Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Real Scandal Behind Wikileaks and STRATFOR

STRATFOR, or Strategic Forecasting, is in the news of late because Wikileaks managed to obtain what it says are five million internal Emails from the self-described “private intelligence” firm.

Let me be clear about the real issue here:  Though it’s titillating to get a peek into how corporations are paying for information, especially about activists who endanger them, that question is mostly of interest to the shareholders.  The real issue is why anyone in the U.S. government – that means, U.S. tax dollars – would be interested in buying something that is available for free, of questionable value, and could (and should) be provided by the intelligence agencies.  That is the scandal.

The news media also seems split on how to portray STRATFOR (and Wikileaks), mostly I note, because the mainstream media loves to use the Wikileaks material but also loves to downplay the significance of anyone else’s findings, particularly that of an “activist” organization.  Hence the Associated Press can say that “the first, small batch published Monday contained little that was particularly scintillating.”

On the other hand, screamers and special interest “media” love to overplay Wikileaks (and, by extension, STRATFOR) as blowing the lid off of government and revealing the darkest of the dark.  Thus Amy Goodman can say:

“The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun publishing what it says are 5.5 million emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a private U.S.-based intelligence-gathering firm known to some as a “shadow CIA” for corporations and government agencies.”

The only people who refer to STRATFOR as a “shadow CIA” are those who love to say shadow CIA.

Michael Ross in The National Post (Canada) has a more apt analysis of the actual substance of STRATFOR’s analysis, though he is both too kind in glamorizing the skills of government intelligence agencies.

I haven’t seen anything yet on how much STRATFOR gets from the U.S. taxpayer for its information, but I note that the Air Force’s Services Agency (for the Air Force library system) paid STRATFOR $124,950 last August – for ten concurrent users (they paid $119,950 in 2010).  Other government entities, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) headquarters in Hawaii, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Air University in Alabama, have solicited recent bids for access to STRATFOR’s materials, the Air University for 1,500 unlimited users (at the Air Force library rate, that would be over $1 million).

The PACAF justification and approval letter to enter into a limited competition contract with STRATFOR claims:

“Stratfor’s web portal provides access to real-time, critical political, economic and security related events and developments.  Stratfor’s forecasting capabilities are supported by an internationally-recognized team of experts and analysts.  Government and military leaders use Stratfor to gain insights on triggers affecting geopolitical events and potential movements around the world.”

What a bunch of crap.  Isn’t this what the intelligence agencies are supposed to be doing?

The news reports say that the Marine Corps, the Department of Homeland Security, and even the Defense Intelligence Agency additionally subscribe to STRATFOR’s materials, though I could find no trace of their contracts on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website.

So, millions of tax dollars, to support what?  It’s not shadow CIA, though if STRATFOR’s materials are any good, that’s an insult to them.  Even if STRATFOR’s materials are excellent, you gotta question the wisdom of the government pay even for students at the academies and war colleges to “get access” to something like this.

Jock Straps and Coffee Mugs

I know when billion dollar defense programs are being discussed, jock straps and coffee mugs seem pretty minor.

But I couldn’t help but notice last week that West Point issued a contract solicitation for “Athletic Supporters/White.”  The Army is looking for a vendor to sell them not any kind, but 2″ or 3″ wide waistband size jockstraps.   The actual solicitation is 29 pages long for this purchase.  I haven’t acquired one in quite some time, but I went on Amazon just to see how much we’re talking and they are all of $9 to $10 each retail for the premium types.  According to the 29 page solicitation, West Point is looking for 144 small, 300 medium size, and 730 large.

So, why can’t the contracting office at West Point, or even the athletic department, just pick up the phone to buy $12,000 worth of jock straps, which I imagine in that quantity is actually a purchase of well under half that amount?  To be clear, even though most of that 29 page solicitation is boilerplate language and includes admonitions about not supporting diamond smuggling or Iran, someone on the government payroll wrote it, passed it on to a supervisor, got it approved, someone registered it with an official number, sent it out to Federal Business Opportunities website to advertise, will receive and examine bids, etc., etc.

I guess I don’t need to ask why there is a need for so many large.

And then there’s the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 28 page solicitation to buy four (4)  Guinea Pigs cages — “CAGE GUINEA PIG UNIT” officially — that has something to with chemical or biological warfare research.  Yuck.

Which brings me to the camouflage “Army Strong” mugs being purchased by the Army Accessions Command at Ft. Knox, Kentucky: “15 oz, made in the USA coffee mug. Mug shall be equal to H.F. Coors, Chief Mug blank white ceramic mug, model number 1864. Mug shall be decorated via Dye Sublimation, microwave, dishwasher and UV safe, and Proposition 65 compliant. Mug shall be printed with the Army Camouflage Uniform (ACU) digital pattern.”  According to the 33 page solicitation, the Army wants 43,200 mugs in 2012, in boxes of 12, with the pallet size specified for shipping.

With an 800-number and the Army website address printed on each mug as specified in the solicitation, I suppose each is being given to prospective recruits.  Glad they’re camouflaged.

Again, someone has to administer all of this, and each prospective bidder in the case of the coffee mugs is even required to produce a sample.  And these oddities of everyday military life is from one day of perusing contracts.   What I see is  millions if not billions being spent on the contracting process alone, making the products grotesquely more expensive.   Why, for heaven’s sake, isn’t this centrally done?  And why can’t it be simplified?

When I read that the Defense Department is adding thousands of new contracting officers to better oversee contracts, what I see is fewer typos in these forms, not any kind of reform.

The Threat Machine

Been on vacation and am going through the bits of curiosities that have made it into my inbox, my files, or my head in the week I was away.  I’ll write about some in the coming days.

On the most important immediate questions, the Afghanistan war continues to be defended despite public support and any plausible end-point worth the expenditure of any additional American treasure or lives.  There is not even stability inside the government’s Ministry buildings and “military advisors” is becoming too frequent code for perpetual presence.

There hasn’t been a war with Iran, and despite abundant cheerleading from the news media, the threats of war seem to have had no impact on Tehran.  Again, it is the end-point that is the issue here, whether a nuclear Iran is even a plausible possibility and actual threat, and second, what Iran’s striving for nuclear weapons represents.

Which brings us to the third issue of nuclear weapons and the Obama administration’s supposed commitment to deep reductions and nuclear disarmament.  On so many levels, this is the proper focus and thrust for American foreign policy and international security, but it lacks any public traction or support, especially in a world where the WMD-obsessed counter-terror elite and the Washington war-mongers clamor for any kind of conflict – actual or imagined – for their sustainment.

Related is the endless cycle, the FBI now says that cyber-attacks are becoming the top terror threats.  In other words, nuclear war, nuclear smwar.  Secretary Panetta told CBS News that “The reality is that there is the cyber capability to basically bring down our power grid to create … to paralyze our financial system in this country to virtually paralyze our country.”

No wonder all of the nation’s state-level Guard leaders and 49 governors signed letters to the White House protesting planned military cuts, saying the Air National Guard in particular is taking an unfair hit.  First of all, who’s the retarded governor who didn’t sign?  Second, we decry pork-barrel politics and earmarking and Congressional interference but ignore that defense spending, and promotion of a perpetual threat, has become a way of life for us.  Governors?

Defense By the Numbers: An Analysis of the Budget

The FY 2013 defense budget request to Congress totals 125 volumes (so far), a half-a-gigabyte of data in hundreds of thousands of pages.  I’m looking for gold, even insight, but until then here is another word analysis of what the budget says (DHS yesterday).

How many times something is mentioned is a questionable methodology for insight into anything, and yet, there’s China while Syria and Iran are hardly to be found.  As if the same case with al Qaeda, and Islam.  Of course, terrorism does rule, including cyber-terrorism, the latest-latest, but for those who advocate (or fear) nuclear disarmament, one can’t help notice the enduring value of weapons of mass destruction language as the main threat.

“Soft” power also seems a tough sell, at least in the budget, because, well, what is it that you are buying to make it?  That’s not the case though with unmanned systems, which rule, even though the Pentagon hates to use the word “drone,” which just happens to be the media’s hot-button.

The Geography of the Budget (times word is mentioned in defense budget materials)

OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) 2534
Diego Garcia 2155
Afghanistan 1320
China 799
Iraq 765
Japan 395
Russia 303
Korea 291
Guam 281
Mexico 259
Pakistan 113
India 89
Cuba 42
Peru 15
Egypt 13
Colombia 10
Iran 10
Israel 3
Syria 0

The Threats

nuclear 6490
chemical 2709
border 2336
terror, terrorism, terrorist, terrorists 2272
biological 2035
anti-terrorism 1725
WMD 1345
CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives) 816
counter-terrorism 329
virus 72
WMD-terrorism 68
Narco-terrorism 58
Bioterrorism 56
biological warfare 48
extremism 46
extremists 35
Al Qaeda 19
counter-unmanned 18
suicide-bomber 12
radical 11
Pandemic 9
Islamic, Islamists 9
agro-terrorism 8
homegrown 4
Muslim 4
radicalization 2

The Buzz

analysis, analyses 22086
Networks 15860
target, targeting 12573
threat, threats 11351
intelligence 10634
future 9909
architecture 9125
enterprise 8080
detection 7852
strategy 7770
surveillance 7267
studies 7261
global 6795
strategic 6103
homeland 5106
cyber, cyberspace, cybersecurity 4641
human 4606
awareness 4572
survivability 3984
reconnaissance 3926
identification 3724
secure 3451
realtime 3354
situational 3112
expeditionary 3047
enforcement 2633
collection 2516
net-centric 2026
autonomous 1762
exploitation 1724
persistent 1560
fusion 1512
denial 518
transparent 217
human-centric 86

The Bureaucratic Stuff

OCO (overseas contingency operations) 21536
Change 14540
Special 8285
modernization 8097
Readiness 7619
reduce 5257
metrics 4026
reductions 3955
increases 3709
decreases 3069
legacy 2869
oversight 2664
obsolescence 2492
complex 2379
transformation 2135
vision 2004
sharing 1729

Fighting for the Money

aircraft 27916
missile, missiles 13062
ship, ships 10262
sensor 8916
munitions, ammunition 7518
vehicles 6848
radar 6703
sensors 6286
unmanned 4664
engine 4521
submarine 4340
antisubmarine 4047
satellite 3805
laser 3675
carrier 3565
infrared 3360
GPS 3177
precision 3013
aerial 2994
P-3A 2848
DCGS 2828
mobility 2751
ASW 2719
acoustic 2600
ISR 2579
propulsion 2519
countermeasures 2454
nonlethal 2391
UAS, UAV (unmanned aerial systems/vehicles) 2383

English Words (Almost)

combat 15477
fire 6239
strike 3613
battle 3195
explosive 3140
duty 2922
kill, hard-kill, killings 1170
destroy, destroyed 329
death, deaths 246
hunter-killer 64
soft-kill 60

War of the Words

security 21235
warfare 11130
protection 10535
warfighter, warfighting 7522
war, wars 4004
combatant 2534
disaster 2417
peace, peaceful, peacekeeper 216
violence 52

Pay Attention

traumatic 231
suicide 224
PTSD 98
TBI (traumatic brain injury) 79

Homeland Security By the Numbers

The 3,134 page justification material for the fiscal year 2013 budget request that was sent to Congress on Monday is an eye-glazing, pre-formatted pile of … paper.   Let’s hope for the tree’s sake that no one prints it out.

Besides the outrage (blog coming) that the Department of Homeland Security seems immune to even the most modest and substantive cuts – except for the Coast Guard – I’ve been trying to think of a way, beyond the one-day story, to actually describe the department’s priorities, and the message the budget is intended to convey.

I’ve taken the entire budget, indexed it by words mentioned, and then sorted it in various ways.  This is one way to read it:

Top 10 words in the 3,134 page (number of times mentioned)

Security 4698
Services 3872
Management 3087
Change 3014
Obligations 2943
Requested 2789
DHS 2541
Support 2486
Federal 2367
Personnel 2246

Top 10 substantive words

Security 4698
Homeland 2045
Enforcement 1142
Border 1107
Protection 1006
Detection 942
risk 891
Emergency 861
Threats 854
law 814

Institutions mentioned in the budget

DHS 2541
Customs and Border Protection 1555
TSA 842
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 780
Coast Guard 866
FEMA 771
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office 436
Congress 411
Secretary of Homeland Security 389
Headquarters 326
President 288
USCIS 148
US-CERT 146
Department of Defense 124
FBI 79
Federal Air Marshal Service 55
Department of Justice 50
U.S. Secret Service 37
Joint Terrorist Task Force 9
Directorate of National Intelligence 1
Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency 1

What’s the Department of Homeland Security is doing

adjust, adjusted, adjusting, adjustments 3736
Change 3014
decrease, decreases 1904
Increase 1862
accountability, accountable 119
Decreases 77
Eliminate 25
Close 17
Abandoned 2
Abolished 2
Support 2
cancel, canceled 2
Cuts 2

Get the Message?

cyber, cyber-space 600
flood, floods, flooding 571
terror, terrorism, terrorist 566
crime, criminals 547
Nuclear 523
radiation, radiological 329
bio-terror 271
manmade 95
Natural 89
disease, diseases 66
Mexico 55
violence, violent 55
hurricane, hurricanes 38
agro-terrorism, agro-defense 28
IEDs (improvised explosive devices) 22
storm, storms 15
China 9
Virus 6
Arab 3
Pandemic 3
narco-terrorism 2
radical, radicalization 2
Flu 1
Al Qaeda 1
Islam, Islamic 0

WMD-rules, and though terrorism is the threat, al Qaeda and Islam can’t be mentioned.  Also, for the hurricane threatened, beware.

Feeling Surrounded?

A routine Air Force promotional release about a top chaplain visiting airmen at an “undisclosed location” in Southwest Asia got me thinking again about secrets, and about war with Iran.  That’s because the location he visited used to be Balad air base in northern Iraq, home for a long time to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.

Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander and the final commander of Joint Base Balad, relinquished command of Balad during a ceremony December 4th last year, the Air Force reported.  An Air Force article about the final days of Balad said the once busy base was “transitioning to the next undisclosed location without missing a sortie.”

“Believe it or not, I deployed to this particular undisclosed location exactly 10 years ago this week–just six months after 9/11,” the chaplain remarked about the new location.  “Just six months ago, this installation was literally covered in dust–several inches thick in many places, including the chapel interior,” he said.

So what base is it?  In what country?  My guess is Kuwait, particularly Ali al Salem airbase, but I don’t know.

I imagine Tehran knows.  But otherwise, it continues to be a kneejerk official secret.  I wonder if that secret, and the importance of that secret, is known even to Congress?

When Does Preparation Become War?

Today in Secret History: February 10

As people continue to fret about an Israeli (or American) attack on Iran, is there some lesson we can learn from pre-Iraq war history?

On February 10, 2003, the main body of the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) arrived at H-5 airfield in the eastern desert of Jordan in preparation for the second Gulf War (All Roads Lead to Baghdad, p. 97), an in-the-shadows unit, in support of a non-existent special operations task force, at a secret base in a classified country.  Though in hindsight it looked like a war to depose Saddam Hussein was a certainty, at the time, there was still quite a public and international debate.

Of course, from Baghdad’s perspective, war seemed more and more certain, what with the accelerated bombing already taking place under the cover of Operation Southern Focus, with CIA and special operations forces inside Iraq, and special operations deployments building up along the Iraqi border in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the conventional military deployments centered in Kuwait.  In hindsight, as crazy as it might seem, it looks like everyone’s preferred outcome – everyone in the U.S. and Iraqi governments, that is – was war.

By the time the shooting officially started a month later in mid-March, this secret Joint Special Operations Task Force West (JSOTF-W), also known as Task Force Dagger, had built up to include these special operations helicopters of the 3rd Battalion, the 5th Special Forces Group from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a company from the Army Reserve 19th Special Forces Group, British and Australian special operations forces, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a quick reaction force from the 82nd Airborne Division, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System [HIMARS] battery, and the even more secret Task Force 20 (TF-20), the black Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task force given the mission of finding Iraq’s WMD.

According to the official Army special operations history, the Jordanian-based task force had two missions: “deter the launch of Scuds from western Iraq, and support conventional forces in their attack in southern Iraq.”  I love the use of the word deter here: Deter what?  Ignore for a moment that there were no Scud missiles to be found in Iraq anyhow, and certainly none deployed in western Iraq — an intelligence analysis failure that drove a lot of effort — but how does a secret mission deter?   Of course, the sage explanation for the sensitive Jordanian deployments – and Jordan denied the presence of any U.S. military forces in the country – was to keep Israel out of any war, which is to say, to convince Israel that the United States was doing all it could do to prevent Iraqi attack, just as it had done – and failed to do – in 1991.

It’s a head-hurting house of secret cards: a highly visible and officially secret coalition special operations force preparing to infiltrate into a country even prior to the “outbreak” of war.  Retired Gen. Mike Delong, the deputy commander of U.S. forces, says in his autobiography Inside CENTCOM (p. 93) that up to 300 commandos, “dressed as native Iraqis” infiltrated into Iraq prior to March 19.

When the special operations forces found no Scuds, they moved on to Iraqi airfields and Hadithah Dam – which intelligence speculated might be intentionally blown up to flood the Euphrates River valley; again no explosives were found to corroborate such speculation.  Some commandos headed for Saddam’s western palaces, others for suspected WMD sites.  It wasn’t without cost on the U.S. side: Three Rangers were killed at Hadithah in what was probably the first suicide car bombing of the long war.

Did the deployments make war more certain?  Would they have changed the public (or international) debate had they been known?  Do these clandestine special operations undermine or enhance diplomacy?  Why do we fall back on rote words like deterrence when in fact the mission was destruction and prevention?  All good questions still very much unanswered today.