Monthly Archives: March 2012

U.S.-Israel military exercise quietly underway

I added the classified Sixth Fleet sponsored exercise Noble Dina 12 exercise to my list of military exercises today.  This year’s U.S.-Israel exercise runs from March 26-April 5.

The exercise, ongoing since at least 1999, focuses on submarine and anti-submarine warfare in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Greece has been a participant since last year, and the exercise, according to the Greek press, is based out of Souda Bay naval base on Crete.

Last year, Noble Dina 11 took place from April 3-14 and included reportedly included two Greek submarines and four Greek Air Force F-16 Block 52 fighters.  According to the U.S. Military Sealift Command, during last year’s exercise fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawha conducted astern refueling with two Israeli ships, while Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat served as a “high-value unit” for the surface action group operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, presumably a simulated target.

According to defencenet.gr and the Greek Reporter, the U.S., Greece, Israel exercise has all sorts of anti-Turkish political messaging involved.  Defencenet.gr says that the scenario for Noble Dina this year from Crete to Haifa “bears great resemblance to the Turkish aeronautical forces in this particular military operation scenario.”

The Turkish press reports that the “first phase will take place near the island of Meis, a small island close to the southern Turkish district of Kaş, and south of Cyprus before proceeding to Israel’s Haifa port.”  It says that Greece was invited to the war games this year by Israel.

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New Radar in the United Arab Emirates Watches Iran

Another sign of the times regarding preparing for war with Iran:  Last week, the Air Force installed a new long-range air surveillance radar in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the 380th Air Wing.

Of course the press release on the defending airmen of the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron from the Ohio National Guard makes no mention of Iran or the UAE.  The radar is being deployed to the “Arabian Gulf” to an unnamed country.

“Our job is to constantly watch the skies,” said Lt. Col. Steven A. Breitfelder, 727th EACS commander, deployed from Blue Ash Air National Guard Station, Ohio.  “Our operators defend the Arabian Gulf and its surrounding countries by monitoring the area for enemy aircraft.”

The 380th Wing is deployed at the hyper-modern Al Dhafra Airbase, located approximately 20 miles south of Abu Dhabi and operated by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.

According to the 380th Wing’s official fact sheet, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing was reactivated on January 25, 2002, but Global Hawk UAVs and other U.S. aircraft started operating from Al Dhafra almost immediately after 9/11.  The 380th’s mission is to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and aerial refueling, the official fact sheet says, and currently the wing is comprised of five groups and 18 squadrons.  The Open Source GEOINT blog has in incomparable layout and description of the base, just in case you wondered whether there is any real secret involved here.

Al Dhafra air base has been almost continuously occupied by the United States since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, some secret.  The Air Force says the defenders have “another arrow in their quiver,” a freudian slip no doubt.  I’m sure Iran sees it as an arrow.

Special Operations Command Does What the CIA Does, or Does It?

The National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) was in the news last week, with the government’s revised guidelines regarding its ability to acquire and retain information on Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism.

Then Greg Miller had a vivid almost-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-national-security profile of the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) in The Washington Post, an article that assaults the notion that NCTC is the epicenter of the terror war.  The CIA’s Center, in addition to commanding the drones that do the killing, actually gets out there while the NCTC is a northern-Virginia based bureaucracy.  They’re so far out there in fact, that their director “Robert” – we can’t know his real name – is a convert to Islam.  Just weird.

If I didn’t know that it takes weeks, even months, for a journalist to score such a profile, I’d think the Post piece was a direct response to NCTC getting all of the attention in the news. Bureaucracies do hate other bureaucracies getting credit.

But the same week that all of this was going down, I was trying to wrap my head around another organization: the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which is in Tampa, Florida.  They had a job advertisement for a new civilian chief of their “Exploitation Division” that said in part:

“As Chief, Exploitation Division, leads, plans and organizes the technical analysis and collaborative exploitation efforts of the Directorate’s six (6) divisions with a combined staff of military, active and reserve, civilian personnel, contractors and Interagency Partners (CIA, FBI, NSA, OGA, NCTC, DOS, USAID, DOJ, DHS, DEA, USCG, ASD-SOLIC, DIA and NCR….

Conducts strategic analysis and manages the evaluation of technical data associated with ceased digital media, cellular communications/equipment, documents, currency and weapons systems while concurrently writing and providing strategic and operational exploitation assessments to the IATF Director and USSOCOM Commander…”

The job announcement, besides being in a language other than English and replete with all sorts of errors (what the hell is “ceased digital media” and what’s OGA – other government agencies – the usual acronym for the CIA if the CIA is already mentioned?)makes it sound like something that I thought was just a coordinating Task Force is actually another action arm.  A little more digging and in fact IATF sounds redundant of both NCTC and CTC and whole bunch of other organizations and agencies; part intelligence analysis shop, part targeter, part planner, part doer.

SOCOM’s 2008 posture statement before Congress describes the IATF simply as “a catalyst to rapidly facilitate CT [counter-terror] collaboration within the U.S. government against trans-regional, functional and strategic level problem sets and opportunities.”  An official Defense Department definition of an IATF is a “full-time, multifunctional advisory element of the combatant commander’s staff that facilitates information sharing throughout the interagency community. Through habitual collaboration, it provides a means to integrate campaign planning efforts at the strategic and operational levels and throughout all U.S. government agencies. IATF bridges the gap between civilian and military campaign planning efforts for potential crises and irregular challenges.”

According to SOCOM’s FY 2013 budget, “SOCOM’s IATF quickly fuses knowledge from multiple sources and collection methods, and then rapidly disseminates essential information to theater SOF and/or agencies for operational planning or investigation.”

Delve deeper though, and like the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, almost synonymous to it in fact, the IATF is more than just another staff organization.  Ten of its contractors and their activities demonstrate that:

* A-T Solutions:  Senior operational planning and execution support contractor to the IATF Synchronization Division.   A-T Solutions support SOCOM’s core mission as the global synchronization of the U.S. government – minus the CIA and DNI, that is – for the global war on terrorism operations plan (CONPLAN 7500).  It organizes the regular Global Synchronization Conferences of the dozen or more agencies and departments involved in fighting terrorist networks.

* Blackbird Technologies:  Operational planning support contractor to the Counter-terrorism Branch.

* Circinus, LLC:   Document exploitation and cultural analysis in support of Exploitation Team.

* FEDSYS, Inc.:  Operational research and intelligence analysis support to the Counter Narco-terrorism (CNT) Branch and the counter-threat finance (CTF) Team.  FEDSYS assists in coordination of U.S. government agencies, partner nations and the private sector to accomplish SOCOM’s CTF mission, including finance-oriented assessments to support development of case files, evidentiary material, designation packages, to include actionable intelligence on finance-specific entities.   This includes data mining, data manipulation, and multimedia production to identify/detect, target and interdict terrorist, and/or illicit criminal finance activities.

* High Tech Crime Institute:  Designer and sole producer of the EDAS FOX series of forensics computers, which USSOCOM currently uses for cell phone and computer hardware and software exploitation.  The Institute supports IATF Document and Media Exploitation (DOMEX) Branch.

* JACOBS Technology:  Analytical and language support to IATF Document and Media Exploitation (DOMEX) Branch.

* OverWatch Technologies:   Technical support to the Science and Technology Directorate in development of special reconnaissance programs.

* Scientific Research Corporation: Cyber intelligence analytic support to the Special Projects Division.  SRC performs geospatial analysis of networks and effects-based cyber target characterization (EBCT) studies; and create and maintains specific EBCT studies consisting of continually-refreshed, fused, all-source intelligence assessments of target sets to expose vulnerabilities and Centers of Gravity (COG) in support operational actions.

* Special Applications Group:  Writing, editing and publishing support to the Special Project Division.  The Special Applications Group produces counter-terrorism propaganda for IATF and SOCOM, including “Argus” magazine.  The IATF Division works with intelligence and operations specialists, social scientists, geospatial analysts, and software engineers working with very large repositories of structured and unstructured multi-source data.

* Streamline Defense:  Analytical support contractor to the IATF Fusion Division.  Streamline Defense conducts operations and intelligence research, data collection, analysis, production, and dissemination in support of IATF’s efforts.  Its contractors interpret and analyze raw data in the production of intelligence from multiple sources along four separate and concurrent lines of investigation, compile, collate, analyze, and evaluate all-source information to produce intelligence and operational design products on terrorists, terrorist organizations/networks (al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliated groups), non-government agencies, state sponsors of terrorism, and potential links worldwide.

According to military documents, the IATF Exploitation Division additionally sponsors the Naval Postgraduate School’s work in the development of social analysis models for both current interdiction and forecasting political and social movements.  The IATF’s Counter Radicalization and Counter Facilitation Branch also works with national police agencies from Afghanistan to Africa and Australia to gain insight into and solve domestic and transnational problems.

After 9/11, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) informally established its standing interagency element comprised of military members and other departments of the U.S. government.  In 2006, according to a military study on interagency cooperation, the IATF was chartered to ‘serve as a coordinating activity within DOD and across the interagency that integrates … efforts while also “solving discrete problem sets that support the War on Terror.”  The SOCOM commander also assigned the IATF the command’s Time Sensitive Planning process and mission and with the responsibility to support host nation governments.

The IATF, the study said, became “one of the most substantially resourced staff elements within the command” with new state of the art facilities.   According to the study, as of 2009, the IATF consisted of nearly 100 interagency personnel and had established formal and informal relationships with nearly every element of the United States Government.  The IATF Executive director was originally a one-star general officer, but since late 2010, the head of the Task Force isn’t even a military man:  The current director is Frank Shroyer, a career Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official.  Like so much about secret organizations and those developed since 9/11 to fight the forever-war (the new Africa Command’s deputy commander is a State Department officer), the whole-of-government approach is laudable, but I’m still uncomfortable with the obscuring of what is military and what is civilian, and I’m still opposed to the CIA targeting and killing with military means.  Our practice undermines the distinction principle in the law of armed conflict.

SOCOM, moreover, funds nearly all of its contractor, travel and activities from sources external to the IATF.  “The IATF budget is not a constraining factor in its functionality, the 2009 study concludes.

I’m sure that some special operations types will argue that the IATF is just a task force, an organization created (and necessitated by) the need for cooperation and coordination, for experience on the part of military people and others to work together.  They will equally argue that SOCOM is the military and not the CIA, and that unlike the National Center (NCTC) – which is part of the DNI – the SOCOM it is a combatant command and not some Washington PowerPoint palace.  So, on the one hand an explanation of the Task Force is that it doesn’t do anything – it’s just an interagency coordination group – and on the other hand the argument is that it is different than the intelligence organizations that don’t do anything.  The warrior bureaucrats want it both ways.

The evidence indicates that SOCOM’s IATF does do something though, that it is much more than just an advisory element.  But there is no denying that with its civilian director and its gaggle of contractor ex-military faux experts, it doesn’t command any forces or anything other than itself and its activities.  What exactly it does do though, and how much of what it does it just redundant to other organizations, is virtually impossible to determine behind all of the ad-hoc-ery and euphemism and secrecy.

This is the general problem with the scourge of post-9/11 secret organizations: Enough money is available for multiple organizations – DNI, NCTC, SOCOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, DIA, JIEDDO – to all develop task forces and special organizations that don’t actually fight, with ambiguous control over analyzing, targeting, and synchronizing.  SOCOM as a combatant command is no exception, because on the one hand it has an actual three-star warfighting command – the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – that actually goes out there and does the deed; and it had, until recently, a national Joint Task Force – the Center for Special Operations – that is supposed to do the staff coordinating of a global functional command.  But on top of that, SOCOM, like so many other organizations, including the CIA, has merely grafted bloated ad-hoc and staff organizations on top of what already exists, organizations that in many cases have neither proven their usefulness or outlived their usefulness.

Still confused?  That’s the way the bureaucracy stays in control and the money keeps flowing.

New Terrorism Guidelines Represent Further Triumph of Lawyering and an Independent IC

“U.S. eases restrictions on keeping citizens’ data,” The Washington Post broke last night.

“U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis,” now says The New York Times.

“U.S. Agencies Allowed to Keep Residents’ Data for Five Years,” says Bloomberg.

“Government Now Allowed to Store Info on Innocent Americans,” says Antiwar.com.

Let the game of telephone begin: liberties stolen; privacy over.

Yesterday, the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General released what they call “updated guidelines designed to allow NCTC to obtain and more effectively analyze certain data in the government’s possession to better address terrorism-related threats.”

The “Guidelines for Access, Retention, Use, and Dissemination by the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) of Information in Datasets Containing Non-Terrorism Information,” the DNI and Justice Department say in their press release, allow the NCTC to “better protect the nation and its allies from terrorist attacks” while “at the same time protecting privacy and civil liberties.”

The updated Guidelines, the government says, “do not provide any new authorities for the U.S. Government to collect information.”

I received a copy of the new guidelines from the DNI press office at 7:53 PM last night, but I note that the 32 page document is not readily available (as of 9 AM the day after the release) on either the DNI or Attorney General’s websites.

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy here, but I do think if you read the actual document and aren’t familiar with existing guidelines and the ifs, ands, and buts of government regulations, you could easily come away concerned.

And thus constitutes the divide, the divide between Washington and the rest of the nation, between the national security imperative and the colloquial understanding of liberty as practiced by the rest of the country.  The usual suspects of the civil liberties industry (and I don’t mean to disparage them) and the anti-government set (from gun-toters to olive-branchers) will decry; talking heads promoting public slumber will counsel calm; the media will muddle.

Meanwhile the government’s lawyers will satisfy themselves and reassure – as they did in their tortured legal justification sanctioning the summary assassination of an American citizen – that it’s all in accordance with applicable laws.  If you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?, the agents of idiocy will bellow.

The NCTC, the actual document says, “shall not access, acquire, retain, use, or disseminate United States person information solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment or monitoring the lawful exercise of other rights secured by the Constitution or other laws of the United States.”

Any information received must be reviewed to ensure that it is terrorist-related, the guideline says, that is, “based on the knowledge and experience of counterterrorism analysts as well as the facts and practical considerations of everyday life.”

It’s all pretty straightforward, except that these rules only apply to the National Counter-terrorism Center.  And they leave open possibilities – indeed the likelihood – that the national security establishment will over-reach, that an overzealous someone will bend and stretch the rules and their intent, heck, that this has already been done, is already being done, which is why new Guidelines were required.

The NCTC, the Guidelines say, receives its information from federal, state, local governments and “other sources,” “other entities,” “data providers,” none of whom are named.  Any abuses, in other words, will take place elsewhere.

As long as Washington is lost in its terror war, as long as the intelligence community remains beyond accountability, as long as lawyers justify anything as legal, what is already happening in America will continue to happen.  It isn’t a government conspiracy; it’s an American erosion occurring because we haven’t figure out yet either how to deal with the abundance of information the government feels justified to collect and analyze and we haven’t figured out how to deal with the basic criminal threat that terrorism represents.

Our Own Tribal Mess in Afghanistan

I was reading Joseph Trevithick’s piece on Afghanistan war command and control arrangements in Tom Ricks’ Best Defense blog, and it made me think about all of the organizations that I’ve tried to figure out over the years and why it’s so difficult.

Ricks’ readers provide erudite references to military histories and recommendations to read joint doctrinal manuals, suggesting if one just mastered the war college reading list one would get it all.   It also seems a subtle message that war should be left to the professionals.

Afghanistan is a particularly acute example of dysfunction though, one that reflects the nature of that country, our world, and the so-called war against terrorism.

First and foremost, everything about Afghanistan is tribal, which is to say, that the society is intensely tribal, split along family, ethnic, geographic, religious, and class lines.  We could learn something from the nation: It is both the reason why our e pluribus unum mission is so foolhardy and why our own organization there is so screwy.

Second, there is secrecy involved, not just the secrecy of military operational security to keep the enemy off balance and guessing but also the secrecy of competing bureaucracies and an evasive executive branch (military and intelligence community) trying to keep others out of its business.

Third, 9/11 spawned a very bad habit, predicated on the Rumsfeld assumption that the uniformed military was antique, brain dead and didn’t work.  So from day one in Afghanistan, the practice was to muscle aside the existing in favor of the ad hoc.  Of course this also benefited secrecy and evasion of oversight.  The price has been profound (and obscenely expensive).  Just look at how the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has created its own army, its own air force, its own special ops, its own intelligence establishment, its own task forces, even procured its own equipment, and you get a flavor.

We are ourselves intensely tribal, but we are also amazingly rich, so not only do we start every endeavor well-endowed with diverse organizations but we keep building on them, unable it seems to let anything go or say no to anyone.  That’s why our Department of Homeland Security even has a unit in Afghanistan, advising local border authorities, with its own chain of command, budget, support structure, etc.

One look at the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) Advisor Guide, May 2011 and you get an idea of the mess.  A manual is needed to explain what-the-hell to all of those war college graduates.   I particularly chuckled at the list of countries from Australia to Tonga that were part of the ISAF Joint Command (IJC), there to “conduct population‐centric comprehensive operations to neutralize the insurgency in specified areas, and supports improved governance and development in order to protect the Afghan people and provide a secure environment for sustainable peace.”

According to the manual, they are:

  • “NATO Members: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America.
  • Euro‐Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC): Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kyrghz Republic, Malta, Republic of Maldova [sic], Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
  • NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Tonga, Tunisia
  • Istanbul Cooperation Initiative: Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates
  • Contact Countries: Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand”

We tend to blame coalitions or NATO or those Europeans or Washington or even the command in Florida for mucking about in sacrosanct military business, as if some literal interpretation of the manuals is the answer.  What an evasion.  No wonder the war is endless, expensive, and has no chance of achieving any publicly-understood outcome.

Iran: A Closer Look at Internal Look

The New York Times scoop on the recently concluded “Internal Look” military exercise involving war with Iran seems another alarm bell signaling imminent war, while also at the same time constituting an intentional leak to communicate caution both to Israel and the administration.  According to The Times, the exercise, which included an Israeli first strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, escalated to a regional war between Iran and the United States.

No one needs a sophisticated exercise to come to this conclusion, so the real questions are: Why the leak?  What was Internal Look really trying to practice?  And most important, what did The New York Times miss in its reporting?

Some background: Internal Look is a biennial (held every other year), unilateral Central Command (USCENTCOM) battle staff exercise.  Unilateral meaning it is a U.S. exercise; battle staff exercise meaning it is a computer assisted command post exercise to train headquarters and components staffs in doctrine and procedures pertaining to a major Middle East war.

Over the years, Internal Look has been CENTCOM’s number one training priority and its primary mission rehearsal for theater level conflicts.

From Internal Look 90 (1990) through 02, the exercise focused almost exclusively on Iraq.  Internal Look 90 was the first exercise to supplant a Cold War scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Iran scenario.  In December 1989, the JCS authorized CENTCOM to shift the geographic focus of the upcoming game from defense of Iran to defense of Saudi Arabia.

Then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz was working on the Defense Department’s 1992-1997 Defense Planning Guidance, a document that made the “central objective” for U.S. regional planning the prevention of a hostile power from gaining control over oil supplies or shipment routes.  The final document, dated 24 January 1990, stated:

“The Secretary has increased the relative priority of Southwest Asia by making explicit that the region ranks above South America and Africa in terms of global wartime priorities and by outlining an initial theater strategy.”

Internal Look 90 thus began as an exercise to test the military’s ability to respond to an incursion by Orange Forces from the north down through Iraq to seize control of Saudi oil fields. Given that Saudi Arabia, unlike Europe had no pre-positioned war stocks, no road network, and no water, logistics planning ended up being the major preoccupation.  The exercise commenced on July 9th, and before it was over on August 4th, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Though many officers at CENTCOM’s Florida headquarters and at Ft. Bragg, North Caroline could not even pronounce the names of the towns in Saudi Arabia and were still scratching their heads over the problems identified in moving the forces to the area, they never even had the opportunity to remove the maps of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from their map boards when the invasion occurred.

Urban legend has it that Internal Look 90 thus presaged an Iraqi invasion – it did not – but there is no question that it ushered in the Iraq era, or more centrally, the oil era, which is to say, that protection of Middle East oil assets and flows became the priority U.S. military focus in the 1990’s as each subsequent exercise honed the defense of Saudi Arabia and the oil routes scenario.

By the time Internal Look 03 was held in December 2002, the focus was unambiguously a practice implementation of OPLAN 1003V, the war plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Internal Look provided the venue for the Air Force, Marine, Navy, and special operations commands to each examine their plans.   The major outcome of the exercise was the success of the Army commander to convince General Tommy Franks to provide him a minimum of forces to execute what was called the “running start option” for an Iraq war.  The attack would focus on Baghdad command and control as the center of gravity; a simultaneous and synchronized ground attack from multiple directions aimed at isolating the regime within Baghdad and ultimately at striking sites in the city.   The official history talks of a “rolling transition to stability operations and support operations” as ground forces advanced on Baghdad.  The U.S. would be welcome as liberators and the rest would be history.

After 9/11, most high-level CENTCOM exercises, including Internal Look, morphed to operational tasks associated with ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terrorism (GWOT).  Mission rehearsal exercises for each new deployment, and each revision of strategy, were called the United Endeavor series. Desert Sailor became the mission rehearsal for the Proliferation Security Initiative Maritime Intercept Operations (PSI-MIO).

All along, CENTCOM commanders pushed for refocusing the exercises for potential future operations, but the reality was that the requirements of real war and even the operational tempo of the staff inhibited such a shift in planning or development.  A new exercise, Internal Advance, was added to focus on lesser contingencies (so-called “tier II” scenarios).

Joint Chiefs of Staff Powerpoint slide from 2011 showing major mission rehearsal exercises and large scale exercises worldwide of the various combatant commands.

The last Internal Look exercise of this series (Internal Look 09) replicated a humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenario; in other words, for all of the grinding of teeth about the Bush administration’s sneaky plans for war with Iran and October surprises, Iran didn’t become the focus until the Obama administration.

So that’s it?  The staff’s time is now freed up to focus on a new “tier I” major war and Iran’s it?  This is the way thing work on the inside; it isn’t that anyone is particularly rooting for a war; it isn’t as if the order has come down (as it did with Bush in 2002) to prepare for an offensive war.  But it is the case that Iran is now the focus of planning and that precipitates changes and revisions and scenarios and deployments all of which build up a greater likelihood of war.  It seems to me that The Times got the story of the war game but missed the story of the war, how the dynamics of an idle planning staff steers the United States ever so slightly in a certain direction.

It’s Official: CENTCOM has started preparing for war with Iran

The U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East is augmenting its Iran war-planning and intelligence analysis staff at a time when navy minesweepers are going to the Persian Gulf and there is an increase in other naval defenses.  The U.S. has also quietly deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Gulf for possible conflict with Iran.

So while all eyes in this stand-off might be focused on Iran’s nuclear pursuits and Iranian actions, there are American defensive measures as well, some open and some not so open, that also provide stimuli.  Each move and counter-move can intrinsically escalate tensions; so much so that that the nation’s top military officer is speaking openly about Iranian misjudgments of either American intentions or the purpose of American defensive preparations.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran could suffer the consequences of misjudgment.  “There are some things that we know they will respond to,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey was mostly warning that Iraq “could get it wrong and suffer the consequences,” as he said, describing U.S. (and Israeli) will to act if it defies the international community.  But rationality is obviously on Dempsey’s mind.

I’ve been writing for at least five years about U.S. war preparations for Iran, and in 2006, I wrote that “on the surface, Iran controls the two basic triggers that could set off U.S. military action.”  Those then were acquisition of nuclear capability in defiance of the international community and lashing out militarily at the United States or its allies, or closing the Strait of Hormuz to international oil traffic.  Not much has changed in five years and it’s always useful to remind ourselves that Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear capability has been imminent for too long to qualify any longer as imminent.

But five years ago, the United States was overwhelmed by a war in Iraq and most of the writing about an Iran war focused on the Bush administration and its irrationality.  Five years later, Bush is gone and Iraq is no longer a resource-sucking military albatross for the United States.

Does that mean then that war is more likely today – this week, this month, in the next six months – than before?  Well one thing is clear: Iran still holds most of the cards.

So when I hear that CENTCOM’s Joint Intelligence Center has stood up an Iran Integrative Assessments Team, and that the planning staff in Florida is redoubling efforts to assess Iranian strategy and military capabilities, I’ve got to ask myself if there’s something I’m missing, something that’s going on behind the scenes that makes this time anything other than contingency planning as usual.

Though both the United States and Israel have the ability, with conventional, nuclear, or cyber weapons to mount a tactical surprise attack upon Iran – and that’s why it’s easy for so many to endlessly speculate about attacking that (or any other) country — at least for the United States, there is a certain cycle of preparations, a certain time scale of preparations, that are really necessary.   It even took the United States almost a month to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda after 9/11 and a lot of the reasons had nothing to do with Afghanistan’s geographic isolation or the absence of a plan.  The reality of war was the need to get everything prepared.

Thus the United States would accompany any strike with the mobilization of requisite strike, air and missile defense, naval forces, and even force protection elements to prepare for a counterstrike and protect the U.S.   Some of these moves are taking place, but they sort of still follow a cyclical pattern and next month, those same minesweepers could leave the Persian Gulf,

But when the responsible command CENTCOM starts to work on “conceptualizing, directing and executing long-term research and all-source analytic production on Iranian strategy, calculus and military operational capabilities,” which is what the Defense Intelligence Agency personnel stationed at the Florida headquarters are now doing, it seems more methodical and serious than deployments here and there.  The Integrative Assessments Team, according to DIA papers, is supporting CENTCOM’s “analytic activities on Iran’s strategic calculus, operational art and military resource decision-making” in support of war planning.

The ducks are indeed being prepared, even if they are not being put in order yet.