Bad Movies and Threats to CONUS
I started over Labor Weekend to write about my increasing concern about the escalating number of Green on Blue attacks in Afghanistan during August, and even though they are continuing they seem to have receded in importance relative to raising level of violence in Cairo, the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens (along three other Americans) in our Benghazi Consulate, and anti American demonstrations in 20 other countries all triggered by the offense taken at an amateurish YouTube video that seems to mock the Prophet Muhammad. As with the Danish cartoons from years past, Arab Muslims again seem to be looking for the opportunity to be offended so they can blame the West for what ails their societies. Or perhaps there is latent Arab anger that the US never relented in its efforts to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Meanwhile unrelated to the YouTube clip (it’s a trailer not movie) titled the “Innocence of Muslims” Assad is ramping up his violence against Syrian rebels offended by his secular dictatorial regime while Israel’s Prime Minister is publicly insisting the US articulate for all to know its conditions for taking military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.
I don’t agree with the view expressed by some that the IC not warning of violent demonstrations at the American Embassy in Cairo or the attack on the Consulate in Benghazi represents an intelligence failure. The political volatility in both Libya and Egypt seems to have been understood and conveyed by the IC; however, at least in Cairo the IC along with the news media continue to be challenged by extracting actionable intelligence from social media.
Last month I broached with you the potential for an October surprise or two from the international security scene that could impact our elections on November 6th. Now I am more worried about the current level of political turmoil and violence in the Muslim world congealing into a “guns of October, November, or December” scenario. To see how events can be connected recall how in December of 1988 PanAm 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie Scotland by Libyan operatives in response to the USS Vincennes misidentifying and missiling out of the sky over the Straits of Hormuz Iranian Airbus Flight 655 six months earlier in July.
Suppose President Morsi and/or the Egyptian Street becomes infuriated with Netanyahu’s Saber rattling against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and abrogates the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty? This could quickly lead to Palestinian violence in Gaza and the West Bank, Assad becoming even more ruthless against the Syrian population, the Afghani security forces killing more of their ISAF trainers, American Embassies/Consulates in Muslim countries being threatened continuously by mob violence, and Iran looking to disrupt shipping in the Persian Gulf increasing the opportunity for an armed engagement with the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Any of these events or others could, of course, happen discretely resulting in different cascading effects - - - - all of which a war weary and economically stretched United States would have to respond to.
New York Times Correspondent Tom Shanker reported on 12 September that Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dempsey has been running a “Strategic Seminar” periodically at Quantico for senior military leaders looking at scenarios like this to shape military strategy and capabilities for 2017 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/us/top-general-dempsey-maps-out-us-military-future.html?ref=thomshanker&moc.semityn.www), reminding me of the George Allen (Redskins’ Coach in the 1970s) mantra “the future is now!” Not surprisingly, these “Strategic Seminars” are confirming that in the post 9/11 information era of conflict barriers to attack in the US homeland are considerably reduced - - - -be they terrorism, chemical/nuclear/biological/radiological (CNBR), or cyber - - - - - and the US military will have to deal with both defending the homeland as well as not having the continental United States (CONUS) as an unthreatened strategic sanctuary to flow forces from.
In a different take on the current situation Peggy Noonan contents that American Embassies under siege is something we should expect at a minimum as result of open conflict with Iran. David Ignatius tells us he sees comparisons in Egypt today to the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought the Mullah’s to power - - - - and inspired bin Laden. What’s different now though is the lethality that militarily weak countries or politically motivated groups can direct toward CONUS without needing nuclear armed ICBMs to cause mayhem in the United States.
While the killing of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001 at their place of work was the harbinger of what the Joint Chiefs are realizing they must be prepared to defend against (and why what’s happening now is so dangerous), the American people have been spared the horrors of sustained conflict in their communities since the conscripted Army of Vietnam and arguably not had their lives endangered by armed conflict since the American Civil War. This makes me wonder how the American people are being advised of these clear and present dangers, but more specifically it reminds me that as a nation we remain conflicted about the convergence of domestic and foreign intelligence to protect our homeland as manifested in the Congress’ current inability to fashion a comprehensive cyber bill to protect our infra-structure. In the meantime though there is much that the IC can do through enterprise collegiality and best practices to warn of foreign threats to CONUS, which I trust is being done by going as far as the current laws will allow.
Given what we are experiencing right now it seems likely that we are going experience another attack on our homeland before we have the national debate called for by 9/11 Commission on how much of our civil liberties we are willing to trade for our security. A denial of service attack against YouTube or its parent Google just feels like something we should be anticipating before Election Day.
That’s what I think; what do you think?