Tuesday, September 16, 2014

At the Border

Major General Stephen Twitty, the new commanding general at Fort Bliss, Texas.  Since taking command of the post (and the 1st Armored Division) in August, General Twitty has emphasized security at Fort Bliss, which lies near our porous border with Mexico (photo by Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle)   

In predictable fashion, today's edition of The New York Times does its best to advance the Obama Administration narrative that ISIS isn't at our southern border, and doesn't pose an immediate threat.  From this morning's story which, oddly enough, was buried deep in the paper:

As the Obama administration and the American public have focused their attention on ISIS in recent weeks, conservative groups and leading Republicans have issued stark warnings like those that ISIS and other extremists from Syria are planning to enter the country illegally from Mexico. But the Homeland Security Department, the F.B.I. and lawmakers who represent areas near the border say there is no truth to the warnings.

“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” said Representative Beto O’Rourke, Democrat of Texas, who represents El Paso and other areas near the border. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears. Before it was Iran and Al Qaeda. Now it’s ISIS. They just reach the conclusion that invasion is imminent, and it never is.”

But maybe those fears aren't so far-fetched.  In an interview with Fox News, the sheriff of Midland County, Texas said local law enforcement officials have been told to keep a lookout for ISIS terrorists crossing the border from Mexico: 

 “I received an intelligence report that said that there was ISIS cells that were active in the Juarez area, which is the northern part of the Chihuahua state, and that they were moving around over there, that there was some activity…” Painter told Fox News. The report asked “for the sheriffs along the border to be on the alert, for all law enforcement to be on the alert, and to be on the lookout for these people maybe trying to come across.”

Painter noted that “Muslim” items have been strewn along the border and estimated that 10 to 15 million “undocumented aliens” have crossed the border.

“I think it’d be naive to say that (ISIS is) not here…We have found Muslim clothing, they have found Quran books that are lying on the side of the trail, so we know that there are Muslims that have come across and are being smuggled into the United States,” he said.

Sheriff Painter did not say whether the intelligence report came from federal law enforcement officials or the Texas Department of Public Safety.  But his comments were consistent with those in a recent release from the watchdog group Judicial Watch, which recently claimed that ISIS terrorists are currently operating Juarez, Mexico (directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso) and may be plotting vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks against targets on our side of the border.  And just last week, the senior intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security affirmed that ISIS operatives have been discussing ways to infiltrate our southern border.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of rising terrorism concerns has been a recently flurry of security activity at Fort Bliss, the sprawling Army base in El Paso.  Major General Stephen Twitty took command of the post and its largest unit (the 1st Armored Division) in August, and has devoted much of his time to improving post security.  While General Twitty said there was no indication of an immediate ISIS threat, he also promised changes in base security procedures:

When it comes to security measures at Fort Bliss gates, everyone should “expect the unexpected,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, at a press conference Tuesday.

“If you come here every week, you’re going to see something different, because that’s just the way I am,” Twitty said before 16 media representatives at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center. “I like mixing it up.”


Twitty said he knew when he started his job that the installation, due to the large expansion beginning in 2006, had outgrown its access control points, and that they needed to be brought into Army and Department of Defense compliance in some areas.

A week after he took command, assessment teams from the Army and the DOD visited Fort Bliss, and members of those teams noted needed improvements, Twitty said.

For example, the installation is out of compliance at Cassidy gate, because there are not prescribed lanes for civilian traffic and for performing searches, Twitty said.

To learn more about the issue, Twitty said he visited all 17 access control points and learned the vulnerabilities at each of them. He has also visited the installation’s housing areas.

After visiting Pentagon officials and talking with them, Twitty said he decided to test certain measures and increase security at Fort Bliss, and although unrelated, that coincided with reports about ISIS in the media.

Some coincidence.  Your humble correspondent spent a fair amount of time at Fort Bliss in 2013, and transited the Cassidy gate (and other entrance points) on multiple occasions.  The issues described by General Twitty existed under his predecessor--and other commanding generals--for years, yet there was no apparent urgency to fix the problem.  And with the billions that have been poured into Bliss since 2006, there was plenty of money to bring the entry points into compliance. 

Incidentally, General Twitty previously served at Fort Bliss as deputy commanding general (operations) of the 1st Armored Division from 2010-2012.  In that position, he certainly had the ear of the commanding general and could have pushed for security upgrades.  But the effort didn't begin until Twitty returned to Bliss as the CG. 

What changed?  That's rather obvious; nothing energizes the system quite like credible reports of terrorists just across the border in Juarez.  And even if a specific plot hasn't been identified, General Twitty is doing the right thing by assessing security and taking steps to improve access control and make the post more secure. 

It's also clear that the new CG is already adopting a heightened anti-terrorism posture. Twitty's vow to "expect the unexpected" and "see something different each week" are standard moves against an emerging terror threat.  Knowing that terrorists typically study a target's security practices before striking, General Twitty is implementing a more random pattern, making it more difficult to identify potential weak spots.

Security at Bliss is a daunting challenge.  In terms of area, the base is the second-largest in the Army (only the adjacent White Sands Missile Range is bigger), and its population has grown rapidly over the past decade, with the addition of 28,000 new soldiers and 37,000 military dependents.  And, with the chaos in Juarez just five miles from portions of the base, the potential threat is real--and very close. 

General Twitty isn't taking any chances.  Too bad our political leadership in Washington isn't being equally cautious.                



Monday, September 15, 2014

On the Reading List

...Rick Whittle's much-anticipated book on the Predator drone and how it evolved from technology opposed by much of the defense establishment, and into a key component of the war on terror.  Colin Clark of Breaking Defense got an advance copy and offers high praise, indeed:

"...Whittle’s superb book on the creation and uses of the Predator drone needs to be read by the Pentagon’s head of acquisition, Frank Kendall, and everyone else who decides what weapons America buys, including the professional staff on Capitol Hill who tell their congressional bosses what’s real and why.

Whittle, who seems to be making a habit out of producing excellent books on the acquisition of major weapon systems, offers a vibrant tale of the painful, slow and uncertain development of this new class of weapon.

In his words, Predator’s designer “had offered an ingenious new technology that was revolutionary, but politics and personality had trumped performance…” That was his summary of the plane’s fate when it was first sold to another company, but it could stand as the program’s epitaph until the urgent hunt for Osama bin Laden shattered the political, cultural and policy restraints that bound it.

According to Mr. Clark, the book does a masterful job in describing the various elements that made Predator a resounding success, beginning with Abraham Karem, a brilliant Israeli weapons designer who bet everything on his ability to develop drones for the U.S. military.  Readers are also introduced to Neal and Linden Blue, two brothers who convinced General Atomics to take a chance on Karem's concepts, and a pair of truly unsung heroes: Ira Kuhn, a DARPA consultant who convinced his superiors to provide $350,000 in seed money for the program and an Air Force engineer--identified only as "Werner"--who rigged the control and communications links that allow Predator to be controlled from anywhere on the globe, and beam its pictures to intel centers thousands of miles away.

Predator also represents a technology that emerged in the right place at the right time.  The war in Bosnia sparked interest from the Clinton Administration and the program really took off after 9-11, when the Pentagon needed platforms that could remain aloft for long periods of time and cover vast swaths of remote territory.

Based on brief excerpts viewed at Amazon, it looks like Whittle captures the element of Predator that many ignore: its ability to provide real-time, actionable intelligence, through the work of analysts at Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) sites around the world.  Without their efforts, Predator and other UAV platforms would be doing little more than burning aviation gas, and giving seat time to drone pilots and sensor operators.

And strangely enough, if story of Predator sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  The UAV system represents another technology that succeeded, despite the Pentagon's best efforts to kill it.  Predator came on the heels of an expensive, multi-year effort to field a drone system for the Army that came to naught and wasted a billion dollars.  With memories of that failure still fresh, the Predator concept faced an uphill battle from the start, with additional opposition from the pilot mafia in the Air Force and Navy.

We've been down this road before.  During World War II, with a desperate need for long-range fighters to escort our bombers over Europe, the Army Air Corps was preparing to fund something called the P-75 Eagle, a GM-built contraption that was (essentially) an amalgam of other aircraft, with wing and tail sections borrowed from such airframes as diverse as the P-40 Warhawk and the SBD dive bomber.  The P-75 had severe teething problems which prompted Air Corps planners to look at other options, notably the P-51 Mustang.  With its original Allison engine, the Mustang was average, at best.  But equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin powerplant, the P-51 became a world-beater, and the fighter that helped win the air war in Europe.

Similarly, the Navy almost took a pass on the famous Higgins boat, used for amphibious landings around the globe.  Senior officers favored a Navy design (that was fraught with problems) over a competing craft from shipbuilder Andrew Higgins.  The New Orleans-based entrepreneur literally threw down the gauntlet to the Navy, challenging the service to a test in Norfolk harbor in 1942.  Attempting to deliver a 30-ton tank to the beach, the Navy landing craft nearly sank; Higgins's design performed flawlessly.

Sometimes, the defense technology solution really is right before our eyes--if we're bold enough to think outside the box.           




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

No Threat

Over the past few weeks, as the administration gropes for a strategy for dealing with ISIS, we've been told repeatedly that the terrorist Army does not pose an "immediate threat" to the homeland.  And for good measure, officials from the State Department and DHS--along with Democratic lawmakers-- were repeating that claim again today.  More from Real Clear Politics

Several members of Congress, joined by State Department and Homeland Security officials, said Wednesday morning that the terrorist group ISIS does not pose an immediate threat to the United States. However, they pointed to the possibility of future threats from Westerners now fighting in Iraq and Syria along with lone-wolf attacks inspired by the group. 


“I am not willing to cede the point that ISIS does not represent a threat to the United States,” said the Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “I did not say ‘imminent.’ I did not say ‘today.’ But I believe this hearing recognizes ISIS is a threat to the United States and the people of the United States.” 

Jackson Lee’s comments were apparently meant to stave off criticism from liberal opponents of military action against ISIS, who note that intelligence sources have not found a specific, credible threat against the United States from the group.

When the Democrats trot out Ms. Jackson Lee to assure us that all is well, you know they've got a problem.  Think of it this way: on the eve of the 9-11 anniversary, with ISIS expanding its influence around the world, Democratic leaders had to dig deeeeep into their bench to find someone willing to go along with the party line. 

Unfortunately, the Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS apparently didn't get the "don't worry" memo.  Testifying before the Senate today, Francis Taylor confirmed that ISIS militants are planning to enter the U.S. via our sieve-like southern border.  Here's an account of Taylor's remarks from the Washington Free Beacon:

Francis Taylor told senators during a hearing that ISIL supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.

“There have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” Taylor told Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) in response to a question about “recent reports on Twitter and Facebook of messages that would urge infiltration into the U.S. across our southwestern border.”

“Certainly any infiltration across our border would be a threat,” Taylor said, explaining that border security agents are working to tighten measures that would prevent this from taking place.

“I’m satisfied we have the intelligence and the capability on our border that would prevent that activity,” Taylor said.

Calling Taylor an optimist might be the understatement of the decade. 

Senator John McCain of Arizona was dubious of Taylor's claims, noting that conservative film maker James O'Keefe recently released a video of himself, dress in a bin Laden mask, sneaking across the southern border, not a border agent in sight. 

Apparently, Mr. McCain is unaware that O'Keefe replicated his infiltration on our northern border, filming a man in jihadi garb (with a British accent) coming ashore in downtown Cleveland from Lake Erie, carrying containers labeled Ebola and ricin.  The fake jihadist even strolled into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, carrying a duffel bag.  He was never challenged by authorities.  According to O'Keefe, Coast Guard vessels assigned to protect the city from maritime threats were tied up at the dock.  

British-born terrorists--like the one who recently beheaded two American journalists in Syria--can enter Canada without a visa.  From there, it's just a short stroll or boat ride into the U.S.

Members of the administration (and their friends in Congress) are correct when they claim there are no known plots or operations involving terrorists infiltrating our porous borders.  But that's a particularly vile form of parsing--the rhetorical refuge of scoundrels and intelligence analysts.  They conveniently ignore the fact that ISIS operatives are openly chatting about crossing our southern border to enter the United States.  That chatter, which has increased significantly in recent weeks,  should be sufficient grounds to seal off the border, out of an abundance of caution. 

But the White House and its political allies don't see that as an immediate threat.  So the border remains open and ISIS militants may well be crossing from Mexico and/or Canada.  And it would be even easier for Americans who have been fighting for the terror group--or other western-born jihadists to simply return home, using the passport of their home country. 

And the threat may have already arrived.  Former CIA officer Bob Baer recently told CNN that a number of intelligence and security officials believe ISIS terrorists have already entered the U.S.

But there's no immediate threat.

Sleep well, America.  Later this evening, President Obama will unveil his strategy for battling the terrorist organization.  It will be interesting to see how much--or how little--he talks about the terror group's ability to strike us at home and what he plans to combat that threat.        


Monday, September 08, 2014

Jack Cristil, R.I.P.

The best play-by-play man you probably never heard of died last night. 

His name was Jack Cristil, and for 58 years, he was the voice of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  Dwight Eisenhower was early in his first term when Cristil, a native of Memphis, heard that MSU was looking for a new announcer.  In the summer of 1953, he sent an audition tape to Mississippi State athletic director Dudy Noble and barely a month later, Cristil was behind the mike for his  debut, a football victory over Memphis State University. 

It was the first of 636 football games that Mr. Cristil would call for the Bulldogs.  He added basketball to his portfolio in 1957 and spent 54 years describing the action on the hardwood.  He retired after Mississippi State defeated Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl, as his health began to fail. 

According to the university's sports information department, Cristil called 60% of football games played by MSU and 55% of the basketball games.  More remarkably, he maintained his wit and grace during some very trying times in the long history of Mississippi State's football program.  At one point in the 50s and 60s, MSU lost to arch-rival Ole Miss 12 years in a row, and fared about as well against other SEC teams.  That made for some long afternoons in places like Tuscaloosa, Athens, Knoxville, Jackson (where the annual grudge match against Ole Miss was played for many years) and Baton Rouge.  

Put another way: at the start of the current season, MSU had an all-time record of 524-555-39, with a winning percentage of .486.  That means Mr. Cristil saw the Bulldogs lose more football games than any other person.  Decades of futility might prompt other broadcasters to seek greener pastures, but not Jack Cristil.  He found a home in Starkville, and stayed there for the long haul, until the man and his voice became inseparable from the university and its sports program.

His long career is even more remarkable when you consider the other voices who have called SEC games down through the years.  The legendary Larry Munson spent 42 years doing play-by-play at the University of Georgia; John Ward was voice of the Tennessee Volunteers for three decades; John Ferguson spent 41 years behind the microphone at LSU, a stretch equaled by Bob Fulton at South Carolina.  Jack Cristil outlasted them all.

Counting down the final seconds to an MSU victory, Cristil was fond of saying you "could wrap this one in maroon and white," and there was no doubt as to which team he was pulling for.  But Jack Cristil was never an over-the-top homer (like Munson); he called the action as he saw it, and when the Bulldogs were faring badly, their announcer wasn't above working the frustration into his account.  When Ole Miss demolished State in the 2008 Egg Bowl 45-0, Cristil offered these gems (among others):

"It's 3rd down and so long, you will need surveying equipment to see how much is needed for a first down."

"There are only 45 seconds left.  Maybe Ole Miss won't score another TD.  In the 1st quarter, that is." 

"Coming up on the end of the quarter.  The third quarter, that is.  We've still got another one to play.  At the end of the third quarter, Ole Miss barely out in front, 38-0."

"Mercifully, the clock continues to run."
"That's it.  Ballgame over.  Ole Miss noses out Mississippi State, 45-0."

And finally, there is this one, made a few times when the Bulldogs had a particularly listless day on the gridiron.  For any announcer who's ever been on the wrong side of a blow-out game--and Jack Cristil saw his share--it represents high art in the play-by-play trade.  (And as far as I know, Sonic is still a sponsor of MSU broadcasts, so even they appreciated the humor).   

As a fan of a certain school in Oxford, I must confess there was a certain degree of schadenfreude in listening to such calls, because you knew the misery was being shared by all who pulled for MSU.  But there was no disputing the talent of the man who called more than 2,000 college football and basketball games and did it with a style and flair that were uniquely his own. 

Jack Cristil was one the greats in that small fraternity of southern football announcers who helped transform the college game into a way of life.  He was, in many respects, the last link to an era when football was an experience shared over the radio, with the roar of the crowd and that unmistakable voice, booming across the AM band on a Saturday afternoon. 

Thanks, Jack, for all the memories, even for those of us who didn't cheer for your Bulldogs.    



Thursday, September 04, 2014

And It Gets Worse...

For starters, insert your favorite quote about history repeating itself.  We'll go with the Sage of Yankee Stadium and his famous observation about it being "deja vu all over again."

Watching the news in recent weeks, it's very easy to come away with a sense of foreboding and belief that we've been down this path before.  All the signs seem strangely familiar and point in the same, ominous direction; something terrible--perhaps cataclysmic--is about to happen, yet western leaders (particularly those in Washington, D.C.) seem unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

The timing is eerie, to say the least.  August saw the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a conflict that the great powers literally stumbled into.  Long-standing alliances and opportunism took precedence over reason and caution, setting the stage for a catastrophe that killed 20 million people.

And this week marked 75 years since Germany's invasion of Poland, igniting World War II, an even greater conflagration that claimed three times as many lives.  The virulent strains of fascism and communism that helped precipitate the conflict sprang directly from the ashes of the first war, along with western timidity that merely encouraged the aggressors. 

Eleven decades later, it appears that little has changed.  Fresh off last week's admission by the Commander-in-Chief that we still lack a strategy for dealing with ISIS, came this disturbing revelation from Fox News:

President Obama was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year before the group seized large swaths of territory over the summer, a former Pentagon official told Fox News.

The official -- who asked not to be identified because the President's Daily Brief is considered the most authoritative, classified intelligence community product analyzing sensitive international events for the president -- said the data was strong and "granular" in detail.    

The source said a policymaker "could not come away with any other impression: This is getting bad." 

Obama, unlike his predecessors who traditionally had the document briefed to them, is known to personally read the daily brief. The former Pentagon official, who has knowledge of the process, said Obama generally was not known to come back to the intelligence community with further requests for information based on the daily report.

Obviously, it's more difficult to formulate a strategy if you're not paying attention to the threat.  The FNC report also raises obvious questions as to whether the President is actually reading his daily brief; while intelligence analysts were painting an increasingly grim picture of ISIS and its capabilities, Mr. Obama was dismissing them as the terrorist "jayvee team." 

But the fatal combination of inattention and inactivity goes much deeper than that.  The information leaked to Fox was essentially a preemptive "cover your backside" move by the intelligence community.  Amid very real concerns that ISIS will soon strike in western Europe and the United States, the spooks are letting it be known that they sounded the alarm--and President Obama ignored their warnings.

In recent days, there have been warnings that ISIS cells are now operating along the U.S. border with Mexico, while some intelligence analysts believe the group's operatives have already reached American soil.  Former CIA officer Bob Baer recently told CNN that members of ISIS are inside our borders and capable of launching attacks:

"The people who collect tactical intelligence on the ground, day-to-day – and this isn't Washington – but people collecting this stuff say they're here, ISIS is here, they're capable of striking," said CNN national security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer.

"They don't know what their plans and intentions are. But it's a definite concern," said Baer.

U.S. intelligence agents are keeping an eye on suspected ISIS militants who they believe have come across the Mexican border, or are American citizens that have come back from Syria, says Baer.

"They can't prove it. They're waiting to get enough intelligence to actually run them in. And then there's the unknown, of how many people have come back they're not even aware of," said Baer.

"The people who do this for a living are very alarmed," he says.

Assuming Mr. Baer's sources are accurate--and at this point, there is no reason to believe they aren't--is it any wonder the intelligence community is already playing the "blame game" with the White House?  

Yet, there are even more reasons to believe that trouble is looming.  Other intel officials tell Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon that 11 Libyan jetliners went missing after Islamic militias took over the Tripoli Airport in July.  Those aircraft pose an immediate threat to urban areas, oil fields and military facilities throughout the Middle East and Europe, raising the specter of airliners being used as guided missiles once again, just days before the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  

Records indicate that Libya's two state-owned airlines had a total of 27 aircraft before the Tripoli Airport was closed, including three Airbus A330s and one A340, which have the range to reach targets in the United States.  American intelligence agencies are attempting to account for all of the aircraft.  While at least seven airliners were damaged during the airport takeover, the fact that so many went missing indicates that some terrorist organizations have personnel who are fully-qualified pilots, capable of carrying out jetliner-based plots over long distances.  

Here at home, security officials have confirmed that a U.S. resident who died while fighting for ISIS in Syria previously worked at the Minneapolis airport.  Abdirahmaan Muhumed, a member of the local Somali community, had a job cleaning planes at the airport before joining ISIS.  Two former co-workers told KMSP-TV that Muhummed passed a background check before being hired by a subsidiary of Delta airlines, which gave him "unfettered" access to aircraft and the tarmac.  It's unclear how long the man worked at the Minneapolis airport, or when he departed for Syria.  Law enforcement sources estimate that at least 15 Somalis have left Minnesota to enlist with ISIS.   

In fairness, it obviously isn't the President's job to track individual, home-grown jihadists, or determine the whereabouts of those missing aircraft.  But it is his duty to set policies that deal with emerging threats in an effective manner, and that is where Mr. Obama has been sadly lacking.  Even today, he couldn't articulate an objective for handling ISIS.  At one point during his Baltic visit, President Obama said our goal is to eradicate the terrorist group; moments later, he suggested that containment and "management of the problem" represented our objective.  The terms are not interchangeable and don't believe the President's fumbling response didn't register with our enemies--in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

It's also a presidential responsibility to acknowledge policy mistakes (at least privately) and make the necessary adjustments.  One reason we have terrorists diving into our embassy pool in Tripoli is that Mr. Obama (along with other western leaders) saw an opportunity to knock off Mommar Qadhafi a few years ago, with little regard for what might replace him.  Similar events have unfolded in Syria; the President drew his famous line in the sand and promptly erased it; promises to hold Bashir Assad accountable came to naught, as did pledges to fully arm "moderate" elements in the Syrian resistance.  As those groups faded, ISIS filled the void--and that threat was subsequently ignored by the White House.     

And we haven't broached the subject of Ukraine, where Russian troops (under the direction of Vladimir Putin) are now openly fighting alongside the separatists he supports.  Mr. Obama is supposed to discuss that subject tomorrow, at a NATO summit in Wales.  So far, the western alliance has imposed tighter sanctions on the Russian economy, and announced plans for creation of a 4,000-member "rapid reaction force" that can (supposedly) respond to situations like the one in Ukraine.   

That sounds like a rational approach, but is NATO in danger of writing operational checks it can't cash. The proposed force is, essentially, a combat brigade.  Who is going to supply the troops (if you guessed that most will be Americans, move to the head of the class); when are they going to have an opportunity to train? How will they be transported to Ukraine, the Baltics or any other hotspot?  It's worth remembering that only four of NATO's member states meet the alliance's minimum standards for defense expenditures.  So, even if alliance members are willing, their contributions may be marginal, at best.   

Employment represents an even greater challenge.  Is NATO prepared to send it to Ukraine, where it might serve as a "speed bump" if Vladimir Putin decides to march on Kiev?  Or how about the Baltics?
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are full members of the alliance, and protected by the mutual defense clause.  Let's suppose that Putin generates a similar "rebellion" among Russian-speakers in one of those countries, which have virtually no defensive depth.  What happens when Putin sends forces across a border in the Baltic state to protect ethnic Russians.  Once again, the NATO rapid reaction force might be able to slow Putin's forces for a bit, while alliance leaders mull over the prospect of a much wider war.

To be sure, much of the Russian military remains poorly trained and equipped, but Putin wouldn't send those units on a drive towards Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, or Vilnius.  And with his geographical advantages, the Russian leader could mount such an attack with limited strategic warning, while NATO scrambles to deploy forces with long supply lines, dangerously close to hostile territory.  Assuming, of course, that NATO elects to intervene.

The former KGB Colonel who reigns in the Kremlin knows better.  That's one reason he unleashed his surrogates in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine; Mr. Putin has called the west's bluff, knowing that NATO takes its lead from Washington, and current American leadership can't even articulate an operational objective for dealing with ISIS, let alone broad strategy for crushing the terrorists and checking Putin's efforts to gradually rebuild the Soviet Union.

Such is the state of American national security policy in the late summer of 2014: rudderless, feckless and completely incoherent.  Sort of like the sweltering days of 1914, when Europeans marched off to war, not really sure how they arrived at that moment.  Or that September day 25 years later, when years of dawdling and appeasement exploded into panzer columns advancing across the Polish frontier.

Seventy-five years later, a similar moment has arrived.  Our enemies have selected their strategies and are proceeding with their plans while west hopes some grand coalition and over-arching strategy will magically appear.                                               

Winston Churchill said it best, looking back on what he referred to as the "locust years" (1934-35) when European and American leaders squandered opportunities to acknowledge and prepare for the gathering storm.  As he observed [they] "...decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

We know what happened then, just as we ominously await that which is about to come. 


In today's column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer argues that Mr. Obama has a de facto strategy for Ukraine--he's already written it off:

Vladimir Putin’s invasion may be nothing new to Obama. For Ukraine, it changed everything. Russia was on the verge of defeat. Now Ukraine is. That’s why Ukraine is welcoming a cease-fire that amounts to capitulation.

A month ago, Putin’s separatist proxies were besieged and desperate. His invasion to the southeast saved them. It diverted the Ukrainian military from Luhansk and Donetsk, allowing the rebels to recover, while Russian armor rolled over Ukrainian forces, jeopardizing their control of the entire southeast. Putin even boasted that he could take Kiev in two weeks.

Why bother? He’s already fracturing and subjugating Ukraine, re-creating Novorossiya (“New Russia”), statehood for which is one of the issues that will be up for, yes, diplomacy.

Which makes incomprehensible Obama’s denial to Ukraine of even defensive weapons — small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, his stunning passivity in the face of a dictionary-definition invasion has not just confounded the Ukrainians. It has unnerved the East Europeans. Hence Obama’s reassurances on his trip to the NATO summit in Wales.

First up, Estonia. It seems to be Obama’s new red line. I’m sure they sleep well tonight in Tallinn now that Obama has promised to stand with them. (Remember the State Department hashtag #UnitedforUkraine?)

Yogi Berra was right: it is deja vu all over again.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Good Riddance

Traitor John Walker, the former Navy Warrant Officer who sold out his country to the Soviet Union, has died at a federal prison in North Carolina, less than nine months before his scheduled release.

More from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot:

For 18 years, Walker sold U.S. secrets to the Soviets, both as a cryptologist in the Navy and after he retired. He eventually enlisted espionage help from his brother Arthur; his son, Michael; and a Navy friend, Jerry Whitworth. Arthur Walker died last month.

The security breach was considered one of the biggest in the nation’s history.

Robert Hunter, the FBI agent who arrested John Walker, described the ring’s leader as one of the most treacherous men he’d ever met.

“I think the man was pure evil,” said Hunter, who is retired and living in Virginia Beach.

Walker received more than $1 million from the Russians for providing cryptologic "keys" which allowed them to decode our most sensitive operations and intelligence communications.  Former Soviet officials and defectors said Walker's treason gave them "an invisible seat" at the Pentagon and one gave an even bolder assessment, claiming "if there had been a war, we would have won."    

There was also a human price for Walker's treachery.  The Soviet Union shared information with its ally North Vietnam and it is widely believed that Americans died as a result of Walker's actions.  Intelligence historians also claim that his espionage prompted North Korea's seizure of the USS Pueblo in early 1968, only a month after John Walker's initial contact with his Soviet handlers.  Moscow persuaded North Korea to capture the Pueblo (a spy ship) so they could gain access to the machines which used the keys provided by Walker.  That gave them both pieces of the communications puzzle, and the ability to decrypt thousands of classified messages.

Fearing he was about to be discovered, Walker retired from the Navy in 1976 but managed to enlist the assistance of friends and family members that sustained the flow of classified information to the Russians.  Walker was eventually arrested in 1984, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Under sentencing guidelines in effect at the time--and because of a plea bargain agreement that reduced prison time for his son--John Walker was eligible for release in early 2015. 

There are a number of ironies in the Walker spy case; his ex-wife Barbara knew about his activities for years and kept quiet, in agreement for hush money after their divorce.  She was never prosecuted and only alerted authorities after learning that John Walker had attempted to recruit their daughter for espionage (not knowing that their son, a sailor, was already involved).  Barbara Walker's initial claim was almost dismissed and actually bounced from the FBI to the NCIS, which grew suspicious of her former husband's luxury lifestyle--on the pay of a retired warrant officer.  Based in part on the NCIS investigation, the FBI eventually began tailing Walker and arrested him during an attempted "drop" of classified documents.

If John Walker had kept paying the hush money, or if the NCIS had taken a pass on the tip given to the FBI, the damage from the spy ring might have continued even longer, and caused more damage to national security. 

As one wag observed on the Pilot website, "looks like Walker got out of jail early."  And straight to a warm reception in that part of hell reserved for traitors.    

Good riddance.           

A Tale of Two Strategists

How times have changed.

In the dark days following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, General George Marshall turned to a then-unknown staff officer, Brigadier General Dwight Eisenhower, and gave him a critical assignment: develop a U.S. military strategy for the Pacific.  From the Army's history website:

"Five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought an American declaration of war on the Axis Powers, Col. Walter Bedell Smith telephoned Third Army's chief of staff (Eisenhower). Smith, Secretary of the General Staff in the War Department, told Eisenhower that General George C. Marshall wanted him in Washington immediately. Marshall knew Eisenhower by reputation as a man who would assume responsibility, but he put that reputation to a test immediately. When Eisenhower reported for duty, Marshall posed a problem to which he already knew the answer. He asked for a recommendation on how the entire Pacific strategy should be handled. Eisenhower returned to the Chief of Staff s office a few hours later and briefed a strategic concept with which Marshall agreed."

Ike's handling of that first task brought an even greater challenge from General Marshall: develop an overall strategy for fighting a global conflict: 

In late February 1942, Marshall asked for a memorandum to outline for the President and the Combined Chiefs the general strategy the Allies should pursue. In response, Eisenhower drafted a document that was in effect a precis of the next three years of the war. He observed that there were many desirable objectives the alliance might pursue, but warned that the resources did not exist to tackle every problem. Instead, he wrote, it was crucial to concentrate exclusively on those operations that were necessary to defeat the Axis. In his view, such a resolutely disciplined strategic conception offered the only hope of victory.

In a tightly focused summary, he sketched the actions necessary to prevent defeat while the Allies armed and organized themselves to take the offensive. Holding rigidly to the distinction between the necessary and the desirable, Eisenhower delineated a plan that included security for the North American arsenal, maintenance of Great Britain, and lend-lease to keep the Soviet Union in the war. His analysis excluded Pacific operations, so important to Americans for emotional reasons, as being of secondary importance.

Turning to the question of which offensive operation would contribute most directly to Axis defeat, he reasoned that Germany was the most dangerous enemy and the only one that all three members of the coalition could attack simultaneously. He accordingly reaffirmed the alliance's earliest strategic conception of dealing with Europe first and advocated a culminating attack on Germany through northern France, using Great Britain as a base. He adduced many advantages for this plan. The United States was already supplying Great Britain's needs, and to conduct the buildup there for the attack involved the minimum additional demands for shipping and escort vessels. A United Kingdom base was closest to the Continent, had plentiful airfields, and was the only logical place from which to employ the bulk of British Empire forces. [Positioning large numbers of American troops in Britain would also force Germany to keep significant forces in France, reducing pressure on the Soviet Union]. 
It's worth noting that Eisenhower produced his first memo in a matter of hours; the second strategy document was generated in a matter of days.  And the officer who created them was a recently-promoted one-star who (until that point) had enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular military career.  Outside the Army, very few Americans had heard of Dwight David Eisenhower in early 1942.  But Ike was clearly up to the challenge; his education at West Point and the Army War College, along with mentoring by such leaders as Major General Fox Conner and years of staff work, gave him the preparation required for assessing strategic situations and formulating strategy. 
Compare that to yesterday's performance at the White House.  Resplendent in a tan suit, President Obama took to the podium to announce we don't yet have a strategy for fighting ISIS, despite the fact that his own defense secretary has described the terror organization as "beyond anything we've seen," and his JCS Chairman advocated (at least temporarily) a comprehensive strategy that includes going after ISIS targets in Syria. 
Meanwhile, Britain has raised its terror threat to "severe," indicating that an attack is highly likely.   The revised U.K. assessment is directly related to events in Syria and Iraq, where ISIS has taken control of vast swaths of territory; captured a wide array of advanced weapons from security forces and established an Islamic caliphate, complete with paid civil servants, sharia law and the mass slaughter of anyone who doesn't agree with their seventh-century world view. 
And, as the British government clearly understands, ISIS may soon extend its battlefield to Europe--and beyond.  Thousands of fighters from western Europe, Australia and even the U.S. have flocked to the Middle East and enlisted in the terrorist Army.  Virtually all are traveling on passports issued by their home country and will eventually return home, providing a ready cadre that could carry out attacks on western soil (if ISIS decides to wait that long). 
But back in Washington, there's no agreement on how we fight the terror group--or even if it poses a threat to the United States.  According to Josh Rogin and Eli Lake of the Daily Beast, President Obama's top advisers can't agree on a strategy: 
"After a week of talk of eliminating the "cancer" of ISIS, President Obama said Thursday that he was not planning to significantly expand the war against the Islamic extremist movement anytime soon.

His remarks came after days of heated debate inside the top levels of his own national security bureaucracy about how, where, and whether to strike ISIS in Syria. But those deliberations – which included a bleak intelligence assessment of America's potential allies in Syria -- failed to produce a consensus battle plan. And so Obama, who has long been reluctant to enter into the Syrian conflict, told reporters Thursday that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS on a regional level."      

And just to make things clear, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told interviewers today that the U.S. in "not at war" with ISIS.  Guess we're waiting for that first dirty bomb to be detonated in Times Square or Lafayette Park, or a shoulder-fired SAM that takes down an airliner departing LAX. 

In fairness, strategy is hard--particularly when dealing with the type of threats posed by a terrorist Army.  But it's no more difficult than the challenges we faced in 1942, when George Marshall asked a single staff officer how we should proceed in the Pacific, with our "Plan Orange" strategy in ruins, and thousands of Americans facing death or capture in places like the Philippines.  And it is certainly no less daunting that drafting a strategy for fighting a world war against implacable foes. 

Truth be told, strategy development is most difficult when you don't want to do it--and that's the biggest problem facing Team Obama.  The President who was "elected to end wars" now finds himself facing a new enemy--an enemy is largely a by-product of his own, failed strategy for getting completely out of Iraq, with no regard for the long-term consequences. 

We could sure use another Eisenhower right about now.  To be sure, the man from Abilene was among the best and brightest of the storied West Point class of 1915--often referred to as "the class the stars fell on" because 59 of its graduates reached flag rank.  And early, revisionist depictions of Ike as a military dullard who did little more than play golf and read western novels have long been replaced by more accurate accounts of an exemplary soldier and statesman who ranks among our greatest military leaders and presidents.

But there are two things that separate the Eisenhower of 1942 from the current crop of military and political advisers in D.C.  First, Brigadier General Eisenhower worked for leaders who recognized an existential threat to America and were determined to defeat it, no matter what the cost.  Grand strategy becomes a bit easier when you're playing to win.  Secondly, Eisenhower was a man with the courage of his convictions, willing to make hard choices (to coin a phrase) and stick by them.  Barely two years later, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Ike personally drafted a statement, to be issued in the event the D-Day landings failed.  In his statement, General Eisenhower took full responsibility for the failure, while lauding the efforts of the men and women under his command.

Try finding a senior political or military leader serving today who would accept the same level of blame for a potential failure of catastrophic proportions--or be willing to risk career and reputation on a plan that was well-reasoned, but might not succeed.  Maybe that's why strategy seems so much harder than it was 70 years ago. 
Maybe this will add a little urgency to the strategy forumulation process:  Judicial Watch, citing senior intelligence and homeland security sources, claims that ISIS terrorists are now operating in Mexican cities along the U.S. border, most notably Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso. 

Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.

Specifically, Judicial Watch sources reveal that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is confirmed to now be operating in Juarez, a famously crime-infested narcotics hotbed situated across from El Paso, Texas. Violent crimes are so rampant in Juarez that the U.S. State Department has issued a number of travel warnings for anyone planning to go there. The last one was issued just a few days ago.

Intelligence officials have picked up radio talk and chatter indicating that the terrorist groups are going to “carry out an attack on the border,” according to one JW source. “It’s coming very soon,” according to this high-level source, who clearly identified the groups planning the plots as “ISIS and Al Qaeda.” An attack is so imminent that the commanding general at Ft. Bliss, the U.S. Army post in El Paso, is being briefed, another source confirms. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to multiple inquiries from Judicial Watch, both telephonic and in writing, about this information.

However, the Director of Homeland Security says he is "unaware" of any specific threat to the homeland from ISIS.  The afore-mentioned warning bulletin (if it actually exists) should be easy enough to obtain; hopefully, Judicial Watch can produce the document and affirm that Jeh Johnson is yet another administration official willing to pay fast and loose with the truth--and potentially, American lives.       


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Dimmest Bulb in the Senate Firmament

Angered over Burger King's purchase of Tim Horton's (and move to Canada), Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is urging consumers to eat instead at Wendy's--which owned the Canadian donut chain for more than a decade (Fox News photo)  

No one would ever accuse Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown of being the sharpest tool in the Capitol Hill shed. 

Case in point?  Mr. Brown is calling for a boycott of Burger King, after the fast food giant announced plans to buy Tim Horton's, the Canadian donut chain.  Acquiring the Canadian company will allow Burger King to move its corporate headquarters to Montreal, and limit the burden of America's confiscatory, 35% corporate tax rate. 

Senator Brown was in full lather as he urged Americans to stop eating at Burger King and patronize Ohio-based hamburger chains:

"Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders," Brown said. "Burger King has always said 'Have it Your Way'; well my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers." Wendy's is based in Dublin, Ohio, while White Castle is headquartered in Columbus.

As usual, Mr. Brown's grasp of the facts is a bit lacking.  This won't be the first time that Horton's has been owned by an American restaurant chain.  From 1995 until 2006, the Canadian firm was owned by none other than Wendy's.  Top corporate tax rates in the U.S. were above 30% when the merger took place, and it's a fair bet that Wendy's kept some of its profits from Horton's in Canada, just as other corporations have banked their global profits off-shore.  And who can blame them?  Pay a 35% corporate income tax rate in the states, or a combined national/provincial rate of 25% in Canada?  You don't need to be a corporate CFO to figure that one out.    

Of course, all of this is lost on Senator Brown.  He's too busy encouraging consumers to patronize an Ohio-based company that did the same thing with Horton's in the not-too-distant past.  And he neglected to mention that part of the purchase is being funded by Warren Buffet, the mega-billionaire investor (and friend of President Obama), who occasionally lectures Americans on the need to pay more taxes. 

Do the right thing.  Go to Burger King (or Tim Horton's) for lunch and vote for candidates who will roll back our corporate tax rate.