Current Affairs

Metrojet Flight 9268, Daesh, & Russia, Oh My

There is a lot of speculation that Daesh brought down Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian civilian airliner, over Egypt.  This is both behind the scenes and in the media, and it brings up some interesting points for consideration. 

First, it brings up the point of what did happen and how that is handled.  In the US, airline, railroad, and other similar accidents fall under the National Transportation Safety Board.  Yes, they can and have investigated more than airline incidents.  One of the best legacy products of the now defunct Aviation/Space Writers association is a booklet called Air Accidents and the News Media.  If you can find a copy, it gives a good breakdown of what happens, when, why, and who is authorized to talk at any given point.  The actual process used is designed to allow a complete and impartial investigation and to avoid political interference in same.  

Sadly, the latter is needed as politics do come into play.  It has since the early days of the railroads and continues today, and my thoughts on current and recent administrations eagerly coming out with immediate denials of terrorism should be easy to guess.  The early, and often completely unfounded, speculation about any accident/incident is not helpful, and flat out wrong.  It does, however, give the media and politicians ratings and a chance to grandstand.  

Getting real data is time consuming, and involves a lot of engineering and non-engineering forensics.  It means testing each piece of debris, and often requires that the pieces be, in effect, re-assembled so that a full and accurate reconstruction of events can be developed.  These days, it also involves a lot of computer modeling, which is a time-consuming process in and of itself -- and GIGO is very much on the minds of those involved.  Those involved via the NTSB and similar agencies around the world tend not to talk or leak, knowing that while pieces may be sensational, how they fit together can provide a very different story.  

In my personal opinion and experience, the first speculations are often wildly wrong.  The mid-phase speculation is more on target.  The final report is (at least here with the NTSB) is accurate, fairly complete, and somewhat boring to read even when the results are significant or even spectacular.  I will also note, for the conspiracy theorists out there, that I have never seen a final report that was clearly changed or whitewashed -- and trust me, given the hundreds of people that end up involved it would be very hard to keep such an event secret.  I will also note that not every country follows our model.  

We are into that middle period of public speculation, and it is interesting to say the least.  While there were early reports of the co-pilot being unhappy with the condition of the aircraft, there is a lot of back channel discussion of involvement by Daesh.  This is now coming out in public announcements, and I do find it telling that the UK has stopped direct flights to the UK from the Sinai.  This is not, however, definitive by any means.  

Which leads to a second major bit of food for thought.  The Russians (and the Soviet Union before them) tend towards direct action when terrorism is involved.  For our older readers, I simply will say Beirut, though there are many other examples.  

If this was indeed an act of terrorism, I suspect that the apocalpytic cult that is Daesh may well get some of what they seek.  Speaking strictly for myself, I will simply say Владимир: Добрый Охота!  Your mileage may vary, and if so sound off in the comments.  

A Note Of Condolence

Mary Katharine Ham has been a friend to Blackfive, and to many of the member authors, almost from the first day of this blog.  She was and is a staunch friend to our troops and veterans, and has done a great deal for them -- often quietly. Her support, both direct and via helping a number of veteran charities, is but one way she has walked and not just talked.  I believe I can speak for most authors, and say that we were all very happy for her when Jake Brewer came into her life, and became her husband, and the father of a lovely daughter and one child on the way.  Like MKH, he too did for others, and was in a bike ride to support a friend with cancer. 

I regret to report that Jake Brewer was killed yesterday in a tragic accident while participating in a charity bicycle ride.  He was 34 years old.  MK's post is on Instagram, and she is sharing photos there that give a better view of Jake to us all.  

On behalf of the authors at Blackfive, I wish to extend our sympathies and sincere condolences to Mary Katharine and her children, and the family of Jake Brewer.  There truly are no words at a time like this.  I simply add that if there is anything we can do, please do let us know.  Please keep them all in your thoughts, prayers, or whatever it is that you do. 


Gag Orders & More

In the comments below that I've not had time to address (yet, working on it), someone noted that we used to be the site where people could find out what the troops were thinking.  That is something Blackfive was (rightly) known for, and in my opinion a lot of good came out of it.  

That was a decade ago, and the times were very, very different.  Social media was new, and traditional communications was changing.  It still is, but...  One of the things that happened was that younger troops had embraced new means to keep in touch with family and friends, and as a result things that would not otherwise be known to the larger world could be, and were, shared.  One aspect was that needs of individual troops and units could be shared with a larger audience, and that resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of support, and "good" supplies/care packages/etc. reached those in need.  Indeed, a number of charities we highlighted and supported stood up to make sure that troops got letters, packages, and more.  

It also highlighted problems in the supply chain, doctrine, and more -- and again charities and individuals stood up in a huge way.  Everything from tools to kevlar blankets reached those in need.  Where there were problems and issues, higher was made aware of them quickly and could deal with those as needed.  Smart commanders (at the time Petraeus, Odierno, and others) embraced it as they could not only deal with issues quickly and smartly, but they could, would, and did seize opportunities.  They encouraged the wise use of new and social media to add flexibility to the system, and got some amazing results.  

This was also the time that the administration and higher command reached out to Blackfive and others to formulate a very friendly policy that worked to prevent issues (and there were indeed a few issues with OPSEC and such) while making the most of the opportunity.  

That has changed.  The politics in the five-sided-puzzle-palace have always had a tendency towards what I will refer to as rear-echelon, and towards suppressing anything that has to do with problems of things potentially embarrassing to higher.  Better to hide it than to deal with it is something of a tradition in my opinion.  That early policy did not sit well with certain quarters, as it did highlight problems, issues, and flat-out failures in the tail that hurt the tooth.  Unsurprisingly to any student of history, the tide changed.  One need look no further than the previous SMA who was obsessed with tattoos, painting rocks, and awarding ARCOMs for trolling SHARP violations instead of focusing on training that could keep soldiers alive in combat as a perfect example of that symptom. I will note that I'm liking the current SMA a lot more.  

Right now is not a good time for troops at ANY level to be speaking out.  The social media policy has changed, and higher is coming down hard on things that used to be encouraged.  

Case in point:  SFC Charles Martland.  His case is more than disturbing (disgusting is one word I can use here given Blackfive's family friendly policy).  Even more disturbing, higher has put in place a 'gag order' and is prepared to hammer flat anyone who comes to his defense.  There is some reason to believe such has already happened, and the word is out that speaking out would be a very bad thing for those who do so.  

Whatever the official policy, the unofficial policy is that troops speaking out is a great way to end a career.  Given the draconian cuts in play (and more on that horrendous, idiotic, and flat-out foolish thing in other posts), it is not a good time for the troops and not a good time for honest and full discussions (IMO).  I know I am going to be very careful about sharing some things, so as to make sure that those sharing can't be identified.  

Personally, I think it is time for the tide to change again.  How to make that happen depends on a lot on things outside the puzzle palace, and not just within.  My hope is that we can share information to encourage that, and be a part of a good solution once again.  

Shaded Intelligence? Shocked, Shocked I Am

News feeds are blowing up with the story about intelligence reports about Daesh (ISIL) being altered by senior leaders before presentation.  I'm shocked, shocked, to find gambling in this establishment.  

For me, the real news is about how many analysts are willing to go on record in this case.  To have fifty (or more) willing to do so on the record is truly unprecedented.  There have been a number of quiet insurrections at various agencies and organizations in the past, but never anything in public like this.  The closest I can remember involved Soviet analysis in the Carter years, and even then most of it was not done in the public, even when reporters came calling.  The most that went public were a small series of leaks and off-the-record interviews.  I will simply note that Reagan was not satisfied with what he was being presented, and took some unofficial steps to get other assessments to use for comparison and evaluation.  Then again, Boss was smart enough to have a "kitchen cabinet" on a variety of topics where he needed expert advice.  

As I've written here (and elsewhere) before, the fact is, there has and is always a tendency to "shape" intelligence and analysis.  Some of this is inherent in the system, and reflects an unconscious effort that is a result of the beliefs of those involved.  There can even be an unconscious tendency to shape things towards the belief of those higher in the chain, and the known biases of the ultimate recipients. 

Where problems arise is when there is a conscious effort to alter or distort the actual intelligence and recommendations of the analysts (who are or should be experts in the area).  At the best, such is because "the boss won't like this" and things are changed so as to present something that won't be rejected out of hand.  At worst, it is a pandering to the beliefs and goals of the prime recipient so as to curry favor, power, and other delights.  If you look at the worst failures of military and diplomatic efforts throughout history, they almost all come back to failures of intelligence and the lack of presentation of accurate intel and analysis to the leaders involved.  

The administrations response to Daesh/ISIL is a best inconsistent, and I personally feel that incoherent may be a better descriptor.  Daesh has gone from being a fringe group to a major power (and I use that term advisedly) largely as a result of a variety of policy blunders going back to our premature departure from Iraq and the response to Libya.  

It is damning that fifty (or more) analysts are going on record.  A small group might have political reasons of their own to cause a problem (and that has happened before).  For such a large group to be willing to go public raises serious questions of competence and intent on those higher in the chain.  At this point, whether any "shading" that may or may not have been done was done to make things more palatable for the President, or more, needs a full and thorough investigation.  My opinion of Congressional investigations is decidedly mixed, with partisan circus a top descriptor.  However, given what is coming out, I think Congressional and other investigations are clearly needed.  

While I've written on intel before, I think that a small series of posts may be needed on the topic, especially in terms of how those impact our intel and planning in regards this and other terrorist groups.  Meantime, sound off in the comments with your thoughts.  

Update/Thoughts And A WARNO

I've been asked more than once recently "What happened to Blackfive?"  The question has come from long-term readers and from people I would never have expected to be readers.  

The common thought behind that question is what happened to our regular, often in-depth, posts on a variety of topics pertaining to the military and national security.  It is a good and valid question.  

Speaking strictly for myself, I think it was a combination of things.  

When Blackfive started, there was a huge interest in, and need for, discussion and explanation of things military for a public that is increasingly disconnected from the military and from issues of national security.  What Blackfive did was provide that discussion, and Matt wisely (IMO) started adding guest posters and then other regular writers to cover a wide range of areas as well as the various services.  

Continue reading "Update/Thoughts And A WARNO" »

The 2015 Hugo Awards: Some Thoughts

There a few things in this world that truly make me mad.  I'm not talking the things in life that can make us spark.  There are lots of things in this world that can make me spark, and there is a reason that my nickname in early high school was "Spark Plug" and "Sparky."  Those who truly knew me, however, knew that the problem was not when I sparked, which was soon over, but when I got very quiet and coldly precise.  

This morning, I awoke to very unsurprising news about the Hugo awards.  I am disappointed, but honestly expected nothing less from the Social Justice Bullies and related ilk.  Indeed, I'm more surprised that one or two categories more didn't get no award -- the equivalent of destroying the village to save it.  That was their plan almost from the start, since those labeled "Wrong Fan" dared to get more fans involved in a dying award that represented the thoughts of less than 600 "Right Fans" who bought supporting or full memberships to the World Science Fiction Conventions -- which is where and how the Hugo awards are decided.  For those truly interested, note the attendance figures for the WorldCon over the last 30 years, note the numbers of people who actually voted in the Hugo process, and then note the size of conventions like DragonCon, the various ComicCons, and such.  

As noted previously, I was in the past involved with some conventions and even had a small role in an Atlanta-based WorldCon (ConFederation).  I long ago left such, many of the so-called "Right Fans" and people who styled themselves as Secret Masters of Fandom (SMOFs, though I note there is a huge difference between the self-styled guardians of what they regard as right and proper and real SMOFS) leaving a bad taste in my mouth.  Frankly, I decided that my best interest was to focus on writing, which has been a large part of what I've done in real life.  Most of my work has been in non-fiction, and that which has gone to the public has even won a couple of awards.  To be very honest, one of the reasons I became active in Fandom, as it is known, was to meet editors, publishers, and other writers (particularly those of whom I was a fan).  Going in was calculated, what happened was simply fun. 

What can you say about meeting classic Science Fiction writers from the Golden (and other) age(s)?  About meeting and talking with Gordon Dickson, who's Dorsai series spoke to me and made me think and explore?  About meeting and talking with the wonderful de Camps, Fred Pohl, the delightful Pournelle's, Fred Saberhagen, Harry Turtledove, Jack Williamson, the Zahn's, the Niven's, A.E. van Vogt, and others?  About hanging out with the delightfully irrascible Bob "Horseclans" Adams in his room parties, or "smoothing" with Tucker himself?  Of finding out that David Drake, who's combat SF was his way of dealing with his experiences in Viet Nam, was painfully shy -- and quite sharp with his wit.  Of being able to form friendships with some of them, and with the likes of the Webers?  Of course, you do meet a few who were and are assholes, and I shall not name them and have never bought anything by them after meeting them on panels or in private. 

Early on, I met a veteran named Jim Baen.  Jim and his (former) wife Toni Weisskopf became something more than just acquaintances, and they pushed me to begin writing fiction.  Honestly, they believed I could do it long before I thought I had a shot at writing good fiction (other than some AARs and such).  Jim, of course, is the founder of Baen Books, and is widely and properly credited with saving the field of military science fiction.  You can find video interviews done with Travis Taylor, Mark L. Van Name, David Drake, David Weber, Michael Z. Williamson, and Tom Kratman on that and other subjects on the Blackfive YouTube channel.  That he did so because he saw that money could be made in it does nothing to diminish the fact that he did save it.  Then again, Jim (and Toni) saw that publishing was changing on many levels, and found ways to embrace those changes, adapt, and be successful.  I would note that Baen Books, and it's Barflies, have donated a massive amount of print and electronic books to the troops, particularly the deployed.  Others play at it via token efforts.  Baen and it's readers live it in a huge way.  

Toni has been a true and wonderful friend to me.  In fact, if you look at my photo books done from my embeds for Blackfive, you will note the thanks to her for editing them.  Toni has encouraged me in many ways and levels, and done things to help me along.  She (and Jim) believed in me before I truly believed in myself.  

The Hugos have been gamed for years, and there are those very unhappy to have that exposed by Larry Correia with the original Sad Puppies campaign.  This year, the Sad Puppies and the independent Rabid Puppies effort, showed that gaming for all to see -- along with the truly rabid response of those who have gamed it.  The Hugos have been for some time about message and not about the best works of Science Fiction.  The Puppies were and are about making it about good stories well told (and not the right cisgender normative message no matter how horrible the writing and/or editing).  

As I said, the response and results were not unexpected.  I honestly thought No Award would take at least two more slots than it did.  

Where I'm not sparking is with how things were handled.  First, there was the biased and childish panel that preceded the Hugos.  Second, was the awards ceremony itself.  That one or more Hugo nominees walked out early (along with other professionals) says it all.  The deliberate and willful disrespect, and bias, shown says it all for me.  

So, for me, it's on.  For those of you ignorant enough to buy into the Social Justice Bullies lie that the Puppies were all angry white men, I simply point out that the Puppies were far more diverse than those that opposed them.  For a group of "neo-nazis" as an employee of Tor books called them (us, honestly), there sure are a lot of mutts in the group, and a lot females too.  In fact, one author attacked in this manner actually fought real neo-nazis and injustice, and has the wounds to show it.  Another author also schooled the idiots with the real deal.  I further note that only one, repeat ONE, reporter writing on the subject of the Puppies had the courage and integrity to actually interview the wonderful Sarah A. Hoyt, who is not a white male.  That Larry Correia is far more a mutt than I am, and hardly a lily-white male (unlike most of those attacking him).  That strawman Larry is not just a jerk, but an asshole and I want at least ten of the ribbons saying he is a jerk.  I could go on, but it is easy to pick apart the slanders, libels, and lies heaped upon them, Brad Torgersen, and others -- for those with interest in the truth that is.

The blatant disrespect and insult offered to Toni last night is the final straw.  You attacked a friend. 

So, I'm in on Sad Puppies 4.  If you want to destroy WorldCon and the Hugo awards, you will have your chance and you will own the results.  My hope, faint though it is, remains to make the awards truly relevant again as a means of promoting good writing, editing, and other efforts regardless of the message. 

Meantime, my limited funds will be my vote and those funds will not be spent at Tor (or Forge), or probably with MacMillan as a whole.  Tom Doherty:  I doubt you remember me, but we have met and I found you to be a likable person who seemed to have integrity and honor.  I am sorry to do this, but your employees have engaged in what I believe to be slander, libel, and more -- and, yes, I use those terms advisedly and with full knowledge of the difference between them.  That they have also sought to harm some of your own writers...  WorldCon, your bias is showing.  For my author friends with Tor or MacMillan, sorry, but I will not support them as much as I want to support you. 

I plan to spend with publishers who put out good books/stories first, and message second.  I plan to buy from Baen; I plan to buy from other publishers and those who also publish independently, such as Sarah A. Hoyt, Kate PaulkCedar Sanderson, Amanda S. Green, Dave Freer, Jim Butcher, Tom Kratman, John Ringo, John C. Wright, and Michael Z. Williamson.  With traditional publishing tanking, voting with my money has a far larger effect.  

Now, I've wasted enough time on an award that most likely can't be saved.  This is time that could have seen a couple thousand words written on the new novel I'm frantically trying to write, revise, and submit.  It likely would be a far better use of my time, but I will not let stand the attacks on Toni, Sarah, and other friends.  Choose as you will, my money vote is cast. 


UPDATE:  Sarah A. Hoyt has a very good read on last night.  



First, thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the Marines killed yesterday in the cowardly and despicable attack; to those wounded; and, to all the first responders who did not wait for backup but waded in and kept this from being so much worse than it could have been.  Please keep them all in your hearts, prayers, thoughts, or whatever it is that you do, and may the light shine down on all those left behind.  If you've ever been in it, you have some idea of what they now are going through. 

Second, huge thanks to the first responders.  Chattanooga (and to an extent Hamilton County) do things a bit different in terms of training and planned response, and it showed.  They did not wait, they moved in and "enthusiastically" engaged and "neutralized" the target.  This is how it is done.  It does take training, planning, and leadership.  From all I am hearing from people with knowledge of the department, they have it -- thank God.  Hope they keep it, as THIS is how it is done.  

Third, it is time and well past time to get rid of the idiotic, pantywaist, ill-considered (you get the drift) prohibition on our troops being armed.  There was a day (until fairly recently) when an officer (and even NCOs) were not in uniform and properly dressed without a sidearm.  They were expected to be so, to maintain order, and to defend themselves and others.  Having them armed is not a violation of Posse Comitatus, or an invitation to disorder.  I've heard one unconfirmed report that one person was able to retrieve a personally-owned firearm and return fire, and if so they deserve to be commended and not chewed-up and spit out by senior leadership as I fully expect.  There is a lot of data that clearly shows that any resistance prevents things from being worse.  Uncle Jimbo was/is on Fox and Friends discussing this topic this morning, and I look forward to him posting on the topic here.  

How many more of our troops must die on our soil in terrorist attacks -- and there have been quite a few though they are all lone-wolf criminal acts of workplace violence (/sarcasm) -- because of the Omega-level (they don't even rate beta male/female status) milquetoast obeisance to a thoroughly discredited trope? 

Sound off.  I can't say all I would like right now, as it would be rather intemperate.  It is a bit scary that Jimbo is the far more reasonable and articulate spokesperson right now... 

And, remember the fallen and those they leave behind.  Thank and encourage the first responders and the mindset shown by them, as such may be what saves us from far worse now and in the days ahead.  I consider the Chattanooga area a second home in many ways, and have many friends there.  If I leave the frozen (or at least currently soggy) North, it is one of the places I've seriously considered making my home.  The response shown by the first responders and the greater Community there are a reminder of why it would be a good place to live.  

NOTE:  My thanks to Gunny Popaditch for the image

Exclusive Interview - Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

The following interview and book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category on the right side bar.

Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s latest book Ally is a riveting description of the relationship between Israel and the United States.  Readers get a behind the scenes look at how the Obama Administration has a one sided point of view. Through his numerous notes and direct insight he tells of the struggles Israel has had with the Obama Administration, especially regarding the Iranian nuclear deal.  He warns that Israel is in existential danger, that his only agenda is a reality check regarding this administration’s policies toward Israel. interviewed him about his book and the Iranian nuclear deal.

He gave an exclusive to, stating that he only tells those people “who come to work with me about this clip.  I ask them to watch it so that they will understand me.”  The clip ( is about the Battle of the Bulge with interviews from participants including Oren’s father, Lester Bornstein, a US Army Corps Engineer whose duty was to clear roads and build bridges during World War II.  Yet, in the Ardennes Forest in France on December 16, 1944, Lester along with his friend Jimmy Hill became infantrymen to help fend off the German advance, which had taken the American military off guard.  He and his friend bravely disabled the first German tank in line, forcing a halt in the advance. 

Oren, born in America, feels a kinship with America’s culture, principles, and spirit.  He remembers his father telling the family war stories and during his first combat mission in the war, Operation Peace for the Galilee, thought of his father’s experience, wondering “how I would conduct myself under fire.”

Throughout the book Oren emphasizes the closeness he feels with both America and Israel.  Yet, some in the media like Newsweek’s Jonathan Broder attempt to discredit him by writing, “The American-born Oren, who renounced his U.S. citizenship and now serves as a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, transforms from a measured historian into a breathless polemicist.” This is anything but the truth. Oren noted, “By Federal law any American who officially served a foreign county had to renounce their US Citizenship. My loyalties to the United States and the Jewish State are mutually validating.”

He wrote in the book how his love for America is filled with gratitude. “From the time that all four of my grandparents arrived on Ellis Island, through the Great Depression, in which they raised my parents, and the farm-bound community in which I grew up, America held out the chance to excel. True, prejudice was prevalent, but so, too, was our ability to fight it. Unreservedly, I referred to Americans as ‘we.’ The United States and Israel, are both democracies, both freedom-loving, and similarly determined to defend their independence. One could be — in fact, should be — a Zionist as well as a patriotic American, because the two countries stood for identical ideals.” Except now Israel is being thrown under the bus with the Iranian nuclear deal.

Why do some in the press want to discredit Oren’s roots?  Possibly because the Ambassador is publicly warning that the Obama Administration is setting a dangerous precedent concerning the Iranian nuclear deal.  As Daniel Silva profoundly wrote in his latest book, The English Spy, “Now the president’s confronted with a world gone mad, and he doesn’t have a clue as to what to do about it.”

Oren noted to about another irrational period in history and compared it to the current situation; “Lets remember one infamous example, when the Nazis pursued their insane ends.  Even during the last days of World War II, as the Allied armies liberated Europe, they diverted precious military resources to exterminating Jews.  The Israeli position is that this Iranian regime is irrational. Unlike Israel, which is in Iran’s backyard, the US is not threatened by the proximity of national annihilation. This is about our survival as a people. It’s about our children and grandchildren. What may look like an academic debate here in America is for us in Israel a matter of life and death.”

Asked if he agrees with the quote from former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who said of Iran, “the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy,” Oren told, that Americans should not forget that Iran “wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, something they have been calling for the last thirty years.  Let’s not forget they also attempted to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and assassinate the Saudi Ambassador. Iran and its terrorist groups have killed more Americans than any other terrorist group outside of Al Qaeda.  This does not even include those in the American military who were killed by Iran during the Iraq War.  They are not friends.”

But a true friend, an ally, is defined by Oren as assisting “in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation. The two countries I love need to unite on issues vital to both and yet they remain separated ideologically and even strategically. However, on issues of security, anybody in the Israeli military, in the intelligence community, will tell you that security relations between Israel and the United States are better now than probably any other time in the past.”

In the Middle East Israel is America’s staunchest ally. Even though the Obama Administration appears not to recognize this, Americans do. A recent Gallup Poll shows that two out of three Americans sympathize with Israel, with support for Israel in the United States rising, not declining.

Ambassador Oren wrote this book, Ally, to send a clear message, “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend. In a region famous for its unforgiving sun, any daylight is searing.” Ally is a must read, because it alerts people that Israel faces the greatest challenge they have faced since World War II.

July 4th

There is a lot I could say about the state of the Republic (note for the poorly educated, we are NOT a democracy), but I will skip it and play Gunny Mormon for a minute.  

"... Be careful out there!"  A line I loved in a tv show many years ago, and all the more important today.

First, the 4th is, IMO, one of the top holidays to bring out the amateurs (second only to St. Patrick's Day).  Watch out for idiots, and if handling fireworks or around those who are, please do listen for words to the effect of "hey y'all, watch this!" and react to protect oneself.  Please don't be the one to say it.  Keep an extra eye peeled when driving.  Me, I hope to watch fireworks from a comfortable distance where I can smoke a cigar or my pipe lounging in comfort away from crowds.  

Second, there is a lot of chatter about the potential for terrorism (workplace violence, random acts, etc. in the governmental parlance).  Honestly, I'm surprised we've not had more and would not be surprised.  Be prepared, protect yourself and your own, and do what you have to if anything does happen.  

Finally, enjoy.  The Great Experiment is in crisis (IMO), but is still creaking along.  Savor what there is, and take a moment to re-read some of the finest words on governance (and self-governance) ever written in my humble opinion.   They are the cornerstone of the Republic, with the Constitution being the foundation.  

Be prepared, but enjoy the holiday.  

Ghost Fleet - A Review

Ghost Fleet.  PW Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 404 pages

GhostFleet cover

 If you've ever wondered what an operationalized version of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” might look like, noted national security analysts Peter W. Singer and August Cole have a book just for you.  A true triad of military, bureaucrats, and corporations overthrows a long-running government to form an uneasy alliance to run a rather large country.  Singer and Cole throw us the first of many curves by teeing this up, not in the US, but China...or, as they now call themselves, "The Directorate."

 This first fiction effort by the duo delivers wide-ranging action at a frenetic pace. The story begins in outer space and, in mere moments, the action plunges far below the Pacific Ocean's surface.  Throughout the story, as venues change, the reader gasps for breath and delves back in as the action continues.  This is a Tom Clancy-esque thriller with most of the pieces one would expect:  people unexpectedly thrust into difficult situations; well-researched, accurate portrayals of current capabilities; imaginative exploration of new, emerging, or desired technology; as well as good old fashioned palace intrigue and political gamesmanship.  For those making the Clancy connection, you’ll find this book of the Red Storm Rising genre - a look at how a world war type scenario would likely go. 

   Ghost Fleet looks at how the "Pivot to Asia” could go - and it can go bad pretty fast.  It also plays on many of the fears that serious analysts ponder regarding military procurements, military readiness and other economic tradeoffs.

 Buoyed by the massive changes spurred by their recent revolution, the Directorate decides that it is time to achieve their "Manifest Destiny" in the Pacific.  A major energy discovery gives them the opportunity to challenge US supremacy in the Pacific and even take on the US militarily, with the tacit assistance of Russia.  What ensues is a massive and coordinated sneak attack that cripples US capabilities throughout the Pacific Rim, most notably in Hawaii.  The Directorate, now occupying US sovereign territory and positioned to prevent response either from space or across the vast ocean, looks to turn America into a third-rate client state.  To counter this the US decides to reactivate ships (and some aircraft) mothballed by the significant cuts that US politicians foisted upon itself.  This is the rebirth of the Ghost Fleet that gives this story its name.

 It also evokes a slightly different comparison: this is the Navy's version of "Team Yankee".  Team Yankee was a very popular "must read” in the late 1980s, especially popular with the mechanized/armor community of the Army.  It is about warfare at its base level, but with existential impact.  In this case, the crew of a one-of-a-kind ship – rejected by the Navy when cuts were made – is being brought back to life by a crew trying desperately to make it work in very trying circumstances – fights the battle of its life for a noble cause.

 Singer and Cole introduce a number of characters including a Navy Officer whose transition to retirement is rather violently interrupted; a Marine thrust into the role of guerilla; a Sun Tzu-quoting Chinese Admiral; and a seductive assassin.  The story explores the very tempestuous relationship between father and son bonded in a moment of crisis while wrestling with demons of the past.   The duo’s style offers some nice bonuses.  The reader gets a murder mystery. The idea of "privateers” in the 21st Century is presented.   For the geopolitical thinkers, Singer and Cole skewer a lot of the shibboleths of current alliances and ask “who will really ‘step up’ when the going gets tough?”  The authors present some very interesting ideas of what could happen and what could emerge if all the geopolitical knowns were to suddenly change. Rather than distract, these threads are woven into a complex but compelling story that is both provocative and frightening.

 What this book does do well - and in a scary way - is show how pervasive a wired world could be and what would happen if a major actor were to severely upset the proverbial apple cart. Among the discoveries in the opening salvos of The Directorate’s aggression are the vulnerability of so much of the electronics used both in military equipment as well as the networks that course through the US.

  Ghost Fleet explores the extent to which autonomous systems change life and warfare. .  Can we trust the electronics we buy from overseas? Do we depend too much on automatic, autonomous and “linked” systems in our basic and daily lives?  What if a major competitor played on those fears with ruthless precision and execution?   This will confirm the worst fears of the Luddite or conspiracy theorist.  Those that are on the fence about the impact of autonomous systems will likely find that this book tips them one way or the other. 

Two things that one would expect to find in such styled books are not found in this one.  One is probably the book’s only serious flaw. The story does not give time stamps and the reader may not realize that the scenario has advanced in time as it changes chapter.  Without this context, the reader may become confused on why or how things changed so fast within the story.

The other creative difference is a positive: there is very little discussion of the machinations of the American politicians.  Singer and Cole - in a choice very likely calculated to avoid the politics of the moment - do not really describe much, if anything about the moves, motives, or response of the President, or most of the National Security apparatus.  While the Secretary of Defense is omnipresent, no one else is - nor are there any real discussions on the national politics at play.  Some may be greatly disappointed by this while others may find it a welcome departure in the genre.

Although cyberspace capabilities are a significant aspect of the storyline, this is not a book about “cyber war.”  If anything, this is may be the first real exploration of Demchakian "cybered conflict" in story form. Cybered Conflict is a construct provided by Naval War College professors Chris Demchak and Peter Dombrowski.  The premise is that the nature of conflict remains the same but that cyberspace capabilities add a new dimension.  They further purport that cyberspace is not a separate domain, per se, but is instead just another aspect of how humans interact and compete.  Cyberspace is itself not decisive but can certainly tip the scale in an existential conflict.  There are ample examples in this book on how this could occur. It is certain to ignite debate on the nature of “cyber war”.  

Thriller readers will find this a welcome addition to their collections.  Thinkers, advocates, policy wonks, geeks and nerds will all find something to chew on that will confirm or challenge their own biases.  Scheduled for a June release, this highly recommended story is a daring look at the fusion of traditional and modern warfare, delivered at "machine speed".