The last time we featured our man in Australia in this blog was in our election night round up last November. (see Election Night 2012 Roundup — What a Party!). This week, Ambassador Bleich made quite a stir in cyberverse with an FB post on Stopping the Game of Clones timed for the 17th annual UN World Book and Copyright Day.
Wired.com wades in with “Tyrion Lannister would not give a shit” (of course!) in U.S. Ambassador Calls for End to Game of Thrones Torrenting: ‘Tyrion Will Thank You’. Over in the ambo’s FB page, there is an ongoing vigorous discussion whether it should be called stealing or not. It looks like a bunch of people there are real serious about their GOT.
Anyhow, we thought we’d check what else Ambassador Bleich is doing. Don’t you think this photo below is just pretty wild? That’s Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich who posted that “the cage of death is actually pretty fun.” Compared to his Facebook page, this looks almost peaceful, despite that gigantic snout.
The encounter with the croc kind occurred in Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia earlier this week during a trip to welcome the arrival of Lima Company 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine battalion from Hawaii for training in country.
Quick excerpt from Ambassador Bleich’s FB post:
I spent the past several days in the Northern Territory preparing for the next rotation of U.S. Marines to arrive in Darwin to train with their Australian mates. Each time, I come back to Darwin, I’m reminded of the genuine kindness and hospitality of Territorians. Part of the Marines’ reason for training in Darwin is the ability of our combined forces to practice expeditionary exercises in a large uninhabited training area. But a big part of the attraction is about the people. Our Marines feel truly welcome in Darwin.
By the time I welcomed the Marines onto the tarmac in Darwin last night, I was able to give them three pieces of practical advice: 1) don’t step in any water deeper than your ankle; 2) never pass up a conversation with a Darwinian; and 3) the “cage of death” is actually pretty fun. (See photos!) Welcome Lima Company 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine. We’re all glad you’re here.
Read in full here. Sky News covered the military rotation here: http://goo.gl/Orz8g and says that the 200 Marines on training in Darwin is the second rotation in a five year program. Next year there will be 1100 Marines and eventually 2500 on six month rotations.
Given the continuing number of casualties from the ‘green-on-blue’ attacks in Afghanistan and the recent directive that all Coalition troops carry a loaded weapon at all times, we find this photo of Afghan police trainees with their rubber AK-47 assault rifles more than interesting.
The Threat Matrix blog reports that Taliban leader Mullah Omar claims that the Taliban “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year.” He urges government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as it is their religious duty to do so, and then warns that “the day is not far away that the invading enemy will flee Afghanistan.”
Obviously Mullah Omar is glossing over the fact about 2024. But this guy is more crafty than we thought. He probably learned somewhere that our politicians who hold the purse strings for all spending hate the idea of the US “fleeing” Afghanistan. Raising the specter of “fleeing” troops would help make sure that Congress will continue funding this nutty war, and in the process, the Taliban get their cut to fund their fight of a lifetime. A win-win situation except for the dead and the broken soldiers.
And so here we are with rubber assault rifles.
The State Department’s OIG recently released its Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Program for Countries Under the Bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs and South and Central Asian Affairs (Report Number AUD/MERO-12-29, April 2012).
How much and where it went?
The OIG report did not say where the training sessions were held but seriously — how do you rack up $1800 a day for training per trainee? Oops, sorry, how quickly we forget. That’s almost as bad as the GSA scandal which cost federal taxpayers nearly $2750 per person.
Something about objectives, indicators and lots of strategeries:
Let’s have some examples:
Lebanon: The strategic objectives for Lebanon directed the ATA program to help modernize and professionalize security forces “through basic and advanced training and equipment and operation upgrades.”
India: The strategic objectives for India directed the program to emphasize critical incident response; post-incident investigation; human rights; border security; international threat finance; extradition and prosecution; and the protection of critical infrastructure, including port, rail, and airport security.
Bahrain and Morocco: A performance objective for both Bahrain and Morocco is to enhance the country’s “capability in investigating, and responding to terrorism.”
Nepal: The two program objectives for Nepal are “to enhance the capabilities of Nepalese police to utilize ATA training” and to “improve capabilities of the Nepalese police to counter and respond to terrorism.”
And the Success Measurement Award goes to ATA Bangladesh where one performance indicator for measuring the success of the increasing protection capabilities for Bangladeshi leaders was “regular updates from U.S. Embassy, ATA program visits, and feedback from Bangladesh’s law enforcement community on enhanced institutional management and procedures developed through ATA training to protect national leaders.”
If that’s a measure of success, we’d hate to see what failure is like.
So, cmon- is this program effective?
“Since 1983, DS/T/ATA has provided ATA program training to participants from North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. However, DS/T/ATA could not determine the program’s effectiveness because it had not developed specific, measurable, and outcome-oriented program objectives or implemented a mechanism for program evaluation. In addition, DS/T/ATA and CT were not consulting with DRL when selecting partner countries or when determining the assistance to be provided to those countries because DS/T/ATA and CT officials stated they were unaware of the requirement. As a result, the Department has no assurance that the ATA program is achieving its intended statutory purposes or that the overall or individual programs are successful. Further, DS/T/ATA has no basis for determining when partner countries are capable of sustaining their own ATA program without U.S. support.”
Bottom line answer is – since 1983
But you’d be pleased to know that this has not kept State from pouring more money into a program that has not been proven to be effective since it has no idea how to measure its effectiveness.
Why don’t we just add the disbursement of funds as an indicator of success and make it easy on everyone?
So we were watching Brooking’s Michael O’Hanlon on teevee one night talking about Afghanistan. These network folks should really invite our blog pal, El Snarkistani to talk about our pretend 51st state, because he talks more sense. But we were not disappointed because El Snarkistani later blogged about. Excerpt below:
I admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Michael E. O’Hanlon or Ian Livingston, but they wrote a piece for the New York Times: basically, things in Afghanistan are going just fine (By the way, Stephen Saideman did a short post on this. He raises some interesting questions.):
Here is what we know: Afghans are wealthier, healthier and better educated than ever before. Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better. Despite the occasional spectacular attack, Kabul is relatively safe, accounting for less than 1 percent of violent episodes nationwide, thanks largely to the efforts of these troops. The security situation in the more dangerous south is also much improved, after two years of efforts by foreign and Afghan forces. The north and west are at least no longer deteriorating and collectively account for less than 10 percent of violence nationwide.
And now I know all I need to know about O’Hanlon/Livingston.
Oh, for those of you following along? This post is the one I talked about yesterday.
Allow me to retort, and I’m only going to limit myself to one line in that paragraph, as much as it physically pains me to do so.
Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better.
That’s a great word: unquestionably. That means you have “facts” that are likely “irrefutable” which is another big word for “we are experts,” and can therefore “do math.”
That last shot across the bow will make sense shortly.
I’m not going to debate the quantity of ANSF. The force is definitely bigger: every year, there are more of them.
Then he went down the bottom of that dark bucket and looked at the bigger and better Afghan security forces. It turns out that “after nearly 10 years of ISAF intervention, and nearly two years of concerted effort by NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) personnel, no unit at any level had achieved an “independent rating.” And he got the numbers and can do unfuzzy maths, too.
“So they changed the definition,” El Snarkistani writes.
They changed the definition of … Holy Mother of God and All Her Wacky Nephews!
Via It’s All Sunny in Kabul: From page 43 of the 1230 report in October of 2011:
Prior to the spring campaign, IJC reviewed the definition of an Independent unit and concluded that the definition was too restrictive and would be difficult for any ANSF element to attain. As a result, IJC rewrote the definition of an Independent unit to reflect the reality that most ANSF force enablers will likely require long-term coalition assistance.
In a war that offers relatively few metrics by which to measure success, being run by an organization that shifts those metrics randomly to fit their message, it’s unusual to find solid numbers to demonstrate anything. In this case, it’s simple math.
The interwebs is hard.
I’m off to break the news to my wife: in honor of the genius that walks among us mere mortals, we’re naming our first child “O’Hanlon.” And he shall be great. And able to do the maths.
This reminds us of the large staffing gap at the State Department once, must have been during the tenure of Warren Christopher in the last century. (Yeah, I’m ancient, but no Botox!) Anyway, since it became a really bad problem, somebody decided to solve it surgically and quickly — by eliminating all the positions with a dash of a pen. So, no more staffing gap problem although the work still had to be done.
Eliminating the gap and redefinition are just a couple of tricks in your creative problem solving toolbox. In some places, I bet that creative problem solving can get you a Superior Honor Award or if you are really, really lucky, even a Presidential Rank Award.
Anyway, El Snarkistani is not the only one who has issues with the notion that Afghanistan is fine. “Mobutu Sese Seko”, the founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo has this piece, Winning the War Against Yesterday: Mike O’Hanlon’s Afghan Mad Libs with the following quip:
“What’s frustrating is how expected this all is. The Brookings Institution—still billed as the “left-wing” think tank by conservative media—is just as much a corporatized centrist disappointment as every other major Washington institution. It’s in the imperialism business: selling it, cheerleading it and then excusing it. (Just look at that donor list flush with arms contractors.)”
Now that’s enough to ruin your midnight snacks, isn’t it?
FSI’s Transition Center and the Leadership and Management School have put together this short course intended to help U.S Government families and members of household prepare for a crisis overseas. It covers preparations to be done prior to departure for post, and upon arrival at post. It also describes the responsibilities of post personnel who have roles during crisis response and have audio clips from recent evacuees.
The online course includes five modules, a summary and review questions in each module. I find the review quiz pretty tame with softball questions but it may still be useful to take them. (Example: You’re going to Kingston, Jamaica, an island with a warm climate, should you pack sweaters and a warm coat?)
The course is not embeddable so you have to check it out here:
Planning Ahead Overview
You and the Mission
Evacuations: What They Mean for You
Planning Ahead: Your Personal Plan
At the conclusion of the brief course, there is a useful template for creating a Personal Crisis Preparedness Plan (see pdf below). There is also an option to print out the materials. Make sure you check out the “Resources” tab at the bottom of the screen.
You never know when a crisis might strike, especially overseas. Preparedness is half the battle, so check this out when you can.
Well, just about everything is reality teevee now, why not our reconstruction project centered on the Afghan National Security Forces? The United States and donor countries are paying for it and it’s kind of like the hollywoody equivalent of army and police training. There are well meaning good guys, and bad meaning bad guys, insurmountable challenges, military toys, guys learning to shoot straight, contractor reps on near heart attacks, and gazillions of money floating around for this or that. There’s gotta be drama in all that, don’t ya think?
And the best part is, this reality show may have better longevity prospects as teevee show goes, because hey, we might actually be in Afghanistan beyond 2014 (when we’re supposed to leave). If rumors are true that negotiations are underway for the United States to stay in Afghanistan until 2024, that would fit perfectly with the IMF’s prediction that the Afghan government will be incapable of paying ANSF costs until at least 2023.
Afghanistan is in fact, playing a double game to suit its interest — badmouthing the United States when it suits it’s need and negotiating behind the lime lights to get the United States to stay to protect its interest. If we’re asked to stay beyond 2014, don’t mistake it for true love; we have the juice, that’s all (even if that juice was bought on credit); we’re like the deep pocket sugar person that the dysfunctional individual with a sweet habit can’t live with and can’t live without – a very messy relationship.
|DynCorp trainer with Afghan National Police recruits.
(U.S.Air Force photo cited by CWC)
In any case, the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) cited Project Unsustainable above as a formidable example of potential waste in the U.S.-funded contracting for training of, and facilities construction for, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), comprising the Army, Border Police, and National Police. Excerpt below:
Between FY 2006 and FY 2011, Congress appropriated nearly $39 billion to set up and maintain the ANSF; the fiscal year 2012 budget request would add almost $13 billion to that total. Nearly half of the FY 2012 request—over $5 billion—would go toward clothing, equipping, and paying the ANSF.22
Prospects for the Afghan government’s sustaining the ANSF are dubious. The entire country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for FY 2011 is about $16 billion at the official exchange rate, and the national government’s domestic revenues are about $2 billion.23 The Afghan Ministry of Finance budget proposal for 2011-2012 indicates that given the increased security costs from the increase in size of the ANSF, the Afghan government is expected to continue to depend on donor grants for up to 30% of its operating budget.24
The outlook for sustaining the Afghan army and national police is complicated by several factors:
▪▪The ANSF, currently numbering about 305,000 personnel, is growing toward a newly authorized strength of 352,000, which will increase sustainment costs.
▪▪The Commission has received a preliminary U.S. military estimate of ANSF sustainment costs for just the period 2014-2017 in the neighborhood of $30 billion.
▪▪The International Monetary Fund has concluded that the Afghan government will be incapable of paying ANSF costs until at least 2023.25
▪▪Donor-community support depends upon unpredictable political decisions that may be heavily influenced by severe fiscal pressure on most developed countries’ budgets.
In a similar vein, the Acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told the Commission, “The Government of Afghanistan has never had the financial resources to sustain ANP [Afghan National Police] salaries at either the current or projected levels.”
Besides spending billions on contracts to train, clothe, and equip the ANSF, the United States has also committed $11.4 billion since 2005 to build bases, police stations, border outposts, and other facilities for the ANSF. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded two contracts in 2010 for ITT Corporation to provide $800 million in operation-and-maintenance services for 663 ANSF facilities over a five-year period.
The Afghan government has already indicated that it cannot pay such costs from its resources.29 The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told the Commission at its January 24, 2011, construction hearing that “the entire $11.4 billion [in construction spending] is at risk,” and “both contracts are expected to exhaust their funding well before [the end of ] their five-year performance period.”30
Anyway, if we end up spending the next 12-13 years in Afghanistan training its armed forces, I only have one request. Please, please, please — can we please have this on teevee 24/7, 365 days a year so we can watch this project continue to unfold in real time? And if SIGAR needs to make arrests, can we do that with cameras rolling, too? Because why not?
Pardon me? Why do we need to see this 24/7, 365 days until the 2024 season? Um, silly — so we can see on teevee just how stoopid we’ve all been in allowing a sugar old baby with a bad habit to play us this well.
Michele Bachmann’s Soviet Union must be laughing its head off right now.
US Mission Afghanistan: Ambassador Crocker returns, assures everyone “There will be no rush for the exits…” and that’s okay since our soldiers for 2023 will start kindergarten this fall | Tuesday, July 26, 2011 |
FSI has put out a solicitation for the development and presentation of a two-day experiential education-based teambuilding and leadership offsite for new Foreign Service Officers taking part in their new employee orientation program at the Foreign Service Institute. The two-day program is held at a facility outside the immediate Washington, D.C. area. Below is an excerpt from the published solicitation at FedBiz:
SFSIAQ10R0024_ A-100 Team Building
Solicitation Number: SFSIAQ10R0024
Agency: U.S. Department of State
Office: Foreign Service Institute
Location: Office of Acquisitions, M/FSI/EX/GSACQ
Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Orientation is a five-week program. The course is devoted to helping new FSOs better understand the overall organization in which they work, the terms of their employment, and the competencies needed for success in the organization. Class members will be assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates around the world shortly after completing training; they will not work together as a team beyond
orientation. However, all will work in highly team-focused environments during their Foreign Service careers. All FSOs, regardless of their position, must work effectively with colleagues at all levels of the organization to succeed as individuals and contribute to group accomplishment. The leadership and teambuilding program helps participants assess skills and develop strategies to work most effectively within diverse groups, both as leaders and team members. The program normally takes place during the third week of Orientation.
The contractor is required among other things to:
Folks waiting for the call may want to know that this solicitation says FSI anticipate eight (8) orientation courses for FY11 (October 1, 2010-September 30, 2011). That’s between 640-712 new employees in the next fiscal year.
Click here to read more.
Be sure to also check out the Foreign Service Core Precepts (in Word Doc), the guidelines by which Selection Boards determine the tenure and promotability of U.S. Foreign Service employees. These Precepts will be in effect for the 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 rating cycles. The Precepts define the specific skills to be considered and the level of accomplishment expected at different grades. They distinguish between apprentice, journeyman and master level – the junior, mid-level and senior ranks.
CBS News’ Armen Keteyian reports that “Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was arrested after he boarded a plane headed for Dubai, though the government is spending millions each year on a program that’s supposed to spot terrorists before they reach the gate.[...] There’s a hidden layer of airport security most people don’t know about. It’s called “behavior detection,” and involves specially trained Transportation Security Administration employees whose primary mission is to spot terrorists. They look for unique facial expressions and body language that may identify a potential threat. About 3,000 of these officers work at 161 U.S. airports — costing taxpayers nearly $200 million in 2009. This year, the TSA asked Congress for $20 million more to expand the program. But CBS News has learned that the program is failing to catch terrorists. It’s never even caught one.”
Also that “The GAO uncovered at least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004. Yet none were stopped by TSA behavior detection officers working at those airports.”
So that would be $220M and change? No terrorists were caught with $200M spent in this program; you think $20M more would do the job?
We went digging for that GAO report and finally found it available online today.
Quick excerpts below:
To enhance aviation security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began initial testing in October 2003 of its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) carry out SPOT’s mission to identify persons who pose a risk to aviation security by focusing on behavioral and appearance indicators. GAO was asked to review the SPOT program. GAO analyzed (1) the extent to which TSA validated the SPOT program before deployment, (2) implementation challenges, and (3) the extent to which TSA measures SPOT’s effect on aviation security. GAO analyzed TSA documents, such as strategic plans and operating procedures; interviewed agency personnel and subject matter experts; and visited 15 SPOT airports, among other things. Although the results from these visits are not generalizable, they provided insights into SPOT operations.
Beginning in fiscal year 2007, TSA created separate Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) positions as part of the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program.1 According to TSA, the SPOT program is a derivative of other behavioral analysis programs that have been successfully employed by law enforcement and security personnel both in the United States and around the world, particularly that of Israel’s airline, El Al.
As of March 2010, TSA deployed about 3,000 BDOs at an annual cost of about $212 million; this force increased almost fifteen-fold between March 2007 and July 2009. BDOs have been selectively deployed to 161 of the 457 TSA-regulated airports in the United States at which passengers and their property are subject to TSA-mandated screening procedures.5 The administration has requested $232 million for SPOT for fiscal year 2011, a $20.2 million (9.5 percent) increase over the current funding level. This increase would support a workforce increase from about 3,000 to 3,350 BDOs. If this funding request is approved and maintained, SPOT would cost about $1.2 billion over the next 5 years.
Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in the process of validating some aspects of the SPOT program, TSA deployed SPOT nationwide without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment. A scientific consensus does not exist on whether behavior detection principles can be reliably used for counterterrorism purposes, according to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
So — what do you need to do to become a BDO or a Behavior Detection Officer? Here’s what GAO says:
BDO eligibility is restricted to TSOs with at least 12 months of TSO experience, or others with related security experience. Applicants must apply and be accepted into the BDO training program. The training includes 4 days of classroom courses, followed by 3 days of on-the-job training. Expert BDOs [...] received an additional week of training on SPOT behaviors and mentoring skills.
We’re pinning our $200M and hopes on catching the bad guys on folks with 7-days training? I’m starting to get a headache, sorry.
So how many terrorists have been caught? I know you want to know that. Here’s what GAO says:
Using CBP and Department of Justice information, we examined the travel of key individuals allegedly involved in six terrorist plots that have been uncovered by law enforcement agencies. We determined that at least 16 of the individuals allegedly involved in these plots moved through 8 different airports where the SPOT program had been implemented. Six of the 8 airports were among the 10 highest risk airports, as rated by TSA in its Current Airport Threat Assessment. In total, these individuals moved through SPOT airports on at least 23 different occasions.
SPOT officials told the GAO that it is not known if the SPOT program has ever resulted in the arrest of anyone who is a terrorist, or who was planning to engage in terrorist-related activity.
GAO tried to help TSA on this by suggesting that studying airport video recordings of the behaviors exhibited by persons waiting in line and moving through airport checkpoints and who were later charged with or pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses could provide insights about behaviors that may be common among terrorists or could demonstrate that terrorists do not generally display any identifying behaviors.
The GAO report says:
TSA officials agreed that examining video recordings of individuals who were later charged with or pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses, as they used the aviation system to travel to overseas locations allegedly to receive terrorist training or to execute attacks, may help inform the SPOT program’s identification of behavioral indicators.
I don’t know about you. But I’m thinking — does TSA really need GAO to suggest this, given that it is in the business of behavior detection?
As to the requested bump on that program money — the fear factor is always there, of course. I can understand that. I, myself am afraid that TSA will get its additional $20M to expand the program simply because none of our elected representatives would like to go down in history as the one who shut down a program that is set up to net some real bad guys. But, would it be asking too much for Congress to tell TSA to bring in some verifiable results and not just anecdotal evidence before they write the next check?
I actually had a similar experience. One time, I was convinced that a giant rat was nesting in my attic. I called the exterminator and he put down his traps and promised to check back regularly. At $150 every three months. 6 months went. Nothing. Now, had I kept the contract for 3 years despite an empty trap, would you have called me prudent, or dumb?
Here are some trick questions: Does the fact that the trap has never netted the giant rat means that the rat doesn’t exist? Does it simply mean, that the rat just has not been caught? Or could it be that a mouse trap was the most inefficient means of catching that giant rat?
I did think of that exterminator and his traps when I read this report today.
I do not care so much about the money since I have none. But as a taxpayer, it seems wasteful to give more money to some program that has zero results. In the meantime, I think of the 1 in 4 kids that go to bed hungry at night. Not at some distant third world country. But right here. In the United States of America. In 2007, 12.4 million children in the United States were hungry. Now, that number has grown to nearly 17 million kids. Let’s think about that for a moment when we think of that $20 million.
GAO-10-763 | AVIATION SECURITY: Efforts to Validate TSA’s Passenger Screening Behavior Detection Program Underway, but Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Validation and Address Operational Challenges | PDF