20 May 2015

Madison's Farce in the Post Information Era (II)


My previous posting questioned the mass media's hysterical ‘shoot-the-messenger’ response Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster outing of the Obama Administration’s lies about its liquidation of Osama bin Ladin in a long essay in the London Review of Books.  
My main point was,  “In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.”  
Shooting the messenger is what bureaucracies, like those in the Pentagon, the CIA, or the State Department, routinely resort to when faced with information that disputes their party line.  That the popular press is behaving in the same way is truly frightening.
The act of shooting the messenger, and the intimidation that goes along with it, protects those factions in government with a vested interest in the partly line status quo, and is one reason why people at the top of hierarchies become isolated from reality and do dumb things (see Inside the Rat’s Nest for a description of how this kind of isolation operation works in the Pentagon).  Think about how a ‘shoot the messenger mentality’ in the popular media shapes the outlook of people who, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, need to arm themselves  with the knowledge to hold their representatives in government accountable for their government’s actions:  It creates a wilderness of mirrors that disarms the people and is therefore a threat that is aimed at the heart of what is left of the American republic
All is not lost, however.  Attached herewith is an excellent example of how that ideal world might look.  The author, my friend Gareth Porter, who in addition to Hersh is one of the few really good investigative journalists left in Washington, confirms most of Hersh’s report, but he adds a new wrinkle.  
Porter argues that Hersh’s account of the Pakistani “walk in”  who revealed bin Ladin’s hideout is problematic and may itself be a CIA plant of disinformation.
Porter’s analysis, however, does not the change the implications posed by the central question of how the Obama Administration learned of Osama’s location.   And it is a very important question, because it goes to the heart of the justifications for torture and the spying operations of NSA, particularly its meta data tracking capabilities, that have tarnished the US image abroad and are threatening our civil liberties at home. 
In my opinion, Porter reinforces the implications of Hersh’s horror story by digging further into the complexities of the US-Pakistani relationship.  I urge you to carefully read it. 

THE MISFIRE IN HERSH'S BIG BIN LADEN STORY
Monday, 18 May 2015 00:00 By Gareth Porter, Truthout 
[posted with permission of the author]
Seymour Hersh's story on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has exposed a series of Obama administration claims about the raid, including the lie that it was not intended from the first to kill bin Laden and its fanciful story about Islamic burial of his body at sea. Hersh confirms the fact that the Obama administration - and the CIA - were not truthful in claiming that they learned about bin Laden's whereabouts from a combination of enhanced interrogation techniques and signals intelligence interception of a phone conversation by bin Laden's courier.
But Hersh's account of a Pakistani "walk-in," who tipped off the CIA about bin Laden's location in Abbottabad, corrects one official deception about how the CIA discovered bin Laden's location, only to give credence to a new one.
Hersh's account accepts his source's claim that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI had captured bin Laden in 2006 by buying off some of his tribal allies and that ISI had moved him to the Abbottabad compound under a kind of house arrest. But there are good reasons for doubting the veracity of that claim. Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, who spent months investigating the bin Laden raid and the bin Ladens' relocation to Abbottabad, interviewed a number of people in the neighborhood of the bin Laden compound and found no evidence whatever of any ISI presence in guarding or maintaining surveillance of the compound, such as described by Hersh's source.
This writer published a detailed account of the background of bin Laden's move to Abbottabad at Truthout in May 2012, based on months of painstaking research by Qadir, which showed that it was the result of a political decision by the al-Qaeda shura itself.
Qadir, who has never had any affiliation with ISI, was able to contact Mehsud tribal sources he had known from his service in South Waziristan many years earlier who introduced him to Mehsud tribal couriers for a leading tribal militant allied with al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. He was able to explain why a key al-Qaeda official in charge of relocating bin Laden actually considered Abbottabad, a military cantonment where the Pakistani military academy is located, a better hiding place than a city closer to the northwest Pakistan base area of al-Qaeda.
Qadir also learned that the secrecy of bin Laden's new location was based on the fact that no one outside the al-Qaeda inner circle knew the real identity of bin Laden's courier, who ordered the construction of the compound in 2004. That whole history, which Qadir was able to reconstruct in painstaking detail, belies the story that Hersh's source, the "retired senior intelligence official," told him about bin Laden being held captive by ISI in Abottabad.
The story has provoked pushback from the deputy director of the CIA at the time, as well as from Qadir. Michael Morell, the former deputy director, has called the story "completely false" and added, "No walk-in ever provided any information that was significant in the hunt for Osama bin Laden."
Qadir had picked up the walk-in story - complete with the detail that the Pakistani in question was a retired ISI officer who had been resettled from Pakistan - from American contacts in 2011. In his own book, Operation Geronimo, Qadir comments, "There is no way a Pakistani Brigadier, albeit retired, could receive this kind of money and disappear …"
Qadir also learned from interviewing ISI officials that, by mid-2010, they had become suspicious about the owner of the Abbottabad compound, of a possible terrorism connection, as a result of what began as a routine investigation, although they did not know that bin Laden was there. Five different junior and mid-level ISI officers told Qadir they understood Pakistan's Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) had decided to forward a request to the CIA for surveillance of the Abbottabad compound in July 2010.
So CTW's provision of that crucial information to the CIA would have occurred just about the time Hersh's source says the walk-in took place.
Hersh's account of the walk-in, offering to tell the CIA where bin Laden was in return for the $25 million reward, is problematic for other reasons. If the walk-in source had been able to provide a reasonably detailed explanation for how he knew bin Laden, was in that compound and had passed a polygraph test, as the source claims, President Obama would certainly have been informed.
But the former senior intelligence official told Hersh that Obama was not informed about the information from the walk-in until October 2010 - two months after the CIA allegedly had gotten the information from the walk-in.
Furthermore both Obama and the "senior intelligence official" who briefed the press on the issue on May 2, 2011, made statements that clearly suggested the information that had helped them was much more indirect than a tip that bin Laden was there. And both indicated that it was a result of Pakistani government cooperation.
The senior intelligence official told reporters that "The Pakistanis ... provided us information attached to [the compound] to help us complete the robust intelligence case that ... eventually carried the day." That is very different from telling the CIA that bin Laden had been taken captive by the ISI and deposited in Abbottabad.
And Obama was explicit about the information coming through Pakistani institutional channels in his remarks on the night of the raid. "It is important here to note," Obama said, "that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound he was hiding in."
No plausible reason can be offered for those remarks, except that ISI's counter-terrorism wing (CTW) actually did provide specific information related to the Abbottabad compound that led the CIA to begin intensive satellite surveillance of the compound.
Finally the story of the "walk-in" and the $25 million reward going to the individual is a story line that serves the interests of some high-ranking CIA officials - including then-CIA Director Leon Panetta - who had come to view ISI as the enemy because of a cluster of conflicts that involved suspicions about its protecting bin Laden, as well as ISI restrictions on CIA spying in Pakistan; the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting two Pakistanis; and finally, ISI complaints about US drone strikes. The CIA had increased its unilateral intelligence presence in Pakistan tremendously in 2010-11, and ISI demanded that the increase be rolled back.
In January 2011, CIA operative Raymond Davis had been arrested for killing two Pakistanis who had apparently been tailing him, and the CIA had put intense pressure on the ISI to have him released. Then on March 17, one day after Davis had been released thanks to the intervention of ISI chief Shuja Pasha, the CIA had carried out a drone strike on what was supposedly a gathering of Haqqani network officials, but it actually killed dozens of tribal and sub-tribal elders who had gathered from all over North Waziristan to discuss an economic issue. A former US official later suggested that the strike, which had been opposed by then-Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had been carried out then because the CIA had been "angry" over the detention of Davis for several weeks.
The Pakistani military had been angered, in turn, by the March 17 drone strike, and Pasha had then gone to Washington in April 2011 with a demand for a Pakistani veto over US drone strikes in the country.

That summer, as tensions with the Pakistani military continued to simmer, someone began talking privately about ISI's complicity in bin Laden's presence in Abbotabad. The story was first published on the blog of R. J. Hillhouse on August 8, 2011, which cited "sources in the intelligence community."

19 May 2015

Madison's Farce In The Post-Information Era


The media’s disgraceful reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden Report

By now, most readers have heard of Seymour Hersh’s latest tubesteak in the London Review of Books.  Hersh outed the Obama Administration’s lies surrounding the killing of Osama bin Ladin in a 10,000 word report.  For readers who have not yet read the Hersh report, Jeffrey St. Claire, editor of Counterpunch, penned an excellent summary as a lead in to an essay written by the late Alexander Cockburn, who criticized the Obama Administration's story about the liquidation of bin Ladin only four days after the event.  St. Claire’s point was not to criticize or diminish Hersh’s work, but to remind people that questions about bin Ladin’s liquidation arose from the get go.  Rumors have been swirling for years, but it was Hersh has put together the most coherent story yet published.  That makes his report worth a careful study and analysis.
In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.  Yet despite its obvious importance, as Trevor Timm cogently explains in the Columbia Journalism Review, the mainstream media’s reaction to the Hersh report has not been to dig deeper, but to shoot the messenger. Vitriol from his fellow reporters is not new to Hersh.  As Mark Ames recalls in Lapdogs Redux, Hersh
“… got the same hostile reaction from his media colleagues when he broke his biggest story of his career: The 1974 exposé of the CIA’s massive, illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, which targeted tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly antiwar and leftwing dissidents …” 
But Ames also reminds us, Hersh was able to write in the New York Times on 15 January 1975 that William E. Colby,* the director of the CIA, admitted* in a Senate hearing that …
“… that his agency had infiltrated undercover agents into antiwar and dissident political groups inside the United States as part of a counterintelligence program that led to the accumulation of files on 10,000 American citizens.”
The mainstream media’s reaction reminds me of bureaucratic behaviour in the Pentagon (and also in climate science) that instinctively occurs whenever someone identifies problems with the consensus “party line,” or in the sterile language of newspeak, whenever one posits a new “narrative" in place of the consensus “narrative."  
This kind of group-think is very dangerous stuff when it comes to the mass media, because as James Madison implied** almost 200 years ago, the integrity of the Fourth Estate (the quest for knowledge not narratives) is a necessary condition for maintaining the vitality of the American concept of a republic based on the theory of representative democracy:  
“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  -  James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822
But as one Pentagon wag opined to me in the early 1980s in reaction to my work analyzing the collective delusions embodied in the Plans/Reality Mismatch,  ‘You have shown how the Pentagon is always a step ahead of society.  People talk about the revolutionary implications of the information era, but we have already moved to next rung of progress — Welcome to the Post Information Era.'
——
* Colby denied “massive” illegality in the Agency’s spying on 10,000 American Citizens
** Madison was talking about popular education, but the point is universal and self-evidently applies to the mass media

14 May 2015

The Constitutional Implications of Using Drones to Liquidate American Citizens


Stalin liquidated his adversaries in the Lubyanka with a bullet in the back of the head.  This kind of precision strike was perfectly within the law because Stalin, a dictator, determined the KGB's version of 'due process.’  Liquidation of so-called high value targets (individuals) via a bureaucratically defined 'due process’ procedure lies at the center of the US counterterrorism strategy. 
Liquidation is a better descriptor than assassination, because the killing method is based on cold calculation and the targets executed are almost never recognized public officials. This arbitrary character of the US killing strategy is especially true for the detailed inferential procedures*, including those involving the active participation of the President, for identifying and selecting individual targets for termination in the drone strikes. As my longtime friend Jim Stevenson notes below the former Attorney General Eric Holder has gone so far as to justify this by claiming that Constitution only promises “due process,” not due judicial process, when American citizens are targeted for liquidation in the war of terror — the inference being that these complex target picking procedures constitute 'due process.’  
Stevenson’s essay explains why the Obama/Bush liquidation strategy raises fundamental questions of the Constitutionality and the rule of law that transcend the operational needs of the so-called war on terror.
————
* The “due process” of "signature targeting" procedures embodies a seductively dangerous form of algorithmic statistical reasoning, where it is assumed a subjectively determined set of “prior indicators” can used to determine the probability of individual being a legitimate terrorist target.  The problem posed by the likelihood of a mistaken identification (known as a “false positive”) is three fold: first, even if the statistical distributions of the priors could be accurately calculated, there is by definition always a probability of a false positive and an innocent person being unintentionally liquidated.  This is know antiseptically as collateral damage, and because we are at war, it is argued, collateral damage is a regrettable but necessary cost of doing buisness.  Second, because the prior indicators are subjectively determined (i.e., hypothesized), their probability distributions are unknowable and indeed have no meaning; therefore the probability of false positives is unknowable and has no meaning.  Third, human targets learn from experience and change their behaviour, making even relevant “prior” indicators irrelevant.  Yet the detailed, deliberative nature of the target selection procedure creates a seductive psychological impression of what Holder claimed is “due process."


Protecting American Citizens From Drones
by James P. StevensonAntiwar.com, May 14, 2015
[re-posted with permission of the author]
As America recently learned of the unintended deaths of its citizens from a CIA drone strike, it should reflect on the death warrant issued without due process for two other Americans, one that killed American citizen Anwar al-Awalki, a drone strike that ignored his Constitutional protections and took the life of another American citizen, his son.
When al-Awalki was killed in 2011, former attorney general Eric Holder was criticized for killing him without due process. In response, Holder educated the public that the Constitution promises due process but not judicial process. Additionally, by defining al-Awalki as an imminent threat, he said he could also rely on the government’s police powers to make a lawful killing. Obviously under some circumstances, government officials need to react quickly to kill without due process such as when a student begins shooting other students in school. But these kinds of exigencies were not present with al-Awalki.
The Caroline Test, an international legal test for an “imminent threat,” states that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This was not the case for al-Awalki. The government chased al-Awalki for two years in an attempt to kill him proving that as a threat he was far from imminent.
In addition to distorting al-Awalki’s imminence, the Department of Justice justified killing al-Awalki without judicial process by citing the Supreme Court decision, Mathews versus Eldridge, to justify its administrative due process hearing as a replacement for a judicial hearing.
 In fact, the Mathews case was about how much due process one is entitled to in administrative hearings on disability benefits. The Mathews case made it unambiguous that the greater the potential loss of rights, the greater the requirement for judicial as opposed to executive branch due process. Specifically, it said, “the degree of potential deprivation that may be created by a particular decision is a factor to be considered in assessing the validity of any administrative decision-making process.”
Amplifying the Mathews language, the Supreme Court wrote in the Hamdi case,
“‘Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property.’” Moreover, the Hamdi case emphasized that “‘the right to procedural due process is “absolute” in the sense that it does not depend upon the merits of a claimant’s substantive assertions.’”
Noting the irony in the government’s argument, the Supreme Court wrote in U.S. versus Robel, “[I]t would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile.”
Even in cases involving an enemy combatant, where the military wanted to shortcut the Constitution, the Supreme Court noted in Hamdi, “that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision maker.”
Making a composite of these opinions we have to ask: If the Supreme Court takes the position that judicial process is required for an incarcerated citizen, wouldn’t it provide these same or greater safeguards when the executive branch of the federal government decides to kill a citizen when that citizen is not an imminent threat?
In spite of the executive branch’s attempt to minimize the role of the federal judiciary in wartime, the Hamdi court rejected the idea that war is an excuse to reduce due process to the equivalent of an administrative hearing. “[T]he position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government.”
No doubt the military will claim that dropping ordnance from drones is more accurate than bombing from bombers, bombers that the military claimed during World War Two were accurate enough to drop a bomb into a pickle barrel. While it is true that drones are often more accurate than bombers, the drone program has been sold on it ability to minimize “collateral damage,” a euphemism for unintended deaths near the target that would be called manslaughter if a citizen did it.
Unfortunately, drones cannot distinguish an American from an Armenian, and as we’ve just learned, neither can the CIA. Furthermore, we have yet to hear that drones can drop ordnance into a pickle barrel. Indeed, we have no evidence of their accuracy. We do know that only thirty percent of American bombs dropped during 1943 landed within a 1,000 foot radius, a large pickle barrel indeed.
It is time for Americans to demand that the executive branch submit itself to the US Constitution that created it; call for federal courts to take note of the Supreme Court’s warning that the executive branch was attempting to “condense power into a single branch of government;” command congress to remain skeptical about drone results as well as determine if “collateral damage” is making us safer or increasing the number of terrorists; and demand that notice and an opportunity to be heard, fundamental to the Bill of Rights, remain sacrosanct.
James P. Stevenson is the former editor of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s Topgun Journal and the author of The $5 Billion Misunderstanding and The Pentagon Paradox.

08 May 2015

Why the Toleration of Brilliant Eccentricity Should Be a Metric for Military Vitality


It is cliché that the military is a place for unimaginative people who like to follow orders, as well as morally challenged ambitious careerists who view “service” in the military as a ladder to status, fame, and wealth.  And it is indeed true that military institutions have a primitive attraction for these kinds of unsavory personalities.  It is also true that the military attracts larger numbers of well intentioned individuals who are motivated by a sense of patriotism and service but have a predilection toward conformity.  These are popular caricatures, and there is accuracy in them
But there is more.  There is something about the nature of military institutions that attracts a small minority of brilliant eccentrics and individualists who are driven by a desire to do something as opposed to being somebody.  They walk to the beat of their own drummer and there is no exact parallel in the private sector.
Of course, those prone to doctrinaire thinking always make up the majority, and the careerists at the top of the greasy pole of blind ambition view these few eccentrics as crazy lunatics, as royal pains in the ass, and most importantly, as threats who should be purged from the bureaucratic system, lest they poison the impressionable minds of younger officers and enlisted men.  But to my thinking, these eccentrics are the creative jewels in the military’s crown, as well as being a joy to be around, and I think the degree of begrudging tolerance for the small number of eccentric geniuses is a little-examined indicator of the vitality of any military institution.  
With the possible exception of the Marine Corps, that tolerance has been steadily extinguished in US Department of Defense since the end of the Vietnam War.  This is particularly true for the US Air Force, where at least one general recently equated dissent from the AF party line (regarding the controversial AF decision to scrap the highly effective A-10 in favor of the far higher cost, problem-plagued F-35) as “treason.”  
This brings me to the memory of Colonel Everest Riccioni who died in April at the age of 91 and is accurately memorialized by the Project of Government Oversight (attached below).  Riccioni was a brilliant eccentric who believed in and acted on his ideas, often to his own detriment.  It is a testimony to a somewhat healthier time that he was never accused of treason — but he was exiled to Korea (the American equivalent to Siberia during the Vietnam years) for his advocacy of larger numbers of smaller, lower cost, higher performing fighters.   Riccioni was a founding member of the dreaded Fighter Mafia, an informal group of like minded individuals whose membership included Colonel John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Chuck Meyers, and Tom Christie.* Against  all odds, the Fighter Mafia changed the character of fighter/attack aviation in the Air Force and Navy in the 1970s and postponed for 30 years the aviation death spiral that, in the absence of their kind of “eccentric” countervailing force today, is reasserting itself with a vengeance — at even higher cost to the American taxpayer and by extension the soldiers and marines on the ground doing the heavy lifting.  Yet the example of the Fighter Mafia is still buried up by the defenders of the status quo.
Like his compatriots, Riccioni was a colorful, legendary character: In conversation he often referred to himself in the royal third person — as Riccioni, yet he never pulled rank on those junior to him. I first heard about him indirectly from one of his secretaries during a visit to the Pentagon in 1969 or 1970. Over lunch, she told me she worked for this “spooky” (unnamed) colonel who always carried an arrow, and she did not know why, because he only used it was as pointer in briefings.   Riccioni was in a lifelong battle with one of his dearest friends, John Boyd, over who invented a particular tactical dog fighting idea in the 1950s.  Boyd once called me at 2 AM bragging he was going through is files and  “I got the bastard,” because Boyd found something he had written in 1955 that predated something Riccioni had written by two months. No doubt, given Riccioni’s predilection for writing, Boyd’s gotcha was not the end of the story.  But their “battle” did not prevent Riccioni from writing a beautiful recommendation to help ensure that Boyd, a character of equal eccentricity and brilliance but more prickliness, was promoted to colonel.  Riccioni loved to write … often his controversial technical analyses were embedded in long flowery verbiage that got him into trouble and sometime drove his admirers, like me, nuts.  Boyd loved Riccioni, but he once told me that someone needed to “break Riccioni’s pencil” before Rich committed seppuku with it. 
The Air Force (and the military services in general)  would be a healthier and more vibrant place if it learned how to nurture, tolerate, and take advantage of the real contributions and ideas of its eccentrics — thanks to POGO, the life and legend of one the best is brilliantly memorialized below. 
————————
* Some writers have mistakenly included my name in the membership of the Fighter Mafia. While all the members are close friends of mine, their work on the lightweight fighter program pre-dated my association with them as a group.

Member of Fighter Mafia Passes
Project on Government Oversight, May 6, 2015


 Left to right: Chuck Myers, Pierre Sprey, Chuck Spinney, Everest Riccioni, Tom Christie, and of course, Winslow Wheeler. Photo courtesy of James Stevenson.

Colonel Everest E. “Rich” Riccioni USAF (ret.) passed away on April 15 in Monument, Colorado, at the age of 91. We at the Project On Government Oversight were privileged to have a fighter aviation expert of his stature as advisor, consultant, and contributor to our work. We will miss the brilliance of his insights, his lucid analyses of airpower and its costs, his dedication to improving national defense while reducing its burden on the taxpayer, his unforgettable, larger-than-life personality, and his passionate advocacy of all things Italian.

To say he was a colorful character is a vast understatement: his business card included Raconteur, Bon Vivant, and World’s Third Greatest Fighter Aircraft Designer. Whether lecturing as a charismatic professor of Astronautics at the Air Force Academy or leading radically innovative aeronautical programs in the Pentagon, he always carried an arrow, both as a pointer and as a reminder of the real fundamentals of war. The Academy cadets loved him for it. The Pentagon generals hated the reminder.

Rich had a long and storied career. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943, eventually flying C-46 transports on dangerous missions over the “Hump” in the India-Burma Theater, then service-testing newly assembled P-38s, P-51s and B-24s. After a brief stint away to get his aeronautics and mathematics degrees, he returned to the Air Force in 1949. He became a test pilot at the Air Force’s legendary Edwards test base and then an instructor at the Experimental Test Pilot School, the beginning of his lifelong love of teaching. All told, Riccioni flew 55 military aircraft of all types, particularly fighters, logging 5,500 hours in the air over the course of his career.
In the wake of Sputnik, the Air Force selected him for advanced graduate work in Astronautics at MIT, then tasked him to develop and teach the Academy’s first high-level Astronautics course. In four years of inspired teaching, Riccioni left behind hundreds of awestruck, devoted students. After several more stints in fighters including F-100s, F-104s, and F-4s, he was transferred in 1969 to Air Force HQ in the Pentagon to work on F-15 R&D.
There Rich quickly became disenchanted with the unnecessary complexity and large size of the F-15, convinced that its high cost would destroy the possibility of acquiring an adequate number of fighters. Despite the Air Force’s enormous pro-F-15 career pressures, he courageously joined forces with two like-minded Pentagon dissidents, Col. John Boyd, the Air Force’s greatest air-to-air tactics innovator, and Pierre Sprey, the OSD “whiz kid” hated throughout the Air Force for his anti-bombing, pro-fighter analyses. They formed a triumvirate that Rich quickly dubbed the Fighter Mafia, dedicated to producing the most unbeatable, smallest, and cheapest air-to-air fighter in the world. At great risk to his career, Riccioni created and funded the initial covert design program that launched the unprecedented F-16 versus F-17 prototype flyoff competition.

It took five more years of incessant bureaucratic guerilla warfare in the corridors of the Pentagon and the Capitol to shape the design and then nail down production funding, but the Fighter Mafia prevailed: the F-16 became the backbone of the USAF fighter force and the F-17 morphed into the F-18 to become the dominant Navy fighter. It was Riccioni’s proudest achievement but it ended his military career: the USAF Vice Chief of Staff banished him from the Pentagon to Korea and thence to a career-end tour as the commander of the Wright Patterson Flight Mechanics Division, a staid bureaucracy he shook to its roots with his crusading advocacy of supersonic cruise for fighters.
Rich retired from his beloved Air Force in 1976 and started a distinguished 15-year civilian career leading path-breaking design and analysis projects, including supercruising fighters, in Northrop’s Advanced Design department. Retiring from Northrop in 1981, he branched out on his own as an aviation consultant.

In the late 1990s, Riccioni and POGO began working together, primarily on cutting back the technically flawed and hugely expensive F-22, a fighter Rich passionately opposed. The plane’s grossly excessive complexity destroyed the supercruise capability that he had been advocating for 20 years; even worse, he saw that the fighter’s unaffordable and burgeoning sticker price—eventually $419 million per fighter—was forcing the Air Force into "unilateral disarmament.” Rich’s vision was soon vindicated: in 2009 Defense Secretary Robert Gates terminated the F-22 at a uselessly small force of 187 aircraft. You can see some of his prophetic work with POGO here:
Will We Ever Fly Before We Buy? F-22 Doesn't Meet Basic Testing Criteria - See more at: http://www.pogo.org/our-work/reports/2001/ns-fa22-20010102.html#sthash.caNK2gRb.dpuf
Will We Ever Fly Before We Buy? F-22 Doesn't Meet Basic Testing Criteria, January 2, 2001

Riccioni Responds to F/A-22 Advocates, March 23, 2005

For other points of view on Riccioni’s fascinating life,see the excerpts from Robert Coram’s meticulously researched and superbly insightful biography of Col. John Boyd (Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War, Robert Coram, 2004) and from Col. Riccioni’s own short autobiographical essay, written in 2014 and printed below:
EVEREST E. RICCIONI, COL., USAF
Brief Summary of My Background and Major Achievements
9-8-14
I volunteered to be an Aviation Cadet in WW-II. On graduation from flight training as a 2nd Lieutenant, I wanted to be a fighter pilot but was assigned to instruct in BT-13s. I left to fly Curtiss 46 transports in Cairo and Karachi, India. In India I did limited service testing of P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightings, and B-24 Liberator bombers, assembled for the war in China.
Discharged as a 1st Lieutenant, I attended the University of Minnesota to gain two degrees – a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and a Master of Science degree in Applied Mathematics minoring in Physics and Aeronautical Engineering.
I returned to the Air Force in l949, and was assigned to the Experimental Flight Test Center to perform three roles - one as a flight test engineer; after graduation from the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School I did some flight test programs; and the lastly as an instructor in academics and flight test techniques in the EFTPS. I was promoted to Captain. Qualified to fly 12 aircraft, I was privileged to fly all the fighters, bombers, and transports at Edwards FTC. I managed to get a six week program to Nellis AFB in the Fighter Weapons School. Flight-testing fighters does not transform one into a competent operational fighter pilot, so I transferred to the 36th Day Fighter Wing in Germany, flying F-86Fs and F-l00Cs, the first operational supersonic fighter. While there I was selected for astronaut training in the first class. I declined the privilege… My wife presented me the first of three wonderful children.
Russia launched ''Sputnik" so I was assigned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for almost four years of advanced studies in Astronautical Engineering. I was promoted to Major and I flew T-33 jet trainers. The following assignment was to the USAF Academy where I was assigned to create and teach ASTR0-551, one of the two most advanced engineering courses at the USAFA. I flew T-33 jets with the AF and F-l00Cs with the Colorado Air National Guard. I was promoted to Lt. Colonel. During the lax summers I created a program for the USAFA pilots to retain their flight currency. I was ordered to Nellis AFB to become current in F-100s.
On separate summers, I was ordered to fly F-104s at Luke AFB, F-105 Thunderjets at McConnell AFB, and F-4C Phantoms at George AFB preparatory to a quick short combat tour n Vietnam. That short program was cancelled. While still teaching at the Academy, I wrote a manuscript defining modem fighter tactics - TIGERS AIRBORNE. It was published by the USAFA, together with the course book for Astro 551. My wife presented me with children four, five, and six.
Next assignment was to the Air War College. While there, I completed a Master of Science degree in International Relations with George Washington University. Then on to a year of flying F-4Ds at Homestead AFB for the Combat Readiness Training Program in preparation for assignment in Vietnam. At Homestead, I was promoted to full Colonel, which promotion kept me from being assigned to the Vietnam war that was winding down.
Next assigned to the F-15 Office in Tactical Fighter Requirements on the Air Staff in the Pentagon in 1969. I achieved little to improve the F-15, however, on seeing the threat to our airpower posed by the expensive F-15 (its cost would shrink Tactical Air Command and never allow the USAF sufficient numbers for future wars), I assigned myself the additional duty of solving the numbers deficit by conceiving a new low­cost fighter. Together with Col. John R. Boyd, a famous Air Force pilot, and Pierre M. Sprey, a "whiz kid" in the Office of the SecDef, we described the need for it and determined its performance, range, speeds, and maneuvering requirements. My desires and efforts would have been fruitless, but for these two geniuses who believed in me and my program and joined me to form a triumvirate still renowned as the Fighter Mafia. Boyd and I briefed the USAF and the aircraft contractors on the concept. The generals wanted only F-15s for the foreseeable future. Amazingly, I was allowed to work on my self-assignment, but the Air Staff generals "knew" they could and would prevent the program from maturing. But the other two Mafia members involved the Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, and the Congress to overrule the recalcitrant generals. The F-16 won the competitive fly-off, and went into production concurrently with the F-15 in 1974. These two geniuses made my dream of increasing (doubling) the size of the USAF fighter fleet a reality. Further, through no effort of the Fighter Mafia, two aircraft contractors convinced the US Navy that a navalized version of the F-17, i.e., the F-18, would be an excellent fighter for the USN. Today the F-15 has essentially disappeared, and the then-prime USN carrier defense fighter, the F-14, is long gone. Advanced versions of the F-16 and the F-18 are still in production after 47 years - a world record. Many of the world's countries bought them, returning much gold to the US. The Fighter Mafia determined the nature of the fighter forces and the air order of battle for the USAF, the USN, and much of the world.
As a "reward" for this achievement, I was banished (punished) by the Air Staff to a year in South Korea, as Director of Operations and Training of the 314th Division at Osan Airbase i n 1973. My formal request to be assigned to Vietnam was turned down, without explanation. Next assignment was a compromise banishment tour to Hawaii as Deputy Commander of the 326th Air Division in Hawaii and as an analyst in PACAF HQ. Despite differing with two major generals, I was finally deemed "rehabilitated" in two years and assigned to command the Flight Mechanics Division at Wright Patterson AFB in 1974.There I managed the research on supersonic cruise fighter design, convened the first nationwide Secret Supersonic-Fighter Design Conference and inspired the second. I retired from the USAF at WPAFB in September of 1976.
Soon I was employed by Northrop Aircraft Division as Staff Assistant to support the Head of Advanced Design. I managed several projects to enhance their current aircraft, e.g., mounting the powerful GAU-13 30 mm anti-tank cannon underneath their smallest fighter. I was allowed to manage the design of several aircraft, among them a high performance supersonic-cruise fighter. I was selected by the B-2 Division to assist in several important projects – one of them quite critical. Two vice presidents ordered me to analyze the future that conventional (non-nuclear) weapons held for the B-2. They were surprised by my answer, but accepted it. I retired from Northrop in 1981.


29 April 2015

Tremblay Report: Unlocking the Power of John Boyd's OODA Loop


Colonel John Boyd may be the most influential American strategist of the late 20th Century, yet he remains widely misunderstood.  If you do a word search on the internet for “Colonel John Boyd” or OODA loop, you will get hundreds, if not thousands of hits — most superficial, many misleading, a large number downright incorrect.  This applies as much to enthusiastic self-proclaimed ‘Boydians’ (a cultish term I detest) as well as Boyd’s many critics.  (New readers: see this link for an Introduction to the Strategic Theories of John Boyd)
A large part of this interpretative problem stems from Boyd’s idiosyncratic way of presenting and documenting his ideas.  
Boyd left only a paper trail of complex, ever-evolving briefing slides, almost aphoristic in content.  Interpretation of his work is complicated further by the fact that Boyd was a master of “idea compression.” He obsessed over boiling down his ideas their essence.  Therefore his work is open to competing as well as evolving interpretations.
His “idea compression” can be seen vividly in his elegant technical tour de force on energy maneuverability.  His briefings on the nature of human conflict, assembled under the title, A Discourse on Winning and Losing, while far vaster in scope (covering ideas gleaned from history, evolutionary biology, anthropology, formal logic, mathematics, science, and philosophy), were constructed in the same spirit of idea compression. The building blocks take the form of an accumulating web of carefully worded pithy statements, punctuated occasionally by subtle changes in these statements.  The result is a maddening mix of precision and ambiguity that is open to rich interpretive growth as well as confusion and misinterpretation.  I am convinced, based on my many discussions with him over 23 years, this result was quite deliberate.
Colonel Boyd left no definitive text explaining his work beyond The Discourse.   The word “discourse” in his title was not chosen lightly; and it implies a Socratic dialectic of a spoken discussion and debate — and that is the way he thought.   My own view is that this construction was inspired by a desire to make his work open* to growth in the presence of changing conditions, and therefore timeless in the aphoristic style Sun Tzu, the only military theorist Colonel Boyd never criticized.  He knew producing an open system of thought greatly increased the risk of accidental as well as deliberate misinterpretation, but that was the price to pay for and openness to spirited debate, future intellectual growth, and timelessness.
In this spirit, it is with great pleasure that I am attaching a very thoughtful and clarifying addition to the growing literature describing Boyd’s theories.  This link will take you to a masters thesis written by Major Paul D. Tremblay Jr, (aka P.J. Tremblay)** USMC as part of his study in the Command and Staff College of the U.S. Marine Corps.  In my opinion, Tremblay has produced precisely the kind idea expansion that Colonel Boyd was trying to inspire with his Discourse.  
P.J. Tremblay’s thesis aims to clarify what is perhaps the single most misunderstood aspect of Boyd’s theory of interacting OODA loops: the confusion of absolute speed with relative quickness, particularly as it applies to agility in Orientation and Re-Orientation.  Tremblay’s aim is to improve the Marine Corps training curriculum by clarifying Boyd’s ideas and laying out a way to better incorporate them in progressively more comprehensive ways at each level in the Marine Corps’ educational system, from the lowest to the highest level.  
PJ’s  thesis is a case study in the kind of intellectual development and stimulation that John Boyd was trying to achieve by leaving the Marine Corps Research Center with the complete archive of his briefings and note.  Boyd, an honorary Marine, would say, “Semper Fidelus, PJ.”
—————
* Understanding the distinction between open and closed systems is central to understanding Boyd’s epistemology.  He discusses this in his paper Destruction and Creation and I relate that paper to his OODA loop in my lecture Evolutionary Epistemology. One can think of the construction of the Discourse as a meta-application of his philosophical viewpoint.
** Caveat emptor: PJ Tremblay is a close friend.  Major Tremblay did not know Colonel Boyd but has been aware of his briefings since he was a 2nd Lieutenant at the Marine Corps Basic School.  He is the only officer I know who has studied and applied Colonel Boyd’s ideas in a premeditated way in designing and  the leading a combat operation (Operation Eastern Storm in Kajaki Sofla, Helmand Province Afghanistan, 2011 -- Major Tremblay's application of Boyd's ideas can be seen throughout his in end of tour report, but are especially notable in Topic F which contains his description of Eastern Storm)  This multi-pronged reinforced company level attack on the Taliban was a stunning success and based on radio intercepts, it became clear he penetrated his adversary’s OODA loops and collapsed the opposing units into confusion and disorder, exactly like Boyd predicted.  His thesis does not discuss this operation.

04 April 2015

Andrew Cockburn's Kill Chain - II (an excerpt)


The following is an excerpt from Andrew Cockburn's new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins Henry Holt, 2015). 
'Drones, Baby, Drones!' The Rise of America's High-Tech Assassins
By Andrew Cockburn,  Alternet, March 30, 2015
[Reposted with permission of the author, originally posted by Alternet]
The Richard M. Helms Award dinner, held annually at a major Washington hotel, is among the highlights of the intelligence community’s social calendar. Hosted by the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation, the event raises and distributes money to aid families of officers killed in action, whose sacrifice is commemorated in the rows of stars carved into the wall of the foyer at agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The venue for the 2011 event, held on March 30, was the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Pentagon City, and as usual it attracted hundreds of intelligence luminaries, current and former. Joining them were senior executives of various defense corporations—Lockheed, SAIC, Booz Allen, General Atomics, and others—who had generously sponsored tables at the event.
There was much to celebrate. President Barack Obama, who had run a quasi-antiwar liberal campaign for the White House, had embraced the assassination program and had decreed, “the CIA gets what it wants.” Intelligence budgets were maintaining the steep upward curve that had started in 2001, and while all agencies were benefiting,none had done as well as the CIA. At just under $15 billion, the agency’s budget had climbed by 56 percent just since 2004.
Decades earlier, Richard Helms, the CIA director for whom the event was named, would customarily refer to the defense contractors who pressured him to spend his budget on their wares as “those bastards.” Such disdain for commerce in the world of spooks was now long gone, as demonstrated by the corporate sponsorship of the tables jammed into the Grand Ballroom that evening. The executives, many of whom had passed through the revolving door from government service, were there to rub shoulders with old friends and current partners. “It was totally garish,” one attendee told me afterward. “It seemed like every arms manufacturer in the country had taken a table. Everyone was doing business, right and left.”
In the decade since 9/11, the CIA had been regularly blighted by scandal—revelations of torture, renditions, secret “black site” prisons, bogus intelligence justifying the invasion of Iraq, ignored signs of the impending 9/11 attacks—but such unwholesome realities found no echo in this comradely gathering. Even George Tenet, the CIA director who had presided over all of the aforementioned scandals, was greeted with heartfelt affection by erstwhile colleagues as he, along with almost every other living former CIA director, stood to be introduced by Master of Ceremonies John McLaughlin, a former deputy director himself deeply complicit in the Iraq fiasco. Each, with the exception of Stansfield Turner (still bitterly resented for downsizing the agency post-Vietnam), received ringing applause, but none more than the night’s honoree, former CIA director and then-current secretary of defense Robert M. Gates.
Although Gates had left the CIA eighteen years before, he was very much the father figure of the institution and a mentor to the intelligence chieftains, active and retired, who cheered him so fervently that night at the Ritz-Carlton. He had climbed through the ranks of the national security bureaucracy with a ruthless determination all too evident to those around him. Ray McGovern, his supervisor in his first agency post, as an analyst with the intelligence directorate’s soviet foreign policy branch, recalls writing in an efficiency reportthat the young man’s “evident and all-consuming ambition is a disruptive influence in the branch.” There had come a brief check on his rise to power when his involvement in the Iran-Contra imbroglio cratered an initial attempt to win confirmation as CIA director, but success came a few years later, in 1991, despite vehement protests from former colleagues over his persistent willingness to sacrifice analytic objectivity to the political convenience of his masters.
Gates’s successful 1991 confirmation as CIA chief owed much, so colleagues assessed, to diligent work behind the scenes on the part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s staff director, George Tenet. In 1993, Tenet moved on to be director for intelligence programs on the Clinton White House national security staff, in which capacity he came to know and esteem John Brennan, a midlevel and hitherto undistinguished CIA analyst assigned to brief White House staffers. Tenet liked Brennan so much that when he himself moved to the CIA as deputy director in 1995, he had the briefer appointed station chief in Riyadh, an important position normally reserved for someone with actual operational experience. In this sensitive post Brennan worked tirelessly to avoid irritating his Saudi hosts, showing reluctance, for example, to press them for Osama bin Laden’s biographical details when asked to do so by the bin Laden unit back at headquarters.
Brennan returned to Washington in 1999 under Tenet’s patronage, initially as his chief of staff and then as CIA executive director, and by 2003 he had transitioned to the burgeoning field of intelligence fusion bureaucracy. The notion that the way to avert miscommunication between intelligence bureaucracies was to create yet more layers of bureaucracy was popular in Washington in the aftermath of 9/11. One concrete expression of this trend was the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, known as T-TIC and then renamed the National Counter Terrorism Center a year later. Brennan was the first head of T-TIC, distinguishing himself in catering to the abiding paranoia of the times. On one occasion, notorious within the community, he circulated an urgent report that al-Qaeda was encrypting targeting information for terrorist attacks in the broadcasts of the al-Jazeera TV network, thereby generating an “orange” alert and the cancellation of dozens of international flights. The initiative was greeted with malicious amusement over at the CIA’s own Counterterrorism Center, whose chief at the time, José Rodríguez, later opined that Brennan had been trying to build up his profile with higher authority. “Brennan was a major factor in keeping [the al-Jazeera/al-Qaeda story] alive. We thought it was ridiculous,” he told a reporter. “My own view is he saw this, he took this, as a way to have relevance, to take something to the White House.” Tellingly, an Obama White House spokesman later excused Brennan’s behavior on the grounds that though he had circulated the report, he hadn’t believed it himself.
Exiting government service in 2005, Brennan spent the next three years heading The Analysis Corporation, an obscure but profitable intelligence contractor engaged in preparing terrorist watch lists for the government, work for which he was paid $763,000 in 2008. Among the useful relationships he had cultivated over the years was well-connected Democrat Anthony Lake, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, who recommended him to presidential candidate Barack Obama. Meeting for the first time shortly after Obama’s election victory, the pair bonded immediately, with Obama “finishing Brennan’s sentences,” by one account. Among their points of wholehearted agreement was the merit of a surgical approach to terrorist threats, the “need to target the metastasizing disease without destroying the surrounding tissue,” as Brennan put it, for which drones and their Hellfire missiles seemed the ideal tools. Obama was initially balked in his desire to make Brennan CIA director because of the latter’s all-too-close association with the agency’s torture program, so instead the new president made him his assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, with an office down the hall from the Oval Office. Two years into the administration, everyone in the Ritz-Carlton ballroom knew that the bulky Irishman was the most powerful man in U.S. intelligence as the custodian of the president’s kill list, on which the chief executive and former constitutional law professor insisted on reserving the last word, making his final selections for execution at regularly scheduled Tuesday afternoon meetings. “You know, our president has his brutal side,” a CIA source cognizant of Obama’s involvement observed to me at the time.
Now, along with the other six hundred diners at the Helms dinner, Brennan listened attentively as Gates rose to accept the coveted award for “exemplary service to the nation and the Central Intelligence Agency.” After paying due tribute to previous honorees as well as his pride in being part of the CIA “family,” Gates spoke movingly of a recent and particularly tragic instance of CIA sacrifice, the seven men and women killed by a suicide bomber at an agency base, Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009. All present bowed their heads in silent tribute.
Gates then moved on to a more upbeat topic. When first he arrived at the Pentagon in 2007, he said, he had found deep-rooted resistance to “new technology” among “flyboys with silk scarves” still wedded to venerable traditions of fighter-plane combat. But all that, he informed his rapt audience, had changed. Factories were working “day and night, day and night,” to turn out the vital weapons for the fight against terrorism. “So from now on,” he concluded, his voice rising, “the watchword is: drones, baby, drones!”
The applause was long and loud.

Excerpted from Andrew Cockburn's new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins Henry Holt, 2015).  Reprinted here with permission from the author.

27 March 2015

Andrew Cockburn's Kill Chain - A Book Review


The attached book review is a slightly revised version of The Folly of Machine Warfare, which I wrote for Counterpunch in its March 27-29 edition.

Chuck Spinney


Book Review

Andrew Cockburn
Henry Holt and Co. (March 10, 2015)

Caveat emptor: the author of this book is a friend of thirty-five years, so I am biased, proudly so in this case.  While I know what Cockburn can do, I must admit I was literally blown away by this book. And I am no stranger to this subject, having worked as an engineer-analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon for 25 years.  

What makes Cockburn’s book so powerful, in my opinion, is not only his sourcing and detail (which are amazing), but the fact that he has written a book that is at once overwhelming in terms of information, yet so well written, it is accessible to the general reader.  It is a page turner.  He dissects the rise of drone warfare and examines its conduct in fascinating detail from the point of view of the targeteers in the CIA and the White House, to the controllers in front of video screens, and to the effects on the victims at the receiving end.  

In so doing, he shows how the ideology of drone warfare is really old wine in a new bottle: it is a natural evolution of three interconnected mindsets: (1) the flawed ideas underpinning the now-discredited theory of strategic bombing in WWII; (2) the search for perfect information embodied in disastrous all-knowing, all-seeing electronic battlefield (starting with McNamara’s electronic line of Vietnam); and (3) the search for surgical precision in both conflict and coercive diplomacy embodied, for example, in the simplistic targeting theories underpinning the drug war and the primitive escalate-the-pressure tactics of precision targeted sanctions.  At the roots of these three ideologies, I would argue, is an unchanging three-part set of propositions woven together in the 1930s by the evangelical instructors in the Army Air Corps Tactical School. They preached the theory of victory thru airpower alone, and they believed that only strategic bombing could justify an independent Air Force on a par with the Army and the Navy, with comparable or even larger budgets.

These future leaders of the AF constructed a seductive tautological argument, based on the fallacious assumptions of having extensive a priori knowledge of the enemy’s inner workings coupled to perfect combat intelligence.  It remains unchanged to this day and goes like this: (1) The enemy is a physical system or network made up of critical linkages and nodes, be they ball bearing works in Schweinfurt, Salafi fanatics in Iraq with access to cell phones and the internet, or Pashtun warlords in the hills of Afghanistan. (2) The enemy system can be reliably analyzed and understood from a distance, making it possible to exactly identify those specific nodes or links that are vital to the functioning of the adversary system, be it an industrial power like Germany, a tribal alliance in Yemen, or the financial links of a terrorist network or foreign oligarchy. (3) That past failures are irrelevant because new technologies will provide the wherewithal to attack and destroy these vital nodes or links with precision strikes and thereby administer a mortal wound to the adversary.  

In short, the conduct of war is an engineering problem: In the current lexicon of the Pentagon and its defense contractors, the enemy is a 'systems of systems' made up of high value targets (HVTs) that can be identified and destroyed without risk from a distance with unmanned systems, and the military-technical revolution makes any past failures irrelevant to current capabilities. The reasoning is identical to that described in the preceding paragraph.  Yet despite stridently confident predictions of decisive precision effects, from the days of the Norden bombsight in B-17s to those of the Hellfire missile fired by drones, this theory has failed over and over to perform as its evangelists predicted and are still predicting. The need to dismiss the history of repeated failures is why the never-ending promise of a military-technical revolution is central to the maintenance of the ideology.

Viewing war as an engineering problem focuses on technology (which benefits contractors) and destructive physical effects, but this ideology ignores and is offset by the fundamental truth of war: Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.  Our technology’s physical effects can be — and often are — offset or mitigated by our opponent’s mental counters or initiatives, reflecting both his adaptability and unpredictability, and his moral strengths, like resolve and the will to resist. Combat history has proven over and over that mental and moral effects can offset physical effects, for example, when the destruction of ball bearing factories did not have its predicted effects in WWII, when bicycles carrying 600 pounds of supplies were used to by pass destroyed bridges on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and when the Serbs used cheap microwave ovens to fool expensive anti-radiation missiles in Kosovo.  And as Cockburn shows, this has proven true again in the ongoing war on terror, and its mirror image, the war on drugs.  

Any one who doubts that this critique applies to drones used in a counter-terror strategy should be asked to explain the collapse in Yemen — a place where drones reached their apotheosis as the centerpiece of American counter-terror strategy. 


Cockburn has provided a highly readable, and logically devastating story, written from a bottom-up empirical perspective.  He explains why our strategy in Yemen was doomed to fail, as indeed it has in recent weeks. His meticulously referenced historical and empirical research makes this book hard to pick apart. No doubt, there are some small errors of fact.  For example, not all the drone/bombers deployed in ill starred Operation Aphrodite (which blew up JFK's elder brother) in 1944 were B-24s as Cockburn incorrectly suggests; the operation also used B-17s.  But I defy anyone to find a single thread or family of threads that can be used to unravel his tapestry.