Putin’s Killer Spies Have Finally Gone Too Far

Ever since the near-fatal poisoning in March of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the bucolic English city of Salisbury, suspicion has focused on the Kremlin for the brazen crime. Employing Novichok, a weapons-grade nerve agent, to strike down the Skripals was astonishingly aggressive even for Moscow, which in recent years has been on a global killing spree of an audacity and lethality not witnessed since the days of Joseph Stalin.

The British government has consistently pointed the finger at the regime of President Vladimir Putin. Armed with intelligence as well as forensic evidence that established Moscow’s likely culpability, little more than a week after the failed hit, Prime Minister Theresa May denounced Moscow’s efforts to dodge responsibility and expelled 23 Russian diplomats—in reality, spies—from Britain. The gravity of the Skripal case has only grown since, not least because almost four months after the attack, poison left behind by the assassins struck down two innocent Britons, one of whom, Dawn Sturgess, died from exposure to Novichok.

This week, the May government put the case back on the front pages by publicly outing Kremlin agents as the Salisbury assassins. The prime minister named two Russian spies, Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the “officers of the Russian military intelligence service” wanted for the crime, adding, “This was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Read the rest at The Observer

The Hidden Russian Hand Behind Germany’s Violent Right-Wing Riots

This week, Germany has been convulsed with rioting in the eastern city of Chemnitz, where right-wing protesters have clashed with police for days. The murder of a German man on Sunday, reportedly by two Middle Eastern migrants, birthed angry protests that have devolved into violence, with attacks on foreigners by right-wing mobs. The police have been unable to quash the street melee, leading to troubling questions for the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, whose open door to migrants three summers ago set the stage for political turmoil in the European Union’s predominant country.

Angry right wingers flashing the banned Hitler salute for the cameras rattled Germany’s chattering class, which seems mystified by anger at Merkel and her policies. However, it’s no surprise that this unpleasantness exploded in Saxony, the German state where the renascent far right has the deepest roots. Chemnitz, called Karl-Marx-Stadt when this was East Germany, like much of Saxony, has proved an ideal breeding ground for hardline nationalism and nativism, thanks to socio-economic stagnation. Chancellor Merkel’s harsh criticism of the rioters is unlikely to change many minds in Chemnitz, where dislike of the current government runs deep.

Right-wing hooligans from across Germany descended on Chemnitz to partake in the violent protests, and although the police have made progress in regaining the streets, the city remains in turmoil today. Tensions over migrants that have roiled German politics for the last three years, nearly causing the collapse of Merkel’s fragile coalition, have now exploded in open violence. Like the recent murder of a Jewish girl by a migrant, the Chemnitz fracas raises awkward questions about the true state of German politics and society.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Outgunned U.S. Army Isn’t Prepared For War With Russia

Ever since our lopsided victory in the Gulf War in early 1991, the U.S. military has been venerated by many Americans as an unbeatable force. How rapidly our combined air-ground offensive crushed Saddam’s large yet ponderous army gave the Pentagon an aura of invincibility. Military leaders and defense thinkers proclaimed the dawn of new era in warfare. With our advanced technology and precision strikes, everything was different.

But was it? In hindsight, the Gulf War merely confirmed what military historians always knew, namely that better weaponry and command-and-control habitually crush large numbers of less well-equipped enemies. A generation on, the “lessons” of 1991 appear no more noteworthy than the “lessons” of Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, when two brigades of British regulars easily crushed a force of 50,000 jihad-fueled natives because, as the wags of the day put it, “We have got the Maxim Gun, and they have not.”

Yet since the Gulf War, the U.S. Army’s technological edge over its potential foes— what defense doyens term overmatch—has dwindled, slowly but irrevocably. Through the decade after 1991, the army was busy managing post-Cold War cutbacks and peacekeeping in the Balkans and saw no peer-competitors anywhere. Since 9/11, as plausible rivals like Russia and China have slowly come into focus, our army has been busy managing costly and ultimately futile campaigns in the Greater Middle East. Our diffident war in Afghanistan, America’s longest by a good margin, is in its 17th year, and strategic victory is now as far off as it has ever been there.

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‘Idiocracy’ Come True: Even Pentagon Says Morons Are Inheriting the Earth

In a couple of weeks, Idiocracy the movie (not to be confused with: Idiocracy the American President) will celebrate twelve years since its release. Only, nobody will be celebrating, because the film appeared with zero fanfare back in 2006. The dark comedy’s edgy message—that America was doomed to a future of dystopian idiocy—was deemed too controversial for a major release a dozen years ago, and its distributor, 20th Century Fox, pretty much buried it, showing the film in only a handful of cities.

Over the past dozen years, however, Idiocracy has become a cult classic, its inevitably weak performance in cinemas notwithstanding. Its creator, Mike Judge, who has given us such pop-culture classics as King of the Hill and Office Space, now looks like a prophet without honor back in 2006. Judge’s essential message, that idiocy was taking over the country, seems to have been borne out by recent events, above all the election of Donald J. Trump as president in 2016.

It’s difficult to expunge the whiff of Idiocracy surrounding our 45th president, with his error-filled tweets betraying a shaky command of the English language, contrary to his claim of possessing “a very good brain.” As candidate, Trump proclaimed, “I love the poorly educated,” and that, unlike many of his assertions, may actually be true. This, after all, is a commander-in-chief who belligerently can’t tell the difference between napalm and Agent Orange.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Donald Trump’s Nightmare Isn’t Robert Mueller

Judging from the unhinged tone of his tweets—which is nothing new, but still perhaps the best barometer of our 45th president’s mood on any given day—Donald Trump is worried about his future. He should be, as the Special Counsel investigation of his Russia ties inches ever-closer to the president’s inner circle. Since his first day in the Oval Office 19 months ago, our commander-in-chief has employed Twitter as his bullhorn to the public and, in an irony which Trump won’t appreciate until it’s too late, tweeting may prove to be his undoing.

Take President Trump’s recent tweet regarding the infamous June 9, 2016 meeting in Manhattan’s Trump Tower between representatives of the then-Republican presidential candidate, led by Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., and several Russians, led by Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Moscow attorney who was there due to her Kremlin connections. That meeting has been the focus of attention by the media as well as Robert Mueller and his Special Counsel investigators. From the moment word of the secret encounter went public, Team Trump has stuck to the storyline that the meeting was innocuous, about nothing more than adoptions. The president insisted this was the case, as has Don Jr., who sold that story to the Senate Judiciary Committee last September.

This was the sort of absurd lie that the president and his entourage excel in, and it was only a matter of time before the mendacious cover exploded. Few, however, expected President Trump to set off the fuse, yet that was exactly what he did last Sunday with this: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

One flick of the thumbs blew apart more than a year’s worth of increasingly threadbare lies about the June 9, 2016 meeting which, as the president has now admitted, was an effort to obtain derogatory information on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin. Trump’s panicked advisers have reportedly urged him to tweet no more about that meeting, but it’s too late, the grievous damage to the president has already been done—by his own feed.

Read the rest at The Observer …

There’s Nothing New About Trump’s Russian Spy Problem

Kremlin agents have deeply penetrated the nation’s capital. Spies for Moscow have burrowed into Congress, into every cabinet department and virtually every agency in Washington, sometimes at the top level. The White House itself is compromised. Meanwhile, media friends of the Kremlin ridicule the notion that Moscow spies on us, mocking those who try to point out the problem. 

The year is 1946. 

To anyone versed in espionage history, there’s not much that’s particularly new about Donald Trump and his problems with Russia. While our current president is unprecedented in his public kowtowing to the Kremlin, as Trump recently did in Helsinki, the rest of the messy matter that’s currently under investigation by Robert Mueller and his prosecutors would look remarkably familiar to anyone who witnessed the beginning of the last Cold War.

The sides have switched, but the venom (and the unwillingness of many Americans to avoid seeing inconvenient facts) is the same. In 1946, it was Republicans who angrily denounced Democrats for their too-cozy relationship with Moscow which allowed Kremlin spies to take root in Washington. Now, it’s Democrats saying all of that about Republicans. Both are correct, then and now.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why Is Trump Trying to Start a War He Cannot Win?

I’ve been a hardliner regarding Iran my whole professional life. During my time in the Intelligence Community, I favored aggressive approaches to countering Tehran’s misdeeds abroad. What I witnessed in the Balkans in the 1990s convinced me that revolutionary Iran is a bad actor on the international stage which needs containment, not an olive branch or any good-faith deal which the clerico-fascist mullah regime in Tehran will inevitably breach.

The ugly foreign operations of Iranian intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the notorious Pasdaran, including espionage, terrorism, assassinations, and subversion in Europe, formed the basis of the detailed exposé I published after I left the spy business. That book remains the definitive work on Iran’s secret war, including alliances with jihadist terrorists, waged against the West.

Nevertheless, what the Trump administration is doing now is more dangerous than anything Tehran has done in recent decades to destabilize the Middle East. Although the Trump White House’s aggressive posture toward Iran has been prominent from its first day in office, 18 months ago, the president has recently upped the ante, with results that may prove catastrophic.

It wasn’t enough to trash his predecessor’s Iran Deal (an agreement which I opposed), pulling the United States out of that multilateral agreement. Shredding Barack Obama’s grand bargain with Tehran now is worse than the deal itself, and it means that diplomacy with Iran is off the table, since Tehran has no reason to trust any “deal” Trump proffers.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Why did Trump choose to parrot Putin on Montenegro?

The tiny Balkan country of scarcely more than 600,000 people is known mostly for its sunny Adriatic beaches – so why is Trump portraying it as a threat?

For three decades, since returning from his mysterious trip to Moscow in the summer of 1987, Donald Trump has publicly railed against America’s allies. He has consistently portrayed Washington’s security partners around the world as “freeloaders” and worse. In Trump’s zero-sum worldview, which is derived from the casino business rather than diplomacy or military strategy, alliances are for chumps, at least when you’re the stronger partner.

This attitude has particularly applied to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which in his 18 months in the Oval Office President Trump has depicted as a scam designed to bleed America dry of dollars while lazy Europeans refuse to do their bit for the cash-strapped alliance. Trump’s dismissive attitude towards NATO was on full display during the alliance’s summit in Brussels last week. There, the American president repeatedly castigated NATO members, only five of whose 29 members meet the alleged “requirement” to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defense (the United States leads the pack, with 3.5 per cent of GDP given to the Pentagon in 2018).

In Brussels, Trump was his usual bull-bringing-his-own-china-shop self, causing offense as casually as normal heads of government shake hands, and notwithstanding his claim that the NATO summit was “truly great,” few Alliance members concur with that assessment. The summit was just one more official event which Donald Trump turned into a reality TV show, with the usual diplomatic puffery being replaced by orange-hued plate-throwing. If the president’s unstated aim was to hobble the Atlantic Alliance with mutual rage and loathing, he succeeded masterfully.

Read the rest at The Spectator USA …

Donald Trump Tosses Word-Salad, Ends His Presidency in Helsinki

It was like nothing anybody had ever seen. Nobody acquainted with Donald Trump expected the July 16 Helsinki summit—which wasn’t really a summit, more like a one-on-one-date between the presidents of Russia and the United States, to use the reality TV lingo which created the current Trump persona—to yield anything of substance, diplomatically speaking. Our president, after all, doesn’t do substance.

Yet substance of a sort arrived, inadvertently, in the presser which followed the presidential meeting, which went on for nearly two hours. What was said behind closed doors? Only the two presidents and their translators know (as do Russian intelligence and whatever other spy services bugged the room) but it’s a safe bet, knowing Trump and his manic indiscipline, that the press event reflected the summit’s secret content. By which I mean the American president submissively kowtowing to his Russian counterpart in a fashion which no American president has ever done before.

That presser will go down in the record books and will be discussed and dissected by historians and pundits as long as Donald Trump is remembered. It was frankly an outrage for anyone who cares about America and the West and our shared values, which are under attack by Vladimir Putin, who has unleashed his powerful spy agencies, spreading spies, hackers, and lies to undermine our democracies—and none more than America’s in 2016.

Read the rest at The Observer …

This Is How Vladimir Putin Manufactures Conflict Between Nations

As Helsinki’s one-on-one presidential summit looms, with foreign policy mavens fearing that Vladimir Putin will run circles around a clueless Donald Trump, it’s time to examine what makes the Kremlin’s Chekist-in-Chief tick. Our president’s troubling statement that Putin and his KGB background are “fine” at least focused attention where it needs to be, on the undeniable fact that a career in the Soviet secret police made the Russian strongman who he is.

The Chekist worldview that forms Putin’s mental furniture is cynical and cunning to a degree that naïve Westerners—and from the Kremlin point of view pretty much all Westerners are naïve and easily exploited—find difficult to believe. Westerners simply shut eyes and ears, since the reality is so unpleasant. The casual manner with which Kremlin spies ruthlessly exploit others for their own ends is not a nice story, given that their methods embrace violence and life-ruining measures as nonchalantly as Westerners order a cup of coffee.

The cornerstone of the Chekist worldview is provocation, what the Russians call provokatsiya. It’s not new, indeed it was honed into a secret weapon in the late Tsarist era, to be perfected under the Bolsheviks. I’ve tried to explain this alien concept to Westerners for years, and it really boils down to a basic, rather nasty concept:

Read the rest at The Observer …