Friday, June 30, 2006

Worst Supreme Court Decision Ever?

I'm not an attorney, nor a legal scholar, so I'm in unfamilar territory commenting on a Supreme Court decision. But the more I read about yesterday's ruling in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the more I'm convinced that the decision will (ultimately) rank among the worst ever made by the high court--on the same level as the Dred Scott decision, which tilted the legal balance of power in favor of slave holders (and helped precipitate the Civil War), and Plessy v. Ferguson, which helped institutionalized segregation in the United States.

At first blush, such comparison may seem a bit overwraught. Afterall, the Scott and Ferguson decisions denied basic rights to African-Americans, perpetuating inequality and racisim for decades. But, in its own right, Hamdan also sets justice on its ear. Over the course of a 167-page decision, Justice John Paul Stevens (who wrote the majority opinion), joined by Justices David Souter, Steven Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, manage to accomplish some rather amazing legal gymnastics. Among their feats of jurisprudence:

--Abandoning Legal Precedent. Yesterday's ruling conveniently ignores a Supreme Court ruling from World War II which upheld the legality of military tribunals for foreign combatants. In that case, Nazi spies caught infiltrating into the U.S. They were tried and sentenced to death by military courts.

--Awarding Geneva Convention Protections (Where None Existed). The convention was careful to limit its protection to combatants representing recognized governments and nation-states. Efforts to extend that protection have been routinely rejected by the signatories, and for good reason. Under that approach, persons affiliated with any seperatist, terrorist, or eco-terrorist group would be a potential POW, entitled to protection under the convention, and greatly increasing the legal, investigative and financial burden on nations abiding by the treaty.

--Undercuting the Authority of the Commander-in-Chief. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in a stinging dissent, Hamdan effectively dilutes the chief executive's wartime powers--in a time of war.

--Circumventing the Foreign Policy Process. By conveying legal protection to "stateless" Al Qaida suspects, the Supreme Court (it could be argued) negotiated a treaty with a terrorist organization. So much for the President, and so much for Senate review and consent. If it's good enough for Justice Stevens and Osama bin Laden, it should be good enough for the Administration and the American people.

As the court's leading liberal, Justice Stevens (at the age of 86) probably sees his opinion as the capstone of a 30-year career on the court. We can only hope that future generations look back on Hamdan as a legal travesty, much as we view Dred Scott, or the "seperate but equal" doctrine of the Ferguson case. has some reassuring thoughts. But there is little doubt that Justice Stevens and Co. put the U.S. on a slippery legal slope, and created an opening for all sorts of potential judicial activism.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Major Legal Setback

Drudge has the headline (and now a link): Supreme Court blocks Gitmo War Trials. By a 5-3 ruling, the high court has determined that the Bush Administration overstepped its authority by ordering military tribunals for terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Supreme Court made its ruling in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni national who once worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan filed suit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, prompting the court case that eventually resulted in today's decision.

Today's majority decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's most liberal member. He was joined by the usual suspects, plus Justice Anthony Kennedy (surprise, surprise). New Chief Justice John Roberts was barred from voting in the case. As a federal appellate judge, he ruled against Hamdan when the case was brought before his appeals court. Today's ruling overturns the appellate court decision.

There is no way to mitigate the potential damage inflicted by his misguided decision. Take the legal antics of the Moussaoui trial (which lasted more than three years), multiply that by the number of inmates at Guantanamo, and you've got some idea of what's ahead for our federal courts system. From the district court to the Supreme Court, the system will be jammed with Al-Qaida suspects for years to come, each determined to create their own courtroom circus, and drag the process out as long as possible.

And who knows? If the Democrats regain the White House (and get a few court vacancies to work with), there's no telling what rights the SCOTUS may eventually confer on stateless terrorists. Meanwhile, every defense attorney with an Al Qaida client will mount their own, personal fishing expedition through U.S. national security files , in search of "evidence" to support their clients. Naturally, much of the information obtained in discovery will wind up on the front pages of friendly newspapers. Afterall, the public has a right to know, don't they? Bill Keller and the gang at the Times must be positively atwitter at that prospect.

C'mon, Spook surely you exaggerate. To the contrary, the legal assault on classified files by defense attorneys has alread begun, and let me offer a personal example. Earlier this week, a former colleague told me that he had been directed to seach his files for anything related to a certain terror suspect, now in federal custody. Apparently, the suspect's attorney is requesting information that may exist in intelligence files on his client, and he's casting the widest possible dragnet. Please note that my friend's area of expertise is adversary aircraft and tactics--he has never worked terrorism issues. But he had to spend an hour carefully checking his files, and responding to the request, a process that was repeatedly hundreds (if not thousands) of times across the intel community. This type of query will increase exponentially, as more Guantanamo suspects gain access our legal system, clogging both the courts and our intelligence community with useless requests for information.

I'm not a lawyer, but the most "interesting" element of this morning's decision is the Supreme Court's apparent finding that the Bush Administration plan violates not only U.S. law, but the Geneva Convention. You may recall that the convention provides no protection for combatants who do not fight for a nation-state or recognized government. But somehow, the five justices found enough wiggle room to determine that military trials violate both U.S. law and international accords. There must be dancing in the halls at ACLU offices around the country; the group's lawyers must be salivating at the prospect of a full-fledged legal war on the Bush Administration, courtesy of the nation's highest courts. And I'm sure the personal injury lawyers won't be far behind. Was that prison guard verbally or physically abusive, Mr. Terrorist? Don't worry, we'll make him pay.

Reacting to today's ruling, the DOD says it will have no affect on the detention effort at Gitmo. Don't be so sure. Emboldened by today's decision, I'm sure that a battalion of "human rights" attorneys will challenge the legality of the detention program, claiming that inmates are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, through isolation and indefinite confinement. President Bush said a few months ago that he's like to shut down Gitmo. With a little help from the Supreme Court and the legal community, he may get that chance.

Calling Card

As we've noted before, it isn't easy being Bashir Assad, the current Syrian dictator and son of that nation's long-time ruler, Hafez al-Assad. After succeeding his father in 2000, the younger Assad has committed a series of blunders that have weakened Syria and his own, personal authority. In 2003, he openly sided with Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the run-up the the U.S.-led invasion, further isolating his regime.

Two years later, Assad's intelligence services were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, prompting the so-called "Cedar Revolution" that forced a withdrawl of most Syrian military forces, and ending Damascus's de-facto control of its neighbor. The bombing that killed Hariri earned Syria more international condemnation, and was viewed (internally) as a humiliation. It also prompted grumbling from Syrian elites, who had profitted handsomely from their nation's 30-year occupation of Lebanon.

Making matters worse, Bashir Assad also has a failing economy, two powerful--and hostile--ighbors on his doorstep (Israel and Turkey), and continuing condemnation from the United States, for Syria's support of terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere. Not exactly a recipie for long-term regime survival, but the younger Assad soldiers on, using Iranian-backed terroristsin southern Lebanon (notably Hizbollah) to pressure Israel, and Hamas to perform the same function in the West Bank and Gaza.

Has Bashir Assad finally over-played his hand? That seemed to be the message yesterday, delivered by the Israeli Air Force. A flight of four IAF jets (apparently F-16s) overflew Assad's seaside villa near Latakia, in northwestern Syria--and the Syrian President was reportedly at home when the F-16s made their run. Damascus claims that its air defense forces "drove off" the Israeli formation, but such claims are laughable, considering Syria's long-standing inability to effectively engage the the IAF. Consider these examples over the past 25 years:

-- October 2003: Israeli jets attack a Palestinian terrorist camp near Damascus. There is apparent confusion in Damascus's air defense system, and the Syrians never fire a shot, or scramble a single jet. The Israelis destroy key facilities at the camp; IAF jets were in Syrian airspace for almost 20 minutes, but Damascus proved unable--or unwilling--to engage them.

-- June 1982: Syria deploys SA-6 surface to air missile batteries in Lebanon's Bekka Valley, in response to the Israeli incursion into south Lebanon, to destroy PLO forces based there. The IAF quickly determines that the SA-6s must be neutralized. Over a two-day period (9-10 June), the IAF destroys all 19 missile batteries in the Bekka Valley. When the Syrian Air Force (SAF) rises to challenge the IAF, they pay dearly for that decision. In air-to-air combat, the final score was IAF: 82 SAF: 0. In response, Moscow disptaches a high-level military team to find out what went wrong; their conclusion--the Syrians were thoroughly outclassed, both technically and tactically. After the Bekka Valley disaster, the SAF avoids challenging the IAF, a policy that continues to this day.

If I had to bet, I'd guess there weren't any Syrian fighters within 50 miles of the Israeli formation. It is possible that ground-based defenses got off a shot or two, but they had no apparent impact. Like most dictators, Bashir Assad has assured that his nation's air defense network covers his vacation home, but yesterday's IAF incursion proves that (a) Syrian air defense is almost a contradiction in terms, and (b) Israeli intelligence is adept at tracking Mr. Assad's movements.

Yesterday's aerial calling card was designed to send a clear, unambiguous message to Bashir Assad. Use your influence to free the kidnapped Israeli soldier and get Hamas back in line, or face the potential consequences. Or, the next time the IAF flies over Latakia, they may deliver a different sort of calling card (call it a Zarqawi special), the kind that leaves a large crater, and drives down property values.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How Times Have Changed

For years, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was often referred to as the "super secret" or "shadowy" National Reconnaissance Office. And with good reason. As chief architect of the nation's spy satellite program, the NRO was tasked with developing and deploying the crown jewels in the nation's intelligence community, the space-based platforms that collect and downlink information on a variety of countries, programs and issues.

The NRO was once so highly classified that the organization officially "didn't exist." NRO engineers and program managers operated under a variety of cover stories (DOD civilians, Air Force employees) to conceal ties to their real employer. There was a certain irony in the attempts at secrecy; despite its official "clandestine" status, the NRO was well-known on Capitol Hill, where generations of Congressman and Senators gave the agency the required funding to build even more sophisticated satellites.

The NRO's clout in Washington was legendary and well-deserved, much to the chagrin of larger, most established intelligence organizations. A former NSA director once complained that NRO represented "less than two percent" of the intel community (in terms of manning), but they controlled virtually the entire satellite budget, giving them a disproportionate influence on not only how information was collected, but what could be collected as well.

My, how times have changed. In today's ever-tightening budget envrionment, today's NRO has clearly emerged from "behind the green door," and has taken steps to raise its public profile. If you were watching CNN last night, you saw live coverage of an NRO satellite launch (on a Delta IV rocket) from Vandenburg AFB, California. has details on the event and informed speculation on the satellite's likely mission. CNN's invitation to cover the launch is remarkable; not too many years ago, the press would have been barred from Vandenburg, with the satellite being described (tersely) as a "classified, military payload."

But CNN's coverage wasn't limited to the actual lift-off. With NRO's permission, one of the cable network's reporters was given a tour of a "clean room" while the satellite was being prepped for launch. From what I'm told, NRO limited what CNN could show of the tour, but you've got to wonder: our intel analysts, working with far less information, do an amazing job at constructing the capabilities of foreign satellites. How much data did foreign analysts glean last night, from that officially-sanctioned dog-and-pony on CNN. And, BTW, I'm not blaming the cable network. They were invited guests for the launch, and for the "clean room" tour shown to millions of viewers around the world.

Openess is fine, but when it comes to protecting spy satellite technology, I much prefer the old, secretive NRO.

A Chip off a Legendary Block

Sunday's Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes, the venerable military newspaper, had a feature article on the Air Force's bomber presence on Guam. For a number of months, small groups of U.S. bombers--B-52s, B-1s and B-2--have rotated to Anderson AFB on Guam, providing an added strategic presence in the Pacific.

Four B-2s from Whiteman AFB in Missouri are currently deployed to Anderson. The detachment is led by the commander of Whiteman's 393rd Bomb Squadron, Lt Col Paul Tibbets. If the name sounds familar, it should. Almost sixty-one years ago, Lt Col Tibbets' grandfather (and namesake), Col Paul Tibbets, was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

"I do think about my grandfather and feel connected to this area," Lt Col Tibbets said. "It's a very humbling experience." Indeed. The Enola Gay launched on its famous mission from an airfield on Tinian Island, which (like Guam) is part of the Marianas chain. Lt Col Tibbets's squadron is a part of the Air Force's 509th Bomb Wing, the direct descendant of his grandfather's World War II unit.

Command of the 393rd is a plum assignment, indicating that the Air Force has bigger things in store for Lt Col Tibbets. His grandfather retired as a Brigadier General, and remains an iconic figure at the age of 91. Unfortunately, the elder Tibbets's career is often summarized in the Enola Gay mission, but his contributions to the Air Force (and strategic airpower) go well beyond that day in August, 1945. Before assuming command of the original 509th (and literally, building that organization from scratch), Paul Tibbets was a B-17 bomb squadron commander in Europe. After the war, he served in a variety of command and staff positions, including a brief posting as Air Attache to India in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he was withdrawn from the post after various Indian political parties protested his assignment, due to his role in the bombing of Hiroshima.

I've never met General Tibbets, but in an era and culture that have come to regard Hiroshima as a black mark on human history (and the United States), I admire Tibbet's unwavering conviction that he did the right thing. In 2005, he told an interviewer from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch: "If you give me the same circumstances, hell yeah, I'd do it again." General Tibbets understood that his mission would inflict horrific casualties on the Japanese, but it would also save millions of lives on both sides, by eliminating the need to mount an invasion of Japan. Tibbets was equally straight-forward on the issue of collateral damage, and concerns over civilian casualties, as evidenced by this exchange with Studs Terkel in 2002:

Terkel: One last thing, when you hear people say, "Let's nuke 'em," "Let's nuke these people," what do you think?

Tibbets: Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: "You've killed so many civilians." That's their tough luck for being there."

Read the entire interview here. It confirms what General Hap Arnold knew when he recommended Tibbets for command of the 509th--he was the was the right man for an extremely difficult job. Six decades later, his grandson seems to be the right man for the 509th's return to the Marianas. A chip off a legendary Air Force block.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

If You're Looking for a Hero

...he's not on the silver screen this summer, he wemt for a jog at the White House on Tuesday, with President Bush. Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge is a double amputee who was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Sergeant Bagge's right leg ends just above the knee, and his left leg was amputated at the ankle. When the President met Bagge last January, at Brooke Army Medical Center, the Army NCO told the Commander-in-Chief he wanted to run with him, despite his injuries. Privately, Mr. Bush reportedly had his doubts, given the soldier's long and difficult road to recovery. But barely six months later, Sergeant Bagge made good on his promise.

Read his story and be inspired. More amazingly, this account was written by Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven, not the most objective correspondent on the White House beat.

P.S.--I just waiting for the Democrats to accuse Mr. Bush of "using" a wounded soldier for a photo op.

Unfinished Business

This past Sunday, June 25th, marked the 10-year anniversary of the Khobar Towers bombing. As a former Air Force member, that event holds special significance. Not only did the blast kill 19 fellow airmen, it also leveled a building that once served as my temporary home. In the fall of 1994, Building 131 of the Khobar complex provided billeting for myself and members of my squadron, during our deployment to Saudi Arabia. The deployment was prompted by renewed threats against Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, so we made the long flight from the CONUS to the sprawling Saudi airfield at Dhahran.

Khobar Towers was roughly adjacent to the airfield, seperated by a busy Saudi highway that often resembled a NASCAR race. The housing complex had been built as a "gift" from the Saudi monarch to his Bedouin subjects, but when the nomads were told they couldn't keep their herds in the apartment buildings, they said "no thanks" and the complex remained largely vacant until the first Gulf War. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the complex became home for thousands of allied military personnel. When operations shifted to no-fly zone enforcement, Khobar Towers remained a military housing area for units rotating in and out of Dhahran, including mine.

When we arrived in 1994, the potential threat to Building 131 was readily apparent. The multi-story apartment building, built from reinforced concrete, sat on a corner of the complex. Only a masonry wall separated the building from the surrounding area. Air Force security police (and Saudi MPs) protected the complex, but anyone could drive up or walk to the wall, which was located less than 100 feet from the building's main entrance. Even in those days, it was easy to envision a car or truck bomb attack, like the one that eventually transpired.

During our deployment to Saudi Arabia, my squadron shared Building 131 with a rescue unit from Patrick AFB, Florida. Dhahran had become a regular deployment for that squadron's aircrews, pararescuemen, maintenance personnel and support personnel. In the event a coalition aircraft was downed over Iraq, rescue HC-130s and helicopters would scramble from Dhahran and attempt to recover the pilot or aircrew. Combat search and rescue (CSAR) remains one of the most demanding Air Force missions, and the Patrick squadron was among the very best.

Eventually, Saddam backed down in the fall of 1994, and my squadron's deployment to Dhahran came to an end. But the rescue mission continued, so the Patrick airmen kept deploying to Dhahran and their billeting spaces in Building 131. Less than two years later, the terrorists struck, killing 19 USAF personnel. The Patrick squadron suffered most of the casualties, along with another deployed unit from Eglin AFB, Florida. In the aftermath of that tragedy, I scanned the pictures of the victims, trying to see if I recognized a familar face. I'm almost certain that I met some of those airmen in the Fall of 1994, during my sojourn in Khobar Towers.

Ten years after the bombing, former FBI Director Louis Freeh reminds us that we have unfinished business with those behind the bombing, specifically, the government of Iran. Despite consistent prodding from Mr. Freeh, the Clinton Administration refused to press the Saudi government to let FBI agents interview bombing suspects. When former President George H.W. Bush took up the request, the suspects confirmed what many already suspected: Tehran had sponsored the deadly attack. Alarmed that the FBI would spoil its overtures toward Tehran, the Clinton Administration quickly dropped the matter, and Freeh became a pariah at the White House.

More recently, there has been more discussion about direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and we've pointed out the potential folly of that approach. But if there ever are talks with Iran, the issue of Khobar Towers must be at the top of the list. This bit of unfinished business has been ignored for far too long, despite indictments in the bombing case under the current Bush Administration. The victims--and their families--deserve justice, even if it is justice delayed.


POSTSCRIPT: Khobar Towers remains a controversial subject in the Air Force, despite the passage of time. The bombing occurred as the Commander of the 4404th Provisional Wing, Brigadier General Terry Schwalier, was moving to a new assignment; by some accounts, he was drafting a "changeover" report for his successor when the bombing occurred. A subsequent inquiry into the bombing, chaired by retired Army General Wayne Downing, faulted Schwalier for failing to take necessary force protection measures. General Schwalier responded with copies of letters to Saudi officials, asking them to beef up security, both in and around the complex. Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Ron Fogelman retired "early" from his post, in protest of Schwailer's treatment.

At the time, sentiment in the Air Force was divided. Some saw Fogelman's move at little more than the General Officers Protective Association (GOPA) in action. General Schwalier was considered a golden boy in some circles, and his tarring in the Khobar Towers attack derailed a career that might have carried him to the highest levels of leadership. At the time of the attack, Schwalier was on the promotion list for Major General--a list that General Fogelman had approved.

But others argue that Schwalier was sacrificed unnecessarily. They point out that force protection was a low priority in 1996--even for units deployed to Saudi Arabia, and despite information that the terrorist threat was increasing. Moreover (as even the Downing Commission acknowledged), General Schwalier was poorly served by a wing organization that lacked an organic intelligence capability.

Quote of the Day?

Drudge has a question mark by this quote, and rightfully so. In Art Buchwald's latest column in the Washington Post, there is a remark, attributed to Dan Rather, on whether his "replacement" (Katie Couric) can prevail in the evening network news war. (Supposedly) Dan said:

"In time, I think she will. It took her 15 years to make the 'Today' show a hit. I'm sure it will take her longer than that to beat Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams."

Of course, Mr. Buchwald writes a humor column, so his quotes and observations should be taken with a large grain of salt. In fact, a later quote sounds more like Buchwald's imagination that something The Dan would actually say. At one point, Rather describes himself as "one of the greats," along with the recently retired Mike Wallace. "Mike and I will go down in history along with Walter Cronkite and Maury Povich," observes Rather. Nod, nod; wink, wink.

Still, Rather and Buchwald have been friends for decades, and it's not beyond the departed CBS anchorman to use a media buddy to take a few digs at the competition. As readers of Bernie Goldberg's book Bias may recall, Rather went to great lengths to undercut his co-anchor, Connie Chung, in the mid-1990s.

When Ms. Chung received critical praise for her coverage of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Rather returned early from vacation and became CBS's primary anchor on the scene. Network staffers told Goldberg that Rather spent much of his "off-duty" time on the phone with friendly television writers (notably) Peter Johnson of USA Today, criticizing Chung and her reporting. Rather's comments were subsequently attributed to anonmyous network sources, and over time, they produced the desired effect. Ms. Chung's tenure on the CBS Evening News ended less than two years later, and Rather remained as sole anchor until being forced out last year.

If Rather actually made the remark about Couric, there is a certain irony in his words. It may actually take 15 years for CBS to climb out of the rating hole that Rather dug for his old network. During his two decades in the anchor chair, The Dan took the Evening News from #1 to #3, and drove away millions of viewers in the process. If CBS affiliates had their way, Rather would have been booted from the anchor desk years earlier, because the ratings-challenged network broadcast provided a meager lead-in audience for their local newscasts. By some accounts, the CBS-owned stations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other markets lost millions in ad revenue because Rather drove down audience levels for local news programs.

At the end of his column, Buchwald provides CBS's supposed reaction to Rather's comments. "When I called back to CBS," he claims, "they said the last they'd see of Rather, he was flying down outside the 30th floor window of the CBS building." I'm sure there are lots of folks at CBS who would have preferred that Dan take the plunge.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Remembering the Somme

This Saturday, British dignitaries--including the Prince of Wales--will gather in northwestern France, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. On July 1, 1916, elements of 13 British divisions pushed into no-man's land, hoping to deal a decisive blow against the Germans (and achieve the long-sought breakthrough on the Western Front), or at the very least, relieve pressure on the French Army, which had been bled white during the seige at Verdun.

Despite a week-long preparatory bombardment and careful planning, the Somme offensive quickly disintegrated into chaos and stalemate. Today, the first day of the Somme is not remembered not as the start of a decisive military campaign, but instead, as the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. By the the end of that day, over 19,000 British soldiers had died, with another 35,000 wounded and more than 2,000 missing in action. The number of British combat deaths on that day was roughly equal to the number of soldiers assigned to a heavy division in today's U.S. Army. Put another way, the British lost the equivalent of the 101st Airborne Division in less than 18 hours of fighting. It was a military disaster of the first order.

Beyond the staggering loss of life, the Somme is also remembered as one of the first major battles captured by the motion picture camera. British cinematographers Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell were invited to film the battle, in hopes of producing a propaganda film. Instead, Malins and McDowell succeeded in capturing the brutal realities of trench warfare, and the human toll it exacted. Footage taken by Malins and McDowell was eventually edited into a feature film that was released to British audiences later that year. Simply entitled "The Battle of the Somme," the film remains one of the most widely viewed in British history. More than 20 million people saw the film in its first two months of release--roughy half of the wartime population of England.

Now, on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the battle, Malin and McDowell's film has been subjected to a critical analysis by a team of documentarians, historians and forensic experts. According to the U.K. Independent, they confirmed that some sequences were staged, but they discovered that much of the battle footage was authentic. The researchers also managed to identify some of the soldiers whose faces appear in the film, and tracked down their surviving relatives. The "new" documentary will air on Britain's Channel 5 this Saturday. American audiences can only hope that the History Channel or Discovery Channel will acquire the rights to this fascinating work.

Hat tip: Transterrestrial Musings.

Spies Among Us

27 Jul/0430 PDT

Dr. J. Michael Waller at The Fourth World War offers this example of Montaperto in action, as an agent of influence for Beijing. We can only imagine how Montaperto slanted analysis on the PRC during his days at DIA.

A Hat tip to the reader posting as Fresh Air, for directing me to Dr. Waller's site.


This story broke on Friday, but it received comparatively little attention except in the blogosphere, and in Bill Gertz's story in the Washington Times. A former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Ronald Montaperto, has pleaded guilty to the illegal retention of classified documents, and admitted (in a plea agreement) to passing "top secret" information to Chinese intelligence officials.

There a number of things that bother me about this case. First, Montaperto was more than just a "line" analyst at DIA. Over a 20-plus-year-career in government, he advanced through the ranks, enventually becoming Dean of a U.S. Pacific Command think tank in Hawaii. In that position, Montaperto was at least a GG-15 (civilian equivalent of a full Colonel), or more likely, a member of the Senior Executive Service, equivalent to a military flag officer. In other words, a man with extensive, high-level contacts within the military and intelligence communities, a man that, potentially, could have passed large amounts of sensitive information to his Chinese contacts.

Additionally, there's the disturbing possiblity that Montaperto provided information to the PRC for an extended period of time. As Bill Gertz noted Friday:

"Montaperto admitted to verbally providing [Chinese military] attaches a considerable amount of information that was useful to them, including classified information," according to a statement of facts submitted in the case.

Montaperto told investigators he could not recall specific information he gave Chinese attaches Col. Yang Qiming, Col. Yu Zhenghe and other Chinese officers during his 22-year career in government. But the statement said it included both "secret" and "top secret" data. It also said he had close unauthorized relationships with the two officers.


A Pentagon official said Montaperto's value to China included both the secrets he shared and his role facilitating Chinese deception of U.S. intelligence by providing feedback on how those efforts were working.

A senior U.S. intelligence official bluntly stated, "He was a spy for China."

During questioning by investigators in Hawaii in 2003, where he was dean of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Montaperto said he verbally gave Col. Yang and Col. Yu both "secret" and "top secret" information, the statement said.

Readers will note that Montaperto pleaded guilty to only a single count of illegally holding classified documents, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. I haven't been able to access court documents in this case, but it sounds like Montaperto is getting off easy, in view of his admitted activities. One wonders why espionage charges weren't brought against the former intelligence official. I'm not a lawyer, and can only surmise that federal prosecutors lacked corroborating evidence, although Montaperto's "confession" seems quite damning. It's also a bit disturbing that a long investigation (that began in 2003) resulted in a plea on that single charge. Montaperto must have been adept at covering his tracks--or in destroying evidence that could have led to indictments for espionage.

Finally, you'll note that suspicions about Montaperto were first raised back in 1991, when he sought a position with the CIA. Again, this is supposition on my part, but I'm guessing that Montaperto may have failed a screening polygraph, and the agency alerted DIA. Apparently, the early inquiry into Montaperto's activities came to a speedy conclusion, and he kept advancing in the intel bureaucracy, culminating in leadership of that PACOM think tank.

The Montaperto case has some striking parallels to that of Ana Montes, another DIA analyst who was arrested and convicted of spying for Cuba. Ms. Montes served as a Cuban spy for an extended period of time, and (like Montaperto) she also rose steadily in the intel ranks. At the time of her arrest, Montes was DIA's senior analyst for Cuba, giving her access to our most sensitive information on Castro's regime, which she (in turn) passed to Fidel. Montes also reportedly betrayed information about U.S. efforts to detect adversary denial and deception, the same type of information that Montaperto passed to Beijing.

Montaperto also bears a resemblance to CIA turncoat Rick Ames. Some within that agency had doubts about Ames for years, but he retained his secruity clearance (and posting in sensitive positions), despite such warning signs as sudden wealth, and the discovery of classified information on his personal laptop. As a result, Ames continued his betrayal until the mid-1990s, resulting in the loss of key HUMINT sources in Russia, and the deaths of more than 20 operatives working for the U.S. According to court documents (and Bill Getz's reporting) it appears that Montaperto's spy career was prolonged by at least another decade, through bureaucratic indifference and incompetence.

A final thought: one reason for the plea deal (and potentially light sentence) may be the "contact" program that Montaperto participated in. At one point, DIA appparently encouraged some sort of contacts between selected employees and Chinese embassy officials. There may have been concern about potential disclosures within that program, if the Montaperto case was tried in an open court. A lot of information made its way to the PRC in the 1980s and 1990s, and there are probably a lot of government officials--current and former--who may be nervous or embarassed about what we gave the Chinese, under the aegis of an "official" program.

As for Mr. Montaperto, prosecutors should demand maximum punishment.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Crazy Jack

When Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha began speaking out against the War in Iraq, his remarks gained instant credibility with his Democratic colleagues and members of the MSM. As we were told, Murtha was a retired Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve who had served in Vietnam (perhaps you heard, John Kerry was there as well). That experience, coupled with Murtha's long support of defense issues (chiefly, programs that benefitted his district or relatives of his Democratic colleagues) made the Congressman an expert on Iraq whose views must be taken seriously, even if many of his comments make no sense from a military or political standpoint.

Speaking in Miami over the weekend, Murtha illustrated again why he cannot be taken seriously as a military expert, or even as a critic of American national security policy. At a town hall meeting sponsored by Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek (and held at Florida International University), Congressman Murtha announced that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran.

Let that one sink in for a moment. From Murtha's perspective, American efforts to bring democracy and stability to Iraq are more threatening to global security than attempts by two rogue nations to develop and acquire nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them against western targets. It goes without saying that Murtha's logic train jumped the tracks a long time ago, but there is no evidence that the Congressman's Democratic/university audience voiced event a hint of disagreement. To the contrary; I'd guess that Murtha's remarks probably received a standing ovation. Afterall, Murtha is an authoritative Democratic voice on national security matters, or what passes for one in today's version of his party.

When we last checked on Congressman Murtha, he was assuring Tim Russert that U.S. military forces in the Gulf region could be easily re-deployed to "nearby" bases on Okinawa. When Russet suggested that Okinawa is a bit distant for "quick reaction" forces assigned to the Middle East, Murth--with a straight face--assured Mr. Russert that American aircraft could reach the Gulf in no time at all.

Never mind the fact that Kadena AB (our primary airfield on Okinawa) is more than 4,000 miles from Baghdad. Never mind that the most direct route would require overflying China, a prospect that is exceptionally unlikely. Never mind that the "available route" (through the Malaccan Strait and across the Indian Ocean) would require 16-hour round-robin missions, and the support of much of our aerial tanker fleet. Never mind that such operations would create all sorts of diplomatic problems and wreak havoc with aircraft maintenance schedules, crew rest and a host of other operational issues. And finally, never mind that the Murtha "plan" simply doesn't make sense.

The real question here is at what point a (supposedly) informed member of Congress loses whatever shred of credibility he/she has left, and is held up to the scorn and ridicule they so richly deserve. Murtha has been easy meat for the blogosphere, where his pronouncements on Iraq and recent "air support" proposals were savaged by anyone with more than cursory knowledge of military operations.

Obviously, that's not the case in the MSM. Other than a few mildly tough questions from Tim Russert, Congressman Murtha has spouted his imbecelic "strategy" with nary a peep from the drive-by press, who seem to regard him as the greatest military thinker since Clausewitz. In another media era (or, say, if Murtha was a Republican) his remarks would be roundly criticized and quickly dismissed. The New York Times would probably weigh in with a lead editorial deriding the "folly" of such remarks, and invitations for the Sunday talk shows would probably cease.

But in today's media environment, Murtha has become a left-wing hero who will likely remain the Democrats' public voice for defense and security issues. That raises a couple of other questions: first, how did someone with such a marginal understanding of military issues ever rise to the rank of Colonel, even in the Marine Corps Reserve? The Corps has long prided itself on having officers and NCOs who can adapt to rapidly changing strategic, operational and tactical conditions, and "think outside the box" in developing innovative solutions. Murtha obviously missed that class at Quantico, and again failed to absord the lesson at intermediate and senior service schools--assuming (of course) that he actually completed those courses. In reality, Murtha's rise to the rank of Colonel is more a testament to the Corps' efforts to maintain a powerful ally in Congress than the Congressman's ability as a military leader.

And that brings us to our second, more pressing question: has Jack Murtha taken leave of his senses? His comments over the past week suggest a man who will say anything to keep himself in the media spotlight, or someone whose grasp on military reality appears to be fading. As the November election approaches, voters in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District should ask themselves if "Crazy Jack" is better suited for the House of Representatives, or (perhaps) a more confined, comfortable facility, with padded walls, and those nice, long sweaters that tie in the back.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Today's Reading Assignment

Michael Ledeen at The Corner on the public's "right to know" about classified information, and the glaring double-standard practiced by The New York Times.

Hat tip: Powerline.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What Threat?

Less than 48 hours after a pair of Republican lawmakers announced a major discovery of WMD in Iraq, elements within the DOD and the intel community are in their normal spin mode. Since Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Peter Hoekstra (Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) held the press conference on Wednesday, various "unnamed" defense and intelligence officials have assured us:

"They're old weapons."

"They're not useable."

"They pose only a limited threat."

"This wasn't the WMD we were looking for."

In other words (as California Representative Jane Harman told a network interviewer last night) "there's nothing new here." That begs an obvious question, namely what Ms. Harman defines as "something new." Until a couple of days ago, Congressional Democrats were only too happy to remind us that "Bush lied" because we never found any WMD in Iraq. Now, faced with the inconvenient truth that some of Saddam's WMD arsenal is still around, the Dims believe it's time to move along, and the MSM is only too happy to accomodate that request.

But let's examine the talking points. If the liberals are right, this is much ado about nothing. But if they're wrong, then the left has suffered yet another self-inflicted wound, proving (again) that they cannot be trusted with the nation's security. Do liberal claims about these recently-discovered weapons stand up to the facts? Decide for yourself.

1. They're Old Weapons. Admittedly, most of these chemical-filled shells and rockets were produced before the first Gulf War. But not all weapons lose their potency over time; sarin nerve gas--which was found in many of these weapons--remains extremely toxic, even over a long period of time. If one of those twenty-year-old sarin shells or rockets were detonated today, the effects could be just as deadly as when Saddam was using them against the Kurds, or against enemy troops in the Iran-Iraq War. More importantly, as a Powerline reader pointed out, the weapons may be old, but we didn't nkow anything about them until they were discovered by coalition forces. That discovery, coupled with the fact that many of the weapons were in fair-to-good condition, suggests someone in Iraq was trying to preserve them, and maintain at least a limited WMD capability. So much for the assertion that Saddam didn't have any WMD at the time of the 2003 invasion.

2. They're Not Useable. Critics who have downplayed the discovery point out that many of the chemical-filled rockets and artillery shells couldn't be employed, due to damage to guidance finds, nose cones, and other external features. However, such charges miss a critical point: the insurgents in Iraq don't have howitzers or rocket launchers, either, but they've employed left-over weapons extensively in IEDs and VBIEDs. A leftover 500-lb bomb or 155mm artillery shell doesn't need to fall from the sky to explode; all that's required is someone proficient in rigging some sort of remote-controlled detonator, and presto, an instant IED/VBEID that is just as lethal as if they'd been dropped from a plane, or fired from an artillery tube. The same holds true for the WMDs. The terrorists in Iraq aren't interested in launching chemical barrage with artillery; they'd rather use these weapons in a daisy-chain IED, creating a large cloud of mustard or nerve gas that could inflict mass casualties on a convoy, or a quick-reaction security forces. The recently-discovered WMDs are, in fact, highly-useable, just not in the conventional sense.

3. They Pose Only a Limited Threat. Once again, it depends on how you define "limited." My contacts tell me that the original NGIC report had a lengthy section depicting the potential effects of these weapons, used as IEDs or VBIEDs in an urban environment. Aginst U.S. troops, equipped with chemical detection and protection gear, the number of potential casualties would probably be low, once the threat was identified. However, against civilian target-- say, shoppers in an open-air market, the effects could be catastrophic. Only three nerve gas shells were used in one of Saddam's most horrific strikes, an attack against a Kurdish village that killed more than 4,000 civilians. The prospect of scores of military and civilian casualties from a daisy-chain of 2 or 3 chemical weapons doesn't strike me as a minor threat. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld apparently feels the same way. Hat tip: Powerline.

What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces, and it's a concern.

So obviously, to the extent we can locate these and destroy them, it is important that we do so. And they are dangerous. Anyone -- I'm sure General Casey or anyone else in that country would be concerned if they got in the wrong hands.

They are weapons of mass destruction . They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found. And that had not been by Saddam Hussein, as he inaccurately alleged that he had reported all of his weapons . And they are still being found and discovered.

4. This Wasn't the WMD We Were Looking For. There remains a popular misconception that the Iraq invasion was supposed to roll-up huge quantities of ready-made chemical weapons, and huge production facilities literally dripping mustard gas, sarin, VX, and a host of biological agents. What we found (instead) were large quantities of pre-cusor chemicals (think of them as raw ingredients) and dual-use facilities, which could be quickly converted to CW or BW production. Technically, an insecticide factory isn't a CW plant, but with a few minor modifcations here and there, a facility that produces bug spray can be converted into a nerve gas laboratory in minimum time. Saddam invested heavily in dual-use technology during the 1990s (in spite of U.N. sanctions), realizing that such facilities offered his best hope for hiding covert production efforts, or resurrecting his CW/BW capabilities once U.N. sanctions were lifted.

Reliance on dual-use technology and facilities, coupled with Iraq's extensive deception efforts (and possible pre-war shipments to Syria) made our pre-war "expectations" unrealistic. Moreover, the continuing discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq highlights fundamental flaws in weapons searches conducted by the U.N. and the Iraq Survey Group. The fact that U.S. troops are routinely finding weapons that supposedly don't exist underscores Saddam's apparent ease at hiding WMD. The fact that many of these weapons remain unlocated affirms the fact that the final chapter on WMD in Iraq is yet to be written--despite liberal efforts to close the book, once and for all.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Getting Tough With the DPRK

Former Defense Secretary William Perry believes the Bush Administration isn't being tough enough with North Korea. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, Mr. Perry and his co-author, former Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, argue that if Pyongyang continues launch preparations for its TD-2 long-range missile, the United States should be prepared to destroy it--before it can be fired.

At first blush, Mr. Perry's suggestion seems surprisingly forceful, given his role in a Clinton Administration that (arguably) coddled Kim Jong-il, and entered into a sham "Agreed To" framework that allowed the North to build nuclear weapons, while receiving fuel and food assistance from the U.S. But apparently, the former SecDef has always been more hawkish than most of the Clinton crowd, particularly in his views on North Korea. The Post reports that Mr. Perry supervised plans for potential airstrikes against the DPRK in 1994, in the event that diplomacy failed.

Unfortunately, the paper ignores a salient fact in hyping Mr. Perry's "get tough credentials." In a Clintonian universe, diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang would never fail. In fact, the Administration was so anxious to conclude a deal with the North that it even endorsed the "diplomacy" of former President Jimmy Carter, who helped broker the arrangement. Prospects for airstrikes against the DPRK in 1994 were about the same as George Patton's "phantom army" invading Normandy 40 years earlier. Talk of airstrikes was largely that--just talk, designed to nudge Pyongyang closer to an agreement. When the North saw it would get everything it wanted (and then some), a deal became inevitable.

But I digress. While we've long advocated a tougher approach against North Korea, Mr. Perry's may be a little too draconian. Taking out the TD-2 launch complex with sub-launched cruise missiles would be interpreted by Pyongyang as an act of war, and invite a similar response by the North. The DPRK has hundreds of ballistic missiles, and it's not inconceivable that Pyongyang could retaliate with a SCUD barrage against the South, and NO DONG strikes against U.S. bases in Japan and Okinawa. Such attacks would result in collateral damage, civilian casualties and a potential escalation into all-out war.

According to Mr. Perry, Pyongyang has little incentive to attack the south, since it would mean the end of Kim Jong-il's regime after a "few, short bloody weeks of war." That may be optimistic. As we've noted before, a successful invasion of the south requires that North Korea only grab the northern part of South Korea, including Seoul. Preventing that requires a massive influx of U.S. air and naval power--and the full mobilization of ROK reserves--a process that takes at least two weeks to complete. And that's assuming that we have adequate intelligence warning. With much of North Korea's military and missile forces postured near the DMZ, intel warning for a limited DPRK attack may be measured in hours, not days or weeks. In other words, Pyongyang has the ability to launch a surprise attack and gain many of their objectives before the full weight of allied combat power can be employed. Admittedly, the prospect of a NK ground attack is lower in the summer (when most of the troops are engaged in agriculture), but a counter-attack with ballistic missiles is a genuine possibility, easily executed.

Equally ludicrous is Mr. Perry and Mr. Carter's assertion that "creative diplomacy" could have averted the current crises. If they define innovative diplomacy in terms of the disasterous 1994 agreement, then we'll take a pass. In fact, one could argue that the "Agreed To" framework led to the current situation, by (a) allowing North Korea to proceed with the development of nuclear weapons and delivery platforms, and (b) teaching Pyongyang that the Americans will eventually cave to your demands, if you only bluster and threaten enough. Perry and Carter were part of a national security team that proved--conclusively--that unilateral diplomacy doesn't work with North Korea.

From our perspective, Bush Administration plans to possibly engage the TD-2 with ballistic missile defenses (if it threatens U.S. territory). The odds for a successful engagement are better than Mr. Perry and Mr. Carter would have you believe, and, more importantly, the BMD scenario provides more flexibility in dealing with North Korea after the event occurs. The Perry-Carter approach would work only if the U.S. had hard intelligence that the TD-2 will be an ICBM test (vice a space vehicle launch), and had pre-deployed enough combat power to deter an escalated North Korean response. Absent those factors, the Bush Administration's measured response is a better option, at least for now.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Back Story

You'd think the discovery of 500 chemical weapons in Iraq would be a big story, even if they are leftovers from Saddam's arsenal in the 1980s. This discovery confirms that WMD remained present in Iraq, despite the old regime's proclamation that such weapons had been destroyed, and fruitless searches conducted by U.N. inspectors, and later, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG). These weapons, which include artillery shells and rockets, were filled with mustard gas and nerve agents of varying toxicity. The discovery of these weapons suggests (surprise, surprise) that Saddam planned to retain at least a portion of his WMD capability, and would have likely resumed full-scale development and production, had UN sanctions been removed.

More importantly, these weapons remain a threat to coalition forces in Iraq. True, insurgents aren't likely to get their hands on a howitzer or rocket launcher and bombard a base with chemical rounds. But in the hands of terrorists, these chemical weapons could easily be used in IEDs or VBIEDs, daisy-chained together for increased effectiveness. According to Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan (who announced the discovery yesterday), these chemical weapons have recovered by coalition forces over the past two years, on a regular basis. More of these weapons remain unrecovered, and could possibly wind up in the hands of terrorists. So much for the "no WMD in Iraq" mantra that has dominated coverage of our military operations in that country since 2003.

Big story? Guess again. Drudge has links to coverage from Fox News and AFP, but that's about it. You won't find a mention of this story on MSM sites; MSNBC is pre-occupied with the latest combat casualties from Iraq and Senate debate on John Kerry's "cut-and-run" resolution. Ditto for CNN. The Washington Post buried the story on page A10. Guess that unambiguous evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq doesn't fit too well with their editorial and reportorial assertions that "Bush lied" about WMD. Refusing to even acknowledge the Santorum-Hoekstra announcement is another black eye for American journalism, and furhter evidence that the MSM is (thankfully) on its last legs.


While a number of bloggers, including Captain's Quarters and Powerline, have done an excellent job in tracking yesterday's announcement (and the underwhelming media response), there is a back story that must be told. It's a story of brueaucratic inepitude, apparent political and personal agendas, and the efforts of a few courageous individuals to get the truth out.

The story begins in April of this year, when a team of intelligence analysts, assigned to the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) published an exhaustive report on the continued recovery of chemical weapons in Iraq. Their report clearly noted that the weapons were clearly manufactured before the first Gulf War. However, the NGIC analysts also observed that some of the weapons remained in good condition (suggesting an Iraqi effort to preserve them), and posed a potential threat to coalition forces, if they fell into the hands of insurgents. From what I'm told, the report contained a full listing of all chemical weapons discovered in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, cut-away diagrams of the weapons, locations where they were found, and their potential lethality if employed by terrorists.

Obviously, the NGIC report ran against the conventional wisdom that "Iraq had no WMD" after the U.S.-led invasion, and (to its credit), the organization published the report, which was posted on INTELINK (the intelligence community's classified intranet) in April of this year. In that forum, the report could be easily accessed by anyone with access to the system, the proper security clearance, and a valid need-to-know. From an analytical standpoint, the team at NGIC did their job, and they deserve tremendous credit for publishing their report. That's what analysts are supposed to do--tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may, even if their findings run contrary to popular assumptions and political agendas.

Shortly after the NGIC item was posted on INTELINK, Senator Santorum learned of its existence, and began pressing the Army for more information, and declassification of the report's key findings. At this juncture, however, political agendas and bureaucratic tail-covering became a factor. A GOP source sent me a copy of Senator Santorum's letter, requesting information on chemical weapons in Iraq, back in April. Amazing (or, perhaps not-so-amazingly), both NGIC and the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) ignored Santorum's request. Normally, DOD agencies are supposed to respond to a request from a member of Congress within 48 hours; the Army ignored Santorum's request for more than a month. In fact, Santorum and Hoekstra didn't get their information until the Intelligence Committee chairman obtained a copy of the NGIC report and reportedly "hit the ceiling." After that, the Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador John Negroponte, agreed to declassify portions of the report, which were released yesterday.

Why did the Army ignore Senator Santorum's initial request? That's an issue that the INSCOM commander, Major General John D. Freitas III, may be asked to explain the next time he's on the Hill. The same holds true for the NGIC Commander, an Army Colonel. But beyond the DOD's efforts to "slow-roll" Senator Santorum and Chairman Hoekstra, there's the larger issue of why the Defense Department and Intelligence Community "sat" on this information. Sources tell me that there is no evidence of the NGIC report making its way into high-visibility intelligence products, such as the daily update for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA's flagship National Intelligence Daily (NID), or the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), now handled by Negroponte's staff. Additionally, there was no effort to inform key members of Congress on this issue, until they began demanding answers. Congressman Hoekstra has every right to be pissed; the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee should not learn about the discovery of WMD in Iraq via an "under-the-table" copy of an Army report that was published almost two months earlier.

As a young intelligence officer, I was drilled that important information should make its way up the chain of command as soon as possible. Apparently, things have changed since I left the business. Information that contradicts prevailing judgements can be ignored, or simply buried on an intelligence website--let the customer find out on his own. If members of Congress want information, simply delay your response as long as possible, and provide data only when someone with enough horsepower (in this case, the HPSCI chairman) demands answers. Then, provide only a fraction of what they ask for.

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Such tactics have been part-and-parcel of how the intel community does business for decades. It's the sort of behavior that has created barriers between various intelligence agencies, and generated lingering suspicion and distrust between the community, the Congress, and (ultimately) the American people. More than a year into his tenure as DNI, Negroponte's intelligence community is still operating a lot like its predecessor. The American people have a right to know that we've been uncovering WMD in Iraq--just as they were led to believe that none still existed. Withholding that information is inexcusable; intel bureaucrats were apparently uncomfortable with the revelation that they had been wrong on Iraqi WMD, not once, not twice, but a total of three times.

The MSM--if it ever gets around to this story--will likely claim that Santorum and Hoekstra are playing politics with intelligence. This blog has been critical of Congress playing fast-and-loose with intel information in the past, but that doesn't appear to be the case this time. Santorum and Hoekstra played by the rules, made their requests through proper channels, and only released declassified portions of the document, with the approval of the DNI. Compare that to the antics of Vermont Senator Pat Leahy--who was booted from the Senate intel committee for leaking classified information--and you'll see that Santorum and Hoekstra were models of patience and decorum.

Kudos to the NGIC team for publishing this discovery, and to the members of Congress--Santorum, Hoekstra (and Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon)--who pushed for its public release. Our elected officials should demand answers on why this important data never made its way up the chain of command, and why their requests for information were apparently stone-walled by the Pentagon and the intel community.

Let's Talk

Just hours after declaring its right to launch a long-range missile, North Korea has indicated that it wants direct talks with the U.S. on the missile issue. With preparations for the launch largely complete, Pyongyang appears to be playing one of its main cards, hinting vaguely that the missile launch might be postponed or even scrubbed, if Washington agrees to its demand for one-on-one negotiations.

Pyongyang has long sought bilateral talks with Washington, but the Bush Administration has (correctly) refused, preferring to deal with North Korea through a regional, six-party forum that also includes South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. On Tuesday, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Scheiffer (brother of the CBS anchorman) , called on North Korea to return to the six-nation talks, observing that Pyongyang "doesn't have to undertake bad policies in order to talk to the U.S." North Korea withdrew from the six-party process last November, because of a U.S. crackdown on Pyongyang's illicit financial activity. While the six-party talks have been remarkably unproductive, the U.S. remains committed to the process, because it engages other nations with a stake in the North Korean "outcome," and (in the case of China and Russia), it leverages governments that have some influence with Kim Jong-il.

Speaking of diplomacy, Tuesday's "overture" should not be interpreted as some sort of capitulation or face-saving measure by Kim Jong-il. Long before the TD-2 was mounted on its launch pad, the North Koreans carefully considered all possible scenarios and outcomes. Their latest gambit will allow Pyongyang to "blame' the launch on the United States (if it occurs), claiming that direct talks between the two countries could have prevented it. And, if the U.S. decides to engage the TD-2, Pyongyang will claim a propaganda windfall, asserting that the imperialists interrupted a legitimate space launch and using the incident to further its missile and WMD programs. On the other hand, in a best-case scenario Kim Jong-il gets what he wants (direct talks with the U.S.), at the minor cost of moving one missile to the launch site, and filling it with fuel.

However, the odds of Washington agreeing to bilateral talks (in order to stop the TD-2 launch) are decidedly remote. North Korea's development of WMD and long-range delivery systems is a regional problem--at the very least--and will become a global issue in the very near future. Other nations (specifically China) need to be more actively involved in pressuring Pyongyang to get rid of its nuclear program and long-range missile systems, or face serious consequences. In response to Tuesday's developments, Beijing urged "calm." Not exactly helpful, given the gravity of the current situation.

With the TD-2 sitting on the pad, fueled and apparently ready to go, there will be calls for the U.S. to enter direct talks with North Korea, to "defuse" a tense situation. So far, the Bush Administration is playing its hand correctly. The North Korean crisis is a regional issue that should first be dealt with at that level, with participation by all relevant parties. If Pyongyang elects to go ahead with the missile launch, then the U.S. reserves the right to knock it down, since the apparent flight path would carry it toward our regional allies (i.e., Japan) and American possessions in the Pacific.

The United States appears to be drawing a line in the sand with North Korea over the TD-2 issue. After a decade of appeasement (and more than two years of unproductive, six-party talks), the Bush Administration appears to be calling Pyongyang's bluff, and responding to threats (in this case, an ICBM launch) with an appropriate military response--in this case, engaging the TD-2 with interceptor missiles. It's a sea change in dealing with North Korea, and quite frankly, it's about time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cleared to Engage?

The estimable Bill Gertz of the Washington Times has provided a bit of clarity regarding North Korea's impending missile launch, and a potential U.S. military response.

In today's edition of the Times, Gertz reports that the U.S. has activated its limited missile defense sites in Alaska and California, apparently in reaction to developments in North Korea. According to unnamed Pentagon officials, the U.S. has 9 interceptor missiles in Alaska, and two others at Vandenburg AFB in California, deployed to provide some protection against a limited missile attack. Deployment of the missiles began about two years ago, but efforts to make the sites operational apparently took on added urgency, due to North Korea's expected launch of a TD-2 missile that can reach much of the CONUS, depending on the variant employed.

Defense department officials refuse to speculate as to whether the U.S. might attempt to shoot down the missile, but that option is clearly on the table. In addition to the interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, the U.S. Navy has deployed AEGIS-equipped vessels to the Sea of Japan. Some of these vessels are being modified to provide a mid-course and terminal ballistic missile defense capability. However, the Pentagon has not revealed if any of these ships are on station near the North Korean coast, and could provide an additional intercept capability.

A decision on engaging the missile would be made at the highest levels of government, probably by the President himself. However, the window for making such a decision is predictably small, and dependent (in large part) on an accurate intelligence assessment of North Korean intentions. Pyongyang has indicated that the TD-2 will be used for a space launch, rather than a missile test. From a legal perspective, the U.S. might be on shaky ground if it interrupts the legitimate launch of satellite; on the other hand, the U.S. has an inherent right to defend itself from a ballistic missile heading in the general direction of our territory.

Judging from Gertz's article, it appears the U.S. has been unable to clearly identify the purpose behind the TD-2 test, forcing us to prepare for both scenarios. If we can ascertain that the TD-2 is being used to launch a satellite, we will probably let the test proceed; if it is determined that the launch is an ICBM test, the probability of an intercept attempt increases dramatically. Determining North Korea's intentions has likely been complicated by Pyongyang's proficiency at denial and deception. It is certainly in Kim Jong-il's interest to keep Washington guessing, delaying any engagement decision to the last possible moment.

How would North Korea react to a U.S. attempt at engaging their missile? That's the $64,000 question. Beyond the usual propaganda barrage and diplomatic bluster, Pyongyang might employ some military options of its own, ranging from the intercept of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft near its borders, to the engagement of ROK naval forces along the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the maritime extension of the DMZ. Potential warning time for these events would be limited, given that much of North Korea's armed forces are positioned along their coastlines, or near the DMZ.

Ironically, one factor limiting a military response is the DPRK's bankrupt economy and inefficient agricultural sector. This time of year, most North Korean military units are engaged in agricultural activities, assisting farmers with this year's rice crop (it's one of the few ways North Korean units can a food supply for the winter months). With most soldiers, airmen and sailors in the field (literally), military readiness is typically low, inhibiting a larger-scale response, such as a limited attack across the DMZ. However, North Korea remains able to launch more limited strikes, including naval attacks along the NLL, or the engagement of U.S. aircraft near its territory.

The Okinawa Strategy

Michelle Malkin (and others) have noted John Murtha's latest call for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq to....Okinawa. Appearing on "Meet the Press" over the weekend, Murtha opined that our military forces could easily support combat operations in the Middle East from the relative comfort and security of the Far East. What the heck, it's only 8,000 miles round-trip.

Even Tim Russert had a hard time swallowing that one, but Murtha persisted.

MR. RUSSERT: But it’d be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.

REP. MURTHA: Well, it—you know, they—when I say Okinawa, I, I’m saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly. And—and—when they don’t know we’re coming. There’s no question about it. And, and where those airplanes won’t—came from I can’t tell you, but, but I’ll tell you one thing, it doesn’t take very long for them to get in with cruise missiles or with, with fighter aircraft or, or attack aircraft, it doesn’t take any time at all. So we, we have done—this one particular operation, to say that that couldn’t have done, done—it was done from the outside, for heaven’s sakes.

Of course, Murtha's claims are laughable. Froggy at Blackfive has a nice summary of what it would take to get F-16s--like the ones that killed Zarqawi--from Kadena to Iraq and back again. Nothing like a 20-hour, round-robin mission in a single seat, single-engine fighter. And, those dozen or so aerial refuelings (per aircraft) that Froggy describes would tie up a good portion of our KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleet. Then, there's the question of where the refuelers would operate from, basing rights, airfield security, and all the other issues associated with creating an air bridge from Asia to the Persian Gulf.

It is easy to dismiss Murtha as a political twit who never learned another military lesson after he left 'Nam. In another era, Murtha's remarks would be dismissed as foolish rantings and an embarassment, even by Congressional standards. But, in today's political environment, Murtha is considered a military expert. The MSM is quick to point out that Congressman Murtha is a retired Marine Corps Colonel who served in Vietnam (wonder if he bumped into John Kerry over there?) By the standards of today's Democratic Party and the liberal press, Murtha ranks up there with Clausewitz as a military strategist. When Mr. Murtha loses his re-election bid this fall, perhaps he can find work as a visiting professor at the Naval War College or the Air War College. I'm sure his theories on global airpower projection who (ahem) receive a proper response at one of those institutions.

One final thought: Murtha, like thousands of Vietnam-era Marines, probably passed through Okinawa enroute to Southeast Asia, or on the way home. Perhaps he has fond memories of his time on the island, and somehow assumes that the U.S. will maintain a permanent military presence on Okinawa. Well, here's a little news flash for Jack Murtha; a sizeable number of Okinawans want the U.S. military off their island, and they routinely petition the Japanese government to shut down the sprawling Air Force, Navy and Marine installations located there. So far, Tokyo has resisted calls to eject the U.S. military, but our future on the island is far from assured. At some point, a more liberal Japanese government will capitualate to the Okinawans' request, and the U.S. will receive its eviction notice. That would certainly put a crimp in Murtha's Okinawa strategy.

But, being the strategist that he is, I'm sure that Congressman Murtha has considered that option, and probably has a fall-back plan. If we lose Okinawa, just base everything out of Guam. That's only 5,000 miles or so, just a hop, skip and a jump in Murtha's way of thinking. We'd better get to work on hypersonic attack aircraft, or space-based tactical weapons. I would hate to be a fighter jock or bomber driver in an Air Force subjected to Murtha's airpower "vision."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Launch Window

The eyes of the world remain focused on North Korea, and the seemingly imminent test of a TD-2 long-range missile. Senior U.S. officials told The New York Times that preparations for a launch are largely complete, including fueling of the missile. It is still unclear whether the TD-2 on the launch pad is a two-stage variant (which can threaten much of the Pacific Basin) or the three-stage version, capable of hitting much of the United States with a small payload.

At this juncture, a launch window for the TD-2 may hinge on environmental factors, notably weather conditions. Anyone who's followed NASA rocket and shuttle launches over the past few decades understands that a number of factors must be "green" for lift-off to occur. On the technical side, there are a number of potential problems that could impede a test launch, ranging from missile propellant and guidance systems, to range communications. So far, there have been no reports of apparent problems with the TD-2 test, and launch preparations appear to be on track. However, technical glitches can happen at literally any moment--both before and after launch.

From an environmental perspective, such factors as surface weather conditions, low altitude winds, and upper level winds must all be within acceptable parameters for launch. I'm not a meterologist, and haven't followed weather reports from that region. But I'm sure an enterprising blogger (or two) could track down weather observations from the area, and (perhaps) compare it with established parameters for ICBM tests. Since the TD-2 is based on old technology, it probably has a smaller "weather window" than newer U.S., Russian and Chinese systems, which have greater tolerance for wind conditions and weather. Officially, North Korea won't say why they haven't launched the TD-2 (so far), so my suppositions are little more than speculation, at this point.

Also unresolved is the issue of how the U.S. might respond to the North Korean missile launch. In a recent press briefing, DOD spokesman Bryan Whitman characterized the event as a "launch" rather than a test. According to Whitman, a "test" would imply that we know Pyongyang's intentions. "We don't know the intentions," he observed.

Whitman also refused to speculate as to whether the U.S. might use its limited ballistic missile defenses to engage the TD-2 after launch. The ballistic missile defense site at Fort Greely, Alaska has up to 15 interceptor missiles, designed to provide a limited capability against a North Korean-style threat. The site is believed to be at least partly operational. Additionally, the U.S. Navy has conducted successful tests with Aegis-equipped vessels, using specially-modified SM-2 Block IV surface-to-air missiles to engage ballistic missiles in mid-course. There are several Aegis cruisers and destroyers currently operating in the Sea of Japan (near the NK test area), but it is unclear if any of these vessels have the necessary computer software or Block IV SM-2s to engage the TD-2 after lift-off.

Publicly, the U.S. is conducting high-level negotiations with regional partners, aimed at dissuading North Korea from launching the TD-2. Those talks will produce a consensus that Pyongyang should refrain from launching the missile, but little else. At this juncture, North Korea remains committed to the launch, and will not bow to pressure from the U.S. (or anyone else). According to Kim Jong-il's strategic calculus, the DPRK has more to gain by launching the missile, and demonstrating its ability to strike targets far beyond northeast Asia. In fact, Pyongyang will probably follow the launch with a "wish list" for re-entering missile test ban protocols.

If this technique sounds vaguely familar, remember the Agreed To framework brokered by Jimmy Carter in 1994. Tha agreement, you'll recall, was supposed to end North Korea's nuclear program, in exchange for South Korean nuclear reactors, U.S. oil deliveries and security guarantees. Washington and Seoul kept their end of the bargain, while Pyongyang maintained a covert research program that eventually produced nuclear weapons. North Korea views its missile and WMD programs as guarantors of state security, and will do whatever it takes to preserve them--even if it means entering another sham deal after the TD-2 launch is concluded.

As the world watches the North Korean missile site, one element is strangely absent from the debate. For the past 20 years, the notion of ballistic missile defense has been dismissed as fantasy by critics, mostly on the left. Now, as North Korea prepares to launch a missile capable of striking much of North America, the wisdom of Ronald Reagan's original vision has been finally affirmed. Mr. Reagan understood that rogue states with theater-range missiles in the 1980s could eventually attain ICBM technology. North Korea has reached that threshhold, and other pariah nations, including Iran and Syria, will gain that capability within the next decade. Critics still deride the notion of BMD, but as North Korea prepares to fire a long-range missile, we should ask ourselves: are we better off with at least a limited defensive capability, or no defenses at all. If the liberals had carried the debate, our defense against the TD-2 would (literally) be no defense at all.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Watch the East

The AP headline says it all: "North Korea Appears Close to Long-Range Missile Test." Sometime in the coming days--perhaps in a few hours--Pyongyang will launch a Taepodong-2 missile from a test facility on its eastern coast. The test of the Taepodong-2 (or TD-2, as it's known in the spook world) will create a major international incident, the most serious since the 1998 launch of its predecessor, the TD-1.

During that event, the TD-1 overflew Japan before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean east of Honshu. Tokyo sternly opposed that launch, and indicates it will lodge an even more vigorous protest in response to a TD-2 test shot. Unfortunately, diplomatic notes mean nothing to Kim Jong-il, so the launch will proceed as planned. At last report, one of the missile's stages was reportedly being fueled, suggesting that launch preparations were in the final stages.

However, concerns about the expected TD-2 test extend well beyond Tokyo's diplomatic sensibilities. The upper portion of the three-stage missile may well land outside North Korean borders, coming down (perhaps) on one of Japan's northern islands, or in Russian or Chinese territory. That development would infuriate the Japanese even more, and Moscow or Beijing wouldn't be very happy, either.

From an American perspective, the test launch poses a direct challenge, both militarily and diplomatically. With the six-party talks stalled, Pyongyang will use the event to remind the U.S. (and its partners), that North Korea cannot be ignored. Launch of the TD-2 would likely be followed by a list of demands for Pyongyang, "conditions" for a resumption of talks. Failure to meet those requirements could mean more missile tests, growing regional tensions, and liberal cries for direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea, in hopes of ending the crisis. Fortunately, President Bush pays as much attention to advice from The New York Times editorial page as Kim Jong-il does to Japanese diplomatic notes.

But the prospective TD-2 test creates some real dilemmas for the Bush Administration. If the missile is a three-stage version--and it's not used for a space launch, as some have speculated--the TD-2's RV vehicle could splash down in the vicinity of Hawaii, a daring provocation from Pyongyang. Not even at the height of the Cold War did the U.S. or the Soviet Union arrange for their simulated RVs to land within a few hundred miles of their adversary's shoreline. Parking an RV near Hawaii would remind the U.S. that Pyongyang is now capable of targeting American territory, with weapons of mass destruction.

And that creates another challenge for the White House. The U.S. now has a limited number of anti-missile interceptors on alert in Alaska, deployed specifically for the North Korean threat. Would the United States use those weapons to send its own message to Pyongyang, by knocking down the TD-2? That scenario alone carries significant risks; shooting down the missile could be interpreted as an act of war; a "miss" would be a devastating setback for U.S. BMD efforts. There is also the possibility that NK might retaliate by attempting to intercept (and shoot down) a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan.

What will happen in the hours that follow? Almost anything, and virtually all scenarios are problematic for the U.S. In any event, keep an eye on the east, and brace for the diplomatic and military crisis that is almost certain to follow.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Say Goodnight, Dan

Not quite a month ago, we predicted that Dan Rather's tenure at CBS was nearing an end. With his career forever stained by the 2004 docu-gate scandal, his dismal performance as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and Katie Couric's $ 15-million-a-year salary to pay, "The Dan" suddenly became expendable. As we noted in May, talks between CBS and Rather had apparently broken off; depending on which version you cared to believe, either the network refused to give their long-time anchorman a new deal, or the money offered was insultingly low--perhaps intended to drive Rather away.

Now, Rather himself is indicating that his days at CBS may be numbered. In an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister, Rather admits that he has been ignored by CBS News President Sean McManus, his workload at 60 Minutes has been cut, and there have been no discussions about his future with the program. In other words, stick a fork in Dan; as far as CBS is concerned, he's done. Dan may still hanker to do "great journalism" (as he told Shister), but the network has made it clear that Rather will pursue that dream somewhere else.

Other men (and women) might quit under such humiliating circumstances, but not Rather. He apparently plans to hang in there at CBS News, even maintaining a "faux office" for his post-60 Minutes career. Other retired CBS correspondents have been given office space in the news division complex, including Mike Wallace, who left 60 Minutes under much happier circumstances a few weeks ago. Wallace's sign-off reflected a man who had done much to enhance the network's ratings and bottom line, so he was allowed to keep working until the age of 88, and given a hero's send-off.

Rather, on the other hand, is more remembered for his recent failures than his past successes, and (as we noted previously), "Docu-gate" was not his gravest sin, at least in the eyes of CBS executives. Many of them are more upset by the ratings decline that occured while Rather anchored the Evening News. When he took the helm from Walter Cronkite in 1981, the CBS Evening News was dominant in the ratings; when he stepped down 24 years later, the network's flagship newscast was mired in last place, costing CBS millions in advertising revenue, and even more in prestige. The "House that Murrow Built" became a ratings shanty with Dan in the anchor chair.

With Rather's depature from CBS apparently looming, it would be easy to say that he deserved better, or note the sad end to a 44-year career in network news. But any sympathy for Rather must always be filtered through his agenda-drive approach to journalism. Rather always went the extra mile in bashing conservatives, and his failed Docu-gate Report was nothing less than an attempt to influence a presidential election. In short, Rather's undoing was largely his own handiwork, and CBS's decision to cut him loose is long overdue.

Rather's decision to soldier on to the bitter end may also indicate that other networks aren't exactly chomping at the bit to acquire his services. In 1980, he forced CBS to give him the Evening News job by flirting with ABC. This time around, there apparently isn't another broadcast or cable network to flirt with, so The Dan is still hanging around CBS, trying to find a way to hang on. If he's finding a chilly reception at the network right now, I can only imagine how his co-workers will treat him when his contract expires, and he becomes a correspondent emeritus, without salary or assignment.

What a bummer. And how appropriate.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Black Day for the MSM

This may go down as Black Tuesday for members of the White House wing of the MSM. They awakened this morning to learn that Karl Rove will not be indicted in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle, and then discovered that Rove's boss, President Bush, had secretly flown to Baghdad, with only a small media pool in tow. Bush's trip was kept extremely close-hold for security reasons; according to some accounts, only six presidential aides knew about the trip in advance.

In Baghdad, Mr. Bush looked courageous and confident, standing next to Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. With the new Iraqi cabinet finally formed--and terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at room temperature--Mr. Bush had plenty of reasons to go to Iraq, and put a positive face on his policies. For a MSM that revels in painting Iraq as a quagimre and Mr. Bush's Vietnam, the unmistakable images of progress must have been hard to report. It was equally difficult for them to note Mr. Bush's courage in going to Iraq. During his brief helicopter flight from the airport to the Green Zone, the president essentially gave the terrorists a shot at him, although the threat from shoulder-fired SAMs and RPGs has actually decreased in recent months.

More galling (from the media perspective) was the news about Karl Rove. Borrowing a phrase from A.J. Strata, special prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald apparently decided to quit while he was behind, and decided aginst indicting Rove on charges relating to the Plame case. Readers will note that the AP dutifully recites most of the canards about the scandal, including Rove's alleged role in "outing" CIA undercover officer Valerie Plame, husband of Bush Administration critic (and former Ambassador) Joe Wilson.

Never mind that Ms. Plame was not an undercover operative at the time her identity became known, nor the fact that her CIA affiliation was the agency's worst-kept secret since it operated Air America in Southeast Asia. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald was unable to indict anyone on the original accusation, because (duh) activities in the Plame affair did not meet the clear legal requirements for illegally outing undercover intelligence operatives. Fitzgerald managed to indict former Vice-Presidential Chief of Staff "Scooter" Libby on charges of lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice in the Plame matter, but that case is anything but a slam-dunk. In fact, with Fitzgerald passing on a Rove indictment, Mr. Libby and his lawyers must be increasingly confident about their chances of winning an acquittal, when that case goes to trial. With the Rove inquiry now over, Libby's legal team will gain access to additional information developed by Fitzgerald's investigators, potentially bolstering the defense's case.

It's all a bit too much for the lefties to bear. Mark Coffey at Decision '08 has compiled their Top 10 Reactions to the End of Fitzmas. Read and enjoy.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Indications and Warning

From today's Financial Times comes word that North Korea may be planning a test-launch of its Tapeo Dong 2 (TD-2) missile from a test site along its northeastern coast. A test launch of the missile's medium-range predecessor (designated the TD-1) created an international incident in 1998, when the missile overflew Japan. The TD-2 has a longer range than the TD-1, with the ability to hit some locations in the CONUS (with a scaled down payload).

My contacts in the intel community have essentially confirmed the FT story. At this point, preparations appear to be well underway, and a launch could occur in a matter of days. Some analysts have speculated that NK may be using the preparations to gain attention from the U.S. and South Korea. With no substantial progress in the six-party nuclear talks, Kim Jong-il may attempt to restart the process--on his terms--by reminding the other parties that he has nuclear weapons, and with the TD-2, a mechanism for striking targets well beyond the peninsula.

There is the possibility that NK may abandon the expected launch at the last moment, particularly if Washington and Seoul respond favorably. But, as defense sources told FT, it will be difficult to discontinue the test once fueling of the missile has begun. Pyongyang has claimed that it plans to use the multi-stage TD-2 as a space launch vehicle. However, such claims are laughable, given NK's lack of prior experience in that arena, and the ready availability of other, proven launch platforms.

One final (albeit remote) possibility is that the potential TD-2 launch is a giant ruse, designed to lure U.S. collection platforms to the area, and (possibly) attempt a forced landing in North Korean territory. In March 2003, the North Korean Air Force (NKAF) executed a surprise intercept of a U.S. RC-135 Cobra Ball reconnaissance aircraft, used to monitor missile tests. The Cobra Ball crew had no idea that NKAF MiGs were in the area until the enemy fighters began flying alongside the American aircraft. North Korea reportedly used several denial-and-deception techniques to mask the intercept, and Pyongyang remains a skilled practitioner of D&D. The 2003 intercept came during a period of missile testing by the north, spurring speculation that a similar operation may again be in the offing.

Hat tip: EagleSpeak.

An Act of Desperation

It's no secret that MSNBC is, ahem, ratings-challenged. Put more bluntly, the cable news channel has been mired in last place for most of its history (at least, since Fox News Channel hit the airwaves), despite a staggering investment of money by NBC and Microsoft, and a veritable revolving door of news anchors and hosts. Borrowing a page from the late Andy Warhol, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame--as a primetime host on MSNBC.

When former programming honcho Rick Kaplan (that famous Friend of Bill) stepped down last week, there was some speculation among the chattering class as to who might take charge of the sinking ship. Today, NBC answered that question by appointing Dan Abrams, who currently hosts a nightly legal show on the network, as its next general manager. Abrams has been with NBC News since 1997, but has no prior experience as a producer or programmer.

But he does write one hell of a memo. At least, that's what NBC News President Steve Capus said in making the announcement. Seems that Abrams has been peppering Capus with suggestions for improving the network for the past year. "His memos were thoughtful and insightful and provocative," Capus observed, "there was one that was eight pages long. That was the mone that made it clear to me he was serious about an examination of the channel."

Gee, if that's all it takes to get a six-figure job at MSNBC, maybe I should fax some of my old terms papers and my master's thesis to Capus. Given their length, that should put me in line for Bob Wright's job as NBC President. Never mind the fact that I haven't worked in broadcasting since the early 1980s. If executive qualifications at NBC News are based on one's ability to crank out a lengthy memo, then, Steve, I'm your guy.

Not that it really matters. As long as FNC and CNN are on the air, MSNBC will remain a laggard, no matter how many executives they hire and fire. And the reason is really quite simple, in case Mr. Capus and Mr. Abrams are wondering.

From: The Former Spook

To: Steve Capus, President, NBC News
Phil Griffin, Vice-President, MSNBC
Dan Abrams, General Manager, MSNBC

Subject: Improving Ratings


First off, congratulations to Phil and Dan on your new jobs. Hope your agents negotiated cushy severance benefits, because you're going to need them in a couple of years. But I digress.

This memo isn't long enough to get me into the executive suite, but I don't need that much space to tell you what's wrong with MSNBC.

A. Your news coverage is nothing more than the same old liberal pap we see on NBC, and in the rest of the drive-by media. Your audience would like something a little more lively and balanced. Ever hear of FNC?

B. Your talk show hosts suck. Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman are pompous jerks; Rita Cosby's voice grates on my nerves, and Joe Scarborough is nothing more than a poor imitation of Bill O'Reilly. So much for innovative programming. But hey, they're still better than Donny Deutch, if that's any consolation.

C. Judging from his appearance and demeanor, Don Imus apparently died several years ago, but someone keeps propping him up in front of the camera in the morning. You might try an actual living, breathing host in that timeslot. Couldn't hurt.

D. If all else fails, you might try some kind of activist consumer news, like investigating exploding fuel tanks on pick-up trucks, or convicting security guards of heinous crimes in the court of electronic opinion. Ooops, I forgot. NBC's already been there, done that.

E. "Pervert Round-Up with Chris Hansen." Hey, it's kept Dateline on the air for the past six months.

Lots more where these ideas came from. If you need a new consultant, let me know. I'm a lot cheaper than Magid, and besides, ratings can't get any lower--or can they?



P.S.--Steve/Phil: When are you going to tell Abrams he got the job because no one else wanted it?