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Archive for October, 2009


Friday, October 30th, 2009

Longtime blogfriend and sometime collaborator Critt Jarvis has a guest post on “branding” and social networks up at Strategis:

Dear Brand Manager

 Here’s the dirty little secret so-called social networking “experts” don’t want you to know: “US consumers are most interested in brands that keep them up to date and improve their knowledge. And they do not want brands to act like their friends.

Critt, who has been involved in a number of edge tech projects is usually ahead of the curve. Critt is best known for convincing Thomas P.M. Barnett to start blogging back at a time when blogging was an emerging “fad” and the idea of a “serious” defense or national security expert blogging was regarded as ridiculous ( and it probably sped Tom’s departure from the Naval War College and into the big leagues of writing and consulting). Today it’s hard to think of an important foreign policy-defense type who doesn’t blog or at least try to promote their articles and op-eds in the blogosphere and sites like SWJ.

Critt’s calling attention to the point that once you get past the novelty of having a twitter account or a facebook page, your institution’s online presence has to actually be delivering value in terms of useful content and substantive interaction on a regular basis.

He’s right, but it is going to take some time for the crowd to catch up to him.

Fair Warning

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Blogging is going to be very erratic this month due to pressing professional obligations. Multiple posts some days, radio silence on others or perhaps posts consisting of a link followed by a brief comment. Cannot say at this point how much time that I am going to have available until the second week of December.

Guest Post: Charles Cameron on Farrall and al-Masri

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

By Charles Cameron

Something veeery interesting is breaking in the blogosphere: Leah Farrall is talking with Abu Walid al-Masri.

Leah Farrall blogs with verve and insight. She has been a “senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal
Police and the organization’s al Qaeda subject matter expert” who served as “senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional
Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings”. She’s now working on here PhD thesis on “Al Qaeda and militant salafist jihad”.

One of the leading figures in the interwoven tales of Al Qaida and the Taliban is Abu Walid al-Masri, who also blogs. According to his West Point CTC bio, Abu Walid fought for eleven years as a muj against the Soviets in Khost, Afghanistan, where he “gained a reputation as a skilled and pragmatic strategist and battlefield tactician”. He criticized bin Ladin’s 1991 decision to relocate AlQ to the Sudan, and was an early member of Mullah Omar’s circle. He also served as a reporter for Al-Jazeera, and (as the profile puts it) ended up wearing “several hats: Taliban propagandist, foreign correspondent, and al-Qa’ida trainer and strategist.” He strongly opposed 9/11.

In his early writings, he quoted Lenin, Mao, and Sun Tzu — and his writings have been extensive. Leah writes that in her view:

“….his work (12 books in all plus articles) was the most comprehensive and accurate of all memoirs or first hand accounts of al Qaeda and more broadly the history of Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. I reached this conclusion after literally spending years and years cross checking his work with other accounts and all manner of sources, from both sides, for use in my thesis…”

And now for the drama:

As Leah notes with understandable excitement, Abu Walid has begun to respond to her blog posts with his own.

Readers of Zenpundit already know the power of multi-blogger conversations, and indeed it was one such conversation that gave rise to the Boyd Roundtable book that Zen himself edited.

This engagement between Leah and Abu Walid takes things a step further — two enemies, one an intel analyst and the other an insurgent strategist, are now holding a debate in public across the blogs.

That’s an interesting conversation to watch in its own right — and I trust Leah will bring Abu Walid’s side of it across into English. It is
also, it seems to me, an historic moment in the use of cyberspace.



Leah on Abu Walid responding to her blogging:

Text of Abu Walid’s response in Arabic — Leah notes she hopes to put up an English digest, if not a full translation, shortly:

It’s worth noting that there’s a somewhat similar conversation developing between some UK-based Sunni Salafist supporters of the Baluch action and western analyst-bloggers:

Again, it’s fascinating if you’re interested in web-based discourse, and with a nice Mahdist strand in there to please little old me.

I hope to pick up on that aspect with a post here shortly.

And then there’s blogger friend John Robb, who has recently been emailed by the Nigerian Henry Okah, whom Robb considers “hands down the most innovative and successful guerrilla entrepreneur in the world today”:

One Tribe at a Time

Monday, October 26th, 2009

If you have visited SWJ Blog today then you have already seen that novelist and blogger Steve Pressfield is running an important paper by SF Major Jim Gant at his Tribes site:

One Tribe At A Time #4: The Full Document at last! 

I’ve been promising for several weeks to have a free downloadable .pdf of One Tribe At A Time. Finally it’s here. My thanks to our readers for their patience. On a personal note, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to offer this document in full, not only because of my great respect for Maj. Jim Gant, who lived and breathed this Tribal Engagement idea for years, but for the piece itself and for the influence I hope it will have within the U.S. military and policymaking community.

One Tribe At A Time is not deathless prose. It’s not a super-pro Beltway think tank piece. What it is, in my opinion, is an idea whose time has come, put forward by an officer who has lived it in the field with his Special Forces team members-and proved it can be done. And an officer, by the way, who is ready this instant to climb aboard a helicopter to go back to Afghanistan and do it again

Here is Major Gant’s PDF:

One Tribe at a Time: A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan

This matters because the Afghanisatan debate has been too much a COIN or CT or COIN/CT Hybrid discussion and this paper puts forward a strategy option based upon decentralization, which given the strongly localist tradition of Afghani politics, should have been on the table from the inception.  The nation-building, NGO, IGO community love to think in terms of “top down” or “capital city outward” but not every country has that kind of political tradition embedded in their national culture.

Recommended Reading

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Top Billing! WIRED (Michael Tanji) – Spies Protest After Intel-Sharing Tools Shut Down

Having the worst intelligence failure in American history on their watch is no reason that the IC old guard can’t quietly kill some of the post-9/11 reforms designed to remediate their dysfunctional managerial culture.

“….Security concerns” is the excuse being used to take down uGov, but that doesn’t explain why BRIDGE has to go too unless “security concerns” is code for “we’ve been hacked.” That’s pure speculation on my part, but if you have tracked any of the traffic related to Cyber Command, the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, or the “Cyber Czar,” you know that systems like uGov or BRIDGE would make for attractive targets by myriad adversaries. And while such systems would surely be outfitted with some of the best security mechanisms the IC could provide, if it’s connected to the ‘Net, its hackable. Even a small compromise would be all the excuse needed to get such systems shut down en masse. The “deny all” security mindset that prevails in the community hasn’t prevented our adversaries from compromising us in the past, its really just a convenient way to hate on collaboration”

If crazy is keeping on doing the same thing that doesn’t work, then what do we call going back to the old way that doesn’t work?

Thomas P.M. Barnett So Iran Caved on the Bomb. What Now?

….And so, after almost a quarter-century of quiet cooperation with the Americans, Israel is now on the verge of perfecting a multi-layered missile-defense shield that protects against short-range rockets coming out of southern Lebanon and Gaza, plus anything Iran can toss its way. Not only will Israel remain on the map following a potential first strike, it’ll have second-strike capabilities secure enough to wipe off the map any fantasy-league roster of neighboring Islamic regimes you care to name.

Proceedings (David J. Danelo) – Disorder on the Border

A Criminal Insurgency

In 2008, Los Angeles County Sheriff John Sullivan and analyst Adam Elkus argued that Mexico’s drug cartels represented a criminal insurgency that threatened state stability.1 “Not all insurgencies conform to the classic Leninist or Maoist models,” wrote Sullivan and Elkus. “Some insurgents don’t want to take over the government or force it to accede to ideological demands. They want a piece of the state that they can use to develop parallel structures for profit. Inasmuch as they use political violence to accomplish this goal, they are insurgents-albeit of a criminal variety.”

That such an article is appearing in Proceedings indicates that the USG national security community, or at least the official portion of it, is inching closer to admitting that a catastrophe is building unchecked on our Southern border.

All Things Counter-Terrorism is a gold mine of a blog. Hat tip to Charles Cameron and Shlok Vaidya.

SWJ BlogToward a Kilcullen-Biden Plan?

A Tony Corn piece.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND SECURITY NETWORK ( Samuel Logan and John P Sullivan ) – Costa Rica, Panama in the Crossfire

“….Around 65 percent of the drug smuggling traffic through Costa Rica and Panama is maritime, and most of the rest is over land,” Paul Knierim, an Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with experience in Central America and currently working as the staff coordinator in congressional and public affairs, told ISN Security Watch.

Extreme violence is also on the upswing. In April, alleged members of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel abducted two suspected Envigado Cartel members outside Panama City’s Metro Plaza mall, just one sign of the country’s burgeoning drug trade. It is fueling a new generation of gangs (108 gangs at current count), paid ‘in-kind’ with drugs by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other traffickers.”

Is it time yet to speak of Mexico “going Lebanon” in polite company?

Global GuerillasHENRY OKAH!

John Robb, premier theorist of systemic insurgency and systempunkt, is contacted by a transnational practitioner of global guerillaism. Commenters go nuts.

Steven PressfieldInterview with a Tribal Chief #4: Warlords and Taliban

….Chief Zazai: The people are caught between two fires. When the warlords ran Afghanistan after the Soviets got kicked out, a poor person had to pay a “tax” to have a bicycle, to buy rice, if you sneezed they took money out of your pocket. The Taliban arose in response to this and were backed by the people who thought, These guys are bad but at least they are honest. At least they believe in something beyond their own greed and gangsterism. But then the Taliban became just as much of a plague upon the people by jamming their cruel ways down everybody’s throat. And we saw what Mullah Omar let happen, culminating on 9/11.

John Seely Brown: “The Social View of Learning”

Complexity and Social Networks BlogYou Lie 2.0

Any attention, even the worst kind, is leverage. If you know how to use it.

The Glittering EyeAre We Promoting Our Grand Strategy?

Altogether this provides the United States with an ability to project force unparalleled in human history. Our military spending is commensurate with that and by nearly any reckoning we spend more on our military than any other country. Indeed, our spending exceeds that of the next fourteen largest spenders by a considerable margin, 41.5% of all military spending.

Whether we should be spending that much or will continue to spend that much is a matter of lively, sometimes bitter, discussion. Although I think its a reasonable subject for discussion, that’s not the question I’d like to raise here. My hydra-headed question is does our degree and manner of projection of force promote our grand strategy

Dave always likes to ask the uncomfortable questions. 🙂

That’s it!

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