Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scouts out!

On the subject of Boston yesterday -and apropos of jim's post just below - LTC Bateman reminds us that sitreps from the field are often wrong and even when right can mislead.

As we would have said in the infantry, fucking-A right, sir.

Update 4/18: These videos have been released by the FBI and are described by them as showing two young men suspected of being the bombers.

One thing I noticed is how absolutely open the sidewalks are as these guys are passing along. Whatever else this was, it does not look like a crime requiring a high level of sophistication or expertise. These guys could have strolled along munching on Osama Bin Laden kulfa balls and nobody would have been the wiser.


  1. Chief

    Spot on! However, consider the following:

    The default position is, when you have multiple devices go off, or attempted to go off, it's terrorism from an investigative standpoint, in terms of the resources, in terms of the laws that will be used, and the methods and techniques of the investigation. This will be treated like terrorism, until proven otherwise, essentially.

    It's not just the scouts that have to manage their perceptions!

  2. True; if the S-2 is fixated on interpreting the reports from the recon platoon in a certain way even the best information will get misinterpreted and misused.

    I'd be willing to call this "terrorism" in the sense that it was an attack on a soft target designed to instill fear and overreaction. But that still leaves a whole lot of room for interpretation. WHO were we intended to fear? A intent of a classic "terrorist" attack is always designed to be clear to both the victim and the perpetrator. We have no idea who was behind this, so we have no idea what the "message" was. Political? Religious? Personal? Or WAS there even a message that we could understand? There's no reason that this couldn't have been one individual with a head to torqued that to the rest of us trying to understand his thinking would be like trying to read ancient Sumerian.

    And this doesn't look like the work of a real slicky-boy. From the BBC this morning:

    "...he has been under-whelmed by the tradecraft of the terrorists. They bungled the job, he says - and had only minimal impact.

    "It's tragic and horrible, but from a strategic point of view it just shows that they're idiots," he says.

    "It was just crappy planning from the get go," he says.

    The fact that the terrorist or terrorists killed three people in a crowded area of Boston offers some information about their planning, experience and ability.

    If the bombers had been more sophisticated in their approach, they could have killed many more. In this way, the culprits inflicted a smaller amount of damage than they might have if they had been more efficient in their bomb making and delivery."

    The lesson of Afghanistan is that if you don't pay close attention to the scouts' reports you'll lose sight of the enemy's most dangerous course of action.

    The lesson of Iraq is that of you are determined to mislead your troops you can, by spinning and skewing those reports to fit your preconceived plan.

    Hopefully we will do neither in this case.

  3. And now that I've read your comment on jim's post at MilPub I retract my statement about "terrorism". You - and LTC Bateman - are right; we don't even know that much. If this is a work of a madman without a political or social agenda then by definition it is not "terrorism". Terrifying it may be, but not in any way related to "terrorism" as it describes what happened on 9/11 and the like.

  4. Consider the Mafia. They are, for all intents and purposes, terrorists. They kill for two reasons; Revenge and intimidation of everyone else in specific circles. I say "specific circles", because they are selective in their killing. Police are off limits, because they do not wish to bring the wrath of the law upon themselves. "Rival families" and turncoats are not off limits, as they wish to keep the former in check and deter the latter. Thus, their executions are very often to promote a "social agenda" within the Mafia society.

    On the other hand, a homicidal maniac generally kills for revenge, a lust for killing or in sheer insanity, not to cause a long term or wider social or political outcome. It is not beyond possibility that a lone malcontent pulled off the Boston bombing. The devices were apparently simple, compact and on simple timers. Set one, walk down the street, set the other and get clear of the blast zone. Just fit into and exploit the normal state of affairs. As simple and "elegant" as 9/11. I am willing to bet that backpacks and duffel bags were laying around everywhere in the area. Not so difficult to add two more.

    The fact is that we just don't want to "believe" such acts are "simple and elegant". The magnitude of the casualties begs for a more complex explanation. It just shouldn't be "simple" to kill and injury so many people in a single stroke in plain daylight. But it is.

    Far too many "dots" missing at this time.

  5. LtCol Lynch knew his business. If only the American public would take heed of his words. But most of us like the shinola so much because, well it does put a shiny outlook on things. So we sign on to the direction that the first dot is taking us and refuse to change our mind later. When I question first reports about this event - or past ones - my sister-in-law always tells me they would not be allowed to put it on TV if it was not true. Sad and unfortunate.

  6. mike-

    Back in the 70's, I became a close friend of the city hall reporter for the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, named Roland. We took some grad school courses together with a sports reporter, Jim, for the Arlington, TX newspaper. Over beers, we would joke about which one had to be more scrupulous in their reportage, and Roland would jokingly say that Jim had the harder task, as most of his reading audience new something about the subject matter and could easily call Jim to task if he mis-reported anything.

    Then, one summer night in 1976, Roland is awakened from a dead sleep and told to get right over to a murder scene, as he lived the closest, and the police/crime reporter was out of town. The paper told him how many column inches they were holding and how soon he had to fill them. This was going to be the lead story in the edition being held up from publication, as it involved the wealthy and influential oil heir, Cullen Davis' estranged wife, her boyfriend and the estranged wife's daughter.

    Roland dutifully covered the story and wrote an award winning "breaking news" piece that filled the necessary column inches. He immediately stapled the article on one side of a manilla folder, and with the passage of time, underlined in green, the "facts" he wrote that were proven later to be accurate, and in red those "facts" that were proven to be inaccurate. He called it his "humility exercise", and had learned it from one of his mentors. In time, red outweighed green, and he was man enough to admit it. He was required to write a feature article in 90 minutes, and that was the best he could produce.

    Now, that was an honorable journalist simply under the pressure of time and newsprint space before the advent of the 24/7 "Breaking News" mania. Today, the public wants "dots", wants them fast and the media is more than willing to cater to that appetite, even if the dots are misleading or perhaps not factual. The public want the "news" to reinforce their ignorance, not dispel it.

    Yup, I'm a cynic.

  7. Add to that, guys, the digital-age expectation that we will get our news "instantly" and accurately, which as the Bateman article points out, are almost always mutually exclusive.

    And, I'd observe, I think...

    No, wait; I think that observation needs a whole separate post.

  8. Al - You are a cynic. IMHO the public is being fed the shinola and breaking news. This keeps the ratings up so the bizmanager can sell more commercial time and at higher rates. Yes, we the public are goofy enough to fall for it.

    But I for one do not think the public is driving the bus, we are riding along. But some of us (or perhaps our entire culture or our public attitude) are/is being run over by it. Didn't McLuhan speak about some effect like this?

  9. mike

    Don't know who is driving the bus, but the public are willing passengers. ;-)

  10. Sadly, the madness goes on.

    Thank you Rupert Murdock and all your minions for helping to keep American society dumbed down.

  11. Based on the news this morning it appears that the two individuals (possibly? probably?) involved in this are natives of the southern corona of Russia, either Chechnya or Dagestan:


    At least one of the two seems to have had some Islamist associations, although I still cannot find any of the usual Islamic suspects (including the Chechen Islamic outfits like the so-called "Special Purpose Islamic Regiment" and the "Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs") claiming these mooks.

    So it's far from clear what the hell is going on here, but at the moment it looks something like what I posted back on 4/15 over at GFT: "I should add that the "lone nutter" theory doesn't preclude the nutter having Islamic issues rather than anti-tax issues. No reason that this couldn't be some Somali or Yemeni expat getting payback for drone strikes." or, as it now seem likely, some sort of double-lone-nutters radicalized by the Soviet-Chechnya war and getting payback for...something.

    What that says about the "GWOT" I dunno, other than picking fights with ideologies is never a particularly good idea...

  12. Actually, here's the "quote of the day", from these guys' uncle:

    "Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the bombing suspects, speaking with reporters, says the family is "ashamed." His brother, the suspects' father, is now back in Russian. The family are ethnic Chechens. When asked what provoked the attack, his answer was simple: "Being losers." He also said that "any connection to Islam … is a fake," though he admitted he hasn't seen his nephews in years. The suspects, he insists, have never been to Chechnya."

    "Being losers." You tell 'em, Uncle Tsarni.

  13. Interesting post on registan.net LINK

    Also the reported name 'Tamerlan' of the dead brother is kind of eerie. But then he only killed a child, two women, and a policeman instead of the 17 million of his namesake.

  14. And it appears that the modern-day Timurids will kill no more. Shabash to the police and intelligence agencies that apprehended the younger suspect alive. Hopefully in time we will learn more about what drove these to into the abyss.

  15. Chief-

    Using a very good point from RAW, all too often, we do not "Read the Problem", but read more into the problem than exists. Thus, when scouts see 7 men with weapons in a clearing, that becomes "an advance element", and then one adds the type of formation and assumed movement involved, etc, etc. Even though it may have just been some troops gathering water from a nearby stream, or a rear guard for a small element evacuating an area. Unfortunately, data interpretation by the data gatherers is a common practice.

    That said, there are times when more than simple observations are of value. I was one of the aviators who flew trainee aerial observers at Ft Sill. It was possible to make a pretty good estimate of that a firing battery was doing by looking at key indicators. Trails together and no significant disruption of the ground leans toward a battery about to be laid. Trails together, garbage and significant disruption of the ground might indicate a battery about to displace. And so forth.

    HOWEVER, we taught the AOs to report exactly what they saw, not their interpretation of it. We were explaining the interpretive elements simply to make them aware of why every data element was important to the S2 weenies, who would then construct their conclusions from ALL the data provided from ALL sources.

  16. Good points, Al. I think the problems arise when we base those interpretations not so much on what we see as what we WANT to see. There's a commentor at RAW whose interpretation of these guys was that they were "immigrants" (having been in the U.S. for a decade - the younger brother would have been, what, nine?) and "lefties". What can you do with that sort of thing? That's looking at the trails up and the gunpits dug in and seeing an armored brigade. WTF..?

  17. (a) The whole thing lures so many idiots out, it's a prime opportunity to detect and memorise who's an idiot.
    I have already seen some crap online that made me want to beat the author up till the stupid flows out.

    (b) How stupid can a criminal be?
    To commit a headlines-grabbing crime in your own city, with your brother? You can easily say the grainy video doesn't show you, but you cannot get away with this if both you and your brother look like the criminals on tape!
    And in the own city? How stupid is that? You need one settlement for living, one for crimes and one for stashing and trading. You don't do all of it in your own community unless you're really, really stupid.

    (c) http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli

  18. Meanwhile where is the outrage in the press over the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas? With hundreds(?) of tons of ammonium nitrate going up it killed many more people than the two six liter pressure cooker bombs in Boston. And it destroyed the town. This was not an act of God accident. It was entirely avoidable.

    The plant manager should be investigated and if found culpable should be indicted on charges of manslaughter. The officials of the State of Texas who allow chemical plants like this one to be a danger to their workers and to the public should be investigated as accessories. It will not happen though. Hopefully some public blame will be laid on them. More likely though is that the right-wing-wurlitzer will blame over-regulation. Go figure.

    Unfortunate that the real criminals here - (the Texas State Legislature and some US Congressmen) - will never face a rebuke for their role.

  19. mike-

    No outrage, but the lawsuits against the fertilizer company have been reported and HuffPo did offer this, although not in a clear statement of outrage.