Archive for July, 2016

General Flynn goes from the NCPA to the Republican National Convention

General Michael Flynn headlined the Republican National Convention Monday night with a rousing speech that laid out what the next president must do in order to protect the United States and its interests around the globe.

His comments echoed those he delivered only months earlier at the National Center for Policy Analysis’ biannual Hatton W. Sumners Distinguished Lecture Series — an NCPA program where nationally and internationally renowned speakers address business leaders, college students and the general public on the the nation’s most pressing issues.

In a passionate address to NCPA supporters in March 2016, General Flynn spoke at length about the specific threat from terrorist organizations, adversarial governments and cyber belligerents, and the overlap among them. Flynn stressed the need to improve America’s intelligence capabilities, and made a spirited plea for the administration to engage its allies and moderates in the Middle East in order to defeat the rising tide of radical Islam.  America must identify and work directly with those reformists like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi if we expect to see victory, Flynn said.

The defining moment at the NCPA event came when the General emphasized the importance of protecting national security information, and found himself genuinely dumbfounded that a candidate who so willfully compromised that material would still be considered worthy of the highest office.  The findings from the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server released months later proved she had quite deliberately (but without malice) undermined the national security of the United States.  As a veteran and former intelligence specialist like General Flynn, I found the compromise equally troubling, and now fear our intelligence capabilities may see a tremendous decline since sources who risk their lives to work with us will lack confidence that we can maintain their anonymity. I have addressed here why this extreme level of carelessness is so dangerous to U.S. security and why NOT charging Clinton further undermines our long-term capabilities.

Just as he had months earlier to NCPA guests, Flynn told the crowd at the RNC Convention that these threats facing America had to be confronted head-on with “unwavering integrity, renewed strength and unapologetic resolve.” He also noted that the U.S. military needed the support to undertake the missions asked of them. The president’s recent troop requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, absent the funding necessary to do so, proved yet again that he intends to prolong the fight without providing the support to the warfighter to accomplish the mission. It does not have to be this way, though.

There is a way to maintain and increase troop levels without adding more to the budget. For example, rerouting funds away from ambiguous climate change programs and related civilian positions, and eliminating the climate directive issued in January 2016 which saddles the military with unnecessary tactical considerations, would be the first step in maximizing efficiency while stabilizing expenditures (explained here).  Another goal would be to address the rise in misplaced defense spending, which has only seen a decrease in American security — a paradox I have termed defenseless debt.  Solving the problem, in part, would involve decreasing and moving executive slush funds, like the Overseas Contingency Operation account, back under defense control, while limiting Pentagon staff positions and decreasing spending on expensive and potentially harmful security assistance programs in places like Africa.

Each of these would be a first step in properly funding defense capabilities and will ensure the warfighter has the tools to protect America. Flynn says the threat must be faced head-on. But our forces cannot do so when leadership has its head in the sand.


Part I: Why the ‘Jack of All Trades’ Model for Military Aviation Fails

Today’s federal budget is one of constrained resources.  But the answer to such challenges is not consolidation of weapons systems.

The U.S. military celebrates the diversity of its force in every area except tactical airpower.  The size of our forces makes the U.S. military uniquely capable of having specialized airframes.  For example, a B-52 could theoretically assist ground troops during a firefight, known as Close Air Support (CAS), but its primary mission is and should be Strategic Attack.  True, the maintenance and supply chain costs for multiple airframes can be a challenge, but fielding a force with feigned breadth and hollow depth is foolish.  Forcing these platforms to become ‘Jack of All Trades’ undermines mission effectiveness.

Our aircraft carriers formerly had as many as four different tactical platforms launching from their decks.  Today, the F/A-18 Hornet remains the only one.  The Hornet is a formidable threat to our adversaries’ aircraft, naval fleets and centers of gravity.  However, it becomes a problem when the Navy demands this one aircraft be as proficient as four different airframes.  There exists a very finite amount of money and time to develop and maintain proficiencies for two or three distinctly different mission types.

Recall when the F/A-22 Raptor was sold to Congress in the 1990s as Lockheed Martin’s new multi-role, 5th Generation marvel that would perform a new mission: Air Dominance.  Once the funding was assured, the Raptor’s designation promptly changed to F-22A – a change to the Attack prefix that the F-15C Eagle community welcomed because it ensured their expertise would remain air-to-air combat.

Their community within the Air Force is recognized as the Jedi Knights of air combat.  I remember briefing and debriefing missions with or against Eagles and walking away with many lessons learned to better fly and teach dogfighting.  But had the F-22 designation remained as initially conceived, it would have added air-to-ground training to F-15C mission and hollowed out their air-to-air mastery.

The Navy fared differently.  The sister service previously boasted a cadre of F-14 Tomcat pilots that rivaled the F-15C Eagle pilots.  Now, the Hornet force must divide its resources among air-to-air, air-to-ground and even air refueling missions due to the retirement of the S-2 Viking.  But just this week, the commander of Air Combat Command (ACC) in testimony before Congress appears to suggest the multi-role F-35 must focus on Air Superiority – the airframe pledged to replace A-10, AV-8B Harrier, F-16, and F-18.  Sadly, the Air Force bought far too few F-22s for their needs, and is now making up for the Raptor shortfall with F-35s.

I fear the Pentagon is beholden to buying the shiny new toy, rather than providing the jets and the people to best support our fellow soldiers and marines.  As a possible solution, our national leaders must communicate to our allies that such mission specialization – equipment, maintainers, and operators – is imperative to maintaining our decided advantage against our enemies.  Many of our fellow NATO members, for instance, do not spend their pledged percentage of GDP on defense although they depend on and train with these American platforms.  Those nations should contribute the shortfall between their actual and required spending directly to the U.S. DoD to offset our country’s investment in these critical mission types.

Designing, funding and fielding an airborne Swiss Army knife is possible.  But when the demands on the knife saturate the person wielding it, a swarm of Bowie knives will win the day.

Chris Wiley is an NCPA contributing fellow

How Our Armed Forces Can Have Cost-effective and Efficient Medical Care

Nadeen Wincapaw is a military spouse and volunteer contributor:  “Active duty and their families have two basic options for medical care: a “Standard” option and a “Prime” option.  The standards functions much like a traditional insurance plan with co-payments and other out-of-pocket fees for the freedom to choose any doctor, facility, or specialist a family prefers. Prime operates like an HMO with a primary care provider (usually at a military treatment facility) who manages all the care for the patient and makes referrals as needed to specialists in a specified network (explained here). Under either of the plans, there is no monthly premium for active duty service members.

Once the military member has left active duty, either by finishing his/her contract, resigning his/her commission or by retiring (completing at least 20 years of active service), the service member can elect to receive medical care through the Veteran’s Administration, often with little or no out-of-pocket expense.

Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, it’s not.  No two bases’ medical groups are administered the same way; record keeping is different depending on location; quality of care depends on the branch of service; on and on it goes.  Even continued integration of services and joint assignments have failed to standardize medical care.  The quality of care for active duty and their families is not equal.

In the case of a retiree, the Veteran’s Administration duplicates the effort of the TriCare insurance program by providing a second source for treatment. But the VA has been plagued with reports of substandard care, dilapidated facilities, backlogged paperwork and, recently, secret waiting lists. Despite the plethora of issues, the VA annually treats millions of veterans at their 1,700 medical centers across the United States with a budget of over $50 billion.

The budget for the Department of Defense’s medical care was over $52 billion in 2012, and each year that number continues to rise.

It’s time for some real-world ideas on how to cut costs and fix the budget.  The best place to begin is in the duplication of services; medical care is one place where a consolidation of those services can be applied to save money, time, and effort.

All defense-related medical care could be folded into one joint medical command. This would include the Veteran’s Health Administration as well as the TriCare-affiliated care. One large joint command would have the benefit of allowing the standardization of administration, record keeping and personnel management.

Research and development would also be streamlined. Having access to any of the VA and military facilities would open the door for staff to expand their milieu and specialize in a field for advancement (a complaint I have heard from more than one DOD doctor). Allowing the current contractors of TriCare to take over the administration of the combined care would offer less bureaucratic red tape and a more business-oriented direction for the VA.

A modest savings of even 5 percent over the current budgets of the DOD and VA would equal $5 billion dollars.”

The Threat From Cyber Jihad

Luke Twombly is a research associate at the NCPA:

“It is easy to believe that bombs and bullets are the deadliest weapons in the Islamic State’s arsenal. However, ISIS continues to expand its cyber capabilities and might now be seeking to obtain “BlackEnergy” malware that was recently used by Russian hackers in December of 2015 to cripple a Ukrainian electrical grid. The attack left roughly 300,000 people without water and power for several hours. With this technology, ISIS could cripple the U.S. economy with relative ease, while at the same time paralyzing almost all aspects of the United States’ military.

The organization has already amassed an impressive digital presence, which includes an I.T. help desk for aspiring jihadists. ISIS is leading a campaign to educate young jihadists about how to navigate the dark web, while also introducing them to the tools and connections they require to perpetuate acts of war across the West. This cyber help desk is open 24-hours and uses a vast network of social media forums and applications. The operatives who run this desk have master’s level training in information technology, and use their education to train jihadists in obfuscation, propaganda and basic hacker tools.

One of those frequently used hacker tool is known as “Ransomware”, which is a type of malware that weaponizes encryption. The malware prevents the target from accessing their systems until they have paid a ransom to the attacker. This software is easy to purchase on the dark web, and unskilled or amateur hackers have used it with great success. ISIS, in particular, has been using this to fund their worldwide reign of terror. This “Ransomware” takes money directly from the Western economies and places it into the caliphate’s war chest.

Additionally, ISIS uses the internet to actively recruit college-educated Westerners who have the highest potential for harming their home countries. Almost 16 percent of ISIS recruits are college educated with another 30 percent having at least some college education, according to James Scott from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT). More startling, anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 men and women have been recruited out of Europe and the United States. The Islamic State has successfully recruited tech savvy westerners who pose the greatest threat to their home countries.

ISIS’ success in the digital realm is one of the instrumental factors that has led to them becoming the most dominant Islamic terrorist group in the world. Their use of cyberspace to recruit new members and rob the first world to pay for its jihad appears to be only a precursor to greater achievements, such as damage to America’s critical infrastructure through malware. A robust program of proactive cyber warfare that moves beyond intrusion detection and anti-malware creation should be a top priority for U.S. national security officials.


Why Not Charging Hillary Damages National Security

FBI Director James Comey recommended no criminal charges for Hillary Clinton. According to Comey, there was no precedent to charge Hillary Clinton for all the abuses he outlined in his 15 minute press conference.

That’s hard to believe.

Comey explained that no combination of the following existed:

  • No clear, willful mishandling of classified information;
  • The amount of classified material did not meet the threshold for prosecution;
  • The actions did not imply or infer a disloyalty to the United States;
  • There was no clear effort to obstruct justice;

He went to great lengths to explain that, in his estimation, her actions were incredibly careless. But they did not meet the criminal intent for even gross negligence.

But gross negligence does not rest solely on purposeful or premeditated intent. The definition of negligence includes carelessness. These rules were hammered into our heads as protectors of Special Access Program (SAP) information. Based on the law, an unwillingness to protect secrets got you in trouble. Your intent only determined the level of punishment.

So now I wonder, all the steps I took as a counterintelligence specialist to protect special access information really, in essence, didn’t matter. The paperwork. The tradecraft. The precaution. Any time I chose to follow even the most redundant rules for safeguarding SAP, Comey now says those were unnecessary steps because my heart was in the right place.

So why does letting Clinton walk matter to national security? The resolution to this case tells those guarding SAP information that mishandling it in an honest but clumsy way will be excused (depending on who you are). Even premeditated actions, such as building a private server to transfer information, will be overlooked if you didn’t intend that information to harm the United States. It’s hard to demand rigorous oversight when all someone has to claim is “I never intended for this to happen.”

The most frightening consequence of this decision, however, concerns the message it sends to our current informants risking their lives around the globe or any future sources willing to help the United States. Comey’s laundry list of misdeeds that climaxed with the stunning choice not to bring criminal charges told sources that the American government will not work terribly hard at protecting their identity, and will not take it seriously when exposed. I fear we just lost future access from many, many useful people.

National security succeeds based on information and a major portion of that information comes by way of sources. I explain here why protecting Special Access is so very important.

Eight Reasons Why We Face a National Security Problem

This originally appeared in my townhall column: John Kerry called the Istanbul airport attack a sign of desperation on the part of ISIS. The following observations suggest American leaders are the ones desperately clinging to failed strategies.

  1. Choosing symbolism over substance: Whether or not expressed explicitly, the administration demands uniformity of thought and diversity in appearance. As a result, upwards of 200 military officers have been “purged” for failing to acquiesce to a rudderless national security strategy that, among other things, subjects the military to costly and fruitless social engineering projects. A dangerous future awaits a country that diverts defense spending to that which offers no measurable benefit to military readiness. Woe to them who funds appearance over capability.
  2. Dangerous growth in government: Any expansion in government inevitably gives leaders an unwarranted sense of self (see the European Union). That remarkable hubris leads officials to believe, for instance, that they have identified the primary cause of weather patterns, and thus, have the power to fix it. A lack of consensus among specialists in this area is no match for such vanity. Assured of their position, big government saddles the military with climate directives that only serve to undermine its effectiveness. (see here)
  3. Faking moral outrage: The administration’s moral high ground is nothing but a false summit. And the latest sprint to the top in the wake of the Orlando massacre is fueled by widely vague notions of gun control and a staunch resistance to define the enemy. Government plans to drag America uphill to “Assault Rifle Ridge” only then to demand that citizens ignore the greater peaks that loom overhead, with names like “Emboldened Russia” and “Radical Islam.”
  4. Misinterpreting American exceptionalism: Some modern conservatives continue to rely on a misguided notion that all things American – democracy, capitalism and hot dogs – are inherently exceptional and, therefore, easily transferrable to all people. Such a simple interpretation inevitably leads to clumsy nation-building projects and unproductive security assistance programs. Both have increased defense spending, while doing little to enhance U.S. security. I call this defenseless debt.
  5. Misunderstanding American exceptionalism: John Kerry “cringed” at hearing the term. President Obama has lectured about its use. They incorrectly believe it to be a pompous vision of America where the ignorant believe the United States represents the climax of human culture, government and economy. Progressives then, ironically, respond with another form of American exceptionalism, which says the country’s faults and past misdeeds are, in fact, exceptionally American. Such a premise concludes that America is uniquely bad and all others endure as victims of that legacy. This leads to number 6.
  6. Prizing reputation over defense: The administration seems to be more concerned with its reputation among America’s adversaries than among those it governs. For this reason, we have the Iran nuclear deal. For this reason, what might inspire terrorism goes unstated. For this reason, Marines changed out of their uniforms four different times while readying themselves to respond to Benghazi, all because state officials felt embroidered American flags were potentially harmful to local sensibilities. We know the end of that story.
  7. Negotiating national security: The government must provide for the common defense. That’s non-negotiable. But 2015 marked the first time in history the Commander-in-Chief vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act for reasons unrelated to defense (he wanted more domestic spending). And when Congress acquiesced, both branches set the wrong precedent that the government’s constitutional duty to provide for the common defense matched their imagined duty to provide for the domestic welfare.
  8. National secrets taken lightly: The former Secretary of State completely compromised U.S. national security secrets, and still feels qualified to request a promotion. Either she displayed premeditated disregard for America’s security or, see number 5, excused the behavior because it only harmed an exceptionally unjust and discriminatory security apparatus. This breach is incredibly dangerous, as I have previously explained here.

America is a constitutional republic founded on a special of rule of law that allows for the truest expressions of personal liberty. And officials will not have a shared interest in preserving that legacy until the government can agree that defending America is truly its top priority.