Admin note

I’ve heard from some that they had problems registering to comment on the site. I think I’ve fixed this, so if you tried in the past and failed, try it again. After the fix yesterday, a few quickly commenting here.

Have a safe and happy new year!

Kent’s Imperative: Of PSDs and future assassinations

For year-end reading on private security companies, read this smart post by Kent’s Imperative:

It is no surprise that highly visible political targets under significant threat would seek the very best protection money could buy. Thus the news that Benazir Bhutto sought to obtain the services of a Blackwater protective security detail prior to her assassination is not entirely without precedent.

However, we are reminded of Mountainrunner’s admonition that private military companies play into US foreign policy overseas – and in particular, US public diplomacy – in a manner that few analysts or decision-makers take into account. Blackwater is among the most visibly associated with US engagements in the Long War – even though it plays a protective rather than offensive role. In the minds of many in the Gap, Blackwater is just another instrument of the United States itself….

It has long been a maxim that any political target can be taken by a sufficiently motivated suicidal attacker. While modern protective intelligence and operational TTPs have thankfully greatly reduced the margin of success for an attack, the PIRA’s warning to Lady Thatcher after the failed 1984 IED attack still haunts every practitioner: “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”…

Let us be clear, though – such issues need not arise from any impropriety on the part of the private contractor capability, be they intelligence officers or PSD operators. This is an emergent property of the current political and media atmosphere that has not yet reconciled to the business of privatized intelligence or PMCs – largely because of the continued illusion that the state can (or should) somehow magically still provide the range of capabilities demanded in the Long War….

Strategic communications, public affairs, and public diplomacy professionals that will have to deal with the consequences of such an incident in the future had best start preparing contingency planning for this sort of political football. It is only a matter of time – and of adversary kinetic and IO action.

The political football is already out there. The clock is already ticking for the media and the enemy to capitalize on the vulnerability made by private security forces, a similar vulnerability that led to their marginalization almost two hundred years ago. Private resources can be effective extensions, as they were to some in the past, but as the passive additions and extensions of foreign policy as they are today, they will increasingly a liability, as they were to others in the past.

Read the whole thing over at Kent’s Imperative.

What is the core of this gap discussion?

Dan of tdaxp continues his over-generalization in pursuit of scientific purity of independently verifiable variables. Called out on his overly broad statement about Bhutto’s death, Dan responds by claiming I reject the whole core-gap framework. This is another example of his painting by the widest brushstrokes possible, which despite his frequently smart analysis, is too often done when he analyzes conflict.

Continue reading “What is the core of this gap discussion?

Off Topic: Ironman & Blind Athletes

I finally watched the NBC coverage of the Hawaii Ironman today. Gotta say, as a finisher of four Ironmans (+ one DNF in my third IM, six weeks after my second, when my handlebars broke, putting me in the med tent), for the first time in many years I enjoyed the race coverage. 

However, more exciting was the attention paid to the blind triathlete who was supported by C-Different and the Los Angeles Triathlon Club. The nameless guide for the blind triathlete Charlie, who stayed at our house a few years ago for a local race, is a good friend of mine and the founder of C-Different: Matt Miller. Matt started C-Different and has helped many blind triathletes race the gamut of triathlon distances: sprint, olympic, half, and iron.

As a former guide, sponsor, and coach for C-Different (and as a founding, but retired, board member of the Los Angeles Triathlon Club, which co-sponsored Matt and Charlie at Kona), I can recommend C-Different as an organization worthy of your support, in whatever form you can.

Child Soldiers

A documentary version of P.W. Singer’s book Children at War will be on The History Channel on Dec. 29 at 7:00pm. Find it directly or, as Singer suggests, set your Tivo to search for “Child Warriors.” From Peter:

I have not actually seen this version (I consulted and interviewed for it, but have no final approval), so am just as interested as you to see how it turned out. I must say it has been fascinating to watch its evolution over the last year, from the perspective of an author as well as just media consumer. It started out a 2 hour version, with film crews going everywhere from Colombia to Nepal, gathering some amazing footage and interviews of child soldiers. But when they got back, the network decided that what they had gathered was too “depressing” (imagine that, a documentary about child soldiers didn’t turn out to be a pick me up) and so it was redone to a shorter version, following one former child soldier in particular, with a bit more of a “feel good ending.” In either case, it is great to see the stories get out there and hopefully, help bring some more needed attention to the issue.

Continue reading “Child Soldiers

Reactions to Bhutto

A young someone doesn’t recall (or forgets his reading of) the three decades of terrorism in Europe from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, or the impact of anarchists (the Islamic fundamentalists of the 1900’s +/-) on American politics. Instead, this friend of MountainRunner who has my respect, has clearly drunk too much of the 4GW Kool-Aid that all things are new and unique to our time.

thomaspmbarnett Another MountainRunner friend casts the destabilizing event as it should be: a political attack. Last I checked, Israel and Mexico were outside the gap, as is Russia, as well as others that have suffered politically motivated and destabilizing attacks.

By viewing this event as SOP, we might be inclined to write something like "blah blah blah" instead of a real analysis of the consequences. In our modern global environment, economic and physical insecurity provide a breeding ground for hate and isolationism that can easily travel outside the region on instant communication and transportation networks. We care what happened and must not dismiss the act as something it is not.

What will be the impact from her death? Nothing good, regardless how ruthless she was. Remember she had substantial public support and was one of two returning opposition leaders that were helping force change in Pakistan.

That said, I haven’t had the cycles to follow Pakistan closely enough to prognosticate what comes next, so I’ll punt this question to me over to Tom.

Update: another MR friend, Abu Muqawama has more immediate questions on his mind and a link to an interesting discussion.

Update II: Tom has his post up. There are other smart posts out there, see SWJ for a listing.


Yup, I agree with what he said, although that we need to learn the difference between speaking/listening and discourse and understand there are different ways of achieving our ends that actually produce deeper, longer lasting, and better solutions.

On the meat of Triplett’s article, I’ve seen Keith Reinhard’s presentation (which included a video of the Kiwi quoted in the article) and listened to him talk. I agree with Business for Diplomatic Action’s mission, but to focus on better Hollywood produced commercials for a national security imperative like public diplomacy is nationalizing "America, F*** Yeah!", only mellower.

But, let’s start with what Steve said and hope Jim changes the trajectory established by Karen Hughes and backburner’s Reinhard’s suggestion.

Off topic tip x 2

Two tips from today’s short trail run. When trail running and your blocked up sinuses cause your molars to ache with each hard foot fall, such as when you’re running down a steep downhill, try to run ‘softer’ by cushion each step. This is not the same as running slower, it is more about using your legs as shock absorbers. This not only reduces the impact in your head, but it’s good for the joints as well.

The second tip is while you’re running across, and down, technical terrain that requires your attention, don’t concentrate on the first tip too much lest you miss that sudden drop off, putting you in complete violation of tip #1…. I think I saw my dog smirking at my inability to multitask.

WaPo: Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq

There’s a decent article by Steve Fainaru in the Washington Post on the troubles of private security in Iraq:

The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight, according to government officials, private security firms and documents.

There nothing new in the article I haven’t written about before, but Fainaru’s article has a change in tone and perspective on the issue of privatization we’re likely to see more of. It seems we may be finally getting to the point where people realize private security companies themselves aren’t bad (note the quotes from Chris Beese of AEGIS), but their unchecked and irresponsible use that did more than permit but encouraged operations that violated basic requirements for successful counterinsurgency, perception management, and reconstruction and stabilization operations.

Fundamentally, private security companies are tools of American foreign policy, security policy, and public diplomacy, all deeply intertwined and interdependent practices, and thus must be under more than haphazard oversight by middle managers and few others. The mainstream media must start to investigate and discuss the blind eye of the principal (the U.S.) and spend less time on the "reckless" agent, the companies, who are paid and contracted and explicitly (or at worse implicitly) managed by USG or its own agents. With Fairnaru’s article, we should see the previously academic discussion over problems posed by bypassing Constitutional and Congressional oversight, in terms of both checks and balances and management, move into the mainstream in the new year.

See also:

Coming soon: a fatwa to promote tin foil hats so you don’t hear the wrong voice

MountainRunner friend Steve Corman has a post about a commercial application of the "voice of Allah" we learned about at a workshop earlier this year 

At a government workshop some time ago I head someone describe a new tool that was described as the “voice of Allah.” This was said to be a device that would operate at a distance and would deliver a message that only a single person could hear. The story was that it was tested in a conflict situation in Iraq and pointed at one insurgent in a group, who whipped around looking in all directions, and began a heated conversation with his compatriots, who did not hear the message. At the time I greeted this story with some skepticism.

Lo and behold, today I saw this item on CNET News:

The folks who heard the ad for A & E’s TV show “Paranormal State” emitted from a billboard in New York City’s Greenwich Village must have thought it was pretty weird. As they walked into the targeted area they were exposed to highly focused sound, picked up not by their ears, but by their skulls. The otherwise inaudible sound waves are experienced via bone conduction–the sound resonates inside the passerby’s head.

The system is being developed for commercial use by Holosonic Research Labs which besides the billboard stunt has installed systems at the Seattle Space Needle, at museums, and at Disney EPCOT center.

Here is a clip of an ABC news story about use of the technology in a CourtTV promotional campaign that has reactions from, um, victims that are amazingly like the one recounted about the insurgent.

Now, what if captured said insurgent, or similar, and measured his brainwaves to certain messages? Sound far-fetched? Not necessarily. Message Science is doing that now, at least domestically. I’m curious if they have the socio-cultural database to properly shape messages for effective counterinsurgency operations.

We use our own groundbreaking, cutting-edge, proprietary scientific technology, PerceptionMapper® brain mapping.  It is the only methodology of its type in the industry.  We can literally see your message hit the target in the brain.  We also use proven, conventional, cutting-edge psychological methods.

Perhaps these are both part of a PSYOP campaign to get insurgents and your everyday extreme religious nut to wear a tin foil hat to make them easier to identify. Question: will a the new headcovering change the impact of millimeter pain rays?

DoD to host an al-Qaeda Roundtable?

The other day Noah posted on an upcoming cyber town meeting with al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zahwahiri. Putting on one of these events can be challenging. Allowing one month for supporters and apostates alike to submit questions and you’d need Allah’s help.

Blogger wrangler Jack Holt, DoD’s Chief of New Media operations, has sense of the challenge. Jack is the mind and force behind DoD’s Blogger’s Roundtable and while he’s not running CNN/YouTube debates, he’s running multiple teleconferences a week, sometimes more than one a day, with participants around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. He understands as well as any the hurdles the As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media will face, even if As-Sahab is coordinating with Al-Fajr Center, as the announcement tells us.

So Jack told this blogger offline that he’d offer his toll-free number used for the Blogger Roundtables to host a Zahwahiri call in. Maybe this post will be read by #2’s public affairs officer and he’ll have his people talk to Jack’s people (will a DoD shortage of translators be a snag in the negotiations?).

My money is the questions for this cyber town meeting will be vetted better than they were for the CNN/YouTube debates.

On the topic of New Media, I’ll be at the Army War College next month for a workshop appropriately titled "New Media and the Warfighter" (pdf).

P.S. No doubt Walter Pincus would report from that transcript…

I might like you better if we slept together

048_eu_filmIs the EU reaching in, out, or around with this montage? From Fortune:

They don’t call it the European Union for nothing

To highlight its role as a patron of the arts, the EU posts a mashup on YouTube featuring two dozen sex scenes from movies it has funded, followed by the line, "Let’s come together."

This government propaganda video, below, is not work safe for sensitive American workplaces. This promotion has some unions you won’t find in the U.S. Department of State’s "Portraits of America".

DHS as Public Diplomat

From Jason:

Iceland Have you seen this dangerous woman? She came into JFK airport a week ago, and was shackled, jailed, and questioned for two days based on a past record. A record of menace… she overstayed her US visa more than 10 years ago. Meet… Erla Osk Arnardottir Lillendahl of Iceland.

Lillendahl, 33, had planned to shop and sightsee with friends, but endured instead what she has claimed was the most humiliating experience of her life.

She contended she was interrogated at JFK airport for two days, during which she was not allowed to call relatives. She said she was denied food and drink for part of the time, and was photographed and fingerprinted.

On Monday, Lillendahl claimed, her hands and feet were chained and she was moved to a prison in New Jersey, where she was kept in a cell, interrogated further and denied access to a phone.

She was deported Tuesday, she told reporters and wrote on her Internet blog.

Her story can be found, translated into English, at this blog site. The only thing I can think of is that when she said, "I am from Iceland," that the idiots at JFK thought she said "I am from Islam." The Icelandic government is demanding an apology, and frankly, she deserves one.