Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT



Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.


Getting in bed with Robin Sage ….. no, it’s not what you think….

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I recently posted about that RSO who wanted to know about all your Facebook contacts.  I also mentioned in that post a piece about a fake femme fatale made up by Thomas Ryan to shows the risks of social networking. Well, I did not make it to Las Vegas but was able to find Ryan’s paper at the July BlackHat USA 2010 conference. Excerpts below:

  • Some of Robin’s male connections took a more assertive approach by offering her tickets to security conferences, complimenting her pictures, and presenting available job opportunities. Whether these same reactions would have been elicited towards another male is questionable.
  • With no experience at all, Robin was asked to review papers written by professionals with over 10 years experience. For example, a fellow lecturer at the NASA Ames Research Center sought out Sage’s knowledge and opinions pertaining to some of his papers and presentations.
  • The success of a network is directly tied to the people and connections that one forms. Effectively targeting a person can be done in various indirect ways. For example, one connection messaged Robin, “I’ve never met you, but I saw you had Marty on your Facebook list, so that was good enough for me.” This message encompasses the dangers of social networking when people fail to do their own research and instead, rely on other’s judgment.
  • Sage’s multiple security credentials combined with her occupation would lead one to believe that she had TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartment Information) Clearance with Polygraph. People’s trust in this identity could have very easily led to the sharing of information under the false premise that Robin Sage had expertise in the field.

Bottom line according to Ryan (and we’re most glad this was not the real thing like the one most recently returned to Russia): 

Much of the information revealed to Robin Sage violated OPSEC and PERSEC procedures. The deliberate choice of an attractive young female appears to have exposed the role that sex and appearance plays in trust and people’s eagerness to connect with someone. In conjunction with her look, Robin Sage’s credentials listed on her profile resulted in selection perception; people’s tendency to draw unwarranted conclusions in their attempt to make a quick decision. By acquiring a large number of connections, Robin had the ability to identify the individual who was positioned to provide the most intelligence based on their involvement in multiple government agencies. The false identity combined with carefully chosen false credentials led to a false trust that could have resulted in the breach of multiple security protocols.

Read the whole paper here.

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Reading Tips: New Reports from CRS, OIG and GAO

CRS — Iraq: Politics, Elections, and Benchmarks
| May 26th, 2010

Iraq: Politics, Elections, and Benchmarks (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

Iraq’s political system, the result of a U.S.-supported election process, has been increasingly characterized by peaceful competition, as well as by attempts to form cross-sectarian alliances. However, ethnic and factional infighting continues, sometimes using key levers of power and seemingly undemocratic means. This was in evidence in the successful efforts by Shiite Arab political leaders to disqualify some prominent Sunni Arab candidates in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the Council of Representatives (COR, parliament), which will form the next government. Election-related violence occurred before and during the election, although not at levels of earlier years or at a level to significantly affect voting, except perhaps for Baghdad city.

With all votes counted, the cross-sectarian “Iraqiyya” slate of former Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi unexpectedly gained a plurality of 91 of the 325 COR seats up for election. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s State of Law slate came in a close second, with two fewer seats, and a rival Shiite coalition was a distant third with 70. The main Kurdish parties, again allied, won 43. Allawi’s slate had been expected to get the first opportunity to put together a majority coalition to form a government. However, Maliki and other Shiite parties—opposing what they claim is the mostly Sunni Arab base of the Allawi slate—are in extensive discussions to put together a coalition that would be able to determine the next government. To bolster his claim to remain prime minister, Maliki’s slate requested, and a court agreed, to a recount of votes in crucial Baghdad province; Maliki hopes the recount will deprive Allawi’s bloc of its plurality of seats. Another court’s disqualification (on “de-Baathification” grounds) of one winning and 51 losing candidates will require a recalculation of seat allocations, presumably to Maliki’s benefit.

CRS — Syria: Background and U.S. Relations
| May 26th, 2010

Syria: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

Despite its weak military and lackluster economy, Syria remains relevant in Middle Eastern geopolitics. Syria plays a key role in the Middle East peace process, acting at times as a “spoiler” by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. At other times, it has participated in substantive negotiations with Israel. Syria’s longstanding relationship with the Iranian clerical regime is of great concern to U.S. strategists. As Syria grew more estranged from the United States throughout this decade, Syrian-Iranian relations improved, and some analysts have called on U.S. policymakers to woo Syrian leaders away from Iran. Others believe that the Administration should go even further in pressuring the Syrian government and should consider implementing even harsher economic sanctions against it.

CRS — Unauthorized Aliens in the United States 
| May 26th, 2010

Unauthorized Aliens in the United States (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has primary responsibility for administering and enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA),1 the basis of immigration law. Within DHS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for immigration and naturalization adjudications and other service functions; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for enforcing immigration law in the interior of the United States, among other responsibilities; and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for securing U.S. borders at and between official ports of entry.

It is unknown, at any point in time, how many unauthorized aliens are in the United States, what countries they are from, when they came to the United States, where they are living, and what their demographic, family, and other characteristics are. Demographers develop estimates about unauthorized aliens using available survey data on the U.S. foreign-born population. These estimates can help inform possible policy options to address the unauthorized alien population.2 According to recent estimates by DHS based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and other sources, the unauthorized resident alien population totaled 11.6 million in January 2008 and 10.8 million in January 2009.3 Using data from the March Current Population Survey4 and other sources, the Pew Hispanic Center has estimated the unauthorized resident population at 11.9 million for March 2008.5 In the case of both DHS and the Pew Hispanic Center, the 2008 and 2009 estimates are less than the corresponding estimates for 2007

Unauthorized aliens enter the United States in three main ways: (1) some are admitted to the United States on valid nonimmigrant (temporary) visas (e.g., as visitors or students) or on bordercrossing cards and either remain in the country beyond their authorized period of stay or otherwise violate the terms of their admission; (2) some are admitted based on fraudulent documents (e.g., fake passports) that go undetected by U.S. officials; and (3) some enter the country illegally without inspection (e.g., by crossing over the Southwest or northern U.S. border).

It is unknown what percentages of the current unauthorized resident population entered the United States in these different ways.

OIG | Embassy Tirana, Albania (ISP-I-10-36A)
| March 2010   [441 Kb]

Source: Office of the Inspector General (via PDF

The front office is popular and respected, but its standing is lowered by a perception among American staff that, at times, it is too involved on behalf of locally employed (LE) staff in management and special immigrant visa (SIV) matters.

OIG | Embassy Chisinau, Moldova (ISP-I-10-40A)
| March 2010   [438 Kb]

Source: Office of the Inspector General (via PDF

Under strong new leadership, the embassy is moving to correct past managerial weaknesses and deficiencies in management controls, including via a staff restructuring. There is consensus that these measures and other factors have greatly improved morale. Nonetheless, the two major management problems, space and physical security, continue to lie beyond its reach. The U.S. Agency for International Development-embassy consolidation has been partly accomplished but completion should be pursued expeditiously.

OIG | Embassy Pristina, Kosovo (ISP-I-10-38A)
| March 2010  [417 Kb]

Source: Office of the Inspector General (via PDF

The justification for Pristina’s 20 percent danger pay allowance should be reviewed. Although ethnic tensions remain, much progress has been made in creating a democratic, multi-ethnic nation. Reductions in the United Nations (UN) mission and in the internal security Kosovo Force reflect both progress and the absence of the former wartime conditions.

GAO-10-721T | Iran Sanctions: Firms Reported to Have Commercial Activity in the Iranian Energy Sector and U.S. Government Contracts

| May 12, 2010 | Summary | Full Report

Source: Government Accountability Office (via

Based on our review of open source information, we identified 41 firms that had commercial activity in the Iranian energy sector between 2005 and 2009. Of these firms, seven had contracts with the U.S. government. From fiscal years 2005 through 2009, the U.S. government  obligated almost $880 million in contracts to these seven firms. [Footnote 7] U.S. agencies obligated almost 90 percent of these funds or purchases of fuel and petroleum products overseas. Thirteen of the  41 firms listed in our March 2010 report responded to our inquiries regarding their commercial activities in Iran, including two of the seven firms with U.S. government contracts. Since the report was released, four more firms responded, including one firm that noted it had not made a decision about finalizing its commercial activities in

GAO-10-505 | Palestinian Authority: U.S. Assistance Is Training and Equipping Security Forces, but the Program Needs to Measure Progress and Faces Logistical Constraints
| May 11, 2010 | Summary | Full Report
Source: Government Accountability Office (via

Although U.S. and international officials said that U.S. security assistance programs for the PA have helped to improve security conditions in some West Bank areas, State and USSC have not established clear and measurable outcome-based performance indicators to assess progress. Thus, it is difficult to determine how the programs support the achievement of security-related Roadmap obligations. U.S. officials attributed the lack of agreement on such performance indicators to a number of factors, including the relatively early stage of PA plans and capacity for reforming, rebuilding, and sustaining its security forces. Developing outcome-based indicators to measure and manage performance against program goals has been identified by GAO as a good management practice. Such indicators would help USSC provide objective and useful performance information for decision makers. State and USSC officials noted that they plan to incorporate performance indicators in a USSC campaign plan to be released in mid-2010.

Reading Tips: New Reports from OIG and GAO

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-03/31/10   Embassy Amman, Jordan (ISP-I-10-35A) March 2010  [511 Kb]
In 2008, the Embassy implemented a policy of “move for preference.” In accordance with its housing handbook, this policy allows an employee “to change assigned residences at personal expense for reasons that do not meet the criteria of a government-sponsored move.” It is intended to enhance employee morale and is neither a petition nor an appeal, the only options 15 FAM 212.4 provides as mechanisms to request housing changes. Essentially, this policy accepts the subjective criterion of an employee’s happiness as justification for requesting and receiving permission to change residences. Thus, Embassy Amman’s application of the policy does not conform to the letter or intent of 15 FAM 212.4. Recommendation 25: Embassy Amman should structure its “move for preference” housing policy to conform to the Department of State regulations on the petitions and appeals process. (Action: Embassy Amman)

-03/31/10   Embassy Skopje, Macedonia (ISP-I-10-37A) March 2010  [388 Kb]
Embassy Skopje and its Ambassador provide an unusual high-profi le leader­ship and authority to solving problems and dampening crises in a region of major importance to the United States.  Overall, morale is good. It stems from a congenial atmosphere in the workplace, from good and compassionate leadership, and from responsive management. The April move to the new embassy compound was accomplished with minimum disruption. Department of State-U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) management platforms have been consolidated, and agreement has been reached with Embassy Pristina to share its health practitioner. All are major accomplishments.

Reports from USAID/OIG:

Audit of USAID’s Internally Displaced Persons Activities in Iraq


Audit of USAID/Afghanistan’s Human Resources and Logistical Support Program

Reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from Iraq | GAO-10-376, April 19, 2010

Combating Terrorism: Planning and Documentation of U.S. Development Assistance in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas Need to Be Improved | GAO-10-289, April 15, 2010

Iraq and Afghanistan: Agencies Face Challenges in Tracking Contracts, Grants, Cooperative Agreements, and Associated Personnel | GAO-10-509T  March 23, 2010

Global Food Security: Progress toward a U.S. Government-wide Strategy Is Under Way, but Approach Has Several Vulnerabilities | GAO-10-494T  March 11, 2010






Reading Tips: New Reports from State/OIG

-03/31/10   Review of the Integrity and Fairness of the Foreign Service Selection Board Process (ISP-I-10-47) March 2010   [1626 Kb]

-03/31/10   The Bureau of Diplomatic Security Baghdad Embassy Security Force Performance Audit (MERO-A-10-05) March 2010   [962 Kb]

-03/31/10   The Broadcast Board of Governors’ Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. (ISP-IB-10-28) March 2010   [545 Kb]