Thursday, April 30, 2009
Torture: A Comment
Torture is an iffy proposition.
If torture does not yield good information, then what is the point of it?
1. This boils down to how one selects the prisoner to be subjected to hard interrogation. It is obvious that few line soldiers possess much in the way of actionable intelligence. So, the first objective is to establish the stature of the prisoner in the ranks of the enemy.
2. For the current brand of terrorists, this is not an easy task, since they wear no uniforms, have no insignia, and their buddies will usually not give their leaders away. It thus takes time to ferret out who the bossman is from a group of captives. It may be necessary to use some limited hard methods simply to get to the bossman.
3. Once the bossman in identified, there is still the problem that even he may have very limited knowledge of the grander scheme of terrorist operations. What this leads to is a very careful development of the command structure of the terrorists over time and through many interrogations, and identification of those who must possess significant intelligence. In this, the low level bossman may be able to help a bit.
4. Slowly and painfully the command structure is defined, with or without hard interrogations, and the main leaders are targeted for capture.
5. It is when a “superboss” is captured that interrogations become prolonged and serious, since the probability of finding actionable intelligence is highest with such a person. Here is where hard interrogation methods may well be employed more fully.
6. Since much of the important information such a major leader possesses is extremely time sensitive, it is necessary to find out all he knows about imminant operations quickly, before the enemy reacts to his capture and changes things to minimize the impact on their operations.
7. The interrogations may succeed or fail to produce good intelligence, for quite a large variety of reasons. When they succeed, it can be spectacular; when they fail, it can be one of the most frustrating situations imaginable for all concerned. This is true regardless of the methods used.
8. The one thing that seems to be true is that the interrogators will find out over a long period of time most of the life history of the captive, where he has been during his lifetime, what he has been trained to do, and the names of just about everyone he knows. Whether any of this information leads to real actionable intelligence is problematical. Some bits of information may turn out to be useful when correlated with other sources.
9. The answer, then, is: despite high expectations, especially of saving lives, and despite a careful identification of the probable knowledge of the captive, we do not know going in what the result of any form of interrogation may be, and the possible failure to garner anything of importance is always present.
Yet, it is reported that significant intelligence has been forthcoming from our captives at Gitmo. I imagine that the detailed facts about this will not emerge for some considerable time.
On Fiscal Conservatism
Hardline fiscal conservatism is being watered down.
"Take a concept like “fiscal conservatism.” Let’s define it (arbitrarily) as “The State should not take from citizens more than is necessary for the maintenance of a just and moral society.”---Rick Moran, Right Wing Nut House
Yes, it is arbitrary, and it is useful to show the interpretive differences that arise. But, it isn’t anywhere close to what I define as fiscal conservatism:
1. Expenditures must not exceed revenue. When revenue falls, so must expenditures. (exception: see #5)
2. Entitlements must be capped at no more than X% of gross revenue. If gross revenue falls, so must entitlements.
3. Security, including law enforcement, HSA, and defense, must be capped at Y% of gross revenue. (see exception in 10. below)
4. No legislation can be passed unless the means for its funding are fully aired, voted upon and fully funded at the same time.
5. Deficit spending legislation must require a 2/3rds vote in both houses.
6. The current deficit must be paid off over 10 years(perhaps 20,or you name it, I can’t keep up!)by deducting the yearly payments from gross revenue available.
7. Earmarks must be outlawed, and any other devious means for dipping into the common till must also be outlawed.
8. To aid avoiding cronyism, there must be term limits for Congressmen.
9. No bill can be passed until it has been read fully by all congressmen personally, debated in both houses, and without tricky maneuvers by the party in power to avoid a floor fight.
10. Emergency spending must be legislated and passed with a 2/3rds favorable vote in both houses.
11. The President must be given a line item veto power that can only be overridden by a 3/4th majority of both houses.
12. Progressive taxation must be abolished, and a Fair Tax installed in its place, plus all other federal taxes by any name must be abolished.
13.Any excess revenue must be used to reduce the national debt.
14. No bill should be presented that exceeds Z% of gross revenue to the government, or that is projected to exceed this yearly revenue percentage in out years. (see #4,#5)
15. There must be no riders to bills that are not germane to the principal issue of that bill.
X and Y above might be established as their current value. Z might be set at .5%: the idea is to reduce the number of omnibus spending bills.
Of course, there isn’t any chance at all that these provisions would be put into law now. But some legislation that moves the mark in these fiscally conservative directions may be possible post 2010 or 2012.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Torture Cannot be Fully Eliminated
1) Torture does work, and it works very well;
2) Torture works faster than standard interrogation methods;
3) Moral and legal strictures against torture are absolutely necessary for our society:
4) These strictures do not, and can not, eliminate acts of torture in our society completely, because there are amoral and immoral men here, even if only temporally blinded from the strictures, and they know that torture works.
5) Obviously, when these amoral/immoral men are caught after committing torture they should face justice.
6) Government and military men giving orders or acting under orders to commit torture are guilty of violating the law. But, so long as the rules and definitions of torture have been till now somewhat vague and highly debatable, it is not appropriate to convict these men of the specific act of waterboarding or enhanced methods in the past.
7) Let us hope that no "Ticking Time Bomb" situation ever does arrive to plague those in charge with a moral dilemma. But, if one does arrive, I hope someone has the guts to do what is necessary.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
It is Good if a Majority Says So!
Rules for social behaviors are not the responsibility of a majority.
The idea that a majority “normalizes” a given behavior seems to me to be pure moral relativity, where the crowd’s behavior defines the good and the bad. This is as opposed to moral absolutes, where either a religion or a government, or even an atheist group, defines for all a moral code to be followed, and sets forth clear rules for social behaviors. Many aspects of the moral code are thus found to be incorporated into the laws of the land.
If moral degeneration takes place in a society and the established moral code or the laws are flouted by the majority of citizens, what is the proper response? Should the code or laws be changed to reflect the changing behavior of the crowd, or should they be more strongly enforced for the greater good?
Not reinforcing the existing codes and laws opens the door for flouting other rules of behavior as well in order to let the code or law follow the preferences of the citizens.
The fear this creates is one of supporting nihilism and hedonism, and eventually evolving a society with few rules and few unacceptable behaviors.
The syndrome of: “well, just one more little change” to the code and all will be well, is an exceedingly slippery slope. To me a moral code that has been fashioned by both wise souls and by experience over centuries is an organic whole, such that little modifications here and there may well unravel that wholeness, and hence unravel significant behaviors of the society.
For those that believe in God-given moral strictures, tinkering with the moral code to please the crowd is a flat out sin.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Handling the Pirates of Somalia
The pirates operate in a zone that extends from the Gulf of Aden to the southern border of Somalia, and out to sea for about 600 nautical miles. They use trawlers as mother ships that are large enough to carry two or three speedboats. It is the speedboats that race to the target ship from the trawler carrying five or six men each that will board the ship and capture control. The pirates are armed with small arms, mainly AK-47s, and RPGs, but there have been light machine guns as well.
Merchant vessels and crews are not armed. This is by direction of their owners, who fear loss of insurance coverage for their ship and cargo. Many lawyers persuade the owners that this is the best approach, since resistance would create a loss of life situation and result in lawsuits against the owners by the families of the crews. Allowing the pirates to take control and sail the ship to Somalia, has resulted in the eventual release of the ship with its cargo intact and the crew unharmed. After, of course, the owners have paid a considerable ransom through intermediaries in various other countries.
A number of ideas to thwart the pirates have been suggested:
1. Assault Somalia.
2. Trace the pirate’s funds and seize them
3. Arm the merchantmen by law
4. Increase warship patrols
5. Employ drones for reconnaissance, surface picture building, and tracking of identified pirate vessels.
6. Employ drones acting as hunter/killers to track down and destroy the pirate vessels.
I rejected the idea of an assault on Somalia, because I believe that it would cost all of the ships’ crews their lives and all of the captured ships tied up there to be sunk. It is reasonable to believe that the captured ships and their crews are rigged with explosives that would be detonated at the first sign of an attack.
Tracing the funds and freezing them is a fine idea, but I do not know how. I will leave that idea to financial experts.
Arming the merchantmen is also a fine idea, if done properly. The first step is to mandate that all ships be armed, and thwart the lawyers. Have interested nations volunteer squads of trained men and a vessel or two to house them, nominally outside of the three or twelve mile limits near major ports of call. Place an 8-man squad on each merchantman, armed with their standard weapons, plus several 50 caliber machineguns, night vision equipment, and communications gear. Another weapon for this situation is a TOW anti-tank missile system, or similar, which would be capable of sinking the trawler and the speedboats.
An increase in warships is good, but very expensive to maintain. I’d say the situation calls for around six potent vessels such as our Bainbridge destroyer, primarily to use their intelligence, command and control, and communications capabilities for conducting the engagements of suspicious vessels in the area¸ using the combined surface picture generated by Reapers and other sources. On occasion, they might be able to take direct action against a pirate vessel as well.
Using drones of the Predator/Reaper/Global Hawk class, the area could be swept often enough to create a good surface picture, and an accurate track of all vessels. Flying at 50 to 65 thousand feet, each of these drones can cover some 40,000 square miles per day, and can use their SLR radar to image the vessels night and day. If we can integrate this coverage with that of satellites, recce aircraft, ships, and other sources, a more complete surface picture would result. Vessels suspected of being pirates could then be tracked and warnings issued to merchantmen in the path of the pirate. The pirate vessel could also be warned to steer off and cease their threatening approach to a merchant vessel, or else!
The Reaper is a relatively new version of the original Predator with a number of significant upgrades, notably the capability to carry 4 to 8 weapons of the GBU-39 type. The GBU-39 has a range of about 60 nm, and has a highly accurate guidance system based on GPS, and a terminal guidance system that can follow moving objects such as tanks---or trawlers and speedboats. Reaper can cruise at 50,000 feet for over 24 hours, contributing to the picture, until a suspected vessel needs closer attention as determined by the evolving surface picture. Then the Reaper closes on the suspect at over 200kts, and once in range, launches one or more of its guided bombs at the pirate vessels. End of the pirates.
My thought is that a squadron of Reapers would do a good job. I believe that would be 12 drones and three guidance units. That means there are six channels available for control of six drones at a time. The idea is to have four drones performing surveillance at all times, and two more in the air ready to perform the hunter/killer role, while helping form the surface picture in the meanwhile. This number of drones cannot form a complete surface picture of the approximately 600,000 sq mile area of interest on a daily basis, but, when combined with all other sources a workable and reasonably up to date picture could be created. Managing the drone coverage is a significant task that is best performed by one of our shipboard command centers.
I have seen reports that the Predator/Reaper has the capability of being put into a racetrack orbit and left there on autopilot until a controller takes over again. This would allow all of the six controllers to conduct tracking and engagement on demand, while the remaining orbiting drones keep up the surveillance patterns automatically for a period of time such as four or five hours.
Since the takeoff and landing of drones is conducted by a separate control system located at the home base, the drones can be fed into the surveillance orbits by the home controllers, and left there until called out for an attack by the forward controllers. Under this scheme, the 12 drones of the squadron could be utilized simultaneously, or nearly so, thus doubling the surveillance coverage to about 480,000 square miles per day.
However, a number of factors will reduce this coverage, such as the necessity for the drones to return to base for fuel, maintenance, and rearming. Still, this coverage is a substantial portion of the pirate’s operating area. Clever use of this coverage, plus the coverage gleaned from satellites and other sources could materially increase the probability that any pirate vessel would be detected, tracked, engaged, and destroyed before it could mount a successful boarding.
As a final point, the Reaper is far cheaper to produce and operate than warships would be, it would have a huge coverage area compared to a ship, and it would have a far faster response time and closure rate. The weapons available for Reaper are the most accurate guided bombs built that also have motion tracking capability, and a significant range.