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10 January 2010


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Colonel --

Perhaps that brandy would help.

Meanwhile, I'd like to post in this thread the questions I asked in the last one ---

To those with the background to answer:

If you had the President's ear, whom would you recommend now instead of Brennan?

What marching orders, actually achievable in the real world, should the new person be given?

And what would you recommend that the President say publicly that one could reasonably expect a politician to say?

Maureen Lang

Certainly hope you are feeling better soon, dear brother. Thanks for the mention of my post over at TA on James Wong Howe, one of film's finest cinematographers.


Colonel Lang,

Small unit actions usually have only have "tactical" significance. Rarely they have significance at one of the higher levels of war.[e.g. maybe the raid to free Mussolini or the raid on the German heavy water plant were "strategic"; I won't list all the historic ones I think might qualify.]
The attack on the Khost base might turn out to have significance at least at the "operational" level.It was more than a local tactical success. It is likely to significantly benefit the overall higher level war goals of the Afghan Resistance in a wide range of ways for a long time.It is going to have a detrimental[to the US] counter effect on the recently announced US strategy in Afghanistan which requires a lot of interaction and trust between US and Afghani personnel at the face to face level and much better HUMINT. The bureaucratic DoD/IC effort to make sure that "nothing like this ever occurs again on my watch" will reinforce the negative effects of the attack itself.
Overall I grade it excellent in terms of conception, planning and execution.

USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96


How much radioactive material is in one of those body scanners they plan to put in the airports? Wouldn't the scanners be a prime target for a suicide bomber? By blowing up himself and the machine, not only would the blast kill and injure people but the radiation would contaminate many more and shut down a large part of the terminal until it could be cleaned up. Isn't this called a force multiplier?

The beaver

That lead editorial in WaPo ought to do some research on Yemen and its history before making such comment:
With nearly 1300 distinct Arab tribes in Yemen, he must be smoking something:-)
He or she is confusing the historical perception of Yemenis as one people with current conceptions of the nation/state.

Patrick Lang


What is important here is what is revealed of the ineptitude of the DO. pl

Allen Thomson

> How much radioactive material is in one of those body scanners they plan to put in the airports?

None, or possibly very tiny amounts not directly related to the functioning of the scanner. There are two kinds of scanners, one using x-rays, the other "millimeter waves" which are like microwaves but higher frequency. Both are generated by means that don't involve radioactive material.

IIRC, there are some cargo scanners that use gamma rays emitted by radioactive cobalt-60, but those are different beasts than are used on passengers.


What still gets me the most is that they didn't search him thoroughly before bringing him into the Khost base. I mean, seriously, it would have taken probably 5-10 minutes, and almost certainly would have uncovered any explosives he was carrying.



I always brought a bottle of Cognac to bed to clear out the cobwebs. Either got up as I was feeling better or for another bottle. Hope your up to par shortly as your analysis is needed more than ever.

Obviously the Khowst Bombing will be in the primers for centuries. There were some sharp operators there (obviously too many)so was the complacency one of many prior visits, salivation of the potential scoop, peculiar to Khowst, SOP (hope not), deference to the moles case officer, homeoffice timeline or just a little of all the above?

The other big question is was this a long term play by the Taliban/Al Qaeda or one of a recently disillusioned player? The stories of the jailing for Three Days by the Jordanians before turning him out is scary, obviously there is a lot more to this.

Thought Greniers opine was good especially the last paragraph. The straying into Trade commentors shows how raw the nerves are.

As to the architecture everyone knows that the overhead goes first.



Here's Kevin Drum's take on Yemen at Mother Jones with links to source material on the dire state that Yemen is in right now and it's worse prospects for the future. I pretty much agree with his skepticism. A country that's running out of water in the capital city, oil revenues heading rapidly to zero, a population that's growing far too fast with 45% of it less than 15 years old are just a few of it's problems. Insurgency is low on the list. There's really nothing constructive we can do to help them that we can afford. We'd have to stop a total meltdown before even thinking about nation building. I had no idea the place was such a basket case.



Colonel Lang,

I did not want to take up bandwidth with the obvious.
I had a nanny when I was young; if I had listened to her my life would have been easier; still, I would not have wanted her in charge of an FOB. The DO is a "nanny organization" these days.

USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96


"The Yemenis are crafty folk. In the Cold War they were adept at getting free money and weapons from the USSR, USA, Saudi Arabia, and East Germany. They hired the French, Taiwanese and Italians to do odd jobs for them using other peoples' money." - pl

Col. get better and know that SNL is reading your blog...lol

The Twisted Genius

Colonel Lang,

Inner ear infection... better lash yourself to the couch because you probably feel like your house is rolling in heavy seas. :) Seriously, I wish you a speedy recovery.

Mike D

William Osler was one of the three physicians that started John Hopkins Medical School (the first modern medical in the United States). His advice for a cold: go home, put your hat on the bed post, drink brandy until you see two hats. Sleep. I drink Metaxa which is a moderately priced Greek brandy. Good luck!


Ear infections are bad news. I had one a few years ago and thought my head would explode: searing pain and all that. Get the right antibiotic and get well.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2010/01/by-eric-martin--rory-stewart--tom-bissell.html>Obsidian Wings has an open thread link to http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2006/summer/bissell-euphoria-perrier/>”an absolutely devastating critique of the writing of Robert Kaplan” in the Virginia Quarterly Review by one Tom Bissell.

My own reading of Kaplan's books has been limited. When Balkan Ghosts came out in 1993 I thought it was great, without knowing how inaccurate it was. According to Bissell, over the years it has "been savaged by many Balkan experts."

I tried reading one of Kaplan's other "traveling history" books (so forgettable I can't recall the title) and found it flat, but that didn't stop me from stupidly buying his Imperial Grunts to see if he had some real insights into our current military. Suffice it to say I also found that work both jejune and unreadable.

It is frightening to think of the influence Kaplan still commands. If more people read Bissell, that will change. I love his final takedown of Imperial Grunts:

I do not doubt that it was great fun for Kaplan to play soldier, but he is apparently unaware that he is celebrating the taking and loss of life in this leprous book—though, given the current state of our nation, perhaps he is the writer we deserve.


Colonel Lang,

I have placed below a URL
to a UK Times Online article which adds a new detail to the emerging story on the Khost debacle. In brief, it reports that the Afghan Army officer who was driving the vehicle the bomber arrived in bomber survived the blast and was sitting wounded but then was executed, by a shot to the head by an American guard. [Of course we have no way of knowing if this happened or not.]


USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96

N. M. Salamon

Interesting analysis of CIA in Afganistan at ROMDISPATCH, please read:

Abu Sinan

I hope you feel better. The 3 year old and I just got over a nasty case of bronchitis that only anti-biotics helped with.

As for nation building in Iraq, I still find it ironic that people are claiming it as a victory even as recent attacks by our formerly bought off Sunni groups show. Victory or not in Iraq wont be clear for years after US troops leave. Until then it is up in the air.



Thank you. The backscatter scanner uses x-rays and is the type airports are considering upgrading to, including Schiphol, which already has the millimeter-wave scanner. You don't think there is enough radioactive material in the backscatter machines to make an effective dirty bomb. That's good. I can't find any information about such a possibility and was wondering.

Fred Strack

Optimax, I would suspect the Xray machines are more like those in a Dentist's office, no radioactive material at all, or very lttle. The question is how long to Xray each passenger and what dose do they recieve - there are limits due to the health effects. Then how much time per passenger? Lots of money to be made off these for very little impact.

Remember the D.C. sniper?AQ could equally terrorize folks by buying a few pump shotguns at a gun show and then shoot up the kids at the local bus stop. I wonder what effect it would have instead of the entryway to CIA HQ they shot up people walking into Fox/ABC/CBS news?

Nancy K

My husband and I just returned from Costa Rica, we went through security in San Jose and then again in Atlanta before catching flight to LA. My husband bought a Panama hat and wore in onto the plane because he didn't want it crushed. He was not asked to take his hat off at either San Jose or in Atlanta. Fortunately he had nothing in his hat except his head.
I think airport security has always been lax.
Airport personal are not well paid, and probably don't really care that much.


Fred, There is controversy over the backscatter scanners:


Buster Brown shoe stores used to have shoe-fitting x-ray machines. As a kid I remember sticking my feet in the opening at the bottom and looking thru the viewfinder. I could see the bones of my feet and the outline of the shoe. Great fun but dangerous and the machines were eventually banned.

All this may be a moot point because they are working on a so-called mind reading machine to catch terrorists and people like me who will be pissed off that our country is turning into a Phillip K. Dick novel.

The FBI profile said the DC sniper was white so they let the shooters pass through police checkpoints. It took a truck driver listening to a police scanner to bust them.

William R. Cumming

Note the passing of William J. Lederer at age 97 co-author of the "Ugly American" and of course seems that book still has application today.

DE Teodoru

I was a child who loved Americans and to this day relive in dreams GIs giving me chocolate bars in the DP camp in Austria. But I look at Americans now, myself an American by choice with now four American grandsons, and I feel rather sick at what I see. My illness began with the Clinton-->Bush continuum expressing the shallow character of the ME-IST crowd of 1970s-- who wants instant results so they can get instant rewards-- dancing on the graves of the MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE activist intellectuals of the 60s who really sought to understand. The ME-ISTs are all accomplished middle aged “entrepreneurs,” masters of America. Some who were pot&sex hippies then may well be the deranged Bible-babble fundamentalist of today’s Midwest. It is some me-ists’ children that volunteered to avenge 9/11; but most of their parents’ me-ist neighbors suffer from “ain’t my kid going to war” disconnect syndrome and don’t care. Some of the me-ist generation joined the military to become generals instead of achieving their full potential as sergeants because West Point and the academies were hard up for students in the anti-military post-Vietnam era. You could tell that something was very wrong with top intel chiefs as many were selling out their sources to criminals and enemies for rather low sums of cash despite the consequences to others and to themselves when they got caught.

Military careerism has taken over the intel craft. “Milit” and “intel” make for, let's face it, an oxymoron. It's like Cheney pulling rank on truth by pulling rank on the CIA. In militintel, a colonel “ye sirs” a general, even more so a SecDEf! In Vietnam, we now read in post-hocs, militintel was tactical and lost us the war. Ditto for Iraq. But we don't know that yet because Petraeus managed to intimidate the JCS into “Top secret” silence with the impression that by sheer will he will be Mr. Pres. by 2012. As a result, Tom Rick's account of the surge's unraveling is not yet appreciated; rank imposes silence and only the noise Petraeus's peanut gallery is heard. And so, bis for Afghanistan. It's easy to make the “we can STILL win” case because the Taliban is a little ragged thing, like Jesse James' gang chassed by the US Cavalry. So when gum shoes like Dorrnnsoro and Giustozzi tell us that them are buried under red earth and tunneling, our soldiers blow up every place they see dirt, seeing the people (the dirt) as only the vessel containing the Taliban. No one asks "which dirt" because if you break all the vessels you spill all the content but if our casualties go up, instead of getting another star, generals get pink-slipped. So we continue as in Vietnam seeing "gooks" as targets rather than on whose behalf we fight. Now every commander has reasons of his own, building a career back home on what he/she does in Afghanistan. Back in Vietnam we had some rather kinetic types doing "intel" as nothing but targeting; now even more so, for we have no answer to suicide shahids. So when in doubt, kill em all.

Into this realm comes Maj. Flynn to remind us that the people are the source and if we understand rather than target the people we might dry up the source. Question is: do the ME-IST careerists at the top have the patience to wait, watch and think rather than blow things up for headlines? Where have those patient American gone who seek to know rather than destroy?

Robert Murray

Col. Lang,
I hope you fell better soon sir.

One of the reasons I will no longer subscribe to Atlantic Monthly is Robert Kaplan. The other two are Hitchens and Sullivan. I look forward to checking out the link that you provided - with great interest.

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