Democracy or Regime Change?

Asked by Sputnik about DIA report mentioned here. Probably won’t bother to read it — got some paint I want to watch dry and there’s always grass growing out there — because I’m sure all it will say is It’s All Russia’s Fault.

Perhaps I was a little hasty: Paul Robinson has read it and is interested “that at least somebody in the American security establishment is willing to admit that people elsewhere in the world don’t all appreciate what the United States is doing.”

https://sputniknews.com/politics/201706301055103084-russia-reasons-usa-wants-topple-government/

In the simplest possible terms: Washington has been trying to bring “democracy USA-style” to Russia. Russians, observing the consequences of “democracy USA-style” in Iraq, Libya and especially in Ukraine, regard this as regime change. So they’re both right.

Thus far, the most effective “weakeners of US influence on the world stage” have been the neocons and humanitarian bombers that have driven Washington’s policy this century. Failed interventions and losing wars are doing a far more effective job of destroying the USA than anything Moscow or Beijing could do. Osama bin Laden ought to be quite happy about what 911 began because the formerly “strong horse” looks more and more like a “weak horse”: immensely brutal and destructive, but nothing else.

Whether Trump can overcome the “deep state’s” sabotage remains to be seen. He promised a policy of non interference but his first five months have been burned up by the Russian interference “nothing burger”.

When Intelligence Isn’t

First published at http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/05/when-intelligence-isnt.html

In my career in the Canadian government I was never formally in “intelligence” but I did participate in writing many “intelligence assessments”. Facebook, Twitter and other kinds of social media didn’t much exist at that time but, even if they had, I can’t imagine that we would have ever used them as sources of evidence: social media is, to put it mildly, too easy to fake. In writing intelligence assessments, while we did use information gathered from intelligence sources (ie secret), probably more came from what was rather pompously called OSInt (Open Source Intelligence; in other words, stuff you don’t need a security clearance to learn). What was, however, the most important part of creating an assessment was the long process of discussion in the group. Much talk and many rewrites produced a consensus opinion.

A typical intelligence assessment would start with a question – what’s going on with the economy, or political leadership or whatever of Country X – and would argue a conclusion based on facts. So: question, argument, conclusion. And usually a prediction – after all the real point of intelligence is to attempt to reduce surprises. The intelligence assessment then made its way up the chain to the higher ups; they may have ignored or disagreed with the conclusions but, as far as I know, the assessment, signed off by the group that had produced it, was not tampered with: I never heard of words being put into our mouths. The intelligence community regards tampering with an intelligence assessment to make it look as if the authors had said something different as a very serious sin. All of this is preparation to say that I know what an intelligence assessment is supposed to look like and that I have seen a lot of so-called intelligence assessments coming out of Washington that don’t look like the real thing.

Intelligence is quite difficult. I like the analogy of trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know what the picture is supposed to be, you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle has and you’re not sure that the pieces that you have are actually from the same puzzle. Let us say, for example, that you intercept a phonecall in which the Leader of Country X is telling one of his flunkeys to do something. Surely that’s a gold standard? Well, not if the Leader knew you were listening (and how would you know if he did?); nor if he’s someone who changes his mind often. There are very few certainties in the business and many many opportunities for getting it wrong.

So real raw intelligence data is difficult enough to evaluate; social media, on the other hand, has so many credibility problems that it is worthless; worthless, that is, except as evidence of itself (ie a bot campaign is evidence that somebody has taken the effort to do one). It is extremely easy to fake: a Photoshopped picture can be posted and spread everywhere in hours; bots can create the illusion of a conversation; phonecall recordings are easily stitched together: here are films of Buks, here are phonecalls. (But, oddly enough, all the radars were down for maintenance that day). It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s probably easier to create the fake than to prove that it is a fake. There is no place in an intelligence assessment for “evidence” from something as unreliable as social media.

An “intelligence assessment” that uses social media is suspect.

So why are there so many “intelligence assessments” on important issues depending on social media “evidence”?

I first noticed social media used as evidence during the MH17 catastrophe when Marie Harf, the then US State Department spokesman, appealed to social media and “common sense”. She did so right after the Russians had posted radar evidence (she hadn’t “seen any of that” said she). At the time I assumed that she was just incompetent. It was only later, when I read the “intelligence assessments” backing up the so-called Russian influence on the US election, that I began to notice the pattern.

There are indications during the Obama Administration that the intelligence professionals were becoming restive. Here are some examples that suggest that “intelligence assessments” were either not being produced by the intelligence professionals or – see the last example – those that were were then modified to please the Boss.

If one adds the reliance on social media to these indications, it seems a reasonable suspicion that these so-called intelligence assessments are not real intelligence assessments produced by intelligence professionals but are post facto justifications written up by people who know what the Boss wants to hear.

We have already seen what appears to have been the first example of this with the “social media and common sense” of MH17. And, from that day to this, not a shred of Kerry’s “evidence” have we seen. The long-awaited Dutch report was, as I said at the time, only a modified hangout and very far from convincing.

Russia “invaded” Ukraine so many times it became a joke. The “evidence” was the usual social media accompanied by blurry satellite photos. So bad are the photos, in fact, that someone suggested that “Russian artillery” were actually combine harvesters. In one of the rare departures from the prescribed consensus, a former (of course) German Chief of Staff was utterly unconvinced by thse pictures and explained why. By contrast, here is a satellite photo of Russian aircraft in Syria; others here. Sharply focussed and in colour. The “Russian invasion” photos were lower quality than the Cuban Missile Crisis photos taken six decades earlier! A hidden message? See below.

The so-called Syrian government CW attack on Ghouta in August 2013 was similarly based on social media; heavily dependent, in fact, on “Bellingcat”. Quite apart from the improbability of Assad ordering a CW attack on a suburb a short drive away from arriving international inspectors, the whole story was adequately destroyed by Seymour Hersh. (Bellingcat’s “proofs”, by the way, can be safely ignored – see his faked-up “evidence” that Russians attacked an aid convoy in Syria.)

A dominant story for months has been that Russia somehow influenced the US presidential election. As ever, the Washington Post led the charge and the day after the election told us “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House“. But when we finally saw the “secret assessments” they proved to be laughably damp squibs. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the DNI report of 6 January 2017 was the space – nearly half – devoted to a rant that had been published four years earlier about the Russian TV channel RT. What that had to do with the Russian state influencing the 2016 election was obscure. But, revealingly, the report included:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

In other words, DHS told us to ignore its report and the one agency in the US intelligence structure that would actually know about hacking and would have copies of everything – the NSA – wasn’t very confident. Both reports were soon torn apart: John McAfee: “I can promise you if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians”. (See 10:30). Jeffrey Carr: “Fatally flawed“. Julian Assange: not a state actor. Even those who loath Putin trashed them. In any case, as we now know, the NSA can mimic Russians or anyone else.

In April there was another suspiciously timed “CW attack” in Syria and, blithely ignoring that the responders didn’t wear any protective gear in what was supposed to be a Sarin attack, the Western media machine wound up its sirens. The intelligence assessment that was released again referred to “credible open source reporting” and even “pro-opposition social media reports” (! – are the authors so disgusted with what they have to write that they leave gigantic hints like that in plain sight?). Then a page of so of how Moscow trying to “confuse” the world community. And so on. This “intelligence assessment” was taken apart by Theodore Postol.

So, we have strong suggestions that the intelligence professionals are being sidelined or having their conclusions altered; we have far too much reliance of social media; is there anything else that we can see? Yes, there is: many of the “intelligence assessments” contain what look like hints by the authors that their reports are rubbish.

  • Absurdly poor quality photos (maybe they were combine harvesters!).

  • Including a photo of damage to the port engine intake which contradicts the conclusion of the MH-17 report.

  • DHS “does not provide any warranties”.

  • The one agency that would know has only “moderate confidence”.

  • Irrelevant rants about RT or assumed nefarious Russian intentions.

  • “Pro-opposition social media reports”.

There are too many of these, in fact, not to notice – not that the Western media has noticed, of course – they rather jump out at you once you look don’t they? I don’t recall inserting any little such hints into any of the intelligence assessments that I was involved in.

In conclusion, it seems that a well-founded case can be presented that:

Where done? By whom? That remains to be discovered. More Swamp to be drained.

The US Missile Strike on Syria: a Theatrical Production for the Simple-Minded?

(I advanced this theory on Andrew Korybko’s show on Sputnik this morning.)

When I first heard that the US had attacked the airfield in Syria, my heart sank. I had hoped that US President Trump would avoid the endless wars that are bringing us all to Armageddon. This action made me fear that either he had been lying to us all along or that the war party had seized control.

But, as I read further and thought more, another possibility occurred to me. The first thing I wondered was why 59 cruise missiles? There simply aren’t 59 thousand-pound warhead targets at that or any other Syrian airfield. Examination of videos and photos showed little damage (and clearly no fear of sarin or other nerve agents either, as people wandered around without any protection). Had I wanted to stage a loud and exciting (“beautiful” missile launches at night) show with minimum results I would have done something like this. Was it a show, theatre. Art of the deal?

Then I asked myself: if this were a show, for whom was it a show and to what purpose? That led me to consider Trump’s biggest problem. It is that a significant portion of US “elite opinion” regards him – or pretends to regard him – as an illegitimate president. To bring him down, they tried recounts, appeals to “faithless electors“, the 25th Amendment; all failed.

All they were left with was the Russia story and that was being pumped out at full blast. Pumped out for months, since July in fact. Never mind the absence of evidence; it was pumped out ever louder and ever louder; pumped out to such an extent that it was hampering Trump’s program; his foreign program in particular but also his domestic program. It was amorphous and self-replicating at the same time. Did Putin secure Trump’s victory by hacking voting machinesby revealing DNC skulduggery… by some mysterious but never explained influence… by thousands of Putinbots spreading “fake news”… by broadcasts by RT and Sputnik which produce emanations that “undermine democracy“… were the Russians blackmailing him?

What exactly? Nothing that could be pinned down. Like trying to nail Jello to the wall. The allegations were vague, elusive, yet all-embracing. Nothing you could actually test. Shining the light of reason and fact on a particular detail was useless: the accusation skittered away into the shadows like a cockroach: voting machines, propaganda, influence, putinbots, association, something, nothing. But the sum effect, day after day, week after week, month after month, was that no one should take Trump seriously, no one needed to take him seriously, for he was Putin’s stooge and, sooner or later, would be forced from office. Soon gone. Not my president. It’s now April 2017 and this stuff has been festering away since the DNC cheating was revealed in July 2016. Nine months. It is not going to go away by itself. Neither is it going to go away for lack of evidence. It’s deeply embedded in the fantasy world (in this site’s universe, Clinton won) and too much has been invested in it.

In the real world, there is no rational way to stop the accusations.

59 cruise missiles later, all that has evaporated, Trump’s former critics are fawning and slobbering: “America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want” and “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” simpered two former critics. Generally popular – if only rather shallowly – too. No more Putin puppet. And so on – here is a compendium of drool. So, if the strike were a piece of theatre designed for domestic consumption, it hit the target. A “precision strike” indeed. (By the way, Scott Adams, who has read the Trumpian tea leaves very accurately, agrees that it was theatre.)

But the strike was of questionable morality and legality, to be sure; it was potentially dangerous and many argue that now that Trump has given in once to the War Party, he will find it harder to resist the next time. While it is true that supping with the Devil requires a long spoon, I think Trump has neutered his enemies. The next time there’s another (faked-up – and this attack was obviously not Damascus’ doing) event, he can call fake and what will they do then? Retract their fawning praise? Say he “became” President in April but “ceased” to be in July or August? Or (and I admit the probability of this is vanishingly small) when the truth does comes out, could Washington even apologise and pay compensation to the victims? If that were to happen – and I agree it would be a first – it would be a stunning blow to the War Party. In short, I don’t think the game is over and I don’t think the curtain has come down on the theatrical production.

What will Moscow’s reaction be? Well, if the theatre theory is correct, very little because Moscow was in on the deception to some extent. So, the test will be whether the incident is passed off with some minor harrumphing all round (the story of the Russian-Iranian “red line” is not true). We’ll have a better idea when the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Moscow visit emerge. Does Putin also believe it was theatre? Perhaps he does; this is what he said yesterday:

many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign. Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation.

Every decent theory must be falsifiable. I will agree that this theory – the theory that the US strike was really domestic theatre – would be falsified if the story, reactions, statements and so on keep building. We should know either way in a month.

But, so far so good: the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting yesterday passed off with minor harrumphing and none of the sanctions UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wanted. In fact the final 30-page communique managed to set a new record of logical incoherency by both blaming Damascus and calling for an inquiry to find out who was to blame:

We are shocked and horrified by the reports of use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib on 4 April… The subsequent US military action against Shayrat Airfield was a carefully calibrated, limited in scope response to this warcrime and was directed against Syrian military targets directly connected… We express full support to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission investigation and stress that if the Fact Finding Mission concludes that chemical weapons have or have likely been used, the OPCW – UN Joint Investigative Mechanism should immediately carry out its investigation in accordance with its mandate to identify the perpetrators.

As to Washington’s touching concern about “crimes against innocents“, it is appropriate to note that one of the West’s favourite goto sites, the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights and a much-quoted source for accusations that Damascus routinely uses CW, declared that the USA and its allies “killed 260 civilians, including 70 children and 34 women” in Syria last month. More than ISIS did, it says.

As to whether the attack will have much effect on Pyongyang (some think it was the real audience), I am inclined to doubt it. The national mythos in North Korea is resistance – resistance to the Japanese in the first half of the Twentieth Century and defiance of the USA and its allies in the second half; all firmly based on the memory of the ultimately successful resistance to Hideyoshi’s invasion in the 1500s. It seems unlikely that the leadership will be much impressed by anything Washington does this century. And, as this report suggests, it isn’t.

As to its effect on Beijing, again I suspect not very much: the Chinese leadership is neither as gullible nor as easily impressed as US media personalities. Beijing might decide that that trying to influence Pyongyang would be more cost effective than another Korean War; on the other hand, it might decide that a USA bogged down in an unwinnable war (just what would “victory” look like anyway?) would be to its advantage. We shall see.

But its effect on the talking heads and media never-Trumpers at home was profound.

Really Stupid Things Said About Russia

Moscow is being forced to play these aggressive and risky games out of desperation. The country is in bad shape and it is getting worse. [Not according to Bloomberg which says it’s out of the recession.] The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. [This is just stupid and a byproduct of exchange rates. Russia is one of the very few “full service” economies in the world. Canada is not one of those]. Even though they spend 5 per cent of their GDP on defence, Russia’s military forces have grown so rusted out they can barely get their last aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean and back without breaking down. [Even so, it got where it was going, did what it had to do, and got home again]. Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill. [They wish – they’ve been beaten by a civilian militia]. Diplomatically, Moscow has never been so isolated and powerless. You can count its friends on one hand, and it’s not an impressive list: Syria, Iran, Belarus. [Oh, and China too.]

Russia’s coming attack on Canada by Scott Gilmore, MacLean’s, 8 March 2017.

[My comments]

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

NATO has proved itself to be peaceful and the West’s CFE commitments add to that assurance. But as Russia recovers and rearms, as history suggests it will, Moscow’s imperialist urge might well rise again. Then it will be too late and ‘provocative’ to redraw the defence line.

William Safire, “U.S. can’t let Russian paranoia determine defense of Europe“, 3 October 1995

Really Stupid Things Said About Russia

It is not prudent to deny or forget a thousand years of Russian history. It is replete with wars of imperial aggrandizement, the Russification of ethnic minorities, and absolutist, authoritarian, and totalitarian rule.

My comment: Substitute any other country here and what difference would there be? Note in the thousand years he ignores periods in which Russia was prey and not predator – the Mongols, the Time of Troubles, Teutonic Knights and so forth. A fine example of selective facts and how much easier it is to say something than it is to refute it.

Ariel Cohen (Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation) “A New Paradigm for U.S.-Russia Relations: Facing the Post-Cold War Reality.” 6 March 1997.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Why do the Russians still give us trouble even though the Cold War has long ended? Why do they invite the terrorist Hamas leaders to Moscow? Why do they cut off natural gas to Ukraine and thereby reduce its flow to Western Europe? Why do they harass foreign non-governmental organizations, accusing them of espionage and incitement to revolution? Why do they carry out joint military exercises with the Chinese, clearly aimed at Taiwan?

Richard Pipes: “Why the Bear Growls”, Wall Street Journal, 1 Mar 2006; http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB114117943450386098

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Since the Cold War ended, Russian leaders have built a shadow empire on the territories of Russia’s sovereign neighbors, extending Russian power where it is unwarranted and unwelcome by sponsoring “frozen conflicts” in southeastern Europe and the South Caucasus. This behavior, designed to maintain political and economic influence beyond Russia’s borders, impedes democratic development in states that aspire to join the West. It exports instability, criminality and insecurity into Europe. It threatens regional military conflict that could draw in the United States and other powers. It also bolsters anti-democratic forces within Russia who believe Russia’s traditional approach of subverting its neighbors’ independence is a surer path to security than the democratic peace enjoyed by the nations of Europe.

Ana Palacio and Daniel Twining (Palacio is the former Foreign minister of Spain. Twining is an Oxford-based consultant to the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington Post, 11 March 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/10/AR2006031001841.html

Russia Is Finished Quotations

The turbulent events of the past seven days are a defeat for President Boris Yeltsin, a huge setback to the cause of reform, and a warning to the West…[Zhirinovskiy] will be ideally placed in coming months to exploit popular discontent…Just over a hundred days ago, Yeltsin’s forces blew up the old Russian parliament and killed 147 people in the name of reform…The government is now dominated by men who have a strong taste for communist style state controls of the economy…the death of liberal Russia is a direct consequence of the free vote held on 12 December.

Tony Barber, “Back to the USSR”, The Independent on Sunday, 23 Jan 1994

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Caspar Weinberger issued a powerful warning that American policy makers, in their preoccupation with NATO’s expansion, may be missing the fact that Russia has a truly ominous enlargement initiative of its own – ‘dominance of the energy resources in the Caspian Sea region.’ As he observes in the attached op.ed. article which appeared on 9 May in the New York Times… ‘If Moscow succeeds, its victory could prove much more significant than the West’s success in enlarging NATO.’

Center for Security Policy, Washington, 12 May 1997.