Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Gathering Storm, Redux

Shown here in a file photo, the USS Ronald Reagan will soon become the third U.S. aircraft carrier operating in waters off northeast Asia, along with the USS George Washington and the USS Carl Vinson. The presence of three carrier battle groups will give American commanders more options for dealing with the situation in North Korea (Wikipedia photo).

As we observed in a recent post, the coming months on the Korean Peninsula will be a particularly dangerous time. Not only is North Korea expected to ratchet up provocations against the South, there is a very good chance the Seoul government will respond in kind, launching counter-strikes on a scale previously unobserved in that volatile region.

Bottom line: the prospects for renewed conflict in Korea haven't been this high since the late 1960s, when DPRK forces shot down a U.S. EC-121 spy plane and seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence-collection ship operating off the North Korean forces. We responded with a massive military build-up on the peninsula, but North Korea still held the Pueblo's crew for a year before they were finally released.

Five decades later, Pyongyang hasn't launched a similar provocation against U.S. forces (at least not yet). Still, the possibility of North Korea attacking our military assets in the region is much higher than in recent years, as Kim Jong-il's regime tries to transfer power to his youngest son, establish his credentials as the nation's next leader, and extract more concessions from the United States and South Korea.

It's a difficult geopolitical juggling act, but the future of North Korea literally hinges on accomplishment of those goals. So, the early weeks of 2011 will be especially tense in Northeast Asia, as Pyongyang makes its next move, dictating some sort of response from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

At this time of year, the DPRK is not without options. The annual Winter Training Cycle (WTC) of the North Korean military is in full swing, meaning that combat units will be nearing peak readiness over the next three months. That fact was reaffirmed today, with reports that Kim Jong-il personally observed a armored drill conducted by his army's 105th Guards Tank Division.

The North Korean news dispatch suggests that DPRK military training is on schedule, or even slightly ahead of schedule. Early drills in the WTC focus on small-unit operations, then move on to larger formations at the brigade and division levels. Corps-level exercises will come next, building towards a national defense exercise in late March.

It's unclear how many tanks from that division took part in today's training. In recent years, armored drills have been conducted on a slightly smaller scale, to save precious fuel and other resources. But with the "Dear Leader" in attendance, fuel savings were hardly a consideration. It's a safe bet that the division on display rolled out enough tanks to satisfy the dictator, who was reportedly "pleased" by what he saw.

Kim's presence at the exercise also raised some caution flags. In March of last year, he visited a naval base before a DPRK sub torpedoed (and sank) a South Korean corvette, killing 46 ROK sailors. And just last month, the North Korean leader and his heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, inspected a North Korean artillery just hours before it opened fire on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island. Today's visit prompted suggestions that the 105th might be involved in some future provocation.

But that appears unlikely--at least for now. The 105th, one of the oldest armored units in the North Korean Army, is something of a "showcase" organization, and frequently visited by VIPs. In fact, Kim Jong-il inspected the division earlier this year. So today's visit may not be a harbinger of the next sneak attack.

Besides, there are more troubling scenarios on the horizon. There may be a new wrinkle in Pyongyang's plans for its next nuclear test. Reza Khalili, a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer (and CIA operative) believes North Korea is preparing to test a device for Iran. He made that claim in a column posted yesterday at

"A [recent] research report from the South Korean Foreign Ministry Institute indicated that North Korea would carry out another nuclear bomb test after the beginning of the year -- South Korean media reported earlier this month that the North was digging a tunnel in preparation for such a nuclear test.

At the same time, reports from inside Iran indicate that a team of Iranian nuclear scientists have been sent to North Korea and that the two governments have agreed on a joint nuclear test in North Korea with a substantial financial reward for the Kim Jong-Il government.


The recent revelations about North Korea’s uranium enrichment plant also raise the possibility that North Korea is enriching uranium on Iran's behalf. Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes; that it is their right to produce nuclear fuel for their nuclear power plants.

In order to avoid a possible military reaction by the West, Iran is working covertly with North Korea until such a time they are capable of weaponizing their ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

If Mr. Khalili's information is accurate, we are facing an even greater crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The ramifications of a nuclear test--conducted by Pyongyang for its Iranian partners--are dangerously clear. While a recent computer virus (allegedly engineered by Israel) has crippled Tehran's nuclear program, the mullahs may be opting for a convenient back-up plan: acquiring a device from North Korea.

Assuming the test is successful, that means Iran could acquire a handful of nuclear devices in a matter of weeks, via regular military transport flights between Pyongyang and Tehran. It really doesn't matter if the bomb if of Iranian design, or simply acquired "off the shelf" from North Korea. Tehran may be on the verge of entering the nuclear club, and sooner rather than later.

The obvious question is what the U.S. and its allies are prepared to do about it. Attacking the test site might prove counter-productive, particularly if we "miss" the device and give North Korea an excuse for a large-scale military strike on the south.

A better option would be an air and naval quarantine of the DPRK, aimed at halting nuclear shipments to Iran. Enforcing such a ban is far from impossible, but it would take resolve, dedicated military resources, and the cooperation of sometimes-reluctant nations like China. It's worth remembering that some of those IL-76 flights between North Korea and Iran make refueling stops at airfields in the western PRC.

Denial of overflight and refueling privileges in China would go a long way towards halting the arms flights, forcing North Korea to rely on maritime shipments. We've had notable success in tracking (and even interdicting) those vessels in the past. These tactics will be even more effective if the U.S. quietly "buys up" space on third-party air cargo jets and merchant ships that could be hired to ferry nuclear technology between North Korea and Iran.

But the time for action is now. So far, the Obama Administration has given no public indication of how it would react to another nuclear test in North Korea, with or without Iranian participation. Still, there are signs the White House and the Pentagon are hedging their bets. Our friends at Information Dissemination were among the few to note the "early" surge of the USS Carl Vinson late last month. The Vinson and its battle group are currently operating near Guam, and could reach waters off Korean in a matter of days.

With the arrival of Vinson, the U.S. now has two carriers in the Western Pacific (the USS George Washington is home-ported in Japan and often operates in that area). While the presence of two carriers in the region is rare, you have to go back to the Vietnam War to find three carrier battle groups in the area at the same time. Yet, that will be the case in the coming weeks, when the USS Ronald Reagan deploys to Northeast Asia. The move has already drawn protests from China, and we're guessing Pyongyang is perturbed as well.

Too bad. With regional tensions at the highest levels in decades, the U.S. needs to enhance its military posture in the region. With the Washington, Vinson and the Reagan on station, U.S. commanders will have more than 150 additional fighter aircraft at their disposal. Those assets would be useful in conducting potential strikes against DPRK targets, protecting our recce assets over the Sea of Japan, or enforcing an aerial quarantine of North Korea.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Korea's Dangerous Winter

Over the past month, we've been warning that tensions on the Korean Peninsula will likely escalate in the New Year. We make that prediction despite last week's successful artillery drill by South Korean forces--and Pyongyang's decision not to respond.

Responding to North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in late November, ROK units conducted another live-fire drill from the outpost, supported by an overwhelming show of air and naval power. This time around, Kim Jong-il's forces elected not to shell the island, responding instead with propaganda blasts.

Still, matters in Korea are far from resolved. And despite North Korea's recent "show of restraint," future confrontations are almost inevitable, experts warn. Earlier this week, Seoul's Institute for National Security Strategy predicted that Pyongyang will likely ramp up its confrontations with the South in 2011, attempting to satisfy various geopolitical agendas.

The country could conduct a third nuclear bomb test and wage more attacks on front-line islands — like Yeonpyeong, which was bombarded in shelling that killed four South Koreans last month — the report said. North Korea may even fire missiles and more artillery at the those islands, chief researcher Lee In-ho told The Associated Press after the report was posted.


And the provocations are expected to become only more serious next year as North Korea pushes to cement the son's leadership and achieve its goal of building a "powerful, prosperous nation" in 2012, the 100th anniversary of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung's birth, said the report by the institute, which is affiliated with South Korea's main spy agency. The report was jointly written by about 20 institute researchers, but they say it does not represent their organization's official view.

Of course, it's virtually impossible to assign a specific timetable for possible North Korean attacks. Based on recently-observed preparations, the next nuclear test could occur in the late winter, perhaps at the end of the annual Winter Training Cycle (WTC). DPRK military readiness reaches its annual peak at the end of the WTC, which normally falls in late March. The cycle usually concludes with a national defense exercise, and a nuclear blast might provide the sort of capstone that North Korea desires.

But the potential for provocations and carefully-planned attacks will exist well before that national defense drill. Using a building-block approach, Pyongyang expands military training to include larger formations, up to and including the corps level. At this point in the cycle, North Korean SOF, artillery and mechanized units are normally active, with live-fire exercises and (in some years) the movement of special forces assets to positions closer to the DMZ.

In fact, North Korea built at least three new airfields near the DMZ in the 1990s. They serve as forward operating bases for the venerable AN-2 Colt biplanes which are a primary platform for inserting SOF troops into South Korea. Special forces units are based near the airfields, and training in these areas is often an indicator of relative readiness among SOF units, and the overall "health" of the AN-2 fleet.

Likewise, DPRK artillery units become more active in the middle months of the WTC, along with rocket and missile formations. This progression reminds us that Kim Jong-il has many more military options for confronting South Korea and the U.S. during the winter months. After last months shelling of Yeonpyeong, North Korea tried to up the ante by moving more multiple rocket launchers to positions along the coast. It is likely that these units were already field-deployed for the WTC, so moving them into potential firing positions was a relatively simple affair.

As we've noted in previous posts, North Korean military readiness erodes steadily after the conclusion of the WTC. In the spring and summer, troops are needed to assist with agriculture production, to help alleviate inevitable food shortages. As a result, many units are idle during that time, and become far less capable of carrying out their combat missions. There are some exceptions, of course, but the difference between Pyongyang's military readiness in late March and say, mid-July, is (well) the difference between winter and summer.

And that raises a dilemma for North Korea. To sustain tensions at desired levels--and get what it wants from South Korea and the U.S.--Pyongyang must maintain higher levels of military preparation into the spring and summer months. That would be unusual (and a possible indicator of even greater confrontations), but it would also come at a price. Keeping the troops out of the rice paddies means their units will face food shortages next winter.

To rectify that situation, Kim's generals would shift more food stocks from the civilian population to the military. North Korea's leaders have no problem with that scenario, but they are also aware that the faintest signs of domestic unrest have been detected over the past year. Anti-regime graffiti was observed in Pyongyang earlier this year, a development previously considered unthinkable in a Stalinist state, built on the personality cult of Kim Jong-il and his father, Kim Il-Sung.

So, North Korea faces a balancing act over the next couple of years. Pyongyang needs to demonstrate its power to South Korea and its allies, in hopes of winning more economic aid and concessions on the nuclear arms issue. Provocations supporting that goal also aid Kim Jong-un, the designated successor to Kim Jong-il. The younger Kim must prove that he can handle the reigns of power before his father passes on. And North Korea wants to achieve its goal of becoming a "powerful, prosperous nation" before 2012, the centennial of Kim Il-Sung's birth. Efforts to cement the transition of power--and the status of North Korea's "Great Leader"--provide more incentives for mischief-making.

Obviously, some of those goals are unattainable (i.e., an economically prosperous DPRK). But the elites in Pyongyang are willing to settle for a country that is nuclear-armed and unafraid of confronting its more powerful enemies. To achieve that goal, North Korea will continue rattling its sabre throughout 2011 and into the next one as well. There will be a certain ebb-and-flow of tensions on the peninsula, but some periods will be more dangerous than others. You can count the winter of 2010-11 in that category.
ADDENDUM: It's rather odd that no one at the Pentagon has been talking about this year's WTC, and offering comparisons to previous training periods. That suggests two possible scenarios: (1) Training levels are comparable to previous years and there's nothing much to discuss, or (2) We've observed heightened or unusual activity in the past couple of months, and no one wants to discuss it, to avoid raising fears. Sadly, almost no one in the Pentagon Press Corps has ever heard of the North Korean Winter Training Cycle (and its implications), so its easy for military leaders to avoid that critical topic.

Finally, there was this disturbing report from the DMZ region on Tuesday. North Korean troops near the military border were spotted in South Korean-style uniforms. While DPRK special forces units have outfitted infiltration units with ROK uniforms and weapons for years, it is highly unusual for Pyongyang to display that capability so openly. Analysts in Seoul said the uniforms suggested that North Korea is practicing infiltration techniques that might be used in commando raids against the South--or in a full-scale invasion.

The Granddaddy of the Rubber Room

In recent years, we've been treated to horror stories about the "rubber rooms," where public school systems dump teachers who are accused of wrong-doing, or simply incompetent. Thanks to union protection, these "educators" (and we use that term advisedly) report to holding areas while their cases wind through the system.

It usually takes years to get rid of a bad teacher, and they collect full pay and benefits while sitting in the rubber rooms. Many spend their days surfing the internet, sleeping, or even pursuing a second career (some of the dud teachers in NYC have earned real estate licenses while sitting in purgatory and sell properties from the holding rooms--all on the taxpayer's dime). When you consider that veteran teachers in New York can earn more than $90,000 a year, the rubber rooms represent a horrific waste of education dollars.

While it's not uncommon to find teachers who have spent four or five years on hold, the New York Post has discovered the "Granddaddy" of the rubber room set. Seventy-five-year-old Roland Pierre has been assigned to a holding facility since 1997, after he was accused of molesting one of his students. New York school system Chancellor Joel Klein refuses to put Pierre back in the classroom, despite the fact that criminal charges against him were dropped, and education department hearing officers let him off the hook.

So, Mr. Pierre keeps reporting to the rubber room each workday, drawing full pay and health care benefits. His current salary is just over $97,000 a year.

On June 26, 1997, Pierre, then 62, was arrested on felony sex-abuse charges after he allegedly called one of his students into an empty classroom where he taught English as a second language, closed the door and molested her.


The girl left and went to the administrative office, where she "burst into tears" and reported the incident, [investigators] said in a March 6, 1998, report on the investigation, released to The Post last week.

The report says Pierre refused to speak to investigators, but gave a two-page typed statement acknowledging that he had met the girl behind closed doors.

While Mr. Pierre reached retirement age years ago, he simply refuses to leave--and under union rules, the school system can't fire him. And there's little incentive for him to quit. Where else can you earn more than $100K a year (including benefits) for doing absolutely nothing?

Our sympathies go out to those of you living in New York. Roland Pierre is yet another example of what's wrong with our education system, and why public employee unions are literally killing our cities and states.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fred Foy, R.I.P.

It remains, arguably, the most-recognized introduction in the history of entertainment....

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver!..."

Those words marked the beginning of every episode of The Lone Ranger, a staple of both network radio and the early days of television. Yet, with the exception of broadcasting buffs and those who worked in the industry, few knew the name of the announcer most associated with that intro. His name was Fred Foy and he passed away last Thursday at the age of 89.

Mr. Foy was on the staff at WXYZ radio in Detroit in 1948 when he was assigned as the announcer and narrator for The Lone Ranger. Foy was the last in a long line of announcers assigned to the program and when it made its television debut in 1949, he handled that assignment as well. Mr. Foy remained with the radio version until it left the airwaves in 1954, and the TV show until it was cancelled three years later. But thanks to the miracle of audio and video recording, Fred Foy's stirring introduction will likely live on forever.

During the "golden age" of network radio, most of the best-know programs originated from New York, Chicago and Hollywood. But Detroit (and WXYZ) played an important role as well, largely due to the station's affiliation. In the early 1930s, WXYZ was part of the Mutual Network. In that era, Mutual was more of a programming cooperative than a true network; powerhouse local stations like WXYZ developed their own shows and shared them with other network affiliates.

The Lone Ranger debuted on the Detroit station in early 1933 and proved to be an immediate smash. A series of actors played the masked lawman, while the announcing chores were handled by various members of the WXYZ staff. According to broadcast legend, one of the Lone Ranger announcers was none other than Mike Wallace, who worked at the station after graduating from the University of Michigan. However, Wallace has stated (on at least one occasion) that he never worked on Ranger, but did announce for its spin-off, The Green Hornet.

By the time Foy joined the cast, The Lone Ranger was a well-established series that had migrated from Mutual to the NBC Blue Network and its successor, ABC. Mr. Foy worked for the station before Army service during World War II and rejoined the staff after the war. Years later, Foy told an interviewer that he and his fellow cast members had no idea their show would become a classic:

“We had no idea we were creating something that would become an American icon,” Mr. Foy told The Daily News of New York in 2003. “We knew it was good, but it was a job. You came in at 3, you checked the script, you did the rehearsal, you made sure the production elements were in place, you went on the air.”

Foy also played the Lone Ranger on at least one occasion when series star Brace Beemer came down with laryngitis. "I guess I did all right," he told the New York Daily News in 2003, "because we didn't get any complaints." During the same period, Foy's voice also graced other Detroit-based series, including Sgt Preston of the Yukon and The Green Hornet.

With the demise of the Ranger franchise (and network radio), Mr. Foy moved to New York where he worked as a staff announcer with ABC-TV before retiring in 1985. Viewers of the Dick Cavett Show may also remember Fred Foy as the program's announcer during its five-year run.

But Mr. Foy will always be best-remembered for his work on The Lone Ranger, and it's quite a legacy indeed. The New York Times described the program's introduction as among the most evocative in American broadcasting, and Fred Foy's dramatic rendition placed it in the pantheon of pop culture. Quite remarkable for a radio show that left the airwaves 56 years ago, and a TV show that stopped production during the Eisenhower Administration.

Yet, those words and images endure, thanks in no small measure to the exceptional talent of Fred Foy.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shut Out

In the past, we're written at length about the looming recruiting crisis facing the U.S. military. Simply stated, too many of those in the prime demographic group targeted for enlistment (18-25 year-olds) don't quality for military service, for reasons ranging from obesity and other medical issues, to academic problems and past run-ins with the law. By some estimates, only 28% of young Americans in the prime enlistment cohort actually qualify for military service (emphasis ours).

The cognitive short-comings of potential enlistees represent a particular concern. In a high-tech military, you simply can't train someone on high tech weapons or information systems when they lack basic academic skills. And the problem seems to be growing worse, according to a new report by the Education Trust. Entitled Shut Out of the Military, the study analyzes five years of test scores from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Pouring over reams of data, researcher Christina Theokas discovered that one in five candidates who took the ASVAB failed to achieve the minimum score required to enter the U.S. Army.

At this point, some clarification is in order. The ASVAB, as its name implies, measures aptitude in a variety of areas, helping the military determine which recruits have skills that might be useful in specific jobs. Scores from the four academic sections of the ASVAB generate the AFQT score, which provides an overall measure of cognitive ability. It's the AFQT score that determines if a recruit gets in, and the type of technical training he or she qualifies for in their respective branch of service.

In terms of qualifying scores on the AFQT, each branch of the military has its own standards (listed below). The Army has the lowest; the Coast Guard has the highest.

Minimum Required AFQT Score by Service Branch

Army 31
Marine Corps 32
Navy 35
Air Force 40
Coast Guard 45

We should also note that the AFQT is based on a 100-point scale. So, a prospective recruit can score below 50% and still meet cognitive standards for enlistment in any branch of the military--assuming they don't have other disqualifying issues. Indeed, none of the 350,000 young people in the study sample had those problems, so these young men (and women) were viewed as prime enlistment candidates--until some of them took the ASVAB.

It's a damning indictment of America's education system when 23% of those taking the ASVAB couldn't achieve a passing score for any branch of the military. And, as you dig into Ms. Theokas's work, the news grows steadily worse. Among her findings:

-- Everyone in the sample group had a high school diploma, and all graduated within three years of the time they sat for the ASVAB. So, the notion that these young people had been out of school for an extended period (and lost much of what they learned) really doesn't apply.

-- Failure rates for Hispanic and African-American youngsters were significantly higher than their white peers. Nationally, twenty-nine percent of Hispanics who took the test could not meet Army standards, while 39% of African-Americans failed to achieve the minimum score.

-- Ineligibility rates vary greatly from state-to-state. In Hawaii and Mississippi, the number of test-takers who couldn't meet minimum standards approaches 40%, and it's over 30% in Washington, D.C. and Louisiana. Figures for those southern states are hardly surprising, given long-standing problems with the education systems in Louisiana and Mississippi. But Hawaii ranks 28th in per-pupil spending ($7253 per year) and Washington D.C. spends more per child ($13,187) than any other state, federal district or territory. So the dismal AFQT scores for graduates of the D.C. system are not the result of under-funded schools. You could make a similar case for Hawaii, though many educators in that state would disagree.
-- High-school grads who can't pass the AFQT are equally unprepared for the civilian job market.

Another fact worth remembering: these are not the ASVAB takers of decades past, when local schools (in cooperation with military recruiters) would administer the test to the entire senior class. Under that approach, some students earned rock-bottom scores, because they had no interest in joining the military and didn't care about the results.

But all of the participants in this study took the exam at an armed forces recruiting station. In other words, these individuals were already disposed towards military service by their prior meeting(s) with recruiters and willingness to sit for the ASVAB.

So, their difficulties on the entrance exam represents a serious loss, both for the armed forces and society as a whole. The military impact is disturbing, even if you only consider the recruiting process. Based on the study results, we lost upwards of 80,000 potential recruits because they couldn't achieve minimum scores on the AFQT. That represents the Army's active-duty recruiting quota for one year, plus 10,000 additional recruits.

And because of high failure rates on the ASVAB/AFQT, the Army (along with the rest of the military) must spend more effort to find qualified volunteers in the 18-25 cohort, with additional costs for recruiting, marketing, advertising, evaluation and related functions. In an era of decreased resources for defense, that money might be better spent on new weapon systems, or higher bonuses for recruits who have already demonstrated their value to the military.

From a societal perspective, it means that the military is no longer a potential gateway to the middle class for thousands of lower-income youngsters. To be fair, social advancement has never been--nor should it ever be--a primary function for the armed forces. But it is also irrefutable that hundreds of thousands of lower-income whites, Hispanics and African-Americans have used their military training (and service) to acquire skills and expertise that led to a higher standard of living, more education and other opportunities. Without the required AFQT score, that option is effectively closed.

To its credit, the education trust doesn't suggest any dilution of the ASVAB. The test (and the AFQT score) are proven indicators of applicant skills and their cognitive abilities--crucial measurements in determining who should serve, and in what capacity. Clearly, the problem isn't with the test.

Additionally, the study's authors do not call for the military to lower its standards. Talk to any battalion, squadron or brigade commander (and their senior enlisted members) and they'll tell you: the armed forces simply can't train and inculcate soldiers, Marines, sailors or airmen who score below 30 on the AFQT. As commanders and senior NCOs, they need more junior troops who can master complex tasks quickly and act with initiative. From experience, they know that young enlisted members with lower AFQT scores will need more remedial training and supervision, placing another strain on the unit and its resources.

The real solution--obviously--lies with improving our educational system. But beyond suggestions for more spending, you won't find many politicians proposing serious reform programs. That's because it's much easier to promise more money, instead of tackling the tough issues like poor teachers, inadequate curricula, out-of-control students, timid administrators and too-powerful education unions, to name a few. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is one of the few trying to buck the education establishment, in order to save money and improve student performance. Unfortunately, Governor Christie's campaign is the exception and not the rule.

We also find it rather curious that first lady Michelle Obama has failed to weigh in on this matter. Earlier this year, she (correctly) described the nation's childhood obesity epidemic as a threat to national security, since young people who are grossly overweight are ineligible for military service. But we lose far more recruits to the AFQT issue and (so far) the White House has been silent. Wouldn't want to offend all those NEA members who write checks for Democratic politicians and vote in lock-step for the party's candidates.
Additionally, this recruiting issue may also be affected by the recent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A landmark Heritage Foundation Study (conducted five years ago), found that 29 states, mostly in the south, Midwest and west, were over-represented among military recruits. At that time, the states with the highest proportional enlistment rates (compared to the general population) were: Montana, Texas, Wyoming, Alaska and Oklahoma.

All are deeply red, located in flyover country (a.k.a. "Jesusland"), more closely identified with traditional American values, including opposition to homosexuality. With DADT now gone, will young people from those states (and other rural regions) still be willing to sign up in required numbers to sustain current force levels? Or should the recruiters expand their efforts in places like San Francisco and New York City, which have, in recent years, supplied small numbers of recruits in relation to their overall population. Call it another, unintended consequence of repealing DADT.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Info Wars (Of Another Sort)

A few months ago, the world was stunned when North Korean hackers (or hackers with sympathies to Pyongyang) unleashed a cyber attack that took down the websites of several government agencies in South Korea and the U.S.

It was a reminder of how far the DPRK has come in terms of its cyber-warfare capabilities. Just a few years ago, the North Korean regime admitted it was still trying to "figure out" the internet, and Pyongyang's on-line presence has always been limited--reflecting the nation's limited web infrastructure and the government's desire to keep the populace off-line.

So, it's a bit of surprise that the most recent dust-up between North and South Korea has not been accompanied by a major cyber attack. To be sure, there are constant, probing attacks by hackers from North Korea (and dozens of other nations). And, it's a fair bet that Pyongyang receives its own share of on-line attacks. Even a country like the DPRK has infrastructure that can be targeted for military and economic purposes, and rest assured, the recent Stuxnet infection in Iran caught the attention of North Korea's computer experts.

Maybe that's why Pyongyang's info-warfare weapon of choice, has, in recent days, been the dreaded....fax. CNN reports that North Korea is sending a barrage of fax messages to South Korean companies, blaming Seoul for last month's artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island. At least two ROK Marines died in the attack, one of the most serious provocations on the peninsula since the Korean War ended almost 60 years ago.

Earlier this month, faxes started arriving at South Korean companies, South Korean Unification Ministry deputy spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said Wednesday. The faxes blame South Korea for the November 23rd artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. Four South Koreans, two military personnel and two civilians, when North Korea hit the island with artillery.

"Responsibility for the attack lies with the South," states the fax, according to Lee. "Groups in the South should rise up against the South Korean government."

The ministry says 15 companies, consisting of two religious groups, seven trade companies, give civic groups and one media organization, reported they had received the fax. The first report of a fax came in on December 8, according to Lee.

The South Korean government estimates that as many as 80 companies and groups may have received the fax, but not all of them have reported it. All of the organizations that received the fax have prior contact with Pyongyang, through economic development projects, cross-border visits by family members divided by the war, and other joint projects.

Pyongyang's fax blitz is merely the latest chapter in a decades-old propaganda war between the North and South. In the past, both sides blasted front-line positions along the DMZ with non-stop music (delivered from massive loudspeakers) and political speeches. At one point, there was even a contest to see who could erect the largest tower and flag. Seoul eventually ceded that battle to the North, but only after each side built (and deployed) a series of successively larger towers and banners. There were also offers of huge rewards for individuals who would defect from one side to the other (as you might imagine, the South clearly had the upper hand in that contest).

Still, if the propaganda war between North and South remains intense, why did Pyongyang take a less aggressive approach this time around? We believe there are a couple of reasons. First, the recent shelling of Yeonpyeong touched a raw nerve in South Korea, both among the political elites and the population as a whole. Their collective anger was evident--so was the demand for retaliation, even if it meant more attacks from the North.

In response, Pyongyang began taking a less confrontational approach, hinting that it might allow a resumption of outside nuclear inspections and hosting New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has visited the DPRK as a U.S. emissary in the past. Having achieved their short-term goals (and not wishing to risk a larger military response from the South), Kim Jong-il and his regime decided to ramp down their rhetoric, hoping to blame any subsequent clashes on their adversaries in Seoul.

There was some basis for their fears. South Korea's artillery drills on Yeonpyeong (held earlier this week) were backed by dozens of ROKAF F-16s and at least two destroyers. Faced with that display of superior weaponry, the DPRK decided to back down. It will be interesting to see if Pyongyang maintains that stance during the next round of South Korean military drills, which will be held near the DMZ.

We also believe Iran's Stuxnet infection also influenced the strategic calculus in Pyongyang. As a key supporter of Tehran's nuclear effort, it's a good bet that North Korean scientists have received detailed briefings on the worm--and its impact on Iranian nuclear facilities. That information was undoubtedly relayed to Pyongyang, prompting defensive assessments of DPRK nuclear complexes. Given the level of interaction between the two countries, there were probably fears of similar, crippling attacks against North Korea's nuclear infrastructure.

Whatever the reason, a fax war is a long way from taking down U.S. government websites. How long will North Korea maintain this more restrained approach? As long as its suits their purposes, or until they believe they're adequately protected from Stuxnet and other crippling computer viruses.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DADT (Afghanistan Edition)

Call it ironic, to say the least.

As Congressional Democrats pushed for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"--clearing the way for gays to serve openly in the U.S. military--allied forces were encountering problems with homosexual conduct among members of the Afghan security forces.

More from Sara Carter of the Washington Examiner:

The vast gulf between U.S. and Afghan attitudes about homosexuality and pedophilia has generated concern among U.S. advisers in Afghanistan since the American presence there began to expand.

In late 2009, U.S. and British forces ordered a study of Pashtun male sexuality. They were worried that homosexuality and pedophilia among Afghan security forces and tribes could create cultural misunderstanding with allied troops, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Examiner.

The study, requested by 2nd Marine Expeditionary Battalion along with British forces in Lashkar Gah, was conducted by members of one of the Defense Department's Human Terrain Teams stationed in Afghanistan. The report was authored by team member Anna Maria Cardinalli, who said the goal was to learn how to advise "U.S. and British service members who report encounters with men displaying apparently homosexual tendencies. These service members are frequently confused [by] this behavior."

The report described unease by U.S. Marines and British soldiers who felt they were being propositioned, or who were outraged by apparent acts of pedophilia by Afghan soldiers and police. It documented one case in which 12 of 20 Pashtun interpreters working with one U.S. Army unit had contracted gonorrhea from homosexual encounters.

Troops interviewed by The Examiner say they are frequently forced to deal with a radically different attitude toward sex with male youths by Afghan security forces.

"I know Marines and soldiers who have refused to work with Afghan military or police," said one U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's not about homosexuality as much as it is about the young boys. Some of them like to show pictures on their cell phone -- that should be illegal. Some of the Afghans have their own young boys they use for sexual purposes and we can't do anything about it."

In her report, Ms. Cardinalli observed that prevailing sexual attitudes in some parts of Afghanistan are creating a cycle damaging to boys and young men:

There is frequently the risk that Pashtun boys will face a set of experiences that mold their beliefs regarding sexuality as adults in ways that are ultimately damaging, both to themselves and to Afghan society," the report concludes. "It appears that this set of experiences becomes cyclical, affecting generations, and that this cycle that has existed long enough to affect the underpinnings of Afghan culture itself."

And, the impact of those experiences is already being felt in portions of Afghanistan, putting American forces squarely in the middle of complex moral, social and sexual issues. A source at Army Special Operations command tells In From the Cold that Afghan women, emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops. have complained about beatings they've suffered at the hands of their husbands. The domestic violence reportedly stemmed from the inability of the women to become pregnant and produce sons, highly valued in Afghan society.

When U.S. civil affairs teams (and other special forces units) quietly investigated the problem, they quickly discovered a common denominator. Virtually all of the younger men who beat their wives (over their inability to become pregnant) had been former "apprentices" of older Afghan men, who used them for their sexual pleasure. Upon entering marriage, whatever the men knew of sex had been learned during their "apprenticeship," at the hands of the older man. To put it bluntly, some of the younger Afghans were unfamiliar with the desired (and required) mechanics for conception.

To remedy this situation, the Army called in its psychological operations teams, which developed information campaigns in Pashtun areas, explaining the basics of heterosexual relations and their benefits, in terms of producing male offspring. It may be the only time in the history of warfare that an army has been required to explain sex to the native population, to curb the abuse of women and young boys--and retain U.S. influence in key geographic areas.

Army psy op specialists declined to discuss their efforts in great detail. But one of the "preferred sex" campaigns was (reportedly) a direct result of the 2009 survey, and the problems encountered by NATO troops working with their Afghan counterparts.

While no one in Kabul (or the Pentagon) will admit it, the recent repeal of DADT may complicate the "sex ed" mission in Afghanistan. From the western perspective, there is a difference between relations among consenting, adult members of the same military, and young boys being traded into sexual bondage with older men. But the Afghans don't see it that way--and that may lead to problems down the road.

At least one psyop specialist (who participated in a previous sexual education campaign in Afghanistan) believes the Pashtuns will accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy. Once they learn that "DADT" is gone, the Afghans will ask us: why do you discourage us from activity you now condone?"

And, as Ms. Cardinalli observes, this dynamic among Pashtun tribes must be dealt with, one way or another. Ignoring it, she writes, fails to comprehend "an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture which can potentially affect the success of the U.S. effort (in Afghanistan).

Obviously, Congress wasn't thinking about the Pashtun situation when it rescinded DADT in our military. But in our rush to grant equal rights to a very small minority, our elected leaders inadvertently created more problems on the battlefield. Go figure.