Monday, October 31, 2005

The Price of Charity

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana, 77-year-old Betty Blair did what many Christians in the Houston area have done: she tried to help those displaced by the storm, and even hired three evacuees to do odd-jobs around her home.

For her charity, Mrs. Blair was murdered by those she tried to help. The Houston Chronicle has the story. Sadly, this probably won't be the last case of this type. When Katrina emptied New Orleans, it displaced more than a few thugs and criminals who now inhabit Houston and other cities.

Here's a great assignment for the MSM: whatever happened to parole records from New Orleans, and what effort--if any--is being made to track down recently-released convicts who left Louisiana after the storm?

The Twit Who Would be King

We're referring, of course, to Britain's Prince Charles, the man who is still waiting for his mother to surrender the throne, and allow him to assume the monarchy. In the interim, he keeps making idiotic pronouncements on such topics as architecture, organic farming, international relations, and (most famously) his desire to be a feminine hygiene item for then-mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Given Charles's recently-reported statements on his "fondness" for Islam, it's no wonder that Queen Elizabeth apparently plans to retain the crown until she draws her final breath. The U.K. Telegraph recently outlined the Prince's plans to discuss Islam's "strengths" during a meeting with President Bush later this week. According to the paper, the Prince was concerned about the U.S.'s "confrontational" approach to Muslim countries, and failure to appreciate its strengths. More disturbingly, Prince Charles first voiced these sentiments in November 2001, just two months after the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Apparently, he was concerned that the actions of the 19 hijackers would tarnish the reputations of millions of law-abiding Muslims around the world.

Given his penchant for moronic statements and checkered personal life, it's easy to dismiss Charles as little more than a royal twit, and be thankful that our forefathers incited a revolution back in 1776. But perhaps unknowingly, Charles has also become the poster-boy for European elitism that underscores how that continent's effete snobs get in wrong almost every time. Why those brutish colonials--they can't understand the peaceful nature of Islam! They can't appreciate its underlying culture or rich history. And they propose to solve the problem by declaring war on the entire religion. Tsk, tsk.

Five months after the London transit attacks, it looks like Prince Charles got it wrong. The religion and culture he so admires continues to produce fanatics who willingly kill and main in the name of Allah, despite decades of acceptance and tolerance. In fact, the same attitude Charles champions paved the way for the London attacks, allowing Islamic terrorists to set up shop in Europe, and execute attacks against the very countries that provide refuge and even welfare assistance. Perhaps a little more confrontation and a little less tolerance would have prevented the attacks that killed 50 British commuters back in July.

Besides, even Prince Charles should understand that The War on Terrorism was never a war on Islam--it was a war against against those who perverted their religion to support Islamofacist ideals. By refusing to recognize the pure evil that is Islamofacisim, Charles clings to decades-old European idealism that suggests we can all somehow get along, despite our differences. It was the same type of thinking that advocated appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s, and tolerating Soviet communism in the 1970s.

Fortunately for Britain, Churchill rallied the nation against fascism in World War II, and Margaret Thatcher swept away the idea of accommodating the USSR in the 1980s. More recently, Prime Minister Tony Blair recognized the dangers of Islamofacism, and placed his nation squarely on the confrontational course. History will record that Churchill, Thatcher and Blair made the right decisions, while Charles's mutterings will be forgotten after a few news cycles. As a serious observer of the international scene, Charles and his views on Islam are both dangerous and absurd, a reminder of the bad old days when princes and kings actually mattered.

Collateral Damage

In an effort to convince the public that the Valerie Plame case really is a serious matter, 60 Minutes offered a segment last, outlining the consequences that result when a covert operative is "outed."

The report featured extended interviews with none other than (surprise!), former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who has parlayed exposure of his wife's CIA affiliation into a second career as a liberal icon, and former colleagues of Ms. Plame, who no longer work for the agency. Not surprisingly, all believe that "outing" of Ms. Plame caused serious damage to U.S. national security, by exposing the methods and techniques used to conceal operatives in the field.

Taking the segement at face value, you'd believe that exposure of Ms. Plame's CIA ties was the most serious intelligence scandal since the Hansen and Ames spy cases. As correspondent Ed Bradley gravely intoned:

"Valerie Plame was also exposed as a “NOC,” an agent working under non-official cover. That means shwasn'tsn’t attached to a U.S. Embassy or any other government agency when she worked overseas, which would have provided her protection if she was caught spying. In other words, she had no diplomatic immunity."

Sounds bad, doesn't it? But there's only one problem with that assertion. At the time her CIA connection was exposed, Ms. Plame hadn't been in a NOC assignment in more than five years--that's one reason Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald hasn't been able to indict anyone under the original referral in the case, that someone in the White House deliberately "outed" a covert agency operative. For the record, Ms. Plame was, at the time of Robert Novak's original column, an analyst working WMD issues for the CIA. The idea that the Plame leak exposed a NOC operative is simply fiction.

60 Minutes also expresses concern about the "outing" of the front company (Brewster-Jennings Associate) that provided cover for Valerie Plame and other agents. But once again, CBS conveniently omits certain salient facts that put this revelation in a different light. First of all, operative cover stories (or "legends, as they're known in the trade) are frequently changed, to help protect NOCs, or allow them to initiate new operations. The fact that Ms. Plame's "cover" hadn't changed underscores the non-sensitive nature of her position. Occupying a desk billet at Langley, there was little reason for the CIA to give her a new legend, because she wasn't undercover. (Emphasis mine). We can also assume that the agency changed or modified the legends for covert operatives using the Brewster-Jennings cover when the Novak column was first published. I'll also go out on a limb and speculate that Brewster-Jennings probably wasn't an "active" legend for CIA operatives at the time of the Plame disclosure, given the nature of the business, and the need to update legends on a frequent basis.

CBS also trots out the myth that the Wilson-Plame marriage will somehow endanger other Americans overseas. One of Plame's former agency associates postulates that the spouses of U.S. ambassadors might be in jeopardy, since Ms. Plame is married to a former ambassador. Based on that logic, hostile regimes might somehow assume that the spouses of many American ambassadors are really CIA operatives.

What absolute nonsense. Training wives or husbands of ambassadors as operatives would not only place them in danger, it would potentially threaten a host of diplomatic activities, something the State Department or the White House would never allow. Additionally, it's doubtful that such "espionage" would yield anything in the way of useful information, other than vague tidbits gleaned at diplomatic functions (which are already covered by other personnel), or at the local marketplace.

Finally, Wilson hints darkly that his wife has received threats since her cover was blown. "Did your wife ask the agency for protection?" Bradley inquired. At that point, in typical Wilsonian fashion, the story gets a little vague. "I don't go into security matters, " Wilson replied, "But you can be sure we discussed security at great lengths with various agencies."

For the record, the CIA maintains a protective staff which provides security for agency facilities and senior personnel. If CIA felt Ms. Plame was in grave danger, it would be easy for them to move her to a secure location, or provide 24-hour protection. So far, there is no indication that Ms. Plame is under the protection of her employer, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, or any other security organization. Additionally, there is no indication that the Wilsons have moved or significantalteredted their lifestyle in response to these reported "threats." As with many Wilson stories, his claims simply don't hold up to objective scrutiny.

But that's of little concern to the crew at CBS. Because Wilson has challenged the hated Bush Administration, his claims are automatically correct and truthful, no matter how ludicrous they actually are. Personally, I wish Ms. Plame and long and healthy life; I can only imagine the stories Joe Wilson would spin if she faced serious threats, or God forbid, something actually happened to her.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Questions That Go Unasked

This was a bad week for Air Force Academy Head Football Coach Fisher DeBerry. On Wednesday, DeBerry apologized for remarks he made last Saturday (after Texas Christian defeated his team), and during his weekly media lucheon on Tuesday. After the TCU game, DeBerry alluded that TCU won (in part) because it had more minority athletes with better speed. "You don't see a lot of minority guys in our program," he observed.

On Tuesday, DeBerry made matters worse, saying that the TCU won "because they had a lot more Afro-American players than we did, and they ran a lot faster." DeBerry also observed that "Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run very well."

There was predictable outrage from the usual suspects, notably the Colorado Springs chapter of the Urban League, re-igniting the ages-old debate over race, and whether certain comments are, in fact, racist.

I don't know Coach DeBerry, but he has a sterling reputation within college football, and he's been a very successful coach in a tough environment for more than two decades. But the Fisher controversy invites other, unasked questions, namely why the Air Force Academy (or other service academies) can't attract more minority athletes.

Is is racism? Hardly. The armed services have provided unparalleled opportunities to minorities for more than 50 years. In fact, African-Americans are actually over-represented in the the ranks of the military. While comprising only 13% of the U.S. population, blacks represent between 15-20% of the nation's military, mostly in the enlisted ranks. However, African-Americans are less represented among the officer corps; for example, only about 8% of the Air Force officer corps is black, a level of representation roughly equal to the percentage of black cadets at the Air Force Academy.

The most significant hurdle to entering the service academies is, quite simply, academics. This year's freshman class at the Air Force Academy had an average ACT score of 29.4, significantly above the national average. And, unlike other schools, the service academies can't lower their standards for athletes, or recruit promising players from the junior college ranks. Additionally, cadets must complete rigorous military and core academic requirements, in addition to athletics. The academies don't have majors like "criminal justice" or "sports management" that are havens for athletes at other schools. Add in the academy's active duty service requirement (up to 10 years after graduation), and it's easy to see why promising athletes tend to avoid the service academies.

But there's another issue at work here, too. In some instances, African-American youths are encouraged to pursue sports, at the expense of academic achievement. A survey published in USA Today in 2004 indicated that more than 60% of African-American kids viewed professional sports as a viable career option, despite the daunting odds. Former NBA great Charles Barkley expressed concerns about that perception in his book I Might Be Wrong, But I Doubt It. If DeBerry's comments are legitimate topics for public debate, then so are the unrealistic expectations for a pro sports career that are often "sold" to black youngsters.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More Bad News...

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 35% of all American babies--more than one in every three--were born out of wedlock last year, an all-time record.

While the AP article notes (correctly) that teenage girls today account for fewer illegitimate births, the overall picture is hardly encouraging. There are well-established links between out-of-wedlock births and various social pathologies, including higher drop-out rates, and increased risks for juvenile crime. The AP notes that many children born to unmarried mothers are the product of existing "partnerships" between the women and their boyfriends. However, the wire service fails to report that many of those relationships are short-lived, and children born between a single woman and her "shack-up stud" (to use Dr. Laura Schlesinger's term) are also at higher risk for poverty, violence and other social ills.

Or, to cite often-used statistics, consider the apparent impact of illegitimacy on the nation's African-American community. In 1960, about one in four black children were born out of wedlock. Since that time--and for a variety of reasons--marriage has seemingly been discarded by significant numbers of African-Americans, and illegitimacy rates have soared; today, more than two-thirds of all black children are born out of wedlock, and many of them are raised in single-parent homes by their mothers. The results of this trend have been disasterous, and are reflected in higher rates for youth crime, gang activity, and dropping out school.

Lest we forget, African-Americans represent only 13% of the nation's population. When illegitimacy rates among White and Hispanic Americans reach 70% (and they're on the way), our society is finished, plain and simple.

On a day when the Libby indictment dominates the headlines, this is the story that deserves national attention. This is very bad news, indeed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Potomac Watch

I'm in D.C. on business this week. While the chattering class is positively atwitter at the prospect of possible indictments in the Valerie Plame affair, average Washingtonians view the case with a collective shrug. Most would rather discuss this weekend's Giants-Redskins game than speculate about possible charges against Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, or even Joe Wilson.

The ho-hum attitude even extends to the hallways of Ms. Plame's employer, the CIA. I was at Langley for a function on Wednesday afternoon, and I didn't detect much excitement or interest in Plamegate. In fairness, the CIA employees I spoke with are not assigned to the same division as Ms. Plame; additionally, the agency is a huge bureaucracy, so I couldn't find anyone who knows her, let alone someone who felt her "outing" jeopardized U.S. national security.

Spend a little time at Langley and you will find agency employees are more upset about past leaks of classified information that jeopardized real undercover operatives, or blew intelligence sources and collection methods. Those leaks--which the MSM has absolutely no interest in--have caused serious damage to U.S. national security and the efforts of the CIA. But there's no groundswell from the press to appoint a special prosecutor to look into those matters. Meanwhile, those types of leaks will only continue...

Tehran Stirs the Pot

If anyone was hoping for a thaw in relations between Israel and Iran, think again. Iran's new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejab, has declared the Jewish state "a disgraceful blot" that "should be wiped off the map." Ahmadeinjab made the comments before a "World Without Zionism" conference, held in Tehran.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan reacted quickly, saying that Ahmadinejab's statements show that U.S. fears about Iran's nuclear program are indeed justified. As is often the case, the White House Press Secretary's remarks were a masterful understatement. Any thoughts that Iran might abandon its nuclear weapons development program were dashed when Ahmadinejab won the Iranian Presidential election back in August. A student leader of the 1979 Khomeinin Revolution, Ahmadinejab appears firmly committed to Iran's development, deployment and potential proliferation of nuclear weapons.

And how much progress has Tehran made toward accomplishing that goal? The weapons question remains difficult to answer; while the IC has focused much of its attention on Iran's four primary (and known) nuclear complexes, the real question is how many covert facilities Tehran may have, and what activitise are underway at that site. Most weapons-related functions, including fuel processing and/or enrichment, can be easily concealed in nondescript warehouse facilities that are difficult to detect. It is entirely possible that Tehran may have enough convert complexes to complete development and fabrication of a bomb, while EU negotiators (and much of the intel community) ponder activity at the known sites.

Meanwhile, Iran already has a delivery system (or systems) for its nukes. Last year, Tehran began deployment of the Shahab-3 medium range missile, capable of hitting targets in Israel. These missiles are concealed in underground bunkers and complexes near Khorramabad, Bakhtaran and Tabriz; tracking them is difficult, and Iran's growing reliance on underground storage and related deception activities suggests efforts to develop a covert strike capability, allowing them to launch against Israel (or U.S. targets in the Gulf Region) with little or no warning.

Tehran has also been busy with the third leg of its nuclear strike option, acquiring large quantities of satellite imagery from foreign suppliers, and improving its ability to collect and process such products in near-real-time. Amng the areas reportedly covered by the satellite images: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

Given these realities, Ahmadinejab's comments are clearly more than mere rhetoric. Iran is clearly developing the weapons, missile systems and targeting information to launch a potential nuclear strike against Israel. A better question might be: just exactly how long will Israel allow Iran to develop these capabilities, without launching a preemptive strike. One thing is certain: Ahmadinejab's inflamed comments will certainly attract Israeli attention, and increase chances for a surprise visit by the Israeli Air Force.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Stories You Don't See

When you watch a TV news report from Iraq, do you wonder if anything happens besides suicide bombings and VBIED attacks? Why you don't see reports on positive events in that country, other than the recent constitutional referendum.

A U.S. Army Major, currently serving in Iraq had the same thoughts, and he articulated them brillantly in an interview with Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle, republished by Real Clear Politics. The article proves (once again) that if you rely on the MSM for Iraq coverage, you're getting only half of the story.

The "Mess" at Langley

David Ignatius of the Washington Post weighs in today with a mid-point assessment of the intelligence reform process. He begins by noting--ominously--that we are at a danger point; the old intelligence structure has been weakend, but the new apparatus isn't quite strong enough to carry the load (at least not yet).

Mr. Ignatius even gives grudging credit to the Bush Administration and the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Ambassador John Negroponte, for initiating the reform process, and achieving some success, through establishment of the DNI post, and creating a more centralized process for managing and coordinating intelligence efforts.

But the op-ed quickly devolves into a hit piece on CIA Director Porter Goss and his new management team at Langley. Ignatius refers to Goss's senior aides as a team of "right-wind Republican staffers, quickly dubbed the "Gosslings' at Langley." He later opines that "The Gosslings have made a real mess [in the CIA's Directorate of Operations], driving out a half-dozen top officers...why these inexperienced congressional staffers thought they had better judgment than career professionals, many of them former military officers, is beyond me."

Let me give you a hand, David. In the years before Porter Goss's arrival at Langley, the "judgment" of these career professionals resulted in serious shortfalls in intelligence collection and analysis. The WMD failure in Iraq can be traced, in part, to the inability of the Directorate of Operations (DO) to recruit reliable sources at the senior levels of Saddam's regime. Ditto for A.Q. Kahn's nuclear proliferation network--CIA agents in the field missed that one, too. The same holds true for North Korea's covert nuclear program in the late 1990s; the DO hasn't been able to penetrate the DPRK, either.

In other words, the supposed "pros" at Langley had made a real hash of operations long the Gosslings arrived on the scene, so a mucking-out was clearly in order. U.S. intelligence simply couldn't afford a continuation of the problems stemming from deficiencies in the operations directorate at the CIA. And, to make matters worse, elements within the DO were openly warring with the agency's leadership and the administration, leaking sensitive information that further undermined intelligence efforts.

Given the track record of these "professionals" it was time to show them the door, and reinvigorate the DO with new leadership and fresh blood. Naturally, the old heads aren't happy, and they've obviously been talking with Mr. Ignatius, who's happy to cite their complaints as proof that the reform process is only a partial success.

One more note: in his article, Ignatius also credits DNI Negroponte for his "tough" management in scaling back a proposed, multi-billion dollar spy satellite system. But the writer fails to acknowlege a potential flaw in that strategy. Down-sizing the satellite constellation presumes that information that might be gathered by overhead platforms will (instead) be gathered by other systems, or agents on the ground. Clearly, our human intelligence (HUMINT) network is in disrepair, so it's foolhardy to believe that operatives on the ground can make up the shortfall in the near future. And while other platforms (such as the Air Force's Global Hawk) show great promise, they also require tremendous investments in infrastructure, processing capacity and training.

Besides, technical collection is not a panacea. In this era of encrypted communications, fiber optic networks and denial and deception programs, it is often easy for adversaries to concel their intentions from technical spying. That makes it imperative for Langley's DO to get its house in order, and get back on track in gathering vital information that cannot be collected by other means. Entrusting the reform process to failed, former leadership simply made no sense. Implementing change--without a change in DO leadership--is a recipe for failiure, and would simply perpetuate the mess at Langley.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Selective Outrage

If Scooter Libby and/or Karl Rove are indicted in the Valerie Plame affair, it will be a genuine rarity in Washington: someone actually being punished for leaking classified information.

Of course, there is more than an element of hypocrisy in all of this. First of all, there is demonstrable proof that Ms. Plame wasn't an CIA undercover operative at the time her identity was leaked to Bob Novak. Indeed, there is some evidence that Ms. Plame's professional affiliation was hardly a secret in Washington, so disclosing her status as a CIA employee does not meet the requirements of the law that prohibit divulging the name of an undercover agent.

Still, the left is positively salivating over the prospect that administration officials may be charged in the Plame case, perhaps on some sort of conspiracy charge, though such an allegations would be difficult to prove. And, if you don't believe the MSM is chortling over this one, consider this recent article by the Associated Press's Pete Yost. Or another offering by the same writer, suggesting that a "blame the media" strategy won't work. A MSM that is now worried about Saddam getting a fair trial is ready to measure Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove for prison jumpsuits.

It's a classic case of selective outrage. As noted previously in this blog, there have been at least 600 leaks of classified information over the past decade. That total reflects the number of FBI investigations discovered after sensitive information winds up in the public domain, usually through a leak to a media outlet. Collectively, these leaks have caused serious damage to our national security, resulting in compromised collection efforts, and less information from sensitive sources. The media response? A shrug and a yawn, at best.

The MSM also had little interest in Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents from the National Archive. To this day, we still don't know the details of those purloined documents, and for that matter, who may have accessed the information it left the secure storage facility. For his crime--mishandling classified documents--Berger paid a $10,000 fine and lost his security clearance for three years. Ditto for that former DOD official who passed information to an Israeli lobbying group, which (presumably) passed it on to Tel Aviv. He hasn't been sentenced (yet), but if Berger's penalties are any indication, that DOD staffer won't be wearing an orange jumpsuit. Both cases represent a serious breach of national security, but you wouldn't know that by MSM coverage of these events.

The Plame affair is nothing more than a case of selective outrage. Because the episode involved the Bush White House, it 's big news, and worthy of non-stop coverage and speculation. Meanwhile, genuine security lapses go unreported, and damage to our intelligence efforts continues to mount. But it's a non-story, because it doesn't involve the right people (read: Republicans), and besides, consistent prosecution of security breaches would reduce (or even elminate) a key source of information for those coveted media "exclusives."

Reading and watching the MSM, you'd think the Plame affair was the security scandal of the century. It isn't. Meanwhile, genuine scandals--such as Able Danger--are pushed to the back pages, or they aren't covered at all. If you were watching C-SPAN Wednesday night, you learned that the Able Danger intelligence team identified the threat to the USS Cole two weeks before it was attacked in Yemen. You also learned that some members of the team were never interviewed by the 9-11 Commission, and that documents from Able Danger (presumably destroyed) still exist. I'm not an editor or news executive, but that folks, seems to be a genuine security scandal. So where's the outrage? Perhaps if we could somehow link Able Danger to Karl Rove or Scooter Libby, the MSM might finally be willing to take a look.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Remember the money FEMA was handing out to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Boston Herald discovered that some hurricane evacuees on Cape Cod are spending the money on some rather interesting items, including lap dances at the local strip club.

Of course, those $2,000 grants are chump change in the world of federal budgeting. If you want to see real fraud, waste and abuse, just wait until they start awarding some major re-building contracts in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the Talkmaster has a novel idea on how to minimize this sort of waste during future natural disasters.

Acting on Evidence

Within the last hour, the city of Baltimore has closed several of its tunnels, in response to a reported terrorist threat. The always-insightful Counterterrorism Blog has an update on media reports/speculation about the reported "threat."

Assuming that terrorists don't blow up the tunnels, this situation is likely to fuel the debate over when local officials should tighten security. Apparently, the tunnel closings in Baltimore were based on a single, uncorroborated source, and some federal officials doubt its veracity.

Erring on the side of caution, city officials elected to close the tunnels, just as NYC tightened security in response to a recent threat against its subway system.

Closing a tunnel, or increasing subway security means an inconvenience to thousands of commuters. And, in some cases, local leaders are probably guilty of over-reacting. But in a post-9-11 world, it's probably the right call.

These incidents underscore the need for better cooperation between federal, state, and local officials on terrorism analysis. Most local leaders don't have security clearances, so they can't access classified information relating to terrorist threats. Instead, they have to rely on what the feds choose to disseminate, with little accompanying information on the source of the information and its credibiity.

There should be some sort of middle ground. I'm not sure the police chief in Hornersville, Mo needs a security clearance, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to grant access to anti-terrorism units in more of our major cities, and among state police departments. Better information will result in better decision making, and fewer angry communters.

Farewell..and a Word of Caution

Lt Gen John Rosa is stepping down next week as Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. General Rosa is retiring from active duty to become President of the Citadel, the state-run military school in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was commissioned as an Air Force officer in 1973.

Before leaving the academy, General Rosa held a press conference with members of the local media, summarized by Tom Roeder of the Colorado Springs Gazette. During the pess conference, Rosa reflected on his 30-month tenure as Academy Superintendent, and the changes the implemented during his tour.

Rosa was appointed to the superintendent's post in early 2003, after his predecessor was fired in the wake of a sexual assault scandal. Female cadets charged that their complaints of sexual assault were either mishandled or ignored. At the press conference on Monday, Rosa noted that his reforms have made the academy a safer place for women, and reduced illegal or unethical behavior by cadets.

But Rosa also warned that his replacement, Lieutenant General John F. Regni, won't have an easy time. "We're going to have struggles for the next several years," he observed. Rosa noted that the academy has been subjected to 13 studies by the Air Force and Congress in recent years, many of them relating to the sexual assault scandal.

However, the academy has also been the focus of pointless studies, based on exaggerated claims, as evidenced by the recent probe into "religious intolerance." The academy has now launched a "religious tolerance" education program in response to those claims, and all personnel will be required to attend "religious differences" training, beginning next year.

I've known General Rosa for several years, and I'll give him high marks for dealing effectively with the sexual assault scandal, and getting the institution back on track. He deserves lower marks--no better than a middling "C"--for his handling of the religious scandal, although it could be argued that the decision to cave in to liberal theologians and the P.C. police were made in Washington, D.C., not Colorado Springs.

General Rosa's parting comments suggest that the microscopic inspection of the academy is likely to continue. But before the academy wastes more time on non-scandals, perhaps another review is in order. The new superintendent (General Regni) and the recently-appointed Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mike Moseley, should close the books on the religion controversy and other minor matters now ensnarling the academy. Existing regulations are more than sufficient to deal with cadets who force their religious views on others. The notion of devoting time and resources to deal with an "overblown" problem is simply mind-boggling, and misguided.

One more thought: scrutiny is always necessary for a public institution, but there's a fine line between oversight and granting free-reign to critics who oppose the military in general, and the service academies in particular. As the academy enters a new era, Air Force leaders should decide if they have crossed that line, and granted excessive latitude to those who would destroy the academy, or reshape it in a politically-correct mold that is inconsistent with the institution's history and its values.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Al-Qaida at the Crossroads

These are tough times for Al-Qaida.

Four years after 9-11, the terrorist organization is beset with problems, and facing critical decisions about its future strategy. And while the group's leaders still scheme to create an Islamofacist "caliphate" encompassing much of the Middle East, that dream seems further away from reality that it did four years ago.

In Iraq, Al-Qaida and its local allies received a stunning rebuke Saturday, when millions of Iraqis voted in favor of the new constitution. Despite hundreds of attacks in the weeks leading up to the election--and the threat of more terrorist strikes on the day of the vote--more than 61% of the Iraq electorate went to the polls and approved the new constitution. Final results won't be available until later this week, but early numbers suggest that the constitution passed in two of Iraq's four Sunni-dominated provinences--Al-Qaida's primary base of support inside the country. These results indicate that more Sunnis are becoming involved in the political process, and many seem willing to give Iraq's fledgling democracy a chance.

If that weren't bad enough, Iraqi security forces also appear to be turning the corner. Army Lt Gen David Petraeus just returned from a tour as Commander of Iraq's Multi-National Security Transition Command and NATO Training Mission. Gen Petraeus outlined the accomplishments of his command during a recent speech at Princeton, nicely summarized by Tiger Hawk. Suffice it to say, there are more trained Iraqi troops and police on the streets than ever before, and their numbers continue to increase. Al-Qaida's attempts to shatter Iraq's naescent security forces with a daily barrage of IEDs and VBEIDs are failing, despite the carnage.

Then, there's the internal rift between Al-Qaida's point man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the group's senior leadership. Zarqawi's brutal tactics were rebuked in a recent letter from Al-Qaida's #2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also complained about funding problems, and the increasing isolation of the group's senior leadership. In his letter, Zawahiri also identified Iraq as the primary battlefield in the War on Terror, stressing the importance of the on-going campaign against the Iraqi government and coalition security forces.

But it's a battle that Al-Qaida seems increasingly incapable of winning. Pouring resources into Iraq limits the group's ability to plan and execute more spectacular strikes on the enemy's home soil, or achieve its long-standing goal of acquiring--and using--weapons of mass destruction. Most of Al-Qaida's "successes" since 9-11 have stemmed from local affiliates planning and conducting their own attacks, with little assistance from the group's senior leadership. While these local cells are capable of deadly attacks (as evidenced by events in Bali, London and Madrid), they generally lack the resources to stage strikes on the scale of 9-11, something Al Qaida desperately desires to maintain its preeminence in the war against the Crusaders.

Al-Qaida can sustain this level of violence for some time, but there's a danger in that strategy. As western security continues to improve, so will our ability to interdict smaller-scale attacks. Indeed, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement have, according to President Bush, stopped at least 10 strikes of that sort since 9-11. That puts Al-Qaida in the category of a "manageable" threat, much like the IRA in the late 1970s, or various Palestinian groups today. "Manageable" means the threat is still there, but the Jihad isn't advancing much, and the dream of the caliphate remains as elusive as ever.

Clearly, Al-Qaida is at the cross-roads. It's Iraq strategy is slowly failing, and the insurgency has become a major drain on funding and other resources, at the expense of otheroperations. So what does bin-Laden do? The answer to that question remains unclear, but we may see a modified strategy emerge over the next year or so. For the short term, Al-Qaida will continue its deadly bombing campaign in Iraq, hoping continued U.S. casualties will force the Bush Administration to begin a withdrawal from the country, leaving the terrorists and their allies to deal with the Iraqi government and its security apparatus. But that would take a tremendous a major increase in U.S. combat deaths, requiring more successful attacks on a wider scale. And that means pouring even more resources into the fight, at a time when funding has become a problem, and Zarqawi's brutal tactics are undermining popular support among some Muslims.

One cautionary note: while Al-Qaida's position in Iraq is difficult, it is not untenable. The group is still scoring propaganda points in the western press, thanks to non-stop coverage of daily car and suicide bombings. Collectively, such coverage has created the false impression that Iraq is a quagmire, causing support for the war to drop among the American public. And while George W. Bush has proven time and time again that he does not govern by polls, he cannot completely ignore them, either. If support continues to decline, he may, at some point, be compelled to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. But, with two successful elections in Iraq (and improvements among Iraqi security forces), the pull-out may not happen soon enough to facilitate Al-Qaida's aims.

If the news from Iraq remains grim, Al-Qaida will, at some point, be forced to make a tough decision. Continue to pour resources into a fight that looks unwinnable, or reduce its presence in Iraq (much like Afghanistan), and shift the operational focus on regions that offer more promise, such as Southeast Asia. A gradual Al-Qaida withdrawal from Iraq could also allow the group to marshal resources for its next "spectacular" operation--perhaps an attack using radiological, chemical or biological weapons on the U.S. homeland. That sort of strike would force the U.S. to reassess its own strategy in the War on Terror, and devote more military resources to homeland defense. That, in turn, might create new options for Al-Qaida in the Middle East, opportunities that are now lacking under its current strategy.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Marine Corps Reaches its Goal

Much has been made of the Army's recent inability to meet its recruiting goals. Following the MSM logic, U.S. casualties in Iraq are turning off potential recruits, and as proof, they cite the Army's recruiting totals. For the fiscal year that ended on 30 September, the Army attracted just over 73,000 new recruits, about 9% below its stated goal of 80,000.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines, who have also suffered significant casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, quietly met their recruiting goal for FY'05, among both active duty and reserve elements. During the same period, the Navy and the Air Force actually exceeded their recruiting targets last year, according to figures published in the Los Angeles Times.

However, the Times' offers a flawed analysis of the Marines' recruiting success, in contrast to the Army's problems in signing up new recruits. A military sociologist at the University of Maryland believes Army recruiting is down (in part) because fewer African-Americans are signing up, and blacks constitute a larger portion of the Army than any other branch of service. The sociologist, David Segal, claims African-Americans have come to doubt whether the military is an equal-opportunity employer. Predictably, there are no statistics to support his theory.

That's absolute rubbish. The U.S. military was a pioneer in ending discrimination in its ranks, and has provided unmatched opportunities for minorities for more than 50 years. Besides, if Segal's theory were true, then all of the armed services would be having recruiting problems to some degree, since African-Americans constitute at least 10% of each military service. And, successive studies from the DOD indicate that African-Americans are still well-represented in the nation's military. In fact, blacks have been historically overrepresented in the ranks of recruits and junior enlisted personnel, so Segal's thesis has some major holes.

Additionally, Segal opines that more Marines tend to come from Marine families who are "already onboard" with the Corps, it's mission, and the potential risks faced by recruits. But again, he offers no data to support his claims. My own experience tells me Segal is wrong; as a former military recruiter (for the Air Force ROTC program) , I found that most of my recruits did not come from military families. Many had family members who had served at one time or another, but comparatively few were the sons of daughters of career officers and NCOs. In short, most prospective ROTC cadets did not come from military families. And, if a family member had served, it was often years ago.

Segal's blather aside, the Times actually stumbles across the real reason for the Marines' recruiting success toward the end of the article, noting that the Corps stresses the challenge if offers, asking potential recruits "do you have what it takes?" The Army, on the other hand, tends to focus on educational programs and other benefits in its recruiting ads.

Which approach is working? The numbers speak for themselves. Obviously, there are many motivations for military service and not every one is cut out to be a Marine. But the Corps' message of service, discipline, loyalty and sacrifice is timeless, and still resonates among young people. And it's a big reason the Marines can still find enough recruits to fill its ranks.

Staying on Script

The White House is catching heat for allegedly "scripting" yesterday's teleconference between President Bush, and U.S. troops in Iraq.

Here's an AP account of the teleconference. Note the use of the term "scripted" in the headline. But when you read the actual story, you'll find that the referenced "scripting" was actually a rehearsal of the sequence in which soldiers would answer questions. "Scripting" suggests everything was preplanned, including the questions and answers. But in her preparation with the troops, Defense Department official Allison Barber uses the word "if," indicating that President Bush didn't decide which questions he would ask until the event began.

Of course, the MSM is having none of this. The AP even sought out a quote from an anti-war group, which grouses that "half the group were officers."

It's often easy to label the MSM as hypocrites, and this is no exception. As I watched the talking heads this morning, there were the predictable exchanges between studio anchors and reporters at the White House. What most viewers don't realize is these exchanges are usually scripted--in many cases, the reporter on the White House lawn knows what question the anchor will ask at the end of the report, allowing them to prepare a polished answer. Is this any worse than the troop "rehearsal" before the teleconference?

But the best example of media hypocrisy comes from Bill Sammon of the Washington Times. Appearing with Brit Hume's on FNC last night, Sammon noted that the MSM had no problem with the media "planting" a question with National Guard troops in Iraq, just before their Q-and-A session with Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

God and Man at the Air Force Academy

In recent months, we've written extensively about the religion "crisis" at the U.S. Air Force Academy and its impact on that institution.

As you know, liberal groups (such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) charged the academy with systematic religious bias as the highest levels of the command structure. They claimed that the academy favored evangelical Christians, noting the comments of the Commandant of Cadets (Brigadier General Johnny Weida), who told cadets that their "first responsibility as military officers is to their god." General Weida was also criticized for supporting the National Day of Prayer, an event endorsed by President Bush and the governors of all 50 states. A Protestant chaplain was also cited for telling cadets who weren't saved that they would burn in hell.

There is no proof that any cadet was ever denied promotion, was punished, or otherwise suffered if he or she wasn't a born-again Christian. But criticism from the left (and their allies in tne news media) apparently threw Air Force leadership into a panic. In response, the Air Force buckled to the P.C. police. As described in Citizen Magazine, they launched an inquiry into the academy's religious atmosphere--then outsourced the job to liberal theologians. Their "findings" were a foregone conclusion. The Air Force Academy was condemned for "religious intolerance," and the service began backpeddaling furiously, trying to accomodate its critics. The cave-in began several months ago, when the service did away with most forms of public prayer, and its continues, unabated.

Just days ago, the Air Force withdrew a document that allowed Chaplains to evangelize military personnel not affilaited with any faith. The document was a code of conduct for chaplains, developed by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), a private, multi-denominational body that provides chaplains to the military. The code of conduct was never an official Air Force directive (and it barred evangelizing personnel with expressed religious beliefs), but the fact that it was distributed at the Air Force Chaplain School "might have given the impression that it was Air Force policy." That's the assessment of Rabbi Arnold Rensicoff, a retired Navy chaplain who has signed on as a special advisor to the Air Force secretary on religious matters. Interestingly, the Air Force has not (as far as I can tell) sought the counsel of evangelical Christians in revising its policies on religion. So much for fairness and balance.

In another apparent paen to the P.C. police, General Weida will soon leave the academy for a new assignment at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. As reported previously in this blog, General Weida's name mysteriously disappeared from the promotion list for Major General after the academy controversy errupted. A retired senior officer tells me that Weida is being "put out to pasture," apparently in hopes of ending the imbroliogo, once and for all. Earlier this summer, the academy's superintendent, Lieutenant General John Rosa, retired from active duty to become President of the Citadel, the state-run military school in South Carolina where he graduated in 1973. Academy sources suggest that the religion controversy was a factor in Rosa's decision to retire.

As I've written before, the religion "scandal" at the academy was grossly over-blown, and cleverly used by the liberal left to advance their secular humanist agenda. Sadly, the Air Force played into their hands by listening to these same groups, then implementing "reforms" designed to placate them. And, in the process, outstanding leaders like General Rosa and General Weida were gladly sacrificed in the name of "moving on."

In The Citizen article, a number of recent academy grads seem distressed by what they saw in Colorado Springs. And rightfully so. They learned a hard lesson in today's P.C. politics of the Defense Department. Standing up for religious beliefs that fall outside the liberal orthodoxy can be fatal to a career. A chaplain on Bataan once observed that "there are no atheists in foxholes." But there are plenty of atheists, secularists and dyed-in-the-wool liberals in the halls of Congress and the Pentagon who are happy to remake the academy's "religious atmosphere" in their own, graven image.

One final thought: The Citizen (published by Jame Dobson's Focus on the Family) is hardly an independent observer of recent events at the academy. But, as you read the accout, you'll see that the inquiry at "The Springs" was even more biased. In that light, the Citizen provides welcome balance to MSM press accounts of the academy controversy.

Mystery Solved.

Authorities have apparently solved the mystery of the private jet that disappeared from an airport in Florida, only to turn up at a suburban Atlanta airfield. According to WSB-TV, the plane was taken for a joyride by a pilot who stole it from a St. Augustine, Florida airport, and flew it to Atlanta.

We can be thankful it wasn't a terrorist plot, but this incident underscores the lax security associated with general aviation airfields and private aircraft. As WSB notes, you don't need a key to start most smaller aircraft, including business jets like the stolen $7 million Citation 7. Initial reports suggest that the FAA never tracked the missing jet, and only became concerned when the jet was reported missing in Florida, and suddenly appeared outside Atlanta.

Now this IS something to be concerned about.

Hat tip: B Relevant.

A Death in Syria

Syria's Interior Minister has reportedly "committed suicide." Note the quotation marks, since the announcement--from Syrian state media--doesn't say where or how General Ghazi Kannan died.

The Jawa Report has a detailed summary and extensive links on the story. For more than 20 years, General Kannan ran Syrian intelligence in occupied Lebanon, and there is considerable speculation that his sudden "death" may have its basis in that previous assignment. Earlier this year, Syria was forced to withdraw from Lebanon, after its agents were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. International outrage over Hariri's death (in a massive car bombing) sparked the so-called "Cedar Revolution" which compelled Damascus to end its military occupation of Lebanon.

While Kannan became Interior Minister before the Hariri assassination, it was his network of agents and operatives that likely carried out the plot and when events went sour, he got the blame. In the cut-throat world of the Assad government, that is enough to warrant a death sentence, particularly when senior Sryian officials made millions of dollars a year from their Lebanese "business interests." With Syrian withdrawal (and the sudden loss of income), there was plenty of clamoring for Kannan's head within the Damascus government. President Bashir Assad (whose own future is far from assured) was only happy to oblige.

But there are other factors which may have prompted Kanaan's demise. The UN is scheduled to release a report on Hariri's death in a couple of weeks, and their investigators interviewed Kanaan on the subject. While Kanaan is a leading suspect in the Hariri assassination, any plan of that sort would have required approval at the highest level of the Syrian government. Kanaan's death provides a convenient scapegoat for the Lebanese and the world community, deflecting attention from other conspirators within the Syrian government.

Just hours before his death was announced, Kanaan granted a final interview to a Lebanese journalist. He ended the interview with the chilling (and prophetic) words, "you won't hear from me again." It will be interesting to see if any of Kanaan's former colleages meet a similar fate, as the Assad government tries to distance itself from Syria's murderous activities in Lebanon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Atlanta Update..

Police have found the culprit who planted explosive devices between two dormitories at Georgia Tech. It was a student (and blogger), not a terrorist.

Meanwhile, there are lots of unaswered questions about that stolen private jet that was flown from St. Augustine, Florida, to an Atlanta-area airport over the weekend. Ditto for the University of Oklahoma student who blew himself up outside the OU football stadium on 1 October, and a more recent, equally mysterious suicide in San Diego.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Deconstructing Algore...

The former VP, who now runs a failing "progressive" TV network, gave a speech to the "We Media" Conference in New York lat week. In his remarks, Mr. Gore managed to recite almost every liberal talking point and canard regarding the "inaccessibility" of today's, television-dominated media, and the supposedly poisonous influence of talk radio.

D.J. Drummond of Polipundit does a nice job of taking Algore apart. He deserves an award for actually wading through the trip, and exposing the numerous fallacies and inconsistencies in Algore's arguments.

Connecting the Dots?

Perhaps I should be writing this while wearing my tinfoil hat, but there have been a number of suspicious events around the U.S. in recent months. Collectively, these incidents may be nothing more than coincidences, but I've got my doubts. Afterall, it's been four years since 9-11 and the last major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Al-Qaida remains dedicated to the idea of launching new attacks on our homeland, and some recent events suggest that our defenses are being probed (at a minimum), or more ominously, some sort of attack planning may be underway.

Let's begin with that mysterious explosion at the University of Oklahoma on 1 October. The blast, which claimed the life of OU student Joel Henry Hinrichs III, occurred outside the campus football stadium, where Oklahoma was playing Kansas State. Hinrichs's death has been ruled a suicide, but the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has assumed control of the investigation. There are disturbing reports that Hinrichs attended a local Islamic center, and jihadist literature was found in his off-campus apartment. So far, the FBI isn't saying much, prompting the OU student newspaper, the Daily Oklahoman, to criticize the feds' information blackout, and online "hacks" who suggest Hinrichs may have been part of a wider terror plot.

The Jawa Report, which has been on this story from the start, does an excellent job punching holes in the Oklahoman's flawed arguments.

But the death of Joel Henry Hinrichs III isn't the only suspicious event that's occurred in Oklahoma recently. As this blog--and others--reported in July, Middle Eastern men were observed off the runway at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma (less than 30 miles from the OU campus). The men appeared to be carrying binoculars and a large weapon, possible a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile. When security forces approached the men, they fled the area. Later reports indicated that the FBI had doubts about the report, but as of early September, the Air Force was still investigating the Tinker incident, and the FBI was looking into similar reports from Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson. Such activity--if confirmed--could represent a dress rehearsal for a shoulder-fired SAM launch against a civilian or military aircraft.

Then, consider these recent incidents in the Atlanta area. Just yesterday, a janitor at Georgia Tech was injured when he picked up a trash bag that exploded. Inside, police found at least three home-made bombs, but only one of them detonated. The incident forced the temporary evacuation of two nearby dormitories on the Tech campus. Atlanta police are describing the event as a terrorist act.

And, if that weren't enough, authorities are also trying to determine how a stolen jet wound up at an Atlanta-area airport. The aircraft, a 10-passenger Cessna Citation 7, was discovered at the Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field on Monday morning, after it was reported stolen from an airfield in St. Augustine, Florida. At last report, there was no indication as to whole stole the business jet and flew it to Gwinnett County, although authorities said there was "nothing sinister" about the jet's disappearence from Florida, and reappearance in the Atlanta suburbs. The FAA has not determined if there's any record of the jet's flight from Florida, to Gwinnett County. Ironically, two of the 9-11 hijackers trained at Biscoe Field in the months leading up to those attacks.

Isolated incidents? Perhaps. Mere coincidences? Maybe. Copycat pranks? Possibly. But there are other ways to look at these recent events in Oklahoma and Georgia. Are they related, and do they represent the beginnings of a cluster, a series of suspicious incidents that could signify early target surveillance or preliminary attack planning? Those are the questions that federal, state and local officials are now trying to answer. And while it's too early for a definitive link between these incidents and Middle Eastern terrorists, that possibility cannot be ruled out. Some of the activity witnessed in Oklahoma and Georgia is consistent with past attacks by Al-Qaida and other groups. That's a big reason the Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved, and federal officials have grown strangely quiet about what happened in Norman and Atlanta.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Happy Birthday, Joe Rosenthal

The Pulitzer-prize winning combat photographer turns 94 today. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Rosenthal's famous photograph of U.S. Marines (actually, five Marines and a U.S. Navy Corpsman) raising the flag over Iwo Jima in 1945.

The circumstances that led to that famous event were brillantly retold in James Bradley's Flags of Our Fathers, published in 2000; a film based on the book, directed by Clint Eastwood, is due for release next year. The son of the Navy corpsman who participated in the flag raising, Bradley expertly weaves the stories of six men who came together on Mount Suribachi, and what happened after Rosenthal snapped his epic photograph. Three of the Marines never left the island; they died in combat, during the weeks of savage fighting that followed the flag-raising. The other Marines, could never quite adjust to the sudden fame that came with the publication of Rosenthal's photo. One of them, Ira Hayes, died in an alcohol-fueled fight in the early 1950s; the other, Rene Gagnon, died of a heart attack in the late 1970s, conflicted by the celebrity he once enjoyed (and lost), and memories of those who died on Iwo Jima.

James Bradley's father (Navy medic John Bradley) survied the war and became a prosperous funeral director in Wisconsin, but he, too, carried the scars of battle to his grave. There were no copies of the photograph in the Bradley home, and John Bradley refused all requests for interviews, even one from Walter Cronkite. He rarely spoke about the battle, insisting that the men "who never came home" were the real heroes. After the elder Bradley died in 1994 (at the age of 70), his son found some of his father's military effects hidden in a shoe box. Among them: the Navy Cross. John Bradley won the medal--the nation's second-highest award for valor--for rescuing an wounded Marine on Iwo, just days before the flag rasing. During his lifetime, John Bradley never mentioned the medal to anyone in his family.

As for Mr. Rosenthal, he actually photographed the second flag-raising of the day (a Marine Colonel insisted that a larger standard be hoisted over the former Japanese stronghold). The event happened quickly and Rosenthal arrived late, so he snapped his photograph in a hurry, not sure what the camera had captured. That question was answered when the photograph was transmitted by radio signal to Guam, where the AP had established a bureau. As the photo rolled off the printer, an AP editor exclaimed "there's one for the ages." Rosenthal's photo was a near-consensus choice for the Pulitzer for photography in 1945.

Sixty years later, it's doubtful that a similar photo from Baghdad or Ramidi would receive a similar honor from the Pulitzer jury. Afterall, the Pulitzer jury ignored Thomas E. Franklin's epic photo of three fire fighters, raising an American flag in the rubble of the World Trade Center on the afternoon of 9-11. Instead, the Pulitzer judges gave the photography award to the New York Times, for images of the towers collapse. It has been widely speculated that the judges ignored Franklin's photo (published in New Jersey's Bergen Record) because it was, in their estimation, "too patriotic."

Happy birthday, Mr. Rosenthal, and be happy you worked in an era when photography was judged on merit--not influenced by political correctness.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Letter From Zawahiri

I was on the road earlier this week, when U.S. officials released that intercepted letter from Al-Qaida's #2 man (Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the terrorist leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is, in many respects, a remarkable communique, and offers some insights into enemy strategy and current capabilities.

Judging from the letter, these are tough times for Al-Qaida's senior leadership, holed up along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Zawahiri asks al-Zarqawi for more information on the status of the insurgency in Iraq, saying that Al-Qaida leaders should know "at least as much as the enemy." His request tends to confirm recent claims by Pakistani intelligence officials, who recently told 60 Minutes that Al-Qaida's senior leaders are increasingly isolated and ineffective, forcing the terrorist organization to remain in a decentralized operating mode.

Zawahiri also asks al-Zarqawi to send money, suggesting that Al-Qaida's senior leadership is short of cash. That would suggest that U.S.-led efforts to cut off terrorist funding sources are having an impact, making it more difficult for Al-Qaida to finance future operations.

Despite the request for money and information, the letter is also critical of al-Zarqawi's tactics in Iraq. Zawahiri encourages al-Zarqawi to stop beheading abductees, claiming such measures are hurting the cause. He also complains about attacks against Iraqi civilian, saying that the Arab man in the street doesn't understand why so many fellow Muslims are dying.

The letter was apparently written in July, and we don't have al-Zarqawi's response. If he were truthful, Al-Qaida's man in Iraq would have to report that the issue there is also in doubt. While the insurgency remains resilient in parts of Baghdad and western Iraq, it has suffered major defeats in Fallujah, and more recently, Mosul. Zarqawi's ability to win the campaign in Iraq--and provide support to Al-Qaida's senior leadership--is doubtful, at best.

But the communique is also troubling, for several reasons. First, it illustrates that Al-Qaida leaders can still communicate, to some degree. Secondly, it reaffirms that the terrorist organization has larger plans, beyond Iraq. In his letter, Zawahiri talks about taking the war to other countries, including Syria and Egypt, after victory is secured in Iraq. Zawahiri identifies Iraq as the primary battefield in the War on Terror, calling it "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era." Such verbage suggests that Al-Qaida is prepared to stay the course in Iraq, and indicating why we must be prepared to do the same.

More Kool-Aid, Please....

It's as lame, predictable (and factually dishonest) as a Nancy Pelosi speech. Every six months or so, the MSM trots out another article, touting the "growth" of liberal talk radio, suggesting that conservatives may be losing their hold on the medium.

The latest offender is Steven Thomma, a writer for the Knight-Ridder news service. Mr. Thomma recently filed an article that claims that talk radio is undergoing a "shift," based on (slightly) lower ratings for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in some markets. Thomma also claims that liberal hosts, including Al Franken, Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz are "carving out a niche," while acknowledging that conservatives still have a huge advantage in listenership.

Exaggerated claims about the "growth" of liberal talk radio are laughable. First of all, the "niche" established by Air America--the flagship of liberal talk radio--is marginal (and declining). Brian Maloney of Radioequalizer has been at the forefront of cataloging Air America's scandals and stumbles, and he does a nice job exposing the numbers game the network is using to tout its supposed "growth." In one case, as Brian points out, Air America brags about the growth of Al Franken's show on a Providence station that recently cancelled the program.

Here are a few more salient numbers. In New York, the audience for WABC (which airs both Rush and Sean Hannity) climbed over the summer, while listenership for the Air America affiliate (WLIB) remained stagnant. Beyond that, Air America has lost almost half its audience in New York after the network's much-hyped launch last year. WLIB had higher ratings under its previous, Carribean music format.

In Los Angeles, dominant talker KFI (another Limbaugh affiliate) remains the #1 AM station in Southern California, with an average rating of 3.9. KABC, which carries the Sean Hannity program, saw a modest audience increase, moving from a 2.1 to 2.3. KTLK, the Air America outlet, remains mired near the bottom of the ratings heap, with an average rating of 0.8. The network's claims of "phenomonal growth" are based on a ratings spike for KTLK in late 2004 and early 2005, when its average rating jumped from 0.3 to 0.9. But over the summer months, the station's audience actually declined slightly, falling back to 0.8. Overall, KTLK is the #30 station in the Los Angeles market; by comparison, KFI is #6; KABC (which also carries Bill O'Reilly) is #13.

Of course, Thomma doesn't mention any of this in his report. He also fails to note the legal and financial scandals that now engulf Air America and threaten its future. In fact, the situation at Air America has grown so desperate that the network is now encouraging listeners to donate money to the enterprise, suggesting that it is in dire financial straits. Appearing on The O'Reilly Factor this week, Brian Maloney suggested that Air America may be out of business in less than two months, unless it receives a major cash infusion very soon. The network has resorted to "creative financing" in the past (as evidenced by the illegal loans from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club); the appeal for donations may represent a last-ditch effort to keep Air America afloat.

Liberal talk radio is in big trouble, but you wouldn't know that reading the Knight-Ridder article. Funny, I always thought news articles were supposed to be based on facts, not fantasy.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tug of War

The topic of intelligence reform has largely disappeared from the headlines, but that process is continuing.

In military circles, the Defense Intelligence Agency is pushing a reform plan called DIAP (Defense Intelligence Analysis Program) which would revamp analytical roles and responsibilities within military intelligence organizations.

While a final plan has not yet been approved, DIA is pushing several proposals that have raised the ire of the uniformed services, namely the U.S. Air Force. Under one DIAP proposal, much of the responsibility for ballistic missile and air defense analysis would shift from the Air Force's intel production center (located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio), the the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Air Force is upset because MSIC is already a part of DIA, and the proposed realignment would shift even more resources to the agency, and give it greater control over military intelligence analysis. Air Force leaders also believe that DIA is being less-than-fair in proposing the transfer, favoring one of its own organizations over a military service with decades of experience in missile and air defense intelligence.

This tug-of-war has already caught the attention of at least one Senator, who has voiced his concerns to senior Pentagon officials. More politicians will likely get involved as the debate continues, since the proposed realignment would mean the loss (or gain) of hundreds of jobs in Ohio, Alabama and other states.

Sadly, this part of the DIAP process is another example of how favoritism and politics can actually impeded intelligence reform. The Air Force has excelled at missile and IADS analysis for more than 50 years; at this point, there's no logical reason to consolidate those functions at MSIC. The process of intelligence reform would be better served by addressing real problems--such as our long-standing deficiency in human intelligence--instead of a bureaucratuc power grab disguised as reform.

You're Kidding, Right?

That was my reaction in hearing that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its hapless Director General, Mohammed ElBaradei, have been named winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

As you'll recall, ElBaradei has, during his tenure, presided over an agency seemingly incapable of dealing with nuclear proliferation. Sure, the IAEA issues periodic warnings to rogue states about developing nuclear arms, and conducts a few inspections here and there, but if you examine its actual record, the agency has done little to curb the expansion of nuclear arsenals. During ElBaradei's tenure, both North Korea and Iran have continued their nuclear development efforts, with only the mildest of protests from the IAEA.

But the IAEA represents an "international effort" to deal with nuclear proliferation, something the Nobel committee strongly endorses. And, giving the prize to the IAEA gives the committee a chance to take another swipe at the Bush Administration, whose counter-proliferation efforts are viewed as unilateral, even "dangerous" by the Nobel judges. Never mind that our unilateral approach actually convinced a rogue state (Libya) to give up its nuclear program. Besides, endorsing the failed efforts of the IAEA allows the committee to engage in one of its favorite activities--taking a shot at Washington. That was a big reason that failed former President (and dictator coddler) Jimmy Carter won the Peace Prize back in 2002 and the UN received the award in 2001. Of course, the committee has also bestowed the Peace Prize on such "luminaries" as Le Duc Tho, Yasser Arafat, Rigoberta Menchu, Mikhail Gorbachev and UN peace-keeping forces.

And we're supposed to take this award seriously?

If sanity ever returns to the selection process, perhaps the Norwegian Nobel Committee (which awards the Peace Prize) will finally recognize institutions that have actually helped advance the cause of peace, namely the U.S. armed forces.

Return of Old Friends

Here's today's literary quiz: what recently-released compilation covers three volumes, weighs 23 pounds, has a list price of $150, and is likely to wind up on the New York Times best-seller list? Given those dimensions, you might think it's a list of Michael Moore's favorites foods, or the complete encyclopedia of Bill Clinton's paramours.

Happily, the referenced work is something far more useful (and delightful): The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a comprehesive collection of Bill Watterson's classic strip, which ran from 1985-1995. The compilation includes every strip in the series, plus supplemental material, including a 13-page introduction from the reclusive Watterson, who "retired" Calvin and Hobbes at the height of their popularity, and shifted to attention to painting (some of his recent watercolors appear in the collection) and music. Watterson stopped doing interviews more than a decade ago, and he refuses to be photographed by the media, so the introduction may be our only real glimpse into the genius of Mr. Watterson that lived through his characters, six-year-old Calvin and his tiger playmate, Hobbes.

I first stumbled across Calvin and Hobbes in 1986. It was funny, innovative and original back then, and the strips remain fresh 20 years later. Perhaps part of their appeal is the work Watterson put into the strip. He did all of the writing, drawing and inking himself--a rarity among today's comic strip artists. He fought the strip's syndicator (Universal Press) to prevent the licensing of his characters, declining royalty fees that would have earned millions of dollars. He pressed newspapers to give him a half-page for his Sunday strips, allowing him to experiment with expanded gags and often-dazzling artwork. As Watterson notes in the introduction, he gave the strip "everything I had to offer." Ten years after Calvin and Hobbes taboggoned off into the sunset, readers can once again applaud Watterson's artistry, while reconnecting with some old and treasured friends.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

That "Other" Congressional Scandal

While the MSM salivates over the "second" indictment of Tom Delay by Texas D.A. (and political hack) Ronnie Earle, the "real" Congressional scandal receives no attention, as Investor's Business Daily reminds us..