Discussing Smart Power

There is a new blog in town: SmartPowerBlog.org. The concept of Smart Power is the dynamic and active blending of hard and soft power to achieve an outcome that is not possible otherwise. This concept is discussed frequently, but the term Smart Power is new. Smart Power could be like a stereo equalizer with independent sliders adjusting this way and that way with the listener hearing just the right thing.

From the introductory post on SmartPowerBlog.org:

What Is Smart Power?
Smart power is the exercise of hard power and soft power in complementary ways that advances the goals of an entity. Usually those entities are national governments, but other levels of government and non-governmental actors also wield both, and seek smart power to achieve their goals….

Why Smart Power Now?
There are two reasons to hold a serious conversation about ‘smart power’ now. First, and most obviously, the failures of the war in Iraq and the efforts to combat terrorism have provoked across the political spectrum, in the United States and around the world, an intense and widespread debate about how best to balance the power to coerce and the power to persuade.

Second, beyond the conjunctural provocations of Iraq and counter-terrorism, there may be a more fundamental reason to pay attention to soft power’s intersections with hard power….Networks flourish, especially as democracy diffuses through once-authoritarian lands and people seek new outlets for their new-found empowerment.

Washington Times book review: public diplomacy in the “Global War on Terror”

Losing Hearts and MindsJoshua Sinai reviews Losing Hearts and Minds?: Public Diplomacy and Strategic Influence in the Age of Terror in the Washington Times this week. It’s interesting, and a good sign, that from within the defense establishment (the book’s author is a professor at the Naval War College and was previously with the National Security Council) and presumably somebody more aware of the value of hard power, should come out and speak to the need for and value of soft power. What would be nice is to have somebody on the soft power side come over and say the same thing about the need for and value of hard power.

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TV: DHS and Contractors

Armchair Generalists commentary on Michael Chertoff recent statement reminded me of a recently rebroadcast episode of Numb3rs. In this episode, a DHS chief is running scripted large counterterrorism drills in Los Angeles but a drill is infiltrated and the drill’s “cast” are gassed (non-lethal) to prove a point. The chief is adamant about continuing, saying similar things as Chertoff. Ultimately, the guys pulling off the attacks (there are other incidents) are former US SF tiger teams with a vendetta against the chief. Why? Because the chief was a contractor in Iraq in charge of base security, which was also penetrated and SF lives were lost as a result.

Nice commentary on both DHS “posturing” and contractors in one episode.

Encryption and the Terrorists

Interesting stuff over at the Counterterrorism Blog:

On January 1, 2007, the pro-terrorist group, “Global Islamic Media Front” (GIMF) announced the “imminent release” of what they called “the first Islamic computer program for secure exchange on the Internet.” Some Western websites that track online terrorist activity reported on the GIMF announcement, but it has otherwise not received any serious media attention. iDefense/VeriSign has since found a copy of this program, “Mujahedine Secrets,” on a pro-terrorist Arabic language forum and has begun analyzing its capabilities and assessing what its impact will be….

The “Mujahedine Secrets” encryption program offers terrorists and their sympathizers several key features, some of which are common features of PGP programs that are currently available elsewhere as well as other features that appear to be new. Technical analysis is ongoing and will be assessed in future iDefense reporting. Most importantly, this program is an executable application that does not need to be installed onto a PC and can be used with a USB drive. According to iDefense Middle East analyst Andretta Summerville, “the program’s ‘portability’ as an application (not requiring installation) will become an increasingly desirable feature, especially considering the high use of Internet cafés worldwide by pro-terrorist Islamic extremists.” The use of the ‘Mujahedine Secrets’ on a portable USB drive will offer additional anonymity to those who use the program, which may make it increasingly difficult or even impossible for investigators to track down the source of activity further than the Internet café itself.

Due to the strong “marketing” campaign of the program by the Global Islamic Media Front in Arabic-language forums, specifically on hacker and pro-terrorist forums, “Mujahedine Secrets” is likely to reach a broad audience of pro-terrorist supporters online and Arabic-speaking hackers….

Influencing public opinion

An interesting story in the New York Times today about an Iraqi pirate satellite station, Al Zawra:

The video starts with a young American soldier patrolling an Iraqi street. His head is obscured by leaves, so a red target is digitally inserted to draw the viewer’s eye. A split second later, the soldier collapses, shot. Martial music kicks in, a jihadi answer to John Philip Sousa. The time and place of the attack scrolls at the bottom of the screen.

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“No End in Sight”, a movie looking at the making of the Iraq we know now

At Sundance there’s a new movie from a political science professor / web software developer who sold his company to Microsoft for millions, that looks to be the big screen cross between Rajiv Chandraskaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (see my review here) and Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

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Two GAO Reports of interest released today

Briefly, two interesting reports were issued today by the General Accountability Office (GAO). The first is on rebuilding Iraq (and thus related to counterinsurgency) and the other on DoD outsourcing (and thus privatization of force). I’m going through them now and may comment on them here later.

In assessing acquisition outcomes, we found that DOD often entered into contract arrangements with unclear requirements, which posed additional risks to the government. DOD also lacked the capacity to provide sufficient numbers of contracting, logistics, and other personnel, thereby hindering oversight efforts.

Numerous persistent problems have resulted in reduced efficiencies and effectiveness and have exposed DOD to unnecessary risks when acquiring services. Knowing the defense acquisition landscape helps put the magnitude of these problems in perspective—

• DOD’s obligations on service contracts have jumped from $82.3 billion in fiscal year 1996 to $141.2 billion in fiscal year 2005.

• DOD’s acquisition workforce has been downsized during this time frame without sufficient attention to requisite skills and competencies.

These events have occurred as DOD has become more reliant on contractors to provide services for DOD’s operations and as longstanding problems with contract management continue to adversely impact service acquisition outcomes. The lack of sound business practices—poorly defined requirements, inadequate competition, inadequate monitoring of contractor performance, and inappropriate uses of other agencies’ contracts and contracting services—exposes DOD to unnecessary risk and wastes resources. Moreover, DOD’s current management structure to oversee service acquisition outcomes has tended to be reactive and its processes suffer from the absence of several key elements at both a strategic and transactional level.

To produce desired outcomes, DOD and its contractors need to clearly understand acquisition objectives and how they translate into a contract’s terms and conditions. GAO has found cases in which the absence of well-defined requirements and clearly understood objectives complicates efforts to hold DOD and contractors accountable for poor service acquisition outcomes. Likewise, obtaining reasonable prices depends on the benefits of a competitive environment, but we have continually reported on cases in which DOD sacrificed competition for the sake of expediency. Monitoring contractor performance to ensure DOD receives and pays for required services is another control we have found lacking. Many of these problems show up in DOD’s use of other agencies’ contracts or contracting services, which adds complexity as the number of parties in the contracting process increases.

DOD has taken some steps to improve its management of services acquisition, and it is developing an integrated assessment of how best to acquire services. DOD leadership will be critical for translating this assessment into policy and, most importantly, effective frontline practices. At this point, however, DOD does not know how well its services acquisition processes are working, which part of its mission can best be met through buying services, and whether it is obtaining the services it needs while protecting DOD’s and the taxpayer’s interests.

Visualizing connectivity, civilization, readers of this blog

Wiggins @ Opposed Systems Design posted a graphic of “internet black holes” from Reporters without Borders (RSF) today. I thought it would be interesting to contrast the RSF imagery with some others, especially after I just had an email exchange with someone about connections to this blog from some surprising locations.

The RSF image, the top image below (see global image here), has a certain amount of synchronicity with the middle image (from NASA) of “civilization” around the world based on the assumption that light pollution visible from space indicates a technologically advanced society. RSF’s map ignores function in favor of media access. Regions with heavy telecommunications penetration are considered “black holes” because of government censorship with examples like Iran and China. However, RSF apparently believes Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen aren’t such backwaters, after all government censorship is absent, well so is any real substantive government in the region. Is internet connectivity in Aden really better than in China?

The bottom image is the ClustrMaps mapping of hits from Asia on MountainRunner YTD (1 Jan through 11 Jan 06). I seem to get a few hits from what the RSF calls darkness and what the NASA shows as civilization, examples: China and Iran. Interestingly, I also get hits from what I’d really call the wilderness, the Horn of Africa, but RSF says is a wonderful place of “internet connectivity”.

The title of their map is misleading. This isn’t a map of Les Trous Noirs du Web, it’s a map of government censorship, which is what the rollover text for Les Trous Noirs explain. This isn’t the first time they failed to fully contextualize the issue and go dramatic. Neat picture though, although I don’t buy it’s a real network map.

Somalia: what was happening last year about this time?

With all that is the happening in the Horn right now, I thought I’d revisit some of my posts from last year this time on Somalia and the Horn. It won’t fully answer the question Why Somalia? but it will shed some light. I apologize for the year old info in advance, I don’t have the time right now to update these posts but it is still useful background.

Back in November 2005, the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) of Somalia signed an interesting $55m contract (the post notes $50m but later info showed it was slightly higher). Why? Ostensibly as a response to the attack on the cruise ship, Seabourn Spirit, a few weeks before. This whole thing was fishy, between the attackers needing a mother ship to mount the blue water attack to what was a civilian cruise ship doing with military grade hardware that is illegal under international maritime law. More came out on this, which I wrote about in an obscenely long post that questions various potential backers of TopCat (SOCOM? OGA? idiots?), looks at Congressional oversight and US arms trade laws (the value of the contract was a red flag requiring Congressional authorization, a lower value and State, i.e. Executive Branch, could authorize itself), provides some background on PMCs, and some other points.

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Forecasting the private security industry

As Bush, as well as the Pentagon, reverses some of the former SecDef Rumsfeld’s plans for the military, what will happen with what has become routinized outsourcing of shooters? Based on the President’s response to a question on private military companies in April 2006 and declaring changes to the military in his mea culpa last night that completely go against Rumsfeld’s vision (upsizing the force, so-called “nation-building”, and basic understanding and requirement of counterinsurgency), something should change with regards to the ad hoc, loosely monitored, possibly illegal, and maybe nothing more than ghost and rumor:

Tina Ballard, an undersecretary of the Army, testified in September that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or its subcontractors to carry weapons or guard convoys. Ballard testified that Blackwater provided no services for Halliburton or its subcontractors.

Not too surprisingly, President Bush did not mention the contractors in Iraq. It’s too much like a line item issue, politically hot, and unnecessary to bring into the discussion from the Administration’s point of view. However, I suspect that without Rumsfeld, along with a Congress that’s getting its balls back and looks to see to its responsibility of military oversight.

In 1812, both were in short supply when the US went to war against Britain. With a navy outnumbered by almost 10 to 1, Congress granted the President the authority to “issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marquee and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States.” Congress, in granting the President this authority, gave specific instructions on compensation and, more importantly, monitored the privateers as Congress was keenly aware of the impact on public diplomacy and foreign policy these raiders would have. We need to have this participation and awareness today to return to a democratic use of force.

Between the oversight Congress may reclaim, reactions to contract abuse, the further erosion of the “surge” argument, smart counterinsurgency taking root, and other “distasteful”, in the mind of the former SecDef, things, I would be surprised that the next go ’round we have the same heavy reliance on contractors, but I don’t think we’ll see a wholesale cut back in Iraq now. While some contractors have expressed joy with the President’s speech, hopeful for more contracts, I doubt these will materialize. But that will be the test, won’t it?

Part II – Success in Iraq

Following up on my post yesterday suggesting eleven steps for success in Iraq, I offer two pictures related to the Little Americas step and cultural awareness and image management. 

Above is of the coronation of Amir Faysal as King of Iraq in 1921. Note the prominence of the British military. Further, what is not captured in the picture the British anthem “God Save the King” playing in the background as Faysal received his crown. How well do you think this would play today in a world of cell phone cameras, SMS, and the web, not to mention print and broadcast modes.

Now, what about this picture of Faysal, two years before his coronation in Paris? How might this picture convey a different message than the one above?

For starters, T.E. Lawrence is behind Faysal and wearing Arab headdress. Further, an Iraqi (or rather a guy to become known as an Iraqi) is right there, with possibly another behind him and yet another Arab apparently barely in the frame. Western presence is minimized even though they are in Paris.

Observations on AFRICOM & new CENTCOM

From Eddie, of FDNF & now Hidden Unities, is Doing Wrong by Doing Right on the creation of a new Africa Command.

From Huck-Eye View is the selection of Admiral Fallon to lead CENTCOM. HEV comments on some of the thinking on milblogs. Not in the commentary is that he would accept the job, which a previous candidate would not due to Rumsfeld’s insistence on a direct report of the Iraq Theater commander. Perhaps Gates isn’t going to be as insistent?

Incidentally, Michael Weiss, writing on Slate, casts MountainRunner as a Milblog… I never really thought of MR as a Milblog.

The Book ATM: recreating America’s Corners

American public diplomacy has suffered as USIA libraries have shuttered around the world, replaced with anemic “America’s Corners” stuffed away and hidden. Perhaps this book ATM would be a valuable and useful augmenter of substantially reduced connections with foreign publics. This would also make it easier to provide alternative language versions of American and European texts at a substantially reduced cost, making Mark Twain & others more accessible, in Arab, Asian, African, and South American countries.

Imagine if State’s ACCESS Micro Scholarships, a program begun on a $34,000 shoestring budget in Morocco and since expanded to at least 43 countries and affecting more than 9000 people, had one of these at each of their locations? This is, in reality, an incremental cost increase, especially from the perspective of DoD budgets. 

From Fortune Small Business / CNN:

Buying a book could become as easy as buying a pack of gum. After several years in development, the Espresso – a $50,000 vending machine with a conceivably infinite library – is nearly consumer-ready and will debut in ten to 25 libraries and bookstores in 2007. The New York Public Library is scheduled to receive its machine in February.

The company behind the Espresso is called On Demand Books, founded by legendary book editor Jason Epstein, 78, and Dane Neller, 56, but the technology was developed six years ago by Jeff Marsh, who is a technology advisor for New York City-based ODB (ondemandbooks.com).

The machine can print, align, mill, glue and bind two books simultaneously in less than seven minutes, including full-color laminated covers. It prints in any language and will even accommodate right-to-left texts by putting the spine on the right. The upper page limit is 550 pages, though by tweaking the page thickness and type size, you could get a copy of War and Peace (albeit tough to read) if you wanted.

(Hat tip KurzweilAI.net)

Flash: Private Security Contractors are now culpable for their actions

From P.W. Singer, writing at DefenseTech:

Amidst all the add-ins, pork spending, and excitement of the budget process, it has now come out that a tiny clause was slipped into the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2007 budget legislation. The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that “Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war’ and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation’.” The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).

I’m amazed at Singer’s hyping of these five little words. It is folly to say the reason contractors haven’t been prosecuted for things ranging from the so-called ‘Aegis Trophy Video’ to possibly killing an Iraqi Presidential Guard in the International Zone on Christmas Eve is because Iraq is a “contingency operation.” Seriously.

Let’s look at the Aegis video. After the video broke, there was an investigation that resulted in a lengthy document, half of which was an appendices. The Pentagon declared Aegis to be off the hook. FOIA requests for the document went no where because the document belonged to the contractor, a private enterprise, and not the government. Going to Aegis was a dead-end as Aegis claimed it was proprietary knowledge and wasn’t about it share it. Despite claims no one knew who was in the car, the South Africans, who have tough (and constantly revised and updated) anti-mercenary laws, know how to find out who was in the car and arrested one of the two back seaters who was SA (all Aegis personnel have GPS locators… for example of a competitor system, check out Track24).

Ok, so the Pentagon says “there’s nothing wrong” without UCMJ coverage, you think they’ll change their tune when there is? They already have a more powerful coercive mechanism available they could use if they cared: money.

Singer hits the fault of the logic when he cites the incredible (obtuse? ignorant?) testimony of the Under Secretary of the Army who said “contractors? I don’t see no stinking contractors” (or something similar, I may be paraphrasing here).

There is no gap in the law because there will always be a gap in the law. Look at the application of the UCMJ at Abu Gharib. 

Contractors aren’t held to account (neither are military officers for that matter if want to consider effective and intelligence counter-insurgency… and hey let’s consider the complete abdication of common sense in the CPA while we’re at it…) because of political reasons, which is the whole reason they are there to begin with.

Why were 20,000 contractors serving in Iraq when President Bush donned his flight suit? Because upsizing the force to provide necessary person, convoy, and site protection was politically unattractive, so let’s hire handsome guards to protect the Viceroy (yes, they were screened for their looks) & shooters for the truckers.

It’s about politics. If there is one more prosecution in Iraq of a contractor (which according to Viceroy Bremer’s Order 17, yet to be overturned, is a protected class, immune from Iraqi law), that will be, what, a 100% increase over the duration of the 3+ “contingency operation”. Or is 3yrs of “contingency operations” and a only a few months of “war”?