Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Rift at the Top?

Last week, there was considerable speculation about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's future as Al Qaida's chief operative in Iraq. Various websites and press reports suggested that the Jordanian-born terrorist leader had been seriously injured in a recent firefight with U.S. troops. One jihadist website even claimed that a successor to Zarqawi had been named.

Today, there is still doubt about Zarqawi's future as the leader of the Iraq insurgency. But this speculation is not based on his medical condition. Indeed, Zarqawi has apparently released a new audiotape, claiming that his wounds are minor, and that he remains in the "fight against the crusaders," a clear reference to the U.S. and its coalition partners. However, Zarqawi's hold on power may be slipping, due to an apparent rift between the terrorist commander in Iraq and senior Al Qaida leaders.

Vague rumor about a possible rift first surfaced last week. Now, more recent information tends to give credence to those rumors. Over the weekend, I spoke with a recently-retired intelligence officer, with years of experience in counter-terrorism issues and the South Aisan region. According to this officer, the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) believes that a senior Al Qaida officer recently departed the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border, enroute to Iraq. His primary mission, according to the ISI, is to "reinvigorate" the Iraqi insurgency. His secondary mission is to assert greater Al Qaida control over the insurgency, its strategy and operational tactics.

I wasn't given the name of this senior operative. However, I was told that he is a native Iraqi, with years of insurgent experience dating back to mujahedin operations against the Soviets in the 1980s. This individual has been a close associate of bin Laden since the mid-1990s, and reportedly had direct access to the Al Qaida leader, underscoring his senior status within the organization. It is unclear when this individual might arrive in Iraq, although ISI agents expressed "strong confidence" that the senior operative is enroute.

If correct, this report suggests that bin Laden (and other Al Qaida officials) are dissatisfied with Zarqawi's handling of the Iraq insurgency. Earlier this year, media reports indicated that bin Laden wanted Zarqawi to expand his base of operations outside Iraq, launching new attacks in Europe and the United States. So far, Zarqawi has not responded to that directive, and his continuing focus on Iraqi operations suggests that he ignored bin Laden's guidance, or lacked the resources to stage new attacks outside the Middle East. There are also indications that some Al Qaida leaders may be unhappy with Zarqawi's indiscriminate targeting of Shiite civilians, preferring that he concentrate (instead) on U.S. troops and Iraqi government officials.

The projected arrival of a senior Al Qaida official suggests a split may be developing between the group's senior leadership (including bin Laden) and its existing leadership in Iraq. That may explain why Zarqawi sounded so conciliatory toward bin Laden in his audio message, seeking his advice on future operations, and reporting that he has forwarded a "war plan" to the Al Qaida founder.

In reality, Zarqawi is probably angry by the dispatch of another senior operative to Iraq. The insurgency has always been his show; Zarqawi likely views this development as an effort to dilute his authority and put anti-coalition forces under closer tighter Al Qaida control.

It's unclear how this will "play" among the terrorists already in Iraq. Many feel a personal allegiance to Zarqawi and will resist efforts at meddling by senior Al Qaida leaders in South Asia. The arrival of the senior operative and his efforts at influencing the insurgency may well produce a split among anti-coalition efforts, reducing their operational effectiveness. Al Qaida efforts to asset control over the insurgency will also feed the growing resentment toward "foreign" fighters in Iraq, and provide another reason for Iraqi civilians to cooperate with coalition forces and the recently-installed government.

At this juncture, it's too early to predict Zarqawi's demise as a terrorist leader. But his future is far from certain, and it appears that a lot of folks have him in their sights, including his supposed Al Qaida allies.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Doing Intel Right

I recently stumbled across this essay from Herbert Meyer, the former Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) during the Reagan Administration. As the intelligence community struggles to reorganize, Mr. Meyer reminds us that genuine reform means getting the right information to the right people at the right time--and not creating more organizational diagrams and flow charts.

Reading the essay, I can't find a reason to dispute Meyer's central thesis: our intelligence failures were caused by putting the wrong people in charge. Is that problem being fixed? The jury's still out on that one, but Porter Goss's recent house-cleaning and the CIA, coupled with recent staff appointments by DNI John Negroponte, give me some reason for hope.

I will add this: the problem Mr. Meyer describes is not limited to the upper echelons of the intelligence community. Our leadership woes extend into the ranks of middle management as well, where many bureaucrats are more concerned with career building and feather-bedding than effective intelligence collection and analysis.

Solving that problem may be the ultimate challenge in fixing our intelligence mess.

Security vs. Privacy

How much of your privacy are you willing to trade for your security? In our post 9-11 world, I believe most Americans are willing to give up some of their privacy for safety, but how about a scanning system that, ahem, would allow security personnel to see through your clothing?

According to this report, travelers at America's airports will soon face that possibility. The Department of Homeland Security is about to install state-of-the-art screening machines that can literally see through your clothing, allowing them to detect concealed weapons or explosives. As you pass through a security checkpoint, security screeners may get a look at everything--and I mean, everything.

It's a rather interesting dichotomy. On one hand, I have nothing to hide (quite literally) and the thought of being scanned doesn't bother me (although I hope security personnel will keep their laughter to a minimum). On the other, I don't like the idea of some bureaucrat getting a free--and legal--peep at my wife or daughters.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Zarqawi's Fate

Speculation continues to swirl about the condition of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaida's #1 man in Iraq. Depending on which press report (or website) you believe, Zarqawi was recently wounded in the stomach or the lung, during a firefight with U.S. troops. Various accounts placed that firefight at differing locations between Baghdad and the Syrian border. Meanwhile, other reports suggest Zarqawi sought treatment at a hospital at Ramidi, Iraq, but left that facility against his doctor's wishes. And with good reason; U.S. forces raided a Ramidi hospital about two weeks ago, looking for Zarqawi.

Officially, U.S. intelligence officials aren't saying much, noting that claims about Zarqawi being wounded have surfaced before. Officially, we haven't substantiated Zarqawi's condition, or his whereabouts. That's an appropriate (and prudent) position given the "reliability" of some of the sources these reports are based on.

However, the sudden flurry of reports about Zarqawi's injuries do lend some credence to the claims. Additionally, the recent arrest of several top Zarqawi aides have provided a wealth of new intelligence information, giving us a better idea of where the terrorist leader might be hiding. Over the past year, U.S. troops have staged a number of successful operations in places like Tikrit, Ramidi, Fallujah, and (most recently) along the Syria border, reducing the area where Zarqawi and his fellow jihadists can safely operate.

Based on all available information, I tend to believe Zarqawi has been wounded, although there's really no way to gauge the severity of his injuries. Obviously, an abdominal or chest wound could keep him out of commission for some time, and possibly force him to seek treatment in a neighboring country, probably Syria.

Zarqawi's uncertain status has helped create a leadership crisis within Iraq's terrorist network, according to the Associated Press. Like most terrorist leaders, Zarqawi has never bothered to groom a successor, leaving no one to run the organization in the event of his death or incapacitation. And despite a recent increase in insurgent attacks inside Iraqi, Zarqawi's successor would inherit an organization with severe logistical and operational problems. Overall, the number of terrorist attacks is still running about 35% below the peak levels of last year, suggesting it's becoming more difficult for them to operate.

There are also signs of factionalism within the insurgency. I've seen at least two reports suggesting that terrorists loyal to Saddam are increasingly dejected, and looking for a way out. Among the foreign-born jihadists, there are also indications that all is not well. I spoke to an intelligence officer who recently returned from Iraq; he observed that the terrorists are focusing on attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) because, in his words, "that's the only viable tactic they have left." He also told me that a number of recent suicide bombers have been heavily drugged prior to their attacks, suggesting that even "willing" martyrs need psychotrophic assistance to "die for the cause."

One final thought: there may be an alternate explanation for Zarqawi's "wounds." With the Iraqi insurgency having apparent problems--and Al Qaida's own, internal leadership issues--the organization may be using these reports to "cover" Zarqawi's departure from Iraq. Reported injuries would provide a convenient pretext for Zarqawi to leave Iraq, and assume leadership duties at another location. In March of this year, Osama bin Laden reportedly sent a message to Zarqawi, urging him to expand his operations beyond Iraqi territory and stage attacks against other targets, including those inside the United States. As we noted at the time, that suggestion indicated that Al Qaida's long-time leaders had their own problems, and probably lacked the ability to play and execute such attacks. Those problems were further compounded by the recent arrest of Al-Qaida's senior operations officer in Pakistan, creating a leadership vaccum in the organization's senior ranks.

A lot of pundits have tried to depict Iraq as a quagmire for the United States. In reality, the terrorist war is more of a quagmire for Al Qaida, forcing them to concentrate resources against the military power of the United States and its coalition partners. So far, Al Qaida has little to show for those efforts, and the dilution of its resources has clearly impacted its ability to stage persistent attacks the United States and Western Europe, long a cornerstone of terrorist strategy.

Are Zarqawi's wounds little more than an elaborate ruse, designed to mask his withdrawal from Iraq? Only time will tell. But Al Qaida has serious problems--in Iraq, and elsewhere. Zarqawi's potential move to another assignment would provide another indication that
bin Laden and his minions are losing the War on Terrorism.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Howard Morris, RIP

Veteran character actor and director Howard Morris passed away over the weekend, at the age of 85.

If you don't recall the name, you'll probably remember the face and the voice. Over a career that spanned almost 60 years, Morris appeared in dozens of television programs, and directed scores of TV shows, along with four feature films.

During television's "golden age" in the early 1950s, Morris was a regular on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," and later "Caesar's Hour," part of a legendary ensemble that included Imogene Coca, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and, of course, Caesar himself.

In the early 1960s, Morris starred in a memorable episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, playing a socially inept nebbish who, given a wish by a genie in a lamp, elected to become the genie.

But for millions of us, Morris will forever be remembered as Ernest T. Bass, the manic, rock-throwing hillbilly from The Andy Griffith Show, arguably the greatest sitcom in TV history. Ernest T. only appeared in five episodes of the series (during its eight year run), but he created such an indelible impression that viewers still associated him with that role, four decades after the series went off the air.

Morris, who was born and raised in the Bronx, found it ironic that so many people remembered him as Ernest T. Bass, the comic hayseed character who was the perfect foil for Don Knotts' Deputy Barney Fife.

Between acting appearances on the Griffith show, Morris provided the voice for hundreds of Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, where he worked alongside actor and voice artist Hal Smith, another Griffith alumnus who played town drunk Otis Campbell.

Morris's son David has a tribute to his father at their website, appropriately named ErnestT.com.

Sleep well, Mr. Morris, and thanks for the laughs.

"The Gulag of Our Time"

Amnesty International is out with its annual report on human rights abuses around the world. Predictably, the organization reserved some of its harshest criticism for the U.S., and the detention centers where we house suspected terrorists. Amnesty President Irene Kahn branded the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba "a human rights failure," describing the facility as the "gulag our time."

Such remarks are simply beneath contempt. Amnesty International and other, self-styled human rights groups conveniently forget a few salient facts about the detainees at Guantanamo and other locations. First, they are among the most dangerous terrorists on earth--individuals whose hatred of life and freedom make them an immient danger to human rights of millions of people around. Following the recommended criteria of Amnesty International, these terrorists should be provided with free legal counsel and full access to the U.S. judicial system, where liberal judges would, undoutedly, set many of them free to kill and kill again. From my perspective, the U.S. is advancing the cause of human rights by keeping those terrorists in prison and liberating millions who would otherwise be threatened by them.

Secondly, many of these detainees swear allegiance to terrorist organizations (namely Al Qaida) that have no standing under the Geneva Convention or other intenational protocols. In fact, under those agreements, Al Qaida and Taliban operatives caught in Afghanistan and elsewhere could be summarily--and legally--executed. Instead, the U.S. has offered humane treatment, including food, shelter, clothing and the right to practice their religious faith. At least one Al Qaida prisoner at Gitmo, after being nursed back to health by American military doctors, observed that "we're fighting the wrong people."

Thirdly, reports and accusations of prisoner abuse have been investigated and resolved, although Amnesty and its liberal allies are dissatisfied with the results, because the inquires haven't implicated senior Bush Administration officials. Indeed, the most comprehensive inquiry into those charges--completed by the DOD a few weeks ago--seems to confirm what most of us already know. Incidents of prisoner abuse and torture--while deplorable--are few and far between.

That's a far cry from Amnesty's accusations of a "gulag" at Guantanamo Bay. But it's hardly surprising. Go the the on-line version of their 2005 report, and look at Amnesty's assessment of human rights conditions in China and North Korea, where the gulag is alive and well. To its credit, the organization details some of the human rights abuses that are associated with those regimes. But you'll never find find the word "gulag" mentioned in conjunction with those two brutal dictatorships, where thousands are detained in slave labor camps, and millions have died at the hands of their communist masters.

Let me get this straight: the genocide of those evil governments, carried out systemically for more than 50 years, doesn't equal a state-run "gulag," but isolated abuse of suspected terrorists at Gitmo more that meets that definition.

Such hypocrisy is simply galling.....

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

More Good News from Iraq

According to the Al Qaida web site, the terror group's top man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been wounded. Al Qaida's Iraq affiliate is urging Muslims to pray for Zarqawi. The authenticity of the web site's claims could not be verified, but recent reports indicated that Zarqawi recently sought treatment in a Ramadi hospital.

Athena postulates that Zarqawi may have been wounded in recent fighting along the Syrian border. I can't disagree with that assessment.

Al Qaida leaders (and other Islamic fanatics) have often stated that the highest calling for any Muslim is dying in the jihad against the western infidels. Becoming a martyr for the cause supposedly puts one on the fast track for eternal paradise and those 72 awaiting virgins Here's hoping that Zarqawi assumes room temperature very soon....

On the other hand, Iraqi Ex-Pat believes Zarqawi may be heading for a destination that's somewhat hotter than Iraq.

The GOP Blinks

I won't waste a lot of time (or space) on last night's Republican surrender on the fillibuster issue. Hugh Hewitt has an apt description of the "deal", and Neal Bootz is on target as well.

Let me get this straight...in exchange for an "up or down" vote on three of President Bush's judicial nominees, the Republicans agreed to forego the nuclear option for at least 18 months, while still allowing the Democrats to fillibuster judicial candidates under "extreme circumstances." Some deal...snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as Bootz observed this morning.

Ten years into the "Republican Revolution," the GOP still governs as a minority party, afraid of taking on the Democrats, even when they have the votes to end their obstructionist tactics, once and for all. Somewhere in the backrooms of Capitol Hill, the Dems are surely gloating. Majority Leader Bill Frist (and I use that term loosely) couldn't keep enough Republicans on the reservation to end the fillibuster. Instead, seven GOP senators gladly endorsed a terrible deal that spells certain defeat for a number of President Bush's judicial nominees and the rest of his agenda. If the Republicans couldn't hang together on the fillibuster issue, there's no way they can press for Social Security reform, adoption of the Fair Tax, or other, needed reforms. The Republicans who supported the compromise--the so-called "McCain-Hagel Caucus," represent everything that's wrong with the moderate wing of our party. In the interest of "fairness" and "compromise," they've granted new life to their political enemies who would end the fillibuster in a minute, if it suited their agenda.

Give the Democrats credit. They always play hardball, particularly when their backs are against the wall. Republicans, on the other hand, appear mortified that the Washington Post or The New York Times will say something mean about their "right wing agenda" or their "refusal to compromise." On the other hand, the Republicans act like a bunch of wimps.

To use a Civil War analogy, the Senate GOP acts like General George McClellan, the timid Union Army commander who was cautious to the point of inaction. The Democrats, meanwhile, maneuver like Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, constantly running circles around their foe, living to fight and win again.

When President Lincoln grew tired of McClellan's caution, he replaced him with a commander who was willing to stand his ground and take the fight to the enemy, even if it meant an occasional loss. That commander was Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant wasn't as urbane or polished as McClellan, and cared little for what the press thought of him. But he was tough and pragmatic, with a clear understanding of his mission and what was required to accomplish it.

The GOP needs a Grant in the U.S. Senate. Sadly, we're saddled with a legion of McClellans.

But hey, the "integrity of the U.S. Senate" has been preserved.

Back at It...

After battling a nagging virus for the past week or so, I'm back at it again...unfortunately, the Republican capitualtion on the fillibuster issue is prompting a relapse...it would appear the GOP leadership needs a spinal transplant--and soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What Did He Know and When Did He Leak It?

In the wake of "Korangate," suffice it to say that Newsweek's journalistic credibility is, well, in the toilet. As usual, Michelle Malkin has an excellent take on the scandal, and links to superb posts by veteran journalist Mark Tapscott, who examines the abject failure of Newsweek's "journalistic standards and practices" and Ben Johnson at Front Page Magazine, who tallies the human cost of Newsweek's lies.

But there's another issue that needs further inquiry and investigation. According to Newsweek, the original source for the Koran item (identified as a "senior government official") had provided reliable information for the magazine in the past. Based on that comment, we can assume that this same official was a long-time leaker, willing to discuss sensitive or classified information with his good friend, ace Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.

Unless the U.S. Federal Code has changed in the last 24 hours, the unauthorized disclosure of that type of information is a crime. Here's hoping that the Department of Justice will launch a full-blown investigation, to find the leaker and determine how long he (or she) has been chatting with Newsweek and other media outlets. First Ammendment purists will have their knickers in a wad, but (as illustrated by the Newsweek debacle), the disclosure of sensitive information--even when it is proven false--has serious consequences. Anyone willing to traffic in that sort of information has no business serving in a senior DOD post. We need to find Isikoff's source, and arrange for his next government post at a broom factory--in the federal prison at Ft Leavenworth.

One final thought: remember the media furor over the supposed "outing" of Valerie Plame, the CIA official married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson? When the focus of the inquiry shifted from the Bush Administration to the reporters who "broke" that story, the press suddenly lost interest. I predict a similar pattern in the Newsweek affair. The MSM seems to fear any investigation that exposes its usual operating procedures--loosely sourced, "anonmyous" officials, composite sources, etc. Newsweek's apology is not enough. We need a full-scale inquiry to see (a) how the magazine got its story, and (b) find and punish the official that provided the erroneous information.

Monday, May 16, 2005

BRAC Losers....

While some communities would benefit handsomely from the BRAC recommendations released last week, others would incur significant losses, in terms of jobs and tax revenue. Here's my list of projected losers in the latest round of base closings and realignments.

1. Connecticut. Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon gives the BRAC finger to Senators Joe Leiberman and (particularly) Chris Dodd. Under the Pentagon's recommendations, the New London sub base would close, resulting in the loss of 8,586 military and civilian billets.

2. Maine. Moderate GOP Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe might consider staying on the Republican reservation in the future. Under Friday's BRAC list, the Navy would close its shipyard at Portsmouth, located along the Maine-New Hampshire border, resulting in the loss of 6,938 jobs.

3. District of Columbia. In the future, the U.S. military presence in the federal district may be limited to the Pentagon, as medical, support and administrative functions continue their migration to the 'burbs. Under the BRAC recommendations, Washington D.C. would lose 6,496 military and civilian jobs, thanks in part to a massive downsizing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

4. Atlanta, GA. While the rest of the Peach State did well under BRAC, the city of Atlanta took a massive hit, losing Ft McPherson, Ft Gillem and NAS Atlanta. Collectively, that will mean a loss of 6,730 jobs in the city. If you include the loss of the Naval Supply School in nearby Athens, that total climbs to 7,243. Congressman-for-live John Lewis can't be very happy these days.

5. Kentucky. Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, please call Ft Knox. Under the BRAC plan, that venerable Army post would lose thousands of jobs, resulting in the loss of 5,324 military positions across the state. A slight gain in civilian billets reduces the total job loss to 3,658. Some consolation prize for the Senate Majority Whip.

6. Alaska. The Murkowski political dynasty ain't what it used to be (former Senator Frank currently occupies the governor's mansion; his daughter Lisa now holds his Senate seat). Together, the Murkowskis' must explain how Alaska lost 4,619 jobs under BRAC, thanks largely to planned reductions at Eielson AFB (Fairbanks) and Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage.

7. New Jersey. Plans to close Ft Monmouth help generate a 3,760 loss of military and civilian jobs. Perhaps Senator Frank Lautenberg should consider retiring. Again.

8. Missouri. Freshman Republican Governor Matt Blunt made a decision not to actively lobby for his state's military bases and installations. Bad move. The loss of two defense finance offices (St. Louis and Kansas City), coupled with other planned reductions, will result in the loss of 3,679 jobs in the Show-Me State.

9. New Mexico. The good news? Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque and Holloman AFB in Alamogordo stay open. The bad news? Cannon AFB in Clovis is shutting down, putting a huge dent in the local economy, through the loss of 2,842 military and civilian jobs. Senator Pete Domenici (R) and Democratic Governor Bill Richardson will pull out all the stops to save Cannon. Otherwise, will the last person out of Clovis please turn off the lights?

10. North Dakota. BRAC recommendations call for the closing of Grand Forks AFB, located along the North Dakota-Minnesota border, resulting in the loss of 2,645 military and civilian jobs. Democratic Senators Byron Dorgen and Kent Conrad will be hard-pressed to state's the region's largest employer this side of, er, Minot AFB.

Of course, the list released on Friday is merely the Pentagon's list of recommended base closures and realignments. The list must still be approved by the BRAC commission, Congress and the President. Now the lobbying and political horse-trading really begins.

What's In a Number?

Let's start with 600. Does that ring a bell? Readers of this blog might associate that figure with the number of leaks of classified information to the media over the past 10 years.

Perhaps we should raise the number to 601, because it looks like another government official has been speaking to the press, with devastating consequences. A few days ago, Newsweek reported that the government was investigating allegations that U.S. interrogators desecrated a copy of the Koran, in an effort to "shake up" Al-Qaida detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

There are a couple of serious problems here. First, that is not an acceptable interrogation technique, and secondly, the claim appears to be false. Newsweek editors have spent the past 24 hours or so in full damage control mode, after their anonmyous "source" apparently backtracked on his original claim regarding the alleged Koran desecration.

Newsweek has offered an apology and a half-baked explanation of how its report became discredited. Unfortunately, the magazine's mea culpa is too little, too late. Since the original item appeared in the magazine, there have been anti-American riots in several Muslim countries, resulting in at least 16 deaths and scores of injuries. And, there is little reason to believe that the magazine's "apology" will do little to extinguish the anti-American flames that were stoked by the original report.

Predictably, Newsweek has its defenders. Sportscaster Jim Lampley, part of Arianna Huffington's newly-launched blog train wreck, congratulates the magazine for its "apology," then rips into the media (and conservative bloggers) for ignoring "what really happened in the 2004 elections," and the "tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians cavalierly sacrificed on the altar of Messrs. Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld's 'pre-conceived' anti-terror initiative."

Not bad for a guy best known as a one-time college football sideline reporter, failed local news anchor and HBO boxing announcer. In the space of only two paragraphs, he manages to regurgitate most of the DNC's recent talking points. Glad to see you got the memo, Jim.

Too bad your post is riddled with half-truths and outright falsehoods? What really happened in the 2004 elections? Easy. Bush won. And, BTW, claims of election fraud in Ohio have been investigated and disproven. Meanwhile, the inquiry into voter irregularities in Wisconsin has resulted in indictments of individuals with ties to the Democratic Party. That's what happened in the 2004 election, Mr. Lampley.

Thousands of dead Iraqi civilians? Sorry, but those claims have also been debunked. The best available estimates suggest that less than 1,000 civilians died in the U.S.-led bombing campaign that inagurated Operation Iraqi Freedom. Far more Iraqis have died since then, at the hands of Islamic terrorists, hell-bent on destroying the nation's fledgling democracy. Funny, I don't hear a lot of outcry from Mr. Lampley--or anyone else on the left--regarding those victims.

But I digress. In closing, here's one more number to consider. Zero--the number of U.S. officials prosecuted for divulging classified information over the past decade. With little to fear, its no wonder that defense and diplomatic officials have been willing to chat with the press, discussing sensitive information with little regard for the consequences. Hopefully, that trend is changing. Last week, the Feds arrested a former intelligence official for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, and we can only hope that they're on the trail of the "Koran descration" source as well. In the War on Terror, sensitive information leaked carelessly to a feckless press can have deadly consequences.

BRAC Winners...

I spent most of Friday morning analyzing the Pentagon's recommendations for base closure and realignment, under the BRAC process. Then, I published a lengthy post on the winners (and losers) so far. Unfortunately, my publishing efforts coincided with scheduled downtime for the Blogger.com site, so the post is lost in some sort of blog purgatory.

This time around, I'll stick with a shorter post, or more accurately, a series of posts. The first looks at the winners in this round of BRAC recommendations.


1. Maryland. Who says blue states can't prosper under Don Rumsfeld's new vision for the Pentagon? Under the BRAC list released on Friday, Maryland would gain a total of 9,293 military and civilian jobs, mostly at Ft Meade, and the bulk of those at the National Security Agency (NSA), which is headquartered at that installation. A nice parting gift for retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes, and Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich.

2. Georgia. The Atlanta metro area was hard-hit by BRAC, losing Ft McPherson, Ft Gillem, and the Atlanta Naval Air Station. However, the "rest"of Georgia (residents would say the "real" Georgia) did just fine, gaining 7,423 military and civilian billets, thanks largely to big increases at Ft Benning (located near Columbus) and the King's Bay naval sub base.

3. Texas. While the Lone Star State also suffered losses (notably the Navy homeport at Ingleside), those reductions were offset by gains at Ft Bliss (11,501 new military and civilian billets) and Ft Sam Houston, which picks up another 9,364 jobs. In all, Texas would post a new gain of 6,150 military and civilian positions under BRAC, which should gladden the hearts of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and a certain former fighter pilot for the Texas Air National Guard.

4. Colorado. BRAC would add 4,917 new jobs in Colorado, thanks largely to a projected increase at Fort Collins. Republican Senator Wayne Allard has been written off more than once by the "experts" in Washington, but Colorado voters keep re-electing him. This is one reason why--Colorado escaped virtually unscathed in the BRAC wars.

5. Oklahoma. Expected gains at Ft Sill (near Lawton) and Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City give Oklahoma a net increase on 3,919 jobs.

6. Arkansas. Democratic Senators Blance Lincoln and Mark Pryor were similing on Friday morning, when the Pengaton proposed an increase of 3,585 jobs in their state, thanks to a projected expansion at Little Rock AFB.

7. Florida. Projected job losses at NAS Pensacola are more than offset by gains at Eglin AFB in the Panhandle and NAS Jacksonville. Overall, the Sunshine State would gain 2757 military and civilian billets under BRAC. Never hurts to have friends in the Pentagon. Or the White House.

8. Alabama. Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, knows a little something about pork barrel politics and keeping BRAC losses out of his backyard. Not only was Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal saved from closure, BRAC would add roughly 2,000 jobs to its employment totals, with many of those at the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), located at Redstone.

9. Indiana. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), one of the most bloated bureaucracies in all of DOD, is consolidating its operations. The beneficiary of that move is Indiana, which will gain 2,197 military and civilian jobs, many of those at the Indianapolis DFAS officer. Senator Richard Lugar--a former Indianapolis mayor--won't complain about that plan.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

20 Minutes in D.C.

The White House says it's reviewing security procedures, after a light plane violated the no-fly zone that covers the White House, Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings. If you were watching cable news around noon EDT on Wednesday, you were treated to the spectacle of thousands of politicians, federal employees, tourists and journalists running through the streets of Washington, as the Cessna 172 approached.

Thankfully, the incident ended after only 20 minutes. An Air Force F-16, scrambled to intercept the intruder, finally caught the attention of the Cessna pilots, and they landed at a nearby airfield, where they were led away in handcuffs. Those pilots--an instructor and a student--claimed that they became lost enroute to an airshow in North Carolina, and wandered into the no-fly zone by accident. Federal authorities have apparently decided not to press charges. The Chief of the police force that protects Capitol Hill claims the evacuation went smoothly, though some politicians (mostly Democrats) disagreed.

My assessment would be somewhere in the middle. I think the Capitol Police did a credible job in carrying out the evacuation--never an easy task under any circumstances. Air defense procedures also appeared to work, although I would like to know how long it took the F-16s to respond, and the proximity of the intercept point to the center of the no-fly zone. The F-16 flight lead was interviewed this afternoon on Fox News, and he pointed out that, along with his fighters, other "measures" were in place to take out the intruder, if the order had been given. Those "other measures" likely include HUMVEE-mounted STINGER missiles (the Avenger system), which have been used to protect high-value targets in Washington.

But other elements of the incident are disturbing. We're not sure how close defense officials were to pulling the trigger, and ordering the F-16s to engage. Apparently, the Cessna never displayed any "hostile intent," so blowing it out of the sky was not a serious option. Appearing on Fox, former federal prosecutor John Loftus, who's become something of an expert on terrorism, argued that a "shoot to kill" order should have been given. I'm not sure I disagree; conservative rules of engagement might give terrorists an idea about staging future air attacks. Use a light plane; fly a benign profile into the no-fly zone, then dive on your target at the last possible moment. Using those tactics, it would be more difficult to engage the target.

Equally disturbing is the mass exodus from downtown buildings, and the target it presents to terrorists on the ground. Masses of humanity, fleeing from federal buildings, would offer a tempting--and lucrative--target to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), suicide bombers and snipers. Here's hoping the D.C. security plan includes establishment of a tight, outer perimeter during evacuations, with serious restrictions on incoming vehicle traffic.

Protecting high-value targets in downtown D.C. is never easy, and that task becomes proportionately more difficult during an evacuation. At some point, security officials may have to consider other steps, such as "sheltering" some personnel in place, or shutting down the metro and moving some evacuees, on foot, through subway tunnels.

I would like to hear from anyone who participated in yesterday's evacuation, and your thoughts on security in the heart of the nation's captial.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The BRAC List, Part II

As promised, here is the draft BRAC list I received earlier this year. This particular list of proposed military base closings circulated at the highest levels of the Pentagon, and will likely bear a strong resemblance to the list that will be released on Friday. By my count, the initial list earmarked 49 military installations and support facilities for closure, with a smaller number slated for realignment. In Pentagon-speak, realignment may mean downsizing, or the absorption of jobs and functions from bases that close, meaning a net increase of civilian jobs and/or military billets.

Bases slated for closure:


1. Carlisle Barracks, PA
2. Detroit Arsenal, MI
3. Ft Belvoir, VA
4. Ft Buchanan, PR
5. Ft McPherson, GA
6. Ft Monmouth, NJ
7. Ft Monroe, VA
8. Ft Richardson, AK
9. Ft Sam Houston, TX
10. Ft Shafer, HI
11. Lima Army Tank Plant, OH
12. Natick Soldier Center, MA
13. Picatinny Arsenal, NJ
14. Redstone Arsenal, AL
15. Rock Island Arsenal, IL
16. Sierra Army Depot, CA
17. Yuma Proving Ground, AZ


1. Ingleside Naval Station, TX
2. Naval Postgraduate School, CA
3. Merdian Naval Air Station, MS
4. Naval Air Engineering Center, Lakehurst, NJ
5. Naval Recreation Station, Solomon Islands
6. Naval Surface Warfare Center, IN
7. Naval Surface Warfare Center, VA
8. Navy Supply Corps School, GA
9. New Orleans Naval Support Activity, LA
10. Pascagoula Naval Station, MS
11. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, NH
12. Saratoga Springs Naval Support Unit, NY

Air Force

1. Altus AFB, OK
2. Beale AFB, CA
3. Brooks AFB, TX
4. Cannon AFB, NM
5. Columbus AFB, MS
6. Ellsworth AFB, SD
7. Goodfellow AFB, TX
8. Grand Forks AFB, ND
9. Hanscom AFB, MA
10. Kirtland AFB, NM
11. Los Angeles AFB, CA
12. McConnell AFB, KS
13. Shaw AFB, SC
14. Vance AFB, OK

Marine Corps

1. USMC Logistics Base, Albany, GA
2. USMC Logistics Base, Barstow, CA
3. Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, CA
4. USMC Mountain Warfare School, CA
5. Marine Corps Reserve Support Unit, Kansas City, MO
6. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, CA

Bases slated for realignment:

1. Nellis AFB, NV (Air Force)
2. Seymour Johnson AFB, NC (Air Force)
3. Ft Polk, LA (Army)

Please note that this list circulated before the last round of lobbying by politicians, civic groups and retired military officials. The list that appears on Friday may contain a few surprises, but I still expect most of the bases on the January list will make the final "cut" for closure.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Black Friday

For a number of American communities, May 13, 2005 will go down as Black Friday, the day the Pentagon will announce the closure of local military installations and support facilities, part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)

As I write this, the BRAC announcement is still three days away. But a lot of cities and towns, large and small, already have the jitters. Rumors about possible closures are swirling. In Southwest Ohio, for example, the future of the Springfield Air National Guard Base appears uncertain, at best. In nearby Dayton, the sprawling Wright-Patterson AFB appears to be safe, but some units assigned to that installation--including a large intelligence organization--may be subject to realignment, with some military and civilian jobs possibly moving to other locations. Overall, this round of BRAC is expected to eliminate 10-12% of the military's base and facilities capacity, down from the 15% reduction originally sought.

At this point, speculation about the BRAC list is just that--speculation. But the threat of closure or realignment has mobilized a coalition of politicians, lobbyists and civic groups, determined to preserve their military facility at any cost. And for obvious reasons; the economic impact of a military base or support center is enormous. Los Angeles AFB, a small research and engineering facility located in El Segundo, CA, generates a statewide economic impact of $16 billion dollars a year. Even liberal California apparently loves the military-industrial complex, particularly when it produces that sort of economic return.

BRAC produces a lot of strange political bedfellows. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Governor Mitt Romney are lobbying to save Hanscom AFB, located near Boston. In Southern California, the Los Angeles Times, which rarely has anything good to say about the military, editoralized in support of Los Angeles AFB. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, another liberal Democrat, has spent about $3 million to save Scott AFB, located near O'Fallon, across the river from St. Louis. Some of the personnel assigned to Scott commute from Missouri, but that state has not earmarked any money to lobby for Scott, or bases within its own borders.

Will the lobbying--or, in some cases, lack of lobbying--pay off? We'll know on Friday.

P.S.--I'm searching through my files for an e-mail I received a couple of months ago from a friend at a defense contracting firm. The message contained a list of bases that were supposedly on the BRAC list. If I can find the "list," I'll post it. The list supposedly represented a first hack at bases, installations and facilities targeted for closure. It will be interesting to see how that list compares with Friday's official announcement. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The BRAC List?

After a brief search, I found a copy of a draft BRAC list in my files. I must emphasize that this is NOT the final list of scheduled base closures and realignments. However, this document apparently did circulate at the upper levels of the Pentagon earlier this year, and I believe many of the installations in this draft will likely appear on the Friday's list.

I don't have time to post the full list at this time--it will appear in this blog tomorrow. However, a quick scan of the list indicates that as many as 49 bases, installations and support facilities are on the closure list, with another three slated for realignment.

In terms of local impact, California has the most closings, with seven. Three other states--Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi--would lose three bases each, under this version of the list.

Again, I must emphasize that the list I received is a draft. The number of military facilities and installations earmarked for closure may have decreased since earlier this year. I will post that list later tonight, or early tomorrow.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Photograph

By now, you've seen the photo; a U.S. solider, cradling a dying Iraqi girl in his arms. Just moments before, the young girl had been fatally wounded by a terrorist bomb. Despite the best efforts of the solider--a U.S. Army Major--and a combat medic, the child could not be saved. She died moments after the photograph was taken.

Of all the images we've seen from Iraq, I can't think of any that better illustrates the difference between our troops and the terrorists they battle on a daily basis. Before the blast, Iraqi children had been crowding around U.S. vehicles, laughing and waving. It was at that moment that a suicide bomber, driving a vehicle packed with explosives, chose to attack, attempting to create casualties among Iraq's children. American soldiers responded, as they always do, by trying to rescue the victims and ease their suffering.

But there's more to this story. Free-lance journalist Michael Yon, who snapped that photograph, relates the entire episode in his blog. The solider in the photograph is U.S. Army Major Mark Beiger, assigned to the 1-24 Infantry Regiment (the Deuce Four) of the 25th Infantry Division. Major Beiger sounds like a remarkable soldier, as do his comrades in the 1-24. We are indeed fortunate to have men of this caliber wearing our nation's uniform.

Read the blog, particularly Yon's 1 May entry, "The Battle for Mosul." It's some of the best reporting I've read from Iraq, and reminds me of Ernie Pyle's classic dispatches from World War II. No geopolitical analysis, or subtext, just straight coverage of brave men in battle. As you read the post, please note when the "rest" of the media arrived, including that CBS camerman with alleged terrorist ties. Compare their accounts to Mike Yon's report, and you'll see just how shallow and biased their coverage really is.

Turns out that Mike Yon is a pretty remarkable fellow as well. He's a former Green Beret earned his SF qualification before his 21st birthday. Later, he was falsely accused of murder in Maryland, and had to battle police and prosecutors to save his reputation and his life. Yon has written about in his experiences in a highly-praised, self-published memoir entitled Danger Close. I look forward to reading his book.

One final thought: in another era, Yon's photograph would be a shoo-in for a Pulitzer. But, as we know, the Pulitzer jury is infected with political correctness, and shuns journalism that appears too favorable toward the U.S. in general, and the American military in particular. A few weeks back, the jury awarded its annual prize for Breaking News Photography to the Associated Press. Among the pictures cited by the jury was an infamous image of terrorists executing election workers in the streets of Baghdad. Turns out that the AP photographer may have been tipped off by the insurgents. At last report, the AP had not returned its Pulitzer, and the photographer is still covering the war in Iraq. That speaks volumes about the state of American journalism.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Window of Opportunity

Like all bloggers, I enjoy hearing from readers; if you don't want to leave your comments on the blog, then send me an e-mail (formerspook@hotmail.com). In yesterday's e-mails, I came across this interesting question regarding the search for Osama bin Laden:

"After today's capture of Al-Qaida's #3 man, intelligence officials are expressing hope that he can lead them to bin Laden. But we've heard this before, and we never seem to get any closer to UBL. Based on the information this guy may provide, how will it affect the search for bin Laden, and how much time do we have to act on his leads?"

Excellent questions.....first of all, it's worth noting that the search for UBL and his top lieutenants never stops. We spare no effort (or expense) in the hunt for Al-Qaida's senior leaders. We don't hear much about the search because (a) the public and the news media are more concerned with issues like the Michael Jackson trial; (b) intelligence and law enforcement officials don't want to over-publicize their efforts, to avoid tipping off the bad guys, or create unrealistic expectations for capturing terrorist leaders.

The recent arrrest of Al-Qaida's operations director does not guarantee the capture of Osama bin Laden. But it does provide fresh leads that may generate new information on Al-Qaida's planning efforts, it's revised leadership structure, communications channels and the whereabouts of senior leadership. Abu Farraj al-Libbi was apparently one of the few individuals who could communicate directly with UBL; and while they probably relied on written messages and runners, tracing that network could give us new insights into Al-Qaida's recent activities, plans for new attacks, and the location of UBL himself. In short, al-Libbi is a potential goldmine.

But I must add a cautionary note. Al-Qaida leaders sometimes employ counter-interrogation techniques in interviews with intelligence officers. Information provided by al-Libbi must be carefully vetted by other intel sources, a process that is often time-consuming. Additionally, some Al-Qaida figures simply try to stonewall American interrogators, realizing that we don't use torture, and figuring that life in an American prison is a small price to pay for advancing the jihadist cause. That may explain why al-Libbi is still in Pakistani hands, since their interrogators are not bound by our constraints. But even that approach poses certain risks. Pakistan's intelligence services still have Taliban and Al-Qaida sympathizers in their midst; I would imagine that American agents are observing the interrogations with their own translators, to ensure that we get an accurate account of the information al-Libbi provides.

Finally, the debriefing of any senior Al-Qaida operative is a race against time. Bin Laden and his organization have proven capable of adapting to losses of personnel and other resources. Within hours of al-Libbi's capture, Al-Qaida leaders were probably on the move, and the group's procedures changed again. Safe houses were discarded; cell phone sim cards were swapped, and communications methods shifted. Given these capabilities, we probably have just a few days--or weeks at the outside--to translate information provided by al-Libbi into the "actionable" intelligence that might lead to bin Laden. Keep your fingers crossed....


Strategy Page has an excellent summary of the current situation in Iraq, and the problems facing the terrorists. As reported in several media outlets, U.S. intelligence recently obtained a letter written to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, complaining about a lack of leadership and direction in the insurgency. According to the letter writer, Zarqawi keeps demanding more suicide attacks, without any apparent underlying strategy.

Reports from Iraq indicate that the terrorists are focusing heavily on Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) as their primary weapon of choice. VBIED attacks in Iraq spiked dramatically in April, reaching their highest totals since last November. By comparison, the number of violent incidents remained relatively unchanged, running about 400 a week across the country. That's a 5o% reduction from last November, suggesting that the level of violence has not increased, but rather, the terrorists are concentrating on VBIED attacks.

But to what end? As Zarqawi's lieutenant indicated, the wave of vehicle bombings is having little impact on the resolve of coalition forces and the Iraqi public. That, in turn, seems to be producing a schism within the ranks of Iraqi-born insurgents, with some suggesting that it may be time to end the uprising and cooperate with the new government in Baghdad.

Reports of a division in the terrorist camp are nothing new; more than two months ago, there were reports of overtures between some insurgent elements and the coalition. And, even if some sort of deal can be reached, it won't mean an end to the violence in Iraq. There are still enough fanatics, dead-enders and foreign-born terrorists to sustain a lower level of violence for months--perhaps years--to come.

But the insurgent camp is far from unified, and it appears that our security efforts are having an effect on their strategy and tactics. Nabbing Zarqawi would put a major dent in the terrorist network, and it looks like his days are now numbered.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Big Catch

Attention terrorists...Looking for a senior-level job in the world's top terrorist organization? Al Qaida apparently has an opening for a new operations director, following today's capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi in Pakistan.

Al-Libbi, believed to be the #3 man in Al-Qaida was arrested in northern Pakistan after a shootout with security forces. The Libyan-born al-Libbi is a long-time associate of Osama bin Laden; he apparently took over the operations post in 2003, after the capture of his predecessor, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM).

Counter-terrorism officers hope that al-Libbi can lead them to bin Laden, but the captured Al Qaida planner may also yield important information about the group's organization, disposition and operational planning. The capture of KSM of provided similar information two years ago, and dealt a major blow to Al-Qaida.

By any definition, the arrest of al-Libbi is a very big catch, indeed. It may not lead to a quick capture of bin Laden, but it will drive the terrorist leader further underground, disrupt communications, and derail operational planning, at least for a while. Additionally, it may prove easy for us to get al-Libbi to talk. His choice? Make a deal with the Americans, or remain in Pakistani custody. The Paks would like to "talk" with al-Libbi about his role in the atttempted assassination of their President, Perverz Musharaff. And, since those conversations sometimes involve rubber hoses, al-Libbi may perfer to cast his lot with us.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hypocrisy and the NYT

When it comes to pure, unadulterated hypocrisy, The New York Times has few equals. For more than a year, the paper was positively atwitter over the Valerie Plame affair. According to the Times, Ms. Plame's identity as a CIA operative was likely leaked by the Bush Administration, in retaliation for criticism of its Iraq WMD claims by former Ambassador Joe Wilson, Ms. Plame's husband.

As the NYT dutifully noted, it is against the law to knowingly reveal the identity of a CIA operative, putting the agent's life in jeopardy. But from the Times' perspective, that appears to be the only secret worth keeping. In today's editions, the paper printed excerpts from a classified Pentagon report, assessing the impact of our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan on potential operations elsewhere. According to the report, the strain of on-going ops in the Middle East limits our ability to respond to crises in other locations, such as the Korean peninsula.

Revealing that sort of information is equally damaging to national security, but that is of little concern to the Times. Since the report supports the paper's anti-administration position, printing the report was a no-brainer. I'm sure Kim Jong-Il and his generals are delighted.

Funny, I don't recall seeing similar reports during the Clinton Foreign Policy World Tour of the mid-1990s. True, most of our ground forces weren't tied up in those operations, but a large chunk of our airpower was. Those efforts, coupled with no-fly zone enforcement over Iraq, would have made it difficult for Air Force, Navy and Marine aviation units to respond to a sudden crises in Korea or elsewhere. It was a concern that was stated many times during that era, in various Pentagon reports and analyses. I suppose those memos weren't released by the NYT, or (more likely) they never got around to publishing them. By the editorial standards of the Times, that was a secret that apparently required protection.

A full decade later, secret reports that support the paper's agenda are fair game. But such hypocrisy, of course, is part and parcel of the Times' worldview.

There's also a larger issue at work here. Too many media outlets are getting a free pass on publishing secrets that could potentially harm national security. Since the mid-1990s, there have been more than 600 major media leaks of classified information, resulting in lost information and blown intelligence sources. To date, there have been no indictments, and no convictions.

All Americans support a free press, but they also want a news media that is fair and responsible. What we don't know can kill us, and we're losing too much valuable information because reporters, editors and producers print and broadcast any classified report they get their hands on, with no regard for the consequences.

Once again, it's time to consider an American version of Britain's Official Secrets Act. If the media is unable to police itself (and clearly, it cannot), then maybe its time for the government to step in.

Hat Tip: http://wordunheard.com/