Thursday, April 28, 2005

First Flight

Readers of this blog will quickly discover that I'm hardly a Europhile. Indeed there is much to dislike about the Western Europe of today, from their rampant anti-Americanism and abandonment of their Judeo-Christian roots, to their socialist approach to health care and economics.

But, in the interest of fairness, I'm willing to give our European friends some credit when they deserve it. And they deserve considerable credit for yesterday's successful first flight of the Airbus A380, the world's first "super-sized" jetliner. Capable of carrying more than 550 passengers, the A380 represents an 11-year, $13 billion gamble for the European consortium.
Airbus rival Boeing has elected not to develop a super jumbo jetliner, concentrating instead on smaller, 787 "Dreamliner."

Will Airbus's effort pay off? So far, it has orders for 154 A380s from such carriers as Air France, Lufthansa and Virgin (the first A380 will enter service next summer with Singapore Airlines on its trans-Pacific routes). Airbus needs at least 250 orders to break even on the project. Boeing, on the other hand, has 217 orders for the 787. With jet fuel prices soaring, some analysts believe the 787 makes more economic sense, carrying 250 passengers on long-haul routes now served by aircraft like the Boeing 747 and MD-11.

Which aircraft manufacturer made the right call? Only time will tell. But the sight of that huge jetliner climbing into the skies of France was impressive. But it's also worth noting that European governments put up about one-third of the A380's development costs. Without those subsidies, it's doubtful that the jetliner would have been built. Airbus believes the A380 will prove profitable, and that confidence is not misplaced. Now, Airbus needs to wean itself from government subsidies and compete on a level playing field with Boeing. Much has been made (in recent years) of Airbus gaining market share against its American rival. More impressive is Boeing's long history of developing and marketing new products, without underwriting from Washington.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Politics of Torture

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Massachusetts Senator Ted ("I'll have a Chivas") Kennedy saw fit to issue a press release on the subject. The infamous Senior Senator from the People's Republic (and estwhile driving instructor) has been conspiciously silent on our successes in Iraq, but misses no opportunity to bash our military, and sensationalize the actions of a few miscreants.

Let's put Abu Ghraib in perspective. This "scandal" has been investigated ad nauseum, and (so far) we've identified a handful of low-ranking guards as the culprits. There is no compelling evidence that senior officers or defense officials were aware of the activity, or condoned it. Results of a comprehensive Army investigation, released earlier this week, cleared a number of current commanders (including Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez) of any wrongdoing. The Army inquiry lasted almost a year, and included interviews with hundreds of soliders and prisoners.

But that isn't good enough for the left, who still insist on trying to sustain the scandal. Human Rights Watch is out with their own, predictable report, alleging that Abu Ghraib is "just the tip of the iceberg" in terms of U.S. torturing Muslim detainees.

Funny, but Human Rights Watch and Senator Kennedy had little to say when four American contractors were brutally tortured and executed in Fallujah one year ago. They were also silent when Nicholas Berg and other American hostages were beheaded on camera by Islamic terrorists. And, I don't recall either the Senator or Human Rights Watch decrying the recent, videotaped murder of a Bulgarian helicopter crew member in Iraq.

But the moral hypocrisy doesn't end there. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by former U.S. POWs from the first Gulf War, who sued the Iraqi government for injuries suffered as a result of Saddam's torture. The POWs won their case initially, but the verdict was overturned by a federal appellate court. According to the court, U.S. POWs are not entitled to damages that would be paid from frozen Iraqi accounts in American banks.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'll predict that at least one Muslim detainee will eventually sue the U.S. for his suffering at the hands of U.S. military personnel. I'll also predict that liberal lawyers (perhaps from the ACLU) will gladly sign-on, to assist him with his court battle. Meanwhile, other Americans--mostly military members and defense contractors--will continue to be tortured and killed by terrorists and their supporters. And apparently, no one gives a damn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Where Are They Now?

John Walker. Aldrich Ames. Robert Hanssen. They are America's most notorious spies; men who gave away some of the nation's most guarded secrets for financial gain. Their legacy is measured in lives lost, and lasting damage to our national security.

But what happened after their high-profile trial ended, when they were led away in shackles, and the TV lights went out? Most Americans assume that Walker, Ames, Hanssen and other spies are spending the rest of their lives in federal, high-security prisons, a fitting punishment for their heinous crimes.

Unfortunately, that assumption isn't already accurate. A friend of mine, who works for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, recently passed along a list of 16 convicted spies, who inflicted grave damage to national security. Surprisingly, only five on that list--Ames, Hanssen, James D. Harper and George Trofimoff, and Brian Regan--are actually serving life sentences, with no possibility of parole. Three convicted spies, Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee (of "The Falcon and the Snowman fame) were released in the late 1990s, along with William Kampiles, a former CIA employee who sold a Top Secret spy satellite manual to the Soviets. Kampiles, incidentally, served less than half of his 40-year sentence before being paroled.

The rest have scheduled release dates over the next 18 years, a list that includes John Walker, Ronald Pelton, Ana Montes (a DIA analyst who passed extremely sensitive information to Cuba), FBI turncoat Earl Edwin Pitts, and Jonathan Pollard, the Navy intelligence analyst wo passed classified information to Israel. John Walker's projected release date is 2015; along with his brother Arthur (also convicted of spying for the Soviets) and Pelton, who betrayed the NSA's Ivory Bells program. Montes scheduled release date is 2023.

It may also surprise you to learn where America's traitors are serving their sentences. Only one--Robert Hanssen--is confined at the federal SuperMax penetintary in Florence, CO, where prisoners spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Three others--Ames, Pelton and Brian Regan--are incarcerated at high security prisons, and three more spies, Army turncoat David Boone, James D. Harper, Steven Lalas, and Pitts are confined at medium security facilities. The rest, Pollard, Trofimoff (the highest ranking military officer ever convicted of spying) and Arthur Walker are housed at a low-security prison in Butner, North Carolina. John Walker is currently a patient at a federal prison medical center in Springfield, Missouri, while Ana Montes, is doing time at a minimum-security prison hospital near Ft. Worth, Texas.

Make no mistake; serving a sentence in federal prison is no picnic, and many of the spies will have spent decades behind bars by the time they are released (John and Arthur Walker will be 80 and 77, respectively, in 2015). But the severity of their crimes--and the damage they caused to our nation's security--it seems incomprehensible that any of them will have another shot at freedom, even if they go from jail to a retirement home. It also seems a bit odd that only a handful are incarcerated in maximum security prisons and just one convicted spy (Hanssen) is assigned to the SuperMax.

I can't explain the vagaries of the federal justice system, but one thing is clear. American turncoats have inflicted crippling damage on our national security over the past 30 years, and their legacy is literally measured in blood. Perhaps we'd have fewer espionage cases if federal prosecutors tried accused spies for treason instead of espionage, and judges and juries imposed the maximum penalty for that crime--death. And, for those convicted of espionage, life in the SuperMax without the possibility of parole seems a fitting sentence. Robert Hanssen needs some company.

A Major Find

The noose continues to tighten around terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. ABC News is reporting that Zarqawi recently eluded capture at a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad, but he left behind a vertiable goldmine of information--on his computer.

Zarqawi's laptop is now being exploited by U.S. intelligence agencies, and it is expected to provide valuable insights on the terrorist network in Iraq, and its connections to Al-Qaida.

There's one more thing I hope we find on Zarqawi's computer--his relationship to Al Jazerra. The Qatar-based Arab "news" channel has a long history of being in the right place before terrorist attacks, and is always the first to air Zarqawi's gruesome hostage videos.

Dorrance Smith, former executive producer of ABC's This Week With David Brinkley (back in the days when that program was the gold standard for Sunday talk shows), recently had some thoughts on the relationships between terrorists, Al-Jazerra, and the American networks. Mr. Smith offers sage advice, cautioning producers against airing every bit of terrorist video, and aiding their cause . Predictably, his counsel will be ignored in America's broadcast newsrooms.

The Syrian Connection?

The Iraq Survey Group's final report is out, and it finds no evidence that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction made their way to Syria before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

While the survey group released its preliminary report months ago, the version released yesterday was designed to tie up a few loose ends, including the Syria question.

But the report doesn't completely rule out a Syria connection. As the panel notes, "investigators were unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials" in the months before the war began.

It should be noted that the ISG's report, while volumnious, is based on limited data. Of the 300 former regime officials on the coalition blacklist, only 105 have been detained; almost 200 remain at large, including many with reported ties to Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programs. Some of those officials are now residing in Syria (a rather interesting coincidence), where they remain out of reach.

Kenneth Timmerman, one of the best investigative reporters in the business, has a different take on the WMD issue. In the most recent issue of Insight magazine, he notes that the search for WMD was more successful than many believe, producing firm evidence that Saddam retained an active interest in chemical and biological weapons, and potential delivery platforms.

Timmerman also asks a fundamental question: did U.S. investigators have false expectations during the search? After a decade of dodging UN inspectors and sanctions, Saddam may have used simple, legal, and effective measures to hide his programs, stockpiling large quantities of precursor chemicals at known WMD research centers. That would have allowed Saddam to quickly resurrect his programs after sanctions ended.

The ISG report is being accepted as the Gospel Truth in the intelligence community; the official party line is that there were no WMD in Iraq. But a lot of spooks--current and former--aren't quite ready to close the WMD book just yet. We won't have the final answer until we capture more of the suspects on the black list, and get regime change in Damascus. After than happens, we may see the issue in a slightly different light.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The New Intelligence Paradigm

A rather interesting document recently crossed my desk. It's a series of PowerPoint slides, based on a recent presentation by one of our National Intelligence Officers (NIO), detailing the planned paradigm shift in the Intelligence Community.

For those outside the spook world, NIOs fall just below the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the agency directors. They are the "bishops" of the IC, charged with translating broad doctrine and principles into marching orders for the intel masses. I won't identify the NIO who gave this presentation, which, BTW, was NOT classified. The briefing was apparently delivered in the D.C. area in late March of this year.

I believe the NIO's remarks are important, because they outline a major cultural change within our intel agencies, and the way the do business. As someone who labored in the intelligence salt mines for more than two decades, I must say that this paradigm shift is way overdue. Regrettably, it took the double debacle of 9-11 and claims about WMD in Iraq to finally prompt a change.

The NIO covered a number of key points in his talk, which lasted almost two hours. Some of the more salient observations are listed below:

-- To adapt to the changing intelligence needs of key consumers (read the President, SecDef and Joint Cheifs of Staff), an even higher priority will be assigned to current intelligence, with emphasis on the following qualities.

--- Timeliness: "If you have a bit of data, put it out."

--- Disregard for D.C. Political Agendas: "Let the chips fall where they may."

--- Keep the Customer Informed: "Don't get caught having not reported something important to policymakers.

--- Speed: Cut out internal staffing--very short suspenses--get the info to the right consumer ASAP

--- Initiative: "Don't wait for tasking; anticipate and produce without waiting for someone to develop a requirement. Don't wait to do long-term analyses; don't worry about end-use analysis

--- Risk Taking: Analysts and IC managers must be willing to take risks on incomplete analysis.

--- Provide Alternate Viewpoints: List as many alternate viewpoints as you can think of.

To anyone in the business world, these guidelines may not seem revolutionary. But in the IC, implementation of these concepts represents a new way of doing business. Too many agencies--and analysts--remain trapped in their own little comfort zone, worried more about empire building and resource protection than delivering essential intelligence for policy-makers and warfighters.

Will this approach work? Let's be charitable and say the jury's definitely out on that one. As the WMD Commission noted, intelligence agencies are extremely resistent to change, and they've ignored reform efforts in the past. Beyond that, there's the challenge of actually holding agencies and anlysts accountable. President Bush's refusal to fire George Tenent after 9-11 spoke volumes about the lack of accountability in the intel community. But there's a more serious accountability problem in the community's day-to-day operations. Middle managers are often inept, and analysts are often left to their own devices, producing as much or little as they chose.

A case in point: a former colleague of mine took an analyst job for one of the armed services after retiring from active duty. After about a month on the job, the section supervisor passed on his production plan for the year. As a senior analyst, with almost two decades of intel experience, this analyst was tasked to produce exactly five products in 12 months. And BTW, these products could be something as simple as a few paragraphs contributed to a larger study, or a one-page note for a current intelligence briefing. For this effort, my friend was paid in excess of $70,000 a year. As he noted (with only a touch of irony) one that production plan, it would have been cheaper to pay me by the word.

Being conscientious, this analyst exceeded his production quota four-fold, and quickly became a recognized expert in his field. But many of his co-workers barely met their quotas, and many didn't produce at all. More disturbingly, there was no effort to enforce standards, or even develop production plans within individual teams, or analytical sections.

The new intelligence paradigm represents a welcome change, but the devil's in the details. Without better mid-level management--and more dedicated analysts--the IC will be hard-pressed to meet new production requirements. Solving those problems may be the greatest challenge facing the IC, and its efforts to reform. The NIOs and other senior managers have the right ideas, but implementing them--and making them work--is a different story.


Ward Churchill is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Before you write another tuition check, or make another payment to your child's college fund, consider these recent examples of academia run amok. And remember: your tax and tuition dollars are helping to fund this indoctrination of our sons and daughters.

Hat tip: Maggie's Farm.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Meanwhile, On the Frontlines....

While Zarqawi plots, all is not well on the front lines of homeland security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is making a strong case for its own shuttering. Seems the agency has been wasting big bucks on some questionable purchases, and some of its employees appear guilty of old-fashioned fraud.

Some of us once held out hope for TSA. Now, the best option appears to be downsizing the agency, leaving only a few bureaucrats to supervise screening efforts by private contractors. A recent government report suggests that approach is more effective than a fully-federalized screener force. Duh.

Money being wasted on TSA would be better spent on federalizing our borders (now, there's a pipe dream), or increasing inspections of air and sea cargo. But don't hold your breath....

Zarqawi's Nuclear Option

From today's Washington Times comes the disturbing news that terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi has obtained a nuclear device, or is preparing a so-called "dirty bomb," in preparation for an attack, probably against an American target.

How much credibility should we assign to such claims? That's difficult to say. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has published a series of reports on this subject in recent months, but so far, there's no smoking gun that would provide definitive proof of Zarqawi's nuclear/radiological capabilities, or his intentions.

Let's try to seperate the wheat from the chaff in this assessment. First, while acknowledging that there are mechanisms which could give Zarqawi a nuclear bomb, I still believe that possibility is remote, particularly since Zarqawi is currently under a lot of pressure in his new base of operations, Iraq. There is the possibility that Zarqawi might have "farmed out" the operation to subordinates outside Iraq, but (once again) we lack conclusive proof.

Regarding a dirty bomb, that's a more realistic possibility. It would be far easier to obtain radiological material, pack it in explosives, smuggle it to an American city, and detonate the device. And certainly, Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida allies have been thinking about this option for some time. But available information also tells us that terrorists have, so far, been unable to bring their plans to fruition. If Zarqawi has a dirty bomb, it reflects a substantial improvement in his logistical, transportation, and technological capabilties, despite a worsening situation in Iraq.

Bottom line: I think Zarqawi's "nuclear" or radiological options are still remote possibilities, but definitely within the realm of possibilities. And there's the rub. By merely exploring these options (or planting rumors among informers), Zarqawi forces the U.S. to devote considerable time and effort to run these reports to ground. Meanwhile, Zarqawi is free to plan other attacks, using more conventional means.

Its the new paradigm of national security. Since 9-11, we've been forced to confront a host of potential threats, no matter how remote they might be. Real or imagined, we cannot ignore the threat of nuclear or radiological attacks, and Zarqawi knows it. It's a highly effective tactic, and even if his WMD cupboard is bare, the terrorist leader will keep playing the nuclear and dirty bomb cards because they work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Religious Intolerance

The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is under fire--again. Two years after a major rape scandal rocked the academy, the institution is being attacked again, this time for supposed religious intolerance.

According to an AP report, there have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination filed at the academy over the past four years. In one case, a Jewish cadet was reportedly called a "Christ killer" by one of his classmates. A 1977 Jewish academy graduate claims one of his sons (now a cadet at the USAFA has been called a "dirty Jew" on several occasions). Other cadets contend that Evangelical Christians wield too much influence at the academy, and the public endorsement of Christianity by senior officers has created a climate of fear at the institution.

Clearly, religious bigotry should never be tolerated, and academy officials are addressing the problem. The academy recently started a 50-minute, mandatory course on "religious tolerance." Academy officials have also put an end to other practices, such as holding commissioning ceremonies at local churches.

Does this sound like overkill? Yes. The USAFA has a rigid discipline code. Cadets who engage in religious discrimination or bigotry should be punished--immediately. Sensitivity training on a massive scale won't solve the problem--it never does.

But there's something more disturbing at work here. Religion in the U.S. military is increasingly under attack, and officers and NCOs who identify themselves as born-again believers are the target. Consider the example of Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the USAFA's Commandant of Cadets. General Weida has been criticized for a 2003 statement, when he told the cadets that their "first responsibility was to God."

Imagine that. A senior leader in the U.S. military tells future officers that they have a responsibility to a higher power. You'll note that General Weida (a born-again Christian) never defined "God," leaving plenty of room for theological flexibility. Sounds like a good foundation for future leaders to me. More than a few military leaders have been men (and women) of faith, but in today's PC climate, any suggestion of the diety is simply not allowed. Never mind that 90% of the academy's cadets identify themselves as Christians, nor that they live in a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles, nor the fact that any cadet at the academy is free to worship in his or her own way.

I have a friend (now retired) who had his own battles with religious tolerance in the USAF. As an ROTC instructor, he once served at a summer camp at an Air Force base in Texas. During the middle of the program, he was approached by several cadets who informed him that they were Wiccans. After a crash course in the Wiccan "faith," my friend and the camp's other officers allowed the cadets to practice their faith during a field training exercise. His rules were clear: your observance can't interfere with mandatory training, and all Wiccan devotees will remain clothed during their religious ceremonies.

BTW, that incident came a few weeks after some irate Wiccans trashed the base chapel, upset that they had not been given full access to that facility. The left would call that free speech. I would call it religious intolerance.

In the interest of disclosure, let me state that I am NOT a graduate of the Air Force Academy. While I admire the institution (and some of its graduates) I earned my commission the old-fashioned way, through 13 weeks at Officer Training School, after four years as an NCO.

The Case for Tribunals

Since the first Taliban and Al Qaida captives began arriving at Guantanamo almost four years ago, the ACLU has been in an uproar over U.S. plans to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals, rather than the federal court system.

You can debate the legal status of the detainees all day, but the best case for tribunals can be found in federal court room, where the trail of Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 9-11 conspirator, drags on and on.

The latest twist in the case is that Moussaoui wants to plead guilty (again). The made the offer before, then changed his mind. In between, he's taken a stab at representing himself, bombarding U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema with filings filled with racist language. In one motion, Moussaoui said he "wanted anthrax for the Jew sympathizer." Judge Brinkema finally stripped Moussaoui of the right to defend himself in 2003, and the case has lurched along ever since. The trail has been delayed at least three times, and there are lingering questions as to whether Moussaoui is mentally competent.

I say Moussaoui is crazy--crazy like a fox. He's become adept at playing the legal system, deliberately turning his trial into an excruciating legal exercise, with no end in sight, unless, of course, he decides to go through with a plea bargin and doesn't change his mind (again).

There are more than 500 suspected terrorists now in U.S. custody. Multiply the Moussaoui mess by even half that number, and you'll get some idea of the legal logjam that Al Qaida and Taliban suspects would create within our federal court system. More than a few of the detainees are bright, college-educated, and more than capable of using the legal system to their advantage. And, of course, there are more than a few ACLU lawyers willing to assist in their legal battles.

That's why tribunals make so much sense. Take a look at the train wreck called the Moussaoui case, and you'll see a legal disaster that could have been inflicted on our entire court system. In the War on Terrorism, that's the last thing we need.

The Enemy Within (Part II)

On this 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the mainstream press is re-visiting the subject of domestic terrorism. Yesterday, ABC News broadcast a report based on a secret FBI report, highlighting home-grown terrorist groups that still pose a threat to national security.

In his piece for World News Tonight, "Chief Investigative Correspondent" Brian Ross focused on right-wing hate groups, notably the Aryan Nation and National Alliance. While Ross is correct in his describing these groups (and their leaders) as viable threats, he never mentions the left-wing extremist groups that may be even more dangerous. At the top of that list is Earth First, the environmental terrorist squad responsible for a number of attacks against developments and SUV dealerships, primarily in the west and southwest. And, unlike the Neo-Nazi movement, law enforcement has been unable to penetrate the environmental terrorist groups.

We should keep an eye on the right-wing nut jobs, but law enforcement and homeland security officials need to pay more attention to the radical, left-wing fringe. Their ability to recruit, organize, and conduct high-profile attacks is impressive, and they operate with virtual impunity. More disturbingly, their hatred of the American economy and "consumer culture" makes them a natural ally for Middle Eastern terrorists. ABC News ought to devote some air time--and investigative resources--to that frightening possibility.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Israel Looks East

There will be an important change at the top of Israel's military hierarchy later this summer, as Major General Dan Halutz becomes the new Chief of Staff for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Normally, the appointment of a new Israeli Chief of Staff doesn't merit much attention, except at the Pentagon and (perhaps) the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. But the appointment of General Halutz is significant, for a couple of reasons.

First, Halutz is the first Israeli Air Force (IAF) officer to serve as Chief of Staff, equivalent to our Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman. Since the IDF's inception in 1948, an Army officer has typically held the top military job, reflecting the primacy of the Israeli Army as guarantor of state security.

Appointment of Halutz suggests the IAF is now the most important branch of the IDF, and recent history tends to support that assertion. IAF fighters staged the successful strike that destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. Fourteen years later, they mounted a daring raid across the Mediterranean, striking PLO Headquarters in Tunis (and nearly killing Yasser Arafat). More recently, IDF Apache helicopters have been instrumental in eliminating leaders of the Intifada, and reducing the terrorist threat. Intelligence support for those missions has been provided, in part, by IAF reconnaissance UAVs, which helped identify and track terrorist leaders.

Halutz is also one of the few Israeli officials who have openly discussed the possibility of an air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. During his tenure as Israeli Air Force Commander, Halutz supervised the integration of the F-15I into the IAF inventory. The Israeli version of the USAF F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15I was acquired specifically to deal with long range threats, such as Iran's nuclear facilities and ballistic missile force. Halutz has confirmed that the IAF has the capability to stage long-range strikes against Iran, although the scope and intensity of those attacks might be limited.

The ascendancy of Major General Halutz signals a potentially significant shift in Israeli defense policy. With the intifada now essentially under control, the "security fence" nearing completion, and Israelis leaving the Gaza Strip and selected settlements in the West Bank, the IDF is now concentrating on more distant (and potentially menacing) threats. With General Halutz as Chief of Staff, Prime Minister Sharon believe he has a man with the background and expertise to deal with the Iranian problem, if the need arises.

General Halutz is not without controversy. After an Apache strike that killed a terrorist leader and his family, Halutz said he "slept well at night," a remark that struck liberal members of the Knesset as insensitive and inflammatory. A number of politicians and reserve IDF officers actually petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to block his nomination as Chief of Staff. Their request was denied.

Halutz is, by most accounts, a brillant and charismatic leader. He is also (reportedly) a favorite of PM Sharon, a man who has, in the past, favored decisive action to deal with emerging threats. General Halutz begins his tour as Chief of Staff in July, as Iran approaches "the red line" in its nuclear weapons development effort. At that point, it will be up to General Halutz to recommend a course of action to the Prime Minister. If his record is any indication, Halutz will not shy away from a decisive option.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Clarification?

CNN is offering a slightly different take on the Sharon an interview with that network, the Israeli Prime Minister said his nation will not attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Sharon said he did not see unilateral action as a viable option, and called again for an international coalition to deal with Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Sharon said Iran is still "years away" from having a nuclear bomb, but will acquire the expertise to produce weapons in "a matter of months."

I'm not sure which network spoke to Mr. Sharon first; if the CNN interview came later, the Israeli Prime Minister may have been trying to soften his comments, probably to avoid antagonizing his American hosts.

But one issue remains unclear. At what juncture will Iran pass that "point of no return?" Israel will remain vague on that issue. But, judging from his comments to FNC, I tend to believe that timeline is measured in months, not years.

The Point of No Return

It's a given that Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suggested that the moment of reckoning may be at hand.

In an interview with Jennifer Griffin of Fox News Channel, Mr. Sharon noted that "Iran is at the point of no return...threats of international sanctions must be issued." Sharon also indicated that Iran has only a few more "technical obstacles to overcome" in acquiring the expertise needed to develop nuclear weapons.

In the past, a number of Israeli leaders have stated that Iran will not be allowed to reach the point of no return. But they've been unusually vague in saying when that point might be reached. Previously, some Israeli officials suggested that Iran wouldn't have the know-how to build a nuclear bomb for several years.

Iran's nuclear program was a major topic of discussion in the recent meeting between Sharon and President Bush. During their conversations, the Israeli Prime Minister reportedly urged Mr. Bush to take the lead on Iran, and not wait on European diplomatic efforts. The implication is clear; if no one else acts, Israel is prepared to use military action--probably air strikes--against Iran's nuclear facilities.

It's not a line in the sand, but Israel's patience is clearly wearing thin. And that puts the U.S. in a very difficult position. Our leverage with Tehran is virtually non-existent, and European diplomacy apparently can't deliver a solution that's acceptable to Israel. If we can't find a workable solution in the coming months, the Israeli Air Force will be heading east, and possibly very soon.

Share Your Story

From Polipundit, here's a classic example of the liberal versus conservative mindset. Massachusetts Senator (and defeated presidential candidate) John Kerry (did you know he served in Vietnam?) is asking readers to share stories about hardships experienced by military members (and their familes) during deployments to Afghanistan.

Kerry's website contains a link, where visitors can post their own tales of hardship and misery. Rather than focus on the remarkable achievements of our military personnel, Senator Kerry would rather hear about the difficulties they've experienced.

Make no mistake: deployment to a combat zone is tough, for the military member and their families. But the overwhelming majority have weathered those trials and tribulations just fine, thank you. Could we do more for military personnel and the spouses and children they leave behind? Possibly. But soliciting stories of harship and difficulty for political gain is beneath contempt.

Here's a better idea...I can't claim credit for this one, but a number of bloggers are encourging readers to e-mail Senator Kerry and encourage him to share his story with the rest of us, by signing the DD Form 180, which will make all of his military records public. He made that promise a couple of months ago, but (predictably) hasn't followed through.

Sign the form, Senator, and release your records. Now, that's one story worth sharing.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Drudge has a link to this interesting report from a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. According to the paper (based on Israeli radio reports) an Israeli military attache presented aeria photos of Iran's nuclear facilities during the recent meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush.

Make no mistake, I have the utmost respect for Israeli intelligence; their military intelligence directorate is extremely competent professional, and the Mossad is among the world's best at old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger spying.

But I rather doubt the Israelis did a PowerPoint briefing for the President during his talks with Mr. Sharon, for a couple of reasons. During my intel career, I worked a few exchanges with the Israelis. They are usually close-hold with their information, and typically offer data in hopes of getting us to share our information. Additionally, U.S. imagery capabilities are superior to those of Israel, and I'm not sure what additional details the Israeli images might reveal.

Iif the Israelis were playing show-and-tell at the summit, their "show" was likely aimed at getting us to tell more about our knowledge of Iran and its nuclear program.

The Report

It’s been almost two weeks since a Presidential Commission released its report on the intelligence failures surrounding Iraq’s WMD program. After a predictable surge of media coverage and public interest, the debate about fixing our intelligence community has seemingly faded once again.

I’ve refrained from commenting on the commission’s findings because, unlike most pundits, I actually wanted to read the report first. At just over 600 pages, it’s a little shorter than a Tom Clancy novel, and not as riveting as the 9-11 Commission Report. But the intelligence panel’s assessment is an equally important document, and required reading for anyone concerned about national security, and fixing our intelligence system.

Obviously, time and space don’t permit a full discussion of the entire report. But I will offer a few observations on the general problems facing our intelligence community (as identified by the commission) as well as recommended “fixes.”

The Intelligence Community (IC) is fragmented, loosely managed and poorly coordinated. Talk about an understatement; as the panel observes, our intelligence apparatus is a community in “name only,” and rarely acts with unity of purpose. Creation of the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is a necessary first step toward better management and coordination, but it’s unclear whether the new DNI (Ambassador John Negroponte) has the time—and the skills—needed to unify and coordinate the actvitities of 15 different intelligence agencies.

The Intelligence Community is too slow to change the way it does business. Amen. From personnel recruitment to collection methods, the IC is rigid, inflexible, and often unable to adapt to an ever-changing threat environment. Creating a nimble, responsive IC (is than an oxymoror?) will require a complete cultural change—a veritable Herculean feat (more on that later)

Intelligence Agencies are prone to developing risk-averse cultures that take outside advice badly. The commission makes a strong case that rejecting reform is the one thing our intelligence agencies do best. In fact, the IC has an almost perfect record of resisting internal changes. It’s a system where there are no rewards for innovative analysis and every incentive for supporting the status quo. Adopting this mindset, it becomes relatively easy to see how analysts—and intelligence agencies—were eager to hop on the Iraqi WMD bandwagon.

These problems—and others-- are hardly surprising, given the revelations of the past three years. It doesn’t take Porter Goss to figure out that our intelligence analysis often lacks rigor, our human intelligence (HUMINT) is poor and the various intelligence agencies often fail to share information. But other findings are more surprising, particularly to an American public that believes our intel organizations are sleek and omniscent. But in reality, intel agencies are facing new challenges that threaten collection efforts, and may potentially jeopardize our security. These challenges include:

Decreased Access in Signals Intelligence. The revolution in telecommunications technology—fiber optics, commercially-available encryption systems—have reduced our ability to monitor enemy communications. As the commission notes, the IC lost access to critical Iraqi communications well before the war began, denying access to important information. Other potential adversaries are also taking advantage of advances in telecommunications, resulting in additional intelligence gaps. Regaining our edge in signals intelligence is imperative, and it will require a greater willingness to accept financial costs, political risks and even human casualties.

Declining Utility of Traditional Imagery Intelligence Against Unconventional Weapons Programs. With information on our satellite programs readily available from a variety of sources—including the internet—adversaries have found it easier to defeat overhead imagery systems, denying another source of potential information on WMD efforts. Availability of this information, coupled with enemy efforts at denial and deception (D&D) and dual-use technologies, have created a dilemma for intelligence analysts and policy-makers. As the commissioners observed, “we can get piles of incredibly sharp photos of a adversary’s chemical factories and still not know much about his chemical weapons program. Too often what we can’t see doesn’t tell us what we need to know about nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.”

I’ll address the commission’s report (and it’s findings) in greater detail in future posts. But for now, consider this: the U.S. intelligence community is at the most important cross-roads in its history. With the nation more reliant on intelligence than ever before, the IC must quickly find a way to reform its practices and technology, to avoid future disasters like 9-11 and WMD in Iraq. And, as always, identifying the problems is the easy part. Forging expedient solutions is the hard part, and the devil is truly in the details…

Friday, April 08, 2005

Ground Truth

This blog was among the first to report the recent, dramtic decrease in enemy attacks against our military forces in Iraq. Despite a slight increase in insurgent activity in recent days, the overall level of violence is 55-60% below the levels of last November and December. The number of violent incidents--nationwide--is running about 300 a week, substantially below the levels reported during last year's Mahdi Army rebellion, and the run-up to the Iraqi elections in January.

Elements of the MSM initially suggested that the rebels were simply regrouping, looking to modify their tactics--and targeting--in the wake of the successful election. As we pointed out, there was also a military reason behind the drop in violence. Our successful offensive in Fallujah last November eliminated more than 1,000 terrorists--and a major base for insurgent operations. Subsequent raids killed more terrorists and provided actionable intelligence that led to the arrest of key aids of Al-Zarqawi, dealing another major blow to the insurgents.

It doesn't take a military analyst to see that the tide is turning in Iraq. And now, like a bloodhound with a sinus condition, the MSM may have finally caught the sent of this important story. recently reprinted an NRO column by James Robbins, who notes the desperate nature of last weekend's terrorist attack on the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Launched in an effort to "free the brothers and sisters held there," this raid (apparently staged by Al Qaida elements) was a spectacular failure. Perhaps one-third of the 50 attackers died; no U.S. soliders or Marines were killed, and not a single prisoner was freed.

Terrorists claimed by the attack was a great success, but (as Mr. Robbins notes), with a few more "victories" like this, the insurgency will soon be over. Someone might want to e-mail Robbins' column to Martha Raddatz, the Pentagon correspondent for ABC News. In her recent report on the Abu Ghraib attack, she sounded grave warnings about its significance, noting the level of planning and coordination required to execute that operation. Predictably, Ms. Raddatz misses the salient point; the prison raid was a resounding defeat for the terrorists, and reflects an increasing sense of desperation in their tactics.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Hint of Things to Come

Security and intelligence officials have long feared that terrorists will launch suicide attacks inside the U.S. Strapping on an explosive vest, then detonating the bomb (and yourself) inside a crowded bus, subway or store is an effective tactic, guaranteed to generate fear and panic among Americans who have never faced this threat before.

Are terror groups considering suicide bombings in the United States? Today's New York Times reports that two teenage Muslim girls may have been involved in such a plot. Authorities in New York City detained the two girls late last month, after the apparent plot was discovered. One of the teenagers emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh, the other from the African nation of Guinea. Fox News has an update on the case.

Details are still sketchy and it's unclear how close the plot came to fruition. But it underscores the continuing threat to our homeland--and the willingness of Islamic terrorists to use all available means to launch new attacks.

Suicide bombings in the U.S. are not a matter of if, but when. As the Israelis have learned, even the most effective security system cannot protect every single building, street corner or transit system. However, the Israelis have had success in reducing the frequency of those attacks, by employing aggressive counter-intelligence measures, and targeting the leaders of terrorist groups. It's an example we may be forced to follow, and sooner rather than later.

The Disenfranchised

It's become a familiar refrain in every election cycle; Democrats claiming that large numbers of minority voters were denied the right to vote, followed by demands for re-counts and frivilous lawsuits.

Turns out that a large bloc of voters was actually disenfranchised during the 2004 election. According to a recent survey, as many as one in four ballots from this group weren't counted last year. Can you identify the group?

Hint: Al Gore's lawyers tried to disenfranchise them in 2000.

Hat tip: Polipundit.

Domestic Intelligence

Between the demands of work (and a recent business trip to Florida), I'm still trying to make my way through the recent presidential commission report on intelligence failures related to WMD in Iraq. So far, I'm about half-way through the 600-page document, and I hope to have some thoughts on the report this weekend.

Meanwhile, Judge Richard Posner has weighed in the commission and his findings. Judge Posner is one of the most formidable intellects on the federal bench, and his writings are always worth a read. In an op-ed for today's Washington Post, the judge notes that "intelligence failures" are sometimes the product of system limitations, and not the result of human error. The judge also makes a strong case for establishment of a domestic intelligence service, something many spooks (current and former) have advocated for years.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Former President Jimmy Carter is reportedly in a snit, after being excluded from the official U.S. delegation that will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

The "official" account of the travel imbroligo (printed in today's Washington Post), suggests that Mr. Carter asked to attend the funeral, as part of the delegation, then withdrew his request after being told the U.S. contingent would be limited to only five seats. Those chairs will be filled by President Bush, his wife Laura, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and Secretary of State Condolezza Rice.

However, some Democrats (and Mr. Carter's friends in the MSM) are suggesting he was snubbed by the Bush Administration, perhaps for his strident criticism of U.S. foreign policy-- including the War in Iraq--during the run-up to last year's Presidential election.

Republicans counter with another version of the story. On Sunday, barely 24 hours after the Pope died, a Carter aide brazenly informed the White House that "Mr. Carter would be happy to lead the U.S. delegation, if President Bush did not plan to attend." The former President subsequently learned that yes, Mr. Bush would attend, and no, his services would not be required.

We may never know exactly what transpired, but I tend to side with the latter version of this episode. Mr. Carter's post-presidential career has been largely devoted to rehabilitating his image, which was thoroughly tarnished by the myriad failures of his administration. This process dictates frequent public exposure, allowing Mr. Carter to assume the mantel of elder statesman. Whether he actually deserves that status will be left to the judgement of history.

On a more practical level, there are plenty of reasons to leave Mr. Carter back in Georgia. During his Presidency, he had the opportunity to attend not one, but two, papal funerals (Pope Paul VI and John Paul I), but for some reason, he elected to stay home. One wonders if the Vatican felt "snubbed" by those presidential no-shows.

More importantly, Mr. Carter sometimes espoused positions and policies that ran counter to those of John Paul II. While the Pope backed pro-Democratic forces behind the Iron Curtain, President Carter was urging better relations with the former Soviet Union, which expanded its influence during the late 1970s. Mr. Carter and the Pope offered an interesting dichotomy; the American President embracing Soviet leader Breznehv, while John Paul told his fellow Poles "be not afraid."

Mr. Carter also declined to establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, a situation corrected by his successor, Ronald Reagan. Under Mr. Reagan, the U.S. forged a close working relationship with Pope John Paul, working toward the common goal of ending communism in Eastern Europe. During his first meeting with the pontiff, President Reagan reportedly asked John Paul when communism would fall. "In my lifetime," the Pope replied. Reagan and his advisers recognized that John Paul was serious, and represented a powerful ally in the fight against the "Evil Empire." We can only speculate why Mr. Carter didn't make similar overtures during his presidency, particularly after the Pope's dramatic 1979 visit to Poland that helped spark the Solidarity movement.

Additionally, Mr. Carter enjoyed a chummy relationship with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a regime that tried to embarass the Pope during a visit to that country. During an appearance in Managua, Sandinista technicians used a back-up sound system to drown the Pope's remarks with pro-regime shouts and slogans. Clearly agitated, John Paul shouted "silencio" to the crowd, as he tried to finish his sermon. The Sandinistas were upset because the Pope opposed "revolution theology," the virulent philosophy that endorsed insurgent violence, and placed bishops and priests in league with Marxists. Sandinista leaders saw the Managua event as an opportunity to humiliate the Pope and score cheap political points. To my knowledge, Mr. Carter never repudiated the Sandinistas, nor their shameful treatment of Pope John Paul.

From my perspective, Mr. Carter's actions provide plenty of reasons to keep him out of the official delegation. Friday's funeral will honor the life of a true leader and visionary who had the courage of his convictions. It is not a photo op or an image builder for a failed former president. Leaving Mr. Carter at home was the right call, at the right time...