08 December 2010

Wikileak-er: Activist vs. Terrorist

I realize that I am about to raise a thorny issue... Yet the sheer mass of events unfolding in the news in the last two weeks around the WikiLeaks release of DoS cables is difficult to ignore. Word of a pro-WikiLeaks cyber-attack started to filter into the media (here and here) showing a group of so-called "hacktivists" performing denial of service attacks on websites of companies that have broken contact with WikiLeaks over its recent actions. The attacks appear to be organized by a group of sympathizers who have been actively tweeting their intent, resulting in disabling attacks on MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Amazon.com over. Interestingly, they are following on the heels of an anti-WikiLeaks attack on Nov 29th (see here).

Concurrently, the infamous founder of WikiLeaks is in some legal hot water in Europe over some interestingly ambiguous sexual assault charges coming from Sweden.

So this is the situation, but what is the context? A foreign organization (WikiLeaks) has been actively disseminating USG secret documents after receiving them from sources internal to the USG.

This is where it gets thorny. Throughout the on-line world there is intense forum and media discussion around a deceptively simple question...what do you call what WikiLeaks is doing? Is it journalism? Is it espionage? Is it, maybe even terrorism? The first amendment is often invoked and just as often countered by a security prerogative. And then you have the active interlocutors in the discussion (aka hacktivists), who contribute to the debate with their actions. Even the USG is painfully confused with Attorney General Holder claiming "intense investigations", Senators throwing around espionage, and the President mysteriously silent on the whole thing (example). So round and round we go...what do we do with a foreign man who has taken it upon himself to damage American interests and has a rag-tag army of loosely organized, volunteer supporters?

Wait...that is the question, isn't it?

While it might sound as hyperbole, there is a real issue of precedent here. Precedent set not on hijacked aircraft but in electrons. For a decade we have heard of the emerging threat of cyber-terrorism and cyber-attack from China or Iran. For a decade we have speculated that it might come as an attack on the banking system, electrical grid, or even the DOD networks. Yet we are inexplicably confused about what to call WikiLeaks. Does good faith make one's actions less damaging to the interests of the country we live in? If Al Qaeda got a hold of a laptop with US secrets and released them for the world to see how evil America is would we not call that an act of terror? What exactly is the rule for defending American interests? Perhaps there are no rules and at the end of the day we are just winging it (as the Administration's frustrating-to-watch confusion seems to imply)?

Those are the questions that come to mind. But allow me a moment to indulge in my own conclusions. There is no issue of freedom of speech here. There is no issue fairness or journalistic privilege here. In fact, there is no issue of due process here or justice. In Iraq the US Bill of Rights no more applies than the Iraqi Constitution in the US. Even Julian Assange himself notes the irony of charging an Australian with betraying the USA (
here). What we do have is an issue of a foreign citizen acting knowingly against US interests around the WORLD! Not even in just Iraq or Afghanistan or any other single issue. But an outright effort to discredit the United States. That is what we call in the US Army, an IO campaign (Information Operations). That is also what we would call a non-lethal weapon. So, why do we not insist that Australia attempt to control its citizen? To be frank, until today that would have been enough, in my opinion, as otherwise it would mean taking action against a citizen of an ally, an issue all its own. Yet with the hacktivists carrying out cyber-attacks, the WikiLeaks campaign has taken on a new dimension. After all, a cyber-attack is as much a weapon system in our arsenal as an IO campaign. Except enterprising hackers can do a lot of damage. So perhaps Julian Assange is a wayward citizen of an ally that needs to be brought in line. But the hacktivists are bona fide terrorists that need to be pursued as such if the US is serious about protecting its interests and not just winging it. After all, all of us that have put on a uniform and gone to war were doing just that, so it must be important...no?

As to the issue of the press. There is none. WikiLeaks is foreign. The NYT has published what WikiLeaks published and no action is even contemplated against them. But then again, the NYT also shows us the occasional Al Qaeda motivational also. There is a broader issue than speech, and that is mens rea. The idea that WikiLeaks and the hacktivists are intending to harm US policy and at least for those of them who are not US persons there needs to be a swift, multi-avenue response. For those that are, we have plenty of hacker laws on the books. And for those that leak, they are the ones that take the risk of Espionage.

A few thoughts..............so much more to say.......

07 December 2010

Pearl Harbor Day

Today is December 7th. For a historical reminder of the importance of this day read DP’s post from last year here. One of my favorite posts from our team.

Also fully encourage you check out CS Monitor’s photo gallery titled, “Pearl Harbor remembered”; moving and motivating images.

02 December 2010

Leadership Failures, Command Importance and Counseling. Seriously, all of that's in here.

Received this article a couple hours ago, written by the famous “PowerPoint Ranter” COL(R) Lawrence Sellin, from a buddy. Good article overall, however the first couple paragraphs of this article are spot on and warrant recitation.

“I think that there are serious problems with the culture of Army leadership: close-mindedness, careerism, an aversion to innovation or creativity born of the fallacy that everything can fit into a step-by-step procedure, and a task-oriented mindset that creates an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism...and not only those who can think, but those who possess the moral courage to stand up for the hard truths that their bosses are unwilling to accept. I think this is going to be especially important as we transition away from Iraq and Afghanistan and attempt to prepare for unknown future conflicts.


It has always seemed odd to me that the US military spends billions of dollars on service academies, war colleges, graduate programs and other forms of education in order to train people to think, but then places them inside a bureaucracy that prevents them from doing so.The step-by-step procedures and task orientation methods like the Military Decision Making Process can create a mindless group mentality that inhibits discussion and stifles innovation. Although intelligent people may be embedded within such a system, all can be dragged downstream by the same aimless bureaucratic current.”


What specifically struck me was the comment from the first paragraph, written by a Lieutenant, was the aversion to innovation and creativity. I don’t think a single person in the Army will tell you they haven’t seen this. It takes a good Commander to change this mindset and atmosphere; and one who cares about nothing more than winning each and every day while bringing his men home safe. *Eagle 6, if you’re reading this (which you better be; otherwise I think we’re down to only our mothers and significant others reading this blog), I really miss being in your unit. We didn’t always see eye to eye but at least you let mine, or Eagle 2, or Eagle 3A’s voices be heard and honestly assessed our opinions and recommendations. I wish I saw more of that these days. Innovation was a strong suit of the entire Battalion under your leadership.* This is unfortunately largely lacking and undoubtedly one reason we struggled in Iraq for so long and continue to struggle in Afghanistan today.

Enough about PowerPoint and COL Sellin’s distaste for it has already been written. Instead, I finally have a way to recommend a book I read last spring in Iraq titled, “A Question of Command”. If you haven’t read it, go
buy it now and put away the latest Harry Potter or Twilight book that you’re currently pouring your heart and soul into. Mark Moyar’s thesis is outstanding; it’s well written with good case studies and really should be somewhere on the CMH Recommended Reading List. If you haven’t already, read it now. Moyar provides excellent historical reference on the importance of leadership in a counterinsurgency. COL Sellin’s article accurately spells out what is lacking and what we’re actually dealing with for the most part. Before I go any further, I’m not saying it’s like this everywhere, just most places.
Now on to my somewhat connected but not really rant of the week.

At the Battalion and below level, an organization is really only as good as its Commander. You can have bad Majors; a bad staff, bad Company Commanders even, but what keeps it all together and moving forward is that dynamic Battalion Commander. You can have the best Companies and staff in the Army and it’s all for naught if your Battalion Commander is lacking. As young Lieutenants and surly (and frequently disgruntled) Captains we are constantly reminded of a leaders’ responsibility to counsel subordinates, Officer and Non Commissioned Officer alike. Counseling is a very important part of the military culture. If you think I’m wrong ask a Commander or First Sergeant the importance of counseling when it comes to chaptering a Soldier out of the Army. Paramount. After nearly five years on various Battalion staffs, I have become increasingly concerned with the lack of counseling of Junior Officers. I say this strictly to highlight that it’s not an isolated incident but is endemic across the Army. In this almost half decade of toiling (read: rotting) away on staff I have received one counseling that came in the form of an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) counseling from my senior rater for an annual OER. These are great when utilized along with the other theoretically mandatory counseling’s. At the bottom of the first page of an OER is Part IV, Block d: Officer Development (requiring a mandatory yes or no entry for CPTs, LTs, CW2s and WO1s. It asks a simple question, “Were developmental tasks recorded on DA Form 67-9-1a and quarterly follow-up counselings conducted?” Yes that misspelling is straight from the form. TFor those of you not in the Army a DA Form 67-9-1a is an OER Support Form where we essentially highlight all the things we were supposed to do, all the things we did throughout the rating period, what special skills we have that better the Army and what jobs we’d like to have in the future. But before you get to the “pat yourself on the back” portion of the OERSF, there’s Part III which is verification of face-to-face discussion, i.e. counseling sessions with your rater (boss). There are spaces for an initial counseling and three periodic (quarterly) follow-up counseling sessions. This, unfortunately, is largely a hand jam as counseling sessions are rarely conducted for Company Grade Officers. This constitutes an absolute failure by our leaders in developing the next generation of leaders and sets a dangerous precedent for the perpetuation of poor leadership, laziness, non-confrontation, whatever you want to call it. I call it an epic failure and I believe it’s one of the many reasons droves of young Officers eligible to REFRAD continue to submit their paperwork. Frustration can come quickly if you have no idea what’s expected of you in a new job, or you just have a scatter-brained boss whose priorities for you continue to morph and change on a daily basis. Developmental counseling’s lead to far less confusion and clearly delineate what is expected of that young Officer, Sergeant or Soldier. Besides that, it’s a disservice not only to the young Officer or Sergeant, but also to his subordinates and it could contribute to the stunting of his professional development. We’re all busy but it does not relieve us of our responsibilities as a leader or supervisor.

Long story short, if you haven’t read Moyar’s book, you need to. And for Christ’s sake, if you are behind in your counseling’s, get on it.