Saturday, 31 July 2010

Status schmatus

Participants in a recent panel discussion organised by thinktank the Henry Jackson Society were in agreement that any cuts would effectively force some significant restructuring in the armed forces. There was also agreement that this defence review could have a major impact on the UK's world standing.
'major impact on the UK's world standing'? I have not seen any debate on what our world standing should be, Is there any assessment as to what it now is so that cost of re-eatablishing us as a leader can be properly determined? Is there any vox pop as to we want or need to be in the forefront? Back in the days of Empire we needed a strong Navy and Army but surely that situation no longer pertains. If we take the example of US expenditure on maintaining superiority, we would never be able to sustain our status. The UN is supposed to be a parliament of equals and we are members of that. Can anyone point to any benefit we have obtained from being part of the Security Council where membership is related to status.

What is currently happening now in Afghanistan demonstrates the cost of playing alongside the big boys - cost in financial terms, in lives lost or ruined and diminution of our moral standards as in the tactics we adopt.

I for one care nothing as to our place in the world. This is not because of any lack of pride in GB but because status brings no return but demands much to uphold. If £x buys ten rifle rounds or one month's treatment for cancer, I know where I want my taxes to go.

Cameron is a great advocate for public involvement in decision making but seems to have overlooked this aspect of work that should be settled before we decide how much we will pay to be in the forefront of world powers. I have lived in a number of countries that were outside top ten and they had some very good levels of care for the sick and elderly, low unemployment and general standards of living and enjoyment of life. We have too many inequalities and general neglect that should be sorted before we worry about status. We should concentrate in cleansing our own stables before worrying about someone else's midden.

I really care nothing for holding a position where we can kill many innocent people very efficiently just because we feel a need to do so. If we do wish to maintain that ability, we owe it to our armed forces to ensure that they never again have to worry where the helicopters are, what medical treatment they will receive when maimed physically or mentally and whether Doris and the kids at home are properly accommodated.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Black Propaganda

I refrain from doing book reviews. Not that I do not have books to review - 100 plus on Afghanistan and Iraq alone - but I lack confidence in my critical skills and impartiality. Because of recent events though I am going to mention a book that I think deserves mention.

Snake Bite was written by an imbed journalist It grows from his concerns at a single action early in his stay from The Sunday Times and is an account of time spent with a joint US and UK force mentoring the Afghan National Army. His doubts as to the value of operations reads:
The attack had been a diversion, a feint as they call it. The aim was to deceive the Taliban into believing that our main attack would come from the South and South-West; the same direction from which the Soviets had attacked twenty-four years ago. As we had withdrawn, the real attack came in from the North. Hundreds of American paratroopers were dropped by helicopter.
The plan called for the US to surround and beat the Taliban on the outskirts of the town. If all went well their enemy would realise it was out-gunned and overwhelmed and then flee. We would then enter and secure the town with the Afghan National Army. The operation would be announced to the world as an Afghan success. The Americans told us the aim was not just a tactical win but an Information Operations win - a IO Victory.
What had happened would have been a public relations disaster. It almost was. Except that, at the time, rather lost in my own personal drama, I hadn't done a great job in collecting the facts. I was to report that two civilians were killed in the fight. But, reporting on the front line in a fast-paced environment, I didn't really have the chance to get the full story. I later discovered that that many more innocent people were killed, including the two children. As the operation unfolded my under estimate of the numbers of civilians killed seemed to become the official word. Right up to Kabul and up the command chain the word was given out: just two civilians died in the operation to recapture Musa Qala.
So, if more people had read Snake Bite what we now know from the WarLogs would have been common knowledge a long while ago - the book was published in 2009. Grey ponders who was responsible for all the bloodshed and what purpose did it serve? He sees that the battle is not just for the hearts and minds of Afghans but between soldiers and spies, between commanders in the field and officials in Whitehall and between allies sharply divided by purpose.

We have had various reasons advanced as to why we went into that sorry place. From defending the streets of London to stopping Taliban pulling out the toe nails of little girls because they wore nail varnish by way of stopping the evils of the drug trade. I will be generous and accept these were genuinely held at the time even though they are now being described as otherwise. I know well that war is hell but I question the morality of our 'leaders' when high ideals were claimed for a programme of mass misinformation, misleading statements and downright lies. We hear much of the evils of the Taliban but what of our own conduct? All is fair in love and war? We have implanted our own cancer. And for what - does anyone really believe that whatever we claim to have achieved when we do eventually withdraw will be anything permanent?

If the details circulated by wikileaks cause any rethink on our tactics and policies, they will be worth it. I take the point that lives are put at risk but not that anything in those papers will, solely and in isolation, be responsible. The informants were paid and will not have been able to disguise any new-found wealth. The Taliban knew very well who was talking with American and British soldiers and did not wait for any Old Bailey verdict to act on that knowledge. The information would have been made available to any anyone planning an operation and therefore become known to our Afghan 'allies'. The same allies who turn upon us would have been told "don't shoot Ali Rashid in such and such a compound - he is an informant" What wikileaks did was spread the news a little further. Any correction arising must be good.

Not much of a review I suppose but if the intention of a review is to draw wider attention to something written - I have achieved my aim.

Is it a lie if it is said by an official?

"Accuracy first," I used to tell the writers. "We must never lie by accident, or through slovenliness, only deliberately!"

And as we put out news bulletin after news bulletin and service programme after service programme an entire system of subversive campaigns developed.

We are waging against Hitler a kind of total war of wits. Anything goes, so long as it serves to bring nearer the end of the war and Hitler's defeat. If you [Otto John] are at all squeamish about what you may be called upon to do against your own countrymen you must say so now. I shall understand it. In that case, however, you will be no good to us and no doubt some other job will be found for you. But if you feel like joining me, I must warn you that in my unit we are up to all the dirty tricks we can devise. No holes are barred. The dirtier the better. Lies treachery, everything"
Those are the words of Sefton Delmer who,during WW2, ran a undercover operation known as Black Boomerang. The measures used were extreme:
"The first consisted of posting letters to the relatives of German soldiers who had recently died in German military hospitals in Italy. Fortunately for us the German hospital directors made a practice of sending radio telegrams en clair to the local party authorities in Germany asking them to break the news to the relatives. These telegrams were intercepted and passed on to me. And they gave us all the information we needed – the soldier's name, the address of his relatives and the name of the hospital.

We now concocted a moving letter, written out in German longhand script on notepaper bearing the letter heading of the German hospital. Ostensibly the letter came either from a nurse or from a comrade of the dead man who had entrusted it for posting to someone going to Germany on leave. Whoever was the writer, he or she had been with the dead man during his last hours, and was now writing to comfort his relatives...

On other occasions we used the same technique to tell the relatives that their soldier had not died of wounds, but had been given a lethal injection. The Nazi doctor at the hospital, we explained through our nurse, had considered the man had no chance of becoming fighting fit again before the war was finished. The doctor had required the man's bed for soldiers with a better chance of rapid recovery.

Next I decided to fake a letter allegedly written by Mölders expatiating on the doubts he and his comrades felt about fighting for the atheist Hitler... For it was in keeping with the character of young Mölders to have written such a letter. He alone could have denounced it convincingly, and he was dead – murdered, so everyone believed, by the Nazis themselves. To lighten my conscience a little – and help on our desertion campaign at the same time – I also arranged for food parcels to be sent to those relatives of dead soldiers whom we had hoaxed so cruelly with our 'Red Circle' letters. To reinforce their belief that the dead man was not dead at all but a deserter earning good money in a safe refuge abroad we gave the alleged sender of the food parcel the dead man's Christian name.
What Black Boomerang did was to put an official gloss on the false reports so that the listeners to the radio station he established would have no doubts that they were listening to a genuine broadcast. What they heard was based upon common knowledge but re-written so as to have an insidious effect upon the troops and the factory workers.

So there may be no doubt about what will follow, this is what I accept as the meaning of Black Propaganda:
Black propaganda is false information and material that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side. It is typically used to vilify, embarrass or misrepresent the enemy. Black propaganda contrasts with grey propaganda, the source of which is not identified, and white propaganda, in which the real source is declared and usually more accurate information is given, if also slanted or distorted.

Black propaganda purports to emanate from a source other than the true source. This type of propaganda is associated with covert psychological operations. Sometimes the source is concealed or credited to a false authority and spreads lies, fabrications, and deceptions. Black propaganda is the "big lie," including all types of creative deceit.

Ultimately, black propaganda relies on the willingness of the receiver to accept the credibility of the source. If the creators or senders of the black propaganda message do not adequately understand their intended audience, the message may be misunderstood, seem suspicious, or fail altogether.

Governments will generally conduct black propaganda operations for two different reasons. First, by utilizing black propaganda a government is more likely to succeed in convincing their target audience that the information that they are seeking to influence them with is disguised, and that its motivations are not apparent. Second, there are diplomatic reasons behind the use of black propaganda. Black propaganda is necessary in order to obfuscate a government's involvement in activities that may be detrimental to its foreign policies.
We are involved in a Black Boomerange exercise right now. All of the 'official' spokesmen are stressing that the public release of the Afghan War Logs will result in murders of those Nationals who have collaborated with coalition forced. They claim this will be easily accomplished as the material now made public includes, in plain and un-coded language, the names and addresses of the informants.

These claims of pending murders are intended to throw dirt on the owner of Wikileaks and to create resentment that anyone would act in such a uncaring manner motivated by profit. If or when the whistle-blower is identified his character and motives are already compromised. And, it is working - see the comments at just one web siteThere are many other similar comments but the 'bleep' machine would have to work overtime.

Those who are against war on moral grounds will gather their own propaganda from this just as will the hawks who can claim that putting the names into the common arena will jeopardise recruitment of further civint sources.

The scope of the information that is shown in the leaked papers is very detailed. Forenames, family name, father's name and their village. Now, just ask where this all came from? Is it likely that wikileaks created or discovered it by legwork and investigation? If you think so, to what end?

No - it was all in the original documents.The one cardinal rule when dealing with informants, of course, is PROTECT YOUR ASSET!! In law enforcement, if your CI is identified or "burned" it can be devastating, not only to your case but to the safety of your CI and his/her family. This, clearly, was not a concern of those who maintained the files but seems to have escaped notice of anyone who may have used them. There could be a case that wikileaks should have redacted the information. What there is is something about the size of the documentation in the Saville (Bloody Sunday) Inquiry. That took about four years after the actual hearings ceased so how long would it have been before the War Logs saw the light of day.

Think back about the other subjects where public suspicion does not line up with official claims and explanations. Shortage of helicopters? No - we have given the commanders on the ground all they have asked for. Numbers of grievously wounded? Calculations differ. Incidence of mental stress and PTSD amongst returning troops? Fudged.

So - we cannot accuse our leaders of pursuing Boomerang tactics on a wide front. They just lie. "Tell them anything to keep them quiet. The radio station is ours"

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What price progress

Kabul 40 years ago and the same spot today. No knowing who did what but it shows just what 'prograss' has been made.
(Click on image to enlarge)

The moral high ground

In my estimation, the most significant parts of the release of The Afghan Papers are those which reveal just how much was kept from us - the ultimate payers of the butcher's bills. All of those taken from us have been portrayed as heroes fighting for the highest moral reasons but it seems possible that some at least of the Coalition forces and their operational tactics were tainted goods. The mission of Army etc. PR has been to show we were winning and were a universal benefit to all Afghans - even the enemy who would turn aside from their evil ways and become true democrats with a small d. We have been conned into following the leads of the politicians and high ranking Service chiefs by propaganda that we were winning. Hearts and minds figure in every think piece or amplifications of military tactics.

But we have not been achieving anything. The enemy has been able to extend its strength and assets with little resistance from our forces. Their refusal to accept us foreigners on their soil has been strengthened. We have not gained their hearts and most certainly not their minds.

There has been a greater price we have had to pay. Young and innocent soldiers must have been changed by what our politicians and their service leaders have demanded of them. It is not natural to direct deadly gunfire upon a bus load of civilians. Firing high explosive shells in the general direction of an inhabitated compound is not conduct that is born in us. Indoctrination to killing has always been a factor of military training but never on the scale or context we are now experiencing. We may be seeing the price of this change in the increased levels and severity of PTSD in those surviving physical harm and returning home.

I have a problem here. We are told that there exists groups of hunter-killer personnel who track and kill high value targets. Responsible to what level in the chain of command we do not know, they move around tactical areas screened even to their compatriots. Every time they saddle up and move on out like some 21st century posse they know that they will kill another human being before their duty is done. Their quarry will be gunned down with no suggestion that they be taken prisoner - extricating the hit squad post-engagement will be hazardous even without the presence of an un-cooperative prisoner. Anyone close to TargetMan will be caught up in a hail of bullets. There are indications in some reports where NATO-cartridge cases were found in amongst the dead that the troops had moved in close and finished off any witnesses or survivors.

What reason or justification do we have for what we did to the hearts and minds of these men? No Magnificent Seven high ideals here are there? What can we offer these men when their days as executioners are done? I write 'executioner' but at least those who function as such in society know that their subject had a fair trial and recourse to justice.

I appreciate that the objective of terrorism is to terrorise and that a terrorist will achieve much quicker results where they are feared rather than merely seen as defenders of a country and a religion. Pussy-footing around in dealing with such an enemy demands considerable levels of patience and may well not succeed anyway. All too easy to win the battle and lose the war. I do support interrogation when pursuing an objective. Even levels of questioning that cause severe pain, disorientation or mental stress. 'My' terrorist has to terrorise 'their' terrorist. It is a narrow line but I justify it because valuable intelligence may be obtained that will obviate deploying a hunter-killer group. But the questioners can do their work with a background that the person left on the floor of the cell is still alive. Or have we reached such levels of depravity that he too will be finished off when no longer useful? Given what I read and deduce from the Afghan Papers I cannot be sure of that even. Do the Ends justify the Means? Just where do the Ends achieved cancel out any benefit from the Means that were deployed?

I am left with an even more strong belief that we should end whatever we are doing in Afghanistan. We now know we went there for an unjustifiable reason. Even if it were ever justifiable it is no longer sustainable. Out now with no prevarication or bargaining of any form. Whatever claim we may make along the lines that we what we did or are doing is good is totally destroyed by consideration of what it is costing to continue the charade.

There is in place now widespread action to trace the whistle-blower and it is not intended to praise or reward him. Surely there can be no greater proof that our bosses are guilty of the most despicable conduct than this? If they are suffused with any idea that what they did was right, why this concern that their methods have been revealed? This is no way to counter evil.

What a lucky fellow am I!

This wedding of my daughter Caroline to Dan took us down to the Kent coast last week-end. It was second time for both of them but the 40-somethings had organised it all just as if they were star-struck teenagers. Caroline - as befits her parentage - is an organiser and innovator par excellence and we all had a really wonderful time at a very impressive service.

In the pre-match programme we were advised that it would be a Humanist Ceremony. This threw me a bit as the Humanist concept suggested cardboard coffins and earth closets. Not at all the sort of thing my luxury loving offspring would support at all. There did not seem much guidance in my Dummies Guide to World Religions so I consulted my religious guru. His explanation reassured me - thanks Robin - and I had the best suit pressed rather than having a fresh non-leather sole applied to the sandals and new orange dye for the Buddhist gown.

Both had worked at the ceremony and it reflected their attitudes to life in general as much as to each other. This may be why I felt it to be more convincing than a "Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here...." plighting of troths. We - the onlookers - were invited to join in at various stages; I had to restrict my urge to shout Alleluia and wave my hands in the air a couple of times. About half an hour so - just the right length.
Then champers on the lawn whilst the photographers - amateur and professional - did their thing. There again, the individuality of what we were doing shone through as Caroline had 'persuaded' a friend - a professional who normally avoids wedding work - to catch important and charming moments.

We then boarded a old Route Master bus and off to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway. A narrow gauge effort that took us to the breakfast at the end of the line. I think we must have done two full circuits of Hythe giving pedestrians full benefit of the sing along a'iPod choir - mainly 70s hits given the age of the majority of the guests.

We had a superb day and the journey through the countryside was really beautiful. Breakfast over it was time for speeches and here again the routine had been pushed aside. We had a speech from the daughter of the groom, my effort and then a closing effort from his nine year old son Tom which gave the lie to all those claims that children of today cannot read. And not just read - spoken with expression and understanding. We then had a musical soiree with a group led by new husband Dan who, I understand, taught himself to play the guitar just so he could play at his wedding. The commitment showed. Then back on the train and a run through the night back to Hythe and dispersal.

There was another dimension to our trip. It must be all of eight years since I have driven down from the top of England to the lower reaches and then around what must be a fairly typical English town. There is absolutely now way I can see myself moving out of Scotland. There is a frenetic air almost everywhere; an ants nest recently disturbed was a good description. All seemingly aimless and with no common purpose. The majority of buildings were unkempt, hedges not trimmed and gardens overgrown - nothing to extremes but none of the pride and the wish to conform I see locally North of the Borders. Far too much graffiti and stained road signs in need of a wash. The traffic was of the style that seemed always on the edge of Road Rage. I cannot recall a single smile or nod of the head from anyone - a feature that struck us here from the moment we arrived.

No England - you had your chance to shine but you blew it.