Captured Iraqi and Terrorist Records Now Available

I am delighted to draw your attention to the fact that the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) is now open to scholars at the National Defense University.  It presently contains a collection of some 22,000 pages of records captured from Saddam’s regime and from Al Qaida and its allies.  However, that total is simply a drop in the bucket compared to where it is going to be.  The collection grows on a daily basis and there is reason to believe that that growth will accelerate over time.

The CRRC’s website describes the two collections this way:

The Saddam records consist of a wide range of government files—audio recordings of high-level meetings, speeches by Saddam and senior officials, correspondence between ministries, records of the Presidential Diwan, and others—that bear mainly on issues related to national security, defense policy, and diplomacy. These records are categorized by their originating agency or office (for instance, Iraqi Intelligence Service or General Military Intelligence Directorate), and will eventually constitute the vast majority of CRRC holdings.

The [Al Qaida] records also consist of a wide range of files, including everything from al Qaeda “pocket litter” to financial records, theological and ideological documents, strategic plans, operational guidebooks, and histories of individual operations from the Afghan war in the 1980s through the early 2000s. These documents are grouped thematically. There are also a small number of documents generated by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The website is a little sparse at the moment, but expect it to grow richer over time.  I imagine that Jessica Huckabey, the acting director (and a friend and occasional co-author of mine) can give you more information on the collection, its future prospects, and how to use it.

I do know that at the moment only documents with full English translations are being entered into the database, so don’t allow lack of Arabic skills to deter you.  The originals were “seized” as provided for under international law and are held by the US Government. The US and the Iraqi Governments have agreed that Iraq will receive the originals back.  Don’t count on Al Qaida ever getting their documents back.  The records open to scholars at the CRRC consist of digital copies of the originals, plus translations and file information sheets. In other words, this is the modern day equivalent of the microfilming of the German, Japanese, and Italian records that were captured in World War II.  It is also worth noting that the records at the CRRC are not the Ba’ath Party records that are held at the Hoover Institution nor the so-called “Jewish Archives” which are at the U.S. National Archives.  (

In a past life I worked with the materials that Jessica and her colleagues are migrating into the CRRC and I can tell you that for those scholars interested in modern Iraq, terrorism, or modern military history, there is a goldmine here.  Reputations to be made.  Dissertations to be written….

Still, according to an e-mail to The Daily from Kanan Makiya, the founder of IMF, there is a “deep rift” within the Iraqi Ministry of Culture about whether or not any of the records should be returned now.

Makiya said that in an Iraqi radio program that aired last Thursday, which he heard in Erbil, Iraq, “a deputy minister of culture, senior to Eskander and his team who visited Hoover, tore into his colleagues’ allegations, supporting enthusiastically the IMF and Hoover’s role.”

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RIP Dissertation

I frequently put personal content into these blog posts, but seldom unadulterated by other content of more general interest.

Today, however, I shall make an exception.

Two days ago I successfully defended my PhD dissertation, World War I and the Invention of American Intelligence, 1878-1918.

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 8:16 PM  Comments (7)  

A Call to Action: Military History of the Global Jihad

I’m off to the Society for Military History’s annual conference in Lexington, Virginia today.  The SMH conference is always well worth attending and it never fails to demonstrate the remarkable breadth of “military history.”  If you want to know about ancient military history, naval operations during the Cold War, King Philip’s War, paramilitary operations, the religious lives of soldiers, or the role of sugar in World War I, it’s here.  There will  be 600+ historians from the US, Canada, Europe, and South Africa in attendance.

What disturbs me about this conference and has disturbed me about other SMH conferences that I’ve attended is that the military history of the Middle East, including of our jihadist friends, is largely neglected.  I think this is something that we should address at the next SMH conferences in 2011 (Lisle, IL) or 2012 (Arlington, VA).  I’ll get to my specific suggestion at the bottom of this post.

It is true that there several papers that appear to bear on the “war on terrorism” are to be presented.  I find the title of Michael Palmer’s paper particularly intriguing.

  • “A Strategy of Tactics: What Population-centric Counterinsurgency Has Done to the American Army”  Gian P. Gentile, U.S. Military Academy
  • “Whirlwind, Whiz Kids, Waziristan, and the Realization of the Airpower Cause”  John  G. Terino , U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College
  • “’No One Put a Gun to Their Head and Forced Them to Come Here’: Representing the All-Volunteer Army in Narratives on the ‘War on Terror’”  David Kieran, Washington University
  • “The Influence of History upon Modern Jihadists”  Michael A. Palmer, East Carolina University
  • “The War at Home: Responding to Terrorism and Racketeering in France during the Algerian Conflict”  Barnett Singer, Brock University

There is also one panel that promises to be extremely interesting in this regard:

“Counterinsurgency Across History” (A Roundtable Presentation)

Chair: H. R. McMaster, U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command

Panelists:

  • Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Center for Military History
  • Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Mark Moyar, U.S. Marine Corps University

Brigadier General McMaster is one of those guys in the military who is not only a great warrior but whose ideas have really mattered.  I briefed him once on the Salafi jihadists’ views on strategy and war and I was really, really impressed with his intellect.  It’s always a pleasure to brief someone like that.  I can’t wait to hear him.

All this said, however, with the possible exception of Palmer’s talk, all of these presentation are about the “war on terrorism” from our side.  However, scholars of modern jihadism have lots of material that is military history.  Most of us don’t think of it that way, however.  Think of it, we know quite a lot about the development of strategic thought in the movement.  Abu Musab al-Suri was, among other things, a military historian within the movement, we know a great deal about the operations of the Arab Afghans during the war with the Soviets.  Jessica Huckabey and I have written an article which is forthcoming in Intelligence and National Security, which discusses the defeats of al Qaida and its affiliates at the hands of Arab security services resulting in a repetitive loss of sanctuary.  A great deal of interesting work could be done about the military history of the GIA in Algeria and the effects of Algerian military intelligence service upon it.  Then, of course, there is the Conflict Records Research Center, which I’m told has been physically established and may be opening within days.  It will eventually hold thousands of previously unseen documents from the jihadists.  Who knows what will be found there?

I do not claim that the study of the Salafi jihadists is only a question of military history.  However, I do suggest that military history–its people, its methods and its ethos–can help us think about certain problems in the field.  And if they can help us, then they should.  They just need to be alerted to the issue.

So, a modest proposal.  I expect to attend the SMH conference next year.  When the call for papers comes out, I’m going to try to put together a panel on the Military History of the Global Jihad.  I’m hoping that some people reading this now will be prepared to help me take this topic to the military history community.  Let’s see what results.

INFOWARCON (3): Covert Internet Access for Iranians

Also at INFOWARCON, I heard a very interesting but lamentably short talk by Austin Heap, the founder of Haystack, a small company in San Francisco that is a spin-off of the Censorship Research Center.  Haystack’s product is software which can be run off of a flash drive or a CD so that nothing incriminating is on the hard drive.  It allows Iranians to surf the Web freely.

Haystack put extensive research into determining precisely how the Iranian government filters the web and has designed the software specifically to counter those measures.  In broad terms, Haystack’s software both encrypts signals and hides them inside innocuous-looking traffic.  Austin says that he is prepared for the Iranian government to adjust its filtering in response to Haystack’s efforts and that he has another generation or two of strategies ready to roll out when that happens.

Haystack is also preparing software for two additional countries, which he named to me when I chatted with him after his talk.  However, I noticed that he declined to name them on NPR, so I shan’t here.  Suffice to say, that one of them is in the news a lot.  Haystack’s efforts there could turn out to be of very important to American national securityover the long term.  Right now, Haystack is in the research phase, determining how each of these countries do their filtering, so it will be a good while before the new software makes its appearance.

If you want to get a sense of Austin’s talk at INFOWARCON, you can listen to him on NPR’s “On the Media” where he also appeared last weekend.  I’ve got to say that watching this guy–a kid, really–in his blue jeans, long hair, sunglasses pushed up on his head talking from notes on his i-Phone standing in front of a room of military officers, defense contractors, and assorted inside-the-Beltway types made me proud to be an American.

I can’t mention this topic without pointing to the work of Evgeny Morozov, a native of the bastion of democracy known as Belarus (ha!), who is deeply skeptical about the democratizing power of the Web.  Frankly, I don’t agree with him, but his arguments cannot be ignored in this context.  See, for instance, his “How Dictators Watch Us On the Web.”  At base, Morozov’s argument is that the Web (and new media generally) do provide useful tools for dissidents but that it enables government repression to an even greater extent, primarily by giving the government sources of intelligence about the identity of dissidents and the links among them.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 1:22 AM  Leave a Comment  
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A Bookstore Devoted to Winston Churchill

I was in New York City a couple weeks ago giving a talk at New York University (a really dedicated student body they’ve got there, great fun).  While in New York City I decided to check out Chartwell‘s, a store selling both new and used books.  Though it may not be optimal in terms of book-buying, it’s certainly a place worth visiting for bibliophiles and history buffs.  I was interested in the place because they run The Military Bookman, on whose mailing list I used to be, back in the troglodytic late 80s and early 90s.

Just walking down the street, you’d never know it was there.  The store itself is actually inside the arcade of a swanky office building.  It turns out to be a tiny little store.  Unfortunately, almost all of their military books are in storage, in the basement, I believe they said.  They can pull individual books up for you to inspect, if you request that, but most of their military book sales are done online.

The does have a small section of military books actually on display, another section of motor books and a rather more extensive collection of books about Britain.  However, the real centerpiece of the store is its Churchill collection.  This is a bookstore centered around Winston S. Churchill.  If it was published by or about Churchill, you can find it here, not matter how obscure it is.  In addition, the store sells written items that a direct relationship to the man himself.  E.g. items he signed, etc.  I’ve never been in such a place.  Even for those whose interest in Churchill is only tangential–in my case, because he relates to military history I’m interested in–it is well worth a visit.

Mind you, nothing in this store is cheap.  Expect the used books to be stiffly priced and the new books not to be discounted, nevertheless, stop by if you’re in Gotham.  I bought a copy of the new From Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East.

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 12:56 AM  Leave a Comment