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PbA or...Paralysis by Analysis, the insanely expensive and often fruitless contributions to US national security.
There are better and more ethical ways to provide for US and allied national security.
Monday’s TAT revolves around the way that the US National Security community fritters away massive amounts of our tax dollars over decades, without really contributing to our defense. I have discussed this regarding a variety of different subjects in the past, but today I want to try to put this into a perspective that highlights the futility and danger to American citizens.
First, a personal short story.
When I first returned to the Army in late 2003 and after a 26-year, break-in-service, I was astounded at how the US government wasted so much time, money and resources on ideas that were/ are worthless, operationally. Big defense contractors make up new terms, ideas and concepts, sell them to different elements of our natsec community and then… nothing is accomplished. Then, those same alleged experts, get the next government contract and the next and next and next. No, this is not sour grapes because I want those contracts, but my observations are those of a tax-paying citizen, not a recognized expert in my field, looking for work. I am quite content to be semi-retired, thank you.
Spoiler alert, every single taxpayer should be outraged, especially since so many of our threats continue to become more pervasive, despite the wasted investments. An example, despite talent, resources and knowledge about influence within the community, the best the Pentagon can do most days to deter China, is to sail some warships around the Pacific and Indian oceans or fly a bomber task force near something the Chinese care about. This is not influence, it’s one tiny piece and most often done without any other element in support.
They also will discuss this tactic for weeks and months on end with various so-called experts and other staff positions. If that is the best they can do, then what are all those highly paid defense contractors doing for their paycheck? It’s not just China but this occurs in regard to all of our threats. Outside the Pentagon, it is no different. I have sat through these redundant, useless meetings, either in person at the State Department or Pentagon as well as in a video call from a remote outpost in a combat zone. What they discuss ad nauseum, is worthless on or around any operation.
When I first returned to uniform in late 2003, I ended up in Iraq a couple of months later, working a mission that I knew well but apparently others in charge, did not. I was part of the 1st Cavalry Division’s GST or government support team. Our small team was more or less, the city management team of Baghdad for a year. For the record, some of America’s finest. As the US Army’s oldest Sergeant at that time, I ran much of the reconstruction of Baghdad’s water and related infrastructure projects, spending approximately $335 Millon of our tax dollars. Before I left Bagdad, nearly a year later, I sat in on programming another $500M. I don’t recall anyone else with experience in the region or with its inhabitants, as part of any of the processes.
I have carried as much as $2.2 million cash in my laundry bag on missions that paid for rebuilding, repairs and more, for the six million population of the city. I kept detailed receipts in English and Arabic. During my year in the city, working from the presidential palace the second 8 hours of the day, with the first 8, all over Baghdad, I came across all manner of so-called experts that knew nothing about the culture (s), people, needs of the city and how all of this translated into something of value for the US and our allies. All they knew was what they heard in some briefing or another, and that didn’t have a single thing to do with what happened, “outside the wire.”
My experience had come from the school of OJT, or on-the-job-training as a custom builder in Southern California, where more than 50% of my client base, hailed from and maintained regular relationships with the Middle East/ Iran and parts of North Africa. I knew and interacted daily in Los Angeles with multiple religions, cultures, ethnicities etc. My SOCAL experience turned out to be the most valuable part of what I brought to my mission in Baghdad. I had learned how to deal responsibly with others from far different cultures to my own and make progress that was important to all parties.
My success wasn’t because that I was some brilliant, esteemed expert, with all of the right sets of letters behind my name. My success came from open-minded experience, in the real world and was based on making informed decisions that translated into action, right, then and there. As I decided to remain in the army post, Iraq, I was determined to use my knowledge to its best value, which turned out to be serving another decade plus, in the Special Operations world, using my knowledge and life experience to achieve results for our collective security. What I found in my new world, stunned me. This is the topic for today in the next section.
One of the most common phrases employed by frustrated members of the natsec community when attempting to, “get things done,” is that they are victims of “paralysis by analysis.” I have uttered this phrase countless times and occasionally added an expletive or two. The US Government loves to spend years and billions doing analysis, most of which goes toward absolutely nothing.
When I transitioned, post Baghdad into the CT/ Counterterrorism field that I spent the rest of my career in, I ran headlong into the institutional nature of PbA. I traveled around the states and even overseas attending conferences, hobnobbing with many of the world’s acclaimed experts in the field and listening to bright dedicated people discussing their field, looking for answers that translated into actions. To, say that I was disappointed at the lack of initiative, post-conference, is inaccurate. I was furious that with all of the time, money and resources at our beckon call, nothing followed me onto the battlefield where any idea would have been better than what the US and most of our allies were doing about CVE (countering violent extremism) or CT.
The US and our allies were and still are great at the hunt for HVI’s, high-value- targets but what happened when we removed an HVI from the battlefield? In most cases, nothing of value. The one exception was US Green Berets doing what they do better than anyone, engaging with indigenous populations to help them better withstand the pressure of violent extremists while concurrently providing security.
Now, as you can see by the number of articles I write, regarding the inability of the US Government to protect Americans from malign influence, once again there are alleged experts and their organizations soliciting contracts from the US government to solve something they have little new to offer... but failure. The best they can do is to change the name of some concept or another, rebrand and remarket it to acquire a new, very large contract.
Most are either marketers, tech organizations or are the alleged experts that have failed US national security for four decades in the realm of influence operations, offensive and defensive. After the Russian assault on our 2016 election which, in my professional opinion swayed the US presidential election, you would think that there are very real answers coming from the decades of experts who’ve failed. Wrong again. More highly paid defense contractors now marketing themselves as influence experts.
The natsec community is incestuous. We have decades long investments in ships, planes and every other big-ticket hardware that are either unusable of fail to meet even the basic standards of their contractual requirements, such as the F-35, the Zumalt Naval vessel, the Osprey Marine lift aircraft and the list goes on and on. Sure, some of our equipment is top of the line and exceeds in almost all comparisons to those of our adversaries, but what about the “waste, fraud and abuse? Much of our adversaries’ failures are because they steal the intellectual property behind some of our worst failures, along with the IP of our successes.
When I was operational in combat zones or at home working on related projects, I always learned the knowledge I needed to operate. I then learned how to operate with that knowledge and was beyond grateful for real successes. When operations occur, there is no time for going round and round with talking heads discussing things they would never learn by experience. When I learned about Pashtuns, the primary group of tribes that constitute more than 95% of the Taliban, I learned how to win as a Pashtun and those wins contributed to US successes. I did NOT learn, to convince the US government to hand out contracts on what I knew firsthand.
Some common themes appear as the first and fourth chapters examine communication strategies. The first selection builds a soft power toolbox against ISIS efforts through using five lines of effort (LOE); diplomacy, resolve suffering, grievance resolution, capacity building, and kinetic targeting. LOEs are a common practice when developing planning options, and the author, Paul Cobaugh, explains how one uses them to approach a soft-power, counter-ISIS strategy. Additionally, Cobaugh describes critical soft power strategy elements such as; narrative, credibility, and relationships. The fourth article, by author Christopher Holshek, expands on the initial approach by exploring US civil-military narratives that coordinate international peace and security. - Air University book review - Soft Power on Hard Problems - 2017
Now, with adversarial foreign and domestic influence of American voters as the primary risk to our democracy, we can no longer afford to spend another decade paralyzed by antiquated thinking that has failed for four decades. How humans respond to influence isn’t even part of the discussion, but there is hope from the alleged experts, without reality, that there is some brilliant answer from the CYBER world. People with only tech backgrounds are somehow supposed to figure out human influence… laughable at best, disastrous to American democracy at worst. The Russian attack on our elections is in fact, a direct attack on the American people. Russian and domestic, far-right political influencers now have what the Russians call, “reflexive control” over at least, 35% of American voters. FOX News has assisted in this for nearly three decades, by conditioning audiences to respond in a Pavlovian manner to such influence.
Immoral marketers supporting American oligarchs who finance the anti-democratic narratives of the MAGA crowd, are complicit in this assault. Fake News is a very lucrative business. This means that it is the FBI and DHS who must do their job and it’s not looking good at the moment. They, like the part of the natsec community looking at foreign threats, are still stuck on nepotistic contractors who will keep being paid huge sums of our tax dollars to achieve nothing for our defense. This applies to other threats as well, such as climate change, illicit drugs, human trafficking, campaign finance violations etc.
My old team leader once told me to always use a football analogy when trying to make a point. In this case, I would say that any coach taking their team to the Super Bowl would lose, despite having discussed a strategy over and over again, if they never implement that strategy on the field. Our current system does not lead to the playing field when it comes to national defense strategy. Our current system for developing strategy, tools, workable solutions, rarely gets us onto the playing field. If you don’t play, you cannot win. The last time around, we nearly lost our democracy to Russian influence operations, victimized by this useless and expensive dynamic. I am not willing to run this risk again. This is why I write “Truth about Threats.” The American people deserve far better. Also, the American people have the power to control those who permit this dangerous dynamic to proliferate endlessly within our government.
Like the minutemen on Lexington Commons, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, we the people must exert our influence over politicians unwilling to do their job of oversight. It is the only way we can recover stability in our democracy after the past 8 years. You would never pay a huge amount of money for a car that never ran, why pay for a failed, natsec paradigm that doesn’t work either?
All my best for the rest of your week,