Monday, January 24, 2011

Terrorism, Cyber War, or Defense?

On Sunday, January 16, 2011 the New York Times reported at length on the sabotage of equipment critical to the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. The sabotage was executed through the placement of a “worm” called Stuxnet into the computer programs that control centrifuges to enrich uranium. The article places responsibility for the placement of the “worm” with Israel and the United States with cooperation from Germany. The Israeli and American governments neither admit nor deny that they were responsible. Most Western and Middle Eastern governments applaud the sabotage of the centrifuges.

The facts outlined above beg a question which the New York Times does not address. Was this an act of terrorism directed toward Iran? Was this a first battle in a cyber war against Iran? And, more importantly, will Iran react in-kind against a heavily computer dependent, relatively unprotected American financial, interpersonal, and communication network infrastructure? If Iran succeeded in doing the same to us would we consider it terrorism or cyber warfare?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Institutional Hypocrisy

It is clear that most Americans were disappointed at best and shocked at worst at the videos by Captain Owen Honors, until recently the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Navy acted quickly this week to relieve him of command and launch an investigation, dealing with the issue at one level.

But questions remain at a deeper level. Some of his supervisors were aware of the offensive videos in 2006 or 2007 and complaints were filed by some sailors in that time frame. Nonetheless, the Navy promoted him and assigned him as the Enterprise commanding officer. But it wasn’t until the issue became public knowledge last week that the institutional Navy sanctimoniously reacted and disciplined Captain Honors.

So which set of cultural norms and standards of discipline and conduct does the institutional Navy adhere to? Why were complaints about the contents of the videos by some offended crew members (as acknowledged on film by Captain Honors) not pursued by those in charge? Where were the Chaplains, JAGs, and Equal Opportunity Officers on board? Does this flip flop of reactions by the Navy indicate a clear disconnect in values between the U.S. military and the people of the nation it protects and serves. Finally, and most fundamentally, does the Navy condone this type of behavior by its “leaders” unless it becomes public knowledge?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remember Osama Bin Laden?

As the 112th Congress convenes in Washington D.C. in January it will consider a number of issues. Among them will be a defense budget of $720 billion plus and a total intelligence budget of a similar amount (the total intelligence budget is classified). The defense budget is greater than the defense budget of the next ten nations in the world combined. Historically, there are few first order questions asked by the members of the house and senate armed services committees or the press regarding those budgets and the pentagon, the defense contractors, and lobbyists usually get what they want absent the first order questions.

Although I would not consider it a first order question, one question that has not been raised recently in a rigorous manner is “Why have you failed to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden? “ The man is 6’6” tall, his photo is splashed around the world, he is on kidney dialysis, there is a reward of $27 million for his capture, and he sends out videos periodically taunting us. How can a “defense/intelligence” establishment explain this failure and what does it tell us about the effectiveness of this establishment after ten years and the level of support other governments in the “war on terror.”

To this point, talking heads at the Pentagon and CIA have recently told us that Bin Laden’s elimination is not important in the “war on terror.” But rest assured of this, if he is killed or captured, these same talking heads will tout it as one of the great national security accomplishments of our time and perhaps roll out a large “Mission Accomplished” banner. In the meantime it’s not important, just keep writing all the checks.