Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When Spooks Disagree

According to The New York Times, intelligence services in the United States, Israel and Western Europe are divided over the current status of Iran's nuclear program.

Depending on who you choose to believe, Tehran is (A) in the final stages of weaponization, the last step before mounting a nuke on a delivery platform; (B) has never resumed work on weaponization, after suspending that portion of its program in 2003; (C) never stopped work on weaponization, but the exact status of the effort is unclear, or (D) may be further along in its nuclear work than the IAEA is willing to admit.

If you haven't read the Times account, you might be interested to know that those assessments came from intelligence experts in Germany, Israel, the United States and France. If you'd like to take today's intelligence quiz, try to match the assessment with the country that offered it. If not, simply skip ahead; you'll find the answers in the next paragraph.


A France
B Germany
C Israel
D United States

As you might have guessed, the nation that believes Iran is nearing the end of the weaponization is Israel. Germany is the country which assesses that Tehran has never abandoned its weaponization efforts, although progress is difficult to ascertain. Meanwhile, French intelligence services think the IAEA knows more about Iran's nuclear ambitions than its has admitted, suggesting that Paris has its own suspicions about weaponization.

Finally, the U.S. is the only country that still maintains that Iran suspended its weaponization efforts in 2003. That was the central thesis of that controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Tehran's nuclear efforts, an assessment better known for its political implications, rather than its intel judgments.

Stating that Iran had halted the weaponization process, elements within the intelligence community effectively removed the military option as a means for dealing with the problem in the last year of the Bush presidency. Never mind that the NIE conceded that Iran was continuing other, critical elements of its nuclear program, such as uranium enrichment and development of medium and long-range delivery platforms.

In other words, Tehran was pressing ahead with material for a bomb and a means for putting it on target. All that was missing was a weaponization program, an effort that could be restarted relatively easily, with assistance from such partners as North Korea and Pakistan. Indeed, Pyongyang's recent nuclear test suggests that Kim Jong-il's scientists have developed at least a crude weapon design, one that can be downsized for delivery by medium and long-range missiles. Once North Korea has that technology, Tehran will have it in short order, since Iran is providing technical and financial support for Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Judging from the leaked assessments--and their clear divergence--a few facts seem painfully clear. First, western intelligence agencies lack reliable HUMINT reporting on Iran's nuclear efforts. Developing sources inside the theocratic regime has always been difficult, and there has been a significant counter-intelligence crackdown since the defection of a key IRGC general last year. With his departure, we're guessing the flow of new HUMINT data on Tehran's nuclear program has declined. In fact, Iranian exile groups remain one of our most important sources of information, although portions of their reporting is sometimes suspect.

Secondly, Iran is becoming increasingly proficient at concealing its nuclear activities. Not long after President Obama revealed that Tehran has built a second enrichment plant, Iranian officials invited the IAEA to inspect the facility. That offer suggests a certain degree of confidence in its ability to hide (or remove) sensitive functions before the inspectors arrive. "Open" inspections by the U.N. agency will reveal only what the Iranians want us to see. Key activities--including uranium enrichment--can be moved to buildings with no apparent "nuclear" signature. There is still ample reason to believe that Tehran has a parallel, covert program which has remained undetected.

In fact, the Germany's primary intelligence service (the BND) have maintained that position for years. One of my former colleagues, who spent years working with the agency, says the Germans became suspicious when Iran launched a massive railway expansion program in the early 1990s. A decade into the effort, more than 3300 km of new, standard-gauge line was under construction. Interestingly, one of those projects was designed to "by-pass" the holy city of Qom. It would be instructive to know how close that "belt line" lies to the recently-discovered nuclear facility. As a German analyst told my colleague, some of the new rail lines served areas that were relatively unpopulated, and almost devoid of significant economic activity.

Unfortunately, the lack of an intelligence consensus on Iran will make it more difficult for the west to choose a course of action. It is rather telling that French President Sarkozy has been much more forceful on the issue that President Obama. He clearly understands that Iran will soon have a nuclear bomb--and perhaps much sooner than anyone realizes. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has (apparently) put his hopes in the power of diplomacy and a largely discredited NIE. From his perspective, we still have time to talk to Tehran and achieve some sort of solution, or cobble together "tougher" sanctions that everyone can support.

It's a risky gamble and unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the weight of the available intelligence is not on his side.

Defender of Your Tax Dollars

Trillions in new budget deficits; social security on the verge of insolvency, and reckless spending as far as the eye can see.

But don't let anyone say the Obama Administration isn't a careful steward of your tax dollars.

Consider, for example, the military spending bill that's now working its way through Congress. In a carefully worded statement released late last week, the White House voiced its displeasure over one of the bill's amendments, which funds pensions for 26 elderly members of the Alaska Territorial Guard.

The move came as Senators consider a bill that allows former members to count their guard service as part of their active duty military service, and reinstates larger pension payments. The Army decided earlier this year that it would no longer count service in the Territorial Guard for pension purposes, while including it in calculations for other military benefits.

Each of the individuals affected by the decision have enough military time to qualify for a pension, but the decision reduced the amount of their monthly payments by as much as $300. That may not sound like much, but many of the retirees live on fixed incomes, in remote villages where gas sells for $10 a gallon. For those veterans, losing $300 a month is a significant financial blow.

But apparently, the Obama Administration doesn't care. According to McClatchy, the White House said it was "not appropriate to establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."

Talk about hair-splitting. One reason Territorial Guard members weren't considered federal employees is because they weren't part of the Alaska National Guard, which was federalized several months before Pearl Harbor. Deciding that the territory was of little strategic value, virtually the entire Alaska guard was shipped to Washington State in August 1941, leaving the region largely defenseless.

Views on protecting Alaska changed in 1942, after the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, conducted reconnaissance operations along the vast coastline and the seizure of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutians chain. Roughly 6,600 men (and women) were recruited for the initial cadre and as many as 20,000 served in the Territorial Guard before it was disbanded in 1947.

During World War II, guard members provided security for several strategic facilities, including the only platinum mine in the Western Hemisphere. They also guarded the route for Lead-Lease Aid provided to the Soviet Union. The guard was also one of the first racially-integrated units in the U.S. military. More than five years before Harry Truman ended segregation in the armed forces, the territorial guard had Alaskans of all ethnic backgrounds serving side-by-side.

Of the guard's earliest recruits, only about 300 are still living. Remarkably, most members of the guard served without pay and did not receive veteran status from the U.S. government until 2000.

Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski described the White House decision as "deeply disturbing, bordering on the insensitive." Her Democratic colleague, Mark Begich, was equally frustrated:

"We are talking about 26 brave, elderly Alaska Natives who served honorably for this country during World War II," Begich said in a statement. "I, frankly, find it puzzling how the administration could object to giving these men the recognition they deserve. The federal government deserted these men at the end of the war, and I hope the Congress and my colleagues in the Senate won't let that happen again."

This matter should be a no-brainer. The total cost of funding the pensions is less than $1 million a year, a tiny fraction of the money wasted in this year's stimulus bill. But the White House is siding with the Army's bean-counters, denying a few dollars to men who served their country faithfully and honorably. Someone ought to ask the Aleut, Inupiaq, Tlingit and Yupik veterans of the territorial guard how "hope and change" is working for them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Holes in the Shield

Barely a week after President Obama announced a revised missile defense system for western Europe, Iran has provided a reminder of why the shield is so important. Early Sunday morning (U.S. time), the Islamic regime successfully test-fired at least three, short-range missiles, and promised to launch a medium-range Shahab-3--capable of reaching Israel--within 24 hours. The latest tests are part of an exercise conducted by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls the nation's missile forces.

English-language Press TV reported the Fateh-110, Tondar-69 and Zelzal were test fired in a missile defense exercise, but did not give specifics on range or other details. All are short-range, surface-to-surface missiles.

Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, told reporters Iran tested a multiple missile launcher for the first time. Press TV showed pictures of at least two missiles being fired simultaneously and said they were from Sunday's drill in a desert in central Iran. In the clip, men could be heard shouting "Allahu Akbar" as the missiles were launched.

"The message of the war game for some arrogant countries which intend to intimidate is that we are able to give a proper, strong answer to their hostility quickly," the Web site of state television quoted Salami as saying. He said the missiles successfully hit their targets.

Salami told reporters Iran had reduced the missiles and their ranges so they could be used in quick, short-range engagements. He also said Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on Sunday night and long-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during the drill set to last several days.

Iran's continued expansion of its missile forces raises legitimate questions about the Obama plan, namely: can a defensive shield built largely around naval platforms (at least in the early years), provide adequate coverage for our allies in Europe and even portions of the CONUS?

The answer to that question is problematic at best, although such concerns have been largely ignored by the press. Anxious to put the best spin on Mr. Obama's missile defense proposal, members of the "state-controlled media" (to use ElRushbo's term) and the Pentagon press corps have failed to point out some rather obvious "holes" in the proposed shield.

For starters, the U.S. Navy doesn't have enough ships capable of performing the ballistic missile defense (BMD) role, and won't for several years--that's one reason that President Obama and his advisers have referred to a 2012 "roll-out" date for sea-based missile defenses covering western Europe. By that time, the Navy hopes to have enough cruisers and destroyers, equipped with a modified Aegis battle management system and interceptor missiles.

But there is genuine debate over how many ships are required for the BMD mission, and balancing that assignment against the other tasking for those vessels. Aegis cruisers and destroyers perform a variety of missions, including fleet air defense for carrier battle groups. Detaching vessels for missile defense will mean more time at sea for other ships--and their crews.

There's also the matter of how many ships will be required for missile defense. Ronald O'Rourke, a naval affairs specialist for the Congressional Research Service, detailed that issue (and other potential problems associated with sea-based BMD) in a 2008 report. Indeed, O'Rourke's research indicates that the Navy is recommending a massive increase in the number of BMD-capable vessels, to meet projected requirements. He cites the comments of a senior Navy admiral in a 2008 session with reporters:

The current Navy program to convert 18 cruisers and destroyers to the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability, which will be completed by the end of this year, will have to be expanded to cover roughly 90 ships, a senior Navy officer said yesterday.

“Eighteen ships is not enough to provide a robust missile defense capability,” said Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations, speaking before a National Defense University breakfast forum at the Capitol Hill Club.

“The real number is somewhere around 90,” he said, because there are increasing requests for BMD coverage coming from combatant commanders in the European theater, the Central Command theater and the Pacific theater.

Readers will note that McCullough's comments came long before Aegis vessels became the backbone of the planned European missile shield. To our knowledge, no one has offered a revised requirement, based on the expanded mission requirements. The Navy currently has 18 vessels capable of BMD operations; only two are currently assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, which will have primary responsibility for anti-missile operations in European and Middle East waters.

While the number of BMD vessels in the Atlantic Fleet will certainly grow, no one seems to know how many will be required. To meet the 88-90 ship requirement outlined by Admiral McCullough, the Navy would have to convert three additional Aegis cruisers and up to 62 DDG-51 (Arleigh Burke-class) destroyers for the missile defense role.

These upgrades are part of a planned modernization effort for Aegis combatants, a program that is already underway. But the conversion process will be slow; according to another CRS analysis, the Navy will receive a total of two modernized cruisers in both FY 2009 and 2010, and three per year beginning in 2012.

However, the modernization effort is actually a dual-phased program; weapons systems upgrades come two years after other, planned improvements on the ship's hull, mechanical and electrical systems. For Burke-class destroyers, the first set of upgrades will begin in 2010, with weapons systems improvements (on the same vessels) coming two years later. Under this timetable, the Navy will get two more BMD-capable destroyers in 2012. That number will increase to three per year in 2013-2015, and jump to nine ships a year in 2016.

If all goes according to plans, the U.S. fleet will gain at least 26 additional BMD vessels over the next seven years, bringing the grand total to 38. Still, questions remain about using a sea-based option as the primary defense option, and not a complement to the land-based system, which was cancelled by Mr. Obama. Ironically, those concerns were raised by the Navy Admiral in charge of the Aegis program. From a November 2007 press report:

It would take a large number of U.S. Navy Aegis weapons system ships to shield Europe against enemy missiles from the Middle East, if the United States attempted to use the sea-based system to guard Europe instead of the Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland.

That was the assessment yesterday of Rear Adm. Alan Hicks, program director of the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, at a symposium of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank, held at the National Press Club.

“Certainly by the near-term capability, between now and 2015, that’s a lot of ships, and I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said.

Further, those ships wouldn’t be stationed in an ideal location, so that the interceptors they would fire to take down enemy weapons would “run out of juice” in pursuing those threats.

Admiral Hick's comments highlight other, potential problems with the Obama plan. Russia, which lobbied actively against missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, would almost certainly protest a near-permanent presence of U.S. cruisers and destroyers in the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

The same holds true for the planned, land-based deployment of SM-3 missiles (the same interceptor used on American naval vessels) and THAAD batteries in Germany and Turkey. Governments in those nations might prove even more vulnerable to Russian pressure, potentially denying the U.S. basing rights for those defensive systems.

There are also questions about operational effectiveness and cost. The ground-based system proposed by the Bush Administration offered protection to all of Europe (and much of the U.S.) from Iranian missile attack. By comparison, the initial Aegis system--using SM-3IB missiles--provides no defense for the CONUS, and only limited protection for Europe, assuming the system is integrated with long-range, X-band tracking radars. The sea-based system will offer some defense of U.S. targets by 2015, when the SM-3IIA missile becomes available.

In terms of cost, Mr. Obama's claims about a "less expensive" sea-based system are simply false. The CRS notes that the Aegis BMD option will have a higher price tag than the baseline, land-based system and operating costs for the naval option will be "two or three times higher," based on a 35-year life cycle.

To be fair, the Obama proposal is better than nothing. But it is far from being the "better option" described by the President and his advisers. Missile defense has (apparently) survived under a Democratic Administration, but just barely. Europeans--and Americans--should be concerned about the reduced level of protection from Iranian missile attacks.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Today's Reading Assignment

...courtesy of Ralph Peters, in the New York Post. In his latest column, Colonel Peters (essentially) asks the same questions we posed yesterday: how long did President Obama know about that Iranian nuclear nuclear facility before he publicly acknowledged its existence? And why keep it a secret, particularly if you're trying to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear program?

The answer, according to Peters, can be found in the President's lack of military experience; his unswerving faith in diplomacy and humiliation over a situation that is spinning out of control:

Obama didn't want you to know how much progress Iran had made. It's an embarrassment.

And it raises the pressure on the White House to act -- something this president's squirming to avoid. But the Iranians have now realized we know, so they tipped it themselves.

Obama had no choice but to come clean.

Yesterday, he interrupted the G-20 summit to go public -- before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did. Flanked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's dead man walking, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, our president offered more uselessly vague rhetoric in response to proof of a major "covert Iranian enrichment facility" and its implications.

So what happens next? Peters predicts a coming apocalypse, caused (in part) by Mr. Obama's refusal to act. We've said the same thing, predicting that the commander-in-chief will face a foreign policy reckoning in the coming months, a catastrophic event that will make last year's market crash seem tame by comparison. Here's how Ralph Peters sees events playing out:

Obama will try more talks. We may see half-hearted sanctions -- which will be violated right and left. Russia, which profits hugely from dirty trade with Iran, can slip goods across the Caspian Sea or through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

And maritime sanctions are meaningless, unless our president is willing to order our Navy to fire on Chinese-flagged or Venezuelan-flagged merchant vessels.

Think that's going to happen?

How will it end? With desperate Israeli attacks that do only part of the job, followed by Iranian counterstrikes on Persian Gulf oil facilities, the closure of the Straits of Hormuz and oil above $400 a barrel.

Only the United States can stop Iran's nuclear program before it's too late. And this president won't.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Did the President Know?

President Obama, along with the leaders of Britain and France, are demanding that Iran "fulfill its obligations under international law, or face the risk of harsh, new sanctions. This, after the U.S. reported that the Iranian government has built a second uranium enrichment plant, which could produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The second facility, located near the city of Qom, has been under construction for several years, according to U.S. officials who spoke with the Washington Post. Experts believe the plant could be operational in several months, giving Iran another option for producing enriched uranium for its nuclear program.

Speaking at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama blasted Tehran's activities:

"Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow," Obama said, detailing how the facility near Qom had been under construction for years without being disclosed, as required, to the International Atomic Energy Agency. "International law is not an empty promise."

The new Iranian plant, the country's second uranium enrichment facility, is believed by U.S. officials to be part of a broad effort by Iran's leadership to pursue the ability to build nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied having any such goal, insisting that its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. U.S. officials said they believe the Qom plant is not yet operational but is intended to produce highly enriched uranium -- suitable for nuclear weapons -- and will be capable within months of producing enough material for at least one bomb per year.

In response, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was (predictably) defiant:

"If I were [President] Obama's adviser, I would definitely advise him to refrain making this statement because it is definitely a mistake," Ahmadinejad told Time magazine Friday in an interview in New York that took place even as Obama was publicly revealing the plant's existence. "It would definitively be a mistake."

Ahmadinejad dismissed the accusations from Obama and the other leaders.

"This does not mean we must inform Mr. Obama's administration of every facility that we have," he told Time. It "simply adds to the list of issues [over] which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology. . . . Rest assured that this will be the case. We do everything transparently."

Put another way, it's very clear that Mr. Ahmadinejad isn't worried about international law, or the threat of more sanctions--assuming the U.N. can actually agree on new measures, and Russia or China don't veto them. The Iranian leader views the latest western statement as nothing more than an empty promise.

And sadly, he's right. Look at the second paragraph in the Post's dispatch, paraphrasing Mr. Obama's words. Western intelligence agencies have apparently known about the facility for several years and monitored construction activity at the site. Both the plant--and its intended purpose--were recognized by intelligence officials and the elected leaders they serve.

We can understand why the facility's existence was never acknowledged (until now). Intelligence sources and methods need to be protected, and it probably took a little time for imagery analysts to confirm the plant's function. Contrary to popular perceptions, key nuclear activities--including uranium enrichment--can be concealed in nondescript buildings, including warehouses. Such facilities don't always provide definitive signs of nuclear activities, although similarities to other plants (such as the complex at Natanz) or hardened construction may have aroused suspicions. There is also reason the believe that Iranian opposition groups may have tipped western intelligence about the Qom plant, just as they early reporting on the Natanz facility.

Still, if it made sense for the U.S. (and its allies) to keep Qom an intelligence secret, we're puzzled by the diplomatic and political reactions to that discovery. Despite indications that Iran was building a second enrichment plant, Washington maintained its support of diplomatic activities aimed at achieving some sort of resolution on the nuclear issue. This process began during the Bush Administration, which encouraged the EU-3 talks with Tehran. Years of negotiations between Britain, France, Germany and Iran yielded no progress, unless you count Tehran's continued progress towards a nuclear weapons capability.

And the diplomatic overtures have continued under Mr. Obama. In fact, Six Party talks on Iran's nuclear program are scheduled to begin in a matter of days. So far, there is no indication that the President--or his partners--are prepared to cancel those negotiations, despite today's revelation. Earlier in his administration, President Obama said he would give Iran "until the end of the year" to choose its course on the nuclear issue.

Disclosure of the Qom facility suggests that Tehran selected its course long ago. That reality begs some rather inconvenient questions, for the current and previous occupant of the White House. Exactly when did we discover the Qom complex, determine its function and elect to persist with pointless diplomatic efforts? The answers to those questions would be instructive, since they illustrate the folly of our policy toward Iran and its nuclear program.

No wonder Ahmadinejad appears so unconcerned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Political Correctness Runs Amok (Again)

Call it the greatest irony of political correctness; in their effort to avoid upsetting someone, PC proponents often manage to offend almost everyone.

The latest example comes from Gaffney, South Carolina. After learning that a local Marine, Lance Corporal Christopher Fowlkes, had died from injuries received in Afghanistan, some residents began placing small American flags along the street where his grandparents lived.

They also placed flags along the route that would be followed by the hearse bearing Corporal Fowlkes' remains. Brenda Earls, who led the effort, said the flags were placed along the right-of-way, not on the property of residents or local businesses.

Shortly after completing her task, Ms. Earls noticed that flags were missing in front of a local Bank of America branch. She was also confronted by a bank manager, who told her that flags were not allowed for fear of "offending a customer." The branch manager, Brandy Tate, cited "bank policy" as the basis for her decision.

As you might expect, more than a few Gaffney residents were angered by the bank's decision. And, on Monday night, the outrage extended to the Cherokee County Council, which voted to close local government accounts with Bank of America. As the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports:

"I feel we should take a stand and deposit the money in other banks as deemed appropriate by the county administration and treasurer," said Councilman Quay Little.

Little went a step further, saying he felt other elected officials who work with groups or boards should follow suit, receiving the support of all council members but one.

Councilman Rufus Foster abstained.

"I'm a former board member of that bank, and I'm on some boards at church and other groups, and I don't think I can make that decision for them," he said.


During the council meeting, Clerk Doris Pearson received a telephone call from the local vice president of Bank of America, responding to Councilman Bailey Humphries' request for information on the bank's policy regarding the flag issue [council members had previously questioned why B of A did not display the flag, like other local businesses).

Humphries read the message, stating the local bank officer said the flags would be flying at both branches by today.

Councilman Charles Mathis asked about the costs or fees of closing accounts and opening more at a different bank, saying any current accounts should be closed in a timely manner.

Other residents are calling for the dismissal of Ms. Tate, but that strikes us as excessive. Besides, the manager was supposedly following company directives, and someone needs to find out what that policy is. Readers will note that B of A's local VP tap-danced around the issue of flag displays, when pressed by members of the county council.

It is stunning to think that a flag display, created for a Marine who died in combat, would be offensive to anyone. But such are the times we live in. In its headlong rush towards political correctness, Bank of America showed its true colors, banning flags that honored a fallen warrior.

Something tells us Cherokee County won't be the only organization--or individuals--who end their association with B of A. Certainly, the bank has a right to decide what can (and cannot) be displayed on its property. Just as the good people of Cherokee County have the right to close their accounts and bank somewhere else.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Men of Honor?

Our new column for Examiner.com looks at military support for President Obama's revised missile defense system for Europe. Despite clear flaws in the plan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and members of the JCS have voiced strong support. In another era, a principled service chief (or other senior officer) would probably step down in protest, but times have clearly changed--and not for the better.

As we observe, doing the honorable thing requires (on occasion) that a general sacrifice his career and fight against terrible policies in other arenas. The lack of resignations following the missile defense announcement is both telling and disturbing.

Pardon the Interruption

We've been traveling on business for most of the last week, and blogging opportunities have been virtually non-existent. Starting tonight, we'll try to catch up, beginning with our next column for Examiner.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Murrow Would be Proud

Somewhere, we'd like to think, Ed Murrow and Jay McMullen are smiling.

From a celestial perch, we hope those legendary practitioners of broadcast journalism have been following the recent take-down of "Green Jobs" czar Vann Jones, and the current expose of ACORN, that criminal enterprise masquerading as a community service organization.

As they watched, Murrow and McMullen understood that the bedrock principles of American journalism--built around fearless reporting--are alive and well. But they have become the domain of the new media, not the traditional news organizations they worked for.

Mr. Murrow, who literally invented broadcast news, clearly recognized the technique used to depose Mr. Jones. Wading through mountains of audio and videotape, talk show host Glenn Beck and his associates unearthed damning quotes and documents from Jones that highlighted his Marxist ideology and kook-fringe ideas on the attacks of 9-11--views that clearly made him unfit to serve as a presidential advisor.

In the end, it wasn't wild-eyed charges from the talk radio crowd that sealed Jones's fate. It was the recorded comments and written thoughts from the man himself. If that approach sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Find a copy of Murrow's legendary See It Now documentary on Senator Joseph McCarthy, and you'll see the same technique at work.

McMullen is less well-known outside broadcasting circles, but he was one of the finest documentary producers of the 1960s and 70s, a period when he worked for CBS News. Known for his deliberate nature--McMullen sometimes took a year to pick his next subject--the producer was also renowned for his determination and innovation. In 1961, McMullen produced Biography of a Bookie Joint, the first network documentary produced using undercover cameras. For a year, McMullen and his associates filmed the workings of a Boston bookie joint, using hidden 8mm cameras.

Almost 50 years later, conservative film maker James O'Keefe is following in McMullen's footsteps, using undercover techniques to expose corruption at ACORN. It's a story the mainsteam media dismissed--until it became impossible to ignore. Predictably, some reporters went after O'Keefe and his associate, 20-year-old Hannah Giles. In a reported aired on CNN, correspondent Jessica Yellin warned that journalists must use "extreme care" when working undercover. Translation: O'Keefe's ACORN segments are hit pieces, aimed at advancing the "right-wing agenda."

We doubt if Ms. Yellin would say the same thing about Murrow's See It Now broadcasts, or McMullen's pioneering documentaries. After all, they attacked a favorite target of the left (Joe McCarthy) or enterprises (like a bookie joint) that were indefensible in those days. The fact that some talking heads have offered a tepid defense of ACORN speaks volumes about the cultural plunge of our society, and the further decline of American media.

True, no one would ever accuse Ed Murrow or Jay McMullen of being conservative. But they were honest practitioners of their craft and for that reason, we think they'd be heartened by the work of Glenn Beck and James O'Keefe--and saddened that "professional" journalists weren't up to the task.

Today's Reading Assignment

Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal, describes how President Obama is actually pushing Israel toward war with Iran. As he writes:

Events are fast pushing Israel toward a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, probably by next spring. That strike could well fail. Or it could succeed at the price of oil at $300 a barrel, a Middle East war, and American servicemen caught in between. So why is the Obama administration doing everything it can to speed the war process along?

At July's G-8 summit in Italy, Iran was given a September deadline to start negotiations over its nuclear programs. Last week, Iran gave its answer: No.

Instead, what Tehran offered was a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off. It begins by lamenting the "ungodly ways of thinking prevailing in global relations" and proceeds to offer comprehensive talks on a variety of subjects: democracy, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, "respect for the rights of nations," and other areas where Iran is a paragon. Conspicuously absent from the document is any mention of Iran's nuclear program, now at the so-called breakout point, which both Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his boss Ali Khamenei insist is not up for discussion.

What's an American president to do in the face of this nonstarter of a document? What else, but pretend it isn't a nonstarter. Talks begin Oct. 1.


In sum, the conclusion among Israelis is that the Obama administration won't lift a finger to stop Iran, much less will the "international community." So Israel has pursued a different strategy, in effect seeking to goad the U.S. into stopping, or at least delaying, an Israeli attack by imposing stiff sanctions and perhaps even launching military strikes of its own.

But, as Mr. Stephens notes, the administration isn't taking the bait. He wonders if Mr. Obama believes that (a) diplomacy will actually work; (b) the U.S. has the luxury of time; (c) he can talk the Israelis out of attacking Iran; (d) Washington actually wants Tel Aviv to do the dirty work, or (e) he isn't paying attention.

Our guess would be a combination of A and E. Mr. Obama has long believed in the primacy of diplomatic talks, even with adversaries (read: North Korea) who have a history of breaking every agreement they sign. We also believe that the issue has slipped off the President's radar, despite Iran's steady advance towards nuclear weaponry. This afternoon, for example, the White House announced that the commander-in-chief will appear on David Letterman later this week and on five Sunday talk show this weekend. We're guessing that Iran won't be a primary topic of discussion--if it's mentioned at all.

At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, we should note that Mr. Stephens's column dovetails nicely with our previous post, which predicted a foreign policy reckoning for President Obama in the coming months. Judging by events in Iran, that reckoning may be closer than we might imagine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Second Reckoning

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published a timely and important op-ed, written by former Senators Charles Robb of Virginia and Dan Coats of Indiana, and retired Air Force General Charles Wald. In their piece--which received almost no attention outside the Journal's editorial forums and he blogosphere--the three men warned that Iran is on pace to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by next year. As they write:

Last year, a high-level Bipartisan Policy Center task force in which we participated concluded that a nuclear weapons-capable Iran would be "strategically untenable." Alarmed by how little diplomatic progress has been made, we have just updated that report. Not only has Iran continued its nuclear program unabated, but its regime has emerged from post-election turmoil more radical than ever.


The centrifuges at Natanz continue spinning. At its current pace, Iran's nuclear program will be able to manufacture enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 2010. A nuclear-armed Iran would not only pose a security threat to the U.S. and its allies. It would embolden Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, destabilize the region, upset global energy markets, and spark a wave of proliferation across the Middle East. Moreover, if we do not act quickly and credibly to address this threat, we run the very real risk of Israel taking matters into its own hands.

Robb, Coats and General Wald believe its time for a new strategy on Iran, one that combines tougher sanctions with the threat of U.S. miliary action, if Tehran refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. They believe that any policy that excludes the military option is almost doomed to failure:

Given Iran's shortening nuclear timetable and diplomatic challenges for forging an international consensus on sanctions, we urge Mr. Obama simultaneously to begin preparations for the use of military options. Now is the time for the president to reinforce his commitment to "use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," as he stated in February. We believe only a credible U.S. military threat can make possible a peaceful solution.

By showing that he has not taken the military option off the table, Mr. Obama may also be able to convince Israel to forgo a unilateral military strike while forcing Tehran to recognize the costs of its nuclear defiance. Furthermore, making preparations now will enable the president, should all other measures fail to bring Tehran to the negotiating table, to use military force to retard Iran's nuclear program. We do not downplay the risks of this option and recognize its complications, but we do believe it to be a feasible option of last resort.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is scheduled to release a more detailed report on Iran's nuclear program in the coming days. Many believe the document's findings will be similar to those presented last week by the U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In a statement to the organization's board of governors, U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies confirmed that Iran either has--or will soon have--enough low-grade uranium which could be converted to weapons-grade material, if the decision is made.

According to Ambassador Davies, Tehran is moving closer to a dangerous, "breakout" capability, which would allow it to reprocess existing uranium into weapons-grade material in a relatively short period, and use it in a nuclear weapon. However, Davies repeated President Obama's overtures for direct talks with Iran, and said the administration is committed to a negotiated resolution of the nuclear issue. The ambassador made no mention of potential military options, something the Obama Administration has largely shunned.

Of course, there is one problem with the negotiation strategy. Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, feeling his oats after stealing this summer's presidential election, has ruled out any talks about his country's nuclear program, saying the "issue is over," and vowing to "never negotiate" his country's undeniable rights. Ahmadeinjad said he is willing to discuss other issues, preferably in a broadcast forum.

It is true that many national leaders have initially rejected talks with their adversaries, only to enter negotiations at some future point. But the Iranian regime believes it survived a major test with the recent elections and is now operating from a position of strength. Getting Tehran to the table will take months (if not years) and don't expect any breakthroughs once the talks begin.

Indeed, it doesn't take a diplomat to understand that Iran's negotiation model will probably follow that of North Korea, which has successfully stretched out talks with successive American administrations since the mid-1990s. The net result? Pyongyang now has nuclear weapons, an expanded arsenal of medium and long-range missiles, and it is sharing that technology with other rogue states, including Iran. So much for the diplomatic approach.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is locked in a battle over health care reform, and doesn't show much interest in the Iranian situation. A few months ago, the president suggested that Tehran would have "until the end of this year" to mull things over, and decide how it would respond to U.S. overtures. We apparently received our answer a few days ago, with Ahmadinejad's rejection of potential talks.

As President Obama contemplates his next move, those centrifuges at Natanz keep spinning, and Iran inches ever-closer to a nuclear weapons capability. If the health care debate represents Mr. Obama's first real moment of reckoning, then the Iran nuclear issue will be the second, pivotal issue of his administration. At this stage, both have something in common; a president who remains stubbornly wedded to policies that are doomed to fail.
ADDENDUM: And the good news keeps coming. During Friday's "midnight policy dump," the White House quietly announced that it is abandoning the Six Party Talks with North Korea. Instead, the U.S. will now negotiate directly with Pyongyang, the same sort of process that led 1994's "Agreed To" framework, a diplomatic disaster that allowed the DPRK to take its nuclear program underground. The technical breakthroughs that led to the 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests were achieved during the 1990s, when Pyongyang had ostensibly abandoned its weapons program, in exchange for aid from the U.S. and South Korea.

Now you know the real reason behind Bill Clinton's recent trip to North Korea--you know the one supposedly conducted to free those journalists from AlGore's outfit, CurrentTV.

Finally, how about a nuclear threat even closer to home? Hugo Chavez announced over the weekend that his country will develop nuclear energy in cooperation with Russia. Never mind that Venezuela literally floats on a vast sea of oil. Mr. Chavez wants to be a member of the nuclear club, and interprets our refusal to confront Iran and North Korea as a green light for his own plans.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

End of an Era

The "Eagle era" at Eglin AFB, Florida has come to an end.

Yesterday, the last three F-15s assigned to Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing left the base, heading for retirement at the Air Force "boneyard," located in Arizona.

With the departure of those jets, the wing's ramp will sit empty until next year, when it begins receiving the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Arrival of the new aircraft will also usher in a new mission for the unit, which will begin training F-35 pilots and crew chiefs. In that role, the 33rd will become part of Air Education and Training Command, ending a long association with Air Combat Command as an operational fighter wing.

While the 33rd was an Eagle unit for more than three decades, it was sometimes overshadowed by the better-know 1st Fighter Wing, stationed at Langley AFB, Virginia. The 1st Wing became the Air Force's original F-15 Wing in 1976, and was sometimes billed as "America's First Team."

But the 33rd was first when it counted. Both the Eglin wing and its counterpart from Langley deployed to the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield in 1990. The 1st, operating from Dhahran AB in eastern Saudi Arabia, which (at times) appeared to be ground zero for the global media. Members of the wing were frequently interviewed by journalists and the wing's presence became a symbol of U.S. resolve against Iraqi aggression.

The 33rd's beddown base was at Tabuk, in the northwestern corner of the royal kingdom. Visits from the press were less frequent, leaving the wing to concentrate on combat preparations.

As conflict loomed, arm chair strategists (largely) assumed that the 1st Wing would lead the charge into Baghdad, with the "Nomads" of the 33rd securing airspace in other areas. But according to Air Force legend, the commander of the 1st Fighter Wing requested another assignment for his unit just before the air war began. Stunned, the commander of Allied Air Forces, Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, gave the job to the 33rd.

It proved to be a fortuitous decision. Under the Command of Colonel Rick Parsons, the 33rd proved more that up to the task. They logged a total of 16 confirmed air-to-air kills against the Iraqi Air Force, the most of any allied fighter unit. Among the wing's other accomplishments during Desert Storm:

-Most combat sorties and hours for any F-15 Squadron (1,182 and 7,000 )
-Greatest number of pilots in one squadron with aerial victories (12)
-Most pilots from one squadron with multiple victories (4)
-Most MiG-29's destroyed in the air by any unit (5)
-First and only squadron to carry AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile during the war)
-Only Marine MiG Killer ( Capt Magill, USMC Exchange Officer)

Given its impressive accomplishments over Iraq, the 33rd laid claim to the title of the "World's Largest Distributor of MiG Parts" during the Gulf War. It's a record that may never be matched again, given our adversaries' reluctance to engage us in air combat.

The Nomads returned in triumph to Eglin and maintained their reputation for excellence over the next 18 years. Interestingly, the commander of the 1st Wing went on to earn two stars, while Parsons retired as a Colonel. Go figure.
ADDENDUM: While conceding that the 33rd scored the most aerial kills during Desert Storm, the 1st Wing long claimed that one of its pilots scored the first victory of the air war. But a closer examination of the evidence determined that the war's first air-to-air kill was actually scored by a Nomad.

A Matter of Decency

CBS Radio reporter Cami McCormick returned to the U.S. last week, beginning the next phase of her recovery from wounds suffered while covering the war in Afghanistan.

Ms. McCormick, a veteran combat journalist, was seriously injured when an IED exploded beneath the military vehicle she was riding in. A U.S. solider in the same vehicle was killed. Details of Ms. McCormick's wounds have not been released, but she underwent initial treatment at Bagram AB in Afghanistan, before being transferred to the U.S. military medical center at Landstuhl, Germany, then on to Walter Reed. Updates on her condition have been limited to a few statements from CBS News.

There is nothing wrong with the McCormick family (and the network) restricting the release of information about the wounded journalist. During such difficult times, Ms. McCormick is certainly entitled to her privacy. When she speaks about her ordeal, it will be on her terms, and at a time and place of McCormick's choosing. It's a policy the press honored when other journalists--including ABC's Bob Woodruff and CBS's Kimberly Dozier--were injured while covering the war in Iraq.

That policy stands in stark contrast to press treament of Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, whose dying moments were transmitted around the world by the Associated Press. A reporter and photographer from the wire service were embedded with Bernard's unit when he was struck by a rocket propelled grenade. As Corporal Bernard struggled to live, the photographer kept clicking away. He later died in surgery at a nearby field hospital.

In another time, such images would be withheld or even destroyed. But today's AP doesn't operate under those restrictions, at least when members of the U.S. military are involved. Over the objections of Bernard's grieving father, the Associated Press elected to disseminate the images to its subscribers around the world.

The wire service's president, Thomas Curley, said the decision to transmit the photographs was made after "extensive deliberations." Readers will note that an AP reporter in Maine, where the Bernard family resides, showed them the photos only after they were published. How considerate. Ultimately, the AP claimed, it was important to show viewers and readers the images, "in the context of the full report" (whatever that means).

Fine, but if that's the new standard, the Associated Press has been negligent in its coverage of other, high-profile attacks in the war zone. At the time she was wounded, Ms. McCormick was carrying a digital audio device which allows reporters to record, edit and transmit audio files. To understand the "full context" of that attack, shouldn't listeners hear the audio from that machine, particularly if it was recording when the attack occurred?

And shouldn't viewers be able to watch video from the bombings that nearly killed Bob Woodruff and Kimberly Dozier. Never mind that two members of Ms. Dozier's crew died in the blast. Seeing those final, horrific images would help Americans better understand the conflict, if you accept the AP's rationale.

We're guessing most Americans don't, but that's another story. Eight years into the War on Terror (or whatever it's being called these days), the vast majority of news consumers understand the human toll of conflict. We don't need to see graphic photos of a brave, dying Marine to appreciate the sacrifice of 5,000 American heroes who have died in service to this nation.

By disseminating the images of Joshua Bernard to a global audience, the AP not only violated his privacy, it also removed any remaining doubts about the political agenda of the world's largest wire service. Corporal Bernard became a prop to advance a cause, with no consideration for his grieving family.

Someone should ask Mr. Curley the same question posed to Joe McCarthy in the 1950s: "Have you no decency, sir?" Sadly, we know the answer to that question.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Pre-K "Cure"

Our latest column for Examiner.com looks at the dwindling number of young Americans who can qualify for military service--and a proposed fix for that problem. A group called Mission Readiness, which includes a number of retired flag officers, is recommending a massive, new investment in Pre-K education, claiming that such programs produce kids who do better in school, and are less likely to be involved in crime.

It sounds perfectly reasonable, but there are some problems with the suggested solution. We've been investing in Pre-K programs for decades (i.e., Head Start), with negligible results. Throwing more money at such efforts won't produce desired results. You'd think that retired generals and admirals would understand that.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Chipping Away at Teddy's (Defense) Legacy

Ted Kennedy was laid to rest three days ago, and it looks like a favorite defense pork bill will follow him to the grave.

Barely 48 hours after Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the Obama Administration renewed threats to veto a defense spending bill that funds one of the Senator's pet projects--the so-called "alternative" engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. According to Air Force Times, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the threat Monday, during a visit to the JSF production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, touring the Lockheed Martin Corp. plant where the first of the $100 million planes are being assembled, said there is no need for two engine suppliers.

"We have looked at the business case a number of times," Gates said. "The general conclusion is that it would cost several billion dollars in addition," and cause headaches for production down the road.

In an era of defense penny-pinching, Gates said, "We feel strongly there is not a need for the second engine."

While we've faulted Mr. Gates and his boss, President Obama, for many of their defense cuts, this one makes eminent sense. The alternative powerplant, the General Electric F136, offers no improvement in performance over the Pratt & Whitney F135, the standard engine for F-35. Producing another engine would create more jobs, but it would take DoD years to recoup the additional investment. B one etimate, the Pentagon (and taxpayers) wouldn't reach the break-even point on the alternate engine until "the late 2020s," more than a decade into the JSF's operational career.

Moreover, there is an established precedent for awarding a single-source contract for advanced fighter engines. Variants of the F/A-18 Hornet, which form the backbone of the Navy's fighter fleet, are powered by the GE F414, while the Air Force F-22 utilizes the Pratt & Whitney F119. In fact, the JSF's F135 is a derivative of the F-22 engine, which will reach 100,000 flight hours in 2009.

Critics claim that a second engine would help mitigate risks associated with a single-source engine. They note the F135 has failed twice on test stands, and continued reliance on the Pratt & Whitney engine could mean problems for operational JSF units. In response, supporters of the F135 claim the manufacturer is implementing fixes to correct the problems. They also observe that less than 20% of military aircraft groundings over the last 20 years have been the result of engine problems.

Availability is also a key issue for the GE engine. Various studies say the F136 is at least four years behind the Pratt & Whitney power plant in terms of development. As the JSF enters a critical period of testing and low-rate production, Lockheed-Martin (and its various customers) can hardly afford to wait for GE to "perfect" the F136.

It will be interesting to see if Kennedy's Congressional allies put up much of a fight for the GE engine. Interestingly, few have mentioned the only viable argument for continuing an alternative engine, i.e., thrust requirements for the Short Take-off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) versions of the F-35, built for the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Like most fighters, the JSF has picked up weight through design changes during the development process. These changes leave the F135 with little room to meet STOVL performance requirements for RAF and USMC models, particularly if the F-35 continues to "grow." The newer F136 design provides more thrust for STOVL profiles, but those consideration may not be a show-stopper. As Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman observed last year, most JSF customers don't need the STOVL feature; for them, the Pratt & Whitney engine is more than sufficient.

Reading the procurement tea leaves is sometimes difficult, but we'd say the F136 program will finally die in the months ahead. Without Ted Kennedy and his earmarks, it will be difficult (if not impossible) for GE to preserve the alternate engine.