Instead, the kidnappers go for a quick turn-around and get as much money as the victim's family can gather, with the threat of worse harm and repeated kidnappings if they don't pay. It more like extortion than it is kidnapping. These are similar to the so-called "express kidnappings" in which obviously wealthy individuals or businessmen are grabbed, brought to an ATM machine and then forced to empty their accounts, and then released.

According to Rodolfo García Zamora, a professor at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas who studies migration trends, the changing dynamic, and the part that is "sending shivers across the border," is that people who live in Mexico but have children or relatives living in the United States are now being targeted.

"The relatives of Mexicans in the United States have become a new profit center for Mexico's crime industry. Hundreds of families are emigrating out of fear of kidnap or extortion, and Mexicans in the U.S. are doing everything they can to avoid returning. Instead, they're getting their relatives out."

It really isn't the frequency of kidnapping that concerns there people in a country were a kidnapping can occur as frequently as one every 4-6 hours. These "snatch and grab" crimes have been occurring for years. The criminals know that they can leverage the family's fear into a fast payday. Families, having witnessed the upsurge in violent crime resulting from the drug cartel violence, are more willing to pay, and pay quickly to retrieve their loved one. It is beginning to influence migration patterns. Mexican immigrants are coming, not just for a better life and a job, but to protect their families and run away from the violence. But it seems that those who are left behind have become the targets. That the kidnappers are now shown a willingness (and knowledge) to reach across the U.S. border to families is another sign of how what is happening "just across the border" is affecting people here in the U.S.

The real problem is that kidnappings related to the drug wars in Mexico are occurred in American cities.

In Phoenix recently, a woman, not surprisingly a relative of a drug smuggling family, was kidnapped as she left a retail store. Her family "arranged" her release.

Criminals and their family members are being kidnapped by fellow criminals and held for six-figure ransoms. The abductions are occurring in the Phoenix area at the rate of practically one per day, and police suspect they have led to killings in which bound and bullet-riddled bodies have been found dumped in the desert.

There are similar trends in other border cities like San Diego.

I spoke yesterday with an anonymous friend about the kidnapping of Felix Battista. The concern was that Battista had simple walked from a restaurant after answering a cell phone call, and been grabbed on the street. Battista's Houston-based emplyer, ASI Global says he was on "private business" when he was abducted. From what I hear, Battista was part of a "first responder" team. He was also a former FBI agent. Even though its been more than two weeks since his kidnapping, there is apparently no mention of a ransom demand and no attempt to retrieve him.

According to one F.B.I. source, Batista is one of least 17 U.S. residents kidnapped in Mexico since October 2008, mostly in the violent city of Tijuana bordering San Diego. Maybe coincidentally, or maybe because of concern that gun laws may be more restricted in coming years, there are indications that gun ownership and sales of ammunition in border states has increased.

January 5, 2009

Someone Please Explain . . .

. . . what "a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza" looks like, exactly.

Rice said the United States is continuing a diplomatic drive to end the Gaza hostilities but made clear the Bush administration is not interested in a new cease-fire deal that would fall apart like its predecessor.

"We are working toward a cease-fire that would not allow a re-establishment of the status quo ante, where Hamas can continue to launch rockets out of Gaza. It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible. But we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable," she said.

If anyone in the State Department or any other part of the administration can explain what this would look like short of removing Hamas or the rockets or both, please contact me and explain. I am all ears. And questions.

Forget Hamas In Nurse Skirts, Night Scoped Snipers

The notable quotable in a recent article from the Jerusalem Post was regarding the imagery of Hamas terrorists disguised as nurses in a Gaza hospital. Sure, an amusing detail if one envisions female nurses in skirts. But pay closer attention to the details that matter.

Earlier in the morning, 30 soldiers from Battalion 51 of the Golani Brigade were injured in clashes and on Sunday night four soldiers were shot and wounded by Palestinian snipers.

Hamas snipers. Hitting their marks. At night.

Night scopes on Hamas sniper rifles, folks. That's information that means something. Particularly if you are an Israeli humping a pack in urban terrain.

ThreatsWatch on with Hugh Hewitt Tonight: Gaza and Hamas

I will be talking Gaza and Hamas with Hugh Hewitt in the first segment of his radio show today, tentatively scheduled for 6:10 PM (EST). Readers online can go to AM 970 The Apple (New York City affiliate) and simply click the "Listen Live" button in the upper left hand corner of the site or tune to your local over-air radio affiliate.

Hugh had asked last week about what is in the Hamas arsenal inside Gaza. When I provided him a top-of-my-head summary via e-mail, he published (after first kindly asking, of course) the list and context provided here.

Also, ThreatsWatch readers have noted the lull in publishing activity over the month of December while we updated the site. The fruits of that update are not visible yet, but will be appearing in new reader capabilities and published content types and organization over the coming days, with the heavy technical lifting nearly completed. We will keep you posted via RapidRecon as new features are tested and rolled out.

We appreciate your patience. But most of all, we appreciate your hunger for information and the ever-important context it is provided in here. We're back. Re-energized and stronger than ever. And none too soon.

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