Sunday, October 31, 2010

And They Wonder Why We Hate Them (Alaska TV Edition)

As many of you know, I am a recovering journalist. Before coming to my senses (and embarking on a military career) I spent several years as a print and broadcast reporter in the Mid-South region. During that time, I participated in literally hundreds of story, planning and general bull sessions, aimed at determining how the paper or broadcast outlet would cover the news.

The process goes something like this: editors or assignment managers (in broadcast journalism) build a "budget" of projected stories, based on the AP Daybook, the local police blotter, calls to their own contacts and other sources. Reporters and photographers (videographers on the TV side) have the opportunity to pitch story ideas and get their assignments. If the meeting is focusing on long-term coverage plans, the paper's managing editor or the station's news director may sit in on the meeting.

In many cases, it's a battle of egos against print space or airtime. Every reporter thinks his or her story is the most important, and they're willing to knife their competitor to keep the lead slot, or the space above the fold. There's usually a generous amount of cynicism and blue humor thrown in, the sort of stuff you can't reprint in a family-friendly blog.

Still, having been a participant in the process--and having sat through more story conferences and assignment meetings that I care to count--I was positively shocked by what transpired at KTVA, the CBS affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska.

As we've learned in recent hours, members of the station's news department openly discussed the possibility of reporting on the appearance of sex offenders at a campaign rally scheduled by Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller. They also laughed at the notion of sending out a Twitter alert on "any sort of chaos whatsoever," including Mr. Miller being punched.

Here's the complete transcript, courtesy of Andrew Breitbart's Big Government:

FEMALE REPORTER: That’s up to you because you have the
experience but that’s what I would do...I’d wait until you see who
shows up because that indicates we already know something...



FEMALE REPORTER: Child molesters...

MALE REPORTER: Oh yes...Joe Miller’s...uh...get a list of
people/campaign workers which one's the molester


FEMALE VOICE: You know that of all the people that will show up
tonight, at least one of them will be a registered sex offender.


MALE REPORTER: We need to find that one person...


FEMALE REPORTER: The one thing we can do is ....we won’t
know....we won’t know but if there is any sort of chaos whatsoever
we can put out a twitter/facebook alert: saying what the... ‘Hey Joe
Miller punched at rally.’

FEMALE REPORTER: Kinda like Rand Paul...I like that.


FEMALE REPORTER: That’s a good one.

We should also note that KTVA inadvertently triggered this firestorm. The station's assignment editor originally called the Miller campaign to inquire about the candidate's appearance on a KTVA newscast. But the editor failed to terminate the call on his iPhone, so the newsroom conversation was captured by an answering machine at Miller's campaign headquarters.

After confirming that the taped conversation originated at KTVA, the station now claims its staffers' comments are being "taken out of context." But from our perspective, the "context" seems clear enough. Look at the remarks from the female reporter, at the beginning of the exchange. Her observation about "waiting until you see who shows up," suggests that Channel 11 was tipped about someone--possibly a convicted sex offender--appearing at a Miller campaign event. If that individual could be identified, then KTVA had a potential blockbuster story, on the eve of a bitterly-contested Senate election. Based on the female reporter's comment--and the reaction of her colleagues--the conversation seems based on more than wishful thinking.

So, how did KTVA's assignment editor, Nick McDermott (or some other staffer), acquire this information? It certainly didn't come from the Miller campaign. Did it originate with one of his rivals, Republican incumbent (and write-in candidate) Lisa Murkowski, or Democrat Scott McAdams. Or, was someone at the station planning a dirty trick by inviting a sex offender to the rally, then confronting that individual (and the campaign) when they showed up?

Obviously, we don't know the details that spurred that lively conversation at KTVA. But it represents a new low for American journalism--if that is actually possible. If KTVA was aware that a sex offender was planning to attend the Miller rally (and they knew the parties behind the participant), then the Alaska station was a participant in a potential crime. Most sex offenders are banned from events that draw large crowds, since it may put them in contact with individuals (or groups of individuals) they must avoid. Going along with the "plan," KTVA put members of its viewing public at risk.

Again, let's assume that Channel 11 knew that a sex offender would be in the Miller crowd. They had an obligation to contact the campaign, and the local police. As far as we can tell, no one in the KTVA newsroom made a passing attempt to fulfill those obligations. They were clearly hoping for a "gotcha" encounter with the Republican Senate nominee, cooperating with a group--or individuals--who would provide that moment.

Doing a cursory search on KTVA, I learned that the station is locally owned and operated. I'm not sure how Channel 11's shareholders feel about this episode, but once upon a time, station owners would have convened an emergency meeting and fired the reporters and assignment manager involved in the incident, along with the news director. The conversation captured on tape reflects badly on the leadership of KTVA's news chief, Staci Feger, and her assistant, MJ Thim.

A fish rots from the head. the old axiom goes, and so does a newsroom. Judging from this incident, the news operation at Channel 11 in Anchorage is thoroughly corrupt; we can only be thankful that Mr. McDermott can't operate his iPhone properly. Otherwise, the news team at KTVA might have been able to pull off their little hit job, and put themselves in contention for an Edward R. Murrow Award, and maybe a local Emmy, for good measure.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Chicago (and Pennsylvania) Way

According to political legend, John F. Kennedy didn't really know he'd won the 1960 presidential race against Richard Nixon until he received a late-night phone call from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

"Mr. President," Daley intoned. That greeting told JFK that the Chicago Democratic machine had worked its magic, voting enough tombstones and "ghosts" to put Kennedy over the top in Illinois and into the White House.

Fifty years later, Democrats are still up to their old tricks. As Chuck Goudie of WLS-TV reports:

An Illinois county election official says that thousands, and potentially hundreds of thousands, of voters who are expecting a ballot sent to them by mail may be disenfranchised.

Chicagoan Rosia Carter is one of 404,000 registered Illinois voters who recently received vote-by-mail requests that were sent by the Illinois Democratic Coordinated Campaign.

"By the time I filled it out and sent it in, my vote would not get counted," Carter said.

She and others called the I-Team when they noticed the return address is not their local election official but instead a PO box for the organization. IDCC officials claim they are entering ballot request information into their own database before sending the mailings on to election authorities who then mail voters the ballot.

The Lake County clerk received a shipment of 500 ballot requests from the IDCC Tuesday. By law, her office has two days to process the ballot requests. The problem is, Thursday is the deadline for election officials to get the ballots out.

IDCC told the clerk that another 1,500 ballot requests are headed to her office, which, she says, may not give her enough time to process all the ballots, potentially disenfranchising voters.


Carter and others who contacted the I-Team are furious that their vote may also be thrown out because the IDCC put the registered voters' wrong birthdate on the form.

"My birthdate is wrong," said Carter. "That means it doesn't match the election board of commissioners' records."

In case you're wondering, a spokesman for the IDCC told WLS they used their organization's post office box as a return address to "better track the process and make sure there are fewer problems." And apparently, he said it with a straight face.

But the potential for political chicanery doesn't end with the potential disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. As Erick Erickson of Red State postulates, the Dims could simply rush to a (friendly) federal judge and demand an extension of submission times and tabulating periods so that "every vote counts." When that happens, the Democrats can tap into a pool of thousands of additional votes. It won't elect (or re-elect) a president, but it could be enough to sway hotly-contested Senate races in Illinois.

The remedy for conservatives is simple. Turn out in such huge numbers that it becomes impossible for Democrats to steal the election. But in the blue states, that's easier said than done. Besides, if the machine can't conjure up enough votes on election night, there's always Step Two in the Democratic playbook. Flood the zone with lawyers and start recounting until you achieve the desired result.

If you can, make a last-minute donation to Mark Kirk or Bill Brady, or volunteer some time for their campaigns. They need all the help they can muster in defeating their opponents--and the Democratic machine.
ADDENDUM: And oddly enough, a similar scandal is unfolding in Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Patrick Murphy is in the fight of his political life. Hundreds of voters in the district were warned that their votes might not count unless they returned an enclosed absentee ballot to a post office box in Bristol, Pennsylvania. The box was controlled by Murphy's campaign manager, who then "re-mailed" the ballots to the local election board.

As National Review has learned, there was a sudden surge in Democratic absentee ballots in the district last week, and many were mailed in identical, pre-labeled envelopes. Local GOP officials say some of the suspicious ballots were post-marked as far back as August, suggesting they had been held by a third party--perhaps the same individual who controlled the P.O. box where they were mailed? You know, the same guy running Murphy's re-election bid?

At this point, there's no proof that Congressman Murphy was involved. Officials with his campaign insist that no ballots sent to the post office box were discarded or tampered with.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The MANPAD Connection (Iranian Edition)

Among the thousands of Iraq War documents recently published by WikiLeaks, there were several reports detailing Iranian assistance for the terrorists fighting U.S. and coalition troops in that country. That was hardly a revelation--just a reminder of how Tehran seeks every opportunity to defeat American policies and kill our soldiers in the process.

As a reminder of Iran's on-going efforts in this area,
Sara Carter of the Washington Examiner has new information on Tehran's assistance for insurgents in Afghanistan. Various U.S. officials tell Ms. Carter--who is currently reporting from the war zone--that Iran is training Taliban fighters on the use of man-portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPAD SAMs), and may be supplying those weapons as well:

"We know the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] has been training Taliban fighters in the use of surface-to-air missiles," said a military official in Afghanistan with knowledge of the situation. "As of the moment it is uncertain whether the Taliban has access to the weapons systems necessary to utilize this training against the coalition."

That is the key question -- whether the Iranian government or other supporters of the Taliban have so far supplied the weapons necessary to conduct significant attacks against U.S. or coalition aircraft in the region, military sources said. The Iranians reportedly possess Chinese portable surface-to-air missiles of the type that would threaten coalition aircraft.

Current and retired military officers tell the Examiner that improved Taliban employment of MANPADs could be a "game-changer" in the Afghan conflict, jeopardizing NATO's control of the air. During the 1980s war with the former Soviet Union, mujaheddin fighters used American-supplied Stinger missiles to chase Russian helicopters (and other close air support platforms) from the skies, forcing Moscow to eventually withdraw its military forces.

But care must be taken in comparing the Russian experience in Afghanistan, and our own experience with Taliban MANPADs. For starters, it's worth remembering that Taliban and Al Qaida elements have used shoulder-fired SAMs against our aircraft throughout the conflict, with virtually no success.

And it's no due to a lack of weaponry, either. Literally hundreds of MANPADs were left behind after the war with Russia ended. And, U.S. experts were stunned to learn that early-model Stingers, along with older, Soviet-built SA-7s and SA-14s remained viable years after their projected expiration date, even in Afghanistan's brutal climate, and with none of the required maintenance.

The problem, we discovered was with how the missiles were employed. We won't go into specific details, but suffice it to say, both Taliban and Al Qaida gunners made fundamental mistakes that virtually guaranteed a miss. That may be one reason that RPGs became the weapon of choice against NATO helicopters--and that Iran was called in to provide remedial training.

But even optimum employment tactics won't guarantee success. One reason the Soviets lost the air war in the 1980s was their inability to field state-0f-the-art self-protection suites, and teach their aircrews how to use them. As losses rose, the Russians simply moved their attack choppers and aircraft out of the SAM belt, greatly reducing the effectiveness of those platforms.

By comparison, the U.S. has invested heavily in counter-measures systems designed to defeat MANPAD SAMs. This technology is based on years of years of testing and analysis of various shoulder-fired missiles, including those found in Afghanistan. And, with advances in electronics and computer technology, defensive systems can be updated without removing them from the aircraft; it's just a matter of plugging a portable computer into the aircraft, and the self-protection software is updated instantly.

Additionally, U.S. crews have long trained for the IR SAM threat, so our tactics are refined and effective. We also have the advantage of improved surveillance, thanks to Predator and Reaper drones. UAVs are often deployed ahead of attack packages, allowing identification of potential threats before the Apaches, Blackhawks and A-10s arrive in the area. And, since most of the drones now carry Hellfire missiles (or similar weaponry), there's no need to wait for a manned aircraft to eliminate the threat.

There's also the matter of what MANPADs might be available to insurgents. Ms. Carter's account mentions the HN-5, a Chinese copy of the 40-year-old SA-7. Needless to say, the HN-5 is anything but state-of-the-art. Defensive suites on NATO helicopters and other aircraft can easily defeat the first-generation MANPAD. Taliban and Al Qaida elements won't gain much from the HN-5, except an early opportunity to meet Allah and their allotment of virgins.

Still, the MANPAD threat in Afghanistan can't be totally dismissed. Even the ancient HN-5/SA-7 can be effective in an ambush scenario. There's also the chance that terrorists might acquire more advanced systems. Literally thousands of MANPADs of all types are available for sale on the black and gray arms markets, including more capable systems like the Russian SA-16 and SA-18. Conversely, there is no confirmation that the most deadly MANPAD (Stinger RMP) has made its way into the hands of our adversaries.

But earlier Stinger models were manufactured under license by various foreign nations, including Pakistan. Given the relationship between that nation's intelligence service and the Taliban, it's possible that some of those missile have been used against our aircraft in Afghanistan.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball

Over at National Review's "Campaign Spot," Jim Geraghty has an interesting update from his long-time mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the senior GOP operative who always provides fascinating insights on political races and polling data. According to Mr. Geraghy, Obi-Wan sees four potential scenarios for next week's mid-term elections:

First, THE FADING-GOP WAVE SCENARIO: This one is easy. If the generic GOP lead starts to fade and this continues through the weekend to a few points or nearly even on Election Day, then the GOP makes gains in the House but fails to take control, and gains three or four in the Senate. (With disappointments in places like Pennsylvania, Colorado, California and maybe Nevada.)

Second, THE OKAY WAVE SCENARIO: Polling stays about where it is — with strong generic GOP lead (5 to 9 percentage points or more) as GOP leads in many Senate races stay roughly the same; in places like Washington, California and Connecticut, Democrat candidates either break 50 percent or keep a steady gap or widen it. Still, a wave election, with House gains of up to 50 or 60. But GOP fails at Senate control by two to four seats, which shows that (1) to some extent the Democrats’ strategy of individualizing senate rates with harsh negative attacks worked or (2) voters just chose to channel their anger at the Obama administration in their House voting but were discriminating – picking and choosing — in the Senate races.

Third, THE HAPPY-TIMES WAVE SCENARIO: Polling stays about where it is — with strong generic GOP lead between 5 and 9 and GOP Senate candidates in Washington, California, and Connecticut still within reach (6 to 9 points down.) There you would see House gains of up to 50 or 60 or a bit beyond, and it’s a wave election that really does lift all boats and the GOP takes the Senate by a vote or two.

Fourth, THE SUPERWAVE: House gains of 60 to 90, even beyond. Senate races carried along as GOP ends up with three or four vote margin in Senate.

When Geraghty asked why he didn't offer signs of the "Superwave," Obi-Wan offered this observation, noting that we've "never seen this sort of thing before and in part because we're already there in some ways."

Still, Obi-wan stopped short of saying a GOP Superwave is upon us, suggesting that the election could still break in the direction of any of the four scenarios. But he did find a rather interesting nugget in a Battleground poll (commissioned by Politico), which was released on Monday. That survey showed the GOP with a five-point lead among likely voters, but the margin swells to 14 among a category called "most likely voters." That reflects continuing energy and excitement among the Republican base--and the mass defection of Independents to the GOP.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hey, I've Got an Idea! Let Saddam Shoot Down a U-2

So far, the new autobiography of General Hugh Shelton, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hasn't received a lot of attention in media or publishing circles. Two weeks after its publication, the 500-page memoir hasn't cracked the Top 100 on, or received high-profile reviews in the Washington Post or The New York Times, although he did appear on ABC's This Week.

Indeed, the only real "buzz" generated by the book was a story that ran--briefly--last week, describing how President Clinton misplaced the nuclear "cookie" (the codes needed to launch nuclear weapons) for several weeks. General Shelton's account confirms the claim of retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Buzz Peterson, who detailed the incident in his book, Dereliction of Duty, more than six years ago.

But there's another anecdote in Shelton's autobiography that is far more disturbing. At a weekly breakfast with other Clinton Administration security officials, a senior cabinet officer (unnamed in the book) proposed a novel idea for starting a "needed" war with Saddam Hussein:

"At one of my very first breakfasts, while [National Security Advisor Sandy]Berger and [Defense Secretary William] Cohen were engaged in a sidebar discussion at one end of the table and [CIA Director George] Tenet and [UN Ambassador Bill] Richardson were preoccupied in another, one of the cabinet members present leaned over to me and said “Hugh, I know I shouldn’t even be asking you this, but what we really need in order to go in and take out Saddam is a precipitous event — something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world. Could you have one of our U-2s fly low enough — and slow enough — so as to guarantee that Saddam could shoot it down?”

“The hair on the back of my neck bristled, my teeth clenched, and my fists tightened,” Shelton wrote. “I was so mad I was about to explode. I looked across the table, thinking about the pilot in the U-2 and responded, ‘Of course we can ...’ which prompted a big smile on the official’s face.

“’You can?’ was the excited reply.

“’Why, of course we can,’” I countered. ‘Just as soon as we get your ass qualified to fly it, I will have it flown just as low and slow as you want to go.’

General Shelton writes that he was shocked at the disrespect and sheer audacity of the question. The cabinet official was quite willing to send a U-2 pilot to his or her death, providing the justification required for "getting" Saddam. In 34 years of service leading up to that 1997 exchange, Shelton said he had never seen or imagined "anything that came close" to a senior cabinet member suggesting that he be a party to killing one of our great airmen, in hopes of starting a war.

This particular revelation has touched off speculation in some circles as to the identity of that cabinet secretary. Reading between the lines, it doesn't take much detective work to finger Secretary of State Madeline Albright as (perhaps) the most likely suspect. According to Shelton, Ms. Albright was a regular participant in the meetings, and one of the few cabinet-level officials present. And, according to the general's account, the other cabinet officers present (Cohen and Tenet) were engaged in other discussions, making Albright a leading candidate for the repugnant "suggestion."

But that's not the only evidence that leads us to Secretary Albright. In Colin Powell's book Soldier, he writes of run-ins with Albright (then our ambassador to the United Nations) on the subject of Bosnia. Albright was an early advocate of U.S. military action in the Balkans; Powell, in his role as Chairman of the JCS, was hesitant. He found no compelling American interest in the region, and warned that any military commitment would result in "numerous casualties" and require an open-ended commitment that might last for decades.

Exasperated at Powell's "no can do" approach, Albright once asked him: what's the point in having an army if you can't use it? General Powell, of course, was not only concerned about the geopolitical impact of military operations in the Balkans, he was also worried about the soldiers who would perform that mission.

More than fifteen years later, we can argue about who was "right" and "wrong" about U.S. policies in the Balkans. But given Ms. Albright's preference for military intervention in the early stages of that conflict, it's not hard to imagine her floating the idea of starting a war with Saddam--with an Air Force U-2 (and its pilot) as the bait.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Today's Reading Assignment

Fred Kaplan of Slate has been rummaging through the latest WikiLeaks dump of Iraq War documents, and seems less-than-impressed:

Judging from the excerpts and analyses in the English-language papers, the documents contain a few new and interesting things, some of which may not please the war critics who tend to be among WikiLeaks' biggest fans.

First, it seems that Pentagon officials were keeping a log of civilian casualties, though spokesmen frequently said at the time that they weren't. A secret Defense Department report estimated that just over 100,000 noncombatants were killed between 2004 and 2009.


However, the bigger finding is that, at least according to the Pentagon's secret report, most Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by other Iraqis. The report calculates 31,780 Iraqis killed by roadside bombs and 34,814 by sectarian killings (notated as "murders").

Perhaps the most startling document, summarized in one of the several New York Times stories about the archive, tells of a violent border incident on Sept. 7, 2006, when an Iranian soldier aimed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at a U.S. platoon. Before he could fire the RPG, an American soldier killed the Iranian with .50-caliber-machine-gun fire. The U.S. platoon, which had been near the border looking for Iranian infiltration routes, withdrew under fire.

As Mr. Kaplan observes, the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, justifies the publication of classified documents by claiming he "helps people who are vulnerable...and I enjoy crushing the bastards." Assange would never admit it, but the latest dump demonstrates that the real bad guys in Iraq are the locals--and the "neighbors" next door.

One More Day

Military voters in Illinois will have more time to return their absentee ballots.

One more day, to be exact.

Yesterday, officials in six Illinois counties announced that military personnel and other overseas voters will have until election day (November 2nd) to postmark their ballots. Other absentee voters in the state must have their ballots in the mail by November 1st.

Representatives of the six counties--Boone, Hancock, Jersey, Massac, Schulyer and St. Clair--will also extend the November 14th deadline for receiving absentee ballots by another four or five days. That (ostensibly) gives military personnel stationed abroad more time to return their ballots.

At first glance, the revised timetable seems to be an act of generosity. But it's also worth remembering that the six counties mailed out their absentee ballots more than two weeks late, missing the 45-day deadline mandated by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. And, the Illinois counties extended their absentee ballot deadlines only after the Department of Justice filed suit in federal court to enforce the mandate. Given DOJ's less-than-enthusiastic enforcement of the MOVE Act, the Illinois case is especially egregious.

That's because the absentee voter problem in Illinois extends well beyond those six counties. According to the Chicago Tribune, 29 additional counties also missed the original, September 14th deadline. However, they will note have to extend their deadlines because state law allows a 14-day cushion after the election to process incoming overseas ballots.

Illinois Democrats have accused Republicans of over-stating the problem. They cite figures from election officials that show less than 2,000 military personnel serving overseas have requested absentee ballots---and many of the counties that were slow in sending them out are controlled by the GOP.

But that's only part of the story. Many of those military members stationed outside the U.S. have a spouse (or other family members) who also vote in Illinois, and have (presumably) requested absentee ballots. Another 5,500 ballots were sent to military personnel from Illinois who serve in other states. So, the military absentee voter pool in the Land of Lincoln is far larger than the 1,800 ballots heading overseas.

So far, there's no data on how many military voters have actually received their ballots. And, there's the more important question of whether they will actually count. It's an understatement to say that some Illinois localities (hellooo, Cook County) have a proud tradition of election chicanery and fraud. With tight races for Senator and Governor, it will be interesting to see how many of those military votes aren't counted next month.

To be fair, the problem is not limited to Illinois. More than a half-dozen states asked for waivers from the MOVE Act's requirements, and there is some evidence that the Obama DOJ actually encouraged those requests. Meanwhile, there are those sobering statistics from recent elections; according to the Washington Times, at least 17,000 military ballots were rejected in 2008, and the estimates from previous election cycles are even higher. Given inconsistent enforcement of the MOVE law (and late ballot mailings in several states), it seems likely that military members will--once again--be the most disenfranchised segment of the American electorate.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Under Fire

Sad to say, but one of the "big issues" in the Illinois Senate race is whether the Republican candidate, Mark Kirk, was shot at while serving in the Naval Reserve in Kosovo and Iraq.

The question surfaced again during their most recent debate earlier this week. Mr. Kirk's opponent, Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, again raised the issue. You'd think that voters in the land of Lincoln might be more concerned about the failure of Mr. Giannoulias's family bank, its long history of lending to mobsters and other convicted felons, and his own calls for higher taxes. But this is the silly season in politics, so Mr. Kirk's war record is (again) a matter for public scrutiny.

This much is certain: Mr. Kirk, currently a member of the U.S. House, joined the Navy Reserve almost 22 years ago. He has served as an intelligence officer during the First Gulf War; Operation Allied Force, and the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kirk has been consistently praised by superiors as an outstanding leader, analyst and briefer. During the Kosovo conflict, he led intelligence support efforts for EA-6B "Prowler" squadrons at Aviano AB, Italy.

That may seem like a rather routine assignment; after all, virtually every attack, fighter and patrol squadron in the Navy has its own intelligence staff, updating threat information, briefing aircrews and debriefing them upon their return. But the EA-6B performs a vitally important mission; for the past decade, it has been DOD's only dedicated aerial radar jammer, providing both standoff and close-in support for Allied strike packages.

In a moderate-to-high threat environment, the presence of a Prowler can mean the difference between a pilot making it home, or becoming a casualty of war. And, as you might expect, the EA-6B requires precision intelligence, so that its jamming and HARM missile capabilities can be optimized for expected threats.

At Aviano in 1999, then-Lieutenant Commander Kirk led the charge in melding the intel personnel from four deployed Prowler squadrons into a single team, providing round-the-clock support for their crews. In his fitness reports, Kirk is continually cited as an outstanding intelligence officer; his commander at Aviano described him as the top officer in his unit ("#1 of 20 if compared to all officers in this command.").

That's a laudatory rating, even when you account for the inflation that invariably creeps into all performance reports. But the commander's endorsement is even more impressive when you consider that most of the officers in Kirk's squadron were aircrew members. Historically, it's been difficult for intel officers in flying units to compete for promotion and awards, simply because they "don't wear wings." I know this from personal experience, having served in two unit-level intel assignments (supporting F-4s and F-16s) during my Air Force career.

Clearly, Mr. Kirk's military record speaks for itself. So, it's a bit puzzling that he tried to embellish his accomplishments earlier this year by claiming he received a pretigious Navy intelligence award. Actually, it was given to his unit at Aviano, but as Kirk's commander noted, "without Mark, there would have been no award."

Which brings us to the "under fire" controversy. Navy records indicate that Mr. Kirk flew at least one mission as an observer in Kosovo, and three more during a deployment in support of Operation Northern Watch over Iraq. It was during those flights that Kirk claims he came under anti-aircraft fire, though he now says he can't be sure if it was directed specifically at his aircraft.

And, that's a fair assessment. Aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq constantly came under enemy fire, although it was wildly inaccurate. In some cases, that was a product of poorly-trained Iraqi crews; on other occasions, AAA and SAM crews didn't want to utilize fire-control radars for fear of being targeted with a HARM, or they were employing some of Saddam's improvised air defense systems (dubbed "science projects" in the spook world) that never worked as advertised.

In other words, it's quite possible that Mr. Kirk came under fire during those missions over Iraq, and (possibly) in the skies above Kosovo as well. There is, of course, one way to resolve the controversy once and for all. A mission debriefing report (or MISREP) was prepared for each of those missions that Mark Kirk participated in as an observer. Sightings or encounters with enemy fire are noted in those reports. If the MISREPs from his flights can be located, there should be some notation if the crew was targeted by enemy anti-aircraft fire, or observed it from a distance.

Hopefully, Mark Kirk--and other candidates--have learned a lesson from this. Your military accomplishments can stand on their own merit, without emphasizing the few "Top Gun" moments of your career. Still, we can't help but note the hypocrisy in this matter. By our reckoning, Mr. Kirk's flights over Kosovo and Iraq are getting more attention down the stretch than Mr. Giannoulias's role as a "take charge" loan officer at a failed bank with ties to the mob.

But then again, Mr. Kirk is a Republican. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sadly, We Know the Answer

Cheri Jacobus, writing at The Hill's Pundit's Blog, asks the same question we'd like to pose to the folks at ABC:

Why is Meghan McCain on TV?

The spawn of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is doing herself, her father and the GOP no favors. On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, the 26-year-old Meghan McCain (R-or-D, of absolutely nothing) tore into Delaware's GOP Senate nominee, Christine O'Donnell, sharing with a national television audience that "in my group of friends, it turns people off because she's seen as a nut-job." In truth, many Republicans share that view, which should not come as a surprise to anyone. But why is it that we are listening to a 26-year-old with no political or professional accomplishments of her own? Her book Dirty, Sexy Politics would not be possible were it not for her good luck of being the daughter of John McCain.


"I speak as a 26-year-old woman, and my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O'Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office," McCain said. "She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business." McCain said O'Donnell's lack of experience is a problem and that “one day you can just wake and run for Senate, no matter how [much of] a lack of experience you have.”

Sadly, we know why Ms. McCain was booked on This Week--and it has nothing to do with her political expertise. The producers at ABC News knew that Meghan McCain would bash Christine O'Donnell without any prompting, and that's exactly what they were looking for. Ms. O'Donnell has clear flaws as a candidate, but she's been making up ground in the polls and the Inside-the-Beltway crowd is positively aghast that she might actually win. At this point, she's still a longshot, but her positions are infinitely preferable to those of her opponent, the one-time protege of a "bearded Marxist," Chris Koons.

As for Meghan McCain, she represents everything that's wrong with the GOP establishment, content to slide along on her mother's wealth and her father's political reputation, quick to slam anyone who doesn't represent the RINO brand.

Ms. Jacobus finds it particularly ironic that Meghan McCain, a woman of meager accomplishments, would criticize anyone for the lack of a resume. Happily, she appears to be the only one of John McCain's children who inherited those bad genes. One of her brothers served as an enlisted Marine in Iraq, and another graduated from Annapolis. Based on those achievements alone, they are individuals of far greater substance than their "pundit" sister.

Watching her during a previous TV appearance, Mrs. Spook described Meghan McCain as the "Alice Roosevelt Longworth of the Twitter set--without the verve or the wit."

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Big Bang?

A 3-D view of missile silos at the Imam Ali missile base near Khorramabad, Iran. The complex was reportedly damaged by a series of underground explosions this week (Google Earth photo via IMINT & Analysis)

While world attention has been focused on the recent copper mine rescue in Chile, there was (reportedly) another underground event-of-note, this one in Iran.

Israel-based DEBKAfile reports that a series of blasts occurred on Tuesday at the underground Iranian missile base near Khorramabad. While DEBKA's accuracy is sometimes spotty, the story--if true--is certainly compelling, and suggests that the covert war against Iran has entered a new phase.

Intelligence sources (almost certainly Israeli) tell DEBKA that three blasts hit underground facilities at the Imam Ali Base on Tuesday, the day before Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadiejad arrived in Lebanon. Interestingly, Tehran has acknowledge that a mishap took place at the missile facility, blaming it on a "fire" that spread to a munitions storage facility. Officially, Iran says that 18 soldiers--all members of the Revolutionary Guards--were killed in the blasts and 14 others were injured. Western intelligence officials believe the death toll was actually much higher.

Reports of underground explosions at Khorramabad immediately caught our attention. It was one of the first facilities built to support the Shahab-3, the first Iranian ballistic system capable of striking targets in Israel. Intelligence analysts believe at least 15 Shahab-3s are stationed at the Iman Ali Base, along with an unknown number of mobile launchers. Much of missile maintenance and storage activity at the installation is conducted underground, making it difficult for western intelligence to determine how many missiles are in garrison at any given time, and the overall operational posture of the Shahab-3 unit.

Security at the base is extremely tight, and the underground chambers are (presumably) equipped with blast doors, sprinkler systems and other protective measures. That makes the explosions even more remarkable. Assuming that DEBKA is correct, the Iranians must concede that one of their most important missile bases was crippled by an act of sabotage.

Readers will also note that no one (so far) has claimed responsibility for the blasts. In terms of the usual suspects, you can probably rule out Iranian opposition groups. Generally speaking, they lack the resources to carry out that sort of strike; besides, if one of those groups was behind the strike, they would likely claim credit, to enhance their stature within opposition community and score propaganda points at the expense of the Iranian regime.

It's also doubtful the CIA was behind the incident. We can't imagine the Obama Administration using the agency's covert operations assets to stage such a provocative attack against the Tehran regime--the same government it has been trying to court diplomatically (without success) for the past two years.

On the other hand, the Israel's Mossad certainly has the assets, the skill and the willingness to strike key Iranian targets. And, it certainly fits with the recent pattern of mysterious attacks against Tehran's WMD programs and delivery systems. Earlier this year, computer networks at key facilities--including Iranian nuclear complexes--were hit with a crippling cyber attack, using the Stuxnet worm. Now, one of its medium-range missile bases has been damaged in a daring strike. Operatives somehow penetrated the installation's multiple layers of security, then planted and detonated bombs that destroyed some of Iran's most important military assets.

Again, assuming the DEBKA report is correct, the counter-intelligence folks in Tehran must be going crazy. Stuxnet was bad enough; now a potentially crippling strike at a Shahab-3 base. The mullahs aren't happy, and they want answers--now. Look for a wave of arrests in the coming days, aimed largely at placating senior officials.

As readers will recall, there was a similar round-up in the wake of Stuxnet. According to state-run media, a number of "cyber-terrorists" were arrested by Iranian security officials, but the computer attacks have continued. Part of that reflects the nature of cyber-warfare; once unleashed, it's hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

But experts have also noted that once the malware is unleashed (typically through a flash drive or other external device), the scope of that particular infection is limited. Just one more indication that Stuxnet is not your typical bit of malware, but a brilliantly-designed--and executed--cyber strike. And, as the infections continue, Iran can only wonder how many more "terrorists" are out there, waiting to plug a flash drive into a targeted system.

And who might be waiting to blow up Bakhtaran, or some other missile base. Bakhtaran is the Shahab-3 facility with the "hole in the roof," allowing covert launches from inside its underground complex. Damaging Iran's "bolt-from-the-blue" capability might be the next move in this unconventional war.


ADDENDUM: Iran has constructed silos at the Imam Ali base in recent years, ostensibly for the basing and protection of Shahab-3s. At this point it's unclear how many of those silos house missiles; if any of the silos were targeted by the blast, and the number of missiles damaged or destroyed.

Made (Partially) in Tehran

It's no secret that missile and WMD technology are among the few viable exports of North Korea. That Syrian nuclear facility destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in 2007 was a near carbon-copy of a similar complex in the DPRK. North Korean scientists and technicians are also involved in Iran's nuclear program and ballistic missile programs in a dozen countries owe some debt to Pyongyang.

Now, Kim Jong-il's friends in Tehran are returning the technology favor. According to David Fulgham and Robert Wall at Aviation Week, weaponry recently unveiled in North Korea suggests even closer cooperation with Iran:

The North Korean military parade last weekend does more than give world exposure to the heir apparent to Pyongyang’s leadership. It also revealed a new road-mobile ballistic missile – a variant of the BM-25 Musudan with a projected range of 3,000-4,000 km.

More intriguing, North Korea’s weaponry is showing design characteristics associated with the Shahab 3, Iran’s most advanced missile. Such evidence is leading some international analysts to the conclusion that the ballistic missile development ties between the two countries is active and producing improvements in the arsenals of both countries.

While it would seem doubtful that complete missiles or missile sections are being shipped – given the close scrutiny by the West of North Korea shipping – components and engineering data could move relatively easily by air and diplomatic pouch.

Though public display of the Musudan was considered the highlight of last week's military parade in Pyongyang, Fulgham and Wall note that a new variant of the Nodong medium-range ballistic missile was also display--featuring a nosecone design associated with Iranian systems:

The parade showcased a No-dong with a tri-conic nosecone. That configuration is typically associated with Iran’s Shahab-3, causing some analysts to suggest technical information gleaned by Tehran in flight trials is being fed to Pyongyang. Such a move would suggest Iran has made considerable progress in developing its indigenous missile engineering expertise.

And, the missile technology-sharing between Pyongyang and Tehran is no limited to the Nodong/Shahab programs. Iran acquired the BM-25 shortly after North Korea, although the intermediate range system has never been publicly displayed in the Islamic Republic, and no flight tests have been conducted.

As Aviation Week notes, the presence of the BM-25 in Iran creates security concerns in Europe. With its 4,000 kilometer range, the BM-25/Musudan is capable of striking targets in southern Europe, one reason the Bush Administration pushed hard for land-based missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. Those plans were scrapped by the Obama Administration, in favor of a shield built around naval ships equipped with the Aegis battle management system and SM-3 interceptor missiles. The naval platforms will (eventually) be augmented by shore-based THAAD batteries and Patriot missiles belonging to the U.S. and other NATO countries.

The BM-25 also provides a perfect platform for the nuclear ambitions of both Iran and North Korea. As we observed in a recent post, the BM-25 (or Musudan, if you prefer) is based on the SS-N-6 sub-launched ballistic missile, developed during the Cold War by the Soviet Union. Moscow claims the technology provided to North Korea did not include nuclear warhead design or integration capabilities, but that knowledge can be easily acquired; after all, the Russian design bureau that created the SS-N-6 is the same firm that helped North Korea build its first Musudans. And, it's a sure bet that representatives from that company are also present in Iran.

For Israel--already living in the shadow of Iranian Shahab-3 medium-range missiles--the BM-25 presents a new targeting challenge. With its longer range, BM-25s can be deployed over a wider area of western Iran, making them more difficult to track down before they can be launched. Development of mobile launchers for the BM-25 make that task ever more complicated.

At some point, either North Korea or Iran will have to flight-test their intermediate-range systems. At that point, we'll get a better idea of just how advanced their missile technology has become. Incidentally, an Israeli expert tells Aviation Week that Iranian missiles are not showing greater range--their accuracy has improved as well. Some variants now have a CEP of only 100 meters--more than accurate enough for nuclear work.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Those Days are Gone

Not long ago, CNN liked to brag that its ratings always surged past Fox when there was breaking news, particularly a big story overseas. Viewers had grown accustomed to switching to the original cable news channel for breaking news, and with CNN's global reach, they were (supposedly) better qualified to cover international events.

My, how times have changed. Whatever advantage CNN once had in breaking news has long since evaporated. According to Deadline Hollywood, Fox News Channel hit a ratings high for this year, with last night's coverage of the miner rescue in Chile:

Some 7.1 million viewers tuned into Fox News at 8 PM last night to watch the last trapped Chilean miner, Luis Urzua, making it safely to the surface. That was not only the cable news channel's largest audience in the hour this year but its biggest viewership since Election Night 2008. It more than doubled what the channel's flagship series, The O'Reilly Factor, averages at 8 PM. Fox News not only pummeled its entire cable competition, it also beat broadcast networks NBC and Fox in the 8 PM hour. CNN also got a boost with its rescue coverage vs. the miniscule ratings it has been getting in the 8 PM slot with new talkshow Parker Spitzer. The network averaged 2.7 million viewers. That was almost 10 times what the show hosted by former New York Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer and political columnist Kathleen Parker most recently logged at 8 PM but trailed Fox News by a wide margin in the area CNN used to dominate - breaking news. MSNBC (1.1 million) was on par with what Keith Olbermann normally delivers in the 8 PM hour. Overall, Fox News' primetime average last night was 4.9 million viewers, followed by CNN (2.4 million) and MSNBC (920,000).

The website's TV editor, Nellie Andreeva, notes that Fox benefited from miscues by their competition. MSNBC apparently decided that its program "Rallying the Democratic Base"...oops, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" was a better fit for the time slot, a decision that produced paltry ratings. Over at CNN, they allowed their new team of Kathleen Parker and Elliot Spitzer handle the coverage, and both were clearly over their heads.

Still, the mine rescue was almost a miracle for CNN. Those 2.7 million viewers tuned to the network represented CNN's largest 8 pm audience in months. And, through a little scheduling trick, those numbers will be assigned to Parker/Spitzer, which has struggled mightily in the ratings. Factoring in one night of huge numbers will improve Parker/Spitzer's overall ratings (a bit) and help stave off cancellation for a few more weeks.

But the tide has clearly turned in cable news. CNN's reshuffled executive team can no longer hope for a slate of breaking news stories or an international crisis to boost ratings. Breaking news is now dominated by Fox, the outlet that was given no chance for success when it made its debut 14 years ago.

It will be interesting to see how many viewers Fox will attract on election night. We'll go out on a limb and predict that FNC will not only thrash its cable rivals, but also attract more viewers than at least one of the broadcast networks (most likely CBS). We'll see how accurate our prediction is in less than three weeks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

She's Baack

Glenn MacDonald at will never win a Pulitzer Prize. But he deserves tremendous credit for following a story that the MSM forgot (read: never bother to pursue in the first place). It's a story of deception, cover-up and corruption at the highest levels of our military.

We refer, of course, to the saga of Air Force Major Jill Metzger. She's the personnel officer who disappeared during a TDY deployment to Kyrgyzstan back in September, 2006. Major Metzger vanished during a trip to a shopping mall in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital city. Video surveillance footage showed Metzger leaving her group voluntarily, under her own power.

She resurfaced three days later with an improbable tale of being abducted and held hostage, before the 90-pound officer overpowered her kidnappers and escaped. Major Meztger (a two-time winner of the Air Force Marathon) said she then ran 30 miles barefoot to freedom.

Kyrgyz police officials who investigated the incident said that Metzger gave conflicting accounts of her disappearance, then refused to provide any additional information, after speaking with representatives of the U.S. Embassy. She left the country less than three days later and returned to her assignment at Moody AFB, Georgia. Metzger has refused all media requests for interviews about her "abduction" and "escape."

But Mr. MacDonald, a Vietnam veteran and former reporter for UPI and ABC Radio, decided to dig deeper. What he uncovered was stunning. Sources in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (the service's undercover investigation unit) told him that Major Metzger failed not one, but two, polygraphs. Agents also told him that her story had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese and when they confronted her over obvious contradictions, she refused to cooperate. Those revelations are even more stunning when you consider that Metzger's husband is an OSI agent, and her father-in-law is a senior officer in the organization.

MacDonald was also to first to reveal that Metzger refused a pregnancy test and rape kit after her repatriation (there are credible reports that she obtained an abortion during the disappearance). And, MacDonald's website followed that exclusive with reports of Metzger refusing to cooperate with U.S. investigators; her subsequent diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder, and her transfer to "temporarily retired" status--with a tax-free, 100% disability pension to boot.

Now, has learned that Major Metzger has returned to active duty. After three years on the retired list, Metzger is back in uniform, as Chief of Community Programs at Andrews AFB, Maryland. Officers and NCOs at the base tipped Mr. MacDonald that Metzger has returned to active status. An Air Force public affairs officer--speaking on the condition of anonymity--confirmed that Metzger is now serving at Andrews. Her husband is also reportedly assigned there; AFOSI Headquarters is located at that installation.

With Major Metzger back on active duty, the Air Force (seemingly) has an opportunity to clear up all those unanswered questions about her "abduction." Lest we forget, the incident damaged relations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan, and cost American taxpayers millions of dollars in higher basing fees and investigation costs. Not to mention the quarter-million or so that Metzger collected during her three years on the temporarily retired list.

Unfortunately, the USAF has no interest in re-opening the Metzger file. She is apparently well-connected with the brass, going back to her days as a marathon champion. When Major Metzger returned to Manas AB after her kidnapping, she was greeted by then-Lieutenant General Gary North, Commander of U.S. Central Air Forces. But North didn't want his presence known. "You didn't see anything," he told a security forces specialist, pressing his ceremonial coin into the airman's hands. "Don't talk to the media."

Metzger was placed on the retired list ten months later, after being diagnosed with PTSD and awarded a full disability rating. Despite the "ravages" of her condition, Major Metzger still found the strength to compete in the annual Air Force Marathon. Meanwhile, hundreds of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan wondered how Metzger moved through the system so quickly, and received a 100% disability rating--despite never seeing combat.

Four years after her disappearance in Bishkek, the Jill Metzger scandal still stinks to high heaven. Major Metzger's fellow airmen--and the American public--have a right to know what really happened in September 2006 and why the truth has never been revealed.

As for Mr. MacDonald, he deserves plaudits for keeping the story alive. Even if the brass wants the cover-up to continue, and MSM press outlets (including those that cover the military) simply don't care.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The "Expert" on the Bench

A federal district judge in California has issued a nationwide injunction ending enforcement of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, effectively ending the military's long-time ban on openly gay troops.

In her landmark ruling, Judge Virginia Phillips also ordered the Pentagon to halt all discharge proceedings and investigations prompted by the policy. Phillips is the same judge who declared the law unconstitutional earlier this summer.

As the Associated Press reports, Judge Phillips rejected government claims that lifting the ban could adversely impact military operations:

Government attorneys had warned Phillips that such an abrupt change might harm military operations in a time of war.

They had asked Phillips to limit her ruling to the 19,000 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, which includes current and former military service members.
The Department of Justice attorneys also said Congress should decide the issue — not her court.

Phillips disagreed, saying the law doesn't help military readiness and instead has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.

"Furthermore, there is no adequate remedy at law to prevent the continued violation of servicemembers' rights or to compensate them for violation of their rights," Phillips said in her order.

The government has 60 days to appeal the ruling, but there's speculation in legal circles that the Pentagon and Justice Department will let the decision stand. After all, Judge Phillips has accomplished something that President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates couldn't do--ending the decades-long ban on gays serving openly in the military. It's no secret that both men favor ending the ban and if conservatives object, they can simply hide behind the robe of Judge Phillips. Ditto for members of the U.S. Senate, which tabled the issue during its most recent session.

From our perspective, there is one disturbing aspect in today's decision. In her decision, Judge Phillips (a Clinton appointee) established herself as something of an expert on matters essential to military conduct, discipline and operations. Barring gays hurts recruiting she said(by rejecting qualified applicants), and it depletes experience in the ranks by discharging service members with critical skills. We were a bit surprised she didn't trot out those statistics about the number of gay Arabic and Farsi linguists who have been booted from the service in recent years.

As you might have guessed, Judge Phillips never spent a day in uniform. So, the government's meager arguments about order, discipline and operations clearly didn't resonate with her. On the other hand, the judge paid a great deal of attention to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in the Lawrence v. Texas case, which ruled that a state sodomy law violated certain due process rights, including "certain intimate conduct," i.e., gay and lesbian relationships.

If Judge Phillips had more than a casual knowledge of military matters, she would realize that the armed services have long restricted certain forms of conduct among their members--and denied rights the rest of us take for granted. Free speech? Forget about it. Troops publicly criticize their commanders--or national leaders--at their own peril. The military justice system also grants considerable leeway to commanders in determining if (and how) service members may be punished, and their ability to influence courts-martials has long been criticized by civil rights advocates.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. A DUI conviction that means a weekend in jail, a stiff fine and a suspended driver's license for a civilian is a career-killer for military members. And possession of a small amount of marijuana (a misdemeanor in many locations) can result in a long jail stretch for armed forces personnel--and an end to their careers in uniform.

If such rules seem unfairly harsh, too bad. The military, by virtue of its mission, demands the highest standards of conduct from its members. In the past, open homosexual behavior has been viewed as inconsistent with required levels of conduct and discipline. That standard was changing even before Judge Phillips' ruling, but the end of DADT puts that evolution on a fast-track.

And oddly enough, today's decision may impact military operations and discipline, but not in th way that Judge Phillips intended. A recent Military Times survey found that more than 20% of military members would consider leaving the service, if DADT was repealed. If that happens, it would create a shortage of trained personnel far greater than the number of gays and lesbians discharged over the past 17 years, or those denied entry into the U.S. military because of their sexual orientation.

It would be convenient to cast military opponents of today's rulings as nothing more than bigots and homophobes. But much of that opposition is rooted in the values of traditional Americans--largely from the south and other rural areas--the same folks who raise their right hand and pledge to defend the Constitution as members of the U.S. military.

There is also opposition among some senior officers, most notably Marine Corps Commandant James Conway. Testifying before Congress earlier this year, General Conway said he thinks "the current policy works." He also voiced support for a one-year study on the impact of repealing DADT, an effort that was effectively shelved with today's ruling.

Again, there's a knee-jerk reflex to castigate General Conway as nothing more than a philistine. But Conway has devoted 40 years of service to this country, in war and peace. His concerns about a change in policy are rooted in its possible impact on Marine small unit operations--the heart and soul of the Corps.

To be sure, the days of DADT were probably numbered. But the military deserved a chance to assess the coming change--and its impact--before implementation. Instead, a self-appointed military expert on the federal bench has decided there's no time for such assessments. DADT must end now, Judge Phillips has decided, and the military can figure out how to make it work.

About what you'd expect from an activist judge, legislating from her lifetime seat on the federal bench. Call it another reminder as to why elections matter, and the consequences of judiciary appointment powers are felt long after a president leaves the Oval Office.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


North Korea's recently-concluded Party Congress and celebration proved to be a confirmation exercise, in more ways than one.

As expected, the rare Party session (the first of its type in 30 years) became a coronation, of sorts, for Kim Jong un, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong il. The elder Kim used the Party Congress to anoint Kim Jong un as his successor, and continue the world's only hereditary Communist dictatorship.

As noted in previous posts, Kim Jong un's ability to consolidate and hold power--after his father's death--is anything but certain. The younger Kim has virtually no leadership or military experience, his recent "promotion" to four-star general notwithstanding. Attempting to improve prospects for a successful transition, Kim Jong il has granted more power to his sister, brother-in-law, and a few top generals, hoping they will be the "power behind the throne" until his son is ready to rule.

It's a dicey gamble, at best. Kim Jong un will inherit a country in far worse economic condition than his father did 16 years ago. Thousands of North Koreans have fled to neighboring China, risking prison (and a possible death sentence) if they are caught and returned to the DPRK. Those who remain face perpetual shortages of food, electricity, medicine and other staples of modern life. More than a million North Korean peasants died during a famine in the late 1990s, and many more are at risk for a similar fate.

Meanwhile, there are rare, public signs of discontent inside the hermit kingdom. Anti-regime graffiti appeared in Pyongyang a few months ago; such activity was unthinkable just a few years ago. Anyone bold enough to protest against the Kim dynasty faced a long stretch in a labor camp--or worse. The graffiti suggests that public dissatisfaction with the government is growing and opponents are now bold enough to express those thoughts in public. The designation of a 27-year-old neophyte as Kim Jong-il's successor may stoke anti-regime sentiment, particularly if support from the DPRK military begins to waver.

While many observers remain focused on the political machinations in North Korea, the Party Congress (and attendant celebrations) also yielded another, important confirmation. After years of media speculation and rumor, Pyongyang unveiled its first intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the RSM-25 "Musudan."

At least two of the missiles, based on the Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, appeared in yesterday's military parade. They can be seen at the :49 mark in this YouTube video (H/T Joshua Pollack at ArmsControlWonk), and a second time, 1:12 into the footage. The missiles displayed in Pyongyang bear an uncanny resemblance to the Russian missile, designated the R-27.

Press reports about North Korea's acquisition of the Musudan first surfaced in late 2007, but the missile was kept under wraps until yesterday. With a range of 1,860-3,100 miles, the new missile can hit targets as far away as Japan and Guam. While the system is decidedly old (Russia retired its version of the liquid-fueled SLBM 20 years ago), the Musudan represents a technological leap for the DPRK.

Not only does the missile carry a heavier payload than the longer-ranged Tapeodong-1/2 series, it is also more reliable. During its long career with the Soviet and Russian militaries, the R-27 achieved an overall success rate of 93%, during the course of more than 100 test launches. By comparison, the TD-1/TD-2 programs have been plagued by a series of high-profile failures, the most recent in April of last year.

Ironically, the Musudan airframe plays an important role in that less-successful program. Intelligence reporting indicates the Musudan serves as the first stage of the TD-2, while elements of other missiles are used in the second and third stages. Analysis of the launch failures indicate the Musudan performed flawlessly, while problems in the upper stages ultimately doomed high-profile missiles tests in 2006 and 2009. If these failures continue, North Korea may opt to integrate more Musudan technology in its long-range missiles.

More importantly, the intermediate-range system provides a proven nuclear delivery capability. The original Russian version was designed to deliver 1-3 nuclear warheads against targets up to 3,000 miles away. Moscow says the technology sold to Pyongyang did not include nuclear delivery capabilities, but those claims are dubious, at best.

Why should we doubt Russia's version of the technology transfer? Well, North Korea built its Musudans with help from Russian engineers who are more than familiar with its nuclear delivery system. With their help, it should be fairly easy for the DPRK to build a nuclear-capable Musudan in relatively short order. That will put more U.S./Allied targets in the Far East in range of North Korean nukes.

Kim Jong un's long-term survival prospects remain marginal (at best), but the Musudan's appearance provides an important reminder. North Korea may be a failed state, but it's a failed state with nuclear weapons. And, its ability to deliver those weapons is steadily improving, thanks to technology transfers that give Pyongyang access to more capable systems like the SS-N-6.
ADDENDUM: While North Korea has never tested the missile, that didn't prevent the Musudan's export to Iran. Various reports suggest Tehran has acquired at least a dozen IRBMs, which would be fired from mobile launchers. North Korea also uses mobile launchers for its Musudans, making them more survivable--and difficult to target.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Today's Reading Assignment

...from Tony Harnden, U.S. editor of the UK Telegraph, on today's departure of General James Jones as National Security Advisor, and his replacement by Tom Donilon. Mr. Harnden calls it "10 Reasons to be Worried" (about the appointment), and with good reason. Some of those reasons are listed below:

-- Donilon has a poor relationship with Bob Gates, the Pentagon chief. Gates has issued a statement lauding his “very productive and very good working relationship” with Donilon. But Bob Woodward reported that Gates once told Jones that Donilon would be a “disaster” as National Security Adviser. Gates, Washington’s Mr Steady, is hardly likely to have used that word lightly. This appointment could hasten the departure of Gates, already due in 2011.

-- Donilon has “no credibility” with the US military. Again according to Woodward, Donilon has fractious relations with the US military, with Pentagon officials complaining of “condescension” and Jones telling him: “You have no credibility with the military.”

And our favorite...

-- Donilon is close to Joe Biden. Biden has got it wrong on just about every major foreign policy issue in modern times. Enough said.

To be fair, Mr. Obama has every right to appoint Donilon to the post. And, more than a few former presidents have named political cronies as national security advisers. But the results of those appointments have been less-than-impressive results. Al Qaida stepped up its attacks on U.S. interests while Sandy Berger was advising Bill Clinton, and William Clark was on the job when President Reagan ordered U.S. Marines to Beirut.

This time around, the stakes are decidedly higher, and Mr. Donilon is clearly the wrong man for the job, at the wrong time.

Stick a Fork in Her...

...Blanche Lincoln is officially done. According to the Real Clear Politics average, the Democratic Senator from Arkansas is trailing her Republican challenger, Congressman John Boozman, by more than 15 points.

Now, with the election less than a month away, Senator Lincoln is hitching her dwindling hopes to Bill Clinton, hoping for an electoral miracle. More from Scott Conroy and Erin McPike of RCP:

Lincoln's last hope is to harness the continued popularity of Arkansas' most-heralded political son, Bill Clinton.

On Wednesday, the Lincoln campaign released a new TV ad highlighting Clinton's appearance at a rally last month on Lincoln's behalf.

"But now Blanche's opponent is not saying much now, did you notice that? That's 'cause he's depending on you to be mad," Clinton says in the ad. "So he hopes that you will forget that he voted for a Republican budget to privatize Medicare--that since he first ran for Congress he said he would privatize Social Security. You've got a woman here who has produced for you over and over and over again, who never shuts the door, always thinks we can do better."

Some strategy. Your humble correspondent was in Arkansas this week, on the very day the Clinton ad debuted. Admittedly, our TV watching was limited, due to the birth of our latest grandchild. But we never saw the spot during some cursory channel surfing among the Little Rock stations. Either we missed it (a distinct possibility), or the "hype" surrounding the ad exceeds the actual buy.

Having spent millions in a bruising primary battle, Lincoln's campaign is low on cash heading into the home stretch. And, she's not getting much help from the national party; Democratic leaders wrote off Senator Lincoln months ago, sending money to candidates who still have a chance of winning.

And, this approach presumes that Bill Clinton still has enough popularity in his home state to help Ms. Lincoln close the gap. In reality, Mr. Clinton wore out his welcome in Arkansas years ago, one reason he decamped to New York at the end of his presidency. Clinton still has supporters among the local media and Democratic establishment, but the average Arkansan is more than happy that the one-time "boy wonder" has left the state.

Call it the last gasp of a failed campaign. Senator Lincoln sealed her fate with that vote for Obamacare. She'll pay the ultimate political price in November.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

On Guard

Just 24 hours ago, it was a given that governments in the U.S. and Europe would issue travel advisories, based on a heightened terrorist threat in France, Germany and other countries.

Still, the warnings actually issued are a bit surprising, suggesting that the threat is very serious, and that some sort of terror attack may be inevitable.

As evidence of that, consider the highly unusual travel advisory issued today by the State Department, for Americans planning to visit to Europe. As ABC News reports:

"The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe," says the advisory. "Current information suggests that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks."

While the advisory does not name potential targets, it says "U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure." It recommends that U.S. citizens "take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings" and register their travel plans on the State Department's travel registration web site.

The warning was issued amid growing concerns that multiple terrorist teams have arrived in Europe and are planning to carry out "Mumbai-style" attacks in Germany, France or other locations. Two years ago, Islamic terrorists stormed a luxury hotel in Mumbai, India, killing more than 170 tourists and security personnel.

Sources tell ABC that Osama bin Laden has approved plans for similar attacks against "soft" targets in Europe, including airports and tourist hotels. ABC also reports that terrorist operatives are in position near potential targets, have checked in with their controllers in Pakistan and received the go-ahead to strike. That suggests that recently-increased security measures in Europe have failed to apprehend some terror teams, increasing the likelihood of attacks in the coming days.

Al Qaida was apparently able to deploy operatives to Europe despite increased strikes from U.S. drones in Pakistan. American Predator and Reaper UAVs have stepped up attacks against suspected terror training camps and support sites in Pakistan's tribal regions in recent weeks. Intelligence and security officials say the raids were aimed at blunting potential terror strikes against European targets, by eliminating operatives and other key personnel at the Pakistani facilities.

Following the U.S. move, Britain's Foreign Office has already upgraded its terrorist advisory for Europe, saying there is a "high threat" of attacks in Germany, France and other countries. The British warning is only one step below the highest advisory, which recommends no travel at all.

Officials in London say they concur with their U.S. counterparts, who are warning of possible strikes against both public and private interests, including transportation systems.

Meanwhile, there are continuing concerns that other terrorist elements are taking aim at the American homeland. Sources told ABC that "recent law enforcement operations in the U.S. have helped 'flush out' additional chatter," adding to concerns that the homeland may also be a target.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducted a pair of high-profile truck search operations along I-20 near Atlanta last week. Officials first described the effort as a "training exercise," but other law enforcement agencies participating in the effort confirmed it was a "counter-terror" operation. Hundreds of trucks were searched during the two-day operation, which snarled traffic along I-20 for hours.

The Last Payment

We're not sure if it will help Germany's bond rating--or its international reputation--but the Berlin government is preparing to settle a long-standing debt.

According to the UK Telegraph, Germany will make its final payment today on the war reparations imposed by the Versailles Treaty that formally ended World War I. With a transfer of roughly $70 million, Germany will settle the $22 billion bill imposed for starting the conflict, which killed 10 million soldiers.

Reparations were a key component of the Versailles Conference. Britain and France, bled white by the war, were determined to make Germany pay. The U.S. delegation, led by President Woodrow Wilson, suggested a more conciliatory approach, but it was rejected by British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and French leader Georges Clemenceau.

Having suffered two million military and civilian dead in the war, Mr. Clemenceau was determined to weaken Germany politically and militarily, and prevent it from threatening France again. Lloyd George was widely quoted as saying "We shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak" (actually it was Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes, Minister of Transport, but the British Prime Minister was only slightly more forgiving).

Collectively, Lloyd George and Clemenceau supported an original reparations bill of $226 billion Reichsmarks, which was later reduced to $132 billion (about $438 billion in 2010 dollars). Reparations were paid in a variety of forms, including minerals--France got control of Germany's coal-rich Saar Basin for a number of years; intellectual property (Germany lost the trademark on Aspirin), and limited currency exchanges. Realizing that huge monetary exchanges could lead to hyper-inflation, the Allies preferred to take most of their payments in tangible goods, further crippling Germany's economic recovery. Under a modified repayment plan German reparations would continue until 1988.

The Treaty--and its repayment provision--was bitterly criticized in Germany, which was not allowed to participate in the negotiations. Germans referred to the pact as the Diktat, because the terms were offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Germany's first democratically-elected government reluctantly signed the treaty, after the Army Commander, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg said his troops could not stop the Allies if they decided to settle the matter militarily.

But did Versailles erase any hopes for German economic recovery and democratic government in the post-war era? Many historians endorse that position, but others, including Dr. Gerhard Weinberg of the University of North Carolina, argue the Versailles Treaty was quite lenient, noting that Germany remained largely intact as a political entity, and the defeated nation largely escaped military occupation--a sharp contrast to Germany's fate after World War II.

British military historian Corelli Barnett believes Versailles was "extremely lenient" compared to the terms Germany was considering when it was on the verge of winning the war. He also said the peace agreement was little more than a "slap on the wrist" compared to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that Berlin imposed on a defeated Russia in 1917.

Whether Versailles was harsh or fair, it produced seething resentment in Germany, hastened the collapse of the Wiemar Republic, and ushered in the Nazi era. In that regard, perhaps the best assessment of the treaty that ended the "War to End All Wars" was delivered by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Commander of Allied Armies in the latter stages of World War I.

Foch, who favored a much harsher punishment of the Germans, famously declared: "This is not a peace; it is an armistice for 20 years." World War II began 20 years and three months after the negotiations at Versailles ended.