THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1

(Overheard in the Kremlin by our secret source)

OK, we’ve spent millions. Hidden our production facilities from the OPCW (but strangely failed to prevent the Super-Duper Ultra Top Secret formula for Novichok being published everywhere). Years in the making, millions spent: so what do we use it for?

Whack out some traitor we traded away years ago because we figured that he had already done all the damage he could.

Good, makes sense to me. But how?

Spray it.

Spray it on what?

Ummmm… Pets.

No. The Brits will just abandon them to their deaths. They hate animals.

Cars.

No. You can’t be sure British cars will start in the rain.

Food.

No. We don’t want to kill everybody else in the restaurant. That might get people excited.

Doorknobs.

Doorknobs? Why?

Because everybody touches the outdoor doorknob. Especially when leaving the house. And, Boss, that’s what The Manual says.

The Manual? What? Oh, wait, I remember now. We all learned it in the KGB: “Doorknobs, the Secret to a Successful Wet Job”. There was a study (hundreds killed, but hey! that’s how it goes. And they were only Ukrainians) that showed that only the people you want to whack out actually touch the doorknob.

I knew you’d remember, Boss. Ahhhh the good old days, eh?

Yes. Those Golden Days in the KGB. Ya know I gotta thank the WaPo for reminding me that I was a former KGB guy; occasionally I forget because it was sooooo long ago. But thanks, Jeff, it’s always a thrill to remember. But, back to business, will anybody suspect us?

But isn’t that the point, Boss? I thought you wanted more sanctions. Sanctions make Russia stronger. Plus it’s a great time to cut down on Foreign Ministry expenses. There will be a lot of expulsions.

OK. Do it. But, you do assure me that it’s many times more lethal than anything else and there’s no antidote. We don’t want the two of them making phone calls in a week or two. Let alone resurrecting on Easter. Either their Easter or ours.

Guaranteed Boss. And Boris tells me that, if they do, he’ll get all the media in the UK and its allies to cover it up too.

Boris! Gotta say, one of our best investments. Stupidity is our greatest ally. And, the best part is that nobody gets it. Novichok was good but Durakchok is way better: spray it around and everybody becomes an idiot. OK. Thanks guys, good job! Got to get back to inspecting my watch collection and training up Labs to frighten Merkel. Oh, but wait: are there any Western elections coming up that I should know about?

 

 

WHY I AM LEAVING FACEBOOK

Some years ago a friend, whose advice I generally take, suggested that I join Facebook because it could be used as a good source of news. And so I have found it to be. I have a relatively small group of “friends” and the general rule I use is whether that “friend” can tell me something I don’t know. So I have kept the list to about 100 – some family and a couple of people for amusement (one of whom I have always considered to be deeply shallow). In my little corner of FB the subject is Russia and all that. The “Russia subject” gets bigger as the Western world stumbles and fails and now covers quite a large territory of discussion. Generally speaking, I didn’t regret following my friend’s advice and found my corner of FB to be very valuable to me as a communications and information system.

I knew that my activity was being mined for advertising and the like but that didn’t bother me too much. My circle was small, I never filled out the lists of favourite movies or other rubbish and my interests are too eclectic to fit (I notice that Amazon has given up predicting what I might like). So I figured that was a price I could be comfortable with. I noticed that some people were banned but I wasn’t. Although I, as the anti-Russia panic grew and spread, realised that sooner or later I would be. So I began to see that the day would come when I left FB. Because my little corner is doubleplusungood. I make no apology for using Orwell’s Newspeak for it is becoming the language of the West.

For a year or so I considered leaving but didn’t get around to initiating the process. What made me think the time had come was this report “U.S. visa applicants to be asked for social media history: State Department“. Now you just know that’s going to happen. And you just know that the vast NSA structure will sooner or later be hooked into visas to detect thoughtcrime. As a Canadian I don’t need a visa to get into the US but who knows what will happen. And the last thing I want is the system noticing that I don’t duckspeak. And then we see this: “Department Of Homeland Security Compiling Database Of Journalists And ‘Media Influencers’“. Well, I’m a “media influencer” in a small way and not in the direction of goodthink either. We are, by the way, about to receive a demonstration of just how much information FB has.

So time to get out. But where to go? Because I did come to rely on my circle on FB for news (real news I should say, not the fake news spewed by the MSM) and want to preserve the opportunity. I have decided to give the Russian Facebook, V Kontakte (“In Contact”) a try. Over the next few weeks I will moving over to it. One reason is that I have never heard of anyone being banned from VK for thoughtcrime as many of my FB contacts have been. But that’s only one reason.

Now I am not so simple-minded as to think that the Russian security services don’t mine VK and other social media sources for information. Of course they do – no security service on earth could resist the temptation no matter what the law might say. But I am less concerned about the Russians doing this than the Americans. There are two reasons.

The first is that I pass through the USA much more often than through Russia. I like cruising and many cruises involve coming under US jurisdiction. And, of course, it is only to the USA and its tools, lost in their Russomania, that I am guilty of thoughtcrimes: the Russians would regard me as a paragon of goodthink!

But there is another, more profound, reason. Witness the 2015 San Bernardino attack. The killers were active on social media. Witness the Boston Marathon bombing; again much activity on social media. In neither case were they apprehended before the attack. In fact, can anyone think of a terrorist attack in the USA in which the attackers were caught before they did it? Other than entrapments, of course. And yet the NSA regularly vacuums up all communications – social media and otherwise. Why is it doing this? Not, apparently, to catch terrorists. I do not believe that the Russians use bulk collection; I believe they are much more targetted in their collection. I say this because the Russians do catch terrorists before they strike. But I say it also because Moscow actually is fighting jihadists; it is not, as Washington is, alternately bombing them and arming them. Therefore I have much greater trust in the Russian security organs’ powers to mine social media.

So, altogether, I find myself in the interesting position – unimaginable 40 years ago when I started working for the Department of National Defence (How I got here) – of opting for a Russian social media network on the grounds that it is freer and more trustworthy than an American. But such are the times in which we live.

So I invite you to move over too.

(Those who question my conclusions might read this “Bill Binney, the ‘original’ NSA whistleblower, on Snowden, 9/11 and illegal surveillance” and follow up the issues raised in the piece.)

REFLECTIONS ON THE SKRIPAL STORY

SARIN REAL FAKE

1. It’s obvious nonsense brought to you by proven liars.
2. The point of propaganda is to leave an impression after the details have been forgotten.
3. To get involved in discussing the minutiae of the story is to help the propagandists’ aims.
4. Therefore treat it as a badly constructed story that is failing to convince.
5. Do this by analysing the comments on the news stories which (at least the ones I’ve looked at) show that people are sceptical.
6. Also mock the meanderings of the story: At the restaurant! In the car! On the doorstep! Incredibly lethal but strangely ineffective. Miraculous recovery of daughter. Baby wipes as effective protection. Reminiscent of White Helmets and their flip flops, rubber gloves and paper masks; but, come to think of it, it’s the same authors in both stories. Who, after so many lies, are becoming overconfident and sloppy.

It’s a startlingly incompetent theatrical production and should be responded to with contemptuous mockery.

NOBODY CARES ABOUT “THE NEWS”

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/01/22/nobody-cares-about-the-news.html

In his mordant novel Scoop, Evelyn Waugh has one of his characters explain what “The News” is:

News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this little remark that I will attempt to unpack. It also, in my opinion, succinctly explains why we, who believe ourselves to be so brilliantly analytical and persuasive on sites like this one, have so little success in changing the opinions of our friends and neighbours (or awakening them as we might prefer to say).

First let us consider the “chap who doesn’t care much about anything”. There are, to be sure, two kinds of these but we’re only interested in the second. The person who really doesn’t care about anything doesn’t pay any attention to “The News”. No newspaper ritual for him, no dutiful watching “The News” at night; maybe he wants the sports news but he doesn’t care about “The News”. There are plenty of people like this. Some never were interested, others have given up pretending; as one has often said to me about political news: “What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do. It’s just depressing”. That’s a perfectly understandable point of view and it can be held by someone who, like the individual I’m thinking of, is generally aware that most of “The News” is propaganda or worse.

I’m not talking about people who don’t care much and don’t even pretend to care. What I am interested in are those people who do read newspapers, who do sit down at the TV: those who do devote a portion of their day to “The News”. Why would anyone who “doesn’t care much” do so? I can think of several reasons and these reasons, of course, overlap in many individuals. They may consider it to be a duty for a citizen to be to be informed and that they exercise that civic duty by paying attention to “The News” every day. Second, there may be an element of snobbery: because they “pay attention” and they are “concerned”, they are entitled to feel themselves superior to those lumps whose only interest is how their team did yesterday. “The News” provides an unending supply of conversational topics: everyone can talk about the current human interest story or project faux concern about tsunamis; those who wish to affect an interest in the outside world can express outrage at the destruction of “the last hospital in Aleppo”. And finally, there is simple habit: at breakfast there’s the paper, at night the TV news: you’ve been doing it for forty years, why stop now? A subset of followers of “The News” are politics junkies; but for many of them it’s a variation on team sports: “Did you hear what that idiot on the other political team just did? “

On the other hand, people who write on sites like this one or read them have broken away from “The News” habit. We are sceptical; suspicious; we notice that, all of a sudden, everybody is talking about the same thing in the same way and wonder what’s really going on; we remember what was said before; we research; we look up things; we compare: we no longer believe “The News”. That doesn’t make us smarter; it’s just a life choice. You can put it in terms of red pill and blue pill if you like – and from a propaganda perspective, there’s value in that analogy – but the essential difference between us and those who watch “The News” is that we do care much and they don‘t care much. And that leads to frustration on both sides of the care divide: we think that, just because these people spend time on “The News” that they are interested in the facts and subjects behind “The News”. But we’re wrong: they pay attention to “The News” out of a sense of duty, a feeling of superiority, a desire to participate in the latest narrative or habit. They’re not actually very interested in the subject matter: as Waugh understood, they don’t care much. They are not watching or reading critically. And they are certainly not interested in having us tell them more about the realities or, worse, telling them that they are being misled. They don’t really care about “the last hospital in Aleppo” but they do care about being told that they’re being deceived: “Are you saying I’m stupid?”.

And that leads us to the second half of Waugh’s comment. “it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead”. There’s no memory in “The News” for those who don’t care much: they have no memory that “the last hospital in Aleppo” was destroyed last week too, and the week before that and three times the week before that. If it’s not on “The News” any more, it doesn’t exist; if it’s not now, it’s not. Because they really don’t care much. Their motivation for paying attention to “The News” is not, in fact, or if so only very weakly, to become informed about hospitals in Aleppo, tsunamis or political developments in Sudan. There is of course a factual reality underneath “The News” – there are hospitals in Aleppo, the tsunami did happen, Sudan exists – but, seen through the lens of “The News”, it’s a transient and ephemeral factual base. It’s only news when it’s perceived and it ceases to be news when it’s not perceived. “The News” is a continual present. It is a rolling story, or series of stories: early reports of the tsunami hitting, rolling banner “Tsunami Watch”, our reporter on the scene, films and photos, teddy bears, smashed buildings, rescuers, funding appeals, talking heads, and the story fades away. Meanwhile another narrative has been building up to replace it. The stories roll on and on and there’s always a new cliffhanger to make you tune in tomorrow.

Waugh’s observation is profound indeed. It explains why so many people spend significant time ingesting “The News” and also why “The News” leaves so little trace. It explains why those of us who care much about the actual realities underneath “The News” have almost no success in persuading our news-watching neighbours that what they saw last night was partial, or slanted, or a lie. They don’t care much about it, they’re not really watching “The News” very deeply or with close attention and they quickly forget the stories as they roll by. They’re not stupid – although it’s tempting for those us who do care much to think so – they just don’t care much.

It’s rather depressing isn’t it? The ones who don’t bother to watch “The News” don’t care, and those who do watch “The News” don’t care either. The only encouraging thing that I can think of is that the people who watch “The News” will watch whatever is put in front of them: if the central narrative changes completely, it will still be “The News”.

(People can change of course although I suspect it’s a solitary occurrence when some excess makes an individual start to question the deception. I recommend Phil Butler’s book Putin’s Praetorians in this respect. It contains the testimonies of people who came to question the Russia narrative as presented by “The News”. But, in most cases, it wasn’t because somebody persuaded them, it was because they came to doubt it themselves. After that, persuasion had a chance to reinforce their new viewpoint.)

IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE

(First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/12/15/deconstructing-almighty-russian-hackers-myth.html)

Picked up by

https://www.onenewspage.com/n/Markets/75eke11f4/Deconstructing-The-Almighty-Russian-Hackers-Myth.htm

https://www.therussophile.org/if-russians-wanted-to-hurt-hillary-in-2016-election-this-is-what-they-would-have-really-done-patrick-armstrong.html/

https://dailyreadlist.com/article/deconstructing-the-almighty-russian-hackers-myth-87

http://russia-insider.com/en/if-russians-wanted-hurt-hillary-2016-election-what-they-would-have-really-done/ri21983

http://russiafeed.com/deconstructing-myth-almighty-russian-hacker/

JRL/2017/236/37

Sometimes things can be made more complicated than they really are. And such is the case with the story that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee so as to help Trump become president.

In July 2016 Wikileaks released a number of documents showing that the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president had been rigged. A month earlier the DNC had announced it had been “hacked” and the cybersecurity company it hired announced that the Russians had done it – one of the reasons they gave was that the hackers had helpfully left the name of the Polish founder of the Soviet security forces as a clue.

Since then, this story has been broadly accepted and it has spun on and on for eighteen months. But it doesn’t really make any sense.

Let us pretend that Moscow wanted Trump to win. Let us further pretend that Moscow thought that there was a chance that he could win despite the fact that almost all news outlets, pollsters and pundits were completely confident that he could not. And let us pretend that Moscow thought that, with its thumb on the scale, Trump could make it. And, the fourth if, let us pretend that Moscow decided to put its thumb on the scale.

How to do it? Let us pretend (number five) that the strategy was to try and discredit Clinton. Let us further assume (this assumption is the one that’s probably true) that Moscow has very good electronic intelligence capacities. So, we imagine the scene in headquarters as they look for an approach; they quickly find one that is very good, a second that is pretty good and a third area that is worth digging around in.

The Russians would know all about the Uranium One matter where, as even the Clinton-friendly NYT admitted, “a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation“. It would be very easy for them to package this as a case of Secretary of State Clinton selling US policy for personal profit. Russian intelligence organisations would have a great deal of true information and would find it easy to manufacture material to fill in any gaps in the story. Presented as a case of corruption and near treason, the story could have done a great deal of damage to her. And, given that it had happened six years earlier, all the details would have been known and ready to be used. It would have been a very powerful attack that even the complaint media would have had difficulty ignoring.

We know, and it’s very likely that the Russians did too, that she ran a private e-mail server on which there were thousands and thousands of official communications. The server was very insecure and we can assume that Russia’s signals intelligence (and everyone else’s, for that matter) had penetrated it. Think of all the real material from that source that could be revealed or twisted to make a scandal. That would make quite a campaign. Further, it is a reasonable assumption that Russian intelligence would have some of the thousands of e-mails that were “bleached”. There would be enough material for a months-long campaign of leaks.

Finally, Hillary Clinton has been in public life for many years and there would have been ample opportunities, and, many would say, ample material in her scandal-plagued career, for the construction of many campaigns to weaken her appeal.

So, a preliminary look would suggest that there were several angles of attack of which Uranium One would be the easiest and most effective. But, failing that, or as a supplement to that, there was plenty of embarrassing and incriminating material in her illicit private server. Now we have to pretend (number six), contrary to the universal practice of security organs in all times and places, that the (always assumed in the story to be implacably hostile) Russians would decide to forgo the chance of compromising a future POTUS in favour of a harebrained scheme to get another elected.

But we’re supposed to believe that they did. The Russians, the story goes, with all this potential material, with a solid hit with Uranium One, decide instead to expose the finagling inside the Democratic Party structure. And to expose it too late to make any difference. As I said at the beginning, sometimes things are easier to understand when you, as it were, turn them upside down.

In the middle of June 2016 the DNC admits that its documents have been obtained – a “hack” they insist – and almost immediately, “Guccifer 2.0” pops up to claim responsibility and the DNC’s experts (Crowdstrike) claim Russia was behind it. A month passes before Wikileaks releases the first batch of DNC documents showing the extent of the manipulation of the process by Clinton – who had, according to most counts – already secured the nomination about two weeks before. A couple of days before the release, Trump gets the Republican nomination and a couple of days after that Clinton easily wins the Democratic nomination by a thousand-vote majority.

So, the first thing that should have occurred to the observer (but didn’t) was, if the Russians had had this incriminating evidence that the Democratic Party nomination had been fixed in Clinton’s favour, wouldn’t it have been more useful to put it out at a time when Sanders who was, after all, the swindled one, might have been able to do something about it? Instead those supposedly clever Russian state hackers dropped the news out at a time when it made very little difference. No difference in fact: Clinton got the nomination and there was no comeback from Sanders’ people.

So, the “Russian hackers” made their arrow, shot it, hit the target and… no one cared. The people who devoutly believe in the Russian hacking story now have to explain (but don’t) why the Russian state, apparently so determined to bring Clinton down, didn’t immediately hit her with the Uranium One documents and anything else they had that could feed the flames of scandal.

But, as we all know, they didn’t. While long rumoured, and even briefly reported on, we only learned of Uranium One in a big way in October 2017 and the fact that her server contained Special Access material (the very highest classified secrets) was confirmed authoritatively only in November 2017. If the Russian had really had this sort of information and the hostility to Clinton that we’re incessantly told that they had, two years earlier would have been the time.

So, on the one hand we are supposed to believe that the Russian government is so clever that it can hack anything, has innumerable social media trolls that influence elections and referendums around the world (“control the American mind“), drives a “fake news” campaign at a fraction of the cost but with far greater effectiveness than the massed legions of the Western media, is a threat to practically everything we hold sacred… but is too stupid to get it right. Possessing great and powerful secrets and a stunningly powerful machine to spread them, it chooses to fire a damp squib too late to make any difference and passes up the chance to have a compromised US president for it to control.

In other words, it’s nonsense: we don’t really need the forensics of VIPS; we don’t need to argue with people who say it’s fake news about Seth Rich, or that Assange is a Putinbot, or carefully ignore Murray. Those efforts are useful enough but they’re not necessary. In any case, the Russia story is a Gish gallop and a whole academy of wise men and women couldn’t keep up with the latest. (Robert Parry bravely attempts to list the most prominent ones from the Vermont power facility, through all 17 agencies to 14th not 4th.)

Just common sense will do it: if the Russians had wanted to bring Hillary Clinton down, they had far more powerful charges which they could have detonated much earlier. It is not plausible that all they had was the rigging evidence and that they then deployed it too late to have an effect.

Or, maybe they’re not so all-competent in which case all the other stuff we’ve had shoved down our throats for months about “Russian information warfare” is even bigger nonsense.

NATO: A DANGEROUS PAPER TIGER

(First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/16/nato-dangerous-paper-tiger.html)

The Chinese have a genius for pithy expressions and few are more packed with meaning, while immediately understandable, than “paper tiger”. NATO is one, but paper tigers that overestimate their powers can be dangerous.

Some Russians are concerned that there are today more hostile troops at the Russian border than at any time since 1941. While this is true, it is not, at the moment, very significant. The Germans invaded the USSR with nearly 150 divisions in 1941. Which, as it turned out, were not enough.

Today NATO has – or claims to have – a battle group in each of the three Baltic countries and one in Poland: pompously titled Enhanced Forward Presence. The USA has a brigade and talks of another. A certain amount of heavy weaponry has been moved to Europe. These constitute the bulk of the land forces at the border. They amount to, at the most optimistic assessment, assuming everything is there and ready to go, one division. Or, actually, one division equivalent (a very different thing) from 16 (!) countries with different languages, military practices and equipment sets and their soldiers ever rotating through. And, in a war, the three in the Baltics would be bypassed and become either a new Dunkirk or a new Cannae. All for the purpose, we are solemnly told, of sending “a clear message that an attack on one Ally would be met by troops from across the Alliance“. But who’s the “message” for? Moscow already has a copy of the NATO treaty and knows what Article V says.

In addition to the EFP are the national forces. But they are in a low state: “depleted armies” they’ve been called: under equipped and under manned; seldom exercised. The German parliamentary ombudsman charged with overseeing the Bundeswehr says “There are too many things missing“. In 2008 the French Army was described as “falling apart“. The British Army “can’t find enough soldiers“. The Italian army is ageing. Poland, one of the cheerleaders for the “Russian threat” meme, finds its army riven over accusations of politicisation. On paper, these five armies claim to have thirteen divisions and thirteen independent brigades. Call it, optimistically, a dozen divisions in all. The US Army (which has its own recruiting difficulties) adds another eleven or so to the list (although much of it is overseas entangled in the metastasising “war on terror”). Let’s pretend all the other NATO countries can bring another five divisions to the fight.

So, altogether, bringing everything home from the wars NATO is fighting around the world, under the most optimistic assumptions, assuming that everything is there and working (fewer than half of France’s tanks were operational, German painted broomsticks, British recruiting shortfalls), crossing your fingers and hoping, NATO could possibly cobble together two and a half dozen divisions: or one-fifth of the number Germany thought it would need. But, in truth, that number is fantasy: undermanned, under equipped, seldom exercised, no logistics tail, no munitions production backup, no time for a long logistics build up. NATO’s armies aren’t capable of a major war against a first class enemy. And no better is the principal member: “only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. A paper tiger.

This reality was on display – for those who could see – in the “Dragoon Ride” of 2015. Intended “to assure those allies that live closest to the Bear that we are here“, it was a parade of light armoured vehicles armed with heavy machine guns. Although breathlessly covered in the US media (“Show the world some of the firepower the United States and its NATO partners have in Eastern Europe“), it is unlikely that any watcher who had served in a Warsaw Pact army was impressed by what was in effect a couple of dozen BTR-50s. And neither was the US Army when it thought about it: a rush program was put into effect to give the vehicles a bigger weapon. The first one was delivered a year later. So now the US Army has a few lightly armoured vehicles with cannons. Something like the Soviet BTR-80 of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Russians have the Bumerang-BM turret. Years of kicking in doors and patrolling roads hoping there are no IEDs are poor preparation for a real war.

No wonder NATO prefers to bomb defenceless targets from 15,000 feet. But there too, the record is unimpressive. Consider NATO’s last “successful” performance against Libya in 2011. No air defence, no opposition, complete freedom of movement and choice of action; and it took 226 days! Kosovo, a similar air action against a weak opponent, took 79 days. Meanwhile the years roll by in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not, in short, a very efficient military alliance even when it is turned on against more-or-less helpless victims.

But there is one obvious question: does NATO take all its Russian threat rhetoric seriously, or is it just an advertising campaign? A campaign to bring in £240 million from the Baltics, an extra eighty billion for the US military-industrial complex, US$28 billion for Poland, Patriot missiles for Sweden, billions for F-35s for Norway (but no hangars for them), spending increases in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Czech Republic and so on. A Russian threat is good for business: there’s poor money in a threat made of IEDs, bomb vests and small arms. Big profits require big threats. As I have written elsewhere, Russia was thought to be the right size of threat – big enough, but not too big. And they thought it was a safe target too – remember Obama in 2015 and his confidence that Russia didn’t amount to much?

Or so they thought then. What is amusing is that NATO is starting to worry about what it has awoken: “aerial denial zones“, British army wiped out in an afternoon, NATO loses quickly in the Baltics, unstoppable carrier-killer missile, “eye-watering” EW capabilities, “black hole” submarines, generational lead in tanks, “devastating” air defence system, “totally outmatched“. Russian actions, both diplomatic and military, in Syria gave NATO a taste: the Russian military is far more capable than they imagined. And far better wielded. The phantom conjured up to justify arms sales and NATO expansion now frightens its creators. A particularly striking example comes from General Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Commander who did much to poke Russia: he now fears that a war “would leave Europe helpless, cut off from reinforcements, and at the mercy of the Russian Federation.” Not as negligible as they thought.

To what should we compare this weak, incompetent but endlessly boastful and belligerent alliance? In the past I have suggested that NATO is a drunk that drinks to cure the effects of its last bender. Is it a child in an endless tantrum, frightening itself with the stories it tells itself? Like the Warsaw Pact it is frightened of contradicting information or opinion and insists they be blocked. Certainly it is an exemplar of complacent self delusion: “Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders” boasts about the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The unicorns roam free in NATOland.

There is no reason to bother to read anything that comes out of NATO Headquarters: it’s only wind. There is one response. And that is Libya. When they say stability, respond Libya. When they say terrorism, respond Libya. When they say peace, respond Libya. When they say dialogue, respond Libya. When they say values, respond Libya. NATO is dangerous in the way that the stupid and deluded can be. But, when its principal member starts demanding its members “pay their share”, and the people of five members see Washington a greater threat than Moscow, maybe its final days are upon us.

But incessant repetition becomes reality and that’s where the danger lies. Hysteria has reached absurd proportions: 2014’s “gas station masquerading as a country” decides who sits in the White House; directs referendums in Europe; rules men’s minds through RT and Sputnik; dominates social media; every Russian exercise brings panic. This would all be amusing enough except for the fact that Moscow doesn’t get the joke. While the NATO forces on their border may be insignificant at the moment, they can grow and all armies must prepare for the worst. The First Guards Tank Army is being re-created. I discuss the significance of that here. When it is ready – and Moscow moves much faster than NATO – it will be more than a match, offensively or defensively, for NATO’s paper armies. And, if Moscow thinks it needs more, more will come. And there will be no cost-free bombing operations at 15,000 feet against Russia. NATO’s naval strength, which is still real, is pretty irrelevant to operations against Russia. And still the paper tiger bares its paper teeth.

In other words – and I never tire of quoting him on this – “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way”. NATO has been kiting cheques for years. And rather than soberly examine its bank account, it writes another, listening to the applause in the echo chamber of its mind.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” We can only hope that NATO’s coming destruction does not destroy us too.

HOW I GOT HERE

Reprints

      http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/10/how-i-got-here.html

      http://russia-insider.com/en/how-i-became-kremlin-troll-patrick-armstrong/ri21379

(Now that the book is out I publish my entry. Most of the people who wrote their “how I got here” sections were awakened by the relentlessly one-sided coverage of Russia by the MSM: they suspected that it couldn’t possibly be that one-sided and started looking.

Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls Kindle Edition; Phil Butler (Author), Patricia Revita (Illustrator), Pepe Escobar (Foreword)

I started work for the Canadian Department of National Defence in 1977 in the Directorate of Land Operational Research of the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment. I participated in many training games in real time and research games in very slow time. The scenarios were always the same: we (Canada had a brigade group in West Germany) were defending against an attack by the Soviet/Warsaw Pact side. In those days NATO was a defensive organisation and, as we later found out, so was the other side: each was awaiting the other to attack. Which, come to think of it, is probably why we’re all here today.

I enjoyed my six years, often as the only civilian in a sea of uniforms, but I realised that a history PhD stood no change of running the directorate so, when the slot opened, I contrived to switch to the Directorate of Strategic Analysis as the USSR guy. I should say straight off that I have never taken a university course on Russia or the USSR. And, in retrospect, I think that was fortunate because in much of the English-speaking world the field seems to be dominated by Balts, Poles or Ukrainians who hate Russia. So I avoided that “Russians are the enemy, whatever flag they fly” indoctrination: I always thought the Russians were just as much the victims of the ideology as any one else and am amused how the others have airbrushed their Bolsheviks out of their pictures just as determinedly as Stalin removed “unpersons” from his.

That was November 1984 and Chernenko was GenSek and, when he died in March 1985, Gorbachev succeeded. While I didn’t think the USSR was all that healthy or successful an enterprise, I did expect it to last a lot longer and when Gorbachev started talking about glasnost and perestroyka I thought back to the 20th Party Congress, the Lieberman reforms, Andropov’s reforms and didn’t expect much.

In 1987 two things made me think again. I attended a Wilton Park conference (the first of many) attended by Dr Leonid Abalkin. He took the conference over and, with the patient interpretation of someone from the Embassy, talked for hours. The Soviet economy was a failure and couldn’t be reformed. That was something different. Then, on the front page of Pravda, appeared a short essay with the title “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy” by Yevgeniy Primakov. I pricked up my ears: a new philosophy? But surely good old Marxism-Leninism is valid for all times and places. As I read on, I realised that this was also something new: the author was bluntly saying that Soviet foreign policy had been a failure, it was ruining the country and creating enemies. These two were telling us that the USSR just didn’t work. As Putin told Stone, “it was not efficient in its roots”.

These things convinced me that real change was being attempted. Not just fiddling around at the edges but something that would end the whole Marxist-Leninist construct. As far as I was concerned, it had been the communist system that was our enemy and, if it was thrown off, we should be happy. Sometime around then I was interviewed for a job at NATO and the question was what, with all these changes, was NATO’s future. I said it should become an alliance of the civilised countries against whatever dangers were out there: the present members of course, but also the USSR, Japan and so on.

Well, that didn’t happen did it? I remember a very knowledgeable boss assuring me that NATO expansion was such a stupid idea that it would never happen. He was wrong too.

In 1814 the victors – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – sat down in Vienna, with France, to re-design the world. They were wise enough to understood that a settlement that excluded France wouldn’t last. In 1919 this was forgotten and the settlement – and short-lived it was – excluded the loser. In 1945 Japan and Germany were included in the winners’ circle. At the end of the Cold War, repeating the Versailles mistake, we excluded Russia. It was soon obvious, whatever meretricious platitudes stumbled from the lips of wooden-faced stooges, that NATO was an anti-Russia organisation of the “winners”.

But I retained hope. I think my most reprinted piece has been “The Third Turn” of November 2010 and in it I argued that Russia had passed through two periods in the Western imagination: first as the Little Brother then as the Assertive Enemy but that we were now approaching a time in which it would be seen as a normal country.

Well, that didn’t happen did it?

And so the great opportunity to integrate Russia into the winners’ circle was thrown away.

For a long time I thought it was stupidity and ignorance. I knew the implacably hostile were out there: Brzezinski and the legions of “think” tanks (my website has a collection of anti-Russia quotations I’ve collected over the years) but I greatly underestimated their persistence. Stupidity and ignorance; you can argue with those (or hope to). But you can’t argue with the anti-Russians. Russia wants to re-conquer the empire so it invaded Georgia. But it didn’t hold on to it, did it? No but that’s because we stopped it. Putin kills reporters. Name one. You know, whatshername. Provocative exercises on NATO’s borders. But NATO keeps moving closer to Russia. Irrelevant, NATO’s peaceful. Putin is the richest thief in the world. Says who? Everybody. Putin hacked the US election. How? Somehow.

I quoted Hanlan’s razor a lot – “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. And, stupidity and ignorance there were (a favourite being John McCain’s notion that the appropriate venue for a response to a Putin piece in the NYT was Pravda. And then he picked the wrong Pravda! (But he won’t hate Russia or Putin any the less if he were told that, would he?) At some point I came to understand that malice was the real driver.

I suppose it grew on me bit by bit – all the stupidity converged on the same point and it never stopped; but real stupidity and ignorance don’t work that way: people learn, however slowly. I think the change for me was Libya. I started out thinking stupidity but, as it piled up, it became clear that it was malice. I’d seen lies in the Kosovo war but it was Libya that convinced me that it wasn’t just a few lies, it was all lies. (My guess is that Libya was an important development in Putin’s view of NATO/US too.)

Naive perhaps but, for most of history stupidity has adequately explained things and malice is, after all, a species of stupidity.

So what’s the point of writing? I’ll never convince the Russia haters, and there’s little chance of getting through to the stupid and ignorant. And most people aren’t very interested anyway.

Well, this is where malice meets stupidity. If we consider the Project for a New American Century, the neocon game plan “to promote American global leadership”, what do we see twenty years later? Brzezinski laid out the strategy in The Grand Chessboard at the same time. What today? Well, last year he had to admit that the “era” of US dominance, he was so confident of twenty years earlier, was over. There’s no need to belabour the point: while the US by most measures is still the world’s dominant power, its mighty military is defeated everywhere and doesn’t realise it, its manufacturing capacity has been mostly outsourced to China, domestic politics and stability degenerate while we watch and there’s opioids, spectacular debt levels, incarceration, infant mortality, недоговороспособны and on and on. Donald Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great…. Again. Hardly the hyperpower to lead the globe is it?

The Twentieth Century was the “American Century” thanks to limitless manufacturing capacity allied to great inventiveness anchored on a stable political base. What is left of these three in 2017? Can America be made “great” again? And wars: wars everywhere and everywhere the same. And what other than malice has brought it to this state? Malice has become stupidity: the neocons, Brzezinskis, the Russia haters, the Exceptionalists, scheming “to promote American global leadership”, have weakened the USA. Perhaps irreparably.

So, who’s the audience today? The converted and people at the point when a little push can break their conditioning have always been there. But now there is a potentially huge audience for our efforts: the audience of the awakening.

Which brings me back to where I started. Except that it’s the USA this time:

IT’S NOT WORKING

We’re here and we’re waiting for you: you’ve been lied to but that doesn’t mean that everything is a lie.

EXCHANGE RATING RUSSIA DOWN AND OUT

https://orientalreview.org/2017/09/18/exchange-rating-russia/

Why Russia — a country with less money than Canada and fewer people than Nigeria — runs the world now” wondered the Canadian newspaper National Post in January. The piece doesn’t give useful answers: nuclear weapons, good diplomacy, yes, but also the usual claptrap about “ruthlessness” and “Abandon[ing] economic worries to double down on efforts to grab geopolitical status”; in short only a brute lashing out in delirium tremens. The editors should better have wondered whether the headline even made sense: the first point is wrong and the second irrelevant. But, like so much of what passes for analysis in the Western media, it’s written backwards: it’s decision-based evidence making.

Talking about the relative insignificance of Russia’s GDP is an old game: Wikipedia says Canada’s GDP is greater than Russia’s and Germany’s is about two and a half times greater. These comparisons all assume that the price of the ruble in US dollars is a measurement of Russia’s production; a mere tweak in the relative exchange therefore knocks Russia from Number 8 down to below Spain according to Business Insider in 2014. Easy to calculate, easy to write, these head nodders are just feel-good junk: Russians don’t actually eat dollars, they don’t buy their necessities with them and they won’t have to eat grass and Putin speeches when a ruble buys fewer USDs.

There’s something deeply misleading and, in fact, quite worthless about these GDP comparisons. Whatever rubles are selling for at the moment, Russia has a full-service space industry which has the only other operating global satellite navigation system, the only taxi service to the ISS, much of which it built, and, apparently, the only rocket motors good enough for US military satellites. Neither Canada nor Germany, let alone Spain, does. It has an across the board sophisticated military industry which may be the world leader in electronic warfare, air defence systems, silent submarines and armoured vehicles. Canada, Germany, Spain do not. It builds and maintains a fleet of SSBNs – some of the most complicated machinery that exists. Ditto. It has a developed nuclear power industry with a wide range of products. Ditto. Its aviation industry makes everything from competitive fighter planes through innovative helicopters to passenger aircraft. Ditto. It has a full automotive industry ranging from some of the world’s most powerful heavy trucks to ordinary passenger cars. It has all the engineering and technical capacity necessary to build complex bridges, dams, roads, railways, subway stations, power stations, hospitals and everything else. It is a major and growing food producer and is probably self-sufficient in food today. Its food export capacity is growing and it has for several years been the leading grain exporter. It has enormous energy reserves and is a leading exporter of oil and gas. Its natural resources are immense. Its pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly. It is intellectually highly competitive in STEM disciplines – a world leader in some cases. Its computer programmers are widely respected and regularly win the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. (Yes, there is a Russian cell phone too.) Its social networking apps attract users outside Russia (especially with fears that US-based ones may be censored or otherwise controlled). It’s true that many projects involve Western partners – the Sukhoy Superjet for example – but it’s nonetheless the case that the manufacturing and know-how are now in Russia.

Germany or Canada has some of these capabilities but few – very few – countries have all of them. In fact, counting the EU as one, Russia is one of only four. Therefore in Russia’s case, GDP rankings are not only meaningless, but laughably so. While Russians individually are not as wealthy as Canadians, Germans or Spaniards today, the foundations of wealth are being laid and deepened every day in Russia.

And, speaking of oil prices, what these head-scratchers all miss is this simple fact: Russia sells oil in dollars but produces it in rubles. So, whatever the exchange rate, things pretty well balance out. In fact, thanks to the exchange rate, Russia had some of the lowest production costs, measured in USD, in the world in 2015. It also funds its space effort, automobile production and wheat fields in rubles. And sells whatever exports they produce in dollars.

What of the future? Well there’s a simple answer to that question – compare Russia in 2000 with Russia in 2017: all curves are up. Meanwhile sanctions are driving the Russians to create new industries, oilfield services for one, or to boost others: agricultural products are now the second-largest export sector. Understandably, many Russians prefer the long time gain to the immediate (and declining) pain and hope the sanctions continue. For what it’s worth, PwC predicts Russia will be first in Europe in 2050, but, even so, I think it misses the real point: Indonesia and Brazil ahead of Russia? No way: it’s not GDP/PPP that matters, let alone how many USDs your currency buys, it’s full service. (Anyway, by 2050 the renminbi or gold will likely be the measure and how will the USA itself look by that measurement?).

Russia has a full-service economy and it won’t become any less so in the next 30 years. And there’s very few of them. And… in that little group of four autarkies on the planet, which are on the rise and which not?

Simple-minded GDP comparisons by exchange rate cause people to get it wrong over and over again. A more intelligent question would be to wonder whether Russia, hampered in the past by autocracy and Marxism-Leninism, might be about to show its real possibilities.