View Full Version : The Snake Eater Saga

02-08-2007, 11:01 AM
The Snake Eater (http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/dhenninger/?id=110009638) - Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal.

Subject: A case study of how the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq.

Problem: If a cop in Anytown, USA, pulls over a suspect, he checks the person's ID remotely from the squad car. He's linked to databases filled with Who's Who in the world of crime, killing and mayhem. In Iraq, there is nothing like that. When our troops and the Iraqi army enter a town, village or street, what they know about the local bad guys is pretty much in their heads, at best.

Solution: Give our troops what our cops have. The Pentagon knows this. For reasons you can imagine, it hasn't happened.

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.

Before fastening our seatbelts, let's check the status quo. As a high Defense Department official told the Journal's editorial page, "We're trying to fight a major war with peacetime procurement rules." The department knows this is awful. Indeed, a program exists, the Automated Biometric Identification System: retina scans, facial matching and the like. The reality: This war is in year four, and the troops don't have it. Beyond Baghdad, the U.S. role has become less about killing insurgents than arresting the worst and isolating them from the population. Obviously it would help to have an electronic database of who the bad guys are, their friends, where they live, tribal affiliation--in short the insurgency's networks...

Deploying the The Snake Eater in Khalidaya (http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/02/deploying_the_the_sn.php) - Bill Roggio's The Fourth Rail.

In the middle of January, I embedded with the joint U.S. Marine and U.S. Army Military Transition Team based in Khalidaya in Anbar province. The MTT was then commanded by Major Owen West. Major West's greatest criticisms of the war effort is our failure to recognize the nature of the insurgency, which in many parts of Iraq is fought by applying what he calls "heavy police tactics," and our failure in to applying the right tools to the problem.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Page has written an article about how a group of people looked to solve part of this problem (http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/dhenninger/?id=110009638). Mr. Henninger describes the enterprise as such, and well: "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."

Major West, along with Spirit of America (http://spiritofamerica.net/), a technology company called CDI, and with a small helping hand from me, fielded "The Snake Eater," a biometric device that photographs, fingerprints and stores data about captured suspected insurgents, and then builds a networked picture on their family, history and activities...

02-08-2007, 11:56 AM
Love this story. My problem is they did not have to invent it, it already exist. Here is the link where I posted this paper sep 06. In the back of the paper is a picture of the existing system, one of several by the way. More important are the basic 5 recommended LE procedures that we can implement in Iraq!


This is one of my Pet Rocks!!
This paper should be read By All!!!!!!!! It also points out that LE tactics are not everything, in fact some should not be done at all. Anyway give those folks a medal for funding the program and promote the Marine Major and lets Win. Forward Jamaica Mon!!!!!

02-08-2007, 02:22 PM
We started doing these types of procedures in 1999 in Kosovo with digital cameras. Some unit fight this biometric procedure analog the same way we did in Kosovo, using digital photos, powerpoint slides and manually linking the dots. Its unreal that after four years and billions of dollars, we do not have the latest and greatest in biometric tools down to the troops. Great article highlighting a serious flaw in our planning/execution.

Just as a side note. I think this article may be a few months out of date. Talking with CPAT and CALL sources, a nationwide biometric system is in the process of being distributed across the country. Granted, its about three years too late in my opinion. But there is in fact, a nationwide system coming online. The issues then become more Iraqi focused. Does the IP station have power to run the systems, does it have network capability, does it have cops/soldiers who are trained and tech savy enough to properly use the equipment? Or will the equipment become like the laser printers our Iraqi army companies used to hold the doors open?

02-08-2007, 04:15 PM
Unfortunately, Mr. Henniger's information is severely dated. Maybe that's a good thing, because MSM don't need to know the TTPs employed over two years ago that fall into this vein.

It's great that the initiative of Maj West is highlighted, and we get a subtle PSYOP push, but this isn't news for the guys on the ground. A better focus of effort would be to solve the revolving-door issue, and work harder at getting the bad guys over to the side of the government. Chu Hoi, Selous Scout and all...Or maybe I'm just too ambitious.

Bill Meara
02-08-2007, 06:06 PM
I read about this need for biometeric gear, fingerprint technology, etc. Here we see one of OUR cultural characteristics. We always seem to go for a technological solution to whatever problem we face. Can't speak the language? Get me one of those Star Trek translator boxes! Sorry, but technology isn't always the answer. In some situations, if you don't know the culture and the language, all the biometric gizmos in the world are not going to make up for it.

02-08-2007, 06:18 PM
Hey Bill,
I second that. We recently discussed high tech and leaving our ground troops behind. In 1984, the Rangers in Sub-Sahara once said to me "you gotta put the troops in the mud where customs, culture and their meanings, real whether material or spiritual exist !"

Regards, Stan

02-08-2007, 06:41 PM
I would usually agree about the Tech solution except that automated fingerprinting identification is a proven TTP for population control. Criminals, bad guys in general hate being identified and or being kept track of. The only problem I see with the system is it could be misused by the Iraq police department without monitoring (example they collect info on people that they consider their enemy Sunni,Shia,Kurd,etc. while ignoring everyone else.)

02-08-2007, 06:48 PM
Evening Slapout !
I'm certain these devices have their place when properly employed. In this case, it's Psycho effect may cost a few buds some thumbs when the insurgents begin looking for GPS chips :D

Regards, Stan


"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.

02-08-2007, 07:15 PM
Stan, no worries the best place to put a GPS chip on a person is the top of their shoulder, gives the best reception/transmission. I was on a counter stalking task force and we studied this idea closely of tracking people by GPS and glad to say some of it is being implanted. No they wouldn't let us use the implants but they are real and are being used. What is that little red dot on the screen???? lets see???? that you Stan:D

02-08-2007, 07:43 PM
All of our EOD dogs have chips "somewhere". Yeah, the dogs cost upwards of 5 grand at only 8 weeks old, so more or less logical.

I have no doubt, that if we could do that to dogs years ago, who else had these "chips" installed :eek:

Hey, you're not gonna start the "stuffed animal" theory again ?

As for chips on shoulders; Hmmm....Naw, I just have a huge ego :D

Regards, Stan

02-09-2007, 12:17 AM
Stan, we first got the idea from vets. At that time they were putting in bar code like chips in their teeth just for ID not tracking. Some of our area LE dept. have GPS dogs but not the implant just on their collars.There are a lot of companies that sell wrist watch like devices for personal use, mostly used on small children. On second thought maybe your sister needs one while she is dating that Ranger:wry: Maybe in a Teddy Bear?:rolleyes: 5 grand for a bomb dog is really a good deal compared to the US anyway. They also tried mounting a doggy cam on some dogs, but it didn't work out, it but was to watch.

02-09-2007, 12:18 AM
The use of biometrics on the battlefield is not the end-all answer to the problems faced by our forces in Iraq or Afghanistan; I have seen several different types of systems used by various branches in different theatres, all with their own problems. From not being able to interface the databases, not having the troops to operate the systems, what type of information is collected, searching the database and classification of the types of information gathered. When itís used properly it can be an excellent tool. I would think that how that information is used as well as how itís disseminated is of much more importance. From a force protection standpoint having a database of foreign nationals that either attempt to access or have access to US/Coalition facilities is absolutely paramount. Personally I have seen where an individual has been denied access to one location for security reasons shown up and granted access to another, due to the fact there are differences in the screening techniques or lack thereof. Simply believing that a handheld device is the answer to all of your problems can be deadly, I have read repeatedly on the Small Wars Journal that winning COIN is not an overnight solution; I would say the same for using Biometrics as well. One would have to establish several databases with various checks/balances and interconnectivity. From the end users whom collect database, whether thatís a unit on patrol who comes across a person of interest, CA teams who interact with local political and religious leaders, troops embedded with host nation elements, MP training units designated to train police departments, HUMINT elements, Engineers that oversee projects both on and off installations, and the EPW/detainee situations. Obviously each element has certain particulars that they need to know and each type has overlying requirements. Nor would one want to turn over a list of all local nationals granted access to said installation to the local police/intelligence agency, so they could check the list against their suspected bad guys, if we as in US forces were to give out this information in essence we are giving the enemy the tools they need to defeat the checks. Using these tools is very helpful but only if the users are properly utilizing it. As far as procurement of the equipment I found that it was extremely easy, contacting the appropriate agency, CENTCOM has an element thatís purpose is to supply that to the units and will send trainers to them wherever they are, telling them what you are trying to do and they get it out fast. Too often Iíve heard the negative when it comes to the use of Biometrics especially from foreign nationals, and Iíve found that a lot of it traces back to the elements collecting it, instead of making it seem like a dire voodoo type of thing where the individuals feel that they might go to jail why not make everyone feel that its an honor or a privilege to have their information taken, hell give Ďem an ID card! From what Iíve seen no matter where I go someone comes up to me and has to either tell me or show me a letter or certificate theyíve received from the US. Well I donít claim to know it all or even some but I know a lil bit, exactly about what Iím not sure. :eek: I hope you find something Iíve said useful or at least interesting.

here is a link to Trust but Identify: an introduction to department of defense automated biometric identification system
www.biometrics.dod.mil/documents/BRIEFS/Trust%20but%20Identify.pdf (www.biometrics.dod.mil/documents/BRIEFS/Trust%20but%20Identify.pdf)