Thursday, October 23, 2014

View from the Turret
















A knocked-out Sherman tank, somewhere in France in 1944.  The hole in the front was made by a German 88mm shell that passed through the tank and blew out the back (photo from worldoftanks.com)


Readers of this blog know that your humble correspondent is hardly a cinema maven; I can count my trips to the theater over the last five years on one hand, with at least one finger left over.  Most of those movies were selected by Mrs. Spook, or involved one of the grandkids, so the odds of finding me at the local multiplex--for a movie I actually want to see--are pretty slim.

However, I'll probably make an exception for Fury, the Brad Pitt World War II film that debuted last weekend.  Fury is the story of an American tank crew, in the closing days of that conflict.  Pitt plays Staff Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the commander of an M-4 Sherman tank.  Collier and his crew have been together since the North Africa campaign and have never suffered a single casualty.  With Nazi Germany tottering on the brink of defeat, the crew entertains the faint hope they may actually survive the war, and they look to Collier to lead them through.

But of course, duty calls.  Their tank, nicknamed Fury, is part of a Sherman platoon sent to hold a vital intersection behind enemy lines.  The unit encounters a German Tiger tank, which destroys the other Shermans while Fury is disabled by a land mine.  Despite the fact that 300 enemy infantrymen are approaching their position, Collier refuses to abandon the mission, and sets about plotting an ambush, leading to the film's climactic scenes.

Borrowing a narrative device from countless other war films, director David Ayer inserts a "new" soldier into Collier's tight-knit crew, creating the usual friction between the veterans and the rookie.  Fury's newcomer is Private Norman Ellison (played by Logan Lerman).  Ellison is a former clerk, pressed into service as an assistant driver when his predecessor is killed in battle.  As his first duty, Ellison must remove the dead man's body from the tank. 

From what I've heard, Ayer's film is both bloody and raw, and that's a fairly apt description of tank warfare in World War II.  As we've noted in previous posts, Allied tank losses during the drive from Normandy to Germany were horrendous. 

My father's old outfit, the 3rd Armored Division, came ashore less than two weeks after D-Day, with a complement of 232 tanks, virtually all of them Shermans.  By the time the Nazis surrendered 11 months later, the division had lost more than 700 M-4, a cumulative loss rate of more than 600%.  Losses among tank crews were equally high; at the start of the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944), U.S. armored units were so short of tank crews that infantry replacements were pressed into service as tankers.  Some were sent into battle against experienced German units with only eight hours of training, and most had never been inside a tank before their one-day orientation session.  So, there is clearly a precedent for soldiers from other branches being trained for armored duty and sent into battle with virtually no preparation. 

In some respects, Fury is probably overdue, since it's the only World War II film of recent memory that takes audiences inside the tank.  I've read that the replica used for interior shots was only slightly larger than that of an actual Sherman, so viewers may gain an appreciation of the claustrophobic conditions that tankers operated under.

They should also get a sense of the daunting odds faced by Sherman crews on the battlefield.  At the time of its introduction in 1942, the M-4 could easily match German tanks on the battlefields of North Africa.  Two years later, the Sherman was at a distinct disadvantage against the larger Panther IV and Tiger I/II tanks operated by enemy Panzer units.  Equipped with a deadly 88mm main gun, the Tiger totally outclassed earlier model Shermans (which carried a 75mm gun) and it was superior to later M-4 variants, which featured a 76mm main gun.  Ironically, most Panthers also carried a 75mm main gun, but with a longer barrel and more powerful powder charge, the German gun had a much higher muzzle velocity, enabling it to easily penetrate the Sherman's rather thin armor.  

How did we win the war with an inferior tank?  It was combination of factors, including Allied dominance in the air; our remarkable ability to produce--and repair--tanks, and of course, the courage and determination of the men who crewed those Shermans.

By the time U.S., British and Canadian armored columns broke out of Normandy and began their charge across western Europe, the Luftwaffe had virtually disappeared from the skies of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Most of Germany's remaining fighters were reserved for defending the homeland against huge raids by American and British bombers.  Meanwhile, U.S. P-47s, P-38s, P-51s and RAF Typhoons roamed over the countryside, decimating Nazi armored formations.

The Allies also benefited from the genius of American war production.  While Germany's Panther IV and Tiger tanks were technical marvels, they were also difficult to produce.  The Third Reich built only 8,000 of both, and the total Tiger output was less than 2,000.  Meanwhile, the U.S. built almost 50,000 Shermans, more than enough to equip our own forces and other Allied nations as well.

For all of its faults, the M-4 was also much more reliable and easier to fix.  Shermans that suffered moderate damage were usually towed to a maintenance unit, quickly repaired and returned to service.  My father was the NCO in charge of a platoon of tank retrievers in the 3rd Armored Division.  During their time in combat, they pulled a lot of damaged tanks to the repair point, and if a crew wasn't available, they were trained to drive them back to the armored unit that needed a replacement.

My father, who turns 99 in a few days, has never been shy about sharing his experiences in the Army, from his days as a peacetime draftee at Camp Polk, to his time in Germany after the war ended.  But he rarely speaks about the process of repairing knocked-out tanks; that's because maintenance personnel had the unenviable task of cleaning out the inside and removing any remains that might have escaped the medics or the casualty collection teams.  Once the clean-up was completed, one of the first orders of business was to repaint the tank's interior; the odor from fresh paint tended to obscure the smell of burned equipment and flesh that sometimes lingered inside.

Dad always speaks of the tankers with a great deal of respect, even recounting an incident when a Sherman crew picked a fight with some of his men.  He understood the odds they faced--and the fact that many never made it home.  That's why I believe Fury is worth a look; as World War II fades further into the mists of history, the film gives us another glimpse of the men who fought and died for each other, and saved the world in the process.
***
ADDENDUM:  Some less-than-flattering reviews from a U.S. Army officer and the eminent British military historian Max Hastings.                                                     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Slightly Off Target













 A Rhode Island ANG C-130J performs an airdrop demo during an airshow (Matt Hintsa photo at Flickriver.com.


The Air Force is taking a bit of heat, for a (slightly) errant airdrop to Kurdish forces defending the Syrian town of Kobani.  In recent days, the Kurds have been on the advance against ISIS, taking back more of the city, which is located along the Turkish border.  But, with friendly forces running short on arms, ammunition and medicine supplies, the USAF dispatched three C-130 transports, which dropped 27 bundles of supplies.

Unfortunately, one of the bundles drifted away from the drop zone and wound up in the hands of ISIS terrorists.  From the Daily Beast:

"An ISIS-associated YouTube account posted a new video online Tuesday entitled, “Weapons and munitions dropped by American planes and landed in the areas controlled by the Islamic State in Kobani.” The video was also posted on the Twitter account of “a3maq news,” which acts as an unofficial media arm of ISIS. The outfit has previously posted videos of ISIS fighters firing American made Howitzer cannons and seizing marijuana fields in Syria."

The two-minute video begins with footage of the bundle, still attached to its parachute, lying in an open area in ISIS-controlled territory near Kobani.  The rest of the video shows ISIS fighters opening boxes from the bundle, showing what appears to be hand grenades and RPG rounds.  

While the off-target supply bundle gave ISIS a minor propaganda coup, it also highlighted a grim reality for the terrorists.  When the U.S. musters the willpower, we have the ability to drop tons of supplies to the Kurds, and successfully deliver 95% of that aid to friendly forces, even in a semi-urban environment.  And there is virtually nothing ISIS can do to stop it, aside from praying that more bundles to blow off-course, and the Obama Administration will continue its lackadaisical prosecution of the Syria campaign.  A sudden flurry of airstrikes late last week put the terrorists on the defensive and allowed the Kurds to re-take lost territory; the supply effort gave them another boost.  Unfortunately, there is no assurance the U.S. will sustain that level of effort.  

From a tactical perspective, there may be some debate as to how the bundles were delivered.  Obviously, the C-130 is ideally suited for the mission; Herks have been conducting airdrops in all types of environments for more than 50 years, and their crews are well-practiced in the art.  The Air Force will only say that the mission took about three hours to complete, and only a handful of aircraft wre involved. 

Interestingly, the Air Force has not revealed the C-130 model that conducted the mission over Kobani.  In recent years, the service has been purchasing the advanced "J" model which offers a number of upgrades over previous variants, including more powerful Rolls-Royce turboprop engines, distinctive, six-blade Dowty propellers, all-digital avionics, and reduced crew requirements.  

The airlift version of the C-130J has only a three-person crew (pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster), compared to the five-member flight crew found on earlier transport variants.  Thanks to improvements in navigation gear and systems control, the J-model eliminates the navigator and flight engineer positions found on E/H models, though some special mission platforms still maintain the navigator, now referred to as a "combat systems officer."  

Navigators played a critical role in airdrops conducted by older C-130s; they were responsible for keeping the aircraft on its desired track and on-time, ensuring that supply bundles or paratroopers were "dropped" at exactly the right moment.  The nav's presence allowed the pilots to concentrate on flying the aircraft, while the engineer kept an eye on the Herk's systems (and maintained visual look-out).  In the cargo bay, loadmasters performed the tricky ballet of getting the supply pallets (or airborne troops) safely out of the aircraft.

With elimination of the nav/CSO position on J-model airlifters, the navigation, timing and look-out duties fall on the pilots, while a single loadmaster is responsible for cargo in the back.  On most airdrop missions, a second loadmaster is assigned, but it's still quite a change from the larger crews on H-model airlifters, and more than a few in the Herk community view the nav..err, CSO, as a necessity for airdrop missions.  

While the Air Force has been buying J models for more than a decade, it still operates a number of older E/H models, particularly among guard and reserve units that are integrated into the total force.  So, it's quite possible that the airdrop was conducted by an earlier-model C-130s, with a full crews.  It's also worth noting that airdrops are also subject to factors that are beyond the crew's control, such as a sudden shift in the winds, or a parachute failure.   

Getting 26 of 27 bundles into relatively small drop zones is pretty darn good, so the mission was definitely a success.  Our real problem is persistence; the Kurds can always use more close air support, along with weapons and ammunition for their troops on the ground.  We have the means to get it to them.  The only thing lacking is the political will.     




     

                         




Monday, October 20, 2014

When You Hit Rock Bottom (and Keep On Digging)

In most failed political campaigns, there comes that moment of desperation when the candidate and their handlers decide to unleash their version of the nuclear option--a television ad that is vile and repulsive, but will somehow turn things around.

Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis, a.k.a. "Abortion Barbie," reached that point of no return last week, unveiling the now-infamous "wheel chair" ad against Republican Greg Abbott.  For members of the low-information crowd, Mr. Abbott has been confined to a wheel chair for more than 20 years, after a tree fell on him.  He sued the property owner and won a huge settlement; Davis accused Abbott of hypocrisy, claiming he has made it more difficult for other victims to sue and win in Texas courts.


And how did that work out for Ms. Davis?  Jim Geraghty of National Review has the results of a new poll by KHOU-TV in Houston: 

"Wendy Davis, defending her infamous “wheelchair” ad, a week ago: “The important thing about this ad is that voters now see Greg Abbott for who he is and of course in an election that’s entirely the point.”

She was right! A new poll out this morning:
As early voters head to the polls for a landmark election in Texas, a new survey conducted for KHOU-TV and Houston Public Media shows Republican Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor.
Abbott’s supported by 47 percent of likely voters surveyed for the poll, compared to Davis’ 32 percent. Another 15 percent were undecided.
The 32 percent in that poll is tied for her lowest total in a poll in 2014. Good work, ma’am.

Hard to believe, but just a few months ago, Ms. Davis was hailed as a rising star among Democrats.  Lots of rich, liberal donors poured millions of dollars into her campaign, which was supposed to be the first step in turning Texas blue.

But Davis's campaign has been one of the biggest train wrecks of 2014.  But rock-bottom wasn't good enough for the Democratic candidate; determined to keep on digging, she is out with a new claim that Greg Abbott might try to ban interracial marriage.  Just one problem with that line of attack.  Mr. Abbott's wife, Cecilia, is Hispanic.

So, the disabled guy who hates the handicapped also hates his own marriage?  Can the ad linking him to Hitler and the KKK be far behind?  

And it gets worse for Ms. Davis.  Trailing badly in the polls for months, there had been some speculation that she might be in line for some sort of federal appointment, as some sort of consolation prize for being a sacrificial lamb (and running the worst campaign in recent memory).  But with Republicans now poised to take control of the Senate, it's hard to imagine the Obama Administration nominating her for anything.

Perhaps her alma mater, Harvard Law, is looking for a guest lecturer for the spring term.  Looks like she will be available.    

  

       
       

His Brillant, Abbreviated Career

Joe Biden has always liked to brag about his son, Beau, who has been a JAG in the Delaware National Guard since 2003.  The younger Biden, who also serves as the state's attorney general, deployed to Iraq for a year in 2008-2009, and remains active in the guard, despite suffering a mild stroke in 2010, and undergoing treatment for a brain tumor last year.

By all accounts, Beau Biden has served honorably, and military service figures prominently in his political resume.  A run for governor is reportedly in the works, and Beau Biden may have ambitions at the national level as well.

Against that backdrop, Vice-President's youngest son, Hunter, embarked on his own military career a couple of years ago.  It was announced in 2012 that Hunter Biden would receive a direct commission in the Naval Reserve as a public affairs officer at the age of 44.

As anyone who has served in the armed forces will tell you, direct commissions are exceedingly rare, typically granted to individuals with needed skills (such as physicians), or those with the right connections.  Readers can decide which category Mr. Biden fell into; as a lawyer with a background as a lobbyist and businessman, he certainly did not have the media background typically sought in public affairs billets.  But the Navy also saw certain advantages in having the Vice-President's son in his ranks, so Hunter Biden was commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve in May 2013.  Because he was over 40 at the time, Mr. Biden required an age waiver, but with his family ties, that was not a problem.

Then, almost as soon as it began, Hunter Biden's Navy career came to a screeching halt.  And thanks to The Wall Street Journal, we know why: in June of last year, reporting to his reserve unit for the first time, Mr. Biden flunked the "whizz quiz:"

Vice President Joe Biden ’s son Hunter was discharged from the Navy Reserve this year after testing positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the matter.

Hunter Biden, a lawyer by training who is now a managing partner at an investment company, had been commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve, a part-time position. But after failing a drug test last year, his brief military career ended.

[snip]

Mr. Biden was commissioned as an ensign on May 7, 2013, and assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element East in Norfolk, Va., a reserve unit, according to the Navy. In June 2013, after reporting to his unit in Norfolk, he was given a drug test, which turned up positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the situation. Mr. Biden was discharged in February, the Navy said.

Mr. Biden said in a statement that it was “the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”

The Navy won't say what type of discharge Hunter Biden received (citing privacy regulations), but as the WSJ notes, military members who fail drug tests often receive an "other than honorable" or "general" discharge.   Many are also subjected to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but since Biden was newly-commissioned--and reporting to this first drill session--the Navy opted to discharge him in February of this year.  

The service has not disclosed what Biden did between the failed drug test and his discharge date, or if he received pay as a reservist during that period.  Typically, military members receive full compensation until the point they are convicted or discharged from the service.  Pay for reservists is based on attending prescribed, weekend drills and a two-week duty period sometime during the year.  With administrative action pending, it is unclear if Hunter Biden participated in any reserve activities after the failed drug test.  

Equally curious is Mr. Biden's discharge date.  According to the WSJ, he was finally mustered out in February of this year, roughly nine months after his commissioning.  True, it takes a while to get rid of any service member who flunks a urinalysis test, but process seems to have dragged on for Beau Biden--a bit odd, considering his previous lack of military service.  Someone might ask his former unit about the average discharge time for other sailors who test positive for drugs. 

The good news is that Biden's short and undistinguished military career does not qualify him (as far as we can tell) for any veteran's benefits.  Not that we'd expect to see Beau Biden in line at the local veteran's administration clinic, or applying for a VA home loan.  It seems rather obvious that his late entry into the military was a political calculation.  Realizing that Beau Biden's stint in the National Guard has been a resume-enhancer, his brother decided to fill the "military service" square, with an eye towards a future campaign. 

Unfortunately, he didn't pay attention during his in-processing, when the Navy reminded new sailors that a random drug test could come at any time.  And, Mr. Biden was apparently unaware that traces of cocaine leave your system within 72 hours after use--though THC in marijuana can be detected for up to 30 days.  That means Hunter Biden was snorting up only a day or so before his first drill weekend in Norfolk and that speaks volumes about his character (or lack thereof).  

Looks like the Navy's drug testing program did everyone a public service, identifying a dilettante reservist who was unworthy of the commission he held.  Maybe that unit in Norfolk can find someone with a media or public relations background who takes the notion of military service seriously, and doesn't believe the rules apply to everyone else.  We'd be willing to be there's a mid-level petty officer or Chief with those credentials who might have been passed over in favor of Hunter Biden.  Hopefully, more deserving applicants will now get a shot.       

       

                    

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Preparing for the Inevitable?

A lot of Marines live by a maxim that is sometimes referred to as The Five P's, which fully stated are:  "Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance."

That holds true for most things in life, whether you're trying to hit the target on the rifle range, or preparing for a possible pandemic in the local community.

Drudge unearthed this interesting item from the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News, which covers Camp Lejeune and the surrounding region:

"Drill focuses on pandemic preparation."

According to staff writer Adelina Colbert, personnel at Marine Corps Air Station New River (which is only 12 miles from Lejeune) held its first-ever pandemic drill yesterday.  As she reports:

"Marine Corps Air Station New River on Wednesday held a full-scale pandemic outbreak drill where health officials and Marines responded to a smallpox outbreak that “occurred” aboard the installation.

According to Lt. Joseph Kotora, the public health emergency officer for Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, the Exercise Vigilant Response drill was the first of its kind at a military installation in North Carolina.

“The drills are usually conducted annually or semi-annually,” said Kotora. “A drill this size has never been conducted, so this is the largest pandemic exercise to my knowledge.”

Officials decided to incorporate administering inoculations during the exercise so that it would more accurately portray an outbreak situation where medical personnel would be required to screen and administer vaccinations."

[snip]

“This is a simulated exercise designed to test our capabilities and respond to a pandemic or biological threat,” he said. “ … We’re trying to identify some areas where we can improve and we’re also trying to foster some confidence in the population that we serve … that we can respond effectively to a mass terror or a weapon of mass destruction incident.”

Lt Col Aaron Adams, the executive officer for MCAS New River quickly pointed out that the exercise had been in the planning stages for nine months, and was not staged in response to the current Ebola outbreak.  Marines participating in the drill received flu shots, and base officials noted that influenza is a problem faced by military personnel wherever they deploy. 

We'll take Lt Col Adams at his word, but the timing of the exercise was rather curious, to say the least.  Equally interesting was Lt Kotora's observation about a "mass terror or weapon of mass destruction incident."  As someone who scripted a "bio-threat" exercise 15 years ago, I can tell you that it's generally a bad idea to invite the media, and publicly link it to a mass casualty event, real or imagined. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lieutenant got a little "counseling" today from his superiors, for simply speaking the truth.

Fact is, Ebola is very much on the military's radar, and not simply because of the misguided deployment of 4,000 troops to West Africa.  While commanders are acutely aware that personnel deploying to the hot zone could be exposed to the deadly disease, return to home station and transmit it to others, they also understand that terrorists could send infected individuals into the local military community, triggering a pandemic.

There's also the possibility of a mass migration across our southern border, in response to an Ebola outbreak in Central America, a scenario outlined earlier this week by Marine General John Kelly, who leads U.S. Southern Command.   

And, if you want to take things to the extreme, imagine the breakdown of U.S. society under the stress of a full-scale pandemic.  Food would disappear from store shelves in a matter of days--with few new deliveries.  Public services would begin to erode; what if no one shows up to run the local water or sewage plant, or keep the turbines humming at the power station that supplies your electricity.  Imagine cops patrolling in HAZMAT suits (if they're available for duty), and a health system stretched to the breaking point by the sick and dying.

While officials insist the nightmare scenario is unlikely (at least, that's what they tell us), the Marines, along with the rest of our military, must be prepared for such contingencies.  Preparations for the  drill at MCAS New River may have begun months in advance, but it's evident that current events moved it from the planning to the execution stage.                          
   

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Already Here

***UPDATE//3:53 pm/8 October***

Judicial Watch claims that four of the suspected ISIS operatives caught along our southern border have been detained in the last 36 hours.  Sources tell the organization that the four suspects were arrested in the McAllen-Pharr area, in Hidalgo, County, just miles from the Mexican border. 

***  

During his recent interview with "60 Minutes," FBI Director James Comey fielded several questions on the threat posed by ISIS.  Here's one exchange with correspondent Scott Pelley:

Pelley: How many Americans are fighting in Syria on the side of the terrorists?

James Comey: In the area of a dozen or so.

Pelley: Do you know who they are?

James Comey: Yes.

Pelley: Each and every one of them?

James Comey: I think of that, dozen or so, I do. I hesitate only because I don't know what I don't know.

Pelley: With American passports, how do you keep them from coming home and attacking the homeland? 

Comey: Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport's revoked, is entitled to come back. So someone who's fought with ISIL, with American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully.

That's meant to sound reassuring to an American public that is increasingly on-edge about transnational threats ranging from terrorism to Ebola.  But what if--as many fear--the terrorists are already here?  Just last month, various Texas law enforcement officials said they had received advisories from the feds, warning of potential border-crossing activity by ISIS terrorists.  And, in a story that received virtually no attention outside El Paso, the new commanding general at Fort Bliss quickly upgraded security measures at the base, amid reports of ISIS operatives less than 10 miles away in Juarez, Mexico.

The Islamic State--like every other terror group--is well aware of our porous southern border, and views it as a pipeline into the American homeland, useful for smuggling fighters, weapons and God-knows-what-else onto our soil.  

While everyone agrees that ISIS is "interested" in the border region, members of the Obama Administration have tried to downplay the threat.  But there are new indications that the terror Army is actually infiltrating across our border with Mexico.  In an interview with Fox News, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California said that 10 ISIS fighters have been apprehended along our southern border in Texas.  From the Daily Caller:

“ISIS is coming across the southern border,” Hunter told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren.

“You say that they’re coming in the southern border which changes all the dynamics. Do you have any information or any evidence that they are actually coming in the southern border now?” asked the host.

“Yes,” said Hunter.

“Tell me what you know,” said Van Susteren.

“I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas,” said Hunter, who received the information from a confidential border patrol source.

Mr. Hunter is not the only lawmaker to make such claims.  Last month, Utah Congressman Jason Chafetz asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about information that four men (with terrorist ties) were apprehended along our southern border on 10 September.  Secretary Johnson said he had "heard" those reports, but did not elaborate.

At this point, a bit of vague math may be helpful.  Most of the individuals who illegally enter our country from Mexico are never caught.  The percentage who are detained is rather small--as low as 10%, particularly along remote border areas in Texas which lack double fences and other entry barriers.  If those estimates are accurate, then a significant number of ISIS operatives crossed the border undetected and may be at safe houses or holding points inside the U.S., awaiting orders for future operations, or gathering information on future targets.

It's a very scary scenario and it may get a lot worse.  Speaking yesterday at the National Defense University, Marine Corps General John Kelly, the leader of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) predicted an Ebola outbreak in Latin America would trigger a mass migration that would make "the 68,000 undocumented minors" look like a small problem.  He also predicted that smuggling and terror networks could "introduce infected individuals" into the U.S., hastening the spread of the disease.  General Kelly also noted that nations like Haiti (and those in central America) have "virtually no capability" to deal with the disease.    





       

      

Thursday, October 02, 2014

And it Begins...

Barely two months ago, we were told that the odds of Ebola spreading to the U.S. were rather slim.  Remember this little "it won"t happen here" moment from late July, courtesy of the CDC?

The deadly outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa is unlikely to spread outside of that region and into the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday (July 28).

“No Ebola cases have been reported in the United States and the likelihood of this outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is very low," CDC spokesperson Stephan Monroe, Ph.D., the deputy director at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said in a teleconference. "I want to underscore that Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population."

Barely seven weeks later, Patient Zero, a Liberian named Thomas Eric Duncan arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport from his homeland, completing a 28-hour journey that took him through Brussels and Dulles Airport outside Washington, before the final leg of his flight to Texas.  

By some accounts, Mr. Duncan (who lived in Liberia for the past two years) decided to travel to the U.S. because he had been exposed to the deadly illness and was seeking better medical care.  Before leaving Liberia, Duncan had been in close contact with a pregnant woman who died from the disease.  

Four days after arriving in the United States, Duncan was at a Dallas hospital emergency room, complaining of symptoms consistent with Ebola.  Despite reporting his travel from Africa to at least one hospital staffer, Duncan was sent home with antibiotics.  Two days later, he returned in an ambulance, was diagnosed with the deadly disease and placed in isolation.  

At this point, medical investigators haven't released a full accounting of Duncan's activities during his travels from Liberia and after his arrival in Texas.  According to The New York Times, state health officials estimate that at least 100 people in the Dallas area may have come in contact with Duncan--directly or indirectly--since he came to Dallas on 20 September.  Among those potentially exposed are students at four elementary schools near the apartment complex where Duncan was staying with family members.  So far, only a handful of the individuals being monitored by health officials have been placed in isolation, including three emergency medical technicians who took Duncan back to the hospital on 28 September.  As of this writing, none of those individuals are displaying symptoms of ebola. 

Readers will note that the narrative surrounding Mr. Duncan has grown more complex, almost by the hour.  Early reporting seemed to suggest he flew non-stop from Monrovia to Dallas, with no mention of his stops in Belgium and at Dulles.  Of course, anyone on the internet can quickly discover there are no direct flights from Liberia to Dallas; why was the "connecting" information omitted from preliminary media accounts?  Was it sloppy journalism, or were government officials trying to figure out what Duncan did in Brussels and Virginia while waiting for his next flight.  

There's also the timing of his travels.  Various press accounts indicate that Mr. Duncan worked as a driver for the local FedEx agent in Monrovia; his residence was a rented room in a local home--owned by the father of the young woman who died from Ebola, the same woman that Duncan helped transport to a local hospital and back home, after the staff told them they had no more room for patients suffering from the disease.  Duncan's contact with the woman came on 15 September, just four days before he left for the United States.

But that assumes he had no contact with his landlord's daughter prior to that date.  That would mean the young woman--who was well along in her pregnancy--almost never visited her parents' home, or dropped by only when Mr. Duncan was out of the house.  Potentially, he might have been exposed to the disease earlier than the reported date.  Claims that he wasn't showing symptoms are based on Duncan's visits to the Dallas hospital, and whatever he has told U.S. officials.  So far, no one in the media has managed (read: bothered) to track down people that sat near Duncan on the plane, or encountered him at the airports in Brussels and the U.S.

Some are also wondering how Mr. Duncan paid for a one-way ticket (that cost at least $3400) on his meager pay, just three days before departing.  His former employer hasn't disclosed how much Duncan earned, but the average annual income in Liberia is only $436.  In other words, Mr. Duncan paid almost ten times what a typical Liberian earns in a year for his ticket to America.  He must be a very thrifty person, or has friends who were willing to shell out some serious bucks--by Liberian standards--on very short notice.   And no one has divulged when Duncan obtained his visa to enter the United States.  

Meanwhile, the government of Liberia has announced plans to prosecute Mr. Duncan, assuming he survives Ebola and they can somehow secure his extradition.  Before flying to the U.S., Duncan was required to fill out a questionnaire, which asks departing passengers if they had cared for an Ebola patient, or touched the body of someone who died in an area where the disease has been confirmed.  Duncan answered "no" to all of the questions on the form.

Of course, all of this could have been prevented if the Obama Administration had acted prudently, and suspended air travel between the U.S. and Liberia.  Supporters of the president argue that such steps are ineffective, since passengers can fly out on carriers still serving affected nations, and connect with an American or European carrier, and travel on to the U.S.  But the supposed futility of that measure hasn't stopped several European airlines (including British Airways and Air France) from halting flights to and from Monrovia.  

It's also worth noting that Mr. Obama quietly scrapped new reporting and quarantine regulations proposed by the Bush Administration in 2005.  Those measures required airlines to keep track of sick passengers and report that information to the CDC.  The expanded regulations also allowed the Centers for Disease Control to detain passengers suspected of carrying certain infectious diseases, including Ebola.  Under pressure from the airline industry and the ACLU, Team Obama decided not to implement the new rules.       

Just four years later, Ebola has arrived on our shores, the same week that the former hospital at Ellis Island was reopened to the public.  Immigration activists often point to the iconic immigration depot as a symbol of America's willingness to take in people from around the world, and give them the opportunity for a better life.  

But they often ignore the rules imposed at Ellis Island; everyone coming into America was given a rigorous health screening and those who tested positive for an infectious illnesses were placed in quarantine and some were sent back home.  In fact, many of the sick immigrants never made it to Ellis Island; New York state health inspectors met arriving ships in the outer harbor and passengers with contagious diseases were transferred to quarantine facilities in Richmond County.  One researcher estimates that over 400 immigrants died in quarantine between 1909 and 1911.  

Once upon a time, the U.S. demanded "good health and moral character" of those entering the country.  More than a century later, the rules are vastly different and we are paying the price for our mistakes.  And the price will likely be tallied in human lives.    
***
ADDENDUM:  FlightAware.com (and other sites) have also traced the travels of the United jets that Duncan flew on during portions of his trip.  From Brussels to Dulles, Duncan traveled on a Boeing 777 (registration number: N771UA), and an Airbus A320 (registration number: N482UA) for the final leg of his journey from Washington, D.C., to Texas.  

Over the six-day period following Duncan's arrival in Dallas, both aircraft were constantly in the skies, as you might expect.  The six day period represents the length of time that Ebola can live on a surface, such as an arm rest, seatback table, or lavatory fixture.  United has announced that no special cleaning measures have been used on either aircraft, even after they determined that Duncan had traveled on two of their jets.  

Between 20-26 September, the 777 flew to three different countries (England, Germany and Brazil); during that same period, the A320 served a number of domestic locations, including Denver, Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Newark, Las Vegas, Seattle and Orange County, California.  Admittedly, the odds of contracting Ebola from an expose surface are decidedly low, but there are literally scores of passengers who shared the areas where Duncan sat, and used the same facilities.  

H/T:  Gotnews.com                    
               

  

 

                  


 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Stunned Ox Look

...Today's TV review from the DiploMad 2.0, who does a find job demolishing "Madam Secretary," CBS's prime-time contribution to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; a brief excerpt:

finally pulled the trigger . . . well, pressed the On Demand button and watched the opening episode of the Hillary campaign "Madam Secretary" TV show on CBS, the Clinton Columbia Broadcasting System. It, as expected, was rubbish.

Tea Leoni, who plays the lead character Elizabeth McCord, has perfected the mouth-breathing stunned ox look. She plays the whole episode looking like, well, an ox gasping for air after being hit in the head by a defective stun gun. She is a "brilliant" ex-CIA analyst, who left the Agency on "principle" to become a "brilliant" University professor, and is recruited by the President, played by Keith Carradine, to become his new SecState following the mysterious death of his old SecState in a plane crash on his way to Venezuela on a mysterious mission which might not have been authorized and, deep breath, his death might not have been accidental! Wow!


[snip]

Anyhow, the scenes at State run from ludicrous to idiotic to back to ludicrous. What is captured  accurately is that Secretary McCord is surrounded by a staff of feminine men ("Girly-Men as Arnold would have called them) and ballsy women. That certainly fits with what I saw during Hillary's tenure. Her staff worries about nonsense, like her hairstyle, and what she is going to say about her dinner with the King of Swaziland (Why? Why pick on Swaziland?) That is pretty realistic. Secretary McCord goes through the day, of course, with her mouth agape and her eyes almost crossed with that stunned ox look Leoni has picked for her character.

Read the whole thing...it's far more entertaining than say, an episode of "Madam Secretary."  





 









  

Throw Clapper Under the Bus

Tim Cavanaugh said it best at National Review: if President Obama really believes what he said about James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence needs to be fired.

For member of the low-information crowd, the Commander-in-Chief gave his intelligence chief a less-than-rousing endorsement in an interview with 60 Minutes, telling Steve Kroft:

“I think our head of the intelligence community Jim Clapper has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” the president told Steve Croft. When Croft went on to note that Clapper had also mentioned the failure of the “intelligence community” (a catch-all term for the 17 intelligence agencies that are publicly known, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the intelligence services maintained by such varied departments as Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security) to get an accurate measure of the Iraqi army’s ability to fight, Obama responded “That’s true. That’s absolutely true.”

In other words, Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force Lieutenant General who has run two major intel organizations (the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency) and served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, among other achievements, has presided over a major intelligence failure that has jeopardized national security.  There is a growing consensus among intel professionals that ISIS fighters not only control vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, they are also present on American soil, meaning that attacks against the homeland are a matter of "if" and not "when."

So why does Jim Clapper still have a job?

Part of the answer is rooted in history.  Remarkably, few senior intelligence officers have been sacked, despite routine failures by our Intelligence Community over the past 75 years.  When the Japanese surprised our forces at Pearl Harbor in 191, the Pacific Fleet intelligence officer, Commander Edwin Layton, kept his job, and continued his climb in the Navy hierarchy, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.  The same held true for Commander Joseph Rochefort, who ran the communications intercept and code-breaking operation in Hawaii, and senior leaders at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Washington.  

Similar patterns followed other intel debacles, including China's entry into the Korean War (1950); the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (1968), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Iranian Revolution (1979) and of course, the 9-11 attacks.  In most cases, the intel community completely missed the unfolding events and we were caught flat-footed.  Literally thousands of Americans paid for these mistakes with their lives.  But despite the hand-wringing and blue-ribbon commissions that followed many of the intel catastrophes, few senior spooks lost their jobs.  

In some cases, it was deemed unwise to change intel leadership as the country plunged into conflict, or faced a major foreign policy crisis.  After 9-11, President George W. Bush made a conscious decision to keep CIA Director George Tenet on the job, despite public and Congressional clamor for his scalp. Mr. Bush believed that forcing Tenet out would leave the intelligence community leaderless as the nation entered a full-fledged war with Islamic terrorists.  In those days, the CIA Director also served as head of the nation's intel apparatus, so the president's concerns were not unfounded.  

But in other situations, it's convenient to keep the spooks as a scapegoat, and that seems to be the case with Mr. Obama.  When NSA turncoat Edward Snowden revealed the extent of U.S. collection efforts, the commander-in-chief sought to distance himself from the scandal, noting his skepticism about such programs as a candidate for the presidency.  Of course, the fact that he approved those efforts--and expanded them--from the Oval Office is a completely different matter, something that angry intel officials pointed out as the Snowden affair mushroomed into a major controversy.  

The spooks also pushed back earlier this year, when members of Mr. Obama's national security team tried to blame them for failing to detect Russia's occupation of Crimea.  As Shane Harris writes at Foreign Policy:  

The spies, said a senior U.S. official, had "warned that that the region was a flashpoint for a possible military conflict and that the Russians were preparing military assets for possible deployment to Ukraine" before the first of Putin's shock troops stepped foot in the country. U.S. spies have been on edge ever since, which helps explain why they fought back so fiercely when the White House seemed to be blaming them for not predicting the success of the Islamic State.  

Indeed, the notion that our intel agencies missed the rise of ISIS strains credulity.  There were plenty of warnings in recent months, including the testimony of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, then-Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency:  

In February, [Flynn] presented the Senate Armed Services Committee with his agency's "annual threat assessment." The assessment had a prominent warning about the Islamic State: The group "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group's ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria," Flynn said in his prepared remarks.  
  
[snip]

After the Islamic State captured Mosul and Tikrit, U.S. intelligence officials pushed back hard against the suggestion that they'd been blindsided. Analysts had "closely tracked" the group and its predecessor organizations for years, said one senior U.S. intelligence official. "[D]uring the past year, [analysts] routinely provided strategic warning of ISIL's growing strength in Iraq and increasing threat to Iraq's stability," the official said. 

General Flynn, widely regarded as one of the most effective directors in recent DIA history, was forced into retirement in August.  His sins?  Openly challenging the Obama Administration narrative that Al Qaida's brand of extremism died with Osama bin Laden in 2010, and pointing out the White House's preferred strategy of killing terrorists with drones really isn't a strategy.  A replacement for General Flynn has yet to be named. 

Which brings us to the real reason that Mr. Clapper is still gainfully employed.  As a senior intelligence officer for almost 40 years, Clapper has fought his share of bureaucratic wars and felt it was necessary to fall on his sword (again).  His motive is probably rooted in an effort to preserve intel programs and resources considered vital to the nation's security.  Take another round for the White House, and get another plus-up in the intel budget, and secure approval--or renewal--of controversial collection programs.  

But serving as the President's fall guy for the crisis du jour also entails organizational risks.  The push back from current and former intel officials reflects a community that is fed up with the administration blame game and is quite willing to leak information that depicts a White House disinterested in reading intel assessments while the world burns.  

We've been down this road countless times before.  One reason that Commanders Layton and Rochefort kept their jobs after Pearl Harbor is that key players in the Navy chain--most notably their boss, Admiral Chester Nimitz, realized that his intel officers were operating at a disadvantage.  In the days before the Japanese attack, they were denied critical intel from decoded Japanese diplomatic traffic (which would have made enemy military intentions more clear), and both were prevented from sharing their own decrypts with Nimitz's predecessor, Admiral Husband Kimmel, and his Army counterpart, Lieutenant General Walter Short.   These realities have fueled decades of conspiracy theories about FDR "inviting" an attack on Pearl Harbor, while keeping his operational commanders in the dark. 

These days, the administration seems to be feigning ignorance, but that excuse doesn't pass muster.  By all accounts, Mr. Obama was warned about the rise of ISIS and chose to disregard his intelligence assessments.  With no re-election to fret over, and a war-weary public, perhaps the President calculated he would never be held accountable and if there was a minor kerfuffle, Mr. Clapper would readily take the blame.  Perhaps that's why the DNI still has a job, and President Obama skips almost 60% of his daily intelligence briefs, according to the Government Accountability Office.  

ISIS has (rightly) been described as a cancer, one that is spreading to our own shores.  When the terror Army unleashes its fury in an American city, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Obama tries to blame his DNI--again--and if the public actually demands presidential accountability.