Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Same Old Song

One of the first subjects taught in any course for prospective spooks is the intelligence cycle. It's a closed-loop, continuous system that begins with intelligence requirements. That, in turn, drives collection, which is followed by processing, analysis, dissemination and feedback. The receipt of feedback (at least in theory) drives new or modified requirements, starting the cycle anew.

From a management perspective, the real intelligence cycle goes something like this. You start with an intel calamity, an event like 9-11, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The disaster is inevitably followed by demands for "answers" and "accountability," from politicians. That leads to Congressional investigations and reports from blue ribbon commissions, who usually identify long-standing problems in the intelligence community.

In response, the White House and Congress implement a laundry list of "reforms," aimed at preventing similar debacles in the future. The legislative mandates are usually accompanied by spending increases for required reforms. After that, the intelligence agencies set off again, with little effort by the administration (or Congress) to make sure that the "fixes" are actually working. That period of benign neglect typically lasts until the next cataclysmic intel failure, which starts the reform process anew.

If you need proof of this model in operation, look no further than Tuesday's report in the Washington Times. According to national security correspondent Bill Gertz, a former senior intelligence official has revealed that the nation's counter-intelligence efforts remain fragmented and weak, despite a series of spy scandals over the past two decades, and supposed efforts to fix the problems:

Michelle Van Cleave, the former U.S. national counterintelligence executive, stated in the report that the FBI, CIA and other federal counterspy units lack both a needed focus and strategy for thwarting the growing foreign intelligence threat.

"Our counterintelligence capabilities are in decay. Instead of leadership and strategic coherence, the [director of national intelligence's] office has given us more bureaucracy," Miss Van Cleave said in an interview.

"Hostile intelligence activities are a national security challenge of the first order," Miss Van Cleave said. "The new administration will need to go back to first principles and be willing to make some major changes, in order to build a genuine strategic counterintelligence capability for the United States."


Release of the report follows a recent letter to Congress from former FBI agent Terry D. Turchie, a counterintelligence official posted to an Energy Department nuclear weapons laboratory, warning of "potentially catastrophic consequences" as the result of a downgrading of counterintelligence at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Reforms that focused on intelligence rather than counterintelligence "opened the way for major security breaches involving [Department of Energy] installations and personnel in the future," said the Sept. 1 letter to Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The 88-page report was authored by Miss Van Cleave for the private Project on National Security Reform, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that, according to its Web site, works to modernize and improve U.S. national security.

As Mr. Gertz notes, the National Counterintelligence Executive was established in 2001, a direct response to damaging spy cases involving former FBI agent Robert Hanssen and CIA officer Aldrich Ames. Both men betrayed sensitive human intelligence sources to the Russians (in exchange for money), resulting in the loss of critical reporting assets.

Creation of the counterintelligence post was supposed to reinvigorate efforts to find traitors and enemy spies. But, as you might expect, the reform program became bogged down in bureaucracy and turf wars. Ms. Van Cleave, who headed the office from 2003-2006, says those barriers still remain, and have prevented the U.S. from launching a "strategic" program against hostile intelligence agencies and their operatives.

Meanwhile, our adversaries have ramped up their collection efforts against U.S. targets. In his article, Bill Gertz notes that the Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Mike McConnell, recently told Congress that spying activities by Moscow and Beijing are
"reaching Cold War levels."

But, without the necessary leadership--from someone who can stop the in-fighting--our counterintelligence efforts will remain largely hollow and toothless. No wonder the Chinese and Russians are so anxious to expand their espionage operations in the United States.

It's also a sure bet that Ms. Van Cleave's warning will be ignored--until the next major spy scandal breaks. That's how the real intelligence cycle works.

H/T: Haft of the Spear

Arizona Has the Right Idea

If you're a military member who claims residence in Arizona, consider yourself lucky, at least in terms of your voting rights.

Starting Thursday, any registered Arizona voter who lives overseas can vote on-line, thanks to a unique, web-based system. As the AP reports:

The Secretary of State's Military and Overseas Voting system will allow registered voters to apply for early ballots online and then submit their ballots electronically using a document scanner. Previously, Arizona elections officials allowed them to vote by faxing their ballots.


They still can vote by fax, and now they have the option of voting on the Internet," Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer said Monday.

The system is expected to aid thousands of overseas voters for the general election. During the previous presidential election in 2004, military and overseas voters cast 7,594 ballots.

Brewer spokesman Kevin Tyne said elections officials decided to include a Web-based voting system after learning that fewer and fewer military installations were equipped with fax machines.

The Secretary of State's office developed the system itself and gained approval from the U.S. Department of Justice last week. Officials included a 128-bit encryption technology with the online ballots, giving each vote the kind of security that's used in online banking and credit card transactions.

We're a but puzzled by the claim that "fewer military installations have fax machines." We conducted our own, informal survey and found more than a dozen on a single floor of one headquarters building. But we applaud the efforts of Ms. Brewer and her staff.

Fact is, Americans living outside their home state are the most disenfranchised segment of the voting population. Recent data from the Election Assistance Commission suggests that two-thirds of the ballots requested by those voters in the last presidential election went uncounted. The reason? Most were returned as "undeliverable," or received too late to be counted. Many of those ballots were submitted by military personnel and their dependents.

So why doesn't DoD implement a single, on-line system for all military members and their families? At one time, the Pentagon was working on a web-based solution for armed forces, but abandoned it because of "security concerns."

Then, there's the matter of Congressional resistance. Since most military personnel and dependents voting Republican, the Democrats who control the House and Senate have little incentive to deliver more GOP ballots in a tight election. By some estimates, an improved absentee voting system might add another 500-600,000 ballots to the national total, with 60% of them in the Republican column.

Then, it should come as not surprise that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland reneged a deal earlier this year, promising to co-sponsor a resolution with Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt. His proposal? Simply encourage the Defense Department to "do more" to ensure that military personnel stationed overseas can vote in the November.

House Democrats also refused to act on a bill introduced by another Republican, California Representative Kevin McCarthy. All he asked was that the Pentagon use air transport for absentee ballots, cutting delivery times from three to four weeks, to as little as three days.

Without action from DoD and Congress, the states have become the best hope for making military votes count. But Arizona is, so far, the only state that allows on-line voting for all residents living overseas. An AP survey, conducted in April, found that only 13 American communities send absentee ballots via e-mail, and just seven localities allow them to return ballots over the internet. That means most military personnel stationed abroad must still request their ballots--and return them--by mail, ensuring that most won't be counted next month.

That's why the Arizona system should be adopted nationwide. As you might have guessed, Ms. Brewer is a Republican. It would be refreshing if Democratic officials showed the same level of interest (and effort) in making military votes count.


ADDENDUM: As we noted in an earlier post, the Bush White House is not immune from criticism on the topic of military voting. While Mr. Bush received overwhelming support from military voters in 2000 and 2004, his administration has demonstrated no leadership on the issue. With big-money DoD programs (and the financial bailout) hanging in the balance, the White House apparently doesn't want to ruffle Democrat feathers by pushing for a better military voting system.

The USAF's "New" Nuclear Plan

The Air Force is putting the finishing touches on a strategic plan to "reinvigorate" its troubled nuclear program, with emphasis on accountability, self-assessment and reinvestment in personnel and equipment.

In From the Cold has obtained a draft copy of the plan, described as a "road map" for fixing problems in the service's nuclear enterprise, and preventing similar troubles in the future.

The strategic plan has been under development for several months, undergoing a series of revisions so far. The version provided to this blog was labeled "Draft Version 3.0," dated 23 September; copies were disseminated to Air Force nuclear-capable units last week, with a 25 September suspense for comments and revisions.

Nearly 200 pages in length, the road map provides a detailed assessment of troubles facing the USAF's nuclear program, and an outline for remedying them. The plan is blunt in describing the need for exacting standards in how the service handles nuclear weapons, trains its personnel and evaluates units that carry out the nuclear mission:

Successful stewardship of nuclear capability is achieved through rigid adherence to standards, personal accountability at all levels with constant leadership commitment and focus. Our culture of reliability, discipline, adherence to standards, and rigorous self-assessment relies on realistic training and exercises combined with robust inspection and leadership oversight. In the Air Force nuclear enterprise, systems and processes require redundancies and safeguards to achieve failsafe operations. There is no tolerance for complacency or shortcuts. These attributes contribute directly to the highest quality professional nuclear force.

We secure, maintain, operate, and sustain our nuclear capability with precision and reliability. The systemic reliability of the AF nuclear enterprise from stockpile to target, from system design to sunset, ensures that we are responsible, trusted contributors to strategic deterrence.

The plan's authors make it clear that the Air Force will "go beyond" the six themes listed in the Schlesinger Task Force report. That assessment panel, led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, highlighted major deficiencies in the service's nuclear enterprise, including:

--"Ineffective processes for uncovering and addressing nuclear-related compliance and capability issues."

-- The lack of a critical self-assessment culture

-- A serious erosion of nuclear-related expertise

--Underinvestment in the nuclear deterrent mission

--"No comprehensive process" for "sustained investment advocacy."

--An "atrophy" of the Air Force nuclear culture

The Schlesinger report summarized problems identified in the aftermath of two serious nuclear incidents that occurred over the last year. In late August 2007, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were mistakenly transported by a B-52 bomber from Minot AFB, North Dakota, to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Officials described the accidental transfer as the nation's worst nuclear mishap in nearly 30 years.

Less than seven months later, the service revealed that personnel at Hill AFB, Utah had shipped ICBM fuses to Taiwan, instead of the helicopter parts that had been requested. The erroneous shipment occurred in 2006, but wasn't discovered until March of this year.

The pair of high-profile incidents prompted a series of investigations by the Air Force and the Defense Department. One of those probes, led by Navy Admiral Kirkland Donald, found continuing deficiencies in the USAF nuclear program, and led to the unprecedented resignations (in early June) of the Air Force Secretary, Michael Wynne, and the service's Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley.

All told, more than 20 officers and 60 enlisted members have been punished for their roles in the nuclear mishaps. The most recent sanctions were imposed last week, when 15 officers, including six generals, received administrative punishment for the accidental missile fuse shipment to Taiwan.

To prevent similar mistakes in the future, the proposed road map promises to "rebuild a nuclear culture of compliance," based on a robust inspection and self-assessment process. The plan also vows to restore nuclear expertise through "training, education, career 21 development and force development initiatives."

In support of those efforts, the document mandates adequate resources for nuclear programs; creation of an operational structure that "centralizes" the nuclear mission, and "securing public confidence" in the service's nuclear stewardship.

As part of the overall effort, the strategic plan charges the Air Staff's Requirements Directorate (A8) to create "Strategic Investment Plans," for nuclear systems, with inputs from the Air Council and the USAF's various commands. The Air Force also plans to create a separate headquarters directorate (A10) to focus on "policy, plans, requirements, strategy, guidance integration and synchronization" for its nuclear programs.

Eight of the nine chapters in the road map provide detailed "action plans" for achieving the goals listed in the document's executive summary. Each of those sections contain a "problem statement," list "root causes" of the issue, and a strategy for correcting those deficiencies.

The plan does not represent "final guidance" for fixing the Air Force's nuclear enterprise. Major commands and other organizations involved in the nuclear mission will create their own directives, providing additional instructions for conducting nuclear activities. The road map is described as the "foundation" for "reinvigorating" the USAF's nuclear program. It is not intended to govern day-to-day activities.

A final version of the unclassified plan is expected to be approved in the coming weeks. Markings at the top of each page in the draft document emphasize that it is "pre-decisional--not for public release."

The road map was compiled by the Air Force Nuclear Task Force (AFNTF), charged with evaluating and consolidating findings from six major investigations and assessments of the service's nuclear program.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bad Books Behind Bars

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Stephen Schwartz takes a look at the (belated) inventory of Islamic books and videos in the Muslim chapels at the 105 prisons and correctional institutions in the federal system. As he reports:

The inventory, which runs to 399 pages, shows a marked predominance of Wahhabi and other fundamentalist Sunni literature among the Muslim holdings of federal prison chapels. The collections also contain plentiful materials from the Nation of Islam, the extreme black nationalist movement headed by Louis Farrakhan, but Shia and Sufi works are generally absent, as are texts on broader aspects of Islamic history and culture.

This finding is significant in light of two other facts: Muslim extremists' openly stated intent to spread their ideology in prisons, and the Bureau of Prisons' own past reliance on Muslim chaplains trained in Wahhabi Islam. While no major acts of terror have been traced to recruitment in U.S. prisons, the tools necessary for extremist indoctrination remain, unaccountably, in place.

Among the authors available to inmates in federal prisons, contemporary popularizers of Islamism, including jihadist radicals, are well represented. More encouraging is the discovery that the inventory includes only half a dozen copies of the infamous Wahhabi edition of the Koran, printed in English in Saudi Arabia with interlineated extremist commentaries.

That may be the only bit of good news. As Mr. Schwartz discovered, there are plenty of volumes available from Muslim radicals, many with Wahhabi roots. Equally disturbing, the Bureau of Prisons was a reluctant participant in the process. The inventory was conducted at the recommendation of the Department of Justice Inspector General, responding to requests from terrorism experts and members of Congress.

Schwartz obtained his copy of the report under a Freedom of Information Act request. We're betting he's the only journalist who's requested a copy so far. About what you'd expect from the same media that limits rebroadcast of those "disturbing" images of the 9-11 attacks.

The October Surprise?

In an op-ed for today's New York Daily News, former CIA officer Robert Baer predicts this year's "October surprise" will be an attack on Iran, either by the United States or Israel.

It's a scenario that we've explored in previous posts, our most recent just two weeks ago. At the time, we postulated that Tehran's anticipated acquisition of the S-300 air defense system had, effectively, started the countdown toward an Israeli strike. The S-300 would provide a quantum leap in Iranian air defense capabilities, making an Israeli air attack much more problematic. If the IAF is ordered to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, they want to go before the S-300 arrives, not after.

With capabilities easily equal to the U.S. Patriot, the S-300 can engage a variety of aircraft, cruise missiles, and even precision weapons, at distances greater than 150 km. That presents a significant threat to a relatively limited Israeli strike package. As we outlined more than a year ago, the IAF would likely send no more than 30 fighters (F-16s and F-15Is) on the Iranian mission, because of the distance involved and the limited off-load capability of Israel's small aerial tanker fleet.

Tehran's purchase of the S-300 would not be a show-stopper, but it would force the IAF to devote more aircraft (and other assets) to the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). That means fewer bombs for the nuclear facilities, decreased prospects for success, and a greater risk of aircraft and pilot losses.

As for the American option, Mr. Baer agrees with our analysis: in the waning days of the Bush Administration, with the U.S. still committed to the "diplomatic track"--and a deepening economic crisis--there is no support in Washington for bombing Iran. Barring some sort of cataclysmic event, the Bush team seems content to kick the can down the road, meaning the next president will have to deal decisively with Iran, most likely during his first year in office.

On the other hand, the former CIA agent believes that Israel is moving closer to an attack, almost by the day. As he observes, Tel Aviv now faces the menace of Hizballah and Hamas on its doorstep, and an Iranian regime that will soon be able to hit Israel with a nuclear weapon, delivered by its growing arsenal of medium-range missiles. Against that backdrop, the Israelis (seemingly) have no other choice.

But Baer's assessment ignores an important fact, at least in terms of an October surprise. Israel is in the midst of a political transition. Newly-elected Kadima leader (and foreign minister) Tzipi Livni told party officials to begin preparations for an election, which would follow if she is unable to form a new coalition government.

Ms. Livni's instructions are a de facto admission that she won't be able to cobble together another coalition. That means a campaign, elections and talks to form another government, probably under the leadership of Likud. Given the timeline for those events, the next Israeli Prime Minister won't take office until late this year or early 2009; it's likely that any decision on striking Iran will be made by the new leader, not the current, caretaker government.

Still, it would be a mistake to completely rule out a short-term Israeli strike. The Iranian nuclear program is a threat to Israel's very survival and the ultimate go/no-go decision will be determined by Tehran's progress toward a bomb, not domestic politics. But, if Iran is still a year--or more--away from having a nuclear weapon (as Israeli intelligence officials recently testified), then attack orders will be deferred.

At this point, prospects for an October surprise, courtesy of Israel, seem rather low. But that possibility cannot be totally discounted. As we've observed in the past, the Israelis are masters of military deception, and plans for an Iran mission were completed long ago.

And, contrary to a recent report in the U.K. Guardian, U.S. rejection of Israel's request for an air corridor through Iraq does not nix strike plans, either. Many American analysts have long assumed that the IAF would use air corridors through Turkey (with the attack package masquerading as commercial traffic).

There has also been talk about Israeli "forward basing," for the attack, using airfields closer to targets in Iran. Israeli officers made that claim more than two years ago, during an exercise with their U.S. counterparts. Does the statement have any basis in fact? We will probably find out in the coming months.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Carlson File

Over the past year, we've been following the case of Colonel Scott Carlson, the Army officer who tried to fake a paternity test, to avoid paying child support.

Carlson attempted his stunt in the spring of 2007, while a student at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. His "partner in crime" was another student, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Adkins. Facing an increase in child support payments, Carlson claimed he wasn't the father of his former girlfriend's child.

To make his case, the Colonel requested a paternity test. And that's when the scam began. On the appointed day, Adkins showed up with Carlson's military identification card, and offered to take the test. Officials immediately saw through the charade, and launched an investigation. But, by the time the probe was completed, the two officers had graduated from the war college, and moved on to new assignments.

Still, they couldn't evade the long arm of the law. By the end of last year, both were in a Pennsylvania courtroom, facing a host of charges relating to the paternity test scheme. As in many criminal cases, there was legal maneuvering and delays. A proposed trial date in the early spring was pushed back into the summer.

With little fanfare, Scott Carlson finally went on trial earlier this month, on multiple counts of conspiracy, attempted theft by deception and solicitation to tamper with public records. A jury in Cumberland County (where Carlisle Barracks is located) found him guilty. Carlson will be sentenced in December; his fellow conspirator, Lieutenant Colonel Adkins, goes on trial next month.

But there's an interesting little nugget in this account of the trial. The Somerset County (PA) Daily American identifies Carlson as a retired Colonel. Over the summer, he left active duty, grabbing his pension benefits and avoiding a potential date with military justice. Had he remained in uniform, Carlson could have received additional punishment from the Army, regardless of what happened in the civilian courtroom.

Now we know why the Colonel's attorneys wanted to delay the trial. While the court date was pushed back, someone in the Army personnel system was doing Carlson a major favor, approving his request to retire. That's why he strolled into the court room as a former officer, rather than an active duty Colonel.

Carlson's "retiree" status is rather stunning, since it contradicts normal military protocols. As we've noted in other posts, the armed forces typically freeze personnel actions when a military member is under investigation, or facing criminal charges. That means no promotion, change-of-station assignment, or retirement until the matter is resolved in most cases.

Obviously, the Carlson episode is atypical. In fact, someone ought to ask the Army brass why a Colonel facing civilian felony charges was allowed to retire just months before his trial, and (presumably) never faced military justice for his actions--that assuming that Carlson didn't receive an administrative slap on the wrist before leaving active duty. In any case, the Army let an accused felon off the hook.

Pennsylvania prosecutors are seeking a prison term for Colonel Carlson, and that raises another issue for the Army. Normally, a felony conviction and imprisonment is sufficient reason to stop a retiree's pension payments, particularly if the crimes in question occurred while the member was on active duty.

But, since Carlson retired before his trial, that gives the Army a little wiggle room to keep paying his pension while the retired Colonel serves his jail sentence. We should note that the interruption of pension payments for convicted felons is not automatic. As part of a plea deal, the Air Force agreed to keep paying the pension of Brian Reagan, a former Master Sergeant who tried to spy for Libya (and other countries) after retiring from active duty. Reagan pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and the service keeps paying his pension to the convicted spy's family.

The rationale behind the Army's handling of the Carlson case is abundantly clear. The paternity scam was enormously embarrassing for the service, particularly since the crime was committed by two of its "best and brightest," students at the prestigious Army War College. In hopes of minimizing future public relations damage, the Army was content to let Carlson retire and face trial as a former Colonel.

It's also obvious that Carlson had his own connections. Selection for the war college identifies as an officer as an up-and-comer, someone destined for more important jobs and higher rank. Virtually all war college students have mentors and sponsors in the flag ranks, senior officers who can pull strings and get things done for their protege.

It would be interesting to know who went to bat for Scott Carlson and arranged his "retirement" before the trial in Pennsylvania. As with other cases involving high-ranking officers, this one stinks, too.

One final note: the child at the center of the case is a daughter Carlson fathered with his girlfriend, who was an enlisted solider in his unit at the time. As you might have guessed, the Colonel was never punished for fraternization under the UCMJ, either.

What's On the MV Iran Deyanat?

Late last month, an Iranian cargo ship, the MV Iran Deyanat, was seized by pirates off Somalia. Nothing particularly unusual about that; the region is a haven for pirates and by one estimate, at least 10 merchant vessels are now in their hands along the Somali coast.

Hijacking commercial ships--and their crews--is a lucrative business. Shipping companies and governments have paid millions in ransom for the return of their vessels. At first blush, it would appear that the Iran Deyanat was just another, unfortunate victim of the pirate trade.

But the Iranian vessel, its owners, and cargo appear to be anything but ordinary. As the Long War Journal reports:

The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) - a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship's hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

The MV Iran Deyanat set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July and, according to its manifest, planned to travel to Rotterdam, where it would unload 42,500 tons of iron ore and "industrial products" purchased by a German client. Its arrival in the Gulf of Aden, Somali officials tell The Long War Journal, was suspiciously early. According to a publicly available status report on the IRISL Web site, the ship reached the Gulf on August 20 and was scheduled to reach the Suez Canal on August 27 - a seven day journey. "Depending on the speed of the ship," Puntland Minister of Ports Ahmed Siad Nur said in a phone interview on Saturday, "it should take between 4 and 5 days to reach Suez."

The Long War Journal also questions the composition of the ship's 29-member crew. More than half of the vessel's crew are Iranian nationals--a high number for a merchant vessel. The crew also includes a large number of eastern Europeans, possibly Croats.

After taking control of the ship, the MV Iran Deyanat was taken to Eyl, a small fishing village in northeastern Somalia, where it was secured by up to 100 pirates; 50 ashore and the rest on the ship. But, the hijacking then took a strange turn, as described by the LWJ:

Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. "Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died," Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. "That ship is unusual," he said. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."


Once in direct contact, the pirates told Osman that they had attempted to inspect the ship's seven cargo containers after they developed health complications but the containers were locked. The crew claimed that they did not have the "access codes" and could not open them. The delegation secured contact with the captain and the engineer by cell phone and demanded to know the nature of the cargo, however, Osman says that "they were saying different things to different people." Initially they said that the cargo contained "crude oil" but then claimed it contained "minerals.

Meanwhile, ransom negotiations between the pirates and the Iranians have broken off. After the shipping company was sanctioned by the Treasury Department earlier this month, Iran told the pirates the deal was off, in part because the U.S. Navy patrols off the Somali coast. And, in yet another strange twist, the Iranian press claims that the U.S. has offered $7 million for the vessel. At last report, the Iran Deyanat was still anchored off Eyl, and no one is really sure what's inside its cargo containers.

However, some observers believe the Iranian ship was carrying arms to Islamic rebels in Somalia. Tehran has provided sophisticated weaponry to the Islamic Courts Union in the past, including SA-18 surface-to-air missiles and AT-3 Sagger anti-tank weapons.

But a routine arms shipment wouldn't explain the sudden illness and death among the pirates who commandeered the vessel. As one official told the LWJ, "there are a lot of people interested in the MV Iran Deyanat and its cargo."

H/T: Galrahn at InformationDissemination, who provides this interesting footnote: Russia announced earlier this week that it is dispatching naval vessels to the waters off Somalia. Is a rescue attempt in the works? Only time will tell, but InformationDissemination (our go-to source for naval information) calls the Russian deployment "the most noteworthy to date."

Stay tuned.

No Smear Undone

Having tried--without success--to challenge John McCain's military record, Democratic attack dogs are returning to the issue of his health.

The New York Times political blog reports that two liberal groups, one of them run by the brother of DNC Chairman Howard Dean, are preparing attack ads raising questions about McCain's health:

Showing vivid and unflattering images of the fresh scar that appeared on Senator McCain’s face immediately after his last operation for melanoma skin cancer eight years ago, the commercial ends with a screen headline that reads, “Why won’t John McCain release his medical records?” (Mr. McCain, 72, did invite a limited group of reporters to inspect more than 1,100 pages of his medical records in May, though he gave them only a three-hour window in which to review the documents.)

The commercial is among the harshest to run against Mr. McCain yet, seeking to exploit the sensitive issues of health and age. Officials with the groups running the ad, Brave New PAC and Democracy for America, said they were only showing the spot initially on MSNBC over the next few days, a limited run intended to draw news media attention on a network that has increasingly catered to liberal tastes.

Officials at the groups, both of which are political action committees that rely on individual donors, said they hoped to show the spot on stations in battleground states in the coming weeks as well. But it is unclear if individual stations will accept the spot: Leighton Akio Woodhouse, a spokesman for Brave New PAC, said late Wednesday that CNN declined to accept the commercial after reviewing its contents this week.

The ad comes from the same two groups that recently released an advertisement questioning whether Mr. McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam adversely affected his ability to lead.

This type of smear is hardly surprising; the Democrats and their surrogates will leave no smear untried in their effort to tar Mr. McCain. But this is another stunt that may backfire--like the Sarah Palin video that was hastily pulled from YouTube a few days ago.

The reason it may blow up in their faces? As you'll recall, their young, vibrant candidate has been less-than-forthcoming about his own medical history. About the time that Senator McCain invited reporters to review 1,000 pages of his medical records, Barack Obama released a one-page health summary, prepared by his personal physician.

Over the course of 276 words, the doctor assured us that Mr. Obama is in splendid health. There were no accompanying records or other documentation to substantiate the claim.

Let's see...one page versus one thousand pages. It's about time some asked this question again: why won't Barack Obama release his medical records?

Of course, the NYT's Jim Rutenberg made no mention of Obama's non-disclosure in his post on the Democrat attack ads. About what you'd expect from the newspaper of record.

The Masquerade Continues

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again vowed that his country will "soon" launch a satellite into space, using a domestically-built rocket.

If such promises sound familiar, they should. Tehran has been tinkering with space launch and satellite programs for years, with marginal results.

During a meeting with Iranian expatriates in New York--and carried on state-run television in Tehran--Ahmadinejad said that the planned launch will carry the satellite to an orbit of 430 miles, using a rocket with 16 engines.

But the Iranian leader didn't say what type of satellite would be placed in orbit. AP's staff stenographer in Iran, Nasser Karimi, said the platform will "likely be a commercial one for communication or meteorological research purposes."

While Tehran clearly has an interest in space, achieving the stated goal will represent a tall order. To date, Iran's booster program has achieved a rather checkered history; just last month, a test of a so-called space launch rocket ended in failure. The booster used in that attempt was called a Safir, a three-stage design incorporating Iranian, Chinese and North Korea technology.

Originally described as a "success" by Iranian media, the August Safir test represented another setback for Tehran's space and missile program. According to tracking data collected by U.S. air and naval platforms, the rocket failed well before it reached the altitude required to put a small satellite in orbit.

But claims about a "space program" are little more than cover. In reality, Iran is using the Safir and similar projects to perfect long-range ballistic missiles. The same technology required for launching satellites is applicable to intermediate and intercontinental missile systems, designed to put a nuclear warhead on a distant target.

Fact is, Tehran's "space launch" capabilities are nascent at best, with no more than a limited ability to put very small payloads in orbit. That's not exactly what satellite operators--even those in Iran--are looking for.

Let's say you're a satellite TV or phone company in the Middle East or Asia. Would you place a multi-million dollar payload on a booster that is likely to fail? Tellingly, the AP article notes that Iran has (traditionally) relied on other countries to put its satellites into space. Not exactly a vote of confidence in the Safir.

But Tehran isn't worried about the satellite business; it's focusing on the development of long-range missiles, to be used as delivery platforms for nuclear weapons that are now under development. Iran will eventually get around to putting a rudimentary payload in orbit (using one of its rockets), but it will largely be for show. The real reasons behind Iran's "space program" have nothing to do with satellites, or other peaceful purposes.

More Nuclear Accountability

In the aftermath of the Air Force's high-profile nuclear incidents, most of the media attention focused on the inadvertent shipment of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles between bases in North Dakota and Louisiana.

The event was sensational, by any standard. During their errant transfer, a B-52 carried the nuclear missiles across seven states, and the mistake wasn't discovered until hours after the bomber landed. Described as the worst nuclear incident in more than 20 years, the mishap prompted immediate notification of President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, triggering investigations and reviews that have continued for more than a year.

A number of officers and NCOs were sanctioned for their roles in the mishap. No less than five commanders (with the rank of Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel) lost their jobs, and scores of lower-ranking personnel received non-judicial punishment; many were also stripped of their certification to work with nuclear weapons, some permanently.

But the missile transfer wasn't the only nuclear incident in recent years. Less than six months after that B-52 took off with its unscheduled cargo, officials found a second, serious mistake involving nuclear components. In 2006, personnel at Hill AFB, Utah, accidentally shipped ICBM fuses to Taiwan, instead of requested helicopter parts. Making matters worse, the error wasn't discovered for almost two years, prompting another series of investigations and inquiries.

Now, the Defense Department is handing out punishment to those deemed responsible for the Hill incident. According to the Associated Press, at least eight generals, ranging in rank from one to three stars, have been disciplined as a result of the fuse shipment:

Defense officials said Wednesday that the six Air Force and two Army generals were given disciplinary letters that vary in seriousness but can often end careers or hopes of promotion.

The officers are mainly in logistical jobs and were involved to some degree in the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for ballistic missile nuclear warheads in 2006. The error did not come to light until this past March.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the actions are not being announced until Thursday.

According to officials, at least one Air Force general received a letter of reprimand, which is a more serious rebuke, while others got less severe letters of admonishment or counseling. The two Army brigadier generals, who worked at the Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia, received what are called “memorandums of concern,” also a lower level of punishment.

Nine other lower ranking Air Force officers also were disciplined, but no details were available.

The AP doesn't specify the assignments of the six USAF generals who were sanctioned, but base (and unit) involved in the errant shipment are part of Air Force Material Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

There is some speculation that Lieutenant General Kevin Sullivan, the former commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center, is among those facing punishment. Sullivan was in charge of the center at the time the fuses were shipped in 2006. A major general at the time, Sullivan was subsequently promoted and now serves as the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installation and Mission Support.

The Ogden Air Logistics Center provides worldwide logistical and engineering support to a variety of weapons systems, including ballistic missiles.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When Obama Bowed Out

It may prove to be the pivotal moment of the 2008 presidential race; the day John McCain decided to suspend his campaign, and requested postponement of the first debate, so he can return to Washington and work on the economic bailout bill.

Senator McCain is taking a huge gamble; not only is he abandoning the campaign trail for a few days, he is also pulling his advertising, at a time that Barack Obama has new momentum in the polls.

But Mr. McCain clearly believes the financial crisis should take precedent, and he's willing to risk his campaign to hammer out a bill--barely 40 days before the election.

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama has elected not to follow McCain's lead. Late this afternoon, the Illinois Senator announced that his campaign (and campaign ads) will continue. He also favors holding the first presidential debate, as scheduled, on Friday night.

Democrats are already criticizing McCain's decision to return to Washington, describing it as a campaign stunt. Never mind that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid begged for McCain's participation less than 24 hours ago. Now, McCain's presence is unwelcome and the debate must go on, at least from the Democratic perspective.

You'll never hear this from the MSM, but there is already a precedent in this campaign for skipping a joint, televised event. Earlier this summer, a consortium of veterans' and military groups proposed a forum near Fort Hood, Texas. CBS agreed to televise the historic event, which would have been the first "debate" on military issues, with questions posed by members of the armed forces, their families and veterans.

The forum was scheduled for 11 August, but Mr. Obama took a pass, citing scheduling conflicts. Organizers offered to move the forum to another debate, but the Democratic nominee declined. Senator McCain was firmly committed to the event, but the debate was eventually cancelled, due to Obama's non-participation.

And, of course, there was nary a peep from the media. The Obama camp was obviously uncomfortable with the idea of their candidate taking questions from a military audience. So, he quietly bowed out. To our knowledge, Senator Obama has yet to conduct a large-scale forum with armed forces personnel, though his wife has held a few, carefully-controlled "discussions" with supporters who are military dependents.

Critics would argue that the proposed Fort Hood forum couldn't be compared to a full-blown presidential candidate debate. But the Texas event would have provided answers and insights on issues affecting our military--among the most important decisions made by any commander-in-chief.

No one had a problem with Mr. Obama skipping that event, for purely political reasons. But if John McCain doesn't show up in Oxford, Mississippi on Friday night, he'll catch tons of political flak, from the usual suspects. Never mind that his reasons for postponing the debate are far more valid that Obama's rationale for skipping the Fort Hood forum.

Today's Reading Assignment

A sobering op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by Mackubin Owens, a professor at the Naval War College. He raises a disturbing possibility, suggested by Bob Woodward's recent book on the Iraqi troop surge and the decision-making that accompanied it.

Professor Owens states the issue bluntly: "Our Generals Almost Cost Us Iraq." He describes senior military leaders who actively lobbied against the surge concept and its implementation:

Although the conventional narrative about the Iraq war is wrong, its persistence has contributed to the most serious crisis in civil-military relations since the Civil War. According to Mr. Woodward's account, the uniformed military not only opposed the surge, insisting that their advice be followed; it then subsequently worked to undermine the president once he decided on another strategy.

In one respect, the actions taken by military opponents of the surge, e.g. "foot-dragging," "slow-rolling" and selective leaking are, unfortunately, all-too-characteristic of U.S. civil-military relations during the last decade and a half. But the picture Mr. Woodward draws is far more troubling. Even after the policy had been laid down, the bulk of the senior U.S. military leadership -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Abizaid's successor, Adm. William Fallon, actively worked against the implementation of the president's policy.

Owens also observes that military leaders played a role in creating the mess that existed before the surge. As the insurgency grew, then-JCS Chairman General Richard Myers and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, stuck with the strategy of "standing up" Iraqi security forces, so the U.S. could stand down. That policy was supported by General Abizaid and General George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, among others.

We know what happened. The surge worked, and Myers, Rumsfeld, Abizaid, and Fallon are all retired. But that begs an obvious question: if Woodward and Professor Owens are correct, why are General Casey and Admiral Mullen still serving?

Don't Sell the Economy Short

Max Boot, with some reasons for long-term optimism, in today's Los Angeles Times.

The Triumph of Diplomacy

When it comes to halting nuclear proliferation, talk is not only cheap, it's downright dangerous.

Consider the case of North Korea. The Bush Administration has invested years of diplomatic effort, aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. It sponsored the so-called Six Party Talks, inviting the participation of the North Korea's neighbors in hammering out some sort of non-proliferation agreement.

After years of fits and starts--including a small-scale DPRK nuclear test in 2006--the consortium reached a supposed "milestone" agreement in 2007. North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program, in exchange for economic assistance and certain political favors, such as removing Kim Jong-il's regime from the list of countries that support terrorism.

Never mind that Pyongyang never lived up to its end of the bargain. The State Department crowd kept insisting that North Korea would eventually comply, and treated minor, grudging steps like some sort of diplomatic miracle.

When the DPRK blew up an outdated cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear complex a few months back, footage of that event was broadcast around the world. The inference was clear: See, the North Koreans can be trusted! We kept waiting for Christopher Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, to proclaim "peace in our time."

Flash forward three months, and the Six Party Accord is in tatters. North Korea has now barred U.N. inspectors from its nuclear facilities, and announced plans to restart Yongbyon, the same complex that previously provided plutonium for its nuclear program. Within a year, Yongbyon could again be producing material for more bombs.

What happened? Officially, Pyongyang is upset that the U.S. hasn't moved quickly enough to take it off the terrorism list. But, as The Wall Street Journal reminds us, that was contingent upon North Korea disclosing all of its nuclear activities. It's merely the latest round of what we call the nuclear rope-a-dope, perfected by Mr. Kim and his emissaries over the last decade.

The tactic goes something like this: Bluster, then offer to talk. When the negotiations bog down (due to North Korean intransigence), call off the talks and bluster some more. At that point, the U.S. and its allies will make concessions, to restart the diplomatic process. In response, Pyongyang will offer a few vague promises, even sign the occasional agreement. Then, when North Korean compliance is questioned, start the process all over again.

While the diplomatic process lurches along, Pyongyang is free to continue convert nuclear development, and share the technology with other rogue states. As the Six Party talks dragged on in Beijing, Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor that looked like the one at Yongbyon. You can probably guess who provided the plans and engineering expertise.

As the WSJ observes, North Korea's latest move is an attempt to wrest more concessions from the U.S., and delay additional talks until after our presidential election. Pyongyang clearly believes that Barack Obama will be the next President, and it can cut a better deal with his administration. Senator Obama's vow to meet world leaders "without preconditions" must have been music to Kim Jong-il's ears.

The collapse of the Six Party deal was both predictable and inevitable. North Korea has never lived up to any diplomatic deal with the west, and seeks out any opportunity to cheat and obfuscate. We can expect more of the same in the years to come, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

By any standard, the latest North Korean nuclear deal has devolved into a miserable failure. But, if it's any consolation to the striped-pants set, the Six Party Accord is a roaring success compared to the other, major diplomatic effort, aimed at ending the nuclear program of another outlaw nation.

We speak of Iran, which has been "talking" with representatives of the European Union for the past three years. During that time, Tehran has steadily expanded its uranium enrichment efforts, fielded new ballistic missiles and continued its steady advance toward acquiring nuclear arms. Despite all that, the Bush Administration remains "committed" to the diplomatic track in dealing with the Iranian program.

Somewhere, Neville Chamberlain is smiling. But that's a cheap shot. Even the late British Prime Minister (ultimately) recognized the failure of his negotiations with Hitler. We wonder if anyone in the State Department will admit the folly of trying to appease North Korea.

At this point, Pyongyang still has a nuclear program, and it's thumbing its nose at the world community. We can only imagine where the DPRK will be after another four or five years of focused diplomacy.

It's not a matter of refusing to talk with North Korea. But there's a time for diplomacy, and a time for breaking off contact and tightening the economic and political screws that brought Pyongyang to the bargaining table. Choosing between rewards and sanctions, it's time for less carrot and more stick. Any other approach would be both foolish and perilous.

A Most Remarkable Recovery

Remember Major Jill Metzger? She's the now-retired Air Force officer who was the purported "victim" of a bizarre kidnapping incident in Kyrgyzstan two years ago. According to her version of events, she was abducted in a local shopping mall, taken to an undisclosed location and held against her will. After three days, the 87-pound officer managed to overpower her captors, ran miles to freedom (she is a champion marathoner) and was returned to U.S. forces.

But her "story" had more holes than the proverbial block of Swiss. Video from mall security cameras showed Major Metzger deliberately separating herself from a group of other airmen. On the same tape, Metzger can be seen riding an escalator to the ground floor, where a Kyrgyz man--that she seems to know--is waiting.

And the list of contradictions doesn't end there. Metzger told local cops that she had been robbed by the kidnappers, despite the fact that her expensive wedding ring was never taken. She claimed to have run at least 30 miles to escape--in her bare feet. But a medical exam showed that her feet were in remarkably good shape; ironically, doctors found blood on the top of her feet, rather than on the bottom, despite that long-distance sprint to safety, through rugged terrain.

Additionally, investigators wonder why didn't Major Metzger use her cell phone to summon help in the early stages of the ordeal. As you might expect, the phone was "lost" during the incident, but she still received at least two calls after leaving her friends at the mall. Who made those calls, and what do they reveal about events surrounding her disappearance?

Also unanswered are questions about cash withdrawals Metzger made before her "abduction," and the role of a third-country national in the episode. That individual was seen driving a white van that followed the bus carrying Major Metzger (and other airmen) to the shopping mall on the day she disappeared. The man in the van asked a guard at the base gate if Metzger was on the bus before it departed.

Then, there's the issue of Metzger's refusal to submit to pregnancy or blood tests after her return; the Air Force's "rush" to get her out of the country. It's also worth noting that the Major subsequent failure of a polygraph test (by a mile) at her home station, Moody AFB, Georgia. After that, she refused to talk to military or Justice Department investigators, citing the stress of her experiences in Kyrgyzstan.

Despite all that, Metzger was temporarily retired (with full pension benefits) in July 2007. Since then, she's maintained a low profile, living with her husband (who's also an Air Force officer) at a base in the Florida panhandle.

But according to MilitaryCorruption.com, Major Metzger emerged from the woodwork last weekend, participating in the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio. She finished second among all female finishers, with a time of 3:11:58. Metzger won the women's division of the marathon in two previous races, before her "kidnapping."

That would suggest that Metzger has made a remarkable recovery from the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that forced her temporary military retirement last year. While many victims struggle with PTSD for years--some are even afraid to leave their homes--Major Metzger appears to be in the pink of health (and fitness).

Her participation in the Air Force marathon is just one more indication that Ms. Metzger has perpetuated a remarkable scam, with the apparent assistance of senior Air Force officials. We've had our differences with MilitaryCorruption.com on other stories, but they deserve great credit for sticking with the Metzger case, digging out new details and demanding answers.

Earlier this month, they published a two-part interview with an Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) agent who participated in the Metzger investigation. He confirmed many of the rumors surrounding the case, including the Major's refusal to take blood and pregnacy tests after her "release;" the obvious contradictions between her story and independently-corroborated fact, and the failed polygraph test.

The agent also described the "kid glove" treatment that Metzger received. From their interview with the OSI member, identified as "Insider:"

(MCC) -- Then Metzger was getting special treatment from the start?

(INSIDER) -- The word went out to lay off her, she's got somebody big (a general or generals) by the balls.

(MCC) -- Tell us about the nervous breakdown at Moody AFB, when she lost it while on the treadmill in the gym.

(INSIDER) -- Right. We heard not long after she got back to Moody she was exercising in the base gym on the treadmill.Anyway, Maj. Metzger was talking to someone standing nearby when she had like, a psychotic episode, a breakdown, if you will, and went into a fetal position on the floor. She was crying hysterically, and during the incident, witnesses heard her say she'd had two affairs while deployed to Manas.

(MCC) - My God! Didn't that right then and there shoot down her false story of kidnapping? Why would the brass continue to protect and cover-up for her?

(INSIDER) -- Like I said. She had just incredible connections, and no one was going to do or say anything that could get them slammed by the Command.

The "real" story of Jill Metzger's "ordeal" probably goes something like this. During her deployment to Manas AB, she had an affair, became pregnant, and sought an abortion (a local doctor told Kyrgyz police that he performed the procedure on an American woman identified as Metzger). Complications arose during the abortion, preventing the Major from returning to base before the local curfew. The "kidnapping" became a means for explaining her absence, supported by wild claims of heroism and escape.

Why did Metzger receive special treatment? She apparently has close ties to senior generals; her husband is an OSI agent, and Metzger's father-in-law is, reportedly, a high-ranking officer in that organization. With those connections, Major Metzger had the horsepower to sidestep a multi-agency investigation, earn a "disability" retirement and pursue her hobby of distance running.

Two years later, this entire episode still stinks to high heaven. While hundreds of combat vets from Iraq and Afghanistan awaiting rulings on their PTSD claims, Major Metzger is collecting a nice retirement check. Look for that "temporary retirement" to become permanent in the near future.

The Air Force apparently has no interest in re-opening the matter, so Congress needs to investigate the Metzger case. An officer who disappeared without authorization, lied about her activities and (in the process) touched off a minor international incident deserves something besides a comfortable retirement.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Fallout Continues

Air Force generals aren't the only ones facing the end of their careers because of recent problems in the service's nuclear enterprise.

In From the Cold has learned that several security forces unit commanders, operations officers and superintendents are being purged. Those with more than 20 years of service have been directed to retire; members with less than 20 years of service are being moved to staff jobs, or given the option of "exiting gracefully"--or "not so gracefully," in the words of an Air Force security official.

The exodus is the result of a "forensic autopsy" on the the service's recent nuclear woes, and the role of security forces personnel in those failures. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the review was conducted in recent months by Brigadier General Mary Kay Hertog, the service's highest-ranking security forces officer, and members of her staff.

According to the security official, General Hertog and members of her staff reviewed the results of nuclear inspections over the past three years, the performance of security forces units in those evaluations, and "improvements" implemented by senior leadership before the inspectors arrived.

"They stratified the results to determine who was 'most responsible' for these issues," the source explained. "The people who ended up at the top of the list are going to get (or have already gotten) their gold watch for time served and told that it is time to punch out," the official continued.

While some of the security forces officers and senior NCOs are expected to retire, others face "benching" in staff jobs, or a forced exit from the career field--or the service. The official did not know the exact number of personnel expected to leave, but estimated that Hertog and her team reviewed the records of 50 personnel. Of that total, at least 10 are facing retirement, transfer, or a forced exodus from their career field--or the military.

Air Force public affairs representatives at the Pentagon did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Names of personnel affected by the move have not been released. The source tells In From the Cold that most were assigned to "northern tier" bases that perform much of the Air Force's strategic nuclear mission.

Included in that list are Minot AFB, North Dakota; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB, Montana, which host the USAF's three ballistic missile wings. Minot is also home to one of two operational B-52 wings in the Air Force.

The North Dakota base was the scene of a serious nuclear mishap in 2007, which raised questions about the safety and security of the service's nuclear arsenal. As part of a routine transfer operation, ground crews at Minot mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 bound for Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. The mix-up was not discovered until hours after the bomber arrived at the Louisiana base.

In response to the incident, the Air Force and the Defense Department launched multiple probes of the service's nuclear program, culminating in reviews by a blue-ribbon panel (appointed by the USAF) and a team lead by Navy Admiral Kirkland Donald.

The Air Force panel recommended dozens of changes in procedures for nuclear weapons handling, storage and security. Many of those revisions have already been implemented.

But the Donald report, issued earlier this year found continuing problems in the nuclear enterprise, including a lack of accountability among senior officers. That prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to demand the resignations of the Air Force Secretary, Michael Wynne, and the service's Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley. The high-level shake-up, unprecedented in USAF history, occurred in early June.

More recently, there has been additional fall-out from the nuclear issue. An assessment by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was highly critical of Air Force leaders, including five generals cited in the report.

Last week, various media outlets reported that the flag officers would face punishment for their role in the service's nuclear problems. The names of the generals have not been released, although Congressional sources suggest an announcement may come as early as this week.

The generals listed in the Schlesinger report are expected to receive letters of admonishment, a form of non-judicial punishment that will (likely) end their prospects for promotion.

Still--as evidenced by the security forces purge--efforts at accountability are extending well below the flag level. Most of the personnel being forced out (or pushed into staff jobs) are in the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Chief Master Sergeant and Senior Master Sergeant, the commanders, ops officers and superintendents that ran poorly-performing security forces squadrons, assigned to protect nuclear assets.

It is unclear how many of those units fared badly on nuclear surety inspections since 2005. Air Force policy discourages the release of evaluation results, although some units trumpet their scores on key inspections.

One of the events that (apparently) prompted the security forces review was the May 2008 Nuclear Surety Inspection at Minot. A poor performance by the 5th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) resulted in a failing grade for its parent unit, the 5th Bomb Wing. Inspectors found numerous deficiencies in the squadron, and blamed most of them on leadership problems.

The commander of the 5th SFS, Lieutenant Colonel John Worley, was fired after the inspection and reassigned to a staff job at the Air Force Security Forces Center at Lackland AFB, Texas.

China Gets Ready to Join the Club

Sometime in the next decade, China will join that elite group of naval powers that own and operate aircraft carriers.

As Strategy Page reported last week, the PRC Navy (or, more correctly, the People's Liberation Army Navy) has begun training its first class of naval aviators. The PLAN officers will undergo a four-year course of instruction that will turn them into fighter and helicopter pilots, capable of operating from a carrier.

Meanwhile, Chinese engineers and shipbuilders are refurbishing the vessel that will serve as Beijing's first aircraft carrier. The Shi Lang (formerly the Russian carrier Varyag) has been berthed at a Chinese shipyard in Dailan since 2002. While it's difficult to assess progress on the refurbishment effort (at least, without overhead imagery), work on the carrier is continuing:

While the ship is under guard, it can be seen from a nearby highway. From that vantage point, local military and naval buffs have noted that some kind of work is being done on the ship. The only visible signs of this work are a new paint job (in the gray shade used by the Chinese navy) and ongoing work on the superstructure (particularly the tall island on the flight deck.) Many workers can be seen on the ship, and material is seen going into (new stuff) and out of (old stuff) the ship. The new contracts are believed to be for more equipment for the Varyag, in addition to the non-custom stuff already going into the ship.

By some accounts, the Shi Lang will be ready for sea trials later this year, giving the PLAN years to shake down the ship before the air wing comes aboard. However, there is some doubt that the Chinese carrier will get underway by year's end; intelligence analysts have suggested that the Varyag was sold to Beijing without a powerplant, and there's been no sign of engine installation on the re-named Shi Lang.

The Varyag was one of two fleet carriers built by the former Soviet Union. Originally envisioned as 90,000-ton, nuclear-powered rivals of the U.S. Nimitz class, the Varyag and its sister ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov wound up as downsized vessels. The nuclear reactors were replaced with conventional powerplants; steam catapults were scrapped in favor of a ski ramp, and plans for a large air wing were shelved in favor of fewer jets and helicopters.

Fully-loaded, the 65,000 ton vessel can carry up to 33 SU-33s (naval variants of the Flanker) and 16 helicopters. But, like its Russian counterpart, the Shi Lang will only operate with a dozen fighters and no more than 16 choppers, at least initially. China has already constructed a mock-up of a carrier deck, allowing prospective naval aviators to practice landings on terra firm before advancing to an actual aircraft carrier.

But, it takes more than buying a used carrier and training pilots to create a viable naval aviation program, as Neptunus Lex reminds us:

It’s one thing to buy an aircraft carrier and even to train the pilots who will fly aboard her. It’s an entirely different matter to operate her efficiently and effectively. There are literally dozens of people on the flight deck alone whose skills are operationally critical and for which no true formal training process exists - these are the last of the true guildsmen, shaped by decade-long apprenticeships under the stern tutelage of master technicians: people like Landing Signal Officers, Flight Deck Officers, Arresting Gear Officers, the Air Boss, the Gun Boss and Ordnance Handling Officer, the Handler, even Snoopy there in Flight Deck Control. Individually, each of them are nearly irreplaceable - in aggregation they represent hundreds of years collective experience operating at the finest margins of collaborative control. You can’t buy that off the shelf, and it will take decades of gradual experimentation (and operational losses) before China can dabble an operational toe in waters the US Navy has swum in continuously for almost a hundred years, along the way learning lessons written in blood and forged in fire.

All that’s before we get into the inherent limitations of trying to fight a ship using nothing but a dozen strike fighters (no matter how advanced) operating off a small-deck carrier using jump ramps.

Still, the PLAN is willing to spend whatever it takes, in terms of money and lives, to master carrier aviation. Taking a long-term view, Beijing will likely use the Shi Lang as a transitional ship, a foundation for larger, more capable carriers to come.

But you can't cram a near-century of carrier history, expertise and lessons-learned into an accelerated program. As China joins the carrier club, they will find that the learning curve is steep, and unforgiving.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Half-Way There

The chief of research for Israeli military intelligence estimates that Iran is "halfway" to obtaining its first nuclear bomb.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz offered that assessment Sunday, during a briefing to the Israeli cabinet. General Baidatz also reported that Israel's terrorist foes, Hizballah and Hamas, are using the current period of "relative calm" to significantly rearm.

In his presentation, Baidatz noted the "gap" between Iran's progress on the nuclear front, and the west's determination to stop it. Tehran has moved to exploit that gap, as the intelligence officer told cabinet members:

"Iran is concentrating on uranium enrichment, and is making progress," he said, noting that they have improved the function of their 4,000 centrifuges.

According to Baidatz, the Iranian centrifuges have so far produced between one-third to one-half of the enriched material needed to build a bomb.

"The time when they will have crossed the nuclear point-of-no-return is fast approaching," he said, though he stopped short of giving a firm deadline. Last week in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, however, he put the date at 2011.


The Iranians are pleased that the gap is widening," Baidatz said. "Their confidence is growing with the thought that the international community is not strong enough to stop them," he added.

Baidatz said the Iranians were playing for time, and that time was working in their favor since the longer the process dragged on, the wider the rifts appearing among the countries in the West become. "Iran is in control of the technology and is moving with determination toward a nuclear bomb," he said.

General Baidatz's comments are noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, his estimate provides one of the few (public) assessments of where Iran stands on its drive for nuclear weapons. If Baidatz's analysis is correct, then Tehran has made significant progress in its uranium enrichment efforts.

Noting that Iran has produced "one-third to one-half" of the enriched material for a bomb, the general suggests that Tehran is now producing weapons-quality. enriched uranium. That would be a significant leap from the reactor-quality material (roughly 5-10% purity) produced by Iran just a few months ago. And, with 4,000 centrifuges in operation, the Iranians could produce the required amount of enriched uranium in another year--at the outside.

Additionally, Baidatz failed to affirm his earlier estimate on when Tehran would pass the nuclear point-of-no-return. In testimony last week before the Knesset, the intelligence research director put that date at 2011. During yesterday's cabinet briefing, he declined to provide a firm timeline. General Baidatz clearly understands that spooks wade into a quagmire when they provide deadlines for politicians. But his statement may also reflect recent changes in the Israeli assessment.

Indeed, if Iranian scientists have increased production of enriched uranium--and attained required purity levels--the timetable for Tehran's first nuke would be accelerated. However, Iran still faces significant hurdles in obtaining an operational nuclear capability.

For example, it was reported last week that Tehran is redesigning its medium-range Shahab-3 missiles to carry a nuclear warhead. That would suggest problems with Iran's recently-acquired intermediate-range missile, the BM-25 (Shahab-4). But the design effort is also evidence of an advanced nuclear program, one on track to yield a bomb in relatively short order.

In any case, General Baidatz's briefing merely affirms that Iran is sprinting towards the nuclear finish line, and the west is doing almost nothing about it.


ADDENDUM: On a related note, four members of Bill Clinton's national security team penned an op-ed for today's Wall Street Journal, entitled "Everyone Needs to Worry About Iran." We certainly can't disagree with their characterization of the current Tehran government, and what a nuclear-armed Iran would mean:

Iran is a deadly and irresponsible world actor, employing terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and Hamas to undermine existing regimes and to foment conflict. Emboldened by the bomb, Iran will become more inclined to sponsor terror, threaten our allies, and support the most deadly elements of the Iraqi insurgency.

Tehran's development of a nuclear bomb could serve as the "starter's gun" in a new and potentially deadly arms race in the most volatile region of the world. Many believe that Iran's neighbors would feel forced to pursue the bomb if it goes nuclear.


At the same time, Iranian leaders declare that Israel is illegitimate and should not exist. President Ahmadinejad specifically calls for Israel to be "wiped off from the map," while seeking the weapons to do so. Such behavior casts Iran as an international outlier. No one can reasonably suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran will suddenly honor international treaty obligations, acknowledge Israel's right to exist, or cease efforts to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The article's authors--Richard Holbrooke, James Woolsey, Dennis Ross and Mark Wallace--are part of a new, non-partisan group called United Against Nuclear Iran. Their organization is calling for a multi-faceted approach in dealing with Tehran:

We do not aim to beat the drums of war. On the contrary, we hope to lay the groundwork for effective U.S. policies in coordination with our allies, the U.N. and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course. The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures.

Unfortunately, those measures take resolve, courage, unity and time--commodities that are preciously lacking in our standoff with Iran. As we've noted previously, any real decision on Tehran's nuclear program will be made by the next U.S. administration and Israel's new Prime Minister. And, given the failure of past diplomatic and economic steps, they may discover that the military option has become their only option.

Finally, the "experts" at the International Atomic Energy Agency are concerned that Iran might be hiding some of its nuclear activities. Duh. We've been warning about a covert Iranian program for the past three years, and that ominous possibility has been a long-standing concern for western intelligence agencies. Glad to see the IAEA has reached a similar conclusion. Better late than never.

We'll skip the usual blind hog/acorns analogy. Suffice it to say that Inspector Clouseau would be a valued employee at the U.N. agency.

The First Dominoes

If you're looking for the roots of the current financial crisis, take a look at this Bloomberg commentary by Kevin Hassett. As Director of Economic-Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Hasset is well-qualified to dissect the mess; he traces its origins to the 2005 accounting scandals at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Back in 2005, Fannie and Freddie were, after years of dominating Washington, on the ropes. They were enmeshed in accounting scandals that led to turnover at the top. At one telling moment in late 2004, captured in an article by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Peter Wallison, the Securities and Exchange Commission's chief accountant told disgraced Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines that Fannie's position on the relevant accounting issue was not even ``on the page'' of allowable interpretations.

Then legislative momentum emerged for an attempt to create a ``world-class regulator'' that would oversee the pair more like banks, imposing strict requirements on their ability to take excessive risks. Politicians who previously had associated themselves proudly with the two accounting miscreants were less eager to be associated with them. The time was ripe.


What happened next was extraordinary. For the first time in history, a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill was passed by the Senate Banking Committee. The bill gave a regulator power to crack down, and would have required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets.

If that bill had become law, then the world today would be different. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, a blizzard of terrible mortgage paper fluttered out of the Fannie and Freddie clouds, burying many of our oldest and most venerable institutions. Without their checkbooks keeping the market liquid and buying up excess supply, the market would likely have not existed.

But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter.

In other words, the people now lining up behind the bailout are the same people who set the stage for this meltdown. To be fair, there is plenty of blame to go around; lots of Wall Street fat-cats thought they could re-write the laws of economics and leveraged their firms on the sub-prime market.

And, from a historical perspective, the "politicization" of Fannie and Freddie dates to the early days of the Clinton Administration, which put the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 on steroids, and began forcing lenders to write mortgage loans in previously "red-lined" areas.

We should also note that Mr. Hassett is an advisor to John McCain, so yes, he has a dog in the fight. But no matter how the Democrats spin it, one fact is clear. Mr. McCain was a vocal sponsor of Senate Bill 190, which could have prevented this mess--if the Democrats hadn't killed it.

If You Need any Proof...

...that the new media--particularly the blogosphere--is doing the job of the MSM, look no further than today's edition of the Jawa Report. Rusty Shackleford of Jawa, with assistance from other bloggers, has uncovered strong evidence that a Democrat public relations firm, with extensive ties to the Obama campaign, was behind a recent smear video aimed at GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Is their case 100% conclusive? No, but there's more than enough circumstantial evidence to link the video to the p.r. outfit (Winner and Associates), and one Ethan Winner, a principal in the firm. The video included false allegations that Governor Palin was a member of a secessionist political party, and holds radical, anti-American views.

In a short post, I can't do justice to Jawa's account. Read the whole thing. If you don't have time right now, here's a bullet list of highlights, taken directly from the post:

  • Evidence suggests that a YouTube video with false claims about Palin was uploaded and promoted by members of a professional PR firm.
  • The family that runs the PR firm has extensive ties to the Democratic Party, the netroots, and are staunch Obama supporters.
  • Evidence suggests that the firm engaged in a concerted effort to distribute the video in such a way that it would appear to have gone viral on its own. Yet this effort took place on company time.
  • Evidence suggests that these distribution efforts included actions by at least one employee of the firm who is unconnected with the family running the company.
  • The voice-over artist used in this supposedly amateur video is a professional.
  • This same voice-over artist has worked extensively with David Axelrod's firm, which has a history of engaging in phony grassroots efforts, otherwise known as "astroturfing."
    David Axelrod is Barack Obama's chief media strategist.
  • The same voice-over artist has worked directly for the Barack Obama campaign.

Why does this matter? Beyond the clumsy attempt to "get" Sarah Palin, there's the issue of whether the video violated Federal Election Commission rules that require a disclaimer on "electioneering communications," even those not paid for by the candidates or their parties. A professionally-produced commercial, masquerading as an amateur You Tube video, and distributed by a p.r. firm employee--on company time--would constitute a potential violation.

One more thing: when Jawa's intial report hit the blogosphere late last night, it apparently touched off a panic among those responsible for the Palin video. Within an hour, the p.r. exec believed responsible for the smear had pulled the video and associated accounts from You Tube. But not before Jawa and other conservative bloggers backed up the video and all relevant websites. As Dr. Shackleford notes, you'd think an "amateur" would want more attention for his video, instead of pulling the product and attempting to cover his tracks.

We can only hope that Fox News and The Wall Street Journal decided to follow the trail, because the MSM won't touch this with a 10-foot pole, at least for now. But they may be compelled to cover the story, just as they did with RatherGate in 2004. This one has many of the same trappings; sensational, fabricated charges against a member of the Republican ticket, circulated in hopes of changing the outcome of a presidential election.

Unfortunately for the folks behind the video, their plans were derailed by citizen-journalists, performing the watch dog role that the MSM abandoned long ago.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's Called the Surge

Gee, how did we miss this one in our list of recommended Sunday reads? Oh, that's right, we try to avoid the Sunday New York Times, lest we spoil a perfectly good weekend.

Still, the Grey Lady was worth a glance today, for Dexter Pilkins' report from Baghdad. He recently returned to Iraq for the first time since 2006. Mr. Pilkins, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is stunned by the transformation.

When I left Iraq in the summer of 2006, after living three and a half years here following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I believed that evil had triumphed, and that it would be many years before it might be stopped. Iraq, filled with so many people living so close together, nurturing dark and unknowable grievances, seemed destined for a ghastly unraveling.

And now, in the late summer of 2008, comes the calm. Violence has dropped by as much as 90 percent. A handful of the five million Iraqis who fled their homes — one-sixth of all Iraqis — are beginning to return. The mornings, once punctuated by the sounds of exploding bombs, are still. Is it possible that the rage, the thirst for revenge, the sectarian furies, have begun to fade? That Iraqis have been exhausted and frightened by what they have seen?

The article is also noteworthy for more predictable reasons. Note the (relative) level of credit given to the American troops that defeated the terrorists, and their commander, General David Petraeus.

About what you'd expect from "The Newspaper of Record." No one is suggesting that our soldiers and Marines deserve all the credit for Iraq's remarkable turn-around, but they should get more than a passing mention.
ADDENDUM: In fairness, we should note that Pilkins interviewed General Ray Odierno at length for the article. As Petraeus's deputy during the surge, Odierno played a key role in the success of the surge, but the list of heroes extends throughout the ranks.

You'd think that Mr. Pilkins, who knows many of the key players in Iraq, would have talked to at least one brigade or battalion commander, and their senior NCOs. When the definitive history of the surge is finally written, it will tell remarkable stories of leadership, heroism and improvisation by battalion, company and platoon commanders, and the remarkable troops who served under them.

H/T: Allahpundit at Hot Air.

Sunday Reading Assignments

...A pair of articles from OpinionJournal.com, both well worth a read:

General Jack Keane tells "Why the Surge Worked," in an interview with Matt Kaminski, and historian Amity Shales reminds us that "Taking Revenge on the Rich Will Not Bring Recovery."

If there's a common theme in these articles, it is this: often, the most innovative thinking (and best policy) comes from outside the halls of power, and so-called "wise men." General Keane had already retired from active duty when he began advocating the surge (along with Fred Kagan).

Naturally, the strategy was opposed by "experts" in the Pentagon and the State Department. To his credit, President Bush ignored their counsel and listened to Keane and Kagan; the results speak for themselves.

Historians have also credited FDR with "going against the grain," implementing a slew of policies and programs that, supposedly, lifted the nation out of the Great Depression. But, as Ms. Shales reminds us, the New Deal included a strong element of class warfare; FDR and his Justice Department targeted leading Wall Street figures, attempting to blame them for the crisis:

But like today's politicians, Roosevelt also used the downturn as a weapon to trash markets generally. The New Dealers even used the same mocking phrases Mr. Obama does today. The rich might think that wealth trickled down, Roosevelt's speechwriter Sam Rosenman would later note, but "Roosevelt believed that prosperity did not 'trickle' that way."

In 1933 and 1934, Roosevelt went on the attack. The Sergey Brin of the 1920s was Samuel Insull, the Chicago utilities magnate who created the format for the modern electrical grid, taught housewives about refrigerators, employed thousands and proved it was possible for the private sector to raise the prodigious amounts of cash necessary for utilities, the most capital-hungry of industries. But the credit crunch killed off Insull's leveraged companies, rendering shareholder portfolios worthless.

Insull was extradited from Greece and hauled back to Chicago. A jury refused to convict him of fraud. But federal or state prosecutors continued to harry him until he died of a heart attack or stroke in 1938.

FDR mounted a similar effort against Andrew Mellon, the Alan Greenspan of his era. While a grand jury refused to indict him for income tax evasion, the Roosevelt administration continued to harass Mellon until his death in 1937. Exoneration came after his passing.

Meanwhile, as Ms. Shales observes, FDR's own programs failed to end the economic downturn.

Roosevelt's first effort at raising wages to revive the economy, the National Recovery Administration, was declared unconstitutional. Next came the Wagner Act, which led to massive unionization. Wages increased and unemployment even dipped a bit, but productivity did not rise in commensurate fashion. This contributed to companies' struggles, as Lee Ohanian of UCLA has shown. Industrial production plunged. In 1938, John L. Lewis of the CIO attained the apogee of his power, but unemployment was again at that appalling
two in 10.


A desperate Treasury Secretary [Henry] Morgenthau traveled to New York to placate a crowd of 1,000 economists and businessmen at the Hotel Astor in November, 1937. The audience laughed at him for daring to try. By the next year the New Dealers were quietly telling themselves their anti-wealth experiment was over -- and turning to the impending war in Europe.

As Ms. Shales concludes: what works politically is different from what works economically. Revenge, however sweet, cannot bring recovery. It's a lesson that Washington (once again) is likely to forget.