Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

11.3.09

Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's "History Room" is a veritable treasure trove of insights into the early days of the Cold War and the transition from the Manhattan Project to a civilian-led Atomic Energy Commission. Since 60% of the entire Manhattan Project budget was spent here in east Tennessee, it's a fitting and appropriate role for the lab (formerly known as "X-10") to play.

Last year a retired lab chemist named Ellison Taylor passed away at the age of 94. The executors of his estate provided the History Room with a box of his personal papers. Buried within his research notes was a carbon copy of a letter dated 18 March 1946, signed by fifteen Division-level managers from X-10 (including future Laboratory Director Alvin Weinberg, who would later chair a commission for President Kennedy that sowed the seeds for increased transparency in government).

This letter was addressed to Sen. Brian McMahon, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy and author of the forthcoming Atomic Energy Act of 1946. At issue was the manner by which nuclear weapons research would be managed within the federal government.

On the one hand, MG Leslie Groves deftly left the Manhattan Project to a swift and favorable conclusion of World War II. The "establishment" logic, embodied in the Vandenberg Amendment to the proposed Atomic Energy Act, which would have created a governing military board with "veto" authority over the proceedings of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The scientists had work
ed side-by-side with soldiers for more than four years. Their opinion was that "... that military control would ... increase immeasurably the very dangers that we wish to avoid."

This paragraph summarizes the civilian scientists' sentiment for "The Army Way":
The delays produced by the army system of compartmentalization, denying the research men on the atomic energy project access to facts that are necessary for their work, the procrastination in releasing results of highest value to the medical and biological sciences though these results are of no military importance, show that it is only detrimental to place the power of censorship into the hands of persons who are in no position to judge the facts.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was passed -- without the Vandenberg Amendment. And civilian control of our nuclear arsenal, a model complementary to our nation's civilian control of its military forces, was assured.


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23.1.09

Threats in the Age of Obama


Blogfriend Michael Tanji's edited work Threats in the Age of Obama has been sent to the printer earlier this week. In addition to Tanji (a former intelligence officer with two decades in various tactical and strategic level assignments), the contributors are a "Who's Who" of international security bloggers:

Zenpundit, Mountainrunner, Ubiwar, Selil, WarAndHealth, TDAXP, PersonalDemocracy, devost.net, Rethinking Security, CTOvision, Mapping Strategy, MissileThreat, Politics & Soccer, Whirled View, ThreatsWatch, Armchair Generalist and Shloky. Oh, and some hack named Shane.


UPDATE: The book is now available on Amazon.

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26.7.08

Guest Post @ MountainRunner

Matt Armstrong, Sage of Public Diplomacy and administrator of the popular 'blog MountainRunner, has indulged me with a guest post. Check it out.

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3.7.08

Decisionmaking

("On They Came" by Mort Kunstler, c/o The Framery)

There has been much dialogue in the 'blogosphere lately regarding information, from Andrew Exum's recent critique of JP 3-13: Information Operations at Small Wars Journal (h/t MountainRunner) to Chet Richards on "Orientation" (the central concept to Boyd's OODA loop) and "Virtual Water Coolers". Earlier posts by ZenPundit, John Robb, Shlõk, Don Vandergriff, Kotare and Coming Anarchy's brilliant series on the Principles of War are excellent contributions to the topic of "decisionmaking", which I believe is the cornerstone of command and leadership.

What makes good leaders? Is it success? Luck? Perseverance? Or is the "harmonious association of powers" that Carl von Clausewitz described in On War (Book I, Chapter III: "The Genius for War")?

Consider the image above. On the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863, Maj. Gen. George Pickett and his division of 5,500 Confederate soldiers formed the right flank of a three-division assault across the gently rising slope from Seminary Ridge toward Cemetary Ridge in the fields south of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. His shout, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia," is inscribed on a monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. By the time Pickett's men had crossed Emmitsburg Pike and neared the Copse of Trees by the "Bloody Angle", more than half of his division would fall: 3,000 casualties in a matter of minutes, including 15 regimental commanders, six colonels and two brigadier generals.

What prompted a gifted leader like General Robert E. Lee to risk such a venture? Did the loss of Stonewall Jackson to friendly fire two months earlier at Chancellorsville neuter Lee's maneuverist spirit (a spirit that was alive and well with Hood's Texans, who defied direct orders and seized Devil's Den and Big Round Top on the Union left on July 2nd)?

Or did Bobby Lee see something his subordinates didn't? Did his rational calculus consider (a) Ewell's inability to take Culp's Hill on the Union right, (b) Longstreet's misinterpretation of his orders, thinking Lee only wanted him to turn the Union left rather than assaulting it to build on Hood's success the previous day, (c) the lack of coordination across a 3-mile-wide battlefront amongst his artillery, cavalry and infantry that dashed his hopes for a three-pronged assault, and (d) the near-breakthrough in the Union center (at the Copse of Trees) by Anderson the previous day?

The point is, complex adaptive environments have no unique solutions. Martin van Crevald, in Command in War, described two options for organizations needing to act with imperfect information: either increase its information processing capability (the choice of our modern U.S. military) or redesign the organization to allow it to operate effectively with less information (the essence of Boyd's Discourse and his "Organic Design for Command and Control" and the German concept of Auftragstaktik).

Based on the advice available to him on the scene, and his perception of the unfolding battle, Lee made the best choice he could at Gettysburg for the strategic interests of the Confederacy. Similarly, General George Meade (Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac) made great use of his subordinates (particularly Reynolds and Hancock) and -- knowing the Confederate States Army had moved into Pennsylvania -- chose the best line of defense with the Pipe Creek Line in northern Maryland.

Our challenge today is managing an ever-growing bitstream of data, and balancing our own cognitive load so that we are able to make effective decisions in high-stress, high-consequence, time-constrained environments. Some tools are useful in the context of social relationships and temporal "snapshots" (e.g., Twitter) while others give spatial correlation of resources ("Common Relevant Operational Pictures"). But none are adequate for all requirements.

The basic question we need to ask ourselves is: How much control do we really need? The most effective leaders are able to inspire their subordinates to strive for a common goal, then get out of their way. While information technology is beguiling in giving managers the chimera of perfect awareness, that awareness is a mirage on an ever-changing landscape of perception. Instead of focusing on what our subordinates are doing, or who should NOT see what we know through anachronistic classification practices, we should rather be managing our OWN cognitive load in order to anticipate emergent opportunities. MountainRunner sums up the debate nicely in his review of Exum's IO piece:
Understanding the value of shaping and managing perceptions is critical today just as it was critical throughout history. The difference is today fewer people are needed to mobilize for strategic effects, arguably making the precision and result of influence activities that much more important. We can’t afford to ignore this or get it wrong, but then we don’t have to get it absolutely right on the first cut. We must move ahead and realize that everyone is a strategic corporal and everything we do has information effects, some more than others.
Hear, hear!

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6.6.08

DHS S&T Summary

It was a good week at the Reagan Building & International Trade Center, where I was a guest of MountainRunner (as one of his invited "bloggers") covering the Dept of Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders' Conference. It was a great chance to meet several 'blogfriends in person, as well as several new faces like Dr. Amy Zalman (who aptly noted the unspoken theme of "persistent surveillance" at this week's show) and Jonah Czerwinski (whose several posts can be found here, along with others related to "Technology for Homeland Security").

'Bloghost MountainRunner was featured prominently in a Sharon Weinberger piece at WIRED's Danger Room, and Michael Tanji's ThreatsWatch post raises the excellent consideration of management process to govern capability development. My own posts, tagged "liveblog", are here.

I was most surprised to note that, while Undersecretary of Homeland Security (Science & Technology) Jay Cohen is the former Chief of Naval Research, the bulk of the technical content presented at this week's conference comes from the Department of Energy. DoE representatives dominated the agenda (particularly the plenary panel discussions, where one panel was fully dedicated to DoE National Labs) as well as the exhibit floor (where booths featured Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Battelle, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Test Site and hometown big-wig B&W Y-12).

My conclusion? While U.S. Northern Command is the "Executive Agent" for DHS S&T's experimentation campaign, the preponderance of technical and research content is driven by the Department of Energy.

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3.6.08

[Moblog] Blog Summit

Happy Hour at the Capitol City Brewery with (from left to right) MountainRunner, Haft of the Spear, Danger Room / War Is Boring and Wizards of Oz. Watch out, Washington!

I'm probably not supposed to tell you this, but David Axe had to depart early for an, (ahem), viewing of Sex and the City -- not unlike another 'blogger recently did.... :-) And no, ZenPundit, he was not in the "Somebody's Interior Decorator" ratio.

Update: According to MountainRunner, Axe said the dresses in SatC were "FABulous". I suppose for a guy about to depart for the Ends of the Earth, he's entitled.... BTW, I encourage you to support David's ventures via a PayPal donation. He may just mention you in his book!

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[Liveblog] ANTARES

MtnRunner_ANTARES

Überblogger "MountainRunner" checks out Future Concept Inc.'s "ANTARES": Advanced National Tactical Awareness Response Emergency System. This system is a fully interoperable communications system, with SATCOM, UHF, VHF, and a variety of customizable comms capabilities, optimized for community first responders (fire, sheriff,etc.).

After stopping by the Government of Sweden's sponsored information sessions, we were joined by David Axe of WIRED's Danger Room 'blog. Along with Dr. Amy Zalman and Bob Buderi, this brings our Blogger total to seven.

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14.10.07

Race Day

I was not a runner until I was sitting for a job interview with Col. Max Barth, USMC, the Asst. Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in Camp Pendleton, California about 12 years ago. I was 28 years old, interviewing for an I.T. system administrator position. He asked, "You look like a runner -- are you?" My response ("Oh, yes sir!") did not include my mental note: 'Better buy some running shoes...'

Three years later, while we lived in Hawaii, a friend suggested I sign up for a 5k race. Then a 10k race. Then a "mini-triathlon" (the Mountain Man Tri), where I learned that I'm an O.K. runner and cyclist -- but a really lousy swimmer. As I rounded the last buoy (in the calm windward waters near Chinaman's Hat by Kailua town), I took some solace that there was someone behind me -- until he started picking up the buoys and clearing the race markers!

Our move to Virginia in 1999 saw my interest grow in longer races. Encouraged by colleagues at U.S. Joint Forces Command (like then-CPT Rich Greene, one of the finest soldiers I have ever known), I joined the USJFCOM J9 team for the 2000 Army Ten Miler. Then, as the photo above shows, I ran my first marathon -- the 25th Marine Corps Marathon -- that same month.

Mind you, I am not nearly as accomplished in athletics as Überbloggers Matt at MountainRunner (who casually runs marathon distances at night in the mountains of Southern California) and Mark at ZenPundit (a powerlifter who can bench press twice my steadily-increasing body weight). I'm pleased with my 4-hour-plus marathon pace, hope to someday ride a "Century" (100 miles), and am even more pleased to encourage friends like Mike Vegh who are setting new distance records for themselves.

As soon as I post this, I will be on my way to the Atomic Duathlon -- a 5k run, 30k ride, 5k run race from the Melton Lake Reservoir, across Bethel Valley (of Oak Ridge National Lab fame) and Bear Creek Valley (home to the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex), then back to the lake. The fun part will be cresting Haw Ridge and Chestnut Ridge (a topographic map is here).

I hope to finish in 2:15:00 -- I'll post later on my results (as well as a postmortem of Cal's homecoming loss to Oregon State and the parity of college football programs nationwide).


Addendum (posted at 5:00pm EDT): I finished about ten minutes later than my target, with an official final time of 2:25:06. My first 5k run was right on target (25:40), my bike ride close to target (1:17:00), and my transitions faster than expected (both under 80 seconds, which included a shoe change). Where the wheels came off was on the second run -- my legs were reluctant to shift from "bike mode" to "run mode", so my pace slipped to about 11:00/mi. Then, at the turn-around, I met another "Clydesdale" (the 200+ lb. class I signed up for) -- a retired Marine with bad knees. So we walked (and occasionally ran) and talked about the Corps for the last mile and a half. Since I was well out of "medal contention" (the 3rd place Clydesdale clocked in just under two hours, as did the top 40-45 males), no worry. I stuck to my hydration and nutrition strategies (with two Gu vanilla bean energy gels before the start, two more during the ride, and about 60 oz. of Gatorade Fierce Grape cut with 1/2 part water) and feel great. Now if only I could swim better and get serious about triathlons....


College Football: Cal-OSU Post-Mortem

OSU (in this case, the Beavers of Oregon State) came to Berkeley's Memorial Stadium yesterday, bringing with them one of the top rushing defenses in the nation (allowing just 43 yards rushing per game). Their lightning-fast defensive line and linebackers threatened to thwart a big part of Cal's offense -- and, when coupled with the ankle injury suffered by starting QB Nate Longshore two weeks ago in Oregon, made this a very good match-up.

Both QBs stepped up to their respective challenges: Sophomore Sean Canfield (Beavers) looked more poised and capable than he has at any time in his collegiate career, and red-shirt freshman Kevin Riley (Golden Bears) demonstrated superb mobility and tactical decision-making in rallying Cal from a 10-point deficit in the closing minutes. Great decision-making, that is, until the final play of the game. Down by three, in easy field goal range on the OSU 15 yard line, with just 0:14 on the clock and no time-outs, Riley decided to scramble instead of throw the ball away (and stop the clock). The quick OSU defense tackled him inbounds short of a first down, and the final seconds ticked away before the ball could be set for a snap. So much for a shot at overtime and a #1 ranking....

With LSU falling to #17 Kentucky, we have a curious state of affairs in the season's first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings -- with the Bulls of the Univ. of South Florida laying claim to the #2 spot. The good news is that it's a toss-up in the PAC-10 (which has demonstrated an SEC-like "bludgeon each other" mentality this season) for the coveted Rose Bowl berth. One of the commentators on Versus last night (which has had the good fortune of televising some of the best upsets this season) said "Cal is the Chicago Cubs of the PAC-10." I couldn't agree more -- Cal has the longest "Rose Bowl Drought" of all teams, with their last appearance in 1959. (And though the Univ. of Arizona Wildcats have never gone, they only joined the conference 30 years ago.) Just another reason to malign the "Broken Computer System" BCS, which has the option of putting non-PAC-10 teams in the Rose Bowl.

Cal has a tough month coming up, with away games at UCLA (always a fierce rivalry) and #12 Arizona State, then a homestand against the Washing State Cougars and the Trojans of 'SC. Roll on you Bears!!

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29.7.07

Future Warfare?

Mountain Runner has provocatively asked how robots fit into 21st century warfare, and what impact they have on perception management, counterinsurgency, and reconstruction.

As a science advisor for the Dept of the Navy (in my previous career), unmanned systems offered a compelling promise of "security without risk". After all, the greatest limitation in modern systems engineering is making a platform hospitable for humans. Remove the human from the fighter aircraft, watch John Boyd's Energy-Maneuverability Theory grow quadratically -- and get a platform that can turn 25Gs while evading even the most advanced surface-to-air missiles.

Today MQ-9 REAPER unmanned aerial vehicles, armed with HELLFIRE missiles, roam the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan. Their pilots sit comfortably in a U.S. homeland Air Force base. Minimal risk, minimal U.S. casualties, and all is well, right?

Except that any power that chooses to trade its hardware for the adversary's lives is no longer conducting a "Just War". In particular, the notion of "proportionality" in conducting a just war is defeated -- and, more worrisome, the insurgency is incentivized to grow.

And what of advances in artificial intelligence, or A.I.? What if we develop sensor grids that can pass the Turing Test and demonstrate the capacity for independent thought and action? (The U.S. Navy already does this to a lesser degree aboard their AEGIS cruisers and destroyers: the SPY radar system has rigid "rule sets" to detect and engage threats, like anti-ship cruise missiles.)

The technology is emerging to allow the U.S. to project power without endangering its citizen soldiers -- akin to Rome's outsourcing of risk and security in the latter days of Empire. Mountain Runner's question is provocative because it identifies the core issue: not technology, but rather the perception of that technology and its moral implications.

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