Monday, February 27, 2006

Brokeback Barracks

RSS and news aggregators can sometimes turn up odd things. This is what my google news aggregator turned up for "US Army" today:

US Army Charges Gay Porn Stars

The US Army has charged seven of its most elite paratroopers for appearing in a military-themed gay porn website engaging in sex acts.

The soldiers face court-martial and discharge on charges of sodomy, pandering and engaging in sex acts for money. They will also be discharged under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which states that “homosexual conduct is incompatible with military service.”

The seven troops are members of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, trained to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours. Four additional paratroopers have been given non-judicial punishment for participating in the website.

The website does not make any reference to the division in which the soldiers who appear serve, but promises that the gay pornographic images it contains are of “real US soldiers”.

Jeff Gannon could not be reached for comment. "Airborne, All the Way!" now has a creepy new meaning. I'm guessing that some poor company commander out there is has been having a really long week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Learning is Winning


TALL AFAR, Iraq -- The last time the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment served in Iraq, in 2003-04, its performance was judged mediocre, with a series of abuse cases growing out of its tour of duty in Anbar province.

But its second tour in Iraq has been very different, according to specialists in the difficult art of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign --fighting a guerrilla war but also trying to win over the population and elements of the enemy. Such campaigns are distinct from the kind of war most U.S. commanders have spent decades preparing to fight.

In the last nine months, the regiment has focused on breaking the insurgents' hold on Tall Afar, a town of 290,000. Their operations here "will serve as a case study in classic counterinsurgency, the way it is supposed to be done," said Terry Daly, a retired intelligence officer specializing in the subject.

U.S. military experts conducting an internal review of the three dozen major U.S. brigades, battalions and similar units operating in Iraq in 2005 privately concluded that of all those units, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment performed the best at counterinsurgency, according to a source familiar with the review's findings.

The regiment's campaign began in Colorado in June 2004, when Col. H. R. McMaster took command and began to train the unit to return to Iraq. As he described it, his approach was like that of a football coach who knows he has a group of able and dedicated athletes, but needs to retrain them to play soccer.

Understanding that the key to counterinsurgency is focusing on the people, not the enemy, he said he changed the standing orders of the regiment to state that in the future all soldiers would "treat detainees professionally. "During the unit's previous tour, a detainee was beaten to death during questioning and a unit commander carried a baseball bat that he called his "Iraqi beater."

"Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy," McMaster said he told every soldier in his command. He ordered his soldiers to stop using the term hajji as a slang term for all Iraqis, because he saw it as inaccurate and disrespectful. (It actually means someone who has made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.)

He also quietly relieved one battalion commander who didn't seem to understandthat such changes were necessary.

The lingering problem:

Even now, McMaster said, he understands that his success is "fragile." The city's mayor, Najim Abdullah Jabouri, is unhappy that McMaster and his unit are leaving Iraq this month. "A surgeon doesn't leave in the middle of the operation!" the mayor said intently to McMaster over a recent lunch of lamb kabobs and bread. He waved his finger under the colonel's nose. "The doctor should finish the job he started."

McMaster and Hickey tried to calm him down. "There's another doctor coming," Hickey ventured. "He's very good."

The mayor wasn't mollified. He said he has seen other American units here before, and they didn't coordinate with Iraqi forces like McMaster's has. "When you leave, I will leave, too," the mayor threatened. "What you are doing is an experiment, and it isn't right to experiment on people."

This reminds me of one of my favorite military books, The Battle for Hunger Hill. If you can learn and adapt, you can win.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

NSA scandal got you worried? Then, I ADVISE you read this.

Total information awareness lives! From the CS Monitor:

The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.
The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.
What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.

I’m leery of this on a couple different levels. First, it seems like it would be easy to screw up. Last night on Olbermann’s Countdown the “Worst Person in the World” was a toss up between a bank and DHS because they froze the bank accounts of some nuns under provisions of the patriot act. Why? Because of they didn’t have the right info on file. And the track record of the “no-fly” list doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy about this type of program either. What happens if ADVISE and the no fly list are linked? Sorry sir, you bought a copy of the wrong book from Amazon so you can’t board the plane.

Of course, I can see the intelligence utility of such a program, but I can also see the civil liberties pitfalls. In our increasingly connected world, our society needs to think about these things. How will our government exercise independent oversight of ADVISE? Or will it be like NSA programs and be so highly classified that anyone outside the intelligence community won’t be able to see what’s going on? Perhaps we should start electing people to congress who already have Top Secret clearances.

Finally, I wonder if this is not yet another example of our country’s over-reliance on technology to try to solve its intelligence problems. UBL probably isn’t clicking around on Amazon. The bad guys are smart enough to adapt to the environment in which they live. They know when our satellites are passing over. They know that we monitor their communications and work to counter that. They’ll counter this too. I’m not saying that something like this won’t produce useful intelligence. I’m sure it will, but we’ll still be left with gaps.

The key to success in the counter-terror fight is Human Intelligence and cultural adaptability. ADVISE will be mining tons of data, but how many of its operators will speak Arabic? Not many based on our thru-put for language training. ADVISE may be able to tip or cue the intelligence community that something might be happening, but without a robust HUMINT follow through, you’re just jousting electrons.

Udate: DefenseTech has a great post on this. There is a great comment on the post as well:
I wonder how well the data mining stuff can work.

I once read the Earth Liberation Front's "How to Commit Arson" document
(I worry about the Dirt-First types and cyberattacks).

They focused a lot on how to avoid traceability through electronic
records (purchases, etc). If a bunch of shaggy, granola eating, firebombing,
hummer-burning treehuggers can figure it out, couldn't Osama & co?