Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

On the Battlefield

On the Bookshelf: The Wrong War by Bing West

The Wrong War

Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan

by Bing West

As always, Bing West is insightful, informative and on-point. In The Wrong War Bing West tackles the conflict in Afghanistan, combining the dirt-level accounts of soldiers on the front lines, with high-minded analysis of the strategy that drives the doctrines that those soldiers are using. It is this synthesis that makes books by Bing West required reading.

Most of the The Wrong War deals with detailed accounts of operations and campaigns fought by in the rugged terrain of the valleys and passes of  the Afghanistan / Pakistan border region. Bing West uses these accounts to illustrate the various interactions between the Afghan people, the Afghan government, the geography and the Western military forces; and how there is a fundamental disconnect between the situation on the ground, and the strategy that guides Western action in the country. His bottom line is that what we are fighting “the wrong war.”

Counterinsurgency doctrine, or rather the current flavor of counterinsurgency doctrine being used in Iraq and Afghanistan known as COIN, focuses on engaging the people and building their trust through development and security in order to convince them to reject insurgent forces and deny them the safe-havens they require in order to operate effectively. This “nation-building” strategy puts a premium on the COIN theory that “dollars are bullets” and that actual bullets should be rarely used in order to avoid civilian casualties that create political resistance and “accidental guerillas” among the Afghans and poor public relations back in the Western world.

To West this as a horrible strategy. As he sees it, what we have created in Afghanistan is not a nation that can stand on its own against the Taliban, but rather that we have propped up an exceedingly weak, corrupt, kleptocratic, government that enriches itself on Western developmental funds, and a people who see that development as an entitlement they can depend upon and don’t need to work to attain. Worse, through lack of oversight, control and poor policy, we have raised up this innately corrupt government as the preferred alternative to the Taliban. With that in mind, it is no wonder that the Afghan people are reluctant to buy what we are selling.

To West, the “Way Out” advertised in the subtitle of the book isn’t a literal exit from the conflict but rather a prescription for a re-think and realignment of policy and strategy. West argues the main reason we are receiving no real support from the Afghan people is that, despite all of the hand-outs and developmental projects, we aren’t showing them that we are ultimately going to be the winning side of the conflict. West points out that in Iraq the Sunni’s came to our side because they recognized we were The Strongest Tribe and he doesn’t expect the Afghan people to step up until they are convinced of the same eventuality of victory against the Taliban. Until that occurs they will continue to be noncommittal and hedge their bets. However, West also argues that the flaw in U.S. involvement is that we are physically and politically incapable of committing the forces and funding to make that sort of victory a reality, that we have handcuffed ourselves so severely in regards to Pakistan, the Afghan government and rules of engagement, that such a result isn’t possible. In other words, our policy in this conflict won’t let us be the strongest tribe. What then to do? West’s answer is to focus our energies on building up the Afghan security forces and partnering our Special Forces with them so that they can fulfill that role.

Highly Recommended!


The Catch: Augmented Reality / Diminished Reality

Singularity Hub :  New Augmented Reality Software Removes Objects from Video Feeds in Real Time.

“What if you could remove all the ugliness in the world? It’s not a hypothetical question. Researchers at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany have developed a new augmented reality technique that erases images from real time video. Called Diminished Reality, the software can take any area selected in a video feed and use photo-shop like adjustments to copy the surroundings into its place. Where once you saw an object now you see the object has been removed. A piece of your world has been erased. Diminished Reality records video from a camera and displays the modified result on a screen with only a 40ms delay. To your eyes it’s effectively instantaneous. Watch a demonstration of the augmented reality editing program in the video below. I’m blown away by how well it works in these early examples.”

Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Most of the applications I have come across for Augmented, and now Diminished, Reality are gaming / entertainment and advertising in the form of virtual pets, virtual LARP-type activities, and virtual advertising banners that can be highly targeted to individual persons. This demonstration seems closer to the espionage application of the really ugly shirt that played a key role in William Gibson’s novel Zero History (my review here) by rendering the character wearing it invisible to video surveillance by triggering a computer program deep in the London surveillance camera system (see questions five and six of this interview with Gibson) . It may not exactly be to that stage yet though it seems to me this is a very long step in that direction.

The Laughing Man is hacking your eyes!Considering this is a potentially very long, twisty, branching and strange road, the ability to modify reality in this way seems to have limitless implications. The 5GW theorist lurking in my brain (and clapping on the sidelines), also has to wonder about how easy it may one day become to seamlessly and unobtrusively cause distortion between perceived Observation and actual Observation before that information feeds into Orientation. Understanding the mechanisms of 5GW may be instructive in harnessing this type of power, it may also be vital in learning to protect against it.

The Catch: The Cognitive Dissonance of COIN

“The Catch” is, from here on, the heading and category for “Recommended Reading” posts here at Red Herrings.

The Catch: Recommended Reading

Recommended reading from Small Wars Journal:

The Cognitive Dissonance of COIN
Right Doctrine, Wrong War
by Jason Thomas

“The psychological investment in COIN is now so deep that the cognitive dissonance would be too great to change course or admit COIN is the right doctrine for the wrong war. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that despite contrary evidence, people are biased to think of their choices as correct. Like climate change, so much has been invested in counterinsurgency with huge reputations at stake, that anyone who challenges COIN in Afghanistan could be labeled a COIN skeptic.  No matter how much we try to win the hearts and minds, no matter how many millions of dollars is spent on development and regardless of attempts to improve governance and eliminate corruption, the socio-cultural ecosystem of Afghanistan does not respond to the doctrine of counterinsurgency. While the pockets can be won the heart and minds in Afghanistan will always remain notoriously capricious.

 There are many reasons to continually question COIN from every angle, but the two this paper is concerned with are i) whether COIN could be the right military doctrine being applied in the wrong campaign; and ii) preparing for the next major unconventional war – as is often the case in political campaigns and war, we tend to find ourselves fighting on the issues, theories or practices in the last campaign.

 This paper will attempt to “play the ball and not the man”  by pointing to the range of reasons unique to Afghanistan on top of self-imposed obstacles that reinforce the hypothesis of right doctrine, wrong war.”

All in all, a thought-provoking paper that is well worth a read even if you don’t agree with the author’s argument. Personally, I don’t think COIN is the wrong doctrine for Afghanistan. At least, not all of Afghanistan. If the Taliban is seeking to create a parallel, non-secular, (Pakistan aligned) government that usurps the government of Kabul. That makes it an insurgency. The problem is using COIN in Afghanistan is that it is being used across the board, even in places where the Taliban isn’t active. If there isn’t an insurgency, you can’t wage a counterinsurgency. Personally, I think the disconnect about using COIN as the go-to doctrine of the U.S. forces, comes from an inflexibility of practitioners to have multiple doctrines. Everything is COIN because counterinsurgency is the sexy buzzword of the moment. However, COIN is not an anti-terrorism or homeland security doctrine. If you are chasing Bin Laden, you shouldn’t be using a COIN doctrine.

Actually, what I found most interesting about the article were the author’s 6 points for adapting COIN for future campaigns. I felt they had a great deal of 5GW resonance.

“The following are suggestions for improving the adaptability of COIN for future campaigns:

1. Stress test COIN and other military doctrines against a range of insurgent scenarios taking place in potential host countries – what is unique about the cultural and tribal dynamics.

2. Anticipate the next host nations and begin a coordinated, international effort to limit the opportunity for the global jihadists to re-base themselves (Australia has done a good job with its intense support of governance, security and development initiatives in Indonesia) – almost an interntional version of COIN.”

3. Develop sophisticated social networking and internet countering-platforms devised by and run by maintstream, globally recognised and respected Muslim organisations.

4. Intesify the global ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to convince young, mobile and increasingly sophisticated Muslims that the West is not a threat to their belief systems. This must be coordinated at an international level across governments and non-government actors.

5. Identify communications strategies and tactics to undermine the jihadists perceived legitimacy in the minds of eye of mainstream media. Every time the insurgents claim ‘civilians have been killed by US forces’ this is treated as fact by the media.

6. Avoid seeking a generic, off-the-shelf, model of COIN devised from previous campaigns to be applied to the next campaign.”

All six of these points are in line with 5GW thinking. First, working to trigger established rule-sets of a target population’s Orientation by feeding them information in specific context, through their own prefered information channels, is the basis of Fifth Gradient doctrines. 5GW is also inherently strategic in scope, meaning that anticipating the next hot-spot and preemptively targeting it with 5GW operations is required. Above all, adaptability is a hallmark of, not only 5GW, but XGW itself. A basic tenet of XGW is to create a specific doctrine for the situation at hand that is X+1 of the doctrine being used by your opponent, there is no such thing as an “off-the-shelf” doctrine.

More Tales of the Sysadmin

Recommended Reading from WIRED’s Danger Room:

Afghan Government MIA at American-Backed Farm

“SHALIZAR, Afghanistan — The rows on the farm were neat and parallel, just as they should appear: red tomatoes that started out as Iranian seeds; bulbous watermelons ripening on the vine; even peanuts. Peanuts aren’t typically a crop grown in Afghanistan, but they’re cultivated here in almost 20 rows. It’s an apparent tribute to the peanut farmer and Virginia National Guard officer who’s sponsoring this Kapisa Province agricultural project.

Only one thing was missing: the Afghan government’s agricultural chief for the province, who was supposed to inspect the crops. And it’s for his benefit that the farm is around in the first place. Consider it another example of how America’s costly counterinsurgency formula lacks a central ingredient: an interested, functional host-nation government.

The farm is the project of the Agribusiness Development Team attached to Task Force Wolverine, the brigade-sized unit responsible for security in Bamiyan, Panjshir and Parwan provinces. The ADTs are a fairly recent initiative that bring around ten groups of National Guardsmen — in this case, 64 reservists, mostly from Kentucky — with farming experience to advise and mentor Afghan provincial officials in agricultural production techniques.”

An Editorial Digression

I’ve discussed before the role of the Agribusiness Development Teams as a sort of Sysadmin in Miniature. Really there should also be Infrastructure Development Teams, Economic Development Teams, and Educational Development Teams among others (though all of these point toward something larger than a military-centric approach. Hello USAID, State Department, anybody?). The type of counterinsurgency effort of the ADTs, especially in the very agriculturally based areas of Afghanistan, should be one of the most effective ways to curb violence and give the people of the region a very tangible stake in the future of the country. Kapisa Province, should be a prime location for this sort of project. It is close to the potential market of Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city, cultural hub, and as the entry point for most foreign investment, economic center. It is sad how a project that seems to have so much potential can be almost sabotaged through the negligence or disinterest of one person.

The lesson seems to be that the bottom-up approach to counterinsurgency is much more effective than a top-down approach. It makes sense. In states like Iraq and Afghanistan, the people were kept in line with a strong hand regardless of whether it is secular or religious in nature. Fear is the motivator for compliance and that carries over to the insurgency. First, there is the fear that the invader will be worse (in other words: ‘the devil you know’ argument). Second, that the insurgency is among the people making the threat even more immediate. It will take a long while working at the grass-roots of the population to show them that they can have the power (the farm, the vote, the lifestyle) and prosper, that Afghanistan is their country, that they are not serfs toiling for their masters in the capital. Even more vitally important, that the power they develop cannot, and should not, be taken away from them if they follow the rules of the society. A top-down approach in a failed state with a bribery and corruption problem just wastes resources and continues the narrative that power is relegated to the few of the elite, the gatekeepers, and not the many of the people who are ‘the state’.

Essentially, empowerment of the people is what I see as the role of the Sysadmin in the reconstruction of failed states and the ‘shrinking of the Gap’. Yes, the Sysadmin brings technical, logistical, political and economic expertise of the Core into the Gap. They get the lights on. They establish a communications network. They improve irrigation and roads. With the help of the population the bring the standards of living up to a point where the population can begin to interact with the wider world around them. Depending upon the situation this may take a very long time, decades, even generations. The Sysadmin is in for the long-term but the Sysadmin is not the stakeholder. For the stakeholders, the population, the job is never done and when they decide to stand up for themselves the job of the Sysadmin is to get out of the way.

On the Bookshelf: They Fought for Each Other by Kelly Kennedy

They Fought for Each Other:

The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq.

by Kelly Kennedy

They Fought for Each Other is a dirt-level account of Charlie Company 1/26th Infantry Regiment’s operations in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad during the 2007 ‘Surge’. During this time Charlie Company would suffer more casualties than any other Company since Vietnam including 14 killed. Nine of those were from one platoon, many killed in one massive IED explosion that destroyed a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. One man won the Medal of Honor saving the lives of his friends by jumping on top of a grenade thrown into his Humvee. Those are awful statistics and situations, but what makes it a true tragedy is the effect the losses had on the men of Charlie Company.

In the pages of the book there dwells a profound and compelling sadness. From the shocks and concussions of the IED  explosions that happen so frequently they become routine, to the physical and mental weight of the combat stress each soldier carried, to the resulting PTSD that threatened to overwhelm the survivors, They Fought for Each Other is a haunting portrait of modern warfare. It is a credit to the author, Kelly Kennedy, that she was able to capture the horrific events and the aftermath of those events in a way that conveys to the reader the feelings of the soldiers of the incredibly close and tight-knit Charlie Company and their families without getting in the way of the story. NPR’s Fresh Air had an excellent interview with her back in March of 2010 that is well worth a listen. It includes the first chapter of the book.

As someone with an interest in counterinsurgency theory and practice I found another interesting thread in the story. These soldiers were aware of counterinsurgency practices. They did their best to establish a rapport with the local people. They handed out soccer balls, they tried to place generators to provide electricity to the population (even though they were always appropriated by the insurgents), they tried to establish a sense of security in the absence and/or negligence of the Iraqi Army and Police . They did their best, and they were good at their jobs, one reason a company was patrolling a sector that probably should have required a larger number of troops. However, at every turn they absorbed attack after attack. They lost Humvees and even Bradleys to IEDs and EFPs and were asked again and again to continue the mission, engage the populace with friendly overtures. Eventually they reached a breaking point, an issue rarely discussed in COIN circles: What happens when, in the face of fierce ongoing resistance by the insurgents, the soldiers are unable to continue to engage in non-kinetic counterinsurgency activities with the population?

It is a question that needs further exploration. In hindsight it was obvious that Charlie Company needed to be augmented or removed well before they broke. In hindsight it speaks well of the men of the platoon that eventually mutinied that they refused to go out, not because they felt they couldn’t patrol any longer, but rather that they recognized that they had absorbed so much mental strain that they couldn’t trust themselves to conduct themselves with appropriate restraint if they were faced with an ambiguous situation, and face it, counterinsurgency contains nothing but ambiguity demanding restraint.

Great book. Read it.

WikiLeaks and the Super-Empowered Individual

In the truest sense of the concept, everyone has the potential to be super-empowered. This type of super-empowerment is a product of  technology and connectivity, but its most essential aspect derives from knowledge and the ability to accumulate, disseminate and leverage that knowledge.   

I have had a problem with most characterizations of the super-empowered individual, mainly because it is so often confused with the other closely related concept from Thomas L. Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the Super-Empowered Angry Man. Many theorists who have written extensively upon the topic of super-empowerment tend to focus on super-empowerment leading to the Oklahoma City Bombing, the 2001 Anthrax Letters, Ted Kaczynski the Unabomber or other examples where some angry individual leveraged their special form of knowledge in order to do harm to others. 

Given statements by Admiral Mike Mullen about the potential harm from the WikiLeaks document release, I find it interesting that few, if any, have thought to consider WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the unnamed individual (speculated to be a 22-year-old Army Private named Bradley Manning) who is the source of the 90,000+ secret documents detailing operations in Afghanistan in the context of super-empowerment.  


WikiLeaks itself creates and enhances super-empowerment. As an organization it is designed to provide anonymity to individuals possessing information, accumulated knowledge, alowing them to disseminate and leverage that knowledge. 

From the WikiLeaks site:

“It is hard for WikiLeaks to protect against “means, motive and opportunity” which are unrelated to WikiLeaks, but to date, as far as we can ascertain, none of the thousands of WikiLeaks sources have been exposed, via WikiLeaks or any other method.  Whistleblowers can face a great many risks, depending on their position, the nature of the information and other circumstances. Powerful institutions may use whatever methods are available to them to withhold damaging information, whether by legal means, political pressure or physical violence. The risk cannot be entirely removed (for instance, a government may know who had access to a document in the first place) but it can be lessened. Posting CD’s in the mail combined with advanced cryptographic technology can help to make communications on and off the internet effectively anonymous and untraceable. WikiLeaks applauds the courage of those who blow the whistle on injustice, and seeks to reduce the risks they face. 

 Our servers are distributed over multiple international jurisdictions and do not keep logs. Hence these logs cannot be seized. Anonymization occurs early in the WikiLeaks network, long before information passes to our web servers. Without specialized global internet traffic analysis, multiple parts of our organization and volunteers must conspire with each other to strip submitters of their anonymity.  

 However, we also provide instructions on how to submit material to us, by post and from netcafés and wireless hotspots, so even if WikiLeaks is infiltrated by a government intelligence agency submitters cannot be traced.”  


Project: Department of the Future?

“We can’t afford just any old future.”

Directive 51 by  John Barnes

Directive 51 is one of those apocalyptic thrillers that, once read, leave me with the uneasy feeling that I should be stockpiling canned goods and firearms. The book is a good read even if it regularly takes some fairly dubious turns away from plausibility and requires quite a bit of the suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, that isn’t what has made it linger in my thinking. Aside from some of the 5GWishness, Resilient Community and Global Guerilla aspects it contains, the most interesting thing about the book is the organization the main character belongs to, a cabinet level governmental department called the Department of the Future. The Department of the Future (or DoF) is further divided into the Office of Future Threat Assessment, the Office of Technology Forecasting and the Office of Political Futurology. Now, I’m not certain that such a government department would ever really be able to exist, or even function if it did exist much less be the centerpiece for national disaster management and response that it is in the novel, but it is very intriguing as a virtual think-tank (or maybe better yet ongoing Blog-tank!) type institution dedicated to looking down the road to the what is not only ont the horizon, but over the horizon.

Any interest out there for such a project?

America 2021: Long Term Thinking

From Democracy Journal, an interesting roundtable discussion about future military policy issues.

The plague of short-term thinking endemic to Washington politics–the focus on yesterday’s press release, today’s televised teapot tempest–is only exacerbated when the conversation turns to national security. The wars we’re fighting now and the threats directly in front of us come to monopolize our attention at the expense of the big picture. Yet if the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that America and the world are best-served when policymakers and experts take a step back to consider not just the challenges of today and tomorrow–but the challenges of several tomorrows from now.

Where will our armed forces be in ten years, and what will we ask of them? Will we still be in Afghanistan and Iraq? How might our changing demographics change our alliances?

In April, we brought together four distinguished military experts–Lawrence Korb, P.W. Singer, Heather Hurlburt, and Robert Hunter–to grapple with and debate the big picture. We didn’t ask them technical questions about force structure or weapons acquisitions. We instead looked for insight into American strategy and the kinds of challenges we’re likely to confront in the years ahead.

Read the rest here.

Passive 5GW

Curtis Weeks has an excellent post regarding the means of executing 5GW at his new 5GW blog Musing 5GW (be sure to check out the first three posts drawing 5GW parallels and lessons from the anime Death Note: here, here and here).

I have been thinking about something that intersects with his line of thought, that 5GW may fall into two different types of efforts, passive and active. Thinking about how that might specifically be accomplished on the passive side brought to mind my favorite mentalist Derren Brown. He is the architect of my favorite 5GWish effort, 5GW Chess and upon further exploring has another passive 5GWish trick up his sleeve.

You call it subliminal advertising, I call it 5GW.

Same trick. Different target. Different inputs. Same basic results.

This ‘trick’, much like the chess trick, is a specifically created and controlled situation. In the chess trick, the means of 5GW acts in an active manner in that it specifically removes certain choices from the targeted players. The subliminal advertising trick (also an example of memetic manipulation) instead is designed to offer additional choices to the targeted advertising team by seeding their route to Brown’s office with multiple subtle memes. Because these memes are tailored to fit in specific ways with the task Brown sets to the advertising teams makes them more attractively usable and causes them to think down particular paths.

Recommended Reading: Harmony and Chaos

Harmony and Chaos: The Principles of China’s Unrestricted Warfare

by Carson Thomas Checketts

IO Journal

A very nice article relating some of the very 5GWish thinking of Unrestricted Warfare as it may impact relations with China and the relationships between kinetic and non-kinetic conflict on the future. Well worth the read!

Hat Tip: Mountainrunner‘s Matt Armstrong

5GW: Manipulating Observation

Via Danger Room:

Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

The 5GWish money quote:

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening – or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times – and shape your actions,” says one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.


These are just the sort of systemic vulnerabilities that 5GW actors seek to exploit.

(Cross-posted at Dreaming 5GW)

Sysadmin Tales: Cultivating Afganistan

About three months ago a Sysadmin-in-miniature, the 119th Agriculture Development Team of the Indiana National Guard, deployed to Khost province in Afghanistan and Bloomington Indiana journalist Douglas Wissing is embedded with the unit and will be filing a series of reports about the unit’s experiences.

From Wissing’s most recent report:

About the size of four Indiana counties, Khost Province sits on the eastern Afghanistan border with the Taliban-controlled tribal regions of Pakistan. Populated by the Pashtun warrior tribe, Khost has been a hotbed of fundamentalist Islamic armed resistance since the start of the 1980s Soviet war. Today, elements of the society continue their insurgency against the Afghan national government and its American allies, complicating the ADT mission.

“The information that has been presented to us that far and away Khost Province is the most kinetic of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan,” said ADT Commander Col. Brian Copes. “Kinetic simply meaning shooting and explosions and IEDs and indirect fire-artillery, mortar and rocket fire.”

In late May, insurgents launched attacks on the provincial capital, Khost City, and the nearby Forward Operating Base Salerno, where the ADT is posted. Suicide attackers invaded a downtown Khost City government building to kill the governor meeting with American officers. Twenty people died in the attack. A suicide bomber exploded a truck just outside the FOB Salerno gate, killing nine Afghans. An errant Taliban rocket landed on a mosque near the base, killing three worshipers. On FOB Salerno, three ADT soldiers narrowly escaped injury when an insurgent mortar round exploded 50 meters away.

In spite of increasing risk, the ADT persists with their development work- though with precautions. To protect the soldiers, the team travels in gargantuan armored vehicles called MRAPs, designed to withstand IED blasts and ambushes.

The Agriculture Development Team is composed of 16 experts in livestock and crop farming, forestry and veterinary medicine and a security force of 35 Indiana National Guardsmen. They will be working with and advising Afghan farmers in order to improve their productivity and efficiency.

The Sysadmin aspect of this effort is further distinguished by the older and more experienced makeup of the unit with its specialist knowledge and capabilities and the language and cultural training they received before going off to Afghanistan.

Douglas Wissing’s pictures as well as print and audio reports on the Agriculture Development Team and their efforts in Afghanistan may be found at the Cultivating Afghanistan website at Newsmatters.org

XGW and Torture

Cross Posted at Dreaming 5GW

When considering the use of torture within the framework of XGW it becomes clear that torture has real utility at only three gradients of doctrine.


0GW Torture:

0GW – Confrontation and Conflict at its most basic level is an expression of natural selection. This genetic imperative is the principle behind any doctrine that is essentially the projection of Force for the survival of an individual organism.

When considering torture from the most basic, survival, level consideration of morality has no bearing upon the use of any method that ensures survival. The imperative is the continuation of the line, therefore, so long as the subject of the torture isn’t of that line any method of information extraction is justified.


4GW Torture:

4GW – Fourth gradient doctrines are based upon the principle of the attainment of a functional invulnerability that prevents the opponent from being able to orient upon a threat and creates a perception that saps the ability of the opponent to function effectively.

The use of torture at the fourth gradient is premised upon the creation of a sense of dread of the unknown in the minds of the opponent. Torture becomes a method not just of gathering information, but a weapon of fear. Used as an extreme, the opponent may have a fear of capture by the 4GW actor that prevents the opponent from orienting effectively, always considering most immediately the need to be able to escape rather than the most immediate method to execute their own doctrine. The morality of the use of torture at this gradient is ignored in the necessity of its utility to inspire fear.


5GW Torture:

5GW – Fifth gradient doctrines are based upon the principle of manipulation of the context of the observations of an opponent in order to achieve a specific effect.

Torture at the fifth gradient takes on a different aspect from the use of torture at 0GW and 4GW. At those gradients the negative moral aspect of torture is either irrelevant or used to give torture utility. For 5GW the moral aspect of torture is the most important aspect. In most  (if not all cases) 5GW is a warfare of competing ideas and ideals. At the fifth gradient the least desirable outcome is to have your ideology linked to an overwhelmingly negative meme like torture either  through your own actions, or by the manipulation of an opponent that links torture to your ideology.


Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Calling it torture or “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” makes no difference, if a method is seen to be torture it carries a negative moral connotation. As it is argued above, for two of the three gradients this is either irrelevant or desirable, however, for 5GW the moral aspect is paramount. At the risk of editorializing, the United States of America is at its very core an expression of an ideology, an expression of connectivity and freedom and the ideal that all good things are possible with enough hard work and determination. As such, The United States of America in spreading that ideal must always approach any conflict or confrontation from the fifth gradient mind-set.  Because of that, the USA must never engage in a method or doctrine that has a negative moral aspect, and must always guard against an opponent’s attempt to manipulate the USA into a morally negative action,  lest that negative meme be linked to the positive ideological foundation of the country.

For 5GW the means justify the end.

Swine Flu as System Perturbation

Cross-posted at Dreaming 5GW

Rule Set – System Perturbation – New Rule Set

Going back to some of my very first considerations of Fifth Gradient Warfare (Fifth Generation Warfare at the time), this very simple three part progression is the main concept that informs the process of the directed manipulation of systems that is at the heart of 5GW.  The attention that is being given to the Swine Flu outbreak offers a very good opportunity to explore the utility of this process.

The Bad:

The worst of all system perturbations is exemplified by the Black Swan scenario. This is a system perturbation that is completely unexpected and because there a no rule sets or few weak rule sets that have been established to deal with such situations, the chaos that is created is potentially massive. It may be so massive, in fact, that the system never recovers, that new rule sets aren’t able to be created or are even weaker than before, making the system even more fragile. The H5N1 Bird Flu (or other pandemic illness) is sometimes talked about as such a system perturbation due to fears that no matter what preparations are made ahead of an outbreak, the health system will be quickly overwhelmed and cease to be effective regardless of the response. While the Swine Flu doesn’t seem to be, at this point, as dangerous as Bird Flu, it is behaving in a manner that is consistent with how a Bird Flu type pandemic might begin.

The Not Quite as Bad:

While a Fifth Gradient actor might well engineer a Black Swan type system perturbation scenario in order to influence the creation of new rule sets, there is an alternate approach known as ‘Boiling the Frog’. In this sort of scenario the system perturbation is very controlled in scope in order to place calculated stresses on a system. The point of this may be to cause a collapse of systems much like a Black Swan event, but it can also serve a different agenda that highlights the ability of Fifth Gradient doctrines to be used on multiple sides of a confrontation or conflict. In this kind of situation 5GW doctrine may be used in order to strengthen as much as weaken rule sets. Swine Flu offers an opportunity for this kind of 5GW manipulation.

Using Swine Flu to turn a Black Swan Grey:

Because Swine Flu appears to be very similar to Bird Flu yet, less dangerous (at least at this point), it offers a 5GW actor (who may have potentially created such as system perturbation or may merely seize the moment) the opportunity to stress and manipulate the infections disease response system in order to strengthen those parts of the system (rule sets) that are effective, eliminate or repair the parts of the system that are ineffective, and create new rule sets that cover situations that hadn’t been considered before (for example, the most infectious part of the Swine Flu so far has been the uninformed panic it has inspired on users of Twitter. Filters for such occurrences are being created by the community and will doubtless come into use on Twitter and in other social networking platforms in future situations).

Consider the Anthrax letters that followed in the wake of September 11, 2001. While they were undoubtedly the work of a very angry and disturbed individual, the response they caused served more to strengthen the system than it did to permanently disrupt the system. Now mail is scanned for agents such as Anthrax and potential targets of such attacks are much more aware of the risks as well as the correct response to a potential attack. Additionally, law enforcement now has the experience of responding to such attacks and what is involved in tracking those who would perpetrate those sorts of attacks.

Swine Flu offers the potential for a similar sort of  ‘practice run’ for an outbreak of pandemic influenza. The rule sets involved will now be subjected to real-life stresses that cannot be createdby any ‘simulation’ and will involve, by necessity, all aspects of the response system at the same time. Only at such times can the true strengths and vulnerabilities of the system be recognized.

Non-Kinetic Uses for Robotics in Counterinsurgency

I am currently reading Wired For War: Robotics and 21st Century Conflict by P. W. Singer, as well as following the Wired for War Symposium at CTLab, previously mentioned here, so understandably robots are very much on my mind.

Matt Armstrong of MountainRunner has an article in the symposium that discusses the military robot in the context of General Charles Krulak’s ‘strategic corporal’.

“The intoxicating allure of technology risks unintended consequences in the psychological struggle for minds and wills in modern conflict. In my many conversations on the “public diplomacy” of unmanned warfare, few consider the robots, autonomous or remote controlled, in a war fought among the people. How do we build relationships with the locals in the sterility of robot-human interfaces? Will improved human-robot interfaces really overcome the understandable perception that American lives are worth more than locals?”

My question (via an on-line networking platform) was what were the possible non-kinetic applications of robotics that could contribute as effective and/or strategic aids to a counterinsurgency effort, yet not be percieved as ‘military’? Perhaps building infrastructure (I was thinking along the line of robotic street sweepers, pothole fillers, well diggers and underground pipe and cable layers).

Matt Armstrong quickly responded:

“Strategic aids” as you put it could include unmanned water and food trucks, even garbage trucks (remember SWET? “Sewage, Water, Electricity, Trash” as an effective COIN approach?). Then there’s tele-medicine, and more.”

Seeing as how 5GW, being a response to 4GW guerilla/insurgent warfare, has greater non-kinetic than kinetic utility what else could the “and more” include? How could robotics (autonomous, semi-autonomous, or remotely controlled) be deployed as part of a larger 5GW effort? What sort of scenarios might they be involved in?

Already on the table:

Street sweeping

Road repair

Well drilling

Underground pipe and cable laying

Water and food delivery trucks

Garbage trucks


Link: CTLab Virtual Symposium on Wired for War

CTLab is hosting an online/virutual symposium exploring the topics raised by P. W. Singer’s new book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

I’m not quite finished with the book yet, but so far it is excellent and well worth the price of admission. For any military thinker, futurist or tech junkie out there this is a great read. The symposium, starting today, already looks to be off to a great start with a great lineup of contributors.


Link: Military Futurism at Red Team Journal


Military Futurism at Red Team Journal by Adam Elkus

“As long as human beings have killed one another, theorists have struggled to forecast the nature of future slaughter correctly. Military futurism, however, is different from more popular forms of futurism. Speculation about future warfare inevitably garners more attention than debates over the nature of technological change and human civilization. One reason may be that people are particularly attuned to matters of life and death. But an emerging technology or social change may have just as” much long-term impact as a new kind of weapon or tactic. So why does Patton always flatten Schrödinger and his cat under his tank treads?”

A valuable insight by Adam Elkus, a co-blogger of mine at Dreaming 5GW, on the difficulty of peering into the crystal ball to determine the future of anything, much less warfare. I personally favor the approach of trying to find those elements of warfare that don’t change, that remain constant independent of technology or social change, to use as the basis for theory. I think this is one of the strengths of the XGW framework, that you can take any given situation in any given era and use the XGW framework to classify the gradient of the methods being used, the doctrines behind them, and judge if the response was appropriate or not, and if not, to use the framework to suggest what reaction could have been more effective.

Tracking the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

This morning President Obama is in Denver Colorado at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law.

From President Obama’s 2/14/09 weekly address:

“Now, some fear we won’t be able to effectively implement a plan of this size and scope, and I understand their skepticism. Washington hasn’t set a very good example in recent years. And with so much on the line, it’s time to begin doing things differently.

That’s why our goal must be to spend these precious dollars with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency. I’ve tasked my cabinet and staff to set up the kind of management, oversight, and disclosure that will help ensure that, and I will challenge state and local governments to do the same.

Once the plan is put into action, a new website – Recovery DOT gov – will allow any American to watch where the money goes and weigh in with comments and questions – and I encourage every American to do so. Ultimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s spent.”

 Though at the moment Recovery.gov shows only the message above  (Update: the site is now live), it will be interesting to see how the government accounts for the hundrends of billions of dollars set to flood into the economy. It will be more interesting to see how comments and questions are addressed. Will it be true transparency, or will it be manipulation of perception and context?

An Example of Different Gradients of Doctrine Being Used at Different Levels of the Expression of Force.

From NPR News:

U.S. Officials: Al-Qaida Leadership Cadre ‘Decimated’

“CIA-directed airstrikes against al-Qaida leaders and facilities in Pakistan over the past six to nine months have been so successful, according to senior U.S. officials, that it is now possible to foresee a ‘complete al-Qaida defeat’ in the mountainous region along the border with Afghanistan.

The officials say the terrorist network’s leadership cadre has been ‘decimated’ with up to a dozen senior and midlevel operatives killed as a result of the strikes and the remaining leaders reeling from the repeated attacks.

‘The enemy is really, really struggling,’ says one senior U.S. counterterrorism official. ‘These attacks have produced the broadest, deepest and most rapid reduction in al-Qaida senior leadership that we’ve seen in several years.’ “

The CIA is apparently using MQ-9 Reaper UAVs combined with improved intelligence to find and target the leadership of Al-Qaida in the mountainous areas along the Afganistan and Pakistan border. This particular scenario is a perfect illustration of two different gradients of doctrine in the XGW framework (3GW and 4GW) being used simultaneously at two different levels of the expression of Force (Tactical and Operational).


Smart Power

From 7:02 – 7:21

“We must use what has been called smart power. The full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural. Picking the right tool or combination of tools for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foriegn policy.”

That sounds kind of familiar:

“An emergent theory of warfare premised upon manipulation of multiple economic, political, social and military forces in multiple domains to effect positional changes in systems and achieve a consilience of effects to leverage a specific goal or set of circumstances.”

So what is smart power? According to Joseph Nye; “Smart power is the combination of hard and soft power. Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.”

I see smart power as using the right combination of kinetic and non-kinetic force. More specifically, having the most effective combination of doctrines at the tactical, operational, strategic and grand strategic levels of the use of Force, in order to most effectively accomplish a desired goal or circumstance.