America’s goal to democratize Afghanistan started haphazardly, no doubt buffeted by the chaos of the days immediately following 9/11. However, what began as a relative afterthought soon became the perceived cure-all for Islamic extremism—bring democracy to the Middle East and watch the underlying causes of terrorism erode away. As the Bush administration began developing that policy, a fair amount of scholarly research and intelligence (now declassified) was available to assist policymakers.

This is Part 2 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. Read Part 1 here

The pre-9/11 scholarly research

The pre-9/11 scholarly research could have helped answer two key questions:

  1. Would democracy be likely to succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq?
  2. Would a shift from autocracy to democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq help reduce the number of terrorists and terror attacks?

The research suggested that establishing a functioning democracy would be quite challenging in either country. Regarding democracy in Muslim states, ample research cautioned that many democracy enablers—cultural and institutional—could not be found within Islamic tradition.[1] Several notable scholars agreed obstacles existed, but they assessed them as surmountable.[2] Looking at democracy more broadly, the eminent democracy scholar, Seymour Martin Lipset, highlighted cultural factors as determinants of success, cautioning that culture is “extraordinarily difficult to manipulate.”[3] Seven years prior to 9/11, Lipset wrote that successful democracies in Muslim-majority countries were “doubtful.” He argued that an enduring democracy necessitated a connection between efficacy and legitimacy that could be observed by the population. Progress in either the political or economic arenas, he said, would build perceived legitimacy and help cement democracy.[4] With respect to Afghanistan in particular, Robert Barro observed that democracy was unlikely to take hold because of low education levels, the marginalization of women, and the patchwork of different ethnicities.[5] Fareed Zakaria stressed the potential problems associated with ethnic fractionalization and democracy, noting the chance of war could actually increase if democracy were introduced in a country that did not yet have a liberal culture or institutions.[6] Similarly, Amitai Etzioni, a former advisor to President Carter, noted the difficulties of a society jumping from “the Stone Age to even a relatively modern one.” He pointed to the failed experiences of the World Bank and U.S. foreign-aid programs, ultimately concluding that democratic failure would result in Afghanistan.[7] These observations highlight the tension between the legitimate aspirations of President Bush and his national security team and the numerous obstacles that the pre-9/11 research had already identified.

States in transition from autocracy to democracy have more political violence within their borders than do either strongly democratic or autocratic states. In terms of stable, entrenched democracies, the research is divided on whether democracy reduces terrorism more effectively than other forms of government or not. On the one hand, scholars like Rudy Rummel and Ted Gurr contend that democracies provide a system within which grievances can be non-violently addressed, whereas autocracies are much more prone to political violence because they deny their citizens alternate forms of political communication.[8] On the opposite side, researchers like Havard Hegre suggest that democracies are home to increased amounts of political expression, both non-violent and violent.[9] Empirical studies suggest developed and stable democracies do have lower levels of political violence, but so do harshly authoritarian states. Higher levels of political violence, however, tend to occur in intermediate regimes, such as infant democracies.[10]

Based on the pre-war intelligence

The Bush administration planned the Iraq War for more than a year, and authorities have declassified much of the pre-war intelligence. As a result, ample intelligence is now available to the public. Conversely, for the war in Afghanistan, essentially no intelligence regarding governance issues is available since the war came quickly after the 9/11 attacks and the military had no plans for Afghanistan until after September 11th (beyond tactical plans to attack bin Laden).[11] Much of the available intelligence regarding Afghanistan comes from the 9/11 Commission Report, but it does not include useful information for analyzing the decision to democratize. Therefore, only an analysis of the pre-war Iraq intelligence is provided.

The policy choice to promote democracy appears to have discounted significant portions of the pre-war intelligence. In August 2002, a CIA report noted that Iraqi culture has been “inhospitable to democracy.” The report went on to say that absent comprehensive and enduring US and Western support, the likelihood of achieving even “partial democratic successes” was “poor.”[12]

In late 2002, the CIA provided a slightly more optimistic assessment which said most Shia would conclude that a “secular and democratic Iraq served their interests.”[13] At the same time, though, a DIA report asserted that Shia preferences could not be accurately assessed because of the fear and repression they lived under.[14] Several months later, the CIA released another assessment indicating the potential for democratic stability would be “limited” over the next two years, but a US-led coalition “could” prepare the way for democracy in five to 10 years.[15]

Additionally, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) published two Intelligence Community Assessments in January 2003, which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence described as the “best available ‘baseline’” of prewar assessments on postwar Iraq.[16] The reports described democratic concepts as “alien to most Arab Middle Eastern political cultures.”[17] The NIC also noted “Iraqi political culture does not foster liberalism or democracy.” As a result, they assessed the potential for the democratization of Iraq as a “long, difficult, and probably turbulent process.”[18] In a particularly prescient set of comments, the NIC assessed that “political transformation is the task…least susceptible to outside intervention and management.”[19]

Considerable scholarly research and intelligence were available to policymakers before the decision was made to aggressively pursue democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader region. The numerous cautions contained in the intelligence and research, however, were either missed or ignored.

Next week, part 3 will examine the research published since 9/11 in light of the decision to pursue broad democratization. Erik Goepner’s full paper is available here.

[1] Alfred C. Stepan, “Religion, Democracy, and the ‘Twin Tolerations,’” Journal of Democracy 11, no. 4 (2000): 47.
[2] Niloofar Afari et al., “Psychological Trauma and Functional Somatic Syndromes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Psychosomatic Medicine 76, no. 1 (January 2014): 2–11; John Esposito and John Voll, Islam and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 1996).
[3] Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Centrality of Political Culture,” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 4 (1990): 82–3.
[4] Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address,” American Sociological Review 59, no. 1 (February 1, 1994): 6, 17.
[5] Robert Barro, “Don’t Bank on Democracy in Afghanistan,” Business Week, January 21, 2002, 18.
[6] Fareed Zakaria, “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs, December 1997, 35.
[7] Amitai Etzioni, “USA Can’t Impose Democracy on Afghans,” USA Today, October 10, 2001.
[8] W. Eubank and L. Weinberg, “Terrorism and Democracy: Perpetrators and Victims,” Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 1 (March 1, 2001): 156.
[9] Eubank and Weinberg, “Terrorism and Democracy.”
[10] Håvard Hegre, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates and Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992,” American Political Science Review, no. 01 (March 2001): 42; Daniel Byman, The Five Front War: The Better Way to Fight Global Jihad (Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 158–9.
[11] The 9/11 Commission Report, 135–7, 208, 332.
[12] United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence Assessments About Postwar Iraq (Washington, D.C., May 25, 2007), 103.
[13] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 100.
[14] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 93–4.
[15] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 97.
[16] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Report on Prewar Intelligence, 4.
[17] National Intelligence Council, Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq, January 2003, 30.
[18] National Intelligence Council, Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq, January 2003, 5.
[19] National Intelligence Council, Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq, 9.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

NDAA Update: The House Says Keep the A-10

By Greg Mercer

There are many fights and quirks intertwined with the National Defense Authorization Act.  One of them is the A-10 Thunderbolt II (sometimes called the “Warthog”) close support aircraft.  A lot has been made of this particular aircraft, given the Air Force’s desire to phase it out of combat and eventually replace it.  Congress, however, appears to have different plans.

An amendment to the NDAA introduced by Martha McSally (R-AZ-2) in the House Armed Services Committee prohibits the Air Force from using appropriated funds to retire, store, or replace any A-10 aircraft—effectively mandating that the Air Force maintain at least its current stock of 171 A-10s.  Planes, of course, need pilots (well, most of them do), so the amendment also requires that the Air Force not “make significant reductions to manning levels with respect to any A-10 aircraft squadrons or divisions.”  This means that not only does the Air Force have to keep the planes, it has to keep flying them too.  The Air Force has warned that maintaining the A-10 will mean cuts to other programs.

This isn’t an indefinite measure, though.  The amendment calls for an outside study commissioned by the Department of Defense to explore options for retiring and replacing the aircraft.  The Air Force can continue to explore retirement of the A-10—a clearly articulated goal—but it must do so on Congress’s terms.

What, then, motivates Congress?  While mandating the continued operation of the A-10, seemingly against the wishes of the Air Force, might paint Congress as a backwards facing, wasteful organization in contrast to the Air Force’s progressive, cost-saving efforts, this definitely isn’t a fair take on the relationship.  After all, the Air Force also recently asked for 1000 more Air-Launched Cruise Missiles at a cost of $9 billion.  So, it’s not as if the Air Force is desperate to save money at every turn.

Two possible Congressional motivations stand out: First, the A-10 is currently operated by 16 Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command squadrons throughout the United States—those are plenty of constituent jobs.  Second, members of Congress were likely impressed by the A-10’s record in Iraq and Afghanistan, where its close support role was used to support troops in combat.  While this might not represent a statistical study of its effectiveness, the A-10 has an obvious reputation of saving lives.  Thus, Congress likely views A-10 retirement as something that isn’t yet broken, and doesn’t need fixing.  The Air Force disagrees.

It’s a frustrating situation, but it also calls out the need for checks and balances in military priority setting.  We’ll find out more about the fate of the A-10 when the House NDAA is voted on and reconciled with the Senate version.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

America’s War on Terror: Democracy is No Panacea

Nine days after the attacks of September 11, the President George W. Bush declared America’s war on terror had begun. Over time, the spread of freedom and democracy came to be seen as key objectives of the war. Freedom and democracy, it was thought, would be the solution to Islamic extremism.[1]

This is Part 1 of 4 of Erik Goepner‘s paper. 


The goal of democratizing Afghanistan came haphazardly. As U.S. policymakers prepared to launch strikes to root out al Qaeda, they did not initially plan to conduct regime change in Afghanistan. Planning efforts left open the possibility that the Taliban might cooperate sufficiently and, therefore, be allowed to remain in power.[2] Soon after the CIA initiated covert operations, however, it became obvious regime change was coming. The first formal expression of regime change appears to have occurred at an October 3 meeting. At that meeting, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he wanted leadership in Kabul available to fill the void left by the removal of the Taliban, leadership that represented all of the Afghan people.[3] The U.S. launched its first airstrikes four days later.

The Taliban had to go, but what a future Afghan government might look like received scant attention early on. Part of the disconnect resulted from the rapid success of military operations. Within the first week of airstrikes, Pakistani and U.N. officials began pressuring the U.S. government to slow the Northern Alliance advance. They wanted an interim government in place before the Northern Alliance took Kabul.[4] Despite those attempts, the Northern Alliance did enter Kabul and establish a quasi-government before a broad-based, internationally recognized interim government could be appointed.

On November 10, President Bush spoke before the U.N. General Assembly, where he articulated his support of U.N.-led efforts to broker a post-Taliban government that would represent all Afghans.[5] A month later, the U.N.-brokered talks concluded in Bonn, Germany. The talks aimed to place the various Afghan groups front and center, with the U.N. and international community taking a supporting role.[6] Afghans would govern themselves, assisted by a light international footprint to help bolster their capacity.[7] The final agreement read, in part, “Acknowledging the right of the people of Afghanistan to freely determine their own political future in accordance with the principles of Islam, democracy, pluralism…”

Hamid Karzai took the oath as interim President of Afghanistan on December 22, 2001.


Five years before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Congress and President Clinton enacted a law authorizing 97 million dollars for opposition forces who would remove Saddam from power and promote democracy in Iraq.[8] The Bush Administration, though, needed little encouragement. By this point in the War on Terror, buoyed by perceived success in Afghanistan, the President frequently spoke of America’s responsibility to free the oppressed.

In January 2003, the President Bush met with several Iraqi dissidents. They articulated a favorable picture of what a post-Saddam Iraq might look like. Each spoke optimistically regarding democracy’s future in Iraq, noting the technological skills of the citizenry while discounting what they perceived as overblown commentaries regarding the Sunni-Shia split. When the President asked about the possibility of the U.S. being seen as imposing its will, they had no response.[9]

On March 4, Doug Feith, the Under Secretary of Defense, briefed the President and the NSC on U.S. objectives in Iraq. Moving Iraq towards democracy was high on the list. Iraq, they hypothesized, would soon serve as a model for the region. U.S.-led coalition airstrikes began March 20, 2003.

Eight months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush presented a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”[10] The President’s lofty ambitions for the Middle East could be interpreted as politically motivated perhaps, but the consistency of his message and his passion on the subject suggest he truly did perceive a responsibility to liberate the oppressed. Whether feasible or not, whether politically motivated or not, President Bush appeared to believe that bringing freedom to other nations was the right, and necessary, thing to do.

In June 2004, the United States transferred power to an interim Iraqi government and elections were held in January 2005.[11]

After the Elections

After the first elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush intensified his calls for democracy in the Middle East. Promoting democracy became a cornerstone of his War on Terror strategy. [12] Mentions of freedom, liberty, and democracy can be found throughout his speeches during that time. His 2006 National Security Strategy celebrated the “extraordinary progress in the expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity” that had occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The January 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power, however, may have had a tamping effect on the Bush Administration’s push for broader democratization in the region. The Hamas victory, along with electoral inroads by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, brought a chorus of criticism against the President.[13]

Efforts to democratize Afghanistan started haphazardly, but what began as a relative afterthought in Afghanistan soon became the perceived cure-all for Islamic extremism.

Next week, part 2 will examine the decision to democratize in light of the intelligence and scholarly research available in the run up to both wars. Erik Goepner’s full paper is available here.

[1] Council on Global Terrorism, State of the Struggle: Report on the Battle against Global Terrorism, ed. Lee Hamilton and Justine A. Rosenthal (Washington, D.C: Council on Global Terrorism : Brooking Institution Press [distributor], 2006), 83.
[2] Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 130.
[3] Woodward, Bush at War, 191–2.
[4] Peter Baker, Molly Moore and Kamram Khan, and Washington Post Foreign Service, “Rebels Delay Move Against Kabul; Devising Plan for New Government in Afghanistan Becomes Priority,” The Washington Post, October 11, 2001, sec. A.
[5] George Bush (United Nations General Assembly, New York, November 10, 2001),
[6] Simon Chesterman, “Walking Softly in Afghanistan: The Future of UN State-Building,” Survival 44, no. 3 (September 2002): 39.
[7] Chesterman, “Walking Softly in Afghanistan,” 38.
[8] Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 10.
[9] Woodward, Plan of Attack, 258–60.
[10] Mark N. Katz, Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 23–4.
[11] Dominic Johnson and Dominic Tierney, Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), 245.
[12] Raphael Perl, Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness, November 23, 2005, 4.
[13] Steven R. Weisman, “Bush Defends His Goal of Spreading Democracy to the Mideast,” The New York Times, January 27, 2006, sec. Washington, 27/politics/27diplo.html.


Image Credit: U.S. Army

2016 NDAA: Helicopters, Counters for Unconventional Warfare, and a Bunch of Ships

By Greg Mercer

Every fiscal year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a piece of comprehensive legislation that funds the Department of Defense and the national security programs operated by the Department of Energy. Since the military is extraordinarily expensive to maintain, and Congress famously “holds the purse strings”, the NDAA is a catalyst for major changes and reforms, and the process of authoring and passing it can tell us a lot about the gap between Congressional and military priorities. The NDAA is going through the House markup process (House first, then Senate, because it’s a financial bill), with subcommittee markups taking place this week and the Full Committee Markup taking place Wednesday, April 29 (Rayburn House Office Building Room 2118 at 10 AM if you’re really interested). The process has already highlighted some trends that will have a major impact in FY16.

Defense News reports that the Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee has requested that the Pentagon replace some helicopters. The subcommittee requested that the Pentagon create a plan to replace existing AH-6 and MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters within 90 days of the NDAA’s passage and to indicate how they plan to do so with “anticipated funding requirements… for development and procurement of an A/MH-6 replacement platform.” A/MH-6s are commonly used by special operations forces, so it’s no surprise that the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee would be concerned about the future of Special Forces aviation.

The subcommittee also notes that they are concerned about the “unconventional warfare capabilities and threats” posed by Russia and Iran. The proposed legislation defines this as: “…activities conducted to enable a resistance movement of insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.” Clearly, this refers to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russian aggression, as well as the involvement of Iran in combatting ISIL forces in Iraq, which has seen Iran training and equipping as many as 30,000 troops and deploying missiles.

Finally, the subcommittee touches upon a trendy, favorite topic, expressing concern about DOD’s cyber capabilities. It requests a briefing on the process of identifying and remedying current vulnerabilities by February 1, 2016, and a briefing on the DOD’s cyber mission force and whether it can meet its intelligence collection and analysis needs but November 1, 2016.

Elsewhere, Defense News also reports that the Navy’s FY16 budget requests have generally enjoyed support from the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. The subcommittee approved requests for building three new Littoral Combat Ships (a program which has seen controversy in the past), two destroyers, two attack submarines, the completion of a new amphibious ship, continued construction on two new aircraft carriers, procurement of new Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the development of an unmanned, carrier-based jet.

The NDAA will remain dynamic and likely controversial as it works its way through the legislative process. Its position at the center of DOD’s operations for the upcoming year makes the NDAA perennially attractive to those in Congress and the Administration who seek reform or procurement changes. I’ll try to offer more as the process continues.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy


By Erik Goepner

Promoting democracy, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, has been a cornerstone of America’s war on terror since the early days after 9/11. To many Americans, including our policy makers, democracy is virtually synonymous with liberty and freedom. Not everyone shares this perspective. Some view democracy as incompatible with freedom and liberty.

After perceived initial successes in Afghanistan, President Bush frequently spoke of America’s responsibility to help free other peoples.[1] In 2003, he spoke of a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”[2] The President’s State of the Union addresses delivered during his two presidencies reached a crescendo in 2005, when he mentioned “democracy,” “liberty,” “freedom” or some variant thereof 46 times. The following year, the White House’s National Security Strategy celebrated the “extraordinary progress in the expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity” that had had occurred over the past four years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Such concepts are interwoven throughout our nation’s history, whether declaring our independence or stating that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We elect our leaders. We have the right to assemble and to protest. We have an active press and we enjoy the right to worship (or not) as we please. Give me liberty or give me death. Live free or die. It is no wonder, then, that for Americans, the words democracy, liberty, and freedom may often substitute one for another.

Other perspectives, however, while endorsing the concepts of liberty and freedom, reject democracy. Sayyid Qutb, an early member of the Muslim Brotherhood, outlined such a perspective in his provocative book, Milestones. Written in 1964, two years before the Egyptian government executed him, Qutb argued that freedom and liberty were antithetical to democracy. He asserted that Americans were ignorant and rebellious, as evidenced by our legislating of rules for collective behavior and our perceived right to “choose a way of life…without regard to what Allah has prescribed.” God, he said, is the Regent, while the faithful followers are to be his vice regents. How, then, he argued, could the vice regent legislate on issues that the Regent had already decreed as good or bad? For Qutb, Western democracy was the enslavement of one man over another. By encouraging the vice regent to elect human leaders who would then fashion laws in opposition to the will of the Regent, democracy would keep the people in darkness. Only the equivalent of a Muslim theocracy, he argued, offered people the opportunity to be truly free and sufficiently liberated to pursue life.

Polls suggest a majority of Muslims prefer democracy, seeing it as complementary to freedom and liberty. Recent democratic victories, however, for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas raise interesting dilemmas. Some argue that, absent pre-existing democratic institutions and culture, democratic elections can be used effectively by illiberal groups to trap their countries into undemocratic futures, while others see a decidedly brighter short-term future for Islamic democracy.

Image Credit: Bluszczokrzew

[1] See Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack.
[2] See Mark Katz’ Leaving without Losing.

Worth Reading: Informative Research on the Islamic State

By Erik Goepner

“The sobering fact is that the United States has no good military options in its fight against ISIS. Neither counterterrorism, nor counterinsurgency, nor conventional warfare is likely to afford Washington a clear-cut victory against the group. For the time being, at least, the policy that best matches ends and means and that has the best chance of securing U.S. interests is one of offensive containment: combining a limited military campaign with a major diplomatic and economic effort to weaken ISIS and align the interests of the many countries that are threatened by the group’s advance.”

From Audrey Kurth-Cronin’s “ISIS is Not a Terrorist Group” in Foreign Affairs. Full article available at

“The United States and Europe already have effective measures in place to greatly reduce the threat of terrorism from jihadist returnees and to limit the scale of any attacks that might occur. Those measures can and should be improved—and, more importantly, adequately resourced. But the standard of success cannot be perfection. If it is, then Western governments are doomed to fail, and, worse, doomed to an overreaction which will waste resources and cause dangerous policy mistakes.”

From Daniel Byman & Jeremy Shapiro’s “Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq” in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Paper series. Full paper available at

Finally, for a good general overview, take a look at “The Islamic State” by Zachary Laub and Jonathan Masters; a Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder available at islamic-state/p14811.

Bourbon, Heartland, and Ticks

By Greg Mercer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that it has identified the mysterious virus that killed a man in Kansas last spring.  Dubbed the Bourbon virus—after its location in Bourbon County, Kansas—it is an RNA virus in the genus Thogotovirus, according to the researchers who identified the virus.  Thogotovirus includes at least 6 distinct viruses, although only one, the Aransus Bay virus, occurs in the U.S. (but does not infect humans).  Of the genus, only two other viruses are known to infect humans, and the only fatality was the one caused by Bourbon.  Both are spread to humans through ticks.  Ticks are also the vector for the Heartland virus and Lyme disease.

The patient in Kansas experienced nausea, weakness, and diarrhea, followed by fever, anorexia, headache, and other symptoms after being bitten by ticks while working outside.  He was initially treated for tick borne illness with doxycycline, which proved ineffective.  Upon being admitted to the hospital, he was tested for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and ehrlichiosis, and treated with broad-spectrum antimicrobial drugs.  Despite treatment, the patient experienced widespread organ failure and died 11 days after becoming ill.  The researchers identified the Bourbon virus in samples through plaque reduction neutralization, originally used to test for Heartland virus antibodies.  Sequencing and analysis then identified the Bourbon virus as a member of Thogotovirus.

The paper from the researchers who identified the virus, linked above, is well worth reading for a look at how emerging viruses are studied and identified, and the challenges of dealing with the first case of a new virus.

The Heartland virus was first detected in 2012, causing fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and stomach sickness.  Most patients required hospitalization, with most fully recovering.  The CDC has since identified eight cases in Missouri and Tennessee.  Due to the low number of cases, the virus is still not well understood, but all of the patients became sick between May and September, and likely became infected while outdoors.

While researchers assert that the current methods of transmission for both Bourbon and Heartland are unknown, they note that exposure to ticks may be a potential method.  The researchers advise avoiding tick bites as a potential method of preventing infection. The CDC page for avoiding ticks lists guidelines, including using insect repellant recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and wearing long sleeves and pants outside.

The CDC lists 14 other diseases spread by ticks.  Most recognizable among them is Lyme disease, a common disease to hear about during warm weather.  Interestingly, the CDC tick page also notes the discontinuation of the Lyme disease vaccine in 2002 by its producer, due to lack of demand.  Since the vaccine’s effect diminishes over time, those vaccinated before 2002 are likely no longer protected against Lyme.

It’ll be tick season soon enough so, be generous with that insect repellant!

Image Credit: André Karwath

Assessing the War on Terror

By Erik Goepner

Reports from The Heritage Foundation suggest there have been 64 Islamist-inspired terror attempts on U.S. soil since 9/11. Of those, only four were carried out, with nearly all of the remaining 60 foiled by law enforcement and a handful thwarted by less intelligent means. From a defending the homeland perspective, things look good.

Their report goes on to say, however, that the number of terror plots have increased over time. Why the terrorists have increased their efforts is subject to much debate. Some contend the U.S. efforts in Iraq from 2003-2011 were inadequate, possibly not muscular enough. Others point to metastasizing local grievances in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and so on, whether those be religious, tribal, etc. Still others think the U.S. has unwittingly fueled the terrorists recruiting efforts. As an example, bin Laden expressed outrage when Saudi Arabia looked to the U.S. for help after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and his call for the “infidels” to leave the land of Muhammad was a consistent refrain until he himself departed the land. Since 9/11, however, America’s presence within Muslim lands increased, with more than two and a half million American service members having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Globally, the numbers suggest that a large U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, while killing a large number of terrorists, may have helped the terrorists recruit more than they lost. Department of State reports and information from Stanford University’s Mapping Militant Organizations project indicate the number of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) has increased by 52% since 2000, while the number of Islamic-inspired FTOs jumped by 185%.

2000 2013
Number of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) 29 54
Number of Islamic-inspired FTOs 13 37
Estimated number of fighters in Islamic-inspired FTOs 32,200 110,500

Similarly, the number of fighters in those Islamic-inspired groups, impossible to know with precision, is estimated to have risen 243%.

The terrorists’ production rate has likewise increased. In the 12 years before 9/11, there were an average of 3,207 terrorist attacks across the globe each year. Since then, there have been an average of 4,283 attacks per year.[1] And those attacks have become more lethal. In their 2001 Patterns of Global Terrorism report, the Department of State observed that the 3,547 killed by terror attacks was the highest ever recorded in a year. In 2013, the number killed reached 17,891.

One potential question for the public and our elected leaders: do we want visible, muscular U.S. leadership in the war on terror or do we want to win? Both may not be possible.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of State

[1] See the Global Terrorism Database at

The CIA’s New Hats: Some Thoughts on John Brennan’s Reorganization Plan

By Greg Mercer

In March, CIA Director John Brennan announced his plan for restructuring the Central Intelligence Agency in his “Blueprint for the Future”—the unclassified version of which is available on the CIA’s website.  The plan, structured as a memo to CIA personnel, provides a broad overview of the coming administrative changes proposed by Brennan’s Study Group.  Brennan identifies two key areas of national security that prompted the changes: “The first,” Brennan says, “is the marked increase in the range, diversity, complexity, and immediacy of issues confronting policymakers; and the second is the unprecedented pace and impact of technological advancements.”  New issues and new technology seem like pretty common themes in Washington these days.  Let’s look at what Brennan plans to do about them.

To respond to these policy areas, the memo outlines four themes: enhancing talent and human capital, addressing the digital revolution, modernizing the business process, and integrating capabilities to address mission areas.  I’ll talk mostly about the digital and integration themes here.

Probably the most radical change is the addition of a new directorate to address the rapidly expanding need for cyber offense and defense capabilities.  This is where the new Directorate of Digital Innovation comes in.  This is the largest change to the CIA’s structure since the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  Brennan doesn’t go into detail about the specific operations of the new directorate beyond “overseeing… standards of our digital tradecraft.”  “Digital tradecraft” is a vague, amorphous term that can broadly refer to any number of activities within the cyber domain, all of which would likely be highly classified.  Generally, though, “tradecraft” means “spycraft.”

U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM)—a joint military command co-located at Fort Meade, Maryland, with the National Security Agency (NSA), the primary signals intelligence agency—represents the bulk of U.S. cyber presence right now.  The CIA’s history of covert actions and the existence of a military cyber command raise concern over whether the U.S. is developing simply cyber defenses or cyberwarfare capabilities.  The best evidence for the latter is the Stuxnet computer worm, discovered in 2010, which targeted Iranian nuclear equipment and is largely attributed—at least partially—to the U.S.  The creation of a new CIA directorate devoted entirely to cyber activities is a response to the overwhelming academic and industry consensus that the cyber domain poses imminent threats to the U.S. However, the new directorate isn’t unique, given the existence of USCYBERCOM and the NSA, and might represent the condensing of existing CIA cyber activities into a single structure.  It is hard to glean any details about the CIA’s cyber intentions moving forward, but the new directorate is a major organizational change and a huge signal that the government is continuing to respond to the rise of the cyber domain.

Speaking of consolidating activities, Brennan also announced the creation of new Missions Centers and changes to existing directorates.  Citing the need to address varying threats and U.S. national security interests, Brennan explained that Mission Centers, each led by an Assistant Director, will incorporate activities from across the agency to address a specific topic.  Functionally, this seems to mean that Brennan intends to close the long-standing divide between analysis and covert action that has defined the CIA since its inception, and he has announced administrative changes to support this.  The National Clandestine Service, which runs all of the CIA’s undercover activities, will be renamed the Directorate of Operations, and the Directorate of Intelligence will become the Directorate of Analysis.  While these seem like minor name changes, they reflect the greater forces at play—Brennan intends for the directorates to train quality operatives and analysts to contribute to the Mission Centers.  The Assistant Directors will have “accountability and responsibility for the delivery of excellence in their respective occupations across all of the Centers.” This setup seems to be modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center or the Bin Laden unit, crosscutting organizations within the intelligence community that combined strengths from many disciplines.  This will, however, take a great deal of proactive administrative attention to ensure that cooperation and coordination are paramount.  Shared missions are powerful motivator, but they are often not enough to convince large organizations to coordinate successfully.  This will take time and a great deal of work at every level.

A focus on personnel runs throughout the memo.  While it might not seem this way to current graduate students and job seekers, the CIA has historically had major problems attracting qualified, competent employees, especially following the fall of the Soviet Union, when the agency found itself flooded with Soviet experts and woefully unprepared to address the host of new threats and interests around the world.  The CIA has had a long and often sordid history (I highly recommend Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes for a comprehensive look), and often found itself the target of harsh criticism by Congress and the presidency, but Brennan seems to be targeting major, long-standing flaws with his reform plan.  This is a laudable, noble pursuit, and I hope it has a positive impact.  The intelligence community usually sees its soul searching come after major failures or during times of national crisis.  Coming on the tail of revelations about U.S. interrogation programs, these changes seem to aim to fix the system before disaster strikes again (though it is certainly accurate to call the decade-plus of detention and interrogation abuses a disaster).  Let’s hope Brennan’s plan is sound.

Image Credit: CIA

Yemen: A Snapshot from the Global War on Terror

By Erik Goepner

The remaining cadre of American military personnel pulled out of Yemen last week following the evacuation of U.S. Embassy staff in February. Six months earlier, President Obama hailed the U.S.-Yemen partnership as a model worthy of emulation in the fight against the Islamic State. For a decade and a half, America has expended substantial effort in the war on terror, yet the results which followed were often unanticipated and problematic.

In 2013, President Obama hosted President Hadi at the White House and thanked him for Yemen’s strong cooperation in countering terror, specifically mentioning the success enjoyed in pushing al Qaeda back in the Arabian Peninsula. If the Sunni-comprised AQAP was pushed back, it now looks like that vacuum has been filled by a different terrorist organization, this one Shia dominated. These Houthi rebels, predominately from Yemen’s north, have been in conflict with the Yemeni government for the past 11 years.

Iran appears responsible for at least part of their success. Reports indicate Iran has provided some level of assistance to the Houthi rebels—possibly arms, funds, and training. A senior Houthi advisor denied any arms support, but agreed they were otherwise working with Iran as “part of a shared vision in ‘confronting the American project’” in the region.

By some analysts count, the fall of Sana’a into the hands of Houthi rebels represents yet another victory in the making for Iran. They point to Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and now Sana’a as the fourth Arab capital to politically ally itself with the Persian state.

No doubt there is much history yet to unfold, but to date, America’s war on terror has delivered a number of unanticipated outcomes: a five-fold increase in global terror attacks, two on-going civil wars in the nations America invaded, and an ever-increasing Iranian influence in the region.

Image Credit: Ibrahem Qasim