Ask a Vet about their story

I will be forever amazed how well our country treats veterans. Anytime I’ve traveled in uniform, it becomes hard to pay for a meal. This is especially true if I’m driving in the middle of the country where there aren’t a lot of military bases. This Veterans Day will doubtlessly be no different, and I’ll get reminded again that this is a country full of great people that care.

Over this past week I had a chance to interact with some of the older veterans from WW2 and Korea. Those veterans are disappearing at an alarming rate, and it won’t be long until they are gone. After that, we’ll eventually have nobody that lived through the Cold War. That time is coming faster than we think.

These veterans have stories that bring these conflicts to life. One WW2 veteran told me about the large number of plane accidents near his hometown. It reminded me that while we increased production of everything from ships to planes, it doesn’t mean it was the greatest quality. We cranked out Liberty ships in less than a month, but more than a few brittle fractured in half due to cold weather and poor welding. Planes and other weapon systems had similar issues. There are a lot of training aircraft on the bottom of Lake Michigan due to equipment failures.

The Liberty ship S.S. Schenectady, which, in 1943, failed before leaving the shipyard. (Reprinted with permission of Earl R. Parker, Brittle Behavior of Engineering Structures, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1957.) From: https://metallurgyandmaterials.wordpress.com/2015/12/25/liberty-ship-failures/

I would encourage every non-veteran reading this to not just thank a veteran this weekend for their service, but ask them if they have 5 minutes to share a story. Our veterans can become increasingly isolated in their own little groups, and after a while your sea stories get old in the same groups of people. Having even a brief chance to hear about something they did will help bring the conflicts alive. You won’t read these stories in a book. History books capture facts and numbers well, but history is made by real people who are far too complex to capture on paper. This Veterans Day gives us a golden opportunity to remember that and carry on these stories in our minds before they are lost.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Open Skies and Comcast Cable: Both things that need to be cut

One of the Russian Open Skies Aircraft
By Oleg Belyakov – http://www.airliners.net/photo/Russia—Air/Tupolev-Tu-214ON/2007280/L/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17241781

Anytime President Trump goes to cancel a treaty, it sure causes a ruckus. Open Skies, a treaty we’ve had with Russia and 32 other countries since 2002 (although the idea traces back to 1955) that allows flights by very specific aircraft with very specific imaging equipment to fly anywhere over the countries of the signatories. It was designed as a mutual-trust building measure to help the then-Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries build trust with their NATO counterparts.

Now President Trump doesn’t see any point to it. Similar to the INF Treaty, Open Skies has outlived its usefulness, for a lot of reasons:

China is a bigger threat. Yup, China. China is absolutely loving the world created for it by the post-World War Two winners, and has benefited tremendously. Not being constrained by Open Skies, INF, START, or a host of other treaties, it remains openly belligerent to its neighbors. Dropping out of US-Russia agreements allows us to restart negotiations and add in China.

We have other surveillance. Open Skies flights are announced in advance, and both sides take steps to limit what can be observed. The actual usefulness of the flights is pretty limited. Plus, with advances in satellite technology, the flights don’t add much value unless you don’t have access to any satellite imagery. Given that you can purchase public imagery, the Open Skies treaty is increasingly becoming irrelevant.

It’s a swipe at Russia. Russia continues to behave aggressively. Ukraine? Georgia? Still missing pieces of territory. If you’re in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, you’re not exactly comfortable with this trend. This, on top of Russia’s push to legitimize tactical nuclear weapon use, makes them increasingly dangerous. Why reward that behavior?

Open Skies is like Comcast Cable. The subscription gives you so little, yet benefits the other side an awful lot. You know you can do better, but that inertia to keep it remains.

We need to cut the cord on Open Skies and all other deals until Russia stops invading its neighbors.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Breaking the SCIF phones

What all phones should look like after a SCIF visit.

If you’ve never heard of a SCIF before this past week, you probably don’t work in government. SCIFs are Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities. If you want to read or work on a document that is classified Top Secret, you work in a SCIF. As you can see from a released set of specifications, SCIFs are fairly intensively constructed. Floors and ceilings are solid, wires are in buried conduits checked by the NSA’s TEMPEST program, and access is tightly controlled.

It’s not surprising that when Republican lawmakers go into the SCIF with cell phones, it causes alarm. And it should. Photography equipment isn’t allowed, nor is anything that can conduct two-way communication. Already you have people calling for removal of clearances. But is that appropriate?

In short, no. Congressional Representatives and Senators get access to classified information based on their position. While they are required to take an oath of secrecy, they don’t have to go through the SF86 process. By electing them to their office, the people of the United States (whether they realize it or not) have declared their comfort with that individual having access to classified access.

While some very sensitive information is only released to certain individuals, its pretty small. A Congressman visited a site I worked at before and had access to everything. Now, his staff members did not, and I had to keep them out of certain briefings, but the Congressman himself was good.

In short though, you can’t take away access, unless you kick them out of office.

However, there should be consequences for violating rules. All the Armed Services have harsh and effective ways of dealing with this. Cell phones brought into a SCIF are normally sent to NCIS to be scanned. With people having most of their lives on a phone, losing it for a week while NCIS painstakingly goes through every image and file tends to be good persuasion. The Marines in Iraq, in response to people plugging their personal devices into classified computers, simply confiscated the devices and nailed them to a wooden board outside the SCIF. After walking by a board with iPhones and tablets nailed and screwed to the wall, you get the message quickly.

Confiscate and scan some phones, and put a policy in place that repeat offenders lose their devices. After a few of those, you won’t have idiots bringing phones into a SCIF.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. The author kindly reminds you to keep your damn phone out of the SCIF!

How’s that Africa plan working out for us?

Map of Nigeria, from Nigeria.ru

With the focus on the Middle East, its easy to forget there are other parts of the world. Africa in particular tends to not make our news feeds. It always makes mine though, and yesterday was more bad news:

Nigeria looks to sign military cooperation deal with Russia this month

with this gem:

““We’re sure that with Russian help we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram, given Russia’s experience combating Islamic State in Syria,” Nigerian envoy Steve Ugbah said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency.”

Steve Ugbah, Nigerian Envoy

Ugh.

As a nation we suck at African relationships. Nigeria in particular is a key nation, with not only a relatively functioning democracy, but also a large population and large economy. Nigeria will be a leading force in Africa over the next 20 years. And that is about where our relationship ends.

Our State Department is not pushing relationships forward enough, unlike China and Russia, who are more than happy to offer economic and military incentives to advance their influence in the region. On the military side, we should be pushing for a military collective with African Nations that would help build military standards (similar to NATO), allow collective exercises, provide personnel exchanges and open markets to military sales. On the economic side, Africa presents a unique opportunity break China’s grasp on low-cost manufature and invest in a region that is unlikely to build a military super-giant devoted to destroying the United States. While we’re at it, let’s reevaluate how we do sanctions, since we seem happy to put sanctions on African countries for human rights violations while willfully ignoring those of Arab countries.

Africa could be our answer to China if we let it be. Let’s make that choice vice letting China and Russia turn Africa into their next backyard.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Before you go there: NO, President Trump did not pull a Hillary Clinton

I saw the same picture you did when President Trump tweeted about Iran’s failed satellite launch. The picture is pretty nice and detailed. It’s resolution appears to be much higher than commercial imagery, and more than a few people are accusing the President of releasing classified information, and in doing so, demonstrating disregard for our intelligence capabilities. I’m calling it now…it won’t be much longer until someone compares this to Hillary Clinton’s classified emails.

Except that it’s an apples to pawpaws comparison. The picture was likely part of an intelligence product. The black spot in the upper left was probably where the classification marking was located. Most likely this appeared in a product of some kind, and President Trump asked to release it at an unclassified level. Whether that is responsible or not isn’t much of a discussion, because as an original classification authority, President Trump is 100% authorized to declassify any intelligence he wants.

The Intelligence Community exists to serve national interests, and declassifying intelligence at a sooner than expected date is not unprecedented. Showing our enemies that we have knowledge of an event, a military buildup, or something else may advance our interests. In the case of Iran, it was probably intended to stave off Iranian accusations of US meddling. It’s also a high-level trolling event, where President Trump wishes Iran “good luck” in finding out what happened. Does he know something? Did he pay off someone? Or did he get lucky? If it causes a flurry of accusations about Americans inside the Iranian ranks…so much the better.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Norway: stuck in the middle

Norway is stuck in the middle. Russia has been pushing more aggressively past Norway. Recently Russia canceled a polar Norwegian Cruise Line entry into Russian waters, forcing the cruise company to reimburse passengers only two weeks before the cruise. Russia also surged naval forces off the Norwegian coast in its “Ocean Shield” exercise, causing a lot of consternation among the Norwegian populace.

But simply saddling up to the US isn’t in the cards, at least for some. Norwegian media is enthralled with President Trump, and not in a nice way. Norwegian media, namely Dagbladet and Klassekampen, regularly blast the US and President Trump in particular, and call for Norway to keep its distance from the US.

Norway is quickly entering into a forced choice. It’s military understands that NATO, and specifically the US, are critical to keeping it independent of Russia in any future conflict. The US is doubling down not just on NATO funding, but also on support for the Straits of Hormuz patrols. Iran’s foreign minister recently visited Norway, was met with significant protests, and told Norway to not support the patrols.

So now Norway, always content to play the middle, gets to choose between two forces. On one side, a resurging Russia and Iran, who are willing to use their muscle in critical maritime geography, and a US, which is using its forces to support the agreed-upon UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Choices have consequences, and the middle choice will likely become untenable before much longer.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Greenland? Why Not?

There is much ado about President Trump offering to purchase Greenland, and the Danish government politely turning it down. Was it stupid to make the offer in the first place? It’s not the first time the U.S. has offered to buy Greenland, which captured the interest of William Seward in 1867 and President Truman in 1946. Trump’s offer is looked at as rude, but its actually a bit genius.

The biggest under reported piece about Greenland is timing with China. China recently tried to purchase the Grønnedal naval base on the western side of the island. It wasn’t economically viable, but it would give them a foothold in Greenland to work from. China looked at other purchases of various mines in Greenland, including mines near the North Pole and mines for uranium and rare earth metals.

The Danish government’s response has been tepid. The local Greenland government, longing for independence, needs viable economic development in order to be independent of Denmark. Keep in mind that the majority of the 58,000 mostly Inuit people on Greenland don’t really identify as Danish, and have been creeping closer to independence over the past 20 years. Heck, Greenland isn’t even part of the EU anymore. China needs a claim to the Arctic, and has plenty of experience loaning money in debt diplomacy, so it seems like a win for China.

Enter Trump and the “bombastic” claim to purchase Greenland. How can Denmark respond?

  1. Denmark can take the offer. Greenland becomes essentially like an independent Indian nation inside the US.

Sounds crazy? Right now, Greenland operates under it’s own laws, and allows Denmark to manage foreign affairs and security. What about US Indian tribes?

“These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone, and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).” (from Wikipedia)

That doesn’t sound like a bad deal.

  1. Denmark can reject the offer and say that Greenland belongs to them.

By doing so, Denmark will have to say how important Greenland is…which will spark it to show it can protect the area, perhaps invest in it, address Inuit concerns and, most importantly, not allow China a foothold.

Trump’s offer comes on the heels of Secretary of State Pompeo making fun of China’s claim to be a “near-Arctic” nation. “Near-Arctic” means…nothing. It’s a poor attempt for China to get in on the “global superpower” game, and Pompeo rightly laughed them off the stage. Trump crushing China’s hopes in Greenland provide much-needed follow-through on this Arctic-denial strategy.

Trump’s offer is a win-win for the U.S. It starts serious dialog about Greenland and makes the Denmark government, who have to defend Greenland, become more serious about its defense. No surprise, Denmark is increasing its defense budget, although still falling short of the 2% GDP NATO limit. And most importantly, it directly kicks China out of the running for Arctic Nation status.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.