Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Barbie Captured; Is Ken $2 Million Richer?

For the second time this summer, the State Department may have gotten a bite on the bait it sets out in the Narcotics Reward Program.

Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley took a question during today's daily press briefing about yesterday's capture of a major Mexican narco figure:

QUESTION: On Mexico, can I ask, Mexican federal police have captured one of the most violent criminals in Mexico, Edgar Valdez-Villarreal. I would like to know, what do you think can be the impact of this capture in the drug war conducted by the Mexican Government? And how the U.S. agencies have supported Mexico with intelligence?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we congratulate Mexican authorities on the arrest of “La Barbie.” We are in touch – obviously, we are in touch with the Mexican Government. We are working collaboratively with the Mexican Government. The investigation will continue. But this is part of the partnership that we have developed with Mexico, and we’re grateful for the aggressive action and commitment by Mexico. And our assistance has helped to expand the capacity of the Mexican Government to take these kinds of actions.

QUESTION: I understand the State Department offered $2 million reward for his capture.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I understand the State Department have offered $2 million rewards for his (inaudible) – for his capture.

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I’m not – it is quite likely. I just don’t have that information in front of me.

After checking, Mr. Crowley confirmed that the answer to that question is yes:

Edgar Valdez Villarreal was listed as a target of the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Narcotics Rewards Program with a reward offer of up to $2 million.

Of course, there is no way of telling whether Mexican authorities captured "La Barbie" after a confederate turned him in for two million gringo dollars, or whether it was just good police work. Riiiight. Ken, don't spend it all in one place.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Odierno: "We Came In Naive"

The New York Times has a brief item today in which General Raymond Odierno, the departing commander of American forces in Iraq, reflects on the U.S. military's fundamental lack of understanding of Iraq and its societal problems back when the invasion occurred in 2003. He says they had to learn by trial and error.

In his four years here, General Odierno was often at the center of shifting American military strategy in Iraq. He said the military learned lessons “the hard way.”

“We all came in very naïve about Iraq,” he said.

“We came in naïve about what the problems were in Iraq; I don’t think we understood what I call the societal devastation that occurred,” he said, citing the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf war and the international sanctions from 1990 to 2003 that wiped out the middle class. “And then we attacked to overthrow the government,” he said.

The same went for the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, he said: “We just didn’t understand it.”

To advocates of the counterinsurgency strategy that General Odierno has, in part, come to symbolize, the learning curve might highlight the military’s adaptiveness. Critics of a conflict that killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, perhaps far more, and more than 4,400 American soldiers might see the acknowledgment as evidence of the war’s folly.

Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.”

“There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.”

General Odierno shouldn't beat himself up so much. In all fairness to him, there was no center of expertise anywhere in the entire U.S. government that had a good understanding of Iraq's political, economic, and social problems way back then.

Oh, wait. I forgot. There was. There were people like Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose entire professional life had prepared him for informing U.S. national policy toward Iraq at that moment.

Valuable expertise existed in the State Department, and yet Odierno says the military went into Iraq unprepared, learning the hard way through seven years of trial and error which might only have made matters worse. That's outrageous. Why didn't the Secretary of State warn the Pentagon about what it was getting into in 2003?

Oh, wait. I forgot. He did. From the Wikipedia entry on Ryan Crocker:

According to the book, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell by Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung, as the Bush administration was preparing for war with Iraq in late 2002, then Secretary of State, Colin Powell ordered Crocker and then Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, William Burns to prepare a secret memo examining the risks associated with a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The six-page memo, titled "The Perfect Storm", stated that toppling Saddam Hussein could unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions, that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events. It also cautioned that the United States would have to start from scratch building a political and economic system because Iraq's infrastructure was in tatters.

But, General Odierno is saying today that the military was clueless about Iraq when it invaded the place. Something doesn't add up, because surely the Pentagon would have taken a memo like Crocker's seriously.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It didn't. As Crocker recounted last year, his memo "had no operational traction."

Washington turf battles had direct implications on the battlefield. In Baghdad in April 2003, after Saddam fell, few U.S. commanders had a clear picture of the political landscape and its importance to the overall mission. I remember meeting one in particular who had zero interest in anything except getting the kinetics right—deploy, defend, point and shoot. I tried to give him a sense of what the country would look like now for the Iraqis and, indeed, for his forces, if we didn't find a way to address all sorts of economic, social, and political issues. His response (and he was not alone): "This isn't our mission here. The things you are telling me are interesting, but they have nothing to do with me."

Well, if the State Department had really done its job it wouldn't have sent the Pentagon a measly six-page memo, it would have made a major planning effort. Like, assembling hundreds of experts and having them study all the many facets of the complicated Iraq problem. Really get down into the weeds and strategize about things like public health and humanitarian needs, transparency and anti-corruption, oil and energy, defense policy and institutions, transitional justice, democratic principles and procedures, local government, civil society capacity building, education, media, water, agriculture and environment and economy and infrastructure. It would have taken maybe a whole year to do it right. And then it would have produced extensive written reports to make sure that the Defense Department fully understood the problems it faced.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It did. That effort was called the "Future of Iraq" project, and you can read the reports for yourself:

The National Security Archive is today posting State Department documents from 2002 tracing the inception of the "Future of Iraq Project," alongside the final, mammoth 13-volume study, previously obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. "The Future of Iraq Project" was one of the most comprehensive U.S. government planning efforts for raising that country out of the ashes of combat and establishing a functioning democracy. The new materials complement previous postings on the Archive's site relating to the United States' complex relationship with Iraq during the years leading up to the 2003 invasion.

I guess General Odierno didn't get the memo about the Future of Iraq project. Too bad. That huge report would have filled him in on those issues he says he didn't understand. The Defense Department is a big place, after all, and he's only one man. It isn't like the Pentagon deliberately rejected those 13 volumes of exhaustive planning advise.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It did. In fact, the New York Times reported exactly that back on October 19, 2003.

A yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.

Beginning in April 2002, the State Department project assembled more than 200 Iraqi lawyers, engineers, business people and other experts into 17 working groups to study topics ranging from creating a new justice system to reorganizing the military to revamping the economy.

Their findings included a much more dire assessment of Iraq's dilapidated electrical and water systems than many Pentagon officials assumed. They warned of a society so brutalized by Saddam Hussein's rule that many Iraqis might react coolly to Americans' notion of quickly rebuilding civil society.

Several officials said that many of the findings in the $5 million study were ignored by Pentagon officials until recently, although the Pentagon said they took the findings into account. The work is now being relied on heavily as occupation forces struggle to impose stability in Iraq.

The working group studying transitional justice was eerily prescient in forecasting the widespread looting in the aftermath of the fall of Mr. Hussein's government, caused in part by thousands of criminals set free from prison, and it recommended force to prevent the chaos.

"The period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting," the report warned, urging American officials to "organize military patrols by coalition forces in all major cities to prevent lawlessness, especially against vital utilities and key government facilities."

Despite the scope of the project, the military office initially charged with rebuilding Iraq did not learn of it until a major government drill for the postwar mission was held in Washington in late February, less than a month before the conflict began, said Ron Adams, the office's deputy director.

The man overseeing the planning, Tom Warrick, a State Department official, so impressed aides to Jay Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general heading the military's reconstruction office, that they recruited Mr. Warrick to join their team.

George Ward, an aide to General Garner, said the reconstruction office wanted to use Mr. Warrick's knowledge because "we had few experts on Iraq on the staff."

But top Pentagon officials blocked Mr. Warrick's appointment, and much of the project's work was shelved, State Department officials said. Mr. Warrick declined to be interviewed for this article.

-- snip --

In the end, the American military and civilian officials who first entered Iraq prepared for several possible problems: numerous fires in the oil fields, a massive humanitarian crisis, widespread revenge attacks against former leaders of Mr. Hussein's government and threats from Iraq's neighbors. In fact, none of those problems occurred to any great degree.

Officials acknowledge that the United States was not well prepared for what did occur: chiefly widespread looting and related security threats, even though the State Department study predicted them.

So, I guess the bottom line is that General Odierno, while he may be highly forgetful, didn't really have to learn about Iraq's societal problems and sectarian divides the hard way, after all.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wikileaks Founder Has a New-Found Appreciation For Official Secrecy

Here's a question for any David Bowie fans out there. Doesn't Julian Assange look a lot like The Thin White Duke, David Bowie's 1976 stage persona? That's what I think of every time I see a photo of Assange.

But that is not what concerns me tonight. Instead, I wonder why Assange is complaining about a government official who leaked something to the press. The leak was about Assange himself, but hey, the man never saw a leak he didn't like before. Why is he violating his principles now?

Assange is not yet in the clear on criminal investigations in Sweden. But, in a bizarre twist, the prosecutor who issued papers for his arrest has herself been reported to the Swedish Prosecution Service by a due-process watchdog group for - of all things - violating Assange's privacy.

According to Swedish press reports:

The prosecutor who issued the warrant for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been reported for violating rules on the confidentiality of preliminary investigations, newspaper Dagens Juridik (DJ) reported on Tuesday.

The prosecutor on duty, Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand, decided on Friday to issue a warrant to arrest Assange on suspicion of rape. She later confirmed to Expressen that there was a case and that Assange was charged in absentia. The warrant was withdrawn one day later.

Due process organisation Rättssäkerhetsorganisationen (RO), which had previously notified the prosecutor through the Ombudsmen of Justice (Justitieombudsmännen, JO) for her conduct in connection with the decision to issue the warrant, has now supplemented its notification, the report said.

According to the organisation, the prosecutor violated the confidentiality of preliminary investigations by giving the media information about this case, DJ reported.

"We believe that the matter has been handled extremely badly for all parties involved and we are highly critical of how quickly one has taken the decision to detain a person," RO Chairman Johan Binninge told DJ.

"From an investigative standpoint, it is a disaster to go out in public this way, which can only harm the investigation. A prosecutor must also take into consideration all parties involved, including the suspect, and consider the consequences of a particular intervention for the suspect, in this case, an internationally known person," he added.

The supplement submitted to Swedish Prosecution Service Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten) information director Karin Rosander confirmed that the warrant decision includes the confidentiality of preliminary investigations. Rosander added that all decisions taken in the matter now be analysed, DJ reported.

Several newspapers, including Svenska Dagbladet, have indicated that the confirmation from the prosecutor had a decisive influence on the editorial decisions that were made.

Assange ought to man-up and ask the Swedes to drop their charges against his own personal leaker. Or at least publicly express support for her, or pay her legals bills, or something. It would be an act of noblesse oblige worthy of The Thin White Duke.

Three Cheers For Military Bands!

As many, many, commentators have pointed out, the U.S. military has more musicians than the U.S. State Department has Foreign Service Officers. Everybody knows that. Even the Secretary of Defense comments about that. And everybody finds that fact amusing and ironic.

Now, of course the Foreign Service needs more people. The staffing numbers speak for themselves.

But is it really so odd that the military should have so many musicians? I think not. Two recent bits of news have me reflecting on the value of military music.

First, Unredacted linked to the U.S. Army's Field Manual on Army Bands. That document provides historical context for military music, like how fifes and drums were vital for communicating on the battlefield from the ancient world up to the Napoleonic Age. More importantly, it defines the military music mission in terms that an FSO should appreciate.

For example:

United States Army bands provide music throughout the entire spectrum of operations to instill in our forces the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote America’s interests at home and abroad.


Bands provide music for ceremonial and morale support within full spectrum operations to sustain warriors and to inspire leaders. Deployed bands are capable of reinforcing positive relations with host-nation, multinational, and joint forces. Army bands communicate through the broadcast and print media to foster support of American citizens, both while deployed and at home. Live performances in parades, concerts, and other public appearances represent the Army and our Nation while promoting national interests. Bands support the recruiting mission, provide comfort to recovering Soldiers, and contribute to a positive climate for Army families. Army bands of the 21st century are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct concurrent operations in supporting multiple objectives with targeted musical styles.

-- snip --


1-8. FM 3-0 stresses the importance of success in ―shaping the civil situation. Inherently capable of providing a climate for international relations, bands serve as representatives of senior commanders in multinational operations or to the host-nation population. Their ability to project receptiveness supports commanders in dialog with civic leaders. Cultural exchange, including the artistic and the social elements, benefit the United States and its interests. Participation in civic activities encourages goodwill at the core level of international relations.


1-9. When combined with FM 3-61.1, Army bands have a direct impact on mission success in shaping perceptions, attitudes, and opinions. Capable of producing programs for television, radio, and live performance, bands reach a diversified public with a positive message. While in the community, band members are often in face-to-face contact with the citizens, thus bands work to represent the Army values off the installation.

The FM includes two success stories that involve international relations:

U.S.-Russian Relations - In 1996, the 1st Armored Division Band deployed from Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in support of Task Force Eagle in Tuzla, Bosnia. The band received a tasking to send the rock band, "Mo Better Blues," to play specifically for a Russian unit stationed at Camp Uglijevik in the dead of winter over snow covered mountain roads ... The U.S. liaison officer met the band upon arrival and showed the members to the performance venue: the mess hall. The liaison had been there for a month, but had had very little progress in ―breaking the ice with Russian cooperation ... The Russians jammed about 200 soldiers into the small mess hall. Most were conscripts and did not look particularly happy to be there. The band, led by Staff Sergeant Alvin "Mo" Morris, played a list of classic rock tunes as well as some country music, and the Russians enthusiastically responded with demands for multiple encores. The U.S. liaison officer stated that the band had done more for U.S.-Russian relations in 90 minutes than he had been able to do in 30 days.

The Shanghai International Wind Band Festival - In April of 2008, the 8th U.S. Army Band was invited by China to participate in the Shanghai International Wind Band Festival. The first American military band and the first American military unit in recent history to enter the country, they performed over 5 days for live audiences of over 500,000 and televised audiences in the millions. As U.S. ambassadors, they won the prodigious cheers and applause of the Chinese audiences as they performed American music of Elvis Presley and John Williams as well as traditional marches in a concert, a parade, and a nightly military tattoo. Association between the two countries’ bands was initially reserved and withdrawn, uncertain of how to conduct mutual foreign relations. However, a positive climate was built by the third day of living and eating together when conspicuous small, impromptu Chinese and American music groups began harmonizing.

With all that expeditionary full-spectrum supporting, shaping of perceptions, cultural exchange, and fostering of relations going on, I'm surprised the military isn't seeking even more musicians. Maybe Congress should be concerned that we have allowed a Military Music Gap to grow between us and our national adversaries?

The other bit of military music news that I have in mind is the death just last week of Bill Millin, the British Army bagpiper who played traditional Scottish quick marches as his brigade waded ashore on D-Day. It's a bit striking to realize that only one generation ago British troops on the battlefield were preceded by a piper who was wearing a Cameron tartan kilt and was armed with only a Skean Dhu, the Highlander's last resort knife.

Below is a photo of Millin stepping out of the landing craft, the pipes just barely visible over his left shoulder.

From the New York Times article on Millin's death:

The young piper was approached shortly before the landings by the brigade’s commanding officer, Brig. Simon Fraser, who as the 15th Lord Lovat was the hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser and one of Scotland’s most celebrated aristocrats. Against orders from World War I that forbade playing bagpipes on the battlefield because of the high risk of attracting enemy fire, Lord Lovat, then 32, asked Private Millin to play on the beachhead to raise morale.

When Private Millin demurred, citing the regulations, he recalled later, Lord Lovat replied: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

After wading ashore in waist-high water that he said caused his kilt to float, Private Millin reached the beach, then marched up and down, unarmed, playing the tunes Lord Lovat had requested, including "Highland Laddie" and “Road to the Isles.”

With German troops raking the beach with artillery and machine-gun fire, the young piper played on as his fellow soldiers advanced through smoke and flame on the German positions, or fell on the beach. The scene provided an emotional high point in [the movie] “The Longest Day.”

So there you go. Military musicians have a long and storied history of supporting troops, fostering relations, and carrying out our national missions. So does the Foreign Service.

I say the two should join sides and lobby Congress for doubling both forces. If Congress would cut funding for just one new program like the FX-Boondoggle SuperAdvanced ÜberTactical 15thGeneration AirSuperiority fighter plane, we could have twice the diplomats and musicians, and would still have unchallenged air superiority over any other nation on earth. Who other than Boeing and Lockheed Martin could object to that?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fo' Shizzle

I was thinking some more about that solicitation for Ebonics linguists that was in the news yesterday, and it occurred to me that DEA agents aren't actually too dense or culturally vanilla to understand spoken slang. Snoop Doggy Dogg-style talk is not exactly a secret code, no matter how incomprehensible it may seem to the straight citizen, especially one of middle class Caucasian origin. I mean, Chrysler used him in a commercial. How much more middle class and fuddy duddy can you get than Chrysler?

The real reason for that contract solicitation must be that the Justice Department wants a source of court-qualified authority when it comes time to tell a jury composed of the aforesaid old white folks what exactly the defendants were talking about on that wiretapped conversation.

Today, a DEA spokesman confirmed my suspicion in an interview with CNN:

But the agency is serious about needing nine people to translate conversations picked up on wiretaps during investigations, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Tuesday. A solicitation was sent to contractors as part of a request to companies to provide hundreds of translators in 114 languages.

"DEA's position is, it's a language form we have a need for," Sanders said. "I think it's a language form that DEA recognizes a need to have someone versed in to conduct investigations."

The translators, being hired in the agency's Southeast Region -- which includes Atlanta, Georgia; Washington; New Orleans, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; and the Caribbean -- would listen to wiretaps, translate what was said and be able to testify in court if necessary, he said.

Ah-ha! I rest my case.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"I Speak Jive" (Hire Me)

It only took 30 years for what had been a cheap laugh in the 1980 farce Airplane! to become a deadpan contracting action. Yes, the U.S. government is currently soliciting for contract interpreters of Ebonics.

According to The Smoking Gun:

The Department of Justice is seeking to hire linguists fluent in Ebonics to help monitor, translate, and transcribe the secretly recorded conversations of subjects of narcotics investigations, according to federal records.

A maximum of nine Ebonics experts will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Atlanta field division, where the linguists, after obtaining a “DEA Sensitive” security clearance, will help investigators decipher the results of “telephonic monitoring of court ordered nonconsensual intercepts, consensual listening devices, and other media”

Can a new Rosetta Stone series be far behind?

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Any Man Don't Like This Movie Spends a Night in the Box"

Carr the Floorwalker said that. At least, I think he did. Carr laid down a lot of rules real fast (they are rendered a bit more musically here) in Cool Hand Luke, one of my very favorite movies. It's on Turner Classic Movies this weekend.

CHL is one of those rare cases of a film treatment as good as the book, which makes sense since they were both written by the same person. What's more, the author, back when he was a failed would-be writer, actually spent time on a Southern prison chain gang. The movie sets for CHL were exact recreations of a real 'road prison' in Florida that was still operating in 1967 when the movie was made. With all that gritty realism going for it, plus religious symbolism, macho male philosophy and endless quotability ("taking it off here, Boss"), this movie kicks ass like The Man With No Eyes.

You've got your 1984, your One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, your Prisoner, your Sand Pebbles, and other good non-conformist anti-hero movies, but there is just something about CHL that I really like.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oakleys or Ray-Bans?

A DS Agent in Afghanistan sent me this cartoon today. He tells me that despite all the cultural sensitivity training about how it insults the locals when you wear shades while interacting with them, all of the security contractors and most of the younger DS agents wear them constantly - both outside and inside the embassy, propped up on their heads, dangling from retaining straps, all kinds of ways.

If you, too, like to wear cool shades and cargo pants, currently have or have ever considered getting a tattoo, and believe that you know what color the boathouse at Hereford is, you might be interested in these vacancy announcements for DS Special Agents and Security Engineering Officers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will There Be a New Fortress for Embassy Ankara?

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

The WaPo has a story today quoting a recent State Department Inspector General report of inspection for U.S. Embassy Ankara, Turkey. Among other things, the report notes that we urgently need a new chancery facility in Ankara, something the IG had first reported after a 2004 inspection.

Yet the American embassy in Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul are so small and creaky -- and dangerous -- that other U.S. agencies housed in them (including the CIA, the FBI and the Agency for International Development) are ready to flee, according to an inspection report released Friday.

-- snip --

“The physical capacity of the section is finite. There is no cost-effective way to expand the capacity of the waiting room, which seats approximately 80 people. There is no space outside to add waiting room capacity as the waiting room is situated almost directly on a street.”

Everybody working there is fed up with the situation, the report suggested.

“Pressure is surfacing among some agencies to take their operations elsewhere in Turkey or even out of Turkey entirely because of their inability to meet their needs in the space allocated to them,” the report said.

“None of the buildings provides adequate or appropriate work space. Embassy sections and agencies are sometimes spread throughout the facilities in counterproductive ways. Annex II, a converted house, is particularly egregious and was described as ‘beyond Pluto’ by one of its denizens,” the report said.

“A recent fire in the Annex II boiler room could have had disastrous consequences and should be taken as a signal to push forward, with increased urgency, the issue of a new embassy compound.”

Point taken. We need a new embassy compound in Ankara. But we need one in many other places as well, and Congress won't fund everything at once, so priorities must be established.

And how does the State Department establish its new construction priorities? According to this publicly available source of information there is an annual exercise each summer in which the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations evaluate all new construction candidates and pick the winners.

It is summer now, so maybe Ankara will get good news in a couple months?

Israeli Diplomats Look For The Union Label

AFSA, eat your heart out. Your counterparts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry's diplomatic union are living the dream. They have actually gone on strike and refused to perform some of their duties until they receive pay parity with the Israeli military.

Disgruntled ministry workers – who say they receive half the pay of their peers at Defence but do the same amount of work, often in countries where their security is at greater risk – have been stepping up their protests, ditching their suits for jeans, and shirking diplomatic duties.

-- snip --

The diplomatic wage dispute is now in its sixth month and in the past 10 days employees have started turning up for work in sandals and jeans, while visiting and outgoing officials have been left to fend for themselves.

-- snip --

And the row has spread overseas, with foreign embassies refusing to make the necessary arrangements for visiting Israeli officials, forcing Uzi Arad, Mr Netanyahu's national security advisor, to shelve a visit to Moscow.

This sounds like it would be a great deal. Imagine Casual Friday every day, and you could tell CODELs to fend for themselves during their Congressional recess boondoggle travels. ("Senator, you and your party can get a taxi at the airport. Hotels will take reservations over the internet, and they even have concierges who will make all the dining, shopping, and tourist arrangements you could possibly desire. Just don't bother the embassy staff, because they are off the clock nights and weekends.") Sweet!

These Israeli diplo-stikers will even get heavy with strike breakers:

Israeli foreign ministry employees on partial strike accused the Mossad on Friday of breaking their picket line and said they would only cooperate with the spy agency in cases of "life or death."

The employees' committee chairman criticised the Mossad for stepping in to help organise a trip by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Greece next week after embassy staff refused to assist with the visit.

"It is unacceptable that the prime minister would use another body, which is strictly in charge of security matters, to break a strike," Hanan Goder told public radio.

In response, diplomats on strike over wages would "provide no aid to Mossad representatives" at embassies and consulates around the world except in matters of "life or death," he said.

Not that I think AFSA would ever attempt a job action. Far from it. Anyway, the United States has a law that bans strikes by government employees and the last one ended badly for the strikers. But you can dream.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Can You Match the Mug Shot?

The Smoking Gun's new match-the-mug-shot games are the greatest online time wasters I have every found. Highly addictive, even though I rarely ever guess right.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

New Country Reports on Terrorism Released

The State Department released the Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009 this afternoon. Read the press release here, and get a pdf copy of the report here.

Select Enemy, Delete

I don't know who coined the term "killer app," but I'm sure it was some kind of Über Nerd - maybe Bill Gates himself? - who didn't know the first thing about actual killing.

But now the U.S. Army is developing real killer apps.

H/T to Danger Room.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Asking Too Much of Our Troops -- And Not Enough of College Students

From the History News Network comes this thought-provoking post contrasting the way we pamper new college students when they enter the calm warm waters of academic life with the way we throw new military enlistees into shark-infested rapids after only a few weeks of basic training - William Astore: Asking Too Much of Our Troops -- And Not Enough of College Students.

A couple quotes:

Given rising tuition costs, perhaps students deserve (or, at least they've come to expect) all these helping hands [such as orientations, counseling and tutoring]. But I wonder if a hand-holding approach to education is ultimately stunting rather than aiding them. Is all this coaching -- all these support networks -- truly helping students to mature and become responsible, self-motivating adults?

We can shed some light on this by contrasting a student-centered, help-is-on-its-way approach in college to what is expected of young enlistees in the military. The differences are, in a word, striking. After a few months of training (as opposed to years of education), we send eighteen- and nineteen-year-old enlistees overseas and task them with negotiating bewilderingly complex "human terrain" in hostile places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As they operate high-tech equipment worth millions, these "strategic privates" are entrusted to make near-instantaneous, life-or-death decisions under pressure.

Could the contrast be any starker?

-- snip --

A contrast this stark sets me to thinking. I wonder, for example, how many young adults join the military precisely because they'll be entrusted with responsibility (and firepower) without Mommy, Daddy, and our "Nanny State" hovering over them. Critics may see the military as authoritarian and limiting, yet young recruits may see it as liberating: as building self-reliance and resiliency in a setting free from helicopter parents, feel-good counselors, and similar "mean well" interceders.

I'm sure he's right about the liberating nature of military service for young men. After chaffing under the Nanny State-ism of the educational system - whether up to high school or through college - it is pure exhilaration to be treated as a responsible adult. And the firepower part definitely helps. I always thought the best recruiting slogan would be: Join the Army. We'll Let You Use Machine Guns. A close second is the (real) Navy slogan I saw once: Rocket science is a lot more relevant when you actually have rockets.

I've been to college and I've been in the military, and there is no contest as to which one gave me the greater sense of self-reliance and resiliency. Not to mention machine guns.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Those Are Some Busy People

A question taken at the July 30 daily press briefing sent me to my calculator to do some basic arithmetic.

Question: How many visas are processed at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez?

Answer: The U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez processed over 94,000 immigrant visas and over 144,000 non-immigrant visas in FY2009. Given the temporary closing of the Consulate, all visa applicants will be rescheduled for their interviews at a later date. The U.S. Consulate will reopen tomorrow.

You can read the entire press briefing here.

These are the numbers I've been marveling over:

238,000 - the total number of visa transactions ConGen Ciudad Juarez processed last fiscal year (144,000 NIVs plus 94,000 IVs)

260 - the number of work days in a year (five days a week times 52 weeks)

21 - the number of holidays taken annually by ConGen Ciudad Juarez

1,000 - the average number of visa transactions ConGen Ciudad Juarez processes in one work day (238,000 transactions over 238 annual working days)

That is a whole lot of interviews.