Category Archives: miltary

U.S. Army Is Growing By Thousands of Soldiers


(Photo Credit: Markus Rauchenberger/Army)


“The Army has used a suite of force-shaping measures and incentives to retain and recruit enough soldiers to bring the force back to over a million.

[Measures] including five-figure enlistment and retention bonuses, as well as major opportunities for National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers to go active.

The Army is on track to reach its end strength goal of 1,018,000 soldiers by the end of September, and that will mean enough manpower to fill holes in existing combat units, save some units from planned deactivations, and man some new ones.

Units throughout the Army will feel the benefit of adding 28,000 troops to the active and reserve components, according to a Thursday release from the Army, reversing a drawdown that had planned for just 980,000 soldiers this year.

“These force structure gains facilitated by the FY17 end strength increase have begun, but some will take several years to achieve full operational capability,” said Brig. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, director of the Force Management Division, in the release. “Implementation of these decisions, without sacrificing readiness or modernization, is dependent upon receiving future appropriations commensurate with the authorized end strength.”

The Army has used a suite of force-shaping measures and incentives to retain and recruit enough soldiers to bring the force back to over a million, including five-figure enlistment and retention bonuses, as well as major opportunities for National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers to go active.

In addition to filling existing manning gaps in brigade combat teams, the release said, the plus-up will save several units that were slated for deactivation. They are:

  • 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
  • 18th Military Police Brigade Headquarters based in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
  • 206th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas.
  • 61st Maintenance Company at Camp Stanley, South Korea.
  • 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

Soldiers retained during the end strength build up also could end up joining the recently announced Security Force Assistance Brigades and their training school, as well as an aviation training brigade at Fort Hood.

More soldiers will also help with the Army’s increased manning in Europe.

The Army is planning to station the following units overseas, according to the release.

  • A field artillery brigade headquarters with an organic brigade support battalion headquarters, a signal company and a Multiple Launch Rocket System battalion (MLRS).
  • Two MLRS battalions with two forward support companies.
  • A short range air defense battalion.
  • A theater movement control element.
  • A petroleum support company.
  • An ammunition platoon.

Further, the Army plans to convert an infantry brigade to an armored brigade and add 1,300 new staff to Training and Doctrine Command, in an attempt to increase training and recruiting capacity, the release said.

“The end strength increase will augment deploying units, and units on high readiness status, with additional soldiers to increase Army readiness and enable us to continue to protect the nation,” Mennes said.”



Wars to Keep the Military Industry in Demand



The defense industry in America has utilized the threat of war and self-fulfilling prophesies to promote engagements by our country in several countries over the last 15 years. They pay more in lobbying costs each year than they pay in taxes.
There have been two major factors in the U.S. approach to undeclared warfare:
1. The motives of the U.S. and International Military Industrial Complexes, USAID and other western USAID counterparts in fostering continued warfare during this period, netting billions in sales of weapons to the war fighters and massive construction and redevelopment dollars for international companies who often operated fraudulently and fostered waste, looting and lack of funds control.
It is common knowledge that many of these corporations spend more each year in lobbying costs than they pay in taxes and pass exorbitant overhead and executive pay cost on to the tax payer in sales, thus financing their operating personnel riches while remaining marginally profitable to their stockholders.
I watched this from the inside of many of these companies for 36 years. Here is my dissertation on that subject. You can read it on line at:
Here is an example of how the lobbying and behind the scenes string pulling worked:
2. The complete lack of cultural understanding between U.S. and Western decision makers and the middle east cultures they were trying to “Assist” by nation building.
The only real understanding that existed during the period was in the person of General Schwarzkopf who spent much of his youth in the Middle East with his father who was an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was fascinated by the Arab culture, commended their respect and like Eisenhower led a coalition during the Gulf War. He then astutely recommend no occupation of Iraq, went home and stayed out of government. Norman, like Ike, knew the power of the MIC and he wanted no part of it.
The U.S Tax payer has funded billions in USAID and construction projects in Iraq and wasted the money due to a lack of cultural understanding, fraud and abuse. POGO documents many:
There is history repeating itself here – much like Vietnam the above two factors are deeply at play with the lack of astute learning in our government as we look back over our shoulder.
We must come to the understanding, like a recent highly respected war veteran and West Point Instructor has, that military victory is dead.
“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish. “
Frank Spinney is an expert on the MIC. He spent the same time I did on the inside of the Pentagon while I worked Industry. You may find his interviews informative.

Innovating Federal Contracting: Be Careful What You Wish For

media dot licdn dot com

Image: “”

“FEDERAL TIMES” By Michael P. Fischetti

“We’re all aware of — and perhaps have participated in — the criticism of today’s model of contracting with the federal government.

However, when  change is forthcoming, criticism and second-guessing is swift in response and often before the results of such innovation are yet known.

Recent examples include lowest price technically acceptable selection strategies, transactional data reporting or other transaction authority. All of these initiatives have resulted in constituencies warning, criticizing or outright objecting to their use for numerous reasons. The mantra “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” comes to mind.

So what’s the contracting officer or program manager to do? Everyone wants innovation in acquisition, but not really? Take risks, but make sure everything works out well? Leadership has your back, as long as [insert favorite oversight authority or trade association here] is supportive. Buy more commercial, but make sure [insert favorite administration, agency, industry priority, or compliance and socioeconomic statutory and regulatory requirements here] is adhered to and included.

Under a new administration, there is a sense of unpredictability. Everything is on the table across multiple government policy areas — acquisition included. Thus, along with optimism that true “reform” could actually occur, there is conversely fear as well that, yes, true “reform” might actually occur! Perhaps the many subsets of today’s government contracting community should be cautious and prudent in criticism of today’s acquisition system, and thus be careful of what they ask for. One is reminded of the line from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … [I]t was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

The credibility of today’s professional pundits and promoters of acquisition change is under threat. What if change really occurs? What if the innovation we all say we want actually happens? While there will always be individual winners and losers in such a scenario, one winner might be empowering those innovative acquisition professionals in government and industry interested in program results; those invested in improving what is acquired versus how it’s acquired. Another winner might be the American taxpayer.

Time will tell. Hang on to your seats and let’s see what happens. ”


Michael P. Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association.









Defense Acquisition Requires Simplicity, Collaboration




Image: “”


“The organization and function of the Defense Department is so antiquated that it may well prove unable to deliver the changes that the nation needs.

So, even as it focuses on potentially existential threats to the nation, somebody must address the conversion of the “horse and buggy,” which is the present-day Pentagon, to make it perform like a modern turbocharged vehicle.

The challenges are many, but if there is focus on simplicity the department could be improved while dramatically reducing the problems faced by small contractors. The payoff for even modest improvement could be felt most by the smaller contractors, as they are most at risk under the current system. The focus should be to enlarge and modernize commercial interaction done by the department to make it less adversarial, more collaborative, transparent, accountable and sensitive to business cash flow needs.

There is a remarkable asymmetry between the government and industry with respect to fundamental contractual and administrative execution.

The first problem is one of predictable communication and consistent government performance. As an example, when processing a government contract for a simple procurement action inexplicably takes nine months versus the three months promised, the impact at the company level is complex and potentially devastating. This problem is exacerbated when the contracting entity does not provide any communication regarding revised performance timelines. Delays such as these put small businesses in a no-win position. Many businesses live in a world without adequate cash flow and little to no backlog. So, in this situation, waiting until contract award means that long-long lead production items from the manufacturing base will not be on hand when work should start. Production lines that go dormant do not come back to life easily or quickly. Workers trained and available today can’t be stored on dry ice for the six month delay; they are either laid off or employed elsewhere.

So, for many small firms in this situation, there is no choice but to take risk and begin committing precious resources on an un-awarded contract. This in turn intensifies the dependency of the small contractor on the government who now truly controls their fate.

The government must establish and live with reasonable performance standards and timelines. When it fails to do so, it should pay compensation promptly, just as the contractor is now required to pay “consideration” when he/she fails to meet government performance standards.

When both sides have leverage on the other it will drive improved communication and partnership. Presently the burden is entirely one-sided and gives the department unfair power.

In the current calculus people don’t count — either inside or outside of government. The Defense Department should institute modern relationship metrics to measure how individual teams align to their respective missions.

Major consulting firms with international portfolios such as Gallup and Korn-Ferry assist Fortune 500 firms in executing individual employee surveys measuring internal engagement, leadership and performance annually. The first year results of such a survey done on the department’s corporate structure — to distinguish it from the operational force — would probably stun its leaders. They would be given the opportunity to confront the reality that organizational alignment, leadership, teamwork, sharing and collaboration are all capable of major improvement when compared with global norms for like-sized entities. Gathering these results on an annual basis will afford defense leaders the opportunity to evaluate leadership development programs, workforce business processes, software and a host of other factors directly relevant to improving performance. Probably as important as anything, leaders who cannot accept candid feedback on issues will be forced to confront the reality that they must either embrace the input or leave.

In a parallel initiative, there needs to be lateral entry from business to government service at the mid-tier levels. This would bring an infusion of additional talent to a limited entry profession and augment the experience and knowledge base in the bureaucracy.

In addition to internal feedback, there must be measurement of relationships with contractors. The contracting process has to be made more collaborative and timely. A lot can be learned by comparing the business experience of two recent contracting processes. One was a standard government request for proposals to make a $80,000 piece of utility equipment for delivery over a 10-year period. The other was a commercial RFP for a similarly priced comparable item for multiple-year performance. Both were competitive contract awards with multiple competitors. The differences between the two processes could not have been more obvious. The defense-related RFP was 70 pages; the commercial RFP was 27 pages. The commercial RFP was readable and straightforward; the other was complex and contained endless references to additional government standards. The commercial RFP encouraged innovation by outlining desired characteristics and inviting new approaches, the other set specific standards for performance.

The commercial process encouraged continuous dialogue and explanation of performance priorities while the DoD process was terse and regulated by legalistic formality. The dialogue with the commercial partner enabled the prospective partner to educate its customer on new and evolving technology and materials. The government’s enforced silence did nothing to generate shared understanding. But most importantly, the commercial process timeline from initiating contracting action through prototype production was 10 months whereas the government’s was two years.

In a world where collaboration and speed are essential to success, the antiquated government process is increasingly costly and inefficient.

The process of transforming major enterprises and complex relationships requires courage and persistence. The difficulty of implementing change in an organization as large as the Defense Department should not be the argument for failing to start. It is already one or two decades behind leading-edge commercial businesses and is falling further behind.

Nothing recommended above is new, revolutionary or suspect — it’s just good practice.”

These College Students Invent Things for the Pentagon And Maybe Find a Business




“After a test run at Stanford University last spring, the accelerator is starting similar courses at least a dozen universities.

A Pentagon-funded unit called the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, gives students a modest budget to try to solve military problems using off-the-shelf products.

The Defense Department’s Hacking for Defense program (which, despite its H4D handle, does not focus on cybersecurity) is a graduate school course designed to let students invent new products for the military. Students without security clearances — including some foreign nationals — are put to work on unclassified versions of real-world problems faced by military and intelligence agencies.

The University of Pittsburgh, University of California at San Diego, James Madison University and Georgetown University are among those trying to replicate Stanford’s success.

To spearhead its effort, Georgetown hired a former Special Operations Marine with a deep Rolodex and a long history of doing business with the Pentagon.

Chris Taylor’s first career had him jumping out of airplanes and serving on hostage rescue teams as part of the Marine Force Recon unit, an elite intelligence-gathering team tasked with “deep reconnaissance” missions in dangerous combat zones.

He became an instructor in the unit’s amphibious reconnaissance school, where he taught enlisted Marines skills such as how to covertly approach military installations from the sea and survive undetected in the wilderness.

“He’s been good at teaching, leading and just selling ideas for a long time,” said Bob Fawcett, a retired Marine who worked with Taylor at the Force Recon training program.

Taylor spent evenings studying accounting as he worked toward a college degree, the first step in a lucrative career on the business side of the Bush administration’s military buildup.

He became a top executive at Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm that was at the forefront of a booming mercenary industry working in Iraq and Afghanistan, until its reputation took a turn for the worse over a deadly shooting involving its employees that launched a congressional inquiry and was eventually ruled a criminal offense.

He served at private security firm DynCorp and founded a small but profitable company called Novitas Group, which handled job placement for Veterans.

His next challenge: helping Georgetown’s students navigate the Pentagon.

One team of students in Taylor’s class is working for the Army Asymmetric Warfare Group, a Pentagon sub-agency, to find new ways to track social unrest in crowded foreign cities by mining Twitter and Facebook. Another group of students is trying to combine augmented reality technology with advanced facial recognition software, hoping to build something that would allow U.S. forces to constantly scan crowds for individuals known to be a threat. Another team is looking for ways to counter the off-the-shelf drone fleets that the Islamic State claims to employ.

“This is like the greatest educational experience you could possibly have if you’re interested in national security,” Taylor said.

The program’s managers in the government say the main point is to familiarize techies with the Pentagon’s mission, but their trial run at Stanford also showed a degree of success in spinning off businesses.

In Stanford’s trial run, four out of eight student teams raised additional money, either from the government or from private investors, to continue their work beyond the course.

One is a satellite imaging company called Capella Space. The company’s founders had initially hoped to sell satellite imaging services to government space agencies, but pivoted toward the private sector after interviewing more than 150 industry experts as part of Stanford’s course.

“We realized that if you really want to work with the government in what you’re doing, they want you to be a commercial company — with commercial revenue — and they want to be a subscriber to your service,” said company founder Payam Banazadeh.

Capella Space has a satellite launch planned for the end of year, which it hopes will be the first step in sending 36 ­shoebox-size satellites into space. The company is funding it with an undisclosed amount of venture capital raised from Silicon Valley Venture investors including Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.

It remains to be seen whether efforts at other universities will have the same success.

Even before Georgetown’s class launched, for example, the university’s strengths and limitations were already on display. Georgetown is known for deep connections to the Washington establishment but is overshadowed by other elite universities in certain technical disciplines. It does not have an engineering school, for instance.

One of the problem sets that the government sent for Georgetown students to work on would be on an unclassified basis for the National Security Agency, following in a Stanford team’s footsteps.

Taylor touted the opportunity to work with the NSA in seminars advertising the course, but couldn’t find a group of students that he thought had enough technical knowledge to take on the challenge.

But those who did join Taylor’s course are making early progress. Just a few weeks into the program, students looking for a way to track terrorists using social media had come up with a prototype that they coded on their own.

The group spent the class working through ways of quickly translating posts from Arabic and more easily geo-locating individual tweets and Facebook posts. Taylor wondered aloud whether the system might be enhanced if they paid social-media users small sums of money for what details they knew about the posts.

Next, he wants to open the course to other Washington-area universities, poaching engineering students from rival colleges around the region.

“Imagine what we can achieve when [national capital region] universities band together with a unity of effort toward national security problem solving,” he said in an email.

“It. will. be. awesome.”


Pentagon New Background Check System Won’t Be Ready for 2 More Years


US Army Photo by Staff Sgt. William Reinier


“System to securely store  information collected by the National Background Investigation Bureau.

The Obama administration launched NBIB in January in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, which compromised background information of 21.5 million current and former federal employees and their families.

It will be roughly 18 months to two years before the Defense Department completes building out a next-generation computer system to house federal background check data, the director of the new agency that manages the clearance process said Thursday.

Information shared by law enforcement could form the basis for programs to continuously evaluate cleared federal employees for red flags rather than conducting full re-investigations every five to 10 years, he said.

There are several continuous evaluation pilot programs in the military and intelligence community, but the practice isn’t yet widespread.

While NBIB waits on its updated system, the agency plans to update its public-facing, and notoriously onerous, Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing, or e-QIP, system, Phalen told members of the National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee.

“This is our front face to our population that we’re clearing, and we’ve got to do a better job of how we’re presenting ourselves,” he said.

The Obama administration launched NBIB in January in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management data breach, which compromised background information of 21.5 million current and former federal employees and their families. The agency’s reputation was previously damaged by a data breach at background check contractor USIS, which OPM cut ties with in 2014.

The new agency effectively retains responsibility for conducting most background investigations inside OPM, but transfers responsibility for securing the networks that hold that information to DOD.

Long backlogs created by the end of the USIS contract and the OPM breach continue to plague the government, Phalen said, though the government is getting back on track.

Contracts with a quartet of background check contractors are set to kick off this year. That will bring the total number of contractor background investigators to roughly 6,000, Phalen said, plus 2,000 federal investigators, 400 of them hired in 2016. NBIB plans to hire an additional 200 federal investigators in 2017, Phalen said.

Average wait times for various background investigations range from 95 days to more than 200 days, according to the most recent quarterly report.”



Dempsey Warns Fellow Generals & Admirals, “Keep Politics Private”




General Martin Dempsey

General Martin Dempsey

“DEFENSE ONE” By General Martin Dempsey

“Because we will serve whoever is elected.

We must not compromise our military’s special role in democracy, nor hinder those who come after us.

The relationship between elected leaders and the military is established in the Constitution and built on trust.

As a matter of law, we follow the orders of the duly elected commander-in-chief unless those orders are illegal or immoral. This is our non-negotiable commitment to our fellow citizens. They elect. We support.

From my personal experience across several administrations, the commander-in-chief will value our military advice only if they believe that it is given without political bias or personal agenda.

Generals and admirals are generals and admirals for life. What they say carries the weight of their professional judgment and the credibility of their professional reputation.

More than an individual reputation, retired generals and admirals enjoy a collective reputation earned by having been part of a profession. It is therefore nearly impossible for them to speak exclusively for themselves when speaking publicly. If that were even possible, few would want to hear from them. Their opinion is valued chiefly because it is assumed they speak with authority for those who have served in uniform. And their opinion is also valued because our elected leaders know that the men and women of theU.S. military can be counted upon follow the orders of their elected leaders.

This is where the freedom of speech argument often invoked in this debate about the role of retired senior military officers in election campaigns fails. Unquestionably, retired admirals and generals are free to speak to those seeking elected office. But they should speak privately, where it will not be interpreted that they are speaking for us all.

Publicly, they can speak to their experiences with the issues. Not about those seeking office. Not about who is more suited to be elected. That will be decided by the voters, and they have an obligation to learn about the candidates before casting their vote.

But not from us.

Because we have a special role in our democracy, and because we will serve whoever is elected.

So retired generals and admirals can but should not become part of the public political landscape. That is, unless they choose to run for public office themselves. That’s different. If they choose to run themselves, they become accountable to voters. In simply advocating—or giving speeches—they are not.

One of the two candidates is going to be elected this November. They each now have reason to question whether senior military leaders can be trusted to provide honest, non-partisan advise on the issues and to execute the orders given to them with the effort necessary to accomplish them.

Moreover, if senior military leaders—active and retired—begin to self-identify as members or supporters of one party or another, then the inherent tension built into our system of government between the executive branch and the legislative branch will bleed over into suspicion of military leaders by Congress and a further erosion of civil-military relations.

Worse yet, future administrations may seek to determine which senior leaders would be more likely to agree with them before putting them in senior leadership positions.”




US Leads Military Weapons Technology Exports


Mammoth Military Exports


“Overall global defense trade reached a record-breaking $65 billion in 2015.

The United States remains the world’s top exporter of military weapons and technology in 2016, controlling more than one-third of military spending for defense technology sent to outside nations.

That’s the word from analysts at market researcher IHS Inc. in Englewood, Colo. Global defense trade numbers do not include purchases for internal military use.

The U.S. will export military weapons and technologies worth $24.4 billion in 2016, followed by Russia at $7.7 billion; France at $6 billion; Germany at $4.8 billion, the United Kingdom at $4.4 billion; Canada at $4.3 billion; Israel at $3 billion; Italy at $2.5 billion; Spain at $1.8 billion; and China at $1.6 billion, analysts predict.

The global defense trade market is small compared with internal defense spending among the world’s most developed nations. The U.S. Congress, for example, is formulating a fiscal 2017 Pentagon budget that will exceed $600 billion.

The U.S. share of the global defense trade market will grow by 6.3 percent in 2016, rising from $23 billion to $24.4 billion, analysts say. This dramatic growth may exceed $30 billion as deliveries of the F-35 combat aircraft begin to ramp up, analysts say.

France, meanwhile, has doubled its backlog of orders from $36 billion in 2014 to $55 billion last year, meaning that $55 billion worth of defense equipment has yet to be exported. This increase means that France will overtake Russia as the second-largest global defense equipment exporter, IHS experts say in the annual Global Defence Trade Report released this week.

The report examines trends in the global defense market across 65 countries and is based on 40,000 programs from the IHS Aerospace, Defence & Security’s Markets Forecast database.

“The global defense trade market has never seen an increase as large as the one we saw between 2014 and 2015,” says Ben Moores, senior analyst at IHS. Markets rose $6.6 billion, bringing the value of the global defense market in 2015 to $65 billion. IHS forecasts that the market will increase further to $69 billion in 2016.

Saudi Arabia will lead the world’s military importers in 2016 with $10.1 billion in military purchases. Following Saudi Arabia among the world’s top military importers in 2016 will be India at $4 billion; the United Arab Emirates at $3.1 billion; South Korea at $2.5 billion; Iraq at $2.3 billion; Australia at $2.1 billion; Egypt at $2 billion; Taiwan at $2 billion; Algeria at $1.8 billion; and Qatar at $1.7 billion.

In 2015 the Middle East was the largest importing region, with $21.6 billion in deliveries of defense equipment, IHS analysts say. Total defense spending accelerated in Asia-Pacific last year as states bordering the South China Sea boosted defense spending.

The largest global exporter, the United States, saw another 10 percent increase in exports over the past year, bringing the total to $23 billion (35 percent of the global total). There was significant change in the top five importing countries last year, with Taiwan, China, and Indonesia all dropping out of the top five and Australia, Egypt, and South Korea replacing them.

The IHS report indicates that U.S. trade flow to the Middle East has been driven by sales of military aircraft and associated mission systems. Russia, meanwhile, is likely to increase its trade in the region as post-sanctions Iran begins to replace its exhausted aviation assets.

The value of military imports throughout Western Europe rose from $7.9 billion in 2013 to $9.6 billion in 2015. from Norway, pan-European programs and the United Kingdom. United Kingdom imports nearly doubled as imports of MARS tanker ships from South Korea and CH-47 helicopters from the United States have begun.”





National Security in a Data Age


Lydia K., PhD ( @LKCyber )

                                                                      Image: Lydia K., PhD ( @LKCyber )

“LAWFARE” – Essay by Chris Meserole

“Even in the age of big data, age-old questions about strategic and moral value will remain as pressing as ever.

Even if we had a model that validated perfectly, what would we do if it said there was an 80% chance of regime-led mass atrocity in a country, but only a 20% chance of a stable democracy taking root if we intervened?

Editor’s Note: Data should drive decision-making – the real question is how much should it do so? As big data and data analytics expand, it is tempting to assume they can solve many of the problems foreign policy decision-making has long faced. Chris Meserole, a pre-doctoral fellow here at Brookings unpacks some of the issues involved with big data when it comes to foreign policy and argues that it can inform our strategic reasoning but can’t supplant it.


We live in the era of big data and data analytics – and, increasingly, “data-driven decision-making.”

Yet, when it comes to national security, what would it mean for policy decisions to be data-driven? For the national security policy-maker, what can data and data analytics actually offer?

I’m not referring here to the use of data in implementing policy. When the Pentagon uses data analytics to cut procurement costs or when intelligence agencies use predictive analytics to identify potential targets, each is relying on data analytics to better execute policy.

By contrast, my concern is with using data to make policy.  What does data-driven policy-making look like when it comes to national security?

To answer that, we need to walk through how we decide between competing policies in the first place. Very often, we reduce policy choice to a kind of shorthand. For example, we’ll often say something like, “We should intervene in Syria” or “I’m against the Iran deal.” Yet such catchphrases obscure a more complex thought process. Any time we advocate for one policy over another, what we’re really saying is, “a world in which we do X is more likely to be a better world than one in which we do Y.”

Every policy choice thus involves two sets of intuitions. The first set concerns how likely a given policy is to lead to a range of possible outcomes. The second concerns the value we assign each of those outcomes. Imagine if we were contemplating regime change. One set of intuitions would concern how likely we thought regime change would be to lead to a power vacuum, or to a dictator, or to a stable democracy. The other set would comprise value judgments about how much better or worse each of those outcomes would be compared to the status quo.

What does data-driven policy-making look like when it comes to national security?

Ideally, policy-making should involve careful deliberation about both sets of intuitions. Yet, in reality, we tend to focus much more on the value side. Sometimes that focus is deliberate: it’s easier to win a policy argument by assuming away any uncertainty about whether our policy will work and shifting the debate instead to a purely strategic or moral domain. But often it’s not deliberate at all. In fact, the strength of our convictions can bias our sense of how likely a policy is to work. When we believe deeply that a specific policy is the right policy, we can all too easily trick ourselves into thinking that it will inevitably work as intended.

Yet no matter how much we may try to frame policy debates in terms of values alone, probabilities are always at play. And that is where data can play a role: data analysis can remove many of the biases we may hold, consciously or not, about what the effect of a policy is likely to be.

Consider the debate over drone strikes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on just two aspects of that debate: the potential gain of reducing terrorist operations and the potential cost of civilian casualties. If we limit the debate to those factors, then whether we are for or against drone strikes will depend largely on how likely we think they are to disrupt terrorist groups and how likely to produce civilian deaths.

At issue is how to estimate each of those likelihoods. One option is to rely on gut instinct — which is to say, to rely on the patterns we subconsciously pick up on as we read about the effect of drone strikes in the news, discuss them with colleagues, etc. Another option is to rely on careful counterfactual reasoning, such as rigorously selecting cases and analyzing them in-depth.

However, if we want to estimate the likely effect of drone strikes with any precision, then data analysis offers a better approach. For instance, in a paper published earlier this year, Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi looked at data on drone strikes and insurgent activity in Pakistan and showed that drone strikes may reduce terrorist violence by nearly 25% in the week following an attack. If we couple that estimate with corresponding data on civilian casualty rates, we can begin to make an informed judgment about whether the strategic value of drone strikes outweighs the moral cost of potential civilian casualties.

If we want to understand how likely a range of policy outcomes may be, we will almost always be on surer ground when we incorporate empirical evidence and analysis.

Of course, even rigorous data analysis is far from foolproof. The process of building datasets often contains its own biases and underlying ethical implications, and analyzing data typically demands a host of strong assumptions. Further, when researchers disagree about which data and assumptions to use, they can arrive at contradictory conclusions.

Yet the question isn’t whether data analysis is perfect, but whether it’s better at constructing likelihoods than the alternatives. Are we better off estimating the likely effect of a policy based solely on our subconscious perceptions and the unknown biases that inform them? Or are we better off estimating those likelihoods empirically, after taking known biases into account? Data analysis will often be the better option. If we want to understand how likely a range of policy outcomes may be, we will almost always be on surer ground when we incorporate empirical evidence and analysis.”

Chris Meserole

Chris Meserole researches modern religious conflict. He is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Maryland and a pre-doctoral fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.@chrismeserole





A Soldier’s Modern Day “To Hell and Back”


To Hell and Back

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Donavan


“My program of recovery today has led me down the path to freedom and I truly believe others can follow suit.

I work hard in recovery and it shows both personally and professionally.

I am a Military Police Investigator. I am a Recruiter.I am a paratrooper. I am air assault.

I am a Master Resiliency Trainer. I am a sergeant first class (Made it in just nine years.)

I am the 2012 NCO of the Year for Army Installation Management Command.

My name is Sgt. 1st Class Robert C. Donovan, and I AM an ALCOHOLIC.

We are in your ranks and, in many cases, the ones leading the formation. We may seem like we are getting the job done, but we are dying inside because we are scared to ask for help. We are afraid that we will lose our careers and even more afraid that no one will understand. We sit through classes like SHARP, EO, and MRT and wonder why the Army has not been more proactive in finding the root cause of our condition. On the outside we carry ourselves well. Most of us have never received UCMJ or disciplinary action in any way. Yet, we neglect ourselves so much that once we become leaders we are so busy with professional development and leading Soldiers that we forget to take care of ourselves.

You don’t believe me? Here is my story.

On Aug. 3, 2015, after calling in sick two days in a row, I started drinking multiple bottles of alcohol and consuming prescription medication. I surely did not want to kill myself, but I certainly did not want to face the day. I was depressed, shamed, and filled with guilt. How could a very intelligent person like me not know what was going on? As I laid on the couch contemplating my options in life, it was my convoluted, alcoholic mind that was telling me that I needed to choose life or death. Gun on the table and empty pill bottles nearby, I realized that it was over for me.

At that moment, not once did family, friends, co-workers, or the Army cross my mind. Asking for help was simply not an option. There are studies which explain the psychology behind that, but it is imperative you understand that those thoughts of family and friends are long gone when you hit rock bottom.

I was paralyzed with fear and out of desperation I made a phone call. My lifeline was a soldier I knew that ETS’d, hit rock bottom shortly after, and lost everything in life that he had. This was an acquaintance that I truly did not have any type of close friendship with. I have no idea why I chose this person but I thought I might have seen him post something positive on Facebook that stated he had been sober for two years. I called and asked, “Does life get any better?” and all he said was “Yes.”

I was given hope; a word that I lost all understanding of in the thick of my disease. As I stood there crying uncontrollably, I found something I could manage. I could manage the amount of hope inside me. I soon passed out. But before I did, I promised myself that “tomorrow I am going ask for help.” I remembered that hope and walked right into my First Sergeant’s office and said “I need help”. I will never forget those words because I recorded the conversation just before I walked in. I wasn’t sure how the situation was going to be handled, and I wanted to make it clear that this was a Self-Referral. The fear of the Army’s reaction outweighed any and all logic at that point. It is within those three words of “I need help” that summed up my entire problem.

So you see the problem lies within the soldier’s inability to ask for help. The reason he cannot ask for help is because of fear. He is scared for his career, he is scared of the looks around the office, and he is scared that he may have a terrible disease called alcoholism that he will have to live with for his entire life.

How do we combat that fear? We give soldiers the opportunity to see that other Soldiers have been successful in recovery and that it is possible to not only survive in the Army, but thrive.

The Army needs a program led by a “green-suiter,” who is an alcoholic and who can relate to the masses, to spearhead this project and make change.

The Army Substance Abuse Program also needs an entire team of soldiers that can travel from installation to installation sharing their experience, strength, and hope.

My program of recovery today has led me down the path to freedom and I truly believe others can follow suit. I work hard in recovery and it shows both personally and professionally.

The moral of this story is that we have a problem, and I firmly believe we have a solution and it exists already within our ranks. If those suffering are willing to ask for help, they will not have to bear the pain that I went through. So instead of the Army’s anti-drinking motto being “Don’t Be That Guy” to deter at-risk individuals from going down the wrong path, it is imperative that we allow “That Guy” to feel comfortable enough to want to change.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Donovan has served in the Army for 10 years and current serves as a US Army Recruiter for the Long Beach Recruiting Company.He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 16th Military Police Brigade.”