Monday, October 29, 2012

Today's Reading Assignment

...from Mark Helprin, writing in The Wall Street Journal, on America's capsizing naval policy; a sample excerpt:

To hold that numbers and mass in war are unnecessary is as dangerous as believing that they are sufficient. Defense contractor Norman Augustine famously observed that at the rate fighter planes are becoming complex and expensive, soon we will be able to build just one. Neither a plane nor a ship, no matter how capable, can be in more than one place at once. And if one ship that is in some ways equivalent to 100 is damaged or lost, we have lost the equivalent of 100. But, in fact, except for advances in situational awareness, missile defense, and the effect of precision-guided munitions in greatly multiplying the target coverage of carrier-launched aircraft, the Navy is significantly less capable than it was a relatively short time ago in antisubmarine warfare, mine warfare, the ability to return ships to battle, and the numbers required to accomplish the tasks of deterrence or war.
For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomacy in the South China Sea is doomed to impotence because it consists entirely of declarations without the backing of sufficient naval potential, even now when China's navy is not half of what it will be in a decade. China's claims, equivalent to American expropriation of Caribbean waters all the way to the coast of Venezuela, are much like Hitler's annexations. But we no longer have bases in the area, our supply lines are attenuated across the vastness of the Pacific, we have much more than decimated our long-range aircraft, and even with a maximum carrier surge we would have to battle at least twice as many Chinese fighters.
The entire op-ed is well worth the read; as Mr. Helprin observers, not only are we facing potential Chinese superiority in ships, aircraft and missiles, we have also decimated our capabilities in such vital areas as anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare.  We used the end of the Cold War as an excuse to retire hundreds of P-3 Orion airframes and the planned purchase of new P-8s won't begin to close the deficit, even with the improved capabilities of that platform.  
President Obama likes to talk about capabilities, but you need a robust force in all areas to counter a growing super-power like China.  That means more platforms with superior capabilities, not less.  I'm not a fan of Joe Stalin, but the Soviet dictator was right when he observed that "quantity has a quality of its own."  Our Navy has the quality we need (at least for now).  Increasing the size of our fleet is essential, if we plan to remain the world's pre-eminent sea power for the 21st Century.  

The Unraveling

Hard to believe, but just two months ago, Barack Obama's re-election was viewed as almost inevitable.  Pundits and the MSM touted the President's small, but steady lead in the polls, and the seeming inability of GOP challenger Mitt Romney to close the gap.

But obviously, something happened on the way to four more years.  When they write the history of 2012 campaign, scholars will likely focus on the first presidential debate in Denver.  For millions of Americans who had only seen Mr. Romney through the filter of Democrat attack ads, he suddenly appeared on their screens as a competent, viable alternative to President Obama and his miserable economic record.  After Denver, Mr. Romney began to surge in the polls, establishing his own lead that may carry him to the presidency.

Still, it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of that other significant event of recent months: the deadly  attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, and the subsequent unraveling of Team Obama's narrative about the strike and their handling of the situation.

In the days following the assault, we were told it was the result of an internet video that insulted the prophet Mohammed.  The supposedly led to a "spontaneous" protest that evolved into a full-scale attack on the consulate and a nearby CIA "safe house," complete with heavy weapons.  Administration references to the video (as the inspiration for the assault) continued for at least two weeks.

Yet the truth began to quickly emerge.  It was subsequently revealed that senior U.S. officials--including the President--were monitoring events in Benghazi as they unfolded.  We also learned that Ambassador Chris Stevens (who died in the attack) made repeated requests for increased security at our diplomatic facilities in Libya, but those requests were rejected.

Making matters worse, it also disclosed that an American drone monitored the final hours of the gun battle.  And, thanks to the diligent reporting of Fox News, the public discovered that two of the Americans who died, former SEALs Glen Doherty and Ty Woods, were still alive at least five hours after the attack began.  They, along with their colleagues, made several requests for assistance by the U.S. military, but those were also denied.

And more revelations are on the way, according to Fox News anchor Bret Baier who (along with his colleagues Jennifer Griffin and Catherine Herridge) have led their network's reporting on Benghazi.  What may be revealed is anyone's guess, but the steady drip of damning information has clearly undermined Mr. Obama's claims about his expertise in foreign policy.  At this point, it seems likely that the President was watching as a group of terrorists stormed two American facilities in Libya, and the commander-in-chief did virtually nothing to aid our personnel in Benghazi, despite the availability of U.S. military assets in the Mediterranean and southern Europe.

So, how did we get to this point?  Historians may someday write of political pressures or even the "fog of war" (another narrative that has found some favor with the White House).  But in reality, Team Obama has been done in by its own incompetence, and a losing battle with the intelligence community.

Make no mistake.  Many of the most damning revelations about Benghazi have come straight from intelligence operatives and the agencies they represent.  Relatively early in the scandal, administration officials hinted that the "spooks had gotten it wrong."  Given Mr. Obama's penchant for throwing folks under the bus, intel officers connected to Benghazi were not going to suffer a similar fate.  As the White House tried to spin it way out of the scandal, new details kept emerging, forcing the narrative back to the truth.

The intel leaks were also motivated by anger towards senior intelligence officials, who seemed anxious to do the administration's bidding.  When the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) and the CIA Director (David Petraeus) offered assessments that stressed the "role" of the infamous video, the initial trickle of leaks became a steady stream.  After all, many of the men targeted at Benghazi were CIA officers (or contractors working for the agency).  Members of the clandestine service and the paramilitary division rightfully perceived that their comrades were being hung out to dry, and they decided to fight back--against the administration and the leadership of our intelligence apparatus.

So at this point, the White House finds itself in a losing battle against the truth, and a presidential election just eight days away.  It doesn't take a political pro to understand that Mr. Obama is simply trying to run out the clock and limit the number of new revelations before next Tuesday.  That's one reason you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Chicago as Hurricane Sandy churned ashore along the eastern seaboard.  Not that they wish any hardship on a lot of blue state voters; it's simply the realization that Sandy will dominate the news cycles for the next couple of days--at a minimum--leaving less time for the Benghazi scandal.

Admittedly, the number of voters who pull the lever over foreign policy and national security issues is rather small--not enough to shift the balance of a presidential election.  But when Benghazi is viewed through the "competence" prism, the effect is telling, giving voters one more reason to reject Mr. Obama.

For many Americans, the myth of the president's invincibility began to unravel (for good) in Denver.  But don't underestimate the impact of that fateful night in Benghazi, and a White House response built on little more than lies and spin.
ADDENDUM:  And the brown stuff keeps hitting the fan.  Late last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said military forces were not dispatched to Benghaz because we lacked "real-time" intelligence on the ground situation.  Never mind that UAV that was overhead, providing continuous video coverage of the battle.  Or the e-mails and radio traffic from our personnel at the scene.  Or continuous SIGINT reporting from the National Security Agency.  To be fair, the intel picture in any fluid situation is far from perfect.  But to sa we lacked "real-time intelligence" is nothing more than a lie.

We should also note that the FBI and the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) identified terrorist links to Benghazi just two days after the attack.  That was in sharp contrast to a briefing from CIA Director Petraeus, who was touting the "video" angle about the same time.   Not exactly General Petraeus's finest hour.  If Mitt Romney becomes our next President, we imagine he'll be looking for a new CIA Director and someone to replace Jim Clapper as DNI.                                


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Options in Benghazi

To the surprise of many, the topic of Benghazi--and what might have been done to save the four Americans who died there--never really surfaced in last night's Presidential debate.  GOP challenger Mitt Romney apparently made the decision to take the high road and avoid a slug-fest over the issue.

And that's unfortunate, because the decision-making that accompanied the debacle in Beghanzi deserves some sort of public airing.  Almost two months after the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, President Obama has never explained what he knew of the attack, and his actions that followed.  That irony hung over Monday's debate, and answers to those questions will be postponed until after the election, when some congressional committee or blue-ribbon panel releases their report, months or years down the road.

Meanwhile, there are new concerns over what was--and wasn't done--during those desperate hours in Benghazi.  CBS News aired a segment over the weekend on military options that might have been available during the attack on the consulate.  Readers will note that the segment ran on the network's Saturday morning news show, one of its lowest-rated programs.  From Sharyl Atkisson's report:

CBS News has been told that, hours after the attack began, an unmanned Predator drone was sent over the U.S. mission in Benghazi, and that the drone and other reconnaissance aircraft apparently observed the final hours of the protracted battle.
The State Department, White House and Pentagon declined to say what military options were available. A White House official told CBS News that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies."
But it was too late to help the Americans in Benghazi. The ambassador and three others were dead.

News about Predator surveillance of the battle had been making the rounds for several days before the CBS segment aired.  But information about "other" reconnaissance aircraft is rather intesting; to our knowledge, Ms. Atkisson's report is the first to confirm that other U.S.aircraft were monitoring the battle.

As to which aircraft, there are a number of options.  American reconnaissance aircraft routinely patrol the Mediterranean, including Air Force RC-135 and Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft.  In the EUCOM theater, RC-135s operate from RAF Mildenhall in the UK, while EP-3s have long been based at Souda Bay, Crete.  Scrambled from those locations, an EP-3 or RC-135 could have been off the Libyan coast in two or three hours, providing additional coverage of communications between terrorist elements involved in the attack.  However, it is unlikely these assets were sitting alert, and any reporting from these platforms likely came from previously scheduled missions that coincided with the consulate attack.

Other recon possibilities include U-2 aircraft and Global Hawk UAVs.  U-2 pilots have been flying over Libya--off and on--for decades.  In years past, U-2s on Mediterranean missions have operated from Lajes Field in the Azores and an RAF base on Crete.  Given the amount of time required to prep a U-2 pilot (and jet) for a mission, any coverage by that platform would have involved an aircraft already slated for a Libyan mission, or re-routed from other tasking in the region.  As for the Global Hawk, it can remain over a target, at high altitude, for more than 24 hours, relaying information to ground stations in the U.S. and Europe.

Whatever platforms were overhead, they added to the overall surveillance picture emanating from Benghazi.  As we've noted previously, there was no shortage of information available to decision-makers in Washington, DC (and elsewhere).  Command nodes at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department--along with various military headquarters--had access to the information, which included urgent SIGINT reporting, relayed by the National Security Agency (NSA), from airborne and ground-based listening posts focused on the Middle East.

According to Fox News military analyst (Ret) Colonel David Hunt, we also had a steady stream of information from inside the consulate, thanks to an open microphone in the radio room.  Members of the consulate staff provided a virtual play-by-play of the assault, which continued even after terrorists stormed the compound.  Urgent radio traffic from Benghazi was monitored continuously at the State Department and likely available at the White House and Pentagon as well.  That information, along with FLASH/CRITIC messages from NSA, provided early details of what was going on inside the diplomatic compound--and what terrorists involved in the attack were saying.  And when the Predator arrived, there was a continuous video stream as well--also available to decision-makers in Washington, including the Commander-in-Chief.

Simply stated, Mr. Obama and his national security team had a pretty good idea of what was going on at the consulate in Benghazi, and the arrival of each reconnaissance asset provided more details.  So, given the relatively high degree of granularity, what were our military options, and why was no action taken?

The first challenge was targeting, and the whereabouts of American personnel.  Clearly, no one wanted to launch cruise missiles into Benghazi or send manned aircraft to bomb targets as long as our diplomatic personnel and the former Navy SEALs couldn't be accounted for.  But as time wore on, it became apparent that all were dead, and fratricide was no longer a concern.  Why not launch a counter-strike?

The first question is what do you hit, and what are the available assets?  There is obvious reluctance to launch aircraft into an environment where the bad guys can't be clearly identified; in Iraq and Afghanistan, attacks against U.S. interests often attracted large groups of civilian on-lookers.  Without being able to separate by-standers from the bad guys, attack aircraft, gunships and even armed drones will stay out of the fray.  Clearly, no one in Washington wanted a collateral damage incident on top of the embassy disaster.

There's also the matter of getting assets to Benghazi in a timely manner.  AC-130U gunships were reportedly stationed at NAS Sigonella (on Sicily); with its on-board weaponry, "Spectre" can deliver a devastating volume of fire against ground targets with precision accuracy, and remain overhead for extended periods (in a favorable air defense environment.  The distance from Sigonella to Benghazi is about 420 miles, about two hours' flying time for an AC-130.  But once again, it takes time to get an aircraft and crew prepped and briefed for such a mission, particularly if they weren't sitting alert at the time.

The same holds true for U.S. Air Force F-16s from Aviano AB in northern Italy.  The distance from that base to Benghazi is just over 1,000 miles, a little under two hours' flight time for the Vipers (this assumes sub-sonic flight, to conserve fuel.  Still, it would take several hours to round up the crews, brief them for the mission, prep the aircraft and launch the mission.  And, unless the mission planning team at Aviano had good imagery of the compound--with mensurated coordinates--there was a higher probability that the precision weapons dropped by the F-16s would miss.  It's also worth remembering that the F-16 flight would require tanker support, necessitating coordination of more support elements.

This is not to say the U.S. was without options.  The assault on the consulate dragged on for roughly seven hours, and two of the Americans (most likely, the former SEALs) were still alive six hours into the firefight.  As other observers have noted, we managed to get an unarmed Predator overhead for the final phases of the battle, and other recon platforms were also on-scene.  The relatively long tead time between the start of the attack and its final throes (seemingly) provided enough time for some sort of kinetic option.

And our options weren't limited to the  AC-130s out of Sigonella or the F-16s from Aviano.  It would be interesting to know the location of our nearest carrier battle group on September 11, 2012, for a couple of reasons.  First, carriers maintain F/A-18s on alert around the clock, and it's easier to convert them to an attack role (and get them off the deck) instead of rounding up F-16 crews at Aviano.  A carrier group over the central Med would also have the ability to maintain a continuous air presence over Benghazi, facilitating rescue, recovery and reinforcement operations.

But no one will say if a carrier group was in the area that night.  And even if it wasn't, there were other naval assets available.  We refer to surface vessels armed with cruise missiles, capable of reaching Libya from a range of over 1,000 miles.  Like air-dropped precision weapons, TLAMs need precise intel for maximum effectiveness.  But the U.S. already had an extensive TLAM targeting base for Libya, the product of our air campaign against Qadhafi a year before.  With that information--and the system's rapid re-targeting capabilities--a cruise missile laydown could have been launched against the terrorists in the latter stages of the consulate attack.

According to media accounts, "various" military actions were considered and rejected, leaving the Americans in Benghazi on their own.  In retrospect, there were no "optimum" actions for the situation in Benghazi, but the U.S. was not without options.  Of course, it became more difficult to reach a consensus after the Commander-in-Chief went to bed, before the battle was over.                  


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Up on Frequency

In recent posts, we've asked the fundamental question about the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans: what did the  administration know, and when did they know it?

As we've noted, there was a steady stream of intelligence reporting on the attack, delivered at the FLASH/CRITIC level.  Messages assigned that priority must be delivered to the President within 10 minutes of receipt.  This traffic captured conversations between the Islamist factions responsible for the attack, before and during the assault on our compound.  That's why administration claims that incident was some sort of "demonstration gone bad" are nothing more than a lie.

Ditto for Joe Biden's claim that Benghazi was some sort of intelligence failure.  By all accounts, the spooks did their job, and it was apparent within minutes  that our consulate was under attack by terrorists, not ordinary Libyans incensed over that internet video.  If Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has any shred of integrity remaining, he should resign immediately in protest over how his community is being "used" to conceal leadership failures of the first magnitude.

But terrorist phone traffic wasn't the only source of information on the night of September 11, 2012.  According to Fox News military analyst Colonel David Hunt (who spent most of his Army career in special forces), various U.S. command centers--in the U.S. and overseas--received a running account of the attack --while it unfolded--from a State Department official inside the consulate.  Hunt detailed who was listening in during a recent interview with Boston radio host Howie Carr.  Here's a partial transcript of their recent conversation, re-posted at

HUNT:  What happened is that a woman named Lamb, Undersecretary of State for DSS (Department of State Security), 2 days ago, told Issa's committee that she listened, was talking to, and recorded an almost six hour fight that resulted in the death of four Americans. She was at the State Department's Operations Center in Foggy Bottom in DC.

When that happens, there are a bunch of people that get informed. President of the US gets found---- the embassy is being attacked---Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of CIA, and on and on.
What also happens is that their command centers, National Command Center (CIA), White House Situation Room--- twelve [Command Centers] that I won't bore you with. At least twelve separate Command Centers are listening to the same conversation. It went on for six hours. The question I think, besides the fact that Biden is lying about it, is Why didn't we do anything? Why didn't the United States government react?

Here we are, listening to an attack, and we didn't do a thing. We've got aircraft in Europe, aircraft in the in the Gulf, and we have the capability of doing something, and we did nothing. But for the Vice President...My point is everybody, from the moment the attack happened, in our government, and the decision-making capability, knew that it was an attack, that it was organized, that it was violent, and that it had nothing, nothing to do with a riot, an assembly of people, or a film.

This was not even close to an intelligence failure. This was prescient, actionable information. And this woman testified to it, and everyone's giving everyone a pass.

We sat by and watched the Embassy fall, and four Americans died.

Carr: Who was on the radio in the consulate in Benghazi?

HUNT: Department of State Security employee -- a DSS agent was at the operation center in Benghazi. They had a room with radios and cameras. And he makes the call; he punches the alert button. Does everything correct and calls his boss in DC.

Then he describes the attack for the whole time, until that the command center is overcome. But when she 

[Lamb] gets the phone call….

Carr: He's killed. He's killed. He's at the radio when he gets killed. Is that right?

HUNT: The radio stays open. It's still being recorded until it gets destroyed.
Lamb, who is in DC listening to all of this--- Clinton gets called, the President gets called, the Joint Chiefs---everybody gets called about this. This is an embassy under attack. Period. It's an automatic phone call.
And the fact that we have this recording, instantly. We know exactly the picture. By the way, he sent pictures back because he had cameras.

So, the administration knew; they watched it, let it happen, and then for eight days lied about it. And then yesterday, last night, unfortunately, the Vice President of the US just lied. He knows it was not an intelligence failure. No one ever said that, by the way. This is a case where we have information and didn't act. It wasn't a case where we weren’t provided [info]. We had instant knowledge, accurate description, and just sat by and did nothing.

Carr: You said there were a dozen posts listening to this play by play account.

HUNT: Sure

Carr: Just give me a few examples of what kind of agencies would have been involved in this listening or monitoring.

HUNT: National Military Command Center in the Pentagon (that's the military head), the White House Situation Room, the CIA Operations Center, the Counterterrorism Center, EUCON (European Command). Africa Command, Special Operations Command, SOC-EUR [?] Special Operations Command Europe), Atlantic Command, NATO. Everybody.

Once this call is made, and a button is pushed, saying, oh by the way, we have an attack going on, everybody listens in --- this is old tech, an old procedure that’s been going on for years. Anybody who has ever been on a watch listening in the military knows what I am talking about. And it is amazing to me that this is not even being discussed. It is the elephant in the living room for me. We knew this was going on and did nothing.

Carr: Let's say, let's say there's the African Command and some sergeant is monitoring it, and you know, he's there and he listens to what's going on, and he says, captain come over and listen to this. And the captain listens to it, and I guess the captain would have to call his superior officer, right? And then at some point , wouldn't all these people be calling the Pentagon or the State Department in Foggy Bottom and say, Hey there's a problem in Benghazi. What are we gonna do?

HUNT: Within minutes that happens. It's instantaneous notification of an entire chain of command. An embassy is under attack and falling.And oh, by the way, turn to channel 27, and here's the information. And then these separate places are asking for – some cases begging for--- guidance. What do you want us to do? Because the military guys, whether it's in Bahrain or Europe, or any place else, can't on their own just go in there, but we have the means available. The point is that nobody pushed the button to say "GO." Nobody had the guts. Nobody cared enough. Six hours"    

Meanwhile, the National Security Agency (NSA) was adding even more detail to the picture, through its communications intercepts and reporting.  So, as the attack unfolded, administration officials not only knew what was going on inside the consulate, they had a good idea of who was behind the incident, and were quite aware the sophisticated attack (using RPGs and other heavy weapons) was not the work of an angry mob. 

Yet, the administration continued to lie, as evidenced by Joe Biden's whoppers last week, and the "video" story that made the rounds last month.  Such conduct is inexcusable, and beyond the pale by any stretch of political imagination.  Yet the same media that worried about George Bush's "lies" in Iraq have exhibited far less concern about the fabrications that followed the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including the administration's refusal to describe the incident as a terrorist attack for nearly two weeks.  

Go figure.     .     

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Running Out the Military Voting Clock

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to know if the military's voter assistance offices are working--and he's asking for an immediate answer.  More from Air Force Times:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has directed military officials to provide him a report by Oct. 19 verifying that each of the 221 installation voting assistance offices is appropriately staffed to meet the needs of troops.
He gave officials three days to get it done; the memo was issued Oct. 16 to the service secretaries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and chiefs of the combatant commands.
“We must do all we can to ensure that service members know the steps necessary to vote, particularly those service members deployed or based away from home. This issue must be addressed immediately,” he wrote.
Mr. Panetta issued his directive after the DoD Inspector General reported it could not reach about half of the voting assistance offices by phone, despite repeated attempts.  Members of Congress have expressed similar concerns.  
At first blush, the SecDef's actions seem to be a model of bureaucratic urgency and concern.  A three-day suspense for this sort of survey is virtually unheard of along the E-ring.  So, a lot of action officers will be burning the midnight oil for the next few days to give Secretary Panetta the information he requested.  
But in reality, Mr. Panetta's demand is little more than a farce.  The IG report was issued in late August--almost two months ago.  Why did the Defense Secretary wait so long to issue that last-minute tasker?
The answer is rather obvious, and rooted in election year politics.  As we recently noted, opinion surveys show that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will get most of this year's military vote.  With most analysts predicting a close election, Democrats are looking for ways to suppress pockets of likely GOP voters, including the military.  A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration successfully challenged an Ohio law that would have granted three additional "early voting" days for military members.  And earlier this week, the Romney campaign sued several Wisconsin localities when it was learned that military voters from those areas may not receive their absentee ballots in time for next month's election.  
So, Mr. Panetta's request is a nice public relations stunt, but it will do little to help armed forces personnel who want to participate in our democratic process.  The time for action was weeks ago.  We understand the SecDef is a busy man, but why did it take him so long to address the issue?  It's also worth asking how much data the defense chief needs to determine the current voter assistance program is broken.  The IG report is a rather damning indictment, to say the least.  
But the defense chief appears more interested in running out the clock on military voters.  Even if the service chiefs (and General Dempsey) meet their suspense--and they will--it will take Mr. Panetta a few more days to review the report and implement corrective action.  By that time, it will be too late for military voters to request an absentee ballot and meet state deadlines for returning it.   
No wonder military voter participation will likely hit an all-time low this fall.  And sadly, few inside the Pentagon seem overly concerned.  Military members are the most disenfranchised segment of our electorate, and it's been that way for years.  We can only wonder if Mr. Panetta (a fomer Democratic Congressman and  White House chief of staff) would be more concerned if most military voters were aligned with his party.          

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Almost Real-Time

Recently, we postulated that senior U.S. officials were actively monitoring the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans:

"...there is reason to believe that Mr. Obama may have learned of events in Libya long before the three-hour mark, and here's why: reports of escalating threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East should have put the National Security Agency (and its global intercept capabilities) on heightened alert.

It's also worth noting that the U.S. (read: NSA) monitored several phone conversations between Al Qaida operatives and representatives of the Ansar al Sharia group.  During the calls, they discussed the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.  So far, U.S. officials have not revealed if the chatter was related to planning the assault, or if it occurred while the attack was in progress.

But let's assume that the conversations occurred just prior to the attack and while it unfolded.  We make this assumption (hoping) that if NSA had advance notice that our consulate was being targeted, protective measures would be implemented to safeguard our personnel.  Obviously, we cannot make this assumption with complete certainty; after all, the agency collects millions of bits of information on a daily basis.  There are delays in translation, and even with sophisticated data-mining and keyword search techniques, analysts don't always receive information required to provide timely warning.

Still, if we're reading the tea leaves correctly, it appears that NSA was monitoring terrorist communications for a period that included the actual attack on the consulate and the murder of Ambassador Stevens.  If that's the case, then the agency most likely issued its highest priority message traffic (known in the trade as FLASH/CRITICs).

These alerts, reserved for the most important global events, are supposed to be in the hands of the President--and other senior officials--within 10 minutes of receipt.  There are established guidelines for events considered worthy of a CRITIC, and NSA has sometimes rejected submissions from lower levels in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) community.  For example, when U.S. listening posts in Japan detected the shoot down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, initial CRITICS sent to NSA were rejected, on the grounds of insufficient information.  However, as the situation became more clear, FLASH/CRITIC traffic was quickly forwarded to President Reagan and key members of his national security team.

Based on what we're hearing, it seems likely that President Obama was in receipt of similar messages on the night our consulate was breached and Ambassador Stevens was murdered, along with three other Americans.  And, if NSA was monitoring terrorist phone calls in the run-up to the attack, there is a very real possibility that the commander-in-chief knew what was going on well before the "three hour" mark.  That possibility raises very real questions about what Mr. Obama knew, when he knew it, and his initial response to the crisis.

Now, our theory has been confirmed.  From the Danger Room:

U.S. officials in Washington monitored the September 11 attack on the American mission in Benghazi as it was happening. But don’t blame American policymakers for initially blaming the unrest in Benghazi on protesters.
Those are those are just two of the somewhat contradictory messages coming from State Department employees as they testify before the House Oversight Committee, which held hearings Wednesday on the attack. But they’re not only only contradictions. Depending on which witness you believe, security at the embassy were either just fine — “the correct number of assets,” one State Department official said — or woefully inadequate.
“When the attack began, a Diplomatic Security agent working in the tactical operations center immediately activated the imminent danger notification system,” explained Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs, in her prepared testimony (.pdf). “Based on our security protocols, he also alerted the annex U.S. quick reaction security team stationed nearby… and the Diplomatic Security Command Center in Washington. From that point on, I could follow what was happening in almost real-time.” 

That latter description--"Almost Real-Time"--is a thinly-veiled reference to U.S. SIGINT capabilities.  So clearly, there was a trail of SIGINT reporting as the attack unfolded, and it was flowing to key officials in Washington.  If Ms. Lamb was monitoring events near real-time, then it's a certainty that the same message traffic was being received at other locations, including the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC) in the Pentagon, and the Situation Room at the White House.

Based on previous accounts, we know that President Obama was briefed on the night of the attack, and those updates were almost certainly based on the same intel traffic received at the State Department.  Once again, the question is elementary: what did the President (and Secretary of State Clinton) know, and when did they know it?            


Monday, October 08, 2012

Disenfranchised Over There (Polling Edition)

A few months ago, Democratic operatives were quietly predicting that President Obama could make "serious inroads" with the military vote in 2008.  Their forecast was based on a several factors, including Mr. Obama "ending" the war with Iraq; his focus on military family issues (with Mrs. Obama leading the way), and a belief that younger troops were more accepting of the President's more controversial positions, most notably his repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell."

Well, it was a nice theory.  Unfortunately for the President--and his party--the military vote remains solidly Republican.  Polling data from earlier this year suggested that voters affiliated with the armed forces (active duty, guard/reserve, retirees and veterans) preferred Mitt Romney by more than a 2-1 margin.  But the Dims weren't quite ready to give up the ship, noting that the first survey included a large number of older veterans who tend to be more conservative, reflecting their age, political leanings and party affiliation.

As for those currently wearing the uniform, Democratic prospects look equally bleak.  A new poll from the Military Times newspapers suggests that Romney bests Obama by a similar margin among its readership:

The professional core of the U.S. military overwhelmingly favors Mitt Romney over President Obama in the upcoming election — but not because of any particular military issues, according to a new poll of more than 3,100 active and reserve troops.
Respondents rated the economy and the candidates’ character as their most important considerations and all but ignored the war in Afghanistan as an issue of concern.

Among the 3,100 military readers surveyed by the Times, 66% favored Mitt Romney, while 26% said they planned to cast their ballots for President Obama.  Interestingly, the former Massachusetts governor is running about two points behind the 2008 GOP nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, while Mr. Obama's support is three points higher than it was four years ago.

According to the Times, about two-thirds of the military members who participated in poll are serving on active duty, while the rest were drawn from guard and reserve components.  The paper cautioned that their sample is a bit older--and whiter--than the general population.  However, their readers are also much better educated than the general electorate; almost 80% have a college degree, and more than one-quarter have earned a graduate degree.

Additionally, almost one in three of the survey respondents have been deployed for at least two years since 9-11.  That reflects a couple of factors; first, many have experienced the hardships--including combat--that have been a hallmark of military service over the past decade.  And secondly, poll participants represent the core of career officers and non-commissioned officers who form the backbone of the U.S. military.  They wee deployments, combat tours and other requirements as part of their job and (consequently) don't view presidential candidates solely in terms of who will--or won-t--continue combat operations.

It's also a reflection of perceived competency on key issues.  Clearly, members of the armed forces in 2012 are voting with their wallets, as are most Americans.  Skyrocketing gas and food prices place a heavy burden on recent recruits and mid-level NCOs.  And, virtually everyone in uniform is worried about continued defense cutbacks that will force thousands of junior personnel from the military (the Marine Corps alone will lose 10% of its active-duty strength by 2015).  Making matters worse, those facing involuntary separation from the armed forces will enter a civilian economy with dismal prospects for employment, particularly in the defense sector.

So, it's little wonder that Mr. Obama is gaining little traction among military voters.  And that may partly explain some of the recent, preemptive moves by Democrats and their friends in the federal bureaucracy.  Attorneys for the Democratic Party successfully challenged an Ohio early voting law that gave military members three extra days to cast their ballots, claiming it was unfair to other voters.  Then, there's the matter of dwindling absentee ballot requests from armed forces personnel stationed outside their home state.

With the election only a month away, various media outlets are reporting that the number of absentee ballot requests from military personnel in swing states have plunged by as much as 70% over 2008 levels.  Some experts put the blame (in part) on the Obama Administration's refusal to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which the President signed into law three years ago.

More from Breitbart:
A new study by The Military Voter Protection Project (MVP) found the number of absentee ballots in Virginia and Ohio has dropped 70 percent since 2008. 
As of September 22, there were 12,292 absentee ballots requested  in Virginia by military overseas; in 2008, there were 41,762 requests. In Ohio, 9,707 absentee ballots had been requested by September 22; in 2012, there were 32,334 requests. 
In Florida and North Carolina, 121,395  and 19,109 absentee ballots, respectively, were requested by military voters in 2008; as of September 22, there have been 65,173 and 7,848 requests, respectively.
Eric Eversole, the executive director of MVP, said the these numbers are “shockingly low.” 
“While we knew the number of absentee ballots requests would increase as we got closer to the election—and they have—the number being requested is still way too low and indicates that many military members will have their voices silenced on Election Day,” Eversole said.  


The MOVE Act requires state and local election officials to send absentee military ballots on September 22nd, but nearly half of overseas military bases overseas lack offices where troops can register to vote.
According to the MVP study, the Pentagon and the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) failed to comply with the MOVE Act by providing registration offices on every military base to make it easier for military members to vote. The Department of Defense’s Inspector General confirmed these findings in a report. 
The lack of voting assistance offices at overseas locations is particularly disturbing.  Military units have appointed voting assistance officers for decades; it's a standard additional duty for junior officers and mid-level NCOs across the service.  How much more difficult can it be to appoint a voting officer for the entire installation and provide the required office space?  
Texas Senator John Cornyn smells a rat, and so do other members of Congress.  Unfortunately, there seems to be little effort to hold the administration accountable and consequently, thousands of military personnel will have their absentee ballots rejected once more.  
Is there a correlation between the Military Times poll and continuing problems with military absentee ballots?  Call us conspiracy theorists, but we believe the answer is yes.  With all pundits predicting a tight election, Democrats can't let Republicans collect thousands of votes from a constituency that prefers the GOP by an overwhelming margin.  After all, the Dims can read polls, too.  
ADDENDUM:  In case you're wondering, 57% of the military members surveyed by the Times plan to vote by absentee ballot.  

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Greetings From Hezbollah?

An Israeli fighter shot down a drone over the Negev desert this morning, but (officially) it remains unclear where the unmanned aircraft came from.

More from Reuters:
The drone was first spotted above the Mediterranean in the area of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to the west of Israel, said military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich.
It was kept under surveillance and followed by Israeli air force jets before it was shot down above a forest in an unpopulated area near the border with the occupied West Bank.
Leibovich said it was shot down at about 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), after it travelled east some 35 miles across Israel's southern Negev desert.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak praised the interception as "sharp and effective".
"We view with great severity the attempt to compromise Israeli air space and will consider our response in due course," Barak said in a statement. 
While Israeli helicopters and ground forces searched for wreckage from the drone, a former military official--who is now a member of the Knesset--left no doubt about its origins.
"...Miri Regev, a former chief spokesman of the IDF, wrote on Twitter it was an "Iranian drone launched by Hezbollah", referring to the Lebanese Shi'ite group that fought a war with Israel in 2006.
Defense officials would not confirm Hezbollah's connection to the drone.

However, the Lebanon-based terror group is the most likely culprit.  Back in 2006, the IAF intercepted another drone over northern Israel that was most likely launched by Hezbollah.   That drone was reportedly carrying explosives and headed for an Israeli city, perhaps Tel Aviv.

As we noted at the time, shooting down a small UAV is hardly an easy task:

"...the small size of a UAV or drone makes them difficult to acquire visually. During the days of no-fly zone enforcement over Iraq, attempts by Saddam's air force to engage U.S. Predators were usually good for a laugh on a slow day. More often that not, Iraqi radar operators could never find the target; on the rare occasions when they could, the fighter pilots under their direction failed to complete the intercept. Even at close quarters, it was extremely difficult for the Iraqi MiG driver to maintain visual track on an American UAV.

Shooting down a UAV with a fighter is equally problematic. Without radar tracking, more advanced missiles (such as the U.S. made AIM-120 AMRAAM) are largely useless. Infra-red air-to-air missiles (such as our own Sidewinder) may be a better choice, but only if you can acquire the target, l0ck onto the UAV, and maintain that lock. UAVs have a small IR signature, and that problem is compounded by "other" elements (such as clouds) that reflect IR energy, and may cause the missile to break lock. If all else fails, pilots can attempt a gun pass, but that's easier said that done, given the speed of the fighter, the much slower velocity of the UAV, intercept geometry, and the limited rounds available (a "fully loaded" F-16 has less than 600 rounds of 20 mm ammunition for its on-board cannon, enough for about 3-4 seconds of burst time. If you're going to use the gun, make the first shot count--you probably won't get another one.

Still, Israel has certain advantages in combating enemy drones.  First, Hezbollah has only a limited number of UAVs, so the threat is rather for small (at least for now).  Additionally, the IDF has its own, sizable drone fleet that can provide continuous coverage of southern Lebanon, Gaza and other potential launch sites.  Those assets, coupled with SIGINT posts, AWACS platforms and ground-based radars, provide a "fused" picture that allows the IAF to track and intercept airborne threats.  

But it only takes one drone to deliver a deadly strike, particularly if it's carrying WMD.  And, it's little consolation to the IDF that the UAV flew within a few miles of Israel's nuclear complex in the Negev.  Hezbollah and Iran have long had a fascination with that target, and drones offer another tool for monitoring  --and attacking--the facility.  

It has long been speculated that Hezbollah is more interested in UAVs for intelligence collection and not as a strike platform.  However, there is little to indicate the terrorist group (and their Iranian sponsors) have developed the infrastructure necessary to fully utilize drones as an intel-gathering system.  So today's flight was probably aimed at testing Israeli air defenses, and sending a signal to Jerusalem.  Even if only one drone gets through, the results can be devastating. 
ADDENDUM:   The IDF has released video of today's intercept; watch the F-16 zoom into the frame as the drone goes down in flames.  Hard to tell the type of weapon used; we're guessing an AIM-9 or a Python 5 AAM.      



Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Man of the Hour

Mitt Romney's decisive victory over President Obama in tonight's debate will have a thousand fathers, including Senator Rob Portman, who prepped him for the showdown with the President.

But how about a nod to the man who predicted tonight's outcome well over a month ago, in Tampa, with a speech and prop that were widely derided at the time by the chattering class.  We refer, of course, to Clint Eastwood and that famous empty chair.  Well, that empty chair (and empty brain at the other end) were on full display in Denver tonight.

Kudos, Mr. Eastwood.  Ahead of the curve--as usual.

Also, a tip of the hat to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who predicted a "game changing" performance from Mitt Romney tonight.  As Jim Geraghty of NRO said on Twitter, "I'd like to see his picks in the NFL pool this week."

The Rest of the Story (Natural Disaster Edition)

One day after revealing President Obama's 2007 demagogic speech at Hampton University, the Daily Caller has a rather interesting follow-up.

If you've seen Mr. Obama's remarks (in total or excerpted), you may recall him criticizing federal officials (read: the Bush Administration) for requiring state and local governments to contribute to the cost of clean-up after Hurricane Katrina, as required by the Stafford Act.

One little problem.  His claim is a bald-faced lie.  Mr. Bush waived the Stafford requirement in light of the extreme devastation caused by Katrina, and the feds footed the bill.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good narrative, as Democrats demonstrate on a daily basis.

But when Mr. Obama was sitting in the Oval Office, it was a different case entirely, as reporter Zachary Snider discovered:

Despite his harsh criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2007, President Obama decided not to waive a requirement that state and local governments contribute 25 percent of relief funds devoted to cleaning up after a tornado that swept through Joplin, Mo. in May 2011.

In August of 2011, the Obama administration temporarily cut funds sent to Joplin residents in order to aid other Americans, those affected by Hurricane Irene. That decision left behind destroyed roads, leveled buildings and many homeless Missourians.
Hurricane Irene was the fifth worst Hurricane in U.S. history, causing an estimated $19 billion in damage. While Irene’s rebuilding costs were more than six times those related to Joplin, it also claimed about 100 fewer lives than the tornado.
For the record, President Obama actually visited Joplin a week after the storm, roughly the same time frame as a presidential visit to New Jersey, which was devastated by Hurricane Irene a few weeks later.  However, Mr. Obama was conspicuously absent when floods hit the Nashville, Tennessee area in May 2010, causing $1 billion in damage and killing more than 30 people.  The President did sign a disaster declaration in the aftermath of the storm, but FEMA never reported if the Stafford provision was waived for the Tennessee floods.