Sunday, September 07, 2008

Operation Phoenix Too?

Bob Woodward was on CBS's Sixty Minutes tonight, flacking for his new book on the war. One point that caught my eye was his references to a secret new program to assassinate al Quaeda and insurgent leaders - a program he considered to have been the crucial one in the the big decrease in violence that we have seen in recent months - bigger than the surge.

We had a program in Vietnam called Operation Phoenix. It too was a targeted assassination program, and similar programs are not exactly a totally modern invention. Woodward, though, seems to consider the present program a breakthrough in military technolgy comparable to the tank or machine gun, and won't disclose how it works.

My first instinct is to scoff, but there has been rapid development of technologies, and some of them might even be relevant. It would be tempting to speculate, especially since the targeted organizations are already likely to have some clues. I won't do so, but I do worry that any technology of assassination that works well in a country like Iraq, might be even more effective in relatively open democracies. The President or senior military who talk to Woodward have clearly chosen to reveal a very important clue (or perhaps red herring). If the former I would prefer that they not reveal the rest - the world already has too many highly effective military technologies.

The danger of a partial revelation like this is that it will provide the additional clue our enemies need to copy or negate it, or even inspire them to develop something even more effective.