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The True Network

We build the true network.
Radios and laptops, satellites and the ionosphere
are just tools.
The real network is connecting brain to brain
mind to mind, meeting in electronic ether
subspace nowhere.
You hear what he hears.
She sees what you describe.
E Pluribus Unum becomes ePluribus Unum.
Decisions made, seemingly by the commander
But really it is the network, his mind joined to
all the senses with working comms
informing, molding, sometimes dictating
to the one who gives the orders.

Toward an Expeditionary Army

​During the recent Mission Command Workshop at Camp Robinson, AR, several of the speakers made comment on the Army’s need to return to being expeditionary.  I found this puzzling.  Within my 25 years in the Army, I would argue that the Army has never been expeditionary.

To my mind, the hallmark of an expeditionary force is that the lowest unit of deployment, if not of employment, must have the capacity to be self-sustaining over a sufficient time for follow-on forces to arrive or for logistics avenues to be established, AND (and this is where the Army doesn’t make the cut) always, with no time limits, with regard to critical functions.  Communication is always a critical function.

The one service that I think has always been expeditionary is the Navy.  And that is borne of an iron necessity.  If comms go out aboard ship, they can’t just go purchase a spare part off the local economy.  It has to be repaired in place with what is on hand and by those that are on board.

I deployed with my brigade in 2011.  Our headquarters occupied a FOB and upon the previous tenant vacating, we began moving in.  Certain assets were left in place.  In particular, the COM-201 B antennae arranged on the Hesco barriers ringing the building that would be our TOC.  The RTOs plunked down their radio sets, plugged in, configured them and discovered quickly that something was wrong.  I left a junior 25U, who had identified the antenna as the problem, inside to continue assisting the S3 personnel and went outside to inspect the suspect device and quickly found the problem.  As soon as I disturbed two of the three antennae, the RF cable dropped off the connector to the ground, leaving the terminator firmly attached to the connection point on the antenna.

The cable itself was in perfect order, but no kind of strain relief had been employed, and the antennae had been left in the elements for at least a year, if not longer, with, apparently, no periodic inspection or maintenance.  Add to this the simple effect of gravity and the weight of the cable and that the crimp for the termination was the weakest point in the system….  There were two courses of action open.  I could either replace the entire, otherwise completely serviceable, cable assembly, which would also require crawling under the building and through its attic, or I could re-terminate the cable and place it back into service.

Actually, I could not.  Despite being a senior 25U with decades of experience and training, the Army had never trained me to terminate RG-213 cable (nor to identify it as such*), but fortunately, I had picked these skills up on my own.  And yet, the Army also had never equipped a BCT HQ signal section with appropriate crimpers or terminators.  They had made certain we all had a tool box full of hammers and every socket size known to man, just nothing that was particularly useful to the actual signal mission.  (RJ-45 crimpers are similarly not provided, despite the rise of Cyber and the proliferation of Ethernet across all formations….)  The hammer wasn’t going to be very helpful.

Fortunately, as I was describing the problem to my S6 and the Ops SGM, a young Airman overheard me.  The Air Force is an expeditionary force, I learned at that moment.  He walked me out to a TRICON with their squadron logo pasted on the outside, and rapidly found a kit of crimpers and terminators for RG-213 cable.  I glimpsed a wealth of other contingency stuff in that box as well, none of which an IBCT leaves home with, and should.

So thanks to the Air Guard, the Army Guard got its comms up in an… expeditious… manner.

We don’t fully train our maintainers.  We don’t deploy with an appropriate Signal oriented PLL.  And we don’t integrate the preventative maintenance stuff into our operations and training (a few, very lightly supervised hours in the motor pool each month doesn’t cut it)–a few turns of electrical tape over the crimp on that cable by the tenant unit that put it in place, would have prevented, or at least delayed the failure.  Until we do these things, we cannot make a claim to being expeditionary.

*  Edited–I misidentified the cable as RG-58 in the original version, which should only emphasize the point.

On Steering, or ‘Who’s Doing the Driving?”

The word “cybernetics” comes from the Greek root “kybernetes” which means one skilled in steering or governing. It’s the same root used in the word “cyborg,” a portmanteau of “cyber” and “organism,” and the difference between a cyborg and a robot, is that a cyborg is a human, augmented or aided by mechanical or technological devices, which the popular mind usually envisions as being onboard or built in, so to speak, with the robot being purely technological. Cyber Security, then is literally protecting or assuring the ability of the designated, appropriate helmsman; defending the proper governing authority over our augmentive and assistive technologies. But even here there is an insider threat; with the dichotomy between human and technology, which is the one doing the steering?

I argue that we have reached a point in development where we have very nearly completed the development of the ability to offload the governing responsibility to the technology. I also argue that this is a mistake. This isn’t news, though, and you don’t have to take my word for it; science-fiction has been warning of this since the end of World War II. Yet we continue to ignore the parables and illustrations.

Cyber Security, properly conceived and exercised, is a human activity and not a technological one. Automation of security processes is a tool, but human gatekeepers must forever, be a part of the architecture. And we resist this necessity, because it is hard to do. It is hard to control other human beings. It is hard to make them do the right things: don’t open emails from people you don’t know, digitally sign your communications, don’t log on with administrative credentials….

The pursuit of centralization and standardization in IT, in the name of security, is an attempt to address this problem; to control risk by controlling means, which means controlling behavior. It also relies on false premises.

First, there is the idea that control is equivalent to security. Control is rigid. Control lacks resilience. Standardization reduces an organization’s flexibility, and thus its agility. These things come with having options and a variety of tools and resources. The very concept of networking is about resilience-it is the reason that ARPA began researching the Internet-a decentralized network that would be survivable because it was resilient. And now the effort is to reign it in? Control, standardization, and centralization have their place, but they require balance and consideration, otherwise they degrade security. Just as the wise commander knows he cannot be strong everywhere and to try makes him strong nowhere, the concepts of mass and maneuver still apply, but even the military minds engaged in this effort are missing it. The concepts to consider are separation of responsibilities and the avoidance of single points of failure, yet we are heedlessly barreling down the road to a day when a single breach has the potential to compromise everything. Decentralization limits risk. A single breach may devastate one node, but the rest are able to continue on, including being able to provide relief to the distressed node.

The second false premise is the way security is pursued. We do so without heed to the need for utility and also by eschewing the human as insecure, seeking only security through technology. It is, or should be, axiomatic that the utility of a system is inversely proportional to its security. I can produce for you a completely secure system. It will also be completely unusable. A computer, with all its ports filled with epoxy, cabled to nothing, and neither connected to power nor powered in any way. Naturally this is defeating of the purpose. Any system which is useful is inherently vulnerable, and there is only one way to address that essential vulnerability, that is by imposing sufficiently aware, trained, and educated humans as gateways. Had at any time, Chelsea/Bradley Manning been challenged on need to know, the Wikileaks breach that followed would have been limited or prevented. The system had no way to accomplish that, but a first line supervisor could have. Humans are flawed, but, and the endless stream of vulnerability patching on all systems of whatever origin should attest, so are the technologies that they create. There is no perfection to be found here, and we should give up acting as though there were. Emmanuel Kant said, “From the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made,” and technology comes from us.

Consider the, human, attempts to deliberately compromise or exploit security through viruses. When Dr. Fred Cohen coined the word “virus” for malware in his 1986 Ph.D. thesis he may have been far more right than he may have known. Not only does the infection behave in many striking ways like a virus, but proper Cyber Security habits among a workforce and the general population works much like immunization, to include the concept of “herd immunity.” The immunized population defends not only themselves individually, but all those with whom they commune electronically as… well.

To give it a more martial analogy, most everyone has seen the movie 300. Recall the conversation between Ephialtes, who would later betray the Greeks, and the Spartan king, Leonidas, as the king explains in utilitarian terms why the crippled exile cannot fight with them on the battlefield; his physical limitations keep him from properly raising his shield to defend himself, and in being so disabled, cannot, therefore, also defend his fellow warriors. Ephialtes was unable. Most of the users in our formations simply choose not to. A very few may not know better, but that’s extremely unlikely in this day and age with good information a near constant drumbeat. Like the Soldier who falls asleep on guard duty, regardless of the reason, they not only endanger other lives, but will likely be the first to fall in any attack that comes their way. It takes humans, policing humans, to achieve Cyber Security. The failure to correctly prioritize the human over technology is pervasive. It is also far older than the information age. The Army would far rather invest in laser range finders, programmable grenade launchers, and rifles with brochures that assure leadership that qualification rates will improve than in the time to actively train and develop real marksmen, and so, they will rather prioritize training time to the far easier, and far less capable FM radio systems than to train on high-frequency radios that overcome every terrain obstacle. So it’s no wonder that they will gladly spend millions on racks full of blinky lights rather than to educate their formations not to open suspicious email attachments….

We have to decide, will we steer the technology, or will we be steered by it?

On Achieving Near-Universal National Service

The article claims that the goal is to foster universal national service without mandating it. Which is good –any mandated service will have my undying enmity– as far as it goes.

As far as it goes? Well, how does one achieve universal anything, if it’s not a mandate? I’ve got an answer that, I think, is better than any other for getting as close as possible. More on that later though.

General McChrystal seems to think that this could be a solution to the perceived “civil military divide.” I think this divide is pretty overblown. It comes down to the freedom of association and you can’t make free people associate with veterans or service members any more than you can make them serve, unless you remove their freedom. Anyone who wants to associate with a vet or service member, can–there is no access barrier. Any divide that exists is self-imposed. And the same solution to near-universal service is the key.

Speaking of access. That’s another phrase in the general’s article that bothers me. There is no bar to access to national service today. No one is being turned away from the Peace Corps or any other service opportunity. People simply have to want to and then have sufficient motivation to follow through.

General McChrystal also is worried about the lack of trust in government. If you ask me, a lack of trust is a good thing. We should be wary of government. We should understand that every time the individual comes into contact with the government the individual loses some amount of freedom. The thing is, that loss of freedom has to be seen in a value context–is what I gain made up, or exceeded in value, by my choice to make that contact. I chose to give up some of my freedoms in order to serve in the military. I’ve given up more in order to work as a federal employee. I came to the conclusion that what I gained outweighed what I was losing. This is the biggest part of why any service must be voluntary.
And again, the solution will address this as well.

The general also thinks that service will foster bipartisanship. I don’t agree. I also don’t find bipartisanship to be any kind of virtue. Non-partisanship, yes, but, I think bipartisanship is just being squishy.

His last point is the building of “national resilience and patience.” Here I think he’s misidentified the benefit and got the cart before the horse. The resilience and patience are a side effect of the real virtue and what’s more, that virtue must come before there will be any near-universal service.

That virtue was what the founders referred to a “public virtue.” Simply put, public virtue is participation and engagement in public life, in civil society. It is public virtue that is the solution I’ve been referring to.

How do we foster public virtue? We return to the principles of how a republic run and perpetuated as explained by the Baron de Montesquieu. Principally, we must teach our children to love our country and our laws and its form. Our educational system today is destructive of this end than that must be reformed. If not, how will you persuade anyone to give up a portion of their lives and some of their freedom to serve a state that they have been taught is corrupt and racist?

They have to have the love of the republic *first* before they will make the decision to become a part of that something bigger than themselves. Any call to serve without this precondition is doomed to fail.

You only think you’re serious.

A recent Rasmussen poll says that 49% of Americans want to go to war with ISIS.  The thing is that they don’t really.  They don’t really know what they are asking for.The same poll says, for example, that 25% didn’t think the US should take the lead in the fighting.

Then there’s stuff like this in the half-assed efforts we are currently making–go read it and then come back:

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
        –Robert E. Lee
The problem, as I see it, is that war isn’t terrible anymore.  And we have become too fond of it.  We’ve domesticated it and welcomed it into our homes so long as it stays small and only takes a small corner of the living room–usually co-located with the television.  We expect more, though, even from those who adopt shelter dogs.
Before anyone gets the idea that I am anti-war, or that I don’t want to fight ISIS, or any other terrorist outfit for that matter, get over that now.  I’m even comfortable with being called pro-war.  Really though, I am pro-Warrior.
I will gladly go to Syria tomorrow.  But if you want us to fight in this cartoon manner where we will take the chance of letting a terrorist live because we can’t completely identify him as a terrorist, where we take such pains to avoid civilian casualties that we would allow terrorists to live another day, who, not coincidentally, will go on to kill far more civilians than we might, you are out of your mind.  You are not serious when you say you want us to go to war.
War is messy.  People get hurt who should not have got hurt.  There is no way to avoid that.  If you want a small clean war that won’t poop in your shoes, you do not want war.
If you want what I want, though, to have the military turned loose to pursue the bad guys wherever they are, to bring overwhelming force to bear in every encounter, and where we only offer the bare minimum to the enemy more in humanity and consideration then they would show to us, then you want war.
What these 49% really want, though, is a vent for their anger and frustration.  They have come to a decision about war based an emotional response and not a rational consideration.  Every emotional decision is automatically suspect because emotion clouds the perceptions.  And when the consequences include ending the lives of others, you’d better be making a thoughtful choice.
By the way, all wars are wars of choice; that atrocious trope needs to be retired.  There are no accidental Warriors or wars.  Some choices, to wage war or not, simply come with greater and lesser consequences–that’s the true consideration in whether to choose war or not.

I want to go in and win.  I want to inflict orders of magnitude more in pain and suffering on the enemy that he will or can on us.  I want to grind his ability to wage war into the dust in order to break his will to continue to fight.  I believe that fighting this way keeps wars, relatively, short, and that brevity will do more to keep innocents, as well as our own Warriors, from getting hurt, than any amount of pie-in-the-sky Rules of Engagement ever will.

Winning, by the way, also helps ensure that the war ends and stays ended.
There is more honor in savagery, when savagery is needed, than there is in all of our misguided attempts to make wars more civilized.  Get serious.


“Free market” does not mean unregulated

“Free market” does not mean unregulated.

The extent of a free market is in the freedom of the participants to participate in it.  No one who knows what they are talking about uses this term to mean a market free from oversight at some or any level.

A free market is one in which one person offers a good or service for exchange and anyone who wishes to may make that exchange with them.  That’s all there is to it.

There are implications for what proper regulation is in a free market.  A truly free market doesn’t have regulations that exclude or restrict participation in the market, absent a truly compelling public interest.  Restricting the sale of alcohol to minors is one that most persons not between 18 and 21 seem to agree on, for example.

Adam Smith is frequently derided, usually by those who don’t understand it, for his idea of the invisible hand, and then those people chuck out the rest of what he had to say because that one bit didn’t make sense to them.  One of the things he said, though, that is subsequently lost, is that a free market cannot be an unregulated market.  He warned that markets with no controls would tend toward the rise of monopolies, which is a symptom, then, of an unfree market.  What’s more, in a properly functioning free market, neither party is coerced into an exchange–you need enforcement to prevent that–and there can be no fraud involved–again a need for enforcement, and for investigation.

Free markets require regulation.

On not torture…

I think most people have no idea what torture is. Congress is at fault. As Congress has refused to define torture, as a reasonable person I will continue to point out that no one was tortured by the US.

I understand that defining it is a difficult proposition. So a null hypothesis can be used–define what it is not, or more directly, define what proper interrogation is.

As I would define it, proper interrogation would requires proper intent, improper intent, then constituting torture, as well as an analysis of the techniques.

Waterboarding, for example, is not torture in and of itself. If it is used, though in the pursuit of anything but actionable intelligence or it’s confirmation, it could be. It is certainly torture, though, if the intent is to cause pain or discomfort for any other purpose–that’s sadism.

Also, any such technique that is used in the usual Hollywood scenario: I’m going to hurt you until you talk, is torture, and that’s not how interrogations are done. Done right, proper coercive techniques speed up the time it takes for an interrogator to establish a rapport with the subject in a good cop/bad cop routine.

Fully articulated, proper intent, as I see it, requires reason to think that the subject is in possession of the information, reason to think that there is a set of circumstances under which they will divulge it, and that the information be itself actionable or confirmation of other intelligence that lacks that confirmation to be actionable. If any of these elements fail, the interrogator does not have proper intent and their actions may then rise to the level of torture. Those actions also have to be scrutinized before and during, by those authorities conducting the interrogations, and escalating intensity should require higher and higher prior approval. After the fact, all levels of oversight from immediate supervisors, IG, and ultimately Congress, even if that last is the usual lost cause.

Congress did ratify the UN Convention on Torture in 1994. But that’s also no help. It does not meaningfully define torture. The UN is just as negligent in this matter as the Congress.

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or
mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as
obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession,
punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is
suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a
third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind,
when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or
with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person
acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering
arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
— Convention Against Torture, Article 1.1

Just as a starting point, what constitutes “severe”? More broadly, this could be applied in such a way as to prevent all interrogation.

A number of pundits, some who have said so all along, and some emboldened by the recent Senate Democrat report, have been making the assertion that the US tortured detainees. But the fact is, this assertion is completely unsupportable.

Judge Andrew Napolitano, for example, has been steadfast in this assertion. In response to the why both the Bush and Obama administrations have not pursued prosecutions, he claims that this is a political determination. He’s probably not used to the accusation I’m going to level against him, but he has failed to think this all the way through.

Indeed, he is right that both administrations have made political determinations as opposed to legal ones, but he doesn’t address why that should be the case. The reason is that Congress, in writing the legislation that might have applied, crafted the law, deliberately, to leave it a political determination.

The laws of the United States that “outlaw” torture, in fact, do no such thing, because, as discussed, they fail, utterly, to define what constitutes torture. Unconstitutionally vague is an understatement. Prosecution should be impossible in this circumstance and if achieved, would be unjust. The Bush and Obama administrations have made the only just determination that they can–not to try to prosecute. And that presumes, without evidence, that anyone did anything worthy of prosecution.

The US has tortured no one.

(Here is the US Code attempt at a definition:

FOXNEWS: West Point report describes Islamic State threat as crisis 4 years in the making

A new report from the West Point counterterrorism center challenges the notion that the Islamic State only recently became a major terror threat, describing the network’s gains in Iraq as a crisis four years in the making.

Meanwhile, Fox News has learned that top aides to President Obama expect the threat from the organization, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to outlast Obama’s time in office.

The details underscore the challenge facing the U.S. government and its allies as the president and military advisers weigh how — and where — to confront the Islamist militant forces.

“ISIL did not suddenly become effective in early June 2014: it had been steadily strengthening and actively shaping the future operating environment for four years,” the report from the West Point center said.

Sure, 4 years in the making, but the choice, if anyone was thinking about it to make a choice, I think was just which four years.

I’m not sure it wasn’t inevitable, no matter who was President; just a matter of sooner or later. The only solution is to raise our game to a level of ruthlessness that our modern sensibilities will not countenance. We don’t have to go full Mongol and kill them all. We don’t even have to go biblical and kill all the men and take the women and children as our own. But we do have to decide that Total War can be an imperative, that we must engage in it.

As for our sensibilities, the—well “reasons” gives too much credit for thinking it through, but I don’t know a better word—the reasons that we lack the mettle to be ruthless is our cultural sensitivity.  If there is a population out there that is so near the edge, that they can be radicalized by how we fight the war, then by all means, push them past that edge and let them die on our pikes as they charge. Let them become enraged by our actions. Enraged opponents may be fierce, but emotional people make mistakes that we should be happy to seek out and exploit.

And we have to remain unemotional doing it.  We can neither afford to love it or hate it and warriors that find themselves doing either must be sidelined.  We have to be cold and dispassionate about the business even while being energetic and passionate in executing it.

We have to shake off the traditional American lack of fervor in the fourth phase of warfare, which is pursuit.  We must pursue—hunt them down and kill them where we find them with whatever means we have available for doing it.

A Tale of Two Wrong Presidents

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by American Exceptionalism.  The concept as alluded to by both our President and by the president of Russia recently are both incorrect, the former a confusion of cause and effect, and the latter a result of Marxist infighting of the 40’s and 50’s.

President Obama referred to the exceptionalism of the US in that only the US can project the kind of military force at Syria that the situation may require.  That ability, though, is the result of US exceptionalism, the product over time of a nation that is unique in its offerings of liberty, opportunity, and diversity that have lead then to prosperity and innovation that have developed, among other things, military might and the capacity to project it.  I’d also add that it is my opinion that President Obama only included such reference in an attempt to borrow opposing vernacular in an attempt to persuade those who really believe in American Exceptionalism, as well as properly understand it, to support his plans.  I believe that he doesn’t believe in it, in part because he doesn’t understand it.

President Putin, on the other hand offers the more usual warning of the dangers of a belief in exceptionalsim, a warning that we have heard at least alluded to by President Obama when he is not trying to pander to US conservatives.  This warning is based on a false understanding of American Exceptionalism, borne of a schism between post WWII international Communists, non-US, and especially Russian, Communists, criticized US Communists as still holding to an idea that the US was exceptional in the world.  Criticism predicated on the mistaken notion that that exception is born of superiority.

This isn’t unique to those Soviet critics.  It’s an effective tactic to demean to point out how someone thinks that they are superior.  It’s a staple of 50’s and 60’s US comedy to portray Russian characters as holding to a similar notion—if asked, all great innovations came from Russia and all other ideas are western propaganda.  Even Mr. Chechov on the original Star Trek was portrayed this way.  True American Exceptionalism, however, has nothing to do with innovations, inventions, or even prosperity.  It’s also not patriotism, or pride in one’s home or origin, though it can enhance those feelings.  Real American Exceptionalism can be summed up in Lincoln’s word from the Gettysburg Address, “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  However imperfectly we’ve implemented that conception and proposition, these are still the basis of our republic; liberty—freedom to pursue one’s own course and without onerous restrictions—and equality before the law, and that unique founding has resulted in further unique wealth, power, and influence.  But it takes someone who understands this to wield it properly.  Both presidents have disqualified themselves from this.