Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mercenary forces II: secret things

The somewhat hyperbolic argument I made in this post about the subordination of Canadian Forces to the personal interests of the Prime Minister has prompted some interesting discussion in the comment section.

I might introduce a few other points to support my argument. At the present time the Canadian Forces is engaged in combat operations in two countries. Most recently CF-18s are bombing Gaddafi's forces in Libya. This is a very recent mission and very similar in context and deployment to the 1999 NATO campaign against Serbia and Serbian forces in the break-away province Kosovo. Canadian Hornets participated in that one too.

There were daily televised public briefings from NDHQ on Canada's role in the operation. However if you look at the DND website today, you will find it's been almost a month since the last update. Existing updates are relatively vague at that. Some of the images are stock photos of CF-18s and other aircraft, not images of the present operation. The war has largely disappeared from the news.

Funny then today, when reporters start asking questions about it, they're lectured on the need for operational secrecy.
The Canadian military is refusing to say how many bombs its fighter pilots have dropped on Libyan targets. The Canadian Forces lead spokesman Wednesday told reporters the information was protected because of operational security concerns. Brig.-Gen. Richard Blanchette says disclosing the number of bombs dropped might be useful to Libyan intelligence agents, though he couldn't really say why. "How could they use it?" Blanchette asked. "It's not necessarily clear right off the bat. But, it could be used in a way that would be going against the effort that we're having in the theatre of operation." The question was fairly precise, and it came from Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese. "I was wondering if you could discuss the amount of munitions that have been dropped by Canadian war planes, during this operation so far."

But it was a question Blanchette simply wouldn't answer.

"For operational security reasons we cannot divulge the number," he said. "There's a risk of having that information being used by regime forces." Blanchette launched into a lengthy discussion of what intelligence-types call "the mosaic effect." It's the suggestion lots of tiny bits of information can be collected by foreign intelligence and woven together like a mosaic into a much more complete picture. "A very basic principle of intelligence is not to underestimate what the opponent's forces can gather from this information," Blanchette said. "But piece by piece it would help (Libyan) regime forces to continue their negative actions against civilians." That answer had reporters listening to Blanchette by teleconference reaching for the key pads of their phone to register for follow up questions.

Blanchette was asked to clarify: What sort of useful intelligence could Libyan regime forces learn from knowing Canada's seven CF-18 war planes had dropped, say, a hundred bombs, or a thousand? If the Libyans knew how many bombs were dispatched onto how many targets, Blanchette said, "they would be able to deduce whether we were successful in what we were doing, and they would be able to adapt their tactics." Of course, the question wasn't about how many bombs, on how many targets. It was about how many bombs, period. Blanchette's steadfast refusal to either answer that question, or clarify precisely what the intelligence threat was, only puzzled reporters.
Odd because further down the article we find out that NATO itself is quite happy to tell the media what they bombed and where they bombed it. Sure, stuff likely gets left out of the briefings, but at least there's information there. Moreover, Gaddafi's forces, being the recipients of all that Canadian and NATO ordnance, know better than anyone the effects of those munitions. Canada is mute and evasive.
Secretive little wars.

This secrecy also brings to mind the F-35. This is an aircraft with very serious cost and delivery timeline problems and serious deficiencies regarding stated Canadian mission requirements. The first issue could see the CF-18 fleet age out of service before the first F-35 is delivered, let alone operational leaving Canada and NORAD with a significant air defence gap. The normal evaluation procedures for procuring aircraft have been skipped, and the plane is effectively being forced upon the country. Generals are acting as publicity hacks for the thing. Not a single critical voice is heard from places that matter; all we hear from Conservative politicians and air staff are sweet sweet lullabies. We're not told a bloody thing. Criticisms are not addressed. More secrets and untold stories. There's a stench wafting through vents around this thing something awful.

Under this  government, the constitution and deployment of the Canadian Forces are fading from public and parliamentary access. Wave the flag, mourn the casualties, and otherwise STFU.


Alison said...

The secrecy could also be about the expence, given Harper's new Treasury Board Cabinet Committee is looking to trim $11B off everything else.

Libyan mission could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, retired colonel says

One military expert says Canadian spending could easily amount to millions of dollars per day.

"I'd be surprised if it was anything less than $100 million (per month)," said retired Col. Michel Drapeau. "It needs to be asked: What are we getting for all that? It's not an omnipotent pool of resources. Someone's got to pay for that."

On May 12, the U.S. military reported that it had spent about $750 million on the mission in Libya.

Canada's defence department doesn't have the ability to provide real-time financial figures like the United States, Drapeau said."

Boris said...

Cost might be part of it, but this is also a fairly well supported mission on the part of the general public. You'd think the Con crowd might want to hype it just a little. Or perhaps they feel that it would highlight the efficacy of a not-F35 type aircraft. At the end of the day they're being more than a little shy about letting us in on what's going on.