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3 IDF soldiers from the same unit kill themselves within weeks of the Gaza ceasefire

This is messed up

In the weeks after Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire, three Israeli soldiers decided to end their lives with their own weapons. And what was especially striking about their suicides was that all served in the same unit, the Givati Brigade, which had a reputation for its ruthless ferocity, considerable bravery, and the use of Old Testament religiosity to justify the merciless operations of its commander, Colonel Ofer Winter.

So why did it happen?

A contributing factor, according to Staff Sergeant J., who served in the Givati Brigade in the middle of the last decade, and does not want to be named, is that secular Israelis are now avoiding the military or declining to continue after mandatory service. “Those who do continue feel a religious and political duty,” he says. This has been discussed as a concern by Israeli academics and analysts for years.

The staff sergeant said that when he was in the Givati Brigade in 2007 or so, it was “openly secular.” He recalls “there was a group who had come from the yeshiva,” but “often they were uncomfortable… they felt sidelined.” As secular Israelis left, however, the vacancies were filled by settlers, he said.

Could any of this, or some of this, or none of this have affected the decision of three Givati soldiers to take their own lives? The Daily Beast reached out to several post-traumatic stress disorder specialists for their analysis.

“It is strange that they hadn’t seen a mental-health counselor,” said Mooli Lahad, an Israeli psychiatrist and psychotrauma specialist with over three decades of experience. He was citing reports that the Givati soldiers hadn’t received treatment. “This isn’t common for the IDF,” he said.

Lahad stressed that suicide usually has to do with pre-existing issues, such as depression, and an accumulation of factors can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which counseling helps to prevent.

“Sometimes, if there is a particularly macho culture, seeking help for depression or PTSD is seen as showing weakness, which is discouraged,” Lahad said. “If there’s a commander who thinks God is whispering in his ear, this can make things even more difficult.”

The article also speaks of religious radicalization of the Israeli military due to the role of fundamentalist settlements. 

How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence

Does more military gear make cops more likely to act violent?

Long before the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which have brought with them countless images of heavily armored local authorities pointing guns at and firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons at unarmed protesters, some were disturbed by what Washington Post journalist Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop” — that is, the increasing tendency of some local police forces to rely on military-style gear and tactics, even in situations that appear devoid of any real threat to officers’ safety.

The story of how this happened and the oftentimes tragic results have been well-told by Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. In short, there’s been a flood of drug-war and post-9/11 money that has helped outfit police departments, even towns where a single murder is an incredibly rare event, with gear that could help repel seasoned paramilitaries.

What’s less clear is how this gear changes the psychological dynamics of policing and crowd control. Is it true, as many people are arguing online, that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — that is, that simply having military gear will make police more likely to act in an aggressive manner toward civilians? How does this change the relationship between police and civilians?

At the most specific level, these questions haven’t been studied empirically. But a great deal of social-psychological research, as well as important anecdotal evidence from law-enforcement specialists themselves, suggests that militarized policing can greatly inflame situations that might otherwise end peacefully.

The so-called “weapons effect” can partly explain what’s going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. The mere presence of weapons, in short, appears to prime more aggressive behavior. This has been shown in a variety of experiments in different lab and real-world settings.

“Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur,” said Bruce Bartholow, a University of Missouri social psychologist who has studied the weapons effect. Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State, agreed. “I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” he said.

This isn’t just about a link between visual stimuli like guns and violence, however. It also has to do with the roles people adopt, with how they respond to the presence of others who may — or may not — mean them harm. To a certain extent, if you dress and treat people like soldiers facing a deadly enemy, they’ll act like it.

“This process isn’t necessarily good or bad, but depends on the extent to which the more militaristic role fits the situation,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State, in an email. “When it doesn’t fit well, it is likely to lead to more judgment and behavior errors.” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied how police departments outfit themselves, said the dynamic could be particularly dangerous in the context of nonviolent protests like Ferguson (there was rioting and looting earlier this week, but there have also been widespread reports of nonviolent protests being broken up by police aggression).

“Military equipment is used against an enemy,” said Haberfeld. “So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.” On the other side of these confrontations, this could have a negative effect on protesters. “We live in a democratic country, and we believe that this is our right to go out and exercise the right to [free speech],” she said. “And when you go out there and exercise that right and suddenly you are faced with soldiers — even though these are not soldiers, but police officers looking like soldiers — then something is triggered, definitely.”

Bushman said that meeting nonviolent protests with a militarized response is “really a bad idea. I can’t believe they’re doing it.” “It’s just really bad for the officers because they feel more powerful, more invincible, more militaristic, ready to attack,” he said. “And also, I think it elicits a response from the observers that, hey, this is war, and people become defensive and they have a fight/flight response.” The adoption of masks themselves in a militarized setting, on the part of police or protesters, can also contribute to violence by triggering senses of anonymity and what psychologists call deindividuation. “There’s all kinds of evidence in social psychology that that will lead people to do things that they wouldn’t do if they could be identified,” said Bartholow.

All this militarization, said Bartholow, can be contrasted “against the old kind of beat-cop model where people in the neighborhood know the police officers’ name and he’s kind of everybody’s buddy in a sense.”

Why Hawks Win

Why are hawks so influential? The answer may lie deep in the human mind. People have dozens of decision-making biases, and almost all favor conflict rather than concession. A look at why the tough guys win more than they should.

Social and cognitive psychologists have identified a number of predictable errors (psychologists call them biases) in the ways that humans judge situations and evaluate risks. Biases have been documented both in the laboratory and in the real world, mostly in situations that have no connection to international politics. For example, people are prone to exaggerating their strengths: About 80 percent of us believe that our driving skills are better than average. In situations of potential conflict, the same optimistic bias makes politicians and generals receptive to advisors who offer highly favorable estimates of the outcomes of war. Such a predisposition, often shared by leaders on both sides of a conflict, is likely to produce a disaster. And this is not an isolated example.

In fact, when we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses — only a few of which we discuss here — incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.

None of this means that hawks are always wrong. One need only recall the debates between British hawks and doves before World War II to remember that doves can easily find themselves on the wrong side of history. More generally, there are some strong arguments for deliberately instituting a hawkish bias. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, to demand far more than a 50-50 chance of being right before we accept the promises of a dangerous adversary. The biases that we have examined, however, operate over and beyond such rules of prudence and are not the product of thoughtful consideration. Our conclusion is not that hawkish advisors are necessarily wrong, only that they are likely to be more persuasive than they deserve to be.

Journal of a new Cobra Recruit

Hilarious

June 18, 1986

Boot camp’s still a lot of fun. And I’m learning a lot. Today we did more mental learning stuff than exercise. We received a lecture about our main enemy, the G.I. Joe team. Seems that Uncle Sam is so nervous about COBRA that he set up an elite team of soldiers just to try to fight us. I couldn’t be more proud. I had no idea I was signing on with a bunch that was this important. I guess the Joes have stopped us at pretty much everything we’ve ever tried to do. But believe me, is that going to change now that Steve Loring is a member of COBRA!

Sarge said all kinds of funny things about how dumb the G.I. Joe team is. Like, they just have one person who’s good at each thing they do. So they just have one guy who can fly a plane, and one guy who knows how to drive a tank, one guy who can fly a helicopter, one guy who can fight in the desert, and so on. They even have a whole aircraft carrier (for their one plane and one helicopter) with just a captain and one sailor to run it! Sarge was like, “What the heck kind of outfit is that?” and we were all just in stitches. Then this one recruit (I think it was Renfro, but I didn’t get a good look at his eyebrows) says, “But if they’re so dumb, how come they always beat us?”

Sarge made Renfro go out and run around the track and yell “COBRA!” for an hour.

June 20, 1986

Real boring day. I was all ready for some more physical training, but instead Sarge led us into a room full of phones and made us cold-call people and ask them if they wanted to switch their long distance to COBRA. During the break, Renfro asked Sarge when we became a long-distance provider. Sarge explained that we had to do something to make money if we were going to afford a private army with hundreds of tanks and planes and a Terrordome, not to mention all the expenses from the Serpentor genetic engineering project. Working the phones was demoralizing, and people were usually pretty mad when we called them, but it felt good to be doing my duty for COBRA. In between calls, I amused myself by thinking of cool one-liners I could say if I ever got the drop on one of those G.I. Joe bums.

June 21, 1986

Awful exciting day today. First we got to do our airborne training. They loaded us up into a plane, and we flew up and then jumped out. Our chutes had the big, scary COBRA symbol on them. It was awesome. But it was hard, because we were supposed to keep yelling “COBRA!” all the way down. It was tough to get enough breath to yell right at first. Sarge says it just takes practice.

After that we finally got to do weapons training. About time! They gave me a rifle and pointed at the target. I held the rifle up to my cheek and sighted down the barrel, just like I did when I went deer hunting with Grampa. Boy, did Sarge go apeshit over that! Got in my face and started yelling at me, asking how I expected to scare someone if I just stood there all quiet-like and shot so carefully. Sarge is a great teacher because he doesn’t just criticize. He showed the right way to shoot. What you do is you start shooting your gun wildly and run towards the target as fast as you can and, in your scariest voice, you yell “COBRA!” We worked on that all afternoon, and just before we broke for dinner, I actually hit the target! Sarge and everyone else were so happy for me that they were about to cry. Told me I’d just set the record for marksmanship in COBRA boot camp. I wanted to call Mom and tell her the good news, but she thinks I work for the phone company.

Of course later he becomes a hardened vet.

June 11, 1987

Another whirlwind day. I found out that Renfro, a buddy of mine from boot camp, is also stationed here at the ‘Drome. That made my day! We had breakfast and caught up—his jaw just about dropped through the table when I told him about the day we had the Joes on the run, only to be stymied by the sudden appearance of Sergeant Slaughter. (Who knew that a pro wrestler would be so devastating in combat? I hate the team he fights for, but that Sergeant Slaughter is a true warrior. He’s a gallant foe, worthy of my steel, and, across the gulf of war, I salute him.) Renfro’s assigned to one of the gun crews on the roof of the complex. He says it’s OK. He sees a lot of action, because Joe planes are always buzzing us and he’s ordered to take potshots at them. That’s fun, he says, but not very satisfying, because he’s almost positive that the Joes in the planes can’t hear him yelling “COBRA!”

After breakfast, I reported for my first duty shift as a guard in the War Room. Should be quite an education. Lieutenant Boyken says I have to stay sharp, because we get Joes invading the compound about once a week. Man, those guys burn me up. Someone really oughta do something about them.

June 19, 1987

Ugly day in the War Room. Today I saw an operation fall completely apart. The Commander and Destro had this great plan where they could infiltrate America by starting a chain of fast-food restaurants called Red Rocket. Unbeknownst to the public, the giant red rocket on the top of each franchise would actually be a real missile, and all the restaurant employees would be undercover COBRA troops. (Major Bludd was excited about the additional revenue the Red Rocket joints would provide; COBRA’s long-distance-phone arm is having an off year, and our operating budgets are way down.) Of course, those darned Joes somehow twigged to the plan, and the whole thing came crashing down. It was pretty disheartening to see the COBRA brass arguing about where the project went wrong. Destro was so upset he even broke protocol and called the Commander “fool” a couple of times. I could tell the Commander was hurt by this, but, being the great leader he is, he wisely understood that it was just Destro’s passion for the mission speaking.

June 24, 1987

Got one of my fondest wishes granted today when I was ordered to stand guard in a conference room where the COBRA brain trust was having a strategy meeting. Wow, what a gathering of the minds. The Commander, Destro, Major Bludd, the Baroness, and Dr. Mindbender, all throwing out ideas. It was fascinating, just watching the process. They talked for hours and hours, mostly about reviving the Serpentor project; the Commander and Destro were getting pretty hoarse by the end. There was a fridge full of sodas in there, but those two couldn’t drink through their masks. Poor guys. I can relate; same thing happens to me all the time with my uniform mask. Nobody said COBRA was easy.

Through the meeting, Dr. Mindbender kept glancing over at me … I think he was winking, but it was tough to tell because of his monocle.

June 28, 1987

We sure seem to have a lot of ninjas on the COBRA payroll.

July 4, 1987

DISASTER. I was back in the War Room today, standing guard during the afternoon shift. Major Bludd was using the giant telescreen to talk to the COBRA satellite crew when suddenly the wall exploded and a whole mess of Joes came running in.

We fought ‘em hard. I was squaring off with that silly sailor they keep on the team, the one who brings his parrot into battle with him. I pretty much had him on the ropes, because he insisted on fighting with a pirate pistol and a set of grappling hooks. That’s no match for a laser rifle and a good set of lungs to yell “COBRA!”

But then this huge guy in a Chicago Bears jersey runs in, swinging around a giant iron football. He’d knocked out a couple of the boys before I recognized him: William “the Refrigerator” Perry! I’m ashamed to say this, but I turned and ran. I remembered what the Fridge did to my Packers last September, and I’d be darned if that was going to happen to me. Everyone else must have been thinking the same thing, because we all retreated, and the Joes have possession of the ’Drome for a little while, at least. Dang it! Why, Fridge, why?

So now we’ve retreated back to COBRA Island, and everyone’s hard at work figuring out how we’re going to get even with those rotten Joes. I’ll leave the planning to the brain trust, but you’d better believe that, whatever they come up with, I’ll be right on the front line yelling “COBRA!”

Unaccountable

Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

Reuters journalist Scot J. Paltrow investigates how the US military’s bad accounting not only wastes taxpayers money, but helps ruin the life of ordinary soldiers and veterans.

Aiken, then 30 years old, was in his second month of physical and psychological reconstruction at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, after two tours of combat duty had left him shattered. His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain, and a hip injury.

But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. Aiken had no money. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. It had started that October, when he received $2,337.56, instead of his normal monthly take-home pay of about $3,300. He quickly raised the issue with staff. It only got worse. For all of December, his pay came to $117.99.

All Aiken knew was that the Defense Department was taking back money it claimed he owed. Beyond that, “they couldn’t even tell me what the debts were from,” he says.

At the time, Aiken was living off base with his fiancee, Monica, and her toddler daughter, while sharing custody of his two children with his ex-wife. As their money dwindled, the couple began hitting church-run food pantries. Aiken took out an Army Emergency Relief Loan to cover expenses of their December move into a new apartment. At Christmas, Operation Santa Claus provided the family with presents – one for each child, per the charity’s rules.

Eventually, they began pawning their possessions – jewelry, games, an iPhone, and even the medic bag Aiken used when saving lives in Afghanistan. The couple was desperate from “just not knowing where food’s going to come from,” he says. “They just hit one button and they take your whole paycheck away. And then you have to fight to get the money back.”

Aiken’s injuries made that fight more difficult. He limped from office to office to press his case to an unyielding bureaucracy. With short-term and long-term memory loss, he struggled to keep appointments and remember key dates and events. His PTSD symptoms alienated some staff. “He would have an outburst … (and) they would treat him as if he was like a bad soldier,” says Monica. “They weren’t compassionate.”

They were also wrong. The money the military took back from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep. Further, even after Aiken complained, the Defense Department didn’t return the bulk of the money to Aiken until after Reuters inquired about his case.

The Pentagon agency that identified the overpayments, clawed them back and resisted Aiken’s pleas for explanation and redress is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS (pronounced “DEE-fass”). This agency, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, has roughly 12,000 employees and, after cuts under the federal sequester, a $1.36 billion budget. It is responsible for accurately paying America’s 2.7 million active-duty and Reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

It often fails at that task, a Reuters investigation finds.

A review of individuals’ military pay records, government reports and other documents, along with interviews with dozens of current and former soldiers and other military personnel, confirms Aiken’s case is hardly isolated. Pay errors in the military are widespread. And as Aiken and many other soldiers have found, once mistakes are detected, getting them corrected – or just explained – can test even the most persistent soldiers (see related story).

“Too often, a soldier who has a problem with his or her pay can wait days, weeks or even months to get things sorted out,” Democratic Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote in an email. “This is simply unacceptable.”

It’s a pretty widespread problem

A review of multiple reports from oversight agencies in recent years shows that the Pentagon also has systematically ignored warnings about its accounting practices. “These types of adjustments, made without supporting documentation … can mask much larger problems in the original accounting data,” the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a December 2011 report.

Plugs also are symptomatic of one very large problem: the Pentagon’s chronic failure to keep track of its money – how much it has, how much it pays out and how much is wasted or stolen.

This is the second installment in a series in which Reuters delves into the Defense Department’s inability to account for itself. The first article examined how the Pentagon’s record-keeping dysfunction results in widespread pay errors that inflict financial hardship on soldiers and sap morale. This account is based on interviews with scores of current and former Defense Department officials, as well as Reuters analyses of Pentagon logistics practices, bookkeeping methods, court cases and reports by federal agencies.

As the use of plugs indicates, pay errors are only a small part of the sums that annually disappear into the vast bureaucracy that manages more than half of all annual government outlays approved by Congress. The Defense Department’s 2012 budget totaled $565.8 billion, more than the annual defense budgets of the 10 next largest military spenders combined, including Russia and China. How much of that money is spent as intended is impossible to determine.

In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.

The consequences aren’t only financial; bad bookkeeping can affect the nation’s defense. In one example of many, the Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies between 2003 and 2011 as it shuffled equipment between reserve and regular units. Affected units “may experience equipment shortages that could hinder their ability to train soldiers and respond to emergencies,” the Pentagon inspector general said in a September 2012 report.

The American military has about 5,000 different accounting programs in use.  Most of them are incompatible.

In a May 2011 speech, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described the Pentagon’s business operations as “an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures, and measure results. … My staff and I learned that it was nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to questions such as ‘How much money did you spend’ and ‘How many people do you have?’ ”

It gets better

The practical impact of the Pentagon’s accounting dysfunction is evident at the Defense Logistics Agency, which buys, stores and ships much of the Defense Department’s supplies – everything from airplane parts to zippers for uniforms.

It has way too much stuff.

“We have about $14 billion of inventory for lots of reasons, and probably half of that is excess to what we need,” Navy Vice Admiral Mark Harnitchek, the director of the DLA, said at an August 7, 2013, meeting with aviation industry executives, as reported on the agency’s web site.

And the DLA keeps buying more of what it already has too much of. A document the Pentagon supplied to Congress shows that as of Sept. 30, 2012, the DLA and the military services had $733 million worth of supplies and equipment on order that was already stocked in excess amounts on warehouse shelves. That figure was up 21% from $609 million a year earlier. The Defense Department defines “excess inventory” as anything more than a three-year supply.

Consider the “vehicular control arm,” part of the front suspension on the military’s ubiquitous High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicles, or Humvees. As of November 2008, the DLA had 15,000 of the parts in stock, equal to a 14-year supply, according to an April 2013 Pentagon inspector general’s report.

And yet, from 2010 through 2012, the agency bought 7,437 more of them – at prices considerably higher than it paid for the thousands sitting on its shelves. The DLA was making the new purchases as demand plunged by nearly half with the winding down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The inspector general’s report said the DLA’s buyers hadn’t checked current inventory when they signed a contract to acquire more. 

Mind boggling stuff.

How the U.S. lost Yemen

The United States used the Pakistan playbook on Yemen’s terrorists. It didn’t work.

Why? Why, if the U.S. counterterrorism approach is working in Yemen, as Barack Obama’s administration claims, is AQAP still growing? Why, after nearly four years of bombing raids, is the group capable of putting together the type of plot that leads to the United States shuttering embassies and missions from North Africa to the Persian Gulf?

The answer is simple, if rather disheartening: Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy have created a serious problem for the United States.

Part of the U.S. approach to fighting AQAP is based on what worked for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drone strikes have decimated what is often called al Qaeda’s core (though as al Qaeda’s strength moves back toward the Arab world, analysts will need to start rethinking old categories). Unfortunately, not all lessons are transportable. This means that the United States is fighting the al Qaeda that was, instead of the al Qaeda that is.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda was largely a group of Arabs in non-Arab countries. In Yemen, al Qaeda is made up mostly of Yemenis living in Yemen.

This has two key implications for the United States. First, new recruits no longer need to travel abroad to receive specialized training. For years, men like Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of AQAP and the man believed by U.S. officials to be recently promoted to al Qaeda’s global deputy, had to spend time in training camps in Afghanistan to acquire the requisite experience. But since AQAP has developed its own network in Yemen, that is no longer the case. Now young Yemenis who want to join al Qaeda can study with Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s top bomb-maker, without ever leaving home.

The United States has had some recent experience fighting a similar foe: al Qaeda in Iraq. But that was with the full weight of the U.S. armed forces. One of the many reasons that the Obama administration has settled on a drone-heavy approach to Yemen is the realization that sending large numbers of U.S. troops into Yemen would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions. For the past few years, AQAP has been making an argument that just like Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen is also under Western attack, which requires a defensive jihad from every Yemeni. AQAP has not been particularly successful making that argument, but if the United States were to send ground troops to Yemen, that would change. And AQAP would move from a few thousand fighters to many times that number.

The second drawback to assuming that what worked in one place would automatically work in another is what Yemenis call thar, or revenge — a concept the United States appears to have overlooked in Yemen. The men that the United States is killing in Yemen are tied to the local society in a way that many of the fighters in Afghanistan never were. They may be al Qaeda members, but they are also fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, tribesmen and clansmen with friends and relatives.

The United States can target and kill someone as a terrorist, only to have Yemenis take up arms to defend him as a tribesman. In time, many of these men are drawn to al Qaeda not out of any shared sense of ideology, but rather out of a desire to get revenge on the country that killed their fellow tribesman.

How soon the U.S. forgets the lesson of General Petraeus.

The Obama administration’s counterterrorism approach in Yemen is primarily concerned with preventing an immediate attack directed at America or its interests in the Middle East. This is a short-term goal that eclipses everything else, from long-term strategy to the stability of Yemen itself. The United States has yet to realize that this is not a war it can win on its own. Only the tribesmen and clerics in Yemen are in a position to decisively disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.

The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen. After this terrorism alert that has sent America’s entire diplomatic and intelligence operatives in nearly two dozen countries scrambling, it may be time to rethink that approach in favor of a strategy that’s more sustainable — and more sensible too.

Canada’s navy not shipshape

The sad state of the Royal Canadian Navy

HMCS Iroquois DDH 280

There is also one other problem to solve.

A decision is needed on whether or not the Coast Guard’s long-planned new polar icebreaker will be built first at the same site.

The icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is set to retire in 2017, and will be replaced by a new Polar class icebreaker CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.

Meanwhile, the two RCN ships the new class will replace just keep getting older.

Both HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver will be 50 years old (at least) by the time they head for the breakers. That would qualify them for museum status in most countries around the world.

During their lifetime they have contributed to the 1991 Gulf War and humanitarian aid missions in Florida and the Bahamas, peace-making off Somalia and East Timor and have been poised for the evacuation of non-combatants from Haiti.

The ships are also single-hulled which is in contravention of most international environmental standards and limits the number of ports that will accept them.

The RCN is acutely aware of operational limitations and is busy talking up the project.

National Defence and the Canadian Forces say that the new Berlin-class ships should “provide a home base for maintenance and operation of helicopters, a limited sealift capability, and support to forces deployed ashore.”

Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, the now-retired commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told a defence industry conference in Ottawa that the design had been selected “following a thorough, third-party-validated process, during which two designs were compared in depth based on capability, cost and risk.”

Clearly he is a fan but at some stage a keel will need to be laid and works begin. Even the most optimistic naval planner admits Ottawa is still years away from signing a detailed build contract.

Then there is the rest of the RCN fleet.

Canada’s Iroquois-class destroyers, our principal naval warships, are on average 40 years old. They are due for retirement/replacement.

The Halifax-class frigates are due for retirement/replacement starting in 2025.

Therefore, just to maintain the navy at its present operational capacity, Canada needs to build 15 new warships while completing the support ships and rebuilding the Coast Guard’s fleet of icebreakers at a time when the world is turning its attention to increasing sea traffic through the Northwest Passage.

And of course this is by a military that can not figure out how to procure anything right now and has an aversion to buying off the shelf designs from other navies (although it looks like they did with the JSS vessels).  Part of the problem is that unlike other militaries that regularly upgrade their equipment, Canadian equipment is kept well past its best before date.  The military is then forced to go after the cutting edge because it is going to have to last so long.

The Defence Department Investigates Leak that Was Published in US Navy Press Release

Well this would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous

The office of Defence Minister Peter MacKay requested an investigation by the military’s elite investigative arm last year after an Ottawa Citizen journalist published information contained in a press release.

MacKay’s office alleged that the information was the result of a leak, even though Citizen reporter David Pugliese identified on four occasions that the details came from a U.S. Navy news release.

According to documents released under access to information, MacKay’s office requested that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (NIS), which is called in for serious crimes or sensitive matters, track down how Pugliese obtained information, setting in motion a month-long probe.

Pugliese, the Citizen’s defence reporter, provided details of Canada’s involvement in RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, in a May 10, 2012 item on his Defence Watch blog, repeatedly attributing the information to the U.S. Navy.

Despite that, the NIS conducted a thorough “investigative assessment,” including a search of email traffic through DND’s firewall, in an effort to identify the source of the “leak” before concluding that no offence had occurred.

Citizen editor-in-chief Gerry Nott said the conduct of the NIS “would be humorous if it wasn’t outrageous. For investigators to be tied up chasing a phantom leak of publicly available information speaks to both paranoia and incompetence.’

Not only was the information “leaked” by the U.S. Navy in a press release, it wasn’t confidential.

O’Brien also reported that Touchette was “aware there was no security classification or designation of the information and as such there was likely no offence present.”

The following day, O’Brien interviewed Brigadier-General Sylvain Bedard, DND’s director general of public affairs, who also told him there was likely no criminal or National Defence Act offence applicable in the case.

It gets better.

But the NIS wasn’t finished with the file quite yet. Three months later, on Sept. 11, 2012, Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Frei, the new commanding officer of NIS, briefed Bedard and two senior officials from MacKay’s office — Paxton and John MacDonell, MacKay’s chief of staff — on the results of the investigative assessment.

Frei summarized the results in a letter, saying documents provided by Touchette’s officials — including Pugliese’s blog item — “clearly identify his source of information … as a United States Third Fleet news release.” Pugliese, he said, “had ample information from which to extract and produce his subsequent news article.

“The only information that could be deemed to have been leaked is the fact that the Government of Canada’s news release had not yet been authorized for release,” Frei wrote.

Well like a lot of things in life, we will just blame the United States Third Fleet (which has 5 aircraft carrier groups under it’s command!).  In defence of Peter McKay, every military has stories like this and I am sure they come from over zealous political staffers that want to please the boss.  Still i find it funny that this ‘investigation’ would not die.  It really does make McKay look both bad and paranoid.

The value of the sober second thought

Sober second thought on Arctic patrol ships by Senator Colin Kenny

Regardless of whether we end up with one ship, or eight, these ships are wrong for Canada. They are being built so the Canadian Navy can patrol our Arctic waters. The Navy hasn’t patrolled our Arctic waters for more than half a century, and with good reason: There is no military threat there. Sovereignty issues will be decided by international organizations and negotiations. Nobody is going to start a war in the Arctic.

The Canadian Coast Guard patrols our Arctic waters with icebreakers that are in dire need of replacing. The patrol vessels won’t be able to break anything more than summer ice. They will be useless in the Arctic in the winter, so they will be shipped to Canada’s East and West Coasts, where they won’t be able to do much more good, because they will be slower than most fishing vessels, will have guns that will be too small for full-scale combat and will have no mine-sweeping capacity.

Which brings us to the many ships the Canadian Navy actually needs: minesweepers, destroyers and frigates. The navy is staggering along with two antique destroyers, 12 frigates passing their mid-lives and, at last count, one fully operational submarine. Navy documents show that even this tiny fleet will be diminished over the next decade. Many frigates are unavailable during refit and the destroyers will become so old that maintenance costs will become prohibitive.

This probably won’t change many minds in Ottawa but it is nice that we have some senators like Colin Kenny holding the government to account on policy issues.

How Harper has lost control of military procurement

Sobering read from the Toronto Star

Military procurements usually begin with the drawing up of a “statement of operational requirements,” which manufacturers then use to prepare bids. But more often than not, the generals and admirals have already made their decision and “fix the specs” to secure the equipment they want.

Defence officials decided the CF-18 replacements needed stealth technology, thus excluding all aircraft other than the F-35. They narrowed the field for the fixed-wing search and rescue project by specifying a minimum cabin length just 15 centimetres greater — and a cruising speed just 12 knots faster — than the Spanish-made EADS C-295. They set a minimum size for Canada’s maritime helicopter replacement that excluded the Sikorsky Seahawk, the workhorse of the U.S. navy’s rotary wing fleet.

Officials like to buy so-called “paper planes” that are only in the design phase, since this offers the possibility of having the very latest and flashiest kit. But there are risks involved with unbuilt, unproven designs. The F-35 design proved grossly optimistic, leading to long delays, much-increased costs, and less than expected performance. The U.S. Department of Defense has already downgraded its specifications for the plane.

In the case of the planned Sikorsky Cyclone helicopters chosen to replace the Sea Kings, the generals and admirals added new electronics and weapons systems onto the design after the procurement was approved and a contract signed. All the additional equipment proved too heavy for the engines, which meant that more powerful engines had to be designed and fitted, which in turn required a lengthy and expensive full re-engineering of the aircraft.

Defence officials secure approval for these “paper planes” by telling ministers that Canadian companies involved in the initial production of cutting-edge military equipment will reap significant rewards when other countries purchase the same equipment later. The problem is that new designs fail more often than they succeed, and other countries shy away from equipment that underperforms or is overly delayed. No country apart from Canada has selected the Cyclone. Sales of the F-35 are far below the projected level, diminishing any economic benefits and driving up the per-unit cost.

Officials also lowball costs, or fail to inform ministers about maintenance, infrastructure and other “life-cycle” expenses related to the purchase. For the F-35s, defence officials said the cost would be $9.7 billion. The parliamentary budget officer said $29.3 billion. The auditor general said $25.1 billion. When the government brought in the accounting firm KPMG to provide some clarity, it said $45.8 billion.

If the numbers were not so very large, the audacity of the officials might be funny.

Spy Plane Calibration Targets

Over at the amazing BLDGBlog, Geoff Manaugh has some photos of optical calibration targets in the California desert.

Optical Calibration Targets

“There are dozens of aerial photo calibration targets across the USA,” the Center for Land Use Interpretation reports, “curious land-based two-dimensional optical artifacts used for the development of aerial photography and aircraft. They were made mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, though some apparently later than that, and many are still in use, though their history is obscure.”

These symbols—like I-Ching trigrams for machines—are used as “a platform to test, calibrate, and focus aerial cameras traveling at different speeds and altitudes,” CLUI explains, similar to “an eye chart at the optometrist, where the smallest group of bars that can be resolved marks the limit of the resolution for the optical instrument that is being used.”

Further, “the largest concentration of calibration targets in one place is on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base” in California, “in an area referred to as the photo resolution range, where 15 calibration targets run for 20 miles across the southeast side of the base in a line, so multiple targets can be photographed in one pass. There is some variation in the size and shape of the targets at Edwards, suggesting updates and modifications for specific programs. A number of the targets there also have aircraft hulks next to them, added to provide additional, realistic subjects for testing cameras.” 

Defending Switzerland

In case you wonder how Switzerland has kept itself from being invaded over the years, here is how.

McPhee points to small moments of "fake stonework, concealing the artillery behind [them]," that dot Switzerland’s Alpine geology, little doors that will pop open to reveal internal cannons that will then blast the country’s roads to smithereens. Later, passing under a mountain bridge, McPhee notices "small steel doors in one pier" hinting that the bridge "was ready to blow. It had been superceded, however, by an even higher bridge, which leaped through the sky above—a part of the new road to Simplon. In an extreme emergency, the midspan of the new bridge would no doubt drop on the old one."

It’s a strange kind of national infrastructure, one that is at its most rigorously functional—one that truly fulfills its promises—when in a state of cascading self-imposed collapse.
I could easily over-quote my way to the end of my internet service here, but it’s a story worth reading. There are, for instance, hidden bomb shelters everywhere in an extraordinary application of dual-use construction. "All over Switzerland," according to McPhee, "in relatively spacious and quiet towns, are sophisticated underground parking garages with automatic machines that offer tickets like tongues and imply a level of commerce that is somewhere else. In a nuclear emergency, huge doors would slide closed with the town’s population inside."

Describing titanic underground fortresses—"networks of tunnels, caverns, bunkers, and surface installations, each spread through many tens of square miles"—McPhee briefly relates the story of a military reconnaissance mission on which he was able to tag along, involving a hydroelectric power station built inside a mountain, accessible by ladders and stairs; the battalion tasked with climbing down into it thus learns "that if a company of soldiers had to do it they could climb the mountain on the inside."

In any case, the book‘s vision of the Alps as a massively constructed—or, at least, geotechnically augmented and militarily amplified—terrain is quite heady, including the very idea that, in seeking to protect itself from outside invaders, Switzerland is prepared to dynamite, shell, bulldoze, and seal itself into a kind of self-protective oblivion, hiding out in artificially expanded rocky passes and concrete super-basements as all roads and bridges into and out of the country are instantly transformed into landslides and dust.

Defense Spending by GDP

The Economist has an interesting article on defense spending by GDP.

Biggest military spenders by GDP ON JUNE 8th China’s top military brass confirmed that the country’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbishment of an old Russian carrier, will be ready shortly. Only a handful of nations operate carriers, which are costly to build and maintain. Indeed, Britain has recently decommissioned its sole carrier because of budget pressures. China’s defence spending has risen by nearly 200% since 2001 to reach an estimated $119 billion in 2010—though it has remained fairly constant in terms of its share of GDP. America’s own budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.

It’s not totally accurate as the Illustrious is being converted to a helicopter carrier and England is building the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the reality is that the Invincible class of aircraft carriers was at the end of it’s life expectancy. 

It is interesting that despite the outrage of how much Canada has been spending on defense lately, we still spend less than Australia, Brazil, and Italy among the largest military spenders.  I was also surprised to see Turkey so high on the list and not not see Pakistan considering how much India spends.

U.S. Army deploys psychological operations against U.S. Senators

From Rolling Stone

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"

According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. "Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good," says John Pike, a leading military analyst. "It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that."

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misuse of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

I may have an overly elevated view of the intelligence of U.S. Senators but I personally believe that polling numbers at home were far more influential the psy-ops were in the field.  That being said, every general in every battle in every war has wanted more resources, money, and for many, glory so I am not sure this is as much as a story that Rolling Stone is making it up to be.

Does Canada Need a MI6 or a CIA?

Scott Taylor thinks so

Since 9-11, the JTF2 have operated alongside their allied counterparts and earned much deserved praise.

However, what Canada has failed to establish is an international intelligence-gathering agency that would compare with the CIA or Britain’s MI5 and MI6. As a result, our Special Forces operatives are completely reliant upon our allies’ information to execute their missions in Afghanistan.

While welcomed by our NATO partners for their professionalism and discipline, without an independent intelligence agency, our JTF2 are essentially highly trained mercenaries. While the usual suspects responded to the CBC stories by calling for additional civilian oversight of our secret commandos, the more fundamental question would be: Is this sort of specialized unit something Canada should be fielding in the first place?

As a former colony, we really don’t have any deep-rooted footprints around the globe. As such, it would be difficult to begin assembling a first-class international intelligence agency.

However, if we are serious about employing the type of capability the JTF2 represents, then Canada must make a spy network a priority.

Otherwise, we should remove the cloak and dagger secrecy, send the commando elements back into our regular combat forces and let the remaining JTF2 operatives focus on their domestic security duties.