Nov 30, 2007

Iran’s Nuclear Program: UN and IAEA Reporting and Developments

Influence Specialists detailed to the War With Iran account will find a treasure trove of exploitable nuggets in a new working draft by Tony Cordesman (CSIS) titled: Iran’s Nuclear Program: UN and IAEA Reporting and Developments (55-page pdf).

Be forewarned however, that some of the items in the report (Green Salt Project, the Purloined Laptop, et al.) are recycled from earlier use in the anti-Iran IO.

This report focuses on the evidence provided by the IAEA. The sections dealing with IAEA reporting – particularly the latest reports as of November 2007 -- quote the key technical judgments and findings of IAEA inspectors and not just the summary comments. These detailed findings often do a far better job of revealing the level of Iranian non-compliance, delay, and obfuscation than the summary comments.

The evidence presented provides strong indications that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Specifically, Iran is known to have made significant efforts in all of the following areas, most of which have been tracked by the IAEA for some time:

■ Beryllium (neutron reflector)

■ Polonium (neutron initiator)

■ Plutonium separation

■ Uranium enrichment

■ Machining of Uranium hemispheres

■ Re-entry vehicle design

■ Acquisition of North Korean (Chinese) weapons design? AQ Khan network transfers

■ High explosive lenses

The attached briefing shows that the IAEA has traced a pattern of Iranian efforts that fit a coherent and consistent nuclear weapons program that is difficult to explain in any other way, but no certainties are involved. Moreover, major uncertainties exist in virtually every aspect of any effort to characterize what kind of program Iran may be intending to create, when it will have a significant stock of weapons, and how it intends to deploy and exploit such a capability.

At the same time, there is wide range of possible Iranian activities that the IAEA may never be able to fully address, even if Iran does adopt the full range of NPT protocols:

■ Clandestine elements of nuclear weapons research.

■ Passive (non-fissile) testing of nuclear weapons designs and warheads/bombs/reentry vehicles.

■ Clandestine R&D activity in centrifuges, reactors, plutonium separation, LIS.

■ Existence and nature of undisclosed facilities.

■ “Breakout” plans for nuclear power reactors and fuel cycle.

■ True intention of disclosed and inspected activities.

■ Level of North Korean (Chinese) weapons and warhead designs.

■ Existence and validity of national intelligence data.

■ MEK truths vs. half-truths vs. lies.

Nov 29, 2007

Political Islam and European Foreign Policy

The Centre for European Policy Studies released an important report yesterday dealing with the necessity for the E.U. (and by extension, the U.S.) to do a better job of engaging Islamic political parties in the Arab world.

One conclusion is that the heavy lifting will likely have to be conducted through the Europeans, due to the toxicity of the U.S. brand in the opinion of the target audience.

Many here will find most interesting the analysis presented in the Case Studies in Political Islam section, in which the (sometimes nuanced) positions and attitudes of the Islamist parties toward the West are examined in great detail. Each country is given its own chapter.

Political Islam and European Foreign Policy: Perspectives from Muslim Democrats of the Mediterranean [199-page pdf]:

Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 especially, Western commentators have claimed that their perspectives on Islam have shifted. Increasingly, broader recognition has emerged of the extent to which contemporary trends in Islam have been determined by prevailing political contexts. Leaders, ministers and senior diplomats have repeatedly rejected the notion that Islam should be conceived as a monolithic assault against Western values. Western analysts and policy-makers claim that nondemocratic interpretations of Islam are misplaced distortions. External actors, it is implied, can help release Islam’s democratic potential. Analysts, Western diplomats, donors, funding organisations and international institutions assert a belief that Islam can be a positive mobilising force for democracy, social justice and stability in the Middle East.

These viewpoints challenge dramatic scenarios of anti-Western fundamentalist forces taking power, and instead advocate engaging with moderate Islamist parties and organisations that are currently enjoying a rise in popular support. There is a need for coherent and integrated policies to deal with all non-violent political forces in these countries, rather than creating unnecessary resentment by, for example, condemning individual arrests of liberal figures while remaining silent in the face of numerous arrests of Islamists. Given the more pragmatic approach recently adopted by many of the moderate Islamist movements, many argue that this is a propitious time to take advantage of the latter’s relative openness towards engaging Western countries by reaching out to them and establishing strategic links. It is also being proposed that Western actors need to engage further in less politicised areas at the grassroots level.

Nov 28, 2007

Afghanistan COIN Academy

KABUL - The Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy is a work in progress - the clamor of construction, the bulldozing of garbage and the sparse staff are all clear signs.

Built on a former Canadian military base near the bullet-ridden palace of Afghanistan's former royal family, the COIN Academy, as it is known, is on the verge of acquiring a dining facility, a lecture hall and other services.

"The academy is still in survival mode," US Army Major Luke Meyers, the academy's operations chief, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "We're trying to build this as fast as we can but it's taking time. We're six years behind really, to be honest. We're glad we've made this step at least."

Following pressure from top American military officials, the COIN Academy opened in April nearly six years after the invasion of Afghanistan while a counterpart school in Iraq was established in 2005. Afghanistan's facility recently shifted to its new location on the outskirts of Kabul.


The school aims to teach counterinsurgency practices to newly arrived Western trainers sent to embed with the Afghan security forces, as well as to coalition forces and to senior members of the Afghan military, police and intelligence services.

But is it a useful effort at this stage in the war? Policy makers interviewed in Washington seem to think so.

"I guess it would fall under the heading of better later than never," said US Congressman Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat and member and chairman of a congressional subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities.

Smith rejects the notion that the academy's creation suggests that the Bush administration is paying more attention to the war in Afghanistan. "We're not increasing troop levels there. We are still behind the game in terms of providing the money, operating infrastructure, support. So however much they want to pay attention to Afghanistan ... 80% of our military assets are still committed to Iraq," he told IPS.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think-tank, said the COIN Academy must succeed. Dismissing the idea Iraq is the central front in the war against terrorism, he said, "This is where the attacks came from. This is where al-Qaeda central has reconstituted itself. I've rarely ever seen such a botched opportunity. Now, hopefully, it's not too late."

He said operating the school, however, should be part of a multi-faceted counterinsurgency approach that calls for the addition of 20,000 extra troops redirected from Iraq, a re-evaluated counter-narcotics strategy, better-funded and managed reconstruction goals and increased US pressure on Pakistan to be a more reliable partner in fighting insurgents.

In one indication Washington recognizes the significance of the international fight in Afghanistan, President George W Bush intends to redirect some funding earmarked for Afghan army training to police training. The police force has long been a second priority as the army's role in securing the country's borders and fighting insurgents took front and center.

Despite some positive signs, back at the COIN Academy, Meyers, the operations chief, laments his team's requisite "sales job of fighting for money and resourcing" while the US government is so focused on fueling the Iraq war machine.

The academy received US$1 million this year but is lobbying for an annual budget of $7-9 million to spend on paying instructors and for building infrastructure. "It's taking a while for the word to get out," Meyers said about the school. He added that he and his colleagues are still trying to gain the support of key players in the US government.

The COIN Academy shares lessons garnered on the battlefield with its Iraq counterpart and with military learning centers in the US. In another year, Meyers told IPS, his team hopes Afghan officers will join the staff.

The cornerstone of the academy is a five-day leaders' course that so far has taught 400 students. The curriculum includes information about the conflict's key participants (including countries and coalitions), advice on operating in Afghanistan, details about ethnic and tribal concerns in various regions and the history of attacks, violence and threats across the country, he said.

He said students are given a handbook in English, Dari and Pashtu to help carry out missions, and which can be taken onto the battlefield instead of a laptop computer.

During each course, academy staff bring in between 80 to 100 students and divide them into groups focusing on each of the country's five regions, explained Meyers. He said embedded Western trainers arrive in the country and spend time with Afghan army and police from the area to which they will be assigned.

"There's a benefit [to] them of living, eating and studying together," a practice not followed at the Iraq COIN Academy, he continued. "Most of the learning actually takes place outside of the classroom, whether its language, cultural, just general questions about Afghanistan."

Meyers related a story illustrating the advantages of Westerners and Afghans working together. In one of the earlier courses, he said, instructors presented the group with a particular scenario about one of the country's regions.

An American officer confidently replied: "Here's the answer. Problem solved. Class is over. But an Afghan officer disputed the response, telling his American counterpart he had not considered certain issues like the fact the mountains are in the east, the language is Dari, not Pashtu, and the region has electricity for only three hours a day.

"Everyone doesn't know everything. It's not just US-led. It takes time to understand what everyone can bring to the table," concluded Meyers, adding that most senior Afghan officers have operated in a counterinsurgency environment longer than any US soldier.

Nov 27, 2007

Best Not Last In Babylon

Below are some comments by Dr. Chris Demchak, former US army officer, now associate professor at the University of Arizona and author of the [interesting] Military Organizations, Complex Machines [Google Books Document].

In italics below each paragraph are Chris’s observations on [an AP] article. Chris offers caveats concerning the figures. But her overall conclusion is that “desertion is a powerful sign of an organization in trouble.”

Army Desertion Rate Jumps Sharply

Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Overall, 4,698 Soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.
[note: about 9 per thousand in 2007 versus about 7 in 2006]

Army desertion rates have fluctuated since the Vietnam War, when they peaked at 5 percent . In the 1970s they hovered between 1 and 3 percent, which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers. Those rates plunged in the 1980s and early 1990s to between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers. Desertions began to creep up in the late 1990s into the turn of the century, when the United States conducted an air war in Kosovo and later sent peacekeeping troops there. The numbers declined in 2003 and 2004, in the early years of the Iraq war, but then began to increase steadily.
[Most first term, most male, absent without leave for more than 30 days]

In contrast, the Navy has seen a steady decline in deserters since 2001, going from 3,665 that year to 1,129 in 2007. The Marine Corps, meanwhile, has seen the number of deserters stay fairly stable over that period, with about 1,000 deserters a year [but does not track desertions every year]. During 2003 and 2004, the first two years of the Iraq war, the number of deserters fell to 877 and 744, respectively
[but figures are guesstimates].

The Air Force can claim the fewest deserters, with no more than 56 bolting in each of the past five years. The low was in the budget year 2007, with just 16 deserters.
[Figures are suspect in general because everyone seemed to just stop counting for 6-9 months following the Iraq invasion in 2003, and USMC does not consistently track these numbers anyway. I found quite different assertions about desertions over the past several years, some rolling up 2003-2006, some counting back to 2001 in giving totals. Clearly these are being reported with an eye to the headlines.

Nonetheless, a clear jump without much fudging suggests a clear indicator of something….possibly the typical problem of not wanting to be the last soldier to die for a lost cause. No one wants to be just the guy who did not make it to the last ride out, and thus, no hero nobly defending the last stand. Soldiers talk about it, albeit obliquely, especially Reserve soldiers. I would guess the juniors are more prone to the panic effect. Not noted is largely where these desertions occur. My guess: pre-first deployment to Iraq and then pre-second deployment back in hard hit units. ]

-Hacked & Jacked Kings of War

Nov 26, 2007

DOCEX or Black Propaganda?

The government of Colombia is running an interesting information campaign:

Abandoned in a rebel camp deep in Colombia's jungle, the diary details a remarkable journey from European privilege to guerrilla hardship, and the thin line between idealism and despair.

"I'm tired, tired of FARC, tired of the people, tired of communal life. Tired of never having anything for myself. It would be worth it if we knew why we were fighting. But the truth is I don't believe in this any more." So wrote Tanja Nijmeijer, a 29-year-old, middle-class Dutch woman who is among a handful of Europeans who have joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), South America's biggest, bloodiest and possibly last Marxist insurgent group.

Discovered by Colombian troops in a raid on a hastily abandoned camp in July, excerpts have been leaked to the media to try to discredit the rebels as sexist, brutal, hypocritical and far removed from a Che Guevara-type mystique.

Nijmeijer, whose nom-de-guerre is "Eillen", escaped with her comrades into the jungle and is still with FARC but has possibly been punished for gifting a propaganda boon to a state the group has been fighting for decades.

With US funding, President Álvaro Uribe's forces have pushed the rebels out of cities and into remote redoubts.

From the entries, written in Dutch, English and Spanish, Nijmeijer emerges as a passionate left-winger who is occasionally home-sick and has had second thoughts since joining the guerrillas in 2002.

"I don't know where this project is going. How will it be when we come to power? The girlfriends of the commanders in Ferrari Testa Rossas, with breast implants, eating caviar? It seems like it," said one entry last April.

Other entries, however, show a woman still committed to violent means and impatient for action. "Bored and hungry. We can't find the enemy, and so I have to study FARC documents for the millionth time," she grumbled in June. Another entry said: "Damn! I've been waiting three days for a helicopter to shoot it down, but it hasn't flown over the area."


The government has gleefully highlighted Nijmeijer's complaints about commanders holding private parties and lording it over the rank and file. She also wrote of romances between guerrillas which left some with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

"I want to leave here, at least this unit," she wrote last November. "But for the time being, you know that you're more or less a prisoner. What can you do?"

She was permitted occasional emails and a visit by her mother in 2005. "Tanja's mind was not to be changed," the family said in a brief statement. In a recent interview with Dutch television a rebel spokesman, Raul Reyes, rejected claims that Nijmeijer was a prisoner and said she was free to go on holiday with her family.

Nov 24, 2007

Persuading Them

From an article in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, Persuading Them:

Perhaps the time has come to rethink what we mean by public diplomacy. In 2003, the Djerejian report — named for the veteran diplomat who presided over the study, Edward Djerejian — made the eye-catching allegation that “a process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats.” The report noted that the U.S. was spending just $25 million for “outreach programs” in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds. Only 54 State Department employees had achieved a high level of fluency in Arabic. Public-affairs officials themselves considered American broadcasting efforts in the region ineffective.

The “weapons of advocacy” had fallen into a long decline since their heyday in the cold war, a contest that pitted political systems against each other more than armies. In “Total Cold War,” an account of the war of persuasion in the 1950s, the historian Kenneth Osgood argues that “from the highest levels of the national security establishment to the remotest diplomatic outposts abroad, political warfare became the organizing concept for American foreign policy during the Eisenhower presidency.” The Eisenhower administration established the United States Information Agency, which had a global portfolio of radio and TV stations and magazines; the agency devoted half its very large budget in West Germany to cultural centers and libraries known as Amerika Hauser. At the same time, of course, the C.I.A. engaged in the darker business of covertly manipulating public opinion, not to mention engineering coups in Guatemala and Iran.

We are locked once again in a war of ideas. And public-diplomacy enthusiasts would have us gird ourselves once again with the weapons of advocacy. But the political weapons of the cold war are as antiquated today as the military ones. The 1950s witnessed the birth in the non-Western world of mass media as well as mass politics. The U.S. could dominate the airwaves not only of South Vietnam but even of Japan, as Osgood describes; and we could thereby reach the small but growing segment of society engaged in political discussion. That world is gone forever. Today, as the Djerejian report observed, “Arabs and Muslims have a surfeit of opinion and information about the United States.” We are bound to lose any battle of spin control, whether carried out by a pal of the president or by the most credible Arabic-speaking proxy.

From this we may draw two opposite conclusions. One is that we must simply accept that the cost of acting in our national interest is that publics in the Islamic world will shower us with contempt. The alternative is to recognize that public opinion is the medium in which we now operate. All diplomacy is therefore public diplomacy. When Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials split hairs over torture, that shapes our ability to conduct the war on terror more powerfully than do the interrogation techniques themselves. What we say about ourselves no longer has much effect; but what we are seen doing — on occasion, what we are caught doing — matters immensely.

Nov 22, 2007

U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Report

From the new report [released yesterday] of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission [364-page pdf]:

• Several Chinese advances have surprised U.S. defense and intelligence officials, and raised questions about the quality of our assessments of China’s military capabilities.

• Chinese military strategists have embraced disruptive warfare techniques, including the use of cyber attacks, and incorporated them in China’s military doctrine. Such attacks, if carried out strategically on a large scale, could have catastrophic effects on the target country’s critical infrastructure.

• China has developed an advanced anti-satellite program consisting of an array of weapons that could destroy, damage, or temporarily incapacitate an adversary’s satellites. The use of high energy lasers to temporarily blind U.S. satellites in late 2006 and the use of a direct-ascent anti-satellite kinetic weapon to destroy an aging Chinese satellite in early 2007 demonstrate that China now has this capacity.

• The Chinese defense industry, while still lagging far behind that of the United States, has begun achieving noteworthy progress over the past ten years. New generations of warships, fighter aircraft, spacecraft, submarines, missiles, and other sophisticated weapon platforms are coming off production lines at an impressive pace and with impressive quality.

• The pace at which each of China’s defense industrial sectors is modernizing varies in direct proportion to its degree of integration in the globalized production and R&D chains, because such integration provides access to the most up-to-date technologies and manufacturing expertise.

• China is supplementing the technologies that its defense industry obtains through commercial transfers and direct production partnerships with an aggressive and large-scale industrial espionage campaign. Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies.


Mao Zedong said that maintaining control over information is as important to ensuring continuation of communist rule as maintaining control over the army. This belief still permeates the government of the People’s Republic of China. The obsession with controlling information is one of the cornerstones of China’s internal security strategy. In practice, it seeks to suppress public awareness of endemic corruption, income inequality, growing social instability, democratic ideals that are emerging in some places despite the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to extinguish them, and human rights violations committed by the government. Beijing hides these issues and substitutes messages that attempt to repress dissent and maintain control.

The Chinese government accomplishes this through a carefully crafted system whereby it owns and controls many of China’s media outlets, and oversees the content delivered by the remaining media outlets in China. Under the direction of the Politburo and the government’s Central Propaganda Department (CPD), China’s journalists and editors at every media level are instructed to avoid issues deemed ‘‘sensitive’’ by Chinese leaders, and instead are encouraged to paint positive pictures of life in China. Additionally, those foreign publications and websites that are permitted access to the Chinese market must avoid topics the Party has forbidden. Special filters are used to block Internet messages containing ‘‘undesirable’’ information and to keep Chinese users away from ‘‘unhealthy’’ foreign websites such as The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, and this Commission’s website. Tens of thousands of ‘‘Internet police’’ monitor user activities and online content within China.


The PRC government has established a group of agencies that work together to manage China’s media content. This network oversees every aspect of China’s media—from television and radio to newspapers and the Internet—and operates under the explicit direction of the Politburo. This group of agencies is practiced and proficient in its censorship function. Journalists are subjected to a number of control mechanisms. Most Chinese reporters are required to participate in mandatory training sessions to indoctrinate them with political propaganda. If they do not attend, their reporting licenses are not renewed. ‘‘Propaganda Circulars’’ prepared by the Central Propaganda Department (CPD) are distributed to all media outlets in China to instruct editors and reporters how to handle developing issues and sensitive topics in their news stories.


According to a recent report by Dr. Anne-Marie Brady at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the CCP has divided its propaganda work into two categories: internal (for which the CPD holds primary responsibility) and external (for which the Office of Foreign Propaganda [OFP] holds principal responsibility). Dr. Brady found that both these ‘‘highly secret’’ organizations are very closely linked and coordinated. The OFP is supervised by the Foreign Propaganda Leading Small Group, consisting of a handful of senior CCP leaders led by Mr. Cai Wu, who also heads the State Council Information Office. In her report, Dr. Brady lists China’s guidelines for propaganda. They include (1) issue no bad news during holidays or on other sensitive dates, (2) demonize the United States, (3) do not promote the views of the enemy, and (4) use international news to mold public opinion on issues relating to China. She goes on to explain the guideline pertaining to use of international media:

Selective reporting on international news has proven to be a very effective means of molding public opinion on issues relating to China. Hence, throughout the 1990s, the Chinese media gave detailed coverage of the problems of post-communist societies, while ignoring success stories. Such stories helped to mold public opinion on the likely outcome if China [were] to become a multi-party state. Similarly, China reported factually, but without comment, on the difficulties North Korea faced throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. This served as a caution to those on the left who were critical of China’s market-oriented reforms.

During the lead-up to the Iraq War the Chinese media [were] instructed by the Central Propaganda Department to bring the thinking of the Chinese people in line with that of the party centre, which held the view of opposition to the U.S. invasion. Coverage of the war was used as a means to attack the U.S. government’s position on human rights and other sensitive topics. Reporting on the war was strictly controlled; only officially designated Chinese journalists were permitted to travel to Iraq to report the war.

Nov 21, 2007

The Most Extreme of the Extremists

Suicide bombers are not crazy and indeed are often driven primarily by motivators other than religious zeal, argues a University of Toronto sociology professor in a new research paper he says is likely to prove controversial.

In a paper published in the November issue of Contexts, a journal of the American Sociological Association published by University of California Press, Robert Brym argues that the most effective way of developing a workable strategy for dealing with such assaults is first understanding the assailant's point of view.

Dr. Brym's work focused primarily on the Middle East conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, a topic he said he was at first reluctant to pursue - despite completing his bachelor's degree in Jerusalem - because it was so sensitive. However, in 2003, he was on a PhD selection committee when he came across a Palestinian student looking to do research on suicide bombers. Eventually, he began working with the student and an Israeli student on the topic. The Israeli student interviewed counterterrorism officials; the Palestinian student interviewed militants.

Dr. Brym's research suggests that empathy, rather than aggression, is the more effective tool for combatting suicide bombings.

"It is controversial," Dr. Brym said in an interview. "But ... our interviews led to the conclusion that much of decisions [regarding suicide bombing] involve retaliation. It is possible for the Israeli state to suppress the other side, but given the high motivation of both sides, they find workarounds."

Dr. Brym pointed to the decrease of suicide bombings in Israel over the past few years, adding that the number of rockets launched during the same period has shot up.

Dr. Brym was quick to point out that empathy doesn't have to entail "warm and fuzzy feelings" for the other side, but rather meaningful rewards and goals, such as releasing Palestinian tax dollars and working toward a two-state solution.

Intertwined with Dr. Brym's thesis is a parallel argument that suicide bombers are not necessarily driven by religion. In the case of the Middle East conflict, he says, notions of martyrdom and holy war began to gain popularity after secular approaches failed. He highlights another study that found fewer than half of suicide bombers between 1980 and 2003 (for whom ideological background information could be found) were identifiably religious.

Dr. Brym also points to the tendency for suicide bombings to happen in clusters as proof that there's often a political or strategic aim behind such attacks. A classic example, he said, took place in the mid-nineties, when Palestinian militants feared a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was imminent.

But harsh repression on the part of the Israelis often reinforces extremist beliefs or leads militants to resort to even deadlier methods, Dr. Brym argues.

"In general, severe repression can work for a while, but a sufficiently determined mass opposition will always be able to design new tactics to surmount new obstacles, especially if its existence as a group is visibly threatened and unless, of course, the mass opposition is exterminated in its entirety," Dr. Brym writes.

"One kind of 'success' usually breeds another kind of 'failure' if the motivation of insurgents is high."

Nov 20, 2007


In a post from last week at Haft of the Spear, CTA's M. Tanji wrote:

So, contrary to
Don Kerr’s assessment, no one has to surrender their privacy in order for the government to help ensure their safety. And even if no ready solution were at hand, he should think twice before repeating “the government can be trusted with personal information” line, because the list of government-agency-linked data loss events (DHS, IRS, VA, etc., etc,) is a real inconvenient truth.

Now this just in from the UK via BBC:

Two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing. The Child Benefit data on them includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people.

New IO Theme Rolled Out

There is supposed to be a process called "deconflicting the IO Matrix."

In this case, people are so eager to advance a new theme that some corners have been obviously cut.

And "chatter"? Any time a U.S. official publicly refers to chatter, you can be sure that some variety of bullshittery is afoot. The professionals here know exactly what I mean.

Abu Nawall, a captured al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, said he didn't join the Sunni insurgent group here to kill Americans or to form a Muslim caliphate. He signed up for the cash.

"I was out of work and needed the money," said Abu Nawall, the nom de guerre of an unemployed metal worker who was paid as much as $1,300 a month as an insurgent. He spoke in a phone interview from an Iraqi military base where he is being detained. "How else could I support my family?"

U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations.

U.S. military officials have responded by launching a major campaign to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq's financial networks and spread propaganda that portrays its leaders as greedy thugs, an effort the officials describe as a key factor in their recent success beating down the insurgency.


"We're starting to hear a lot of chatter about the insurgents running out of money," said [Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of U.S. forces in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province], of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "They are not able to get money to pay people for operations."

In a 30-minute interview, Abu Nawall described his work managing the $6 million or so annual budget of the Mosul branch of the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent umbrella group believed to have been formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraqi military, which is still interrogating Abu Nawall, agreed to allow a Washington Post reporter to meet him in person after repeated requests for an interview. The interview was canceled at the last moment, but the military later allowed The Post to speak with Abu Nawall by phone as he sat in an Iraqi general's office.

Abu Nawall said he joined the group over the summer because his metalworking business had dried up. The 28-year-old said he was responsible for running the bureaucracy and arranging payments to the 500 or so fighters for the group in the city, who he said try to carry out as many as 30 attacks a day.

"Most of our money comes from payments we receive from places like Syria and from kidnappings," Abu Nawall said, adding that ransoms can reach $50,000 a person. But he denied U.S. claims that attacks in the city had dropped or that the group's funding had stopped. "We still have money," he said.

Much of Abu Nawall's account could not be independently verified, though he said he was speaking freely and without coercion by his detainers. His description of the insurgency's viability was in some cases significantly more upbeat than the one offered by Iraqi and U.S. officials.

But Abu Nawall and his captors agreed that Iraqis were joining the insurgency out of economic necessity. "Of course we hate the Americans and want them gone immediately," Abu Nawall said. "But the reason I and many others joined the Islamic State of Iraq is to support our families."


The U.S. military has launched a propaganda effort to describe Abu Nawall and other insurgents as greedy in order to undermine support for al-Qaeda in Iraq and create infighting among insurgent groups.

In a memo to the provincial police chief, U.S. military officials provided him with a list of "talking points" that they asked him to repeat on local television. "We want these talking points to raise suspicion that higher level [al-Qaeda in Iraq] leaders are greedy and placing personal financial gain over the mission," the memo said.

The memo also said that Abu Nawall admitted that the group's leader in northern Iraq, known as Mohammed al Nada or Abu Basha'ir, had told fighters to attack civilians "to keep them in fear" of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The memo said he also confessed that the group "gets a lot of money through extortion and kidnapping of Iraqi citizens."

"He stated that most of this money stays with the higher level leaders while the fighters on the street get paid only a small amount," the memo said. Two leaders, identified as Mohammed Bazouna and Fuad, "are growing rich through these activities without paying their fighters salaries and giving them the resources to conduct effective attacks."

In the interview, however, Abu Nawall denied making the statements described in the memo. The document also referred to Abu Nawall as the group's emir, or leader, in Mosul, even though U.S. and Iraqi officials said in interviews that he was the deputy emir in the city.

I really question the wisdom of using this theme.

Disrupting the insurgents' finances is certainly to be encouraged, but if the new IO theme is factually correct -- meaning that Iraqi men are joining AQI for the pay -- then we are completely farked.

The ubiquity of monetary incentivization is the reason that we long ago lost the "War on Drugs." People will do almost anything to feed their families.

As long as the insurgency was considered to be ideologically or sectarian-based, there remained at least some hope that political accommodation with some faction (or factions) could be reached.

We can never de-motivate a pecuniary insurgency -- the money will always manage to come from somewhere.

That may be the whole point of this IO. The bogeyman du jour can be identified as a terrorist financier.

This approach will work in exactly the same way as when the temporary lull in the violence on the ground in parts of Iraq reverses and attacks start to increase. The recently restrained [as claimed by the U.S. military] weapons smuggling and other hostile activities of Iran in Iraq will be declared to have reversed too.

Nov 19, 2007

New COIN Initiative in Pakistan

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.

The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships can be forged without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes.

Altogether, the broader strategic move toward more local support is being accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan and the weakness of the Pakistani government, as well as fears that extremists with havens in the tribal areas could escalate their attacks on allied troops in Afghanistan.


The tribal proposal, a strategy paper prepared by staff members of the United States Special Operations Command, has been circulated to counterterrorism experts but has not yet been formally approved by the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Some other elements of the campaign have been approved in principle by the Americans and Pakistanis and await financing, like $350 million over several years to help train and equip the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that has about 85,000 members and is recruited from border tribes.


The new counterinsurgency campaign is also a vivid example of the American military asserting a bigger role in a part of Pakistan that the Central Intelligence Agency has overseen almost exclusively since Sept. 11.


Until now, the Frontier Corps has not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with. But American officials say the Frontier Corps is in the long term the most suitable force to combat an insurgency. The force, which since 2001 has increasingly been under the day-to-day command of Pakistani Army units, is now being expanded and trained by American advisers, diplomats said.


The training of the Frontier Corps remains a concern for some. NATO and American soldiers in Afghanistan have often blamed the Frontier Corps for aiding and abetting Taliban insurgents mounting cross-border attacks. “It’s going to take years to turn them into a professional force,” said one Western military official. “Is it worth it now?”

At the same time, military officials fear the assistance to develop a counterinsurgency force is too little, too late. “The advantage is already in the enemy hands,” one Western military official said.

Nov 17, 2007

On the Uses of Cultural Knowledge

A new study from the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College deals with "Human Terrain" requirements for COIN, and the need for American political leadership (especially the current national command) to develop a better comprehension of the nature of U.S. security interests.

On the Uses of Cultural Knowledge [38-page pdf], by Dr. Sheila Miyoshi Jager.

The aim of this monograph is two-fold. First, it attempts to distinguish between the various "levels" of cultural knowledge and how they are used at various levels of warfare—strategy, operations, and tactics. Although not mutually exclusive, cultural knowledge informs these distinct levels in different ways. For example, the kinds of cultural knowledge that are required at the tactical level (e.g., the cultural knowledge of specific customs) is quite separate from the kinds of cultural knowledge that are required to formulate grand strategy and policy.

Second, the monograph attempts to explore how cultural knowledge might help to redefine an overarching strategy on counterinsurgency. While the military has been at the forefront of significant new and innovative thinking about operations and tactics, revising its old doctrines on the fly, America's political leaders have failed to provide the necessary strategic framework to guide counterinsurgency. The innovative insights about cultural knowledge adapted in operations and tactics by our military leaders have so far not yielded any comparable innovations from our political leaders. While the use of cultural knowledge is transforming military operations and tactics in significant and revolutionary ways, this same knowledge is not being adapted by our political leaders to help redefine a compelling new strategy for counterinsurgency.

The monograph concludes by suggesting four distinct ways in which cultural knowledge can work to help redefine an overarching strategic framework for counterinsurgency.

1. Reconceptualizing the "war on terror" not as one war, but as many different wars.

2. Focusing less on the moral distinctions between "us" and "them"—a major centerpiece of the Bush Doctrine—and more on the differences between "them."

3. Building support and relationships among both friendly and adversary states by taking into account how other societies assess risks, define their security, and perceive threats.

4. Building support for counterinsurgency among America's civilian leaders. Especially amid the domestic acrimony spawned by the Iraq War, inadequate coordination between military and nonmilitary power will severely hamper U.S. counterinsurgency capabilities. Cultural knowledge of both military and civilian institutions is therefore vital if the coordination between them is to be effective.

Nov 16, 2007

Losing The Narrative

The not inconsiderable work being put into the "prospects for U.S. success in Iraq are improving as a result of the Surge" narrative doesn't seem to be paying the dividends that its sponsors had hoped.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans' interest in the war continues to wane:

News about the Iraq war does not dominate the public's consciousness nearly as much as it did last winter. Currently, just 16% of Americans name the Iraq war as the news story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. In December and January, a period when U.S. policy toward Iraq and President Bush's troop surge drew extensive news coverage, far greater numbers named the Iraq war as the first story that came to mind.

More generally, public interest in news about the situation in Iraq is now less than it was earlier this year or in 2006. Since June, about 30% of the public, on average, said they have followed news about the situation in Iraq very closely. In 2006 and the first two months of this year, about 40% on average paid very close attention to Iraq news.


News coverage of Iraq, like public interest in the situation there, is now significantly less than it was at the start of the year. In January, roughly a quarter of the overall newshole (26%) in newspapers, TV newscasts, websites and radio was devoted to news about Iraq. In October, the war received only half as much coverage on average (13%), according to data compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Coverage Index.

The diminished press coverage of Iraq is an important factor in the falloff in news interest, given that most Americans say they "come across" war news without looking for it, rather than seeking out news about the Iraq war. Overall, 75% of the public says they come across news about the war when they are not actively seeking it out, compared with just 20% who say they go looking for war news.


Public interest in the Iraq war peaked during the conflict's early phase in the spring of 2003, and began to decline after the Pentagon declared an end to major combat operations. For the year in 2003, 52% of Americans followed news from Iraq very closely on average.

Overall interest fell to 44% in 2004, on average, with the highest level of interest measured in April and May of that year, amid the insurgency in Fallujah and reports of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (54% very closely). Throughout 2005 and 2006, public attentiveness to the situation in Iraq fluctuated in response to news events, but on average about four-in-ten followed the story very closely in both years.

In the first 10 months of 2007, public interest in Iraq has averaged 33% in the weekly News Interest Index. Interest was significantly greater during January, when Bush announced a major troop increase in Iraq, than it has been in recent weeks. In the current survey, 31% say they are following news about the situation in Iraq very closely, while 20% named it as the story they followed most closely last week.

Although interest in Iraq news has declined this year, it has been the top story in the weekly News Interest Index far more often than any other story. Last week, however, about as many people named the 2008 election as cited the Iraq war as the story they followed most closely (22% vs. 20%). A week earlier, the California wildfires were the dominant story in terms of news interest: roughly four times as many named the wildfires as the week's top story as cited the war in Iraq (46% vs. 12%).

Nov 15, 2007

Real Ticking Time Bombs - Two sides of the COIN

As CBS News presents some of the hitherto hidden American casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Chicago Tribune's Paul Salopek presents a glimpse of the other side of our COIN:

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Abdulrahman Habeb was a man with problems, the most pressing of which involved a barrel of tranquilizer pills.

The barrel — containing 50,000 capsules of fluphenazine hydrochloride, a potent anti-psychotic drug ordered from America—was boosting his patients' appetites. This was not good. Patients at Habeb Public Mental Hospital were scaling the facility's mud walls to scavenge for food outside, in the war-pocked streets of Mogadishu. One had been shot.

"They don't stop when sentries say 'Halt!' " said Habeb, the director of the only mental health clinic in Somalia's capital. "How could they? They are mentally ill."

Hence, the next problem: Habeb chained some of his 47 patients to their cots. This harsh practice was regrettable, he conceded. But many of his charges weren't just famished, they were aggressive.

"They act out the violence of Somalia!" cried Habeb, an excitable man who called himself "doctor," but who really was a nurse—a nurse at the end of his tether. "I cure people's minds, and the war hurts them all over again. You cannot heal here!"

He took off his glasses. He doubled over and began to sob. A colleague in one of the cavelike wards rushed over to pat Habeb's shuddering back.

And herein lay perhaps the biggest problem of all: While Habeb and most of his patients could walk away from their wartime asylum, there was no avoiding the larger nightmare that is Somalia. Doctors and aid workers see troubling signs that untold numbers of Somalis, brutalized by 16 years of chaos and tormented by the suicide bombings and assassinations of a growing Islamist insurgency, are fending off the jolts of violence the only way they can, by retreating inward, into the fog of mental illness.

"Ninety-five percent of the triggering factors here are related to the war," a distraught Habeb said. "The fear and worry. Year after year. It is like a bomb."

Mention the term post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and what pops into most people's minds are vacant-eyed GIs grappling with the lingering psychic wounds of combat: anxiety attacks, phantom pains, depression, hyperaggression, sleeplessness and flashbacks.

Yet in an age when international terrorism gnaws at the minds of millions of ordinary people, and where millions more are battered by chronic violence in failed states, many doctors have begun to worry not just about the mental health of individual soldiers but of entire societies.
Interest in the globalization of war's invisible wounds, and PTSD in particular, has spawned a relatively new branch of medical science—traumatology. Popularized in the wake of atrocities such as the Rwanda genocide and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, its core focus involves treating war-haunted populations with mass counseling. Indeed, it even aspires to help end wars through therapy.


High levels of paranoia, emotional withdrawal, irrational fear and other symptoms of PTSD tend to stifle reconciliation, conflict experts say. Traumatized populations are less apt to forgive. Moreover, a study to be published soon in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy suggests that war-traumatized families in hot spots such as Afghanistan internalize their pain, and plant the seeds of violence in the next generation through child abuse.

In effect, whether it involves armies or civilians, mental illness perpetuates states of war.

"The humanitarian response to conflicts has always focused on caring for the body," said Sandro Galea, a post-traumatic stress researcher at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. "But what we're learning is that treating stress-related mental problems can actually help break the cycle of war."

Not all medical experts buy into that analysis.

In Kosovo—the first modern killing field where mental health was made a priority in the aid effort—psychiatrists treated thousands of dazed refugees and war-crimes survivors. The results proved ambiguous. Patient surveys showed that counselors concentrated so narrowly on post-traumatic stress that they overlooked deeper woes such as despair over poverty, the anxieties of displacement, surging drug addiction and the agonies of spousal abuse.

Some experts also question whether a Western concept such as PTSD can be applied across cultures. Human grief is handled differently across the globe, they say. And some skeptics go so far as to label mental health crusades in war zones a form of medical colonialism—force-feeding psychoanalysis and narrative therapy to minority cultures.

Still, few serious physicians deny that the basic symptoms of PTSD can be found everywhere. And in countries where the killing is ever-present, aimed at civilians and savagely personal—which is to say, in most current wars—its prevalence skyrockets.

A 2001 UN report on the state of the world's mental health estimates that 20 percent of all people exposed to low-intensity civil conflicts are scarred by serious behavioral disorders.

In some wars, the toll can be far higher. In Sri Lanka, home to one of the planet's oldest and most brutal insurgencies, 64 percent of the populace exhibits some type of mental trauma, a government survey shows. And in the reliably bloody Gaza Strip, a study conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program revealed that only 2.5 percent of Palestinian children were free of PTSD symptoms. Eighty-three percent of local kids, the doctors found, had witnessed shootings.

More than 70 years ago, Ernest Hemingway wrote of the insanity of the Italian front during World War I, titling one of his bitterest short stories "A Way You'll Never Be."

Today's psychiatrists argue that whole cities and unstable regions are verging on a "way you'll never be"—whether it's in Baghdad, the bone fields of Darfur, the mountains of Afghanistan or one of the most anarchic capitals in the world, Mogadishu.

Vast, mostly lawless and plagued by clan feuds, Somalia hasn't seen an effective national government since 1991.

At present, the Ethiopian army and the treasury of the United States are propping up a weak transitional federal government that holds sway over the decayed capital, Mogadishu. The TFG, as it is called, ousted a radical Islamist movement late last year. But the fighting grinds on. And it's getting bloodier.

Wary citizens edge through Mogadishu on foot or in dented old buses, flinching whenever gunfire erupts nearby. They brave car bombs, insurgent ambushes, corrupt police and thundering Ethiopian artillery to reach their dusty food markets. Children flatten against classroom floors if the shooting gets too close.

More than 170,000 people have fled intensifying street battles in Mogadishu over the past two weeks, the UN says. Today the city, once home to 1 million to 2 million people, sprawls half-empty—a grim incubator of wartime trauma.

"Nobody knows the scope of the problems because it's too dangerous to work there," said Karin Fischer Liddle, a Somalia specialist with Doctors Without Borders, one of the few Western aid agencies still functioning in the metropolis.

Doctors Without Borders had hoped to carry out the city's first mental health survey this year but shelved the plan because of surging violence. "We just assume the needs are enormous," Fischer Liddle said.

As it is, Mogadishu's residents have only one option for mental health care: Habeb Public Mental Hospital.

Established in 2005, it sees new stress cases every day. Its 50 or so beds technically serve all of central and southern Somalia—a land of war-displaced nomads and farmers with a total population of perhaps 8 million to 12 million.

One recent afternoon, its patients sprawled on dingy mattresses in the dim, stifling wards, apparently heavily sedated. Some stared up, glazed-eyed and smiling. Seven were chained by their wrists and ankles to iron bedsteads. A half-naked man stood outside, giggling in purest ecstasy, shackled to a tree. Another's back was crisscrossed with bruises from village beatings.

"Somalis treat mentally ill people very cruelly," said Habeb, the shaggy-haired nurse who founded the clinic. "Look."

Habeb fired up his office computer. He clicked through photos of hyenas to illustrate the "hyena cure"—a village therapy that involves dropping a mentally impaired person into a pit with the wild predator. The animals are supposed to scare off djinns, or evil spirits, inhabiting the patient, Habeb explained. With a snicker, he ticked off other rustic coping mechanisms for mental illness—beatings, forced starvation, smoking donkey feces.

"We are modern here at the hospital," he said. "Mania, schizophrenia, epilepsy. We diagnose them all. We treat them all—scientifically."

Habeb's office was littered with jars and bottles of pharmaceuticals. Most of it was paid for by the $50-a-month fee he charges inpatients' families, who often begged the money from relatives in the Somali diaspora.The barrel of American tranquilizers occupied pride of place, the center of the floor.

"We don't get many ordinary depressives," he said. "Why? Withdrawal. Sadness. Lack of interest. Low psychomotor activity. In Somalia, all this is natural. These kinds of people just stay in their houses for two or three years."

Habeb described his mental health training: a 90-day course sponsored by the World Health Organization.

A few weeks before, aid workers had stopped by to see if they might help with funding. They left in a hurry. In their report, they noted that a toddler suffering from malaria had been misdiagnosed with "organic psychosis."

Experience literally reshapes the human brain. Memory rewires neurons. That fact has been known by psychologists for some time.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that war leaves its own distinctive, scorching thumbprint on the brain.

Research indicates that the left frontal region, a nexus of verbal communication, malfunctions—becomes disconnected—when people are exposed to continual, violent stress. A new brain-wave study of torture victims, carried out by scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany, has borne that out. There's even a name for this wounded state of mind: speechless terror.

"Language-related centers become impaired in these cases," said Michael Odenwald, one of the study's authors. "There is a pattern of social withdrawal. This helps explain why reconciliation in traumatized populations becomes more difficult."

The war-injured mind exacts other strange costs.

Unexplained back pains, stomach cramps, chronic headaches—all are widely recognized as signs of mental trauma, even in Mogadishu's basic first-aid stations. Meanwhile, the links between serious physical diseases and PTSD have been long recognized by the medical community. A landmark study by The New York Academy of Medicine showed that Vietnam War veterans with PTSD were six times more likely to suffer heart disease than those without it.

Habeb knew this.

"I am a patient too," he confided, making the rounds in his clinic wards. "I am taking medication for heart problems and diabetes. It is the stress."

Habeb said he spent too much time at the clinic. His wife was divorcing him. The things that alarmed his patients were starting to trouble him as well. The knocks on doors that sounded like explosions. The steady buzzing in the sky above Mogadishu—purportedly CIA drones on spying missions—keeping him awake at night.

A few miles away, over the city's sandy streets, another Somali health worker commiserated.

Laila Mohammed Abdi was a shy intake clerk for a maternal health clinic. Two years ago, clan militiamen shot her husband because they wanted his cell phone. He bled to death in her arms. More recently, Mogadishu's police held a gun against her neck and stripped her naked in a market. They stole everything, including her dress. She couldn't take proper care of her children. She couldn't do her job.

"I have got some problem in the brain," she said. "It's getting worse, not better."

Abruptly, she began to cry. One of her colleagues, who was translating, turned his head away and started weeping as well. It seemed the most normal reaction in the world, in Mogadishu.

Nov 14, 2007

Stealing the Sword: Limiting Terrorist Use of Advanced Conventional Weapons

From a new RAND study prepared for the Department of Homeland Security, Stealing the Sword: Limiting Terrorist Use of Advanced Conventional Weapons [156-page pdf]:

In this document, we focus on how the United States can shape the environment, including the perceptions of terrorists, to discourage the use of advanced conventional weapons. We review weapons under development, assess prospective and previous terrorist uses of such weapons, identify ways to make particular kinds of weapons less attractive to terrorist groups, and explore reasons that terrorist groups choose or reject certain weapons.

The analyses presented here should be of interest to homeland security policymakers who need to understand the threat posed by advanced conventional weapons. Those concerned with developing security or defensive systems can allocate research and development and technology funding to countermeasures and defense systems with the greatest possible potential payoff. Those concerned with training security forces can adjust their curricula and concepts appropriately. And those interested in limiting the access of terrorists to advanced weapons can learn where to focus their efforts.


The most worrisome advanced conventional weapons that we have identified in this research are advanced, GPS-guided mortars. Only these systems combine a significant, new capability for terrorists with a lack of effective operational counters for security forces. We must take advantage of a fleeting opportunity to design controls into the weapons. This means that starting efforts to control advanced mortars now is urgent. Although seemingly less threatening, the other advanced weapons—sniper weapons, advanced small arms, antitank guided weapons, and limpet mines—still do require some responses.


Whether or not a terrorist group pursues a new, advanced weapon can be framed as a judgment about costs and benefits. In this context, the choice to seek a specific weapon will depend on the terrorist group’s assessment of how potential benefits compare with the costs of obtaining a weapon and on how the apparent costs and benefits of that advanced weapon compare with other tactical and technological options available to the group. This calculus may be an implicit rather than an explicit process, and decisions may be based on cost and benefit criteria that are idiosyncratic to the terrorist group. Nevertheless, a process with these basic components will underlie decisionmaking at the individual and organizational levels.

Such cost-benefit decisions are further complicated by uncertainty. Depending on the information available to the terrorist group at the time, it will face two different, but complementary risks. They are

●the risk that the group’s cost-benefit judgments about the technology are incorrect and it is choosing to adopt a weapon that is not, in fact, supportive of its objectives

●the risk that the group’s attempt to adopt the technology will fail and it will pay the costs associated with doing so without gaining the desired benefits.


The effort to change terrorist decisionmaking about advanced conventional weapons can be viewed as targeting groups’ perceptions about the costs, benefits, and risks of acquiring and attempting to use the weapons.

Nov 13, 2007

The 'Nation Brand' Marketplace

From a new Council on Foreign Relations analytical brief, The ‘Nation Brand’ Marketplace:

National public-relations campaigns typically raise eyebrows. The whole idea of a country advertising itself evokes propaganda—and history’s most notable propaganda efforts, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, for instance, or Nazi Germany, carry dark connotations. Yet just in the last ten years, an industry has emerged to help countries better tailor their image. As a new Backgrounder outlines, “nation branding” has established itself as a hip new field, both in academia and consulting.

It’s no mystery why countries find the idea compelling. Public-relations concerns loom over some of the world’s geopolitical heavyweights—and the stakes include economic prowess and diplomatic power, not just tourism. “Brand China,” for instance, finds itself increasingly threatened (BBC) following a flurry of scandals over dangerous lapses in the quality control of Chinese exports. The United States, too, is besieged with bad press. Recent polling data from the Pew Research Center shows global perceptions of the United States at a nadir in many parts of the world, particularly among Arabs and Muslims, but also in Europe and Latin America. These numbers represent a stunning shift from the years between 1989 and 2001, when the world’s views of the United States, even in Islamic states, were overwhelmingly positive.

Nov 12, 2007

Who Says The U.S. Can't Keep A Secret?

Especially when it is "embarrassing."

He had all-American cover: born in Iowa, college in Manhattan, Army buddies with whom he played baseball.

George Koval also had a secret. During World War II, he was a top Soviet spy, code named Delmar and trained by Stalin’s ruthless bureau of military intelligence.

Atomic spies are old stuff. But historians say Dr. Koval, who died in his 90s last year in Moscow and whose name is just coming to light publicly, was probably one of the most important spies of the 20th century.

On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir V. Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb.

The announcement hailed Dr. Koval as “the only Soviet intelligence officer” to infiltrate the project’s secret plants, saying his work “helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own.”

Since then, historians, scientists, federal officials and old friends have raced to tell Dr. Koval’s story — the athlete, the guy everyone liked, the genius at technical studies. American intelligence agencies have known of his betrayal at least since the early 1950s, when investigators interviewed his fellow scientists and swore them to secrecy.


Over the years, scholars and federal agents have identified a half-dozen individuals who spied on the bomb project for the Soviets, especially at Los Alamos in New Mexico. All were “walk ins,” spies by impulse and sympathetic leaning rather than rigorous training.

By contrast, Dr. Koval was a mole groomed in the Soviet Union by the feared G.R.U., the military intelligence agency. Moreover, he gained wide access to America’s atomic plants, a feat unknown for any other Soviet spy. Nuclear experts say the secrets of bomb manufacturing can be more important than those of design.


Washington has known about Dr. Koval’s spying since he fled the United States shortly after the war but kept it secret.

“It would have been highly embarrassing for the U.S. government to have had this divulged,” said Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb,” a biography of the project’s military leader.

Historians say Mr. Putin may have cited Dr. Koval’s accomplishments as a way to rekindle Russian pride. As shown by a New York Public Library database search, the announcement has prompted detailed reports in the Russian press about Dr. Koval and his clandestine feats.

“It’s very exciting to get this kind of break,” said John Earl Haynes, a Library of Congress historian and an authority on atomic spying. “We know very little about G.R.U. operations in the United States.”

Nov 11, 2007

Sinuous Sunday - The Sharp End of Altruism

People bitch a lot about violence featured in movies and TV, but ignore a worse problem – how the sort of real (not make-believe) violence known as war is often associated with religion.

Now there may be a better theoretical understanding of how and why this association between religion and war may exist. Two articles in the October 26, 2007 issue of Science discuss evolutionary simulations which show that war drives the joint evolution of altruism and hostility to outsiders. Based on (but going beyond) this work, we will see how religion may be associated with warfare.

The first "perspectives" article gives an overview:

The Sharp End of Altruism

Which would you prefer: a society of selfish but tolerant freetraders, or a warrior society in which people help one another but are hostile to outsiders? If you value both altruism and tolerance, neither seems ideal. Societies of tolerant altruists, however, are exceedingly rare in the simulation presented by Choi and Bowles on page 636 of this issue. Instead, altruism flourishes only in the company of outgroup hostility (parochialism), with war as both the engine of this coevolutionary process and its legacy. For a compatriot, the parochial altruist who risks his life is a shining knight, whereas the outsider encounters the sharp end of this altruism.

The second article is a technical presentation of the research itself, which was the work of Jung-Kyoo Choi and Samuel Bowles:

The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War

Altruism—benefiting fellow group members at a cost to oneself—and parochialism—hostility toward individuals not of one's own ethnic, racial, or other group—are common human behaviors. The intersection of the two—which we term "parochial altruism"—is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective because altruistic or parochial behavior reduces one's payoffs by comparison to what one would gain by eschewing these behaviors. But parochial altruism could have evolved if parochialism promoted intergroup hostilities and the combination of altruism and parochialism contributed to success in these conflicts. Our game-theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans, neither parochialism nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting group conflict, they could have evolved jointly.

Unfortunately, both articles require a subscription for access.

[T]here appears to have been almost no reporting on this research in the usual places that report on scientific research for a general audience. [T]he Santa Fe Institute, with which one of the researchers (Bowles) is associated, did put out this press release:

The coevolution of parochial altruism and war

In "The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War" appearing in the October 26 issue of Science, SFI researcher Samuel Bowles and colleague Jung-Kyoo Choi of Kyungpook National University in South Korea suggest that the altruistic and warlike aspects of human nature may have a common origin.

Altruism – benefiting fellow group members at a cost to oneself – and parochialism – hostility toward individuals not of one's own ethnic, racial, or other group – are common to human nature, but we don't immediately think of them as working together hand in hand. In fact the unexpected combination of these two behaviors may have enabled the survival of each trait according to Bowles and Choi.

They show that the two behaviors – which they term "parochial altruism" – may have in fact coevolved. On the face of it joining parochialism to altruism is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective because both behaviors reduce one's payoffs by comparison to what one would gain by avoiding them. Aggression consumes resources and risks death; altruism, particularly toward those with whom we have no direct relationship, has the effect of helping other genes advance at our expense. But parochial altruism could have evolved if parochialism promoted intergroup hostilities and the combination of altruism and parochialism contributed to the success of these conflicts.

Using game theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations Bowles and Choi show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans neither parochialsim nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting group conflict, they could have evolved jointly.

"But even if a parochial form of altruism may be our legacy," said Bowles, "it need not be our fate." He pointed to the many examples of contemporary altruism extending beyond group boundaries, and the fact that hostility toward outsiders is often redirected or eliminated entirely in a matter of years.

Now, none of this actually mentions religion. Choi and Bowles don't discuss it. So where does religion come into it? We'll get to that shortly. But first, let's review a bit about how altruism and cooperation in human cultures are thought to have evolved.

At first, it could seem that altruism and cooperation are unlikely to have evolved in humans at all, because they seem to be traits of an individual that are of more benefit to others than to the individual who happens to possess them.

However, there is a long history of evolutionary studies that have suggested how tendencies toward altruism and cooperation could have evolved in human groups. For example, starting in 1964 William D. Hamilton argued that altruism toward blood relatives helped to favor shared genes that fostered such altruism. This was termed "kin altruism".

Additional scientific consideration of the evolution of morality, altruism, and cooperation took off in the 1970s, in the work of people like Robert Trivers and Robert Axelrod. Using game theoretic arguments and simulations they showed how another type of altruism – "reciprocal altruism" – could arise in populations where individuals interacted frequently and could learn which others had earned a reputation for dependability in their dealings with other group members.

Many, many others have written on the subject since then, such as Edward O. Wilson (e. g. Consilience, published in 1998), and Steven Pinker (How the Mind Works, published in 1997). A very good history of the subject up until 1996 can be found in Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue.

On the other hand, in spite of arguments advanced showing the benefits to individuals of practicing altruism within a single tribe or cultural group, the fact remains that separate, unrelated groups could easily come into conflict over access to resources (e. g. water, game, other food sources, etc.), especially in times of scarcity due to overpopulation, unfavorable climate, etc. The result would be warfare.

Many people have also studied how evolutionary tendencies have contributed to aggression and warlike behavior between competing human groups. It seems that separate groups that have relatively low genetic similarity to each other and must compete for scarce resources have a notable tendency to come into conflict with each other, and to solve their problems of overpopulation or resource scarcity by killing as many members of the other group as possible. A good exposition of such ideas can be found in this article by Keith Henson: Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War.

It seems very reasonable to see such considerations as the source of the very human tendency to exhibit distrust and even hostility towards other humans who are noticeably "different", especially in physical characteristics, but also when there are simply cultural differences in taste, belief systems, etc.

Furthermore, when conflict between groups does occur and takes the form of open warfare, there is a distinct advantage for groups that have a high percentage of individuals who behave altruistically and cooperatively with each other. If you accept the (somewhat controversial) notion of evolutionary "group selection", this fact provides yet another evolutionary argument for the development of a third type of altruism – parochial altruism – within groups – because groups with the higher percentage of members who cooperate with each other will tend to prevail.

However, there is another side to this story. Individuals will not entirely lose a tendency to gain personal advantage through selfish behavior (such as hoarding food). Altruism can be disadvantageous for an individual if it goes too far, so there is some evolutionary pressure against it also. In an environment where scarcity of resources is not a large problem, individuals can serve their own interests by being open to interaction with members of other groups – especially for commerce and trading of "excess" goods. Individuals who are selfishly willing to trade their goods with members of other groups for the best exchange they can achieve will tend to do better for themselves since they are willing to "sell" to the highest bidder, regardless of group membership.

This, then, is the setting on which Choi and Bowles based their simulation. They considered two kinds of traits an individual could have. One related to altruism (A) vs. selfishness (N, for "not altruistic"). The other related to tolerance (T) vs. hostility (P, for "parochial") towards member of other groups. Any given individual could have one of four possible combinations (AT, AP, NT, NP). They started with groups having members with differing proportions of each possible combination.

Absent intergroup conflict, NT individuals (the most tolerant but selfish) tend to be most successful, and AP the least successful. But when intergroup conflicts occur, groups with the most AP types do better than groups with the most NT types. The simulations proceeded over thousands of generations, and a variety of parameters, all believed to be consistent with what is known about late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer human tribes, were tested.

The net result was that groups with many NT or AP individuals can both be successful, depending on how much warfare occurs (which depends on environmental conditions). But in most cases, groups with high proportions of NP or AT individuals lose out under any conditions. So one conclusion is that in order to have a lot of altruism within a group, you have to expect a lot of parochial intergroup hostility. Conversely, in order to have groups with a lot of tolerance towards other groups, you should expect less altruism and cooperation within the group. Choi and Bowles maintain that the same results tend to arise from a wide variety of different initial conditions.

True, this is "only" a simulation study. And it rests on the assumption that altruism and parochialism (or their opposites) are heritable traits (which alternatively might be transmitted culturally rather than genetically). But it seems to give results that accord well with what we know of human history. And that's where religion enters the picture. (Choi and Bowles do not discuss religion, so what follows is based on their findings, but also the contributions of others.)

In evolutionary terms, why is it that religion is so widespread in human societies? There are a variety of plausible explanations. One is that religion provides the rationale for moral and ethical principles that promote intergroup cooperation and altruism. The argument made by supporters of this idea – such as David Sloan Wilson in his book Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society – is that societies and cultures with strong religion-based ethical and moral principles have a competitive advantage over other groups.

However, what the Choi-Bowles simulation suggests is that this advantage is realized only when groups often engage in conflict and war. For otherwise, there is an advantage for groups with lots of tolerance towards other groups, and lots of free-traders working for their own self-interest.

So, ironically, religion may have developed as a result of intergroup warfare, as a social artifact that helps justify intragroup altruism that actually was selected for because of the warfare. And at the same time, religion would also incorporate a justification for the intergroup hostility and aggression that arose from the same evolutionary process.

In other words, evolutionary pressures tend to bring about an association of religion and warfare. Note that this is not saying religion "causes" war. Indeed, evolutionary theory suggests that overpopulation and resource limits usually tend to be what "causes" war. But when such conditions prevail, it isn't too surprising to find a close association between religion and war. Just recall the slogan some religious believers are so fond of: "There are no atheists in foxholes." (In other words, most of the cannon fodder found in foxholes and military cemeteries is (or was) religious believers.)

Of course, most religions aren't pro-war full time. Many religious believers oppose war because of their faith. Nevertheless, most religions have their holy warriors, such as Mujahideen and Crusaders. (Military equipment of predominantly Christian nations is sometimes named a Crusader.) Most religions have their own versions of Onward Christian Soldiers. And most religions celebrate war in other ways.

But is there scientific evidence of a relation between religion and war? Yes. Consider this:

When God Sanctions Violence, Believers Act More Aggressively

Reading violent scriptures increases aggressive behavior, especially among believers, a new study finds. The study by University of Michigan social psychologist Brad Bushman and colleagues helps to illuminate one of the ways that violence and behavior are linked.

"To justify their actions, violent people often claim that God has sanctioned their behavior," said Bushman, faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research and lead author of the article published in the March 2007 issue of Psychological Science. "Christian extremists, Jewish reactionaries and Islamic fundamentalists all can cite scriptures that seem to encourage or at least support aggression against unbelievers."

To be sure, this is hardly a new observation. Mark Twain, as well as many others before him, had already nailed it.
-Hacked & Jacked Charles Daney at Science and Reason

Nov 10, 2007

A Fight Too Far - Mailer To Moscow

Norman Mailer flew out to Moscow from his home in Provincetown, MA last month to cover the Holyfield vs. Ibragimov fight exclusively for The Exile.

There's rain in Moscow and the press horde has gathered in a giant half-empty sterile cage of a fight palace, some late-Communist figure-skating beast of a dome. And the old writer is tired. The flight from Boston dragged cruel on his body and yes the old writer is tired. The look of this place has him more tired still, dying animal tired, anxious for onion soup and a long rest in the dull sunset shadows of the Kremlin and its soft-spoken new Czar, the same castle that once haunted thermonuclear fantasies had on whiskey stained New York sheets. He had run through the bush with Ali in '75. Now this. Norman Mailer is in Moscow for 12 rounds if Holyfield is lucky. And he is tired.


Fight night. Through most of the 12 rounds, we wait for the fight to begin. Holyfield and Igrabimov circle and jab, circle and jab. Only twice does one man wobble, Holyfield both times the staggering victim. The Russian's artillery to the solar plex in the 10th the closest thing to punishment from Allah. When it is done, mercifully done, the writer agrees with the judges in their unanimous decision by points. The fight writers, too, are correct. It is time for the ex-champ to hang up the gloves on a sturdy nail, to retreat to home and hearth and church in Atlanta, where the sacred canvas circle of past battles can loop in memory before finally coming to rest in the promise of sleep.

Reinventing The Wheel

Robert Satloff may be surprised to discover that he is about six years behind the power curve with this idea. And that the plan is not merely theoretical.

We have -- from time to time -- referred here to various aspects of the program as being part of the primary post-9/11 U.S. Strategic PSYOP.

From today's Washington Post, How to Win The War Of Ideas:

Rather than expend effort on winning Muslim friendship for America, our engagement with Muslim publics -- what we call "public diplomacy" -- should focus on identifying, nurturing and supporting anti-Islamist Muslims, from secular liberals to pious believers, who fear the encroachment of radical Islamists and are willing to make a stand.

This strategy would involve overt and covert ways to assist anti-Islamist political parties, nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, media outlets, women's groups, educational institutions and youth movements as they compete with the radicals. It calls for marshaling government resources -- our embassies, aid bureaucracies, international broadcasting units and intelligence agencies, as well as our commercial, educational and civic relationships -- to give anti-Islamists the moral, political, financial, technological and material support they need. A key feature of this includes empowering local Muslims with information about the salafist or Wahhabi connections of their radical Islamist adversaries.

Our goal is to help anti-Islamists prevent extremists from controlling public space, public speech and public behavior.