For someone who self-selected himself for a pre-holiday season sabbatical from the IC private sector work force grind, I have not had much time to get to my monthly discourse with you. Actually I have started the December version of MazzInt several times but events have been occurring faster than I could assimilate them and certainly more swiftly than I could put them cogently into some broader context so I would just not be recounting media reports to you.
First there was the apparent sabotage at an Iranian Missile Base in mid November. According to Washington Post reporting the explosion on the Shahid Modarres base near the city of Malard was so powerful that it shook the capital, Tehran, about 30 miles to the east. Official denials of foreign involvement withstanding, suspicions have been raised in Iran and elsewhere of “foreign involvement” in what is a fivefold increase in explosions inside of Iran since 2010.
Then there is the 26 November hours long fire fight between US forces and Pakistani military outposts on the Afghan-Pakistan border that found 24 Pak soldiers killed in action as a result. This border incident pulled the scab off the festering relationship between the Washington and Islamabad over US unilateral actions to hunt and kill Al Qaeda members operating from or seeking safe haven in Pakistan. Since this fire fight Pakistan has halted the overland resupply through its territory of NATO International Security Assistant Forces (ISAF) conducting counterinsurgent operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan also forced the CIA to close down a UAV base in Pakistan and CIA drone attacks in Pakistan have been suspended. Afghanistan became bin Laden’s base of operations for planning the USS Cole and 9/11 attacks because Pakistan’s Military Government at the time wanted to isolate radical jihadist there. After 10 years of war it seems little has changed strategically: Afghanistan is still a failing state where Pakistan remains the protector of Muslim terrorists and warlords operating there in order to protect itself from these elements.
For me at least there was a circumstantial connection between the missile base bombing and the loss of a CIA stealth RQ-170 Sentinel UAV flying well inside of Iran circa December 6 purportedly conducting ISR against Iran’s nuclear capabilities. While it remains unclear whether the “Beast of Khandahar “crash landed because of an on board technical malfunction or was spoofed by Russian provided Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities allowing the Iranians to take control of the vehicle, what is very clear is the US’ willingness to run ISR missions in Iranian Airspace. As with the 1959 shoot down of a U-2 deep in Soviet territory, RQ-170 penetration missions of Iran will now be indefinitely canceled which I suspect will severely hamper the Intelligence Community’s ability to assess the status and progress of Iran’s nuclear program, though the missile base explosions do suggest there may be active HUMINT assets inside of Iran.
As I was contemplating the comparison here with the impacts of the Soviets downing a state of the art ISR platform in 1959 along with the larger lesson that UAV’s no matter how stealthy will not be able operate at will over denied airspace, the world learned on a 48 hour time delay that North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il died while traveling on his personal train.
The New York Times immediately branded the delay in discerning the “Dear Leader’s” demise an intelligence failure without considering that US intelligence might have had indications of Kim’s death that it did not want to make public until after some kind of confirmation from Pyongyang. I would have expected the editors of the Times to possess a better understanding of how challenging it is to gather reports let alone confirm them when access is so limited. Hopefully this unfounded assertion of an “intelligence failure” will stimulate some critical thinking about the difference between clairvoyance and intelligence. The IC’s limits on it abilities to track high profile individuals such as Kim Jong Il should also be instructive for policy makers and the American public regarding why ferreting out individual radical Taliban in Afghanistan is so difficult.
The controversy over whether the IC should have known sooner about Kim Jong Il departing the Hermit Kingdom for another worldly worker’s paradise will quickly fade though as IC collectors and analyst get down to the difficult work of looking for indications of political unrest or regime instability as Kim Jong Un, his aunt and uncle along with the military “big hats,” try to develop a stable power sharing arrangement for ruling North Korea. Given that leadership changes in communist regime are always unpredictable, it is not clear if Kim Jong Un will traverse successfully from being North Korea’s Brilliant Comrade” to its “Great Successor?” Certainly he and his backers will be looking to create the circumstances where Un can show “he is in charge.” Let’s hope the choice is not demonstrating that he is like his grandfather Kim il Sung by shooting down a manned American ISR aircraft. While the United States would surely like to see Un and North Korea benignly wither away along with its nuclear weapons, there will be plenty of pressure from China and Japan to avoid a unified Korea. The IC will do a good job of assessing what vectors will be impacting on North Korea as it goes through only its third leadership change since 1948 but expecting the IC to predict with precision what outcomes these vectors will lead to gets us back to the IC being clairvoyant!
So as 2012 approaches the IC must concurrently deal with three dangerously volatile nation state problems: Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, where the later two have nuclear weapons and the former is a nuclear “wantabe.” While being able to provide strategic warning for two out of three “ain't bad” this is not a Meatloaf lyric, which means the IC is going to have be ready, organized, focused, and mutually supporting (integrated?!?!) to provide strategic situational awareness and warning for “three out of three.”
That’s what I think; I hope as you enjoy the holiday season you will take some time to share with me what you think.