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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.

Never Underestimate Fanaticism

Why men fight in an organized fashion is one of history’s more interesting questions. Yes: men. Although many Western militaries today include women in their armed forces in considerable numbers, even in combat roles, this is a recent affectation whose duration we don’t yet know. Over the course of history, war has been an overwhelmingly male phenomenon in terms of direct participation.

Eons ago Thucydides explained that wars emerge from three factors: fear, honor, and interest. Over the centuries these factors have indeed played a big part in why wars happen. When fear, honor, and interest combine — one could detect all of them at work back in 2002-03, when many Americans (however misguidedly) believed Saddam Hussein needed to be taken out, for instance — war becomes much more likely.

Of course, many scholars of war tend to focus on less personal factors, preferring theoretical, jargon-laden discussions (at its worst: game theory) that tend to undervalue if not wholly ignore intangibles like honor and fear, which are things that touch average people more than they do academics.

Then there’s the reality, seldom mentioned among professors, that some people simply like war. Pointing out that war is a pursuit that many men over the centuries have simply found a lot of fun is not something that will endear you to the tenured or think-tank set.

Yet it’s undeniably true and always has been. This is tough to imagine if you’re a post-modern Westerner whose life is one creature comfort leading to another. If you can barely lift your eyes from your smartphone, you’re not likely to embrace a life of bloodshed and sacrifice just for the hell of it. But if you’re, say, a Somali teenager with zero life prospects outside jihad — which, in practice, is frequently just a cover for rampaging, raping, and plundering (all of which sound pretty cool to you, compared to being a broke fisherman without fish to catch) — it looks rather different.

The U.S. military in the twenty-first century has become a killing machine that is unique in military history. Particularly in our War on Terrorism (or whatever we’re calling it this week), our crack Special Operations Forces combined with precision real-time, multidisciplinary intelligence represent something that previous generations of warriors could only dream of, not to mention that American SOF has something approximating global reach.

Yet SOF is not the military, rather a small, self-selected portion of it. In the ranks of special operators you will find men who do like war, though they are usually sensible enough not to say so when reporters are around. They are not, however, representative of the whole U.S. military. Neither are SOF magic, media portrayals to the contrary, as numerous slip ups over the years demonstrate.

The American way of war as it has evolved in our era is a very expensive and technology-driven enterprise. Global strike capabilities are costly — so costly that only America can truly afford such things, and even our ability to keep paying for it may be in doubt. In such an environment it’s worthwhile to remember that motivation in war counts too. While fanaticism alone cannot offset firepower — ask the Japanese in World War Two how that worked out — it plays a larger role in warfare than most experts allow.

Field Marshal Bill Slim, commander of British ground forces in India and Burma in the latter half of WWII, said that every Japanese soldier would have won the VC, meaning the Victoria Cross, the highest British valor decoration. He spoke the truth, yet Slim’s 14th Army, once properly trained and equipped, pushed the outgunned Japanese Army back again and again, through the dense jungles of Southeast Asia, one sharp firefight at a time.

But what if fanaticism could be harnessed with solid fighting ability and modern weapons? That’s when things get interesting. We have relatively recent information on this. The performance of Hitler’s forces, particularly the more elite units, in the latter half of WWII, when defeat approached but the Wehrmacht showed no signs of capitulation, may offer a guide.

After Stalingrad and especially Kursk, when it was obvious to the sentient that Germany was going to lose the war, the National Socialist regime put a lot of effort into keeping morale high, despite the military realities. Hitler was determined to resist to the bitter end. The humiliation of November 1918 — his humiliation — when the German Army gave up when still on foreign soil, would not be repeated. They would fight until they could fight no more. So they did: in this wicked sense, Hitler achieved his aim.

In the last two years of the war, the term “fanatical” became commonplace in the fitness reports of German combat leaders — in a most positive way. Although it’s not politically correct to say so, a lot of German soldiers fought so hard because they believed in National Socialist ideals. Propaganda often works. Dispassionate analysis of the views of the average Landser reveals that Hitler’s worldview had taken hold, especially among younger Germans who came of age after 1933. With the addition of National Socialist Leadership Officers in 1944, mimicking Red Army practices, intense propaganda in all Wehrmacht units encouraged total resistance. By and large, this worked.

When the tactical acumen of the Germany Army, which generally outclassed all the Allies, was married to ideological fanaticism, the battlefield performance of the Wehrmacht astonished all comers. Despite the fact that the war was clearly lost after the failure to stem the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, German soldiers kept fighting like devils, against hopeless odds.

Even though two million German soldiers had already died on the Eastern Front — the best two million — before any Allied troops set foot in France, German forces routinely inflicted far higher casualties than they incurred, despite usually being severely outgunned. Recent popular American depictions of elites such as Rangers and Airborne units, filled with highly motivated and superbly trained volunteers, create a badly distorted image. In truth, the American Army was seriously outperformed by the Germans in Northwest Europe in 1944-45 at a tactical level. Non-elite divisions were filled with conscripts, many diffident and poorly trained. They were deeply dependent on massive fire superiority from artillery and aircraft to advance.

The verdict of a retired general and decorated Vietnam veteran that WWII’s U.S. Army, with its ill-trained conscripted infantry, represented a “self-killing machine” is harsh but not inaccurate. They were viewed as second-rate by the Wehrmacht, who feared American artillery and airpower but usually not “Ami” infantry, which was timid in battle. (Landser views of the British and Canadians were broadly similar.) There was respect for the Russians, in German eyes, since they were tough, brave and suffered enormous casualties. “They fought like men,” explained an elderly Wehrmacht veteran who fought on both the Eastern and Western fronts in WWII, whose views of “Amis” were less respectful.

To say nothing of the true fanatics of the Waffen-SS, Hitler’s political soldiers, who fought with astonishing ferociousness, which was sometimes visited on civilians too. The newly formed 12th SS Panzer Division, termed the Hitler Youth Division since its rank-and-file were fanatical teenagers, inflicted horrific casualties on Canadians in Normandy, despite being badly outnumbered and outgunned. Fanaticism, when combined with experienced officers and NCOs, was a lethal combination.

It’s easy to encounter misplaced nostalgia about “the Good War,” a view that I’ve seldom seen endorsed by American veterans who actually fought against the Wehrmacht close-up. Neocon cheerleaders continue to tell us that, if only Patton had been unleashed, WWII might have ended much earlier.

While Patton was a fine commander, he understood the forces at his disposal better than latter-day “experts” do. He knew that overwhelming American advantages in firepower were needed to compensate for infantry weakness. As he explained at the end of the bitter and mighty struggle, “I do not have to tell you who won the war. You know. The artillery did,” adding acidly, “The poorer the infantry, the more artillery it needs; the American infantry needs all it can get.”

When the U.S. Army had to fight the Germans without support from masses of fighter-bombers and artillery fires, the results were not edifying. The disaster of the Hürtgen Forest, waged between September and December 1944, on the German border with Belgium, remains the longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, yet has been forgotten by the American public and is unlikely to feature in a Spielberg movie anytime soon.

This offensive never made much strategic sense; worse, it pushed American infantry into dense woods, where advantages in airpower and artillery mattered little. As a result, third-rate German units comprised of teenagers and old men made mincemeat of American rifle battalions, with whole units evaporating, even running away in the forested slaughter. “Passchendaele with tree-bursts” was Hemingway’s epitaph for the debacle, which cost the U.S. Army tens of thousands of casualties really for nothing.

Fortunately, the U.S. Army of today — all-volunteer, highly trained and motivated — resembles the Rangers and Airborne of 1944 more than the mediocre line infantry that even Patton often couldn’t do much with. But fanatics they are not. In a democracy this is undoubtedly a good thing, since the last thing we need is a praetorian class of politically motivated killers.

Yet fanatics still exist and some of them are our implacable enemies. Salafi jihadists who have officially been at war with the West since 1998 (it took most Americans until September 2001 to notice) are undeniably fanatics who embrace war for its own sake, citing theological justifications for their violent conduct. Many seem happy to “martyr” themselves for the cause and in battle they can resemble Japanese soldiers of WWII, committed to die in place.

Throughout the last Iraq War, even such fanaticism could not last against American firepower. During the Second Battle of Fallujah in late 2004, a rare stand-up fight against jihadists, American force and firepower killed off the resistance, professionally and slowly, and many of the foreign fighters fought to the bitter end and died without thought of surrender, as if they held Iwo Jima. But the outcome was never in doubt.

Al-Qa’ida has always valued fanaticism over tactical finesse. While the mujahidin fear American technology, which they cannot hope to counter — especially the “hand of Allah” as they term U.S. drones, which rain sudden death on them, seemingly out of nowhere — their views of U.S. troops are less awestruck. As a captured foreign fighter, a veteran of multiple Al-Qa’ida expeditions including Chechnya, explained, directly echoing Wehrmacht comments, the Americans have amazing equipment but were often timid about closing in for the kill — unlike the Russians who, although evil in the way they kill Muslim civilians indiscriminately, “get in the cave with us.” Some things never change.

The Islamic State, which I’ve repeatedly explained how to defeat, continues to prosper in Syria and especially Iraq. Their dream of a Salafi caliphate encompassing big chunks of the Middle East no longer seems like a madcap fantasy. Worse, they increasingly appear to be a different sort of threat than Al-Qa’ida has been.

It’s no secret that much of Da’ish’s success in Iraq stems from the reality that many of its founders and leaders are former Iraqi officers from the Saddam era. Such veterans of the Ba’thist military and intelligence services have made Da’ish a serious threat to the Iraqi state that was cobbled together after the American invasion of 2003. Many Da’ish commanders and staffers are professionals who know their ground and know how to fight.

When these skills are matched up with Da’ish’s strong combat motivation, which is grounded in a heady brew of religious fervor and Sunni sectarian resentments, something terrifying results. This is not to say that Da’ish cannot be defeated by American forces — they would meet the same end that the Japanese did on Okinawa in the spring of 1945 — yet it would not necessarily be any sort of walkover. Moreover, the longer that the Obama administration continues to not know what to do in Iraq, lazily ad-hoccing its way to strategic defeat, the better Da’ish will get at conquering and waging war.

Allowing Da’ish to become a serious threat to order in the Middle East was foolish. Permitting them to grow into a serious fighting force whose combination of fanaticism and tactical ability can test the skills and resolve of Western militaries is a tragedy, because it’s needless. Let’s hope we will find the strength to crush Da’ish before the cost of that victory becomes prohibitive in life and treasure.

The Snowden Story Slowly Unravels

I am grateful to the German newspaper BILD for running this piece as “Wie Snowdens schöne Geschichte langsam zerfällt” For the benefit of readers who don’t know German, I’m providing the English version — enjoy!

Exactly two years after Edward Snowden went public with his exposure of Western intelligence secrets, causing a global sensation, the basic facts of his case are unraveling. Many who welcomed his exposure of National Security Agency domestic operations, for instance metadata collection, were nevertheless troubled by his move to Moscow.

Taking up residency under Putin’s roof, which Snowden shows no signs of leaving, was never a good fit with his status as a freedom-loving “whistleblower.” Russia, run by a former KGB man, spies on its citizens far more aggressively than any of the Western countries whose secrets have been exposed by Snowden – to say nothing of the mysterious deaths of politicians, journalists and others who fall afoul of Putin and his Kremlin.

Ironically, given the intense debate over the Snowden revelations in Germany, it has been this country where the real unraveling of the storyline has begun. The end of the year-long Federal inquiry into Snowden’s allegation’s led by Attorney General Harald Range, without any charges against NSA, has disappointed many admirers of Snowden. Yet this inquiry failed due to a lack of hard evidence. Some of the documents offered as “proof” of NSA espionage against Chancellor Angela Merkel are copies, not originals, and therefore lack probative value.

Moreover, Snowden does not seem to really understand much of what he has exposed. As a Federal prosecutor explained, Snowden provided “no evidence that he has his own knowledge” (keine Hinweise dafür, dass er über eigene Kenntnisse verfügt). He is in no position to actually explain what NSA does.

Although Snowden has presented himself as a “spy” at the heart of NSA’s global espionage network, the mundane truth is that he was an IT contractor who never actually worked on NSA’s signals intelligence program. In his last assignment, Snowden analyzed Chinese cyber capabilities against the United States – which may appear suspicious given the recent unprecedented hacking of U.S. Government databases, an apparent Chinese operation – but that job was on the Agency’s defensive side, protecting sensitive government communications. Snowden is no expert on NSA’s collection of foreign communications.

Worse news for Snowden’s admirers comes with a report that Western secret services have been badly harmed by his compromise. Western intelligence has pulled agents out of “hostile countries,” fearing for their safety, after both the Russian and Chinese intelligence services have cracked into Snowden’s cache of some 1.7 million purloined documents and learned their vast secrets. “We have now seen our agents and assets being targeted,” explained a British official. The result, said a British intelligence source, has been “incalculable damage.”

Although London is not commenting on the report’s details, as Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond explained, “nobody should be in any doubt that Edward Snowden has caused immense damage.”

This is commonsensical as the Snowden compromise represents the greatest loss in the history of Western intelligence. It included some of the most closely guarded secrets of numerous Western intelligence agencies. Worse, among those 1.7 million documents are 900,000 files stolen from the Pentagon, military secrets that have nothing to do with protecting civil liberties.

This British report does immense harm to the Snowden cause because from the outset Ed and his journalist partners have repeatedly stated that his huge data cache is safe. Snowden said he took no NSA documents to Russia, insisting a few months after his move to Moscow, “There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents.” Although Snowden asserted he had not taken his NSA files to Russia with him, his close partner Glenn Greenwald stated, three weeks after Snowden’s arrival in Moscow, that the records were still in Ed’s possession.

The Snowden inner circle has been unable to keep their story straight about where these very sensitive documents are, yet they have insisted that the purloined secrets Snowden stole from NSA are safe — somewhere. Greenwald has openly mocked suggestions that the Russians or Chinese could get their hands on them.

This appears like vain silliness to anyone acquainted with the capabilities of the Russian and Chinese intelligence services. Where was Snowden during the last ten days of May 2013, after he left Hawaii but before he checked into Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1? It smacks of naïveté to think Beijing did not expect something in return for giving Snowden sanctuary en route to Moscow.

Moreover, it is surpassingly naïve not to think that Russian intelligence has secured Snowden’s cooperation in exchange for sanctuary. Putin’s FSB is not motivated by charity and access to those 1.7 million documents, a goldmine for the Kremlin, would be the normal quid pro quo for offering refuge to an American on the run with valuable secrets.

Defectors are always debriefed at length by the host’s security service, this is a constant in the real world of espionage. Russian defectors to the United States collaborate with American intelligence, and nobody is seriously suggesting that Putin’s FSB is more liberal.

Every Western intelligence defector to Moscow since 1917 has collaborated with the Kremlin. There is no choice, as Snowden has surely discovered. “Of course” Snowden is collaborating with the FSB, explained Oleg Kalugin, the former head of KGB foreign counterintelligence, over a year ago, stating the reality of how the spy game gets played.

It remains an open question when Snowden’s relationship with Russian intelligence began, but denying that he has one now, after two years in Russia, reflects a deep misunderstanding of how Putin, his Kremlin, and the FSB operate.

For two years, Edward Snowden and his advocates have spun an enticing yarn about a pure-hearted and heroic lover of freedom who “told the truth” about Western democracies. In reality, the “whistleblower” may be no more than a pawn of countries that seek to harm the West.

While discrediting the intelligence work of law-based democracies, Snowden’s efforts have enabled espionage by less free countries. We now have reports that the computer of Chancellor Angela Merkel was a victim of May’s massive cyberattack on the Bundestag, which German security officials believe was Russian in origin.

The BfV has repeatedly warned that Russian and Chinese espionage against Germany is rising fast, far outpacing the efforts of NSA or any Western spy services to learn Berlin’s secrets. Now that Snowden’s story has begun to unravel, it’s time to assess security threats more honestly.

China’s Hack Just Wrecked American Espionage

The mega-hack of the Office of Personnel Management continues to get worse for Washington. Revelations of a second, even deeper intrusion into OPM servers bring distressing news that Pentagon employees, including intelligence personnel, are among the millions of Americans whose personal and security data have been compromised.

As The Daily Beast reported, this hack constitutes a disaster for Washington’s counterintelligence operatives. Armed with very private information about the personal lives of millions of security clearance holders, foreign intelligence services can blackmail and coerce vulnerable officials. To make matters worse, foreign spies can use data purloined from OPM background investigations to head American mole-hunters off at the pass. For Beltway counterspies, the OPM breach will take decades to set right.

But there’s an even more serious aspect of this compromise: the threat it poses to American intelligence operations abroad, particularly to officers serving under various false identities, or “covers,” overseas. The Intelligence Community employs myriad cover mechanisms to protect the true identity of its spies posted outside the United States. Cover protects our officers and allows them to conduct their secret work without drawing as much attention to themselves. While many intelligence officers pose as diplomats, that is only one option, and some covers are deeper than others.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast

OPM Hack Is Serious Breach Of Worker Trust

“We cannot undo this damage. What’s done is done, and it will take decades to fix.”

This morning National Public Radio had me on to discuss the impact of the mega-hacks of OPM, which I’ve written about here, here and here this week. I discussed several things, including the grave violation of the trust (and the personal secrets) of millions of Americans that this failure has caused.

I said from the outset that this incident was a very big deal, indeed disastrous, from any security or counterintelligence perspective, and sadly this week’s ever-worse revelations have demonstrated that my pessimism was correct.

You can listen to my interview with NPR’s Scott Simon here.

Snowden is a Fraud

In the two years since the Edward Snowden saga went public, a handful of people who actually understand the Western signals intelligence system have tried to explain the many ways that the Snowden Operation has smeared NSA and its partners with salacious charges of criminality and abuse. I’ve been one of the public faces of what may be called the Snowden Truth movement, and finally there are signs that reality may be intruding on this debate.

No American ally was rocked harder by Snowden’s allegations than Germany, which has endured a bout of hysteria over charges that NSA was listening in on senior German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although these stories included a good deal of bunkum from the start, they caused a firestorm in Germany, particularly the alleged spying on Merkel, which was termed Handygate by the media.

In response, Germany tasked Federal prosecutors with looking into the matter and, they if determined there was sufficient evidence, to press charges against NSA for breaking stringent German privacy laws. The investigation, led by Harald Range, Germany’s attorney general, has been slow and diligent, examining all possible evidence about NSA spying on Germany. Here Snowden’s purloined information would play a key role.

However, the matter has become politically fraught. In the first place, senior German security officials were circumspect about the case, since Berlin is heavily dependent on NSA for intelligence on vital matters like terrorism. Worse, follow-on Snowden revelations showed that the BND, German’s foreign intelligence service, and NSA are close partners, and the BND has itself been spying on EU neighbor states that are friendly to Germany such as Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

To top it off, last month’s major hack of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, turns out to have been the work of Russians, apparently state-sponsored. In reality, the major spy threats to Germany are not NSA, but Russians and Chinese, as I’ve been saying for some time — and, to be fair, so have German security officials, though they got drowned out in the public hysteria over Snowden.

Now we learn that Range’s prosecutors are dropping their year-long Handygate inquiry, for want of hard evidence. Federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe aren’t saying much, beyond that they simply don’t have evidence of spying that would stand up in court. Back in December, Attorney General Range offered a warning about the dubious nature of much of the “evidence” against NSA:

The document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database. There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.

Got that? That’s the polite, legalistic way of saying the Snowden claims are backed by faked NSA documents, as has been clear for some time to anybody who understands counterintelligence and the SIGINT system. This should surprise no one, since using fake or doctored Western intelligence documents to embarrass democracies is a venerable tradition for Russian intelligence — the proper espionage term is Active Measures — and since Snowden’s been in Moscow for the last two years and shows no signs of going anywhere else anytime soon, two and two can be added together here.

To make matters worse for Snowden’s fans, a report about the Handygate inquiry being dropped in the magazine Der Spiegel, which has been a key player in the Snowden Operation, includes the painful truth. While some have clamored to get Snowden out of Moscow to testify before prosecutors, Berlin understood how politically tricky that would be. Moreover, prosecutors determined that Ed simply didn’t have much to say.

As a prosecutor explained, Snowden provided no evidence that he has his own knowledge” (keine Hinweise dafür, dass er über eigene Kenntnisse verfügt). In other words, Ed doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. This is not news to anybody who understands how NSA and the Allied SIGINT system actually work.

Snowden was an IT guy, not a SIGINT analyst, and in his final position he was working as a contracted infrastructure analyst for NSA’s Information Assurance arm, i.e. the Agency’s defensive side, which protects classified U.S. communications networks. Snowden was never a SIGINTer, working on the intelligence collection side of the house, and he doesn’t seem to understand how that complex system, built over decades, actually functions.

This is why Snowden has made so many odd, contradictory, and even outlandish statements over the past couple years about SIGINT, which have caused those who actually understand how NSA works to scratch their heads … Ed doesn’t know any better.

It’s been obvious for some time to insiders that, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, Snowden decided to steal something like 1.7 million classified documents from NSA servers through internal hacks. About 900,000 of those documents came from the Pentagon and have nothing to do with intelligence matters.

There’s no way Snowden could have read more than a tiny fraction of what he stole, nobody has that much time, and it’s clear now that Ed, an IT guy and a thief, who was never any sort of “spy” as he portrays himself, would not have understood all those NSA documents he made off with anyway.

Snowden’s been living under the protection of Putin’s Federal Security Service now for two years, functioning as a pawn of Russian intelligence. When his secret relationship with the Kremlin started remains an open question, but that he has one now can only be denied by the foolish (witness the weak lies told by his supporters about Ed’s FSB ties), since when you defect, you wind up in the care of that country’s security service. That’s how it works in America, and I don’t hear anybody seriously suggesting that Putin’s Kremlin is more liberal in these matters than the FBI or CIA.

In light of these revelations from Germany, it’s worth pondering whether Ed was always just a pawn, a talking head, for others with agendas to harm Western security. As we’re now in the Cold War 2.0 with Russia that I warned you about after Putin’s theft of Crimea, this seems like a more than academic question.

For two years now, I’ve been trying to inform the public about what’s really going on behind the Snowden Operation, using my understanding of how the SpyWar actually functions, and I’ve gotten a lot of grief for it from Ed’s hardcore fans. News out of Germany can’t help but lead me to point out that, well … I told you so.


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