Sunday, January 24, 2016

You Read it Here First

It remains one of the unanswered questions of Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal: how did classified information make its way onto messages stored and transmitted by her "home brew system.

Now, federal investigators are working to confirm a theory that we first identified months ago.  From today's edition of the New York Post:

The FBI is investigating whether members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle “cut and pasted” material from the government’s classified network so that it could be sent to her private e-mail address, former State Department security officials say.

Clinton and her top aides had access to a Pentagon-run classified network that goes up to the Secret level, as well as a separate system used for Top Secret communications.

The two systems — the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) and Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) — are not connected to the unclassified system, known as the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet). You cannot e-mail from one system to the other, though you can use NIPRNet to send ­e-mails outside the government.

Somehow, highly classified information from SIPRNet, as well as even the super-secure JWICS, jumped from those closed systems to the open system and turned up in at least 1,340 of Clinton’s home e-mails — including several the CIA earlier this month flagged as containing ultra-secret Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Programs, a subset of SCI.


[Raymond Fournier, a former Diplomatic Security Service special agent told the Post] it’s clear from some of the classified e-mails made public that someone on Clinton’s staff essentially “cut and pasted” content from classified cables into the messages sent to her. The classified markings are gone, but the content is classified at the highest levels — and so sensitive in nature that “it would have been obvious to Clinton.” Most likely the information was, in turn, e-mailed to her via NIPRNet.

To work around the closed, classified systems, which are accessible only by secure desktop workstations whose hard drives must be removed and stored overnight in a safe, Clinton’s staff would have simply retyped classified information from the systems into the non-classified system or taken a screen shot of the classified document, Fournier said. “Either way, it’s totally illegal.”

We first advanced the same theory on 28 September of last year:

"...the FBI is reportedly focusing on how classified information wound up on Hillary's private e-mail network.  We're guessing the bureau already knows the answer to that one; files were either uploaded to the system, or various users of the system simply copied sensitive data from reports into their e-mails, minus the classification markings.  

We've long favored that latter scenario, for two reasons.  First, the classified data almost certainly originated on networks set up to handle that type of information, specifically SIPRNET (for secret-level information) and JWICS, for material at the TS/SCI level.  In the wake of the Manning and Snowden scandals, the government has made it extremely difficult to upload or download files from those systems.  In many cases, moving a document from SIPRNET to JWICS requires the assistance of a network administrator and must be approved in advance.  

On the other hand, it would be very easy for Mrs. Clinton (or a member of her cabal) to simply look at a classified report and then summarize the important findings in an e-mail, created and disseminated on the private, unsecure network.  Ask anyone who has held a clearance and worked with classified data and they will tell you: such practices are unpardonable sins, deserving of prosecution and punishment to the full letter of the law.  The fact that the former SecState (and her senior aides) held clearances for years--and deliberately chose to place classified information on an open network--gives you some idea of the contempt they hold for the nation's secrets and our laws.

Obviously, it wasn't very hard for the FBI to figure it out.  The Bureau utilizes the same systems outlined above and their IT specialists, security personnel and investigators are very familiar with how they work--and the difficulty in transferring files from SIPRNET or JWICS to a private, unsecure system.  

We've long believed that the bureau has been focusing on who originated the various classified e-mails, and comparing those messages to the original, classified traffic that appeared on the secure networks.  Determining the State Department staffer who created the message should be fairly easy; determining where the information came from probably takes a bit longer, since the classified sections of e-mails sent to Mrs. Clinton are likely paraphrased from the original source document.  

It is also likely that FBI Director James Comey has instructed his agents to build a detailed and compelling case, understanding the difficulties that may arise in persuading the Justice Department to actually indict HRC and her associates.  As Andrew McCarthy details at National Review, the bureau is facing a major obstacle in its probe of Mrs. Clinton and her e-mail system.  So far, the Justice Department has not appointed prosecutors to work with agents in building the case, and it has not impaneled a grand jury to hear evidence and hand down potential indictments.  Until the DOJ becomes fully engaged, the investigation really isn't an investigation.  

Mr. Comey, a veteran Washington hand with an impressive resume as a government lawyer, fully understands this.  And that may explain those recent, damaging revelations about the discovery of Special Access Program (SAP) information in Mrs. Clinton's e-mails.  SAP is a form of classification typically used to protect exceptionally sensitive intelligence sources and collection methods.  The number of individuals with access to such programs may be limited to just a handful, depending on what is being shielded.  In some cases, SAP may protect extremely well-placed human intelligence (HUMINT) sources.  Disclosure of such information often results in the death of foreign nationals working for our intelligence community.  

Look for more details about HRC's e-mails in the weeks ahead.  The FBI is reminding the Obama Administration of the seriousness of this scandal, and the role the DOJ must play in bringing offenders to justice.  Officials at the bureau are providing the outline of a bullet-proof case and putting the onus for action on Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  We will soon know if Ms. Lynch is prepared to engage the DOJ, and later this year, if she is willing to bring charges against Hillary Clinton and her associates.  If Lynch declines, we will see a series of resignations that will make the "Saturday Night Massacre" look like a church picnic.  There would likely be an attempt to impeach Ms. Lynch--all in the middle of a presidential campaign.  

Pundits are already describing the 2016 election cycle as "unusual," given the entry (and performance) of Donald Trump.  But Trump's ascendancy in the GOP race may take a backseat to the case against Hillary Clinton, and a potential constitutional crisis in the late summer or early fall.  

Buckle your seat belts.  It's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hillary's Smoking Gun, Redux

...From the "groove yard of forgotten favorites," to borrow a phrase from El Rushbo: 

As Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal unfolded last year, we reminded readers that the former Secretary of State (and senior aides) had access to the crown jewels of American intelligence, and some of that information might wind up on her "home brew" e-mail system.

"This much we know: Mrs. Clinton and most of her senior associates utilizing the e-mail system were cleared for the most sensitive information produced and retained by the U.S. government.  They had routine access to the full range of intelligence data, up to the TS-SCI level, and a number of SAR/SAP programs as well.  If you want to discuss that information--without the hassle of creating and utilizing e-mail accounts on SIPRNET or JWICS, just pull bits of material and put them into an unclassified e-mail and send them over an unsecure network.  It's a fair bet that most (if not all) of her e-mails are in the hands of virtually any country with a national signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability." 

All the more reason for the FBI to continue a criminal probe.  Mishandling classified information is a crime (just ask General David Petraeus).  But the Clinton e-mail system went far beyond sharing hard-copy files with a mistress/biographer, and storing them outside a secure facility.  By entering classified material into an unsecure e-mail system, the former Secretary of State and her associates likely exposed a wide range of classified material to intercept and collection by our enemies.  

Ignore the spin.  This is not a matter of ensuring that classified material was secure; it's a question of who deliberately placed sensitive data on a non-secure network and engaged in that practice on a recurring basis.  But determining guilt may be more difficult that you'd think.  Unless there was a system administrator moving classified documents from State Department systems to the Clinton server, investigators may be compelled to compare original intel documents with the e-mails, line-by-line and word-for-word. 

While Mrs. Clinton continues her quest for the presidency, inspectors general from the various intelligence agencies (along with a phalanx of FBI agents) have quietly expanded their investigation of her e-mail network.  And the latest finding is one of the most damning.  As Fox News reported earlier today:

Hillary Clinton's emails on her unsecured, homebrew server contained intelligence from the U.S. government's most secretive and highly classified programs, according to an unclassified letter from a top inspector general to senior lawmakers.

Fox News exclusively obtained the unclassified letter, sent Jan. 14 from Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III. It laid out the findings of a recent comprehensive review by intelligence agencies that identified "several dozen" additional classified emails -- including specific intelligence known as "special access programs" (SAP).  
That indicates a level of classification beyond even “top secret,” the label previously given to two emails found on her server, and brings even more scrutiny to the presidential candidate’s handling of the government’s closely held secrets.

According to Mr. McCullough, two sworn declarations from one intelligence community element "cover several dozen emails [from Clinton's server] containing classified information determined by the IC element to be at the confidential, secret, and top secret/sap levels."  McCullough offered that revelation in an unclassified letter to leadership of the House and Senate intelligence committees and leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and State Department inspector general.

Spokesmen for the intelligence community declined comment on the Fox report.  

As their name implies, SAP programs are highly restricted.  Individuals must be "read into" the program when it is determined they have a valid "need-to-know."  Many relate to the most sensitive collection efforts in the intelligence community, based on extremely well-placed sources and/or intelligence methods that--if revealed--would cause exceptionally grave damage to our intel efforts. 

Like most who worked in the spook business, your humble correspondent was read into a few SAP programs in his day.  Because I'm still honoring my non-disclosure agreement (unlike a former cabinet member we know), I won't go into details about them.  But to give you some idea of the security involved, reviewing information gathered under one SAP effort meant going to a special vault, inside a Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence Facility (SCIF), and logging onto computer terminals reserved for that particular program.  If you weren't cleared for the program, you didn't get in--even if you had a TS/SCI clearance.  

In some cases, only a handful of people may be approved for a special access program.  Some of those are restricted to the most senior members of the U.S. government--the type of collection efforts a Secretary of State would have knowledge of.  At this point, we don't know what type of SAP information was found on Mrs. Clinton's server, but obviously, it represents a security breach of the first magnitude--and it's a sure bet that hostile SIGINT services accessed that information.  

It's the type of material that gets people killed.  Literally.  It's one reason the Army is considering a demotion of retired General David Petraeus.  Turns out that he shared SAP information with his biographer and former mistress, Paula Broadwell.  Neither Petraeus nor Broadwell was ever accused of sharing that info over an unclassified e-mail system.  But Petraeus may lose a star and be forced to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement pay--the difference in the pension of check of a four-star, versus a Lieutenant General.  

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign keeps chugging on.  But the odds of her indictment just increased dramatically.                 




Thursday, January 14, 2016


Tehran has released 10 American sailors who were detained yesterday, after one of their patrol boats became disabled in the Persian Gulf and drifted into Iranian waters near Farsi Island.

Secretary of State John Kerry praised the quick release, offering it as proof of the "new" relationship between Iran and the United States.  Mr. Kerry said our personnel were "Well treated by the Iranians, and provided food and blankets.  We can only imagine how a similar situation would have played out three or four years ago."  Predictably, the Secretary failed to mention that four Americans are still being held by Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.  

Critics also noted that Washington is preparing to end sanctions against the Tehran regime and will soon release $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets.  Put another way, the mullahs had billions of reasons to release the U.S. sailors.

But not before engaging in a bit of predictable propaganda.  About the time the release was announced, Iranian news agencies produced photos of the American sailors, just before they were taken into custody:

  Crew members of US Navy patrol boat in the Persian Gulf, as they were being arrested by Iran  on 12 January (Iranian press photo)

Never mind that publishing such photos is against the Geneva Convention.  Tehran will never pass on an opportunity to humiliate the United States and if our military members are involved, that's icing on the cake.  Incidentally, State Department spokesman John Kirby told Sean Hannity Wednesday night that the Iranian photos are not in violation of the convention, since the U.S. and Iran aren't officially at war. Given Tehran's actions towards America over the last 35 years--directly and through its proxies--one could make the case that Kirby is myopic at best, and delusional at worst.  

And if that wasn't enough, Iran also released video of one of the captured sailors "apologizing" for the incident.  More than likely, the service member in the video is a junior officer; watching his eyes and body language, he appears to be under duress.  We can only imagine what the IRGC threatened if he didn't provide the apology.  As someone observed on Twitter, this is what happens when BuPers (the Navy's personnel command) keeps cancelling your slot at Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school.  It's quite possible the petty officer in the video was untrained for this type of situation and tried to muddle through as best he could.

The patrol boat incident is merely the latest example of concerted Iranian efforts to embarrass United States and highlight the weakness of President Obama.  Last October, with the ink still drying on the nuclear deal, Tehran conducted a missile test that was in clear violation of existing protocols.  At last report, the White House was attempting to delay additional sanctions for that launch.

And on December 26th, as the USS Harry Truman and its escorts transited the Strait of Hormuz, Iran suddenly announced a live-fire exercise and launched rockets only 1,500 yards from the aircraft carrier.  U.S. officials did not announce the incident until several days later, after the Truman returned to the Arabian Sea.

Iran also had the carrier in its cross-hairs yesterday, as the patrol boat episode unfolded.  A senior Iranian naval officer said the Truman and other allied ships began "maneuvering" as the American sailors were detained.  The Iranian admiral also claimed that his country's anti-ship missiles were "locked on" to the Truman as the disabled U.S. patrol boats drifted towards his country's territorial waters.

As we've noted in previous posts, locking onto a target (typically) involves fire control radars, which are detected by ESM systems on U.S. ships and aircraft.  Being locked on by the military forces of a hostile power is considered an act of war, and allows the targeted platform to defend itself.  There is no word on how the Truman responded to that highly provocative act, though it's a fair bet that our response was benign.  Remember, this is the same commander-in-chief who sent a 45-minute warning to ISIS oil truck drivers before we started bombing their rigs.  Rest assured, Mr. Obama doesn't want some military commander in the Persian Gulf disrupting the new rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.          

So Iran scores another major propaganda victory while the U.S. again looks timid and weak.  It doesn't take a foreign policy guru to understand that Iran will only be emboldened by this latest episode and new provocations are just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, there are a few serious questions surrounding the incident that remain unanswered.  The two patrol boats (actually, Swedish-built CB-90s) were transiting from Kuwait to Bahrain when one (or both) of the vessels suffered a mechanical breakdown.  Eventually, the boats drifted into Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, where they were detained by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The most direct route from Kuwait to Bahrain is along the western side of the Persian Gulf; Farsi Island is more centrally located.  If the boats were following a direct route, they must have drifted for some time before reaching the Iranian-controlled island.  If only one vessel was affected by the engineering casualty, why didn't the second boat take it under tow?  Why weren't additional assets--including airpower--dispatched by 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain?  The presence of Navy helicopters and F/A-18s overhead might have caused the Iranians to think twice.

And what about distress calls from the CB-90s to Navy command elements?  Early reports suggested the Navy "lost track" of its assets.  Perhaps someone can explain why the vast surveillance assets of the United States Navy couldn't maintain radio and/or radar contact with a pair of patrol boats--or provide warning of Iranian activity.  Major surface combatants (along with airborne assets) give the Navy an impressive SIGINT capability on the high seas; assuming we were tracking Iranian activities, it would be nice to know what information commanders had as the episode unfolded and how it impacted their decision-making.

There are also issues involving the commander of the boat element, believed to be the junior officer who issued the on-camera apology.  Why did he offer no resistance when the Iranians began boarding his craft.  Article II of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct states "I will never surrender of my own free will.  If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they have the means to resist."  A CB-90 is heavily armed, with .50-caliber machine guns, GAU-19 mini guns and individual weapons for the crew.  Obviously, no officer wants to see his command slaughtered; on the other hand, would it have been possible for the crew to resist, particularly with air support?

It's also worth asking about the level of involvement by senior officials in Washington.  Press accounts suggest that Secretary of State John Kerry was involved in the earliest contacts with Iran and spoke with his counterpart in Tehran no long after the sailors were detained.  That quick response suggests the White House and State received early notification of the incident (reflecting the desired level of coordination).  But it also begs another essential question: were senior officials micro-managing the episode from Washington, and decided early on to avoid a confrontation with Tehran at all costs.

Obviously, this latest episode did nothing to inspire confidence among our long-time allies in the Persian Gulf.  Writing in the New York Observer, John Schindler notes that our latest Middle East debacle will provoke more saber rattling between Riyadh and Tehran.  The stage is already set for a major regional conflict between the traditional foes, and the specter of a nuclear war is very real.  At best, the recently-concluded agreement with Iran will only delay its nuclear ambitions.  If Tehran is running a parallel, covert development program, the timeline for an Iranian bomb may be much shorter. 

And, as Dr Schindler notes, the Iranians can also acquire a nuke via "express delivery" from North Korea.  He refers to the frequent flights by Iran and North Korean IL-76 transports between those two countries, a subject we've written about on multiple occasions.  An IL-76 is more than capable of carrying a finished nuke from Pyongyang to Iran, and given the effective deception measures employed by both countries, our intelligence community could easily miss the delivery.

Across the gulf, Riyadh has its own emergency nuke plan.  The kingdom was a key investor in Pakistan's nuclear program, in exchange for potential deliveries of weapons to Saudi Arabia if the need arises.  With Iran moving inexorably towards a nuclear capability (and America in full retreat across the region), the window for the Saudis acquiring their own nuclear arsenal is wide open.  As one DoD official told Schindler: "if Tehran announces on Monday they have a nuke, Riyadh will 'suddenly' have one by Wednesday.

As any mariner will tell you, the danger with drifting is that you wind up in places and situations you don't want to be.  Sadly, U.S. policy in the Middle East resembles those two disabled patrol boats: adrift and heading for dangerous, uncharted waters.  Meanwhile, the man on the bridge, "Captain" Obama is waiting for his change-of-command ceremony, more than willing to let his successor sort the mess out in 2017 and beyond.                              


Friday, January 08, 2016

Hillary's Smoking Gun?

Last summer, when some in the MSM were actually paying attention to Hillary's e-mail scandal, the former Secretary of State (and Democratic Presidential candidate) tried to assure supporters she had done nothing wrong:

"I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received," Mrs. Clinton stated.  Both she and her supporters have tried to paint the classification issue as a dispute between government agencies over the content of her e-mails.  Never mind that the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community has determined that hundreds of Clinton e-mails, sent through her private server, were "born classified," that is, the material they contained was already classified at the time the message was sent or received.

So, how will she explain this one, which surfaced in her batch of e-mails that was most recently released:

Take a look at the last e-mail in the chain, sent by the Secretary herself.  Apparently, Mrs. Clinton's aides had been having problems with their classified fax machine, preventing transmission of needed talking points.

Her response: "If they can't [send it via secure fax] turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure."    

The e-mail, sent to senior aide Jake Sullivan appears to be a clear directive to transmit classified material over a nonsecure fax machine.  Stripping off the "identifying heading" would remove the classification stamp that appears at the top of classified documents.

So, in the course of 13 words, we have a cabinet official, the Secretary of State, directing a member of her staff to willfully violate a number of rules/regulations/laws governing the handling and transmission of classified information.

Of course, there are a number of problems with this technique.  First, if the talking points were properly formatted, there should be a classification marking for each section, depending on the sensitivity of the material.  There should also be declassification instructions at the bottom of the page. No word on whether those markings were deleted as well.

It goes without saying that sending classified data over a nonsecure fax machine is just as bad as transmitting it through a non-secure server.  Very easy for a hostile intelligence agency to intercept.  And, we have no way of knowing how many messages, memos and other classified documents may have been sent this way.  Mrs. Clinton's "matter-of-fact" tone suggests it was an approved practice among her staff; why make that long walk to the SCIF to send a TS/SCI document when you can just strip off the classification markings and send it over an unclassified fax?

For anyone who's ever held a security clearance and handled classified material, this is jaw-dropping; it's the kind of thing that can (and should) result in a rock-breaking tour at Leavenworth.  But if you're HRC or a member of her senior staff, classification rules only exist for the "little people."  If the classified fax machine isn't working properly, they can't be expected to use another one (and there are dozens at Foggy Bottom).  No, just use the unclassified machine and let someone else worry about the consequences.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air was among the first to notice this bombshell, and he helpfully links to 18 USC 793, which prescribes punishment of up to 10 years in prison, a fine (or both) for anyone who "causes [it] to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;


(1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or
(2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer

Over at, Guy Benson offers another important reminder: Mrs. Clinton has claimed that she didn't realize information sent over her home brew e-mail server was classified because it lacked the proper security markings (emphasis ours).  Yet, we now have HRC on record, telling aides to strip classification markings so material could be sent over a nonsecure fax machine.

In response, a State Department spokesman says its unclear whether the referenced document was ever sent.  But that argument is specious, at best.  Clinton's reply suggests the document was very important and she expected it to be transmitted, even if it meant violating a host of security regulations.  And, given the exchange between Mrs. Clinton and Sullivan (who now works as a top foreign policy adviser for her campaign), there is no doubt the material was highly secret at that moment back in 2011.  "Born classified," as they say in the trade.

Just before this latest revelation, former Washington D.C. U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova predicted that Mrs. Clinton will be indicted.  As he told Laura Ingraham on her radio show:

"The [FBI] has so much information about criminal conduct by her and her staff that there is no way that they walk away from this,” diGenova said. “They are going to make a recommendation that people be charged and then Loretta Lynch is going to have the decision of a lifetime.

“I believe that the evidence that the FBI is compiling will be so compelling that, unless [Lynch] agrees to the charges, there will be a massive revolt inside the FBI, which she will not be able to survive as an attorney general. It will be like Watergate. It will be unbelievable.”

A Congressional aide involved in the Clinton investigation told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the "sheer volume" of classified e-mails is critical.  As someone who handled the nation's secrets for years, "at some point the law says you are responsible for recognizing classified material when you see it. That gets to the negligence issue,” the source said.

To be fair, an indictment of Mrs. Clinton is hardly assured.  But the scandal is far from over, and it will clearly haunt her on the campaign trail.
ADDENDUM:  For those keeping score at home, the number of classified Hillary e-mails now totals more than 1,000.  And if you're wondering about that term "non paper," it's a reference to "anything that is not attributable to the U.S. government, based on what appears on the page."  

But wait, there's more: writing in the New York Observer, Dr. John Schindler notes that another Hillary e-mail in the batch seems to contain highly classified information.  The material is found in a message from Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal.  As Schindler (a former NSA analyst) observes, the assessment follows the same format and caveats used in SIGINT reporting, raising serious questions as to how Mr. Blumenthal might have acquired such information, which was passed to HRC through her unclassified e-mail system.     

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Bigger Bang Theory

Almost 24 hours after North Korea's latest nuclear test, there is still squabbling and debate over exactly what transpired.  Pyongyang insists it detonated a hydrogen bomb in an underground cavern at the Punggye-ri Test Facility, in the northeastern corner of the DPRK, not far from the Sea of Japan.  But experts in the U.S. and other western countries expressed doubt, saying the explosion detected wasn't powerful enough to be an H-bomb.

Of course, the back-and-forth is (at this point) little more than a semantics-and-science debate.  Even if Kim Jong-un's regime didn't test a fusion weapon, they did manage to thumb their nose at the world community by conducting yet another nuclear test, with a weapon that is more advanced than previous models.

And there were clear indications that something was about to happen, at least from a rhetorical perspective.  Last month, Kim claimed that North Korea had become a "powerful nuclear weapons state," ready to detonate a "self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb."  That remark brought a few chuckles among arms experts; Pyongyang's three previous nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013, had been low-yield affairs, demonstrating only a fraction of the power of the U.S. bomb that leveled Hiroshima in 1945.  That particular weapon had a yield of 12-15 kilotons.  By comparison, the estimated yield of North Korea's first nuclear test was roughly .5 KT; their 2009 blast had a force of 6 KT, while the 2013 and 2015 weapons had a projected yield of 4 KT.

Had Pyongyang actually tested a true fission weapon, the blast would have been much larger.  For example, the warheads on a Minuteman III ICBM deliver a yield of at least 330 KT; the larger weapons on a Trident D-5 SLBM have an explosive force equivalent to one million tons of TNT (1 megaton).  But even that pales in comparison to one of the largest nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the warhead mounted on the long-retired Titan II ICBM.  That particular weapon had a yield of 10 MT.  Russia, which had accuracy problems with its early delivery platforms, had fusion weapons that were even larger.

Some analysts believe yesterday's test in North Korea may have involved a "boosted" weapon--a design that utilizes a brief fusion reaction to increase the power of a fission-based weapon.  If that scenario is confirmed, it would indicate that Pyongyang has the ability to produce more sophisticated bombs, and is on the path to producing a true H-bomb, which would be far more powerful than anything currently in the DPRK arsenal.

But even a "boosted" device gives reason for pause.  In a commentary for CNN last month, Bruce Bennett of RAND noted that a boosted weapon with a 50KT yield could kill as many as 250,000 people, if detonated over a densely-populated urban area like Seoul.  That potential death toll is roughly equal to 2.5% of the city 's population, and Pyongyang would likely use "several" nuclear weapons against the South Korean capital.

As scientists try to discern the type of weapon detonated in the most recent DPRK test, there are whispers that our intelligence community was scrambling to collect against the event.  CBS's David Martin, reporting from the Pentagon, said defense officials believed a North Korean test would happen in the near future, but "had no clue" it would happen today. 

Sputnik News, citing Japanese press reports, claims a USAF RC-135V "Rivet Joint" reconnaissance aircraft launched from Kadena AB, Okinawa around 10:30 am this morning (local time), just minutes before North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test.But Rivet Joint is an odd choice to monitor a nuclear detonation.  If the US intelligence community believes such a test is imminent, the Air Force normally deploys a WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft, which has the ability to collect and analyze nuclear material that enters the atmosphere, even after an underground blast. 

For a Korea mission, Constant Phoenix also operates from Kadena.  So far, there has been no report of that aircraft staging from the base on Okinawa, or any other U.S. airbase in the Far East.The RC-135V, which routinely operates from Kadena, is a SIGINT platform and would be very helpful in collecting ELINT and communications data associated with the test.  However, it lacks the ability to collect nuclear signatures which would be essential in determining the type of weapon detonated and its yield. 

Additionally, if the Rivet Joint's mission was to monitor DPRK emitters and comms during the test window, it would have probably launched earlier, not 10 minutes before the blast.  The take-off time for the RC-135 was probably unrelated to the nuclear test, another indication we were surprised by the blast.

Thursday afternoon, a Pentagon official told NBC News that a "drone" was used to collect nuclear material over the Sea of Japan following the test.  That is likely a reference to a pair of USAF Global Hawk UAVs, which have been deployed to Misawa AB, Japan since May of 2014.  When the deployment was announced, American officials listed nuclear monitoring as one of their primary missions.  That detachment concluded its operations and redeployed to the U.S. in the fall of 2014.

According to an Air Force media release, the Global Hawks returned to Misawa in May of last year, starting a deployment that was supposed to last through December.  US officials have not said how long the high-altitude UAV was on station at the time of the test, although the RQ-4 can remain aloft for days at a time.

The run-up to the latest NK nuclear test was also interesting from another perspective.  In the past, intelligence sources have often leaked word of detected preparations, to let Pyongyang know that the U.S. is aware of its activities.  This time, there were no stories in The New York Times or Washington Post about a pending test, suggesting that American officials decided to remain quiet, or they weren't convinced that Kim Jong un would soon detonate another nuke.  If that latter scenario proves true, it might indicate that North Korea has developed improved denial and deception  (D&D) techniques that help mask test preparations.  The DPRK retains one of the most extensive--and sophisticated--deception programs in the world.

In response, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and China have all condemned the test.  But such protests carry little weight in North Korea.  Once again, Kim Jong un has succeeded in shifting the world's attention to the hermit kingdom, a sure indicator that he wants something--perhaps a better nuclear "deal" like the once recently concluded between Washington and Iran.

As with recent developments in the Persian Gulf, the latest provocation from Pyongyang raises the specter of another, regional nuclear arms race.  With U.S. power receding on the world stage, there is quiet talk in Seoul, Tokyo and even Taipei about acquiring an "independent" nuclear force to deter North Korea's small, but growing, arsenal.   Given the industrial, technological and financial resources possessed by those three nations, a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia could unfold extraordinarily fast, and with grave ramifications for all concerned.                           


Monday, January 04, 2016

The Gulf Boils Over

These are perilous times in the Persian Gulf.

The region has largely been in free-fall since U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011.  Without the stability--and influence--that result from an American military presence, long-simmering ethnic and sectarian issues have moved back to the forefront, leading to increased Iranian influence in Iraq; abandonment of the Shia-led government by Sunni tribes in western provinces, and more recently, the rise of ISIS.

And if that's not bad enough, there's the twin catastrophe of the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal.  Not only did the Obama Administration put Tehran on the glide slope for the nuclear club, they also agreed to release an estimated $150 billion in Iranian assets, long-frozen for the mullah's support of terrorism and other misdeeds.  So, not only is Iran an inevitable nuclear power, they will soon be flush with cash to expand their ballistic missile program, support Hezbollah (and other terrorist groups), or fund covert nuclear efforts.

The Iranians are clearly feeling their oats, and not about to back down anytime soon.  Last October, Tehran test-fired a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1929.  Not that Iran was particularly worried; in response the White House said it might "consider additional steps," which is diplo-speak for "don't worry, we won't do anything."  Earlier today--almost three months after the test--the Obama Administration refused to explain why it is delaying new sanctions over the violation

Tehran's latest act of military aggression came at year's end.   As the USS Harry Truman transited the Strait of Hormuz, Iran suddenly announced plans for a live-fire exercise, launching rockets that landed within 1,500 yards of the American carrier.  The Pentagon did not reveal the incident until 30 December, after the Truman had returned to the Arabia Sea.  U.S. officials described the episode as "highly provocative."  There was no threat of retaliatory action, despite the obvious threat to the carrier, other military vessels, and commercial ships in the area.

Fresh from that propaganda victory, Tehran set its sights on regional adversaries.  When Saudi Arabia executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, it touched off immediate protests in Iran. Demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital and set it afire.  Representatives of the United Arab Emirates negotiated for the evacuation of Saudi diplomats and support staff from Iran, possibly preventing them from being taken prisoner.

In response, Riyadh has cut diplomatic ties with Tehran and suspended commercial flights between the two countries.  Neighboring Bahrain announced similar moves and the UAE said it was "downgrading" relations with Tehran.  Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced that Saudi Arabia would face "repercussions" for the cleric's execution.

It's worth noting that al-Nimr was not a particularly prominent cleric; indeed, key leaders of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority took steps to distance themselves from the firebrand.  Al-Nimr advocated overthrow of the kingdom's royal family, and outside assistance for the Shia population in Saudi Arabia's eastern provinces, a call security officials equated with an invitation for an Iranian invasion.  But it gave Iran a new opportunity to put new pressure on its main regional rival.

If you're looking for a common thread in all of this, it can be neatly summarized in the lack of American strategy and resolve in the Middle East.  President Obama's desire to reach the nuclear accord with Iran has not only emboldened Khamenei and the rest of Iran's theocracy, it has also raised doubts about our ability to support and protect allies in the region.  The lack of leadership from Washington is one reason that Saudi Arabia took the lead in military intervention against an Iranian-backed insurgency in Yemen.  While Mr. Obama is taking up his gun control crusade (again), the Persian Gulf is boiling over, and we clearly don't have a clue, let alone a plan.

And the road ahead looks even more ominous.  Iran's inevitable acquisition of nuclear weapons has left its neighbors looking at their own options--particularly as American power recedes further in the region.  Iranian nukes will be matched by Saudi Arabia and unlike Tehran, the kingdom won't spend decades developing their own.  As we noted a few months back, Riyadh was a silent partner in Pakistan's nuclear program, providing key financing with a promise that Islamabad would provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, in the event they were ever needed.

If that moment hasn't arrived, it's very, very close.  The Saudis already have intermediate missiles that can be easily modified to carry a nuclear warhead, and even with the current oil glut, they have the financial resources to acquire that technology quickly.  And it's quite likely the UAE, Qatar, and other Gulf States will follow suit.

We're on the verge of a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf--with more weapons in the hands of unstable governments (and limited restrictions on their employment) in the very near future.  If 2016 is shaping up as a scary year in that volatile region, it's hard to fathom what 2020 or 2025 may look like.

In the interim, Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states perceive a clear U.S. tilt towards Iran, as noted by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin of Bloomberg. That perception will only accelerate the "go it alone trend" among our long-time allies, and generate more support for the "nuclear" option.                                      



Friday, January 01, 2016

Fanfare for the Common Man

This is the first New Year's Day without my father.  We buried him in early December, barely five weeks after his 100th birthday.  He led a long, full and blessed life that continued literally until his final breath.  My father remained active well into his 90s, and was driving a car barely a year before heart failure finally claimed his life.  His mind remained clear enough at the end to refuse treatment, a decision that was confirmed by my brother.  In so many respects, he lived life on his terms, right until the end.

His life spanned one of the most consequential periods in American history.  Seventeen Presidents occupied the Oval Office over the course of my father's life.  He endured two World War, the Great Depression, and the birth of the modern middle class.  He witnessed the civil rights era, the birth of feminism, and the advent of modern mass media.  When my father was born in 1915, commercial radio was still five years away; motion pictures were still silent and television remained a gleam in Philo Farnsworth's eye.  A century later, he was watching his beloved Cubs on a flat-panel TV, connected to cable stations that delivered 24-hour sports programming.  My father saw that as an advancement, even if other developments like personal computers and the internet remained incomprehensible and beyond his realm.

Similarly, my father came of age during an era when aviation was in its infancy.  Most Americans who traveled took a train, or another new-fangled contraption, the automobile.  He would live to see the advent of passenger flights on a mass scale, enabled by huge jets that could deliver someone to virtually any point on the globe within 24 hours.  My father also lived to see the era of manned space travel, with his fellow countrymen traveling safely between the earth and the moon and back again, not once but multiple times--less than 20 years after President Kennedy vowed to make the voyage.  

He was a member of The Greatest Generation, that cohort of extraordinary Americans who were born between 1900 and 1924, one of millions of men and women who endured the deprivation of the depression years, then were called to arms during the Second World War.  They have been lionized and rightly so; even today, as their ranks dwindle, their achievements inspire both awe and gratitude.  Not only did they save western civilization, they returned from the battlefields and built the most powerful and prosperous nation the world has ever seen.  Those of us who came later are forever in their debt, and our legacy can only pale in comparison.

My father's story was typical of his generation.  He was born on a farm in eastern Mississippi, in Lowndes County, the eldest of four children.  His father migrated to the Magnolia State from West Texas, lured by the opportunity of better farmland and the support of other family members who had settled in that portion of Mississippi.  Then as now, life on the farm was hard.  My father recalled missing schools for weeks every fall, during harvest time.  With only two sons to help with the farm, my grandfather was a very busy man with a volcanic temper.  My father sometimes bore the brunt of those outbursts, and tried to shield his brother or sisters from the wrath.

Despite the demands of farm life, Dad developed a passion for sports and his athletic skill was evident early on.  In a day when most communities had their own baseball teams, my father became the starting catcher at the age of 16, handling pitchers who were sometimes a decade older, and didn't always agree with his pitch selection.  There were a few heated arguments but Dad stood his ground.  Just over six feet tall and 190 pounds, he was big and tough enough to go toe-to-toe with teammates and opponents.  My father also excelled at football and basketball, starting at guard in both sports.

Ultimately, athletics provided his escape from the farm.  Dad earned an athletic scholarship at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Wesson, Mississippi, lettering in all three sports.  But his time at Co-Lin taught another lesson; scholarships for varsity athletes are renewed on an annual basis.  When the school made a coaching change, the new staff decided Dad didn't fit with their plans.  So, at the ripe old age of 22, he faced the choice of going back to farming, or trying something else.

He opted for that latter option, securing a position as a management trainee with the Kroger Company at a small grocery store in northeast Arkansas.  In 1937, that was no mean feat; nationally, the unemployment rate was still in double digits and there was plenty of competition for the few available vacancies.  Kroger was impressed by his drive and determination, and my father spent over two years in the grocery business.

In 1940, a new opportunity presented itself.  Dad heard about an outside sales position at an auto parts store in a small town in southeast Missouri, with the promise of better pay and travel, even if the route was within 100 miles of the store.  He had been on the job a little over a year when someone else beckoned--Uncle Sam.  With no student or family deferments to fall back on, my father was drafted into the Army and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  He was there on December 7, 1941, when word of the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor was received.  My father was never given to hyperbole or prophecy, but he offered a simple assessment for his buddies, who were only six months from demobilization.  "Well boys," he opined, We're in for the duration."  He would not return to civilian life for another four years.

Dad was part of the initial cadre for the 3rd Armored Division, which was originally earmarked for the invasion of North Africa.  The division spent the first half of 1942 in the Mojave Desert before being re-assigned to the invasion of Europe.  He shipped out for England in early 1943, part of the massive flow of manpower needed for the greatest amphibious operation in history.  It would be his first--and only--trip outside the United States.

My father received infantry training during his early days at Camp Polk, and qualified as a driver on a Sherman tank crew during exercises in the Mojave.  But, like so many members of his generation, Dad was, in the words of author James Bradley, "crafty with his hands," able to repair complex machines with very little training.  Being a "shade tree mechanic" was a necessity on a farm, and the Army recognized the value of such skills.  My father was classified as a vehicle mechanic and after being promoted to Sergeant, he was put in charge of a tank retriever platoon.

The unit's job was simple; pull damaged tanks (and other armored vehicles) off the battlefield so mechanics could make necessary repairs and return them to service.  It was vital work, and a key reason for Allied victory in Europe during World War II.  The 3rd Armored Division entered combat in late June 1944 with 232 M-4 Sherman tanks.  Over the next 11 months, the unit would lose over 700 Shermans in combat, but thanks to the miracles of American logistics and maintenance, many of them were returned to service.  The M-4 was decidedly inferior to the newest German tanks, the Panther and Tiger, but German commanders and their panzer crews could only shake their heads at the seemingly endless supply of Shermans, including hundreds that were repaired and sent back into combat, sometimes in just a matter of hours.

My father was something of a rarity among World War II veterans; he would talk at length about his service, but concentrated on the lighter moments of his Army days, like the night at Fort Polk when a friend smuggled some moonshine in the barracks.  "I woke up," he told me later.  "The bed wasn't spinning but the rest of the building was."  Or rolling across western Europe, not far behind armored and infantry battalions that liberated French and Belgian towns after four years of German occupation.  Happy villagers often thrust bottles of their best wine or cognac through the windows of their vehicles, a gift to the liberators.  Tank retrievers carried as many as a dozen large tool boxes; Dad and his troops quickly improvised, tossing the tools into the cabs of their vehicles and converting the boxes into liquor cabinets.  They had plenty of liquid refreshment during infrequent breaks from the Allied push across western Europe.

He spoke less about the grim episodes associated with armored warfare.  Dad once mentioned that one of the first tasks in repairing a damaged Sherman was repainting the interior.  I was puzzled for a moment; surely patching up holes in the armor or replacing a damaged engine, transmission or cannon was more important.

Then it hit me: a German 88mm shell entering the crew compartment of an M-4 often caused horrific damage.   Painting the interior--after a thorough scrubbing--was a way to cover reminders of the human cost when the tank was turned over to a new crew.  I never asked my father how many crew compartments his men repainted.  He also alluded to close calls with enemy artillery while removing damaged tanks from the battlefield.  A Sherman weighed 37 tons and tank retrievers moved at a crawl when pulling one across open terrain.  On more than one occasion, German spotters observed Dad and his assistant dragging an M-4 through an open field, and tried to "walk" rounds onto their retriever.

But it wasn't until the last year of his life that I learned the biggest "surprise" from Dad's military career.  As his health declined (and the subject of a nursing home entered the conversation), I was asked to look for a copy of his discharge papers, needed for a potential application for VA benefits.  The discharge form was near the top of the stack; I knew most of the details, but under his awards and decorations, I found the Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB).  Thousands of American soldiers have earned the CIB over the past 74 years, but recipients must meet three criteria: first, they must be an infantryman, satisfactorily performing duties associated with that specialty; secondly, they must be assigned to an infantry unit at the time it is engaged in active ground combat and finally, the solider must actively engage the enemy in ground combat.

I was stunned, having always assumed my father was a maintenance troop.  During a subsequent conversation, Dad told me he had trained as an infantryman during his time at Fort Polk.  His discharge papers confirmed assignment to an armored infantry battalion that was part of the 3rd Armored Division.  As for that third requirement, my father would only say "we got in a few scrapes."

As one of the peacetime draftees from 1941, Dad was among the first to be demobilized after Japan surrendered in August 1945.  Before returning to his job at the auto parts store, he spent a few weeks at home in Mississippi where he met a stunning young brunette in the town of Columbus.  A whirlwind courtship ensured and less than two months after they met, my mother and father were married.  I have a copy of their wedding photo on my desk; they were a handsome couple, their smiles conveying the hope of so many young men and women who were eagerly looking to the future, after years of depression and war.  My mother had three brothers; all enlisted after Pearl Harbor and one of them never returned.  A Marine rifleman, he died at Peleliu, shortly after his 21st birthday.

The post-war years were a happy time for many American couples, my parents included.  They worked hard and saved their money, but they sometimes splurged on a weekend trip to St. Louis for a Cardinals game, or a big band concert.  Dad paid cash for their first house in 1951, following a pattern so familiar to young men who came of age during the Great Depression.

There was heartbreak as well.  My older brother was still born in 1952, and mom suffered a miscarriage two years later.  Given her medical history, I was considered something of a miracle baby when I arrived in 1958, and my brother earned the same title at his birth three years later.  We settled into a rather ordinary middle class existence in our little ranch house.  My mother remained at home to care for us, while my father worked six days a week to support his family.

Dad's career was rather remarkable.  He was a very successful salesman for almost 50 years, despite having a rather reserved personality.  With customers, he could turn on the charm, but it often vanished when the sales call was over.  He had few close friends and avoided civic groups and service organizations like the plague.  But my father was active in the local Methodist Church, serving as an usher for years until the denomination's increasingly liberal theology prompted his conversation to Catholicism.

I always assumed Dad would have been more engaged if he had more time.  But his workday typically began at 6 am and continued for at least twelve hours, five days a week (with a half-day on Saturday).  The owners of the auto parts store had decided years earlier that an outside sales rep could add greatly to their profits and my father certainly delivered.  He called on the same repair shops, car dealerships, farm implement dealers and other clients for five decades, and they bought huge quantities of parts, welding supplies, paint, electrical equipment and other items from the store's inventory.  Dad delivered some of the items himself, typically in a battered, company-owned station wagon.  But eventually, the store had to add a full-time delivery driver to deliver the rest of orders to my father's clients.

He followed this routine for years, always without complaint--another hallmark of the World War II generation.  But occasionally we saw glimpses of dissatisfaction, or mere speculation about staying on the same course for the rest of his working life.  When I was in elementary school, my father took a long, hard look at buying a cattle ranch near Starkville, Mississippi, not far from his boyhood home. My mother, brother and I were somewhat shocked and prepared for a possible move, but eventually, he decided against it.

Three years later (in 1967) my Dad made a decision that assured the rest of his career would be spent in the auto parts business.  The store's owner was killed after delivering a new car to one of his daughters in Illinois, and the heirs had no interest in retaining the business and its associated real estate holdings.  My father was given a chance to buy into the business, for the worldly sum of $50,000.  Dad's response became something of a legend in our hometown.  Then as now, $50K was a lot of money, but years of saving left my father in an enviable position.  "Do you want cash or a check," he asked, underscoring his desire to become a part of the ownership group.

With Dad on the road, the business continued to thrive, but his marriage grew strained.  My brother and I could never quite pinpoint the cause (and Dad refused to talk about it), but by the time we reached middle school, our mother and father were leading separate lives.  Dad was up early for his route and Mom took a job with the local school system.  At the end of the workday, there was little interaction between our parents, dinner and TV watching were quiet affairs, though there were occasional, loud arguments.  Our parents had apparently decided to stay together "for the good of the kids," but there were times we wished they go their separate ways.  Of course, divorce was out of the question, since it would be an admission of moral failure, another hallmark of their generation. 

Our world changed forever during my junior and senior years in high school.  Mother had ignored warning signs for years, then finally went to the doctor.  The diagnosis was grim; metastatic breast cancer.  She underwent two mastectomies, along with chemotherapy and radiation, but it was a forlorn battle.  Mom died in January 1976, on a cold, clear afternoon.  There was something of a reconciliation between my mother and father before her death, but we were left wondering if the damage might have been repaired years earlier.

Dad found greater happiness in his second marriage, which lasted for 38 years.  By that time, I was in college and my brother was finishing high school.  We had wildly divergent interests and career plans, but we agreed on one thing: the auto parts business was not for us.  I always sensed that Dad was disappointed in that choice, but he never challenged our decision.  After five years in broadcasting, I embarked on a military career, while my brother became a CPA, eventually based in Atlanta.

My father and his partners sold the business in 1984, the same year he retired.  The new owner was only slightly older that my brother and I, and he quickly announced sweeping changes for the store.  The outside sales position was eliminated, along with the successful sidelines in electrical and plumbing supplies.  Despite the presence of other retail parts outlets in our hometown--and the advent of national chains like Auto Zone--the owner thought he could dominate the local trade.  My father shook his head as he deposited the check for his share of the business.  "He won't last three years," Dad predicted.  A little over two years later, the store went under.  The successful enterprise that my father helped sustain for over 45 years was gone.

Dad's retirement plans were predictably modest.  While he had accumulated a sizable nest egg, there would be no exotic trips or a winter home in Florida.  He was content tending the large garden that took up most of my stepmother's backyard, and did all of his yard work, despite advancing years.  He was cutting his own, half-acre yard (with a push mower, of course), at the age of 94, and took daily walks until his 97th birthday.  A few years earlier, he terrified all of us by announcing plans to go up on the roof and patch a small hole, saving a few dollars in the process.

As you've probably surmised, my father was extremely stubborn, a quality illustrated by two episodes from the end of his work life and the beginning of retirement.  Just months before selling the business, Dad was involved in the only serious traffic accident of his life.  At the end of his route, he was t-boned at an intersection in Dunklin County, knocking him (and that worn-out station wagon) down an embankment.

A good Samaritan happened on the scene, and panicked when she saw my father.  "There's a big piece of glass sticking out of your head," she screeched.  "Well, pull the damn thing out," Dad replied.  She refused, and so did the EMTs that arrived a few minutes later.  Predictably, he refused a ride to the hospital, announcing he would hitch a ride with the wrecker back to our hometown.  Once the vehicle was deposited at the junk yard (and Dad's personal effects were removed), he finally sought medical attention.

This created a minor problem, since my father had already outlived his long-time general practitioner.  So, he sought treatment from the town's pediatrician, the same doctor who treated my brother and I as children.  We could only imagine the reaction from that waiting room full of kids and their parents when an elderly man, his head covered in blood, sat down and awaited his turn with the doctor.  That pediatrician (a former neighbor) treated Dad for the rest of his career.  My father outlived him as well.

The other example of Dad's stubborn ways was entirely his doing.  Just retired, he decided the roof of my stepmother's house needed some work, but he saw no reason to waste good money on an extension ladder.  His "solution" was a jury-rigged contraption that consisted of a overturned 50-gallon drum,with his step-ladder sitting on top of that.  With a little luck, Dad calculated, he could step off the top of the ladder and onto the roof.  My stepmother was horrified at his plan, but my father dismissed her concerns, instructing her to proceed with her trip to the store. "I know what I'm doing," my father exclaimed.  "Go about your business and I'll take care of mine."   

You can guess what happened.  After his wife departed, Dad tried to climb up the barrel/ladder combination.  He was a step away from the roof when the entire thing gave way, sending my 70-something father plunging to the ground.  Here's how he later described the incident:

"When I came to, there was a man standing over me." (A motorist driving by the house saw Dad's tumble).  "I thought you were dead," the man told him.  "So did I," Dad replied.  "Do you want me to call an ambulance?" the man asked.  "No," my father replied, "I'll just lay here for a while, then crawl in the house."  And that's what he did.  After a week in bed, and bruised over most of his body, Dad resumed his normal routine.

It's little wonder we viewed him as almost indestructible.  Dad was blessed with remarkably good health well into his 90s; his mind remained sharp and clear, virtually to the end. I always told my father he would live to see 100, and that prediction proved accurate.   The last day I spent with Dad was on his 100th birthday; he had been moved to a nursing home (due to mobility issues), but still remembered the names and faces of players from his basketball team at Co-Lin, 77 years ago.

The end was expected, but it still came with shocking speed.  My father was diagnosed with heart failure almost a year ago; at the time, his physician gave him a year to live, perhaps two.  He entered the nursing facility in January 2015 then rallied, allowing him to return home for three more months.  But, as his condition declined, he suffered a series of falls at home.  None resulted in serious injuries, but it affirmed the progression of his disease.  He entered the nursing home for the second (and last) time in June.  His condition remained somewhat stable until he reached 100; it was if he was striving to achieve that one last goal.  After that, he was ready to go, and made that desire known to the family.

Early in the morning of December 4th, the nursing home staff discovered he was bleeding from his rectum.  Dad was rushed to the county hospital, but he refused treatment, affirming his desire to let the Lord take him home.  Initially, the doctors and nurses ignored his request, assuming Dad was suffering from dementia and could no longer make decisions for himself.  That required my brother's intervention; he had arrived in town a few days earlier, after our stepmother was rushed to the hospital.  My brother told the staff our father was rational and coherent and capable of making this decision.  Dad requested a sip of Dr. Pepper (the only soft drink he would touch), and was given morphine to make him comfortable.  Twelve hours later, just before 4:30 pm, my father passed.

The funeral service was brief and simple, per his request.  Two members of the Missouri National Guard rendered military honors, in tribute to Dad's service during World War II.  The shadow box with his Sergeant's chevrons, ribbons and medals was on display during visitation at the funeral home.  Dad was proud of the box--and his military record.  I cursed myself for not putting it together years earlier, instead of five months before his death.

Almost a month later, the pain and loss is still raw.  The man who was the greatest influence in my life is gone, leaving a void that will never be filled.  He was an extraordinary man and a common man, the embodiment of the finest generation this country has ever produced.  Most of them have already departed and the rest will be gone before we know it.  I had a chance to thank my father for all he did before his passing; it was a simple, tearful acknowledgement.  At a moment like that, words fail and you're left with the love and gratitude a son feels towards his father.  Dad nodded in acknowledgement.  There was nothing left to say.