zenpundit.com » Afghanistan

Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Surveillance

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — gift horse, Trojan horse, back door — take your pick ]
.

DoubleQuote!

**

Liz Sly, reporting from Beirut:

U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging

An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.

Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. [..]

In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around. [..]

The Pentagon has encouraged the use of Fitbits among military personnel and in 2013 distributed 2,500 of them as part of a pilot program to battle obesity.

Unanticipated consequences..

**

Amira El Masait, from Rabat:

After Building New AU Headquarters, China Spies on Addis Ababa Facility By Amira El Masaiti

In 2012, the Chinese government “graciously offered” African States a gift and constructed the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The act of soft diplomacy proved to be a rather self-serving maneuver to spy on the activities and discussions being conducted by leaders of the exclusive continental group.

In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

The glass tower $200 million complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

Shoulda looked that gift horse in the mouth..

“Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.

But at least, “The Chinese have nothing to listen to. They have never colonized us. They have supported the struggles of independence on the continent and help us economically today,” an AU official told Le Monde anonymously.

Another official believes that, “They are not alone.” In fact, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British intelligence agencies (GCHQ) have had their share of surveillance on the AU building, according to documents which were extracted by Le Monde, in collaboration with The Intercept.

Aaah!

Grief and joy in shoes at mosque and church

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — part for whole, what’s that called, synechdoche in Kabul, Houston ]
.

Shoes outside places of worship tell two very different tales in these two recent news photos.

Afghanistan

The shoes here are those left behind by worshippers who entered the Shiite mosque in Khair Khana area of Kabul, Afghanistan, which was blown up by ISIS. The death toll was 43 as I am writing this.

As day follows night follows day…

Houston, Texas:

This picture is of shoes donated for those in need of them at Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church, which had taken something of a PR beating after Osteen said it hadn’t been opened as a shelter because the authorities hadsn’t requested it — whereas many Houston area mosques were openws without any official request begind given.

Buzzfeed reported on the resentment of OSteen that may lie behind the criticisms leveled against him on this occasion:

The speed, tone, and volume of criticisms leveled against Osteen and Lakewood Church speak to the seriousness of the flooding crisis in Houston, but also to a larger powder keg of resentment directed at a particular strain of American Christianity — Osteen’s pro-wealth prosperity gospel, and the larger evangelical movement it’s associated with — that many see as failing to be charitable to people who are truly in need.

That’s worth pondering — the backlash in itself is a significant “marker” in the sociology of American religion.

WWJD? — Matthew 6.19-21, anyone? Where’s Osteen’s treasure?

**

Sources:

  • TRTWorld, At least 43 dead in Daesh-led attack on Shia mosque in Kabul
  • Buzzfeed News, The Joel Osteen Fiasco Says A Lot About American Christianity
  • ShiaWaves, Dozens of Houston Area Mosques are 24/7 Shelters without being Asked
  • Like father, like son

    Thursday, August 24th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a DoubleQuote in the Wild ]
    .

    This came up in my feed today —

    Richard Landes was just tweeting –

    Ouch!

    Not like me, not like my sons, btw.

    **

    Or as Baudrillard might say:

    Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.

    Ouch. Pinch me.

    American Spartan Redux

    Monday, July 31st, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Charles Cameron helpfully tipped the news last week in our comment section, but I wished to give this update the prominence friends of zenpundit.com deserve. American Spartan has been re-released and you can get it  from now until July 31, American Spartan is available for $1.99 at BookHub

    For those who need a re-cap, long time readers will recall Major Jim Gant coming to wider attention with his paper, One Tribe at a Time with an assist from noted author Steven Pressfield, where he called for a campaign strategy against the Taliban from “the bottom up” using “the tribes” because the current top down strategy of killing insurgents while building a strong, centralized, state would never work – the war would just drag on indefinitely until the US grew tired and quit Afghanistan. Gant forged a tight relationship with Afghan tribal leader  Noor Azfal ,won some fans with his paper in very high places, including SECDEF Robert Gates and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus who gave him some top cover to implement his ideas but Gant also faced formidable resistance and criticism from Afghan government officials, parts of the ISAF chain of command and academics unhappy with Gant’s conceptual emphasis on tribalism.

    Here is an excellent review of American Spartan by Doyle Quiggle in The Marine Corps Gazette:

    Whether from Plutarch or Zack Snyder’s 300, we all know the command, “Come back with your shield—or on it.” Special Forces MAJ Jim Gant, USA, came back with his shield, but, like his soul, it’s as mortar-pocked as the face of the moon. The narrator of Gant’s Spartan tale is his lady, a word used with chivalric respect. Ann witnesses, validates, and, by writing this book, binds up the many wounds Gant suffered to mind, body, and soul in Iraq and Afghanistan, an act of healing she began in her home in Maryland, kicking Gant of his drug and alcohol habits to get him back into the fight. As Gen James N. Mattis recently lamented in Warriors and Civilians, true, unflinching acceptance of what warriors become through warfighting is rare. Ann’s narrative asks readers to muster a hard-nosed acceptance of Gant in the fullness of his sometimes brutal, sometimes compassionate (Afghans call this blend of virtues nangyalee) warrior soul.

    A collaboration between a warrior and his woman, American Spartan provides an exemplary model for receiving the blood-tainted warrior back into the kill-shy civilian fold. The partnership itself, a cooperative, on-going translation of combat experience into a narrative for communal sharing, is a ritual of homecoming from war, a gift of acceptance that a non-killer, Ann, gives to a killer, Gant. Together, they offer military readership an enduring lesson about how to fight—in mind and battlespace—gray-zone war. With tooth-breaking honesty, Ann records Jim’s edgy mindset after his Iraq deployment:

    He had sacrificed everything at the altar of war. War was, by then, all he really knew. He could not imagine a world where the people he had loved most had become strangers, and where—unlike in Iraq—his enemies were not trying to kill him, making them much harder to find and impossible to destroy.

    Read the rest here.

    I wrote in my own review of American Spartan:

    The substance of the book, Gant’s implementation of his “One Tribe at Time” strategy among the Pashtuns and his rise and fall with the hierarchy of the US Army is more complicated and begs for deeper examination. Readers with knowledge of Afghanistan, the Army, American policy or some combination of the three will find nearly as much to read between the lines of American Spartan as they will in the text itself. It is fascinating, really, and the moral implications are deeply disturbing.

    To summarize, American Spartan lays out a tragic paradox. My impression is that the tribal engagement strategy Gant championed would never have been permitted to succeed, even had he been a Boy Scout in his personal conduct; and secondly, even if tribal engagement had been fully resourced and enthusiastically supported, Gant himself would have self-destructed regardless.  A Greek tragedy in a khet partug.

    Gant has frequently been compared to the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and the fictional Colonel Kurtz.   Interestingly, both of those figures died early and untimely deaths, having long outlived their usefulness for their respective armies. Major Gant is, fortunately, very much alive today which may be the only good outcome associated with his fall from grace.  Given his predisposition for assuming heroic risks, taking battle to the enemy, chance hazards of war and Gant’s own struggle with PTSD, alcoholism and pills chronicled by Tyson, the bitter vendetta of Gant’s immediate superiors ironically may have kept him from also becoming Afghanistan’s John Paul Vann or Bernard Fall.  Gant is not a Colonel Kurtz. That charge would be a slander; nor is he really T.E. Lawrence either, though that is a much better comparison. Gant had more bite to Lawrence’s bark and that was at least part of the equation in Gant’s success.  The al-Saud and al-Rashid tribes and Turkish pashas did not fear Lawrence the same way Taliban commanders and rival Pashtun subtribes personally feared Jim Gant, whom one of his fiercest anthropologist critics called “very scary”.  It was not only tea and beards, nor could it be.

    Pick up American Spartan at BookHub today for $1.99!

    Not Checkers, not Chess, no Go, Gen Perkins — it’s Calvinball time

    Friday, July 7th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — on changing our very notions of game and challenge — or unanticipating the unanticipated ]
    .

    Reading David Perkins, Big picture, not details, key when eyeing future from last year, and thinking:

    **

    It’s scary to read Gen. Perkins — the head of TRADOC — disagree with him, sometimes quite sharply along the way and particularly when he talks about games — and then wind up agreeing with the second half of this, his closing sentiment:

    So now that we know what game we are playing and assumedly what is required to win it, we can employ these insights to lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond. It is our duty, and our country depends on us to get it right.

    We don’t know what game we are playing, nor — love that word “assumedly” — what is required to win it. And if I’m right about this, how can our potentially mistaken insights help us “lay out a path toward building the Army our country will need in 2025 and beyond” — when “getting it right” is liable to be an emergent property, only recognizable as such in retrospect?

    Let me cut to my main objection, for which Gen. Perkins’ checkers and chess games are analogies. Of the two games, Perkins said:

    Checkers and chess are played on the same style board, but the games are far from similar. For a long time, the Army has designed forces based on a “checkers-based” world outlook. Today, we’re switching to a “chess-based” appreciation of the world.

    I’ll come back to this game metaphor in time, but the paragraph I first halted at, for which the games paragraph I just quoted is a metaphor, is this one:

    Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we lived in a “complicated” world, but one with a single defining enemy for which we could plan against. In today’s “complex” world, there is no single defined future foe with relatively known capabilities, doctrines and intent. This is not a minor point, as designing and building the future Army rests upon what kind of world we expect to see.

    I’m not at all sure jointness will mean anything at all like “cross-service cooperation in all stages of the military processes, from research, through procurement and into operations’ — whether the services be Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or also include the National Guard, whether we think in terms of Land, Sea, Air, and Space, or throw in Cyber. What if jointness is better conceived of in terms of heart, mind and soul?

    Our command structure isn’t structured along those lines, so we can’t put the Chief of Staff of the Heart, the Commandant of Minds, and the Chief of Soul Operations under the Chairman and Vice-Chairman and call them the Joint Chiefs — the very absurdity of the phrasing makes the whole idea almost ridiculous.

    And yet heart, mind and soul — or for that matter, the Buddhist body, mind and speech — are the fundamental building blocks of a full and sane human personhood, and their social equivalents the equivalent bases of a full and sane human society.

    Maybe heart, mind and soul are more basic than land, air and sea?

    Did we ever think of that?

    What I’m suggesting here, in fact, is that the challenges we face may differ from previous challenges in this: that they won’t fall into the expected mold, they won’t look to us like challenges at all, we won’t categorize or react to them as such — in short, that they will be oblique to our assumptions and expectations.

    One other point of disagreement, briefly:

    by 2005 we confronted a well-understood problem in Afghanistan and Iraq, and began optimizing much of the Army to meet that current threat

    Oh really? You could have fooled Zarqawi!

    **

    Getting back to games, we have some very nice comparisons and metamorphoses already “in play” in the strategic literature. Perkins’ “Checkers to Chess” is one, “Ghess to Go” is another and more sophisticated example — Scott Boorman‘s The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy is the classic here — “Chess to Star Trek’s 3-D chess” is another one worth considering, or “Chess to Mjolnir’s Game” for that matter, “Go to Buckminster Fuller‘s World Game” yet another, while “Go to the Glass Bead Game” is clearly one which would fascinate me personally..

    But I’m convinced, as I’ve said before, that the game we need to understand is the one known as Calvinball:

    Calvinball — Calvin and Hobbes‘ favourite game to play. There is only one main rule in the game — that you can’t play it the same way twice.

    Now that game idea is an audacious one, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing Peter Suber‘s awesome game, Nomic:

    in which the rules of the game include mechanisms for the players to change those rules, usually beginning through a system of democratic voting. Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move.

    When I meantion Calvinball, I not infrequently quote the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:

    Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.

    Now that’s talking!

    And Roland Barthes:

    This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing-match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result.

    Switching games?

    We’re blurring game-boards in real time, according to CTC Sentinel editor-in-chief Paul Cruikshank:

    **

    Okay, here’s another mind in the Natsec arena, that switches the playing field from “game as cricket or chess” to “game as zero-sum or non-zero sum” — President Rouhani of Iran, writing an op-ed in the Washington Post — Iran, mark you, in WaPo — who says:

    The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.

    Rouhani is pretty conservative in Iranian terms, though we sometimes consider him a reformer — but very “other” in his thinking, compared to ours. And if we wish to game him, our Red Team must be able to think as ably and otherly as he does.

    How would TRADOC suggest we adapt to a shift in games of that sort?

    **

    H/t The Strategy Bridge.


    Switch to our mobile site