The Lessons of Mali

Considering the French operation to defeat – or at least blunt – the jihad in Mali has only just begun, and the outcome remains impossible to discern, it seems premature to ponder “lessons” just yet. Not least because the U.S. military’s love of “lessons learned” – our British partners more honestly term this process “lessons identified” since they often remained unlearned – is one of the more tedious and frequently ineffectual of Pentagon undertakings. But pondering lessons sooner, not later, seems wise.

There will be no beating up on the French here. For all the neocon love of taunts about “cheese eating surrender monkeys,” as I write this troops of the Foreign Legion are engaging in house-to-house fighting for the key town of Diabaly, the fall of which a few days ago to the mujahidin prompted rapid French intervention. This promises to be a nasty fight, as street combat always is, especially against an enemy quite happy to die in place. I wish the best to the Legionnaires who, Paris assures us, are defending Europe in the deserts of West Africa. You will find not a single paunchy writer for National Review or Commentary in their ranks – for they are specialists in killing muj with their mouths.

No doubt there is a bit of Parisian wag the dog here, since M. Hollande is desperate to distract attention from his disastrously failed domestic policies, but the French are right to be alarmed about the collapse of what’s left of the Malian state and the takeover of the whole place, rather than just half, by the forces of jihad. Mali is a complex place and this struggle is commensurately so. Two years ago, the Tuaregs of the north rebelled against the central government for the fifth time since independence from France in 1960, coinciding with the spread of Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the local Friends of Zawahiri, across the Sahel, along with several other shadowy jihadist groups. It’s premature to claim that the northern half of Mali is “the largest AQ-controlled space on earth” since no one has every really controlled that wasteland in any Western sense. Moreover, AQIM and its jhad-inclined partners are a nebulous bunch, and much of the area is more under the control of the Algerian military, specifically its powerful intelligence service, the DRS, than anyone else. That said, it is unquestionably an ominous development that jihadists of various stripes have managed to penetrate into central Mali, where France fights them now. Indications that Tuareg separatists, who pine for a statelet of their own rather than virgins in paradise, may side with France against the jihadists are encouraging, but this campaign is far from over.

However, it is perfectly clear that France has intervened because American policy in Mali has failed dismally. The controversial creation of DoD’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) in late 2008 was predicated on helping African militaries to fight AQ and its allies on our behalf, with our help, without needing direct U.S. military involvement. No African country was more important to the new AFRICOM in this regard than Mali, where the AQIM threat has been rising for several years, and where DoD has spent vast sums and man-hours trying to bring the Malian security forces up to snuff. Emphasizing what the Pentagon calls Phase Zero operations, meaning trying to prevent a full-blown rebellion from breaking out, has been AFRICOM’s main job across the Sahel, Mali especially. This falls under the au courant rubric of Theater Security Cooperation, a Pentagonism which has launched ten thousand PowerPoints, but TSC’s connection to reality is sometimes tenuous, as the Malian case shows.

Just how blind to local realities AFRICOM’s expensive Malian adventure was has been summed up nicely by Adam Garfinkle in a new article which is worth quoting at length:

the U.S. counterterrorism training mission in Mali made the stupefying mistake of choosing three of four northern unit commanders to train who were Tuareg. As the article says, when the Tuareg rebellion in Mali gained steam after the denouement of the Libya caper, greatly stimulated by the return of heavily armed Tuareg brethren from that fight, these three Tuareg commanders defected to the rebels, bringing soldiers, vehicles, ammunition and more to the anti-government side. Anyone who was surprised by this is an idiot, or at the very least a terminal ignoramus. And anyone in the U.S. military who failed to understand the ethnic composition of the country’s politico-military cleavages, such that he let U.S. Special Forces training be lavished on Tuareg commanders, was clearly insufficiently trained to do his job. And believe me, that’s about as nice a way to put that as I can summon.

As one who has gotten the (frequently delusional) AFRICOM perspective in more than one painful PowerPoint briefing, I cannot improve on that assessment. It’s not DoD’s fault that an officer trained in U.S. military schools led a coup in Mali last March, one more thing which destabilized a weak state, but it is certainly the Pentagon’s fault that it enacts policies which seem willfully blind to local politico-ethnic realities. Mali is hardly the first place DoD has followed an unwitting own-goal policy, but here the consequences were swift and painful.

Last fall Paris – which has better connections in its former African colonies than the U.S. ever will – was warning that Mali was on the verge of state collapse, with a jihadistan stretching over the region being a real possibility. Another big factor here was how northern Mali was flush with weaponry, thanks to NATO’s 2011 crushing of the Gadhafi regime in neighboring Libya, where huge arsenals of small arms were opened up, to the benefit of rebels, bandits, and holy warriors of many stripes all over Northwest Africa. French concerns, however, were blown off rudely. General Carter Ham, the AFRICOM commander, stated bluntly that military intervention in Mali would fail, while our always tactless UN Ambassador Susan Rice publicly mocked French plans to bolster Mali against the jihad, which had regional African backing, as “crap”. Of course, last week, when American-trained Mali forces fell apart under jihadist assaults, leaving the country vulnerable to takeover by madmen, it was U.S. plans and policy which were revealed to be crap. One hopes Ambassador Rice has the decency to send a discreet apology to the Quai d’Orsay, accompanied by a decent bottle of wine. Maybe General Ham can co-sign the card and chip in a few bucks for the wine.

Where Mali goes from here is unclear. Harder fighting is ahead than many realize. But don’t count the French, who have long experience in West Africa, out just yet. This campaign, which appears a weird redo of a similar operation back in the 19th century to crush jihad-inspired rebels in the same part of Mali, has the backing of pretty much the whole world, and already NATO allies are stepping forward with logistical and related assistance. A great deal of the rebellion could be finished off with a pair of U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships, which may be the outcome anyway.

There is much concern about Mali becoming another Afghanistan, meaning a never-ending counterinsurgency operation against determined Muslim rebels, minus the mountains and far closer to Europe. This worry may be overstated, however, since the French seem to be approaching this in the vintage manner of suppressing a rebellion – something they did frequently in their old empire – rather than counterinsurgency in the current Petraeusian understanding. This is about killing off those you cannot deal with, and buying off those you can, not woolly-headed posturing about “nation-building” in the vast deserts of the Sahel. It bears noting that the French, crushing rebellions every few years back in the old days, built far more durable local institutions than anything the U.S. has managed to pull off anywhere since 2001.

How, then, should the U.S. and DoD deal with unstable and poorly governed places where the extremist threat is real? That’s a biggie for another post, soon.

[N.B. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and not those of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.]

Losing the Spywar Has Consequences

The New York Times has run an excellent report detailing the severe methods which our enemies in Pakistan are employing to blunt the power of our UAVs in the struggle against Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Although not enough Americans seem concerned about the Obama administration’s prodigious use of drones to kill our enemies – not to mention innocent people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – it’s a cause for deep concern around the world, especially among Muslims. As I’ve explained elsewhere, I find UAVs to be a necessary tool in counterterrorism but one which the current administration is overusing to a dangerous degree. We fail to understand how the weapon our enemy terms “the Hand of Allah” is viewed by those on the receiving end of the Hellfire missile from nowhere. Certainly the geniuses in DC seem to be giving too little thought to the long-term consequences of employing drones as the weapon of first resort in our aggressive, worldwide anti-AQ operations.

But that problem may be solving itself in Waziristan, Pakistan’s ungoverned wild frontier, since as the Gray Lady explains, AQ and their helpers are doing a bang-up job of killing off America’s eyes on the ground, both real and imagined. Mujahidin are tracking down locals whom they suspect are helping out the infidels, spotting targets for UAVs and whatnot, and they’re killing them off in horrible ways. Often their confessions, real or feigned, are filmed in close-up for effect, as is a customarily awful death. The message is indelible: this is what we do to spies.

Surely many of those caught in the AQ counterespionage dragnet are innocent, or nearly so, which perhaps is the point. Soviet efforts to root out enemy spies during World War Two brought in plenty of non-spies, who were subjected to the same tortures as actual Gestapo agents. Not for nothing did Stalin term his fearsome counterintelligence agency SMERSH – short for Smert’ shpionam (“death to spies”). They meant it, and often they cared little about whom they brought in for “questioning”; causing general panic, and building deep resistance to helping the enemy, was the idea. Soviet methods were blunt and brutal, including torture on an industrial scale, but despite what progressives today may wish to imagine, also devastatingly effective at winning the spywar against the Nazis. And that victory in the intelligence realm was critically important to Stalin’s unprecedented military triumph in 1945.

Much the same may be happening today. It’s difficult to imagine that many Pakistanis will yearn to help the Americans or their local allies, at any price, when the consequences are so obvious, so public, and so unspeakable. I’m not convinced that the mujahidin are top-shelf experts at counterintelligence – I’ve studied enough campaigns where their own CI performance was subpar, sometimes disastrously so – but I’m certain that we suck at it. By being at least somewhat competent in counterintelligence, AQ is winning the spywar.

American intelligence has never exactly excelled at CI, as it’s known in the trade, and the history of U.S. counterspy efforts includes ample tales of woe, but recent years have been especially painful, with devastating consequences. Lest anyone brush these failures off as “just spy-on-spy stuff,” I implore you, dear reader, to remember CURVEBALL, the Iraqi  fabricator who sold German intelligence, the BND, a bill of goods about Saddam’s WMD, which DC bought too, with well-known results a decade ago; this was a rare case where a basic lack of counterintelligence vigilance helped cause a war.

It’s not like things have gotten better of late. The list of CI disasters in the struggle against the mujahidin is long, but none was so public as the tragedy which unfolded at Afghanistan’s FOB Chapman, three years ago today, when a Jordanian AQ operative who we thought was ours but was really being run by the enemy, blew up himself and nine others – five CIA officers (including the chief of base), two CIA contractors, a Jordanian intelligence officer, and an Afghan security guard. It was arguably the worst day in CIA’s history, not least because it revealed a complete and total failure of basic counterintelligence awareness. We thought we were playing AQ, but really they were playing us, and people died. In the desire to believe in the golden source, caution was thrown to the wind.

It’s not like people haven’t been trying to get the attention of American intelligence about this stuff for eons. Jim Olsen, one of the CIA’s few bona fide counterspy experts in recent decades, published his Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence, which shows what ought to be done with admirable clarity. Every U.S. intelligence officer should be required to read and memorize. I give you the shortest version and encourage anyone with more than a passing interest in espionage and defeating terrorism to read the original closely:

1. Be Offensive

2. Honor Your Professionals

3. Own the Street

4. Know Your History

5. Do Not Ignore Analysis

6. Do Not Be Parochial

7. Train Your People

8. Do Not Be Shoved Aside

9. Do Not Stay Too Long

10. Never Give Up.

As a former CI officer I find it depressing that American intelligence never seems to catch on at any sort of institutional level, but I’m also certain that change can happen when it is really required. The U.S. Intelligence Community, as I like to explain, is deeply enamored with technology, for some very valid reasons: our excellence in things like SIGINT and IMINT really is number-one anywhere, and it’s enormously impressive (as well as expensive), not to mention a critical enabler of our war against the terrorists. That said, all the technology in the world cannot help us if our basic intelligence model continually ignores something as vital as CI. We may own the skies above Waziristan, but the enemy owns the ground, where people actually live, and they are willing to employ old-school, ruthless CI methods to defeat our 21st century toys and techniques. And that is why the enemy is winning.

[N.B. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and certainly not those of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.]

Torture doesn’t work … except when it does

One of the more tedious aspects of the George W. Bush presidency, especially its seemingly interminable second term, was the ultimately useless media debate about the efficacy of torture in interrogating prisoners, particularly terrorism suspects. This became so intense and so repetitious, plus so engagingly vapid, that somewhere in the back of my mind it’s always 2006 and the only phrase I can utter is: “ticking time bomb scenario.”

In the end, the vast amount of pundit energy expended on this matter amounted to nothing, since torture is one of those Big Issues – like, for instance, Guantanamo Bay and drones – which all right-thinking people were very flustered about until January 20, 2009, but which no decent sort talks about since that day since, you know, it’s different when Obama does it.

What the legion of anti-torture writers (meaning those opposed to Bush-era torture, of course) emphasized above all was not only that  applying waterboards and perhaps electrodes to people isn’t just morally awful, since that was a slam-dunk ethically speaking, but that it was ineffective too. It was never enough to pontificate about the evils of torture – who to the left of Satan and/or  Don Rumsfeld would actually say it was a moral good? – rather it had to be demonstrated that it was operationally ineffective too.

That this was a tough sell did not deter some bien-pensants, who asserted that torture was simply ineffective, indeed a “failure,” as a counterterrorism tool. It would be surpassingly kind to note that such a read was based on a highly selective approach to the facts, as well as buckets of wishful thinking. Yet, in this, progressives were assisted by the former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan, who explained at great length that the neanderthals at the CIA were morons and, by the way, torture isn’t helpful. To reach this conclusion he cited his interesting yet less-than-vast personal experience, which allowed him to state unequivocally: “Time and time again, people with actual experience with interrogating terror suspects and actual experience and knowledge about the effectiveness of torture techniques have come out to explain that they are ineffective and that their use threatens national security more than it helps.”

Needless to add, such sweeping statements made Soufan, briefly, the toast of the liberal smart set and the most popular G-Man among progressives since, well, ever; think of him as the anti-Hoover. One must be very hard-hearted not to have a twinge of sympathy for what the Left was trying to say, since their opponents in the public debate were so repulsive. The pro-torture orbit offered counterarguments from Bush flacks who excelled at explaining the effectiveness of waterboarding from the safety of the FoxNews greenroom, individuals who seemed eager to kill Al-Qa’ida with their mouths but who, in real life, had visibly not won the war against donuts.

To make this debate even more confusing, there was a wing which maintained that the United States has much to learn from Israel, since that country has dealt with terrorism for decades and A) has decided to stop torturing terrorist suspects, or B) does torture people, on occasion, which is totally objectionable on legal and moral grounds except when done by Israel and/or friends of Israel. That the latter argument was made eloquently by people otherwise regarded as strong defenders of civil liberties ought to indicate how difficult to follow and generically repulsive this issue became during W’s presidency.

The problem was that the opponents of torture-lite – since no torturer worth his salt would consider waterboarding to be bona fide torture – had only a scant and highly selective reading of the record to back them up. Everyone who has looked at the matter objectively knows that torture has always been part of the interrogator’s repertoire and is especially important when dealing with tough nuts to crack like terrorists and agents of top intelligence services.

Nevertheless, in recent years the U.S. government, too, has gone to great lengths to rewrite history to airbrush out unsavory bits like torture. Hence we got the U.S. Army’s celebrated new doctrine on counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24, which was greeted with media fanfare in 2006 – making it the first and probably last such Field Manual of its kind – and which portrayed the (failed) French effort to suppress the Algerian rebellion in the 1950s in a highly sanitized fashion. FM 3-24’s Algeria, which was painted as a success of sorts despite its obvious failure, included hardly a mention of French internment policies, which put something like ten percent of that country’s population in something like concentration camps. Neither was there any discussion of France’s widespread use of torture, which veteran French intelligence officers boasted was a key, indeed indispensable, component of the war against the Algerian resistance, refusing to alter the facts even when Paris put them on trial for saying the unpleasant truth about the Algerian war. Undeterred by such a slavish devotion to accuracy, FM 3-24, under the guidance of General Petraeus, painted a happier portrait of that war which was nothing if not politically useful for the Bush administration (whether such institutionalized dishonesty led Dave to other lies, such as, say, Paula, is a matter which this blog, not being a gossip site, will not take up at present).

Certainly the Soviets, who possessed the largest and quite possibly most effective intelligence services in the last century, were anything but squeamish about torture. Subjecting “class enemies” to unpleasantness in a manner suitable for a Dante novel was routine KGB procedure, especially but by no means exclusively when Stalin ruled the Kremlin. Torture was a key element of dealing with terrorists and insurgents, and they employed it on an industrial scale, to effect. Certainly torturing people suspected of anti-state activities, often on flimsy evidence, was standard operating procedure when the KGB crushed opposition in Ukraine and the Baltic states into the 1950s – a dirty war which has been forgotten in the West but which stands as a testament to the Soviet model of counterinsurgency, an amalgam of brute force, aggressive counterintelligence, and political outreach which succeeded masterfully in crushing armed dissent as long as the Soviet Union lived. It goes without saying that such tactics and strategy were vastly more effective at imposing a foreign and unwanted system than anything accomplished by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

The centrality of torture to Soviet counterintelligence, at all levels, is perhaps why few Westerners have cared to look at it in detail, since it’s anything but a pleasant story. Enthusiasts of “benign” counterterrorism of the sort imagined by au courant thinkers and MSNBC presenters will find little to praise in the Soviet experience, and plenty to lose sleep over. Torturing people, up to and sometimes passing the point of horrible death, was a cornerstone of how the KGB defeated spies, saboteurs, and terrorists.

One of the few Western experts to look at the Soviet system in detail merits a read by anyone wanting to know the real story, as opposed to happy talk, about how the KGB won its battles. Stalin’s Secret War, published in 2004 by Robert Stephan, stands as a unique study of the very unpleasant but notably effective effort waged by Soviet intelligence to save themselves and their state from Nazi invasion and annihilation. The Nazi-Soviet struggle from 1941-1945 was the greatest, costliest combat in human history, so it’s not altogether surprising that the intelligence war between the Germans and Soviets was the vastest spywar of all times, too. Stephan, a CIA officer, offers a scholar’s balanced perspective with an intelligence veteran’s eye for detail. His account of how Soviet counterintelligence fooled the Nazis and made intelligence a critical force-multiplier in the struggle to save the USSR ranks as one of the most important books about espionage in recent years.

Stephan’s account embellishes the essential storyline known for decades: that the Germans lost the spywar in the East through a combination of arrogance and inefficiency. The Nazi intelligence system was a hot bureaucratic mess, unlike the relatively centralized Soviet model, and deep down the Germans, fresh from quick, decisive victories over most of Europe, didn’t think good intelligence really mattered much, since they were so tactically superior to the Soviets that strategic victory would result, no matter what. When that wishful thinking epically failed to pan out in late 1941, when the frozen Wehrmacht failed to reach Moscow, the Germans entered the spywar in earnest against the Soviets, but despite some talented efforts Berlin never got the upper hand over Moscow.

Throughout the conflict, Soviet spies bested the Germans, running rings around Berlin’s efforts to establish agent networks behind Soviet lines, on the KGB’s home turf. In a manner which the Nazis could not fathom, therefore did not, the Soviets subverted every major German effort to conduct strategic intelligence against them; in most cases, Nazi efforts were turned against them, without Berlin being aware they were being had. Stephan’s work makes clear that offensive counterintelligence was a Soviet speciality which paid strategic dividends for Moscow in the Great Patriotic War.

Why the Soviets excelled at this is a complex question, yet Moscow’s success can be boiled down to a few basic characteristics. The Soviets took intelligence seriously, they resourced it properly, they possessed effective tactical and strategic doctrine in espionage matters, and they were utterly ruthless in applying whatever means were required to defeat the Germans in the spywar. To blunt Nazi espionage, the Soviets scooped up enemy spies, real and imagined, by the thousands, and even deported civilian populations – like, say, the entire Chechen nation, a half-million strong, dispatched to Siberia in 1944 – which Moscow assessed could be vulnerable to German wiles. And there was torture. A lot of it. Torture so diabolically effective that many suspects broke before any physical coercion was actually employed. The KGB’s reputation for brutality and ruthlessness was often as powerful as any corporeal pain.

This the Germans were aware of, and some Nazi intelligence officers complained during the war that their methods were insufficiently coercive to be able to complete with Stalin’s secret legions. Difficult as it may be for post-moderns raised on Spielbergian fantasies to believe, Nazi Germany could be a strangely legalistic place at times, and German counterintelligence was constrained from anything like the brutality which Soviet spies employed every hour of every day.

Soviet methods were brutal, pure and simple: “a gallery of fanatics and alcoholics in a chamber of horrors,” recalled a veteran of the program. This was off-limits to the Germans, since Nazi interrogators who crossed such lines, torturing suspects, were subject to severe courts-martial by the Wehrmacht on a routine basis. Unlike the U.S. government since 9/11, the Germans punished those who crossed established lines. This became a sore-point among the German counterintelligence officers charged with going against the Soviets, and losing. Major Johannes Gaenzer and Captains Helmut Daemerau and Kurt Koehler, veterans of the spywar against Moscow, told their American debriefers after the war that “they were greatly handicapped by an express order from Admiral Canaris [head of German military intelligence] forbidding physical pressure as an aid in interrogation.” They added that the “Russians generally fear pain but not death so that ‘intensified methods’ would probably have led to greater successes.”

The Germans were on to something as any intelligence service going up against those who fear pain, but not death, would attest. It is well and good to state that one will not torture, no matter the circumstances. As a former counterintelligence officer, I am proud to state that my country will not – rather, ought not – torture suspects, no matter the circumstances. But let us dispense with sweet-sounding nonsense that torture does not work. It does. Civilized countries ought not use it all the same. Truth beats lies, especially when discussing such weighty matters.

[N.B. The comments here are mine alone and, of course, not reflective of any positions, policies, or sentiments of the U.S. Department of Defense.]

The American Way of Intelligence circa 2012

This blog hasn’t said overmuch about the intelligence aspects of September’s Benghazi disaster, beyond some initial observations, because I find the obvious dysfunction at work in the DC system to be depressingly familiar. Here’s the short version: “State” annex which barely exists because it’s really a CIA thing (i.e. not admitted officially) gets overrun in a major terrorist attack which ought to have been anticipated but, as is sometimes the case, wasn’t; the Administration doesn’t know how to spin this awful mess before the election, gets conflicting information from intelligence sources, and totally screws up the messaging, then plays CYA to a self-damaging point. Done, here we are today. How exactly Ambassador Susan Rice got those so-wrong talking points is a complex story which is fascinating to navel-gazing insiders and near-incomprehensible to anyone else.

As an aside, I can’t see how any of that was Amb. Rice’s fault and beating her up fulfills no useful purpose now. That said, she would be a terrible choice for Secretary of State and President Obama is really blowing necessary political capital here. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Rice has a well-honed reputation for self-promotion considered excessive even in DC, where throw-granny-under-the-bus ambition is a sine qua non, she plays poorly with others, and is too blatantly beholden to the President to be effective at Foggy Bottom. She is a very typical DC animal: a bright person with proper pedigree who excels at excelling and gets places fast through personal loyalty more than skill (see: Paula Broadwell, who despite her perfect Bond-girl name is actually a lower-rent, semi-wannabe variant). If this marks me as a racist and/or sexist in the eyes of bien-pensants, by saying what  is well known to countless persons inside the Beltway, so be it.

Back to our story, which isn’t very edifying. Those who believe U.S. intelligence is fabulously effective and efficient, the all-seeing eye over the world – read no further, as you will be sorely disappointed. Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst, has a good piece over at FP which explains in detail how intelligence-by-commtttee often works out badly and in this case certainly did. Our intelligence agencies wind up playing in the policy world – CIA positively revels in it, and that Agency is best understood as a somewhat more classified State Department – and sometimes get burned badly. Senior policymakers want objective information, except when they don’t. Analysts need to be out-of-box thinkers, even intellectually daring, yet must come to group-think consensus when the White House needs a firm answer. “Speaking truth to power” sounds great in the movies and retrospective op-eds, but can be career-ending in real life, in real time. There are paradoxes here, tensions between secrecy and openness which can never be entirely overcome, yet getting the system to work right is important and something the Intelligence Community is supposed to strive for.

Major reform of the IC in the middle of the last decade, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission, was supposed to remedy much of this, since the 16-agency hydra which is American intelligence is difficult to manage at the best of times. There is a reason intel types love cat-herding jokes. Not to mention that SpookWorld walls itself from outside examination behind ramparts of classification, and it can be functionally impossible for anyone outside the system to determine what exactly is going on in there, behind the green door. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRPTA, of course), which Congress passed eight years ago, added a new layer on top of the IC, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), to remedy this. Because adding new layers of management with ambiguous lines of authority works so well in the real world.

To the surprise of no one save the authors of the law, the DNI has fixed a small number of problems and added quite a few more, all at increased expense to the taxpayer. Dumping the DNI on top of the IC, creating an actual intelligence czar – since that had ostensibly been the job of the Director of Central Intelligence over at Langley, except not really, since as established in 1947 the IC model didn’t actually give the DCI the power to run more than CIA in practical terms – sounded good but was tricky in practice. In true Beltway fashion, the DNI got bags of cash, added all kinds of new jobs for the boys and girls, and wound up muddling what ought to have been made clearer by that IRPTA thing. Remember: they’re not stovepipes, they’re cylinders of excellence.

Insiders and wise outsiders have been railing against the New Model IC since Congress debated it all in the mid-oughts, and the only discussion has been whether the post-9/11 reforms have made the system somewhat worse or incredibly worse. None can deny that the whole thing has gotten dramatically more expensive, with huge increases in budgets and jobs in almost all agencies in the last decade. The American way of intelligence keeps chugging along, doing what it does. And let it be said that the IC has lots of smart, dedicated people, who protect you, dear citizens, while you sleep, and prevent Bad Things from going down, more often than not. As they unfailing point out, the public usually hears only about the ball-droppings, when something gets screwed up like Benghazi, while a dozen big successes that same season stay secret for decades.

Nevertheless it seems worth asking if the American way of intelligence is growing more, not less, dysfunctional with time. “Intelligence culture” is a hot topic among the relatively few scholars who think about such things (one of the tough aspects is that since spy services keep themselves out of the media when possible, it’s difficult for scholars not “in access” to figure anything out, so many outside “experts” really have no idea what they are talking about: you have been warned), and it’s clear that the U.S. has an approach to the spy business which is unique. Our intelligence apparatus is huge, indeed gargantuan by any global standard; funded at a level of lavishness others can only marvel at; focused overwhelmingly, even after 9/11, on foreign rather than domestic issues, offering something like global coverage which no one else seriously aspires to; based on pretty amazing technology (especially SIGINT and IMINT) which only the U.S. can afford; and possessing a bureaucratic model which is so complex, with the addition of the DNI, that even some insiders have a hard time making sense of it all.

It seems worth pondering whether the IC as-is is something the United States can afford as we face an era of prolonged fiscal austerity. It appears likely that our intelligence agencies, like the Defense apparatus as a whole, will see significant budget cuts in coming years, and perhaps pretty soon. Getting ahead of that curve would be wise, since falling budgets can present an opportunity to refocus on what’s really important. Unfortunately, our intelligence agencies are part of the government – on bad days they resemble amazingly expensive and secretive versions of the Department of Motor Vehicles – so thinking big in a forward-looking way isn’t what they excel at.

Big questions loom after Benghazi and the fall of Dave Petraeus. It’s clear that the coordination of finished intelligence across agencies remains a hornet’s nest which may let down policymakers at inopportune moments, and adding the DNI hasn’t fixed it, perhaps the contrary. The militarization of the CIA, between drones and close collaboration with the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command on a daily basis, has gotten so pronounced that the public has noticed. Whether that’s a good thing in the long run is a big and important question which Congress ought to address. JSOC may be a better owner of such capabilities, not least because CIA has a track record of making a costly hash of paramilitary stuff more often than not. Above all, harebrained ideas ought to be avoided, on grounds of cost as much as common sense. The Defense Intelligence Agency’s recent announcement that it’s entering the real spyworld in a big way for the first time ought to raise concerns, since the problem with the IC is never a lack of people – indeed, more can often mean worse, since Lenin’s dictum that quantity has a quality all its own seldom applies in espionage, where quality is what it’s all about – and DIA has a track record of being a pretty inefficient place even by DC standards. Sending out several hundred newly-minted case officers all over the world is a recipe for a raft of juicy, front-page stories in The Washington Post in 2013-2015 about the new spy silly season. But don’t expect anyone at DIA to say anything negative here, since who could possibly be opposed to a program which will raise that Agency’s budget, prestige, and seat at the bureaucratic table?

So it goes …

Gaza and the Utility of Force

The recent winding down of the latest round of fighting over Gaza, the week of stand-off strikes which the Israelis have termed Operation Pillar of Defense, ought to raise questions for all Western militaries about what exactly force is for these days.

In technological terms this was an exceptionally one-sided fight, and despite the fact that Israel Defense Force (IDF) leadership claims to have hit “everything that moves” in the miserable, isolated, and impoverished Gaza Strip, this was actually a rather restrained performance by the IDF, at least compared to the last, 2008-09 go-round with HAMAS. Casualties on the Palestinian side were relatively low, and on the Israeli side almost non-existent. HAMAS was stronger on rhetoric than logistics, and quickly ran out of the Fajr-5 missiles it had been given by Iran – the actual casus belli here – and was left with large stockpiles of short-ranged, quite inaccurate Grads, and sensibly agreed to a halt.

No one who knows the belligerents thinks this is anything more than a temporary lull, yet some in the IDF, as well as their fans who cheer for beating up the arabush from the safety of New Jersey, have lambasted Israel’s leadership with taunts of BIBI LOSER for not finishing the job. One wonders if they understand what they are asking Netanyahu and his cabinet to do here.

Israel finds itself in a paradoxical situation today. Despite the astonishing deterioration of its political position in the Middle East over the last two years, due to partisan forces far beyond the control of anyone in Tel Aviv or Washington, DC, its military advantage has never been greater than at present. Israel faces no sort of peer competitor in its region, the IDF could lay waste to any neighboring militaries without too much effort, and even if Iran were to announce tomorrow it has a nuclear weapon, the Jewish state’s nuclear advantage would still be hundreds-fold.

HAMAS, however, presents a problem. If nothing else, the mid-November mini-war has made indelibly clear that it is the genuine leader of the Palestinian people; Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and Mahmoud Abbas have been shown publicly to be irrelevant. In a manner that cannot be plausibly construed as helpful to Israeli interests, HAMAS today is the public face of the Palestinian cause. Although some of its leaders have been more flexible about doing a deal than Israeli hasbara would portray, hardliners in Tel Aviv are correct to assume that HAMAS now has no reason to show moderation, when Israel has been willing to call off the dogs of war well short of victory.

But what might victory look like? Despite the fantasies of Israeli hardliners and their fanboys abroad, there is simply no military solution to the Palestinian problem short of genocide. Unless the IDF is willing to kill off enough Palestinians to permanently change the vaunted “facts on the ground” – there are about 5.5 million Jews and about 5.5 million Arabs between the Jordan River and the Med: no matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of killing – this scholar wonders what utility military force actually has here.

Israel is hardly alone in this situation. All Western militaries now live in a world where anything less than rigid adherence to lawyer-driven rules of engagement is liable to result in war crimes trials. The Balkan wars of the 1990s, which have become the de facto standard for NATO and its friends, were denounced by all right-thinking people as a humanitarian catastrophe without par, when in fact they were dramatically less awful than World War Two had been in the very same place. All of European history is said to have been changed by what happened around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the fact that the death toll there – which caused U.S. and NATO intervention in the Balkan wars – represented approximately what Einsatzgruppen accomplished during shift changes and coffee breaks at, say, Babi Yar.

Since 1945 we live under different rules. What was until relatively recently considered standard operating procedure for armies in battle – with allowances for “occasional excesses” – is now off limits under any circumstances. This is the new normal; whether what the lawyers and human rights activists have demanded represents an accurate depiction of men at war is an entirely different question. Even the Russians, the least bien-pensant of any Europeans, have cleaned up their act.  While it is impossible to say that Russia’s Chechen war, nearly two decades in progress now, has been waged cleanly – in fact Moscow’s playbook has included mass killings and terror against civilians – it has been positively Schweitzerian compared to the campaign waged against Chechnya in the 1940s, when Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation to Siberia, a half-million down to the last woman and child.

The problem of “war among the people” poses distinct challenges to all Western militaries; the questions asked cogently by British General Rupert Smith in his thoughtful book The Utility of Force hang over all of us. While Western ministries of defense have at their disposal wonderfully precise weapons, the option of cowing resisting populations into submission through mass killings and generous use of firepower has been take off the table by fiat. This despite the fact that honest military historians know that such methods have often been the sole guarantor of success in hard-fought campaigns.

Therefore Israel today finds itself in the unenviable position of possessing a surfeit of firepower which it is unable to use. HAMAS knows this and will plan accordingly. The IDF will surely engage in many more rounds of whack-a-mole against HAMAS and related insurgents who fear not death. All the while, as the eminent Israeli historian Martin van Creveld has stated many times, their morale will suffer from beating up on the weak. HAMAS will bide its time, as Israel does not have the option of inflicting truly mass violence on the Palestinians; which is perhaps fitting as the Jewish state owes it existence to centuries of kill-them-all logic among Europeans reaching its terrible endpoint.

So the IDF can look forward to years, perhaps decades, more of what has just happened in Gaza. Back in the mid-1980s the American journalist P.J. O’Rourke, in his travelogue Holidays in Hell, wrote about a visit to South Africa, then a besieged apartheid state possessing vast military superiority over its neighbors. “Thirty days to Cairo” was the mantra among white South Africans, who indeed could have reached the other end of Africa in a few short weeks – which, O’Rourke noted, would put them far from where the country’s problems actually were. Less than a decade after that observation the apartheid regime surrendered, seeing no military or political solution to its intractable problems at home.

If Israel wants to find a happier fate it needs to think hard, and fast, about solutions to the Palestinian problem which do not center on the IDF.

Uncovering Iran’s Espionage-Terror Apparatus in the Balkans

As the Western world moves inexorably closer to a full-blown crisis with Iran over its nuclear program – and make no mistake, whether or not bombs get dropped, we (by which I mean NATO as well as the U.S. and Israel) are in a major league crisis with Tehran – the issue of malign Iranian influence in the West continues to rise in importance.

Tehran has not exactly helped itself by engaging in bizarre behavior like using a used car salesman to plot acts of terror in the United States, but Iran lacks a well developed infrastructure for espionage and terrorism in America, and much the same is true in many Western countries. A couple months back Canada shut the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, since its diplomats spies had brazenly surveilled and harassed Iranian emigres and regime opponents in Canada for years. Even in Germany, where Iranian spies used to be thick on the ground, their presence is less than it used to be due to excessively public and nasty misdeeds by Iranian operatives, like gunning down regime opponents in Tony Montana style. Western Europe isn’t quite the benign operating environment for Tehran’s spies that it once was, unlike the Middle East, and even Turkey, where Iranian operatives are notably active.

The one place in Europe where Iranian spies are not hard to find, and they have a relatively free hand, is the Balkans, especially Bosnia, where Tehran’s spooks have a second home, amounting to a reasonably secure operating base close to the heart of Europe. This has taken on new urgency given Iran’s apparent involvement in July’s terrorist bombing in Burgas, in nearby Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists. In recent months, the U.S. government and its allies have put pressure on the Bosnian government to cut some of the too-cozy ties between Sarajevo and Iranian intelligence, and three months ago Western ambassadors read Bosnia’s security minister the riot act about ridding the country of its substantial Iranian spy network.

There’s a lot of excavation to be done, since Iran’s spy network in that country has deep roots, being over twenty years old, dating to even before Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) declared independence from ailing Yugoslavia. As I’ve written about previously in detail, beginning in 1990, Iran cultivated a tight clandestine relationship with the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the dominant political faction among Bosnian Muslims. For years, Tehran lavished men, money, and guns on the SDA and established a deep and wide agent network that penetrated Bosnia’s security services, military, and political cliques. Beginning in 1995, when NATO came to BiH to enact the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the country’s terrible three-year war, U.S. pressure caused Iran to whittle down its espionage operations in Bosnia, which included robust ties to mujahidin groups affiliated with Al-Qa’ida, but it never shut them down altogether.

Just how much of that espionage-terror network remains in BiH today has been laid bare by an exclusive report in Slobodna Bosna, the country’s leading investigative newsmagazine. Entitled “Iranians’ Secret Diplomatic Offensive in Bosnia,” and clearly based on a lot of leaked intelligence reports, this is the most detailed description yet of what Tehran’s clandestine activities in BiH actually are, and what they mean for European security.

Iran’s outsized embassy in Sarajevo hosts a lot of Iranian spies, most of them serving under diplomatic cover, but there are plenty more operatives across Bosnia working for Iranian and Islamic NGOs. Although the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS or VEVAK in Farsi) has a station inside Iran’s embassy which is headed by Abolghassem Rafie Parhizkar, VEVAK is largely dependent on operatives who come to BiH, short-term, from Vienna, which is the main VEVAK base in East Central Europe.

Far more active in Bosnia is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC or Pasdaran), which has a much bigger and more active footprint in BiH than VEVAK, Tehran’s conventional spy organization. The Pasdaran chief in the country, according to Slobodna Bosna, is Hamzeh Doolabi, and his deputy is Jadidi Afsaneh, while the report identifies as other senior IRGC officers Shir Del Ali Asghar, Ali Akbar Dadrasi Iranji, and Abouyasani Ramezanali, who work under cover at the Iranian embassy. Given the IRGC’s active involvement in terrorism in many countries since 1979, this large presence must be assessed a serious concern.

In addition to a busy Iranian Cultural Center, a longtime front for Iranian espionage in the country, Bosnia has a plethora of Iranian-financed NGOs, many of which seem to have only modest official duties, and the report names several of these organizations and the suspected Iranian intelligence operatives in them:

Ibn-Sina Scientific Research Institute (Soleimani Amiri Mohammed Bagher, recently the institute’s director, his deputy Abassi Valadi Mohammad Hossein, director’s advisor Abedpour Saeid)

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (TV director Ramin Mansouri)

Mullah Sadra Foundation (director Shaykh Akbar Eydi)

Persian-Bosnian College (PBC head Mohamed Jafer Zarean).

Observing that there are many Iranian businesses operating in BiH, the report explains that Mellat Bank, an Iranian financial institution under UN sanctions due to its role in suspected nuclear activities, previously attempted to open a branch in Sarajevo, but was blocked by authorities. Last year Star Commercial Company, an Iranian firm located in the Sarajevo neighborhood of Hrasno, opened its doors as a management consulting shop, but Slobodna Bosna states that it appears to be a front company designed to give Iran illicit access to European markets. Another cause for concern are the hundreds of Bosnian citizens annually who are sponsored for travel to Iran and other Islamic countries, often for religious educational purposes, all arranged and paid for by Iranian intelligence.

The report names as a key figure in the Iranian spy network Fikret Muslimovic, who is roughly the gray eminence of the extremist underworld in BiH. His biography is one of the strangest in the annals of recent jihad. A career counterintelligence officer in the Yugoslav Communist military, who made his career rooting Islamic extremists out of the army, when Yugoslavia collapsed Muslimovic underwent a conversion as total as it was sudden. He quickly became the SDA’s top intelligence official, noted for his fanatical newfound faith, and during the 1990s he was responsible for handling Sarajevo’s relationships with Al-Qa’ida and Tehran. Slobodna Bosna‘s report makes clear that Muslimovic, who ostensibly retired from his day job over a decade ago, maintains his tight relationship with Iranian spies, and he meets with them regularly.

Recent developments in this story ought to cause deep concern across Europe. The report notes that in the first half of 2012, Sarajevo approved visas for 200 new Iranian businessmen to enter the country, many of whom are suspected of having ties to VEVAK or Pasdaran. Additionally, Iranian spies (the report names Hamid Roughani and Sohrab Jadidi, who are ostensibly cultural workers) have visited the mujahidin community at Gornja Maoca, which has been linked to several terrorists and terrorist attacks in recent years, including Mevlid Jasarevic, the young man who shot up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011.  Pasdaran has established ties with Nusret Imamovic, who resides at Gornja Maoca and can be considered the de facto emir of violent extremism in Bosnia today.

Of perhaps greatest concern, Slobodna Bosna reports that, among the many suspicious Iranians who have entered Bosnia in recent months are several senior intelligence operatives who have perpetrated acts of terrorism abroad. One of them, whom the report does not name, is known to have recently been in India, Georgia, and Thailand – the exact countries where, over the past year, Pasdaran operatives have plotted attacks on Israeli targets. Bosnian security officials are preparing for the worst, with good cause


When I was an NSA officer my co-workers and I always found it amusing to laugh at the high-silliness Hollywood portrayals of No Such Agency (as we used to call it), monitoring average Americans in the minutiae of their daily lives. Enemy of the State may have been a serviceable action flick but it was a deeply misleading portrayal of what NSA actually does.

After 9/11 NSA got mired in the so-called wiretapping scandal, something which the left got quite hot and bothered about during George W. Bush’s second term; yet as with drones, we’ve heard minimal civil liberties yelping from the MSNBC crowd now that their guy is in charge.

I have to confess the post-9/11 kerfuffle never moved me much, since I knew what was actually going on, and that it bore scant resemblance to what the media portrayed as gross civil liberties violations. Moreover, it all looks different when you’re on active service, charged with protecting the nation and its citizens from terrorists bent on mayhem and murder. You don’t have the luxury of pontificating quite the same way you do as when you’re blogging with bunny slippers on.

That said, huge changes in telecommunications in the last decade-plus have thrown up a very different intelligence playing field. Simply put, everything is out there in the online world, in the ‘trons somewhere, just waiting to be picked up and exploited. And you don’t have to be a hardcore civil libertarian, as I am not, to be a tad concerned about the implications of all this. In the borderless online world, what exactly are the boundaries? It was all a lot clearer back in 1993 when U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18, USSID 18 to the cognoscenti, was promulgated. But that was a long, long time ago in telecom. Now it’s … murky.

In recent years several NSA whistlebowers have come forward to explain how Big Brother really is listening in on you, reading your emails, snooping on your chats, et al. Most of those speaking out are individuals with agendas and sometimes failed careers behind them.

But Bill Binney was different. One of the finest Agency crypto-mathematicians of his generation – these being the scarily brilliant geeks who develop the code-cracking algorithims that allow NSA to protect you, dear citizen, while you sleep – Bill resigned in 2001 in disgust over what he believed to be the Agency’s misuse of his pet project, THINTHREAD, to spy domestically.

Bill has kept chugging along, explaining repeatedly that domestic espionage is out of control, and now he’s stated that NSA is collecting information on practically every American. Mincing words, not so much:

 “They’re pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country … and assembling that information,” Binney explained. “So government is accumulating that kind of information about every individual person and it’s a very dangerous process.” He estimated that something like 1.6 billion logs have been processed since 2001.

I simply don’t know if this is true. And if I did, I wouldn’t be stating it openly on a blog anyway. But I will say is that this statement, if accurate, runs deeply contrary to the training about privacy protection which I had rammed into me received as a larval intelligence analyst some years ago. Moreover, Bill Binney is not a crank, a weirdo, or a charlatan. He is a very gifted man and a patriot who believes NSA, presumably on orders from “the top,” is misusing its enormous technological prowess. Certainly some public debate about espionage and privacy in the digital age – something which of course NSA and the Intelligence Community but also very much the Bush and Obama administrations have avoided at every turn – seems overdue.

NSA’s historical record in this arena can be considered less than stellar. During World War Two the U.S. signals intelligence service, NSA’s forerunner, began collecting drop-copies of every telex – you can explain to the kids and grandkids what those were – going in and out of the United States. This huge undertaking, which sucked up on average 150,000 messages per month, continued for 30 years as Operation SHAMROCK until it was shut down by the NSA director just before Congress got overly interested. Worse, beginning in 1967 – yes, under LBJ, not Tricky Dick – NSA started Operation MINARET, the listening in on several thousand domestic individuals and groups considered hostile or subversive.

This Congress did get pretty worked up about during the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s, which led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, as well as the construction of “the wall” between law enforcement and intelligence which worked quite well at protecting civil liberties but was rather less effective at thwarting terrorists bent on their “big wedding” …. as we found out on 9/11.

More than a few NSAers were unhappy with the misuse of their Agency during the Johnson and especially Nixon years. One of them was my father, a career NSA officer (full disclosure: both my parents were career NSAers – it was an interesting childhood; I was “born with clearances” in insider jargon) who felt that his Agency had exceeded its mandate and was acting unconstitutionally. He voiced his concerns “up the chain” as they say. Back in the early 1970s the Agency still lived by the mantra of Never Say Anything so going to the media was unthinkable. Even limiting one’s protest to internal channels was not, shall we say, a career-enhancing move for a few years, until Congress changed everything, but it was a principled stand. A few years later, NSA would get very concerned about protecting the country from foreign threats in a manner consistent with the Constitution and our values: a balance which can be difficult to achieve consistently in the real world.

That terrible day in late summer 2001 rightly changed a lot about how U.S. intelligence fights terrorism. The infamous “wall” got lowered and even moved around a bit. If what Bill Binney says is true it has been lowered considerably more and may have been chopped down altogether, and that is something we should all be discussing.

Droning on …

Being older than my mid-20s I can remember when drones – the popular term for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – were considered somewhat controversial. Since, let’s face it, using little planes without pilots to watch the world and kill people is a bit edgy.

However, since Barack Obama became president US use of killer drones has expanded enormously in prosecution of what used to be called the Global War on Terror (GWOT: which is now very Old Think and perhaps needs to be replaced by a nifty symbol – where’s Prince when you need him?). I won’t delve into partisan politics here except to note that

Meet “The Hand of Allah” … because “Death from Above” sounds so 1967.

the left would be beside itself if any GOP president, especially George W. Bush, had standing Tuesday “kill” meetings where the West Wing Kool Kids congregate to decide who’s getting vaporized this week. I’m never gonna join the ACLU and I customarily err on the side of killing terrorists, and the whole thing creeps me out.

None can deny that UAVs are a valuable weapon in the GWOT/whatever, and in places like Waziristan and the back-of-beyond of Yemen they are probably the only real option we have. And – let me say it – blowing away enemies of mankind like Al-Qa’ida fighters is a good and necessary thing.

Certainly the bad guys get the message. They are terrified of drones – so much so that the meme has reached comedy films about the mujahidin (yes, there are such things) – which they call the “Hand of Allah.” Because, let’s face it, it’s way creepy and upsetting when, all of a sudden, for no reason – because you can’t see or hear that Raptor way up there – the fifty-foot radius around you explodes in a wall of flame interspersed with metal shards. That kind of thing can ruin your whole day.

The bad news is that UAVs kill civilians. No matter how hard we try – and we surely do – to avoid what we nicely term “collateral damage” it cannot be avoided. Our intelligence, impressive as it is, will never be good enough to rule out the deaths of people, kids even, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And locals understandably feel differently about their own dead kin than we do. Debating whether this is worth the political cost is something America has largely punted on over the past decade, as drone kills have become an utterly routine thing. Certainly the current administration has accepted the costs of the drone campaign without real reservation and without any public debate.

But is it, well, moral? The New York Times in a new piece says it is, so I suppose that is the current bien-pensant position. The article is actually worth a read and points out, in an important-if-true moment, that even drone skeptics concede:

 a notable drop in the civilian proportion of drone casualties, to 16 percent of those killed in 2011 from 28 percent in 2008. This year, by the bureau’s count, just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 .

NYT goes further down the road of drones-are-now-officially-cool by citing Bradley Jay Strawser, a junior professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, a sister institution to my own, who asserts that using UAVs to blow people up is a-ok with the statement, “using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

Really, Brad? This seems to me the sort of thing you need to have a Ph.D. to believe. I don’t doubt for a second that using Predators and Raptors against mujahidin is ethically ok, generally speaking. I’m questioning whether, strategically speaking, it’s worth the political cost. In real-people speak: Is it smart?

Analysts of our drone war in Pakistan say that the “collateral damage” (AKA “we killed the wrong people” ) rate ranges between four and 20 percent. Which seems low, especially when compared to the recent Israeli operations against HAMAS, using more traditional methods of delivering high explosives, which 41 percent of the time killed innocents. Furthermore, the Pakistani military took out non-combatants a whopping 46 percent of the time in its operations against domestic terrorists.

So drones are totally awesome and even nice by comparison, right?

In a very bean-counting way, they are. But the cool, numbers-based analytic approach beloved by many academics and defense wonks leaves out two critical facts which are well understood by people on the receiving end of the “Hand of Allah.”

First, our enemies view drones as sneaky, nasty, and deeply unmanly. We may laugh at this, but it is true. Blowing up people from 10,000 feet, remotely (in every sense) is viewed by Pashtuns and many others as simply creepy and girly. Especially when they blow up kids – your kids. Drones inspire a special kind of rage in much of the world.

Second, when the Pakistanis kill their own people it inspires a lot less Pashtun rage than when we – yes, we interlopers, foreigners, and infidels – do it. Outsiders doing the killing always goes down worse, even when we’re frankly soft-touch compared to the bumbling and sometimes brutal local government. This is universal.

The drone campaign is clearly going to continue as long as Obama is president, and perhaps well beyond. We’re going to keep using them to kill bad guys. But it’s time to have a public debate about using UAVs as the default weapon of choice in counterterrorism. Particularly before other countries, including some we don’t like and they don’t like us either, have their own impressive UAV capabilities.