Friday, September 29, 2006

Laying the Foundation

With the end of the Israel-Hizballah conflict, most members of the western press hopped on a plane and quickly forgot about the region, and what may happen next. That's hardly a surprise, since the media's collective attention span equates that of a sugared-up six-year old, but in this case, the MSM has missed a subtle--yet important--shift in Israeli discussions of the Iranian threat, and how to deal with it. Simply stated, Israeli leaders have been quietly conditioning their populace for an eventual military strike against Iran. At this point, the conditioning efforts appear more aimed at preparing the public for eventual action, rather than an imminent attack. Still, this represents an important change in the Israeli tone, which (at one time) emphasized the importance diplomacy and an international response.

Interestingly, PM Olmert began to reshape the Iran debate several months ago, before the conflict with Hizballah. In late June, he held a rare meeting with three former prime ministers--Netanyahu, Barak and Peres--and the session was devoted to a "serious discussion" of the Iranian threat. Photo ops from the meeting conveyed a sense of unity and purpose on the Iran issue, transcending Israel's deep political divides.

When the Lebanon conflict raised questions about Israel's military performance, Mr. Olmert moved quickly to rehabilitate the image of its primary, long-range strike force, the IAF. In a late August speech in Haifa--a city hard-hit by Hizballah rockets during the war--Olmert was quick to recount the IAF's successes against the terrorists. He noted that the IAF destroyed most of Hizballah's long-range rockets in the first hour of the war, reducing the threat posed to cities and targets deep inside Israel. He likened the IAF's first strike to those of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1982 Bekka Valley campaign, which devastated enemy air forces. Mr. Olmert also indicated that the IAF remains prepared to strike targets well beyond Israel's borders, an obvious reference to Iran. By comparison, Olmert has offered less praise for the Israeli Army and Navy, services that were also engaged in the Lebanon fight, but would not play a role in attacking Iran.

Olmert's government has also heaped praise on the IDF Chief, Lt Gen Dan Halutz, the former head of the IDF. Halutz has been criticized for his management of the Lebanon campaign, but recent articles in Israeli publications have contrasted "public" perceptions of Halutz against more laudatory assessments within defense circles. These articles appear designed (in part) to underscore Olmert's confidence in General Halutz, and his ability to take the fight to Iran, if necessary.

It will be interesting to see how far Mr. Olmert takes this effort--if he survives in office. The Israeli Prime Minister is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal, reminiscent of the Duke Cunningham scandal in the United States. According to Israeli press accounts, Mr. Olmert and his wife purchased a home at far below its market value, from a firm seeking political favors. Olmert has claimed he did nothing wrong, but he was questioned about the matter by investigators earlier this week.

Additionally, some of Olmert's remarks may serve other purposes. His approval ratings sank in the wake of the Lebanon conflict, and he may feel compelled to praise members of his security team, to avoid further damage to his own popularity. But his efforts to present a "unified front" on the Iran issue, strong public support for the IAF and comments by other politicians on the "inevitability" of a showdown with Iran, suggest something else is afoot, namely an important shift in the Israeli debate over Tehran's nuclear program, and the best way to handle it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Attacking Our Eyes in the Sky

The U.K. Telegraph has an alarming--if slightly inaccurate--report on China's efforts to disable U.S. spy satellites. According to the paper, China has test-fired powerful lasers which could blind our electro-optical surveillance satellites, operating in low earth orbit (LEO). The paper seems to insinuate that Beijing has actually fired lasers at our EO satellites, which would be considered an act of war. Telegraph reporter Francis Harris also claims the Bush Administration has kept the attacks secret, to keep China engaged on the North Korean nuclear issue.

Perhaps I'm being overly skeptical, but I don't think that any administration would tolerate attacks against key intelligence platforms, regardless of over-arching diplomatic concerns. Beyond that, it's difficult to believe that any regime--particularly one that carefully calibrates major diplomatic and military moves--would approve such a provocative step, particularly in peacetime.

Make no mistake; China has a very active counter-space program that has grown dramatically over the past decade, and much of that effort is aimed at the United States. Beijing understands that we rely on space for a number of military and commercial functions; simply stated, without access to the "high frontier," our armed forces and economy would suffer almost irreparable harm. In a regional or global conflict, Beijing would make a serious effort to deny our access to space and space-based platforms. But short of war, there are other vehicles for demonstrating counter-space capabilities, without launching an actual attack. That would be a more sensible option, and the most likely one that Beijing would follow.

Still, the Telegraph article outlines a serious and growing threat to U.S. interests. Defense of space must become a higher priority for this administration (and the one that follows). Otherwise, we may (in a few short years), find ourselves with a true "peer competitor" in the space arena--an adversary with the potential to disrupt an deny our use of that realm, and few options for preventing it.

P.S.--These developments underscore the absolute folly of the decision to cancel our successful ASAT program in the mid-1980s. That effort was built around a three-stage missile, launched by a USAF F-15 in a steep climb. The missile was successfully tested in 1985, but the program was later abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and before the advent of China's counter-space efforts.

The DTS Mess

Unless you work for the Department of Defense, you've probably never heard of something called the Defense Travel System (DTS). The system was conceived in the mid-1990s as a way to save taxpayer dollars spent on commissions for travel agents who made official travel arrangements for military personnel and DoD civilians. Instead of paying millions to civilian travel agents, the Pentagon hit on the notion of creating a computer-based system that would allow defense personnel to book their own travel arrangements, and file reimbursement vouchers once the trip was complete. By some estimates, the Pentagon hoped to save $54 million dollars a year.

Sounds good, right? With high hopes, the defense department launched DTS back in 1998 by awarding a contract to Northrup-Grumman, which was charged with building the system and its implementation. Almost a decade later, DTS has become a Pentagon black hole; total costs for the sytem have exceeded $500 million (far surpassing original estimates), it's at least four years behind schedule, and many DoD employees still don't use the system.

In fact, more than a few go to great lengths to avoid it. First, the system still doesn't show all available flight options between selected cities, and payment of electronically-submitted vouchers is notoriously slow, up to four weeks in some cases. That means the government credit card bill arrives before the payment shows up, forcing DoD employees to dig into their own pockets and pay the bill, to avoid showing up on the list of delinquent credit card holders in their organization.

As for those promised savings, the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon provided only one document to the GAO--a press release from the former government credit card contractor, American Express. In other words, the touted savings really haven't materialized. Instead, they've been consumed by system cost overruns, and (in some cases), higher travel costs, because travelers wind up using more expensive flight, hotel and rental car options.

The obvious question is why the Pentagon launched DTS in the first place. The earlier system, which awarded "travel agent" contracts to vendors like Alamo and CI Travel, worked very well, offering DoD personnel a full range of transportation options at reasonable prices. As for the payment system, that was handled by the local accounting and finance office at military installations; under that method, most vouchers were paid within a week, versus the 2-3 week average under DTS. Prompt payment allowed military personnel and civilians to pay their credit card bills in a timely manner, avoiding "deadbeat" status, and potential punishment from their superiors.

In short, DTS was--and is--a system that is totally wasteful and unnecessary. It's been a boon for Northrup-Grumman, but a total bust for DoD and the U.S. taxpayer. Senator Tom Coburn, the no-nonsense Oklahoma Republican, is trying to kill DTS, and we wish him luck in that endeavor. In an era of tighter Pentagon budgets, DTS is one system we can live without, allowing that money to be spent on more productive enterprises--such as developing new counter-measures for IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Years ago, Russian Admiral Sergey Gorshkov observed that "perfection is the enemy of good enough" and that maxim certainly applies to DTS. In pursuit of illusory "savings," the Pentagon scrapped a system that was more than "good enough" for a gold-plated, all-the-bells and whistles approach that has done nothing but waste defense dollars. When casual civilian travelers have access to far better systems than DTS--produced by the free market, at no cost to the taxpayers--it makes no sense to continue this boondoggle. The rest of the Senate should follow Coburn's example and kill DTS, once and for all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Unfinished Business

Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz of the Washington Times remind us that a sentence was recently handed in the latest espionage case involving the PRC. Former DIA analyst Ronald Montaperto was sentenced to three months in prison for illegally retaining classified documents, and passing sensitive intelligence information to a Chinese intelligence officer. In comparison to other spy cases, Montaperto's stunningly light sentence received virtually no media attention.

We first wrote about Mr. Montaperto back on June 26th, and posted additional comments on his case last week. As we observed at the time, Montaperto was no ordinary intelligence analyst. At the time he was dismissed from government service, he was running a U.S. Pacific Command think tank, charged with assessing the threat from the PRC. Before that, he was a China analyst for DIA; former colleagues recall taht Mr. Montaperto consistently downplayed the military and economic challenges posed by Beijing.

At one point (in the early 1990s), Montaperto apparently applied for an analyst position at the CIA. His pre-employment polygraph reportedly raised serious questions about his conduct, and suggested that he may have posed an esiponage threat. The CIA decided not to hire Montaperto and passed their concerns to DIA, which failed to follow up. Montaperto remained on the government payroll for another 13 years; there's no telling what he might have passed to Beijing in the years that followed. According to Scarborough and Gertz, prosecutors are convinced that he passed sensitive reports on Saudi and Iranian missile deals to Beijing. His information may have also allowed the Chinese to plug leaks that prevent us from tracking key Chinese arms deals.

And for all this, Montaperto will spend three months in jail. Moreover, according to the Times, a number of current/former government employees wrote letters of support for Montaperto. There is something very distressing about the sentence Montaperto received, and his continued support in certain federal circles.

When an Expert's Not an Expert

Every spring, almost like clockwork, the MSM offers predictions for the upcoming hurricane season, based on the analysis of Dr. William Gray, the emminent climatologist at Colorado State University. Dr. Gray's decades of research have produced some of the more accurate long-range forcecasts for Atlantic hurricane activity, and made him one of the leading authorities in that particular branch of meterology and climate research.

But Dr. Gray's scholarly interests don't end there. Over the past year, he's actually scaled back his involvement in tropical forecasting to study another critical climate issue, global warming. Or, more correctly, the lack of empiracal evidence to support gloom-and-doom predictions of a steadily warming earth, fueled by human activity and an increase in greehouse gases.

Dr. Gray's thoughts on the subject are nicely summarized in this Denver Post article, linked by Drudge. As a counterpoint to Gray's arguments, the Post story also features the assessment of another Colorado-based climate researcher, Kevin Trenberth, who (not surprisingly) believes that global warming not only exists, it represents a grave threat to the planet.

Such hysteria is evident in today's latest warning on global warming, which claims that the earth is at its warmest point in more than a million years. Gray dismisses such warnings as rubbish, claiming that the numerical models used to generate such predictions are heavily flawed. Critics dismiss Gray as a crank who's out of his scientific element ("his knowledge of theory is frustratingly poor"), but oddly enough, most refuse to engage him on the subject. A recent Washington Post profile paints Gray as something of a kook, far outside the scientific mainstream.

And so does the MSM, for the most part. Today's MSNBC report on global warming (cited above) didn't contain a single paragraph that disputed the claims, or raised any doubts regarding their validity. As for Dr. Gray, I'm sure the writer never bothered to ask his views. When it comes to theories and causes that have been fully embraced by the MSM, there is little space or air time for disagreement, no matter how respected the critic might be. As far as the media is concerned, Dr. Gray is the "go-to" guy for hurricanes, but his views on global warming are simply unwelcome.

We Second the Motion...

From today's Opinion Journal, on the need to declassify--and release--that National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) so prominently featured in Sunday's edition of The New York Times.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More of What You Won't Read in the NYT

Yesterday, we noted that the MSM (along with their fellow travelers in the intel community), had apparently "cherry-picked" information from a recent National Intelligence Estimate, making their case that the Bush Administration's War on Terror had actually made the problem worse. In closing, we observed that if the NIE was that biased, it represented a grave disservice to both the community and the nation.

Thankfully, the actual NIE is not the harbinger of disaster that the Times and WaPo would have us believe. According to members of the intel community who have seen the document, the NIE is actually fair and balanced (to coin a phrase), noting both successes and failures in the War on Terror--and identifying potential points of failure for the jihadists. The quotes printed below--taken directly from the document and provided to this blogger--provide "the other side" of the estimate, and its more balanced assessment of where we stand in the War on Terror (comments in italics are mine).

In one of its early paragraphs, the estimate notes progress in the struggle against terrorism, stating the U.S.-led efforts have "seriously damaged Al Qaida leadership and disrupted its operations." Didn't see that in the NYT article.

Or how about this statement, which--in part--reflects the impact of increased pressure on the terrorists: "A large body of reporting indicates that people identifying themselves as jihadists is increasing...however, they are largely decentralized, lack a coherent strategy and are becoming more diffuse." Hmm...doesn't sound much like Al Qaida's pre-9-11 game plan.

The report also notes the importance of the War in Iraq as a make or break point for the terrorists: "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves to have failed, we judge that fewer will carry on the fight." It's called a ripple effect.

More support for the defeating the enemy on his home turf: "Threats to the U.S. are intrinsically linked to U.S. success or failure in Iraq." President Bush and senior administration officials have made this argument many times--and it's been consistently dismissed by the "experts" at the WaPo and Times.

And, some indication that the "growing" jihad may be pursuing the wrong course: "There is evidence that violent tactics are backfiring...their greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution (shar'a law) is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims." Seems to contradict MSM accounts of a jihadist tsunami with ever-increasing support in the global Islamic community..

The estimate also affirms the wisdom of sowing democracy in the Middle East: "Progress toward pluralism and more responsive political systems in the Muslim world will eliminate many of the grievances jihadists exploit." As I recall, this the core of our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Quite a contrast to the "doom and gloom" scenario painted by the Times and the Post. Not that we'd expect anything different. But the obvious slant of their coverage does raise an interesting question, one that should be posed to their ombudsman or public editor. If sources used by the papers had access to the document, why weren't they asked about the positive elements of the report? Or, if sources provided some of the more favorable comments regarding our war on terror, why weren't those featured in articles published by the Times and the Post?

The ball's in your court, Mr. Keller and Mr. Downie. We'd like an answer to these questions, since they cut to the heart of whether your publications can actually cover a story in a fair and objective manner. We won't hold our breath waiting for a response.

Kerry Weighs In

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (you may recall, he served in Vietnam) has an opinion piece in today's Opinion Journal, critiquing the failure of Bush Administration policy in Afghanistan. From Mr. Kerry's vantage point, the recent surge in Taliban attacks, calls for more western troop deployments and the underfunding of reconstruction efforts are evidence of a failed strategy. In his words, we are "losing Afghanistan," and must recommit to victory in that country.

Kerry's approach to military analysis is apparently influenced by The New York Times. Like the Times, Senator Kerry (or, more likely the staffer who ghost-wrote the op-ed) cherry picks his "facts" carefully for maximum effect. Mr. Kerry wants his readers to believe that Afghanistan is going to hell in a handbasket, thanks to the feckless policies of the man who defeated him in the 2004 Presidential election. Admittedly, the situation in Afghanistan has grown more serious over the past year, but contrary to the assertions of Mr. Kerry and Newsweek magazine (which has a cover story on Afghanistan this week), the battle is far from lost, and there is reason for continued optimism.

Consider this grim assessment from Senator Kerry:

"Funded largely by a flourishing opium trade, a resurgent Taliban effectively controls entire swathes of southern Afghanistan. Roadside bomb attacks have more than doubled this year, and suicide attacks have more than tripled. Britain's commander in Afghanistan recently said that "the intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis."

Mr. Kerry doesn't define the term "effectively controls," but he insinuates that the Taliban is essentially back in control of much of Afghanistan. That is grossly inaccurate. True, the numbers of Taliban and Al Qaida-sponsored attacks have increased significantly over the past year, but that trend is a bit misleading, since roughly 90% of the attacks occur in southern and eastern Afghanistan--areas that have traditionally been Taliban strongholds. Additionally, even at today's current, "elevated" levels, Afghanistan has never recorded more than 700 insurgent attacks in a month--roughly the equivalent of four days' worth of terrorist activity in Iraq. Moreover, cumulative totals for September are expected to be about 15-20% low the peak level of August, when roughly 700 attacks occurred. In other words, recent NATO operations (like Operation Mountain Lion) are having the desired effect, although more work remains to be done. Clearly, you won't find that type of balanced assessment in Kerry's op-ed.

Nor does the Senator explore other reasons for the upswing in violence--namely, a switch to the type of "international" effort he suggested during his failed presidential bid. You may recall that overall responsibility for the Afghan mission was turned over to NATO last year. In the months that followed, many of NATO contingents were less-than-aggressive in pursuing terrorists, adopting a "garrison" strategy that minimizes casualties. That approach gave the Taliban an added breather, allowing them to re-group and expand their operational base. The good news is that the terrorists still die in large numbers when they elect to stand and fight. A recent increase in suicide bombings is indicative of a shift to tactics that have some measure of success. In small unit operations, Taliban fighters are still hopelessly outled and outclassed by NATO forces, and they can't maintain their territorial gains in the face of superior forces.

Mr. Kerry also dodges the central question of how NATO can be prodded into meeting its obligations in Afghanistan. He quotes General James Jones, the current Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who recently observed that all 26 members of the alliance have been dragging their feet in supplying more troops and resources for the fight. That reality would seem to undercut Mr. Kerry's 2004 assertion that the U.S. needed to engage the world community in the war on terror, and forge stronger alliances. As we're seeing in Afghanistan, some of our NATO partners are willing to fight to the last American or Afghan in the battle against the Taliban and Al Qaida, but have problems with sending more of their own troops--especially if those forces might have to venture outside a secure garrison. So much for the internationalist approach.

The Senator is on firmer ground in advocating an increase in aid to Afghanistan, but once again, he ignores the issue of how much the U.S. should pay, and how much our NATO allies should pony up. If Afghanistan is truly a coalition effort--and it's supposed to be just that--then we need more Euros along with additional dollars. And how do we make that happen? Once again, Mr. Kerry is short on answers.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Return of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

The Clinton spin machine remains in full counter-attack mode, as evidenced by the former President's contentious interview today on Fox News Sunday. It was vintage Bill Clinton--almost like something out of a Michael Ramierz cartoon; purple-faced, eyes bugging, index finger pointing vigorously as he tried to defend his record in fighting terrorism. At one point, he told interviewer Chris Wallace "I see you have that smirk on your face."

Clinton's defense is based on the premise of "at least I tried" to do something about bin Laden. According to Mr. Clinton, he "authorized" the CIA to get groups together to kill the Al Qaida leader and prepared battle plans to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban, after the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 1999. However, Clinton says a lack of basing rights in neighboring Uzbekistan prevented him from putting the plan into action. The U.S. gained basing rights in that country after 9-11.

Mr. Clinton believes these efforts are what separates him from the "right-wingers" who have criticized his anti-terrorism policies. "They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried and failed."

Of course, it probably depends on how you define "try." There's plenty of evidence to suggest that some of Clinton's "attempts" left a lot to be desired. Let's begin with that basing issue in Uzbekistan. Is the former President suggesting that the full weight of American diplomacy--plus some well-timed financial aid--couldn't have convinced the Uzbeks to provide the required basing rights? And, what's the record of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region during that period? I don't require any high-profile visits to Uzbekistan by Mr. Clinton or his Secretary of State, which might have helped secure the necessary basing arrangements.

But that's a relatively minor point. On the issue of "getting" bin Laden, Clinton recommends the recollections of former terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke, as an accurate record of his administration's efforts. But there are some problems with Mr. Clarke's version of events . By some accounts, Clarke was more pre-occupied with cyber-terrorism than the Al Qaida threat, no less a Bush critic than Michael Scheuer ( a retired CIA operative and author of Imperial Hubris) has serious problems with Clarke's recollections. Scheuer has even described Clarke as one of the "authors of 9-11." And, if that assertion is true, then some of the blame rests with Mr. Clinton as well.

Additionally, the former President has never offered a satisfactory explanation of why he turned down Sudan's offer to hand over bin Laden in the mid-1990s. Various members of his administration have suggested that rumors of a deal were exaggerated; critics paint a far different picture, indicating that the Clinton team rejected several offers that would have resulted in bin Laden's arrest or containment, years before 9-11.

Clinton's case is also undercut by his record on other terrorism-related issues. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has excoriated Mr. Clinton for refusing to follow-up on critical leads in the 1996 bombing of the U.S. military Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia. Obviously, the Saudi plot didn't involve Al Qaida, but it is indicative of a President who was indifferent (at best) on the most important security issue faced by his administration.

In his mind, Clinton probably believes that he truly tried to battle terrorism. But his record shows that he didn't try hard enough. Confronted by tough questions on what he did and didn't do on terrorism, Mr. Clinton (instead) pointed an accusatory finger at the right-wing conspiracy. Sad--and utterly predictable.

What You Won't Read in The New York Times

According to my calendar, it's still September, but elements within the intelligence community have already launched their "October surprise," leaking elements of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concludes that the global terror threat has increased because of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The preferred stenography services of intelligence leakers, The New York Times and the Washington Post, featured the assessment in front-page stories in today's editions, just in time for the Sunday chat shows.

After initially noting that it was not involved in the preparation of the NIE and its analysis, the White House began firing back, stating that accounts in the Times and Post are "not representative of the full document," according to spokesman Peter Watkins. We can only hope that the Bush Administration sees fit to release other portions of the report in the coming days, to provide a needed counter-balance to MSM accounts.

The Times (in particular) tries to depict the NIE as an assessment that represents the broad consensus of the sixteen agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. In theory, that may be true, but as someone who's participated in the NIE process in the past, I can assure you that some agencies are more equal than others. For example, given the focus and scope of this report, it seems rather doubtful that the U.S. Coast Guard (now officially a member of the intel community) had much input into the NIE; ditto for the Office of Naval Intelligence, Department of the Treasury and other agencies that are--officially--full members of our intel apparatus.

In fact, the primary contributors to this NIE were likely the CIA, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), with assistance from experts at the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the senior advisory panel that is gradually assuming overall responsibility for the nation's overall analytic effort. According to the Times, the conclusion of this NIE seems to confirm predictions from a pre-war, 2003 NIC assessment which warned of a possible increase in terrorism following a conflict in Iraq. It's worth noting that the earlier NIC report was drafted under the old intelligence community structure, when the CIA dominated both the NIC and assessments of this type. In other words, it was quite likely that administration critics played a key role in drafting the original document, and the more recent NIE. Readers will also note that the NIE was published in April, but the leak was delayed until it could provide more political benefit.

As for its conclusions, it appears that the Times, the Post and their sources have been somewhat selective in extracting information from the intelligence estimate. The Times notes that "an opening section of the report cites the Iraq War as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology." Presumably, there are other reasons as well--which the paper promptly ignores. Media accounts also resort to another familiar ploy, largely ignoring the beginnings of the jihadits movement in the 1970s and 80s, and its steady growth in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was supposedly doing "all he could" to battle global terrorism. Juding from the Times and WaPo, Islamic terrorism is a recent invention that began on George W. Bush's watch.

The report also concludes that the jihadist movement has expanded "from a core of Al Qaida operatives and affiliated groups to include a new class of self-generating cells," inspired by the group's leadership, but with no direct connection to Al Qaida. However, that's a very narrow view of cause and effect, since it credits the Iraq War for creating more terrorists, but fails to acknowledge that the conflict has forced terrorists into de-centralized operations. There is absolutely no indication that Osama bin Laden and his inner circle planned to surrender active leadership of their global terror network after 9-11, but the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan put them on the run, and our effort in Iraq forced them to shift their focus to that arena. It would be interesting to note if the NIE team considered how many new attacks might have been launched on the U.S. homeland without our incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq.

For the record, I haven't read the NIE, and it's difficult to draw accurate conclusions from cherry-picked media accounts. On the whole, our response to the events of 9-11 probably created more terrorists--just as our entry into WWII resulted in the expansion of German and Japanese Armies. But there is also evidence that the recruits entering the jihad today are not the same caliber of those who signed on several years ago. They are deadly on the streets of Baghdad (where the only requirements are blind obedience and a willingness to die for the cause), but less capable of mounting complex, large-scale attacks like those of five years ago.

If the NIE is as one-sided and as pessimistic as the Times indicates, then it does a grave disservice to both the intelligence community and the nation as a whole. It also suggests that our intelligence analytical process remains fatally flawed--an equally grave cause for concern.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Don't Get Your Hopes Up

The internet and the MSM are abuzz with rumors that Osama bin Laden died from typhoid last month in Pakistan. This "report" came from a French newspaper, citing a recent report from the DGSE, the French national intelligence agency. Apparently, the DGSE report is based on a single, "reliable" Saudi source, and both French and U.S. officials have stressed that the information has not been confirmed. For what's it worth, the Saudi security services are reportedly convinced that the Al Qaida leader is dead; the French Defense Minister, in a bit of political posturing, has ordered a "full investigation" into the DGSE report.

If this sounds vaguely familar, it should. Rumors about bin Laden's health have circulated for years, without any real semblance of confirmation. For a man who was rumored to suffer from a severe kindey ailment, the terrorist leader seems amazingly healthy. Put another way: with the level of health care generally available along the Pakistan-Afghan border (even for the Al Qaida kingpin), if bin Laden suffered from a serious illness, he would have probably been dead long ago.

And that leads us to reason #1 to discount the French report. Typhoid can be easily prevented with vaccines, which are widely avaiable. It seems a bit incredulous that Al Qaida wouldn't take the precaution to innoculate its top leadership against a disease that is common in its current operational base, given the fact that group's #2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a physician with a fair degree of skill and experience.

Beyond that, we're also missing the sort of hints that might actually accompany bin Laden's demise: chatter across Al Qaida communications circuits; announcements and messages of condolences of jihadist websites, and signs of a succession struggle within the group. Absent those indicators, it's difficult to lend much credence to a single-source report. There would be a certain irony if bin Laden succumbed to a microbe, instead of a Hellfire missile. But at this point, the odds that actually happened appear rather slim.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Changing the Equation

It won't attract as much attention as North Korea's July 4th missile tests, but South Korea has announced a development that could further shift their military balance of power with the North. According to ROK defense officials, Seoul has developed a new cruise missile, capable of hitting virtually all portions of the DPRK with "precision" accuracy.

The new missile, tentatively nick-named "Sky Dragon" has technology similar to the U.S. Tomahawk, and will be operationally deployed next year, at land batteries and on submarines. ROK sources say the missile will have an initial range of 500km (310 NM), but that distance will increase with later models of the Sky Dragon. The missile was developed in response to North Korea's ballistic program which dates back more than two decades; work on the Sky Dragon began well before Pyongyang's unsuccessful ICBM test in early July.

Development and deployment of the missile are revolutionary in the sense that it will make North Korea's air defense system more obsolete (if that's possible). Pyongyang has large numbers of SA-2 and SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, and two sites that operate the long-range SA-5--but they are virtually useless against cruise missiles, flying toward their targets at extremely low altitudes. North Korea has more anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries than any other nation on earth (covering the low/medium altitude blocks), but most of Pyongyang's AAA is old and optically-guided. To have any hope of hitting a cruise missile, gunners needed accurate tracking information, allowing them to point their guns in the right direction. But North Korea's radar network is equally antiquated, with only a marginal ability to detect targets at low-to-medium altitude. And, if that weren't bad enough (from the North's point-of-view), the cruise missiles will be almost impossible to target, since they will based on mobile ground launchers, and state-of-the art, ultra-quiet diesel submarines.

Seoul is planning a "double-digit" deployment of the Sky Dragon, beginning next year. It will provide an effective mechanism for striking high-value "fixed" targets in North Korea, including silo-based Tapeo-Dong 1 missiles, and (eventually) the TD-2. Protecting those sites against precision attack by U.S. and ROK cruise missiles (and other weapons) will require a massive investment in new air defenses, something that Pyongyang can ill-afford, unless Iran or Venezuela writes the check.

One more thought: Seoul's rapid development of an advanced weapon sends another, implicit signal to Pyongyang. A nation with an advanced technology and manufacturing base--like South Korea--can produce other types of advanced weaponry in relatively short order, say something that might make a suitable warhead for a cruise missile.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Cluster Bomb Kerfuffle

Students of recent military campaigns know that the international community has worked itself into a righteous lather over three categories of weapons: depleted uranium munitions, land mines and cluster bombs. Many of us wish that U.N. officials could muster similar concern for more pressing threats, namely North Korea's nuclear arsenal, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the growing prospects for proliferation of WMD in the third world.

But we digress. While Iran moves along with its nuclear bomb program, the U.N. is in high dungeon over Israel's "immoral" use of cluster bombs during the recent conflict with Hizballah in southern Lebanon. According to one U.N. official, Israeli military forces dropped or fired more than 350,000 cluster bomblets into Lebanon, most of them over the last 3-4 days of the war. A cluster bomb is essentially a container that is dropped by an aircraft, or fired from an artillery tube. In flight, the cannister breaks open, releasing hundreds of small bomblets that can remain active--and dangerous--for years after they land. Cluster bombs are area munitions, so the deadly bomblets are often spread across a broad area, creating a potential danger to civilian populations.

More on the cluster bomb threat in a moment. As a reminder, the U.N. has expressed similar concerns about land mines and depleted uranium munitions in the past. Since the mid-1990s, "Humanitarian De-Mining" has become a cause du jour for various U.N. luminaries, assorted Hollywood stars, and one former member of Britain's royal family. The U.S. Senate even tried to ban land mines, despite the fact that mines remain military useful, particularly in locations (say the Korean DMZ) where defenders all available measures to blunt a potential North Korean invasion.

Beyond that, the potential mine threat may be somewhat exaggerated, as we noted last week. Writing in Jane's Defense Weekly, editor Colin King, an authority on land mines and explosive ordnance disposal, observed that the mine threat can often be mitigated by simply leaving them alone. Annecdotal evidence suggests that even modern land mines are suspect to the ravages of time and the environment. In some cases, the easiest solution is to simply identify minefields, seal them off, and let nature take its course. Such revelations probably won't sit well with some in Hollywood, but King's proposal is a serious solution for a nagging problem, particularly in the third world.

As for depleted uranium, critics have claimed that the dense material (which is slightly radioactive) has been lined to a variety of illnesses among military personnel and civilians exposed to depleted uranium. The material is used in a variety of weaponry, including 30mm cannon rounds for the USAF A-10 fighter, and anti-tank shells for the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank. After the first Gulf War, there were accusations that prolonged exposure to the munitions and other forms of contact (such as inhaling smoke from exploded DU rounds) was causing various illnesses among current and former military members. However, a series of investigations found that only soldiers who had been hit with fragments from DU weapons--typically in "friendly fire" incidens--displayed any long-term effects, usually manifested by elevated levels of uranium in their urine. Similar claims surfaced after the Balkans conflict, but various European studies found no link between DU exposure and a supposedly higher risk of leukemia. In other words, DU was hardly the safety and health threat that was first advertised.

Not surprisingly, we're a little suspicious of the current claims about cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. First of all, the number of bomblets discovered (so far) is relatively small, less that 2% of the total that supposedly exist in that region. Admittedly, it is often difficult to detect cluster munitions, due to their size, but the number found seems a bit inconsistent with stated claims, given the fact that most of the weapons were allegedly dropped or fired into civilian areas. It wouldn't be the first time that U.N. officials were wildly off the mark; in the Balkans, they estimated (before the 1999 war) that Serbian genocide may have killed as many as 50,000 Kosovar civilians; post-war examinations listed the number of victims at barely 2500.

Likewise are other, potential problems with the U.N.'s cluster bomb assessment for south Lebanon. A survey of the cluster munitions allegedly used reveals that the weapons had an "average" of 240 sub-munitions each. If that estimate is accurate, then the Israelis dropped 1,400 cluster munitions in the area over the last 3-4 days of the war. For argument's sake, let's say that half of these weapons were delivered by Israeli Air Force fighters, a total of 700 cluster munitions. If each fighter aircraft dropped two weapons on each sortie, it would still require a total of 350 fighter sorties to drop those munitions. The Israeli Air Force reportedly averaged about 300 sorties a day--for all aircraft--during the conflict. Since fighter aircraft drop other types of munitions--and fly other types of missions--the number of sorties for cluster bomb employment represented only a portion of the daily total. In other words, the reported CBU effort over the final days of the war would have strained IAF capabilities, taking pilots and aircraft away from other, equally vital missions. Dropping that many weapons in that relatively short period would have required the IAF to devote at least one third to one half of its daily sorties to CBU employment--not an impossible task for the Israelis, but not very likely, either.

Finally, the U.N. officials ingore an important fact in condemning Israeli CBN employment in populated areas. CBUs are most effective against enemy combatants in the open, or in hastily-prepared positions, with minimal protection against area weapons. The IAF dropped these munitions in civilian areas because that's where Hizballah set up their operating positions. Terrorist command posts, rocket launchers and other equipment were routinely established in civilian neighborhoods, and sometimes in local apartment buildings, using the locals as human shields. On at least two occasions, the IDF was forced to mount high-risk commando operations against Hizballah targets because the possibility of collateral damage from an airstrike was deemed to high. Contrast that with Hizballah's deliberate targeting of Israeli population centers with rockets, designed to inflict the maximum number of casualties among non-combatants. Predictably, the U.N. has been largely silent on Hizballah's war against Israeli civilians, including the employment of anti-personnel warheads for their rockets, packed with nails and metal shards for maximum effect.

Keep an eye on the cluster bomb guess is that the U.N. will forget about the issue, as the number of bomblets discovered/neutralized declines, and the number of "civilian" casualties" decreases as well. Readers will note that neither Reuters or the U.N. offers any independent verification of those claims. That begs another question--who's supplying the casualty totals? Mr. "Green Helmet," the infamous Hizballah official who seemed to appear after every Israeli air strike, anxious to display victims' bodies for the media, or various Lebanese officials who have consistently tried to paint the worst possible picture of damage inflicted by Israel during the conflict--with no repudiation of the terrorists who brought the war home to Lebanon.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Drudge has been touting Bill Gertz's new book, and by all accounts, it should be a blockbuster. "Enemies" How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets--and How We Let it Happen" is scheduled for release later this week. In his latest work, Gertz recounts scores of successful foreign intelligence operations over the past decade, efforts that have led to the loss of sensitive technical, diplomatic and intelligence information.

Based on extensive research and scores of interviews, Gertz proves (once again) that U.S. counterintelligence efforts are broken. Enemy intelligence services have successfully penetrated both our spy agencies and our counterintelligence organizations, resulting in espionage cases that go unresolved, and of course, the loss of vital information. Among Gertz's charges:

--China successfully recruited three CIA officers as agents for Beijing, and paid them lavishly. Despite solid leads on their treasonous activities, the officers were never punished.

--Beijing has established a massive intelligence-gathering operation targeting the U.S., and Gertz reports that Chinese agents are still at work within our government.

--A female PRC agent successfully seduced two FBI counterintelligence officers, and used the relationships to gain sensitive information.

Gertz also sheds new light on two spies we've written about before--Ana Montes (who worked for Cuba), and Ronald Montaperto, who reportedly passed sensitive information to China. Ms. Montes was Cuba's top mole in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for years, providing a gold mine of information to Casto's government. Montaperto is another former DIA employee who eventually ran a PACOM think tank, specializing in Chinese affairs. During his government career, Montaperto repeatedly downplayed the Chinese threat, and influenced intelligence assessments on the PRC.

Equally damming is Gertz's assertion that senior government officials have refused to follow-up on suspicions of espionage, and go after suspected spies. In that kind of environment, it's no wonder that so much sensitive information has "gone out the door" in recent years, and those losses will only continue. We desperately need a single agency for counter-intelligence, and senior leadership that's willing to follow the spy trail, no matter where it may lead.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Axis of Evil

...Or, what passes for it in 2006, wrapped up a "board meeting" in Havana on Saturday, with the usual litany of complaints against the U.S., and expressions of solid support for Iran's burgeoning nuclear program.

The gathering was officially a summit of the 118 nations that belong to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), but the meeting was dominated by North Korea, Venezuela, Iran and Cuba. In a statement regarding Tehran's nuclear program, the four nations reaffirmed "the basic and inalienable right of all states to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes."

And, if that weren't enough, North Korea's #2 leader, Kim Young Nam, claimed that his country developed nuclear arms as a "deterrent" against the U.S. to guarantee the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region."

Of course, Mr. Kim glosses over the fact that Pyongyang acquired those weapons during a period when it had officially agreed to "give up" its nuclear program, under the disasterous 1994 "Agreed To" framework between the U.S. and the North. And, North Korea developed its arsenal when the American "nuclear threat" to the DPRK was actually declining. The United States removed tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula in the early 1990s, as sort of an ill-advised "good will" gesture. Admittedly, the U.S. still has plenty of nukes in the region, but Mr. Kim's statements--like most of those from North Korean officials--go against the grain of truth and logic.

But that doesn't matter at forums like the one in Havana, where the U.S. is the eternal bogeyman and the root of all global evil. Ordinarily, the bluster out of a NAM conference wouldn't cause much concern, but the rules have clearly changed. Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology, financed with the oil money from Iran and Venezuela, has created an ideal environment for unchecked WMD proliferation over the next decade. Under those conditions, it's not hard to imagine nuclear-armed regimes in Iran, Syria, Venezuela (along with North Korea), within 10 years; all equipped with medium or long-range missiles capable of hitting the United States.

In years past, statements like those from Havana would be dismissed as little more than predictable boilerplate. But under the evolving Pyongyang-Tehran-Caracas-Havana "axis of evil," such communiques are more a blueprint than propaganda.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Military Transformed?

A hat tip to Wretchard at The Belmont Club for noticing this San Francisco Chronicle article on the post-9-11 transformation of the U.S. military. It's an interesting read, although Chronicle staff writer John Koopman manages to get some key points wrong, or he relies on experts (paging John Pike) who are wildly inaccurate in their assessments.

Koopman is correct in noting the obvious--the increased emphasis on counter-insurgency warfare over the past five years. Fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq (and elsewhere) has forced the U.S. military to improvise and adapt. Before 9-11, you couldn't find a reference to an improvised explosive device in a military journal or field manual. Today, the DoD is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on that problem, and commanders in the field have developed tactics for dealing with the threat. Amid the daily "blast reports" from Iraq, you never hear the most salient fact: the vast majority of enemy IED attacks are unsuccessful, and as many as 40% are defused before they ever go off--a testament to the skill and innovation of our troops on the ground, and new forms of technology being applied to the problem.

If there's a key fault with the Koopman article, it's his suggestion that an increase in civil affairs operations--the so-called "hearts and minds" effort may hold the ultimate key to defeating insurgents. True, civil affairs is an important part of the equation. But, if such "carrot" efforts are not accompanied by sufficient force--the "stick" portion of the equation--then humanitarian ops may amount to little more than welfare for an indifferent population, or even aid to the enemy. Iraq and Afghanistan have illustrated the need for more civil affairs specialists, but those conflicts have also highlighted the need for more intelligence specialists, more special forces troops, more ISR sensors, and better ways to fuse information into actionable intelligence. Civil affairs is a part of the counter-insurgency solution, but not a magic pill or bullet.

Surprisingly, the oft-mistaken John Pike manages to recognize the "duality" of the U.S. military mission. While prosecuting the GWOT, the armed services must also prepare for potential conflicts against regional players, namely China. But Pike is way off the mark in describing the Chinese as 25 years behind. In reality, the PRC has taken major steps to improve its conventional and strategic forces, through the development of mobile MRBMs and ICBMs; the acquisition of modern surface-to-air missiles, and the purchase of advanced fighters from Russia. Couple that with developments in space, counter-space and ISR, and you can see why some senior U.S. officers describe China as a full "peer competitor" with the United States in the next decade. Pike is correct in stating the the military's dual mission is not sustainable on a $300 billion defense budget. If you want to prepare for the full range of contingencies, you need the current level of spending--and possibly, even more.

A more burning question: will the transformation now underway continue past 2008, if Democrats regain control of the White House? As we've noted before, some of our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced to force cuts under Bush #41 and Bill Clinton who, collectively, cut six divisions from the active duty Army. Transformation decisions being made now will have a major impact on the military forces of 2015 and 2025. The real issue is whether our political leaders--from both parties--are willing to stay the course.

Cherry Picking

Democrats anxiously (read: desperately) seized on last week's Senate Intelligence Committee report as more proof that "Bush lied" about pre-war information on the Iraqi threat. As you'll recall, the senate report debunked claims that Saddam's regime had ties with Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations before 2003.

In reality, the Senate report is a prime example of "cherry picked" intelligence. As noted by Gateway Pundit and World Net Daily, Senate investigators ignored clear evidence of post-war ties between Saddam and terrorists--information which came from the archives of the former Iraqi intelligence services.

I'm waiting for Senator Levin to tell us the captured Iraqi documents are fakes, or better yet, some sort of "plant" by Karl Rove.

Where's the Outrage?

Not too long ago, Congressional Democrats were demanding hearings on soaring gas prices, and proposing a windfall profits tax on big oil. Exxon-Mobil's quarterly profits of $25 billion were described as "obscene," and proof-positive that the oil companies were gouging the American consumer.

Three months later, gas prices are down 50-60 cents a gallon (in most locations), and further drops seem likely. At some spots in Iowa, gas has already dipped below $2 a gallon. But where's the outrage from the Democrats? Such a dramatic decrease in prices--less than two months before an election--must be prima facie evidence that big oil and those evil Republicans are manipulating the energy market for political gain. Why aren't Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton demanding immediate hearings on this mysterious price decrease?

Fact is, even Chuckie and Hillary have some understanding of market economics--or, at the very least, an instinct for keeping their mouths shut at the appropriate time. It doesn't take a PhD in economics to figure out the reasons behind the recent price drop: decreased demand, increased supplies, fewer interruptions in supplies, and the seasonal transition to fall and winter, which requires fewer blends of gasoline from refiners.

BTW, another crusader for a windfall profits tax on big oil--Bill O'Reilly--has been somewhat quiet on the subject as well. I'm still waiting for O'Reilly to claim that his "crusade" against price gouging somehow influenced the market, and helped drive prices down.

Greatly Exaggerated?

Over the past year or so, Brian Maloney has been the definitive source on the scandals and intrigue at Air America, the liberal talk radio network that remains short on advertising revenue and listeners. Along with the indefatigable Michelle Malkin, Brian was the first to disclose Air America's shady deal with the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club, "borrowing" $800,000 from that organization to keep the network operating. As Brian reminds us, that loan has never been repaid, despite repeated promises to the contrary.

In his latest installment, Maloney offers some cautionary words about Air America's supposedly impending bankruptcy. Liberal blogs--and even some MSM sites--have been reporting that the network could file for bankruptcy protection, possibly as early as Friday. But, as Brian notes, Air America has been on the brink of insolvency before, only to be rescued by a sudden cash infusion at the last moment. That same scenario could easily happen again, since some liberals are willing to throw good money at a faltering cause. Maloney believes the bankruptcy rumors may actually be an "inside job," aimed at driving down what little value the network still has, making it easier for potential buyers to gain control of Air America, at a fire sale price. According to Brian, the network has been talking to at least two potential buyers, and its "star," Al Franken, recently signed a contract extension, despite claims that Air America is "stiffing" him. Why would Franken re-sign with a company that was on the verge of going out of business?

Paraphrasing Twain, rumors of Air America's impending demise may be greatly exaggerated.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mr. Wynne's Idea

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne is likely to find himself in hot water, over his recent suggestion to test new, non-lethal weapons on Americans--before they're used on the battlefield. He believes that prior, domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over "safety concerns."

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne.

Not only is this idea illogical--by his standard, we should have dropped an atomic bomb on a U.S. city before the strike on Hiroshima--it also puts us on a slippery slope, allowing the international community to essentially dictate what weapons can and cannot be used.

Secretary Wynne is a very bright man, there are fatal flaws in his approach. First, he has apparently forgotten the central premise behind any weapons system--deterrence. One reason we pursue weapons technology--even the non-lethal variety--is to dissuade our adversaries from striking us. If you do attack, the reasoning goes, the damage we inflict with our systems will be more pervasive, even if the weapon doesn't kill you. So, strike us at your own peril.

Secondly, there's that nagging question of exactly what the international community might allow, and trying to conform U.S. defense policy to meet a double standard. By my count, the U.S. has, over the past 50 years, been chastized by members of the "international community" for (a) the menace posed by its nuclear arsenal; (b) the danger from its chemical and biological arsenal; (c) the menace from its stockpiles of conventional arms; (d) its sale of weapons around the globe; (e) our refusal to support an international ban on landmines; (f) our pursuit of strategic missile defenses, and (f) our use of depleted uranium munitions. Let me get this straight: it's now imperative that we test non-lethal weapons on our own people so we can avoid criticism by people who criticize us anyway?

Here's a better idea: announce plans that we're working on Buck Rogers Death Ray that will vaporize anything in its path, and that this weapon will be used on our enemies in combat, as required. That will achieve much more of a desired effect than any domestic testing program for non-lethal weapons. History records that our adversaries have a much greater respect for strength than timidity. Attempting to calibrate our weapons testing (and potential employment) to the vagaries of the international community is not a viable defense strategy.

Let Sleeping Mines Lie?

That's the title of a thought-provoking article in a recent issue of Jane's Defense Weekly, authored by Colin King, editor of companion journals on mines and explosive ordnance disposal. An excerpt from Mr. King's piece can be found here; the full article is available only through subscription.

In his op-ed, King blows a considerable hole in one of the pet causes of the Hollywood elite. Sometime between those AIDS fund-raisers and the celebrity sing-alongs for starving Africans, various members of the Hollywood set decided that leftover landmines represented a grave danger to humanity. There were more than a few photo ops involving various actors, many aping Princess Diana's famous poses with young victims of unmarked mine fields, and wearing an EOD technician's protective armor and visor. If it was a worthy cause for Princess Di, why it would certainly suffice for Hollywood's "royalty." Humanitarian demining became the cause of the moment. Democratic members of the U.S. Congress--always anxious to serve their film community constituency--even took up the banner, proposing that land mines be bannned.

As Mr. King points out, many of these fears were exaggerated, and revelations about the "supposedly indefinite" land mine threat do not account for one important factor: time. He notes that there has been virtually no research into the effects of time and the elements on land mines, even more advanced plastic models that supposedly remain viable for decades after they're buried. Such reseach is a necessity, because annecdotal evidence suggests that most forms of land-mines are vulnerable to the ravages of time and weather.

For example, steel-cased mines rust rapidly in wet, jungle climates such as Africa--where the land mine problem is most pressing. As the mines lose their structural integrity, it may disable the fuse mechanism, and render the device inoperable. Likewise, water, heat and cold take their tolls on trip wires that are sometimes used to trigger mines, and on wooden mines that are difficult to find with conventional detection gear. Even plastic mines are vulnerable to the environment. Mr. King observes that the rugged VS-50 and TS-50 mines utilize a plastic bladder as part of their blast-resistance mechanism. This bladder tends to degrade quickly with exposure to hot weather, and as a result, neither mine can function fully, though much of the weapon remains intact.

The implications of these findings are clear, according to Mr. King. Some mined areas may already be safe, while others can simply be fenced off for a few years and allowed to self-neutralize. It may also be possible to accelerate the ageing process (once it is understood), and develop counter-measures and detection gear based on these vulnerabilities.

You'll note that these results have been achieved without a single Hollywood photo-op or fund-raiser. That's because there isn't much publicity or public relations value in meeting with engineers and EOD professionals--the sort of people who are solving this problem, and made the discovery that time--and not celebrity activism--offers the best long-term hope for dealing with the land mine issue.

ADDENDUM: A reader's comments reminds me of the differing approaches used by various nations in dealing with the land mine threat. These "solutions" say as much--or more-- about about cultural differences than military capabilities, and they were aptly illustrated after the First Gulf War. Clearing Saddam's vast mine fields in Kuwait and became a multi-national task. In one sector, British and American EOD techs carefully cleared mines, decked out in full protective gear, and using state-of-the-art detection technology.

In the adjoining sector, an Egyptian unit was performing the same task, but with a decidedly low-tech approach. A line of Egyptian conscripts, walking shoulder-to-shoulder, advanced slowly through the minefield, poking at the ground with sharp sticks. When their stick struck something in the earth, the Egyptian would drop to his knees and carefully began digging. On at least one occasion, I was told, one of the troops missed a mine and triggered it, becoming "pink mist" in the blink of an eye. During a break, one of the Americans asked an Egyptian officer (who was not following his troops into the mine field) why his Army used such primitive methods, and didn't invest in protective gear for mine-clearing teams. Pointing at the conscripts, the Egyptian said dryly, "there are more where they came from," and ended the discussion with that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Attack in Damascus


Syria is blaming an Al-Qaida off-shoot group for today's attempted attack on the American Embassy in Damascus. That group--Jund al-Sham--has reportedly carried out several strikes in Syria in recent years. Again, that raises the question of how closely Syrian security services have been monitoring the group's terror cells, and if there were any indications of a pending attack.

Secretary of State Rice has already praised Syrian security efforts. That diplomatic square has now been filled.

Unconfirmed reports indicate the gun battle raged for almost 30 minutes before Syrian security forces gained the upper hand. That would indicate a complex, determined assault by the terrorists, or a slow response by Syrian anti-terror forces. The linked MSNBC account tends to confirm that assessment. Note that the wounded Chinese diplomat was "standing on top of a parking garage" when he was struck in the face by shrapnel. If you're caught in a gun battle at close range, you generally don't stand up and watch. That paragraph in the MSNBC article suggests that the Chinese official was watching, and generally, an event would have to be on-going for at least a few minutes to attract an audience.

Another report indicates that a terrorist vehicle actually detonated at the embassy gates, part of a failed effort to breach the compound.


Officials are still trying to sort out the details of today's attack against the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. Press reports indicate that a small group of Islamic militants attempted to storm the embassy compound, using automatic rifles, grenades and at least one van rigged with explosives. Syrian security forces engaged the attackers outside the compound, killing three of the militants and wounding a fourth. One Syrian security officer also died in the attack. There were no U.S. casualties and the attackers never penetrated the embassy's outer walls.

On the surface, it looks like Syrian security forces were on their toes and defeated a potentially serious attack against the American embassy. But, things are never quite as they appear in Damascus, and it may take a while to figure out what exactly happened outside our embassy this morning. Certainly, Syria has every reason to maintain a strong security presence outside the U.S. embassy. Relations between Washington and Damascus have been strained by a number of issues, including Syrian support for Hizballah and insurgents in Iraq, and the alliance between Damascus and Iran. The Syrians are also nervous about the U.S. military presence in the region, and have long believed that they might wind up in our cross-hairs. From Bashir Assad's perspective, the last thing he needs is a successful attack on the American embassy-- under the nose of his security forces--giving the U.S. more ammunition to use against him.

Conversely, the successful Syrian reaction to today's attack puts Damascus in a more favorable position with the United States. At some level, Washington will be required to convey its thanks (an event that will be widely echoed in the Middle Eastern media), and Syria will probably press for some sort of quid-pro-quo--more pressure on Israel on the Golan Heights issue, less harsh rhetoric from Washington, etc. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. "returns" the Syrian favor.

But today's attack also raises other issues that will not be quickly resolved--if they ever are. Exactly how much did Syria's internal security and intelligence services know about the group that carried out the attack, and (if they knew anything in advance), why did they allow the terrorists to carry out their strike? For the record, Damascus allows a number of terrorist organizations to maintain offices in Damascus, including various Palestinian groups and Hizballah. Syria, of course, provides financial and military support for those organizations, using them as a proxy force against Israel. However, Syrian security officials closely monitor their activities, and it is doubtful that Damascus would give them a green light to attack a U.S. target on their soil. If the strike was attempted by one of those Palestinian groups or Hizballah elements, it would suggest that Syrian security isn't as tight as the Assad government would like, something that does not bode well for the regime's long-term survival.

On the other hand, if the attack was the work of Al-Qaida, that would also raises serious security concerns. While supporting jihadist elements outside its borders, the Assad regime does not tolerate such groups inside Syria, viewing them as a threat to its secular, Baathist government. Terrorists are allowed to transit through the country--as long as they're enroute to Lebanon, Israel, or Iraq. An Al-Qaida presence in Syria would represent a direct threat to the Syrian government, and represent something of a payback for Assad and his minions. Having sown the wind in Iraq (and elsewhere) the Syrians may be reaping the whirlwind at home, by supporting radical elements that despise an Assad-style government, almost as much as they hate the United States. It will be very interesting to see who Syria fingers for the attack, and how much--if anything--Damascus knew about the terrorist cell on their own soil. As with many events in Syria, there may be more here than meets the eye.

The Bloom is Off

Drudge is reporting the quick slide of the Katie Couric-helmmed CBS Evening News into third place. According to overnight Nielsen ratings, the Couric broadcast finished in last place on Monday evening, trailing ABC's World News with Charles Gibson and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which returned to first place in the ratings.

While I'm no Couric fan, her fall into third place was not unexpected. Viewer curiousity prompted many to tune in for her debut last week. When they sampled the CBS broadcast, most simply reverted to habit, reflected in higher ratings for ABC and NBC in the days that followed. Not even the most optimistic CBS executive believed that Couric could grab the top spot and hold it from day one.

History shows that ratings shifts in the evening news race occur slowly, over a period of years. When Dan Rather inherited the CBS Evening News in 1981, he held a commanding advantage over his rivals at ABC and NBC. When Peter Jennings became solo anchor of World News Tonight in 1983, it took him about four years to overtake Rather. It took NBC's Tom Brokaw even longer to overtake Jennings. Meanwhile--as virtually every media pundit has noticed--the overall audience for the network's evening newscasts has plummeted. Brokaw's audience in 2004 (when he retired as anchor of the first-place Nightly News) was smaller that 1984, when he was running a distant third. All told, audience levels for the evening news are about one-third lower than they were 20 years ago. Millions of Americans have simply given up on the broadcast networks as a primary information source--and never looked back.

We don't expect Ms. Couric to buck that trend. The real question is whether she can be competitive in a three-horse race, or if her audience will sink back to Rather-esque levels. If her ratings fall that far, then CBS will become nervous. The network can't afford another decade with an evening news program that's buried in the Nielsen basement. Low ratings means millions of dollars in lost ad revenue. It also creates serious problems for CBS affiliates; poor ratings for the Evening News translates into smaller audiences for local news broadcasts or primtime access programs, both critical revenue sources for local stations.

Bottom line: Ms. Couric probably has about five years to turn around the Evening News. If she's still in third place in the Fall of 2011, her days in the anchor chair will be numbered. At $15 million a year, CBS can afford the experiment for only so long. At that point, the network will probably announce her "promotion" to full-time correspondent on 60 Minutes, an immensely profitable broadcast that can more easily afford--and absord--over-priced talent. The Evening News (if it survives) will morph into something more affordable, at least in terms of its anchor. And that raises another question: exactly who is CBS grooming for the top job. One reason the network hired Ms. Couric is that Dan Rather jealously guarded the anchor chair and never let CBS develop an eventual successor, like NBC did with Brian Williams. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the top substitute for Ms. Couric. If she follows the Rather model, she'll pick someone who's competent, but not a threat to her position. That would leave CBS in the same boat when she eventually leaves the Evening News.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Off the Net (and Off the Mark)

On the eve of today's five-year anniversary of 9-11, the Washington Post offered a predictable--and misleading--article on our (so far) unsuccessful efforts to track down Osama bin Laden. Over the course of several thousand words, WaPo staff writers Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson report that bin Laden's trail has grown "stone cold" over the past two years, with no new leads on his whereabouts.

While acknowledging that the Bush Administration has stepped up efforts to find the Al Qaida leader, merging resources from the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Post reports that the search has grown more difficult because it's "difficult to know where to flood the zone." One spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) observed that "you've got a guy who's gone off the net and is hiding in some of the most formidable terrain in one of the most remote parts of the world, surrounded by people he trusts implicity."


Next to his death (or capture), having bin Laden holed up in a cave along the Afghan-Pakistan capture is a clear measure of success in the War on Terror. Absent from the Post article is a comparison of Al Qaida leadership in the Fall of 2006, and its status five years ago. Just last week, the group released a tape of bin Laden meeting with some of the 9-11 operatives and openly plotting the attacks on American. Five years later, there is ample evidence that bin Laden is more concerned with survival than planning. Al Qaida has morphed into a de-centralized threat, with local cells taking on most of the responsibility of plotting and executing additional attacks. In some cases, these efforts have met with some success (as evidenced by the attacks in Bali, Madrid and London). However, in other instances, Al Qaida's efforts have become slap-dash or even amateurish, highlighted by the recently-foiled effort to create "hair gel" bombs to bring down more airliners.

The Post won't admit it, but half a decade into the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden has been largely reduced to a spiritual leader and propaganda mouth-piece for his organization. His recent video tape is a reminder of what he--and his organization--once were, not what they have become. With more than two-thirds of its senior leadership dead or in jail, the operational center for the organization has shifted, leaving bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to grind out periodic video and audio tapes, promising death and destruction for those who refuse to become part of the new caliphate. As an operational commander, bin Laden's halcyon days are probably past, a clear indication of progress in the war on terror.

True, bin Laden and his ever-shrinking inner circle remain a threat, but they are not the threat they were five years ago. Ignoring that reality undescores the Post's desire to advance liberal talking point, and not offer a balanced assessment of progress in the GWOT. Contrary to the thrust of the Post article, getting bin Laden off the net is a significant accomplishment that has made the nation more secure. One wonders if Priest and Tyson see any connection between bin Laden's increased isolation, and the absence of terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9-11? From their perspective, that is probably nothing more than a happy coincidence.

Of course, any assertion about the danger posed by bin Laden raises another, lingering question: if the terror mastermind was--and is--such a threat, why wasn't more done during the 1990s to capture him, when the opportunity was clearly at hand? As ABC discovered last week, that inconvenient truth remains a sore point among the liberal elite, which successfully lobbied the network to re-edit its 9-11 mini-series that began last night. The intense lobbying campaign mounted by Clinton and his former staffers reminds us that, from their vantage point, the threat posed by bin Laden didn't materialize until that fateful day in September, exactly five years ago.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hell Hath No Fury... a former Clinton official when someone challenges Ol' Slick's supposed legacy. The latest culprit, of course, is ABC television, which will air a docudrama entitled "The Road to 9-11," beginning this weekend. Clintonistas are already howling that the drama contains a number of falsehoods and inaccuracies, though it is heavily based on the 9-11 Commission Report and other historical documents.

Howard Kurtz of the WaPo has a detailed summary of Democratic objections to the program, but as Mr. Kurtz notes, the real concern seems to be the Clinton legacy, and not accuracy to detail. Personally, I find it curious that it took five years for the media to mount a serious consideration of Clinton's anti-terrorism policies, and the program was produced by ABC's Entertainment unit, and not its new division. As El Rushbo observed earlier today, when you have so many former Clinton officials lodge protests against a program just days before it airs, well the drama must be pretty close to the truth.

As for Clinton's failures in the War on Terror, we'll leave the final word to a couple of folks who were there, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and foreign affairs analyst Monsoor Ijaz. A few months ago, Mr. Freeh penned this op-ed for the WSJ, noting Clinton's refusal to follow the trail in the Khobar Towers bombing--a trail that led directly to Iran. As for Mr. Ijaz, he served as an intermediary between the U.S. goverment and Sudan between 1996 and 1998, when the Sudanese offered to turn over bin Laden to the Americans. Mr. Clinton rejected that offer, and we're paying the price for that mistake to this day. Like it or not, the failures of Khobar Towers and the Sudanese "deal" are key elements of the Clinton legacy on terrorism.

Mary Mapes: Have We Got a Job for You

In the event her new producing gig at HDNet TV doesn't work out, we've found another potential job for Mary Mapes, the disgraced ex-CBS news staffer who was the driving force behind the "docu-gate" scandal.

From what we can tell, the "official" Iranian news agency (FARS) could use a little editorial help. Journalistic accuracy and objectivity are apparently not required, and the bashing of America (and President Bush) are highly encouraged. True, Ms. Mapes would have to relocated to Tehran--and make some major wardrobe adjustments--but I'm sure FARS would welcome someone of her stature. Heck, they might even offer a job to Dan Rather, if he could learn to say "courage" in Farsi.

Finding accuracy in a FARS news report is about as difficult as locating a viable Democratic plan for national security. But FARS is hardly deterred; they're more than willing to print (or post) almost anything, in support of Iran's glorious theocracy. Apparently, their greatest weakness is a tendency to publish almost any sort of picture to illustrate their "news coverage." Consider this recent headline, and the accompanying photo:

"Iranian F14s Carry Hawk Missiles Successfully"

Now, take a look at an image of those missiles (sorry for using a link; Blogger's photo upload feature isn't working at the moment). It doesn't take a military expert to realize that the FARS picture is actually a shot of a Russian space launch vehicle, a bit too large to be carried by an F-14 (or any other fighter). But that inconvenient fact doesn't bother the editors at FARS; they seem to have the best "transcription" service this side of The New York Times, faithfully publishing anything their political bosses wish to see in print.

A little sidenote about this HAWK experiment. An I-HAWK is actually a medium range, surface-to-air missile. Iran bought a large number of I-HAWKS from the U.S. during the days of the Shah, the same era when they purchased the F-14. Thirty years later, the F-14s are on their last legs; only a handful are flyable, and their long-range AIM-54 PHOENIX air-to-air missiles reached the end of their service life about a decade ago. So, what can Iran do to restore a semblance of the F-14's long-range missile capability? Try hanging a pair of I-HAWKs on the jet. Turns out that the missile will work with the Tomcat's AWG-9 radar system, and (in an air-to-air mode) the HAWK might be capable of hitting targets 30 miles away (by comparison, the AIM-54 had a maximum range of 100 NM).

But there are some significant problems with this little science project, too. First of all, the HAWK is so large that you can only mount two on the jet, staggered on the belly of the Tomcat. Then, there's the HAWK's nasty habit of igniting as soon as you press the trigger button (necessary for getting large surface-to-air missile into the air). Firing from a rugged ground launcher, that's no problem, but from an aircraft, that's a disaster waiting to happen. In fact, I'm told that Iran tried this experiment a few years ago and gave up because the HAWK's motor fired as soon as the F-14 crew pressed the "pickle" button. The missile's large exhaust plume caught the jet on fire, causing it to crash. For the HAWK t have any hope of success in an air-to-air role, the Iranians would have to install some sort of ejection system (to push the missile away from the aircraft), and a delay mechanism, to prevent the rocket motor from firing too soon.

Bottom line: attempting to hang an I-HAWK on an F-14 as an air-to-air missile is a sign of desparation, not a show of military strength. The real question is how many additional F-14s Iran will destroy in this latest version of their experiment.

But back to FARS. Take a look at another story, touting the "complicated dogfight tactics" used in recent Air Force wargames. Notice anything odd about the accompanying photo? Well, for starters, the planes in the picture are U.S. Air Force F-22s; and, since the Iranian news agency makes no effort to identify them as "enemy" aircraft, the casual reader is left with the impression that Tehran's fighter aircraft are state-of-the art. Memo to FARS: next time you run a picture of a U.S. fighter, you might want to use "Photoshop" and eliminate those annoying little give-aways, like the USAF star on the wing.

Want more? Here's a FARS report on Iran's efforts to develop and test a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb. However, the "test aircraft" in the photo is actually a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, dropping what appears to be Paveway series LGB. The "LN" on the tail identifies the jet as part of the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, Iran doesn't have any Strike Eagles--let alone any with USAF markings--and they don't have any advanced LGBs.

But even the crack photo team at FARS managed to top that one. In a recent story on the start of air service to Lahore, the aircraft depicted was a NATO AWACS, its large radardome clearly visible in the photograph.

It's easy to laugh at these "mistakes," but there's a method behind FARS' journalistic madness. Coverage of recent "military developments" is aimed at creating an image of a resurgent, powerful, Iran, equipped with the latest in military weaponry. The editors at FARS are quite aware that most of its readers have little knowledge of military weaponry, and are inclined to accept its "coverage" as the gospel truth. The same holds true for western press organizations. I haven't seen Reuters or the AP use one of Iran's re-cycled U.S. military photos (yet), but there has been plenty of coverage of recent Iranian exercises, dutifully reporting the testing of "new" Iranian" missiles and torpedoes. Never mind that at least one of the recent missile tests has never been confirmed, and that high speed torpedo is marginally effective against maneuvering targets, or vessels with counter-measures systems. When it comes to Iranian military power, the western media is also a transcription service, only to a lesser degree.

I think Ms. Mapes would be a welcome addition to the FARS staff. One wonders why Al Jazerra didn't sign her up for their fledgling English-language service.

The EU Finally Gets It?

Your humble correspondent never worked for the State Department or the U.N., so I don't understand the subtleties and complexities of international diplomacy. But I do recognize a stalling tactic when I see one, and for almost a year, we've been highlighting Iran's manipulation of diplomatic talks aimed at reigning in its nuclear program. With a nod to Muhammad Ali, we've described this process as a "nuclear rope-a-dope," with Tehran doing all it can to keep the talks going, while failing to work toward a diplomatic settlement.

Now, even the EU seems to understand that they're being hoodwinked by Iran. A document drawn up by the goverments of Britian, France and Germany (the so-called EU-3 that initiated talks with Tehran more than a year ago), warns that Iran is deliberately trying to weaken opposition to its nuclear program through diplomatic stalling, and refusing to meet international demands. Imagine that.

The question, of course, is what does the EU do, now that they're on to Iran's game (as if they weren't aware of the rope-a-dope strategy months ago). Why, keep talking of course. Representatives of the EU-3 are supposed to meet in Berlin this weekend, to discuss "strategy" in light of Iran's continued stalling.

Meanwhile, Adolph Jr., (oops, Iranian President Ahmadinejad) has been dangling another carrot in front of the Europeans' noses, noting the important role of the EU in world affairs. Tehran, which has been playing Europe like a fiddle for some time, understands that an occasional platitude is necessary to keep the diplomatic wheelings turning. And, as we've noted before, the process is the most important thing for the diplomatic set, since it forestalls tough decisions on critical issues--like the Iranian nuclear program.

Lest we forget, the Bush Administation has been a stalwart supporter of this diplomatic process. Someone ought to ask Condi Rice what she thinks of the "process" and its complete failure in deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions. Then, they ought to ask when the U.S. is going to adopt a more realistic approach toward this crisis.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tuning Out the Networks

I didn't watch Katie Couric's debut last night as anchor of the CBS Evening News. And, from the perspective of news executives and advertisers, I'm part of the problem. Your humble correspondent, along with literally millions of other Americans, have simply stopped watching the network's evening news broadcasts. As one TV industry analyst noted a couple of years ago, Tom Brokaw had fewer viewers in 2004 (as anchor of top-rated NBC Nightly News) than he did in 1984, when his program was mired in third place. True, the aggregate audience for the network's evening newscasts still dwarfs those of other media outlets (namely the cable channels), but there has been a dramatic, irrefutable drop in viewership over the past 20 years.

A number of theories have been advanced for this exodus; increased competition from cable outlets, the advent of the internet, longer hours on the job for many Americans and the entry of more women into the workplace etc. There's probably an element of truth in each of these explanations, but they ignore a more important--and obvious--reason for the tune-out: many of us simply don't trust the networks, and a news delivery platform that was conceived more than 60 years ago. Describing the 30-minute evening news format (including commercials) as a broadcast dinosaur is almost a disservice to extinct, pre-historic creatures. Ms. Couric may go down in history as the first solo female anchor of a network newscast, and one of the last big-time TV anchors, period. In an era of podcasts, streaming video, instant messaging and news on demand, a network anchor seems largely redundant. If the evening network anchor survives into the next decade, they may morph into something like the newsreaders on the BBC, and less like today's media stars. All those aspiring anchors now clogging the halls of the nation's journalism schools might want to consider a career change.

Sad fact is, most of the viewers who've given up on the evening news aren't coming back. Quite frankly, we lost interest years ago, discovering that we could glean--and share--better, more accurate information with a flew clicks of a computer mouse. But it is interesting to watch the nightly network newscasts in their death throes. CBS--currently stuck in last place--is apparently opting for the "news lite" approach with its new anchor, who made her mark in the fluffy world of morning news. If early reviews are any indication, Ms. Couric may be no more successful than her predecessor.

At least one TV industry wag has described the "new" CBS Evening News as the broadcast equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. That may be a bit harsh, but it's the truth. More viewers keep going over the side, but hey, that new set looks awfully nice. And the band played on.

Today's Howler

Iran has "unveiled" its first "locally manufactured" fighter aircraft, nicknamed the "Saegheh." Reading this AP account, you'd think Tehran had achieved some sort of technological breakthrough. Here's a sample:

The report said the bomber Saegheh is similar to the American F-18 fighter plane, but "more powerful." It also said the plane was "designed, optimized and improved by Iranian experts."

State TV said the Iranian air force had commissioned the Saegheh plane after many test flights in the past year.

Television footage showed the airplane taking off and launching two rockets. The plane had a small cockpit and only one pilot.

"Saegheh is capable of launching both rockets and bombs," the report said.
General Karim Ghavami, commander of Iran's air force, told state-run television that the war games were being held "to show the trans-regional forces that we are ready to defend our country up to the latest drop of our blood."

Here's the real scoop on the Saegheh. It's nothing more than a re-manufactured U.S. F-5 (which has been in Iran's inventory for more than 30 years), with a second vertical stabilizer and a slightly modified nose. The aircraft may also have a more capable air intercept radar, although nothing on the scale of early-model F-15s or F-16s, let alone the F-18 or F-22. The Saegheh's payload is minimal, so are its self-defense capabilities, and it can loiter in a target area for only a few minutes. In a nutshell, the Saegheh is hardly evolutionary, let alone revolutionary.

Yet, the MSM laps up every PR release from Iran like a kitten drinking warm milk. And that leads me to a larger point, concerning Iran's recent displays of military force--events that have received extensive play in the western press. Some of these displays are little more than public relations stunts; I received a tip the other day (that I'm still trying to verify) that a recent broadcast of an Iranian missile test was (in fact) footage of a Chinese launch from a few months ago. True, Iran is trying to upgrade its military capabilities, but much of Tehran's military remains poorly equipped and marginally trained. Their recent embrace of "asymmetric warfare" is, in part, an admission that their conventional forces are hopelessly broken and no match for a superior military foe.

I don't know what "Saegheh" means in Farsi, but a better nickname for the aircraft might be the local word for "target."

Birds of a Feather

Once upon a time, there was an unwritten rule for reporters who tried to pass off bogus stories on their superiors and the public. Once discovered, these disgraced journalists were permanently exiled from the news business, based on the quaint notion that they could never again be trusted to report the news.

It was an unforgiving standard, but it had its merits, as typlified by the case of former Washington Post staff writer Janet Cooke. After being forced to return her Pulitzer for a story on a non-existent, eight-year-old heroin addict, Ms. Cooke became a journalistic pariah, unable to find even entry-level work in her chosen profession. When a magazine writer caught up with Ms. Cooke in the mid-1990s, she was working as a department store clerk in the Midwest, living in a small apartment and riding the bus to work.

Sadly, times have changed. Barely two years after she was fired for assembling a phony story on President Bush's Air National Guard service, former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes has landed a new gig, working for Dan Rather's new show on the HDNet Channel, which debuts next month. As Paul Mirengoff at Powerline observed, the good news is that virtually no one will be watching. The bad news is that someone--even a fledgling cable network--is again entrusting Ms. Mapes to report the news. Ms. Mapes says she's "thrilled to be on board," and working for a channel that wants to "break news and have some fun breaking balls."

We can only shudder at the potential "exclusives" Ms. Mapes will come up with in her new position. The Thornburgh-Boccardi investigation into the fraudulent 60 Minutes report painted a damning picture of a producer run amok, a journalist who ignored the fundamental rules of fact-checking and verification in an effort to rig a story--and unseat an incumbent President.

In days past, Ms. Mapes might be checking the help wanted ads for the local Dillard's or Nordstrom's, but obviously, those days are long past. Her old/new boss, Dan Rather, sees nothing wrong with Ms. Mapes' professional standards and ethics. He's probably tickled pink to have her back on board as well. The billionaire owner of HDNet, Mark Cuban, apparently has no objections, either. On with the ball-breaking.

If Rather is looking for a reporting team to round out his staff, perhaps we could recommend some other folks who've played fast-and-loose with the truth. I'm sure that former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair would be happy to sign on, as would disgraced New Republic reporter Stephen Glass. And for good measure, the CNN producer team for the bogus "Tailwind" report could be recruited as well. Sounds like a veritable "dream team" for Rather's latest journalistic venture.

As for Ms. Cooke, she was clearly ahead of her time. Had she waited a bit longer to write "Jimmy's World," she might have landed a lucrative book and movie deal, and not a job behind the cosmetics counter.


After finishing this post, I was reminded that Cooke did, indeed, profit from her fraud. Not long after Mike Sager's GQ article on Cooke appeared in 1996, a Hollywood studio bought the rights to her story for $1.6 million, divided between Sager, Cooke (55%) and their agents. .