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NightWatch 20101202


For the Night of 2 December 2010

The Korean Confrontation

South Korea: South Korean media have spotlighted a significant failure by South Korean intelligence agencies. The state intelligence agency and the military came under fire Thursday after it became known that they did not take appropriate precautionary measures In August after they detected signs of a possible North Korean attack on the five offshore islands in the Yellow Sea.

National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon told a parliamentary intelligence committee Wednesday that the agency confirmed the possibility of a North Korean attack on the islands through wiretapping, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door session. Won, however, was quoted by the lawmakers as saying, "(The agency) did not expect the North to launch an attack on civilians as it has routinely shown menacing words and behaviors. The military authorities judged that the North could mount an attack just south of the maritime border."

Comment: This is a significant intelligence analytical failure for South Korea and the US. They share intelligence warning methods but failed to use them to any good effect. Director Won's testimony confirms the judgment by Professor Bruce Bechtol last week that the 23 November attack was long planned, deliberate and predatory. Moreover, South Korean and US intelligence agencies had more than enough intelligence evidence to justify issuing an intelligence warning as early as early August.

NightWatch attests to the past proficiency of South Korean, USFK and US JCS, J2, intelligence analysts in using structured techniques, driven by intelligence evidence, to reach accurate predictions about North Korean behavior more than 90% of the time through 2005. This time no one warned.

If the South Koreans persuaded themselves there was no threat, the whole US intelligence system would defer to them. This is precisely what has happened in dealing with Israel - for example, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2006 War in Lebanon.  When the intelligence services of anAllied country most at risk got it wrong, so did US intelligence services, with a few singular exceptions. That apparently is what happened this time too, but it is not an inevitable result and defeats the purpose of allied sharing with independent analysis.

It is a mark of incompetence in intelligence analytical judgment and management that inappropriate past examples were used to minimize the real time, salient intelligence indicators of attack. There was more than enough evidence on which to base a warning judgment and have it disseminated on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. That is the key take away from Director Won's testimony. See Neustadt and May, Thinking in Time, for education in the "appropriate" uses of history in national security decision making.

The evidence, according to The Korea Herald and other news outlets, included firing exercises - aka rehearsals -- unit movements, introduction of new and different units and intercepts of North Korean orders for the gun units to be ready to fire.

In addition, had an analyst taken the time to search for anomalies in North Korean media, such as an August commentary about not respecting the legal status of the islands and references to physical retaliatory strikes, he or she should have been able to match intent with capabilities and opportunity, as discussed in past issues of NW, to establish at least a 75% probability of an attack as early as early August with the timing to be determined.

An increase in military readiness on the five islands from August onward would have been low cost and contributed to minimal damage, quick response and possibly even deterrence, in contrast to what happened on 23 November 2010. There was enough time that South Korea could have trapped the North.

Analysts apparently no longer know how to distinguish North Korean specific intentions based on behavior. That was once a strong point of the Korean NIS, the US National Warning Staff and the Directorate of Intelligence, J2, Joint Staff in the Pentagon. The skills, training and use of proven diagnostic and predictive warning techniques evidently have lapsed and, as a result, people died for lack of warning. Sixty years after the Korean War, analysts seem to have forgotten warning of attack.  Warning remains the prime directive for all US intelligence since the National Security Act of 1947.

Feedback: A brilliant and perceptive Reader noted that the deployment of air defense missile units to Yeonpyeong Island, which puts them within range of North Korean artillery and rocket fire, is primarily a political and public relations gesture that has slight military purpose.

North Korea: The Korea Central News Agency reported that leader Kim Jong-il made a guidance visit to three plants and facilities in Tanjon City on 2 December. His sister, brother-in-law and other top officials accompanied him but not his heir apparent.

Comment: This is Kim's second reported public appearance since the end of the US-South Korean naval exercises. On 1 December, KCNA reported him as visiting Hamhung University, on the east coast. Kim has several lavish villas near Hamhung.

The two reports of public appearances, albeit undated, reinforce the image that North Korea remains in a condition of normality and the leadership does not intend to escalate the confrontation over the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

China: In today's daily press conference, the Foreign Ministry spokesman evinced strong disappointment that the Chinese proposal for an emergency Six-Party meeting was misunderstood and thus rejected, except by Russia.

Comment: The Chinese are unhappy that their bluff about being neutral in the Korean confrontation was called. Chinese are not inscrutable.

Ivory Coast: An official spokesman conveyed the following proclamation,

The Defense and Security Forces of Cote d'Ivoire hereby inform all the people living on the national territory that land, air, and maritime borders of the country have been closed to the movement of people and property as of 2000 today, Thursday, 2 December 2010, until further notice. The takeoff runway of the Abidjan air base is equally bound by this measure. The chief of defense staff therefore invites all users to strictly abide by these measures.

Comment: The country is in lock-down until after the run off presidential election on Sunday because of the threat of violence by the losing party. The issues and implications are local, more important to France than the US. This is a study in democracy.

Afghanistan: Follow-up finding. Continuing analysis of fighting data reinforces the NightWatch assessment that the Taliban have peaked. In fact, they peaked in 2009, based on a review of districts under stress. NightWatch calculated the average number of districts under stress for each of the 34 provinces to obtain a measure of sustainability for anti-government forces. The data is presented below.

                                                                                       2007        2008         2009         2010

Average number of districts with clashes            70             99           180           133

Percent of total                                                         17.6%     24.9%         45%          33%

(Note: The 34 provinces of Afghanisan contain 398 districts)

The data show a moderate increase in the number of districts with clashes from 2007 to 2008 and a significant surge in 2009, followed by a significant drop in 2010. the drop exceeds the margin of error and reporting variations. The drop means the Taliban and other anti-government forces retrenched in 2010, apparently by falling back to safer districts.

The above findings are inconsistent with mainstream news reporting so that NightWatch undertook a detailed examination of every district in every province that reported any kind of security incident in the press in 2009 and 2010. That examination confirms a wholesale contraction of operating areas by anti-government forces in 2010, compared to 2009.

Using the average number of districts experiencing clashes as a measure, only 2 of 34 provinces registered a statistically measurable increase in the average number of districts experiencing clashes between 2009 and 2010 to date. Those provinces are Baghlan in the north and Nimruz in the west. Neither is in danger.

Eleven provinces showed no change in the average number of districts with clashes in 2009 compared to 2010. This number includes 4 provinces that have never experienced significant anti-government violence since 2001.

Twenty-one provinces showed a substantial decline - from 7 to 50% - in the average number of districts experiencing clashes in 2010, compared to 2009.

This result coincides with increased combat operations following the surge in US combat forces. These data, which require continuing study, indicate 2010 is the first year since 2001 in which the geographic area of operations of the anti-government forces contracted. This fact is camouflaged by the overall high number of clashes and other security incidents. 

This finding does not mean either side is winning or losing. It does mean that something -- probably a combination of lots of things, including supply and finance shortages for the Taliban and increased Allied power -- forced the anti-government forces to retrench.  The retrenchment is significant, but not yet outcome determinative. For example, the contraction may be as much as Allied forces can compel because the force ratios continue to favor stalemate. Data compilation and analysis continue.

Administrative note: Readers who want to learn how to do intelligence warning with 90% or better predictive accuracy and about the sometimes extraordinary achievements of US warning officers are invited to contact NightWatch or KGS NightWatch.

End of NightWatch for 2 December.

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