The Benghazi Affair; Iwo Jima Class ships; podiatry?


View 747 Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Anniversary of Note from the 70 years War


This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the Minuteman I being place on strategic alert.

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


"…The first operational Minuteman site was Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the first 10-missile ‘flight’ was rushed into activation on Oct. 27, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. U.S. President John F. Kennedy referred to the missiles as his "ace in the hole" during this historic standoff with the Soviet Union…"

I recall those times. I had some involvement in command and control systems of the time (all long obsolete). And I recall the Cuban Missile Crisis: we were in my back yard filling burlap bags with dirt. We then carried them into the basement. Seattle wasn’t a primary target but we were East of a naval target area. East and downwind…


Last night Greta van Sustern of Fox News showed a printed copy of an eMail from the State department delegation in Libya that apparently went to the situation rooms in both the White House and the State Department in Foggy Bottom. It stated quite clearly that the consulate in Benghazi was under attack by armed terrorists with AK-47 rifles and RPG’s. This was about two hours into the attack. There was no mention of any protests against any video.

The existence of the eMail is now confirmed by the Washington Post There was no mention of this in today’s Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times although Ms. Van Sustern was displaying the memo at 7PM Pacific Time last night. I saw it.

We do not usually do breaking news here, and we certainly do not have all the data; but it does seem to me that the President certainly knew by Wednesday morning 12 September that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was an organized attack by a terrorist organization – or at least that such an organization was claiming it.

We also have reason to believe that the White House was aware of the attack within two hours of its beginning. The attack continued for some seven hours, and at least two of those killed were killed in the last hours.

The United States maintains forces that could have reached Benghazi by helicopter within two hours from Italy. I do not have a list of other assets in the Mediterranean, but it does appear that we had some resources in the area. They were not sent.

From the first debate:

ROMNEY: And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn’t we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?

But I find more troubling than this, that on — on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979, when — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event.

At that time the official US position was that the attack on our consulate was a demonstration against a U-Tube video defaming the Prophet Mohammed PBUH that got out of hand. That was still the official position of the United States Department of State – and one presumes the White House – as late as Sunday September 16 when the US Ambassador to the UN declared it on several Sunday news shows.


As of now there has been no statement from the White House in explanation.


As to what might have been done: we knew that conditions in Benghazi were deteriorating long before September 11, 2012, and also that 9-11 is a memorable anniversary. Benghazi is a seaport. The United States has ships called helicopter carriers. Helicopters land on them. Helicopters can carry Marines. Marines carry rifles in addition to bayonets and ammunition. Marines have been known to defend US diplomatic institutions against local attack, and their effectiveness is well known.

As to obtaining Libyan permission to allow a US helicopter carrier – say something like the late USS Tripoli – to berth in Benghazi, their refusal would itself be something worth knowing, and they certainly have no capability of preventing such a ship to stand off shore; and surely the Libyan provisional government would not refuse a US request to send in helicopters to rescue American diplomatic personnel. We could negotiate that in advance of 9-11, and doing that would be simple prudence.

It is not as if we have not gone through such things before. The United States has some experience in these matters. And we did have warning in advance.

Despite that warning, an American diplomatic institution was attacked, and four Americans including our Minister Plenipotentiary and Ambassador Extraordinary were killed. Clearly something went very wrong. Such matters should not happen, and if they do, precautions must be taken to see that they do not happen again.

Surely the White House owes us more of an explanation than continued references to a U-Tube movie trailer?


As it happens I have some experience in thinking about incidents of this sort. Back in the 1950’s I partnered with some senior officers of the US Navy to write papers on international security. Our conclusion, based in part on experiences of the British Royal Marines in Africa, was that ships capable of carrying about a battalion of Marines with helicopter transportation and air support would be capable of handling the vast majority of violent incidents taking place within 100 km. of deep water. Those papers are said to have been influential in the design and commissioning of the Iwo Jima class helicopter assault carriers including the USS Tripoli which served as President George H W Bush’s flagship when he visited Somalia. My son Phillip was an ensign on the Tripoli at that time. I don’t claim much credit in ship design, but I did have some small input in development of tactical use; count me as a fan of Iwo Jima class as a means of force projection. Alas, they are pretty well gone, and I am not all that impressed with what replaced them.

I still believe that the Navy needs the modern equivalent of the Iwo Jima class ships: a battalion of marines with transport and fire support. Their purpose is to deal with situation like the Benghazi incident – largely by deterring them. The threat of an avenging company of Marines not an hour away is a very effective deterrent to terrorists planning an armed attack. They can’t stop a suicide bomber, but they can sure stop a group with AK-47’s, RPG’s, LMG’s, and mortars.

Perhaps someone should explain that to the President. We know that he knows that we have ships that airplanes can land on. Given the results in Benghazi it may be that no one explained how the LPH ships worked, and why we need such assets in this dangerous world.


I have an appointment with a podiatrist, and no, there is nothing wrong with my feet; but since I am mildly diabetic Kaiser has decided that I should have a foot inspection and pedicure. That seems like a very good idea, and it happens this afternoon. On our Knights of Lazarus pilgrimage to Israel one of our companions was a podiatrist, and he is, so far as I know, the only one I have ever met, and I know little about the subject. Perhaps I will find out more.


And that went well. Now to work on fiction. And the Pledge Drive continues. If you don’t know what that is, this place operates on the Public Radio model. It’s free, but it will not stay open without new and renewing subscribers. We get plenty of subscribers, but people sometimes need reminding. This is your reminder. If you have not subscribed, this would be a good time to do it. If you have not renewed your subscription in a while, this would be a great time to renew. Thanks to all who have. As usual the pledge drive corresponds with KUSC’s pledge drives. I don’t ask for anything like as much money as they do, but then I don’t  have the expenses they have.

Subscribe now! Renew now!.  There. I’m done shouting at you, and the drive ends at the end of the week.




Regarding the Italian trial of the scientists, I have this from another conference. It sums it up nicely:


According to Nature:

What happened outside the meeting room may haunt the scientists, and perhaps the world of risk assessment, for many years. Two members of the commission, Barberi and De Bernardinis, along with mayor Cialente and an official from Abruzzo’s civil-protection department, held a press conference to discuss the findings of the meeting. In press interviews before and after the meeting that were broadcast on Italian television, immortalized on YouTube and form detailed parts of the prosecution case, De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L’Aquila was “certainly normal” and posed “no danger”, adding that “the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, i’s a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy”. When prompted by a journalist who said, “So we should have a nice glass of wine,” De Bernardinis replied “Absolutely”, and urged locals to have a glass of Montepulciano.

Oops. The New York Times <> weighed in with an expert:

The statement by the official, who is not a seismologist, violated a cardinal rule of risk communication, which is that those involved should speak only to their expertise, said Dennis Mileti, an emeritus professor of behavioral science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “This person should not have been speaking,” said Dr. Mileti, who has studied risk communication.

Yes, we often find officials keeping silent on important matters of the day. Anyway, the earthquake came and killed and after the funerals people remembered the wine quip. Fingers were pointed, collars were fingered, a trial was ordered. Guilty! The judge gave the six scientists who had the conclave with De Bernardinis six whopping years in prison.

But the trial was not, contrary to many discussions, because the scientists failed to predict the quake. The prosecutor, one Picuti, said (in Nature), “The basis of the charges is not that they didn’t predict the earthquake. As functionaries of the state, they had certain duties imposed by law: to evaluate and characterize the risks that were present in L’Aquila…They were obligated to evaluate the degree of risk given all these factors and they did not.”

“This isn’t a trial against science,” insists [surgeon and local resident] Vittorini, who is a civil party to the suit. But he says that a persistent message from authorities of “Be calm, don’t worry”, and a lack of specific advice, deprived him and others of an opportunity to make an informed decision about what to do on the night of the earthquake. “That’s why I feel betrayed by science,” he says. “Either they didn’t know certain things, which is a problem, or they didn’t know how to communicate what they did know, which is also a problem.”

The busted Italian forecast was of the Bobby “Don’t Worry Be Happy” McFerrin, there-is-no-reason-for-concern kind. And those fellows paid the price. But what of the opposite: endless end-of-the-world predictions.

The problem with coppering your risks against Type I Errors is the commission of more Type II Errors. That is, if RUN FOR THE HILLS! causes panic when no earthquake eventuates, DON’T WORRY BE HAPPY causes worse problems when an earthquake does happen. Apparently "We don’t know for sure and we need to study this for many more years" is not an acceptable public announcement. Run or stay put? Which? In law there is no space for random error. The product always has a "design flaw," the injustice is always intentional. But no matter how fine the decision rules are, there will always be an alpha-risk of running when nothing happens and a beta-risk of staying put when something does.

The only thing the scientists can say is that "In the past whenever we have seen tremors like this, there has been a major earthquake p% of the time." If p is small, folks relax and don’t worry. But there is a first time for everything, especially when there is no causal link between the prior condition and the event of interest. It’s like learning that no incumbent senator has ever won a presidential election… until one did (Harding). Correlation is not causation. Really.

I don’t know Italian law. I am glad I didn’t have to give a statement about how much to worry about an earthquake. I do recall people asking me about the danger of nuclear war, and how much they ought to spend on survival measures. But that was a long time ago. And all the nuclear survival preparations I wrote about when I was doing Survive columns did not turn out to be needed…




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