American Intelligence Community Horror Story #4786

For a change of pace, instead of hammering on State, we’ll hammer on the bureaucracy. Go to Afghanistanica and read American Intelligence Community Horror Story #4786:

Not enough experts, hmm? Nobody can speak the languages? The government needs people with area knowledge? Well, of course they do. And there is of course a shortage of available people with the required skill set. So why are so many experts being turned down for employment? You can find this debate discussed ad nauseum elsewhere. Instead I will share a little story about an acquaintance who was turned away by the bureaucracy of the United States government.

SIGMA follow-up

Long over-due post following up on SIGMA, the science fiction writers group started by Arlan Andrews to consult to the government previously blogged about here.

I had the opportunity to chat with Arlan Andrews about SIGMA. Here’s what he had to say. 

MountainRunner: What’s the story behind the missing SIGMA website? Some bloggers have questioned why it doesn’t exist.

Arlan Andrews: The main reason SIGMA has no website is that I haven’t gotten around to it, though I am the owner of eight or ten different domains, and have owned probably thirty over the past ten years (and sold a few at a profit!).

Fact is, I never saw the need for such a site, as, so far, e-mail and personal contact have sufficed for the very few needs we ever had, and there was never any intention to publicize SIGMA outside of possible government users.  When the opportunities arose in D.C., some of us even discussed whether we wanted any PR and then decided, what the hell, let it happen.  What’s the worst that can happen?

MR: Ok, so no website, what about a blog?

AA: I may start a website for potential agencies to peruse, but no way am I going to have a SIGMA blog anytime soon; what I’ve read in the b-sphere about DHS and SIGMA reveals so much ignorance and conspiracy orientation that there is little room to discuss anything.  Besides, most of us have private lives and limited time.

As one government official told me, “It’s amazing that the institutions that should disparage SIGMA (Congress, the dinosaur media) generally approve of the concept, but the so-called free-thinkers in the blogosphere are trashing it.  Makes you wonder.”

MR: At the DHS Science & Technology conference recently, SIGMA members in attendance included Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Sage Walker, Eric Kontani, and of course yourself. Are there other SIGMA members?

AA: Other SIGMA members include Doug Beason, David Brin, Greg Benford and Stan Schmidt, editor of ANALOG, all of whom didn’t attend the DHS meetings for various reasons.

MR: Are you limiting SIGMA membership in anyway?

AA: After the D.C. event, and even before, we had decided to bring in other SF writers, and those invitations went out from me yesterday, potentially doubling the size of the group.  The idea is not to exclude anyone — almost every SF writer has great ideas — but to keep this group at a manageable size and see how it works if it doubles.  Some of the writers’ whose names were mentioned in your blog may have been invited, or may not have been.  Those people will handle their responses as they see fit.  SIGMA is strictly voluntary in all respects; anyone can decline any potential tasking for any reason, no questions asked.

MR: What are you accomplishing with SIGMA?

AA: Well we had the chance actually to get some [science fiction-based] ideas into the minds of the government decision-makers and funders, and we did so.  We will continue to do so.  We will help protect you and your families as well as our own.

MR: What do you think about the disparaging comments on SIGMA’s assistance to the Government?

AA: I feel no need to defend the desire to protect the lives and welfares of our citizens.  I might remind the wingnuts out there on both sides (and I know some of each, and have already argued with them  on the phone and in person) that some of the DHS component organizations include the Coast Guard (anything wrong with helping them in Search and Rescue?), Customs (anything wrong with suggesting ways to prevent drugs, weapons, biotoxins from coming in?), FEMA (none of us is happy with FEMA — but wouldn’t everyone love the opportunity to help straighten them out?), TSA (want to minimize those annoying inspections?  So did we!), and commercial aircraft defense (want to prevent the airplane you’re riding in from being shot down during takeoff and landing?  So do we.)

Update: Greg Baer was on John Stewart June 21, 2007. H/T Kathryn.

Being Knowledgeable

There are two good stories in the Primary Sources section of this month’s Atlantic (subscription required). The first is a summary of a recent Pew survey that indicates

most knowledgeable Americans were those who got their news from the Web sites of major papers and those who watched programs like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show; they correctly answered 54 percent of the questions about current affairs, while regular viewers of local TV news and network morning shows got only about 35 percent right….

And while it’s hard to know which sources provide the best information, the report notes that well-informed people gather their news from an average of 7.0 sources—more than the average of 4.6.

The second is about being knowledgeable about the “enemy”. To understand any adversary you need to get inside their head. This is true for sports, business, and war (which are all related concepts sharing a common vocabulary of course). In a story about detecting lying, a behavior frequently accompanying by tells, those who worked with the subject culture, in this case kids, scored higher than those who did not.

The researchers selected a group of preschoolers and left each of them seated alone in a room, asking them not to peek at a toy that was behind them, out of their view. The researchers videotaped their actions, then asked each child, “Did you peek?” The responses were shown to 64 adults selected from summer courses at Rutgers University, who were asked to determine whether each child was telling the truth. The adults’ scores varied widely—they were right 12 percent to 84 percent of the time—but their average score was just 41 percent; chance alone would have given them 50 percent. (Most adults, including parents, erred on the side of suspicion, believing some children were lying when they were being honest.) But one group of adults—those who work with children professionally, including teachers and child psychologists—routinely outperformed the rest of the sample. More than a third of the professionals detected the liars at least 60 percent of the time; only one nonprofessional was able to match that rate.

Monday Mash-Up for June 18

General Jay Garner is interviewed by the Guardian about the early days of the occupation. 

Mr Garner also admitted he did not see several of the plans prepared by the Bush administration and does not know why. He also revealed that he rang Mr Rumsfeld to tell him to stop reducing the US troop deployment and warned him that the consequent power vacuums were filling up with ” fundamentalists”.

ZenPundit posts on a response to Steve DeAngelis’s Tension post The Tension Between Creativity and Efficiency. I agree with Zen and Steve, having worked in the environment where analysis by committee is done until the technology is no longer new. The lost productivity, not to mention management time, cost more in time and resources than having made a bad decision and learning from it. Once, to get 1gb of RAM in my corporate laptop (versus the 512mb “standard” and the 756mb “developer” standards) top management spent over 10hrs of meeting time to discuss authoring me to have an upgrade that cost less than $150. It wasn’t about support because my laptops had long been outside the realm of desktop support. Ultimately, they denied the request, but within 9mos they were standardized on 1gb.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made the talk show circuit on Sunday, speaking of “good news, bad news, and challenges.” Quite the change from the “insurgency is in its last throes” the Administration pitched to the public a few years back. Compare the honest discussion Petraeus and his team are having with the public, as well as attempts at synchronicity between dysfunctional Executive-branch departments still ill-prepared for modernity, with the comments from Jay Garner above (which are adroitly examined in Chandraskaran’s Imperial Life).

Hostility towards science within the Administration has seeped into foreign policy and its use of the intelligence community is the point of in three posts by Arms and Influence. From the third post:

Enough people in the Bush Administration have themselves been hostile to science, or have been politically aligned with the anti-science crowd, that it’s fair to say that the anti-science faction has had a profound influence on American politics in the last few years–including foreign policy. The hostility extends to both the results of science as well as the scientific method.

While you might easily find lots of examples–appointing a politically orthodox but scientifically clueless PR person to censor NASA public announcements, removing birth control information from the Health and Human Services web site, the determination to never admit the possibility of global warming, etc.–nowhere can you find a better example than the besieged intelligence community, especially the CIA. The whole work of intelligence resembles science so closely that it would have been amazing if the CIA had not run afoul of Bush, Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz, et al.

Abu Muqawama is in Morocco, where 1/3 of the population is under 18. Where are the massive jobs programs, expansion of trade, and cultural awareness of both sides on the part of the US? Is it wrapped up in very inexpensive English language programs (which are commendable)? Abu Muqawama asks the right questions:

Where, you have to ask, are all those young people going to find jobs when they get older? And when they can’t get a job — and thus can’t get married and have no sense of identity — what are they going to do with their lives? Where will they turn for some kind of esteem? In the USA, we have the U.S. Marine Corps for our lost children. But as far as this blogger can tell, about the only option a young Moroccan would have is the mosque. And maybe just one out of a hundred young Moroccan men who wander into a mosque get sucked up by some extremist — that’s still a lot of new manpower for jihadi groups.

Hidden Unities wrote a post titled War Criminals in the Pentagon and the White House. The jist? Read this quote from General Antonio Taguba that closes the must read post:

“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

See also Phil Carter’s post on Sy Hersch’s New Yorker article on Taguba.

On a lighter note, my local IMAX isn’t showing Fighter Pilot: Operations Red Flag, but maybe yours is.

On the “money/fantasy machine”

Last night it occurred to me that I actually did know what John Robb was talking about when he lumped me in with the “counter-terrorism money/fantasy” in Washington, and it isn’t the creature Dan and Curtis think it is.

Talking with the “conference crowd”, or reading their work, on terrorism, there are certain themes that remain constant despite evidence to the contrary, that conform to popular thinking in Washington. This ideologically insular world is the “money/fantasy” machine, repeating nearly the same mantra over and over, that contributes to the stalled, to put it mildly, strategy in the [insert your favorite name for conflict/war/condition here].

Robb and I are alike in that we’re both creating new awareness (attacking is too strong but might be a better word) of the realities of today’s environment. I’m not in the conference crowd he’s referring to, but an outsider that only occasionally gets inside the ring, and less often than I would imagine Robb does.

To change the thinking, sometimes you need to subvert from within. Robb’s book is an attack on the popular wisdom and ultimately seeks to change the conference crowd by adjusting the preconceptions of the crowd’s clients, the thought leaders of the crowd, or both. Debunking existing “myths” most effectively requires understanding the existing conceptions. And that’s different from modifying insurgent/terrorist behavior how?

Looking at old guides for GI’s in World War II: Iraq and Britain

Both Noah Schachtman and the PCR Project post on the old guides the War Department issued for cultural awareness of our GI’s. Two years ago I wrote about the GI’s Guide to Britain, but only briefly commented on the Guide to Iraq:

Issued by the US War and Navy Departments servicemen…going to Iraq to defend the oil fields. It is amazing how timeless this book is. You can read the whole thing here.

In 2005 the book seemed appropriate, and even more so today. Just like the USMC’s Small Wars Manual of 1940, the Guide to Iraq reminds us of the knowledge we forgot (or ignored). Forgetting history will almost always bite you in the arse.

Tactics and Strategy: adding to the Brave New War commentary

There is a difference between tactics and strategy, a point that seems lost on some. John Robb discusses the former in Brave New War: the tactics of the enemy as well as recommendations, implied and explicit, on how to  deal with current and future attacks. These are all very good, and I especially like his bazaar model, which all contribute to the discussion. However, this book has been highlighted as a resource on strategy on how to combat the “enemy”. This book simply does not do that. It does not provide a strategic solution to current or future threats. Matching a threat and attempting to stay ahead of the threat does nothing to actually eliminate or neutralize the threat.

Continue reading “Tactics and Strategy: adding to the Brave New War commentary

Critiquing Brave New War

Mamma always said I was special. According to John Robb, on his personal blog not Global Guerrillas, I am the only one to criticize Brave New War:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the “conference crowd” guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in [Washington]. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Am I trying to protect the “money/fantasy machine”? I don’t really know what he means by that (a little help?). Whatever it is, it sure sounds bad and I would probably agree the “money/fantasy machine” needs to be whacked. Regardless, my issue with the book pivots on a failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can’t be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

For more discussion on BNW, see the Small Wars Council board discussion that’s just starting up here (free subscription may be required, if you’re not already frequenting SWC and you’re interesting in COIN/Small Wars, you’re ignoring valuable insights).

Other reviews of Robb’s BNW may be found here:

  • New York Times
  • Scripps Howard News Service
  • DN-I Net
  • Washington Times / UPI
  • On War… Czar

    See Charles Stevenson’s (author of Warriors and Politiciansop-ed in the Baltimore Sun:

    Newly named “war czar” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute cannot take over his duties until he is confirmed by the Senate. The other White House officials running the war, from national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley on down, are exempt from congressional scrutiny because they are considered “advisers” to the president – not accountable policymakers – and their jobs are not written into law. If the president had chosen a civilian, or even a military retiree, the Senate would have had no say.

    DHS S&T Conference: Post Mortem

    As you know, I was at the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Conference in DC where I has the opportunity to chair two panels at the request of DHS. My panels were different than the rest, not just because I was the only “outsider”, but neither panel was on the one of the two main messages of the conference:

    1. Come check out the new and improved Science and Technology Directorate
    2. Let me tell you about a problem so you can make money with a solution

    More on the panels in a moment. The general sessions were primarily about topic #1 above. Perhaps the best illustration of this was the session titled “A World in Change: A View from the Hill”. While “A World in Change” was intended to speak to the “new” threat environment, it also fit the new S&T under the Honorable Jay M. Cohen, Under Secretary, Science & Technology, DHS, formerly of the Office of Naval Research (as is much of DHS S&T who followed Admiral Cohen to the new post). For a short time more, video of the general sessions are available here and I suggest, if you’re interested in the politics of DHS, you watch the beginning (warning: the streaming video is high quality but doesn’t stream well at all) of the general from the Congressional staffer. He goes on about how bad thing were and why the Congress cut funding, etc, comments that were paired with praise with Cohen and the new S&T.

    Continue reading “DHS S&T Conference: Post Mortem

    Summing Up SIGMA (Updated)

    I’m still getting caught up and in the saddle after nearly a week in DC and a week in Maui. Somebody needed to go (to Maui) otherwise the terrorists win, right?

    Taking a picture of the photographer SIGMA is a group of science fiction writers engaged by various governmental agencies (“Remember that guy in our meeting who wasn’t there?”) to think about future threats, weapons, and consequences of both. I won’t write about which SIGMA members were at the DHS conference two weeks ago, for that see Jason’s post (and yes, as you might deduce from Jason’s post, he was a wide-eyed kid when I introduced him to the group).

    The USA Today article tells part of the story of the group, but of course there’s more. Consider that much of the popular science fiction is based on plausible and complex “realities” that real scientists and intensely detailed individuals devour. Problematic logic and inconsistencies don’t create the fantasy worlds. Because of the popular sci-fi writers end up as visionaries, consider Jules Verne and Gene Roddenberry.

    The founder of the group, Arlan Andrews, is a real scientist that can’t, for example, be dismissed as just a sci-fi author.

    Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., a Registered Professional Engineer and professional member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), founded SIGMA to provide the practical futurism of science fiction writers to vital national needs. A former ASME White House Fellow in OSTP, he retired from Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque as Manager of the Advanced Manufacturing Initiatives Department. He then co-founded several high-tech companies. He previously had a career with AT&T Bell Labs, and worked at White Sands Missile Range, NM. He is presently an Environment Program Manager for the US Navy at Corpus Christi, TX. He has published over 300 stories, articles, computer books and opinion pieces in 80 venues worldwide, including the first White House endorsement of nanotechnology in 1993.

    I had the pleasure to talk with the whole group at some length on topics ranging from counterinsurgency, robots in war, and more. On the former, there was an interesting (half-hearted?) suggestion for settling a Muslim population (I won’t attribute the quote):

    Grind up and aerosolize pigs, spray it over an unruly population. Let the population know what just happened and remind them they won’t go to Heaven with pork in their systems so it’s not a good time to die.

    Personally, this doesn’t feel like a good idea or ok… (Surely you have comments on that?)

    On the topic of robots, we had an engaging discussion, but I’m keeping that to myself for now (I’m presenting a futures paper on robots in war in August).

    This anecdote in USA Today seems far out,

    During a coffee break at the conference, Walker, Bear and Andrews started talking about the government’s bomb-sniffing dogs. Within minutes, they had conjured up a doggie brain-scanning skullcap that could tell agents what kind of explosive material a dog had picked up.

    Until you link the story with successful DARPA experiments doing the same with humans except in humans it’s identifying objects of interest in recon images before it can be vocalized (in other words, faster image processing without wasting the time to speak or key anything).

    Overall, it’s a fascinating group with deep memories, alternative visions that may not be too alternative afterall.

    To answer Jason’s question about a website, I’m told they’re “working on it”. A likely reason why Arlan was so interested in the Blogging panel.

    More on the DHS conference in another post.

    Fantasy Combat System

    David Axe (one of the presenters on my DHS Blogging on Science panel this Wednesday) relays a good article from GovExec on the Army’s Fantasy, er, Future Combat System:

    Super-reporter Greg Grant has a kickass piece in GovExec about the Army’s ambitious but fundamentally flawed Future Combat Systems, a $200-billion networked combination of sensors, robots and new lightly armored ground vehicles that Winslow Wheeler from the Center for Defense Information calls a “money-guzzling fantasy of the wizards of the so-called ‘revolution in military affairs.’” Grant argues that FCS grew not out of genuine need for new equipment, but out of “a political battle for taxpayer dollars with the Air Force and Navy in the late 1990s, when the military embraced a questionable vision of warfare fought from a distance with sensors and precision munitions” mounted on thin-skinned, more mobile vehicles.

    Of course, we already know that knowing where the tanks aren’t don’t help when a kid is popping around a corner or rooftop and firing off an RPG… nor does it help when the war is more about information and “propaganda” victories and less about taking out often non-existent command and control.

    Confirming the Destruction of Iraq

    How do you confirm you’ve really destroyed a country? Make sure the education system is shattered. This is especially effective in a country like Iraq that had the best university system in the Middle East / Southwest Asia.

    “Medics, pharmacists, biologists and dentists are desperately seeking training in hospitals because what they have learnt so far does not give them enough confidence to treat patients. There is a really huge difference between now and the times of Saddam Hussein when medical graduates left college with the competence to treat any patient,” he said.

    “Children’s capacity for learning has been reduced and the main reason for this is the effect the violence has had on their minds and this might continue to affect them for years to come,” she added.

    “I remember when I entered college and students were graduating with detailed knowledge, and leaving direct to the global job market, but unfortunately today I and my colleagues find ourselves graduating knowing that , with our lack of experience, no one would employ us,” said Salman Rafi, a sixth year student at Mustansiriyah University’s Medical College.

    War as Theater

    Warfare in a globalized society is theater, making information king. The “old” style of warfare, occasionally still played out in Afghanistan, the Philippines, inside Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Long War (or whatever it is named today), is a rarity. Camera phones, cheap digital video cameras, YouTube and LiveLeak, and connectivity everywhere means every Joe and Jihadi gets at least a bit part in the theater of information.

    Continue reading “War as Theater