Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some random thoughts and observations as January comes to a close.


- Mr. Obama sure has his priorities in order.  He blows off the largest gathering of world leaders in Paris to honor those killed during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet makes a beeline for Saudi Arabia to honor there new king.  At first, this seemed like some more Obama Administration miscalculations until I went to the gas pump on Sunday and filled up at $1.85.  I'm unconvinced Saudi Arabia is an active partner in combatting terrorism in the way that say the UK or even France are but by keeping their oil production up and prices low, they are helping to keep the Obama war machine turning.

-  Mr.  Obama then makes another speedy to trip to recognize the new PM of India.  Unlike events in Saudi Arabia, this actually does represent a paradigm shift for the US which has been at odds with New Delhi since the Cold War (and professing our continued support of Pakistan).  Alas it seems too little, too late as Russia has been involved with India since the days of the Soviet Union.  India has benefitted from Russian nuclear technology and now is on the cusp of receiving cheap Russian oil to help fuel an ever growing Indian economy.

- The challenge with deconstructing a given conspiracy theory is there is almost always a little truth to them.  Case in point, the conspiracy theorists have been labeling the Charlie Hebdo attacks as a "false flag" attack, meaning it was set deliberately to justify actions by other states usually leading towards war.  In this case, France had committed to sell two warships to Russia and was reducing their military which would mean fewer French troops and equipment would be available to support US led actions.  Now France is rethinking its drawdown.

- Speaking of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a renewed debate on guns has erupted on cyberspace.  The pro-gun side believes a well armed civilian populace would have prevented the massacre in Paris.  The gun-control side believes just the opposite that access to guns increases the likelihood for an even higher body county.  Now Interpol, the police agency consisting of countries with some of the most restrictive gun-control policies, has come out with a Hobson's choice; you either arm your citizens or impose martial law.  "Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem. One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security,” stated Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.

- The US may need to figure which side of the argument it is on soon.  Our friends at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have in another demonstration of short-term thinking are shutting down 20 percent of the US coal-burning power plants.  Hooray!  Clean-air and less carbon emissions for all!  Except with coal accounting for 40 percent of US power production, and no new EPA approved plants coming on-line, this means our power grid is being constrained even more.  It won't take make much for either a physical or cyber attack on our power grids to put us down for the count.  But we will have cleaner air.

- The US poster-child for waging asymmetrical warfare (read, killing terrorists) is the aerial unmanned vehicle or simply drone.  These remotely piloted aircraft allow for the hunting and killing of terrorists in real-time.  They also present the illusion of conducting air warfare for less than using manned aircraft and without risking the lives of American pilots.  But time marches on and what was true just 10 years ago has greatly changed.  According to Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of the air service’s Air Combat Command, "Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment."  Whoops, isn't that exactly the kind of environment we DON'T want our pilots to fly in?  He goes on, "Today … I couldn’t put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it."  Wait, you need to protect you unmanned aircraft with an manned aircraft?  Why yes, according to Gen Welsh who revealed that an F-22 — the planet’s most sophisticated stealth fighter — intercepted Iranian F-4 Phantom jets that were closing in on a U.S. Predator drone over the strait last March. In November 2012, Iranian Su-25 ground attack jets fired on, and missed, an American Predator over the strait. (Source:  Foreign Policy)

- Mr. Obama has instituted several changes to the US military during his tenure; allowing women in combat, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, and an increased focus on reducing sexual assault.  Any one of these would have be a major cultural shift for the US military, implementing all three while the US is still deploying troops to hostile areas has led to the lowest morale of the US military since Vietnam.  This is not to argue the merits of any of the decisions but to point out that in chasing the political side of the issue, the morale of the troops has suffered.  None of these issues are easy to implement, one need only look back on the history of race in the military.  To ask the military to sort through three major issues, while facing continued deployments as well as troop reductions, is just foolhardy.  If you are serious about these issues, then give the troops the time and support to change the culture.  Otherwise this is just politics and not about the troops.

- January is the month that US President's give their State of the Union address.  Mr. Obama said the U.S. was upholding 'the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small' by opposing what he called Russian president Vladimir Putin's aggression and supporting democracy in Ukraine (Source: Daily Mail).  Strong words from a president who has a military that  has been at war for 13 years, facing a drawdown, is going through major cultural changes, and flat out doesn't like their Commander-In-Chief (CINC). But now, according to the Daily Mail,  the Russians have claimed the speech showed how the United States believes it is 'number one' and is unable to be an equal.  The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Levrov reacted by saying, "Yesterday's speech by the president shows that at the centre of the U.S. philosophy is only one thing: "We are number one and everybody else has to respect that."

- The warmongering former POW and Senator, John McCain, now is pressuring Obama to increase troop presence, "American boots on the ground are necessary to defeat [the group] in Iraq and Syria." (Defense News).  Even McCain admits there is no coherent strategy for dealing with Daesh but he wants to add more troops?  A especially egregious recommendation from a Vietnam veteran, a war the defined the ridiculousness of quantifying military victory.

- The whole GOP/North Korea/Sony Pictures attack seems to have been forgotten.  However, now that the US is ramping up for the 2016 Presidential election, Iran is back on the front burner.  Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is expressing support for legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks fail to reach a deal curbing its nuclear program (The Hill).  More troops for McCain plus more sanctions for Sherman seems to equal a future conflict with Iran?

- Finally, who will next lead the US through this chaos as the 45th President?  We've already heard enough about Hillary and Jeb, now we get other retreads such as Romeny, Biden, Christie and Rubio.  Elizabeth Warren is staying pat so far and as such, no other big name Democrats (other than Biden) are really coming out.  It is the Republicans to lose, I say that due to the sense of many people have had enough of Hillary.  She is tired and not nimble on her feet like her husband.  A prolonged campaign will invite too many opportunities for her to stumble and fall.  But if the Republicans front Jeb, the country may just turn off their electronic devices for the next election.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What can a billion dollars buy?

It has been bothering me why the media has been so focused on the attack in France while yet virtually ignoring the atrocities committed by Boko Haram.  Now counterterrorism raids are being conducted in Belgium.  Last we'd heard from Belgium, it look like the Walloons and Flemish were going to part ways.  The refocusing on terrorism may delay this separatist movement a while longer and prevent it from spreading.

I dislike conspiracy theorists for they point the blame of our myopic focus to some secret cabal.  Their explanation is ultimately unprovable (that's what makes conspiracies so enduring) and often too simplistic.  Regardless, my thoughts were that while the attacks in Paris were nothing more than what the appeared (retaliation for political cartoons mocking Islam), the way the media was covering the response was to manipulate our emotions.

Now comes some evidence.  "Liberal billionaire George Soros donated $33million to social justice organizations which helped turn events in Ferguson from a local protest into a national flashpoint…..The cash was reportedly funneled into keeping up numbers of protesters in the community over a period of months by bringing in outside activists…...The slew of organizations reportedly created their own online 'echo chamber', by using their extensive social media presences to 'like', repost and comment on articles putting across their point of view."  (Daily Mail)

Soros intentionally manipulated events and caused the media hype and rioting.  Despite this, Soros is unlikely to face charges as the size of his bank account insures the best lawyers will keep him from being bothered unnecessarily.  But if Soros manipulated events after the fact, who else might be at work to keep us focused on radical Muslims in Europe?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Down the rabbit hole

Just the other day I criticized the local fusion center for concluding there was "no credible local threat" and then this happens today;

FBI:  Green Township man plotted to bomb US Capitol

"FBI says Christopher Cornell, 20-years-old of Green Township, plotted with a confidential informant to build and detonate pipe bombs at or near the U.S. Capitol, and then shoot employees inside the Capitol." Fox19 News

Sounds pretty credible to me but even so, I can't help but feel we are being lead down a rabbit hole.  Those doubters that didn't think it could happen over here (again) can now the see the face of a radicalized Muslim.

Then there is the Charlie Hebdo attack, yes it appears the attack was in retaliation for a cartoon about the prophet Mohammed but isn't it coincidental that France was faltering on its support for the sanctions against Russia (and also are still trying to sell their two warships to Moscow)?

Despite the absence of Obama and company, the rest of the European leaders (with notable guest appearances by the leaders of Israel and Egypt) had their waning enthusiasm for war with Al Qaeda/Daesh renewed.  Minimally, the US won't be shouldering the burden of airstrikes alone.  France, newly refocused on fighting radical Muslims, is sending the nuclear powered Charles de Gaulle to launch strikes against Daesh.

The British can't be left out so now comes the news the Al Qaeda actually had three targets; France, Britain or the US.  In response, the British have mobilized SAS to patrol the streets of London.  (This isn't unchartered territory for SAS, they used to patrol the streets of Belfast in civilian clothes at the height of tensions with the IRA. )  The news of Al Qaeda targeting Britain has triggered concurs that the Neo-Nazis will be more attractive to young people again (not surprisingly, the same concerns are happening in Germany).   Most of Europe, at least the ones that the US counts on to go to war, now have a stake in matters with Daesh and Al Qaeda.

I've never been a particularly good follower whenever I've sensed the one leading didn't know what they were doing or were being being deceptive.  We are being lead down the rabbit hole similarly to Alice in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".   The allegory is fitting for much as Alice shrank the further down the hole she fell so do our options as we go further down this rabbit hole.  And just like Alice, we don't know what waits for us at the other end.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Right and Left

Having worked in the military and higher education, my friends tend to be either on the extreme right or extreme left of the political spectrum.  It gives me the ability to sit back and watch their views juxtaposed on social media over current events such as the Parisian massacre.

The ones on the right are celebrating the dispatch of the two terrorists by the French police and hope that this means we will see a repeal of Obama's withdrawal from the war on terror.  Those on the left are torn between seeing the attacks as an attack on their ability to question religion or as an invitation for more bloodshed in the name of protecting Americans.

Of course things really get interesting when the right and left start to point fingers at one another.  In this case, it seems to be most focused on that favorite lightning-rod issue; guns.  The right smugly believes that gun-ownership and concealed carry lessens, or even eliminates, the likelihood of a Paris style attack from happening (except in liberal bastions of gun-control such as New York).  The left are just as smug in their conviction that all of theses guns in the hands of the masses will insure more, not less, carnage than was the case in Paris.

Fascinating, rather than focus on the very real probability of an attack happening on the US and figuring out how to deal with it, we allow ourselves to turn even the most horrific events into an opportunity to criticize one another's political beliefs.

During the holidays, there was a local incident that proves both sides were wrong;

"Mall shooting over athletic shoes robbery attempt"

Basically, an athlete from a local high school and an accomplice attempted a robbery.  This quote though is what my friends on both sides fail to interpret correctly, "They say one of the juveniles produced a gun and demanded merchandise from the adult males. Police say one of the males, who had a valid concealed carry weapon permit, pulled out a gun of his own and shot the teen who had the gun."

The gun rights/conservatives will say, "See?  This proves CCW carry works!"  What they fail to understand is Ohio has had CCW since 2004 yet it never occurred to our perpetrator that he wouldn't be the only carrying a weapon that day.  The gun control/liberals will say this is why a young high school was dead, quickly side-stepping the issue that without CCW the victim would most likely have been shot or killed.  Not to mention, had the perpetrator been successful that night he most likely would have continued his crime spree.

Terrorists in one respect are no different than anyone else, they don't plan to fail.  Their plans look at how to insure the greatest chance that their attack will succeed.  Rarely do they consider the armed citizen as that's just not part of their scenario.  If someone does try to engage them with a firearm, the terrorists will assume their superior training and firepower will overcome any such contingency.

Yes, the US is highly armed but the chance of an encountering an armed citizen isn't going to stop them.  If the terrorists are concerned about the armed American, they will just switch to a bomb (Boston Marathon), chemical weapons (Aum Shinrikyo), or cyber attack (Sony Pictures).  But that also does not mean my friends on the left are correct.  France does not allow private ownership of AK-47s yet the terrorists not only had these rifles but also ammunition plus rocket launchers.  No, gun control does not make us safer from the terrorists.

Moreover, terrorists don't target based on which new sites and blogs you frequent.  The next attack will target liberals and conservatives with equal abandoned.  We need to start to put down our own personal political agendas and figure out how to start dealing with terrorists who are becoming more successful with each attack.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je Suis Charlie? Sorry, too busy!

Earlier today I heard on the radio that the widow of one of the terrorists responsible for the Charlie Hebdo incident has fled to Syria.  My initial thoughts were great, now we will start to see the case being made to go to war with Syria.  But then tonight, I read this headline on the Daily Mail;

"America snubs historic Paris rally: Holder was there but skipped out early, Kerry was in India, Obama and Biden just stayed home"

Obama and Biden were free to attend (Kerry was India, probably trying to counter Russia's growing partnership with New Delhi).  If they now try to rally the European countries to go after Daesh in Syria, I think the call will fall on deaf ears.

I am quite puzzled by Obama and Biden's absence (please, don't send me posts about how this proves Obama is a Muslim).  France has historically been a strong ally of the United States dating back to the Revolutionary War.  France has now had its own 9/11 and it would seem this would be a time to make political hay by showing up in force ("Je Suis Charlie!"  or at least, "Vive le France!").  Instead, the US representative was Eric Holder (a soon to be former Attorney General at that!).

I am no fan of the Mr. Obama and has supposed foreign policy but this is just too damn dumb even for him.  We've drug our European allies into 13 years of war and now want their help with Daesh.  The least Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden could've done is burned some JP-4 flying Air Force One over to Paris.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

No credible local threat

This has to be one of the dumbest statements I've seen lately;

No credible local threat after Paris attack - Local 12 WKRC-TV Cincinnati - News - Top Stories

We still delude ourselves into thinking fusion centers are going to spot all terrorists in advance of an attack.  The fusion centers and law enforcement catch the dumb ones, they ones that made mistakes. Ask yourself what the Parisian police would have said prior to the attack on Charlie Hebdo?

The most dangerous terrorists and terrorist groups are those that we haven't named yet.  Everyone is watching Al Qaeda and Daesh but how many new operatives have they been able to recruit?  Those operatives are highly unlikely to have criminal records or any other markers that will trigger fusion center software programs.  The terrorists most likely to commit the next attack here in the US are probably already US citizens are here on work visas.  They are regular members of their community and don't stick out.

The plea to report anything "suspicious" is ineffective.  What constitutes "suspicious" behavior?  How is "suspicious" behavior relative to terrorism different from "suspicious" behavior relative to plane old criminal activity?  Yes, that is the job of an intelligence analyst to sift through but it unnecessarily adds to the amount of data that has to be looked at.

DHS eliminated the color-coded system for threat levels because it was meaningless to the average American and no one really paid attention anyway.  There is very likely a cell, or at least a group of sympathizers, here in the greater Cincinnati area just based on the size of the metropolitan area.

A better question is why isn't there a credible threat?  Wright-Patterson AFB is 50 miles north and Ft Campbell (home of the 101st Airborne) is about 4 hours south.  GE aircraft engines and P&G are just two of the many corporations that are headquartered here in Cincinnati.  We have the Bengals and Reds sports franchises and the 2015 MLB All Star game will be held here.  The Ohio River moves 11.7 million tons of freight per year.  Interstate routes I-75, I-71 and I-74 all converge in or near Cincinnati.

"No credible threat" means the analysts are thinking (at leas the they are willing to share) outside the box and if they aren't, how are average citizens suppose to know what to look out for?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why so much French and not Nigerian?

Our Western sensibilities were threatened when 3 terrorists killed 12 French citizens in response to Charlie Hebdo's satirical cartoon.  The terrorists then fled and killed another French police officer.  French Special Forces have just dispatched the terrorists.  Checking CNN, Fox, and NBC websites today, you would would assume this was the worse massacre thus far in 2015.  You would be wrong.

Let's go back to spring last year, a relatively unknown group called "Boko Haram" kidnapped 300 school girls.  The news outlets all wondered how Hillary Clinton, while still the Secretary of State, had refused to label Boko Haram a terrorist group.  Obama and Kerry flailed around before deciding to send in Special Forces to help advise the Nigerians on how to locate the kidnapped school girls.

Then Daesh took the attention away from the news and the White House from Boko Haram.  The school girls still have not been found and while the terrorists in France may have made a bigger splash, their death toll of 13 pales in comparison to Boko Harams 2000 and displaced 1.5 million in just 2014 alone.

Boko Haram has started to make the non-US news sites again as the increase their activities in an attempt to disrupt elections scheduled for Feb 14th.  They just wiped out 10,000 (the estimated population of Baga, Nigeria).  You won't' see that on American websites and because of that, you could draw some really ugly conclusions.  Let's just say for now that minds are far more interested in three terrorists that may be linked to a group that may attack Americans compared to an extremely vicious group of nasties that for now are hellbent on killing their fellow countrymen.

But given that Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group, should we be just as concerned about their spread as much as we are concerned about Daesh?  The US is concerned (rightly) that Daesh has seized Syrian oil fields which produce around $2 million per day but the same concern is absent about Boko Haram which can control all of Nigeria's oil field (which produce somewhere 16-35 million barrels of oil).

Yes it was a horrible tragedy that 13 French citizens were killed by three terrorists who had a beef about a cartoon.  But why is there more coverage for this tragedy than the wholesale massacre of Nigerians?  Our biases in reporting often follow how intelligence assessments are focused.  If the news is all about France, trust me that's what the President is getting briefed on.  If no one is covering Nigeria (other than BBC), Mr. Obama is only getting sporadic updates.

Myopia is not only a disease of the eye, it is also a state of mind.  If we continue to have a myopic view of terrorism, we won't see the next attack coming and everyone will wonder why.