The Predators and the Ragheads

"The US government has known about the flaw since the US campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it, the officials said."  CSM


"That final sentence is a bit worrying, and reflects a common pitfall within the US and many other "sophisticated" armed forces: Officers and war-planners often make the mistake of assuming their enemies are dumb, and not particularly adaptable. "  WSJ


Not a big deal? Maybe not except that a look at what your opponent is watching is ALWAYS useful.  You may also discover that what you are doing is more visible than you thought.

The question remains why this downlink was not encrypted to begin with.  I think that the CSM has it right in attributing this failure to what I would call the "Raghead" factor.  This is the tendency among Americans to assume that people who are culturally different from them are also primitive.  This frequently shows up as a factor in our foreign affairs and we never seem to learn.  We spent several billion dollars in Iraq trying to beat the ever shifting and evolving IED challenge and found that as fast as we devloped technical counter-measures or more sophisticated surveillance platforms, the insurgents developed new IEDs. They often bought parts for their new designs on the internet electronics market, disassembling larger gadgets if necessary to get the boards, etc., that they wanted.

This blind spot seems odd in a culture (ours) that is obsessed with levelling and the rejection of the idea of elites.  I suppose that the level that is sought is one that represents the lowest common denominator of US society? 

We actually DO have elites.  To see them, all you have to do is tune in "Morning Joe" in the AM on MSNBC to watch the elites of left and right preening in their splendid plumage.

Nothing will change.  We are sure that we are smarter, more virtuous, more ingenious, have better health care, etc., than anyone else.  pl

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32 Responses to The Predators and the Ragheads

  1. Jose j says:

    Colonel, I have posted in the past about a contempt of our enemy that find unbelievable to understand.
    Your analysis on the “Raghead Factor” hits nail in the head.
    If I was fighting this war, every enemy would be the reincarnation of Saladin or Tamerlane and be treating with such respect.
    My ignorance should not result in dead soldier such as happened in…(Wanat, IED’s, Democracy in the Middle East, to many to fill in)
    Nothing will change. We are sure that we are smarter, more virtuous, more ingenious, have better health care, etc., than anyone else. pl
    Here I depart from you, because I think we think we are so much better than anybody else we are incapable of change or reform.
    “If you think it’s better over at x, move there.”
    I’ll be gone for a while, so happy holidays to all.

  2. Bill Wade, NH says:

    It’s amazing what us “travelling” GIs see: cell phones in Hong Kong, ATMs in Canada, PCs in, of all places, the Philippines – all well before hitting the US markets. Then, prescription drugs, 1/10 the price in Thailand as in the USA. USA corporations outsourcing US jobs cause the labor costs are cheaper but USA citizens can’t buy their prescriptions oversea “cause somebody has to fund the research”. Our elites have been screwing us for years now.

  3. JohnH says:

    Doonesbury nailed this:
    Frame 1 – Raghead alerts CIA punk to enemy next door.
    Frame 2 – CIA punk dials cell phone.
    Frame 3 – Massive explosion next door.
    Frame 4 – Raghead asks CIA punk: “How is it that your losing?”

  4. Anthony says:

    There is something terribly fishy about all this.
    A theory is that its all a bluff from the pentagon to get some funding for their new generation drones.

  5. Charles I says:

    I agree that attitude may have had a part in this but believe Dilbert and Murphy’s law was at work as well.
    I can’t find the article just now that stated there were some 600-800 drones and “thousands” of ground stations, and that the program started with a lot of available off-the-shelf commercial technology bolted to the airframes. It sounds possible they started with a few homemade ones, blew up a jihadi or two and cut a fat check with contracts specs that simply read: MORE.
    And the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it meme was active, its possible that no one else even adverted to any communication problem.
    When some helpful nerd pointed out that encryption would be a nice feature, but would require new onboard processors, & radio gear, and the attendance of disruptive techies at thousands of ground stations to install new software, which may require several days of fiddling, and then the teaching of both ends of the technology to the hundreds of operators, which could all be done by FYI 2013 providing the winning bidder’s entry passed technical muster and complied with GAO standards and passed an environmental assessment and then Congress voted the funds and then,. . . .
    Of course in the vein of the earlier thread, it seems settled that both sides discount the skills of any adversary, and take it as an article of faith that they are right, stronger and wilier than any raghead/infidel/other opponent.

  6. Cato the Censor says:

    Colonel, re the American obsession with levelling and the rejection of elites, I often wonder how much of that is just surface chatter done to help conceal the fact that the US for quite some time now has been an oligarchy, run by and for the benefit of a very elite few.

  7. Fred Strack says:

    I’m sure some contractor will fix this ‘crisis’ encryption problem for a few million using an IT firm that just outsourced everything to Pakistan.
    As to this:But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”
    As they taught me in boot camp: Assume = ASS+U+ME

  8. Arun says:

    Were the 1950s a great period for the US in part because so many Americans had gone overseas (to fight WWII) and so, under whatever circumstances, came into close contact with foreign cultures? (Also perhaps a lot of the scientific elite if not the overall intellectual elite were essentially refugees from the war?)

  9. Kelly says:

    The unencrypted downlink isn’t a symptom of underestimating the enemy. Instead, it’s a side effect of the COTS (commercial off the shelf) procurement model.
    Commercial off the shelf comm gear doesn’t include crypto because it’s a lot easier to build without it, and then you can export your finished product. The MilStd gear is larger, heavier, uses more power, and costs a lot.
    As the US replaces the COTS gear with MilStd gear, UAV prices will go way up, and range / endurance will go down.
    This problem is worse as the UAVs size gets smaller.
    The real shame is that after we’ve pushed unencrypted ROVERs all over the battlespace, we now have to push out new encrpted ROVERs. Cha-ching!

  10. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    1. “the tendency among Americans to assume that people who are culturally different from them are also primitive.”
    Well yes, and this is why we are striving to help what President McKinley called “our little brown brothers” anent the Philippines and the 1898 War with Spain. Today, as then. our foreign policy elite wants to “nation build” so as top “modernize” the primitives. Naturally, we hope they will also become Fundamentalist Christians so Rev. Hagee and Pat Robertson etal. can lead them to heaven at the “Rapture” (which of course is coming…)
    2. As to techie stuff…don’t we educate a lot of “primitives” in our colleges and Universities: electronics, physics, chemistry, engineering, and all that? So they can become “just like us.”
    It is not as if USG does not know that leadership elements of terrorist organizations in many cases have degrees in engineering, chemistry, IT, and so on…UBL is an engineer, Zawahiri is a medical doctor…
    3. To track the Foreign Policy Elite simply monitor the Council on Foreign Relations (NYC) website:
    Here is the present board of the CFR and you can use your imagination as you glance down the names:
    Here is their International Advisory Board (helping to guide US foreign policy):
    If you are interested in US foreign policy, then this CFR “elite” is the one to track for starters. Then one enters into more esoteric analytical methodology which is complex, time consuming, and requires serious expertise.

  11. curious says:

    eh hmmmm, guys. afghanistan and Iraq are disneyland of weapon tech in action for everybody. Russia, Cina, iran, israel, etc.
    few items quickly come to mind:
    -those humvees that disappear? Well, the entire radio and communication hardware are now in russian catalog.
    -Iraq is the only place US lost abrams tank due to advance penetrating weapon. 5 years from now, M1A2 The korean already have very strong/stronger tank. China and russia both have new tank in development.
    – all radio signature, emission behavior of a vehicle and equipments are completely mapped out. (The spectrum noise, chatter pattern of those machine.) (Think how submarine has catalog of acoustic noise of everything. Well, somebody by now has a catalog of all electromagnetic signature of every vehicles, plane and satellite.) This is useful for automatic search and targeting.
    – The use of new technology that will be tailord to evade and defeat sensors. (You know the spectrum range, you can design metamaterial to hide and stay away from that spectrum.) Metamaterial technology will kill.
    – material science. All those advance ceramics, electrical equipments, exotic chemicals, etc. They will show up like sore thumb in terahertz radar. (eg. bunch of kids with robotic explosive can defeat a mechanized unit within 5 years.) …or how fast the chinese can stamp terahertz radar and controler for their next cheap toys.
    Tunable terahertz lasers are desirable in applications in sensing and spectroscopy because many biochemical species have strong spectral fingerprints at terahertz frequencies. Conventionally, the frequency of a laser is tuned in a similar manner to a stringed musical instrument, in which pitch is varied by changing the length of the string (the longitudinal component of the wave vector) and/or its tension (the refractive index). However, such methods are difficult to implement in terahertz semiconductor lasers because of their poor outcoupling efficiencies. Here, we demonstrate a novel tuning mechanism based on a unique ‘wire laser’ device for which the transverse dimension w is less doubleλ. Placing a movable object close to the wire laser manipulates a large fraction of the waveguided mode propagating outside the cavity, thereby tuning its resonant frequency. Continuous single-mode redshift and blueshift tuning is demonstrated for the same device by using either a dielectric or metallic movable object. In combination, this enables a frequency tuning of ~137 GHz (3.6%) from a single laser device at ~3.8 THz.
    effective use of metamaterial and new radar will be deadly.
    afghan/Iraq war has to end quickly and be transition to regular nation building and peace keeping mission. It cannot be turned into endless field testing ground. The weapon parade and carnival phase of this adventure has to end pronto. Every single major weapon development in rival country are now aiming to defeat what is in afghanistan and Iraq.
    The next “real” war, war aimed to knock US out, will not be predictable. Because we are the predictable variable.

  12. tinky says:

    This (losing) cycle will continue indefinitely. For those who are interested in cutting-edge insights into this, and other related issues, I’d recommend the following article (and site):

  13. Ian says:

    “But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”
    I wonder if the enemy has the reverse problem. I’m picturing weeks wasted while the insurgents try to convince themselves that this isn’t a trick or a trap of some kind. “They can’t really be sending this data in the clear, can they?”

  14. dilbert dogbert says:

    My thoughts were first along the lines that someone smart with the good guys could use the openness of the system as a means of inserting false information into the bad guys decision making process.
    Of course it would take only a few cycles of this to alert the bad guys to our tricks.
    Is anyone at SST know if this is a media circus or the real deal?

  15. flite says:

    As a fighter pilot flying over North Vietnam during Linebacker I and II, I was quite surprised at the sophistication of those third-world ‘Gomers’. The cat-and-mouse game we played with their air defenses became surprisingly quite complex, changing rapidly as both sides equally responded with new countermeasures.
    But the most tragic “blind spot” occurred with Linebacker II and the downing of 15 B-52s within 11 days. Believing in the superiority of the B-52’s ECM package against the less than state-of-the-art, Soviet hand-me-down air defenses in a third-world country, the Air Force initially used simple, risky, and foolish tactics in their early raids.
    After a couple of nights of heavy bombing, those third-world ‘Gomers’ quickly discovered a blind spot in the B-52 ECM defense that was unknown to the Air Force. They found the B-52 was very vulnerable to the SA-2 while in a turn – something the Air Force did not know because they incredibly had never tested their ECM gear under any combat simulations of this kind.

  16. Bill Wade, NH says:

    They get some box cutters and a few of OUR planes and defeat the air defenses of the USA. I know that cost more than $26 but how much did they spend in total?

  17. Patrick Lang says:

    The worst ass chewing I ever had was during Linebacker II. I had to go talk to the CG of 7th Air Force about something Adm Moorer wanted. This was when I was in STDAT-158 (the SOG successor). We had to go back into North Vietnam and someone had to take us there. I had to tell the general that. The general had spent all night in the command post while BUFFs blew up over North Vietnam. I was just an Army major and a good target for his wrath. He raged for 15 minutes in a way I had not seen before in spite of a lot of practice. He finally asked what I wanted. “A little respect, sir,” was all I could manage. He took the papers and signed them without another word. The captain who was with me started to cry out in the hallway afterward from anger and humiliation. It had really been bad. “Come on Al,” quoth I. “F–k him.” I made sure it was loud enough for the general to hear. We left. pl

  18. VietnamVet says:

    Drones are promoted as job makers Boeing drone maker creates technology jobs near Gorge and extend the eyes of the observer over the horizon. But, Drones weren’t any use at Wanat since there were tasked elsewhere.
    The launcher looks about the same size as a 105 howitzer. In country, it will require a secure perimeter on a sandbagged launch site and contractors to maintain and launch and boots on the ground to secure it.
    Aside from perimeter patrol and trying to find people in the god forsaken mountains I’m not sure what military purpose they serve. Drones buzzing overhead will not win any “Hearts and Minds” as the human beings below are in the existential position that they may or may not be blow apart at any instant. They will be focused on finding counter measure and praying to Allah.

  19. K Harbaugh says:

    I find it unbelievable that NSA’s comsec organization (once S Group) would let the AF get away with that.
    Someone should ask DIRNSA about that.

  20. Charles I says:

    curious, mind boggling post. As I surfed around after I found it pointed out that the multinational character of ISAF makes it an even richer emissions environment:
    “The Great Game: U.S., NATO War In Afghanistan
    Fifty or more countries in a single war theater”

  21. Jackie says:

    You worked with Adm. Moorer? I always had the impression he was a good guy. Wasn’t he one of the men who blamed a certain ME country for the attack on the Liberty?

  22. Patrick Lang says:

    The unit I was with was subordinated directly to the JCS. He called on the secure phone between DC and saigon. pl

  23. PirateLaddie says:

    Late to the table, and certainly can’t add to the granularity of the discourse. Top down, however, this smells like another case of “system failure,” the disease that’s been gnawing at our political and economic neurosystem for decades. Even if it’s a bid to upgrade “the toys of the trade,” it still reeks of late-Empire arrogance and pigheaded blindness. Onward, thru the fog!!

  24. Robert in SB says:

    there’s a great website called where you can hire people extremely cheap to bid on the job-writing the code for encrypting the downstream. Dont be surprised if they quickly spec a solution, tell the DOD it will cost several million and sub it out for 2 grand to pakistani, romanian or indian coders to write the “hardened” encryption software. It happens in every other business : ) The implications should make you shudder.

  25. Adam L Silverman says:

    Dilbert Dogbert,
    I have no information on this other than what I’ve read and seen in the media, but based on my experiences in Iraq in 2008 it both rings true and makes sense. To give an example regarding communications: we almost always used the secured network, even for transmitting specifically marked unclassified information (please remember, my job for the BCT was to work on the open source and unclassified side unless specifically supporting a named operation, so over 99% of my shop’s products were marked unclassified) because we worked on the informed opinion that anything unclassified was being monitored – even on the official Army NIPRNet. Shortly after my arrival in Iraq one of our battalion commanders asked me to send him something and specifically emphasized this with: “send it on SIPR, the bad guys can read our NIPR”.
    As for COL (ret) Lang’s position about the too often seen attitude that the host country nationals are stupid, naive, primitive; he is 100% spot on accurate! While I didn’t see this much, outside of the most junior enlisted personnel that I interacted with, among the military, I did see it a lot with civilian (non DOD/DOA) agency personnel; especially those who spent most their time in the Green Zone. My team mates and I use to summarize this as “we think the Iraqis are stupid, and they’re not, and they think we’re stupid, and we are”.
    The best way to punctuate this is that I was on the mission that took the first senior State Department official outside of the Green Zone – we took the Assistant Secretary in charge of cultural issues, and several of her staffers, for a site assessment at the Arch of Kesra. This was my last mission in Iraq: the third week of October 2008. Five years into the war and no senior State Department official had been outside the Green Zone before this!

  26. JAC says:

    The problem here is not one of”sophisticated” armed forces: Officers and assumptions.
    But one of not learning nor heeding our lessons learned.
    T E Lawrence went through this back in 1920 and we now are going through the same thing in 2009…
    Its sometimes amazing that we as a species survived this long….

  27. dilbert dogbert says:

    Mr Silverman,
    Thanks for the reply.
    As there have been several comments with Adm. Moorer’s name in them I want to abuse the privileges of this blog by relating a story about the Adm told to me by my BIL (brother-in-law).
    My BIL served on a little fleet tug in the 7th fleet as the executive officer – small potatoes. There was a Christmas party where the captain of the tug inserted ice cubes down the front of the dress of the good adm wife. My BIL had to dress up and take the adm’s gig to the cruiser to get reamed by the adm and then go back to the tug and ream the captain.
    The BIL said he had to get out of the Navy or he would have become a drunk.
    BTW the BIL served two tours as a Swiftboat Driver in Nam.
    Best to all.

  28. Worrisome post and comments largely because of their accuracy!
    Let US ignore for the moment that IMO the Predator Strikes in general violate currently applicable International Law. Hey the remote pilotless future of warfare is on the horizon. And it will be a two way street.
    This is absurd to find out! If true then anyone in chain of command of procurement to deployment to ops should be asked to write a memo as to why they never thought about encryption and if they did why they did nothing. Then organize the memo’s by author and you have personnel that should become forward observers for conventional artillery (mostly not used in the terrain of AF-PAK) and deployed with rucksacks into the mountains.
    This incident gives another devastating insight into the current state of the US Armed Forces and the willingness of the Chain of Command to listen to their subordinates. Somewhere someone is accountable for this disaster. And now being reported that we met with Russians and Chinese about the problem long ago trying to enlist their “aid”! WOW!

  29. Ali Mirza says:

    Greetings all. The following can be considered apocryphal as I can not produce the article or links to back up this claim and am relying on memory.
    I think it must’ve been 2004 or 2005 (not even sure of the date) when i caught a report on CNN/BBC about a middle aged gentleman (Aus?/Brit?/US?) who was trying to alert the US military to the fact that he was recieving realtime videofeed from UAV/drone aircraft in Afghanistan on his home sat tv setup. I am not at all familiar with how satellite feeds are intercepted, but reading suggests that unencrypted feeds can be caught as it bounces of the sat. The thrust of the report was that despite trying to alert the relevant authorities about the transmissions being in the clear, the issue was not being addressed or handled with the seriousness that this civilian gentleman thought should or would be necessary. The reason I remember this story is that it got me interested in sigint and how it is used. I am trying to find the relevant links.
    I am a long time lurker here, this being only my second post. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Col Lang et al for this blog. It has been a pleasure to read and an education in its own right.
    Ali Mirza

  30. Redhand says:

    But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.
    Excuse me, but wasn’t it these same “ragheads” who figured out how to penetrate America’s security defenses on 9/11 and fly a couple of airliners into the WTC, and another into the Pentagon itself?
    These are the kinds of people our military thinks are too stupid to pick up on an unencrypted audio feed?

  31. Dan says:

    This made my day.
    Someone up thread attributed “little brown brothers” to McKinley. It was Taft when he was governor of PI, circa 1902.
    Taft also estimated that it would take “50 or 100 years” of a guiding, enlightened American hand on the Philippines tiller before the Pinoys developed “anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.”
    Merry Christmas and happy new year to all. Next year in Kabul!

  32. Different Clue says:

    I suspect our opinion shapers are attached to the “idea of” the idea that all cultures are equal. Since our opinion shapers have confused the “idea of” with the idea itself; they are not aware that they themselves (and a lot of the rest of us) have our own version of China’s traditional “middle kingdom complex”. But many of us do. Fish don’t know they live in something called water, and a lot of us don’t know that we don’t respect the abilities of other peoples. So this could well be a mistake of offhand casual contempt for the “mere enemy”.
    That said, if William Cummings’s suggestion that someone low on the chain must have had the proper respect and issued the proper warnings; then a forensic study of who ignored those warnings should be conducted. And those who ignored the warnings should somehow be gracefully retired.
    Curious: I suspect America has been an unwitting target of “the real war” for years now. The goal has been to de-develop America’s economy all the way back to zero. The war is diversionally dis-named Free Trade and Globalization. Some of the battlefields? weapons systems? are diversionally dis-named NAFTA, the GATT rounds, WTO, Most Favored Nation status for China, etc.
    Speaking of China, didn’t
    China’s computer company Lenovo recently buy IBM’s personal computer bussiness?
    I remember someone raising the possibility that Lenovo installs a hard spychip into every computer it makes and sells with silicon
    chip hard-printed instructions to send everything that computer says or sees right straight back to China. Has anyone ever dissected a random sample of made-in-China computers or other digital tooltoys to see if they have
    trojan spychips in them?

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