Jul 16, 2008

Effwits Outta' da' Forest

The "Global War on Terror" has conjured the image of terrorists behind every bush, the bushes themselves burning and an angry god inciting its faithful to religious war. We have been called to arms, built fences, and compromised our laws and the practices that define us as a nation. The administration has focused on pursuing terrorists and countering an imminent and terrifying threat.

The inclination to trust our leaders when they warn of danger is compelling, particularly when the specters of mushroom clouds and jihadists haunt every debate.

We rightly honor as heroes those, who serve our nation and offer their lives to protect ours. We all "support the troops." Yet the first step for any commander is to understand the enemy. The next commander in chief should base his counterterrorism policies on the following realities:

We do not face a global jihadist "movement" but a series of disparate ethnic and religious conflicts involving Muslim populations, each of which remains fundamentally regional in nature and almost all of which long predate the existence of al-Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden and his disciples are small men and secondary threats whose shadows are made large by our fears. Al-Qaeda is the only global jihadist organization and is the only Islamic terrorist organization that targets the U.S. homeland. Al-Qaeda remains capable of striking here and is plotting from its redoubt in Waziristan, Pakistan. The organization, however, has only a handful of individuals capable of planning, organizing and leading a terrorist operation. Al-Qaeda threatens to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, but its capabilities are far inferior to its desires. Even the "loose nuke" threat, whose consequences would be horrific, has a very low probability. For the medium term, any attack is overwhelmingly likely to consist of creative uses of conventional explosives

No other Islamic-based terrorist organization, from Mindanao to the Bekaa Valley to the Sahel, targets the U.S. homeland, is part of a "global jihadist movement" or has more than passing contact with al-Qaeda. These groups do and will, however, identify themselves with global jihadist rhetoric and may bandy the bogey-phrase of "al-Qaeda." They are motivated by hostility toward the West and fear of the irresistible changes that education, trade, and economic and social development are causing in their cultures. These regional terrorist organizations may target U.S. interests or persons in the groups' historic areas of interest and operations. None of these groups is likely to succeed in seizing power or in destabilizing the societies they attack, though they may succeed in killing numerous people through sporadic attacks such as the Madrid train bombings.

There are and will continue to be small numbers of Muslims in certain Western countries -- in the dozens, perhaps -- who seek to commit terrorist acts, along the lines of the British citizens behind the 2005 London bus bombings. Some may have irregular contact with al-Qaeda central in Waziristan; more will act as free agents for their imagined cause. They represent an Islamic-tinged version of the anarchists of the late 19th century: dupes of "true belief," the flotsam of revolutionary cultural change and destruction in Islam, and of personal anomie. We need to catch and neutralize these people. But they do not represent a global movement or a global threat.

The threat from Islamic terrorism is no larger now than it was before Sept. 11, 2001. Islamic societies the world over are in turmoil and will continue for years to produce small numbers of dedicated killers, whom we must stop. U.S. and allied intelligence do a good job at that; these efforts, however, will never succeed in neutralizing every terrorist, everywhere.

Why are these views so starkly at odds with what the Bush administration has said since the beginning of the "Global War on Terror"? This administration has heard what it has wished to hear, pressured the intelligence community to verify preconceptions, undermined or sidetracked opposing voices, and both instituted and been victim of procedures that guaranteed that the slightest terrorist threat reporting would receive disproportionate weight -- thereby comforting the administration's preconceptions and policy inclinations.

We must not delude ourselves about the nature of the terrorist threat to our country. We must not take fright at the specter our leaders have exaggerated. In fact, we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are.

(I gotta stop bloggin' when sloshed)

Jul 8, 2008

Struggle For Cognetic Dominion

Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II's monograph Wars of Ideas and the War of Ideas [63-page pdf] analyzes how the United States and its allies and strategic partners might proceed in the current "war of ideas" with al-Qaeda and other groups. Two diverging schools are proposed to exist. The first treats the conflict as a matter of public diplomacy, and calls for revitalizing the U.S. State Department and reestablishing many traditional tools of statecraft. The second advocates waging the war of ideas as a "real war," destroying the influence and credibility of the opposing ideology. It calls for continuing the transformation of the U.S. Defense Department so that it can better leverage information-age weapons. Excerpts:

Simply put, a war of ideas is a clash of visions, concepts, and images, and—especially—the interpretation of them; for the images themselves matter much less than the way they are perceived. They are, indeed, genuine wars because they serve a purpose, usually political, social, or economic in nature, and they involve hostile intentions or hostile acts, though they are not always physically violent.12 History suggests wars of ideas fall into four general categories: (a) intellectual debates, (b) ideological wars, (c) wars over religious dogma, and (d) advertising campaigns. All of them are essentially about power and influence, just as with wars over territory and material resources, and their stakes can run quite high. In fact, many wars of ideas occur as part of larger physical conflicts. One of the principal motives for a war of ideas is fear that others will gain access to, or control of, some form of physical power or material wealth. In some cases, ideas are the most effective weapons for countering such threats.


The U.S. military must consider revising its corpus of doctrine pertaining to information operations. Joint doctrine is reasonably comprehensive in terms of addressing information operations, to include sub- and related categories such as psychological operations and military deception.84 However, the chief assumption underpinning each of these documents is that information operations support (kinetic) military operations. That is true in many types of conflicts. However, in other cases, particularly the current war of ideas, this relationship is reversed: military operations need to support information operations. Al- Qaeda and other jihadi organizations are not fighting a new kind of war, but instead are subordinating their military operations to a well-crafted information campaign designed to exploit certain cultural and religious values. All Joint and service publications pertaining to information operations should be revised to incorporate those wars where military operations are conducted in support of a larger information campaign. Put differently, U.S. military doctrine must broaden its view of the relationship between kinetic and information operations.


[...and pertaining to IO supporting deep intelligence]

Furthermore, doctrine concerning information operations must be revised to reflect the reality that the “information environment” is neither neutral nor static. Disparate cultural and social influences almost ensure that diverse audiences will interpret the same information differently. Even within that variegated landscape, the meanings of images, concepts, and visions are often bitterly contested. It is almost impossible to interpret information objectively because the very tools needed for interpretation in the first place are derived from subjective experiences and structures of meaning. In many cases, enough commonalities exist to allow at least a baseline of communication to take place. Yet, an important assumption underpinning U.S. doctrine on information operations is that all audiences will essentially draw the desirable conclusion, if given enough of the “right” information. This assumption overlooks how various cultures assess information depending on the sources. Simply put, “right” appears differently to diverse audiences. While we would expect our opponents to spin information to their advantage, even so-called neutral populations are not necessarily impartial when it comes to interpreting information offered by either side.

IO/IW Bibliography

We're unrepentant pdf'avores at SMC and here's a doozy sure to single- handedly tide a Kodiak through a long winter's hibernation: Library liaison Greta Marrlat over at the Naval Post Graduate School's Dudley Knox Library has compiled this whopper of a 340-page IO/IW bibliography . Nice.

Jul 6, 2008

Injun Country Gruntings

A May 2008 NDU piece on winning hearts and minds via health care sector help in Indian Country: The Role of Medical Diplomacy in Stabilizing Afghanistan [8-page pdf]. Voilá - excerpts not entirely unrelated to one of our previous postings:

Comprehensive stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan are not possible given the current fragmentation of responsibilities, narrow lines of authorities, and archaic funding mechanisms.

Afghans are supportive of U.S. and international efforts, and there are occasional signs of progress, but the insurgent threat grows as U.S. military and civilian agencies and the international community struggle to bring stability to this volatile region. Integrated security, stabilization, and reconstruction activities must be implemented quickly and efficiently if failure is to be averted. Much more than a course correction is needed to provide tangible benefits to the population, develop effective leadership capacity in the government, and invest wisely in reconstruction that leads to sustainable economic growth. A proactive, comprehensive reconstruction and stabilization plan for Afghanistan is crucial to counter the regional terrorist insurgency, much as the Marshall Plan was necessary to combat the communist threat from the Soviet Union. This paper examines the health sector as a microcosm of the larger problems facing the United States and its allies in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.


An effective counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban requires a combination of offensive, defensive, and stability operations, where stability operations include civil security, civil control, essential services, good governance, economic development, and infrastructure development. Essential services include water, electricity, health care, and education—all of which support economic growth and progress toward self-sufficiency. These services are unavailable to most Afghans, adding to discontent and societal tension and fueling the insurgency. Providing access to these services is the crucial counterinsurgency step that goes hand in hand with security. Strategic civil-military partnerships must be developed that create unity of effort where offensive military operations, defensive security operations, and the correct aspects of stabilization are applied across the spectrum from conflict to peace.


New DOD policy elevates stability operations to a core competency akin to combat operations and states that while actions may best be performed by indigenous, foreign, or U.S. civilian personnel, U.S. military forces shall be prepared to perform all tasks necessary to maintain order when civilians cannot do so. The Government Accountability Office notes that DOD lacks interagency coordination mechanisms for planning and information-sharing and has not identified the full range of capabilities needed for stability operations or the measures of effectiveness essential to evaluate progress. Performance measures must consider the crucial societal elements of civil security, civil control, essential services, governance, economic development, and infrastructure development, and are doubly important when taking on a new mission —stabilization and reconstruction—in a new environment—postconflict—against a new enemy—an extremist insurgency.

Opportunities Lost, Lessons Not Learned

Nowhere is this disorganization more apparent, nor have more opportunities been lost, than in the areas of health and medical care in Afghanistan. Too much effort is wasted on poorly coordinated Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAPs), where U.S. and NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military medical personnel deliver health care directly to Afghan civilians, undercutting the confidence of the local population in their own government’s ability to provide essential services. While reasonable people may disagree about the effectiveness of MEDCAPs in nations where there is no functioning government to provide this health care, MEDCAPs in Afghanistan are largely inappropriate because they fail to contribute to long-term capacity-building. These teams are more appropriately used as tactical implementers of reconstruction

Makes an Eagle Scout kinda' guy wanna cry, non? Off for a swim in an ocean.

Jul 2, 2008

CATCH-All Shadows

Cross-border communications intercepts are all the rage these days, both in terms of the publicity and public debate generated - and by measure of the flurry of international legislative activities in motion to retroactively cloak in legalese the amassing activities that have already been well in place for considerable time among our duteous SIGINT allies - and that as integral piecemeal part of that ol´ jig-saw puzzle we've oft & melodramatically referred to as our Catch-All program.

Of perhaps fleeting interest to some of our readers comes a feebly related judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this week in a case brought by Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and British Irish Rights Watch against the United Kingdom. The judgment found that UK surveillance laws had lacked the necessary clarity and accountability to prevent abuses of power when used to intercept cross-border communications.

According to the EHCR,
[it]does not consider that the domestic law at the relevant time indicated with sufficient clarity, so as to provide adequate protection against abuse of power, the scope or manner of exercise of the very wide discretion conferred on the State to intercept and examine external communications. In particular, it did not, as required by the Court’s case-law, set out in a form accessible to the public any indication of the procedure to be followed for selecting for examination, sharing, storing and destroying intercepted material. The interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 8 (the right to privacy) was not, therefore, “in accordance with the law.”
A puniest of victories for privacy advocates - a pebbly bump in the road for CATCH-ALL.