Sunday, October 31, 2010

How We (Shouldn't) Spend Our Money

A couple of news stories this week should make everyone question how the United States doles out aid to military partners.

First, a series of audits revealed that the US can't account for literally millions of dollars it throws down that bottomless pit in Afghanistan. In order to avoid the corrupt Afghani officials that we fear would merely pocket employees' salaries, the US often makes many of the payments itself. But somehow, we haven't kept track of it. Danger Room goes into greater analysis of the matter.

Essentially, while the US was paying Afghanis through myriad agencies, there was never any central bookkeeping or other accountability measures. Thus, millions of dollars in disbursements are now unaccounted for and were likely gobbled up by corrupt officials. The focus of the audits were on the period from 2005-2008, but it appears the issue has continued this year. For some idea of what is at stake, the Afghanistan Ministry of Finance's estimates of US payouts to Afghani 6,600 is about $45 million, and this is widely seen as lowballing it.

The failure of the government to keep track of its money is extremely worrisome. First it demonstrates an obvious bureaucratic failure. At the same time, it suggests we don't really know what our goals are in Afghanistan nor how to arrive at them. We have so little faith in the Karzai government due to endemic corruption that we then attempt--and fail--to circumvent it entirely. At best this must come off as hypocritical to Afghanis and at worst, our own cash is creating the corruption problem. We cannot point an accusatory finger at Iran for giving Afghani officials cash when it is a common, and failed, policy of our own.

The second event demonstrating our inability to be resolute with our money came as the Administration tried to quietly grant waivers to four countries named in the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act. The goal of the legislation is to cut off support of regimes that make use of child soldiers. The four countries--Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the DR Congo--are seen by the Administration as vital to US security interests; primarily in the War on Terror. As such, a year's reprieve has been given for these states to achieve compliance with the law. Of the four, only Chad has taken clear steps towards demobilization of child soldiers.

The Administration's backpedaling on the matter is disheartening. Foreign Policy got in on a conference call in which the White House tried to patch things up with peeved Members of Congress and NGO representatives. The explanation was rather weak: the countries didn't have enough time, it's a new Administration, and they should be given another year. Never mind that the bill was passed under George W. Bush and there have already been a full two years for the countries to demobilize. It is not as though the terms of the legislation were at all vague or that the countries didn't know the threatened loss of aid was coming. The event represents that the US, or at least the White House, is willing to sell out its liberal international agenda in order to pursue a realist purpose of threat reduction, even if it means permitting the continuation of the evil of child soldiers. What hope is there that this position will actually change next year?

I am concerned by the fact that these stories weren't very well-represented by the media going into the weekend. By the time of the child soldiers conference call on Friday, the thwarted terrorist attacks mentioned in the previous post had already occurred, so any meaningful discussion of these issues were effectively tabled. I understand the concern of most Americans at the moment is the economy first and foremost, but the inability of our government to responsibly use its money in pursuing foreign policy goals--whether through bad bookkeeping or filling the coffers of those committing crimes such as the utilization of child soldiers--is likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of government corruption and incompetence. Events such as these should have a real effect on any intelligent discussion of the defense budget or the deficit. Whether in terms of national security issues or any other matter of government fiscal responsibility, our policymakers need to take a good, long look at how the government spends' taxpayers money as we, or perhaps before we should, consider serious austerity measures or tax cuts. I think it is probably not surprising to anyone that this sort of responsible discussion does not appear to be happening in Washington.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cargo fo' Sho.

For the past 60 years, the security of the United States has been viewed as largely dependent upon the security of everywhere else. There has also been much criticism against this perception of our security because it has resulted in a variety of U.S. peccadilloes abroad intended to keep our country safe(r). Wars, coups, and rigged elections notwithstanding, there is something that the United States genuinely needs to work on abroad in order to improve national security at home: airport security.

Speaking as someone who once accidentally (I must stress the accidental part) carried TWO pocketknives through all security checkpoints in a foreign airport, I know that the stringency level of airport security varies from place to place. Since the September 11 attacks, there has been significant pressure from the United to States to improve security measures abroad, specifically to flights going to the U.S. Like fellow blogger "greenmountains" mentioned a couple posts prior to this, the security measures that the U.S. wants enacted abroad have been labeled as redundant and overly expensive.

The bottom line is that successful and foiled terrorist attacks alike are the primary tests of our airport security. The September 11 attacks showed how easily it was to smuggle handheld, edged weapons onto a plane and also how to gain access to the cockpit. Richard Reid's failed shoe bombing caper resulted in us all taking our shoes off at security checkpoints, shuffling around like we're visiting grandma's house (why is her carpet stark white? It's so impractical!). Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab's willingness to sacrifice his manhood helped usher in the widespread use of the body scanners that undress us with their evil, undiscriminating, robot eyes.

And that brings us to the suspicious packages that were en route to synagogues in the Chicago area.

Depending on who is reporting the facts, the recovered packages contained bombs, explosive material, or something that sure looked like a bomb. Originating from Yemen, the discovered packages were found in the United Arab Emirates and Britain, respectively. While some have criticized the significance of these threats, there are many who are uncomfortable with the distance that the packages traveled before being detected. On top of that, at least one of the packages was discovered after a tip from an unnamed source, not after being detected independently by established security measures.

The question we must ask now is: how much more money is going to be spent to keep this from happening again? I hate mail bombs as much as the next gal and would greatly appreciate additional measures to keep them away from airplanes. But if the rest of the world protests the removal of their belts, shoes, and dignity on our behalf, I can only assume they would protest even more loudly at expensive technology, increased training, and loss of productivity as a result of implementing an increased security system for cargo packages.

The Obama administration will have to play this one carefully. No democrat wants to be perceived as soft on al-Qaeda(ish) terrorist attacks, but no president wants to accuse other nations (many of whom are important allies) that they aren't doing enough to ensure our safety.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Be afraid- China wants to pick your brain

The Wikileaks discussion in class got me thinking. I agree with the premise of operational security through classification expressed by our service member colleagues. The wikileak though, is more of a failure in oversight than a security crisis. Classification runs on a need-to-know system. Regardless of your clearance level, if you are snooping outside of your need-to-know purview, as the accused leaker did, a red flag should go up within the system. The fact that he was downloading so many documents over a short period of time should have shown up on the radar of his superiors –not to mention it should have activated any number of failsafe designed to prevent leaks…but enough about the BP spill…This got me to thinking about information security more broadly.

On to Farley’s favorite topic: CYBER SECURITY! There is a significant amount of PR surrounding cyber security. In fact, if you want to get a BS and MA on the government’s tab (and then some to spend) AND have a guaranteed job for 5+ years, it is the way to go. Additionally, ODNI has been working the last year or two with industry security leaders to create a Special Security Center Security Operations Curriculum at universities across the country focusing on cyber/information security (the pilot starts next year at universities yet to be announced). The purpose of the curriculum is to establish a specific degree program though which graduates are not only immediately ready to be put to work (without the lag of the industrial learning curve) by the likes of Rathyon and Northrop Grumman and government agencies, but also to engrain a single set of best practices across the public and private sectors as they relate to national security. Plus, the QDR and NSS are peppered with references to cyber security and the “cyber space.” Moral of the story is that Cyber Security is a big deal for the government and the anticipation is that the risk will only grow.

Anyone with a clearance remembers how complicated their life became when thumb drives became contraband in the workplace…especially for those deployed abroad. China is seen as the primary aggressor, hitting USG firewalls hundreds of times per day. However, the real successes China can claim (but wouldn’t) are far lower tech than hacking the cyber sphere. For the most part, the individuals transferring the proprietary information are not even aware of the espionage implications of their actions. Most of what makes it to the public is the cost of economic espionage to consumer industries but the cost of industrial espionage to the government and its contractors is enough that the FBI sends teams around to even the smallest contractor offices every year to remind them of how discrete and harmless espionage can seem.

Foreign nationals and expats, especially Chinese expatriates, are the most venerable. The most common situation is one where a foreign national working for a contractor shares unclassified but proprietary tidbits of their project in casual conversations with family or friends who work for similar companies at home, or for foreign intelligence services—unbeknownst to the target, not always, but often. For the most part, the target thinks they are talking shop with a confidant. Eventually the conversation touches on classified tidbits that are classified in whole, but maybe not in part, and then escalates to sharing documents which seem harmless to the target.

At best, the guilty individual has been had—divulging information that weakens competition in an internationally bided contract. At worst they share information knowing that it is against US law, but failing to understand the potential strategic value of information. The high context- community oriented nature of Asian cultures (often described as a lack of respect for intellectual property) and the lack of understanding for that type of culture by the low context-individualist American psyche together create a particular incompatibility in personnel security. The agent of espionage is likely to view the information sharing more as helping their “community” gain competitiveness with the US than to think of it as harmful to the national security of their host. This kind of thing slips thought because those responsible for personnel security are looking for malicious breaches and vulnerabilities of financial motivation or blackmail.

This is not to say that the classic idea of espionage and the new age cyber warfare are not still of concern. Those are the low-probability yet high-cost risks. But the more frequent instances of espionage are far more passive in nature. We are not talking the espionage of cold war spies, breaking into facilities and networks to steal highly classified government secrets. Most US secrets are compromised due to naivety and stupidity of both Americans and foreign nationals who just don’t understand how their little piece of the puzzle fits into the grand scheme of national security and American competitiveness in the global market. For this reason, it is quite difficult for the FBI to prosecute because they must prove intent and cognizance of wrongdoing.

Based on class discussion, it seems that this scenario would not be so farfetched for one of us to fall into. As I understand it, most of us do not understand let alone respect the US system of classification and thus could easily fall into saying something though to be harmless but is actually of value to another country.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Last Point of View

Although we clearly exhausted the Wikileaks topic in class yesterday and the media has obsessed over it for far too long, I want to take one more approach that has been overlooked by those making arguments for and against it. As we know, the documents leaked were mostly reports that are generated by patrol leaders as they conduct debriefs after a mission. They pass on all raw data they collected from citizens, leaders and sources and pass it on to the intelligence shop to analyze it and connect the dots with other intel that has been collected. Major incidents such as Troops in Contact (TIC), IEDs, VBIEDs, market bombings and the like are also passed on in the same debriefs where the format does not require an in-depth explanation of the cause of every civilian casualty or fatality unless it is controversial and an investigation is opened. Civilian casualties do occur frequently and are a sad and tragic byproduct of war as it often has an emotional impact on the soldiers involved.

The Rules of Engagement given to soldiers are created by senior leadership to provide strict guidelines for proper escalation of force and it strictly defines when it is okay to use it. Unconventional warfare is fought in a highly complex environment where the enemy blurs the line everyday and so leaders must give their soldiers reassurance that they will be protected as long as they abide by the ROE. A split second of hesitation by a soldier is all it takes for something to go horribly wrong and even the most highly trained forces will make the wrong decision from time to time. This reassurance is the best way to uphold the integrity of our soldiers though as it helps eliminate the desire to use drop guns (a spare AK-47 carried around by a unit to place by an accidental civilian casualty), lie about events, and cover up the truth. ROE is not a fix all but it keeps most soldiers in line.

This relates to the Wikileaks documents because of the unfiltered access the public now has to these raw briefs. They don’t know that commanders have thoroughly reviewed the events or what the exact circumstances were on the ground. All that is known is a number of casualties and a best estimation of how it happened. The potential for public outcry as they delve into these reports could have a dramatic impact. How much would it take to convince the right Congressman that an investigation should be opened up?

We risk the loss of trust that is placed on military leaders to police their own and to create effective tactical guidelines to minimize casualties. This degradation of trust is passed down the line as soldiers no longer feel that reassurance when they follow the ROE. They worry instead about how the public thousands of miles away would react if they don’t view his actions as proper. We defeat the purpose of the ROE and increase risks to our soldiers when we blur the military/civilian lines as leaking raw debriefs has.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why I'm Proud of the Whole Wikileaks Affair

I’ll get to the title at the end, so hold off your anger for bit as I explain what’s behind my thinking on this matter.
As Americans I think it is easy to take for granted our right of free press. Enshrined in the first amendment alongside freedom of religion and the freedom to assemble the rights of free speech and press in many ways define what being an American is. These rights do not by any means imply that the government has to tell us everything or even anything. But they do mean that we can say what it is we wish to say, this is a powerful and largely irritating right we simply could not exist without.
Think about it, what we are doing right here and now cannot be done all over the world. Every step in the process of creating one of these blog posts (from reading a provocative news article to anonymously posting our own opinion online) is somehow restricted in most of the world.
In much of Latin America journalists have survived fighting their governments for a free press only to be restricted by organized crime syndicates attempting (and often succeeding) in scaring journalists into self-executed censorship.
The Blogfather of Iran, Hossein Derakhshan, was sentenced a month ago to 20 years in jail for his past criticisms of the government, allegedly supporting Iran’s enemies and insulting Islam. Despite his more recent turn to defending the Ahmadinejad government the blogger was nabbed by authorities in 2008 and is unlikely to be released any time soon.
In China, freedom of press is enshrined in the constitution, but never does a news story or book goes to press without the censor’s hand touching it. Recently a former defense official asked a provoking question:
How would Marx have coped with the restrictions on civil liberties evident in China today? He would have needed government permission to publish his Communist Manifesto, and this would have been refused.
“You say our capitalist system will disappear!” Mr Xin imagined priggish 19th-century English censors exclaiming. “You can’t say that!”
Freedom of speech is irksome, especially if someone you disagree with has a loud and/or irritating voice. (à mon avis, Christine O’Donnell)
Or if the message is offensive and reprehensible (for example, the Westboro Baptist Church folks, they’re downright despicable and I’m quite ashamed to share a species with them)
But regardless, in this country freedom of speech has become one of our core and defining values, something we seek to hold on to. We criticize other parts of the world for not being able to stand up to our standard. But freedom of speech has to, for lack of a better pun, find its own voice. You cannot tell someone to speak freely, that would rather defeat the purpose. We also cannot instruct others as to what is right to say. This means accepting criticism from around the world, grateful for the saying though maybe irritated by the words.
In countries with oppressive regimes the sound of dissidents on paper or on the Internet is the prelude to dissidents on the street, or so such regimes seem to feel. So perhaps it is best for us (and by association the world as well) to challenge governments to stand before the flames of public opinion and like us, be forged in surviving. 


This cartoon comes from and is attributed to Paresh Nath, The Khaleej Times, UAE. So, I’m not the only one struck by how not new this piece of news is.
 This is of course, about Wikileaks. I browsed through the documents for a few minutes and didn’t see much that I hadn’t already heard or read elsewhere. Civilians die in wars (really?!) Militaries purposefully downplay “advanced interrogation” (wow, never knew that!) The government doesn’t tell us everything (WHAT?!)
To be serious, I don’t know enough about what the Wikileaks leaked to get upset by it. I agree with the previous poster – RoareeTheLion – that aside from embarrassment the leaks do not change the game in Iraq. These leaks pale in comparison to the Pentagon Papers, which did contain information the public previous had not known. Though, like the Pentagon papers, these leaks are now part of the record of a long, complex conflict. They make historians happy and soldiers less so. But unlike the Pentagon Papers I do not see students in 2050 buying copies of “The Wikileaks” in a History of the Iraq War survey course. They simply aren’t that important in the grand scheme.
Get mad at the New York Times for dedicating a page to the Wikileaks if it makes you feel better. But they are doing their job, displaying information for the public to peruse. Freedom of press allows them to do it and perhaps they should. If anyone is to be the target of anger find the guy who leaked the documents first, Bradley Manning, and yell at him a bit. He did steal classified documents, that's not right by any measure. But even then, I do not see what is so radical about the information in the leaks and I find claims that they endanger American soldiers to be overblown. Everything I’ve read so far that comes from Wikileaks merely puts in military jargon information already publicized or speculated in one format or another.
So chill out.
Such an event anywhere else in the world would have been riotous. Even though the pieces of information confirmed and restated by Wikileaks are decidedly not things to thump our chests in pride over, the banality of the whole affair is. This is why I'm proud of the Wikileaks leak, I'm proud of the fact that such information can be shared and while enrages some for this and that reason, people are not burning down the Pentagon or storming the steps of Congress (despite the fact no one is there at the moment).
Hate the Wikileaks, but be proud of your nation and its values. I am.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Aircraft Carriers, Nuclear Subs, and (Wiki)Leaks

The militaries of the United States and the United Kingdom had a rough week.

First, the UK's slashing of its defense budget by 8% (though less than the average of 19% for other departments) leaves serious doubts about its deployment capabilities. It also creates the embarrassing situation that, due to prior contracts, the British must buy two aircraft carriers, despite not being able to afford the jets for them for at least a decade.

Yesterday, compounding British embarrassment, the HMS Astute--perhaps the world's most advanced nuclear submarine, designed for stealth maneuvers--became mired in the mud off of Scotland. This occurred within view of the shore so civilians got to watch the numerous failed attempts to free the $2 billion submarine. After ten hours a tugboat finally got this high tech wonder free. Divers will be sent down to expect possible damage to the rudders. This isn't the only humiliating episode for Britain's submarines in recent memory, but the fact that this was merely a test drive of the new craft should raise concerns about Britain's nuclear seamanship. Fortunately, the hull was not breached nor were there any reports of a nuclear or environmental incident.

But, the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room is Wikileaks' release of 400,000 documents giving insight into the Iraq War. Last time, Gates said the leaks did nothing to harm US intel assets or the conduct of missions in Afghanistan. Similarly, it seems unlikely that these new releases will much affect the conduct of the Iraq War, especially as it winds down. That said, the leaks will raise important questions about the conduct of the war by the US and its Iraqi allies and may raise public outrage over the war both here and abroad.

Interestingly, though Wikileaks is certainly a antiwar outfit, some of the leaks serve to support official US assertions about the war in Iraq. For one, many of the leaked documents provide evidence of Iran's direct involvement in organizing and arming insurgents against coalition forces. Explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), the focal point of previous allegations against Iran's weapons support are mentioned, but so are surface-to-air missiles, rifles, and rocket launchers. Even a nerve agent with origins in Iran is reported to have been in the possession of insurgents.

Speaking of nerve gas, Wikileaks shows that the search for WMD in Iraq continued even after hopes were dashed soon after the war's start in 2003. And the results could be surprising. In addition to the aforementioned Iranian supplies, US troops continued to find small caches of chemical weapons around the country. Most of these were holdovers from Saddam's Gulf War stockpiles, but never the less mustard gas and blister agent were found, in various guises, across Iraq. Further, there is evidence that insurgents tried to get their hands on it. Though limited amounts of chemical weapons will not create a revisionist history of our initial involvement in Iraq (i.e. there were WMD!), it certainly seems there was a greater presence of illegal weapons than the public was initially said to believe.

That said, Wikileaks still released many documents to denigrate the conduct of the war. The greatest focus will probably fall upon the number of civilian deaths reported in the documents. Events that were unknown to the public--such as a stampede on a bridge claiming 950 lives--are scattered amongst the reports. The gist of the death tallies suggests that the Iraq Body Count's estimate of 100,000 civilian dead between 2004-2009 is more or less accurate. The Bush Administration went to great lengths denouncing the organization's figures as inflated, though it appears the military had estimates that were relatively close.

Finally, reports of abuse of detainees by Iraqi security forces will raise real questions about the professionalism of said forces and the ability of the US to leave the country in their hands. Reports suggest detainees had their eyes gouged, were beaten with metal cables, were electrocuted, and in myriad other ways mistreated. Some died in custody without formal explanation or investigation. In fact, even after the incidents at Abu Ghraib, many detainees would initially tell their Iraqi captors that they were terrorists in order to the transmitted to US custody where they would be treated more humanely.

Possibly aside from the allegations about Iraqi security forces treatment of detainees, none of the leaks that have so far been dealt with by major news outlets at this early point presage a major reorganization of American efforts in Iraq (nevermind that US forces are now down to 50,000). At worst it could play a role like the "Pentagon Papers" in stirring public outrage over how the US military engages in war. These documents do not give insight into how our military is engaged, nor betray valuable US assets, but instead represent a history of the Iraq conflict. Outrage may be a likely outcome, but a major shift in US policy is not. For academics and those seeking to score political points, these leaks come as a revelation. For the troops on the ground in Iraq they will likely not create a stir. Gates will likely be validated again in his assertion Wikileaks does not affect the war effort in any major way, aside from the possible embarrassment of US and allied forces.

Perhaps the people who ought to be most concerned about these leaks are Wikileaks founder Julian Assange himself--who news reports suggests is becoming more paranoid and self-alienated due to his work--and Pfc. Bradley Manning, the target of the government's investigation into the source of the first batch of leaks. Ironically those whose lives are most negatively affected by the leaking of these materials are the leakers themselves.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FARC on the Edge of Defeat?

Colombia’s ongoing battle against the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has been progressing in Colombia’s favor for some time, and it appears to have reached an identifiable tipping point. It should also be cause for debating the relative success of Plan Colombia with regards to stabilizing the country and combating drugs.

Less than a month ago, a coordinated air and land assault on a jungle hideout led to the death of FARC’s military commander, Victor Julio Rojas, know to many as Mono Jojoy. 23 other rebels were killed and a trove of intelligence was acquired in the raid. Recently elected, Juan Manuel Santos hailed it as a “devastating” blow against the left-wing insurgency.

While some question the extent to which this crippled FARC, the last two years have been undeniably successful for the Uribe/Santos war against the rebels. At their peak, FARC controlled an area of land roughly equivalent to the size of Switzerland, over half the country. Current estimates show that they maintain a sizeable presence in about 20% of the country. But “sizeable presence” is not the same thing as outright control, and the land to which they are relegated becomes increasingly inconsequential. I would agree that calling this a victory is an embellishment, but characterizing this recent death as evidence of something irreversible is rather apt. Outright military victory is unlikely (dense jungles along national borders have been, and will always be, an insurgent’s haven), but negotiating peace from a position of power is well within Santos’ grasp, and his inaugural address clearly announced this willingness.

Colombia is safer, more economically prosperous, rife with national confidence, and even the likes of Medellín have become legitimate tourist destinations (Medellín? Medellín! There’s hope for you after all Detroit). But Plan Colombia has had little effect in reducing drug use in the U.S. by attacking it on the supply side. Eradication efforts have been inconsequential and other aspects of production have diffused throughout Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. If one looks at Plan Colombia in terms of drugs only, it is decidedly unsuccessful from the U.S. perspective.

That being said, the roughly seven billion spent on Plan Colombia since 1999 has contributed to a reasonably successful counterinsurgency. Indiscriminate violence was a serious issue in the early part of the decade, but 3,000 extrajudicial killings, and an 80% reduction in violence against trade union members align with theories about transitioning from indiscriminate to discriminate violence during the course of a civil conflict. Colombia had its brutal moments, but we have to understand them in light of how other, similar civil conflicts were prosecuted.

President Obama’s 2011 budget omits Plan Colombia, and that might not be a bad thing. It still will receive a significant amount of aid, and hopefully an approved bilateral free trade agreement. President Santos is primed for this job. He was the defense minister most responsible for focusing the military on doing their do diligence in pursuing and neutralizing FARC elements, and reducing the military’s disreputable behavior. Santos would do best to use his substantial political capital and military leverage to press for a peaceful settlement.

The middling effects that Plan Colombia has had overall on the “war on drugs” should call into question the logic of continuing to look at narcotics in such a myopic fashion. A recent CNAS panel and report puts together a more wide-ranging look at crime and the illicit marketplace in the Western Hemisphere.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teenagers...for now

In Appeasement in International Politics, the author describes the relationship between North Korea and the U.S. in President Bush and President Clinton’s tenures. It was a process of going back and forth in negotiations, appeasement with accountability. The North Korean actions discussed towards the end of Kim Il Sung’s reign seem awfully similar to what is occurring now that Kim Jong Il wants his son to take up the reins in North Korea. It appears that another dance of military posturing alternating with diplomatic actions will take place for the benefit of the North Korea people, designed to instill popular confidence in the youngest general of them all and to prove that he is ready, willing and able to take the helm in Pyongyang.

This has security implications for South. How far will the son go in “protecting” North Korea from the West and further the goal of reuniting the peninsula? All eyes will be on the boy as he comes of age. Like a prepubescent boy, he doesn’t have the benefit of wisdom and will be prone to make mistakes for the sake of nationalism…how he thinks the nation ought to proceed. Will he act with giddiness once he has control of North Korea nuclear capabilities or will he act rationally? There is also the chance that if he proves himself this year, much to the tense chagrin of the world, then when he actually is instated, that he reaches out to the West and to South Korea. This would end hostilities and be a sign that he and his people accept modernization, seeking reconciliation and negotiating another Agreed Framework, this time honoring the accords in order to bring North Korea into the wholehearted embrace of the U.N.

I’m not quite sure what America would do if North Korea did an about face. What would our politicians have to do in a post-Cold War, post-NK world?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Stupid Secrecy

I am a little late to the party with this considering the NYT reported it way back on September 17th, but hey, I needed time to digest…and write other papers.

Apparently the Pentagon tried to buy up some 10,000 unredacted advanced copies of “Operation Dark Heart” by DIA officer and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. As any member of the Intelligence Community knows, if you write a book, it best be vetted by the proper authorities. Otherwise, you risk losing your government pension (haha) and even your liberty if classified material is accidentally divulged and compromises something big enough. So this “pre-release” was an oopsie in the classified world.

Upon the news of a slip up in this system of vetting, the fine journalists at the NYT (and every self proclaimed intelligence watchdog) got their hands on both the redacted and the uncensored copies to compare and find out exactly what was so sensitive, the differences to which they drew attention and published for everyone to see. Their conclusion—the DoD classification system is dumb.

Specifically, bloggers and wonks have latched on to the apparent classification of the term “SIGINT” which was redacted in the vetted version of the book leading some to question the overbearing nature of the bureaucratized system of classification. Also, it appears some don’t understand the necessity for the classification of the author's cover name—this, I won’t even dignify with explanation.

Since we have all latched onto this bit of sensationalism, let’s run with the redaction of the term “SIGINT.” Clearly, the term by itself is not classified. If it were, Prof. Mason would be in a whole lot of trouble teaching us uncleared Pattersonites about it. It is all about context. That the US uses signals intelligence is not secret and the fact that the US is using signals intelligence in Afghanistan is certainly not a surprise. SIGINT is used in and even defined by any number of US national security documents open for public consumption. Just check out NSA’s official website.

What is classified, however, is the reference of intelligence gathered (which may not be classified on its own either) as having been obtain using SIGINT assets. Combining the source with the information gathered is where terms become classified. Referencing a set of information with the source through which it was obtained risks divulging specifics as to the location and capabilities of that asset. Reading this combination of information might not give YOU a better idea of CI capabilities in a particular area, but might be official confirmation of something an adversary suspected or give them enough information to subvert the SIGINT targeting. The paired information might not have even been on the same page, let alone the same sentence, but in the right hands can jeopardize the effectiveness of US intelligence assets. And in the WikiLeaks era, there is much "supplemental information" available to the interested.

Another issue is official confirmation. Ok, so everyone knows that Ft. Mead is the head quarters for NSA and where “the Farm” actually is located. Wikipedia tells us these things. Google Maps even lets us zoom in on them to show that Bank of America has a branch at NSA. It is all open source data. Most of which, however, is unconfirmed by the United States Government. “Semantics” you may say to which I would respond that I hope you never have access to classified information.

So, to you it may seem silly at best that some things are classified while others are not. The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what they know. What seems overzealous to an outsider may have a specific value to those with direct knowledge of the scenario.

Is the secrecy unmasked in this situation justified? Even a majority of those who hold clearances don’t know enough about what is going on outside of their “need to know” area to assess the sensitive nature of most intelligence. Us lay people could not possibly make that assessment. And that is the point. The system of classification was developed because it might not be so commonsensical as to what is or has the potential under the right circumstances to be sensitive information. Besides, when it comes to national security and the wellbeing of our troops abroad, wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution?

One of those afore mentioned bloggers said “…the practice of national security classification as it exists in the United States today…does not exactly command respect.” To this I say (as I revert to the 3rd grade me): “no, YOU don’t command respect." *Humpf*

Friday, October 08, 2010

The United States and Philippines Strengthen Ties

On October 4, 2010 the United States ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Tomas, announced that the US will continue to send troops to the Philippines to combat Islamic terrorism in the southern islands. This announcement comes in the wake of newly elected Filipino President, Benigno Aquino III’s late September trip to the United States. Both the Philippines and the United States appear eager to strengthen military and economic ties, a move that will have larger ramifications in the strategic chess game between the United States and China in the Western Pacific.

In 1992 the United States withdrew from the bases of Clark Airbase and Subic Bay Naval station on the island of Luzon following a successful Filipino political campaign to force American withdrawal. With the greatest impediment to their expansion removed, China seized the initiative by pressing their claims over disputed South China Sea islands, principally the resource rich reef surrounding the Spratly Islands. This creeping Chinese aggression on Filipino territory led Manila to pass the Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington in 1999. The VFA provided a legal framework for a US military to once more base forces, albeit in a limited amount, in the Philippine Islands.

It was this legislation that allowed the United States to deploy troops to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao in the summer of 2002, where a small but steadily growing amount of United States soldiers and special forces have seen combat against the Al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group in addition to training Filipino forces in counter-terrorism tactics. Despite the spirit of cooperation among Fil-American forces involved in these operations, the presence of American troops in the Philippines remains a contentious political issue in and around Manila, proving to be a hot button issue in the recent Filipino Presidential election. The victor of said election, Benigno Aquino III, recently visited Washington where he met with President Obama as well as attending several business conferences and the ASEAN meeting at the United Nations in New York.

Aquino’s moves suggest that he is seeking to strengthen ties with the United States without directly confronting Beijing. An emphasis on economic ties, coupled with dialogue with the United States as part of the wider ASEAN group allows Aquino room to maneuver in his relationship with China. Even where military partnership with the United States is involved, it is presented under the auspices of continuing combat against Islamic terrorism, not as part of any American effort to curtail Chinese aggression in the region.

Such presentation and emphasis is favorable to the United States as well. Washington is beginning to place an emphasis on its relationship with ASEAN nations and is seeking to reengage in the balance of power in the western Pacific. The United States is largely welcomed by the Philippines and other ASEAN nations as a counterbalance to Chinese aggression in the pressing of its territorial claims in the South China Sea and beyond. The Philippines and ASEAN see increased American involvement as a security policy, providing a measure of protection from China without posing a direct military confrontation with Beijing. The last thing that the Philippines seek to do, however, is alienate China, as it remains one of the Philippines’ top investors and trade partners.

The current arrangements being made by both Manila and the US allow the nations to have their cake and eat it, too. As both nations’ foreign policy goals are furthered, while not causing enough stir as to arouse Chinese ire. The Philippines gain a level of security in strengthening ties with the United States that they could not gain any way else, all while continuing to conduct business with China. The United States regains a critical ally and foothold in a region that will see increasing attention over the coming years, granting it a potential strategic asset in any future attempt to contain China as it flexes its muscles in the western Pacific.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Is Osama Calming Down?

Being the head of al-Qaeda is not that great. Sure, striking fear as the physical embodiment of a worldwide terror organization might be appealing in some sense, but Osama bin Laden lives in exile, anticipates death or capture daily, and never gets to compete in any reputable volleyball tournaments.
One thing he can do, however, is transmit his voice to the world via audio or video recordings to encourage his brand of jihad against the west. Since a month after the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden (or those claiming to be bin Laden) have been consistently issuing mandates and threats to the world at large, all without having to hold an official press conference. Historically, these recordings have been more inflammatory, speeches more akin to those made by a dictator calling for violence and expecting results. It is because of these portrayals that the newest dictums from bin Laden are being questioned.
Yesterday, a new audiotape was released purportedly from America's most wanted bad guy. In it, bin Laden criticizes Pakistani officials for their inability to provide for their citizens who are suffering from the massive floods in the region. He goes on to mention in detail the substandard conditions in the area, the hunger, and other serious health concerns of the flooded communities. The eleven-minute tape, devoid of any threats of violence, has a significantly different tone than the last tape from bin Laden, where he threatened to execute Americans if al-Qaeda's 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was executed.

Today, a second "threat-free" tape has already been released by bin Laden, as of yet unverified. In the recording, he continues his argument for better conditions for those affected by the flood. He criticizes Arab leaders and strangely gives props to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
"The (U.N.'s) secretary-general came to witness the catastrophe for himself, and yet no Arab leaders came to witness the disaster despite the short distances and claims of brotherhood."
What has everyone scratching their heads about today's and yesterday's messages is that bin Laden typically portrays himself as a strongman armed with inflammatory language to help prod Muslims into joining his fight. These newer messages encourage international cooperation to ease the suffering in Pakistan and even call for increased media coverage of the devastating effects of climate change.

That's right, climate change.
Experts believe that bin Laden (or those claiming to be him... haven't we invented voice recognition yet?) is trying to soften his image in order to appeal to a broader base of Muslims. To be clear, bin Laden still advocates the use of violence against innocent people as a tactic to spread terror, as the recently discovered al-Qaeda plot to enact shooting sprees across Europe suggests. But if he could rebrand himself as a humanitarian first and a warrior second, then there is good reason to believe that a larger number of moderate Muslims would be more sympathetic to al-Qaeda's goals, even if they were not willing to join in hostilities against the west.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Relationships of Necessity

Pakistan is apparently closing a NATO supply line into Afghanistan following an incident in which three Pakistani border troops were killed in a NATO helicopter raid. While other entry routes into Afghanistan from Pakistan remain open, and the US is talking with Pakistan to clear everything up, this incident highlights the fragility of our avenues into Afghanistan. Whether we love or hate Pakistan’s leadership we need Pakistan, if for no other reasons than logistics.
Recall that the number of US bases and transit centers in the region is woefully small. Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan are about it. And last year Kyrgyzstan voted to close the US base, then changed their mind and accepted higher rent payments, then overthrew their President (the Manas Base was among many points of contention opposition leaders had with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev) and then accepted another rent increase. We need Kyrgyzstan, and we need Pakistan more.
Our fundamental need for Pakistan despite our multiple problems with the country is illustrated by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “lavish support” the US gives Pakistan. Between 2001 and 2009 Pakistan received $5.3 billion in US aid, numbers which put Pakistan in the top ranks of countries receiving aid.
The interesting thing to me about this whole affair is how little the US can trust Pakistan (for damn good reasons) but how much we need them to even attempt success in Afghanistan (how you define success is wildly debatable, but we’ll need Pakistan for most versions). The crumbling of Pakistan’s civilian leadership is a disaster waiting to happen.
To many the question is not whether the military with oust the civilian leadership, but how soon. Others note that between floods, corruption, militants, bad economy and wars there are too many crises for even the military to handle. The military is accruing goodwill with signs noting that "In tough times, the Pakistan army is with you," on relief supplies to flooded regions but that doesn’t mean they’d be welcomed back to power with open arms and festive parades. At least one journalist thinks a coup is unlikely. Certainly, the US hopes it is unlikely:
“QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up on Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign minister in a private dinner last night said that they’re quite confident of the robustness of Pakistani democracy and that the – that a military coup is not something likely. Are you confident in the Pakistani democratic structure?
MR. CROWLEY: We are doing everything that we can to support the civilian government in Pakistan and the improvement in the capabilities and performance of civilian government. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve responded so aggressively to the recent flood to support Pakistan’s assistance to its own citizens, and it’s why we have committed time and resources and developed the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan to help this government not only build its capacity, but also rebuild its relationship with its own people. It’s very, very important.”
Crowley didn’t really answer the question during yesterday’s press briefing, or rather he did - saying-but-not-saying that Pakistan’s democratic structure is weak, in need of rebuilding. And that it is “very, very important” for the US for Pakistan’s democracy to remain viable. 

Speaking of military coups and politics, Pervez Musharaff is indicating he will return to Pakistan to lead a new political party to “tackle corruption, revive the sluggish economy and … fight against Islamist militants.” While he says he will be returning to run for President in 2013, he says he that he won’t wait until 2013 to go. Could his return, plus another disaster in Pakistan, stir the pot dangerously close to coup? Perhaps. Or would a political Musharaff pull support from the military, lessening the inclination to take over via coup? Another perhaps.
Bottom line: Current US interests necessitate a relationship with Pakistan that is something less than totally hostile. We’d prefer to work with a “democratic” structure but we will work with whoever is in power if our goals require it (actually aren't dictators easier to deal with, only one person to placate?) Fighting a war in Afghanistan certainly requires Pakistan’s involvement.
The tie in to class is the consideration of where Afghanistan is in American Grand Strategy. Pakistan’s place is inextricably tied to Afghanistan’s in the American mindset, at least for now. The question for the strategists among us is how to handle Pakistan to our advantage, provided we can still argue that fighting in Afghanistan is to our advantage. Is it? That’s a whole different debate. But that’s the point of this blog, right?