Friday, August 31, 2007

Behind the Numbers

As August draws to a close, we're waiting for that usual spate of stories that details American military deaths in Iraq over the past month. Earlier this year, when U.S. forces were averaging more than one hundred fatalities a month, the casualty stories were front-page news, proof that the recently-launched troop surge was not working.

Last month, the tone of those articles shifted dramatically, with news that monthly death toll had dropped sharply, from 101 in June, to 79 in July. However, as we've noted before, stories about "body counts" are not always an accurate indicator of what's happening on the battlefield. By that standard, some of the most successful military campaigns in history would be judged as failures, because they resulted in significant casualties.

Additionally, most of the casualty coverage from Iraq has made no mention of enemy deaths, for a couple of reasons. First, that data is often difficult to compile, while U.S. fatalities are dutifully reported by the Defense Department. Secondly, the idea that we're killing large numbers of terrorists detracts from the "meat grinder" template that's been established with the monthly casualty stories and other reporting from Iraq.

That's why the "slant" of the August casualty statistics should prove interesting--and illustrative. Ahead of General Petraeus's report on the troop surge (due in a couple of weeks), the monthly casualty stories provide an opportunity for the MSM to prepare their "backdrop" for his assessment. It's a safe bet the press reporting will highlight the "failures" of Iraq's government, despite significant progress by coalition security forces. In a similar vein, the most casualty totals can be used to paint the "high cost" at which that progress was achieved.

With the end of the month just a few hours away in Baghdad, the U.S. fatality total for August stands at 79--the same number recorded last month. That will likely generate such headlines as "American deaths hold steady in August," or "Combat deaths inch upward," (assuming that there are additional fatalities that have not yet been reported by DoD). In either case, the implication is the same: We're still losing 80 soldiers a month, so our "progress" is clearly limited.

But that analysis is wrong on multiple levels. Not only have the number of attacks dropped steadily, U.S. combat deaths have also continued their decline. Unlike this forum (and other milblogs), the MSM simply lumps all of the monthly fatalities together, regardless of cause. Fact is, our forces in Iraq suffer a number of non-hostile casualties each month, the results of illnesses, accidents and other mishaps. That may be little consolation to the families, but it is an important consideration if you're using combat deaths as an indicator of "progress."

Using data from the icasualties web site, we determined that 54 U.S. military personnel were killed in combat in Iraq during August. The other 25 died mostly in accidents, including two helicopter crashes that claimed a total of 19 American lives. The continued drop in combat deaths follows a trend that's become increasingly evident, as detailed by this monthly breakdown, which includes the number of hostile fire and non-combat deaths:

Month/Total Fatalities/Hostile/Non-Hostile

April 104 94 10
May 126 118 8
Jun 101 92 9
Jul 79 66 13
Aug 79 54 25

In other words, Americans combat deaths in Iraq has dropped by almost 50% over the past three months--while the number of troops in harm's way has increased (the surge hit its peak less than two weeks ago), with a corresponding spike in our operational tempo. We mourn for all of our fallen heroes, but the significant drop in casualties--during a period of greatly expanded operations--offers clear proof that the surge is working, and that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Now, let's see how much of that "analysis" makes its way into the monthly casualty sorties that will appear over the weekend.

Nowak Gets a Break

A Florida judge has ruled that disgraced former astronaut Lisa Nowak no longer has to wear her GPS monitoring bracelet, while she awaits trial on charges of assaulting and attempting to kidnap a romantic rival.

In a decision released yesterday, Orange County Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet granted Nowak's request to remove the ankle bracelet, which tracked her movements anywhere in the world. Officials involved in the monitoring program told the Orlando Sentinel that Nowak's bracelet was removed from her leg by the end of the day.

The monitoring device was attached to Nowak almost six months ago, as part of the conditions for her release from jail. In her petition to have the bracelet removed, the Navy Captain complained about the cost she was required to pay ($105 a week) and how it interfered with her lifestyle.

As we noted in a previous post, Nowak's complaints were largely without merit--and Judge Lubet agreed. In his ruling, the judge said that the former astronaut's rationale for removing the bracelet--it was too heavy, prevented her from exercising, kept her from traveling on commercial aircraft--was insufficient. However, Lubet decided to grant her request anyway, noting Nowak's compliance with the monitoring effort and the absence of criminal behavior in her past.

Judge Lubet also decided that the bracelet was not serving its intended purpose, protecting the woman that Nowak attacked, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. After being attacked by the Navy officer at the Orlando Airport in February, Shipman made "three or four" trips to Houston to see her boyfriend, then-astronaut Bill Oefelein, who was previously involved with Nowak. According to Lubet, her willingness to visit Houston--where Nowak also lived--suggested that the GPS device offered no protection to Shipman.

While ordering the bracelet removed, Judge Lubet set additional restrictions on Nowak's activities that prevent her from visiting Florida (where Shipman resides) or Virginia (where Oefelein is now assigned) without the court's permission. Those directives will also be incorporated into a formal order from Nowak's commanding officer, raising the possibility of military punishment--as well as court penalties--if she violates the restrictions ordered by Lubet.

The judge has yet to rule on two other motions filed by Nowak's attorneys. They ask that her statments to police and items seized from her car be dismissed as evidence if the case goes to trial.


While Lubet's decision to remove the monitoring bracelet was a clear victory for Nowak, her defense team still faces an uphill battle with their planned insanity defense. As one legal expert told the Sentinel, "generally, you argue an insanity defense when you don't have anything else to argue."

Another Step Backwards

HH-60 Pave Hawk. The Air Force is still searching for its replacment, and delays in that program could mean that some of the current CSAR choppers will be flying long after their projected retirement date (USAF photo via Air Force Times)

Efforts to field a new helicopter for Air Force combat search and rescue (CSAR) units have suffered another setback.

Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office announced that the competitors for the helicopter contract--Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Sikorsky--will be allowed to revise their bids because the Air Force has changed its methods for calculating maintenance costs. Previously, the GAO ruled that the service erred in determining projected maintenance costs for the three choppers, the HH-47 (built by Boeing), the US-101 (a European design produced under license by Lockheed) and Sikorsky's S-92.

While acknowledging that its maintenance calculations were off, the Air Force refused to let the three contractors revise their bids. That touched off another round of protests from Lockheed and Sikorsky, prompting the most recent GAO ruling. Ten months ago, the Air Force actually awarded a $15-billion contract to Boeing for a CSAR version of its CH-47 Chinook. But, as Air Force Times reminds us, that deal was put on hold, due to objections from Lockheed and Sikorsky.

Obviously, there's a need for transparency (and accountability) in the contracting process, and CSAR crews deserve the best platform for their demanding mission. But continued haggling over the helicopter deal suggests that we're entering a new era of defense contracting. If the initial process doesn't go you way, file and appeal and keep keep them coming until your company wins the contract--or, at least gets another shot at the contract.

Here's the bottom line: the Air Force (arguably) made a mistake when it bought the HH-60 Pave Hawk for the CSAR mission 20 years ago. It's load capacity is severely limited; with a full rescue crew on-board, there's only room for two litter patients. There's also recognition that the "traditional" rescue mission of rescuing downed pilots or aircrew members has changed; a more likely assignment for today's CSAR crews is the exfiltration of SOF personnel, which (typically) requires greater lift capability and a more rugged airframe.

The HH-47 met those requirements, and it's a big reason that Boeing won the CSAR contract last November. Opponents of the Boeing product have argued that the chopper is too noisy for rescue missions, but that ignores an important fact: the Army's elite SF aviation unit recently took its new Chinook variant (the MH-47G) into combat over Afghanistan, and the results have been impressive to date. If the MH-47 is stealthy enough for the Night Stalkers, it should be quiet enough for CSAR.

Meanwhile, those HH-60s keep getting older, and their lift capacity will never improve. When the HH-47 contract was announced last fall, the Air Force hoped to receive the first helicopter in 2009; with the GAO's mandate to re-open the bidding process, the delivery date will be delayed until at least 2010 or 2011. That's important, because the planned replacement of the HH-60s will occur over a 12-year span, meaning that some Pave Hawks may still be in service in 2022, long after their projected retirement.

Or, if airframe stress and reliability become an issue, the Air Force will simply retire the Pave Hawks on schedule, while waiting for the final deliveries of the new CSAR helicopter. That would result in significant operational gaps, with some units having limited capabilites due to aging or limited equipment. It's not the sort of thing that aviators, SOF personnel and other "potential" CSAR customers want to hear.

At some point, somebody is the Pentagon needs to say "enough" and end the bidding process once and for all. All three helicopters had the opportunity to "show their stuff," and with the revised maintenance costs, we should have a firm idea of how much it will cost to keep them flying. With the next round of bids, Air Force (and DoD) officials should have enough information to make a final decision, allowing the service to get on with the process of buying and fielding a new rescue chopper. The GAO could be helpful as well, by waving off the protests that will inevitably come from the losing contractors. A final decision on the "new" rescue platform has been delayed long enough.

But sadly, we think the "helicotper wars" are far from over. The proposed CSAR platform contract is not only lucrative, it's attracting a lot of political interest as well. Sikorsky's S-92 would be built in Connecticut, so Senators Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd are lined up behind it; the assembly plant for Lockheed-Martin's US-101 is located in New York, so you can imagine which chopper is being supported by Chuckie Schumer and Hillary Clinton. As for the Boeing aircraft, it would be produced in Pennsylvania, the home of influential GOP Senator Arlen Spector. With billions of dollars (and hundreds of jobs) at stake, it's doubtful that any of these pols will "surrender" the CSAR contract without a fight.

In the late summer of 2007, the Air Force is no closer to buying a new rescue helicopter than it was a year ago. And, if the haggling and protests continue, we may be stuck in the same rut a year from now. For something as imporant as a CSAR helicopter, it's simply no way to do business.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Proof that Libs Don't Understand Radio..

...Bonneville International is pulling the plug on "Washington Post Radio," which aired on one of its stations in the nation's capital. The 17-month experiment, which featured Post reporters in a blend of news and talk programming (just imagine how exciting that was) failed to attract an audience and was losing money. So much money that Bonneville and the Post decided to terminate the partnership barely half-way through their three-year agreement.

When the format was launched in early 2006, it was described as "NPR on Caffeine" (and they wonder why it floundered!). But the station failed to attract even one percent of the D.C. listening audience, and WTWP--clever call letters, huh?--was mired in 18th place in the most recent Arbitron ratings, ranking just ahead of a "Christian Contemporary Hits" station, a couple of second-string country outlets, and an AM station playing "Latin Pop."

By comparison, Citadel-owned WMAL-AM, with a conservative talk line-up that includes Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is #8 in the market with a 3.4 rating. Ironically, the market's most popular AM station is another Bonneville news outlet, WTOP, which does not brand its coverage with the Washington Post.

While the paper's primary role was to provide reporters (and stories) for discussion, the failure of "Washington Post Radio" suggests that the outlet has limited appeal, even in its home market. Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie described the venture as a "good experiment" which is media exec-speak for "Thank God Bonneville lost most of the money on that one."

To no one's surprise, there are no plans to resurrect "Washington Post Radio" on another station in the market. The format is expected to be replaced by--you guessed it--a conservative talk line-up featuring Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz, among others.

Bonneville is a large broadcasting group that owns some news/talk powerhouses, including KSL in Salt Lake City. So, they're not a bunch of numb-skull, arrogant upstarts (hellooo, Air America). That's why we were a bit surprised when the WTWP concept was unveiled almost two years ago; it struck us as a sure-fire loser, despite the Post's dominance of the D.C. print media market. "NPR on caffeine" is not something that sounds like a ratings-grabber and sure enough, the experiment failed miserably.

Back to the newspaper, boys and girls, where your particular brand of "news" and "analysis" can still attract an audience. Leave radio for the pros.

Two Years Later

I didn't watch last night's cable news programs on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, largely because the media template was established well in advance.

Let me see if I've got it right: two years after the storm, many residents are still hurting, particularly in New Orleans. Large sections of the city remain a wasteland; thousands are living in FEMA trailers and many more have fled to other locations, vowing to never return. Among those who still have a home, many are embroiled in lawsuits with insurance companies, which have refused to pay damage claims. Others are haunted by memories of the storm, and fears that another major hurricane will strike the region soon.

My "summary" is not intended to belittle the suffering of those who experienced Katrina. As I've written before, the storm (and its aftermath) represent a personal tragedy for my family. The hurricane destroyed our oldest daughter's home in coastal Mississippi. The subsequent strain of recovery and relocation eventually resulted in a divorce, with the corresponding, psychological impact on my daughter, her child, and her former spouse. I genuinely understand what the storm victims experienced, and what they continue to endure.

But, as Larry Kudlow points out in a column at RealClearPolitics, there is an unreported story from Hurricane Katrina that cuts to the heart of the recovery effort. How much, he asks, has the federal government spent on New Orleans and the Gulf Region since the storm?

The total (so far) is $127 billion, including tax relief. Put another way, the federal largess is enough to write a $425,000 check for the 300,000 people left in New Orleans. Perhaps, as Mr. Kudlow suggests, we'd be better off in using that approach. A White House "fact sheet" details $50 billion spent for rebuilding schools, levees and other infrastructure; that total also includes $16.7 billion for housing recovery.

What happened to the rest of that money? Your guess is as good as mine.

And what the taxpayers--and residents--getting in return? Conditions in parts of New Orleans remain grim; despite a significant drop in population, the city has become America's murder capital. The homicide rate is 40% higher than before Katrina, and twice as high as cities like Newark, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

So what's the solution? Why more government money, of course. With the presidential election barely a year away, politicians are falling over each other, vowing not to "fail" New Orleans again.

Clearly, the seeds of disaster in New Orleans were sown long before Katrina churned ashore and the levees broke. Decades of corruption, failed leadership, bureaucratic inefficiency and wasted spending created a city that was unprepared for a catastrophic--though long-expected--natural disaster. Now, the same failed system, led by many of the same inept politicians, is supposed to rebuild the Gulf South.

As Mr. Kudlow observes, the region needs a plan built around free market solutions, not endless government spending. And we've seen that, to a degree, in neighboring Mississippi. Just days after the storm, the State Legislature met in emergency session, and approved the relocation of dock-side casinos to dry land. Republican Governor Haley Barbour and the Democratic-controlled legislature understood that the casinos were--and are--the economic engine that drives the coastal economy in Biloxi, Gulfport, and surrounding communities.

Moving the casinos ashore not only offered greater protection against future storms, it also primed the region's economic pump. The relocation process created thousands of construction jobs, boosted local spending, and allowed the casinos to reopen in a matter of months. That allowed employees to regain their jobs (stimulating more economic activity), and the return of gamblers to the coast. Gaming revenue is now at an all-time high in Biloxi.

Admittedly, legalized gambling has its own downside, and many in Mississippi would have preferred that the casinos never return. And, there are many residents in the state's coastal counties who are still struggling. But two years later, Mississippi is much further along in the rebuilding process, not because of politics, but because state and local leaders understood the benefits of a market-based recovery model. Did that receive any play on the cable news channels last night? I rather doubt it. After all, it's much easier to show a victim in New Orleans who's still waiting for Uncle Sam to ride to the rescue; someone who's still hoping that some of that federal aid will somehow "trickle down."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why We Don't Need a Draft

Give Lance Corporal Mark Finelli his due: when America called, he responded. A former investment advisor for Morgan Stanley, he was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11. After surviving that horrific day, he served in the Marine Corps, and fought in the battle to retake Fallujah in 2005. He's been in his share of tough spots, and as a combat veteran, deserves our thanks and gratitude.

But that doesn't make him an expert on all things military, or grant him the "absolute moral authority," once ascribed to Mother Sheehan That's why Lance Corporal Finelli is dead wrong in his Newsweek op-ed, advocating a return of the draft because "the children of privilege" no longer serve.

According to the Pentagon, no service personnel have died in an MRAP. So why isn’t every Marine or soldier in Iraq riding in one? Simple economics. An MRAP costs five times more than even the most up-armored Humvee. People need a personal, vested, blood-or-money interest to maximize potential. That is why capitalism has trumped communism time and again, but it is also why private contractors in Iraq have MRAPs while Marines don’t. Because in actuality, America isn’t practicing the basic tenet of capitalism on the battlefield with an all-volunteer military, and won’t be until the reinstitution of the draft. Because until the wealthy have that vested interest, until it’s the sons of senators and the wealthy upper classes sitting in those trucks—it takes more than the McCain boy or the son of Sen. Jim Webb—the best gear won’t get paid for on an infantryman’s timetable


It’s not hard to figure out who suffers. The 160,000 servicemen and women in Iraq are the latest generation of Americans to represent their country on the field of battle. And like their predecessors, they are abundantly unrepresented in the halls of power. As a result, they’ve adopted what I find to be a disturbing outlook on their situation: many don’t want the draft because they believe it will ruin the military, which they consider their own blue-collar fraternity. They have heard the horror stories from their dads and granddads about “spoiled” rich officers. Have no doubt: there is a distinct disdain for networked America among the fighting class of this country.


President Bush was determined to keep the lives of nonuniformed America—the wealthiest Americans, like himself—uninterrupted by the war. Consequently, we have a severe talent deficiency in the military, which the draft would remedy immediately. While America’s bravest are in the military, America’s brightest are not. Allow me to build a squad of the five brightest students from MIT and Caltech and promise them patrols on the highways connecting Baghdad and Fallujah, and I’ll bet that in six months they could render IED’s about as effective as a “Just Say No” campaign at a Grateful Dead show.

Let's begin with Finelli's arguments about MRAPs. According to his logic, the IED-resistant vehicles have been slow to reach the troops because their ranks don't include the sons and daughters of wealth and power. It sounds convincing, but the facts prove otherwise. MRAP has been the Pentagon's top acquisition priority for over a year, dating back to the days of Don Rumsfeld (another guy who supposedly didn't care about the grunts in harm's way).

In fact, the biggest reason that MRAPs haven't reached the field is not bureaucratic indifference--it's the military acquisition system. Unlike a private contractor, DoD can't simply pick up the phone and order 7,000 mine-resistant vehicles and demand delivery next week. Even in a "crash" program, prototypes have to be evaluated and competitive bids solicited before production can begin. And, if a manufacturer doesn't have sufficient capacity--as was the case with one MRAP producer--then the process takes even longer. Getting better equipment to the battlefield requires a streamlined acquisition process and higher production rates, not bureaucrats and politicians who "care more."

For what it's worth, the equipment issues that Finelli witnessed in Iraq are nothing new. Consider what happened during World War II, when everyone served and the country was united in its effort to defeat facism. We entered World War II with fighters (P-39, P-40, F4F) that were decidedly inferior to their German and Japanese counterparts. A lot of American pilots paid the price for their poor equipment, trying to match the turn and climb capabilities of Japanese Zeros, or German ME-109s. In time, we developed fighters that were more than a match for the enemy aircraft--most notably, the P-51 Mustang and F6F Hellcat, but they didn't arrive in sufficient numbers until late 1943 and early 1944--more than two years into the war.

On the ground, our "main" battle tank (the M4 Sherman) was no match for the more heavily armored and better-gunned Panthers and Tigers of Hitler's Panzer divisions. Losses in tank crews and equipment were appalling; between D-Day and V-E Day, the Army's 3rd Armored Division had a cumulative loss rate of 600% among its Shermans, with thousands of tankers killed or wounded. At one point during the Battle of the Bulge, the Army was assigning recently-arrived infantry replacements as tank crews, and sending them into battle with only one day of training in a Sherman. And remember: this was during a war when politicians and bureaucrats supposedly had a vested interest in providing the best equipment and training for our "boys."

As for Finelli's contention that a draft would "improve" the military, various studies and analyses reach the opposite conclusion. In today's, all-volunteer force, a recruit typically stays in uniform two years longer than his (or her) counter-part in the conscription-based military of the early 1970s. Lower turnover results in a more experienced and motivated force, with higher performance and reduced training costs.

Additionally, today's volunteers--as evidenced by their willingness to serve--are more likely to meet qualifications for military service. And that becomes a critical consideration when only 28% of the military's primary recruiting target (men between the ages of 17-24) meet the basic criteria for serving in the armed forces. The vast majority of American youth--including potential draftees--do not qualify for the armed services, the result of issues including obesity, poor academic performance, past criminal behavior, and the use of psychotropic drugs for legitimate medical conditions. Prospective conscripts are beset by these same problems--and perhaps in greater numbers than volunteers-- meaning the military would spend more money on screening and drafting personnel, to find those who can actually serve.

And, contrary to Finelli's claims of a "talent deficiency," today's military volunteers are demonstrably brighter than their civilian counterparts. In the enlisted ranks, over 90% are high school graduates (in the Air Force and Navy, that number is over 95%), compared to only 70% in the general population. Among officers, virtually all have college degrees, and in the mid-level and senior grades (O-4 and above) over half have completed graduate school. As with the enlisted force, the education level of our military officers is significantly higher than civilian population. In fact, given the disparity in education between today's volunteer force and corresponding, civilian demographic groups, a draft would actually lower education levels in the military.

Finally, Finelli's belief that a squad of "draftees" from MIT and CalTech could solve the IED problem in six months is pure fantasy. If defeating roadside bombs and suicide attacks was simply an engineering problem or technology exercise, we would have neutralized those threats long ago. Unfortunately, there is no single "silver bullet" for the problem. Taking down bomber networks requires a multi-faceted approach, involving everyone from Marines and soldiers on patrol, to the airman who operates the UAV sensors that monitor suspicious locations, the spooks who assemble bits and pieces of the intel puzzle, and of course, the EOD techs--all volunteers, and mostly junior enlisted and NCOs--who actually disable the IEDs.

Today's U.S. military is the brightest and best-trained fighting force this nation has ever fielded. Certainly, the demands of simultaneous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have overtaxed ground units, and at some point, we won't be able to sustain current deployment levels. But there isn't a troop shortage because Jenna Bush, Chelsea Clinton and the Kerry Kids took a pass on military service. It's because successive administrations in the 1980s and 1990s, acting on the advice of senior military officers, decided we could get by with fewer soldiers and Marines. As a result, we deleted eight divisions (160,000 troops) from the Army, and reduced the Corps to pre-Vietnam levels.

Don Rumsfeld was right about one thing: you go to war with the Army you've got, not the one you want. The template for today's armed forces was established long before George W. Bush entered the White House, and many of the equipment decisions date back a decade--or longer. Overcoming past mistakes takes time, as evidenced by efforts to expand the Army, and get badly-need MRAPs to the troops. But, to their credit, the politicians and military planners who shaped today's military got one thing right, by sticking with an all-volunteer force, and providing the pay, benefits and other incentives to keep them in uniform.

While we commend Lance Corporal Fenelli for his service, his notions about a draft are simply misguided. Bringing back conscription might expand the ranks--at a significantly higher cost--but there's no evidence that the draft would improve the quality (and performance) of those who serve.

Taking a Pass

When the Class of 2007 at the U.S. Naval Academy received their diplomas and commissions two months ago, one of their best-known members was conspicuously absent.

But it wasn't academic issues or medical problems that kept Midshipman Jason Tomlinson from becoming Ensign Tomlinson, and embarking on a career as a naval surface warfare officer. Shortly before his scheduled departure from Annapolis, Tomlinson--a star player on the academy's football team over the last four seasons--simply elected "not to graduate," a decision that stunned his coaches and fellow Midshipmen.

According to the Annapolis Capital (which recently broke the story), Midshipman Tomlinson had a change of heart, faced with the prospect of spending five years in uniform after graduation:

"I came to realize during my senior year that the military just was not for me. I had been thinking about it for a long time, I prayed about it a lot and I had to do what I felt was right in my heart," Tomlinson said yesterday when contacted by The Capital.

"I did not think it would be fair to the men I would be serving alongside and leading to go into this with reservations and misgivings. My heart wasn't in it."

Capital sportswriter Bill Wagner reports that Tomlinson's teammates and Navy head football coach Paul Johnson tried to convince him to go through with graduation and his military commitment, to no avail. While the service mulls his future, Tomlinson remains a Middie, assigned to the Naval Station facility on the Severn River, near the Academy.

A Navy spokesman told the paper that the service has two options for re-couping the costs of Tomlinson's education; make him pay the bill (an estimated $140,000), or require him to serve in the fleet, as an enlisted sailor. Tomlinson is expected to learn his fate in the near future.

There are reports that Tomlinson's "doubts" about a Navy career may stem from his success on the gridiron. Despite playing in a run-oriented offense, Tomlinson finished his career at Annapolis as the #10 receiver in school history, catching 67 passes for 1,078 yards. Tomlinson also excelled as a punt returner, and was a key figure in the resurgence of Navy's football program. During his four-year career, the Midshipmen logged a 35-15 record, and never lost to rivals from West Point and the Air Force Academy.

In the process, Tomlinson attracted attention from pro scouts, who were impressed by his intelligence, size and speed. But, with Tomlinson obligated for five years of active-duty service, he was not selected in the recent National Football League draft. However, scouts believe that the former Navy player has the skills to make it in the NFL, provided that his pro career isn't delayed. Critics claim that Tomlinson's decision skip graduation is aimed at clearing his entry into next year's NFL draft, or signing a free-agent contract with a pro team.

That's assuming, of course, that the Navy decides to let him go, and only requires that Tomlinson repay the cost of his education. At the NFL's minimum salary for rookies ($286,000), Mr. Tomlinson could retire a significant chunk of that debt, and there are indications that the former Navy star could command a much bigger contract, either as a 2008 draft selection, or a free agent. Under that scenario, it would be very easy for Tomlinson to write a check, pay for his education, and still have lots of money in the bank.

But Tomlinson must be aware that the Pentagon's favored method of recouping lost education funds is through military service, not repayment. As an ROTC instructor in the mid-1990s, I experienced a similar incident. One of my female cadets, heading for pilot training after graduation, suddenly "found love" and decided that the Air Force didn't fit her future plans. The cadet's wealthy parents even offered to write a check and repay the costs of her scholarship. Assuming that the service would take the money and forget about her, our cadet began planning an elaborate wedding. The instructor staff at the detachment (including your humble correspondent), cautioned against it, reminding her that the Air Force could demand active duty service to recoup its losses.

Sure enough, the service mandated just that. And, when she discovered that her enlisted job choices would be extremely limited, the cadet had another change of heart, and remained with the ROTC program (over my objections, I might add). Not surprisingly, the flake eventually wiggled out of her pilot slot, electing to join her boyfriend in the space and missile career field. Not long after graduation and commissioning, she suffered a "nervous breakdown" in training at Vandenburg, and left the service altogether. So much for the taxpayer's investment.

Jason Tomlinson doesn't fall in the same category as that loony cadet, but he clearly has ulterior motives for avoiding military service. And that makes me wonder: if Tomlinson had reservations about military duty (or, alternately, ambitions for a pro football career), why not resign earlier from Annapolis? I've known several players who left a service academy after their sophomore years, allowing them to pursue an athletic career before their service commitment kicks in (generally, the military does not seek "recoupment" from cadets who resign before their junior year).

Or, why not follow in the footsteps of Roger Staubach, Napoleon McCallum and David Robinson, Annapolis grads who fulfilled their military commitment and pursued successful careers in pro sports. For both McCallum and Robinson, the Navy modfied or reduced their service commitments, and the service might make similar accomodations for Midshipman Tomlinson. Air Force Academy grad (and Outland Trophy winner) Chad Hennings went on to a very successful career as a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys--after meeting his service obligation as a fighter pilot, and flying combat missions over northern Iraq.

But the average NFL career lasts only three years, and Tomlinson apparently fears that his talent will erode during years of duty on a ship. So, he'd rather back out now, in hopes of landing a pro football deal while he still has the requisite skills to earn some serious money.

Unfortunately for him, Tomlinson's dream may go unfulfilled--and rightly so. As a Midshipman for four years, Jason Tomlinson was acutely aware of the service commitment entailed in a Naval Academy education. And, to his credit, he stayed with the program, on track to graduate and earn his commission until some sports agent likely whispered in his ear and promised NFL mega bucks, if only Tomlinson could find some way out of his service commitment. Just take a pass on graduation, offer to repay the education bill, and use an NFL salary to write the check. That seems to be the "plan."

I can only wonder if Midshipman Tomlinson will be surprised when the Navy announces that he will join the fleet as an enlisted sailor, in order to repay the Annapolis education. He may also be shocked to learn that the service won't bend over backwards to find him a job. In counseling my dim-witted cadet of a decade ago, I discovered that most "recoupment" enlistees in the Air Force would up as cooks or truck drivers. I'm guessing that a similar fate awaits Tomlinson in his Navy "career."

When you get a full-ride, four-year college education (and a chance to develop your football skills) on the Navy's dime, then the service should recive some sort of "return" on its investment. Three or four years of swabbing decks, scrambling eggs or driving a truck may not equal the cost of an Annapolis degree, but it's an appropriate fate for a young man with strange notions about "service."

The Plot Thickens

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an illuminating article which suggested that the Clinton/China fund-raising machine was back, and operating in high gear. Analyzing campaign contribution lists and other public records, Journal reporter Brody Mullins discovered that some of Mrs. Clinton's biggest contributors lived in a modest bungalow in Daly City, California, the home of a Chinese-American clan. Collectively, six members of the Paw family have given $200,000 to Democratic candidates since 2005, and $45,000 to Hillary Clinton during the same period.

These donations are more remarkable since the Paws appear to be a middle-class family. The father makes $49,000 a year as a letter carrier; his wife is a homemaker. Their four adult children have jobs ranging from mutual fund executive, to school attendance officer. Yet, the Paws can not only meet their monthly bills in a high-cost-of-living area (San Francisco), they also donate sizable sums to the Democratic Party.

But, as Mr. Mullins reports, the Paws donations are attracting scrutiny for other reasons, too. The family apparently never made a political contribution until 2005, they rapidly moved to the upper echelons of Democratic donors. Additionally, contributions for the Paws seem to track with those of Norman Hsu, a Chinese-American businessman who is a major Clinton fund-raiser. Interesting, Mr. Hsu (who controls a half-dozen clothing manufacturing companies) once listed the Paws' modest home as his address.

While the Federal Election Commission considers a potential probe of the Paws' donations, the Los Angeles Times has discovered that Norman Hsu has a slightly checkered past. Turns out that the Democratic fund-raiser is also a wanted fugitive; he skipped out on a three-year prison sentence almost fifteen years ago, after entering a "no contest" plea on grand theft charges:

Hsu's legal troubles date back almost 20 years.Beginning in 1989, court records show, he began raising what added up to more than $1 million from investors, purportedly to buy latex gloves; investors were told Hsu had a contract to resell the gloves to a major American business.

In 1991, Hsu was charged with grand theft. Prosecutors said there were no latex gloves and no contract to sell them.Hsu pleaded no contest to one grand theft charge and agreed to accept up to three years in prison.

He disappeared after failing to show up for a sentencing hearing. Bench warrants were issued for his arrest but he was never found. Ronald Smetana, the prosecutor who handled the case for the state attorney general, described Hsu as a fugitive. "Do you know where he is?" Smetana asked.

Turns out that Hsu has been hiding in plain sight, hosting high-profile fund-raisers for Democratic candidates and raising thousands in campaign donations since 2004. According to the LA Times, Hsu and his associates have, over the years, raised money for some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party, including, Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barack Obama of Illinois and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. Like Clinton, Obama and Biden are also seeking their party's presidential nomination.

With Hsu's criminal past now exposed, we're waiting to see if California authorities will finally arrest him and send him to prison. We're also wondering if any of the Democratic pols who took Hsu's money will return the contributions, given what we know about their donor's former crimes. And most importantly, we're watching the FEC, to see if they mount a serious investigation into the Hsu case. As a former FEC official told the WSJ, "there are red flags all over this one."

Likewise, we'd also like to know about any ties between Mr. Hsu, his associates, and the Chinese fund-raising machine that was instrumental in Bill Clinton's presidential victories of 1992 and 1996. That operation raised millions of dollars from individuals and organizations with ties to the Beijing government. It was later revealed that PRC intelligence agents actually met with Mr. Clinton in the White House, part of a massive influence-peddling campaign mounted by the Beijing government and its military.

While no links have been established between Mr. Hsu and the John Huang/Charley Trie operation of the mid-1990s, an inquiry into possible contacts and relationships is clearly in order. The last Democratic fund-raising scandal resulted in the compromise of sensitive missile technology (primarily through the Hughes-Loral deal), and John Huang's participation in secret CIA briefings, thanks to his post as a senior Commerce Department official. Huang later pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1999. Deposed in a lawsuit by Judicial Watch, Huang "took the 5th" more than 2,000 times when asked if he had ties to Chinese intelligence. Readers will recall that Mr. Huang was a long-time employee of Indonesia's powerful Lippo Group, an organization with proven ties to Beijing's intelligence establishment.

Where does the trail of Norman Hsu and the Paw family lead? The American people have a right to know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

She Was Crazy About Him...Or Maybe, Just Crazy

Attorneys for disgraced former astronaut Lisa Nowak are planning an insanity defense when she goes on trail next month for assault and the attempted kidnapping of a romantic rival. The AP has details:

Nowak suffered from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and "brief psychotic disorder with marked stressors," defense attorney Donald Lykkebak wrote. He said the already-petite woman had also recently lost 15 percent of her body weight and struggled with "marital separation."

"This notice does not challenge competence to stand trial, but only raises insanity at the time of the offense," he wrote.

Nowak, 44, was charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault after allegedly driving nearly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) from Houston to Orlando to confront Colleen Shipman, the girlfriend of a former
pilot Nowak had been involved with.

A psychologist friend of ours opined several months ago that Nowak's bizarre trek was indicative of mental illness. We have no reason to doubt his diagnosis, but we're not sure that defense will convince jurors to go easy on the Navy Captain. Nowak's trial begins next month.

If Nowak was mentally ill at the time she attacked Ms. Shipman, that raises a disturbing question: how did the warning signs escape NASA flight surgeons, who work closely with the astronauts and examine them on a regular basis?

Oh, that's right. Those are the same flight surgeons who--according to a recent NASA report--let some astronauts blast off into space, legally intoxicated.

Isn't the space agency about due for another house-cleaning?

Follow the Money (Clinton Campaign Edition)

The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins has a fascinating report in today's paper that suggests the Clinton campaign machine is--0nce again--raking in some serious cash from rather unusual sources.

Mr. Mullins investigative piece focuses on a "tiny, lime-green bungalow" in Daly City, California, which is home for the Paws, a Chinese-American family. According to campaign donation records, six members of the Paw family have donated $45,000 to Mrs. Clinton since 1995, and given a total of $200,000 to Democratic candidates during the same period. That places the Paws among the Top 5 donors to the Clinton campaign, topping even the Maloof family of Las Vegas, which owns the Palms Casino and the Sacramento Kings basketball team, among other holdings.

More impressively, the Paws have apparently become major political donors without the wealth of the Maloof family, or the hedge fund and real estate tycoons who make up the rest of Mrs. Cllinton's Top 5. Public records reviewed by the Journal show that the Paws own a small gift shop. Additionally, William Paw, the family patriarch, works as a letter carrier, earning about $49,000 a year. His wife, Alice, is a homemaker. The couple's three grown children have jobs ranging from account manager at a software company, to school attendance "liaison" and mutual fund executive.

And, if you don't find that sort of financial acumen intriguing, here's another angle that raises more suspicions:

The Paws' political donations closely track donations made by Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman in the apparel industry who once listed the Paw home as his address, according to public records. Mr. Hsu is one of the top fund-raisers for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign. He has hosted or co-hosted some of her most prominent money-raising events.

People who answered the phone and the door at the Paws' residence declined requests for comment last week. In an email last night, one of the Paws' sons, Winkle, said he had sometimes been asked by Mr. Hsu to make contributions, and sometimes he himself had asked family members to donate. But he added: "I have been fortunate in my investments and all of my contributions have been my money."

That's fine and dandy, but it doesn't explain why Mr. Hsu (a multi-millionaire who lives in New York) once listed the Paw home as his address, according to other public records reviewed by the WSJ. However, the paper's reporting did raise the ire of Mr. Hsu, his attorney, and a spokesman for the Clinton campaign:

Mr. Hsu, in an email last night wrote: "I have NEVER asked a single favor from any politician or any charity group. If I am NOT asking favors, why do I have to cheat...I've asked friends and colleagues of mine to give money out of their own pockets and sometimes they have agreed."

Lawrence Barcella, a Washington attorney representing Mr. Hsu, said in a separate email: "You are barking up the wrong tree. There is no factual support for this story and if Mr. Hsu's name was Smith or Jones, I don't believe it would be a story." He didn't elaborate.

A Clinton campaign spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said in an email: "Norman Hsu is a longtime and generous supporter of the Democratic party and its candidates, including Senator Clinton. During Mr. Hsu's many years of active participation in the political process, there has been no question about his integrity or his commitment to playing by the rules, and we have absolutely no reason to call his contributions into question."

A former official with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) told the Journal that the unusual two-year pattern of donations "justifies a probe of possible violations of campaign-finance law, which forbid one person from reimbursing another to make contributions."

Officially, there are no records that Mr. Hsu reimbursed the Paws for their donations to the Democratic Party, and no indication that Mrs. Clinton ever met members of the family. As the Journal observes, in some cases the candidates are unaware of payments made on their behalf.

But there are compelling reasons for the FEC to take a look at these donations. Beyond the questions of how a middle-class family can make such large contributions--and why they follow the pattern of Mr. Hsu, there's the issue why the Paws suddenly became political activists. According to the Journal, the family never made a campaign contribution until the 2004 presidential election, when they began givign to John Kerry, and their donations correlated to those of Mr. Hsu.

Finally, the Journal doesn't raise another issue that bears scrutiny: is there any connection between this fund-raising activity and the infamous "PRC connection" highlighted in Year of the Rat, by Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II. Their book details the sordid relationship between the Clinton-Gore campaign and Chinese intelligence operatives, and others with ties to the People's Liberation Army. It was that relationship that brokered thousands of dollars in campaign contributions; meanwhile, senior administration officials--including President Clinton--played host to at least one PLA intelligence officer, along with Chinese arms merchants and others eager to gain political influence (and access to U.S. technology).

At this point, the only thing that the Paws have in common with those former Clinton donors is their ethnic Chinese background. But their sudden rise to prominence as donors to Mrs. Clinton--and other Democrats--certainly merits an FEC inquiry. It would also be helpful to know if the Paws (and Mr. Hsu) ever crossed paths with John Huang, Johnny Chung and other Chinese-Americans who raised money for the Clintons a decade ago. This has nothing to do with race; it has everything to do with how campaign money is raised, and whether any laws were broken.

Your Government Schools at Work

Lauren Upton during her nationally-televised blonde moment (NBC via

In less than a minute last Friday night, South Carolina's entrant in the "Miss Teen USA Pageant" managed to make herself a national laughingstock, providing a completely incoherent answer to a judge's question on why many Americans can't find their country on a map.

The Talkmaster, You Tube and other sites have the video (if you haven't seen it already). From what we can gather, Miss Teen South Carolina (Lauren Caitlin Upton), believes that our geography woes are the result of...well, you figure it out:

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps, and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq everywhere like, such as and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., er, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children."

For the record, Ms. Upton was third runner-up in the pageant (draw your own conclusions). And, according to World Net Daily, she's a product of South Carolina's public school system, graduating from Lexington High School last June with a 3.5 GPA.

In fairness, we should point out that Ms. Upton is only 17--still a proverbial "skull full of mush," as El Rushbo might observe. She appeared nervous, and the pageant was broadcast live--no chance for retakes. And, by her own admission, Upton apparently lost her train of thought, although some might say that particular choo-choo is easily derailed. Whatever the reason, it was an extreme blonde moment of the worst kind, and thanks to the internet, her discourse on geography will live on forever.

What we find interesting is the (apparent) lack of media interest in Upton's own educational background. World Net Daily is one of the few outlets who bothered to find out where the contestant acquired her knowledge of geography (and other subjects), although the information was apparently available in her pageant biography.

Now, let's suppose for a moment that Miss Upton had been homeschooled. Do you think the media coverage would highlight that element, as a possible explanation for her blonde moment? If your answer was "yes," move to the head of the class. Instead, we get comments from her former principal, who remembers Upton as a "well-rounded" student (ahem) that took honors classes before graduating.

And despite her televised meltdown, we won't dispute the principal's characterization of his recent graduate. Lauren Upton probably is a bright young woman, but she's also a product of our government schools. Reading between her garbled syntax and incomplete thoughts, it looks like she was aiming for a typical liberal response, suggesting that our education system (and students) are suffering because of the effort (and resources) being devoted to the War in Iraq.

And where do you suppose she learned that?


ADDENDUM: In hindsight, it appears that Ms. Upton's mental debacle may be the shrewdest beauty pageant move since Vanessa Williams decided to post nude, or Tara Conner developed her drug habit. The video of Upton's "answer" has received over two million hits on You Tube, and she was a guest on the Today Show thing morning. For better or worse, a lot of people know who Lauren Upton is. Unless you watched the pageant, you've probably never heard of Hilary Cruz, the Colorado teen who actually won the competition.

Today's Reading Assignment

Retired Navy Vice-Admiral John Scott Redd, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Photo by Lawrence Jackson/Associated Press

At, Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Jeffrey Bartholet have posted an exclusive interview with retired Navy Admiral John Scott Redd, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

It's an interesting read, although many of Admiral Redd's answers are hardly surprising:

On bin Laden's desire to hit the U.S. (and other western targets): "We have very strong indicators that Al Qaida is planning to attack the West."

The difficulty of tracking down the Al Qaida leader: "If we knew where he [Osama bin Laden] was, he'd either be dead or captured."

His thoughts on a developing terror threat to the United States: "We’ve got this intelligence threat; we’re pretty certain we know what’s going on. We don’t have all the tactical details about it, [but] in some ways it’s not unlike the U.K. aviation threat last year. So we know there is a threat out there. The question is, what do we do about it? And the response was, we stood up an interagency task force under NCTC leadership."

Are we in a better position to deal with the terrorist threat? We are better prepared today for the war on terror than at any time in our history. We have done an incredible amount of things since 9/11, across the board. Intelligence is better. They are sharing it better. We are taking the terrorists down. We are working with the allies very carefully. We are doing the strategic operational planning, going after every element in the terrorist life cycle. So we have come a long way. But these guys are smart. They are determined. They are patient. So over time we are going to lose a battle or two. We are going to get hit again, you know, but you’ve got to have the stick-to-itiveness or persistence to outlast it.

Unfortunately, the lines of questioning offered by Hosenball and Bartholet followed the "typical" MSM template. The Newsweek correspondents repeatedly asked about possible connections between Iraq and global terrorism, asserting that our military operations have created a breeding ground for new terrorists. Readers will note that the team from Newsweek failed to asked how many terrorists who've been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan might have otherwise been assigned to missions in Europe and the United States.

But we digress. Fact is, Hosenball and Bartholet missed a golden opportunity to inquire about the organizational "health" of Admiral Redd's organization, one of the most important links in our defense against terrorism. Just last week, the long-awaited CIA IG report described the organization's predecessor, the counter-terrorism center (CTC) as a dysfunctional agency in the years leading up to 9-11, an organization engaged in a running battle with the National Security Agency (NSA) over sensitive terrorist communications intercepts. When NSA finally agreed to share the information, the CTC implemented a lazy response, detailing only one officer to NSA headquarters (for a limited time), to review transcripts of terrorist conversations. As a result of those (and other) failures, the CIA Inspector General has recommended Accountability Boards for two former Directors of the CTC.

It's one of the most damning indictments of senior intelligence leadership in U.S. history. And, in light of those revelations, the Newsweek correspondents should have pressed Admiral Redd on his efforts to ensure that the NCTC doesn't fall into the same, sad shape. While much of the NCTC's work is classified, the director should be able to furnish recent examples of inter-agency teamwork and cooperation (under his leadership), proving that the center can perform its assigned mission. Given the opportunity, we'd also ask Admiral Redd if the problems identified by the IG report were still evident when the new organization stood up in 2004.

Clearly, the Newsweek reporters missed a golden opportunity. While Admiral Redd is a proven leader, it's very easy for any senior government official to talk about "inter-agency task forces" with "all the players" working together. Fact is, we had the same type of structures in the old CTC before 9-11, and they failed miserably, thanks to bureaucratic distrust and squabbling, among other reasons. And, many of the players from that era are now working in the NCTC. Has the organizational climate really changed?

With terrorists concocting new plots against the CONUS, Americans need to know if the NCTC represents the "way ahead" or if the new organization is simply papering over long-festering problems. While Admiral Redd's comments sound reassuring, they are predictably vague, and that's why Hosenball and Bartholet should have pushed for more specific answers. But, if you're locked into a particular theme or template in covering terrorism--or any other issue--it's difficult to ask the right questions, at the right time.

Monday, August 27, 2007

SERE For All?

Among the prized possessions from my military career is a small bit of parachute canopy, probably no more than 1' x 1', and covered with the names of fellow airmen, officers and enlisted. Together, we endured Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Training at Fairchild AFB, Washington, in the late summer of 1992. At the end of the course, the other students presented me the autographed piece of parachute, in recognition of my "leadership" during the program which included two stints in a mock POW camp.

Almost two decades later, I'm still grateful for that bit of silk and the Fairchild "Survival School" stands out as one of the most vivid memories of my Air Force experience. Virtually anyone who's been through the program would probably agree; over 17 days of field and classroom instruction (the length of the course in the early 1990s), you learn a lot about yourself, your comrades, and your ability to persevere under trying conditions.

And most importantly, you learn that the "school"--while highly realistic--is a walk in the park compared to a real POW compound. All of us emerged from Fairchild with even more respect (and admiration) for heroes like Jim Stockdale, Robbie Risner, Bud Day, John McCain and other prisoners of war, men who endured unspeakable torture and degradation for years, yet emerged from captivity with their integrity and honor intact.

My thoughts on Fairchild--and the experiences of real POWs--were prompted by today's Air Force Times article on plans to expand SERE training for airmen. Apparently, the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced service leaders that all airmen need some form of SERE training. The Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mike Moseley, has tasked Air Education and Training Command (which runs the Fairchild program) to develop a game plan, and present it to a meeting of senior generals in October. After that, Moseley will decide how to implement the training plan.

“We’ve got to start training the total force,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Myers, the SERE career field manager. “It’s a matter of time before we have the airman transporter or ... clerk or personnel specialist that steps outside the wire for a tour of town and gets grabbed. We’re a target ... out there


The most immediate concern, said Maj. Gen. Mark Zamzow, AETC’s director of operations, is to expand training for airmen deploying on assignments that will routinely take them outside the wire — serving, for example, on security forces, provincial reconstruction teams and explosive ordnance disposal teams. Those airmen, Myers said, need exposure to all four elements of SERE and at least some hands-on training — and they need it now.

The proposed expansion represents a sea change in the service's SERE training policy. For years, the Fairchild course was aimed at personnel considered most vulnerable to being captured: pilots, navigators, other aircrew members and special forces personnel, as well as airmen who provided survival and resistance training at the unit level, namely intelligence and life support specialists. While the school could "surge" to train more personnel during extended periods of conflict--such as Vietnam--individual classes were relatively small (my section had only 30 students, as I recall), emphasizing hands-on instruction.

Obviously, "ramping-up" the training pipeline will create some issues that must be addressed before the program can be fully implemented. It takes at least a year to fully train SERE instructors, who provide training in each phase of the program. Historically, the SERE instructor career field has been all-volunteer, and one of the smallest in the Air Force. Expanding the instructor cadre--while maintaining the desired standards of knowledge and professionalism---represents a major challenge.

So too, is the issue of facilities. The notion of providing some level of SERE instruction to each of the Air Force's 330,000 military members means that other sites will be required, allowing Fairchild to concentrate on its traditional mission of training those most at-risk. So, where are the other "venues" for SERE training?

Under the program that's likely to emerge, we can envision some type of introductory instruction during Air Force basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas, Air Force ROTC summer camps and Officer Training School (Air Force Academy cadets already receive basic survival training as part of their curriculum). This would represent a logical complement to the "combat skills" training unveiled by the service last year.

More detailed instruction would (presumably) follow at the new Common Battlefield Airmen Training (CBAT) Program, which will eventually be established at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana; Arnold AFB, Tennessee or Moody AFB, Georgia. The Air Force filed its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for CBAT instruction at the proposed sites last year. Air Education and Training Command hopes select a location, build required facilities and have Phase I of the program operational by 2011.

Eventually, CBAT would train up to 14,000 airmen a year--and provide an excellent venue for expanded SERE instruction. We assume that those 14,00 airmen would include many of those identified for enhanced SERE training. Personnel requiring lower levels of instruction would (presumably) receive that training during basic at Lackland, through a commissioning program, and at their eventual duty station.

From my perspective, sending more airmen to "survival" training is an idea that's long overdue. General Zamzow is correct; the days when the "typical" airman was far from the combat zone (and seemingly immune to capture) are long since past. More training means a better chance of survival for any airman who falls into enemy hands, or finds themselves in a survival or evasion environment. It won't make a real evasion trek (or POW camp) more pleasant. But with the right training, you can learn to endure--and even prevail--in the most demanding of circumstances. And it's exactly the type of training needed by airmen going "outside the wire."


ADDENDUM: We've got to wonder if Chief Myers comment about someone who gets "grabbed on a tour of the town" was a back-hand reference to Maj Jill Metzger, who "disappeared" on a shopping trip in Kyrgyzstan last year. As readers of this blog know, Metzger turned up three days later, claiming that she'd been abducted, but managed to over-powered her captors and ran 30-40 miles to freedom.

While many in the ranks doubt Metzger's story, she was placed on an 18-month "temporary" retirement in July, to recover from her ordeal. As far as we know, Metzger is the only Air Force member who's disappeared on a "tour of the town" in recent memory. However, no one has suggested that the new training program be named "Camp Metzger." Preparing for phony abductions is something learned on your own.

Also, for clarification's sake, I am a proud graduate of the "Combat Survival Training" course at Fairchild (then known as SV-80A), and the late, lamented Water Survival course, previously held at Homestead AFB, Florida. The Homestead program was memorable because the curriculum included two parasail rides over Biscayne Bay. Unfortunately, Hurricane Andrew destroyed that facility, and the water training program was split between Fairchild and NAS Pensacola.

As for Fairchild, the outdoor training isn't bad if you don't take the course in winter. Resistance training, in a word, sucks. However, it sucks even more if you're one of the "lucky ones" who must attend "Advanced Resistance Training," which is lasts another week beyond SV-80A. Fortunately, the training requirements for my aircraft ended with the basic course, and I did not have to stick around for advanced resistance program, then referred to as "Beatings 201."

Paging Senator Obama

We're guessing that this AP dispatch from Kabul won't make its way into a Barack Obama campaign speech:

NATO: Taliban making false accusations

Less than a month after the Democratic Presidential candidate accused U.S. forces of "air-raiding" Afghan villages--and inflicting civilian casualties--NATO officials are (again) pointing out something that should be patently obvious. The Taliban routinely lie about civilian deaths and collateral damage (surprise, surprise) as part of their propaganda effort to discredit coalition forces:

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan accused Taliban militants Monday of falsely reporting civilian casualties to discredit Afghan and international forces.


The U.S.-led coalition made the claim Monday after Afghan elders alleged that up to 18 civilians were killed late Sunday by coalition troops in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold.

Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman, a coalition spokeswoman, said credible intelligence suggested the claims were fabricated as part of a propaganda war. "The insurgents continue to follow their pattern of falsely reporting civilian casualties," she said.

NATO-led forces, whose operations in Helmand are being supported by U.S.-led coalition troops and aircraft, insist that no noncombatants were killed in the fighting. The claims could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area where the clash took place.

Less than two weeks ago, we noted that the
Taliban's exaggerated claims of civilian casualties were hardly new, and in some cases, the terrorists were actually responsible for their deaths. In at least two engagements earlier this year, Taliban fighters used Afghan villagers as human shields, and after one battle, they removed their own casualties, leaving the bodies of dead civilians behind.

Fortunately, the Taliban's propaganda efforts have had no impact on NATO's military campaign (so far). Contrary to Obama's claims, allied airpower in Afghanistan has been carefully employed, and the results have been impressive. While the AP claims that the number of attacks in Afghanistan has increased, they fail to report that virtually all of those strikes are ineffective and have resulted in significant casualties among insurgents. For example, recent Taliban assaults on Firebase Anaconda were abject failures; massing against the fortified allied position--and operating in broad daylight--the terrorists were quickly repulsed, suffering at least 30% KIA in their first attack.

But, as we've observed in the past, the Taliban's battle plans--and continuous propaganda efforts-- are equally aimed at the western media (and political elites), as well as our military forces on the ground. And, in this era of hyper-partisan politics and press coverage, a resounding Taliban defeat on the battlefield plays a completely different way in media reporting, or on the campaign trail. The terrorists (and their propaganda machine) must be very happy, indeed.

As for Mr. Obama, he was last seen in that favorite refuge of Democratic politicians, an African-American church. And not just any church--a New Orleans congregation, and on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Speaking from the pulpit (gee, whatever happened to separation of the church and state), Senator Obama told the crowd that the
nation had failed to "lift up" New Orleans long before Katrina, citing the city's persistent struggles with poverty and poor public schools. His solution: more government programs and spending that (ultimately) would be about as successful as his "reconstruction plan" for Afghanistan.

Ookie's Bottom Line

UPDATE//1106 EDT//AP reports that Vick has formally entered the reported plea deal. Sentencing has been set for 10 December. In accepting Vick's guilty plea, Judge Hudson emphasized that he is not bound by sentencing guidelines, and can impose the maximum penalty of five years in prison.

"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson.


Later this morning, disgraced NFL star Michael Vick will formally enter a plea deal in a Richmond, Virginia, federal court, on charges of dog-fighting and conspiracy. The charges stem from Vick's role in a dog-fighting operation that was run from his infamous "Bad Newz Kennels" in rural Surry County, from 2002 until earlier this year.

After Vick enter his plea, Federal District Judge Henry Hudson will likely set a sentencing date for later this year. When he imposes punishment on the Falcons' quarterback, the penalties are likely to include 12-18 months in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000. Under his plea deal, Vick admitted to his role in staging dog fights and killing animals that "failed to perform." Vick's plea makes no mention of gambling on the blood sport, an admission that could cost him what's left of his NFL career.

While the expected jail sentence will keep Vick off the football field for at least two seasons, the former Virginia Tech All-American will pay an ever steeper price in lost wages, bonuses and endorsement deals. Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the numbers in a story that was published yesterday--and the numbers are simply staggering.

According to attorneys, sports marketing experts and football executives interviewed by the AJC, Michael Vick's little hobby could wind up costing him in excess of $100 million, including $71 million in lost salary under a 10-year, $130 million contract that he signed in 2004.

According to the NFL Players Association, that contract calls for Vick to receive a salary of $6 million this season, followed by $7.5 million in 2008, $9 million in 2009, $10.5 million in 2010, $12 million in 2011, $12.5 million in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013, plus incentive bonuses.

Now, all of that money could be gone.

The only part of Vick's contract that might matter now is the clause that allows the Falcons to terminate it if he "has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by club to adversely affect or reflect on club."

Michael McCann, a Mississippi College School of Law professor who often writes on sports legal issues, said the Falcons clearly can terminate the contract, although legal and salary-cap tactics will drive the timing of such action. For example, the Falcons probably would have to keep Vick under contract — albeit suspended without pay — until resolving the issue of signing bonus repayments.

"I think they're going to argue the signing bonus reflects an understanding Vick would play for the totality of the contract, and clearly he's not able to satisfy that," McCann said. "They're not going to get all of it back, but I think they have a pretty compelling argument to get some of it back."

How much could be debated, because of the creative way in which the Falcons structured Vick's bonuses for salary-cap management purposes.


Unlike Vick's football contract, the specifics of his endorsement deals with Nike, Rawlings and other companies have never been made public.

But in its ranking of America's highest-paid athletes last year, Sports Illustrated estimated Vick's endorsement income at $7 million annually. And Oregon's Swangard said that, if not for the dogfighting scandal, a "conservative" estimate of Vick's ongoing endorsement earnings over the next 10 years would have been an average of $5 million per year.

"There is $50 million on the marketing side that has disappeared," Swangard said.

Nike on Friday terminated Vick's endorsement contract without pay, and at least seven other deals have either been suspended or allowed to expire.

"There is no corporation that will touch Michael Vick again, ever," said Ronn Torossian, president and chief executive officer of New York-based 5W Public Relations, which has represented athletes and entertainers.

Given the barbarity of his crimes--training dogs to fight to the death, betting on those matches and personally killing dogs that didn't measure up--we'd say that Michael Vick is getting what he deserves. And, ordinarily, we'd agree that Vick deserves a chance to return to the gridiron, once his prison sentence is complete.

But letting Vick play again requires resolution of the gambling issue. The NFL--like other pro sports leagues--maintains a strict, zero tolerance policy on players wagering on any sport, for obvious reasons. With Vick's plea deal (and expected sentence) skirting around the gambling issue, it will be up to the NFL to investigate that matter, determine Vick's innocence or guilt, and if necessary, impose the appropriate sentence.

Officially, the league's investigation into Vick's activities is on-going. But the federal investigation turned up substantive evidence that Vick paid bets lost by "Bad Newz Kennels" from personal funds. A simple check of the quarterback's bank records may offer conclusive proof that Vick bet on dog-fights, giving Commissioner Roger Goodell enough reason to impose the ultimate penalty for illegal gambling--a lifetime ban from the league.

In our view, confirmation of Vick's gambling activities should be enough to end his NFL "career," once and for all. But, as we've noted previously, there are more than a few football coaches and general managers who'd be willing to give Ookie another shot, figuring he might have a few good years left after that prison stretch, and they can sign him for a fraction of his old Falcons' contract.

But, if Mr. Goodell is concerned about larger issues--namely, enforcement of the league's anti-gambling policy and its image as a while--then he must resist calls from within the NFL (and from the "civil rights" establishment) to give Michael Vick another chance. When the scope of Vick's gambling activities is finally established, Commissioner Goodell must impose the maximum punishment.

That's the real "bottom line" for "Ookie" Vick--and the National Football League.

ADDENDUM: In a few discussions of the Vick case, the word "tragedy" has actually been used to describe his fall. Admittedly, "tragedy" is an over-used word in the modern vernacular, often assigned to any unfortunate event, even those in which the "victim" (an ever more-overused term) is a willing participant. From our perspective, the only tragic aspects of the Vick case involve those animals who were killed or maimed for "sport" by the crew at Bad Newz Kennels. As for Mr. Vick, the synthesis of greed, arrogance, indifference and stupidity writ large are not the basis for tragedy. For his actions, the infamous "Ron Mexico" is getting what he deserves.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Flight into History

Army Air Corps YB-17s intercept the Italian liner "Rex" 800 miles east of New York City on May 12, 1938. Sixty-nine years later, B-52s are re-creating the historic mission, with today's planned intercept of a Navy cargo ship on the Atlantic (USAF photo via Shreveport Times)

Sixty-nine years ago, a flight of B-17 bombers took off from Langley AFB, Virginia, and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. Their mission: intercept the Italian liner Rex, headed for New York City, demonstrating that American airpower could defend our shores at great distances.

With a young navigator named Curtis LeMay in the lead B-17, the Army Air Corps bombers completed their assignment, buzzing the Rex about 800 miles east of New York. It was a stunning accomplishment for the bomber crews; in an era before inertial navigation systems and GPS, locating the fast liner in the open ocean was no mean feat.

The Rex mission--which occurred on May 12, 1938--marked the first major triumph of LeMay's storied career; seven years later, at the end of World War II, the Ohio State ROTC graduate would be a Major General, after leading bomber commands in both Europe and the Pacific. He became a full General at 44--the youngest since U.S. Grant--built Strategic Air Command into the nation's nuclear deterrent in the 1950s, and later served as Air Force Chief of Staff under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Heavy publicity of the liner intercept also provided a timely boost for the B-17. Three years earlier, a prototype crashed during a test flight, prompting the Army to cancel an order for 67 B-17s. Only a legal loophole allowed B-17 proponents to order 13 additional aircraft for service testing. Those bombers--an upgraded version designated the YB-17--made the intercept of the Rex, and helped secure the aircraft's operational future.

Early today, three B-52s launched from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, on a flight that commemorates the 1938 mission, and underscores the ability of long-range bombers to strike at potential maritime threats. Details of the mission profile haven't been released, but our sources say the "target" for today's mission is the USNS John T. Bobo, a 670-foot, Military Sea Command Roll-On/Roll-Off ship. Barksdale is home of the Air Force's 2nd Bomb Wing, a successor to the unit which flew the Rex mission in 1938.

Reporters from selected media outlets (including the Shreveport Times) are flying with the bomber crews, and they're expected to post reports and photographs later today. Obviously, much has changed in aviation technology over the past seven decades, but locating a single ship in a vast sea--even a large RO/RO like the Bobo--remains difficult. It will be interesting to learn how much advance information the B-52 crews had on the route of the vessel, and whether the Bobo was allowed to maneuver (or use other tactics) to evade detection. We're told that mission planners declined assistance from a national agency in attempting to locate the Bobo. That suggests that the crews are confident in their own abilities (and onboard sensors), or they have good information about the ship's projected location.

We're also told that the "scenario" for today's mission involves the intercept of a ship that poses a terrorist threat against the CONUS. While B-52s units have long been equipped--and trained --for maritime defense missions, the scenario may re-ignite a long-running debate between the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard over who is best-qualified to deal with such threats.

There's also the thorny issue of whether a long-range bomber would ever be allowed to attack a terrorist vessel heading toward the CONUS, and under what circumstances. The decision to launch such a strike would (clearly) depend on timely, accurate intelligence information about the ship, its cargo and its intentions. While our database on merchant shipping and cargoes has improved markedly since 9-11, there are still significant gaps. Without conclusive proof that a vessel is on a terrorist mission--and poses an imminent danger to the U.S.--it's doubtful that an armed B-52 would be dispatched to engage it.

Still, few platforms are better-suited for long-range maritime surveillance (and strike) than the Buff. If Osama bin Laden's "navy" (once said to number 20 vessels) has designs on a CONUS target, then today's B-52 mission serves as a reminder that we can reach out--and engage them--long before they reach our shores.

Somewhere, "Bombs Away LeMay" is smiling.

Today's Reading Assignment

In today's Opinon Journal, Max Boot examines President Bush's recent comparison of Iraq to Vietnam and finds it isn't inaccurate--just incomplete.

Worth Saving?

Unfortunately, the demands of other projects delayed our comments on the recently-declassified (and released) executive summary by the CIA Inspector General, assessing the agency's performance in the years leading up to 9-11.

The assessment, which was requested by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), has been sitting on the shelf for more than two years, and the agency vigorously fought to prevent its release. The current CIA Director, Air Force General Mike Hayden, claims that release of the report could be "distracting."

"I thought release of this report would distract officers serving their country on the front lines of a global conflict," Hayden said. "It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well-plowed."

CIA's desire to keep the summary confidential is reflected in its former classification markings. The entire document was once marked with the ORCON caveat, which stands for "originator controlled." While ORCON is often used for classification purposes, it also has a useful administrative function. Had that caveat remained in effect, anyone in government wishing to cite or republish the report would have to secure permission from the CIA. And, if you think such permission would have been forthcoming from Langley, you must believe that George Tenet really had a comprehensive plan for getting Osama bin Laden.

If there's any good news in the executive summary, here it is: As far as the IG can determine, CIA employees broke no laws in their counter-terrorism activities before 9-11. The bad news? The agency's efforts in the years before the attacks were characterized by bureaucratic incompetence and bungling on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

Apparently, bin Laden and his Al Qaida operatives had little to fear from the CIA; as the IG discovered, the agency was beset by ineffective leadership, serious resource shortfalls, squabbles with other agencies, and the lack of a viable plan for analyzing--and combating--the terrorist organization, among other problems. Describing the agency as an intelligence calamity waiting to happen would be charitable. Among the IG's key findings:
  • [Director of Central Intelligence] Tenet and the agencies under his supervision lacked a comprehensive strategic plan to counter al-Qaida prior to Sept. 11.
  • The CIA's analysis of the terror threat before September 2001, was lacking.
  • Counter terror funding was ineffectively managed.
  • The CIA station monitoring bin Laden was overworked and lacked expertise and training.
  • Information about two of the hijackers including their travel to the U.S. in the summer of 2001 was not shared in a timely manner with law enforcement agencies.
The stunning, substantive details of those failures are well-documented in the summary, suggesting that the CIA was adrift, rudderless and unaccountable in the years leading up to 9-11. Mr. Tenet steadfastly maintains that he had a plan to counter Al Qaida, but (according to the IG), that plan was never effectively communicated or implemented within the agency. Analysis of the terrorist organization was slipshod; prior to the 9-11 attacks, the CIA's last major assessment on bin Laden was completed in 1993.

And, if that weren't enough, the agency was often scrambling to fund its counter-terrorism efforts. At one point, Director Tenet had to "go around" the Clinton Administration and obtain $1 billion in supplemental funds through then-Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Cooperation with other agencies was notably lacking; within the CIA, officers viewed "detailees" from other organizations as "informants," and they were rarely assigned meaningful work.

The atmosphere of mutual distrust engulfed other agencies as well. The National Security Agency (NSA), then run by General Hayden, refused to share unedited transcripts of communications intercepts (COMINT) with the CIA. While the IG summary doesn't specify the reason for that policy, NSA staffers were undoubtedly concerned about the CIA's reputation for leaks, and feared that some of their most sensitive information could wind up on the front page of The New York Times. The IG does note that NSA offered to allow an officer from the CIA-run Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) to be detailed to Fort Meade, and cull the transcripts for useful information.

Predictably, the CTC sent only one of its staff to NSA for a brief period in 2000, missing another opportunity to glean significant information on Al Qaida leaders and the group's activities. More distressingly, the CIA Director did nothing to resolve the impasse between his agency and the NSA, despite the "priority" he assigned to the counter-terrorism issue.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the IG summary is its recommendation for Accountability Boards to review the performance of (a) the former DCI, Mr. Tenet; (b) the CIA Executive Director in the late 1990s; (c) the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) and (d) the two senior officers who served as Director of the CTC during the same period. In other words, the IG is inferring that CIA management--at the organization's highest levels--failed miserably at their responsibilities in going after Al Qaida, and should be held accountable for their desultory performance (emphasis mine).

To our knowledge, there has never been a similar indictment of senior leadership in the modern history of the intelligence community. But, as the CIA IG observes, the failures leading up to 9-11 were systemic, indicating an organization that was unprepared for the Al Qaida mission, and whose failures contributed to the disaster on 9-11.

The blunt assessment of CIA failures begs another, critical question: has the agency really changed since the late 1990s? Loyalists would say yes, noting the thousands of new employees, new leadership, and better inter-agency cooperation. But call us skeptics; read Kent's Imperative (or other blogs that focus on the intelligence community), and you'll discover that some of the training and experience issues that hobbled the CTC a decade ago still exist. There are also legitimate concerns about the poisonous, political atmosphere that persists within the agency, as illustrated by selective leaks of National Intelligence Estimates and the Valerie Plame affair.

Which brings us to the bottom line: given the failures outlined in the IG summary, is the CIA worth saving? We believe the jury's still out on that one. The new leadership team has made efforts at reform, and to its credit, the CIA has scored some victories in the GWOT. But the agency's reluctance to release the summary suggests a hide-bound organization that can't come to terms with its glaring failures, and remains resistant to change.

That's why we can't wait until the next intelligence failure to determine what's wrong with the CIA. The SSCI should commission another, independent assessment, comparing the CIA before 9-11 against its performance today. Hopefully, that inquiry would show an organization that is much improved and more effective than the CIA of ten years ago. If not, then we need to consider how the Central Intelligence Agency can be replaced.