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Why did we not notice?

Earlier this afternoon Perry and I had a lengthy editorial telephone discussion on the subject of Georgia. While we agreed broadly there was one area in which we had intense debate until I finally figured out how we were talking past each other.

The question is, how the hell did US intelligence assets miss the Russian Black Sea fleet movements? How did they miss the massive transport job of the troops and their logistical tail? They did not just materialize in position. It takes time and planning to make such moves. I will leave the detail of that to Perry as he seems to have been thinking about it in great detail.

My take is there is a limited amount of time available on the black satellites. The manpower and resources have been re-targeted on the Middle East. Orbits have been shifted to give maximal coverage in those areas of interest and experienced personnel have moved to ‘where the action is’.

This is not to say Russia is being ignored. It is however a very big place and I am going to guess that the time between scanning particular areas has greatly lengthened. Russian troop movements are mainly rail based and with enough eyeballs and Cold War era periodic coverage one might hope to pick up changes in traffic patterns and notice “something is going on”. But… this requires a certain periodicity in coverage. Changes in static positions like silos and strategic air bases are much easier to pick up even with occasional coverage. Dynamic changes, such as train and road movements are a different story. You have to have a satellite taking pictures at just the right time or often enough to pick up a signal just by chance.

This is what took Perry and I awhile to meet minds on: I have been thinking of this issue as a communications/information theory problem. How often do you have to sample an area to notice a change in the density of train traffic? I would posit it would have to be several times a week at the very least if the spike in traffic was huge and extended; if the spike were smaller and flatter you would need to sample daily or multiple times daily. You would have to do it at night and through clouds as well if you were to get a statistical value high enough to ring alarm bells. It is an issue of sampling rate versus the highest detectable signal frequency, pure and simple.

I doubt they have even been scanning large areas of Russia more than a few times a week (I suspect much less often) except in areas of nuclear strategic interest. They could easily miss large troop movements in a part of Russia which is not of great national interest to the United States.

Let the discussion begin. There is a lot of meat on this bone!

72 comments to Why did we not notice?

  • As I see it the problem is not with the satellites themselves, in polar orbit they can take pictures of both Russia and Iraq without pausing to catch their robotic breath.

    What may have created the intel gap (if there was one) was the ongoing, decades old shortage of qualified image interpretations specialists. It takes years to train someone in the extraordinary skills needed and they often quit the government to work for better pay elsewhere.

    Dale has got his mind wrapped around an important part of the problem when he discusses the need for pattern analysis. This can be partly automated the way the search for IEDs in Iraq has been.

  • Dale Amon

    Something which I do not know is whether they are continuously streaming hi-res image data throughout each orbit. There are several limitations one faces. First there is TDRSS bandwidth (or else gigantic onboard storage requirements and exceedingly high bandwidth downlinks when they pass over Virginia… ); then there is the amount of processing time required on the ground if you were going to continuously analyze all of that data as it arrives and additionally do the time series analysis against previous images of the area over the last week or two; then there is the issue of applying meaning to whatever patterns are thrown up. If you analyze huge areas of the world, you are going to have threshold events constantly.

    I strongly suspect they dial in certain areas of interest and apply the processing power and human interpreters to those and that other areas only get looked at if something really goes off the scale. Any computer analysis is going to be heuristic and that means ‘sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t’.

  • George Atkisson

    Russia clearly planned its buildup to minimize detection by satellite. They undoubtedly worked around known satellite survellance windows and consciously avoided obvious changes in communication and movement patterns. There would have been cover stories directed at their own forces to explain movements and maintenance upgrades (exercises, inspections, etc.).

    Probably the main factor was the unreadiness or unwillingness of Western intel to believe that Russia would actually invade. I’m sure that there were indications that something was going on, but they would have been dismissed as isolated events or lost in the “white noise” of data. If you show an enemy what he expects to see, that is all he will see as it confirms his pre-existing expectations.

    The inclusion of cyberwar in the attack on Georgia is no doubt causing great concern and rethinking of Western vulnerabilites as well.

  • Dale Amon

    Here is a good link for those who wish to get more info on satellite assets:


  • Dale Amon

    I might add that there has been much work on rapid access to space and smallsats that are almost disposable assets. I would not be surprised is some of this sort are deployed, but that would not at present have much to do with this particular discussion.

  • Dale you are right to the extent that there are always going to be bandwidth and processing limits on what can come down. But I’m pretty sure that there are other relays than just TDRSS.

    Given the hugh invetsments that have been made in processing power over the last couple of decades, I still think that the major limitations are human rather than technical.

    Of course the Russians are going to try and work around the times when they know that we have something overhead. But with Commercial remote sensing satellites, both US and foreign, those windows have been shrinking.

  • Dale Amon

    If you know of a satellite relay constellation other than TDRSS in GSO, you definitely know something I do not. They will not be easy to hide either: they are quite large beasts by the very nature of what they do, and that means amateur satellite watchers should be aware of them.

    I will admit I could have missed hearing about such a thing. Is there a black relay net in GSO?

  • Kevin B

    Of course, any half decent espionage organisation would be paying a few grunts in each regiment, and a few generals in higher places, to give us a call when anything unusual was going on. Then we would know where to point all our high tech stuff before the balloon went up.

  • lucklucky

    Was there a massive build up of troops? I am not sure, reading about operations Russia didnt put much troops in Georgia, and Caucasus have had alwys many troops, Chechenia is just around the corner. Also i dont undertsand the reference you made to the fleet. Distances are very short in Black Sea.

  • 13times

    High tech is dandy and all but what about Georgian nationals living in the region? No one noticed Russian armor staging just across the border? Me thinks there’s more to this than the Georgians are willing to admit – time will tell.

  • Dale

    Lets just say that the NRO has been launching a lot more than just KH, Lacrosse and FIA.

  • Dale, what makes you think that anyone has missed anything?

  • J

    Am I missing something? Russia has had troops in that area for years, and I see nothing to indicate that any vast build up was required to scare off Georgia’s forces. It’s extremely hard to gauge the scale of the fighting that took place last week, but I don’t see any indication that it was very big. Some bombing raids, some artillery bombardment, a bit of armour moving around the main roads and towns.

    I imagine diplomats on all sides were aware that Russia could pull that trick if it felt like it. Georgia miscalculated – perhaps a few others did too, but I find it hard to believe that anybody with an interest in the region is amazed and stunned that Russia decided to expand the mission of its ‘peacekeeping’ forces in S Ossetia one day.

    Let’s suppose we did know the moment when Russian forces would advance – what exactly would we do? A pre-emptive strike? Announce on TV that we are troubled by Russia’s clear intention to invade Georgia the day after tomorrow, as based on some secret photos that we can’t show you?

    The thing that has struck me, is that Russia appears to have met essentially no resistance. Georgia clearly was gambling on Russia not having the stomach for a fight, because they apparently made no attempt to prepare for any kind of counter attack or resistance.

    Both sides had used the old excuse of ‘protecting their citizens’ and ‘supporting humanitarian missions’ to move troops to the area. Georgia’s increasingly dictatorial leader decided to step up the pace a bit, and Russia squashed him flat.

    In realpolitik terms, I reckon Russia has played this well. I forsee regime change in Georgia, and greater Russian influence in the region. Russia is undoubtedly the greater of two evils in this case, but I don’t see much space for the West to manoeuvre, diplomatically speaking.

    C’est la guerre.

  • IAF

    Bearing in mind the ‘relatively’ small numbers in question (150 MBTS & 10K troops) and what Russia has down there anyway – e.g. manoeuvres last month / Chechnya etc – would it actually show up in any meaningful way?

    A genuine question – if the US had an exercise near the Canadian border (bad example, I know) but let’s say in N. Dakota with those kind of figures, would it really show up on the threat board as one to watch? Even bearing in mind how we’ve been watching the ratcheting up of tensions over the past year….

  • Ian B

    Not to do with the buildup, but to do with the war…

    I admit to having little knowledge of this situation, but does this report not look as if our glorious leader Mr Sarkozy is doing something akin to a Chamberlain at Munich?

  • I second Alisa.

    Dale your question is predicated upon the idea that the USA could or would want to do something. I bet they saw this coming and publicly (at least) ignored it.

    This could just as easily have been a political decision rather than a technical issue.

  • I’m in the “nothing was missed” camp. I think that the Georgians began shelling in Ossetia because they knew the attack was coming.

  • Dale Amon

    There appears to be a bit more to it… but I do not wish to pre-empt Perry as he has some interesting points to make on exactly what moved and how long the planning had to have been in progress.

    Perry… I think it is time you wrote an article on the troop and fleet movements.

  • MDC

    How do we know anything was amiss to start with? Russia is an enormous country with an enormous Soviet legacy military; Georgia is a small country with a small military that was denies the ex-Soviet loot other countries like Ukraine got their hands on (a significant past bone of contention between Georgia and Russia). Russia has only a small slice of her armed forces deployed here – indeed, her best and newest tank models are on the border with China and have remained there.

    The Caucasus states are not very powerful, but on the other side are Turkey and Iran – it seems reasonable that the deployments here are simply normal. Similarly, the Black Sea is not very large – I doubt anything was out of the ordinary there.

    So, do we actually know there was some large pre-emptive buildup, or is this just speculation?

    A more interesting question, perhaps – Georgia has been ‘pre-approved’ for NATO members, but not actually given it. The same is true for some other countries on Russia’s central and Western edges. Why were they not ‘fast-tracked,’ will this incident force some or all of them back into the Russian sphere, is the West’s will to defend other, more accessible countries (such as the Ukarine) a reality either? I do not know the answer to these questions, but they may make an interesting piece – particularly in light of all the celebration of Ukraine’s ‘orange revolution’ in favour of the West a few years ago.

  • Paul from Florida

    I seem to remember the US being surprised by 9/11, Saddam going into Kuwait. Collapse of the Berlin wall, India and Pakistain getting their bombs. Ditto Tet, Chinese in North Korea, the Battle of the Bulge, Pearl Harbor.

    US security beurocrats checks come in every 2 week, no matter what. So, it’s no skin off their nose.

  • Dawnfire82

    Who says that anything was missed? At the very least, the Georgians probably knew about such movements and spread the info around to whomever they thought needed to know.

    I know that the intel community can be leaky, but just because it isn’t in the headlines of the NYT doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur.

  • Rachel

    We are not perfect. Why does everyone think that the US is god in terms of intellegence? I believe that Shikashvilli (sp) got cocky and expected the US to back him up militarily. In short, he was an idiot. Not once has the US been in a hot war with Russia (or USSR). Also, didn’t he know how hamstrung W was politically.
    Mr. S., in my opinion, also violated the sovrerignty of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia by forcing them into Georgian territory. So, like many things in foreign policy, the situation was never simple.

    As far as people wanting us to back Georgia, what more could we do. Are we willing to go to war with Russia to protect Georgia? Gees, we pitched a fit over the sandbox known as Iraq I seriously doubt W would have gotten support for Russia, which is why he was so defeated.

  • nick g.

    Interpretation is always the bugbear. I remember that we relied too much on Elint (Electronic Intelligence- spy satellites) during the Balkans War (were those conflicts ever given official names, by the way?). Tanks were supposedly destroyed, and we found out later that we had sent missiles to blow up clever decoys! You need human intelligence as well (spies on the ground).

  • Stacy

    It’s fairly typical for Russia to maintain large troop formations on its borders and use these local forces for operations like this one. The Winter War (which is a good comparison) was conducted entirely by the Leningrad military district for months, until it became clear more muscle was needed to make progress against the Finns.

  • Dale Amon

    Rachel: Actually they have. The US sent an expeditionary force of 15000 men (along with more from the UK and France) in support of the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. US forces were stationed in Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostok in the 1918-1920 time frame.

  • ElamBend

    You would have thought, that of all parts of Russia, the approaches to Georgia had a big “Watch this Space” on it. None the less, you can’t be everywhere, everytime, particularly when you’re inspecting mountain passes in Bactria.

  • I’m with Nick and Alisa- the US didn’t “miss” anything, they knew what was happening but were not in any type of position to do anything about it be it either militarily or politically.

    I thought Victor Hanson had an interesting take on the fact that had Georgia already been in NATO this conflict would have exposed NATO as the toothless diplomatic mess that it has become.

    Maybe that’s just what it needs.

  • Dale, unless you have a helluva lot higher clearance than I ever did, I see no reason why you would know if the US had warning or not. But right next to this instalink is a link to a story about the US repeatedly warning Georgia that it looked like the Russians were Up To Something.

  • Bearing in mind the ‘relatively’ small numbers in question (150 MBTS & 10K troops) and what Russia has down there anyway – e.g. manoeuvres last month / Chechnya etc – would it actually show up in any meaningful way?

    If those numbers are correct then I agree… I had heard it was three division equivalents, i.e. a corps sized formation, which should have been fairly hard to hide on the move and whose logistic footprint is quite substantial. If the force was actually much smaller then it is much less surprising no bells started ringing at the NSA.

  • Roger Godby

    Saakashivili was swept into power, in part, to establish firm Gergian control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were given to Georgia on independence in 1991. S.O. is majority Russian, so they want to be part of Russia; Russia helps by giving them all Russian passports. Russia funnels in arms, it has “peacekeepers” on the ground nearby, it starts flying its planes in Georgian airspace, always testing, always gauging reaction–reaction that is effectively zero.

    Perhaps Georgia’s strike had two aims: one, to shut the lone tunnel (inside Russia, from one map I’ve looked at ) through the mountains to Georgia’s north (thereby complicating Russian movements; two, finish S.O. resistance and take conrol. Georgia is tiny and poor and, even with US advisors and gear, stood little chance of winning; Saakashivili banked on Russia weakness (and forgot the petrodollars, strange considering the currently non-Russian pipeline passing through Georgia) and “the international community.” Never bank on the latter.

    Of course, Georgia was stillborn from the start. Its other neighbors are unfriendly or indifferent. Russia has taken Georgia twice before (1801 and 1921), so precedent exists. Moving anything into Georgia would be costly and timely, especially if Turkey refused (as with the Iraq invasion).

    It would be amazing to see the Baltic nations and Poland (with their angry letter denouncing Russia) join with Ukraine and the Central Asian oil producers who are going to get squeezed when the Georgian pipeline turns Russian; to see them join, get West European covert funding to keep the “Georgian” pipeline in Georgian hands. It would.

    Hopefully Georgian guerillas will give the Russians hell (and be given Stingers and other goodies), but Georgia’s done for, sadly.

    Damn it, I had been planning a trip there in September, too.

  • Allison

    assume the us IC had knowm. so what should have been done differently by us? by the georgians? i see no clarity here on how else this should have gone down.

    the issue isn’t with the nsa..what do they care..they have other fish to fry. the issue is with our mil assets. did they miss this? wretchard at pj says the US has 150 mil advisers there and 1k troops there, who’d just performed exercises with the georgians and the playbook scenario was, coincidentally, a event just like this. sounds like they missed nothing, and might have something to do with why the georgian army lived to see another battle.

  • Allison

    assume the us IC had knowm. so what should have been done differently by us? by the georgians? i see no clarity here on how else this should have gone down.

    the issue isn’t with the nsa..what do they care..they have other fish to fry. the issue is with our mil assets. did they miss this? wretchard at pj says the US has 150 mil advisers there and 1k troops there, who’d just performed exercises with the georgians and the playbook scenario was, coincidentally, a event just like this. sounds like they missed nothing, and might have something to do with why the georgian army lived to see another battle.

  • Jeremy

    Actually, the build up wasn’t missed. There probably wasn’t one. There was a big Russian military exercise called Caucasus 2008, which conveniently were took place in, among other places, North Ossetia, just across the border from Georgia, wrapping up when the war started. In fact, the 58th Army which provided much of the Russian ground forces for the invasion had just finished the exercise a few days prior to the beginning of the conflict.

    In other words, Russia already had its forces deployed in the field before the war even started. The Soviet Union did something similar in 1968 when it used already scheduled Warsaw Pact exercises as cover for deploying troops to invade Czechoslovkia and crush the ‘Prague Spring.’

  • Curt Johnson

    I find it unsurprising that people instantly jump to the conclusion that the US Intel community missed this, w/o any facts on the whatsoever. Just because you were surprised does not mean we were. And to answer your question: no — we did not miss it.

  • Eric

    It’s pretty common to establish yearly exercises near a country you might invade. It allows you to do all the troop movements and, more importantly, logistical support you need for an actual invasion. The defenders tend to get used to it after a few years and let their guard down. The Russians have been planning this for a few years, at least on a contingency basis. During the cold war they used to do the same thing in Eastern Europe.

    If you want to lie awake nights consider the fact that China is holding yearly beach assault exercises near Taiwan. Sure, it could be a bluff, or, I suppose, just training

    Paul from Florida, what a silly list. Comparing movements of tank columns with a terrorist attack carried out by 19 people is asinine. And for the record, we were aware of Saddam’s build up weeks before the invasion of Kuwait actually occurred.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Dear Sirs and Madams,

    I have a bit of personal experience in these areas. True, it comes from the 60’s but I believe still applicable. I actually visited Georgia once. For about five minutes. They weren’t very hospitable towards lost tourists. Fortunately they weren’t particularly good shots.

    The Russians suck big time in military prowess. Their major successes go back to the strategy of Alexander: cannon fodder to the front. They are, however, devilishly clever. Check the names in any book about the history of science.

    Hungary 1956. The West was caught pants down. New trick. Burst communications. Sounded like static to those poor souls who wore earphones eight hours a day.

    Missile telemetry. There was an agreement that telemetry was not to be encrypted. So they distorted it in a way they knew how to correct. Missile accuracy (expressed as CEP, Circular Error Probable) is a multi-billion dollar, existential factor in war planning. I hope we did the same. I worked with the Minuteman II guidance system. The whole program, including permissive action links, was classified “Confidential”. Read “please steal this”. The DC-20 telemetry module had as much security as the KW-26 crypto machines. I don’t know. Just saying.

    The US has a “black” budget for intelligence. It’s rather large. Kinda like the GDP of Africa. Its failures are legendary. Read The New York Times for details. Its successes are unknown. That’s kind of messy for an open society. Unfortunately it’s a very dangerous world.

    I watched the Cuban Missile Crisis from the Comm Center at our facility in Peshawar, Pakistan. I ain’t saying nuthin except that the situation was rather fuzzy. And scary.

    We don’t know what went on. We don’t know what Bush said to Putin. If we’re lucky you folks may know in 50 years or so. I know I wont be around to listen.

    As for me, I think I’ll play golf tomorrow. Maybe say a prayer or two. Not over a putt. The Almighty has clearly demonstrated over the years that that doesn’t do much good. I’ll pray for my children and grandchildren.


  • Buzz

    I gotta go with Curt here. I’m pretty sure the US intelligence community’s job is not to inform bloggers about impending invasions. I’ve seen this type of comment cropping up in a few places, but in each case it seems like knee-jerk speculation without proof.

  • alan

    Friday, July 18
    Tbilisi is up in arms over Russian wargames now ongoing near the border with Georgia.

    More than 8 000 soldiers and 700 heavily-armored vehicles along with air forces and landing troops are taking part in the Kavkaz-2008 military training, which will also involve air forces and paratroopers, according to Russian news agency Interfax.


  • Mr. B

    I worked at a military think tank in the 70s. At that time a new Russian attack aircraft made an appearance in a place where it could be photographed by American Navy recon aircraft. It was breathlessly reported in Aviation Week that this was a tremendous surprise by the Soviets and a subsequent intelligence failure on the part of the the CIA et al.

    As it turned out, this particular think tank had very little “need to know” requirements so I requested a search in the secret archives for the reportedly “new” NATO designation of that aircraft and found what amounted to a complete description which looked like it had just come from Aircraft in Profile. There were expanded drawings of the location of all the interior systems, includeding structural and landing gear details. Range, engine power, speed, even a cockput view were included. It was dated two years earlier.

    I bring this up just to note that when you assume that something is an “intelligence failure” that at best you’re making surmises about something you literally know nothing about.

  • Laird

    Curt, that’s a pretty bold statement. Do you know that for a fact?

  • Satellites, schmatellites. I am with Curt as well.

    Shortly after the fit hit the shan I was speaking to a friend in Sevastopol who stated that only a blind man would have missed the upscaling of the number of Russian ships in the Black. Supply ships mostly, but also a number of ones bearing rotor craft.

    It would have been damn near impossible for the intel folks to miss this, but even if Saakashvili was given right advice he probably ignored it. My friend says that the air is thin in Georgia, because it is a mountainous region, and that causes their tempers to be short.

    Interesting theory. Stalin was a Georgian.

  • fedya


    OK, I’m in the “no one was surprised” camp. This is a very high stakes poker game and it has only just begun to show up in our public eyes.

    Strategic interests:

    1) safe Black Sea naval port, an alternative to Ukrainian-held Sebastopol

    2) stop all non-Russ Trans-Caucasus pipelines–which all have to run across Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey or the Georgian Black Sea ports, especially the new one to Poti.

    3) Maximise monopoly and political control by dividing control of all oil-gas output between Russia and Iran

    Caspian Sea Nations,
    Strategic Interests
    (i.e. not Russia or Iran; Azerbaijan to West, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to East, all the Turkic nations habitually carved up by the Persians, Mongols, or, lately, the Russians, with their huge oil and gas reserves (Baku, Hitler’s Holy Oil Grail, is Azeri).

    1) A new Silk Road both East and West, free from Russian or Persian blockage, Westward it is necessarily a trans-Caucasian corridor, e.g. via Azerbaijan through Georgia (because Armenia is still a miserable Russian flunkie).

    2) International guarantors willing to step in between Les Russes and the Persians (e.g. USA, Black Sea nations, Eastern Europe, China[?], Western Europe [wha?–oh, hah-hah, don’t be tho thilly, u beetht, u])

    3) Trans-Caspian pipeline from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Baku (in planning)

    4) Black Sea Treaty Organization to form one-by-one Caspian partnerships. This would give the ‘stans much needed breathing room from Russia, and make a peaceful East-West market– including China– for their oil and gas both viable and enriching.

    Black Sea nations,
    Strategic interests
    (Turkey, Bulgaria & trans-Danube, the Balkans in general, Georgia, Romania, parts of Moldova, Ukraine)

    1) Safe, reliable, non-Russian and non-Persian controlled pipelines from the Caspian to relieve the present existential threat

    2) Third option alliances that prefer local interests to great power rivalry. A Turkey- Ukraine- Georgia- Azerbaijan cooperation pact with US guarantorship

    The “All New” Persia
    Strategic Interests

    1) Control as much oil and gas as you can

    2) enhance monopoly by divvying up everyone North and West of you with the Russkies

    With this in view, even with Georgia giving up Abkhazia, with its port Sukhumi, to the Russkie Dominatrix, a U.S. guaranteed Trans Black Sea and Caspian Sea Treaty Organization would offer greater prosperity and better prospects of peace to all involved. China would be benefited the same as Europe by having a semi-rational marketplace for oil and gas instead of a continuation of “the Great Game” in Central Asia (or whatever the heck they called it).

    Clearly, the Russian invasion of Georgia sets the stage to allow a quick materialization of such anti-Russian and anti-Iranian international cooperation. It is entirely up to the USA to initiate this by demonstrating its resolve to be the guarantor of these agreements.

    With the Georgians eager to fight, this could begin tomorrow with Azeri-Turkish-Ukrainian aid to Georgia, who fights for herself regardless. All it needs is reliable US support in the wings.

    If the diddlers of Far Western Europe are needed for legitimacy or muscle, just forget it (but they aren’t, are they?)

    Watch Morocco, Lebanon, and Cyprus beg for membership. Hah! The decline of Western Europe doesn’t have to be OUR decline, does it? Heck, watch EGYPT beg for membership alongside Israel, why not? (Money talks, nobody walks!)

    And George W. Bush will get a lot of well deserved credit for it, if it happens.


  • If the US intelligence community had seen this coming, all manner of political people on Capitol Hill would have known as there is no interest served by keeping that quiet… that *is* how it works… and if people on Capitol Hill had known, so would we.

  • Dale Amon

    Some have commented on ‘jumping to conclusions’. I beg to differ. It is only by asking questions, based on the knowledge available, that one can get answers. The power in blogs, at least those which are run in such a way as to keep discussion at a high level, is a symbiosis between the writers and the commentariat. Even in this hugely networked and databased world it is still the fact that pretty much every thing worth knowlng is only to be found in the minds of individuals.

    It is also a great filter for facts and a means of gaining different viewpoints on facts and their accuracy. I claim no special access to truth on global events: what I do have is the ability to frame provocative questions in prose.

    If you follow this thread you will see many instances of fascinating tidbits of information that would not otherwise have been seen in context. We are essentially conducting an intelligence gathering operations together; collecting and synthesizing and analyzing the possible scenarios and policy options those scenarios imply.

    So do not think for a moment that I do not recognize the limitations on completeness and accuracy of the information I started out with… but that is always the case at the start of a study.

    I am sure there is a lot more information out there, so please continue to bring pieces of the puzzle to the party.


    Accusation that Georgia has overreacted are ridiculous. had Georgians kept quiet, the Soviets would fing soon another pretext. Like that in the case of a tini Estonia; where the Soviets exploded into histeria and launched an economic and cyber war against that Baltic country just because the Estonians had moved Russian Soldier’s memorial from the centre of Tallin to the cementary, where Russian soldiers are burried. They also began toying with the idea of “the corridor” to their enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania. So what next? The critical of Neo-Soviet Union article in a Latvian newspaper? Or set of cartoons about Putin? For a bully any pretext is sufficient for picking a fight with ALWAYS A SMALLER VICTIM, while the EURABIAN COWARDS (Eunuchalians are not that much better) look the other way. Anyway, “This is (certainly) not the end (of the drama). This is not even a beginning of the end. This is just the beginning…”

  • Paul Marks

    Perhaps some intelligence people did know – and were unable to get the information directly to Bush and co. Remember if you do not go by offical procedure you can be sent to prison.

    Or perhaps elements of the intelligence community wanted to mess Bush up or did not want there to be an “over reaction” to Putin’s preparations – remember the intelligence community have political opinions of their own.

    See Rowen Scarborough’s “Sabotage: America’s Enemies Within The C.I.A.”

    And there is a agency man at the head of the Pentagon these days – for all that Mr Gates is long time Bush family friend (loyality to the Agency may trump loyality to Bush).

    Or perhaps people in the intelligence community did not know – even the N.S.A. people with all their tech.

    Or perhaps Bush was told – and was simply so obsessed “the games” that he did not take in what he was being told.

    After all he hung about in China for four days even AFTER the invasion. As if watching sporting events was more important than being President of the United States.

    Even a Bush hating Hollywood script writer would have rejected that as too far fetched to put into the latest “Bush bad” film.

    There is form here.

    Remember the reaction to 9/11 (when President Bush was told during a school spelling test – he was at the school as part of his unconsitutional “No Child Left Behind” program).

    He just sat there (looking like a duck who had been hit over the head) as if the school spelling test was more important than finding out what was going on – in the end the people with him had to move him.

    And then there was Katrina:

    Certainly there were legal problems about intervention – without a request from the pathetic Governor Blanco.

    But you do not go off to political fund raising event – well you do if you are President Bush.

    A President should stand by – in case there is anything he can do. And so that he can be kept informed of all onfolding events duing the crises.

    Perhaps it is better to thing that noone knew anything – the alternatives are too scary.

  • Perry Wrote:
    if people on Capitol Hill had known, so would we.

    Not true at all. The discussions that go on between the Armed Services committees and the national security agencies are for the most part classified.

    Not to mention the fact that Congress went on vacation last week.

  • Why Russia Should be Condemned

    Russia should be condemned as the sole aggressor in the War with Georgia. There are three reasons for this: first it is the Russian’s own legal position; second the events of the cyber war show that Russia was the aggressor; and the events of the Russian invasion of Georgia imply it.

    Russia does not maintain diplomatic relations with the soi-disant republic of South Ossetia. This is because South Ossetia is part of the internationally recognized territory of the Republic of Georgia. Thus for Russia to send its army into South Ossetia is to commit on its own terms an act of war against Georgia. Further it is an openly acknowledged fact that Russia was funding the armed forces of the sometimes republic of South Ossetia. Under the Convention for the Definition of Aggression, it is an act of war to “commit any of the following actions: (5) Provision of support to armed bands formed in its territory which have invaded the territory of another State, or refusal, notwithstanding the request of the invaded State, to take, in its own territory, all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection.”

    Furthermore, the Russian’s made the first attack in the cyber war which is part of the present conflict. On July 20, an attack was made on the websight of the President of Georgia from a Russian site that had been involved in the previous 2007 cyber war in Estonia.

    Thirdly, look at the time table. Aside from the cyber war, the first actions of the war were the clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces starting on Aug 1. Starting on Aug. 3 the soi-disant republic of South Ossetia, 90 percent of whos supporters are also citizens of Russia, began evacuating its supporters to Russia. On the evening of Aug. 7 after its offer of a ceasefire were rejected, the Georgian government began operations to bring South Ossetia under Georgian control. The next day, Aug. 8 the Russian forces began crossing into Georgia. Over the next three days the Georgian forces were driven back as the Russian’s used its armored and airborne forces to drive deep into Georgia. The Russians also made unprovoked navel attacks on the Georgian Navy and launched attacks on civilian targets in Georgia.

    Acording to the Russians they only decided to act when Georgia launched its attack on the night of Aug. 7, but less than 18 hours later they were able to launch a three division combined arms attack on Georgia. They also claim that they sortied the notoriously harbor bound Russian navy in a similarly short period of time. Any who believes that load of malarkey should contact me at once. I have bridge to sell you, cash only and in small bills.

    The Western Powers must stand together to stop this piece of undisguised aggression. Any moon bat who things that the U.S. actions against Iraq were illegal and thus provide excuse to Russia should read my post on the legality of the Iraq war on my blog.

  • Laird

    “Not to mention the fact that Congress went on vacation last week.”

    I think that’s the key reason (assuming, of course, that Curt et al are correct). The Armed Services and Intelligence Committees are information sieves; there’s not a Member among them who would hesitate to leak sensitive information if he thought it would be to his political advantage. And of course their staffs are even worse; they leak merely because it gets them attention from reporters and makes them feel important. (I think it would have very salutary effects if a few of them were tried for treason, but I guess that’s a bit off-topic.)

  • If the US intelligence community had seen this coming, all manner of political people on Capitol Hill would have known as there is no interest served by keeping that quiet… that *is* how it works… and if people on Capitol Hill had known, so would we.

    Perry, in a word, bullshit. If you want to dick-size measure on IC credentials, i’ll go for it, but I know for absolutely certain that there are a number of things we knew back in the day (not *that* long ago) that weren’t getting out to the public.

    No, I won’t say what.

    Not every one of the people working on the Hill is a narcissistic self-serving idiot. (I know it seems like it sometimes, but they really aren’t.) As I pointed out above, there are several public sources talking about the US taking steps to warn Georgia.

    It would be hard to have an informed opinion about the CIA that was much lower than mine, but on this oparticular topic you’re talking through your, um, hat.

  • Dale Amon

    Charles: Please tone it down. Name calling does not assist in making your point, no matter how valid it may be, and is not considered polite amongst guests in our virtual livingroom.

  • Jungus

    From what I understand, we did some war-games with Georgia a while back. At the same time Russia had their war games across the border. Our troops came home after that, but the Russian troops stayed.
    The boats on the other hand should have been noticed. I don’t have a lot of faith in our intel industry right now.

  • Rachel

    Dale Amon,

    Oops. My bad. Have to restudy that part of history. Thanks.

  • Not every one of the people working on the Hill is a narcissistic self-serving idiot.

    You are correct, only 75% of them are narcissistic and only 99% are self-serving. Count me unconvinced to say the least.

  • Paul from Florida

    I speak from experience. I was in SF in the late 70’s, early 80’s and was well schooled by grizzled NCO, and rifted Majors on the gulf between reality, and those that pay, and the well meaning but sinecured intel organs.. The reviews I was in, were very low tech, rank free to a great extent, and a work-over for delusions, all done by those who had costly memories of operational failures. They could smell it coming.

    Anyway, Pre 9/11 Al Queada was the most murderous and constant killer of Americans, a sworn and known enemy that had declared war. I don’t know what else our various domestic and foreign intel bureaucracies needed. I guess the answer was 9/11, but then even us schulb knew it then. Too bad 7 or so major bombings could get the various bureaucracies on the same page. 9/11 was a failure.

    Ditto Tet, the Bulge, and Kuwait.

    And, who lost their job?

    I’m a big fan of Nobel, James Buchanan. I don’t see how secret bureaucratic organizations can have incentives to be good and efficient. In a very simple problem was a theme in the book, “Charlie Wilson’s War” was devastating indictment of the CIA’s operation wing that couldn’t get out of its own way.(But, I knew that)

    So, where you see silliness, I see pattern. Different scale, different place time and names.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Some basics of satellites, sigint, elint and analysis.

    The world is a big place – 64 million square miles.

    There are probably 100 million electromagentic transmissions all the time.

    At the outside the US can monitor fewer than 10,000 at any one time.

    We only have so many satellites. To cover even a small percentage of the land and sea of some interest they have to scan at very low resolution. These survey scans can only detect very large objects that either move or appear or disappear. The amount of information to process is staggering. The only way to process it is to look for changes from photo to photo.

    We only have so many people to analyze the intelligence received.

    Because of this we only attempt to monitor high probability threats and current kinetic operations.

    Of course we have the capability to detect the kind of movements that preceded the invasion – including the Black Sea fleet. We were not looking for it. If we had noticed it we wouldn’t have followed up. Georgia is of trivial importance when you are concentrating you limited resources on much more dangerous situations.

  • cubanbob

    All this talk of an intelligence failure is overblown nonsense.
    We do not know what the intel agencies picked up. There is no way to know if there was a failure. This is not Pearl Harbor, a true and visible intelligence failure. What do all the commenters who argue about the intel failure and Bush staying in China suppose the US should do? Go to war against Russia? There is nothing the US can do in a situation like this, so why appear craven and cowardly and rush back to DC to do what? I’m no expert but I suspect the best the US could do was fly back the Georgian troops from Iraq and leave them with them a large number man portable ant-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. That won’t defeat the Russian if they are willing to take casualties, but it will be a cautionary experience for the Russians.

  • lucklucky

    Russia have more than a Corps level formation in Caucasus. Also they are using T-72 tanks from 80’s without the last models of reactive armor. . .they are mainly using the small bricks of first generations light reactive armor. So they aren’t even using elite units. Georgians have T-72 too.

  • So?

    The funny thing is that there is no Russian steamroller involved. The Georgians turned tail and ran despite numerical and materiel superiority. So much for the “best trained military in the former Soviet Union”. If they are not willing to defend their own country, how exactly is NATO supposed to help?

  • michaelv

    “We have cards. We should play them.”

    Would these steps really make much of a difference?

  • Dale Amon

    I have been a bit busy and several people have seemed so certain of their facts that I did not want to argue further on some points until I double checked what I remembered. As far as I can tell, my memory was correct.

    The black sats are not in polar orbits per se. They are a few degrees off in what are called sun-synchronous orbits so that images putatively would have the same sun angle on every pass over the same spot. There are two planes in use, a ‘morning plane’ and an ‘afternoon plane’ that give light with those particular shadowing effects. Shadows are useful because they make things more obvious.

    Next, the orbits are NOT circular. they are NOT GEO. They are in fact more like a Molniya except nowhere near as extreme. The perigee can be as low as 150km, although a bit higher is probably more common to conserve fuel. Maximum resolution is only available at perigee, so the perigee point will be adjusted specifically to occur at the point of interest if close ups are needed. The satellite is moving at its fastest when at perigee so the ‘dwell time’ is minimum. On the other side of the scale, the apogee’s are from 700-1000 km roughly. The resolution is going to be considerably lower at this point, but the satellite is moving at its slowest rate and thus the dwell time is at maximum.

    Additionally, the satellites have a considerable flexibility in pointing. They are not, as many of you seemed to presume, pointing downwards and recording a continuous swathe of the earth like an earth resources satellite.

    I am sure there is a queue of requests for time on these sats that is every bit as complex to fulfill as that for Hubble. Priority targets are going to be active battle zones and points of interest. Depending on the requirments, the orbit may be adjusted to place the perigee or the apogee over the target. The sat might stay on one target as long as possible, or it might process multiple targets with ones requiring lower resolution being done at higher angles as the satellite moves further away, perhaps a few hundred kilometers at maximum slant range.

    Now, while this is going on, there is a lot of ground passing underneath that is not being examined.

    Now, if you look south of Ossetia, what do you see? Northern Iran. South of the Black Sea you see the Turkish/Iraqi border. Both are within the slant range by my estimation.

    What do you think is of higher interest right now? Is there a good reason that someone would have requested regular imaging of the Black Sea and the rather uninteresting area north of Georgia?

    It is certainly possible. I am not privy to such things. But I do not see any reason it would be of a significant priority for regular coverage. More likely it was slewing to prepare for some set of strategic targets deep in Russia.

    There might well be someone here who knows more about such operations than I do; unfortuneately they will not be able to say anything.

  • Dale Amon

    I forgot to mention another affect that impinges on what can be imaged. Sun syncronous means that when the satellite has orbited once, the earth will have rotated such that on the next orbit the sun angle is exactly as it was on the previous pass, but over a new area. Think of the shadow the Earth sweeping westwards. If you orbited syncronous to it, you would be over Greenwich meridian as the terminator passed over it, and on the next orbit you would be somewhere over the Atlantic as the terminator crossed that point.

    The impact is, if you pick the point on the Earth where your apogee or perigee is directly over head, then you have defined all of the locations that will be directly under you for the rest of the day as your orbit follows that particular time of day around the globe. Then, the next day, your orbital pattern will cross over the same point and repeat the same pattern.

    Again, what is programmed in as maximum priority affects everything else that you will be able to see and at what resolution, should it happen to be in the direction you are looking at the time.

  • Laird

    Very interesting stuff, Dale (as usual). Thank you.

  • MlR

    Simple. Aside from the fact we’re pretty busy, the Russians didn’t use that many troops, and those they used mostly came from nearby Chechnya (which is increasingly pacified).

  • MlR

    It was a comparatively small conventional war. Unsurprisingly, Georgia got squashed with a fraction of the Russian Army.

  • Eric

    I doubt the Georgians would have denied us the use of their airspace, so it’s hard for me to believe we needed to rely on satelites for information about Russian troops immediately to the North. Recon aircraft should have provided a much more detailed and reliable source of data, with none of the predictability that hampers satelites.

    And I don’t buy the idea we didn’t bother looking becaue the world is a big place. Georgia is a known powderkeg, and the Bush administration has been visibly more concerned about it in the last month due to the Russian exercise. There would have been eyes on the Russians in that area, no question.

    I hadn’t considered the timing related to the Congressional recess. One of the theories floating around the internet goes like this: We’re about to blockade Iran, and the Russians intended to invade Georgia while our naval and air assets are tied up in the gulf. So the Bush administration, through some unspecified inducement, gets the Georgians to provoke the Russians into an invasion before they’re ready – no T-80u or T-90 tanks, no elite troops, bad preparation for air attacks (serioulsy, four planes lost to SA-11s, and they weren’t even able to take out the pipeline?).

    I’m not really certain getting the Russians to commit early makes the invasion a failure, but that’s how the theory goes. I haven’t seen a better explanation for the Georgian attack, which seemed doomed from the start. And if the administration wanted some time with room to act free from Congressional oversight, this is it.

  • nick g.

    Why did we not notice?
    I was washing my hair that week. What’s your excuse?

  • tdh

    It seems more likely that they did notice and that Bimboleeza and Bushulus either didn’t want to know or couldn’t figure out which box to put the crayons in.

  • Laird

    I’m getting really tired of the kind of idiocy displayed in that last post. You can disagree with their policies and tactics all you like (I do), but these are not stupid people (unlike the poster).

  • Dale Amon

    Absolutely Laird. The two posts prior to yours contained zero intellectual content and are very substandard for the level of discussion we expect here. If I see more like those I will start applying editorial my perogative…

  • tdh

    If Condoleeza Rice had an intellect worthy of description as such, she wouldn’t have claimed that arms given to Fatah couldn’t fall into Hamas’s hands. Same with Bush’s claim to have peered into Putin’s soul, corroborating his poor judgment in staffing. And these are far from isolated instances. These might be credentialed, well-schooled people, but they are not intelligent.

    I have reason to believe that US intelligence noticed the Russian preparations; enough said. There does not seem to be any use for an entirely reactive, feeble approach to Russia’s invasion, even if it happened to have a salutary effect in Poland and perhaps the Czech Republic. This further corroborates that something is severely broken in the upper levels of the Bush administration; there’s no need to insult lower-level employees for such a purpose.

    As for my stupidity or lack thereof, it’s not an interesting topic. Yammer away.