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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 ...

Operation BENELUX: More Bosnian Terror

Today’s news beings word of the arrest of four Islamist terrorists by Bosnian authorities. The four men, three Bosnians and one Swedish national, were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in a Scandinavian country, presumably Sweden. Three men were arrested by authorities while trying to leave Bosnia by car — a bomb was found in the trunk — while the fourth man was picked up in Sarajevo.

55032831-c684-4560-9954-66b0b0094cfb-slika1-2Details remain sketchy at this hour, but the Bosnian State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) admits to two raids on Sarajevo locations subsequent to the arrests. The improvised explosive device had been requested by radicals in Scandinavia for use there. Think of it as a bespoke bomb.

The multinational and interagency effort to round up this terror cell before they were able to launch an attack — left of boom as counterterrorism professionals like to say — was termed Operation BENELUX. It was led by SIPA in coordination with Dutch and Swedish authorities, as well as the Bosnian intelligence service, OSA.

The Bosnian daily Avaz has details on the arrested terrorists: Osman Abdel Salah (the Swedish citizen, born 1962), Adis Ramić (born 1979), Amar Šljivo (born 1975) and Enver Džanko (born 1973).

This is a developing story….watch this space for more information. This seems to be another case where intelligence-led terrorism prevention and security collaboration worked in saving lives … but in Bosnia there’s usually a complicated, and not always edifying, backstory too.

UPDATE (13 Mar, 1700 EST): Sarajevo media are reporting the arrest of a fifth member of the terrorist ring today in Sarajevo, but his name has not been released.

UPDATE (13 Mar, 1710 EST): Swedish police are expressing skepticism that the arrests are related to jihadist terrorism. They believe the plot stems from a Balkan gang war in the southern Swedish city of Malmö which has gotten ugly of late.

UPDATE (14 Mar, 0945 EST): The Sarajevo daily Avaz has identified the fifth suspect in SIPA custody as Željko Malenica (which is not a normal name for Bosnian Muslim, FWIW).

UPDATE (14 Mar, 1010 EST): SIPA is not commenting on Swedish reports that police there consider this to be a gang-related case. Sarajevo considers this to be a case of terrorism, per the SIPA spokeswoman, as reported today by the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje.

This blog has reported prodigiously on Bosnia’s connections to transnational jihadism and terrorism; here are some recent highlights, which may help with the background to this breaking story.

Bosnia and the Global Jihad Revisited

Bosnia’s Jihad Comes to America

How Iranian Intelligence Trained Bosnian Terrorists

Iran’s New Secret Balkan Spy-Terror Offensive

Austria and the Bosnian-Syrian Jihad Connection

Operation DAMASCUS, Part II

Vienna Calling: How Austria Became a Hub of Global Jihad

And if you want the full background to this messy story — it’s got spies, Bin Laden, Iranians, plus terrorists from a couple dozen countries — there’s a detailed book you should really read.



Why Hillary’s EmailGate Matters

For the last couple weeks, Hillary Clinton’s budding 2016 presidential race has been buffeted by revelations she used her own private email account exclusively when she was Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term. Her ham-handed effort to make this rising scandal go away with a controlled press conference did Hillary no favors. At this point, EmailGate seems to have legs and may pose serious problems for her aspirations to move back into the White House in January 2017.

Let me get out up front that I’m no Hillary hater. I share much of the view of the late Christopher Hitchens that Bill and Hillary are, at root, political grifters, but I prefer corruption to fanaticism. I thought she was a far better choice for the Democratic nomination in 2008 than Barack Obama was, and I still believe that. I also think, security and email issues aside, Hillary was a pretty good Secretary of State. The country could have a lot worse outcome in a couple years than Hillary as our first female president.

That said, EmailGate reminds everyone who’s not on the Clinton payroll what they dislike about Bill and Hillary. The routine, indeed quotidian lies and dissimulations about, well, practically everything. The sense of entitlement that leads to hate campaigns against anybody who dares to ask awkward questions about Clinton family finances or business ventures. Predictably, talk of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has returned among the Usual Suspects. It’s hard to miss a whiff of the late 1990’s again, by which I don’t mean peace, a robust economy and solid Federal finances. It’s good to recall that Clintonian mores became tiresome even to many of their supporters by the time Bill and Hillary moved out of the White House at the beginning of 2001.

We can dispense with several of the notions already proffered by Hillary and her media minions to make EmailGate go away, especially the idea that Hillary never got near classified information in those tens of thousands of private emails she sent as Secretary of State. Since she wasn’t using the proper email channels for such things, we can dismiss out of hand the fantasy that Hillary kept every whiff of classified information out of her clintonmail account. Anybody who so flagrantly disregards the most basic Federal rules and regulations about record-keeping and control of sensitive information should be presumed guilty of a wide range of what spies term Security Violations, until proven innocent.

Every Hillary email she sent as Secretary of State was a Federal record and by using her private email, then destroying tens of thousands of those emails because she felt like it, transparently seems to be a criminal act, and perhaps several of them. Not to mention the archival implications surrounding the mass destruction of such Federal records. Good luck to future historians who have to reconstruct what was going on at Foggy Bottom between 2009 and 2013.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll leave the legal implications of Hillary’s misconduct in EmailGate to others. But when the former senior Federal official who administered the Freedom of Information Act for nearly two decades calls bullshit on Hillary’s excuses, we should listen. “What she did was contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law … There is no doubt that the scheme she established was a blatant circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, atop the Federal Records Act,” explained Daniel Metcalfe, who established the Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy in 1981, and headed it until 2007. In other words Metcalfe, who’s a Democrat in case you wondered, was the top official in Washington, DC, on FOIA matters, so he is the expert on this one.

Legalities aside, we also need to discuss the grave security implications of what Hillary was up to. EmailGate establishes, even based on the partial view we’ve seen to date, that Hillary willfully violated a whole raft of State and U.S. Government rules and regulations regarding information security. Such rules are cumbersome and sometimes look silly to those not versed in security issues, but INFOSEC policies exist for valid reasons, above all the reality that others are listening in.

The communications of America’s foreign policy boss rank among the top espionage priorities anywhere for literally dozens of intelligence agencies worldwide — and all of our enemies. “On a [target] scale of 1 to 10, she’s a 10 … When you think of treaties, trade negotiations, any thing that the secretary of state would be involved in, she would be an incredibly lucrative target — maybe even more so than the president,” explained Richard Schaeffer, NSA’s former INFOSEC boss. The latest revelation, that for the first three months of Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State her jury-rigged “private” email system had no encryption at all, indicates that this was a SIGINT bonanza for the other side.

Intelligence services like the Russians and Chinese look for high-level U.S. Government communications with intense interest, and their technical acumen is impressive. Kremlin spy penetration of the White House is not a new problem, but it has taken on new angles in the Internet age. Smart counterintelligence officers assume that all unclassified .gov networks are compromised — many have similar doubts about more secure networks too — and anything sent out unencrypted, with the Clinton name right on it, could be intercepted by many intelligence services with ease.

We are at the point now where, thanks to Team Clinton’s destruction of tens of thousands of “private” emails, the American public will never know what the Secretary of State was up to — but the Kremlin surely does. Kudos to the Associated Press for suing to see what can still be seen, but anybody acquainted with Clintonian ways should not expect much to emerge, ever.  If Hillary was up to anything shady in those destroyed emails — and given recent revelations of foreign fundraising by the Clinton Global Initiative that appears at least unethical, anyone sentient must wonder — people in Moscow who do not like us will be aware of it. The word you are looking for is kompromat.

The Snowden Operation was a bonanza for Russian intelligence and it hardly seems a coincidence that Vladimir Putin became much more audacious in foreign affairs, including his theft of Crimea and his resulting aggression against Ukraine, once the Kremlin knew exactly what U.S. intelligence was capable of, technically. Yet in light of EmailGate, it’s worth pondering whether Kremlin confidence in assessing — correctly — that the Obama administration would sit idly by as Moscow restarted the Cold War, had something to do with their excellent SIGINT look into American foreign policy-making at the highest level.

Someday, perhaps decades off, the public may be able to answer that important question. For now, the relevant question is whether Hillary, who at the very least broke all sorts of Federal rules and regulations that would destroy the careers of mere mortals, can be trusted with such authority ever again. The real issue isn’t what we know about EmailGate and the invariably tangled finances of Clinton, Inc. — it’s what the Russians and others may know.

Czech Republic Expels Three Russian Spies

An exposé published today by the Czech news magazine Respekt has blown the lid off a major spy scandal that played out in Prague over the last few months. The report, based on sources inside the Security Information Service (BIS), the Czech counterintelligence agency, reveals that no less than three Russian intelligence officers have been declared persona non grata by Prague in the last nine months.

The first case involved a Russian diplomat who was not accredited to the Prague embassy, rather he had recently come from another (unidentified) country, but was in the Czech Republic when he wound up on BIS radar. Czech counterintelligencers determined that the “diplomat” was engaged in espionage — exactly what he was doing was unclear — and he was sent on his way.

More serious was the case of two Russian diplomats whom BIS determined were engaged in espionage on Czech soil. One was accredited to the Russian Embassy in Prague, while another was soon headed there: the Czech Foreign Ministry PNG’d the diplomat who was already in Prague and informed Moscow that his co-worker was not welcome and should not report to the embassy.

The current Czech center-left government has been cautious in its dealings with Moscow, preferring not to anger the Russian bear, so this spy affair was kept out of the media — until today. Sensibly, Czech officials have declined to comment on these linked cases. However, today’s report indicates that two Czech diplomats have been PNG’d by Moscow, in customary tit-for-tat retaliation for the BIS operations that unmasked the three Russian spies.

The Respekt report notes Russia’s unusually large diplomatic presence in the Czech Republic, with a total of 125 accredited diplomats — by comparison Beijing has twenty-eight diplomats in Prague while the Americans have seventy — of whom something like thirty are assessed to be intelligence officers by BIS.

And that high number may be an major understatement. In its annual counterintelligence report released last October, BIS stated that the number of Russians spies in the country was “extremely high,” and they were actively targeting several sectors of politics, security, and the economy. Both Russian agencies that conduct espionage abroad, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), are active in the Czech Republic, and both send illegals — that is, officers operating without official cover, i.e. they’re not pretending to be diplomats, what Americans term non-official cover or NOCs — so the real number of Kremlin spies in Prague may be far larger than BIS is aware of.

A Central European senior counterintelligence officer told me, with regard to today’s news from BIS, that the Czech Republic continues to be a “Bohemian playground” for the SVR and GRU, despite BIS efforts, and notwithstanding the fact that in recent years the Russians are the Czechs’ top counterintelligence problem. The problem is mostly political, since Prague does not want to cause a full diplomatic war with Moscow over aggressive Kremlin espionage in the country, preferring to handle matters discreetly, if at all.

Recent years have seen several Russian spy scandals erupt in the Czech Republic. Back in 2009, two Russian diplomats who were caught spying on NATO were PNG’d, and two Czech diplomats were promptly thrown out of Russia in return. Not long after, three generals in the Czech military resigned when their tawdry involvement in a Russian spy game was revealed: one was Prague’s representative to NATO. The implications of the case for the Atlantic Alliance were troubling, and led to concerns in NATO capitals that Prague was falling under the Kremlin’s spell.

In response, reluctant Czech politicians authorized BIS to go harder on the outsized SVR and GRU presence in the country. Today’s report in Respekt tells part of that clandestine tale. Old CI hands in the Danubian region tell me that there’s more going on in the Czech-Russian SpyWar than just this episode, but certain operations remain on-going and the public might not be informed about them for some time. As Russian espionage against the West ramps up to levels last seen at the height of the Cold War, you can be sure there’s a lot going on in the dark streets of Prague, as well as in many NATO capitals, that the media hasn’t been told about quite yet.


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