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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 28, 2011 / 22 Adar II, 5771

Pentagon spends billions to fight roadside bombs, with little success

By Peter Cary and Nancy A. Youssef






JewishWorldReview.com |

cASHINGTON — (MCT) In February 2006, with roadside bombs killing more and more American soldiers in Iraq, the Pentagon created an agency to defeat the deadly threat and tasked a retired four-star general to run it.

Five years later, the agency has ballooned into a 1,900-employee behemoth and has spent nearly $17 billion on hundreds of initiatives. Yet the technologies it's developed have failed to significantly improve U.S. soldiers' ability to detect unexploded roadside bombs and have never been able to find them at long distances. Indeed, the best detectors remain the low-tech methods: trained dogs, local handlers and soldiers themselves.

A review by the Center for Public Integrity and McClatchy Newspapers of government reports and interviews with auditors, investigators and congressional staffers show that the agency — the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization — also violated its own accounting rules and hasn't properly evaluated its initiatives to keep mistakes from being repeated.

Meanwhile, roadside bombs remain the single worst killer of soldiers as more U.S. forces have been transferred out of Iraq and into Afghanistan. Known in military parlance as improvised explosive devices, the crude, often-homemade bombs killed 368 coalition troops in Afghanistan last year, by far the highest annual total since 2001, when the U.S.-led war there began, according to icasualties.org, which tracks military casualties in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Among the serious questions about how well JIEDDO has spent its billions:

—The agency failed to collect data on its projects, leading a congressional investigative subcommittee to conclude in 2008: "The nation does not yet know if JIEDDO is winning the (counter-IED) fight."

—Some of its spending went to programs that had little to do with its core mission, including $400 million for Army force protection in 2010 and $24.6 million to hire private contractors for intelligence operations in Afghanistan.

—Agency officials misreported some $795 million in costs, the Government Accountability Office said, circumventing its own rules requiring high-level Defense Department approval for projects with price tags greater than $25 million.

—JIEDDO's staff comprises six contractors for every government employee, a ratio that its outgoing director acknowledged needs to be reduced.

— While the agency was mandated to "lead, advocate (and) coordinate" anti-roadside bomb initiatives, more than 100 groups and initiatives inside and outside the Defense Department continue "to develop, maintain and in many cases expand" their own work, the GAO found.


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Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine and an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, said the Pentagon and its anti-IED agencies, including JIEDDO, could do far better in preventing casualties from roadside bombs.

"So as long as the IED metric keeps going up, and as long as we keep taking the majority of our KIA (killed in action) casualties from IEDs, then they've all been unsuccessful. Period," he said.

One U.S. soldier who was based in Baghdad in 2008 said: "We were out there every day. We studied our destroyed vehicles, and (the enemy's IED tactics) kept changing. So we kept trying new ideas, anything, to stop them. JIEDDO didn't help us." The soldier declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, who recently stepped down as the agency's director, acknowledged missteps but said they were inevitable because the agency was tasked with producing devices quickly.

"We fund things," said Oates, who was the agency's third director in five years. "Sometimes we fund things that don't work. Some call that waste; I call it risk."

One of the things that apparently didn't work was the Joint IED Neutralizer, created in 2002 by an Arizona start-up called Ionatron. Looking like a pair of boxy golf carts, the JIN fired ultra-short pulse lasers followed by a half-million-volt lightning bolt of electricity, and its makers said it could detonate the blasting caps that triggered IEDs from well outside blast range.

In 2005, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz authorized $30 million for the JIN despite skepticism from scientists, who said damp ground or dust would render the device useless. During test runs in Afghanistan in 2006, the JIN was disappointing: It had trouble climbing steep mountain terrain and experienced safety problems, continuing to shoot lightning bolts after its switch was turned off.

After the JIN received some publicity, an insurgent website published ways to defeat it. The test vehicles were shipped back to the United States.

In mid-2006, shareholders filed two class-action suits against the JIN's makers, alleging that the firm had concealed the fact that the vehicle wasn't capable of meeting government specifications. The company, which had changed its name to Applied Energetics Inc., denied the claims but settled the suit in September 2009 by paying $5.3 million in cash and another $1.2 million in stock to the complaining shareholders. The firm didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

Still, the project wouldn't die. With a $400,000 earmark from Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and $1.5 million more from JIEDDO, the Marine Corps hung the JIN on the front of a mine roller. A slide from a May 2009 Marine Corps briefing shows a device attached to mine rollers shooting a bolt of electricity into the ground.

"People have been trying to use a Tesla coil" — a transformer that can produce very high-voltage discharges — "for years to defeat mines. It has never worked," said Dan Goure, a former defense official who's a vice president at the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area research center.

The devices JIEDDO designed to detect roadside bombs at a distance didn't work out, Goure said. They included airplane- or drone-based radars, long-range radars to sniff out buried control wires, and detectors to sense explosive ingredients such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Other projects that were started but abandoned include: Alexis and Electra-C, which emitted waves to detonate IEDs but interfered with jammers; an unmanned Humvee called Forerunner that soldiers said "induced operator vertigo" and was hard to control, according to a JIEDDO report; and a high-powered microwave emitter called BlowTorch that was designed to defeat heat-triggered IEDs but which insurgents figured out how to overcome.

"We were throwing new technologies into this like fast-food orders at a diner," Goure said.

JIEDDO officials said the agency quickly terminated programs that weren't promising. But the GAO and some congressional staffers countered that the agency has never been good at choosing or steering its projects.

"It's been a weakness from the beginning. They don't have good controls over start-ups," said Bill Solis, the director of defense capabilities and management at the GAO, which has authored several studies on the agency.

JIEDDO spent more than $3 billion on jammers to thwart radio-controlled IEDs, which most say was a good idea. It bought mine rollers to attach to the fronts of vehicles. However, critics note that what many consider the most successful anti-roadside bomb program was only marginally funded by JIEDDO: the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, now operating mainly in Afghanistan. While JIEDDO purchased the first 250 MRAPs, designed to withstand roadside bombs, it was a separate MRAP task force that bought more than 22,000 of them for $36 billion.

Oates, the agency's former director, has said the "greatest return on the dollar" has been training soldiers to detect and respond to roadside bomb attacks.

The GAO noted that the agency spent $70.7 million from 2007 to 2009 on "role-players in an effort to simulate Iraqi social, political and religious groups" at Pentagon training centers.

At one training site, the agency spent $24.1 million to make steel shipping containers resemble Iraqi buildings.

"I just couldn't believe it," said a former congressional staffer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.

The agency's new director, Lt. Gen Michael Barbero, took over earlier this month fresh off a tour in Iraq. Among his tasks will be collecting data on what works and what doesn't, and improving relations with Congress, which had complained in the past about a lack of information to evaluate the agency's performance.

In debate over the 2010 Pentagon budget, for instance, the House Armed Services Committee threatened to withhold half the agency's money "until the committee is provided JIEDDO's detailed budget and program information."

Few in Congress wanted to be seen giving short shrift to the fight against roadside bombs, however. Year after year, the agency has received the federal funding it requested, to the tune of $20.8 billion over six years.

Roadside bomb attacks continue to increase in Afghanistan, averaging roughly 1,500 per month at the end of last year. The number of U.S. troops wounded by IEDs skyrocketed to 3,366 in 2010, compared with 2,386 during the previous nine years combined, according to data JIEDDO collected.

Despite years of effort, soldiers have long had only a 50-50 success rate in detecting bombs before they explode. That ticked up to 60 percent in Afghanistan in recent months, Oates said — thanks largely to better local intelligence and aerial surveillance as well as on-the-ground technology — but it's too soon to tell whether this marks a long-term trend.

The agency's future is unclear. While some of Oates' predecessors argued that the agency should be a permanent part of the Pentagon because the fight against roadside bombs is global and ongoing, some in Congress have argued that it should be terminated at the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oates, for his part, said that JIEDDO "is not a permanent organization, and we do not seek to be one."

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(This article was reported and written by Peter Cary of the Center for Public Integrity and Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers. Shashank Bengali of McClatchy contributed. The center is a nonprofit investigative journalism organization based in Washington. Cary is a freelance writer who formerly headed the investigative reporting team at U.S. News & World Report.)

© 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.