Hello & Welcome

Welcome to my Blog! Thanks for stopping by. I'll be posting from time to time my adventures in writing and my trials and tribulations in the publishing world, along with anything relevant in regards to current events, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Intelligence community that appears in the press. Please note that anything I post is not reflective or representative of any official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force; only my views and opinions as a private citizen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cyberweapon Usage in Libya & Elsewhere

The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration, as part of the military options presented for the initial U.S. action in Libya, considered conducting a cyber attack against the air defense systems in order to protect U.S. and allied war planes. The administration and the Pentagon chose not to exercise that option.

According to the article, "....administration officials and even some military officers balked, citing the precedent it might set for other nations, in particular Russia or China, to carry out cyber raids of their own, and questioning whether the attack could be mounted on such short notice. They were also unable to resolve whether the president had the power to proceed with such an attack without informing Congress."

It's gratifying to see well intended people at senior levels in government debating these kinds of issues; the military readiness and ability to conduct such an attack, the legal issues involved, the potential actions of other nations, and the need to coordinate with and keep Congress properly informed.

I only hope nations like Russia and China would actually debate and discuss these issues as thoroughly.  I strongly suspect they won't.  Russia and China very likely have cyber attack capabilities that are comparable to whatever the U.S. may have developed, and I strongly suspect we would not see a lively debate within the Russian or Chinese command structures about using such capabilities.  They will use them as needed to protect their soldiers and their nation's interests, and so should we to protect our military forces and our interests.

Cyber warfare is one of the new weapon sets of the 21st Century.  We are hardly the only nation on the planet that possesses them, and we should not be hesitant in using them.  Our adversaries will not hesitate, and we need not suffer an electronic Pearl Harbor or 9/11 before electing to use the force multiplying advantage that they can afford us when we send our servicemen and women into battle anywhere on the globe, for any reason.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We've Been Lucky, and the Iranians Have Been Caught Red-Handed.

The Department of Justice announced today the charging of two men in an alleged Iranian backed plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the UnitedStates, and in the process potentially kill a hundred or more civilians and potentially congressional members with an explosive device.

First off, let me be very clear in saying that the men and women of the FBI, the attorneys in the justice department, and apparently the DEA as well, have done an outstanding job in foiling this plot.  Their professionalism and competence in working to investigate, and begin the process of prosecuting the precursor crimes to this attempted assassination has been in the best traditions of law enforcement.

Based on the complaint and the Department of Justice’s press release, we’ve been incredibly lucky to find out about this plot and disrupt it.  Why were we lucky?  Because the first break in this case apparently came when Manssor Arbabsiar chose to meet with someone he thought was a member of a ‘…violent international drug trafficking cartel’ to get this cartel to carry out the bombing.  Fortunately for us, the person Arbabsiar met was what the compliant describes as a DEA Confidential Source (CS).

Without attempting to denigrate the hard work of the FBI and the risks taken by the DEA’s CS, it does help when the assassins or terrorists literally come right to law enforcement undercover operatives for help in carrying out the assassination or terrorist act.

Fortunately, the DEA and the FBI moved swiftly to insinuate themselves into this plot, and learn enough about the conspirators to make an arrest and break up the plot, while also using Arbabsiar to verify the Iranian military connection.

While this case is certainly of great concern to the United States, strongly verifies the Iranian military and government’s desire, intent, and capacity to conduct these kind of attacks within the U.S., it also proves that terrorists and assassins need to be lucky just once, and we need to be right all the time.

Imagine what would have happened if Arbabsiar had approached a real member of a violent Mexican drug cartel. We could very well be viewing scenes of carnage at a D.C. restaurant and reports of the deaths of the Saudi Ambassador and many innocent civilians, rather than today’s press conference at the Justice Department.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Killing or Capturing a Terrorist?

Today, the CIA and U.S. military managed to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with a missile strike from an unmanned drone.  His death, and those of the terrorists/bodyguards with him in his convoy is another victory in the war against those who use a peaceful faith as an excuse to foment violence in pursuit of a political cause.

I noticed an article in the New York Times today that discussed the debate continuing in political, legal, and public forums about what the 'proper' course of action is in dealing with people like al-Awlaki.

The options for dealing with terrorists like al-Awlaki are pretty straightforward.  Kill or capture them.  The instance of al-Awlaki presents a different issue in the minds of some - he was an American citizen.

As an American citizen, some people offer the opinion that al-Awlaki should have been treated differently.  He should perhaps have been captured by local law enforcement, the civil rights we all enjoy as citizens preserved and protected.

The Obama Administration obviously thought differently, and as it has done since the beginning of President Obama's Presidency, it has continued (and argued for in court) most of the Bush Administration's policies in what is now called the War on Al-Qaeda.

Let's consider the premise of capturing al-Awlaki or another U.S. citizen operating overseas to further the aims of a terrorist organization carrying on a war against America.  If this terrorist is living and conducting his operations in the United Kingdom, then capturing him becomes a relatively simple thing, conducted within the rule of law.  The UK has an excellent police force, not to mention MI-5 (the domestic security service, a well established court system, and a system of government from the local to the national level that is largely uncorrupted and supported by the people.   All of this presents a permissive environment within the UK that would enable the arrest, interrogation, and trial of such a person, under the rule of law.  Nice and comparatively neat, isn't it?

Now we need to consider the more realistic scenario.  Most of these terrorists, be they Americans, Yemenis, Afghanistanis, or Iraqis, usually work in countries like Somalia, Yemen, the uncontrolled border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.  In many of these cases, there is no rule of law as we understand and experience it here in the West.  No strong system of courts.  No well trained and professional modern police or internal security force with well trained forensic scientists to back them up.  Even worse, no supportive population of citizens to set the conditions to allow those kinds of institutions to flourish, and thus create a more supportive population of citizens.

Terrorists operate in these areas precisely because the conditions in these nations make it easier for them to operate and in some cases enable or aid them (like the Pakistani ISI).  It cannot be reasonably argued that the U.S. could approach the government or internal security services (assuming they exist at all) for assistance and permission to arrest, and then deport a terrorist.  It is likely the target of such an arrest would be tipped off by members of the government or internal security services (either for money or because of some ideological sympathy).  Further, attempting to make a case in a U.S. court room against such people, where the rules of evidence are very strict, would be impossible for a couple of reasons.  It would require the compromise of U.S. intelligence sources and methods, which would endanger American security; and collecting evidence on a battlefield or in a non-permissive environment in any country would never be able to meet the standards of evidence required in a U.S. courtroom. 

This issue will undoubtedly continue to be debated, but we are left with the only practical option, one the Bush Administration started, and the Obama Administration has expanded upon - send in the drones or the Special Forces and kill them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Friend and Ally, or an Enemy We Choose to Tolerate?

For the past few days, the major media outlets have been reporting something (again) that should not come as a shock to our nation, and I'm sure is no surprise to the U.S. military or intelligence community.   Pakistan is not really a good ally, or perhaps even a trusted partner in the U.S. effort to create a stable Afghanistan and eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda presence or influence there or within its own borders in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Pakistani government routinely chastises the U.S. for conducting drone attacks on Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or militant leaders within the Tribal Areas.  Leaders who cross the border regularly from Pakistan into Afghanistan to coordinate attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces.  Admiral Mullen, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was the first senior U.S. government official to actually call out the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization as being a supporter of the attack on the U.S. Embassy last week during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

It gets worse.  Remember where we found Usama Bin Laden?  That's right.  In Pakistan.  A little town called Abbottabad that just happens to be where a large number of Pakistani military senior officers retire to, and home of the Pakistani Military Academy.   You may also remember that we did not tell the Pakistani government that we were sending an armed assault force into their sovereign territory to capture or kill Bin Laden.  That in itself proves the point.  Pakistan is not really our full ally or trusted friend, despite the political rhetoric from U.S. and Pakistani governments since 9/11.

If they were, we would have briefed the Pakistani government on Bin Laden's location, asked for permission to send in a team to capture him, and they would have agreed, or at the very least assaulted the house themselves and turned him over to us.   That's what we do when we deal with an ally or friendly nation, because we know they would be happy to accommodate the request of a friend.

Instead, we sent our Special Operations Forces to sneak into Pakistan with stealth helicopters, staged a daring raid in the middle of the night, killed Bin Laden, took everything we could of intelligence value, and snuck out again, leaving the Pakistanis a destroyed stealth helicopter.  The remains of which they probably allowed nations like China and Russia to examine and sample, for a small fee of course, before they let us come pick up the parts.

Pakistan has obviously decided that it isn't interested in being a full partner in dealing with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the remaining insurgents in Afghanistan.  In fact, the Haqqani network, probably the biggest threat to the U.S military and U.S. goals in Afghanistan at the present time, in spite of being strongly supported by the U.S. during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is allegedly now supported by the Pakistani ISI.  

It's past time the U.S. began to cut back massively on our aid to Pakistan, and hold the Pakistani government directly responsible for the ISI's actions by revealing what it knows about the ISI's activities that work to undermine U.S. and Afghan efforts to keep Afghanistan on a path to self determination and governance.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Stingray & the 4th Amendment

There is a very interesting article today in the WSJ on the Stingray and the implications of its use against U.S. citizens.

The Stingray is basically a small suite of equipment and antennas that are used to create a vehicle borne mobile cell phone tower.  FBI agents or other law enforcement personnel can utilize the Stingray to track a cell phone that is powered on, whether the phone is in use (making a call or sending a text) or not.

Here's the short version of how without all the geek-speak.   First of all, you need to remember that your cell phone is a radio (actually as many as six different radios, but that gets too geeky to explain).   In order for the cell phone you have in your pocket, purse, or hanging on your belt to work properly, it needs to know which cell tower is closest to it.  Knowing that, the phone can communicate, via the built in radio, with the tower giving it the strongest signal.  As you walk or drive, the phone switches from the tower you were using that is now getting farther away, to the next closest tower as the signal from it gets stronger.  When the phone talks to the tower, it uses its unique (in the whole world) electronic identity to identify itself to the tower (actually, to the telephone network the tower connects your phone to).  The tower (and the telephone network behind it) knows how many phones it can reach, and 'talk' to, to allow you to make calls, send text messages, surf the web, etc.

This is where the Stingray comes in.  If a law enforcement agency can determine the electronic identifier your phone has assigned to it, they can go to a judge, apply for a search warrant, and then use the Stingray to find, and if needs be, track you.

They (law enforcement) load your phone's unique electronic identifier into the Stingray, then drive around in the vicinity of where they suspect you are, waiting for your phone to 'talk' to the Stingray.  Why would your phone talk to the Stingray instead of the cell tower nearby?  Because the Stingray broadcasts the same beacon a cell tower does, but because it's closer to your phone than the tower is, the signal appears stronger to the phone, and the phone is designed and programmed to lock on to the strongest signal.  After your phone is 'hooked' by the Stingray, then it's just a matter of old fashioned direction finding to track you and your phone.

(For those of you more technically inclined, yes I omitted a large amount of technical and procedural detail on purpose.)

I think the technology is very impressive and presents a number of advantages for law enforcement and other applications.  Having said that, it does create a 4th Amendment search and seizure issue for the courts, which will undoubtedly take time to resolve and yet again proves that the creation and interpretation of technology law lags behind the speed of technology.

It's illegal to wiretap someone's conversations without a court order.  Is it illegal to use what could be argued as the 'publicly available functions' of your phone to track you, particularly once you are outside your home, walking around in public?   Do you have a right to privacy if your phone is powered on, no matter where it (and you) are?

This technology, much like the similar controversy over law enforcement attaching GPS devices to suspect's vehicles to track their movements, will be a debate within the legal system worth watching.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Classified Information Needs to Stay Secret

It seems that every couple of months or so, some professional news outlet, or the on-line site WikiLeaks, releases or reports what is described as classified material. Once an organization or entity reports it, other professional journalists tend to jump on the story quickly, hitting up their sources and reporting on the story in whatever unique way or angle they believe they can.

Today’s case in point is the Washington Post’s initial reporting (based initially on a WikiLeaks release of classified State Department cables between the U.S. and the host governments), on the locations of the bases used to purportedly launch and recover unmanned drones like the MQ-9 REAPER. These drones are used, in part, to carry the U.S. war against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates directly to the leaders in those organizations. REAPER drones have launched missiles and bombs directly at identified Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda affiliate leaders to kill them with pinpoint strikes, giving the U.S. an unmatched capability to strike and limit collateral damage, while reducing risk to U.S. forces.

The Post reporting picked up and expanded upon by Fox News today, is obviously something that would be judged a ‘newsworthy’ item by an editor. There is just one problem. The revelation of even the general location of these bases has placed the lives of American military personnel in extreme danger.

Did the Washington Post or Fox News provide specific geographic coordinates for these bases? No. Did the classified cables posted on the WikiLeaks site? I’m not going to look and find out (I have no interest in making WikiLeaks think they are providing a useful service.) It doesn’t matter if they did or not. Anyone with any reasonable amount of deductive reasoning and an Internet connection can look at the publicly available information on the MQ-9’s performance characteristics, check Google Earth for the overhead imagery of the airfields capable of allowing a REAPER to land in country X, and then send people to stay in nearby towns for a day or two and wait to see a REAPER takes off from, or lands at the airfield nearby to confirm the presence of the drones. And Al-Qaeda has more than proven itself to have people capable of deductive reasoning and Internet access and usage.

What comes next is obvious. Al-Qaeda conducts a little more reconnaissance of the security at the airfield, some planning, obtains some weapons and explosives, and conducts a little more planning. Suddenly there is an attack on the airfield, killing the American military members who act as the REAPER’s ground crew and maintenance team, and damaging or destroying one or more of the drones at the base. Al-Qaeda gains a propaganda windfall within the Arab world and the Jihadist community, while a few more American soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines are shipped home in coffins to grieving family members.

So where is the problem? The problem is the person or persons who leaked the State Department cables to WikiLeaks that kicked off the journalistic process of 'they reported the news worthy item, why don’t we?' inside the editorial offices and journalist’s minds.

The U.S. news outlets can't be faulted for anything other than what I view as being in 'rush to publish' mode and what I view as less than ideal judgement. The Constitution of the United States explicitly allows the freedom of the press, but I will argue that in my personal opinion, the editors at the Post and Fox News should have recognized the potential danger and elected not do a story on the leaked cables. However, they are journalists first, and I’m sure they did not see (or likely consider) the potential repercussions beyond the immediate gratification of trumpeting this previously unknown facet of U.S. drone operations before more of their colleagues did, and the perceived 'luster' of the story faded.

What can be done is that the people who leaked the cables need to be identified by the appropriate law enforcement agencies, investigated, and prosecuted within the fullest extent of all applicable laws. They have compromised the security of the United States and its allies in a time of war, imperiled U.S. confidential diplomatic discourse with other nations, and potentially endangered the lives of U.S. and Allied military personnel. If any U.S. or Allied service member or person is harmed or killed by the leak of this information, the individuals who leaked the cables should also be charged as accomplices to assault or murder.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Since 9/11, & the Years to Come

Sunday marks the passing of a decade since 19 hijackers took control of four commercial airliners and used them as guided missiles aimed at our nation’s government, military, and economy. Those 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers killed nearly 3,000 people, destroyed a building at the heart of our nation’s economic center, and severely damaged our nation’s military headquarters. Were it not for the bravery and courage of ordinary American’s on Flight 93, the hijackers may have struck the Capitol or the White House, injuring and killing hundreds more.

We all remember where we were when we first saw, or heard about the attacks. For a brief time afterwards, we ceased being people of multiple outlooks on life, diverse political views, differing races or religious faiths. We simply became Americans. We all flew our nation’s flag in our communities and in our hearts in the immediate aftermath, and in the weeks that followed.

The brave men and women in the ranks of our first responders fought back in the first hours after the Towers fell, and while the Pentagon and a crater in a Pennsylvania field burned. Then we sent our intelligence services and armed forces into battle in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and the Philippines to hunt down the members of Al-Qaeda responsible for the 9/11 attacks and attempt to halt the spread of a terrorist organization that uses a corrupted interpretation of Islam as its rallying cry. Our service members and intelligence officers went where they were ordered to go, and pursued our nation’s enemies, even if the justification for the war seemed less than completely understood or fully justified in the minds of our nation’s leaders or people. In spite of the terrible hardships of life on foreign battlefields, loss of limbs and of friends and comrades to death, broken marriages and failed relationships, they have kept faith with our nation and held to their oaths. They have continued the fight over these past ten years, and we have stood behind them, and we will continue to do so, so long as they are called to serve.

Ten years later - We have debated and will continue to debate the conduct of what the Bush Administration called ‘The War on Terror’, and what the Obama Administration now calls ‘The War on Al-Qaeda’. As a nation, we learned and will continue to learn from this debate. Challenges to the conduct of intelligence operations like the ‘warrantless wiretapping’ program and the detainment of terrorists and insurgents at Camp Delta were brought to the courts and litigated. The speeches made in Congress, the testimony before various committees, the resounding sound of public opinion, and the resultant new legislation. Legislation like the USA Patriot Act, passed and re-authorized the twice to improve and expand law enforcement and intelligence community capabilities under the law.

Ten years later - Executive Order 12333 has been amended, clarifying authorities and strengthening our nation’s intelligence services, the ‘warrantless wiretapping’ program continues under more rigorous oversight and under the rule of law affirmed in an August 2008 ruling by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Closer and more collaborative relationships were forged within the intelligence community and between the intelligence community, law enforcement, and the military, and the National Counter Terrorism Center has been created to fuse and widely disseminate within the government all terrorism related intelligence and operational data.

Ten years later - Camp Delta remains open, and while President Obama has attempted to bring some of the detainees to the U.S. for trial within the criminal court system, the U.S. Congress has prohibited any appropriated funding from being used for such purposes. President Obama has since given permission for military trials to resume for the terror suspects, and signed an executive order to formalize the existing system of indefinite detention.

Ten years later - After being wrested from Taliban and Al-Qaeda control, Afghanistan has taken the first uncertain and hesitant steps towards a democratic form of government, but internal tribal loyalties hampering nationalism, dogged Taliban insurgents in the mountains dreaming of a strict Islamist State reborn, and an America strained, but unbeaten from ten years of fighting call into question Afghanistan’s future.

Ten years later - Osama bin Laden is dead. Buried at sea, the best unmarked grave we could find, he was laid to rest after the prayers of the faith he had defiled were said over his body by an American Muslim. He will not be a martyr to the evil cause he cherished, to those who choose hate and intolerance over peace and respect for others in spite of a different opinion or belief. He has paid for the pain and suffering he brought to our nation and others, and surely Allah has explained to him the depth of his mistakes in no uncertain terms.

In the years to come, the healthy debate in our nation will continue. We will continue to refine our approach to the problem of religious extremism used as an excuse to condone violence, while doing all we can to remain true to America’s ideals and beliefs of freedom and tolerance for other races, genders, faiths, and political viewpoints.

In the years to come, Al-Qaeda, its offshoots, and organizations like it will continue to exist in one form or another. Others will join the organization Bin Laden started, or create some splinter group fighting against America’s actions overseas or policies. They will commit acts of terror to further their cause and attempt to change America’s foreign policy, perceived or real, no matter which party holds the majority in Congress or occupies the White House. American citizens will be hurt and killed at home and abroad from time-to-time, and our intelligence, military and law enforcement organizations will do all they can to learn about these plots and then arrest, capture, or kill the plotters.

In the years to come, America will continue its fight against those who chose warfare and terror to attempt to gain political power or intimidate others. That fight will require more than just finding, fixing, tracking, and killing the leaders of these organizations. It will take continued efforts to inhibit radicalization in wherever and however it might occur, in order to break the generational cycle that breeds new radicals of any stripe. It will take several more decades, and it will cost both sides many young lives and billions in unrealized economic productivity; military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts. Fortunately we fought a long Cold War once, and while the reasons were different, the lives lost and billions spent were not. We won that long Cold War with the help of our friends and allies.

We and our allies will win this long war too.