Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

Syria, TOWs and Tomorrow

The Wall Street Journal had on Saturday a thoroughly reported story on US and allied efforts to arm the Syrian rebels.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have supplied Syrian rebel groups with a small number of advanced American antitank missiles for the first time in a pilot program that could lead to larger flows of sophisticated weaponry, people briefed on the effort said.

The new willingness to arm these rebels comes after the failure of U.S.-backed peace talks in January and recent regime gains on the battlefield. It also follows a reorganization of Western-backed fighters aimed at creating a more effective military force and increasing protection for Christian and other religious minorities—something of particular importance to Washington.

This shift is seen as a test of whether the U.S. can find a trustworthy rebel partner able to keep sophisticated weapons out of the hands of extremists, Saudi and Syrian opposition figures said. The U.S. has long feared that if it does supply advanced arms, the weapons will wind up with radical groups—some tied to al Qaeda—which have set up bases in opposition-held territory.

The principal thing that’s been revealed recently is a supply of BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided) anti-tank missiles. The TOW was the United States military’s third antitank missile (the first two were the MGM-21, an Americanized French SS-10, and the MGM-32, an Americanized French ENTAC), and it was the first effective ground and air-launched weapon with SACLOS (Semi-Automatic Command to Line Of Sight) guidance. What that means is that the gunner keeps the sight on target, and the missile computers fly the projectile to the aimpoint, correcting as necessary, or tracking and translating if the gunner moves the sight to follow a moving target. The previous generation, like the French missiles and the Soviet 9K11 Malyutka (NATO Reporting Name AT-3 Sagger), used Manual Command to Line Of Sight (MCLOS), meaning the gunner had to visually track both target and missile (using a bright flare on the missile) to the moment and point of impact. This required a lot of training, in the days before computerized simulators; the Egyptian success with Saggers in 1973 should stand as a correction to any of those imbeciles that say Arabs cannot be trained to be effective soldiers with high-tech weapons.

SACLOS was the high-tech of the day, but its day was 1966 or so; newer missiles are even more user-friendly and tactically deployable than the TOW, and the Syrian rebels have had some of those weapons — Russian ones captured from Syrian Arab Army (the Assad guys) and Hezbollah stocks. But they never had many of them. As we will see, the way the rebels are using the TOWs hints that they have quite a few of them.

The White House would neither confirm nor deny it had provided the TOW armor-piercing antitank systems, the first significant supply of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems to rebels. But U.S. officials did say they are working to bolster the rebels’ ability to fight the regime.

Rebels and their Saudi backers hope the Obama administration will be persuaded to ease its long-standing resistance to supplying advanced weaponry that could tip the balance in the grinding civil war—especially shoulder-fired missiles capable of bringing down planes.

Some of the TOWs provided to rebels since March are equipped with a complex, fingerprint-keyed security device that controls who can fire it, said Mustafa Alani, a senior security analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center who is regularly briefed by Saudi officials on security matters.

via Advanced U.S. Weapons Flow to Syrian Rebels –

The entire story is good; read the whole thing. If you’re paywalled out, try this link via Google and let us know if you got in, or this one as a second resort (if you take the second, search link, the story you’re looking for is titled “Advanced US Weapons Flow to Syrian Rebels).

U.S. refusal to better arm the rebels has created strains with Saudi allies that President Barack Obama tried to mend on his recent visit to the kingdom. After the visit, senior administration officials said the two countries were collaborating more closely on material support for the rebels and the Central Intelligence Agency was looking at ways to expand its limited arming and training program based in Jordan.

A newly created moderate rebel group called Harakat Hazm said it had received about a dozen BGM-71 TOWs and was being trained on them by an unspecified allied country. It is the only group known to have received the weapons so far, though there may be others.

“To make it clear, our allies are only delivering these missiles to trusted groups that are moderate,” said one senior leader of Harakat Hazm. “The first step is showing that we can effectively use the TOWs, and hopefully the second one will be using antiaircraft missiles.”

Despite what the Journal and Harakat Hazzm (which is how they spell it) are saying, the BGM-71 is not necessarily the latest and greatest. It has been in production for fifty years in a multiplicity of versions, and was first used in combat in Vietnam in 1972, forty-two years ago.

And they’re certainly not using them efficiently or effectively. Here are two Harakat Hazzm videos which appear to show TOWs being wasted on buildings. We haven’t hit the books to see what generation of TOW these are.

And here’s another in a similar setting with a similar target:

Another Syrian opposition figure in the region confirmed the U.S., with Saudi assistance, supplied the TOW missiles.

Mr. Alani said the two countries oversaw the delivery through neighboring Jordan and Turkey to vetted rebels inside Syria. Rebels already had some types of recoilless rifles in their stocks, which can also be used against tanks and other targets. But U.S.-made TOWs are more reliable and accurate, opposition officials and experts say.

A senior Syrian opposition official in Washington who works closely with the Americans said the TOWs were part of a small, tailored program coordinated by U.S. and Saudi intelligence services to “test the waters” for a potentially larger arming effort down the road.

The official said the introduction of a small number of TOWs will have limited impact on the battlefield.

The main objective is to develop a relationship between vetted fighters and U.S. trainers that will give the Obama administration the confidence to increase supplies of sophisticated weaponry.

Harakat Hazzm (The word “harakat” in this context means “movement,” and “hazzm” is a word we do not know) has been around for only a few months. It was founded by Free Syrian Army General Selim Idriss on 26 January 2014, and appears to coordinate with the FSA’s Syrian Military Council. The FSA and SMC seem to bind together factions that are nationalist in political orientation and that range from the sort of salafists who can subordinate their religion to their nationalism, to secular nationalists.  These factions fight the Assad loyalists and his Hezbollah reinforcements, but they also fight the two main (and a million fragmented) islamist/salafist factions.

(That said, there are people whose full-time job it is to track the fifty-something groups and factions in the Syrian rebellion. We’re glad we’re not that guy).

The U.S. has blocked Saudi Arabia from giving rebels Chinese-made man-portable air defense systems, known as Manpads.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia offered to give the opposition Manpads for the first time. But the weapons are still stored in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey because of U.S. opposition, according to Saudis and Syrian opposition figures.

“Basically, this is supposed to be the next step” in the eyes of rebels and their Saudi backers, Mr. Alani said of the hoped-for antiaircraft artillery.

The Chinese weapon in question is probably the HN-5, a copy of the original Strela (“Arrow”) missile, NATO reporting name SA-7 Grail. It also is a 1960s technology weapon, and unlike the TOW is unlikely to be very effective.

Senior administration officials said the White House remains opposed to providing rebels with Manpads. Antiaircraft and antitank weapons could help the rebels chip away at the regime’s two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor. The regime has used its air force to devastating effect in the civil war—frequently dropping crude barrel-bombs packed with explosives on opposition neighborhoods and cities.

In hopes of reinvigorating Western support, more moderate rebels began this year openly battling increasingly powerful extremist groups in their midst and reorganized their ranks in hopes of forming more effective fighting forces.

Harakat Hazm was created in January out of the merger of smaller secular-leaning rebel groups in the north, the main opposition stronghold. It was set up to assuage U.S. concerns that the Western-backed and secular-leaning Free Syrian Army was too fractured to be effective and that rebels weren’t doing enough to protect religious minorities.

Did you get that? The Free Syrian Army was made up of too many factions, so the answer was to refractionate and produce a new faction. That’ll help! But it does seem to have kicked loose some supplies from Uncle Sam. Maybe because that’s the same way the USA reacted to discovering that 9/11 was largely the product of too many intelligence agencies not cooperating by creating several new ones to provide new layers of noncooperation.

The group is working closely with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, another large formation of several rebel brigades that turned their guns on the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in January. The Front was created in January to address U.S. criticism that rebels were too fragmented and that they were turning a blind eye to extremist groups. “The agreement is that the Syrian Revolutionaries and Hazm work together to get support from the international community but not step on each other,” said a member of the political opposition based in Turkey.

The official added that Hazm started to receive lethal and nonlethal aid from Saudi and the U.S. in March “because [rebels] are organizing like a proper army.”

The Western- and Gulf-backed Free Syrian Army has shaken up its ranks and strategy to try to reverse the regime’s consistent battlefield gains since last year.

“The U.S. wants pragmatic groups within the Free Syrian Army that can deal with a post-Assad Syria and secure Alawites and Christians,” said a member of the political opposition with ties to Harakat Hazm.

Syria’s conflict has strong sectarian undertones. President Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and his regime is dominated by the minority group while the opposition is made up largely of Syria’s Sunni majority. Many Christians have remained loyal to the regime, hoping it will protect them.

The fate of religious minorities has been a major concern of the U.S. Several extremist rebel groups were involved in massacres of Alawite villagers last year, and desecration of Christian and Alawite religious sites, according to human rights groups.

The opposition made a point of trying to secure the Christian village of Kassab in northern Syria this month after it was overrun by extremist groups, prompting a mass exodus of its population.

Opposition leader Ahmad Jarba visited the village earlier this month and vowed that the FSA wasn’t fighting a sectarian war.

The essential problem with the Syrian rebels remains that there are thousands of rebels organized (or disorganized, perhaps), into tens of thousands of groups. And some of the largest and most effective groups are arguably worse than “bad guy” Boy Assad. The US (and some foreign) MANPADS provided to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s were bought by the US and the UK in the 2000s for dollars on the penny, a stinging expenditure since USG and HMG provided the infernal things in the first place.

To see why we may be backing the wrong horse, consider the actions of religious minorities in Arab countries — who have been put to flight (or worse) everywhere democracy empowers the mob and overturns ruling strongmen. Syria’s Christians and middle-class Syrians — many of whom have had close ties to the US, generally through emigrant relatives living in New York and other large cities — have sided with the Assad regime, which, despite all the problems the US has with it politically and on CT policy, has been a bulwark against the sort of ethnic and sectarian cleansing that had broken out in Iraq and in every Arab Spring nation.

Profound ignorance of these nations at the top levels of the State Department, where political appointees have all been named with a view to domestic politics rather than international relations,  is also a factor.

For example, as Syria has slid out of control and Ukraine has collapsed, the focus of US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has been on trying to get the UN to compel its members to adopt no-texting-while-driving laws.

Trouble in MARSOC land?

Hmmm. This article at OAFNation is drawing a lot of attention this week. It has a number of interesting points, and here are a couple of them:

Unfortunately the healthy, expected, productive growing pains experienced by MARSOC are accompanied by a multitude of other significant, more toxic institutional failures, ones that compromise the very livelihood of the unit and its future success. Problems that, if left unchecked, will present a stifling obstacle to the evolution of the organization, and ultimately threaten to deteriorate the progress already made. The majority of these issues can be generally attributed to major systemic failures in staffing and leadership at the regimental level and above. To thoroughly understand the context of this problem and what caused it, we must observe the organizational culture of the Marine Corps as whole, and comprehend how it applies to the existing structure of MARSOC. I’ll expand:

That’s part of the extended introduction; here’s a little bit of the meat:

In the case of MARSOC, this has unfortunately led to a systemic plague of the organization, its highest echelons having been infected by senior enlisted leadership with zero operational experience, credibility, or comprehension of SOF and its mission, its capabilities, and its role within DoD. The current regimental sergeant major of MARSOC, for example, is a 27-year motor transport Marine, whose previous assignment was – you guessed it – battalion sergeant major of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, MCRD San Diego. I’ll say that again; the regimental sergeant major of MARSOC holds the MOS of Motor Transport Mechanic. This is the guy sitting on the selection board at the end of A&S deciding who’s fit to become an operator. This is the guy attending joint staff briefings, senior SOF leadership symposiums, liaising with key personnel within SOCCENT, JSOC, etc, sitting across the table from Army E-9s with decades of ODA time, NSW master chiefs, etc. Making policy. Influencing critical decisions. Representing MARSOC. It sounds ridiculous as I sit here writing it, yet it’s a very sad and sobering truth. The operator base is 95 percent enlisted men, and this is our senior enlisted representative. Just to construct a frame of reference for the uninformed, and in the interest of beating a horse well beyond death, a command master chief with NSW – anywhere within the command – is a SEAL. A command sergeant major of an Army special forces group – hell, the command sergeant major of USASOC – is a Green Beret. But the glorious USMC, in its infinite wisdom, perpetuates this ridiculous mantra of “A Marine’s a Marine’s a Marine! We’re all the same, you’re not special, hell, we’re all special because we’re Marines!”, effectively sabotaging the very fundamentals of SOF and its institutional imperatives. The detrimental effects of this dynamic will become increasingly evident as MARSOC’s mission continues to evolve in conjunction with the transition away from GWOT; for example, consider the limitations it presents for the component’s ability to fill key roles and command positions in joint SOF task units or centralized commands without homegrown higher echelon leadership.


This doesn’t even dive into the manner in which field grade officers are arbitrarily thrown into critical positions of authority at the regimental level and above at MARSOC. To even begin to explain the incongruity with which this process occurs would take another post by itself, one that I think I’d rather suck-start a .45 than write. For every halfway competent career officer at MSOR there are a dozen who can’t find their way to the chowhall. You can’t swing a dead cat inside component headquarters without hitting six lieutenant colonels, and most of them act like they’re in some kind of purgatory while awaiting orders to their battalion commander billet (which to be honest, many of them are). The whirlwind of helter-skelter whipping through the halls of the death star is enough to make your head spin.

The Motor Transport Mechanic dude is a particularly disliked figure among the men of MARSOC, but he’s characteristic of a problem all the services have with promoting men of marginal intelligence, experience and general utility into important positions based on their ability to amass ticket punches on schedule.

There is much more meat at the article, so if you’re interested in this sort of thing, please Read The Whole Thing™. (In fact, it would entertain and inform you to read the whole site).

We would encourage the author and other young MARSOC Marines to resist throwing in the sponge, yet. From where they sit it looks like SF is going swimmingly and has never been beset with dud sergeants major or careerist, backstabbing officers. Au contraire! At times, over the 62 year history of the SF Regiment, the actual operational dudes have been bitterly at odds with their imported leadership. It took the establishment of SF as an actual Branch coequal with the old-line Infantry and Armor and what have you to enable the retention of quality officers, and to eliminate some of the problem of dilettante ticket-punchers.

In the 1980s, in one of the periodic “housecleanings” of SF ordered by conventional officers, a number of officers who either never did qualify, or had done so in their youth as dilettante ticket punchers. LeRoy Suddath is in one of these categories, we believe the former; he was brought in to “get the snake-eaters under control.” As he took over he sent minions out, yes-men colonels with a conventional infantry mindset to turn the Groups into conventional units and their ODAs into long-range Rangers; suck-up-and-stomp-down sergeants major who were at their intellectual maximum trying to measure uniform appurtenances, referee (mandatory!) wives’-club meetings, or apportion police-call areas.

Some of Suddath’s men were such disasters it was comical, except for the poor wretches in their Groups. One fellow decided that his religion would be your religion and all the officers and men in his unit were subject to inquisition inspection at no notice to ensure their issued New Testament was in their leg pocket. This was the conventional Army’s way of straightening out special operations.

At this same time certain other special operations units began to fill leadership slots more extensively from Ranger than SF backgrounds (some SF units are partly to blame for this, as they deterred their members from seeking to join these other elements). SF officers who served primarily in SF were sent to punitive assignments far from troop command. SF NCOs “who had been in SF too long” were sent to recruiting and drill sergeant duty. A number of them elected to try civilian life or other government agencies. Some stayed. Some of the ones who stayed, couldn’t tell you why they did. But they kept, if not the eternal flame of true SF brightly burning, at least the pilot light lit.

Around this time, we crossed over to the Reserve side. Over the years, we would find that any time the leadership got stupid in active-duty SF units, the Reserve (at least while they lasted) and Guard units benefited. Nobody was in the Reserve or Guard to advance his career, which eliminates one of the biggest drags on units: self-serving and -aggrandizing leaders.

But somehow the active guys muddled along. During Desert Storm, they did the long-range Ranger thing so well, that Norman Schwarzkopf (Suddath’s roommate in the Class of 56 at Hudson High, but miles ahead in class rank), a guy who started the war hating SF, came out of Desert Storm realizing that SF and other SOF hanging out in the enemy’s rear areas were his primary generators of reliable intelligence. From a detractor to a fan, in one short war. (Suddath never did get the message, but that was probably for the same reason Schwarzkopf’s high class standing never rubbed off on him, either). And by late 2001, SF, with joint service and interagency teammates, was in position to achieve US war aims in less than three months. (It’s unfortunate that the war aims then changed).

So what’s the point of all this digression, and how does it tie to the MARSOC situation? It doesn’t, directly. Right now, the USMC’s corporate immune system sees MARSOC as a foreign body — much as the Army long viewed SF — and it desires to eliminate the irritant. The way to stay in the game, the way to be known as a valuable team player and not an irritant, is to give a commander what it is he needs — even if he doesn’t know that’s what he needs yet.

The way to survive in the interim is to give commanders what they think they need. SF did that with the various Cold War strategic reconnaissance programs. Mr NATO Commander, you want us to tell you when the second strategic echelon goes through? Yep, we got it for action. And if the balloon had gone up, we’d have had teams sitting with eyes on mountain passes in Slovakia and intermodal freight yards in Poland, and Ivan wouldn’t have moved a battalion without it being toted up on that CO’s board. And he’d quickly realize what he got from friendly eyes on a target was orders of magnitude more reliable than the inferences the three-letter agencies draw from their technical means of collection.

And all the time, we were training UW and practicing FID through JCETs, and even MTTs to American units (which produced lots of friction with conventional leaders, oddly enough). Because you do what you have to do to keep the concept alive, even if it’s in suspended animation for a while. Kind of like travelers to Mars, you guys today are the keepers of the flame of MARSOC civilization while it’s passing through some light-years of bad officers and worse pinnacle NCOs.

To return to a metaphor from three paragraphs ago, Marine culture and the actions of individual Marines together will determine whether the virus that is MARSOC insinuates itself into the DNA of the Corps, or is treated as foreign matter and whacked during some round of budget cuts. Our guess is that Marine senior leadership will try to keep something called MARSOC, not because they give two farts about it, or even have a glimmer of a clue what it is and what it can do for the nation and the Corps. Nope, they’re going to want to keep it for the same reason they put the laughable SOC for Special Operations Capable in parentheses behind the nomenclature of Marine Expeditionary Battalions lo these 30 or whatever years ago — so the Marines’ lobbyists can try to get the Corps some of the money Congress thinks its appropriating for SOF.

Okay, suppose you’re a leader of a Marine SOC element and you don’t want to see your unit and capability back-burnered or worse? One thing you can do is conduct an annual or even semi-annual exercise to bond existing unit members and the new guy who just came in, whether he came in from training somewhere, has been parachuted in by the personnel wallahs from over in Motor Transport, or even is a ring-knocking major late of “supply, a much underappreciated field of endeavor.” The old ASA SODs used to do this in an exercise they unsubtly named Newby Prove, in part because they didn’t select their own personnel, always. They couldn’t always get rid of a guy right away after he choked during Newby Prove, but it didn’t matter: he had been seen to choke by all hands, and even with nothing said, he developed a burning interest in career paths that moved him quickly in a new direction. If he didn’t choke, chances were good that both he and the old-timers found something to appreciate in one another, and bonded usefully. 

If the truck-jockey sergeant major and the warehouse-manager field grade don’t go right into offices, but have to demonstrate that they, too, can experience hardship, jump and fast rope, kick doors and elicit information by interviewing role-players, not to mention hump a real-world rucksack a dozen plus miles, they might just be on the team when they’re done.

Kill Chain Analysis Follow Up

Yesterday we introduced you to Kill Chain Analysis, and we failed to link the Senate Commerce Committee Report on the Target data breach. (That’s been corrected in that doc, and also here, now).

Today, here’s a couple more foundational documents.

Hutchins, et al. Intelligence-Driven Computer Network Defense Informed by Analysis of Adversary Campaigns and Intrusion Kill Chains. This is the original 2009 Lockheed-Martin White Paper that introduced the concept of the Cyber kill chain. It’s full of warmhearted warmaking wonder, like this buzzword-compliant table of potential countermeasures by phase:

Screenshot 2014-04-14 23.47.27


It’s worth reading especially for the case study of a sophisticated, imaginative and tenacious cyber attack on Lockheed Martin in 2009.

Uncredited. A New Cyber Defense Playbook. MITRE Corporation. This is a fairly superficial document that describes using the Kill Chain analysis to develop and deploy countermeasures against a cyber threat.

Uncredited. Stalking the Kill Chain. RSA Data Security. This white paper goes into more depth about how to respond to the repetitive attacks that characterize an advanced persistent threat.  This was one of the points that struck us as insightful:

Historically, security technologies tend to be focused in a single place, or at most, two places on the kill chain, but lack the entire context behind an event that a complete analysis system imparts. When using the phrase “stalking the kill chain,” we are focusing on the ability to use a structured approach to watching the network with the idea of identifying kill chain events in progress, across the entire kill chain.

This paper may be most useful for the cyber-threat signatures it associates with each link of the kill chain. They’re all quite interesting, and taken together, depict the outlines of an area of warfare that literally did not exist when we started our military career.

How a Cyber Attack Differs from a Physical Attack

Lockheed-Martin researchers have developed a method of analysis, which helps to analyze cyber attacks like the ones deployed by criminals against the US branch of the multinational Target department-store chain, and the ones by state actors against such targets as foreign enemies or competitors, breakaway republics, or destabilizing religious groups.

Similar methods are used by the NSA at the behest of DHS and DOJ against domestic targets including mainstream (but non-incumbent) political parties and campaigns, and are probably used by authoritarian, totalitarian and police states worldwide to monitor opposition elements. All these cyber attacks can be analyzed within the Lockheed Martin framework, which is called Kill Chain Analysis.

Lockheed Martin’s essential concept is that there are certain steps that must be executed to conduct any cyber attack. Each of these steps is dependent on the one immediately before it, and all the ones before that. Interrupting or disrupting any of these steps, in other words, “breaking the kill chain,” conclusively interrupts, disrupts, or prevents the cyber attack. Here are the steps graphically, from a US Senate Commerce Committee report on the Target intrusion.

Screenshot 2014-04-13 10.26.52My word, these look a lot like the steps of a combat mission – with a couple of very interesting exceptions. They are also a little bit shortsighted, in a way that suggests LockMart’s “Kill Chain” comes from analyzing only failed and exposed cyber attacks.

The Steps that Derive from Combat Operations Planning

Reconnaissance, the phases of Delivery and Exploitation, Command and Control, and Actions on the Objective correspond more or less closely to phases used in planning a combat operation, whether a stealthy reconnaissance or a violent seizure of terrain.

  • Reconnaissance here encompasses not only the usual military meaning of the word, but also the deeper disciplines of target acquisition and target analysis. In Special Forces, we make a hair-splitting distinction between “study” (which is an ongoing, never-stops, day-and-year-in-and-out analysis of a potential target or operational area) and “assessment” (which is “study” gone live once the man or team is on the ground). It’s important to revise those parts of analysis that were developed by stand-off methods with the “ground truth” that is only available when you put eyes on target. (Note that stand-off methods that are not entirely trustworthy include not only your entire palette of technical means, but also any all-indigenous or not-directly-controlled human sources or reconnaissance teams).
  • Delivery here parallels the process of infiltration (as the term is used by SOF) rather closely. In physical combat operations, delivery is usually constrained by logistics, and can have a great influence on the outcome of operations. The D-Day invasion, for one example, was delivery on a staggering scale. Moving into the cyber world, logistics becomes somewhat less of a constraint; you don’t need thousands of ships and tens of thousands of troops to land your virtual beachhead on the enemy’s computer network.
  • Command & Control here is a distinct step, which it isn’t in the world of physical combat. Instead, in physical-world operations, command-and-control is less of a step than a continuous process at multiple levels throughout the entire operation. Indeed it’s more of a principle; the four principles drummed into students at Ranger school are, “Planning, Reconnaissance, Control and Security.” While techniques are almost infinitely variable, failure at any of the principles is likely to produce mission failure. In cyber war, command-and-control has a much narrower remit. Failure of command-and-control as defined here would leave the exploit package  sitting passively on the target server, or at least on an interim target, but with no way to control it: the veritable Chinese rover of malware.
  • Actions on Objective in the world of physical combat is the most important phase of an operation, and the one whose success is the objective of all the other phases, and a primary determinant of mission failure or mission success. In the Target breach, for example, the attackers succeeded in pilfering millions of credit card details. Mission success!

The Steps that Differ from Combat Operations Planning

The phases of Weaponization, Exploitation and Installation have no direct parallel in combat operations planning, although you can find parallels in special operations and especially in espionage and counterespionage planning.

  • Weaponization here describes suiting the attack modality and technology to the target, and implies that the exact weapon used in the cyber attack is practically a bespoke weapon, crafted to fit the target and its vulnerabilities and defenses. While this is done to some extent in combat operations, the difference is the limited number and types of tools in the combat commander’s toolbox. He might have mechanized and armor battalions in his toolbox, and so everything is going to be attacked with that particular hammer and chisel.
  • Exploitation here is simply the “turning on” of the weaponized and delivered exploit. If it has a parallel in combat operations, it may be the process of triggering a “be prepared to, on command” mission. In the physical world, such a mission might be triggered by explicit communication such as a radio message or transmitted proword, or by the combination of elapsed time and absence of a cancellation message. The same sort of thing can be programmed into a stay-behind weaponized exploit: “Go off on 15 April unless we’ve told you not to.” But this is seldom a significant part of a physical combat operation, and doesn’t rate its own phase. Note that in the cyber world, the possibility of multiple exploit triggers (primary being an explicit instruction, secondary being a certain date, or a certain number of ticks on the host systems clock, for examples) means that this can a hard phase of the Kill Chain to disrupt. (And the potential presence of primary/secondary/tertiary exploitation instructions hints at another deep possibility: cyber threat planners can plan to defeat countermeasures).
  • Installation here has no parallel at all in military operations. It is somewhat analogous to the intelligence process of persuading a would-be defector to remain as an agent-in-place. Intelligence agencies would rather have a spy in place, sending current information, than a source sitting in a debrief tank spilling sources and methods that the adverse party is frantically moving to protect once they learn of the defection. Even if the adverse party is clueless about the defector, his information begins to grow stale on Day 1 and loses much of its value very rapidly, depending on the dynamics of the target.

What’s interesting about these is where in the cycle they occur. In the combat military, your stuff is normally weaponized long before your target is selected. While the same may be true for the lowest level of cyber attackers, the so-called “script kiddies,” who assemble attack tools from toolkits and building blocks, sophisticated criminal attackers and the Advanced Persistent Threat emanating from foreign intelligence agencies have the resources and motivation to craft bespoke tools for a specific attack.

Towards a More Comprehensive Kill Chain

We suggested, above, that the nice LockMart graphic and the LockMart steps were a bit shortsighted, and what we mean by that is that they wrap up with actions on the objective. A  well-planned combat operation never stops there, but considers the next steps, which depending on the operation may be withdrawal or exfiltration (for patrols and raids) or consolidation to hold territory, or further advance.  Wrapping up with actions on the objective is a bit like a mountain-climbing team with no plan beyond achieving the summit. (Every climber knows that the most hazardous phase of the climb is the descent). Moreover, the cyber intrusion may have many different purposes. For some purposes, the intrusion itself is the objective; say, if Anonymous is trashing somebody’s website. But for others, since the intrusion’s objective is something beyond the intrusion itself, there needs to be a plan for withdrawal, disengagement, or end game of some kind.

Since some of the authors of the original Lockheed Martin concept are clearly familiar with combat operations planning, it will be interesting to find out why they did not include this in their kill chain analysis concept. In any event, a truly well-executed breach of Target, for example, would have ended not in discovery that at least 40 million customer credit and debit cards had been compromised, and 70 million customers’ other data has also been stolen, but in a stealthy withdrawal, leaving Target’s somnolent supposed network guardians unaware that they’d been victims of an epic raid.

Note that we originally intended to review some of the findings of the Target investigation itself, which is dependent on news reports (and being the sort of news reports that depend entirely on anonymous sources, they may be entirely false or fabricated by the reporters) and on analyses reported in public by security researchers like Dell Labs and the excellent Brian Krebs. But given the length of this discussion of doctrinal points, we thought it best to stick to the single subject. (Some of you guys who prefer discussion of bullet-launching modalities will be in MEGO Mode by now, anyway). We hope to return to the Target breach, and in the meantime here is the link to the Senate Commerce Committee Report.

(Apologies for not having that link there at zero hour).

A Lieutenant’s Advice

“Ha,” you say. “What good is a lieutenant’s advice? By definition, he’s the new guy that doesn’t know anything!” But you can’t beat an LT’s advice when it’s being given to future lieutenants — the cadets of his alma mater, the United States Military Academy. When you stumble into your first platoon thinking that you’re probably Patton, if not Napoleon, you’re looking at a 300-meter target; you need to focus on the 50-meter target of platoon command.

Our own experience of West Pointers, we have often noted, suggests a bimodal distribution: they’re either awesome warriors, or worthless tools. They’re never mediocre, and they’re never stupid. (Stupid officers are unfortunately not as rare as you might think. They tend to have majored in football at enormous universities).

1LT Scott Ginther has a lot of good advice for a young lieutenant, and some of it is applicable to anybody who leads people. It’s also very useful to anyone hoping to understand today’s Army.

5.    Most of the time you’ll have no idea what you’re doing – This cold bucket of water is strange and uncomfortable at first, but you’ll have many tasks assigned to you at once that you’re going to have no idea where to start.  I have gotten farther on problems just by deciding to dig in somewhere and not stop working or asking questions until circumstances become clear.  You WILL figure things out.  Turn off your $250,000 educated-brain for a second and stop arriving at the conclusion that the world is going to end because of you.  Just close your eyes, grit your teeth and clear the jump door.

In the special ops world, we’ve sort of formalized the “just pitch in and figure it out” approach under the rubric, “Develop the Situation.” Somehow giving it a formal title legitimizes the practice for the brass.

If you look at history, and especially American military history, which is replete with brilliant improvisations by junior officers and NCOs, you see this as an excellent approach. Although we like to think it is, there’s really nothing especially American about it. The German armies of WWI and WWII had a similar ethic of combat entrepreneurship that was often carried out with even more élan, and the strait-laced British tend to import the kinds of characters who do this to their officer corps in times of conflict. We suppose anyone can learn to operate this way, although some organizations, like the non-SOF Army, tend to resist it. 

6.    Your parents probably did a better job prepping you for leadership than anyone – If your parents taught you to get along with everybody as a kid, work in school, made you clean your room, be home by curfew and they trusted you, you’ll be alright.  Being a good, honest person has gotten me much farther in my relationships in the Army than I ever expected.

That’s kind of a sad statement about the Army, on one level. But on another, “Be yourself and don’t screw anybody over,” is probably good advice for anyone seeking leadership, because some of your competitors don’t even do that. A sad commentary, then, but a true one.

7.    West Pointers are spoiled – Yes you are.  Even if you’re the nicest most considerate person in the world, you won’t realize the gift and legacy West Point is bestowing on you until well after you’ve graduated.  The organizational infrastructure and support – let alone the Ivy League quality education – is something that can’t be matched.  There’s a reason why West Point ranks in Forbes Magazine’s top five universities in the country on nearly a consecutive basis.  Don’t squander the opportunities you have because of the infamous “cadet cynicism.”  This Academy has been in business for 200+ years.

All these advantages, like a gun, are values-neutral. A bad Pointer can use them to make himself, his unit, and especially his subordinates miserable, while a good Pointer can deliver a cornucopia of victory. Fortunately — and we didn’t make this clear enough above — the good ones outnumber the bad ones.

8.    Start ruck marching – Do it a lot, and do it often.  Especially if you plan on branching infantry, no one really cares how much you can bench.  Your Soldiers are going to care how far you can take them in the disgusting, soupy Georgia heat and humidity with Banana Spiders hanging in the vines in front of your face.  Furthermore, bench pressing is not going to get you your “Go” at Ranger School anyway.  The mountains of Dahlonega are unforgiving to body builders and top heavy guys.

Hell, yes. Nothing prepares you for walking with a ruck on, except walking for a ruck on. Good overall general fitness counts, and you probably want your general fitness improved by cardio and strength training, but you have to ruck. In garrison, SF and Ranger elements ruck from two to four days a week (you need a day off between rucks to recover, but you can run or bike on the other days).

via What I Wish I Knew: From Cadet to Lieutenant in Afghanistan —

A few near the end describe the castes of a grun unit from the Platoon Leader’s vantage point:

16. Your Soldiers will do stupid things – I always heard this as a cadet, but I didn’t realize how stupid things could get. I can’t delve into examples without long stories, but be prepared to encounter circumstance you thought only happened in the movies.

17. Your Soldiers will do amazing things – Far more often than your Soldiers doing stupid things, you will be blown away at how talented they are. I have the following Soldiers in my platoon: a former blacksmith and rodeo clown, a NASCAR pit crewman, two carpenters, a private who is a multi-millionaire and drives and Audi R8, a Sugar Bowl-winning, University of West Virginia offensive lineman and a SSG who graduated college at 17 years old and taught physics at Tulane before the age of 26.

18. Lieutenants will do stupid things – This issue often gets swept under the rug. I understand that as brand new lieutenants you will do every day stupid things; it’s expected of you in your learning experience. But more and more often I’m seeing or hearing of lieutenants doing inexcusably stupid things that land them in prison and out of the Army. Every incident I’ve seen or heard involves alcohol.

19. NCO’s will help you not do stupid things – Everyday I am completely blown away by how hardworking, and professional this brassy, prideful group can be. Sergeants indeed run the Army. Your platoon can function without you, but it cannot function without NCOs. For the umpteenth time, trust your NCOs. You do not know more than they do, this is their Army not yours, officers just get to drive it for awhile.

That’s a hell of a lot of wisdom from a guy who’s still in his twenties and is supposed, by the standards of our betters, to be living at home in foot jammies and still on Mater and Pater’s insurance. There’s a lot more than that, so do go Read The Whole Thing™. And resist your temptation to thank us — instead thank Scott, his “amazing” soldiers, and his “brassy, prideful” NCOs.

Anytime you have an encounter with Generation Right Now that leaves you channeling Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, remember the ones like Scott Ginther before you order the kid off your lawn. And then release the op-rod on your Garand.

A political poll of Afghan and Iraq vets

Has some surprising results, which we’ll try to explain.

Just 32 percent of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. In a related question, only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believe Obama is a “good commander-in-chief of the military.” Forty eight percent said he is not.

Wait, 32 percent think he’s doing a good job? We wonder how they checked to see that their respondents were actual vets and not homeless guys raving about Agent Orange. Because, really, where did they find these folks? Our guess is deep in the rear echelons of service support. There are so few Obama supporters in SF (active or retired) that everbody in the community knows their names. (Nobody in SF has any problem taking an unpopular or contrarian position, and nobody has a problem with a teammate taking such a position. The handful of liberals we served with were always willing to argue their side and defend its positions in a principled manner — probably why none of them wound up in the media industry). In our experience, the combat arms tend to be more conservative (on national power and military subjects) than the military as a whole. Service support arms are more reflective of national demographics.

Veterans were asked a similar question about former President George W. Bush. Sixty-five percent said they felt he was a good commander-in-chief, while 28 percent responded he was not.

Hah. He had his pros and cons like any other politician, but his dedication to “his” wounded Americans since his retirement has been a hell of a thing to see. Of course, if you don’t hang out where vets hang out, you don’t see it, because it’s not a media stunt thing.

The expansive collection of post-war polling asked current and former service members for their opinions on a series of political issues, as well as personal and cultural ones. Forty-seven percent consider themselves independents; 27 percent identified as Republicans, and just 17 percent said they were Democrats.

That sounds about right. Most vets I know are irritated with both parties’ Beltway potentates right now.

Only 44 percent of veterans believe that the war in Iraq “was worth fighting,” while 50 percent believe the opposite. Afghanistan, however, is still considered a more popular war: 53 percent believe it has been worth fighting and 41 percent think otherwise.

Those are not real popular wars. I think Vietnam polls better among its vets. Afghanistan and Iraq have both lost a lot of popularity because of perceived corruption and ingratitude by their national leaders. And unlike the rest of America, every vet can put a name and a face to the idea of “casualty,” which adds a whole other dimension to the question, “Was it worth it?” Was the war in Afghanistan worth a year out of the USA, having a business fail for lack of the deployed boss’s personal attention, the various hardships and hassles, getting shot at? Hell, against that there’s the old guy who came up and thanked us for liberating his valley from the Taliban mullah who’d stolen his farmland, the hostage we plucked out of a hole in the floor of a warlord’s outbuilding, the 300 people who swore out statements against the local mullah’s militia commander, who later (from Gitmo) confessed to over 100 murders — murders he did, mostly, so he could steal people’s property. So, when that’s the equation, the answer is, “Hell, yes.”

But then there’s the faces and the names. The friends who are like an Irish family’s out-of-town cousins — you only see ‘em at funerals. The frantic flight, launching into the gloaming on a three hour slog through complex airspace to get to a funeral home with new award ribbons so a friend can wear them on his last trip. The fiancee who couldn’t be talked out of opening a casket even when we’d checked and swore (1) it was her guy, our friend and (2) she really, really didn’t want this to be the way she remembered him. The guys who didn’t get the commands because they were dead, and the guys who did that always will be unfairly compared to their dead competition. Is it worth it, knowing all that, putting all that in the balance? And where do you put it, how much weight to give to each memory?

We don’t know. We’ll never know. We can’t go back and change or fix it anyway.

While 89 percent of veterans said they would join the military again, only 41 percent believed that the government is doing a good or excellent job “meeting the needs of the current generation of veterans.” (However, 59 percent felt that their personal needs had been met.) Unsurprisingly, 83 percent of veterans oppose reductions in benefits for servicemen and -women — even if not making the cuts leads to budget deficits.

We’d like to see benefits more narrowly targeted to those who need them as a direct consequence of combat or service. But the fact is, there will always be a percentage of people who work the system. If you make it easy for them, and eliminate the consequences of fraud (as the courts, which make their contempt for military service patent, have done), then you’ll get more fraud.

A majority of service members, 58 percent, support women serving in combat roles, and half believe it won’t make “much difference” in military effectiveness. Fifty-four percent of those polled believe that the military is doing enough to prevent sexual assaults among their ranks.

via Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Give Obama Poor Grades | RealClearPolitics.

The Washington Post has the poll questions, but very little about the methodology, and a condescending article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran that dwells on the standard media narrative of dysfunctional, emotionally-crippled vets: vets as needy social-services consumers. He does note one interesting finding, amid all the hand-wringing:

The vets hail from families where service in the military is tradition: More than four in 10 have fathers who were in the military, and half have at least one grandparent who was. Almost 40 percent say all or most of their friends have served in the military. By contrast, a national Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in December found that 32 percent of U.S. adults had “hardly any” or no friends who have been in the military.

You have to wonder what percentage of media drones would have “hardly any” or no friends who had been in the military. 95%? 99%? At the Post, 100%?

Chandrasekaran is the master of wringing pitiability out of places it really isn’t:

Despite their overwhelming pride and negligible regret, the veterans look back on the necessity of the conflicts with decidedly mixed feelings.

And he buries deep in the story both the bit about vets preferring Bush to Obama, and the even more interesting poll result: vets are less likely than the general population (67% to 80%) to support veterans’ preferences in jobs. (Our position: if an employer wants to offer that, more power to him. If not, no sweat. We personally believe vets make better employees, but it’s a free country, much to the dismay of Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the Washington Post).

Why the Army camo project failed, and is failing

Soldier Systems Daily has one answer. This guy:

“This guy” is COL Robert Mortlock, a guy who hasn’t been with troops in 20 years, and then was a platoon leader in a chemical battalion in Germany. (He did have a company command, but of support troops pampering the caddidiots at West Point). He subsequently became an acquisitions officer, where he’s worked just about exclusively on failed big-ticket programs: several schedule-an-invention missiles, and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Future Combat System. These were ill-conceived and badly-managed programs that turned entire 463L pallets of money into vaporware.

Now he’s brought those same skills to bear on the camouflage program, and what we’ve got is a massive, one-size-fits-all, four-hundred-moving-parts boondoggle, with an earmark for every congressional district and a bonus for every beltway bandit, and nothing for the combat troops but another screwing and a chance to go to war in the abominable day-glo ACU.

They already have a perfectly good camouflage pattern, OCP, or Crye Multicam. The principal problem, for a Beltway guy, is there’s too little growth, graft, and gratification in it; last year, Crye was willing to sign off a license for under $700,000. And this was after a four-phase competition which Crye Multicam won. If the Army wanted unlimited rights to modify the pattern, which it did, the cost went up substantially (to over $20 million)… but that was less by far than the hundreds of millions spent in on-again, off-again testing (all of which has confirmed the unsuitability of Universal Camouflage Pattern of the ACU, always the worst pattern tested and much worse than solid colors or any other camouflage), or the $10 Billion squandered procuring UCP uniforms and equipment, all of which expose our troops to detection and fire.

Even the combat-shy Mortlock admits that the troops like OCP/Multicam. Crye explained a few weeks ago to SSD how the Army — which means Mortlock — has been double-dealing with them right along. If you want the whole tragic story of this inept quest for less day-glo camo, read the whole SSD camo category from oldest to newest.

Inside Putin’s Disinformation Machine

The last minutes of a career in propaganda. So far.

The last minutes of a career in propaganda. So far.

You can say a lot of things about reporters, but “savvy” seldom comes to mind. Especially when reading the story of Elizabeth Wahl, an ambitious young reporter who signed on to the state-controlled Russia Today international propaganda network, which the US intelligence commuity has understood to be an operation of the FSB (Federal Security Bureau, Sluzhba Federalnaya Bezopasnosti) since its establishment.

She was shocked, shocked! that a Russian government operation went out of its way to flatter the Russian government and its various client states worldwide, mostly tin-horn dictatorships (Syria, Iran, Nork, we’re looking’ at you) and failed states. When they hired her, she was ripe for the plucking: young, not very bright but very ambitious, stuck in a dead-end job colocated with nowhere:

When RT first contacted me, I was working as a reporter and anchor 8,000 miles away on the island of Saipan, in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a 40-minute plane ride from Guam. I had been there for about two years, reporting for the local news station on topics like immigration and local political corruption. Before making the move across the globe, I had freelanced at a local news station in my home state of Connecticut, and had done several internships in broadcast news, including at NBC and Fox.

If that’s not the resume of a media lightweight, what is?

Island life was a blast, but around the time I decided I was ready to move back to the mainland, RT emailed me out of the blue. Apparently the news director had seen one of my reports—on how Saipan was preparing to handle possible radiation exposure after the Fukushima disaster—on YouTube and thought I’d be a good addition to RT.

Let’s say a few words here about how the FSB recruits, a policy that’s in a long tradition going back through FSB, SVR, KGB, MGB, MVD, NKVD, Cheka to the Tsarist Ochrana and Third Section without differences in the principles of tradecraft, although the TTPs are always evolving. (For some background on how KGB morphed into today’s FSB, this 1997 paper by Jeff Trimble [.pdf] may be useful).

The news director, who was Russian, pitched the network as an alternative news source that dared to challenge conventions.

They tuned it, in other words, to perfect pitch to appeal to shallow and insular media liberals, and their self-delusion that every one is an iconoclast in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein (whereas Woodward and Bernstein were and are dead in the mainstream of conventionality in the trade, including Bernstein’s Communist upbringing, and their reports on Watergate were not the result of hard work, but of being targeted for controlled revelations by a self-serving leaker).

The News Director of course is Russian. He is either an officer or an agent of the FSB, and his position is one where they value loyalty. His underlings, like Miss Wahl, were selected for their disloyalty – that is, to their nations. Or at least, for signs of enough ambition that they would be disloyal for a paycheck, when push came to shove.

“Question More” was the network’s slogan. During our Skype interview and on subsequent emails, there was little talk about Russia, or any indication the news would be influenced by Russian politics. I had some misgivings and asked about editorial independence. He scoffed, and asserted that the network was providing alternative news that mainstream outlets didn’t want to hear.

You notice — if you’re not the sort of naïf who was selected to report on local news based on a comely countenance and a head of hair, but who thinks what they see in you is talent — that our friend from the FSB did not answer her question. This would have been a good time to be skeptical, and she almost was:

I was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but I couldn’t find much concrete information on the Internet about the station and its mission and I didn’t know anyone who’d ever worked there. I figured there are other networks that do respected journalism while getting some form of government funding. Also, the Cold War was over. Weren’t we supposed to be mending ties? It’s not like it was North Korea.

That’s the first few yards on the rationalization treadmill for Miss Wahl.

Here was an opportunity to move to D.C. and work on stories of national and international significance. I knew my other options would likely require moving to some Podunk town to cover rescued kittens and the Fourth of July parade.

And here’s the next bit: they nakedly appealed to her ambition. Hey, it’s foreign propaganda, but they downplayed that, and it wasn’t some “Podunk town” and local news.

Maybe I ignored some red flags. Maybe I should have asked tougher questions. But from my post in the Pacific, RT looked like a good opportunity.

As you can probably tell from the heavy foreshadowing in that sentence, the bloom is off the rose for Miss Wahl, a story she tells in Politoco as  I Was Putin’s Pawn. The hammer dropped as soon as she checked in:

The top guys were all Russian, but most of my co-workers were American. Some colleagues warned me that I’d need to let go of any preconceived notions and journalistic principles.

“The top guys were all Russian.” Gee, why do you think that is?

The story’s quite good, recounting how the scales fell from Wahl’s eyes as she was expected to do propaganda pieces puffing up the “Occupy” protests — she notes that many of the protesters were unfocused hippies, something obvious to everyone who was not in the media or the service of the Russian security services, but we repeat ourselves there. After Occupy, she watched as the “news” organization took on boosting Qaddafi, Ahmadinejad, and Boy Assad, and served as a platform for 9/11 Twoofers and other conspiracy theorists.

I was disgusted and disappointed by the whitewashing of brutal dictators—and glad to be covering domestic issues. I tried to pitch stories I felt were important and underrepresented. From time to time, I would report on something I found worthwhile, and feel a little better about the cognitive dissonance I was suffering from. I went inside the country’s largest jail in Cook County, Chicago, to expose how mental health patients flooded the correctional facility, highlighted the victims of the so-called War on Drugs who were unjustly incarcerated for decades for petty drug crimes and consistently covered the Bradley Manning trial in Fort Meade, Md. But I knew the stories would only fly if they fit the network’s narrative that America is a crumbling nation plagued with problems.

One of the most interesting things is her perception of how her American colleagues treated work as the Lord Haw-Haw or Tokyo Rose of the 21st Century.

I heard colleagues repeat various justifications for continuing to work there ranging from “we’re providing a different perspective,” to “everyone has an agenda” to “it’s a job.”

Finally, she was at a point of moral crisis. Those kinds of rationalizations had no bite for her, and there was her family history:

I stopped to think about who I was and what I was doing. On my father’s side, both of my grandparents were immigrants from Hungary. My grandfather arrived in the U.S. around the end of World War II. My grandmother arrived 10 years later as a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian uprising, a nationwide revolt against Soviet forces that eventually forced Hungary into submission.

Wahl went on the air and resigned, with two sentences that slapped her employer of over two years: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.”

Since then, she’s landed no job — not even covering rescued kittens in Podunk. RT has filing cabinets full of resumes of young, pretty, ambitious and shallow reporters, just like the legitimate news agencies, and has had no problem replacing her. After all, most journalists are products of college programs where bashing America is a well-worn pathway to high grades and graduation. And the rest of the American “useful idiots” remain on the job at RT. Indeed, some pro-Putin stooges in the media have a perfect explanation for Wahl’s resignation: it’s all a neocon plot.

It’s hard to say what effect RT has on shaping opinion in the US. It’s likely a very marginal one, but that’s only one of the station’s roles. Its most committed viewers tend to be alienated young men, some of whom are always being evaluated for recruitment. Its computer servers are useful platforms for injecting software on to viewers’ PCs. It also been useful to the neo-KGB in placing Russians and foreigners well disposed to Russian propaganda themes into other media placements including CNN. These include not only on-camera talent but producers and technical people, but that’s another story for another day.

A tale of UW, circa 1622 or so

Capt. Myles Standish. Modern portrait by Mike Haywood after a 1626 original. Prints available from

Capt. Myles Standish. Modern portrait by Mike Haywood after a 1626 original. Prints available from

A new literature site, Liberty Island, contains some interesting war stories. One of them tells a story of the Plymouth Colony almost 400 years ago, in which the local knowledge, warrior culture, and fierce courage of the native Indians meets its match in the strength and guile of the English colonists.

“Tarry awhile with me, Captain?”

The governor’s assistant, Isaac Allerton, and the native Hobamock had just unlatched the door and stepped outside, leaving the two leaders to their own counsel.

The governor put a hand on his old friend’s shoulder and inclined his head towards the ladder leading to the gun deck of the fortified meetinghouse. As they climbed, the afternoon sun of a late March day shone through the observation and gun ports, in contrast to the dark room below. The light reflected off the little soldier’s shiny metal cuirass, causing the governor to blink and look away until his eyes adjusted. The captain removed his morion helmet and leaned back upon the brass five-pounder, stroking the barrel with his gauntleted hand as if it were his favorite hound.

“Doth Hobamock lie?” the governor asked.

“He doth not,” the captain answered.

via Liberty Island – David Churchill Barrow – Ense Petit Placidam.

The author claims descent from two real men who figure in the story as characters, Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish.

It is a story of two folkways — the native and the English — that are irreversibly part of the American way of war. In our childhood, we summered in sight of an obelisk erected to the memory of Standish; later, our summer household was reformed elsewhere, and the old cottage is now someone’s year-round residence. But the story is reminiscent of the stirring tales of colonist and Indian we grew up with.

That, and Barrow treats the weapons of the time accurately. Here are a couple of examples:

“I did order the slow matches for your firelocks to be lit aforehand, so tell me verily, have ANY of you pitiable farmers managed to KEEP them lit in this sea spray!?”

“I have, sir,” Alden answered.

“Good lad. Would you be so kind as to touch off your piece, so that we may summon anyone who might be hereabouts?”


“Captain! To your left!” Alden warned. The captain quickly turned the barrel of his matchlock, which rested on a swivel he had hastily stuck in the ground, and aimed at a fox skin-covered arm drawing a bow from behind a tree. Psssssst…BOOM! BOOM! He and another man seeing the same target fired almost simultaneously. The warrior screamed in pain and bounded off, cradling his shattered arm.

That’s exactly what firing a matchlock is like, and exactly why it was replaced in turn by snaphaunce/flintlock, percussion, and cartridge weapons: each one reduced lock time and thereby increased accuracy.

That Barrow got this detail right tells us he’s either spent some time hands-on with the weapons of his great-great-to-the-n ancestors, or he’s done a lot of research to learn from people who have.

We don’t know exactly what arms the Pilgrims had when they landed in what is now Massachusetts. One of the most active current historians of the Mayflower and the early Plymouth colony, Caleb Johnson, notes about period inventories and lists:

The Pilgrims did not leave behind any lists of the items they brought with them on the Mayflower, but historians have used a provision list put together by Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) to take an educated guess.  However, in 2012, Caleb Johnson, Simon Neal, and Jeremy Bangs started transcribing and studying a rare manuscript (a page of which is here illustrated) in the possession of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, that was written by one of the investors in the Pilgrims’ joint-stock company.  This manuscript actually contains several lists of suggested provisions the colonists should bring with them.  It is the closest thing we can get to a list of what the Pilgrims would have actually brought.

What they found about arms, on this early-17th-century packing list, was:

Light armor (complete), fowling piece, snaphance, sword, belt, bandoleer, powder horn, 20 pounds of powder, 60 pounds of shot.


Sword purporting to be John Carver’s (detail) from the Pilgrim Hall museum.

Interesting to see the then-rather-new snaphaunce (as it’s usually spelled today) on the list. Known or believed surviving weapons from the colony are displayed at the Pilgrim Hall museum in downtown Plymouth today; three swords including Standish’s rapier, a dog-lock pistol (another flintlock forerunner), and a helmet.

In any event, Barrow has certainly done more research about these early weapons than we have. We’d really like to see his tale of Myles Standish and William Bradford and company expanded to novel length.

SEALs do a textbook VBSS

WaPo caption: A North Korean-flagged tanker is docked at the Es Sider export terminal in Ras Lanuf March 8, 2014. Libya threatened on Saturday to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker if it tried to ship oil from a rebel-controlled port, in a major escalation of a standoff over the country's petroleum wealth. The rebels, who have seized three major Libyan ports since August to press their demands for more autonomy, warned Tripoli against staging an attack to halt the oil sale after the tanker docked at Es Sider terminal, one of the country's biggest. The vessel started loading crude late at night, oil officials said.  REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

WaPo caption: A North Korean-flagged tanker is docked at the Es Sider export terminal in Ras Lanuf March 8, 2014. Libya threatened on Saturday to bomb a North Korean-flagged tanker if it tried to ship oil from a rebel-controlled port, in a major escalation of a standoff over the country’s petroleum wealth. The rebels, who have seized three major Libyan ports since August to press their demands for more autonomy, warned Tripoli against staging an attack to halt the oil sale after the tanker docked at Es Sider terminal, one of the country’s biggest. The vessel started loading crude late at night, oil officials said. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Now, we have a pretty good handle on ARSOF stuff here, no all of whose TTPs we’ll be forthcoming on (even though one’s expertise starts becoming stale even before retirement papers have all the needful stamps). But we are no experts on what the brothers pursuing the Life Aquatic are doing.

We do know that one thing the SEALs are really, really good at is Vessel Board Search and Seizure, and they just pulled off a textbook one in the Med. The Washington Post:

A team of U.S. Navy SEALs boarded and took control of an oil tanker seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans, the Pentagon announced this morning.

The Libyans had apparently been trying to sell the oil on the black market.

The action, in international waters near Cyprus, was taken at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, the Pentagon said, adding that no one was hurt.

The ship appears to have been wandering around the Mediterranean piloted by unknown sailors under an uncertain flag, with at least one effort made by three men in a boat near Larnaka to buy oil from it.

According to a Pentagon statement:

“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained from the Libyan port of As-Sidra.”

Media reports earlier in the week suggested that the tanker was a North Korean-flagged vessel loaded with 200,000 barrels of oil. But a North Korean official denied that on Thursday, saying the ship-named “Morning Glory” had had its North Korean registration revoked

via Navy SEALs board mystery tanker Morning Glory near Cyprus. No one hurt, Pentagon says.

The outcome also tells us that the “three armed Libyans” were not three stupid Libyans… they didn’t stay armed as the seas and skies disgorged numbers of professional frogmen atop them.

Of course, the SEALs probably should just claim it as a prize and sell it off for shares. Heh.

Es-Sider is normally rendered in English as Sidra, and the area of ocean on which the port is located is called the Gulf of Sidra. It was the scene of several Libyan-American confrontations in the 1980s, which typically ended with Libyan aircrew at the mercy of their Soviet-built life jackets.

Just like any other kind of warfare, the key to successful UW is logistics, and the one ingredient fungible into all the insurgent’s logistical needs is money. The Libyan rebels gambled that they could translate this pirated ship into money for the usual things Islamic insurgents spend money on — weapons, ammunition, kiddie porn, and a nest egg in their Swiss bank accounts.