Archive for the 'Military Blogging' Category



Support Andrew Lubin’s Embed in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Andrew Lubin, who blogs at The Military Observer, is headed back to Afghanistan.  Andrew has authored articles we’ve used and quoted here, along with other work in Leatherneck, Small Wars Journal, Proceedings (U.S. Naval Institute), and others. He’s one of those few free-lance correspondents who goes out in the field with the Marines and soldiers; he understands both the strategies and tactics over which he writes.  He has embedded and written from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

He’s asking for support for his trip back to Afghanistan, and asked us to mention that his book “Charlie Battery; A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq”, is available for sale off his website. The book won the Military Writers Society of America’s 2007 Gold Medal for best military non-fiction, and selling it is how he funds his embeds. It’s a great book, and in this market, he needs all our support.  Without reader support, trips like this would not be possible.

Thoughts on the New Media and Military Blogging

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

Our friend Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal is soon to publish a number of perspectives on the new media.  Yours truly contributed a paragraph to this piece, so jump on over there to see if Dave has published this article yet.  If not, then jump over there tomorrow too.  In fact, make the SWJ a daily stop.  Since Dave will include our little paragraph it won’t be rehearsed here.  But as a perspective to occupy your attention over the weekend, here is a sober and yet snarky take on Milblogging from the perspective of The Captain’s Journal.

How is it possible to ascertain the difference TCJ makes, if any?  Very difficult.  TCJ thinks that the affect of the new media is very much a mixed bag, with the professional military still learning to deal with the openness and unstructured nature of it all.  TCJ knows with certainty at times that our efforts are not having the intended affect.  TCJ called out the Taliban strategy to target logistical lines one year before it began to occur and continued to harp on this issue repeatedly.  When nothing of strategic or tactical value comes from such efforts, we have failed, and failed badly.

Yet there are encouraging signs.  In our analysis of the battle of Wanat, TCJ extensively covered Observation Post Top Side and its role in the horrible affair.  We focused on the terrain and its role in Combat Outposts and counterinsurgency.  To our great delight, fellow blogger Slab from OpFor commented on this article.  He said “Where I think you hit the nail on the head is when you mention the terrain. The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.”

Later, using analysis tools TCJ noticed this article being studied at great length by a reader at the Counterinsurgency Center at Leavenworth.  The Captain went to bed happy that night.  Two counterinsurgency practitioners had discussed the issue of terrain in COIN without ever talking directly to each other.  They did so because the Captain wrote an article on the subject.  Mission accomplished.

Another such example occurred just today, with someone from Army.com network domain from Fort Benning who Googled the phrase “need for Army linguists in COIN,” with TCJ category Language in COIN coming up first on the first page (where The Enemy of My Enemy is linked).  Hopefully, someone somewhere will be persuaded to spend a few more dollars on teaching language to young warriors.

TCJ is mostly analysis and advocacy.  There is certainly a symbiotic relationship with the main stream media, but we believe that we are as valuable an analysis asset as anyone in the main stream media.  On occasion, we scoop exclusive interviews and other information, such as with intelligence sources in Ramadi that scooped us the word on the smuggling lines of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha being targeted and shut down with kinetic operations as a precursor to the “flipping” of the tribes in Anbar.  Our sources are as good or better than any in the main stream media.

It has been said that blogging is an exercise in vanity.  Perhaps, and perhaps not.  Maybe this is true only to a limited extent.  TCJ could get 100,000 visits per day (an impossibility good but hyperbole to make a point), but if it could be proven that we had not one iota of affect on policy, strategy, logistics or tactics, then this blog would be shut down tomorrow.  Visits are irrelevant if no impact is being made.

Milblogging can be hard work, regardless of what the reader may think.  If one is serious about these things and strives to make a difference, then he must study, read, think, stay up late pondering things that effect life and death, and think about the sons of America that have perished along the way, and the pain experienced by their parents or spouses.  If you’re trying to pick a hobby, there are much easier and more lighthearted things to do with your time.  This can be heavy stuff.

Now for the questions.  TCJ wants to know a few things.  When the donate button was up on the web site in an attempt to fund embeds for Jim Spiri and The Captain, why didn’t anyone donate a single dollar?  If this is an indication of the value of this web site, then why does this site bring visitors back regularly, and why has traffic increased?  With the high intelligence level of many of the readers of this web site – and there are some smart ones – why don’t we get more comments?  One has to register for the web site, but that’s easy.  One has to register for Michael Totten’s web site too, but he gets regular comments.  At one time the reader didn’t have to register for comments, but the hate mail, profanity and even threats in the comments created a need to bring more control.  Why has this resulted in much fewer comments?

More questions.  Why does TCJ have readers it doesn’t even know?  Granted, one can register for Feedburner and read the feed without ever visiting the site.  But why would a reader not drop a note and let us know they exist, and agree or disagree with our perspective?  Speaking of Feedburner, can someone please explain why the numbers fluctuate so wildly?  Why will it show 320 readers on Feedburner one morning, and 198 that night?  What does that mean?  And for that matter, how many Google Reader readers do we have?

Now to the sardonic and snarky.  TCJ absolutely, positively and completely refuses to compare ourselves with other blogs.  We won’t do it.  Period.  So readers should not do it.  We do what we do, others do what they do.  Leave others out of it.

And speaking of comparisons, what about that guy John Robb at Global Guerrillas?  Check out his Feedburner readers?  11416 at this writing.  Why isn’t TCJ that high?  In terms of comparison, we are as good as Robb, aren’t we?  Maybe we need to work harder on coming up with slick and pedantic acronyms for everything.  Or maybe would should talk more about swarm theory.  Then we would have 11416 readers instead of 320 – or 198 – or whatever.

One of the brighter sides of blogging like this is the exchange of e-mail that occurs between bloggers and professional military.  Guys like the Godfather of Milblogging, Matthew Currier Burden, knows who I am and is happy to talk with me.  TCJ has enjoyed the witty quips back and forth between Andrew Exum who blogs at Abu Muqawama.  It has been a pure pleasure to get to know Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal.  TCJ absolutely cherishes the long, thoughtful, scholarly and very personal notes back and forth with Col. Gian Gentile, Academy Professor and Military History Division Chief at West Point.  TCJ also appreciates all of the trust various professional military have placed in us, giving us first hand accounts, personal perspectives, good analysis and sometimes OPSEC (which of course TCJ doesn’t divulge).  This is always good for creating the right perspective, even if the information is too sensitive to share.  And TCJ is smart enough to know when something is too sensitive to share.  There are also more journalists and bloggers such as Andrew Lubin and Steve Schippert, who we consider very good friends, who have been kind, and who have played an important role in the evolution of TCJ.

Mostly, TCJ is thankful to God for the safe return of our very own warrior from Iraq in 2007, and soon-to-be safe return from the 26th MEU in 2009.  This blog existed as an outlet on sleepless nights waiting for that fateful knock at the door by a Marine Chaplain that didn’t happen.  If there is a single bit of worth to this blog it will be continued.  But this is so very difficult to measure.  What metric would one apply, and how would data be gathered to assess that metric?

There are still many questions, and this article hasn’t yielded any answers.

Blogs You Should Check Out

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

Every once in a while it’s appropriate to mention the blogs I find and follow.  One such blog is Rogue Gunner, a Brit, and an interesting and lively chap.  Ex-military, conservative viewpoints, and champion for the warrior.  Stop by and say hello.

Another such blog is an upstart named This Veteran’s Life, garrisoned by a Marine and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Finally, I am keeping in touch with T.T. Carnehan at Long Warrior, who is currently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is an absolute MUST read.  Quoting a letter from a 2nd grader from his blog:

Keep your blood while you still have it. Fight with all your might. Kill people, steal weapons. You know, I used to be a soldier myself. I have mechanical hands now though. I was also a prisoner for 5 years.
Attention,
Sergeant Matt

And yet another real event he witnessed in Afghanistan.

Oh by the way, I saw a fully loaded passenger bus with a pickup truck and a station wagon strapped to the roof. The bus was on a jack while the driver changed a tire.

A fully loaded passenger bus with a pickup truck and station wagon strapped to the roof – on a jack.  And why didn’t you get a picture, Carnehan?  It would have been worth something.

At any rate, with our mechanical hand we salute all three of these blogs and ask that you send us any weapons that you steal.

I want to be an embedded journalist!

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

On February 21, 2008, sitting in for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, Michael Totten linked an article by Michael Yon, in which he said the following:

It no longer makes economic sense for many news agencies to keep people here. Those who do stay operate at a loss. If making a profit is important, reporting from Iraq is a bad business decision. This seems to be holding for the new or alternative media as well. I haven’t seen a blogger in maybe a year, though I know that some, like Michael Totten and Matt Sanchez, have spent a good deal of time embedded with the troops. Matt Sanchez seems to have more staying power than most; he says he’s spent eight months here.

The best reporting comes from reporters who have spent the most time on the ground here, because the context is complex and evolving. Long distance reporting is like exploring the moon through a telescope. To get a feel for the ground here, a journalist has to be like Captain Kirk. I have often commented on how very different the reality is over here from what most Americans seem to think it is. There is no way to explain how different, except to say “you would have to be here to understand it.” When mainstream reporters get the story wrong, it’s usually because they lack the context and depth of experience necessary to correctly interpret what they see and hear. The same is true for bloggers, some of whom are grandiose in implying that they spend a significant amount of time in the field, but an inventory and audit would not support the claims.

The mainstream media continues to carry the overwhelming bulk of the load. On the other hand, bloggers like Bob Owens, Blackfive, Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin, have served as important media watchdogs, without whom shoddy coverage of the war likely never would have been revealed. Hopefully they will continue to apply spotlights to keep as much accurate and quality reporting as possible, regardless of whether it comes from mainstream or alternative sources.

In Mosul this week, at least five other writers and two photographers were here, from such organizations as The Washington Post, New York Times, The Telegraph and Agence France-Presse. All seven are veteran international reporters, and most have substantial experience covering wars. I have never been in a group of journalists in Iraq where all of us had so much war experience. The A-team is definitely here. Yet by the time of the American presidential election, the Iraq news stream likely will have diminished to almost nothing, precisely when events over here will demand the most skilled and experienced reporters. That is when, bets are on, many of the bloggers will again trumpet Iraq-experience they do not possess. Fact is, for battlefield reporting, mainstream media retains a virtual monopoly, and the bloggers are not in a position to compete, or at least are utterly failing to compete on teh (sic) most important battle ground: the ground. These harsh truths come as plea to bloggers to get over here and walk the walk. Alternative voices are needed. Stop talking. Start walking.

Michael Totten agreed with Yon in his post at Instapundit.  On February 24, 2008, Pete Hegseth writing at National Review Online also lamented the current paucity of reporters traveling to Iraq.  A little of my history is in order at this point.  I began blogging as an honor to my son in the Marines.  As I learned more and shared his experiences – if only in words, reading and visits - I grew in my blogging efficiency and experience.  Before long, it was time for my son to deploy to Iraq.  He and his unit left in April of 2007, deploying to FOB Reaper in Fallujah in support of Operation Alljah.  As a side note, the interview with Lt. Col. William F. Mullen (now Colonel Mullen) had to get me by (along with some good embedded reporting by Bill Ardolino).  As I told Colonel Mullen (only partially joking), I would have given my right testicle to be there in Fallujah with my son, but I couldn’t find a buyer for my right testicle.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I had talked a good bit with Michael Fumento about the cost and difficulty of embedding, and I knew that it was almost always a money-losing proposition.  But I thought I had it worked out.  David Danelo (who is a great journalist and writer, combat experienced warrior, and all around good guy) and I had been discussing the possibility of sending me to Iraq to meet my son.  At this time David was with U.S. Cavalry On Point.  By the time I had gotten my things about in order to go, I found out that David had left U.S. Cavalry to pursue other things (and I feel sure that we will benefit in the future from his work).  For reasons that I don’t now know and probably never will, the funding dried up and I was left without a way to Iraq.

But let’s be more precise; it’s more than just “a way to Iraq.”  The costs are huge.  I knew about the body armor, the photographic equipment, the laptop, the satellite uplink equipment some bloggers use, the airplane fare, the wasted time in airports and through customs, the hotel fees prior to entry to Iraq, etc.  But until I had thought about it, it didn’t occur to me that the biggest expense for a blogger is the loss of his salary.  Danelo had a soft agreement with me to pay me for stories to match the loss of my salary.  But in order to embed for any length of time (say a month or two), this cost becomes exorbitant.  After Michael Totten linked Yon and weighed in that he also would like to see more bloggers embed, I conversed with Michael Totten by e-mail.

Michael’s advice was stark.  It is always a money-losing proposition.  He tells me that Bill Ardolino takes vacation time in order to keep costs down, but of course, this is a good option only insofar as you are certain that you won’t need it later for home repair, dependent care time, or other needful life exigencies.  Michael Yon operates on a shoestring budget, Michael Totten always loses money even though he sells his stories to main stream media outlets, Bill Ardolino takes vacation time, Michael Fumento always loses his own money, and so on the list goes.  And these journalists get thousands of visits per day to their site (and have built a loyal following from which to draw funds), while I get a pitiful 300 – 400 visits per day.  Further, the number of actual committed readers who would be willing to contribute is unknown, but is probably far less than 400.  Please note that I’m not complaining.  I’m simply drawing out the facts of the matter.

My son’s unit will deploy again this year.  He doesn’t know where, and thus we don’t know where.  It could be Afghanistan, or it could be Iraq, or it could be a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit), or it could be a MEU and Afghanistan, or a MEU and Iraq, or some of all of the above.  But wherever it is, I will want to go with him so badly that I would give my right testicle.  But I am not a wealthy man, and the funds I have to contribute towards such an embed are essentially non-existent.  In other words, I don’t have $20,000 of “throw-away” money.  And I’ve checked with my horrible hometown newspaper, and they get the horrible McClatchy to do their embedded reporting.  They have no money for such things, relying, I am told by the editors, on AP and UPI and McClatchy press releases.  So much for the “news.”

It sounds nice to encourage (even goad) bloggers into embedding with the troops.  If it were not for the fact that I have studied this a bit, I might even feel somewhat guilty for not being there in order to report on the facts.  But Michael Yon said it as well as anyone while in the middle of this encouragement to go: “those who do stay operate at a loss.”  It has nothing whatsoever to do with profit.  It has entirely to do with losses.  For now the alternative (or new) media is just that.  Main stream media has the money and we don’t.  Insofar as this condition continues, we will continue to have a symbiotic relationship with the main stream media, and they will get the lion’s share of the embeds.  Plain and simple, it’s just the dollars and sense of the issue.

The Captain’s Journal Turns a Page

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

Every now and again it helps to sit for a minute to ponder and reflect.  The Captain’s Journal turns a page with 200,000 visits.

tcj_turns_a_page.jpg

The picture below shows the reach of the Captain’s Journal on a typical day.  This Google Analytics map was from February 22, 2008, with 428 visits.

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The reach extends from Rawalpindi (the home of the Pakistan Army Headquarters), to Lahore, Kabul, Sydney, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Austin, Alexandria, the Pentagon, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, Kirtland AFB, Charleston AFB, F.E. Warren AFB, and so on.

 My friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen told me once that “the goal of writing is to change someone’s mind, we know not whom.”  Indeed, I know not whom, but I suppose that I’ll keep writing since I haven’t caused any harm yet.  I thank all of my readers, not just the high profile military visits.

Why you should be reading The Captain’s Journal

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

So why should you be reading The Captain’s Journal?  Quite simply, because we are finding the obscure information, connecting the dots, and giving you the analysis before it becomes analysis to other analysts.  Let’s go over two cases in point.

USA Today reports on confiscated weapons piling up in Iraq.

Coalition forces have uncovered more insurgent weapons caches in the first six months of this year than the entire previous year, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday.
The record number of seizures is due largely to a new U.S. strategy that has moved American forces off bases and into neighborhoods, generating more tips from civilians. Offensives have also disrupted insurgent sanctuaries, Petraeus said.

Uncovering weapons caches are one of several signs of recent military progress, Petraeus said. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will travel to Washington in September to give an assessment of the new strategy in Iraq, which is backed by an additional 30,000 American troops.

“We feel as if we have momentum, tactical momentum,” Petraeus said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Petraeus cautioned that challenges remain and insurgent groups maintain the ability to carry out large attacks. “I don’t want to paint a rosy picture,” he said.

Uncovering the caches, which can include everything from rockets and surface-to-air missiles to assault weapons and components for roadside bombs, gets weapons out of the hands of insurgents.

It’s also a sign of how prevalent weapons and ammunition are in Iraq. The numbers of arms caches uncovered so far this year is 3,698, up from 2,726 last year, according to the military command in Iraq. “It’s staggering,” Petraeus said.

General Petraeus, not a man given to superlative or exaggeration, says the numbers are “staggering!”  But we have been reporting on this and analyzing it for some time now.  On April 27, 2007, we reported that the Government Accounting Office  informed us as to just how important pre-war planning and post-invasion manpower was to securing weapons:

Unattended Iraqi ammunition depots provide the majority of explosives used by insurgents to attack U.S. and coalition troops with improvised explosive devices, according to a Government Accountability Office report released April 27.

“There’s an unknown number of sites that remain unsecured today,? GAO Director Davi D’Agostino said.

Drawing from after-action reports and input from military leaders, the report blames inadequate Operation Iraqi Freedom planning for the unsecured munitions.

“According to lessons-learned reports and senior level DoD officials, the widespread looting occurred because DoD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions,? the report states.

On March 2, 2007, we gave you this analysis:

Within the past couple of weeks, the Multi-National Force web site has focused a dizzying amount of attention on weapons caches, including (but not limited to) the following six press releases:

This is of course partially a result of the increased kinetic action as part of the security plan.  But the weapons, in addition to being shipped in from Syria and Iran, were there under the previous regime.

Four years after the Iraq war began, the country remains awash in Saddam-era munitions that provide key ingredients for homemade bombs used against U.S. troops, according to administration documents and military officials.

More than $1 billion has been spent to clear about 15,000 sites of the unsecured weapons. To clear the remaining 3,391 sites, the Pentagon says it needs part of a $1.2 billion request for items to protect U.S. troops in Iraq …

More than 400,000 tons of weapons have been destroyed, and another 19,000 tons have been set aside for the Iraqi army, he said.

“There’s no telling how many soldiers and Iraqi civilians that we’ve saved by the amount of stuff we’re taking off the streets,? Sargent said.

UPI currently has a report on the weapons accounting system being overwhelmed.

WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) — An overwhelmed inventory-control system has left thousands of weapons earmarked for Iraqi security forces unaccounted for, a report warned Tuesday.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Tuesday that concluded a lack of standard procedures had resulted in a lack of assurance that Iraqi forces were indeed getting all of the equipment intended for them.

The situation has resulted in about 110,000 AK-47 rifles unaccounted for as well as thousands of handguns, helmets and bulletproof vests. While the GAO did not determine if the discrepancy meant the weapons were actually missing, it said changes were definitely desired.

“Given the Department of Defense’s request for an additional $2 billion to develop Iraqi security forces, improving accountability procedures can help ensure that the equipment purchased with these funds reaches the intended recipients,” the GAO said. “In addition, adequate accountability procedures can help … identify Iraqi forces’ legitimate equipment needs, thereby supporting the effective development of these forces.”

The report said part of the problem was the use of a spreadsheet reporting system that was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of equipment involved, too few trained logistics personnel and the inevitable data-entry errors.

The Defense Department concurred that more standardization of logistics accounting was needed and said officials were working on beefing up oversight and security.

But on November 2, 2006, we discussed the beginnings of knowledge of this problem:

… in an interesting finding by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, we have learned that there are many missing U.S. weapons in Iraq:

The Pentagon cannot account for 14,030 weapons – almost 4 percent of the semiautomatic pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons it began supplying to Iraq since the end of 2003, according to a report from the office of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The missing weapons will not be tracked easily: The Defense Department registered the serial numbers of only about 10,000 of the 370,251 weapons it provided – less than 3 percent.

Turning to a domestic issue, the New York Times has an opinion piece on radiological terrorism.

Most analysts believe that about 10 people would die from radiation poisoning after a dirty bomb attack. Others believe that the only people likely to receive a lethal dose of radiation from a dirty bomb would already be dead from the blast. A perfectly feasible terrorist attack using the ingestion, inhalation or immersion of radioactive material, on the other hand, would be almost certain to kill hundreds. We call attacks of these kinds I-cubed attacks (for ingestion, inhalation and immersion). Such attacks can be sneaky, unaccompanied by a flash and bang …

The analysts’ favored isotope for a radiological terrorist attack has been cesium-137, which emits very energetic gamma radiation capable of traveling many yards in the air or penetrating lead shielding. Cesium is a nasty chemical. Even its non-radioactive form is highly poisonous.

Fortunately, it’s hard to kill a lot of people with an ingestion attack. Contaminating a reservoir, or even a water main, is ineffective because the radioactivity is quickly diluted, and most water is not used for drinking or cooking. Contaminating agricultural products is similarly difficult. But there are ways, if the terrorist group has enough material and access to the right kinds of facilities, to contaminate food directly.

An inhalation attack, sometimes called a smoky bomb, would use radioisotopes that can be burned, vaporized or aerosolized, and in a confined space could contaminate the air and be inhaled. Isotopes like polonium-210 that emit alpha particles are particularly effective because they can kill either quickly by radiation poisoning or slowly by causing lung cancer. Terrorists could also use something like an insecticide sprayer mounted on a truck to disperse, for example, a polonium compound dissolved in water.

An immersion attack, which would drench victims with a radioactive solution, could kill with only a small fraction of a teaspoon. Just a few drops of contaminated water on the mouth are enough to cause radiation poisoning. The first instinct of somebody soaked with water is to wipe his face, which transfers the isotope from hand to mouth. Even if the victims avoided getting any water inside their bodies, the solution would cause severe radiation burns.

I-cubed attacks are enabled by the easy availability of comparatively large alpha-emitting sources (sources 10 percent the size of a lethal dose can be bought with a specific license) and by the fact that cesium-137 is normally supplied for use in cancer therapy machines, hospital blood sterilizers and elsewhere in industry as a water-soluble powder, the most dangerous possible form.

Water-soluble cesium chloride should be taken off the market immediately. Cesium-137 can instead be supplied embedded in glass. In addition, very large cesium sources are used in places like hospitals. They should be replaced by powerful X-ray machines, which can deliver the same energy radiation in substantially the same quantities.

Cesium-137 is not the only isotope that radiological terrorists might use. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes that alpha-emitting isotopes like polonium-210 and americium are adequately regulated, but we believe that the quantities supplied without a specific license should be reduced by about a factor of 10. In all cases they should be supplied in hard-to-weaponize forms. The regulatory commission has not been diligent in checking the bona fides of applicants for licenses for large sources of any kind, but thankfully this is being changed.

In the United States, commercial users lose about one radioactive source a day — many large enough for I-cubed attacks — through theft, accidents or poor paperwork. One of these is recovered perhaps every two days, either because the radioactive materials are voluntarily returned or because of good detective work. Many of the losses occur because license holders are negligent. Criminal penalties should be enacted, as they are for some other hazardous materials, to allow prosecution of license holders in the most serious cases.

On July 6, 2007, in Dirty Bombs and Proper Control of Radioactive Material, we covered radioactive sources, their loss, and government efforts to locate these lost sources.  We also discussed aerosolization of radioactive material and the tactic of using confined spaces to cause high specific activity (or concentration) and thus high internal doses to the victims.  And just to be technically correct, Cs-137 doesn’t emit a gamma.  It decays by beta emission to Ba-137m, which emits a relatively low energy gamma (0.662 MeV) compared to some isotopes (greater than 3 MeV).

This remains the most significant tactic, the others paling in comparison.  Still, Michael Fumento and I have agreed on the issue of weapons delivered in this manner.  Similar to the juvenile chlorine attacks in the Anbar Province several months ago (which ceased when the insurgents learned that they weren’t very effective), a radiological attack of this sort would yield far fewer casualties than simple random firing of an automatic weapon in a shopping mall.  Its primary goal would be to instill terror and fear (of course, firing an automatic weapon in a shopping mall would do that as well).

Discretely delivered radioactive materials, however, especially alpha emitting radionuclides such as actinides, are a different story (such as being surreptitiously placed in food stuffs).  Also, actinides can be created without the assistance of formally approved suppliers.  See the account of the radioactive boy scout who fabricated a crude breeder reactor in his garage (and also see here).

Innovation and hard work amount to just about everything, the boy scout found out.  And in that vein, while we do not supply you with the vast quantities of easily digestible material that some other Military bloggers do, we hope that when you stop by The Captain’s Journal, it is an enlightening and worthwhile read.  Our aim here is to give you the analysis before it becomes analysis to other analysts.

Why you should be reading The Captain’s Journal

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

So why should you be reading The Captain’s Journal?  Quite simply, because we are finding the obscure information, connecting the dots, and giving you the analysis before it becomes analysis to other analysts.  Let’s go over two cases in point.

USA Today reports on confiscated weapons piling up in Iraq.

Coalition forces have uncovered more insurgent weapons caches in the first six months of this year than the entire previous year, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday.
The record number of seizures is due largely to a new U.S. strategy that has moved American forces off bases and into neighborhoods, generating more tips from civilians. Offensives have also disrupted insurgent sanctuaries, Petraeus said.

Uncovering weapons caches are one of several signs of recent military progress, Petraeus said. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will travel to Washington in September to give an assessment of the new strategy in Iraq, which is backed by an additional 30,000 American troops.

“We feel as if we have momentum, tactical momentum,” Petraeus said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

Petraeus cautioned that challenges remain and insurgent groups maintain the ability to carry out large attacks. “I don’t want to paint a rosy picture,” he said.

Uncovering the caches, which can include everything from rockets and surface-to-air missiles to assault weapons and components for roadside bombs, gets weapons out of the hands of insurgents.

It’s also a sign of how prevalent weapons and ammunition are in Iraq. The numbers of arms caches uncovered so far this year is 3,698, up from 2,726 last year, according to the military command in Iraq. “It’s staggering,” Petraeus said.

General Petraeus, not a man given to superlative or exaggeration, says the numbers are “staggering!”  But we have been reporting on this and analyzing it for some time now.  On April 27, 2007, we reported that the Government Accounting Office  informed us as to just how important pre-war planning and post-invasion manpower was to securing weapons:

Unattended Iraqi ammunition depots provide the majority of explosives used by insurgents to attack U.S. and coalition troops with improvised explosive devices, according to a Government Accountability Office report released April 27.

“There’s an unknown number of sites that remain unsecured today,? GAO Director Davi D’Agostino said.

Drawing from after-action reports and input from military leaders, the report blames inadequate Operation Iraqi Freedom planning for the unsecured munitions.

“According to lessons-learned reports and senior level DoD officials, the widespread looting occurred because DoD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions,? the report states.

On March 2, 2007, we gave you this analysis:

Within the past couple of weeks, the Multi-National Force web site has focused a dizzying amount of attention on weapons caches, including (but not limited to) the following six press releases:

This is of course partially a result of the increased kinetic action as part of the security plan.  But the weapons, in addition to being shipped in from Syria and Iran, were there under the previous regime.

Four years after the Iraq war began, the country remains awash in Saddam-era munitions that provide key ingredients for homemade bombs used against U.S. troops, according to administration documents and military officials.

More than $1 billion has been spent to clear about 15,000 sites of the unsecured weapons. To clear the remaining 3,391 sites, the Pentagon says it needs part of a $1.2 billion request for items to protect U.S. troops in Iraq …

More than 400,000 tons of weapons have been destroyed, and another 19,000 tons have been set aside for the Iraqi army, he said.

“There’s no telling how many soldiers and Iraqi civilians that we’ve saved by the amount of stuff we’re taking off the streets,? Sargent said.

UPI currently has a report on the weapons accounting system being overwhelmed.

WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) — An overwhelmed inventory-control system has left thousands of weapons earmarked for Iraqi security forces unaccounted for, a report warned Tuesday.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Tuesday that concluded a lack of standard procedures had resulted in a lack of assurance that Iraqi forces were indeed getting all of the equipment intended for them.

The situation has resulted in about 110,000 AK-47 rifles unaccounted for as well as thousands of handguns, helmets and bulletproof vests. While the GAO did not determine if the discrepancy meant the weapons were actually missing, it said changes were definitely desired.

“Given the Department of Defense’s request for an additional $2 billion to develop Iraqi security forces, improving accountability procedures can help ensure that the equipment purchased with these funds reaches the intended recipients,” the GAO said. “In addition, adequate accountability procedures can help … identify Iraqi forces’ legitimate equipment needs, thereby supporting the effective development of these forces.”

The report said part of the problem was the use of a spreadsheet reporting system that was quickly overwhelmed by the volume of equipment involved, too few trained logistics personnel and the inevitable data-entry errors.

The Defense Department concurred that more standardization of logistics accounting was needed and said officials were working on beefing up oversight and security.

But on November 2, 2006, we discussed the beginnings of knowledge of this problem:

… in an interesting finding by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, we have learned that there are many missing U.S. weapons in Iraq:

The Pentagon cannot account for 14,030 weapons – almost 4 percent of the semiautomatic pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons it began supplying to Iraq since the end of 2003, according to a report from the office of the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The missing weapons will not be tracked easily: The Defense Department registered the serial numbers of only about 10,000 of the 370,251 weapons it provided – less than 3 percent.

Turning to a domestic issue, the New York Times has an opinion piece on radiological terrorism.

Most analysts believe that about 10 people would die from radiation poisoning after a dirty bomb attack. Others believe that the only people likely to receive a lethal dose of radiation from a dirty bomb would already be dead from the blast. A perfectly feasible terrorist attack using the ingestion, inhalation or immersion of radioactive material, on the other hand, would be almost certain to kill hundreds. We call attacks of these kinds I-cubed attacks (for ingestion, inhalation and immersion). Such attacks can be sneaky, unaccompanied by a flash and bang …

The analysts’ favored isotope for a radiological terrorist attack has been cesium-137, which emits very energetic gamma radiation capable of traveling many yards in the air or penetrating lead shielding. Cesium is a nasty chemical. Even its non-radioactive form is highly poisonous.

Fortunately, it’s hard to kill a lot of people with an ingestion attack. Contaminating a reservoir, or even a water main, is ineffective because the radioactivity is quickly diluted, and most water is not used for drinking or cooking. Contaminating agricultural products is similarly difficult. But there are ways, if the terrorist group has enough material and access to the right kinds of facilities, to contaminate food directly.

An inhalation attack, sometimes called a smoky bomb, would use radioisotopes that can be burned, vaporized or aerosolized, and in a confined space could contaminate the air and be inhaled. Isotopes like polonium-210 that emit alpha particles are particularly effective because they can kill either quickly by radiation poisoning or slowly by causing lung cancer. Terrorists could also use something like an insecticide sprayer mounted on a truck to disperse, for example, a polonium compound dissolved in water.

An immersion attack, which would drench victims with a radioactive solution, could kill with only a small fraction of a teaspoon. Just a few drops of contaminated water on the mouth are enough to cause radiation poisoning. The first instinct of somebody soaked with water is to wipe his face, which transfers the isotope from hand to mouth. Even if the victims avoided getting any water inside their bodies, the solution would cause severe radiation burns.

I-cubed attacks are enabled by the easy availability of comparatively large alpha-emitting sources (sources 10 percent the size of a lethal dose can be bought with a specific license) and by the fact that cesium-137 is normally supplied for use in cancer therapy machines, hospital blood sterilizers and elsewhere in industry as a water-soluble powder, the most dangerous possible form.

Water-soluble cesium chloride should be taken off the market immediately. Cesium-137 can instead be supplied embedded in glass. In addition, very large cesium sources are used in places like hospitals. They should be replaced by powerful X-ray machines, which can deliver the same energy radiation in substantially the same quantities.

Cesium-137 is not the only isotope that radiological terrorists might use. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes that alpha-emitting isotopes like polonium-210 and americium are adequately regulated, but we believe that the quantities supplied without a specific license should be reduced by about a factor of 10. In all cases they should be supplied in hard-to-weaponize forms. The regulatory commission has not been diligent in checking the bona fides of applicants for licenses for large sources of any kind, but thankfully this is being changed.

In the United States, commercial users lose about one radioactive source a day — many large enough for I-cubed attacks — through theft, accidents or poor paperwork. One of these is recovered perhaps every two days, either because the radioactive materials are voluntarily returned or because of good detective work. Many of the losses occur because license holders are negligent. Criminal penalties should be enacted, as they are for some other hazardous materials, to allow prosecution of license holders in the most serious cases.

On July 6, 2007, in Dirty Bombs and Proper Control of Radioactive Material, we covered radioactive sources, their loss, and government efforts to locate these lost sources.  We also discussed aerosolization of radioactive material and the tactic of using confined spaces to cause high specific activity (or concentration) and thus high internal doses to the victims.  And just to be technically correct, Cs-137 doesn’t emit a gamma.  It decays by beta emission to Ba-137m, which emits a relatively low energy gamma (0.662 MeV) compared to some isotopes (greater than 3 MeV).

This remains the most significant tactic, the others paling in comparison.  Still, Michael Fumento and I have agreed on the issue of weapons delivered in this manner.  Similar to the juvenile chlorine attacks in the Anbar Province several months ago (which ceased when the insurgents learned that they weren’t very effective), a radiological attack of this sort would yield far fewer casualties than simple random firing of an automatic weapon in a shopping mall.  Its primary goal would be to instill terror and fear (of course, firing an automatic weapon in a shopping mall would do that as well).

Discretely delivered radioactive materials, however, especially alpha emitting radionuclides such as actinides, are a different story (such as being surreptitiously placed in food stuffs).  Also, actinides can be created without the assistance of formally approved suppliers.  See the account of the radioactive boy scout who fabricated a crude breeder reactor in his garage (and also see here).

Innovation and hard work amount to just about everything, the boy scout found out.  And in that vein, while we do not supply you with the vast quantities of easily digestible material that some other Military bloggers do, we hope that when you stop by The Captain’s Journal, it is an enlightening and worthwhile read.  Our aim here is to give you the analysis before it becomes analysis to other analysts.

A Few Good Men — or Not

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

It seems as if half of the blog-0-sphere has spilled ink on the issue of young Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his ugly charges: mass graves in Baghdad (in my city we call these ‘cemeteries’), mental abuse of IED victims, and other such things (see here, here, here, here and here).  I have resisted as long as I can, and feel that I should have shared my thoughts long ago.  So now, TCJ weighs in on the young Private.

I think we should have an investigation.  The PAOs and lawyers could lead it.  Perhaps we should transfer Beauchamp.  Yes I suppose that’s right.  I suppose that’s the thing to do.  Wait.  Wait.  I’ve got a better idea.  Let’s transfer the whole squad off the base.  Let’s — on second thought, the whole division … let’s transfer ‘em off the base.  Go on out there and get those boys down off the fence, they’re packing their bags.

Get me the President on the phone; tell him we’re surrendering our position in Baghdad.  Wait a minute.  We won’t call the President just yet.  Perhaps we ought to consider this a second.  Maybe we have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals.  Yes.  I’m certain I once read that somewhere.  And now I’m thinking that our idea of investigations and hand wringing and surrender, while expeditious, and certainly painless, might not be in a manner of speaking, the American way.

Young Private Beauchamp has had a lot of extra time on his hands.  He has had time to send e-mail, make telephone calls, and perhaps even eat ice cream.  After all, they have a dining hall, a place to actually sit and eat chow.  After considering surrender, I have changed my mind and I advocate training young Beauchamp.  Yes, that’s it!  There are Marines in Combat Outposts in Fallujah who have no chance to eat ice cream in dining halls.  They take showers by using baby wipes, and they have to burn their human waste in pits of stinking fire.  They have no electrical power, and no amenities.  They certainly don’t write e-mails home to use as articles for or against anything.  They are busy 20 hours out of the day, and sometimes 24 hours out of the day.

Young Beauchamp needs to be trained.  He badly needs to stay busy.  Young Beauchamp needs to be on patrol, picking up a rifle and standing a post, and contributing to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Let’s send him out to the Combat Outposts where he will learn to work.  His unit badly needs discipline and motivation.  The United States of America has an obligation to instill these things and train young Private Beauchamp.  I am certain that I read that somewhere.

A Few Good Men — or Not

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

It seems as if half of the blog-0-sphere has spilled ink on the issue of young Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his ugly charges: mass graves in Baghdad (in my city we call these ‘cemeteries’), mental abuse of IED victims, and other such things (see here, here, here, here and here).  I have resisted as long as I can, and feel that I should have shared my thoughts long ago.  So now, TCJ weighs in on the young Private.

I think we should have an investigation.  The PAOs and lawyers could lead it.  Perhaps we should transfer Beauchamp.  Yes I suppose that’s right.  I suppose that’s the thing to do.  Wait.  Wait.  I’ve got a better idea.  Let’s transfer the whole squad off the base.  Let’s — on second thought, the whole division … let’s transfer ‘em off the base.  Go on out there and get those boys down off the fence, they’re packing their bags.

Get me the President on the phone; tell him we’re surrendering our position in Baghdad.  Wait a minute.  We won’t call the President just yet.  Perhaps we ought to consider this a second.  Maybe we have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals.  Yes.  I’m certain I once read that somewhere.  And now I’m thinking that our idea of investigations and hand wringing and surrender, while expeditious, and certainly painless, might not be in a manner of speaking, the American way.

Young Private Beauchamp has had a lot of extra time on his hands.  He has had time to send e-mail, make telephone calls, and perhaps even eat ice cream.  After all, they have a dining hall, a place to actually sit and eat chow.  After considering surrender, I have changed my mind and I advocate training young Beauchamp.  Yes, that’s it!  There are Marines in Combat Outposts in Fallujah who have no chance to eat ice cream in dining halls.  They take showers by using baby wipes, and they have to burn their human waste in pits of stinking fire.  They have no electrical power, and no amenities.  They certainly don’t write e-mails home to use as articles for or against anything.  They are busy 20 hours out of the day, and sometimes 24 hours out of the day.

Young Beauchamp needs to be trained.  He badly needs to stay busy.  Young Beauchamp needs to be on patrol, picking up a rifle and standing a post, and contributing to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Let’s send him out to the Combat Outposts where he will learn to work.  His unit badly needs discipline and motivation.  The United States of America has an obligation to instill these things and train young Private Beauchamp.  I am certain that I read that somewhere.

Anniversary of the Blog and 2/6 Marines Golf Company

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

The July 14, 2007 edition of the WSJ  had a tribute to blogs, one section in which Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner discussed Milblogs.  Matthew Burden at Blackfive links this up with some blogs he likes to read.  There are many good resources listed in his post, but one of the links Matthew gives is The Captain’s Journal.  We are certainly undeserving of this kindness, but a word or two about Blackfive is appropriate.  In a world in which people and institutions are seldom worthy of the power or attention they are given, Blackfive is the most influential Milblog, and they are in the rarefied air of deserving this influence and attention.  They are tops.

On an slightly unrelated issue (but still pertaining to Milblogs), by Googling “Forward Operating Base Reaper” I stumbled across a new Milblogger named Jim Spiri, associated with the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has been embedded for five weeks with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Golf Company, and intends to be with them again soon.

Golf Company has seen the lion’s share of combat in Fallujah over the last three months, and is responsible for controlling the entire Southern half of Fallujah.  After talking some with Jim, he piped in, “I know your son.”  It is a blessing from God to talk a bit with a person who has been there recently and seen your son and his fire team.

I would embed if I had the funding, and although I thought that the funding was potentially available from an outside source, the opportunity seems to have dried up.  In lieu of reporting myself from Iraq, its nice to have friends there.


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