Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ardent Sentry 12: Homeland Defense Not So Ardent to Say Much

This Wednesday, May 2nd, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) kicks off its annual Ardent Sentry exercise, one of the largest homeland defense events, combining military support for disasters and counter-terrorism.

Ardent Sentries no doubt, those post 9/11 war planners in Colorado Springs, but they are awfully shy ones.  While the United States openly picks a fight with China through significant force structure changes in the Pacific and military exercises galore; while the U.S. tinkers with its Persian Gulf readiness and posture preparing for war with Iran, back home, Ardent Sentry 2012 (AS 12) is portrayed as a hurricane disaster preparedness drill so as to not antagonize the American public.

The first Ardent Sentry exercise was held in 2004, and like previous year’s exercises, this one is complex and multi-faceted, with both unclassified and Top Secret compartmented portions, including the increasingly secret and quiet activities with Mexican authorities.

The central activity of AS 12 is a large-scale command post exercise (CPX) focusing on NORTHCOM battlestaff preparedness and practice of war plans.  But the Joint Staff sanctioned “Tier I” event also includes:

  • Positive Response 12-1, a Joint Chiefs of Staff highly classified regular mobilization and planning exercise.
  • Canada Command exercises Staunch Maple 2012 (SM 12) and Frontier Sentinel (FS 12).  Canada Command is the new post 9/11 Canadian command equivalent to NORTHCOM.
  • Vigilant Guard-Oregon (VG-OR), one of a series of four annual National Guard exercises that this year will be regional and tactically focused, practicing the ‘Dual Status Commander’ program, the unheralded erosion of State control over state militias.
  • Nuclear Weapons Accident/Incident Exercise (NUWAIX) supported by Defense Threat Reduction Agency and focused on Air Force Global Strike Command accident response and emergency military contingencies at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
  • Amalgam Mako, a maritime mining exercise run concurrently with the Canadian Frontier Sentinel in northeast waters off Nova Scotia and extending to Connecticut.
  • Arctic Edge 12 (AE 12), a Joint Task Force Alaska exercise focused on military contingencies in Alaska and the Arctic, a region recently folded into NORTHCOM’s battlefield.
  • A Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio force protection and counter-terrorism exercise, including  scenarios “ranging from simulated terrorist attacks to a natural disaster with mass casualties.”

As part of Ardent Sentry, something called Task Force 51 (Fifth Army, U.S. Army North) will also exercise with Mexican security authorities, ostensibly practicing hurricane preparedness – on the border.  In the Texas-based scenario, a hurricane first makes landfall near Brownsville, blows back out to the Gulf and then hits the upper Texas coast, wreaking major damage to infrastructure.  Incident command posts will operate in Houston and San Antonio and in Alexandria, La, and include the Civil Air Patrol.  With its new Advanced Digital Reconnaissance Systems (ADRS), CAP is now an intelligence collector for homeland defense; everyone into the act!

Meanwhile, ARNORTH liaison officers posted to Mexican IV Military Region and the 8th Military Zone will skulk about with their Mexican counterparts.

Though Ardent Sentry is coinciding with National Level Exercise 2012 (NLE 2012), the Department of Homeland Security sponsored preparedness exercise involving interagency, State, and local agencies, it is decidedly not a part of NLE 12.  AS 12 is also not a sanctioned National Exercise Program (NEP) recognized event, and as such, NORTHCOM decides interagency participation.

In the official press release from NORTHCOM and NORAD announcing Ardent Sentry 2012, the combined commands merely say that the exercise will focus on “Defense Support of Civil Authorities, May 2 – 9, 2012.”

Field training events, it says, will take place in North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Nova Scotia and involve United States and Canadian military units.  The Vigilant Guard exercise – not named in the press release – is described as “the Oregon National Guard will work with state and local officials to respond to numerous weather-related and security events.”  The Amalgam Mako/Frontier Sentinel exercise – also unnamed – is described as merely involving “a security related event.”

Nowhere in the press release is there mention of Mexico, even though the NORTHCOM commander told Congress in March that Ardent Sentry 12 would be the first time the U.S. and Mexico participated in the joint exercise.

Terrorist attacks, “red” shipping approaching the east coast, border control, support to State and local police, domestic intelligence collection, destruction of critical infrastructure, activation of the mobile command center: NORTHCOM seems incapable of any kind of transparency.  You could, of course, watch it all on ENN, the Exercise News Network, where the Joint Coalition Warfighting Center will produce simulated commercial press (video, audio, and print) response to the events, honing the ability to communicate with a simulated American public.

Homeland Security Decides ‘Open Source’ is in Name Only

Here’s an oddity of the Obama administration’s promoted transparency campaign, and a contradicting trend to the routine availability of government information online: The Department of Homeland Security has ended public distribution of its “open source” reports, pulling them behind a controlled firewall and limiting their distribution.

I know this because I’ve been receiving these reports – such as the DHS Daily Cyber Report — for years, and even note that when they did arrive in my inbox, the formerly helpful department “encouraged” redistribution.  “Please feel free to forward this email w/attachment to your co-workers and colleagues that might be interested in this product,” the daily email said.  The Report mostly ended up in my trash – they were little more than clippings and news summaries – but they were useful to get a sense of what DHS was distributing.

Now the Department is developing a closed “Community of Interest (COI)” on the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) and inviting its “partners” to apply for “secure” access to the reports.  If one is not already an HSIN user – limited to government, law enforcement, and contractors – one can apply for access.  New users should be nominated for access into one or more of the following HSIN communities:

  • DHS Federal Operations
  • FEMA Emergency Management
  • Emergency Services Information Sharing
  • Federal Law Enforcement
  • HSIN Critical Sectors

Oh, and only government and contractor personnel who are citizens of the United States will be given access.

The A-students of the Obama government have already elevated the status of unclassified information – that is, information whose release has no impact on national security – by creating a new category called “controlled unclassified information” (CUI), a way in which more not less can be withheld in the name of standardization.

The DHS, always seeking ways to be more national security, is intrinsically also forcing everyone to get special privileges before they can be members of a not very exclusive club.  This is the story of government, particularly in the excuse-laden era of cyber defense and Wikileaks: Nothing will be voluntarily surrendered to the people unless legislation demands it, and even then, what is formerly innocuous is then declared controlled and security in order to serve only the interests of those inside.

End the All-Volunteer Force? End the Stranglehold of the National Security Elite!

Tom Ricks is a keen observer of the military, but his op-ed proposing to scrap the all-volunteer military, no matter how clever his reasoning, is dead wrong.

“Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war — and to ignore the consequences,” Ricks argues.

If we had a draft, Ricks says, public opinion might have prevented us from going to war in Iraq, and if we returned to conscription, “the people” would again be reconnected with the armed services.

Captive inside the Beltway and surrounded by military friends and colleagues and national security wonks, I can imagine that the world looks this way to my old friend Ricks; but he is wrong about the military, wrong about Iraq, wrong about the people, and wrong about the solution.

The military – our military – doesn’t need a draft, and the notion that hundreds of thousands of young men and women being drafted would help or that they would be drafted so that we can create a coherent national security policy, repair our broken political systems and end a new class structure in our society, is ludicrous.

First, technology has forever changed the face of war.   Boots, and boots on the ground, might be a central component for demonstrating some kind of tangible political commitment behind all of our impetuous military interventions, but increasing the quantity of people available in uniform has little to do with the central military task: Which is defending the United States and vanquishing our enemies.  Quantity isn’t needed to fight terrorism, and quantity wouldn’t even be needed to ‘defeat’ a China, at least not vast quantities of infantrymen.  (And if it ever came to the point where a Nazi Germany or peer competitor military power arose to threaten us, mobilizing the nation to support the fight would be a piece of cake).

No, the truth of the matter is that warfare is indeed easier to wage today because of the shift from the industrial to the information age, and even in wars like Afghanistan and Iraq where we make fruitless and desperate attempts to create heroism and a sense of chivalry through manpower-intensive force deployments, most of that manpower is superfluous to the actual fighting, and the number who are truly at risk in combat, even within military ranks, is incredibly small.

After a decade of constant war, our military still hasn’t adjusted to the new realities, though pockets of elite organizations – special operations and tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] have.  Even in the case of ground forces, brigade-sized combat organizations (augmented by airpower) are so more lethal, flexible, and powerful than divisions of old.  We just don’t need as many people to generate combat power.

Need of course has to be defined by our national security policies and purpose, and here is where we have the greatest crisis.  A national security class – mostly civilian and corporate, mostly in and around Washington – has taken over American foreign policy making and they decide national interest on the basis of self-interest and global experimentation and damaged political psyches.  It is romantic to imagine that a flood of “people” into this closed world could reform the system, but that’s all it is.  Certainly the draft-dodging Dick Cheney’s and Bill Clinton’s will continue to rise to the top, so the burden will fall to the people while the power will remain as is.

Even in the case of the 2003 Iraq war, I’m unconvinced that the absence of an all-volunteer force would have changed things.  The intelligence community failed, the presidency stumbled, Congress abstained; the news media, the international community, Baghdad,  the U.N., all played a tired and predictable role, but the “people” could have and would probably have been just as easily manipulated with images of mushroom clouds had there been a draft.

Fighting seemingly cost-free wars began with Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s, even with the first Gulf War.  Iraq in 2003 wasn’t that much of an anomaly, no matter how costly it ended up for those in uniform.  They should be the ones who are angriest, the ones fighting the most for political change, not for a draft.  Again, I think in order to create heroism in our society, in order to honor military service, there is a tendency to objectify a lazy and indifferent civilian class – those who went shopping, in Ricks’ characterization – but this is the equivalent of blaming all of the failed mortgage holders and investors rather than the bankers and money-elite for the 2008 financial meltdown.  Frankly, our society needs more “soft” and less “hard” when it comes to national security.

The solution to our perpetual war-making and our foolish military-first foreign policy and our muscle-bound-tone-deaf war against terrorism isn’t conscription.  Citizen participation is needed, that’s for sure, but avenues for citizen participation in veteran care, homeland security, cyber defense, first response, and emergency management have been hijacked and militarized since 9/11 in such a way that more involvement just means more national security making, which ultimately leads us down the same dead end.

Sainthoood for Robert Gates, really?

Every few days, something about former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, soon to be nominated for sainthood, flows into my in box.  The latest is some bumph from Drew University where Gates is lauded as the “soldier’s secretary” and a lot of blah, blah, blah proving that Gates has fully transformed into the Warren Buffett of national security, the nation’s grandpa with wit and wisdom about Washington; and, despite seemingly no political ambition …  auditioner to be Mitt Romney’s vice president?

The Gates legacy as Secretary still remains unclear.  After Rumsfeld, of course, one couldn’t help but label him the soldier’s man; Rumsfeld was such a cold and indifferent taskmaster.  Gates also became Secretary at a time when others had already solved the Iraq conundrum, and when the dollars were still flowing freely.

Gates’ record does include his decision to cap the F-22 fighter buy against Air Force objections, his decision to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and his other ‘efficiencies,’ and his embrace of irregular warfare and counter-insurgency as the everything of the future.

I’m an agnostic on the F-22, but I don’t agree with the old Gates’ line that the airplane was worthless because it wasn’t doing anything for the troops on the ground right at that moment in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And Gates’ decision to side with the Army over control of unmanned drones that fly above 3,500 feet and his support of efforts – in the name of jointness — to make everyone in the Air Force and Navy battlefield helpers was short-sighted, demonstrating the kind of courage of breaking eggs to make a Washington omelet but hardly being a designer of a larger menu.

The decision to eliminate JFCOM particularly will go down as short-sighted, IMHO: Jointness in the U.S. military is in name only and has not reached any working-level where the military no longer needs an advocate for it – Gate’s basic position.  If anything, under Gates, we’ve just seen a continuation of the proliferation of un-jointness, with institutions beyond the Army, Navy, and Air Force obtaining quasi-service status and working in their own self-interested bubbles: special operations forces, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) – a virtual Army in itself, Cyber Command (the first combatant command of the intelligence community), homeland “defense” (a post-9/11 perpetual resource suck); even the National Guard, which has now lobbied successfully for full joint privileges.

This is not the man who ‘beat the Pentagon bureaucracy,’ and I remain surprised at how many Pentagon reporters and national security analysts can be so convinced merely because he was such a pleasant vacation from Grumsfeld.

Meanwhile, Gates never really did anything about contractors – let’s track them better was his initiative, especially after in-sourcing went nowhere – and Mr. Strategic vision, the former CIA analyst – seemed oblivious to the Obama administration’s do-anything-to-get-us-out-of-the-Middle-East pivot to Asia.  Also, by every account, Gates as Secretary had nothing to say in the early Obama period about Afghanistan that was useful, contributing mightily to leaving behind the same mess there.

Gates’ is labeled an airpower skeptic because of his supposed courageous decisions, but in reality he was little more than a traditionalist pro-Army-dominant, pro-boots-on-the-ground power broker who went with the institution that had the power.  I admit to being an airpower fan, but not a fan of the Air Force, which conflates a non-boots-on-the-ground future with its institutional interests.  Slogging it out Korean War style or even, one village/hill/tribe at a time in Afghanistan in a manpower intensive military is not the future, but nor is the war on terrorism myopic head hunting ISR war.

The future is something that fully leverages the cyber domain and the qualities of air and space power – the global reach, the ability to compress time so that it isn’t equal to distance, the non-kinetic elements of military defeat – but this is not, I repeat not, anywhere close to what today’s Air Force really is, nor could be.  I say could be because if U.S. defense is going to be defined by the ability to either defend against or defeat China, we certainly aren’t going to do it with boots; or F-22s and a new bomber.

So Gates, what’s his gig?  Washington is filled with smart people, in fact, Washington is filled with smart people who make a living telling us how hopeless Washington is.  But as for the future of U.S. national security?  I just don’t see the Gates’ era as exceptional, nor any trend that he put in place that changes the everyman for himself culture.

Operation Chimichanga practices North Korean strike?

Three B-1 bombers from the 37th Bomb Squadron, stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota took off in the early hours of April 4 on a ten-hour bombing mission to Fort Yukon, Alaska as part of a complex long-range Strategic Command “anti-access” bombing mission dubbed Operation Chimichanga.

The exercise, starting with a simulated warning order to bomb targets in a classified country, included multiple live fly participants and command and control elements, finishing with battle damage assessment and an after action report.

Participants included F-22 Raptors and E-3 AWAC command and control aircraft assigned to the Alaskan 3rd Wing, along with F-16s from Misawa AB, Japan, and KC-135 aerial refuelers from Eielson AFB, Alaska.

F-22s and F-16s escorted the B-1s “into an anti-access target area,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Kunkel, 90th Fighter Squadron commander.

It was also the first time that increment 3.1, an air-to-ground bombing software upgrade was used on F-22’s, which also acted as follow-on forces, to assess B-1 bomb damage at the target and follow with an immediate restrike.

The B-1 bombers were also carrying new long-range radar evading AGM-158 joint air-surface standoff missile (JASSMs).

North Korea or Iran, take your pick.

Fusion Centers and the Homeland: Shouldn’t Somebody Say Something?

“Homeland security begins with hometown security, and fusion centers play a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” homeland security commandant Janet Napolitano said at the government-sponsored National Fusion Center Training Event held in Phoenix, Arizona last week.

Amid controversy over the federal government’s spending on lavish conferences (hence the rapid deployment of the name training event), Napolitano’s obsession with making all of America snitches under her See Something, Say Something campaign, continued controversy over ICE’s secure communities program, and even speculation that the former Arizona governor will step down if Obama wins a second term, no one actually paid attention to the Secretary’s central message.

The “war” on terror, the one over there that was supposed to have been a magnet for terrorists so that American itself would be safe, shows no sign of either ultimate success or conclusion, and it is turning these United States into an even greater battlefield.

Napolitano even says that the threat of home-grown terrorism is “increasing,” and she anchors federal government strategy to turn state-level fusion centers as increasingly essential links between local law enforcement and the Washington intelligence machine.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, looking stern. Source: AP

I know that Napolitano’s piece of this forever war is the homeland, but who would have thought that eleven years after 9/11, some federal government official could stand up before 600 state and local government intelligence officers cheering them on, and it’s a non-story?

To be fair to the locals, fusion centers represent not just threat early warning; they are also federal support at a time when police budgets are declining, they are a seat at the information table, and they are a new and exotic career pursuit, one that promises the big times.  Under the rubric of “all hazards” most fusion centers admittedly focus more on everyday crime.”  But the funding, and the push, is all about terrorism, and the justification, is that there are an abundance of terrorists in our midst.

Terrorists are “not just those coming from abroad we’re concerned about, it’s those that are U.S. citizens – that are home grown, that are right here,” Napolitano declares.

“It can be people who are right here and who we don’t have much knowledge about,” Napolitano said.

Not knowing much about them of course means information collection, Internet stalking, surveillance, even reconnaissance drones at the local level.

Ron Brooks, chairman of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council and a San Francisco-area fusion center official told the Arizona Republic: “We’re worried about the al-Qaida attack, the self-radicalized homegrown extremism attack, the far-right violence, but we’re also worried about everyday crime that impacts our community.”

Brooks says a lot of work needs to be done to educate people about what to look for in their search for the home-grown.  “There are times when we get suspicious activity reported to us by law enforcement or the public, and it really is about how someone is dressing or talking or worshiping, and we push that back and say, ‘That’s not appropriate’…” he says.

But fear not, civil liberties and privacy is all being taken care of: as Napolitano says, there’s an organization at homeland security responsible for it.

And See Something, Say Something is working, according to Napolitano, because the campaign has recently expanded to include partnerships with sports teams, sports leagues, transportation agencies and colleges and universities.  Hooray!

Putting aside my view that there shouldn’t even be something called homeland security – it’s just law enforcement at home, not national security – is Napolitano right that homeland security begins with hometown security?  Are the states even intended to be so intimately involved in national security in the first place?  Isn’t that the fundamental role of the federal government?  The United States has transformed, and we are less secure, and what’s the news?  How much money some agency spends on conferences or the fact that sports leagues are now part of the homeland security reserves…

Ten air forces meet in Bahrain to do what?

Front page Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News today: The largest air exercise since 1988, involving 10 nations — Bahrain, the United States, plus Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan?

Is there so much surplus military money to throw around that now that the Iraq war is over, these large exercises are coming back with a vengeance?  Or is there some desire to send messages to countries like Iran that everyone’s ready?

And where’s Iraq in this?  Some Arab spring, eh?

[Note: Updated April 9, 2012:  The exercise is called “Initial Link.”]

Gulf Daily News frontpage, Sunday, April 8, 2012.