The people that really count

What’s always puzzled me is that for all the bluster about these being population-centric wars, very few American reporters feel comfortable living with the people or listening to what they have to say.

These words were part of a comment by Carl Prine in response to the link posted up by Doctrine Man this morning  U.S. military to pass oversight of embedded reporters to Afghan security forces . My care factor over the subject of the article is fairly low – I think the whole embedded media idea is in need for a fairly severe overhaul to ensure that reporting is fair and truthful and that a. isn’t simply a clumsy extension of the campaign information operations plan, and b. protects the hosts from Mikey Yawn ‘biting the hands that fed them‘ or Paula Broadwell ‘I have ideas above my station‘ style embarrassments…

However, on the subject of population-centricity…

Image

…the Hector’s Dolphin population is much like the populations of in COIN theatres, places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Malaya, France, etc. Like those populations, the poor old Hector’s Dolphin can do what it likes to ensure the survival of its way of life but all that is large;y meaningless without the support of the population(s) supporting the intervention/COIN campaign  In Fact, when you think about it, much the same applies to the insurgent forces as well…without the support of the populations caring, caring nations like North Vietnam, Great Britain, Iran or Pakistan (yes, there will be a test later on to match up supporters with supported!), many, and most, insurgent campaigns would fade away like a five year olds ice cream in the sun…and conversely, with the support of the COIN/intervention force domestic population, the same will occur. Perhaps, the melted ice cream could become the 21st Century version of the classic COIN inkspot, one that transforms rapidly into a sticky spot of the map that just attracts flies?

ImageSo, when we talk about population-centric warfare, we are not referring to the population of the nation, province or other area where the insurgency is physically occuring – or we shouldn’t be if we have a good handle on this COIN thing – but instead we should be referring to the populations that support their nation’s participation in any given COIN campaign. When these populations stop caring, either by simply allowing apathy to run its course, or by actively opposing support, that nation’s effective contribution to the campaign is doomed…

Surely not?

Just saw this item on Michael Yon’s Facebook page…you can read the actual article on Wired.  I have to admit that I find this an excellent source of hints for places to look and issues to consider…

It would be quite scary to think that our intelligence apparatus weren’t being filled by our best and brightest but then there was this bumper sticker I saw…

In all seriousness, if we’re fighting in an environment where information rules, surely it is critical that we resource the mechanisms that process and analyse our information accordingly…?

Reading between the lines in the article, it sounds as though there is quite a bit of tap-dancing and backstepping going on – and that all the checks and balances one would assume at that level weren’t so much no in place but simply weren’t being followed…it’s all a bit difficult…

I’m sad to say they’re on their way…

20101202raaf8202385_0081 RAAF F-111 Farewell

Air Force’s iconic F-111s were farewelled today at a parade at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland following nearly four decades of service to Australia. The retirement of the F-111 fleet marks a significant milestone in the history of Australian military aviation. The long range strike bombers have supported Australia’s national security by providing a potent strategic deterrent.

The Air Force component of the Australian Federation Guard from Canberra acted as the Escort Squadron for today’s parade and the Air Force Band from Melbourne also participated.

The parade was hosted by Air Commodore Chris Sawade, CSC and the Parade Commander was Group Captain Steve Roberton, Officer Commanding Number 82 Wing. Commanding Number 1 Squadron was Wing Commander Glen Braz, and commanding Number 6 Squadron was Wing Commander Micka Gray.

Air Vice Marshal Mark Skidmore AM, Air Commander Australia, Air Vice Marshal Geoffrey Brown AM, Deputy Chief of Air Force were official guests. The Reviewing Officer of today’s parade was Air Marshal Mark Binskin AO, Chief of Air Force.

The hundreds of RAAF air crew and thousands of ground based personnel who have worked hard to fly and maintain F-111 capability during the last 37 years were recognised at the parade today.

Those who lost their lives in F-111 accidents and who died or have suffered serious health effects from working on the deseal reseal programs were also remembered.

Australia has been the sole operator of F-111s for more than 10 years, and recently the aircraft have become increasingly expensive to operate and maintain. The F-111G models were withdrawn from service in 2007 and today the F-111Cs and RF-111Cs retired.

A sad day as the last of the ‘Pigs’ disappear from our skies…too expensive by far to keep as a warbird display like Vulcan XH588, cool as they are…can’t see Superbug or F-35 doing burn-off displays…

I only ever had one real contact with the F-111 but it was impressive…we were a Territorial company on annual training in late 1984, dug-in on a hill overlooking the small Waitaki town of Kurow…a contact erupted around the bridge that was the main axis and as the defending platoon withdrew, there was a low rumbling further down the valley…As it grew louder and LOUDER, firing petered and halted as everyone (on both sides) turned to face downstream as a single F-111 barreled up the river, leaving an impressive wake, conducted a simulated strike on the bridge, pulled up into an Immelmann and disappeared back the way it had come…an RAAF F-111 out of Amberley on a trans-Tasman single aircraft penetration…

We were just blown away…obviously this had all been set well previously and we could see why the umpires had so tightly controlled the timing of the first contact on the bridge…still, to have arranged and coordinated that, in 1984, to have a strategic strike aircraft from one Air Force fly 1200+ km ‘in support’ of a Territorial company in another Army was certainly some achievement…

A Coy, 4 O South, Annual Camp, Tekapo - RAAF F-111 strike on Kurow bridge In Other News

It’s somewhat ironic that PFC Bradley’s Manning’s charge sheet has itself been leaked…hmmm…maybe he’s NOT the only leaker in the US DoD…now there’s a thought…and although Julia Gillard decreed Assange’s actions as illegal on Thursday, it seems now that, independent of the Aussie PM’s opinion, that Assange may in fact be criminally liable…remember how the FBI finally pinged Al Capone for the rather mundane offense of tax evasion (Wesley Snipes gets to report next Friday to serve his three years in a Pennsylvania medium security facility for the same offence)? Well, Amazon has just booted Wikileaks for allegedly copyright infringement…which makes sense in that most official documents have some sort of fine print declaring them to be property of the/a government…and thus unauthorised publishing, especially for gain, could be construed as a breach of copyright…certainly, that charge holds more water than the allegedly Swedish rape charges, about which Swedish authorities only get excited when there is a major Wikileaks release (what secrets could Sweden possibly have…?)…

The PC brigade got all excited on Close-Up last night over the NZ GirlI’ve Got A Lovely Pair” campaign in support of breast cancer awareness…unfortunately the haridan fronting to attack this campaign was rude, strident, ill-informed and poorly prepared as well as living firmly in the dark ages…I’d be more worried about Ms Hansen teaching kids than I every would be about mature adults posting legal pics of themselves on the interweb thingie…

Wiki…whatever….

Julian Assange’s latest exploits from Wikileaks have caused about as much real news as Y2K on 1 January 2000…after all the hype and expectation-massaging, the latest torrent of leaked documents is about as inspiring and memorable as George Lucas’ attempt at a prequel trilogy to the Original Trilogy…I once heard somewhere that the body doesn’t remember pain: it’s not that great at remembering boredom either and hopefully once the ripples in the pond subside, Assange will be marginalised by the growing realisation that he has actually done anything…all the risk was taken by those who actually leaked the quarter of a million documents in question and anyone who believes that one disgruntled PFC who’s just been dumped by his boyfriend can steal such a range of classified documents is living in Lala-land (much, in fact, like those in my previous post…)…

Michael Yon puts it all in perspective on his Facebook Page by linking Assange to other nutjobs….

It is HIGHLY doubtful that the United States government would kill Assange. If Assange is killed, the hit more likely would come from a lone wolf or someone else’s government. The conspiracy theorists might then “prove” that it was a CIA hit ordered by the same people who killed Kennedy, and that we didn’t really land on the moon but we do have a secret moon base. And 9/11 was a Jewish plot…

Never really thought about that before either…that the same people who deny the moon landings are the same ones who think the US/UN World Government has a secret Moonbase…but then again, when I was 10 I was a big fan of Gerry Anderson’s UFO and thought that building a secret Moonbase (complete with chicks with purple hair – the penny relating to the benefits of the short skirts hadn’t really dropped when I was that old) was a. pretty cool and b. pretty simple…

Dean covers it all pretty well in Wikileaks and ‘cablegate’ and I share his desperate plea to stop adding ‘gate’ to everything that has the slightest potential whiff of scandal attached to it…much the same as could we please stop referring to every campaign or initiative as a ‘war’ unless we really mean to fix bayonets, send in the Marines and let Air Combat Command off the leash…

And on ‘wars’, let’s not forget that, rhetoric aside, we’re not really at war at the moment…in at least one…yes, certainly…but ‘at’ war…no, not really: we’re not harnessing all the instruments of national power to quell the adversary and most definitely, we are not acting against those who seek to undermine the ‘war’ effort through accident or deliberate action. And that, boys, girls and family pets, is why people like Assange get away with what they do: because they are not breaking any laws…that their motives and actions are reprehensible is beyond question but even if it can be proved in the World Court (where else would have jurisdiction?) that the wikileaks were directly responsible for deaths in Afghanistan or elsewhere, it is not an offense to publish leaked material – not unless perhaps there is some form of court-ordered suppression order in effect. Even then, with the internet being what it is, it is unlikely that this would be that enforceable or provable…

But that notwithstanding, the lunatic fringe is out there demanding that Assange be arrested, assassinated or otherwise jabbed in the calf by a ricin-loaded umbrella. There’s a good thread at Small Wars Journal that hammers out the why-nots of this issue. In fact, Small Wars seems to be all over this one…WikiLeaks, Round Three provides a comprehensive list of links to various comments and reports on Assange’s latest non-event: note the DoD caveat at the top of the list, two or more wrongs DO NOT make a right:

Department of Defense personnel should not access the WikiLeaks website to view or download publicized classified information nor should they download it from anywhere, regardless of the source. Doing so will introduce potentially classified information on unclassified networks. Executive Order 13526 states ‘Classified Information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.

Digital security problem is bigger than Assange and PFC Manning discusses the likelihood of kneejerk reactions to PFC Manning’s indiscretions (so just how does one PFC access let alone copy 250,000 classified military and diplomatic documents between making coffee, sweeping the floor and being unappreciated?) leading to balkanisation of military and government information systems ( and Dean raises this as well)…might as well since most of them can’t talk to each other anyway, but doing so effectively cedes the public information domain to the other guys – which is probably not the sharpest move we’d want to be making…

And finally a word from our sponsor for the current ‘war’, Secretary Gates, once again courtesy of Michael Yon :

I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on.  I think — I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.  Many governments — some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us.  We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.

So other nations will continue to deal with us.  They will continue to work with us.  We will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

Is this embarrassing?  Yes.  Is it awkward?  Yes.  Consequences for U.S. foreign policy?  I think fairly modest.

The sooner we forget about Assange and let him be consumed by his own insignificance, the better…the real problem raised by the unauthorised release of close to half a million classified documents is what are we going to do a. about those who are releasing them in the first place (there can’t be THAT many briefcases and thumb drives left on the train each night)? and b. how do we train and educate their replacements that doing these is the wrong thing to do…?

Another Victory for the Whiny-baby Brigade…

In another resounding victory for the self-righteous, sit-at-home, ne’er-do-wrong brigade of whiny-babies that think the world should be nice…not interesting, exciting, stimulating…just nice…in other words, bland and boring…and that’s what Breakfast (the show and the meal) will be from now on without Paul Henry at the helm…yes, of course, he’s brash, opinionated, childish, immature but…BUT…he does say many of those things that many many people are actually thinking and his latest mindless verbal gaffe is typical of this when he asked the Prime Minister last week on live TV “…Is he [the current Governor-General] even a New Zealander? Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?…

And that’s a good question…not racial grounds but simply because no one has the faintest idea where the current Governor-General comes from, who he is, or what he does…in short, he’s just like Breakfast will be from now on…nice but bland and boring – there’s probably some kind of irony in that. Previous Governor-Generals as far back as I can remember (and that’s getting to be some way now) have been public figures of some form who Joe Public had actually heard of before not some nice chap who doesn’t really appear to say or do much at all…so good on you, Paul, for speaking up and saying what so many think…

And while we’re on the topic of what so many think, here’s a snap of the Stuff.co.nz poll this morning on the subject…

 

The little yellow bar says it all...

 

And, Paul,  I hope that you get a good job back on air…probably snapped up by someone else already…and do get to put that Skyhawk in the back garden…

 

All parked up with no place to go...

 

The Information (R)evolution

I’ve been marking papers for the last week or so, some good, some indifferent and a couple, well, you know…I handed the last lot back on Friday and, on my way out of the office on Friday, tossed the September issue on C4ISR Journal in my bag to snap my mind back into reading structured material by people who at least know how to write…

I haven’t been disappointed in the content in this issue, although it has made me long somewhat for the free time to be able to read more if not ALL of the journals that we receive each month…the title of this thread comes from the editorial in this month’s issue…Keep the revolution on course…

In this item, editor Ben Ianotta, applauds the US Army’s initiative to adopt commercial ‘smart’ phones as means of distributing and sharing (they ARE two different functions) information to troops on the ground. The idea came from Army Vice-Chief Peter Chiarelli last year “Give troops the same power over information enjoyed by the average commercial iPhone user.” While I’m sure that Apple enjoyed the iPhone plug, it will have to move fast if it wants any significant share of this initiative. Already competitors using competitive operating systems like Google’s Android are hitting the streets and at considerably LESS cost than iProducts. Apple, I think, seems to have a habit of misjudging the market and relying on customer loyalty for expensive products that offer LESS interoperability for vague and illusory benefits.

Much like, perhaps, some military product developers…who have still not figured out that, since the end of the Cold War, primacy in technological development has reversed from military R&D leaders to the commercial sector…that it has taken two decades from the turning point for the Army to accept distributing commercial communication devices to soldiers as something that it MUST do is mildly disturbing and also somewhat ironic in that the information-based revolution in military affairs, the long-vaunted RMA, focussed on massive bloated central information systems that never really delivered. In the meantime, there was this thing called the internet…

Another change heralded by this programme is a long overdue acceptance that classifying any and all information relating to operations does NOT have to be classified up the wazoo, and even less so if you actually want it to get to those who need it…what was that definition of knowledge management, sorry…information management we use…the right information to the right people at the right time – AND ensuring that they know what to do with it…? Of course, this does NOT mean that everything should be tossed on the intranet and levels of classification done away with – although it would be an interesting experiment post-Wikileaks to see if the sudden flood of information could ever be processed by an adversary fast enough to act decisively on it.

On page 12 of this issue, there’s a short item on a mobile 3G network access system known as MONAX that would allow soldiers to access information with less reliance on commercial cellular systems. MONAX base stations “…could be positioned as fixed mast antennas on the ground, on vehicles, or in airborne assets such as aerostats, C-130 transport aircraft or – potentially – unmanned planes…” immediately below this item, is another on a Google Android-based wearable computer known as Tactical Ground Reporting or TIGR. It’s intended to facilitate situational awareness for individual soldiers and although currently designed to work over a tactical radio network, Android is designed for smart phone connectivity so it’s probably not too hard to join the dots here.

And speaking of joining the dots, page 8 reports on the first flight of the AeroVironment Global Observer. Weighing in it less than 10,000lbs but with a wingspan of 175 feet and a payload of 380lbs, the Global Observer is intended to fly at 65,000 feet for 160+ hours (that’s over a week!) for customers who might range from weather services to cell phone companies and others that need persistent coverage over an area.

More and more commercial off-the-shelf is the way to go, simply to get something out there now, instead of tediously slow, often bloated and inefficient, development projects…

The cover article starting on page 16 advises that Global Hawk will probably NOT be able to meet the current target date of 2013 to replace the venerable U-2 for high altitude long-range surveillance and reconnaissance. The problem is not so much that there is anything wrong with Global Hawk except it was never designed to replace the U-2 and thus has not been integrated with a number of the key collection systems employed by the U-2. This all dates back to a 2005 directive by the Rumsfeld administration in the US DoD to retire a number of older aircraft types including the U-2 and hammered home in 2007 with Rumsfeld’s certification that the U-2 was “…no longer needed to cover intelligence gaps…” I wonder which of that administration’s cronies might have stood to gain the most from contracts for a fleet of new S&R platforms..?

Unfortunately there is no even any agreement that Global hawk is a suitable replacement for the U-2…another go-round of the efficiency (cheaper) versus effectiveness (does the job) argument in which the chair polishing advocates of efficiency still demonstrate that they simply do not get that people are actually useful…SKYNET has nothing on some of these drones in diminishing the value of the human component of military, and thus national, power…

Woman to woman

MG Michael Flynn, 2Lt Roxanne Bras

I’m a little cynical about this next item, leading off on page 34, written by MG Michael Flynn, of Fixing Intel fame/notoriety (I thought it was both very good and long overdue but many consider otherwise) and 2Lt Roxanne Bras on the value of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). The one question that kept coming back to me as I read and then re-read this article was ‘What do FETs really do?’ Don’t get me wrong…I’m sold on the concept as it’s one that was used to considerable good effect during the six year BEL ISI mission on Bougainville (giving the lie to the description in the article of FETs as “…the newest tool to emerge from battlefield innovation…” and was also described as a key enabler in a recent brief here by a visiting UK psyops practitioner.

My first concern with this paper is that it feels like ‘spin’ – maybe I’m just a bit too set in my ways but I’m having trouble understanding why a two-star general and a junior officer would need to collaborate on a two page article (two and a half if you include the pictures) – paper? Yes perhaps. A book, definitely but this just doesn’t feel right or genuine. Perhaps a better approach would have been to have write the paper and the other provide comment from their own perspective? I always remember an instructor at Tac School who hammered into us the concept of ‘task with a purpose’ – what is something there to do. Reading this article, I wonder what the intent of the author’s is. Clearly there has been some resistance to the FET concept but I’m not sure that this article is going to help any…

The FETs are described as key to gathering information within Afghan village culture but are specifically excluded from collecting intelligence. This implies that there is some distinction between intelligence and information but surely ANY information on adversaries and competitors (once known as the enemy), the weather and terrain (physical, human, informational, whatever) might fall under the heading of intelligence…? And surely, by mere virtue of engaging Afghan women in conversation, FETs will be gathering elements of actionable information be it actionable in training, targeting, situational awareness, etc, etc…

The article even goes so far to distinguish between FETs and Human Terrain Teams which also gather information on social and cultural terrain on the grounds that “…FETs have not been trained in information gathering and they do not know how to vet the information they gather…” Huh? So a FET is not trained to vet information that it is not trained to gather but which is the primary raison d’etre for its existence in the first place i.e. “…the FET can provide valuable information to the commander…”. Moreover while FETs are (quite rightly) not “…working to change Afghan culture and ‘liberate’ the women…”, they “…are a strategic asset…” and  “…should be applied using the very same inkblot strategy applied to [the] wider COIN strategy…” However the inkblot in COIN is indicative of spreading change, typically in growing (hopefully) support for the government and security forces…so what FET-inspired effect will be inkblotted across Afghanistan?

I’m sorry but as much as I think MG Flynn hit the nail fair on the head with Fixing Intel at the beginning of the year, in this case, I think he would have achieved more stepping back and allowing 2Lt Bras to promote the case for FETs based on her own experiences than with this top-level ‘spin’.

Shifting Terrain

Following immediately on from the FET article is a rather superficial one criticising both Flynn’s Fixing Intel and the human terrain concept by “…US Army experts Paul Meinshausen and Schaun Wheeler… In arguing that “…information about the human terrain is not the information that decision makers need to be able to work with local populations or defeat insurgencies…” They argue (weakly) that “…more important than data…is an understanding of the influences that drive behaviour…

As near as I can figure, their concept is that physical terrain and, more broadly, the physical environment is the key factor that affects a population and if we understand that environment, we can not only understand but influence the population. “The US and its allies need to let go of the assumption that conventional operations are somehow fundamentally different from counterinsurgent operations and consider the possibility that the population is just another group of people that adapts to its terrain just like any other friendly, neutral or enemy…” Ya think? Is that the arrogant ill-informed assumption that the flawed shock and awe doctrine was based on; the same doctrine that proved so bloodily ineffective in the first three years in Iraq ? Are these two “…experts…” really trying to say that it’s that simple, that all the work in the last five years on the shift from platform-based to individual-based warfare was just wrong and we had it right all along? Give me a break, please…

Nowhere in this article do the authors actually define where such understanding might come from, more so in the absence on what they claim is worthless ‘data’. I wonder if they might stop to think one night about the simple concept that perhaps understanding might be based upon analysis of lots and lots of bits of data and the application of that data against the context of the local environment. While dismissing the means by which we learn about cultures, including the old chestnut about anthropologists specifically criticising the human terrain system programme (in reality only a very small proportion of very vocal anthropologists have done so – the remainder seem happy to go about their anthropological business), they tell us that we need to learn about those same cultures in order to be able achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

In the last paragraph before the ‘The Human Terrain Fallacy’ heading, the article states that an abundance of information on Afghanistan already exists from a vast range of non-military sources. This is absolutely correct but it is false to say this removes any requirement for the intelligence community to collect its own information. If anything the real problem that the authors allude to but never pin down in this article is that the problem is not in the collection but in the processing and analysis of this data, as both individual data sets and/or as a collated fused national data set. That the authors don’t ‘get’ this is clear when they follow on to declare a finding (in isolation) like “Dispute resolution must remain adaptive and flexible to setbacks and changes” as “…uselessly vague…”. As a statement on its own, this does seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious but then so do many other doctrinal statement – which is probably why they are espoused in doctrine in the first place. Examining that “uselessly vague” finding through a doctrinal lens, one might expect the context from which it has been ripped to include:

Examples of how dispute resolution processes have been applied with varying degrees of success.

A description of how that finding was derived.

Some distilled best practice guidelines, tips and techniques to assist the practitioner in getting it right.

Having spent a decade or so in the lessons learned game, some many clear and distinct observations and issues are ultimately distilled into similarly “uselessly vague” lessons which then form the basis of doctrinal change and evolution. Nowhere has this been more or better validated than through the ABCA Coalition Lessons Analysis Workshop (CLAW) process which was first implemented in 2005 and is not a key driver in ABCA processes.

This paper actually (painfully) reminds me of some of the less sharp papers I have graded in the last week or so. Instead of tasking itself with a clear purpose, it has the feel of a couple of first-year students more focussed on being clever and impressing the staff with their brilliance…or what we call IntCorps-itis: always searching for the crucial piece of intelligence that will win the war instead of focussing on simply delivering good solid intelligence product…

I note that on Page 42, C4ISR itself awards this article a red ‘DANGER’ comment in its Attitude Check column and I wonder if someone else cancelled and this was all the C4ISR staff could find to fill the gap…it’s an article that’s not just immature but outright wrong and which would struggle to get an ‘F’ for ‘Fantastic’ on the marking scale….

In other news (in this issue)

There’s also some interesting updates on semi-autonomous EOD robots, iris scanning biometrics, the Blue Heron airborne multi-spectral imager and US Cyber Command and its challenges and opportunities.

Winning the information battle

…or, at least, not losing it by default…

Now that I’m working again, the calls on my time have multiplied geometrically and this little corner of cyberspace has been somewhat quieter than during my seven month exile at the Raurimu Centre for Contemporary Studies aka  home. I have a two hour drive to and from base each week and, during those periods on the road, have introspected on the unfortunate sequence of events that led to the demise of GEN Stanley McCrystal and his departure from the COMISAF appointment.

(c) Rolling Stone 2010

My first thought is that Michael Yawn had no more to do with what happened to GEN McCrystal that he did with the removal from ISAF of Canada’s most senior in-theatre officer..whether Michael Yawn had yapped on or not, the fate of both these officers would have been the same i.e. contrary to popular misinformation, Michael Yon did nothing to influence these events, other than perhaps besmirching them in his own personal smear campaign which says more about him that it doers either Daniel Menard or Stanley McCrystal. In 2005, I was fortunate to spend some time with the now Chief of the Canadian Defence Force, General Walter Natynczyk, and nothing about that officer struck me as the sort of guy who would or could casually overlook a negligent discharge by a senior Canadian officer and even less so, when it occurred in his presence.

I feel sad for GEN McCrystal, brought down by an angry Icelandic volcano (which is how they all came to be in a  bus together with an embedded reporter from Rolling Stone) magazine and a fickle and irresponsible reporter who, in my ever so humble opinion, abused the position that he was placed in by Eyjafjallajokull, reporting out of context the frustrations of  staff facing the unenviable task of winning a conflict that is unlikely to be winnable. I agree fully with Mike Innes’ comments @ Current Intelligence

I spent the better part of yesterday trying to wrap my head around Michael Hastings’ profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his team of advisors. My initial thoughts on the subject at CNN hint at but don’t fully get to what I wanted to say on the matter… which places me in good company, since the chatter on this issue has been blazing across the wire/blog/twitter sphere since the piece was “leaked” on Monday.

My main point was about social distance – which is actually an issue that binds together pretty much everyone who reads, researches, writes, or does anything at all in relation to Afghanistan (or anywhere, really). It’s what soldiers have to contend with, sitting behind the fortified walls of armed camps, all the while trying to gain a more intimate understanding of local culture. It’s what people sent to a strange place have to contend with, absent the time and access needed for familiarization, much less to develop any profound “knowledge” of their environment. And it’s what war correspondents and other journalists have to contend with when reporting from zones so catastrophically different from their otherwise peaceful, functioning worlds.

Powers of observation, an eye for detail, and a nimble pen can go a long way toward telling a good, accurate, and full story, and toward overcoming some of that distance (or at least recognizing it for what it is). Sometimes, maybe, the gap is just too profound, too wide and too deep, to accurately convey a larger meaning – not factoids and datapoints, but meaning.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. I think of all the bits and pieces I read yesterday and this morning – and there was a lot of good analysis out there – is this Danger Room piece and Peter Feaver’s clear and focusedbreakdown at Foreign Policy of Hastings’ story elements.

What’s really disappointing, too, is that Hastings and Rolling Stone might have missed out on a real opportunity to craft some truly fine and literary journalism. In an interview on National Public Radio yesterday, Hastings gave some background that would have added a great deal of context and nuance to the story, had they been included. The Paris interlude, for example – which is really where all the juiciest bits of the story come from – came about because of the Icelandic volcano eruption, which disrupted air travel worldwide, and stranded ISAF’s Command Group, like thousands of other travelers. To my mind, that would have been both a unique element of narrative color and detail, and an obvious and immediate source of frustration for men running a war, but trapped outside of it and unable to return to it.

I hear now that the Pentagon is staking steps to require all interviews with senior commanders to be pre-approved from the five-sided building…is this what we are coming to in our fear of the fourth estate…we can entrust senior staff with the live of the nation’s young men and women, empower them to sortie into harm’s way, place the instruments of global destruction in their hands but won’t trust them to say the right thing to a reporter without a thumbs-up from a carpeted office thousands of miles and possibly eons of reality away…Rolling Stone‘s The Runaway General and Michael Yawn’s lipping off about things he know nothing about e.g. senior command, strategy, responsibility, etc are excellent examples of the damage than can be done by irresponsible reporters and editorial staffs, just like 911, the Bali bombings, Lockerbie etc are similar example of the damage than can be done by terrorist organisations BUT we didn’t run away and hide then…we went out and learned a new way of warfare…and that’s what we need to do now in the information war…

The first battle must be internal to shed our fear of the censure and embarrassment  that may come from perceptions of dirty washing being aired in public…this thinking is tantamount to grandma concealing her bloomers  in a pillow case when she hangs out the washing…surely we’re past this stage and realise that we do more damage to ourselves and our causes by playing a manic game of Whac-A-Mole trying to suppress any and all reports that may not be the purest distillation of happy happy joy joy juice…nowhere have I seen it summed up so well as this commenter on Michael Yon’s Facebook page (of course, I can’t find the exact quote anymore) to the effect that the USMC mindset is that “...if we don’t want it exposed out in the open, then we probably shouldn’t be doing it…” And that attitude is the place we need to strive towards, to stopping fearing the media and hiding from them, of being able to stand up say “…we screwed up…AND…here’s what we’re (really) doing about it...” or, sometimes, simply “…this is a risky business and sometime crap simple happens…

If we can’t get our heads around this now, this key battle we are consistently losing int he minds of our people and those of our adversaries, what are we going to do one day when anyone can publish what they think, their own views, opinions and images…what are we going to do then…? Uh-oh….youtube…facebook, bebo…that intreenet thingamebobby… time to climb into the information fight, people….

The Little Orange Book

I visited the Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS)at Massey University a week or so ago. The nice people there loaned me a copy of Roberto J. Gonzalez’ American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and The Human Terrain so that I might gain a better understanding of those who oppose Human Terrain Systems (HTS). Gonzalez (RJG) is one of the main opponents of HTS and the application of social science techniques in counterinsurgency campaigns.

I started to read this book, The Little Orange Book, at Massey while I was waiting for a meeting to wrap up (not one that I was in!). It’s only 130 pages and I managed to chew through 80-odd then. I use the term ‘chew through’ deliberately as some of the first three chapters was pretty difficult to digest. It’s published by Prickly Paradigm Press which claims to give “…serious authors free rein to say what’s right and what’s wrong about their disciplines and about the world, including what’s never been said before…” The result, certainly in this case, is not as the Prickly Paradigm website claims “…intellectuals unbound, writing unconstrained and creative texts about meaningful matters...” This Little Orange Book, is more a soapbox for a rambling rant than a considered exposition of  RJG’s professional or intellectual opinion.

There are many logical disconnects and inconsistencies in the first three chapters and I think that some rigorous external editing could have helped make this flow and read much better. Part of the problem is that RJG does really define his objections to HTS until the last few pages of the book, forcing the increasingly frustrated reader to wonder ‘where’s this guy coming from?’.

It was a week later that I took a deep breath and dove into the second half of the book. Chapter 4 is certainly a step up from the previous chapters, possibly because I found myself in broad agreement that the US DoD is in cloud-cuckoo-wonderland in its desire for a technologically brilliant system that will take in all the relevant information and punch out all the answers for the complex environment. Maybe it will – someday – but only once a person gets off their butt, gets their boots dirty and figures out what the questions are.

Such a system might have been possible in the heyday of the Cold War when the moving parts were mainly based on platforms with easily quantifiable measurables – had the necessary computing power been available. In fact, had this system been available to Cold Warriors, it probably would have foreseen the Soviet invasion of Iceland that so surprised Pentagon planners when Tom Clancy and Larry Bond released Red Storm Rising in 1986. But the Cold War is over and, as Michael Scheiern identified in 2005, we have now shifted from platform-based tracking to tracking individuals. Not only has the number of trackable entities increased by a factor of hundreds but the individual ‘measurability’ of each entity has increased by a similar amount, and the entities lack the centralised direction inherent in platform-based conflict.

This is not to say, though, the social sciences, anthropology and HTS’ don’t have a role to play in the complex contemporary environment – anything but. What it does mean is that we will have to accept and take risk, develop and rely upon judgement to employ and apply this information. It also means that we need to evolve away from thinking of complex intelligence as being predictive in nature as it may have been around the Fulda Gap. In their place we must develop more responsive intelligence systems support responses to the largely unpredictable activities that erupt across the operating environment.

Organisations like the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit are founded upon a blend of the principles and practices of social sciences and this responsive philosophy. Rarely if ever will the BAU predict the first in a series of attacks, although once on the trail of a specific adversary will often very rapidly develop accurate profiles of that adversary, be it an individual or group. Yes, I watch Bones too and am well aware of the timeless struggle between the forces of anthropology and psychology to prove which isn’t merely pseudo-science. This is a false distinction and both disciplines must work together, focusing on individuals AND groups in order to provide a commander with employable insights.

Herein lies the problem with This Little Orange Book. RJG is so intent on ring-fencing social sciences that he can not see that no science or discipline can usually function in isolation. He is so fixated on HTS in Iraq and Afghanistan that he forgets that social sciences are subject to (potential) abuse across society every day: as I remarked at Massey after reading the first half of this book, it would be interesting to compare the outputs of the schools of marketing, politics and anthropology at Massey and see whether they are more alike than different.

RJG states again and again that the deployment of HTS to support military operations breaches various understood ‘contracts’ in that social science should do no harm. He totally misses the point that, regardless of how or why these wars started, HTS might actually be doing more good than harm in adding elements of precision, if not perfection, to campaigns where blunt force may be one of the few viable options.

It is not until the Chapter Five that the readers finds the real reasons for this. RJG is making a standing on moral principle – he’s up on a political soapbox to attack the American Empire which he sees as an evil bent on taking over the world. If the evilly bad American Empire was not involved in its evil wars in the Middle East , RJG would be quite happy for social sciences to feed the same predictive machine he denounced in Chapter Four – which would of course only be used for good.

It’s ironic that an ardent proponent of social science is intent upon suborning these tools that focus upon ‘the people’ to the same technological philosophy that drove the platform focussed Cold War. Conceptually this evolved into the Powell doctrine that built upon the false lessons of the 1991 Gulf War and culminated in the ‘shock and awe’ campaigns that failed to produce the goods in Kosovo, Serbia or Iraq. RJG’s campaigns against HTS has driven the Government to seek more technical solutions towards understanding the contemporary environment and to steer away from the blindingly obvious truth.

That truth is that it’s all about people and that includes people doing (at least some of) the collection and people applying judgement to that information, raw and processed, to develop useful (timely, relevant) information. An example is the enhanced Video Text & Audio Processing (eViTAP) tool that was successfully trialed on CWID in 2007. Evitap is a very sharp tool that processes video, audio and digital files for predetermined cues that have been identified (by a person) as potential indicators of an impending incident. When those cues are identified, a person is notified in order to make a decision on actions that may or may not be taken.

Where is all goes wrong is that we have become so fixated on the technology providing the answers that we have stopped teaching people to think critically, to apply professional judgement, make a decision and run with it. By using This Little Orange Book as a soapbox for a raving rant (or ranting rave) instead of coherent consideration of the issues, RJG has actually scored more points for the technocrats and undermined his beloved social science…

Into the ether!!

I don’t monitor the release of these publications on a daily basis as I used to do when doctrine was my job and only became aware of this one when the link arrived in an email last night. I haven’t read it in full yet as I need to first finish Roberto Rodrigez’ little orange book (I don’t think Chairman Mao need worry about the competition) American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain, and Amanda Lennon’s Fourth Generation Valkyries. However I do have some initial thoughts based upon the foreword…

The  assessment  indicates  that  the  Army’s  current  vocabulary,  including  terms  such  as computer network operations (CNO), electronic warfare (EW), and information operations (IO) will  become  increasingly  inadequate.    To  address  these  challenges,  there  are  three  interrelated dimensions  of  full  spectrum  operations  (FSO),  each  with  its  own  set  of  causal  logic,  and requiring focused development of solutions:

•   The  first  dimension  is  the  psychological  contest  of  wills  against  implacable  foes, warring factions, criminal groups, and potential adversaries.

•   The  second  dimension  is  strategic  engagement,  which  involves  keeping  friends  at home, gaining allies abroad, and generating support or empathy for the mission.

•   The  third  dimension  is  the  cyber-electromagnetic  contest,  which  involves  gaining, maintaining, and exploiting a technological advantage.

My first thought is why has this been produced as a single service publication when information cuts across service and other organisational boundaries and barriers – can one safely assume that the other services and JFCOM will be producing its own slant on challenges and conflict in cyberspace?

Thought #2 is that the first two dimensions above are really nothing more than the day-to-day rhythm of the contemporary environment, and have been for decades. The third dimension strikes me as being a new environment much 90-100 years ago as the military came to grips with operations in the air. It’s about much much more than mere technological advantages – it’s about strategy and tactics, training and equipment, and, above all, an open-minded approach a la that of Guderian, Fuller, Mitchell and de Gaulle…

Deserts are good

Territorial Force Annual Camp, January 84, Tekapo Training Area

…even the little ones we have down here…and so I’m a little aggrieved at the information in this editorial at Get Frank – although the picture in the article is rather inaccurate – the MacKenzie Country really is brown…good solid Kiwi tussock country and also home to a training area of which I have many fond memories (time dulls the pain of blistered feet, sunburned faces and fingers cracked and dried digging in the rock-filled ground). The last thing it needs is to be ‘developed’ so a few more investors can make a quick buck and shufty it offshore…

Shaken not Stirred

Not happy to hear that the next Daniel Craig 007 has been put on hold due to troubles aboard the MGM mothership…

High Adventure

Having a crack at chili sardines tonight – aptly enough it’s Masterchef night – if there aren’t any updates for a while, then the experiment didn’t go well…

Ethos of a rat

That was a search that got someone here yesterday…”Oh“, I thought, “someone else doing a search on Michael Yon…” Follow his Facebook page…the guy just gets better and better…and is better entertainment than Shortland Street

…he’s now decided that GEN McCrystal is mounting an information war against him – if so, he should remember who fired the first shots…

McChrystal’s crew has declared an information war on me. No complaints here. McChrystal’s attention is welcome. It indicates that my posts have hit steel further underlines that McChrystal is over his head. If McChrystal knew what he was doing, he would not be drawing attention to his staff. Will provide compelling evidence in due course. Some of the officers on McChrystal’s staff are my biggest helpers….

…he continues his vendetta against Canadian BGEN Daniel Menard for watching hockey, allegedly letting a key bridge be attacked, and now after BGEN Menard had an accidental discharge from his rifle at KAH…word on the street is he may have been trying to resolve Yon in a more direct manner! In typical Yon fashion, though, his accusations are riddled with errors: the incident did not occur aboard a US (or anyone else’s) helicopter nor was there any risk to VIPs who may or may not have been in the group…

A couple of interesting Canadians told me that Brigadier General Daniel Menard accidentally fired his rifle inside of an American helicopter. Sources said he nearly shot with automatic fire a high Canadian official at point-blank and hit the American helicopter while it was preparing to take off. The claim sounded wild, but I live on instincts and it sounded like it might have basis in fact. And so I began checking about a day ago.

I am intensely uncomfortable with this dishonest, incompetent general leading U.S. combat troops in a hot war. That Menard happens to be Canadian complicates matters. This is business for Secretary Gates. Today, I will write a letter to Secretary Gates and another to General Petraeus expressing my concerns as an American citizen.

…joining the anti-Yon conspiracy cabal is the milbloggers community none of whom have the credibility, knowledge or experience of Michael Yon…

Bottom line questions: How many milbloggers who were not on active duty (hence sent to the war as a troop) have spent more than a year in the wars? I know of zero. Does one exist? The milblogging community is largely a hurricane of hot air.

There are some good and responsible writers working milblogs but most of them are less accurate than the MSM they oppose.

Please name the top five milblogs — and one person from each — who has spent a year (less than 15% of the war) as a civilian journalist/writer inIraq/Afghanistan. Start with http://www.longwarjournal.org/ and Blackfive. People who are seriously tracking the war seriously don’t track these guys.

He also challenges The Guardian’s Alison Banville for daring to state “…the boast of “greater reality” attached to embedding is a falsehood which actually clouds the vision of anyone attempting to make sense of a conflict…” in Embedded war reporting cannot escape its own bias. It’s an interesting and on-target article and well worth reading…which is more than can be said for Yon’s latest series of diatribes against anyone who dares questions his Yonness…really, Mike, you make the information militia look soooo bad…

Really, I only bother with this guy because the shallowness and selfishness of his comments reminds me of me as a young lippy soldier with too much too say but then I grew up…although it was what one might call an ‘assisted’ growing up phase with a goodly chunk of the ‘assisting’ coming from the top soldiers of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company, 2/1 RNZIR in 1985…just realised that was a whole quarter of a century ago…I feel old now…

Heading Home – HEREKINO SAFARI – April 1985

Stick that in your pipe…

For some time, a  number of commentators, myself included, have been promoting peer engagement as a key factor in resolving insurgencies. By peer engagement, we mean like with like, which could be based on cultural grounds like the Pacific Island Countries (PIC) that contributed forces to the monitoring forces in Bougainville; regional grounds like ASEAN or the Organisation of African States that provides the greater proportion of peace support forces in Africa; religious grounds; or combinations thereof. This interesting article The Jihad against the Jihadis – How Moderate Muslim Leaders Waged War on Extremists-and Won arrived last night from one of my email distribution list sources. While I would argue that the war has yet to be truly won, it may be that the first paras are landing at Pegasus Bridge. The article is a very good example of both a comprehensive approach expanding well beyond the formal instruments of national power and also illustrates how Kilcullen’s Rejection phase can a. be overcome and b. backfire on the bad guys. It has an interesting insight into the law of unintended consequences perhaps being applied to Pakistan’s fence-sitting approach to the War on Terror…

Israel starts training its diplomats at an early age.

Peter @ The Strategist carries a great line on Israel’s latest attempt at biting the hand that protects it. It’s been 28 years since Israel’s adventures in the Bekaa Valley where it proved once and for all that it is no longer the helpless David surrounded by bullying Goliaths and that it can hold its own on its own, thank you very much….

Thomas Friedman, the newspaper columnist, wrote that instead of “fuming and making up” when wrong-footed by the announcement of new settlements, Mr Biden should have “snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left a note telling Israel: ‘You have lost contact with reality’.”

I couldn’t agree more. Both the US and Israel should have revised their relationship in 1982 – like the 1978 Camp David Accords weren’t a big enough hint. Israel has now become the bull in the local china shop that offers no more to regional stability than Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria or Iran – yes, that’s right, Israel, you’re now just another member of the dumb nutjob thug club (DNTC for short).

George Friedman @ STRATFOR also writes on the broader US-Israel relationship as does Chirol @ Coming Anarchy. It is well past time for Israel to spend some time in the international ‘time out’ zone to consider the error of its ways. Next time round, the Stars and Stripes might be riding alongside moderates like Jordan and Egypt…

In Other News

Peter has released the next part of the Doomsday Device He Is The Man Who Everyone Fears And, no, it doesn’t feature Rodney Hide nor Winston Peters….

On Facebook Michael Yon comments on the diminishing number of engaged journos in the AFG theatre…

Have been permitting online publications to publish these dispatches freely for a link-back. (Budgets are being cut and they cannot afford to cover Afghanistan.) Of the majors, only FOX is keen enough to make the move. Just had lunch with a couple ABC folks about a week ago — their staff is being slashed on order of 20-30%. Good reporters, tiny budget. CNN and the rest are not serious players here. Coverage of Afghanistan is perfunctory. At the going rate, there will be just me, the New York Times, a few others, and some passers-through…

After eight years, is this war no longer news money-worthy for the big networks? And/or is this part of the information oops plan for the 2011 draw down so that when it occurs, no one will really notice the last helicopter leaving the roof of the embassy, nor the first of the Afghan boat people…?

Michael Yon has just released a new Dispatch, covering the coolest of aircraft, the now venerable Warthog

Open for Business (c) Michael Yon 2010

And way down the bottom, the US DoD has had a bit of a reorg and created a 4 star Cyber Command to “…unify and administer the U.S. Department of Defense’s vast computer networks to better defend against cyberattacks…” Jointness in Information Systems and Services should be a bit of a given but I can’t see this being an easy row to hoe. In addition to the two concerns raised in the article, I’d add a third…

How will someone balance the dual roles of CyberCom commander and NSA director?

Will the Defense Department have a source of future 4-star generals qualified to take on this challenge?

How on God’s green Earth are you going to get all those geeks to work and play well together?