Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Wanted: Military Intelligence

You gotta love our military. They create these TV ads that make joining the Army look like you’re playing the world’s coolest video game, while the real Army is run by a bunch of guys frantically searching their computer keyboards for the “any” key.

Three days ago, the U.S. military published a report regarding the shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena as she was being driven to the Baghdad airport on March 4. The driver of the car, Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, was killed. The Army says it was the Italians’ fault; Italy begs to differ.

The heavily redacted 42-page report was posted to a U.S. military Web site in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format with the classified information blacked out. But the techie who created the file was apparently unaware that PDF files travel with the full text of the document intact, and that merely putting black boxes over stuff you want to hide is about as effective as using a Sharpie to draw a line through it on your computer screen.

An Italian blogger was easily able to reconstruct the document using a complicated keystroke sequence that went something like this: ctrl-a (to select the blacked-out text), ctrl-c (to copy it to the Windows clipboard), and ctrl-v (to paste it into a word processing document where the redacted text could be read … automagically!).

(Rest assured that as you read this, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is cooking up a bill that will make using the ctrl key a Federal crime.)

So the Italian press published the full, completely unredacted report. What exactly had been blacked out? Nothing too serious: just the rules of engagement employed by the U.S. military for dealing with Iraqi terrorist threats. Can’t imagine anyone who might be interested in that.

But that’s not all. Also revealed was the startling statistic that from November 2004 to March of this year there have been 3,306 attacks by Iraqi insurgents, two-thirds of them aimed at coalition forces.

Let me repeat that: There have been more than 3,300 insurgent attacks in Iraq in less than five months. Would anyone out there who watches the news and reads the papers ever have guessed that?

Also revealed were the names and ranks of the soldiers involved, and various recommendations on how the military can avoid such debacles in the future. Like, for example, putting speed bumps near checkpoints on “Route Irish,” the road leading to Baghdad International airport. It’s been two years since “Mission Accomplished” and yet it has apparently never occurred to anyone to install speed bumps, let alone build an alternate route to the airport. Another suggestion: having a second guard in the watchtower, so one guy doesn’t have to both hold a spotlight and fire an automatic weapon at the same time. A fine idea, just a little too late for Nicola Calipari.

I have nothing but admiration and sympathy for the soldiers on the ground. They’ve been asked to do a shitty job in a place where they should never have been sent. As for the soldiers at HQ, I think maybe the military needs to invest in a few thousand copies of Internet for Dummies.

Nonetheless I see some small hope. The U.S. military was forced to do something it is generally loathe to do: It had to admit to a mistake. They couldn’t deny it, blame the media, or claim that everyone else does the same thing too. Perhaps this will start a trend. Perhaps the rest of the government will gradually learn to admit its mistakes – like shooting innocent civilians, or bartering blood for oil.


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