Cruise Missiles and Yemeni Neighborhoods

“The US is planning retaliatory strikes in Yemen against al-Qaida over its attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day.  American officials […] warn that finding those responsible is unlikely to be swift and say that identifying other ‘high-value’ al-Qaida targets for retaliatory attack would also be a priority.” – The Guardian (U.K.), 12/30/2009

As U.S. officials are quoted mulling cruise-missile strikes on Yemen, it should be noted that the Yemeni government, such as it is, has already been fighting the hard slog – on the ground, rooting out Al Qaeda in Yemeni neighborhoods and villages.

Below is an interesting 7 minutes of film fresh from Yemen,  just posted to youTube today:  a moment-by-moment video documenting the Arhab raid by the Yemeni Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) on an Al-Qaeda-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula (AQAP) safe-house, on 17 December, the same day as a coordinated U.S. cruise missile attack on another site.

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A few words about a few great Pentagon leaders

I was thinking about the Pentagon over the long weekend – appropos, given the Memorial Day celebration. But my thoughts were also sparked by viewing a 9/11 documentary, reviving all the memories of that dark day’s attacks on New York and Washington – which ultimately led to my joining the ranks of defense intelligence for a while.

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Bob Gates and the future of defense thinking

Now that Bob Gates is officially going to stay on as Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, it’s worthwhile to refresh our understanding of his thinking. Continue reading

Armed Autonomy: Mechatronics plus Software plus Ammo

The Killer Robots are Coming!

Fact: According to a new story in LiveScience (“Will the U.S. Have a Droid Army“), “autonomous robots with the ability to open fire upon their own initiative are under development in other countries.”  Robotics researchers Doug Few and Bill Smart at Washington University in St. Louis are quoted with the assessment that “the U.S. military may be 30 percent robotic by the year 2020.” 

Analysis: I’ve been having some interesting discussions with DoD and their contractors about robotics lately, and the question of autonomous behavior comes up frequently, though infrequently about armed systems.  Among other reasons, Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) places great store in unarmed robotic systems coordinating with other command and control or combat systems. Continue reading

Three Key Promotions in U.S. Intelligence

In the old days of Kremlinology, our side’s “Soviet analysts” (I was one as a kid, back in 1985-86) would pore over personnel lists and announcements of Politburo or Central Committee appointments, seeking clues to the direction of Party doctrine and intent. Military personnel promotions and reassignments were also studied closely to divine any insight into Soviet military policy.

There’s not a direct analogy to American military leadership promotions, but those lists are also studied intently, by peers and colleagues within the military branches, and also by experts throughout defense industry circles who can often decode Pentagon politics by watching who gets an extra star and who gets passed over.

Friday the U.S. Senate confirmed several key Army promotions, including three which I consider to be the most critical military intelligence positions in the nation. 

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The Best of America, in Iraq

The fireworks (and sales) of the Fourth are over. Much has been written about this holiday, about which many in America are unnecessarily cynical. Both sides in the presidential campaign made much of patriotism this week. I just wanted to share something that I read in a back-of-the-paper page of the Washington Post today, a little interview which says more about the quiet ideals motivating American foreign policy at its best, and the undaunted courage of those who help to carry it out.

The interview (“The Doctor is In: To Iraq and Back“) is with dentist and retired-two-star general Ronald D. Silverman.  He practices in Alexandria, Virginia, and I may just see if I can get an appointment with him, because I’d like most of all to shake his hand and thank him for what he’s done.

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Is It Even Possible to Connect the Dots?

FACT: Among the inspired ideas of polymath Danny Hillis (pioneer of parallel computing) was establishing the Long Now Foundation, whose projects include the millennial Long-Now Clock (“the world’s slowest computer”) and the notion of “Long Bets.”  A Long Bet is an “accountable prediction,” meaning one that has a specified end-date and a testable, wagerable, proposition.  One of the early Long Bets posted wagers $2,000 that “By 2020, no one will have won a Nobel Prize for work on superstring theory, membrane theory, or some other unified theory describing all the forces of nature.”  That particular bet is one of many signs of scientific skepticism about string theory.

ANALYSIS: Even without the ease of hyperlinks, old-fashioned newspapers foster serendipitous connections between articles, particularly if you’re reading a Sunday morning paper with lots of sections. Sunday the Washington Post did me a service by placing in different sections a couple of articles which I connected, about intelligence “failures” and about stock-market prediction, leading me to some web-surfing about the questionable validity of string theory and some related observations about the difficulty of predicting human behavior.

In the Outlook section, the Post has an opinionated and thought-provoking op-ed piece by Mark Lowenthal, one of the most “intelligent” individuals in the recent history of the U.S. intelligence community (after all, he was the 1988 Jeopardy grand champion, as well as a former assistant director of CIA).

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