There Are No “Boots,” Only Men and Women

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

No one who serves is a “boot on the ground.” That is a phrase for politicians and bean counters. Each is a man or woman, someone’s child, spouse, sibling, lover, and friend. Each lives, loves, bleeds, and dies. Each commits his or her life to the service of our great nation, risking all.

 

Poppies

 

Our profound thanks to all who serve in the military and clandestine services, allowing our nation to enjoy peace and prosperity at home.

You are, each of you, a blessing. Our prayers and gratitude are with you on this

Veterans Day and always.

 

 

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The Cold War and That Damned Berlin Wall

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On a cold, January day in 1961, in a world chilled by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, I sat near a radio with my family and listened intently to the words of a man that my very young mind idolized.

Even as a small child, it was not my nature to easily trust. I would listen to anyone, believe most of what they said, and count on very little of it. I liked nearly everyone and trusted few. I trusted this man and I believed his words. I had inherited the caution that my father and so many of my uncles exhibited. They and my aunts and my older cousins and siblings held great hope for this man. The new president of my country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, told me that day my freedom did not come from government, but from God.

 

American tanks face East Berlin, Oct 25, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

I was too young to attend school with my older siblings, but I knew who God was. I was certain of His presence, and I understood him completely. A half a century later, I understand far less of God than I did then, but I have never stopped believing what that man told me, and I still hear some of his words in my memory. I can still feel the great excitement and the feeling that I was witness to a monumental occasion.

The new president told me that every nation, whether they wish us well or wish us ill, should know, “. . . that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” I hear those words still.

Few words have influenced my life as those words did. Few words have influenced the world as those words did. Millions of people around the world heard those words. Some found hope and assurance, and some heard them as a challenge to their right to take freedom from others.

 

East German masons building up wall, Nov 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

Seven months later, the Soviet Union erected a wall between the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, and the Western-controlled sector of Berlin. Situated deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany, West Berlin was a beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of Soviet oppression.

By 1961, nearly four million Germans living under Soviet occupation decided to abandon their homes and seek freedom in West Germany. The easiest place to cross from East Germany to West Germany was Berlin.

 

East German mother cries after handing son over border to father in West Berlin, Aug 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

One night in August of 1961, the Soviet and East German troops formed a cordon along the dividing line between East and West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, they began to erect a concrete wall. Streets and buildings were removed from the east side of the wall to create a killing zone–the Death Strip.

 

Razing houses along wall to provide clear line of fire on anyone trying to escape East Berlin
Image by CIA, public domain

 

East Germans, under the control of the Soviet Union, built barbed wire-topped fences and guard towers equipped with machine guns. Like a monster from some cheap science fiction movie, the Wall grew taller and wider over time, as if it were growing fat on the flesh of the nearly two hundred East Germans who were murdered while trying to cross it.

 

East Berliners escaping to West
Image UK Imperial War Museum, public domain

 

The Soviets congratulated themselves for the effectiveness of the Wall in stemming the tide of escapees from the Soviet police state. I saw it as a shameful monument and an open admission by the Soviets that, given the opportunity, any sane man or woman would seek freedom over oppression.

 

West Berliners wave to loved ones in East Berlin on Xmas Eve, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

During the Cold War, the great central debate between the Soviet- and Maoist-controlled East and the West centered, in theory, on the struggle between communism and capitalism.

While some of my generation debated the appeal of “Marxism” vs. “Capitalism,” I avoided those debates. Whatever Marx might have said didn’t matter to me. He was long gone, and his ideas weren’t deciding policy in Moscow. How the Soviets divided their land or ran their economy was of little concern to me. That Damned Wall and the men, women, and children who were murdered trying to cross it were all I needed to know about which side of the Wall I preferred to live on.

In the East, the Warsaw Pact had over 3.6 million troops facing the West and the South. In Western and Southern Europe, NATO countered that with 3.7 million troops.

 

East Berlin sign saying “Whoever attacks us will be destroyed.”
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, the view east from West Berlin was much less comforting. In West Berlin, approximately 10,000 allied troops, known in the USA as the Berlin Brigade, were surrounded by 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Outnumbered or not, the Berlin Brigade did not intend to ever surrender if war returned to Berlin.

 

East Germans erect tank barriers to reinforce Berlin Wall
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the political dynamic between East and West for 28 years.

In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate, and at the same place that John Kennedy had delivered his famous Berlin speech within sight of the Wall, Reagan now delivered a speech. In response to reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s claims that the Soviet Union sought peace and prosperity he challenged Gorbachev to, “Tear down this wall!”

 

Pres. Reagan at Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987
Image by US State Dept., public domain

 

In August of 1989, the unwilling Soviet “ally” Hungary opened its border between Hungary and Austria.

Thousands of East Germans and other Eastern Europeans escaped to the West via Hungary. The Soviets pressured Hungary to stop the escaping Eastern Europeans. Hungary pretended to comply, but looked for opportunities to defy their KGB taskmasters.

Protests sprang up in East Germany. East Germans began to chant, “We want to leave.” Each week, the protests grew in strength.

In October, the long-time East German president and Soviet boot licker Erik Honecker resigned and was replaced by a slightly less homicidal maniac named Egon Krenz. On the occasion of his retirement, Hoenecker announced to the world that the Berlin Wall would remain for at least another 50 years.

East and West Berliners began to congregate at the Wall as the protests continued to grow. Krenz had been offered up as a reformist, but East Germans recognized him for what he was–a ruthless, self-promoting politician who was, in fact, attempting to crack down on reformers in his own government.

 

Checkpoint Charlie, Dec 4, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The East German military began to show signs of mutiny. Krenz was quickly becoming a puppet king without a kingdom, and East Germany had over $100 billion in debt with no way to make payments.

Buried under deep layers of its own cynicism and impaired by factional maneuvering, the Soviet Politburo was busy with its own internal struggles and felt little inclination to reinforce East Germany with cash or Soviet troops. Krenz was making fast progress on the road to nowhere. His Polish and Czechoslovak allies to the east had slipped the Soviet leash, and he was beginning to understand what the Berlin Brigade must have felt like for so long.

East German protesters changed their chant. “We want to leave,” was replaced with, “We want to stay. YOU leave!”

By November, it was becoming obvious that most of the East German border guards were sympathetic to the protestors. With a possible collapse of the government looming, nobody in the East German government wanted to have to answer for ordering a slaughter of the increasingly brazen protestors.

 

Children maintaining friendships across the pre-Wall border in 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

On November 9, 1989, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure that was threatening to rupture the East German state, the East German government announced that the gates would be opened in the Wall, and that anyone who wished could pass from East to West.

Until late October, I had been in Europe. On my flight back to Washington D.C., I wondered if my dream of seeing a free Eastern Europe was about to materialize. The Soviet steamroller that had kept Eastern Europe’s puppet communist regimes in power for four decades had run out of steam.

On November 9, I returned home from a martial arts class. When I entered the living room, my wife was smiling in a way that I had not seen her smile before. She said, “You got your wish,” and she pointed to the TV.

 

Germans Reunited
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov 1989
Image by Senate of Berlin, public domain

 

I felt compelled to get close to the screen, as though I could hug the Berliners who were dancing on top of that Damned Wall. I wished I had gone back to Berlin. I missed the biggest party in the history of the Cold War.

I was stunned and relieved, and simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. I felt joy for the people of Eastern Europe and for us. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish that a few people who mattered greatly to me could have remained among us long enough to see that night. They had paid that price. They had borne that burden. It had not been in vain. I never for a second thought that it would be.

Tonight, from the distant, warm, comfortable safety of my home, I offer my humble gratitude to them for never losing their faith, and to the people of Berlin and Eastern Europe for finding their faith and their freedom.

What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

Note:  Many of the CIA images in this article are from the CIA publication “A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall.” Click on the link, and it will take you to a page where you can download the publication free of charge.

8th Annual Love-A-Spook Day — Honoring Analysts

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Bayard & Holmes created Love-A-Spook Day eight years ago on October 31 to honor the contributions of those in the clandestine services. In previous Love-a-Spook Day articles, we have focused on remarkable individuals who have made great contributions to our national security, usually at great personal risk. This year let us consider a group of spooks who will likely never receive a medal, a handshake from a US president, or even much of a “thank you” on their way out the door after decades of hard work and loyalty.

You may have met some of these spooks, and unless you are in their “need to know” zone, they probably never told you what they did.

You might live next door to one. They will discuss gardening, sports, PTA meetings and lots of other topics with you, and they will be happy to tell you about their “job,” just not their real job. The higher they are in their field and the more critical their work is, the less you will know about it. The chances are that long after they retire, they will hold to their “cover story.” The more exciting their career was, the more mundane their cover will be.

 

We don’t know if this woman is an analyst. Her neighbors would never know, either.

 

The spooks that I am referring to are those that we collectively refer to as “analysts.” They sound every bit as humdrum as Wall Street bond analysts. They aren’t.

In the military aviation world, bomber pilots are fond of saying, “Fighter pilots make movies; we make history.” Intelligence analysts might say, “Covert operatives make movies; we make history.” They would be fairly well-justified in saying it.

We in the covert operations side of the business may at times undervalue the work of analysts, and at times we become impatient with them.

From our point of view, we found it, saw it, recorded it, photographed it, and at times even blew it up. It might seem like the intelligence picture in front of us is as clear as a sunny day. If not that, then at least as clear as the best technology will illuminate a dark night or see through a fog-filled day in Beijing. So why, then, would the analysts fret or question our interpretations?

For example, when standing at a window in a foreign country observing a major terrorist come and go day after day, we operatives might wonder why action has not been taken.

From where we stand at that moment, we cannot see that the analytical team is also receiving valid information from a wide range of other sources. We may have solidly identified a nasty and dangerous jihadi skumbag. We may have a team in good position to gift said skumbag his seventy-two virgins—which are probably Chinese blow up dolls. We may even be in a position to make sure that the local cops report it as an attack by a rival group of jihadi skumbags. At the same time, some drone pilot sitting in a cargo container thousands of miles away might also be wondering why he can’t go ahead and fire. Let’s get this party started!

More experienced field spooks know better than to make assumptions about what’s going on “back at the office.”

 

Actual photo of a jihadi’s heavenly reward.

 

While we in the field are ready to rumble, an analytical team may have good reason to believe that the skumbag in question is soon going to attend a meeting with a dozen higher-ranking skumbags, and if we are all patient, then we can arrange a much more profitable use of a $25,000 JDAM bomb or a $110,000 drone-fired Hellfire missile. At any price point, why settle for one dead bad guy if you can kill or capture a dozen? More experienced operatives have learned that there is always more at stake than what is in front of a single team or even entire groups of teams in a region.

It can be difficult to remain patient when suffering from a few exotic and unpleasant diseases in a filthy, dangerous corner of the world where cruise ships don’t visit while wondering how the wife and children are doing at home. We can’t contact them. It would be nice to go home. We might start telling jokes amongst ourselves about the analysts,* deputy directors, and various politicians. We have to keep ourselves laughing somehow. But let us assume then that in spite of our jokes, our team and other teams remain patient.

If the risks and the patience pay off, and a dozen jihadi skumbags find themselves trying to inflate plastic blowup dolls in hell, we will all be happy, and that happiness traces back to the analysts.

If the success story is shared with the media, the public will envision Navy SEALs, Green Berets, fighter pilots, cranky ill-mannered spooks, or any other manner of heroes as having scored another victory. Few members of the public and even fewer members of the government will stop to consider that without long hours, days, weeks, months, and in many cases years of very difficult work on the part of anonymous analysts in the background, the success would not have been possible.

Let us dispel a few popular myths about analysts.

  • They are analysts because they couldn’t cut it inthe field.

No. They are analysts because they have very high IQs, a strong work ethic, stable egos, trustworthiness, the ability to remain objective at all times regardless of their passions, and a dogged devotion to the pursuit of the truth.

  • Analysts are all alike and all do similar work.

No. Analysts are quite varied in education, skill sets, personalities, and jobs. Some might be brilliant scientists, engineers, or computer experts. They might analyze scientific data collected in the field, or they might invent new methods of analysis. Some might specialize in the personalities of foreign leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, and spend years examining every available piece of information about them. Others might specialize in counter-terrorism or counter-intelligence. There are about a dozen main types of analysts and various groups within each type. They work together as needed to meet the day’s demands for intelligence.

  • Analysts spend their careers doing the same thing on the same team.

No. The CIA and other agencies are certain that it is best for analysts to change teams after a few years so that they will not lose perspective or start missing valuable clues. A career analyst will have worked in several different areas of focus.

  • Analysts never go to the mythical and glorious field.

They sometimes do, and some more than others. At times, a particular analyst might be the best person for a meeting with an agent or potential agent. Analysts also may take assignments at US embassies or other foreign locations.

  • Analysts never face danger.

I wish that were true. It is not. What do you think Team Jihadi would pay for the location of the person that led the hunt for Bin Laden? What do you think they would do with that information? Before SEAL Team Six could fly to that compound in Pakistan, a large and very dedicated team led by a brilliant man worked for years to get a solid location on Osama. Many lunches were skipped. Nights at home were skipped. Vacations were missed. Sleep was lost, and who can even calculate the thousands of hours of unpaid overtime that those team members worked? They wouldn’t call it “overtime.” They wouldn’t call it anything. They won’t even tell you they were there doing the work.

So as we celebrate our 8th Annual Love-a-Spook Day, let us remember the thousands of unsung heroes that dedicate their lives to the difficult process of turning data and evidence into useful intelligence with which the president can make better decisions—the analysts.

 

Happy Love-A-Spook Day, Analysts,

and thank you for your dedication and hard work.

 

*To all the analysts out there, I am 90% certain that I take back 90% of the unkind jokes that “me and mine” have told about you over the years. Thank you. ~ JH

 

Americans Tricked Into Working For Russia

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

 

Actual Photo of Russian Subversion In Progress

 

Subversion, subversion, subversion . . . When Americans are divided and allow ourselves to see our own countrymen as the “other,” we give our enemies, such as Russia, opportunities to tear our nation apart. When Americans say, “I disagree with you, but you are my brother, and that’s what matters most,” we stand strong against interlopers.

America’s enemies would encourage our internal divisions and self-hatred as a nation. In doing so, they don’t only prey on the haters among us. They prey upon well-meaning people who would work to solve our social problems.

These Americans Were Tricked Into Working for Russia. They Say They Had No Idea.

They probably didn’t.

Cotton Reigned Until Slavery Was Outsourced

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Today, Western nations are forced to consider the price and flow of crude oil in all foreign policy decisions concerning the Middle East. From Algeria to Iran, Oil is King. However, back in 1861, petroleum was not yet a major commodity for world markets. Instead, a major commodity was cotton.

America’s South had developed an important economic position in world markets by harvesting and exporting cotton to European markets. In 1860, the United States exported over four million bales of cotton to Europe, with each bale weighing 500 pounds.

 

Girls Picking Cotton
Image by Keystone View Co, public domain
Located at NY Public Library

 

The largest importer of US cotton exports was Great Britain.

American cotton was one of the two major ingredients in profitable textile mills in England. The other critical ingredient was cheap labor, and the UK had plenty of that, as well.

The cash that flowed into the South allowed it to import goods from Northern factories, mills, and foundries. The cotton formula was simple, and the Southern states had the long growing season and four million slaves to make cotton farming highly profitable. Many Southern leaders saw themselves as key players in the global market. As far as they were concerned, cotton was essential to Europe’s economy.

Today when we look back at the Civil War, we might wonder why the less-populated, less-industrialized South would have considered a war with its Northern neighbors.

In 1860, Southern states had a population of nine million citizens and nearly four million slaves. The Union population was twenty-two million. The Northern states could boast of having ten times as much manufacturing production as the South. And, in particular, Southern states produced almost no military equipment or firearms.

To add to the disparity, the Northern states operated with a single, standard railroad gauge covering nearly 98% of Northern routes. An engine in New York could, and did, run just as easily in Michigan. In the South, one symptom of “states rights” parochialism could be seen in its railroads. It had railroads but no railroad system. An individual investor built in any fashion that he saw fit. An engine in Virginia would not only not work in Mississippi, it likely wouldn’t even be able to traverse the state of Virginia. That lack of cooperative planning and central regulation haunted the South throughout the duration of the Confederacy.

On the eve of the American Civil War, the North had the guns, the manufacturing capability and the manpower. The South had cotton and four million slaves.  When the odds are considered, the North would have seemed to have a clear advantage.

 

Women Picking Cotton
Image by J.N. Wilson, public domain.
Located at NY Public Library.

 

However, the South was counting on three factors not normally reported in censuses and almanacs.

First, it was counting on fighting a defensive war, and it had no need to invade the North. The Union army would have to invade the South to recapture it and force its re-entry into the Union. Given the weapons available in 1861, being outnumbered two and a half to one was considered an even match. Trained military leaders with Southern sympathies would not have encouraged secession from the Union if a secession would have required “conquering” Northern states.

Second, and more subtle, the Southern leaders calculated nearly correctly the unwillingness of “lazy city folks” in the North to enter military service and campaign in the South to free slaves that, in the South’s estimation, most of them cared nothing about.

The third “ace up the sleeve” was the 1861 equivalent of an OPEC oil embargo. The South knew, or thought they knew, that European nations would not tolerate an interruption in cotton trade. In weighing the odds for war, many Southern leaders were confident that Europe would threaten intervention and coerce the US to accept the Confederacy’s independence. Guns, ammunition, and the massive mountains of manufactured goods required to feed the glutinous gods of war would flow from Europe like oxen to the sacrificial altar.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

Southern Belle
By Erich Correns, public domain.

 

 

Somewhere between the certainty of a bright Confederate future and Appomattox Courthouse, something went wrong for the South.

On a pleasant spring day on April 12, 1861 amidst a carnival atmosphere with well-dressed, picnicking revelers, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Tautant Beauregard ordered his artillery to open fire on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor in South Carolina. A merry time was had by all except for Union Colonel Anderson and the men trapped in the fort.

After thirty-four hours of bombardment, Anderson was allowed to withdraw his men by way of a Union Navy ship, and in exchange for safe passage, the remains of the fort were surrendered to the Confederacy. Beauregard was hailed as a Caesar by the jubilant picnickers and by their cousins across the South. Four hellish years and 630,000 dead Americans later, the spring picnic seemed somewhat less splendid.

 

Gate to Gettysburg local cemetery, which became a battleground.
Image public domain.

 

The Southerners had calculated the odds of defensive action correctly.

Their basic suppositions about the size of the Union forces needed were accurate enough. What was less accurate was their supposition that Northern couch potatoes would not fight. They did. Even after suffering the horrendous casualties while attacking prepared positions at numerous battles, the North still managed to fill the ranks of the Union Army and equip it.

The Southerners had not calculated that Northerners would be willing to pay such a high price in blood to defeat the Confederacy. They were wrong, and the South’s mighty monarch King Cotton had an accidental hand in assisting Union Army recruiters.

The Confederacy was not altogether surprised at England’s reluctance to send its navy to defeat Union Navy blockade of its ports. However, the South was accustomed to life in a democracy and was prepared to coax the Parliament and Queen into seeing the “Southern light.” Southerners knew that Queen Victoria considered slavery an abomination and was reluctant to defend the interests of wealthy slave owners in a fight against the US, so the South played the Cotton Card. . . . It stopped exporting cotton to England.

An island nation with mothers who can’t cook, artists who can barely paint , and army officers who buy their commissions does not come to rule the waves by being stupid. Great Britain saw that Southern move coming.

 

Cotton bales at Bombay port in 1860s.
Image public domain.

 

Great Britain had been at the trade game for a long time, and they were good at it. Unlike the British Army, the British Navy was a well-run meritocracy, and it communicated well with British governments and merchant marine by way of its Admiralty staff. In 1860, a bumper crop of cotton glutted the markets, and England was organized and disciplined enough to invest substantial long term capital in stockpiling it.

Also, far from London, and even farther from the cotton fields of the South, British colonial officials in Bombay saw an opportunity in the chaos caused by the anticipated cotton embargo. The Bombay area had the perfect climate and soil for cotton growing. It also had something better than slaves. Great Britain had cheap, disposable workers who showed up willingly and worked for less than it cost to operate an American slave. England outsourced its need for the Southern slave labor to India, Egypt, and Africa.

While the shortage of cotton imports from the Confederacy did hurt England, and thousands of English laborers were laid off, the problem was short-lived.

Interestingly, even after losing their textile jobs, the British working class remained strongly anti-slavery and pro-Union. Thousands of unemployed Irish, English, and Germans immigrated to the Northern US. Waiting for them on the docks were Army recruiters promising citizenship and bonuses to enlistees. By 1863, many Union regiments had immigrant majorities in their ranks.

Cotton production in India, Egypt, and Africa grew quickly.

By 1863, England had little concern for what happened to the mountains of cotton bales being stockpiled in the Confederacy. The guns, ammunition, and gold were not forthcoming for the South from Europe except at high prices. Cotton was, in fact, not quite king after all. It was nothing more than a commodity.

 

Bombay Cotton Merchant
Image public domain.

 

Across the South and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, gravestones mark the resting places of silent witnesses to a war fomented in ignorance and arrogance.

Cotton, the plantation elites, and the American President who had to fight almost more against his Northern cohorts than against the Confederates, are all gone. The great-grandsons of the slaves remain, and, although the reconstruction and social evolution have yet to be completed, the Union remains, as well.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

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The USS Fitzgerald/ACX Crystal Collision – Questions & Conclusions

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

At approximately 2:20 a.m. local time on June 17, 2017 the US Navy Destroyer USS Fitzgerald suffered a collision with the Philippines-registered container ship ACX Crystal approximately 64 miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.

 

USS Fitzgerald at Yokosuka Naval Base
Image by US Navy employee, public domain

 

The 29,000-ton container ship suffered minor damage and was not impeded from continuing its journey to Tokyo. The 9,000-ton Arleigh Burke class USS Fitzgerald, on the other hand, suffered significant damage on her starboard side. Based on early reports, the USS Fitzgerald was in danger of sinking, and seven of her crew members lost their lives.

First and foremost, we extend our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the seven sailors who lost their lives.

This collision reminds us that there is no such thing as a “safe” deployment. Because of what those seven sailors suffered and what their families are now paying, decency demands that we be cautious in drawing conclusions about the causes of the collision.

Our US Navy, along with the broader US defense community, exists to ensure the sovereignty of the United States of America and the freedom and safety of her citizens.

Modern, extravagantly expensive and highly complicated Burke class destroyers play a critical role in that mission. These ships are an important and finite asset, and we currently have sixty-one of them in active service with fourteen more in various stages of design and building.

From my perspective, the loss of any service member always matters. Now, and at a time when only a small minority of eligible young Americans are willing to serve in our military, it is even more important for our military to do what it can to minimize personnel casualties.

In modern corporate America, workers are generally disposable and easily replaceable, but in the modern US military, qualified soldiers and sailors are a precious resource. The US military is in the business of war, and human losses are a grim, but somewhat unavoidable, result of war and war preparations. However, we must endeavor to not waste the lives of our service members due to inadequate equipment, doctrine, training, or leadership.

In an attempt to avoid similar calamities in the future, the US Navy and the US Coast Guard will each conduct thorough independent investigations of the collision.

The Navy will, in fact, conduct two parallel investigations. The Japanese Coast Guard is also conducting an investigation, and the Philippine government has, not surprisingly, announced that it, too, will conduct its own investigation. In addition, beyond all the official investigations, any number of intelligence services from a variety of nations will be searching for any unusual evidence relative to the collision.

All investigations of maritime calamities rely on constructing an accurate and detailed timeline of the events leading up to and subsequent to the impact. The communications logs, navigations logs, bridge recordings, and all physical evidence from the USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal must be examined in detail. Also, all members of both crews must be questioned. The investigators have not had time to gather and examine all of the statements and evidence, and they have yet to offer any conclusions concerning the causes of the accident.

The fact that the professional investigators have yet to draw conclusions has not stopped the legions of not-professional armchair naval experts from reaching ironclad conclusions. The fact that those ironclad conclusions of the not-professionals seem to change by the hour does nothing to dissuade these folks from fervently and passionately espousing what they consider to be irrefutable fact.

Many Americans care a great deal about our Navy, our entire military, and our nation’s defense. That perhaps explains their need to have immediate answers as to whom or what caused the disaster. I salute their patriotism. For a democracy to survive, it requires the diligence of enough of its citizens to overcome apathy. However, I suggest to them that they remain flexible in their views until more evidence is available.

Some of the opinions being passionately expressed are, to say the least, a bit colorful. Most collisions at sea do not involve complex conspiracies or exotic causes, and a collision in a shipping route at night in busy waters is not altogether rare. This collision has our attention because it involved one of our valuable “Burkes,” and because seven sailors lost their lives.

Many of the conspiracy theories popping up are influenced by several key factors.

First, the night was clear. Even on a clear night at sea, haze can impair and distort a helmsman’s or watch stander’s view, and judging the distance and speed of another ship at night is not as simple as it sounds. Even so, in this day and age, we all quite reasonably expect that any modern US Navy warship has adequate radar, sonar, transponder sensors, and adequate information processing systems to detect and note an approaching 29,000-ton freighter. It begs the question, how did the Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal not see each other in time to avoid a collision? In theory, only one of the ships’ crews would need to be aware of the other ship in time to avoid a disaster.

The second reason the public is suspicious is that the accident occurred near Japan, where China and/or North Korea might be able to easily influence events. I, too, am suspicious. In fact, I am justifiably suspicious of the North Koreans and the Chicoms every moment of every day. However, we must remember that suspicion is not, in itself, evidence.

Third, some early and not yet verified statements indicate that the ACX Crystal had her running lights and her navigation transponder off. At this point, my suspicion is that her transponder was on, but I may be wrong. I am not sure about her lights. If they were in fact off, then that may well have been a major contributing factor to the collision. We will have to wait for all the crewmen to be questioned and data logs from multiple sources to be examined before we know if those assertions are accurate.

A fourth factor that drives suspicions of foul play is the fact that as a container ship, sophisticated electronics warfare equipment capable of damaging or temporarily obstructing radar and radio systems could conceivably have been loaded on to the ACX Crystal without the knowledge of the captain or crew. Such equipment could have been activated remotely.

It’s important that for now we remember the critical difference between “could have been” and “was.”

At this point, I estimate that Communist China wants war with the United States even less than we want war with China. In spite of all the propaganda out of China, and in spite of her current efforts to expand her naval power, China remains at a strategic disadvantage in any potential war with the United States. North Korea has been, and remains, less rational in its decision making as compared to China, but the distances between “would do it” and “could do it” remain substantial for now.

One possible factor that many members of the public might not be aware of is the fact a US Navy warship might at times operate without its full suite of Aegis systems active.

Aegis is a powerful and brilliant radar tracking system, but the more powerful a radar system is, the more easily it can be detected by opponents. I have no information indicating that the USS Fitzgerald was on that night, or any night, operating in “quiet” mode. I am simply explaining that it is one possibility.

I understand the tremendous need for answers and explanations.

I feel the same way. I share your anger. I want to know why those sailors died, why our ship was damaged, and who or what is at fault. This sad event is important to me, because our national security is important to me, and because I consider all US military members to be my brothers and sisters. We share an oath that matters to me.

I know that this calamity is also important to many of you. We owe it to the lost sailors and to their families to find the real causes of the collision. I hope that as a country, we will not rely on emotion or conjecture, but rather wait for investigations to lead us to accurate conclusions, because as you read this, many other US Navy and allied ships and sailors are sailing in dangerous waters, and we need accurate information to prevent more loss of life and more damage to valuable ships.

 

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Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, VA

Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, CA

Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, CN

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, TX

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista, CA

Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, MD

Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, OH

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Our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of these fine sailors.

 

 

Staying Safe in Public Spaces

Bayard & Holmes

With the increasing number of terrorist attacks around the world, the public is becoming ever more aware that it’s wise to take precautions and think about safety measures. Today we welcome former CIA officer Doug Patteson of Inglorious Amateurs, who shares his insights and advice on precautions we should all take as a matter of habit.

 

Staying Safe in Public Spaces

~ Doug Patteson

Whether it is the recent suicide bomb in Manchester UK, or the 2003 The Station nightclub fire, or any number of other recent catastrophic events, we are reminded that we need to always be thinking about our security in public events and transitional spaces. Just because you are in an event or location with robust security, you should not ever take your safety for granted.

 

 

At events like the Manchester attack, we tend to think we are safe. The arena has security, no weapons are allowed, it’s a fun crowd out for a fun evening.

Attackers know these thing too and they tend to look for the weak points in security. In this case, the attacker chose a transitional space, a natural funnel between a primary exit from the arena, and the nearest public transport, the Manchester train station. He knew traffic flow from the concert would be heavy and concentrated. He knew the only likely security in the transitional space would be CCTV cameras (great for post mortem, not so hot for prevention). And he knew that by the nature of the transitional space, no one would think twice about someone loitering (waiting on friends? A train?) carrying luggage (it’s a train station entrance after all).

In 2003, The Station nightclub caught fire and was engulfed in smoke and flames in 5 ½ minutes. Of the 462 people in a club with capacity for only 404, 100 died and 230 were injured. When the fire began, people panicked and fled blindly, trying to exit through the one door they had entered, ignoring other potential exits.

A framework can be helpful in this process. Largely, the model below is familiar to most military or first responders as it is similar to the traditional OODA loop, or Observe, Orient, Decide, Act model of decision making. But, sometimes jargon gets in the way of understanding. So here is some simpler language.

Pay attention

For some reason, when we get around our friends, in a social situation, excited about our plans as they unfold, we stop paying attention to the world around us. When we are alone in public, we tend to pay far more attention to our surroundings. We feel alone, which often makes us feel insecure, less safe, but heightens our focus. Being in a group brings an often false sense of security, and a fair number of distractions.

Don’t let your guard down. Stay vigilant and pay attention to the world around your group. If something seems out of place, or makes you feel off, there is probably a good reason for it. Security professionals often call this situational awareness, which is a fancy way of saying understanding the environment and events you are in, in relation to time and meaning, what is normal and expected, and thus what is out of context and therefore noticeable. And if you notice something that looks out of place, or your spidey senses start tingling, an unattended bag or individual dressed inappropriately for the environment and looking uncomfortable, etc. let someone in authority know.

 

Know the layout

There is a reason flight attendants show passengers where the exits are. Statistics point to a significantly increased probability of surviving a plane crash if you know where the exits are. Virtually any public venue you go to will have multiple entrances/exits. Don’t just remember the one you went through to get there, learn where at least one of the others is.

In 2003, during The Station nightclub fire,  100 people died, 40 of them in the doorway they had entered through. There were three other exits in the building, and an entire front of windows that could have been broken to create egress points. People are creatures of habit, they like to go in the way they came.

Take a few minutes, look for the exits, talk it over with your group and have a plan in case you get separated or things go south.

Take a moment to assess what’s happening

If you are in situation where an event has happened (active shooter, plane disaster, ied), don’t panic. Stop, take a moment to assess the situation. Where is the threat? Is it ongoing? What are my escape options? Remember, you already learned where the various exits were. What is the crowd doing? Is there cover available to me? Or just concealment? Can I leave? Or is hiding my only option?

In the early days of active shooter training, the mantra was Run, Hide, Fight. Today that has been replaced with Avoid, Deny, Defend. In either case though, you need to take a little time to assess what is happening. Don’t freeze however, this is an active assessment informed by your previous knowledge of the area. You are making decisions about your next steps.

Take action

With your assessment in mind, action is now required. Can you safely and quickly leave the area? Which way? What is the crowd doing? There can be significant risk in following the crowd. Crowds can lead to deadly bottlenecks. In the case of a terrorist attack, one tactic we have seen applied is an initial attack designed to stun/assault a crowd, followed by a second, potentially larger attack, designed around a bottleneck of fleeing victims and/or first responders.

Are you responsible for others? Are they with you? Can you communicate with them? Did you set up a meeting place in case you got separated? Now is the time to execute on the plan you worked through earlier. For example, “We are going to head out that emergency exit on the north side of the stage. We will make our way back to our vehicle in section X of the parking lot.” Once you leave, get away from the threat zone. Remember, debris from an explosion can travel long distances. Don’t linger in the area.

Finally, what to do if you or a friend are injured?

Do you know CPR? ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation). Are they conscious? Talking? Take another moment now to assess their injuries. Have you taken any medical training or first aid courses? Do you know to apply pressure if they are bleeding? Do you have a med kit? I highly recommend you get one, get trained on using it, and carry it. Call 911 and, if necessary seek medical attention as soon as possible.

 

 

Look, I don’t want you to live your life in fear. That’s what the bad guys want, whether a bully, criminal or terrorist. Go out with friends. Attend concerts and movies. Travel. Live your life. I am only advocating that you go out in that life a little more prepared. A slightly harder target than the average person. Someone more likely to survive when faced with a deadly threat. Because you have taken the time to pay attention, assess, build a plan and be prepared to execute on it.

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Doug is a former CIA officer with extensive overseas experience in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. He is skilled in several foreign languages, personal security, tactical driving, counter terrorism tactics and small arms. He holds an MBA from Wharton and has worked in high tech, private equity and manufacturing. He regularly writes on business and intelligence topics for both web and print publications, serves as an on air SME for news and opinion shows, and consults/produces on film and television productions.

 

For more from Doug, please see his work at Inglorious Amateurs.