Tag Archives: Labels: Big Government

The Real Versus Perceived Power Of The U.S. Presidency

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Image: “Vox

STRATFOR ” By George Friedman

The American presidency is designed to disappoint.  What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him or her.

To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government.”

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[A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR]:

Below are selected excerpts from a classic article by George Friedman, prior to the 2012 National Election. Considering what has occurred since, it is our hope that the content will continue bringing reality to American citizen expectations.]:

STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL WEEKLY 

Each candidate must promise things that are beyond their power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. 

So candidates promise great, transformative programs.  Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers’ point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president’s power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president’s power, just as the country’s founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time — and this is the main paradox of American political culture — the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance.

The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics. Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that (with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail). And regardless of how he modeled his foreign policy during his first campaign, the 9/11 attacks defined his presidency. 

Similarly, Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redefine America’s relationship with both Europe and the Islamic world. Neither happened. It has been widely and properly noted how little Obama’s foreign policy in action has differed from George W. Bush’s. It was not that Obama didn’t intend to have a different foreign policy, but simply that what the president wants and what actually happens are very different things.

The power often ascribed to the U.S. presidency is overblown. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening. The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed. There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world. For such people, the presidential race — like political disputes the world over — is of great significance.

Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U.S. foreign policy. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.

In the broadest sense, current U.S. foreign policy has been in place for about a century. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not. No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America.

At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters. During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. In World War II, the United States followed a similar strategy, allowing the system in both Europe and Asia to become unbalanced before intervening. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.

During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention. It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 (including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts) versus about 116,000 U.S. deaths in World War I, showing that far from being cold, the Cold War was a violent struggle. 

The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, and ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an “internationalist” stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself. The Cold War was fought on this strategy.

Between 1948 and the Vietnam War, the consensus held. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries. This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing.

The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course. This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.

If we carefully examine Obama’s statements during the 2008 campaign and his efforts once in office, we see that he has tried to move U.S. foreign policy away from active balancing in favor of allowing regional balances of power to maintain themselves. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan while disengaging in other areas to the extent that the U.S. political system and global processes would allow.

Obama’s efforts to transition away from active balancing of the system have been seen in Europe, where he has made little attempt to stabilize the economic situation, and in the Far East, where apart from limited military repositioning there have been few changes. Syria also highlights his movement toward the strategy of relying on regional balances. The survival of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime would unbalance the region, creating a significant Iranian sphere of influence. Obama’s strategy has been not to intervene beyond providing limited covert support to the opposition, but rather to allow the regional balance to deal with the problem. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.

Obama’s perspective draws on that of the critics of the Cold War strategy of active balancing, who maintained that without a major Eurasian power threatening hemispheric hegemony, U.S. intervention is more likely to generate anti-American coalitions and precisely the kind of threat the United States feared when it decided to actively balance. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.

As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. Had al Qaeda not attacked on 9/11, I suspect that George W. Bush’s presidency would have been dramatically different.

The world shapes U.S. foreign policy. The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too. But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it. George W. Bush saw his opposition to nation-building wrecked by 9/11 and had his presidency crushed under the weight of the main thing he wanted to avoid.

Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality. In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. The choice to do so simply isn’t up to them. The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value.

In the end, though, the U.S. presidency was designed to limit the president’s ability to rule. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well.”

STRATFOR Geopolitical Weekly – July 31, 2012

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George Friedman is a geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs. He is the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, an online publication that analyzes and forecasts the course of global events. Prior to founding Geopolitical Futures, Friedman was chairman of Stratfor, the private intelligence publishing and consulting firm he founded in 1996.

 

No Protection for IC Whistle Blower Contractors

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(Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

“POGO”

“The restoration of Intelligence Community (IC) contractor whistle blower rights would help safeguard billions of taxpayer dollars in government contracts, grants, and reimbursements annually.

“Snowden:  “I had read the laws. I knew that there were no whistle blower protections.”

Snowden’s disclosure to the media is a perfect example of why intelligence contractors need a mechanism to safely disclose suspected waste, fraud, and abuse.

Three years after Edward Snowden’s leaks, it appears that everyone has an opinion about him—traitor, hero, or somewhere in between. However, there is one undeniable fact surrounding Snowden’s circumstances that has been misreported by Congress and the Executive Branch far too many times: the Intelligence Community (IC) contractor would have had almost no protections had he come forward through proper channels.

Sure, Snowden could have gone to his supervisors and disclosed his concerns. However, had that supervisor retaliated against Snowden by firing him or demoting him, he would have had no protections because he was an IC contractor. In the absence of adequate protections, IC contractors have only two alternatives to almost certain retaliation: 1) remain silent observers of wrongdoing, or 2) make anonymous leaks.

This has not always been the case though. In fact, IC contractors enjoyed the gold standard of whistleblower protections for four years, between 2008 and 2012.

The NDAA for fiscal year 2008 contained temporary provisions that allowed all Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, including those at the National Security Agency (NSA), to enforce their whistleblower rights through district court jury trials. Additionally, in 2009, comprehensive whistleblower protections were enacted for all government contract employees paid with stimulus funds, including other IC agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. Contrary to predictions that contractor whistleblowers would flood the courts, only 25 cases were filed from 2008 through 2012 under the DoD contractor provision (including from the intelligence community).

This whistleblower shield was so successful in deterring contractor waste and abuse that the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency proposed a permanent expansion for all government contractors. In 2012, McCaskill introduced a whistleblower protection amendment for all government contractors that won bipartisan Senate approval in the fiscal year 2013 NDAA.

However, during that NDAA’s closing conference committee negotiations, whistleblower rights were extended only to contractors outside of the intelligence community. Preexisting rights for IC contractors were also removed, despite a proven track record that the law was working as intended and no evidence that the law had any adverse impacts on national security during its five-year lifespan.

To better protect taxpayer dollars, our country and Americans’ privacy, Congress must restore whistleblower protections for intelligence contractors and stop feeding the false narrative that such protections exist.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/09/protect-whistleblowers-ic-contractors.html

 

 

Fed Year-End Spending Spree Needs to Change

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  We have often discussed the inefficient one year budget cycle of the US Government and recommend changes.   The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go.  Robert F. Hale  was comptroller and chief financial officer at the Defense Department from 2009 until 2014. As you will see in his opinion below, he heartily agrees.

Robert Hale

Robert Hale


“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“WHY DOD’s YEAR-END SPENDING NEEDS TO CHANGE”

“As the end of the fiscal year approaches at the Department of Defense (DoD), organizations are working hard to spend all the funds which are available for use only during the current fiscal year.

The pithy rationale for these actions: “Use it or lose it.”

We need to find practical ways to apply the brakes to year-end spending so that DoD funds only its highest-priority needs.

DoD spending spikes sharply during the final week of the fiscal year.  (To be technically correct, by “spending” I am referring to entering into contracts or otherwise obligating funds.) In a 2010 report researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities showed that, based on data for the years 2004 to 2009, final-week spending at DoD was more than four times higher than the average weekly spending during the rest of the year.  Similar trends occurred at other federal agencies.

The spike doesn’t necessarily mean that year-end funds are wasted.  Many year-end funds buy construction-related goods and services, office equipment, and IT equipment and services. These items are needed, but they do not directly support the most critical DoD mission needs, such as training and military readiness.  Moreover, research on federal IT spending suggests that final-week purchases are of lower quality than those made during the rest of the year, and I suspect the same finding applies to other categories of spending.  The surge in spending may also lead overworked contracting officers to push out lower-quality contracts.

Making operating funds available only for one year works against good resource allocation in another way. Resource managers must estimate forthcoming bills for services in the final month of the fiscal year (for example, final bills for electricity and water) and obligate the funds before year’s end. They have to estimate on the high side because, if their estimate is low, they risk violating the federal anti-deficiency laws. High estimates for routine services leave fewer funds available for mission-critical activities such as training and readiness.

Year-end spending worries federal employees, and it should worry taxpayers too.  For several years the Obama Administration conducted a SAVE campaign (Securing Americans’ Value and Efficiency), which asked federal employees to suggest ways to make government more efficient. In my role as DoD comptroller, I reviewed suggestions related to DoD. I was struck by how many employees urged that year-end spending be reduced. A 2007 survey of DoD financial management and contracting professionals showed the same result. Almost all respondents expressed concerns about year-end spending.

The law already has some provisions designed to avoid year-end spending spikes.  For example, only 20 percent of major operating budgets are supposed to be spent during the final two months of the fiscal year. But this provision still leaves room for final-week spikes.

Congress could help by passing DoD appropriations on time – that is, by October 1.  Late appropriations push even more spending toward the end of the year and may exacerbate year-end spending. Unfortunately, Congress has not provided DoD with an on-time appropriation during any of the Obama years, and it will apparently not do so again this year.

But Congress can help by permitting DoD to carry over a small percentage of its operating budgets (perhaps 5 percent) into the next fiscal year. This flexibility would not increase the total funds available to DoD. However, for funds eligible for carry over, managers could decide whether to buy that office furniture for the headquarters at the end of the year or wait and let other needs compete for the funds next year. There is some evidence that carry-over authority helps. Our Harvard and Stanford researchers found that, at one federal agency that had such authority (the Department of Justice), final-week spending spikes were much smaller.

While serving as DoD’s comptroller, I tried to persuade Congress to permit the Department to carry over small amounts of its operating funding into the next fiscal year.  I made a few converts, but not enough to make it happen.

The next administration should try again to secure carry-over authority.”

Why DoD’s Year-End Spending Needs to Change

 

 

 

VA Buying System Archaic & Improvement Slow

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“FCW”

GAO Report:   ordering interface looks like something from when people “first started using computers.”

The VA procurement policy framework as being “outdated and fragmented,” with different procurement regulations covering different parts of the agency. Revisions and standardization of the VA’s overarching procurement regulation isn’t due until 2018.

The Department of Veterans Affairs embarked on an update of its fragmented, overlapping and out-of-date procurement system in 2011. Capitol Hill critics say implementation could be going faster.

“Companies doing business with the VA don’t know what the rules are, and even the VA contracting officers get confused,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) at a Sept. 20 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) said the way the system works right now is “unacceptable” and that she will be “anxiously waiting” any updates to the system.

Greg Giddens, VA’s executive director for acquisition, logistics and construction, said the agency has “strategies in place that align with GAO’s recommendations” in most areas of oversight concern.

Acting Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer Rick Lemmon said the agency is in the process of developing and launching a new Windows-based ordering interface, to replace the aging, text-based legacy system in fiscal year 2017. The current VA system is integrated with the agency’s homegrown VistA health record system, and is coded using the legacy MUMPS computer language.

Giddens noted that VA is in the midst of a financial management IT initiative, and launching plans for a digital healthcare platform. Both of these efforts “will impact legacy and contemporary supply-chain systems and interfaces, as well as influence system-improvement alternatives and investment decisions over the next two to five years,” he said.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2016/09/21/va-procurement-oversight.aspx?admgarea=TC_Management

 

Federal Cyber Incidents Up 1,300% In 10 Years

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“WASHINGTON POST”

“The number of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies jumped more than 1,300 percent, from 5,503 to 77,183, over the 10 years through fiscal 2015.

This is not just a theoretical warning.

Federal information security has been on the high-risk list of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) since 1997, and the situation has only grown worse.

These statistics, at once sobering and alarming, were included in a GAO report presented to the President’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity this week. The report was in the form of a statement from Gregory C. Wilshusen, the GAO’s director of information security issues.

“Over the last several years, we have made about 2,500 recommendations to agencies aimed at improving their implementation of information security controls,” Wilshusen said. “These recommendations identify actions for agencies to take in protecting their information and systems. For example, we have made recommendations for agencies to correct weaknesses in controls intended to prevent, limit, and detect unauthorized access to computer resources. … However, many agencies continue to have weaknesses in implementing these controls, in part because many of these recommendations remain unimplemented. As of September 16, 2016, about 1,000 of our information security–related recommendations have not been implemented.”

Ineffective cyberprotection “can result in significant risk to a broad array of government operations and assets,” he added.

Press secretary Jamal Brown of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) responded by saying that “cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation. Over the last nearly eight years, federal agencies have made significant progress in strengthening their overall cybersecurity posture. Yet, as cyber threats continue to evolve and grow, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to combat them.”

Among of those efforts was release of a first-ever cybersecurity workforce strategy and implementation of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, which established the commission that heard Wilshusen’s statement.

“GAO’s recommendations to the commission are important and welcomed,” Brown said.

These examples from Wilshusen show how broad that array can be: “Sensitive information, such as intellectual property and national security data, and personally identifiable information, such as taxpayer data, Social Security records, and medical records, could be inappropriately added to, deleted, read, copied, disclosed, or modified for purposes such as espionage, identity theft, or other types of crime.”

In June 2014, the Office of Personnel Management announced that personal information, including Social Security numbers, belonging to 22 million federal employees and others had been hacked. That is the largest announced cybertheft but far from the only one. The private sector also has been repeatedly hit by cyberthieves.

“These threats come from a variety of sources and vary in terms of the types and capabilities of the actors, their willingness to act, and their motives,” Wilshusen said. “For example, advanced persistent threats — where adversaries possess sophisticated levels of expertise and significant resources to pursue their objectives — pose increasing risks.”

In a March report to Congress, the OMB linked the rising number of cybersecurity incidents to “an increase in total information security events and agencies’ enhanced capabilities to identify, detect, manage, respond to, and recover from these incidents.”

Although the report indicates that about 40 percent of the GAO’s recommendations have not been implemented at any one time, in an interview, Wilshusen said the government’s long-term record is significantly better. Within four years, 88 percent to 90 percent of the recommendations are followed, he said by phone. “Over time,” he added, “the agencies do a pretty good job of implementing our recommendations.”

The GAO offered several recommendations, including strengthening oversight of government contractors that provide information-technology services. That was a lesson learned the hard way through the OPM breach.  In 2014, the GAO found that five of six selected agencies “were inconsistent” in their oversight of contractor cyber controls.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/22/federal-cyber-incidents-jump-1300-in-10-years/?utm_campaign=EBB%209.23.16&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Sailthru

 

Federal Agencies Challenged in Attracting Tech Startups

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE’

“Entrepreneurs and innovators in commercial industry are just as patriotic as those who work in the traditional defense industry. They’re not comfortable on the long lead time and very long development cycles.

They are not comfortable inside the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

Startup companies and young entrepreneurs were largely absent from the Air Force Association’s air, space and cyber conference this week, an issue that came to a head Sept. 21 during a discussion among the Air Force’s top officers.

To speed the acquisition of commercial technologies and bring new companies into the fold, Defense Department leaders have been reaching out to firms in technology hubs such as Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin. But the AFA conference in National Harbor, Maryland, one of the most prominent annual defense industry expositions, was dominated by traditional contractors that have been doing business with the Pentagon for decades.

A panel of four-star and three-star general officers was asked by an audience member about the notable absence of the non-traditional companies that defense officials have been courting.

“Why would you expect to see a millennial at the opera?” said Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “By that I mean the forum that’s here for AFA and the booth concept is not the environment that the entrepreneurial community that … we engage with is one that they come to.”

“It’s not of interest to them,” she added. “That’s not their culture.”

The Defense Department will have to court them, not the other way around, she said. Pentagon officials must make a concerted effort to meet them on their turf, she noted.

“We have to reach out to the forums and to the venues that they go to,” she said. “That will put some of us out of our comfort zone that we’re used to participating in, but that is the way we have to draw them in.”

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has made several high-profile trips to Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation. Last week, the Pentagon chief attended a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, where he tried to persuade cyber technologists to work for or do business with the Defense Department

At a venue where a Pentagon official wearing a business suit looked like a fish out of water, Carter fielded tough questions. Some, including one about marijuana use, would be considered way out-of-left-field if they had been asked at a traditional industry conference.

Pawlikowski noted that she attended a venture capitalist conference in Los Angeles focused on space issues, with positive results.

“After I finished, I had about a dozen venture capitalists come up to me wanting [me] to know that they had entrepreneurs that were interested in getting involved in this business and [asking] how could they get involved” with the Defense Department, she said.

But the Pentagon’s acquisition process sometimes causes headaches for those involved in outreach efforts to non-traditional industry and startup companies.

Air Force Materiel Command has made a concerted effort to draw in commercial firms with small business innovative research funding, Pawlikowski said.

“What we found though that is if we just leave it up to our usual devices of going out and putting out, ‘Here’s our topics we’re interested in,’ we will get shall we say the more traditional small business” to respond, she said.

“It doesn’t necessarily attract the entrepreneurial business base as a general rule,” she added. “In fact, sometimes our definition of a small business actually makes it hard for that entrepreneurial business base to participate, because if a venture capitalist invests in an entrepreneur then they no longer qualify as a small business, for example.”

Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed concerns about the hurdles thrown up by the often cumbersome acquisition process.

The Pentagon has been pursuing different paths of engagement, he noted.

“What we have to do and what we have been doing is trying to nurture relationships with those small companies by placing bets and asking them hard questions and giving them some time to chew on them,” he said.

They’re wiling to give their intellect to the questions we’re willing to ask,” he said. “We just have to find an environment that they’re comfortable operating in.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2311

 

Social Media on the Front Lines of War

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“FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION”

“Social media started out as a technological innovation but has become a social phenomenon.

Intelligence agencies appreciate the importance of social media and its role.

In a recent PBS Newshour interview, Nick Rasmussen, of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) just outside Washington DC, explained how, in the context of searching for a terrorist threat, “increasingly what ‘connecting the dots’ means to me is dealing with the huge volume of publicly available information. The work we’re doing now often doesn’t involve really sensitive intelligence; it involves looking at Twitter, or some other social media platform, and trying to figure out who that individual is behind the screen name.”

Since the early 2000s Facebook has become indispensable for families and friends to stay in touch, and people and organizations with large numbers of Twitter followers are able to carve out virtual mini-media empires. Clicks and ‘follows’ are the new version of voting with your feet. The more readers or followers one has, goes the logic, the more influence one wields.

To turn it around, people who actively use social media for every day, non-political reasons are also subject to being targeted.

One of the vulnerabilities (or advantages, to a combatant wishing to recruit people) is that social media accounts usually expose users to invasive scrutiny. Facebook and LinkedIn profiles can carry enough information that, shared with the wrong person, can be used to compromise that person or uncover confidential information about his/her job. Many countries’ military members are now routinely required to not specify their location or activities.

As the years passed of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, jihadi groups increasingly began to recruit through social media. Stories now abound of young adults of Middle Eastern heritage and origin, living in western Europe and the US, who have been contacted by Islamic State through social media and convinced to move to Raqqa, the Islamic State’s purported capital. Some 60 young women from the UK, aged 20 and below, are thought in the past several years to have traveled to Raqqa.

The huge growth in cell phone cameras and the ease of posting pictures to social media has also played a role in tracking and finding various targets. Of recent note, investigative organizations were able to track operatives and military equipment in eastern Ukraine primarily through personal pictures posted to social media and publically available imaging, including open source tracking of the apparent missile launcher used to destroy Malaysian Airlines flight 17 in 2014. This has also been a method to discover the location of various actors in the labyrinthine war in Syria.

Per the previously mentioned PBS Newshour article, many Islamic State fighters simply do not disable the geo-location feature on their phones, which allows those with the right technology to track them.

Intelligence agencies of major world powers now seem to appreciate the importance of social media and its role in ‘information operations,’ a military term that infers the ability of messaging to affect the viewpoints of a target population. Just looking through listings for ‘intelligence analyst’ on several Washington DC—based job boards, foreign language specialists are widely sought for social media and social networking positions.

Of course, it is not only parties to the worlds’ trouble regions that are looking to abuse social media to their advantage. For even a longer time, social engineers and hackers have tried to gather personal information by establishing links online.

If you are uncertain about that LinkedIn invitation you just got, try to verify the person through a known contact. If you are doubtful, ‘ignore’ or ‘delete’ works just fine. If he or she happens to be a colleague whom you meet at the next social, you can safely add them, and actually have a face-to-face conversation, something social media, unfortunately, seems to increasingly discourage.”

Social Media Now on Conflicts’ Front Lines

 

 

 

Military Tech Matchmaker Getting Ready to Open Wallet

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Image: mayoradler.com

“DEFENSE ONE”

“The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUX  DIUx connects smallish companies with potential customers inside the Defense Department. It has plans to fund another 22 projects to the tune of $65 million.

For every dollar DIUx puts toward a new  company, a  military branch contributes $3.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act charged “outreach is proceeding without sufficient attention being paid to breaking down the barriers that have traditionally prevented nontraditional contractors from supporting defense needs, like lengthy contracting processes and the inability to transition technologies.”

Folks close to [Defense Secretary] Carter have said that he remains deeply, personally committed to the effort, and would open a DIUx cell in every city in America if he could.

“I created DIUx last year because one of my core goals as secretary of defense has been to build, and in some cases rebuild, the bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon and America’s wonderfully innovative and open technology community,” Carter said.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/09/militarys-tech-matchmaker-getting-ready-open-its-wallet/131554/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

 

 

Corruption Lessons from US Experience in Afghanistan

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Image:  Politifact.com

“POGO”

“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the first in a series of reports imparting lessons from the 15-year, $115 billion Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

The core lesson:  establish an anti-corruption strategy before plunging into nation-rebuilding.

The report, Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan, is a review of how effectively the US government—primarily the Departments of Defense (DoD), State, Treasury, and Justice, and the US Agency for International Development—responded to corruption in Afghanistan reconstruction spending. SIGAR identifies six key lessons that will hopefully inform future contingency operations, and makes recommendations for executive and legislative action.

The report defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain,” as exemplified by such acts as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, and nepotism. It asserts that, while certain forms of corruption have been a part of Afghan culture for centuries, the problem grew to epic proportions after 2001. SIGAR faults the US-led reconstruction effort in three respects: by rapidly injecting billions of dollars into the Afghan economy without adequate oversight, by failing to recognize the scope and severity of corruption, and by subordinating anticorruption efforts to short-term security and political goals.

The recommendation that seems most sensible (to provide the most bang for the buck, if you will) is for the agencies to establish a “joint vendor vetting unit” to more carefully screen contingency operation contractors and grantees. For reconstruction missions to succeed, international aid money must be kept out of the hands of what SIGAR calls “malign powerbrokers”—those who thrive off corruption, such as local warlords, crooked government officials, and insurgents. Robust screening of recipients will also help ensure reconstruction funds aren’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.

The United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan for several more years, and it will likely embark on relief efforts in other war-torn countries as well. It is therefore critical that the government heed the lessons collected over the years by its watchdogs: the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which ceased operations in September 2011, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which closed its doors in October 2013, and SIGAR, which will carry on until appropriated funding for the reconstruction drops below $250 million.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/09/government-watchdog-identifies-lessons-from-afghanistan-reconstruction.html

 

Uncle Sam Wants You

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“BREAKING DEFENSE”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a skeptical tech community.

It’s part of an all-out effort by the military’s civilian leader to get the technologically best and brightest to work with or even for the often-hidebound Pentagon.

Carter has created the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX) and the Defense Digital Service, both of which report directly to him.

The outbound lane on Carter’s new bridge is the DIUX, the much-publicized project to put Pentagon reps in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin and (soon) other high-tech hotspots around the country. The inbound lane is the Defense Digital Service, which brings civilian techies into the Pentagon.

“A SWAT Team Of Nerds”

The Defense Digital Service is “a SWAT team of nerds,” said Chris Lynch, the DDS director. They spend a year or more at the Defense Department helping with particularly knotty and important problems. “On this particular trip,” explained to reporters on Secretary Carter’s plane en route to the TechCrunch conference, “we’re going to meet with some high-profile engineers to try to convince them to come out for at least a year to serve their country.”

To ease that transition, Lynch’s outfit is consciously counter-cultural. He’s made a point of wearing jeans and sneakers from day one. His team call themselves and any friends they find in the bureaucracy “the Rebel Alliance.”

The “service” is also awfully small. “We have about 18 people today,” Lynch said, and they are working on half-a-dozen projects.

“Our goal is to stay small and be very selective about the projects that we’re engaged in,” Lynch said. Defense agencies, services, and commands come to him to pitch their projects, but which ones DDS ultimately takes on is in large part guided by the personal interests, expertise, and passion of the individuals who join the service. The service doesn’t try replace the people already working on a problem for the Defense Department. Instead, DDS aims to help defense insiders over crucial hurdles with a well-timed infusion of outsider knowledge, then move on.

But how can less than 20 people make an impact on the two million-strong Department of Defense? “This model has been proven out many, many times over history, in particular at DoD,” Lynch said. “Small, highly empowered teams can actually make history and can change things.”

“The Department of Defense got to pull off the first ever federal bug bounty,” Lynch said. “It’s probably the last place that a lot of people would have thought it would have happened.”

Now the effects are “cascading “across the federal government, , said D.J. Patil, the Chief Data Scientist at the White House, speaking alongside Lynch. Just as the Defense Digital Service was the catalyst to get the Defense Department to move, the Defense Department’s example is the catalyst getting other agencies to move.

“Since the Department of Defense launched this first-ever Hack the Pentagon bug bounty program, we have seen a number of other departments who have said, ‘oh, that was really good, we’re going to go do that too,’” said Patil.

Marijuana? Maybe. Treason? No.

The audience at TechCrunch seemed more than a little skeptical of Carter’s pitch. Their questions ranged from the National Security Agency to digital privacy, Edward Snowden — a traitor to many in the Pentagon but a hero to many here — and even drug use.

What if a really good engineer went to Burning Man and decided to “partake in some goodies,” the moderator asked. Would that disqualify them from working for the Pentagon?

“Times change,” Carter said. “The laws change respecting marijuana…. Yes, we can be flexible in that regard.”

The call to serve their country “animates a lot of people,” the secretary said, “but they want to know if it can be done in a way that’s consistent with their lifestyle, their values, with everything else that’s important in their lives.” The Pentagon needs to meet them halfway.

But some things cannot change. Asked if the president should pardon Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who illegally disclosed vast archives of highly classified material, Carter refused to comment on individual cases but came down emphatically against leaks.

“All of us who enjoy the public trust and handle classified information have the responsibility” to safeguard it, Carter said. That does not mean we have the right to tell the world secrets that we personally feel uncomfortable keeping. “To arrogate to oneself the authority to (disclose) something that’s been trusted to you,” he said, “that is something we can’t condone.”

The cultural divide is very real. The day after his talk at TechCrunch, Carter went to Austin to announce a new DIUX outpost to be hosted by the Capital Factory there. A poster on the wall quoted Buckminster Fuller on the need to “reorient world production away from weaponry,” and a local reporter asked whether techies working with DIUX should be worried their technology would be “militarized” or “misused.”

“We’re actually looking to reach out and build bridges to people who have not worked with us before — and yes, that includes people who have reservations,” Carter replied, “because I think when they get to know us, they’ll learn two things. The first is the United States military conducts itself in a way that I think makes people proud,” Carter said. “We’re extremely careful in what we do that we don’t harm civilians. No other military is as scrupulous.”

“The other thing they’ll discover,” Carter continued, “is the great satisfaction that comes from knowing, when you go to bed at night, that you spent your day doing something that contributes to the security of the country and a better world.”

SecDef Carter Wants YOU For The Defense Digital Service