There was no “Intelligence Failure” in Paris

The smoke has barely cleared from the fifty-four hours of terror around Paris that captured the horrified attention of the world. The seventeen victims are journalists, police officers, average people shopping at a Jewish grocery. One terrorist remains at large at this hour, while three are dead, including the Kouachi brothers who were the centerpiece of this murderous mayhem.

That these self-styled mujahidin, native born French citizens all, went out in a blaze of glory was easily predictable — indeed I did predict it on the day this story broke, when I also pointed out that murdering “those who insult the Prophet” isn’t exactly news in Europe, while jihadists returning home from foreign wars to cause war in France in the name of Islam … well, that’s been going on for nearly twenty years, when the heavily armed Roubaix Gang went down shooting just as this new cadre of killers has just done.

That something like what has just happened was inevitable in France also did not require clairvoyance, and back in June, after Mehdi Nemmouche murdered three innocents in Brussels, I told you that more domestic terrorism was coming. Despite the fact that Nemmouche was a known radical who had spent over a year in Syria, waging jihad, and French intelligence had a thick file on him, Paris, which is simply overwhelmed by the number of potential terrorists now, lost track of the killer. As I stated a few months ago:

If French intelligence and police can lose track of a high-interest possible terrorist even when allies are helping, one has to wonder how much more terrorism is coming. It’s clear that Paris is simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of its citizens going to Syria and returning home even more radical. In response to the failure of France’s counterterrorism efforts yet again, emulating the Merah case, Bernard Squarcini, the former DCRI director, demanded “ambitious reforms” of the intelligence system to meet this rising threat, adding that “the umpteenth intelligence reform led by [Interior Minister] Manuel Valls has clearly changed nothing, since there are still some glaring shortcomings in the detection of jihadis.” There is not much time left to repair the system. Three dead in Brussels ought to be enough. If major changes are not implemented soon, more innocent people will die.

The above-mentioned Valls, now France’s prime minister, surveying the latest outburst of savagery in Paris, has told the public of “a clear failing” with “cracks” in the security apparatus. This, however, is one of those phrases tossed off by worried politicians seeking to shift blame, and is essentially meaningless.

Many are now asking how France, which is no slouch in the intelligence game, possessing competent security services and police, could have “missed” this monstrosity. The answer to that question will be unedifying to the public, which has been conditioned to expect magical performance from spies and cops, who are mere mortals overburdened by potential threats. What happened in the Nemmouche case should illustrate how imperfect French intelligence is on counterterrorism, despite its solid HUMINT, SIGINT, and collaboration with partners:

On his return, the DGSE [General Directorate of External Security, i.e. French foreign intelligence] which is supposed to track our French jihadis in Syria, apparently missed him. It was German customs that detected him in March 2013, intrigued by his meandering route home, via Malaysia, Bangkok, and Istanbul. Germany reported his crossing to Paris, and there, officially, the DCRI [Central Directorate of Domestic Intelligence, i.e. French domestic intelligence], listed him as someone that should be kept under surveillance. In other words a suspect recorded on a so-called “S” file. From March to May 30, the day of his chance arrest, so for over two months, Nemmouche completely disappeared off the radar.  Meanwhile he is suspected of having perpetrated the shooting in Brussels on May 24.

The case of Mohammed Merah, the killer of seven innocents, four of them Jewish children, in the south of France in March 2012 — before he, too, went down amid shouts of jihad — provided an unheeded warning of sorts, since it turned out that French intelligence had been a good deal more informed about the twenty-three year-old jihadist than they let on at first. His travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan got Merah branded a “special target” by the secret services, but they lost track of him too.

By the fall of 2013, French intelligence was warning the public that the staggering and unprecedented numbers of French nationals traveling to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad, most of whom were likely to return home angrier and more lethal, represented a serious threat that the secret services were hard-pressed to counter, thanks to inadequate resources.

By the late summer of 2014, it was apparent that French intelligence was simply overwhelmed by the numbers of potential terrorist targets — furious young men (and women) eager to wage jihad at home. As a seasoned counterterrorism magistrate complained, French intelligence and police were finding themselves “disarmed” in the face of this new threat, while the lack of legal “teeth” meant that there was not much that the secret services could actually do about the many potential terrorists in the country. Likely trouble-makers could be arrested upon returning from jihad abroad, but they could not be kept in custody for long, and many were being released angrier than they were before, creating an explosive situation.

That, exactly, is the rub. France’s intelligence apparatus is good at what they do. The Kouachi brothers were on relevant watch-lists, their files with the secret services were surely thick and well annotated, and I have no doubt that many Western intelligence services, at some point, had tracked their goings and doings to some extent — and it’s likely much of that information was shared with foreign partners, as it’s supposed to be.

In terms of profile, these jihadist murderers fit it perfectly, to an almost comical extent: angry young losers, drug users with criminal records, coming from broken families, known unpleasantly in their community as violent troublemakers. There was even the obligatory aspiring rap artist cliche. These are essentially spree killers seeking an ideology to justify their murderous urges, and in Salafi jihadism they found it: that being the hate-based worldview of choice for many would-be terrorists these days, anywhere. When travel to foreign jihad was added to the Kouachi dossier, the French intelligence services had something to work with, but not enough to keep them off the streets for long. It was inevitable that the security apparatus — which can only track so many targets in “real time” or something close to it, and resources are always finite — placed other, more dangerous-looking jihadists higher on the list to be watched than the Paris killers.

That was a mistake, albeit one that every security service makes all the time; only on rare occasion are the consequences of such routine bad calls public and horrific. As a former spook myself, I am sympathetic to those who have to make tough calls based on invariably imperfect information. Two key points must be made. First, movies and the Snowden Operation, both of which are based in lies and fantasy, have created the impression that Western intelligence enacts 24/7 or “total” surveillance with ease. This is simply not true. Even with excellent SIGINT, as France possesses, all the information in the world — which, let it be remembered, must be analyzed by someone, looking for nuggets amid countless hours of mundane conversation by low-IQ jihadists about TV, rap artists, and problems with parents and girlfriends — only matters when action can be taken.

I suspect that the Paris outrage will turn out a lot like the 9/11 debacle in the United States, said to be an “intelligence failure” when it was really nothing of the sort. Oh, there were missed pieces of the puzzle, to be sure, dots not connected as the 9/11 Commission investigators so liked to put it, but the painful reality is that, in the run-up to what al-Qa’ida called its Planes Operation, U.S. intelligence worked pretty much as it was supposed to under the legal norms established in the 1970’s. There was only as much information sharing as the law allowed, and besides what would the FBI actually have done anyway?

I am confident that what French intelligence knew about the Kouachi brothers and their friends in the months and years before they took Paris by storm will shock the innocent and uninformed, as it will paint them correctly as violent cretins with murder on their warped minds. But that contingent is not as small in France as the public would like to think and French security simply didn’t know what to do with them. To be absolutely clear: What now looks like the obvious choice — arrest them and keep them off the streets — was never a realistic option.

To provide a relevant example, a few years ago I was discussing these sorts of things with intelligence officials from a friendly Muslim country, which like all of them possesses an extremism problem. Their solution is a deradicalization program to divert would-be troublemakers back to some sort of normal life before they kill. I am skeptical of all such deradicalization programs, since most sound too good to be true, but I listened carefully to the details of this rather well-thought out initiative.

In the first place, these spooks don’t have to worry much about civil liberties, so they track online activities carefully, and they have all potentially worrisome mosques wired too. Hence they find young men, usually maladjusted late teenagers, talking like potential jihadists and they arrest them. They are packed off to a tennis prison, a pleasant place without high walls, where for several months they get counseling from imams who gently explain that Islam is not about decapitating “apostates,” that real Muslims should improve spiritually, and they need to be law-abiding citizens. The young men receive vocational training and career counseling, plus help with job placement, with the aim of returning them soon to a normal life.

After a few months of this program, most of the inmates are released; nearly ninety percent after six months of deradicalization are assessed as fit to rejoin society. The spies track them, and at a year after release, nearly ninety percent of the “graduates” are considered to be no sort of threat. These are very impressive numbers, so, being my skeptical self, I asked the obvious question: “What about the ones who don’t deradicalize?”

Without batting an eye, the senior intelligence official responded, “Oh, we just keep them.”

There it is: would-be jihadists considered a threat to the public are kept in custody until they “get better” or forever, whichever comes first. This is a wise response, in my view, but let’s be honest here, it’s also nothing any Western law-based democracy is going to enact in 2015.

Western intelligence services since 9/11 have become very proficient at counterterrorism, with impressive collaboration in all disciplines, and France’s services rank among the best anywhere. If there was an “intelligence failure” here, and we can be sure that embarrassed Paris politicos will be looking for one, it was small-scale. The real problem is that French politicians, as in all Western countries, have absolutely no idea what to do with the burgeoning numbers of aspiring jihadist killers in their midst.

That is a political, not security, issue, that no amount of funds or personnel devoted to intelligence work can ameliorate. Besides, I sense no desire for France to become an East German-like counterintelligence state where one-third of the population is secretly reporting on the other two-thirds, including friends and family, to the secret police. Hence a political solution is required to Europe’s mounting crisis with homegrown Islamism, since there is no security solution at hand, and that knotty issue will be the subject of my next commentary.

After Paris: The Kremlin’s New Message

Today, before the terrorists believed responsible have even been caught, the mainstream Russian media ran an interview in which a noted political commentator explicitly blamed U.S. intelligence for yesterday’s murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s Paris office.

The extended interview with Alexey Martynov was carried on LifeNews.ru, which is not state-run but which follows the Kremlin line on most issues and has a very large audience: this is anything but a fringe network in Putin’s Russia. Martynov’s novel theory is that American intelligence was behind the attack in order to force Europe, particularly France, into closer cooperation with the United States in the name of “counterterrorism.” As for proof for this hypothesis, there is none, but Martynov claims that since the Americans are really behind the whole Islamic State thing, of course the Paris attack was really the work of the CIA … or something. This is Alex Jones-level stuff, carried on a major network with millions of viewers.

And who is Alexey Martynov? He bills himself as a political scientist and “human rights activist” — which is another of those terms that, when used in Putin’s Russia, doesn’t mean what you think it means. Martynov heads the oddly named International Institute for New States (MING, in Russian), a Moscow-based think tank that dispenses Putin-friendly propaganda posing as analysis. Before MING was founded in 2008, he headed an NGO called “For Democracy and Human Rights” which actually pushes pro-Putin messages under the “human rights” banner. He regularly gets cited in regime media for his consistently Kremlin-line take on, well, everything.

Martynov’s op-eds run the gamut of pro-Putin ramblings, mostly about the former Soviet space, but his anti-Americanism is clear; his frequent denunciations of U.S. “imperialism” and “neo-liberalism” seem to be why The Nation considers him a friendly voice. To cite only some of Martynov’s more recent rants, he praised NSA defector Edward Snowden as “a symbol of resistance to American neo-imperialism,” while talking a great deal about Ukraine which Martynov, a native of Crimea, considers to not really be an independent country but, to the extent that it is, it’s under the control of Nazis and/or Islamic extremists. Sound familiar?

Martynov’s core belief is that Russia is constantly under threat from U.S.-led “color revolutions” and, in that sense, Kremlin aggression in Ukraine isn’t aggression at all, but a legitimate and defensive act. Like jihadists, pro-Putin propagandists see their cause as under colossal, indeed existential Western threat, so any aggression they perpetrate is, cosmically speaking, defensive in nature. This is really Oliver Stone stuff, in Russian, with a faux-academic gloss.

Who is behind MING, Martynov’s think tank, isn’t exactly clear (“Funding is provided by contributions from the founders, private donations and grants”) but it proudly states, in bold, that it takes no funds from “foreign agents” — this being Putin-speak for its status as a “patriotic” outfit that’s not in bed with U.S. “neo-imperialism.” MING’s take on events can be fairly assessed as rabidly pro-Kremlin, when not slavishly so.

Martynov’s public bio is sketchy about his activities before 2007 — perhaps not coincidentally, the year Putin publicly threw down the gauntlet at America about its alleged aggressions against Russia — leading to speculation that he is a former officer of the Russian special services: of course, there is no such thing as “a former Chekist,” as Russia’s president himself has stated. Regardless of Martynov’s possible affiliations, past or present, with Russian security agencies, it’s fair to say that if the FSB were running a think tank, it would look and act a lot like MING, and it’s understood by all seasoned Kremlin-watchers that most of Russia’s “independent” pro-regime institutes actually aren’t all that independent when you examine their funding and personnel.

Yet the most interesting part of Martynov’s rant about the Paris atrocity isn’t actually his fact-free pinning it on American intelligence. He revealed what the Kremlin’s real agenda now is. He hailed Europe’s “voice of common sense, calling for the restoration of cooperation with Russia” in the face of terrorism — this being exactly what pro-Putin politicians in France like Marine Le Pen have called for — while asserting that nefarious U.S.-backed terrorism will have the opposite effect of pushing “Russia and Europe closer together in the face of common threats — terrorism and the hegemony of the United States.”

That is a perfect explanation of Moscow’s strategic aim in Europe today, as has been evident for some time to anyone with open eyes, and now Kremlin mouthpieces are saying it openly. As someone who has repeatedly warned Europeans that their rising right-wing is being co-opted by Moscow against NATO and the West, it’s an unpleasant surprise when the Russians are this unsubtle about it. Clearly Putin is feeling confident despite Russia’s dire economic predicament. Watch Paris and Madame Le Pen for the next move.

Parisian Terror: Will Europe Finally Wake Up?

I woke today to appalling news of an atrocity in Paris. Black-clad gunmen stormed the office of a popular magazine, assassinating journalists. In truth, I was not surprised, given the rising wave of terrorism in France recently; like many in the counterterrorism community, I’ve been expecting professional-style attacks of this kind in Europe, but this news cannot fail to shock.

The story is only now coming into focus but the killers remain at large, at this hour, while at least a dozen victims are confirmed dead, including two policemen, one of whom was murdered execution-style, based on graphic footage. The target was Charlie-Hebdo, a left-wing magazine known for skewering sacred cows of many breeds, including Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Four cartoonists who were especially reviled by extremists are confirmed dead, and the assassins are reported to have asked for them by name: think of this a jihadist version of “targeted killing.”

The real question I have, as someone who has followed jihadist terrorism in Europe, as both a scholar and practitioner, for a couple decades, is: How could anyone be surprised by this? Jihad-watchers, with quiet nods from European officials, have been warning for years about the mayhem to come when the thousands – yes, thousands – of Europeans fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria return home angry, skilled at killing, and well-armed.

Moreover, assassinating Europeans who “insult Islam” is hardly new. Theo van Gogh, the Dutch journalist-cum-provocateur who was indelicate in his attacks on Islam, was butchered on the streets of Amsterdam by an angry teenager with a knife back in 2004. A decade later, the masked killers are clad in black, bearing Kalashnikovs and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher – a marked jump in professionalism and firepower, but the intent remains the same.

Watching on-scene video, it’s clear that the assassins today did not learn how to scoot-and-shoot on the Internet. Yet even then, the idea of well-armed, hardened jihadist killers coming back to France to cause murderous mayhem isn’t ripped from today’s headlines – it was going on fully twenty years ago.

As I’ve explained in detail, back in 1995 French jihadists returned from the battlefields of Bosnia, where they were fighting with al-Qa’ida-linked units, to bring the jihad home. They pulled off several impressive armed robberies in the French-Belgian border region – they were stealing to get funds for terrorism – and the police had a tough time catching up with what they called the Roubaix Gang. When they finally did, the jihadists, who had an abundance of automatic weapons and were better armed than the cops, chose to go down in fire and glory rather than surrender. Their leader, the charismatic convert Lionel Dumont, alone escaped death, managing to evade capture for the better part of a decade by escaping to the global jihadist underground in a manner that has never fully been explained.

Despite the fact that the Roubaix Gang was all over the French media twenty years ago, not least because they came close to blowing up the G7 meeting in Lille, the story did not result in much examination of what was going on with heavily armed French citizens trying to bring jihad-of-the-sword home. The story disappeared down the memory hole and became something polite people did not want to discuss.

The trend has continued to the present day. The butchering of Jewish children and French servicemen by a self-styled jihadist was treated as an unpleasant one-off, while the rise of a young French convert to a position of power in the Islamic State in Syria has been considered more a curiosity than an alarming portent. Too many Europeans have been eager to dismiss all this as “random” or “senseless” and, at worst, the by-product of “racism” and “failures of assimilation.” Officials have sung the same tune in public, with the recent wave of car-terrorism in France being dismissed as having absolutely nothing to do with Islamism or radicalism.

The painful truth is that France today, like much of Europe, faces a profound crisis, as thousands of European Union citizens are waging jihad abroad, most of whom will eventually come home more radical and more proficient at killing. Historical patterns suggest that only five to ten percent of these returnees will engage in terrorism at home, but given the unprecedented numbers of Europeans – there were platoons of Europeans fighting in Bosnia twenty years ago; today there are whole battalions in Syria and Iraq — now serving in the ranks of the fanatical Islamic State, there is no comfort found there.

French intelligence is competent and, behind closed doors, has a realistic understanding of this threat, but they are overwhelmed and constrained by timid political masters. The scary truth is that many EU countries now face a wave of returning jihadists that no European security service can hope to monitor and deter with any degree of confidence, based on existing laws and norms. The full story of today’s atrocity will take time to emerge, but we can be sure that the details will not be comforting to progressives and bien-pensants, who per custom will attempt to play down the ugly reality. As someone who recently predicted more terrorism in Europe in 2015, some of it sure to be “mysterious,” I hate to be right so soon in this new year.

It does not help realistic debate that Europeans who try to discuss this threat are routinely shut down and marginalized, to use a favorite progressive term, by mainstream forces who desperately seek no debate at all. Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel castigated fellow citizens, the so-called PEGIDA movement, who since the autumn have been peacefully protesting against Islamization and radicalism. They are racists who have no place in a democratic society, the chancellor made clear, and on cue Germany’s great and good – politicos, magnates, celebrities, clerics – backed Merkel in her public effort to silence PEGIDA.

Therefore the only winner in today’s atrocity is Vladimir Putin and his European friends. As I’ve noted for some time, right-wing friends of the Kremlin are the only force in Europe that has consistently and unapologetically sought to address rising public concerns about jihadism in their midst, while mainstream parties have surrendered the field on this vital issue to people on Putin’s payroll. After today, Marine Le Pen, whose condemnation of Islamism and affection for Putin seem equally sincere, may wish to start planning her inauguration party as president of France. You can be sure her friend from Moscow will have a seat of honor.

UPDATE (1130 EST, 7 JAN): Video of the assassins includes audio of one of the terrorists speaking something that sounds an awful lot like Russian (my Russian is good, but more importantly several native speakers have said this sounds like Russian to them too); given the explosive nature of this revelation, it would be wise to wait for official voice analysis before conclusions are jumped to. That said, counterintelligence hands who know the Russians will recall that the Kremlin has a long history of using Chechen agents in false-flag terrorism going back two decades.

UPDATE (1205 EST, 7 JAN): Since I’ve heaped scorn on European politicos who refuse to seriously address the issue of jihadism, it bears noting that today, when asked about the Paris atrocity, White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to say if it was terrorism. This from the administration that called the Fort Hood attack an “incident of workplace violence.” Seriously, if executing journalists to silence them does not count as terrorism, I’m not sure what does. Eternal shame on Obama and his minions here.

UPDATE (1615 EST, 7 JAN): French media have identified the three suspects in today’s attack, who as of this hour remain at large: Saïd Kouachi (born 1980), Chérif Kouachi (born 1982, and who appeared in a 2008 AP story about support for the Iraqi jihad), Hamyd Mourad (born 1996): they are of Algerian background, and lived in Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine). The Kouachis have substantial police records — and, one expects, thick files with French intelligence — and are rumored to have recently returned from Syria. More soon ….

CIA Torture: An Insider’s View

The global commentariat is aflutter in the aftermath of yesterday’s release of what Twitter has termed #TortureReport by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, pronounced “sissy,” to DC insiders). If you’re living in a cave like a member of Al-Qa’ida and somehow have missed this story, you can find all of the massive original report, plus rebuttals, here.

Up front, allow me to get my own story, and therefore biases, out there. I spent close to a decade in the Intelligence Community (IC), with the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer. I served in joint assignments with CIA and spent considerable time trying to help Langley, specifically on counterintelligence matters. I count several CIA officers, present and former, some high-ranking, among my close friends. I also think CIA is a mismanaged agency that needs serious reform.

Happily, I had no involvement with CIA’s “torture” program; though I was aware of its existence early on, I had nothing to do with waterboarding and worse. I was involved in certain activities in the months after 9/11 that probably would not pass smell tests in today’s calmer times, but there are quite a few IC people in the same boat.

It is perilously easy, more than thirteen years after the terrible attacks on New York and the Pentagon, to forget the hothouse atmosphere across the IC in late 2001, when fears of more, and worse, terrorism against our homeland were a constant concern. It is this decontextualization by the just-released SSCI report, the prosecutorial judging of people who sought to do good by defending fellow citizens, however misguidedly, that I find most objectionable.

For much of the IC, the months after 9/11 were a blur. I spent more time at the office, or on the road, than at home; my recollections of that era — easily the most exciting time of my life, when all of Uncle Sam’s spooks thought our personal contributions, each day, might make the difference between a “nuclear 9/11” happening or not — are therefore impressionistic, with occasional vivid recall of specific operations. I never had Dick Cheney call me, or anyone close to me, screaming into the phone to “get tough.” This was unnecessary: we all knew what the stakes were.

I provided counsel to senior leadership at Guantanamo Bay, the dreaded GTMO, on how to deal with interrogations. From what I saw, their operation was a shitshow — a characterization top IC officials agreed with, off-record. They knew it was all going wrong, but they wanted to prevent terrorism. They listened to, and rejected, my counsel, which was to get serious and professionalize their approach, without delay. Specifically, they needed to adopt something like the Israeli model.

How Israeli intelligence, specifically their domestic security service, SHABAK, approaches interrogation, is much misunderstood. While SHABAK can employ what outsiders would term torture on occasion, those conditions are tightly controlled by legal authorities: this prevents abuses and, critically, allows interrogators to know they will not face prosecution or banishment, years later, for doing what they were told was legal.

But what makes SHABAK interrogators effective is not the threat of physical pressure, rather their professional competence. The most junior Israeli interrogators have completed a rigorous three-year program in psychology and Arabic before they meet their first subject. When I told U.S. senior officers this was the way to go, they gasped and explained this was impossible. Meaning, this was not how the IC likes to do business. (They particularly objected to my mantra: “Interrogation through a translator isn’t interrogation.”) Instead, Americans opted for an ad hoc, somewhat fly-by-night interrogation program, lacking in expertise or language skills, and botched the job — to the surprise only of those who have never seen U.S. intelligence in action.

It’s fair to point out that SHABAK has a far simpler problem set, focusing mainly on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, while U.S. spies have global responsibilities and targets; it’s likewise fair to note that our IC has personnel and resources that Israeli spooks can only dream of. Failure here was a choice, perhaps a preordained one.

Let there be no misunderstanding. While CIA officials are now insisting, contra the SSCI report, that the special interrogation program was a success, having prevented terrorism — and there is no doubt their claims are largely correct, in a technical sense — from any big picture view, it was a disaster, having delivered minimal gains at vast and enduring political cost.

Knowing the CIA and the IC, I’m not sure any other outcome was likely here. The salient fact is that, on 9/11, CIA lacked interrogators. That was a messy line of work the Agency had happily run away from after Vietnam, so in 2001 there were no serving officers who had a clue what to do. Indeed, coercive interrogation went deeply against the culture of CIA case officers, for whom getting friendly, if (hopefully) not too friendly, with sources is a requirement. As a result, CIA fobbed this nasty mission off on Agency security types lacking understanding of operations (in an eerie replay of the botched Nosenko affair of the 1960’s), much less of Arabs, and dumped the rest of the mess on a motley crew of contractors who never had any business falling into this most sensitive line of work. Whether you think CIA use of torture was right or wrong, there can be no debate, based on what the public now knows, that this program was badly mismanaged and doomed to failure from day one. As is so often the case, noble IC intentions collided with the wall of incompetence and wishful thinking, and eventually ample CYA.

That said, it is perilously easy to find fault here with people who did their best under most difficult circumstances. I find it noxious that much of the emotional hand-wringing about this comes from people, many of them in Congress, who were happy to sign off on such matters when the danger of terrorism was acute, yet are now happy to throw spooks under the bus when times and administrations have changed.

What Democrats on the SSCI have done this week is highly damaging, not to mention gratuitous, and will have lasting impacts on the IC and our national security. It is at the least highly curious that Democrats on the SSCI, as a parting shot before control of the Senate changes hands shortly, released a report that had existed, in several forms, for years. Much of the “torture” details have been known to the public since 2006, almost a decade ago, while revealing details of how foreign intelligence agencies assisted the IC after 9/11 is nothing short of stupid.

After the 9/11 attacks, many foreign partners assisted us in our covert fight against terrorism, with the understanding that it would be kept tightly secret. “May we read about you in the newspapers” is a MOSSAD joke-cum-curse for good reason. Now that the SSCI majority has betrayed that trust, I can see no reason why any foreign intelligence agency should believe American promises ever again. Coming on the heels of the Snowden debacle, which rightly raised serious questions about the IC’s ability to keep secrets, this is a grave problem. Without close foreign intelligence partnerships, based on mutual trust and discretion, our ability to protect our country and our interests will be seriously and lastingly degraded.

It is never a healthy thing in a democracy when naked partisan politics intrudes on the intelligence business, which is a sacred trust that ought to be above the partisan food-fight. Yet that is precisely what the SSCI Democrats have done here. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this release was a spiteful reaction to their recent midterm election losses. What else can be said when the Democrats made no effort to include CIA or IC viewpoints in their vast and scathing reports, which run to over seven thousand pages.

Senior IC officials have reacted with vitriol to the Democrats’ action, particularly Mike Hayden, who served as director of both NSA and CIA. The wisest response, however, has been Bob Kerrey’s. A former Democratic Senator and Governor, Kerrey served on the SSCI for eight years and knows the issues intimately. I’ve long admired Kerrey, a centrist who always tried to do what was right for the country, not just his party; his patriot credentials, as a former Navy SEAL who lost a leg in Vietnam, winning the Medal of Honor in the process, are above question. Kerrey makes many wise statements, you should read his whole op-ed, but this is central to his argument:

I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it. The Republicans checked out early when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.

There’s the rub. The SSCI majority report is in no way an effort to establish truths, much less to reform what clearly needs reform. Rather, it is a prosecutorial brief intended to cause pain to the committee’s incoming majority. This intrusion of overt partisanship into the intelligence business is a terrible precedent in our democracy.

There are few precedents for what has just happened. Some will cite the mid-1970’s efforts by Congress to investigate IC errors and worse, most famously the Church Committee. This, after all, led to the current Congressional oversight system, as well as most of the legal norms under which American intelligence operates down to the present day. But the analogy is flawed, as the Church Committee revealed IC programs, of dubious provenance and legality, which Congress knew nothing about. In contrast, the SSCI majority this week chose to release the details of Top Secret programs which they had known about for many years.

The only area where the analogy with the 1970’s is operative, regrettably, is in the realm of unintended consequences. While the Church hearings led to much-needed reforms of the IC, it also led to a bloodbath at CIA, including the firing of many valuable officers; worse, it caused the establishment of a clear delineation between foreign and domestic intelligence, more than exists in reality — so clear, in fact, that it was termed The Wall. This was The Wall whose prevention of cooperation between the FBI, CIA and NSA was the single greatest cause of the failure to prevent 9/11.

CIA isn’t going anywhere. It will weather these bureaucratic storms, as it always has. The first mission of any bureaucracy, of course, is survival. Sadly, there will be no real reforms, even though these are plainly needed. Just as the Snowden Operation made serious NSA reform impossible, since it brought the taint of treason and Moscow, the introduction of naked partisanship into the discussion of CIA torture means that Agency and IC reform is stillborn. Having branded themselves as the party of calling out CIA misdeeds, the Democrats have marginalized any credentials they have won on national security, and the Republicans, seeking payback for what the SSCI just did, will no doubt block needed reforms as “unpatriotic.”

Thus will CIA remain, largely unreformed. Its foreign partnerships have taken a serious blow, and any operational bias for action, strongly encouraged after 9/11, has evaporated, perhaps for decades. Who, after all, wants to take risks when you might be exposed by an angry Congress a few years down the road? Getting your intelligence services to be risk-averse and ineffective, acting like a very secretive and expensive Department of Motor Vehicles, is an eminently achievable goal, and will be the lasting legacy of the Democrats on the SSCI. Be sure to remember this after the next terrorist “big wedding,” which is sure to come eventually, when Congress seeks scalps to blame for the disaster.

As the world revels in blaming CIA with torture in lurid detail, we can expect outrage and perhaps prosecutions of American intelligence officers and their foreign partners. Lawfare is now a thriving global industry. The damage to our security and our allies will be lasting. To be clear, I am as disgusted as anybody by what the SSCI has disclosed to the world. My position, which I elaborated long ago, is that torture can be quite effective, but nevertheless is something no civilized country ought to employ. Period. Where easy moralizers see a simple tale of Hitlerian evil in CIA activities after 9/11, I see instead a sad, predictable story of incompetence and severe bureaucratic dysfunction that cries out for reform. A reform that Senate Democrats have now made impossible — until after the next 9/11.

P.S. It has been much noted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed with the majority on the SSCI. As well he ought to, since as someone who suffered torture for years as a POW in Hanoi, he is understandably touchy on this topic. That said, it’s fair to note that most of the people now praising McCain as the world’s moral avatar on torture generally consider him to be a deranged warmonger, and I suspect less than one percent of his cheerleaders today voted for him in 2008. Partisanship is ruining the Republic.

P.P.S. I’ve never been clear on the morality whereby invading countries, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians, is ok, while using drones to kill thousands more civilians in several countries is quite acceptable, but torturing a few people, mainly terrorists, is officially The Worst Thing Ever…but that’s probably just me.

The Cancer of Advocacy Journalism

Over the last week, the American media has begun, belatedly, to examine a story in Rolling Stone magazine last month which asserted that a horrific gang rape occurred at the University of Virginia, at a named fraternity. The story was light on specifics, not naming the victim or the perpetrators except in vague terms, but its depiction of gang rape was vivid and hard to forget.

I have no expertise in such matters, but my old counterintelligence sense told me that a lot of this account didn’t add up and much of it simply didn’t make much sense. Others clearly felt the same way and a small amount of fact-checking — which was never done by Rolling Stone — revealed that the story, as reported, simply could not have happened. While it is certainly possible that “Jackie” was raped at UVA, her nightmarish story, as reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, cannot be true.

The UVA rape saga has caused some overdue introspection in certain quarters, since the false accusation of rape, indeed a terrifying gang rape, is a most serious matter. If I were the fraternity in question, whose reputation has been destroyed before the world, I would have platoons of lawyers deploying with haste.

Some are rightly asking questions about what else ideologically-minded journalists like Sabrina Rubin Erdely have faked; that would be good to know. But in truth the problem of journalists dispensing with fact-checking and the barest professional norms to advance a story they want to be true is nothing new. Indeed, this phenomenon, properly termed advocacy journalism, has been cancerous for over two decades and is only now getting the scrutiny it deserves.

I first encountered advocacy journalism back in the 1990’s in the Balkans. The Bosnian War of 1992-95, in particular, was a proving ground of this dangerous nonsense, as I recounted in my book Unholy Terror. While that conflict got a vast amount of Western media coverage — hundreds of times more than, say, Algeria’s civil war, which happened at the same time and killed many more innocent people — the truth is that almost all the Western journalists who signed up for what locals derisively termed the “Sarajevo safari” knew nothing about the country and did not speak the language.

Worse, most of these journalists quickly signed on for a simple, good-versus-evil narrative of Bosnia’s complex and messy war that portrayed Muslims as innocent victims and Serbs (and, later, Croats) as genocidal barbarians with whom there could be no parley. This perspective was so overly simple as to be cartoonish. Accepting it required a suspension of any journalistic norms such as confirming sources and stories, but many Western journalists in Bosnia were perfectly happy to do that.

They became advocates, some unapologetically so. Actually looking at the Bosnian war with a critical eye would have revealed uncomfortable and inconvenient facts that did not fit The Narrative. Such as the fact that the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo committed war crimes too. That it even perpetrated war crimes against fellow Muslims when Western journalists were watching, to gain political points. Most consequentially, the Sarajevo government was in bed with Iranian intelligence and Salafi jihadists like Osama Bin Laden (who, like thousands of his fellow foreign mujahidin who fought in the Balkans, received a Bosnian passport for his service to Sarajevo).

All these were things that Western journalists could have covered, since the facts were available, but they averted eyes from issues that might upset The Narrative they had created and sought to continue.

Some of this was careerism, since the Bosnian war made good copy, but many of the journalists who covered the conflict were true believers, some of them openly so. Ed Vulliamy, who won numerous awards for his coverage of Bosnia, admitted his role in trying to get NATO intervention, even at the expense of accurate reporting, describing journalistic neutrality as “ridiculous,” asserting, “We have to take sides,” memorably adding, “If the professional ethics say I can’t take sides, screw the ethics.” CNN’s ubiquitous Christian Amanpour admitted that she in no way covered Bosnia objectively, serving instead as a mouthpiece of the Sarajevo government, because doing anything else would have made her “an accomplice to genocide.”

What made the The Narrative plausible is that, like any good disinformation, it was partially true. Tens of thousands of Muslim civilians died in the Bosnian war, and some were murdered barbarically. Although Western journalists vastly inflated those deaths, some did happen. Yet keeping The Narrative intact meant presenting Bosnia’s Muslims as virtuous “designer victims” in whom there was no guile or fault, and that was something nobody who understood Bosnia the actual country accepted. The result was Western media coverage that was deeply unbalanced and at times simply untrue, and this inspired Western policies towards that tragic country that unsurprisingly led to long-term poverty and failure.

To cite one example among many there, in the late fall of 1992 The New York Times reported a sensational story filled with horror. A twenty-one year old Bosnian Serb soldier, Borislav Herak, recounted to John Burns, a seasoned correspondent, how he had been involved in the rape and murder of Muslim civilians on a grand scale. The story he told was lurid and detailed and makes the Rolling Stone account of “Jackie” seem like a holiday.

Overnight, it became a global sensation, putting flesh and first-hand detail for the first time on horrific, if murky, accounts of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia that the Western media had been reporting for months. It won Burns a Pulitzer Prize and the Herak saga became iconic among Western journalists, the kind of scoop that platoons of them sought to get for themselves in the bloody hills of Bosnia.

Unfortunately, there were clear signs from the outset that Herak was not telling the truth. In the first place, the young man told his story from Muslim captivity, and there was evidence he had been tortured. A few years later, once the war was over, Herak finally told the truth, that he had been coerced to tell Burns what Western journalists wanted to hear. “I was forced to speak against myself and my comrades,” he explained in 1996, but by then it was old news; Western minds had been made up long before.

More troubling is the fact that Herak’s initial account included things that it’s hard to believe any Western journalist could have accepted with a straight face. In particular, Herak claimed to have witnessed Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, the UN peacekeeping commander in Bosnia at the time, participate in rapes of Muslim women on multiple occasions. This assertion, for which there was never any evidence, was muted by the Western media since it made Herak look like the unreliable witness he was, and possibly insane to boot. Why, then, any other of Herak’s lurid claims ought to have been accepted at face value seems not to have occurred to reporters.

Western media misrepresentations in Bosnia — this went well beyond bias and amounted to a sort of nihilism — had a pernicious effect on Western responses to that awful conflict, and they have lasting impacts today, over two decades later. Advocacy journalism infected foreign reporting in the 1990’s, and more recently this cancer has spread to all forms of American journalism, which is a development that ought to concern all of us.

To be fair to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, whose regular reporting on sexual assault must now be fact-checked, belatedly, her exaggerations and possible fabrications are no worse than the feted media frenzy surrounding the Snowden Operation, which I’ve written a great deal about. Pulitzer Prizes likewise fell on those who reported stolen NSA information in a manner so one-sided and devoid of any context as to be lies: or, more properly, disinformation. This, while not new, is worse than it was during the Cold War, and seems to be the new normal in too much American journalism, which ought to be kept in mind as Rolling Stone is, rightly, raked over the coals for its UVA reporting.

The first sign of trouble is when journalists abandon a critical mind and accept The Narrative on any issue. Although the full story has yet to emerge, it’s already apparent that Rolling Stone heard what it wanted to hear, namely that Southern white fratboys are secretly rapist monsters, and dispensed with actually cog the story before publishing it. How this could have happened after the remarkably similar Duke lacrosse rape debacle only a few years ago, is a germane question that merits investigation.

The likely answer is that feminists of the Social Justice Warrior variety, to use an au courant term, have accepted that white men are rapists in general, ideologically speaking, thus normal standards of evidence need not apply to prove claims of criminal misconduct. As witm in America, just as Bosnian Muslims were victims of war crimes — but substituting ideology for reality leads to a sort of nihilism.

Unless journalists are held to the accepted norms of their profession, they play a dangerous role in a democracy. Bias is not the issue here, since everybody has bias; rather, the issue is abandonment of long-understood professional practice. Journalists, editors included, who refuse to check facts and confirm accounts, especially salacious claims, are propagandists and should be publicly labeled as such.

When this sort of institutionalized nihilism, which substitutes incendiary assertions for facts, becomes normative, our democracy itself is at stake. We depend on free exchange of ideas and the acceptance of a certain common narrative that believes in at least trying to speak the truth about public events. Abandoning this helped ruin Bosnia, a country far away that few Americans could locate on a map. Institutionalizing the cancerous nihilism of advocacy journalism at home will lead to the ruin of the Republic.

Lingering OKBOMB Questions

One of the more curious aspects of our postmodern information age is how stories that are actually known — meaning they have already been reported and can easily be found online — nevertheless fail to develop traction in the public consciousness, until sometimes they do, without apparent warning.

A classic case is the recent blow-up of Bill Cosby’s public reputation. Although allegations of rape against the actor-comedian, by more than a dozen women, have been reported for over a decade, including a 2006 out-of-court settlement, it was only recently — specifically last month, when comedian Hannibal Burress stated matter-of-factly of “America’s Dad”: “Yeah, but you’re a rapist” — that the story finally got legs. Suddenly, it has become a sensation, not helped by Cosby’s ham-handed efforts at online reputation management and his bizarre on-air silence about the allegations. It’s difficult to see how Cosby’s reputation can recover from this, but it’s worthwhile to ask why all the fuss now?

It’s perhaps even more worthwhile to ask why certain sensational stories never seem to develop public traction at all, despite the existence of important evidence indicating there’s something we should be talking about.

A classic case in point is the 19 April 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including nineteen children, and injured almost 700 more people, making it a true spectacular in the annals of domestic terrorism. One of the perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh, the man who rented the truck used in the attack, was in police custody just ninety minutes after the bombing, pulled over while driving a car without a license plate, leading to suspicions that he wanted to get caught. Within days his partner, Terry Nichols, was in police hands too.

McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in 2001, as he wished, while Nichols is in maximum security Federal prison for life without possibility of parole, and a couple that assisted the bombers in small ways, Michael and Lori Fortier, cooperated with authorities, leading to a reduced sentence for him (he was released from prison in 2006) and no jail-time for her.

Although the official investigation, termed OKBOMB by the authorities, was vast, with FBI agents conducting 28,000 interviews, as well as collecting over three tons of evidence, plus nearly one billion pieces of information, almost from the outset there have been nagging concerns about whether the full extent of the McVeigh-Nichols conspiracy was uncovered. Despite the expenditure of millions of man-hours on OKBOMB, questions have lingered for nearly two decades about how two hard-right ne’er-do-wells, neither of whom possessed bomb-making skills worth mentioning, managed to pull off such a spectacular attack on their first try — doubts that have lingered after 9/11, with many cases of failed bomb-making by self-starting jihadists across Europe and the United States.

Then there’s the troubling issue of “John Doe #2,” a mystery man who was seen at the bombing site with McVeigh, among other places, by some two dozen witnesses, yet was never identified by OKBOMB. Finding him never got very far — it’s perhaps significant that the account of the case authored by McVeigh’s attorney was titled Others Unknown — since the unrepentant McVeigh was happy to take the blame (and fame), while Federal authorities have never shown much interest in a parley with Terry Nichols, who has to know more than he’s said to date.

It was obvious to many who have examined the case with open eyes that, for reasons that can only be guessed at, the FBI and their masters in Washington, DC, never displayed much ardor for unraveling OKBOMB’s full dimensions. McVeigh and Nichols were in custody almost immediately, and were easily linked to the attack, and that seemed to be enough to satisfy politicians and the public. Just last week, a Federal judge scolded the FBI for being unable to find crucial videotapes of the 1995 attack, which mysteriously went missing and that the Bureau never seemed too eager to find. This was thanks to the case of Kenneth Trentadue, who died under mysterious circumstances in Oklahoma City in August 1995, while in Federal custody. The sad Trentadue affair is one of the many unsolved mysteries surrounding OKBOMB, with his family ardently believing that he was tortured to death by the FBI, which mistakenly took him for John Doe #2.

Serious inquiry into OKBOMB has not been helped by a glut of fantasy-cum-conspiracy theorizing by people who do not know much about terrorism and intelligence. The Oklahoma City atrocity has attracted more than its share of charlatans and self-styled experts, some of whom are eager to pin the bombing on Arabs, Masons, Jews, and perhaps space aliens.

Nevertheless, the American mainstream media has long shown a stunning lack of interest in the unanswered questions surrounding the attack. Over at INTELWIRE, terrorism expert J.M. Berger has published a raft of well-researched stories about various aspects of the case, based on declassified Federal records, including PATCON, the FBI’s failed effort in the early 1990s to detect and deter violent right-wing nut-balls just like McVeigh and Nichols. Similarly, the publication two years ago of a serious book looking into all this, by two respected experts on the case, got a few positive reviews but generated none of the public attention that OKBOMB’s continuing mysteries actually merit. The FBI’s lead agent on OKBOMB  has long advocated reopening the case, on the basis of considerable evidence that his investigation never saw, but that, too, has fallen on deaf ears.

Even members of Congress asking questions about who really bombed Oklahoma City have encountered stonewalling from the FBI and the Department of Justice, under multiple White Houses. The most significant Congressional look at OKBOMB came in 2005, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) sponsored an investigation of possible foreign connections to the attack, which followed numerous leads that the FBI had deemed dead-ends. Rohrabacher’s official report makes interesting and depressing reading.

It bears noting up-front that this Congressional inquiry got embarrassingly little cooperation from people who should want to know the truth. Frank Keating, who was Oklahoma’s governor in 1995, refused to cooperate with Rohrabacher’s investigators and asked that the inquiry be halted. Neither were the FBI and DoJ much more helpful, and this Congressional inquiry met with more obstruction than assistance from Federal authorities. It should be stated that the White House in 2005 was occupied by a member of Rohrabacher’s own party, and Keating is a Republican too. Not wanting to know the full OKBOMB story seems to transcend normal politics in Washington, DC.

The Rohrabacher investigation followed two avenues of inquiry well-trodden by others before: possible connections between McVeigh/Nichols and the Middle East, and the possible role in the bombing played by the white supremacist compound at Elohim City, Oklahoma.

While the notion of Iraqis having a direct hand in the attack was always fanciful, the issue of trips by McVeigh and Nichols to the Islamist-infested southern Philippines lingers, not least because they seem to have honed their bomb-making skills there. Nichols had in-laws there and it is a curious fact that they were in Cebu City at the same time as Ramzi Yousef, the Al-Qa’ida-linked bomber of the World Trade Center in 1993. No “smoking gun” has ever emerged to establish a firm link, but the Rohrabacher inquiry identifies important questions that need to be answered. Some of them look highly suspicious to any seasoned counterintelligence hand.

More troubling still are ties between McVeigh/Nichols and the white supremacist compound at Elohim City, really an armed trailer park, which had up to a hundred residents, adherents of Christian Identity, a strange ideology that justifies race-war. The compound was well known to authorities and the media, and multiple sources have established a connection between Elohim City and the bombers, McVeigh especially, as Rohrabacher’s inquiry demonstrated.

“Andy the German”

The most troubling angle is the role of Andreas Strassmeir, a German national who had lived at Elohim City, on-and-off, beginning in 1992. He had come to America in 1989, as an ardent fan of Civil War reenacting — as a Confederate, naturally. He became close with McVeigh, the two having met at a gun show in the spring of 1993, and the latter spoke warmly of “Andy the German,” whom he phoned at Elohim City, where “Andy” was head of security, several times. Strassmeir is by any accounts an odd character. The son of a politically well connected family in Germany, Strassmair served in the German military as a junior officer, including in some intelligence capacity, before becoming immersed in far-right politics. In a pattern seldom encountered in extreme right circles, in Germany or America, Strassmeir was an ardent Zionist who spoke fluent Hebrew and, he admitted, had lived on a kibbutz in Israel.

Although Strassmeir’s connection to McVeigh was known to Federal investigators, the FBI showed a bizarre lack of interest in him or his possible ties to terrorism. As Rohrabacher’s report notes:

For nearly a year after the bombing, the FBI did not interview Strassmeir. Only when he had fled the country was he queried briefly on the phone by the FBI. The agents apparently accepted his denial of any relationship with McVeigh, and there is no evidence of any further investigation into this possible link.

Strassmeir returned to Germany in 1996, uninhibited by anyone in Washington, DC, then gave a couple interviews to the local media in which he denied being involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, and resumed a quiet life; at last report, he was selling military figurines. As Rohrabacher’s investigation uncovered, Elohim City was also mixed up with the Aryan Republican Army, a gang of far-right bank robbers that pulled off more than twenty heists across the Midwest in the early-to-mid 1990’s. There were more than hints that the ARA may have helped fund McVeigh’s terrorism — but that, too, was an angle that the FBI showed a puzzling lack of interest in pursuing with vigor.

While Rohrabacher’s investigation into foreign connections to OKBOMB was ultimately “inconclusive,” by its own admission, thanks to a lack of cooperation from the FBI and DoJ, it asked the right things and defined several important questions that need additional inquiry. The investigative path to be taken is there, should anyone in Washington, DC, ever wish to do so.

After 9/11, as a National Security Agency counterintelligence officer, I was involved in an Intelligence Community re-look at recent acts of terrorism, searching for possible links to foreigners. Oklahoma City was one of these. I quickly discovered, as Rohrabacher’s investigators did a few years later, that the FBI and DoJ had no interest in anyone peeking into the case, which they considered closed, indeed tightly shut. Even in Top Secret channels, avenues were blocked. Since that investigation remains highly classified, I will not divulge its contents, though I will make two general comments.

First, the visits by McVeigh and Nichols to the southern Philippines remain mysterious, and perhaps will in perpetuity. Their connections to Ramzi Yousef are weak but visible, while the hand of a Middle East intelligence service, one known for its support to international terrorism, was detectable in outline, if not in detail.

Second, Strassmeir — who seems to be the key to much of the remaining mystery surrounding OKBOMB — appeared to be an intelligence source, and possible agent provocateur, for as many as three different intelligence services, all of which are known to watch neo-Nazi activities in the United States with interest.

The investigation will have to remain there, unsatisfactorily, until somebody decides to resume it. The twentieth anniversary of the Oklahoma City atrocity will soon be upon us. It would be good if a serious re-look at OKBOMB’s many unanswered questions were established for the event. With every passing year, the chances of clearing up the case grow more difficult; eventually it will be impossible. The public deserves to know the full story of this terrible crime.

The Mysterious Case of David Drugeon

Three weeks ago, McClatchy made worldwide headlines with a remarkable scoop: recent U.S. missile strikes on Al-Qa’ida forces in Syria, the so-called Khorasan Group, explicitly targeted a French national who was a defector from his country’s intelligence services. Citing unnamed European intelligence officials, the article provided considerable detail, though it did not name this mystery man (“Two people, independently of one another, provided the same name, which McClatchy is withholding pending further confirmation.”) Although sources could not agree whether this Frenchman gone rogue had belonged to the French military’s special forces or the country’s foreign intelligence service (DGSE), or perhaps both, the piece left no doubt that this was a very serious problem as the defector, said to be skilled with explosives, represents a grave threat to his former employers. Needless to add, from any counterintelligence viewpoint, such a defector into the jihadist camp — the first from the West by a bona fide intelligence officer — would be very bad news indeed. Worse, the U.S. missile strikes did not manage to kill this most wanted renegade.

While U.S. intelligence officials did not comment to McClatchy on the piece, the reaction in Paris to its publication was swift and solid. Following custom, DGSE had no public utterance on the allegations, but the French Ministry of Defense (MoD) minced no words, declaring that the story was patently false. While Paris admitted they were worried about a mysterious Frenchman, whom they did not name, who is serving Al-Qa’ida, officials stated repeatedly that the wanted man has no connection to French intelligence. One official simply derided the McClatchy report as “stupid.” Whispers followed that the piece may have been a hit job engineered by U.S. officials who are displeased with Paris of late (“Some American leaders do not welcome Paris’ criticisms of the inconsistency or errors of Washington’s policy in Iraq and Syria,” opined one French official). 

My old counterintelligence spidey sense smelled something amiss with this sensational story, so I made the usual inquiries. Old friends in European intelligence circles, including French, were adamant that McClatchy’s scoop was simply wrong, and had to be, since if a French spook had gone over to the mujahidin, European counterintelligence circles — it’s a small world actually — would have talked about little else, and none of my friends had heard any whisper of a high-placed defection. They were as surprised by the McClatchy piece as everyone else was; it was the talk of every water cooler in every European spy agency for a week or more.

Within days the true story began to emerge, and thanks to a comprehensive analysis of this sensational case by L’Express magazine, we now know the truth of the matter. The target of U.S. cruise missiles in late September was a twenty-four year-old French national named David Drugeon, who indeed did cheat death as American missiles rained down on him. His is the unlikely story of a Catholic boy from Brittany who grew up to become an important member of Al-Qa’ida, achieving the youthful success in the jihadist underworld that eluded him in normal life.

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Born in 1989 in the Breton town of Vannes, into a working class family, Drugeon’s upbringing wasnormal. While his mother was a devout Catholic, his neighborhood was ethnically and religiously diverse, with many North Africans. Close to his brother and an avid soccer fan, David seemed like a typical young French boy until 2002, when his world fell apart when his parents divorced. He was thirteen. In a pattern that’s sadly typical, David filled the void in his shattered life with extremist religion.

This was in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and Salafi radicals were in David’s neighborhood, stirring up trouble. He quickly accepted a hardline version of Islam, as did his brother, and began calling himself Daoud. One local Salafi played a father-figure role for the lonely boys, who stayed with their mother after their parents divorced.

Daoud soon had scant interest in anything not relating to extremist Islam. Soccer was in the past, as were his studies. While he had wanted to become an architect, that dream fell to Salafism, as Daoud’s hours and days became devoted to politico-religious indoctrination. As his father explained, “We gave him a choice: either study or religion. He opted for religion.” Back in the neighborhood, Daoud got on the radar of the local police for his extremist activities, while his brother, though a pious Muslim convert, eschewed violent radicalism. By his late teens, the police knew of Daoud’s tendencies, but as he was just a teenager they considered him to be of no real importance, threat-wise, evaluating his small, rag-tag group of local Salafis as “a joke,” conceded a security official.

Daoud came to the attention of the DGSE due to three trips he made to Egypt in 2008-2010. He worked odd jobs in Vannes to finance his visits to Cairo and Alexandria, which he undertook for periods from three to six months, studying at Islamic schools in Egypt, perfecting his Arabic to boot. Yet he remained in touch with his family throughout this period, and outwardly seemed little different: “As far as I could see, he had not changed. He was still the same young man, smiling, sporty, nature-loving and fond of forest walks,” recalled his father.

At no point was Daoud engaged with the French military or its intelligence agencies, Paris has stated more than once. McClatchy made a mistake here, according to the French MoD. Daoud attended a sports training course in the Breton town of Coëtquidan, which happens to be the home of St-Cyr, France’s West Point. This apparently was misread by American reporters. An MoD source, however, was adamant about Drugeon: “He never tried to join the Army. He was never approached by our services. He trained with a civilian organization, and that is all.”

By the spring of 2010, the emerging jihadist abandoned his old life altogether, as L’Express explains:

In 2009 he worked continuously for six months, earning enough money for a visit that he told his father would be similar to his previous ones. On 17 April 2010, his father saw him for the last time.  David/Daoud set off secretly on the road to jihad. He traveled by carpool from Vannes to Brussels, where he boarded a plane. He stopped over in Rome before landing in Cairo. According to our information, he did not travel alone, but was accompanied by a close associate of the imam of the [Vannes] “mosque.”

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Where exactly he went after Cairo is uncertain, but within months Daoud (see picture) was in Pakistan, specifically in the border tribal region of North Waziristan, in the Al-Qa’ida-infested area of Miranshah. He spent the next three years there, going on active campaign with the Taliban for months at a time, gaining a reputation as a skilled bomb-maker and assuming the nom de guerre Souleiman. He was part of a French-speaking jihadist cadre, many of them from the Maghreb, becoming close to their leader, Moez Garsallaoui, a noted Al-Qa’ida fighter and fellow French speaker. In late September 2011, they were joined by a fanatic young Frenchman, Mohamed Merah, who after undergoing weapons training with this group, went back to Toulouse and engaged in a terrible killing spree.

It may not be a coincidence that Merah made his way to the back hills of Miranshah, a place few Europeans can find. Drugeon is possibly the connection between Merah and Al-Qa’ida, as it is difficult to see how the petty criminal from Toulouse could find his way to Pakistan’s wild tribal areas without a friendly sponsor; the two may have met when they were both in Egypt in 2010.

Moez Garsallaoui was killed by an American drone strike in October 2012, while Drugeon survived the attack. Not long after, he abandoned Pakistan and made his way to Syria, like much of Al-Qa’ida’s best cadres, to continue the jihad against the Assad regime. By now he was a leader of the mujahidin himself, despite only being in his early twenties. Legends of his exploits in Syria are widespread but, like nearly all such jihadist tales, impossible to confirm.

His family last heard from Drugeon in June 2010, when letters to both his parents arrived from an unknown location. He had already pressured his mother into converting to Islam, and in his final communication, he exhorted his father to do likewise, promising that the family would “meet in heaven.” Since then, his father has waited for a knock at the door by policemen to tell him of his lost son’s violent end.

Drugeon avoided that American-led end, again, in Syria a few weeks ago. The odds of war suggest that he cannot escape the long arm of U.S. drones and cruise missiles — or perhaps the savage infighting among jihadist groups in Syria — indefinitely. Until then, he will continue to rise in Al-Qa’ida ranks and burnish his legend of the convert from Brittany who led the fight against the “infidel” in several countries.

We can put to rest McClatchy’s claim that Drugeon is any sort of French super-spy gone rogue. It cannot be ruled out that, to cover up something that might look bad, Paris is leaving out parts of the Drugeon tale, perhaps even important parts. Frequently jihadists are approached by security services to cooperate, sometimes with more than a whiff of coercion, and the story that is presented to the public later is too simple (Merah’s case certainly was more complicated than initially believed). It is possible that Drugeon cooperated with French intelligence at some point, Parisian denials notwithstanding, but McClatchy’s account of a top operative, some sort of French James Bond, defecting to Al-Qa’ida is simply untrue. It belongs in the movies, not the newspapers.

Iran’s Secret New Balkan Spy-Terror Offensive

An important European security issue I’ve tried to raise awareness about for years is the nefarious role played by Iranian intelligence in Southeastern Europe, above all in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Tehran’s covert tentacles in that unfortunate country reach deep, since Iran began extending its malign influence there back in 1990, as Communism collapsed in Yugoslavia, and the mullahs dispatched spies with cash to Sarajevo to buy politicians, spread radicalism, and recruit and train terrorists. Iranian intelligence, meaning both its civilian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK) and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran), became very influential among Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s thanks to their secret alliance with the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which has ruled in Sarajevo for most of the post-Yugoslav period. I’ve explained this messy saga in detail in my book Unholy Terror.

When the United States and NATO intervened in Bosnia’s civil war in the latter half of 1995, the presence of hundreds of Iranian spies in the country was a major concern, and pressure from Washington, DC, forced the SDA to become more discreet about its links with Tehran. Yet these have never disappeared, and for VEVAK and Pasdaran, Bosnia remains very much “their” playground. As Sarajevo would ultimately like to join NATO and the European Union, they understand that every few years the Americans and the EU will put pressure on them to reduce their ties to Iran, particularly to its intelligence services. A sort of Balkan kabuki theater inevitably follows, with promises by the SDA to crack down hard, this time. A few Iranian “diplomats” are discreetly asked to leave the country, some of the more overt Iranian intelligence fronts in Bosnia shut their doors, usually only temporarily, and the Americans and Europeans are bought off for a couple years. And the Iranians remain.

The result of all this is that Iran has a considerable espionage base in Bosnia, which they view as a safe haven for their secret operations in the rest of Europe. Of greatest concern are the detectable ties between Iranian intelligencers and Salafi jihadist groups in Bosnia, some of which operate more or less openly (Sunni-Shia disputes notwithstanding, Tehran is happy to arm, train and equip Salafi jihadists, and nowhere more than Bosnia, where they have been doing that for over two decades). This Tehran-Sarajevo spy-terror nexus cannot be divorced from radical activities in Vienna, since Austria’s capital in many ways is the de facto capital of Salafi jihadism in Southeastern Europe, as well as a major playground for Iranian spies. These form an extended web of malevolence that stretches across Eastern and Central Europe.

Things came to a head in the spring of 2013, however, when the behavior of Iranian spies in Bosnia became so dangerous that Sarajevo was forced to do something about it. In addition to their normal sponsoring of jihadist fronts and radical NGOs in the country, Iranian operatives were visiting known jihadist training camps, distributing cash and weapons, and making little effort to hide this activity. In particular, Iranian spies were seen visiting the jihadist colony at Gornja Maoča in northeastern Bosnia which, despite occasional police raids, has operated for years as a more or less open training camp for jihad-minded radicals. Gornja Maoča has long been the base of Nusret Imamović, the leading extremist cleric in the country, who since late 2013 has been in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al-Qa’ida faction fighting the Assad regime.

Regular visits to Gornja Maoča by Iranian intelligence officers were too much for even Sarajevo to stomach, so Bosnia’s Ministry of Security took the unprecedented step of ordering two Iranian “diplomats,” specifically Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad and Jadidi Sohrab, ostensibly the second and the third secretaries in the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Sarajevo but known by local counterintelligence to actually be spies, to leave Bosnia by the end of April 2013, or they would be officially declared persona non grata and expelled. 

Then, in a telling revelation about who really calls the shots in Sarajevo, that deadline passed and the Iranians were still in Sarajevo, an almost unimaginable breach of diplomatic protocol. Nearly two weeks late, the Iranian “diplomats” finally left Bosnia, and for a time VEVAK and Pasdaran activities in the country adopted a somewhat lower profile, in a manner that pleased Western governments as well as the many Bosnians who do not like their country being used as a spy-terror safe haven by revolutionary Iran.

Yet now the Iranians are back to their old tricks. This week the Sarajevo daily Dnevni avaz reported, based on Bosnian intelligence sources, that Tehran’s spies have resumed their old operational tempo, and their nefarious activities have been rising fast since early September. Over the last six weeks, Bosnia’s Ministry of Security has noticed a significant increase in the activities of known Iranian intelligence officers in Bosnia. Outreach to local jihadists by VEVAK and Pasdaran operatives has been observed, and visits to Gornja Maoča are happening again. Although these activities are more subtle than what Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad and Jadidi Sohrab had been doing, namely driving up to the jihadist camp in their car with Iranian diplomatic tags, Bosnian officials are nevertheless deeply worried. As an anonymous Bosnian security official explained:

There have been a number of contacts with individuals from the Wahhabi community in Gornja Maoča. In recent months, associates of this [Iranian] service have been crossing the border frequently. Many of them use identification documents from Bosnia-Hercegovina, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Israel, which they received via HAMAS and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Worse, many top Iranian intelligence officials have been visiting Bosnia in recent months, including Abolghasem Parhizkar, one of the most senior VEVAK officials, who has visited Bosnia twice in 2014 on a diplomatic passport. Pasdaran officers have also been showing up, customarily including a visit to Vienna along with their drop-in in Sarajevo, as the Bosnian security official explained: 

Nasrolah Pezhmafar and Mohamad Mahdi Fadakar Davrani have used their diplomatic passports to enter Bosnia, while Vahid Hozouri and Sorouh Jusefi have been using their official passports.  During entry, particular attention was paid to one suspect “diplomat,” who came to Sarajevo, having previously spent time in Thailand, India and Georgia, where [Iranian-backed] terrorist attacks had been carried out previously.

Of particular concern is the large number of Iranian intelligence fronts operating in Bosnia that provide cover for operations and funding of terrorists and radicals: NGOs, charities of various sorts, and schools. For the Pasdaran, its most important cut-outs in Bosnia are the “Ibn Sina” Research Institute and the Persian-Bosnian College, but there is a long list of Iranian-linked fronts in the country (my analysis of these and how they provide cover for VEVAK and Pasdaran is here) that play an important role in Tehran’s secret war in Europe.

Then there is the knotty question of just how many spies from Middle Eastern countries are actually in Bosnia. The Ministry of Security assesses that about one thousand secret operatives are present, counting those employed in various front organizations, with the lion’s share from Iran, but with significant representation from the secret services of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait too. (Western security agencies place the figure around 650, but this has more to do with counting methods, i.e. who is actually a spy, than disagreements about the extent of the threat.) For Bosnian counterspies, monitoring so many targets is a simply impossible task, particularly considering the country’s deep financial problems and limited budgets.

For years, Bosnian counterintelligence has been well aware of Iran’s nefarious activities in their country, but customarily there has been little political will to do much about this threat, not least because important SDA officials are on Tehran’s payroll, and have been for many years. Privately, Bosnian security officials express their exasperation to Western friends, but barring a major crackdown, which can only happen if NATO and the EU demand it in exchange for any progress on Bosnian membership in Atlantic and European institutions, nothing will change. Since Iran views Bosnia as a safe haven for its espionage and terrorist activities elsewhere, one which they have enjoyed for a generation, we ought to be asking what this current surge of VEVAK and Pasdaran activity in Southeastern Europe means for regional security. It can’t be anything good.

Diamonds (and Disinformation) Are Forever

My recent post What If Everything You Know About Terrorism is Wrong?, which explained the important (and neglected) role of intelligence services behind a lot of terrorism, got considerable feedback. I highlighted the fact that the Russians invented the dark art of provocation, what they term provokatsiya, and still today Moscow is rather adept as such tactics.

Inevitably this led to mentioning of “false flag” operations, a term which is used casually, and almost always incorrectly, by the tinfoil-hat crowd. False flag ops do exist, but they are little understood by those unfamiliar with real-world espionage. Predictably, I got questions about U.S. intelligence and terrorism. The truth is that American counterterrorism operations lack anything like the nefariously imaginative flair that the Russians bring to the table; this neglect may be good for our democracy but I think we can learn something from the Russians here.

Like clockwork, I got questions about the shadowy Operation GLADIO, which is especially beloved by those seeking to “prove” U.S. and NATO malfeasance. The GLADIO myth is based in certain facts, namely that in the early days of the Cold War, when a Soviet invasion of Western Europe seemed like a real possibility, many European NATO countries established stay-behind networks that would operate in the event their lands wound up under the Kremlin’s heel.

Such stay-behind programs were wanted by European NATO members that had suffered occupation by Nazi Germany: setting up networks that would operate after capitulation was a “lesson learned” from the Second World War. These secret efforts were run by these countries’ intelligence services with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Most of these stay-behind programs languished in the latter half of the Cold War, as the threat of Soviet invasion loomed less ominously, but many NATO countries maintained some sort of secret program along these lines through the 1980’s.

The mythical GLADIO, the existence of which was leaked as early as 1990, became an obsession for some with the publication of the book NATO’s Secret Armies in 2005 by the Swiss historian Daniele Ganser. Although it was published by an academic press and possesses the footnotes one expects from such a turgid tome, Ganser’s work was lacking in academic standards. However, it made headlines with its explosive claims, especially that NATO-linked intelligence networks were responsible for acts of terrorism, particularly in Italy.

Such claims were met with enthusiasm by many Italians, including those on the Left who tend to see the CIA lurking behind every tree. (Let it be said that Italians of all political stripes love conspiracies to explain complex things, so much so that they have a word, dietrologia — roughly “behindology” — for this tendency.) Here at last was an explanation for the admittedly murky “years of lead” from the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s, when Italy was plagued by terrorism, including mysterious bombings that have never been officially resolved. Leftists had long fingered Italy’s intelligence services for what they termed a “strategy of tension” hiding behind some of that terrorism, and here comes Ganser to prove they were right, and the CIA was really behind it all. Needless to say, to certain Europeans this was catnip.

The only problem was that it isn’t true. With few exceptions, specialists in the history of intelligence considered Ganser’s book to be a shoddy work of scholarship. In the first place, he made no effort to hide his biases, noting that he considered CIA covert action to be “terrorist in nature.” Then there was the problem that Ganser was making incendiary assertions he could not prove, as he himself admitted to “not being able to find any official sources to support his charges of the CIA’s or any Western European government’s involvement with GLADIO.”

Peer reviews were harsh. One academic dismissed Ganser’s tome as “a journalistic book with a big spoonful of conspiracy theories,” while another concluded: “A detailed refutation of the many unfounded allegations that Ganser accepts as historical findings would fill an entire book.” Phil Davies, who is a bona fide expert on intelligence, expressed the book’s problem concisely:

marred by imagined conspiracies, exaggerated notions of the scale and impact of covert activities, misunderstandings of the management and coordination of operations within and between national governments, and… an almost complete failure to place the actions and decisions in question in the appropriate historical context…The underlying problem is that Ganser has not really undertaken the most basic necessary research to be able to discuss covert action and special operations effectively.

This is the polite British academic way of stating that Ganser is at best uninformed, at worst a charlatan. Lacking any grounding in this complex subject, Ganser leapt to conclusions for which he had no evidence, but for which presumably he knew there would be a hungry audience.

The CIA stated publicly that Ganser had no idea what he was talking about, and had seriously distorted facts, while the State Department took the unusual step of issuing a public statement attacking the book. The most serious matter it noted was Ganser’s use of a supposed U.S. Army Field Manual 30-31B that gave instructions on all sorts of nefarious activities. The problem is this document is a Soviet forgery, and has been known to be fake for decades. This “Field Manual” was cooked up by the KGB as a disinformation operation, and it became something of a sensation on the European Left in the 1970’s as “proof” of American malfeasance, being pushed by Kremlin mouthpieces like the CIA defector Phil Agee, the Edward Snowden of the polyester era.

There’s been ample evidence available for years about KGB Cold War dezinformatsiya, including forgeries like FM 30-31B. The so-called Mitrokhin Archive, compiled by a KGB archivist and brought to Britain after the fall of the Soviet Union, makes up two weighty volumes by the eminent intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, including considerable primary source documentation of KGB disinformation operations and how they worked.

Either Ganser has not bothered to read and understand these works, making him the least informed intelligence historian in all history, or he simply ignored evidence that did not suit his theories, for which he did not have any primary source evidence. Of course, this did nothing to tamp down enthusiasm for Ganser’s GLADIO theorizing by those who wanted such myths to be true.

To this day, almost any act of terrorism in Europe will be met with cries of “GLADIO!” in certain quarters, with implications — there is of course never any evidence — that the CIA is “really” behind the crime. Such is the cost of fiction masquerading as fact.

Daniele Ganser has gotten off the GLADIO beat, having milked the topic for all the fame and fortune it was worth, and unsurprisingly he has moved on to 9/11 Trutherism, another arena where the absence of evidence is no impediment to those who simply want to believe. His recent work has been in the field of — you knew this was coming — “peak oil.”

Top German Spies Unload on Merkel’s Kowtowing to Putin

One of the West’s open secrets is that Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, consistently behaves in an obsequious manner towards Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian Russia. Time and again, Berlin has refused to confront the Kremlin over its egregious misconduct – from espionage to subversion to terrorism – while throwing NATO allies under the bus to keep Moscow happy.

Angela Merkel, who has been chancellor for 14 years, is no different from Germany’s political class, which seeks to stay in Putin’s good graces at seemingly any cost. Berlin’s preachy pontifications about democracy, decency, and human rights are customarily aimed at NATO allies, seldom at Moscow.

For years, German intelligence higher-ups have chafed at this situation, viewing the Kremlin as a threat to NATO, the European Union, and German security, while Merkel and her ilk pretend otherwise. The spies finally had enough this August when Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian of Chechen background living in Germany as a political exile, was assassinated in a Berlin park in broad daylight. His killer was a Russian thug with easily detectable ties to the Kremlin.

This was a step too far. When the Merkel government showed its customary inability to confront Moscow over anything, German spies – with backing from U.S. intelligence, which valued Khangoshvili – privately made plain that this brazen crime could not be ignored. Once the case was in the hands of prosecutors, following months of delay, Berlin two weeks ago expelled two Russian diplomats – in reality, spies.

That was just the beginning of pushback by German spies against Merkel and her giving Putin carte blanche to do whatever he likes in Germany. A firehose of leaks just burst into public view in Bild, a populist-conservative tabloid that’s Europe’s biggest-circulation newspaper, which takes a hard line on the Kremlin, a rarity in Germany.

Yesterday, Bild ran the sensational story “Former spy chiefs settle accounts with Merkel,” which revealed to the public for the first time just how subservient Germany’s chancellor has been to Moscow. Several retired spy bosses took Merkel to task, denouncing her conduct towards the Kremlin with harsh words: “Obsequiousness” and “Cowardice” were cited, while one former spy chief stated that the chancellor “blamed her own intelligence services” rather than Putin for problems in the bilateral relationship.

Bernd Schmidbauer, who served as the cabinet-level coordinator of Germany’s intelligence and security agencies (a position roughly equivalent to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence), denounced Merkel’s handling of German security vis-à-vis Russia as “worse than bad,” adding it is “a disgrace to our country” how weakly Berlin responded to Khangoshvili’s brazen assassination. This cannot be dismissed as partisan grousing. Schmidbauer, a lifelong member of Merkel’s own party, termed the expulsion of two Russian spies “laughable” given the gravity of the crime perpetrated by the Kremlin in Berlin.

Another former German intelligence chief who did not wished to be named told Bild that Merkel’s conduct towards the Kremlin “from many viewpoints is incomprehensible,” adding that Putin “walked all over” Merkel publicly after the Khangoshvili assassination, as Berlin stood by silently as the Kremlin maligned the murdered man. Another senior German intelligence official denounced Berlin’s handling of the case as “unprofessional…a declaration of political bankruptcy.”

This bombshell from the spooks exploded the pleasant myth, popular in certain circles, that Merkel is the “leader of the free world” now that the United States has abdicated that role with Donald Trump in the White House. The unpalatable truth is that current U.S. policies towards the Kremlin – to be distinguished from Trump’s tweets and rants – are tougher than they were under Obama, and much harsher than they have ever been in Berlin under Merkel.

Adding fuel to the fire, only a few hours after the first spy-leak salvo, Bild ran another story, “The trail of Putin’s spy leads to Parliament,” which shared tantalizing details about Evgeniy Sutskiy, a deputy military attaché at Russia’s Berlin embassy who was expelled earlier this month over the Khangoshvili hit. In reality, Sutskiy is a senior officer of Russian military intelligence or GRU, and Bild supplied details about him and his family. In particular, the story revealed that Sutskiy devoted considerable effort to penetrating Merkel’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union or CDU.

Sutskiy had several meetings with Salahdin Koban, a German of Kurdish background and a former CDU parliamentary candidate. Since these Berlin rendezvous smack of clandestine intelligence gathering, given known GRU tradecraft, Bild’s account raises troubling questions about Merkel’s own party and how deep its Kremlin ties really are.

Then, today, Bild ran a third piece, “How Putin’s network in German works,” a detailed counterintelligence report that clearly draws from high-level leaks in Berlin. “Espionage, influence operations, sabotage, money laundering, gun- and drug-smuggling,” are what Moscow’s spies have been doing in Germany for decades. Bild asserts that at least 3,000 Russian spies are active in Germany at present, counting “sleepers.”

The report runs though the various ways that Russian spies operate in Germany, via “legal” outposts in diplomatic missions to “illegals” operating without diplomatic cover. Bild adds the role played by the Russian diaspora in Germany in espionage, as well as a prominent part played by the Russian Orthodox Church in clandestinely serving the Kremlin abroad. Think-tanks, too, get mentioned, given their important role in disseminating Russian propaganda in Germany and beyond.

Bild likewise notes the significant part played by Russian business interests, including Gazprom, in supporting Kremlin espionage and influence operations in Germany. Neither does the piece shy away from mentioning the clandestine role of Russian intelligence behind various sports clubs, as well as Kremlin connections to drug-smuggling rings operating in Germany. Most controversially, the report states that certain German politicians, ranging from the Alternative for Germany on the right to Die Linke on the left, are handled by Russian intelligence via “traveling diplomats.”

This is all old hat to counterintelligence veterans, who understand how deeply Russian spies since the Cold War’s end have penetrated German politics, economy, and society at all levels, but this will be shocking news to average citizens. Bild’s reporting this week constitutes a direct challenge to Angela Merkel and her government about their willingness to let Vladimir Putin literally get away with murder on German soil. Germans should have questions about what’s really going on here, and why.

More is coming…watch this space.