Poland Stands Up For the West Against Russia—Again

Voltaire is supposed to have said that God is on the side of the big battalions, but there can be no denying that, even in this age of technology-driven conflict, when machines do much of the dirty work once done by men, numbers still matter in war—and in deterring it.

Here NATO has a problem, since its eastern flank includes several countries whose militaries are dwarfed in size by the neighboring Russian bear. For instance, while recent defense efforts in Estonia are impressive, that little country of not much more than a million citizens would be steamrollered by the Kremlin’s forces in the event of war, before NATO reinforcements could arrive in enough numbers to help.

The outlier is Poland, which stands guard on the Atlantic Alliance’s vulnerable eastern flank. Warsaw’s military is NATO’s bulwark against Russian aggression from the east, especially considering Poland’s border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which houses late-model ballistic missiles aimed westward. While there is a now a modest deterrent force drawn from a across the Alliance standing watch close to Russia, including a rotational U.S. Army armored brigade in Poland, military reality dictates that the success or failure of any Kremlin aggression against NATO will be determined by Polish resistance, more than any other factor.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The McLaughlin Group (8 April 2018)

Last weekend I appeared again on the relaunched McLaughlin Group as the guest (AKA 4th chair) and it was lots of fun. Issues were important — Syria, the border and immigration, China, Russia, and the world generally going to hell in a handbasket — and the discussion was lively and then some. If you missed it, you can watch it right here.


The McLaughlin Group (11 March 2018)

Last weekend I appeared again on the reborn McLaughlin Group — and it was a rollicking good time. Tom Rogan was an energetic host, as ever, and we got to dive pretty deep on issues of importance, above all the recent attempted Russian assassination of Sergei Skripal in Britain. Given how that story’s heating up — with ominous noises emanating from Moscow — if you have a few free minutes, I suggest you check it out. You can watch right here.


Putin Gang Stunned by Theresa May’s Resolve

For the past dozen years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has employed his spies as assassins in the West, beginning with the murder of the defector Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in late 2006. Kremlin killers have left a trail of bodies in several Western countries, but above all the United Kingdom. Although Russian spies have made only modest efforts to cover their tracks in these crimes, the consequences for Moscow have been distinctly limited. No Western country has been willing to stand up to Putin and his increasingly gangster regime—until now.

In response to the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former Russian military intelligence colonel, who, along with his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, received a near-lethal dose of a nerve agent on March 4 in Salisbury, England, the British government is finally showing resolve in confronting outrageous Russian crimes perpetrated on their soil. As I explained a week ago, there is no serious doubt that the Kremlin stands behind the would-be hit on the Skripals:

Vladimir Putin has resumed wetwork in a fashion not witnessed in the Kremlin since the days of Joseph Stalin. Putin’s assassinations abroad over the last 15 years have been more aggressive than anything done during the Russian president’s KGB career. Moreover, his views on turncoats are well known: “Traitors always end badly,” he famously explained. In 2010, the year Skripal was swapped to Britain, Putin chillingly stated, “Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers-in-arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces silver they were given, they will choke on them.”

The British government apparently agrees with my assessment, since Prime Minister Theresa May this week made two major announcements relating to the Skripal case. First, on Monday, May announced that, based on forensic tests, the agent used to poison the Skripals was a nerve agent called Novichok, which is indisputably of Russian origin. The prime minister added it was therefore “highly likely” that Moscow stood behind this “unlawful use of force.” May gave the Kremlin until last night to provide a “credible response” to this accusation.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The McLaughlin Group (11 February 2018)

This past weekend I appeared on the reborn McLaughlin Group, the iconic political chat show which was a perennial favorite for three decades until the passing of its founder, John McLaughlin, in 2016. The show has recently returned to air, hosted by my friend Tom Rogan, and I took part in Sunday’s discussion of current events, including Russian election hacking, Syrian shenanigans, and Pat Buchanan’s allegation of “Russophobia” in my direction. It was a fun show — the right amount of banter mixed with serious commentary — so if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, click here and enjoy.

I expect I’ll be on the show again soon ….

It’s Time to Make Twitter Better

I joined Twitter five-and-a-half years ago, in the summer of 2012, and immediately found it a heady experience. Here was a place of free expression, where experts and average people could mingle and discuss issues of the day. There were high and lows; some dialogs got mired in silliness, while others led to genuine insights. Twitter was unique – and a lot of fun.

Then, in June 2013, Edward Snowden landed in Hong Kong, on the lam from Uncle Sam, and then defected to Moscow, where he remains almost five years later. As the only former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer speaking openly about that sensational case as it unfolded, I was in high demand. As it happened, a decade earlier when I was working for NSA, I predicted that due to lax agency security policies (this required not clairvoyance, merely paying attention) something very much like Snowden was bound to happen. My comments on Snowden were critical of our Intelligence Community, which had allowed this nightmare to happen.  From the outset, I pointed out that the NSA contractor turned defector was far from the pure-hearted “whistleblower” he claimed to be.

This view, now commonly accepted, was controversial in the summer of 2013, and I incurred the skepticism of Snowden’s media fans, as well as the wrath of his cultish followers. Kremlin sycophants like Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald attacked me regularly for pointing out that Snowden and WikiLeaks were dancing the Kremlin’s tune, and before long I was inundated by online trolls. Three years before Moscow weaponized its trolls to sway a presidential election, they went after me on Twitter with gusto.

Suddenly I had platoons of trolls attacking me at once. By the latter half of 2013, I was blocking dozens of harassing accounts daily – and they were reading from a Russian playbook that became familiar to millions of Americans in 2016. The full range of Kremlin trolling was on display, between ceaseless nasty tweets and doxing of myself, my family, and friends. This took a toll on me and my life, but I never considered a halt to telling the truth about Snowden and Russian intelligence to make it all stop.

I’ve had dozens of impersonation accounts set up to harass me, and I stopped counting how many trolls and bots have tried to derail my truth-telling on Twitter: many thousands by now. It’s been a bumpy ride, but over the last couple years I’ve gotten to say, “I told you so” too many times to count. I was right about Snowden, WikiLeaks, and the Russians. Even though my warnings weren’t heeded, I predicted a lot of the mess that America is in right now thanks to Kremlin Trolls, disinformation, and Active Measures disseminated via Twitter and other social media. I was Patient Zero for their online bacillus, and I survived – albeit at high cost.

I expected that Twitter would finally get its act together in the dreadful aftermath of 2016, when the White House was occupied by a man who extolled WikiLeaks, refused to admit that Russian spies and lies had harmed our country, and acted like Vladimir Putin’s asset – to use the term cited by our country’s most experienced spy-boss. Alas, I was wrong. Twitter has made some minor alterations – a few bots blocked, some notorious trolls banned – but nothing substantial has changed. Twitter remains a playground for the Kremlin Trolls, bots, and miscreants who made this promising social media forum, to cite President Trump, a shithole.

Twitter has it within its power to banish troublemakers, but they haven’t done so. Minor algorithm alterations would do away with 90 percent of the bots immediately, while serious enforcement of the so-called Twitter Rules would do away with most trolls nearly as fast. However, that won’t happen, because if Twitter admitted how many of its followers are bots rather than live humans, its already beleaguered stock price would likely plummet even further.

There is real risk here, since Congress is angry and wants reform before the 2018 midterm election, which the Russians are sure to meddle in. Twitter’s nightmare scenario is a Democratic majority in Congress in January 2019 that’s out for blood against the social media companies that allowed Kremlin Trolls to help elect Donald Trump. However, since Twitter can’t reform itself without blowing up its business model, they seem to be buying time now, not knowing what else to do.

In the meantime, trolls and bots continue to proliferate and harass. Nasty online conduct by Twitter mobs lead to suicides so often now it’s barely newsworthy. I recently lost a Twitter friend to suicide after he was harassed by Kremlin Trolls and bots until he cracked, and that brought it home to me. No social media platform is worth a human life. Every tweet I send gets trolling back, often of a rancid sort, plus they harass my followers who respond to me. Since I have more than quarter-million followers, it’s clear that Moscow’s effort to make life unpleasant for me and the online community around me is as robust as ever.

Therefore, it’s time to do something about it. I’m not going to delete my @20committee account on Twitter, but I’m moving serious discussions to a private feed called @TheSpyBrief. I’ll still post some things (cat pics especially) on my public account, but if you want expert chat about intelligence and national security – which, after all, is why I signed up for Twitter in the first place – I’m moving that to a new private channel where I can effectively filter out trolls and bots, thereby allowing serious discussion again without harassment of the participants.

My new private feed is @TheSpyBrief, and I invite you to join me there by subscribing (you can only subscribe through my Premo page – clicking the Twitter “Follow” button will not work). It’s not free, but it’s not expensive either: roughly 30 cents per day. Per the hoary Internet mantra: if you’re not paying, you are the product. I’ve kept the price low so that as many people as possible will join me at @TheSpyBrief. I promise it will be fun and engaging, and all users will be able to direct message me and exchange ideas. This will be a private discussion community about espionage and national security, with no Kremlin Trolls allowed.

Any trolling will be banned without delay, and since we’ll have traceable payment information, anything that smacks of state-sponsored activity will be reported to the appropriate authorities. I’ve never minded giving away my expertise for free, but I’ve grown tired of doing so amid nonstop harassment of myself and my online friends and followers. This new platform offers a path to reasoned debate about important national security issues of the day – and none more so than espionage and the role of Kremlin spies and lies in our public life.

This is an experiment that I’m excited to try out. If it doesn’t work right, we’ll find something else that does. The dialog won’t cease, it’s too important for that. And if you don’t like it, you can cancel at any time. Twitter remains full of promise, if they ever get rid of trolls and bots. Until they do, I invite you to join me at @TheSpyBrief so we can all take part in the serious public policy discussion that America and the West need right now.


The Dead Sing With Dirt in Their Mouths

Our nuclear stand-off with North Korea shows no signs of abating. On the contrary, every day or two, it seems to get worse – with no end, or off-ramps, in sight. President Trump says or tweets something aggressive and shocking just to taunt Pyongyang, to which North Korea responds in juvenile kind.

This bizarre spectacle, based on public trash-talk between nuclear powers, has become so commonplace that it seems almost normal. It is nothing of the kind. It’s not normal for our president to openly state that he will “totally destroy” North Korea – implying the nuclear annihilation of 25 million people – as he did before the United Nations last week.

Neither was it normal for Ri Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s top diplomat, to state that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric amounted to a “declaration of war” on his country, as he did at the beginning of this week, adding that North Korea reserves the right to shoot down American aircraft, even in international airspace.

Of course, such threats have something to do with the fact that our president amplified his UN saber-rattling with a tweet over the weekend in which he threatened Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un – whom he regularly refers to as “Rocket Man” – and his entourage with death: “they won’t be around much longer.” 

Pyongyang’s threats ought to be taken more seriously than Trump does. This, after all, is an intensely nationalist regime, little understood by outsiders, grounded in hatred, fear, and loathing of “imperialists” – especially the United States – and Donald J. Trump seems bent on proving 70 years of North Korean propaganda correct about what dangerous, irresponsible people American war-mongering capitalists are.

The Kim dynasty has a well-honed habit of doing things no other country on earth would dare do. Back in 2010, one of their submarines sank a South Korean warship, blowing it in half with a torpedo and killing 46 sailors. The idea that Pyongyang might shoot down U.S. warplanes is entirely plausible. Indeed, they’ve done it before, in April 1969, when a North Korean MiG-21 blasted an unarmed U.S. Navy EC-121 spy plane out of the sky, without warning, 90 miles off the North Korean coast, killing 31 Americans in the deadliest attack on one of our spy places in the whole Cold War.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Putin-Proofing the Balkans: A How-To Guide

The West needs to accept its mistakes in Southeastern Europe and correct them—before the Kremlin does

In my last column, I explained how rising tumult in the Balkans threatens to bring chaos and war to that troubled region again, in a repeat of the violent 1990s—and perhaps even worse. Russian meddling in the region promises to push fragile and impoverished societies over the edge, a prospect which threatens all Southeastern Europe. As I concluded:

It is therefore in the West’s interest to tamp down festering crises in the Balkans—above all in Macedonia—before they get out of hand. That will require keeping Russian malfeasance in the region to a tolerable level, yet it will also require NATO and the EU to confront the reality that the solutions they imposed on the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are no longer functioning. Indeed, they constitute a big part of the problems imperiling Southeastern Europe today.

But how to Putin-proof the Balkans before something awful happens? Blunting Kremlin spy-games is the first task at hand, and here NATO security services can assist local partners in unmasking Russian espionage, propaganda and subversion. The Atlantic Alliance must help Southeastern Europe resist aggressive moves like the violent coup plotted by Putin’s spies against Montenegro a few months ago.

That’s the easy part, however. The real challenge facing the West is undoing the damage we inadvertently wrought on the wreckage of Yugoslavia nearly a generation ago. NATO, led by Washington, deserves credit for entering the Bosnian war in earnest in 1995 and putting an end to that fratricidal nightmare. We did better in Kosovo four years later, stopping that ugly ethnic war before outright genocide materialized.
Read the rest at The Observer …

Monica Crowley’s Remarkably Flagrant Literary Theft Couldn’t Be an Accident

President-elect Trump may want to reconsider hiring a known plagiarist to serve in his White House

Plagiarism—that is, the intentional lifting of others’ words and passing them off as your own—is something that gets writers and academics excited but seldom registers with the general public. Except when someone famous, or at least semi-famous, gets caught doing it and the media takes notice, reminding everyone that such literary theft is at least very bad form.

Which is what’s just happened to a member of the still-forming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Monica Crowley, who’s been slated to serve in the new White House as the senior director of strategic communications on the National Security Council, a plum job which she’s suited for as a longtime right-wing media gadfly. A fixture on Fox News for years, as one of that network’s stable of fetching blonde talking-heads, Crowley would seem to be an ideal fit for such a high-profile position.

She also has academic pedigree and has published several books. Crowley received her Ph.D. in international relations from Columbia and served for years as research assistant to former President Richard Nixon, acting as his academic factotum during his final years. After his 1994 death, Crowley published two serious, somewhat scholarly books about the former president, in 1996 and 1998, respectively.

However, her big splash in publishing came in 2012 with the publication by HarperCollins of What the (Bleep) Just Happened, a less-than-scholarly tome, indeed a semi-comic one lambasting President Obama in the manner of so many right-wing books over the last eight years, which have aimed to preach to those already converted by Fox News. The book became a best-seller and raised her already high profile in conservative media circles.

It’s therefore a big problem for her that a close examination of that book by CNN Money has revealed that significant chunks of that best-seller aren’t Crowley’s own work. In more than 50 cases, she had lifted quotes, verbatim—in some cases entire paragraphs—from other sources, including op-eds, think tank reports, even Wikipedia. Having investigated plagiarism cases in my academic career, what Crowley did in What the (Bleep) Just Happened represents a remarkably flagrant example of literary theft, one that could not have happened by accident. CNN Money’s investigation demonstrates that Crowley stole the work of many others, whole hog, without any effort at attributing where “her” writing actually came from.

Read the rest at The Observer …

James Clapper, America’s Top Spymaster, Steps Down—Here’s What Happens Next

Staffing the next DNI is especially important for Trump, given his limited experience in espionage and national security

This morning, as he appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, James Clapper, our Director of National Intelligence, announced his resignation, effective January 20, 2017—the day Donald Trump will be inaugurated as America’s 45th president.

Submitting his resignation “felt pretty good,” Clapper told committee members, adding, “I have 64 days left and I’d have a pretty hard time with my wife going past that.” In fact, his resignation had been anticipated for months and was no surprise to the committee, since Clapper has been the DNI for more than six years, and President Trump will want his own person in that important job.

The DNI position was created in April 2005, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, as part of a Congressionally-mandated effort to improve high-end command, control, and coordination across the behemoth Intelligence Community. Clapper, who assumed the job in August 2010, served longer as DNI than his three predecessors combined. He is generally assessed as the best DNI to date, allowing that there’s not much competition there.

It’s a tough job, since the Intelligence Community is a diverse mix of top secret bureaucracies which don’t always play well together. The IC is made up of 16 different spy agencies—17 if you count the amply-sized Office of the DNI, which is a Beltway player in its own right—and there’s a reason American intelligence professionals love jokes about cat-herding. None can deny that, particularly under Clapper, the DNI grew more effective at getting our spy agencies to play well together, and information sharing across the IC has unquestionably improved over the last decade.

Some of his success as America’s top spymaster can be attributed to Jim Clapper being a career intelligence officer who knows the business from the ground up. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1963, Clapper served in Vietnam, including 73 combat support missions, collecting airborne signals intelligence, and he was appointed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1991. He retired from active duty in 1995 as a three-star general, worked in the private sector for six years, then was appointed the civilian director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2001.

Read the rest at The Observer …