Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bodyguard of Lies

Here's one of the "92,000 War Logs" released on WikiLeaks the other day.

(Just an IMO; seems to me that most of these are situation reports that are being recorded at whatever tactical operations center (TOC) is tasked with control of the area of operations in question. When I was a TOC troll (the battalion FDC truck usually sits at one end of the FA battalion TOC tent) we kept this sort of stuff on a DA Form 1594, a "Daily Staff Journal or Duty Officer's Log". My guess is that this is what most of these reports are extracted from, or the digital form that replaced my trusty old 1594...)

Anyway, this one's an incident report dated 22 NOV 2009, and a rather interesting one at that. Sit right down and you'll hear a tale of the Warriors and the War Lord.

Take it away, RC South:

"TF PEGASUS reported that an illegal checkpoint with 100x INS stopped COMPASS CONVOY.
TF PEGASUS Scout Weapons Team (2 x OH-58's) pushed to area in response to RC(S) request. This is an initial report from SWT OVERHEAD. 4 x STRYKER's from 1-17 IN enroute.

UPDATE -220918D*(M)
Checkpoint composed of 100 middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47's and 15 x PKM's.

RC South reports Compass Convoy from KAF to Tarin Kowt on Rt Bear has been stopped by an illegal check point at 41RQR7927036390 near FOB Frontenac by the local Chief of Police (name is Madula) demanding $2000-$3000 per truck. RC South has made contact through OCC-P,OCC-R and now working with the Dep Cmdr of the ANP for RC-S Gen Mirwais. Gen Mirwais has spoken with the Local Police Chief and told him to let the Convoy through. The Local Police Chief refuses to let the convoy through without payment. Madula states he needs the money to run his operation. RC South has sent elements of 1-17 with 4 MRAPs and 2 helos and are on site. IJC CJOC ANP reps have contacted the NPCC in Kabul asking for the NPCC to call Gen Mirwais to assist. RC South further states that the Local Police Chief Madula is paid by the MOI to protect route Bear.

IJC ANP reps contacted NPCC on situation. NPCC attempted to contacted Gen Mirwais but was unsuccessful. IJC ANP reps then called the MOI. Col. Nimatullah (Current Ops) and Gen Mangal (Deputy MOI Security) are workint the problem. Corretion to the name of the Local Police Chief who has set up the illegal check point; Correct name is Matiullah.

UPDATE : 221601D*(M)
FF report that the COMPASS convoy is moving again and did not pay the fee required by the ANP. FF report no further incidents with ANP or INS along the RTE. NFTR.

UPDATE: 2117D* All vehicles in fuels convoy who were stopped have made it safely to their destination (Tarin Kot) at 2030L.

This Incident closed by RC (S) at: 222114D*NOV2009"


Why is this such a big secret? Convoy gets stopped by local warlord (who is also Karzai government official), convoy eventually gets through, end of story.

The convoy route is, I suspect, not a secret. Since the local warlord is supposed to be protecting it, I suspect that the Talibs know where it is, too. I don't see how this compromises OPSEC.

The only thing bigger than just a bunch of guys milling around smartly is the embarassing revelation that one of our sons-of-bitches is an unreliable son-of-a-bitch, just as likely to attempt to extort money from our armed GIs (which, I have to say, while weapons-grade stupid takes some serious balls) as from passing hootchie mamas and opium farmers. Hey, your tax dollars at work, right?

Seems to me that classifying things to maintain OPSEC is one thing; forgetting to declassify them - or trying to keep them hidden out of carelessness, embarrassment, or just laziness...is another.


  1. Sometimes I wonder why they don't send their secreet hoooah commandos to assassinate a couple of the corrupt officials instead of some elusive insurgents.

    Easier target, greater effect.

  2. It isn't such a big secret. Or, it was only a secret for a short period of time, like almost all tactical reporting.

    The thing is, the war is run at the secret level on a secret-level network. So everything gets dumped on there and most people are pretty lazy and/or ignorant about classifying. Also, this leak is the theater SIGACTs database, which is overall classified at the secret level. This one report from that database wasn't classified in order to prevent embarrassment. If someone wanted to prevent embarrassment they wouldn't have put into a theater-wide database that almost everyone has access to.

    In short, there's no conspiracy here.

  3. Chief - Andy is right.

    My guess is that the initial report (the top five lines) was classified by SOP and probably there was some opsec value in classifying it. Later after all of the updates it certainly could have been declassified. And it could have been declassified within days after the initial report. But nobody is going to take the time to do that in a war zone. Something like that would take years if not decades before declassification (if ever). But the reason would be lethargy or lack of interest and not embarrassment - my opinion anyway.

    As I recall sometime in the seventies (during the Nixon/Ford/Carter(?) administration) there was a big push on to declassify the megatons of highly classified documents some of which dated back a century including Spanish-American War era battleship blueprints. A thousand or two or so Reserve Officers of all services spent their two week summer drill digging thru musty paperwork and for each document deciding whether to: a] keep it classified, or b] declassify and release it for posterity, or c] destroy it as worthless.

  4. I'm not suggesting there's some sort of "conspiracy" in the sense that there is some sort of cabal trying to run this war on the sly.

    What does seem to be happening is that there's no real external pressure to unfuck this pooch. So this stuff just happens, it gets logged and forgotten, remains classified, and then it gets spilled and ends up making the forces involved look 1) deceptive, 2) stupid, or 3) both.

    For all the rhetoric about how we're fighting smarter, how the new COIN techniques and tactics are designed to prevent the big-war destruction-of-Dresden kind of stuff, this kind of carelessness in not, first, realizing how bad this kind of stuff makes us look and dealing with it intelligently, and second, either declassifying these TOC logs after the incidents are dealt with intelligently so the story can come out looking like a coalition success instead of a local proxy out of control and a foreign occupier without a clue.

  5. Sven - During WW2, US General Joseph Stillwell when commander of the China Burma India Theater, had the OSS draw up contingency plans to assassinate Chiang Kai-Shek because of corruption over Lend-Lease Aid.

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  7. Chief,

    I was getting ready to dog pile on you with Andy, but just deleted three paragraphs explaining why it isn't practical to sift through SIGACT databases that likely contain literally 100,000s of reports like this one. But I thought more about your points.

    1. A deliberate release of information (vs. a leak) has its advantages, i.e., control of information and a perception of openness. I get it, however the amount of data is staggering. I suppose this would be a great job for wounded we are keeping on the payrolls, but you would still need someone with some rank to read through each and every single report that is declassed to double check their work. I don't want that detail.

    2. This problem does highlight another issue that is rampant among the entire DoD and that is over-classification. It is easier to hit the highest classification button on an email than to evaluate each line for security level. As a result, you will find 100,000's of emails labeled Secret that are asking about lunch plans or other "perschat".

    3. There is no standard for SIGACTs. Perhaps there is now, I have been away from that side for a while, but for the first 5-6 years in Iraq and Afg, SIGACT logs could be on anything from butcher block, to excel spreadsheets, word docs to powerpoint. New and old databases came and went, some were theater wide, but most were local and were lost when units rotated out. Existing databases designed before the war were beyond worthless pieces of shit (designed for a cold war fight with no relevance to the contemporary operating environment, so no one used them. (or people were untrained so they discarded them for easier local solutions tailored to their AOR) So another challenge that these declassifiers would face is the countless formats. In a perfect world where we would have one reporting system to rule them all, but in this world, that just didn't happen for multiple reasons (technology moving too quick, lack of vision and foresight in the late 90's, shitty systems that were developed in the 90's were so poorly designed that no one used them, lack of enforcement of any single system, etc, etc). Information "dominance" is the term, and one that we failed to achieve.

  8. What does seem to be happening is that there's no real external pressure to unfuck this pooch.

    That's true in more ways than one. There is, of course, the problem of a strategically incoherent policy. But as bg alludes, there's been huge fuckups on the systems side of things. The intelligence community, as a whole, still doesn't have a common database despite spending billions trying to develop one. The problem is similar in the military and in the Afghan theater where each service and sometimes each unit brings it's own solution. MG Flynn, in his critique on intel in Afghanistan earlier this year, mentioned some of this. In reality, a lot of stuff at the unit level simply doesn't get reported up the chain.

    Declassification is a huge task due to all the reasons bg cites. I think there has to be a compelling reason to spend the time and resources rather than just let it all expire or do a mass declassification once the war is done and over with. For tactical info like the stuff in this leak, I doubt it's worth the effort. There's nothing here of strategic importance or public interest beyond those who watch Afghanistan as a hobby or for a living.

    Also, I don't know of any conflict where there was significant declassification of battlefield material during the conflict. Is similar information currently available, for instance, from Desert Storm or any conflict from the last 20 or so years? I'm not aware of any, but maybe it exists in an archive somewhere.

    Finally, I think bloggers in general and the press in particular have done a very poor job reporting on this leak. No one has bothered, for instance, to look at the reported US KIA over the period covered in the logs and compare that with actual numbers. Doing that and some other very basic analysis would give some perspective on how authoritative this set of logs really is. It would open up another line of criticism along the lines of what bg said - that our tactical reporting is not sufficiently rigorous or formalized. But it seems to me pretty much everyone is too busy counting coup for that - trying to use it to justify the shit they already believe in. And even there they are doing a shitty job. There's not mention of Pat Tillman, for instance (hint: there's nothing in the logs about him, his unit or his death). That was was the thrust of my comment over at Lang's place, which he decided to turn into a post for some reason. People are going to look at this huge pile of information and find "evidence" to support whatever narrative they already believe.

    Anyway, in the end this will amount to a whole lot of nothing. This leak won't change anyone's opinion of anything, it won't serve as a catalyst for unfucking tactical reporting in the theater or anything else that might be useful. At most it's going to force us to change some callsigns and pull some assets that might have been compromised.

  9. Y'all are consuming an enormous amount of bandwidth trying to explain technicalities I understand, guys.

    But do you understand that this LOOKS bad? And WHY it looks bad?

    This isn't about the technicalities of declassification, policy, coherent strategy...it's about the facts that

    1. This is a colonial war, a cabinet war, and that as such it's not a slam-dunk in a democracy; it has to be "sold".

    2. That assigning someone to the detail of sifting through all this stuff - of managing the war as it appears to a civilian outsider IS the critical detail, as crucial as slotting muj, and if it's not done right, as it wasn't here, you risk losing not because your enemy defeats you but because your own countrymen see you as clueless and foolish, your war as a disorganized mess without a purpose, tire of spending their tax dollars on it and want to move on to something more entertaining?

    Somebody SHOULD have caught the implications of this. Somebody should have figured out that one of the snuffies on the inside would have some fun turning these Groundhog Day rushes into fodder for the public press. Somebody should have had an immediate response ready.

    Better yet, somebody should have figured out that capping civilians and playing footsie with Central Asian warlords is a fool's errand, and that we should have turned this shit sandwich over to the locals back in 2004, declared victory, and left behind a subsurface contingent of spies, foreign-legion-style "advisors" and trainers, and gone our merry way.

  10. Chief,

    Somebody SHOULD have caught the implications of this.

    What implications? My point at the end of my last comment and over at Lang's is that every squirrel is able to find their own little nut in this data dump. There are no implications since everyone is able to find something to confirm their own biases including those of us who think our Afghanistan policy isn't coherent. For substance, there isn't a lot here. How does this leak change the game? It doesn't it at all. It's not going to prove anything to anyone except to further confirm positions already held.

  11. Sven,
    Your assumption could be false.
    I bet these personnel have better security than Karzai.
    Their PSD are motivated by tribal/family loyalty and not by money.
    They obviously have a funnel to pour money freely into their coffers.

  12. Andy,
    It used to be that units did a yearly historical report, and it was unclassified.
    Some units even did yearbooks-even in combat.
    I've seen these things while yard saleing.
    The 5th SF, in rvn had a friggin mag that was slicker than SOF.
    I reckon a person could access these to come up with historical studies.
    I also guess that there is a classified version.

  13. Chief,
    Sorry for the disconnect.
    IMO military black ops/jsoc exist purely to remove Congressional oversight from their far reaching activity.
    I do see malevelance in these actions.

  14. Andy's comments pretty much explain to me why so many of the people relatively "close" to this war don't seem to get why these leaks - as inconsequential and mundane as the actual contents are - have the potential to "move the goalposts" further away for the armed services involved.

    I agree that these aren't going to completely upset the Long War applecart. But I'm hearing a lot of "this is just nothing", "there's no there there", "it doesn't change the game", "nothing was hidden", it was just SIGACTs procedure".

    And if you're an insider, that may well be true. You deal with this stuff every day. And you're so close to the subject that the notion of blue-on-whites, secret assassinations, collateral damage, government corruption, and all the rest of the Afghan Traveling Medicine Show are just been-there-done-that.

    But I'm now sitting outside the wire with the rest of the gomers. And for a lot of us, we hear about bits and pieces of this stuff, but never much and not very clearly. The PAO pricks for ISAF have got their patter down pretty well; by the time the embeds get a look at this stuff it's pretty muted. The rawness is taken out of the fuckup; the dead civvies are "suspected Taliban", the mess is tidied a bit, the corrupt Afghan coppers become "alleged" corrupt Afghan coppers, and so on.

    Jason Sigger sums up the impact for us pretty well: "These are routine situation reports, but they show a staggering loss of momentum in that nothing in Afghanistan has really changed in the six years of documented reports. As Spencer Ackerman notes, the recent news "conceals what’s really valuable about the leaked logs: they’re a real-time account of how the U.S. let Afghanistan rot."

    Jim Fallows, another civilian type outside the wire, says "If the WikiLeaks documents, coming during what is already the deadliest month ever for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, really do mark a shift in mainstream opinion about the war, it will be because everyone [general public, press, and politicians] will now recognize what "everyone" [insiders] already knew.

    I tend to disagree that this will be mark any real change; my faith in the U.S. public's incuriosity, intertia, stupidity, and sheep-like ability to nod and believe what they're told rather than their lying ears and eyes will prevent this from becoming a real watershed. But in the steady drip-drip of persistent evidence that we're spending too much time and too much money (not to mention the occasional life) in trying to hustle the East, this is a little bigger drip than usual.

    I'll explain why I think so in the next comment.

  15. For me, these TOC log entries pretty much define futility.

    First, the continuing blue-on-whites show me that ISAF doesn't get the biggest constraint they face; time.

    Every foreign occupier that doesn't choose to go completely Roman has to understand that they are always treading a line, not a line they may cross, but one they will cross. Whether it's Dyer at Jallianwallah Bagh or the Paras in Derry on Bloody Sunday, at some point there will be an excessive-force incident that will lose you whatever leeway you had. Before you will be always under pressure to leave - after wards, it won't be an issue of whether but when.

    This isn't to suggest that we're being exceptionally heavy-handed, or brutal, or stupid. As occupations of Afghanistan goes, this is a pretty mellow one. But nobody likes occupation, Afghans among the least of all, and to wallow about like there's always tomorrow?

    That's just dumb. And the lack of urgency that these continuing friendly-fire incidents (and remember, the residents of Kandihar derailed our cunning plans for them by making sure we understood that they'd rather not have us coming around "protecting" them.

    The Talibs are murderous, but they're local killers. We're the contract guys from Jersey. It's not hard to figure out who is less welcome.

    The other thing I find utterly clueless is the notion that by keeping maneuver units in country this is somehow going to eventually result in an Afghanistan more like Rhode Island than Kazakhstan. And it may well be; certainly the British managed to remake a hell of a lot of the Third World.

    But it took them 100 years!

    Is there anyone, anywhere, that thinks we have the sort of time that it took the British to turn the subcontinent from a chaotic collection of feudal states into modern India? Because that's the level of change we're talking, here. Yes, the Afghans are at a higher level technically, but I'd suggest they're at a lower level politically. Much of India had been unified by the Mughals, the princely states came in as bodies...and, most importantly, the British came in to RULE, and used the brutality necessary to do so. We can't, and as a result can't expect the same level of results.

    We're prisoners of or rhetoric of "victory", of the grand claims we've made to remake the Afghan government and people. There's no realistic way of doing this, short of beating the entire place into bloody submissive rags, and we haven't the time, money, or forces to do that.

    And the reason I give a shit in the NEXT comment...

  16. So, frankly, I could care less what happens in detail in Afghanistan.

    The people who engineered the attack in 2001 are dead or on the run. The fight against them is now a matter for policemen, and spies, and assassins.

    The question of which mob of Afghans runs Afghanistan is one that only they can really settle. Having a bunch of maneuver units wandering around just tends to mess up the process (see: Iraq). We just need a relatively reliable proxy, which we can support with air and ground fires, contract advisors, bribery, threat, and coercion.

    And the Pakis still see the main problem in southcentral Asia as one of India rather than Islamic excess; their position towards our jihad against the Afghan Talibs will always be unhelpful so long as they think that the regime we install in Kabul will lean towards India rather than to them. If we can't do this we need to accept containment rather than cooperation along the Durand Line.

    If we do all this the only real losers here remain my Army brothers, sent to play foreign legionnaires for the new emir of Kabul. Fighting foreign insurgencies with little or no help beyond public platitudes at home is bad for democracies, bad for armies, and bad for soldiers; ask the British about Palestine or Egypt, the French about Algeria, or the Portuguese about Angola.

    So fuck this for a game of soldiers. We need to start thinking beyond the moronic rhetoric trail that the Bushies blazed and Obama is following. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. We need to figure out how to best get out, and then manage the inevitable collapse that these logs show we have neither the overwhelming force to prevent nor the native cunning to elude.

  17. Interesting thread. Andy made some good points, but I find myself agreeing with Chief's pessimism, which is also Andy's pessimism?

  18. Seydlitz,
    Is it pessimism if it's true?

  19. In today's IHT:

    The revelations contained in newly released U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan have led to parliamentary demands in Berlin and London for expanded inquiries into the war that some analysts say could increase pressure in Europe for accelerated troop withdrawals.

    It is not just the US that has a hand in this operation.

    FDChief: We need to figure out how to best get out, and then manage the inevitable collapse that these logs show we have neither the overwhelming force to prevent nor the native cunning to elude.

    Spot on.

  20. Yes, my pessimism too. I continue to believe Afghanistan is primarily driven by domestic political considerations and I don't see these logs changing that calculus much if at all

  21. Al,
    Just today in Newsweek, nato was referred to as an international peacekeeping force.
    When did that happen?

  22. jim-

    That would be 1995 when IFOR went into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  23. And now seydlitz has found the real Schlieffen behind the Afghan Plan; Karl Rove.


    My brothers are killing and dying so this fat asshole can prance his lying ass all over the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

    Fuck me. Just shoot me now.

  24. FDChief-

    Notice he didn't mention anything about wikileaks in his piece . . . that would have been too far for even Rove, given his own betrayal of classified information . . .

    "the real Schlieffen" . . . not bad.

  25. No, I didn't learn anything new from these leaks. Business as usual in Bizarro Land. So those Taliban boys have gotten some heat-seekers? Well, whoop-de-do. Modern weaponry is flat out dangerous to your health and there's no shortage of willing suppliers. Oh, and we do know who sells the most shit out there, don't we? Good odds they were U.S. missiles.

    But even though my reaction is essentially a big yawn, that ain't the case in all quarters. This humongous data dump is going to cause some problems. As Al notes, the foreign devils helping us are going to be asking some serious questions. The U.S. had better have some good answers because public sentiment in those Euro areas isn't all that our war lovers would like. You do realize the U.S. answers to those questions will be pathetic, don't you? Pretty hard to defend a war when the only reason you're doing it is to protect your right flank in domestic politics. So what Chancellor Angela in Deutschland is going to conclude is that she's sending Hans und Fritz und Wolfgang off to die to enhance Obama's reelection prospects. You do know they're all going to leave, right? This will merely make it easier.

    And then there is domestic opinion. The American people haven't had a clue about this goatfuck in Afghanistan. They haven't cared and the government hasn't exactly gone out of its way to educate them. But now I'll bet a few voters may actually stir themselves and ask their congress critter some penetrating questions. Inasmuch as Congress critters routinely dodge those kinds of questions as if their very life depended on it, they won't like that one bit. But, cowardly frogs that they are, they like disgruntled voters even less than they like tough questions. We'll start seeing more questions from the Congress.

    And then there is the U.S. military. I haven't seen any commentary on this, but what does it say about the vaunted AVF that one or more troops just up and dumped this boatload of (over) classified information? Not for money, but for some other motive. Disaffection ranks high on my list. But...but, these are all volunteers. They love this shit. Right. Official unemployment rate 9.4 percent—much higher in reality—you betcha all of those guys grew up wanting to do nothing other than to help those wonderful Afghan "leaders" steal even more from their fellow citizens. Disaffection. Suicides. Broken marriages. Our ground forces are hurting. But that's OK just so long as the president is able to make the neocons happy.

    Yeah, I think this stuff is pretty significant. The Long War lobby is ultimately going to lose this one.

  26. Publius,
    Today Mullen says that wiki leaks MIGHT have blood on their hands for airing these documents.
    My question is-so what??
    The entire nation is soaked and covered in blood, as a result of these phony, bullshit wars. Who the f--k is Chairman/JCS to make this absurd comment? Has he looked in a mirror lately?
    How many civilians have we killed, for no military purpose. But, i guess killing is only fun and acceptable if Centcom stooges are doing it.
    The Schiefflin analogy doesn't work for me, b/c he was dead when his plan was executed. No such luck here with Turd Blossom.
    I'm in concurence with all of your comments, but i must wonder, as i often have--where do these professional government tit suckers come from, and why do we tolerate their bull shit.?
    Where do the idiots on both spectrums get money?

  27. Egregious Hubris.

    High Quality Hypocritical Dip Shittery.

    Hey, duya think I can make it as a highly paid Tee Vee Pudnit?

    Nah, I have some morals.