Friday, September 28, 2007

Teddy's Warped Defense Priorities

In today's edition of The Hill, Byron York analyzes Ted Kennedy's top priority for the nation's military--ensuring that federal hate crimes legislation applies to them. The Massachusetts driving instructor has added language to the defense authorization bill that includes "gender identity" in the definition of protected classes under hate crimes laws.

Mr. York was scratching his head over that one (and we were, too), wondering what gender identity and hate crimes have to do with defense spending. Not surprisingly, Teddy had an answer for that one. As York explains:

“This amendment will strengthen the Defense Authorization Act by protecting those who volunteer to serve in the military,” Kennedy said on the Senate floor Wednesday.How, exactly?

Because our military men and women commit hate crimes, Kennedy explained, and this would protect others from them.“The vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction,” Kennedy said. But “sadly, our military bases are not immune from the violence that comes from hatred.”

Kennedy listed a few examples — he had to go back to the early 1990s to find some of them — of alleged hate crimes in which members of the military were involved.There was the recent case in North Carolina in which, Kennedy said, two members of the 82nd Airborne Division allegedly sold military equipment to FBI agents posing as white supremacists.

There was a case last year in which a Coast Guard officer posted on a white supremacist site.There was a double murder at Fort Bragg in 1995, and another murder in 1992.“These examples clearly demonstrate the relevance of this amendment to the military,” Kennedy said.

“We can’t tolerate hate-motivated violence and must do all we can to protect our men and women in uniform.”And it could get worse. Kennedy charged that military recruiters, struggling to meet quotas, are enlisting extremists these days, “putting our soldiers at higher risk of hate-motivated violence.”

Even if you believe all that, the odd thing is, if you read Kennedy’s amendment, you won’t see anything about the military. How his bill would affect the military, which has its own code of justice, is unclear.

Obviously, Senator Kennedy isn't concerned about such trivial details. With his measure--co-sponsored by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith--Teddy manages a sop to his gay constituents, while painting the U.S. military as seething mass of racists and hate-mongers. A two-fer, you might say.

Not that we'd expect anything more from Mr. Kennedy. The senator's view of defense matters is shaped by two goals--doing whatever he can to undermine the Bush Administration (and the war on terror), while preserving military pork for the folks back home.

For example, Senator Kennedy has directed more than $1.6 billion for a jet engine the Air Force doesn't want, but because it's built by GE (which has a plant in Massachusetts), Teddy's all for it. Additionally, Kennedy has led Senate efforts to prevent the Air Force from retiring some of the oldest (and worst-performing C-5s) in its inventory. Turns out that some of those jets are based at Westover AFB in Kennedy's home state. In fact, the Pentagon recently established a depot-level maintenance facility for C-5s at that installation, with a clear nod toward the Bay State's senior senator.

Behind the Numbers (September Edition)

Call it Spook's Inverse Law of Iraq War Reporting: if you don't see a spate of stories on U.S. casualties at the end of the month, then there must be some good news the MSM is ignoring.

If you want proof of that, consider the latest numbers from Iraq. With only two days remaining in September, U.S. forces are on pace for the lowest number of monthly fatalities in more than a year. According to the website, a total of 59 American military personnel have died in Iraq so far this month, compared to 79 in August--a 26% decline.

As we've cautioned in the past, casualty totals should be taken with a grain of salt. The number of military personnel killed during a certain period isn't always an accurate reflection of what's happening on the battlefield. A decrease in casualties may reflect a lull in the fighting; conversely, a jump in fatalities may portend a decisive battle that secures final victory.

Still, the September numbers from Iraq are good news, no matter how you analyze it. Not only did the overall military death toll continue its decline, the number of troops killed by hostile fire was at its lowest level in fourteen months. So far this month, a total of 36 U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire, the lowest total since July 2006, when 35 died. The other 23 fatalities for September were attributed to non-hostile causes, including accidents and illness. The table below provides a break-out of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq over the past six months:

Month/Total Fatalities/Hostile Fire/Non-Hostile


As in past months, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remained the primary killer of American troops, accouting for 26 combat fatalities in September. Still, the number of deaths attributed to IEDs has decreased dramatically over the past six months, as evidenced by the following table, which is (again) based on data from

Month/Total Hostile Fire Fatalities/Number Killed by IED


In other words, the number of fatalities from roadside bombs and other IEDs has dropped by 64% in the past six months--a time when the overall ops tempo among U.S. forces has increased dramatically. During that period, Army and Marine units have entered a number of former terrorist strong-holds and cleared them, suffering fewer casualties than many analysts had predicted. And, the declining number of IED deaths shows that the troop surge is hitting the bad guys where it hurts most--in their bomb-making networks.

While the September casualty totals are encouraging, they do not mean that the Battle for Iraq has been won. But the troop surge and its accompanying operational strategy are producing desired results. No wonder Congressional Democrats are still pushing for a rapid withdrawal, and their friends in the MSM have moved on to "other" coverage angles, including the deaths of Iraqi "civilians" in a recent U.S. airstrike.

Our progress in Iraq has been hard-won, measured (in large part) by the men and women who took the fight to the enemy and gave their lives in the process. The turning tide in Iraq proves that their sacrifice was not in vain--assuming we stay the course and finish the job.

Getting Rid of Warren Grove

Almost four months ago, a fire at the Air Force's Warren Grove Bombing Range in southern New Jersey scorched more than 13,000 acres. The blaze was triggered when an F-16 from the state's Air National Guard unit in Atlantic City accidentally dropped a flare in dry woodlands. It was the third fire at the range in the last eight years, and led to renewed calls for closing Warren Grove--the only range facility of its type in the mid-Atlantic states.

And quite predictably, New Jersey's Democratic politicians have leading the campaign to shut down the range--or limit operations so severely that the Air Force will be forced to close the facility. In late May, Governor Jon Corzine said it would be a "hard sell" to convince him that the range should remain open. "We're kind of in the 'three-strikes-and-you're-out' zone" he told The New York Times.

Now, New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez have tacked on an amendment to the latest defense spending bill, mandating a study of how the range interacts with the surrounding communities. Anyone want to venture a guess on the the study's bottom line? Lautenberg's latest comments suggest that his mind is already made up; as he told the Associated Press:

“The Guard must work to improve safety conditions at Warren Grove,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said. “It is vital we do everything in our power to ensure that the Guard becomes a better neighbor and improves safety at the range.”

As we've noted in previous posts, brush fires are an almost inevitable consequence of operations at Warren Grove--or any other bombing range. But the potential closing of the New Jersey range raises other issues, which the state's Democratic leaders have conveniently side-stepped. If Warren Grove shuts down, where will ANG A-10 and F-16 pilots train? The Air Force operates a large bombing range in Dare County, North Carolina, but using that facility would mean longer transit flights, higher fuel costs--and less time for air-to-ground combat training.

New Jersey Democrats also ignore the fact that the range has been a good neighbor for a number of years, providing jobs and revenue for Ocean County, and paying damage claims when accidents occur. The Air Force has already promised to compensate property owners who suffered losses in the latest fire, and that raises a troubling question about how business gets done in the Garden State.

According to media reports, the May fire destroyed four homes at a pair of retiree complexes when flames spread beyond the range. Thirty-seven other homes received lesser damage, along with timber acreage and other commercial property. So far, the Pentagon has received 161 claims for damages from the fire, totaling $200 million. The largest individual claim (from a local mining company) alleges $197 million in damages.

We understand that New Jersey real estate can be pricey, but those claims strike us as exaggerated. It would appear that some of Warren Grove's "neighbors" want to take the Air Force for a little ride, realizing that the military will almost certainly write them a check, in hopes of keeping the range open.

It's unfortunate when a bombing range fire causes damages outside its boundaries, interrupting the lives of local residents. But it's equally unfortunate when the purported "victims" file big damage claims, hoping to soak the government for every possible dime. But you won't see Governor Corzine and Senators Lautenberg and Menendez complaining about that. After all, the same folks filing those claims also vote in New Jersey elections and write contribution checks to their re-election campaigns.

The Democratic strategy on Warren Grove is very clear. Get rid of the range, and give the property owners whatever they want, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. Military training and readiness? Not in their backyard.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Great Almost?

NBC News claims that Osama bin Laden may have narrowly escaped U.S. forces last month, in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan--the same area when the terrorist leaders was last seen six years ago.

We use the word "claims" because the network--and its sources--can't actually confirm that bin Laden was present when coalition forces staged a three-day assault on Tora Bora between 14-16 August. Some sample comments affirm the vague nature of NBC's claims:

One of the officials interviewed by NBC News, a general officer, admitted Tuesday that it was “possible” Bin Laden was at Tora Bora, saying, in fact, "I still don’t know if he was there."

While the intelligence did not provide “positively identification” that Bin Laden or Zawahiri were at the scene, there was enough other intelligence to suggest that one of the two men was there.

Enough other intelligence? If you're scratching your head on that one, here's something of an amplification from NBC :

Another official said that intelligence analysts believed strongly that there was a high probability that “either HVT-1 or HVT-2 was there,” using U.S. intelligence descriptions — high value targets — for Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He added that while opinion inside the agency was divided, many believed it was Bin Laden rather than Zawahiri who was present. The reason: “They thought they spotted his security detail,” said the official, a large al Qaeda security detail — the kind of protection that would normally surround only Bin Laden, or Zawahiri.

Let's review; U.S.-led coalition forces launched a mission into Tora Bora in mid-August, to disrupt a pre-Ramadan meeting of Al Qaida and Taliban officials. Planning intensified amid reports that bin Laden or Zawahiri might be present. However, we still can't confirm that either Al Qaida official was actually in the region, although some of the locals think they spotted his security detail. Yeah, that's conclusive.

Digging a little deeper in the reporting, you'll discover some of the ulterior motives for the network--and their sources. On the military side, there seems to be a beef between the SOF operators who led the raid, and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, which served as a blocking force:

Military officials admit there were unidentified "planning and coordination problems" even before it got to execution, “primarily between the operators and the generals who give the go-orders” added an intelligence official. A company of the 82nd Airborne was brought in since a Ranger team trained in special operations was not available. But the combination of the “dark side” — the SEALs — and the conventional — the 82nd Airborne — didn't work. "They didn't gel," said the military official. There was "a lack of responsiveness to the intelligence and a lack of aggressiveness."

It's a frequent complaint from SOF operators, who (given their druthers) would prefer "lighter and leaner" operations, relying largely on their own assets, and without the "support" force that is often added to provide security and additional firepower. The reported clash between conventional and special forces has happened before, although there are other examples--both in Iraq and Afghanistan--where SOF and conventional elements have meshed effectively. By talking to NBC, the special ops community took a preemptive shot at the 82nd Airborne, blaming them for any "failure" in the latest Tora Bora raid.

As for NBC, they manage to recycle Democratic talking point that we "don't have enough forces in Afghanistan" to do the job:

But the bigger part of the picture is the question of allocation of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. All Delta Force and “dark side” Rangers were moved to Iraq, said a special operations officer involved in the Afghanistan operation. Left behind in Afghanistan were SEAL Team Six and some Rangers. But apparently in this case, not enough “dark side” were available. The 82nd, said a second special operations officer, “is a poor substitute … [it is] a blunder to use them on an op with dark side operators.”

And what have those "dark side" operators been doing in Iraq? Tracking down terrorist leaders and "neutralizing" a significant number of insurgent networks. As our commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, reported earlier in the summer, the pace of special operations in the troop surge has been stunning; he told an interviewer that U.S. SOF units are conducting "multiple raids" every night, a major reason for the downturn in terrorist operations and violence. Clearly, the concentration of SOF assets in Iraq is paying big dividends.

It's also worth nothing that SOF elements have been working--successfully--with other elements of the 82nd Airborne, now deployed in central Iraq. So why were there problems in Afghanistan? The answer may lie in a number of factors, ranging from intra-service rivalries (most of the residual SOF operators were SEALS, while the 82nd is an Army asset); personality clashes between unit commanders, or simple time constraints.

Consider this: let's say the NBC report is accurate. Word that bin Laden was in Tora Bora probably resulted in a sudden--and dramatic--increase in the size of our attacking force, and pushed commanders to get underway as quickly as possible. Under that scenario, the time for training, coordination and rehearsal was compressed, leading to problems in the field. That wouldn't be the first time something like that has occurred--and it won't be the last, either. It's all part of the fog of war.

Truth be told, we may never know if bin Laden or Zawahiri were in Tora Bora last month. Six years after 9-11, we still don't have effective HUMINT on the whereabouts of senior Al Qaida leaders, another legacy of the intelligence failures over the past two decades. Until those problems are fixed, the search for senior terrorist leaders will remain difficult and frustrating, at best.

Idiot of the Week (Up in Smoke Edition)

Suspended Falcons star Michael Vick. Suddenly, his career quarterback rating of 75 isn't so hard to explain.

Since Michael Vick's conduct has been adjudged as criminal and barbaric, we resisted the temptation to give him one of our occasional "Idiot of the Week" awards.

Sure, it was tempting. You'd have to be a world-class nitwit to throw away a $130 million NFL contract--and millions of additional dollars in endorsement deals--to feed your Jones for dog fighting, a "sport" so cruel and inhumane that it simply defies logic. And, if that wasn't enough to sully his reputation once and for all, there's the little matter of those bets that Vick and his "boys" made on various fights. The money that changed hands was no more than $30,000 on a single wager--relative chump change for a pro football superstar. But gambling is (supposedly) a career killer in the NFL, and if Commissioner Roger Goodell does his job, Vick's current suspension will become permanent.

Meanwhile, Ookie's self-inflicted misfortunes continue. He has apparently defaulted on a $2.5 million line of credit with a Canadian bank, taken out earlier this year. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Royal Bank of Canada has filed suit against the Falcons quarterback, claiming that the loan is in default for various reasons, including Vick's failure to provide a semi-annual financial statement, disclose his liquid assets, and the recent change in his employment status."

Gee, Mike, ever heard of paying cash? With an annual income approaching $20 million a year, you'd think the NFL star could finance his own real estate investments. Besides, a platry $2.5 million investment doesn't exactly make you Donald Trump, so we're guessing that the loan was used for other purposes, such as supporting friends, family and other members of his entourage. Defaulting on a loan that represented about 10% of his pre-tax income suggests that Mr. Vick was (a) blowing through money like you-know-what through a goose, and (b) his financial house of cards is about to collapse. Give the Canadian bank some credit; by moving to the head of the creditor line, they'll get something from Vick's fiscal carcass. Other creditors--coming soon to a Georgia court room--won't be so lucky.

For sheer financial lunacy, Mike Vick might get some consideration for "Idiot of the Week." But, being the competitor that he is, the Falcons' former marquee player went the extra mile, and removed any doubt about his qualifications for the award. As his world imploded, Vick submitted to a routine urinalysis on 13 September, just 17 days after pleading guilty to federal dog-fighting charges. Sure enough, the sample tested positive for marijuana.

As a result, Federal Judge Henry Hudson has imposed new restrictions on Vick's pre-sentencing release. He now has a 10 pm-6 am curfew, he must wear a monitoring device, participate in mental health counseling and continue in a substance abuse program. Needless to say, Mr. Vick's latest scrape won't win him any brownie points with Judge Hudson, who will sentence him on those federal charges in early December. Add a few more months in the federal pen.

That means that Vick's hypothetical "return" to the NFL will be delayed as well. As John Czarnecki of Fox Sports observes, the marijuana infraction will mean a minimum four-game suspension by the league. Tacked on to Vick's projected, year-long prison sentence (and another league suspension after his release, for gambling and conduct detrimental to the league), the marijuana penalty effectively destroys his chances for playing in the 2009 NFL season. If that prediction proves accurate, Vick wouldn't have a shot at playing for an NFL team until 2010, when he will be 31 years old, and past his prime as a pro quarterback.

Clearly, you'd have to be a moron to throw away the richest contract in pro football for a "hobby" that is disgusting, contemptible and illegal in all 50 states. But, it takes a special breed of idiot to compound one's problems by smoking a little weed to ease the stress--violating both the conditions of your bail and the provisions of your contract--and giving the legal system and your employer more reasons to impose additional punishment.

For sheer, jaw-dropping stupidity writ large, Michael "Ookie" Vick is a most deserving "Idiot of the Week."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ookie's State Rap, (Or, Poindexter Piles On)

The former home of NFL quarterback Michael Vick near Smithfield, Virginia. Vick established his dog-fighting operation, "Bad Newz Kennels" on the property in 2002, long before the $750,000 house was built (AP photo via Breitbart)

Readers of this blog know that we're hardly fans of Michael "Ookie" Vick, the NFL quarterback who recently pleaded guilty to federal dog-fighting and conspiracy charges, and is now facing jail time. Vick, who has been suspended without pay by the Atlanta Falcons, will be sentenced in early December; most analysts believe he will receive at least a year in jail for his crimes.

If that prediction proves accurate, Vick's punishment will be relatively mild, given the barbarity of his actions. According to prosecutors, Mr. Vick was a key player in an interstate dog-fighting ring, and he personally executed animals that failed to perform, some by drowning and electrocution. And, once he finishes his expected prison sentence, Vick is expected to return to the NFL, although his days as a marquee player are probably over.

Given our record in the Vick case, you may be surprised to read that we don't think much of the state charges filed against the NFL quarterback and three of his co-defendants. On Monday, a grand jury in Sussex, Virginia returned indictments on charges of "beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting." Surprisingly, the grand jury declined to indict Vick and the other men on eight counts of animal cruelty, which could have resulted in a 40-year prison sentence, if convicted.

Coming a month after Vick's guilty plea in federal court, the state charges strike us as the legal equivalent of piling on. And, more distressingly, the Virginia case appears aimed less at punishing offenders, and more of an effort at damage control by Gerald Poindexter, the Commonwealth's Attorney handling the prosecution.

Describing Mr. Poindexter as marginally competent would be a disservice to marginally competent attorneys everywhere. Lest we forget, the Vick case began as a state matter, with Mr. Poindexter riding herd. When evidence of dog-fighting on Vick's Surry County property first surfaced in April, Poindexter promised a "go slow" approach, and he certainly delivered. As AP sports writer Hank Kurz, Jr., recounts:

The case began when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's property in April and seized dozens of dogs, most of them pit bulls, and equipment commonly associated with dogfighting.

Six weeks later, with the local investigation perceived to be dragging and a search warrant allowed to expire, federal agents arrived with their own search warrants and started digging up dog carcasses buried days before the first raid.

Poindexter, widely criticized for the pace of the investigation, reacted angrily when the feds moved in, suggesting that Vick's celebrity was a draw, or that their pursuit of the case could have racial overtones. He later eased off those comments, saying the sides would simply be pursuing parallel investigations.

As the federal probe--led by U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg--moved forward, Mr. Poindexter told reporters (in early June) that he didn't have a single investigative report in his file. And, it was no surprise that the local prosecutor took a pass on taking the case to the grand jury in July, missing an opportunity to file stage charges in concert with the federal case.

But the glacial pace of Poindexter's investigation--and his failure to secure state indictments on animal cruelty charges--is hardly a shock. Local media reports indicate that Mr. Poindexter has tried only one other dog-fighting case in his career, and (guess what) he lost it. There are also disturbing rumors that local law enforcement (and animal rights groups...hellooo, PETA) were tipped years ago about dog fights on Vick's property, but failed to act.

Poindexter's handling of the Vick case doesn't put him in the Mike Nifong category, but it does raise questions about his competence and judgment. Faced with compelling evidence of dog fighting and animal cruelty at a local celebrity's home, Poindexter responded with a pedestrian investigation, prompting Mr. Rosenberg to take the lead. Left in Mr. Poindexter's hands, we can only imagine where Vick investigation would be. Probably as dead and forgotten as those unfortunate animals uncovered on Michael Vick's former estate.

How the Game is Played

Artist's concept of the HH-47 in action (Boeing illustration)

An over-due hat tip to Sean Meade, web editor for Aviation Week's defense content, who always finds some of the best on-line military/technology articles, and provides links in his daily Frago. In today's edition, he offers an example of how the defense contracting game is played, especially when billions of dollars are on the line.

The example comes from a post at Steven Trimble's "Dew Line" blog, hosted by As Mr. Trimble explains:

I received an email yesterday from a man I've never heard of, representing a PR firm I've never heard of, representing an unidentified client that is obviously either Lockheed Martin or Sikorsky.

I am posting here because I think's illustrative of the back-door manueverings of the CSAR-X bidders. I have received nearly as many unsolicited calls and emails from random "subject matter experts" as I've had on the CSAR-X program, and I don't think this is very helpful for the acquisition process. Here's the email:

Stephen, are you going to the Boeing presser today at 3:00 at the AFA conference?

If so, just wanted to pass this along - Boeing hasn't had to go on record to answer any of the following questions to date:

- Could Boeing have won CSAR if the Air Force had not made the one-word change of mission ready to flight ready?

- Which Air Force and Pentagon officials did Boeing meet with to get the KPP for air transportability changed?

- Boeing was unable to perform all of the tasks in its air transportability demonstration and instead it simply told the Air Force how it would do it if they won the competition. Which steps were simply explained to the Air Force rather than fully demonstrated. Where is the video tape of the demonstration?

For the record, there's nothing illegal about what the p.r. firm--or its client--is doing. And, if the tables were turned, Boeing might well use the same tactics. Still, we agree with Mr. Trimble's contention that this "back door" maneuvering is unhelpful in the acquisition process, for a couple of reasons.

First, the "whisper" campaign against Boeing's entry (the HH-47) will further poison a competition that has grown increasingly acrimonious over the past year. When the Boeing platform was selected as the Air Force's new CSAR platform last year, there were howls of protest from rivals Sikorsky and Lockheed-Martin--and Congressional delegations with ties to those firms. The "losing" firms filed formal protests, the Boeing proposal was eventually tossed out, and the contract was open for re-bidding.

Never mind that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found only one of the two dozen protest points had any merit. And never mind that the protest process and requirement for new bids will further delay deliveries of the new helicopters. The Air Force has identified CSAR-X as its "second most-important" acquisition program--and for good reason. With the service increasingly tasked for a variety of "behind-the-lines" chopper missions (including the insertion of special ops teams), there's a clear need for a new helicopter that can perform that task, as well as the "traditional" CSAR mission.

Secondly, there's something particularly feckless about major defense contractors hinding behind the skirts of near-anonmyous public relations firms, hired to do their dirty work. If Lockheed or Sikorsky has questions about the Boeing entry, let them call a press conference or issue a media release and throw down the challenge. Once upon a time, defense contractors were willing to stand behind their claims and unafraid to challenge rivals. Those were the days when defense firms were run by visionaries, willing to bet everything on a new system that could not only beat the bad guys, it could also surpass anything offered by corporate competitors.

Sadly, those days are long past. In today's era of defense conglomerates, rivals on one contract are partners on another. No point in publicly antagonizing that other firm, particularly if you might need their help in another venture. And certainly, the CEOs of those defense contracting giants don't want to aggravate the competition's supporters in Congress. Afterall, those same Senators and Congressmen vote on other defense bills, providing funding for key programs that affect the corporate bottom line.

So, the competitors for CSAR-X will keep playing the shadow game in the run-up to the next Air Force announcement. Hire a few more p.r. flacks who can send an e-mail or make a call to their friends in the defense press (or the blogosphere), hoping that they will embarass their rivals at some public forum, like the annual Air Force Association (AFA) convention.

And, when the "next" winner is announced, there will probably be another round of protests, and more delays. Meanwhile, the Air Force is still waiting for its new rescue helicopter. We can only hope that today's "acquisition process," with its corporate maneuvering, political intrigue and legal wrangling, doesn't get someone killed in combat.

The Airlift Conundrum

The C-5 Galaxy (FAS photo).

According to Air Force Times, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will soon announce that cost overruns on the C-5 Galaxy transport modernization program have now reached 15% of the contract's value, triggering a reporting and review process that raise long-term doubts about the aircraft's operational future.

Two retired senior Air Force leaders, speaking with the Times on the condition of anonymity, confirm that the modernization has "tripped" cost overrun limits set in the Nunn-McCurdy Provision. Under that regulation, the Pentagon must notify Congress when cost increases on major acquisition programs reach 15%, or schedule delays hit six months. If cost overruns hit 25%, the military is required to justify continuing the program, based on its importance to national security and other criteria.

Why does this matter? The C-5, along with the newer C-17, forms the backbone of our strategic airlift fleet, ferrying equipment and supplies to U.S. forces around the globe. There are a total of 111 Galaxies in the Air Force inventory (61 of the original A models and 50 C-5Bs, built during the Reagan Administration); the service hopes to upgrade all aircraft to the C-5M standard under the modernization program, which includes new landing gear, safety equipment, communications systems, and--most importantly--new engines.

With its existing engines, the C-5 is anything but fuel efficient, adding to operating costs that are (reportedly) the highest of any military aircraft. By replacing existing power plants with General Electric CF6-80C2 engines, the C-5M will have significantly greater thrust (22,000 lbs per engine), resulting in shorter take-off rolls, improved climb performance, and longer intervals between in-flight refueling.

But the cost of attaining those capabilities is in dispute. Lockheed claims it can modernize the C-5 fleet at an average cost of $83 million per aircraft, well below Nunn-McCurdy thresholds. However, the Air Force estimates that each modernized C-5 will now run $120 million, meaning that cost overruns may reach 40%, casting a shadow over the future of the upgrade program--and the C-5.

At the Lockheed price, the service can get a modernized C-5 for less than half the price of a new C-17. But the Air Force estimate ($140 million) is roughly two-thirds the cost of a C-17. For a service scrambling to recapitalize its aircraft fleet--in a tough budget environment--it becomes difficult to justify a modernization program that offers only a 33% savings over a newer, more capable transport.

Without the upgrade, the Air Force will be stuck with C-5s that are expensive to operate and maintain, as jet fuel prices continue to climb. Retiring the Galaxy and buying more C-17s would be an optimal solution, but at more than $200 million a copy, it will be difficult to purchase more of the new transports and still fund Air Force acquisitions of other weapons systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Meanwhile, the demand for strategic airlift has never been greater--and there's already a shortfall between what we "have" and what the armed forces need to meet global commitments. And that leaves the Air Force with a real conundrum; the service needs modernized C-5s to sustain present capabilities, but the program may be too expensive to sustain. And without the upgrades, current C-5s may be too costly to operate and maintain, hastening their departure from active service. That, in turn, would put more pressure on a smaller number of C-17s and C-5s left to shoulder to load. The purchase of more C-17s would relieve some of that strain, but that would take years--and money the Air Force currently doesn't have.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The War

After viewing only one episode, it may be premature to judge "The War," Ken Burns' long-awaited documentary on the American experience during World War II. The first installment (which aired last night on PBS) was both illuminating and disappointing; for any serious student of the war, Burns' documentary will offer little in the way of new information. But the personal accounts and anecdotes--the hallmark of any Burns production--were largely compelling, providing enough reason to tune in for tonight's second (and subsequent) episodes.

Whatever its flaws, Ken Burns deserves enormous credit for simply tackling the project. Compressing the terrible panorama of the war into a 15-hour television documentary is no mean feat; Mr. Burns and his production team have been working on the project for the last six years, interviewing scores of Americans who fought in World War II, and those who served on the home front. Ultimately, the recollections of 40 men and women became the centerpiece of the documentary, providing the individual experiences that offer intimate context and perspective on the greatest conflict in human history.

And that may be the most important aspect of the production. As Burns noted in last night's introduction, "The War" may represent one of the final attempts to record the thoughts and memories of The Greatest Generation. Collectively, they fought and won the war, but the enormity of their effort--and sacrifice--was largely ignored for decades. It remains ironic that the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials in Washington were completed ahead of their World War II counterpart. That memorial finally opened in 2004, 59 years after the surrender of Germany and Japan, and long after the passing of millions of Americans who secured that final victory.

So, it's appropriate that "The War" is a collection of individual stories, and on that level, it works quite well. While the accomplishments of the World War II generation are extraordinary, they were achieved by ordinary Americans, many from small towns or rural areas who had little thought of the wider world before December 7, 1941. Most of the film's 40 "witnesses" were drawn from four communities--Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota and Sacramento, California--representing four regions of an isolationist America.

Among the survivors who've appeared (so far), two stories proved instantly memorable. In early 1941, Glenn Frazier was a 17-year-old Alabama farm boy, who lived near Mobile. Spurned by a girl friend, Frazier rode his motorcycle through a juke joint that refused him service, "destroying bottles and furniture." Humiliated, scared and unable to face his parents, Frazier enlisted in the Army the next day, volunteering for service in the Far East, believing that the war would remain confined to Europe.

When the Japanese attacked the Philippines, Frazier found himself in brutal combat on Luzon and the Bataan peninsula; after seeing a close friend blown apart in an enemy air attack, Frazier laconically recalls that "he had no trouble killing Japs." In fact, Frazier felt deficient in his duties if he didn't kill at least one Japanese soldier a day, as the enemy advanced against beleaguered U.S. forces. By the end of the first episode, Frazier had already survived the Bataan Death March and was being held in a Japanese POW camp where other, unspeakable horrors awaited.

Another Alabamian, Sidney Phillips, first experienced combat as a Marine on Guadalcanal in late 1942. In last night's opening installment, Phillips remembered Navy supply ships sailing away just days after the invasion, after a Japanese attack shredded the U.S. screening force. Alone on the island, Phillips and his fellow Marines engaged in brutal, hand-to-hand combat against Japanese troops that tried to force them from the island. If not for a cache of "captured" enemy rice, the Marines would have starved to death before the Navy returned. The memories of Mr. Phillips and Mr. Frazier were riveting, capturing both the desperate victory of Guadalcanal, and the disaster that preceded it in the Philippines.

But, in his effort to capture the broad strokes of our war experience, Mr. Burns makes some rather odd choices. The Battle of Midway--the decisive naval engagement of World War II in the Pacific--is summarized in barely two minutes, while the internment of Japanese-Americans is remembered at length. Obviously, the internment was a tragedy--and unjustified--but Burns makes no effort to balance images of Japanese-Americans heading for the camps against the security concerns that prompted FDR's decision. And, without the American triumph at Midway, the outcome of the Pacific War (for all concerned) would have been very different, indeed.

So far, the tendency to "capsulize" key events in favor of other narratives (including the internment controversy) isn't enough to keep us from watching "The War." But it would be unfortunate if Mr. Burns' film ultimately succumbs to the dictates of political correctness. After devoting much time to the internment controversy, we wonder how he will treat the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


In fairness, one of the most memorable scenes in the first episode vividly captured the war's brutality--and provided a powerful reminder to those who anguish over our "excessive" casualties in Iraq. Against a backdrop of headstones, Mr. Burns reminded viewers that 35,000 Americans died in the first year of World War II. For the math-impaired, that's almost seven times the number who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past four years.

Today's Reading Assignment

An X-ray image of the RPG impaled in the body of Army Specialist Channing Moss, taken at a forward medical facility in Afghanistan on 16 March 2006 (Maj Kevin Kirk via Army Times)

It sounds like something out of an episode of M*A*S*H; medics working frantically to save a wounded soldier with unexploded ordnance still in his body, keenly aware that the wrong move could be the last--for the patient and themselves.

But what happened in Afghanistan 18 months ago went far beyond a Hollywood script. Army Specialist Channing Moss was riding in a HUMVEE when his unit was ambushed by Taliban terrorists. As the firefight erupted, an RPG struck Moss's vehicle, impaling him. It didn't explode.

Over the hours that followed, Moss's buddies, Army medics, a MEDEVAC helicopter crew, EOD technicians and a surgeon named Major John Oh labored against the odds to save the soldier's life. During much of that time, the RPG remained in Moss's body, threatening him and those around him.

Gina Cavallaro of Army Times has the story of the incredible--and ultimately, successful effort--to save Specialist Moss.

Keeping an Eye on Us

According to a senior Iranian military official, Tehran is monitoring U.S. troop movements with "satellites and other technology" and those forces would be within range of Iranian missiles, "if an attack was launched."

The comments were reportedly made by Yahya Rahim Safavi, identified as a senior advisor to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Savavi's remarks were published by Iranian newspapers on Monday, and quickly recycled by Reuters, with little regard for context or accuracy. Consider his claims about Iran's advanced intelligence systems and missiles, reprinted by the wire service:

"Iran has now a strong intelligence system and missiles. We are closely watching the foreigners' moves in neighbouring countries by highly advanced satellite technology and advanced radars. If they enter our airspace or our territorial waters, they will get a fair response," Rahim Safavi said.

While Tehran has attempted to improve its intelligence network, it still lacks an indigenous imagery capability. Without its own satellite, the Iranians must rely on commercial products, or imagery that can be procured from other providers, such as Russia and China. Obviously, the quality of commercial imagery has improved dramatically over the past decade, and Russian and Chinese platforms could provide high-resolution images of American facilities in the Middle East.

But there are limitations on what Iran can obtain--and how it can be utilized. The U.S. can easily "buy up" regional coverage by commercial satellites, hindering what Tehran can glean from those platforms. The availability of Russian or Chinese imagery can remedy that problem (to some degree), but it's not the same thing as having your own satellite, with your own team of trained imagery analysts who can spot minute changes in potential targets.

The value of that capability cannot be overstated. Press reports indicate that Israel was receiving new images of that suspected Syrian nuclear facility every 90 minutes, allowing imagery analysts to develop an extensive "baseline" on the complex, and identify changes as they occurred. Information gathered through imagery analysis was (apparently) a key factor in Israel's decision to attack the facility, believed to house nuclear material shipped from North Korea.

Iran's existing imagery system probably allows for "area" targeting of large installations (such as ports and airfields), as well as population centers. But it's doubtful that Tehran has enough high-resolution imagery--or the analytical expertise--to allow precision strikes against high value targets within those complexes.

Not that it really matters. Those missiles Rahim Safavi referred to are notoriously inaccurate. Iran's various SCUD variants have a CEP (circular error probability) of more than 3,000 feet, and their longer-range Shahab-3s--capable of hitting Israel--are no more accurate.

Not surprisingly, an "extended-range" version of the Shahab-3 was on display during Iran's latest military parade, held just hours before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad departed for New York. With a reported range of 1,000 miles, the "new" Shahab-3 variant is capable of reaching targets throughout Israel. However, press reports (including the Reuters dispatch) failed to mention that missile displayed Sunday suffers from the same accuracy problems as other Shahab-3 variants, it's proven unreliable as well. Not exactly a weapon that holds Israel--or our forces in Iraq--at high risk.

But Tehran's latest boast is consistent with previous propaganda claims. Faced with the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities, Iran has issued grandiose statements about its military capabilities, statements that, more often than not, have little basis in fact. But, with a compliant MSM, such proclamations achieve their intended goals, creating an exaggerated "image" of Iran's defense capabilities, and raising doubts (among western elites) about the effectiveness of our own, potential military action against Tehran.


ADDENDUM: In fairness, some elements of Iran's intel network are effective, most notably its SIGINT system. With stations located on peak elevations, Tehran's SIGNT operators can effectively cover much of Iraq, the Persian Gulf and southern Turkey. Unfortunately for the Iranians, we know where the stations are, and they wouldn't last long in a U.S. air campaign. Iran also gains useful intelligence from its HUMINT operatives in Iraq, although we're having greater success at targeting those assets through our on-going troop surge.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Nowak's Spin Doctor

Legal "spin doctor" Marti Mackenzie (Professional Profiles, Inc. photo)

We chided former astronaut Lisa Nowak when she (successfully) petitioned a Florida court for removal of her ankle monitoring bracelet. The device was installed as a condition for her release from jail, after that infamous confrontation with a romantic rival at the Orlando airport.

Captain Nowak claimed that the bracelet was an inconvenience, limiting her ability to exercise and play with her kids in the pool. She also complained about the cost, approximately $105 week. Surely someone who makes close to $150,000 a year could afford the ankle bracelet, we surmised, particularly when it kept her out of jail.

In the end, the judge agreed with Nowak, and the monitoring device was removed. And, we now understand why that nominal cost may have been a concern for Captain Nowak. In addition to her high-powered (and expensive) attorney, Donald Lykkebak, Nowak has also retained a well-known New York public relations specialist, Marti Mackenzie, to handle the "spin" side of her defense. Ms. Mackenzie, a one-time state director for the ACLU, specializes in high-profile court cases.

Mackenzie doesn't work cheap, either, and she's now serving as the official mouthpiece for Team Nowak. She distributes statements on behalf of her client, handles queries from the media, and is working to tilt media coverage in favor of Lisa Nowak (good luck with that one). According to her website, Ms. Mackenzie is finishing a book on spin and the modern justice system, entitled "Courting the Media: Public Relations for the Accused and Accusers." We don't plan to read the book, but her ACLU days make Ms. Mackenzie an ideal spokesman for Lisa Nowak. Since the ACLU can justify--and even support--many forms of aberrant behavior, defending a diaper-clad astronaut, intent on kidnapping her rival, should be a piece of cake.

In a "sample" chapter from the book (posted on her firm's website), Mackenzie claims that her efforts helped a convicted killer avoid the death penalty; more astonishingly, her fees in that case were paid for by the taxpayers of Florida, after a public defender successfully petitioned to court to add a p.r. specialist to the defense team. Her former colleagues at the ACLU must be very proud, indeed.

However, in this era of "celebrity justice," Nowak's decision to hire a spin doctor is a shrewd move, indeed. The disgraced former astronaut understands that a skilled defense lawyer, aided by an equally competent "image" specialist, can go a long way toward an acquittal, or at least, a hung jury. In the case of Lisa Nowak, Mr. Lykkebak is already hammering away at the credibility of police officers who handled her arrest.

During a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, Lykkebak accused interviewing officer Chris Becton of "sloppy work," charging that he never read Nowak her Miranda rights, bullied her into allowing a search of her BMW, and relying on audio tapes with poor quality. Mr. Lykkebak has asked the court to throw out much of the pre-trial evidence, including the arrest interview, and evidence seized from Nowak's car.

Captain Nowak has said almost nothing outside the courtroom, and that's (obviously) by design. The AP reports that Ms. Mackenzie carefully vetted Nowak's brief public statement last month, when she apologized to her former lover (ex-astronaut William Oefelein) and his girlfriend, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. She also pleaded for privacy and told reporters she probably wouldn't speak again.

As the trial approaches, you can expect Ms. Mackenzie to echo themes laid out by the defense team: Nowak was temporarily insane when she confronted Shipman; cops and prosecutors have a vendetta because of her status as an astronaut, and the infamous diapers found in her car had nothing to do with that marathon drive from Houston to Orlando.

It will be instructive to see how the press plays along with that campaign. Meanwhile, as AP writer Travis Reed noted in his account of Wednesday's hearing, the state of Florida has its own "image" problem, trying to remind the press, the public and potential jurors that Lisa Nowak was in control of her actions. In his testimony at the pre-trial hearing, Officer Becton characterized Captain Nowak as a "cunning subject who wheedled for information — not a ragged, sleep-deprived prisoner."

“I would ask her a question. She would either completely and totally avoid the question I was asking or she would ask another question,” Becton said. “It led me to believe that I was dealing with someone who was extremely intelligent, very controlled, and basically smarter than I was.”

Did we mention that Lisa Nowak, a naval aviator, has been trained in resistance and counter-interrogation techniques? While Officer Becton is clearly trying to defend his "bust," we tend to believe his claims that Captain Nowak was in command of her faculties in that interview room, and trying to deny information to the police.

But, if recent, high-profile cases are any indication, that bit of information will be largely forgotten in the run-up to trial. The fate of Lisa Nowak will be (largely) decided in the court of public opinion, where spin doctoring is more important than many of us would believe. We're not predicting that Nowak will be acquitted on all charges, but she's certainly taking steps to shape public perceptions, and with it, the potential jury pool.

To accomplish that goal, Ms. Mackenzie will have to pull out all the stops, but she's certainly up to the task. And, with that in mind, we don't believe that Nowak will maintain her silence before the trial. You've got to believe there's an "exclusive" interview with Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric or People magazine in the works, providing a forum for Captain Nowak to tell "her side" of the story, and crank up the spin a little bit more.

No wonder she views Mackenzie's services as a "better investment" than that ankle bracelet.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Too Good to be True?

A SCUD missile and its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL)

In its current edition, Jane's Defence Weekly (subscription required) is reporting that "dozens" of Iranian engineers and at least 15 Syrian officers were killed during recent accident involving a chemical warhead on a SCUD missile.

We haven't seen that edition of Jane's, but details of the article have been published by the Jerusalem Post, Israel's Channel 10 television and other media outlets. According to sources who spoke with JDW, the accident occurred on 23 Juy at a facility in Syria. Members of the joint Syrian-Iranian team were attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a SCUD missile when an explosion occurred, "spreading lethal chemical agents, including Sarin nerve gas.

Reports of the accident apparently circulated at the time. However, Jane's reports that the Syrian government never released details of the accident and there was no hint of an Iranian connection until recently.

Still, something about this account doesn't quite add up, for several reasons. First, it doesn't take a team of 30 (or more) people to mount a chemical warhead on a SCUD, even if the Iranians and Syrians were experimenting with some sort of prototype. An experienced load crew consists of roughly than a dozen technicians, with a small crane and a limited amount of support equipment. Missile warheads are designed to be loaded quickly and efficiently, under combat conditions, and with a minimal "signature." If the Syrians and Iranians had a small crowd involved in the loading operation, they were inviting trouble.

Beyond that, the Syrians have decades of experience in handling chemical munitions, and they use safety protocols similar to those of other nations. For any sort of loading exercise involving "live" agents, all personnel near the missile would (presumably) wear a full chemical warfare ensemble (mask, hood, protective suit, gloves and boots). Observers would be positioned a safe distance from the missile, wearing the same type of protective gear, or in an hardened, over-pressurized facility. Personnel near the warhead would also carry nerve agent antidote, which could be administered in the event of exposure, potentially saving their lives.

Additionally, there's the matter of what caused the reported explosion. There is the remote chance that the warhead somehow detonated. According to various estimates, Syria has the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the Arab world, including as many as 200 missile warheads. Iran's inventory is slightly smaller, and they're less proficient in missile/CW operations than their Syrian counterparts.

But the SCUD chemical warheads used by both countries have something in common; they're based on proven (if dated) technology, and "accidental" warhead explosions are virtually unheard of. Missile warheads are designed to detonate after certain criteria are met (recorded time of flight and altitude settings, to name a couple). Assuming that sabotage wasn't involved, the chances that the warhead exploded prematurely are decidedly slim.

That would suggest that the blast was caused by the missile itself. While Damascus has reportedly experimented with solid-fuel SCUDs, most of its SCUD force is liquid-fueled. Filling a SCUD's propellant tanks is a time-consuming process, requiring up to 45 minutes to complete (for some missile variants). And the liquid fuel is volatile; any accidental or uncontrolled mixing of the propellant and oxidizer could easily trigger an explosion that would destroy the missile--and those near it.

But that begs another question: why would the Iranians and the Syrians perform a warhead mating drill on a fully-fueled missile? Conducting both events--at the same time--described as rare during SCUD training, for obvious safety-related reasons. Additionally, the process described in the JDW report seems to be backwards. Given the time associated with fuel loading, that process usually occurs after the warhead has been mated with the airframe. If the Jane's account is correct, the Iranian-Syrian team was attempting to load the warhead onto a missile already filled with volatile fuel. Under those circumstances, it would be easier to puncture a fuel tank, creating conditions for a massive explosion.

Unfortunately, that only raises other, answered questions. Where did the accident happen? Syria has a long history of testing chemical munitions (and conducting crew training at isolated ranges. At explosion at one of those ranges would be detected by overhead sensors, and imaged by commercial and intelligence satellites. So far, there's been no report of any overhead platform detecting blast craters, scorch marks, debris or other tell-tale signs of an explosion. Additionally, the interaction of chemical agents with the ground produces distinctive, colored marks which have not been detected in connection with the reported event.

And while Syria has a number of underground facilities (UGFs) supporting its missile force, an accident at one of those locations would also provide certain signals. To date, there has been no evidence of blast marks at any UGF entrances, and we've seen no other indications of an underground explosion, such as fire or decontamination crews outside the facility, or equipment pulled outside for salvage, repair or cleaning. There's also no sign of attempts to cover up such operations, through the erection of camouflage netting or other denial and deception (D&D) techniques.

There's no doubt that Syria and Iran are cooperating in a number of areas--including ballistic missiles and WMD--the JDW report sounds a little too good to be true. Jane's is certainly a respected publication; in the defense and private intelligence arenas, they have few peers. But absent more specific information, the story sounds a little pat, particularly when the scenario described violates SCUD operations, and a lack of definitive "proof" to confirm the accident.

Call us skeptical (for now)--and we'd certainly like to know more.


ADDENDUM: An explosion of the missile airframe--potentially caused by a fuel leak--would incinerate both the warhead and its contents. If that's an accurate description of what happened, then the amount of chemical agents "spread" by the blast would be minimal. You'll also note use of the plural; that suggests that more than one CW agent was in the warhead, another break with long-established operational procedures. The use of a binary munition would explain multiple chemicals, but with that technology, the ingredients aren't "mixed" into a deadly poison until after launch (in the case of missiles) or the round is fired (in artillery shells).

A Perfect Storm

Pajamas Media's Richard Miniter has a fascinating read on the "perfect storm" that's forming against a key aspect of U.S. security operations in Iraq. That storm is already affecting critical activities on the ground, and (left unchecked) Mr. Miniter believes it could undermine the entire war effort.

He refers to Iraqi government attempts to "pull" the license of Blackwater USA, the private security contractor which provides protection to a number of American civilians operating in Iraq, including State Department teams, reconstruction personnel and CIA operatives. Iraqi officials threatened to expel the firm from Iraq over the weekend, after a Blackwater security team killed eight "civilians" in a shootout.

As a result of that incident, according to Mr. Miniter, key activities on the ground--including meetings between CIA agents and their contacts--have ground to a halt. Without Blackwater protection teams, U.S. civilians have been forced to remain in the Green Zone, hastily cancelling planned meetings with their Iraqi counterparts. Miniter reports that movement by members of CIA's Baghdad station have virtually ground to a halt, and other American officials remain trapped in the Green Zone as well.

Miniter also adds a pair of important elements to the story--elements (predictably) ignored by the MSM:

“Initial press accounts were inaccurate,” said Blackwater USA spokeswoman Anne Tyrell. “The ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire. Blackwater regrets any loss of life but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life.”

“Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone on Sunday and Blackwater will cooperate with any inquiry into this matter.”

It’s well known in Iraq that dead insurgents become “civilians” as soon as their comrades carry away their AK-47s and spare magazines. Captured al Qaeda manuals detail how militants should use deaths as a propaganda tool.


By apparently lifting Blackwater’s license, the democratically elected Iraq government may stall the forward progress created by the Gen. Petraeus’ surge and change in counterinsurgency tactics.Indeed, some contend that the actions of Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, which supervises police and some intelligence functions, may be influenced by insurgents or even by Iran.

The staffing and internal rules of the Interior ministry were set up by Biyat Jabr, an affable and charming Shia Muslim who once worked for Saddam Hussein. (He was never a member of the Ba’ath party and thus survived de-Ba’athification with ease.)Jabr is widely believed to be in the pay of Iranian intelligence services, although U.S. officials caution that there is no firm evidence of this charge.

Jabr left the ministry in August 2006 and is now Finance Minister, but before he exited he salted the ranks with people loyal to Iran and hostile to the U.S. “Innocents dying [in the Sunday gun battle with Blackwater] is just a pretext,” the same State department source said.

Enemies of the U.S. inside the Interior ministry have been looking to shut down Blackwater for some time.

The security firm's Iraqi opponents have friends in Washington, too. As Mr. Miniter reports, that aspect of the "storm" is moving forward as well, with one goal in mind--getting Blackwater out of Iraq:

Both the State department and the Congress have signaled that investigations in to Blackwater will begin soon.

The State department hopes to shift blame onto Blackwater’s low-level “trigger pullers,” says the State department source, while Rep. Henry Waxman’s committee is expected to target senior executives at Blackwater and top Bush Administration officials. A perfect storm is set to roil Blackwater.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence operatives, diplomats and aid officials remain stuck in the Green Zone, unable to conduct required meetings for gathering information on terrorists, or advance the tasks of political reconciliation and rebuilding. True, there are other security firms, but few have the experience or expertise of Blackwater, which is heavily staffed with former members of U.S. special forces. And it could take months for a new company--even one with existing ops in Iraq--to fully assume the security duties handled by the North Carolina firm.

But that doesn't matter. Iraq officials behind the expulsion effort have their own agenda (which may originate in Iran), as do Congressional Democrats. Blackwater, with its ties to the GOP, has become the "new Haliburton," a convenient corporate target for attacking our involvement in Iraq. Never mind that Blackwater actually has an excellent record in providing security in high-threat environments. And never mind that Blackwater is one of only a few companies that can do the job.

The ripple effects of last Sunday's shootout will be felt across Iraq--and not just in the public investigation that is now on-going. As Mr. Miniter reminds us, the real impact of that incident will be felt in meetings that are cancelled, intelligence that cannot be gathered, and schools that aren't rebuilt. That, in turn, will advance Iran's cause in Iraq, and the anti-war agenda of Democrats in Washington, while hindering critical operations in the war zone.

A perfect storm, indeed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mr. Rather Goes to Court

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather (AP File Photo).

In the day's oddest legal development (this side of the O. circus), the AP is reporting that ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather is suing his former bosses for $70 million.

Mr. Rather alleges that CBS, its corporate parent Viacom and three former bosses "intentionally mishandled" the aftermath of his "discredited"--we would say ficticious--story about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Rather is seeking $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, names Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, CBS President Les Mooves and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward among the defendants.

The disgraced anchorman's motives seem clear enough, at least on the surface. Earlier this summer, Rather watched his old buddy Don Imus receive a $40 million settlement on his contract with CBS, after being fired for racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Mr. Rather, who was pushed out the door when his contract expired in 2005, apparently sees an opportunity to pick up a little change, and regain some of his lost credibility.

But to do that, Mr. Rather is inviting a re-examination of the scandal that ruined his career. Within minutes of his report on the late, unlamented 60 Minutes II, bloggers proved that the documents used in Rather's "expose" were forgeries. A subsequent, detailed examination for CBS by former attorney general Richard Thornburgh and retired AP Chairman Louis Boccardi found no less than 10 serious defects in the preparation and reporting of the story, which alleged that Mr. Bush received preferential treatment in the Air Guard. While the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel stopped short of labeling the documents as phony, they raised serious questions about their authenticity.

Against that disgraceful backdrop, Rather and his lawyers are going to court, alleging that CBS kept him off the air after the scandal, in violation of his contract. For the record, Mr. Rather remained on the network's payroll--collecting a reported $13 million annual salary--for 18 months after the Bush report aired. Rather's producer, Mary Mapes, was terminated a year earlier, after Mr. Thornburgh and Mr. Boccardi completed their work, and three CBS News executives were forced to resign at the same time. By comparison, Rather got off easy; as far as we know, CBS security wasn't summoned to show him the door.

During his 44-year career at the network, Mr. Rather became known as the Cardinal Richelieu of CBS (a description reportedly coined by Bernard Goldberg). A consummate politician, Rather relentlessly played favorites and undercut those who opposed him. Goldberg incurred "The Dan's" wrath by penning that famous Wall Street Journal editorial that affirmed liberal bias in network news. Others--including his one-time co-anchor Connie Chung--were "knifed" simply because they posed a challenge to his position.

Some of Rather's former enemies still work at CBS News, and some may testify against him. But, more damningly, the network and its lawyers still have the Thornburgh-Boccardi Report, a 220-page indictment of irresponsible journalism, as practiced by Mr. Rather and his cronies. We're guessing that there's plenty of additional evidence that didn't make the report, but remains in possession of CBS and its legal department--ready for airing in the Rather lawsuit. No one at the network has said "bring it on" (at least publicly), but that's got to be the thinking at Black Rock.

And that brings us back to Dan Rather's decision to go to court. Already a wealthy man--he recently gave $2 million to his alma mater, Sam Houston State University--Mr. Rather apparently doesn't need the money. And, he risks more ridicule and humiliation by replaying the darkest moment of his long career. Yet, Mr. Rather is willing to endure that for lawsuit against his old employer and its top executives--a case that could be easily dismissed before it goes to trial.

Why go through all that in the twilight of your life and career? For the answer, we'll again turn to Bernard Goldberg, who knows all sides of "The Dan" as well as anyone. Mr. Goldberg once compared his former colleage to Richard Nixon, the president that Rather "stood up to" in that famous news conference. At the top of his profession, Goldberg opined, Dan Rather morphed into Richard Nixon, consumed by the same paranoia and hatred that doomed the former president.

Or, if you prefer a literary analogy, Mr. Rather appears to be the media equivalent of Captain Queeg, the villian of Herman Wouk's classic The Caine Mutiny. Judging from the outlines of the lawsuit, Mr. Rather seems to believe that the CBS suits conspired against him and prevented discovery of the truth, just like the mess hands who ate the strawberries on the fictional U.S.S. Caine.

What Was in the Building?

Drudge is reporting that the arrival of that North Korean ship in a Syrian port prompted the recent Israeli airstrike against a suspect nuclear facility. According to CBS News, the raid destroyed a building that was believed to house nuclear equipment, although no one has specified the type of hardware. Other media accounts suggest that the building was located an an "agricultural research complex" near the Syrian border with Iraq.

CBS doesn't have anything on their website, suggesting that they're holding the story for tonight's Evening News. While the report (once again) suggests a nuclear link between North Korea and Syria, we still don't know what was on that ship, a cargo that, presumably, made it way to the research facility, prompting the Israeli airstrike. Equally puzzling is Pyongyang's decision to send the equipment by ship, risking the possibility of detection/boarding by U.S. or Israeli naval crews during its transit.

One thing is certain: future shipments of sensitive cargo between North Korea and Syria will move by air, not on the water (assuming the cargo can fit on an IL-76, or a charter transport).

Iran's "Plan"

An Iranian F-4 Phantom, the likely candidate for any potential airstrike (read: suicide mission) against Israel.

It doesn't take a general to figure out that military plans are largely worthless, unless a nation has the doctrine, training, equipment and personnel to actually implement the plan, and successfully execute it.

As the world's only superpower, the U.S. (thankfully) has the resources to carry out its military plans, although we'd be hard-pressed under certain scenarios, say, fighting a war in Korea while continuing our current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, we've come a long way from the dark days just before Pearl Harbor, when our military forces were short of personnel and hardware. During the famous "Louisiana Maneuvers" of 1941, planes dropped sacks of flower (because there weren't enough bombs to go around), and trucks doubled as tanks. The exercise was something of a wake-up call for the War Department, emphasizing the gap between our operational plans and actual capabilities.

A similar gap is evident in Iran's announced plans to "bomb Israel," in retaliation for an IDF attack on its territory. Gen. Mohammad Alavi, Deputy Commander of the Iranian Air Force, told the Fars News Agency, "We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime (Israel) makes a silly mistake." General Alavi's claim makes for an attention-grabbing headline, but a serious examination of Iran's military capabilities reveals that the "plan" is little more than an idle boast. Fact is, the Iranian Air Force--or more correctly, Iran's two Air Forces have serious training, equipment, airspace and logistical issues that make a successful strike on Israel almost impossible.

We'll begin with the airspace problem. Getting to Israel from Iran means over-flying countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Crossing Iraq and Jordan offers the most direct route, but that means a confrontation with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets--a battle the Iranians would certainly lose. Turkey and Saudi Arabia would also oppose transit by Iranian fighters headed for Israel, and both have better jets and pilots.

In fact, Iran's most "viable" option for an airstrike against Israel would require a long, circuitous flight down the Persian Gulf, around the Arabian Peninsula, and up the Red Sea. That route would carry Iranian fighters through international airspace, but it would significantly increase flight time, in-flight refueling requirements and the probability of detection.

And, speaking of tankers, did we mention that Iran has only two--a KC-707 (similar to our own KC-135) and a modified Boeing 747. The older KC-707 flies on a periodic basis; as for the 747, there is some speculation that it has been converted for other missions, such as hauling cargo.

In any case, the lack of tankers would be crippling for any planned Iranian airstrike. Consider this; it is believed that Israel (which operates at least seven KC-707 tankers and a number of KC-130 airframes) has enough in-flight refueling capability to get two dozen fighter jets to Iran on a strike mission. With only one tanker, the Iranian Air Force could probably provide enough fuel for no more than three jets. Not much of a strike package--and one that would be mauled by the IAF.

As for the aircraft assigned to the mission, most analysts believe Iran would utilize its aging F-4 Phantom II fighter-bombers, purchased from the U.S. in the early 1970s. Compared to the F-15s and F-16s of the Israeli Air Force, the Phantoms are decidedly low-tech, but their crews are among the most experienced in the Iranian Air Force. However, experience levels (and proficiency) among Tehran's F-4 crews have dipped in recent years, with the retirement of pilots and WSOs who were trained by the U.S. Intelligence analysts suggest that Iran's most proficient crews at stationed at Hamadan Airbase, near the country's western border.

Indeed, the Hamadan crews are (reportedly) among the few that have conducted long-range navigation training in recent years. But those flights are apparently few and far between, leaving the F-4 crews marginally capable in key tasks associated with long-range strike missions. Long-range flight and navigation training is virtually non-existent among other Iranian Air Force units--including its only squadron of SU-24 FENCER strike fighters. While the FENCERS have the range to reach Israel--and a "buddy" refueling capability--the lack of training in that squadron leaves it unprepared for the challenge of flying 1,000 miles (potentially through hostile airspace), and locating a heavily-defended target.

As we've noted before, Iran's problems are further compounded by its system of competing Air Forces. Tehran's 30 (or so) flyable Phantoms and the handful of airworthy F-14 Tomcats belong to the "regular" Air Force. Newer airframes, including the FENCERs and the small number of MiG-29 FULCRUMs belong to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Air Force. Cooperation between the two organizations has always been problematic, and both compete for limited resources, complicating training and planning for a long-range strike against Israel.

To reduce the "range" problem, Iranian jets could, potentially, operate from bases in Syria. But getting there remains problematic. The "central route" (through Iraq) is effectively closed, thanks to the U.S. military presence. That means a more northerly or southerly flight path, attempting to "sneak through" Saudi or Turkish air defenses. While that isn't an impossible feat, it does raise the possibility of detection and intercept.

Once on the ground in Syria, Iranian crews would be forced to launch their raid quickly. As evidenced by the recent air strike on that suspected nuclear facility, Israel has good intelligence about what's happening in Syria. The detection of Iranian combat aircraft--on the ground or enroute to Syria--would prompt a swift Israeli reaction.

As the AP notes, Tehran has long threatened to hit Israel if the Jewish State strikes at Iranian nuclear facilities, or if the United States attacks. General Alavi's comments were the first reference to specific contingency plans for striking back at Israel, but (given the current capabilities of his air force), they are little more than idle threats.

Needless to say, the Israelis aren't going to lose much sleep over a threatened strike by a handful of F-4s, manned by marginally proficient Iranian crews. Tel Aviv is more more concerned about Tehran's ballistic missile force, which is capable of delivering chemical or biological weapons against Israeli cities, from launch points in western Iran.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Murphy Saga Continues

Air Force Times is reporting new developments in the case of Colonel Michael Murphy, the former commander of the service's legal operations agency. Readers will recall that Murphy was removed from that post last fall, after it was discovered that he served as an Air Force JAG for more than 20 years--without a law license. He was subsequently charged with multiple counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, larceny, and failure to obey a general order. If convicted on all counts, Murphy could be sentenced to almost 60 years in jail.

But earlier this month, the Air Force announced that it was dropped nine of the 22 charges originally filed againt Murphy, who had previously served as commander of the Air Force JAG school, and senior legal officer for two major commands. When Murphy's lawyers were informed of the reduction in charges, they requested--and received--a waiver of his Article 32 hearing. An Article 32 is (roughly) the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

With the Article 32 hearing out of the way, it's now up to the commander overseeing the case, Brigadier General Frac Gorenc, to decide whether to send the case to trial. General Gorenc, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, D.C., also has the option of dropping all the remaining charges, or referrring some of them to trial by a general courts-martial.

There is no word on when General Gorenc might reach a decision.

At this point, Colonel Murphy is still facing nine counts of conducting unbecoming an officer, three counts of larceny, and one count of failure to obey a general order. The latter count apparently stems from Murphy's inability to provide proof that he was a member of the bar when allegations against him first surfaced. The "conduct unbecoming" charges are related to his JAG career without a law license, and the larceny counts reflect travel reimbursements that Murphy received for conferences he was unqualified to attend (as a disbarred attorney).

While a plea deal is still possible, most military legal experts still expect the case to go to trial. In wake of the scandal involving the Air Force's former JAG (Major General Thomas Fiscus), the service's legal community remains under something of a cloud. To avoid appearances that another senior legal officer got off easy (Fiscus received a demotion and fine for years of tawdry personal conduct), it seems likely that General Gorenc will send the case to a general courts-martial.

And that raises another question, namely, how will the Air Force ensure a fair trial for Colonel Murphy? As a former MAJCOM judge advocate general and commander of the service's JAG school, Murphy had ties to a number of judges and prosecutors. Given those connections, there has been some speculation that the Air Force may "farm out" the courts-martial to the Army. However, we expect that option would be utilized only as a last resort.

As for Colonel Murphy, the reduction in charges was certainly good news; announced just days before the Article 32 hearing was set to begin, the move suggested a slight weakening of the Air Force's case. But with 13 counts still remaining, Murphy still faces a serious legal challenge, with the very real possibility of a courts-martial conviction, prison time, and the loss of his military pension.

More Military Frauds

Over the past seven years, the Library of Congress has been collecting oral and written recollections of war experiences, through its Veterans History Project. While clearly a worthy endeavor, the history project has apparently turned up more, apparent military frauds--veterans who claim medals they never received, for battlefield exploits that never occurred.

According to Air Force Times, the history program has interviewed 49 former service members who claimed that they earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military heroism. But only 25 of the individuals are actually listed in the Congressionally-mandated registry of MOH recipients, which was established in 1916.

While it's possible that one or two actual winners of the MOH were never entered in the Congressional registry, the odds of 24 recipients being omitted are decidedly small. Making matters worse, the director of the history project admits that his staff rarely verifies Medal of Honor claims. They make no attempt to validate other awards--such as the Distinguished Service Cross--or verify accounts by veterans who claim they were held as prisoners of war.

Indeed, the potentially fraudulent MOH claims were discovered by two researchers unaffiliated with the history project: Doug Sterner, who maintains an extensive on-line database of valor award winners, and Mary Schantag, who runs the POW Network, a Web site listing U.S. prisoners of war. In addition to the 24 disputed MOH claims, they also found 47 unearned service crosses, and 45 suspect POW claims.

Having some prior experience with oral history programs, we can understand the need to collect veterans' stories before they pass away. And, with roughly 1,000 members of the Greatest Generation expiring every day, time is of the essence. But that doesn't excuse history project's sloppy work in verifying MOH claims. Given the relatively small number of living recipients--and the ready availability of MOH databases--it is relatively easy to separate the heroes from the frauds.

Bob Patrick, Director of the Veterans History Project, said the last review of MOH claims was 18 months ago and "clearly it is time that we do a review again."

Call us underwhelmed. Without the work of Mr. Sterner and Ms. Schantag, it's doubtful that the history project would be conducting another review. Sterner, a Vietnam veteran, told a Marine Corps Times writer that seeing “lies stamped with the seal of authenticity implied by finding these war stories preserved in the Library of Congress makes me want to throw up.” He added that the fraudulent claims call into question the credibility of the all the project’s accounts.

Mr. Patrick claims that accuracy is not the project's primary goal. But that argument misses the larger point: only 3,463 Americans have received the Medal of Honor since the award was created. Those recipients represent the bravest of the brave, and their achievements are sullied by those who falsely claim the medal. According to Mr. Sterner's website, there are only 109 MOH recipients still living. They deserve better, even if it means a little more fact-checking at the Veterans History Project.

As for the phonies, it's still unclear if they will be prosecuted under the 2005 Stolen Valor Act, which provides jail time and a $10,000 fine for individuals who make false verbal, written and physical claims of unearned military awards.

No one can expect the Veterans History Project to verify the awards for all 50,000 veterans who have participated in the program. But, for those who claim the Medal of Honor or a service cross, it is not unreasonable for the project to request written proof, or check the claim against existing databases. Allowing 24 disputed MOH claims to enter a Library of Congress database --with no real effort at verification--is simply inexcusable.

Happy Retirement

General John Abizaid, former Commander of U.S. Central Command (AP file photo)

When he was picked to lead U.S. Central Command in 2004, Army General John Abizaid was viewed as a natural for the post. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Abizaid was fluent in Arabic and had years of experience in the Middle East, qualities that were lacking in previous CENTCOM commanders.

But when General Abizaid retired earlier this year, many analysts viewed his performance as middling, at best. While he worked hard to improve bi-lateral ties with U.S. allies in the region, Abizaid's "mangement" of the Iraq War left much to be desired. The Al Qaida-led insurgency took root and grew steadily during his watch, culminating in the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006, pushing the country to the brink of all-out civil war.

In response, Abizaid and our senior commander in Iraq, General George Casey, pursued security operations that did not provide a constant U.S. presence in the nation's most troubled neighborhoods. The failure of that policy led to the current--and much more successful--troop surge, which was implemented earlier this year, about the same time that Abizaid's retirement was announced.

Since leaving active duty, General Abizaid has given relatively few speechs and interviews. But his most recent remarks proved both stunning and revealing, suggesting that Abazaid's retirement was beneficial for all concerned. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, Abizaid said that while every effort should be made to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, if that policy fails, the world could live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Here are the general's own words, as reported by AP military writer Robert Burns:

"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."


"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in [his] remarks.. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

He stressed that he was expressing his personal opinion and that none of his remarks were based on his previous experience with U.S. contingency plans for potential military action against Iran.

General Abizaid suggested that many in Iran--perhaps even members of the current regime--are open to cooperating with the West. According to the AP, the thrust of his remarks was a call for patience in dealing with Iran.

"I believe the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran — that the United States can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that makes it clear to them that while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons they'll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power," he said.


"We need to press the international community as hard as we possibly can, and the Iranians, to cease and desist on the development of a nuclear weapon and we should not preclude any option that we may have to deal with it," he said. He then added his remark about finding ways to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

While we certainly respect General Abizaid for his years of military service, there are a number of obvious--and dangerous--fallacies in his argument. Let's begin with his comparison of a nuclear-armed Iran to other nuclear powers. While the U.S. spent billions to deter the nuclear might of the former Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent, the PRC), both were viewed as rational actors on the world stage.

In other words, there was little worry about Moscow or Beijing giving nuclear weapons to their client states, or terrorist organizations. The Russians and the Chinese understood the potential consequences of such actions, and under the old, bi-lateral world order, both the Soviets and the Chinese retained firm control of their nuclear arsenals. Concerns about the unauthorized transfer of Russian nuclear material (and expertise) didn't surface until the early 1990s, as the nation began its rocky transition from communism to democracy.

By comparison, Iran shows no such restraints. Less than two weeks ago, Israeli jet fighters struck a suspected Syrian nuclear complex near the Iraqi border--a facility that was reportedly financed by Tehran, and staffed by North Korean scientists and technicians. According to Israeli intelligence, the complex had recently received a shipment of nuclear materials (if not a finished weapon) from North Korea, a transfer likely financed by the Iranians. Some analysts believe the operation was aimed at producing a nuclear warhead for Syria's SCUD missiles, which can target Israel--or U.S. forces in Iraq.

And, of course, Iran has its own, "indigenous" nuclear program that will produce a weapon within 2-10 years, depending on the estimate you choose to believe. Once Tehran joins the nuclear club, there are justifiably grave concerns that it will share its expertise with its allies and terrorist organizations. Imagine how nuclear-tipped Hizballah rockets, based in southern Lebanon, would affect the regional balance-of-power.

The rational inhibitions that limited the Soviet Union's nuclear ambitions clearly don't apply to Iran, a nation that is committed to the destruction of Israel, and driving the U.S. from the Middle East. It's a country whose president is anxiously awaiting the return of the mystical "12th Iman" and welcomes the chaos that (supposedly) foretells his reappearance. According to some reports, the Iranian regime is preparing a new highway in Tehran for the Iman to use after his return. Funny, but we don't remember Kruschev building a freeway in Moscow to welcome back Lenin's ghost. There may be "rational actors" in Iran, but they're not in charge right now.

We're also a bit disturbed by General Abizaid's assertions that we can "contain" Iran, and that the international community can persuade Tehran to abandon its weapons program. Given the growth of Hizballah over the past two decades, its seems painfully obvious that our containment efforts are lacking. The same holds true for the "international front" against Iran. With the support of the U.S., the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) have spent three years in talks with Iran, aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions. So far, those talks have not produced tangible results. More disturbingly, the Germans recently announced that they will not support new sanctions against Iran. At this point, prospects for a diplomatic solution appear bleak.

During the speech, General Abizaid carefully noted that the opinions expressed were his own, and did not reflect U.S. contingency plans for dealing with Iran. Additionally, Abizaid said the U.S. should "not preclude" any option for dealing with Tehran, including military action. But, as the AP noted, General Abizaid suggested a "more accomodating and hopeful stance" toward Iran, suggesting that Iran, over time, will move away from its anti-western stance.

Unfortunately, it's the same, forlorn hope that's been used for 20 years to support "engagement" policies toward Tehran. The result has been an increasingly beligerent Iranian regime that is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, exporting terrorism on a massive scale and establishing regional proxies to kill Americans and Israelis. No one wants a war with Iran, but it seems increasingly evident that military action may become necessary to deter Terhan's nuclear and regional ambitions. We simply can't tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, and the idea that we can is both delusional and dangerous.

That's why General Abizaid's comments were so disturbing. We'd expect such Polly-annish rhetoric from the Council on Foreign Relations or the Brookings Institution. But from a former CENTCOM commander? If Abizaid's "take" on Iran is consistent with the counsel he gave as a senior military leader, then his recent retirement was a welcome development, indeed.