Archive for August, 2012

Wild Edibles: How to Identify and Eat the Giant Puffball

August 29, 2012


Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!

Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.

My first introduction to the Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) was as a kid roaming through the nearby woods and coming across these big brown balls in the woods (they turn brown in their non-edible spore stage).

My friends and I called them ‘smokebombs’ for obvious reasons — when you stomp on them in their spore stage they explode in a giant cloud of spores. It wasn’t until later that I read that breathing in those spores wasn’t the healthiest thing to do but, hey, as kids we had a lot of fun.

In my college years as I was getting more involved in improving my wilderness survival skills I came across this plant in one of my wild-edible guides and up until then did not realize you could eat them…man, did I miss a delicous wild edible all those years!

Although I have pretty decent wild-plant knowledge and identification skills, as a rule I tend to stay away from eating any mushroom — even if I know that they are edible. That rule applies to all fungi I encounter to this day except for four: the Morel mushroom, Chicken-of-the-Woods, Hen-of-the-Woods, and this mushroom, the Giant Puffball.

How to Identify the Giant Puffball

The Giant Puffball is one of the most easily recognized and easy-to-identify wild edible mushrooms. There really isn’t anything else that looks like it (except maybe a softball or volleyball you may encounter in the woods). For that reason they are an excellent edible mushroom for beginners to get comfortable with.

Here’s what you want to look out for:

size and shape: On average, giant puffballs can range anywhere from golfball size to volleyball size (some are even larger!) and given their ball shape they can be sometimes mistaken for those balls as well! For the most part they are spherical but you will find anomalies that are mishapen.
soft, completely white center with no gills: Be sure there are no gills! This is probably the most important identification trait since some poisonous mushrooms (particularly the amanita species) — when young — look like small puffballs. However, when opened there are gills (and sometimes a stem) inside.

Where and When to Find Giant Puffballs

Season and Range

The best time to find giant puffballs is from late summer through mid-fall anywhere in the U.S.


You’ll want to look for giant puffballs on the ground in well-fertilized fields and pastures or open woods. They also grow in urban areas where there is bare earth and where people tend to discard their trash.

How to Eat the Giant Puffball

Giant puffballs are a great addition to any meal or can be a meal in itself eaten raw or cooked.

Here are two of my favorite ways of enjoying this wild edible:

Fried in Butter

This is a delicious way of eating puffballs. You simply slice them into 1/2 inch slices and fry them in butter:

Made into Tempura

Another favorite method of mine is to fry them in a tempura batter. The recipe is as follows:

  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour (sifted is ideal)

Mix the above ingredients, dip some puffball chunks in the batter and fry in your oil of choice…yumm:

I like eating these with a bit of maple syrup. The breakfast of champions:

France opens murder inquiry into death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

August 29, 2012

Yasser Arafat
French prosecutors have opened an official murder inquiry into the 2004 death of Palestinian statesman Yasser Arafat, following allegations that he may have been poisoned. The decision, announced Tuesday, comes less than two months after the results of a lengthy forensic toxicological investigation raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with polonium-210. The nine-month study was commissioned by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera and was conducted by the Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to the results, announced in early July, significant traces of the radioactive substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days while in hospital in Paris, France. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. Shortly following the IRA study, Arafat’s wife and daughter filed an official complaint with French judicial authorities, who in turn decided to open an official murder investigation. The decision was taken despite the fact that many in the medical profession appear cautious about the claims of the IRA study. But one British observer told the BBC that the French government was obliged to take the request by the two women “very seriously because of its diplomatic aspect”. Last week, IRA officials in Switzerland said they had received permission from Arafat’s family and the Palestinian National Authority to travel to Ramallah, West Bank, and examine Arafat’s exhumed remains for traces of polonium-210. Back in July, IRA scientists had said that accessing the Palestinian leader’s remains would be required in order to provide a higher level of certainty as to his exact cause of death. News of the murder inquiry has just been announced, so French prosecutors have yet to assign an investigative judge to the case. But Palestinian officials have already welcomed the decision to launch the inquiry. One senior Palestinian Authority official, Saeb Erekat, told French news agency Agence France Presse that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had officially requested the help of French President Francois Hollande in the investigation.

Catch and Spear Fish

August 29, 2012


Spearing fish can be a challenge and fun. To successfully spear one it depends on the width + depth of the water + the size of the fish you’re trying to spear + the type of spear head + your patience & throwing skills = a fish meal.

But first let me tell you a story about a fella who goes by the name of “Buckshot.” He once sent me a video showing how he uses “snare wire” to catch fish. Yep, you read right, a wire snare. And in his video he shows how he attaches the wire snare to the end of a stick and then goes walking through some water at night with a flashlight.

And yep, he sure did catch a bucket load of fish with his wire snare and stick and it was pretty impressive too. But the fish he was catching looked like they were either spawning upstream, trapped in creek or at some fish farm. Hell, there were so many fish in the water he didn’t need his stick & snare wire he could have caught’em with his bare hands. They were every where!

Now there’s no way in hell you could use his technique in a real world outdoor survival situation unless under similar conditions.

Anyway, getting back to how to spear fish…have ya ever tried it, to spear a fish in a creek or pond? What pisses me off is the way some of these other survival sites and handbooks make it sound so easy to do. And what makes matters worse is they don’t even teach you any techniques in how to practice and become proficient at it. Well let me first tell you what you need. Yep, you need a straight sturdy stick, one that is not too thick, not too thin and then you need to sharpen one end of the stick to a point. But don’t make it too pointed & thin or it’ll break almost every time you throw it. In which then you’ll be spending most of your time re-sharpening it than trying to spear fish with it.

Here, check out some of these sample fishing spear heads and points. NOTE: Mulitple spear points work best because they’ll give you a greater chance in spearing a fish. The only reason why I used bamboo sticks in the photo is to show you a bit more clearly how to make’em. And what I highly suggest you pack & carry are afew assorted size cement nails and not wood nails in your survival kit so you can attach the nails to the end of your wooden spear. So in the event you hit something hard in the water like a rock your point(s) won’t dull or bend. To learn more about how to attach and use cement nails as spear and arrow heads, go to my “survival weapon” page.
Spear Heads
The best place to spear fish is obviously where you see fish swimming, duh? And preferably where fish are restricted like in shallow & narrow water and NOT in deep wide bodies of water where they can easily get away from you. When trying to spear fish it’s best to be on shore instead of standing in the water to avoid casting your shadow [in the water] which will spook & scare fish away. And when on shore you need to take preferably a kneeling position to reduce casting your shadow in the water and so the fish don’t see you on the shoreline too. And then all you gotta do is wait until one comes within spear throwing range, aim slightly “below and forward of the fish” and throw your spear. And here’s why, check out the photo.
The reason why you want to aim “slightly forward” of the fish is to try to counter his quick forward movement when the spear breaks the surface of the water. But this slight forward lead will also depend on the depth of the water, the size and type of fish you’re trying to the spear. And the only way you are going to learn how to successfully spear fish is by trial & error or by making some spear fishing targets out of wood like in these in the photo. That’s right, they’re just cut out pieces of wood in the shape of a fish. Then all you gotta do is drill a few holes along the bottom portion and attach some weight to them so they’ll float upwards and you can see’em to practice spearing’em. Pretty good idea, huh?

Now here’s a spear you’ve probably never seen before, it’s my own concoction and it seems to works pretty good too. But to make one you’ll need a few large fishing hooks, and so if you’ve got some spare room in your survival kit, pack three large size fishing hooks. Then all ya gotta do is make a wooden fish spear and attach them about 2-3 inches above the spear point by tying and embedding them into the wood. Then should you miss a fish with the main spear head/point, you got a second chance in “snagging” the fish with one of these hooks. Or if your lucky enough to spear a fish with the main spear point, some of these hooks will help keep the fish on the end of the spear point. If you only have a few medium size fish hooks, they’ll work provided you bend out the barbed hooks a bit so they can snag a fish a bit more easier. If there’s a lot of grass, weeds & vegetation in the water, be careful or the hooks could get snagged and come off.

There’s another way you can catch fish and it’s called “snagging.” All you have to do is attach one or several fishing hooks to the end of a stick …

Fish Hook Waiting Fish
..and when a fish is within range you just reach out and snag it up on shore like this.
If you attach a fish hook to the end of your fishing pole it will help you to pull in your catch.
But I much prefer to use a spear and wait for some good size tasty fish to pass by and….
..if you’re patient like me you just might be lucky enough to spear a fish for dinner.

Have you ever seen one of these before, they’re called an Individual Multi-Purpose Survival (IMPS) Net from Brigade Quartermaster.

Net Net Pull up
When used as a fish net, wait until some good size fish are directly in the center of the net…
..then quickly pull it up. I used my fiberglass tent poles and some 550 para-cord to make this fish net trap.

Yep, I bought me one of these years ago and I gotta tell ya, they’re pretty damn handy. I guarantee you’ll find lots of uses for it. And not just for fishing, trust me you will.



When I was a kid I really didn’t care what kind of fishing pole & reel I owned, I was just happy to go fishing with something other than a tree branch, a safety pin and some string. But guess what? Should you ever need to use any of the fishing gear that comes with all these survival kits a “Tom Sawyer” tree branch is exactly what you’re gonna use for a fishing pole.

Now check me out here, look what I caught me. Yep, I caught me a trout with a Tom Sawyer tree branch pole, some paracord nylon thread and a safety pin as a fishing hook. And so here’s proof you can catch fish with just a few simple things and you don’t need all that high-speed, expensive fishing stuff.

Well after examining no less than a dozen survival kits from the cheapos to some really expensive ones, they all basically came with the same ol’fishing gear. Though a few of them had some fancy fishing lures, but what good are lures if you don’t have a fishing reel, you know? To use a fishing lure you gotta be able to cast out and steadily reel it in at different speeds and depths, right? And so without a fishing reel you really can’t use lures without getting’em caught in some underwater weeds, logs and rocks. You know what I mean?

Well good ol’Army Ranger Rick has come up with a few good ideas in what you can use as an improvised fishing pole and some reels, check’em out. And the most important items you need for your improvised fishing pole are some small “screw eyelets.” Note: The fishing poles you see in the photo are bamboo, and the only reason why I am using bamboo is so you can see more clearly how and where I attached these screw eyelets and my improvised fishing reels. And so if you look very closely at the photos you should be able to figure out how I made these survival fishing kits.

reels 1
Eye Hooks
Eye Hooks and Rod
Make a Fishing Reel
  • Photo #1 – Shows three (3) types of fishing reels; store purchased, modified sewing spool and kite string reel.
  • Photo #2 – Shows what a package of small screw eyelets look like.
  • Photo #3 – Shows how and where to attach these screw eyelets to make an improvised wooden fishing pole.
  • Photo #4 – Shows a closer look at my plastic sewing spool converted into a small fishing reel.
  • Photo #5 – Shows how you can take a few cheap store purchased fishing reels and attach them to an improvised fishing pole.
  • Phote #6 – Shows how easy it is to place my fishing reel spool inside a 35mm plastic film container with some other fishing items.
  • Photo #7 – Shows how you can convert a 35mm plastic film container into a small compact pocket survival fishing kit.
  • Photo #8 – Shows a closer look at how to convert a kite reel into a fishing reel and kit.

And these photos below show how to make and use a coke can for a fishing reel.

Cola Can Position Reeling
A coke can fishing reel that other sites teach ya.
My coke can “casting” reel position.
And my coke can “reeling” position.

And sold separately but only when you order my SOS Survival Kits… my mini “SOS Fishing & Snare Kit!

Mini Kit
Make a lure
  • Photo #1 – Shows some of the items that come with my mini fishing & snare kit, screw eyelets, fishing line, assorted hooks, and some snare wire (not shown).
  • Photo #2 – Shows how just a few pieces of red & white chewing gum can be molded into a fishing lure the shape of a minnow, worm, or different types of bugs.
  • Photo #3 – Shows how to make some improvised fishing hooks out of safety pin and how to make larger size hooks from a few small fishing hooks.
  • Photo #4 – Shows how to make different types of fishing lures from some parachute cord, a straw, chewing gum, a rubber band, clothe and some pieces of aluminum.

When I can find them I’ll throw in a few small mini minnow fishing hooks too. Why small minnow hooks? For some reason minnows are the least preferred fish to catch and eat in a survival situation. I don’t know why when they’re not very hard to catch, and believe it or not they are quite tasty too. And if they’re less than three inches long you don’t have to worry about gutting’em before cooking’em, and you can eat’em raw too. Really!

Bait 1 Bait 2 Bait 3
Bait 4 Bait 5

DID YOU KNOW…here in Italy and in many other countries people eat fried and boiled minnows all the time? Yep, and I’m not talking about just at home but in restaurants and wine & food festivals too? Here’s what a fried minnow meal looks like in Italy. So should you someday find yourself in a life or death survival situation and you can’t seem to catch any big fish, try catching minnows instead. Or you can catch minnows first, use’em for bait and if you can’t catch any big fish with’em, you can always eat the minnows instead.

Know Your North American Fish
Information Provided by:
Jon Anderson



Where They Live

What They Eat

Perch live in lakes and ponds with slightly deeper water; larger perch like depths of 10 to 50 feet.

Perch hang out together in schools, so . . .

Where there is one . . .

there are probably MORE!

artificial spinners

Brown Trout

Brown Trout

Where They Live

What They Eat

In Lakes and streams where the water is cool and clean.

They usually hide under a log or the stream bank. they are wary creatures that scare easily.

grasshoppers / crickets
artificial flies
artificail spinners

Brook Trout

Brook Trout

Where They Live

What They Eat

In Lakes and streams where the water is cool and clean enough for them to survive. They need cooler water than rainbow and brown trout.

these fish are usually small and fairly fragile.

They can be found hiding behind rocks, stick, and logs. You will have to sneak up on them!

grasshoppers / crickets
salmon eggs
artificial flies
artificail spinners

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Where They Live

What They Eat

In Lakes and streams where the water is cool and clean.

In streams they will usually be found near the faster water in the cover of the rocks or logs.

Because of state stocking programs, trout streams will often be matked by signs.

grasshoppers / crickets
salmon eggs
artificial flies
artificail spinners

Lake Trout

Lake Trout

Where They Live

What They Eat

In the deep water of cold lakes. they may be very deep, so you will probably need LOTS of line on your reel.

In the spring, they spawn (lay eggs) in the shallow water and can be caught with artificial flies.

artificial spoons
artificial spinners
artificial flies



Where They Live

What They Eat

Prefer really warm, slow water in rivers and lakes. They can be found on the bottom, so a weight and bobber will work great! Catfish like to feed at night so they use a sense of smelland touch to identify thier food.

WARNING: The dorsal and pectoral spines on a catfish carry a toxin that will irritate your hands. Use gloves when removing them from your hook!

dough balls
cheese (especially Limburger)

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Where They Live

What They Eat

In lakes with warmer water.Usually found near the shore in weed beds, under lilly pads or around sunken logs, trees and stumps.

These fish are ferocious feeders, so when they take your bait they will give your rod a jolt!

surface plugs
artificial worms
popping bugs
artificial flies
plastic worms
bug shiners
shiner minnows

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass

Where They Live

What They Eat

In streams with water slightly cooler than preferred by their largemouth cousins.

They like to be around rocks and boulders and will chase your bait before they take it, so, be patient!

underwater plugs
artificial spinners
popping bugs
artificial spoons



Where They Live

What They Eat

They live in large lakes with hard, rocky bottoms.

If you can find a place where the edge of the lake drops off into the deep water – drop your line right there at the edge, DEEP!

spinners with worms
jigs with worms or minnows



Where They Live

What They Eat

Muskellunge’s spend most of their time in the deep water of lakes, but they like to feed in the weeds.

Most muskies are caught while trolling  (slowly pulling your lure along) behind a moving boat.

Be very careful removing a Muskellunge from your hook!
Their teeth are very sharp!!!

spinners with worms
jigs with worms or minnows

Northern Pike


Where They Live

What They Eat

A Northern Pike can be found in slow-moving streams and the weedy shallows of lakes, under logs and lilly pads and besides stumps. They are aggressive feeders and eat other forms of aquatic life. They even eat small ducks and muskrats.

If you should happen to catch a Pike, be very careful removing it from your hook. It’s teeth are very sharp and can cut your hands.

(real or artificial)
large artificial plugs
(underwater and surface)
big spoons


Cuban Vice President’s daughter defects to the United States

August 28, 2012

Marino Murillo (left) with Raúl Castro
The daughter of one of Cuba’s most senior government officials secretly defected to the United States earlier this month and is now living in Tampa, Florida, according to a Spanish-language newspaper. The paper, El Nuevo Herald, published in Florida, said Glenda Murillo Diaz, 24, daughter of Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge, defected on August 16, 2012. Diaz, a psychology student at the University of Havana, had apparently left Cuba earlier this month to attend an international psychology conference in Mexico. But instead of appearing at the conference, she crossed from Mexico into the US at Laredo, Texas. Her father, Marino Murillo, a prominent Cuban economist, is currently Vice President of Cuba’s State Council and longtime member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Political Bureau. In 2009, soon succeeding his brother Fidel to the post of Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro appointed Murillo Minister of Planning and Economy. Upon assuming this post, Murillo became the leading figure in the implementation of the administration’s ambitious economic reform, which is aimed at revitalizing the island’s finances. Since then, Murillo is often mentioned as one of a number of possible successors to Raúl Castro. He has made headlines recently, after voicing criticism of economic reforms taking place in China and Vietnam, and claiming that Cuba’s economic reforms aim at the establishment of a hybrid planned and market economy, but that “the planned economy will remain dominant”. The cause of Diaz’s is not clear. But El Nuevo Herald, whose editorial line routinely expresses the anti-Castro views of Miami’s exile Cuban community, notes that Diaz’s defection represents “a vote of no confidence in the economic reforms [Raúl] Castro has ordered, and that her father has a mandate to implement”. According to US legislation, enacted at the height of the Cold War, citizens of Cuba are allowed to remain in the US as long as they manage to set foot on US soil. By contrast, Cuban defectors intercepted by US Coast Guard patrol boats at sea are summarily returned to Cuba.

Syria denies Air Force intelligence chief assassinated

August 28, 2012

Jamil Hassan
A Syrian state-owned television channel has denied reports that the head of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence has been assassinated by one of his aides. The government-controlled al-Dynya TV called reports about the assassination of Lieutenant Jamil Hassan “absolutely false”. However, unlike Syria’s Vice-President, Farouq al-Sharaa, who appeared on television yesterday to dispel rumors he had defected to Jordan, Hassan made no such appearance. Earlier on Sunday, sources affiliated with the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television network that Lieutenant Hassan had been killed in his office in Syrian capital Damascus. Born into a prominent military family in the western city of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and site of some of the worst violence in the ongoing Syrian uprising, Hassan belongs to the country’s Alawite community. It is the same Syrian-based branch of Shiite Islam that counts the country’s President, Bashar al-Assad, as its member. Hassan is believed to be a key member of the Syrian military and a close advisor of the President. Opposition forces consider Hassan a hardline supporter of the Assad regime and charge him with leading the ‘iron fist’ caucus inside the Syrian government. A Syrian opposition source once quoted Hassan as telling Assad: “let me kill a million protesters to end the revolution and I will go to [the International Criminal Court in] The Hague in your place”. Although this quote remains anecdotal, there is little doubt that Hassan’s vocal support for the Assad regime has repeatedly attracted the attention of the opposition FSA, which sees him as one of the most vicious and criminal elements inside the Syrian state. Hassan’s role in the government’s intelligence apparatus, and his commanding position inside the Syrian Air Force, which is credited with ensuring the government’s military superiority over the FSA, make him doubly hated by the rebels. For several months now, the FSA has been issuing public calls for Hassan’s capture or assassination on an almost weekly basis. It is worth noting, however, that, according to the Al-Arabiya report, Hassan was killed by a member of the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade of the FSA. The group, whose title translates in English as “Descendants of the Prophet”, is known as one of the opposition’s best-organized autonomous Islamist factions. Earlier this month, the group claimed responsibility for a massive bombing in downtown Damascus, which it said was aimed at a military base nearby.

Tactics 101: The Screen in Security Operations

August 26, 2012


“THE PRINCIPLE OF SECURITY. The objective in battle being to destroy or paralyze the enemy’s fighting strength, consequently the side which can best secure itself against the action of its antagonist will stand the best chance of winning, for by saving its men and weapons, its organization and morale, it will augment its offensive power. Security is, therefore, a shield, not a lethal weapon.”

Major-General J.F.C. Fuller

Our last article began a series of articles we will devote to security operations. We utilized the first article as a primer to get our audience up to speed on the basics of security operations. Our discussion focused on these areas: 1) The definition of security operations. 2) The types of security operations. 3) The key fundamentals of security operations. 4) Basic planning considerations of any security operation. With this background complete, we can now key in on the primary types of security operations.

This month’s article will focus on the first of the ‘Big 3’ in regards to the types of security operations you may execute – the screen. (In subsequent months, we will attack the guard and cover). In dissecting the screen, we will address several areas. First, we will provide a definition of the screen. Second, we will touch on the characteristics of the screen and how it is differentiated between the guard and cover. Third, we will address the phases of conducting a screen. Fourth, we will discuss the types of screens you can conduct. Finally, we will lay out some of the key graphical control measures you could utilize to command and control a screen operation. Lots to cover this month so – LET’S MOVE OUT!

In a screen operation, a unit is asked to gain and maintain surveillance; provide early warning to the main body of the higher unit they are assigned to; or may be required to impede, harass, or destroy enemy recon elements within their capability without being decisively engaged.

Let’s dissect some of the key components of this definition.

Gain and Maintain surveillance – It all begins with getting your eyes out at a location which enables you to observe and identify enemy actions.

Provide early warning – The primary role of a unit on a screen is to ensure the main body of the unit does not get surprised by the actions of its’ enemy. The unit conducting the screen, along with the higher headquarters will determine on the ground where the optimal location is to provide this early warning. Thus, early warning is obviously tied to time, but also tied to providing the main body the space it requires to react to any enemy initial actions.

May be required to impede, harass, or destroy enemy recon elements – The focus of the screen unit is not to destroy every enemy element it sees on its’ mission. It should not be equipped or organized to do this. As we have discussed, it is to observe and identify. However, if the tactical situation warrants; the screen force may be required to impede, harass or destroy enemy elements. The necessity is two-fold. First, is to aid in the screen forces’ own survival. Second, is to assist in providing early warning for the main body.

Without being decisively engaged – One of the cardinal rules of a unit conducting a screen is not to get decisively engaged. The major reason is that they will likely not possess the combat power to easily get out of jams. Becoming decisively engaged can lead to the main body maneuvering forces forward to assist (this is if indirect fires are not successful).

Characteristics of the Screen
There are several unique characteristics of the screen which differentiate it between the guard and cover. These include the following:

  • The most commonly executed security mission.
  • The least amount of internal protection for a force conducting a security mission.
  • Should only engage the enemy in self-defense.
  • Appropriate when a unit has extended flanks.
  • Appropriate when gaps exist between units and can’t be totally secured.
  • Commander simply wants early warning for his main body.
  • Unit does not possess significant combat power to commit to security operations.
  • Is purely defensive in nature.

Screen Key Concepts
Before we get much more in depth on screen operations; let’s address some of the key concepts that will continually surface in our discussion:

Named Area of Interest: In terms of screen operations; everything revolves around the Named Area of Interest (NAI). As a reminder from past articles, an NAI is “a point or area along an avenue of approach where you believe enemy activity is likely to occur. This activity or lack of activity will confirm or deny a particular enemy course of action.” In a screen mission, the screen force will almost always be given some NAIs to observe. These NAIs provide focus for the unit and should be in locations which will assist in providing early warning for the main body.

Screen Line: This is an extremely important control measure in the conduct of screen operations. The screen line is depicted as a phase line on the graphics. In the planning of a screen operation, it is first utilized as a mark for the screen force to maneuver to and recon to determine if this location is appropriate to observe from. The prime considerations in selecting this screen line are time and distance. These considerations impact on the ability of the screen force to provide early warning. Once the screen force decides where this location is, the phase line is formalized. Once formalized, this phase line also becomes the limit of advance for the screen force to maneuver to. In other words, the screen force cannot maneuver past this location unless approved by their higher headquarters.

Observation Posts: In our last article, we touched on Observation Posts (OP). Within screen operations, the use of OPs is the method in which a force observes and identifies the information they are tasked by their commander. As a real simple definition, an OP is a location from which observations are made.

Phases of the Screen
It wouldn’t be an operation unless it had phases! Well, when a unit conducts a screen there is a basic flow of how the operation should shake out. Let’s discuss this flow below.

Phase 1 – Maneuver to the Screen Line
As the saying goes, “you must arrive alive.” Because the situation is so fluid and unclear at this point of the operation, the maneuver to the screen line is a challenging mission in itself. As in all things tactics you must understand yourself, the enemy, and the terrain in planning, preparing and executing your maneuver to the screen line. In some cases, the current tactical situation may dictate that the screen line will be located very near where the unit presently sits. However, in other circumstances maneuver (sometimes at significant distances) will be required. In that case, there are three options that a commander will usually consider if maneuver is necessary. These are: 1) The Tactical Road March 2) The Movement to Contact 3) The Zone Reconnaissance. Let’s discuss when each of these would be the most feasible option.

1) The Tactical Road March – When you need to occupy a screen line quickly and enemy contact is highly unlikely; the tactical road march is the optimal option. Essentially the tactical road march is a start point (from the present location) to a release point (where the unit will then occupy their screen line).

At first glance, some may insinuate that a tactical road march is ducks in a row, high diddle diddle up the middle. This would be a wrong assumption. A tactical road march is exactly that – tactical. Those units that do not put a premium on security and plan for the what-ifs will eventually suffer the consequences. (We will highlight the tactical road march in a future article).
2) The Movement to Contact – When the enemy situation is a little more unclear, the screen force may conduct a movement to contact. Obviously, this technique is a little slower than the tactical road march. However, with this comes more security for the screen force as a whole. Within the movement to contact, the force will execute this from their current location to the screen line.

3) Zone Reconnaissance – If a unit has sufficient time, the zone reconnaissance is the preferred technique. In executing a zone reconnaissance, the unit is really conducting a two-fer. First, the screen force conducts the zone recon from their initial location to the screen line.

Zone – A zone recon is focused on obtaining information (on the enemy or terrain) on a particular zone dictated by the commander. The zone will be articulated by boundaries. This zone could contain a route or routes and an area/areas. Thus, it is the encompassing of all the forms of recon.

A commander will decide a zone recon is needed when he requires more info on a zone in which he anticipates maneuvering in the future. At the present time, the commander has little information on the enemy and the terrain. Thus, the requirement for the zone recon.

Once the unit has completed the zone recon and has arrived at the proposed screen line, it will then begin the task of occupying the screen line. Executing the zone recon is certainly the most time consuming of the three techniques. However, there are several benefits. First, the unit as a whole collects information on the terrain and the enemy forward of their present location. This is information they do not presently have. Second, it is a very secure method of movement

Phase 2 – Occupy Screen Line
The unit has maneuvered itself to the screen line. If all as gone well, the force is mentally and physically prepared to execute the screen. If things have not gone as well, the ability of the force to conduct the screen will be diminished. In either case, it is time for the force to occupy the screen line. This task cannot be done haphazardly. There are many things that must be accomplished before the force actually occupies the screen line. These tasks are:

• You already have a templated a location for the screen line. This may have been determined by an earlier recon of the area. However, in most cases this recon likely did not occur. Thus, the first thing that most be achieved is a quick, but detailed reconnaissance of the area by the screen force leadership. The obvious requirement in selecting these locations is ensuring they can observe what the commander wants the screen force to observe. Additionally, it should provide adequate cover and concealment for the screen force.
• Once locations are decided upon, it is time to occupy them. This occupation cannot be done hastily and sloppily. This only can bring disastrous results. Units must plan their occupation of the screen line. Forces will normally maneuver from a cover and concealed position to their designated locations on the screen line. This positions can be dismounted OPs, mounted OPs, and of course a mixture. In occupying the screen line, you may also emplace various types of radars and sensors to provide early warning of the enemy.

• Upon occupation of the screen line, forces must also conduct the following:

o Finalize your indirect fire plan. Because a screen force generally does not possess significant fire power; the use of indirect fire is option number one when trouble occurs. Thus, it is critical the screen force has a well-developed indirect fire plan. This plan obviously includes assets from higher headquarters (field artillery) and may also include a section of mortars attached for responsive fires.
o Finalize your direct fire plan. Although you do not want to get in a direct fire fight with the enemy; you must plan for it. The commander of the screen force must have a direct fire plan that includes essentials such sectors, maximum engagement lines, and engagement areas. Neglect this planning at your own risk.
o Although the screen force will not have significant logistical assets; they must be located where they can support the screen force. This can be a challenge when the screen line is extended in width and/or depth. If the screen force is a long distance away from the main body; air evacuation of any casualties must be planned.
o The command and control of the screen force can be a challenge. The commander of the screen force must ensure he is positioned to understand and influence operations on the ground. He must also ensure he has a solid communications (with redundant means) plan in place. This plan is two-fold. First, it enables him to receive timely and accurate reports from his subordinates. Second, it enables him to send these reports (after he synthesizes them) to his higher headquarters.
o One of the critical tasks to occupying the screen line is ensuring you have conducted all necessary coordination (especially on your flanks). In many operations, there will be other units (from other units) conducting operations on your flanks. You must ensure contact is made with these units for two primary reasons. First, to determine if any gaps exist between the operations of the units. These gaps could be exploited by the enemy. If gaps do exist, it should be reported to a higher headquarters to ensure they are aware and to act on if necessary. Second, operations in the security are very fluid and can get confusing. Units must ensure they understand who their friendlies are and what they are doing. If they don’t, this could very well lead to friendly fire incidents on the battlefield.

Phase 3 – Surveillance and Counter-Reconnaissance
Occupation is complete and it is now time to observe and provide early warning for the main body. The screen force will conduct this surveillance by a variety of means. The primary means (as addressed earlier) is through the use of OPs. These can be augmented by various assets including different types of radars and sensors. Certainly, in this case technology can be a huge benefit for the force. Another consideration in surveillance is to fill those gaps that we have discussed earlier in the article. One of the ways to mitigate these gaps is to conduct patrols in these areas.

In conducting surveillance the obvious driver is the NAIs assigned to the screen force to observe. Since this is so critical, the screen force must organize and locate its assets keying on the NAIs. Two key principles (which we have discussed in our recon series) are redundancy and cuing. Let’s review each since they are so important in a screen.

Redundancy – If information is clearly vital to assisting a commander in making a decision you must have redundant assets assigned to collect. In definition, redundancy is utilizing two or more like assets to collect information against the same requirement

Cuing – When you conduct cueing, you first utilize one asset to collect fairly general information in a certain area. If certain information is found this then triggers (cues) another asset to go into the area and collect more specific information. Cueing is usually conducted when you have limited ground R&S assets (which are usually the case).

Counter-Reconnaissance – We will delve into this topic far more in an upcoming article. As the name suggests, in counter-recon you are striving to ensure the enemy does not have success in his recon operations. In traditional counter-recon this means destroying the enemy’s recon assets. To achieve this, you usually divide the force into hunters and killers. In other words, someone finds/observes the enemy recon assets and someone else kills them. In a screen operation, the screen force is generally not manned/equipped to hunt and kill. Thus, based on their mission they are clearly suited to observe enemy recon and let someone else do the killing. This coordination and handoff as you can expect is a real challenge (again, we will address this in a future article). This must all be worked out before the screen force begins their operation. As always, the screen force must also worst-case it and have a plan to both hunt and kill.

Phase 4 – Displace/Maintain Contact
One of most difficult phases of the screen mission is for the unit to displace while still maintaining contact with the enemy. A unit which completely breaks contact from the enemy is certainly putting the main body in a precarious position. The old rule almost always applies, “Once you gain contact, maintain contact.” This is easier said than done if the enemy is breathing down your neck.

So how do you achieve this? The best way to look at this is to approach it as a retrograde operation.

In doing this, the key is prior planning. During the initial planning of the mission, it is imperative you look at the terrain to determine locations where you may fall back to. Consequently, graphics must be developed that include phase lines which elements of the screen force can fall back to and potential OP locations.

In execution, the screen force will echelon their fallback in order to maintain contact. Typically, a portion of the screen force will fall back to the preplanned screen line. Once they are set, the forces left at the original screen line will fall back past this force to another preplanned location. This ‘bounding’ continues until forces are near the main body. Once this is completed, the screen force can begin Phase 5 – The Passage of Lines.

Before leaving this phase, a few things to remember:

  • Contact does not necessarily have to be eyes on. Well-placed and dependable radars and sensors can be utilized to maintain contact when Soldiers eyes are not feasible.
  • During displacement, the best friend of the screen force can be indirect fires. As discussed earlier, a screen force normally does not possess significant combat power. Thus, becoming decisively engaged is not a good thing. To get out of trouble, indirect fires (accurate and above all, responsive) are the weapon of choice.
  • With moving pieces maneuvering around the battlefield it is imperative that all forces know what is taking place. During displacement there must be constant communications between the screen force and the main body. Lack of communication can lead to bad things.

Rearward Passage of Lines Graphics

Phase 5 – Passage of Lines
The mission is not complete until you have successfully passed through the main body. Perhaps, of all the phases the passage of lines can be the most challenging. It seems that chaos is running rampant around the battlefield during any passage of lines. The screen force normally has several challenges when it conducts its passage. First, the enemy is normally not far away. Second, conducting a screen is exhausting. Consequently, the screen force is mentally and physically tired. Third, it seems that the passage is always occurring during limited visibility.

Whatever the case, the goal of the passage is to quickly, without incident, pass the screen force through the main body to a location in the rear area. There, the screen force can refit, refuel, and rearm itself. In this location, the screen force can then prepare for its’ next mission. Again, you cannot expect a lot out of the screen force anytime soon. Let them take care of business and then give them a new purpose and task.

There are several actions which assist in making the passage as smooth as possible. These include: 1) Reconnaissance of the location which the screen force will occupy. 2) An advance party to meet the screen force at the location. 3) A logistical package waiting at the location for the screen force to utilize. 4) A guide vehicle to meet the screen force and escort them to the location. 5) Communications throughout the main body informing them that the screen force is passing through.

Moving Screen

Types of Screen Operations
There are two basic types of screens a unit can execute. These are the stationary screen and the moving screen. Let’s address each and lay out their particulars.

Stationary Screen – This type of screen is utilized when the main body is itself – stationary. This usually means that the main body is either in preparation for an attack or is preparing a defense. In fact, the majority of this article was written with the stationary screen as the basis. Consequently, we will not spend any further time discussing the stationary screen.

Moving Screen – This type of screen is normally utilized when the force is executing maneuver. Based on the situation, you will place a screen force on the main body flank or flanks and perhaps the rear of the formation. Again, the commander will decide where in his formation he requires screens.

Of course there are two significant challenges for the force conducting the moving screen. The first is operating at a distance that provides the main body sufficient early warning of enemy actions. Second, is the ability of the screen force to maneuver with the main body and continue to conduct the screen operation. In order to assist in achieving this, the screen force has several techniques they may utilize. Let’s address these below:

Continuous Maneuver – As you can surmise from the title, in this technique the entire screen force is maneuvering at the same time. This technique is generally utilized when the main body is maneuvering very quickly and enemy contact is highly unlikely. This technique is certainly the least secure of the ones available to a unit. It does keep the unit together throughout and normally makes them available for another mission almost immediately after the screen is complete.

Alternate Bounds by OPs – The best way to ensure surveillance during movement is to bound by OPs. In this method, the screen force will occupy OPs throughout the main body’s maneuver. As the main body maneuvers forward, OPs will position themselves to provide the early warning needed for the main body. This technique would be utilized if you believe enemy contact is possible and you desire the most surveillance possible from the screen force. Certainly, the bounding of OPs can be a time consuming process. It also requires a skilled screen force who can set-up and displace quickly. It must also have leadership that has a superb understanding of when and where to place the OPs. If executed correctly, this is an extremely secure technique and one that provides outstanding surveillance throughout the main body’s maneuver.

Alternate Bounds by Units – Another method available to a commander is to bound by units. Let’s use a company for our example. If a company (no matter the flavor) was given the screen mission, it would bound by platoons. Thus, as the main body maneuvered; the screen force would continually bound by platoons to provide the screen. Like the method above; you would utilize the technique when enemy contact is possible. However, unlike the above; the main body is likely to be maneuvering a little faster and the commander does not want maximum surveillance (which OPs provide). There are several advantages to this technique. First, it is far easier to bound by units vice OPs. Consequently, if the main body is maneuvering at a pretty good pace; unit bounding may be the preferred method. Second, this technique does afford good surveillance for the unit. Third, bounding as smaller units keeps unit integrity. The one disadvantage of the technique is that it can lead to some gaps in coverage when the bounding is not properly synchronized.

Successive Bounds – The last technique available is successive bounds by the screen force. In this method, the screen force in its’ entirety, bounds from position to position to provide the screen for the main body. You will normally utilize this technique when the main body is making frequent halts in their maneuver. This bounding by the entire unit clearly takes the most time of all the methods. This bounding can also mean that the unit as a whole is less secure while maneuvering. Additionally, it can lead to some temporary gaps in coverage while bounding. However, when set this is the most secure of the methods and provides the best surveillance.

Which method to use? It all depends, as always, on the conditions (friendly, enemy, and terrain and weather)!

Control Measures
In every tactical mission, you must develop clearly understandable and effective control measures to set the conditions for success. It is no different in executing a screen operation. Below we will provide you a snapshot of the typical control measures utilized in the screen. We will follow the example with an explanation of each of the measures.

  • As we discussed several times, the screen force must be given areas to observe. The NAIs designate these areas.
  • Phase lines initially define the forward edge of the screen line (in this case – PL RED). Later they are utilized to define future fall back screen lines (PLs WHITE and BLUE).
  • Observation Posts are generally utilized to place assets in locations where they can observe NAIs. These OPs are represented by the triangles. For sake of argument, these are dismounted OPs.
  • Because these are dismounted OPs, we must designate areas for the vehicles to locate. To facilitate potential contingencies, we have placed these armor platoons in battle positions focused on Engagement Areas PINK and ROSE.
  • As we addressed earlier in the article, a screen force does not possess significant combat power. To augment this force, we have assigned a mortar section and positioned them to the left of EA ROSE. They will support the OPs initially and reposition if the OPs reposition.
  • Command and control and logistics are critical to screen operations. In the above depiction, we have placed the command and control and logistical nodes near PL WHITE.
  • Finally, coordination is imperative in a screen. To facilitate this, we have placed coordination points (4 and 10) to aid in flank coordination.

This is pretty basic graphics. It would provide sufficient measures to conduct the screen.

To most, executing a screen is a pretty elementary task. In fact, in tactics it is a term which is thrown around commonly. However, this article should have highlighted that conducting a screen is far more difficult. It takes quality planning and preparation to set the conditions for a successful screen. It also takes a good unit to execute a screen. Next time you hear the term; remember just how challenging a screen operation is.

Our next article will address the second of the primary security operations – guard. In a guard, the complexity of the operation is a notch above that of the screen. We will address these complexities. In dissecting a guard operation, we will attack it the same way we did with the screen. See you next month!

Situation Report: Is DARPA’s Phoenix Program Intelligence-Related?

August 26, 2012

DARPA's Phoenix Program
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the out-there research arm of the United States Department of Defense, is well known for it’s futuristic and bleeding-edge technology research projects. Often times, the Agency’s highflying efforts seem to protrude a motto of “failure is an option”. In fact, a 2003 article in The Los Angeles Times states that DARPA’s failure rates are between 85 and 90 percent. But this has not prevented the Agency from trying out new things, which sometimes help shape the future. It’s predecessor, Advanced Research Projects Agency, renamed DARPA in 1972, helped create what is today the Internet. Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (aka UNIX), Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface (Siri, that female voice on your iPhone —yup, she’s a spinout from a DARPA Artificial Intelligence project called CALO), and Onion Routing (core technique for anonymous communications over computer networks, i.e. the base technology underlying Tor), were all funded, in part, by DARPA. Unsurprisingly, DARPA is at it again. The question remains, though, can the hype become a reality or will the new effort find a home in the vast majority of DARPAs forward-looking failed adventures?

On October 20, 2011, DARPA announced the Phoenix Program, explaining that it was seeking to repurpose components from communication satellites operating in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). As the Agency explains, “the Phoenix program envisions developing a new class of very small ‘satlets,’ similar to nano satellites, which could be sent to the GEO region […] attaching such satlets “to the antenna of a non-functional cooperating satellite robotically, essentially creating a new space system”.

Explaining further, DARPA states, “a payload orbital delivery system […] will also be designed to safely house the satlets for transport aboard a commercial satellite launch”. With an orbital tender or “satellite servicing” vehicle operating in GEO, “the PODS would then be released […] and link up with the tender to become part of the satellite servicing station’s ‘tool belt’”.

While that is plenty of technical data to digest, if you are space watcher, you know full well the amount of debris orbiting the Earth and the constant challenges it poses to manned and unmanned space flight. If not, please check out this NASA photograph, which visually represents the amount of debris and defunct satellites orbiting the Earth —it is worth a looksee just to see it visually.

Analyzing DARPA Aims and Apertures

IntelNews reached out to DARPA’s program manager for the Phoenix Program, Dave Barnhart, to request comment and clarification on the programs aims, objectives and goals. Barnhart, who joined DARPA in 2010, having previously served as the Director and Co-Founder of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Southern California, explained in an email that the Phoenix program’s goal “is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost”.

Continuing, Barnhart told intelNews: “Phoenix seeks to demonstrate around-the-clock, globally persistent communication capability for warfighters more economically, by robotically removing and re-using GEO-based space apertures and antennas from de-commissioned satellites in the graveyard or disposal orbit”.

Early Detection & Intelligence Platforms

If achievable, the economic and financial incentives of repurposing already “up-there” assets is clearly laudable. But the question of which type of satellites and in what orbit such a program could extend to is of particular interest, even if it is looking beyond the horizon of a successful Phoenix program. The reason for this is that, if DARPA’s efforts are successful, the significance and consequence of having space-based platforms that can fix, repair, and augment other satellites quickly and efficiently would be a dramatic and vitally important strategic advantage for US security and intelligence efforts.

The US Air Force’s Defense Support Program (DSP), which served as America’s early warning and detection system for ballistic and intercontinental missiles, space launches, and nuclear detonations, is being replaced by the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIR). This new advanced system is expected to integrate more effectively with future missile defense efforts. It currently maintains several satellites operating in what is known as a highly elliptical orbit (HEO). Given the benefits of satellites working in HEO —suitable for communications in the higher latitudes, slower moving, with a longer dwell time over a target area because satellites move more slowly when father away from the Earth, etc— understanding the target of the Phoenix program and its limitations is significant to the holistic frame of reference.

Our efforts to confirm that DARPA was particularly interested in proving that replacing such assets was possible through successes operating in GEO were largely deflected, but not entirely discarded. DARPA’s Barnhart explained to intelNews that the program wasn’t focused on all the possible orbits of satellites and that the program was really focused on GEO. The reasoning, Barnhart explained, was that “GEO is a unique environment that allows relatively low maneuvering fuel around it, versus the higher fuel required for what is considered highly elliptical orbits (HEO), medium earth orbits (MEO) or low earth orbit (LEO)”.

Phoenix’ Focus on GEO and Not DSP

A veteran of the business, who has spent more than 20 years as a space operations officer and signals intelligence analyst, and asked not to be named, told intelNews that the Phoenix program not focusing on DSP or SBIR systems made sense. “I don’t see them doing this kind of thing with a DSP satellite given that the typical causes of failure of these birds involves subsystems that are not small or modular”. Cautioning that he had no direct knowledge of this particular DARPA program, but leveraging his decades as an operational expert in the field, he observed: “Phoenix developers are hoping to ultimately put a variety of modular subsystems in the orbital ‘toolkit’ of satlets [or irreducibly minimum or barebones satellites]. Failed subsystems will probably not be easily accessible to a robotic device or easily spliced around”.

The Time Horizon: Operational Context

Since DARPA’s Phoenix program is focused exclusively on assets in GEO, at least for the time being, the question quickly becomes how soon will it be before there are ‘satlets’ —the mini satellites that can robotically remove and re-use components from what was once deemed orbital space junk into something that makes defunct satellites operational again?

Well…on July 26, several defense contractors announced that DARPA’s Tactical Technologies Office had started to awarded contracts to support Phoenix Technologies Program.

Getting to initial operational capability (IOC) is dependent upon the technical challenges the program faces, the investment required, and how much support it can secure from the US Congress (or how generous Congress will be with loosening its purse strings), and the support from other government elements who directly benefit from the program. According to sources, assuming things go according to plan and the stars are aligned properly, the IOC benchmark is likely achievable in 5 to 10 years, meaning it will not be operational or deployed, but it would certainly be leaps and bounds closer. It also means the project could become so bogged down it never actually sees the outer atmosphere.

‘Curiouser and curiouser’

So what are the Mad Hatters of DARPA really after as they leap headlong into the rabbit hole? US national security efforts, particularly with its space-based assets are always working to provide more robust and cost effective ways to replace capabilities that are lost in space overtime or malfunctioning. Launching a single pound into space can cost as much as $10,000, so it is no wonder that finding alternatives is desirable.

Aside from the cost there are also strategic military implications for DARPA’s Phoenix program, which makes sense, as DARPA’s self-described mission is to “maintain the technological superiority of the US military”. Should the program be successful, it would make it significantly more difficult for America’s adversaries to interdict and disrupt space-based communications assets working with terrestrial based warfighters. This is important because the US military continues to transform its warfighting capabilities and integrate them with net-centric warfare capabilities.

In turn, adversaries will have to take into consideration a space-based replacement advantage held by the US when evaluating the cost benefit of attacking space-based assets. This effectively creates a deterrence capacity, something which no country operating in space currently maintains to such a forward-looking extent. If the US can replace assets that were knocked out by an adversary quickly and at minimal cost, the upside benefit of going after such platforms becomes strategically depleted and potentially counter productive.

Of course, this is speculative, but shouldn’t be dismissed outright because DARPA’s on the case and it seems with contracts signed within the medium term possibility of reality. Even so, it is clearly dependent upon how effective and successful the Phoenix program will be, and at its core, how fast each lost or malfunctioning space-based asset can be replaced or corrected.

But loud elephants can talk silently, too, so one has to wonder if DSP and SBIR birds are waiting in the wings or at the very least being strongly considered for a future iteration of a Phoenix 2.0.

From idea, to concept, to proposal, to solicitation, to contract, and finally, to reality, DARPA continues to pursue groundbreaking innovation by challenging and rewriting the lines between brilliance and the cusps of fiction. The challenge and question remains, however, can the reality live up to the hype? Like all things DARPA, it will be interesting to watch and see the progression and development of this effort.

Ex-CIA officer urges Bulgaria to probe alleged Hezbollah attack alone

August 23, 2012

Robert Baer
A 22-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who spent over a decade in the Middle East, has urged Bulgaria to probe a recent suicide attack against Israeli tourists on its soil without relying on American or Israeli assistance. Robert Baer, who is considered a foremost intelligence expert on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group accused of orchestrating the attack, said that Bulgarian authorities should keep the investigation free of the “intelligence games” currently taking place between the US, Israel and Iran. He was speaking Sunday on Bulgaria’s bTV, in reference to the July 18 blast that hit a bus stationed outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. The suicide bomber, whose identity remains unknown, killed himself, the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israeli tourists. Soon after the attack, Israel announced that it had gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the suicide bombing. But according to Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israeli and American intelligence investigators are too politicized to be able to provide objective evidence as to the culprits of the attack. The former CIA case officer told bTV that both Tel Aviv and Washington “want to lead a war in Iran” and that they will be tempted to point at Tehran as the main instigator of the suicide blast in Burgas. Baer claimed that, by relying on its own investigative resources, Bulgaria will be able to ensure a “true police-style investigation” by its own security forces and avoid “intelligence games” played by the United States and Israel. He added that, if the US has “reliable proof” that Iran/Hezbollah is indeed behind the attack, it might be tempted to skew the investigation by hiding the evidence from the Bulgarians and the Israelis alike, if it is “not yet willing” to go to war with Iran. It is worth noting that the former CIA operative refused to rule out Hezbollah’s purported role in the attack, saying that the Shiite militant group had been operating in Bulgaria and other countries of Eastern Europe “since the mid-1980s”. He added that he had personally investigated Hezbollah activity in Bulgaria “in the 1990s”, but refused to elaborate on this.

Leatherwood ART 2.5-10x44mm M1000 Scope

August 19, 2012


One of the things that made the M21 a successful sniping system during the Vietnam War was the ultra-simplistic means of range estimation that would also automatically adjust the scope for ballistic drop at whatever range the scope estimated the target to be at. This was known as the Auto Ranging Telescope, or ART, and it was designed by James Leatherwood. These original ART setups on the M21 used a Redfield 3-9x scope and there were two distinct versions of the setup through the M21’s life time. The Leatherwood name now appears on a very similar setup to the original ART and it is the same concept and even carries the same ART title, but are they as effective as the original? There is only one way to find out.

The Specifications:

Manufacturer: Hi-Lux
Model Number: ART2510X44
Finish: Matte
Magnification: 2.5-10.0
Objective: 44mm
Tube Diameter: 1″
Weight: 25.2oz/714g
Length: 13.2″/335mm
Eye Relief: 3.0″/76mm
Exit Pupil: 17.6 – 4.4mm
Click Value: .25 MOA
FOV @100y: 47.2′-11.9′
Adjustment Range: ~65 MOA
Reticle: Mildot
List Price: $300 (2012)
Street Price: $300 (2012)
As mentioned, the Leatherwood name goes quite a ways back and is closely tied to the US Military sniper rifle history due to Jim Leatherwood’s history with the M21. A new crop of Leatherwood scopes came onto the scene several years ago with various different models such as the “Sporter” and others. Fortunately for price, and unfortunately for quality, the scopes are made in China and the initial quality of these early scopes was poor. According to Leatherwood, the quality was unacceptable as they were being pushed down the priority rung behind other larger scope brands, so Leatherwood purchased their own factory in China and the current Hi-Lux/Leatherwood scopes are being produced there. Reports indicate that quality has come up, but it takes time to get it to where they want it.

For those that are not familiar with the concept of the ART scopes, the idea is to zoom in the scope on the target until a specified sized target is bracketed within some indication marks in the scope. The scope is mounted in a specific mount that mechanically raises and lowers the scope while it is being zoomed in so that it will automatically compensate for the ballistic drop while the scope is being zoomed in. The theory is to zoom in until target is bracketed, and then pull the trigger. Of course, windage would need to be compensated for separately, but the range would automatically be taken care of. The original ART-I and ART-II systems were used to great effect by US Army snipers in the Vietnam conflict.

The entire setup comes in a standard scope box but since the mount is an integral part of the overall system, it comes with the scope mounted in the rings and the rings attached to the ART base. The base itself is designed to mount directly to a picatinny style rail, but due to the design of the system, there really is no need to go with a canted base. The package comes with some detailed instructions, scope caps and some small wrenches and wing nuts for the mount. The scope looks fairly standard in terms of modern scopes. The Hi-Lux scope has a single piece aluminum tube that is 1″ in diameter and tapers nicely up to the 44mm objective. The finish is a matte black anodizing with what appears to be laser etching for the markings. The finish is evenly applied and the lettering is clear and readable.

The eyepiece where the ocular lens is housed has a small rubber ring on the end that is intended to help protect the eye in the event that the shooter gets too close to the scope during recoil, but the rubber ring is fairly small and hard and we are not sure how well it will cushion the impact. The eyepiece itself has some mild serrations on it to help with gripping it for when focusing the eyepiece (diopter adjustment). This is not a fast focus eyepiece but rather it takes almost three and a half rotations to cover the full range. The adjustment is not the smoothest we have tested, but it does cover a wide range allowing it to focus for even fairly bad eyes without corrective lenses. There is no locking ring for the eyepiece, though there is probably enough friction to hold it in place for the most part. There are some indication marks in order to log where it should be for each shooter, but the markings are fine, light and difficult to reference. It is usually better to just lock it and forget.

In front of the fairly short eye piece is the zoom and cam setup that is the crux of the ART system. As we have mentioned, the ART system is linked to the zoom ring of the scope so that as the operator zooms the scope onto the target so that the brackets on the reticle cover a specific sized target, the cam system mechanically raises and lowers the rear of the scope to auto compensate for the range. This cam system has some indicator marks on the top that are used to adjust the cam to match it more closely with whatever cartridge you are using. From the rear of the scope, on the front face of this cam, there is clearly marked both the magnification power and what range the target is at. The cam has some knurls on it for a finger hold, and they are needed as the system is stiff as it adjusts both the magnification of the scope as well as mechanically opposes some friction in order to raise or lower the rear of the scope. The cam mechanism is fairly large and adds considerable heft and weight to the rear of the scope. On top of cam system are some screws that are used to loosen and move the cam and range ring to adjust them to your specific rifle. Right in front of the cam is a screw that angles in to lock the cam at a fixed range if so desired, this prevents moving the cam and zoom ring.

In front of the ART cam setup are the traditional elevation and windage knobs. These knobs are the size of a traditional target style knob and they do have dust covers. The elevation knob is tall, but there are only markings on the bottom because there are four additional “rings” with a slot in them that can be moved around, using the tip of a bullet, to be used as additional zero indicators. The idea is to be able to use the scope on several rifles and have their respective zeros marked by these little rings. For tactical use, this is really not a practical or even desirable feature as scopes are usually setup specifically for one rifle and it would be impractical to try and utilize a single scope among many rifles. Perhaps for a hunting rifle this may work and save money, but not in our line of work. With that being said, the elevation knob has 15 MOA of adjustment per revolution and a total of 80 MOA of adjustment, which is 20 more than the advertised 60 MOA. The clicks themselves are fairly positive with a fairly loud audible click. There is a bit of knob movement, or slop, between the clicks before it actually engages the internal mechanisms. The top of the knob has some aggressive serrations and it is easy to get a good grip and adjust the knob. The cam mechanism can be disengaged to allow the use of the scope knobs in a traditional manner if so desired.

The windage knob is the same size and shape of the elevation knob and has the same four rings used for setting zeros for additional rifles. The clicks are the same and there is 15 MOA of adjustment per revolution. The numbers do count up in both directions with the cross-over happening at 7.5 MOA which provides a good amount of windage compensation before issues may come up with knowing where you are at on the knob. One thing of note on both the elevation and windage knob is that they are marked as being .25″ at 100 yards but yet the manual indicates they are .25 moa. While .25 inches vs. .25 MOA is very close, they are not identical and at longer ranges the difference is significant and should be noted. Leatherwood should probably change the markings in either the book or on the knob to correctly identify the actual distance and to synch up the manual to scope.

There is no adjustable objective on this scope and with a conservative 2.5-10x magnification range you can get away without one and not be hurt if you use a good repeatable cheek weld. It does simplify the operation of the scope and does also help keep the price down. The bell of the scope that houses the objective lens is threaded for a sunshade though it would need to be purchased separately.

The optics on the scope are actually fairly good for the price of the scope. The image is bright and clear from edge to edge, though the reticle is not as crisply defined as in others and the reticle lines are fairly thick, especially at lower magnifications. The extra thickness does help with picking up the reticle in low light conditions, but it hurts when trying to place accurate shots. Everything is always a compromise. The reticle is a mildot reticle in the 2nd focal plane which means the scope needs to be set at 10x to use the mildot reticle in the traditional fashion. This of course would also set the elevation of the cam for 1000 meters so care needs to be taken. The reticle is a bit different than a traditional mildot reticle in that it only extends 4 mils from the center crosshair intersection, instead of the traditional 5 mils. The other difference is the addition of some hash marks near the center; these hash marks are at the half mil mark and are used for bracketing the target for use with the range finding ART system. Zoom in until the hashes cover 1 meter on the target, and then presto, the range is auto compensated for.

For our operational tests we mounted the scope onto our Remington 700P test mule which is chambered in .308 Win and has the standard 26″ barrel and HS precision stock. The rifle typically shoots a bit better than .75 MOA with good match ammo. Since a 20 MOA picatinny rail is always mounted to the rifle we left it on and mounted the Leatherwood scope directly to the rail. The manual indicates not to tighten the side cross nuts tighter than hand strength which is what we did. Right away you will notice that the scope is mounted very high up off of the rifle which we typically do not like; it is better to mount the scope as low as possible without it touching the barrel. In this case we did not have any other option. The mount mated up without any problems with our base and there are even some screws on the front ring of the setup to allow for large windage adjustments using the base and rings if it was needed. One word of caution, like most “hand tight” setups we have used in the past, they do not hold. The cross screws loosened within 20 rounds and we had to monitor them continually through the rest of the testing. Using the provided wing nuts does eliminate this problem according to several other Leatherwood users we were in contact with.

Before we tested the ART system, we wanted to run the scope through the traditional tests that we do for all our scope reviews. In these regards the scope performed only okay. The 6 MOA box test was fairly accurate but the last group was slightly off of the first group we shot and unfortunately, when we performed the 20 MOA measurement test the base had worked loose again and we did not catch it until later, so we are not sure on the accuracy of the clicks beyond what we saw in the box test. The optics performed well and there were no issues with clarity or contrast, the glass quality appears to be pretty good for a lower priced scope.

So now it was time to try out the ART system and see how it did. The concept of the system is actually pretty good and it was used effectively on the M21 back in the Vietnam conflict. It is quick, easy, and somewhat effective. The same concept applies here and it does an okay job of getting fairly close. The first step is to zero the rifle at 250 meters (everything is in meters with the Leatherwood), which is done with the scope set at 2.5x. This is enough magnification to get the zero dialed in, though do not expect any earth shattering group sizes. Once the zero is establish then you can use the charts in the back of the scope manual to get a cam value for your specific load, or find a value that is close to your ballistics. Since there was one specifically listed for the Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr load, we decided to try that ammo out. Once you have the cam value selected, you loosen some screws and slip the cam to that provided value, which was 420 in this case, and then tighten everything back up on the cam. Unfortunately, the values were considerably off; especially the further out you went, upward of 10 MOA at 1000 meters. Leatherwood does offer the suggestion of picking a mid-point and dialing in that range on the cam and then shooting a group, and adjusting the cam to match. This does help getting it closer through the some of the different ranges, but it is still off by a good amount. After fiddling around the best setting we were able to come up with was around 470, but your results will probably be different.

After the shooting evaluation we took some time on some ballistics software and started playing with numbers to see how the numbers might match up better and it seems that the cam on the ART system is geared more toward lower BC bullets than we use in the sniping field. When one dials the ballistic coefficient down to about .35, the numbers start to line up much better and this would make sense for hunting bullets. But with the high BC long range match bullets that snipers use, it seems to not fit well in the ballistic arcs that the ART cam is setup for.

This review was almost two separate reviews, one for the Hi-Lux scope, and the other for the Leatherwood ART system. While they come from the same company they are two distinct parts. The Hi-Lux scope was about normal when compared to other Chinese built scopes with the quality of the mechanicals coming into question, though the glass does appear to be good quality for the price. The ART mounting system itself is still a good concept for combat style long range shooting where quick target engagements may happen, but this ART implementation seems to be out of its element with sniping engagements and seems like it may work better for hunting bullets and rifles. We do not feel that in its current configuration that it would work well on a sniping rifle, though with a change to a higher quality scope and a different cam in the ART system it could work well. One distinct advantage the old original ART system from the M21 had was that it was only employed using M118 ammunition and it was tailored specifically for that round which allowed it to be setup more precise for the cartridge. If that were the case here, it could be made to work well enough for active deployment. The price would go up on both the scope and the mount as quality was increased, but you typically get what you pay for and ultimately it would be a better system for sniping than it is currently.

There Is No Such Thing as ‘Friendly Espionage’

August 13, 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama
Last month we reported on a story published by The Associated Press, according to which the Near East Division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency views Israel as the most serious threat to its secrets. The report cited interviews with several current and former US intelligence officials, who said the CIA views the Israeli spy community as “a genuine counterintelligence threat” to American interests. But Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum and well-known American supporter of Israel, has authored a well-researched response to the Associated Press piece, in which he argues that reciprocal spying has been a decades-old element in Israeli-American relations. He recalls the case of Yosef Amit, a Major in Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, who in 1986 was arrested for spying on behalf of the CIA. Amit is believed to have been recruited by US intelligence in Bonn, West Germany; it is said that his handler was Tom Waltz, a Jewish CIA officer from the Agency’s station at the US embassy in Tel Aviv. Amit was convicted in 1987 and stayed in prison until 1993, when he was released after serving two-thirds of his sentence. Pipes also quotes Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington from 1993 until 1996, who has said that, during his tenure as Israel’s envoy in DC, it was common knowledge among embassy staff that “the Americans were […] tapping our phone lines”, including the embassy’s secure line. Consequently, claims Rabinovich, American intelligence potentially had access to “every juicy telegram” communicated to or from the embassy.

It goes without saying, says Pipes, that the US National Security Agency, America’s signals intelligence organization, which is responsible for intercepting and deciphering foreign diplomatic messages, employs a considerable number of Hebrew speakers whose job is to spy on Israeli government communications. The NSA also receives intelligence from US diplomats and military attachés in Tel Aviv, whose job duties include “eavesdropping on conversations between key staff in Israel and at foreign missions”, says Pipes. He also cites the 2008 book Masterpiece: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence, which was published in Israel as the definitive official history of Israeli spy services (intelNews reported on it at the time). In the book, former Shin Bet officer Barak Ben-Zur  acknowledges that Israel’s officially unconfirmed nuclear arsenal is a prime espionage target of US intelligence organizations, which “routinely sp[y] on Israel to try to gather information” about it.

Pipe’s conclusion is that “states spy, even on allies, and that is okay […]. The mutual spying has few larger consequences”. It is difficult for anyone familiar with intelligence work to disagree with the first part of Pipes’ conclusion. Allies do spy on each other, sometimes more aggressively than on adversary nations, since they do not face as much counterintelligence hazards in allied environments. But it is equally difficult to accept the second part of Pipes’ conclusion —that reciprocal allied spying has few larger consequences— as anything more than simplistic. Sometimes spying between allies does have large consequences. It could be argued that British intelligence activity in the United States during the opening stages of World War II, which was aimed at pushing America to enter the war, was instrumental in changing the course of the War and of history itself. The United States and the Soviet Union spied on each other in World War II, when they were allies, and nobody in their right mind would argue that the spying was inconsequential, particularly in light of the Cold War that followed. Perhaps more importantly, arguing that the intelligence antagonism between Israel and the United States “has few larger consequences” is hardly applicable to the attack on the USS Liberty, the NSA intelligence collection ship that was napalm-bombed by the Israeli Air Force in 1967. The unprovoked attack killed 34 and wounded 170 American sailors, and nearly triggered a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, as the White House believed for a while that the American vessel had come under attack by Soviet jets.

All that is to say that mutual spying between allies can indeed have “larger consequences”, whose precise historical significance is often revealed only with the passage of time. Pipes is essentially correct in stating that all allies spy on each other; but this is not to say that espionage conducted by an ally is necessarily less threatening to its target than that conducted by an adversary. A counterintelligence officer —in the United States, Israel, or elsewhere— who makes operational distinctions between ‘friendly’ and ‘adversary’ spies is a liability to her employer and a threat to her country.