Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Managing Gaza

Israel’s operation in Gaza is reaching a critical point. While talking heads will debate grand strategy, the options are limited. Behind the headlines is the crucial issue of how Israel’s national security process works (or doesn’t – in light of the weaknesses revealed in the 2006 Lebanon war). The next moves will demonstrate whether or not Israel has successfully incorporated the lessons from the failures of the 2006 Lebanon War. This is crucial to re-establishing Israeli deterrence.

Strategic Limitations

A true peace agreement with Hamas is not realistic. A quick scan of clips from Hamas’ al-Aqsa network or of statements by Hamas leaders from the Middle East Media Research Institute - particularly horrible are these scenes from Hamas produced children’s television - should disabuse all but the most useful idiots of any notions of a moderate Hamas.

Fatah is theoretically an alternative to Hamas, but has been eliminated from Gaza and has little credibility or capability.

Military options also do not offer definite solutions. Re-occupying Gaza would require tens of thousands of Israeli troops and likely lead to hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian casualties. The Israelis do not want to pay this price. It also might not work. Hamas might be able to maintain an ongoing, costly insurgency against the Israelis, which would be perceived as a victory. (Hamas has taken lessons from Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and has prepared and is hoping for an IDF ground campaign.)

Hamas’ supply lines are the tunnels into Egypt. The tunnels themselves are only the endpoint of a vast smuggling network that extends throughout the Sinai and into the heart of Egypt. Egypt is a poor country, the smuggling opportunities are lucrative, and law enforcement is weak. In Kashmir, criminal networks in an impoverished environment have fostered a self-sustaining insurgency. The same situation could occur Gaza.

Ultimately, there are no solutions in Gaza on the immediate horizon. This is a problem Israel will have to manage.

Applying the Lessons of 2006

The Lebanon war of the summer of 2006 revealed shortcomings up and down the Israeli national security system – from inadequately prepared reserve infantry units up to the prime minister’s office. While Hezbollah and its supporters worldwide celebrated the defeat of the vaunted Israeli soldier, the more substantial problems were farther up the line, particularly at the top.

The political and military leadership never defined its goals. Prime Minister Olmert spoke of destroying Hezbollah, but did not consider what it would require to achieve them. The prime minister and the defense minister had limited security experience and the chief of staff was an air force officer who was overly wedded to the efficacy of airpower. The IDF wielded tremendous influence on decision-makers – shutting out Israel’s national security council and other institutions.

There were other problems up and down the chain of command – such as the impact of policing the Palestinians on IDF war-fighting capability and the effects of nouveau military philosophy on the officer corps. But poor decision-making and a lack of clear objectives, combined with Hezbollah’s knack for tactical surprise, created a situation in which Israel appeared to not know what it was doing. This contributed heavily to the image of an Israeli defeat.

In the fighting in Gaza, it is essential that – at the very top – the Israelis establish that they know what they are doing. There are many signs that lessons from Lebanon have been applied. The Gaza operations have been more systematically planned than the Lebanon war, including extensive war-gaming and an effective disinformation effort accompanied by massive intelligence gathering.

This still raises the question of whether or not Israel knows what it is doing. Reportedly, Ehud Barak, the former Chief of Staff and Prime Minister, called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hours after the Lebanon war began and warned: "It's very important to define how and when you'll end [the war], because the more time goes by, the greater the potential for complications."

Barak is now the Defense Minister and his key statement is that he wishes “to totally change the rules of the game.” That his publicly stated goal is vague does not mean that goals are not established. It likely refers to establishing a framework in which Hamas knows that as rocket fire increases, Israelis will counter with overwhelming force. There will still be some rockets, but they will be a relative few. This would re-establish Israel’s deterrence.

A key part of re-establishing deterrence is showing that Israel can manage its security affairs and not get pulled into disadvantageous situations. This management will be put to the test if, as appears likely, Israel engages in ground operations in Gaza. This ability to manage the national security process (an interest of mine) is essential, as Gaza will not be the last crisis that Israel is forced to manage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ontology Writing for Dopes

With a new book out in which my efforts to write an ontology to support my terrorism research was a case study, I thought this presentation that I delivered pretty often about my experience as an ontology writer would be of interest.

Reminder: ontologies help the computer place information in context, allowing it search more efficiently, infer relationships, and ease the use of applications

Slides to Aaron Mannes Presentation on VP's role in national security affairs

Last week I gave a talk at the Hudson Institute, previewing my case study on the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission and the vice president and foreign policy for the Project for National Security Reform. The case study is embargoed until it is published, and the audio is off record. But I was permitted to distribute my presentation slides. While the slides are only the barest bones of my presentation (and don't included any of my jokes) they provide an overview of the changing role of the Vice President in the national security process, the nuts and bolts of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, and some points about the advantages and disadvantages of an active vice presidential role in foreign policy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dreams of Power

No more blogging before bedtime for me.

When my alarm went off this morning I was very surprised. I thought I was awake and working - I'd been dreaming about the National Security Council.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joe & the King, Joe gets a Job

President-elect Obama has a truly unenviable task. Biden, however, has the luxury of following one of the least popular VPs ever. But maybe if he works at it...

But it remains an open question what Biden will do. He has stated that he wants to be "Counselor-in-Chief." An appropriate role, more or less filled by several of his predecessors, but whether or not he will be called upon to do so is a open question. Obama has stocked his cabinet with heavyweights, inspired by Lincoln's "Team of Rivals." It is worth remembering that Lincoln's VP (Hannibal Hamlin) was not a player.

Vice President-elect Biden just appeared on Larry King Live and talked about his role in the administration. He discussed his role heading The White House Task Force on Working Families. This commission is intended to strengthen the middle class. While it will include cabinet secretaries and other power players, it is unclear what it will actually do. This may be a throwback to the many well-intentioned, but essentially powerless commissions VPs have chaired since the 1960s. They can play a valuable political role, but rarely do they exercise real power. Considering that the issues before this committee will be the responsibilities major departments like Health and Human Services - and that the task force will include power players like HHS Secretary Tom Daschle and National Economic Advisor Larry Summers - it is tough to see Biden exercising much real power from this post.

In the interview, Biden mentioned taking a leading role in preventing the proliferation and infiltration of WMD. Again, a worthy cause. But the foreign policy team is also full of heavyweights. Hillary at State is likely to command center stage wherever she goes. Gates has several advantages in any power struggle: he is already in place and is considered to have been a success as SecDef. The National Security Advisor, James Jones, is a four-star general. Again, tough to see where he will have a spot in this line-up.

That being said, if Biden has the President's ear then he has the President's ear - and in any administration that is what matters most. However, smart VPs who did have this influence kept quiet about it.

My Work featured in a New Book on Ontologies

Recently out from Chandos Publishing is Finding the Concept, Not Just the Word: A Librarian's Guide to Ontologies and Semantics, an in-depth look at the theory and application of ontologies by Brandy King and Kathy Reinold.

My research at MINDSWAP building a Semantic Web terrorism research portal was one of their case studies.

The concept, in a nutshell, is that with the enormous amounts of electronic data now available, new tools are needed to search and organize it efficiently. Ontologies help the computer place information in context and allow it search more efficiently. Some ontologies can allow the computer to infer relationships and ease the use of applications such as network graphs and timelines.

An example of some of this work and a description can be found here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Aaron Mannes Speaking@Hudson

Mark you calendars. On December 18 at 9:30 AM I am speaking at the Hudson Institute about case study I wrote for the Project for National Security Reform about the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. This case study was also useful spadework for my thesis. The full invitation reads:
The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) is pleased to invite you to a Roundtable on Interagency Reform discussing a case study on “The Vice President and Foreign Policy: From "the most insignificant office" to Gore as Russia Czar,” by Aaron Mannes, researcher and PhD student at the University of Maryland.

Tuesday, December 18, 2008; 9:30 AM - 11:00 AM

Please RSVP (affirmative replies only) by sending your name and current institutional affiliation to Richard Weitz at Weitz@hudson.org.

Location: Hudson Institute, Betsy and Walter Stern Conference Center, 1015 15th Street, N.W., 6th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005

This case study reviews the role of the Vice President in national security policy, with a focus on Vice President Gore's role in U.S.-Russian relationships during the Clinton Administration. As the co-chair of the U.S.-Russia Bi-National Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation (better known as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission), Vice President Gore played a central role in shaping and implementing the administration's Russia policy. Examining Gore's role in the American policy towards Russia provides useful insight regarding the advantages and disadvantages of an active Vice Presidential role in the national security process.

The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) is a non-partisan initiative that seeks to improve the U.S. Government’s ability to integrate all elements of national power and more effectively respond to the strategic challenges of the 21st century. The PNSR case studies inform the other analytic work of PNSR by highlighting recurring trends in how the U.S. national security system addresses complex national security problems.

Attendees at PNSR workshops may use the information as background, but may not identify the speaker, the other attendees, or PNSR itself or quote anything said at the event.

Response to Comments on Mumbai Analysis

Thanks again for the many good thoughtful comments. A few themes emerge.

First, it is absolutely true that the overall moderation and patriotism of the American Muslim community (with unfortunate – but thankfully rare exceptions) has been a crucial component in the lack of terrorism in the United States. On that theme, it is worth noting that the Pakistani Muslim population is also relatively moderate. Islamist parties receive very low support in elections. It is true the Kashmiri Islamist groups have no shortage of recruits, but there are vast numbers of under-employed young men with no future who are ripe for recruitment. Considering how poorly governed Pakistan has been since its founding, it is frankly surprising that the population is not more radicalized.

Second, there was some concern that radicalization was in fact happening here. Certainly this is possible, but the level of indoctrination needed is extensive. Paintball may be an effective entry point, but it is not sufficient. I would submit that individuals not sufficiently indoctrinated would have difficulty actually pulling the trigger – even if they were devoted to the cause. Finally these activities are suspicious and attract attention, and this brings me to the final point.

Most of the comments discussed what would happen to a potential terrorist raiding party that did manage to reach the US. First, as an analyst of terrorist groups, I would prefer to keep the terrorists far away and deter potential attacks through various barriers (physical and otherwise.) Ideally you don’t want to meet an enemy in battle, you want to prevent them from being able to fight (think Sun-Tzu – or for that matter Bruce Lee.) Also, I am not tremendously familiar with urban combat operations and if I had taken on the challenges facing terrorists after they landed the post would have been endless.

American public safety is not perfect, but certainly is better trained and equipped than their Indian counterparts. Big city police departments have the resources to train for a range of contingencies.

Several posters noted we have an armed citizenry – of course that might depend on where they landed. Houston is NOT a soft target. Cities in the northeast might not be as well armed. But the deeper theme is that we have an active citizenry. People from around the world (going at least as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville) have observed that Americans tend to be pro-active in facing challenges (although de Tocqueville would probably not have used the world proactive – he was French.)

Regardless of how Americans would react in an attack, this activist streak has another important component – we are likely to notice things out of the ordinary and report them. Terror attacks require extensive reconnaissance, and this reconnaissance is likely to be noticed. That represents another important barrier to carrying out major terror attacks in the United States.

Thanks again and keep reading.

Mumbai Style Attack in the US: A Skeptical Analysis

The Mumbai massacre may not be a “new” terror tactic. The mass firearms attack riveted the world in 1972 when the Japanese Red Army gunned down 27 people at Lod Airport. Since then the annals of terrorism have included innumerable other examples, most notably al-Gamaa Islamiya’s 1997 Luxor Massacre in which 59 tourists were murdered.

Still, the Mumbai attack stands out in its scale and has led many analysts to wonder if the mass firearms and bomb attack will be tactics of choice for the next 9/11. A useful way to examine this proposition is to invert the question, and ask, “Why hasn’t this already happened in the United States?”

Mass Shooting in the US

Considering the relative ease of acquisition of firearms in the United States and the general freedom of action (we have no internal checkpoints) it would appear that the Mumbai type attack is easy to carry out. Terrorists creative enough to seize airplanes and to use as guided missiles should not have readily grasped a concept that has long been a Hollywood staple. What’s more, the United States has a lengthy history of domestic mass shooting events – although none close to the level of the Mumbai attacks.

But a casual glance at the mass shooting attacks in the United States reveals a potential barrier to a Mumbai-style operation. Disturbed individuals carried many of these mass shootings out. Some had deep psychological problems (such as the VA Tech shooter) while others were at the least very impulsive (such as the July 4, 2002 LA airport shooter). Individuals operating in this manner may cause substantial mayhem on their own – but their ability to engage in long-term planning within a team is likely to be limited and that will also mitigate the amount of damage they can do.

(The closest the United States may have come was the DC area sniper, who did use careful tactics. But that attack went on so long in part because the sniper remained at the fringes of a metro area, rather then trying to penetrate a central and highly symbolic target.)

Physical barriers to committing mass firearms attacks in the US are limited, but it appears that there are other barriers.

Strategic Thinking & the Kashmiri Network

Successful terrorists select their tactics based on the cold, hard logic of their capabilities and what is effective in terms of achieving their goals. The Kashmiri Islamists had links to organizations that employed suicide bombers and drank from the same ideological well – but they did not employ this tactic. This was, in part, a function of geography. After being indoctrinated and equipped a suicide bomber has limited range. The farther they travel, the more likely they will be to abandon the mission. Thus suicide bombers were extremely effective in places like Iraq, Israel, and Sri Lanka where the networks could insert the bomber relatively close to targets.

Kashmir is much less densely populated and has very difficult terrain. Terrorists infiltrating Kashmir have to travel long distances and are likely to encounter Indian security forces before arriving at a population center. The Kashmiri terrorists adopted fidayeen tactics of infiltrating small teams of gunmen who could both massacre civilians and effectively engage Indian security forces.

Teams are essential. The Kashmiri terrorists receive extensive training (about 40 or 50 days.) This training not only schools them in tactics, but also indoctrinates them further into the cause and prepares them to take human lives. The training also fosters the small group dynamics (excellently detailed in Marc Sageman’s Understanding Terror Networks) in which the individual group members systematically reinforce one another and keep the group committed to the mission. Without these dynamics, the small teams hiking through the Himalayas into Kashmir might quickly lose their motivation. The attack on Mumbai was an increase in the range and scale of these types of operations – a difference of degree, not kind.

Back to America

To carry out a similar attack in the U.S. would require either training the attackers here, or inserting them from elsewhere. Both are possible, but neither is easy.

In Kashmir there is a network of training camps, a pre-set structure. Here, a group of radicals would have to self-train. Possible: of course, but not easy. Without a formal structure, could a dozen Americans (many with jobs and families) put themselves through this rigorous program and stick to it over months - without anyone noticing?

In fact there have been several self-starting cells, and they seem to get rounded up fairly early.

The other option is to smuggle the operatives in. But this is also difficult. While America’s borders and coastlines are poorly protected (and penetrated by smugglers almost constantly) this doesn’t mean that terrorists will necessarily have an easy time of it. Sailing direct from Karachi to a U.S. coast in a vessel small enough not to be noticed would be an impressive act of seamanship. More likely the terrorists would move more closely to the United States (for example to Latin America) and then infiltrate. But would they have the local contacts to acquire guns and transport without being noticed?

Most Latin American intelligence agencies are extremely concerned about being the base for an attack on the United States and would be on the lookout for such an infiltration. And the more operatives that are involved in the attack, the greater likelihood one will be detected.

Anything is possible and none of this is to argue that the United States should be sanguine about a Mumbai style attack. Border and coastal security ought to be strengthened for many reasons. Law enforcement should train for the “moving shooter” scenario. Intelligence connections with neighboring countries should be further strengthened, and most importantly the United States must develop effective strategies to keep young people from being recruited into terrorist organizations. But to develop effective and appropriate counter-measures, terror threats should be assessed soberly – as dispassionately as the terrorists themselves develop their tactics.