Friday, February 09, 2007

Little Victories in Iraq



Yesterday's
Wall Street Journal had a terrific article about military officers bypassing cumbersome peacetime bureaucracies to obtain critical gear for Soldiers in combat:
This is a story of can-do in a no-can-do world, a story of how a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in Anbar province. They did this in 30 days, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15. Compared to standard operating procedure for Iraq, this is a nanosecond.

Since arriving in Iraq last year, Maj. West had worked with Spirit of America (SoA), the civilian troop-support group founded by Jim Hake. In early December, SoA's project director, Michele Redmond, asked Maj. West if there was any out-of-the-ordinary project they could help him with. And Maj. West said, Why yes, there is. He described to them the basic concept for a mobile, handheld fingerprinting device which Iraqi soldiers would use to assemble an insurgent database. Mr. Hake said his organization would contribute $30,000 to build a prototype and get it to Khalidiya. In New York, Goldman Sachs contributed $14,000 to the project.

On the night of Jan. 20, Maj. West, his Marine squad and the "jundi" (Iraq army soldiers) took the [newly acquired device] and laptop on patrol. Their term of endearment for the insurgents is "snakes." So of course the [device] became the Snake Eater. The next day Maj. West emailed the U.S. team digital photos of Iraqi soldiers fingerprinting suspects with the Snake Eater. "It's one night old and the town is abuzz," he said. "I think we have a chance to tip this city over now." A rumor quickly spread that the Iraqi army was implanting GPS chips in insurgents' thumbs.


It's a great article, read the whole thing. Major West's hard work and dedication to mission accomplishment should be an inspiration for anyone in the military fighting an antiquated procurement system, trying to get Soldiers kit they need to fight an adaptive enemy.

Interesting to note, blogger Bill Roggio played a role in getting this device from the States over to the troops; he commented about the effects this new piece of gear is having recently on his blog:

I would like to add that not only will this device have a real impact on data gathering and storage, and creating a networked picture of the insurgency, there is also a real psychological effect of this tool on the populace. Several of the young men who were stopped and had their data gathered were clearly nervous about the device. They knew their fingerprint and picture were being taken and stored. Despite Anbar being the backwaters of Iraq, the people still understand technology and modern policing (I've seen CSI on TVs in homes during raids, for instance.). Major West informed me that immediately after the night patrol, "there was a buzz throughout the town" about the device. The Snake Eater may very well serve to deter those less committed to the jihad cause; the part time rent-an-insurgent might view the risk to great.
Note: The above picture is from The Fourth Rail.

2 comments:

Harrison said...

The insurgency's emphasis on nodes and criminal-network elements may hold the key to disrupting the insurgency itself: replicating such a diverse, wide-spanning network of individual cells.

Influx of such technology will create psychological fear among insurgents, unfamiliar as they are to the multifarious gadgets supplied, customised and uniquely crafted for specific purposes - surveilance, tracking, identification - by civilians back at home.

If a steady stream of such devices could be proliferated speedily and made widely available to our forces, therein lies the possibility that insurgents may not be left with sufficient time to identify and thereby avoid detection or avert suspicion if newer soft-tech such as the Snake Eater becomes the standard device of tapping into their networks.

The trick will be to ensure the continuance of such innovative initiatives so that we do not risk becoming too predictable - meaning that we retain and upgrade existing biometric capabilities while altering the physical characteristics of the device, similiar to how insurgents have basically modified the IED to inflict substantial damage despite armour improvements and procedural changes in detecting IEDs on the road, in dead carcasses, overhanging branches.

Remember that the insurgency is highly capable of adapting. To beat it, we have to be better than them at their own game.

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