Friday, March 29, 2013

Are North Korea's threats a gift to the US industrial military complex?

The US has announced plans to increase its West Coast missile defense force by 50%, citing the possibility of a mainland nuclear missile attack by North Korea. In particular, it plans to deploy another 14 ground-based interceptor missiles to Fort Greely, Alaska, by 2017 at a cost of one billion US dollars.

The missile defense (MD) system is being criticized as a waste of taxpayer money, raising questions about its effectiveness when tests have resulting in an interception success rate of only around 50%. The country’s aim, however, is to cement its comparative superiority at a time when many other countries have long-range ballistic missiles. This is why the US has spent such astronomical sums on its MD system, and why the development accounts for such a sizable chunk of the American defense industry.

The North Korean “threat” of hitting the mainland US with a nuclear weapon has already been laughed off by Washington. Its attention is focused less on the possibility of such a strike than on finding an excuse to beef up its MD budget. The big beneficiary is the defense industry. In other words, the North Korean nuclear missile threat is essentially a big gift to the American military-industrial complex. Meanwhile, South Korea has no small part in boosting this industry, as the world’s single biggest importer of US weaponry.

Now the US faces a new challenge in its international relations, namely the rise of China.
Since the Cold War ended, the US struggle for political hegemony with China has become unavoidable, with the two sides facing off in a cool relationship where neither is friend nor foe. Washington has maintained a “pivot to Asia” focus in its diplomatic policy, an idea articulated by President Barack Obama underscoring the new importance of the Asia Pacific region. The MD expansions represent a strategy to maintain military dominance in East Asia vis-a-vis China, while also serving as a safeguard for economic expansion in the region.

International relations experts called this a “strong message” from the US to China, which it hopes will use its leverage to encourage North Korea to give up its nuclear program. But this idea is also flawed. In the first place, the expansions show that Washington has no intention of pursuing a peaceful resolution with Pyongyang, but is instead looking out for the interests of defense companies.

Second, while China does place some importance on resolving the nuclear issue in its North Korea policy, it is focused more on preventing the regime in Pyongyang from collapsing, and it is not likely to compromise its own international prestige under military pressure from the US. Indeed, the new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping is more likely to respond to this pressure by beefing up the country’s armaments and facing off against the US in the power battle. Third, even if the US does succeed in getting China to pressure North Korea, Pyongyang is not likely to give up its nuclear program without some guarantee of its own regime security. In short, all the MD reinforcements have done is to give China an excuse to face off against the US.

Under Xi, China is voicing a new slogan: the “great revival of the Chinese nation.” Pride in being Chinese is being emphasized like never before, as is the country’s new superpower standing. This links with the ambitions toward the rest of East Asia, which were in evidence not long after the Xi administration took over. The MD reinforcements from the US are a sign that the power battle between Washington and China is going to center around the Korean Peninsula.

In the bipolar era where the US and the Soviet Union reigned, Koreans spent a half-century enduring hardship and adversity. Now, they appear poised to be sucked back into the vortex of another battle for Asian hegemony, this one between the US and China. This could mean yet another crisis for an already much-abused peninsula.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Darpa, Drones, & Dollars

Last month, Darpa (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) launched a program that aims to  design something called a TERN, or Tactically Exploitative Reconnaissance Node, a surveillance and strike drone that can fly up to 900 miles from the deck of a destroyer. Darpa released a full, formal solicitation for the drone in a statement, noting that: "The TERN will be substantially beyond current state-of-the-art aviation capabilities from smaller ships." The solicitation placed heavy emphasis on the "node" component of TERN and highlighted the fact that Darpa encouraged its potential research teams to explore the capabilities of  the new drones to exploit cooperation between aircraft and ship to achieve enhanced performance. Such cooperation could potentially take the form of data exchange, external energy addition, and/or manipulation of the recovery environment.

The solicitation itself is interesting from a technological perspective, but there are implications stemming from the TERN program that extend beyond just enhanced drone warfare. Most significantly, the collaborative effort points to fact that the Navy and the Air Force are working on a master concept for future partnered operations called AirSea Battle. However, the parameters of such a comprehensive model are still ill-defined, even in the nascent stages. Its architects have yet to concretely announce how exactly long-range bombers and stealth jets are supposed to work alongside carrier strike groups, submarines or close-to-shore fighters. Another core problem is the lack of a common communication structure between the two branches of the military. This would likely cause serious tactical problems and lead to failed coordinated efforts. 

I personally have two primary hesitations for funneling government money into the development of the TERN program. Fundamentally, I think coordination is often a positive and constructive effort. However, TERN would require the configuration and implementation of a "bilingual" communication system that could communicate with both Navy ships and Air Force planes. This would likely be an exorbitantly costly endeavor that quite frankly seems implausible at the moment given sequestration and defense budget issues. What makes the proposal even less appealing is the fact that ultimately, it may not even work. One of TERN’s major technical obstacles is “devising a reliable launch and recovery technique,” according to Darpa itself. LCSs and destroyers don’t have the deck space for a long takeoff run which explains their reliance on the catapult-launched alternatives in the past. It's a hard sell to inject billions of dollars into a comprehensive data system overhaul when its success isn't even guaranteed. 

More importantly, we must first define the paramaters of the drone program itself before we work on expanding drone capabilities. The program continues to be shrouded in secrecy and, as some would argue, continues to lack a concrete legal basis. To expand drone capacity into naval territory would be to get ahead of ourselves at a time when the very foundations and competencies of the drone program are still up for debate. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shifting the Armed Drones Program from the CIA to the Pentagon

          The Obama administration has come under increasingly intense scrutiny for its targeted killings using drones over the last two years, causing the White House to consider a policy shift of the lethal targeting drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon. While there are some benefits to the U.S. in allowing the CIA to maintain its drone program, a shift of the program to the Pentagon will be more beneficial from a public, Congressional, and international credibility standpoint, due to the level of transparency and oversight provided under the Pentagon. However, in order to increase the transparency of the program, it should not be put under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Although the U.S. has largely held a monopoly on targeted drone killings and was able to keep those operations out of public view for many years, recent developments are creating a need for more transparency in the U.S. drone program. The targeting of U.S. citizens abroad, which has also sparked fear of targeting U.S. citizens on American soil, has increased pressure from growing public and Congressional scrutiny for legal justification. Pressures are also mounting against the U.S. internationally, due to the friction created between the U.S. and other countries, particularly Pakistan, from the increase in civilian casualties caused by U.S. and NATO drone strikes. The study being conducted by the U.N. surrounding civilian casualties will likely bring further pressure from the international community for greater transparency of the U.S. drone program. Furthermore, as other countries begin to implement their own targeted killing drone programs, such as China and Russia, the U.S. can use this opportunity to set the standard for the international community and influence global guidelines on drone policy. In order for the U.S. to continue the use of drones as a part of its warfare, including the war on terrorism, the administration must take steps to institutionalize the program, by refining its standards and creating more transparency.

               Both the CIA and the U.S. military currently manage their own separate drone programs with the purpose of carrying out targeted drone strikes. However, only the CIA program is officially considered to be a “covert” mission, meaning that it is deniable under the law. The military’s program is clandestine, but not covert, and therefore not deniable under the law. While the Obama administration maintains that the CIA drone targeting is legally justified under the U.S. Constitution, the covert status of the operations under the CIA have shielded them from information requests made through the Freedom of Information Act.

Drone strikes conducted by the CIA have the advantage of targeting decisions being made within the CIA, with little or no input from other agencies. While President Obama is involved in some decisions, he does not sign off on all of them. This allows the CIA significant autonomy and flexibility on deciding when, where, and how to conduct the strikes. Intelligence on targets can be acted upon quickly without interference from outside the CIA, which could otherwise be affected or stopped by regulatory oversight. Additionally, since intelligence is the main focus of the CIA, the quality of intelligence on targets is considered to be much higher than is likely compared with the military’s capabilities.

Another advantage of keeping drone strikes as a covert operation is that they are not being conducted by the U.S. military, and therefore can be denied as a type of military combat or infringement on sovereignty. This is particularly important in countries where the U.S. does not have forces on the ground, such as Pakistan, and soon Afghanistan. Once U.S. forces have pulled out of Afghanistan, the use of CIA drones would still allow the U.S. to keep a light footprint there in order to target Al Qaeda operatives (and possibly other threats to the Afghan government). While the CIA is compelled to notify Congress of its intelligence activities, it is not required to seek input on targeted drone strikes. Therefore, while the covert nature of the CIA’s drone strikes has significant advantages for U.S. national security and fighting the war on terror, it does not lend to the oversight and transparency which are being sought by the American public, Congress, and the international community.

Shifting the targeted drone program entirely to the military has the potential to toughen the standards for drone strikes, strengthen the accountability of the program, and increase transparency. Transferring the program to the Pentagon would bring it under the oversight of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. With this oversight, the vetting of targeted strikes will be subjected to interagency input, adding an extra layer of accountability. Furthermore, the Pentagon may be subject to budget threats from Congress if the military withholds information or acts contrary to oversight committee authority. From the international community’s standpoint, drone strike operations under the military are likely to be considered more acceptable because the military considers itself to be bound by international law and the laws of war. Finally, transferring the program to the military may potentially increase transparency to the public by the fact that the Pentagon is subject to requests by the citizen Freedom of Information Act.

Ensuring oversight is dependent on the program within the Defense Department to which the drone program is transferred. If the program is transferred to  the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), less oversight and transparency can be expected, as the JSOC operates under different rules than the rest of the military. The JSOC is equally as secretive as, if not more so, the CIA, and is therefore less likely to share information about its drone strikes. Furthermore, the JSOC is not required to report targeted attacks to Congress, which could result in less oversight than provided under the CIA program. While the administration should aim to strengthen its imagine at home and abroad by improving the standards and transparency of the drone strike program, the best option is to incorporate the CIA’s program into current the current military drone program.

Dictators and YouTube, A Love Story II

Kim Jong-un has been quite busy of late. Between the nuclear tests, irritating the bulk of the international community, threatening everybody he lays eyes on, and the whole oppressing-his-people schtick, I find it faintly impressive that he also has the time to sit down and slap together videos about how awesome he and his country are. And yet he does:

Yesterday, the North Korean government posted another propaganda video (which I have thoughtfully included above) on both their official website, Uriminzokkiri, and on YouTube. If memory serves, this is his third video so far this year. At the rate he's going, Kim Jong-un is going to have a charming little propaganda film festival before the year is out. Hopefully, it will be possible to buy them all in some sort of DVD/Blu-ray anthology, because I can think of no better stocking stuffer to get for my family and close friends.

I was a little disappointed doing research for this, because I'd hoped that the word "Uriminzokkiri" would have some delightfully stupid translation like "America is the Devil" or "Kim Jong-un is Incredibly Verile," but it is actually quite mundane, transliterating simply to "Our Nation". I suppose it should be of some small comfort that as unhinged as he may be, Kim Jong-un seems to still be a tad more rational than Saparmurat Niyazov. But then, it could simply be he's too busy pillaging video game footage for YouTube videos to go about renaming the entire calendar. Or, he's just not as efficient as a nice, crazy Turkmen.

On the subject of names and words, the "film" itself is titled "A Short, Three-Day War," which is also somewhat underwhelming. I don't speak Korean, but The Telegraph was kind enough to translate a few snippets. Apparently, we all must beware as "crack stormtroops will occupy Seoul and other cities and take 150,000 US citizens as hostages". I don't know where Kim Jong-un's fact-finders have been looking, but I think they may be a tad off with the numbers. I know we have plenty of troops stationed in South Korea, and its delightfully high standard of living has made it a popular spot for American expats (the schnazzy music helps), but 150,000 seems like a touch of an exaggeration.

And I'm not even going to touch the sketchy karaoke music playing in the back. It had me simultaneously thinking of Cher and Dschinghis Khan. Not a good combination.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Russian Naval Expansion: Military Threat or Diplomatic Opportunity?

The high seas are instrumental in facilitating international commerce, however the combination of sheer size, limited scope of policing efforts, and less developed international governing bodies as compared to land based commercial exchange creates an environment which requires countries with global economic interests to take security into their own hands or otherwise rely upon close allies with a strong naval capacity.
A period of sustained economic growth beginning in the late 1990's has propelled Russia to a level of global economic relevance not experienced since prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As Russia's international economic and political interests continue to expand, so too will its naval ambitions.  So far, the Russian Navy seems to be taking a Corbettian approach to its efforts of naval expansion, seeking to secure sea lanes of commerce rather than positioning itself to win decisive battles against other naval powers.  Russia's recently announced permanent fleet in the Mediterranean will consist of 5-6 ships (a combination of frigates, cruisers, and support ships).  These ships are equipped with a variety of armaments to include anti-ship missiles, surface to air missiles, and anti-submarine munitions, however the size and composition of this small fleet is best suited for policing vital sea lanes against malicious surface vessels threatening Russian commercial freighters rather than seeking decisive battle with competing navies.
In an era of contracting American naval presence, Russia is seeking to expand its influence around the world by reaching out to former Cold War allies to establish naval bases that will expand Russian influence in South East Asia, Africa, and North America. Currently, the only base outside of Russian sovereign territory is in Tartus, Syria, a facility with a questionable future given the ongoing civil war in the host nation. Russia has entered into talks with Cuba, Vietnam, and Seychelles (an island off the east coast of Africa) about possibly establishing naval facilities in each of these host nations that would effectively expand Russian naval influence beyond its regionally focused capacity to a limited global reach.
Given the composition and limited scope of Russian naval expansion, the American Navy has little to fear in the form of a Russian challenge to its control of the seas.  Furthermore, cooperative efforts between the Russian Navy and the American Navy in combating the common enemy of piracy and jointly responding to international crises and humanitarian assistance opportunities may create efficiencies for both navies that could relieve some of the added budgetary pressures facing the American Navy as well as establish a common interest between the two nations that could serve to repair relations that have so far deteriorated in the 21st century.     

PLA Navy to build overseas military bases?

“International Herald Leader”, a Chinese state-run newspaper publishes a commentary to advise PLA Navy to build oversea naval bases to protect its energy line in Indian Ocean area.
The article forecasts 18 possible overseas bases of PLA Navy, including Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea), Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand), Sittwe Port (Myanmar), DHAKA Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti), Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania), Luanda Port (Angola) and Walvis Bay Port (Namibia).

Chinese navy to build oversea bases is not a new topic. Couple years ago, news reported that Pakistan has requested China to build its first oversea naval base; Seychelles has proposed the same request as well. Recently, even a rumor has a saying about that Iran would like to provide a small island to China for building an oversea naval base. No matter if it’s true or not, all of these news are a sign of Chinese naval force’s growth, and show that China to build overseas naval bases is becoming a more serious worldwide talk.

China is the second largest economy in the world, and one of the fastest growing economies. Its development is largely relying on importing oversea energy and resources. Most of its oil and gas imports come from Middle East and East Africa (except Russia and Central Asia). And China’s most oversea mineral resources purchase is from Africa, Australia and Brazil. Among all these countries, except Australia and Brazil are on the “East Route”, the rest countries are all on the “West Route”. The “West Route” can be seen as China’s energy line, which is in Indian Ocean area, especially in Strait of Malacca. That’s why we can see 16 of the possible overseas naval bases are all on the “West Route”. Also, China’s growing global economic interests also need China to build a reliable naval force.

China has been to avoid the establishment of naval bases abroad is largely due to the legacy of its long-term foreign policy, non-interference in internal affairs of others and non-aligned foreign policy, especially the principle of no overseas military bases. However, this declaration has become less high profile in recent years. . In last year’s 18th CCP National Congress, former leader of China, Hu urged to build strong national defense and powerful armed forces that are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests. This actually provides the legitimacy for China to build an overseas naval presence. Another realistic reason is that Chinese naval force is still weak. PLA still doesn’t have the ability and capability to build military bases abroad. But as China’s first aircraft carrier - Liaoning’s service in PLA Navy, the Chinese navy has already officially started its journey in blue water.

In fact, there is no reason to doubt that China intends to create a world network of military bases, so that the PLA have the ability to support China’s growing global interests. Even Japan has built its first overseas naval base already. And PLA achieves global presence is also a necessary step of China’s road to rise. PLA Navy to build overseas naval bases is just a time issue.

Cybersecurity! Themes, Trends and Proposals at the 2013 RSA Conference

I’ve been meaning to do a write up on some of the topics at the most recent RSA Conference on cybersecurity issues for a while, and it’s certainly overdue. Sure, a lot of the presentations are oriented towards private companies, but the issues matter to all entities – individuals, law firms, defense contractors, corporations, and governments. Let’s take a look at some of the big ideas:

Know Thine Enemy! 

We don’t know the enemy, but the enemy knows us. Art Gillibrand of HP referred to Sun Tzu’s  Art of War when articulating the current security climate. Defenders are at a real disadvantage these days, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Gillibrand presented some rather depressing statistics: 94% of breaches are not detected by in-house IT. Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2011, the time spent to repair a breach had increased by 71%, while the cost of repairing a breach also increased by 41%. So, defenders are spending more time, and more money on fixing breaches, and haven’t gotten any better at detecting them in the first place. So, why are we losing ground, and what do we do about it?

We don’t understand cyberattackers. We don’t know how they work, we don’t know who they are, and as a result, we don’t know much about how to stop them. Meanwhile, cyber attackers have specialized, through the very same principles that organize companies. Almost every Hollywood movie with a hacking element in the plot depicts one guy who is single-handedly capable of breaching a system and exploiting the system for profit. Spoiler alert: Hollywood isn’t accurate. Criminal attacks generally operate in a market with a “distinct process”, and tasks are allocated to different actors within that market. Some individuals within the market are responsible for collecting data on suitable targets through various open-source opportunities, such as Facebook or Linkedin. These profiles are then sold to cyber attackers, who determine vulnerable access points and map the network. This information is then sold to the larger black market. This is of course, a simplification. A great resource on the how the market is organized and operates is a 2010 Panda Security Report, available here.

Gillibrand argues persuasively that there needs to be a new cyber strategy, one which acknowledges that cyber threats have been so effective in part, because they rely on a huge network of intelligence. Another statistic? 86% of total cyberdefense expenditures are oriented around infiltration blocking. It’s a losing battle. Instead, those with stakes in cyber defense need to figure out an efficient method to identify threats from individuals, organizations and markets, and communicate these threats to the broader community. This isn’t just something for private companies to figure out – policymakers should be taking note. Private organizations may not be the best equipped to handle the intelligence capabilities that the cyber environment requires on their own.

Authentication, Hostile Toasters, and Pseudonymity

This was a big topic at RSA. When Google devotes its time at an RSA conference to a topic, it’s worth it to pay attention. How do you ensure that people are who they say they are, but only to the entities that need to know? Can we also associate devices with their owners? Vint Cerf attempted to issue that very challenge to conference attendees, with the following requirements: a device must be constructed to generate unique key-pairs, the private key must not be extractable unless it destroys the pair, the private key cannot be computed from the public key, and either key must be able to encypt or de-encrypt on demand. It’s a tall order. It becomes a bigger problem when we consider the current and future scope of authentication needs. Cerf noted that internet-capable refrigerators, picture frames, and yes, even toasters, are entering the market and providing more opportunities for compromise than ever before. If you thought protecting your credit card was the big priority, just wait until hackers figure out how to burn your toast. Joking aside, the proliferation of devices associated with an individual are creating big problems for existing authentication measures.
In 2002, LG introduced a $17,000 internet-capable refrigerator. 

Another conference attendee sought to address the problem. Paul Summers of the Jericho Forum and CEO of the Global Identity Foundation was also there to drum up support. “Right now, with the system we have in place, we don’t have any connection to the person.” Bingo. Biometric readers, DNA links, and iris reading are great new technologies. That doesn’t mean they’ve fixed the end-user issue. Summers’ proposal is interesting: assign a single crypto to an individual, which has several pieces of data - some of which are publicly available, some of which are privately held, and neither of which can be used to complete the full crypto. Each entity may only request and receive a certain number of crypto components for any given request. It’s an interesting premise, that’s been alluded to in other cybersecurity discussions elsewhere. It’s a nice idea, that may eventually transform the way we interact online, but there’s definitely a lot that still needs to be fleshed out. How does a bank make sure that the two components received are the right ones? Will it be one private crypto component, and one public crypto component? Can it be ensured (in this day and age), that all components of the crypto could not be found through some online research? The proposal reminds me a bit of the security questions often used to authenticate identity. Name of my first pet? Chances are, you could probably find that out on Facebook or by calling my mother under false pretenses. No, the name of my first pet is not on Facebook, but for a lot of people, that information probably is. Also, please don’t call my mother. 

And My Personal Favorite: “Lessons from Stuxnet” (for Defenders) – William Cheswick (

You really can’t have any serious discussion about cyber attacks without at least acknowledging Stuxnet. Stuxnet is one of the most visible examples of a remote cyber attacks which resulted in actual physical damage. There are just so many interesting components worth discussing. So, what makes Stuxnet so scary?

            -How easy it is. Okay, it’s not actually really easy to design a highly specific bit of code that only affects one particular kind of hardware, put it into a USB drive, and then make sure it gets into one of the most secure places in Iran. But what is scarily easy about it – is that it only takes one USB stick. That’s right, just one. Cheswick highlighted the problem perfectly: if you put a flash drive in an organization’s parking lot, it only takes one person to pick it up, and plug it in at work. Humans are naturally curious, and in a room of a few dozen people, one person is going to try to plug the thing in. We’re not sure if that’s precisely the scenario that happened, but the problem would still be the same. Defenders have to make sure ALL employees know not to play with foreign USBs.
            -How damaging it can be. Estimates vary as to how much damage the Stuxnet worm actually did in terms of Iran’s nuclear program. However, Stuxnet wasn’t just about “hard damage”. It was also about soft damage. In the Stuxnet case, it was engineered to overwhelm centrifuge components, but it was also about decreasing overall confidence in the venture. Soft damage can also simply be the erasure of data. A cost and labor intensive project could potentially be shelved simply on the basis of soft damage.
            -If you’re not actively looking for the threat, you won’t find it. There’s a lot of ways for a Stuxnet-style attack to happen undetected for a long time. Apparently, there are a lot of people in IT who just don’t bother updating their network maps regularly enough. Network maps should (but often don’t) include everything from printers to industrial controllers. Bought a new printer and forgot to add it? Mistake. Printer firmware is fabulous for hiding all sorts of things. Also, network maps typically have notes about exactly what is on there. Centrifuge locations on there? That’s just reduced time and effort for attackers to know exactly where they need to go on their shopping spree. Meanwhile, this attack doesn’t even need the internet to tell its creators that it’s working. It just needs to create a live link, perhaps through a VPN, using STP headers to release small chunks of information. Only a small amount of information is necessary, as in just one or two packets per day, making it even more difficult to detect. A Stuxnet-style attack could also use a cell network to exfiltrate information. So, not only can your employees only use work-issued USBs, they may also not be able to bring their cell phones to work. 

But there’s hope. This presentation was geared towards (primarily) private industry. Cheswick raised some interesting points though that will probably have to be (or already have been) put in place in law firms, defense contractors, and government agencies. The new rules in a post-Stuxnet era: keep your network maps updated, don’t allow foreign USB drives, be discriminatory about cell phone access, and monitor low TTL packets. For those interested in the technical details about Stuxnet, here's the Symantec report. Fair warning, don't expect a Live Free, Die Hard action sequence in there.

Now that we've covered all the good stuff, I'm looking forward to hearing about the DEFCON conference in August. I bet there will be a lot of complaining over the recent conviction of Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, for his exploitation of AT&T back in 2010.  If the RSA conference was any indication, the FBI isn't going to be the only one collecting information on guys like Weev. Hackers may very soon have profiles on them distributed throughout the security community. It's about time.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Drones at Home

A handful of seriously cool domestic applications

Last Wednesday (20 March) the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on possible privacy abuse--pertaining to drones, of course. Targeted killings overseas have made drones controversial and often suspect among average Americans and the impending reality of extensive drone use at home raises understandable suspicion. The concerns shouldn't be understated. Use of drones in the US is practical; they're "cheap, able and ubiquitous," and, as far as the greater public is concerned, likely to be snooping on you in the near future.   I don't mean to belittle any concerns related to drones and privacy issues, because those concerns are legitimate, well founded, and--in my opinion--wholly appropriate. Any new technology demands policy keep pace--and at the moment, legislation seems to be inadequate. 

That's an issue for another blog post. Here, I want to outline some of the seriously awesome things that drones could potentially do--and things that they're already doing--all of which have little to nothing to do with privacy concerns or targeted killings.

To be fair, I realize that Drone Journalism easily translates into a little UAV hovering directly outside the Kardashians' bathroom window. Again, privacy concerns. But paparazzi aside, drones have some interesting applications for the field of journalism. A few universities have picked up on this as well. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers a course in Drone Journalism, and the University of Missouri offers a similar program. Below is a video showing one of UNL's test flights. 

Both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Missouri register their UAVs with the FAA and are following their strict guidelines. Most news stories developed using this application are, understandably, about the environment and conservation. But the potential of using drones to report on traffic and to provide bird's eye views of natural disasters and crime scenes is well understood and anticipated. One can easily appreciate how this application would effortlessly extend to disaster relief. Drones could easily go into places too dangerous for rescue workers, and efficiently search for survivors across large swathes of territory. 

Also, just imagine how drones could be used to photograph non-arena sporting events, such as extreme sports. Instead of attaching a camera to clothing, an athlete could have a drone companion--providing up close and personal footage of the athlete's performance. 

Infrastructure monitoring 
The United States has a lot of roads and a lot of bridges, you may have noticed.  These roads and bridges require a fair amount of upkeep and monitoring to stay safe for public use. Consider this, there are roughly 4 million miles of roadway in the United States, that's something like 500x the diameter of earth. Who's watching all these roads? Who's making sure they stay in working order? 

The easy answer for the future? Drones. Drones are cheap, cheaper than sending out actual human beings to squint at a stretch of blacktop. Drones would monitor highways and other forms of infrastructure (dams, bridges, etc.), survey land with laser mapping technologies, and automatically alert officials to things like traffic jams and accidents. In fact, the Georgia Department of Transportation recently received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to do just that. 

Environmental research, conservation, and compliance 
The US Geological Survey (USGS) was been testing Raven A, a frankly adorable (and US Army decommissioned) 3 foot long drone, equipped with a camera to see if it can be repurposed to conduct aerial counts of an endangered species: the sandhill crane--a species that is notoriously skittish. Here's a video of the Raven A in action:


The wildlife perspective easily extends to hunting applications. Take the story from the end of this New York Times article, for example:  a Cy Brown of Bunkie, La., began hunting feral pigs nocturnally by outfitting a basic model airplane with a heat-sensing camera. The plane, dubbed Dehogaflier, was piloted around his brother's rice farm (where the pigs were gorging themselves on the crop) feeding live images of the pigs to Cy on the ground. A friend with a shotgun took care of the rest--no sloughing through the muck in search of the errant pigs for hours necessary. Handy.  The other side of the coin, poaching, are also easily addressed. Use of drones would make it much easier for US Fish and Wildlife and even game wardens to pick up on and shut down illegal hunting. 

Use of drones would also assist the efforts of environmental law enforcement officials. Suddenly, midnight dumpings and other nefarious activities would be much harder to get away with. Also, the great news? Using a drone to monitor suspect companies is cheaper and more effective than sending a representative to do an on site inspection.

Atmospheric research
NASA is, of course, completely comfortable and experienced using drones. And now they're sending a drone into the stratosphere to probe ozone loss.

NASA Global Hawk, Credit: J. Zavaleta/NASA

The flights were scheduled to start in January of 2013, and they're only the first of a multiyear campaign to study how changes in water vapor in the stratosphere can impact global climate. The Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) relies on a Global Hawk drone (pictured)--a type of aircraft also used by the U.S. Navy and the Air Force. NASA anticipates that  ATTREX will provide "unprecedented measurements of the tropical tropopause." Which, in its own way, is pretty cool.

There are, of course, more applications--such as drones securing the border and drones being used in provide aid and support during natural disasters. I've tried to provide some possible uses that aren't quite as obvious.  Simply put, there's more to drones than blowing up terrorists and spying on American citizens. Drones have some pretty impressive civilian applications that will only serve to improve our quality of living. Legitimate concerns kept in mind, drones are worth getting excited about.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ten Year Commemoration: Iraq Revisited

For many of us at the Patterson School, the War in Iraq was the most prominent foreign policy issue (debacle?) that defined our formative years.  I remember watching the TV in my bedroom during my junior year of high school as reports surfaced of stealth fighters providing the opening bombs that ultimately led to "Shock and Awe."  Although the 1990s saw its fair share of violent conflicts (Rwanda, the Balkans, etc.), nothing like this new round of war had occupied our attention since Desert Storm.  Since we just commemorated the ten-year anniversary of our invasion, I thought I'd provide a little context.

The New York Times has nice synopsis of the War in Iraq.  The LA Times has a great timeline, some of which I've copied here:
Oct. 11, 2002 -- Force authorized
Congress au­thor­izes the use of force against Ir­aq. End­ing a somber de­bate that pushed past mid­night, the Sen­ate votes, 77 to 23, for the res­ol­u­tion. The ac­tion came hours after the House gave its ap­prov­al on a 296-133 vote.

Nov. 8, 2002 -- U.N. ultimatum
United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil passes Res­ol­u­tion 1441 call­ing on Ir­aq to co­oper­ate with weapons in­spect­ors. The show of in­ter­na­tion­al unity sends a strong mes­sage to Ir­aqi Pres­id­ent Sad­dam Hus­sein that he is without al­lies if he con­tin­ues to defy the United Na­tions, am­bas­sad­ors said.

Jan. 28, 2003 -- ‘Imminent threat’
Speak­ing to a skep­tic­al world, Pres­id­ent Bush in his State of Uni­on ad­dress gives a force­ful and de­tailed de­nun­ci­ation of Ir­aq. He prom­ises new evid­ence that Sad­dam Hus­sein’s re­gime poses an im­min­ent danger to the world and de­mands the United Na­tions con­vene in just one week to con­sider the threat.

Feb. 5, 2003 -- Colin Powell at U.N.
Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell ar­gues be­fore the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil that the U.S. has evid­ence of weapons of mass destruction in Ir­aq, based on in­form­a­tion provided by source code­named “Curve­ball,” who later ad­mit­ted to ly­ing.

March 17, 2003 -- Bush’s ultimatum
Pres­id­ent gives Sad­dam Hus­sein a 48-hour dead­line to leave Ir­aq or face sure de­struc­tion “at a time of our choos­ing.”

March 20, 2003 -- U.S. Forces Enter Iraq
U.S. and Brit­ish troops sweep in­to south­ern Ir­aq in an in­va­sion aimed at Bagh­dad, where a new wave of mis­siles and bombs struck a pres­id­en­tial com­pound hous­ing sev­er­al gov­ern­ment de­part­ments at the heart of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s power.

April 9, 2003 -- Baghdad falls
U.S. troops break Sad­dam Hus­sein’s 24-year grip on Ir­aq. With help from the Mar­ines, Ir­aqis topple a four-story statue of the pres­id­ent. Loot­ing of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic build­ings, in­clud­ing mu­seums and ar­mor­ies, en­sues un­checked amid mass dis­order.

May 1, 2003 -- ‘Mission accomplished’
Aboard USS Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln, Pres­id­ent Bush tells a cheer­ing crew that U.S. forces have brought about a ‘turn­ing of the tide’ against ter­ror­ism. Un­der­neath a ban­ner read­ing “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished,” the pres­id­ent says the con­flict with Ir­aq marked the be­gin­ning of “a new era” in wa­ging war.

Dec. 13 2003 -- Hussein caught
Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit in a hole in Operation Red Dawn.

June 28, 2004 -- Iraqis take power
Led by Prime Min­is­ter Iy­ad Allawi, an in­ter­im Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment takes power from U.S. ad­min­is­trat­or L. Paul Bremer III after a furt­ive ce­re­mony meant to pree­mpt in­sur­gent at­tacks that could have dis­rup­ted the hand-over.

Jan. 30, 2005 -- Iraqis vote
Mil­lions of Ir­aqis defy vi­ol­ence, calls for a boy­cott and a leg­acy of des­pot­ism to cast bal­lots in the na­tion’s first mul­ti­party elec­tions in half a cen­tury.

Dec. 30, 2006 -- Hussein executed
A de­fi­ant Sad­dam Hus­sein is hanged at dawn in a secret con­crete death cham­ber. Be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion, he de­nounces the West and Ir­an.

Jan. 10, 2007 -- Troop surge
Pres­id­ent Bush ac­know­ledges that his pre­vi­ous strategy has failed and an­nounces the U.S. needs to add more than 20,000 troops in or­der to avert de­feat.

Aug. 19, 2010 -- Combat troops leave
The last of U.S. com­bat troops with­draw from Ir­aq. The move comes amid a deep polit­ic­al crisis that many think could turn in­creas­ingly vi­ol­ent, and Ir­aqis are deeply ap­pre­hens­ive.

Despite our substantial military success in the initial invasion, the United States was unprepared to execute the occupation needed to reunify the country.  Moreover, we had no plan in place to guide our efforts.  According to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "Our exit strategy in Iraq is success; it's that simple.  The objective is not to leave [but] to succeed in our mission."

President Bush tapped Lieutenant General Jay Garner to lead the transition in Iraq.  His strategy -- which quickly led to his ouster -- was to maintain the same state institutions that operated under Saddam, although many (including many Iraqis) wanted a clean slate.  The problem was "Excluding all 1.5 million party members from the new government would mean shutting out virtually every public servant, precisely the people who know how to get things running again."[1]  Garner's logic was:  "As in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don't have a problem with most of them."  American forces would work to identify the nefarious elements within the state and bring them to justice.  To prepare Iraq for a quick American exit, Garner pushed ahead with a plan to have national elections as soon as possible (within as ninety days of the fall of Saddam) that would install a new Iraqi government.  The general was swiftly replaced by L. Paul Bremmer.  After his ouster, reports stated Garner said "he fell out with the Bush circle because he wanted free elections and rejected an imposed programme of privatisation."[2]

The resulting policy of de-Ba'athification proved disastrous.  The the International Center for Transitional Justice's:
research and interviews with the official body that led de-Baathification initiatives for much of this period showed that these wholesale dismissals, combined with a lack of due process, badly undermined Iraq's government and military structures and fuelled a sense of grievance among those affected - not just employees, but also their families, friends and communities. It is unsurprising that the process became a significant contributing factor in widespread social and political conflict.[3]
The Iraqi military was especially affected by de-Ba'athification, which resulted in the dismissal of up to 500,000 soldiers.  Ultimately, the decision to disband the army fueled a growing insurgency.
In the aftermath of CPA Orders 1 and 2, Ba’ath officials became natural allies to the angry and financially troubled ex-soldiers of the Iraqi Army after the Army was disbanded, with no effort made to recall those former soldiers who may have remained interested in serving. The ability of senior Ba’ath leaders to obtain and provide funding to the insurgency was particularly important in helping to organize it into an effective force able to include unemployed and desperate Iraqis willing to strike at U.S. forces for money.[4]
As of March 2007, the Sunni insurgency stood at 70,000 fighters.  There were approximately 1,300 foreign mujahedeen fighters.  The sectarian conflict broke out into fullon civil war in Iraq in which almost   The violence prompted President Bush to commit an additional 20,000 troops in the so-called "surge."  The surge was ultimately successful because it took advantage of a new dynamic within Sunni tribes in western Iraq:  the Anbar Awakening.  "The Awakening movement, a predominantly Sunni Arab force recruited to fight Sunni Islamic extremists like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has become a great success story after its spread from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to become an ad-hoc armed force of 65,000 to 80,000 across the country in less than a year."[5]

Seven years, over 130,000 civilians, and more than $2 trillion dollars spent, the last american combat troops left Iraq in August 2010.[6]  And for all that blood and treasure, the United States gained little.  A study conducted by the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University:
concluded the United States gained little from the war while Iraq was traumatized by it. The war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women's rights, and weakened an already precarious healthcare system, the report said. Meanwhile, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud, it said. [Ibid]

Given the traumatic experience we've had in Iraq, it's worthwhile to ask:  How has Iraq changed us?  And for that analysis, I defer to Dan Drezner:
Here's the thing: Deep down, the American people are pretty realist. The legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom is that this realist consensus has cemented itself further in the American psyche. The American public has an aversion to using force unless the national interest is at stake, and a deep aversion to using force to do things like promote democracy or human rights. . . .
It took a generation and the end of the Cold War for the lessons of Vietnam to fade away. I'd wager that it will take at least a generation for the legacy effects of the Iraq War. 
Indeed, in American history, the war that Operation Iraqi Freedom reminds me of isn't Vietnam -- it's the War of 1812. That was another war of choice that was launched in no small part because of War Hawks in the halls of Congress. It went disastrously for the United States save the Battle of New Orleans, which allowed politicians to put a gloss of victory on an otherwise calamitous conflict. The long-term political effects on some of the War Hawks were pretty severe however (see:  John C. Calhoun). 
Operation Iraqi Freedom's effects on the international system were minor at best. The effects on American foreign policy, however, are significant and will be with us for some time to come. 
That conclusion is all the more instructive given the the number of conflicts around the globe in which the United States could become involved:  North Korea, East and South China Sea disputes, Taiwan/China, Syria, Iran's nuclear program.  The list goes on.

[1] Brian Bennet, et al. Sorting The Bad From The Not So Bad. Time. May. 19, 2003; available at:,9171,1004842,00.html
[2] David Leigh. General sacked by Bush says he wanted early elections. The Guardian. March 18 2004; available at:
[3] Iraq's de-Baathification still haunts the country. Al-Jazeera. March 12, 2013; available at:
[4] W. Andrew Terrill. Lessons of the Iraqi de-Ba'athification Porgram for Iraq's Future and the Arab RevolutionsStrategic Studies Institute. May 2012; available at:
[5] Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave. In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict. The New York Times. December 23, 2007; available at:
[6] Daniel Trotta. Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study. Reuters. March 14, 2013; available at: