Track Records Don't Count in a Town that Likes Pretty Faces

September 20, 2001

Comment: #427

Discussion Thread - See the Compendium of Articles on Fourth Generation Warfare

Fourth Generation Warfare ceased being an abstract concept on September 11 with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and what may have been an attempted attack on the White House or the Capital. As is usually the case, the talking heads, the defense intellectuals (we call them intellaaaaaaaaaaactuals), and the Oracles In The Cave have been hitting the airwaves dispensing their instant wisdom to the American People.

But one thing is different this time: The People are afraid.

Only weeks before the 9-11 Atrocity, many of these experts were confidently predicting "Revolutions in Military Affairs," where all-knowing, all-seeing technologies would ferret out the enemy and destroy him with unerring precision weapons, robotically fired from safe sanctuaries in a bloodless technowar. Yet, these gurus don't even know with certainty who attacked us or why.

Almost 6,000 Americans are dead; the World Trade Center is a pile of rubble; even the Pentagon was hit (something Hitler was unable to do.) The whole country became traumatized as it watched in horror as the attack unfolded in Technicolor. Yet the same gurus who in August claimed they could see clearly twenty years into the future, who were writing action plans for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on their visions of the techno revolution, are now hitting the airwaves, dispensing their instantaneous wisdom on a subject that was totally absent from their visions and their funding recommendations -- Fourth Generation Warfare (aka 4GW)

They are doing a gross disservice to a traumatized public, a disoriented public, a People desperately in need of information to contain their growing fear of the unknown - the very deep kind of fear that Franklin Roosevelt poetically described when he calmed the nation in his first inaugural address by saying

Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

A better way to calm the fear and build the commitment for the sacrifices that will undoubtedly be necessary is to repair the national OODA Loop. A good step in that direction would be to listen to the voices in the wilderness that were actually much closer to the mark than the Oracles in the Cave, who are now doing all the talking. A better understanding of the nature of 4GW will help our nation build the collective Orientation now needed to synthesize and prosecute an action plan that decisively neutralizes this threat, without inadvertently triggering the death spiral of world-wide religious war.

No one has all the answers, but thoughtful people have been thinking and writing about the 4GW problem since October 1989. For the last several years now, the webmaster of the Defense and the National Interest Website has been assembling a compendium of their thoughts and essays on a special page dedicated to 4GW. It can be found by clicking here.

I urge the readers to begin repairing their OODA Loops by reading and thinking about "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation," which was published in the October 1989 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette (an article that has been distributed at least three times in earlier Blasters.) You can go to it directly by clicking here.

Attached below for your study and contemplation is the most recent article, "The Next Conflict," (published this summer well before the September 11 tragedy). Read it as well.

Careful readers will note that one the authors of the 1989 article, Colonel Gary I. (G.I.) Wilson - a man I am proud to call my friend -- is still busily beavering away in the trenches.

Too bad GI Wilson is not a talking head, but then, track records don't count in a town that likes pretty faces and false profits. [pun intended].

Chuck Spinney

Begin 4GW Reading Program

"The Next Conflict," By Col. G.I. Wilson, USMCR; Maj. Frank Bunkers, USMCR; SGT John P. Sullivan, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Intum Magazine [written in Summer 2001, before Sept 11 Attack]

[DNI Editor's note: a version of this paper was previously published by the Emergency Response and Research Institution in April 2001 (384 KB MS Word document.)]

Our world, including the way we wage war, is rapidly changing. This article briefly explores what lies ahead and suggest ways to interface between military, public, and private agencies involved with intelligence and information gathering to mitigate the impact of those changes.

We face a mixed bag of threats to international stability ranging from fourth generation warfare to "stateless" or asymmetric warfare. Two central ideas shape what we see as emerging with fourth generation: the nation-state's loss of its monopoly on war and the return to a world of cultures in conflict. Martin van Creveld in his, The Transformation of War, argues that the modem paradigm for warfare, in which nation-states wage war for reasons of state, using formal militaries that fight other organizations similar to themselves is historically unusual.

Throughout most of man's history, war was non-Trinitarian. Families waged war, as did tribes, cities, religions, and even commercial enterprises. They fought for cropland, loot, women, slaves, and for sacrificial victims to their gods. Often there was no formal army; all males strong enough to carry weapons were warriors. Indeed, an entire people can be a military instrument; mass migration is no less effective today than it was against the Roman Empire. In all probability, future conflict will increasingly be non-Trinitarian and Trinitarian military forces will prove ineffective.

Complex Challenges

One face of the chimera is environmental decline. For example, water is a factor in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict [Spinney's Note: see Comment 425, "The Struggle for Israel's Soul," here]  The intelligence community predicts that by 2015 the availability of water and food, population pressures, and disease will increasingly affect our national security. The unclassified report Global Trends 2015 indicates ecological deterioration could eclipse ideological conflict as the dominant security concern throughout the world. Many conflicts attributed to ethnic differences have environmental underpinnings. The number of wars resulting from environmental decline and the ready availability of weapons is expected to rise sharply in this century.

Our nation expects the U.S. Marine Corps and the intelligence community to overcome the challenges of less conventional and more aberrant fourth generation warfare. Our central security concern of the past half-century, communism has moved from center stage while the massive civil conflict and the rise of rogue nations possessing ominous agendas, has moved in from the wings. Equally important, we must recognize that many future manifestations of fourth generation warfare remain unidentified. Thus, the accurate analysis, and prediction of terrorism, and other fourth generation warfare activities are necessary to ensure national security. The chimera looms ahead, not all of its faces identifiable, but most of them spiked and dangerous.

The rapid diffusion of information, people, and technology aids the proliferation of advanced weaponry. The threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue elements is real. Future targets of choice are nonmilitary. Beyond the focus on terrorism, demographic pressures contribute to environmental degradation, sapping economies and undermining political stability. Every nation depends upon their natural resources for survival and trade. Thus, we ask, does the disruption of any other foundation more surely lead to conflict?

Competition for Food, Water, Energy, and Information

Competition for food, water, energy, and information are likely catalysts for future conflict. Either natural or political events might trigger an expeditionary response. Conflict may include intrastate strife, trans-border raids, or eco-terrorism like Saddam Hussein's burning the oil fields during the Gulf War.

Water and oil are only two examples of resource conflicts. One in five countries suffer from water shortages. Conflicts already brew over such rights and will worsen without workable agreements for all global resources. And, as history promises, some of those agreements will fail. When they fail when will we intervene, politically, economically, or militarily to secure the rights of an ally? At what point will these issues threaten our own standard of living through the increased cost of exports and imports- or, even the struggle over water resources in the American West?

The recently published FM 3-100.4, Environmental Considerations in Military Operations, examines the affect of water on conflicts in the Middle East, saying:

In the West Bank, population growth in the Jordan River basin increased demand for the scarce supply of fresh water. Over pumping the aquifers depleted the water supply and degraded some aquifers by causing saltwater intrusion from the Mediterranean. Because 40% of Israel's ground water originates in the former occupied territories, Israel sought to protect its water supply by limiting water use during the occupation of the West Bank. The stringent restrictions on water use imposed upon Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon became another point of tension in the conflict of the 1960's to 1970's.

Fourth Generation Warfare and Over Reliance on Technology

Meeting fourth generation warfare threats head-on requires a commitment to forward thinking and military readiness. The Marine Corps Vision Statement provides insight on how leadership, bold, innovative people, and technology can be key to adapting naval expeditionary forces for fourth generation warfare.

Innovation and bold thinking advanced our military capabilities for decades, ensuring the Corps' position as the world's premier force in readiness. We must call on these attributes again, while guarding against over reliance on technology, to meet the demands of new global challenges and ever-increasing demands on our limited resources and operational forces. Recent events show us that advanced technology warfare is ineffective against terrorism and fourth generation opponents. Advanced technology warfare only works when the enemy plays the same game; however, advanced technology warfare cannot simply ignore terrorism and fourth generation warfare.

Fourth generation warfare emerges from a broad range of destabilizing factors ranging from borderless regional gangs to attacks on financial infrastructure by international organized crime. A novel threat-blend of crime and war is coalescing, posing new operational and intelligence challenges.

War and Crime are Increasingly Intertwined

The intertwining of war and crime yields ethnic enmity, refugees, and criminal exploitation. Conflicts are often fueled by criminal enterprises. These criminals are traditionally low-tech in nature, but are beginning to exploit technology. Access is facilitated by money from organized crime; thus, blurring the distinction between war and crime.

The cyber revolution empowers small non-state actors and favors networks. "Netwarriors" have already emerged. The Zapatistas use it for propaganda. Anti-global trade activists use it to coordinate violent demonstrations. Seattle was just the beginning; violent netwar, as a facet of fourth generation warfare, is already here.

Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are increasingly networked and control large sums of money. At least a trillion and a quarter US dollars flow through TCOs each year. Drug cartels have already openly fielded political candidates in Colombia. It is not hard to imagine these entities actually capturing a state (and its war making capabilities).


There are far too many intangibles to forecast the ability of these groups to affect world stability. In our wired world organizations of humble political or economic means may perform high-impact actions with unforeseeable consequences. For the Corps, as illuminated in the Marine Corps Vision Statement, the operational challenge is to ready our forces to address a broad spectrum of unexpected, and largely ambiguous threats. The Marine Corps Concept for the 21st century is the window which casts light on future missions and gives a keen appreciation for fourth generation warfare: the unexpected and undefined threats.

Intelligence Personnel Can Underwrite Our Ability to Succeed

Operationally focused Marines and skilled intelligence personnel can underwrite our ability to succeed in fourth generation warfare venues. As Col Ennis notes in the Oct 99 Marine Corps Gazette,

The first step in operationalizing intelligence needs to be physical integration of intelligence personnel within critical warfighting functions. In a move aimed at gaining better understanding of the operator's requirements, the Marine Corps recently effected a change in the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) G-2 organization that will result in the physical integration of dedicated intelligence cell into key functional sections of the MEF staff. Dedicated intelligence cells (still subordinate to the MEF G-2) will soon be embedded within the G-3's current ops, future ops, and force fires sections; and within the G-5's plans section.

No Shortages of Threats

Clearly there are no shortages of threats to stability and security. While our military is without challenge on the conventional battlefield, the new forms of conflict can erode our advantage if we do not innovate and adapt. The end of the Cold War shattered the bipolar-superpower hold on the world that made it a fairly stable place with well-understood rules.

Those with conflicting cultural or religious ideologies are likely to challenge us according to their rules, not ours. Their modus operandi blurs the distinctions between crime and war, criminal and civil, combatant and non-combatant. These emerging challengers will embrace unconventional means not amenable to conventional responses.

Today, there are few rules and even fewer people playing by the ones we have. The world is held hostage by cultural and ethnic conflicts once buried under the weight of the superpowers. We have witnessed the results: death, destruction, destabilization, and desolation.

Advanced Technologies: Once the prerogative of the few

Advanced technologies once the prerogative of the few are now finding their way into other hands. The genie of proliferation, like the genie of information, is out of the bottle to stay. High-tech applications for waging war: advanced software simulation, GPS data, and high-resolution satellite imagery are commercially available to anyone who can pay the price. Most worrisome are terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction. Adaptive terrorist tactics are surfacing that are central to the asymmetric threats we face today.

Col Vincent J. Goulding, USMC, in Parameters, Winter 2000 - 2001 writes, "Asymmetric warfare..." is " old as warfare itself...." Col Goulding highlights the dangers in preparing only for the forms of warfare that suit us: high-tech, mechanized combat on gently undulating plains. Col Goulding concludes that we are inviting future enemies to engage us in such places as teeming urban slums, where a simple RPG fired from behind a fruit stand can destroy a $4 million armored behemoth while live on CNN.

Asymmetric tactics focus on negating the advantages conventional military forces. It seeks ways to defeat our high-tech with low, or no, tech; leveraging our addiction to technology into vulnerability. This has lead terrorists to seek chem-bio weapons and small nuclear devices. The threat is not the possibility of a military defeat, but rather with the destruction of civilian urban areas. To be sure the United States faces increased threats from domestic and potentially transnational terrorist organizations with motives and methods not before seen.

While technological advances are being pursued to fortify our fighting capabilities to deal with methods not yet seen, we must not ignore operational and tactical solutions to these challenges. In some situations low-tech operational solutions are viable alternatives to complex high tech systems. We must safeguard against the over reliance on technology by emphasizing people over things. This is especially true in dealing with some global threats.

The Marine Corps, law enforcement, and the intelligence community recognize there is a broad class of threats that endangers security around the world. The likelihood of a rogue state or non-state entity will use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. interests is growing. In answer to this, the United States Marine Corps is boldly expanding its cooperation with other services and agencies to provide a world-class chem-bio and consequence management response capabilities.

Blurring Between War and Peace

Ours is now a world without front lines. The United States homeland is increasingly susceptible to attack. The potential assault goes well beyond a terrorist with a truck full of explosives. Weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks, directed energy weapons, explosives, and information operations can all appear at once; with distinctions between foreign and domestic, cyber and physical, criminal and military blurred and ambiguous.

This post-modern conflict may be so ambiguous and continuous that the conventional descriptions of an operational environment may all but disappear. As William S. Lind et al noted in their article in the Oct 89 Marine Corps Gazette, "The distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between 'civilian' and 'military' may disappear."

Where Does Intelligence Fit In

Where does intelligence fit into this complex, shifting mix of emerging threats? Col T. X. Hammes in the Sept 94 Marine Corps Gazette explains,

Fourth generation war will require much more intelligence gathering and analytical and dissemination capability to serve a highly flexible, interagency command system. At the same time, the fact that fourth generation war will include elements of earlier generations of war means our forces must be prepared to deal with these aspects too.  ... Therefore, it will be essential for national leaders to make an accurate analysis of the war they are about to enter. The complex mix of generations of war with their overlapping political, economic, social, military, and mass media arenas makes determining the type of war we are entering more critical than ever.

Intelligence must determine the type of war we face and thwart those who wish to undermine our national security. Simply put; intelligence needs to provide I&W and HUMINT to discover the terrorist's plans and intentions. We must provide intelligence for a variety of threats and missions, in a milieu characterized by changing technology, changing tactics, and changing information needs.

In the current environment, national strength is measured not just in military might but also in information. Intelligence exists to provide warfighters with a decisive advantage. Intelligence alerts the commander to opportunities and dangers they face. It identifies trends that combat leaders need to think about while there is time to shape and/or influence an outcome. Intelligence must give us the clearest possible insight into situations, players, and hidden agendas so our leaders can decide quickly how, or even if, to engage.

Intelligence must also be able to warn of any surprises a warfighter may have to face. Lack of situational awareness is a major impediment to executing appropriate actions and applies not only to fourth generation, but also to complex crisis management events. We face a range of threats: terrorism, crime, asymmetric and cyber warfare.

We need to understand their dynamics and consider them in the context of urban operations. For example, understanding three-dimensional terrain features and density are vital pieces of information when faced with a rescue mission in a third world mega-city, inhabited by gangs, criminal free-enclaves, and sprawling favelas. A world of constant change demands constant intelligence updates. Adapting and improvising must be a way of life.

How do we do all this? A new intelligence paradigm needs to be crafted. Forging this capability will require defining the threat environment, collaboration between the military services and a variety of actors (including the intelligence community and non-traditional players such law enforcement), experimentation, and finally implementation. As a starting point, we will need to fully explore the emerging operational environment: What are its characteristics and boundaries; which are its actors; what means are at their disposal; and, what are their corresponding capabilities and intentions? This will help quantify risk and provide insights into deterrence, containment, and early engagement of threats.

We must develop tools and approaches to sort pertinent information from noise. Additionally, we need to illuminate the mission essential tasks of potential adversaries by exploiting both traditional tools and the contemporary information infrastructure through better use of open source intelligence (OSINT), deception, and development of cyber-intelligence (CyberINT) and HUMINT. Combining traditional tools, HUMINT, OSINT and CyberINT can assist in identifying the precursors and indicators of violence that may trigger military response. Adopting the concept of "Deep I&W", that is extending sensing to capture trends and potentials prior to an overt threat in order to minimize the OPFOR advantage, is essential. To do so, sensing, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts will require a flexible, integrated analysis and synthesis component.

Adapting to novel and emerging threats requires a blend of old and new skills. Anticipating the new faces of war and nature of the next conflict is arguably the most important task facing Marines and our intelligence community. The task is exceedingly difficult. Clark L. Staten, Executive Director & Senior Analyst Emergency Response & Research Institute (ERRI) concludes, "The nature of global conflict is changing. It is the considered opinion of the ERRI that there is a general paradigm shift underway in regard to how future conflicts will unfold".

We need to focus sharply on what lies ahead. We need to further develop our OSINT, HUMINT, and cultural intelligence capabilities and integrate them. Our intelligence must focus more on cultural and social paradigms, not just military order of battle. We need to expand relationships with civilian experts such as the Marine Corps and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies did with the co-creation of the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities in December 2000. The center's focus is on exploring innovative ways to deal with nontraditional threats to our national security. Working with military, public, and private agencies, the center conducts research into operating force capabilities required by the Marine Corps and joint warfighters for small-scale operations and contingencies around the world. This kind of exploration could help multiple disciplines develop new intelligence applications and approaches to emerging fourth generation threats and fight the quickly mutating chimera that inhabits the intersection of crime, terrorism, and war.

The intersection of crime, terrorism, and war, is witnessing a need to address the intelligence requirement for Homeland Defense. In today's changing environment the Department of Defense, has announced meetings of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Intelligence Needs for Homeland Defense. According to a General Accounting Office report here is inadequate security at 11 major U.S. military facilities that leave the bases vulnerable to possible terrorist attack and theft of military equipment.

In testimony before Congress in June of this year, Maj. Gen. David Bice, Commanding General of the Marine Corps station at Camp Pendleton in California commented, "There is a shortfall in resources. Everything done to date has been at the expense of something else."

For the most part there is no CONUS Base, Post or Station force structure for robust I&W and critical information capabilities to address asymmetrical attacks involving international terrorism that may transcend our borders, domestic terrorism, and WMD on military and facilities and infrastructures. Increased reliance on military civilian employees and contractors only adds to complexity of the issue.

The reaction of the civilian and contractor employees to attack on CONUS bases associated with deploying operational forces cannot be overlooked; especially with regards to the large number of base civilian and contractor support to deploying operational forces which could be exploited if not addressed and covered in AT, FP, and intelligence efforts.

The threat to the CONUS installations posed by terrorists' attacks involving IED and/or weapons of mass destruction could overwhelm CONUS bases and our capabilities to handle a domestic crisis and consequence management events. The United States faces increased threats from domestic and transnational terrorist organizations with emerging motives and methods not before seen.

The dangers we face may be unprecedented in their complexity for we are seeing more and more terrorists looking to acquire technology for hostile purposes.

The Assessment of the Impact of Chemical and Biological Weapons on Joint Operations in 2010 Defense Intelligence (Short Title: CB 2010) exposes serious vulnerabilities that could be exploited by asymmetrical employment of chemical and biological weapons both in CONUS and in the operational theater on our power projection system and therefore degrade our nation's ability to respond.

Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, Intelligence Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, in his Statement Before The Senate Select Committee on Military Threats and Security Challenges Through 2015 notes, " Terrorism remains the 'asymmetric approach of choice' and many terrorist groups have both the capability and desire to harm us".


Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Fourth Generation Warfare