Tag Archives: United States

Not so intelligent

As the old saying goes, ‘Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms’. Civilian intelligence often isn’t very intelligent either. Phillip Knightley, who spent decades investigating the world of espionage, concluded that the record of the CIA was ‘dismal’. Despite the aura surrounding its name, the KGB wasn’t much better, said Knightley, quoting KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who noted that, ‘When people say that Soviet intelligence penetrated the higher echelons of western government, I know that is not true.’ There’s no recorded example of the CIA having recruited anybody in the higher echelons of the Soviet government either. Knightley commented also that,

A conference on intelligence history held in Germany in 1994 was attended by a panel of spymasters from east and west. I challenged them to name a single important historical event in peacetime in which intelligence had played a decisive role. No one could do so.

In short, the historical record suggests that intelligence services don’t have actually have spies high up in the institutions of their most important targets; their knowledge of what is going inside the minds of foreign leaders is very limited and often quite wrong; and they are not nearly as all-knowing as many people imagine.

If we are to believe the Washington Post, however, the CIA has penetrated into the inner sanctum of the Kremlin. According to the newspaper’s latest revelations:

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

Tim Weiner’s definitive 2008 history of the CIA, entitled Legacy of Ashes, revealed what a New York Times review called a ‘litany of failure’ from the agency’s beginnings right up to the present day. Given its past, how many of you, dear readers, really believe that the CIA has a source ‘deep inside the Russian government’ capable of producing such information?

But let’s imagine that maybe it does. If so, this would be an agent of staggering importance, the most highly placed source the CIA has ever had, so important indeed that, according to the Washington Post, only four people are allowed to read what he (or she) produces. Yet one of these four people, or one of what must be an equally small group within the CIA who know about the source (for who else could it be?) has now put his (or her) safety in jeopardy by revealing his (or her) existence to the Washington Post. And the Washington Post has compounded this crime by revealing the source’s existence to the entire world. Bear in mind that, as far as we know, the CIA has never had an agent ‘deep inside the Russian (or Soviet) government’. This person is the star recruit of star recruits. And now their cover has been blown.

One might imagine, then, that the Washington Post story would be causing squeals of outrage and calls for an immediate investigation into what is surely the mother of breaches of security. Yet oddly enough that isn’t what seems to be happening. The distinct lack of concern about the disclosure of a source allegedly so stunningly valuable that their information is restricted to just four people, is extraordinary. There can be only two explanations:

  1. People in Washington don’t give a damn about protecting the CIA’s sources, no matter how valuable they are, and are quite happy to throw them under the bus if it gives them some political advantage. That includes both the people who leak such stories to the press, the press itself, and also the wider political establishment, which doesn’t seem to be too upset by such stuff. That in turn would suggest that these people are utterly untrustworthy, so we should take what they say with the largest pinch of salt; or
  2. People aren’t concerned by the ‘leak’ for the simple reason that the source ‘deep in the Russian government’ doesn’t actually exist. The story is straightforward BS, pure and simple.

Personally, I tend toward option 2.

UPDATE: Somebody has pointed out to me an option 3: nobody is concerned about blowing the source’s cover because it has already been blown. The source, according to this version, is the three Russian cyber experts arrested in Moscow in January. I confess that this isn’t what I understood the Washington Post meant by sources ‘deep in the Russian government’ as these people weren’t ‘in the government’ but in the case of two of them, the FSB (which, although an institution of the state, isn’t part of the ‘government’). (The third arrestee actually worked for a private company – Kaspersky.) I concede that this option is in theory possible (although any link between the arrestees and alleged election interference is speculation, as we have no direct evidence of such a link). But in that case the article is poorly phrased.

UPDATE 2: I feel that I should point out that there are other options too, e.g.: the source does exist, but the leaker and/or the Washington Post have exaggerated what s/he said; the source exists, and did say what the Post reports, but s/he made it all up, and told it to the Americans because s/he felt it would make the Americans happy and keep the cash payments flowing; etc.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why we’re losing

As I noted in a previous post, the failure of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and elsewhere is in large part a product of a lack of strategic thinking. But there is more to it than that. While Western armies are excellent from a purely tactical point of view – i.e. they can drop bombs and fight engagements very efficiently – both they and their civilian counterparts are staggeringly incompetent in other respects. Even with the best possible strategy, they would still probably fail.

To understand why, I urge you all (as I have done before) to read the reports of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Here is a summary of the latest.  And bear in mind that this is just one small example. The waste identified here has been repeated in scores and scores of other projects. When the history of this campaign is written, the scale of waste, incompetence, and corruption will boggle the mind.

If it weren’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh (OK, I confess that I did).

Can somebody explain to me how they think we can win this war?

— DOD’s [US Department of Defense’s] decision to procure ANA [Afghan National Army] uniforms using a proprietary camouflage pattern was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment.

— Procurement costs to the U.S. government were 40–43 percent [higher] than similar non-proprietary patterned uniforms used by the Afghan National Police (ANP), which potentially added between $26.65 million and $28.23 million to the costs of the ANA uniform procurements since 2008.

— In 2007, responsible DOD officials stated that they “ran across [HyperStealth’s] web site and the Minister [then Minister of Defense Wardak] liked what he saw. He liked the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns.” {This is where I laughed – PR}

— CSTC-A, in consultation with the Afghan MOD, decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area. {And laughed again – PR}

— Determining the effectiveness of a uniform pattern for a specific environment requires formal testing and evaluation.

— Acording to a technical paper prepared for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, the spatial characteristics and color palette of a camouflage pattern should be tailored to the specific environment. Matching a camouflage pattern “with background texture, color, and contrast is essential to all levels of visual processing.”

— CSTC-A, however, made the decision to procure 1,364,602 ANA uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants —totaling approximately $94 million—using HyperStealth’s Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern without conducting any formal testing or evaluation.

— As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy.

— CSTC-A recommended a sole-source award to HypersStealth but the DOD contracting office believed that, because there were so many available camouflage patterns in the world, a sole-source award would be hard to justify.

— Instead of issuing a sole-source award, DOD issued a local acquisition solicitation that included the requirement that the uniforms use HyperStealth’s proprietary Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern.

— CSTC-A initially estimated that the new ANA uniform would cost $25–$30 per set. The actual cost ranged from $45.42–$80.39 per set.

— Our analysis found that changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years.

— SIGAR suggests that DOD conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the current ANA uniform specification to determine whether there is a more effective alternative, considering both operational environment and cost, available.

 

Strategy-free time

It’s a depressing truth, but at least someone has finally had the guts to admit it. The United States has no strategy for its war in Afghanistan, or as Defence Secretary James Mattis put it in testimony to the US Senate, it is a ‘strategy-free time’. Mattis promised to put a strategy together. ‘We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,’ he said, ‘And we will correct this as soon as possible.’

Forgive me if I’m sceptical. The United States hasn’t managed to come up with a winning strategy in the 16 years it has been fighting in Afghanistan. It beggars belief that Mattis has the solution up his sleeve. After all, he’s been part of the war since the beginning.

The United States lacks a workable strategy in Syria as well. Theoretically speaking, US support for rebel forces in Syria is justified by the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and is meant to help destroy ISIS. But because of recent advances by troops of the Syrian Arab Army (the official government forces), the rebels are no longer in physical contact with ISIS. As you can see from the map below, they couldn’t fight ISIS even if they wanted to.

Syrian_civil_war

Continue reading Strategy-free time

Foreign meddling in elections uncovered

‘New report alleges outside influence in Canada’s 2015 election’ screams a headline in today’s Calgary Herald. The article quotes former Conservative MP Joan Crockatt, who lost her Calgary Central seat in 2015, as saying that, ‘Foreign money meddled in a big way in our election and that’s not right. Foreign money … arguably changed the outcome of our Canadian election. It needs to be taken very seriously and investigated.’

Damn those Russians! Can’t they just leave us alone, rather than trying to destroy democracy throughout the Western world?

Except, it wasn’t Russians, after all. It was (breathless pause) … Americans.

That’s correct, you heard it right. Americans.

Allegedly.

According to the story, a group called Canada Decides, whose directors include Crockatt, have submitted a 36-page complaint to Elections Canada alleging foreign influence in the 2015 vote. The complaint centres around an organization called Leadnow which in 2015 targeted 29 Conservatives MPs, and ‘flew around the country … to distribute flyers and put up signs’, and also commissioned polls ‘urging citizens to strategically vote for the most winnable, left-of-centre candidate in order to defeat the Conservative candidate’.

As Leadnow is not a political party and wasn’t running candidates of its own, it was not subject to the limit of $8,788 which parties are allowed to spend campaigning in each riding. Because of their freedom from financial restrictions, non-party groups such as this are playing an increasing role in Canadian elections. In 2015, 114 such groups spent $6 million trying to influence the campaign. It turns out, however, that many of them, including Leadnow, receive much of their funding from the United States. The most significant contributor is an American organization known as the Tides Foundation, which is ‘known in Canada for holding numerous campaigns against the Canadian oil industry.’

The Calgary Herald claims that ‘In 2015, Tides Foundation donated $1.5 million to Canadian third parties’, including Leadnow. What effect this had it is hard to tell, but ‘Crockatt lost her Calgary Centre seat by 750 votes. Conservative MP Lawrence Toet lost his Manitoba seat … by 61 votes.’ Yves Cote, Commissioner of Elections Canada, is looking into the matter. ‘Issues of significance have been raised’, Cote told the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, ‘which in my view deserves Parliament taking the time to look at the situation, trying to understand what has happened.’

The collusion of our ruling party with agents of a foreign power needs the most thorough investigation! I demand that the matter be the subject of thousands of lines of newspaper coverage, and that Louise Mensch be put on the case! And I insist at the very least on the appointment of a Special Counsel! What did Trudeau know? Did he, or any of his team, meet with Americans? It’s time we found out.

 

Dimwitted and dangerous

At some point during last year’s American presidential campaign, the Democratic Party decided that it would play the Russia card and accuse Donald Trump of being at best a Kremlin stooge, at worst a Russian agent. The Democrats then turned this card almost into the centrepiece of their campaign, repeating the charges against Trump again and again. Quite why they they though this strategy was a good one, I cannot imagine, as it merely reinforced their lack of connection with ordinary American voters, but I am guessing that after a while they had said it so often that they came to believe it.

We now know that following Hillary Clinton’s defeat, her advisors met to discuss how to react to their electoral disaster, and that they decided that the best option was to blame it on the Russians. Again, I can’t fathom why, except perhaps that it a) had now became a matter of faith, and b) it excused them from having to examine their own failings.

Since then the Democratic Party has been waging non-stop war against President Trump, focusing on his, and his close associates’, allegedly dubious connections with Russia. Abetting them have been members of the security and intelligence services who have been leaking information to the press at every appropriate opportunity in an effort to derail any attempted rapprochement between the USA and the Russian Federation. The ‘deep state’ (if you believe in such a thing) has been hard at work.

You might say that ‘all is well in love and war’, and that it’s quite fair to use whatever weapon one can in order to attack your political opponents. But in this case, I think, the attacks have not only long since became entirely divorced from reality but have also descended into gross irresponsibility.

Take, for instance, the latest allegations about Trump divulging secrets to the Russians. Horrified by this supposed abuse of power, unknown intelligence officials with the help of the Washington Post have divulged these secrets not merely to the Russians but to THE ENTIRE BLOODY WORLD. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this; my own short career in the world of intelligence persuaded me that it’s far less important than people think it is. Nonetheless, it is extraordinarily hypocritical of Trump’s critics to complain about breaches of secrecy while breaching secrecy themselves on a far grander scale. Trump’s enemies accuse him of being irresponsible, but who’s being irresponsible here?

Next – and I will go out on a limb here and make my biases very clear – I am firmly of the opinion that it is a positive thing if states have good relations with one another. And it’s especially important that powerful states do so. Which is better? A world in which the major powers are in conflict with one another, or a world in which they get on with each other? Obviously, the latter. Thus, IMPROVING US-RUSSIA RELATIONS IS A GOOD IDEA. When Trump said that during the election campaign, he was entirely right. However, his enemies are working flat out to achieve the opposite result. In an effort to undermine their president, they are doing all they can to sabotage US-Russia relations. In other words, they are jeapordizing their own country’s interests, and more broadly the security of the entire world, because they think it is a good way of gaining domestic political advantage. Again, I ask, who’s being irresponsible here?

Finally, in seeking to destroy Trump in this way, his opponents are threatening the internal order of their own country. Perhaps one other explanation for the obsession with Russia is that the ‘Never Trumpists’ aren’t seeking electoral advantage so much as some form of ‘soft coup’ or palace revolution. The hope isn’t to harm Trump’s electoral prospects in 2020, but to force him to resign or to get him impeached. They are, in essence, trying to get around the electoral process.

What makes this dangerous is that many Trump supporters are already convinced that the elites who govern the United States don’t care about their interests and have rigged the system to do them down. Now that they’ve finally got their man elected, they aren’t going to take too kindly to seeing him booted out in such a way. Were this tactic to succeed, it would alienate a large section of the population even more thoroughly than it is already, and could even, in the worst scenarios, have violent consequences (right-wing militias are already responsible for much more violence in the USA than any other type of political group). The Democrats and their allies in the security and intelligence services are playing with fire. Once again, who’s being irresponsible here?

Speaking in Sochi today, Vladimir Putin summed it up well, saying:

They are shaking up the political situation in the USA using anti-Russian slogans. Either they don’t understand what harm they are doing to their own country, in which case they’re simply dimwitted, or they understand fully, and then they’re simply dangerous and unscrupulous.

Personally, I think they’re both.

Selection and maintenance of the aim

Strategy, Clausewitz said, is about applying means to achieve ends. It follows that good strategy requires one first to select sensible and achievable ends, and second to ensure that one actually apply one’s resources in such a way as to advance towards those ends. This is what one might call ‘instrumental rationality’. Selecting objectives which don’t benefit you, or deliberately acting in a way which undermines your own objectives, is not instrumentally rational.

For good reason, therefore, the first ‘principle of war’ as taught to British and Canadian military officers is ‘selection and maintenance of the aim’. Pick a bad aim, or fail to maintain a good aim and instead get sidetracked into pursuing something else, and failure will almost certainly ensue.

This is pretty obvious stuff, but what is remarkable is how bad Western leaders are at putting it into practice.

Take, for instance, the so-called ‘War on Terror’. This began in 2001 with an invasion of Afghanistan designed to destroy Al-Qaeda. Having occupied Afghanistan, however, the Americans and their allies decided to shift focus to rebuilding the country, and so became involved in the longest war in American history, fighting an enemy (the Taleban) who don’t pose an obvious threat to the American homeland.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in 2003, the UK and USA got further distracted and decided to invade Iraq, on the dubious grounds that there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda and that Saddam Hussein might provide Al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. Once Iraq had been defeated, the Anglo-American alliance found itself fighting yet another insurgency. This involved not just Iraq’s Sunni minority, but also its Shia majority, which received support from Iran. Attention therefore now shifted yet again, with Iran being seen as the enemy no. 1. Commentators began stirring up fears of the ‘Shia Crescent’, stretching from Iran through Iraq and into Syria. American security was now associated with defeating those who made up this crescent. This meant undermining Iran and toppling the Assad regime in Syria. In this way, a war on terror originally designed to fight Sunni terrorists morphed into a war against Shia states.

The Arab Spring in 2011 then added yet another objective – democratizing the Middle East. Now the aim became toppling dictatorial regimes wherever they might be, in order to give a boost to the wave of democracy allegedly sweeping the region. Thus, NATO bombed Libya to ensure the overthrow of Colonel Gaddhafi. This, of course, then enabled Al-Qaeda to spread its influence in north Africa, most notably in Mali.

In short, Western states, especially the USA and UK, have changed the aims of their policies in the ‘war on terror’ multiple times over the past 16 years. And they are changing them backwards and forwards as I write. One day, their focus is on toppling Assad in Syria; the next, it’s defeating ISIS; then it’s back to toppling Assad again. It is no wonder that the Brits and the Americans have made such a hash of things. They are incapable of keeping their eye on the ball. They have no strategy worthy of the name.

The problem derives from their inability to choose achievable objectives in the first place. As they fail to reach each objective, they feel obliged to change their target in an effort to avoid admitting defeat.

This fundamental lack of realism can be seen in the Anglo-American approach to Russia, which is based on the assumption that Russia can be coerced into changing its policies in Ukraine and Syria. Boris Johnson’s efforts this week to drum up support for additional sanctions against Russia are a case in point. Yet to date, the policy of coercion has achieved no success, and there is no reason to believe that it will be any more successful in the future. Russia just isn’t going to abandon Donbass or Assad. It’s not going to happen. Wishing it won’t make it so. Boris can demand regime change in Syria all he wants, but he’s not going to achieve it. Regardless of whether it is desirable, by selecting this goal, he is dooming himself to failure.

So why do Western states persist in selecting unachievable objectives, in putting so much stock in what they would desire as opposed to what they can actually do? The answer, I think, is that they seem to be unwilling to admit that the days of their hegemony are over and that they are not the bearers of universal moral truth. Despite all the overwhelming evidence that they are not able to mould the world to their wishes, they fear the consequences of admitting this more than they fear the consequences of trying and failing. That is because the costs of the latter are borne by their publics and by the people at the receiving end of their interventions, but the former are borne by the politicians in the form of a humiliating reduction in prestige. Unsurprisingly, the politicians choose to transfer the costs onto others, aided and abetted by the media and the military-industrial complex, which have similarly invested in current policies and wish to avoid the backlash which an admission of failure would involve.

Things will only get better when our leaders start selecting sensible aims. When they do so, they will find that they can actually maintain these aims, and so achieve success. But that will only happen when the illusions of military hegemony and moral superiority vanish. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon, due to the psychological distress and political damage it would cause. Alas, therefore, I see no obvious way out of this mess for some time to come.

Radio interview

I was interviewed this morning on CBC Radio on the subject of the Russia-related scandal engulfing America. You can listen to it at the link here. I first appear at the 12.27 minute point, then there’s someone else, then me again.

—- If you have problems with the link I have given, go to

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent

then click on where it says ‘listen to full episode’.