Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Relieved For Speaking Out?

Capt. James Fanell, the director of intelligence and information operations at U.S. Pacific Fleet has been relieved and reassigned (1).  Fanell, you may recall, publicly voiced concerns about Chinese military intentions.

"Fanell warned during a February public appearance that a recent Chinese amphibious exercise led naval intelligence to assess that China’s strategy was to be able to launch a 'short, sharp war' with Japan, an unusually frank assessment about a closely watched region."

"Fanell has also stated that China is at the center of virtually every maritime territorial dispute in the Asia-Pacific and that the Chinese were engaging in a blatant land-grab of islands that would enhance their exclusive economic rights to fishing and natural resources."

Notably, his comments did not match the we're-all-friends commentary being put forth by the Administration and CNO Greenert.  As the article stated, Fanell's comments,

"... ran counter to the Pentagon’s talking points on building ties to the increasingly assertive Chinese navy ..."

To be fair, the article makes it clear that the reason for Fanell’s relief has not been made public.  It is possible that the relief is for reasons unrelated to his comments.  I find that highly unlikely.  I’ll withhold final judgment pending more information but this has the stink of retribution about it.  We’ll keep a close eye on this one.

(1) Navy Times, "Senior Navy intel officer removed for controversial comments on China", David Larter, 10-Nov-2014,


  1. He spoke out
    He was relieved

    He was not relieved for speaking out, just give us a week to dragnet through his life and find a reason for relieving him...

  2. Funny thing is, when someone speaks about russia its business as usual.
    But somehow US diplomats always avoid angering china with sharp talk.

  3. Yeah....but. I remember the comments from February and took a deep breath while thinking he was either an outspoken individual or was told to send a message. If it turns out it was the former, my experience shows the "I think you will serve us better in this position" conversation happens in hours, days or weeks; rarely months.
    Too much time between events.

  4. Understand when someone like Capt. James Fanell speaks out, in uniform, he is representing the Government; his statements are viewed as DoD speaking. He is entitled to his opinion, but his opinion, when in uniform and at a function representing the government needs to be tempered.

    Also remember that not every nation and culture shares our views on free speech and such, so comments by a government official that contradict government efforts toward a political position with foreign entities can be dismantled be the wrong words (even if the words are pure truth).

    Also, remember, politics is not a fair fight or is it a speak your mind at all times forum. It is a delicate balance of comments and actions to reach agreements and understandings.

    Any company who's employee spoke out with such statements, government or non-government, would also face similar consequences.

    Fair and just, probably not, but moving someone like Capt. James Fanell out of his role given his public comments is appropriate.

    PS. Before you slam my post as a "party line" and "insult to our rights of free speech" please consider the person, his uniform, his position and our Nations efforts to reach political goals with China.

    1. AJF, you're missing the key aspect of this and it's probably my fault for not spelling it out in the post. The issue is not free speech or whether I think you're parroting the party line. The issue is twofold. First, is the timidity in our approach to China. We won't even speak their name. This prevents both the uniformed faction of our country from properly preparing mentally and tactically for a Chinese confrontation. How can our soldiers properly prepare when they can't even speak the name? How many service members are not even aware of the depth of the problem with China when we censor any unfavorable reference to them? There is also the public aspect to this. The civilian faction of the population also needs to hear the objective status of our Chinese relations. We're the ones who support and fund the military. Now, you may debate whether a military person is the proper person to convey that information but eventually the military is going to need to confront China and if they haven't made the case for it, they're going to be surprised when there is no support for them.

      The second, and more serious, aspect to this is the chilling effect it has on individual initiative and objective analysis. How many of the rank are going to speak out, even within proper Navy channels and forums, after having seen what happened in this case? It's far more likely that the lesson learned by analysts will be that the upper leadership doesn't want to hear objective analysis that isn't 100% in line with public positions. Who will risk winding up measuring polar ice cap thickness because they voiced a contrary opinion even within proper forums? What if some Admiral doesn't agree?

      When you stomp on objectivity and analysis you get a culture of the Emperor's Clothes. If this was simply a matter of speaking the right words in the wrong forum, it could have been handled without visible punishment in such a way that others would not draw the "shut up" lesson.

  5. Forced to agree AJF. His job is warefare not political commentary and speculation ( that's what this site is for ;P )

    I know this is horribly off the cuff, but ..
    Proberbly not the best intelligence office if you go blabbing what you know to the world at the first oppertunity.

    The guy clearly felt strongly and also felt he wasn't being listened to, we have to consider the Snowdon effect.


    1. See my reply to AJF.

      "Proberbly not the best intelligence office if you go blabbing what you know to the world at the first oppertunity." - There is immense value to be had in letting your enemy know that you recognize their threat and are prepared to respond to it. Consider the nuclear MAD doctrine. We made sure that the Soviet Union knew exactly what we were capable of and what we intended to do - that's how you achieve the deterrent effect. Had our nuclear capabilities been a total secret, they would have served no deterrent effect. Similarly, if China believes we don't see them as a threat and have no preparations for dealing with them, they won't feel any deterrent effect, will they? In fact, I would argue that our recent actions (Line in the Sand fiasco, lack of respons to Putin, etc.) have conveyed that we won't actually respond to anything China does - heck, they're actively land-grabbing in the S/E China Seas and we're simply watching.

      The guy gave away no tacitcal, operational, or doctrinal information. He was simply stating what China was doing.

      Have to disagree completely with you on this.

      Now, it would be far better to have the President making the case rather than a Naval intelligence person but better him than nobody.

      Give this some more thought and see if you feel any different.

    2. I’m in agreement with you. And I think the President has made it ABUNDANTLY clear you are committed to a Pacific pivot (euphemism though that is).
      Take your point no OPSEC touched, but really? It’s not good though is it?
      It’s a pity he felt the need to state this. It’s bleeding obvious, but yet he felt that if nobody else did he needed to. And I’m interested in why he thought it needed doing, what is it really he felt the public wasn’t getting, and why he felt they weren’t (being allowed to see?) seeing? Clearly something deeper here. Glad you’re watching.

    3. This makes me go back to one of the debates during the Presidential election. (I'm going to try to keep this apolitical, as I don't think it matters which party is in).

      A point was made about fleet size, and the President said 'Well, my admirals aren't telling me there is a problem' or something to that effect.

      That bothered me for a long time. Even then we knew that the Navy's ship building plan was bogus given the money they were going to get; and that if that plan failed they couldn't meet their own missions.

      The Navy leadership *SHOULD* and *MUST* be telling the President and Congress 'You want us to do 'X'. We can't do it unless we have 'Y' number of ships. Currently we won't. Change something.'.

      It made me worry that Naval leadership had become so political that the flags had lost the ability to 'speak truth to power', so to speak, for fear of career setbacks.

      Where is the backbone that spurred the comment 'There isn't enough thrust in Christendom to make the F-111....' ?

      To bring it back around, maybe a Captain shouldn't be saying these things, but an Admiral sure as heck should be. 'Mr. President, China is the main potential enemy in our pacific pivot, and we have to be dealing with that head on...'

  6. This is why CAPT Fanell was reassigned or relieved ...

    "His comments, which ran counter to the Pentagon’s talking points on building ties to the increasingly assertive Chinese navy, were picked up by media outlets from The New York Times and Reuters to London’s Financial Times and Daily Telegraph. Top defense officials, including the 4-star head of the Army and the Pentagon spokesman, were forced to respond to his comment in the following days."

    Like it or not, the Pentagon has talking points and when Government officials publicly contradict those points, it weakens our political position. CAPT Fallen should have chose his words more carefully.

    As to your points, timid approach with China? Let's see, POTUS is over there shaking hands with Chinese leadership working on political initiatives, should SECDEF be back here saying China is a threat that we must forcefully deal with? What sort of message does that send?

    It is in the best interest of both countries to maintain a relationship that gives the appearance of cooperation and mutual understanding, but do not be fooled for a minute about the threat we pose to one another. China is well aware of military capability solely focused on their country, just like we are with them. Rank and file understand this and are aware of the threat, no surprise there.

    Second, within the proper channel, rank and file does speak out; this event only reinforces the need to speak within proper channel. Senior leaders (not all, but what organization does?) do listen to their people and foster healthy discussion as to real and perceived threats, political strategy and difference of opinions, but within the proper channel.

    Think about a company like Apple and an senior employee coming out and telling the public during a conference his opinion of how Samsung really has a great product and if you can not see that, you are blind; not happening.

    I appreciate your opinion and thank you for respecting mine. The crux of this issue is the person and forum, neither one were correct and way out of his swim lane to comment on.

    1. AJF, you seem to think I'm supporting the Captain's "right" to speak publicly about anything he wishes. I'm not. A serving officer must observe the proper forums and limits. My issue is with the very public and severe punishment for a very mild statement of very obvious Chinese actions and intent. As I stated, the proper "guidance" could have been applied without such a public and severe penalty. The reaction went way beyond reminding service members to consider their words when speaking publicly and, instead, appeared to come crashing down on the don't-you-dare-disagree-with-us side of things that will suppress objectivity and analysis even within proper channels.

  7. AJF, is right .
    The US did not have any trade relations with the USSR , despide having MAD did not stop treaties like SALT.

  8. CNO ... My sense is that the Captain's comments caused a stir very far up the food chain, perhaps even a rumbling from the White House, my opinion. For sure, based on the article, and at a minimum, "Top defense officials, including the 4-star head of the Army and the Pentagon spokesman, were forced to respond to his comment in the following days"; that usually leads to more that the proverbial "slap on the wrist".

    As someone who served in Govt leadership roles, I was often asked my opinion on contraversial and/or "hot-button" topics, but my opinion as a Govt. official was not appropriate, not to the news media or in a public forum. I did not feel censored or forced to toe the party line, I felt it was my duty and obligation to support the policy and direction chosen by my seniors. If I could not support, I always had the choice of leaving govt service.

    Your comment on "don't-you-dare-disagree-with-us" is embellishing the issue, the issue is the contradiction and either the potential or real damage done wrt political efforts with China. Your posts are trivializing again the potential or real damage done by the Captain's comments, I am quite sure behind the scenes explanations and / or apologies happened, again at high levels.

    Frankly, the punishment was not at all very public and severe, it was not published in Navy Times and he was not taken to court martial. He was reassigned a different position within the organization.

    Our opinions differ on this, and yours make me think hard about mine, thank you for that. Look forward to reading and commenting on future posts.

    1. AJF

      There is another issue at large here and it is the absolute lack of candor coming from senior generals and admirals and senior DoD officials, even when called to testify in front of Congress.

      Remember Eric Shinseki and remember how Iraq turned out...

      Frankly, the rolling operational and procurement disasters that characterize the U.S. military are largely the result of the CYA attitude and misplaced assumption that the nation's officers serve the administration rather than the nation.

      More professional candor please!



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