Assume the Position

Saturday, October 05, 2002
Strikes in the No-Fly Zones. Bill Quick disagrees with one example I used in describing people giving too much significance to events because they don't realize how routine those events are. His argument and my initial response are in over on his blog. Since I've got the data, I put up a table containing each strike day 2001 and 2002.

I tried to find good information on 1999 and 2000 strike days to compare to what I've gathered for 2001 and 2002. I haven't yet, but I ran across this AP piece (emphasis added).

* Over the last three years, Iraqi forces have fired anti-aircraft artillery more than 1,000 times, launched 600 rockets and fired nearly 60 surface-to-air missiles.

* Coalition aircraft routinely respond to Iraqi firings by bombing parts of Iraq's air defense system -- though they don't response [sic] to every provocation. This year so far, coalition aircraft have bombed Iraqi sites 44 times, compared with 43 last year and 80 in 2000, officials said.

* The number of Iraqi attacks ebbs and flows [driving the coalition response in the same pattern--lp] but generally has not increased over the years. For instance, coalition planes patrolled the zones on 267 days this year and were fired upon on 129, just less than half. Last year, they flew on 406 days and were fired upon on 222 days, or a little more than half.

The reason "they flew on 406 days" in 2001 is that Operation Southern Watch (OSW) patrol days are counted separately from Operation Northern Watch's (ONW). OSW is larger and patrols much more often than ONW.

The story also mentioned something I suspected (emphasis added).

The Pentagon did not say what other countries [besides the US & UK] are involved in the south, apparently because of political sensitivities. But some of the flights have been flown off of U.S. aircraft carriers when they were stationed in the Persian Gulf. At other times, they have been flown from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, officials have said privately. This happened during much of the last year, when the carrier group in the region was tied up with the war in Afghanistan.
What I said over on Daily Pundit was "I've no way to judge the Oct-Dec 2001 strike rate since I can't find numbers for 2000, but I suspect the post-Sep 11 2001 strike rates in Iraq where affected by the Afghan operations." Bombing in Afghanistan started in October 7, 2001.

Anyway, I put together a table of all the 2001 and 2002 strike days I could account for from the CENTCOM and EUCOM press releases. It's laid out so the months can be compared and the clustering within months is easier to see.

May 1ONWIADSingle
13OSWC2SingleTo be determined
AAA - Anti-Aircraft ArtilleryIAD - Integrated Air Defense (any related element)
ASM - Anti-Ship MissileONW - Operation Northern Watch (EUCOM)
C2 - Command and ControlOSW - Operation Southern Watch (CENTCOM)
C/R/M - Comm, Radar and Missile sitesSAM - Surface-to-Air Missile

There are two things to note about items in the table and the way they were derived from the press releases.

  1. IAD. ONW press releases almost always used a single phrase, "Coalition aircraft responded to the Iraqi attacks by dropping precision ordnance on elements of the Iraqi integrated air defense system." It was only in the two August 2002 strikes that the statements were more specific, "Coalition aircraft responded to the Iraqi attacks by firing on the radar site." Nearly everything (SAM, AAA, Radar, C2, Comm, etc.) counts as elements of the Iraqi IAD, so whenever it appears in the table the actual target is unknown; though sometimes you can take a guess based on what the press release says the Iraqis did prior to the strike.

  2. Single/Multiple. If the press release said "a radar" or "a facility" I listed it as "single." I listed as "multiple" strikes that showed up in the releases as:
    August 25, 2002 - "…[OSW] aircraft used precision-guided weapons today to strike two air defense radar systems near Al Basrah…"

    September 24, 2002 - "…[OSW] aircraft used precision-guided weapons today to strike Iraqi air defense facilities near Al Amarah…and Tallil…"

    I also used "multiple" when I was fairly certain from the wording of the entire release that it was describing strikes on separate sites. But, most of the time, especially with the ONW press releases, "elements of the Iraqi integrated air defense system," and other rather indefinite descriptions were listed as strikes on a single site.
Here is a quick graph of the monthly strike days from January 2001 through September 2002. (s = single site, M = multiple targets or sites. As in the table above, days where both ONW and OSW flew strike missions count as separate strike days: Jun 14 and Sep 4, 2001, and Aug 27, 2002. Months in 2001 are lowercase and those in 2002 are uppercase. Under the calendar is an estimation of when CENTCOM strike aircraft were most heavily involved in Afghanistan, the October 7, 2001 start is pretty solid but the end is a guess based on Operation Anaconda in March and the April 2002 Friendly Fire on the Canadian soldiers.)
10                     sM
 9                     sM
 8         s           sM
 7         MM          sM
 6  M    s sM       s sMs
 5  ss   s sM       ssMss
 4  MM s s ss       Mssss
 3  ss s s sMs  s   Mssss
 2  ss ssssMMM  ss sssMMM
 1  sMsssssssss ss ssssss
August and September 2002 are open for interpretation. To me, it still seems more consistent with catching up and keeping the pressure on Iraq (routine) than it does with preparation for a near-term engagement, but I could be wrong.

If the AP article was correct about 80 strike days in 2000, and 2001 had been similar, then there was probably a very big shortfall in OSW patrols during the final quarter of 2001 after Operation Enduring Freedom started in Afghanistan. I've not found anything to support the number of 80 strike days in article, nor have I found anything I trust to rule it out. Nevertheless, for more than 7 months (October 7, 2001, through mid-May 2002), OSW had only 6 strike days in the Southern No-Fly Zone.

The battlefield preparation idea might also be supported by considering that air defense C2 and Comm sites seem to be more frequently targeted than previously, but the use of the catch-all "IAD" makes determining that rather difficult.

Finally, the leaflet drop is interesting if an elevated response to Iraqi provocations is being used as an excuse to do some battlefield preparation. Were the Iraqis to greatly reduce or stop targeting and firing at coalition aircraft, that would reduce the opportunities for justified strikes against the air defense network.

In all, I'll stick with my original contention that the August 2002 strikes weren't something to get all excited about, and I'll add the same for the September 2002 strikes. (The most significant thing about the monthly pattern was the lack of strikes in the Southern No-Fly Zone, but operations in Afghanistan seem to account for that.) Still, attrition and systems degradation now would help later whether it's the current objective or not, so long as it's not too much later.

Thursday, October 03, 2002
There's a good reason many libertarians and libertarian-leaning folks avoid the Libertarian Party: the people the LP puts forward as candidates too often appear to be crackpots.
Montana's Libertarian candidate for Senate has turned blue from drinking a silver solution that he believed would protect him from disease.

Stan Jones,a 63-year-old business consultant and part-time college instructor, said he started taking colloidal silver in 1999 for fear that Y2K disruptions might lead to a shortage of antibiotics.

He made his own concoction by electrically charging a couple of silver wires in a glass of water.

His skin began turning blue-gray a year ago.

If he loses…oh, let's not kid around…after he loses this election, maybe he'll have sucker-tipped antennae mounted to his head and run as an Andorian next time.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho; EO12333 Has Got To Go; or maybe not. From The Washington Post (link via Bill Quick):
"The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less" than going to war, President Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said when asked at a televised briefing about the cost of military action against Iraq. Asked whether the administration was advocating the assassination of Hussein, Fleischer repeatedly replied: "Regime change is welcome in whatever form that it takes."

In the briefing, Fleischer said there is no consideration of relaxing the U.S. ban on assassinations of foreign leaders. After congressional hearings examining botched CIA assassination attempts, executive orders beginning in 1976 have prohibited such targeted killings.

But The Washington Post reported last year that the CIA was contemplating clandestine missions expressly aimed at killing specified individuals for the first time since the 1970s. Drawing on two classified legal memoranda, one written for President Bill Clinton in 1998 and one written after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration concluded that executive orders banning assassination did not prevent the president from lawfully singling out a terrorist for death by covert action.

Eliot Cohen, a scholar at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, said that while the directives forbid the killing of a political leader, "if you're a military leader, it's somewhat different, and Saddam bills himself as a military leader."

EO12333 is Executive Order 12333 - United States Intelligence Activities, signed by Ronald Reagan December 4, 1981. This is the executive order generally prohibiting assassination. I was going to write about this, but the folks at the Council on Foreign Relations have a very good piece on the subject. Here are just the pro/con sections:
Why do some experts argue that the United States should not use assassinations?

Critics of assassination as a tool of U.S. foreign policy argue that the Reagan executive order allows the United States to avoid several problems. They say that letting the CIA engage in assassinations would

  • invite other countries to use assassination as well, either against other foreign leaders or against U.S. leaders, including the president;
  • risk a backlash, including political embarrassment, diplomatic fiascoes, and lives lost due to what they consider the CIA's spotty track record with pulling off assassinations;
  • tarnish one of the United States' greatest strengths, basic American values, which the critics argue are incompatible with assassination.
Why do other experts argue that the United States should use assassinations?

There are two basic arguments in favor of assassination. Some experts from the realpolitik school call assassination an age-old tool of statecraft and see no reason for the United States to refrain unilaterally from using it. They argue that other countries throughout history have employed assassination very effectively, including in recent times. Moreover, they note that U.S. forbearance did not stop Saddam from trying to kill former President Bush in 1993 or stop bin Laden from trying to kill the current president, George W. Bush, on September 11.

Some other experts willing to support assassinations rely on the "just war" school of political thought. The just war tradition urges wartime leaders to kill as few people as possible and avoid the deaths of innocents. Those most guilty for war crimes are generally the leaders, these experts note. Thus, this argument goes, better to kill only the leader—the most guilty person—than to slaughter hundreds, thousands, or even millions of common soldiers.

One point the CFR doesn't address is that however much we might talk about the Bush regime or the Clinton regime, it's just rhetoric. Under normal circumstances, the US changes its presidents every 4 or 8 years; and even under the extraordinary circumstances of resignation or death the system is resilient. If somebody assassinates a US president, the system of government will not change. The same can hardly be said for dictatorships like Iraq.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002
Cinderella Bloggerfeller has posted "Idiotarian Metaphor #2: The Third World As Safari Park" where various atrocious regimes can be preserved and nurtured.
Chomsky is the classic statement of this metaphor. Here he is advising foreign correspondents and 'dissidents' that it is their moral duty not to say bad and spiteful things about Third World hellholes
American dissidents ... have to face the fact that they are living in a state with enormous power, used for murderous and destructive ends. Honest people will have to face the fact that they are morally responsible for the predictable human consequences of their acts. One of these acts is accurate criticism, accurate critical analysis of authoritarian state socialism in North Vietnam or in Cuba or in other countries that the United States is trying to subvert. The consequences of accurate critical analysis will be to buttress these efforts, thus contributing to suffering and oppression.
So by criticizing human rights in Cuba you are actively oppressing the Cubans. Would Chomsky himself like to live in Castro's Cuba? Hell, no. Most environmentalists wouldn't want to be savaged by a man-eating tiger either. In a conversation with Ronald Radosh in the late 1970s Chomsky reportedly confided:
You notice I never said anything about what I saw in Vietnam when I went there during the war. My responsibility was to address myself only to the U.S. war against Vietnam. That's why I never went to Cuba. I knew Cuba would be horrible — a real Stalinist nightmare — but because there was no war like in Vietnam I wouldn't have the excuse not to say what I thought.
For Chomsky the situation is clear. The only thing that counts is that Third World regimes are free from American influence. Without American influence, there is still a minuscule chance that his 'communitarian' fantasies might come true.
Jungles and swamps must be preserved because 'who knows, maybe they'll find a cure for cancer there;' likewise, the idiotarians support the vilest regimes on the planet because 'who knows, maybe Mugabe will create a utopia.'

The invisible hand waves a tinfoil hat. When the US bombed Iraqi air defense systems in August, some folks practically wet themselves in their excitement that this proved the US was softening up Iraq for an imminent invasion of Iraq in mere days, or a few weeks, or possibly a month or two. In September, when Turkish police seized some smuggled uranium, the tinfoil hat crowd conjectured it as some kind of CIA plant to justify a war to topple Hussein.

Well, not really. Because the bombing I refer to occurred in August 2001 (10th, 14th, 25th, 28th, and 30th under Operation Southern Watch; 7th, 17th, and 27th under Operation Northern Watch). Likewise, the Turkish uranium smuggling I refer to occurred in September 1998.

Bombing Iraqi air defenses practically every week or month has been pretty routine for the past 11 years. By my count there were 41 strike days in the 9-months from January - September 2001, for the same 9-month period in 2002 there have been 44 strike days. And with very few exceptions for the entire 11 years, the airstrikes got 2 inches in the International Briefs section of page A4 if they were reported at all. [For those in the "no military force against Iraq without a United Nations Security Council Resolution and an international coalition" crowd, I'll remind you that the No-Fly Zones were imposed unilaterally by the US/UK and are maintained by US/UK military force alone, without any international coalition and in the complete absence of any UNSCR authorization.]

Likewise, nabbing folks smuggling radioactive material has become fairly common. The International Atomic Energy Association maintains data on trafficking:

  • As of mid-June 2002, the IAEA's Illicit Trafficking Database contains 475 incidents that have occurred since 1 January 1993 and have been confirmed by States. Several hundred additional incidents have been reported in open sources but not confirmed are tracked as well in the IAEA database but are not included in the following statistics. The majority of these confirmed incidents involved deliberate intent to illegally acquire, smuggle, or sell nuclear material or other radioactive material. The database also includes some incidents where actions may have been inadvertent, such as accidental disposal or the detection of radioactively contaminated products.
  • Through mid-June 2002, the IAEA database includes 191 confirmed incidents since 1 January 1993 that involved nuclear material.
    • Weapons-usable nuclear material. Of these 191 incidents with nuclear material, less than 10% (18 incidents) involved highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium, materials that could be used for the fissile core of a nuclear explosive device.
    • Lower-grade nuclear materials. The remainder of cases concerned lower grade materials. These include: low-enriched uranium, usually in the form of nuclear reactor fuel pellets; natural uranium in a variety of forms and purity; depleted uranium, usually in the form of shielding material in containers of the type used to ship or store radioactive sources; and thorium in various forms including ore.
  • The IAEA database includes 284 confirmed incidents since 1 January 1993 that involved radioactive material other than nuclear material. In most of these cases, the radioactive material was in the form of sealed radioactive sources, but some incidents with unsealed radioactive samples or radioactively contaminated materials such as contaminated scrap metal also have been reported to the illicit trafficking database and are included in the statistics. Some States are more complete than others in reporting incidents, and open-source information suggests that the actual number of cases is significantly larger than the number confirmed to the IAEA.
This is a list of well over 50 incidents between November 1993 to March 1996, and here is a list of 18 incidents involving Turkey between 1993 and 1999 (14 seizures in Turkey, the other 4 either involved Turkish citizens or Turkey was the reported destination). The latter report makes a fairly important but unremarkable comment about the news reporting on these cases:
Initial press reports of seizures of "weapons-usable material" often turn out to be inaccurate, however, and none of these reported cases have been confirmed. Nuclear materials confiscated in Turkey were in most instances taken to the Cekmece Nuclear Research and Training Center in Istanbul for analysis.
What the report doesn't say, however, is that these have normally been one-day stories in the international press, so after the initial misreporting as "weapons-grade" material there probably aren't any follow-up articles saying what the material really turned out to be after analysis.

Something similar to the workings of the invisible hand in the economic marketplace also takes place in the marketplace for news. The Daypop Top News list can be considered fairly analogous to the Markets Most Actives lists. (I'm going to pretty much glide over the effect of news on the marketplace, this is more about considering the overall interest in a particular news item as similar to the overall interest in buying or selling a particular stock.) Just like a stock's value may be bid up or down for reasons having nothing to do with the particular company, the interest level and importance attached to a news item may have little to do with the intrinsic importance of the incident or event reported. Of course, the same way company PR or analysts can tout a stock, editors and publishers can push a story, and they probably have a bit more influence over the news marketplace than their counterparts have over the stock market. Also, the authorities may play up a story if it suits their purposes or keep quiet and hope it will go away. (And, yes, on some occasions there is direct government pressure on the media; but that seems to backfire as often as not.) At some level, however, the general public's interest and the importance it places in a story is determined by where that story fits into their current understanding of the world, and the same can often be said for the editors and publishers. Even though people's current world view is heavily influenced by the news media, the media players are also people and they aren't all that more well-informed than anybody else (though they would probably disagree with that assessment).

Had the press routinely spent two or three days reporting every time some grifter got nailed trying to palm off red-mercury as "weapons-grade uranium" along with all the rest of the nuclear trafficking incidents, the September 2002 seizure of 100 grams of uranium with a yet to be announced U235 content, originally reported as "15kg of weapons-grade uranium," would have been more of the same. No the timing is suspicious, or they can't get their story straight so it must be a plot, or all the other oddball conjectures; it would have just been business as usual. The same goes for the August 2002 airstrikes in Iraq had the press been consistently reporting on every airstrike over the past 11 years.

Some events are important indicators of larger things, others aren't. The invisible hand of public interest tends to place the routine, distant events (No-Fly Zones, uranium smuggling) ever lower on the scale of importance and newsworthiness until they slip almost completely out of the public consciousness. When something else, such as the ongoing discussion of war with Iraq, suddenly brings them to the fore the next time they occur, it is all too common for people to think they represent something extraordinary and to give them more importance than they warrant. (Or, in some cases, they finally begin receiving the importance they actually deserved all along.)

The news media does a lousy job of putting things in context because, like this post, context is often boring. It's much more exciting to link the 35th airstrike of the year to the administration's push for regime change in Iraq than to try and explain where it really fits in; besides, that way you don't have to bother trying to explain why you didn't report on the previous 34.

UPDATE: Apparently the U235 percentage of the seized "weapons-grade uranium" has been announced after careful analysis: ZERO. Percentage of any uranium isotope in the material seized: ZERO. The stuff the scam artists had in the container "was harmless, containing zinc, iron, zirconium and manganese." (link via LGF)

Sunday, September 29, 2002
It's a secret. Frank J doesn't think it was an accident that Zacarias Moussaoui was given classified documents. The reason is so obvious you'll smack yourself in the forehead and say "Why didn't I think of that."

Fish Fry. Postmodernism's Patriarch got tossed into the FIRE on Chris Matthew's Hardball; and when he was done to a turn, Erin O'Conner cut him into bitesize pieces in what she calls, "Fisking Fish; or, Mr. T Pities a Fool." This is a Cant Watch you can't miss.

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.