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The Painful Truth About Snowden

Since the saga of Edward Snowden went public just over two years ago, I’ve had a lot to say in the media about this sensational case. That’s gotten me loads of push-back, not to mention trolling, but my take on the case — particularly that it’s a planned foreign intelligence operation that operates behind the cover of “freedom” and “civil liberties” — has increasingly become accepted by normals.

In the first place, that Snowden shows no sign of leaving Putin’s Russia, not exactly a bastion of liberty, has made all but his most uncritical defenders wonder what’s going on here. The clear damage that Snowden’s vast revelations have done to Western counterterrorism and security likewise has raised doubts about motives. And that’s not been helped by the fact that very few of Snowden’s purloined secrets have to do with NSA domestic operations. The overwhelming majority expose foreign intelligence activities that are considered legitimate and normal by most citizens. It’s hard to see how exposing details of Israel’s killing of senior WMD proliferators in Syria, per the latest Snowden revelation, exactly protects the civil liberties of Americans.

At last, some important questions about the Snowden Operation, which I’ve posed for two years, are being picked up by the mainstream media. Even in Germany, where Snowdenmania has taken root perhaps more than anywhere else, voices are now asking who exactly stands behind The Ed Show.

I’ve previously explained how nobody acquainted with counterintelligence, and particularly with Russian espionage practices, accepts the official story, that Snowden “just happened” to wind up in Moscow in June 2013. While we still don’t know when Snowden’s first contact with Russian intelligence was, that remains the preeminent question. Moreover, if you don’t understand that Snowden’s in bed with Russia’s secret services now, after more than two years in the country — “of course” he is, explained a top KGB general — I can’t fix that kind of stupid.

There remains also the important question of what exactly Putin is getting out of Snowden. At a fundamental level the answer is obvious. The Snowden Operation was designed to inflict maximum pain on the mighty Western intelligence alliance, led by NSA, that has stood as a bulwark of freedom since the Second World War. This it has achieved, one headline at a time, making it the greatest Active Measure in Chekist history.

Yet there’s nothing new about any of this. As I’ve explained since the moment Snowden first went public, this is really no more than the Agee operation sexed up for the Internet age. Phil Agee was a former CIA officer who, disillusioned with the Agency (in part because it washed him out over his alcoholism), volunteered his services to the Cubans and Soviets. In the mid-1970’s, Agee (known to the KGB as PONT) became a worldwide sensation, exposing numerous CIA activities and officers through books and articles authored by the KGB under Agee’s byline. To his death in 2008, an unrepentant Agee lied about his KGB connections and insisted he was a pure-hearted whistleblower, a claim which was accepted uncritically by his hardcore fans. Sound familiar?

But there is one key difference between the cases. While Agee had been a CIA operations officer and gave the KGB lots of information about his secret activities, Snowden is really no more than an IT guy. While he excelled at stealing top secret files, it’s evident to the initiated that his actual understanding of the SIGINT system is weak.

Moreover, it’s exceptionally unlikely that Snowden has told the Russians much about NSA and its partners that they didn’t know already, in some form. At the beginning of 2012, Canadian authorities, acting on a tip from the FBI, arrested a naval officer named Jeffrey Delisle, one of the most damaging (but least interesting) traitors in recent history. Motivated by self-loathing and greed, for five years until his arrest Delisle passed volumes of classified information from his office, an intelligence shop in Halifax, to GRU, Russian military intelligence. For the Western SIGINT system especially, this was a devastating compromise. As I explained long before the Snowden case broke:

In the SIGINT realm, what Delisle wrought appears to have terrible consequences, beyond the spook world. Thanks to his access to STONEGHOST and related databases where Anglosphere countries share intelligence seamlessly, the damage from this case is probably felt more severely in Washington and London than in Ottawa. Under the so-called Five Eyes system, which dates to the Second World War, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and (mostly) New Zealand, cover the globe with SIGINT, and share most of the take with each other. Hence, as Delisle explained about what he betrayed, “It was never really Canadian stuff,” he told police, later adding, “There was American stuff, there was some British stuff, Australian stuff – it was everybody’s stuff.” Last week, after Delisle accepted a plea agreement admitting his guilt, the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, David Jacobson, characterized the case as the loss of “a lot of highly classified material,” adding with consummate diplomatic tact, “That is obviously not good.”

It can be safely assumed that Delisle gave GRU the store on what Anglosphere SIGINT agencies knew abut Russia, which is always a lot – politics, military, economics. He appears to have betrayed a great deal of Canadian insider information too. True to form, GRU was most interested in – Delisle said they were “fixated on” – counterespionage data, i.e. finding Western spies in Russia, but thankfully that, at least, was something the junior officer could not access from his desk in Halifax.

GRU had it all before Snowden gave it to them. Ed’s vast haul of well over a million classified documents undoubtedly added details — as well as the ability to attack NSA and its partners through “helpful” Western media outlets with lots of purloined PowerPoints about SIGINT activities — but nobody acquainted with GRU and SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, will fail to grasp how damaging the Delisle case was to Western intelligence long before Snowden got on that Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong to Moscow.

While the unprecedented propaganda value of Snowden to Russian intelligence cannot be doubted, any seasoned counterintelligencer will have follow-on questions. As a former NSA counterintelligence officer myself, I can share with you the depressing reality that, during the Cold War, the NSA-led Western SIGINT alliance was never not penetrated, somewhere, by Soviet spies. And that’s counting only the moles we know of.

The importance of NSA to Soviet espionage would be difficult to overstate. They called it OMEGA, and it was the KGB’s highest priority foreign intelligence target on earth. Why isn’t difficult to grasp, as since its founding in 1952, NSA has been the source of the lion’s share of foreign intelligence inside the U.S. Government, while also protecting sensitive American communications. When you penetrate NSA, you get the whole thing. An all-access pass to Top Secret America. Moreover, thanks to lots of intelligence sharing among Anglosphere SIGINT agencies, a penetration anywhere across the system could offer a great deal of access to the closest-held secrets of five states, two of which are nuclear powers.

Hence it’s no surprise that throughout the Cold War the KGB and GRU tried hard to recruit spies inside NSA and its partners, worldwide. SIGINT analysts, linguists, mathematicians, code-makers and code clerks — military, civilian, contractor — were all top-priority targets for Soviet spies. Around the globe, KGB and GRU case officers hung out at bars and clubs where NSA personnel collected, hoping for a lonely, drunk, and perhaps horny young man they could “befriend.” They had more success than most Americans perhaps want to know. The worst penetration of the SIGINT system that we know of, William Weisband, came at the beginning of the Cold War, but that damaging traitor had many successors.

Protecting moles has always been an important task for Kremlin spies. Unlike Western espionage, Moscow’s spymasters take a long view, particularly regarding high-priority penetrations, and will do things that no Western spy service would countenance to protect them from exposure. In particular, the Russians have a long (and often successful) history of compromising and exposing less important assets to protect “golden sources.” I’m personally aware of at least three cases in recent memory where Russian spies intentionally let us find their agents, with the aim of leading the path away from more valued sources.

This was a venerable Cold War practice. In the 1960’s the U.S. Intelligence Community became engaged in a vast mole-hunt thanks to the defection of Yuri Nosenko, a KGB officer, shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The debate over Nosenko’s bona fides grew extended and nasty, tearing a fissure through CIA and IC counterintelligence that lingered for years. To his defenders, Nosenko was that rarest of creatures, an actual KGB officer with important knowledge (including, with impeccable timing, information about Lee Harvey Oswald’s stay in the Soviet Union), who crossed to our side. To his detractors, Nosenko’s saga was too convenient by half.

This debate continues more than a half-century after it commenced. Down to his death in 2008, Nosenko was heralded as a hero by the CIA, which in 1969 officially assessed that Nosenko was a legitimate defector, although doubters still remain. Not long before his own death, Pete Bagley, Nosenko’s first CIA case officer, published a definitive account of the doubters’ case against Nosenko. This was the case Bagley made against Nosenko in the 1960s, which harmed his career for being bureaucratically “off-message” in an Agency that very much wanted its star Soviet defector to be real, seasoned with decades of pondering and additional research.

What Nosenko was really up to will not be determined beyond doubt until outsiders get access to the full KGB archives, which is impossible as long as Putin rules in the Kremlin. That said, Bagley made a thoroughly persuasive case that, at a minimum, Nosenko was not who he claimed to be. The holes in Nosenko’s account of his KGB career and defection are big enough to drive trucks through. While Nosenko was a KGB officer, Bagley showed convincingly that he was not the elite foreign intelligence official that he posed as to the Americans.

Bagley and others for decades insisted that Nosenko was a plant, dispatched westward as a fake defector to throw American counterintelligence off the trail of genuine Soviet moles inside the Intelligence Community. This notion, a complex form of long-term offensive counterintelligence married to strategic deception, sounds fanciful to most Western spies but is in fact quite normal in Moscow. Moreover, Bagley offered evidence pointing to deeply damaging Soviet penetrations of the IC. particularly of the cryptologic system, going back to the 1950’s, that Nosenko’s defection sought to protect.

These moles were never uncovered but NSA counterintelligence long agreed that they probably existed. This deception extends beyond Nosenko, right into the mysterious case of Aleksei Kulak, known as FEDORA to the FBI, who was the Bureau’s “golden source” inside the KGB. Kulak served in New York with the Soviet mission to the United Nations from 1961 to 1967, then again from 1971 to 1977. Ostensibly a science attaché, Kulak was really a KGB case officer. An odd duck for a Chekist, Kulak was an actual scientist, holding a Ph.D. in chemistry, and was a hero of the Second World War, having received the highest Soviet valor decoration, the Hero of the USSR, for frontline service.

In the spring of 1962, a few months after his arrival in New York, Kulak volunteered his services to the FBI. Thus began an espionage saga that would continue, on and off, for the next fifteen years and, like Nosenko, would divide the American counterintelligence club. The FBI immediately understood the value of FEDORA. Behind his back they called him “Fatso” but the Bureau saw that Kulak was who he said he was and that he knew a great deal about KGB operations inside the United States.

There were doubters from the start, and to make a complex story brief, the FBI more or less accepted FEDORA’s bona fides while CIA mostly didn’t (though there were dissenters from orthodoxy in both agencies). Kulak spilled the beans about lots of high-value cases, but he seldom gave away enough information — exact names, for instance — to easily uncover Soviet moles. Despite the KGB’s normally rigid compartmentization, which meant that no case officer usually knew much beyond his own purview, Kulak knew some details of many operations he was not involved with. This was due to the fact that he was drinking buddies with the longtime KGB rezident (i.e. station chief) in New York: they had served together during the war and liked to get sloshed, reminisce, and talk spy cases.

One of Kulak’s most sensational revelations was of a KGB mole inside the FBI. The thought, heresy to Hoover’s Bureau, set off a massive hunt for the traitor known as “UNSUB Dick” that lingered through the 1960’s and never officially caught the mole. This was a traumatic experience for the FBI that it kept out of public view for decades. Years later, UNSUB Dick was identified, with a high degree of confidence, but he had left the Bureau years before and the FBI had no stomach for arresting him with all the awkward questions that would follow.

Had Kulak helped — or hurt — the FBI with his tantalizing but incomplete revelations? There’s no doubt that his telling the Bureau a little bit about UNSUB Dick, but not too much, set the Bureau chasing his own tail for years without resolution. Was Kulak our friend? enemy? perhaps frenemy? This sort of enduring counterintelligence mystery is normal if you want to play against the Russians, where initiation into the vaunted Wilderness of Mirrors is a hard school.

Kulak played this game more than once, including against NSA. Just as with UNSUB Dick, he offered a bit of information — fuzzy details of career and life — about a well-placed KGB mole inside NSA. This explosive revelation set NSA counterintelligence on a years-long hunt for the traitor which never definitely uncovered him. Just as with UNSUB Dick, the mole was eventually uncovered, with a high degree of confidence, years after he left Fort Meade, when nobody wanted to deal with what was then old news.

Was Kulak a bona fide source who helped the Americans where he could? Or was he a plant whose job was sending U.S. counterintelligence down false (or just as bad, not very helpful) avenues of mole-hunting inquiry? Or was he bona fide in part while fake also in part, i.e. a classic Chekist disinformation operation? Russians, unlike Western spy agencies, are perfectly happy to compromise a great deal of legitimate intelligence information in the service of dezinformatsiya, and none could deny that the lion’s share of what Kulak told the FBI did in fact check out.

Having examined a lot of Kulak’s information with a fine-toothed comb when I was working CI, my own view is that Kulak was a controlled KGB source, designed to disseminate disinformation that would confuse the Americans while protecting real moles, but he was also an alcoholic who overshared frequently. Debriefs with FEDORA usually involved a bottle of good stuff that the Chekist chugged down solo while Bureau handlers watched in amazement, taking notes furiously.

What does this entertaining Cold War mystery — how Kulak’s never gotten his own movie bewilders me — have to do with Edward Snowden? Kulak died in 1983, the year Snowden was born. Yet they may be connected all the same, albeit only in spirit.

Chekist espionage operations have remained remarkably constant over the decades. Why change what already works? Under Putin, a onetime KGB counterintelligencer, Russian espionage activities against the West, especially the United States, have grown highly aggressive while adhering to proven Chekist tactics and techniques.

To anyone versed in counterespionage, the 2010 roll-up of the Russian Illegals Network offered tantalizing clues. This major event was treated as a comic-opera affair by most Western media, thanks to the star role of the redheaded Illegal Anna Chapman — just as Moscow wanted. In reality, that network was engaged in a wide range of nefarious activities, including the handling of deep-cover Russian agents, that set off big-time counterintelligence alarm bells.

The bad news was delivered by Bill Gertz, veteran intelligence reporter, who nearly five years ago told of a major mole-hunt inside NSA spurred by the Illegals’ roll-up:

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia’s SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

“They are looking for one or more Russian spies that NSA is convinced reside at Fort Meade and possibly other DoD intel offices, like DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency],” the former official said. “NSA is convinced that at least one is at NSA.”

They were not looking for Edward Snowden, who in 2010 had only recently begun work on an NSA contract — but in Japan, thousands of miles from Agency headquarters at Fort Meade. Since there have been no follow-up reports on the Russian mole, or moles, at Fort Meade, we are left to assume that they remain unidentified by NSA counterintelligence.

Here Snowden has doubtless been a big help. Since he went public two years ago, NSA has been engaged in the biggest damage assessment in all intelligence history. Trying to determine exactly what Snowden stole, as well as who may have helped him in his betrayal, has consumed the full resources of Agency counterintelligence, and will for years to come. Perhaps this is why the real Russian moles have yet to be uncovered.

If this notion — that Moscow would sacrifice Snowden to protect their actual moles — strikes you as fanciful you’re not well acquainted with Chekists and how they roll, and have rolled for nearly a century now. Welcome to the Wilderness of Mirrors.

What is Courage in 2015 America?

For the last several months our celebrity-obsessed popular culture has given vast coverage to the transformation of Bruce Jenner, onetime Olympian, into Caitlyn Jenner, tabloid icon. I have been profoundly uninterested in this saga from the get-go. I remember Bruce when he adorned cereal boxes in my childhood. I lost all track of him until he reappeared, decades later, as part of the horrible Kardashian family, which was a warning to the sentient that Jenner should be safely ignored.

Jenner has now cleverly reinvented himself/herself/whatever as a woman. Sort of. Jenner shows no interest in gender reassignment surgery, and he still professes sexual interest in women, while espousing Republican conservatism, so this appears to be the best-publicized cross-dressing exercise in human history.

Let me be clear. I fully support the right of all adults to live their lives how they see fit. If Bruce wants to be Caitlyn, to be called her not him, that’s cool with me. Moreover, let’s be honest: this poor guy (now girl) had to spend twenty-four years of wedded bliss to Kris Kardashian, one of the world’s worst people who isn’t a member of the Islamic State. I would lose my mind after twenty-four minutes with Kris, so Jenner has lots of sympathy here.

With her transformation, Caitlyn gets tons of payback. Massive coverage in the media, fawning interviews galore, plus an impending TV reality show that will, no doubt, give the Kardashians the overdue comeuppance that a few hundred million Americans crave. The stars are shining on Caitlyn.

To add to the accolades, Jenner has received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named after the tennis great who died of AIDS in 1993. This award didn’t sit well with everybody in the sports world, with skeptics feeling that the courage shown by Jenner in her gender transformation fell a bit short of that august award’s high standards.

Not being a sports maven — my interest seldom goes beyond The Ocho — I won’t comment on that but let me add that I know LGBT people more deserving of courage awards than Jenner. Make that a lot of LGBT people.

While I don’t doubt it’s difficult to tell the world you’re undertaking gender transformation when you’re sorta famous and at an age most people are looking into retirement communities, this doesn’t meet my threshold of award-level courage.

In the military and the Intelligence Community, I’ve had the privilege of serving with many LGBT Americans who routinely showed more courage than Jenner — and who will never be on the cover of any magazines nor get their own reality show.

By the time I joined NSA in the mid-1990’s the IC’s longtime ban on gays and lesbians in the workforce was rescinded, but there were plenty of staffers who still had PTSD from hiding in the shadows for decades, fearful of a call, at any time, from Agency security inquiring into their private life.

In the aftermath of the defection of two NSA employees to Moscow in 1960, whom the Agency believed were gay, a hunt for secret homosexuals took place that had reverberations for decades. When my father, a career NSA officer, had the misfortune of showing up at Fort Meade only months after the defection, like countless others he was given harsh questioning, including while strapped to the polygraph, to determine if he was a secret “homo.”

In an amazing fail, Martin and Mitchell, the defectors who caused all the panic, were not actually homosexual, but that mattered little to NSA, which for decades associated gays with treason. I had LGBT coworkers in the 1990s who still couldn’t quite believe that the Agency was copacetic with their sexual preference. One co-worker had gotten so accustomed to living in the shadows that he had to be all but begged to invite his partner of two decades to an NSA social event. The fear lingered.

The military was similar. Even after President Clinton implemented Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1994, many military members had difficulty accepting that LGBT personnel were no longer subject to invasive scrutiny. Like anybody who’s served in the U.S. military and is being honest, I knew lots of gays and lesbians in uniform.

I was in the Navy, which — let’s be honest — has more than a little association with the LGBT community. In the late 1970’s, the Navy really did plan to use the Village People’s “In the Navy” video as a recruitment tool until some hipper junior officers explained to admirals in the Pentagon what that famous group was singing about.

A decade later, the Navy supported Cher’s famous “If I Could Turn Back Time” video — the one with the gay icon, nearly naked, straddling a battleship’s sixteen-inch cannon in front of a thousand cheering sailors — because it estimated that it saved the Naval service $10 million in recruiting costs.

That’s right, the Navy determined that a lot of guys joined the service on the basis of a Cher video. For years I dined out on the punchline: I guess that tells us who’s joining the Navy. Add “it’s not gay if it’s underway” jokes as needed.

There was always a darker side, however. Many LGBT personnel in all the services endured decades of harassment and abuse. Even the more tolerant Navy had its share of terrible incidents. In late 1992, Allen Schindler (no relation), a sailor on USS Belleau Wood, was beaten to death for being gay, a crime that spurred Clinton’s DADT policy.

In my time in the Navy I never saw any harassment of LGBT personnel, but that’s perhaps because my community, the spooky intelligence sailors, had so many gays and lesbians. Officers estimated that twenty-five percent of intel sailors were LGBT, and even before DADT died in 2011, many of them served rather openly. Certainly Monterey’s Defense Language Institute, where intelligence linguists were educated, long enjoyed a hook-up culture that was open to straights and gays alike, sometimes to the consternation of senior officers.

The Navy was always more open-minded than the Army or Air Force (the latter service in particular, with its strong evangelical Christian culture, before 2011 was prone to periodic “fag hunts” as they were termed to root out closeted gays and lesbians) and I never witnessed any anti-homosexual antics myself. Of course, that may be self-selection, since I was an officer who was known to be “gay friendly” and, for instance, would sign leave chits without questions. This could be an issue under DADT when you were taking time off to visit, say, a partner’s sick parent.

I also knew gay and lesbian officers who had great careers yet who were always a bit afraid under DADT that they might get exposed. Even the Army now has an openly serving gay general officer. The key word is “openly”: there have been many LGBT generals and admirals, up to the four-star level — this is no secret in certain circles — now they just don’t have to hide it.

The military is better off now that LGBT Americans can serve openly, without fear. But we must never forget that many gay and lesbian Americans have served honorably, even heroically, when they had to hide in the shadows. That is true courage. Let me add the same about the many LGBT Americans who serve in our police and emergency services who, per Kipling’s great line, guard you while you sleep.

I hope Caitlyn Jenner is happy with her new life. I would prefer that the media get out of its celebrity obsession and honor some of the ordinary, un-famous LGBT Americans — soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, cops, EMTs — who serve us all with a degree of heroism that will never be required of any reality TV stars.

Trump and Hitler’s Recreated Bodyguard

Yesterday the presidential campaign of billionaire reality star Donald Trump took a turn for the weird, even by his impressive standards. As I’ve previously noted, Trump’s strange campaign, which seems to have gained impressive traction with many grassroots Republicans, has raised some important issues notwithstanding the crass language The Donald has often used to make his points. Moreover, Trump has been praised by even his opponents for his savvy use of social media, especially Twitter, where the real estate mogul has over three million followers.

CJ5ZTjdWsAAVRhFWherever Trump’s unique political caravan is headed, it’s safe to say that his reputation as a social media genius won’t recover from yesterday. It was discovered — ok, I discovered and told everybody online — that a new campaign ad (left), tweeted out by Trump’s account — a frankly tacky montage of the American flag, Trump’s visage, the White House, a stack of Benjamins (of course), and some armed troops — had a problem. A big problem.

The troops depicted at the bottom, you see, weren’t American. No GI Joes here. Who exactly was Trump recommending help him #MakeAmericaGreatAgain? Oddly, Germans. Worse, they were World War II Germans — you know, when the guy with that trim mustache was destroying Europe and genociding millions.

I don’t know how many people out of a million would notice that something was “off” with Trump’s new ad, but one person did. An observant follower tweeted an important question at me about who these camouflaged guys were.

CJ5L9nIW8AUOUUfUpon close examination (right), I immediately realized that these were not just Wehrmacht (meaning regular German military) troops, but soldiers from the Waffen-SS, Hitler’s elite political army that was responsible for war crimes on every front where it fought. The Waffen-SS, made up of fanatical fighters who battled for Hitlerism without restraint, was judged a criminal organization by the Nuremberg Tribunal (with exemptions only for those conscripted into its ranks in the war’s last two years such as Günter Grass, the heralded left-wing novelist who — whoops — for decades lied about his Waffen-SS service).

So these really aren’t the guys you want stumping for you if you want to be the president of the United States.

My very first job was in a military museum, I’m a historian, and I’m well acquainted with militaria and uniforms, so for a trained eye like mine knowing that the guys in the picture were Waffen-SS was an easy call. As I told the media, “Some people can tell a ’56 Chevy from a ’57 easily, some of us can tell German uniforms easily.”

Specifically, the camouflage worn by some troops in the photo was issued only to the SS in the last year of the war. Additionally, the placement of the SS eagle and a unit cuff title on the left arms is a dead giveaway that it’s not the normal Wehrmacht we’re dealing with here. Let some of my tweets do the talking:

Today a Twitter follower sent me a high-resolution version of the original photograph that Trump’s campaign used, and on it you can read the cuff-title on the soldiers’ left arms. It is unmistakably this one (below).images

That’s the cuff title — yes, it says Adolf Hitler — of the 1st SS Panzer Division, the most elite unit of a very elite force. Officially it was termed the “Leibstandarte (Bodyguard Regiment) Adolf Hitler,” charged with protecting the Führer’s life.

That storied division, which began as Hitler’s personal bodyguard in the early days of Nazism, fought on many fronts throughout World War II and earned a reputation for determination and viciousness. The Leibstandarte Division is best known to Americans as the perpetrators of the Malmedy massacre in mid-December 1944, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, when 84 American POWs were murdered by SS troops from the 1st Division.

nazi_424The picture in question is actually of recent vintage. It soon emerged that it was taken a few years ago in England, at a living history event. Yes, there really are people who run around in Nazi uniforms for fun. They exist in the United States too, where guys pretend to be the very same 1st SS Panzer Division. This group of Leibstandarte “reenactors” is nearly a battalion strong. Back in 2010, a Republican running for Congress in Ohio got into hot water when it emerged, with pictures (above), that he liked to put on Waffen-SS garb on the weekends.

Thus was #WaffenSSGate born. Trump pulled down his tweet once the mistake was realized and the blame was soon placed, predictably, on an intern. In 1945, “I was only following orders” worked; in 2015, “the intern did it” is preferred.

I doubt that this embarrassing mistake will do much to tar Trump’s reputation among Americans who like his blustery and bombastic style. His poll numbers continually rise. On the other hand, when you already stand accused of racism by many people, pushing Hitler’s elite troops isn’t a good visual for your campaign.

I always advocate people learning more history. This little debacle makes my point for me nicely.

The Truth About Srebrenica

This weekend the world commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, an event that provoked serious Western intervention in that country’s 1992-95 civil war and determined its fate. The two decades since that ugly war was stopped by American-led military and diplomatic involvement have not been happy ones for Bosnia-Hercegovina, as that country remains mired in seemingly intractable political and economic stalemate and stagnation. As someone who knows and loves Bosnia, I see very little to feel optimistic about.

This weekend’s commemorations at Srebrenica became the wrong sort of spectacle when Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić was attacked by an angry Muslim mob and was struck by rocks. Belgrade promptly termed the attack an “assassination attempt,” thus continuing the customary Balkan cycle of avoiding reconciliation and any moving forward at all costs.

As usual, Balkan politicians of all stripes and tribes are perfectly happy to see citizens whipped up in nationalist fervor and revenge fantasies, since that distracts them from the region’s real problems of intermixed crime and corruption. As someone who for years has pleaded for reconciliation after the region’s terrible wars of the 1990s, to any audience that would listen, including the United Nations General Assembly, the ruckus at Srebrenica yesterday was sad news but no surprise.

Pervasive dishonesty about what actually happened during the Bosnian War has shaped Western debates about many things in the twenty years since Srebrenica. Media adherence to The Narrative about Bosnia, a simplistic, moralistic one-sided account of events, has been used by American foreign policy mavens to justify many misguided interventions since the 1990s.

I won myself no friends in Washington, DC, when I told the truth about what actually happened in Bosnia in the 1990s in my 2007 book Unholy Terror. Inconvenient facts are habitually ignored by our elites and mainstream media, who simply don’t want to know the truth about what happened in Bosnia, including Srebrenica. But I have explained it all in detail for anybody who wants to know. It has earned me the wrath of jihad apologists and Social Justice Warriors (Balkan variant), but the truth will out.

This weekend the Mothers of Srebrenica, a sort of victims’ advocacy group, wrote to Bill Clinton, asking him to reveal what U.S. intelligence knew about the fall of Srebrenica, particularly electronic intercepts. Since I used to handle NSA’s Balkan account, I, unlike reporters and SJWs, know what’s in there and I’m certain the Mothers won’t like it. Top Secret reports reveal a messy tale of lies, death, and deceit that does not comport with The Narrative. I’m also certain that the U.S. Government won’t allow such classified truths to see the light of day anytime soon.

In addition to my book, I recommend this Norwegian documentary about the fall of Srebrenica, a rare effort to cut through pleasant media myths to get to the sordid truth of what actually happened at Srebrenica, and why. It’s worth your time. My testimony is an important component of what they reveal.

Be sure to keep the dead of Srebrenica and all the dead of Bosnia’s catastrophe — some 8,000 died around Srebrenica in mid-July 1995, while 101,000 Bosnians of all backgrounds perished in that needless war — in your thoughts and prayers this weekend.

Is Putin Playing Puppetmaster in Greece?

The weekend’s stunning repudiation  of further European bailouts by a strong majority of Greeks shocked Brussels and beyond. That 61 percent of Greek voters want nothing to do with European Union “fixes” to their country’s grave fiscal crisis, which has preoccupied the EU for five years, represents a shocking development to Eurocrats.

What happens next is on everyone’s mind. Unless Athens comes up with a revised—and more plausible—finance plan very soon, expulsion from the Eurozone appears imminent. While that could cause financial instability for Europe, and may bring bad tidings far beyond, there’s one country that seems to be savoring this crisis.

That’s Russia. To the surprise of no one who pays attention to Vladimir Putin’s persistent efforts to undermine the EU and NATO, Moscow is poised to reap political benefits from Greece’s financial collapse.

The morning after the referendum, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke with Putin to discuss the fallout—a full day before Tsipras spoke with President Obama.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast

Why Trump Matters

For decades Donald Trump has been one of the more ridiculous figures in American public life. There’s the flamboyant business career, with endless self-promotion covering up sometimes dodgy practices. There’s the tacky, messy personal life that’s provided tabloid fodder since the 1980s. There is, of course, the reality TV show career. To say nothing of that hair. He excels at being his jaw-dropping self, which he has made into a lucrative full-time job. There cannot be many Americans alive today with higher name-recognition than Trump.

Now The Donald has yet again reinvented himself as a serious politician — or at least someone who looks like one. Having thrown his hat — flamboyantly, of course — into the crowded ring of Republican presidential contenders for 2016, Trump has naturally received press attention befitting his status as a bona fide celebrity. This has predictably driven the GOP establishment bonkers, with mainstream right-wing denunciations befitting a child molester.

It’s not hard to see why GOP machers detest Trump. Bringing to the race nothing but his fame and his mouth, Trump has defied the best-laid plans of the Republican Establishment. Worse, as a billionaire, or at least close to it, he has his own money and doesn’t need to kowtow to the party’s billionaire donor class that plays such an outsized role in GOP coronations. Since that elite coterie includes maniacs who publicly fantasize about nuking other countries, it’s hard to say Trump’s the crazy one here.

To top it off, Trump has already carved out his niche in the 2016 race as the straight-talker who isn’t afraid of third-rail issues, above all immigration. Despite the fact that issues of immigration and national sovereignty are hot-button topics across the Western world, already shaping elections, the American establishment — political, corporate, and media — has decided that it’s not a proper subject for discussion among civilized people.

True to form, Trump has waded in and stolen the show by acting, well, like himself. His comments on Mexicans have earned the wrath of All Decent People. While Trump’s comments on China have met with dismay from the chattering classes, it’s The Donald’s crude words about the quality, or lack thereof, of Mexican immigrants that have caused a firestorm

Trump has been dumped unceremoniously by numerous corporate sponsors, his reality TV career has stalled, and he’s been expelled from polite society. Now even New York City is reexamining its dealings with its most famous real estate mogul, with bien-pensant Mayor DeBlasio explaining, “Donald Trump’s remarks were disgusting and offensive, and this hateful language has no place in our city.”

Trump has, of course, reacted by doubling-down. Univision’s campaign against him as a “racist” was met by The Donald threatening to sue and banning Univision personnel from Trump’s Miami golf course which just happens to be located right next to that TV network’s headquarters.

The Donald is ever The Donald, and he seems to be savoring all this media attention. How not? Giving Trump the ability to pose as a victim of the PC Mafia, showing that even billionaires are not safe from their righteous indignation, is a big boost to his political campaign and presumably exactly what he had in mind. Trump’s straight-talk and pugnaciousness drive the mainstream everything in America crazy but they’re a big part of his appeal to citizens in flyover country. Standing up to Mexico and China is popular with millions of normals in America, people who never get asked their opinion by the media. No wonder that Trump’s poll numbers are surging at the moment.

This sudden rise has been met with dismissive comments from the GOP Establishment, who assure us that Trump’s popularity is fleeting, no more than a media sensation. This, too, shall pass, the K Street cognoscenti state with confidence.

They are surely correct that Trump will never be the Republican nominee in 2016, or ever, and he has about as much chance of moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as my cat does. Yet that misses the point. Trump, by virtue of being Trump, can force the GOP to discuss issues it would really rather never see brought up, such as immigration and trade, and their impact on the wages and lives of average Americans. I have no idea how the GOP can exclude Trump from debates, given his poll numbers — and if you thought The Apprentice was must-see TV, just wait for The Donald and his hair debating the whole Republican cast of 2016 wannabes. Get popcorn, folks.

To be clear, the Republican Party has nobody to blame but itself for this mess. However ham-handedly he discusses them, Trump has brought up real issues that merit serious debate in this country. Is it really wise to import large numbers of low-skilled immigrants when our economy is already failing to provide enough jobs for its lower-skilled citizens — to say nothing of the rising impact of robots and automation on working-class Americans? Moreover, immigrant crime is a reality, not a figment of the nativist imagination. Free trade is not God-given law — America became the world’s biggest economy precisely because it did not practice free trade — so why do we treat it as holy writ?

Above all, when did Americans ever get asked if they wanted the Federal government to stop enforcing our borders? When did developed countries decide that having actual borders is a violation of basic human rights? I can’t recall any referendum on that.

This is an issue across the Western world. So far, only Australia and Israel have taken robust steps to halt migrant flows, but they have shown that admitting large numbers of illegal immigrants is a choice, not a fait accompli or a fact of life that developed countries can do nothing about. Given the enormous migrant flows facing Europe now, this is sure to become a bigger and more contentious issue in many countries.

All these are critical matters that merit serious discussion, not rabble-rousing. Yet when the mainstream powers-that-be stifle such necessary discussion, confining it to the fringes, don’t complain when fringe characters are the ones talking about it.

Alarmingly for our elites, far beyond just the GOP, Donald Trump is one of their own and he’s grabbed the third rail hard and shows no sign of letting go. Worse, he can always get media coverage. Is all this spectacle just another Trump stunt to hold on to the spotlight? If so, it’s not the first time The Donald has done just that.

Regardless of Trump’s motivations, his emergence as a political, not just media, figure may portend changes to what is suitable for discussion in America. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stated his country will not accept more migrants and Budapest will build a fence on its southern border, earning the wrath of the beautiful people in Brussels. Trump has promised a similar fence, indeed wall, for America, and has met a similar reaction from our bi-coastal elites. Since The Donald is anything but a fool, presumably that was exactly what he expected.

The World of Espionage in 2015

This piece originally ran in the German newspaper BILD as Die Welt der Spionage im Jahr 2015. For the benefit of readers who don’t know German, I’m providing the English version — enjoy!

The latest Wikileaks sensation concerns allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency has been spying on Paris. Based on purloined intelligence documents, it appears that NSA has intercepted the communications of three French presidents – Chirac, Sarkozy, and Hollande.

President Obama has delivered his usual mea culpa, as he previously did with Chancellor Merkel, adding that the United States is no longer doing such things. That may, or may not, be true, but there’s little doubt that NSA will be back to intercepting high-level communications in Paris soon, no matter what Obama says right now.

France, although it’s an ally that’s back in NATO after decades of being barely in the Atlantic Alliance, is also a major world power that has nuclear weapons and often doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Washington – or London. Of course NSA and its Anglosphere partners like Britain’s GCHQ are trying to intercept the phone calls and emails of the French president and his top officials. They would be derelict of duty if they did not.

France’s difficult trade relations – not always noted for their transparency – alone would be enough to justify monitoring the Élysée Palace. When you add to that Parisian longstanding ties to questionable regimes and the venerable French tendency to go their own way in foreign affairs – while not always being honest with allies about their unstated policies – knowing what Paris is really up to is something any major power will want to know. In reality, there are dozens of intelligence services that want to know what’s happing in the Élysée Palace, and the BND is one of them.

The official French reaction to the NSA revelations has been moderate, in contrast to the German hysteria over Handygate. The American ambassador has been summoned, but that’s as far as this “scandal” will really go. Paris has no intention of making a “big deal” over this story.

Some of this has to do with French maturity about espionage. Everybody spies. Every developed country has a foreign intelligence service whose job is breaking the laws of foreign countries. France knows this.

Neither is this the first time in recent years that the Americans got caught spying on the Seine. Back in 1996, the CIA, though careless tradecraft, got embroiled in a messy scandal that involved deep-cover spies and mistresses – the perfect French recipe. Again, Paris didn’t make too big a fuss.

Why should they? The French are very adept at espionage themselves and they know how the game is played. The DGSE, the French foreign intelligence service, analogous to the BND, has a well-honed reputation for efficiency and daring. Year in and year out, the DGSE ranks among the Big Five counterintelligence threats to the United States, after Russia, China, Cuba, and Israel, roughly in that order.

And the French are good at spying too. During some of my stints in Eastern Europe, I was watched at least as closely by French “allies” as I was by “hostile” local security services. That’s just how the spy-game gets played.

Moreover, Paris doesn’t seek to make too public a fuss about NSA intercepting the calls of the French president, since the DGSE is doing the exact same thing. When Germany was aflutter with revelations of NSA spying on Chancellor Merkel, thanks to Edward Snowden, the French took it in stride, indeed with a Gallic shrug. Of course the Americans were doing this, they said to reporters – who didn’t know this?

“I had telephone tap transcripts in my hands of President George W. Bush that we carried out,” explained a former DGSE official, who seemed mystified by German outrage, which he found contrived. Was the fanfare “populism or crass ignorance?” he wondered, “because we obviously send our reports to [our] political authorities.”

More than a hundred intelligence services worldwide would like to get their hands on the communications of the American president – and it’s naïve to think that none of them ever do. Sometimes top espionage agencies, for instance the KGB, have recruited human spies inside the White House too.

In the twenty-first century, we all depend on electronic communications of every sort – Handys, iPads, instant messages – to live our daily lives. Leaders are no different. President Obama demanded that NSA find him a secure way to use his beloved Blackberry – which represents a huge vulnerability to espionage.

Any world leader in 2015 who does not think that his or her communications are being targeted intensely by multiple intelligence agencies is so foolish as to be unfit for office.

Smart leaders understand that they may be subject to monitoring at any time. The cunning ones know how to employ this to their advantage. I am aware of at least three world leaders in recent memory who, aware that somebody may be listening in, intentionally gave misleading information on an open telephone line. On at least one occasion, such a clever lie to fool the spies significantly skewed major international diplomacy – to the advantage of that leader’s country.

In a formal sense, this is termed denial and deception by American intelligence. But informally, any wise top official will think about doing the same. You can never be sure who’s getting your message, beyond its intended recipients, so if you’re a world leader, it’s safe to assume you’re not alone on the line with the person you’re talking to.

Again, the French understand all this and make accommodations. The French Foreign Ministry has invested heavily in hundreds of late-model cell phones with advanced encryption, to offer a degree of security. Nevertheless, explained a senior French diplomat, “You cannot say just anything on just any network!”

That, in 2015, is the simple truth. Top officials of any Western government should always assume they are being listened to when they pick up a phone or use email. Any other assumption is grossly naïve.

If they’re lucky, it will be a friendly service that’s listening in, but it may well be the Russians and Chinese, who are interested in a lot more than advantages in trade talks. Only the dead have seen the end of war, explained Plato well over two millennia ago, and the same is true of espionage. Spying is called the Second Oldest Profession with good reason.

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