Monday, April 27, 2009

Pirate Hostage Rescue Email

The other day I got an email - as apparently did most of the internet - proporting to be the "inside story" of the SEAL's engagement of the Somali pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips.

At the time, I thought the email had a ring of truth, but not a ring of complete truth. Although the jargon and atmospherics of the email sounded right, some of the facts didn't fit the timeline as we know it.

That made this email a little more interesting - maybe from an authentic source who nevertheless didn't have all the facts, but got some of the info second hand from a legitimate firsthand observer.

I really don't know, but the media's reaction has been as interesting as the email itself. The MSM mostly sprang to the immediate defense of the President, insisting the email is bogus.

It may be bogus - some of the assertions in the email don't fit the public narrative. For example, the email said there were several opportunities to engage the pirates before April 12th, including the first time Captain Phillips jumped overboard from the lifeboat on the 10th. The Navy has said the SEAL snipers did not arrive on the Bainbridge until the 11th. The NBC article, linked above, emphatically declares the email to be bogus in the headline, then goes on to say it may have been written by someone involved, but who didn't really know all the high-level discussions and coordination that took place. That's a bit different from totally bogus.

On the other hand, there is a heck of a lot of spin going on in both directions. There is a very good article from Bill Gertz discussing a lot of this stuff. It doesn't exactly contradict the email but instead offers a number of tantalizing new clues. Gertz' article suggests there were TWO water HALO jumps into the area, first with a group of SEALS redeployed from Kenya on the 10th, then another group from Virginia Beach on the 11th.

Gertz also quotes an "unnamed official" (presumably in Washington) who confirms the main theme of the contentious email, namely that the guidance from the NCA was "we would prefer a peaceful solution but you are authorized to shoot "if Captain Phillips life is in danger".

Gertz' sources also disputed the claim that the SEALs missed a chance to shoot when Phillips jumped overboard on the 10th. Apparently that is true, as that apparently happened shortly after midnight on the 10th, and the first group of SEALs did not arrive until later in the day, if those proported facts are correct. His primary source for the article is retired-Marine-General-now-National-Security-Adviser Jim Jones, whom I really do believe is a straight shooter.

So the famous email looks to be not entirely correct, but not entirely incorrect as it portrayed the coordination over 8000 miles of the "modified peacetime ROE" allowing the Navy to engage the pirates. The bigger question is why should a situation of this type require the direct intervention of the President of the United States, and the deployment of special people from Virginia Beach to take a couple of 35-yard shots? Various other narratives have now claimed that Captain Phillips jumped overboard a SECOND time, providing the snipers an excellent opportunity and justification to shoot as they trained their guns on the Captain in the water. With the Captain in the water, why do y0u even need snipers at 35 yards? Why not use rail-mounted miniguns and reduce the lifeboat with pirates onboard to splinters? Answer: because it isn't special enough.

There is, of course, ample precedent for Navy ship captains to deal with pirates on their own authority, without any further fanfare, and every ship in the Navy (and probably all US flagged merchants) should have sharpshooters on board capable of making a 35 yard shot. (Certainly they did in the 19th century - what happened?)

Ultimately this whole story is about the shortcomings of 2nd generation institutions in a 4th generation world. What scares me is that otherwise sane and sensible folks like Jim Jones think its all just fine.

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