Old Patriot's Pen

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Some people live in a fool's world

A Canadian professor, Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa, claims the US had advanced warning of the tsunami, and "refused" to share it. The article appears in the "Pakistan Daily Times", written by Khalid Hasan. This is another case where, because these people don't understand a modern military, they can't understand or accept the capabilities and responsibilities such a military assumes. Here's the article, with my comments:

01/03/05 "Daily Times" -- WASHINGTON: A Canadian expert has claimed that the US Military and the State Department were given advance tsunami warning and America’s Navy base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was notified but the information was not passed on to the countries that bore the brunt of the disaster.

That's entirely possible. It's also immaterial. One telephone call to the local navy base, one call to the headquarters of the US Navy or any of its subordinate commands, would result in an immediate notification of the entire naval command structure of the US Navy. The military has a dedicated communications system that links all military installations, regardless of where they are. Every military organization has someone called a "staff duty officer" - someone who can get a message and act on it. One telephone call can alert the entire military structure of the United States. Is there a comparable situation anywhere else in the world? Maybe in the US State Department, with the ability to alert all of its embassies of an impending danger, but even there the system depends on the weakest link. The military system is triple-redundant, and independent of any other system. Would the State Department have to use land telephone lines, and compete with the normal telephonic traffic of its local area? I don't know enough to say.

Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa asks in an analysis produced for the Venus Project why fishermen in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand were not provided with the same warnings as the US Navy and the US State Department. He wants to know why the US State Department remained mum on the existence of an impending catastrophe. With a modern communications system, why did the information not get out? By email, telephone, fax, satellite TV, he asks, as it could have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

"Getting the warning out" would require many different things: first, the knowledge that a tsunami wave was indeed generated, understanding of what areas were threatened, a dedicated communications network manned at all times that the warning could be issued over, someone capable of acting independently at the receiving end, and an internal communications network such as Conelrad or a nationwide alert system to distribute the danger message to the threatened area, and knowledge by the people that need to be notified to listen to or pay attention to a particular broadcast. That's at least six different decision nodes. I doubt that even four of them were in place.

Prof Chossudovsky writes that the US authorities had initially recorded 8.0 on the Richter scale. As confirmed by several reports, US scientists in Hawaii, had advanced knowledge regarding an impending catastrophe, but failed to contact their Asian counterparts. According to him, Charles McCreery of the Pacific Warning Centre in Hawaii confirmed that his team tried desperately to get in touch with his counterparts in Asia. According to McCreery, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s centre in Honolulu, the team did its utmost to contact the countries.

The team contacted the US State Department, which apparently contacted the Asian governments. The Indian government has confirmed that no such warning was received. The Director of the Hawaii Warning Centre stated that “they did not know” that the earthquake would generate a deadly tidal wave until it had hit Sri Lanka, more than one and a half hours later, at 2.30 GMT. “Not until the deadly wave hit Sri Lanka and the scientists in Honolulu saw news reports of the damage there did they recognize what was happening. Then we knew there was something moving across the Indian Ocean,” McCreery told the New York Times on 27 December. “This statement is at odds with the Timeline of the tidal wave disaster. Thailand was hit almost an hour before Sri Lanka and the news reports were already out. Surely, these reports out of Thailand were known to the scientists in Hawaii, not to mention the office of Sec. Colin Powell, well before the tidal wave reached Sri Lanka,” argues the Canadian professor.

Maybe. Remember, it was the day after Christmas, and a Sunday, the "day of rest" observed at least in part by most Western Christians, as well as "Boxing Day", observed by members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which include India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Kenya, and Tanzania, just to name a few of the AFFECTED nations.. Most people would not react to a tentative message at such a time - they would wait for confirmation. That could have caused a delay of anywhere from one to four hours. That delay was deadly, but it can't be blamed on the "US Government". It's an institutional problem that exists in most nations. How soon did the NATIONAL governments in Thailand, Burma, India, and Sri Lanka react? These people also have seismic monitoring devices. These nations, too, have earthquake monitoring capability. It's not a science that's unique to the United States.

As we've also learned from a number of other sources, the data was available, but no one was in the right office to descipher it, react to it, or comment upon it.
“We wanted to try to do something, but without a plan in place then, it was not an effective way to issue a warning, or to have it acted upon,” Dr. McCreery said. “There would have still been some time - not a lot of time, but some time - if there was something that could be done in Madagascar, or on the coast of Africa,” he added. The Canadian academic finds the statement “inconsistent.” The tidal wave, he argues, reached the East African coastline several hours after it reached The Maldives islands. According to news reports, Male, the capital of the Maldives was hit three hours after the earthquake, at approximately 4.00 GMT. By that time everybody around the world knew.

Prof. Chossudovsky writes, “It is worth noting that the US Navy was fully aware of the deadly tidal wave, because the Navy was on the Pacific Warning Centre’s list of contacts. Moreover, America’s strategic Naval base on the island of Diego Garcia had also been notified. Although directly in the path of the tidal wave, the Diego Garcia military base reported ‘no damage’,” All that was needed was for someone to pick up the phone and call Sri Lanka, he adds. Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, said, “We don’t have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world.” The fact is that only after the first waves hit Sri Lanka did workers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and others in Hawaii start making phone calls to US diplomats in Madagascar and Mauritius in an attempt to head off further disaster. “We didn’t have a contact in place where you could just pick up the phone,” Dolores Clark, spokeswoman for the International Tsunami Information Centre in Hawaii has said. “We were starting from scratch.”

Prof. Chossudovsky shows a very poor understanding of physics, technology, the US military, and basic earth sciences. As I wrote above, the Navy has a unique communications system that isn't matched by the nations of the world. Diego Garcia is different than the Maldives, being surrounded on all sides by deep water, with a very narrow fringe of reef.

We're also talking about an area of the world that has shunned truly close ties with the United States, and the kind of close working relations that allows a member of a government agency in the United States to call his opposite number in another nation and pass a warning.

Prof. Chossudovsky argues that these statements on the surface are inconsistent, since several Indian Ocean Asian countries are in fact members of the Tsunami Warning System. There are 26 member countries of the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System, including Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. All these countries would normally be in the address book of the PTWC, which works in close coordination with its sister organisation the ICGTWS, which has its offices in Honolulu at the headquarters of the National Weather Service Pacific Region Headquarters in downtown Honolulu. The mandate of the ICGTWS is to “assist member states in establishing national warning systems, and makes information available on current technologies for tsunami warning systems.”

Hmm, I don't see anything in that paragraph about the duties of the ICGTWS to WARN of an impending tsunami, or to even notify member nations that the possibility of a threat exists. While I agree such a network is a good thing, it takes action on BOTH sides to ensure that such a network is indeed in place and working.

Australia and Indonesia were notified. The US Congress is to investigate why the US government did not notify all the Indian Ocean nations in the affected area: “Only two countries in the affected region, Indonesia and Australia, received the warning” Although Thailand belongs to the international tsunami-warning network, its west coast does not have the system’s wave sensors mounted on ocean buoys. The northern tip of the earthquake fault is located near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and tsunamis appear to have rushed eastward toward the Thai resort of Phuket. “They had no tidal gauges and they had no warning,” said Waverly Person, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado, which monitors seismic activity worldwide. “There are no buoys in the Indian Ocean and that’s where this tsunami occurred."

Prof. Chossudovsky has framed the following three questions: First: Why were the Indian Ocean countries’ governments not informed? Were there “guidelines” from the US military or the State Department regarding the release of an advanced warning? According to the statement of the Hawaii based PTWC, advanced warning was released but on a selective basis. Indonesia was already hit, so the warning was in any event redundant and Australia was several thousand miles from the epicentre of the earthquake and was, therefore, under no immediate threat. Two: Did US authorities monitoring seismographic data have knowledge of the earthquake prior to its actual occurrence at 00.57 GMT on the 26th of December? The question is whether there were indications of abnormal seismic activity prior to 01.00 GMT on the 26th of December. The US Geological Survey confirmed that the earthquake which triggered the tidal wave measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the fourth largest quake since 1900. In such cases, one would expect evidence of abnormal seismic activity before the actual occurrence of a major earthquake. Three: Why is the US military Calling the Shots on Humanitarian Relief? Why in the wake of the disaster, is the US military (rather than civilian humanitarian/aid organizations operating under UN auspices) taking a lead role? The US Pacific Command has been designated to coordinate the channeling of emergency relief? Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rusty Blackman, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, has been designated to lead the emergency relief programme. Lieutenant General Blackman was previously Chief of Staff for Coalition Forces Land Component Command, responsible for leading the Marines into Baghdad during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Three “Marine disaster relief assessment teams” under Blackman’s command have been sent to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. US military aircraft are conducting observation missions.

I can answer some of Prof. Chossudovsky's questions, but not number one. I don't know. I doubt that Prof. Chossudovsky knows, either. I can guess, and my guess is that there hasn't been the necessary coordination between the United States and the nations of the Indian Ocean to build such a notification process. I can't place all the blame on the US for that process, as I doubt the nations of the Indian Ocean have been very active in asking for such a notification process.

As for number two, Prof. Chossudovsky displays once again his lack of understanding of geophysics and essential earth science. LOTS of earthquakes don't have "precursors". Secondly, there is an active volcano on Sumatra, perhaps more than one. There are regularly numerous small quakes in the area, just as there are numerous small quakes in the Aleutian chain in Alaska and around the Cook Inlet. These don't necessarily indicate the potential for a massive quake or a volcanic eruption, yet may presage either. Earthquake prediction is not yet an exact science, and to indicate otherwise is fraudulent.

Thirdly, why is the US Navy leading the relief effort? Because it's the only force in the entire world that can do the job. From everything I've read, President Bush dispatched the Lincoln battle group IMMEDIATELY after hearing the news of the tsunami and its devastation. The Lincoln battle group has everything that is needed to provide disaster relief - manpower, deliver capability (helicopters), capability of producing and delivering 400,000 gallons of drinking water a day, an internal hospital and full medical staff, food for 90 days, an integral supply ship with food for almost a year, vehicles and equipment that can be put ashore, a full weather capacity, and much more. There is no other single organization that provide as much, as fast, to the people that need it most, as the US Navy.

Because the United States also provides much of the military equipment to other nations, especially Japan, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, much of the military equipment is compatible with that of these nations. This compatibility greatly enhances the ability to deliver the optimum amount of supplies and equipment in the least amount of time.

As for why a military person is being put in charge of our aid, who else has the authority to issue orders to other military units? There is a thing in the US military called "chain of command". It also correlates exactly with some things not usually mentioned, called "span of control", "subordination", and "unit responsibility". By placing a military person in charge, and assigning responsibility for disaster relief to that person, he has the authority to direct military units within his authority (the US Navy, Air Force cargo aircraft, military medical units providing assistance, etc.). A civilian coordinator would have no such authority. That's the way our government is set up, and it works. Also, a military person will have a far better grasp of the actual capabilities of the forces under his command than any civilian official can possibly have. This allows the entire organization to work at maximum efficiency.

Prof. Chossudovsky writes, “In a bitter irony, part of this operation is being coordinated out of America’s Naval base in Diego Garcia, which was not struck by the tidal wave. Meanwhile, USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which was in Hong Kong when the earthquake and tsunamis struck, has been diverted to the Gulf of Thailand to support recovery operations. Two Aircraft Carriers have been sent to the region. Why is it necessary for the US to mobilise so much military equipment? The pattern is unprecedented ... Why has a senior commander involved in the invasion of Iraq been assigned to lead the US emergency relief program?”

I think I've already answered that question adequately, above. There are several things that also need to be said, especially about Prof. Chossudovsky. First, the professor is an economist, not a geophysicist, a geologist, or a communications expert (See here). Secondly Mr. Chossudovsky is not a friend of the United States (See here, here, here, and here (there are others - a Google Search of "Chossudovsky" + "University of Ottawa" turned up 7,620 hits).

What we have is an avowed leftist professor of economics, son of a United Nations diplomat, and avowed socialist attacking the United States and its relief effort, using innuendo and suggestion. This article has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. In the end, it's results that count. The results is that the United States is making a difference, providing aid and comfort to those who have suffered the direct effect of the tsunami, and doing it with the least amount of friction and hard feelings, except among the United Nations "bureaucracy". Mr. Chossudovsky's lack of knowledge of elementary geology, earth science, and basic reality blind him to the real good the United States is doing, and the speed and efficiency in which it's being carried out.


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