Tuesday, May 13, 2003

And in other news...

5th member of "Lackawanna Six" pleads guilty

Wednesday's Los Angeles Times reports that a fifth member of the alleged Al Qaeda cell in upstate New York has pled guilty charges that he worked with Al Qaeda and trained with them in Afghanistan. The cell was originally charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, among other charges, but it's not clear from the news report what Yasein Taher actually pled guilty to. Like the four co-conspirators before him, Taher actually pled guilty to allegations "that he had undergone weapons and explosives training at the notorious Al Farooq training camp in the spring of 2001 and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in the war on terrorism in return for a likely sentence of no more than 10 years in prison."

I think it's all but certain that the sixth defendant will plead guilty in the coming weeks, lest he be put on trial with the testimony of the other five and sent to jail for life. Already, Attorney General John Ashcroft and US Attorney Michael Battle have claimed this as a victory in the war on terrorism:
...the case against the Lackawanna Six was, in the words of U.S. Atty. Michael Battle in Buffalo, "a model in pursuing and prosecuting terrorism suspects, and in preventing terrorist acts here and abroad."

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft in Washington said the benefit to the government in granting plea agreements to the defendants was to help learn more about terrorist operations, because the men are now obliged to assist the United States.

"The cooperation we secure from defendants who trained side by side with our enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere is valuable as we continue the war on terrorism," Ashcroft said.
I understand the elation in the Justice Department at these guilty pleas, and as a taxpayer, appreciate the money that's being saved by getting these defendants to plead guilty. However, I'm not so sure this is the victory it's being made out to be. Indeed, I think this is a Pyrrhic victory at best, because we may have deceived ourselves into targeting and imprisoning some pretty small fish while the big fish swam away. The point of going after men like the Lackawanna Six is to focus on the vulnerable parts of a global terror network like Al Qaeda. The men who provide financial, logistical, immigration and technical support are the most visible and vulnerable, and they are the parts which enable Al Qaeda to project terror around the world. By targeting these parts, we hurt Al Qaeda's ability to operate in the United States. (This may make targets in the Middle East more attractive because of their relative ease) Nonetheless, we miss the big fish -- the actual operational planners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Indeed, we make such men more cautious and harder to catch by prosecutions like this. I think there's a delicate balance to be struck between the two sets of tactics. We've got to net the small fish and the big ones. However, I'm not as ready to celebrate as the Attorney General in this case. This prosecution has made a dent in Al Qaeda's ability to operate, but I don't think it's a very big dent.
Major nuclear research facility left unguarded near Baghdad

Critics say we should've just left a sign: "Get yer dirty bombs here!"

MSNBC has a really disturbing Newsweek report that American forces might have left the wrong thing unguarded in Baghdad -- the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center. Among other things, the Al Tuwaitha site contained tons of nuclear material that could itself be used to make a nuclear device -- or more easily, combined with an explosive (like the one used yesterday in Saudi Arabia) to make a radiological dispersal device or "dirty bomb".
The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters—but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. "We told them, `This site is out of control. You have to take care of it'," says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha's head of plasma physics. "The soldiers said, `We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site'." As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults' seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.

U.S. officers say the center had already been ransacked before their troops arrived. They didn't try to stop the looting, says Colonel Madere, because "there was no directive that said do not allow anyone in and out of this place." Last week American troops finally went back to secure the site. Al Tuwaitha's scientists still can't fully assess the damage; some areas are too badly contaminated to inspect. "I saw empty uranium-oxide barrels lying around, and children playing with them," says Fadil Mohsen Abed, head of the medical-isotopes department. Stainless-steel uranium canisters had been stolen. Some were later found in local markets and in villagers' homes. "We saw people using them for milking cows and carrying drinking water," says Ibrahim. The looted materials could not make a nuclear bomb, but IAEA officials worry that terrorists could build plenty of dirty bombs with some of the isotopes that may have gone missing. Last week NEWSWEEK visited a total of eight sites on U.N. weapons-inspection lists. Two were guarded by U.S. troops. Armed looters were swarming through two others. Another was evidently destroyed many years ago. American forces had not yet searched the remaining three.
Analysis: There are two problems here. The first problem is the priority list that was developed. Newsweek reports in the same story that "Roughly 900 possible WMD sites appeared on the initial target lists." It's good that the Army had this kind of list in existence; it should have been prepared well before any war, with the knowledge we had about Iraq before we went in. However, the list itself may have been out of whack. I echo Josh Marshall and Tapped on this one. I can understand why the oil ministry might get security before the Iraqi national museum. But clearly, the Al Tuwaitha facility should have been high on this list -- higher, for instance, than lots of other places where we have American troops. In the wake of this report, I really hope that someone is scrubbing and re-scrubbing this list to make sure we have the right priorities for protection.

The second problem is the number of troops we had to secure the sites that were high enough on the priority list. In a perfect world, there would be no prioritized list -- just a list -- and every site on the list would be guarded by American soldiers. However, no commander ever fights with infinite resources, so priorities have to be established and certain things have to go unprotected. The more troops you have, the lower the threshhold for guarding stuff, such that only the really unimportant sites are left unsecured. We knew beforehand that this site -- and others like it -- existed in Iraq. Yet, we did not have enough soldiers on the ground to secure all of these sites. This is the second problem -- too few troops in theater to do the job right. Our lighter, faster and more mobile military might have been able to beat the Iraqi army. However, securing Iraq -- and building it anew -- are much more difficult tasks. Moreover, these are jobs that must be done by young American men and women -- not by expensive gadgets.

High-tech unmanned vehicles and cruise missiles can find and kill tanks, but they can't secure a nuke site or keep looters out of an office building. I might forgive this error if America were new to the business of peacekeeping or nation-building -- but we're not. America has learned what it takes to enforce the peace and build a nation in places like Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet, we continue to try "economy of force" operations because they cost less, and because they are more politically expedient. The truth, unfortunately, is that boots on the ground are what it takes to get the job done. In his famous history of the Korean War, retired Army Col. T.R. Fehrenbach captured this point when he wrote:
"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life," wrote Fehrenbach. "But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud."

The wild streets of Baghdad

The Newark Star-Ledger carried an interesting report on Sunday from Mark Mueller, their reporter in Baghdad, on the state of law and order in Iraq. Mueller's lead could have been the opening scene for a Law & Order episode -- or a crime story from the streets of New York. But it's not -- he writes from the city where we currently have tens of thousands of soldiers attempting to secure the peace.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The men burst into the house before dawn, stabbing some people as they slept, shooting others who tried to run.

In less than five minutes last Tuesday, Karim Salih's family was slaughtered. Five brothers, his father and a sister were killed. Salih and a 9-year-old sister survived the attack by hiding in a bathroom, cowering in a shower stall as the men rooted through drawers and cabinets, stealing what few possessions the family owned.

"I want to know who did this," Salih, 28, said to a group of officers at Baghdad police headquarters late last week. "Why did they kill them? They could have taken what they wanted and gone. What is happening with the world when people cannot sleep safely in their beds? We live in the jungle here. No one is safe."

Iraqi police Lt. Rani Habib nodded in sympathy. "It is a terrible situation," Habib told the man. "The criminals are running Baghdad now. But I can do nothing."

There would be no investigation, not for Salih and not for the dozens of other people who arrive at police headquarters each day, begging for the arrest of killers and for the return of security to a city that has been in the grip of lawlessness since Saddam Hussein's regime fell April 7.

The problems, Mueller writes, are many. The Baghdad police lack weapons, training, organization, funding, vehicles, radios, or the tools of a modern police force. Their ranks have been decimated by the war, then decimated again by American officers seeking to keep former Baath Party officials out of the new nation's police force. In short, Baghdad's police force is a hollow shell -- unable to protect or serve the Iraqi people.
...few of the officers are actively policing. At police stations across the capital, Iraqi commanders say most street cops won't return to work until the pay materializes and until they have the equipment to safely do their jobs.

What's more, those who report for duty have little to do but wait for orders from the Americans in charge. Most days, those orders never arrive, reflecting a lack of communication between the two groups.

"We're not allowed to do anything without permission from the coalition," said Officer Nasir Ibrahim, a 22-year veteran of the Baghdad police force. "My people are killing each other in the streets, and I can't do anything about it."

Disorder in Baghdad has abated somewhat since the chaotic days that followed the regime's fall, when looters ransacked and burned government buildings, banks and stores. But cases of murder, arson, rape and robbery remain far more prevalent than they did before the war, police and residents say.
Analysis: This has to stop, and fast. Letting the Iraqis loot their National Museum and other buildings was bad; this is much worse. It's a safe bet that nascent pockets of organized crime have begun to form in Iraq, in the absence of any public force to maintain law and order. Organized crime elements will focus first on establishing order themselves -- by means of violence and extortion -- then they will start to fight one another for turf and control over various criminal syndicates. If the United States does not stop this crime with brute force and establish order, we will almost surely have to contend with larger, more complex, more organized crime problems in the future.

This is not the time to redeploy forces from Baghdad (as we're currently doing), nor is it the time to let the Iraqis try to police themselves. We must establish order with a firm hand, first, before disorder and chaos become the norm. Once people feel secure in their homes, and trust the U.S.-Iraqi authority to maintain the peace, then we can cede authority to the newly reconstituted Iraqi police. It's clear that the Iraqi police force is incapable (for now) of doing this job. American soldiers may not be police, and they may not be perfectly trained for this job. But they can certainly establish security by force and stop this criminal activity for as long as it takes to get the Iraqi civilian police up and running.
War game's outcome stuns decisionmakers

Frank Tiboni reports in DefenseNews (subscription required) this weekthat a wargame conducted at the Army War College last month has caused consternation a number of key military and civilian leaders in Washington. Specifically, the exercise showed that America's strategy of pre-emptive defense might lead to pre-emptive strikes by terrorists and rogue nations around the world, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Asymmetric warfare -- striking at U.S. weakpoints with unconventional tactics -- will also become the norm by which our enemies fight us.
Conventional U.S military forces are so vastly superior to those of any potential adversaries that future foes will likely attack with conventional arms or weapons of mass destruction — either aimed at American troops in theater or citizens at home — at the outset of a conflict to blunt a U.S. assault, said military officials.

That was the stunning conclusion of Unified Quest 2003, the first major war game conducted by senior U.S. defense officials since the end of the Iraq war. Held April 27-May 1 at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., it was sponsored by Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Va., and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Va.

Set in 2015, the computer-assisted exercise pitted U.S. commanders against two adversaries: a nuclear-armed Middle Eastern country surrounded by deserts, mountains and narrow waterways, and a well-armed, well-funded insurgent group threatening an allied Southeast Asian government.

The game's developers assumed that the U.S. military had retained its overwhelming superiority, and that Washington still pursued the George W. Bush Administration's policy of preemptively attacking regimes seen as threats to U.S. security.

In each scenario, enemy forces, dubbed Red and played by other Americans, were quick to use conventional weapons to keep Blue, or coalition and U.S. troops, from using seaports and airfields. They also employed weapons of mass destruction early in the battle against Blue units and civilian populations.

"Preemption is essential to Red for limiting and denying access," as is "early expansion of attack outside region and into U.S. homeland," according a briefing book on the war game distributed at a May 2 briefing at the National Defense University in Washington. At the briefing, war game supervisors discussed the game's conclusions with Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary; Joint Forces Command chief Adm. Ed Giambastiani; Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff; Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations; and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee.

Central to the game, which involved about 700 U.S. military and government personnel and a few reporters, was the concept of asymmetric warfare, in which a weaker adversary aims to counter overwhelming military superiority through unconventional means. The concept began to appear in U.S. doctrine in the mid-1990s, and Pentagon officials have become increasingly convinced no future enemy will pit its conventional forces against U.S. troops.
Analysis: The military conducts such exercises all the time. Exercise results provide the basis for budget requests, troop-stationing decisions, procurement orders, and many other things. Exercises are also used to wargame the secondary and tertiary effects of decisions at the tactical, operational and strategic level. This exercise was designed for that last reason -- to explore the repercussions of American strategy today, by looking to strategic outcomes 10 years in the future.

The results of this war game should not necessarily deter America from its current strategic path. But it should give us pause. Our overwhelming conventional superiority is bound to trigger a massive unconventional, asymmetric, possibly terroristic response. Faced with the type of firepower exhibited in Iraq, our enemies know they cannot challenge us on the open plains of battle. Instead, they will attempt to find the chinks in our armor -- the places they can hit us where we're not well protected. One set of these vulnerabilities is military -- the springboards like ports and railroads we use to project our military muscle overseas. The other set is civilian. In the future, I think we can expect to see attacks on both military and civilian soft targets by our enemies. Indeed, the lines between civilian, military, political and economic targets will increasingly blur for our enemies, who will target American power writ large in any manner they can.
Saudi bombings appear to bear Al Qaeda's thumbprint

Last night's simultaneous bombing of three housing compounds in Riyadh appear to have been the work of Al Qaeda, according to the Washington Post and other news agencies. The story is still developing, but the blasts appear to have killed 20 people including 7 Americans. Speaking today in Saudi Arabia (on a prescheduled visit), Secretary of State Colin Powell said these bombings were unmistakedly the work of Al Qaeda.
Although the investigation is continuing, Powell said today that "the suspects are clear . . . It has the earmarks of al Qaeda." He vowed that the United States would not be deterred from continuing its campaign against the organization and other terrorist groups.
* * *
No building in the compound was spared from the blast. The attackers came in two cars, shot the sentries, opened the gate and then drove in, Powell was told by a Saudi officer briefing him. Bullet holes could be seen in the glass at the guard station.

The remains of a Dodge Ram pickup truck that officials estimated carried about 400 pounds of plastic explosives were inside the compound. Damage was heaviest at the four-story bachelor quarters, which had the front of the building completely ripped apart, with sheets and drapes left blowing in the wind today. The damage extended about 250 yards across the compound.
* * *
A Saudi familiar with the residential compounds attacked said they were each about 40 to 50 acres and have homes of various sizes, as well as common areas with restaurants, shopping, swimming pools and tennis courts. All three are protected by guard houses at the entrances that cars can only approach after weaving around barriers for about a quarter of a mile.
Analysis: Let's review what we know from the attack on one of the compounds, and why we think this might be Al Qaeda. The attackers appear to have entered in a convoy of three vehicles, using two cars of shooters to kill guards in order that a third truck might enter the compound and blow up. The attackers also appear to have perished in the blast, acting as suicide bombers. The attack appears to have used some reconnaissance and professional planning, based on the types of tactics used. And the attack used an improvised explosive device, probably with plastic explosive, something that would not be the work of amateurs. The tactics, coordination, planning and materiel used all indicate a professional terrorist group. On top of that, we have the targeting decision -- a compound of foreigners in Riyadh. That matches the political agenda of Al Qaeda, a group dedicated to the ejection of foreigners from Saudi Arabia.

Finally, we have historical comparisons. Al Qaeda has conducted similar car bombings in Tanzania, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia during the past 10 years. Indeed, this bombing looks very similar to both the Khobar Towers attack in 1996 and the embassy bombings in 1998, except that this attack improves on those past attacks by adding a security element whose mission was to eliminate the guards around the housing compound. American anti-terrorism tactics have evolved -- we now used posted guards to detect car bombs and truck bombs before they can get close enough. Al Qaeda appears to have reacted to that evolution by developing a tactic to eliminate those guards in order to get the bomb close to the target. Fighting terrorism is a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and for the moment, it appears that the mouse has gotten a little smarter.

Coda: As I've said before, first reports are always wrong. We still don't have a lot of well researched, well reported, detailed reports from the field. The FBI has already dispatched a team to the scene to gather evidence on these attacks, and their careful analysis will yield a lot of hard evidence about who actually conducted these attacks and with what means. All we have right now is highly circumstantial evidence -- nothing that I'd take to court. All of these indicators point towards the conclusion I've laid out, but it's very possible they were contrived to point that way. Until we get the hard forensic evidence and analyze it, we can't be sure who bombed these buildings, how or why.

Coda II: The Associated Press reports that Saudi authorities have definitively linked the attack to Al Qaeda. Specifically, the Saudis linked several of the individuals in the attack to Al Qaeda members involved a shootout earlier in the month.
Saudi authorities made a direct connection between the attacks and a May 6 gunfight between police and 19 al-Qaida operatives in the same part of Riyadh where the bombings occurred.

"The only information we have is that some of them were members of the group that was sought a few days ago, the 19 fellows whose pictures came out in the press," Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain and a former Saudi intelligence chief, said in London.

The 19 escaped. Among them were 17 Saudis, a Yemeni, and an Iraqi with Kuwaiti and Canadian citizenship. The interior minister, Prince Nayef, said they were believed to take orders directly from Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Again, this is not the kind of hard evidence you'd need for a prosecution in America's criminal courts. But it is pretty good evidence for intelligence and military purposes. It's enough to convince me. The bottom line is that Al Qaeda retains a dangerous operational capability to conduct "spectacular" terrorist operations in various parts of the world, notwithstanding our campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. We must be vigilant to ensure that they do not demonstrate this capability on American soil.
Local prosecutor pushes to prosecute Marine in rape case

Today's Los Angeles Times reports on an interesting skirmish between the Riverside County D.A.'s office and the Marine Corps over jurisdiction to try a recruiter accused of raping a 17-year-old prospect in Southern California. The Marines have requested jurisdiction in the case, something they usually get. But instead of deferring to military jurisdiction, the local prosecutor has pushed the case.
Staff Sgt. William Clayton Bragg, a 32-year-old from Murrieta and 13-year Marine veteran, faces one count of felony rape for allegedly attacking a Corona teenager after a class for incoming Marines.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Marmor said her office had not made a final decision about retaining jurisdiction but would prefer to try Bragg in civilian court. A military justice official said that the district attorney's "aggressive" prosecution was unusual and that his office has asked to take over the case.

"I've asked for jurisdiction on other [civilian-military] cases 20 times in the last four years, and every time it goes to us, usually because the district attorney's office caseload is too backed up,'' said Col. John Canham, staff judge advocate for the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego.

According to a source involved in the case, Marmor will probably turn the case over to the military if defense attorneys try to delay the trial, because a military court would probably hear the case in four to six weeks.
* * *
"This is not adversarial — we'll let the civilians hash out the issues and tell me the results," Canham said. "It is a civilian case, civilian hearing and civilian judge, and the D.A. can decide to not pass on the jurisdiction to us. If they do, our advantage in prosecuting the case is our good order and discipline and reputation of holding Marines accountable."
Analysis: The differences in this case are more than semantic. As Col. Canham says, the purpose of the military justice system is to promote "good order and discipline" -- not just to find justice. Even if the Marine sergeant is not guilty of rape, he can still be found guilty of conduct unbecoming a non-commissioned officer for having sex with his 17-year-old recruiting prospect -- or some other breach of military regulations. In either scenario, Sergeant Bragg can be found guilty and sent to prison. But a general court martial would also have the power to reduce Bragg in rank and dishonorably discharge him from the Marine Corps, things which would have long-term consequences for his post-prison life. Finally, as a matter of law, the two systems will treat Bragg differently in the courtroom.

The military justice system has substantially stronger procedural safeguards than the civilian system, and a more robust right of appeal too. Bragg will also get a Navy or Marine Corps JAG attorney to defend him, rather than a civilian public defender. (He can also hire his own attorney in either system) This is a substantial advantage, since military defense attorneys are usually better resourced and less overwhelmed than their civilian counterparts, and better able to mount a defense.

Ultimately, I think the best decision would be to try Bragg in civilian court for the rape, and regardless of the verdict, subsequently charge him in the military system with conduct unbecoming. Sergeant Bragg appears to have committed the general crime, and as a normative matter, I think the civilian system is better for pursuing the ends of justice in that matter. He also appears to have committed crimes of a uniquely military nature, abusing his privileged position as a sergeant and a recruiter. For those offenses, the military system should try him as well.

Update: The LA Times adds a new report on Wednesday indicating that local prosecutors have decided to defer to the Marine Corps on the prosecution of Staff Sgt. Bragg. Military officials said they could bring the case faster than Riverside could, and that they could add specific military charges like adultery and conduct unbecoming a sergeant. Those arguments persuaded the Riverside DA's office, however, they may still bring civilian charges if the military verdict does not come out the way they want.
"We have not dismissed our case. We want to watch and see what the outcome of the military prosecution is, to ensure justice is served," said Allison Nelson, the Riverside County supervising deputy district attorney. Nelson said her definition of "justice served" would require a conviction, appropriate prison sentence and having Bragg register as a sex offender.

Back from my short break

Final exams have ended and I finished moving into a new apartment, so I'll resume my posts to Intel Dump this week with regular frequency. Thanks for stopping by; stay tuned for some analysis & commentary today.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

A soldier's story

Saturday's New York Times carries a thought-provoking dispatch from Michael Gordon about Army Pvt. Kelley Prewitt, who died fighting in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division. Pvt. Prewitt joined the Army to be a tanker -- 19K in Army parlance -- but wound up as a truck driver because his unit had all the M1 crewmen it needed. Nonetheless, Pvt. Prewitt came under heavy enemy fire, as the Iraqis learned to let the M1s drive by so they could ambush the lightly-armed supply convoys behind them.
It was a small episode in a big war. But it reveals a lot about the nature of that war.

In a conventional conflict the tanks take the fight to the enemy and supply troops operate behind the front lines. But in this war there often was no clear front line. American forces were pitted against paramilitary fighters, who often let the tanks and the Bradley fighting vehicles pass so they could attack the vulnerable logistics troops that followed them.

Supply troops and even headquarters staff, who were not designated for combat, sometimes found themselves in the thick of the action. Hauling ammunition for the tanks was sometimes more dangerous than fighting in them.

That certainly was the case when Private Prewitt was shot on a stretch of highway and Staff Sgt. Jimmy Ealon Harrison, an Army medic, rushed to his aid.
Analysis: This really does show a number of issues with American military doctrine -- both its strengths and weaknesses. In many ways, our armored forces resemble a hard-shell egg. The front-line units, made up of M1 tanks and M2 Bradleys, are virtually unstoppable. But once you crack those lines, or wait for them to pass, you find the softer side of the American army -- huge logistics units designed to keep the M1s and M2s in the fight. These logistics units carry light weapons, drive thin-skinned vehicles, and train more on logistics than on fieldcraft. They are extremly vulnerable to enemy fire. When the enemy regroups and fights unconventionally, as the Iraqi fedayeen did, the threat to these logistics units becomes especially acute. We saw this happen several times during the recent war, most dramatically with the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company convoy that resulted in the capture of several American POWs.

The risk of combat extends beyond those tankers and infantrymen who directly engage the enemy -- it includes the logistics personnel who supply them, the medics who heal them, the pilots who fly above them, the MPs who secure the rear area behind them, and the intelligence officers who brief them. One major implication of this is that the military has had a hard time creating a rule for women in combat. As a normative matter, the Pentagon would like to keep women out of direct-fire combat if possible. As a practical matter, it has had real difficult figuring out which jobs carry the risk of direct-fire engagement and which jobs don't. On the modern battlefield, rear areas become combat zones and there are few jobs immune from direct-fire combat, save those aboard ship or far back in the rear area (think Qatar).

Friday, May 9, 2003

Bush backs women in combat

Today's Washington Times reports that President Bush has decided to defer to military judgment on the issue of women in combat. Conservatives, such as Elaine Donnelly with the Center for Military Readiness, had decided to raise the issue after images of PFC Jessica Lynch and SPC Shoshanna Johnson in captivity hit the airwaves during the war. But today, the President said he was not ready to reverse a decade of gender integration in America's military since the first Gulf War, which has resulted in thousands of women in front-line positions.
Although Mr. Bush did not address the issue of women in combat during the 2000 presidential campaign, he came out against coed training in the military.

"The experts tell me, such as Condoleezza Rice, that we ought to have separate basic training facilities," Bush told American Legion Magazine. "I think women in the military have an important and good role, but the people who study the issue tell me that the most effective training would be to have the genders separated."

Now that he is president, Mr. Bush is deferring to the Pentagon on the question of whether the sexes should be separated between combat and noncombat units.

"As with all matters in the military, the president wants to hear first from the experts," Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. "And then if there is anything beyond this hypothetical, he might have more to say, if that even happens."

Mrs. Donnelly called that a cop-out.

"The president has to show the same leadership here that he did in taking on the forces of Saddam Hussein," she said. "I know sometimes feminist advocates seem even scarier, but I think this president could do it and he should."
Analysis: I wrote in December 2002 on this issue, predicting that thousands of American women would fight on the front lines if we went to war in Iraq. Several policy changes in the 1990s meant that more women would fight further forward in Gulf War II than in Gulf War I, and that this would force a renewed debate on the role of women in the military. Unfortunately, my predictions came true. I also wrote that their performance in combat would shape the public debate on this issue for years to come.
No one is quite sure how Americans will respond if significant numbers of women are killed in Iraq. "The real issue is, if greater numbers of women get captured, how will the country react?" asks Donnelly. "We would have to desensitize the entire nation to violence against women. Endorsement of women in combat means an endorsement of violence against women at the hands of the enemy." Perhaps. But even when women have died in combat, the public hasn't questioned their reasons for being there. The nature of public grief for soldiers like Marine Corps Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, a radio operator who was the first female military casualty in the war against Afghanistan, may indicate that Americans will accept female casualties if they believe in the cause they're fighting for.

In the end, what will really determine public reaction is how well women perform their jobs under fire. On the ground in Afghanistan, women did not participate in the main actions of Operation Anaconda. But since the fighting died down, female MPs have gone out on long infantry patrols with the 82nd Airborne Division, and by most indications perform-ed well. To be fair, they have not seen combat, and haven't performed the most physically demanding tasks the military has to offer. But women have covered 10 to 20 miles of very hard country per day carrying loads of up to 75 pounds, all while living in close quarters with male infantry.

And so far, as in the Gulf, the worst predictions have not come true--no reports of mass pregnancies or other issues have come to light in Afghanistan. "I'm learning what grunts do, [and] they learn what I do. As MPs, we search people and look for weapons ... I never thought we would be walking for hours or be on the front," MP Sgt. Nicola Hall told a reporter in Afghanistan after the mission. "[The 82nd Airborne soldiers] have been nothing but respectful to us; as long as you walk, carry your own weight and don't whine, you're respected."
All indicators point to women performing exceptionally in combat -- from PFC Lynch to the unknown women who flew deep into Iraqi territory as Army, Navy and Air Force pilots. Thousands of women served in the Army and Marines as MPs, engineers, chemical-warfare specialists, medics, fuelers, and in hundreds of other jobs. Like their warfighting brethren, they performed well under fire. At the end of the day, they proved their case by doing their jobs. In war, that's about all you can ask of a soldier.

Ms. Donnelly and others hoped that the social conservatives in the Bush Administration would back them on this issue, given the high-profile captures of two women by the Iraqis. They made a great miscalculation. President Bush has lauded his military for its strategy, its tactics, and its people -- he's not going to second-guess them on an issue like this, particularly when it's an issue where he can actually win moderate votes by appealling to women. (Can you think of many other issues where President Bush can appeal to moderate female voters?) Ms. Donnelly and other critics ought to see the performance of women in Iraq for the success that it was, and focus their efforts on improving opportunities for military women instead of destroying them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Pentagon narrows the scope of TIA project

The New York Times reports today that the Pentagon has decided to sharply curtail the scope of its "Total Information Awareness" project, limiting it to only data already held by government agencies. Dr. Tony Tether, directed of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), told a Congressional subcommittee that the change was being made to avoid civil liberties problems that had led Congress to legislate limits on the project on February. The legislative limits entailed a reporting requirement which prohibited the Pentagon from moving forward with the project until they developed a plan to mitigate any civil-liberties risks. Dr. Tether's comments indicate that the agency has decided to sidestep these risks by using data -- like crime records -- that are already in government hands.
... the official said the program, the Total Information Awareness program, would rely mostly on information already held by the government, especially by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
* * *
Today, under friendly questioning by Representative Adam H. Putnam, a Florida Republican who is the subcommittee's chairman, Dr. Tether said the main area of private data that might be useful in anticipating terrorist attacks would be transportation records, since terrorists had to travel.

Saying "I'm trying to help you guys a little with your p.r. problem," Mr. Putnam invited Dr. Tether to swear that the agency was not "contemplating" using credit card, library or video-rental information. Dr. Tether said he could see no value in any such data, but he could not swear that no consultant hired by the agency was not "contemplating" the value.
* * *
Dr. Tether argued that from the outset of the Total Information Awareness project, Darpa had been aware of the need to protect privacy. One essential element was concern by different agencies that sources of their information be kept secret. "Historically," he said "agencies have been reluctant to share intelligence data for fear of exposing their sources and methods."
Analysis: This last part is the most important. TIA is not about spying on American citizens or setting up some massive Big Brother apparatus. It's about bringing together information and using it more efficiently and intelligently. Have you ever seen a police background check on TV? Do you think it's really that easy? In reality, it's exceedingly hard to do a good background check on someone -- even if you have them in custody. No agency has the ability to call up information on demand -- even information like criminal records, which it should already have. Across the 50 states, police agencies and other agencies use varying databases to keep their information. Some of it has been put together, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. But for the most part, it remains separate. TIA is about bringing this data together so that police officers and security agencies can use it more effectively.

There was some initial conceptual talk about gathering other data -- such as credit information, financial data, travel data, etc -- to make the TIA database even more comprehensive. The point of this was to gather the data points most relevant to international terrorism. Terrorists don't act like criminals, and they rarely have prior records or speeding tickets that can create a pattern of criminal activity. The salient indicators of terrorist activity tend to be financial in nature, or travel-related in nature. Thus, Pentagon officials designed the project to incorporate those data sources. However, this raised a firestorm of controversy, and many objected to the government's collection of this information. (Query why they'd rather let TRW or Equifax manage this data than the Pentagon) Thus, it's been cut out. I think this is a mistake, because this data remains invaluable for the detection and prevention of terrorist activity.

But perhaps we're seeing the first baby step here towards TIA, and the Pentagon needs to "proof" the concept first before the American public will accept the use of this data. The purpose of all DARPA projects, initially, is to prove the concept. But now, the Pentagon also needs to make the TIA project as criticism-proof as possible, if it has any hope of survival. The DARPA folks are testing TIA for their own security-oriented purposes, and that of other interested agencies (like DHS). But they also need to demonstrate this system to the public, in order to build public trust in the system and answer the criticisms thus far that it will infringe on civil liberties. More to follow...

Update: Eugene Volokh has some interesting thoughts on where this all may lead, based on his work on the dynamics of slippery slopes in law and policy.
...the slippery slope may well be in operation here -- I'd call it a mix of the simple attitude-altering slippery slope, either an erroneous evaluation slippery slope or an accurate evaluation slippery slope (depending on whether you think the public will correctly estimate the value of the project), and cost-lowering slippery slope (in the sense that providing the government with more experience about how to run TIA-type projects will lower the cost of broadening them in the future). But some slippery slopes are good, if you already think that what's at the bottom of the slope (e.g., the broader TIA) is good, or if you're not sure whether it's good but you think the first step might indeed provide useful information about the likely value of the next step, and you think that the political system will act soundly based on that information. And of course it's possible that the slippage won't occur, because the public will maintain the line between the government simply organizing the data that it already has, and the government also incorporating data from private sources.
I think he's right -- these initial steps for TIA are designed to make the next ones easier. Starting TIA with a small data set is not intended to limit the project's eventual scope. Rather, it's designed to assuage concerns today about TIA, so that people will object less in the future to the project when it does acquire more data. If you object to TIA in its current prototype form, with its present data set, the time to speak up is now. If TIA proves itself with the government-owned data set, it will most likely be expanded to include medical information, credit information, and other indicators which may be valuable in the national security context. The slope becomes both steep and slippery from here.