Saturday, March 13, 2004

It's really hard to secure trains

Rail security presents many challenges for anti-terrorism planners

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal (subscription required) all come to that conclusion with articles in Friday's paper. Passenger volume makes it difficult to screen train travelers as exhaustingly as air travelers. Additionally, easy access to train lines on the ground in remote (and not so remote) locations makes it easy to plant an improvised explosive device on a train line. According to the WSJ:
The challenge, authorities have long since decided, is too great: Rail systems typically span hundreds of miles of track and facilities, too large to be watched constantly and completely, and move thousands of people every day, with only limited means to screen passengers and their belongings. The systems put a premium on moving people in and out of trains and stations quickly, so stopping passengers for airport-style security checks hasn't gained traction. Funding to install massive extra security has often been difficult to come by.

Concerns over the security of both commuter trains and subway trains grew even more pronounced Thursday with the possibility that the bombings in Spain might be linked to al Qaeda, instead of Basque separatists, as originally thought. The U.S. has escaped such tragedy so far, but transportation officials are well aware of the dangers. In October 2002, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alerted state and local law-enforcement agencies that al Qaeda terrorists might target U.S. passenger trains. The FBI announcement painted a broad threat, describing potential attacks on passenger trains, subways, commuter lines and freight trains.

The U.S. rail system includes about 140,000 miles of routes and some 500 Amtrak stations. There are hundreds more commuter train stations. This makes it almost impossible to fully secure them from potential terrorist attacks. And unlike airlines and airports, the rail system faces few mandatory security requirements, meaning that passengers and baggage get aboard with little or no screening.
The NYT echoes those concerns, and adds that train lines have been targeted in recent years because of these vulnerabilities.
Brian Jenkins, a transportation security specialist at the Mineta Transportation Institute, said the Madrid bombings, like the frequent bus bombings in Israel and the occupied territories, the sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway in 1995 and other attacks, showed the vulnerability of mass transit systems.

"Our ability to prevent these attacks is limited because public service transportation is public and therefore is easily accessible, and the volume of traffic on these systems is huge," dwarfing air transit, Mr. Jenkins said in an interview.

Officials say that it would be nearly impossible to check every passenger boarding from myriad train platforms along any given rail line, or to screen the luggage and other bags that are carried on every day.

Experts say that to be successful, public transit must be convenient and inexpensive, making it difficult to impose the types of strict security seen at airports. The passenger volumes are enormous, about 14 million people a day, according to the American Public Transportation Association, of whom most are on buses, plus about 4 million on subways, suburban commuter trains or other rail transport, and smaller numbers on ferries. In contrast, there are a little under 2 million airplane boardings every day.
And according to the Washington Post, there hasn't been the kind of specific intelligence yet which would make the Department of Homeland Security jump through its fourth point of contact to implement such measures:
"We acknowledge the U.S. rail sector has vulnerabilities which terrorists may choose to exploit," said the bulletin, sent Thursday to local law enforcement officials and transit authorities. "Trains and rail stations remain potential targets for terrorist groups due to their reduced security (in comparison to airports)."

Transit systems across the country, including the Washington area's Metro system and New York's subway, tightened security yesterday as federal officials kept in close touch with them about the latest intelligence from Madrid on the 10 tightly choreographed bombings that killed nearly 200 people during the morning rush hour on Thursday. The attacks came five weeks after a Moscow subway bombing that killed 41 people.

Asa Hutchinson, the Homeland Security Department's undersecretary for border and transportation security, told reporters yesterday that the U.S. intelligence community has "no specific indicators that terrorist groups are considering such attacks in the United States in the near term."

Yet Hutchinson also said that "we've had a substantial concern over the threat of attack on our mass-transit systems," in part because of what he and other government officials say is al Qaeda's ceaseless preoccupation with striking U.S. transportation networks of all sorts.
Analysis: So, it's really hard to secure railroads -- both cargo and passenger rail travel. America devotes an inordinate amount of money to the security of passenger air travel, largely because of our experience on 9/11, without a proportional amount of money for air cargo or rail transportation. Relative to passenger air travel, air cargo and rail transportation are thus compartively unprotected. They are "soft" targets in force protection parlance. The conventional wisdom in AT/FP planning is that the more you protect the hard targets (i.e. airports), the more likely you make an attack on a soft target (i.e. train station). That has been the inherent risk of America's homeland security strategy since 9/11, and the attacks in Spain bring home just how risky this strategy has been.

So, can we afford this risk? The answer is, like most things, "it depends". If we perceive there to be a real threat to passenger air travel, then we still must protect that mode of transportation. Unlike trains, airplanes can be flown into buildings and transformed into guided missiles, and thus they pose a larger destructive capacity than trains. On the other hand, we probably ought to scrutinize the parts of our rail system that look most attractive to terrorists: densely populated stations (e.g. Penn Station in NYC, Union Station in DC), rail movements of hazardous materials, and critical rail junctures that would have a major disruptive effect if targeted. Eventually, we may also have to suck up the price of some kind of passenger screening on trains, because nothing short of passenger screening will effectively prevent a Madrid-style backpack bombing. But that would be enormously costly, both in terms of the security itself and the lost efficiency of rail travel. Pervasive surveillance of train stations might also be a solution, but only if you're willing to pay for the systems and willing to be constantly surveilled. I'm sure there are other less obvious solutions out there too. At the end of the day, every security solution has a risk and a payoff, and it's up to our decisionmakers to get that right.
DARPA Grand Challenge ends with a whimper

The 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge was billed as a race across the desert by futuristic "autonomous" machines without any human intervention. Unfortunately, the AP reports that every single machine has broken down just four hours into the 150-mile race, and that DARPA officials have shut the event down. Noah Shachtman reported earlier this week in Wired that these machines had mostly failed to meet the qualification standards, so it comes as no surprise that they fared poorly on the real course.

That said, there was a great deal learned during this race -- both by DARPA, about the present-day limits of autonomous robot technology; and by the teams themselves, about their design and engineering work. There was also a great deal learned during the week-long DARPATech conference in Anaheim. Even though the teams all failed to finish the Grand Challenge, the event wasn't a total failure. As I noted in my Slate article, you have to take a lot of at-bats (and strike out a lot) in order to hit a home run like the Internet or the B-2 stealth bomber -- two of DARPA's biggest success stories.

Nonetheless, this is a disappointing end for the race, and for the teams of scientists/contractors who invested so much time and money in the race vehicles. Better luck next time, chaps.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

On this day in history
: President Harry Truman went to Congress to ask for $400 million in aid to help stop the spread of Communism into Greece and Turkey. Truman's 12 March 1947 speech, widely regarded as one of the most influential foreign policy addresses of the 20th Century, launched what came to be known as the "Truman Doctrine". Here are some excerpts from this speech; I think these words still hold meaning today:
One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.

To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations, The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.

* * *
I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

* * *
The assistance that I am recommending for Greece and Turkey amounts to little more than 1 tenth of 1 per cent of this investment. It is only common sense that we should safeguard this investment and make sure that it was not in vain.

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.

The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world -- and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.

Procurement headaches hamstring U.S. efforts to field Iraqi force

Richard Sisk writes for the New York Daily News about delays in the Pentagon's procurement system which have frustrated American commanders in Iraq with their inability to properly equip Iraqi defense forces for the counter-insurgency mission. Specifically, American commanders are upset that they can't get body armor, radios, weapons and other mission-essential items necessary to create a viable Iraqi force.
"If we had the equipment for these brave young men, we would be much farther along" in defeating the insurgents, said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

"We are still short a significant amount of vehicles, radios and body armor to properly equip them," said Swannack, whose 18,000 paratroopers will be replaced in the coming weeks.

Without the proper gear, the Iraqi police and civil defense forces have been restricted in their ability to patrol and take over other security missions from the Americans, he said.

"As soon as we get this equipment we'll see a rapid improvement," Swannack said.

Swannack echoed the complaints of other field commanders about the military supply chain that relies heavily on private contractors.
Analysis: Actually, I don't think it's the private contractors that are the problem here. I think it's the red tape in the procurement process that's causing these delays. Of course, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and its DoD companion were invented to create delay -- it's the red tape that helps maintain accountability and control over taxpayer money. But in an operational situation such as this, that delay can mean opportunities and lives lost. A lot of smart people have pointed to situations like this and said that the procurement system needs more streamlining; more fast-track authority. Indeed, it already has the limited ability to buy commercial off-the-shelf items on an accelerated timeline -- but not the ability to buy large purchases of wartime materiel for missions like this one. The DoD procurement system needs this ability, and it needs the flexibility to be able to react to unforeseeable needs in the future. Oversight and accountability are a good thing, but too much can be detrimental to mission accomplishment.

But wait -- there's more: The Washington Post reports that "[v]ague contract language, missing paperwork, staff turnover and general instability on the ground led to such flaws in a $327 million contract to outfit the new Iraqi Army that the work had to be canceled and rebid". If true, this would undercut some of the arguments being made by MG Swannack, and lay the blame squarely at the feet of the overworked CPA staff for the failure to outfit the nascent Iraqi army and civil defense force. I still think the military procurement system needs more flexibility -- but it also needs to be managed by competent staffs with the capability to dot the i's and cross the t's of their contracts.
DOD General Counsel given nod for 4th Circuit
: The AP reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee has sent the nomination of William J. Haynes II to the full Senate for confirmation to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Thanks to How Appealing for the heads up.) Mr. Haynes currently serves as the General Counsel of the Department of Defense. While he's eminently qualified for this position, some have criticized his nomination because of the Pentagon's stand on controversial legal issues during his tenure -- such as the right to detain enemy combatants like Yaser Hamdi in military custody. Despite these issues, Mr. Haynes' credentials and close ties to many in Washington virtually assured his confirmation. He still needs the approval of the full Senate, but I think it's highly likely that he will soon be leaving the Art. II branch for the Art. III branch of government.
Welcome Home
: Jason Van Steenwyk of IRAQ NOW is on his way home from a year-long tour in Iraq as an Army reservist. His plane should touch down on U.S. soil sometime tomorrow, barring some sort of delay which is always possible (or even likely) where military travel is concerned. Jason intends to return to financial journalism, and may also write a book on his year in Iraq. That would definitely be something worth reading.

And while I'm welcoming people home, let's welcome back more soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division to Fort Hood, Texas. Job well done -- steadfast and loyal.
Tomorrow's soldier today
: Slate has posted my article about the futuristic gadgets on display at this year's DARPATech conference in Anaheim. The story focuses on some of the more interesting pieces of technology on display this year in the exhibit hall, including a "Phraselator" capable of rapid 1-way translation for more than 30,000 phrases and a "Human Exoskeleton" from the labs at UC Berkeley.

But gadgets weren't the only thing going on this week at DARPATech. Noah Shachtman has the definitive report on his DefenseTech site and at Wired on the DARPA Grand Challenge -- a race across the California desert by autonomous vehicles. Noah also has an interesting report on some of the urban operations initiatives being taken by DARPA to revolutionize the way that battles are fought in the urban environment.

Also see Peter Pae's article in Thursday's Los Angeles Times detailing some of the problems facing the DARPATech Grand Challenge competitors.
Ex-congressional aide charged with spying for Iraq

In a stunning development, federal prosecutors have charged Susan Lindauer of Takoma Park, Maryland, with spying for the Iraqi government of a period of several years -- including during the recent war. Ms. Lindauer is being charged with two Iraqis (Raed Rokan al-Anbuke and Wisam Noman al-Anbuke) who are the children of a former Iraqi diplomat. The Washington Post reports that federal prosecutors will proceed in a New York court against the three individuals who are accused of various intelligence-related crimes.
Lindauer was to be presented in U.S. District Court in Baltimore today and arraigned in New York, where the indictment originated, on Monday. Lindauer was not immediately available for comment, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baltimore said she did not know whether Lindauer had a lawyer. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, however, said they expected that she would be represented by an attorney from the federal public defender's office in Baltimore.

In a press release, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, David N. Kelley, and FBI officials in New York and Baltimore said Lindauer acted as an unregistered agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), the foreign spying arm of the Hussein government. The statement said the service "played a role in terrorist operations, including the attempted assassination of former President George H.W. Bush, and attempted bombings during Operation Desert Storm," the first Gulf war in 1991. Bush was the target of an assassination attempt when he visited Kuwait after the war.

The press release said the intelligence service also "located, intimidated and killed Iraqi defectors and dissidents living abroad."

The indictment did not charge Lindauer with involvement in any such operations, or with actual espionage, but said that she had prohibited dealings with several members of the IIS from October 1999 through March 2002 in visits to the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations in New York. It said she also traveled to Baghdad in early 2002 to meet with IIS officers and received about $10,000 for her services during this period. The indictment did not specify what information or services she allegedly provided.

According to the indictment, Lindauer also met on two occasions in Baltimore in June and July last year with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a representative of the Libyan intelligence service and was seeking to support resistance groups fighting U.S. forces in post-war Iraq. It said Lindauer discussed with the agent "the need for plans and foreign resources to support these groups operating within Iraq."

As a result of these contacts, the indictment alleged, Lindauer left unspecified documents for the agent at a prearranged location in Takoma Park in August last year.

The indictment charged Lindauer with conspiracy, acting as an unregistered agent for the government of Iraq and engaging in a prohibited financial transaction with the government of a country supporting international terrorism. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, the press release said.
More to follow...
Terrorists kill nearly 200 in Madrid

Act was first thought to be the work of ETA; now thought connected to Al Qaeda -- no one's really sure

I woke up this morning to the horrible news of terrorism in Madrid, a city where several of my family members live. The New York Times reports that at least 10 bombs placed in several commuter train stations exploded near simultaneously today, killing at least 190 Spanish civilians and wounding hundreds more. The work first appeared to be the work of ETA, also known as Basque Homeland and Freedom, an ethno-regionalist terrorist group with a decades-long history of terrorism and murder. However, authorites now suspect the work of Al Qaeda, or another Islamist terrorist organization, because of evidence found at and near the bombing scene. However, the LA Times reports late on Thursday night that Spanish authorities remain unsure about the attacker's identity.
The Interior Ministry said more than 190 people were killed and more than 1,200 wounded.

Three other bombs were discovered and detonated by the police in the highly coordinated explosions, which went off within a 10-minute period.

As the country struggled to absorb the carnage just three days before general elections, Prime Minister José María Aznar appeared on television and called the attacks "mass murder." He vowed that Spain would never negotiate with "these assassins."

* * *

There was no advance warning of the attacks. At first, the Spanish authorities blamed E.T.A., the Basque group that has been seeking independence from Spain for more than three decades.

Later today, however, the Interior Ministry said the police had found a van with detonators and an Arabic-language tape of Koranic verses, according to news agencies, and that it was considering all lines of investigation.

An Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, said it had received a claim of responsibility for the train bombings issued in the name of Al Qaeda.

The five-page e-mail claim, signed by the shadowy Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, was received at the paper's London offices. It said the brigade's `death squad" had penetrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain."

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," the claim said.
First Things First: Let's care for the wounded, mourn for the dead, and heighten security to ensure that no larger wave of terrorism succeeds in coordination with this attack.

Second, we should recognize the tactical and operational techniques at work here and the lessons to be drawn from them. This morning's bombing used near-simultaenous detonation for a set of high-explosive devices placed in high-density populated areas. This is a tactic we've seen before, both in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and in the tactics of Al Qaeda. Indeed, Al Qaeda doctrinal publications teach the use of this tactic as a way to inflict maximum destruction and disruption. The simultaneity of the devices prevents any immediate counter-measures from disrupting the attack, and the geographic disperson of the devices paralyzes the incident response and consequences management systems of a nation, state or municipality. It's a very sophisticated operational technique, and one that's quite difficult to carry out despite its simplicity. We don't know yet that Al Qaeda's Afghanistan organization is behind this -- we don't really have much at all besides the discovery of a nearby vehicle, and the uncharacteristic claim of responsibility from an Al Qaeda confederate. The lesson to be drawn is that the terrorists share a common operational doctrine and that they learn from each other. Run a Google search for Al Qaeda's operational manuals and you'll see how broadly these materials have proliferated. Our enemies are smart; they learn from us and they learn from each other. We have to be smarter.

It's becoming more clear by the day that the "war on terrorism" is really much larger than what even America conceives of it. Liberal society, broadly defined, is at war with the forces of terror which seek to undermine the global civil society that prizes such things as liberty, equality, interdependence, free trade, self-determination, human rights, education, and science. (This is essentially Paul Berman's thesis from his brilliant book Terror and Liberalism) At times, the values of liberal society clash with each other, such as the clash between free trade and human rights. But ultimately, I believe our liberal (small "l") society to be far better than the alternative, and to be the ideal that we all must strive for. Terrorism seeks to undermine this global order through fear and violence; it seeks to destroy liberal society in order to replace it with a far different vision of the world.

Whether you are Spanish, Turkish, Indonesian, French or American, you are a target. We have all been victims of this terrorism in the last decade; we will continue to be targeted in the next. Our challenge is to face attacks such as the one today in Spain and to confront them with the appropriate tools of law, statecraft and war. But we must do more. We must also beat this enemy with our ideas. It is not America, capitalism or democracy per se that terrorism seeks to destroy -- it is global civil society itself. To prevent that, we must make global civil society as strong and resolute as possible, and to make it good enough that it will ultimately beat the terrorist ideology in the marketplace of ideas. That is the challenge. The key terrain in the war on terrorism is not a mountain, cave, or even a place. Instead, this war's key terrain is the mind of every global citizen, and it is that key terrain that we must seize with ideas in order to win the global war on terrorism.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Air Force Secretary Withdraws Nomination for SecArmy: James Roche, the current Secretary of the Air Force, withdrew his name from consideration today for the Secretary of the Army position. Roche's nomination had been held up for a variety of reasons, but primarily because of two issues: (1) lingering questions over his handling of the recent sexual assault scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and (2) questions about a $20 billion airborne tanker lease deal between the Air Force and Boeing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly wanted Roche to head the Army in order to push through some transformational programs for America's largest service, but it now looks like he's going to have to get another guy for the job. The Army has been without a top senior civilian leader since mid-2003, when Army Secretary Tom White stepped down after a series of battles with the SecDef, Congress and questions over his prior work for Enron.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

A sign of trouble in the Army budget

Inside the Army (subscription required) reports today that the Army has sent a $6 billion "unfunded requirement" ("UFR" in Pentagon-speak) list over to Capitol Hill in the hope that some of these projects might get funded with additional funds.
While the Army's UFR list identifies mostly operational shortfalls, "modularity requirements" tops the list with a deficit of $2.4 billion. The service is in the process of overhauling its force structure in the near term, looking to increase the number of soldiers by 30,000 and the number of brigade units from 33 to as many as 48.

The remainder of the Army's unfunded priorities are largely tied to operations. In its force protection accounts, the service is short $200 million for "bolt-on ballistic armor" and $1.1 billion for the Rapid Fielding Initiative. RFI is a relatively new program that uses a revolutionary acquisition model to bypass traditional acquisition processes to more rapidly field equipment to soldiers who need it.

The Army also identifies a deficit of $100 million to replace combat vehicles and aircraft that were lost during operations. In addition, the service is still $700 million shy of its requirement for up-armored humvees; reset shortfalls rolled forward from FY-04 include another $1.2 billion.

Military construction also is short $300 million, according to the list.
Analysis: As the story notes, the submission of a UFR list is time-honored tradition in the Army. Having gone through this process, I always thought that part of the idea behind UFRs was to make units feel like their programs/needs really mattered, even if they weren't being funded. Sometimes, according to legend, UFRs would actually be funded by the powers that be at some higher echelon of command. I've actually seen it happen... the money just sort of shows up one day in an account, and you get to spend it. If it's something you really need in your unit, it can be a great day.

However, I don't think that's what's going on here. The scale of this UFR list indicates there is a much larger systemic problem in the Army's budget -- and the budget of the other armed forces. This UFR is just the latest indicator of a tension between funding current operations (e.g. Operation Iraqi Freedom) and transformation and modernization (like Comanche, Future Combat System, and other systems). Simply put, the Army can't afford to do both at the levels necessary to assure success. The Army can either fully fund current operations today, or it can transform/modernize, but it will fail if it tries to do both without additional funding.

In my opinion, we ought to prioritize current operations funding. For one thing, we have men and women in harm's way right now, and we can't underfund current ops because that would jeopardize their lives. Second, our military is already a generation ahead of our allies -- let alone our enemies -- and further modernization/transformation efforts may not yield that much more of an advantage than we already have. Third, our enemies have chosen to engage us in asymmetric ways, for the most part. We need to develop technologies and counter-measures to deal with these -- not to refight the Cold War or the first Gulf War.

It's an election year, and the debate over this year's National Defense Authorization Act will be more politicized than usual as a result. The UFR list will give ammunition to Bush Administration critics who want to charge the Administration with skimping on military readiness; the NDAA will also give ammo to critics who say there's too much fat in the defense budget. In the end, I think both sides will be right. The UFR list does show that the Bush Administration has skimped on many important areas of defense, and the current NDAA is bloated. With any luck, our elected representatives in Congress will hack at both to come up with a reasonable solution that finds the right mix of funding for current operations and future transformation.
Off to DARPATech
: I'll be away from Intel Dump for the next couple of days covering the DARPATech conference in Anaheim, California. I hope to have some reports from there on the interesting projects being displayed.

Update: DARPA has uploaded the briefing slides and scripts from the major briefings given at this week's conference. The materials still don't give you the feeling of what it's like to be around all these smart people, or what it's like to see the stuff in person on the exhibit floor. Nonetheless, there's a lot of interesting stuff.
More bad news about sex in the military

Eric Schmitt reports in this morning's New York Times about at least 92 rape accusations within the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific Command made during the 2001-2003 period. (The NYT story actually reproduces a story from last week by the Colorado Springs Gazette.) Apparently, these rapes had been reported and known to authorities, but no one had ever added up all the reports to come up with an aggregate number for the theater of sexual assaults.
The five-month review was the most comprehensive report of its kind by an Air Force command and has led to a servicewide investigation into how sexual assault is reported, how it can be prevented and how commanders deal with victims. Investigators said Monday that conditions varied among installations, depending on the services available on and off bases.

Last week, Gen. William J. Begert, the commander of Pacific Air Forces who sought the review, ordered broad changes in training, reporting of sexual assaults and assistance for victims.

He has also summoned his top field commanders to a meeting in April at his headquarters in Hawaii to discuss the problem.

"I found it disturbing," General Begert said in a telephone interview on Monday, referring to the number of rape accusations, made mostly by servicewomen but some also by civilians. "We've got to take this on and lower the number of incidents. Our mission gets done by us trusting each other, and this undermines that trust."

Of the 106 service members accused in the 92 cases cited in the report, 14 were tried by court-martial. Seven were convicted of rape and sentenced to an average of eight years in prison; for lesser, related offenses, more than 40 others received punishments like demotions, lost pay and letters of reprimand. No action was taken against 28, and many cases are still pending. The review was first reported Friday by The Colorado Springs Gazette.

The Air Force's Pacific command study comes as the overall military faces the most serious accusations of sexual misconduct in years. There have been at least 112 reports of sexual misconduct, including rape, in the past 18 months in the Central Command area of operations, which includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Two dozen women at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas have reported to a local rape-crisis center that they were assaulted in 2002.

* * *
The majority of the cases involved Air Force men and women, age 25 or younger, and took place in the dormitory room of either the accuser or the reported assailant. Alcohol was often a factor.

Though in most cases male airmen assaulted female service members, some civilian women, including married women and prostitutes, also reported being raped.

The largest number of reported rapes — about one-third of the accusations — arose in South Korea, where about one-quarter of the Pacific command's 34,000 troops are based. About 19 percent, or 6,635, of the command's troops are women. The report noted that most service members were on unaccompanied tours, with families remaining in the United States; that most lived in dormitories; and that alcohol was prevalent.
Analysis: It goes without saying that this is bad news. Rape in any context is an awful thing. In my moral code, rapists deserve to be punished swiftly, severely, and without remorse on the part of the criminal justice system. Rape in the military context is particularly heinous because of its effect on unit cohesion, and "good order and discipline" -- the very foundations of unit effectiveness in combat. A military rapist doesn't just assault his victim, he assaults the combat readiness of his unit. That, in turn, threatens the lives of his buddies, and by extension, the lives of all Americans who depend on the military for our security. Given the seriousness of rape in the military context, I have a hard time understanding why any rape case would be treated with anything less than a general court-martial. If I were the convening authority (a 2-star general in GCM cases), I'd throw the book at these dirtbags.

On the surface, these reports appear far more serious than the reports of sexual misconduct in the Persian Gulf region during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The scores of cases to come out of Southwest Asia appear to be a mix of fraternization, sexual misconduct, and rape -- with the last category being the minority. Fraternization is still bad, but it's generally consensual conduct and it's only criminal because of its deleterious effect on good order & discipline. These reports of rape in the Pacific -- if they're mostly rape and not just sexual misconduct -- look a lot worse to me. This isn't just a unit discipline problem. This is an indicator that we have hardcore predators in the ranks, and that we may have systemic problems in the way we recruit, train and command servicemen.

Another systemic problem is evident from the location of these rapes. A disproportionate number of sexual assaults took place in South Korea, where servicemembers are stationed for a 1-year "hardship tour" where they are separated from their families and housed in barracks that resemble a cross between college dormitories and normal apartment buildings. Given my experience as an MP lieutenant in South Korea, I think this is a very dangerous environment when leaders are unable/unwilling to effectively police their personnel. Without the positive influence of their families and stateside social networks, servicemembers in South Korea often misbehave in ways you can't begin to imagine. The MP blotter at Camp Casey was full of married, respectable NCOs and officers showing their backside in public because they thought they could get away with it, and because of the atmosphere in that country. It's worse than Vegas -- there's a prevailing atmosphere of "What happens in Korea, stays in Korea". There's also an atmosphere of "boys will be boys" because of the overwhelming proportion of combat (read: no women) units in certain parts of Korea. Put these together, add some alcohol, and you have a volatile mix.

The Army has recently considered a proposal to change Korea from an individual-replacement tour to a brigade-rotation tour, wherein it would rotate brigade-sized units through Korea for 6 months or 12 months at a time. I think this proposal would be great for combat readiness reasons -- it would also go a long way towards fixing this problem as well. Such units would deploy with their stateside social networks intact, and soldiers in those units would be less likely to behave badly for lack of their spouses and stateside friends, because what happened in Korea would surely not stay in Korea.

That said, I'd like to see a few more analyses done on this problem. I would like to see a comparison of sexual assault statistics done between the U.S. military (all 4 services) and the U.S. college setting -- specifically, the dormitory and fraternity house environments. The two age groups are similar, although there may be socio-economic and educational attainment gaps between them. Second, I'd like to see a comparison between the military's rate of rape (and sexual assault, domestic violence, etc) and society at large. My gut tells me that even though the military has problems like this, it still does better than the rest of American society. Finally, I'd like to see a comparison of sentences between the military and civilian courts, to see if there are any lessons to be drawn there.

None of these statistics will erase the problem which has arisen in the Pacific. But they will help illuminate the problem, and place it in its proper perspective. Solving the problem of rape in the military will ultimately take tough leadership, and probably a few courts martial as well, but it is absolutely essential for maintaining good order & discipline in the military.
Website to Watch
: The Washington Monthly is about to launch its new online weblog/magazine titled "Political Animal", which will be hosted by Kevin Drum (formerly of CalPundit). In some ways, the site will mirror TAPPED, the online magazine/weblog of The American Prospect. But instead of featuring journalists-as-bloggers like TAPPED, Political Animal will include contributions from a panel of experts in various fields. I have agreed to contribute occasional notes to Political Animal in the field of national security, and the Monthly's editors tell me they have several other pundits/experts to round out the Political Animal jury. Keep checking the Washington Monthly's webpage over the next few days to see when this new project starts -- it should be a great site for news & commentary.

Monday, March 8, 2004

Invasion of the body snatchers at UCLA
: The news this weekend of problems in UCLA's willed body program seemed eerily familiar for me. You see, I wrote about problems with this department back in 1996, when family members sued the university alleging that their loved ones' remains were treated "without dignity". Don't get me wrong -- I'm one of the biggest UCLA boosters in town. But I'm not surprised to see problems emerging again with this program at the Medical Center, given the sheer size of the medical enterprise at UCLA and the lack of meaningful oversight over many parts of the hospital. I hope this mess gets sorted out quickly.
How much is enough (or too much) money for defense?

That's the question posed today by an article on the front page of the Washington Post which examines the current defense budget. Many in Washington have begun asking whether America can afford its current level of defense expenditures, including annual spending for Iraq and Afghanistan nearing $100 billion/year. This article sets up the issue as a conflict between competing imperatives: modernize the force, maintain the current force, operate the current force, and manage the defense infrastructure. Except that there's no conflict in the current budget -- everything appears to be winning.
The military bills, which are approaching $500 billion a year, reflect an exceptional confluence of events, as the Pentagon attempts to cover the costs of stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan while pursuing an array of new weaponry, exploring revolutionary technologies and caring for an all-volunteer military.

In a sign of mounting pressure to constrain the Pentagon's purse, the Senate Budget Committee voted last week to trim $7 billion from Bush's defense request. Defense hawks vowed to restore the money and to block a similar cost-cutting move expected in the House.

The looming political battle bore a striking parallel with conditions 19 years ago when congressional alarm over a soaring federal deficit led to the end of President Ronald Reagan's defense buildup.

"This feels to me the way it did back in 1985," said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary and comptroller under President Bill Clinton and now president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I believe the tide has begun to turn. These deficit and defense budget numbers are so shockingly big now that, politically, they're untenable."

The making of a combat general
: Rick Atkinson, who covered the 101st Airborne Division as an 'embed' for the Washington Post, has the second of a 3-part series in today's Post on Major General David Petraeus, the commander of the storied 'Screaming Eagles'. The series offers a preview of Atkinson's new book, In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. In my opinion, Atkinson provided some of the best reporting of the war, and his previous books Crusade and An Army at Dawn have been first rate. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, as well as the book when it comes out.
Building a better human body
: DefenseTech passes on an interesting story from the labs at UC Berkeley, where researchers are building a human skeleton that would enable an average man (or woman) to carry more than 200 pounds for an indefinite period. The idea is to enable military personnel to carry large loads for long periods of time without fatigue.

This human exoskeleton is just one of the many things planned for display this week at DARPATech -- a conference sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. I'll be there, and will be reporting regularly on Intel Dump about the more interesting things on display at DARPATech.