It all seemed pretty straightforward, at first.
I wanted to do some follow-up on a post from a few weeks back, about the U.S. military’s efforts to counter improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Those are the roadside bombs which are proving so lethal to American troops in Iraq.
A company out of New York, EDO, put out a couple of press releases announcing their $45 million contract with the Army, to make radio frequency jammers that could block the signals triggering the IEDs. Some of the government trade press had followed up, with quick articles on the jammer, called Warlock Green.
But despite the semi-public profile, when I asked EDO chief Bill Walkowiak about Warlock Green, he went mute. The Army wouldn’t let him talk any more, he said. Anything having to do with IEDs it was all classified now.
And that’s a problem, some defense industry insiders are saying. Not whether or not Walkowiak will talk a reporter — defense contractors clam up all the time, often rightly so. The dark blanket of secrecy that’s been thrown over any and all information about these roadside bombs is the issue. “The Pentagon remains tight-lipped about how much money it is spending on a regular basis to counter the threat of such devices and how many troops who need it have access to specialized equipment, such as electronic jammer devices,” Inside Defense notes. “Even details on how the enemy builds the IED remain under wraps.”
Finding and stopping IEDs is a super-hard problem. They don’t give off heat, so thermal sensors won’t work; they’re not made of metal, generally, so magnets are out; they’re not unstable, like a chemical agent, so detectors that “sniff” the air haven’t done the trick, yet.
In fact, the problem is so hard, that all interested researchers and contractors and scientists not just the ones with security clearance need to get a whack at IEDs, says John MacGaffin, former associate deputy director for operations at the CIA.
Why is it classified? he asks Inside Defense. What is the secret?
MacGaffin, who spent 31 years at the CIA, now runs the AKE Group, which provides training and security in Iraq for major media organizations and industry. He says the only information that should remain classified are the frequencies used by the United States to jam IEDs. He acknowledged that if information on how enemies build IEDs is released, other insurgents could learn how to construct the devices. But there is also a strong likelihood that release of that information will prompt industry to find the solution that will make the weapon less deadly, he says.
Whats more important? Keeping people alive, MacGaffin told sister publication Inside the Army last week.
Not everyone agrees that DOD should be more generous with IED threat data. Defense officials say the protection of such information is vital to ensuring countermeasures will work for as long as possible
I know theres a frustration, Scott Gooch, senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, said. [The company] is conducting capabilities assessment work on IEDs for the Joint Staff.
But classification issues are nothing new, Gooch noted — and new ideas are making their way to the Pentagon. In one example, a farmer discovered a material that could withstand explosives and sent it via UPS to the Defense Department.
But doesnt the farmer example actually argue for more people getting involved in the process and less secrecy?
THERE’S MORE: Shhh! Keep quiet when you’re reading Steven Aftergood’s Slate story on why airport screeners don’t have to tell you what law they’re relying on to give you the pat-down.
AND MORE: House Armed Services Committee chair Duncan Hunter “is developing a proposal to boost production” of Warlock Green-like jammers, Aerospace Daily says. “The Army plans to buy another 3,300 jammers, a figure that Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) asserted still would leave many U.S. vehicles unprotected against IEDs.”