Hey MEATLOAF: "Two Out of Three Ain't Good Enough!"

Thursday, December 29, 2011
Joe Mazzafro

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.


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I really appreciate the context. Thanks. I especially appreciated the important reminder that people who want to enter into the strategic dialog should understand the difference between clairvoyance and intelligence.


Well crafted and spot on with your MazzInt. I would only offer that Syria should be included in the listing of volatile nation states and therefore up the anti of four-for-four for the IC in 2012. Happy Holidays to you Shipmate and V/R, Darren

If U.S. and Israeli intel want to "prime" the international opinion pump with reasons and revelations of what they know of Iranian nuclear intentions, and to set the logic in motion for responding to Iranian war mongering that further sanctions will cause them to close the Strait of Hormuz, US intel needed to disclose credible sources for their posture. Much like molding and casting the diplomatic preamble to Libyan intervention, and getting Arab states to join in that intervention, a carefully crafted "mistake" and loss of a supposedly highly secret UAV was needed to set world opinion in favor of a preemptive attack on Iran nuclear facilities. The RQ-170 would be "lost" due to a malfunction and deliberately set down in Iran nearly intact. This sets the stage for Iran to boast about the capture and thereby confirm they know they are being watched very carefully. The ruse has been in the making for sometime with peekaboo photos and teaser press releases. Without showing the world the photos and surveillance data proof, the U.S. has craftily put Iran in a "can't deny it" role on the world stage without our revealing to Iran all the nuclear facilities we know about. For credibility some old UAV technology and the GPS coordinates of some nuclear sites were likely incorporated in the ruse.

The timing of the ruse points toward the Iranians completing their nuclear non-peaceful intentions in the near future. A Predator C Avenger attack would be the platform of choice. Disclosure of one (1) Avenger going to Afghanistan would hide the presence of dozens of Avengers massing for an attack. Look for three carrier battle groups coming into the western Indian Ocean where they can protect allies and assets. Whiteman AFB (home of the B2) will spin-up and pre-position tankers along the flight path. Manned flights will be the "reserves" for the armed UAVs. SecDef wasn't joking when he said no option was off the table in stopping Iran's ambitions for nuclear weapons. Israeli forces would have struck sooner were they NOT confident the US had the intel and the means of stopping the Iranians. Stuxnet was slow-pitch softball. Fast-pitch hardball is next. I'm thinking the US and Israel know they have to stop Iran much sooner, therefore the RQ-170 ruse to build a scenario of proof we know exactly what and where they are doing nuclear weapons development. SecDef blatantly stated that US drone monitoring would continue uninterrupted over Iran. Hardly the posture of someone afraid that the technology had been compromised to the point that he needed a different set of arrows in his quiver. Obama asking Iran to return the Sentinel was part and parcel of the wringing of hands to lend credibility to the ruse. He needed to do so, so that the Iranians would tell the world they would reverse-engineer the "captured" drone. I wonder just how many "blind alleys" and "dead-ends" could be sown in Russia and China R&D labs with just one carefully designed decoy? A "Honey-pot" opportunity to baffle the scientists and engineers for years. You have got to believe the CIA is laughing all the way home. They took the bait and likely will scrap other more promising avenues of exploration. Stir the pot with the real thing and decoys, and separating them becomes a needle-in-the-haystack time-consuming effort. If all that is fielded is real, what a waste of opportunity! Plastic molded drones are comparatively cheap to fabricate with the sensors molded right into the plastic. Manned aircraft have to have the real technology onboard, but unmanned drones mean it ain't necessarily so.

Wonderful, JoeMazz.you're a lotta fun to read. You might think of taking a week-or-two off each month; it seems to make you an even keener and concise observer and scribe (that's a compliment, Joe). So tell me. Whaddoo we do about all this worldly woe?

Bob, always appreciate your feedback and support. You know the problem with clairvoyance is people still want to know the basis your forecast or prediction is based on! joemaz

Darren, Syria certainly deserves an "honorable" mention. I didn't include Syria for two editorial vice analytical reasons. First is space as I try to keep this to no more 1500 words and second I just didn't want to give up the Meatloaf 2 out of 3 metaphor. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback and support joemaz

67W an astuet observation that I hope is correct. That said any one approving this type of plan would have to ask "so how successful as the CIA been at forecasting Iran's intentions let alone manipulating its activities." Regardless of whether the loss of the RQ170 was purpuseful or not the bigger message is that the US is not concerned about penetrating Iranian air space for ISR purposes. This will certainly reminded the Iranians of the aborted rescue of American hostages in April 79 when things went terribly wrong at Desert 1 in the middle of Iran.

Appreciate you adding to the conversation here with an idea that should be considered as things develop in the Persian Gulf. Thanks! joemaz

Hey Murray imagine what I could do if took whole months off consecutively?!?! I might learn to play golf!

As for what to do in the short run I see little the US can or should do in all three cases. It's because I see the US having to take a reactive posture to these three nation states that strategic I & W is so important so that the national command authority has time to develop and employ effective reactions that will keep Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea in a box.
In the longer run we need a much better understanding of what US national interests each of these problem states impacts before I could begin to suggest what we should do. Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons has been a long standing US policy, but who have we stopped from going nuclear: certainly not China, India, Pakistan, Israel, or North Korea.

Wish I had better answer old chum, but I am just an unemployed Navy Pensioner, at least for another week or so joemaz


While you are on sabbatical, please don't stop writing your blog or giving you opinion. I hope we one day have the IC you speak of and believe we can get there.


Mazz...one very big difference between the U2 shoot down and the loss of the RQ...no pilot held by anyone. There is not reason to think that the flights will be cancelled...it remains an economic decision (value of airframe and collection capability) vice a political policy issue. Who cares if Iran knows we are looking...as long as no real people get caught or hurt. In fact, maybe its a good thing they (and the world) know we can look.
Denied area is no longer a real factor...but you might want to rethink the premise of covert and clandestin in the context of title 10 and 50...now theres a subject for fun...
Be well sir...