Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The System Worked As Well As Anyone Else's...Right? C'mon, really, Right?

My thinking 'til now was: This many years after 9/11, the foiled Christmas Air Terror Attack is just embarrassing. So much went wrong, in so many dimensions of national security, that everyone involved in national security should probably be more than just a wee bit humiliated.
Then I read this:
MOGADISHU, Somalia — A man tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion in a case bearing chilling similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The Somali man — whose name has not yet been released — was arrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13 Daallo Airlines flight took off...

Okay, whoa. Time the fuck out. We ("we") miss this Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab guy. That's embarrassing. Then we find out that a month ago a UFA clone ran a rehearsal in Somalia and got caught by African Union peacekeeping troops. Now, I don't want to sound like an American chauvinist (I am, just don't want that perception to interfere with making my point), but we just got skunked by the African Union peacekeeping force. That's like the LA Lakers getting blown out by Brownie Troop 394.
Forget calling for "heads to roll." That doesn't happen anymore. Instead, we need to get cross-cultural and historical, and bring back a golden oldie as the official means by which someone that fucks up this bad expresses remorse for poor duty performance. Seppuku.

Sniper Stuff

It looks like the three primary sniper schools (Army, Marines, SF) are starting to do some cross-talking and sharing of lessons-learned. Good. No tactical military endeavor is so much an intersection of art and science. And, too, our combat troops--to include and especially snipers--are experiencing more actual combat than any in our history:

Earlier patterns of combat were different. For example, during World War II, the bulk of the Allied troops in Europe went in after June 6, 1944. The fighting in Europe ended eleven months later. In the Pacific, the fighting tended to be episodic. A few months of combat, followed by many months of preparing for the next island invasion or battle. In Vietnam, not a lot of people went back for multiple tours, and those who did spend a year with a combat unit, spent less time in combat than they would in Iraq. Even during Vietnam, it was noted that many of those who were in combat for 200 or more days, did get a little punchy.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, army combat troops often get 200 days of combat in one 12 month tour, which is more than their grandfathers got during all of World War II.

The linked article isn't on sniping, it covers PTSD and the chemical changes the syndrome induces (I'm not smart enough on the science to do a chicken-or-egg disquisition). As a comparative analysis of combat experience logged since WWII, though, the article reasonably argues that our troops are the most experienced our country has had, ever.

And speaking of all things sniper, Stephen Hunter, the Fyodor Dostoyevsky of the sniper novel, has a new book on the streets. So, looks like everything stops on the Mongo reading list until I download and devour I, Sniper.

American History or Mungadai Heresy?

Chuck Norris is iconic to the Mungadai, so I hesitate to put this out there. Still, a good thought on which to meditate.

H/T to Mr. Rummel at Hell in a Handbasket

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

And Speaking of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

So, Richard Reid pulled his stunt with the shoes less than six months after 9/11, and ever since we've had to doff our shoes at the security checkpoint at airports.
The 2006 terror plot of the "hair gel and anal salve" Al Qaida set ensured that now we cannot carry on more than an itty-bitty smidgen of any sort of liquid onto a plane.
We're hearing about new TSA rules that will force passengers to sit for the last hour of any flight with nothing in their laps and without recourse to the restrooms (because, of course, AQ terrorists are not savvy enough to use the lavatory 65 minutes before touchdown). But (butt) does that really ensure our safety? I think not.
Nope. Since ol' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chose to squirrel away his PETN in his jockey shorts, and said shorts didn't raise a single alarum, there is only one fail safe TSA countermeasure available...
Damn, flight bumped again...

Apparently, It's Judo Day

Judo 101

Any regular readers (all three of you, give or take) have probably begun to suspect my penchant for judo and jiu-jitsu, and that it is one of the optics through which I try to view most situations and/or problems.
I don't watch much television--not that I'm one of those anti-television snobs. Aside from reality shows, content on TV is better than it's ever been. I just have too much to do otherwise with working out, MA training, work, family stuff, and professional reading (and drinking. And fishing). So I'm coming late to the game with watching the Human Weapon series on the History Channel. Still, found it, and enjoyed their installment on Judo. The show provides a good overview of Judo history (with its Jiu-Jitsu roots) and principles. Anyone looking for a quick Judo 101 could do worse than to watch the show. Part one is embedded below, but I recommend all four installments.

A Modest Proposal In The Interests of National Security

The foiled Christmas terrorist attack--the system worked!-- highlighted an ongoing peeve of mine. How many ways can you mangle, make up, or imagine you will see in the press the spelling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's name? There are conventions for transliterating non-romanic languages into English, but they still give us a plethora of spelling options for, in this case, Arabic names.

Look at the high fashion, Italiana-guarded, Barbie-curl coiffed titular head of Libya. According to Wikipedia:

Because of the lack of standardization of transliterating written and regionally pronounced Arabic, Gaddafi's name has been transliterated in many different ways into English and other Latin alphabet languages. An article published in the London Evening Standard in 2004 lists a total of 37 spellings of his name, while a 1986 column by The Straight Dope quotes a list of 32 spellings known at the Library of Congress.[83] This extensive confusion of naming was used as the subject for a segment of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update in the early 1980s.[citation needed]

In 1986, Gaddafi reportedly responded to a Minnesota school's letter in English using the spelling "Moammar El-Gadhafi".[84] The title of the homepage of reads "Welcome to the official site of Muammar Al Gathafi".[85]

"Muammar Gaddafi" is the spelling used by Time magazine, BBC News, the majority of the British press and by the English service of Al-Jazeera.[86] The Associated Press, CNN, and Fox News use "Moammar Gadhafi". The Edinburgh Middle East Report uses "Mu'ammar Qaddafi" and the U.S. Department of State uses "Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi". The Xinhua News Agency uses "Muammar Khaddafi" in its English reports.[87]

So, Gaddafi is a guy who wants everyone in the room to know who he is and that he is there. Were it up to him (and, unfortunately, oft times it is) trumpets would blare and pigeons would fly every time he made an entrance, and we can still document 30~40 different open source methods of spelling his name.

Now suppose that you're just some schmuck that wants to infil the US--or US airspace, anyway--in order to blow up innocent civilians, cause significant property damage, and generally terrorize as much of the US population as you can. With a name like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, how many different spelling variations can you come up with in an effort to thwart the various and sundry bureaucracies charged with keeping your sorry ass out? Even if there were, for example, a couple of small irregularities between your hand-printed immigration card, and your passport, and your driver's license, and your visa card, and your actual visa, would an English-speaking official either notice or think it was significant? Suppose Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had had the mission to infiltrate the US and put boots on the ground for a period of time before executing his plan (like, say, spend some months in a Florida flight school before being ready or able to execute the mission)? If he could get into the US, he could drive from coast to coast, stopping at motels to rest or see the sights, without ever using the same spelling twice. Any bureaucracy, or any ad hoc conglomeration of bureaucracies ostensibly collaborating to catch the guy, suffers a workload that expands geometrically over space and time trying to track the guy down, and that's without him employing any other countermeasures than playing scrabble with his name.
All applications for non-immigrant visas (you can see one here) are written exclusively in English. In fact, the Visa application is topped with big red letters that say, in part,"Your answers must be in English and must use English characters." I can understand the philosophy that in order to come to the States, you should at least have enough facility with the language to fill out the paperwork. Of course, this is not the philosophy upon which DOS bases its requirement to actually fill out the form. Any non-English speaking individuals seeking to fill out a visa can go to the local Embassy or Consul and get assistance filling out the form. So, if your name originates from the Arabic alphabet (or the Cyrillic, or Kanji, or Hangul, or...), then your name in the English alphabet is pretty much whatever approximation you choose that more or less is phonetically close enough. Does this seem like an administrative weakness that can be exploited?

Arabic is tough to learn; to even be a competent "basic" speaker, you have to learn a whole new alphabet. The Army has a whole curriculum based off a transliterated English alphabet; the transliterated alphabet only aids in phonetic rote memorization. Even this many years after 9/11, it is probably too much to expect that our alphabet soup of bureaucracies would have enough competent Arabic linguists to manage even the "by exception" guys on various watch lists, let alone all the Arabic native speakers who come into contact, for whatever reason, with our US Government.

So, what if we had all applicants fill out a bubble sheet, like unto that which Americans fill out for any standardized academic test (e.g., the SAT), possibly linked in with some sort of biometrics, and that gets translated into a standardized bar code that code be scanned, databased, and disseminated electronically.Above is Gaddafi's name in such a standardized format.* It couldn't take too long to 'gin up some code that would enable us to digitally track his comings and goings in the US--I mean, if he's not allowed to pitch his big tent in Central Park. If every applicant/immigrant with a name not derived from the English alphabet used this, it would probably make everyone's life easier. A guy named Abdulmutallab on the watch list couldn't spoof the system by writing Abdel Mu'talib. When he did apply for a visa, every one in government with a responsibility to safeguard the homeland (which should be everyone in Government) would be able to bounce his standardized name off of his own lists. Failure to properly render one's name in one's native language when one chooses to apply for any permissions or dispensations from the USG would mean no further access to our government (or our country) without a lengthy appeal process to determine why you bungled your name in your own native tongue.

An added benefit is that this isn't even "profiling." We just want to do you, Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab the courtesy of getting your name right. So that we can better and more efficiently act on your request for a visa (driver's license, whatever). The fact that we can better and more effectively shithammer you if you're a terrorist, well, that's just a happy coincidence.

*And Gaddafi's name proves the point. My own facility with Arabic ranges from poor to not-quite-as-poor, depending on how much I'm using it. As it's been years since I've read any Arabic press with Gaddafi's proper name in it, this was a surprise: If pronounced exactly as spelled in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), Gaddafi's name is more like QaTHafi. I'm reasonably sure the proliferation of D's rather than Th's in the middle of the spelling of his last name is due to a variation between MSA and Libyan dialect. So, even if a guy is making an honest effort to accurately transliterate his own name, the difference between the Arabic spoken and written word can throw a spanner into the works.

2009 In Retrospect

Analyzed as only Dave Barry can.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Pretty scathing critique from Yasotay.

Man, That Dude Is Hardcore

There's hard, there's hardcore, and then there are those who take it to a whole new level.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekly Roundup

Okay, the way I'm going, it's more of a monthly round up. Whatever.
First, the weather every where else blows so much (no pun intended), it prompted me to put the "local weather" tab onto the blog. Okay, so we get the snot knocked out of us every hurricane season; there is an upside. Not only did I go for a lovely run yesterday, I actually had to wear a long sleeve T-shirt when I did. Brrr, bitches.
Speaking of running, regular readers know that I'm firmly in the "running is da debbil" camp. However, I just finished McDougall's Born to Run, and I'm now willing to posit that maybe it's just that "running in running shoes is da debbil." The book answers the question "what's the difference between a long distance runner and a pronghorn"--pretty effectively, I might add. So, I'm trying to re-train my feet and investigate our roots as persistence hunters,. Interesting, and I can report no orthopedic injuries thus far. We'll see. A single injury and I'm going right back to "running" just twice a year, in two mile iterations. And yes, I'm running only in my monkey shoes.
Picked up from Starbuck on the trials and tribulations of Master Sergeant Grisham. I'm not going to comment on Grisham's plight, Starbuck and Blackfive have got it covered, with all appropriate links. But, two thoughts about the overall atmospherics of milblogging and the milbloggers' response of a blackout.
1. Blackfive astutely observes that
milblogs are facing an increasingly hostile environment from within the military. While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept. From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others. The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters.

Uh, so is anyone surprised that the ranks of Army middle management has a significant demographic comprised of anal-retentive, control-freak, self-righteous pricks? That's the environment that we all work in, and whether we're blogging, or leading our troops, or following our leaders. One can see this demographic at work whether one is blogging, designing a CONOP for the liberation of Iraq, or briefing the dental readiness of one's unit. Deal with it. One can either participate, trying hard to be one of the "good guys," or one can withdraw. Either way, it's the Army's bat, ball, and rules, and to paraphrase Heinlein "of course the game is rigged, but if you don't play, you can't win."

2. If the objectionable goal of the anal-retentive, control-freak, self-righteous pricks is to get milbloggers to STFU and color, why are milblogs protesting by S'ing TFU? Seems to me this is an opportunity to point out ostensible disconnects between senior leadership and middle management (and yeah, as a field grade officer, I detest the term "middle management" WRT field grade officers, I do it just to kick myself in the balls and stay humble). Are any milbloggers out there digging deeper than the facts presented in the Military Times (I'd trust the poop I got from a military professional blogging on his own time than a journalist, nine times out of ten)? Has anyone queried Grisham's chain of command to find out why they're hanging him out to dry? In fact, has anyone queried them requesting a for-attribution quote in a...milblog? Heh, that would torque them up a bit.

All military professionals know that their freedom of speech is constrained, usually for all kinds of good reasons, like good order and discipline and OPSEC. That doesn't mean we have no means by which to throw a bullshit flag. It's just that in my (admittedly limited) experience, going silent is seldom the way to address a problem or injustice.