Sunday, August 02, 2015

Scapegoating 101

It may not be Rule #1 at the highest levels of federal government, but it's certainly in the Top 10, and it goes something like this: if a recent event or scandal promises to unveil something that may be particularly embarrassing, change the narrative. 

We saw that a couple of days ago, when Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign decided that the waning days of July would be a great time to release some recent income tax returns and a note from her doctor, assuring everyone that Mrs. Clinton is physically ready for the rigors of being commander-in-chief.  Why the sudden document drop?  It was a desperate move to change the meme.  With the e-mail scandal heating up again--amid disclosures that a number of e-mails sent over her private server contains classified information--Team Clinton was looking for something that would push the e-mail controversy to the back burner.

So far, that strategy hasn't worked, but it doesn't mean the former Secretary of State and her handlers won't stop trying.  And other bureaucrats will give it a shot as well.  If you need proof, look no further than the continuing investigation into the recent shootings at a military recruiting office and naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee which killed four Marines and one sailor last month.

Barely two weeks after the rampage, many are wondering why the FBI (and other participating agencies) won't acknowledge the obvious--namely, that gunman Mohammed Abdulazeez was lone-wolf terrorist, radicalized by the hate-filled rants of former Al Qaida cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, whose sermons he downloaded and listened to in the months leading up to the Chattanooga attack.  The Obama Administration's reluctance to label it as terror was hardly surprising; after all, this is the same group that described the 2009 Fort Hood massacre as "workplace violence."

But in the last 24 hours or so, the Chattanooga investigation has taken a sudden and rather bizarre turn.  While federal agents are still investigating Abdulazeez and his motives, there is a new element in the case which has left many observes stunned and furious.

This latest twist has nothing to do with the shooter, his religion and what led him to open fire on the recruiting office complex and naval reserve center.  In fact, the latest element focuses on an individual who should be hailed as a hero--a man whose actions may have saved countless lives in the terrible moments when Abdulazeez crashed his rental car through a gate at the reserve base and began opening fire.

We refer to Navy Lieutenant Commander Randy White, identified as the commander of the reserve center.  According to press accounts, Commander White and a Marine tried to defend the complex, returning fire with their personal weapons.  For their actions, they deserve the Navy-Marine Corps Medal (at a minimum), but instead, White may be facing disciplinary action for discharging a weapon on federal property.

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel (and former Congressman) Allan West was the first to break the news, based on information from sources within DoD.  Since the base is technically a "gun free zone" (except for security forces and others authorized to bear arms), Commander White was violating federal laws when he tried to defend his command.  The Marine who returned fire was (reportedly) one of those killed and so far, the Pentagon has been careful not to smear the reputation of a fallen hero.

But the real question is why?   To be fair, any investigation of this type must take a look at how base personnel responded to the attack, and determine its impact on how events unfolded.  But hints that Lieutenant Commander White is facing possible charges are not only premature, they suggest another motive may also be a work.

Predictably, social media erupted when news of White's legal troubles surfaced, and it's a fair bet that conservative print and broadcast outlets won't be far behind.  But why pick a fight with pro-military and veterans' groups that are already leaping to the commander's defense?  It's a confrontation that DoD (and their bosses in the White House) are bound to lose, but they seem determined to play that card, no matter what the cost.

And that brings us back to changing the narrative.  By suggesting that Lieutenant Commander White may be facing charges, senior government officials have successfully changed the focus of the Chattanooga investigation, at least temporarily.  That should make everyone wonder what new revelations are about to drop, in terms of the shooter's travels and affiliations, and security measures in place at the reserve center at the time of the attack.

As we learned in the days followed the shooting, the reserve base was a largely undefended target, putting sailors and Marines at risk.  Abdulazeez was able to crash through an unmanned gate at the facility and open fire.   To date, DoD has said nothing about why the gate was secured with nothing more than a chain and a padlock, and the response of base security personnel.  It was Lieutenant Commander White and that unidentified Marine returned who fire from inside the perimeter and it was the Chattanooga Police Department--in pursuit of the suspect--who finally cornered Abdulazeez and shot him dead.  Base security--based on what we have learned so far--was AWOL. 

Keep an eye on the Navy's "prosecution" of Randy White in the weeks ahead.  It will provide a convenient distraction while far more serious revelations about the attack dribble out.  Sad to say, but it won't be the first time the feds have sought a scapegoat in a terrorist strike against the U.S. military. In the aftermath of the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, much of the attention focused on Air Force Brigadier General Terry Schwailer, the on-scene commander at the time of the attack. 

General Schwailer was preparing to relinquish command to his successor when the massive truck bomb went off outside a dormitory housing USAF personnel, killing 19 airmen and wounding dozens more.  The official U.S. inquiry, led by retired Army General Wayne Downing, claimed that Schwailer should have done more to prepare for a possible attack.  At the time, many observers (including your humble correspondent) felt that General Downing delivered a fair assessment.  But over time, it became clear that the Downing investigation was influenced by political pressure from Washington, and the final report was clearly a rush to judgment. 

As the designated scapegoat for Khobar, Schwailer paid a steep price: his name was removed from the promotion list for major general and he retired as a one-star.  Over the past 20 years, he has waged a protracted, expensive and (to date) futile effort to clear his name.  The victims and their families were also denied justice; for years the Clinton Administration ignored evidence of direct Iranian involvement.  It wasn't until 2006--a decade after the attack--that a federal judge ruled that Iranian officials were behind the plot, and allowed the victims and their families to seek damages from the Tehran government.   

Why was Bill Clinton so reluctant to put the blame where in belonged?  Because that would mean keeping a promise to launch military action against those responsible.  Clearly, Mr. Clinton wasn't prepared to attack Iran, so evidence of Tehran's culpability was suppressed for years.  In the interim, the military's focus on the actions of General Schwailer provided a convenient distraction.

Twenty years later, the same scenario may be playing out again.  The government clearly knows more about the Chattanooga attack than it has shared with the public and some of those details may be damning.  So, it's time to go after a military guy and change the narrative again.

More on the vindication of General Schwailer from 2008.  While a military corrections board ruled he was treated unfairly and should have received his second star, the government challenged that ruling and so far, the courts have sided with the feds.        




Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Taking Offense

Fresh from her latest, insufficient explanation regarding the classified information that was sent through her private system, Hillary Clinton desperately tried to change the subject this morning.

Hoping to avoid more talk about her little security breach, Mrs. Clinton shifted gears and announced she was "offended" by GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's comments on the recently-concluded Iran nuclear deal.  In an interview with Brietbart Radio over the weekend, the former Arkansas governor said the agreement with Tehran "leads Israel to the door of the oven," an obvious reference to the Holocaust.

In response, the former Secretary of State offered the usual, predictable blather:

“Comments like these are offensive and they have no place in our political dialogue. I am disappointed and I’m really offended personally. I know Governor Huckabee. I have a cordial relationship with him. He served as the Governor of Arkansas. But I find this kind of inflammatory rhetoric totally unacceptable.”

The MSM was in high dungeon as well.  One host on MSNBC said Huckabee was "finished" after his remarks.  

But what is more offensive?  Mr. Huckabee's analogy (which might have been cast in a slightly more tasteful light), or the government of the United States entering into a nuclear weapons agreement with a country that has continuously vowed to wipe Israel off the map.  The Huckabee campaign quickly offered quotes from Iranian leaders--and their proxies--which prove that point:

“We have manufactured missiles that allow us…to replace Israel…with a big holocaust,” stated Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, an Iranian Martyr Foundation Representative.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said: “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region.”

Also, Hassan Hasrallah, Hezbollah leader, said, “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Fact is, Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are urging the Senate to approve the worst agreement since Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich in 1938.  At best, it keeps Iran on the precipice of obtaining nuclear weapons.  At worst, Tehran may already have the bomb, developed through a covert program that has gone undetected by western intelligence.  And, given the proposed inspection regimen (three weeks notice for most visits; military sites are off-limits, and Iran will provide soil samples from one of its most important facilities), the odds of uncovering illegal activity are decidedly slim.  

Beyond that, there's the $150 billion windfall Iran will get, thanks to economic sanctions relief.  You don't need to be an intelligence analyst to know that some of that money will wind up with Hizballah and other terror groups sponsored by Iran, posing a direct threat to the security of Israel.  

Tehran will pour more money into its ballistic missile program as well.  While Iran already has several missiles capable of reaching targets in Israel (including the Shahab-3 and BM-24), they need to improve their accuracy and modify those systems to carry a nuclear warhead.  Tehran will also fund efforts to develop a crude ICBM that can hit targets in the United States.  American intelligence agencies believe Iran is on the verge of testing a long-range missile, with operational deployment two or three years after that.  

While such weapons cannot match U.S. or Russian ballistic missiles, a nuclear-tipped Shahab-3 or BM-23 could unleash a modern holocaust on Israel.  There are a number of on-line simulators which depict the effect of a nuclear blast on a selected target; utilizing the tools at, we simulated the results of a first-generation Iranian warhead, with a yield of 10kt, detonated over Tel Aviv.  If the link doesn't work, you can input the data and run your own simulation.  We chose 10kt because it is believed Iran's first missile warheads would be relatively low-yield weapons, unlike the more advanced devices in the American and Russian arsenals, which have yields ranging from 50kt to more than one megaton.  

The results would be horrifying.  An airburst centered in a triangle between the Rokach Interchange, the HaShalom Interchange and the marina would kill between 75,000-92,000 people, and injure almost 200,000 more.  That total would include Jews, Arabs, Christians and anyone else near ground zero on that terrible day.  Almost 300,000 victims dead or maimed in a single, horrifying flash.  By any definition, that would be a holocaust.  

And the threat will only grow.  Thanks in part to sanctions relief--and the fatally-flawed nuclear deal--Iran will field new generations of more powerful warheads and more accurate missiles.  At some point, they will have enough nuclear-tipped, medium and long-range missiles to saturate Israeli defenses.  If one airburst over Tel Aviv could create such carnage, imagine the impact of multiple warheads, targeting all of Israel's major population centers.  

Someone might ask Mrs. Clinton which is more offensive: Governor Huckabee's comments, or an agreement (forged by her former boss and her successor) which brings Israel to the verge of a new holocaust.  Not that we're expecting an honest answer.         





Friday, July 24, 2015

Does Mrs. Clinton Have Another Missing Form, Redux

Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal--like a bad computer virus--simply won't go away.

The latest revelation merely confirms what many have suspected from the start: Mrs. Clinton's private e-mail network--clearly designed to evade government archiving and accountability rules--was used to send classified information.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the Intelligence Community Inspector General has found at least four e-mails that contained SECRET-level material when they were sent, and that information remains classified to this day.

As the Journal reports, the IG has reviewed only about 40 of the 30,000 e-mails that have been turned over by the former Secretary of State.  If that sample is any indication, then Mrs. Clinton and her associates may have sent literally thousands of messages containing classified information over her private e-mail network that was far less secure than NIPRNET, the government network that was created to transmit sensitive, but unclassified information.  Appropriately enough, NIPRNET is now referred to as the Sensitive but Unclassified IP Data Network, reflecting its intended use.

The government also has SIPRNET, a separate network that can handle SECRET information (the service was later renamed the Secret IP Service) and JWICS, which transmits information at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) level.  As a cabinet secretary, Mrs. Clinton had access to information from all three networks, along with thousands of other government employees with the proper security clearance and a need-to-know.

But this resurrects a question we first posed back in March: how was Secretary Clinton accessing information from these systems?  Normally, someone cleared to the TS/SCI level (and beyond) would have a minimum of three government e-mail accounts, one for NIPRNET, one for SIPRNET and one for JWICS (we'll stick with the old designations, since most users still use them in referring to the networks).  Officially, there is no record of Mrs. Clinton ever establishing such accounts during her tenure at Foggy Bottom, but then again, her friends in the press corps haven't exactly pressed the issue.

In fact, a FOIA request to the Special Security Office (SSO) at State could, potentially, clear up much of the mystery.  As a sitting U.S. Senator, Mrs. Clinton had a TS/SCI clearance when she arrived at the department.  Records from the SSO would reflect her "transfer-in-status" (a term used to describe a cleared individual moving from one position to another), along with her signature on the Standard Form 312, the Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement.

We detailed the importance of that document four months ago:

"...It's a document signed by anyone who has been granted access to classified information, including government employees, military personnel, political appointees, elected officials (and anyone else with a security clearance).  By signing the SF 312, individuals promise to never divulge classified information to other organizations, groups or individuals without determining they have a need for the information and the required clearance.

Additionally, signatories of the SF-312 acknowledge acknowledge that the "unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling of classified information by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation."  They also enter into a binding agreement that requires them to return all classified information upon leaving their position, as detailed in various federal statutes:

"I shall return all classified materials which have, or may come into my possession or for which I am responsible because of such access: (a) upon demand by an authorized representative of the United States Government; (b) upon the conclusion of my employment or other relationship with the Department or Agency that last granted me a security clearance or that provided me access to classified information; or (c) upon the conclusion of my employment or other relationship that requires access to classified information. If I do not return such materials upon request, I understand that this may be a violation of sections 793 and/or 1924, title 18, United States Code, a United States criminal law."     


But there's one more interesting portion of the Standard Form 312, found in the last section of the document, the Security Debriefing Acknowledgement:

"I reaffirm that the provisions of the espionage laws, other federal criminal laws and executive orders applicable to the safeguarding of classified information have been made available to me; that I have returned all classified information in my custody; that I will not communicate or transmit classified information to any unauthorized person or organization; that I will promptly report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation any attempt by an unauthorized person to solicit classified information, and that I (have) (have not) (strike out inappropriate word or words) received a security debriefing."

That final paragraph is important, since employees must acknowledge receipt (or non-receipt) of a security briefing, covering all the rules on non-disclosure and return of classified material listed on the form.  Signing the SF-312 is one of the last acts before a person leaves a job that requires access to classified information.  Before departing the State Department for the last time, Mrs. Clinton should have received the required security briefing and it should be documented on the SF-312--the same form she also signed upon entering the job.  

The SF-312 isn't some rare or optional document.  It is part of security clearance folder for anyone who has ever had access to classified information, including former political leaders and cabinet officials.  And, the requirements for protecting and returning classified information are clearly germaine to the current Clinton controversy.  So, where is Hillary's Clinton's SF-312?  There should be a copy on file at the State Department's Special Security Office (SSO), and readily accessible by department officials."

As we noted in March, Mrs. Clinton's actions clearly put her at odds with the legal requirements outlined on the SF-312.  Obviously, she had access to highly classified information--including some of the "crown jewels" of U.S. intelligence; what remains unclear is whether she accessed the information directly (via her own SIPRNET or JWICS account), or read it in the cables, summaries and analyses that routinely crossed her desk.  

And, according to the Intelligence Community IG, some of that information made its way onto her private e-mail network and may have shared it with at least one individual who did not have an active security clearance.  We refer to Sidney Blumenthal, the long-time Clinton confidante who was denied a State Department position by the Obama White House.  E-mails previously released show that Mr. Blumenthal routinely provided intelligence assessments to Secretary Clinton, using his own contacts.  The WSJ report did not specify in Blumenthal was among the recipients of e-mails containing classified material.  

Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting that the Intelligence Community IG (along with his counter-part at the State Department) have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether sensitive information was "mishandled" in connection with Mrs. Clinton's private e-mail account.  So far, Justice has not determined if it will follow that recommendation.  

This is hardly good news for the Clinton campaign, but don't hold your breath waiting for an indictment. Lest we forget, Hillary was Mr. Obama's Secretary of State when she elected to flaunt federal rules on the archiving and retention of official documents--and for good measure, laws governing the handling and transmission of classified information.  Some of those e-mails went to other members of the Obama Administration, which clearly doesn't want a full accounting of how much classified data was disseminated through the domain.  So, expect the request for a criminal probe to get the slow-roll treatment; the e-mail inquiry will be placed on the "to-do" list, just behind a full accounting of the Lois Lerner/IRS scandal.                  



Monday, July 20, 2015

Going After McCain

Members of the GOP Elite (GOP-E) are again counting down the expected implosion of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.  Initially, it was thought the billionaire's run for the White House would end following his remarks about illegal immigrants.  Instead, Trump's stand against illegals energized his bid, particularly when a Mexican national--arrested, jailed and deported numerous times--killed a young woman on a fishing pier in San Francisco.  Suddenly, The Donald was at (or near) the top of the GOP field, running neck-and-neck with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

That's why Trump's opponents--and their backers in the GOP-E--viewed his remarks about Senator John McCain with a mixture of relief and even glee.  Mr. Trump's observations that McCain was a hero "only because he got shot down" (and spent 5 1/2 years as a POW in North Vietnam) were particularly vile and loathsome.

By all accounts, Mr. McCain (then a Naval aviator) conducted himself with honor and valor while being held in Hanoi.  Claims that McCain somehow collaborated with the enemy have been disproved by journalists and former POWs.  The late Bud Day, a retired Air Force Colonel who was McCain's cellmate at the Hanoi Hilton, called those accusations "the biggest f---ing lie I've ever heard."  Colonel Day, for those unfamiliar with his story, received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a POW.  His eyewitness account of McCain's conduct in North Vietnam should be enough to silence any claims of collaboration, and buttress the Senator's record of heroism under the most difficult circumstances.

Making matters worse, Trump's swipe at McCain is a slur against the hundreds of brave pilots, navigators and aircrew members who went down over North Vietnam.  Is Mr. Trump suggesting that men like Jim Stockdale, Jeremiah Denton, Robbie Risner (and countless others) were less skilled aviators because their jet was hit by AAA fire or a surface-to-air missile?

It's worth remembering that North Vietnam assembled one of the world's most sophisticated air defense networks during the 1960s.  That weaponry, coupled with our own restrictive ROE (and decreased emphasis on air combat training) led to higher loss rates, and some of our best pilots were among those that wound up in the Hanoi Hilton.  Many of the senior officers who organized and led the POWs in North Vietnam have since passed on, but there are plenty of survivors who will gladly challenge Trump's preference for "heroes who don't get shot down."

However, that is not to say John McCain isn't a fair target.  Indeed, it is easy to separate the courageous man who kept the faith in a North Vietnamese prison cell and the career politician who has become a creature of Washington, D.C.  Senator McCain often touts his work for the military and veterans, as ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and since January of this year, as chairman of that panel.  But it's also worth noting that Mr. McCain's recent tenure on the SASC has coincided with the systematic gutting of our military, through Obama-mandated cuts and the sequestration process.

Less than two weeks ago, the Army announced plans to trim another 40,000 soldiers from the ranks and if sequestration remains the law of the land, that total will rise to 70,000.  Where's the alternative force structure and funding plan from Senator McCain and his Republican colleagues?  If Donald Trump wants to go after John McCain on military-related issues, the current down-sizing provides a tailor-made issue.

So does Mr. McCain's support for the "new" armed forces retirement plan, which cuts the basic pension by 10% and forces service members to begin contributing towards their retirement.  The savings promised by this scheme are illusory, at best, and it places a significant financial burden on younger service members, who would make mandatory contributions to their 401K-type plan.  As a spokesman for a military family lobbying group observed, the required contribution (pegged at 5%) may force some junior enlisted personnel to choose "between their retirement plan and paying bills."  John McCain has voiced support for the plan (along with most Republican Senators), giving Mr. Trump another ready-made issue.

And for good measure, the real estate magnate can critique McCain's support for our "good war" in Libya and the on-going adventure in Syria.  Senator McCain led the charge for military support to topple Qadhaffi, with little regard for what might follow.  Likewise, he was at the forefront of efforts to arm and train Syrian rebels, a move that has done little to push Bashir al-Asad from power, and has (arguably) strengthened ISIS in the process.

Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to go after McCain (and other members of the GOP establishment) for defense policies that have hollowed our armed forces, and national security strategies that have backfired and contributed to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.  If Mr. Trump is as smart as he claims, he would focus future arguments along those lines, and worry less about John McCain's standing in his graduating class at Annapolis.

Trump is also ignoring another issue that should make Democrats--and the GOP-e--squirm.  Lest we forget, the Phoenix VA Medical Center was Ground Zero for the scandal that engulfed the agency last year.  In Phoenix, we learned about duplicate waiting lists, and vets who literally died while waiting for treatment.  Complaints about the local VA began years earlier, including allegations that whistle-blowers were being silenced.  Where was McCain?

All legitimate topics, and all ready for the picking by Mr. Trump--if he can learn to make his attacks more about issues and less about personalities.  And one more thing: predictions of his pending demise may be premature, at best.  Plenty of conservative activists have long separated John McCain the War Hero from Senator McCain the Creature of the Beltway, and are less inclined to jump to his defense.  Secondly, there are many younger voters, including those in early primary states, who came of age well after Vietnam.  For many of them, attacks on John McCain's military record have little meaning, largely because the war is nothing more than a chapter in a history book.

Keep an eye on the polls over the next week or so.  We shall soon see how much damage Mr. Trump inflicted upon himself with those feckless comments about John McCain and his service in Vietnam.  For a variety of reasons, the damage may be less severe than some might think.                                                          

Friday, July 17, 2015

Defeating "The Ultimate Smart Weapon"

**UPDATE//20 July**

In the wake of last week's attack on the military recruiting station in Tennessee, U.S. Northern Command has directed recruiters to "close their office blinds" for added security.  Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has directed its personnel "not to wear their uniforms at work" as a force protection measure.

Raising the white flag outside the recruiting station is apparently optional.  

Based on this "guidance," it appears the Pentagon believes that occasional "lone wolf" attacks against recruiting offices are a risk that can be endured without special security measures.  As we noted last week, there are several steps that can be taken--short of arming recruiters--that would enhance their safety.  Reinforced doors (with remote locks) and ballistic glass would provided increased protection from attacks like the one in Chattanooga last week.  So would the installation of a safe room or vault in the back of the recruiting office.  And the military should not dismiss the option of arming recruiters.  Several governors are allowing National Guard recruiters in their states to carry sidearms for protection.  Apparently, they understand that the image of an armed service member has a certain deterrent quality, and it's far more effective that closing your blinds or wearing civvies to work.


On CNN a few moments ago, I heard former Navy SEAL (and ex-FBI special agent) Jonathan Gilliam describe the terrorist who killed four Marines in Chattanooga as "the ultimate smart weapon."

As Mr. Gilliam explained, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez represents the type of threat that is hardest to detect.  He fit seamlessly into the local community, graduating from a local high school and earning a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Former classmates, friends and neighbors almost universally described him as "polite" and "friendly."  His social media profile--like the rest of his life--offered few hints of the murderous rampage that unfolded yesterday at a military recruiting center and a Navy Reserve facility.     

Yet in hindsight, there were reasons for concern.  The New York Times reports that Abdulazeez's father was questioned by federal authorities about contributions to an organization with terrorist ties, and may be have been on a terrorism "watch list" at one time, but was later removed.  

And in recent hours, Reuters has learned that the gunman made at least two trips to the Middle East, visiting Jordan and Yemen on separate occasions.  So far, officials have not been able to determine if the younger Abdulazeez was in contact with militants or militant groups during those visits.  There are indications that he spent much of the last two years living abroad.  Abdulazeez's father told a neighbor his son "had moved back home" after earning his engineering degree in 2012.  He had returned to the Chattanooga area by early 2015; he was arrested on DUI charges in April, 2015 and scheduled for a court appearance later this month.  

If someone like Abdulazeez represents a serious challenge for counter-terrorism officials, that raises  obvious questions about preventing such attacks in the future.  Assuming that low-profile terrorists like the Chattanooga shooter will often evade preemptive detection, how can local communities and  government organizations prepare for the threat, beyond the acknowledgment that "it can happen here," and staging the "active shooter drills" that are often conducted at schools, shopping malls and and other potential targets.

For starters, how about appropriate security measures at military facilities that may be in the cross-hairs?  In the aftermath of yesterday's terrorist attack, it became painfully evident that security was non-existent, both at the armed forces recruiting center (where Abdulazeez first opened fire) and minutes later at the Navy Reserve Center, where the four Marines were killed.  

As someone who spent a little time in the recruiting world (as an ROTC instructor in the 1990s), I can attest that process of attracting new recruits poses special security challenges.  As a detachment recruiting officer, I operated from a college campus, which was open and accessible to everyone.  Enlisted recruiters usually work from a storefront office in a strip mall, typically located in high-traffic areas.  After all, if you're looking for young people who might be interested in enlisting (or pursuing a commission through ROTC), the recruiting office needs to be convenient and visible.   

So, it's no surprise that Abdulazeez was able to drive up to the recruiting station and open fire, then drive away.  Recruiters on the premises are not allowed to carry weapons, except in extreme circumstances.  In fact, there is a decal on the door of every recruiting office, reminding staff and visitors that the facility is a gun-free zone.  It's a fair bet the gunman knew that, and it influenced his target selection.  

More disturbing is the lax security at the Navy Support Operations Center (the Reserve facility's formal title) which was targeted next.  He simply drove his rented Mustang through an unmanned gate, dragging it more than 40 feet before stopping in an open area, where he opened fire on the Marines and a female sailor.  All were unarmed.  Had it not been for the timely response of the Chattanooga Police Department (which began pursuing the shooter after he left the recruiting station), the death toll could have been much higher.  

Most of the solutions are relatively simple.  Recruiting offices will always be in high-traffic locations, but they can be made more secure by installing Level 3 frames, doors and glass that can resist rounds from anything short of a .50 caliber weapon.  Entrances should also be equipped with remote locks that allows recruiters to restrict access (some stations already have this feature).  The military might also consider installing a reinforced vault or "saferoom" in the back of the recruiting office, similar to those used in areas vulnerable to tornadoes. Additionally, the various recruiting commands work with property owners to limit parking near offices used by military recruiters. 

They might also be a little less candid about how their personnel respond to an attack.  In the aftermath of the Chattanooga massacre, an Army spokesman reported that recruiters exited "out the back door" when their office was attacked.  Next time around, the gunman will simply move around back and wait, ambushing personnel as they try to escape.

At facilities like the NOSC, unmanned gates which can be accessed from public roads should be reinforced with Jersey barriers or similar obstacles that prevent a vehicle breach.  One of the "quickest fixes" is placing a large truck directly behind the gate, parallel to the opening.  The Marine unit targeted at the Chattanooga NOSC is an artillery battery; presumably, there are a number of prime mover vehicles that could have been used to reinforce that gate.  Still unanswered are questions about the actual security presence at the reserve center:  Were any military police on duty, or had that task been farmed out to a civilian contractor?  What types of security sensors were in operation and how were they monitored?  And what type of response did base security forces muster after the terrorist crashed through the gate?  Early reports indicate that the Chattanooga PD was responsible for eliminating Abdulazeez; if that 's accurate, it suggests the NOSC was largely unprepared for the threat that materialized Thursday morning.  

Against that backdrop, it only makes sense to arm more military personnel at bases and recruiting stations around the U.S.   The sad irony is that the Marine Corps stress marksmanship, perhaps more than any branch of the service.  Every Marine is a rifleman first, before they train for their primary MOS.  Had they been armed, there is little doubt the Chattanooga Marines could have defended themselves and their base.  Instead, they died at the hands of a determined terrorist, unable to shoot back because of outmoded DoD regulations.       

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Bonus Option

An Air Force drone pilot (top) and sensor operator at work.  The USAF has announced plan for larger retention bonuses, hoping to keep more pilots in the UAV force, with more than 1,200 at the end of their service commitment--and most planning to leave military (Air Force Times photo)   

Not quite a month ago (June 18th, to be exact), we looked at the operational impact of the Air Force's chronic shortage of UAV pilots.  The service had just announced it was reducing its number of daily "orbits" from 65 to 60, because it didn't have enough pilots to operate its fleet of remotely-controlled aircraft.

Obviously, that won't set very well with operational commanders around the globe.  Their demand for drone support has grown exponentially over the past decade, and they've grown accustomed to having continuous surveillance overhead, as they send personnel and assets into harm's way.  UAV's have also become a preferred way to take out terrorist leaders, and those missions are often "built" on days and weeks of intelligence collection by similar platforms.

And, with ISIS on the march in the Middle East, the notion of a further reduction in drone orbits is simply a non-starter.  So, the ball is back in the Air Force court and specifically, with the career field managers and retention specialists who must find a way to keep more UAV pilots at the operator console, despite job demands that often keep them in the chair for up to 12 hours at a stretch (and that doesn't include mission planning, briefing, or debriefing), six days a week.

In the era of an all-volunteer military, the "solution" to any personnel shortage usually begins with re-enlistment bonuses.  According to Air Force Times, the service is now sweetening the pot, offering UAV pilots up to $135,000 to sign on for another nine years.  The bonus is paid out in annual installments of $15K, but there is an option that allows pilots to collect half their money up-front.   Predator and Reaper pilots who agree to serve for another five years will collect $75,000; those extending for nine receive the maximum amount.

Along with the bonuses, the Air Force will also send more pilots from manned aircraft to drone squadrons.  According to a spokesman, 80 officers who recently completed undergraduate pilot training (UPT) will be assigned to UAV units, spending a year in that assignment before being allowed to transfer to a manned platform.  The USAF is hoping that some of the new pilots will decide to stay in the UAV community, but the last time the service diverted pilots from manned systems into the drone world, two-thirds returned to the cockpit at the first opportunity.

The limited UAV commitment for the recent UPT grads has some observers shaking their heads.  While the new pilots already have the basic skills for flying a Predator or Reaper, they must still undergo a training, when their mission capabilities will be limited.  After passing their UAV checkrides, those new pilots will already "on the clock," counting down the days until their drone tour ends, and they can move on to a plane that isn't flown by remote control.    

But here's the real problem: the bonus-and-diversion scheme probably won't erase the Air Force's severe shortage of UAV pilots.  According to recent figures, about 1,200 pilots currently in drone units are reaching the end of their service commitment, and most plan to get out of the military.  The USAF needs a minimum of 300 new Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk pilots each year to sustain on-going operations; the current system produces 190.  Bonuses and temporary "fill-ins" (fresh from UPT) are supposed to fill the gap.

Early Air Force projections suggest 50-60% of the eligible UAV pilots will take the bonus.  However, that estimate is probably high; the extra money won't alleviate the workload that most drone pilots currently face, and signing on for another five-to-nine years virtually guarantees you'll be flying the line.  One of our former co-workers (a retired Green Beret Master Sergeant) related the decision he faced more than a decade ago.  Fresh back from Iraq and retirement eligible, the Army offered him $250,000 to sign up for another five years.  The bonus was tempting but he turned it down, knowing that the first payment would come with another rotation back to the war zone.

If the USAF is serious about solving its shortage of drone pilots, it needs to start thinking outside the box.  Unfortunately, the service has long believed that pilots should be officers, a concept dating back to the days of Hap Arnold and the Army Air Corps.  As America entered World War II, General Arnold estimated the service would need at least 100,000 pilots and he wanted all of them to be college grads and commissioned officers.  Personnel officers politely told him there weren't enough qualified college graduates in the nation to fill that quota, so the sheepskin requirement was quickly dropped.

In fact, the service produced more than 2,000 enlisted pilots from the World War I era through the early days of the Second World War.  And, until the early 1960s, it was possible for qualified men to enter pilot training--without a college degree--through the Aviation Cadet program, though they were commissioned upon graduation.

As we noted last month, the USAF could end its UAV pilot shortage by opening those jobs to enlisted members, or bringing back Warrant Officers and training them to operate Predators and Reapers.  It's no secret that Warrants form the backbone of Army helicopter units, handling most of flying duty, while a smaller cadre of commissioned officers serve in key leadership positions.  Most Army Warrants in a Blackhawk or Apache unit will tell you they're more than happy to fly the line, and let the Captains, Majors and Lieutenant Colonels endure the headaches associated with management.

The same concept could work just as well for the Air Force but unfortunately, the chances of enlisted personnel flying UAVs (or resurrecting the Warrant Officer ranks for those positions) equal those of me making an NFL roster: approximately zero.  Pilots run the USAF, for better or worse, and they're not about to let share the cockpit--or a UAV pilot console--with members of the Great Unwashed (and I say that as a former NCO).  It's bad enough an intel officer ran the 55th Wing at Offut a few years ago, and the just-retired Vice Chief of Staff (General Larry Spencer) came up through the comptroller ranks.

You see, the U.S.Air Force (and to a lesser degree, the Navy and Marine Corps) have definite ideas about who should be a pilot.  Enlisted members need not apply, even if it might solve chronic manning problems in fixed wing and UAV units.  Instead, the Air Force leadership will soldier on with its latest plan, hoping $135K will convince enough drone pilots to endure the conditions that are forcing so many to leave the service.                    



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Capitulation

Hearing news of the Iran deal this morning, I immediately thought of Winston Churchill and his dire warning from 1938, when European diplomats and political leaders were determined to appease another murderous regime, at any cost:

"You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

But who's worried about national honor?  Certainly not a President who bows and scrapes before foreign potentates, or utilizes various world forums to trash his own country's polices and history.  And certainly not a Secretary of State who "delivered" this accord by capitulating to Tehran at every turn, in his shameless pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize.  As Dr. Krauthammer keenly observed a few weeks back: "Obama wants a deal; Kerry wants the Nobel, and Iran wants a bomb.  All three will get what they want".

And the world will be a much more dangerous place in return.

As the Greek chorus in the mainstream media begin to sign the praises of this "deal," it is instructive to remember where the talks began, and how they morphed into a complete capitulation by the west.  At the onset, negotiations with Iran were supposed to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining a uranium enrichment capability.  A decade later, the agreement approved this morning does little more than "manage" Iran's entrance into the nuclear club--an event that will happen sooner, rather than later.

Consider these details from the accord, now being leaked to western media outlets, including the Washington Free Beacon:

- Iran will be permitted to continue spinning centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. Western powers will also work with Iran to help it install and operate more advanced centrifuges, according to those apprised of the deal (Note: some reports indicate that Tehran will be allowed to operate at least 6,000 centrifuges at any given time; the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control previously estimated that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium in two months, using the 9,000 centrifuges currently installed at its Natanz facility; the timeline would be accelerated using 1,000 advanced centrifuges now operating at that plant. So, for all the crowing about the "reduction" in Iranian centrifuges, Tehran's timeline for a breakout capability--using the enrichment track--has not been seriously impacted.

- Sanctions also will be lifted on Iran, including those on the country’s banks and financial sectors, which have long supported Iran’s nuclear program as well as its sponsorship of international terrorist groups.

- A United Nations embargo on arms will also be lifted within around five years as part of the deal, according to multiple reports.

- A similar embargo on the construction of ballistic missiles, which could carry a nuclear payload, also will expire in around eight years under the deal.

- Preliminary readings of the deal also indicate that Iran will be given the right to veto so-called “anywhere, anytime” inspections of its nuclear sites

- Iran also will be permitted for a time to keep its military sites off limits to inspectors, who have long been unable to confirm the past dimensions and scope of Iran’s nuclear weapons work.

But the good news for Iran's ruling clerics doesn't end there.  In return for its cooperation, Tehran will get sanctions relief and billions in frozen assets will be returned to the Islamic Republic, providing more resources to fund the nuclear program, or sponsor its terrorist proxies in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Iran is supposed to remain "at least one year away" from a nuclear capability for the next 10 years, a "gap" that can be easily overcome with a breakout effort which would yield at least one bomb in a matter of months.

And it doesn't take an arms control wonk to see the obvious holes in this accord.  For starters, there's the matter of trusting a regime that has broken virtually every international accord it has signed.  Only North Korea has a worse record of non-compliance, and it's quite evident that Tehran studied Pyongyang's hard-line negotiating tactics before reaching the deal with the U.S. and its western partners.  The Iranians learned that Washington will do anything for an agreement and if you stick to your guns, you'll get what you want--in this case, a pathway to a nuclear bomb.

Secondly, for a deal "built on verification" (as President Obama describes it), there is much we don't know about Iran's nuclear program, and our ability to gain that information appears limited.  As we noted previously, Tehran has been forced to declare a previously unknown nuclear site about every two years since 2000.  In each case, the discovery was made by Iranian opposition groups--not western intelligence agencies.  Iran has a very sophisticated denial and deception (D&D) program that has been very successful in masking its nuclear activities.  There is no reason to believe those efforts will not continue under the new accord.

In fact, it's quite reasonable to assume that Tehran has a parallel, "covert" nuclear program which could produce a bomb very quickly--if it hasn't already.  Many of the activities associated with building a nuclear weapon can be accomplished in nondescript facilities, with virtually no external signatures.  And, given our limited human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities in Iran, it's doubtful we have the assets needed to identify suspect facilities and guide collection from technical platforms.  Historically, we have long relied on Israeli intelligence and Iranian opposition elements for insights on Iranian leaders and their intentions.

Making matters worse, the "inspection veto" clause in the agreement will further limit our insight into Iran's nuclear activities.  That provision alone simply boggles the mind; a rogue nation, bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, will be allowed to determine which facilities cannot be inspected.  In those instances, Secretary Kerry might argue, the U.S. and its partners can rely on "national technical means" to keep tabs on Iranian sites.  That assumes, of course, that we actually know where to look and we have systems that can penetrate layers of concrete, steel and dirt--a tall order, even for the most advanced MASINT tools in the arsenal.

Readers will also note that Iran was not required to denounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right-to-exist, or address the plight of Americans currently being held by Tehran.  Those are separate issues, as Mr. Obama likes to say, that will be resolved at another time.  Translated: we're not going to discuss anything that might jeopardize the shining foreign policy "achievement" of the Obama Administration.

History records that Churchill's words in 1938 were prophetic.  Barely a year later, Europe was at war, paying a terrible price for years of indifference and inaction towards Hitler.  The timeline for conflict in the Middle East may be equally short.  Israel--with its national survival at stake--has no choice but to go after Iran, realizing it is truly alone.  Meanwhile, Iran's neighbors will scramble to get their own nuclear weapons, led by Saudi Arabia.

Having sown the wind to pad his legacy, Barack Obama will ensure that millions reap the nuclear whirlwind, in the Mid-East and beyond.  Not that he's actually concerned.  Having mastered the art of cowering, concessionary diplomacy, Mr. Obama figures the explosion--literally and figuratively--will occur after he leaves the White House.  At that point, he can take a break from the latest golf outing to criticize his successor for making such a hash of his sterling nuclear diplomacy.