A Brief Intelligence Reality Check

Our right wing is in a flutter over recently declassified and released Pentagon intelligence documents regarding Middle Eastern events in recent years. FoxNews is blaring about failures to miss the rise of the Islamic State and (of course) about Benghazi, in its customary way, but without much context.

Worse is this piece, which has a pronouncedly conspiratorial bent, implying that the Pentagon was somehow in on the rise of the Islamic State — which is precisely what Tehran and Moscow want you to think. The documents in question, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a right-wing group, can be seen in full here, but the report generating the most heat, if not light, is this one.

This is an early August 2012 field report to the Defense Intelligence Agency, known in the trade as an Intelligence Information Report or IIR. As it states clearly, this is an “information report, not finally evaluated intelligence.” Its contents are deemed explosive by those seeking explosions. According to outraged observers online, this DIA IIR is “proof” that “the Pentagon” and “the Intelligence Community” knew more about the rise of the Islamic State than they let on. At best, they’re fools; at worst, they’re deceivers who have lied to the American people.

It’s time for a reality check. Having written my share of IIRs, let me explain a few things to you. First off, this report, which is classified SECRET/NOFORN (i.e. it’s far from “highly classified”) is so heavily redacted that it’s difficult to say much meaningful about it. Who filed this IIR has been taken out, and its distribution list (at least what we can see of it) is the usual alphabet soup of DoD and IC headquarters and agencies. Nothing special here, not one bit.

As for the pronouncements in this IIR, which are taken as highly meaningful by the conspiracy-minded, they are routine, the sort of thing found in the thousands of IIRs that DIA generates annually, on a wide range of subjects. Is this the take of a U.S. defense attaché somewhere in the Middle East, and therefore a reflection of his/her personal views only? Is this the rant of someone who claims good access, who may (or may not) have that? Are these the ramblings of a partner security service — in other words, glorified hall gossip — that an attaché felt obliged to report back in that mixture of “FYI” and “CYA” that dominates inside the Beltway? Given the heavy redactions, it’s simply impossible to say.

What we can say with certainty, however, is that this IIR is not the view of “the Defense Intelligence Agency” or “the Pentagon,” much less “the Intelligence Community.” The IC is a sprawling enterprise of seventeen different agencies, some of which don’t play well with each other. Plus, not to put too fine a point on this, DIA isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the IC shed, being viewed as a bit of an also-ran by CIA and NSA, who are the Big Dogs of American intelligence in terms of mission, budgets, and prestige.

This is but one IIR, whose provenance we know basically nothing about. Don’t read too much into it. There is nothing conspiratorial here to those who understand the IC. Raw intelligence like this is often wide of the mark, and DIA’s reputation here is less than stellar. Has everybody forgotten about CURVEBALL so soon?

I am pretty critical of the Obama administration’s policy towards the Islamic State, as I’ve written about many times, and it’s clear that calling them the “JV team” was a stupid mistake. As I’ve reported, there has been robust debate inside the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community for several years about what the Islamic State exactly is, and what should be done about, and it’s safe to say that most of DoD and the IC today are out of step with the White House’s soft-touch approach to its pseudo-war against this virulent and fanatical enemy.

This lone IIR is but a single data point that serious analysts will not get worked up over, as opposed to those who have ideological axes to grind, to say nothing of the tinfoil-hat brigade. After 9/11, the Intelligence Community was exhorted to “connect the dots” better. I would caution all to observe that this is a mere dot, one whose provenance and reliability we do not know.

On a final note, let me add that, while I am in favor of the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community releasing more classified documents to promote greater public understanding — an area where this administration, contrary to its grandiose promises of transparency, has a dismal track record — releasing documents that are so heavily redacted as to be almost incomprehensible does not actually promote understanding of complex issues, rather the contrary.

No, Putin Does Not Have Autism

The media is aflutter this week with the “revelation” from a classified Department of Defense assessment that Vladimir Putin has autism. The troublesome man in the Kremlin is a problem not because he’s a nasty Chekist, besotted with Russian nationalism and KGB conspiracy thinking, he’s just ‘spergy — think an unfunny Rain Man with several thousand nuclear missiles.  Per a 2008 DoD study:

Putin’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy,” wrote Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Studies of his movement, Connors wrote, reveal “that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality.”

This has been met by snickers among the media, while the Kremlin sees nothing funny here at all. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, angrily denounced the “conclusion” that Russia’s president has Asperger’s as “stupidity not worthy of comment.” This is a rarity for me, but allow me to state that the Kremlin has this exactly right.

POLITICO has obtained two relevant studies by Brenda Connors through the Freedom of Information Act and let’s just say it’s not impressed. As it asks readers:

Do you like watching Internet videos and then drawing broad, sweeping, pseudoscientific conclusions about the people involved? If so, congratulations, you might be qualified to join the Pentagon’s secret team investigating the nonverbal cues of powerful world leaders.

What’s going on here is a tad complex but it’s worth a bit of unpacking since it demonstrates how DoD wastes vast sums of taxpayer money on complete bullshit. I happen to know a bit about this case, since I was at the Naval War College from 2005 to 2014, and got to see some of Ms. Connors’ special genius at work, and let me state that what’s still behind the classification wall is more risible than even this.

Allow me to also state that I don’t actually know if Putin has autism — and neither does Connors. Her credentials for making such an assessment are literally nonexistent. She has a BA and MA in political science and a background in — wait for it — interpretive dance. She was a protocol officer at the State Department and somehow wangled her way into lucrative research (i.e. non-teaching) faculty positions at the Naval War College; all this was a subject of some mystery to NWC faculty, but given that institution’s tendency to give out jobs to unqualified “special friends,” the Connors case isn’t really that much of an outlier. Connors has been at NWC for over a decade…doing whatever it is she does.

She bills herself as an expert in “movement analysis,” which means she watches a lot of video and YouTube clips and generates classified assessments of the subject’s mental state. How she comes to these conclusions is mysterious, to be charitable. Her Putin “assessment” was the topic of head-scratching by NWC faculty who, unlike Connors, knew something about Russia, the Kremlin, and the KGB. Her sole claim to understanding Putin is “movement analysis,” which is a discipline nobody else on the faculty had heard of.

Neither was the need for such classified assessments clear, since for decades CIA has done exactly that, writing up detailed medical and psychological studies of world leaders, so that U.S. decision-makers might gain insights of value. I’ve read quite a few of those assessments and, since they are done with the input of bona fide MDs and PhDs, unlike Connors, they can be genuinely insightful.

You see, Connors somehow got the eye of the Pentagon’s spooky Office of Net Assessment, which dispenses bags of cash in a non-transparent fashion to all sorts of oddballs. How much ONA has given to Connors for what she terms her “Body Leads” project is unclear but POLITICO learned that since 2009, experts working with Connors have received at least $365,000. Rumor has it the true figure is much higher, but I’ll leave that to intrepid reporters to uncover.

None of this is exactly surprising to anybody acquainted with ONA, which has been run since 1973 by Andy Marshall, known as “Yoda” to his legions of intellectual fans. Appointed by President Nixon in an effort to get around CIA assessments that Kissinger especially didn’t like, Marshall did that and ONA succeeded in that mission at least, and subsequently Marshall has enjoyed a level of geriatric tenure rarely seen outside North Korea.

This has something to do with the strong following Marshall has built up, which in his waning days — Yoda has promised to leave the Pentagon this year, finally — some are daring to note possesses cult-like qualities. I’ve found most ONA analysis middling (it’s not all as bizarre as “Putin has autism”) and it’s evident that Marshall’s real skill is in building his office and generating massive loyalty to it — and himself.

It’s not hard to see how Marshall has done this, since ONA under him manifests all the worst defects of academia and intelligence work, run together. You have the intellectual vanity. You have the powerful mentorship that can verge on the cultish. Plus you dispense cash to promising acolytes and keep the loyal ones on the gravy train for decades, ensuring their adherence to the Yoda-Is-God party line. You hide behind classification to make sure nobody’s ever entirely sure who’s on the ONA payroll and who isn’t, plus you avoid anything like normal peer review. Finally, hardly any of your assessments, being classified, are seen by outside scholars, much less the public, so nobody really knows what you’re doing.

Therefore there’s no mystery how the laughable Connors debacle happened. There’s also a specific ONA-NWC angle here that merits attention. The Connors case is not isolated, and not the worst one either. I am aware of NWC faculty working for ONA, then selling the DoD-owned product on the open market at considerable profit. This is called “triple-dipping” and is flagrantly illegal, not to mention unethical. I’d like to tell you NWC cleaned this up and fired wrong-doers, but they did nothing of the sort. These sort of shenanigans being tolerated at NWC may have something to do with the fact that, for years, it’s been the only accredited graduate-level college in the United States that I know of where the dean of research, who is supposed to prevent this sort of thing, possesses no terminal degree in research.

Last year the Department of the Navy’s Inspector General produced an unflattering assessment of the Naval War College that scathingly noted that the college faculty is underqualified and overpaid: which is true. One can only wonder what a Pentagon IG assessment of Andy Marshall’s shop would look like. Perhaps someone will be spurred to do one, given these revelations about the Connors boondoggle. They should look into ONA-NWC connections while they’re at it. I’ve only scratched the surface here.

UPDATE (1120 EST, 6 Feb): Brenda Connors’ LinkedIn page is suitably vague but does manage to misspell both “behavioral” and “strategic.” In case she deletes this, which would be sensible of her, it’s visible below.

Latest Ukrainian Intelligence News

As war rages in eastern Ukraine, with a possible Russian invasion looming, Kyiv has gone public today with shocking stories about the extent of Russian espionage and lethal covert action in their country.

As reported by 5 Kanal TV, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, head of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU), today stated that the 17 July shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 near Donetsk by Russian-backed separatists represented a terrible case of a Kremlin provocation gone horribly wrong. According to Nalyvaychenko, the SBU has evidence that what happened was the outcome of a diabolical Moscow plot to create a pretext for war, meaning Russian invasion, by shooting down an Aeroflot airline (specifically AFL2074, see details here) and killing its (mostly Russian) passengers, then placing blame on Ukrainian forces.

However, the SBU boss explained, Kremlin-backed militants were supposed to shoot down the Russian plane at Pervomaysk to the west of Donetsk, but the separatists, some of them foreign mercenaries with poor knowledge of the area, delivered the Russian Buk (SA-11) missile system to a different town with the same name. In error, the poorly trained militamen launched a missile at the Malaysian plane instead of the Russian one. This terrorist act was planned by war criminals as a pretext for Russia’s direct military intervention. In Nalyvaychenko’s words: “It means that a casus belli for the Russian invasion was created,” resulting in an act of terror “carried out by terrorists from our territory.” You can find the SBU’s English-language press release on this case here.

UPDATE/COMMENT: I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this remarkable claim by Kyiv, specifically: Where’s the hard evidence? I find this story to be plausible, given known Russian intelligence tradecraft, what they call konspiratsiya, but the evidence we’ve seen to date isn’t exactly rock solid (I won’t say “a slam dunk,” thank you very much). The SBU has set a high bar for itself with its aggressive, and highly successful, public outreach in recent months, including its own YouTube channel where it has posted a lot of nearly raw intelligence, mainly SIGINT (see the next story). That Kyiv has not done so here tells me one of three things is going on:

1. The SBU has access to high-level Kremlin SIGINT, meaning they have cracked top-grade Russian codes, and releasing that SIGINT would compromise a very valuable source that Kyiv very much needs right now.

2. The SBU has a high-placed HUMINT asset in the Kremlin camp and compromising that source by releasing too much information here would be stupid as war with Russia looms.

3. This is an analytically-derived conclusion, based on a lot of evidence from many sources, none of them conclusive alone but which, taken together, lead to a firm conclusion based on multi-INT analysis.

Back to our story … Today, the SBU has also released new signals intelligence (SIGINT) intercepts, reported by the Kyiv daily Zerkalo Nedeli, which demonstrate that Russian intelligence is seeking to clean up ints mess in the Donbass by assassinating the leaders of its own revolt in Donetsk and Luhansk (the link includes the intercept). Today, Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council (SNBO) asserted, based on the available SIGINT, that the following officials in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR) are on Moscow’s death list:

To be assassinated by the Federal Security Service (FSB):

“Lyeshyy” (LNR, Ukrainian citizen Oleksiy Pavlov, resident in the town of Prymorsk in Zaporizhzhya Oblast);

“Batya” (LNR, operating in the town of Perevalsk, Luhansk oblast, probably Mykola Kozitsyn, head of one of the “Cossack units” in the LNR);

“Kimeriyets” (DNR, operating in the town of Maryinka, Donetsk oblast, probably in Oplot’s 8th Company).

To be assassinated by the General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU):

“Rym” (LNR, commander of a combat unit, operating in the area of Chervonopartyzansk-Sverdlovsk);

“Vitaliy” or “Oruzheynyk” (LNR, operating in the town of Perevalsk, has information on weapons and combat hardware supplies from Russia);

“Mongol” (DNR, was headquartered in the building of the Administration for Combating Organized Crime in the town of Makiyivka);

“Serhiy” (DNR, probably Serhiy Zdrylyuk nicknamed “Abwehr”).

Developing….watch this space.

Why Germany Refuses to Play a Bigger Role in NATO

One of the stranger aspects of the slow-motion crisis over Ukraine caused by Russian provocations and aggression is the uneven response from NATO members. While Alliance states located closer to Russia, which experienced Moscow’s occupation during the Cold War, generally have taken the threat of aggressive Kremlin moves seriously – Poland and Estonia especially – the reaction of some NATO members has been lackluster. In particular, responses in Germany to the Ukraine crisis have been tepid, to use charitable language, and excessive sympathy for Moscow’s actions and attitudes is so commonplace that Germans have a word – Russlandversteher – for it.

Why Germany displays such misplaced sympathy for Russia, despite Kremlin misconduct in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, is a complex issue that is rooted deeply in German history, and cannot be divorced from the broader tendency to anti-Americanism that has become vocal in recent years. That said, Germany’s unwillingness to do much to deter Russian aggression may not matter significantly since, frankly, the German military is in such a dilapidated and unready state that there is little it could do at present to bolster NATO defenses in Eastern Europe, as I’ve advocated, even if Berlin wanted to. The sorry state of the Bundeswehr is now attracting the attention of American observers who ordinarily pay scant attention to such things, but in truth, Germany’s serious punching below its weight in the Atlantic Alliance in any military terms is hardly news, and has been NATO’s dirty little secret for years.

It is a shocking fact that the European Union’s economic and political powerhouse matters so little in defense. While the Bundeswehr is the fourth-largest military in the EU, with about 180,000 active duty personnel, that is smaller than the militaries of France, Italy, and Britain, all of which Germany dwarfs in both economy and population. Despite the strength of that economy, Germany spends only 1.35 percent of its GDP on defense, far below NATOs alleged requirement for two percent devoted to the military. As a result, the Bundeswehr is facing serious problems with outmoded equipment and low readiness.

Not to mention that young Germans don’t want to join the forces. Germany maintained the draft until 2011, but optimistic projections about recruitment after the suspension of conscription have not been met, resulting in a building manpower crisis. Under Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s first female defense minister, the Bundeswehr is embarking on a glossy five-year, 100 million Euro ad blitz, termed an “attractiveness offensive,” to encourage volunteers. But the ridiculous commercials, which portray life in uniform as a hipster paradise of cool dorms with flat screen TVs plus outstanding gender-neutral child care – anything resembling the actual military is notably absent – have been met with derision and laughter, and rightly so.

The two-decade decline of the Bundeswehr as a serious fighting force is remarkable and alarming. At the Cold War’s end, little more than twenty years ago, the German Army’s active strength included twelve divisions with thirty-six maneuver brigades, while today it possesses three divisional headquarters controlling eight maneuver brigades (one of which is half-French), most of which are not capable of deploying as fighting units. In the whole army there are only four battalions each of tanks and field artillery. This is not a force the Russians need to lose sleep over.

Moreover, the Bundeswehr‘s transition from its Cold War posture of armor-heavy divisions, manned by conscripts, intended to resist a Soviet invasion of the homeland, to its current emphasis on many fewer units manned by professionals and designed for foreign intervention, has been less than successful. The only major deployment overseas, maintaining a brigade-sized continent in Afghanistan’s north until late 2013, illustrated as many weaknesses as strengths. That was a relatively quiet sector, and it was an open secret in NATO that German troops weren’t exactly itching for battle, as evidenced by the fact that although over 100,000 Germans rotated through Afghanistan over a decade, only fifty-four Bundeswehr members were killed. U.S. and other NATO troops fretted about Germany’s highly restrictive rules of engagement, engineered by Berlin to keep casualties down in a war that the German public soured on fast. Additionally, there were embarrassing reports about combat unreadiness among the German contingent, as well as low morale, while later efforts to present that Afghan experience as a positive watershed for Germany’s civil-military relations seem optimistic and premature.

In a way that few outsiders fully grasp, the Bundeswehr is a deeply unwarlike fighting force. The Cold War emphasis on homeland defense, with a corresponding peacetime mentality, has not been overcome. What to make of an army whose motto is “To protect, help, moderate, and fight” – in that order? When German soldiers serving in Afghanistan performed deeds deserving a valor decoration, there was embarrassment in Berlin, as the Bundeswehr had none. Suggestions that the famous Iron Cross be resurrected were met with howls of indignation from a coalition of anti-militarists, leftists, and Jewish groups, notwithstanding the fact that the iconic medal was created not by Adolf Hitler, rather by Prussian patriots in 1813 during the war of liberation against Napoleon. The pronounced German tendency to self-flagellation won out and any talk of the Iron Cross died out amidst controversy. Such navel-gazing has led to exasperation with Berlin in many NATO countries, causing a rare public calling-out by Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, in late 2011, who stated that Germany’s size and history bring a “special responsibility to preserve peace and democracy on the continent.” Sikorski memorably explained, “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.” Europe reached the ironic point where Warsaw demanded a more active, indeed slightly aggressive Germany.

It did no good. The German public remains as opposed to increased military spending and activity as ever, the crisis in Ukraine having generated too little seriousness about security matters in Berlin. The Germans remain prosperous, nervous, and gun-shy, which given their recent history is unsurprising. Although many NATO countries are deeply upset by this German passivity, and top U.S. officials are now publicly asking Berlin to bear its fair share of the Alliance’s defense burdens, there is little reason to be optimistic that anything substantial will change soon. Germany is a democracy, and the Germans don’t want a bigger or more active military, especially one that might be used in any American-led wars. This viewpoint leads to exasperation at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, but the salient fact here is that Germans are acting exactly how we wanted them to for decades.

Yes, we did this. After 1945, the Western Allies, especially the United States, demanded a tamed West Germany, so we went to considerable lengths to ensure that the Federal Republic was democratic, legalistic, and particularly pacifistic. When the Bundeswehr was established in 1955, to help counter the Soviet threat, it was born amidst NATO fears of reborn German militarism, so it was saddled with an ideology that valued the “citizen in uniform” concept above all, and emphasized the doctrine of Innere Führung (roughly “moral leadership”), to ensure no Hitler could misuse the German military again. By any standards, this succeeded better than anyone anticipated, with the result that the Bundeswehr is politically neutral, acting like civilian functionaries who watch the clock, and uninterested in war, while most Germans have little interest in the Bundeswehr.

Just as important, Western Allied efforts to pathologize all of German military history before 1955 worked exceedingly well. Unlike any other military on earth, the Bundeswehr has no history, rejecting of course not just the Wehrmacht but explicitly having no connection even to pre-Hitler military traditions. As anyone who has ever served in uniform knows, traditions and lineages matter to the troops, being vital to instilling morale and pride, and Germany’s novel experiment in having none of that has not worked out happily. American-implanted pathologies about all aspects of the country’s military past have led to many Germans taking perverse pleasure in pointing out how awful some of that history is. Things have now reached the point that the German Left continues to pressure the military to sever lineage even from heroes who were known to be reliably anti-Nazi. Given this terrible past, why would any decent person want to join the Bundeswehr anyway?

It is a strange fact that Communist East Germany (DDR) was far more comfortable with the country’s military traditions. While the DDR was solidly anti-Nazi, it embraced allegedly “progressive” aspects of Germany’s past, and its military, the National People Army (NVA), took on many Prussian military traditions with gusto, including impressive goose-stepping parades that would have pleased Scharnhorst with their spit, polish and discipline. NVA dress outfits were hardly more than Wehrmacht uniforms with the swastikas removed. (Thus leading to the Cold War joke that the Bundeswehr changed the Wehrmacht‘s uniforms but kept its generals, while the NVA did the opposite.) Even today, it’s not difficult to find NVA veterans who speak proudly of having served in a “real” German army, unlike the soft and Americanized Bundeswehr, which absorbed none of the NVA’s spirit when it disappeared with East Germany in 1990.

Germany’s present unwillingness to do more to defend NATO’s East against Russian aggression is deeply frustrating but represents the logical outcome of many decades of policy and propaganda forced on the Germans by the Western Allies, America particularly. Widespread anti-Americanism in Germany today cannot be ignored either. In recent years, this has become an inescapable fact of life among many Germans, and alarmingly, Left and Right versions of anti-Americanism have functionally fused into a common narrative that presents the United States as a lawless and warlike failed civilization, awash in crime, debt, and losing wars of choice. Revelations of U.S. espionage leaked by Edward Snowden have hardly helped America’s image in Germany, but the problems go a good deal deeper. German frustration with the presidency of George W. Bush grew serious, between Middle East invasions, extraordinary renditions, Guantanamo Bay detention, and killer drones, but things have not improved under Barack Obama.

I have family and many friends in Germany, and I hear it all non-stop. The loathing of Obama by many Germans is sincere, marked and important. While they anticipated that Bush, a posturing American cowboy from the central casting of the European imagination, would act with violent irresponsibility, they expected better from Obama. After all, Barack Obama told them he would be different, right there in Berlin, even before he was elected president. Yet, now well into Obama’s second administration, not all that much has changed in terms of U.S. policies, and Germans are unhappy with America and particularly with its president, whom most Germans frankly see as an untrustworthy deceiver.

It is imperative for European security that Germany rise out of its long-term funk about its place in NATO and the world. Nothing would improve the Alliance more than Germany becoming more like Poland: serious about its military, funding it at a respectable level, while understanding the importance of deterrence in preventing aggression and war. Unfortunately, that necessary change is unlikely to happen soon, as Germany remains mired in navel-gazing – Nabelschau being a most Teutonic word – and not a little self-pity about its role as the engine of EU prosperity and stability, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis (which, Germans will happily tell you, was really all America’s fault anyway). The Western Allies, America especially, functionally created the modern German state and identity for the Germans, and now they must help Germany refocus to meet the needs of the 21st century. Germans have been engaged in a non-stop apology tour for almost seventy years regarding the country’s mistakes and misdeeds. It may be time for the United States to do some apologizing to Germany, it might have the transformative political effect that NATO needs right now.

[As always, the comments here are the author’s alone and not reflective of any of his employers, past or present.]

The XX Committee Snowden Reader

Over the year since the case of the NSA traitor-turned-defector Edward Snowden broke into the public eye – and what a year it’s been for your humble blogger here – I’ve written up a lot on this remarkable affair. On all aspects: intelligence, politics, diplomacy, personalities, zeitgeist. I’m in the process of writing a book on Russian intelligence, but you can get my content on the Snowden Operation for free, now, right here. For the benefit of new visitors, here’s the full list of my writings on the case, in reverse order, beginning with my latest post, which I wrote this very day. It’s all here – the secret stories, the hidden agendas, the painful lies of Ed’s defenders, the online dust-ups with Wikileaks, and Glenn Greenwald repeatedly refusing to debate me … you saw it here first, so enjoy!

[UPDATE: Since the Snowden Operation continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, I will maintain this as a living document and update it with my new writings on the case, as they happen.]

The Snowden Operation Meets ECHELON (3 June 2014)

When did Snowden go over to the Russians? (31 May 2014)

The Snowden Operation Falls Apart (30 May 2014)

KGB General: Of Course Snowden is Working for Russian Intelligence (23 May 2014)

Schindler v. Greenwald … almost (18 May 2014)

Germany wakes up from its Snowden binge (2 May 2014)

How to Win Cold War 2.0 (26 March 2014)

How Snowden Empowered Russian Intelligence (20 January 2014)

The End of the Snowden Operation (18 January 2014)

Meet the Anti-Snowden: Captain John Philip Cromwell (24 December 2013)

Sweden Exposes the Snowden-Greenwald Fraud (18 December 2013)

Denmark gets ahead of the Snowden Operation (27 November 2013)

Reforming NSA from the top (26 November 2013)

On Snowden and Coincidences (23 November 2013)

Snowden’s Thunder Down Under (21 November 2013)

The Guardian really needs to stop lying … (17 November 2013)

Russian Intelligence is Behind the Snowden Show: German Intelligence (5 November 2013)

Google and NSA (4 November 2013)

The Realities of Intelligence: The French View (2 November 2013)

What’s Wrong with NSA (30 October 2013)

Update: Merkel’s “real” cellphone is secure (28  October 2013)

NSA, Germany and Handygate: A Reality Check (27 October 2013)

It’s called the Second Oldest Profession for a reason (21 October 2013)

So you want to know about NSA … (6 September 2013)

Snowden, NSA, and Counterintelligence (4 September 2013)

My walk in the EMOPROG lion’s den (2 August 2013)

Wikileaks, Snowden, and the Belarus Connection (6 July 2013)

WWDD: On Real NSA Whistleblowing (2 July 2013)

Snowden in the US-Russian SpyWar (27 June 2013)

Will the real Edward Snowden please stand up? (25 June 2013)

Fistfight in Secrecy (or, Me & Glenn) (20 June 2013)

Snowden, Intelligence, and History (17 June 2013)No Such Agency no more (16 June 2013)

“Moscow understands only force and willingness to sacrifice human lives”

As I write, the Kremlin has won a seemingly bloodless victory by seizing Crimea without real resistance. As Europe panics and U.S. leadership seems to have no idea what to do about Vladimir Putin’s single-handed shredding of Europe’s post-Cold War rulebook, the next step is unclear. To be sure, if Putin moves forces into ethnically Russian areas of eastern Ukraine – as the Duma has “approved” and he told President Obama he reserves the right to – Europe will have a real war on its hands; it is already in its biggest crisis since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But a wider war cannot be ruled out. At a minimum, the post-1991 assurances that Europe would be forever at peace, that “soft power” could conquer all, or nearly so, that the continent’s biggest problems would be arguments over EU agricultural subsidies, have been shattered for good.

It is time to face some unpleasant facts. History – and force – is back with a vengeance, thanks to Kremlin belligerence, as I predicted last fall. Unless Europe wants to confront endless intimidation and worse at the hands of a resurgent Russia, it must dispense with pleasing nonsense and address the pressing need to defend itself and its values. I am posting below, in toto, the most forthright explanation of the situation I have yet found, an op-ed by Mart Helme, the former Estonian ambassador to Russia (thanks to Estonian relatives who saw this and alerted me). Entitled, “Moscow only understands force and willingness to sacrifice human lives,” this is a bracing, no-holds-barred must-read for anyone who cherishes European values, as I do, and wants to see them survive, as old threats reappear with a vengeance.

Was Hitler done with the Anschluss? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied just with Ukraine. And after Ukraine, Russia can only have one target – the Baltic states.

Russia has occupied Crimea. Western countries, including Estonia, are confused and able to utter only outdated and increasingly embarrassing platitudes. Russia will not wait for EU foreign ministers to eventually convene for a meeting, but is making hay while the sun shines – it is moving new military units and equipment to Crimea, expanding the conflict to eastern and southern Ukraine, and using Victor Yanukovych, who has sought refuge in Russia, to question the legitimacy of the people who seized power in Kyiv, and to create a cover for its criminal activities.

At the same time, the West is prattling in the United Nations where Russia holds veto rights at the Security Council, and making noise in the OSCE where all decisions need a consensus, which Russia (or any of its vassals) will naturally not allow to happen, while letting the leaders of big countries issue comically toothless statements instead. And with each passing day, Moscow is adding to the hard facts which the so-called international community must face.

In a nutshell, Russia is fighting ruthlessly and brutally, and proving to all that the post-Cold War world has been replaced by the post-post-Cold War world in which Moscow no longer considers the current international order, law, and organizations competent to solve problems.

What is applicable then? From Moscow’s point of view, only force and the willingness to sacrifice human lives when force is applied.

Is the West willing to do that? That is extremely unlikely. It is one thing to mount military operations against Afghan poppy growers and quite another to accept the challenge of a nuclear power with the world’s largest territory and the richest deposits of natural resources, which feels cornered in a deepening confrontation with the West and is not going to surrender its habitats without a fight.

Moscow knows – and so does the West but it is not willing to admit it even to itself – that Western civilization in its decadence has reached the final stage of its degradation where only money and comfort count. Careerists and anglers, who are able to navigate the ship only in good weather, have risen to the top during decades of inert existence. They will lose their heads in a storm, and can only utter banalities and behave accordingly.

Oswald Spengler in his “The Decline of the West” predicted more than correctly that money will bring down  Western democracy (that is exactly what has already happened), and then the power of money will be conquered by force. Europe, fighting for the rainbow flag and gender quotas, is a complete impotent in that respect; the United States, on the other hand, when considering intervening, is thinking about moves of a broader global game and must inevitably take into account that average Americans do not have a clue where someplace called Crimea is located. Moreover, the United States is tired of the problems of the rest of the world and wants to take a rest. And we do not know whether it intends to wake up and do something if a small country like Estonia screams for help at some point.

This is the essence of an existential question for a wider audience: Is the West (especially the United States) willing to start what would likely be a truly uncompromising fight in order to win Crimea, as well as the eastern and southern Ukraine back from Moscow? That is not likely. It is much more likely that the West will behave exactly the way it did in 1938 when Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler demanded that they have Czechoslovakia, the independence and territorial integrity of which had been guaranteed by the Soviet Union and France in the League of Nations.

At the time, the issue was left for Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to mediate, which resulted in Czechoslovakia being left to Hitler to tear apart. Was Hitler satisfied with that? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied with this. After Ukraine, Russia will only have one target – the Baltic states.

It is naive to maintain that the West can influence Russia by imposing sanctions and freezing funds of the ruling kleptocratic clique. Putin & Co. have transferred their assets to a safe place by now, and Russia can withstand a long economic blockade stoically because the average Russian, unlike Europeans and Americans, is able to survive on vodka and potatoes alone. But it is Germany which will be unable to stay in business without Russian raw materials.

In 2008, Russia tested the West by launching a military attack against Georgia. The West failed the test. According to the peace treaty, negotiated with the French president as a mediator, Russia should have withdrawn troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we all know very well that Moscow has so far not done that. It is highly unlikely that Russia will leave Crimea now that it has been conquered; even moreso, considering that historically it has never been an organic part of Ukraine.

In fact, Ukraine has only one – bloody – option to regain control over Crimea (and other potentially separatist regions). That means mobilizing the armed forces and going against the aggressor with arms. Just like Yanukovych was brought down at a price of victims’ blood, Russia will retreat when it meets decisive armed resistance. Because Russia is not nearly as strong as it makes itself out to be.

The authorities currently in power in Kyiv with all their economic problems are probably too much Western puppets to do what they are obliged to do under the Ukrainian Constitution. Sacrificing a Crimea or a Donetsk means nothing for Western countries which are sprawling in their own comfort zone.

After all, Western leaders, brought up in the spirit of the 1960′s hippie ideology, are familiar with only one motto – “Make love, not war”. Russia is familiar with the lyrics of a different song: “A yesly zavtra voyna … ” – if there is war tomorrow.

Might the EU crisis get really, really ugly?

Do the Swiss know something the rest of us don’t?

Ueli Maurer, the Swiss defense minister, has been making coy statements about the European crisis getting ugly – as in really ugly, like needing armed troops to deal with it. This sounds more like Greece, where the rioting is regular and increasingly scary, than anything in Central Europe, but where the whole EU furball is headed does seem less than clear of late.

The Swiss are famous for preparing for everything and having an absolutely huge army, relative to their population, to deal with any eventuality. They maintain their special military system, based on training for nearly the whole male population but a very small active duty cadre (plus a few, tiny UN peacekeeping-type missions abroad, since the Swiss have an actually defensive defense force): the Swiss can call up over 200,000 trained troops, which is but one-third of what was on-call twenty years ago – like everyone, they have downsized as the threat has receded since the fall of the Soviet bloc – but that’s still pretty huge in Swiss terms. In America, that would mean a mobilization strength of nearly 8,000,000 for the U.S. military (it’s a hair under three million, in case you were wondering).

Minister Maurer, accompanied by whispers from the top uniformed leadership in Switzerland, is trying to raise awareness that Europe’s massive fiscal-cum-political crisis could get very unpleasant. Swiss military exercises in September, called STABILO DUE, were based on EU instability getting out of hand. The Swiss have stayed out of the EU – one more thing the very prosperous Swiss are gloating about these days – and they certainly don’t want EU problems spilling over into their peaceful little country. That the Swiss military is adding four new military police battalions to the army, to be spread around the country, indicates that the threat they have in mind is more disorder and chaos than actual invasion.

The Swiss are in the process of modernizing their military, which they have discovered is very expensive; the purchase of 22 new Saab Gripen fighters has proved a big political headache, since the Swiss are as notable for their frugality as for their military preparedness. But Minister Maurer is on firm ground when he notes that the massive decline in European militaries since 1990 has implications for today, none of them positive. When even the British have cut their army so much that, in the event of a serious crisis, there would be at most two dozen infantry battalions on hand in the UK (that’s well under 20,000 bayonets), one has to wonder if the next London “disturbances” could be kept in check if things got truly ugly. It’s commonly held by European security insiders that if the next Anders Brievik were to target Muslims, not fellow Europeans, things could get unimaginably ugly very quickly. It is difficult to see how Europe’s much smaller militaries could cope with massive civil disturbances. (And don’t ask Uncle Sam for help, since the very last thing the Pentagon wants is to get dragged into any riot suppression – particularly putting down Muslim uprisings – anywhere in Europe.)

It’s easy to dismiss the Swiss, since they are a tiny country whose military hasn’t actually fought anybody in a couple centuries. On the other hand, they managed to stay out of both of Europe’s catastrophic World Wars precisely though preparing for eventualities and maintaining a strong defensive capability. They’re clearly on to something.

Who killed little Ivanka?

There are really two basic kinds of intelligence services in the world – those which kill people, and those which don’t.

While U.S. intelligence historically has been somewhat squeamish about assassinations, in recent years – particularly since Barack Obama came to the White House – CIA has gone whole-hog into the killing business with drones, something which I’ve already expressed my reservations about on this blog. Being Americans, the CIA and the Pentagon have opted for an expensive, technologically impressive, somewhat sanitized method of killing people (it’s sanitized when you’re the drone crew several hundred or thousand miles away; it’s a lot less sanitized when you’re within a hundred meters of the target). Nevertheless, Washington isn’t being wholly disingenuous when it uses terms like “collateral damage” to describe the effect of a Hellfire missile on bystanders, since we’re not intentionally killing civilians who – sucks to be them – happen to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.

The U.S. technology-driven approach unfortunately lends itself to killing civilians, as do Israeli methods of targeted killing, which in recent years have increasingly gone for American-style technological solutions in Gaza and the West Bank. Other countries which do wetwork – as the Russians, who nearly invented this black art, call it – are usually more in-your-face about it, which has the odd effect of reducing civilian casualties. Say what you will about the KGB’s nasty umbrella trick which killed the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in September 1978, the ricin-filled pellet didn’t harm anyone but poor, doomed Georgi.

Intelligence services which conduct assassinations abroad and don’t seem to care at all who gets in the way are in a special category all by themselves, which is mercifully rather small. One of the bloodthirstiest services of them all was UDBA, the secret police force of Tito’s Yugoslavia. As I’ve explained elsewhere, although Cold War Yugoslavia got good Western press for being a kinder, gentler form of Bolshevism, its secret police was every bit as nasty as anything in the East Bloc. Indeed, UDBA’s operations in the West against what they called the “enemy emigration” were tougher and bloodier than anything the KGB did in the West after the late 1950s.

The doomed Sevo family

UDBA methods included killing – lots of it – and sometimes they cared not a whit who happened to be in the way. In the course of whacking nearly a hundred “state enemies” between the mid-1960s down to 1990, all across Europe, North America, and beyond, Tito’s spies murdered wholly innocent people too. In August 1972, near Venice, Italy, UDBA assassins liquidated Stjepan Sevo, a member of a Croatian terrorist group fighting Yugoslavia. Gunned down alongside Sevo inside his car were his wife Rosemarie and his nine-year-old step-daughter Tatjana, both of them shot repeatedly. German police fingered as the killer Vinko Sindicic, one of the most prolific UDBA hitmen, who is suspected in a dozen murders around the world in the 1970s and 1980s. After serving a decade in a British prison for a botched hit in Scotland in 1988, Sindicic returned to now-independent Croatia a free man; several attempts to prosecute him for UDBA murders have come to naught, amid whispers that Sindicic still has protectors in high places in the Balkans.

Five years later UDBA committed an equally appalling crime in the United States. On the night of 18-19 July 1977, Dragisa Kasikovic was murdered in Chicago in the office of a Serbian emigre group. It was a brutal crime, the forty-four-year-old Kasikovic having been butchered by more than sixty knife wounds. UDBA often used pistols for hits, while sometimes preferring more direct, indeed stereotypically Balkan, methods of hands-on killing. An anti-Yugoslav activist and Serbian nationalist, Kasikovic had emigrated to the USA and had been involved in the 1960s with SOPO, a Serbian emigre terrorist group which outlandishly plotted the overthrow of the Tito regime. Many of SOPO’s operations, none of which revealed much professionalism, verged towards comic-opera affairs; in one of the group’s “spectaculars” in 1979, SOPO fighters hijacked an American Airlines Boeing 727 out of New York’s LaGuardia airport with the intent of flying it into Communist Party headquarters in Belgrade. Happily, this eerie precursor to 9/11 never came close to happening, not least because the 727 had several thousand miles too little fuel to make it to Yugoslavia.

SOPO was also deeply penetrated by UDBA agents, as were practically all Yugoslav emigre groups opposed to the Tito regime. By the mid-1970s, Kasikovic was a prominent journalist in the Serbian community in the United States, known for his pronounced anti-Communist views. Kasikovic’s circle of emigre friends in the Chicago area included several people with close ties to the Yugoslav consulate in Chicago, which hosted several UDBA officers charged with monitoring the “enemy emigration.”

Ivanka and Dragisa, in happier times

Anti-Tito activists like Kasikovic knew they were being watched and that they could be marked men, and paranoia permeated the Yugoslav diaspora worldwide as emigres were killed by the dozen in the 1970s, in many countries, in hardly-ever-solved killings that usually were the handiwork of UDBA. Tragically, when UDBA caught up with Dragisa Kasikovic that summer night in 1977, he wasn’t alone. Ivanka Milosevic, the nine-year-old daughter of Kasikovic’s steady girlfriend, was with him and was murdered by his side. Little Ivanka was stabbed more than fifty times, her body barely recognizable from the butchery.

Chicago’s stunned Serbian community had a suspect from the start, Bogoje Panajotovic, a waiter who had emigrated from Serbia and who swam in the murky waters of the radical diaspora groups. Panajotovic was believed to be an UDBA collaborator – which was common enough among emigres – and his whereabouts on the night of the murders were sketchy. Nevertheless, the Chicago police, confronted by a highly complex situation filled with immigrants who often spoke in fractured English about conspiracies, assassinations, and cunning secret police operations which seemed too bizarre to be real, made little headway in the case. Some Chicago cops felt that the FBI was less than helpful with the case from the start.

Vinko Sindicic in “retirement”

That may have been because Panajotovic, the number-one suspect, was also an FBI informant. Panajotovic was feeding the Bureau information about SOPO and some insiders in the case felt that, in exchange, he was protected. What happened to Bogoje Panajotovic is anyone’s guess. Allowed to leave Chicago, he eventually “went Elvis.” Some say he died violently, as he lived, while some Serbian sources close to UDBA hint that the FBI gave him a new identity and a new life in the Mountain West of the United States.

All that is certain is that, thirty-five years after a terrible double murder, no one has been prosecuted for the bloodbath which claimed the life of a little American girl. Last year, a documentary film in Serbia reawakened interest in the case, and the murders have never disappeared entirely from memory among Serbs at home and abroad, amid whispers that American authorities have never really wanted to get to the bottom of the case, fearing the exposure of embarrassing information regarding U.S. intelligence looking the other way about many UDBA murders, and perhaps even protecting the killer of Ivanka Milosevic. They may be right, but we won’t be able to say for sure until this terrible crime is solved – better late than never.