Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

The Insurgents’ Superior Information Operations

We’re referring, of course, to the American insurgents, in 1775. Who do you think we meant?

First, let us set the scene

Lexington ReenactmentAt the time of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonists and the Crown had long been at odds, and British governors and forces were on the defensive, defending, in part, knots of Loyalists who maintained their allegiance to the King in the midst of teeming revolutionary fervor all around.

The occupation of Boston in 1768 and the Coercive Acts of 1774 had cranked up the heat in the Colonies without, as King George III intended, restoring the Pax Britannica in the restive colonies. War was in the air, and both sides took a logistic view. There can be no war without arms stockpiles, so a period of arms raids — by both sides — ensued. The natives could produce their own individual weapons, and small arms then as now were easily smuggled. But cannons and their powder and shot were harder to hide and harder to move under pressure, and the British believed that such arms in the hands of the Colonial militia had more potential for being used on Redcoats than on the ostensible threat, the Indians of the frontier. A series of carefully planned and firmly executed raids, partly by foot but where possible delivered by Britain’s unmatchable Royal Navy, began to secure these arms — for safekeeping, officially.

The Colonials fell upon small and ill-defended armories and garrisons, and spirited away guns, powder and shot. In some places they ran the Crown courts that had been established by the Coercive Acts, and the British magistrates, military officers and governors completely out of town. This occurred in 1774 in Worcester, Massachusetts, which became a major logistics hub for the incipient Revolution; in December, 1774, colonists tipped off by Paul Revere compelled the surrender of Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth, New Hampshire: the one officer and three-man skeleton crew chose not to go out in a blaze of British glory when faced by 400 armed militiamen. The British, coming from the sea, ultimately retook the fort, again bloodlessly, but the cannon, powder, and shot were gone to points unknown.

Sitting in occupied Boston, besieged (figuratively) by throngs of desperate Loyalists who had abandoned their property and fled the restive countryside for the protection of a line of red coats and Brown Besses, General Thomas Gage, the military and civil Governor of the colony continued to send strong infantry raids to collect militia weapons. He would have mixed results in this. He knew he couldn’t touch Worcester — it was too well defended, and too far away. But he sent some 240 men under Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie to seize the cannon reported to be at Foster’s blacksmith shop and forge in Salem in February, 1775, and detailed an even larger force to take the arms of Lexington and Concord, and with luck, to lay hands upon high-value targets thought to be there, including Sam Adams, in April.

Period map from the Exeter Historical Society via Donna Seger's blog.

Period map from the Exeter Institute via Donna Seger’s blog Streets of Salem, which has a great write-up on Leslie’s Retreat.

Leslie, a man of sufficient prominence to have been painted by Gainsborough, was landed by the Navy in Marblehead, but got into a jam on arrival at the Salem town limits on 26 Feb 75. A small, cold river divides the two towns, and at the time, there was a drawbridge over it and broad, swampy banks that channelized the Britons’ apparoach. The drawbridge was raised and a throng of militia lined the far side of the river, radiating hostility. They were militia, but they outnumbered Leslie’s Regulars, and the New England militia had spent the past year drilling, which was evident to Leslie and his men. And they had news for him: the cannon and munitions he had come to gather had been moved beyond his reach. In any event, he had orders to go to Salem and inspect a blacksmith shop, not to start a war, and a tense, drawn-out negotiation, using a minister as a go-between, gave Leslie a face-saving out: the bridge was lowered. And his command marched 50 rods (about 250 meters) into Salem, fulfilling his orders to go to Salem and see the blacksmith shop. By now, there were no cannon. The Redcoats turned about, and marched back. (There was for decades a bar/restaurant at approximately the high-water point of Leslie’s advance in Salem called Leslie’s Retreat, with a sign illustrating a powdered-wigged Redcoat in full retreat, Revolutionary themed decor and corny Revolution-themed names for traditional American comfort food. Alas, it closed this year).

Which brings us to April and Lexington and Concord, where no face-saving compromise obtained. We assume you are familiar with this weapons raid gone bad.

The Information Operations War

All this did not happen in a vacuum, but in an environment characterized by aggressive and pervasive attempts to manipulate men’s minds; long before the first shots were fired, the information operations war was on. It began with the Coercive Acts, which were meant to make the Colony of Massachusetts and the City of Boston in particular pay for the property damage of the Boston Tea Party. The four acts had a number of terms offensive to the colonies, but none more than the Administration of Justice Act, which gave Crown servants absolute immunity from civil and criminal law. (This was a response to the Boston Massacre trials, at which the Redcoats were acquitted, but Parliament was outraged that hey were ever charged). At the same time, Parliament passed a Quebec bill which not only restored the Catholic Church in the Francophone province, but also ceded it the western territories of the American colonies.

The first propaganda stroke was renaming these Acts, as a group of five, the Intolerable Acts. In addition, individual laws begat contumacious names: the Administration of Justice act became the Murder Act. As far as we know, no British magistrate or officer got away with murder under the act, but they could have done, and in Information Operations, perception is the war. This was a win for the insurgents. In time, even Britons and historians came to call the four Coercive Acts in particular the Intolerable Acts. It’s interesting that the Intolerable Act designation for the Quebec Act, though, didn’t really stick. Perhaps the issue of the Quebec border was not as immediate as some of the other laws’ restrictions, like closing the Port of Boston or suspending town meetings. Perhaps Quebec ceased to be an issue when British defeat moved its border back to the Great Lakes from the Quebec Act’s Ohio River.

But the biggest propaganda stroke came after Lexington and Concord. Each side had a different story to tell — even today, any historian who claims he knows who fired first is standing upon quicksand — and several audiences to tell it to. The most important audience comprised one man in Westminster — King George III. Closely behind him, as IO targets of both sides, were the factions in Parliament. In addition, there were outlets in Britain more sympathetic to one side or another; just like today’s insurgents and criminals, Sam Adams and his men had their partisans in newspaper offices in 1775. But getting word to England from the colonies then was worse than getting traffic to a space probe today. With no instantaneous communications, physical letters took time to transit in the sailing ships of the day: a month for a fast ship, a month and a half for an average one, two months if you weren’t lucky — that is, if the ship got through at all. Every voyage was a roll of the dice, and some were destined to come up snake eyes. As a rule of thumb, the trip west was a couple of weeks longer than the eastbound voyage, due to the eastward set of prevailing winds in the Northern Hemisphere.

While planning an attack that would avenge his defeat at Lexington and Concord, Gage wrote a series of reports spinning the fight and withdrawal as best he could, and dispatched it in a welter of other paperwork — you can’t have an Empire without paperwork — in the ship Sukey. Kevin Phillips writes:

His further instructions were only that any mail to the Massachusetts agents in London was to be seized. However, using the British mails was not what [Sam] Adams and [Dr. Joseph] Warren [head of the provincial Congress, and architect of the IO campaign] had in mind.1

They put their version of the story in the hands of John Derby of the Salem shipping and mercantile Derbys, and Derby, too made for England. He was four days behind Sukey, but in his own much faster schooner Quero. Unsure whether Gage had gotten word to London before him, Derby anchored Quero at the Isle of Wight 28 days after sailing, then snuck his dispatches through the Royal Navy homeport of Southampton and to the Massachusetts agents in London. What he brought them was dynamite: in Phillips’s words, the “first and most persuasive explanation of Lexington and Concord.” The agents knew who their friends were: liberals like the Lord Mayor of London, and certain newspaper editors.

Derby need not have worried. By the time the poky Sukey dawdled up the Thames, bringing Gage’s instructions to intercept the agents’ mail and his own after-action report, the Colonial version of the tail had monopolized the London newspapers for two weeks. His defensive, self-serving report looked even more defensive, and his attempt to muzzle the colonials’ communications channel was, at this late date, seen not as an IO masterstroke but as a guilty man’s cover-up. Meanwhile, Gage’s attack, on the colonials at Bunker/Breed’s Hill, carried the position, but at a terrible cost (one quarter of the British officers lost in the entire war, which lasted until 1783, died in April, 1775).

thomas_gage_john_singleton_copleyAny fair study of General Thomas Gage shows a decent, honorable and competent man in a very difficult position. (The Bunker Hill bloodbath resulted largely from the tactics of William Howe).

It is a measure of the effectiveness of Dr Warren’s propaganda campaign that Gage is remembered in America as a cruel monster, and in Britain as a bumbling incompetent. Given the weight of primacy in psychology — we tend to believe what we heard first over what we hear later — the importance of speed and of memorable labeling in information operations is clear.


  1. Phillips, Kevin. 1775: A Good Year for Revolution. New York: Penguin, 2012. p.13.

The Limits of Air Power

June 26 airpower summary: B-1Bs bomb enemy vehicles

Bombers have a perfect accuracy record with bombs, or at least, one good enough for the USAF: Every single one has hit the planet; we haven’t left a single one up there yet!

Nothing is quite as toothless as a powerful air force, alone.

We’re reminded of that again by the inept Coalition air strikes in the city of Konduz, which not only didn’t relieve friendly forces, but also managed to bomb Doctors Without Borders clean out of their Konduz hospital.

Now, supposedly there were US forces on the ground calling the shots, and supposedly they called the shots on the hospital.

Based on past experience on this, like when the USAF AC-130 decided to go to war despite losing all its navigation modes and zapped an SF team, or the time F-16s went fangs-out and blew up some Canadians on a range, or the time an F-15 pilot smoked a pair of Black Hawk helicopters because of an incompetent AWACS crew, it could just be that the Air Force is lying.

Or, it could be that the Taliban, which has more media savvy (not to mention, more media support) than all of  the US Armed Services put together, decoyed the USAF’s vaunted but easily spoofed electronic sensors into misidentifying the hospital as a target.

That’s the one we’d probably go with. Taliban leaders have forgotten more about media than the supposed media professionals of the military, who are selected like their broadcast media counterparts for looks and not brains, could ever hope to learn.

Meanwhile, in MIT Technology Review:

ISIS stands apart in the way it’s mastered online propaganda and recruitment. Using 21st-century technology to promote a medieval ideology involving mass killings, torture, rape, enslavement, and destruction of antiquities, ISIS has … lured 25,000 foreigners to fight in Syria and Iraq, including 4,500 from Europe and North America…..

“The ISIS social-media campaign is a fundamental game changer in terms of mobilizing people to an extremist cause,” says Amarnath ­Amarasingam, a researcher at the University of Waterloo who is co-directing a study of Western fighters in Syria. “You are seeing foreign fighters from 80 or 90 countries. In terms of numbers and diversity, it has been quite stunning.”

As Google’s policy director, ­Victoria Grand, told a conference…: “ISIS is having a viral moment on social media, and the countervailing viewpoints are nowhere near strong enough to oppose them.”

Well, it doesn’t help when air officers schooled in the tradition of Mitchell, Douhet and LeMay get outsmarted by goat-smellin’ illiterates in plastic shoes and mandresses.

Bombing, even by precision-guided munitions, without eyes on the ground, has always failed, and will always fail. We’re watching it fail in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Eyes on the ground without air overhead will also fail. But the current budget-cut climate in Washington — a bipartisan consensus just cut military retirements by 20%, and cut retiree health care, so that Congress can redirect the money to more direct cronies — means the services are jousting with one another while savvier enemies are mortaring the playing field.

Finally, high-tech electronic intelligence collection, and robotic unmanned weapons, are the weapons of the future. They were the weapons of the future a century past, and they will be the future a century hence. Precision Guided Munitions aimed without regard or respect for the ground truth delivered only by US or closely-allied forces’ eyes on the actual target are at best wasted, and worst decoyed onto friendly, neutral or noncombatant targets.

MSF — Doctors Without Borders — is calling the attack on their hospital a “war crime.”


According to the Washington Post, the Ghani government is taking a different tack than the previous Karzai government, which would usually use these opportunities to lambaste the USA and the US military. The Post takes the cynical viewpoint that the Afghans are so dependent on America they dare not offend us. Cynicism in Afghanistan is usually on point, but read also the quotes from Afghan military officers suggesting the Talibs were using the MSF hospital grounds as a sanctuary to attack from. Of course, Taliban, ISIL, and other mohammedan social media outlets are exploiting the hell out of this while the US’s counterparts dawdle.

US SOF are on the ground, but the bulk of the fighting falls to the Afghan National Army.

Smart Diplomacy, etc. by the Roman Numerals

Smart Diplomacy. You see it in Syria. You see it in Afghanistan. And you see it in colleges and universities. Smart Dip. It’s totally a thing!

Number I: Anthony Cordesman has some ideas about Smart Dip in Syria. BLUF: not looking too smart. Indeed, the situation is certain to get worse before it gets better.

Those trying to negotiate from the outside an end to the fighting in Syria behave as though some diplomatic elite or mix of power brokers could restore stability if only Bashar al-Assad would leave and the U.S. and Russia could agree on how to approach negotiations. But Syria is being ravaged by four broad sets of fighters that have little reason to cooperate with any U.N.-led negotiating effort—or each other.

The problem is not simply Mr. Assad or Islamic State. ISIS occupies parts of Syria and Iraq and continues to systematically purge any religious and ideological dissent. Meanwhile, the governments in Damascus and Baghdad have shown no ability to gain support from a major portion of the Sunnis in ISIS-controlled areas. Nor have Syrian or Iraqi government forces had much military success against ISIS. U.S. claims that Iraq has regained some 35% of the territory it lost to ISIS are little more than spin. Such assertions are based on the maximum line of ISIS advance before Islamic State established any level of governance or control, and they include vast areas of uninhabited desert where no one controls anything…..

The first step in solving a problem is to honestly assess it. The failure of U.S. policy and military efforts, Russian and Iranian support of Mr. Assad, major Russian military intervention, and the conflicting ways in which other states intervene will all make things worse. The impact of religious warfare and extremism, and failed Syrian secularism, are serious problems.

It is time to stop focusing on either ISIS or Mr. Assad, pretending that Syrian “moderates” are strong enough to affect the security situation or negotiate for Syria’s real fighters, and acting as if a shattered nation could be united by some top-down negotiation between groups that hate each other and are not competent to deal with Syria’s economic, social, and governance challenges.

Shorter Cordesman: Syria is messed up beyond anyone’s capacity for repair. The obvious follow-up question is, “What’s next?” And it’s pretty clear that Cordesman doesn’t know. Neither does anybody else.

Number II: Then there’s a recently-leaked CIA story: thanks to the OPM data hack, the Agency had to pull its official-cover officers out of China.

The US intelligence service responded by pulling a number of officers from the American embassy in Beijing as a “precautionary measure”, ​according to a report by the ​Washington Post.

The decision was taken to protect personnel whose agency affiliation might be discovered as result of the hacked data.

The stolen data, a gold mine of information on US spies and army person​n​el, ​ ​included background checks, intimate details of their sex lives, drug use and finances.

That’s okay. It’s not like they were doing anything, anyway, judging from the agency’s watery product and perpetually-shocked expression at interagency meetings.

Number III: Foreign Policy writes, scandalized, about Jaded Aid cards. The card game, launched on Kickstarter, riffs on the guilty realization that that part of Smart Dip that is characterized by aid agencies, NGOs, and QUANGOs, is a mess (in all senses) of self-serving dysfunctionality.


One of the possible fill-in-the-blanks is “Foreign assistance was started to feed white people’s unquenchable thirst for ______.” Possible answers include “the perfect handicapped brown person,” “a sinking boat full of brown people,” and other sarcastic takes on racialized development tropes.

Actually, young Americans in the Peace Corps have never struck us as pursuing anything but a Mandingo experience, and they all seem to return to the US and rise to the level of highly paid, totally networked, ineffectual losers.

Number IV: There’s probably no greater generator of the stupid that is Smart Dip than the universities. In a short essay on some Orwellian trends in new uses for old words, Powerline’s Ammo Grrl has a word to say about a word.

VIOLENCE – Talk to any SJW for any length of time and you learn that everything is “violence.” Swearing. Shouting. Pointing. Disagreement in particular. Years after I (finally) got a degree from a Minnesota State College, I went into their Administration Building and saw little plaques on all the desks that bragged, “This is a violence-free workplace.” Well, glory be, that would distinguish it from all the other workplaces where fisticuffs and gunplay are a normal part of the day. Seriously? Was there a big problem with Assault and Battery before you hit on the obvious solution of putting up plaques?

Of course, only the most stupid and magically-thinking person, even in a room full of bureaucrats whose superior economic use would be to be tasked in support of organ harvesting, actually thinks a “violence-free workplace” sign does anything. It’s not supposed to do anything. It’s just one more case of empty virtue-signalling.

Number V: We’re reminded of when the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s IT people (a more useless bunch of Massholes can only be found in the state’s welfare offices, on either side of the counter, but we digress) loaded up C 1/20th SF’s computers with context-sensitive (and we do mean sensitive) filters. Want to go to Safariland and order holsters? Barrett to get some spare mags and firing pins? You can’t do that.

This site is prohibited. Reason: weapons/violence.

So we called the oxygen thieves at the state HQ (which had just, grandly, renamed itself Joint Forces HQ because it was a nest of otherwise useless Air National Guard desk jockeys along with the Army National Guard drones), and asked them to kindly remove their hindranceware from our computers. It quickly emerged that they didn’t really know how to operate the filters, and they weren’t very interested in learning, and anyway, they told us:

It’s part of the Adjutant General’s fivety-leven point plan to end workplace violence.

We had a ready reply:

Honey, we are a special forces company. We are all about workplace violence!

But no, that didn’t make an impression. Some bureaucrat from the 90% of the Army that’s flat cold terrified of firearms was going to continue to stand in the way of the 1% that actually gets an enormous kick out of using them. So, like the fabled Internet, we routed around the damage by using private computers and a wireless/cellular internet connection.

Welcome to the combat arms! This is a violence-free workplace. Lord love a duck.

“Where Do We Get Such Men?” Peter A. “Andrew” McKenna, ave atque vale.

mckenna_officialOne thing’s clear: you’d have liked this guy. The Army Times had a story, but we just pulled the bits his friends had to say about him.

MSG Paul Ross went through the SFQC with McKenna.

At this point it just hits everybody in waves. The truth is losing a guy sucks. Losing your best friend sucks. Losing your son sucks. The silver lining is he went out like a Green Beret should. He went out taking it to the enemy and shooting bad guys in the face.

He was phenomenal at his job, but I wish the world would see how genuine he was and how much of an American patriot he really was.

MSG Chris Corbin served with McKenna in 7th Group. A double amputee, Corbin is retired from the Army now.

Everything on paper doesn’t do him near enough justice, not just the kind of guy he was, but the kind of soldier, the kind of Green Beret he was.

He was doing what a special operator should. He heard a boom, he heard small arms, he kitted up, he grabbed his long gun, and he and another friend of ours, who was injured, they were side-by-side dealing death. That’s just Drew. There’s dozens of times he’s done stuff like that.

When I was injured, he stayed with me, for weeks, literally, up at Walter Reed. Every time I opened my eyes from whatever surgery or medication, Drew was right there. He’s that guy you can count on.

Even the… difficult… “Myke Hawke,” another SFQC contemporary of McKenna, was humbled to recall his late friend:

He was special. I remember him very specifically because he was so young. He looked like a kid. What really stood out to me was how motivated he was but how unassuming.

He was so likable, so friendly, so motivated, and you would never think of him as the barrel-chested freedom fighter that he was because he was very humble. Everybody’s got some jerk factor in them, it’s part of the A-type personality, but Drew was not one of those guys. He was so good. He’s the kind of guy we needed more of.

Tim Kennedy is a mixed martial arts fighter who served in 7th Group with McKenna. Kennedy was forced out of 7th Group and into the National Guard by a commander who hated the idea of a Special Forces soldier competing nationally in a sport, or he’d still be in. That may give you an idea of the sort of men McKenna served with, and who mourn him.


McKenna clowning around in Afghanistan. Weapon is an FN SCAR with Elcan Specter DR optic.

In Special Forces, you have to be good at a lot of things, and Drew really spent a lot of time being good at everything, but he never lost focus that we’re still dealing with people. He had amazing humor. He could make anybody laugh at any time.

He’s the Shughart and Gordon. He’s the guy in the helicopter that looks down in Mogadishu, sees a pilot alive and there’s 500 guys coming for him, and says “why don’t you go ahead and put us on the ground so we can protect him.”

He’s been in the military for 17 years, and there’s not a day of the war that he missed, and at every point of his career, he volunteered to go further into harm’s way. He’s that guy who raises his hand and says, “yeah, I’ll go.”

“Where do we get such men?” to quote the Admiral in The Bridges at Toko-ri. In the case of Peter Andrew McKenna, we get them from the town of Bristol, Rhode Island.

And we know where we lose them, as we lost McKenna in April August, defending against a complex attack on Camp Integrity that killed him and left another SF master sergeant seriously wounded.  In keeping with its current policy of “discounting” awards to SF soldiers, the Army has awarded McKenna a posthumous Silver Star. He had numerous Bronze Stars.

We didn’t know McKenna. We are poorer for that.


The original version of this article misstated Drew McKenna’s last action as occurring at Camp Integity in April. The attack took place on the night of 7 August 2015. Thanks to the friend of Drew’s and the wounded SF MSG who took the time to correct us.

Our “Partners” Iran… Still Bein’, Well, Iran

On their way to Yemeni terrorists, a shipment of ATGMs in a lawless, stateless ship. It was briefly detained by an allied navy — and its cargo of missiles dumped into the sea.

Shipload of Iranian mischief apprehended on the high seas.

Shipload of Iranian mischief apprehended on the high seas. Registration indicia were spurious.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said a member of the Combined Maritime Forces, a longstanding multinational coalition, intercepted the vessel in international waters last Friday.

An American guided missile destroyer, the USS Forrest Sherman, arrived to assist once the weapons were found aboard the dhow, a type of vessel commonly used in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Crates and tripods. The tripods look like the ones for the BGM-71 TOW, a missile Iran produces an unauthorized copy of.

Crates and tripods. The tripods look like the ones for the BGM-71 TOW, a missile Iran produces an unauthorized copy of.

In a pretty rare occurrence… a DDG (“guided missile destroyer”) actually destroyed guided missiles.

More crates and tubes. Some might be TOW reloads.

More crates and tubes. Some might be TOW reloads.

A search of the ship determined that it was “stateless,” or not formally registered to any country, although it appears to have been coming from Iran, according to the U.S. Navy.

“Based on statements from the dhow’s crew, the port of origin of the dhow and its illicit weapons cache is believed to be Iran,” the Navy said, adding that the weapons included anti-tank arms thought to be of Iranian and Russian origin.

This Sept. 27, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Navy on Sept. 30, 2015, shows weapons and equipment confiscated from a dhow, aboard the deck of USS Forrest Sherman. A ship carrying illicit arms believed to be from Iran was intercepted last week off the southern Arabian Peninsula by a member of a U.S.-backed naval coalition and was not registered with any country, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday. The American description of the ship’s seizure conflicted in some instances with an earlier account provided by a separate Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels, which claimed it had foiled the smuggling attempt. (Combined Maritime Forces photo via AP)

These might be AT-5 Spandrel missiles, Russian name 9M113 Konkurs. They are produced in Russia, Iran, and several other nations. Note defacement of stenciling, common among trafficked weapons. These particular examples were taken for analysis by US experts.

So the ship had a rocket in its pocket — a lot more than one rocket, though.

Another view of the crates etc. on the stateless ship from lawless Iran.

Another view of the crates etc. on the stateless ship from lawless Iran. What’s that missile there?

The dhow’s crew alleged that the vessel was bound for Somalia, which sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. They were allowed to depart once the weapons were confiscated, the U.S. said.

Most of the weapons were dumped into the sea, though some were retained for further analysis by sailors aboard the American warship.

via Weapons believed to be from Iran seized in Arabian Sea – Yahoo News.

Sure enough, it's an AT-5 Spandrel (aka 9M113 Konkurs).

Sure enough, it’s an AT-5 Spandrel (aka 9M113 Konkurs).

It’s tough work out there, being the top negotiating partner of the Top Men in the United States. Top. Men.

You have to wonder what percentage of these shipments gets through.

What Happened in Kenya’s Westgate Mall?

It turns out, what happened in September, 2013, is not what we’ve been told. The official line goes something like this: that up to a dozen armed jihadis attacked, killed hundreds, holed up with dozens of hostages and blew the place up, and were taken out in a determined assault by Nairobi SWAT.

"Fucking Americans!" Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow spat, and gunned down Ross Langdon, 32 who died in a futile attempt to save his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend Elif Yavuz. Neither was American.

“Fucking Americans!” Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow spat, and gunned down Ross Langdon, 32 who died in a futile attempt to protect his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend Elif Yavuz. Neither was American.

What actually happened was more remarkable:

  1. There were only four young gunmen, Somali expendables from as-Shabaab, lightly armed with AKs and hand grenades, presumably F1s.
  2. They seemed to enjoy playing with the defenseless people at the mall. For example, they’d ask people questions, and shoot them, depending on the answers. They took pleasure in shooting women and children and praised themselves to their god, and praised their god, every killing. In one case a Hindu man and his wife survived because he knew the words of the shahada, the mohammedan profession of faith. (Learning that shibboleth may be a survival skill. Saying the words doesn’t really make you moslem: you have to grow a beard, start wearing a shalwar kameez, insist on bagging your women, and develop urges to murder children).
  3. While the police hesitated, like the cops at the Columbine, Colorado school shooting in the USA, individual non-police gun carriers and a few bold individual policemen entered the mall in pursuit of the four gunmen. These guys are the ones you see saving those who were saved.
  4. Aside: hail to the photographers. A reporter can write a terrorist attack story from his hotel bar, and it’s clear that many of them did in this case, but the photog has to go there and put his or her quivering young body in the range of hostile fire. They’re men and women after our own hearts.
  5. The mall had only five exits including a single department store loading dock, and the mohammedans occupied two of them by force, each with a loose two-man team. This may not have been their plan — they don’t seem to have been very bright — but that’s how it shook out.
  6. The survivors used a variety of survival strategies: since no good guys were armed until the gun carriers and cops started filtering in, fight was out of the question, so they mostly depended on flight and concealment. A number of survivors, especially wounded survivors, played dead. Some who played dead were caught out and executed by laughing terrorists.
  7. There was a racial aspect to the attack as well as the religious one. Whites and Asians (including South Asians) seem to have been marked for death, although the killers said they were only killing Americans and Kenyans, and released some victims who claimed (truthfully or not) to be other nationalities. However, they didn’t ask the nationality of most of those that they killed.
  8. It seems likely that some of the attackers had been living as refugees in Kenya, as they spoke English and Kenyan Swahili. We are reminded of the old saw that one in ten refugees is an agent for a hostile power.
  9. Many of the survivors spoke about how calm the attackers seemed. We smell khat. 
  10. Nobody was more scared than the street cop who realized, as an ethnic Somali with an AK, he might be mistaken for the attackers by his own guys, despite his police uniform. But he went in and saved people anyway, despite being seriously wounded by the terrorists. You would hope the Kenyan republic gives him the medal he earned.
  11. When the Kenyan police and army finally attacked many hours later, they did it by an uncoordinated strike through separate entrances, and when they two forces met, they engaged each other. After that, the elite police SWAT-like unit took their casualties and went home, and the Army and other police proceeded to trash the place.
  12. The rescuers were too late to save much of anybody: most of the casualties were killed in the initial attack, or bled out during the hours it took officialdom to nerve itself up to move.
  13. All the significant damage to the mall was caused by the Kenyan military and police — this was all gravy from the point of view of as-Shabaab.
Ad hoc security: (l-r): non-Kenyan security professional with M9; Kenyan licensed carrier with Glock (note IDPA patch@); Kenyan citizen or (given lax trigger discipline!) plainclothes cop with CZ-75. The CZ is very popular in Kenya both with police and civilians. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Ad hoc security: (l-r): non-Kenyan security professional with M9; Kenyan licensed carrier with Glock (note IDPA patch!); Kenyan citizen or (given lax trigger discipline!) plainclothes cop with CZ-75. The CZ is very popular in Kenya both with police and civilians. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

The Kenyan security services did not cover themselves in glory here. Once again, we learn some timeless lessons:

  1. Afterward, the intelligence services find out they should have seen it coming, but oops.
  2. The rescue that matters is self-rescue and self-started civilian rescue. The cavalry only comes in time in Hollywood.
  3. Most untrained people are passive even in the face of certain death. 
  4. Talking to terrorists doesn’t work. The guys who stood up to remonstrate with the terrorists would agree, except they’re all dead.
  5. In the imagined “gun-free zone,” even the most inept miscreant with a gun is king. We’ve seen ten clowns with rifles tie all Bombay in knots for days, and here’s a mass-casualty (and mass-headline-producing, the terrs’ metric) event caused by four shooters with minimal training and basic equipment.
  6. Kenya’s policy of issuing concealed carry licenses to trusted individuals worked to the benefit of all here. Contrary to popular expectation, the licensees worked well with each other and with the police. We hope Kenya will consider expanding the policy.
  7. An ad-hoc, self-organized response right here right now, is not only “not necessarily bad,” but might be a lot better than the perfect, coordinated SWAT raid an hour from now. (And as we’ve seen, the raid was not perfect and coordinated).
  8. Once your forces are on scene, there is no more reason for delay — only excuses and pretexts. To be sure, the murders of those people at the Westgate Mall were on the heads of as-Shabaab, but a significant number of the dead would have been surviving wounded with speedy and resolute action, which was lacking.
  9. The time to make sure your radios are interoperable is before the attack. If you haven’t done that, and Kenyans hadn’t, you can pretty much guarantee they won’t be, and they weren’t.
  10. Finally: don’t expect the security forces to investigate themselves after a cock-up of this magnitude. After the initial raid at Waco, the ATF leaders of the raid shredded their raid plan and lawyered up. After the final incendiary attack, the FBI destroyed mountains of evidence. So it should surprise no-one that the promised investigation of the Westgate attack has never materialized in Kenya. It won’t, and if it does, it will be an empty whitewash.

The source for this is a remarkable and thoroughly reported analysis in Foreign Policy by Kenya-based reporter Tristan McConnell. McConnell has pieced together this story from dozens of interviews with survivors, and his conclusions are bitter and blunt:

Far from a dramatic three-day standoff, the assault on the Westgate Mall lasted only a few hours, almost all of it taking place before Kenyan security forces even entered the building. When they finally did, it was only to shoot at one another before going on an armed looting spree that resulted in the collapse of the rear of the building, destroyed with a rocket-propelled grenade. And there were only four gunmen, all of whom were buried in the rubble, along with much of the forensic evidence.

During the roughly three-and-a-half hours that the killers were loose in the mall, there was virtually no organized government response. But while Kenyan officials prevaricated, an unlikely coalition of licensed civilian gun owners and brave, resourceful individual police officers took it upon themselves to mount a rescue effort. Pieced together over 10 months from more than three dozen interviews with survivors, first responders, security officers, and investigators, the following account brings their story to life for the first time since the horrific terrorist attack occurred exactly two years ago.

We haven’t seen such a remarkable job of forensic reporting since Mark Bowden’s series of newspaper reports that became the book, and later the Ridley Scott movie, Black Hawk Down. It is to be hoped that McConnell has book-length ambitions also; he certainly must have more human-interest details in his hours of interviews. Some pieces of the puzzle are lacking still (how did the attackers die?) but McConnell has done more to shed light on this disastrous failure of public policy and police response, as well as its aspects of human tragedy, than any five other writers.

More than a hat tip: our attention was called to this by fellow combat vet (in, we think we have this right, the SADF in the 80s) Peter Grant, who writes science fiction books in the spirit (and he’d probably admit, shadow) of Heinlein, and who blogs at Bayou Renaissance Man. Here is his post on Westgate.


ISIL flag

ISIL flag. Anybody’s guess what the circle represents…

It’s true. A bunch of ISIL goons became infected with HIV on Boy Love Thursdays (no, they totally insist it was from their kufr sex slaves, yeah, that’s it) and the Clown Caliphate has decided to cure them of AIDS, and all other earthly worries, in one big FOOM.

Islamic State militants infected with HIV from sex slaves have been ordered to become suicide bombers.

The twisted terrorists contracted the disease from two Moroccan women they had captured.

Now at least 16 of the militants have been told they must blow themselves up, reported the Daily Mirror.

“Islamic State leadership is planning to assign suicide attacks for its militants who are tested positive with AIDS,” a civil rights activist in the city of al-Mayadeen in east Syria said.

“Most of those infected are foreign militants who had sexual intercourses with two Moroccan women.

“The women passed on the disease to the militants before their infection was revealed.”

The men are now being held in quarantine before they are forced to meet their fate.

“We were ordered by the group’s local leadership to transfer the infected militants to a quarantine center in the city,” said a Syrian doctor.

via IS order HIV-infected militants to blow themselves up – NY Daily News.

Great. It’s bad enough to worry about these ‘splodydopes crashing one’s parties, but now you have to treat the post hoc frags of splodydope as biohazard.

Syrian Pilots in Russian Jets? Color us Skeptical.

Reportedly, air strikes are being flown by Syrian pilots in new aircraft, freshly delivered by Russia. This is an excellent opportunity to exercise our well-oiled skepticism.

Russian combat airplanes at Latakia, Syria. From The Aviationist, which also explains how stealthily they got there.

Russian combat airplanes at Latakia, Syria. From The Aviationist, which also explains how stealthily they got there. They retain Russian markings.

Another photo showing the Su-24s, also.

Another photo showing the Su-24s, also. Via the Aviationist, these pictures both embiggen. Russians are using a parallel runway for parking because of the poorly maintained and paved ramps in Latakia. The air-to-air fighters are parked for the fastest access to the active (presumably 17R). Token fighter cover suggests they don’t seriously expect to be attacked.

Why be skeptical? Well, one is reminded here of the history:

Fact: In Korea, Russian pilots flew jets with Nork markings. Over 30 Soviet pilots became aces flying, outnumbered, against the US Air Force. The US knew this and, inexplicably, classified it, helping the Russians keep their secrets.

Fact: In Vietnam, Russian pilots flew jets with PAFVN markings. (Russians also manned and controlled SA-2 Guideline sites, which was arguably much more important to the DRV). The US knew this and, inexplicably, classified it, helping the Russians keep their secrets. Interestingly enough, LBJ stopped American attacks on North Vietnam once the Russians showed up, something the US seems to have forgotten, but Russia evidently remembers. (Link) (Link).

Russian-language interview with pilot/advisor Vassily Kolot, with a little bit of period training video with a Russian instructor teaching a Vietnamese pilot:

No proof there that Russian pilots flew combat missions, but it’s hinted at.

Fact: The Syrian Air Force has never been effective. It lost every air fight to Israel, and unlike the Egyptians or Jordanians, without giving the Israelis much of a scare. In the present civil war it has been unable to conduct any precision attacks up to now; it has used discredited 20th Century tactics of carpet bombing and it has even done that ineffectually, despite complete lack of enemy air opposition or organized air defense.

So the Syrian Air Force, which is maxed out rolling a barrel of ANFO out of the tailgate of an AN-12 in a zero-threat environment, and which has a deep institutional history of failure and defeat, supposedly took the keys of late model Russian jets and suddenly started flying like Russians. Those are some really transformative airframes, huh? Except, the ground attack aircraft in Syria are Su-24s and -25s, good, solid planes, but not magical.

Fact: The Russians have warned the Syrian opposition that they had better treat prisoners IAW international laws and norms. Gee, why would they suddenly do that? It must be sheer humanitarian concern for the opposition’s Alawite prisoners (who have, it seems, been at least as badly treated as Assad treats his own non-Alawite captives, and maybe worse; and ISIL’s treatment of captives has set new records for barbarity).

The US Intelligence Community knows who’s sitting in those ejection seats. Right now, they’re helping somebody keep that secret. Or they think they are.

Official Documents: Cuban Intervention in Angola

(Note: We’ve got a huge backlog of big stuff here, but the last three days have been airplane-working days as the Blogbro has taken time off his soul-deadening software development job to try to prep parts of the aircraft for the next big round of building. For those following the project, we’ve now completed the prep, final-drilling, deburring, edge breaking, and priming of the skins for the after fuselage and tail cone of the RV-12. Today we’re working on wing parts. What this means, though, is that lot of the long-form content we are working on has been delayed. An example of this is the fortification stories which require lots of research, writing and editing. We still plan to do that stuff, and we have to get ahead of the blog to focus on the day job(s) in the coming week. -Ed).

Cubans in Angola with a captured Panhard Eland 90mm armored car. L-R: Lt. Paes (KIA); driver Simoes (WIA); Pvt. Remedios (WIA/POW); Cpt. Pedro Marangoni. From the Havana-Luanda blog.

Cubans in Angola with a captured Panhard Eland 90mm armored car. L-R: Lt. Paes (KIA); driver Simoes (WIA); Pvt. Remedios (WIA/POW); Cpt. Pedro Marangoni. From the Havana-Luanda blog.

You may not remember the Cuban intervention in Angola. After all, it took place 40 years ago. We, however, vividly remember the news stories about mercenary trials, and desperate battles in the jungle; we remember the launch of Soldier of Fortune magazine, which always seemed to feature Angola stories in those days.

We also remember the glee of the press when the Marxist MPLA won. (But they weren’t that kind of Marxist, the New York Times, which was equally giddy over the not-that-kind of Marxists who were transforming Cambodia, insisted: why, their Supreme Leader was a poet! Which was true, Agostino Neto published some rhyming doggerel in the 1960s — not that rhyming is much of a challenge in Romance languages like Portuguese. But this was not inconsistent with him being a monster).

After a long, multifactional civil war, and one-man-one-vote-one-time elections, the Angolan people were enslaved by this nominally Marxist kleptocracy that found itself the beneficiary of support from the USSR (for political reasons) and the USA (bought & paid for with an oil-extraction contract).

Anyway, here are some documents that finally saw the light of day in 2013. Previously, the only agency document was the unofficial and bitter memoir In Search of Enemies by John Stockwell, and a few references in similarly embittered Fred Frank Snepp’s famous book about the end of the Vietnam War, Decent Interval.

For over 25 years the Archive has been submitting targeted FOIA requests to federal agencies to learn more about Cuban intervention in Angola, and the collection of documents posted below have been our reward. Please take a look at the documents for yourself!

[This posting is part of an ongoing crowdsourcing initiative where we will provide documents newly-released through the Freedom of Information Act to the public, and give you the first crack at the documents so you can tell us what is significant about them. Please enjoy!]

via FOIA Sourcing: Cuban Intervention in Angola | UNREDACTED.

The Angolan Civil War that produced the Cuban intervention was a strange tripartite affair with three largely tribal-based political/military groups that had resisted Portuguese colonialism (or claimed to have done so) and were now vying for power: by their Portuguese acronyms these were the Marxist MPLA, the Western-oriented UNITA, and the marxist-turned-western FNLA. The names were empty of real meaning, for example, MPLA stood for “the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola,” but basically it was the Soviet-line communist group led by poet-turned-dictator Agostinho Neto. The other groups each had its own strongman: UNITA had Jonas Savimbi, and FNLA Holden Roberto. Of these, Savimbi was the nearest to a charismatic leader.

UNITA had South African support (including, for a time and in response to the Cubans, South African regulars), and FNLA was supported, their bad luck, by the USA. They had a clown show of mercenaries, including an arguably psychotic Briton of Cypriot stock, Costas Georgiou, who promoted himself from cashiered private in the British Army to Colonel in the Angolan; he would be captured and executed by MPLA after a show trial, but not before such demonstrations of military prowess as shooting one of his own native troops to see if his shotgun was working. (Unfortunately, it was). A handful of Callan’s mercenaries were captured with him and most of them were shot.

One of the FNLA mercenaries was a former CIA officer and Vietnam SOG recon veteran. At the time, he was supposedly no longer affiliated with the Agency but he does have a star in the lobby. Eh. Guys that knew him in SOG speak very highly of him. He was not executed but died in a vehicular ambush.

Once the Cubans intervened, their friends in the US Congress, very strong after the post-Watergate election of 1974, were able to get the plug pulled on all US clandestine support for non-Marxist parties in Angola, abandoning the rebels (and the mercenaries) and guaranteeing Cuban victory, as they had guaranteed that of their North Vietnamese allies previously.

When Portugal’s mildly fascist Salazar dictatorship collapsed in 1974, the Portuguese forces in Angola (and other colonies) were all but abandoned, and most of them joined one side or the other as mercenaries.

The Cubans fought hard and suffered greatly. In renewed fighting in the late 1980s, improved UNITA/South African antiaircraft weapons downed at least 10 MiG-23 ground-support aircraft, and as many as 40 other aircraft, and in addition there were losses to friendly fire.

The most effective Cuban ground weapon was arguably the BM-21 multiple rocket launcher. Its bombardments had a great psychological effect, beyond its considerable physical power. (This psychological effect was amplified against the poorly trained African levies employed by all sides as cannon fodder). Cuban forces also employed the ZSU 23/4 antiaircraft weapon in a ground, direct-fire mode to defend outposts and convoys.

The Cuban intervention was used, among other things, to dispose of dissidents and criminals, a number of whom, after returning to Cuba, joined the Mariel boatlift, whose purpose was inter alia to dispose of troubled Angola vets.

Today, Cuban, South African, and other Angola vets are tentatively making connections in cyberspace. The Cuban blog Havana Luanda is a good place to start (some articles are machine translated into English).

Remember that OPM Security Clearance Hack?

The OPM Logo: an eagle being stretched on a rack, or maybe drawn and quartered.

The OPM Logo: an eagle being stretched on a rack, or maybe drawn and quartered.

Yeah, the one where unknown hackers thought to be affiliated with a foreign intelligence service (cough China cough) stole 21.5 million cleared individuals’ complete identities including, for 1.1 million of them, fingerprints, and no one at OPM was held accountable? The one where all the responsible hacks (who had received enormous salaries and bonuses, despite lack of any technical background and records of underperformance) appeared in Congress to stonewall investigators and demand more money? Yeah, that one? (In case you didn’t, previous WeaponsMan coverage here).

Turns out they were… not entirely truthful, or accurate. While 22.1 million .gov and contractor employees who work with secret information had all their information but fingerprints stolen by these hackers, the new number who had their prints pilfered, too, is 5.6 million.

The difference between 1,100,000 and 5,600,000? Well, you can’t expect some Beltway lawyers and liberal-arts grads, in technical jobs because the US Government has no hiring standards beyond nepotism and cronyism, to catch a wee little niggling detail like that, can you? The Hill says:

OPM revised its original estimate of 1.1 million to 5.6 million after it discovered archived records not previously analyzed.

The agency says that the new estimate does not impact the overall number of individuals whose data was exposed by the hack. The total still stands at as many as 22.1 million former, current and prospective federal employees, contractors and others.

When we were involved in a project to improve clearance adjudication in the early oughts, we were very critical of CIA’s refusal to share data with DOD and DOE, let alone OPM. We were wrong. The CIA official who made that call is now looking like a freakin’ prophet.

But hey, they’re working to correct the issue, and have been since it became public this spring right?

Er, wrong. There’s a lot of noise about process (as is customary with .gov efforts) and zipsters about results. And they actually knew about the breach about a year before it hit the public, but kept it secret (and did nothing about it), because the prime interest of any payroll patriot is his or her own pocketbook.

An interagency working group including members from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense (DOD) and other intelligence community members are studying how cyber criminals could potentially exploit the data.

“If, in the future, new means are developed to misuse the fingerprint data, the government will provide additional information to individuals whose fingerprints may have been stolen in this breach,” a spokesman said in a release.

Ah, so they’ve notified the victims, by now, at least, right? Er…no. They’ve actually notified almost nobody, but they dumped a lot of cash onto some of their friends!

The OPM release also notes that officials are working with the DOD to “begin” mailing notifications to impacted individuals, part of $133-million contract to provide three years of identity-theft protection services for those affected.

The timeline of those notifications has been under intense scrutiny. Because the contract was not awarded until two months after the breach was revealed, some victims may not find out their data was taken until November.

The contract was a quick shovel of money to some crony outfit, sole-source, under-the-table, no bid, no publicity, no oversight, and to this day the contract is being kept secret by OPM — unlike, say, the employees’ data they were supposed to be safeguarded. Priorities, you know?

No one has been fired, fined, demoted or reprimanded, and there are no plans for anyone to be.

Congress is not amused. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE):

Today’s blatant news dump is the clearest sign yet that the administration still acts like the OPM hack is a PR crisis instead of a national security threat. The American people have no reason to believe that they’ve heard the full story and every reason to believe that Washington assumes they are too stupid or preoccupied to care about cyber security.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) — head of the committee that OPM stonewalled back in, what was it, April?:

OPM keeps getting it wrong. This breach continues to worsen for the 21.5 million Americans affected. I have zero confidence in OPM’s competence and ability to manage this crisis. OPM’s IT management team is not up to the task. They have bungled this every step of the way.

That’s not surprising, as their nonfeasance created the problem in the first place.

Not everyone in Congress is critical of OPM. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski snuck in an earmark rewarding the agency with some $37 million in bonus funding for the agency’s current, failed IT managers. Cardin and Mikulski are both Democrats from Maryland, where a large percentage of their constituents are government employees who see their jobs as lifetime entitlements with specific privileges and immunities.

The entire Government is run by people who couldn’t manage a one-basket Fryolator station.