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Military and Politics29 Jul 2014 at 21:36 by Jean-Marc Liotier

“And even if the Jews were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed. The land that would come into being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and non-Zionist. The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities. The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy…. And all this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries (the whole of Palestine and Transjordan is the insane Revisionist demand)–would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.

Under such circumstances… the Palestinian Jews would degenerate into one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply informed us since the days of Sparta. Their relations with world Jewry would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large number of Jews lived. Palestine Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people”

The Jewish Writings‘ by Hannah Arendt is a book of collected works published in 2007 – in this extract she referred to the war of independence in 1948 but the moral degenerateness of living by the sword excluding any other mean is still fresh in the current context.

France and Military and Politics and Security05 Jul 2013 at 12:06 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Remember when I was writing about ‘hypocrisy all around‘ a few days ago ? This is what it was about… As if on cue, Le Monde revealed from unnamed sources that France operates its own mass interception infrastructure (for non-French speaking readers here is the Guardian’s paraphrasing of The World).

Le Monde’s article was of course published on the Fourth of July in honor of our American friends, thought leaders in mass surveillance.

That France had such capability at that scale had long been guessed by anyone with even a slight interest in surveillance technologies, especially since we make brisk business peddling that sort of stuff we to splendid chaps all around the world (no questions asked – don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards)… Now it is not just guesses and rumors anymore.

But, in spite of the amusingly conflicted public reactions, that is not where the real substance of Le Monde’s revelations lies : the problem with surveillance is not the capability but how it is used… And used it is : not only external intelligence but also internal intelligence and a host of other agencies who happily dip their fingers into the jam with an utter lack of adult supervision.

Is that so bad ? What about the children ? What about tax-evading Nazi terrorist pedophiles music sharers ?

Lets first remind ourselves about a basic principle : the distinct nature of external and internal intelligence. Like military and police, they handle different businesses : while the military exists to dominate designated external enemies by force, the role of  police is to keep our society in working order by enforcing the law. One is only subject to the law of the strongest and whatever can be gotten away with diplomatically, the other operates encumbered by strict rules that sacrifice efficiency and sometimes even the officer’s own security for the sake of lawfulness. Again, war and law enforcement are not the same – bad things happen when cops play soldiers, as the militarization of the police forces in the USA shows.

So spying is not the activity that requires attention – as long as we manage to get away with it diplomatically… Don’t get caught ! Spying on allies will certainly complicate relationships, but managing that is what diplomacy is for. Ignorance and hypocritical reactions will be plenty but the professionals will keep balancing themselves on the tightropes of international relations, in ways perfected during thousand of years of practice. This is not what I find disquieting – don’t let the cruel world of state to state relationships distract you from the actual scandal: mass surveillance of one’s own citizen in a democratic state.

We don’t yet know the extent of the communications surveillance apparatus revealed by Le Monde – but we already know what matters most : it operates outside of any legal framework. Some would say that it makes them illegal – but no law forbids it so an unnamed boss of a French intelligence agency declared them “a-légal” instead. Isn’t that cute ? Of course, nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali – but those activities may actually fall under existing law:

Code Pénal, Article 226-15 (official English translation) :

Maliciously opening, destroying, delaying or diverting of correspondence sent to a third party, whether or not it arrives at its destination, or fraudulently gaining knowledge of it, is punished by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.

The same penalty applies to the malicious interception, diversion, use or disclosure of correspondence sent, transmitted or received by means of telecommunication, or the setting up of a device designed to produce such interceptions.

Code Pénal, Article 226-18 (official English translation) :

The collection of personal data by fraudulent, unfair or unlawful means is punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of €300,000

Now, The French People vs. The French State – wouldn’t that make an interesting case ?

But anyway, whether past misdeeds are prosecuted or not is not the most important point. What is essential is that we now demand proper democratic oversight. The extraordinary privileges granted for security reasons require equally extraordinary control. Secrecy matters of course, but secrecy is no reason for lack of accountability. Secrecy is not even incompatible with a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

The political divide about surveillance is about whether or not the ends justify the means. I believe they don’t, or rather that those who focus on the immediate benefits of surveillance are myopic to its other effects on society. Those people by the way are well meaning – always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind : never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. What it means about surveillance is that we don’t need to have intent to create a fascist regime – we can just sleepwalk into it. Let’s wake up a few people !

Military and Politics and Security01 Jul 2013 at 11:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

While I happily keep giving the USA the bashing they deserve about mass surveillance of citizens, you won’t hear me cast the first stone about industrial espionage – for well-known reasons.

While direct evidence of my own country’s industrial espionage activities rarely surfaces, we sometimes hear echoes of what goes on under the tables – take for example the testimony of Orbital High-Technology Bremen (OHB) CEO, Berry Smutny to the US Embassy in Berlin on 2009-11-20 :

Smutny frankly said “France is the evil empire stealing technology and Germany knows this”, but Germany´s decentralized government is not willing to do much about it. Going on at length of his despise of the French, Smutny said French IPR espionage is so bad that the total damage done to the German economy is greater the that inflicted by China or Russia.

Sure, this quote being in the context of sales by OHB to the US government, it is likely to be biased toward exaggeration – but such open expression of defiance from very close allies of France is nevertheless a strong hint that righteous outrage from French sources about industrial espionage is laughably hypocritical.

In addition, industrial espionage should be kept in perspective : it is not even comparable to mass surveillance – let’s not dilute the evil of mass surveillance by amalgamating them ! While corporate actors are strong enough to thrive on their own in a state of information warfare, citizens are not – they need political diligence toward a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Remember : the reason for rule of law is to protect the weak – the strong already take good care of themselves, though the European Union might want to upgrade its defense to a level more compatible with its international status


Military and Security and Systems administration15 Jun 2013 at 9:28 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In a message I got through Glyn Moody, Mikko Hypponen noticed this claim from German intelligence agencies :

Ist die eingesetzte Technik auch in der Lage, verschlüsselte Kommunikation (etwa per SSH oder PGP) zumindest teilweise zu entschlüsseln und/oder auszuwerten?“

„Ja, die eingesetzte Technik ist grundsätzlich hierzu in der Lage, je nach Art und Qualität der Verschlüsselung

My rough translation of these sentences of the article he linked :

„Are the current techniques capable of at least partially deciphering encrypted communications such as SSH or PGP ?“

„Yes, the current techniques are basically capable of that, depending on the type and quality of the encryption“

Of course, the weakness of weak keys is not exactly news… But it is always interesting when major threats brag about it openly – so this is nevertheless a pretty good refresher to remind users to choose the most current algorithms at decent key length and expire old keys in due time.

It is also a reminder that today’s cyphers will be broken tomorrow: encryption is ephemeral protection… Secret communications require forward secrecy & anonymity – for example, XMPP chat may use a server available as a Tor hidden service, with the clients using Off The Record messaging.

Military and Politics and Security14 Jun 2013 at 11:11 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Main Core is the code name of a database maintained since the 1980s by the federal government of the United States. Main Core contains personal and financial data of millions of U.S. citizens believed to be threats to national security.

The existence of the database was first reported on in May 2008 :

According to a senior government official… ”There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously” … One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect.

Putting this level of paranoia in perspective, Stalin’s Great Purge hit 1% of the population. 8 million is 2.5% of the USA’s population – or about 3% if you exclude children under 15 year old. If you think that 3% of the adult population may be out to get you, then you should probably be very carefully considering the possibility that the problem is actually you.

Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core”, the database reportedly collects and stores — without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law.

Putting aside the question of what actions are appropriate in catastrophic circumstances, should anyone believe that such a database will never be misused ? Secrecy trebles the probability of abuse.

Since 2008, no news has surfaced about Main Core – there is no reason to believe that it is not still maintained, probably under a new code name.

Military and Politics13 Jun 2013 at 17:00 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Remember Eisenhower’s 1961 warning against the military–industrial complex in his farewell speech ?

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”

It is still valid today – and in current news in the guise of the  intelligence-contractors complex where the consequences of financial corruption also go much beyond mere massive waste of public funds.

The challenge that faces us is not an arms race in communications privacy – hardening helps but it is a tactical countermeasure that does not address the problem systemically.

The way forward is political : democratic control must be reasserted over those entrusted with exceptional means. It is easier said than done, considering the entrenched interests that will obstruct the path ahead – but ignoring the political nature of the challenge will only ensure the continuation of a state of information warfare between the people and the state that used to represent them. A better way exists !

Military and Networking & telecommunications and Politics and Social networking06 Jun 2013 at 22:40 by Jean-Marc Liotier

By now you are probably already participating in the fireworks triggered by the leak of a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data to the NSA. Mass surveillance was a well known threat – but now we have proof that the USA do it… Will that be the wake-up call for increased political awareness ? I’m not holding my breath…

US Senators don’t seem to have realized the extent of public outrage – witness comments such as “This is nothing particularly new… Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this”… Mass surveillance ? Yes we can ! All that would not have happened if Obama had been elected.

Anyway, a couple of months ago, Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, has reported  to the UN Human Rights Council, making a connection between surveillance and free expression. It establishes the principle that countries that engage in bulk, warrantless Internet surveillance are violating their human rights obligations to ensure freedom of expression. Was that report prescient ? Is it part of a new trend at the UN ? Here are a few choice morsels from the conclusions of this extensive piece of research:

79. States cannot ensure that individuals are able to freely seek and receive information or express themselves without respecting, protecting and promoting their right to privacy. Privacy and freedom of expression are interlinked and mutually dependent; an infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.

80. In order to meet their human rights obligations, States must ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and privacy are at the heart of their communications surveillance frameworks.

81. Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that potentially interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and threatens the foundations of a democratic society.

Clear enough for y’all ? The report was in no way aiming at the US of A but today’s revelations makes it difficult to read it without thinking about them…

Mass surveillance is like searching every single home in the whole country because some of them might hide something illegal. With such massive indiscriminate intrusion in private lives,  secrecy isn’t kept to avoid “tipping off the target” – it is about avoiding legitimate public outrage at misguided actions outside of any effective control, that undermine the very foundations of what we strive for.


Africa and Military11 Jan 2013 at 17:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier (usually not a bad source in Côte d’Ivoire) reports having learned from Malian military sources that two French helicopters formerly based in Burkina Faso have struck Islamist positions in Konna and Douentza during the night of Thursday to Friday, letting the Malian forces take back some of the lost ground.

An Eurocopter Tigre illustrates the article, but there is no reason to believe that Tigres are currently deployed around Mali.

I have attempted to find out the type of the two helicopters mentioned by, but I found no current information. That said, Algé mentioned last September that two Gazelles, arrived in a military base near Ouagadougou last September, to be assembled on site after shipping disassembled for more discretion. In October, Le Parisien confirmed the presence of two French Gazelles in Burkina. So odds are that those are the two that struck last night.

If they were Gazelle, which variant ? In Libya, even with NVG, Gazelles with a 20mm gun have soon been sidelined in reserve aboard Tonnerre and Mistral : most of the Gazelle missions have been performed by the HOT variant with the Viviane infrared sights – 425 HOT missiles have been shot in Libya. I would guess that given a similar environment, the same mode of operation has been adopted in Mali – so let’s say that at least one of the two is a Gazelle Viviane.

Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali… The old Gazelles still follow an impressive tempo ! ALAT does not seem in a hurry to retire them.

In Mali anyway, rugged and mature platforms such as the Gazelle are much better suited to the light expeditionary logistical support available locally – the precious Tiger might be able to sleep rough, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Update 20130111 18:48 – @AbouDjaffar guesses the mystery helos are Tigre. I stand by my Gazelle bet… We’ll know sooner or later !

Update 20130112 12:13 – Opex360 confirms that strikes have occured yesterday at 16:00, performed by 4ème Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces spéciales (RHFS) with Gazelles (HOT and 20mm)… So I guessed right !

Military and Politics11 Mar 2011 at 19:00 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In his usual grandstanding style, Nicolas Sarkozy has made bold statements about limited air strikes against Libyan targets which include Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia command headquarters in Tripoli, an important airbase in Sirte and the key Sebha military complex in the south.

Apart from the slight diplomatic problem that this theatrical gesture has little support across Europe and the ethical problem of banking on emotional reaction to jockey for post-revolutionary oil contracts, there is the technical problem of how to proceed against the Libyan air defense network – here are a few extracts from Sean O’Connor’s excellent analysis in May 2010 :

Libya possesses one of the most robust air defense networks on the African continent, falling second only to Egypt in terms of coverage and operational systems. Libyan strategic SAM assets are primarily arrayed along the coastline, ostensibly defending the bulk of the Libyan population and preventing foreign incursion into Libyan airspace.

Part of the current problem stems from international sanctions placed on Libya during the 1980s which effectively stifled any serious chances of upgrading or replacing obsolete systems. The rest of the problem lies in the systems themselves. All three strategic SAM types operated by Libya have been thoroughly exploited by Western intelligence agencies, and many Western nations have faced these same systems in combat at various times, allowing for continued refinement of ECM systems designed to defeat these weapons electronically. Also, no strategic SAM system operated by Libya possesses a multi-target engagement capability. The only SAM sites representing a threat to multiple aircraft are the S-200 locations, as they possess multiple 5N62 (SQUARE PAIR) engagement radars. As such, even though Libyan strategic SAM sites are arrayed to provide overlapping fields of fire while defending a given area, the relatively small number of sites represents a threat to only a small number of targets. As a result, the overall network is easily susceptible to oversaturation.

The second drawback to Libya’s strategic SAM network is one of layout. If it is accepted that older Soviet-era systems may still be reliable against regional aggressors lacking modern, sophisticated EW or ECM suites, the system still has a significant number of gaps that could be exploited. The S-200 represents the only significant over water threat, but is constrained by having a minimum engagement altitude of 300 meters. Any terrain-hugging aircraft or cruise missiles would easily be able to exploit this weakness to approach the Libyan coastline. Once the coastline has been reached, the most obvious point of ingress would be the area adjacent to the Gulf of Sidra, which is devoid of deployed strategic SAM assets. Furthermore, as evidenced in the image seen previously, there are gaps between areas covered by S-75 and S-125 batteries which could also be exploited. This does not of course take into account the presence or performance of interceptors, AAA, or tactical SAM units, as these systems are outside the scope of this analysis.

At the end of the day, the Libyan strategic SAM network requires a massive infusion of new technology to remain viable in the twenty first century. It was not capable of repelling an attack over twenty years ago, and there is no reason to suspect that it will be capable of such action today.

The article overall dismisses an aging system with gaping deficiencies, but expressions such as “easily susceptible to oversaturation” betray the bias of USian abundance : few nations can casually assemble a strike package of 45 aircraft and send it over Libya like the USA did in 1986. And it is not just quantity – few nations have anywhere near the SEAD capability of the USA… Certainly not France in any case.

Unlike Tornado ECR users who still operate AGM-88 HARM, France has not had anti-radar missiles since it removed the AS37 Martel from service in the early 1990s. France has no dedicated SEAD assets left… Is maintenance of law and order in the colonies the only ambition of independent action that France can afford nowadays ? Of course, even when a consensus is beyond European diplomatic means, France is supposed to cooperate with its close allies for a semblance of international credibility… But the ally that holds the critical assets still has considerably more influence over how the decisions of the coalition. In Europe, Germany and Italy are the only nations left to operate specialized SEAD aircraft. Is France doomed ? Not yet : there is more to this story than just anti-radiation missiles

You remember that the AGM-88 HARM did not produce very good results during the1999 NATO campaign in Yugoslavia. According to one senior serving aircrew officer, US and German aircrew fired around 100 HARMs at a particular Yugoslavian target without success. It may be exaggeration, but word on the Web is that the HARM is nowadays quite easy to spoof. The ALARM did much better, but it may have been compromised as one has been captured intact after having failed to self-destruct. Times are tough for anti-radar missiles

Just because anti-radar missiles are nowadays easy to spoof and still expensive to boot, doesn’t mean that the need for SEAD has gone away. So how is the French air force going to handle that problem ? The answer might lie in the AASM, a French precision-guided munition developed by Sagem and combined with Spectra, the very underrated integrated defensive aids suite developed by Thales for the Dassault Rafale. I just learned about that combination today and what I read on page seven of this November 2009 electronic warfare newsletter is impressive… But since it is in French I’m going to translate and adapt the relevant part for you :

The proposed concept is based on :

– Identification of the approximate coordinates of the fire control vehicles, using previous reconnaissance or on-board sensors such as the Rafale’s Spectra

– Automated target acquisition in terminal phase: even with imprecise initial designation, the IR sensor aboard the AASM enables precise impact on a non-moving vehicle.

Two engagement methods are available, according to range :

– Against short and medium range systems, the scenario that takes best advantage of the AASM’s capabilities is to locate it approximately using the Spectra. Then, as soon as sufficient location precision has been obtained, an AASM may be fired and forgotten – even at off-boresight angles.

– Against long range systems, low altitude long distance approach using terrain masking is preferred and initial target acquisition by a third party is necessary. The launch sequence is then identical to the other scenario.

No costly and spoofable seeker is required. With a 250 kg munition, the AASM carries three to five times as much explosives as dedicated anti-radar missiles, and airburst makes the most of the fragmentation pattern.

Near-vertical terminal course enhances precision by making errors in the estimation of target altitude much less relevant – an important factor since radio-goniometry’s altitude estimates are much less precise than its measurements in the horizontal plane.

In the future, the IR seeker may transmit terminal target acquisition images to the launching aircraft, thus providing instant improvement in battle damage assessment.

Exploiting mostly existing capabilities of the Rafale and of the AASM, the SEAD mission would once more demonstrate the system’s flexibility.

Now, that article was written by someone from the AASM program at Sagem, so the careful reader might want to discount part of the performance boasts as infomercial propaganda… But if even is just some of it is true, then France is actually taking the lead in a new generation of SEAD capabilities. Nevertheless, this wonderful piece of kit has never been involved in anything more taxing than gunboat diplomacy and neo-colonial policing on the coattails of the USA… No one will believe it works until it is proven in combat against more substantial adversaries. And most important, I have not found confirmation that the SEAD capability of the Rafale+AASM combo has reach operational status.

The AASM itself though has seen action in Afghanistan – so we know it works. Considering that each AASM costs 143k€ and that each Rafale flight hour costs 37k€, the critics humorously calculated that it won’t take that many insurgents for the French state to go broke on bombing budget alone… But we suspect that the real point of using fancy pants Rafale with AASM instead of plain old  Mirage 2000 with laser guided bombs is that someone wanted to put the “combat proven” sticker on it to flog it on the international market. With that perspective and Nicolas Sarkozy’s track record of colluding with powerful commercial players, it is easy to imagine a Libyan campaign as a sales demonstration – but of course that would be gross oversimplification : Sarkozy’s diplomatic bet on the protesters for post-revolutionary benefits if not innocent either, but it is a much more serious matter… Though it mostly caters to the same interests.

YGTBSM you say ? We may now need a French word for that undomesticated carnivorous furry little mustelidae

Military and Politics and Social networking03 Feb 2011 at 19:03 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In troubled times and under pressure from a government with powerful social networking analysis capabilities, the mere preliminary act of searching for co-conspirators and linking with them carries a lot of risk. Care in maintaining a anonymity reduces that risk, but the proper use of secure online communication tools is cumbersome, their use itself hints at subversive activity and the anonymous procurement of devices and mobile telephony accounts is yet another drag on the enthusiastic would-be clandestine operator.

In summary, proper risk mitigation techniques are beyond the casual level acceptable for fomenting mass action. As a result, frustrated citizens rising up fall back on existing social networks that were not designed for that purpose. The use of family relationships is the archetypal example though a dangerous one: even  if your government does not emulate Stalin by deporting your entire family after suspecting a single member, it makes tracing very easy using genealogy software as was the case during the USian occupation of Iraq. What is needed is an organization which is more distributed and capable of achieving critical mass fast.

This week, Algeria’s Football Federation has called off a planned friendly with neighbours Tunisia under the rather difficult to believe pretext that “the only two stadiums capable of hosting the match are both unavailable”. The real reason is actually the wave of massive protests that is currently rocking the Middle East. But what does football have to do with it ?

Paul Woodward reports an interview by the prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah on Al Jazeera in which he made the interesting observation that the uprising’s most effective organizational strength comes from a quarter that has been ignored by most of the media: soccer fans known as ultras :

“The ultras — the football fan associations — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment,” Alaa said. “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country,” he joked.

Cited by Paul Woodward, James M. Dorsey, an expert on soccer in the Middle East, writes:

Established in 2007, the ultras—modelled on Italy’s autonomous, often violent fan clubs—have proven their mettle in confrontations with the Egyptian police, who charge that criminals and terrorists populate their ranks.

“There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch. We do what we have to do against the rules and regulations when we think they are wrong,” said an El Ahly ultra last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium. “You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics. We’re not political, the government knows that and has to deal with us,” he adds.

The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.

This has not escaped Libya either, as this Google Translation excerpt of an Al Jazeera article mentioned by Zero Hedge attests : among other measures that are part of the state of emergency and security alert imposed since the outbreak of the revolution in Tunisia, the Libyan government abolished the league matches of Libyan Football Association which was to be organized during the following month.

When political organizations are crushed and political life driven underground and dispersed, only apolitical organizations remain – and they end up being politically involved because in the end, everything is political.

Military10 Dec 2009 at 11:18 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The October 2008 article “American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman” gathered more than two hundred comments and will be past a hundred thousand visits by most reasonable accounts before the year ends (see 2008 traffic and 2009 traffic). I though that translating this piece would surely raise some interest, but I never expected it to be that much. More than one year later it is still sparking interest among citizens of the United States. During the Bush era, the image of France among the right wing in the United States seems to have suffered a lot, and as a result a lot of people have been genuinely surprised to read an article that showed that in spite of the politics we actually manage to work together with cordial relationships.

One year later, I am still receiving mail asking about the source of the article, from readers who enquire about its authenticity. Considering the unofficial reactions from members of the French armed forces and from readers with interests in the defense community, I have a rather good certitude about the authenticity of the original essay. With the source blog defunct and having lost touch with the original author who was not seeking public exposure and only made a couple of fleeting comments before disappearing from the media landscape, I am unable to prove anything. The author went by the pseudonym of “Merlin” and his blog was called “Le Blog de Merlin” at The disappearance of the original article’s page is also a pity because that is where I exchanged comments with the author.

I do not believe that the author ever thought that his blog would get noticed significantly, even in France. It was featured in a well known blog by Jean-Dominique Merchet, a military journalist at the French daily “Liberation” who has an excellent reputation for reliability – it is his post that got the ball rolling. The original author probably does not even realize now how many American blogs and forums have been discussing his article.

Since then I have lost track of him and I do not know his real name : though military blogging is rather common in the United States, it is still quite alien to the more conservative culture of the French defense community, so it seems that most military-related people in France prefer the pseudonymous discussions in forums to the more public exposure of blogs and even there they won’t take much risks in expressing themselves – the French army is not nicknamed “la grande muette” (“the great silent”) for nothing. This rarity may be one of the reasons why this humble piece of French first hand account of recent events won such attention. But no one here expected this – to us cheese-eating surrender monkeys, the United States of America are always full of surprises !

Of course, as it benefits our relationship and the image of France in the United States, the original article and even my translation could have been an elaborate psyop by the French government. Or it could be the work of shadowy pro-French non-governmental propaganda outfits. Or a fake by someone who wants everyone to believe in one of those two hypothesis in order to later appear as exposing the evil scheming French. At that point, we enter the realm of conspiracy theories and I’m sure that some will have a great time speculating about it. But from where I sit, there is coherent case for this story to be just what it appears to be : a simple account of good working relationships.

Books and Military18 Oct 2009 at 11:58 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Danger Close is a candid commander’s point of view of 3 Para’s deployment in Afghanistan in the early phases of the British commitment. This is an entirely subjective account, so don’t expect insight into the great game – but do expect a rare insight into the relationship between a commander and his men, in the dirt among the sangars under rocket and mortar fire. The loneliness at the top comes through very clearly.

I was stunned to discover how little means were available and how rapidly those means have been stretched almost to breaking point. As a result, during most of its time in Afghanistan, 3 Para was reduced to holding hastily fortified besieged positions in politically important towns – which is not how might expect this sort of unit to be employed.

This books is a quick read but it provides a valuable vignette of the Afghanistan conflict. It is also a story of the fortitude of the British troops in the face of highly challenging odds. 479 000 rounds fired in six months is a level of sustained combat not seen by the British Army since the end of the Korean war.

Military and Photography and The media08 Jan 2009 at 20:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The latest issue of the excellent The Big Picture at the Boston Globe, is about the Israeli assault on Hamas in the Gaza strip. While I was looking at the pictures, it dawned on me that the Israeli have a severe media problem. We only see the mighty war machine, the pyrotechnics and the unlucky hapless civilians caught in the middle. This is Hamas propaganda material served on a platter. Why are the Israeli letting the images sway public opinion against them ?

It is not the first time that Israel has to deal with adverse public opinion. Let’s take this example from 1982 by Jonathan F. Keiler in “Who Won the Battle of Fallujah ?” (January 2005 issue of Proceedings) :

“Dating from the siege of Beirut in 1982, Israel has practiced a complex and limited form of urban warfare. In Beirut, this involved a cordon around the city, accompanied by limited attacks with artillery, ground, and air forces to put pressure on the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Syrian forces inside. The IDF did not launch a general assault on the city; it awaited a political solution that resulted in evacuation of enemy forces under the auspices of outside powers. Despite the IDF’s restraint, it was depicted as little short of barbaric by much of the international media. The PLO’s evacuation was treated as a victory parade, rather than the retreat it was, and the PLO lived to fight another day. The battle was a tactical victory for Israel, but a strategic defeat.

The Beirut experience and ongoing domestic and international pressures color Israeli doctrine. Throughout the current struggle, the IDF generally has not occupied Palestinian cities, a notable exception being seizure of the Jenin refugee camp. The Jenin operation is the exception that proves the rule: the IDF was castigated for its assault on Jenin and falsely accused of perpetrating a massacre”.

Palestinian civilian deaths cost Israel a lot of international support – it is in Israel’s best interests to avoid them. With the hypothesis that Israel is a more or less rational player, we can posit that they are taking precautions against them – and that is what has been historically shown. But whatever the precautions, striking targets embedded within urban zones and with no no prior evacuation of civilians causes significant collateral damage, especially if the presence of civilian near targets is not entirely incidental. So the Palestinian civilian death toll should not come as a surprise to anyone. Israel had enough experience to know that it was going to have a major media crisis on its hands. So why has Israel let adverse news leak so easily ? They are obviously trying to control the media by banning journalists from Gaza, but this action actually has an adverse effect : the result is that Palestinian voices are dominating the media.

Other players have shown that keeping a lid over ongoing politically sensitive military and twisting them in a favorable way is practically possible, even in the age of ubiquitous satellite communications. In “Grozny 2000: Urban Combat Lessons Learned” by Timothy L. Thomas of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, we read that the information war was successfully made a priority by the Russians :

“In 1995 the Russian government lost the propaganda war by default. This time it made every effort to control the media and ensure that its view of the war dominated public opinion. Russia won this information war from day one of the fighting and is still winning. The government and military control access to combatants and censor reporting that could undermine support for the war. Reports of Russian military successes have fueled support for military activities among the populace. However, some military spokesmen have altered the facts and limited independent reporting so much that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

With few exceptions, Russian journalists have not complained about the media management, and instead have picked up much of the military’s jargon, such as references to “working” in the city instead of bombing or assaulting. Media control was formalized in December 1999 through the mechanism of Resolution Number 1538. The President of the Russian Federation created the Russian Information Center whose job it was to filter information before providing it to the mass media and to control the dissemination of foreign information. Such tight media control was absent in the first fight for Grozny, and it cost the Russians dearly. One analyst noted that after the first Chechen war, the Russian military came to the conclusion that they had to first play out the information war against the Chechen resistance, as in their opinion the Chechens had succeeded in morally disarming public opinion in Russia”.

In Gaza, this battle is being won by Hamas and Israel does not seem to be performing information warfare any better than Russia in 1995. Considering how sophisticated the Israeli intelligence apparatus is reputed to be, one can only wonder at such poor performance. Hamas on the other hand can happily stand back and watch Israel do all the work for them.

Recently, the United States did a much better media control job at Fallujah. Media coverage was quite tame and few images leaked outside of the United States military approval. It may be because the United States took care of cordonning off Fallujah and emptying it of its population as much as possible before assaulting. At the time, Rory McCarthy estimated that “many of Falluja’s 200,000 to 300,000 residents fled the city before the assault, between 30,000 and 50,000 are believed to have remained during the fighting“. Israeli precipitation precluded such evacuation in Gaza, and it is dubious that they could have afforded that luxury either given the lack of destination for potential evacuees. But they could have emulated some practices such as embedding journalists. The newly published “Tactique Générale” manual (FT-02) of the French Armée de Terre mentions that in every Marine company in Fallujah there were four or five embedded journalists. With empathy toward the troops they are following, the embedded journalists can provide a semblance of counterweight to the insurgent’s natural propaganda support.

Hamas ruthlessly censors how Gaza is painted in the media – journalists don’t seem to mind too much and the public does not seem to even notice. Maybe Israel could have done a better job of suppressing information channels, but it cannot operate the same way as Hamas : letting reporters roam with relative freedom is one of the costs of operating as a democracy. The problem is that the free flow of information is antinomic to media warfare. States such as Israel are left with a difficult dilemma : protecting a free society with authoritarian methods is the path toward corruption, and the United States have sufficiently illustrated that fact. But after all, maybe the target audience of Israel’s actions is in Gaza, not in the rest of the world.

Books and Military and Politics05 Nov 2008 at 2:26 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading “The Strongest Tribe – War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq” by Bing West. Once the author’s own ideas about the relationship between the nation, the media and the armed forces are set aside, what remains is an account of reference on the civil war in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.

Bing West’s military experience gave the author an excellent relationship with the troops, and that granted him access to a variety of sources in theater throughout the whole period. He provides a comprehensive view from the bottom to top about what the US forces experienced in Iraq and how they adapted to overcome the challenges of counter-insurgency in a very muddy political environment.

Communicating the complexity of this conflict is incompatible with the mass-media formats. This book offers the volume necessary to describe how the invaders went through the messy process of stumbling upon new problems, trying solutions, gaining understanding and then building doctrine from the ground up. Bing West’s work is the first one to my knowledge that exposes the whole process and articulates it into a coherent narrative.

We follow the troops as they are dealing with duplicitous Iraqi politicians, struggling to build trust in a lawless society, sustaining morale while working with thankless partners, sticking to western due process standards in a country with no reliable judiciary, overcoming the impulse to stick to search and destroy, living among the locals to stop commuting to work from large bases, learning how to seize and hold sectors in a sustainable way, turning a population terrorized by campaigns of murder and intimidation, and finally getting it all together to find how to get the local potentates to stand for themselves. With the authors eyes, these problems are seen through the prism of the Vietnam war, and we discover what connects to the historical lessons learned in Vietnam and elsewhere, and how the Iraqi mix created original challenges.

The Strongest Tribe stops almost entirely short of the political territory of why the United States went to war in Iraq – and that is a good thing. Bing West does an outstanding job of explaining how the military in Iraq and its chain of command dealt with the fighting, and I extend my praise to him for sticking within that perimeter, apart from a handful of gratuitous mentions of Senator John McCain.

All in all, a recommended read for making sense of Iraq from the local point of view – provided you understand the bias of an author strongly connected to the culture of the US armed forces. Hats off to Bing West for his in-depth work, and hats off to the ingenuity, flexibility and sheer dedication of the troops who navigate in the dangerous unknown.

Identity management and Jabber and Knowledge management and Military and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications and Social networking and Technology and The Web23 Oct 2008 at 14:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I have become a user of Brightkite, a service that provides situational awareness in the geographical context. Once its relationship to user location information sources such as Fire Eagle improve, it may become a very nice tool, especially in mobile use cases where location reporting may be partly automated.

But even if they add technical value in the growing world of geographically aware applications, theses services are actually not innovative at the functional level. For example, in the ham radio universe, APRS is already a great system for real time tactical digital communications of information of immediate value in the local area – which includes among other things the position of the participating stations. And there is also TCAS, which interrogates surrounding aircrafts about their positions, and AIS which broadcasts ship positions and enables the entertaining Vessel Traffic Services such as the one provided by MarineTraffic. All these radio based systems broadcast in the clear and are not satisfying the privacy requirements of a personal eventing service. But that problem has also been solved by the Blue Force Tracker which even though it is still a work in progress has already changed how a chaotic battlefield is perceived by its participants.

“Where am I, and where are my friends ?” is not only the soldier’s critical information – it is also an important component of our social lives, witness the thriving landscape of geosocial networking. Geographic location is a fundamental enabler : we are physically embodied and the perimeter of location based services actually encompasses anything concerning our physical presence. So we can’t let physical location services escape our control. Fire Eagle may be practical for now, but we need to make geographical information part of the basic infrastructure under our control and available on a standardized, open and decentralized basis. The good news is that much thoughts have already been invested into that problem.

Physical location is part of our presence, and as you may have guessed by now, this means XMPP comes to the rescue ! We have XEP-0080 – User Location, an XMPP extension which is currently a XMPP Foundation Draft Standard (implementations are encouraged and the protocol is appropriate for deployment in production systems, but some changes to the protocol are possible before it becomes a Final Standard – as good as a draft standard RFC and therefore good enough for early adopter use). It is meant to be communicated and transported by means of Publish-Subscribe or the subset thereof specified in Personal Eventing via Pubsub. It may also be provided as an extension of plain vanilla <presence/> but that is quite a crude way to do it compared to the Publish-Subscribe goodness.

The rest of the work is left to the XMPP client. Of course, the client can show them on a map, just as Brightkite currently does. But I can also easily imagine an instant messaging contact list on my PDA where one of the contact groups is “contacts near me”. I would love to have Psi do that…

Africa and Books and Military14 Oct 2008 at 1:55 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I just finished reading The Chopper Boys: Helicopter Warfare in Africa” by Al J. Venter, Neal Ellis and Richard Wood. The contextual introductions will feel like fluff if you are already familiar with Cold War era conflicts in Africa, but it does not matter as the core of this book’s value more than makes up for it : the chapters covering operations in Rhodesia’s and South-Western Africa are gems. First hand testimonies paint captivating tactical vignettes with a substantial level of technical detail. This book provides unique insight in those pivotal development of heliborne operational doctrine in the countrer-insurgency role.

From my French perspective the Chadian and Algerian conflicts seem skimmed over, but I don’t mind as enough French sources have them well explored. On the contrary, I had seldom found such impacting accounts of the airmobile units that operated alongside such legendary troops as the Koevoet or the Selous Scouts – so the Southern African bias is more than welcome. After a read, jargon such as G-car, K-Car, dakadaka, paradak, fire force, Golf bomb and reaction force will feel familiar, along with impressive pieces of hardware such the Puma, the Alouette or the 20 mm Matra MG151 among others whose specific scope of employement is unveiled.

The use of helicopters to emplace small units as blocking forces (“stop groups” in South African parlance) reminded me of Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan” edited by Lester Grau. The contrast between the swiftness of Southern African operations and the blunt Soviet air assaults that most often occured in Afghanistan is not without interest.

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