Charles Duelfer | The Search For Truth In Iraq

The New CIA Director

Ambassador William J. Burns is a great and timely choice to head the CIA. He will assure that the Administration has the intelligence collection and analysis for the critical security issues facing the United States. He is a long time diplomat, but not without knowledge of the CIA. He was Ambassador in Moscow and therefore close to his CIA counterpart. Russia will be a key issue and he can calibrate the Agency’s production and critically appraise the analytic products. And he can make sure the staff are addressing the right questions.

The same understanding of policy and process apply to the rest of the world (especially China). Burn’s experience as deputy Secretary of State invests him with long experience in consuming intelligence products (and approval of various collection activities). He knows when assessments are useful to policy decision-makers and if operations offer too much risk and not enough benefit.

Moreover, Burns has long experience in working with the national security team Biden has assembled. Whether you like the Iran deal or not, Burns certainly knows the players from his experience in the Obama administration. He knows foreign leaders first hand. He will be a tough consumer for the analysts who create profiles of foreign leaders–he knows them and the analysts don’t.

Can he run the Agency? He ran State Department as Deputy. Of course that’s quite different from many activities at CIA. For example, there are massive programs in science and technology and the newer digital world with no counterpart at State. But careful selection of his team should keep the CIA growing where it needs in these areas. Forward thinking staff and managers can be unleashed in an organization with improved morale. The sense of mission reportedly slumped in last administration. If the US is to leap ahead of competitors like China, it will need the agency to be inspired and amped up for a sustained period. This is not different from State Department.

Of course, Burns will face tough choices. What emphasis to give the “War of Terror”? Currently, the popular concern is domestic insurgency–how much of that is being pumped up by foreign actors? What to do about that? What to do about cyber? How to interface with private sector actors in new ways? The list is endless.

Burns has been around the national security world long enough to understand the value in sustaining expertise in areas that are not currently fashionable. Russian experts were out of favor for a long time, but the expertise is now needed. Corporate memory is valuable behind a vision for the future.

Burns is seen as a calm, extremely competent, diplomat. This should not be confused with softness. A colleague observed that transgressions would have consequences–perhaps without “sturm und drang”, but there would be costs, severe costs. In this vein, I would expect greater attention to “Moscow Rules”.

I had the opportunity to work with (and learn from) his father, then Army Brigadier General William F. Burns, when he was detailed to State Department as deputy assistant secretary for Politico-Military Affairs. He integrated diplomacy and military power to build national security in the Reagan Administration. (I only interacted with the younger Burns on limited occasions regarding Iraq when Bill headed the Middle East Bureau at State in 2001-2005.) In my opinion, there is every reason to believe he will bring the full capacity of the CIA to bear in the world that we now face–and maintain its apolitical stance. Such balance is all the more important today when all government assessments are scrutinized for political bias.

This may be the hardest and most important task. It requires staying hard-wired to the factual basis for statements and being explicit about uncertainties when making assessments. I had a non-trivial experience in sustaining (recreating) credibility in the CIA when presenting the factual outcome of the investigation into Saddam’s WMD programs in the midst of the 2004 presidential elections. To be trusted simultaneously by the White House and Congress, let alone our Allies, is a major challenge. Staying out of the public eye makes it easier. Staying clear of being used in someone else’s narrative is critical.

Bill Burns is great choice for Director.

Posted in Allies, China, Cyber Threat, Elections, Intelligence, Iran, Russia, Uncategorized, WMD | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Most Hyperbole In the History of the Galaxy, Or, Does Democracy in America Really Hang by a Thread?

The recurrent statements following the chaos of January 6, were nothing, if not cataclysmic, i.e. “democracy hangs by a thread!”

Unfortunately, foreign friends and allies tend to watch events in Washington via television like everyone else.  On multiple occasions conversations with such friends reach a point when they gently suggest that they must re-evaluate their own security and policy positions in light of the circumstances (weakness/chaos) in Washington.     

Fortunately, even the casual foreign observer of American television reporting (and other media) may notice the preponderance of the use of hyperbole.  If you don’t declare that something is the worst or best in the history of the galaxy, then you don’t have an opinion worth airing.  Only superlatives get attention.  Or so it would seem…especially related to President Trump.

To foreign friends I caution against quick reactions.  Look beyond the latest news cycle before compromising with China or Russia.  I urge them to consider the longer term.  Decipher the current narratives promoted relentlessly by elements in the US. Groups/individuals have substantial stakes in sustaining those narratives.  Without steering foreigners to any particular conclusion, I think it is constructive to advise some historical context.  The easiest and perhaps shortest way I have found is to remind interlocutors of 1968. 

In April that year, Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots engulfed Washington and dozens of other cities.  Blocks in Washington were burned and took years to recover.  Armed National Guard troops were deployed to restore order around the country.  Live ammunition was distributed and used.  In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.  In August, the Chicago Democratic convention (which nominated Hubert Humphrey after Johnson declared he would not run) was engulfed in riots. 

The Vietnam War tore the country. Thousands of Americans and Vietnamese were dying (remember the 1968 Tet Offensive). War protesters flooded Washington filling the Mall.  The Black Panthers got headlines and there were shootouts and trials.  Remember the Huey Newton and Bobby Seale trials?  Later in 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives. Yale decided to admit women undergraduates.  Nixon beat Humphrey by  .7 percent of popular vote.  And remember George Wallace? He carried five southern states.  Perhaps reading American’s distraction, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia putting an end to “Prague Spring.”

Oh and by the way, don’t forget we were balancing the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union throughout all this.  The United States had 300,000 troops in Europe to deter Soviet aggression.  There were tens of thousands of nuclear weapons all over the planet, ICBMs, SLBMs, B-52’s, large and small nuclear artillery, etc.  Accidents happened.  In 1968, a B-52 crashed in Greenland with four nuclear weapons on board. Yikes!  While Greta Thunberg, may never forgive the boomer generation for not reining in carbon emissions, at least total thermonuclear war was avoided.  Think of all the dead pandas and whales.

After 1968, the country eventually got out of Vietnam.  While Nixon was consumed by the Watergate crisis, the country advanced.  Social issues evolved in ways unimaginable in the 1950’s.  Arguably, the United States became stronger socially, economically, militarily, technologically and scientifically (we landed on the moon in 1969).  Democracy did not die as was predicted by many.  Western democratic societies endured and the world was not incinerated by accidental or intentional nuclear war. 

So while the confluence of current narratives requires pundits/parrots to shriek in full-throated superlatives, I suspect the current divisions in the country will heal as they have in the past.  And new divisions will inevitably follow.

The United States and its like-minded friends and Allies will, at worst, muddle through.  The connective tissue of our common ideals is strong.  The inventiveness of people unleashed from authoritarian governments is strong.  Our capitalist system tempered by government energizes innovation that serves the people. Cell phones have done as much as anything to raise living standards globally. While we may scare our friends (and ourselves) with the hysteria promoting assorted narratives and interests in the media, I strongly suspect we’ll come out stronger.

And consider whether Xi’s China or Putin’s Russia will help you be what you want to be.

Posted in Allies, China, Elections, journalism coverage, NATO, Russia, Uncategorized, United Nations | Tagged | 1 Comment

9-11 Nineteen Years On…

This day used to re-kindle memories of an attack against America. Little attention is now paid. It does not fit the current narrative. In this political season, neither candidate benefits from the old narrative. Today’s atmosphere seems to be that the threat to the United States comes from its own citizens and, probably always has. For those who do reflect upon 9-11 there is ample reason to consider the decisions made afterwards and the difference they made or did not make.  But today’s popular mindset is not one of reflection, but an entire paradigm shift–the problem is not out there, but in here.

It is striking that the heroes of the early post 9-11 days, including the NYPD and other police departments, are now the villains in the present “narrative.”

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Asteroid Near Miss (?): Monday, 2 November 2020

Indications and Warning – You won’t get anywhere else

Based on European Space Agency database (drawing on JPL and many other sources), on Monday, 2 November 2020 Near Earth Object (NEO) 2018 VP1 will pass very close to earth(est. 62,000 km). This puts it up on their RISK category.  The good news is that its size (estimate based on object reflectivity) is only 2.6 m.  So if it hits Earth, it won’t be a species-ending event (remember mass extinction of the dinosaurs of 65 million years ago).  However, the kinetic energy of impact would still be 2.6 megatons TNT equivalent. (Sourcing below.)

Analysis:  This will be reported as a Trump campaign plan to depress voter turnout.  Or, another reason to mail in absentee vote.  Or, fund US Space Force…or…;jsessionid=ca1211b1d52e2f16d5f94f198ade

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Understanding the Dataverse: Beirut Explosion and the future of Intelligence Collection/Analysis

As a thought experiment to see what’s coming in intelligence collection and analytics, consider the forensics associated with the recent Beirut disaster.

The event itself was obviously detected instantly by witnesses all over the city.  And instantly, decision makers needed to know:  What was it?  Who caused it?  Terrorists?  State actors?  Will there be follow-on threats?  Are there pending risks to US citizens/interests? 

With emerging capabilities for continuous global surveillance in various spectra, we are approaching a world where, for any given geo-spatial spot, data stores can be intensively analyzed forensically. Moreover with artificial intelligence methods, such troves of data can be searched to find meaning that will answer the immediate questions—such as accountability.  In essence, machines can answer the natural human questions, “Tell be everything relevant about this point and event regarding what, who and why?”  Evolving artificial intelligence searching all the databases on the planet will derive answers regarding correlations that humans could not.  In fact, such analytics will surface relevant questions that were left unasked.  And the answers will be out there in the expanding “Dataverse“. 

Current and historical data on everything is accumulating in the planet’s data farms.  Space-based sensors, both commercial and government are proliferating for imagery as well as infrared and other spectra—and the capacity to store and access such data is proliferating.  Ship

Imagery and audio from the millions of cellphones around the planet offer another surveillance tool.  The proliferation of public and private surveillance cameras has created another obvious data trove.

The location of cellphones all over the planet can theoretically be collected and stored.  When an event of interest occurs how are individual ISP’s (people with cellphones) moving about?  Were there anomalous movements beforehand or afterward?

As more automobiles become directly linked to the Internet of things, movement of all autos can be analyzed with an eye toward forensic analysis.

Imagine all the sources of data that are being collected and stored in the data farms scattered over the planet and then imagine being able to, in essence, run the tape backwards to see how the people and things got to the geo-spatial point where something happened. 

In the Beirut harbor case, how did the material accumulate at the point of explosion?  Incrementally over years?   Who were the people associated with the deliveries?  Shipping data and ship patterns now routinely collected and stored can be searched. (Even for the mildly curious.  I noticed David Geffen was anchored off Islesboro, Maine for the past couple nights.  His 139-meter “Rising Sun” yacht squawking identifiable ship identification (AIS) data.)   

And, of course masses of financial records are searchable.  Imagine if you knew where every dollar in the world was and could monitor them?  It’s not such a huge leap.

Consider Beirut again, were there any uncorrelated financial transactions whereby someone with advance knowledge might seek to profit (as was the case before the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea)?

Plume and chemical analysis of the explosion can be matched against collections of such data for explosions all over the planet.  Widespread spectroscopic data will grow. Staring sensors for agriculture purposes will find other uses.

The data are out there.  The analytic tools that can sort and look for meaning in the data are evolving rapidly.  Critical to dominating the coming Dataverse are two things. One is access to the data.  In the first generation of the Internet, the US had access (we built the original systems) and could see email traffic…a big leap forward.  Google did the same commercial for commercial purposes.

In the coming generation, access to the Dataverse will be controlled by those who create the channels into and through it.  This is why the issues of Chinese infrastructure plans for 5G and their extraordinary investment in AI are critical.

The second necessity is massive computing power. Quantum computing is vital. Our future depends upon it for both security and economic reasons. 

China may have been able to answer the questions about Beirut before anyone else.  And, as things evolve, they may be able to anticipate more…. not just do forensic analysis.  These are long-term existential drivers that US leadership needs to consider and take concrete actions.   We are not ahead of the curve.

Posted in China, Cyber Threat, Financial Wars, Industrial Policy, Intelligence, NSA, Space, Ukraine | Leave a comment

9/11 is Over

For almost two decades policymakers, intelligence analysts, defense planners and warfighters have focused on strategies and priorities birthed on September 11, 2001.  “Today is September 12, 2001” was a sign posted in many offices and field operations.  It’s not September 12 anymore.

There has been a generational shift in America.  National security professionals whose mindset was radically recalibrated with the 9-11 attacks have moved on or evolved.  The country has moved on.  The national attitude post 9-11 is gone.  The popular focus is not on external threats but on internal divisions.  The Congress that created the Department of Homeland Security is long gone.  The Congress that approved the transfer of military equipment to local and state police to prepare for terrorist threats inside the United States is long gone. 

The current narrative is that the United States needs to attend to internal problems.  Some believe security and police forces are no longer essential to protecting America but are threatening America.  Of course, we’ve been here before–as any aging hippie will recall from the 60’s and 70’s.  Likewise those dubbed the “Silent Majority” by Richard Nixon have an opposing view.  (Coincidentally, at the time, I stumbled upon the use by Homer of  “silent majority” in the Odyssey but he was referring to the dead in contrast to the living.  Somehow that stuck with me.)

American internal unrest may be seen as a vulnerability to be exploited and fanned by our enemies (do not doubt that we still have such).   International security dynamics have clearly changed.  The threat of terrorism and the American Global War on Terror no longer the dominant defense planning.

There are, or course, plenty of security risks.  Curiously, many also echo of the 60’s and 70’s.  Russia is back as a real threat and even more so is “Red China” (or the “Chinese Communists”).  Fortunately, nuclear war has not re-emerged as the risk it once was.  Screwing up international security management during the cold war could have incinerated the planet (and in some cases nearly did).  And Greta Thunberg would have had no issue—nor have been afforded the opportunity to chastise all who preceded her by shrieking, “How dare you?”   Yes, Greta, it could have been worse.

Today we find ourselves with risks that derive from nation states as well as global risks that can only be addressed by nation states.  China spent the decade of the 2000’s expanding its GDP at 10% a year.  America spent trillions (when a trillion was a lot) of dollars on economically wasteful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Moreover, the happy face painted on globalization was found to mask some major downsides.

So the mass of enthusiasm to respond to 9-11 is over.  There will be divisive domestic infighting with the upcoming elections and serious doubts will be fanned concerning the legitimacy of the American system.  The patchwork of groups and “communities” who all have leaders demanding to get what they deserve from the great American pie.  Sacrificing for the country is less fashionable now.  Congress, reacting to the pandemic financial crisis and eyeing the coming elections will spend like there is no tomorrow (giving Greta & Company another reason to say “How dare you?”).  These are times when Washington discounts the future pretty heavily—but not permanently.  Lurking beyond our shores, are growing external threats that can diminish the pie for everyone.  They will not go unnoticed.

 It may be appear that Americans are consumed with demanding what their country can do for them and not what they can do for their country.  However, strategic planners in Beijing and Moscow should be careful in assessing American weakness.  The unifying principles of America are not gone.  China and Russia will find that the United States will coalesce around policies and strategies that serve the critical interests and principles America and its allies share.

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Corvid-19 and Industrial Policy Reconsideration

The weak national response to Corvid-19 in the US will produce a re-awakening of debate on national industrial policy.  Are there national interests that cannot be left simply to the free market and shareholders seeking to maximize profit?  Yes, of course some, certainly including defense industry.  But where are the limits and who decides?  Time to rethink these issues.  Global supply chains have suddenly been revealed to have surprising dependencies that were not considered from a national security/health perspective.

This is not new.  I was recently reading a classic book in its field, “Chemical Warfare” by Curt Wachtel written in 1941.  Wachtel had been a key scientist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute before and during World War 1.  He subsequently became a US citizen and worked on American defense programs.  Anticipating potential chemical weapons that the US might confront in entering World War 2, his work highlighted the linkages that were overlooked by many countries regarding chemical weapons offensive and defensive requirements.

Wachtel noted that when Germany in 1916 decided to use mustard agent as a defensive weapon it would have to deal with eye injuries to soldiers and civilians.  This required vaseline.  The only source was from the US and the British blockade cut that off.  They immediately searched German and Austrian inventories and found only a few hundred pounds and immediately confiscated it.

Wachtel goes on to make the broader point governments need to identify and control critical items.  “There must be a bureau, or expert, or committee for chemical and industrial planning, not only for providing government agencies as well as private institutions and business.”  Wachtel also notes that a balance must be achieved because, “interference of a bureaucracy may mean disaster.”[i] 

Such planning comes naturally to China.  It’s in the DNA of the Communist Party of China.  Making no secret of its goals, China, under Premier Li Keqiang issued a blueprint in 2015 for its industrial policies.  The goal was to move their industrial capacity and expertise further up the supply chain in production and to leading edge in key technologies.   Their plan, called “Made in China 2025”, identified ten focal areas including biotechnology and medicines.  Midterm grades on their progress by various outside industry observers rate their progress highly (

Analysts note that China’s emphasis in medicine is consistent with other nations with an aging population (Premier Li is said to be in charge of the Corvid-19 response).  However, China has always had a strong national security, economic and prestige component in its decisions.  Industrial policy comes naturally to the leaders of the Communist Party.  President Xie’s trademark Belt and Road initiative combines many of these goals in way that only a government with heavy central direction over the economy can achieve.  It must be a high priority for Beijing to achieve a vaccine first.

For the US, one fallout may be a broader view of federal roles in issues that can determine real risks to US security more broadly defined that just military or intelligence.  These issues come up regularly but there is not a sustained consideration of them in government.  Unlike many countries, we do not have the equivalent of a US 2025 program.  Politics and elections make sustained attention and sustained consensus on goals difficult if not impossible today.  Industrial policies in response to pandemics are one thing.  In rebuilding the economy with massive government infusions of resources we can expect strong advocates in the upcoming electoral season for such actions to address climate change.

The usual debates over industrial policy will re-ignite.

[i] Wachtel, Curt, “Chemical Warfare”, Chemical Publishing Co., Inc. Brooklyn New York 1941 pp. 84-85.

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CORVID-19 is WMD–US Government Must Reconfigure Institutions to Sustain Resources for Bio-Preparedness


Among the many lessons we are re-learning as we experience the current pandemic is the enormous effect it has on military operations and national security generally. 

The aircraft carrier whose captain was recently fired for expressing his concern about the spread of corona virus among his crew reminds us of the consequences of infectious diseases on the military.  In fact, prior to the past century, disease was a dominant factor in hobbling military operations.  George Washington had to take into account small pox.  Historically, casualties from disease are larger than casualties from enemy action.  In the Journal Military Medicine, Volume 180, June 2005, the authors state that, “prior to World War I, the ratio of deaths due to disease versus battle injury was approximately 10:1.”  Coincident with the advances in medicine in the 20th century (and the ability to kill larger numbers of people with munitions), the rates dropped, being 1:1 in World War I (think Spanish Flu) and only 0.01:1 in the Gulf War.

During last few decades we have lived without the immediate threat of epidemics. The threat lost its immediacy.  And there was a deadly bureaucratic consequence—protecting the country was seen in military terms.  Resources and institutions have assured military forces (and intelligence collection) that dwarf defense against biological threats.  President George W. Bush attempted to re-balance this with a detailed initiative in 2006 (forgotten in the dominant narrative regarding Iraq).  The program his team put together then looks astonishingly prescient today.

Coming out of this COVID-19 experience, whether under this president or another, we must re-structure the bureaucracy so there is a sustained institutional body in the bureaucracy with corresponding interests and oversight in Congress that will have resources commensurate with the (now) obvious risk.  The so-called military industrial complex assures military capability—we need a corresponding bio-preparedness infrastructure. We have worried about WMD threats–now we are experiencing one.

Our failure to guard against and respond to this threat has done more damage to the country than any recent military conflict.  Some entity, perhaps a blue ribbon panel, must be convened now to consider how to reconfigure the current system so this doesn’t happen again. 

A simple point of departure is the strategy laid out under George W. Bush in the May 2006 ( ) and subsequent iterations that can be seen at CDC (

Bush had announced his intent the previous November in a speech that sounds particularly potent today.  The initiative did not take full root in the bureaucracy. We don’t want to make this mistake again…we can’t afford it.  Some group, with all key stakeholders needs to lay down a non-political roadmap so this failure by government to defend against something entirely predictable doesn’t happen again.  The world has changed and now it’s blindingly obvious to everyone.

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Corvid-19 and Y2K

Books will be written detailing the series of decisions made that preceded the current Covid-19 crisis. Lessons will be learned. And our government being what it is where leaders regularly turnover–they will be forgotten as well. But a key question will be, “Why was everyone so surprised?” Why is it that we can prepare extensively for war and even for the potential threat of computer and telecommunications disasters predicted to result when the calendar clicked over from 1999 to 2000–dubbed Year 2000 or Y2K. There was extensive White House directed preparation and then nothing happened.

Why is our response to Covid-19 so haphazard?

Given all the exercises and contingency planning that has been done with respect to pandemics in the last two decades, it is astonishing why key steps were not taken in preparation. One reason is the bureaucracy is not structured for this type of threat.

For nuclear and conventional war, the Department of Defense spends billions in acquisition and training. Defense contractors and congress have an interest in this process. Every congressional district gets money from the defense department and jobs are created building weapons systems. Not so for pandemics.

Still, the equivalent of war games are done for pandemics and contingency operations plans are developed and on the shelf, but the identified capability shortages are not addressed. I had a minor role in an early one called Dark Winter in 2001 (a smallpox outbreak was modeled). As recently as this past fall a government exercise called Crimson Contagion (a flu-like scenario) reminded again that a lack of personal protection equipment would be a key problem among other things. The George Mason University’s esteemed Bio-defense Program created a synopsis copied below. Things could definitely have been done better. Political science and physical science intersect in government crisis management–as does psychology both individual and mass It’s not pretty but many issues are predictable.

There will be many reasons advanced for why the US response was not better. But one key factor is simply experience in running a crisis by the White House. Simple decision criteria like recognizing that acting early and big given the potential consequences is better than not. If you waste time and resources preventing something with potential horrible consequences that doesn’t happen (as in Y2K) so what? Better that than having to play catch up as thousands die and the economy tanks for an in-determinant period. All administrations come down a learning curve. The early Obama administration learned a lot from the oil well blowout in the gulf (BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform) that poured seemingly endless torrents of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Better to learn on that than a crisis where learning may cost hundreds of thousands of American (and worldwide) lives.

French General Ferdinand Foch, if I remember correctly said something like, “It takes 1500 casualties to make a general”.

From George Mason Pandora Report Blog of 6 December 2019 put out by GMU Biodefense program weekly)

“Synopsis of the Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise After-Action Review
This week, the National Biodefense Science Board convened a meeting focusing on the after-action review of the Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise, a national level exercise series conducted to detect gaps in mechanisms, capabilities, plans, policies, and procedures in the event of a pandemic influenza. Current strategies include the Biological Incident Annex to the Response and Recovery Federal Interagency Operational Plans (2018), Pandemic Influenza Plan (2017 Update), Pandemic Crisis Action Plan Version 2.0, and CDC’s Pandemic Influenza Appendix to the Biological Incident Annex of the CDC All-Hazard Plan (December 2017). These plans, updated over the last few years, were tested by the functional exercise with emphasis on the examination of strategic priorities set by the NSC. Specifically, examined priorities include operational coordination and communications, stabilization and restoration of critical lifelines, national security emergencies, public health emergencies, and continuity. The Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise included participation of almost 300 entities – 19 federal departments and agencies, 12 states, 15 tribal nations and pueblos, 74 local health departments and coalition regions, 87 hospitals, 40 private sector organizations, and 35 active operations centers. The scenario was a large-scale outbreak of H7N9 avian influenza, originating in China but swiftly spreading to the contiguous US with the first case detected in Chicago, Illinois. Continuous human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 virus encourages its spread across the country and, unfortunately, the stockpiles of H7N9 vaccines are not a match for the outbreak’s strain; however, those vaccines are serviceable as a priming dose. Also, the strain of virus is susceptible to Relenza and Tamiflu antiviral medications. The exercise was intended to deal with a virus outbreak that starts overseas and migrates to the US with scant allocated resources for outbreak response and management, thereby forcing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include other agencies in the response. To do so, the exercise began 47 days after the identification of the first US case of H7N9 in Chicago, otherwise known as STARTEX conditions. Then, the HHS declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency (PHE), the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, and the President of the United States declared a National Emergency under the National Emergencies Act. As was the case in the 1918 Great Influenza, transmissibility is high and cases are severe. At STARTEX, there are 2.1 million illnesses and 100 million forecasted illnesses as well as over half a million forecasted deaths. As the pandemic progresses along the epidemiological curve, the overarching foci of the federal-level response adjusts across four phases:

Operational coordination with public messaging and risk communication
Situational awareness, information sharing, and reporting
Continuity of operations

The outcome of the Crimson Contagion is that vaccine development is the silver bullet to such an outbreak, but there are complications beyond its formulation. Namely, the minimization of outbreak impact prior to vaccine development and dispersal, strategy for efficient dissemination of the vaccine across the country, allocation of personal protective equipment (PPE), and high expense of vaccine development and PPE acquisitions. The exercise concluded that HHS requires about $10 billion in additional funding immediately following the identification of a novel strain of pandemic influenza. The low inventory levels of PPE and other countermeasures are a result of insufficient domestic manufacturing in the US and a lack of raw materials maintained within US borders. Additionally, the exercise revealed six key findings:

Existing statutory authorities, policies, and funding of HHS are insufficient for a federal response to an influenza pandemic
Current planning fails to outline the organizational structure of the federal government response when HHS is the designated lead agency; planning also varies across local, state, territorial, tribal, and federal entities
There is a lack of clarity in operational coordination regarding the roles and responsibility of agencies as well as in the coordination of information, guidance, and actions of federal agencies, state agencies, and the health sector
Situation assessment is inefficient and incomplete due to the lack of clear guidance on the information required and confusion in the distribution of recommended protocols and products
The medical countermeasures supply chain and production capacity are currently insufficient to meet the needs of the country in the event of pandemic influenza
There is clear dissemination of public health and responder information from the CDC, but confusion about school closures remains

A final report with greater detail of the after-action review of the Crimson Contagion 2019 Functional Exercise is forthcoming. Stay tuned.”

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Impeachment and Foreign Policy Redux

In February 1998, I was in Baghdad discussing the ongoing disputes between Iraq and the UN weapons inspectors with Saddam’s key deputy Tariq Aziz. (I was the deputy chairman of the UN WMD inspection group called UNSCOM.)  It was late night and Aziz had his usual Cohiba cigar filling the room with bluish smoke. The intended topic, appropriately, was chemical weapons. 

Aziz cleared his throat and said, yes we’ll get to chemical weapons, but would I indulge him in a different question, drawing on our long mutual dialogue over the years.  I nodded and he proceeded to ask me, “Mr. Duelfer, what is an intern?”  

The Lewinsky affair had recently broken in Washington.  It was huge news.  Throughout 1998 the two dominant issues consuming Washington were the Lewinsky affair and the contentious disputes over access of WMD inspectors to sites in Iraq.

The Iraqis did not understand the Lewinsky business.  How could the last superpower be disabled by an affair with some 20-something in the White House?  This was beyond Saddam’s comprehension. 

However, in subsequent questioning after the 2003 war, when I was head of the Iraq Survey Group we explored extensively their thinking and policy making with Saddam and his top lieutenants.  It became clear that while Saddam did not understand why an inconsequential intern could hobble the president of the United States, he did understand the White House was distracted and weakened—especially as scandal turned to impeachment.  Baghdad took key decisions throughout the summer and fall of 1998 that ultimately led to the end of UNSCOM’s inspections in Iraq and four days of bombing beginning on December 16 by the US (with support from the UK, but with no consensus in the UN Security Council).  It turned out to be a good move by Iraq.  Inspectors were gone, and sanctions, while not formally lifted, were definitely crumbling. 

In the midst of the bombing, President Clinton was impeached by the House in a vote on December 19.  However, President Clinton was not removed from office as the senate did not even come close to the 2/3 number voting to convict.

Twenty-one years later, another president is subject to impeachment proceedings.  The outcome and debates are much the same when you go back and read the press coverage.

What is not covered in the press are the calculations of foreign powers calculating whether the Washington is weakened or distracted.   Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and virtually every nation on the planet are evaluating what the effect is on President Trump and US foreign policy.  Is it a time to take advantage, to press ahead?  Does it mean they should hold still until an outcome is clear? 

Will the White House be more or less inclined to act militarily since that has typically be a good diversion.  Cynics (and who isn’t in Washington) must ascribe some element of that to the decision to execute a drone strike on Qasem Soleimani.  The same was said of the Clinton White House and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright firmly stated that the decisions of foreign policy were made independent of the turmoil in te White House. 

It’s safe to say that our opponents around the world will see this as weakness on the part of the United States, not just one political party over another.

On a light-hearted note, if you’re sick of the blather about impeachment, watch the dark comedy movie, “War the Dog.” Robert DeNiro plays a spin-doctor brought in by the White House whose occupant was caught in a scandal with an underage girl in the Oval office.  The spin-doctor concludes that the best way to distract attention from the scandal is to create a war.  Dustin Hoffman plays a Hollywood producer who cooks up script and scenes for a war in Albany.  The media is taken in and there are twists and turns but the most amazing thing is that the movie came out in 1997—before the Lewinsky events.  Life imitates art.

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