Author Archives: TwShiloh

What we have here…is a failure to communicate

I’ve become skeptical of a lot of Malcolm Gladwell’s stuff but this is a superb article about how easily the cognitive bias of ‘mirror imaging’ can have tragic consequences.

The siege of the Branch Davidian complex in 1993 was, according to Gladwell, doomed from the start because the F.B.I. and the Branch Davidians were simply occupying different realities.  The F.B.I. saw the incident as one led by a dangerous person (David Koresh) who was manipulating people through a veneer of religion.  In this construct, religion was just the tool Koresh needed wield power over his followers and to him is was purely utilitarian.  If espousing a political ideology or a different religion or belief in little green men would have gotten him to the same place he would be equally likely to adopt those beliefs in order to gain and keep his followers.

The Davidians, however, were true believers.  To them, they saw the physical proof of biblical prophecy all around them.  Talk of working things out, good plea deals or traditional hostage negotiation tactics just sounded like so much gibberish to them.  Didn’t the F.B.I. get that this wasn’t about some firearms charge?  This was about god.

Both parties were trying (and failing) to put themselves into the shoes of the other to understand them.  The F.B.I. operated from the perspective of ‘We’ve negotiated with criminals before….this guy is a criminal…therefore he’ll respond in a predictable way.’  The Davidians approached this from a religious point of view…’Anyone should be able to understand our position if they only understand scripture properly.’  Both of those assumptions were deeply flawed and in cases like this the resolution is inevitable.  The group with the better weapons will ‘win’.

But it didn’t necessarily need to end like this.  There were people who could do the ‘Davidian to F.B.I.’ translation.  That requires, however, at least one side to acknowledge that there might be another reality to translate from.  The F.B.I wasn’t willing to engage in that sort of thinking.  It’s easy to fault them for that but it’s not that easy.  Criminals conduct deception operations of greater or lesser sophistication all the time.  Law enforcement can’t indulge all of these attempts.  Still, it does appear that they lacked the ability to ever consider it.

What we have here, is a failure of imagination….

I’m currently reading Bloodlands (a compelling and timely book given events in Ukraine) and came across this passage about the outlook of Polish intelligence services regarding the Soviet Union in the early ’30s.

After the famine, they generally lost any remaining confidence about their ability to understand the Soviet system, much less change it.  Polish spies were shocked by the mass starvation when it came, and unable to formulate a response.

I was really struck by that.  Soviet policy was so outside the norm that the Poles found themselves unable to understand what was going on.  The result was to essentially withdraw from contact.  I doubt that was a conscious decision but rather the problem just got too hard (or perhaps, too wicked) and the Polish intelligence service sort of collectively moved to easier problems.

Certainly we’ve seen similar things in modern times.  The pivot from the confusing war in Afghanistan to the traditional battle shaping up in Iraq in 2002/2003 was so whipsaw quick you could practically hear the sigh of relief from the policy and defense establishment about going to do a mission they thought they could get their heads around.

This was slower, however.  The starvation took place in the early ’30s and it would be another six years before the Soviet Union decided to join a German invasion of Poland.

I’ve already exceeded my knowledge of prewar Polish intelligence services but I thought it was a notable example of an inability to understand a dramatic change to the environment.

 

Can Stop and Frisk be part of a ‘civilianzied’ COIN strategy

The Atlantic has a article in their latest issue that talks about the policy of ‘stop and frisk‘.  It’s a tough issue to handle because on the one hand it pretty clearly subjects minorities (mostly young, minority men) to scrutiny by law enforcement, often on pretty shaky grounds.  It does so much, in fact, that a judge recently declared the NYPD’s program unconstitutional.

On the other hand, there appears to be evidence (although, by no means universally accepted) that the rise of ‘stop and frisk’ coincided (and perhaps was the reason behind) the dramatic decrease of crime we’ve seen over the past couple of decades (contrary to what your local Eyewitness news team might lead you to believe, crime is and has been going down for years).

I highly recommend the article.  As I was reading it I was struck by it’s applicability to COIN.  A lot of the objections to ‘stop and frisk’ revolve around the idea of arbitrary use of force and coercion by law enforcement.  This, in turn, fuels an undermining of the legitimacy of state institutions.  Really, a fundamental problem in counterinsurgency situations.  What we know from COIN operations is that the answer is rarely increased coercion and/or decreased transparency.

Supporters of the program tend to talk about efficacy.  Usually some form of the ‘you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs’ justification.  This argument tends to be directed at the people who a) vote and b) almost never find themselves being stopped and frisked.  Therefore, the discussion can be kept on a theoretical level (‘If it means I don’t get robbed, I won’t mind answering a few questions to the police’) without really addressing the real issue.

Some of this controversy reflects real and deep understandings of the role of government and race in our society.  But…there is a real opportunity here.  The article points out something that I’ve heard anecdotally for some law enforcement officers over time.  In the very same neighborhoods where coercion and heavy handed law enforcement actions occur and often cause tension, there’s a realization that something like ‘stop and frisk’ might actually be necessary for order and stability.  From the article:

In Shabazz’s Dream Lounge, I asked the three teenagers about how they thought stop-and-frisk might be improved.

I posed a more general question. You’re the police director: What would you do about stop-and-frisk?

“It’s not cool,” Kiairus said. “I don’t think they should do it at all.”

“I think the whole stop-and-frisk thing is kind of bad and kind of good,” Roman said.

Extending the hypothetical, I asked them what they would tell me if I were a rookie cop. Smiling minimally, painfully, Roman said, “I’d tell you to look for black people. We’re the reason this happens. Think about it. The main people who are locked up, wind up dead, or are doing nothing with their life—it’s black people. It’s not just a stereotype. We’re committing most of the crimes. We do dumb things, rob stores, kill our own friends.”

So, what if we took something like ‘stop and frisk’ but made it more population-centric?  Is that even possible? The article hints at it but what might it look like? More community outreach?  Conducting stops in a less antagonistic way?

I don’t know if it’s a good analog but I think back to my time in Afghanistan.  There certainly were times when people were ‘wrapped up’ but those were clearly identified individuals, the equivalent of having an outstanding warrant on someone 1.  In the regular course of business (patrolling, visiting elders, humanitarian assistance or presence patrol missions) we wouldn’t roust people like that.  It seemed a pretty clear way to guarantee the loss of the population’s support.

And yet here in the U.S., we seem to dismiss similar considerations out of hand.  To entertain them is to somehow be seen as being ‘soft’ on crime.  Maybe, if I may continue the COIN analogy a bit more, something like ‘stop and frisk’ is a on the more ‘kenetic’ part of the spectrum of available tools for a population-centric operation.  Perhaps it’s reserved for particularly lawless, violent areas and its implementation would require some pre-identified metrics to determine when the program would cease.  That’s probably a bit too cut and dried but some sort of mechanism to make sure an policy which could easy be seen (and actually morph into) a special ‘tax on minorities’ seems essential.

And, of course, the information operation accompanying this would be equally important.  We’re not very good at all at doing information operations in the law enforcement/homeland security realm.  We still rely overwhelmingly on 20th century ideas of communication.  If you don’t watch the local news, get the local paper or (maybe) attend the town meeting you simply aren’t going to know the official word about what’s going on in your neighborhood.  Some have moved to more alternate forms of media but we’ve yet to embrace that widely or move much beyond just posting the old press release on a little used website or twitter account.

But, of course, I’m looking at this from the position of a privileged, middle class white guy.  Talking about hypotheticals is one thing.  This article describes some of the concerns that would need to be addressed.

 

 

  1. Granted that’s not a perfect analogy and certainly there were times when someone was mistaken or incorrectly picked up but I think it works well enough for this point.

Deception in intelligence operations

2979Among the dispatches of the Finnish military on the 1st of January, 1940 was this statement:

The numbering of some of the Finnish divisions is changed in order to confuse Soviet intelligence.

Which got me thinking about deception operations and how intelligence analysts are supposed to account for them.  Deception usually gets a mention in analytical training but typically nothing more than ‘Make sure the information you’re using isn’t a part of a deception plan on the part of your foe.’ Not a whole lot on how to go about doing that.

Deception can be tricky all around.  After all, if your deception plan is too good you might fool your friends, allies and sympathizers which can be counterproductive.  In the example above, I imagine the Finnish armed forces had to do a lot of coordination ahead of time lest orders or supplies for Division X get delayed while some sergeant somewhere tries to figure out what happened to Division X and why there’s a Division Y all up in his business all of a sudden.

And when we think about deception we usually think about it as an intentional act caused by an opponent.  Sometimes, however, we unintentionally deceive ourselves.  Our minds often do a better job at deceiving us than an adversary ever could.

A great example of that at play can be found in movies and TV where a reoccurring trope is the zany mix up.  A conversation heard without context or misinterpretation of some information leads the protagonist to believe in a reality which at complete odds with what is actually happening.

A great example of that is the 2011 Horror/Comedy movie Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

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The whole movie is based on all the characters misinterpreting the information they are receiving and deceiving themselves through their cognitive biases.  The actual attempts at deception (where Tucker and Dale decide to pretend to be the crazy hillbillies they are accused of being) don’t work nearly as well.

The movie does a great job of demonstrating how at some point we get so invested with a particular analytical line that we will ignore evidence (even highly credible and reliable evidence) to the contrary.  In that regard, that aspect of the film is more realistic that the filmmakers probably know.

 

Today in the Winter War

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A clearly staged photo in the last days of the war…

The war is coming to a close quickly…Finnish defenses are collapsing and it’s increasingly clear that even the tenacity of the Finns has its limits.  Field Marshal Mannerheim recently told the Finnish authorities to negotiate a peace quickly while the Finnish military could still mount a credible defense.

Coming from the U.S. in the early 21st century it’s hard to put oneself in the shoes of the Finns in 1940.  The very existence of the country was in doubt and things must have looked grimmer than anything we Americans could appreciate unless one goes back, perhaps, to the Civil War.  Given current events in Ukraine I suppose we could understand if nations in Eastern Europe and around the Baltic are more than a bit nervous.

You really get the sense that things are in a death spiral if you read in between the lines.  Troops are either worn out (probably kept on the line too long) or raw (thrown into battle).  Losses are mounting and positions abandoned so quickly that it’s hard for a command element to figure out what’s going on and establish new plans and issue new orders.

The dispatches from 10 March, 1940.

The situation in Viipurinlahti bay remains critical: the Red Army is constantly funnelling new troops and equipment into the area.

The Russians are working to extend their bridgehead on the western side of the bay.

The aim of the Soviet troops is to use the bridgehead as a staging post to get round to the west of Viipuri and cut the Finnish troops defending the city off from their vital supply lines to the interior.

The enemy is attempting to take the city of Viipuri itself by a straight frontal assault, while the troops to the northeast of the city are making a drive towards Antrea.

During the course of the afternoon the enemy breaks through the Finnish defences in the western part of Nisalahti village and carries on three kilometres to the north.

The unfolding events in Viipurinlahti bay mean the Finnish troops have lost use of the main defensive positions on the Isthmus and will have to fight from now on in totally unprepared positions.

Some of the Finnish troops are suffering from battle fatigue, while others are raw, inexperienced troops; the chain of command and the responsibilities of the officers are also having to be constantly reworked.

Aerial reconnaissance reports 200 enemy assault tanks in Pullinniemi.

On the Karelian Isthmus, the enemy overruns the countryside around Leitimo manor on the Tali Isthmus.

The Soviet troops launch their assault in the morning and break through the Finnish defences to a depth of 4 kilometres.

Fresh troops are concentrated around Viipurinlahti bay, including a cavalry brigade from Ladoga Karelia.

Finland’s former president, P.E. Svinhufvud is in Berlin to seek help for Finland, but is unable to gain access to members of the German leadership.

The Finnish and Soviet negotiators meet for a second round of talks in the Kremlin at 2 p.m. today. The meeting lasts two hours.

Finland is in an awkward negotiating position. Contact with the Government at home has to be conducted via Stockholm and telegrams can take up to 12 hours to reach their destination.

The deadline of March 12 set by the Allies is also getting ominously close.

The Finnish negotiators attempt to haggle over the Soviet terms, but without success.

In Vuosalmi the enemy is concentrating its efforts on the Liete meadows to the northeast of Vasikkasaari.

The Soviet force in Ladoga Karelia is able to establish a good grip on the southern tips of the Lapoinniemi and Kuivaniemi promontories on the shores of Lake Ladoga.

As night falls, the defending Finnish troops withdraw.

Too Soon

English Russia has a photo spread of some Russians reenacting the Battle for Hill 3234.  I do historical reenacting (Revolutionary War) and get some of the objections about the hobby:  It can sanitize and trivialize the experience of combat and sacrifice of human beings and, in some cases, offensive ideologies.  I’m not sure I agree with those objections but can certainly see where they come from, at least when we’re talking about distant history.  About more modern conflicts I think the point is more relevant.

I’ve settled upon a ’100 year rule’ for reenacting.  I won’t reenact any conflict in which a participant may be still living.  Reenacting by it’s nature simply can’t be more than a feint shadow of the real thing and while people live who can describe what it was really like are around, I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with battle reenactments. This is distinct from historical displays or that you might see at museums, airshows, etc. or ‘living history’ events where reenactors attempt to display daily life of soldiers and civilians of the time (some of which can be really awesome and a great reminder that these were really people not so different from us).

I also don’t think modern (definitely post WWI) combat really lends itself to public-focused reenactments.  The emphasis on cover and concealment, distance between troops, maneuver, and greater command and control makes attempts to follow battles difficult in the best of situations.  On the other hand, not all of these reenactments are intended to honor the fallen or even educate the public.  Some are held for the reenactors themselves.  This appears to fall in the former category, however.  Centuries from now I pity the people going to view a reenactment of the War on Terror.  The drone pilot reenactor event is sure to be a snoozer…

So, keep all that in mind when you check these out.  I’ll give the Russians this…They don’t take half measures in their reenactments.  Note vehicle that appears to have been driven into the lake.

afwar010-29The other thing I notice is the ages of these reenactors.  If you want to reenact a modern conflict like this, why not just join the military and fight real Jihadists?  There are plenty in Russia and I’m sure the military would be happy for quality recruits.

It looks like this was part of some memorial (the actual battle took place in early January so perhaps this was done on the anniversary) but there’s something here that’s unsettling to me.  I’m not sure this is an appropriate way to honor soldiers of living generations for their sacrifice and efforts.

Anatomy of a (sub)standard Intelligence Product

Last time I wrote about how we still don’t do a good job of classifying terrorist actions.  As an example of that I used this alleged intelligence product and what I’d like to do today is run through why I think it’s not up to snuff.

First things first. What’s with that color? I am all about encouraging analysts to experiment with their products to make them more relevant and make sure they ‘stick’ with their audience more but I’m not sure about this color choice.  It’s very non-traditional. (Update:  I’ve just looked at a downloaded copy and it’s a much cleaner and more traditional light blue. I would just delete this but here’s a good example of one of the pitfalls of critiquing something on the web…nertz to me!)

So non-traditional in fact that it reminded me of a scene in Yes, Prime Minister.  You can see the whole episode at the end of this post but here’s the money quote:

All I can say is, if that’s what you’re going to say, I suggest a very modern suit, hi-tech furniture, high-energy yellow wallpaper, abstract paintings. In fact, everything to disguise the absence of anything new in the actual speech.

You can download the presentation here:

Terrorism Powerpoint Presentation

Ok, so this is a joint FBI/Pennsylvania State Police product.  It’s unclear who the audience is but it is worthwhile to note that there are no classification markings on the document. By default that would make this ‘unclassified’ but I find that hard to believe.  This could be another (along with the weird color) be an indicator that this is a fraudulent document.  But, it could also be that this was an internal document or a draft and in those cases we could just be seeing a bit of sloppy work.

We open with a definition of ‘Domestic Terrorism’.  I’d like to see a citation for that but perhaps that’s given in the talk that (I hope) would go along with the slide.  It appears to be from the U.S. criminal code and given the probable audience (law enforcement officials) here let’s not deduct anything.

Then they use a definition of Eco-Terrorism from the Anti-Defamation League.  I’m less enamored with this slide.  Is there no official definition of this term?  If not, why not?  Does this mean that the ADL is official government policy? I’m usually a big proponent of reaching out to outside experts but if you’re going to flip back and forth between official and unofficial terms, definitions, assertions and opinions you should make it clear which is which and I’m not sure a parenthetical note here makes the grade.  Again, this might be something discussed in the talk but I’m going to make a deduction here.  Also, they fact that they changed the font to underscore a point but picked a color that actually makes it blend into the background isn’t particularly good.

I’ll also recommend you note the quote they highlight.  ‘Eco-terrorists’ are defined as the ‘most active’.  What I believe the authors are trying to do with that quote is use ‘most active’ as a synonym for ‘most dangerous’.  That’s not particularly clear, however.  They time frame they use is long (two decades…that’s an entire generation) and it’s not clear when that damage occurred.  What if $99 million dollars of that damage and 90% of all incidents occurred prior to 1996? What if they occurred after 2012?  I suspect you’d get two very different responses to just how threatening and active ‘Eco-Terrorists’ are.

Now…this is interesting.

The title of slides 2-4 go:

  • Domestic terrorism defined
  • Eco-terrorism
  • Environmental Extremists

This is the narrative path they want you to go down. Graphically, it looks something like this:

terroristslide

That is known as the old switcheroo.  What it should look like is this.

slide2To explain that you probably want a slide order of:

  • Environmental Extremists
  • Domestic terrorism defined
  • Eco-terrorism

This may seem like a small thing but it really sets the stage for what may be a whole host of problems down the road.  If one of your foundational propositions is that all extremists are terrorists that’s a problem and will lead you down a road towards illegal and unconstitutional activities.

How do I know this isn’t just sloppy work and they meant slide two and not slide one?  Bullet two:

  • Nonhierarchical and autonomous with lone offenders and small cells posing the greatest threat of criminal activity. Ecoterror cells are extremely difficult to identify and infiltrate;

In the slide about ‘extremists’ they go right to talking about ‘Ecoterror cells’.  No distinction between the two is made.  That’s simply wrong.

It’s also interesting to note that they quote the ELF ‘credo’.  If you’re going to quote stuff to support your case you should also explain the stuff that undermines it.  Most eco-animal rights extremists renounce violence against people.  In fact, it’s usually a central tenet of their belief structure.  To ignore that in favor of cherry picking the stuff that makes them sound more dangerous is disingenuous.

On slide 5, note the criminal activity identified:

  • Criminal activity has ranged from graffiti and trespassing, to vandalism, sabotage and arson;

I won’t belabor this point because it’s settled now but in what bizarro world is graffiti, trespassing and vandalism rise to the level of a terrorism investigation?  Only if those things are combined with the threat of violence should it be.  Otherwise we’re talking about criminal activity that is easily handled by local law enforcement and handled quite well under the criminal justice system.

And on slide 6, in the last bullet we finally get to this:

  • Historically, activities have not intended to harm individuals.

That’s clearly a throwaway line.  After six slides about how dangerous they are and their targeting priorities we get a brief statement about how they did things…historically.  You know…like back in ye olden days.

Slide 8 gets a bit weird.  There’s no reason why this event should be here.  You see a statement that looks like it could have come from any activist organization.  It talks about online activism to achieve legal (and pretty mainstream) ends.

Slide 9…again.  The security camera hunting campaign is interesting.  While Earth First did carry it so did other groups.  It might be worthwhile to see  if there were any reports of security cameras being attacked.  It might be worthwhile to see if other campaigns like this have been announced and how successful they were.  But, if you’re cherry picking your facts you probably don’t want to ask (and definitely don’t want to answer) those questions.

The information from START is good….but it doesn’t really say what the author(s) want it to say.  Here’s the paper that they quoted.  This slide is designed to say “Danger! Danger!” But let’s look at what the data shows…

  • 239 attacks from 1995-2010 (15 years or roughly 16 attacks per year worldwide)
  • 66% occurred in the West (roughly 11 per year)
  • 42% of those attacks that took place in the West “resulted in substantial or very substantial property damage and
    financial losses” (that’s a total of 66 attacks or 4 attacks per year in all Western nations)

I find I can’t really say much more about this because the slide does such a poor job of mangling the original research that we just need to bury this and move on.

(Protip:  If you’re going to quote someone else’s work it’s a good idea to quote it correctly and understand it.  Just sayin’)

Then we get a number of slides about civil disobedience actions.  Without the discussion notes we can only speculate about how these were described which I won’t do here.  At no point, however, is it made clear why this is anything more than a local law enforcement issue.  Ok, a bunch of people are protesting and trespassing.  Get the paddy wagon, boys, and lock ‘em up or move them along.

Slides 16-22 finally give us something of a threat.  Various incendiary and explosive devices along with a report of a shooting.  It is important to note that the presentation doesn’t link any one of these events to environmental extremists.  There are a whole lot of reasons why people might do these things without being affiliated with the environmental movement.  Disgruntled workers come to mind.  The way this information is presented, however, you are practically forced to come to the conclusion that the crazy environmental types are behind these.  They may but that’s not clear from the information provided.

It’s frustrating that I probably just spent more time reviewing this product that the author(s) spent constructing it but there you go.  Don’t let this happen to you.


Watch Yes Prime Minister 1.2 -The Ministerial Broadcast in Comedy | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Today in the Winter War

Ryssien lentokoneita pienennetään sulattamista varten Suomi-valimossa.

Nothing is wasted…A Finnish worker dismantles a Russian plane to return it to the foundry.

Things are going bad for the Finns at this point as the Soviets have finally gotten their act together.  Continued resistance on the part of the Finns is making the Soviets look weak and foolish on the world stage.

Early on in the war the Soviets wanted to impress the world through a masterful display of tactical expertise, similar to what Germany had displayed in Poland.  As a result they prepared an invasion plan that they confidently would be wrapped up in 12 days.  Now, almost 3 months later, they just wanted it over.  As a result, the Soviets went back to brute force tactics.

Official Finnish dispatches are beginning to reflect the grim situation.  Gone is the talk of counter-attacks and large totals of Soviets losses.  Instead, we read about withdrawals and deaths.

Reserve Corporal Korsola, a fighter pilot in the Finnish Air Force, is killed during the course of the morning.

The massive Soviet offensive continues across Viipurinlahti bay to Häränpäänniemi and Vilajoki.

Withdrawal from the intermediary and delaying positions in the Suur-Pero sector disintegrates into panic when enemy tanks get in among the Finnish troops.

The defending force manages to defeat the enemy detachments which have come ashore, but later in the evening Tuppura and Teikari islands are lost to the enemy.

The Finnish Government decides by 17 votes to 3 in favour of opening formal peace talks with the Soviet Union.

In Ladoga Karelia, the eastern Lemetti ‘motti’, also known as the ‘general motti’, is captured by 4 o’clock in the morning, giving IV Army Corps its greatest ever haul of captured enemy materiel: 71 tanks, 268 lorries and several lorryloads of guns and shells.

Brigade Commander Kondratiev, the general after whom the ‘motti’ was named, is killed along with his staff officers in a desperate attempt to break out. The enemy loses around 3,000 men altogether.

Reserve Second Lieutenant Nyrki Tapiovaara is killed leading a reconnaissance patrol on the Kollaa front. The 28-year-old Tapiovaara, a film director in civilian life, leaves behind an uncompleted film based on F.E. Sillanpää’s novel Miehen tie (A Man’s Way).

In northern Finland, a fierce artillery bombardment heralds the launch of the third attempt by Soviet troops to come to the aid of the surrounded 54th Division at Kilpelänkangas in Kuhmo.

In just the couple of hours before noon the enemy pounds the Finnish positions with around 3,000 shells.

The Finnish 7th Division, fighting in Taipale, has lost around 100 men a day. More than half these losses have come in February.

15 Finnish and 36 Russian fighters engage in a dogfight in the skies above Ruokolahti on the southeast edge of Lake Saimaa.

The battle lasts a little under half an hour. Several of the Finnish aircraft are damaged, and seven shot down. Lieutenants Huhanantti, Halme and Kristensen, the latter a Danish volunteer, are killed, and three other pilots are wounded.

There is heavy enemy bombing on the home front, in Turku, Haapamäki, Savonlinna and Kouvola. 132 bombers are counted in the skies above Kouvola.

Finland sends a note to the League of Nations over the Soviet Union’s military action against Finland’s civilian population.

Kvick Tänkare

Stoic Studio just recently released a viking themed game called The Banner Saga.  I’m not sure if this is a new trend or I’m just getting more selective in my gaming choices but Banner Saga places a high emphasis on story and mood, interspersed with more traditional game play. I really enjoyed how they captured the feel of the fatalism of Norse mythology.  Games like this give hints for where they can (and probably will) go in the future.  I suspect that story driven games may even become the cultural touchstones for the next generation.  Whereas, TV played that role when I was growing up (with half a dozen channels to watch, odds were good you and your friends and neighbors were watching the same thing), radio before that all the way back to the traveling storytellers.

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Back when I was stationed in (West!) Germany in the late 1980s there was a reoccurring call for coins from the banks on post.  The problem was soldiers and their families did what everyone did…put their pocket change in a piggy bank of some sort until there was enough to make it worthwhile to cash in.  That meant coins were being taken out of circulation faster than they were being reintroduced into the system.  That, in turn, meant that the government had to ship coins from the U.S. to Europe to keep the military banks, PXs, etc. running.  A bag of pennies ($50) weighs around 30 pounds.  You don’t need to be a shipping genius to know that it’s not cost efficient to do that in bulk over and over again.

By the time I got to Afghanistan the U.S. government was not going to devote scarce cargo space to ship pennies in bulk, let alone other cash:

Shortly before the Iraq War, the military found that for every $1 million to currency sent to pay soldiers overseas, it as costing them $60,000 in security, logistics, and support fees.

So, the military handed out small cardboard tokens (known as POGS by children of the ’90s) and ‘$100 in quarters (5 pounds, 1 ounce), was reduced to 14 ounces in equivalent pog currency.

All of that was introduction to this piece about the history of military currency and, more specifically, pogs.

First Corinthians in a terrible PowerPoint presentation…I feel like I’ve sat through this many times and in many places.

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Who Are the ‘Satanists’ Designing an Idol for the Oklahoma Capitol?

An awesome article about the ‘backpack nuke’ and some of the soldiers that were tasked with using it to stop a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

What counts as ‘terrorism’?

Assessing terrorism is a bit more difficult than it might first appear to be.  At first glance it looks like it should be pretty easy.  When someone detonates an explosive, fires and gun or flies an airplane into a building along with some sort of ideological statement it’s terrorism.  Everyone likes to talk about we haven’t been able to settle on a universal definition (even within the U.S. Government) but I bet more people would say that they could identify it if they saw it.

Yet, that’s not really true and in the case of domestic terrorism. The problem, I suspect, is pretty serious for several reasons. Allow me to demonstrate a couple…

First, please consider this:

The Fort Stewart soldier accused of organizing an anti-government militia and orchestrating plots to takeover the Coastal Georgia Army post, bomb the Forsyth Park Fountain and poison Washington state’s apple crop appeared at the Long County Courthouse Friday to plead guilty in his civilian court case.

And this from an assessment of a group I will discuss later:

  • Criminal activity has ranged from graffiti and trespassing, to vandalism, sabotage and arson;
  • Desired result is to inflict significant economic loss;
  • Historically, activities have not intended to harm individuals

Now, which (if either or both) do you think should be considered a terrorist case?

Both certainly could based on the information provided.  The first is pretty clear cut.  The perpetrators had an ideological agenda, planned to conduct violent activity against a government or population in furtherance of that ideology.  In fact, they were implicated in several homicides and hoarded weapons so they get bonus points for actually taking steps to carry out their plans.  If you review many of the criminal complaints against terrorism suspects you’ll note that most of these knuckleheads have to have the FBI hold their hands through the planning and operational stages of a terrorist attack.  In fact, they’ve been accused of being a bit to enthusiastic in their encouragement of getting people to pick up the black banner of al-Qaeda.

The second group is ‘environmental extremists’ and from an alleged leaked joint presentation from the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police. 1

I’m not going to rehash my issues with the way the law enforcement/homeland security community deals with animal/environmental extremism here (perhaps in another post).  I see I’ve been writing about it for more than 8 years (!) now and see very little progress in the area.  Read that post from 2006 and then look at the leaked document…You’ll see the same sins over and over (and over) again.  2

These two events are significant in terms of what they tell us about federal priorities.  The first case (you know, the one where mass murder was planned) was NOT addressed federally.  It was prosecuted at the county level.  That’s pretty odd given that usually everyone wants credit for busting up a terrorism ring.

And here’s the thing…most assessments of terrorist activity (particularly in the United States) rely on federal government prosecutions or indictments that allege terrorist activity.  So, no indictment…no terrorism.  This essentially makes terrorism analysis a function of prosecutorial decision.  While there may be a lot of overlap, those two things are most definitely not identical.

So, we have a situation where things like the Global Terrorism Database (the ‘go to’ terrorism database and which I endorse) does not include things like F.E.A.R.  So, they don’t get federal attention, don’t get picked up be researchers and they drop out of sight like a bad Reddit thread 3

Start asking questions and watch how quick everyone does their best Obi Wan Kenobi impersonation…

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These are not the terrorists you’re looking for….

If you’re intellectually sloppy this can lead to all sorts of distortions about the current state of terrorism, how it may be trending and open you up for all sorts of strategic surprise.

Key point:  Understand what your data does and does not capture and what you can (and shouldn’t) use it for.

Internationally, there is another concern.  Peruse through most terrorism assessments and you’ll see the unspoken assumption that terrorism events can be lumped together in order to determine trends.  In some cases, that may be warranted.  In terms of tactics, for example (hijacking in the 1960s and suicide bombings in the 2000s) tactics which are effective spread not just geographically but also across ideological boundaries.

But that isn’t a universal rule.  An increase in terrorism in one place or against one target type does NOT necessarily mean it’ll occur elsewhere.  It would be interesting to see if it does (and my impression is that it does not) but we  shouldn’t act like it’s established fact.

The people at START do a good job of making this distinction in products like this.

Although terrorism touched 85 countries in 2012, just three – Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan – suffered more than half of 2012’s attacks (54%) and fatalities (58%)…

“While terrorist attacks have in large part moved away from Western Europe and North America to Asia, the Middle East and Africa, worldwide terrorism is reaching new levels of destructiveness,”

If looking for terrorism trends that might effect…Boise, Idaho (for example) perhaps including incidents from a dataset that includes these three countries isn’t a good idea.  Many places (particularly those in non-academic settings) not only don’t make those distinctions.  Often they don’t even understand them.

It seems weird to say this but 13 years after 9/11 and we really haven’t done much work in thinking about how we should think about terrorism.  You’d think we’d have terms of reference down pat but we don’t.  We continue to cobble things together and that’s not good.

 

  1. I can’t verify the authenticity or integrity of the product so evaluate the source as such.  The content does seem consistent with similar products that have been leaked int eh past and public statements from officials on the subject. The one red flag that is raised is the bizarre color scheme used in the presentation.  I can say that I’ve never seen hot pink used in an official presentation.
  2. The question, to me, is if these are sins of intention or incompetence.  Do they know they’re playing with the facts or do they not see the cognitive biases and flaws in logic in what they do?  I have no idea.
  3. Nice attempt to appear culturally relevant but you aren’t fooling anyone. eds.