Monday, June 17, 2013

The Arctic Is Open For Business

Adm. Gary Roughead (USN Ret.) spoke at WAC NorCal about the opening of the Arctic Ocean to exploration and commercialization.  You don't have to believe in anthropogenic global warming to know that new sealanes open up some pretty hard-to-reach areas (sort of like that corner of your bathroom, only colder).  My synopsis of his talk will include my usual pithy observations.

Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the Arctic's only deepwater port.  That gives the US a huge strategic advantage.  It is separated from the mainland of North America by water, so its strategic value does not lie in any land connections to transportation infrastructure that can facilitate trade.  It is probably the best location right now for stationing emergency crews that will be on call in the event any trans-Arctic ships issue distress calls.  Communication is very difficult above 74 degrees north latitude, so ships and drill platforms will have to be hardened to withstand Arctic conditions.  The city of Unalaska's development plan for the port runs through 2019 but doesn't include any expansion plans to accommodate oil exploration ships or rigs.  Those assets will have to go elsewhere, like the Valdez Marine Terminal.  The bottom line is that Alaska can expect a major infrastructure boom to support the US's Arctic presence.  Shipbuilders can also expect a small boom in special orders for Arctic oil platforms and service ships with de-icing capabilities, special ventilation systems, and other features.

I knew about methane hydrates before I heard Adm. Roughead talk.  It's frozen natural gas, folks.  There's plenty of it in the Arctic.  Melting permafrost triggers the release of melting methane hydrates into the atmosphere.  It's too bad all that melting is disrupting built-up infrastructure and possibly contributing to global warming.  Maybe we can counter it by convincing Alaskans not to pass so much gas themselves.  Nah, forget it.

The real solution to Arctic problems will be found in cooperation from the Arctic nations.  The Arctic Council gathers those nations that border the Arctic and those whose ships transit the region.  The International Maritime Organization is developing a Polar Code for ship safety.  The US is jeopardizing its ability to adjudicate any sovereign claims to its energy-rich Arctic continental shelf by not being a signatory to  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  American critics who object to the treaty are clueless about the leverage we're forgoing.  America's cluelessness continues with our inability to deploy icebreakers.  The US Coast Guard has one icebreaking vessel available and one more coming on line, while Russia has 43 in its national fleet.  I think the other Arctic Council nations are laughing at us.

The Admiral's talk helps me put recent news in context.  Exxon Mobil and Rosneft have agreed to operate an arctic research center.  They've made several joint agreements in recent years, so this points to an obvious trend of Russian-American cooperation in opening the Arctic.  They need to think about oil spill responses before they drill.  Oil spills behave differently in icy waters.  Adm. Roughead noted that Prudhoe Bay oil throughput is declining and the bay will need further infrastructure development to extend its life, probably requiring the reconstitution of much of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  Relax, folks, Exxon Mobil and Rosneft will likely be first in line with bids for that work.

Here's my suggestion for further cooperation.  USPACOM's RIMPAC brings many navies together for joint maneuvers.  I'd like to see an Arctic version of RIMPAC with US, Russian, and Canadian forces working together on icebreaking and rescue missions.  No country can do this alone.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kudos to Somaly Mam for Liberating Women

Somaly Mam is a legendary human rights worker who shared her experiences with a capacity audience at WAC NorCal this month.  She spoke plainly and from the heart about her work.  Her namesake Somaly Mam Foundation does great work in helping oppressed women escape from captivity.  The International Museum of Women and the Vital Voices Global Partnership helped get her message out.

Today is Fathers' Day in the US, which is an appropriate reason to comment on Ms. Mam's message.  She noted that anti-trafficking programs tend to demonize men, but both genders need to be educated on how to stop trafficking.  Volunteers at her centers in Cambodia teach women skills that will help them escape from trafficking.

Her talk got me thinking about whether captive women would benefit from mobile connectivity to the outside world.  I suspect that Westerners assume that digital technology hasn't penetrated developing nations' rural areas.  That may be incorrect.  The World Bank estimates that mobile phone coverage reaches three quarters of the world's population.  The UN Development Programme has a plan to use mobile technology to accelerate its Millennium Development Goals.  Any non-profit that seeks to reach an underprivileged captive audience would do well to write apps that their beneficiaries can use.  The problem facing women in captive situations is that their captors may confiscate their mobile devices.  I don't have a good answer to that problem.  Perhaps non-profit app writers could encrypt their apps to avoid the captor's detection.

Ms. Mam reports that multinational corporations are getting better at monitoring their supply chains to ensure subcontractors don't engage in human trafficking.  The hospitality industry has developed protocols to ensure franchises in developing countries aren't used for illicit activity.  Unfortunately, human trafficking is also a problem here in the United States.  A web search reveals just how much attention various government agencies give this serious problem.  The US State Department staffs a monitoring office and chairs a Presidential interagency task force.  The FBI investigates human smuggling.  DHS tracks human traffickers and protects their victims.  ICE has tools to track human trafficking as it crosses our borders.  This campaign is a demonstration of American values that the world needs to hear about more often.

Somaly Mam is a modern hero for her tireless work.  Human trafficking is a criminal effort facilitated by the same outlaw groups that distribute narcotics and black-market weaponry.  The rest of the world has a lot more work to do to stop human trafficking.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Brief Note on Intelligence Collection Under FISA

Ignore the hype of some very recent news reports.  Focus on the facts.

The DNI has published a very helpful summary of what the intelligence community (IC) does to collect from  electronic sources.  All of those procedures are in compliance with statutes such as FISA.  Much of this capability has been disclosed for a long time in public media and in well-written books like James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace.  The only people who feel shocked by revelations of routine procedures are people with short attention spans.

The correct way to seek publication of sensitive information is to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to a federal government agency.  Analysts and managers can then thoroughly review records to ensure disclosure does not harm America's national interests.  Any deviation from this path undermines the rule of law and subjects American national interests to compromise from our adversaries.  I have used the FOIA process myself in one case not related to any classified information, but bearing on misconduct and fraud.  My colleague successfully obtained a FOIA release in that case that we could use in public.

I do not believe that low-level technicians who make unauthorized disclosures of restricted information deserve to be hailed as heroes or whistleblowers.  An entry-level system administrator does not have any business whatsoever deciding whether classified information is fit for release to the public.

Addendum:  One would think that federal employees concerned with justice would first turn to their supervisory chain and then to internal channels such as the federal government's various inspector generals.  None of the recent crop of so-called "heroic whistleblowers" seem to have made use of the DOD Whistleblower Program or the IGs within the intelligence community.  Perhaps further inquiries through the judicial process will uncover whether any headline-grabbing loudmouths used these channels.  I have no sympathy for people whose reckless disclosures violate federal laws and security protocols.  Such unauthorized disclosures place American lives at severe risk.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reducing Nuclear Weapons Presents Several Opportunities

Amb. Steven Pifer spoke at the World Affairs Council about reducing nuclear weapons.  His work at the Brookings Institution Arms Control Initiative advocates further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and he even thinks the world can get to zero nuclear weapons.  He is not alone in this opinion.  Luminaries have lined up behind the Global Zero movement to make it happen.


Amb. Pifer's talk at WAC NorCal revealed some "inside baseball" on arms control that I've never heard before.  Arms control has matured beyond considering the "throw weight" of multi-warhead delivery systems whose warheads may have different yields.  Official math counts a bomber as a single delivery system and the limits on their deployment are not as firm as rules for ICBMs.  Bombers have a flight time to target of 8-10 hours, so limits on their numbers are flexible because they can be recalled in flight.  The US is confident that its "national technical means" can locate most of our competitors' ICBMs and the FAS Nuclear Information Project has good unclassified estimates of warhead counts.  Tactical and "surplus strategic" warheads are kept in storage; they are not loaded on deployed systems.  The US military maintains one reserve warhead for every one deployed.  

I'm intrigued by the ambassador's proposal for a joint NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense.  This would coordinate two independent systems through a joint operations center.  The rationale for cooperation is that radars on Russian territory have the best view of Iran.  Sharing data would make NATO and Russia seem less like adversaries and more like allies, sending a tremendous positive message to Russia.  Amb. Pifer has written that the US's restructuring of its BMD plan for Europe opens the door for Moscow to cooperate.  

He noted further at the WAC NorCal talk that if Iran achieves full nuclear capability, Pakistan would be immediately prompted to arm Saudi Arabia with nukes.  A strike by the US or Israel would only delay Iran's nuke program.  It would stop all IAEA inspection visits to Iran and the world would lose access to the country's data.  The IAEA's access to their data now has led to the conclusion that Iran cannot enrich uranium at this time.  I'll observe that the ancient Arab-Persia rivalry cannot be contained if both sides own nukes.  I am not at all confident that leaders in Riyadh and Tehran are as rational as the Cold War strategists in Washington and Moscow.  Nuclear arms control in the Middle East means prevention of proliferation.  I'll endorse the ambassador's NATO/Russia cooperative idea.  

I believe there is precedent for the US and Russia to open their military networks in such a cooperative way. The US and Russia opened joint video monitoring centers in December 1999 to gain visibility of each others' nuclear power plants in advance of any Y2K problems.  The US and Russia also jointly staffed each others' nuclear warfighting command centers on New Year's Eve 1999 as a human fail-safe assurance against systems failures.  DOD guidance on establishing the Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability (CY2KSS) needs to be dusted off and reused for cooperative missile defense.  I was on duty that evening too, at one of the US Forces Korea secure command centers in the Republic of Korea.    My small contribution to Y2K assurance was to ensure our own C4ISR systems were running through the midnight hour as 1999 became 2000.  

I say get the JASON advisory group involved in getting nukes to zero.  They need something to do or else they might get careless and knock over some beakers by accident.  I'd love to help but I'm not qualified.  The only experience I've ever had with arms control was back in the early 2000s when a group of Russian inspectors gathered at Travis AFB in Fairfield, California to be escorted on their rounds under the START regime.  I was in line behind them in the mess hall, and boy did they ever load up on the sausages.  I predict that the NATO/Russia cooperative missile defense joint operations center will be a windfall for sausage makers in Eastern Europe, or wherever it stands up.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Haiku of OSINT for 06/06/13

Stabilize conflict
Interagency effort
Use DIME for the win

Amb. Rick Barton's CSO Bridges DIME Interagency Gaps

Ambassador Rick Barton brought his experiences with the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to the World Affairs Council last month.  I've heard the military talk about its role in DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) interagency projects plenty of times.  I had to hear what Foggy Bottom does on the team.

Amb. Barton laid out the origin of CSO in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that articulated a need for a government entity to bring a cross-disciplinary focus to country studies.  Syria, Kenya, Burma, and Honduras have been this agency's trial by fire.  The US can't work directly in Syria so CSO trained refugees who made it to neighboring countries.  CSO discovered that most of the US's $800M in aid to Kenya went to anti-AIDS programs rather than to counter the election violence tearing up the place.  CSO thus shifted the US focus in Kenya to broad governance support.  Burma suffers from tough ethnic conflicts and a fragile peace process, but countering land mines is one problem every party wants to solve.  CSO worked on getting support for de-mining from several factions.  Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, so CSO saw an opportunity to build respect for the rule of law by helping with tax reform.

I submitted a question for the ambassador about how CSO works DIME in the interagency process, although I suspect my question was subsumed with others that were similar.  The closest answer Amb. Barton gave was that the interagency effort can be contentious but there's always room for more opinions.  That's quite a diplomatic answer.

Amb. Barton's work in Afghanistan collected structured interviews with Afghans to establish a baseline assessment of US progress there.  The idea was to make the US interagency effort more self-critical.  He shared his thoughts about Afghanistan in 2003.  Great ideas published in think-tank reports get discarded easily without a well-connected change champion to evangelize them, and eventually the report itself becomes a dead link buried on a website.  It is safe to say the US has made little progress in Afghanistan since 2003.  It is too late to ask whether anyone in the NATO/ISAF high command used that project's baseline assessment.  The lack of progress shows just how much the US needs CSO.  It can play the same role for State that TRADOC plays for the US Army.  State needs CSO to institutionalize its doctrine so future operators have templates for projects they can take to the field.

There's a lesson here for policymakers who are eager to deploy US military forces to every humanitarian crisis and failed state.  Plenty of smart people at State, USAID, USDA, and other agencies have experience running intervention projects.  They need to publish the results of their projects with firm ROIs so Americans can see that X-amount spent on Kenyan governance resulted in Y-amount of US exports to that country.  It's a start, and politicians need to claim they created jobs.

CSO's successes also beg questions about how good governance should work at home.  It boggles the mind that the US funds transparent elections abroad while many US states allow voters to draw ballots at polling stations without displaying identification.  Our foreign pupils can read English-language news media.  They will eventually point out contradictions like this to our diplomats, after they've accepted our development money.

I hope CSO gets the Cabinet-level support it will need to survive indefinitely.  My earliest impression of Foreign Service career employees was a '90s-era comment from a well-known foreign affairs author:  "Most of them just want to make it through the day."  Putting CSO on par with State's geographic bureaus is a challenge to many well-trod career paths.  It also fills a capability gap at end of the US's current wars.