Friday, May 30, 2008
Air Force security experts are expressing surprise and frustration over recently-identified nuclear security failures at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
Those deviations, highlighted in a recent nuclear surety inspection (NSI) by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) resulted in an overall failing grade for Minot’s B-52 unit, the 5th Bomb Wing.
Agency inspectors discovered five major and eleven minor nuclear security failures during their evaluation, which ended on May 25th. The DTRA team also uncovered eleven less-serious security problems during the nine-day inspection. While the 5th BW earned passing grades in nine of ten evaluation categories, the high number of security violations gave the unit a composite rating of “Unsatisfactory.”
Results of the Minot inspection sent shock waves through the tight-knit Air Force security forces (SF) community. Current and former security forces officers and NCOs contacted by In From the Cold offered blunt criticism of Minot’s 5th Security Forces Squadron, which is charged with protecting the base, its B-52 bombers and Minot’s nuclear weapons storage area (WSA).
“I think the DTRA team was being nice in such areas as emergency entry and exclusion area entry,” said a former security forces senior NCO, who now works for a defense contractor.
“Personally, I would have hit them harder. Access is a critical failure in anyone’s book. You cannot pass the ‘Pearly Gates’ [of a WSA] if you don’t have the right to be there." The retired NCO—and the other experts—spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“They did not train, practice, or were even aware of what they were doing,” he continued. “A CBS [Close Boundary Sentry] on post with a cell phone? Who in the hell allowed that crap to happen? Not on my watch."
The former security forces superintendent was referring to an incident highlighted in the DTRA report, when evaluators watched a security specialist play games on a cell phone during a critical exercise event.
Another senior NCO, who currently serves as a superintendent of a security forces unit, was even tougher in his assessment. “I wouldn’t trust those cops with guarding the bicycle rack in front of the base pool, let alone the nation’s alert resources,” he said.
“The leadership [of Minot’s security forces squadron] should have been fired and departed the base with the inspection team," he continued. "This is obviously a systemic problem, starting at the top.”
The retired security forces superintendent concurred. “Leadership was AWOL. Not involved, no one gave a s—t about the troops. The folks who allowed this to happen were the mid-level NCOs, the senior NCOs and the officers who did not craft any strategy.”
A senior Air Force civilian, with decades of security experience, described seeing similar problems through the years. “When you don’t have adequate supervision at all levels (mid-level NCOs on up), then you have no concern about the mission."
"Why did this happen? It’s a common theme played out in the SF business,” he said. “The officers are beating the crap out of the enlisted because they are 'stupid,' and the enlisted screw the ‘O’s by not performing."
At least two of the experts interviewed by this blog recommended a radical step for fixing security problems at Minot—a 90-day lockdown. Under that approach, the inspection team remain at the base until all problems had been fixed and the unit is deemed capable of independent operations.
Lockdowns were a common technique during the heyday of Strategic Air Command, which controlled the Air Force’s strategic nuclear forces until the early 1990s. But in recent decades, the service has moved away from that approach, due in part to the high cost of sending personnel to supervise a failing unit for extended periods.
Air Force nuclear experts say that one of the last lock-downs occurred at Aviano AB, Italy in the early 1980s, after that installation failed an NSI. There was reportedly a near-lockdown at a U.S. base in Greece a few years later, when another failure appeared in the offing. Plans for the lock-down were cancelled when that unit scraped by with a minimum passing grade.
In light of the NSI findings, the bomb wing's security forces unit is facing possible leadership changes and other personnel actions. A spokesman for the Air Combat Command (ACC), the wing's parent organization, said Thursday that ACC is "working with Minot leadership to provide specific expertise and manning to assist the wing with working identified areas of improvement."
During a separate interview with Air Force Times, the same spokesman said there are "no plans to fire any 'key personnel' now. However, he did not rule out possible punitive action against other airmen. Current and former security forces personnel interviewed by this blog said that leadership changes in the 5th SFS are "inevitable," given the number of failures identified by inspectors.
The security violations not only prompted a failing grade for the bomb wing, they also overshadowed the accomplishments of other personnel. The unit earned passing grades in nine of ten inspection categories, and received "Excellent" marks in five areas.
In his first public statement on the inspection, Colonel Joel Westa, Commander of the 5th BW said “Overall their assessment painted a picture of some things we need to work on in the areas of training and discipline.”
Despite the security problems, the B-52 unit will retain its certification for nuclear operations. The ACC Commander, General John Corley, reinstated the wing's nuclear certification in early April, after it passed an Initial Nuclear Surety Inspection (INSI). Because failures in the recent NSI were largely concentrated in a single area, Corley determined that the 5th BW will remain certified for nuclear operations.
In the interim, members of the bomb wing will continue to practice for a nuclear surety inspection. An evaluation team from ACC will revisit the base in August, to determine if problems have been corrected. A repeat NSI will be held sometime after the ACC inspection.
Members of the ACC Inspector General (IG) team conducted their own evaluation of the 5th BW during the same period as the DTRA evaluation. Results of the ACC inspection have not been disclosed. An ACC spokesman said that the evaluation also revealed "areas of strength" in the B-52 unit, noting high ratings in several inspection categories.
The recent series of evaluations at Minot were prompted by a nuclear mishap in August of last year. During that incident, 5th BW personnel mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles onto a B-52 that flew to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. While the nuclear warheads remained under Air Force control, they were considered "unaccounted for" during a 30-hour period that ended with their discovery at Barksdale.
Four senior officers were fired as a result of that accident, considered the nation's worst nuclear mishap in almost thirty years. Scores of other personnel received other forms of punishment, or lost their certification to work with nuclear weapons.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
by Nate Hale
For the second time in six months, the Air Force's troubled B-52 wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota has earned low scores on a nuclear surety inspection (NSI), raising new concerns about the unit's ability to perform its ultimate mission.
Minot's 5th Bomb Wing (BW) received an "Unsatisfactory" rating on a nuclear surety inspection from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), conducted between 17-25 May. In From the Cold obtained a copy of the inspection report from military sources, who requested anonymity.
A DTRA team evaluated the wing in 10 areas relating to its nuclear mission, including management and administration; technical operations, storage and maintenance facilities, security and supply support. While the 5th BW met inspection criteria in nine of the ten categories, it still received an overall failing grade, due to extensive discrepancies in nuclear security.
Inspection regulations dictate that units will receive a composite rating of unsatisfactory if they fail any of the inspection areas. The 5th BW received an "unacceptable" rating for its security efforts during the evaluation.
The failing grade from DTRA will not affect the bomb wing's recently-regained certification for nuclear operations. The wing's parent organization, Air Combat Command, restored the unit's authority to handle and maintain nuclear weapons in April, after it passed an Initial Nuclear Surety Inspection (INSI). Thursday afternoon, a spokesman said the ACC Commander, General John Corley, had been briefed on the results and the wing would "retain certification for its strategic mission."
The 5th BW was stripped of its nuclear certification last September, after maintenance personnel mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 bound for Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Authorities classified the incident as the nation's worst nuclear mishap in 30 years, an event that prompted the notification of President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In the wake of that accident, the Air Force fired three senior officers at Minot and one at Barksdale. Lower-ranking personnel received various forms of non-judicial punishment, and more than 60 individuals lost their certification to work with nuclear weapons.
The incident also prompted three Air Force and Defense Department investigations, which led to more stringent procedures for handling, storing and protecting nuclear weapons. At the same time, the Minot wing began a concentrated effort to regain its certification, by passing the INSI and the subsequent NSI.
But the wing's road to re-certification has been bumpy. As this blog reported five months ago, the 5th BW's first INSI--conducted in December 2007--resulted in a grade of "Not Ready." While Air Force officials emphasized that it was not a failing grade, the score is the lowest possible for an initial nuclear surety inspection. As a result, the unit received more time to prepare for its preliminary evaluation, which was held in late March.
Given the gravity of nuclear operations, surety inspections are conducted by teams from the DTRA and the unit's major command, which (typically) issue separate reports. It is unclear if inspectors from Air Combat Command concurred with the DTRA findings, or what ratings they issued in various evaluation categories.
While the DTRA report carries significant weight in the military's nuclear community, the evaluation of a wing's parent or major command (MAJCOM) is considered the ultimate report card. And, on occasion, DTRA and MAJCOM inspectors disagree, as evidenced by a recent evaluation of Minot's other nuclear-capable unit, the 91st Space Wing.
Pentagon sources tell In From the Cold that the space unit received a "Not Ready" rating from DTRA, during in INSI administered in January. Agency inspectors based that grade on security deviations. However, members of the MAJCOM evaluation team (from Air Force Space Command) disagreed with that assessment, and gave the 91st passing grades in all areas.
The 5th Wing's recent NSI revealed a host of security problems. Inspectors from DTRA found five major deficiencies in unit security operations and 11 minor deviations. A description of those problems represents almost a third of the 14-page document.
According to DTRA evaluators, there were "numerous examples of escorted entry procedures into an exclusion area that were not followed during the inspection." Specific violations included a lack of metal detector screening for escorted personnel; a failure to search hand-carried items and inadequate logging procedures for individuals entering the exclusion zone.
Inspectors also observed serious deficiencies during a denial and recapture exercise. As outlined in the report, the wing's security forces control center did not immediately up-channel a Covered Wagon report, signifying a potentially serious (though simulated) nuclear incident.
Additionally, a security forces team also did not respond to their pre-designated fighting positions during a mock attack on the weapons storage, leaving part of the complex without fire support. The problems were compounded by a flight chief's inability to assume control of the situation and the failure to use authentication procedures during a duress incident.
Evaluators also found a number of discrepancies during an emergency entry exercise, including "a failure to use positive measures to preclude an adversary from entering the WSA, using emergency procedures to circumvent security." Minot personnel also forgot to search a departing vehicle that entered the weapons storage area during a simulated emergency, then neglected to follow the vehicle and search it after reached its destination.
Along with those write-ups, the DTRA report lists multiple problems during the inspection's aircraft regeneration phase. Inspectors noted that security forces personnel failed to search the undercarriages of seven aircraft during a purge of the parking area. They also found that security personnel neglected to investigate route vulnerabilities for a planned weapons movement.
In other cases, the performances of individual airmen were found lacking. One security specialist, posted as a Close Boundary Sentry (CBS) was playing video games on a cell phone during an exercise. Evaluators also discovered that an adjacent sentry was unaware of her duties and responsibilities.
Among the minor security discrepancies, inspectors found sentries in the weapons storage area who were unaware of security reporting and alert procedures. Security personnel in another flight were not familiar with nuclear surety terminology, including such basic concepts as the exclusion area and the two-person concept.
The extensive security problems prompted comments from the DTRA team chief, Navy Captain A.J. Camp, Jr. In Tab C of the report, Captain Camp wrote that "security forces' level of knowledge, understanding of assigned duties and response to unusual situations reflect a lack of adequate supervision."
"A review of [security forces] blotters of the past 90 days confirmed that leaders were unengaged with the proper supervision of airmen," he continued. Camp noted that the "average post visit" for senior leadership (above the flight level) was 90 minutes or less per visit, and only "15% of shifts in the weapons storage area" were visited in the last 90 days."
In response to the DTRA report, the 5th BW commander, Colonel Joel Westa, will submit a memorandum to the agency, certifying "measures initiated to preclude recurrence of the significant deficiencies." The DTRA assessment did not list a timeline for the unit's response.
A spokeswoman for the 5th BW, Major Elizabeth Ortiz, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
It is unclear if problems identified by DTRA inspectors would prompt leadership changes in the 5th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), charged with protecting the bomb wing and Minot AFB. The North Dakota installation actually has two security forces organizations, the 5th SFS and the 91st Security Forces Group (SFG), which is part of the space wing.
While the group is defends the space wing's Minuteman III ICBMS and launch control facilities--scattered 8,500 square miles of western North Dakota--the 5th SFS is responsible for security inside the base perimeter.
Experts contacted by this blog believe that some members of the security squadron will lose their certification to work around nuclear weapons under the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP). Depending on the number of security specialists who might be de-certified, the 5th BW might be forced to seek manning assistance from other units.
Colonel Westa, the bomb wing commander, has not spoken publicly about the NSI results. In a recent commentary, posted on the unit's official website, he praised wing organizations that have "turned it around" in recent inspections. The security forces squadron was not among those singled out for commendation.
Without the security deviations, the 5th BW would have likely earned a much higher grade from the DTRA. The wing received "Excellent" ratings in five of the inspected areas, and "Acceptable" scores in three others. Regulations require a MAJCOM evaluation of nuclear capable units every 18 months, and a DTRA inspection every five years.
The so-called Washington Naval Conference dragged on until February of the following year, but it did produce several landmark agreements. Participants agreed to tonnage limitations on their capital ships, with no single vessel displacing more than 35,000 tons, and total displacement caps for each signatory.
Terms of the agreement were spelled out in the Washington Naval Treaty, the conference’s most important accord. Under a provision known as the 5:5:3 ratio, the U.S. and Great Britain had a displacement limit of 525,000 tons for their capital ships, compared to 315,000 tons for Japan and 175,000 tons for both France and Italy. The Soviet Union (which was not invited to the conference) and Germany, still recovering from World War I, were not bound by the naval accord.
Supporters hailed the Washington treaty as a breakthrough—the first successful disarmament agreement in history. But events over the next decade suggest otherwise. While the compact placed caps on aircraft carrier tonnage (as part of the displacement totals for capital ships), all participants were well under the limit in that category. As a result, the U.S., Japan and Great Britain expanded their carrier programs, building toward the tonnage caps for that type of vessel.
In that regard, the Washington Naval Treaty helped set the stage for Pearl Harbor, rather than preventing it. With the agreement’s limitations on battleships, the Japanese Navy began building the aircraft carriers and fast escorts that would steam across the Pacific in 1941 and lay waste to the American fleet in Hawaii. The U.S. and British navies underwent similar transformations, though both viewed carrier aviation in a supporting role to battleship fleets.
It’s also worth remembering that the naval treaty collapsed barely a decade after it was signed. Italy, which didn’t like the limitations imposed on its navy, never followed the agreement. Japan viewed the tonnage ratio as a deliberate snub by the west and pulled out of the treaty by 1936. By that time, Tokyo was well on its way to fielding a fleet of 10 carriers and the super-battleships of the Yamato class, which violated terms of the accord.
While the U.S. and Great Britain continued to observe the naval agreement, it put them at a disadvantage as World War II loomed. When the keel was laid for the USS North Carolina in 1937, it became the first American battleship built in 20 years. Britain embarked on a similar program to build new capital ships, in preparation for potential conflict with Germany and Japan.
The ultimate failure of the Washington Naval Treaty is a useful reminder of the perils of disarmament. Efforts to limit—or even eliminate— categories of weapons usually lead to violations (as in the case of Italy and Japan during the 1930s), or the development of other types of armaments.
However, the lessons of the Washington are apparently lost on another disarmament conference, currently underway in Dublin. For more than a year, human rights groups have been pressing for a ban on cluster munitions which, they claim, are indiscriminate and deadly to civilian populations.
And, an agreement is apparently in the offing. According to The New York Times “Lede" blog, representatives of various European countries—including the U.K.—are voicing support for a treaty that would outlaw virtually all types of cluster weapons, while mandating assistance for victims and clearance of those weapons from the battlefield.
The United States did not send a delegation to Dublin and is dead-set against the proposed accord.
“Any country that signs the convention,” said Stephen Mull, an assistant secretary of state, “in effect would make it impossible for the United States or any of our other allies who rely on these weapons to participate in these humanitarian exercises.”
In other words, it would be difficult to liberate countries like Iraq and Afghanistan--0r defend nations like South Korea and Taiwan--without the use of cluster munitions, which are very effective against concentrated groups of vehicles and personnel. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the employment of cluster bombs reportedly persuaded one of Saddam’s divisions to surrender, after they saw another unit decimated by those weapons. In that particular instance, the cluster weapons likely saved innocent lives.
Critics charge that cluster bombs inflict an unfair toll on civilians because some of the bomblets fail to explode on impact, or time-delay fuses don’t function. Because of those flaws, the sub-munitions may remain active for years, posing a hazard to farmers and other civilians who stumble across them.
To support their case for a cluster bomb ban, activists cite Israel’s 2006 war against Hizballah in Lebanon. By one estimate, unexploded ordnance (including cluster bombs) has killed 30 civilians in that country since the conflict ended almost two years ago.
But Lebanon also illustrates the folly of the proposed ban. As the Times points out, Israel was also on the receiving end of cluster bomb attacks, the result of Hizballah’s prolonged rocket barrage. From what we gather, the group has no representatives at the Dublin conference, and has no plans to ban cluster munitions in future attacks on Israel. The same holds true for Iran, which supplies most of the weaponry used by the terrorist group.
Against those realities, the proposed cluster bomb agreement will likely become a companion peace for 1999 Ottawa Treaty, which bans production, use and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. The United States has not signed the accord, recognizing that landmines are a legitimate weapon (when used properly).
American officials also point out that the weapons are an important part of our defensive strategy in Korea, deterring a possible enemy invasion across the DMZ. Additionally, they note that current technology can make landmines less lethal, through the use of time-delays that detonate the weapons after a specified period of time—the same devices that can be used with cluster bombs.
The U.S. has also noted that countries (and groups) that produce or utilize less sophisticated landmines have refused to support the ban. Consequently, these weapons remain widely available—and used—despite implementation of the Ottawa Treaty. That accord, like the naval treaty of the 1920s, reminds us that arms control only works when all parties have the incentive--and the willingness--to uphold their agreements.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
But for all of the bluster, Russia's military hardware is aging and decaying before our eyes, whether it is chugging through Red Square or flying at 2,000 feet above a U.S. carrier's flight deck. Defense attachés and intelligence officers assigned to Moscow used to live for these military parades, which sometimes gave them a chance for a first glimpse of some new weapon system. But there was certainly nothing to get excited about in the latest parade.
The steep decline of the Russian military began in the 1990s when orders for Russia's defense screeched to a halt during the Yeltsin era. But the "happy days are here again" era of $100 per barrel oil under Putin has not brought a cornucopia of new orders from the Russian ministry of defense. Procurement of new fighters and other systems has been anemic; most of the budget allocated for aerospace R&D has been diverted from military projects to the development of the Sukhoi Superjet 100, a regional passenger airliner.
Most weapons systems in the Russian arsenal today are warmed over versions of designs that were made in the Soviet period. Remarkably few innovations have been turned out since then, and almost none that are anywhere close to production status. This is a direct result of Moscow--despite all of its new-found wealth--turning off the investment spigot to the R&D centers of the defense industry.
In fairness, there is an element of truth in Johnson’s analysis. Russia’s defense industry experienced a period of severe contraction in the 1990s, with the cancellation of scores of projects, and the deferral of others. Some of the nation’s premier design bureaus, including Mikoyan (the leading builder of fighter jets), Tupolev and Ilyushin (which specialized in bomber and transport aircraft) and were forced into mergers. Others simply disappeared, throwing thousands of scientists, engineers and trained technicians into the unemployment line.
Recently, one retired Russian general described his country’s armed forces as a “bad copy of the Soviet Army,” a quote that Johnson eagerly incorporates into piece. But, is Russian military R&D at a near-standstill (as he would have us believe) with no hope for recovery?
However, it would be ill-advised to consign Moscow’s military base to the ash heap of history. Truth is, Russian design bureaus and their personnel have demonstrated a remarkable resiliency since the early 1990s, overcoming years of under-funding, political cronyism, bad management and ill-conceived consolidations. Russian defense contractors still produce advanced weaponry that competes successfully in the global market, and their prospects are not as dim as Mr. Johnson suggests.
Consider Sukhoi, once an also-ran to Mikoyan as a producer of Russian fighters. The latest models of its SU-27/30 Flanker are as capable as fourth-generation western jets, including the U.S. F-15 and F-16. Over the past 15 years, Sukhoi has sold more than 400 Flankers around the world, many of those to India and China. With those acquisitions, Beijing and New Delhi have gained a qualitative edge over their primary foes (Taiwan and Pakistan), which fly smaller numbers of early-model F-16s. Venezuela’s recent Flanker purchase is making its neighbors nervous in South America, and it’s likely that Iran and Syria will acquire them as well.
Moscow also does well in the air defense business, selling advanced surface-to-air missiles (notably the SA-10 and SA-20 to customers ranging from Greece and Armenia, to China and Vietnam. Current versions of the SA-20 (dubbed the S-300) offer greater range than the U.S.-made Patriot system, and are capable of engaging aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. Russian firms have also had success in selling short-range SAM systems (Iran’s recent acquisition of the SA-15 comes to mind), and upgrading older models. Moscow has also found a number of customers for shoulder-fired SAMs like the SA-18, comparable to our own Stinger.
Russian firms are also selling a variety of other weapons systems, ranging from anti-ship missiles and helicopters, to diesel submarines and medium-range bombers. All told, Moscow sold over $7 billion worth of arms in 2006 (the last year for which data is available). While Russia still trails the United States in arms exports, its sales have increased steadily over the past decade, and the total for this year will approach $8 billion.
Moreover, with oil prices well over $100 a barrel, Russia can invest money in more advanced weaponry. Sukhoi is working on a fifth-generation fighter, designed to compete with the U.S. F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. While the Sukhoi project (nicknamed PAK FA) won’t enter service until the next decade, it will be cheaper that its American counterparts, and available to states that can’t afford (or can’t access) U.S. technology.
In fact, PAK FA may be something of a template for future Russian defense efforts. India is already a partner in the project and Brazil signed on last month. Foreign participation will give Moscow even more capital to pursue advanced weapons, while ensuring an export market for its finished products. Countries like India and China are also attractive because of their educated workers and technological expertise. If Russia’s defense workforce is aging, then some of the manufacturing job can be farmed out to partners in Bombay or Shanghai—the same approach being used by western firms.
Obviously, we’ll never see a return of old Soviet military-industrial complex. But the Russian design bureaus of today are not exactly peddling junk. Many of their “warmed-over” designs (as Mr. Johnson describes them) are quite good and attractive to foreign buyers.
More disturbingly, Moscow’s resurgence in the arms market creates problems for the U.S. and its allies. Advanced anti-ship missiles in a place like Iran pose hazards for oil tankers (and American carrier groups) operating in the Persian Gulf. Likewise, Iran’s eventual the purchase of the S-300—to complement to SA-15—would complicate the task of targeting that country’s nuclear facilities. Similar deployments along the China coast are forcing us to rethink plans for defending Taiwan.
To be sure, Russia’s military-industrial complex still faces stiff challenges. But writing off Moscow’s defense base (at this point) would be both premature and imprudent.
The man who wrote—and whistled—the “Griffith” theme, composer Earle Hagen, died Monday at his California home. He was 88.
If the iconic whistle secured Mr. Hagen’s place in the pop culture pantheon, it also obscured his considerable talent as a composer, orchestrator and musician. By all accounts, Hagen was one of the most prolific composers in television history, writing and conducting music for at least 3,000 hours of television programs, ranging from sitcoms to action shows.
“The music just flowed from him,” Hagen’s wife told the Associated Press. It was a talent that served him well during the mid-1960s, when Hagen provided the music for TV shows created by Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard, one of the busiest production companies in Hollywood.
He worked on as many as five different shows at the same time, creating constant deadlines and unrelenting pressure. But he thrived in the pressure-cooker environment, and enjoyed the immediacy offered by television. As he told an interviewer in 2000:
"It was hard work, with long hours and endless deadlines, but being able to write something one day and hear it a few days later appealed to me," he said. "Besides, I was addicted to the ultimate narcosis in music, which is the rush you get when you give a downbeat and wonderful players breathe life into the notes you have put on paper."
Born in Chicago, Hagen’s family eventually relocated to Los Angeles, where he became something of a musical prodigy. Mr. Hagen graduated early from high school and was touring with swing bands at the age of 16.
He later played with some of the best-known band leaders of the late 1930s and early 1940s, including Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. During a stint with Ray Noble’s orchestra, Hagen and Dick Rogers wrote “Harlem Nocturne,” which became a jazz standard and later served as the theme for the 1980s incarnation of the Mike Hammer detective series.
After military service during World War II, Hagen returned to Hollywood, working as an arranger and orchestrator at 20th Century Fox. In 1960, he received an Academy Award nomination (with Lionel Newman) for music scoring on one of Marilyn Monroe’s last pictures, “Let’s Make Love.”
By that time, Hagen was also working for Sheldon Leonard, and was assigned to write a theme for “The Andy Griffith Show,” which would become one of television's most enduring comedies.
With his usual efficiency, Mr. Hagen quickly composed a catchy, whistled melody that became synonymous with the opening shot of Griffith and his TV son, Ron Howard, walking to their favorite fishing spot. While Hagen received music credit for the series—which spanned eight seasons and 260 episodes--many viewers were unaware that he was also the “whistler” for one of TV's most memorable theme songs.
Hagen’s other television credits included such hit shows as Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl and I Spy, along with numerous pilots and television movies. He won an Emmy for his work on I Spy, which incorporated ethnic music to match the series' exotic locales.
In one sense, Mr. Hagen wrote the book on creating music for television and the movies. In 1971, he published Scoring for Film, one of the first textbooks on the subject. Four decades later, it remains on required reading lists for aspiring composers. He also held workshops and classes for aspiring writers. For many of those sessions, his teaching fee was a box of golf balls, a nod toward his long-time hobby.
By the standards of “serious” musicians, much of Mr. Hagen’s work would be considered populist, even low-brow. But there was little doubt about his talent, or the contributions he made to countless TV shows and films.
I discovered that first-hand, when I bought a couple of Griffith DVDs at a big box retailer a couple of years ago. The DVDs featured re-mastered episodes of the show, but for some reason, they did not include Hagen’s theme song or his background music.
I sat through part of one episode and turned it off. Without Mr. Hagen’s contribution, the series lost part of its grace and charm. Minus that trademark whistle, Andy and Opie’s stroll to the fishing hole just wasn’t the same.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
As Mr. Mountain writes:
"By any measure, 269 men killed in war from a city the size of Newton is an enormous, heart-wrenching number. That's well over 500 mothers and fathers who received the fateful telegram, informing them that their sons had been killed in wartime. No corner of Newton was spared the tragedy of the Second World War. Every neighborhood, every block, every school suffered the loss of someone who was killed overseas. To this day, there are those among us who remember all too well."
Read the whole column. And remember.
And Tehran is making the most of its opportunity. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released an uncharacteristically blunt report on Monday, noting that Iran still owes the organization a “substantial explanation” about its nuclear activities. According to the U.N. agency, Tehran’s suspected research into nuclear weapons remains a “matter of serious concerns.”
As The New York Times reports:
The nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be intended more for military use than for energy generation.
Part of the agency’s case hinges on 18 documents listed in the report and presented to Iran that, according to Western intelligence agencies, indicate the Iranians have ventured into explosives, uranium processing and a missile warhead design — activities that could be associated with constructing nuclear weapons.
“There are certain parts of their nuclear program where the military seems to have played a role,” said one senior official close to the agency, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic constraints. He added, “We want to understand why.”
The IAEA's criticism of Iran is rather striking, given its past ignorance (or tolerance) of WMD programs in other rogue states. As former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay told the Times:
“The Iranians are certainly being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and they are being petulant and defensive,” said Albright, who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security. “The report lays out what the agency knows, and it is very damning. I’ve never seen it laid out quite like this.”
Among its findings, the IAEA describes Iran’s recent efforts to install larger, more efficient centrifuges, used to enrich uranium. Agency experts report that Tehran has installed second and third-generation centrifuges (described as IR-2 and IR-3) at its Natanz processing facility. As you might expect, the Iranians never reported that advance to the IAEA.
Additionally, agency inspectors report they were denied access to centrifuge component production facilities and an enrichment research center during their most recent visit to Iran, which occurred in April.
The amount of enriched uranium being produced by Tehran remains a mystery. While the IAEA report doesn’t address that topic, an official who spoke with the NYT said Iran has produced 330 kilograms of the material (roughly 700 pounds) since December—double the amount produced during a similar span in 2006.
However, the Times’ account fails to address critical aspects of the enrichment program, including: (a) the number of advanced centrifuges have been installed; (b) the size of the Iranian cascade (or centrifuge array) and (c) the purity of the enriched uranium now being produced.
Obviously, Tehran has succeeded in expanding its production capabilities, but the purity issue is critical. Bomb-grade enriched uranium requires a purity level of more than 90%; by comparison, nuclear power reactors can utilize material with purity levels below 10%. At last report, Iran’s enriched uranium had not reached the required purity threshold, but as with other elements of its nuclear program, attaining that goal is simply a matter of time and effort.
The IAEA Board of Governors is expected to discuss the Iran report next week. Beyond that, it’s unclear what the organization might recommend to the U.N. Past sanctions and resolutions against Iran have been utter failures. And that's a charitable assessment.
Ditto for previous rounds of talks between Tehran and the European Union. But that hasn’t deterred the EU. After the latest IAEA report was unveiled, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana announced plans to go back to Tehran with a “repackaged” set of security, technological and political guarantees, in exchange for Iran—if it abandons its enrichment program.
That proposal, first offered to Iran in 2006, appears to be dead on arrival. Tehran has already announced that it will not give up its enrichment program, which it describes as a “red line” issue.
Iran’s increasingly tough stand should come as no surprise. Last year’s NIE effectively derailed military options against Tehran, claiming the regime that had suspended its weaponization efforts--while acknowledging that work continued on the critical tasks of uranium enrichment and ballistic missile development.
With publication of the intelligence estimate, the Bush Administration apparently abandoned efforts to make a case for military action against Iran. While there have been periodic reports of “planning” for contingency operations against Tehran, these efforts appear to be routine. Additionally, there have been no signs that the Pentagon is preparing to deploy the forces needed for a sustained air and naval campaign against the Iranians.
Meanwhile, Iran is making nuclear hay while the sun shines. Israeli intelligence has warned that Tehran could have its first nuclear device within two years, and the accelerated efforts outlined in the IAEA report lends some credence to that assessment. In any event, it appears that Iran will have nuclear weapons long before the 2015 timeline offered by the U.S. intelligence community.
And that means the next president will face difficult choices on Iran, very early in his (or her) administration. And that’s all the more reason to wonder about candidates who want to negotiate with the Iranian leadership. The recent rounds of talks—supported by the U.S.—have brought us to the verge of a nuclear-armed Iran. We can only imagine what future negotiations might bring.
There's plenty of blame to go around in the west's failure to deal effectively with Iran. But part of that blame lies with our politicized intelligence community, which put partisan battles ahead of cogent assessments. Their flawed NIE that was the analytical equivalent of kicking the can down the road. Our day of reckoning with Iran wasn't deterred--it was merely delayed. And we will face a more dangerous adversary when that day arrives.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The graves of Civil War soldiers at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi. One of nation's first Memorial Day observances took place at the cemetery in 1866.
On the morning on 6 April 1862, Union and Confederate armies collided in rural Hardin County, Tennessee, along the Mississippi State Line, near a church called Shiloh. The battle that followed would be the largest--and bloodiest--in U.S. history (to that point); more than 3,500 troops died, and another 16,000 were wounded in two days of desperate fighting.
Union forces secured a hard-won victory during the engagement, which took its name from the church that became part of the battlefield. The battle began with a surprise Confederate attack, aimed at pushing Union forces into a nearby swap. Awaiting reinforcements, Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant was devoting much of his time to the training of inexperienced troops, unaware that Rebel units were less than five miles away. Defensive positions among federal troops were virtually non-existent.
As a result, Union lines quickly crumbled when Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnson began his attack. But determined resistance along the Union left, in an area called the Hornet's Nest, bought precious time, allowing Grant to reestablish defensive lines at Pittsburg Landing, along the Tennessee River.
Meanwhile, the Confederate hopes received a fatal blow (literally and figuratively), when General Johnson received a leg wound around 2:30 p.m. Believing it to be minor, he sent his personal physician to tend to wounded Union soldiers. In reality, the round that struck Johnson's knee--almost certainly fired from a southern position--had severed an artery in the general's leg. His boot filled with blood and he died a short time later.
As daylight began to fade, Johnson's subordinate, General P.G.T. Beauregard, decided not to press the attack, giving Grant more time to plan and reorganize. The next day he launched a massive counterattack at dawn, forcing Beauregard to retreat. The invasion route into northern Mississippi and Alabama was reopened, while the Confederates contemplated not only the loss of a key battle, but (arguably) their best commander--before the emergence of Robert E. Lee.
More than a thousand men died on each side at Shiloh, and many more were wounded. With few hospitals in the area surrounding the battlefield, scores of wounded men were evacuated to the city of Columbus, 80 miles south of Pittsburg Landing. The lucky ones made the trip by train; the rest made the excruciating journey by wagon, across bumpy roads.
Given the limits of military medicine during that era, hundreds of wounded soldiers who survived the battle died days or weeks later in Columbus. Many of them were buried in Friendship Cemetery, which remains a local landmark.
By some accounts, the ladies of Columbus visited the cemetery in late April of 1862, decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers who were killed at Shiloh, or succumbed from their wounds after the battle. They resumed the practice on April 25, 1866. Noticing that the graves of Union soldiers went undecorated, the women of Columbus placed flowers on the burial plots of their former enemies.
Columbus wasn't the only American town to remember the war dead in that spring of 1866. But it could be argued that the Mississippi commemoration had the most impact. The simple act of generosity and reconciliation was noted in Horace Greely's New York Tribune and it inspired Frances Miles Finch's poem, "The Blue and the Gray," which became required memorization for generations of school children.
The Columbus event also influenced the establishment of a formal Memorial Day. In 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of a veterans group called the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." The first national celebration of the event took place on May 30th of that same year, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the commemoration officially became Memorial Day at the turn of the century. By that time, the practice of decorating the graves of dead soldiers had become customary throughout the nation. But the annual act of remembrance might have never occurred, except for a bloody Civil War battle, and an act of kindness by a group of southern women.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Military personnel, in uniform, being verbally harassed by anti-war protesters and subjected to racial slurs, prompting security concerns from defense officials.
But these harassment incidents didn't happen 40 years ago, or outside that Marine Corps recruiting office in Berkeley. They occurred recently on the Metro in Washington D.C., prompting at least one military organization to issue a "Safety and Security Advisory" for personnel traveling in the nation's capital.
According to officials from Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), the special forces element of Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, there have been recent examples of military personnel being verbally harassed while commuting on the subway.
During these incidents, uniformed military personnel have been approached by individuals "expressing themselves as anti-government, shouting anti-war sentiments and using racial slurs against minorities.
In episode a female military member was followed onto the subway platform by a protester, who continued to berate her as she exited the Metro station.
The security advisory, which is outlined in a six-slide PowerPoint presentation, was issued yesterday by security managers for SOCSOUTH. A copy of the unclassified document, which is being widely circulated among force protection elements, was obtained by In From the Cold.
Local and federal agencies are said to be investigating the incidents, which appear to be random in nature. The advisory reports that most of the harassment episodes have occurred near the Reagan National Airport and the Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station, along the transit system's Yellow Line.
But, with warm weather approaching, security officials believe harassment activities may increase and spread to other areas. The security advisory issued by SOCSOUTH covers the
"National Capital Region" which includes Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and portions of Maryland.
There have been no reports of physical violence in connection with the harassment of military personnel. However, the advisory lists a number of precautions that personnel should take if they encounter anti-war protesters. Military members are urged to "get off the train at the next stop (if possible), notify transit police and file a report with their unit security manager, to "ensure DoD investigative follow-up."
The advisory applies to all uniformed personnel, along with DoD civilians and contractors working for SOC-S. While traveling in the Washington, D.C. area they encouraged to "not wear" security badges, special unit clothing, insignias or other identification" that could connect them to the military or a contractor firm. The directive also urges SOCSOUTH personnel to "use the buddy system" and avoid traveling alone in the nation's capital.
Military personnel and their civilian counterparts are also warned against getting into a physical altercation with anti-war protesters. As the advisory notes, the incident may be filmed, "creating bad press for the military, our organization and you."
The report does not list the number of harassment incidents that have occurred in recent months. But DoD organizations (typically) don't issue security advisories for isolated examples of harassment. That would suggest that there have been multiple incidents involving SOCSOUTH personnel during their travels to the nation's capital.
The security manager who prepared the advisory for SOCSOUTH did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment. Most military organizations are at minimum manning today, in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend. Spokesmen for federal law enforcement agencies were also unavailable for comment.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The measure will significantly increase education aid to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a monthly living stipend, plus tuition assistance equal to the most expensive public college in each veteran’s home state.
Webb’s “enhanced” GI Bill now goes to President Bush, who has threatened to veto it. The White House, along with Senate Republicans, offered their own measure. That plan would increase the current tuition aid to $1500 a month, an increase of $400 over the current Montgomery GI Bill.
The GOP measure would also raise tuition assistance to $2000 a month for personnel who serve at least twelve years, and eliminate the current $1200 enrollment fee now paid by participating service members.
Webb’s measure will also eliminate the fee, while providing full benefits to veterans who serve as little as three years. Under the current version of the GI Bill, service members must serve at least six years to receive full tuition assistance.
The Republican plan, offered by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and North Carolina’s Richard Burr, offered limited assistance to veterans serving as a little as two years. However, the GOP bill required that personnel serve at least four years before receiving full benefits.
The living stipend in the Webb bill is aimed at providing the same level of benefits given to returning veterans of World War II. Republicans--whose plan did not include a stipend--claim the new plan is too expensive and gives service members more reason to leave the military. As Mr. Graham noted during the Senate debate:
“I am not going to sit on the sidelines and, under feel-good politics, create a new program that will result in hurting retention at a time when America desperately needs to increase the ability to retain this force,” he said.
According to GOP estimates, Mr. Webb’s plan will cost at least $51 billion over the next decade --$13 billion more than the Republican version. The Veterans Administration puts the 10-year price tag at closer to $64 billion. Democrats have proposed a 0.5 surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year to finance the plan. Republicans suggested a cut in other spending to pay for the bill.
In terms of its impact on retention, Webb’s measure seems to be a wash. A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that today’s bill could lead to a 16% drop in re-enlistments.
However, the CBO also claims that the new plan would boost recruiting by the same percentage (supposedly) resulting in lower costs for enlistment bonuses and other incentives. Overall, the CBO estimates, the new GI Bill would increase retention costs by about $1.1 billion over five years—to maintain the current force. Projected increases in the Army and Marine Corps will push that total higher.
As a military retiree, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon for the new bill. Veterans who’ve worn the uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly deserve improved education benefits. The skyrocketing cost of college tuition (something Democrats never complain about) justifies some sort of enhanced education program.
But what will veterans (and taxpayers) get for another $6 billion a year? For one thing, some fuzzy math. As the Air Force discovered a few years ago, expanded benefit programs tend to grow well beyond early projections. When the service increased tuition assistance for active duty personnel--from 75% to 100%--the outlay for that benefit quickly doubled, to more than $140 million a year. A recent audit revealed that some of that money was wasted on courses like massage therapy--hardly what the Air Force had in mind.
True, $140 million may sound like chump change in a $500 billion defense budget, but it underscores the tendency of government programs to grow exponentially. We can only wonder how much Mr. Webb’s bill will really cost, since colleges have no incentive to hold the line on tuition costs under his plan.
There’s also the matter of who should qualify for educational benefits. Both the Webb bill and the Republican plan offer a "transfer" option, allowing veterans to pass unused benefits to a spouse or child, after a specified period of time.
While no one doubts the sacrifices made by military families, we believe military education benefits should rest with the service members. If their family members need educational assistance, there are plenty of grant and loan programs available. Adding the transfer component will require the VA to track benefits for millions of additional beneficiaries, increasing administrative costs.
We also question the logic of awarding full benefits to veterans before completion of their first enlistment. From our perspective, the Montgomery GI Bill--which has been in effect for more than 20 years--has a couple of attractive features. First, it requires veterans to make a commitment to the military, serving for at least six years before receiving full tuition benefits.
Secondly, the program also forces young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to make a commitment to their education, but setting aside the "enrollment fee" during the first year of their enlistement. With their own money invested in the effort, veterans have a greater incentive to complete their schooling.
There's also the matter of helping those who stay in uniform. Mr. Webb's bill does nothing to expand off-duty education programs for career officers and NCOs--the backbone of our armed services. Instead, the Senator is aiming his program at "first termers" who leave the military at the end of their initial enlistment. Officers and NCOs who plan to stick it out to retirement (and hope to pursue a degree on active duty) might ask Senator Webb: what can you do for me? The answer will likely disappoint.
Indeed, Webb's own statistics also show that some branches of the military--the Air Force and Navy in particular--have high re-enlistment rates. In the case of the USAF, 51% of first-term airmen reenlist, and the Navy's retention rates are almost as high. Those airmen and sailors would benefit more from improved off-duty education programs and more money for tuition assistance. An optimum GI Bill would address the educational concerns of active duty personnel, as well as those who've returned to the civilian world.
Unfortunately, there seems little chance that the Webb measure will be modified before it becomes law. With today's veto-proof majority vote, there's little incentive for compromise. The expected veto from Mr. Bush will give the Democrats a chance to make political hay, slamming the president for failing to support the troops.
In an era that requires multiple educational options for military personnel, Mr. Webb's bill seems almost frozen in time. By concentrating on veterans who've left active duty, he ignores the education needs of those who plan to make the military a career. With budgets for active duty education programs already at the breaking point, the armed services need relief in that area as well. And that's the great, glaring weakness of the Webb plan.
On Tuesday, the film maker took a shot at fellow director Clint Eastwood, criticizing the absence of blacks in his recent films on the battle, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.
He did two films about Iwo Jima back-to-back and there was not one black solider in both of those films,” Lee said Tuesday at Cannes, where he was a judge in an on-line short film competition.
“Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version,” Lee said.
As the Associated Press reports, Mr. Lee will be offering his own “vision” later this year, releasing a film on African-American soldiers who fought in Italy during World War II. Fair enough.
Besides, there’s nothing like stirring up a little buzz for your next movie by taking a shot at someone else, particularly an icon like Eastwood. At age 77, the director is among the most honored at his craft, one of only a few to win multiple Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.
On the other hand, some of Mr. Lee’s recent projects (the 25th Hour; She Hate Me) have bombed. Against that backdrop, you might say that Lee’s upcoming war movie, Miracle at St. Anna, could use a little advance publicity, and he guaranteed that by going after Clint Eastwood.
Regrettably, this isn’t the first time that Mr. Eastwood has faced such criticism. When the first of his Iwo series reached theaters in 2006, USA Today published an op-ed that voiced similar concerns. It was written by Yvonne Latty, a journalism professor at New York University, who claimed the absence of African-Americans in the film “reopened an old wound.”
However, such complaints have little merit, from either a historical or cinematic standpoint. If Mr. Lee bothered to watch Flags, he would find black Marines in a cutaway shot early in the film, and in a historical photograph that appears during the closing credits. Saying there are no African-Americans in the film is simply incorrect.
So, why aren’t blacks featured more prominently in the film? According to Professor Latty (and USMC records), a total of 700 African-American Marines served on Iwo Jima during the battle. But her opinion piece omits an important point, those black Marines represented less than one percent of the 80,000 who fought to take the island from the Japanese.
And, because of segregation, they were delegated to support roles. Most of the African-Americans on Iwo Jima were assigned to the 8th Ammunition Company and the 36th Depot Company, which landed on D-Day and handled the vital tasks of moving equipment and cargo ashore.
It was dangerous work; author James Bradley, whose book inspired Eastwood’s first film, writes of ammunition handlers who were “fused to the fireball” when Japanese shells struck their cargo on the beach. Mr. Bradley doesn’t list the race of those who died in that horrible moment, but based on the historical accounts, they were likely members of the ammunition or depot companies.
Though considered support troops, the black Marines who served on Iwo Jima did see combat from time to time. As Corps historian Colonel Joseph Alexander writes:
When Japanese counterattacks penetrated to the beach areas, these Marines dropped their cargo, unslung their carbines, and engaged in well-disciplined fire and maneuver, inflicting more casualties than they sustained. Two Marines, Privates James W. Whitlock and James Davis, received the Bronze Star. Said Colonel Leland S. Swindler, commanding the VAC Shore Party, the entire body of black Marines "conducted themselves with marked coolness and courage."
While the shore party performed valiantly, their actions were far-removed from the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines—the unit that raised the flag on Iwo Jima and became the basis for Bradley’s book and Mr. Eastwood’s first film. The battalion and its subordinate companies were all white—another product of the segregated Marine Corps of World War II.
To film an accurate account of the flag-raisers (and their actions), Eastwood had to use a script (and cast) that reflected the military realities of 1945, not the p.c. sensibilities of the 21st century. There is nothing racist or inaccurate in doing that.
In other words, Ms. Letty and Mr. Lee ought to know better. But they apparently have their own agendas, whether it’s touting a book (in the case of the NYU professor), or Mr. Lee hyping his next film. And, we’ll give the director credit for putting his talent where his mouth is. The role of African-Americans in World War II has been largely ignored by Hollywood, and there are plenty of good stories that have never been told (the 761st Tank Battalion, which fought with Patton’s Third Army comes to mind).
But putting historical events on the big screen requires accuracy to fact and detail—no matter how uncomfortable that might be. With his Iwo series, Mr. Eastwood produced films that accurately reflected the battle and its participants, though portions of Letters is much more speculative than Flags of Our Fathers. For being true to his subjects (and the record of history), Clint Eastwood deserves praise, not condemnation.
We’re not sure how long Spike Lee will continue his tirade against his fellow director. But, we wish the entertainment press in Cannes—the same “journalists” who so eagerly reported his criticism—would ask Mr. Lee a simple question:
How was Mr. Eastwood supposed to put more black actors in Letters? That film was devoted to the Japanese defenders of the island. Their opponent—U.S. Marines—made only token appearances in the movie. To our knowledge, no Americans (black or white) were part of General Kuribayashi’s garrison. Perhaps Mr. Lee can solve this problem by remaking the Sands of Iwo Jima, with a multi-cultural flag-raising and an ethnically diverse Japanese Army.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
We first wrote about the improved piddle pack more than a week ago, citing its availability as one of the great moments in aviation history. While our tongue was firmly-in-cheek when we made that claim, the issue of in-flight relief is a serious matter. As Mr. Shachtman notes, pilot attempts to relieve themselves (using current "piddle" technology) have been linked to at least two F-16 crashes. The pilots involved in those accidents were male; for female aviators, the process of emptying your bladder in a fighter cockpit is even more cumbersome.
On a historical note, we should note that piddle packs have been around, in one form or another, for decades. In fact, an earlier version of the device helped save a B-17 (and its crew) during World War II. The man who used the piddle pack as a fire-fighting tool won the Medal of Honor for his exploits, although the impromptu extinguisher isn't mentioned in his citation.
Today's quiz: name the bomber crew member whose timely use of a piddle pack helped save his aircraft and made him a hero. Hint: he's the same guy who was on KP when Secretary of War Stimson showed up at his base, to award him the MOH. That prompted a bit of stalling, until the recipient could be located and change into his dress uniform.
Both MacArthur and Hecht worked as reporters in the Windy City, in an era when there were a half-dozen daily papers, brawling for stories and advertising dollars. In their experience, only one paper would accept the statements and claims of public officials without question—Colonel McCormick’s staid Tribune.
Reading today’s editorial in the Los Angeles Times, it seems that the same maxim applies to the Tribune’s sister publication. According to the Times, Osama bin Laden has (again) stuck his thumb in President Bush’s eye, reminding everyone that he’s still out there and remains a dangerous threat—even if no one is paying attention.
As the Times observes, bin Laden has released two new messages in recent days, but they received scant attention:
“…the release of the messages didn't make page one of any major American newspaper, including this one. Seven years have passed since Bush vowed to capture Bin Laden "dead or alive." Is there truly nothing newsworthy in the mastermind of the murder of nearly 3,000 American civilians having no difficulty providing well-timed spin to counter the messages Bush tried to deliver to the Middle East?
Or have we collectively grown so numb after years of failure in the so-called global war on terror that we have accepted that Bin Laden cannot be found? If so, this is indeed the soft bigotry of low expectations. We delude ourselves if we believe that Bin Laden's survival doesn't matter or that his ideology is in decline. The State Department's latest report on terrorism concludes that Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the greatest terrorist threat to the United States.
And are Americans truly so familiar with Bin Laden's thinking that we need not pay close attention to what he is saying?
The obvious rebuttal to the Times’ editorial is that the right people are paying attention—namely the men and women of the U.S. military and our intelligence agencies. Since 9-11, they’ve been at the forefront of the war on terror, and while some mistakes have been made, they have been effective at taking the fight to the enemy. True, bin Laden remains at large, but his terror network is a shadow of its former self, particularly in Iraq.
And if you don’t believe us, just ask a leading jihadist. His assessment, recently posted on an Al Qaida website, was discovered by Nibras Kazimi, a scholar at the Hudson Institute (H/T to John Hinderaker at Powerline). As Kazimi writes:
A prolific jihadist sympathizer has posted an ‘explosive’ study on one of the main jihadist websites in which he laments the dire situation that the mujaheddin find themselves in Iraq by citing the steep drop in the number of insurgent operations conducted by the various jihadist groups, most notably Al-Qaeda’s 94 percent decline in operational ability over the last 12 months when only a year and half ago Al-Qaeda accounted for 60 percent of all jihadist activity!
The author, writing under the pseudonym ‘Dir’a limen wehhed’ [‘A Shield for the Monotheist’], posted his ‘Brief Study on the Consequences of the Division [Among] the [Jihadist] Groups on the Cause of Jihad in Iraq’ on May 12 and it is being displayed by the administration of the Al-Ekhlaas website—one of Al-Qaeda’s chief media outlets—among its more prominent recent posts. He's considered one of Al-Ekhlaas's "esteemed" writers.
The author tallies up and compares the numbers of operations claimed by each insurgent group under four categories: a year and half ago (November 2006), a year ago (May 2007), six months ago (November 2007) and now (May 2008). He demonstrated that while Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq could claim 334 operations in Nov. 06 and 292 in May 07, their violent output dropped to 25 in Nov. 07 and 16 so far in May 08. Keep in mind that these assessments are based on Al-Qaeda's own numbers.
The author also shows that similar steep drops were exhibited by other jihadist groups.
Obviously, Al-Qaeda’s dramatic decline in Iraq is the result of many factors, including the Al-Anbar Awakening and the U.S.-led troop surge. But those efforts stem from the same, underlying principle: knowing your enemy and implementing the steps needed to defeat him. In the case of Iraq’s Sunni population, it meant siding with American and government security forces, organizing their own groups to fight the terrorists and sharing intelligence information with their new partners.
For the U.S., the solution was based in the surge strategy, sending larger numbers of troops into areas that were once terrorist havens and holding the territory—something that hadn’t been done in the past. As a result, Al Qaeda operatives have been pushed into increasingly smaller corners of Iraq, and largely isolated from traditional support bases.
In other words, the “right” people (namely General Petraeus and his operational commanders) understood the importance of Iraq to Al Qaeda, developing the strategy and tactics that have inflicted a stinging defeat on the terror group and its leaders. Clearly, Al Qaeda’s communiqués on Iraq were not lost on our military leaders, or the intelligence organizations that support them. Understanding the terrorist's "message"--and their tactics--is one reason the troop surge has been so successful. Understanding all elements of the enemy's plan allows our forces to develop an effective counter-strategy, one that has made Al Qaeda increasingly irrelevant in Iraq.
That may be one reason that bin Laden’s most recent message focused on the Palestinian issue and Arab leaders he described as “sell-outs,” rather than events in Iraq. A 94% drop in Al Qaeda operations on the “central front” isn’t a statistic that bin Laden wants to highlight for his global audience.
So why did the LAT waste editorial space on the “ignored” terror messages? Because it fits with a general theme that the paper endorses—and one that Democratic politicians offer on cue. It goes something like this: bin Laden’s ability to release audio and video tapes (seemingly at will) is another reminder of our “unfinished” job in Afghanistan. Completing that mission demands a quick withdrawal from Iraq (with little regard for the terrorist resurgence that will follow our hasty exit).
In the meantime, we can focusing on “getting” bin Laden, supposedly the central mission in the War on Terror. Never mind that bin Laden's main role in the Al Qaeda of 2008 is that of figurehead and spiritual adviser, rather than a terror planner. It’s a move that bin Laden would almost certainly welcome, not only would it give his beleaguered Iraqi operatives some breathing space, it would grant him renewed relevance and stature--something that he hasn’t enjoyed for several years.
The Times speaks ominously of bin Laden’s “humiliation” of President Bush and the vow to do the same thing to the next commander-in-chief. But, in its selective analysis, the paper fails to note that bin Laden has suffered his own humiliations at the hands of the U.S., most notably the near-collapse of his affiliate in Iraq. A fight he once described as essential in the “war against the crusaders” has become a graveyard for Al Qaeda.
And, in what must be viewed as a personal insult, many of our recent “decapitation” missions along the Pakistan border have been aimed at bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, rather than bin Laden. Critics argue that we target Al-Qaeda’s #2 leader (and Taliban commanders) because we don’t know where bin Laden is.
There’s an element of truth in that, but it’s also clear that bin Laden’s “security requirements” have left him isolated, with little impact on Al Qaida’s operations. Simply stated, the death of Zawahiri would have a far greater impact on the group than the loss of Osama bin Laden. That must be galling for a terrorist who has always stressed his jihadist roots, dating back to his battles against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
But the bin Laden of 2008 is not the mujaheddin of the mid-80s, or even the terrorist mastermind of 2001. He’s a terror leader who gambled on Iraq (and is losing badly), and has suffered bruising setbacks in other locations, including Somalia. His global affiliates have had some success (as evidenced by the European transit attacks a few years ago), but they have been unable to capitalize on those strikes. The result is a terror organization that remains decentralized, with untested commanders at many levels, and a leader who is largely out of the operational loop. Al-Qaeda remains dangerous, but it is does not pose the same threat it did seven years ago.
In that context, we’d say that bin Laden’s recent propaganda blasts received the level of attention they deserved. Otherwise, save the terrorist spin for the willing dupes at the Los Angeles Times.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
It proved to be a fortuitous choice. The young man was named Jimmy Stewart and the rest, as they say, is history. Well, almost.
Mr. Stewart is rightly remembered as a screen icon—one of the finest actors of Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” By its calculations, the American Film Institute (AFI), determined that Stewart is the “third greatest” male film star of all time, trailing only Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.
And that ranking is certainly deserved. With masterful performances in such classic films as The Philadelphia Story; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; It’s a Wonderful Life, Rope, The Rear Window, Vertigo, How the West Was Won, Anatomy of a Murder and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stewart excelled in a variety of genres, ranging from screwball comedies and westerns, to psychological thrillers.
But, on the centennial of his birth, Jimmy Stewart should also be remembered for his “other” career, the one he was reportedly most proud of. Stewart served as a bomber pilot during World War II, and remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1968, retiring as a brigadier general. While Stewart’s military career is certainly well-known, few understand the effort he made to serve his country in uniform.
Initially drafted by the Army Air Corps in 1940, Stewart was rejected for being underweight. When he enlisted as a Private a year later, he faced the same problem. He worked with MGM’s head trainer to add five pounds to his frame, but Air Corps doctors determined he was still below the 148 pound minimum for someone of his height (6’3”). Stewart convinced them to run the weight test again and he barely passed.
With his enlistment in March 1941, Stewart became the first American movie star to enter the U.S. military during World War II, though the attack on Pearl Harbor was still nine months away. Too old for the aviation candidate program, the 32-year-old Stewart still earned his commission as a lieutenant (and pilot’s wings) by early 1942.
Downplaying his extensive experience as a civilian pilot—Stewart earned a commercial pilot rating before entering the military—he feared that the military would put him in a training unit, rather than a combat assignment. And sure enough, the Army did just that, making Stewart a B-17 instructor pilot at a base in New Mexico.
Determined to serve in an operational unit, Stewart finally wrangled a transfer to the 445th Bomb Group, which was equipped with B-24 Liberators. He joined the group in August 1943 and deployed to England in December of that year. By early 1944, Stewart was flying combat missions as commander of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron. Promoted to Major, the film star was received a new assignment: operations officer for the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that was experiencing operational and morale problems.
To motivate his crews, Stewart volunteered to fly additional missions over enemy territory. The number he flew with the 453rd is unknown; at Stewart’s request, those flights were never counted towards the 35 needed to complete his combat tour. Officially, Stewart is credited with 20 combat missions, all flown with the 445th. As a pilot, reports historian Donald Miller, Stewart never lost a man to hostile fire or mental breakdown. He was widely regarded as one of the best squadron commanders in 8th Air Force, the U.S. heavy bomber command that operated from England during World War II.
Jimmy Stewart’s combat service coincided with some of the most vicious air battles of World War II. His early missions were part of a campaign called The Big Week, aimed at breaking the back of the German Luftwaffe. The Big Week produced some of the heaviest casualties (among bomber crews) since the disasters at Schweinfurt and Ploesti in mid-1943.
It was a brutal introduction to combat, but Stewart and his fellow crew members met the challenge. The 445th won a unit citation for its efforts during a “Big Week” raid, with Stewart receiving the first of two Distinguished Flying Crosses that he would win as a combat pilot. On the first day of the aerial blitz, Stewart managed to hold When the war ended, Stewart was a full Colonel, making him the highest-ranking actor to serve in World War II.
While he would remain active in the reserves for another 20 years, Stewart (with typical modesty) rarely spoke of his wartime exploits, in public or in private. He appeared in one TV documentary to discuss the bloody Schweinfurt raids (listed as James Stewart, Squadron Commander). When journalist Starr Smith wrote a book on the actor’s wartime service, one of Stewart’s children said that she learned a great deal from Smith’s work—because her father never discussed his military career at home.
It was consistent with Stewart’s character. Men who served with him in England described their squadron commander in the same terms as movie-goers: self-effacing, languid and unassuming. He got things done without theatrics, wrote Donald Miller, and the crews respected his leadership and authenticity. “He skipped all the milk runs,” one of his gunners told Miller. “High command didn’t like that.”
All the more reason to admire (and remember) an American hero, on the silver screen, and in the skies over Europe.
Monday, May 19, 2008
An artist's rendering of the B-2 "Spirit" being refueled by the new KC-45 (insert nickname here). Illustration courtesy of Northrop-Grumman.
What actually happened at No Gun Ri remains controversial, and in dispute. This much we know: between 27-29 July 1950, members of the Army’s 7th Calvary Regiment were defending a bridge near the village of No Gun Ri, in central South Korea. North Korean divisions, who had crossed the 38th Parallel just weeks earlier, were attempting to drive U.S. and ROK units from the peninsula. Thousands of refugees were also flooding south, ahead of the North Korean advance. The ROK Army had largely collapsed; U.S. units, poorly trained and equipped, were desperately trying to stem the enemy invasion.
Based on their experiences in previous battles, U.S. commanders knew that North Korean soldiers often infiltrated refugee columns, attempting penetrate allied lines. That prompted directives that refugees would not be allowed to pass through American lines. Records from the 1st Calvary Division stated "No refugees to cross the front line. Fire everyone trying to cross lines. Use discretion in case of women and children." An Air Force memo reported that it had complied with an Army request to strafe "all civilian refugee parties who are approaching our positions."
Six decades later, it is unclear if those orders were disseminated to all units, and how they were implemented. But members of the 7th Cav did fire on civilians at No Gun Ri during that period in late July and there were casualties. Depending on whose account you believe, the number of refugees who died was anywhere between eight and 400.
The AP series prompted investigations by the U.S. and South Korean governments. It also attracted the attention of Army Major Robert Bateman, a former 7th Calvary Officer and history instructor at West Point. Bateman’s subsequent book on No Gun Ri, which won a Colby Prize for military history in 2004, raised serious questions about key elements of the AP report.
While acknowledging the civilians were killed at No Gun Ri, Bateman found that the 7th Calvary (among other units) did not receive orders to fire on refugees. The "fire on everyone directive" was actually a radio log entry from another regiment that was miles away from No Gun Ri.
As for the Air Force, it strafed "anything that was bipedal in Korea" during the summer of 1950. That included North Korea forces, South Korean refugees and ROK formations, as well as U.S. Army and Marine Corps units. Bateman also noted that it would have been impossible for the 7th Calvary to call in an airstrike on the refugees; at that point in the war, the unit did not have a Tactical Air Control Party to communicate with Air Force pilots, and the regiment’s tactical radios were incompatible with USAF equipment.
But most importantly, Major Bateman proved that three of the AP’s "eyewitnesses"—former soldiers Edward Daily, Delos Flint and Eugene Hesselman—were not present when the massacre reportedly occurred. Wounded in action, Flint and Hesselman were evacuated before the incident took place. Daily, who claimed to have fired a machinegun directly into a crowd of refugees, was exposed as a fraud and liar. He never served in the 7th Cav until 1951, and was not awarded a battlefield commission, as he claimed. Mr. Daily was later convicted on fraud charges stemming from claims of PTSD (he received over $400,000 in benefits) and served a 21-month prison sentence.
In return for exposing the AP’s inaccuracies, Major Bateman was vilified by the wire service team, led by "special correspondent" Charles Hanley. At various points, Hanley attempted to block Bateman’s research, get his book contract cancelled and wrote scathing letters who favorably reviewed the Major’s published work. So much for an honest examination of what happened at No Gun Ri.
Undeterred, Mr. Hanley and his wire service colleagues have returned to the story on several occasions. In April of last year, they published a triumphant article, detailing a recently-discovered, high-level document that described an American policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea.
The document, a letter from the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul, was dated on the same day when the No Gun Ri shootings occurred. However, the AP account did not explain why so many units were unaware of the order, as evidenced by Bateman’s research, and the absence of similar incidents near other American units.
Why does this matter? Because the AP is back on the case. Yesterday, the wire service published a lengthy "Impact" piece, co-authored by Mr. Hanley, which examines South Korea’s atrocities against its own people in the summer of 1950. The article is based (in large part) on the work of a ROK government commission, formed to investigate the killings of prisoners and alleged communists. In two years of work, the panel has uncovered "hundreds" of sets of remains, but its chairman believes as many as 100,000 people were executed by ROK soldiers and police.
Hanley’s report even includes comments from "remorseful old men" who claim they participated in the massacre. As with the No Gun Ri incident, there is little doubt that innocent civilians were among those who died—the question is how many, and how widespread such executions were, in the chaotic early days of the Korean conflict.
With documentation from the ROK commission, the AP’s latest report on wartime atrocities appears less speculative than its prize-winning series on No Gun Ri. But, given the questions that surfaced after that first expose, we can only hope that South Korea can find its own Robert Bateman, willing to cast a critical eye at the historical record—and the investigative work of the Associated Press.
ADDENDUM: We also wonder when the AP will address the question of communist atrocities committed during the Korean War. More than 5,000 American POWs died as the result of war crimes, including maltreatment by North Korean and Chinese forces. The death toll for ROK civilians was even higher; by one estimate as many as 100,000 were killed during the initial communist occupation of Seoul in 1950. Thousands more perished over the years that followed, but apparently that isn’t enough of a story for the Associated Press.