Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Stunned Ox Look

...Today's TV review from the DiploMad 2.0, who does a find job demolishing "Madam Secretary," CBS's prime-time contribution to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; a brief excerpt:

finally pulled the trigger . . . well, pressed the On Demand button and watched the opening episode of the Hillary campaign "Madam Secretary" TV show on CBS, the Clinton Columbia Broadcasting System. It, as expected, was rubbish.

Tea Leoni, who plays the lead character Elizabeth McCord, has perfected the mouth-breathing stunned ox look. She plays the whole episode looking like, well, an ox gasping for air after being hit in the head by a defective stun gun. She is a "brilliant" ex-CIA analyst, who left the Agency on "principle" to become a "brilliant" University professor, and is recruited by the President, played by Keith Carradine, to become his new SecState following the mysterious death of his old SecState in a plane crash on his way to Venezuela on a mysterious mission which might not have been authorized and, deep breath, his death might not have been accidental! Wow!


Anyhow, the scenes at State run from ludicrous to idiotic to back to ludicrous. What is captured  accurately is that Secretary McCord is surrounded by a staff of feminine men ("Girly-Men as Arnold would have called them) and ballsy women. That certainly fits with what I saw during Hillary's tenure. Her staff worries about nonsense, like her hairstyle, and what she is going to say about her dinner with the King of Swaziland (Why? Why pick on Swaziland?) That is pretty realistic. Secretary McCord goes through the day, of course, with her mouth agape and her eyes almost crossed with that stunned ox look Leoni has picked for her character.

Read the whole thing...it's far more entertaining than say, an episode of "Madam Secretary."  



Throw Clapper Under the Bus

Tim Cavanaugh said it best at National Review: if President Obama really believes what he said about James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence needs to be fired.

For member of the low-information crowd, the Commander-in-Chief gave his intelligence chief a less-than-rousing endorsement in an interview with 60 Minutes, telling Steve Kroft:

“I think our head of the intelligence community Jim Clapper has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” the president told Steve Croft. When Croft went on to note that Clapper had also mentioned the failure of the “intelligence community” (a catch-all term for the 17 intelligence agencies that are publicly known, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the intelligence services maintained by such varied departments as Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security) to get an accurate measure of the Iraqi army’s ability to fight, Obama responded “That’s true. That’s absolutely true.”

In other words, Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force Lieutenant General who has run two major intel organizations (the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency) and served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, among other achievements, has presided over a major intelligence failure that has jeopardized national security.  There is a growing consensus among intel professionals that ISIS fighters not only control vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, they are also present on American soil, meaning that attacks against the homeland are a matter of "if" and not "when."

So why does Jim Clapper still have a job?

Part of the answer is rooted in history.  Remarkably, few senior intelligence officers have been sacked, despite routine failures by our Intelligence Community over the past 75 years.  When the Japanese surprised our forces at Pearl Harbor in 191, the Pacific Fleet intelligence officer, Commander Edwin Layton, kept his job, and continued his climb in the Navy hierarchy, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.  The same held true for Commander Joseph Rochefort, who ran the communications intercept and code-breaking operation in Hawaii, and senior leaders at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Washington.  

Similar patterns followed other intel debacles, including China's entry into the Korean War (1950); the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (1968), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Iranian Revolution (1979) and of course, the 9-11 attacks.  In most cases, the intel community completely missed the unfolding events and we were caught flat-footed.  Literally thousands of Americans paid for these mistakes with their lives.  But despite the hand-wringing and blue-ribbon commissions that followed many of the intel catastrophes, few senior spooks lost their jobs.  

In some cases, it was deemed unwise to change intel leadership as the country plunged into conflict, or faced a major foreign policy crisis.  After 9-11, President George W. Bush made a conscious decision to keep CIA Director George Tenet on the job, despite public and Congressional clamor for his scalp. Mr. Bush believed that forcing Tenet out would leave the intelligence community leaderless as the nation entered a full-fledged war with Islamic terrorists.  In those days, the CIA Director also served as head of the nation's intel apparatus, so the president's concerns were not unfounded.  

But in other situations, it's convenient to keep the spooks as a scapegoat, and that seems to be the case with Mr. Obama.  When NSA turncoat Edward Snowden revealed the extent of U.S. collection efforts, the commander-in-chief sought to distance himself from the scandal, noting his skepticism about such programs as a candidate for the presidency.  Of course, the fact that he approved those efforts--and expanded them--from the Oval Office is a completely different matter, something that angry intel officials pointed out as the Snowden affair mushroomed into a major controversy.  

The spooks also pushed back earlier this year, when members of Mr. Obama's national security team tried to blame them for failing to detect Russia's occupation of Crimea.  As Shane Harris writes at Foreign Policy:  

The spies, said a senior U.S. official, had "warned that that the region was a flashpoint for a possible military conflict and that the Russians were preparing military assets for possible deployment to Ukraine" before the first of Putin's shock troops stepped foot in the country. U.S. spies have been on edge ever since, which helps explain why they fought back so fiercely when the White House seemed to be blaming them for not predicting the success of the Islamic State.  

Indeed, the notion that our intel agencies missed the rise of ISIS strains credulity.  There were plenty of warnings in recent months, including the testimony of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, then-Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency:  

In February, [Flynn] presented the Senate Armed Services Committee with his agency's "annual threat assessment." The assessment had a prominent warning about the Islamic State: The group "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group's ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria," Flynn said in his prepared remarks.  

After the Islamic State captured Mosul and Tikrit, U.S. intelligence officials pushed back hard against the suggestion that they'd been blindsided. Analysts had "closely tracked" the group and its predecessor organizations for years, said one senior U.S. intelligence official. "[D]uring the past year, [analysts] routinely provided strategic warning of ISIL's growing strength in Iraq and increasing threat to Iraq's stability," the official said. 

General Flynn, widely regarded as one of the most effective directors in recent DIA history, was forced into retirement in August.  His sins?  Openly challenging the Obama Administration narrative that Al Qaida's brand of extremism died with Osama bin Laden in 2010, and pointing out the White House's preferred strategy of killing terrorists with drones really isn't a strategy.  A replacement for General Flynn has yet to be named. 

Which brings us to the real reason that Mr. Clapper is still gainfully employed.  As a senior intelligence officer for almost 40 years, Clapper has fought his share of bureaucratic wars and felt it was necessary to fall on his sword (again).  His motive is probably rooted in an effort to preserve intel programs and resources considered vital to the nation's security.  Take another round for the White House, and get another plus-up in the intel budget, and secure approval--or renewal--of controversial collection programs.  

But serving as the President's fall guy for the crisis du jour also entails organizational risks.  The push back from current and former intel officials reflects a community that is fed up with the administration blame game and is quite willing to leak information that depicts a White House disinterested in reading intel assessments while the world burns.  

We've been down this road countless times before.  One reason that Commanders Layton and Rochefort kept their jobs after Pearl Harbor is that key players in the Navy chain--most notably their boss, Admiral Chester Nimitz, realized that his intel officers were operating at a disadvantage.  In the days before the Japanese attack, they were denied critical intel from decoded Japanese diplomatic traffic (which would have made enemy military intentions more clear), and both were prevented from sharing their own decrypts with Nimitz's predecessor, Admiral Husband Kimmel, and his Army counterpart, Lieutenant General Walter Short.   These realities have fueled decades of conspiracy theories about FDR "inviting" an attack on Pearl Harbor, while keeping his operational commanders in the dark. 

These days, the administration seems to be feigning ignorance, but that excuse doesn't pass muster.  By all accounts, Mr. Obama was warned about the rise of ISIS and chose to disregard his intelligence assessments.  With no re-election to fret over, and a war-weary public, perhaps the President calculated he would never be held accountable and if there was a minor kerfuffle, Mr. Clapper would readily take the blame.  Perhaps that's why the DNI still has a job, and President Obama skips almost 60% of his daily intelligence briefs, according to the Government Accountability Office.  

ISIS has (rightly) been described as a cancer, one that is spreading to our own shores.  When the terror Army unleashes its fury in an American city, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Obama tries to blame his DNI--again--and if the public actually demands presidential accountability.                    




Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wrong Mission, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

As the first American troops begin their battle against Ebola in West Africa, a number of current and former service members are expressing grave misgivings about the mission.  In From the Cold solicited the thoughts of several commanders and senior enlisted leaders, both active duty and retired.

Virtually all of them voiced concerns about sending troops into countries like Liberia, where the deadly disease has already claimed hundreds of lives.  Many of those contacted said they were worried about military personnel working near the so-called "hot zone" without proper training, preparation and equipment. Their comments are listed below; all requested anonymity because of their active-duty status, or current employment as a civil service or defense contractor.

We weren't trained for such an environment....just not sure this is the right thing to do.   However military personnel have been involved with humanitarian missions before and will in the future.  Sanitation....sanitation...sanitation.  How do you really prepare for this mission?    I pray for the safety of our airmen! 
- I don't believe we have ever had the Military Deploy in such an environment.  It would appear the Surgeon General's Office should take the LEAD on this MISSION and form a TEAM from the highly qualified Public Health Service Corps and Related Organizations in our Nation's Medical Field.  How about the WHO and CDC helping with this Nightmare?
-I personally do not think there is enough time to spin up our troops to a necessary level of protection.  Look at the professionals who have trained many years and are still infected.  I do not think there is a miracle "gg" shot that will protect.  My take, keep them out!
My naivety leads me to believe, hope, pray that the troops will get advance training prior to deployment.  If it were only  100 troops i’d know they were Sierra Hotel, the cream of the crop,  and know for certain they were trained and equipped to meet the exigency.  But 3000, I gotta say I think from experience there will be a lot of back-fills for the late, lame and lazy not to mention the down right scared.  All the hyperbole in the movies and media doesn’t help — hell our government doesn’t help when they acknowledge they have contingency plans for a "Zombie Apocalypse”.   But professionals have been fighting this epidemic for a long time and yes , there has been causalities but not to the extant that we should teeter on whether as soldiers we should not follow orders.  You know I am not a fan of the Obama in general and especially political generals but I still have faith we have some very solid O-6’s who will do the right thing mission-wise.  Sorry but some of those same O-6’s cross lines that set you and yours off from time to time — but we do not have enough choir boys to fill every billet. Sometimes it takes a risk-taker to stand up and take the risk of saying — "hell no we won’t go"  without proper training, equipment and security.  
It’s a one way ticket.  From my perspective SF gets zero training in how to handle people in this type of environment.  They are not physically or mentally prepared for this.  I remember before deploying to Romania in 2003 where AIDS is prevalent I asked for boxes of surgical gloves and CPR masks.  People could not get it in their heads there was the potential of a silent killer and unfortunately today we are no better off.  Remember; time, distance, and shielding was the only answer we use to get for an NBC attack.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to work in this environment and I am sure as hell glad I am not one of those poor souls going.  Again, it’s a one way ticket.

-Terms … time & training:
Time:  45 days minimum because we would have to build a course to prepare our folks.  15 days research; 5 days writing and course prep; 30 days of phase in/out training.  Probably broken into a 360 stair step approach.  Enlisted and officers in the same room going through the same training/discussions.  I would contact the university of Nebraska medical center (UNMC) and ask the lead doctor on one of the current Ebola cases for an interview to get the skinny on prevention, signs of detection, case studies, videos, and any other thing I could get my hands on for the course build.  I would then contract someone from the CDC or again a major teaching university such as UNMC to teach my folks what they needed to survive … kind of a zero to sixty crash course in Ebola 101 to PhD!  This would have to include simulations as what to do if someone throws up on me, spits on me, bleeds on me, slings any body fluid on me and yes this would be in any situation.  The major question everyone should be asking is how it is spread, and what to do in case of infection.  I am also pretty sure I would call up the Chaplin corps and get as many sermons or prayers as possible because when all else fails I would need as much faith as possible!  Then before going I would also include the families … my gut tells me I would plan on a 50% to 80% infection rate.  As far as cost … you’d better conceal sequestration and have Obama endorse a no limit spending measure as far as equipment is concerned. As the old saying goes:  Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

These observations came from men and women with well over a century of combined military leadership experience, in a variety of career fields/MOS's/ratings.  They are not given to exaggeration or hyperbole, and their concerns are shared by many more in the ranks.  To be fair, there are some units in the armed forces that are well-prepared for such a mission, namely the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick.  But as one of our respondents noted, many of the support troops providing security, logistics and engineering support will be drawn from the ranks of line units, and those personnel are poorly prepared for the Ebola mission.  

Pray for their safety.     

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Hog Heads Back to the Sandbox

If you need more proof of American "boots on the ground" in northern Iraq and Syria--both now and in the future--consider this announcement, made yesterday by the Indiana Air National Guard.  Kudos to The Hill, one of the few media outlets that (apparently) understands its significance:
The Pentagon is deploying 300 airmen and 12 A-10 combat jets to the Middle East in early October, according to the Indiana Air National Guard.
The six-month deployment from the 122nd Fighter Wing is not specifically part of President Obama’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the airmen and jets could provide air support to troops battling ISIS on the ground.
"I don't know of a time in Blacksnake history we have taken this kind of aviation footprint forward," said Col. Patrick R. Renwick, 122nd Fighter Wing commander, in a statement. "The A-10 'Warthog' is uniquely suited for the Combatant Commander's needs, and the Blacksnakes are the right team to bring that capability to combat."
The airmen have been through "extensive preparation," the statement said, ranging from "cultural awareness to weapons qualification to medical training."
Renwick called the deployment "historic for its length and size relative to previous Air National Guard deployments, which in the past have ranged from 30 to 90 days."
"While it is common for the active duty Air Force to deploy a base overseas for an extended amount of time, the 122nd Fighter Wing is one of the only Air National Guard bases in history to take on a mission of this size and length," Renwick said. 

Although A-10s generally are used to support ground combat troops with close air support, Obama has repeatedly said that U.S. troops would not have a combat mission. 
But Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that recommendations on using ground troops would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Oddly enough, the article appeared just hours before the U.S. and five Arab countries launched air strikes
against ISIS targets in Syria.  A variety of platforms, including F-16s, B-1s and the F-22 Raptor, which made its combat debut during the raid.

But the A-10s specialty is close air support for ground forces, and it has no peer at that mission (with the possible exception of the AC-130 gunship).  It's a fair bet the ANG Warthogs will be tasked to go after ISIS targets along the battle lines in northern Iraq and in eastern Syria as well.  Dating back to the first Gulf War, A-10s have ranged deep into enemy territory to engage enemy ground forces and other targets.  When the Hog first entered the Air Force inventory almost 40 years ago, few imagined a CAS platform would take on an interdiction mission, but in a permissive air defense environment--like the one along the Iraq-Syria border--the A-10 is a weapon of choice.

And it's even more effective when paired with ground controllers, who can identify and designate targets.  To be fair, A-10 pilots can also perform that mission, as an airborne forward air controller (FAC-A).  But with U.S. special forces already in northern Iraq (and more on the way), it's easy to envision the A-10s working with SOF personnel (qualified as terminal attack controllers) on both sides of the border.

There is, of course, a certain irony in all of this: in recent months, the Air Force has been trying to retire the Hog fleet, hoping to use the money devoted to A-10 operations and maintenance on other programs.

But the Hog has friends on Capitol Hill and among the ground services, so the A-10 was granted a reprieve, at least for now.  So the 122nd Fighter Wing will head to the sandbox in a few weeks, and life will become a lot tougher for ISIS fighters riding around in those Toyota pick-up trucks.
ADDENDUM: A beddown base for the A-10s has not been announced, but don't be surprised if they wind up in Iraq's Kurdistan region, instead of the Baghdad area.  That would put them closer to ISIS targets and allow the unit to fly more missions each day.  At this juncture, the biggest limitation on A-10 operations (that we can see) is the small number of Hogs being sent to the fight.  For Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. dispatched entire wings of A-10s, instead of a single squadron.  Thanks to system upgrades, the remaining A-10s are more capable than ever, but quantity does have a quality all its own.            


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Boots Already on the Ground?

Since deciding that ISIS isn't the terrorist "jayvee team"--and determining that it does pose a serious threat to our national security--President Obama and members of his administration have been steadfast in one claim: our battle against the insurgent army will not involve "boots on the ground."

Until today.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he would "recommend deploying United States combat forces against Islamic extremists in specific operations if the current strategy of airstrikes was not successful."  As The New York Times observed, Dempsey's scenario "raises the possibility of escalation that President Obama has flatly ruled out."

General Dempsey said that while he was confident in the ability of the coalition of American, European and Middle Eastern governments to stop the Islamic State, he could not completely close the door to eventually asking Mr. Obama to commit ground troops to fight the group, known as ISIS or ISIL.

“My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” he said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

But what if that escalation has already begun? 

Currently, just over 1,000 American troops are serving in Iraq.  Officially, most are assigned to security duties at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, or protecting the city's airport.  But others are serving as advisers to the Iraqi Army, or performing specialized medical, maintenance and intelligence tasks. 

However, the U.S. military mission doesn't end at the Baghdad city limits.  Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that 260 U.S. special forces personnel are serving as military advisers in northern Iraq, but cautioned it was not a "combat boots on the ground kind of operation."

Yet there are indications that some SOF personnel are in the combat zone.  Earlier this month, a reporter for the Daily Beast, Ford Sypher, reported seeing individuals who appeared to be western SOF operators near the strategic Mosul Dam as he attempted to cover the Kurdish advance:

At around 10 a.m., the Peshmerga halted our movement. Fearing that the situation was changing rapidly, we asked the Kurdish security element accompanying us what was happening. “We don’t know,” they said, “we just got information that you cannot move forward.” Repeated calls were met with the same firm statement that we could not move forward.

Stuck out in the open with no clear sense of what was occurring in the battle that required us to be stopped, we made contact with high-level Peshmerga ministries, both in Erbil and on the ground in Zumar. “Yes, we want to let you in, but we can’t,” said one high-level Kurdish government official. “We have visitors, you’ll see them,” he stated. As we tried to decipher his cryptic response our answer came: multiple armored Toyotas swept down the mountain, passing within feet of us. The Toyotas were packed with what appeared to be bearded Western Special Operations Forces. I watched the trucks pass and saw for myself the crews inside them. They didn’t wear any identifying insignia but they were visibly Western and appeared to match all the visual characteristics of American special operations soldiers.

Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw. “Yes,” one commander replied to our questions. “German and American forces are on the ground here. “They are helping to support us in the attack.”

As the U.K. Daily Mail noted, Mr. Sypher knows quite a bit about special forces and the men who make up those elite units.  He is a former Army Ranger who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The Pentagon has repeatedly denied that any troops are directly involved in the fight against ISIS, but the Daily Beast account clearly contradicts that, and it begs an obvious question: why continue the charade?  It doesn't take a military genius to know that American airpower is much more effective when its coordinated from the ground, and it's quite likely that many of the air strikes you see on cable news are being directed by western SOF personnel.

And they may soon have plenty of company.  Former NSA and CIA Director General Mike Hayden told Fox News Sunday there could be as many as 5,000 covert boots on the ground in Syria (emphasis ours) by the end of this year, and the first elements of that force are apparently now engaged in northern Iraq. 

SOF personnel and CIA covert ops specialists are accustomed to being in places they're not supposed to be, without the public sanction of our political and military leaders.  In some cases, that's necessary for operational security and the ultimate success of the mission.  But in this case, denials are little more than political cover for an administration that pledged "no more boots on the ground" in Iraq.

So what happens when one of those brave men is wounded or gives their life in a battle purportedly being fought by others?  As in the past, such casualties will probably be described as "training accidents" and the truth will dribble out years--or even decades--later.

If our troops are already engaged on the ground in Iraq (and elsewhere) the administration might try something novel: the truth.  Developing the support required for a long fight against ISIS means leveling with the American people and telling them it can't be won through airpower alone.  We will need boots on the ground for the hard, dirty work of disrupting terrorist networks and killing their fighters--with the full knowledge and support of the nation that sends them in harm's way.

Surely those anonymous men in those armored Toyotas deserve that much.

At the Border

Major General Stephen Twitty, the new commanding general at Fort Bliss, Texas.  Since taking command of the post (and the 1st Armored Division) in August, General Twitty has emphasized security at Fort Bliss, which lies near our porous border with Mexico (photo by Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle)   

In predictable fashion, today's edition of The New York Times does its best to advance the Obama Administration narrative that ISIS isn't at our southern border, and doesn't pose an immediate threat.  From this morning's story which, oddly enough, was buried deep in the paper:

As the Obama administration and the American public have focused their attention on ISIS in recent weeks, conservative groups and leading Republicans have issued stark warnings like those that ISIS and other extremists from Syria are planning to enter the country illegally from Mexico. But the Homeland Security Department, the F.B.I. and lawmakers who represent areas near the border say there is no truth to the warnings.

“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” said Representative Beto O’Rourke, Democrat of Texas, who represents El Paso and other areas near the border. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears. Before it was Iran and Al Qaeda. Now it’s ISIS. They just reach the conclusion that invasion is imminent, and it never is.”

But maybe those fears aren't so far-fetched.  In an interview with Fox News, the sheriff of Midland County, Texas said local law enforcement officials have been told to keep a lookout for ISIS terrorists crossing the border from Mexico: 

 “I received an intelligence report that said that there was ISIS cells that were active in the Juarez area, which is the northern part of the Chihuahua state, and that they were moving around over there, that there was some activity…” Painter told Fox News. The report asked “for the sheriffs along the border to be on the alert, for all law enforcement to be on the alert, and to be on the lookout for these people maybe trying to come across.”

Painter noted that “Muslim” items have been strewn along the border and estimated that 10 to 15 million “undocumented aliens” have crossed the border.

“I think it’d be naive to say that (ISIS is) not here…We have found Muslim clothing, they have found Quran books that are lying on the side of the trail, so we know that there are Muslims that have come across and are being smuggled into the United States,” he said.

Sheriff Painter did not say whether the intelligence report came from federal law enforcement officials or the Texas Department of Public Safety.  But his comments were consistent with those in a recent release from the watchdog group Judicial Watch, which recently claimed that ISIS terrorists are currently operating Juarez, Mexico (directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso) and may be plotting vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks against targets on our side of the border.  And just last week, the senior intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security affirmed that ISIS operatives have been discussing ways to infiltrate our southern border.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of rising terrorism concerns has been a recently flurry of security activity at Fort Bliss, the sprawling Army base in El Paso.  Major General Stephen Twitty took command of the post and its largest unit (the 1st Armored Division) in August, and has devoted much of his time to improving post security.  While General Twitty said there was no indication of an immediate ISIS threat, he also promised changes in base security procedures:

When it comes to security measures at Fort Bliss gates, everyone should “expect the unexpected,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, at a press conference Tuesday.

“If you come here every week, you’re going to see something different, because that’s just the way I am,” Twitty said before 16 media representatives at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center. “I like mixing it up.”


Twitty said he knew when he started his job that the installation, due to the large expansion beginning in 2006, had outgrown its access control points, and that they needed to be brought into Army and Department of Defense compliance in some areas.

A week after he took command, assessment teams from the Army and the DOD visited Fort Bliss, and members of those teams noted needed improvements, Twitty said.

For example, the installation is out of compliance at Cassidy gate, because there are not prescribed lanes for civilian traffic and for performing searches, Twitty said.

To learn more about the issue, Twitty said he visited all 17 access control points and learned the vulnerabilities at each of them. He has also visited the installation’s housing areas.

After visiting Pentagon officials and talking with them, Twitty said he decided to test certain measures and increase security at Fort Bliss, and although unrelated, that coincided with reports about ISIS in the media.

Some coincidence.  Your humble correspondent spent a fair amount of time at Fort Bliss in 2013, and transited the Cassidy gate (and other entrance points) on multiple occasions.  The issues described by General Twitty existed under his predecessor--and other commanding generals--for years, yet there was no apparent urgency to fix the problem.  And with the billions that have been poured into Bliss since 2006, there was plenty of money to bring the entry points into compliance. 

Incidentally, General Twitty previously served at Fort Bliss as deputy commanding general (operations) of the 1st Armored Division from 2010-2012.  In that position, he certainly had the ear of the commanding general and could have pushed for security upgrades.  But the effort didn't begin until Twitty returned to Bliss as the CG. 

What changed?  That's rather obvious; nothing energizes the system quite like credible reports of terrorists just across the border in Juarez.  And even if a specific plot hasn't been identified, General Twitty is doing the right thing by assessing security and taking steps to improve access control and make the post more secure. 

It's also clear that the new CG is already adopting a heightened anti-terrorism posture. Twitty's vow to "expect the unexpected" and "see something different each week" are standard moves against an emerging terror threat.  Knowing that terrorists typically study a target's security practices before striking, General Twitty is implementing a more random pattern, making it more difficult to identify potential weak spots.

Security at Bliss is a daunting challenge.  In terms of area, the base is the second-largest in the Army (only the adjacent White Sands Missile Range is bigger), and its population has grown rapidly over the past decade, with the addition of 28,000 new soldiers and 37,000 military dependents.  And, with the chaos in Juarez just five miles from portions of the base, the potential threat is real--and very close. 

General Twitty isn't taking any chances.  Too bad our political leadership in Washington isn't being equally cautious.                



Monday, September 15, 2014

On the Reading List

...Rick Whittle's much-anticipated book on the Predator drone and how it evolved from technology opposed by much of the defense establishment, and into a key component of the war on terror.  Colin Clark of Breaking Defense got an advance copy and offers high praise, indeed:

"...Whittle’s superb book on the creation and uses of the Predator drone needs to be read by the Pentagon’s head of acquisition, Frank Kendall, and everyone else who decides what weapons America buys, including the professional staff on Capitol Hill who tell their congressional bosses what’s real and why.

Whittle, who seems to be making a habit out of producing excellent books on the acquisition of major weapon systems, offers a vibrant tale of the painful, slow and uncertain development of this new class of weapon.

In his words, Predator’s designer “had offered an ingenious new technology that was revolutionary, but politics and personality had trumped performance…” That was his summary of the plane’s fate when it was first sold to another company, but it could stand as the program’s epitaph until the urgent hunt for Osama bin Laden shattered the political, cultural and policy restraints that bound it.

According to Mr. Clark, the book does a masterful job in describing the various elements that made Predator a resounding success, beginning with Abraham Karem, a brilliant Israeli weapons designer who bet everything on his ability to develop drones for the U.S. military.  Readers are also introduced to Neal and Linden Blue, two brothers who convinced General Atomics to take a chance on Karem's concepts, and a pair of truly unsung heroes: Ira Kuhn, a DARPA consultant who convinced his superiors to provide $350,000 in seed money for the program and an Air Force engineer--identified only as "Werner"--who rigged the control and communications links that allow Predator to be controlled from anywhere on the globe, and beam its pictures to intel centers thousands of miles away.

Predator also represents a technology that emerged in the right place at the right time.  The war in Bosnia sparked interest from the Clinton Administration and the program really took off after 9-11, when the Pentagon needed platforms that could remain aloft for long periods of time and cover vast swaths of remote territory.

Based on brief excerpts viewed at Amazon, it looks like Whittle captures the element of Predator that many ignore: its ability to provide real-time, actionable intelligence, through the work of analysts at Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) sites around the world.  Without their efforts, Predator and other UAV platforms would be doing little more than burning aviation gas, and giving seat time to drone pilots and sensor operators.

And strangely enough, if story of Predator sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  The UAV system represents another technology that succeeded, despite the Pentagon's best efforts to kill it.  Predator came on the heels of an expensive, multi-year effort to field a drone system for the Army that came to naught and wasted a billion dollars.  With memories of that failure still fresh, the Predator concept faced an uphill battle from the start, with additional opposition from the pilot mafia in the Air Force and Navy.

We've been down this road before.  During World War II, with a desperate need for long-range fighters to escort our bombers over Europe, the Army Air Corps was preparing to fund something called the P-75 Eagle, a GM-built contraption that was (essentially) an amalgam of other aircraft, with wing and tail sections borrowed from such airframes as diverse as the P-40 Warhawk and the SBD dive bomber.  The P-75 had severe teething problems which prompted Air Corps planners to look at other options, notably the P-51 Mustang.  With its original Allison engine, the Mustang was average, at best.  But equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin powerplant, the P-51 became a world-beater, and the fighter that helped win the air war in Europe.

Similarly, the Navy almost took a pass on the famous Higgins boat, used for amphibious landings around the globe.  Senior officers favored a Navy design (that was fraught with problems) over a competing craft from shipbuilder Andrew Higgins.  The New Orleans-based entrepreneur literally threw down the gauntlet to the Navy, challenging the service to a test in Norfolk harbor in 1942.  Attempting to deliver a 30-ton tank to the beach, the Navy landing craft nearly sank; Higgins's design performed flawlessly.

Sometimes, the defense technology solution really is right before our eyes--if we're bold enough to think outside the box.           




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

No Threat

Over the past few weeks, as the administration gropes for a strategy for dealing with ISIS, we've been told repeatedly that the terrorist Army does not pose an "immediate threat" to the homeland.  And for good measure, officials from the State Department and DHS--along with Democratic lawmakers-- were repeating that claim again today.  More from Real Clear Politics

Several members of Congress, joined by State Department and Homeland Security officials, said Wednesday morning that the terrorist group ISIS does not pose an immediate threat to the United States. However, they pointed to the possibility of future threats from Westerners now fighting in Iraq and Syria along with lone-wolf attacks inspired by the group. 


“I am not willing to cede the point that ISIS does not represent a threat to the United States,” said the Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “I did not say ‘imminent.’ I did not say ‘today.’ But I believe this hearing recognizes ISIS is a threat to the United States and the people of the United States.” 

Jackson Lee’s comments were apparently meant to stave off criticism from liberal opponents of military action against ISIS, who note that intelligence sources have not found a specific, credible threat against the United States from the group.

When the Democrats trot out Ms. Jackson Lee to assure us that all is well, you know they've got a problem.  Think of it this way: on the eve of the 9-11 anniversary, with ISIS expanding its influence around the world, Democratic leaders had to dig deeeeep into their bench to find someone willing to go along with the party line. 

Unfortunately, the Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS apparently didn't get the "don't worry" memo.  Testifying before the Senate today, Francis Taylor confirmed that ISIS militants are planning to enter the U.S. via our sieve-like southern border.  Here's an account of Taylor's remarks from the Washington Free Beacon:

Francis Taylor told senators during a hearing that ISIL supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.

“There have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” Taylor told Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) in response to a question about “recent reports on Twitter and Facebook of messages that would urge infiltration into the U.S. across our southwestern border.”

“Certainly any infiltration across our border would be a threat,” Taylor said, explaining that border security agents are working to tighten measures that would prevent this from taking place.

“I’m satisfied we have the intelligence and the capability on our border that would prevent that activity,” Taylor said.

Calling Taylor an optimist might be the understatement of the decade. 

Senator John McCain of Arizona was dubious of Taylor's claims, noting that conservative film maker James O'Keefe recently released a video of himself, dress in a bin Laden mask, sneaking across the southern border, not a border agent in sight. 

Apparently, Mr. McCain is unaware that O'Keefe replicated his infiltration on our northern border, filming a man in jihadi garb (with a British accent) coming ashore in downtown Cleveland from Lake Erie, carrying containers labeled Ebola and ricin.  The fake jihadist even strolled into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, carrying a duffel bag.  He was never challenged by authorities.  According to O'Keefe, Coast Guard vessels assigned to protect the city from maritime threats were tied up at the dock.  

British-born terrorists--like the one who recently beheaded two American journalists in Syria--can enter Canada without a visa.  From there, it's just a short stroll or boat ride into the U.S.

Members of the administration (and their friends in Congress) are correct when they claim there are no known plots or operations involving terrorists infiltrating our porous borders.  But that's a particularly vile form of parsing--the rhetorical refuge of scoundrels and intelligence analysts.  They conveniently ignore the fact that ISIS operatives are openly chatting about crossing our southern border to enter the United States.  That chatter, which has increased significantly in recent weeks,  should be sufficient grounds to seal off the border, out of an abundance of caution. 

But the White House and its political allies don't see that as an immediate threat.  So the border remains open and ISIS militants may well be crossing from Mexico and/or Canada.  And it would be even easier for Americans who have been fighting for the terror group--or other western-born jihadists to simply return home, using the passport of their home country. 

And the threat may have already arrived.  Former CIA officer Bob Baer recently told CNN that a number of intelligence and security officials believe ISIS terrorists have already entered the U.S.

But there's no immediate threat.

Sleep well, America.  Later this evening, President Obama will unveil his strategy for battling the terrorist organization.  It will be interesting to see how much--or how little--he talks about the terror group's ability to strike us at home and what he plans to combat that threat.        


Monday, September 08, 2014

Jack Cristil, R.I.P.

The best play-by-play man you probably never heard of died last night. 

His name was Jack Cristil, and for 58 years, he was the voice of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.  Dwight Eisenhower was early in his first term when Cristil, a native of Memphis, heard that MSU was looking for a new announcer.  In the summer of 1953, he sent an audition tape to Mississippi State athletic director Dudy Noble and barely a month later, Cristil was behind the mike for his  debut, a football victory over Memphis State University. 

It was the first of 636 football games that Mr. Cristil would call for the Bulldogs.  He added basketball to his portfolio in 1957 and spent 54 years describing the action on the hardwood.  He retired after Mississippi State defeated Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl, as his health began to fail. 

According to the university's sports information department, Cristil called 60% of football games played by MSU and 55% of the basketball games.  More remarkably, he maintained his wit and grace during some very trying times in the long history of Mississippi State's football program.  At one point in the 50s and 60s, MSU lost to arch-rival Ole Miss 12 years in a row, and fared about as well against other SEC teams.  That made for some long afternoons in places like Tuscaloosa, Athens, Knoxville, Jackson (where the annual grudge match against Ole Miss was played for many years) and Baton Rouge.  

Put another way: at the start of the current season, MSU had an all-time record of 524-555-39, with a winning percentage of .486.  That means Mr. Cristil saw the Bulldogs lose more football games than any other person.  Decades of futility might prompt other broadcasters to seek greener pastures, but not Jack Cristil.  He found a home in Starkville, and stayed there for the long haul, until the man and his voice became inseparable from the university and its sports program.

His long career is even more remarkable when you consider the other voices who have called SEC games down through the years.  The legendary Larry Munson spent 42 years doing play-by-play at the University of Georgia; John Ward was voice of the Tennessee Volunteers for three decades; John Ferguson spent 41 years behind the microphone at LSU, a stretch equaled by Bob Fulton at South Carolina.  Jack Cristil outlasted them all.

Counting down the final seconds to an MSU victory, Cristil was fond of saying you "could wrap this one in maroon and white," and there was no doubt as to which team he was pulling for.  But Jack Cristil was never an over-the-top homer (like Munson); he called the action as he saw it, and when the Bulldogs were faring badly, their announcer wasn't above working the frustration into his account.  When Ole Miss demolished State in the 2008 Egg Bowl 45-0, Cristil offered these gems (among others):

"It's 3rd down and so long, you will need surveying equipment to see how much is needed for a first down."

"There are only 45 seconds left.  Maybe Ole Miss won't score another TD.  In the 1st quarter, that is." 

"Coming up on the end of the quarter.  The third quarter, that is.  We've still got another one to play.  At the end of the third quarter, Ole Miss barely out in front, 38-0."

"Mercifully, the clock continues to run."
"That's it.  Ballgame over.  Ole Miss noses out Mississippi State, 45-0."

And finally, there is this one, made a few times when the Bulldogs had a particularly listless day on the gridiron.  For any announcer who's ever been on the wrong side of a blow-out game--and Jack Cristil saw his share--it represents high art in the play-by-play trade.  (And as far as I know, Sonic is still a sponsor of MSU broadcasts, so even they appreciated the humor).   

As a fan of a certain school in Oxford, I must confess there was a certain degree of schadenfreude in listening to such calls, because you knew the misery was being shared by all who pulled for MSU.  But there was no disputing the talent of the man who called more than 2,000 college football and basketball games and did it with a style and flair that were uniquely his own. 

Jack Cristil was one the greats in that small fraternity of southern football announcers who helped transform the college game into a way of life.  He was, in many respects, the last link to an era when football was an experience shared over the radio, with the roar of the crowd and that unmistakable voice, booming across the AM band on a Saturday afternoon. 

Thanks, Jack, for all the memories, even for those of us who didn't cheer for your Bulldogs.    



Thursday, September 04, 2014

And It Gets Worse...

For starters, insert your favorite quote about history repeating itself.  We'll go with the Sage of Yankee Stadium and his famous observation about it being "deja vu all over again."

Watching the news in recent weeks, it's very easy to come away with a sense of foreboding and belief that we've been down this path before.  All the signs seem strangely familiar and point in the same, ominous direction; something terrible--perhaps cataclysmic--is about to happen, yet western leaders (particularly those in Washington, D.C.) seem unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

The timing is eerie, to say the least.  August saw the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a conflict that the great powers literally stumbled into.  Long-standing alliances and opportunism took precedence over reason and caution, setting the stage for a catastrophe that killed 20 million people.

And this week marked 75 years since Germany's invasion of Poland, igniting World War II, an even greater conflagration that claimed three times as many lives.  The virulent strains of fascism and communism that helped precipitate the conflict sprang directly from the ashes of the first war, along with western timidity that merely encouraged the aggressors. 

Eleven decades later, it appears that little has changed.  Fresh off last week's admission by the Commander-in-Chief that we still lack a strategy for dealing with ISIS, came this disturbing revelation from Fox News:

President Obama was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year before the group seized large swaths of territory over the summer, a former Pentagon official told Fox News.

The official -- who asked not to be identified because the President's Daily Brief is considered the most authoritative, classified intelligence community product analyzing sensitive international events for the president -- said the data was strong and "granular" in detail.    

The source said a policymaker "could not come away with any other impression: This is getting bad." 

Obama, unlike his predecessors who traditionally had the document briefed to them, is known to personally read the daily brief. The former Pentagon official, who has knowledge of the process, said Obama generally was not known to come back to the intelligence community with further requests for information based on the daily report.

Obviously, it's more difficult to formulate a strategy if you're not paying attention to the threat.  The FNC report also raises obvious questions as to whether the President is actually reading his daily brief; while intelligence analysts were painting an increasingly grim picture of ISIS and its capabilities, Mr. Obama was dismissing them as the terrorist "jayvee team." 

But the fatal combination of inattention and inactivity goes much deeper than that.  The information leaked to Fox was essentially a preemptive "cover your backside" move by the intelligence community.  Amid very real concerns that ISIS will soon strike in western Europe and the United States, the spooks are letting it be known that they sounded the alarm--and President Obama ignored their warnings.

In recent days, there have been warnings that ISIS cells are now operating along the U.S. border with Mexico, while some intelligence analysts believe the group's operatives have already reached American soil.  Former CIA officer Bob Baer recently told CNN that members of ISIS are inside our borders and capable of launching attacks:

"The people who collect tactical intelligence on the ground, day-to-day – and this isn't Washington – but people collecting this stuff say they're here, ISIS is here, they're capable of striking," said CNN national security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer.

"They don't know what their plans and intentions are. But it's a definite concern," said Baer.

U.S. intelligence agents are keeping an eye on suspected ISIS militants who they believe have come across the Mexican border, or are American citizens that have come back from Syria, says Baer.

"They can't prove it. They're waiting to get enough intelligence to actually run them in. And then there's the unknown, of how many people have come back they're not even aware of," said Baer.

"The people who do this for a living are very alarmed," he says.

Assuming Mr. Baer's sources are accurate--and at this point, there is no reason to believe they aren't--is it any wonder the intelligence community is already playing the "blame game" with the White House?  

Yet, there are even more reasons to believe that trouble is looming.  Other intel officials tell Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon that 11 Libyan jetliners went missing after Islamic militias took over the Tripoli Airport in July.  Those aircraft pose an immediate threat to urban areas, oil fields and military facilities throughout the Middle East and Europe, raising the specter of airliners being used as guided missiles once again, just days before the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  

Records indicate that Libya's two state-owned airlines had a total of 27 aircraft before the Tripoli Airport was closed, including three Airbus A330s and one A340, which have the range to reach targets in the United States.  American intelligence agencies are attempting to account for all of the aircraft.  While at least seven airliners were damaged during the airport takeover, the fact that so many went missing indicates that some terrorist organizations have personnel who are fully-qualified pilots, capable of carrying out jetliner-based plots over long distances.  

Here at home, security officials have confirmed that a U.S. resident who died while fighting for ISIS in Syria previously worked at the Minneapolis airport.  Abdirahmaan Muhumed, a member of the local Somali community, had a job cleaning planes at the airport before joining ISIS.  Two former co-workers told KMSP-TV that Muhummed passed a background check before being hired by a subsidiary of Delta airlines, which gave him "unfettered" access to aircraft and the tarmac.  It's unclear how long the man worked at the Minneapolis airport, or when he departed for Syria.  Law enforcement sources estimate that at least 15 Somalis have left Minnesota to enlist with ISIS.   

In fairness, it obviously isn't the President's job to track individual, home-grown jihadists, or determine the whereabouts of those missing aircraft.  But it is his duty to set policies that deal with emerging threats in an effective manner, and that is where Mr. Obama has been sadly lacking.  Even today, he couldn't articulate an objective for handling ISIS.  At one point during his Baltic visit, President Obama said our goal is to eradicate the terrorist group; moments later, he suggested that containment and "management of the problem" represented our objective.  The terms are not interchangeable and don't believe the President's fumbling response didn't register with our enemies--in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

It's also a presidential responsibility to acknowledge policy mistakes (at least privately) and make the necessary adjustments.  One reason we have terrorists diving into our embassy pool in Tripoli is that Mr. Obama (along with other western leaders) saw an opportunity to knock off Mommar Qadhafi a few years ago, with little regard for what might replace him.  Similar events have unfolded in Syria; the President drew his famous line in the sand and promptly erased it; promises to hold Bashir Assad accountable came to naught, as did pledges to fully arm "moderate" elements in the Syrian resistance.  As those groups faded, ISIS filled the void--and that threat was subsequently ignored by the White House.     

And we haven't broached the subject of Ukraine, where Russian troops (under the direction of Vladimir Putin) are now openly fighting alongside the separatists he supports.  Mr. Obama is supposed to discuss that subject tomorrow, at a NATO summit in Wales.  So far, the western alliance has imposed tighter sanctions on the Russian economy, and announced plans for creation of a 4,000-member "rapid reaction force" that can (supposedly) respond to situations like the one in Ukraine.   

That sounds like a rational approach, but is NATO in danger of writing operational checks it can't cash. The proposed force is, essentially, a combat brigade.  Who is going to supply the troops (if you guessed that most will be Americans, move to the head of the class); when are they going to have an opportunity to train? How will they be transported to Ukraine, the Baltics or any other hotspot?  It's worth remembering that only four of NATO's member states meet the alliance's minimum standards for defense expenditures.  So, even if alliance members are willing, their contributions may be marginal, at best.   

Employment represents an even greater challenge.  Is NATO prepared to send it to Ukraine, where it might serve as a "speed bump" if Vladimir Putin decides to march on Kiev?  Or how about the Baltics?
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are full members of the alliance, and protected by the mutual defense clause.  Let's suppose that Putin generates a similar "rebellion" among Russian-speakers in one of those countries, which have virtually no defensive depth.  What happens when Putin sends forces across a border in the Baltic state to protect ethnic Russians.  Once again, the NATO rapid reaction force might be able to slow Putin's forces for a bit, while alliance leaders mull over the prospect of a much wider war.

To be sure, much of the Russian military remains poorly trained and equipped, but Putin wouldn't send those units on a drive towards Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, or Vilnius.  And with his geographical advantages, the Russian leader could mount such an attack with limited strategic warning, while NATO scrambles to deploy forces with long supply lines, dangerously close to hostile territory.  Assuming, of course, that NATO elects to intervene.

The former KGB Colonel who reigns in the Kremlin knows better.  That's one reason he unleashed his surrogates in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine; Mr. Putin has called the west's bluff, knowing that NATO takes its lead from Washington, and current American leadership can't even articulate an operational objective for dealing with ISIS, let alone broad strategy for crushing the terrorists and checking Putin's efforts to gradually rebuild the Soviet Union.

Such is the state of American national security policy in the late summer of 2014: rudderless, feckless and completely incoherent.  Sort of like the sweltering days of 1914, when Europeans marched off to war, not really sure how they arrived at that moment.  Or that September day 25 years later, when years of dawdling and appeasement exploded into panzer columns advancing across the Polish frontier.

Seventy-five years later, a similar moment has arrived.  Our enemies have selected their strategies and are proceeding with their plans while west hopes some grand coalition and over-arching strategy will magically appear.                                               

Winston Churchill said it best, looking back on what he referred to as the "locust years" (1934-35) when European and American leaders squandered opportunities to acknowledge and prepare for the gathering storm.  As he observed [they] "...decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

We know what happened then, just as we ominously await that which is about to come. 


In today's column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer argues that Mr. Obama has a de facto strategy for Ukraine--he's already written it off:

Vladimir Putin’s invasion may be nothing new to Obama. For Ukraine, it changed everything. Russia was on the verge of defeat. Now Ukraine is. That’s why Ukraine is welcoming a cease-fire that amounts to capitulation.

A month ago, Putin’s separatist proxies were besieged and desperate. His invasion to the southeast saved them. It diverted the Ukrainian military from Luhansk and Donetsk, allowing the rebels to recover, while Russian armor rolled over Ukrainian forces, jeopardizing their control of the entire southeast. Putin even boasted that he could take Kiev in two weeks.

Why bother? He’s already fracturing and subjugating Ukraine, re-creating Novorossiya (“New Russia”), statehood for which is one of the issues that will be up for, yes, diplomacy.

Which makes incomprehensible Obama’s denial to Ukraine of even defensive weapons — small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, his stunning passivity in the face of a dictionary-definition invasion has not just confounded the Ukrainians. It has unnerved the East Europeans. Hence Obama’s reassurances on his trip to the NATO summit in Wales.

First up, Estonia. It seems to be Obama’s new red line. I’m sure they sleep well tonight in Tallinn now that Obama has promised to stand with them. (Remember the State Department hashtag #UnitedforUkraine?)

Yogi Berra was right: it is deja vu all over again.