August 16, 2007
The Real Lesson of the Beauchamp AffairBy Douglas Hanson
The apparent fraud perpetrated by Scott Beauchamp has resulted in plenty of finger-pointing at Franklin Foer and the New Republic, as well as those "progressive" pundits who jumped on board to condemn the Coalition Soldiers and the war in Iraq. However, there is another largely unnoticed direction in which to look as well, in assessing blame for the disgrace.
But Soldiers like serial prevaricator Pvt. Beauchamp have been in the ranks since armies have existed. They spew tall tales that we once called "hee-ro" stories in order to puff up their ego or to prove how tough and callous they are in this nasty business of war. What's different today is that our material and technological abundance has handed the drive-by media a huge amount of anti-war propaganda and worse yet, has provided the enemy with far more operational information than we care to acknowledge. And the Beauchamp affair is a perfect example of how we undermine our own information warfare operations.
The common thread to the CBS Abu Ghraib mess and Beauchamp's tall tales, of running over dogs and the desecration of a corpse in a mass grave, is that the publication of the prison photos and the printing of Beauchamp's phony story potentially supplied further motivation to people with an primitive honor system to oppose US and Coalition efforts in the War on Terror. Even today, the media is still making hay out of the prison fiasco.
The Abu Ghraib incident was a high quality disinformation operation that played off Iraqi and Arab historical ethnic, racial, and cultural biases, indicating that this was run by seasoned professionals in journalism and their government "sources." But what made the operation so effective were the photos taken by the perpetrators with their handy dandy digital cameras. And oh, by the way, these were stored and sent on laptops on a military network in a combat zone. And ultimately made their way from said combat zone to the states to a nosy CBS producer.
Meanwhile, Scott Beauchamp, using his laptop and cell phone, nearly managed to cause a similar ruckus with his version of the John Kerry "we're all war criminals" shtick. If supplying the drive-bys with this garbage wasn't bad enough, the British Army found that it could get much worse.
Last summer, The Telegraph (UK) reported that family members of British Soldiers deployed to Iraq had received threatening phone calls from insurgents, including death threats, after the enemy intercepted transmissions from the Soldiers' cell phones. Because of this, the army issued a document that,
At the time of this British report, I went on both CENTCOM and MNF-I websites to review their policy letters on cell phones in theater and any other restrictions concerning electronic devices. Not finding any, I made inquiries to the CENTCOM Public Affairs Office as to their policies concerning this serious flaw in our information and electronic warfare defense procedures. After promises that my request had been forwarded up the chain, I received no reply, and not coincidentally, all policy documents were removed from both websites.
It's not as if we didn't see foresee the negative effects of the overuse of technology.
During experimentation with digitized command and control systems and the tactical internet in the mid- and late- 90s, technical intelligence experts repeatedly hacked into computer systems and the new (at the time) cellular network. Needless to say, this caused some leaders to curb their enthusiasm about issuing these devices to the point of saturation. Nevertheless, it was a get-as-much-as-you-can attitude, so that requirements for encryption and network defense skyrocketed. Every mom and pop small business and large IT company was more than willing to cash in on the booming military digitization market.
Lessons from Desert Shield/Storm were often ignored or forgotten. During the Gulf War, we found that the Iraqi Army and Saddam's intelligence service were very proficient at electronic warfare. This shouldn't have been unexpected since they were a client state of the USSR, whose armed forces had some of the best warriors in the ether. The difference back then was that we took the time to understand their capabilities and operations, and executed plans to turn the Iraqis' strengths into our tactical advantage. Today, the powers that be tend to view the adversary as a bunch of bumpkins; not worthy of any serious consideration that they might just be pretty damn good in a few key areas to cause us no end of problems.
So, while Saddam's guerilla army and its Al-Qaeda partners judiciously use laptops to send operational traffic, and turn cell phones into efficient detonators of IED's, we flood the combat zone with gizmos and doo-hickies for entertainment purposes on base camps. The military command has willingly manufactured a target rich intelligence-gathering environment for the enemy with huge numbers of computers and cell phones, whether we need them for legitimate operations or not. This is counter-intuitive to any number of communications security principles regardless of the protection measures employed.
After several security breaches provided information to both the media and the enemy, the British Ministry of Defense has finally issued restrictions on service members' use of computers and other high-tech devices:
Just like us, leave it to the Brits to recognize the symptoms, but not address the root cause and its solution. The enforcement of these new restrictions is problematic at best. The more practical method is to prohibit the extravagant number of computers and cell phones in theater to reduce the electronic signature and to mitigate the misuse of communications, intentional or not. We cannot underestimate the enemy's ability to obtain intelligence, or the media's ability to wage information warfare on our own troops. And ultimately, I think it can be argued that we need fewer Soldiers carrying laptops and hanging out at the base camps and more combatants carrying assault rifles and crewing tanks - a lot more.
The Army is now looking into the Beauchamp matter, and pending the results of the investigation, they have seized his laptop and cell phone. (Oh, the torture, the inhumanity!) In an earlier age, if he were sincere about criminal abuses on the part of fellow Soldiers, he would have been forced to put his statement in writing up through the chain of command, the inspector general, or write a letter to his congressman. Any one of these procedures would have ferreted out the falsehoods.
Now, disgruntled Soldiers and wannabe lefty propagandists get a free ride to their 15 minutes of fame thanks to the soft, but well-intentioned garrison-oriented policies of the Army and an unserious view of the abilities of the enemy. "Loose lips sink ships" is definitely not the order of the day.
It's time to tackle the problem at the source, and focus our time and resources on defeating the terrorists instead of providing guilt driven technical luxuries.
Joe Crowley contributed research assistance for this article.
Douglas Hanson is the National Security Correspondent of the American Thinker.