Ask Al Qaeda Anything!

Zawahiri2006All I can do is smirk at this. Clever. Will it succeed? Better than when we do it. From Noah:

Like me, I’m sure you’re filled with questions for Al Qaeda deputy dog Ayman al-Zahwahiri: Why are you so pissed off?  What’s your next diabolical plot?  Where can a Predator deliver a little present to you right now?  And what’s up with that big ol’ splotch on your forehead?

Well, now here’s your chance to ask ’em all.  The public, "have been asked to send in their questions for the terror network’s second in command, which he will then answer in an online interview next month," Australia’s informs us.

Continue reading “Ask Al Qaeda Anything!

Newsweek and its Special Guest Commentary

Iran’s public diplomacy is kicking it up a notch. News week just published a "Special Guest Commentary" written by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Shane sent an email to a few of us last night looking for comments and included a link to an interesting response from Not a Sheep. I think Not a Sheep’s commentary may be the standard reaction.

twa847hijackerandcaptain I have a few other thoughts on this. This Special Guest Commentary reminds me of another Iranian-linked media event: the hostage situation of TWA Flight 847.

Hizbollah’s hijacking of the flight 14 June 1985 put in motion a series of events you probably remember clearly if you’re old enough. The picture of the terrorist hanging out the window with the pilot as well as the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethern and the dumping of his body onto the tarmac.

Continue reading “Newsweek and its Special Guest Commentary

Monitoring what they say (and don’t)

Read Abu Muqawama:

Andrew Hammond, who speaks wickedly good Arabic and is a close friend of Abu Muqawama’s violent Pashtun flatmate, has an article up on the Reuters wire on the thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.* This is bad news for consumers of the Arabic-language media, because Qatar-owned al-Jazeera was one of the few places where you could read or see anything critical of the Saudi regime. Rich Saudi princes have bought controlling interests in pretty much every newspaper (al-Hayat, ash-Sharq al-Awsat, an-Nahar, etc.) and television station (al-Arabiyya, LBC, etc.) in the Arab world. So a country that sends hundreds of suicide bombers to Iraq to kill "Shia apostate dogs" (read = innocent civilians), provided 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers and spreads the most extreme interpretation of Islam through the Islamic world never has anything bad written or said about it in the Arabic-language media. Great.
*Abu Muqawama has never actually seen his flatmate do anything violent, but he is Pashtun and asks Abu Muqawama to post entries describing him as "violent" every so often in order to boost his "street cred" with the Islamist militants among whom he spends his days drinking tea.

MountainRunner around the Web

An opportunity to review what’s been posted on the site and what others are linking to. These are not typically the most popular posts for a given time, but somebody thought they were interesting enough to link to on their blog.   

Also, have you seen this post? Searching MountainRunner is even easier

Singer links the addiction: Steroids and Contractors

Guest posting at Danger Room, Peter Singer puts the problem of use into terms many more people can understand:

For the public, however, we should be thinking about this issue of contractors and steroids in another way. Our military’s use of the private military industry has become an addiction that parallels athletes’ increasing turn to artificial substances to get ahead. Just as a dose of steroids give athletes the ability to hit the ball further than ever before, so too has injecting more than 160,000 private military contractors into Iraq allowed the operation to perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult. It is for this reason that many see no problem with seeking that "competitive advantage," on either the playing field or the battlefield.  And, yet, short-term performance enhancement comes at a cost. Just as steroid use leads to side-effects that range from acne and heart damage to even death, the turn to more and more contractors has led to such results as billions of dollars missing in taxpayer funds, soldiers poached away from a stretched thin military, and contractors "Getting Away with Murder," as one recent report on the industry was entitled. 

As 2007 comes to a close, both sports and the military must figure out a larger question, however. Many of these addictions’ side effects may prove to be manageable, or at least pushed back under the table, be it through new designer drugs or various new laws and policies. And yet, we cannot get around the fact that even if we were able to solve the side effects that come with our new addictions, something about just accepting them doesn’t settle right.

And, for a point of irony:

[Blackwater arranged] for its private military parachute team to serve as the halftime show at the upcoming Armed Forces Bowl (how’s that for irony?) football game in Fort Worth.

Go read the whole thing.

See also:

Monitoring What You Say

In 1948, 70-75% of Voice of America broadcasts were outsourced.  The National Broadcasting Corporation, now more commonly known as NBC, had complete control over the broadcasts it produced and sold to VOA.  For a radio series named “Know North America,” its purpose clearly established by its name, NBC hired a Cuban author and a Venezuelan supervisor to produce the series in Spanish for Latin America.
In one episode, a Latin American is shown around Cheyenne, Wyoming, and told the history of the state by a guide.

Tourist: “Do we still have Indians in Wyoming?”
Guide: “Yes…Our Indian maidens run in races dressed in nothing but feathers.”

In another episode on Texas, the Latin American asks, “Don’t you have a saying that Texas was born in sin but New England was born in hypocrisy?”

Needless to say, NBC and CBS, who had a similar arrangement with VOA, lost their contracts and VOA took full control over their products.

Fast forward to the present and to a post by Mike Waller at his Political Warfare blog about a music video titled “DemoKracy” by a Swedish-Iranian band.

From Mike:

The “reporter,” shown at right holding the microphone in the first part of the video, is the VOA employee, Melody Safavi, whose married name is Arbabi. This blogger has learned that VOA fired her after an Iranian former political prisoner filed a complaint to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, but her husband Saman Arbabi, who directed the video, reportedly is still on VOA staff. …

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which governs VOA, has long denied problems with its controversial Iran services. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has been raising concerns for a year about the broadcasts to the Islamic republic, but the BBG and State Department were dismissive. Last spring, this blogger also submitted a set of written questions to outgoing Under Secretary of State Hughes at the request of a senior aide, and received a written response that ignored or evaded the answers. It’s time for BBG and State to catch up with the new leadership at RFE/RL and tackle the larger problems of US broadcasting into Iran.

I think Mike gives too much credit to BBG being able to sort anything out (although with James Glassman’s pending appointment to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, it may not matter what the BBG could do). The BBG has a history of denying problems.  The same goes for Karen Hughes.

The real issue here is the trust the Congress has of the BBG and its operations. This same concern is what led to the establishment of what was then called the Advisory Committee on Radio Programming and is now known as the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  How then to establish the trust and credibility of the BBG with the Congress?  This would include establishing the baseline on the purpose and allowances for the BBG’s operations.


Something’s stirring under the water

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates threw out the first pitch in his Kansas State University speech. This week, with the HELP Commission report, the bat made solid contact with the ball. The report (PDF) recommends revamping America’s primary institutions of engagement and frequently cites military-led public diplomacy efforts like development and communications that fill “the vacuum created by our broken system.” While focusing on foreign assistance, it recognizes development and financial assistance are linked, trade policies, non-governmental actors, and public diplomacy. 

For far too long our overseas assistance has been haphazard and missing the collective (and enterprising) power the United States could, and in the past did, bring to bear in struggling, and by definition contested, areas.

I applaud the Commission’s work and recommendations for change, but I have not had the chance to read the report thoroughly. From what I have read, I am mostly in agreement and certainly less tepid about the recommendations than MountainRunner friend Steve Corman.

On the super-size question, I agree with the dissenters, and for the same reasons, that we must have an independent, cabinet level Department of International Development like the United Kingdom. It must have a separate public diplomacy agency that conducts and advises on communications and interactions, similar to the 1950’s USIA.

However, super-sizing State is not the way to go. Certainly State must be made larger with substantially more funded and reorganized to match current security and global economy realities, but development and communications should be split out and made into their own cabinet level agencies. State’s personnel system must also be revamped to provide for more training, floats, and cross-culture billets to the Pentagon or other agencies. 

I am particularly pleased to see the (obvious) recommendation to strengthen State’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, but that’s for another post. See this Small Wars Journal discussion board on this topic for a hint of an overdue post that’s coming. 

Change is in the air and something is there’s movement below the surface. What’s next? Will it accompany the formal announcement of James Glassman?

Searching MountainRunner is even easier

If you use the GoogleToolbar like I do, and if you search this blog like I do, then the MountainRunner toolbar button is for you.


Typing in the search box and then clicking the dog will search the blog or you can simply go to the home page by clicking the dog or, it gets better, click the drop arrow and read the news feed. No Ginsu knives, however.

To install, click here. I’ve submitted it to the Google button gallery as well.

I’m happy to share the incredibly easy steps w/ anyone or read about it here to dispel rumors of my technical prowess.

Now that that high priority project is out of the way…

Understanding the village

Kent’s Imperative describes some multi-use software that is interesting to me and probably of interest to some of you:  

The following piece from Marginal Revolution catches our attention as yet another example of the growing utility of interdisciplinary approaches to those aspects of the intelligence that have not been traditionally served by the national and technical collection apparatus.

The tool is strikingly simple – a piece of software designed to ease data collection and processing burdens for studying epidemics in developing nations. The package will run on common mobile phone platforms, typically ubiquitous in such environments – or otherwise exceptionally cheap to obtain and circulate. Strategic communication branding, anyone?

The potential applications however go far beyond epidemiology – or even other aspects of medical intelligence. We can immediately see a use for such a tool in a number of information operations, civil affairs, and cultural intelligence settings – not to mention any of the political intelligence activities that require survey information. Less obvious mechanisms for overt human derived reporting also suggest themselves, given a degree of preparation and planning.

There are distinct limitations to what might be accomplished using this approach, but with those limitations in mind it is quite possible to develop new and innovative collection programs leveraging this capability against the kinds of questions it may suitably answer. This is precisely the kind of experimentation – and extensible designs – that ought to be coming out of the intelligence studies academia, in support of forward deployed intelligence professionals.


Give peace a chance, contribute a book to the COIN Academy

Abu Muqawama and the Small Wars Journal are spearheading a book drive for the new U.S. Army Counterinsurgency (COIN) Academy in Afghanistan.

SWJ and AM have decided to aid in building the library with a little help from our friends. We e-mailed the COIN Academy requesting their reading list. They responded with titles of books and movies that once in hand would go a long way in establishing a world-class COIN library.

To streamline our effort we have set up the Afghanistan COIN Library page on Amazon.

The books and movies you purchase there and send on to Afghanistan will seed the COIN Academy’s library with a few titles that will allow the staff to better appreciate history, culture, and insurgency in Afghanistan. Eventually the titles will make their way to the library of the Afghan Defense University of which the COIN Academy will become a part. The shipping address (while hidden at Amazon) is direct to the Academy and we will track to ensure your book or movie makes it way to Afghanistan.

Hmm, I wonder if one of these would be helpful?

Social engineering through flirting, robot flirting

Interesting story at CNET (h/t Kurzweil): 

Those entering online dating forums risk having more than their hearts stolen.

A program that can mimic online flirtation and then extract personal information from its unsuspecting conversation partners is making the rounds in Russian chat forums, according to security software firm PC Tools.

The artificial intelligence of CyberLover’s automated chats is good enough that victims have a tough time distinguishing the "bot" from a real potential suitor, PC Tools said. The software can work quickly too, establishing up to 10 relationships in 30 minutes, PC Tools said. It compiles a report on every person it meets complete with name, contact information, and photos.

Heritage on Smith-Mundt

I read through Juliana Geran Pilon’s Smith-Mundt article and I agree with Kim Andrew Elliott’s assessment that it has little to do with Smith-Mundt (for background on Smith-Mundt, see my post at Small Wars Journalpart one and one-half is here, part II is forthcoming).

While her intentions are laudable, her examples miss the point and her arguments conflate description of action with the action itself. In the end, she ironically she seems to be making the same arguments that brought about Smith-Mundt in the first place.

Continue reading “Heritage on Smith-Mundt

Off the cuff: Part 1.5 of What the SecDef Didn’t Say

“Today, American public diplomacy wears combat boots.” This is how I started the post the Small Wars Journal that intentionally implied more than it stated. In an era when fewer Americans know a soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman, the global audience increasingly shapes their opinion by our armed forces. While this irony is seemingly lost on our chief diplomat, Condoleezza Rice, and our chief public diplomat, Karen Hughes, it fortunately isn’t lost on Mr. Gates. Also not lost on Mr. Gates is the importance of information in today’s struggle over minds and wills. As I’ve written elsewhere, increased information asymmetry decreases the fungibility of force. The recent U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual understands that, although it does not use these words to say so. What we need is less of a focus on precision-guided munitions and greater attention on precision-guided media.

Continue reading “Off the cuff: Part 1.5 of What the SecDef Didn’t Say

Computer problems…

…are not fun. The hard drive in my newest Dell laptop failed this morning and won’t boot with several different error codes including this fun one: Uncorrectable data error or media is write protected. The last backup was Friday night, but between then and this morning, but a lot of work (including a final paper for one of my last classes, fortunately it was submitted yesterday) and correspondence created between then and earlier this morning has seemingly been lost.

Because of this, posting will be delayed until Dell follows through on the “Next Day” support I paid for.

Topics I’m working on (and will post when I can):

  • Part II of my Smith-Mundt article that goes to the points discussed with some in off-line correspondence. (Did you see the Heritage Foundation article on Smith-Mundt that went up today? Timing is everything…)
  • A post on another call with Major General Doug Stone, chief of detainee (not ‘prisoner’) operations in Iraq. Stone’s doing some great things, which I’ll write about soon.
  • A post on S/CRS and the Civilian Response Corps following up on an interesting discussion yesterday about S/CRS and CRC.

At present, I’m working off my old Dell, a laptop (now used for my IT consulting work which apparently I’ll be doing most of today) that has had the CPU replaced twice, the system board replaced three times, the hard drive replaced three (or four?) times, screen replaced once, and outer plastics replaced once. The new laptop, about as old as my daughter, 8 weeks, seems to want to catch up w/ the old laptop. I’m not happy. Not happy at all.

I’m thinking an HP for the next go round, an acquisition that might be sooner than later…

DoD PD vs DoS PD

From Kim Andrew Elliott:

Defense Department public diplomacy versus State Department public diplomacy: has the invasion of turf begun?

"The United States has also lost several tools that were central to winning the Cold War. Notably, U.S. institutions of public diplomacy and strategic communications — both critical to the current struggle of ideas against Islamic radicalism — no longer exist. Some believed that after the fall of the Soviet Union such mechanisms were no longer needed and could even threaten the free flow of information. But when the U.S. Information Agency became part of the State Department in 1999, the country lost what had been a valuable institution capable of communicating America’s message to international audiences powerfully and repeatedly." Donald Rumsfeld, Washington Post, 2 December 2007. Discussion of public diplomacy aspects of the U.S. Navy’s relief efforts in parts of Bangladesh affected by tropical storm Sidr. Department of Defense transcript, 30 November 2007. "Major Brian Yarbrough, who, until recently headed up all [PSYOP] work in Anbar province, told me, ‘We operate within [PSYOP] objectives determined in Washington. Baghdad draws up the supporting objectives. Then we work out specific themes and actions.’" Noah Shachtman, Wired Danger Room blog, 30 November 2007. See previous posts on 29 November and 27 November about same subject.

No time for my comment now, but read Rumsfeld’s WaPo contribution and I’ll be back later. Talk amongst yourselves…

(H/T CH)

Slight delay in posting… but stay tuned

While I haven’t put anything up here since linking to my article on Small Wars Journal’s blog doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. I’ve been working offline responding on that article, clarifying it, and prepping a follow up article. No specifics on when that will be ready, but hopefully Dave @ SWJ will post that as well. Other stuff is in the works as well, so stay tuned. I may have something up tonight, but definitely tomorrow, not on Smith-Mundt, but on some other topics you may be interested in, including a post on my call with General Doug Stone this morning (see this post for a hint of what’s coming) as well as a post on S/CRS and the Civil Response Corps.