Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Who are these guys?

I recently finished taking a class in pursuit of a Masters degree. My research in this class focused on Private Military Companies. If you've never heard of them you should because there are about 30,000 individuals (although no one knows for sure) employed by them in or around Iraq. In fact, we could not conduct missions in Iraq or Afghanistan without these companies. In short, just like much of the rest of the country, the military is outsourcing. Unfortunately, there's been very little discussion about if this is, in fact, a good thing or not. PMCs offer some pretty impressive benefits but also have some significant drawbacks. You can find a great intro to the subject here and a recent article about one of the most well known PMCs Blackwater Security. Despite reading hundreds of pages of material and doing weeks of research I'm a bit torn about these organizations. For every benefit they offer I seem to identify a concern associated with it (I guess you could look at it the other way and for every problem of PMCs there's a benefit) but I think ultimately I'm uneasy with the thought of what are esentially private armies running around with no oversight or accountability. Our Department of Defense might not be the most effecient organization in the world but at least it is answerable to civilian authorities. Many of these PMCs can't be held accountable under military law, the law of the nation their operating in or U.S. law (PMCs in Iraq are giving immunity from local law and are out of U.S. military jurisdiction). As a result, these PMCs essentially have a licence to kill, rape and steal. The fact that they frequently wear the same uniforms and use the same equipment as our military just means that if these guys decide to play 'cowboy' the Iraqis don't make any distinctions between them and U.S. soldiers. The fact that we are now in a position where we can't operate our military without these companies and we got into this position without a debate or discussion is particularly disturbing. Over the next couple weeks, I'll be writing more about PMCs and their impact upon our military. Stay tuned...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Oh...so THIS is what 'victory' looks like...

Wow...it really is impressive how well we're doing in Iraq. We're moving troops out*! Also, our conduct is so commendable that we shouldn't even think about holding anyone accountable for violations of the Geneva Convention. That's right...just can't help yourself from violating the Geneva Conventions? No problem, just move the goal posts and redefine torture, and remove any sanctions to those who might be guilty. Super..as a soldier I also felt that I was missing out since I couldn't participate in the time honored tradition of 'Rape, pillage and murder'. Looks like the Bush administration is about to make them policy! Woohoo!!! *By 'out' the administration means 'Out of one part of Iraq and into another'. Oh, and by the way...remember all those plans to reduce troop levels? Well, we can throw that out the window too...I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you had a child born up to 9/11 you can expect them serve in Iraq if they elect to join the military when they're 18 (of course that assumes we don't continue to screw up to the point that requires a draft and takes the choice out of their hands).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

News from Afghanistan

The L.A. Times has a fascinating article about all sorts of things (including classified material!) that's somehow getting off of the main base in Bagram Air Field and into the local markets.

When I was there I did occasionally see some 'small' military items in the local towns for sale like cots, old boots or uniforms, etc. I think for the most part those came from U.S. soldiers who felt bad for how poor these people were or wanted to thank them for all the work they did for us and gave them their old stuff.

The article, however, talks about computer equipment and memory drives loaded with classified information.

That's just sloppy.

Now, as far as I know, there isn't much in the way of environmental laws in Afghanistan so we could throw away just about anything and nobody cared. Most stuff was burned (I remember the terrible smell when the wind blew the wrong way and seeing small explosions when the fire got to chemicals or other volatile substances). I can only guess that computers are thrown on the trash heap as well.

When I was there, I have to admit I was shocked by the number of security violations I saw there. Some are understandable (it was, and is, a war zone after all) but there was a bit of a 'wild west' attitude towards sensitive information and a lot of people cut corners because they thought it was just too inconvenient to do things the proper way.

For example, anything with classified information on it (note pads, flash drives, etc.) is required to be secured in specific ways. It should be locked up, not available for just anyone to access, etc. etc. Many however carried around classified information, left it around at their work place or their tent, and generally made it pretty easy to steal if you were interested. Part of the reason for a rather cavalier attitude about classified information was that the system was out of control and too many things were classified. I've always believed that if you say everything is sensitive and needs special care then nothing will get special care.

That being said, I still don't understand how they're smuggling stuff off base. Parts of a laptop would require that time be taken to dismantle it and I'm not sure how that could happen. All Afghans on post (at least when I was there) required a military escort who was supposed to keep the Afghans under watch. Seeing some local digging around at the innards of a laptop should raise some concerns. Larger items are easier to find since locals get searched when leaving post. It could very well be an 'inside job' but I find it hard to believe soldiers are doing it for money. The pay is pretty good and I can't imagine there's much return on junk. Now I could imagine soldiers doing it for drugs, booze or other items they can't get on base.

I do remember a one or two occasions when locals were working on post and found classified information (it was old and irrelevant but still marked as classified). To their credit the Afghans brought it to the attention of their escorts immediately. I went to meet them and thank them personally and recommended that we give them some sort of reward (even $10 would have been huge to these people) but since that wasn't my area of responsibility I'm not sure if that ever happened.

The article also mentions that Pakistan isn't the steadfast of allies in our War on Terrorism but that's certainly not a secret (except, apparently, to George W. Bush).

Overall this article will hopefully be a wake up call to those in Bagram now. It's absolutely inexcusable that classified information like this (plus personal information of soldiers which isn't classified but not something you want floating around in any case).

Wow....more on this here.

What's the deal with Melanie Griffith???

I don't understand but over the past week or so, I've gotten tons of traffic from people searching for the image of Melanie Griffith I placed in this post.

I have to admit I'm stumped. Is something going on in the world of Melanie Griffith that is driving tons (well, over a hundred) of people (all over the world, I might add) to search for her picture? I googled her name and didn't see anything shocking going on.

Anyone have any ideas?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why do they have to be jarheads?

Well, inter-service rivalry being what it is it sticks in my gullet to give out props to a couple of marines but it's well deserved here.

First, check out LTG Newbold's article about the mess known as Iraq.

Next, General Zinni has a new book out. It's on my reading list but you can hear a lengthy interview with him here. He's a rationale, reasonable guy with a clear understanding of the appropriate uses of military force.

The disturbing fact is that I know there must be a number of senior military officials out there that see the train running off the tracks yet don't speak out.