By Mike BakerCo-Founder, Diligence/Former CIA Covert Field Operations Officer

If you're like me, this past week you were somewhat surprised to hear the Obama administration declare that the majority of Taliban members are apparently uncommitted dudes looking for a paycheck. During a press conference held at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Vice President Joe Biden announced the startling findings while discussing U.S. plans and intentions for Afghanistan.

The vice president noted that only five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible. He described this small segment as "... not susceptible to anything other than being defeated." As the reporters scribbled furiously and pondered the meaning of incorrigible, Biden added that another 25 percent of the Taliban are "... unsure of their commitment to the insurgency." He referred to this group as "slackers". Finally, he noted that the remaining 70 percent are simply in it for the money.

The PWB has obtained secret transcripts of a recent telephone survey conducted by the Washington pollsters Fenster Spenkman. As part of a research project funded by the last of our taxpayer dollars, a team of market researchers based in a call center in Dublin contacted every member of the Taliban listed in the Afghan white pages.

For those of you looking to duplicate the research, you'll find Taliban right after Shariah Law in the phone book and just before Terror. While many appear to have unlisted numbers, there were enough available to provide a sound statistical database using Lazlo's Didactic Polling Thesis first outlined in the seminal 1938 study, "Poll Size Matters; A History of Telephone Surveys".

In the interests of transparency, good government and filling up a few paragraphs, we've decided to release some material from actual calls made by the research team.

Date: 24 February 2009

Call Center Employee: Redacted

Subject: Call #4, Call recipient: Commander Mullah Omar and wife Judy

Audio Transcript

Dialing... ringtone... connection established:


"Yes, good morning... is this Mr or Mrs Commander Mullah Omar?"

"Who is this?"

"Hi there, I'm calling from the Spenkman Center for Research and Policy. How are you today?"

"How did you get my number?"

"Super, glad to hear that. Would you have a few minutes to answer some survey questions?"

"What do you want?"

"Excellent. Okay, question one... Are you or have you ever been a member of the Taliban?"

"I will track you down like an infidel dog..."

"Okay, well, I just have yes or no as options for the first question."

"Fine, yes."

"Right, moving on then. Question two... would you describe yourself as a) incorrigible, b) pensive, c) moody or d) cash strapped."

"You know, I gotta' go with a) incorrigible."

"Are you sure?"

"Uh, yeah, definitely a). Gozzar upstairs in 12B is always telling me to lighten up... chill out he says. What a tool."

"Fine. Question three... fill in the blank with the most appropriate answer; Most of my Taliban colleagues are in it for the blank.Would the answer be a) excitement, b) money, c) babes or d) excellent benefits package."

"Well... lemme' see... that's a good one... I'm gonna' say b) money, although we just got dental so the benefits are a close second."

"Alright then, last question; In your opinion, where is Osama Bin Laden currently located?"


"Never mind, just a little call center humor... seriously, last question; What percentage of your colleagues would you describe as unfocused and lacking in jihadi fervor?"

"Huh... I gotta' say they all seem pretty committed. We had 100 per cent attendance at last night's build-your-own-bomb-belt seminar, and that's even with the American Idol results show on the telly. Honestly, I ain't so crazy with that fourth judge."

"Any guess for the percentage?"

"That Paula Abdul though... what a looker, I'd sure like to cover her up with a nice burka... you remember the music video with that cartoon cat? Boy could she move..."

"Shall I put you down for 25 percent?"

"What? Sure, whatever... any chance you know Paula Abdul? Now there's a reason to give up jihad. You think she's married?"

"Thank you again sir for taking the time to answer our questions. Have a super day."

End Call.

So, as you can see from the exhaustive efforts of the PWB staff to transcribe hours of audiotape, the administration is using sound research techniques and quality statistical data to make logical assumptions about the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman however later scoffed at the Vice President's assertions, noting that "... everyone knows Spenkman's an idiot and couldn't produce decent polling data. A curse on Spenkman's poll."

The point being, we're all very busy trying to take the Iraq surge strategy and apply it to Afghanistan. In theory it's a nice concept and makes people feel all hot and sweaty. Divide and conquer... just like we did with the Sunnis.

Problem is, there are a multitude of differences between Afghanistan and Iraq. Parts ain't parts. We are being delusional if we somehow believe that we can identify a significant "moderate" element within the Taliban that can work with a democratic, secular Afghan government to create stability. What a load of crap.

The Taliban understand strength, patience and jihad. You think they'll be much interested in negotiating as long as they feel they have a chance to win? Good luck with that. Negotiate from a position of strength...that's an old chestnut but perhaps we ought to dust it off before we engage in further dealings with the Taliban, not to mention Iran, Russia, Syria and others who are likely bemused by our recent foreign policy efforts.

We need a serious rethinking of our goals for Afghanistan and we better engage in that exercise soon. Rather than stoke the public's expectations that somehow we're going to buck history and turn the Afghan people into democracy loving federalists with a penchant for modern life and free thinking, we ought to get real and explain that our goal in Afghanistan is simply to prevent it from becoming yet again a safehaven for jihadists. Anything more than that is gravy.

I don't mean to be pessimistic... loyal PWB readers know I'm a glass half full guy. However, while we should always be open to ideas, including the theory of finding a "moderate" Taliban element, we ought to be realistic based on history, past performance of the Taliban and current realities on the ground, both in Afghanistan and, worryingly, in Pakistan.

Just my opinion. Til' next week, stay safe.

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Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as President. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.