Home » News » The Enemy is Me

The Enemy is Me

by david_axe on March 14, 2006

Last summer, a U.S. Colonel in Baghdad told me that I was America’s enemy, or very close to it. For months, I had been covering the U.S. military’s efforts to deal with the threat of IEDs, improvised explosive devices. And my writing, he told me, was going too far — especially this January 2005 Wired News story, in which I described some of the Pentagon’s more exotic attempts to counter these bombs.
truck_bomb_search.jpgNone of the material in the story — the stuff about microwave blasters or radio frequency jammers — was classified, he admitted. Most of it had been taken from open source materials. And many of the systems were years and years from being fielded. But by bundling it all together, I was doing a “world class job of doing the enemy’s research for him, for free.” So watch your step, he said, as I went back to my ride-alongs with the Baghdad Bomb Squad — the American soldiers defusing IEDs in the area.
Today, I hear that the President and the Pentagon’s higher-ups are trotting out the same argument. “News coverage of this topic has provided a rich source of information for the enemy, and we inadvertently contribute to our enemies’ collection efforts through our responses to media interest,” states a draft Defense Department memo, obtained by Inside Defense. “Individual pieces of information, though possibly insignificant taken alone, when aggregated provide robust information about our capabilities and weaknesses.“
In other words, Al Qaeda hasn’t discovered how to Google, yet. Don’t help ‘em out.
This was taken to ridiculous extremes yesterday by President Bush, who said:

Earlier this year, a newspaper published details of a new anti-IED technology that was being developed. Within five days of the publication — using details from that article — the enemy had posted instructions for defeating this new technology on the Internet. We cannot let the enemy know how we’re working to defeat him.

Folks, that doesn’t pass the laugh test. This technology, Ionatron’s Joint IED Neutralizer, hasn’t even been shipped to the field — and may never get there. So insurgents are posting instructions on how to beat a device that they’ve never seen? Based on a few, vague paragraphs in the L.A. Times? Yeah, right.
After years of relatively small investments, the U.S. is spending several billion dollars of our public money to try to stop roadside bombs. 40 American soldiers are dying every month, because of these IEDs. The public has a right to know how that money is being spent, and how those soldiers are being protected. Period. And this attempt to demonize the media for handmade bombs is just a way to keep folks from asking why more wasn’t done sooner to deal with the IED threat.
Does that mean there shouldn’t be any secrets in the anti-IED world? Of course not. Operational specifics about key counter-bomb technologies and tactics should be tightly held; otherwise, soldiers can get killed. That’s why I kept such details out of my Baghdad Bomb Squad story. That’s why David Axe has done the same on his many Iraq trips.
But there’s a huge difference between disclosing key details, and not allowing any information out whatsoever about the Iraq war’s most important fight. Now, who’s the one crossing the line?

Share |

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Noah Shachtman March 15, 2006 at 8:52 am

I forgot to turn on comments for this story, so reader EA sent this to me directly…
First, I admire your commitment and professionalism–and your courage. Traveling to Iraq and riding along with the bomb squads is not something I think I would have the courage to do. Of course, over thirty years ago during my active service days, I’d probably have jumped at the chance. I was invulnerable then.
I have read extensively on military history and technology since I was twelve years old, but ten years in the Navy taught me the difference between what I read in open sources and reality. Sometimes, for instance, Jane’s Fighting Ships would get it ridiculously wrong. In other instances, Jane’s reported facts which I was forbidden to discuss because of the classified nature of the information. So I have learned to assume that I will likely never get accurate or complete information from open sources.
This is a good thing. Despite my fascination with military history, tactics and technology–I read your web site after all–I am concerned that published information will place our troops in danger. I would gladly confine my reading to science fiction if I knew that this would insure our enemies were held in complete ignorance of my countries military capabilities.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. In a democratic society, the people have a right to know something about the programs they are asked to finance. The people must also retain oversight of military programs, lest they go wildly astray and waste lives as well as money. We are also justifiably proud of our men and women in uniform, and want to read about them and about the tools we provide to them to do their jobs. The recruiting potential of such things as port visits and air shows is also enormous.
So, we try to find a balance between the public’s right to know and the absolutely essential needs of operational security and the secrecy of weapons systems performance. I think I know you well enough from your posts to believe that you would never knowingly disclose classified information, or even unclassified information that might jeopardize lives. But don’t be too hard on that U.S. Colonel in Baghdad. As an American who cares about the lives of our troops, as I know you do as well, I expect–in fact demand–that he err on the side of caution. He probably knows better than you or I where the line should be drawn.
Keep up the good work, Noah.

Reply

SecreTX March 15, 2006 at 11:26 am

“Earlier this year, a newspaper published details of a new anti-IED technology that was being developed. Within five days of the publication — using details from that article — the enemy had posted instructions for defeating this new technology on the Internet.”
This is a completely standard anti-leak morality tale of a sort that has been heard many times before. The format is as predictable as many of the urban legends that circulate in e-mail.
Like many ULs, the content is at first glance believable, even if somewhat dependent on post hoc reasoning. It’s only if and after you look at the details that their bogusness appears. (And, to be fair, in a few cases there remains some possibility of a real causal connection between publishing information and a harmful consequence.)
Happy Sunshine Week, by the way.

Reply

Bob March 15, 2006 at 11:33 am

So, if you know that the information that you published might result in the death of American soldiers, are you justified in publishing it by the public’s “right to know”?
What if you were sure that if the likelihood of that information being used by the enemy were quite high? What if you knew that the death of American soldiers was a certainty? I am just trying to gauge just how important is the public’s “right to know” in this instance.

Reply

Noah Shachtman March 15, 2006 at 11:39 am

Bob:
Fair question. If I was “sure that if the likelihood of that information being used by the enemy [was] quite high,” I wouldn’t run with it. If I “knew that the death of American soldiers was a certainty,” I wouldn’t run with it, for sure.
However, I don’t think my reporting on counter-IED techs, or the LA Times’, gets anywhere near that line.
nms

Reply

Dave March 15, 2006 at 2:02 pm

“So, if you know that the information that you published might result in the death of American soldiers, are you justified in publishing it by the public’s “right to know”?”
This is the common false misinformation that is being perpetuated by people like President Bush. Keeping information from the public costs more lives than keeping government open and accountable.
A story about anti-IED technology – especially when the information was NOT from a leak, but rather from open information sources – is in no way more dangerous to American soldiers than is a totalitarian government hell-bent on secrecy not for national security, but to cover their own asses.

Reply

Byron Skinner March 15, 2006 at 2:49 pm

Good Morning Noah,
In regard to publishing information that might do harm to U.S. war efforts or put U.S. Military personal in danger, I have’nt seen it yet here Noah.
In particular IED’s, it appears from information in the mainstream media, The Los Angeles Times for example is way ahead of what I see here, Defense Tech is being rather selective and conservative in what is posted.
As Commented before the only people who find this information new a distrubing are President Bush, Sec. of Defence Rumsfeld and the sorry a** Generals and Admirals who are running this war from their bu**s in Washington and McDill.
A god read for those of you who still think this cast of clowns can run a war is the just released book “Cobra II”. The conflict beween Gereral’s Frank and Wallace is to say the least is interesting.
ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

Reply

Mike T. March 15, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Well, this mentality definitely demonstrates why the US is no longer a competing force in the world of technology (save a few corporate players); The idea now is that we should lock-up all technology that could be used as a weapon. With this mentality we would not have the internet of today or even the personal computers of today.
As a Technologist I have witnessed the degradation of technology in our country and am saddened to see that the free-thinking and free-mindsets are vanishing.
If we are to remain free, then we must be free.
The idea that freedom is not free applies here; We must be willing to put aside fears of the boogie man to ensure that there is a free US tomorrow for our childrens sake.

Reply

Allen Thomson March 15, 2006 at 2:55 pm

It would be very interesting to locate the jihadist Web sites and see what countermeasure they actually came up with; I suspect it might have been, “Shoot the golf cart-like thing.” If anybody here can Google in Arabic, it might be worth a bit of time to try to track it down.
I note that what Bush said is isomorphic to the bin Laden satellite phone story. The format is robust and dependable.
The zapper technology, BTW, is described at http://www.ionatron.net

Reply

Noah Shachtman March 15, 2006 at 3:56 pm

Reader TH: “Per: *The Enemy is Me* — Why do you hate freedom?”
Reader SL: “Of course you’re the enemy. We’re all the enemy. Only the “good guys” aren’t the enemy. And even they can become the enemy if they disagree for one second with the Politburo (see: every cabinet member from W Term 1).”
Reader TP: “After reading the first article below on “the
Enemy is Me”, I cannot believe the author is
serious. Historians who specialize in military
will tell you and those in command of even
small military forces will tell you that
information about the enemy is vital to winning.
History is full of stories about smaller forces
defeating larger forces because of information obtained to defeat the enemy.
The public does not have a right to know when
military security is vital to soldiers and
sailors lives. The news media is very desperate
to print negative things which will get a public
reaction at the cost of problems to others.
We won WWII because the reporters covering the
war were responsible. Did the public have a right
to know that Eisenhower was preparing for the
invasion of Normandy or the invasion of Iwo Jima?
I find it interesting listening to the CNN and
hearing about all the problems in Iraq. Granted
there are problems, but one never hears about the
schools and hospitals being built and other
reconstruction. . I only hear those stories from
the many returning servicemen who completed their tour of duty in Iraq.
I happen to agree with Bush on the security
issue. I find it disturbing that reporters find
it necessary to call thing laughable and attempt
to degrade a person. They usually have an
inherent bias and have a cause to push on other
people. What happened to honest unbiased
reporting? I am tried of negativity in the news
just to preserve reporters jobs and make money.”

Reply

Joseph March 15, 2006 at 5:15 pm

Lets not fool ourselves, were not fighting a bunch of primative tribesmen, these guys already understand basic science. You didn’t give them anything to work with.
As for new coverage I have no problem finding so positive and so called negitive everyday. In fact I seek both sides out so I can’t get a better idea.

Reply

Jaye March 15, 2006 at 7:45 pm

High tech IEDs from low tech uneducated Iraqi good old boys, what’s wrong with this picture?? Kind of like the test pilot aerobatic flying of the terrorists with a year of pilot training on 9-11. I smell the bad breath of the coward Mossad, CIA or British SAS!
Peace. Jaye

Reply

Dave March 15, 2006 at 8:34 pm

I feel that pooh pooing President Bush’s comments about giving the enemy information is wrong. This is serious business, people are dying.
Lets not help the enemy to kill us.

Reply

John Gilmore March 15, 2006 at 10:04 pm

The reason the “enemy” is blowing up “our boys” is because our boys invaded their country without provocation, and in violation of international law. America is in the wrong here. Most people don’t have the guts to say so.
We can hardly complain about the kill ratio — we’re killing a dozen to a hundred of them for every one of “our boys” they get. But here’s Bush and a kurnel whining about the First Amendment. (We already knew those two weren’t fighting to protect democracy and the constitution.)
If effective IEDs convince “our boys” to stay the hell out of the Middle East, that’s a good thing.
Much better than the world that would result if the US Army figured out how to go back to pushing buttons to murder any real or imagined “enemy” without risking their own lives.
Bravo, Noah. Tell us more.
PS: Building schools and hospitals? Don’t make me laugh. We blew up the perfectly good ones that were already there — along with the people in ‘em .

Reply

Guran Walker March 16, 2006 at 8:31 am

I think all those folks with “boys’ in the field should take down the names of ‘imbedded’ paper warroirs who post dangerous material and send same to their “boys’. That way the troops can know ALL about the camera jockey riding along with them. Can all share the joke.

Reply

Jaye March 16, 2006 at 8:03 pm

Noah; you are F.O.S. these new seismic, pressure sensitive and acoustic IEDs are state of the art and beyond any thing seen before. That’s why we need new technology to find and destroy them you D.A. civilian!

Reply

Charles March 17, 2006 at 3:05 am

On The enemy is me: So if you are told to shut up then, shut up and be happy.

Reply

Charles March 17, 2006 at 9:30 am

Odd, I don’t recall posting the above. If it was six hours ago, I must’ve been asleep, or there’s another Charles on the loose.

Reply

BK March 17, 2006 at 1:46 pm

TG,
Law of Logical Argument:
Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about.

Reply

Noah Shachtman March 17, 2006 at 2:00 pm

TG:
You said, “The straw that breaks the camel’s back does not have to be that all the information is in the same place, article, or conversation at once…its the bits and pieces of information that can be pulled together to form the ‘big picture’ that gets a lot of people killed.”
I hear that. But what’s the solution, then? Stop talking about any military op or tech, at any time, because some shred of it might conceivably get tied together by an Al Qaeda snoop some day?
Ive got a different approach. Its based on some guidelines laid out during my EOD embed. But I think they’re more or less universally applicable.
Doctrine — “soldiers uses plastic explosive charges to detonate IEDs” is fine. Details of TTPs — “soldier place the charges precise of this particular part of the bomb, at such-and-such angle” — is not. That’s while I’ll talk about radio frequency jammers being employed, for example, but I won’t give out their ranges.
Makes sense? Agree? Disagree?
nms

Reply

ben March 17, 2006 at 3:05 pm

you’ve got to be kidding me. america’s enemy? these are improvised explosive devices … they can’t stand up and fight us so they deploy this shit, you covering this doesn’t mean shit to that.
wtf
pardon my french.

Reply

Allen Thomson March 17, 2006 at 4:21 pm

This is what I get for not paying attention. It turns out that Ionatron, the company that built the IED zapper that Bush was apparently talking about, has been the subject of much past attention by defensetech.org and others. (CIA, shady money, shady corporate connections, etc. Should make a great movie.)
I guess my question about Ionatron’s implicit appearance in Bush’s speech is now more or less, cui bono? Who got to his speechwriters and for what purpose?
Note that as of this writing late in the afternoon of 17 March 2006, Ionatron’s stock (IOTN) has not suffered much from the relevation that the enemy has developed countermeasures to the zapper.
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=IOTN

Reply

Jaye March 18, 2006 at 1:32 pm

We are still losing good GIs to these IEDs. High tech IEDs from low tech uneducated Iraqi good old boys, what’s wrong with this picture?? Kind of like the test pilot acrobatic flying of the terrorists with a year of pilot training on 9-11. I smell the bad breath of the coward Mossad, CIA or British SAS and maybe even Russian Spetnez it’s to complicated for anyone else and each of these groups would also profit from the IEDs damage!
Peace. Jaye

Reply

Allen Thomson March 18, 2006 at 1:50 pm

> cui bono?
I think I have a hypothesis, or at least a conspiracy theory, for how the implicit bit about the Ionatron IED zapper got into Bush’s speech last Monday. As we recall, the line is that five days after a story about the device appeared in the LAT on 12 Feb, the enemy had posted countermeasures to it on the Internet.
Well, it also turns out that in a hearing on 14 Feb, Senator Clinton used the LAT article as a hook for taking the Army to task for dragging their heels on protecting the troops against IEDs. Seconded in the same hearing by Senator Kennedy.
And then on 15 Feb, also citing the LAT article, Senator Boxer wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Army expressing the same concern.
So, if people(*) in the White House saw Senators Clinton, Kennedy and Boxer using the LAT story to raise the possiblity that the Administration is being negligent in protecting our troops, what would they do? Might a bit of jiu-jitsu turning the tables on the senators by showing how the evil liberal MSM are endangering our troops by giving secrets to the enemy come to mind?
Clinton/Kennedy: http://tinyurl.com/pae43
Boxer: http://boxer.senate.gov/news/record.cfm?id=251604
(*) Many of whom might have the initials K.R.

Reply

Andrew March 20, 2006 at 2:44 pm

>> Noah; you are F.O.S. these new seismic, pressure sensitive and acoustic IEDs are state of the art and beyond any thing seen before. That’s why we need new technology to find and destroy them you D.A. civilian!
I am vastly amused. If someone is testing advanced technology detonators against US troops, someone is living dangerously and inviting discreet if ferocious retaliation. I don’t suppose an electronic lab blowing up in Pakistan or Eastern Europe would necessarily make the news . . .
It also wouldn’t be anything new. As I recall, both the United States and Russia sold advanced military technologies to both Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, using their battlefield as a test bed.
What goes around, comes around.
Oh, and as for “advanced,” I seem to recall open-source intel regarding Russia using acoustic and seismic sensors back in the 1970s . . . and any decent Radio Shack contains the parts one would need, even if you have to take apart consumer electronics now and again.

Reply

Jaye March 20, 2006 at 8:31 pm

Duh, “What goes around, comes around”. Ivan helped the VC, We helped the Afghans, now Ivan helps the Iraqis! High tech IEDs from low tech uneducated Iraqi good old boys, what’s wrong with this picture?? Kind of like the test pilot acrobatic flying of the terrorists with a year of pilot training on 9-11. I smell the bad breath of the coward Mossad, CIA or British SAS and maybe even Russian Spetnez it’s to complicated for anyone else and each of these groups would also profit from the IEDs damage! “Follow the Money”
Peace. Jaye

Reply

jerry March 28, 2006 at 4:21 pm

Developing blocking technology based on vague references is very viable to an engineer. We just need a vague notion from our customers which is all most have to develop new products for them.

Reply

jerry May 12, 2006 at 2:28 pm

just simple shut your mouth and dont write about what we are doing or may do…..

Reply

Rocks November 6, 2006 at 3:33 am

EA is correct.

Reply

Don January 2, 2007 at 4:19 pm

It would seem all media & news coverage tends to down play the will of the troops & teams comitted to action . I would think there is great thought given to any release , media excluded . As far as any usable defense against IED , I am sure the one considered will never reach the field , since the enemy was well informed . You are as good as Hanoi Jane .

Reply

Robert Sutterfield May 14, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Words are very powerful in war. Particularly to the enemy that least understands them. Google and the Dept. of Defense both are on the same page in that they do not mince words.

Reply

SOLDIERBOB November 6, 2007 at 3:50 pm

I wish you could ride with me for the rest of my deployment.. And then you can judge if you thought you should have written the article. And as far as the American Public needing to know where the money is spent… WTF? Do we as soldiers not count as the American public. I’m pretty sure that if that kind of money isn’t being spent on new technology for IED defeat, we will be the first to know. It’s not like us as soldiers are going to divide up the money.. I haven’t met a rich soldier yet. Thanks PAL. Why don’t you and Sean Penn come on back. We’d love to have ya.
Live (no thanks to you) from Iraq.

Reply

gw gold August 11, 2008 at 11:46 pm

My negative, as my bosss brother was very sad. He said venting to find out the game we play games together, together fight monster, how to kill on how to kill. Later, we played the GuildWars game, my brother helped me apply a number, and she also bought some GW gold to me. Choose the name, I think a long time, in order to no longer immerse in the lovelorn, so I need to find individuals to love me, want to permanently, I hope that it is no longer the past fireworks fleeting. Finally, I choose love me 9 long time as my name. Brother saw and laughed; he said he hoped I will be happy. He let me go to play, beware of being cheated, do not give other people my phone and QQ.

Reply

rappelz rupees August 12, 2008 at 12:02 am

Three years ago, after friends introduced, I played the Rappelz game. At that time, I dazed and confused, I like to go my own way, I have a lot of rappelz rupees, but I became the most evil villains in the game. Until I encountered her, I found the meaning of survival.

Reply

ro zeny August 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

The friend took me to the game, but she own was leaving the game. A person to game is boring, every day, I only know to upgrade and earn ro zeny. I can not sad dot this mess of feelings and moving. Once, the two boys for me quarreled utterly, until I leaved and tool sad. Later, I found a boy to married, I think perhaps all this to change, and I pray to become a reality, a few days after he disappeared. A person was playing a marriage number, what would it have taken place.

Reply

Jimmy December 24, 2008 at 1:49 pm

so…
If the Los Angeles Times published an article about how Pillsbury was coming out with a great new product, and listed the ingredients of that product, how would you expect Pillsbury to react? You give away a competetive advantage to every baking company on the planet.
Sure, Hostess could easily do the research to figure out what the product is made of, but they would have to do the research themselves. Nobody is giving it to them, and definitely not before it hits the shelves. You might find a lawsuit attached in the mail…
The thing that worries me, is that you don’t see that this kind of ‘reporting’ could potentially cost your fellow Americans’ lives. This is where ethics comes into play. If the Los Angeles Times is too blind to see that, then maybe they should be labelled by the President as a threat to national security.
It is pretty simple to me.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: