For Obama’s War Non Policy, it’s Go Big or Go Home

A year ago I wrote about President Obama’s low energy lack of engagement with trying to save Iraq and defeat ISIS. I had offered some suggestions on how Obama could have butched up his war plans to actually be effective.  Of course I didn’t really expect Obama to take any such advice, whether from me or the countless military advisors at the Pentagon.  Ultimately, he just wasn’t that interested and prefers to wait out the clock until he’s out of office and then complain about whatever the new guy (or gal) decides to do.  Of course in the past year, a couple of things have happened:

Everything has gotten worse.  The Islamic State hasn’t been stopped, and it might be generous to say that they’ve been slowed down.

The Islamic State is now a real state. They are now acting in their territory just like any other government, settling disputes and providing government services.  No one recognizes their government as a legitimate government, but it’s there anyway.

The amount of airpower we’ve been willing to put into the war effort has been kept at a low enough level to not make much difference.

The Obama Administration, CENTCOM, or someone in it (*cough* James Clapper* cough*) is politicizing intelligence to make sure only happy talk is allowed to be disseminated.

Obama’s plan to train a “moderate” Syrian rebel force is a complete failure. We spent $500 million to field 4 or 5 rebels in country.

In the meantime, a massive refugee crisis has broken out as a result of the war, consisting of as many as 9 million Syrians.

The Russians are moving in, setting up operations inside Syria to shore up their ally, President Assad.

So it’s pretty clear that Obama’s no-effort strategy is an abject failure.  And it also means that anything I thought could have been done a year ago has washed away.  The situation is far direr today than it was a year ago and will probably get worse before it gets better, which may not be in the foreseeable future.

So tossing my old plans in the garbage, it’s obvious that we need a new one, but what?  The option I outlined last year included:

  1. Training the remaining semi friendly anti ISIS forces, primarily the Kurds but also some Iraqi regular army units.
  2. Fortify and blockade the Syrian-Iraqi border to keep ISIS from resupplying and reinforcing its holdings on the Iraq side, allowing the Iraqi’s to take back their own territory and force Assad to engage ISIS instead of him using them as a pawn to drag us into saving his bacon.

All of that is meaningless now.  The reality is, whether we accept the existence of the Islamic State or not, is that there is a Sunni Arab state operating in majority Sunni Arab territories taken from both Iraq and Syria, and it’s likely to remain in some form or another.

But this is a good news / bad news situation.  Given where we are now, I thought I had come up with an original, not yet discussed solution to the Syrian issue.  Unfortunately, in researching this, I discovered that The Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon had already beaten me to it:

“…[A] final option is partition or confederation. Partition is certainly easier said than done — whether the goal is to create new countries or autonomous zones held together through some weak central government. But if the parties do recognize that they need to work together and there is some natural way to divide up land that is seen as both fair and militarily enforceable, partition can work. Conflicts between Bosnia and Kosovo, between Eritrea and Ethiopia and between the two Sudans have all ended this way — though often only after a great deal of blood has been spilled, and often only with the help of international peacekeepers along the various lines of separation.”

Given the ethnic/religious map of Syria, it just makes sense that we should stop trying to fit square ethnic groups into the round holes of artificial states that would never have existed if not for the European map making that lead to the Sykes Picot Agreement, which divided up the Middle East by the British and French after World War I. O’Hanlon seems to envision some sort of federation or confederation, but I think mini states would work better.  Let Assad keep the Alawites, and let the Christians, Druze and Kurds go their separate ways.

The Sunni Arab area needs to be let go.  It mostly belongs to the IS anyway.  The only part of that area that needs to be separated is a Sunni enclave separate from the IS for refugees; and of course a possible staging area for future operations against ISIS.

Of course there is more than one fly in that ointment.  The first one is Putin.  He’s moved into Syria in a big way and appears ready to take the military offensive against ISIS to save his client state.  Before the Russians moved in to Syria, the US had the option of operating more or less without taking the Russians into consideration.  But the US policy of keeping the Russians out of the Middle East, which had lasted for decades, has collapsed due to the Obama administration’s inattention.  If anyone has taken Rahm Emmanuel’s advice of never letting a crisis go to waste, it’s been Putin. So anything having to do with Syria now has to go through the actual military power that is on the ground there: Russia.

The other fly in the ointment is of course the Obama administration.  They are the architects of this catastrophe, due to their inexperience and purposeful ideological blindness.  They wanted hands off the Middle Eastern disasters and this is what it looks like; hundreds of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

So for that reason I rate the possibility of actually accomplishing anything as quite low.  Going big would require a major military commitment.  But on the plus side the only areas you would want to take are those areas that truly want be liberated from ISIS, whether they’re Christian, Druze, or Kurds.  Although I’m not sure I would even support that kind of military commitment, I recognize that if you really want to do something useful, you have to do it on that scale.  But  I don’t think the Obama administration has even the appetite for diplomatic action.  Far more likely than going big is simply going home. At least Obama has given a good example of what happens when America Shrugs: chaos.

For those who think the idea of partitioning Syria is unrealistic, there is precedent.  That was how the Yugoslavian civil war was eventually resolved, by; partitioning the area into several states.  The Middle East is revolting against their old, artificially created borders anyway.  That can either be guided to a more peaceful resolution or it can be ignored and resisted with all of the accompanying death and international chaos that goes with it.  But one way or the other, it’s happening.

Update: Since I wrote the above, Putin has changed the game once again. At Monday’s speech at the UN he said that he wants to put together an international anti terrorist coalition to go after the Islamic State. Russia will introduce a UN resolution to that effect, and who can blame them?  International politics and leadership abhors a vacuum, and if the United States is no longer providing leadership, apparently Russia will; on their terms.

When you can’t see PTSD

Before I retired from the Army Reserves, my last unit was a small detachment where we worked special projects.  So drill for us was spent behind a computer, researching and working on various work products. Although I was a newly promoted Sergeant First Class, I was selected as detachment NCO.  I wasn’t the senior NCO in the unit however. There was another SFC who had date of rank on me by several years.  However when he was asked to be the Detachment NCO, he turned it down flat.  Generally, that just isn’t done.  The senior person is supposed to be preparing, and willing to take over when personnel leave, but he was having none of it.  So when I was asked to assume those responsibilities (I accepted of course-although it was less of an ask and more a matter of being told) it wasn’t because I was just so great that the unit leadership thought I was a perfect choice, it was because the person who should have done it just flatly refused.

But being asked to take over as senior Non Commissioned Officer for the detachment was merely a formality.  The truth is he was supposed to take the job, and it was confounding to the unit leadership that he out and out refused.  I didn’t get it either, and I had asked him.  He just waved me off on that one; he didn’t seem to have a clear reason or couldn’t seem to articulate it. This wasn’t the first time that Sergeant Ed (that’s what I’ll call him) had troubles with the unit leadership.  Months prior he had gotten in a shouting match with a Major over…nothing.  He had just lost his temper for no reason.

That should have been a clue for me, but I totally missed it.

Sergeant Ed had been deployed to Iraq and had been back for about two years at that point.  He didn’t enjoy his deployment.  Not being sarcastic here but some guys do.  They like the adventure, the camaraderie, and the extra combat pay.  And the younger you are, the less cognizant of danger you are.  That’s why young guys traditionally make the best soldiers.  Sergeant Ed wasn’t a young guy when he was deployed though.  He was in his fifties; an unimaginably ancient age to be deployed in a combat zone for the active services, but strictly routine for Guard and Reserve.

What’s worse, he was deployed in an entirely different Military Occupational Specialty than the one he had been working in for the past couple years.  That wasn’t as uncommon as it should have been.  Something similar happened to me.  I was deployed in my original MOS, not the one I had been working in the previous decade.  At least in my case it was a field that was fairly close to the one I had been working in, so the transition for me wasn’t as extreme.

So he was supposed to be a supervisor (he had the rank) and be an expert in, a field he hadn’t worked in about 15 years.  In a combat zone, with people he hadn’t worked with before.

No pressure.

None the less, that was all in the past, and I didn’t connect it with his performance in the unit.  Until one day…

We were at work one day, each at our workstations working on our various aspects of our project, when he turned to me and asked what I thought was a really off the wall question.

“Say when you’re online, do you ever look at…”

Now here I was preparing myself for some description of some off the wall aspect of pornography.  I steeled myself for the description of some fetish that I really didn’t want to hear about.

“…car crash scenes?”

“Huh?  No.  What?”

That threw me.  I have seen car crash photos online.  Years ago there was a troll on a forum I used to go to that would either post or misidentify links to auto accidents.  But I sure wouldn’t go searching for them.  Who would?

He then proceeded to tell me how he would wake up in the middle of the night and search for gruesome car crashes online.  He couldn’t explain exactly why he did it, but he described it as a compulsion, a compulsion that had its roots in his deployment to Iraq.

And that’s when the story came out.

He had gone on sick call; something minor, and while sitting in the waiting room there was a large explosion outside on the street.  An bomb had gone off, killing several people.  That part sounds like just a news report, but he was in the waiting room of that medical detachment when the stretchers came into the facility.  These were stretchers full of body parts; arms, legs…other parts.  All the while he was helpless to do anything.

That morning became the defining moment of his deployment.  It was the trigger to his post traumatic stress disorder, and I had worked with the guy for two years and didn’t have a clue.

Oh I had sat through the Army briefings on PTSD, and thought I would be able to detect the symptoms in a fellow soldier, but I didn’t.  Instead, I judged him, just like the rest of my detachment command judged him.  We didn’t have a clue even though the clues in his behavior were sprinkled all around us.

But I think what really threw me was his age.  I just didn’t expect an adult in his fifties to be traumatized that way.  For some reason, it made more sense to me that a guy in his twenties would be more affected.  But when you are in your fifties?  It was nonsensical prejudice and maybe it’s one that isn’t emphasized enough.  But it was a difficult lesson to learn.

At least he was taken care of properly by the VA.  Although there are a million and one terrible VA stories, there are even more that were successful.  In this case, he got the help he needed. But my regret, is that I didn’t support him in the way that he needed, when he really needed it.


Patching up Obama’s ISIS War Plans


My reaction to Obama’s speech last week outlining his plans to deal with ISIS started out like most Obama speeches I watch.  I started out with the best of intentions; I was going to pay attention, make note of the high points…but at some point his speech starts taking on a droning quality, and then it becomes a test pattern buzzing…and then I’m watching cat videos on line and what?  It’s over?  What did he say?  For some reason, I can no longer pay attention to the world’s greatest orator.

So I had to read it online and just didn’t find it that workable.  No wonder I couldn’t pay attention to it.  Oh I give the President credit for trying.  I had written previously that the President is making a difficult step; facing the reality that he may wind up going back to the place he was most anxious to leave, Iraq.  But the President thinks he can build the type of coalition the previous Bush Presidents had built, and they’ll trust him on it, when he’s been trashing our relationships with most of the Middle East for the past 6 years.

But not to worry, I have an alternate plan.

The problem with Obama’s plan is it depends on stuff he is unlikely to get; ground troops from other coalition partners.  They have zero reason to trust us for the long haul, so are unlikely to put their own troops up when we are making clear that we’re not. We’re telling our coalition partners that we’re not going risk our troops, but we’ll gladly risk theirs.  You can imagine how that’s going to sit in the differing capitals.  So that only leaves the air option, associated support, and training of Syrian rebels.

This brings me to another problem with Obama’s plan:  training Syrian rebels.  It’s a bad idea in my opinion.  We’re rolling the dice that we can arm and train Jihadi’s that will only fight other Jihadi’s.  Even a military noob like Obama should be able to see where that will lead.

So  what’s my plan?  First, since the beginning of the crisis, the US has pushed the Iraqi government to be more inclusive and allow US troops back in.  Done and done.  If the administration had done this in the first place, we likely wouldn’t be in this situation, but water under the bridge…


1)  That leaves limited forces that are worthwhile to train; mainly the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army.  Of the two, the Peshmerga is the more motivated and reliable force, but they could really benefit from advanced weaponry, and intelligence assistance.  The Iraqi Army is demoralized and needs a great deal of babysitting.  Ideally, we would only need worry about helping the Iraqi Army but they are not up to the task of kicking ISIS out of Iraqi cities.  Some of the Shia militias might be but if we add them into the coalition we risk alienating Iraqi Sunnis, as well as the Sunni coalition partners.  The only Shias we should be reaching out to are those under the auspices of the Iraqi military.   So no dealing with Iran of course.

2)  Since the US invasion, the problem with Iraq has been its porous borders.  They allowed jihadi’s and supplies from all over the world to come to Iraq and fight Americans, and later allowed the Iranians to train and equip insurgents to fight Americans with extremely sophisticated weapons and tactics.  Since the Iraqi Army is the weakest link, their best use could be used as a border guard.  We need to secure Iraq’s borders to prevent ISIS the easy back and forth access they’ve enjoyed.  If we can cut ISIS in two the Peshmerga can secure Kurdistan easier and the Iraqi’s will have a more limited force to deal with and it will make it easier to take back the cities when they don’t have to worry about ISIS reinforcements.

3) Cutting ISIS in two saves Obama from the political problem Obama has created for himself in being in a de facto alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Assad is counting on the US taking care of his ISIS problem for him.  However if we secure the border, that leaves Syrian part of a bifurcated ISIS for Assad to handle.  Do we really want to be in the position of saving the Assad regime?  I say, that cutting ISIS in two solves both the military and political problem.

4) There is one major gap that’s missing, and this is the part that makes my plan politically impossible; if needed, we need to be prepared to send in ground forces to back up our Iraqi and Kurd partners.  Yes, the dreaded, boots on the ground!  Although I opposed the initial invasion of Iraq, I get Colin Powell’s  Pottery Barn warning; we break it, we buy it.  That’s why I was able to consistently oppose the invasion, support the surge, and support keeping a stabilizing force in Iraq. So post surge, by 2008 we had a fragile Iraq taped up, the new administration was only interested in getting out and not caring about what came after.  So although Bush was wrong to invade Iraq, Obama was wrong to abandon it.  Now, we’re still responsible for fixing it.

Not to worry, there’s no chance that any of my suggestions will be adopted.  Of course maybe I’m wrong and we can defeat ISIS with air power alone.  But I’m not counting on it,


No Strategy and No Intelligence

This sort of dereliction of duty should have President Obama giving himself a facepalm.

What am I talking about you may wonder?

Source: Obama Given Detailed Intelligence For a year about the rise of ISIS

President Obama was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year before the group seized large swaths of territory over the summer, a former Pentagon official told Fox News. 

The official — who asked not to be identified because the President’s Daily Brief is considered the most authoritative, classified intelligence community product analyzing sensitive international events for the president — said the data was strong and “granular” in detail. 

The source said a policymaker “could not come away with any other impression: This is getting bad.” 

If true, it means that Obama was lying out of his ass when a few weeks ago he said this:

“There is no doubt that their advance their movement over the last several of months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectation of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq.”

How would he know?  He’s not getting briefed on them.  But this sort of amateurishness I find galling:

Obama, unlike his predecessors who traditionally had the document briefed to them, is known to personally read the daily brief. The former Pentagon official, who has knowledge of the process, said Obama generally was not known to come back to the intelligence community with further requests for information based on the daily report. 

This issue has actually come up before.  Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote a column last year noting that Obama skipped more than half of his intelligence briefings. However he included the administration response, which was that the President reads his Daily Intelligence Briefing every day and doesn’t require an actual in person briefing.  One presumes because darn it, he’s just that smart.

I would call that nonsense, and I know a little bit about the subject.  During my military career I gave briefings, I wrote and helped assemble briefings, I’ve read them, and sat in on briefings.  Military and Intelligence officials get their briefings in person from a briefer, and I can assure you it’s not because they aren’t as smart as the President.  You need a briefer there because if you have any questions on any of the briefed issues (and I’ve never seen a high level person being briefed who didn’t ask questions) you need to have someone there who can elaborate on the issue.  Being briefed isn’t a passive activity; you are supposed to be actively engaged in your own briefing.

And that’s among people who already have spent a working lifetime immersed in the details of military and intelligence capabilities and areas of interest. That is not the President’s background.  He received his first intelligence briefing shortly before the election in 2008; the guy is no expert.  If anyone needs the handholding of a skilled briefer it’s him.

It’s not as if Obama is the first President who arrived in the White House with no military or national security experience, but I doubt there has been a more arrogant one who was just too cool for the room and who no doubt genuinely thinks he knows more than the military and intelligence professionals who desperately need to educate him. No wonder Obama has ‘no strategy for handling ISIS.  He’s just recently heard of them.







Why The Administration is Surprised by the Berghdahl Reaction

All the negative reaction to the release was of no surprise to me, but the administration was caught totally flat footed by the negative reaction of the military and the American public to Bergdahl’s release.  As Obama scribe Chuck Todd reports:


As Obama high priest Chuck Todd stated, the administration did expect some sort of pushback by the release of these five Taliban Gitmo prisoners, but why was the Obama administration caught so flat footed by something that the entire rest of the country felt uneasy about, the effort that went into the release of an apparent deserter?

I have two possible theories on that:

Theory One:  The Left regarded him as a hero, so Obama did too.

In 2009, when Bergdahl first disappeared, it was reported that he had left post without weapons and without permission, so from the very first reportage on this issue, we’ve known that he wasn’t just captured, but that he just walked away under suspicious circumstances.  At the time I used to argue politics with a lefty who actually posted the story on his blog and was troubled by his apparent desertion as well.  All very non-partisan right?   Then came FOX.

A few days after Bergdahl’s capture/disappearance/desertion, Fox News ran an interview with its Military Analyst, LTC Ralph Peters, who had some choice words on Bergdahl:

Peters called Bergdahl a liar and possible deserter.  If the blogosphere left needed to know what side to be on in this issue, Peters showed them; the opposite side from Peters and Fox.  I saw the left reaction to that near immediately when the same lefty who first posted the blog post on Bergdahl noting that he had walked off post suspiciously and that there was a lot more to this story, suddenly switched gears and attacked Peters for dare besmirching a captured American POW.

Private First Class Bowe Robert Bergdahl, Unit...

Private First Class Bowe Robert Bergdahl, United States Army. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I assume that 180 degree reversal came about due to some talking points that felt more hay could be made by attacking Peters and Fox for daring to attack an American soldier.  And of course, a disillusioned solder is the perfect lefty military icon.

So it makes sense that to the typical member of the Obama administration, all they would know of Bergdahl is that he’s an American hero that was attacked by Fox News years ago.

Theory Two:  An excuse to empty Guantanamo Bay

A few weeks ago I caught some video of President Obama being asked about his promise to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Obama seemed really heartfelt about his regret at not closing it.  Unlike so many issues, where it feels like he’s just reading off a teleprompter (OK he is), Obama sounded very sincere about still wanting to shut down Gitmo.  This wasn’t just a campaign promise; he really wants to do it.

But Obama has been stymied by Congress, and not just “obstructionist” Republicans, but Democrats as well.  He couldn’t get Gitmo closed when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, so the odds of accomplishing anything via legislation appear dim.  But even if Obama can’t close Gitmo, he’s the Commander in Chief.  He could empty Gitmo.

It’s possible that trading 5 Taliban bad guys wasn’t so much a trade as Obama giving away something he wants to get rid of anyway and pretending it’s a trade.  By all indications, these are some of the “worst of the worst.”  With those guys gone, it makes releasing guys not as bad easier.  With the Afghan War winding down, it’s possible that Obama is going to pretend that’s the end of the war on terror, and just let everyone go from Gitmo.

Although such a move seems highly irresponsible, so was releasing those five Taliban commanders and he did that, in spite of the recommendations of the military, intelligence, and foreign services.  If the Obama administration intends to do a back door shut down of Gitmo, he’s already gotten the worst out of the way.

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Memorial Day Links

This is just a collection of interesting reading I’ve come across in the past few days.  They’re not really related to Memorial Day.

The Case for Reparations

This from The Atlantic, and my main surprise is that The Atlantic ran something like this before Salon did.  Written by Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates, the title doesn’t match the article, which instead is about the persistent housing and mortgage discrimination that sabotaged dreams of African American home ownership and achieving the middle class throughout the 20th Century. As a history, the article is extremely well done, but has what to do with reparations exactly?  My gut feeling is that this is a well researched piece that Coates had been working on for a while, and the editors decided to run with the title and the tacked on conclusion about reparations.  My guess is it’s after a call from either the White House, DNC, or whoever is planning election strategy for Democrats for this year.  In case there was any doubt, in the same way that the Democratic strategy for the 2012 election was the “Republican War on Women,” 2014 will be the year of the “Republican War on Blacks.”  In order to generate African American turnout, could this be the year that the Democratic Party begins supporting some sort of reparations?

Charles Murray is his usual controversial self, but he makes some good points with:

Down With the Four Year Degree!

Murray argues that the value of a 4 year college degree, the trusty BA, has dropped over the years as more people over the years as more people have them.  In 2014, does it make sense to tell every High School student who can fog an SAT to go to college, even if you are going for non descript social science or liberal arts field?  And he brings up a really penetrating question, why does it take 4 academic school years to get a BA no matter what is taught?

I’m not into what the kids call tumbler, but I came across this link and it’s eye opening.

Gobing Detroit

This tumbler however, compares street photos of Detroit from 2009 to 2013.  The rapid deterioration of the property is amazing.  Note to Walking Dead producers:  If you want to see how houses and businesses really look after the apocalypse, this will give you the comparative tools to build realistic sets.

No collection of links could be complete without one from Mark Steyn.  The problem is, as always, which one to pick?

Inequality Before the Law

The article compares National Review writer Dinesh D’Souza’s conviction for breaking campaign finance laws, with the Obama campaign disengaging their security for credit card transactions for 2008 and 2012 so anyone, from Adolph Hitler to Mickey Mouse could donate to the Obama campaign, and from anywhere in the world (Hitler donated from “The Reichstag, Germany”).  All a violation of campaign laws of course, but not even an investigation by the FEC.  It was an issue that was well covered in the conservative blogosphere but not at all interesting to the MSM.  This is part of a long term issue Steyn has been discussing of the organs of government being corrupted to serve the ruling party.

Since it is Memorial Day after all, on a military related note:

Army Taps Scorpion to Replace UCP

The Army has officially selected its new camouflage pattern, called Scorpion, to replace its current UCP gray pajamas pattern, the last one I wore before retiring.  It’s very close to, but not quite similar to the Multicams that have been worn for Afghanistan deployment for the past few years.  Why not just multicams?  If I knew the answer to that, I might be smart enough to know why switching from desert camo pattern of the old Battle Dress Uniform to gray greenish digital camo would make sense for the desert.  All I know is that the travesties of US Army camouflage uniforms over the last 12 years deserve a much longer treatment.



Arrogance of Trust

The news that Edward Snowden had somehow managed to persuade 20 to 25 of his fellow colleagues at the NSA to give up their passwords and login information has probably shocked IT professionals and corporate security types.  “What kind of slipshod IT security is the NSA running?”  Could the smartest guys in the room really be so dumb and trusting?  As Reuters reports:

Snowden may have persuaded between 20 and 25 fellow workers at the NSA regional operations center in Hawaii to give him their logins and passwords by telling them they were needed for him to do his job as a computer systems administrator, a second source said.

This may seem incredible to those involved in information assurance that a system administrator, who had only been at the job a few months, could talk that many people out of their passwords.  Don’t these people have any information security training?  Every company IT department  teaches its employees to never share their password information.  Didn’t these guys have any training?

Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Marylan...

Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. Español: Instalaciones generales de la NSA en Fort Meade, Maryland. Русский: Штаб-квартира АНБ, Форт-Мид, Мэриленд, США (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It turns out they do.  The Department of Defense, which the National Security Agency falls under, has extensive computer security training.  But that only begs the question further.  Snowden was so new at his base in Hawaii that he probably didn’t have any long term personal relationships to play on in order to trick people out of their passwords.  But I don’t think he needed to trick anyone.  And I think I know why.

I should preface this by saying this is just my personal opinion, but I think the popular idea of intelligence agencies and organizations, at least American ones, as a font of constant paranoia, looking over your shoulder at all times, and a lack of trust between co-workers, as depicted in movies and popular culture (think the Bourne movies) is totally opposite of the real situation.  I think the security problem in US intelligence organizations, which Snowden exploited, is that everyone trusts each other too much.

Security Clearances for Top Secret and above levels cost thousands of dollars and can take months to complete.  Once you have a security clearance, it’s not only a marketable item, but it’s sort of a short hand as to what kind of character you have.  Although it actually means you’ve mostly stayed out of trouble and have not screwed up too much, it’s taken as a certificate of approval that this person is trustworthy and of good character.  So if you work in a classified facility, surrounded by cleared people, some of them may strike you as crazy, or unpleasant, but not thieves, not crooks, and not traitors.  Why?  It’s nothing they did, it’s simply from the fact that they are working there; they’ve been vetted.

Once you are on the inside, you are part of special limited clique, in which everyone on the inside of the vault door holds secret knowledge that those on the other side of the vault door don’t know, and can’t know.  It’s like being part of Skull and Bones, only instead of knowing secret arcane nonsense; you know real things about the world that matter.  That dividing line between those on the inside of the door and those on the outside is huge.

One of the first things they teach you in Basic Training and Boot Camp is to keep you locker and money locked up and secure at all times. Even the camaraderie of military service isn’t enough to be sure your buddy won’t grab your wallet in an act of desperation. But like Singapore, if you decide to leave your wallet on your desk at work in your secured facility, you can mostly be assured that it will still be there, undisturbed, when you come back from break.  Having many roommates in the past with security clearances, I never worried for a second about leaving money or valuables around out in the open. I may have worried if they would clean up the kitchen after fixing dinner, or vanishing for days on end, but I never worried that they would steal from me.  I granted them an automatic level of trust that most keep within close family members.

And maybe that’s the problem.  In spite of all the security, and in spite of all the rules and security procedures, it doesn’t mean a thing unless people can operate with even a normal level of caution.  In my corporate environment I would never turn over my password to anyone, system administrator or otherwise.  But if I was back in the classified world, inside that insular level of trust, I can’t be sure how I would react.  And the fact that I would even question that is the problem.

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