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Archive for October, 2011

Comments On Last Week’s Note: COIN, SOF, CT, Targeting, HVT’s and UAV’s: A Strategy Change?

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Quite a number of you had reactions to and comments on last week’s note.  The range included these examples”

1) We haven’t been doing COIN, or at least real COIN, with the exception of some ODAs and maybe some of the training teams who are collocated with their host nation counterparts.  To do real COIN one has to live with and among the population, which we don’t do.  We roll on and off secure bases into insecure local areas.
2) People forget that FM 3-24 lays out three types of COIN
a) very heavy foot print, emphasis on counter-guerilla operations, mostly kinetic clear and hold b) moderate foot print, emphasis on clearing as quickly as possible, then holding and building in the hopes of transitioning (what we’ve been doing)
c) very light foot print with over the horizon targeted kinetic clearing, which is basically CT
3) We’re actually not facing an insurgency in Afghanistan.  What we’re facing, and have been facing, is a proxy war with Pakistan where we’re fighting irregular, non-uniformed guerrillas that are supported by Pakistan – most notably the ISI.  Given that this is the real reality of what we have been facing, then COIN is altogether the wrong strategy.  The proper ones are either heavily kinetic counter-guerilla operations, over the horizon highly targeted CT, or disengagement.


[This] would seem to indicate that we can’t and shouldn’t follow a COIN strategy in Afghanistan as that is not the optimum approach as we’re not fighting an insurgency, we’re fighting a cross-border war against irregular guerrilla forces backed by Pakistani military intelligence, other military elements, and the Pakistani government as part of their regional dispute with India.  This would seem to indicate that we should be embracing a two pronged kinetic strategy if we’re going to stay involved: 1) heavy counter guerilla operations combined with 2) strikes intended to limit and degrade Pakistani capabilities – specifically intelligence and support.  This should be married up with an overt use of informational and economic power to isolate, hinder, and harry Pakistan’s ability to operate or support anyone else’s operations.  Or we can disengage and come home.  Either way its no wonder we’re in a mess, we can’t even clearly identify the type of conflict we’re in and what the threat really is!”

Don Kerrick provided this comment:

“We have been at this for some ten years.  Al Qaeda is weakened but not strategically defeated. We need to understand Al Qaeda’s strategy is evolving and develop a new US counter-strategy.  They may be injured and degraded but their ideology will continue to attract people to their cause.

The critical question is how should the US respond to a wounded Al Qaeda whose strategy may have evolved from what we encountered entering Afghanistan ten years ago.  Killing those who would kill us should be part of a strategy but we must understand the long term consequences of expanding drone attacks across multiple Islamic countries.  We need a way to defeat them in the minds of the World of Islam as well as on the battlefield.”

And, from one of the Army’s sharp thinkers, this note:

” Maybe instead of a ‘coined’ approach, we’re unwittingly developing an amalgamation best described as a ‘what works best’ approach.  Which, by the way, isn’t going to be the same everywhere/every time.  It will also drive oversight and appropriations folks nuts.”

Last week’s entire note is available on the Roundtable, at

Please share your thoughts and comments with our readers, by commenting on the Roundtable, at, or by sending me a note at



COIN, SOF, CT, Targeting, HVT’s and UAV’s: A Strategy Change?

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Does it seem to you that there is a shift in our foreign policy-military-terrorism strategy from primarily a COIN approach to more of a mix of COIN, SOF, CT, targeting, HVT’s and UAV’s as the pro-active plan to disrupt, deny and “be-head” the terrorists?  Or is it just that there have recently been several top terrorists taken off the field, and many lesser bad guys have been neutralized in this way for months?

The discussion of a possible change in mix of strategies and priorities brings with it several thoughts and additional approaches I’d like to get your thoughts on this week.  In this note we quote AP reporter Kimberly Dozier and General Stan McChrystal (Ret.), among others.

*Reporter Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press, writing October 14th in the StarTribune, in her article “CIA Gives Military Greater Say In Debate, Analysis of Afghan War”, comments:

“the information gave ammunition to those who supported Vice President Joe Biden’s special operations-centered counterterrorism strategy over Petraeus’ backing of traditional counterinsurgency.”

Alex Calvo, in his August 9th article in the Small Wars Journal titled “London Riots: Decentralized Intelligence Collection and Analysis”, comments:

“one of the developments arising from the current riots in the United Kingdom, where a website has been set up so that the public can identify those involved and report them to the Police. The use of modern technology to identify insurgents could be a response to the lack of working censuses in many areas where stability operations are conducted, seen by some observers as a major weakness.

“the birth of a website devoted to the collection of pictures of the incidents with a view to the identification by the population of those responsible and their reporting to the Police is clear evidence that these same technologies can be employed to deter violent crime. Websites like the one discussed above can plug a gap in the capabilities of security forces, using a decentralized approach to collect and process intelligence, turning the mere collection of thousands of pictures we all have seen in the media over the last few days into useful, actionable, intelligence leading to the arrest of those who thought they could maim, steal, and burn, with impunity.

The entire Calvo article follows:

“Identifying Occasional Criminal Insurgents

The purpose of this paper is to comment on one of the developments arising from the current riots in the United Kingdom, where a website has been set up so that the public can identify those involved and report them to the Police. The use of modern technology to identify insurgents could be a response to the lack of working censuses in many areas where stability operations are conducted, seen by some observers as a major weakness.
The central idea is to tell friend from foe, or in classical Maoist terminology, fish from the water, using some of the widely available tools which, on the other hand, seem to be used to spread the violence in the UK.

The use of a website to spread pictures of violent incidents and have the perpetrators identified by the population would be a way to plug a gap in police capabilities, since the British authorities are unlikely to have the necessary manpower and knowledge to do so on their own.

This is why we can talk of ‘decentralized intelligence collection and analysis.’

Looking Beyond the Protection of the Population

The current riots in London and other cities in the United Kingdom have led to widespread calls for a wider police presence in the affected areas, and the social media have reflected some of these complaints, featuring stories about flashpoints where the population was left unprotected in the face of what could be described as a combination of urban guerrillas and occasional criminal insurgents.

With the riots still raging, it is obviously too early to draw any in-depth conclusions in terms of policing, and, furthermore, the complex nature of the incidents would make it inappropriate to concentrate on any single factor. It is obvious that the Police cannot be everywhere, and, furthermore, their duty to protect the population is a key organizational weakness of government forces6 in the face of insurgents of any sort.
This forces us to look beyond the protection of the population as a goal, and ask ourselves how to identify those responsible for the violence so that they can be arrested8 and, ideally, those who may join them in the future deterred.

The Challenge of Identifying Urban Guerrillas and Occasional Criminal Insurgents

In past post-conflict stability operations some observers have pointed out at the lack of a population census as a major weakness in attempting to identify the enemy, hidden among the population9. It is one of the capability gaps behind the calls for the deployment of military units with police training and skills.

This is however where we can notice a key difference between London and other British cities currently under siege and the battlefields where our troops have been fighting in the last decade, since the former’s population is already recorded on a number of databases.

We must however be careful before we jump to the conclusion that, given the ample available footage and pictures of the criminals, their identification will be a simple task, to be undertaken at leisure once order has been restored. For the time being, the software tools which may in the future allow the automated matching of pictures to identities are still not available, and the resulting volume of man-hours necessary to accomplish the task is probably beyond the capabilities of the London’s Metropolitan Police Force and other British police forces and security agencies.

To make matters worse, even if such a feat could technically be accomplished, it is not clear whether the resulting intelligence would translate into legally admissible evidence, something that the rioters, or at least some of them, seem to be aware of, judging from the text of a pamphlet found in one of the scenes of devastation in Great Britain’s capital, which among other pearls of wisdom reads ‘Don’t assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. “That isn’t me” has got many a person off before now.’

A Decentralized Approach to Occasional Criminal Insurgent Identification

It is this problem, the inability of the Police to identify all the participants in the violence and mayhem, that seems to have prompted an interesting grassroots initiative, namely a website where the public can post pictures and look at them in order to identify the participants in the violence and call the authorities. Under the name ‘Catch a Looter,’ the website aims at ‘Collating all images of looters from the London riots.’ and invites readers to ‘contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111′ if they ‘ recognise anyone’
The owner of the website is careful to make it clear that ‘This site does not support vigilante action; merely using social media to collate all images in one place,’ and, furthermore, warns that it is ‘Worth mentioning that some of these photos *may* be innocent bystanders who happen to have [been] shopping. It’s not up to me to decide if they have committed a crime; I’m just helping to collate and perhaps provide a central place for these pics’

These statements make it clear that there is no question of replacing the security forces, but rather of aiding them in a task for which they do not have the necessary manpower and expert knowledge: the identification of criminals involved in the rioting and looting.

Unless this or similar efforts succeed, the proportion of rioters arrested will remain low, since the hundreds taken into Police custody to date are but a small fraction of the criminals involved. This will mean, as has been the case in similar instances in the UK and other countries, that crime will pay, given the low likelihood of being arrested and punished.


A Look at the Use of Modern Technology by Criminals and Security Forces

We can conclude by briefly referring to the widespread reports that the occasional criminal insurgents have made extensive use of modern technology to coordinate their actions. Reporting on this, Radio Free Europe stressed the role of ‘Blackberry’s instant message service (BBM) in the riots,’ which, as first pointed out by Blogger Jonathan Akwue, ‘is an instant messenger system that has become popular for three main reasons: it’s fast (naturally), it’s virtually free, and unlike Twitter or Facebook, it’s private.’ This privacy, together with ‘the ability to broadcast messages, which then go to all your contacts, and can quickly go viral,’ seems to be among the reasons for its popularity.

This is yet another reminder that technology in itself is often neutral, potentially aiding both criminals and insurgents on the one hand, and government forces on the other.
In addition to the possibility of fellow rioters gathering to strike at targets, another risk posed by modern communication technology may be disinformation. Reports of false incidents on social networks may have confused first responders and aggravated the lack of boots on the ground.

However, despite all these instances of usage by occasional criminal insurgents and their moral sponsors of modern communication equipment and technologies, the birth of a website devoted to the collection of pictures of the incidents with a view to the identification by the population of those responsible and their reporting to the Police is clear evidence that these same technologies can be employed to deter violent crime. Websites like the one discussed above can plug a gap in the capabilities of security forces, using a decentralized approach to collect and process intelligence, turning the mere collection of thousands of pictures we all have seen in the media over the last few days into useful, actionable, intelligence leading to the arrest of those who thought they could maim, steal, and burn, with impunity.
In a way, this would be a replication of the variable-geometry networks currently destroying Britain’s main cities. Just like all sorts of criminals have joined forces to concentrate, gaining local superiority at their chosen schwerpunkts, mainstream society, the population that the security forces must protect, would also join together, to repel them, providing the authorities with that most valuable of commodities in any struggle of this kind: intelligence. Just like the criminal insurgency networks at large often don’t have overarching leaders, this would also be a horizontally coordinated, not vertically led, effort.

Finally, once these possibilities have been fully explored in largely stable and industrialized societies, it may be possible to adopt some of the lessons to the kind of scenarios where, as rightly pointed out by a number of observers, the inability to identify insurgents due to the lack of a census has hampered stabilization and reconstruction operations in the past.


When faced with widespread urban violence, which we can refer to using terms such as urban guerrilla or occasional criminal insurgency, security forces do not have the capacity to process the graphical information collected in order to identify and arrest the culprits. Since it is practically impossible to arrest them all on the spot, this means that unless an alternative way is found, deterrence will not work, because the chances of being caught will be statistically negligible, thus encouraging participation in future events of the same nature.
The security forces do not only lack the capacity to process all the information collected in the form of video footage and photographs, they are also unable to protect all the population and infrastructure, and trying to do so may only result in being spread even thinner.
Therefore, only deterrence can diminish the likelihood and gravity of future riots, and as a result a way must be found to turn the large amounts of information on the identity of the culprits into actionable intelligence leading to their arrest. The existence of different government databases where the whole population is recorded means that part of the job is already done in advance, a welcome chance from many scenarios of recent counterinsurgency campaigns, but the key linkage of faces to names remains. It is here that the population at large can bridge the gap in police capabilities, by using the Internet.

Although the setting may seem very different, the key question in London and the rest of Britain right now is the same as in almost every insurgency: getting the population to provide intelligence to the government forces, so that they can isolate the insurgents, whatever their exact nature and motivations. Otherwise, hidden among the civilians, they will just wait for another opportunity to strike.”


Alex Calvo is a global economics and international relations professor at European University (Barcelona Campus), and a former teaching and research fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). He is a law graduate from the School of Oriental andAfrican Studies (London University).

The Council on Foreign Relations hosted an HBO History Makers Series Discussion with Stan McChrystal on October 6th, with Tom Brokaw presiding.

In response to a question from the audience, “It’s been publicly reported that Special Operations killed and captured about 12,000 Taliban in the 12 months leading up to the beginning of this year.  If that’s correct, which I am sure it is, we now have a new element in COIN doctrine, both Special Ops and drones.”

McChrystal’s reply included these comments:

“You know, there’s a dichotomy that’s drawn sometimes between COIN and counterterrorist operations.  And I think it’s absolutely a false one, at least it’s false in the way people do it.  If I say counterterrorist operations to most people, they think that’s direct action.  That’s either a kinetic strike or a raid by a force.  And if we talk about counterinsurgency, we tend to think of hearts and minds.  In fact, direct action is part of counterinsurgency, just as reducing the causes is part of counterterrorism.  So I’ll talk about direct action as opposed to CT.

We have — we’ve developed an ability over the last decade to do extraordinarily precise operations, both using kinetic strikes from air strikes, or even missiles in some cases and whatnot.  And, most importantly, we’ve developed an ability to do targeting — intelligence gathering and targeting much better.  Part of that is from full-motion video from aerial platforms.  Part of that is signals intelligence.  Part of that is human intelligence.  And that’s gotten better.

And through some processes where we fuse the intelligence better than we have in the past, still not perfectly, we have gotten to a tactical and even operational level of war, ability to do that at such a speed that it’s unprecedented.  We could do it multiple times.  We could hit a target early in an evening, and from what was captured on that target, either individuals or material, we could develop and hit another target, and sometimes three in the same night from that, and capture three people.  And, of course, the key to that is as fast as you can operate, faster than the enemy force can respond, and the other part is precision.

And the other part I’d make on precision is the reason it’s so important is because, one, you need to get who you’re going after or your credibility drops.”

See the complete McChrystal interview at

We’d like to hear your perspectives and ideas about the shift in strategy to less occupation and more special ops, counterterrorism, targeting, high value targets, and the use of uav’s.  Do you tie the intelligence acquired only from living in the AO to effective targeting, or can it be done as well without the cost in lives and assets that are involved in occupation?   You can comment on the Roundtable at, or send me a note at  We’ll share your thoughts with our 5,000 readers.



The Iranian Restaurant Caper A Week Later: Hhhhhhmmmmmm…….

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The first reports and face value phenomena……..good grist for perspectives and discussion a week later.  I wonder what each of you think about the alleged Iranian government-sponsored plan to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US at a restaurant in Georgetown, now that you’ve heard more of the details.

What do you think today about the situation?  How has that changed over the past week?  Why?

What will the U.S. do?

What do you think the world community will do?

What will the UN do?

What will the Chinese, Russians and the North Koreans do?

How high in ISAF would you have to go to get a $200,000 payment toward a $1.5million project?

Here are some of the comments you made last Monday in response to our note (Last week’s note can be found on the Roundtable, at

“Great points and exactly the first thing that jumped in my mind…politics.  We have an economy about to collapse and a presidential election looming.  We need distractions.  Further, the President was briefed on this back in June.  I believe they held off on any action to first secure the release of the two remaining ‘hikers’ imprisoned in Iran.”

Jonathan Owen

“I always find it useful to apply the “screw loose” framework in thinking about activities in that part of the world.  (As in, they often proceed in ways that do not conform to US logic — hence the “screw loose” — and at times seem to operate in a parallel universe.)

I can make the case that, historically, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have all acted to insure that none of the others becomes ascendant in the Persian Gulf.  So, historically, the Iranians and the Saudis have circled each other warily.  Second, the Iranian government still sees itself as the center of revolutionary Islam and probably sees the Saudis as bastions of conservatism.  And then there is that Shia-Sunni thing….
So, they don’t much like each other — by why such a plot, why in the US, and why now?
Historically, “wet work” (to use the KGB’s phase for this type of activity) is carried out, often but not always with assistance from intermediaries, in the place where the target is found.  Look at the cases that the Post cited this morning — KGB in the US, Chile in the US, Bulgarians (as KGB proxies) in London.  Each involved taking the action where the target was.  The Mexican drug cartel member may have just been a convenient proxy for an action in the US.
But “wet work” typically occurs when a regime is really frustrated with the target (think King Henry and Thomas Becket, as in “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest”.)  What had the envoy or the Saudi government done to merit this step?  Not a clue.  He’s a symbol of the Saudi Government who interacts regularly with the US.  That hits all of the symbols, but does not tell me what the symbol (or Saudi Arabia) has done to merit “wet work” right now.
Why Washington?  Well, that’s where this particular symbol of the Saudi Government is found — closely associating with the US’s agents.  So strike here because the target is here, because it pulls on the US’s cape, and because it shows that the act can be done almost anywhere if it can be done in the US capital city (thus striking fear, which is one of the things that terrorism is all about).
But why now?  I simply do not see the forcing event or sequence that would lead to action now.
So, let’s look at the alternative hypothesis that you present: this is an act by a faction in the Iranian Government to achieve something that would change Iranian Government policies or perhaps destabilize the regime.  I doubt that there are opposition factions in Iran who could (a) find other dissidents who would be similarly disposed, (b) make contacts with people in the US who could execute the plot (the American citizen and the Mexican drug cartels), and (c) have the funds, expertise and information to make such an undertaking work.  So, never say never, but I would not expect that this is the work of some dissident faction inside the Iranian Government.
Now to another of your questions: if the assassination occurred in Washington, what would the US do?  Probably nothing beyond waving its arms, taking meaningless steps to tighten security on embassy row, issue demarches, and generally engage in symbolic politics.  (Remember: it took major, major policy discussion in the Clinton Administration to get the President and others to see that there had to be a significant response to the Iraqi plot to assassinate George H. W. Bush when he was visiting Kuwait.  I just don’t see the killing of a foreign diplomat rising to that level.  We’d probably share any information that we had or obtained with the Saudis and not do more than that.)

Would a faction in the Iranian Government expect the US to react in such a way that would alter Iranian policy or help destabilize the regime?  Again, never say never, but this would be a curious read of the US track record on terrorist acts of a magnitude less than 9/11.  Then, again, to end as I begun, do not assume much about those with a screw loose who may also inhabit a parallel universe.”

Leo Hazelwood

“These things all start to stink the minute the details come out.  This isn’t how the Quds Force operates, this isn’t how the Iranians operate, none of it makes a bit of sense.”


“Come now, John. It is about seeing just how far they can push us. Iran is just the test front for Russia and also seeing how far they can push their power to bring others in the region closer to the caliphate.

Even Iraq leadership is now completely openly in full partnership with Iran.   We are weak and they all know it.”


“The MEK.”

[Context: The Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, “is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, according the the Council on Foreign Relations’ report of April 18, 2008…….”The MEK currently seeks to overthrow the Iranian theocracy and install a democratic government that is headed, at least initially, by MEK leader Maryam Rajavi……The US State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist organization for its associations with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime……The group has targeted Iranian government officials and government facilities in Iran and abroad, and diring the 1970’s, it attacked Americans in Iran.  While the group says it does not intentionally target civilians, it has often risked civilian casualities.  It routinely aims its attacks at government buildings in crowded cities…….Despite MEK’s violent tactics, the group’s strong stance against Iran and pro-democratic image have won it support among some US and European lawmakers…..and there has been an ongoing, vigorous campaign by its supporters in the US Congress to have it removed from the terrorist list.]


“Those Keystone Iranians”

“When White House officials first heard an informant’s report last spring of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, they found it implausible. They asked the same question we all have been puzzling over since the indictment Tuesday of the alleged plotters:

If the Iranians planned such a sensitive operation, why would they delegate the job to Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian American former used-car dealer, and a hit team drawn from a Mexican drug cartel? To say it sounded like a spy novel is unfair to the genre. The wacky plot was closer to that of an Elmore Leonard “caper” novel, along the lines of “Get Shorty.”

But over months, officials at the White House and the Justice Department became convinced the plan was real. One big reason is that the CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corroborating the informant’s juicy allegations — and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert-action arm of the Iranian government.

It was this intelligence collected in Iran — not tips from someone inside the Mexican drug mafia — that led the Treasury Department to impose sanctions Tuesday on four senior members of the Quds Force who allegedly were “connected” to a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador. The alleged conspirators included Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, and three deputies who allegedly “coordinated” the scheme.

Let’s make two assumptions: The first is that the allegations made by the prosecutors about Arbabsiar are true. This seems likely, given that he’s a cooperating witness. The second is that Quds Force operatives were willing to talk with Arbabsiar about a covert operation in the United States. That, again, seems pretty clear from the transcript of the Oct. 4 telephone call Arbabsiar made to his main Quds Force contact, Gholam Shakuri, under prosecutors’ direction.

The puzzle is why the Iranians would undertake such a risky operation, and with such embarrassingly poor tradecraft. Soleimani and his group are some of the savviest clandestine operators in the world. In past columns, I’ve likened him to “Karla,” the diabolically clever Russian spymaster in John le Carre’s novels. Why would the Iranian Karla turn to such a bunch of screwballs?

Here’s the answer offered by senior U.S. officials: The Iranians are stressed, at home and abroad, in ways that are leading them to engage in riskier behavior.

Officials say Quds Force operations have been more aggressive in several theaters: in Syria, where the Iranian operatives are working covertly to help protect the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad; in Iraq, where the Quds Force this year stepped up attacks against departing U.S. forces; in Afghanistan, where they have been arming the Taliban; in Azerbaijan, where they have been more aggressive in projecting Iranian influence; and in Bahrain, where their operatives worked to support and manipulate last spring’s uprising against the Khalifa government. (Shakuri, who was indicted Tuesday, is said to have helped plan Quds Force operations in Bahrain.)

But why the use of Mexican drug cartels? U.S. officials say that isn’t as implausible as it sounds. The Iranians don’t have the infrastructure to operate smoothly in the United States. They would want to use proxies, and ones that would give them “deniability.”

“They’re very willing to use all kinds of proxies to achieve specific clandestine foreign-policy goals,” says a senior U.S. official who has been briefed on intelligence reports.

It would mark a significant escalation for Iran to conduct terror operations inside the United States. But such attacks would come against the background of a secret war in the shadows that began in 1983, when the predecessor to the Quds Force recruited Lebanese Shiite bombers to destroy the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, killing more than 300. The organization was then known internally (by the few who knew of it) simply as “Birun Marzi,” or “outside borders.” Then it took the cover name “Department 9000,” and later, in deference to the Arabic name for Jerusalem, Quds Force.

A final factor in this unlikely plot is the political turmoil in Tehran. The Quds Force is seen by analysts as the executive-action arm of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who is in a bitter battle with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During this feud, the Iranian ministries of foreign affairs and intelligence have increasingly been hobbled, leaving the field to the Quds Force. It’s a chaotic situation tailor-made for risk-takers, score-settlers and freelancers”

What do you think will be the story in the end?

How high in the Iranian government do you think this plot goes?

How high in the Quds Force do you think this plot goes?

Is $1.5million a lot of money in a situation like this?

What are the key facts we don’t have that you believe we can and need to establish?

Let us know what you think, and we’ll share your perspectives and ideas with our readers.  You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at



The Restaurant Plot: I Can’t Imagine Why They Would Do That!!!!

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Organizations identified with the Iranian government are suggested to be behind a plot to kill the Saudi envoy to the US at a restaurant in Washington, DC.  And next in line are supposed to be the Saudi and the Israeli embassies, also here in DC.  And a supposed Mexican drug cartel member is accused of being the proposed bomber.

I can’t imagine why they would do that!?!?!??

And maybe that’s the point to the story.  Because we can’t imagine something like this happening, it doesn’t even cross the minds of our intelligence and law enforcement experts, and it succeeds for that reason alone…….even though we have enough of the data points to see “the story” before it happens.  But, it was compromised in the early stages, so our national security community “worked.”
If you spend a bit of time thinking about what might be the motivations for each of the parties allegedly involved, it just gets more and more complicated.

Killing a diplomat is a very dicey deal.  It violates all sorts of international norms, and could bring the wrath of the world down on the government of Iran.  But, if the Iranian government’s leaders didn’t even know about the plot, would we have a situation where they would truthfully deny any knowledge of or involvement in the plot, but the world would not believe them?

Are there elements in Iran that would benefit from their government being blamed for the plot?  Are there elements outside Iran that would benefit from Iran being blamed?

Iran seems intent on destabilizing the Middle East, and this plot certainly fits into that sort of a plan.  But they could target Saudi or Israeli interests much more easily if they didn’t involve the US.  Couldn’t they?

I am not an expert or a political scientist, but Iran seems to have been pretty good at provoking, without crossing a line to acts of war that required disproportionate responses. Why would they cross the line and kill their enemies’ diplomats, and compound the situation by doing so in a crowded restaurant in the US?

What would the US government propose as a proportionate response?  Would the US population see it the same way, or as a disproportionate reaction?   What is the US’s motivation in a situation like this?
Could this be the work of a few unbalanced, truly crazy, people who have no comprehension of the damage they would do?

It’s interesting that, as Saudi-US relations are cooling, a plot like this gains the US the gratitude of the ruling family.  What should we make of that?

Introducing a Mexican drug cartel member into the plot raises more questions for me than it answers.  Wouldn’t the plotters want to control every step of the process, so they are sure it will succeed……and to minimize the risk of just the kind of revelation that occurred?

What would be the US’s response?  Well, our government said we would hold Iran responsible, but it now looks more like we are going to hold five individuals responsible. How do you think the US populations will react to this?  “It was not in my neighborhood and it did not affect me.” is the reaction we have frequently seen from most Americans to these kinds of situations in the past……this could be viewed as an individual from another country targeted by others from still another country, the killing happened to happen in the US, and it didn’t affect “me.”

Most of us want these kinds of things to go away, we are tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we want to get on with our lives…….find us jobs, that’s much more important than some Middle Eastern feud that involved one killing in DC.

As our economy continues to be drained to buy foreign energy sources, to fight foreign wars, to rescue foreign economies, most of us are too busy trying to protect our little piece of the world to understand all the very complex interdependencies that prevent the US from extricating ourselves from the global economy’s problems.  Knowing that, maybe the plot was designed to intimidate a number of countries…..Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US.

Is this suspected plot a terrorist act or a political act?  If it’s perceived as a political act that, however unfortunate for the others killed in a restaurant bombing, happened on our soil, my guess is that the US population will have no tolerance for what we perceive as disproportionate responses by our government…….tighter security, increased costs for foreign oil, shortages, interfering with our ability to take the family out for a nice dinner.  After all, that happened in DC…….

Is there any symbolism or significance to the announcement of the plot taking place on the 11th of the month?

Is there any significance to the fact that the underwear bomber’s trial started today in Detroit?

I’m sure all of you have many more thoughtful observations and questions about incidents of this type.  We’d love to have you share them with our readers.  You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at, and I’ll share them.



MAJ GEN Bob Scales’s Article: “Small Unit Dominance: The Strategic Importance of Tactical Reform”: Comments We Received

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

We got lots of comments on last week’s note, our interpretation of Bob Scales’s article.  The article and our commentary can be found on the Roundtable, at
“Specifically,  ‘gathering information, thinking about and understanding the situation, and independent decision-making will be keys to “success” ‘

“I would add (naturally) that there is greatness in doing what is above and this gets the young team well down the road.  But that it needs to go further into the, predictive, or ‘So what does this mean?’, ‘Where does this lead us?’, stages.”

“I regularly challenge young intel analyst to go past the as I call it, CNN reporter, stage.  This is not why an intel person is paid.  Take what a reporter would do and then think and predict the ‘So what?’, and ‘What’s next?’ levels.”

“This needs to become so ingrained in an intel person’s mind, as they read the nightly newspaper, each article ends with a mental note of…’Ok so what does this mean in the broader context?’, ‘What will this lead to?’ and ‘What might we do about it?.’ ”

I have had no shortage of crisis events to quiz young folks about.  Libya, Egypt, statehood for the Palestinians, any topic you can ask them, ‘where will this be in 6 months?’, and you can hear the brain muscles pick up a heavy load, and you hear the synapse connections  firing.  Keep asking this question and they improve their answer, do this for a lifetime and one gets surprised much less…in peace and war (and frankly at home as well).”

Jerry Proctor, SES, Deputy Commander, Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, Ft. Huachuca

“I think you have fundamentally misinterpreted GEN Scales article.  He never argues for more decentralization.  What he argues for is paying attention to the needs of the small unit in equal measure to needs of more senior echelons.  At one of the first full spectrum CTC rotations it became apparent that the “every company a independent actor” mentality was singularly unhelpful in large brigade operations.

The ability to transition up and down the level of centralization/decentralization based on the requirements of the operation is a much needed skill for brigade commanders.  Sometimes it’s good enough for a company commander to simply know his unit must be at a certain place at a certain time and conduct a mission that is a small part of a larger operation.  Other times much more latitude in what and how is appropriate.  Deciding when each circumstance is in play is part of the art of command.

It is a hard problem to determine how much a Captain should be allowed to be a “free spirit” and how much direction should be applied to get the desired tactical results.  LTCs and COL’s experience(s) must be balanced against the Captains on site knowledge of the situation.”


“You hit the nail on the head…..’working as a team to construct the most comprehensive and thoughtful picture of the situation in their locality, critical thinking that leads to specific efforts to enhance understanding and uncover unknowns, and big-picture contextual understanding of how to gather the information that’s necessary to know “the story” of their circumstances.’…..Where we taken this further [is by] conducting a comprehensive study of the non-insurgent, non-IED influences in each of the regions of Afghanistan.  Drawing on the insights of diplomats……we built a layered persistent view so as to snare and hold all reporting shedding light on the big and full picture of these operating environments—–from economic, to agriculture, to corruption, to governance, etc… has captured others across the community, to include those seeking to implement ‘human geo/terrain’ concepts……it is a great coupling of technology with an ‘all source understanding’ of the critical factors, and then with all the ‘all source’ reporting we can get our hands on……it is having a positive effect for how it is giving military tactical forces a reason to report—-knowing it will be captured for them and ALL to use.”

David Radi

The Boeing Company


 “Drone Kills Top Al Qaeda Figure” Anwar Al-Awlaki

“The strike represented the first test of a covert Centraql Intelligence Agency drone program in Yemen, and effort that works closely with military Special Operations forces, officials said, blurring the lines between military and intelligence operations.”
The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, October 1, 2011. Pages A1 and A8.

My question: Less COIN, more CT, SOF, HVT?

Share your thoughts with our almost 5,000 readers, by posting a comment on the Roundtable, at, or sending me a note at



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