Military Intelligence

Teachers Failing the ASVAB?

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For the readers of my blog who don’t know, less than a week ago I changed my duty to station to Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, from Fort Drum. And thank goodness for that. My morale has already doubled based on the weather improvements alone. More on Hawaii later.

Yesterday I took part in my unit’s inprocessing with a  large group of new people. One female Staff Sergeant told me she was just coming off recruiting duty in the San Francisco area. I asked her if that was a particularly tough area to recruit in, given the high salaries common there, the average education levels and the lack of historic military culture. She assured me that it was indeed difficult to recruit, particularly given the Army’s cutbacks in which the standards for recruitment are higher than they were the two wars were raging.

Shocking to me, she said that sometimes people with Master’s degrees and teachers would fail the ASVAB test. The ASVAB is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The test was designed to help the Army fit people to the right jobs, as well as predict who will perform well.

I used to be skeptical of the ASVAB and intelligence tests in general. While I do think it’s impossible to design a test that can judge every facet of a person’s abilities, what with the mysterious chemistry of social skills, psychology and raw computational power, as well as the new aspects being studied concerning intelligence, such as fast thinking and slow thinking, my experience has shown that the ASVAB is indeed an adequate predictor of a person’s potential. I first noticed this at the NCO academy where some with low GT score really struggled with even basic concepts. There are of course exceptions, and I’ve seen those, too. GT is General Technical; a subcategory in the ASVAB and generally considered the most important aspect of the test. A GT score of 110 or higher will enable a person to work in almost any job in the Army, minus the ones that require extensive technical training such as surgeons and some higher sciences in R+D; those jobs require higher degrees. The GT highly correlates with IQ, but much of the ASVAB measures “crystalized intelligence”; raw knowledge that does not necessarily require logic to recall. The ASVAB was sited in Charles Murray’s controversial book, “The Bell Curve”, in which he contends that the ASVAB does an adequate job of measuring intelligence and thus performance.

The Army put a lot of research into the ASVAB. Studies show that just as with IQ, people with higher ASVAB scores are more successful in their job. Again, my experience in my own office at Fort Drum showed this to be the case.

The ASVAB score is based on a percentile of the population that took the test. If a person scores an  80 on the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test ; the raw score on the ASVAB), this means that he performed better than 80 percent of the people who took the rest. The Army’s minimum standard for passing is a 31, which is pretty abysmal. When I was at the Army’s Intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, there were some people with very high ASVAB scores in my class. We had about 60 people and two people scored a 99 on the test. I scored a 94 with a 133 GT, which placed me third in my class. I think I would have done slightly better if I had just come out of college like those two other guys did as it had been well over a decade since I took regular standardized tests of much importance. I struggled to remember how to solve  some of the higher math problems, problems I hadn’t worked on since high school. But there’s no question those guys were bright.

For someone with a Master’s degree or a teacher to fail the ASVAB is to me, frightening. It may not be easy to do extremely well on the test, but it seems almost impossible to fail if one can read. My question is, how is this possible? Have any readers met people with education that are this incompetent?

Making the Call

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During my time at the National Training Center earlier this month, my unit went through an intense training exercise involving all aspects of modern warfare.  I did my part as an intelligence analyst, reading (fake) intelligence reports, and trying to predict what the enemy was up to and what his capabilities were.  Reading the reports for over a weak, I came to the conclusion that the enemy was planning a large scale attack on a town called Qalati.

During a meeting over Adobe Connect with various other units in my battalion, as well as the Brigade intelligence section, I told the Brigade S2, a Major, that I suspected the attack on Qalati would involve at least 40 insurgent fighters, and as many as 200.  He was surprised, and asked where I was getting the high end number.

I made this assessment based on several factors. First, the area in Qalati the fake intelligence reports said the insurgents would attack was a small, but built-up and fully manned American base.  The insurgents were not stupid and I was sure understood that a large force was needed to successfully attack the base.  The reports also indicted that many insurgent leaders were taking an active role in the planning of this attack.  Additionally, I cheated a bit, like every good intelligence professional does. A previous exercise at NTC which was considered “out of play” as far as the overall scenario went, even though it took place at the same time as the big exercise and involved members of my unit, had several hundred insurgents attack a small outpost.  I spoke with the platoon leader that was stationed at the base during this time,  and he said the attacks resembled Soviet WWII human wave attacks.  So I knew NTC had the manpower to simulate such a situation, and NTC has a reputation for hitting units with almost un-winnable odds.

It wasn’t easy making this type of call to a Brigade level intelligence officer, especially with representatives from all the units listening in.  Later, I also produced a presentation for the Battalion Commander that stated the same thing, and that I also expected the Taliban to try to get a large number of suicide bombers into an American base, probably all at the same time, and possibly using a vehicle.  Nobody else was making the same predictions I was.  Most other predictions were safe equivocations.

Eventually, the attack came.  There were not 200 enemy fighters, but there were a significant number, perhaps 40 and there were suicide bombers–ten of them.  They attacked the American base in the town of Qalati as I’d written they would.  Yet nobody I worked with made this assessment, either because they simply didn’t come to the same conclusion, or because making the call put them at risk.

In the world of American intelligence, the goal is not so much to make the correct call, which requires that the analyst expose himself to criticism, but to foster a vague hypothesis which allow wiggle-room and will not raise eyebrows or offend sensibilities. An average intelligence report may read: “something bad may happen. Or it may not…”  I’m generalizing, but this is the essence of the matter.  But playing it safe does not at all appeal to me.  Anyone is capable of making generalized statements, equivocating, and sitting on fences.  If this were all that the military needs, we would not need analysts.  And yet such is the culture of zero-risk, most analysts are reduced to collectors of data, both because the system does not adequately select talented people and because that is what the system expects them to do.

I do not pretend to have a magical ability to predict the future.  I do claim to have an ability to instinctively see patterns and an above average ability to sense what an opponent may be thinking.  I possess an odd learning curve.  In almost everything I do, fellow classmates, team mates and colleagues start off ahead of me, but given time, I pass almost all of them.  When I learned a new language, my classmates started fast, but faded as I moved ahead.  When I play a new game, my opponent will usually beat me the first few games, but before long I see his patterns and make adjustments and end up on the winning end most often.  And so it is with intelligence analysis.  By instinct, which is really just a collation of all my experience, (read Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink, for a possible explanation) I seem to be able to make assessments that others dare not make.  My gut feelings even help in the office football pool.

I have my weaknesses.  Mostly that I tend to skim when I should read and reread.  Mostly because I may be bored and would prefer to feel what will happen as opposed to coldly consider.  I eschew charts and diagrams for pacing and pondering, though the former have a place in the intelligence world considering the mountains of data that must be sifted.  And there are some technical analysis fields where my instincts would have no place at all.

It should not surprise anyone that Libyan offshoots of al-Qaeda were able to pull of the attacks against US State Department personnel in Benghazi recently. The Libyan “government” cannot control the extremists in the country, since the extremists were the ones, along with NATO, that destroyed the former government and swiped all of the military’s weapons, including man-portable antiaircraft missiles  and chemical weapons. Libyan law is now in the hands of militias constituted by al-Qaeda and al-Shabab.   And it should surprise no one that American intelligence didn’t convince anyone of the dangers.  Most of America’s analysts are handcuffed by political correctness, a play-it-safe atmosphere and a lack of developed talent. And the Director of National Intelligence is a politically appointed position, currently held by a retired Cold War Air Force General, James Clapper.  In my opinion, Clapper disqualified himself for his position when he stated, in 2011, the following:

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood‘…is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” … “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera…..In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is essentially another name for Hamas.   Clapper seems ill prepared to understand the visceral nature of the war we are fighting, and will be fighting for several more decades.  He can see the figures, but he does not feel them.  It is likely though that someone did feel what was going to happen in Libya, and it is even more likely that the analyst dismissed his or her own beliefs because no one else saw a problem–they all wanted Libya to work the way we imagined it should.

I have never shied away from making the call.  Anyone can look through my older blog posts and see some of the things I’ve said, where I was correct or wrong.  I began reading the tea leaves in college, before I had much of a clue how anything works.  When it came to Libya and the Arab Spring, I wrote and spoke about the negative implications over a year ago when I was in Afghanistan.  Shortly after the attack on the State Department facility in Libya, an analyst whom I worked with while deployed emailed me:

“Well Doug, you certainly called it right, and well ahead of most people.

I remember you and talking about Libya, and the whole mess with AQ and other radicals positioning themselves in the so called Arab Spring and “democracy.” Apologies, excuses, appeasement, and other cowardly and failed methods are dominating US policy and action under the Administration.

It is going from bad to worse, and the Obama supporters still don’t get it, and refuse to see cause and effect.

Any way, hope you and your family are well, Battle Buddy.

I’m glad to be home and working online. I am working full time for [removed] and enjoying it much.

Have a great week.

V/R,

[Name Removed]

Not trying to pat myself on the back, but I think I’ll be relying on my instincts before I’ll listen to the ideologues and wishful thinkers.

Hezbollah sleeper cells and imminent war in the Middle East

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The Israeli Minister of Defense recently stated that Israel is prepared for 30 days of war with Iran. In fact, a shadow war, but a very real war never the less, has been ongoing between the two countries for months, with real people being killed by very real government-backed means.

Within the last year, at least 3 Iranian scientists who were working on Iran’s nuclear power program were assassinated.  Bombs exploded in their cars, killing them.  And there was the massively powerful cyberweapon, known as STUXNET, deployed against Iranian nuclear research facilities.  In what appears to be reprisals, terrorists targeted Israelis around the world in places like India, Georgia, and most recently in Bulgaria.  In this case, a suicide bomber walked onto a bus full of Israeli tourists and parked near an airport terminal , then detonated, killing 5 Israelis.  The bombing occurred in a popular Israeli vacation resort near the Black Sea.   Bulgarian domestic security released a video which shows the suspected suicide bomber walking inside the airport.  He is dressed in very casual western style clothing and has a light complexion.  I posted a video of the suspected bomber, below.

As a former law enforcement officer and current intelligence analyst I find the video and the overall bombing very disturbing for several reasons.  First, the bomber’s body language is staggeringly deceptive, offering no clues as to his true intent.  The man obviously received professional training, most probably from Iranian Quds Force and/or Hezbollah.  The man’s gait, posture and clothing are carefully crafted so as to defeat most attempts at profiling.  Secondly, the complexity of this operation was quite extensive.  The bomber had to penetrate an Eastern European country’s domestic security, most likely constructing the bomb there.  The bomber also looks very Western in complexion and mannerism.  Thirdly, a group of Israeli tourists had to be targeted and stalked.  This is different from an operation in which a high profile individual is targeted for assassination.  In that case it is quite simple to know where the high profile person will be, since he or she will be preceded by media reports, has a well known face, and may have an attached security detail.  This operation required extensive surveillance and testing of the existing security systems.  Also, the bomber possessed a fake Michigan driver’s license. 

Fake Michigan driver’s license found at bomb scene
Sketch of suspected suicide bomber in Bulgaria

All of this raises the question as to what Hezbollah has in store for Israel and America should Israel preemptively strike.  Readers should have no doubt that Hezbollah, sponsored by Iran, has placed sleeper cells around the world that are ready to “wake up” should they be called to action.  Though some of them already struck in response to the deaths of Iranian scientists and the STUXNET cyberweapon, it is logical to assume that Iran is holding back a considerable number of suicide bombers and saboteurs so as to control the political aspects of a future war.  It is an established fact that Hezbollah operates an organised crime ring in America, with million of dollars having been funneled to groups in Lebanon.[1]  Iran is the world’s foremost practitioner of 4th Generation Warfare.  Anyone who believes that this type of warfare is ineffective should consider the fact that Iran remained the number one state supporter of terrorism for decades without, until recently, sanctions leveled against it.  Iran has continued on the path of nuclear weapons without a single shot fired against it by the United States.  Iran has held hostage British sailors while parading them on camera against international law.  The Iranian government plotted the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to the US, without any repercussions, not even a strongly worded letter.  Iran provided fighters, bomb makers and Explosively Formed Projectiles  (EFPs) capable of slicing through the toughest of American armor, to insurgents in the Iraq war.  The American government willfully took no action against Iran despite knowing its government was killing American Soldiers. In some cases, American intelligence networks were told to avoid collecting information that proved Iranian complicity in American deaths.[2]  Iran also continues to sow chaos and discord in Iraq, forcing Iraqi prime minister Maliki to form an alliance with the Iranian regime.

There is simply no other way to interpret the lack of assertive action against Iran by the United States other than that the US government  is afraid of Iran.  The fact that the most powerful nation in history is scared of a country like Iran shows the effectiveness of 4G Warfare.  Iran knows it cannot win in a stand up fight against America.  It doesn’t need to, because the American government has little real idea of how to deal with 4th Generation fighters.  American politicians are far more concerned with polls and elections than the lives of American servicemen, otherwise the Iranians would have been taken care of years ago.  Terrorism targets public opinion and every terrorist loves a polling booth.  The proliferation of useful idiots who think that America can negotiate its way out of every bad situation has done nothing but empower Iran’s 4G warriors.

The Middle East is teetering on the edge of war.  The new Egyptian government openly states it is considering violating its peace treaty with Israel, Lebanon and Syria are in chaos, and Iran rushes toward obtaining the ultimate weapon while promising the destruction of Israel.  But perhaps most troubling is the lack of commitment from America as to which side it is on.  Our collapsing culture and post-modern morals  blind our government at a time when moral clarity is imperative

[1] Emerson, Steven, Jihad Incorporated”, pages 219-227, Prometheus Books, 2006

[2] O’hern, Steven, K. “The Intelligence Wars”, Chapter 4: Iran’s Shadow Falls Over Iraq, Prometheus Books, 2008

The Shaming of American Defense Intelligence

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Some in the  American Defense Intelligence community and Apparatchiks at the State Department have reduced themselves and their trade to a criminal activity.  Not by upholding their oaths and performing the expected duties of true US Intelligence Professionals, but by ignoring the oaths they swore, the creeds they were forced to memorize, with little to fear from the system that granted them the right to see secrets that protect people’s lives.

The Military Intelligence Corp’s Creed states, in portion, the following:

To find, know, and never lose the enemy.
With a sense of urgency and of tenacity, professional and physical fitness,
and above all, INTEGRITY, for in truth lies victory.

The last few years have seen a deluge of intelligence leaks, many from senior sources.  The Bradley Mannings of the world sit in solitary confinement for breaching America’s trust and breaking the law.  And so it should be.  But as the saying goes, Privates get into more trouble for losing their rifles than Generals do for losing wars.  A series of leaks from the Pentagon and State Department regarding the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities likely has purely political motivations: The current administration does not want to be drawn into another war before the next US election.

Whatever the motivation for the leaks, Americans should be concerned.  Not about black helicopters, CIA assassins, and 9-11 conspiracies, but because many in the intelligence community don’t care about their oaths or the lives of Americans or their allies.  For votes and political sway, secrets are sold–and no one goes to jail but the Army Private with a lot of personal and psychological problems.  I want to see the GS-15 analyst from the Pentagon, or Colonel, hauled off in chains for giving away secrets.  I’m not even sure there’s an investigation to try to weed out these creeps.  But if they were E3s who inserted a thumb drive into a government computer–to the gallows!

If these people will give secrets to the media, either just to get a thrill of seeing their deeds in the news or to ensure the success of their man in the upcoming elections, imagine what they’d do for a large chunk of change offered by a foreign spy.

Intelligence Analysis, Or: How to win your office’s football pool.

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Recently, I got talked into joining my unit’s football pool here in Afghanistan. Historically, I’ve always done pretty well in these things, so I figured I give it a shot. I knew I’d be going up against a bunch of smart people who also happened to like football. Combine Army-types with nerds and you get what we have here.

My first week, I joined the pool approximately 10 minutes before all picks were do–Sunday morning in US time. I had no chance to do any real analysis, but placed my picks quickly. I didn’t do any better than average. However, the next week, I had time to go through my usual checklist when making my picks. I won the prize hands down and hope to do so again this week. I also hope that no one in my unit reads this page; I don’t want to help people in denying me my weekly prize.

I apply some techniques in intelligence analysis when I make my football picks. Here’s things to consider and an ad hoc checklist that may help you pick up some beer money in your office pool.

  1. Mitigate the emotional pick: While discussing the week’s picks with a very intelligent intel analyst, I had to keep reminding him to avoid the emotional pick. He’s a Redskins fan, so of course he feels the urge to pick the Redskins every week. He also feels the need to pick against the Cowboys every week. Now in the instance of the Cowboys, it’s worked out well for him. However, emotion, in the long run, will severely hamper your chances of victory. Now I’m no stoic. Emotion has its place. When I arm-wrestle, I get fired up. but when I’m making my picks, I’m as cool as a cucumber. Don’t pick the team you like–pick the team that’s most likely to win. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires an extraordinary amount of introspection, a monitoring of your own intentions. But it’ll go a long way in helping you win.
  2. Stats don’t lie as much as politicians want us to believe. Barack Obama’s voting history while in the senate proved he was the most liberal person who voted. Yet, somehow the American people ignored this in their hope that Obama’s mere wish to do good would overcome his proven track record. But the trend continues. Statistics can deceive people. But they usually only deceive when other statistics are not known or are ignored. For instance, the San Diego Chargers are off to a bad start. Their win/loss record is very poor for a team that many predicted would go to the Super Bowl this year. However, a close look at their statistics shows something incredible: They are ranked #1 in defense and #1 in offense! Ok, so their special teams have been pretty awful. But a team who’s #1 in both defense and offense is unlikely to have to rely on their special teams to win over a 16 game season. I predict they’ll go on a winning streak soon. I picked the Chargers last week. Few others did. They won. Before my pick, I go through each team’s rankings running and passing, offence and defence. I compare each team’s strength to their opponents weaknesses and so on.
  3. Singular incidents mean little: They mean something–but not very much. We must look for trends when it comes to picking NFL winners. Personally I define a trend as 3 games for an individual player and 5 games for a team. By game 5, I have a much better idea of what a team’s capabilities are then after 2 games. Don’t pick a winner because of a spectacular performance the previous week and conversely, don’t pick a winner because their opponent didn’t perform well (uncharacteristically) last week.
  4. Don’t believe the hype. Watching highlights of a team’s big win can move our emotions. We may want pick a team to win because we keep seeing stories about them on ESPN, or we may vote against them because the media wants to talk about how poorly the coach and QB are getting along. This may matter–or it may not. What really tells us if a team is likely to win is the trending performance on a field, not the regularity of reporting on a team.
  5. Home Field is more often than not, the winning field. I don’t know the stats, but the home field advantage is a worth a few points, historically speaking. When in doubt, pick the home team.
  6. All things being equal, go with the team with the best QB. If you look at a game and can’t decide, after all the above considerations, who’s going to win, go with the team with the best QB. How you decide who’s best is up to you, but most of us know instinctively who the better QB is in a game. While generally unscientific, my reasoning is that since the QB handles the ball on nearly every down, he has a greater impact on the outcome than anyone else.

Unfortunately for me, no matter how I twist my methodology, the 49ers come out to be a mediocre team this year….

Dilbert and the world of military intelligence

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Read Dilbert. Then you’ll know exactly what the higher end of military intelligence work is like. A bunch of smart people who get bored and start arguing about the color of Power Point slides. I’ve never really worked in an office environment before the intel world, but I think it drives people insane. To the point where they can barely function in any other aspect of life other than intel. They’ll spend three hours tweeking a single PP slide, to get that just-right shade of green that the Colonel likes on his borders. Need real analysis on the psychological makeup of a dangerous insurgent leader? What will this guy do next? Will he cooperate with us if we offer peace? Is he only trying to get our help so that he can destroy his tribal enemies?

Well, don’t ask most people in the intel field. They can show you every nuance of the latest app. They can almost get Power Point to make coffee. But real analysis? No, that takes talent. You can barely teach it. The best analysts are the ones that just get it. Many won’t like my take on that. It’s not scientific enough. Oh but it is scientific, I’m just not describing it in a scientific way. Real Intel analysis has a human face. Nerds hate human faces. They feel much safer around 0011000101110111100111……

Then you’ll get the PHDs over at the Human Terrain Team. Good, smart people most of them. Speak multiple languages, write awesome reports. I’ve read them and used them recently. But then you’ll get that one PHD who’s just downright insane. The person that’s only here because they have a PHD. You know, the soft, social-science type. The one who’s completely out of their league in a war zone, so makes a great effort in messing up the daily lives of their allies, acting territorial. “Don’t try to steal my stuff!” I guess they just want to give the world a Coke. Instead, the world over here is smoking hashish and opium,  waving an AK and studying bomb-making.

So not cool. But Dilbert would be right at home over at HTT.

WikiLeaks

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The recent classified info dump on WikiLeaks is a violation of the nation’s trust, but it is not a catastrophic indictment of the war effort.

Americans should be concerned that there are people who have high-level security clearances that disseminate information they are sworn to protect. Some have an axe to grind with the military, like this traitor, the very smart but traitorous  Army Intelligence Analyst, Bradley Manning, who gave WikiLeaks a Top Secret video of US helicopters attacking and killing a group of people, two of which were Reuters journalists.

Whomever released these files to WikiLeaks is either in desperate need of attention or has an anti-war agenda. Quite probably, the person needs to have a spotlight  on himself and justifies his actions with an anti-war meme.

That the recent leaks, from what is now known, are in any way “chilling” or devastating” is beyond laughable. Very little of what is not already widely known was released. People  are more offended by the details than by the actual content. It’s like the hamburgers and sausages we eat: We love the taste, just don’t show us film of the process for making them.

Most valuable information is called “Actionable Intelligence”. That is, intelligence which can be acted on immediately. For instance, let’s say that a credible source tells a Special Forces team on the ground in southern Afghanistan that Osama bin Laden in living in a hole two miles from their location, that they saw him not more than an hour ago and he’s supposed to be there for another day. That kind of information would bring immediate results should a SF A Team move and capture bin Laden. General intelligence, such as “IEDs are the primary weapon used by insurgents” does not give the US information that immediately impacts the war. A compromise in Actionable Intelligence is far more dangerous than compromised general intel. This compromise of an Israeli operation is an example of compromised Actionable Intel.

Information in the released files will be spun in every direction. Many people will be “horrified” by information that is rather banal. But, whatever some may say, it is an undisputed fact that the the files were leaked by people sworn to protect them from release. Those people operate under a cloak of anonymity. What they are doing is not brave, nor does it serve a greater good; most of the information leaked tells little. These people so entrusted, when and if they are found, should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law. Not only can’t they be trusted, but their hubris enabled them to believe they were more important than all the other people fighting this war.