Archive for March, 2004

The dancing banana visible in the sidebar’s colour shows the current Homeland Security terrorism alert state. Thanks to Victor is Dead and Supermum.

The Ranter welcomes two new blogs linking to us: The Hegemo’s Creative Class Warfare, and The Fudgie Project. The last one belongs to Jenny Paton, who is currently researching the blogging phenomenon and recently emailed questions to numerous bloggers. Thanks.

Blogmatrix, providers of our RSS feed, are no more. We are now back to Blogstreet, and the feed is now here. Sorry for any inconvenience.

The dancing banana visible in the sidebar’s colour shows the current Homeland Security terrorism alert state. Thanks to Victor is Dead and Supermum.

The Ranter welcomes two new blogs linking to us: The Hegemo’s Creative Class Warfare, and The Fudgie Project. The last one belongs to Jenny Paton, who is currently researching the blogging phenomenon and recently emailed questions to numerous bloggers. Thanks.

Brits in Gaza…

According to Haaretz, plans for British security assistance to the Palestinian Authority are already underway. “With grudging consent from the Americans, the British are now setting up two new operation control rooms, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza, for Palestinian security organizations. The money that Britain is spending is earmarked for the purchase of a new communications system, ancillary equipment and vehicles. The new operations room in Ramallah has already been completed and the facility in Gaza will be completed soon.” We are apparently making an effort to help wallop Hamas, thus (hopefully) reducing the chances of either further suicide bombings or Israeli raids. And furthering peace. I’d be the first to call it fantastic, but there are some flies. There has recently been some talk of UK military advisers being sent. That sounds like a hiding to nothing to me – no power to give orders, a target for continued Israeli air raids and armoured drives, and a target for the terrorists. Wonderful.

Not that Haaretz’s Ze’ev Schiff noticed it, though. He was more concerned with our outrageous ingratitude in telling Yasser Arafat about it:

“Experts in Israel believe that the British have sincere intentions, but harbor immense suspicion of the Palestinians. It is strange that Britain is prepared to cooperate with Arafat on security matters, since he has declined to take a single step toward implementing reforms in the Palestinian security organizations (among other things, reducing the number of men under arms, and ensuring their genuine subordination to the prime minister or the interior minister). The fact that he is the boss and that everything has to go through him, including all security matters, does not justify cooperation with him under these conditions. If the postponed meeting between Qureia and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon takes place and Qureia raises the matter, he will presumably be met with a negative answer to the proposal for cooperation, in the same way that were he to request that he be consulted on the disengagement plan, this too would be turned down.”

Obviously, we are all meant to conveniently forget that the US does not appoint the Palestinian government. He was elected, dammit! And I really don’t want to hear any more about soft Europeans and Brits who won’t risk their skins, got that? Good luck to the advisers – they’ll need it..

In our occasional series, When Aviation Security Attacks, we bring you this, the story of a man who:

“discovered the weapon while unpacking in Israel after a visit to Germany, reports Israeli daily Haaretz.

He immediately reported the find to the police only to be told that the weapon, which had been de-activated, was part of a security drill for airline staff.

Security officers sometimes put replica guns in luggage to keep bag checkers on their toes, Haaretz says. ”

Link Good job he didn’t transfer to another flight..

An interesting document to say the least. For a start, there is that old Ranter issue concerning Geoff Hoon and his remarkably confident denials that anything had gone wrong at all. You may remember that he stated in Parliament that: “All the requisite numbers of boots and clothing and equipment were there and, having only had a brief opportunity of inviting editors of newspapers to devote an appropriate amount of space to the success of the equipment, given the hugely disproportionate amount of space they wasted on making facile criticisms of equipment that proved its worth in the conflict, I am still waiting to see any signs of apology from either individual journalists or from their editors. I am certainly suggesting that, in a force of around 45,000 people across three Services, there may have been the odd person who, for example, did not get the right sized pair of boots. There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack. There may have been the odd soldier who did not like his ready-to-eat meal of the sort issued by the United States to their forces.”

Now, I dealt with that here. Geoff was lying. Otherwise, how did the Royal Marine pictured in the NAO report in southern Iraq manage to be wearing woodland camouflage?

The Committee took evidence from the chief of joint operations at Permanent Joint HQ, Lieutenant General John Reith, on the kit scandal. Here’s what he had to say:

“251. Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s comments in May 2003 about desert boots and clothing, Air Marshal Burridge told the Committee in June 2003 that that he had encountered personnel wearing black boots when he visited Basra on 23 April.[380] This was confirmed during our visits when we were told that some desert boots and combats arrived after the major combat phase. In July 2003 General Reith told us that:

!Turning to the clothing and the boots, I was not concerned about that at all. The temperate equipment we have, the combat clothing is designed up to 39 degrees centigrade and the boots up to 35 degrees centigrade.”[381]

252. General Reith’s comment that he was not concerned about the desert clothes and boots issue appears to ignore the fact that green combat clothing does not provide the same camouflage effect as desert clothing in an environment such as Iraq. It also begs the question as to why MoD procured desert clothing and boots specifically for the combat operation.”

Indeed. It also begs the much-asked question as to why Mr. Hoon has yet to resign in disgrace. But there is much, much more. The Committee repeats the previous bashings about the supply of nuclear, biological and chemical defence gear, hopeless asset-tracking and all the stuff we already know. Curiously, given Hoon’s crack about meals “of the sort issued by the United States”, the MPs were especially impressed by the cooks’ efforts. But the interesting stuff was much earlier. According to General Reith, the US Central Command was working on plans in the spring of 2002. General staffs exist to plan for anything, all the time, but I have a real feeling that this may have had baleful political implications. Especially as,

it sez here, the British forces were already discussing UORs, urgent operational requirements (the process by which extra kit needed for a given current purpose is purchased), with industry. Curiously, both Sir Kevin Tebbit and the director of policy at the MoD were convinced nothing had been said that would make a commitment – especially not before June. But if materiel was already being purchased in May? It has a smell of 1914 and railway timetables. And Geoff Hoon, of course, said that no decisions on a specific military operation had been taken before the prime minister’s statement of the 24th of September, 2003.

Besides the pure Iraq-war bash factor, some interesting points arise concerning close air support, the key to the MoD’s wishes for a new, lightweight, highly deployable and networkcentric army. The entire idea that these jargon words convey is one of substituting army aviation, especially the new Apache helicopters, and air power for tanks and heavy artillery. For this to work, for aerial firepower to be as present as a tank, what is needed is very close integration of the army and the air force at the lowest possible level. A couple of tiresome blots on the flawless Hoon escutcheon might suggest this remains to be achieved – like the Household Cavalrymen who were slaughtered by the US Air Force. Pars 100 to 102 of the report are better:

“100. An innovation for the RAF in Iraq was the use of ‘kill-box interdiction and close air support’ or KI-CAS, long practised by the United States’ air forces (Navy, Marines and USAF). Air Vice Marshal Torpy explained the concept:

There are two discrete, different bits to this. Close Air Support is when air is used when forces on the ground are in close contact and need air support quickly. Kill box interdiction is a more methodical way of attacking targets in particular areas. A kill box is an area which has been defined. Aircraft are tasked into that area to attack mobile targets—so fielded artillery, tanks and those sort of targetS.[154]

But we have heard that the targeting pods (the sensors that allow the pilot to identify a target) on British aircraft were not sophisticated enough to support the kill-box approach, which requires the aircraft to identify small targets from a medium to high altitude. The Air Component Commander conceded there was a problem:

One of the lessons that we have learned out of the campaign, [is] that our targeting pods need longer range, better fidelity… positively identifying that a target is a military target.[155]

101. He also accepted that more needed to be done in terms of air-land integration:

I think we are probably victims of past campaigns in that Operation Desert Storm was a discrete air operation followed by a short land campaign, and very little integrated air-land operation took place. Afghanistan was the first time we saw closer integration between air and land, but on a relatively small scale in terms of the land component. This was the first operation that I have certainly seen for many years where we have seen such close linkage between the air and land components…we have forgotten some of the things that we were quite good at during the Cold War…We have probably neglected the exercising of those over the years.[156]

Worryingly we heard reports that there was a serious lack of air to ground communications capability, with RAF aircraft unable to communicate with the forces on the ground in the vast majority of missions flown. Additionally there was a lack of understanding on the part of land force commanders about the need to have cleared specific targets to be struck from the air through the appropriate channels. We heard reports of some one third of missions being aborted because of problems in the air-land interface. The intention is now to increase the RAF involvement in the BATUS exercises in Canada and to improve the use of targeting pods, extending it to all aircraft that engaged in KI-CAS and to exercise the whole command and control organisation from the Combined Air Operations Centre.[157]

102. During the ground campaign there were also some delays in the provision of air support. This was a matter of concern to some UK land forces. General Brims, however, believed that overall the system had worked well and particularly highlighted the work of the ANGLICOs discussed above:

“Utilising 3rd MAW, the Marine Air Wing, as a tactical air wing; in order to do it, we had to receive…ANGLICO battalions…they come with communications, life support vehicles, and everything else, and you could say to them, ‘We need the fire there,’ they will call for it, and we had them embedded throughout our chain of command and it worked wonderfully well.[158]”

Any big change to an organisation requires two things: the take away, of whatever is supposedly no longer needed, and the add, of whatever good stuff is considered to be progress. It would seem that the takeaway is well under way – it is budget positive and hence career enhancing – but no add has arrived yet. How Hoon…

An interesting article in Wired seems to agree rather with my last post, as well as giving me the priceless gift of a new word, “security theatre”, or official activity intended to convey a false impression of security. (Thanks due to Slugger O’Toole)..Mind you, it also bears out something I think I lost given the surprising doom-sodden tone below, which is that even if it is impossible to prevent terrorism, the numbers are on our side. Given the chances of being a victim, and the effectiveness of fairly simple precautions, it’s possible to knock a big chunk out of the odds. The best may well be the enemy of the good here – it’s very possible that, in a futile search for absolute security, we render life intolerably vexing, expensive, inefficient, oppressive and wearyingly paranoid.

I’m beginning to think that the real strength of terrorism is the fact that its targets can be diversified faster than countermeasures. Whatever is hardened or checked or monitored, there will always be something else. Probably because the nature of terrorism is to use the social infrastructure as a weapon – trains are of course a near perfect way of placing your explosives at a given time, in fact at given times, into a concentration of people. And they even publish timetables. God forbid anyone has a go at the utilities – power, gas, water… (In fact we may already have narrowly escaped a mass water attack. When I were a lad, a deranged citizen of Leeds whose psychosis included an obsession with Hitler prepared to add cyanide to Eccles Reservoir before being arrested for an unconnected murder.) Not so long ago I was told by a former naval person that maritime terrorism was rare “because it’s difficult, and the oil in a tanker won’t explode”. (We’ll set aside the vapour in the empty tanks) He did concede the possible vulnerability of a liquid petroleum gas tanker – they come from Algeria and would explode with the power of a small nuclear warhead – but, to my mind, didn’t really imagine it could happen. I wonder if we are committing the fallacy of trying to solve social, mental problems with hardware.

Mind you, this is where the historical fallacy of taking either side in the structure/free will debate bites – whatever the deep social forces bubbling and heaving suggest, a different action would so often have changed life entirely. If it’s foolish to believe (say) that had Gavrilo Princip been unable to shoot straight, the world would have remained at peace, it’s equally foolish to imagine that the 2000 US presidential elections were entirely defined by inevitable economic and demographic shifts, or that the development of population structure in the Middle East would have meant much if the suicide hijackers had been searched at Boston airport. History can be seen as a struggle between those vast narratives, megatrends, and the perpetual and equal power of accident and defiance. In this case, Al-Qa’ida’s addiction to deep history – the Spanish Reconquista as equally pertinent as the Gulf War – set against its true enemy, the security guards and cops, cleaners and track inspectors most likely to foil them. What is the point? Probably that although defensive measures (taking away dustbins, installing radiation detectors at the container wharves of Felixstowe) are certainly of value, and that offensive ones may also help, terrorism can only in the end be contained, managed, endured. It’s usual that any terror group with a sufficient base of support can only ever be kept in bounds – victory is impossible. With traditional terrorists, this was the moment of negotiation. That would have been the course I would have suggested for Spain, but if the Madrid massacre is Eta’s work, I wonder if it is still possible? Have they not joined the new terrorists, Walter Laqueur’s postmodern terrorists – no concrete aims, or wildly impossible ones, like that of reversing the last 400 years of history and revolutionising the world, reconquering the lost and, I’m sure, ungrateful kingdom of al-Andalus.