The Best Defense

68 TTPs too many! Or, why lists like that won't help improve our junior officers

By Captain Jordan Blashek, USMC
Best Defense guest respondent

Captain Jesse Sladek is the type of leader I would want as a commanding officer. ‘Just giving a damn' goes a long way in leadership, and Captain Sladek clearly does. The learning curve for a new infantry officer is steep, and there is no substitute for a good company commander to mentor him through the first few months.

That said, I don't find Sladek's "69 TTPs" particularly useful. They range from insightful (#61: Often commanders ... are not tracking the same reality as you), to obvious (#51: Lead from the front), to uselessly vague (#57: Be aggressive). The majority are lessons every infantry officer should have taken away from the schoolhouse.

The real problem though is that they were written as a list without explanations for why each one is important. To give the simplest example, #2 says to "wake up before 0500 five out of seven days a week." Why? What does that have to do with leadership? The answer might be that a good leader should be the first to arrive and the last to leave every day because it demonstrates dedication and earns loyalty. Or perhaps, if your subordinates consistently see you arriving after them, they will assume you were sleeping while they were working. But waking up at 0500 just for the sake of getting up early is senseless.

Here's a more serious example: TTP #65 says, "70% now is better than 100% an hour from now." But is this always true? The reason it might be true is that in combat there is a trade-off between time and certainty. When making decisions, platoon leaders will never have the amount of certainty they want due to the fog of war. There is risk in acting without enough information, but there is also risk in waiting too long because the enemy is maneuvering too. Since the enemy operates in the same environment of uncertainty, we can gain an advantage by acting more quickly than him if we have enough information. New platoon leaders should think about how they will know when 70 percent is enough. This requires critical thought, a nuanced mind, and the ability to ask the right questions to the right people both in training and in combat.

I appreciate Captain Sladek's effort to pass on good information. I just would prefer fewer TTPs with better explanations for why they are good practices. Just like in a mission statement, the intent -- or the reason why -- is always the most important part of any task. Lists are great for not forgetting things, but they're less effective when it comes to learning valuable lessons or thinking critically. In fact, the military already has far too many lists that feed the uncritical bureaucratic mentality that Major Matthew Cavanaugh so eloquently decries in his inaugural post on

So rather than trying to remember 69 different TTPs, I would suggest that 2nd lieutenants focus on just one: "Think deeply about your job and figure out the why behind everything." Everything else is secondary. The best infantry officers are those who possess a certain mindset developed by thinking deeply about their job, their leadership style, and the challenges they will face in combat. Adopting hundreds of tried TTPs will help you as you develop, but it's the ability to face the confusion of the modern battlefield that matters in the end. That requires a nuanced mind capable of critical thought and the humility to ask the right questions. Such character and maturity required for this can't be assembled from a checklist of TTPs.

Captain Jordan Blashek is an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as a weapons platoon commander and company executive officer in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, deploying in 2011 to Southeast Asia and the Horn of Africa on the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. In 2013, he deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as an advisor to the Afghan National Army's 215 Corps. He graduated from Princeton University in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in international affairs.

U.S. Army/Flickr

The Best Defense

Kafka and Orwell: The rest of this headline has been redacted by the NSA

By Ben FitzGerald
Best Defense office of national security literary affairs

Kafka, not just Orwell, helps us understand surveillance programs.

Edward Snowden's revelations have drawn frequent and understandable references to George Orwell's dystopian vision from 1984, with notable mentions by Judge Richard Leon and Snowden himself. Orwell offers a powerful literary metaphor for understanding the perils of a surveillance state. However another literary master, Franz Kafka, can help us understand the deeper philosophical and governmental issues at hand today.

In The Trial, Joseph K begins his Kafkaesque nightmare in shock at his arrest for an unnamed crime he does not know he has committed. Unlike Winston Smith, K. "...lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force..." making his subsequent treatment all the more horrifying. Judged by an unnamed organization, K.'s world is turned against him, he is consistently denied access to information about his case, and any insight he gains simply reveals more secret bureaucratic machinations, further heightening his helplessness and isolation.

Storing and analyzing people's data without their knowledge "affects the power relationships between people and the institutions of the modern state" in a Kafkaesque manner, as Daniel Solove argues. But the problem goes beyond this argument. Taking a ‘big data' approach to surveillance moves analysis from causation to correlation. ‘Collecting everything' to find potential threats therefore means that the data of the innocent is being used to find the guilty, analyzing all parties without their awareness.

The tools for this collection and analysis aren't intentionally overt as in a totalitarian Orwellian state. Rather, backdoors and bulk collection techniques subtly leverage the everyday technological tools of free and open societies. This ‘dual use' subversion means that, like K., we don't just suffer from the shock of surveillance (or arrest) but from losing trust in our technology and government while also wondering what other actions are being taken without our knowledge. As with K., the answers are unknowable. The director of national intelligence does not provide accurate testimony on their surveillance programs and if Apple, RSA, Cisco and their peers were in fact creating surveillance backdoors with the NSA, they would still be forced to issue similar denials.

We do not yet live in an Orwellian state so, in theory, we have legal recourse as another means to ease our surveillance concerns. Unfortunately, legal process has been perhaps the most Kafkaesque aspect of this whole affair with ongoing challenges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, prohibitions on businesses reporting on NSA data requests, the Department of Justice providing wholly redacted arguments, and judges offering circular arguments.

Considering Orwell and the technical act of collection is vitally important but focusing purely on this problem runs the risk of missing deeper issues or, worse, pushing for reforms that weaken the NSA in areas where it operates legitimately to protect our national security. Transparency and trust, or the lack thereof, are at the heart of both Kafka's writing and our current surveillance issues. Addressing the Kafkaesque aspects of the government wide bureaucracy, policies and laws behind collection programs offers an opportunity to address these fundamental issues.

Ben FitzGerald is a senior fellow and director of the technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He spelunks in the relationship between strategy, technology, and business as it relates to national security. You can follow him on twitter @benatworkdc.