The Recent Attack On Shipping in the Gulf of Oman

Two commercial shipping vessels were attacked yesterday in the Gulf of Oman. Both vessels and their cargoes will be salvaged, the crews were safely removed, and none of the potentially environmentally damaging cargo – one of the ships was carrying distillates of naptha, the other methanol – appears to have leaked out into the Gulf of Oman. Because of where these attacks occurred, everyone seems to have immediately decided it was Iran. Secretary of State Pompeo went so far as to state it was unequivocally Iran at his press conference yesterday.

Secretary Pompeo eventually changed his statement to US intelligence assesses, from US government. Regardless, it appears that he’s basing a lot of this on the US Navy surveillance footage that was released of an unexploded ordnance (UXO) tech on one of the Iranian rescue teams removing what could be a magnetically attached mine or magnetically attached shaped charge attached to the side of the Kokaku Courageous. The Navy identified the device as a magnetically attached limpet mine, but the video is too grainy to confirm it.

There are problems with the official US position as expressed by Secretary Pompeo.

Chief Wright has far more experience with this than I do, but I’d add that if we had conclusive proof, as Secretary Pompeo claimed yesterday, that Iran had placed these explosive devices, then he would have released that video instead of video of an Iranian UXO tech disarming and removing an unexploded device that is unidentifiable by video prior to the Iranian rescue team beginning rescue operations aboard the attacked ship. Chief Nance, who like Chief Wright, has far more experience with this than I do, has similar concerns.

James Fallow’s sums the problem up for all of us:

The owners of the Kokaku Courageous have now come out and stated that their ship was not attacked with a mine or a shaped charge, rather by an unidentified airborne device – and not by a torpedo.

One of the tankers that were attacked in the Gulf of Oman was struck by a flying object, the ship’s Japanese operator said on Friday, expressing doubt that a mine had been attached to its hull.

But Yutaka Katada, the company’s president, citing accounts from the ship’s crew, said Friday: “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”

Please keep in mind that no evidence has actually been provided of who was responsible for last month’s attacks on shipping vessels in the area.

The bigger issue right now is how Secretary Pompeo and Assistant to the President-National Security Advisor Bolton try to spin this and leverage it to get the war they so clearly want. This includes trying to tie all of this back, in some way, shape, and/or form to Afghanistan and/or the Taliban so they can just take action under the existing 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed shortly after 9-11. Speaking of pieces of unexploded ordnance lying around waiting to go off…

Until or unless more and better evidence is actually released, all we can do is wait. The only good news in all of this, if there is any good news beyond that no one was seriously injured and no environmental damage appears to have occurred, is that because of the President’s, his cabinet members’, his administration’s, and his surrogates’ well earned reputation for mendacity, no one, including our allies and partners, is simply accepting the official US position on yesterday’s attacks. The same people that asked all of us to believe that no one on the White House staff asked/ordered the Navy to remove the USS John McCain from the President’s sight while he was in Japan, which was a lie, are the same ones that now want us to accept without question that Iran’s famed and feared IRGC carried out a sloppy operation and did so in such an amateurish way that they got caught red handed. Either these guys are the greatest threat to everyone, everywhere or they’re the Keystone Cops. Pick one, they can’t be both. The President’s, his cabinet members’, his administration’s, and his surrogates’ chronic inability to tell the truth may actually be the one thing that keeps things from escalating.

Open thread!








House Intelligence Committee Hearing on the Mueller Report and Counterintelligence

The House Intelligence Committee is holding a hearing this morning on the Mueller Report and its counterintelligence implications. I just noticed that C-Span was not airing it until a few minutes ago. And the cable news networks don’t appear to be broadcasting it either. I’m not sure if this is a result of the snooze fest that was Monday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller Report or because they were expecting to cover several hours of hearings by the House Oversight Committee culminating in a contempt vote for both Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross. That vote has been postponed until, at least, this afternoon. So for those interested, here’s the live feed of the ongoing House Intelligence Committee on the Mueller Report and its counterintelligence implications.

Open thread!








Jon Stewart Is an Unsupervised Child Playing With a Loaded Gun

If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, earlier today Jon Stewart, on behalf of ill 9-11 first responders, threw a temper tantrum in front of the cameras during a House subcommittee hearing. Specifically the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. This subcommittee, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has fourteen members: 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans. And in today’s meeting Congressman Nadler, who is an ex-officio member as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was also sitting in. At the point that Stewart decided to pitch his fit during his opening remarks about there being an “empty Congress”, seven of the subcommittee members were in the room. Though you could only see six of them in the video because of how the cameras were angled. The subcommittee meets in the same chambers as the full House Judiciary Committee, so even if everyone was there, the dais at the front of the room where the members of the subcommittee sit would look somewhere around 2/3 empty as there are 41 members of the full Judiciary Committee.

If Stewart did not know or did not understand that this was the case, then he’s a moron. More likely, he knew, understood the optics, and used them to gin up outrage. Stewart knew, was counting on, and was not disappointed that 1) it won’t be initially reported that this was a 14 member subcommittee and 2) most Americans will neither know, nor understand that this is why, despite at least half the subcommittee members actually being in attendance at the time he was ranting, most of the seats on the dais are empty.

The House is going to pass the extension without an issue. With an actual large numbers of votes from members of both parties. The vote to move it out of the Judiciary Committee is actually scheduled for tomorrow and it will pass there, and then the full House in short order, with significant bipartisan support. But once it does, it has to go across the Capitol to the Senate. Stewart knows, and if he doesn’t, then he should, that the problem isn’t the House or its Democratic majority. Rather it’s the McConnell controlled, GOP majority Senate. Should Senator McConnell deign to allow this to move forward, given he’s bottled up everything else the House has passed, he’s likely to demand ransom to do so. Why? Because he watched how Stewart manipulated the news media today to hammer the Democrats running the House of Representatives for failing to take care of 9-11 first responders who are ill because of their service on 9-11. Senator McConnell also knows that if he does nothing, because there isn’t going to be an equivalent hearing in the Senate to produce equally negative publicity, that he and his GOP majority in the Senate will take no blame. And because he knows that if it fails, Stewart will simply rebroadcast today’s video, the news media will follow like lemmings, and he’ll have made this a problem for Democrats going into a presidential election year where his Republican senators are defending more seats than the Senate Democrats are in 2020. Senator McConnell already had too much leverage and Stewart’s tantrum today simply gave him more.

Steve Cohen, who chairs the subcommittee, should have stopped Stewart, cut his mic if necessary, and explained that 1) this is a subcommittee with only 14 members, 2) as is standard procedure, subcommittee members would be in and out throughout the hearing as they had to do business, including taking votes in other committees and subcommittees (the ranking member actually did this at one point), and 3) Stewart could demagogue or the subcommittee could do the important business that Stewart wants them to do, but they could not and would not do both.

I appreciate Stewart’s passion. I understand why he’s angry. From his perspective even five year reauthorizations are a potential hindrance and failure to do right by the ill 9-11 first responders. But what he did today didn’t actually do anything to advance the cause he’s fighting for. It did make it easier for Senator McConnell to claim another scalp. Stewart’s bothsiderism served him, those for whom he’s advocating, and the Republic poorly today.

Open thread!








The Only Way Out is Through: There Can Never Be a Return to What Was Normal

I cannot count how many times – in briefings, in operational planning team meetings, in working groups, in other meetings – that I have stated to Soldiers, members of the other uniformed Services, and civilians from the Interagency that one of the end states we should be trying to achieve is not a return to what was normal. That there is no going back to how things were, whether in real life in Iraq or Afghanistan or in a war game’s scenario, the minute before the enemy invaded, the tanks rolled across the border, and/or the air campaign began. Whatever existed politically, socially, economically, religiously, and in regard to kinship as normal for that state and society ended as soon as the invasion started. The whole point of what we were trying to achieve is to establish enough stability to create enough space to begin to build a new normal. And that while the new normal would include some of the old normal, a lot of what existed in the old normal was gone forever. And trying to get it back or reestablish it was a waste of resources.

I was heartened to hear Mayor Buttigieg express this reality during his speech at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame Dinner yesterday (it should be queued up at the 4:31 mark):

For those who can’t watch the video, for whatever reason, he said:

We’re not going to win by playing it safe or promising to return to normal. We are where we are because normal broke.

This is not the first time that he has said something like this. From January:

I get the urge people will have after Trump. ‘Look at the chaos and the exhaustion: Wouldn’t it be better to go back to something more stable with somebody we know?’ But there’s no going back to a pre-Trump universe. We can’t be saying the system will be fine again just like it was. Because that’s not true; it wasn’t fine. Not if we could careen into this kind of politics.

I’m not advocating anyone support the Mayor, let alone anyone else. There are three candidates in the Democratic primary that I’m very enthused about, and another 1/2 dozen or so who I could live with as the nominee and eventually as president. Though I expect that most of the candidates will be out of contention and out of the campaign by the late Fall. But what Mayor Buttigieg is stating is something that is very, very important for everyone to hear, understand, accept, and internalize. And that’s not just because it is what I’ve been telling military and Interagency personnel for over a decade. Or that it’s nice to imagine that Mayor Buttigieg read one of my assessments during his time mobilized in Navy Intelligence and internalized the point I was trying to make. Rather it is because this is our real reality.

There is no going back to how things were before January 21, 2017 or November 8, 2016 or June 15, 2015. The America that we knew on those days – good, bad, and ugly – no longer exists. We can no more restore that America as we can the fantasy of a bygone America that lives in the minds of the Freedom Caucus members, the Tea Partiers, Senator McConnell’s gilded age fetishism, or the theocratic herrenvolk democracy of Vice President Pence.

We can only move forward and attempt to establish a new normal, a new American political, social, economic, and religious equilibrium. That new normal will include some parts of the old normal, hopefully the best parts, but it cannot be the old normal. And doing so won’t be easy. It is easy to break a state, a society, a culture. It is hard to repair them once broken.

The only way out is through.

Open thread.








A Couple of Matters for Your Consideration

Nothing too earth shaking, I hope, but there’s a couple of things I’d like to share. The first is that the article adapted from my keynote address at the US Army’s Psychological Operations Regiment’s 100th anniversary regimental dinner is now published. If you are interested, you can find it at this link or on page 26 of the pdf below.

Special_Warfare_32-1_JAN_MAR_2019_web

But wait, there’s more…

Thanks to one of our commenters, who I will let self identify, I have been honored with an invitation to give a keynote address at a digital media/digital news media conference in October 2019. I’ll also be giving the cocktail hour/party teaser talk on the first night and participating in a round table panel. The details on the conference are here. And it is my understanding that the organizers plan to stream this, and, if so, provided John doesn’t have a problem, I’ll put links up here so those so inclined can watch.

To build support for the conference, I’ve been asked to do a weekly column, entitled Thinking Security dealing with issues in the information domain  – information warfare, influence operations, etc – that are, or should be, major concerns for digital publishers, the digital news media, more traditional news media, and consumers of the news. The first column went up at the end of last week and the next one will be up next week. You can find that first column at this link.

Open thread!