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Obama’s Militarization of CIA

One of the standard tropes about the Central Intelligence Agency, and the whole Intelligence Community, in recent years is that CIA has become excessively militarized since 9/11. To meet the needs of the War on Terror, the story goes, Langley ditched conventional espionage and analysis in favor of drones and paramilitary operations that pleased the White House — especially when George W. Bush lived there — at the expense of traditional CIA missions.

Like all enduring myths, there’s more than a little truth to all this. There’s no doubt that, in response to 9/11, CIA’s counterterrorism mission, which was awfully important before the Twin Towers fell (few remember that then-Director George Tenet told the Agency it was “at war” with Bin Laden after Al-Qaida’s 1998 East African embassy bombings), became even more so mid-morning on September 11, 2001. CIA got into the killing business in a serious way, in many places, developing a close-to-seamless relationship between itself, NSA, and the military’s spooky Joint Special Operations Command to hunt down terrorists worldwide.

This represents the most impressive secret killing machine in military history, with lethal snake-eaters guided by real-time, precise intelligence, and one which President Obama especially has not been squeamish about using. This militarization of CIA has led to criticism of the Agency from outsiders, many of whom didn’t like CIA anyway and really don’t like it when it has its own drones and special operators. They have some valid points to make, not least that years of prioritizing the counterterrorism mission has cost the Agency some capabilities in more traditional espionage and analysis, particularly because Langley’s best and brightest, as always, wanted to be where the action is — that’s the path to promotion and secret fame — and eschewed “legacy” missions in favor of killing bad guys in tandem with JSOC. Rising stars have flocked to the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center — led since 2006 by “Roger,” a convert to Islam (he has a prayer rug in his office), who looks like an undertaker but whose dedication to the mission is legendary — since that’s CIA’s pointy spear. Needless missteps that have gotten CIA officers killed thanks to sloppy tradecraft are grist to the mill of “too-much-CT” criticism.

However, it’s easy to overstate all this. CIA has kept on doing all its traditional missions since 9/11. Spies and analysts have been rolling along, doing what they’ve done since the Agency was established in 1947. Outside critics often miss the big picture, as I’ve noted before, and few journalists and academics have much “feel” for how CIA and the whole IC actually operate. It all looks rather different when you’re inside the bubble.

It’s disappointing that hardly any commentators have noted that CIA is currently being taken down a path of real militarization. The major reforms recently proposed by Director John Brennan are causing serious bureaucratic churn out at Langley. Brennan, using the highly successful Counterterrorism Center (CTC) as a model of how to fully integrate case officers and desk-bound analysts, wants to fundamentally transform CIA by creating a series of mission centers that will bring the spooks and geeks together in one big happy intelligence family.

There are many reasons to be skeptical. First, Brennan, a skilled politician who has Obama’s ear, adheres to the view that what ails CIA are “stovepipes” — what cynics term “cylinders of excellence” — that separate the spooks (the Directorate of Operations or DO) and the geeks (the Directorate of Intelligence or DI). Breaking the 1947-era china, then, will fix all this, or so the theory goes. This seems unlikely, given the IC’s spotty history of reorganizations. Moreover, the differences between the DO and the DI, which can create friction, are mainly due to the very different personality types that occupy them. Besides, few care to note that the CTC, Brennan’s model for CIA integration, actually belongs to the DO.

Brennan’s reorganization plan recasts the Agency along the lines of the U.S. military, where the armed services are the force providers but operations are placed in the hands of the joint Combatant Commands. In this concept, for instance, the DO will train up case officers, then send them to mission centers to do their job. This model, which copies how the Pentagon does business, represents a far greater militarization of CIA than anything else since 9/11, or in the Agency’s entire history. Yet hardly any outsiders have noticed this, much less commented on it.

Many spooks are none too happy about Brennan’s reorganization since they believe it will reduce the DO’s ability to control espionage operations, which seems to be a safe assumption, and what the director actually intends. As a sop, the DO got its old name back — it was rebranded as the National Clandestine Service in the post-9/11 reforms, for no particular reason — while the DI will be renamed the Directorate of Analysis. However, the discomfort in spook circles was serious enough that the Deputy Director for Operations, the mighty DDO, announced his retirement rather than preside over changes that many think equal disbanding the DO, de facto.

The outgoing DDO, Frank Archibald — Langley never admitted his true name but it was outed in the media years ago — was a career case officer and a former Marine with extensive experience in covert action and tours with the Special Activities Division, the CIA’s in-house snake-eaters. The paramilitary SAD, which has expanded enormously since 9/11, has been a focus of criticism by outsiders as its relationship with JSOC has grown exceptionally close.

It’s perhaps surprising, then, that Archibald’s replacement as DDO is “Mike” — another former Marine and veteran paramilitary operator whose last job was the chief of SAD. Brennan leapfrogged over several more senior DO officers to elevate “Mike” to the top spy job, so the intent is clear, as the new DDO is known to be a “team player” regarding the nascent reorganization of the Agency.

Recasting CIA along Pentagon lines and putting a hardcore snake-eater in charge of remaking the DO sends a strong message that Brennan, and therefore Obama, think a more military-like Agency is what the country needs. This, to be charitable, is a debatable point, not to mention something that Congress should be discussing.

It doesn’t help that the media is silent about the implications of all this. Like so many things, the voices that waxed hysterically when Bush was said to be militarizing CIA are quieter when Obama does that, and more. This follows the usual pattern in Washington, DC. CIA involvement in extraordinary renditions — the bureaucratic term for kidnapping terrorists abroad — generated massive media attention during Bush’s second term, yet not much since, while hardly anybody cares to note that the policy actually commenced in 1995, under President Clinton, with the abducted terrorist being executed. Like so many things, it seems to be different when Democrats do it.

Based on the IC’s history, it feels safe to predict that Brennan’s far-reaching reorganization will cause years of churn out at Langley, and eventually there will be a re-reorg to undo these deep organizational changes when they turn out to have created more problems than they solved. That do-over will be the task of the next director, and will be handled tactfully, once Brennan has gotten his Medal of Freedom and his book deal. In the meantime, CIA personnel will do their best to complete their mission, as they have done every day for nearly seven decades.

Obama Just Gave Iran Exactly What They Wanted

Yesterday, President Barack Obama triumphantly announced that after months—nay, years—of parley with Tehran, overt and secret, through myriad interlocutors, an agreement had been reached, at the thirteenth hour, on the hotly contested issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

This is not a final agreement, rather an agreement that, at some point, there may be a final agreement with Tehran. Time has been bought, for whose benefit remains to be seen. Having pushed U.S. negotiators, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, past their appointed deadline for negotiations at Lausanne at the foot of the Swiss Alps, it’s evident that Obama was willing to pay almost any price to get any agreement with Iran. And any agreement he has gotten.

The deal looks substantial on paper. Tehran has agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, the sort needed to possibly produce atomic weapons, by 98 percent and significantly scale back its centrifuges, which is what most of the knotty public debate has been about. However, Iranian negotiators wasted no time raining on Obama’s parade, undercutting the president almost immediately.

Read the rest at The Federalist

Plagiarism is Not Cool

Plagiarism, the misappropriation of another author’s work, represents an unpardonable sin, especially among historians. When your work is not original, it needs to be cited back to whose work it was. While unintentional plagiarism can happen, particularly when an author digests other works voraciously, the intentional kind constitutes a grave breach of professional ethics.

It’s therefore appropriate that historians who commit plagiarism often pay a hefty professional price for it. Every few years a new case pops into the media, leading to questions about just how commonplace plagiarism is: far too common, is the painful answer. Back in 2002, best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose, who churned out books on WW2 at a industrial pace, including the cash-cow Band of Brothers franchise, was found to have nakedly plagiarized not just one, but several of his books. Disgraced, Ambrose died soon after the extent of his fraud was revealed, including that he fabricated many of his historical finds, so he escaped further scrutiny.

Sadly, I have to reveal that a best-selling historian has plagiarized my work. I want to make clear that I have known of this serious breach of ethics for some time, I tried to address it through proper channels, privately, but having received no response to my query, it’s time to out the plagiarist.

The author is Max Hastings, a best-selling popular historian who’s published a raft of military history books and is a columnist for the Daily Mail. Sir Max churns out books at a rapid rate, like Ambrose, digesting and repackaging the works of other historians who do primary (i.e. original) research. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you cite whose work it actually is. Moreover, I enjoyed Hastings’ books when I was young, they’re readable popular history, so outing him here is painful.

With the centenary of the Great War, books on the 1914-1918 conflagration are appearing in abundance, and two years ago, Hastings published Catastrophe 1914, which elaborates the opening campaigns of that terrible conflict. Reviewers not well informed about WW1 liked it, but specialists — full disclosure: I’m one of them — were less positive. Hastings appears to be slipping as he ages, and a lot of the book is just repackaging.

As someone who’s written about WW1 a lot, including its opening phase, I read Hastings’ latest book with interest, an interest that turned to dismay when I realized that he had lifted some of my work, without attribution.

My work is plagiarized in Chapter 4 of Hastings’ book, which addresses the failed Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia in 1914, and which is titled “Disaster on the Drina.” Which, not coincidentally, is the exact title of a scholarly article I published on this very topic back in 2002. My “Disaster on the Drina” was based on extensive original research, particularly in Viennese archives, and is the only scholarly article in English to analyze that failed campaign in operational detail. Hastings’ “Disaster on the Drina” is secondary, i.e. unoriginal, work that never fully cites where it comes from, including the title itself. It should be noted that I made no money off my article, which appeared in an academic journal, while Hastings’ book is a best-seller.

Page 151 of Catastrophe 1914 is especially egregious. It tells the story of the battle at Cer Mountain in Serbia in mid-August 1914 (I’ve written about this forgotten-but-important battle on my blog also). Here, Hastings writes in a fashion that’s lifted whole hog from my article, with zero attribution. I’ll spare you the line-by-line analysis, but two things jump out. First, Hastings cites the death of Colonel Joseph Fiedler, who fell at Cer and was the first of thirty-five Habsburg colonels to die at the head of their regiments in 1914. I revealed this fact to the world in my article — I know because I actually counted up the dead Austro-Hungarian colonels of 1914 in Viennese records, not a small task, to come to this conclusion — yet where it comes from is nowhere cited in Hastings’ end-notes (in fact, page 151 has no source citations at all).

Similarly, Hastings cites heavy Serbian casualties in the Cer battle, including forty-seven officers and 3,000 troops lost in their victorious attack, while in the lead regiment all four battalion commanders and all but three of sixteen company commanders fell dead or wounded. Again, this is lifted straight from my article, without attribution. In my article, those numbers are partly derived from someone else’s work, which I cited because that’s what real historians do.

My 2002 article is listed in Hastings’ bibliography, but never in the end-notes, and here he can’t even get its title right! (Hastings calls its sub-title: “The Austro-Hungarian Army in Bosnia” when it’s actually Serbia: somebody’s not reading closely.) All this may seem like nit-picking, but it cuts to the heart of historical integrity. Sir Max undoubtedly has assistants who do most of the research and writing for him, it’s the only way to produce thick historical books rapidly, in succession, as he does. Here, these assistants presumably got sloppy. The exact same thing — outsourcing “his” work to careless research assistants — proved the undoing of Stephen Ambrose.

I have no idea how much of Hastings’ book isn’t really his work, I’ve only looked carefully at the places where he stole my work. I recommend that any historians who have written about the 1914 campaigns in English take a look for themselves, since it’s invariably the case that plagiarists seldom lift the work of just one author. Once you start stealing the work of others, it becomes a habit.

It brings me no pleasure to out Max Hastings as a plagiarist, but the ethics of the historical profession must be maintained. Moreover, my own book on the Eastern Front in 1914, titled Fall of the Double Eagle, is coming out later this year. Its fifth chapter, which covers the 1914 Serbian campaign, is titled — you guessed it — “Disaster on the Drina,” and it’s based in part on my 2002 article, with some important additions and updates. I want it to be perfectly clear to readers that I termed it such, in print, eleven years before Max Hastings plagiarized it.

How the White House bungled the Bowe Bergdahl case

Following an extended investigation, the U.S. Army this week announced serious charges against Sgt. Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, the soldier who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan, then released last May through a prisoner exchange. The Army is seeking a court-martial on the charge of desertion plus the even graver charge of “misbehavior before the enemy.” Bergdahl, if convicted, could serve life in prison.

How strange that, only 10 months ago, President Obama hailed the soldier’s return with fanfare at the Rose Garden, including photo ops with Bergdahl’s parents. The White House spun the story as rare good news out of Afghanistan, the seemingly endless war that the president has been trying to wind down for years.

Read the rest at the Los Angeles Times

100 Years Ago: The Fall of Fortress Przemyśl

Today marks the centenary of the capture of the Austro-Hungarian fortress at Przemyśl by Russian forces, marking the end of the greatest siege of the First World War. Never a household word outside Central Europe, the siege of Przemyśl has fallen into the memory hole of the Great War’s Eastern Front, which Winston Churchill termed the Unknown War in 1931, and which it sadly mostly remains. The reasons for this historical amnesia are not difficult to detect, beyond the century-long general obsession with the Western Front in the English-speaking world. Przemyśl is someplace most people have never heard of, plus is Polishly unpronounceable.

A hundred years ago, however, the name of Przemyśl was all over the world media. A market town turned into a fortress by the Austro-Hungarian military, it stood astride the river San, in the center of the Habsburg province of Galicia. It was, in every sense, a midpoint: of geography, of roads and rail lines, and a dividing line of sorts between Galicia’s Polish and Ukrainian populations.

imagesPrzemyśl was never intended to be a major factor in the coming war against Russia. In the first place, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (right), Vienna’s top general, planned to carry the war to the enemy. Like virtually every generalissimo in Europe a century ago, Conrad was a devout believer in the cult of the offensive and saw little use in spending scarce Austro-Hungarian defense funds on fortresses. Thus when Przemyśl’s role on the world stage commenced, unexpectedly, it was ready for a siege in 1884, not 1914.

How the Great War’s Eastern Front came to focus on Przemyśl for several critical months is a saga of Habsburgian tragicomedy. In response to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, and his wife Sophie at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, an act of terrorism that Conrad and most security officials in Austria-Hungary — correctly — believed was the handiwork of the Serbian government in Belgrade, with Russian backing, Vienna consciously decided for war. Most Habsburg generals and many diplomats had expected this war for years, with Conrad and others welcoming it, and there was something approaching relief when, after years of rising tensions, war finally came.

However, the two-front-war that Austria-Hungary got from that decision, since there was no chance that Russia would stand idly by while its “brother Slav” proxy in Serbia was crushed by Habsburg forces, was a conflict for which Vienna’s military, starved of funds for decades, was simply too small and ill-equipped to win. Unconcerned with such details of strategy and logistics, Conrad — a lonely widower who had the distressing habit of spending hours daily writing long, anguished love letters to his married mistress rather than planning for war — plunged his country into a war that it stood no real chance of winning.

The magical thinking that drove Conrad’s war plans was quickly laid bare by a disaster on the Drina river. In the second week of August, the Habsburg 5th and 6th Armies invaded Serbia, expecting a quick victory over the “murder boys” in Belgrade. Nothing of the sort happened. The Serbian Army, blooded in two Balkan Wars in 1912-13, proved skilled and tenacious in defense of their own soil, and missteps by the untried Habsburg 21st Division at Cer mountain, overlooking the Drina valley, led to a rout. By August 19, Habsburg forces were back in Austria-Hungary, humbled and weary, their effort to subdue Serbia having turned into a historic debacle. Serbia had unexpectedly given the Allies their first victory of the Great War.

Worse was soon to come on the Eastern Front. Just days after Vienna’s failed invasion of Serbia wound down in humiliation, the bulk of Austria-Hungary’s field forces kicked off their grand offensive into Russian territory. At first, Conrad’s army made impressive local gains, moving northward from Przemyśl, with the 1st and 4th Armies scoring noteworthy local victories over the Russians at Kraśnik and Komarów respectively. But the real drama was playing out in East Galicia, around Lemberg, where the bulk of the Tsar’s armies were marshaling.

Lemberg was not only the major city in East Galicia but the “capital” of Ukrainian nationalism — just as it is now, a century later, as L’viv — and was therefore the prize that Russian armies sought to take. It was given to the invader too easily, thanks to deeply flawed Habsburg planning. Conrad ordered his 3rd Army to attack eastward out of Lemberg, but the Austro-Hungarian high command really had no idea how many Russians lurked out there, in the rolling hills and river valleys of easternmost Galicia, and they advanced blindly until they collided with the enemy. Vast encounter battles ensued, of a size never recorded in warfare. Regrettably for Vienna, its 3rd Army was outnumbered three-to-one east of Lemberg and within days the Russians had steamrollered Conrad’s forces in East Galicia and a panicky retreat ensued.

Notwithstanding heroic efforts to hold the line, Lemberg was abandoned to the Russians and despite placing the failing 3rd Army under the command of Svetozar Boroević, Austria-Hungary’s toughest general, the enemy could not be stopped: there were simply too many of them, By the time what remained of Conrad’s armies reached the refuge of the San river, where Fortress Przemyśl stood, Vienna realized the extent of the disaster. Nearly half of the 900,000 troops Austria-Hungary committed to battle against Russia in late August were gone by mid-September: 420,000 casualties with over 100,000 dead. The loss, which had no precedent in all military history, equaled the prewar standing Habsburg Army. This was a blow from which Austria-Hungary would never recover.

The San river line, with Przemyśl in the middle, had to be held but this, too, soon proved impossible. There were simply too many Russians, and Conrad reluctantly ordered a retreat towards Cracow and into the Carpathian mountains. But Przemyśl was to hold out as long as possible, at any cost, to serve as a thorn in the side of the Russians, one that might slow down their offensive deeper into Austria-Hungary.

Uebersichtskarte-Przemysl-1914-1024x731The actual condition of Fortress Przemyśl when the siege commenced on September 24 left a great deal to be desired. It was not a single fortress, rather an outer ring of fortresses that fully encircled the city at a distance of five to eight kilometers out, supplemented by an inner ring of forts just outside the city.  On paper, Przemyśl (right) seemed well defended. It possessed forty-five kilometers of entrenchments and eleven fixed artillery batteries: a total of 714 cannons, fifty-four howitzers, ninety-five heavy mortars, and seventy-two machine guns. However, the only modern pieces were two dozen siege guns, while 299 of Przemyśl’s cannons were Model 1861! A crash program to strengthen the fortress in mid-August, involving 27,000 workers, succeeded in clearing forests around the city, creating fields of fire, and laying a million meters of barbed wire in every direction, but could do nothing to change Przemyśl’s fundamental unreadiness for the twentieth century battlefield.

Neither did the garrison’s morale inspire much confidence. Its commander, Hermann von Kusmanek, had been chosen by Conrad, but proved to be a general of no great distinction. His besieged force looked impressive on paper, with 130,000 troops, but there was only one combat division in the fortress, with 23rd, and it had been roughed up around Lemberg. To make matters worse, most of the rest of the garrison consisted of second-line troops, largely militia, of mixed reliability and combat effectiveness.

Then there was the ethnic factor. Austria-Hungary’s military, like the empire itself, consisted of a dozen different nationalities, not all of whom viewed each other affectionately. Przemyśl’s garrison consisted disproportionately of Hungarians, many of whom had no love for Slavs of any kind. Incidents of ethnic disaffection, even violence, proved difficult to ignore. Just as the siege was beginning, a column of suspected Russian spies being marched through the city under armed guard was spontaneously set upon by a crowd of angry soldiers, Hungarians armed with clubs and knives. Bloodlust against the traitorous “foreigners” exploded in rage. By the time the military police restored order, forty-five of the suspects were dead, among them the daughter of a Greek Catholic priest; none of the suspects, it turned out, were actually Russian spies.

To compensate for Habsburg problems there was Russian overconfidence. Fresh from victory at Lemberg, the Russians expected that taking the fortress on the San would be quick work. As Alexei Brusilov, the Tsar’s best general, who had thrashed Conrad’s forces in East Galicia, explained, “after such a succession of defeats and heavy losses, the Austrian Army was so demoralized and Przemyśl so little prepared to stand a siege (for its garrison, composed of beaten troops, was far from steady), that I was absolutely convinced that by the middle of October the place could have been taken by assault without any serious artillery preparation.”

Here Brusilov’s guess was off by a wide margin. The first serious Russian effort to take the fortress-city, in late September, was a rout, with the attackers losing 40,000 men over three days. A Habsburg counteroffensive pushed the Russian line back a bit in mid-October, giving Kusmanek’s forces a breather, but by early November the Russians were back and siege recommenced.

Life inside the fortress was grim. Russian barrages by heavy siege artillery took a daily toll of defenders. Food was already in short supply and backbiting between ethnic groups was a perennial concern. None of this was conveyed to the public, however, which was told stories of martial glory from besieged Przemyśl, which Conrad insisted be held up as an example of Habsburg courage and steadfastness against all odds. The high command was kept informed of goings-on inside the fortress city thanks to regular mail delivery. In a historical footnote, the siege of Przemyśl witnessed the first air mail service, as Austro-Hungarian aircraft were able to land and take off from inside the city until nearly the end of the siege.

As the harsh winter of 1914-15 set in, both sides froze while attempting to make ground around Przemyśl . By Christmas, it was apparent that while the Russians could not yet take the fortress, neither was a breakout by the defenders likely. They had to be relieved before the siege ended on Russian terms. For Conrad, the stakes were dire. If Przemyśl fell, the Habsburg defensive lines in the Carpathian mountains would probably give way under renewed Russian attacks, and there was nothing behind those passes but the great Hungarian plain. The fate of the Habsburg realm depended on a successful outcome of Przemyśl’s siege.

It was in this spirit that Conrad ordered his tired forces to undertake the offensive in the third week of January 1915. Przemyśl had to be relieved. Yet this was a cruel folly even by the standards of the Great War. In the first place, Conrad sent his forces into the attack in the middle of a harsh winter. Guns, supplies, and men froze in vast numbers. The mountain passes, covered in ice, proved death traps. Even the tough Boroević could not make much headway, so awful were the conditions.

To make matters worse, the Russians did not give ground easily, and enemy counterattacks soon took back what little terrain Habsburg forces had managed to seize in late January. Undeterred by endless bad news, plus casualties so severe that the army had lost count of them, Conrad ordered another Carpathian offensive in late February to relieve Przemyśl. This effort, too, petered out in a frozen bloodbath, not for want of courage, as Austro-Hungarian divisions made little progress in the hell of what the survivors remembered as the Karpathenwinter.

By the end of February, it was obvious to even Conrad that Przemyśl could not be relived. In the end, three months of failed offensives and counteroffensives in the frozen Carpathians, in the direction of the fortress, cost Vienna a staggering 800,000 men dead, wounded, captured, missing, and seriously ill, amounting to almost seven times the garrison besieged at Przemyśl. By early March, morale inside the fortress was plummeting as hunger, disease, and rising indiscipline took their toll. Ugly incidents of inter-ethnic violence had become commonplace. Kusmanek was losing control of his tired force and late efforts at a breakout never really got off the ground.

On March 22, 1915, Kusmanek accepted reality and surrendered his fortress and its garrison to the Russians. Into captivity, after 133 days under siege since early November, went nine Habsburg generals, 2,500 officers, and 117,000 men. This was a disaster of such scope that it could not be hidden from the Austro-Hungarian public. Morale took a heavy blow from the fortress’s fall, especially in Hungary, which had contributed so many troops to the siege, and where every piece of news from the fortress was followed closely.

Yet the Russian hold on the fortress, which they had bought at a great cost in blood, would prove fleeting. Witnessing the debacle at Przemyśl and in the Carpathians, Berlin reluctantly decided that its ailing ally had to be saved before the Russian bear killed off Austria-Hungary altogether. The result was the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive in early May, east of Cracow, which tore a gaping hole in Russian defenses. Exhausted from months of fighting and losses almost as vast as Austria-Hungary’s, the Tsar’s armies in Galicia collapsed under Prussian and Habsburg blows. Austro-Hungarian forces finally advanced out of the Carpathians, and by June Przemyśl was back in Habsburg hands, the Russians making no effort to renew the siege with themselves as the defenders. By summer’s end, Lemberg and nearly all of Galicia had been retaken, while the Russians lost a million men as prisoners alone. Conrad’s terrible defeats had been avenged.

But the shame of Przemyśl would never disappear for Austria-Hungary or its top general. The fall of the fortress, after months of painful siege, became for some a symbol of the ultimate failure of the Habsburg Empire itself — doomed by poor planning and flawed leadership, all the while riven by ethnic backbiting. Although the army would hold out until early November 1918, losing seven million casualties along the way to defeat, rising animosities between Austria-Hungary’s many nationalities would prove the undoing of the empire at the conclusion of the Great War.

220px-Przemysl_monument2Not much remains of the epic siege that captivated the world’s attention a century ago. Many of the shell-scarred fortifications remain, while Przemyśl has a nice museum of the siege. In Budapest there stands a monument to the siege and its many Hungarian defenders, the Przemyśl Lion (right). Today, Przemyśl again finds itself close to war, perched as it on the border with Ukraine. Again, Russian invaders are making headlines and the cast — an aggressively imperialist, eastward-looking Russia versus a westward-looking Galicia that sees itself as part of Central Europe — seems remarkably familiar. History does not repeat itself exactly, but some believe it does rhyme.

Schindler1P.S. The full story of the siege of Przemyśl and the entire Galician campaign, which proved the undoing of Austria-Hungary thanks to Conrad’s flawed generalship, is told fully in my book Fall of the Double Eagle, which will be published in a few months.

Putin Turns Up His Special War Against Europe

Over the last year, since the Russian theft of Crimea, I’ve unambiguously warned that Vladimir Putin means what he says and he will not shy away from confrontation with the West, even at the risk of major war. Opportunities to deter this resurgent Russia, which I counseled many months ago, were punted on by the U.S. and NATO, so we now face a serious risk of war with Putin over his mounting hegemony in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is just the beginning.

As I’ve long made clear, Russia does not play by Western rules, and Putin and his Kremlin, being Chekists to their core, place great value on what I term Special War, meaning a shadowy amalgam of espionage, propaganda, and terrorism that Western states are poorly positioned to counter. At the end of the last year I predicted that the Kremlin’s Special War against the West was sure to rise, and so it has in the first quarter of this new year.

Last week I explained how Russian espionage against the Czech Republic — no congenital hater of the Russians like, say, Poland or the Baltics — had become so serious that Prague had expelled three Russian spies in recent months, amid warnings from Czech counterintelligence that at least a quarter of the outsized number of Russian diplomats in the country were actually spies posing as diplomats.

Over the last year I’ve explained in detail how Russian intelligence abroad, encompassing the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), have increased the scope and intensity of their operations against many NATO countries, including France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Most of these operations are undertaken by SVR or GRU officers serving under what the Russians term Legal cover, meaning they are pretending to be diplomats, trade representatives, and whatnot.

But in recent years there has also been an uptick in operations by spies whom the Russians term Illegals, meaning intelligence officers who serve abroad without any official protection, often posing as third-country nationals. The massive 2010 round up of a whole network of SVR Illegals in the United States proved a serious blow to the Kremlin, and their espionage still exhibits weaknesses, as evidenced by the recent arrest of an SVR Illegal operating in New York, a second-rater who did not belong to the elite of Russian spies.

Such Kremlin activities extend beyond NATO as well, and now it’s Sweden’s turn. A neutral that’s prone to downplaying threats on political grounds, and is always careful not to needlessly aggravate the Russian bear looming across the Baltic Sea, Stockholm has nevertheless had enough of clandestine Russian shenanigans in their country. This week they have gone public with the extent of the Kremlin’s Special War being waged against Sweden.

According to the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), at least one-third of the Russian diplomats in the country are actually spies. Recent months have seen repeated incidents of Russian intelligence provocations — submarines off the coast, SVR and GRU ramping up clandestine in-country operations — and Stockholm is worried, particularly because Kremlin efforts to recruit spies inside Swedish military and political circles are increasingly obvious.

Gone are the bumbling, vodka-swilling Russian spies of the 1990’s, when the Soviet collapse curtailed much espionage abroad. Since 2006, SVR and GRU operations against the West have risen steadily, to the point that current activities are as intense in number and audacity as they were at the height of the Cold War. Sweden is no exception, and Säpo’s chief analyst noted that Russian spies today are “highly educated and often younger than during the Soviet era. They are driven, goal-oriented and socially competent.” Not to mention that this is only talking about Russian Legals, not Illegals, who can be assumed to add to the ranks of Kremlin spies in Sweden, perhaps considerably.

As always, these spies are recruiting sources, disseminating disinformation, and fomenting dissent in the host country, per longstanding Russian espionage practice. This has become so serious that Stockholm now considers Russia to be the top threat to Swedish national security. The Säpo analyst bluntly explained, “There are hundreds of Russian intelligence officers around Europe and the West. They violate our territory every day … We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden—we can’t interpret this in any other way—as preparation for military operations against Sweden.”

There’s the rub. Every week of late, Putin turns up the heat on NATO and the West: diplomatic threats, aggressive maneuvers with combat aircraft, the movement of late–model missiles to Kaliningrad, putting Stockholm, Warsaw, and Berlin within easy range of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Now, Putin either wants open war against the West — not just the clandestine games of Special War — or we wants us to think he does: in either case, this is a terrifying situation.

Many believe that Putin thinks he can use the threat of nuclear blackmail to gain a free hand for Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and they may be right. Certainly there is little in NATO reactions to Russian aggression to date that suggests a backbone is forming in Berlin, Paris, or Washington, DC. Whether or not the Kremlin wants major war is known only to Putin and the tiny circle of advisors, all hard-edged Chekists like himself, whom the Russian leader listens to.

For now, Special War will continue to achieve Kremlin aims, possibly without major war, while laying the intelligence groundwork for that bigger conflict, should that happen. Today’s news brings word that Polish counterintelligence has detected an air force officer spying for Moscow. He is reported to have passed classified information about Poland’s wing of F-16 fighters, the backbone of Polish defense against the Russians, in what may constitute a serious blow to NATO readiness on the Alliance’s exposed eastern frontier.

Another day, another Russian spy in the West detected. You can expect more of this. If we’re lucky, our conflict with Putin, which is being orchestrated by the Kremlin, will remain confined to SpyWar. Yet how robustly the West confronts Russian Special War — which is ultimately a question of politics, not counterespionage — is a good benchmark for how effectively we can deter a major, and possibly nuclear, war. Without political will, all the West’s acumen in military and intelligence affairs will matter little compared to the robust will shown by Vladimir Putin, who is playing for keeps, and intends to win.

A European Union Army is a Terrible Idea

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently called for creating an army for the troubled European Union. Noting accurately that the EU isn’t “taken entirely seriously,” Juncker suggested standing up its own army “would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.”

Juncker’s comments got considerable attention, as he is the top bureaucrat in Brussels and his suggestions carry weight, although he is a high-flying Eurocrat from central casting who lacks any strategic or military background.

Moreover, the notion that what the EU lacks is an army is misguided, since what an increasingly disarmed Europe is actually short on is the will to defend itself, as demonstrated by deficits in spending and thinking seriously on defense. What EU countries lack is political will and seriousness about defense matters, not a common army. Since the EU cannot manage to assemble a coherent foreign policy on any matter of substance, one wonders what an all-European defense ministry in Brussels would actually do

Read the rest at The Federalist ...


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