Saturday, September 13, 2003

Trimming the fat at the Pentagon
Should we cut missile defense to buy better body armor for our troops?

Fred Kaplan has an interesting piece in Slate about places where we could excise a little money from the burgeoning American defense budget. As the largest discretionary item in the federal budget, defense will swallow nearly $400 billion in FY2004, and considerably more when you factor in supplemental appropriations for Iraq and the war on terrorism. Kaplan suggests cutting a few weapons programs which have not cut the mustard:
The $87 billion supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan is fairly straightforward: $32.3 billion for operations and maintenance, $18.5 billion for personnel, $1.9 billion for equipment, $5 billion for security, $15 billion for infrastructure, and so on. It's a bookkeeping calculation: If you want to continue the mission, that's what it costs; if you want to spend less, you have to downgrade the mission.

But there's plenty more in the military budget that does not have the slightest connection to any clear and present (or even murky and distant) danger.

When Congress passed the military budget last spring, nobody had any idea that "postwar" difficulties would boost it by $87 billion—more than one-fifth of its original, already hefty size. Nor did anyone project that the federal deficit would meanwhile expand to nearly half a trillion dollars. When your kid's in the hospital, your roof is leaking, and your salary's just been cut, you should probably put off plans to build a pool or buy a plasma-screen television. The military budget is in a similar state, and it only makes sense to reopen the books, set priorities, and slash those programs that can safely be deferred.
Analysis: The real problem with weapons programs it that their cost tends to balloon as they age. Retired Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck" Spinney has done some brilliant work (see this data too) investigating weapons programs over the past 30 years, and his work indicates that every major weapons program winds up costing much more than we thought when we bought it. The reasons are simple. Defense contractors push a lot of their costs to the back end so that they can get the Pentagon to buy in when a project looks cheap. As the costs balloon, the contractors can file a claim for the costs, usually based on some sort of constructive change in the contract. The result is that large procurement programs have a deceptively small cost in the short-term, and a larger cost in the long-term, and an overall cost that's much higher than anticipated.

Clearly, we need some (or most) of these programs to field the military that fought so decisively in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. But the tough part is finding the right mix of programs, and balancing that against expenditures for personnel and current operations. I find it quite telling that the President's $87 billion request for Iraq includes a substantial purchase of body armor for American soldiers. My reporting indicates this will go to purchase individual sets of the newest body armor for all soldiers who will rotate through Iraq, and eventually for the entire Army and Marine Corps. I think this is a good thing, given the success this body armor had in Iraq. But I also think this body armor is something we should have bought a long time ago. The fact that we're buying it now tells me that we've spent far too much on long-term weapons procurement, and far too little on the short-term stuff our soldiers need.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Moussaoui one step closer to a military tribunal?

The Washington Post reports that U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has given the U.S. government another order in the Moussaoui case to comply with her order allowing access to other terrorists the U.S. has in custody. Moussaoui is seeking access to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, in accordance with the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, in order to gather information which might be helpful to his defense. I think the defense theory is that Moussaoui was actually not a part of the Sept. 11 plan, and these two men can prove it.
Government officials filed no response yesterday, but indicated that they were likely to defy the order and refuse to produce the two witnesses -- identified by sources as former al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, a Saudi who allegedly served as paymaster to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Both are in custody and being questioned at an undisclosed location.

Brinkema is expected, if disobeyed, to sanction the government for its failure to produce not only Mohammed and Hawsawi but also Ramzi Binalshibh, another top al Qaeda operative. In January, Brinkema ruled that Moussaoui could depose Binalshibh.

Possible punishments range from dismissing the case against Moussaoui to striking the possibility of the death penalty. Prosecutors are expected to appeal any adverse ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

If they ultimately are ordered to produce the three al Qaeda operatives by the higher courts, government officials have said they would refuse. The case probably would be moved to a military tribunal, where Moussaoui would not have the right to interview the witnesses.
Analysis: If Judge Brinkema backs the government into a corner, I think they will remove this case to a tribunal. Few will shed a tear for Mr. Moussaoui if he's transferred to military custody, and it might even make the U.S. government look more legitimate in the sense that it's treating him like the other non-citizen terrorists it has in custody at Gitmo. (Of course, Moussaoui is a French citizen so there may be some diplomatic complications here)

But the real question is political: does the White House have the political capital (not to mention the chutzpah) to put a person in front of a military tribunal, given the heat they have taken for these trials and other issues (e.g. the USA PATRIOT Act). I don't think the White House wants that kind of lightning rod to be planted on its front lawn at this juncture (wouldn't be prudent). In fact, I think the likely fate for Mr. Moussaoui will be that of Mr. Hamdi and Mr. Padilla. An order will be signed designating him an enemy combatant, and that will be the end of it. No trial, at least not in the short term. No political risk, other than what's already been incurred for those other 'combatants'. This seems like the most likely course of action to me.

Two great pieces in Slate to check out

Once again, Slate has two great pieces of writing in two areas I care a lot about: law and war. The first piece comes from Dahlia Lithwick, Slate's outstanding legal correspondent, who details some of the discussion over the USA PATRIOT Act. Ms. Lithwick correctly points out the fact that too few people debating the Patriot Act actually know the minutiae of the act, and she tries to correct that lack of knowledge with her four-part series.

Second, Fred Kaplan chimes in with a great piece on the President Bush's lost opportunities after Sept. 11. Another president might have remade the world... this one did not. There will surely be lots of once-over-the-world analysis of Sept. 11 in the next few days. I'll try to find the better pieces and link to them.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

'Training the Brains Behind the Intelligence'

This creative headline will run above a very interesting story in Monday's Los Angeles Times on the FBI's efforts to train terrorism analysts at its academy in Quantico, Virginia. Among the most significant failures before Sept. 11 was the failure to train adequate numbers of intelligence analysts who could find the indicators of terrorism and put those indicators together into a coherent picture. (Other failures included the lack of cross-talk between offices and lack of communication with the intelligence community) Now, Richard Schmitt writes in the LA Times, things are getting better.
. . . these are different kinds of recruits. They will not become FBI field agents, who come to this campus 30 miles south of Washington to hone their shooting skills and engage in cops-and-robbers exercises at a mock village that looks transported from a Hollywood back lot.

Rather, these are analysts who try to outthink their adversaries, and their training is strictly in the classroom.

Analysts "do not do the glamorous things," said Patricia Boord, the FBI unit chief in charge of the College of Analytical Studies. "They do mostly intellectual exercises."

Teamwork, communication and sifting of data — connecting the dots — are at the heart of a transformation the FBI is trying to undergo.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon two years ago, the storied agency was exposed as inept and ill-prepared. Congress and the public clamored for change.

In response, the bureau is redeploying agents into counterterrorism and working more closely with the CIA and other intelligence rivals. And it is struggling to create a mind-set that thinks harder and learns more from what it knows.
The story goes onto discuss the nature of the training exercises being used by the FBI to train these analysts. (A lot gets left out, but you can understand the security reasons for why that's so) Just as America's military must transform itself to deal with the 4th Generation Warfare threat, so too must the rest of America's security apparatus -- its FBI, INS, judiciary, homeland security agency, state and local police, and many others. The FBI has built a legendary reputation for solving crimes and winning convictions, but that's not enough in the realm of terrorism. Now, the FBI has to get so good at inchoate investigations that it can prevent terrorism from happening -- that's a lot harder than catching the bad guys and trying them after the bomb goes off. The key to this transformation is intelligence. And if this story is indicative of a larger trend, I'd say the FBI is on the right track.

Powell: Iraq will cost more than we think

In what should come as no surprise, Secretary of State Colin Powell said today that America's mission in Iraq will cost billions more than projected -- or known -- today. Powell's statement comes as the administration heads to Capitol Hill in search of additional funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the global war on terrorism.
"It's going to cost more, and there will be continued sacrifice on the part of our young men and women," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday. "Hopefully, in the very near future we'll get control of the security situation," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Bush was discussing Iraq and the terrorism fight in a nationally televised address from the White House on Sunday night.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the president believes the "cost of freedom and the cost of peace cannot be measured and that it is important that we put adequate resources to this task."
* * *
Rice declined to offer specifics on how much money would be needed. Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they would not be surprised if the amount the president requests is higher than the $60 billion to $80 billion figure that has been reported for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

"I think it could be bigger than $80 billion," said a congressional aide, who is familiar with the president's work in refining how much to request from Congress. "I think the expectation is that it's going to be a very, very big number."

A second congressional aide said: "I'm thinking we're in the $70 billion to $80 billion range and I would lean to the higher end of that."

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Congress will approve the money needed to support U.S. troops, but lawmakers want the president to tell them what his "exit strategy" is from Iraq.
Analysis: Former-Army Chief of Staff Gordon R. Sullivan wrote a book titled "Hope is not a method," and that book title has become a mantra among America's military officers. That Secretary Powell would use the word "hopefully" in describing our chances of securing Iraq is not a good sign. Of all people, he understands the futility of hope as a planning method.

The real stakes here are much higher. The authorization and appropriations debate over Iraq is really a battle about who will control American foreign policy -- warmaking, diplomacy, nation-building, and everything else. Art. I and Art. II of the Constitution embody a tension between Congress and the President, and that tension has not been easily resolved for our Constitution's 213 year history. This tension typically plays out each other with the National Defense Authorization Act and its companion authorization bill, where Congress tells the President how to spend money on defense. Suffice to say, if something doesn't get funded, it generally doesn't get done -- especially where large weapons systems (e.g. missile defense) are concerned. The annual authorization bill also includes hundreds (or thousands) of small provisions which set policy for the military as a matter of federal law. Each year, this bill is the largest piece of legislation considered or passed by Congress.

The battle over funding for Iraq is obviously more important than a given year's annual authorization act. The lives of America's sons and daughters are at stake, as well as the direction of a mission that has the potential to influence our foreign policy for decades. Funding is the tool by which Congress exercises oversight of this mission. It would be easier if Congress could simply hold hearings on the wisdom or efficacy of Iraq. But that's not the way that oversight works -- funding is the hook on which the entire process hangs. The authority to fund (or defund) the mission is the leverage Congress has to ask the tough questions of the White House on Iraq:
- Why did we invade Iraq (if not for WMD), and did we accomplish the missions we set for the major combat phase of the war?
- What key tasks remain for our mission in Iraq (e.g. the capture of Saddam Hussein, restoration of electricity, holding of elections, etc)?
- What is our desired end state for Iraq?
- What are the criteria by which we will measure this end state? (And by extension, will these criteria determine our exit from Iraq?
- What is our plan for achieving this end state?
The Constitution empowers the President as commander-in-chief of the military, and it gives him plenary power in the area of foreign policy. But it gives Congress the power to raise and maintain the military, as well as the power to fund the military. Presidents typically criticize Congress for asking these kinds of questions, and for letting partisanship infect foreign policy. The Bush White House will likely say that Congressional probing is hindering our ability to persevere in Iraq. If Congress delays its funding decisions in order to hold hearings, the screaming from the White House will get even louder. That's unfortunate. The Framers intended this tension when they wrote our Constitution. If they were looking at this debate over funding for Iraq, I think they'd be quite proud that their system of checks and balances worked exactly the way they intended.