America’s Cyber Warriors Party Hard And Are Terrible At Their Jobs

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The word “salad” in Arabic is pronounced sulta. The word “authority” is alssulta.


Say it with me, people…

You might want to have the distinction clear in your mind if you’re one of America’s elite cyber warriors tasked with countering the propaganda of the Islamic State and its legions of online keyboard cowboys. Like, in case you want to namecheck the Palestinian National Authority in a flame war with a jihadi without getting lemon juice all over your shirt.

But according to an investigation by the Associated Press, the distinction was lost on many staffers of the classified national security program known as WebOps, which is run out of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The report alleges staffers were routinely owned on the field of battle (Twitter and various comments sections) for such shortcomings.

DoD photo

The article describes an ineffective program in which many members of the 120-person WebOps team lack fluency in Arabic or the necessary grasp of Islam — for instance, the difference between the Sunni and Shia branches — to mount an effective counter-propaganda response to online jihadi recruiters.

A former employee told the AP that specialists were hired based on basic knowledge of Arabic: "'Do you speak Arabic?'" the employee mimicked. "'Yes. How do you say 'good morning?' Oh, you can do that? You are an expert. You are hired.'"

Progress reports were also allegedly doctored to falsely demonstrate success — but not so much success that funding might be cut. And according to a whistleblower, whose complaint is currently under investigation by NCIS, drinking was routine in the office, which was characterized by “a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m.,” as the AP put it.

Not only is drinking forbidden under Islam, it’s not viewed as conducive to effective classified intelligence work, unless your name is Bond.

The whistleblower also alleged that a new $500 million, five-year contract to continue the operation was awarded improperly. The complaint claims that the Army colonel who led the division at the time, Victor Garcia, helped a friend’s company land the deal. (Garcia denied any wrongdoing, telling the AP, “I wasn’t involved in the contracting process at all.”) It’s worth noting that the whistleblower was a member of one of the teams that lost the bid.

One intriguing piece of evidence: A Facebook photo of Garcia and the friend on the winning team at a Tiki bar in Key Largo giving a thumbs up just two weeks before the contract was awarded.

It’s not yet known whether they ordered the salad.

Thirteen Marines have been formally charged for their alleged roles in a human smuggling ring, according to a press release from 1st Marine Division released on Friday.

The Marines face military court proceedings on various charges, from "alleged transporting and/or conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants" to larceny, perjury, distribution of drugs, and failure to obey an order. "They remain innocent until proven guilty," said spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz.

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Arizona Army National Guard soldiers with the 160th and 159th Financial Management Support Detachments qualify with the M249 squad automatic weapon at the Florence Military Reservation firing range on March 8, 2019. (U.S. Army/Spc. Laura Bauer)

The recruiting commercials for the Army Reserve proclaim "one weekend each month," but the real-life Army Reserve might as well say "hold my beer."

That's because the weekend "recruiting hook" — as it's called in a leaked document compiled by Army personnel for the new chief of staff — reveal that it's, well, kinda bullshit.

When they're not activated or deployed, most reservists and guardsmen spend one weekend a month on duty and two weeks a year training, according to the Army recruiting website. But that claim doesn't seem to square with reality.

"The Army Reserve is cashing in on uncompensated sacrifices of its Soldiers on a scale that must be in the tens of millions of dollars, and that is a violation of trust, stewardship, and the Army Values," one Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, who also complained that his battalion commander "demanded" that he be available at all times, told members of an Army Transition Team earlier this year.

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According to an internal Army document, soldiers feel that the service's overwhelming focus on readiness is wearing down the force, and leading some unit leaders to fudge the truth on their unit's readiness.

"Soldiers in all three Army Components assess themselves and their unit as less ready to perform their wartime mission, despite an increased focus on readiness," reads the document, which was put together by the Army Transition Team for new Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and obtained by Task & Purpose. "The drive to attain the highest levels of readiness has led some unit leaders to inaccurately report readiness."

Lt. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, who served as the director of the transition team, said in the document's opening that though the surveys conducted are not scientific, the feedback "is honest and emblematic of the force as a whole taken from seven installations and over 400 respondents."

Those surveyed were asked to weigh in on four questions — one of which being what the Army isn't doing right. One of the themes that emerged from the answers is that "[r]eadiness demands are breaking the force."

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If you've paid even the slightest bit of attention in the last few years, you know that the Pentagon has been zeroing in on the threat that China and Russia pose, and the future battles it anticipates.

The Army has followed suit, pushing to modernize its force to be ready for whatever comes its way. As part of its modernization, the Army adopted the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, which serves as the Army's main war-fighting doctrine and lays the groundwork for how the force will fight near-peer threats like Russia and China across land, air, sea, cyber, and space.

But in an internal document obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army Transition Team for the new Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, argues that China poses a more immediate threat than Russia, so the Army needs make the Asia-Pacific region its priority while deploying "minimal current conventional forces" in Europe to deter Russia.

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As the saying goes, you recruit the soldier, but you retain the family.

And according to internal documents obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army still has substantial work to do in addressing families' concerns.

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