Friday, March 30, 2007

Journalistic Malpractice at the Chicago Trib

In today's edition of "The Swamp," the blog of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau, reporter Frank James engages in a little bit of journalistic malpractice that, unfortunately, has become SOP for the mainstream press.

"Generals to Bush: Soldiers Not Props," is the title of his piece. It's based on a conference call with three retired Army Generals, held just before President Bush's afternoon visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Reading the headline--and the comments that followed--readers would believe that these retired officers didn't want the visit to become a political forum, giving the Commander-in-Chief a backdrop to score points against Democratic war opponents.

But who were those generals? The Tribune identified them, respectively, as retired Major General Paul Eaton, former Lieutenant General Robert Garde and retired National Guard Major General Mel Montano. All insisted that the President should focus on the problems at Walter Reed--and not politics--during his visit. Here's a sample quote from General Eaton:

"Gen. Garde is on target, that the president is going to visit our wounded soldiers. I'm convinced that he would honor them more if he would refrain from using soldiers as props in political theater.

We have a commander-in-chief who does very well when he is unscripted, unrehearsed and engaging with soldiers. But too often those who handle his performances try to turn the American fighting man and woman into a political prop for the scenery."

If the names of those retired general officers should familiar, they should. All are prominent critics of the Bush Administration's management of the military, and its policies in Iraq. Just over a year ago, Major General Eaton penned an op-ed for The New York Times, demanding the resgination of former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld. Mr. James identifies Eaton as "the father of the Iraqi Army," but that's largely inaccurate. As we noted last April, Eaton's tenure as head of the U.S. training mission in Iraq was largely a failure, characterized by Iraqi units that sometimes broke and ran under fire. General Eaton was eventually replaced by Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who turned the program around and trained more than 80 Iraqi battalions in a little over a year. Petraeus recently returned to Iraq as the commander of U.S. forces in that country, while Eaton never earned his third star. Could it be possible that he has a little grudge against the Bush Administration and the guy who used to run the Pentagon?

As for Generals Garde and Montano, they are affiliated with a group called Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which (in turn) has ties to a number of liberal organizations such as As the Raleigh News & Observer reported on 21 March, Garde and Montano were part of a seven-state "barnstorming tour," urging Congress to draft legislation that would remove American troops from Iraq. During remarks at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, General Garde compared Iraq to Vietnam, and advocated a "political solution" to the war:

"Will the Congress have the political courage," Gard said. "Or will we look back five years from now after this surge with many more U.S. combat casualties and wonder why we did not take action to achieve a political solution?"

And who was standing next to Garde when he made those comments? None other than retired Major General Montano, former Commander of the New Mexico Army National Guard.

Make no mistake: Generals Eaton, Garde, and Montano are entitled to their opinions--and they are free to speak out against the war. But, by failing to identify them as past critics of the Bush Administration and the War in Iraq, Mr. James is guilty of professional malpractice, perhaps borderline fraud. Interestingly, Jay Price, the News & Observer reporter who covered the North Carolina event, managed to identify Garde and Montano's affiliation with liberal groups and their anti-war positions. But somehow, Mr. James of the Tribune conveniently ignored those ties. We're also never told who arranged the conference call. Did the Trib simply contact the generals out of the blue, or was the session arranged by the anti-escalation group? Readers certainly have a right to know.

But Mr. James doesn't provide that information, which would certainly cast the generals' comments in a different light. Instaed, he depicts the trio as concerned, retired military officers--which may be an apt description. However, they are also on the record as outspoken administration critics, facts that never made it into "The Swamp," but (clearly) should have been part of the story.

You can contact the Trib's public editor at (312) 222-3348, or

Make your voices heard.

Pervert Alert

During my lunch hour, I made a stop at the base personnel office, to pick up a new retiree identification card. Waiting my turn in the customer service section, I watched a story on Fox News that was absolutely horrifying, if you have children.

Or grandchildren.

Or, you're part of that overwhelming majority that believes perverts, molesters and pedophiles should be kept away from our kids, and preferably locked up.

Meet Jack McClellan. He's a 45-year-old, self-confessed peophile, who (amazingly) has never convicted of a sex crime. McClellan lives at home (in the Seattle area) with his parents--next to a school bus stop. A few years ago, he created a website that offers advice on the best place to see little girls, and avoid getting caught by the police. McClellan says he's most attracted to girls between the ages of 3 and 11.

The report on the pervert and his website have several sick, twisted comments from McClellan that don't deserve to be reprinted here. Bottom line: this pervert wants to "bring peophiles out of the closet" and give them a way to be around little girls.

And, under Washington state laws, there's apparently nothing the authorities can do--or so they claim. "As disturbing and offensive as we find this, there's no evidence of a crime, or even suspicion of illegal activity," said Rebecca Hover of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Department. Authorities say they've known about the site for several years, but can't shut it down because it's "legal."

Give me a break. The odds that McClellan has never acted on his impulses are exactly zero. You'd think that his comments would be enough to warrant an investigation, and perhaps secure a judge's permission to seize his computer. But, then again, this is tolerant, politically-correct Washington state, which (until recently) was still struggling to prevent teachers convicted of sex offenses from moving to another district and continuing their behavior.

The Numbers Game

From the DEW Line, an insightful (and incisive) blog devoted to the global defense industry, here some numbers for the multi-national F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program:


The first figures represent the original production forecast for the JSF. Plans called for building 5 this year, 16 next year, and 47 in 2009.

But, as DEW crew points out, the military is now looking at substantially lower production rates, evidenced by the second set of numbers. Under that plan, we'll build two JSFs in 2007, 12 in 2008, and only 16 in 2009.

Why is that important? Smaller production totals equals higher unit costs. That reality has been evident in the F-22 Raptor program, where scaled-back "buys" have driven up the cost for individual aircraft. Originally pegged at $60-80 million a copy, the price for each F-22 is now well over $100 million an aircraft, and will rise even higher, if the production run drops below the 179 aircraft currently projected.

For a program predicated on "affordability" (like JSF) production decreases and delays will translate to higher costs, and the possibility that some foreign buyers might elect to cancel their planned purchases. And that will drive costs for the F-35 even higher.


On a related note, the Weekly Standard has links to some cool video of the JSF's first maneuvering flight tests. "It worked exceedingly well," the test pilot reported. Or, as they say in the flight test business these days, "It flew just like the sim."

Ya Think?

From today's U.K. Times: "How Britons were conned by Iranian gunboat trick."

Speed and cunning shown by the Revolutionary Guards suggests that their action was premeditated.

And it only took a week for the Times to figure that out. Still, the paper is light-years ahead of the ultra-liberal Guardian. In an op-ed column that ran yesterday, Guardian columnist Ronan Bennett says that Iran's treatment of Seaman Faye Tunney is "wrong," but "not in the same league as U.S. and British abuses."

Wow. That's quite a feat of gymnastical logic. Comparing the detention (and interrogation) of suspected terrorists, legally captured on the battlefield by uniformed combatants, to the plight of British marines and sailors, taken illegally in international waters--while conducting a U.N.-sanctioned mission. Only a unber-leftist could come up with that sort of analogy. The New York Times must be jealous. Paging Bill Keller. I think we've found your next op-ed columnist.

"Full Protection" Against Iran

The head of Israel's missile defense program says that recent modifications to the Arrow II system will allow it to successfully intercept and destroy any ballistic missile in the Middle East, including nuclear-capable missiles under development by Iran. Arieh Herzog, head of the Defense Ministry's Homa Missile Defense Agency, made the comments in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, which will run in Monday's edition of the paper. A preview of the interview was published in today's Post.

Herzog's comments are certainly welcome news for a nation facing an ever-expanding ballistic missile threat. Mr. Herzog notes that both Iran and Syrian have essentially abandoned efforts at building modern air forces, and are devoting "unprecedented" amounts of money to their ballistic missile programs. In the case of Iran, the missile defense director noted that the Tehran government is buying "entire missile systems" from North Korea, an apparent reference to the intermediate-range BM-25, acquired last year. He also identified Pyongyang as the primary supplier of ballistic missile technology to Syria, although Damascus's best missile system (the SS-21) was provided by Russia.

In terms of future threats, Herzog hedged a bit, telling the Post that "there might be missile systems in Iranian hands that the Arrow could not intercept." Is that another reference to the BM-25, or a nod toward Iranian systems that are still in development? As we've observed in the past, Tehran's scientists and engineers have experienced significant difficulties in extending the reach of their Shahab-3 medium-range missiles (maximum range: 900 miles), and developing intermediate-range systems. Those difficulties were likely a deciding factor in the decision to buy the BM-25, which gives Iran a ready-made capability to strike targets as far away as southern Europe.

Mr. Herzog's comments also beg another question: is he admitting that the latest variant of Arrow II has significant limitations, or (perhaps) providing a bit of disinformation through the pages of the Post? Obviously, no missile defense system is completely fool-proof; to some degree, all are vulnerable to countermeasures (typically dispensed during reentry, along with the warhead), saturation, and simple physics. Clearly, hitting a missile with another missile is a difficult proposition, but as range and velocities increase, the complexity of that task grows almost geometrically. That's why existing defense systems are capable against short or medium-range systems, but have little or no capability against ICBMs.

If I had to guess, I'd say Herzog's observations are more disinformation than an admission of weakness. The Arrow II system and its components have sufficient room for "growth," incorporating improvements in radar, computer and missile technology. Last Monday's test launch is an example of how the system has matured since its introduction in the mid-1990s. The most recent test was used to evaluate the latest variant of the Arrow II's interceptor missiles, which have undergone a number of modifications over the years. Israeli officials described Monday's test as a "complete success."

Moreover, since the Arrow program is a cooperative venture with the United States, Israel will continue to benefit from our own missile defense efforts (and vice-versa). As existing systems (eventually) reach their engineering limits, Israel will access technologies that would further expand their defensive shield, such as THAAD. The Israelis might also renew calls for a mutual defense pact with the U.S., which could lead to full integration of current and projected systems into plans for defending the Jewish State.

But even without a bilateral defense pact, Israel's missile defenses are adequate for meeting the Iranian and Syrian threats, at least for the near term. Saturation will remain the Israeli's greatest concern; there are only so many rounds for the Arrow II and Patriot batteries, to deal with ever-expanding missile arsenals in both Syria and Iran. As we've seen in simulations of a Taiwan-China conflict, extended barrages of ballistic missiles can eventually overwhelm ground- based defenses. That's one reason the PRC has massed over 700 short and medium-range missiles opposite Taiwan, creating an offensive threat that will saturate the island's few Patriot batteries.

However the Taiwan example can't be fully applied to Israel, which has trump cards the Taiwanese clearly lack. The Israeli Air Force (with precision munitions and its ISR system) will make it difficult for the Syrians to sustain a missile barrage. More importantly, the Israelis can "up the ante" using the threat of nuclear strikes (using Jericho II MRBMs, cruise missiles, or aircraft-delivered weapons) to keep their enemies in check. And, neither Damascus nor Tehran has any defensive capabilities against an Israeli missile strike.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A New Strategy for Counterintelligence?

It hasn't received a lot of attention (at least, not yet), but President Bush has approved a new counter-intelligence (CI) strategy for the United States. The Director of National Intelligence public affairs office issued a press release on Tuesday that outlined the new strategy, and its key objectives. They include:

  • Secure the Nation Against Foreign Espionage and Electronic Penetration
  • Protect the Integrity of the US Intelligence System
  • Support National Policy and Decisions
  • Protect US Economic Advantage, Trade Secrets and Know How
  • Support US Armed Forces
  • Manage the Counterintelligence Community to Achieve Efficient Coordination
  • Improve Training and Education of the Counterintelligence Community
  • Expand National Awareness of Counterintelligence Risk in the Private as well as Public Sector

Some of the stated goals are hardly surprising; securing the nation against foreign espionage, protecting the integrity of our intelligence system, supporting the armed forces, and improving counter-intelligence coordination are standard functions--tasks that CI organizations have always performed.

What is interesting about the new strategy--or at least, the bare details made public so far--is the apparent emphasis on economic counter-intelligence, and increased cooperation with the private sector. And, that shouldn't come as a real surprise, since economic and technical espionage represents one of the greatest security challenges facing this nation. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh once described economic espionage as "the greatest threat to national security" since the Cold War. According to one estimate, the theft or unauthorized transfer of trade secrets and proprietary data costs U.S. businesses about $250 billion a year, or roughly half the total cost of the Iraq War to date.

The economic intelligence crisis has been well-documented in Steven Fink's Sticky Fingers, which details the problem in corporate America. But obviously, the problem extends well-beyond the pilfering of trade secrets by a business competitor, or a employee who tries to peddle his company's most sensitive information for profit. Increasingly, the theft of such data is part of a state-directed effort that targets critical technologies, or entire business sectors. The People Republic of China has been conducting such operations on a massive scale for years. And, as Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz notes in his book Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets--and How We Let It Happen," Beijing has been quite successful in those efforts, allowing it to save billions of dollars--and years of research time--by simply acquiring (and copying) advanced U.S. technology.

But the Gertz book is also an exploration of critical counter-intelligence failures that allowed our enemies to steal key secrets. He recounts the career of Ana Montes, the Cuban "mole" who worked as a senior intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency for two decades. Not only did Ms. Montes pass extremely sensitive information to her bosses in Havana, she also influenced U.S. government policies affecting Castro's government. When a DIA counter-intelligence official became suspicious of her activities, he was initially ridiculed by his superiors and the FBI.

The bureau--which runs domestic counter-intelligence efforts--receives special scrutiny from Gertz, and decidedly so. Over the last decade, the agency has been embarrassed by a number of bungles and blunders, including one case where a Chinese operative seduced two FBI agents, and persuaded both to pass sensitive information. In another example, the bureau spent years harassing a CIA operative, convinced that he was a Russian spy because he lived near a particular park. When the mole was finally caught, it turned out to be FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who passed sensitive counter-intelligence information to Moscow for years. Hanssen also lived near the park, but escaped detection for years.

Which brings us back to the nation's "new" counter-intelligence strategy. Is it viable? My first reaction is that the emphasis on economic intelligence is long overdue. Our adversaries have been stealing us blind--literally--for years, and the new strategy represents a needed effort to combat that threat. I'm also encouraged by its outreach to the private sector. For obvious reasons, many espionage rings target commercial firms, particularly in the high-tech and information sectors. To protect vital secrets, private firms need to be more aware of this threat, and provide information on suspected penetration attempts to the counter-intelligence community. That will provide a bigger picture that may identify spy rings earlier, and prevent the compromise of critical information. In that regard, the new strategy is a step in the right direction.

But the plan has some serious problems. For starters, we're still stuck with a counter-intelligence system that divides responsibilities between the CIA (for overseas operations) and the FBI, which handles the domestic end. Historically, this "partnership" has never worked very well, one reason that the strategy document calls for improved coordination, training and education. But that raises another question: do we have the luxury of time (and resources) to fix this broken system, or would we be better off in creating a new agency, combining resources from both the CIA and FBI (more on that in a moment). Failing to address this fundamental, organizational issue is the major flaw of the new strategy.

Additionally, I'd like to know more about how the CI plan will deal with terrorist-related spy efforts. As Mr. Gertz reported in his book, the U.S. has been targeted by at least 35 terrorist organizations through espionage, and some of those groups have proven adept at penetrating supposedly "secure" organizations to gain information, or carry out attacks. Clearly, it's difficult to assess a strategy on the basis of a one-page press release, but it would be interesting to know how the plan assesses that threat, and how it addresses it.

Supporters of the new strategy might argue that The National Counterterrorism Center (launched in 2003) represents the right approach, bringing together personnel from intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information and develop terrorism analysis. Unfortunately, the center remains hampered by competing lines of control; look at its organizational lines, and you'll see that the NCTC works for both the DNI and the FBI director. That reality provides a compelling case for creation of a single, domestic intelligence agency, combining collection, analytical and counter-intelligence functions. Sadly, that option seems unlikely, since it would mean diminished roles (and resources) for both the CIA and the bureau.

Finally, as with any "national strategy," the devil is always in the details. Getting the various players to cooperate and share vital information remains a Herculean task. The prescribed training program will be another massive undertaking, and building those ties to the private sector will take time, too. All represent important steps in the counter-intelligence struggle, but the strategy document seems to ignore the essential question: can this plan actually work, given the organizational flaws that exist in our current system? The Bush Administration clearly believes it can, but some of us remain unconvinced. Fixing counter-intelligence requires revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, thinking.


I may be reading between the lines, but the new CI strategy outline doesn't say much about the "other" players in counter-intelligence--the armed services. While the Army, Navy and Air Force have long maintained CI elements, their role has (traditionally) focused on investigating espionage cases involving military personnel, or "external" spy operations aimed at military targets. If I'm reading the outline correctly, it looks like the "new" strategy envisions a similar role for military CI elements--and that might be a mistake. Military counter-intelligence units have gained valuable experience against insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that expertise could be useful in tracking terrorist espionage threats closer to home--assuming that legal requirements could be satisfied.

A Fitting Tribute

Even casual students of World War II are familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen, the lengendary group of African-American fighter pilots and ground crews who battled racism (and the enemy) in compiling an exemplary combat record in the skies over Europe. Under the leadership of Colonel (later General) Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the Airmen, flying their familiar, red-tail P-51s, proved that black Americans had the mettle to take on the Luftwaffe--and deliver a decisive defeat.

More than 60 years after the Tuskegee Airmen returned home--to a nation that was still segregated--surviving members of that unit (and the widows of those who have passed on) will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be awarded to civilians. President Bush is scheduled to speak at today's presentation ceremony, which will be held at 1 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda.

While the Army Air Corps initially fought proposals to train black pilots (and send them into combat), the combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen quickly destroyed the notion that African-Americans lacked the capacity to fly high-performance aircraft and lead combat formations. For years, it was believed that the 332nd Fighter Group (the unit's combat designation) never lost a bomber they escorted to enemy fighters. While that claim is now being disputed, it seems evident that the 332nd lost far fewer bombers on escort missions than all-white fighter groups. The 332nd's reputation for getting B-17s to the target--and back again--quickly spread through the European Theater, and bomber units often requested escort by the "Red Tails," if they were available.

Today, the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen lives on in the Air Force. The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB, Iraq, bears the designation and lineage of the World War II fighter group. The motto of the latter-day unit is "The Legend Continues." It's another fitting tribute to a group of airmen who were--and are--heroes, in the truest sense of that word.

Today's Reading Assignment

Historian Arthur Herman on Britain's military impotence--and its consequences--in a timely New York Post op-ed.

Also recommended: Mr. Herman's January column in the Post, which noted how Tony Blair's planned budgetary cutbacks will decimate the Royal Navy. As he archly notes, the naval supremacy that France couldn't win at Trafalgar how now been gained at the bureaucrats' desks. Reductions in the Royal Navy will leave it smaller than the French Navy for the first time in 400 years, giving Britain a fleet that's roughly comparable (in size) to that of Belgium and Turkey.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Right Men in the Right Place

In an earlier post, we cautioned against reading too much into current U.S. military moves in the Persian Gulf. Nothing we've seen (so far) suggests that President Bush has made a decision to attack Iran. However, the Commander-in-Chief is wisely keeping his options open, in the event that a strike becomes necessary.

The most likely impetus for that scenario remains the Iranian nuclear program, or more specifically, hard evidence that Tehran is about to acquire--or has actually acquired--atomic weapons. Readers will note that most "official" U.S. estimates put that timetable toward the end of this decade. Those assessments may be based (in part) on information provided by that recent Iranian defector, who reportedly spied for the west for more than four years.

However, there are other events that might prompt a U.S. military strike against Iran, including attacks against our naval vessels and oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, or a "mass casualty" event among American troops in Iraq that can be traced to Tehran.

While we don't see anything in the tea leaves that would suggest that military action is imminent (on either side), it is interesting to note some of the moves the Pentagon is making, just in case. In some instances, these preparations have been widely publicized, such as the decision to send more Patriot missile batteries to the Persian Gulf Region. Those weapons would be vital in defending airfields, ports, logistics centers and troop concentrations from Iranian air and missile attacks.

In other cases, moves are being made at the "micro" level, to ensure the right leaders are in place--if the balloon goes up. Consider the recent announcement that Air Force Brigadier Generals Larry Wells and Burton Field are being reassigned to head Air Expeditionary Wings in the United Arab Emirates and Iraq, respectively.

While such rotations occur on a regular basis--both positions are one-year "remote" tours, it's no accident that General Wells and General Field were selected for those assignments. Both are experienced wing commanders; Field's currently leads the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, VA, the Air Force's first F-22 unit. He also served a tour as commander of the 8th Fighter Wing (located at Kunsan AB, Korea), and has decades of experience as an F-16 pilot. Just the sort of guy you'd want as commander of the 332nd Wing at Balad, the base that serves as our primary fighter hub in Iraq--and could be a potential staging base for operations against Iran.

General Wells is also an experienced F-16 driver who most recently served as Assistant Director of Operations for the Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC). Before that, he was Commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, home of the Air Force's U-2 fleet, and key elements of the intelligence architecture that support that aircraft and our UAVs. As it happens, General Wells new assignment will put him in charge of an organization (the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing) that "owns" much of our air refueling and reconnaissance capability in the Persian Gulf. The 380th is located at Al Dhafra, AB, a facility used by U.S. forces since the first Gulf War.

Obviously, the assignment of two Air Force brigadier generals to lead these units is not a harbinger of imminent hostilities against Iran. But as our stand-off with Tehran nears a critical phase, it's clear that USAF leadership wants its most experienced commanders to lead front-line units, just in case.

This is News?

Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border?

File that one under "headlines that least deserve an above-the-banner" link from Drudge.

The referenced article, from Russia's Novosti news agency, is basically a hash of long-reported events and ill-informed conjecture. Deployment of the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis to the Persian Gulf was first announced back in January; the vessel and its escorts have already arrived in the region, and are conducting maneuvers with the Eisenhower carrier battle group, which has been on station since December. Readers will note that Novosti claims that the Stennis is still enroute to the Gulf, suggesting that Russian intelligence isn't what it once was, or (more likely) the wire service reporter simply reprinted what his sources told him, no questions asked.

A Russian security sources also tell Novosti that he see preparations for an "air and ground offensive against Iran," although the timing for such an attack has not been determined. He claims that the U.S. is looking for a way to bring Iran to its knees, at minimal cost.

While the U.S. is apparently keeping its options open on Iraq, I certainly don't see any preparations for a ground attack. The five additional brigades arriving in Iraq (as part of the recent troop surge) are aimed at defeating the insurgency, not attacking Iran. And, beyond the 80 aircraft embarked onboard the Stennis, the number of U.S. aircraft in the region has remained fairly constant. Any attack against Iran would be preceded by a major build-up of U.S. airpower in the region, although current basing issues could make that problematic. According to the India News, the United Arab Emirates has said that its territories are off limits to anyone for staging military or intelligence operations against Iran. Access to airfields in the UAE has long been considered essential for any potential air campaign against Iranian targets.

At this point, I would describe U.S. military preparations in the region as prudent, but not necessarily indicative of a pending strike against Iran. However, one key indicator of how Washington views the situation will be revealed in the coming weeks. The Eisenhower is scheduled to leave the gulf in early April; an extension of its tour--or replacement by another carrier group--would indicate that the U.S. plans to sustain current force levels in the region. Additionally, the next round of the Air Force's Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotations to the Middle East begins in about a month. Delaying the return of currently-deployed AEF units could be used to temporarily bolster U.S. airpower in the region, providing another indicator of possible military moves.

While I don't see anything significant in the Novosti article, there are sufficient reasons to keep an eye on our forces in the Persian Gulf, particularly over the next month or so. By remaining flexible in our military deployments and force structure, we can certainly keep Tehran guessing, and that is hardly a bad thing.

Confirming the Big Fizzle

The CIA has reportedly confirmed what's been rumored for months: last year's nuclear test by North Korea was, in fact, a flop.

According to Reuters, CIA Director General Michael Hayden described Pyongyang's nuclear test as a failure and said the United States does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Hayden made the comments on Tuesday, during a meeting with South Korea's Defense Minister, part of a visit to U.S. allies in the region.

Before reading too much into this report, a word of caution is in order. The Reuters disptach is based on an article in a South Korean newspaper, which got its information from a ROK defense official. Officially, the South Korean MOD has refused to confirm Hayden's comments, as has our embassy in Seoul. The Korean publication that broke the story--JoongAng Ilbo--is one of the "big three" papers in South Korea, with reliable access to government officials and information. While no one seems willing to verify General Hayden's assessment, the lack of confirmation suggests two possibilities: (a) the Director's remarks weren't intended for public release (at least not yet); or (b) the story was a deliberate media plant, designed to reassure a nation that has the most to fear from North Korea's nuclear program, while granting Hayden a measure of deniabilit. My money is on Option B.

As we reported last October, Pyongyang's first nuclear test was a giant fizzle by any standard. Post-blast analysis suggested that the DPRK device had a yield equivalent to only 200-400 tons of TNT, perhaps only 5-10% of what they hoped to achieve. That made North Korea's first nuclear bomb a veritable pop-gun; by comparison, the first U.S. atomic bombs (dropped on Japan in 1945) had a yield of 10-20 kt; nuclear devices detonated by India and Pakistan in the late 1990s had yields in the range of 5-10 kt. At the other end of the scale, "modern" thermo-nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain have explosive yields measured in the hundreds of kilotons, or even megatons (one megaton equals one million tons of TNT).

Technically, the reasons for North Korea's apparent failure remain unclear. However, there are a number of factors that might have prevented a successful test, as one of our readers pointed out last fall:

"An accidental 4 KT yield could come from a large mass of fuel that doesn't get held together long enough for more than a few 'links' of the chain reaction - because of weak metal alloys, or poor conventional shaped charge design or manufacture, or poor fuse design or manufacture. Or even if the bomb design & manufacture were good, the fuel could be contaminated such that neutrons are either absorbed too frequently by an impurity, or released too frequently by a fuel 'hotter' than the design. NONE of these are trivial problems to solve. And the smaller the fuel mass employed, the more sensitive the whole process becomes. Big bombs (20 KT) are hard; huge bombs (200 KT) are harder; small bombs (2 KT) are really, really hard to make."

Obviously, the test failure was a major reason behind North Korea's decision to return to the Six-Party talks late last year, and its subsequent agreement to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Obviously, a marginally-reliable nuclear weapon isn't much of a negotiating chip, so Pyongyang was suddenly willing to cut the best deal possible, getting rid of an aging nuclear facility, in exchange for desperately-needed energy assistance.

Despite the apparent problems in North Korea's nuclear program (and the recent diplomatic success in Beijing), it is far too early to write off the DPRK's nuclear ambitions. Most likely, Pyongyang still has some sort of covert development program--the same track that was used to continue weapons research after the 1994 "Agreed To" framework. Continuation of the covert program would allow North Korea to resolve technical problems evident in last year's test, while "publicly" abiding by the most recent agreement, and receiving energy aid from the west. Once the technical issues are solved, Pyongyang would start complaining about the current accord, find a pretext for abandoning it, and follow those acts with another--and possibly, much more successful--nuclear test.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Jack Kelly at Real Clear Politics, on Britian's tepid response to last Friday's hostage taking along the Shatt al-Arab, and the rules of engagement that (apparently) helped facilitate the incident.

According to Mr. Kelly, U.S. vessels also patrol the waterway, but our Navy (thankfully) allows a more aggressive response to such provocations. Maybe that's why the Iranians have steered clear of our forces in the Shatt al-Arab. But if I were the U.S. Navy, I wouldn't be too complacent. If Tehran achieves its goals in this hostage drama, we can expect more incidents of this type.

A Hero Passes

A hat tip to the indefatigable Michelle Malkin, who notes the recent passing of a genuine American hero. Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Chase Nielsen died last Friday in Brigham City, Utah, at the age of 90.

On April 16, 1942, Nielsen--then a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps--was a navigator on a B-25 Mitchell bomber, part of the famed "Doolittle Raiders" who delivered a devastating psychological blow against Japan during the dark days of World War II. Launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, the bombers hit targets in Tokyo (and four other cities) that Japan's military government claimed were invulnerable to attack.

With the 65th anniversary of the raid now approaching, it's worth remembering what an audacious enterprise it was. Barely five months after Pearl Harbor, Allied fortunes in the Pacific were at low ebb; the British garrisons at Hong Kong and Singapore had fallen, along with U.S.-Filipino Army on Bataan. Surviving British naval units had been chased back to Ceylon, while much of our fleet remained on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. For the moment, the Japanese appeared unstoppable.

Against that backdrop, the War Department was searching for a way to strike back against Japan. A Navy submariner (Captain Francis Low) actually came up with the idea of launching Army bombers from a carrier deck, for a raid against the Japanese home islands. To lead the mission, the Army Air Corps Commander, General Hap Arnold, selected one of America's best-known aviators, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. The winner of numerous international air races and competitions in the 1920s and 1930s, Doolittle also held a PhD in aeronautics from MIT. Among his many achievements, Doolittle pioneered instrument flying, and was the first pilot to successfully perform an outside loop.

Arnold allowed Doolittle to hand-pick his crews, who underwent an intensive, two-month training program, primarily at Eglin Field in Florida. Once their traning was complete, Doolittle and his crews flew cross-country to Alameda, California, where their 16 B-25s were loaded onto the deck of the Hornet. The carrier left port on April 2, 1942, joining formation with the USS Enterprise off the California coast. Both carriers--and their escorts--sailed across the Pacific under strict radio silence, to minimize chances of Japanese detection.

Original plans called for the B-25s to launch about 400 miles from the Japanese coast, giving them enough fuel to fly on to landing strips in China. But on the morning of April 18th, the U.S. task force was sighted by a Japanese picket vessel, prompting a decision to launch the B-25s early, about 625 miles from Japan, and a day ahead of schedule.

Lieutenant Nielsen was navigator of the sixth B-25 to leave the Hornet. While most of the raiders survived the raid and found safety in China, Nielsen was one of eight crew members who were captured by the Japanese. He endured torture and deprivation during three years as a POW before being liberated by American troops in 1945. Nielsen was the only member of Crew #6 to survive the war.

When he emerged from that prison camp, Chase Nielsen already knew that the raid had been a success. While the B-25 strike had inflicted little physical damage, it had delivered a severe psychological blow against Japan, while greatly boosting American morale--at very the moment we needed it most. For their efforts, Nielsen and the other POWs suffered horribly (Nielsen spent much of his captivity in solitary confinement), but they endured and kept the faith, despite the execution of three raiders by the Japanese, and the death of another from disease.

April 18th falls on a Wednesday this year. On that date, when you have a moment, pause and say a silent prayer of thanks for men like Chase Nielsen, and the nation that still produces them.


ADDENDUM: Many of the Dootlittle Raiders were rescued in China through the efforts of a Baptist missionary-turned-intelligence officer, John Birch. Yes, that John Birch.

Amateur Hour

Democrats sometimes wonder why Americans have little faith in their ability to handle national security issues. Maybe it's the series of irresponsible, even cockamamie defense proposals that they've offered over the years, including last week's idea of forcing a troop withdrawal from Iraq through a pork-laden spending bill. In other words, you don't get goodies for the folks back home unless you support an arbitary pull-out date from Iraq. And, of course, that measure was narrowly approved by the House, which must be awfully reassuring for California spinach farmers (who get $25 million under the plan), and Al Qaida's Iraq affiliate, which has the reassurance that the new majority party is fully committed to cut-and-run.

It's difficult to top such a feckless plan, but somehow the Democrats have managed to accomplish that feat. With the House plan facing an uphill battle in the Senate, Democrats are thrasing about for compromise legislation that stands a better chance of passage. Compromise measures are sometimes a bit odd, but the proposal put forth by Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor is, err...downright stupid. Senator Pryor proposing a "secret" withdrawal plan from Iraq, with a timetable that would be known only to the White House, the Iraqi government, the U.S. military, and of course, members of Congress.

Pryor told the Washington Post that he's confident the plan would remain secret, because Congress is entrusted with secrets "all the time." Riiighhht. Saying that Congress leaks like a seive would be an insult to seives. Hundreds of Senators and Representatives have access to classified information, along with thousands of Congressional staffers. And many have been quite willing to share that data with friendly reporters, all in an effort to score political points. Barely a year after 9-11, the White House demanded an investigation into leaks from the Hill, where unnamed personnel were passing information on "intelligence failures" to members of the media.

Last year, a Democratic staffer temporarily lost his security clearance after portions of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq appeared in The New York Times. After a predictable protest from Congressional Democrats, the aide's clearance was restored. By party standards, I suppose, his "sins" were relatively minor and deserving of forgiveness. Afterall, Vermont's Patrick Leahy is still serving proudly as a leading Democratic member of the Senate, almost 20 years after he was forced to resign as Vice-Chairman of that body's intelligence committee. As you may recall, Leahy was accused of leaking sensitive information to members of the press--material that compromised U.S. counter-terrorism operations and may have killed a key intelligence asset.

Readers will also note that there have been few (if any) prosecutions of Congressmen or their staffers for revealing classified information. Based on that track record, anyone from the Hill leaking Pryor's "secret" withdrawal plan would little to fear in terms of potential penalties. The same holds true for elements within the intelligence community (which would also gain access to the information). Recent press reports suggest that intel agencies have "stonewalled" Justice Department efforts to investigate the leaks, originating within the community and aimed at damaging the Bush Administration.

In fairness, the legions of potential leakers aren't limited to Capitol Hill and the intelligence community. Members of the administration and the defense establishment also leak, for motives all their own. Even if the "secret" withdrawal date was carefully guarded--say, in a special access (SAR/SAP) program, the number of personnel with access to the information would number in the hundreds, possibly the thousands. In today's "leak" culture, the possibility of preventing disclosure of that information is virtually nil. The odds of actually finding and prosecuting the leaker are even lower.

But, just for the sake of arugment, let's step inside Mr. Pryor's alternate universe for just a moment and pretend that everyone involved can actually keep a secret. That still wouldn't prevent the jihadists from divining our plans, based on the one-way flow of troops and supplies. If the amount of soliders, vehicles and equipment leaving Iraq exceeds the in-bound flow, even the dumbest terrorist can discern that the Americans are on their way out. Time to rachet up the insurgency.

You will observe that the WaPo describes Senator Pryor's proposal as "unusual." If a junior Republican had offered the same plan, the paper would have categorized it more bluntly--and correctly--as just plain dumb. Setting an arbitrary withdrawal date from Iraq is militarily incoherent, whether the timeline is public knowledge or a highly-guarded secret. But, because of his party affiliation, Mr. Pryor is allowed to peddle a brain-dead idea as a serious proposal on Iraq. In some Democratic circles, Pryor is reportedly viewed as an up-and-comer, a possible Vice-Presidential nominee in the near term, and beyond that, a potential Presidential candidate. From our perspective, Pryor's ideas about a "secret" timetable for getting out of Iraq illustrate that he's hardly ready for primetime, just a hack politician who remains unschooled and unserious in the deadly business of national security.


On a related note, check out today's fawning NYT article on Hillary Clinton's "growing" ties with the U.S. military, and her gravitas on defense issues. One currently-serving defense official describes Ms. Clinton as "conversant" in the military, and thoughtful in her questions. That's damning her with faint praise. After more than six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she ought to know a little about the military; as for those questions, most are scripted by aides (as they are for all senators), so at least her staffers are thoughtful.

One final thought: the final measure of Senator Clinton's relationship with the military will not be based only on her dealings with the generals. If you want a glimpse of the "real Hillary," talk to uniformed personnel who served in the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) during the Clinton Administration. Selection for a WHCA assignment is extraordinarily demanding; their screening procedures are reportedly the toughest in DoD. Personnel who are selected for WHCA--and can maintain the agency's exacting standards--can remain there indefinitely. Yet, WHCA experienced a mass exodus during the Clinton years, and Ms. Clinton was apparently one of the reasons that many military members left the agency. More on that in the coming days.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Swap

When the Iranians announced Friday that they had captured 15 British sailors and Royal Marines, it didn't take a military or intelligence analyst to see how this drama would play out. First, the captives--taken during an anti-smuggling enforcement mission along the Shatt al-Arab waterway--were moved to Tehran, for potential media exposure, and to reduce the chances of a lightning raid by allied SOF to free them.

Next, the Iranian government announced that the captured Britons would be tried on espionage charges, supposedly highlight the "gravity" of the incident. And, almost as quickly, Tehran claimed that it had obtained "confessions" from some of the captives, providing more evidence for a "show trial," should that need arise. Obviously, any confession procured at this point in captivity was likely the result of duress; press reporting from both the U.K. and the Middle East indicates that the British personnel are now in the hands of the Iranian intelligence service, which has few qualms about using sensory deprivation--and more extreme forms of "persuasion"--to obtain desired information.

At first, there was some speculation about Tehran's motives behind the hostage-taking. Was it aimed at influencing the U.N. Security Council's vote on tougher nuclear sanctions? Or, merely a reminder to London (and Washington) that Iran can easily influence events in the gulf region, and make it more difficult for our British partners to maintain a limited military presence in Iraq.

Britain's Sunday Mirror offers another--and more plausible--rationale for the event, claiming that Tehran will demand the release of up to 50 Iranian spies (previously captured by the British in southern Iraq), in exchange for the return of the sailors and marines. The paper says that the Iranian agents have been captured in recent years, by British forces operating in the Basra region.

I'll take that analysis a step further and predict that Tehran will also demand the return of some of the high-ranking IRGC and Qods force personnel recently arrested by U.S. forces. At least one of those detainees is reported to be a general officer, and a senior Iranian diplomat is also among those captives. Iran is clearly concerned that those officials could reveal vital information about Tehran's terrorist support network in Iraq and would like to get them back, to minimize further damage.

Talks between Britain and Iran over the matter and continuing, but the crisis shows no indication of being quickly resolved. Indeed, the Blair government would be well advised to prepare for the long haul. Tehran clearly wants some of its captured spies back, and it's clearly willing to detain the British personnel to exert more pressure on the British--and on us. Officially, the matter of those captured diplomats and IRGC personnel hasn't surfaced (yet), but it almost certainly will in the coming days. The Iranians understand that demanding the return of the Brits (in exchange for operatives held by the U.S.) could create a divide between London and Washington, something that Tehran would clearly welcome.

At this point, no one is predicting an extended captivity for the British prisoners (along the lines of what our embassy personnel endured in 1979-80), but--given the present circumstances--the odds of a quick, negotiated settlement seem almost nil. Both the U.K. and the U.S. will have to resist the temptation to give in to some--or all--of Iran's demands, despite some of the televised "confessions" and humanitarian pleas that will likely follow. We should all keep those brave sailors and Marines in our prayers, with the realization that this was a carefully planned and orchestrated kidnapping, aimed at achieving critical political goals. And, from the Iranian perspective, the incident was necessary because our policies against Tehran are working. All the more reason to sustain the pressure against Iran, and make it clear that the country's rulers are directly responsible for the captives' safety and well-being.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Losing the Information War

We've often taken the military to task for its handling of information operations in the GWOT. On many occasions, it seems that the terrorists are far more nimble and adept at getting information into the MSM or online, while the Pentagon moves at a glacial pace, relying on press briefings and releases that are often ignored.

Happily, that trend is beginning to turn. Over at the Danger Room, Noah Shachtman notes that some elements within the public affairs corps are taking a more proactive--and cutting edge--approach in highlighting the military's side of the story. U.S. Central Command seems to be taking the lead in this effort, providing regular updates and material for interested bloggers. And, just this week, I learned that U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) will mount a similar effort in the near future. Some of the military's professional schools (such as the USAF's Air Command and Staff College) are now offering classes and seminars about the blogosphere as an information tool, in an effort to educate future commanders.

While those developments are certainly encouraging, not everyone in the military is enamored with bloggers. Case in point? U.S. Army Major General Vincent Brooks, best remembered as CENTCOM's "official" spokesman during the invasion of Iraq four years ago. General Brooks is now back in Baghdad, this time as deputy commander of the coalition's Multi-National Division. For whatever reason, Brooks seem to have it in for Michael Yon, and is apparently trying to run him out of the country.

Given Yon's superb reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan--and the huge audience it attracts--General Brooks' effort is puzzling to say the least. Brooks is a sharp guy who should no better. Before returning to the Middle East, he served as the Army's chief public affairs officer, and was referred to as the "face" of that service. It is worth noting that CENTCOM's blog outreach effort began after General Brooks left that command and became the Army's Chief PAO. For that, I suppose, the blogosphere should be thankful, although it will be interesting to see how Brooks' efforts play out. The CENTCOM outreach effort clearly has the blessing of senior comanders. At some point (hopefully), wiser heads will tell General Brooks to shut up and color. If his approach carries the day, then his former command and the multi-national division will be taking a giant step back in getting their story to the American people.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Credit Where Credit's Due

The WaPo gets it right on the House's vote to get the troops out of Iraq through pork-barrel politics. If the Democrats are serious about a withdrawal, let that proposal stand on its own merits; don't wrap it in a Christmas-in-March giveaway package that promises something for everyone, as long as you also support the cut-and-run provision.

Hat tip: Powerline.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Edwards Announcement

Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth held a press conference today, announcing that his campaign will continue, despite a return of her breast cancer.

Watching their announcement (televised live by all the cable news outlets) I kept wondering why the event was necessary. Perhaps I'm a bit old-fashioned and unschooled in the rules of the new media age, but there was something about the announcement that was a bit disconcerting.

First, let me say that I have nothing against the former Senator and his wife. My only disagreement with them is over their stand on the issues. On a personal issue, I have only the deepest sympathy for Mrs. Edwards and what she faces. Breast cancer is a horrible disease; more than 30 years ago, it claimed the life of my mother. She endured a double mastectomy and radiation, but to little avail. She lived barely a year after her initial diagnosis. I grieve for her to this day.

Obviously, Elizabeth Edwards has better treatment options than those available in the 1970s, but she still faces an uphill fight. According to Mr. Edwards, a recent biopsy of his wife's rib showed the cancer had returned. According to this AP story, once breast cancer spreads to the bone it is not considered curable, although women with that diagnosis can survive for years with treatment. Whatever your political position, Mrs. Edwards--and any other woman facing this disease--should be in your prayers.

As for the decision to continue the campaign, that is certainly their perogative, as is their choice to announce such grim news in a media venue. If I were a candidate, I might have reached a different decision, announcing my choice--and the medical diagnosis--in a different manner, say a press release. But then again, my sensibilites are from a different era.

Some of my fellow conservatives are already going rabid over this, claiming that Mr. Edwards is trying to elicit the "sympathy vote" by highlighting his wife's medical condition. I don't think that is the case. Rather, I'd say the former Senator is one of those post-modern politicos (Democrats and Republicans alike) who feel a little too comfortable in front of the cameras, sometimes at the expense of his own privacy--and that of their families.

It's All in the Timing, Redux

A couple of days ago, we noted a recent AFP dispatch from Baghdad, depicting U.S. soldiers who are apparently fed up with the war and want us to get out, now. We pointed out a couple of problems with that report--first of all, it doesn't jibe with other quotes from American military personnel; Secondly, reporter Bryan Pearson seemed to base most of his story on the comments of a single, unnamed (and apparently, low-ranking) soldier.

Terri at A Soldier's Mind took the inquiry a step further, sending a copy of the article to one of the officers quoted in Pearson's story. Here's a portion of his e-mail reply to her:

Thanks to you and all those who truly support us here and what we do. This was an example of a journalist with a hidden agenda. I took him out with me before I let him get in a vehicle with my soldiers. He never asked me any leading or difficult questions, but waited till he had access to a young soldier and asked him questions like what would the US Army do if Iraq were to implode; totally out of a soldiers purvue. He also embellished and exaggerated statements to add flavor to his point of view.

My intention is to alert others to his deceptive practices so that this doesn’t happen to another unit or their soldiers. The tone of the article is not what my soldiers are feeling and they were very upset that they were portrayed this way. Each is very proud of what they do here…… If any of your readers read this and think that soldiers here are in such disparaging conditions please caveat with the disclaimer that these soldiers were deceived, grossly misqouted, and had fabricated quotes.

Out of all the embedded reporters we have had up to this date, Bryan Pearson is the first negative experience we have had

Terri doesn't specify which officer responded to her e-mail, but I'm guessing it was Capt Chris Dawson, the platoon commander identified in the original story. Dawson was the only soldier in the story who stated that our military effort is making a difference. Not surprisingly, Pearson buried those remarks near the bottom of his report.

Kudos to Terri for digging deeper on this one, and to that 9th Cav officer (Capt Dawson?) for setting the record straight. As for Mr. Pearson, we'll read his future dispatches with even more skepticism. And, we've got a question for the public affairs officers running the embed program in Iraq (I've been told the 82nd Airborne PAO shop is currently in charge). Why was an agenda-driven reporter like Pearson given an embed slot instead of a reputable milblogger like Mike Fumento? An explanation is certainly in order.

Today's Reading Assignment

From National Review: Steven F. Hayward, on the inconvenient truth about Al Gore and his global-warming alarmism.

Captain Nowak's New Job

When NASA fired disgraced astronaut Lisa Nowak earlier this month, we predicted that the Navy Captain would be assigned to some low-visibility post at one of the service's training bases in Texas, probably Corpus Christi or Kingsville. The posting would give the Navy two things: (1) A place to "park" Captain Nowak while the civilian justice system runs its course, and (2) Give the service time to decide what punishment--if any--might be imposed on the former astronaut. Currently, Nowak is facing charges of kidnapping and assault and battery in connection with last month's run-in with a romantic rival in Florida.

We certainly don't claim prophet status at In From the Cold, but our prediction about Nowak's next assignment came true yesterday. The Navy released a statement announcing that Captain Nowak will begin a new job next month, as part of the staff of the Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi. According to a Navy spokeman, Nowak will work on developing curriculum and training programs when she begins her new duties next month.

In our relentless pursuit of accuracy, we should point out that we envisioned Captain Nowak moving into some sort of "special assistant" job, often given to officers who are waiting for a key billet to open up, or (in this case) to someone with legal troubles awaiting adjudication. But a large headquarters staff is another, convenient assignment for someone in Nowak's predicament. For a training command, curriculum and training programs are critical mission functions, occupying the efforts of dozens of staff officers and NCOs.

As a Captain (O-6), Nowak would normally run a division within one of the command's various directorates. In Air Force terms (my field of reference), she would run a three-letter office within a two-letter directorate, say the Chief of Training (A3T), within the Operations (A3) directorate. Obviously, the Navy uses a different designation system, and I'll leave it up to readers who wore "the wings of gold" to provide clarification in that area.

But the key word here is "normally." With Captain Nowak facing criminal charges in Florida (and potential UCMJ action after that), there's no way the Navy will put her in charge of large staff division. More than likely, she will become the special assistant to another O-6, handling limited duties within that organization. I don't expect the Navy will release Nowak's exact job title or duty location, to give her some semblance of privacy, and make it more difficult for the press to harass her. Nowak's "new" office still has a mission to perform, and frequent phone calls from the media (and cranks in the general population) would only impede that process.

Still unanswered is how NASA--and the Navy--plan to deal with Nowak's former lover, Commander William Oefelein. While Commander Oefelein is single, he had a long affair with a married superior, Captain Nowak. That leaves him open to charges of adultery and fraternization under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), should the Navy decide to pursue the matter. But NASA shows no indication that it plans to remove Oefelein from the astronaut corps, and there's no sign the service will sanction him for his conduct.

As of this writing, Captain Nowak is apparently on leave, and won't start her new job until early April. Her trial in Florida could get underway as early as July. The woman Nowak is accused of attacking, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, is expected to testify during those proceedings. It's likely that Captain Nowak will apply for retirement before then (if she hasn't already), but I doubt the Navy brass will approve that request, given the case's high visibility, and the option of military punishment after that the is concluded.

Opportunity Lost

As columnist Robert Novak points out, House Republicans missed a real opportunity by not going after former CIA "operative" Valerie Plame during her Congressional testimony last week.

Mr. Novak notes that there are still critical--and unanswered--questions about the matter, despite a lengthy special prosecutor investigation. That probe was followed, of course, by the indictment (and conviction) of vice-presidential aide Scooter Libby on charges unrelated to the original claim--that White House officials had deliberately leaked the identity of a covert CIA officer (Ms. Plame), in an effort to discredit her husband, administration critic (and former Ambassador) Joe Wilson.

As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald quickly discovered, Ms. Plame's "status" with the agency did not meet the requirements for a covert operative, outlined in the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Moreover, there is ample evidence that Ms. Plame was assigned to a desk job at Langley when she recommended her husband for that infamous trip to Niger. In fact, her career as a covert operative for the agency was long since over; as we noted last week, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported that Plame's affiliation with the CIA had been leaked to Moscow in 1995 (by a Russian agent), and Cuban intelligence agents learned the same thing from classified documents they obtained a few years later. Other sources suggest that her non-official cover (NOC) had not been updated in years, despite the fact that the Boston-based energy "company" (listed on her old business cards) had been exposed years before as a CIA front.

Additionally, there are indications that Wilson helped "out" his wife, providing information to left-wing journalist David Corn, for a Nation article that appeared shortly after Novak's original column. Corn's piece contained far more information on Plame's employment history and status that Novak had reported; Wilson is quoted extensively in the Nation article, and Mr. Corn has never denied that the former ambassador provided information on his wife's intelligence career. And, long before the controversy began, the couple approved a Who's Who entry that listed Ms. Plame's employer as the CIA.

Yet, when Committee Chairman Henry Waxman of California opened the hearing last week, he began with a statement asserting that Plame was a covert operative when her identity was revealed-- a statement that (according Waxman) had been approved by the CIA Director, General Michael Hayden.

Novak writes that several Republicans were stunned by that comment. Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan--former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee--has long pressed the agency on Plame's status at the time of the disclosure, without success. As recently as this week, Hoekstra claims, General Hayden refused to say whether Plame was covert, under the guidelines of the 1982 law. Republicans claim that Hayden's stance on the matter is "proof" that he is too close to Congressional Democrats.

I would suggest a slightly different explanation, although it doesn't exactly cover the CIA--or its new director--in glory. When he moved to Langley, General Hayden inherited an agency in need of serious reform and with elements in open rebellion against the administration and even the intelligence establishment. The Plame controversy was merely one more headache for the CIA Director, and one that he hoped to get rid of, with the end of Fitzgerald's probe, Libby's conviction, and Plame's retirement. Understanding that Democrats now control intelligence oversight--and his budget--Hayden was perhaps willing to let Waxman make his statement, in an effort to make the whole mess go away for good.

As a former intelligence officer, I understand (and support) General Hayden's ultimate goal--a healthy, productive CIA--but in this case, I'm not sure the means justify the end. If Waxman was incorrect, his assertion needs to be clarified. If Plame was, indeed a covert operative (and that remains highly doubtful), that record should also be corrected. Without some sort of official confirmation or denial, the agency remains mired in the mud of partisan politics, reducing its ability to provide critical, unbiased information to our elected leaders. For the sake of the agency--and his own reputation--General Hayden owes everyone clear explanation of Plame's status at the time of Joe Wilson's expedition to Niger.

Likewise, Congressional Republicans should explain their tepid response to Ms. Plame's Congressional appearance last week. As Mr. Novak reports, only two Republicans showed up for her testimony, and their cross-examination of Ms. Plame was weak, to say the least. Essential questions regarding Plame's status went unanswered, and unless the Democrats bring her back for an encore performance, the GOP will never get another public forum to expose the lies and distortions of Mrs. Wilson and her husband.

Chalk it up as another opportunity lost for the Republican minority in Congress, which is (increasingly) adopting the "duck and cover" technique of taking on its foes. Plame's "story" has more holes than a proverbial block of Swiss; even with limited cross-examination time, it would have be relatively easy to poke holes in her account. But most of the committee's GOP members were too busy hiding in the tall grass to take a stand. And they expect us to return them to the majority?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Study Details Catastrophic Impact Of Nuclear Attack On US Cities

Wonder how much we paid for this "science of the obvious" effort?

Make no mistake; the nuclear threat to our cities--particularly from terrorists--is very real. But I would think that 60+ years of nuclear experience would give us sufficient data to analyze the problem--and its effects on our medical system--without commissioning a new (and likely, expensive) study from the University of Georgia.

Heck, some of the simulation technology described in the news release is hardly new. I once participated in a war game with representatives from a number of government agencies, including the Department of Energy. One of the DOE guys had a laptop with a really neat program (at least, by late 1990s standards). If you wanted to calculate the effects of a nuclear blast, just pick your detonation point, altitude (air or ground burst) and yield; the computer would do the rest, showing areas that would be completely flattened by the explosion, and those that would suffer lesser damage, along with fallout patterns.

The findings of the Georgia study are sobering, but hardly surprising. A nuclear blast in a major metropolitan area would produce horrific casualties, and overwhelm our medical facilities. I'm not convinced we needed a new study to tell us that.

Hat tip: Seneca the Younger at YARGB. Also, one of Seneca's readers suggests buying (or downloading) a copy of the government's guide for surviving a nuclear war. I heartily concur; it's the definitive reference on the subject. Unfortunately, most Americans have never heard of it, and our government--never shy about working towards contradictory goals--has never encouraged personal preparation, despite the years of effort and research that Cresson Kearny devoted to the survival guide.

Ploy and Counter-Ploy

Last week, we cautioned against Russia's sudden willingness to "get tough" with Iran's nuclear program. Moscow's criticism of Iranian defiance came on the heels of an impasse over the Bushehr nuclear power plant, being built by Russian contractors. Tehran apparently fell behind in its payments (no surprise to anyone familiar with how Iran pays its international bills), prompting the Russians to reduce the number of workers at the site, delay the shipment of nuclear fuel, and postpone the scheduled start-up of the Bushehr reactor.

As we speculated at the time, Russia's actions were seemingly aimed at getting Iran to make its required payments, allowing the nuclear project to proceed. Now, Moscow's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has largely confirmed that stance, saying that there is "no link" between the Bushehr project, and Russia's endorsement of slightly tougher sanctions against Iran. On Tuesday, U.S. and European officials insisted that Russia had threatened to withhold fuel for the Bushehr plant, until Iran suspended its uranium enrichment efforts. Speaking to members of the Russian Parliment, Lavrov denied that claim:

"It's not the first time that we are seeing such an unscrupulous approach aimed at driving a wedge between us and Iran," he told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament. "There is no link whatsoever between the U.N. resolution ... and the implementation of the Bushehr project."

In other words, if Tehran makes the required payments, work at Bushehr will resume P.D.Q. Lavrov also reported that the new sanctions have been softened, at Moscow's insistence. According to the AP, the draft measures include:

"..a ban Iranian arms exports, freezing the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs — about a third linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The package also calls for voluntary restrictions on travel by the individuals subject to sanctions, on arms sales to Iran, and on new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government."

Lavrov's comments are meant to remind Iran that it still has friends in Moscow, provided Tehran does the "right thing" on the payment issue. If the Iranians balk, the Russians can play hardball, although they do not want to lose the multi-billion dollar project at Bushehr. By separating the reactor project from the sanctions process--and watering them down, to boot --Moscow is giving Iran plenty of wiggle room to resolve the Bushehr issue.

On the other hand, Tehran is still making a few ploys of its own. On Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that his country will pursue nuclear activities "outside international regulations" if the U.N. Security Council proceeds with tougher sanctions. Khamenei didn't specify what those activities might include; his comments were aimed primarily at the U.S. and its European allies (which have been pushing for tougher sanctions), but there was a veiled message for Moscow as well. If the Russians maintain their tough stance on the Bushehr project, Iran might try to finish the complex on its own, or seek assistance from another foreign partner, such as North Korea.

As we noted last week, Iran's "slow pay" policy is no surprise to anyone familiar with how Tehran pays its international bills. But the Iranians may also be using the payment process to express displeasure over the quality of work performed at Bushehr, the project's overall pace, or some of the "hidden costs" typically associated with Russian technology deals. However, we'll stand by our original prediction that the Bushehr matter will be resolved in a few weeks, and the project will be back on track by late spring or early summer. That would delay reactor start-up at the complex until late 2007 or early 2008.

Today's Reading Assignment

At RealClearPolitics, former New York Mayor Ed Koch pummels Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. In a recent column, Kristof actually expressed concern that the Democratic Party leadership is "too supportive" of Israel. That's right. "Too supportive." Kristof prefers that the U.S. adopt a more "neutral" stance toward the Jewish State, despite the special relationship that has existed between Washington and Tel Aviv for more than 50 years.

Mr. Kristof also endorses the sentiments of Illinois Senator (and Democratic presidential hopeful) Barrack Obama, who recently stated that "no one has suffered more than the Palestinian people." As Mayor Koch reminds us, some of that suffering can be blamed on the so-called Palestinian leadership, which has repeatedly rejected various peace proposals, and supported terrorist attacks against Israel.

Koch also ridicules the notion that "the denial of peace and justice in Palestine" is the wellspring of regional divisions--another concept that Kristof endorses. Mr. Koch observes that the Israeli-Palestinian issue played no role in many of the conflicts that have beset the Middle East over the past six decades.

Blanco Bows Out

To no one's surprise, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has announced that she will not seek a second term in office. Blanco, whose inepitude after Hurricane Katrina was surpassed only by New Orleans Mayor Ray "Chocolate City" Nagin, revealed her plans last night, in a brief televised speech from the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge.

Despite a long career in state politics, Ms. Blanco will be best remembered as a bureaucratic model of indecision, both before and after the storm. With Katrina--then a Category 5 hurricane--bearing down on Louisiana, Blanco delayed evacuations of coastal residents; it literally took personal pleas from President Bush to prompt the governor and Mayor Nagin to begin moving their residents to higher ground. In Katrina's aftermath, Blanco appeared "overwhelmed" and "flustered," as the NYT charitably described her. More recently, her efforts to funnel aid to storm victims have failed badly, driving the governor's poll numbers even lower.

Blanco's performance stood in sharp contrast to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who appeared calm and decisive during the disaster. A survey conducted immediately after last November's election found that Barbour had a job approval rating of 59%--a remarkable performance, considering that portions of the state are still recovering from the storm, and that the governor's party had just taken a beating in mid-term elections. Barbour's popularity and political standing have placed him on the list of potential GOP vice-presidential nominees next year. Meanwhile, Blanco is facing retirement.

With Blanco out of the governor's race, Democrats are lobbying former Senator John Breaux to return to the state and make a run. But Breaux has been out of Louisana so long that he may not meet residency requirements--a fact that Republicans are already trumpeting in preemptive TV ads.

Breaux would be a formidable candidate, but so is Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, who narrowly lost to Blanco in 2003. Mr. Jindal, considered the presumptive GOP nominee, made his name as a 24-year-old wunderkind who turned around the state's failing Medicaid system under former governor Mike Foster. Congressman Jindal announced his candidacy in late January, but says he won't start serious campaigning until later this year--after the state legislature has finished its session. Early polls showed Blanco would get no more than a third of the vote in a match-up against Jindal, sealing her decision not to run again.

Another Story You Won't See today's Washington Post, or tonight, on ABC's World News.

A hat tip to John Hinderaker at Poweline for spotting this inconvenient truth about the new, Democrat-controlled Congress. Despite fawning media coverage of the "100 Hour Agenda," legislative efforts to withdraw troops from Iraq, and grandstanding on the U.S. attorney "scandal," the new Congress has even lower approval ratings than President Bush. The latest Gallup survey--taken last week--shows that Congress has only a 28% approval rating (64% disapprove of their job performance). The Gallup results (along with data from other polls) indicate that Congressional Democrats received only a modest post-election bounce, and their approval numbers now mirror those for the previous, GOP-controlled Congress.

Hinderaker's analysis of the poll results is spot-on. As he notes, the Democrats don't have anything approaching a positive agenda, and many of their proposals appeal only to the party's ultra-left wing lunatic fringe. I believe the current flap over those fired U.S. attorneys is another losing issue for Democrats--certainly nothing that will drive their approval ratings higher.

And that raises another question: if their approval ratings remain in the toilet, how long will Congressional Democrats stick with their current leadership team? Newt Gingrich faced a coup attempt barely two years into his speakership, and that was after the success of the "Contract With America." It's still early, but the new Congress has no comparable record of achievement to run on; I can't believe the Democrats will be any less restless, particularly if their hold on power is threatened.

But you won't hear much about that in the MSM. In fact, there seems to be a dearth of stories on continued low approval ratings for Congress, despite the fact that media outlets still query voters on that topic. Not long ago, there was an almost daily barrage of stories on Congress and its low approval numbers. But that was when the GOP was in charge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

About That Video

By now, you've probably seen this latest piece of terrorist propaganda, which purports to show a single jihadist blowing up a Bradley fighting vehicle.

When I first saw the video, I had my suspicisions. Something about the footage, indeed, the entire incident seemed fake. A Bradley sitting idly, apparently uncrewed and unguarded? Where are the tread tracks? How was the cameraman able to remain in that position for an extended period of time (assuming that there was a firefight after the explosion.

Could the terrorist fake the video? It apparently came from a "production house" that supports the terrorist cause, so the answer to that question seems to be yes. Admittedly, most of my broadcast and video production experience is pre-digital (by more years than I'd like to admit), but I've spent enough time in editing suites to understand that you can do some pretty remarkable things with a few snippets of video and an Avid.

Over at the Belmont Club, Wretchard has an excellent discussion of the video, and numerous posts from readers who point out obvious flaws in the "production." One reader (named Tony) notes that a Bradley is about 10 feet tall, from the bottom of its treads to the top of the turret. Using that scale, the terrorist who places the explosives beneath the Bradley is no taller than the vehicle's headlights, no more than 3-4 feet off the ground.

Jihadi midgets? Nah, just a bunch of terrorists who need better production values.

It's in the Timing

For a reporter, getting a juicy story--or even a memorable quote--is sometimes a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The problem is that such stories (or comments) can often distort the situation, leaving it up to the blogosphere to provide accuracy and context.

Consider this recent AFP dispatch from Baghdad, which was picked up by papers around the world. Reporter Bryan Pearson went out on a nighttime patrol with members of 9th Calvary Regiment, shortly after they learned that their deployment in Iraq might be extended beyond one year. Quite naturally, some members of the unit were pissed, and they shared that frustration with Mr. Pearson:

"We just want to get out of here as soon as possible," said one vehicle commander in one of his few printable comments.

"It's because the Iraqi army is so scared that we have to come here to die," he added, asking not to be named.
"Ninety-five per cent of Iraqis are good but five per cent are bad. But the 95 per cent are too weak to stand up to the five per cent."

"Bush should send all the Death Row prisoners here and they can be killed fighting the terrorists. We've had enough," said another soldier, as the Humvee accelerated past a roadside car in case it exploded.

Another soldier said: "Bush can come fight here. He can take my $US1,000 ($1,252) a month and I'll go home".

At this point, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those quotes--or the emotions voiced by the soldiers. But the story also creates the impression that most American troops want to get out of Iraq right now, a sentiment that seems contradictory to other media accounts. Is Pearson simply a skillful reporter who managed to get past public affairs minders and catch the troops in an unguarded moment? Or is he simply being selective in how he covered the patrol and their thoughts.

I'll put my money on that latter option. Consider how Pearson identified his most outspoken source. He's described as the "vehicle commander," the semi-official title bestowed to the highest-ranking soldier in the HUMVEE, probably an E-3 or E-4. "Vehicle commander" certainly sounds more authoritative than "Corporal" or "specialist," and it's a clever technique to make the soldier sound more important than he really is (and I don't mean that as an insult). Compare his quotes to those of his company commander ("We are starting to make a difference), and you'll see that the vehicle commander hardly speaks for his own unit, or the majority of the troops in Iraq. In fact, the closest we've come to an actual opinion "survey" is that questionable Military Times poll of a few months ago, dissected here.

Secondly, I think that Pearson lends too much credence to that recently-released media poll, which "indicated" low Iraqi confidence in coalition troops, and strong opposition to their presence. Pearson claims that "the lower ranks were in a rebellious mood" after publication of the poll, then follows his assertion with another quote from that unnamed vehicle commander. Even a cursory reading suggests that Pearson spoke to only a handful of soldiers involved in the operation--hardly a wide-ranging survey of the troops and their attitudes. Why doesn't Mr. Pearson tell us the number of soliders he spoke with--beyond the four who are quoted--and if they expressed opinions contrary to his favorite vehicle commander? Would that sort of admission change the tone of the article? Pearson never addresses that issue--hardly a surprise.

Finally, I will give the reporter a bit of credit for noting the impact on possible tour extensions on soldier attitudes. In my own military career, I was part of a couple of deployments that were extended beyond their original termination dates, though nothing on the scale of what our troops are experiencing in Iraq. Trust me, there is nothing that upsets a military member more than learning a rotation will continue for weeks--even months--after the date they were scheduled to return home. After receiving that news, it's no wonder that some of the soldiers in the 9th Cav were ready to give someone an earful, and of course Mr. Pearson was happy to oblige.

It's all in the timing. Amid signs that the surge is achieving desired goals--and another poll that showed increased confidence among Iraqi civilians--it's no surprise that we get a media survey with much different results, and the AFP suggesting that troop morale is sagging. Covering the war in Iraq, it seems clear that some members of the press will go to any length to find a dark cloud in any silver lining.

Kitty Kelley's Ride on the Short Bus

From her op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times, I learned that Kitty Kelly, that erst-while biographer of the rich and famous, attended a Catholic convent school as a young girl. Apparently, she rode the short bus to that institution, because her opinion piece ("Why Aren't the Bush Daughters in Iraq?") is filled with the same sort of unadulterated illogic and plain, old-fashioned liberal b.s. that gives the Huffington Post a bad name. If she were still in convent school, I'd say Ms. Kelly's effort would get a few raps across the knuckles from a nun's ruler--and rightfully so.

Kelly's simple-minded thesis is evident in the title. As the war in Iraq drags on, with casualties mounting (and President Bush asking for more patience), why hasn't the Commander-in-Chief and his family made a greater sacrifice for the cause? To support her contention, Ms. Kelley contrasts Jenna Bush's budding literary career (and pending book tour) with the war dead from Iraq:

"But while the 25-year-old makes the rounds of TV talk shows this fall in a White House limousine, dozens of her contemporaries will be arriving home from Iraq in wooden boxes."

Never mind that "wooden coffins" were replaced by more modern--and suitable--containers around the time of World War I; the author of tell-all bios on Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, the Bush Family and other swells couldn't resist the opportunity to make that comparison. While Jenna Bush is riding around in a limosuine and cashing advance checks, the sons and daughters of the less-connected (the same people John Kerry described as "stuck in Iraq") will be making the ultimate sacrifice.

I'll try to keep this simple so that even Kitty Kelley can understand. The reason that the Bush daughters aren't in the military is because they don't have to join. Thankfully, we have an all-volunteer military that has worked exceptionally well for more than 30 years. Staffed by young men (and women) who choose to wear the nation's uniform, the U.S. military remains the most effective and powerful on the face of the earth. And, despite the strains of on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, today's armed services offer over-whelming proof that it is preferable to defend the nation with volunteers rather than conscripts.

Make no mistake: if either of President Bush's daughters wants to join the military, I'd certainly welcome them--provided they were genuinely interested in serving in the armed forces, and not engaging in some sort of political stunt. Not that it hasn't happened before; during Vietnam, the son of a well-known Senator apparently "volunteered" to go to Vietnam to boost his father's re-election chances. While "in country," he wound up with a cushy, rear-echelon job, and according to some, even had his own personal body-guard. That soldier was named Al Gore. The former Vice-President deserves credit for his service, but not the purported motives behind it. Four decades later, the same short of short, comfortable military tour by one of the Bush daughters would be viewed with similar disdain.

Ms. Kelley believes the Bushes should emulate the example of FDR and his family during World War II. "Roosevelt's children enlisted," she reminds us (actually, it was his four sons who served as officers), and "his wife traveled to military bases to comfort the families of soldiers." Kelley conveniently ignores the fact that Mr. Bush and his wife have probably visited with more military families than any other Commander-in-Chief and First Lady; many of those gatherings are private, at the Mr. Bush's insistence.

In the fall of 2004, in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, I happened to be at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio when Air Force One landed. At that point, the state (and its crucial electoral votes) were very much in play, and Mr. Bush had a full campaign swing ahead of him. But before climbing onto his helicopter and heading out, the President held an extended meeting with the families of military members who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The meeting was off-limits to the press--I'm not sure if it even appeared on that day's presidential agenda--but Mr. Bush spent almost 90 minutes meeting with a handful of families. An Air Force security forces officer--part of the protection team at the base--told me that Mr. Bush emerged from the hangar with red, puffy eyes, indicating that he had cried during his lengthy meeting with the families. Hardly the image of a callous, indifferent Commander-in-Chief that Kitty Kelley is trying to peddle. But, lest we forget, this is the same woman who claimed that Laura Bush was a drug dealer in college, and that George W. Bush snorted cocaine at Camp David during his father's administration.

Kelley, whose "work" stretches the limits of truth and credulity by any standard, is also selective in deciding who should meet her standards of service and sacrifice. If Kelley wants the Bush daughters to sign up for the military, shouldn't she demand the same thing from members of Congress? But any attempts at fairness and balance (alien concepts to Ms. Kelley) would also undercut her argument. Let the record show that none of John Kerry's children have served in the military, and Senator Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, took a pass on the armed services as well. The same holds true for almost every other elected official in the country. In fact, at the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, only seven members of Congress (one Democrat, six Republicans) had sons or daughters in the military. Annecdotal evidence suggests that those numbers have not changed much over the past four years.

The fact that others haven't volunteered is not surprising. Unlike the World War II generation, military service is no longer a rite of passage for the children of political elites--a fact that also holds true for millions of young men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds. That's the beauty of an all-volunteer force--and it's just as well. Today's military doesn't need a Bush daughter, Chelsea Clinton or one of the Kerry kids to set a shining example of service and sacrifice for the nation, and the world.


For more on Ms. Kelley, check out Poison Pen, the unauthorized biography by George Carpozi, Jr., published in 1997. In his book, Mr. Carpozi turns the table on Kelley, and dishes quite a plate full of dirt--the same sort of stuff you'd normally find in one of her "biographies."