How do you solve a problem like targeted violence?
In the years to come, a top group of military scientists believe, the Pentagon may be able to use genomics and bio-markers to spot when a soldier is about to snap. But that moment is not in the immediate future. So, for now, the only option is to try to prevent these troops from reaching the breaking point, rather than predicting when that point will come.
After Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army Major, shot and killed 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas in November of 2009, the Defense Science Board (DSB) commissioned a task force. They were told to research and produce a report on how to predict violent behavior. The hope was that they might be able to propose ways to anticipate if military personnel in the future were about to go rogue. That report was recently released online. But the task force says the hope of predicting violent behavior is still far off.
The DSB task force report outlines what it calls a “stress response curve,” where performance is plotted on a graph against stress. As stress increases so does individual performance – believe it or not but people actually do perform better under pressure – up to a point.
Eventually, as stress continues to rise, an individual’s performance plateaus until it reaches a “tipping point.” Here performance crashes and the individual is at risk of losing it and exerting extreme, out of the ordinary behavior. Shooting into a crowd, for example.
The report says that “serious cases of unacceptable behavior could probably have been avoided had important data not been “stovepiped” or had leaders and teammates been better educated on behavioral precursors.”
The Task Force has proposed ways of increasing an individual’s resiliency, which it defines as “the ability to recover from, or easily adjust to, misfortune or chance, especially unanticipated change.” By increasing the resiliency of a person, their personal tipping point is pushed further along the stress response curve, making it less likely to be reached. In this way the Task Force hopes to prevent a potential violent outburst.
One of the Task Force’s recommendations is to collect and analyze data. Both from previous case studies of targeted violent behavior (such as Nidal Hasan) and from personnel files. That way it might know what behavioral markers and precursors to targeted violence to be on the look out for. If the two data types could be merged then “red flag” cases could be identified. They also suggest that resilience training should be increased and assessment programs put in place to keep tabs on things like sleep deprivation, which push people towards their tipping point.
The implementation of so called “bio-marker measurement programs” has also been endorsed by the Task Force to add what it calls “hard data” to the picture. The idea would be to evaluate physiological measures, such as concentrations of stress hormones. They also stipulate that as science improves they would like to see similar programs to monitor neurological and genetic bio-markers, but for the moment they recommend that the bulk of R&D should focus on physiological markers.
The knowledge that could be gained from such research programs may not only help to flag up an individual that may be about to reach his or her tipping but also help with training, says the Task Force. “Rather than trying to predict negative outcomes, and then intervene, this information may allow more optimal structural or contextual changes, training regimens (including resilience training,) or other policies and/or programs that could be applied more broadly and improve the performance of all personnel.”
But no matter how you look at it, whether the data will be used to help to de-stress and improve the working environment or whether the data will be used to red flag you as risky soldier, it’s still going to involve a lot of keeping tabs on people, many of which may be none too happy at the prospect.
[DSB: DOD Should Conduct ‘Modest’ Research On Violent Behavior] via [IWP News’ insidedefense.com]
Libyans walk on the grounds of the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Photo: AP/Ibrahim Alaguri
U.S. officials in Washington monitored the Sept. 11 attack on the American mission in Benghazi as it was happening. But don’t blame American policymakers for initially blaming the unrest in Benghazi on protesters.
Those are those are just two of the many contradictory messages coming from State Department employees as they testify before the House Oversight Committee, which held hearings Wednesday on the attack. But they’re not only only mismatches. Depending on which witness you believe, security at the Benghazi mission was either just fine — “the correct number of assets,” one State Department official said — or woefully inadequate.
“There was no plan, there was just hope that everything would get better,” one security official testified.
Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs, said in her prepared testimony (.pdf) that she had a firm grasp on what happened in Benghazi, starting mere moments after the mission came under assault. ”When the attack began, a Diplomatic Security agent working in the tactical operations center immediately… alerted the annex U.S. quick reaction security team stationed nearby … and the Diplomatic Security Command Center in Washington. From that point on, I could follow what was happening in almost real-time,” Lamb explained.
Yet confusion remained about the attack’s origin. Five days after the strike, American ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the unrest in Benghazi began with a protest against an anti-Islam video. State Department officials were finally forced to concede on Wednesday there was no protest. Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy insisted in testimony on Wednesday that there was no cover-up of the attack’s true cause.
“We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved,” Kennedy said in his prepared statement (.pdf). “For example, if any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack.”
One thing that was known months and months ago: Benghazi was a seriously hostile place for American diplomats.
Gaddafi loyalists plotted to attack U.S. embassies in Benghazi and Tripoli as early as December 2011, according to a summary of security incidents (.pdf) in Libya compiled by the State Department and given to congressional investigators.
The plot, called “Papa Noel” — French for “Santa Claus” — was busted up by Libyan security forces before it was ever put into action, and was “allegedly planned for the Christmas and New Years Eve holidays” in December 2011. But the plot was also planned to go into action a mere two months after the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a sign — and an omen — that militants intended to attack U.S. diplomatic stations much earlier than previously thought.
“According to [government of Libya] security official Abdessalam Borghathi, a network of Gaddafi loyalists were behind the plot and the GoL arrested the members and dismantled the group,” the summary stated in a brief entry dated Dec. 20. The Libyan government reported seizing “150 RPG launchers, and various light weapons and ammunition and undisclosed sums of money.” The militants also used SMS messages to communicate, “confirming their intent in carrying out this operation as an explosive ‘Christmas gift’ to the Libyan people.”
The alleged plot was only one of 230 “specific security incidents” detailed in the report, but also one of the most sophisticated until the Sept. 11 complex attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other Americans. In April and again in June, militants attacked the consulate on with improvised explosives. In another warning to American personnel stationed in the city — this time in May — RPG rounds were fired at the nearby Benghazi office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Two security officers were wounded in an RPG attack on the British ambassador’s convoy in June.
There was also a steady drumbeat of attacks on — and between — Libyans in the Benghazi. In April, antiaircraft and RPG fire was exchanged two-and-a-half miles from the consulate. Two weeks later, an American Foreign Service Officer had to be rescued from a firefight by the February 17 Brigade. Next, two South African contractors hired to dispose of unexploded bombs were kidnapped. In July, a Libyan air force helicopter was forced down after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. Less than two weeks after that, a dispute between two families led to one family attacking the other’s house with RPG rounds.
It was a dangerous trend. “The risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH,” the embassy report warned. The Libyan government ”does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related violence, which could result in an isolating event.”
“These incidents paint a clear picture that the environment in Libya was fragile at best and could degrade quickly,” wrote State Department security officer Eric Nordstrom in an e-mail provided to Danger Room. “Certainly, not an environment where post should be directed to ‘normalize’ operations and reduce security resources in accordance with an artificial time table.” By that, Nordstorm meant a push by State Department officials to avoid the perception that Libya’s security was getting worse, potentially turning into a situation like Iraq or Afghanistan.
The security situation in Benghazi was “a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there,” (.pdf) said Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, the State Department’s Site Security Team commander in Libya from February to August 2012. Wood, who is to testify to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, added that “targeted attacks against westerners were on the increase.”
By July, the three diplomatic security teams on the ground in Libya were whittled down to one team “restricted from performing security work and limited to only training local guard force members,” according to Wood. That team was eventually withdrawn too. Nordstrom asked for an extension of the SST teams, but said he was turned down because there “would be too much political cost.”
“There was a complete and total lack of planning for what was going to happen next,” he added. “There was no plan, there was just hope that everything would get better.”
As Danger Room first reported, security was then largely left in the hands of British security firm Blue Mountain, which employed unarmed Libyan guards and paid them $4 per hour.
The State Department has been criticized for leaving the mission’s security up to such unimpressive forces — and for not hardening the mission in Benghazi, despite the drumbeat of danger. Lamb, who has never visited Libya, she insisted that there were the “orrect number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11″: five diplomatic special security agents, three armed guards provided by the government of Libya, plus the $4/hour rent-a-guards.
Lamb said she wouldn’t have supported transfer of all or some of the heavily armed Site Security Team from Tripoli to Benghazi. And in her prepared statement, Lamb said the State Department had made all sorts of security improvements to the mission.
After acquiring the compound, we made a number of security upgrades. To strengthen the
compound’s perimeter, we extended the height of the outer wall with masonry concrete. Then
we added barbed wire and concertina razor wire to further extend the height of the wall to 12
feet. We increased the external lighting and erected Jersey Barriers –large concrete blocks –
outside the perimeter to provide anti-ram protection. Inside each of the three steel gates, we
installed steel drop bars to control vehicle traffic.
Inside the perimeter of the wall, we also added equipment to detect explosives, as well as an
Imminent Danger Notification System. We hardened wooden doors with steel and reinforced
locks. And we installed security grills on windows accessible from the ground. This included
escape windows with emergency releases.
We also built guard booths and sandbag emplacements to create defensive positions inside the
But there was only so much the State Department could do, Kennedy said. “We’re never going to have enough guns… We’re not an armed camp ready to fight it out as the U.S. military does,” he added. And in any case, the scattered IED [improvised explosive device] attacks and shootings were not enough to “indicate that there was a plan or any indication of a massive attack of the nature and lethality” of the complex consulate attack in Benghazi.
On Tuesday, an internal staff memo from congressional Democrats accused Rep. Darrell Issa, the Oversight Committee chairman, of stonewalling House Democrats from the investigation into the attacks. House Democrats also complained of being excluded from an Oct. 5 congressional delegation visit to Libya after Republicans allegedly concealed the trip until less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to leave. “It’s a shame they’re resorting to such petty abuses,” says the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings. (Republicans countered that they found out about the trip just when Democrats did.) Democrats also complained of being left out of a classified briefing about the investigation organized by Speaker John Boehner. Hold on, because that political acrimony to likely to increase — especially if administration officials continue to contradict one another about what went on in Benghazi.
A model of Osama bin Laden’s compound, found on Bing. Photo: Microsoft
A top-secret base in Taiwan, revealed on Apple Maps. The Navy SEALs’ rehearsal site for the Osama bin Laden raid, found on Bing. Once again, commercial satellites have snapped images of things that governments would rather hide from public view. And once again, those governments are finding that there’s not much they can do once this sensitive imagery ends up online.
The big technology companies and their mapping apps have been turning generals red-faced for the better part of a decade by posting on the net pictures of sensitive locations. Back in 2009, the Pakistani press blew the lid off of the U.S. drone campaign there by publishing Google Earth pictures of a local airbase — with American Predators parked on the runway. This summer, orbital images appeared online of a stealthy and previously undisclosed robotic aircraft at Lockheed Martin’s “Skunkworks” facility.
Still, it was a bit of shock Tuesday when internet sleuths noticed on Bing Maps the mock compound where members of SEAL Team Six rehearsed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Matt Bissonette, a member of that team, mentioned the place in his memoir, No Easy Day. (The full-scale model was so realistic, he wrote, that ”construction crews put in mounded dirt to simulate the potato fields that surrounded the compound.”) But Bissonette didn’t mention where the compound was, specifically — only somewhere in the North Carolina woods.
Turns out the CIA training facility was in Harvey Point, North Carolina. And a Digital Globe satellite snapped a picture of the place in early 2011 before it was destroyed, leaving only the slightest trace of its existence.
This is something the U.S. government used to actively try to preempt. As Danger Room co-founder Sharon Weinberger noted, the U.S. military in 2001 bought up all the available commercial satellite images of Afghanistan right before sending American troops there. But resistance has proven (largely) futile. Even the Vice President’s house — famously blurred during Dick Cheney’s residence there — was eventually brought into focus. By the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, the satellite pictures were so common that Washington didn’t bother going on another orbital shopping spree.
Today, there are sensitive facilities that occasionally vanish — or get de-rezzed — from the databases of Google Earth or its competitors, after a government pleas its secrecy case.
The Taiwanese military is hoping that’s what will happen to the picture of a secretive radar base that appeared in Apple’s new Maps application on its iPhones.
“Regarding images taken by commercial satellites, legally we can do nothing about it,” defense ministry spokesman David Lo told reporters. “But we’ll ask Apple to lower the resolution of satellite images of some confidential military establishments the way we’ve asked Google in the past.”
The site, still under construction, is located in the northern county of Hsinchu, according to the AP. It contains a $1.24 billion ultra-high-frequency radar that, once finished, should give Taipei extra time to prepare in the event of a Chinese missile strike.
Perhaps Apple will pull the images. But before the Taiwanese get too upset with Cupertino and the other satellite imagery publishers, they should remember than the Chinese have had plenty of seemingly sensitive locations snapped from above — and those shots are still online.
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America is an air power. And for every kind of air power, the U.S. has different, iconic warplanes.
When the Pentagon needs to frighten its enemies and rivals, the Air Force deploys fast, radar-evading F-22 stealth fighters or B-52 heavy bombers bristling with weaponry. When threats turn to violence, the Navy and Air Force can call on their huge arsenals of F-15, F-16 and F-18 jet fighters to drop bombs and fire missiles.
For the quieter, more subtle work of spotting, tracking and killing suspected terrorists, the U.S. relies on armed Predator and Reaper drones operated by the Air Force, Army and CIA. And in the difficult, dirty slog of ground warfare, the Army calls on its Apache gunship helicopters and Blackhawk transports and the Marines their controversial V-22 tiltrotors.
But for a wide range of more secretive missions, the Pentagon possesses tiny forces of specialized, and largely unknown, warplanes.
Some are rugged transports meant to blend in with civilian air fleets and deliver commandos or diplomats to remote battlefields — or provide overhead surveillance during highly classified Special Operations. Others are electronic wizards, performing esoteric but vital communications functions in the high-tech management of the Pentagon’s far-flung forces. And then there are the “aggressors” — foreign-made or modified domestic models prized for their ability to accurately simulate the capabilities of America’s enemies.
Some of these special aircraft are obscure by design. A few are top secret. The rest go unrecognized because, in an American aerial armada populated mostly by fast, loud fighters, lumbering bombers and jet transports and innumerable helicopters, they seem unimpressive. But the vital roles they play in America’s domination of the air belie their unassuming exteriors.
What follows are just 10 of the ass-kicking U.S. warplanes you probably didn’t know existed.
What better way to train for aerial warfare than to simulate entire air campaigns, right down to using U.S.-made planes as stand-ins for the other side’s air force?
That’s the thinking behind the Pentagon’s Red Flag series of wargames as well as for countless smaller simulated battles. To represent the Russian-made fighters flown by many of America’s enemies, the Air Force use its standard F-15 and F-16, flown by highly experienced pilots well versed in adversary tactics.
But the Navy and Marines take a different approach. They fly 31 Northrop F-5s, a type of lightweight dogfighter not used by regular U.S. squadrons — and which closely duplicates the fast-turning performance of many Russian-made planes.
The F-5 has been out of production for decades, so when the Navy needed to purchase additional copies of the maneuverable jet, it negotiated for some lightly used copies from Switzerland, ensuring the reinforced adversary squadrons will be waging simulated warfare for years to come.
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In an undated photograph, Osama bin Laden watches a video of himself in the Abbottabad compound he would ultimately die in. Photo: U.S. government
There was more evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction than there was that a mysterious, tall man the CIA spotted pacing around a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was Osama bin Laden. In a brand new book about the raid that ultimately killed al-Qaida’s leader, Michael Morrell, the CIA’s former second in command, tells author Mark Bowden, “the case for WMD wasn’t just stronger — it was much stronger.” Gulp.
That anecdote, and other new details Bowden unearths for his new book The Finish, published today, shows just how closely the raid came to never happening at all. It seems like the easiest of calls in hindsight, but several national-security veterans inside the Obama administration had misgivings about the raid. They argued that it would be preferable to bomb the compound, thereby sparing SEALs the danger of fighting inside the compound, or believed a drone strike could limit the U.S. liability if the intel was wrong. The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, contended that what sounds a lot to Bowden like a Raytheon’s Small Tactical Munition — an unproven, 13-pound bomb capable of being launched from a drone — could be a magic bullet.
The special operations forces conducting the mission also labored under a shadow: the failures of their predecessors in 1980 to rescue Iranian hostages, and in the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia. The only reason anyone ever refers to the bloody 1993 battle with the forces of a Mogadishu warlord is because of Bowden, whose definitive book of that title (later a movie) has become an iconic military tome. It also gives Bowden the perspective to see how the Joint Special Operations Command reconfigured itself into a powerful intelligence apparatus able to quickly exploit new information while conducting Abbottabad-style raids in Afghanistan at a furious clip.
But there’s a darker side to the raid that gets less attention. Bin Laden was unarmed when killed, leading some to question whether he could have been taken alive. Torture played at least some role in developing the intelligence leading to bin Laden. And the CIA helped collect DNA intelligence in the city from a doctor conducting vaccinations, which has had negative ramifications for public health in Pakistan. Bin Laden might be dead and Bowden’s book might be published, but the circumstances of the Abbottabad raid are likely to be debated for years — making it a perfect opportunity for Danger Room to ask Bowden about The Finish.
Danger Room: Was there a good argument for simply not raiding the Abbottabad compound?
Mark Bowden: Not a very good one. This was the argument [Vice President Joe] Biden made. His feeling was the risk of things going wrong was so great, the downside potential was so big, that it warranted delaying until they could be more certain, at the very least, that bin Laden was actually living there. The downside of that: As planning for this raid continued, more and more people were brought into the loop. By they time they launched it, in May , there were probably hundreds of people who knew. I think Obama was correct in assessing that the secret would not hold. And then they would have let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
I do think it’s important to note that one of the reasons why Obama decided to launch SEALs was that there was always the potential that they could raid the compound and discover bin Laden wasn’t there at all. If all went well, they could have gone in there and got out and left without hurting anybody. If they did it smoothly enough, then other than people in the neighborhood wondering what the hell happened, they could get in and out without causing any problems.
Continue Reading “Alternative to Bin Laden Raid: A Teeny, Tiny Missile Strike” »