Blinders

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At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. army corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border. All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little. He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst. That institute worked solely from open source, i.e. unclassified material. It sent the American general a stack of reports six inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had played in, etc.

What was true during the Cold War is even more true now, in the face of Fourth Generation war. As we have witnessed in the hunt for Osama, our satellite-photo-addicted intel shops can’t tell us much. But there is a vast amount of 4GW material available open-source: websites by and about our opponents, works by civilian academics, material from think-tanks, reports from businessmen who travel in areas we are interested in — the pile is almost bottomless. Every American soldier with access to a computer can find almost anything he needs. Much of it is both more accurate and more useful than what filters down through the military intelligence chain.

Or at least he could. In recent months, more and more American officers have told me that when they attempt to access the websites they need, they find access is blocked on DOD computers. Is al Qaeda doing this in a dastardly attempt to blind American combat units? Sadly, no. DOD is doing it. Someone in DOD is putting blinders on American troops.

I do not know who is behind this particular bit of idiocy. It may be the security trolls. They always like to restrict access to information, because doing so increases their bureaucratic power. One argument points to them, namely an assertion that the other side may obtain useful information by seeing what we are looking for. That is like arguing that our troops should be given no ammunition lest muzzle flashes give away their positions in a fire-fight.

But the fact that websites of American organizations whose views differ from DOD’s are also blocked points elsewhere. It suggests political involvement. Why, for example, is access to the website of the Center for Defense Information blocked? CDI is located in Washington, not the Hindu Kush. Its work includes the new book on military reform America’s Defense Meltdown, which has garnered quite a bit of attention at Quantico.

The goal of the website blockers, it seems, is to cut American military men off from any views except those of DOD itself. In other words, the blockaders want to create a closed system. John Boyd had quite a bit to say about closed systems, and it wasn’t favorable.

Intel officers supposedly can go all the way to the top of their chain of command with a request to view a blocked website; their petition may or may not be granted. But this just intensifies the problem, because it gives the intel community a monopoly on information. In 4GW, it is essential that everyone do intel, not just a few specialists. Every private has to understand the environment he is operating in. Many websites can help him do that. But if he tries to access them on a DOD computer, he finds them blocked. He is thrown back to pure kinetics, which leads to our defeat.

Never could it be said more truly that we have met the enemy, and he is us. People on our own side are blinding our men. One person in a senior position could put an end to this absurd practice. Secretary Gates? General Petraeus? Jim Jones? Surely you all understand that putting blinders on our own side is less than helpful. Anyone listening out there?

As I said, I don’t know where this mindless action originates. Whoever is responsible for it should get the Order of the Black Turban, First Class. They are doing our opponents a great favor.

Rigid control of information through a compartmented, stovepiped process is characteristic of the Second Generation. Once again we see why Second Generation militaries cannot win Fourth Generation wars. Our defeats are less a product of what our enemy does to us than of what we do to ourselves.

William Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

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