Friday, June 29, 2007

Perry Mason for the Defense

The lawyer for ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak has berated the press for treating his client's case as "entertainment," and spreading false information (imagine that!)

Speaking to reporters in Orlando (where Nowak faces charges of assaulting and planning to kidnap a romantic rival), attorney Donald Lykkebak said the "biggest lie" told by the media was the idea that Lisa Nowak was wearing an adult diaper as she drove from Houston to Orlando.

According to this account in the Orlando Sentinel, Lykkebak said that diapers were in the car, but they were used years earlier when the family, including Nowak's children, had to evacuate Houston before a hurricane.

Well, that certainly changes everything. If Captain Nowak didn't make that 900-mile, Houston- to-Orlando trip in NASA's version of Depends, well, there's no way a jury will convict her of a trivial matter, like attacking Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman.

Excuse me, counselor, but you've got a client who's facing felony charges and some (potentially) serious jail time, but you're worried about press accounts of her "diaper drive?" Well, maybe you can explain why Nowak's kids--who range in age from 6 to 15--were wearing diapers during Houston's last hurricane evacuation in 2005. Or the fact that police documents show that two "used" kids diapers were found in the car (Ewwwwww), along with 30 unused ones, presumably in adult sizes.

Oh, that's right, the diapers had been in there for years (Double Ewwwwww). But, as I recall, Captain Nowak was driving a late-model car at the time of her arrest, a vehicle that wasn't on the road when her children were in diapers. So, if your story is correct, that must mean that she transferred diapers from one family car to another, for kids who didn't need them. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And, according to the Sentinel, you were trying to make the point that there aren't any diapers in evidence. Well, what about that small arsenal of weapons that your client was carrying? Presumably, they are in evidence, and a much more serious threat to your planned legal defense.

Judging from his photo in the Sentinel, we'd say that Mr. Lykkebak isn't from legal aid, so we can assume that Captain Nowak is paying good money for his services. But, based on that performance outside the Orlando court house, we're not exactly impressed. Captain Nowak might want to encourage her Legal Eagle to focus on more salient issues, like cutting a deal with prosecutors. Any resemblance between Lykkebak and Perry Mason (at this point) is purely coincidental.

By the way, Mr. Lykkebak did file a couple of motions during a "status hearing" today. He asked the judge to seal Nowak's post-arrest statement, and the results of the search of her car. The judge rejected the statement motion, noting that her comments "would come out during the hearing, so what's the point?"

Captain Nowak can only hope that Mr. Lykkebak was having a bad day, and the diaper exchange is not a reflection of his abilities as a lawyer. If it is, she'd better pack a tooth brush when she shows up for court.

Hugo's Shopping Spree

Before heading off to Kennebunkport for a visit with George Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin played host to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez in Moscow. Mr. Chavez is apparently on swing to see fellow despots. After discussions with Mr. Putin (and other Russian officials), Chavez travels on to Belarus, whose leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has been described as the "last dictator" in Europe. Then, it's off to Iran, for talks with the ruling mullahs.

So far, Mr. Chavez's trip has generated the usual anti-American rhetoric, amid plans to work more closely with his friends in the country he's currently visiting. While in Moscow, for example, Chavez invited the Russians to assist in developing a large oil deposit in Venezuela, and help him expand the nation's network of refineries. The Venezuelan dictator described American companies as "vampires," and claimed once again that the U.S. had threatened his country.

That's part-and-parcel of a Chavez media event, and it helps deflect attention away from the trip's real purpose--to negotiate the purchase of more arms for the Venezuelan military. Various Russian media outlets report that Chavez is talking to Russia about the possible acquisition of Kilo-class diesel submarines, and he's looking to buy air defense equipment from Belarus. Mr. Chavez hasn't denied that he's looking for more military hardware, but claiming an imminent American threat (a page out of Castro's playbook) casts potential arms deals in a more favorable light.

The Kilo-class is a concern to the U.S. Navy and other western naval forces. Operating in shallow coastal waters, the Kilo is hard to detect, complicating our ASW efforts. That task is further compounded by the draw down in U.S. ASW assets that came with the end of the Cold War. With the steep decline in Russia's sub force, it was assumed that we would need fewer ASW ships, aircraft and helicopters. Such assumptions proved wrong, as the Russians began to export Kilo boats to nations like China, Iran, and (possibly) Venezuela.

As the Iranians have discovered, building a sub force from scratch is a difficult task, even with assistance from Russian contractors. That's why Tehran's Kilos spend much of their time in port, because the Iranian Navy has had difficulty in recruiting, training and retaining qualified submariners. While the Venezulean Navy faces a similar learning curve, it could--eventually--pose a threat to U.S. Navy assets operating in the southern Caribbean, or comercial shipping at the eastern end of the Panama Canal.

More ominous (at least over the short term), is Venezuela's expected acquisition of an advanced air defense system from Belarus. Last year, Moscow and Minsk announced the creation of a "unifed" air defense system to protect the two countries. Prior to the announcement, Belarus acquired an unknown number of S-300 air defense systems from Russia. The deliveries were completed in only 14 months, an indication of the priority assigned to the project by both sides.

S-300 is the Russian designator for a system that NATO refers to as the SA-10 "Grumble." The SA-10 has been in service for more than a decade; in terms of overall capabilities, it's very similar to the U.S. Patriot system, able to engage targets ranging from cruise missiles and tactical aircraft, to some types of ballistic missiles. The most recent variant of the S-300 (designated SA-20 by NATO) is capable of engaging aerial targets at ranges of up to 200km (124 NM), and missile targets at distances out to 40 km (24 NM).

It's unclear which SA-10 variant Chavez may have designs on; a single battalion (consisting of an acquisition radar; target tracking radar, launchers and command vehicles) sells for about $300 million. However, the Russians have sold the latest SA-20 model to China, and Chavez certainly has the cash to buy state-of-the art weaponry.

Along with the SU-30 Flanker fighters that he recently purchased, acquisition of the SA-10/20 would provide a quantum upgrade to Venezuelan air defense forces, and (potentially) allow them to engage targets over the Caribbean and in Colombia as well. Additionally, the Grumble system is highly automated and with anticipated contractor support, Chavez could have a state-of-the-art air defense capability in minimum time.

But to get the most bang-for-the-buck with the SA-10, Chavez will have to invest in an upgraded command-and-control system. Without that, the potential for confusion and fratricide will certainly exist. And, at some point, the Venezuelans will want to take the lead in operating and maintaining the system, so Hugo will have to pay for those costs as well. With oil now hovering around $70 a barrel, he can afford to write the check.

Mr. Chavez's little shopping spree shows he's serious about improving Venezuela's military capabilities. Even with the upgrades, Venezuela won't pose a major threat to the United States, but it will be cause for concern in countries like Colombia, which already find themselves at a disadvantage with the Venezuelans. If Hugo comes home with Kilos and SA-10/20s (as expected), there will be immediate pressure to provide more high-tech weaponry--and training--to U.S. allies in the region.

As we've noted before, it's important to keep an eye on Venezuela. During his Moscow visit, Chavez hinted that Venezuela might have nuclear ambitions as well. His comments lend credence to rumors that Chavez may be pursuing a ballistic missile capability (with North Korea) that might be disguised as a space launch program. The equator (which runs near Venezuela) is the ideal point for launching geosynchronous satellites, and could provide a pretext for North Korea to send missile engineers, technicians and equipment to South America.

**ADDENDUM** Readers will note that the SA-10/20 is a Russian designed system that is largely built and maintained in the Russian republic. But arranging the sale through Belarus gives Mr. Putin an element of deniability, despite the fact that most arms deal in Minsk are run through Moscow first.

Situational Awareness

Kudos to that British ambulance crew, who foiled an apparent car-bombing attack in London's West End early today.

The ambulance crew, dispatched to treat an individual at a nightclub in the area, spotted smoke in the car and alerted police. They found a green metallic Mercedes rigged to explode, with more than 60 liters of gasoline, propane cylinders and nails scattered in the floorboard. The area was subsequently evacuated, and the Metropolitan Police bomb squad manually defused the explosive device. The potential carnage from the car bomb could have been devastating.

According to Sky News, a eyewitness told police that a man crashed the vehicle into trash bins near the nightclub before the alarm was raised. British counter-terrorism officials tell the BBC that "international elements" are believed to be involved in the plot.

Today's close call in London reminds us of the importance of situational awareness--and first responders--in dealing with the terrorist threat. That British ambulance crew saw something amiss with that Mercedes and summoned police, preventing a terrible tragedy. They resisted the temptation to focus solely on their assigned task--treating that nightclub guest--and leave the matter of a suspicious car to someone else.

Given similar circumstances, we can only hope that EMTs in the U.S. would do the same thing. And in some locations--notably New York City--I believe they would. But in other communities, I have my doubts. I frequently shop at a big box retail outlet not far from my home. The outlet follows the chain's retailing model; a 200,000 square-foot store, with a multi-acre parking lot in front. More than two months ago, I spotted a Dodge Dynasty in the lot with a flat front tire. The car sat there for months in the same location, no sign of the owner, and no apparent effort to fix the flat or remove the car. Being the suspicious type, I contacted the local cops, who told me it was a store matter; various managers at the retail outlet thanked me for calling, and told me (in polite terms) not to worry about it.

The car finally disappeared, but that didn't alleviate my concerns. While the car with a flat tire probably belonged to a shopper or store employee, there's also the outside chance that it could have been a "dry run" by folks who would do us harm. A car bomb outside a big box could also produce heavy casualties, particularly if the blast were timed for a peak shopping hour in the late afternoon, or on a weekend. Parking a disabled car in the lot for a few weeks is an excellent test of store security practices. If you won't move a car that's been sitting there for weeks, you'll probably ignore a car that has smoke fumes visible on the inside, or a back-end sitting low to the ground--warning signs of a potential car bomb.

In the Age of Terror, two lessons are abundantly clear: First, report all suspicious activity, and secondly don't assume that "routine" events are always benign. That British ambulance crew certainly passed the situational awareness test this morning, and saved countless lives in the process. I've got my doubts about the managers and security staff at that big box store in my neighborhood.

Will He Bring the Blog?

Thursday's photo-op at the White House offered another reminder that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is about to undergo a major leadership change.

During yesterday's event, President Bush appeared for the first time with his nominess to serve as the next Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the JCS, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen and Marine Corps General James E. "Hoss" Cartwright. After confirmation by the Senate, Mullen will replace Marine General Peter Pace as Chairman of the JCS, while General Cartwright replaces the out-going Vice-Chairman, Navy Admiral Edmund Edmund Giambastiani.

The departure of General Pace and Admiral Giambastiani was announced almost a month ago. Various MSM accounts--including this one from the Washington Post--explain the political considerations that prompted the change. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates leared that General Pace would face serious Congressional oppositon if re-nominated for a second term as JCS Chairman, he elected to replace Pace with Admiral Mullen. General Pace, the first Marine to serve as the nation's senior military officer, held the post for only two years. His tenure as JCS Chairman is the shortest in 40 years.

In the end, Pace's re-nomination was torpedoed by three factors: the War in Iraq, his long association with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his comments that homosexuality is immoral, and that gays should not be allowed to openly serve in the military. As for Giambastiani, he was also viewed as a member of the Rumsfeld team, although some reports suggest that the Admiral already planned to retire this fall, after 37 years in uniform.

Among the president's nominees, Admiral Mullen (who currently serves as Chief of Naval Operations) is described as a "problem-solver, rather than a visionary." In a military that's trying to balance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with other long-term concerns--including recapitalization and transformation--Admiral Mullen is a logical, albeit, safe choice.

The nominee for Vice-Chairman is much more intriguing. General Cartwright currently serves as Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which is charged with the integration of such missions as long-range strike, strategic deterrence, integrated missile defense and information operations. Most of the assets for these missions belong to other services and commands in peacetime; for example, STRATCOM's ballistic missile subs are operated by the Navy, and its land-based ICBMs are assigned to U.S. Air Force Space Command. But, in wartime, these platforms--and their operational control---would shift to STRATCOM, based at Offut AFB in Nebraska.

General Cartwright has a rather atypical resume for a STRATCOM CINC. He's a Marine fighter jock by vocation, with experience as an F-4 RIO, and later, as an F-4 and F/A-18 pilot. Over his 35-year military career, he's served as commander of a fighter squadron and Marine aircraft group, and as Commanding General, First Marine Aircraft Wing. His staff assignments include two tours with J-8 (Joint Force Structure, Resources and Assessment Directorate) in the Pentagon.

By all accounts, General Cartwright is very smart, exceptionally well-organized, and he's performed well as STRATCOM CINC. During his tenure at Offut, he's also gained notice as something of an innovator, at least in terms of staff coordination and communications. Shortly after arriving at STRATCOM, General Cartwright created a command-and-control "blog," aimed at improving the flow of information across organizational lines and stove pipes. Not surprisingly, a number of bloggers, including Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, took notice of Cartwright's initiative, after the general mentioned it in public forums. Based on his comments, it was clear that General Cartwright understood the blog's potential for collaboration and communication--and the obstacles in achieving those goals:

“The first thing that came out was ‘Don’t post anything on that blog without clearance from the commander,’ ” Cartwright said. “We had to beat that down.”

The next firewall thrown up to Cartwright’s blog were responses that came from only senior staff officers like captains and majors “giving me only what their commanders wanted me to hear,” he said. “I called that the ‘tethered goat’ response and it wasn’t all that helpful.

“What I wanted was information and context to help with decision making. I can’t wait for the perfect advice,” Cartwright said. “If there is a bad decision then that’s on me. That’s my responsibility.”

Finally after “blowing the doors down and sitting on” the blog nay-sayers, Cartwright is getting what he wants from STRATCOM’s Web tools, he said

Don't bother with a Google search for General Cartwright's blog. It's hosted on SIPRNET, DoD's secret-level intranet, and without a security clearance, a "need-to-know" and access to the system, you're not going to see it. The real question now is whether Cartwright will take the blog to the Pentagon, and use it in his new post as JCS Vice-Chairman.

As you might imagine, communications and "collaboration" in the E-Ring tends to follow more traditional formats, including position papers, staff summary sheets and of course, those obligatory PowerPoint briefings. Predictably, the general officer corps hasn't rushed to embrace General Cartwright's example, and we haven't found another example of a CINC blog. It will be interesting to watch the Pentagon's reaction to Cartwright's command-and-control blog, assuming it makes the move from Omaha.

While General Cartwright certainly deserves credit for innovation, there are drawbacks in his information model. Sometimes, the community doesn't have the right answer, or the correct information. A former colleague tells us that the STRATCOM blog contained incorrect information on North Korean missile systems during the run-up to last summer's highly-publicized tests. The wrong data remained posted for almost a week, and could have affected the CINC's assessment of DPRK capabilities and intentions. No one could tell us why the erroneous information stayed up so long, or why it wasn't corrected sooner.

Still, General Cartwright understands these risks and appears willing to take them, in the interest of improving access to information and his own decision-making. We also believe it's a risk worth taking, and we wish General Cartwright--and his blog--the best of luck in their new assignment. It ought to be quite a show, as a Marine fighter pilot tries to drag the E-Ring into the 21st Century.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Rest of the Story

The AP is reporting that Russia has conducted a successful test-launch of its Bulava-class, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). A Navy spokesman in Moscow told the wire service that the missile hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula (in the Russian Far East), after being launched from a Typhoon-class ballistic missile sub in the White Sea.

Today's successful test came after three previous launch failures of the Balava, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has described as a key component of his nation's future nuclear forces. The Bulava is based on the SS-27 Topol M ICBM, which is already in service with Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, in both silo-based and mobile versions.

While development of the new missile will enhance Moscow's strategic strike capabilities, the AP account ignores a critical fact: Russia's fleet of ballistic missile subs (SSBNs) remains in serious disarry, and the number of available boats, crews (and missiles) is at--or near--an all-time low.

Over the past 20 years, the number of operational Russian SSBNs has decreased by 80%, the result of several factors, including disintegration of the former Soviet Union, subsequent economic woes (that limited defense funding), and political decisions that further curtailed the SSBN fleet.

Today, the Russian Navy has a total of six Delta III class ballistic missile subs (which entered service in the late 1970s and early 1980s); six Delta IV class SSBNs (that joined the fleet between 1985 and 1991), and one Typhoon-class sub (similar in size to the U.S. Ohio class), which dates from the 1980s. Russia's only remaining Typhoon, the Dmitry Donskoi, served as the launch platform for today's missile test.

But those numbers only tell part of the story. According to researchers at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, two of the Delta IIIs are being decommissioned, and three of the Delta IVs are undergoing overhaul, a process that has been lengthened by funding shortfalls. That leaves Russia with only seven available SSBNs (four Delta IIIs, two Delta IVs and the single Typhoon. Some reports suggest that the Dimitry Donskoi will serve primarily as a test platform for the Bulava; if that's correct, Moscow will have only six SSBNs over the near-term, divided between its Northern and Pacific Fleets.

But the remaining Delta IIIs are reaching the end of their service life, and the rest of those boats will also leave the fleet in the coming years. By the next decade, Russia's SSBN force will be built largely around the remaining Delta IVs, all based in the Northern Fleet (which certainly simplifies our ASW efforts). Each Delta IV carries 15 SS-N-23 SLBMs, outfitted with up to four nuclear warheads. Additionally, the single Typhoon is expected to remain in service, and three Borey-class subs are also under construction.

However, development of the new SSBN has been slow. It took almost a decade to build the lead boat, largely due to funding issues. Construction of the second and third units in the Borey class is expected to progress more rapidly, but neither vessel is expected to enter service until after 2010. Addition of the Borey boats will give Russia as many as 10 SSBNs, depending on the status of the remaining Typhoon, and efforts to extend the service life of the Delta IVs.

By comparison, the U.S. ballistic sub force has also declined in recent years. Today, the U.S. Navy has 14 Ohio-class boats (each carrying 24 Trident D-5 SLBMs, with eight warheads per missile). Four other subs in the class have been converted into cruise missile platforms, each mounting up to 154 Tomahawks on each boat. And unlike their Russian counterparts, the U.S. subs have been well-maintained and fully-crewed, allowing the Navy to maintain a continuous SSBN presence. Beginning in the late 1990s, there were significant "gaps" in Russian SSBN patrols (particularly in the Pacific Fleet), with periods of several months between the return of one ballistic missile sub, and the departure of its replacement.

Conditions in the Russian SSBN fleet have improved slightly in recent years, but the relatively small number of boats--and retention of trained crew members--will make it more difficult for the Russians to sustain an effective, sea-based leg of its nuclear triad. Introduction of the Bulava missiles and Borey-class subs will provided a needed technological boost to the Russian fleet, and allow them to retain rough parity with the U.S., in terms of missiles and warheads.

But maintaining an adequate SSBN force requires more than new missiles and subs. It's also a numbers game, measuring crew availability, days on patrol, and maintenance budgets. And it's in those areas where the Russian fleet remains lacking, putting an even greater burden on land-based strategic systems for defense, deterrence and (possibly) a first-strike, under Moscow's revised nuclear doctrine.

Don't Break Out the Champagne

Yes, the amnesty bill is dead, apparently for good. You won't see another attempt at "immigration reform" until after the next President takes office, and only if there's a major shift in public opinion.

In military terms, defeat of the amnesty measure represents a victory in an important battle. But we haven't won the larger war.

With rejection of the Bush/Kennedy/McCain plan, we're back to square one on immigration.

Our borders remain porous--and that's being generous. The flood of illegal aliens continues, and their number will only grow.

Enforcement of existing immigration laws is haphazard at best. During the run-up to this morning's Senate vote, administration spokesmen touted recent "enforcement" efforts. And it's true; security along our southern border has been tightened over the last two years. Trouble is, the Bush Administration has been in office since 2001, and did nothing about the immigration problems during its first term. Ditto for Bill Clinton during his eight years in the White House, and George H.W. Bush before that.

In fact, the last "stab" at immigration reform came in 1986, with Ronald Reagan's amnesty program, which opened the gates for the 12-20 million illegals who now reside in the United States. In hindsight, members of the Reagan team called it "the worst decision he ever made." Yet, 20 years later, another Republican President (and a Democratic Congress) were prepared to make the same mistake--with little regard for the potential consequences. Meanwhile, the nation continues to pay the price for past mistakes.

Consider the staggering burden placed on our social programs, schools and hospitals by the illegals. Paying for their education, health care and welfare benefits will continue, at a cost of billions of dollars a year.

So does the threat to our national security. In reporter Todd Bensman's recent series for the San Antonio Express-News , he detailed the tide of illegal immigrants who come to America from high-risk countries that support or harbor terrorists. Using data from the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bensman discovered that more than 6,000 illegals from 46 "countries of interest" have been apprehended along our southern border since 2001. the number who managed to sneak through is much higher, probably between 30-40,000. Federal authorities have no idea about the whereabouts of these potential terrorists. Under current enforcement policies, most will remain at large, with the opportunity to plan new attacks on our soil.

We also know that Al Qaida views our southern border as a "secondary" infiltration route for smuggling operatives into the U.S (bringing them in with legal documentation remains the preferred method). Intelligence sources tell us that there was "great concern" about a possible Al Qaida-Mexico connection three years ago. Officials were so concerned that all ranking Al Qaida terrorists then in custody were questioned about possible strikes originating from Mexico, or using that country as a transit point. The terror group clearly understands that our southern border remains open, and we've taken only modest steps to stop the flow of illegals.

If you want proof of that, consider the 700 mile security fence, approved last year by Congress for the U.S.-Mexican border. The money has been appropriated, but at last report, less than 15 miles of fence had actually been built--despite clear evidence that barriers in other areas have reduced illegal immigration by as much as 50%.

Obviously, much work remains on the immigration issue. It was pressure from voters that finally killed the bill (with a timely assist from Talk Radio and the blogosphere); now it's up to those same groups to launch the next phase in the campaign: convincing Congress and the Administration to enforce existing laws, and follow-through on measures already passed, most notably the security fence.

The next battle will prove even tougher, because President Bush and key members of Congress are more-than-comfortable with the status quo. Democrats view the illegals as a new bloc of voters; Republicans who support reform are worried about their presidential prospects, trying to salvage a legacy, or they're trying to placate (choose at least one): the cheap labor lobby, illegal immigration activists, or The New York Times editorial board.

In other words, if you expect the current crop of elected leaders to do the "right thing" on immigration (other than a few stalwart Republican Senators and the House GOP caucus), you will be sadly disappointed. That's why the third--and truly decisive phase--of this battle will unfold in 2008, when we have an opportunity to get rid of the amnesty crowd, once and for all.

Savor today's victory for a few minutes--then back to work.


The MSM is already spinning today's vote as a major defeat for President Bush--which it was. But the Senate vote was also a tremendous setback for majority leader Harry Reid, who can't get anything done in the chamber controlled by his party. As for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, she wouldn't even touch the issue, and we think she's probably breathing a silent prayer, thankful that the Senate killed a measure that faced certain defeat in her chamber.

The Surge: Two Views

Today's edition of Real Clear Politics offers links to a pair of contrasting views on the current troop surge in Iraq. "Understanding General Petraeus' Strategy" was originally posed by the Weekly Standard; it's a summary of testimony by historian and military analyst Dr. Fredrick W. Kagan, delivered to the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. The other piece at RCP: "In Iraq, Operation Last Chance," is an attempt by Time's Joe Klein attempt to analyze Operation Arrowhead Ripper, against the backdrop of dwindling political support, and Petraeus' scheduled report to Congress in September. Both are important reads, but for vastly different reasons.

In his appearance before the House Committee, Dr. Kagan cautioned that the new strategy remains in its early stages. The last "additional" combat brigade entered Iraq just this month, and the highly-publicized Arrowhead Ripper marks the first major operation will all surge forces in place. According to Dr. Kagan, American and coalition forces are only in the "second phase" of kinetic operations that will eventually extend a security presence from the outlying provinces to Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods. And he cautioned that current operations--while clearly important--do not represent the decisive phase of the campaign:

But even this operation--the largest coordinated combat operation the U.S. has undertaken since the invasion in 2003--is not the decisive phase of the current strategy. It is an operation designed to set the preconditions for a successful clear-and-hold operation that will probably begin in late July or early August within Baghdad itself. That is the operation that is designed to bring security to Iraq's capital in a lasting way that will create the space for political progress that we all desire.

Kagan also warned against a rush-to-judgement on the effectiveness of current operations, and the ultimate military and political outcomes in Iraq:

"The U.S. has not undertaken a multi-phased operation on such a large scale since 2003, and it is not surprising therefore that many commentators have become confused about how to evaluate what is going on and how to report it...To say that the current plan has failed is simply incorrect. It might fail, of course, as any military/political plan might fail. Indications on the military side strongly suggest that success--in the form of dramatically reduced violence by the end of this year--is quite likely. Indications on the political side are more mixed, but are also less meaningful at this early stage before security has been established.

In fairness, we should point out that Dr. Kagan has a clear stake in the success of our revised strategy. He is often credited as one of the "intellectual architects" of the surge, which was first outlined in a report Kagan produced for the American Enterprise Institute. He obviously believes the plan will work, although critics would say that Kagan's optimism (and analysis) is tinted by his own involvement with the plan.

Joe Klein offers the contrarian view in "Last Chance," based on his recent visit to Iraq. Judging from his account, it seems that the Time columnist received extraordinary access during his time with U.S. forces. He spent part of his time accompanying General Petraeus, who allowed Klein to sit in on briefings, where the commander "whispered little addendums for my benefit."

Comparing Klein's account to those of other journalists who covered Arrowhead Ripper(including blogger Michael Yon and Michael Gordon of The New York Times), it appears that Petraeus and his staff rolled out the red carpet for the Time representative. At a time when many journalists (and bloggers) were scrambling to reach the battlefield, Klein's escorted tour was clearly no accident; senior commanders and public affairs officers decided that the man from Time needed a front-row seat, so he could explain the operation to his magazine's vast audience. The resulting assessment is decidedly pessimistic in its tone:

Operation Phantom Thunder, the nationwide offensive launched by U.S. and Iraqi troops in mid-June, may well be the last major U.S-led offensive of the war. "We couldn't really call it what it is, Operation Last Chance," says a senior military official. There is widespread awareness among the military and diplomatic players in Baghdad that, with patience dwindling in Washington, they have only until September — when Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to give Congress a progress report — to show significant gains in taming the jihadist insurgency and in arresting the country's descent into civil war.


Petraeus has been careful about claiming success, or even optimism, in the nearly five months since he returned to Baghdad. He has said a military victory isn't possible, that Iraq can be stabilized only through a political solution that honors all sides in the conflict — Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. But his own staff is skeptical that a political deal is still possible. "This is going to be the first Shi'ite-dominated Arab government. Period," a senior military official told me. "And the Shi'ites are not inclined to be generous toward the Sunnis." The fact is, most of the important decisions in Iraq are now beyond American control.


"The vision thing is really important," Petraeus told his commanders in Yusufia. "You have to visualize what security here should look like when you're gone." Petraeus was among the first to have the vision thing in Iraq, in Mosul in 2003, but the experiment was abandoned — there was a lack of sufficient troops — after he left. McCain and others believe, with some justification, that if the Petraeus counterinsurgency tactics had been adopted three years ago, the U.S.-led coalition might have had a shot. But now it seems likely that Petraeus will suffer the same fate in Baghdad as he did in Mosul. The various clocks are very much on his mind, but so are the daily sacrifices, the brilliant improvisations and occasional neighborhood victories of the troops he leads. "He doesn't want to be the fall guy," an aide said. And he doesn't deserve to be. It is hard to imagine, though, how this can turn out any other way.

So, from Joe Klein's perspective, the Petraeus strategy is doomed, and the general will become a scapegoat for our failures in Iraq. After the article makes the rounds in Baghdad, we wonder if the PAO in charge of Klein's visit will get an "attaboy" for his efforts. Truth be told, the current situation in Iraq is somewhere between the analysis of Kagan and Klein. The outcome of the surge is hardly pre-destined, although many in Washington (hellooo Senator Reid) have already reached their conclusions, and plan to use the upcoming reports by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to renew their push for an American pull-out. Not surprisingly, Mr. Klein's reporting meshes with the low-ball expectations for Iraq that keep reverberating in the nation's capital.

And sadly, the forecast of more doom-and-gloom is having the desired effect. Two "moderate" GOP senators broke ranks with the White House this week, calling for a new approach, based on the rejected Iraq Study Group (ISG) model. At this rate, it won't matter what General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker say in September; much of official Washington is apparently ready to throw in the towel, despite genuine prospects for success, as suggested by Dr. Kagan and others.

All observers can agree on one thing: the critical variable in this equation is time, and unfortunately, that is in short supply. Supporters of the surge would likely prefer an extension, but no one in Washington has the capital--or the resolve--to support such an effort. If our schedule for leaving Iraq hasn't already been determined, it will almost certainly be shaped by the events of the next eight weeks, during the run-up to those Congressional updates by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. In that environment, Petraeus and Crocker have virtually no margin for error--an unrealistic expectation for any military/operation, particularly in Iraq.

Contrary to press reporting, much has been accomplished in Iraq--the remarkable turn-around in Al Anbar is just one case in point. And much more can be accomplished before Petraeus and Crocker return to Washington in September. But even examples of measurable progress are unlikely to satisfy Congressional critics, who have cast their lot with the strategy of withdrawal and defeat. The Klein article is a template for what we're likely to hear from the Democrats and the chattering class for the rest of the summer: the surge was too little, too late, and it's time to implement a new strategy.

A better approach would be to push back the deadline for the military and political updates from September to November. As Bill Roggio notes in his most recent analysis of the ground situation in Iraq, coalition forces are actually engaged in multiple, complex operations across multiple fronts. It will take several weeks for those battles to fully materialize, and set the stage for crucial, clearing operations in parts of Baghdad late this summer. Given those realities, it would be logical to delay planned updates back in Washington. But then again, politics always trumps logic on Capitol Hill, particularly if the "assessments" from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker can be used as evidence of "defeat," and hasten our departure from Iraq.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How Israel Might Fight

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton said that "he's very worried for Israel," observing that sanctions and diplomacy have failed to halt the Iranian nuclear program, leaving military intervention as the only viable option for preventing Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons.

Bolton also blasted current diplomatic efforts aimed at "engaging" Iran and using sanctions to punish non-compliance:

"The current approach of the Europeans and the Americans is not just doomed to failure, but dangerous," he said. "Dealing with [the Iranians] just gives them what they want, which is more time...

"We have fiddled away four years, in which Europe tried to persuade Iran to give up voluntarily," he complained. "Iran in those four years mastered uranium conversion from solid to
gas and now enrichment to weapons grade... We lost four years to feckless European diplomacy and our options are very limited."

Bolton said flatly that "diplomacy and sanctions have failed... [So] we have to look at: 1, overthrowing the regime and getting in a new one that won't pursue nuclear weapons; 2, a last-resort use of force."

However, he added a caution as to the viability of the first of those remaining options: While "the regime is more susceptible to overthrow from within than people think," he said, such a process "may take more time than we have."


As a consequence, Bolton said he was "very worried" about the well-being of Israel. If he were in Israel's predicament, he said, "I'd be pushing the US very hard. I am pushing the US [administration] very hard, from the outside, in Washington."

Bolton's warning was merely the latest suggestion that Israel faces imminent danger from its enemies, including Iran. Joshua Muravchik expressed similar thoughts in a WSJ op-ed earlier this week, saying that a wider war, involving Israel, Syria, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Authority, and (possibly) the U.S. is looming, as the Islamofacists grow bolder, and the west retreats. And Mr. Muravchik's suggestion of regional war is not idle speculation; more than six months ago, a senior Israeli intelligence officer predicted that his nation could face a two-front war in the summer of 2007.

The accuracy of his prediction may depend on how you define "front." If you consider southern Lebanon and the Golan as a single front, and lump the West Bank and Gaza into the same boat--and exclude Iran--you have a two-front war. More correctly, Israel might be facing a three or four-front war, including a long-distance conflict with Iran.

If that grim forecast proves accurate, it raises a critical question. Namely, are the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) ready for such a challenge, and how would Israeli political and military leaders defend their nation. Certainly, Israel is familiar with multi-front wars, having successfully prosecuted such conflicts in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. In terms of military capabilities, the IDF is more than a match for its Arab and Persian foes. Hamas and Hizballah have no "offensive" capabilities, other than rockets and terrorist strikes; Iran can only reach Israel with a handful of long-range missiles, and despite recent arms purchases, Syria's conventional forces remain weak.

Despite clear advantages in technology and tactics, the Israelis would face a supreme test in juggling multiple conflicts simultaneously. While the IDF has certainly planned for this contingency, prosecuting concurrent operations--ranging from counter-terrorism to long-range strike, would test Israeli commanders and their forces, placing a severe strain on logistics, communications and command-and-control systems. In our estimate, the Israelis could pull it off, but it would probably require some sort of fight/hold/swing strategy, akin to what the U.S. envisioned for simultaneous, major regional conflicts (MRCs) in the Middle East and the Far East.

In the opening stages of the Israeli scenario, we believe the IDF would move quickly to seal off the West Bank and Gaza, without a major incursion into either region. With the limited strike options available to Hamas and the PA, Israel could wait to deal with those threats, while addressing more pressing concerns on its northern border, the Golan and in Iran.

As ground forces close off Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli Air Force could launch its long-predicted strike against Iran, aimed at disabling that country's nuclear and long-range missile programs. Surprise is of the essence, and an early attack against Tehran would reduce that potential threat--before enemy air defenses go on heightened alert, and before the IDF become pre-occupied with operations over Lebanon and Syria.

Given the distance and routing considerations associated with the raid, the strike on Iran would (most likely) be a one-time shot. The Israelis understand that Tehran's retaliatory options are limited to attacks by proxies, and long-range strikes, using its relatively small arsenal of Shahab-3 missiles (the longer-range BM-25 is not believed operational at this time). Israel would employ the Arrow II ballistic missile defense system to counter MRBM attacks, and its own Jericho II missiles--capable of carrying nuclear warheads--for retaliatory strikes, as required.

With the Iranian threat reduced, the Israelis would quickly shift their focus to the Golan Heights and Lebanon. Syria's air force and air defenses could be neutralized rather quickly, giving the Israelis complete control of the skies, and support for a ground assault past the Golan. The IDF has no intention of occupying Damascus, just creating more strategic depth and eliminating forward bases for Syria's FROG-7 rocket force.

Additionally, IAF jets would also pound Syrian airfields that can accommodate cargo aircraft, to prevent aerial resupply from Iran, and trans-shipment to Hizballah. Syrian forces would provide determined resistance on the ground, but they are no match for the IDF. Damascus would also attempt to saturate Israel with missile and rocket attacks, but an IDF advance into Syrian territory would negate that threat, as would air dominance by the IAF. Syrian FROGS and SS-21 missiles are capable of carrying chemical warheads, but Damascus understands that a WMD strike on Israel would invite their own nuclear annihilation. Israel also has another advantage in the expected "missile war" with Syria--the availability of Patriot missile batteries, capable of handling the FROGs and SS-21s, leaving the Arrow II to battle Iran's MRBMs.

As the situation in Syria stabilizes, the IDF would shift its attention to Hizballah and Lebanon. As with Hamas in the south, Hizballah's attack options are limited. However, the success of their rocket attacks against Israel last summer makes it imperative for the IDF to deal with this threat, through a combination of airpower and a ground incursion. As with the Golan operation, the Israelis have no plan for a deep push into Lebanon; instead, they would focus on pushing Hizballah gunners out of range, and disrupting their supply lines into Syria.

After securing the northern front, the Israelis could then deal with the situations in Gaza and the West Bank. To avoid fighting on multiple fronts in the south and east, they might cut a deal with Fatah, allowing them to re-establish control in Gaza after Hamas is crushed. It's an agreement that Mahmoud Abbas would probably support, allowing the IDF to eliminate his enemies (at virtually no cost to Fatah) and pave his return to Gaza City.

The fight for Gaza would also be difficult, involving a minimum of two Israeli divisions, in some of the toughest urban terrain on earth. But, with other threats largely mitigated, the IDF could proceed more carefully, in an effort to minimize its own casualties--and those of Palestinian civilians. As Hamas is eliminated, the Israelis would probably push for quick deployment of a European-led peacekeeping force, with a mandate (and the equipment) to actually keep the peace. Israeli leaders would also agree to a similar force for southern Lebanon, with an extended IDF presence between their northern border and the Latani River. Learning from the experiences of last summer, the Israelis would take all necessary steps to keep Hizballah from re-establishing its base in that region.

It's a complex operational scenario, fraught with challenges and dangers. Can the IDF mobilize quickly enough--and quietly enough--to gain strategic and operational surprise? What if Iran or Syria actually employ chemical or biological weapons and inflict significant Israeli casualties? Is Tel Aviv prepared to respond in kind (or escalate into nuclear conflict)? What are the limits of U.S. support? Is the IDF prepared for potentially "nasty" surprises, say the undetected deployment of advanced surface-to-air missiles in Syria, akin to the SA-6s that took a heavy toll of IAF jets in 1973. Finally--and perhaps most importantly--does Israel have the political and military will to deal with multiple threats in a decisive manner, and are the Israeli people willing to pay the price, in terms of blood and national treasure.

We may learn the answers to those questions in the coming weeks.

Just Like Clockwork

You'll find a pair of interesting at timely reads at two of our favorite blogs on intelligence-related issues, Kent's Imperative and Arms Control Wonk. The latter blog is the work of Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation. We've been critical of Dr. Lewis in the past, most notably for his wacky suggestion that the U.S. could avoid the looming "space race" with China, by entering into an arms control agreement with Beijing. Unfortunately, the types of anti-satellite weapons now being developed by China would not be covered by the suggested treaty, and it's doubtful that the PRC would exchange a program--that challenges our dominance in space--for an American ASAT program that's been dormant for 20 years.

Still, we'll agree with our colleagues at Kent's that Dr. Lewis does approach his work with a commendable rigor and depth that you won't find in most intelligence discussions. So, his thoughts are worth consideration, even if we often disagree with them.

In his latest blog entry, Lewis notes that the recent termination of the "Misty" stealth satellite program leaves the nation dependent on the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) to replace the current generation of KH-11 imagery satellites, the last of which was launched two years ago. Dr. Lewis observes that the FIA program has its own troubles, and the larger problem facing any, non-stealthy imagery satellite, i.e., their predictability. Spy satellites along in pre-determined paths, making it possible for our adversaries to calculate their imaging windows and conceal their activities when a "bird" is overhead.

And, in the information age, that process has grown easier, thanks to amateur astronomers, widely available satellite tracking programs and the internet. With minimum investment and effort, even a terrorist group can have its own satellite warning program, although such information doesn't provide a complete analysis of our capabilities. For example, low-tech adversaries can only speculate about the point above the horizon when our coverage window actually begins, or the use of orbital "tricks" to enhance the satellite's view.

Dr. Lewis hopes that a restructured, effective FIA--coupled with other systems, including "stealthy UAVs--can meet the nation's imagery needs, without future gaps in coverage. We'd like to share his optimism, but FIA remains riddled with problems; the so-called "small and cheap satellites" (once viewed as a supplement for expensive overhead systems) have never reached their potential, and UAVs aren't as stealthy as we'd like to think. The Commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command (which owns most of the service's Predator and Global Hawk platforms) recently commented that China, in shooting down our UAVs, would only be limited by "how fast they could reload their missiles." Clearly, it will take more than technology alone to ensure future coverage of critical targets.

As our friends at Kent's observe, one of the best ways to ensure that the collection window remains open is by putting more resources against enemy denial and deception (D&D) efforts. D&D remains a subject near and dear to our hearts, and it's disturbing that these measures have never received the attention they deserve from the intelligence community. Yes, the DNI has a Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC) that meets regularly, and each of the major intel agencies has its own D&D division, but in some cases, the output from these organizations is quite poor, and training of analysts remains problematic. Couple these deficiencies with adversary D&D efforts, and you'll see why there are significant gaps concerning Iran's nuclear program, Pakistan's WMD storage capabilities and China's space program, among other critical topics.

Fact is, the "predictability problem" in our collection efforts extends well beyond satellite coverage windows. Too often, collection management devolves into a bureaucratic exercise, aimed at satisfying a legion of community and operational customers, with minimal disruption among the various platforms. Nothing untoward about that, but when you're dealing with adversaries that have institutionalized D&D--like Russia, China, Syria and North Korea--a less conventional approach is sometimes required. Recently, we've heard of some "special" collection efforts that sound promising--and apparently, generated valuable data--but such initiatives remain the exception, not the rule. Much of our collection remains an exercise in clockwork that can be tracked and calculated by our enemies. Our difficulties in considering--and analyzing--enemy D&D efforts only compounds the problem.

And the window for addressing these issues is closing--both literally and figuratively. Consider the Syrian example. In the mid-1990s, Syria's denial and deception program was crude and ineffective. A decade later, with a modest investment of resources and extensive outside assistance, Damascus has created the Middle East's most effective denial and deception program this side of Israel. It's a program that is posing significant collection challenges for Syria's arch-enemy--and the United States. Without a better approach to collection systems, operations and enemy D&D, those challenges will only grow, as will the threat to our national security.

PETA's Problems at Home

The left's favorite "animal rights" group--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA--is out with its list of the "Ten Sexiest Vegetarians," one of the organization's yearly publicity stunts that garners fawning coverage from the MSM. In case you're wondering, country singer Carrie Underwood tops this year's list, followed by a raft of other, veggie-munching celebs.

But around its headquarters in Norfolk, VA, PETA has received less favorable coverage of late, following a pair of incidents which illustrate that some of its employees are unethical, dishonest and cruel in their treatment of animals. Earlier this year, two PETA employees faced charges in North Carolina stemming from their illegal euthanization of dogs and cats in that state, and the dumping of animal carcasses in a grocery store dumpster. Amazing, the PETA employees beat most of the charges, after their attorneys argued that the dead animals had no value.

Observers could only note the hypocrisy in that argument. After all, PETA is the organization that supports the "total liberation" of animals (to use their term). The group is opposed to the use of animals as food, clothing, and even for medical research. PETA's founder once remarked that she would oppose a cure for AIDS if it was based on research using lab animals.

Yet, the same group that rails against the use of animal for legitimate commercial (and medical) purposes had no problem killing thousands of animals that it "collected." In the North Carolina case, PETA obtained some of the animals from local shelters, suggesting that it would put them up for adoption. Several North Carolina shelters suspended their relationships with the group after the euthanization and dumping scandal was exposed.

Now, PETA is in trouble Virginia, and this time, it may be tougher to beat the rap. One of the organization's staffers is facing felony theft charges, after she picked up a hunting dog along a local road, and removed its radio tracking collar.

On Tuesday, a judge in Courtland, Virginia (about 50 miles west of Norfolk) allowed the case to continue against PETA employee Andrea Florence Benoit. According to the AP, Benoit claims she was trying to "rescue" the dog, a Walker Coonhound. A resident saw Benoit load the animal in a PETA van and called Sheriff's Deputy J.T. Cooke Jr., an animal control officer for Southampton County, who also happens to be the dog's owner.

When Cooke stopped the van and confronted Benoit, the PETA staffer reportedly claimed that the dog wasn't in the vehicle. Cooke found his dog during a subsequent inspection of the van. The hound carried dye markings of numbers on its side and "JT" on its hip and wore a neon yellow collar bearing Cooke's name and cell phone number, the deputy said. The radio collar was found on the side of the road, at the place where Benoit and another PETA employee picked up the dog. Charges against the second PETA staffer have been dropped.

In testimony yesterday, Benoit claimed that she was only concerned about the dog's welfare and wanted to return it to its owner. She also stated that she was following PETA's policy by not contacting the owner directly. Deputy Cooke told the court that he had released several of his hounds the night before to chase foxes, and that the missing dog had failed to return. He also indicated that the hound was on its way home when it was intercepted by the PETA workers.

Allowing the case against Benoit to continue, General District Judge Robert B. Edwards said he had no doubt that Benoit believed she was doing the right thing, but "the right thing in this case was a felony."

Pardon the pun, but the PETA crew really screwed the pooch on this one. Hunting is serious pursuit in eastern Virginia, particularly rural areas like Southampton County. A quality Walker pup will run you at least $350, and a trained adult dog is worth several times that amount. Additionally, a radio tracking collar, like the one the PETA employees removed from the dog, typically costs between $150-$200. So much for the "no value" defense.

In other words, that homeward-bound Walker that PETA tried to "rescue" was worth a lot of money, hence the felony theft charges. The group will bring out its legal guns to defend Benoit (as it did in the North Carolina case), but I don't think a judge or jury in Southampton County is going to be very sympathetic to her story, or impressed by PETA's list of "sexy" celebrity vegetarians. Apparently, the group hasn't learned that good public relations--and common sense--begin at home. In Tidewater Virginia, PETA's reputation is shot. And deservedly so.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Absorbing the Hard Lessons

Thirteen years ago this month, an Air Force B-52 crashed while rehearsing for an air show at Fairchild AFB, near Spokane, Washington. All four crew members aboard the aircraft were killed when the bomber banked too steeply at low altitude and stalled. A photographer standing on the flightline captured the last, desperate moments of the aircraft and its crew.

The ill-fated B-52, seconds before the crash. The small object just above the aircraft is the co-pilot's ejection hatch. Unfortunately, the seat failed to clear the jet before impact and he was killed, along with the other crew members

The Fairchild crash was a tragedy on many levels. Not only did it claim the life of four experienced crew members, it came at a particularly bad moment for the base and the wider community. Four days earlier, a Fairchild airman, about to be discharged for a severe psychiatric disorder, went on a rampage at the base hospital, killing five people before being fatally wounded by a responding security policeman.

A detailed investigation of the B-52 crash only compounded the anguish. Investigators learned that the mishap could have been easily prevented, had leadership of Fairchild's 92nd Bomb Wing disciplined the pilot at the controls of the doomed jet, Lt Col Arthur "Bud" Holland. A review of Holland's high-profile missions at Fairchild revealed a long history of disregarding safety and technical order data, which set maneuvering limitations for all types of aircraft, including the eight-engine heavy bomber.

Much has been written about the Fairchild crash, most the detailed study prepared by then-Air Force Major Tony Kern. His "Darker Shades of Blue: A Case Study of Failed Leadership" published by Neil Krey's CRM (Cockpit Resource Management) Developers, remains the definitive account of the organizational complacency and complete lack of accountability that led to the disaster at Fairchild.

Kern's study paints a picture of a supremely-confident aviator (Lt Col Holland), whose obvious skills as a "stick and rudder" pilot obliterated his judgment as an airman. On at least six separate occasions before the fatal crash [emphasis added], Holland flew his B-52 at altitudes, bank and pitch angles that were in clear violation of Air Force regulations. During one of those episodes, his bomber barely cleared a ridgeline at a bombing range, where a DoD-authorized crew was filming.

Another B-52 piloted by Lt Col Holland barely clears a ridgeline at the Yakima, Washington bombing range in March 1992. Fearing for their safety, the film crew ceased operations and took cover. On a subsequent pass, Holland reportedly cleared the ridge by only three feet, grossly violating safety "minimums" for altitude and clearance (H/T: Wikipedia).

On another occasion--the 1993 Fairchild base airshow---Lt Col Holland flew a profile that clearly exceeded safety and technical order data. At one point, according to a crew member observing from the ground, Holland put his "Buff" into a near-vertical, pitch-up maneuver, putting the bomber dangerously close to stalling and crashing.

As Kern reminds us, the chain of complicity didn't end with the rogue pilot. At air shows, change-of-command ceremonies and similar events, he executed illegal maneuvers in front of senior officers, but was never formally sanctioned for his conduct. Holland served under at least four different wing commanders during his time at Fairchild, and under multiple Operations Group commanders. Kern--who based his examination on the transcripts and files of Air Force investigators--found no record of any senior leader (at the O-6 or flag level) attempting to discipline Holland, or ground him from flying.

And the rush toward disaster continued. In planning sessions for the 1994 air show, Lt Col Holland briefed profiles that were outside prescribed limits. The Wing Commander corrected him, but when Holland performed out-of-limits turns and pitch-up during an initial practice session--in clear defiance of the wing commander's directive--nothing happened. Holland remained as aircraft commander, and the ill-fated bomber, callsign Czar 52, took off for its final practice mission on the morning of June 24, 1994.

The man in the right seat that day was another highly-experienced B-52 pilot, Lt Col Mark McGeehan. In the investigation that followed, Lt Col McGeehan emerged as one of the few heroes of the tragic saga. As commander of the 325th Bombardment Squadron at Fairchild (the B-52 unit), McGeehan listened to complaints about Holland's unsafe practices from his pilots and navigators. Lt Col McGeehan elevated those concerns to his superiors, who failed to act.

McGeehan also decided that he would not endanger the lives of his younger crew members by putting them in a Buff with Holland at the controls. Instead, Lt Col McGeehan and his operations officer, Lt Col Ken Huston, penciled themselves onto the schedule as Holland's crew. They were joined by the Wing Vice-Commander, Colonel Robert Wolff, who was added as a safety observer. Czar 52 crashed as the pilot--undoubtedly Holland--tried to execute an extremely tight turn around the base control tower at low altitude.

More than a decade later, we believe the Fairchild tragedy still offers important lessons for the intelligence community. Many of the traits evident in the 92nd Bomb Wing--complacency, a lack of accountability, and a refusal to follow existing regulations--are evident within intelligence organizations.

Consider the "leak culture" that proliferates within the community. As we've noted in the past, there have been over 500 deliberate disclosures of classified information since 1995--and not a single, successful prosecution. Earlier this year, the FBI complained that intelligence agencies remain uncooperative in the effort to ferret out leakers.
That speaks volumes about a profession that has become increasingly politicized, populated by an active minority that is willing to advance its own aims, with little regard for potential consequences. An assessment of the afore-mentioned leaks concluded that the disclosures have, collectively, caused serious damage to our national security, yet the incestuous relationship between leakers and the press continues to flourish.

As for accountability, we are still stunned that not a single, senior intelligence official lost his or her job because of the failures surrounding 9-11 and the Iraq WMD issue. That sends a clear message to senior leaders--as well as the rank-and-file--that it's okay to make the same mistakes, over and over again. With minimal standards of accountability, it's little wonder that the hide-bound intelligence bureaucracy refuses to change and adapt.

We can only imagine the "first impressions" of the thousands of new analysts who have joined the community over the past six years. Sadly, many of them will become frustrated by the problems that continue to plague our intel organizations and move on to greener pastures, leaving the next generation of politicians and bureaucrats to perpetuate the status quo. Despite Congressional investigations and the work of two "blue ribbon" commissions, the culture that helped produce massive intelligence failures in the recent past just keeps puttering along.

Ironically, the Air Force--or at least, the service's pilots and aircrew members--seem to have learned from the Fairchild tragedy. The crash of Czar 52 remains one of the most-studied and analyzed mishaps in aviation history. Kern's analysis forms the foundation of a case study taught at the Air War College, and the incident is widely used by civilian and military aviation instructors in training new pilots and crew members.

By comparison, we remain unconvinced that the intelligence community has internalized the "hard lessons" of its recent failures. Comparing conditions across a vast bureaucracy to the factors behind a single B-52 crash may represent an inexact analogy, but (from our perspective), many of the cultural trends observed in the 92nd Bomb Wing in 1994 are also evident within today's intelligence community.

Like that Air Force bomb unit, the intelligence profession has paid dearly for its complacency, its disregard for protecting nation's secrets, and its refusal to hold members accountable. These problems have festered under successive administrations (Democrat and Republican), and under a parade of senior officials that are supposedly our "best and brightest." As with the leadership of the 92nd Bomb Wing in 1999, our intelligence leaders are either oblivious to the problem, or (perhaps more accurately), they find the culture resistant to change, and simply give up after an initial flurry of effort. Whatever the reason, these conditions still persist in our intelligence agencies, and the potential cost of these problems may be measured in thousands of dead Americans, not the loss of a single bomber and four crew members.

Today's Reading Assignment

Newt Gingrich, in the Washington Times, on the "Warnings From Gaza."

A couple of salient paragraphs are excerpted below. Mr. Gingrich's critique is hardly new, but it is certainly relevant:

The tragedy of the current debate in Washington is that while the inarticulateness and the failing performance of the Bush administration have led the American people to desire a new direction, the politics of the left insists that the new direction be less than President Bush. Yet the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, New Jersey, the JFK plot, the Algerian bombings, the Iranian nuclear program, the conflict in Lebanon and now the defeat in Gaza all point to the need for a war policy that is substantially bigger and more robust than Mr. Bush.

As the forces of modernity are being ground up by terrorism, our political process is not producing a Churchill or Roosevelt to rally the democracies but instead embracing advocates of surrender withdrawal and defeat. As women are being oppressed, we remain silent. Faced with the weakness, vacillation and inarticulateness of the leaders of Israel and America, the people see the violence as senseless, the bloodshed as repugnant and the current strategies as too flawed to continue to invest in them.

At the end of his op-ed, Speaker Gingrich lists the "hard realities" that the west must confront in order to defeat the terrorists. Sadly, he notes, "the gap between our current pathetic reaction to the Hamas victory and the requirements of victory give some indication of how far the West has to go before it starts winning."

That's assuming, of course, that we actually want to win (see following post).

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

John Hinderaker at Powerline has a timely summary on Congressional Democrats' continued investment in the strategy of defeat. He found a recent article in The Hill, which suggests that a growing number of House Democrats now favor pulling out of Afghanistan, as well as Iraq.

According to the paper, a few Democrats are actually talking about leaving Afghanistan immediately, while others favor addressing that issue after a pullout from Iraq. The apparent leader of the "Get Out of Afghanistan Now" movement is Hawaii Congressman Neil Abercrombie. Mr. Abercrombie is not some Democratic back-bencher; he heads the Air and Land Armed Service Sub-Committee and wields tremendous influence in shaping the nation's defense budget.

“We are finished there, militarily speaking,” said Abercrombie.

“There is no useful purpose for our troops there, Abercrombie stated in a recent interview. “The military should withdraw now,” he said, though he stressed that the U.S. could keep “isolated pockets” of special operators.

Instead of using the military to effect political change, the U.S. should have a complete diplomatic re-engagement in the region, “with an understanding that our role there should change,” Abercrombie added.

Congressman Diane Watson of California expressed similar thoughts, while Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha suggested that our NATO partners take a wider role. You know, countries like Germany and France, which send their troops to Afghanistan, but won't let them participate in combat operations. Yeah, that's the ticket.

As Mr. Hinderaker observes, the Democratic plan--if it's ever approved--could literally snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He also uncovered this recent item from Strategy Page, noting that Taliban spokesman have admitted that things are not going well for their side. In recent interviews, they've announced a switch in strategy to suicide bombings (the result of recent battlefield defeats). They've also confirmed that U.S. forces have managed to penetrate their networks, resulting in the death of several high-level leaders, and the capture of other important operatives. Making matters worse, their vaunted "spring offensive" was a total flop. Taliban fighters spent much of their time on the defensive, and expected major attacks against Allied bases never materialized.

The comments of Congressional Democrats should certainly give a measure of comfort to our enemies in Afghanistan. No matter how bad things might be right now, if they can only hang on, the Democratic Party will eventually ride to their rescue, and save them from a final defeat.

We should be thankful that Mr. Abercrombie and Ms. Watson didn't serve in Congress during World War II. They would have pushed for a "negotiated settlement" after Pearl Harbor, and a "strategic redeployment" after any bloody battle. But, we're also guessing that FDR wouldn't tolerate such defeatists in his party, and it's unlikely that an Abercrombie or Watson would have won a Democratic primary--let alone a general election--in 1942 or 1944.

Today, Mr. Abercrombine chairs an important sub-committee for his party, and Ms. Watson's views are certainly in line with other Democrats. It's another sad reflection of how far the party has evolved--most would say fallen--since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Relentless Pursuit of Truth Department

We continue to follow the case of Air Force Major Jill Metzger, the personnel officer whose "abduction" Kyrgyzstan last year touched off an international incident. About weeks ago, various media outlets and websites have reported that Metzer would be medically retired in early July, due to post-traumatic stress resulting from that incident. That sparked an outcry from military personnel and veterans' groups, who wondered how Major Metzger's disability claim was processed so quickly, while wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan inch their way through the system.

Within a couple of days of that initial report, Metzger's status seemingly changed again. The Major's mother told reporters that her daughter would be taking an 18-month leave-of-absence from the Air Force, beginning early next month. Then, almost as quickly, the story took another turn, with Mrs. Metzger reporting that her daughter was going on medical leave. She explained that the planned leave period would allow Major Metzger to spend time with her husband (who she married just before the deployment to Kyrgyzstan), and decide about her future in the Air Force. A number of retired commanders and First Sergeants that we spoke with expressed puzzlement about that option, saying they were unfamiliar with any service regulation that allows personnel to take a "leave of absence."

Since our last post on this subject, we've heard from Capt E., a longtime friend (and former student), who has almost a decade of experience in the personnel career field. He researched the appropriate Air Force regulations and tells us that a military medical board has four options for someone in Major Metzger's situation:

1. Separate with severance pay
2. Permanently retire the member
3. Give the member leave of absence
4. Temporarily retire the member

Capt E also notes that Air Force Instruction 36-3003 allows commanders to grant "excess leave" (without pay and benefits) after all ordinary leave has been exhausted. However, our friend could not explain multiple "changes" in Metzger's status, since medical boards are appointed by senior Air Force officials, and carefully weigh the facts of each case before rendering their decision. It would be extremely odd for a board to "retire" a service member, then reconvene and modify their decision two times, all within a 48-hour window.

In fairness, the confusion over Major Metzger's status may be the result of uninformed or "misinformed" speculation by supposed "insiders." The personnel officer has not spoken with the media since returning from Kyrgyzstan, and the only public comments on her duty status have come from her mother, the wife of a retired Colonel. Due to Privacy Act restrictions, Air Force public affairs officers (and other officials) are barred from commenting on the duty status of individual service members.

Unfortunately, the lack of "official" information and purported changes in duty status have only muddied the situation, and prompted even more conjecture about "back-door" deals and alleged cover-ups. However, given the fact that the Kyrgyzstan incident remains the subject of Air Force and Justice Department investigations, the "leave" option may have been the only viable choice for the medical board. Service regulations do not allow the retirement or separation of personnel who are the subject of on-going probes; placing Major Metzger on leave allows the service to retain administrative control while those inquires continue.

While granting medical leave (or a leave of absence) were clearly within Air Force regulations, the decision still leaves unanswered questions about the Metzger case. The amount of leave that was granted (18 months) seems unusually long, particularly for someone with no apparent physical injuries and some capacity to perform assigned military duties (Major Metzger has worked as a Manpower Officer since her return to Moody AFB last fall).

There's also the issue of consistency. How does disposition of Major Metzger's case (so far) compare with those of other Air Force members suffering from PTSD? In other words, did other airmen with that condition receive a similar amount of medical leave, or did they get less time off for rest and recuperation? Obviously, all PTSD cases--and patients--differ, but the flood of patients from Iraq and Afghanistan have likely produced some general guidelines for patient leave and recovery times which could provide comparisons for the Metzger situation. [We would like to hear from military mental health professionals who have treated PTSD patients, and have experience in recommending medical leave, leave of absence or retirement for those personnel.]

From all we can gather, the Air Force had every right to place Major Metzger on medical leave, and we wish her well. But the controversy that began with her disappearance last year--and continued with her changing status earlier this month--won't disappear with her pending departure from Moody. Until we have a better understanding of what happened in Kyrgyzstan (and the recent decisions behind her evolving duty status), there will be even more speculation about these issues, and the reputations of both Major Metzger and the Air Force will suffer, fairly or unfairly.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Forgotten Flag Raisers

Last Friday, we noted renewed efforts to locate the remains of Marine Corps combat photographer William Genaust. Sergeant Genaust disappeared in a cave on Iwo Jima in early March 1945, nine days after recording the famous flag-raising with his movie camera. The brief sequence--captured in less than 200 frames of film--is the same event immortalized in Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning still photograph.

Searchers hope that a recent tip will lead them to the remains of Genaust and other Marines who remain missing on Iwo Jima, more than 60 years after the battle. It is believed that Genaust was abducted and killed by Japanese soliders when he went into the cave to dry off, or was hit by enemy machine gun fire while trying to illuminate a cave for his fellow Marines.

As we observed in our previous article, the legendary event photographed by Genaust and Rosenthal was actually the second flag-raising on Iwo Jima. On the morning of February 23, 1945, a Marine patrol erected the first American flag on Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the Japanese-controlled island. That moment was captured by another Marine Corps photographer, Sergeant Lou Lowery, and published in Leatherneck magazine.

The first flag-raising on Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945. Corporal Lindberg is seen standing, at the extreme right of the photograph.

Now, the Associated Press reports that the last survivor among the first group of flag-raisers has died. Corporal Charles W. Lindberg passed away Sunday in Richfield, Minnesota, at the age of 86. As the wire service notes, Lindberg spent decades explaining that it was his platoon that hoisted the first flag on Iwo Jima, not the group captured in Rosenthal's photograph (below) and Genaust's movie footage. The second flag was erected about four hours later, after a Marine officer directed the raising of a larger one, big enough to be seen by "every son of a bitch on the island."

Joe Rosenthal's immortal photograph of the second flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

Among that latter group was a Navy corpsman, John Bradley. His son, author James Bradley, wrote the best-seller "Flags of Our Fathers," the definitive account of the men who hoisted the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima that day. He discovered that the first flag-raising received the most attention initially; Sergeant Ernest "Boots" Thomas, the platoon sergeant for the first group of Marines, was allowed to leave his unit for a few hours for a live interview on CBS Radio. Thomas, who won the Navy Cross on Iwo, described the earlier flag-raising for listeners. He subsequently rejoined the platoon, and died in combat a few days later.

But the second flag-raising quickly eclipsed the first with publication of Rosenthal's famous image, arguably the most-reproduced photograph in history. Mr. Rosenthal arrived late at the summit of Suribachi that afternoon, and snapped the picture without knowing what his camera had recorded. An AP editor on Guam instantly recognized the photograph as a classic, and radioed the image to New York, where the wire service relayed it to member newspapers. By some accounts, the photo was on the AP wire only 18 hours after Rosenthal shot it--astonishingly fast for that era.

Ironically, the iconic photograph caused problems for both Rosenthal and Corporal Lindberg. The AP photographer spent decades battling accusations that he had "staged" the photo. Rosenthal did, in fact, stage a picture on Suribachi that day, but it was a "gung ho" shot of Marines in the detail--taken after the flag-raising was complete.

As for Lindberg, he was sometimes called a "liar" for claiming that he had raised a flag on Iwo Jima, although the Lowery photograph proved his participation in the first event. The AP reports that he spent his later years trying to raise awareness of the first flag-raising, and he autographed copies of the Lowery photo. The Minnesota State Legislature passed a resolution in his honor in 1995 --and deservedly so. Lindberg was a hero in his own right; he received the Silver Star for his heroism as a flame-thrower operator on Iwo Jima, an especially dangerous job in a battle that killed over 6,000 Marines.

R.I.P. Corporal Lindberg. Semper Fi.

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin, who used the Rosenthal photo to commerate Lindberg's passing. Right guy, wrong image. Somewhere inside the Pearly Gates, Corporal Lindberg must be shaking his head.

And You Think Your Power Bill is Bad?

Over at the National Security Agency (NSA), the problem isn't paying the bill, it's making sure the agency has enough juice to power all of its computers, comm gear, and yes, all those air conditioners.

As the Baltimore Sun reports, NSA nearly maxed out its power capacity last summer, and this year, some agency offices are experiencing electrical outages. The need for more power was forecast a decade ago, but one former analyst told the Sun that managers "let the problem get out of hand." The situation is now described as a "top priority" at the nation's largest spy agency, which may have to resort to shutting down equipment and "rolling blackouts" to cope with the situation--unless Congress appropriates more money for new electrical systems and equipment.

Memo to U.S. adversaries: Plan your most sensitive activities to coincide with a very hot summer day at Fort Meade, Maryland--home of NSA. The agency may still detect what's going on, but with those potential "rolling blackouts" and equipment shutdowns, it may be a while before the information winds up in the right hands.

On the other hand, there may be some (limited) solutions that the Sun doesn't mention. Gotta love those work-share arrangements with our English-speaking allies.

Hat tip: The Danger Room.

The Wrong Approach?

There's little doubt that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become "darlings" of the modern battlefield. With their ability to loiter and provide persistent, real-time surveillance across wide areas, UAV systems like Predator (which operates at medium altitude) and the long-range, high-altitude Global Hawk are considered indispensable by our military forces, supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq literally around-the-clock.

One indicator of our growing reliance on UAVs can be found in the operations logs of the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron, one of the Air Force's early Predator units. Over a one-year period (July 2005-June 2006), the 15th RS was one of the service's busiest flying units, providing extensive support for the War on Terror from deployed locations, and its home station, Creech AFB, Nevada:

"...[during that period] the squadron participated in more than 242 separate raids; engaged 132 troops in contact-force protection actions; fired 59 Hellfire missiles; surveyed 18,490 targets; escorted four convoys; and flew 2,073 sorties for more than 33,833 flying hours.

And, of course, all those UAV sorties require extensive support from intelligence systems and organizations, part of the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) network. Information collected by Predators or Global Hawks operating over the Middle East is typically processed and analyzed by DCGS operators in Virginia, California, Germany, or at various Air National Guard (ANG) units that are acquiring that capability.

We've written about the UAV/DCGS weapons system in the past, beginning with "The Long Distance War," in May 2006. The combination of UAVs and ground-based, real-time intelligence analysis brings new capabilities to the battlefield, allowing the "spooks" to relay critical data to SOF operators and "regular" ground forces during the operation. The same assets can also monitor activity along lines of communication, sometimes spotting activity associated with IED emplacement.

But are we receiving a sufficient "bang" for this heavy investment in UAVs, sensors, intelligence specialists and comm links? The Commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command (ACC), believes the answer to that question is "no," at least in terms of theIED hunt in Iraq.

During a keynote speech at last week's Transformation Warfare Confernce in Virginia Beach, Virginia, General Ronald Keys said that using UAVs and pod-equipped fighter jets to find IEDs is often a misuse of time and resources. Coverage of General Keys' speech--which was virtually ignored by the MSM--came from reporter Michael Fabey of Aerospace Daily.

According to General Keys, an Air Force analysis of IEDs located by UAVs, surveillance aircraft and pod-equipped fighters (per 100,000 flying hours) is very low. "It's a waste," he said.

"People come to me and tell me they want a Predator," he said. "I ask, 'What are you looking for?' Tell me what you're looking for, don't just tell me you want a J-STARS."

Unfortunately, the military is basing some of its decisions on anecdotes instead of real metrics, he said. Indeed, the only metric being used is whether the Air Force is meeting certain tasking orders, instead of making sure those assets and flights are effective and the best use of time and aircraft. "This is no way to fight a war," he said.


Flying pod-outfitted F-16s up and down streets no one will be on for another 12 hours will not help the IED fight, he said. Looking for buried IEDs in Iraq in that fashion is not the best way to stop attacks. "It's a junkyard out there," he said, adding there are too many false positives.

General Keys told the conference that his command has developed a "concept of deployment" to help fight IEDs that is air-centric "to a certain point." He said "we ought to be attacking the system--to the left of the bang--meaning the process before the IED is emplaced." Keys did not offer specifics on his deployment concept. He may have been referring to so-called "Weapons Intelligence Teams" (WITs) that have operated in Iraq over the past year. Those teams integrate personnel and expertise from a variety of disciplines--including explosive ordnance disposal, intelligence analysts, HUMINT teams--to identify networks and operational patterns among enemy bomb-makers.

Keys' criticism is significant for several reasons. First, as commander of ACC, he "owns" the UAV squadrons now being tasked for the IED mission. And, until the recent stand-up of the Air Force's new Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Agency, ACC also controlled key DCGS nodes providing the real-time analysis. With his speech, Keys became one of the highest-ranking Air Force officers to speak out against the current "utilization" scheme for key airpower assets in the War on Terror.

Secondly, the general's remarks offered veiled criticism of other Air Force organizations--and leaders. Deployed UAVs fall under the U.S. Central Air Forces (USCENTAF), part of CENTCOM. While the CENTAF commander works for CENTCOM, it is job of the air component commander (and his staff) to develop and execute the air campaign. With his speech in Virginia Beach, General Keys seems to hint that his CENTAF counterpart (Lieutenant General Gary North) could be more forceful in preventing the "misuse" of Air Force assets.

Finally, General Keys' critique echoes a familiar complaint among air commanders--namely, that war-fighting CINCs from other services have a poor understanding of air and space power, including its capabilities and limitations. Since the new CENTCOM commander (Admiral William Fallon) is a career aviator, Keys' dig may be aimed more at Army commanders--the same group that has questioned the Air Force's utility in the War on Terror.

Will Keys' speech result in any employment changes among Air Force UAVs and other surveillance assets? Probably not. Even a vague metric like "sorties flown" indicates that the service's UAVs are playing a role in the War on Terror, and the occasional IED "find" represents another success story that can be touted by public affairs officers and program managers. That, in turn, means more money for UAVs and the intelligence systems that support them.

But the general's remarks should prompt a timely--and informed--debate over the best way to use UAVs and other ISR assets in the War on Terror. Experience has shown that you don't need fixed-wing fast-movers for every ground-support mission in Iraq or Afghanistan; more often than not, something slower and more lethal (like an A-10 or Apache) will suffice. Similarly, an overhead, full motion video capability is only part of the answer for the IED problem on the ground. Now, it's up to the next generation of air commanders, ground commanders and intel collection managers to determine the "right" amount of UAV coverage for the IED mission.

Incidentally, General Keys gave his speech during same week that his retirement was announced. With his own departure now just months away, perhaps Keys finally felt "free" to speak his mind on the UAV topic.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

If you believe the tabloids, it's just a matter of time before Katie Couric vacates the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News. Standing in the check-out line at the supermarket over the weekend, I glanced at one gossip mag that predicts Ms. Couric will depart after the 2008 election. Another speculates that her exit will come much sooner, perhaps by the end of the year.

The articles were, essentially, a rehash of oft-cited problems for Couric and the network: public (and private) feuds with former anchors; changes in format and executive producers, and--most importantly--declining ratings. According to Nielsen, the Evening News has lost almost 300,000 viewers since Couric's debut last September, a decrease of four percent. Obviously, CBS is paying Ms. Couric $15 million a year to increase viewership, so network executives, advertisers and local affiliates are hardly pleased, and pushing for an anchor change.

Oddly enough, Couric isn't the only network anchor with ratings problems. AP television writer David Bauder notes that NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has lost about five percent of its viewers over the past year. Conventional wisdom suggests that most of them are now watching ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, which has overtaken Mr. Williams and NBC in recent months, and is now the most-watched evening network newscast.

But, like the proverbial blind hog in search of an acorn, Mr. Bauder sniffs around the real story, but gives it only cursory notice. Comparing Nielsen data from 2004 (when Williams took over from Tom Brokaw) and today, NBC Nightly News has apparently lost over three million viewers, roughly one-third of its audience. When Mr. Brokaw signed off almost three years ago, his average audience was 10.79 million; today, Williams attracts about 7.66 million viewers on a typical night, a decline of 30%.

And, all of those "missing" viewers didn't flee to CBS or ABC. Mr. Gibson's lead over Williams is less than 500,000 viewers, and ratings for the CBS Evening News are at their lowest ebb in two decades. Even when you factor in Mr. Gibson's recent rating surge and the "normal" decline in viewership between winter and summer, a few stark facts remain: By even conservative estimates, more than a million viewers have abandoned NBC Nightly News since 2004, they haven't switched to the other broadcast networks, and in all likelihood, they won't be back.

That's the grim reality facing network television news. Viewership has been declining steadily for more than two decades, and that trend shows no sign of stopping. As we've noted before, Mr. Brokaw actually had a larger audience as a third-place anchor in the 1980s than he did as the ratings leader in 2004. For reasons ranging from the liberal bias of the nightly news programs, to the ready availability of other information sources, viewers have had their fill of the three broadcast networks, and they've voted with their remotes.

Mr. Williams told the AP that he's unconcerned about his program's ratings woes, claiming that he doesn't know what the audience numbers are "for days on end." If you honestly believe that, perhaps you'd like to purchase my ocean-front estate in Arizona, or make an offer on a certain bridge in Brooklyn. Everyone in network news watches the numbers; it's the daily report card that (ultimately) determines if anchors, correspondents, producers and executives keep their jobs. If the NBC anchor isn't monitoring the ratings, it's probably because he doesn't want more bad news.

By all accounts, Brian Williams is well-respected at NBC, and there doesn't appear to be an active effort to replace him (at least not yet). But a newscast that has lost millions of viewers in less than three years is hardly a cause for celebration at the network, particularly when they're paying Williams a handsome salary to retain an audience. Never mind that the three broadcast networks remain invested in a news "model" that reached its peak more than 20 years ago, and will never reach those audience levels again.

To use a shop-worn analogy, the current gyrations in TV news are the broadcast equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the good ship Titanic. Most of the viewers have (rightly) gone over the side, but the networks keep tinkering with the "right" combination of personalities and coverage, trying to lure viewers back on board. Twenty years of ratings data indicates that their approach simply won't work, but the suits at NBC, CBS and ABC remain undeterred. After all, there's still a lot of money to be made in TV news, though nowadays, it means charging higher ad rates for an ever-shrinking, steadily-aging audience. And the band played on.