Friday, March 5, 2004

Former CPA official: reconstruction planning "did not go well"

InsideDefense (subscription required) reports this morning on comments from a very recently retired general from the Coalition Provisional Authority that planning for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq was less than stellar. This isn't really news, but it's significant that we're hearing it from this kind of source now.
Prewar planning for the combat offensive to drive then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power was "an A-plus effort," but crafting the coalition's reconstruction strategy "did not go well," retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg said. U.S. officials "made a lot of bad assumptions" that continue to plague coalition efforts "to this day."

Kellogg, who last week returned from Iraq after working for Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer, headed the Joint Staff's command, control, communications and computer systems directorate (J-6) when administration and Pentagon officials were charting how the coalition would battle Iraqi troops and begin rebuilding the nation. He spoke today during an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference in Arlington, VA.
Analysis: The evidentiary record before the bar of public opinion is pretty complete on this issue; we didn't need a retired 3-star to tell us that post-war reconstruction planning was less than stellar. However, it is telling when recent officials start to say this, as opposed to outsiders and journalists, because it means that this idea has morph'd into something approaching the truth.

The standard Bush Administration response has been the old military maxim that "no plan survives first contact". As a general proposition, I buy that; I learned that lesson the hard way as a platoon leader in many training exercises. But what I also learned was that 1) you still have to plan, 2) you have to build flexibility in your plan, and 3) if nothing else, your plan should put the resources (i.e. subordinate units) in the right time/place on the battlefield to react to change when it occurs. The real failure, in my opinion, was not the plan per se. It was the failure to put adequate resources on the ground in Iraq (or to stage them in Kuwait) so these units could react to change when it occurred. Failing to see the future can be forgiven; failure to plan for contingencies -- especially bad ones -- cannot be forgiven. If those resources were there, commanders could have made a bad plan work by improvising, adapting and innovating on the ground. But without those resources, the commanders were hamstrung in their ability to fix a deteriorating security situation -- they made do with what they had. That was the failure, and that's why having a bad plan made such a big difference in the early days of April and May 2003.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

The living history of the Supreme Court
: Linda Greenhouse has a long report in the New York Times on the release today of Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun's papers -- an event which was delayed until 5 years after his death. Blackmun is renowned both for his ideology, which moved from right to left during his tenure on the court, and his opinions, such as Roe v. Wade. As Ms. Greenhouse writes, Justice Blackmun's papers offer a rare look inside the Supreme Court, which has become one of the most important institutions in American society. Undoubtedly, these papers will help historians and journalists understand and write about the Court, including its present members who were on the Court with Blackmun. I look forward to reading their books when they're published.
Spring hunting season begins in Afghanistan

David Cloud reports on the Wall Street Journal front page (subscription required) that a new campaign has begun to find Osama Bin Laden and his top lieutenants in the remote mountains of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It is being led by the CIA and Special Forces, supported by regular U.S. infantry, and resourced with lots of money, intelligence and logistics. Since the battles for Tora Bora more than two years ago, there have not been many battalion-level operations in this region; most patrols and operations have been conducted at the company level and below. As it unfolds, this campaign will likely see large numbers of U.S. troops introduced on the ground in this area to cordon and search areas for the leadership of Al Qaeda.
In recent weeks, the U.S. and Pakistan have launched a push to find Mr. bin Laden and his allies, making greater use of U.S. infantry units to patrol the porous border. For the first time, U.S. soldiers, who previously were used mainly to fight the Taliban, are supposed to get close to the people in the mountain villages and win them over as informants.

The U.S. is deploying infantry units to supplement special forces and Central Intelligence Agency personnel near the border, who are spearheading the search but have only a few hundred personnel, officials say. With more troops, the U.S. hopes to close off escape routes to and from Pakistan and to generate better intelligence about who might be helping Mr. bin Laden. The expanded effort is driven in part by pressure from Washington, which has made capture of top al Qaeda leaders an election-year priority.

As part of the effort, the U.S. is beefing up its presence on the border. Currently, only 1,600 of the 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan are deployed there. At Capt. Gibbs's 500-person camp, workers are nearly doubling the number of tents for the several hundred troops expected to arrive in the next few months. Nearby, an airfield once used by the Soviets is being upgraded so that more aircraft can be moved nearer the border, officials say.

The intensified search faces big obstacles. In the border towns where militants and their supporters are thought to be hiding, U.S. troops are treated with suspicion and sometimes hostility. The Taliban is sowing fear and intimidation. Attacks against aid workers, supply convoys and local officials working with the U.S. have increased sharply in recent months. The violence has stunted reconstruction efforts and forced Afghan officials to consider delaying national elections scheduled for this summer.

And although Pakistan has shown signs of new aggressiveness in searching its side of the frontier, U.S. and Afghan officials say Pakistan still is not doing enough to pursue militants in the tribal border regions that have long been outside of Pakistani authorities' direct control. The latest push by Pakistani security forces is "something we're watching with some cautious optimism," said Lt. Gen. David Barno, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan in a recent interview in Kabul.

Pakistan officials say the can handle the search without U.S. help. But, according to a U.S. official, they have privately agreed to let U.S. special-forces troops cross into their territory to capture al Qaeda and Taliban leaders if no Pakistani units are in the vicinity.
Analysis: Obviously, this plan is risky. The mountains of this region have swallowed armies before, and they may do so again. Moreover, sending large units into harm's way means putting large numbers of young men and women at risk -- something which may have secondary and tertiary consequences in an election year when the American public has seen a lot of blood already spent in Iraq. Nonetheless, I think this mission is worth the risk. The prey we seek in Afghanistan is the ultimate prey in the war on terrorism -- these are the guys that actually struck the United States and killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens. Clearly, this endeavor is worth some risk, and it's probably worth more than Operation Iraqi Freedom. My hunch is that the American public will support this operation, even if it proves to be costly. But what they will ask is: why did it take so long for us to hunt these guys down?
'Enemy combatant' meets with his lawyer

Yesterday, alleged dirty bomber and unlawful enemy combatant Jose Padilla got a chance to meet with his lawyer, Donna Newman. Since being designated an enemy combatant and transferred to DoD custody in June 2002, Padilla has been held virtually incommunicado at the military brig in Charleston, SC. Yesterday's meeting marked the first time he has had access to someone from the outside world.
The Supreme Court last month agreed to review the constitutionality of Bush's decision to indefinitely hold Padilla and another U.S.-born man. Padilla's case is scheduled for a hearing in late April, with a decision expected by July.

Shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the Pentagon reversed course and allowed Padilla to meet face to face with Newman. But the Pentagon emphasized that Newman's meeting with Padilla was discretionary and would be "subject to appropriate security restrictions."

Newman saw those restrictions first hand at the naval brig yesterday. She and Padilla talked through a glass security window, while two government officials listened to the conversation and videotaped the meeting. A former street-gang member, Padilla is a Muslim convert who has traveled in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"He was in very good spirits to finally see someone, but this was not an attorney-client meeting," said Newman, a constitutional lawyer with offices in New York and New Jersey. "This was invitation-only, and we were not allowed to ask about the conditions of his confinement."

* * *
Newman said yesterday that she hopes to meet with her client again. "I gave him some newspaper articles about his case, and he was most appreciative," she said. "Now I'll await another government invitation to meet with my client again."
Analysis: The most significant argument advanced by the government for the seclusion of its enemy combatants from the outside world has been that the process of interrogation and intelligence gathering requires it. This also justifies the denial of access to counsel for such persons, because advice from an attorney would only frustrate the interrogation process. Unfortunately, the government has not articulated this point very well in public documents. One of the only public statements of this argument is the "Woolfolk Declaration" filed in the case of Yaser Hamdi, another alleged enemy combatant being held by the military. Presumably, the Justice Department will make this argument to the Supreme Court in the Hamdi and Padilla cases.

So, the implicit message in allowing Padilla access to counsel now is that he has no more further intelligence value. We have pumped him for all the information he has. Since he has been in custody now for nearly 2 years, anything else he has is probably stale. Therefore, the Pentagon is willing to allow him access to counsel because there's no more interrogation left to frustrate or impede. If that's true, and I think it probably is, then I think there's a strong argument for obeying the 2nd Circuit decision and transferring Padilla into the custody of the civilian court system. The national security purposes of his combatant detention have been met; as a U.S. citizen, I think he now should either be charged with a crime or released. (Note: this position still allows the possibility of enemy combatant detentions, but it puts a usefulness/necessity limit on the end of such detentions.)

What will the Supreme Court do?: The high court will hear Hamdi and Padilla's case at the end of April, and presumably they will opine on a variety of issues presented by these individuals' detention. I'm not sure that the recent moves by the Defense Department to grant Hamdi and Padilla access to counsel will have any effect on the court's decision, though it could show some good faith on the government's part. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

DoD announces draft policy for detainee review boards
: The Pentagon announced today the policy for considering the freedom of detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay. Interestingly, the public is being invited to submit comments on this policy, much like a typical notice/comment period for administrative rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act. (DoD is statutorily exempt from these provisions of the APA.) This panel looks like an Art. V tribunal from the 3rd Geneva Convention, but for the fact that we're not giving the Gitmo detainees Geneva Convention POW status.

Update: The Washington Post reports on Thursday morning on this development and adds some more details about what the panels will look like, and how they'll work.
Under the procedures, the review panels would include one intelligence specialist. Each detainee would receive assistance from a military officer in seeking his release, but the officer would not be acting as a lawyer before the panel. Another officer would present "threat information" about the detainee to the panel, but that officer also would not be "an advocate for or against" detention, according to the rules.

The process would be overseen by a Senate-confirmed civilian at the Pentagon selected by the defense secretary. The civilian would name the three-member military panels hearing the cases.

The detainee's nation of origin would be allowed to present evidence for and against continued confinement and could invite the detainee's relatives to do so as well. The inmate himself would be allowed to present information to the panel, which could question him.

By majority vote, the panel would recommend whether to release or continue holding the detainee, and the civilian official would make the final decision. But the rules state that the military is under no legal obligation to hold the hearings, and that they are being held "solely as a matter of [Pentagon] discretion."

Is Gitmo that bad? Well, it depends on your frame of reference

The London Times (subscription required) reports that the seven detainees repatriated from Guantanamo Bay to Russia have said they would have rather stayed at Gitmo, instead of facing the famously cruel treatment of the Russian justice and prison systems.
Fatima Tekayeva and Nina Odizheva said that they had received letters from their sons saying that they wanted to remain at the prison camp rather than face the beatings, torture, malnourishment and rampant tuberculosis that exist in Russia's overcrowded jails.

"Of course they wanted to stay there," Mrs Tekayeva said by telephone from the southern city of Nalchik. "They had human rights and good living standards there. They had dentists and good meals — everything they wanted. And here, in Russian prisons, there are very bad conditions and very bad punishments."

* * *
American officials said that they had been assured that the prisoners would be treated humanely in Russia, but human rights groups say that they will not get a fair trial and could face torture, including prolonged beatings and electric shocks, to extract confessions.

"Police torture is rampant, especially in pre-trial detention centres, where these people are likely to spend a long time," Anna Neistat, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said.
Analysis: This is actually a very old problem in international law -- whether to repatriate prisoners when a) the prisoners themselves don't want to be repatriated, or b) the conditions in the country of origin are worse than the conditions in captivity. Art. 118 of the 3rd Geneva Convention states categorically that "Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities." In practice, some nations have allowed POWs to stay behind as a matter of choice; thousands of German and Italian POWs stayed in the United States after WWII. But the situation here is somewhat different, insofar as 1) the Gitmo detainees are not lawful POWs (according to the Pentagon) and 2) they're presumably going to be charged with some violation of the laws of armed conflict. So, I think the U.S. will either continue its program of direct repatriation, or repatriation by means of bilateral agreement that includes some provision for trial, where the Gitmo prisoners are concerned.

Nonetheless, it does say something that America's detention facility for unlawful enemy combatants is better than the Russian prison for civilians. Liberal (small "l" liberal) states tend to observe different norms of justice and prisoner treatment than authoritarian states, and I don't think Russia has quite shaken off the chains of its old justice system. There may not be a Gulag anymore, but that's scant comfort to a prisoner looking at confinement in one of Russia's other prisons. Moreover, the Russian course of conduct with respect to its own Islamist terrorist problem (in Chechnya and elsewhere) has made a mockery of international law and human rights. Sometimes, I think the efforts of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International would be better directed at abuses such as these, rather than the inordinate efforts of these groups directed at the United States.
Central Intelligence (and Venture Capital) Agency

Kevin Maney has an interesting report in today's USA Today about the CIA, and its entrepreneurial endeavors in funding startup tech outfits that may produce valuable technologies/systems in the future for the intelligence community. The CIA has even stood up a subsidiary agency -- In-Q-Tel -- for the purpose of providing venture capital to start-ups outside of the legal rules for government contracts.

In-Q-Tel, set up in 1999, invests about $35 million a year in young companies creating technology that might improve the ability of the United States to spy on its nemeses. It has kept a low profile and is not much known outside of the intelligence community and Silicon Valley.

Though In-Q-Tel started as a five-year experiment, it has been so successful that the CIA wants to extend In-Q-Tel's charter. That's up to Congress, which is likely to approve. In-Q-Tel has become a new darling in Washington. The Defense Department even wants to duplicate the In-Q-Tel model for the military.

What does In-Q-Tel invest in? "It's not like in the James Bond movies, making a car invisible or something," says Gilman Louie, who runs In-Q-Tel. Instead, many of the technologies are focused on finding and sorting data — a gigantic problem for intelligence agencies. Every three hours, U.S. intelligence sweeps up enough information to fill the Library of Congress, according to a report in Technology Review.

So one In-Q-Tel-backed company, Language Weaver, is helping by developing a new kind of capability for instantly translating documents from, say, Arabic into English. Another, Inxight, is like a smarter Google — a search engine that can sort online documents into categories. In all, In-Q-Tel has invested in 59 start-ups.

The result is an idiosyncratic blend of tech and spies. For instance, In-Q-Tel isn't run by a CIA operative. Louie previously founded a couple of video game companies. Here in In-Q-Tel's modern black and tan offices, Louie endures a constant string of quips from CEOs and investors who are unused to being in the CIA's presence. " 'I can tell you, but I'd have to kill you,' " Louie says mockingly. "I get that all the time."
Analysis: This is really interesting stuff, and it's probably going to become the new way of business where the federal government wants to think "out of the box" and stimulate innovation/creativity. As with any unconventional means of federal funding, there are oversight issues and accountability issues that ought to be addressed. But I think In-Q-Tel does a good job with these, both because of its corporate management structure and its requirement to produce results for the agency. Also, I think the market corrects In-Q-Tel when it makes a bad call, and its bosses then have to justify that bad call to the CIA. However, the biggest reason why I like this idea is its potential for success. When things like this succeed, they usually do so in ways beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Public/private alliances and partnerships like the ones paid for with CIA money can do amazing things. Oracle Corporation started as a joint venture of the U.S. government and private industry to develop relational database technology, and look where Oracle is today. The same can be said, in a less apt analogy, about the Internet and the development of various Internet apps where the government has played a role. The key is always maintaining some mechanism of accountability and control -- but not too much control, so the wizards can produce their wonders.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Courage under fire
: In December 2002, I wrote about the policy changes in the 1990s which allowed American military women to serve in front-line roles. Chuck Yarborough has a great report on some female MP officers from the 720th MP Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas, who are proving their mettle under fire right now in Iraq. I think their battalion commander gets it right when he says: "If my sons want to join the Army, I'd be happy if they were led by Jennifer Knight." Me too.
A conclusion not supported by the evidence

Eric Schmitt opines today in a news article for the New York Times that the current USMC deployment to Haiti "shows that the United States military can still intervene in crises large and small" despite commitments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries around the world. He goes on to cite a number of experts to support this proposition, including some of the smartest guys in the field of national security and force structure.
That does not unduly tax a Marine Corps that is in the midst of sending 25,000 troops to Iraq, and preparing to move another 25,000 there later this year. "This isn't the straw that will break the camel's back," said Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington group that studies the military.

* * *
"There's no question that we have to respond to instability in this hemisphere," said Joseph Hoar, a retired four-star Marine officer. "And this can be handled with a relatively small force."
Analysis: It may be true that the U.S. military can send a quick-reaction force of one Marine task force to Haiti on short notice without disrupting the force too much. However, it does not follow that the U.S. can accomplish all it needs to in Haiti with the forces left over from commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. For one thing, we don't know the length of the Haiti mission, anymore than we know the length of the Iraq mission. Second, we don't know yet the extent to which our allies will help out in Haiti, though the French and Canadians have already made promising overtures. (It also helps to have a Chapter VII resolution from the UN.) Third, we've only committed one MAGTF right now -- maybe up to a MEU -- and that isn't really enough of a load to test whether the military can handle a commitment to Haiti. The body of Mr. Schmitt's story goes into these details eventually, but his lede doesn't. Instead, the lede parrots the party line from the E-Ring -- "can do sir!" -- without stepping back to add any independent analysis or skepticism. C'mon...
Election Day in California
: Today, we get to anoint a Democratic presidential candidate. Thanks to California's open primary, everyone gets to vote in one party's primary if they want to, even non-affiliated voters like me. We also get to pick candidates for one of California's two Senate seats today. And, in keeping with California's policy-by-popular-initiative tradition (not the best or wisest tradition, to be sure), we also get to decide whether to float a $15 billion bond to bail our state government out and liberalize the state constitution to allow future tax/bond measures more easily.

Monday, March 1, 2004

The human cost of war:
Dan Baum has an excellent article in the New Yorker on the experiences of Michael Cain, a U.S. Army soldier who was seriously wounded in Iraq and who has since come home to heal and move on. The New Yorker also has an online Q&A; with Mr. Baum on the article and the issue of wounded vets generally. For comparison, also check out this 1943 report from Philip Hamburger in the New Yorker, which the magazine has on its website alongside the 2004 article.
TIA lives to die another day, Part II

Picking up on notes authored last month by DefenseTech, Wired and Intel Dump, the Washington Times reports this morning on the resurrection of Total Information Awareness -- the Pentagon's data-mining/non-obvious relationship analysis system -- in other forms. The story doesn't really break any news, but it ought to get some attention by its prominent placement on the front page of this newspaper. The Washington Times is heavily read in the GOP and Bush Administration, and it's likely that some Republican members of Congress will be upset that their edict to cancel TIA has been ignored so completely.
Congress killed the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) project to create a supercomputer and sift through the private information of U.S. citizens, calling it a vast violation of privacy.

The Defense Department says it has not shared the data-mining technology it researched for the TIA project, but similar supersnoop programs using advanced technology are under development.

The funding of such endeavors by the Homeland Security Department, the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has angered privacy advocates and civil libertarians.

* * *
Data-mining technology was central to the TIA project to identify and predict terrorism, but critics called it an unprecedented invasion of privacy and civil liberties.

Government officials are trying to distance their programs from the term "data mining."

* * *
"I don't like the term 'data mining,' but 'data correlation' I think is probably a more appropriate term," said one Defense Department official.
Terminology aside, this looks like a clear attempt to evade the funding restrictions placed on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency by Congress, and I doubt that the members of Congress responsible for those restrictions will be happy. That's not to say that TIA is a bad thing. In my opinion, it's valuable technology that we should research more thoroughly. But when Congress cancels a program, you can't just rename it and move it to another agency. That course of action tends to result in Congressional hearings, inquiries, and government officials having to 'take the 5th', and sometimes even in criminal charges. More to follow...