Voice

What a Piece of Junk!

Imperial investigators report weaknesses in Death Star management, performance.

From:  Imperial Government Accountability Office (IGAO)
To:       Lord Vader
Cc:        Imperial Navy

Subject: Death Star Requires Better Project Management and Oversight

Background

The Death Star project (also known as the Planetoidal Combat Ship, or PCS) has been the single largest defense acquisition in Imperial history, and has run considerably over budget. At the request of Emperor Palpatine, the IGAO has conducted a performance review of the Death Star, with reference to best practices in procurement and project management. Our research is based on numerous interviews with Imperial Navy leaders as well as Imperial Ministry of War senior executives. Our findings are summarized below:

Frequent Turnover in Senior Personnel Hampers Continuity. Competent management is key to a project as large as the construction of a moon-sized warship. Yet the unfortunate deaths of the last five Imperial admirals in charge of the Death Star project have contributed to a lack of continuity and institutional memory. We estimate that repeated asphyxiation of project managers has set back construction of the PCS by 16 months. Senior Imperial Navy leadership informs us that there have been difficulties in recruitment of qualified candidates, with several promising officers suddenly requesting early retirement when queried about becoming project leaders. Recommendation: Motivating project leaders through incentives such as cash bonuses, slaves, and land grants on habitable worlds. A reduction in the use of strangulation as a motivational tool.

Anti-Fighter Defenses Have Been Addressed, But Much Work Remains to Be Done. We note that the Imperial Navy has responded to our earlier concerns about vulnerability to Rebel Alliance fighters. Defense towers with close-range anti-fighter weapons have been installed at multiple and interlocking locations around the Death Star. Imperial Navy leadership is confident that any attacking fighters would be destroyed. We concur that anti-fighter defenses are formidable, yet we remain concerned that remaining blind spots could be exploited by aggressive rebel pilots. Recommendations: Additional anti-fighter towers be added, as well as a larger complement of TIE fighters.

Inadequate Reactor Shielding Has Not Been Mitigated.  The Death Star is sufficiently armored to withstand repeated hits from the full Rebel battle fleet. However, the thermal exhaust port of the PCS's main reactor is not armored, and the shaft to the reactor is not compartmentalized to deflect blast effects. During our interviews with experienced TIE fighter pilots, they unanimously agreed that the port is so narrow that no fighter -- not even one flying down the approach trench -- could obtain a sufficient firing angle, especially when attacking craft would be under continuous fire from shipboard weapons and interceptors. The prime contractor, Darkside Technologies, also assures us that the reactor is sufficiently shielded to withstand a hit from a proton torpedo. We reiterate the concerns stated in our previous report regarding the validity of the contractor's testing of reactor protection, and we remain concerned that penetration of the port could result in a catastrophic explosion of the main reactor. Recommendation: A permeable barrier over the port to allow heat to escape while deflecting projectiles, as well as compartmentalization to channel blast effects. Independent third-party validation of Darkside Technologies' testing of reactor shielding.

Anti-Intruder Defenses Are Strong But Still Vulnerable to Raids by Special Forces. Imperial Navy leaders expressed confidence that the Death Star's large complement of Imperial stormtroopers, as well as extensive use of access-controlled doors, are more than sufficient to defeat any raids to seize or disable the battle station. We concur that intrusion control systems are strong, but note that a small, fast-moving team could disable key systems. Recommendation: More guards at key locations as well as mobile patrols.

Inadequate Marksmanship Training Has Not Been Addressed. Stormtrooper Command (STORMCOM) requires all troops to receive extensive blaster training. Yet our audit of their marksmanship tests finds that 70 percent of stormtroopers cannot hit a large stationary object, such as a ship, at a distance of 10 feet. This calls into question the ability of the Death Star crew to repel boarders. Recommendation: More rigorous marksmanship training. Increased use of guard bots.

Insufficient Analysis of Alternatives to Death Star. While tests indicate that the Death Star can vaporize planets and thus encourage loyalty to beneficial Imperial rule, the Imperial Navy has not demonstrated that a fleet of Star Destroyers cannot effectively accomplish the same mission through devastation of a planet's surface at far less cost. Recommendation: Further modeling and simulation is needed to determine whether conventional ships can perform the same Imperial loyalty mission as the Death Star.

More Analysis of the Force Needs to Be Performed. The Imperial Intelligence Agency assures us that that the Jedi Knights have been eradicated. Furthermore, one Imperial admiral (prior to his recent demise) stated that the Death Star's crew will be sufficiently trained and motivated to withstand "Jedi mind tricks." Nonetheless, the potential of a Force-trained attacker to achieve significant disruption of the Death Star cannot be discounted. Recommendation: Further research is needed to determine effects of the Force on personnel and equipment, and whether adequate countermeasures can be developed.

Agency Comments:

From the Imperial Navy: We disagree with these findings. This battle station is impregnable. Any attack by Rebel fighters or troops will be quickly annihilated.

From Lord Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

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Argument

Tea Leaves in Tashkent

Who will follow Uzbekistan’s aging dictator?

There's a joke about Leonid Brezhnev, the uni-browed and droopy-jowled party chief who ruled the Soviet Union for so long that he ossified into buffoonish senility, serving as a convenient symbol of the overall national stagnation. In the joke, a doddering Brezhnev asks his granddaughter, "So what would you like to be when you grow up?"

The girl answers, "Why, grandfather, of course I'd like to be the chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union." Upon hearing this, Brezhnev scratches his signature slicked-back hair and says, "Hmm, but why would the party need two chairmen?"

The vignette about the perils of the transfer of power in the 1970s Soviet Union also applies to the Uzbekistan of today. Central Asia's most populous country and an important U.S. ally in the Afghan war, Uzbekistan is also a police state with a derelict economy, a Gulag-style prison system -- and a deepening succession crisis, amplified by a recent rumor about the president's allegedly ailing heart and increasingly rare public appearances.

Islam Karimov, the shrewd and ruthless president, is 76 now, the same age Brezhnev was when he died in office. There are other similarities. Like Brezhnev, Karimov has piloted his country's economy into a dead end, with upbeat official growth statistics often belying a Soviet-style command economy where businesses succeed or fail based on their proximities to the regime's flunkies.

Like in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, the general absurdity of political and economic life goes dutifully unchronicled by Pravda -- the Russian-language paper still bears its communist-era name -- which might devote a page to the actuarial celebration of the latest cotton harvest while ignoring the forced labor responsible for it.

A career Communist party boss, Karimov also bears a political resemblance to another aging strongman, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, before he was overthrown. Like Mubarak, Karimov has declared war on anything resembling organized Islam, jailing thousands of people on specious charges of Islamic militancy and subjecting them to horrific torture. These witch hunts risk turning the threat of extremism into a self-fulfilling prophecy and eventually strengthening the hand of political Islamists.

The defining political event of modern Uzbekistan was the 2005 massacre of protesters in the town of Andijan where the government had imprisoned a group of respected businessmen on trumped-up charges of Islamic conspiracy. When those merchants escaped in an armed jailbreak, hundreds of peaceful protesters flocked to the town's central square for an impromptu rally. Government troops shot and killed hundreds of civilians, including children, and the regime crossed the Rubicon. Since then, security services have seen their influence rise, while Karimov has grown increasingly mistrustful and focused on little more than his own political survival.

This frozen narrative of political senility and repression was suddenly cracked in March when an overseas opposition group claimed that Karimov had suffered a massive heart attack. Never mind that the sourcing was thin and the opposition leader -- Turkey-based Muhammad Solih of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan -- clearly has an interest in fomenting political upheaval in Tashkent. The rumor ignited anew the question of what comes after Karimov. "Even if he didn't suffer a heart attack, one would need to have invented one to forecast the possible scenarios in case the aging leader is unable to carry on," Daniil Kislov, the editor of Fergananews.com, wrote recently. The regime dismissed the rumors, and Karimov eventually flew to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin. His eldest daughter Gulnara said on Twitter that all reports of her dad's ill health were "pure craziness" considering that he danced for "20 minutes in a row" at an Uzbek holiday celebration.

In fact, it is Gulnara, often called "the princess," who has been a perennial frontrunner in the parlor game of guessing Karimov's successor. A businesswoman, poet, jewelry designer, diplomat, philanthropist and a pop singer, Gulnara is certainly unburdened by excessive self-doubt. (She has compared herself to Lady Gaga and recorded a duet with French tax exile Gerard Depardieu.)

A week or so before the alleged heart attack, Gulnara spoke to Celebrity Scene News, a publicity mill run by American TV producer Pete Allman, whose ample mane appears to have been blow-dried by an idling jet engine.

In the video interview, Allman says, "I see how good you are for your country. This is why I ask you how would you feel if you were president of Uzbekistan?" Unlike the little girl from the old Soviet joke about Brezhnev, Gulnara doesn't admit to dreaming of running the country. But she doesn't rule it out either. "Well, I probably won't be able to answer this question before I try it," she says. "I'm comfortable where I am right now. I'm a person who doesn't really take steps before there's an assurance to be able to do a certain project." Analysts are generally split on her true intentions, and there are other people in Karimov's entourage who might be tapped to replace him. Some in Uzbekistan talk about a "Putin scenario," a reference to a shaky Boris Yeltsin handpicking a successor with one overriding criterion: security for himself and his family.

So if not Gulnara, who? Karimov's long-serving prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyaev is sometimes mentioned as a possible contender for the throne, as is his deputy Rustam Azimov, who's in charge of the financial sector. In a rarely seen spat at the top of Uzbekistan's political elite, Gulnara recently accused Azimov of corruption in a public and unceremonious way. The allegations sound particularly rich coming from a woman widely believed to have parlayed her own illustrious pedigree into spectacular wealth. The spat may indicate the beginnings of a pre-succession scramble, or it may simply be a clash of business interests. There surely are other candidates for the top post whose names aren't yet publicly known. The National Security Service, whose influence has ballooned since Andijan, must be particularly keen to field its own man in the contest for the Uzbek throne.

One thing we can be certain of is that the next leader of the country is unlikely to come from outside the regime. Unfortunately for the people of Uzbekistan, the story of the Uzbek opposition is one of squabbling, insignificance, and irrelevance -- and sometimes of outright farce. Through intimidation, arrests, harassment, and occasional murders, the regime henchmen of course made sure things would be this way -- witness the bullying of Sanjar Umarov, a prominent Uzbek businessman. When Umarov evinced political ambition, the regime accused him of a litany of economic crimes and packed him off to prison for 14 years. Partly under American pressure, he was released early and has since been living in exile in the United States. Umarov's political demise is significant because he could have been an attractive proposition for Uzbekistan's business elites and the secular middle class many of whose members quietly detest the Karimov regime. By snipping Umarov's ambitions before he could garner any sizable national following, Karimov sent a clear signal to those elites. More ominously, several anti-regime activists have been assassinated abroad in murky circumstances. The opposition has also had its share of self-inflicted wounds stemming from isolation, competing ideologies, and an exaggerated sense of self-worth, all amplified by frustration at being marginalized in Uzbekistan.

Nobody personifies the listless state of the anti-Karimov opposition better than Solih, the purveyor of the hear-attack rumor, who has lived in exile for more than two decades and waded deep into Islamist waters. Wanted on trumped-up terrorism charges in Uzbekistan, Solih has publicly sparred with other anti-Karimov activists, most of them also scattered abroad and lacking any meaningful political toehold inside Uzbekistan.

The murky upcoming transition in Uzbekistan may not be a daily presence in international headlines, but it's no doubt being closely watched in both Washington and Moscow. Over the past few years, the geopolitical situation around Uzbekistan has played into Karimov's hands. Washington reprimanded him for Andijan, but quickly sought to win back his favor to assure support for the Afghanistan war. Uzbek territory has been crucial for the trans-shipment of goods to the U.S. troops there, and Uzbekistan will play a major logistical role during the looming withdrawal of U.S. forces. So there's an immediate tactical interest for Washington in maintaining the status quo, however ugly, inside Uzbekistan. Karimov has proven adept at playing the United States and Russia against each other, and exploiting their regional rivalries. Karimov must be even more paranoid about succession than he was a few years ago when the so-called color revolutions upended the placid post-Soviet political space. The more recent, and much more violent, Arab Spring must have made him even more careful about planning for life after office, if there's such a thing. And despite some analysts claiming to know what he's planning to do, only Karimov really knows, and we are left to parse the symbolism of a heart attack that may or may not have occurred.

A line from his daughter's poetry says it best: "If our thought was all transparent and clear and indefeasible despite subjective ways... Then we might call our life quite simple and pay no heed to small destructive symbols."

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