Monthly Archives: May 2012

We are SAPs: forty companies currently working on “special access programs”

News of slowed declassification activity by the Obama administration – vigorously rejected by the National Archives – punctuates the fact that government secrecy, despite any statistical shenanigans and worship at the altar of transparency, continues to grow.

Perhaps no area of that growth is more alarming than in programs officially designated “special access programs” or SAPs, where additional security measures restrict the kind of routine knowledge that government officials, auditors, inside kibitzers, and even Congress needs for effective oversight.  What is more, SAPs are a license to lie.  If an official with knowledge of a SAP is asked about it by a member of the press or Congress, he or she can simply brush away the inquiry.  Oversight doesn’t have the right security clearance.

Over the years, various Defense Department, executive branch and Congressional efforts have attempted to review, regulate, reign in, and reform the SAP system, and certainly SAPs to the detriment of the war-fighter – that is, when a secret program exists that is not used to help the normal Joe on the battlefield – are an indefensible no-no.  But since 9/11, it appears that the way in which “access” to SAPs is governed in warfare is merely to increase the number of people with casual access to them, thus making them less SAP-py on the battlefield, though certainly still powerful at hiding in Washington.

Stealth technology, certainly one of the largest continuing programs covered under an official SAP, infect both the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs and account for a significant number of the clearances.  (The SAP associated with the F-22 Raptor is called Senior Jersey Raptor (SJR).)   Other technology programs that includes important current SAPs include the Air Force’s new small MC-12W Liberty program, certain Predator and Reaper capabilities (and entire SAP drones), and the whole world of “special” special operations and submarine capabilities.

Virtually all counter-space programs – that is, those that involve the ability to shoot down or disable satellite capabilities – are also SAPs.  As are large swaths of computer network operations, “special technical operations,” and “national technical means,” all pieces of the space-digital-intelligence-cyber-mischief continuum.  Nuclear weapons programs, particularly those associated with nuclear weapons command and control, are mostly under restrictive SIOP-ESI clearances rather than SAPs, though there appear to be some SAPs dealing with the specifics of Presidential strike means and nuclear weapons security, including the NATO nuclear weapons infrastructure.  Directed energy weapons – particularly high-powered microwave and laser weapons of operational and strategic significance, also are covered by SAPs.  The counter-IED program has certainly acquires as many SAPs as it can get its robots on, building its own intelligence and special operations empire beyond any sensible reach.

The theory is that a SAP is denying knowledge of some capability is going to preserve it from the enemy.  If the enemy is Congress and the public debate, the “sensitive” parts of a program can be turned into SAPs.  That is absolutely prohibited by regulations, but the assignment of SAPs has become so promiscuous, it is the effective result.  Thus the proliferation of SAPs into the counter-intelligence and “CI/LE” world (counter-intelligence/law enforcement) world could be alarming, if we knew exactly what they were, and the current large scale North American Air Domain Awareness Surveillance (NAADAS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) – with its many SAPs – seems to be scared of its own shadow in terms of what needs to be done to secure America’s skies, that is, what will be done without public debate if possible.  Finally, NORTHCOM and its Army law enforcement component – Joint Task Force North in Texas – seems to be involved in a number of SAPs, all of which I’m sure are SAPs merely because their revelation would be politically controversial.

Right now – this week – almost 40 companies are advertising over 200 jobs requiring Top Secret clearances with ability to gain access to special access programs.   I made a list, of course of the companies and the locations of the work (some are contingent on award of contract):

  •  Apogee Solutions Inc.: Langley AFB, VA
  • Automation Technologies, Inc. (ATI): Augusta, GA; Columbia, MD
  • BAE Systems: Lexington, MA
  • Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.: Broomfield, CO
  • Boeing Global Services and Support: Oklahoma City, OK
  • Booz Allen Hamilton: Dayton, OH
  • BOSH Global Services: Ellsworth AFB, SD
  • CACI:  Arlington, VA: Springfield, VA
  • Chenega Corporation: Langley AFB, VA
  • CSC:  Huntsville, AL; Washington, DC (area); Nellis AFB, NV
  • Cubic Mission Support Services: Washington DC (area)
  • General Atomics: Poway, CA
  • General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems: Dayton, OH
  • Honeywell International: Clearwater, FL; Herndon, VA
  • Insignia Technology Services: Shaw AFB, SC
  • KEYW Corporation: Annapolis Junction, MD
  • L-3 Engility Corporation: Dayton, OH
  • L-3 Global Security & Engineering Solutions: Beale AFB, CA; Offutt AFB, NE; Arlington, VA
  • Leonie: Washington, DC (area)
  • LinQuest: Washington, DC (area)
  • Lockheed Martin: Yuma, AZ; Edwards AFB, CA; Palmdale, CA; Eglin AFB, FL; Fort Worth, TX
  • MacAulay-Brown, Inc.: Dayton, OH
  • ManTech International: Huntsville, AL; Los Angeles, CA (area); Hickam AFB, HI; Barksdale AFB, LA; Kirtland AFB, NM; Dayton, OH; Arlington, VA; Dahlgren, VA
  • MYMIC LLC:  Arlington, VA
  • Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems: Palmdale, CA
  • Northrop Grumman Information Systems: Beavercreek, OH; Arlington, VA; Chantilly, VA
  • Northrop Grumman Special Projects: San Diego, CA
  • Northrop Grumman Xetron: Cincinnati, OH
  • PL Consulting Inc.: Arlington, VA
  • Raytheon: Tucson, AZ
  • Raytheon Applied Signal Technology: Annapolis Junction, MD
  • Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems (IIS): Aurora, CO; Garland, TX
  • Raytheon SI Government Solutions: San Antonio, TX
  • Riverside Research: Dayton, OH
  • SAIC: Adelphi, MD; Columbia, MD; Springfield, VA
  • Scientific Research Corporation (SRC): Colorado Springs, CO; Tampa FL; Honolulu HI (area); Arlington, VA; Norfolk, VA (area)
  • SI Organization: Chantilly, VA
  • SOS International Ltd. (SOSi): Northern VA (CIA)
  • Summit Technical Solutions: Edwards AFB, MD
  • TASC: Vienna, VA
  • Textron AAI Corporation: Hunt Valley, MD
  • Trinity Technology Group, Tampa, FL; Fort Washington, MD
  • U.S. Falcon:  Beale AFB, CA; Ellsworth AFB, SD
  • WBB (Whitney, Bradley, & Brown, Inc.):  Hampton, VA
  • XL Associates: Langley AFB, VA

Ready or not, weather or not

News from Eager Lion 12, the 12,000 strong, 19 nation military exercise being held in Jordan — nothing to do with Syria or Iran, say authorities:  A day of training, the Jordan Times reports, has been canceled because of sandstorms.

It isn’t the only military exercise to be halted on a count of weather: In the nation’s capital, heavy rain and thunderstorms last night halted an air defense exercise by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

May 22 sandstorms in Jordan lead to cancellation of Eager Lion training. Source: Jordan Times

NORAD says that exercise Falcon Virgo is scheduled to take place between 3-5 a.m., will take place on Thursday night instead.

I don’t know whether I’m being an idiot or not — okay, hold the snark — but don’t we want our military to barrel its way through bad weather, especially in an exercise, so that they might be ready to improvise if the real thing came?  Just asking…

Eager Lion Now Supplants Bright Star as Largest U.S. Exercise in Middle East

The details emerging about the Eager Lion 12 military exercise in Jordan are almost as scary as the speculation circulating in the press about a Syria (or Iran) mission preparation.  Jordan and the United States continue to insist that the exercise has no connection with any real-world events.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) now says that the exercise is “the largest annual exercise in the Central Command area of operations,” supplanting Bright Star, the exercise series previously conducted in Egypt.  I guess the masters of war planning have a lot of faith in the stability and resilience of the Jordanian government, come to think of it, just like they did about Egypt.

Eager Lion, which most press reports refer to as including 17 participants, actually includes 19 participants, according to CENTCOM.   They include Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.  The exercise is touted as “building relationships,” but the 19 nations weren’t named until May 15th: I suppose it’s more like a furtive affair than a relationship.  It’s interesting to note that Turkey, previously reported as participating, evidently is not; and that Iraq is there.

Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit offload from a Navy Landing Craft Utility vessel at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in Aqaba, May 2, 2012, to begin their participation in Exercise Eager Lion 12. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Richard Blumenstein)

And though special operations is the undeniable focus, more than 1,000 U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stormed ashore – okay maybe didn’t storm, but landed – in a display of amphibious readiness.  What surprised me in the belated announcement of the Marines May 2nd landing is that the Marine Corps casually referred to the augmented battalion and its Iowa Jima assault ship as the “forward-deployed crisis response force.”

I didn’t even know that there was such a crisis response force, and nothing was reported in the news media when it was deployed in March.

The on-scene U.S. commander for Eager Lion 12 is Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, who in his day job is Commander Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) and for the exercise is Commander, Combined Joint Task Force Spartan (CJTF Spartan).  Tovo is one of the most talented officers in our Army’s senior ranks and clearly is one of our nation’s Special Operations Forces’ superstars,” CIA Director David Petraeus said in an email to the Tampa Tribune.  There’s an odd hit job on Tovo on Examiner.com, as if anything is actually known about the man.

Government Conferences: The GSA Merely Got Caught in Las Vegas

No one in their right mind would want to stand up and defend the GSA’s $823,000 conference meeting in Las Vegas, which has become the latest paradigm of government waste.  Las Vegas in particular provokes images of ID card lanyards swinging around poles as the DC-revelers crowded the strip clubs on Industrial Road.

Now, as Fierce Government reports, the White House is imposing cut backs on conferences and travel expenses, directing agencies in a May 11 memo reduce expenses by at least 30 percent in fiscal 2013.  Deputy Secretaries will have to review any conference where the agency spending could exceed $100,000 and no agency can spend over $500,000 on a conference – well, that is, without a waiver.

I can’t imagine that anyone thinks this will change a thing, except make every Las Vegas planned event “sensitive.”  And of course it is just spitting in the wind when it comes to the industry and association sponsored conferences, the modern-day back rooms where deals are made and future careers for military officers are lined up.  These military – and increasingly homeland security – conferences are going on almost daily.

From the GovEvents website, I picked up 91 such events scheduled for the next six months.  At the bigger events, a dozen or more government and military officials can make presentations (at what cost to the taxpayer?) and loads of military personnel and government employees attend.  Looking at some of the more specialized IT symposiums, it can cost up to $500 each for each participant.  So if only 20 government participants attend these, not including travel and lost time, the cost is already $1 million. See how ridiculous efforts to save government – taxpayer — money are?

The Conferences and Expos:

Soft Power Becomes a Military-Dominated Counter-Everything…

Soft power, all the rage in the ivory tower, but ever so slowly being eclipsed in the Defense Department as mission excitement builds for China and that old foe Iran, is here to stay in that way that the Pentagon knows how to overdo everything: write the regulations and doctrine, open specialty institutions, build an internal constituency.  And of course, spend money, which in the military budget is a pittance but in comparison to other departments and agencies is a King’s ransom, which is why soft becomes hard, and everything that the U.S. government attempts to turn into non-military becomes military by default.

As Secretary Robert Gates nudged the rest of the government to do more so that the military didn’t have to do everything, and the commentators of everything-is-pathetic-except-for-the-military love to point out that the State Department can’t even find enough volunteers to man its hazardous posts in the perpetual warzone.  Come to think of it, I wonder if DOD could if their assignments were equally voluntary.

But I digress.  Institutionalized soft power a la Pentagon practice does take resources, and bodies, and pretty soon, hard power is compromised.  So there’s a double loss for America: Military priorities get distorted, and the distinction between what is military and what is civilian fades.

This week, European Command (EUCOM) announced the opening of a new Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center in Stuttgart, Germany; a kind of unremarkable and typical blah, blah, blah, even for the once important European Command constantly looking for mission and relevance.  The new center focuses on trafficking in drugs, weapons, humans and other illicit commodities.  Army Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, the center’s director, told American Forces Press Service that criminal networks were increasingly able to operate across national borders and build alliances.  Among the greatest concerns, he said, is the convergence of drug and terror networks.  The fusion center, the director says, has fewer than 40 staff members, and includes representatives of the FBI, DIA and other U.S. government agencies.

Fewer than 40 staff members indeed, but you gotta ask: Why is this paid for out of the defense budget?  Why does the military have to take the lead for the interagency to work?  How many additional contractors and supporters are really expended?  How does this subtly impact and undermine core military missions?  How does it slowly turn the military into a global law enforcement entity?

When the U.S. government started trumpeting the term narco-terrorism after 9/11, I took it to be a cynical effort to rename the war on drugs and the activities of the left-out combatant commands like Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in the new mono-focus of terrorism.  The term in fact had been coined by President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of Peru in 1983, according to Wikipedia.  The adoption by DOD was in fact cynical, but soon enough they discovered that the most pressing narco problem was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mission that initially they relegated to the Brits and the NATO partners, but have been slowly taking over.  EUCOM’s center is really a product of endless fighting in Afghanistan.

EUCOM’s center joins the counter-narcotics and counter-narcoterrorism effort at Central Command (CENTCOM), which takes place in the Afghanistan and Pakistan Center (APC).   SOUTHCOM has their new Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) division.   Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has both a CTF [counter-threat finance] team and a TNT/CNT [transnational terrorism/counter narcoterrorism] division.  So does Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which has built up a whole group of Colorado Springs-based efforts fighting transnational criminal organizations (narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, weapons, money laundering/threat finance etc.), focused mostly on Mexico.

All of these field outposts feed into the counter-narcotics and counter trafficking intelligence efforts of the CIA – through its long-standing Crime and Narcotics Center — NSA, DIA, Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), etc.  Even the Navy’s Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center has a Transnational Threat Department (TNT).  This is not even to mention the two Joint Intelligence Agency Taskforces focused on the war on drugs: South (JIATF-S) in Key West and West (JIATF-W) at Camp Smith, Hawaii.  The Department of Homeland Security, of course, has gotten into the act, opening an ICE Bulk Cash Smuggling Center and other organizations.

None of this particularly surprises me, even when budgets are supposedly so strained.  But I can’t help continue to think that the entire effort is both cynical and ass-backwards.  If we want soft anything, we have to lead with non-military efforts.

The Obama administration, not surprisingly, has made it worse, contributing to the mission creep into organized crime and human trafficking, through its Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security, released in July 2011.

That Strategy called for DOD to enhance its support to law enforcement with the creation of the  Narcotics and Transnational Crime Support Center.  James Miller, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called the Center “a dedicated DoD-led center that integrates military, intelligence, and law enforcement analytic capabilities to go after key nodes in global criminal networks.”  It reflects, he says, “the added value that the Defense department brings to whole-of-government efforts against transnational organized crime.”

Kathleen Hicks, who replaces Miller as Principal Deputy, told Congress:  “DoD should also consider how it can play a role in breaking the links among criminal organizations, terrorists, and insurgencies.  As the President’s strategy states, “terrorists and insurgents are increasingly turning to TOC [transnational organized crime] to generate funding and acquiring logistical support to carry out their violent acts.” As the Department continues with its counterterrorism efforts around the world, it will be important to account for the links between criminal and terrorist entities.”

I’d never heard of this Center, and Internet research turns up very little.  What I’ve pieced together is that it is located in Crystal City, Virginia, and the director reports to the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats.  Camber Corporation is providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) expertise to link the Center to NSA.  Semper Fi Solutions, Inc. is providing CENTCOM liaison officers in Tampa to the Crystal City based center, as well as corruption and “predatory” analysts.

Other contractors providing intelligence support to the trafficking empire include: BAE Systems, Celestar, Delex Systems, Duer Advanced Technology & Aerospace (DATA), FedSys, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 STRATIS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Prosync Technology Group, and SAIC.  Parsons Corporation is working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.

Finally, one has to ask, with all of the enhanced intelligence collection and sharing and border control that is part of the post 9/11 world, why is this problem getting worse?  How is that possible, that borders are more porous?  So much for the war against terrorism.  No wonder they call it the forever war.

In Defense of Defense of the F-22

Should we say Bravo! to the Air Force for doing its job, for doing what the military services are supposed to do, which is to train and equip, to advocate for their mission and specialty, and then to move out smartly when overruled by higher ups?  Or should we just shut down the junior service because it’s so pathetic?

The Air Force received the final, 187th F-22 Raptor jet last week in Georgia, destined to join the 3rd Wing’s 525th Fighter Squadron, stationed at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.  Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz was on hand to blather on about “America’s first 5th generation fighter aircraft,” thanking the line workers, and then heading back to his Pentagon credenza, where no doubt he was preparing to weather the onslaught.

First came ABC News, with Senator Take-No-Prisoners McCain repeating the old bombast that the F-22 is useless because it has never been used in combat.  In almost seven years not a single one of the jets, which cost an estimated $420 million-plus each, has ever been used, ABC said.

60 Minutes followed, sucking all of the oxygen out of any decent discourse, scoring the coup of having actual pilots “without permission … blow the whistle on a plane they love to fly.”

The GAO piled on.

Lockheed Martin tweeted and tweeted in response how fabulous the plane is, oblivious to what was going on all around.  The Air Force produced Gen. Mike Hostage – no kidding – to tell us that the F-22 was in fact being deployed and used all over.  This nation needs this airplane – and every one of them,” he said. “I wish I had ten times as many as I have.”  Really only the Air Force Association and the network of retired airpower advocates have joined the battle, attempting to answer the F-22 critics.

They are all missing the point.

There’s so much to be said about the news media and how opportunistic it is, stuck in a mode of having to make every story a bombshell.  There’s so much to be said about the Air Force, which just can’t get beyond its institutional inferiority complex and can’t see the big picture because it is constantly bunkered and under attack.  There’s so much to be said about the idiocy of the public defense debate stuck in some 1980’s mode of waste, fraud, and abuse, weapons-won’t-or-don’t-work.

But the real issue is that we have no defense policy, no national security strategy.  We’re fighting in Afghanistan and no one other than the government and military supports it or cares; we’ve declared terrorism an existential threat that isn’t one; we’re pivoting to Asia to unstick ourselves from the Middle East, making believe that there is some military solution in the future; we’re hanging on to and hostage to gajillions of dollars of nukes – “not used in combat” in 60 years, get it?; we’re watching new constituencies in favor of perpetual war emerge – homeland security, the intelligence community, special operations, the cyber warriors, the counter-IED kingdom, the counter-threat finance sleuths, the counter-narcoterrorism fighters – and seem oblivious to the age of special interests that takes advantage of the absence of a national security strategy.  No wonder every Congressman and woman just tries to get and save bases, contracts, and weapons in their districts and states: The Defense Department and the federal government has completely failed to articulate in any useful way why x is needed and y isn’t, so it all boils down to politics, what’s best for the district or State, and every special interest just establishes alliances to pursue what it can get.

The F-22 symbolizes all of this dysfunction, particularly that part about our debate stuck in some weird 1980’s time warp.   But what’s really happening is that the plane is just too good, too good for even the pilots, too powerful, too fast, too flexible, too magnificent.  And as such, it should be seen as part of a sea change, as a seam between an old era and a new, rather than some industrial object to be audited.

Like the 10 last-inch-seeking hyper-reliable MIRVs that we finally stuffed on top of the triple-somersaulting MX missile in the 1980’s (and then abandoned for being too much), the F-22 is too much for what is really needed for our national security, which is to say, that just because it’s the best doesn’t mean it’s buying us anything.

I’m an agnostic one way or another about the airplane, but do appreciate the details of its capabilities, including how fabulous it is as an intelligence platform, how it can dog fight and bomb at the same time…  The real question we have to ask ourselves is whether 187 of anything carrying two or twenty bombs, no matter how accurate, is going to defeat a China or Russia?  Of course it isn’t; it’s a “deterrent,” it’s a symbol; it’s a lab experiment.   It’s all sorts of things that might actually be good for America except that we can’t really determine whether that’s so unless we look at our national security in a lot broader way, shorn of love for boots on the ground and hate for the fly boys, shorn of pro-Europe and Pacific and anti-Middle East, shorn of COIN versus big war.

Is this my only choice: More killer drones?  More main battle tanks?  More opaque spending on intelligence and special operations?  More cyber this and that?  More PTSD?

In which case then, I’ll take the F-22s.   Everything that the drones and the tanks and the magnificent covert operators represent seem both more mischievous and dangerous for the future of America.

Wa$hington Clean$ Up

Defense Daily reports today that DRS Technologies, maker of communications and intercept equipment for the military, will move its corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Northern Virginia, joining almost all of the top 10 defense and national security contractors inside the Beltway bubble.

In 2006, DynCorp announced it would move its headquarters from Irving, Texas to northern Virginia, followed by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and the U.S. affiliate of the British giant BAE Systems two years later.  Northrop Grumman and SAIC then both fled southern California for the financial sunshine of Washington, joining Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Booz Allen Hamilton, ManTech, and CACI already headquarters inside the Beltway.  These are not just the biggest defense contractors, they are some of the largest corporations in America.

DRS, an operating division of Italy’s Finmeccanica, also picked up Obama administration first Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, who took office only with an ethics waiver from the President, as chairman and CEO earlier this year.  Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff was appointed chairman of BAE Systems earlier this month.  Former Air Force chief of staff Gen. John Jumper took over SAIC.

Some facts about Washington from the 2010 Census: 10 of the 15 wealthiest counties in America by per capita income are in the Washington DC metropolitan area:

  • The richest county in America: Loudoun County, Va.
  • 2nd richest: Fairfax County, Va.
  • 3rd richest: Howard County, Md.
  • 5th richest: Arlington County, Va.
  • 7th richest: Stafford County, Va.
  • 9th richest: Prince William County, Va.
  • 12th richest: Montgomery County, Md.
  • 13th richest: Calvert County, Md.
  • 14th richest: St. Mary’s County, Md.
  • 15th richest: Charles County, Md.