Free Markets, Free People

Inside Our OODA Loop

Something that’s been bouncing around inside my head the past couple of days is that it really seems like al Qaeda (and terrorists in general) have gotten inside our OODA Loop.

For those who don’t know, you can find a really good description of the OODA Loop here and a good summary here. Briefly it’s the decision cycle (“observe, orient, decide, act”) of those engaged in some sort of struggle or competition. The faster and more accurate one’s decision cycle, the more quickly he can disorient and defeat his opponent. By forcing your opponent into a defensive posture, where your moves are not readily or easily discerned, you can outmaneuver and even control what your opponent does — hence, you are inside his OODA Loop. So when I say that the terrorists have gotten inside our OODA Loop, I mean that we are fighting them from predictable, even enemy-dictated stances that make it easier for them to survive and continue fighting.

To some extent, of course, that’s almost entirely what terrorism is designed to do: i.e. affect our decision-making process in such a way as to turn the populace against the government. The terrorists attack soft targets, and the government responds by restraining the freedom of its own citizens, maybe even going overboard. In fact, in countries where a considerable amount of freedom is the norm, most if not all such government restrictions will seem like they are going overboard, because only the terrorists really know how and when they are going to attack next (recall the famous IRA admonishment to Margaret Thatcher: you have to be lucky every day; we just have to be lucky once). The people eventually get tired of the restraints and overbearing policies of the government and either demand a stop to the war against the terrorists or join the terrorists’ cause. Indeed, the whole concept behind Petraeus’ counterinsurgency was an attempt to reorganize our OODA Loop in a way that was not affected by the terrorists’ actions. The idea was to win over the populace to the coalition side by taking the fight to the terrorists and protecting the citizens. When it comes to fighting terrorism on as a nation, however, we don’t seem to have any similar strategy, and that appears to be helping al Qaeda, et al.

That’s not to say that the terrorists will ever truly defeat America and the West, because that’s not ever going to be possible. Militarily, whether speaking in terms of strategy, tactics, policy or just sheer power, they are simply no match for us on any level. Even so, they have become somewhat adept at pushing our buttons in a way that makes us turn on one another, thus weakening our resolve. Keep in mind too that they don’t have to “win” in this struggle, they just have to tie. If we leave Iraq and/or Afghanistan before those nations are able to effectively capable of governing themselves in a peaceful manner, including the ability to keep terrorists at bay, then they will count that as a victory and we will face an emboldened enemy. If we react in predictably defensive ways to every terrorist act, and let them dictate how our government rules her citizens, then we hand them all the controls they need to thrive. And when we do that coupled with a near-pathological fear of offending a protected class of persons, even when we have some really well-founded reasons for distrusting a certain, easily identifiable class of persons, we practically write a script for the terrorists to help us implode.

Just consider how we treat foreign nationals who wish to come to America. On the one hand we keep productive, job-producing citizens out, while allowing watch-listed BVD-bombers easy access:

The question on the visa is critical. No one has a right to a visa to the US. If we have credible information that someone constitutes a threat — and a father’s testimony should be considered at least credible enough to hoist a red flag or two — then the visa should be canceled until more investigation can take place. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we’re kicking out Anatolie Vartosu for being too successful in America while keeping Adbulmutallab’s visa in place because we’re just not sure he’s a radical jihadi. It’s as ridiculous as doing strip-searches on Grandma while allowing a Nigerian on a watch list to pass through two sets of security without a patdown.

The whole point the watch-list and no-fly lists, not to mention the ridiculously random and complicated TSA security measures in general, was to prevent another 9-11 from happening. Yet the only people whom seem to be at all hampered by these government restrictions are those who have no intention of blowing up airplanes.

So in response to the attempted terror attack over Christmas, TSA will apparently adopt a new policy prohibiting passengers from moving during the last hour of a flight. Also, no pillows or blankets during that last hour.

In addition to keeping with its usually [sic] tradition of making policy on a reactionary [sic] basis, this one wouldn’t even have done anything to prevent the attempt over the weekend. The guy was in his seat when he tried to light the explosive device. And the passenger who confronted him got out of his seat to do it.


TSA … equates hassle with safety. For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.

If you’re really cynical, you could make a good argument that they’re really only interested in the appearance of safety. They’ve simply concluded that the more difficult they make your flight, the safer you’ll feel. Never mind if any of the theatrics actually work.

That’s one way of explaining how the cycle of terrorist act/government restriction/citizen agitation works. Or, you could say that al Qaeda is inside our OODA Loop. And we can’t seem to find an effective way to remove them.

Well, that’s not entirely correct. The best way we’ve found of dealing with terrorists is by taking the fight to them, and forcing them to fight for their own ground. When we did that, we severely disrupted their ability to form and execute new plans, and made it increasingly difficult for state-supporters to remain hidden or passive. Of course, our government still took the ridiculous, theatrical approach to safety at home anyway, so the system isn’t fool-proof. Essentially it’s Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy writ large in a place that’s not sanguine about a military presence, but where plenty of us will whine and moan if the theater doesn’t put the show on anyway (while remembering to annoying everyone equally, even if our business cards declare us to be soldiers for Allah). We put them on the defensive, and that’s right they belong now.

Victor David Hanson predicts that we will see the Obama administration start heading that way in the near term, and perhaps it already has. I hope that’s right. Because taking our foot off the gas is not getting the job done. It just lets the enemy get back to steering our bus in the direction they want. Back inside our OODA Loop.

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10 Responses to Inside Our OODA Loop

  • I personally don’t care about loops – hell, they could be Fruit Loops for all I care. What I care about is if this fuggup allowing a terrorist aboard a US aircraft with PETN in his pants happened while George W. Bush was President, the media would be having a cow about now, especially if his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security brushed it all off with “the system is working.”

    That would have been a firable offense. Of course, when Demmies do such things, or make ridiculous statements, the media chalks it up to the holidays. Poor Obama even had to take time off from his 18 rounds of golf to show how out of the loop he truly is.

    I wonder – does he get regular updates on crap like this? And if he is out of touch, how badly must Vice President Toupee be out of the loop?

  • It’s very amusing watching the unprincipled left (but I repeat myself) coming to grips with the fact that Bush was actully right on this issue and they were screaming moron wrong for 8 years.

    Just today I told one of my flaming liberal co-workers (again I repeat myself) that the latest terror attempt Obama’s fault because made them made when he failed to close down Gitmo.  The dumb sh*t was still struggling to come up with an answer when I went home at 6:00pm

  • The only “OODA Loop” that Obama is busy on is his putt.
    Stupid is as stupid does.

  • I don’t expect the left or this Administration to come off it’s “This is a Police Matter” attitude until something really hits them in the face.  To do so would be to admit Bush was right and they would rather sacrifice American lives than ever do that! 

    No matter how buffoonish the Administration reacts to this current incident, they will continue on their merry way, barely acknowleging they dodged a bullet.  Even now “Big Sis” is telling all of the talking heads on MSM that this was an “isolated case” with evidence at hand that it clearly was not!

    In other words, “Move Along, Nothing to see here, Move along!”

  • MichaelW… it really seems like al Qaeda (and terrorists in general) have gotten inside our OODA Loop.

    Um… Are you trying to suggest that there is actually some process for dealing with terrorism?

    In our local fishwrap this morning, I saw an al-AP story to the effect that TSA claims that the confusion caused by hazy, contradictory, and rapid airline “safety” rule changes is deliberate.  Yep, that’s a great plan: keep the terrorists guessing!  Seriously:

    Confused? So were scores of passengers who flew Monday on one of the busiest travel days of the year. On some flights, passengers were told to keep their hands visible and not to listen to iPods. Even babies were frisked. But on other planes, security appeared no tighter than usual.

    The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What’s confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.

    “It keeps them guessing,” transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.

    By not making public a point-by-point list of new security rules, federal officials also retain more flexibility, the DePaul University professor added, enabling them to target responses to certain airports or flights seen as more vulnerable.
    A less charitable analysis would be that the feds aren’t making any rules so that, when another attack occurs, they can plausibly claim that “the system worked” because nobody will know what the system was supposed to be in the first place.  And one would hope that, if the feds had reason to believe that a particular airport or flight was at particular risk, even a more rigid system would allow them to deal with that (then again, this IS the government we’re talking about…).

    This is a recipe for disaster.  The point of having rules is that (hopefully) they provide a uniform, effective framework for prevent problems from occuring.  If the various airports are allowed to do their own thing, if there is no standard, strict security regimen, then the terrorists (who are NOT the pack of poor, ignorant, downtrodden goatherders of liberal fanatasies, but rather highly educated, rich, and sophisticated zealots) will figure out which airports are run by Barney Fife and conduct their operations there.

    If you’re really cynical, you could make a good argument that they’re really only interested in the appearance of safety. They’ve simply concluded that the more difficult they make your flight, the safer you’ll feel. Never mind if any of the theatrics actually work.

    This is the real problem, and, to the extent that there is an OODA loop operating at all, this is what it is:

    OBSERVE – People are frightened by the prospect of being murdered by terrorists on an airplane and expect us (i.e. politicians and bureaucrats) to do something about it.  On the other hand, we don’t want to irritate our lefty voting block and we especially don’t want to appear to agree with those nasty ol’ reich-wingers and their paranoid obsessions with “terrorists”.

    ORIENT – We have to make the hoi-poloi think that we’re on the job while not opening ourselves up to charges of racism OR adopting an arrogant, cowboy security policy that would be a de facto admission that the wingers have been right about the threat of terrorism man-caused disasters all along.

    DECIDE – We’ll conduct lots of investigations that will drag on until people have forgotten about this debacle (that won’t take long), promise to get the terrorists who did this (hopefully, nobody will ask us how we plan to do that), make a lot of foolish, contradictory, inconsistently-applied rules so that people THINK that the terrorists will be stopped (or, at least, grow so frustrated that they’ll give up!), and make sure to never, ever talk about the ethnicity or religion of the alleged terrorists.

    ACT – Let’s do it!

  • The point of the OODA Loop is that focused, nimble, action-oriented process is essential to winning. 

    Successful counterterrorism requires the same freedom to act as the organization you are trying to defeat.  It also requires the authority and ability to make real time decisions in a coherent manner.

    Obama cannot seem to decide and act.

  • There are many OODA loops, from tactical to strategic. Sun Tzu aside, defense is weaker because you cede the initiative to the enemy. We can not protect everything at every time. We must use economy of force in creating defenses against terror attacks on airplanes. Use the Parreto Principle. We already know that we should spend most of our effort inspecting and interrogating male travelers who use cash and have no luggage. Most of our resources should be focused on collecting and evaluating information. A key part is the requirement that all the systems can talk across organizations. I’m guessing that one of the reasons we don’t share information very well is that our IT requirements work at cross purposes. There should be a single standard platform for information sharing and we should not tolerate any dissent about X or Y being theoretically better at doing Z. A good plan well executed now is better than the ideal plan that never arrives.
    The other key piece is the will to take the fight to the enemy. I’m all for Reapers and even cruise missiles when they can be employed effectively. But ultimately, sometimes you have to send operators into dangerous places to do risky things.  Read about the number of times that we could have gone after Bin Laden before 2001. What was most important? Risk avoidance. That caused us to subcontract the dirty work to local nationals who were motivated by cash. That caused us to be reluctant to execute because of the fear that civilians might be killed in the action.
    Our leadership in many cases is afraid of the consequences of success.
    Lastly, I hear people renewing the call for airport security on the El Al model. There are certainly some principles that might be worth adopting. But the idea that we could adapt their system, which covers limited numbers of specific flights, to a continent wide (worldwide?) network of thousands of flights with millions of passengers does not pass the laugh test.

  • Pareto Principle or 80-20 rule would lead us to spend our resources on muslim men between 18 and 45, political correctness be damned.
    Sharing information is a no-brainer.  I can go to any military hospital and give them my ID card, put my finger into a scanner and verify my identity.  As a condition of traveling to the U.S., passengers should have biometric IDs cross referenced to security files.  (Not a bad idea for voter registration either.)