A Divided America Does Not Mean Civil War

Civil war is in the air this steamy summer—at least according to the opinion polls. Many Americans are unhappy to the point of despondency about our political divisions, which have been mounting for years and have reached a crisis point during the presidency of Donald Trump. I’m not talking about mere partisanship, which is perennial in democracies, rather something more extreme—and potentially sinister.

Last week, a Rasmussen poll revealed that a shocking 31 percent of voters responded that “it’s likely that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years.” This fear is not just relegated to left-wingers who are gravely unhappy with the current White House. While 37 percent of Democrats feared a new civil war was inbound, so did 32 percent of Republicans, per Rasmussen.

In America, talk of another civil war inevitably brings comparison to the last one, the fratricidal maelstrom that raged from 1861 to 1865. That eminently avoidable conflict, which thanks to political paralysis and stupidity wasn’t avoided, took the lives of roughly a million Americans. Since our country’s population then was about 31 million, that would be equivalent to the deaths of more than 10 million Americans today.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Spy Brief: Dead Drop: 30 June 2018

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Here are some recent intelligence and security stories that you might have missed but which are informative and even fun. Truth is not infrequently stranger than fiction, especially in espionage. Enjoy!

Vienna wants Berlin to comment on reports that German intelligence (BND) was spying on Austria with a far-reaching SIGINT program. Good luck with that.

NSA is moving all its TS/SCI to the new IC Gov Cloud – which sounds to any counterintelligence person like an effort to just make it easier for the next Snowden to steal everything.

Trump’s State Department is missing the boat on cyber stuff. I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

“Which is the greatest threat? Russia, of course!” explains the former GCHQ director in a presentation on cyber threats.

FSB claims to have unmasked another foreign spy acting against Russia, this time for Romania. Count me skeptical.

Far-right attacks on Roma in Ukraine by a shadowy gang calling itself (I’m not kidding) the Misanthropic Division are actually an SVR-orchestrated provocation. Well, yeah.

Turkish MFA claims the FBI is investigating Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) presence in 20 U.S. states. This is one of those weird stories you’d think the MSM might dig into a bit.

MOSSAD director says his service has secret ties to countries which don’t diplomatically recognize the state of Israel. Can confirm.

Israel has always had serious leak problems in its spy agencies – and according to SHABAK it’s getting worse.

The Kremlin’s secret influence campaign in Egypt is having some important successes, according to this detailed assessment.

Revealed: CENTCOM has been bombing Yemen an awful lot – 44 air strikes in 2016, then 131 in 2017, big jump.

WANTED: Gen Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian AF Intelligence, a top Assad lieutenant and senior human-rights-abuser in Damascus.

Assessing the PRC’s comprehensive espionage-propaganda-subversion political warfare campaign against Australia. Important stuff.

Afghan Interior Ministry admits the Taliban are operating in all areas of the country. 17 years into our war there. #WINNING

Another crafty spy pigeon captured, this time in India. Couldn’t cats fix this problem and lower the espionage threat?

Europe is broadly way ahead of the USA in fighting Kremlin disinformation, and in protecting elections from Kremlin interference.

Islamist terrorism plus Russian spying and subversion remain the top threats to British security, explains the Security Service (MI5) director.

29 yo Tunisian arrested in Germany on terrorism charges, specifically producing ricin (!) for an attack, was in touch with ISIS multiple times, but was not an official member of the terror gang.

Admit it, who wouldn’t prefer to conduct counterterrorism ops in the sun-drenched Caribbean rather than some dump in Central Asia or in deepest, darkest Africa?

UN human rights office concludes rule of law is “virtually absent” in Venezuela as government thugs murder opponents with impunity.

Whoops: “The current threat environment no longer met the threshold of a CSIS investigation.” Not great timing there, guys.

US IC’s counterintelligence czar tells Kaspersky to try harder – setting up a “Transparency Center” in Switzerland is just cosmetics.

Remember the US laptop ban on airplanes? Here’s the interesting UK spy backgrounder on how and why that happened.

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Smearing NSA Helps No One but the Kremlin

Yesterday, The Intercept returned to its roots. Established in 2014 to pimp the vast trove of U.S. intelligence documents stolen by Edward Snowden before he fled to Moscow, the website gained notoriety for its trenchant left-wing views and consistent condemnation of Western governments, above all America’s. Although The Intercept boasts of its “fearless, adversarial journalism that holds the powerful accountable,” it seems a lot more interested in exposing the secrets of law-based democracies than those of the authoritarian dictatorships that threaten them.

Yesterday’s alleged bombshell, “The Wiretap Rooms: The NSA’s Hidden Spy Hubs in Eight U.S. Cities,” was trademark. Based on top-secret documents stolen by Snowden when he worked as an IT contractor for the agency, this incredibly verbose exposé reveals that NSA has partnered with private telecommunications firms for decades to accomplish its mission: the collection and analysis of signals intelligence for the U.S. government.

The piece goes into considerable detail about NSA’s partnership with AT&T since the mid-1980s in a Top Secret Codeword program termed FAIRVIEW. (As I was “read into” FAIRVIEW during my time with NSA, I have no comment on the veracity of the reporting, except to state that the classified NSA slides included in the report, which date to 2011 and were stolen by Snowden, appear to be genuine.) As The Intercept presents in the most breathlessly nefarious manner possible, NSA and the private sector work together, in a completely legal fashion, to provide SIGINT for Washington and our allies.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Liberal Nazi Hysteria Is Helping Trump Bigly

This was the week that President Donald Trump finally went too far. Our transgressor-in-chief overdid it, as was bound to happen eventually. His hardline on immigration, which did so much to get him elected two years ago, galvanizing voters while horrifying elites, blew up in the president’s face when images went public of migrant children separated from their parents by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The images were heart-wrenching, depicting little kids—many on the run from El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent societies—detained apart from their parents while their refugee claims are adjudicated by ICE. This was part of Trump’s promised “get tough” approach to enforcing our southern border, but separating more than 2,000 children from their parents turned out to be more than many Republicans bargained for.

Images of kids in cages went viral with celerity, egged on by nonstop media coverage. Some of that coverage bordered on the hysterical, and Trump seems to finally pushed too far. But there’s every reason to think that, yet again, the seasoned media-manipulator in the Oval Office manufactured a crisis to distract journalists from things Trump would rather not see on the front pages.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trump Betrayed Our Military by Saluting North Korea

President Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed Singapore pseudo-summit this week with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s hereditary strongman, was a bizarre event by any standards, even Trump’s high ones for strangeness and norm-breaking. The mere fact that North Korea, the world’s nastiest dictatorship, was invited to meet with the American president as a peer, on equal standing, was a huge diplomatic victory for Pyongyang. Just by showing up, Trump gave that ugly regime the official imprimatur it has craved, and never gotten, ever since Joseph Stalin placed Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather, on the communist throne in 1948.

As for actual diplomacy, there wasn’t much on display in Singapore. This was a glorified photo op, hardly a bona fide summit, much less a significant diplomatic happening—except for the fact that it happened at all. Pyongyang received the famous Trumpian thumbs-up before the cameras, for the world to see. In return, North Korea gave, well, nothing, really. There are vague assurances in the joint declaration signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore about “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” notwithstanding that Pyongyang has demanded that for decades, by which they mean getting American nuclear weapons out of South Korea. Although the administration is promising “major disarmament” by Pyongyang imminently, no seasoned Korea-watchers consider that likely.

True to form, this week Trump has tweeted boastfully about his Singapore romp with the strangely coiffed fellow he so recently was dismissing as “Little Rocket Man.” As he stated plainly, complete with his customary weird capitalizations, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” This would be news to Pyongyang—and the U.S. military. Adding insult to injury, Trump promised his new friend that he would cease longstanding joint military exercises with American forces and South Korea’s, which is a serious blow to our military readiness and ability to deter North Korean aggression, not to mention a big win for Pyongyang—and their benefactors in Beijing. Tellingly, Trump has repeatedly called these exercises “war games,” a pejorative and propagandistic term used by the Kremlin and others who portray America as a global aggressor.

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Murder That Changed Germany

Every so often, a crime occurs that so shocks the public, while perfectly playing to the political zeitgeist, that it radically alters debates—and ultimately politics. For Germans of the baby boom generation, that crime was the murder of Benno Ohnesorg, a student protestor, in West Berlin on June 2, 1967. Ohnesorg was a 26-year-old whose young wife was expecting their first child, and his first demonstration turned out to be his last. For reasons that were never completely clear, a policeman shot Ohnesorg in the head in an unprovoked attack.

The uniformed killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was a veteran of Hitler’s army, a stand-in for all the things young West Germans loathed about their parents, and his crime outraged a generation. With “the shot that changed Germany,” as millions remembered it, Ohnesorg became a martyr, inspiring a left-wing protest movement and eventually even terrorism against the West German state. What made this case truly interesting is that it emerged more than four decades later that Kurras, instead of being the fascist he so ardently seemed to be, was in reality a highly prized spy—a mole—for the East German secret police, the notorious Stasi. But that, like so much else, is another story.

Another momentous murder has now come to pass in Germany, one that seems likely to upend German politics just as the Ohnesorg killing did—albeit in a different direction. The victim here is a 14-year-old girl, Susanna Maria Feldman, who is from Mainz, a regional city on the Rhine in the heart of Germany. She disappeared from her home on May 22 and, although her distraught mother filed a missing person’s report the following day, police did not commence any serious search until more than a week later, believing they had just another teenage runaway on their hands. Tipped off by a 13-year-old migrant boy living in an asylum shelter of the kind that dot Germany these days, the police soon had a suspect. Detectives found Susanna’s body on June 6, in a wooded area near railroad tracks on the outskirts of Wiesbaden, a few miles from her home. She had been raped and strangled to death.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Chinese Theft of US Navy’s Secrets Reveals DoD’s Lackadaisical Security

Yesterday brought stunning news of yet another security lapse by our Navy. As reported by The Washington Post, Chinese hackers in the first two months of this year penetrated the computers of an unnamed defense contractor, “stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare” from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

NUWC (“new-ick”), as it’s called by sailors, handles sensitive and classified projects for the Navy’s submarine force, which just happens to be one of the few areas where the U.S. Navy still holds important advantages over its Chinese rival. As China’s rapidly expanding navy increasingly contests American naval dominance in the Western Pacific, our submarine force retains an important technological and tactical edge over Beijing—one that may just have been fatally compromised.

The hackers, who belonged to the Ministry of State Security, cleared out an astonishing amount of defense information such as “secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020” according to the Post, as well as “614 gigabytes of material relating to a closely held project known as Sea Dragon, as well as signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library.” Since one gigabyte is equivalent to about a thousand good-sized books, roughly a half-million pages of text, this was an astonishingly large compromise.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Mueller Finally Starts to Target Trump’s Israel Ties

Our media has followed the Justice Department’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia closely for more than a year, with each revelation getting granular analysis amid endless television coverage. No news here is too small to avoid hours of talking-head pontification. Yet, it appears that a significant aspect of the inquiry, one that calls the conventional narrative of the case into question, has been missing from public view—until now.

A genuine bombshell dropped yesterday, seemingly out of nowhere. It came in an interview with Simona Mangiante, the wife of George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who pled guilty last October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian agents—especially Joseph Mifsud, the mysterious Maltese professor with suspicious Kremlin ties—during the president’s election campaign. As expected, Mangiante explained that her husband, whom she married just three months ago, is innocent of what he admitted he did, and in no way was working for Russian intelligence.

“George had nothing to do with Russia,” she explained, seemingly in an effort to convince the White House that Papadopoulos lacks any dirt on the president’s Kremlin connections that could assist Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Team Trump. However, what Mangiante said next was the real shocker: her husband “pled guilty because [Mueller’s prosecutors] threatened to charge him with being an Israeli agent.”

Wait, what?

Read the rest at The Observer …

The Russians Might Be Listening to Trump’s Bedtime Chats With Sean Hannity

One of the facts of life in today’s America, and in most other even somewhat developed countries, is that people of all ages are addicted to their smartphones. Nearly everyone except the very young and very old spend a high percentage of their waking moments looking into a screen. While there’s no doubt that smartphones have made our lives much more connected and interesting, there’s a considerable downside too. And I don’t just mean the rising casualty count among those too distracted by technology to notice oncoming vehicles.

Neither do I mean the fact, only recently noticed by millions of Americans, that your smartphone is a device to spy on you, the user, in exchange for which you get calling, texting, and access to the Internet wherever you go. If you’re unwise enough to use Facebook—and, let’s face it, you probably are, since more than 200 million Americans do—all that data, generated by you and about you and your every waking moment, is being collected and sold for handsome profits, none of which go to you.

The worst threat posed by smartphones, however, is the easy access they give to bad guys who want to spy on you for reasons more nefarious than mere rent-seeking. Although this threat doesn’t apply to most Americans, it applies acutely to our elites. If you’re a VIP, especially in politics, you are inherently of interest to dozens of intelligence services worldwide, most of which have a presence, under diplomatic cover, in New York and Washington, D.C., at a minimum.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Ukraine’s Ploy to Save a Russian Journalist by Faking His Death Is Already Backfiring

Two days ago, Kremlin-watchers worldwide were stunned and saddened to hear of the assassination of Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist and war correspondent who fled his homeland in early 2017, fearing for his life. As a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, Babchenko’s fears were wholly warranted, given how many Russian journalists and activists who got on the wrong side of Putin’s regime have wound up murdered, usually by never-identified hitmen, over the last couple decades.

Babchenko’s sad end, shot in the back outside his apartment in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital where he had taken refuge with his family, seemed like a death foretold. Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine’s prime minister, promptly blamed Moscow for the murder, a claim that was widely believed. Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service (FSB), dismissed Kyiv’s accusation as “bullshit,” but few outside the Kremlin’s walls believed him. After all, the Babchenko hit came less than three months after the near-murder of the former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England, an outrageously brazen act of state terrorism. After Skripal’s near-death, and the Western pushback it engendered, Western media was finally on the lookout for more assassinations of the sort the Kremlin calls wetwork.

Journalists from all over the world eulogized the martyred Babchenko, hailing his bitter opposition to Putin and his sordid regime, while recalling that Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian journalist and Kremlin critic, had been blown up by a bomb placed in his car in downtown Kyiv just two years before. Who else but the FSB could be responsible for Babchenko’s murder? Harsh reactions from Western media to the Babchenko assassination felt like an effort to make up for their relative inattention to so many previous Kremlin hits on people whom Moscow disliked. Now, just a few days after Western governments publicly fingered the Kremlin as the culprit behind the murder of 298 innocents in the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in July 2014, it was time to call Putin and his murderers out.

Read the rest at The Observer …