Later On

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The irresponsibility of the US military

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Julie Turkewitz reports in the NY Times:

Volk Sanders burst into this world on June 7, a six-pound fuzz-headed ball of joy and his mother’s first child.

Days later, Volk’s mother learned that the well water she had consumed for years had been laced with chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency associates with low birth weight, cancers, thyroid disease and more.

The aquifer that courses beneath this community in the shadow of five military installations showed traces of perfluorinated chemicals at up to 20 times the levels viewed as safe, environmental authorities said. A sudsy foam used for fighting fires on military bases was probably responsible, according to the Air Force, with the contamination perhaps decades old.

“I’m very angry,” Volk’s mother, Carmen Soto, 20, said at a packed community meeting on July 7. Volk had struggled to gain weight, she said, and she wondered if that was related to the contamination. “They’ve known about this for how long, and they’re just telling us? I drank water throughout my pregnancy. What is that going to do?”

Fountain — named for a creek that once gave life to this southern Colorado town — is now part of a growing list of American communities dealing with elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in their drinking water. In the last few months, PFC poisoning has upended municipalities around the country, including Hoosick Falls, N.Y., home to a plastics factory, andNorth Bennington, Vt., once home to a chemical plant.

Unlike in many of the other places, the contamination in Fountain and in two nearby communities, Widefield and Security, is not believed to be related to manufacturing. Rather, the authorities suspect that it was caused by Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting substance used on military bases nationwide.

Defense Department officials initially identified about 700 sites of possible contamination, but that number has surged to at least 2,000, most of them on Air Force bases, said Mark A. Correll, a deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and infrastructure at the Air Force.

All of the nine bases that the Air Force has examined so far had higher-than-recommended levels of PFCs in the local drinking water. Four bases identified by the Navy were also found to have contaminated water. In some places, the contamination affects one household. In others, it affects thousands of people.

The bases are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“It’s quite possible it will touch every state,” said Jennifer Field, a professor at Oregon State University and an expert on the chemistry of Aqueous Film Forming Foam. “Every place has a military base, a commercial airport, an oil refinery, a fuel tank farm.”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2016 at 8:19 pm

Guantánamo Diary author cleared for release after 14 years of imprisonment with no charges ever filed

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Just a guy who had bad luck. The US government will not, of course, offer any compensation or apologies for torturing him and imprisoning him for 14 years. The US believes that it can do that sort of thing with impunity, though of course the US would mightily object if some country did that to US citizens—or maybe not. The US seems to care less and less about its citizens: look at how the US runs VA, at how many unarmed people are shot to death by police, at how citizens are no longer protected by the 4th Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures (e.g., civil asset forfeiture).

Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:

An interagency review board has determined that Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses no threat to the United States and has recommended that he be released, setting the bestselling author on the path to be reunited with his family.

Slahi was arrested in his native Mauritania in 2001, and was held and tortured in secret prisons in Afghanistan and Jordan before being secreted to Guantánamo, an odyssey he recounted in a memoir, Guantánamo Diary, which became a bestseller last year. He has been imprisoned for over 14 years without being charged with a crime.

In early June, Slahi made his case to the Periodic Review Board as part of a sort of parole process instituted by the Obama administration to evaluate the cases of the remaining men at Guantánamo to determine if they might be safely transferred to another country.

At that hearing, Slahi’s advocates, including his lawyer and two representatives from the military, described his plans to continue writing and to start a small business, and noted the strong network of family and other supporters who could help him. They spoke to his unusual language skills and warm relationship with his lawyers and even the guards assigned to him. The military representatives described him as “an advocate for peace” and stated they were “certain that Mohamedou’s intentions after Guantánamo are genuine, and that he possesses sound judgment, and that he is good for his word.” One former guard submitted a letter attesting that he “would be pleased to welcome [Slahi] into my home.” (In keeping with the general secrecy of proceedings at Guantánamo, Slahi was not allowed speak during the open portion of the review, and he declined to have his own statement from the closed session made public.)

In a document dated July 14 but released today, the board members noted Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention,” “candid responses to the Board’s questions,” and “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset.” They had also taken into consideration his “robust and realistic plan for the future.”

Slahi has admitted to traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed government, and the government claims he helped recruit and facilitate the travel of al Qaeda fighters. In 2010, a federal judge found that he was not a member of al Qaeda when the U.S. picked him up; the judge ordered his release, but that casestalled on appeal.

The board’s recommendation on a detainee is just a first step. The secretary of defense must arrange for a country to receive him and notify Congress of the transfer. In Slahi’s case, the government of Mauritania has already indicated that it would be willing to take him back.

One of Slahi’s lawyers, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, said they were pressing the Pentagon to arrange for his actual release as soon as possible, but the exact timing is uncertain.

“We will now work toward his quick release and return to the waiting arms of his loving family,” said Nancy Hollander, another of his lawyers, in a statement. “This is long overdue.”

Slahi’s mother and one of his brothers died while he was imprisoned, and his father died nearly three decades ago. But he has 10 other siblings and has described plans to “take care of his sisters.”

There are currently 76 men still held in Guantánamo. Including Slahi, 31 of them have been approved for release. . .

Continue reading.

Presumably he’s being released because he paid his debt to society? But that’s not it: he never did anything wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2016 at 2:31 pm

Very interesting analysis of why the Wehrmacht was so successful in the early years of WWII

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I found this analysis quite interesting. The idea of defining the goal and specifying the resources available but leaving it up to those assigned the task to figure out how to accomplish it has many applications. Stephen Covey talks about it explicitly in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (see this brief outline), and Bill Oncken discusses it entertainingly in his excellent book Managing Management Time (highly recommended for aspiring or actual managers).

For a taste of Oncken’s ideas, look at the classic “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?“, originally published in the Harvard Business Review in December 1974 and then published again as a classic in the November-December 1999 issue. The editors comment, “This article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever. For its reissue as a Classic, the Harvard Business Review asked Stephen R. Covey to provide a commentary.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2016 at 11:13 am

The H-bombs in Turkey

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Eric Schlosser writes in the New Yorker:

Among the many questions still unanswered following Friday’s coup attempt in Turkey is one that has national-security implications for the United States and for the rest of the world: How secure are the American hydrogen bombs stored at a Turkish airbase?

The Incirlik Airbase, in southeast Turkey, houses nato’s largest nuclear-weapons storage facility. On Saturday morning, the American Embassy in Ankara issued an “Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens,” warning that power had been cut to Incirlik and that “local authorities are denying movements on to and off of” the base. Incirlik was forced to rely on backup generators; U.S. Air Force planes stationed there were prohibited from taking off or landing; and the security-threat level was raised to fpcon Delta, the highest state of alert, declared when a terrorist attack has occurred or may be imminent. On Sunday, the base commander, General Bekir Ercan Van, and nine other Turkish officers at Incirlik were detained for allegedly supporting the coup. As of this writing, American flights have resumed at the base, but the power is still cut off.

According to Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, underground vaults at Incirlik hold about fifty B-61 hydrogen bombs—more than twenty-five per cent of the nuclear weapons in the nato stockpile. The nuclear yield of the B-61 can be adjusted to suit a particular mission. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had an explosive force equivalent to about fifteen kilotons of TNT. In comparison, the “dial-a-yield” of the B-61 bombs at Incirlik can be adjusted from 0.3 kilotons to as many as a hundred and seventy kilotons.

Incirlik was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the wake of the Second World War; when Turkey joined nato, in 1952, it became a crucial American base during the Cold War. With a flight time of about an hour to the Soviet Union, the base hosted American fighters, bombers, tankers, and U-2 spy planes. And, like many nato bases, it stored American nuclear weapons. natostrategy was dependent on nuclear weapons as a counterbalance to the perceived superiority of Soviet conventional forces. The threat of a nuclear attack, it was assumed, would deter Soviet tanks from rolling into nato territory. And grantingnato countries access to nuclear weapons would strengthen the alliance, providing tangible evidence that the United States would risk a nuclear war fornato’s defense.

By the mid-nineteen-sixties, more than seven thousand American nuclear weapons were deployed in Western Europe, Greece, and Turkey. They came in all sizes, shapes, and yields: nuclear warheads, bombs, land mines, depth charges, artillery shells, even small nuclear projectiles that could be fired from a recoilless rifle. The weapons were technically in the custody of U.S. officers, ready to be handed over for use in wartime by nato personnel. But custody of the weapons was not the same as control of them. A delegation of U.S. senators visiting Europe in 1960 was shocked to find hydrogen bombs loaded onto German planes that were on alert and crewed by German pilots; thermonuclear warheads atop missiles manned by Italian crews; nuclear weapons guarded and transported by “non-Americans with non-American vehicles.” The theft or use of these weapons by nato allies became a grave concern. “The prime loyalty of the guards, of course, is to their own nation, and not to the U.S.,” the Senate delegation warned in a classified report.

Two years later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara worried that Turkish officers might try to fire some of nato’s nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union without permission—and ordered American custodians to sabotage the missiles, somehow, if anyone tried to launch them. Coded switches were subsequently placed inside nato’s hydrogen bombs. These switches, known as Permissive Action Links (pals), were designed to hinder unauthorized use of the weapons; the bombs wouldn’t detonate if the operator didn’t enter the right code. But pals could be circumvented by someone with the proper technical skills. When two nato allies, Greece and Turkey, were on the cusp of war in 1974, the United States secretly removed all of nato’s nuclear weapons from Greece and cut the arming wires of every nuclear weapon stored in Turkey, rendering them inoperable.

Thanks largely to stockpile reductions during
the Administrations of President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush, the United States now has about a hundred and eighty nuclear weapons deployed with nato, all of them B-61 bombs. In addition to Incirlik, the weapons are stored at bases in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. Today, the symbolism of these bombs is far more important than their military utility; missiles carrying nuclear warheads reach targets much faster, more reliably, and with much greater accuracy. The advocates of retaining nuclear weapons in nato argue that the B-61 bombs demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to the alliance, intimidate Russia, and discourage nato members from developing their own hydrogen bombs. Opponents of the weapons, like Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, consider them “absolutely senseless”—and an inviting target for terrorists.
With a few hours and the right tools and training, you could open one of nato’s nuclear-weapons storage vaults, remove a weapon, and bypass the pal inside it. Within seconds, you could place an explosive device on top of a storage vault, destroy the weapon, and release a lethal radioactive cloud. nato’s hydrogen bombs are still guarded by the troops of their host countries. In 2010, peace activistsclimbed over a fence at the Kleine Brogel Airbase, in Belgium, cut through a second fence, entered a hardened shelter containing nuclear-weapon vaults, placed anti-nuclear stickers on the walls, wandered the base for an hour, and posted a video of the intrusion on YouTube. The video showed that the Belgian soldier who finally confronted them was carrying an unloaded rifle. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2016 at 11:20 am

Not snark: David Brooks wrote an interesting column.

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See what you think.

The previous post was written before I read Brooks’s column, but they seem to be on the same wave length.

BTW, it seems perfectly clear that David Brooks, like so many, has been following the James Fallows series on American Futures in his travels across America.

Are we trying to solve the problem the wrong way?

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I recall once some decades ago, I was in a somewhat emotional discussion, and my brain was in overdrive, trying to logically reason it out. It really felt odd, like getting no traction or finding no solution, when my co-discussant said, “No. Wrong direction.” That stopped me cold, which was exactly right, and I tried looking in other directions, like emotion. It wasn’t a logical problem, it was an emotional problem and the answer would be in that area.

I am watching a hyper-militaristic movie, Clear and Present Danger, one of the Harrison Ford movies based on Tom Clancy’s novels of the same stripe. (I just watched a long sequence on launching a fighter jet from an aircraft, shown with great detail, no dialogue (but background music), and I realized that this sequence, which had zero to do with plot, was simply a quid pro quo for the cooperation of the Navy: they get to insert recruiting sequences. (At least that’s how it looks.)

And as I watched all the variety of armed response—the RPG-wielding drug dealers, the US Navy, the CIA: they all try to find the answer through the sort of violence known as “armed conflict”—in essence, a microwar. That’s the wrong direction, it seems, based on evidence to date.

There is, of course, another direction, which seems to be admired. Maybe we should try that direction.

Interesting: that thought was from reading the article at the link, and seeing the movie, along with that memory, triggered it.

TL/DR: Culturally, we’re going in the wrong direction, a direction we know does not end well. Why?

UPDATE: I realize that this is not a novel insight. What is novel for me is how glaringly obvious it is if you just look. The Iraq War did not, in fact, bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East, but that’s sure what was promised. Maybe the military “solution” is not the right solution. Have you noticed the pickup in terrorism? That’s certainly the wrong direction. We can see it very easily in the other culture but seem oblivious to it in our own—that is, we cannot recognize that the military response has been counter-productive, which suggests that it is the wrong direction to take.

UPDATE 2: Hah! I just read this David Brooks column after writing the above. The thought seems to be in the air.

UPDATE 3: I got to thinking about the cycle that we kicked off when, in the course of the Cold War, we armed the Afghani mujardeem and taught them guerilla warfare (a CIA operation, told well in the bok Charlie Wilson’s War and much less well in the movie of the same name). We gave them weaponry and taught them how to figut the Soviets, who had superior technology. And, as we know, they learned well.

Let’s see: Osama bin Laden was mainly angry about US military bases in Saudi Arabia. He obviously embraced violence as a good direction (overall, in the long term) and supported various terrorist acts incuding 9/11, which of course triggered a strong reaction that was dealt with by going to war (of course! only possible response!), First with the war in Afghanistan (we’re still there and it’s spilling over into Pakistan more and more) and then in Iraq, which resulted in melting down the middle east.

Back and forth, each side responding with a way that has proven, over and over, not to be a good strategy, long term. And yeah, I know about Ghengis Khan. But 9 times out of 10? Makes it worse, not better. Hell, the British are still suffering various after effects of their policies in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and so on across the world. And the US is still suffering from the aftereffects of building a slave-based economy. (I feel certain that there are other choices and options, though probably not many that would be so profitable for the plantation owners.)

History has a lot of echoes: cultural waves breaking against each other and combining in various ways. (I do like William H. McNeill and recommend his History of Western Civilization. Or another favorite, read with the same point of view of cultural waves clashing and creating echoes, is David Anthony’s
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
. Basically, it’s meme evolution. (Another (frequent) recommendation: Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.)

As Richard Dawkins demonstrates in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene, memes by necessity must evolve, since they are replicators that allow occasional variation, and thus variations that help survival and reproduction get passed along. Genes are the basis of lifeform evolution, memes the basis of cultural evolution.

So memes gotta struggle. Surving demands it. But that struggle need not and should not harm the meme’s host (the animal homo sapiens, evolved to support memes). Better if we could find how to resolve meme struggles without harming the hosts.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2016 at 3:17 pm

In Africa, the US military sees enemies everywhere

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African enemies of the US

The US military seems to be constantly seeking ways to expand its mission. In The Intercept Nick Turse reports on their success in Africa. (Click chart to enlarge.)

From east to west across Africa, 1,700 Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other military personnel are carrying out 78 distinct “mission sets” in more than 20 nations, according to documents obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act.

“The SOCAFRICA operational environment is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous,” says Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, using the acronym of the secretive organization he presides over, Special Operations Command Africa. “It’s a wickedly complex environment tailor-made for the type of nuanced and professional cooperation SOF [special operations forces] is able to provide.”

Equally complex is figuring out just what America’s most elite troops on the continent are actually doing, and who they are targeting.

In documents from a closed-door presentation delivered by Bolduc late last year and a recent, little-noticed question and answer with a military publication, the SOCAFRICA commander offered new clues about the shadow war currently being waged by American troops all across the continent.

“We operate in the Gray Zone, between traditional war and peace,” he informed a room of U.S., African, and European military personnel at the Special Operations Command Africa Commander’s Conference held in Garmisch, Germany, last November.

According to Bolduc’s 2015 presentation, SOCAFRICA is taking part in seven distinct operations, although he failed to elaborate further. Among the goals of these missions: to “enable friendly networks; disable enemy networks.”

The identities of most of those “enemy networks,” are, however, a well-kept secret.

Last fall, The Intercept revealed that Bolduc had publicly disclosed that there are nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” operating on the African continent. He identified only the Islamic State, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, and the Lord’s Resistance Army by name or acronym, while mentioning the existence of another 43 groups. Despite repeated inquiries by The Intercept, however, neither the Department of Defense, U.S. Africa Command, nor SOCAFRICA would provide further information on the identities of any of the other organizations.

Recently, however, the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies — a research institution dedicated to the analysis of security issues in Africa — published a map listing “Africa’s Active Militant Islamist Groups.” In addition to usual suspects, it named 18 other terror organizations.

The Africa Center says that “group listings are intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered official designations.” It is, however, the most comprehensive list available from an agency or element within the Department of Defense and may shed light on Bolduc’s enemies list.

SOCAFRICA failed to respond to questions about that list or the names of its operations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2016 at 11:00 am

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