Cluster Munitions Defense Department Iraq Iraq War (2003-11) Iraqi Army Persian Gulf War Shanahan, Patrick M (1962- ) Uncategorized United States Army United States Defense and Military Forces

A Myth That Won’t Die About a Gulf War Weapon, and Why It Matters

At the end of Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, the United States Army was extolling the performance of America’s new and technically advanced weapons. Making their combat debuts were the Patriot missile, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Abrams tank and a somewhat curious looking truck that looked like a cross between a tank and a shipping container: the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, or M.L.R.S., with the chassis and treads of a Bradley and two packs of six rockets on its back.

Each rocket carried 644 dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, or DPICM grenades, which looked like D-cell batteries with a nylon loop streaming from the top. The trucks were designed to fire 12 of these rockets in less than one minute and spread 7,728 small explosive charges over 30 acres. The rockets could be fired deep into enemy territory — dropping millions of explosive charges onto large groups of armored vehicles — without American forces ever having to get near enemy territory.

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Rumors were soon circulating that Iraqi soldiers had been so overwhelmed by the M.L.R.S.’s firepower that they had begged the Americans to stop dropping the “steel rain.” For the Army’s long-range artillery units, this phrase became a rallying cry, and a way to evoke the overwhelming victory that left America’s enemy trembling with fear — even today. The problem, however, is that the documentation behind the steel-rain narrative does not exist.

Though some Iraqi soldiers may have been scared of those rockets and their effects, there seem to be no official interrogation records confirming it. There is also evidence that the steel-rain moniker predates Desert Storm in American artillery circles. But those details got lost in the mythmaking.

Just two years after the war’s end, the Government Accountability Office reported that M.L.R.S. rockets failed at far higher rates in combat than the Army had advertised, and that dud grenades left over from rocket attacks had killed and wounded at least 16 American troops. An Army report in the early 2000s noted that even though the M.L.R.S. was deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, “not one rocket was fired because of the lack of precision and potential for collateral damage as well as the high submunition dud rate.” By the 2000s, the Army seemed to be moving away from the old unguided M.L.R.S. rockets all together, and the steel rain myth seemed to go with it.

But it’s now making a comeback. Advocates in recent years have repeatedly and enthusiastically cited the steel-rain myth as they call on the Pentagon to bring back long-range artillery rockets and missiles in the face of rising tensions with Russia and China — and military planners are listening. As the Army looks to invest in an artillery force that was deliberately gutted for much of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to look back at the lionization of M.L.R.S. cluster weapons used during the Persian Gulf war and the misconceptions that surround them.

What is this “steel rain” myth, and where did it come from?

On May 9, 1991, the Army’s chief of staff gave a speech at a gathering of senior artillery leaders at Fort Sill, Okla. — the home of Army and Marine Corps artillery. Gen. Carl Vuono, a career artillery officer, was pumping up the troops with tales of how well the Pentagon’s howitzers and ground-fired rockets had performed in the desert sands of Kuwait and Iraq. “It was training that created the skill in artillery batteries to bring such timely and accurate fires on the Iraqis, which they described as ‘steel rain,’” Vuono said.

What’s inaccurate about this story?

Reporters in the region in February 1991 — during the Desert Storm air and artillery campaign that preceded the ground war — wrote that it was American soldiers themselves who were calling their M.L.R.S. rocket attacks “steel rain.” A now-retired Army colonel named Hampton Hite — who as a captain commanded one of the M.L.R.S. batteries firing at Iraqi targets and was briefly interviewed in a Washington Post report about the rocket system — confirmed to The Times in 2017 that his unit (A Battery, 21st Field Artillery) had used the radio call sign “Steel Rain” since the unit was established in 1986. His soldiers would have been using that name on radio networks heard by many troops in other units, and it is possible that those other soldiers conflated that name with the rockets Hite’s battery fired. “I don’t doubt that these Iraqi P.O.W.s didn’t like being on the receiving end of M.L.R.S.,” Hampton said in 2017. “But I know for a fact that ‘steel rain’ didn’t come from them.”

How did the story spread?

Vuono’s speech injected the story directly into the artillery corps’s bloodstream. He was echoed by Maj. Gen. Raphael J. Hallada, the head of Army field artillery at the time. “As recipients of your firepower and also professional admirers,” Hallada wrote in June 1991 for Field Artillery, an Army journal, “the Iraqi enemy prisoners of war spoke of the terrible, pervasive ‘Steel Rain’ of your cannons and rockets.” The name evolved a bit, with one officer calling it “iron rain” in the same journal a few months later, though he still attributed the coining of the term to Iraqi prisoners.

The Defense Department’s final report to Congress on Desert Storm, published in April 1992, transmitted the narrative to lawmakers, saying that the M.L.R.S. had “a tremendous psychological impact on Iraqi soldiers. Enemy soldiers were terrified of its destructive force, which they sometimes referred to as ‘steel rain.’ ” The myth was then chiseled into stone in the Army’s own history of the war, which was made public in 1993 and sold as a book.

That document also misattributed a mass-fratricide bomblet attack on a unit of the First Armored Division to enemy fire. It correctly states that one American cavalry troop suffered at least 23 wounded when howitzers fired cluster shells at them; however, in a 2017 interview with The Times, the squadron operations officer at the time, Mark Hertling, now a retired lieutenant general, says he believes it was friendly fire that wounded his soldiers. Hertling himself was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he suffered in that incident.

So did Iraqis really surrender because of these artillery bomblets?

A lot of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to allied troops in 1991, but without the Pentagon’s producing the records, there are no publicly available documents that point to Iraqis’ surrendering specifically because of these DPICM grenades falling on them. Responding to a query from The Times, the Department of the Army was unable to locate any records from Desert Storm that cited Iraqi prisoners calling M.L.R.S. “steel rain,” and did not respond when asked if the service would continue to stand by its story. The only sources offering the narrative about Iraqis doing so are those written by Army artillery soldiers in the months and years following Desert Storm, citing secondhand accounts.

How did these rocket and artillery bomblets perform in combat?

In many cases, they failed to work as advertised. They were supposed to be able to destroy Soviet armored vehicles, with small armor-piercing warheads. But the attack on the First Armored Unit shows that the DPICMs not only failed to destroy Bradley Fighting Vehicles; they also failed to destroy the troop’s unarmored Chevrolet S.U.V.s — even those that took more than one direct hit.

These weapons had a much more pernicious effect, though, that was barely mentioned in the Army’s 1993 history. American howitzers fired nearly 27,450 cluster shells in the war, and batteries fired more than 17,000 submunition-loaded rockets. In all, those munitions disgorged 13.7 million DPICM grenades on Iraq and Kuwait. Pentagon documents estimate that between 10 and 20 percent or more likely failed to explode on impact, littering the battlefield with highly dangerous duds that would still explode if disturbed.

Why didn’t they work like they were supposed to?

During Desert Storm, the simplest reason is that the bomblets often landed in soft sand, when they were designed to hit the steel plates of armored vehicles. These submunitions relied on a simple fuze that needed to hit its target within a certain angle and provide enough resistance to work. Before his 2018 death, Bill Kincheloe, the inventor of that submunition’s fuze, gave multiple interviews to The Times and explained those parameters. “When that thing hits the ground, it has to hit within 45 degrees to fire,” Kincheloe said. “If it hits at 46 degrees, it won’t fire.” Kincheloe said that the sloped sides of tire tracks and footprints left in the sand could provide enough of an angle to send the submunitions tumbling upon impact, instead of detonating. The problem was even more acute because in early 1991, frequent and unusually intense rainstorms made the sand those bomblets landed in even softer. “If you dropped them on the soft sand, about 60 percent would go off,” Kincheloe said. “You’d have between 3 and 12 percent plain old duds, and the rest would be ground-impact duds.”

Some lessons of Desert Storm went unheeded when the United States went to war with Iraq in 2003. Whether because of the “steel rain” myth or not, the military still considered DPICM weapons desirable. One Army unit fired nearly 800 M.L.R.S. rockets after the invasion, and at least one Marine artillery unit shot cluster artillery shells in combat.

Their use had some unfortunate and completely foreseeable negative effects on civilians and American troops alike. A dud DPICM fired in a strike on a suspected insurgent position in late March 2003 exploded after Lance Cpl. Jesus A. Suarez del Solar accidentally stepped on it near Ad Diwaniyah, killing him. In July 2003, Cpl. Travis Bradach-Nall died near Karbala after a Marine nearby dropped a DPICM grenade he was trying to defuse, causing it to detonate.

Are these same weapons being added to the Army’s artillery arsenal today?

In the mid-1990s, when the Pentagon decided to make a precision-guided version of the M.L.R.S. rocket, the first variant was going to contain 406 DPICM grenades with more reliable fuzes that would also cause any duds to detonate after a set amount of time. Israeli Military Industries, the manufacturer of these grenades, claimed that they had a dud rate of less than 1 percent — an attractive feature for American military officials. However, despite spending millions in live-fire testing at ranges in New Mexico and Arizona, the dud rate was still around 5 percent, and the program was canceled in late 2008.

After several different Army munition-development initiatives failed to create a new kind of DPICM with a lower dud rate, the Pentagon appears to have given up on the idea. The effort to improve their reliability was driven in part by a directive from the secretary of defense in 2008 that would have prohibited the use existing cluster munitions like M26 rockets and DPICM artillery shells after 2018 because of their high dud rates, and mandated that only cluster weapons with a reliability rate over 99 percent could be used from then on. In the interim, new weapons programs designed to meet that standard were failing in tests, and the Army began to destroy its less-reliable weapons. That changed abruptly in late 2017 when the Pentagon reversed course and decided to simply retain the massive stockpile of older munitions that performed so poorly in Desert Storm. Patrick Shanahan, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, indicated that they would be kept in service for use in a potential war with North Korea.

As for how many of them remain, the military does not typically disclose its weapons inventories in real time, but there is relatively recent data available in online briefings. According to one report, the Army still had 360,192 rockets in its inventory in 2008. And a 2012 Army briefing noted that the service still had more than 3.6 million 155-millimeter DPICM artillery shells.

The Pentagon’s interest in long-range artillery rockets and missiles continues, though it is unclear whether new models will incorporate cluster-munition warheads. The maximum range of the Pentagon’s current inventory of ground-launched missiles was limited since the 1980s by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but following the United States’ withdrawal from that treaty last year, the Pentagon can once again field land-based missiles that can fly more than 300 miles before striking their targets — meaning for the first time in more than 30 years the Pentagon is pursuing nonnuclear weapons that can fly as far as modern technology allows. Defense contractors are already offering prototypes for the Army’s consideration, and Congress allocated $160 million for the program in 2019 and $243 million in 2020.

Alshamrani, Mohammed Saeed Apple Inc Barr, William P computer security Federal Bureau of Investigation Justice Department Mass Shootings Naval Air Station Pensacola Shooting (2019) privacy San Bernardino, Calif, Shooting (2015) Uncategorized United States Defense and Military Forces United States Politics and Government

Barr Asks Apple to Unlock Pensacola Killer’s Phones, Setting Up Clash

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William P. Barr declared on Monday that a deadly shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., was an act of terrorism, and he asked Apple in an unusually high-profile request to provide access to two phones used by the gunman.

Mr. Barr’s appeal was an escalation of a continuing fight between the Justice Department and Apple pitting personal privacy against public safety.

“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence,” Mr. Barr said. He called on technology companies to find a solution and complained that Apple had provided no “substantive assistance,” a charge that the company strongly denied on Monday night, saying it had been working with the F.B.I. since the day of the shooting.

Detailing the results of the investigation into the Dec. 6 shooting that killed three sailors and wounded eight others, Mr. Barr said the gunman, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani — a Saudi Air Force cadet training with the American military — had displayed extremist leanings.

Mr. Alshamrani warned on last year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that “the countdown has begun” and posted other anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadist social media messages, some within hours of attacking the base, Mr. Barr said. “The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” the attorney general said.

The government has also removed from the country some 21 Saudi students who trained with the American military, Mr. Barr said. He stressed that investigators found no connection to the shooting among the cadets, but said that some had links to extremist movements or possessed child pornography. Mr. Barr said the cases were too weak to prosecute but that Saudi Arabia kicked the trainees out of the program.

The battle between the government and technology companies over advanced encryption and other digital security measures has simmered for years. Apple, which stopped routinely helping the government unlock phones in late 2014 as it adopted a more combative stance and unveiled a more secure operating system, has argued that data privacy is a human rights issue. If Apple developed a way to allow the American government into its phones, its executives argued, hackers or foreign governments like China would exploit the tool.

But frustrated law enforcement officials accuse Apple of providing a haven for criminals. They have long pushed for a legislative solution to the problem of “going dark,” their term for how increasingly secure phones have made it harder to solve crimes, and the Pensacola investigation gives them a prominent chance to make their case.

In a statement Monday night, Apple said the substantive aid it had provided law enforcement agencies included giving investigators access to the gunman’s iCloud account and transaction data for multiple accounts.

The company’s statement did not say whether Apple engineers would help the government get into the phones themselves. It said that “Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations” because there are now so many ways for the government to obtain data from Apple’s devices — many of which Apple routinely helps the government execute.

It will not back down from its unequivocal support of encryption that is impossible to crack, people close to the company said.

Justice Department officials said that they needed access to Mr. Alshamrani’s phones to see data and messages from encrypted apps like Signal or WhatsApp to determine whether he had discussed his plans with others at the base and whether he was acting alone or with help.

“We don’t want to get into a world where we have to spend months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance,” Mr. Barr said. “We should be able to get in when we have a warrant that establishes that criminal activity is underway.”

The confrontation echoed the legal standoff over an iPhone used by a gunman who killed 14 people in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in late 2015. Apple defied a court order to assist the F.B.I. in its efforts to search his device, setting off a fight over whether privacy enabled by impossible-to-crack encryption harmed public safety.

The San Bernardino dispute was resolved when the F.B.I. found a private company to bypass the iPhone’s encryption. Tensions between the two sides, however, remained, and Apple worked to ensure that neither the government nor private contractors could open its phones.

Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Barr said that Trump administration officials have again begun discussing a legislative fix.

But the F.B.I. has been bruised by Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated complaints that former officials plotted to undercut his presidency and by a major inspector general’s report last month that revealed serious errors with aspects of the Russia investigation. A broad bipartisan consensus among lawmakers allowing the bureau to broaden its surveillance authorities is most likely elusive, though some lawmakers singled out Apple for its refusal to change its stance.

“Companies shouldn’t be allowed to shield criminals and terrorists from lawful efforts to solve crimes and protect our citizens,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said in a statement. “Apple has a notorious history of siding with terrorists over law enforcement. I hope in this case they’ll change course and actually work with the F.B.I.”

Apple typically complies with court orders to turn over information on its servers. But said that it would turn over only the data it had, implying that it would not work to unlock the phones.

Investigators secured a court order within a day of the shooting, allowing them to search the phones, Mr. Barr said. He turned up the pressure on Apple a week after the F.B.I.’s top lawyer, Dana Boente, asked the company for help searching Mr. Alshamrani’s iPhones.

Officials said that the F.B.I. was still trying to gain access to the phones on its own and approached Apple only after asking other government agencies, foreign governments and third-party technology vendors for help, to no avail.

The devices were older models: an iPhone 7 with a fingerprint reader and an iPhone 5, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Justice Department officials said that investigators have yet to make a final determination about whether Mr. Alshamrani conspired with others. They said that the Saudi government was offering “unprecedented” cooperation but that “we need to get into those phones.”

Mr. Barr and other law enforcement officials described a 15-minute shootout before security officers shot and killed Mr. Alshamrani. During the firefight, Mr. Alshamrani paused at one point to shoot one of his phones once, Mr. Barr said, adding that his other phone was also damaged but that the F.B.I. was able to repair them well enough to be searched.

Mr. Alshamrani also shot at photographs of President Trump and one of his predecessors, said David Bowdich, the deputy director of the F.B.I. A person familiar with the investigation identified the unnamed president as George W. Bush.

Mr. Alshamrani’s weapon was lawfully purchased in Florida under an exemption that allows nonimmigrant visa holders to buy firearms if they have a valid hunting license or permit, officials said.

Law enforcement officials have continued to discuss Mr. Alshamrani’s phones with Apple, they said.

“We’re not trying to weaken encryption, to be clear,” Mr. Bowdich said at a news conference, noting that the issue has come up with thousands of devices that investigators want to see in other cases.

“We talk about this on a daily basis,” he said. Mr. Bowdich was the bureau’s top agent overseeing the San Bernardino investigation and was part of the effort to push Apple to crack into the phone in that case.

But much has also changed for Apple in the years since Tim Cook, its chief executive, excoriated the Obama administration publicly and privately in 2014 for attacking strong encryption. Obama officials who were upset by Apple’s stance on privacy, along with its decision to shelter billions of dollars in offshore accounts and make its products almost exclusively in China, aired those grievances quietly.

Now Apple is fighting the Trump administration, and Mr. Trump has shown far more willingness to publicly criticize companies and public figures. When he recently claimed falsely that Apple had opened a manufacturing plant in Texas at his behest, the company remained silent rather than correct him.

At the same time, Apple has financially benefited more under Mr. Trump than under President Barack Obama. It reaped a windfall from the Trump administration’s tax cuts, and Mr. Trump said he might shield Apple from the country’s tariff war with China.

He had said last month that finding a way for law enforcement to gain access to encrypted technology was one of the Justice Department’s “highest priorities.”

Mr. Alshamrani, who was killed at the scene of the attack, came to the United States in 2017 and soon started strike-fighter training in Florida. Investigators believe he may have been influenced by extremists as early as 2015.

Mr. Barr rejected reports that other Saudi trainees had known of and recorded video of the shooting. Mr. Alshamrani arrived at the scene by himself, and others in the area began recording the commotion only after he had opened fire, Mr. Barr said. They and other Saudi cadets cooperated with the inquiry, he added.

Jack Nicas contributed reporting from San Francisco.

23andMe Defense Department Discrimination DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Genetics and Heredity Tests (Medical) Uncategorized United States Defense and Military Forces

Pentagon Warns Military Personnel Against At-Home DNA Tests

In an internal memo, Pentagon leadership has urged military personnel not to take mail-in DNA tests, warning that they create security risks, are unreliable and could negatively affect service members’ careers.

The letter, which was reported by Yahoo News, was sent on Friday. It does not name any particular DNA testing companies, but counsels broadly against buying ancestry and health tests promoted with military discounts and other military incentives.

Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that the memo had been sent.

“We want to ensure all service members are aware of the risks of Direct to Consumer (DTC) genetic testing,” he told The New York Times over email.

Over the past decade, millions of Americans have purchased DNA tests through companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry with the hopes of connecting with relatives, finding out more about their family origins and learning about how their DNA could affect their chances of developing certain health conditions. In recent years, the tests have become popular holiday gifts.

Commander Robertson said that the tests might provide inaccurate results and have negative professional consequences. “The unintentional discovery of markers that may affect readiness could affect a service member’s career, and the information from DTC genetic testing may disclose this information,” he said.

Genetic tests have more serious employment implications for members of the military than the average office worker, said Frederick Bieber, an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, who served as an Army Reserve officer at the DNA Identification Lab in Rockville, Md.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act — known as GINA — prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. It does not apply to members of the military, however.

“The military can make decisions about operational readiness,” Dr. Bieber said, whereas “in the civilian world there are prohibitions about it.”

If a DNA test shows that someone has carrier status for sickle cell trait, for example, he said it could limit advancement in some aviation specialties.

The memo was written by Joseph D. Kernan, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for manpower. They warn that the tests “could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

The memo does not get into what specifically these risks might be, and Commander Robertson declined to elaborate.

In a statement, a spokeswoman from 23andMe said that the company took great care to protect customers’ privacy.

“Our FDA-authorized health reports have been tested to be over 99% accurate,” she said.All of our testing is done in the U.S., and we do not share information with third parties without separate, explicit consent from our customers.”

An Ancestry spokeswoman said that the company had not targeted military personnel with discounts. “Ancestry does not share customer DNA data with insurers, employers, or third-party marketers,” she added.

The Pentagon does not advise against genetic testing altogether. But service members were encouraged to get genetic information “from a licensed professional rather than a consumer product,” Commander Robertson said.