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Intelligence Review, c1946

The Kings of Saudi Arabia and Egypt flanked by the Crown Prince of Iraq, the Presidents of Lebanon, Syria, and the heir of the King of Yemen. Cairo, c1946.

The Islamic world, in the judgment of the Military Intelligence Division of the U.S. War Department, circa 1946.  Simultaneously fascinating and depressing that the estimate of intelligence professionals sixty-four years ago is just as relevant today.


With few exceptions, the states in it [the Muslim world] are marked by poverty, ignorance, and stagnation. It is full of discontent and frustration, yet alive with consciousness of its inferiority and with determination to achieve some kind of betterment.

Two basic urges meet head-on in this area, and conflict is inherent in this collision of interests. These urges reveal themselves in the daily news accounts of killings and terrorism, of pressure groups in opposition, and of raw nationalism and naked expansionism masquerading as diplomatic maneuvers.

The first of these urges originates within the Moslems’ own sphere. The Moslems remember the power with which once they not only ruled their own domains but also overpowered half of Europe, yet they are painfully aware of their present economic, cultural and military impoverishment. Thus a terrific internal pressure is building up in their collective thinking. The Moslems intend, by any means possible, to regain political independence and to reap the profits of their own resources. The Moslems intend, by any means possible, to regain political independence and to reap the profits of their own resources, which in recent times and up to the present have been surrendered to the exploitation of foreigners who could provide capital investment. The area, in short, has an inferiority complex, and its activities are thus as unpredictable as those of any individual so motivated.

The other fundamental urge originates externally. The world’s great and near-great Powers cover the economic riches of the Moslem area and are also mindful of the strategic locations of some of the domains. Their actions are also difficult to predict, because each of these powers sees itself in the position of the customer who wants to do his shopping in a hurry because he happens to know the store is going to be robbed.

In an atmosphere so sated with the inflammable gases of distrust and ambition, the slightest spark could lead to an explosion which might implicate every country committed to the maintenance of world peace…

The Present Estimate

If the Moslem states were strong and stable, their behavior would be more predictable. They are, however, weak and torn by internal stresses; furthermore, their peoples are insufficiently educated to appraise propaganda or to understand the motives of those who promise a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Because of the strategic position of the Moslem world and the relentlessness of its peoples, the Moslem states constitute a potential threat to world peace. There cannot be permanent world stability, when one-seventh of the earth’s population exists under the economic and political conditions that are imposed upon the Moslems.

— United States.  Department of War.  “Islam: A threat to world stability.” Intelligence Review No. 1, 14 February 1946. [Emphasis mine]

There are ten pages of analysis in all, you can download and read the entire document from the Federation of American Scientists, or download an excerpt of only the ten page Islam report from The Company.

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The battle will go on for the rest of our lives

Christopher Hitchens engages in a rambling and somewhat self-indulgent rant about “security theatre”, but manages to get the lead out in the closing paragraph.

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don’t get the point prefer to whine about “endless war,” accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.

— Hitchens, Christopher.  “The truth about airplane security measures.” Slate, 28 December 2009. [Emphasis is mine.]

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Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women

Giulio Rosati (1858-1917). Inspection of the New Arrivals. Oil on canvas

Mr. Ahmet Riza, Minister of Education for the ailing Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, diagnoses the problems of the ummah.  Keep in mind that this was written thirty to forty years before the ideology we would call Qutbism came into being.  Also be warned that there are casually derogatory remarks about Jews.

“Though many famous scholars emerged among the Arabs in the fields of geometry, algebra, astronomy, geography, and medical sciences during the times of Prophet Muhammad and of his successors, a thousand years later the ummah of Muhammad have descended so low as to request a shopping tally of three and a half gurush from the clerk of grocer Georgos. This is due to the fact that the Prophet’s words have been so misconstrued by our God damn ignorant imams and softas as to claim that when the Prophet used the term science he referred only to readings from the Quran… It is for such reasons that nobody read the works of the Western scholars…  These cowardly scoundrels effected the annihilation and wretchedness of a great ummah! … Today the Muslims have declined to the level of Jews. If you ask my own opinion: From the viewpoints of education and knowledge they are certainly at a level lower than the Jews. The ummah is dissolved, weakened, and from this point it will never recover and regain vitality. The believers in the heaven which has houris, cold sherbets, and rivers are decreasing.

Were I a woman, I would embrace atheism and never become a Muslim. Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women such as permitting my husband to have three additional wives and as many concubines as he wishes, houris awaiting him in heaven, while I cover my head and face as a miller’s horse. Beside these I would not be allowed to divorce a husband who prevented me from having any kind of fun, but would be required to submit to his beatings. Keep this religion far away from me.”

— Ahmet Riza, as quoted in a letter to his sister, Fahire.  Hanioglu, M. Sukru.  “The Political Ideas of the Young Turks.” The Young Turks in Opposition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.  p200-212. [Emphasis is mine.]

If the minister were a woman, however, he may have been butchered by his own family for the public disgrace of renouncing Islam for atheism.  A small hurdle some of today’s Muslim women may also face.

A hundred years later, not much has changed.  Islam is still temperamentally inclined to reject any research and science that might be at odds with the Quran, and Muslim women are still de facto and de jure lesser entities under sharia law.  Perhaps most sadly, the decisionmakers of our time are even less willing to confront these engines of human misery and call them by their true name.

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Air Ministry: Operation Icelift (1955)

The RAF’s Nos. 201 and 230 Squadrons, operating Short Sunderland V flying boats, supplied the British North Greenland expedition between 1951 and 1954.  Later in 1954, the squadrons ferried the entire expedition (including the husky dog teams) back to Pembroke Dock, Wales.

Star Wars fans will be interested to know that a hangar on the former RAF flying boat base was also the fabrication site of a full-scale Millenium Falcon model, built in 1979 for the filming of The Empire Strikes Back.

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The Future was 20 Years Ago

Majors Beth Jones (left) and Kevin Parrish, pilots with the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) crew members, prepare to take-off on a mission over Iraq on Sept. 1. This flight marks the 116th Air Control Wing’s Joint STARS 40,000 combat hours supporting the Global War on Terror. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

Dilbert author Scott Adams ponders how future iterations of unmanned aerial systems will make COIN warfare more dangerous for the insurgents.

I think the next big leap in drone technology will be artificial intelligence for locating targets. Humans would still have to make firing decisions, but I can imagine drones finding suspicious patterns of movement on their own and alerting humans. For example, any vehicle that stops at night on a road used by U.S. ground forces might be suspected of planting an IED. A human could decide if the suspect was up to no good.

There are probably a number of movement patterns followed by insurgents and terrorists. Maybe drones could learn to detect children in any outdoor group, based on their relative size, and assume such a group is not looking for a fight. Perhaps combatants follow routes less travelled by enemy ground forces, or travel only at night, or have more metal objects with them. The point is that drones will someday do a good job of identifying suspected bad guys automatically.

— Adams, Scott.  “Drone War.” / Scott Adams Blog, 17 December 2009.

It’s not uncommon for tech-loving geeks to get hung up on the hardware or software, assuming that is what will drive the innovation.  What Mr. Adams does not realise is that the technology he is describing exists today—and has existed for about twenty years—albeit not aboard an unmanned platform.

The capability was designed back in 1985, to track the movement of Warsaw Pact armour and troop formations in the event of an invasion.  It is known as Ground Target Motion Indicator (GTMI), and it flies aboard the E-8 Joint STARS.  A single E-8 can monitor up to 600 targets at ranges up to 250 kilometres; Predators and Reapers must be much, much closer than that, and can only track a fraction as many targets simultaneously.

Two prototype E-8s earned high marks from AFCENT during the 1991 Gulf War.  In that conflict they were used to detect and track Scud launchers, convoys, vehicle marshalling areas, routes of retreat and so on.  They also contributed in a similar capacity for NATO missions in the Balkans, including 1999’s Operation Allied Force.

In 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, the E-8s were initially typecast as an armoured unit tracker once again, but they have since developed new roles in our ongoing COIN conflicts.

Typical data includes distance and heading, plus a depiction of the size of a column. Analysts on the aircraft can also give a strong characterization of what they believe the vehicles may be. It’s not positive identification, but over time, analysts grow skilled in judging whether a trail of dots are people or different types of vehicles

…Buried in the billions of pixels of data are complete information sets on movement in the battlespace. With its unique wide area coverage, the Joint STARS radar archives weeks of enemy activity.

Jewels of data jump out from the wide area scans. Properly refined, the data creates a revealing picture of enemy movement around known locations and uncovers new sites through monitoring unexpected volume of traffic. Dots that pop up out of nowhere can tip off analysts to new insurgent routes, tactics, and hideouts. It is battlespace preparation—in reverse.

Pattern analysis was first used like crime-scene forensics. Analysts can call up old moving target indicator data and focus on the site of an improvised explosive device attack or the compound of a suspected terrorist. If analysts know where to look, Joint STARS can fill them in on the patterns of movement over the time preceding an attack. By comparing tracks day after day, enemy routines come into focus.

Joint STARS coverage is so wide that as long as the aircraft’s orbit was in the right country, the old logs would reveal practically all the movement to and from a site.

— Grant, Rebecca.  “JSTARS Wars.”  Air Force magazine, November 2009.

Two years ago, the Air Force started reviewing and analysing the JSTARS tapes nightly, to aid ground forces in planning their operations the following day.  That effort has paid dividends and continues today.

Next up are refinements to the radar and software which will—eventually—permit JSTARS sensors to reliably resolve individuals and waterborne targets.

Recent tests conducted on dismounted targets—people—suggest that Joint STARS moving target indicator may be reaching a new level of refinement. It may be possible in the future to characterize the moving target indicator “dots” as sheep, people, cars, trucks, or other types of targets. With upgrades, “I think they can get it down to actually being able to track a relatively heavily laden human,” said Grabowski.

— Grant, Rebecca.  “JSTARS Wars.”  Air Force magazine, November 2009.

1st Lt. Nathan Sukolsky, 7th Expeditionary Air Combat and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) air weapons officer, tracks suspected movements on radar during a mission over Iraq on Sept. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

UPDATE: This is one of the modern C4ISR systems that are indispensable to modern warfighters, but tend not to be reflected in Hollywood’s depictions of contemporary or future warfare.  I am betting that no wide area GMTI makes an appearance in Avatar, for example.

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