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Another Case of Incestuous Amplification

How Drones Destroy Their Own OODA Loops

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

Gaeta, Italia 

This report by independent journalist Gareth Porter is extremely important.  Porter, one of our finest investigative journalists, highlights one of the central problems in drone warfare:  How imperfect feedback loops drive our perceptions of effectiveness and thereby distort our decisions regarding regarding the  follow on strike operations in the drone campaign.

The result is a self-referencing phenomenon known among Pentagon reformers as incestuous amplification. The process is quite simple: Imperfect feedback distorts the Observations flowing into the Orientation of the Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action (OODA) loops of the strategists and decision makers who are making the tactical and strategic decisions regarding future drone strikes.  This disconnects the entire decision process from reality, because Orientation is the analytic/synthetic activity in the mind that makes sense out of the Observations, including the feedback on a strike’s effectiveness.  The disconnect of Observations from Reality allows preconceptions and belief systems  to hijack the synthetic function of Orientation.  This produces a kind of ideologically-based self-delusion that biases the analyses leading to tactical and strategic decisions.  Put bluntly, the decision maker sees what he or she “wants” to see rather than “what is,” and acts accordingly.  The decision-making result is almost always a decision to do “more of the same,” thereby amplifying the mismatch further.

Without explicitly saying so, Porter has provided us a case study on how the entire strategic decision process has folded inward on itself, and in so doing, has disconnected the flow of decisions from the unfolding reality.  But there is more.   Porter describes how that disconnect has flowed out of the White House, the CIA, and Pentagon into the Orientation of the think tanks and the mass media, and by implication, into the collective mind of the population at large.  The delusional power of this incestuously amplifying OODA Loop is one reason why apparachiks in the White House, the CIA, and the Pentagon are telling reporters that drone warfare is the “only game in town.”  They literally can not think of anything else.  Fighter pilots have a term for the death spiral created by this mental state: they are out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas.

And, so it is not at all surprising that Porter shows how the only game in town is producing a series of tactical and strategic blunders — i.e., killing of innocent civilians and children.  These blunders will increase the resolve of our adversaries and blow back to violate the criteria of a sensible grand strategy.

This self-inflicted wound is feeding a still expanding strategic and grand strategic debacle that any student of the seminal work by the American strategist, Colonel John Boyd  would recognize in an instant.  (Readers interested in learning more about Boyd grand strategic, strategic, and tactical theories will find a compendium of his briefing papers here.)

A debacle is now inevitable, because, as Boyd demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt, our decision makers have made precisely the kind of disconnect in their own OODA loops that they should be trying to inflict on their adversary’ OODA loops — and in so doing are writing themselves a prescription for increasing disorientation, which will increase the confusion and disorder among the drones making these decisions, resulting inevitably in a failure at the tactical and strategic levels of the so-called counter-terror war.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

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