Droning on …

Being older than my mid-20s I can remember when drones – the popular term for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – were considered somewhat controversial. Since, let’s face it, using little planes without pilots to watch the world and kill people is a bit edgy.

However, since Barack Obama became president US use of killer drones has expanded enormously in prosecution of what used to be called the Global War on Terror (GWOT: which is now very Old Think and perhaps needs to be replaced by a nifty symbol – where’s Prince when you need him?). I won’t delve into partisan politics here except to note that

Meet “The Hand of Allah” … because “Death from Above” sounds so 1967.

the left would be beside itself if any GOP president, especially George W. Bush, had standing Tuesday “kill” meetings where the West Wing Kool Kids congregate to decide who’s getting vaporized this week. I’m never gonna join the ACLU and I customarily err on the side of killing terrorists, and the whole thing creeps me out.

None can deny that UAVs are a valuable weapon in the GWOT/whatever, and in places like Waziristan and the back-of-beyond of Yemen they are probably the only real option we have. And – let me say it – blowing away enemies of mankind like Al-Qa’ida fighters is a good and necessary thing.

Certainly the bad guys get the message. They are terrified of drones – so much so that the meme has reached comedy films about the mujahidin (yes, there are such things) – which they call the “Hand of Allah.” Because, let’s face it, it’s way creepy and upsetting when, all of a sudden, for no reason – because you can’t see or hear that Raptor way up there – the fifty-foot radius around you explodes in a wall of flame interspersed with metal shards. That kind of thing can ruin your whole day.

The bad news is that UAVs kill civilians. No matter how hard we try – and we surely do – to avoid what we nicely term “collateral damage” it cannot be avoided. Our intelligence, impressive as it is, will never be good enough to rule out the deaths of people, kids even, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And locals understandably feel differently about their own dead kin than we do. Debating whether this is worth the political cost is something America has largely punted on over the past decade, as drone kills have become an utterly routine thing. Certainly the current administration has accepted the costs of the drone campaign without real reservation and without any public debate.

But is it, well, moral? The New York Times in a new piece says it is, so I suppose that is the current bien-pensant position. The article is actually worth a read and points out, in an important-if-true moment, that even drone skeptics concede:

 a notable drop in the civilian proportion of drone casualties, to 16 percent of those killed in 2011 from 28 percent in 2008. This year, by the bureau’s count, just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 .

NYT goes further down the road of drones-are-now-officially-cool by citing Bradley Jay Strawser, a junior professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, a sister institution to my own, who asserts that using UAVs to blow people up is a-ok with the statement, “using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

Really, Brad? This seems to me the sort of thing you need to have a Ph.D. to believe. I don’t doubt for a second that using Predators and Raptors against mujahidin is ethically ok, generally speaking. I’m questioning whether, strategically speaking, it’s worth the political cost. In real-people speak: Is it smart?

Analysts of our drone war in Pakistan say that the “collateral damage” (AKA “we killed the wrong people” ) rate ranges between four and 20 percent. Which seems low, especially when compared to the recent Israeli operations against HAMAS, using more traditional methods of delivering high explosives, which 41 percent of the time killed innocents. Furthermore, the Pakistani military took out non-combatants a whopping 46 percent of the time in its operations against domestic terrorists.

So drones are totally awesome and even nice by comparison, right?

In a very bean-counting way, they are. But the cool, numbers-based analytic approach beloved by many academics and defense wonks leaves out two critical facts which are well understood by people on the receiving end of the “Hand of Allah.”

First, our enemies view drones as sneaky, nasty, and deeply unmanly. We may laugh at this, but it is true. Blowing up people from 10,000 feet, remotely (in every sense) is viewed by Pashtuns and many others as simply creepy and girly. Especially when they blow up kids – your kids. Drones inspire a special kind of rage in much of the world.

Second, when the Pakistanis kill their own people it inspires a lot less Pashtun rage than when we – yes, we interlopers, foreigners, and infidels – do it. Outsiders doing the killing always goes down worse, even when we’re frankly soft-touch compared to the bumbling and sometimes brutal local government. This is universal.

The drone campaign is clearly going to continue as long as Obama is president, and perhaps well beyond. We’re going to keep using them to kill bad guys. But it’s time to have a public debate about using UAVs as the default weapon of choice in counterterrorism. Particularly before other countries, including some we don’t like and they don’t like us either, have their own impressive UAV capabilities.

They’re not kidding. Really.

For all the endless discussions in Western media about Iran – will they get bombed today, or more like in the fall? – the issue of ideology is customarily lacking.  Too little effort is expended by writers and pundits on why Tehran does what it does.

Instead we are treated to facile commentary about Ahmadinejad being “crazy” (note to Tehran: drop the weird stand-collar suit thing … it’s creepy, really), and related silliness when you let people like John Bolton near a microphone.

The open collar makes all the difference, I swear.

Similarly, the left has the well-honed habit of explaining that, really, this is all about evil Anglo-American machinations – repeat “Mossadegh” and “coup” enough times and you, too, will be mesmerized – a nice little narrative centered on us that leaves out actual Iranian views.

There’s a fine essay in The American Interest by the Iranian-American journalist Sohrab Ahmari which lucidly explains that Tehran actually has a worldview which is at least internally consistent and which guides pretty much everything the revolutionary regime has done since 1979. This ideology seems naturally quirky to us, but it’s not new and is grounded in an odd mishmash of watered-down Marxism, a generic third worldism that was hot in about 1964, and Shia Islamism. I have no idea whether Ahmadinejad is clinically crazy – I doubt it, but I’m not that kind of doctor – yet it’s clear that he is motivated by this very ideology, which is implacably hostile to the West for myriad reasons. I’ll add that Islamist radicals worldwide were profoundly influenced by the Iranian revolution and all of them, to the present day, reflect aspects of this worldview whether they are Sunni or Shia.

Money quote from Mr. Ahmari:

Permanent enmity against the West, the cornerstone of Khomeini and Shariati’s worldviews, is thus a basic condition of the regime’s existence. When Ahmadinejad claims that the “Imam of the Ages” directs the events of the Arab Spring against the “Satanic” West, he is dead-serious. When he denies the Holocaust, he is not merely expressing frustration with the lack of progress on the peace process; he means business. Yet such rhetoric—not to mention the cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” regularly emanating from Tehran—has become a quotidian fact of life for most Western leaders. We either dismiss it as the inchoate rage of a mysterious land or else try to justify it as a reaction to legitimate postcolonial grievances.

In other words, they’re not getting over it. It’s just like the USSR, ideologically speaking. While the Soviets made compromises here and there – Uncle Joe was famous for this, and damn effective – the regime and the party were Marxist-Leninists to the core, down to the very fall of the system in 1991. Any effort to fundamentally modify the belief system would result not in “reform” (which is Western-speak for “magically becoming like us”) rather the collapse of the whole edifice … as Gorbachev found out.

We should not expect the Iranian revolutionary regime to act like anything but itself, as long as it exists. Which won’t be for long, insha’allah, but may be; after all, they’ve held on for thirty-three years so far and survived losing a million dead in the war with Iraq. It is an ideological regime to its core and – shocking as it may be to us – the leadership really believes this stuff and acts accordingly. Why else would they do nutty-sounding things like try to blow up Arab diplomats in downtown Washington, DC?

It’s time to dispense with wishful thinking that only a few guys in Tehran are “crazy” or the regime will collapse with a bit of PSYOPS, twittering by angry college kids, or a few bombs.

Is it still a “conspiracy theory” when they admit it?

Go, go, go said the bird:

humankind cannot bear very much reality

– T.S. Eliot

I’m beginning to think the wheels may be coming off the whole post-modern Western enterprise. Things which are never supposed to be admitted in polite society are being copped to openly of late.

Anyone who’s worked in espionage knows that conspiracies, in fact, exist because people, in fact, conspire. Intelligence operations are one form of conspiracy. Conspiracies are seldom the prime mover of human events, but those who deny they happen are being, well, conspiratorial themselves, not to mention too clever by half.

That said, it usually does little good to have perpetrators admit that they are, in fact, conspiring against the commonweal since, per T.S. Eliot, human beings are engineered for only so much reality, plus it can frighten the animals.

Which makes the recent torrent of “did he just say that?” moments all the more interesting. Blame the Internet if that works for you.

First, a couple weeks back we had Peter Sutherland, a big Eurocrat mucky-muck who’s currently serving as the UN’s special representative for migration, tell the House of Lords in London that the EU needs to wittingly undermine the homogeneity of its member states to help the greater good – with a hinted-at “or else” in there too. In other words, all the right-wing pariahs, ranging from Geert Wilders over to – gulp – Anders Brievik who’ve been yelling about transnational bureaucrats and bankers trying to “elect a new people” in Western countries through non-white migration have been … what’s the word for it? Correct.

It really helps that Mr. Sutherland, in a straight-from-central-casting moment, has been, among other things, a member of the European Commission, a major domo at Goldman Sachs, director general of the World Trade Organization, chairman of British Petroleum, attorney general of Ireland, plus – you knew this was coming – a player in the Bilderberg Group.

Then, last week a huge scandal broke over LIBOR, the banker term for the London Interbank Offered Rate. Although this has not gotten the attention in the U.S. media which it merits, this is The Big One, the scandal we’ve all be waiting for, since it calls into question the integrity of the entire global banking system – and, by implication, the entire Western financial system since the 1980s. Basically, this was secret collusion on a truly epic scale. LIBOR sets the rates at which banks lend and borrow from each other; we’re talking about $800 trillion in moolah here … and, yes, that was a “t”. When Breitbart, not known to be affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, calls it possibly “the biggest bank heist in history,” you can bet something big is up. When The Economist, that well known lefty rag, piles on by calling LIBOR the biggest financial scandal in history, it’s hard to say where it will stop. I suspect Mitt Romney might want to pipe down about the glories of financial speculation a la Bain Capital for a while.

Lastly, over the weekend in Der Stuermer The Times of Israel, a commentator helpfully offered, “Jews DO Control the Media,” which cheerfully explains that David Duke, Mel Gibson, and company perhaps had a point after all. I initially suspected that Julius Streicher had come back from the gallows to post this one, yet it turns out that it was authored by Elad Nehorai, who blogs at HuffPo, who initially posted under his own name but went anonymous a tad late. (Mr. Nehorai lacked the courage of the columnist Joel Stein, who in 2008 famously noted, “Jews totally run Hollywood.” ). Note to Mr. Nehorai: I’m not sure the point you’re making really helps.

This is all surpassingly odd. What’s next? The NASA director admitting there really are alien spacecraft out at Area 51? The National Science Foundation boss hosting a presser with Bigfoot? This is not good ….

Was Tito really Tito?

(Although this blog deals largely with current events it will occasionally delve into historical topics …. because that’s how I roll.)

Who got the last laugh?

First, we’re talking about the longtime Yugoslav leader, born Josip Broz, not any member of the Jackson family. And, up front, the question sounds … odd. But it’s been asked for a long time, and may not be as crazy as it sounds.

Josip Broz, known by his nom de guerre Tito, was unquestionably one of the most successful revolutionaries of the 20th century, leading his Yugoslav Partisans to victory against the Fascist occupiers in 1945, and holding on to the leadership of that fractious Balkan country until his death in 1980. Although he was a sincere Marxist-Leninist, his fateful break with the Soviet Union in 1948 drove Stalin into conniptions and made Yugoslavia something of an associate, if unofficial, NATO member through the Cold War.

But who really was Josip Broz? There has never been any doubt that he was a bona fide International Man of Mystery and large parts of his life remain shrouded in darkness – and Communist hagiography. Born in Kumrovec, in then-Habsburg Croatia, into a peasant family in 1892, to a Croatian father and a Slovenian mother, Broz became a locksmith and moved around Austria-Hungary in the years before the First World War looking for work; unlike nearly all other Communist leaders, Tito had actually once been a proletarian. Little is known for sure about his early life, only a very few pictures survive, but when the Great War came he was serving as an NCO in the Austro-Hungarian Army, fighting against Serbia in 1914 (something which Yugoslav authorities obscured until after Tito’s death, since it looked bad), and then against the Russians in 1915. A good soldier who was decorated for valor, Broz was captured a few months later, badly wounded.

There the path gets convoluted. What exactly he did in Russia as a POW is almost impossible to determine. He returned to his homeland five years later a convinced Communist and joined the underground Soviet-led apparatas a full-time revolutionary. Tito was very much a creature of the Soviet secret police, an “illegal” with 33 NKVD

Whoever he was, I’d like to meet his tailor.

covernames to his credit. Accordingly, he spent the interwar years on the run from the authorities in several countries. Stalin knew him as WALTER, the covername he used the longest. There is little doubt that in the 1930s, when he perfected his clandestine tradecraft (what the NKVD tellingly called konspiratsiya), Tito was in Moscow for extended periods of time – doing what isn’t clear, but there’s little doubt that he played an active role in Stalin’s notorious purges. The Yugoslav Communist Party leadership was all but annihilated by the NKVD in 1937-38, and Tito was more or less the last man standing, leaving him fatefully in control of the party in 1941, when the Axis invaded and dismembered Yugoslavia. Conveniently, he and his cadres had spent the last 20 years living underground and perfecting their clandestine political work, readying for eventual armed struggle. The rest, per the cliché, is history.

There have long been whispers that Josip Broz, Croatian peasant, and Tito, world leader, were not the same man, with the implication that the NKVD switched an impostor at some point. There have been many variations of the Balkan urban legend: the real Broz died in battle in 1915, or in Russian captivity during WWI, or he was killed during the purges in the late 1930s. One version, predictably, claims that Tito was “really” a Jew (and perhaps a Freemason too, for full conspiratorial effect).

As for hard evidence, there has never been any. What is not in doubt, however, is that many Yugoslavs felt that Tito never spoke his native language very well, including people in Kumrovec who didn’t seem to recognize him. He made regular grammatical errors and used malapropisms that normal Croats wouldn’t say. To many, his pronunciation sounded a bit … Russian. When Dragoljub Mihajlovic, leader of the Serbian nationalist Chetnik resistance during WWII, first met Tito in 1941, he thought that he actually was a Russian – and Mihajlovic was far from the last to wonder.

Tito’s defenders have always said that the man had spent so much time in Russia, from 1915 to 1920, and certainly quite a bit of time in the 1930s too, that it had changed his speech patterns, and there was no mystery. Yet the urban legend has never gone away, and periodically new stories will emerge to stir the pot without providing anything conclusive to bolster the “fake Tito” hypothesis.

Yet the U.S. National Security Agency has recently released a paper which sheds important light on this obscure, yet intriguing, topic. Shortly before the Yugoslav leader’s death, “Is Yugoslav President Tito Really a Yugoslav?” appeared in Cryptologic Spectrum, a classified NSA in-house journal. Through close analysis of Tito’s speech patterns, the unnamed author concluded that Tito did not speak Croatian like a native, but like someone whose native tongue was Russian (or Polish). Moreover, Tito’s spoken variance with standard Serbo-Croatian (to use the Communist-approved linguistic term) could not be explained by spending a few years in a foreign country. Given’s NSA reputation as a – and perhaps the – world leader in language analysis, this conclusion deserves to be taken seriously.

The paper can shed no light on who Tito really was – that unfortunately will be left to the conspiracy theorists – yet provides convincing evidence that he was probably not Josip Broz, the Croatian peasant lad. Perhaps the NKVD was even better at creating “legends” for its illegals than anyone suspected. It appears doubtful there’s much light left to be shed on this case, since relevant papers were probably destroyed long ago, plus Tito and his Comintern contemporaries are long dead, yet it now seems fair to take this strange-sounding question out of the realms of weird websites into more respectable venues.

UPDATE, 26 SEP 2015: The NSA link above isn’t working as of today; I don’t know if this is a temporary glitch or permanent so below is the cited article — enjoy!

tito 1tito 2tito 3tito 4

Algeria – The Ugly Truth

What if everything you know is wrong? What if what you’ve been told is international terrorism, Al-Qa’ida even, really …. isn’t?

The world is a complex place. More complex than the media usually allows. Seldom does the MSM deal with the unpleasantness of the real world of terrorism and, especially, counterterrorism: the operations, the penetrations, the provocations. Not something the Big Terror industry talks about much.

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s National Interest Online which pulls back the curtain a bit on the Algerian unpleasantness of the last twenty years – one of the world’s nastiest wars in recent memory, and one of the least understood.

If you like this kind of thing, you like this kind of thing.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it …

[premo-gate]Espionage is a mysterious thing by design. Practitioners generally keep quiet, especially if they are old school (per the old MOSSAD curse: “May we read about you in the newspapers!”). Virtually since the dawn of civilization it has been the “hidden hand” behind war and diplomacy. Journalists and screenwriters have filled the knowledge gap, though the efforts are customarily more exciting than accurate.

This blog represents an effort to discuss intelligence not just in a learned and informed way, but in a nuanced one as well. People overly interested in espionage easily forget that spies are seldom the prime movers of major events, and they always operate within a (sometimes stifling) context of bureaucracy and strategy, and of course among mere human beings with agendas and egos.

Counterintelligence is a particular interest of mine for years, and its worldview – based on a nagging sense that much in life is not quite what it seems to be – informs everything you will read here. America, and the West generally, understand counterintelligence poorly, and hardly ever in an intuitive sense; regrettably, many of our enemies have this angle down.

The blog takes its name from the legendary XX Committee of World War II fame. This small, super-secret body, led by Oxford professor John Masterman, created and managed the Double Cross System, the most successful counterintelligence operation in modern times. In the early years of the war, British counterintelligence identified and turned the entire German agent network in Britain – a strategic head-fake which the Germans never detected and which, thanks to excellent big-picture deception, cut months and possibly years off the war for the Allies.

So welcome to the ride … enjoy. Per the old counterspy’s mantra: Admit nothing; deny everything; make counter-accusations.[/premo-gate]