A Grim Reading of the Recent Intelligence Scandals
What was the worst thing you learned about American intelligence this week? Here's the worst thing for me.
Not the top-level finding, that the CIA's analysis didn't always give specific categories to the people killed in allegedly-CIA-led drone strikes. Nor the secondary claim, that the CIA is lying about the number of civilians killed.
No, the worst news was that the CIA couldn't just ask.
For a decade, these tribal regions where these drone strikes have been conducted have been one of the very top priorities for US intelligence collection. The most rudimentary of human intelligence networks could have come up with a definitive list of who was killed. Almost no risks would have been run in collecting on this topic, as it would have been the subject of common conversation among everyone in the area -- everyone whose family members might have been killed, for example. No one would have thought it was odd to ask who died in yesterday's drone strike. You could collect on this kind of thing without breaking a sweat, if you had a HUMINT network at all.
What this means is that the CIA has completely failed at its main function, in one of its highest-priority areas, for more than a decade. The reason we're turning to all this fancy "collect-everyting-anyone-says-anywhere-at-any-time" technology is that we've failed at traditional tradecraft. The bueraucracy isn't doing its job.
As the CIA case shows, there are a lot of disadvantages to relying on SIGINT. It's simply nowhere near as reliable as human intelligence. You can't ask questions: you have to infer from what you are told, or what you can happen to see in the signal. The reason we don't know isn't that we aren't collecting everything SIGINT can show us: as we see here, Pakistan was one of the NSA's most intensely-collected states.
I personally would like to see a lot of this SIGINT capacity dismantled, on the theory that we ought to be as secure in our electronic communications as in those we write on paper and seal in a thin envelope. But whether you agree with that or not, the fact is that it's less reliable than the traditional capacities we no longer develop. That failure -- a failure, I believe, of will -- is driving these scandals. Because these SIGINT techniques are less effective, that failure is also putting America at risk.
A Legitimate Criticism of the Military in the Washington Post
It doesn't happen much, but this one is pretty much straight up. It's about camoflauge. Many of you may remember that we used to have pretty much two patterns: BDUs and DCUs. They were pretty good. Then... well, things changed.
Today, there is one camouflage pattern just for Marines in the desert. There is another just for Navy personnel in the desert. The Army has its own “universal” camouflage pattern, which is designed to work anywhere. It also has another one just for Afghanistan, where the first one doesn’t work.
Even the Air Force has its own unique camouflage, used in a new Airman Battle Uniform. But it has flaws. So in Afghanistan, airmen are told not to wear it in battle....
The Navy spent more than $435,000 on three new designs. One was a blue-and-gray pattern, to be worn aboard ships. Pattern No. 8.
Sailors worried that it would hide them at the one time they would want to be found.
“You fall in the damn water and you’re wearing water-colored camouflage. What the hell is that?” said one active-duty petty officer. He asked that his name be withheld because he was criticizing a decision by the brass. “It’s not logical. It’s not logical at all to have water-colored uniforms.”
Yeah, that last one especially has had a bunch of us head-scratching for a while now.
General Odierno Defends The Honor of His Command
Congressman Duncan Hunter is a former Marine officer and the son of a veteran of the 75th Rangers during the Vietnam era, so nobody thinks he's a bad guy. But Congress can tell on even the best man, and recently he made the mistake of trying to set up General Odierno's staff to look either hapless or unconcerned about the fate of troops in the field. It provoked one of the most intense responses I've ever seen from a military officer testifying before Congress.
See for yourself. The issue at stake is the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), which Rep. Hunter would like to derail in favor of a product produced by Palantir.
A lot of people have made much of the fact that Palantir is a Silicone Valley startup, and Rep. Hunter is from California. But Palantir is free to lobby Congressmen from their state, and Rep. Hunter is free to support a system he thinks is better for a constituent. That's part of our system.
What is improper is for a Congressman to compel a general officer to sit silently while that Congressman suggests he or his command are insensitive to the needs of the men in the field. To raise the suggestion is not itself bad, because Congress has a duty to oversee the military on just that point. What Rep. Hunter intended was to make the accusation without permitting a response, as he admits:
HUNTER: If you don’t let me say anything, we can’t have a conversation.
ODIERNO: Well, you weren’t gonna let us say anything.
HUNTER: Well, you — you’re right, but I have that prerogative when I’m sittin’ up here.
Rep. Hunter questioned the honor of every man and woman in General Odierno's command, and expected him to sit silently for it. The general refused to let the slander stand without objection. Good for him.
"The most important OP-ED written in decades about SOF"
General Odierno Declares "The Greatest Threat to Our National Security" is Congress
“The Army has been in a state of continuous war for nearly 12 years, the longest in our nation’s history,” Odierno said, “but today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle.”
The United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 establishes that Congress alone has the power "[t]o raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years." Clause 13 speaks to the Navy. The "lack of predictability in the budget cycle" is purely about Congress' determination of budgets.
Specifically, it is about the failure of Congress to determine a budget. Congress has not passed a budget in more than three years. The sole and only reason that there is uncertainty of the type General Odierno describes is that Congress has not done its duty.
That may be a first in American history. The Chief of Staff of the US Army publicly stated that the effects of Congress' actions are the largest national security threat to our country.
He put it very politely, even obliquely, as the UCMJ severely restricts servicemembers' criticisms of elected officials. Nevertheless, there is simply no other way to read his remarks.
The DHS Ammo Purchases
There are a couple of interesting questions about the Federal government's robust purchase of ammunition at a time when "a decade of war is ending." Here are two from Investors Business Daily:
1) Other Federal agencies have offered some sort of explanation about their purchases, but DHS has bought 1.6 billion rounds without explaining why it needs that kind of stock. That's enough ammunition to cover the Iraq War outlays for 25 years (although not the right types: these are mostly handgun cartridges, and presumably not FMJ as there is no Geneva Conventions protecting civilians from expanding bullets).
2) Why did DHS illegally redact information from its purchasing orders of ammunition?
Here's one more question, from me: Currently the US Navy is slashing ship maintenance, and delaying the departure of the carrier group scheduled to support operations in Afghanistan. The US Army says that 78% of its brigades will be unsat for combat due to anticipated training cutbacks. Both services are engaged in fighting an actual war.
Is it too much to ask that we prioritize Naval ship maintenance and the training of Brigade Combat Teams over these ammunition purchases? We're actually going to use the brigades and the ships. Rarely does the TSA find itself called to shoot anyone, and the Border Patrol gets in trouble every time it discharges a weapon. Presumably most of these rounds are to be used, then, in training of law enforcement rather than for actual combat. If anyone needs to cut back on training dollars right now, why not let the BCTs train and have Homelands Security stand down?
I know the answer to this question, of course. It's because Congress is incompetent to pass a budget and has been for years, while the President is so far out to sea that his last budget didn't get even a single vote in the House.
In a positive sign for Joe Biden's hopes for a negotiated solution to Iranian proliferation issues, the President of Iran made a missile-related proposal that the United States should have no problem endorsing.
Maybe there's hope for the administration's containment policy after all!
Wisdom of General Mattis
H. Thomas Hayden has compiled some of General Mattis' best sayings. It's worth remembering how well educated and well read the general is. He's also a hard charger, not just in the field but in holding his planners to account at Central Command. He isn't afraid to push the lessons learned higher, and give honest advice to the civilian leadership.
America will miss his leadership, his intellect, and his character.
Good Hunting, Captain Michael Haley
Stars And Stripes has an article about a deployment ceremony, something with which most of us are all too familiar. This National Guard ceremony is different from most only in a small regard: the tearful goodbyes are being said by a state governor, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina. The fact that this is newsworthy underscores the division between the military and the political class that governs it. A few political families, however, remain connected.
Here at BLACKFIVE we support all our servicemembers who deploy to war in any capacity. In taking notice of this I don't want to appear to be playing favorites. I just want to take a moment to recognize how healthy it is for this kind of connection between service and politics to flourish. We wish Captain Haley, and all his comrades, good fortune and a safe return at the completion of their mission.
Uncertainty as a National Security Issue
Department of Defense Comptroller Robert F. Hale gave a talk recently that underlines a key problem troubling not only our national defense, but explaining why the economy has been so bad for so long. The problem is the uncertainty being created by the government itself.
The problem comes from a a nation that is divided. As Mr. Hale's remarks demonstrate, the inability of Congress to pass a budget -- he is too kind to point out that this is Congress' most basic responsibility -- have put DOD in a worse position than if the Congress had simply cut its budget. Instead, Congress cut the budget and then set up a possible future budget cut called sequestration. Sequestration has been looming as a possible, but not a certain, problem for a long time now. In the most recent deal to avoid the 'fiscal cliff,' though, Congress just put off a decision on sequestration a little while longer.
Anyone who has ever been on a military staff knows that you can plan around a bad decision from On High, but you can't plan around indecision. You can kick around some options, but until a decision is made you can't write orders. Until the New Year nobody knew whether the budget for this year was going to be X, or X minus 45 billion dollars. Nobody knew for sure just where that hacksaw would fall. Today, nobody still knows. They just know they'll have two months less to plan for it.
It's not just DOD, or the defense industry that is connected to DOD decisions. It's true for the broader economy as well. The reason the recovery is so slow is that people who have capital aren't making investments that would spur job growth. Why? Because anyone pondering an investment faces uncertain costs. Between Obamacare coming online, massive regulatory changes being put forward by an activist administration, and Congressional malfeasance on the budget, no potential businessman has any idea what his costs will be next year, two years out, five or ten years out.
Of course they won't invest in this environment -- they'd be fools to invest when they can't even estimate what their costs will be. Our government is making it impossible.
Politicians should accept that the American people returned a divided government in almost the same form as before the election. Neither side has the right to push its agenda in this environment. What we do need to do is provide some stability to military planners and those who are planning potential investments in America. Government lacks the power to fix the problems that face us, but it sure is managing to make them a lot worse.
A New Age Dawns
Perhaps it is because it is the last day of a dying year, with the birth of a new one just before us. Perhaps it is because it is the end of this President's first term, with his second just to come. Whatever the reason, the New York Times has finally felt liberated to publish a piece explaining just what their class thinks of the Constitution. Here are the opening and closing propositions:
...[blame] the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.... we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.
Little in the piece surprises: disdain for the Founders, repeated references to America's legacy of slavery (that original sin that taints the country forever), and a desire that government should be liberated from all bonds so that it can pursue whatever good it settles upon. The only thing that surprises is the professor's assumption that a government, so liberated, will be inclined to pursue good at all.
For example, he writes that we should continue to be bound by the strictures he likes -- freedom of speech, religion, equal protection under the law, and a few others -- "out of respect, not obligation." Doubtless a government so respectful of these things that it required no obligations would be pleasant, but I have never seen it. There is a reason that lawsuits on these topics regularly reach the Supreme Court, which is that the government already fails to respect even these principles on a regular basis -- and that with the obligation in place.
Even more amazing is the claim that, under his proposed non-system, "The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief." It's bad enough that a professor of Constitutional law doesn't realize that Congress has a very strong Constitutional claim against the 'unchallengable power' he cites: the power to declare war. What is worse is his notion that a President freed of Constitutional constraints would bother to justify military action at all.
Of course, the President might find himself forced to justify the action to one group under the new system: the military that would be liberated from any Constitutional duty to obey his orders. I wonder what that system might look like? I wonder, too, why it never occured to the professor to ask. His faith in government extends to the assumption that only things he approves of are possible if the government is liberated from Constitutional control. Somehow, something will keep everyone abiding by the parts of the system the professor likes.
Kindness, I suppose.
The London Evening Standard's 'Quote of the Day'
Many of you are probably aware of the recent story out of London, in which an Australian radio team pranked a hospital into giving out information about the royal pregnancy. The nurse who gave out the information apparently committed suicide in shame.
Today Richard Dawkins, a smart man who makes a habit of saying dumb things, gave his opinion on the matter. Because of his importance, it became the 'Quote of the Day' for a major British paper.
'Stop the witch hunt. Like Bradley Manning, the Australian hospital hoaxers have been punished enough'
You guys can do what you like with your radio hosts, but -- assuming he is found guilty via due process -- Bradley Manning has not yet begun to be punished enough. That's a mode of thinking that just needs to stop now. He stands accused of betraying his brothers to their enemies.
Of old, we'd have hung a man proved guilty of that. It's not a mark of our sophistication that we won't do it today. It's a mark of our decadence. There's an old poem about a time 'when all men are paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins.' It is a poem that is perilously close to a prophecy.
Readers of Special Providence know that I’ve written about four schools of American thinking about world affairs; from the perspective of the most widespread of them, the Jacksonians, what Israel is doing in Gaza makes perfect sense....I respect Dr. Mead, but this argument is half-baked. It's true that in Jackson's time America had no use for rules of war that would have rendered in incapable of fighting back successfully. It's likewise true that those same laws, now, are just another weapon to which you might lay a hand: they are the rules that allow you to treat unlawful combatants to a quick hanging or a trip to GitMo, because their lack of uniforms and discipline does not privilege them.
Americans as a people have never much believed in fighting by “the rules.” The Minutemen who fought the British regulars at Lexington and Concord in 1776 thought that there was nothing stupider in the world than to stand in even ranks and brightly colored uniforms waiting to shoot and be shot like gentlemen. They hid behind stone walls and trees, wearing clothes that blended in with their surroundings, and took potshots at the British wherever they could. George Washington saved the Revolution by a surprise attack on British forces the night before Christmas; far from being ashamed of an attack no European general of the day would have countenanced, Americans turned a painting of the attack (“Washington Crossing the Delaware”) into a patriotic icon. In America, war is not a sport....
The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans. The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.
From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids.
It's not that we don't get the rules. It's certainly not that they go 'over our heads.' It's all about war not being a sport. When we take to fighting, we mean to win.
And we do take seriously the women and children. Clausewitz's formula isn't against them, it's in their favor. Air strikes are one of the worst ways to wage a war, even especially a war of this type. Ask the Haqqani how kind our drones have been to their women. I have heard it said that the ideal weapon for this sort of war is a knife, followed by a rifle. Poison and silenced pistols are good too.
Those of you who watched last night's debate saw the President deliver what he apparently took to be a stinging rebuke to his opponent. In fact it was a shocking argument.
You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed... We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships.
Aircraft carriers and boomer submarines are both good examples of just why a larger Navy is necessary. US power projection is indeed built around these ships, but both kinds of ships require significant support from other ships. If boomer subs lack cover from attack subs, they are in peril. If you send an aircraft carrier into danger without adequate destroyer cover you will lose it. This is why every carrier strike group includes not just the power-projecting carrier and guided missile cruisers, but destroyers and anti-aircraft warships.
That doesn't even touch the number of pure support vessels that are afloat to keep the warships tended. Nor does it treat other means of power projection built around Navy vessels, such as the Marine Corps' 'Gator Freighters.'
Another reason this model of power projection requires a large Navy is that these ships sometimes need maintenance. Testimony on the effects of pending sequestration states that the current deployment model is unsustainable if those cuts go into effect.
It's one thing to say that you want a smaller, less capable American navy for some reason -- or that you are willing to accept a reduced American capacity to project power around the world. It's another thing to suggest that these ships are examples of why we don't need a large Navy. In fact, the model of power projection built around these ships is exactly why we need a large Navy. The ships are evidence for the opposite of the President's argument.
Oh, and just for the record, we actually have more bayonets now than in 1916, when the Army and National Guard were very small compared to European forces. It's a minor point, but given how dismissive the President chose to be about it, it's worth noting that he was wrong on the facts. Both American and British forces have fielded bayonet charges in Iraq and Afghanistan: see the link under "current deployment model" for examples.
Foreign Policy: A Critique of the Romney Plan
He's good on Israel: I understand exactly what he intends to do, and it probably would be stabilizing versus the President's strange approach. He's pretty good on Iran, although neither he nor the President are clear about exactly where Iran cannot go, and exactly what steps they believe will be adequate to enforce that declaration. Are we talking about another round of economic sanctions? (Sanctions are a terrible idea, by the way, although a popular one with Presidents; but sanctions cannot prevent a bomb if the government is determined to develop one, as they will nevertheless leave adequate wealth in the society for expropriation to that purpose. Sanctions can hurt the people of Iran, and they can further damage our ability -- probably already ruined for the remainder of this President's tenure -- to be taken seriously as allies by any reformers looking abroad for hope.)
If not that, then just what are we prepared to do?
Perhaps there are answers to that internal to the Romney campaign, which he simply thinks do not belong in the newspaper. Fair enough, although this is one place where clarity about "red lines" seems to be desirable. At least his mind seems to be in the right place here.
Less so is this true when he speaks about the Arab spring movements. I'm going to run through these comments in detail.
The Arab Spring presented an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom. But it also presented grave risks. We needed a strategy for success, but the president offered none. And now he seeks to downplay the significance of the calamities of the past few weeks.... [good policy] means using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression. The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism.
So, the thinking here is that we have an objective -- move people from tyranny to freedom -- and what is needed is a stratagem. That stratagem is using soft power to encourage job creation.
That's wrong on both points. First, these movements are not about American objectives, but rather they are independent movements with their own objectives. Only sometimes are these objectives capable of being satisfied by economic development. Nor are these movements homogeneous enough for us to impose a simple objective upon them. We need to consider the character of the "tyranny" involved, and the character of the revolutionary movement, before we endorse it.
By the first I mean that some of these states are worse than others, and by the second I mean that there are some bad actors manipulating (or even ginning up) these movements. Bahrain, for example, hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, and has at times been under pressure from a movement of Shi'ite citizens that shows signs of Iranian influence. There are legitimate human rights issues, but here we are talking about a place where soft power and diplomacy really are appropriate responses.
In other cases, where the revolutionaries are Sunnis, we see that al Qaeda and allied movements turn out to be engaged in the revolutions as well as independent citizens. In cases where a tyranny is bad enough that we wish to step up with a plan to help move the citizens 'from tyranny to freedom,' we have to ask whether and to what degree we can disaggregate the liberation movement from the Qaeda-type movement. If the answer is that we cannot, that's something we have to take on board.
The President's apparent lack of an overarching plan here is -- I think it is fair to say -- largely an outgrowth of the need to treat each of these movements independently. Even so we can disagree with how he has handled some of the situations. I think he handled the Libyan adventure very well initially, though he has come under righteous fire lately for having not provided adequate security and presence more recently. Even there, though, it is worth remembering that security is often traded for influence. The safer you are in your embassy, the less you are out among the people. It is possible to err on both sides of this question. The President and the Secretary of State clearly erred in this case, but the impulse to keep the presence light and engaged is not a bad one. This is how the Special Forces operate, and if the State Department can hang, it's often a good model when engaging in what amounts to irregular warfare. There are also some hopeful signs that the Qaeda elements can be disaggregated, though this is still early.
Other cases are ripe for criticism. In Yemen, we seem to have fallen into being manipulated into backing one side of a tribal conflict because that side happens to have control over the machinery of government. Insofar as we have a legitimate interest there, it's in the AQAP, but we are not going after them as directly as we could.
In Egypt, it looks as though there has been a major diplomatic failure that is squarely the President's fault -- not for his remarks, but for what they reveal about his conception about our relationship to Egypt. We are exactly where he thinks we should be with Egypt, as an admirer writes here. This is an area where clear criticism, and a plan to repair the situation, are welcome. Certainly economic development will be a crucial part of any plan, because Egypt is food-poor, and therefore highly unstable. A great start would be to end the policy of introducing ethanol into American gasoline. If you must continue subsidizing the farmers, buy the corn and sell it in the global food market to help lower food costs, which are driving instability in many places.
In Syria, soft power and economic aid of the type Mr. Romney suggests are entirely inadequate to the situation. There is also a significant disaggregation problem regarding the insurgency. Furthermore, the Sunni-led insurgency in Syria neighbors increasing violence in Iraq, where the Sunnis who helped us defeat al Qaeda have been abandoned by US policy, and are being unfairly treated by their government. So far our response has been to send Special Forces to help the central government against the insurgents. Instead we should be reconnecting with our former allies, and helping them achieve a more just settlement within Iraq in return for leveraging their connections to identify and isolate the Qaeda elements in the Syrian insurgency. If we can do that, we can support the Syrian people against a government that truly is tyrannical.
Finally, the rock of American foreign policy in the Middle East should be developing our own oil and natural gas resources. That is coherent with Mr. Romney's suggestion that America needs to restore its "sinews," including economic and military strength.