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Sunday, December 27, 2015

A few "secrets" about the CIA..........

I apologize for my infrequent posts this December.  Christmas is very time consuming, not to mention I have a friend visiting from Austria for the Holidays.

During this Holiday season, I want to thank all of the U.S. government employees, both military and civil service alike, who spent Christmas away from their families so that we could safely enjoy the company of ours.  This expression of gratitude is not like the cut-and-paste "hearts and prayers" we get from Washington DC every time a national tragedy strikes.  My appreciation comes with the knowledge of how it feels to repeatedly miss birthdays, weddings, Holidays, and other special events because of a more important obligation: the security of the United States of America.  I want you to know that the men and women who sacrifice for our freedom do get lonely, and sometimes very homesick.  But in my experience, I never met someone in this position who wasn't proud to have the opportunity to make the sacrifice.  I spent my time overseas working as a civilian, and truthfully, I've lived in some awful places.  But I never let myself forget that eventually, I would always end up back home in my beloved Texas.  The locals all around me don't have that luxury to anticipate.  Which makes doing the job all the more important.  When we sacrifice to protect freedom, it works as a contagion of spirit, inspiring others to make courageous, sometimes dangerous decisions, in the pursuit of liberty.

Recently, while making up for lost time, I sat down and spent most of a weekend catching up on previous seasons of the hit show "Homeland".  I have a number of friends who really enjoy the show, so I wanted to watch a few episodes and see if it caught my interest.  Two things are certain: the show is very well-made and performed.  A great deal of effort and money is spent on special effects and production values.  The show provides tremendous excitement and suspense, and compared to what else I see as competition, "Honeland" is in a class by itself.  But in this blog I want to address some of the misconceptions that average Americans have about the CIA.  Homeland makes no effort to stay within any reasonable bounds of accuracy when it comes to the daily functions and authority of CIA officers, which is understandable.  Who wants to watch bureaucracy in action?  I recall in one episode where the main character "Carrie" was debating whether to order surveillance on someone.  The CIA has neither the manpower nor the legal authority to surveille anyone.  In another episode, senior CIA officers ordered the assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (to be committed by a U.S. citizen, no less).  It made for a heckuva episode, but has no basis whatsoever in reality.  The CIA doesn't order the assassination of anyone, and as far as I know, never has.  This brings us to the real issue with these shows.  The CIA and it's officers work exclusively at the discretion of whatever administration is in the White House at that time.  The CIA is operational only so much as it takes to collect necessary intelligence as securely and with as few repercussions as possible.  All operations are weighed for a risk factor and include a number of "necessary approval" firewalls.  The direction of the Agency's intelligence collection is determined by the respective administration voted into office.  No one gets to fly around the world, popping up in various friendly and unfriendly locations, to operate on their discretion.  It sure does make for great television, though.

CIA Case Officers working overseas do not drive fancy cars and spend their time in Casinos and horse races.  The job is not nearly as sexy as Hollywood wants you to believe.  The obligation of every Case Officer is to be aware of the intelligence gaps (what information is needed) and who within contact has best access to that information.  From that point on, the CIA officer employs his training to eventually reach an agreement with said person, to allow the officer access to the confidential information.  The contacts are foreigners, and not always beautiful Russian runway models (unless you're James Bond).  The process can take as long as six months (or more), and it takes place overseas, not in the United States.  Case Officers cannot decide spontaneously to put on a Burka and fly to Iran to attend a funeral and infiltrate a terrorist cell.  The CIA is a professionally run organization, and everyone has a boss.  Each Case Officer has his or her file of contacts and cases to handle, but before operations can proceed, plans have to be passed up the chain of command for approval.  The Agency employs tremendous oversight to ensure as few mistakes as possible.  It was tedious at times, waiting for approvals, but I always understood the process.  This type of business can and has gotten people killed.  Every operation must be thoroughly scrutinized and the potential gain must be weighed against the risk.  The CIA always crosses its "t's" and dots its "i's", which is why it is the best at what it does.

I've noticed that many people believe that the CIA directs foreign policy for the United States, or at least decides what intelligence should and shouldn't be targeted.  These assertions are absolutely false.  The Central Intelligence Agency is a branch of the U.S. government, just like the Department of Commerce and the Food and Drug Administration.  The Agency collects confidential intelligence on targets that are decided upon and provided by whatever Administration is sitting in the Oval Office.  For instance, in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president, we can assume that the CIA was trying to collect confidential intelligence about the revolutionary Iranian government and the American Embassy hostages.  Every Administration will formulate its own foreign policy, and this goes a long way to determining the direction of Agency efforts.  I can assure you that as I write these words, the CIA is working overtime to collect the intelligence necessary to disrupt the intentions of the numerous terrorist groups that presently pollute our planet.  Once that information is collected, it is shared with the Administration and whoever else has been authorized.  It is up to the Administration to decide how to appropriately craft policy to effectively respond to the information that has been collected.

What secrets did you learn today?  CIA officers do not normally career weapons, especially not stateside; CIA Case Officers do not spontaneously determine operational activity, and buy a first-class ticket to Tehran wearing a Burka.  Also, the CIA is a functioning tool of the U.S. government and is responsible to the President and the American people.  Whatever Administration sitting in the Oval Office will decide how (and if) collected intelligence is used.  If (God forbid) the world suffers another terrible terrorist attack, it is more likely that it occurred not because of a lack of intelligence, but because of how that intelligence was utilized.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Obama Administration changes backtracks in Syria, stating that regime change is not imperative.

Link:  U.S. accepts Russia's stance regarding Bashar al-Assad.

In a move which reflects the complete collapse of coherent policy in the latter days of the Obama Administration, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced this week that the U.S. no longer believed that "regime change" was necessary in Iraq.  Until now, the U.S. policy had been squarely behind the conviction that a future, peaceful Syria would not have Bashar al-Assad as it's Chief of State.  In fact, U.S. policy (and money) had been focused on various indigenous Syrian groups who were opposing both the Assad regime and ISIS.  Over the years, Syria has been a thorn in the side of U.S. foreign policy in the Levant, basically because of the Syrian Ba'ath Party and two men, Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar.  Both men ruled Syria as Presidential strongmen, tolerating no opposition, playing any internal opposition of against each other, and declaring "death to Israel" at just about every opportunity.  Syria and the Assad-led Ba'athists had no reason to expect generosity from the United States.  In fact, a good argument can be made that Syria has on more than a few occasions has supported terrorist actions against U.S. civilians and property.  But for some reason, the U.S. State Department chose this week to make up with Assad.  No need to ask why.  The reason the Obama Administration removed its previous insistence that Assad had to go is because the United States Department of State has become unwilling to oppose Russia on any terms.

Earlier this year, the conflict in Ukraine was headline news.  Watching the drama unfold was fascinating, as Russia openly manipulated an emasculated Europe and United States, to solidify its annexation of Crimea and set the stage for further dismemberment of Ukraine down the road.  The only action the Obama Administration was willing to take to confront Russia was the threat of more sanctions.  No doubt the sanctions regime that eventually took hold caused some disruption in the Russian economy, but the Russian people are used to sacrifice, and over the years they have shown their disdain for the use of economics as a weapon; the Germans tried to starve Russia in both the first and second World Wars, and failed miserably both times.  At this moment in time, Putin is running the show.  The EU, NATO, and the United States show no real inclination to stand up to Russian aggression, and the Chinese seem to be content to watch from the sidelines.  Russia intends on destroying ISIS and remaking the Middle East, but according to its designs, which include Iran as a regional superpower.  The disappearance of the United States has been breathtaking.  Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are scrambling to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran, supported by Russia as the world's sole superpower.  Putin has laid his cards on the table; he is determined to rewrite the legacy of the Cold War, this time with Russia as the winner.  His timing has been perfect, with U.S. President Barack Obama apparently uninterested in facing down his Russian counterpart.  For the moment, what Russia wants, Russia gets.  In 2016, a new President moves into the Oval Office; will it be too late to set things right again?

Monday, December 14, 2015

French election results and other confusing things impacted by the threat of international terrorism.

Link:  National Front shut out in French regional elections.

Not surprisingly, France's National Front (FN) was shut-out in the second-round of regional elections in France today, with the center-right coalition winning seven regions and the Socialists winning five.  Most of the larger European dailies like the UK's Guardian and Independent, France's Le Monde and Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, are treating the elections results as a huge upset and a potentially fatal blow to the FN.  Its always the same script come election time in France.  The FN, with charismatic and energetic leader Marine Le Pen, storms out to a first-round victory, only to watch the other two political machines work together to keep the FN from finishing in front after the second and deciding vote.  In the past we have seen the center-right commit suicide to deny the FN, and on Saturday the Socialists (PS) instructed two candidates to drop out in order to allow their voters to support the center-right and overcome the small lead that polls showed the FN enjoying.  In this instance, the arrangement apparently denied the FN of control in two regions.  The second-round of voting in France was preceded by a few weeks of non-stop media bashing of the FN and Marine Le Pen. 

France has three political parties.  Others will disagree.  On the right, they will claim that the existence of a few other "to-the-right-of-center" parties increases the number.  It doesn't; those parties end up endorsing the center-right anyways.  The left will claim that France, like the United States, has become a nation of two political parties.  Its highly unlikely that anyone on the left is prepared to recognize the FN as a major political party in France, at least not anytime soon.  But the political realists all recognize that France has become a nation with three major political parties, and bunches and bunches of smaller, insignificant groups.  A quick review of the results in the last few elections will demonstrate that, even though Francois Hollande and the PS now run the show in Paris, France has become more conservative than ever before.  If the votes hold up as predicted, with 7.5 million votes for the center right, 5.8 million votes for the Socialists, and 5.7 million for the FN, we are dealing with 13.2 million votes for the combined right and far-right compared to 5.8 for the left.  Somewhere in this mess is the remains of the once-proud French Communist Party, the Greens, and former President Giscard D'Estaing's United Democratic Front (UDF).  So if France has become so Conservative, why are the Socialists in power and why has the FN been so easily neutralized?  Its not difficult to understand.  When France suffers through a terrorist attack, the FN naturally gets a boost in popularity.  The opponents of the FN tackle this predictable development with two weapons: the French media, and the determination of the two established parties to protect their monopoly on the system.  Once the FN spikes in the polls, the media starts up the fear machine.  You might expect the media to highlight the FN's strong opposition to immigration and the housing of refugees, but the French people are understandably concerned with the issue of foreigners, so the media finds other ways to beat-up on Le Pen's group.  The media onslaught always appeals to the average French person's historic sense of support for the oppressed.  France is seen by many as the true beacon for those marginalized by the greed of the high-born elite and the politically corrupt.  Its very easy to paint Marine Le Pen, who has very little political history, as the heartless fascist bigot who wants to subvert the traditional French nature to help those who are being oppressed and exploited.  The fact the Marine has to permanently wear the legacy of her bigot buffoon of a father, who founded the FN, around her neck.  In truth, the FN is much more than a cement wall built exclusively to keep poor people of color (and Jews) out of France.  Its domestic agenda is in some ways more leftist than the PS.

For those who fear the FN, Sunday's news must have been welcome.  The two mainstream parties continue to find ways to not only keep the FN marginalized, but to also keep the party of having any political representation at the regional level.  The PS and the center-right are celebrating in Paris tonight, and the FN is left to decide what direction to proceed in its up-to-now unsuccessful attempts to find a seat at the political table.  From my perspective, regardless of your politics, how can Sarkozy and Hollande feel justified that such a large percentage of French citizens are not entitled to either parliamentary or municipal representation?  Hollande was able to chase away the wolves at the door this time by quickly deploying French bombers to Syria and playing tough guy.  If, God forbid, France is obliged to suffer through another terror attack, will Hollande drop more bombs, and if so, will it ring hollow this time?  And what of the FN?  Can Le Pen keep her faithful energized in the face of repeated negative electoral results?  Only time will tell. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Iraq: U.S. compromises with Iran have not influenced the Iranians to abandon the policy of undermining United States initiatives.

Links: A. Turkey unilaterally invades Iraq to launch attacks against Kurdish PKK militants.
           B.  Iraq claims to have retaken 60% of Ramadi City.

In a move that will no doubt escalate already dangerously high tensions in the area, Turkey deployed military units into northeastern Iraq, just outside of Mosul, in order to more effectively launch attacks against militants from the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).  If Turkish President Erdogan was looking for the quickest way to unite the Kurds, and at the same time, bring the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities closer together, they found it.  Turkey's actions are almost inexplicable, unless Erdogan is determine to make things difficult for Barack Obama as he tries to leave office gracefully.  At the same time, the Pentagon is preparing to deploy roughly 200 U.S. Army Special Forces elements into Iraq, to act as a mobile "hit squad" to take out ISIS leaders, if you will.  This policy seems to fly in the face of Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which prohibits any Agent or Representative of the United States Government from involvement in assassinations.  I may be nit-picking here, especially since we already are aware of this Administration's perception of the Constitution and the laws of this nation.  Either way, the arrival of this American Special Forces Unit has already come under heavy criticism in Baghdad, where Prime Minister Abadi is doing everything he can to keep the ship of state from sinking altogether.  Abadi is under particular pressure from the Shi'a elements in the Council of Representatives, who are angling to bring a vote of no confidence against the Iraqi Prime Minister.  Also, Iranians in Baghdad are as thick as fleas on a mongrel's back, and they are also putting pressure on the government, both to oppose the deployment of more U.S. troops, and to take action against the Turkish incursion northeast of Mosul.  Abadi has been under fire before, but this time his administration may not survive.

One of the most appalling and embarrassing developments in the region has been the continued intransigence from the Iranians with regards to any U.S. diplomatic or military initiatives.  I assume that following the nuclear treaty negotiations, the Obama Administration (the President, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry in particular) expected the Iranian government to lighten the anti-U.S. rhetoric and to be less aggressive in opposing every U.S. action in the region.  I knew better, and you knew better, but for some reason, the three men with the greatest access to intelligence on this planet, didn't see this coming.  Or did they, and it just didn't matter?  At the moment, events in Iraq and Syria need to be stabilized, before the Iraqi's end up at war with Turkey, or the Turks decide that the time is right to "ethnic-cleanse" northern Iraq of Kurds once and for all.  The action ordered by the President and taken by the Pentagon to deploy Special Forces is way too little and way too late, and will cause more harm than good, especially if Abadi falls from power.  It has been suggested (whispered more like) in DC that the Obama Administration is hesitant to take stronger military action against ISIS, because increased U.S. presence in the region will infuriate Iran, and put Obama's "legacy treaty" with Iran in jeopardy.

What we can expect is the Administration attempting to steer the media away from connecting the recent terror attack in San Bernardino to the ongoing conflict in Syria.  Obama is bound and determined to avoid getting drawn into a full-scale war in Syria/Iraq.  I'm not so reactionary that I don't see the ideological motivation; the United States has a tempestuous relationship with most of the governments in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and lets not forget that we invaded Iraq twice in the last thirty years.  Our historical tradition of supporting unpopular governments in Egypt and Iran and our long-term, close relationship with Israel, have not endeared the U.S. to the people of the region, that's for sure.  But the clock is ticking (excuse the cliché); ISIL/ISIS/Daesh or whatever you want to call them, have not been really impacted by the Russian intervention in Syria (probably because most of the Russian bombs were dropped on anti-government Syrian groups as opposed to ISIS).  ISIS is increasing its activities in Africa and in the Far East, and I expect we will soon see a more regular pattern to domestic terror events (God forbid).  Still today, on December 9, 2015, the United States is military capable of destroying ISIS on our own.  But a serious effort at building a military coalition, to include our European allies and Russia (who should be told, bluntly, to "get on board or get out of the way"), would a tremendous advantage in eliminating this scourge once and for all.  Why now?  Because if ISIS continues to raise money and recruit, I have no idea how improved their conventional army will become (with modern weapons, tanks, artillery, and possibly and Air element), nor can we accurately gauge how complicated and dangerous the situation will be in the urban and residential areas of Europe and the United States.  Some crusty old General once said, that when you go to war, you must use everything at your disposal, every weapon, no matter how heinous, and you must fight with the utmost aggression and determination.  This is the formula for ending a war quickly, which will save countless lives on both sides, especially when compared to wars that drag on and on and on......

Monday, November 30, 2015

Iraqi military and special police preparing assault to retake Ramadi.

Link: Iraqi government forces close in on Ramadi.

With recent events in Syria and Paris dominating the international press, the Iraqi government's much-publicized offensive to retake Ramadi is no longer front-page news.  Actually, the struggle to retake Ramadi has taken much longer than the government and the Iraqi people expected.  Combat around Baiji and in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have made for much more interesting journalism, as the average person begins to consider that the Ramadi campaign has become a stalemate.  Fortunately, in the last few days, news reports from the Iraqi government and the Pentagon indicate that the Iraqi Armed Forces are getting very close to recapturing the capital city of Anbar Province.  It is estimated that ISIS has roughly 600 to 1000 fighters still hunkered down in the few downtown neighborhoods that government forces have yet to reoccupy.  The fact that the Iraqi government is determined to complete this operation according to plan, with minimal casualties and damage to infrastructure, is very encouraging.  Its true that the campaign to retake the city has not followed the most ideal timetable, but the Iraqi authorities have been able to carefully search areas formally occupied by ISIS, in order to remove any improvised explosive devices or abandoned munitions.

Last Wednesday, Iraqi forces took possession of the Palestine Bridge in the northwest part of the city.  The bridge, which spans the Euphrates River, was a vital link to food and other supplies for ISIS.  The coalition air campaign continues to harass ISIS by strafing supply routes and bombing key defensive positions.  In fact, air support has proven particularly effective in destroying explosives that were purposely planted in abandoned structures in the downtown part of the city.  Aggressive action by the coalition air support has been instrumental in saving the lives of ground troops, as explosives disposal teams prepare to enter neighborhoods that have been cleared of ISIS snipers.  Iraqi authorities fully expect the remaining ISIS operatives to fight to the death.

Once the military campaign to liberate Ramadi is complete, the Iraqi military will focus on bringing relief to Haditha, which although occupied by Iraqi forces, has been under assault by ISIS for most of the year.  In recent weeks, coalition air attacks have successfully targeted ISIS positions and prevented the delivery of supplies to ISIS operatives near Haditha.  Al-Asad Air Base in outside of Haditha, and presents a valuable target for ISIS.  U.S. troops have been present at Al-Asad for some time, providing important training to Iraqi personnel.  For some inexplicable reason, the Obama Administration made no attempt to keep this particular bit of information confidential.  Once the international media got wind of the presence of U.S. troops at Al-Asad, ISIS wasn't far behind.  Can you imagine if ISIS were to overrun that base and take our young men and women prisoner?  Fortunately, recent combat in the Haditha area has severely compromised ISIS' ability to conduct offensive activity.  No doubt the Iraqis are also determined to remove ISIS from Fallujah, which sits northeast of Ramadi and is actually closer to Baghdad (as the crow flies).  The various Shi'a militias were more-or-less assigned the task of retaking Fallujah, while the Iraqi Regular Army and Special Police targeted Ramadi.  At various times over the past six months, it appeared that Fallujah would fall first.  The fact that Ramadi will indeed be reoccupied by government forces before the Iranian-backed militias have removed ISIS from Fallujah will be celebrated in Baghdad, where the populace has begun to voice its annoyance at what is perceived to be Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Turkey escalates tension between NATO and Russia with the destruction of Russian Su-24 bomber.

Link:  Erdogan stands firm in crisis with Russia.

The crisis in Syria continues to make strange bedfellows, with antagonists being forced to put away grudges to accommodate more pressing matters.  When Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan's party won elections earlier this month, there was real concern that Turkey would move further away from NATO and Europe, and possibly adopt a more friendly approach to Islamist parties and organizations.  Those of us who feared just such a development should be thankful, in our own way, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for Russia's timely intrusion into the Syrian conflict.  The Russian military has a history of not respecting international borders, and Wednesday's development involving Turkish accusations of an airspace violation, came as no surprise. In fact, since the arrival of the Russian Air Force in the region, there have been complaints from just about every direction regarding Russian lack of respect for international boundaries.  Turkey has been  complaining of Russian border violations almost every day over the past week, and not surprisingly, the Russians continued to use the sky as their personal domain.  Now that the Turks have taken down a Russian bomber that allegedly crossed the Syrian-Turkish border, the Russians are indignantly ratcheting up defensive measures, starting with the deployment of the S-400 air defense system at the Russian Air Base in Latakia.  Russia also announced that a Russian missile cruiser sitting off the Syrian coast wouldn't hesitate to destroy any threat to Russian aircraft. 

Interestingly enough, Erdogan has to tone down his recent anti-Europe, anti-U.S. and anti-NATO rhetoric.  With the Russian military force that is just across the border in Syria growing all the time, Erdogan has no choice but to call upon his NATO allies in this dangerous time.  Although Turkey has a very capable armed forces, and the Russians would have to move night-and-day to transport adequate military personnel and equipment to the region, Erdogan has no intention of standing up to Russia alone.  Putin has already demonstrated his willingness to push the envelope, in Georgia, Crimea, and now in Syria.  Actually, the onset of this mini-crisis provides the United States and Turkey with an important opportunity to mend fences, although Turkey has been the bellicose trouble-maker in the relationship lately.  Even though Erdogan was able to solidify his domestic position with the recent election victory, he has been given a reminder that Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire and the year is not 1560 AD.  Turkey not only needs allies in the west, but Turkey needs its membership in NATO to remain healthy and in good-standing.  Everyday it becomes more obvious that Russia is following through on some grand scheme to increase her influence internationally and to rebuild Russia's relationships around the world, in order to isolate and diminish the United States.  Russia continues to aggressively champion Iran's acceptance as a regional super-power, and leaves no stone unturned in its effort to coax away long-time U.S. allies like Egypt and Jordan.

This conflict is beginning to take on so many different dimensions, that it will become more and more difficult to separate the good guys from the bad guys.  Right now, the world is focused on eliminating ISIS, or at least its pretending to be focused; Russia is still the only major military power who has committed itself to the destruction of this monstrous group (as opposed to "containment").  But I'm beginning to wonder if Russia might actually be the more dangerous of the two.  ISIS invaded two countries: Syria and Iraq.  Russia has invaded three countries: Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, and formerly annexed a province of Ukraine.  If the United States had taken the lead and built a coalition that included ground forces, ISIS would have been defeated by now.  But rethinking past decisions is really a waste of time.  We have to come up with a strategy for what we face today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ISIS hopes for anti-Muslim backlash; can ISIS be defeated by a conventional army?

Link: ISIS hoping for backlash against western Muslims.

In the intelligent, thought-provoking editorial that I have linked, Harleen Gambhir, a contributor to the Washington Post and a counterterrorism analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, explains  
ISIS' plan to create a backlash against Muslims living in the west.  Gambhir predicts that recent attacks against civilian targets in the United States, Paris, Spain and over the Sinai, is intended to cause fear and anger towards Muslims living in western communities.  When western governments, in response to ISIS attacks and demands by the majority of their citizens, cracks down on Muslims living in Paris, Vienna, Chicago, New York, London and Sydney, young Muslims will feel marginalized and ISIS will benefit through increased recruitment.  History has already proven Gambhir to be correct; after each terrorist attack in a western city, law enforcement has increased its focus on Muslim members of the community.  At first, it would appear that this focus is necessary to identify any additional terrorists that may be concealing themselves amongst their neighbors.  The truth is, after a terrorist attack which leaves civilian casualties, both the government and law enforcement are under tremendous pressure from the populous to at least "appear" to be aggressively working against the bad guys. If law enforcement doesn't have any real leads, then it becomes even more tempting to increase surveillance and random searches against persons who share the religion and ethnic background of the terrorists.  Intelligence reveals that recruitment numbers increase for terrorist groups in the period following high-profile attacks similar to the recent shootings and explosions in Paris.

On a separate subject, an important issue that is currently being discussed by political commentators and some politicians involves the supposed difficulty in defeating ISIS on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.  One of the GOP candidates for president (Ben Carson) remarked that the U.S. military had the capacity to destroy ISIS in a relatively short period of time.  I believe that President Obama may have taken exception to the remark, and the conversation was started.  Actually, defeating a terrorist organization requires a tremendous amount of patience and planning, and ideally, regular access to time-sensitive intelligence.  Normally, locating the terrorists is half the battle.  But ISIS is a completely different animal altogether.  The Islamic State, or ISIS, has developed a conventional military capability.  In other words, they have an army, and that army is currently fighting on two fronts: Iraq and Syria.  In order to destroy ISIS, the conventional army must be annihilated, and the more traditional network of operatives hiding in cities all over the world (and also in rat holes and caves in Sudan and Afghanistan) must be identified, located, and wiped out.  Ideally, both incarnations of ISIS should be targeted simultaneously.  The United States, the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, China and probably a half-dozen other nations have the military capacity to destroy ISIS, but it won't be a localized affair and a few diplomatic toes might get stepped on in the process.  You would think that anyone who stands up and announces a willingness to single-handedly destroy the nastiest bunch of assholes the world has ever seen, would be given a pass, as far as diplomatic obligations go.  Vladimir Putin stepped up and announced Russia's intention to destroy ISIS, but within a few days we discovered that Putin was more interested in keeping his ally, de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in power.  After a few days of Russian bombing raids obliterating the Syrian indigenous opposition to Assad with nary a fart in the direction of ISIS, it became clear the regardless of the outcome, Russia's entry into the Syria sweepstakes was about much more than fighting ISIS.

Again, Russia is one of a number of countries who have the military capacity to destroy ISIS.  It can't be done without a commitment to using ground troops in both Syria and Iraq, and it may be necessary to take chances where civilian lives are concerned, when an important target has been located.  ISIS will use every opportunity to hide themselves amongst women, children and the elderly, because unlike ISIS, we are a bit squeamish about killing innocents.  But make no mistake; in order to destroy ISIS, there will be civilian casualties.  It might also be necessary to use weapons that are frowned upon, and interrogation techniques that are much criticized.  Some great military leader once said (I can't remember who), that when a country enters into a war, it must do so with a willingness to use its total military might, and every weapon at its disposal.  The enemy must be given no quarter.  This will end the conflict soonest, and limit the number of casualties for both combatants.  I remember that comment because it truly makes great sense.  The longer the war, the higher the number of casualties.  We need to throw the book at ISIS.  The Marines, Special Forces, Navy Seals, and whoever else we can squeeze in.  This group thinks that it can outmatch any opponent for ruthlessness.  When it comes to the battlefield, we need to prove them wrong.  Right now, we are still fortunate enough to have ISIS limited to Syria and Iraq, at least as far as its conventional capabilities go.  Eastern Syria and western Iraq is basically one big, occasionally rocky desert.  ISIS has no place to hide from our satellites, spies in the sky, and spies on the ground.  While our military deals with ISIS on the battlefield, our intelligence forces will track down and wipe out each and every cell, regardless of country, until there are none. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The argument that we just need to show love to our adversaries continues to make the rounds.....

Link: Islam in Paris

Each time our society is faced with a tragedy involving persons who are willing to kill innocent people to make a political statement, we have to suffer through the occasional calls to "meet anger with compassion", and to "love your enemy". The attacks in Paris on November 13 were no different, as I continue to see determined posters spreading the message that we need to accept our part of the blame in this situation.  Not surprisingly, persons who swing way off to the left of the political persuasion actually blame the French people for the terrorist attacks in Paris.  You see, the Muslim immigrants, many who live in the Strasbourg Saint-Denis neighborhood and the 13th and 18th Arrondissements, have been obliged to struggle to find work while native Frenchmen and women have much greater access to the system.  To continue the argument, those who arrive from North Africa or the Middle East as small children or infants, or were born to immigrant parents, have it worst of all, because they can't understand why they are denied the same opportunities as "white" French folks.  The anger that leads young Muslim men to depart from Paris suburbs like Aubervilliers and Gennevilliers and find their way to Syria, so they can be trained with deadly weapons and ammunition and return to kill French civilians, is justified because of the tortuous life they were forced to live in France.  This is just another phalange of "the West is always guilty" diatribe that never seems to go away.  It doesn't take a PhD in World History or Sociology to know that different ethnics of our species have always fought each other, usually over territory but at times also over food, women, or just plain hatred for one another.  The international disease of leftism, or Liberalism if you like, is obsessed with revisionism  when it comes to our cultural and political history. This is the reason that 99% of grade school students in the United States believe that white Europeans invented slavery, even though African tribes were engaging in slavery centuries before the first European stepped foot in sub-Saharan Africa, as were native Americans and Asians.  This is the same thought process that blames U.S. greed for 9-11 and endemic French racism for the Paris attacks.

I am here to announce that its OK to hate ISIS. Its not required to pour of newspapers and history books to try and create a scenario which in some way blames the United States for ISIS' existence.  Actually, I'm sure someone has already done the job for you.  But this issue really isn't that complicated.  I always ask people whether or not they would have demanded "understanding" for the Nazis.  That usually does the trick.  ISIS is a special kind of nasty group that deserves absolutely no consideration, and anyone who knowingly aligns themselves with that type of ideology is my enemy and yours, and truly deserves what they get.  In the past, its been easy for Americans to look across the ocean and express sympathy with people who claim to be representing just causes.  But the world has become a much smaller place, and we are not allowed to sit safely on the sidelines anymore.  This struggle is about freedom, and about the world you want to leave your children and grandchildren.  The perpetrators of the Paris attacks were acting as representatives of the Islamic extremist group "The Islamic State", or ISIS, which has made the choice to use fear as its method of subjugating the people of the world.  When ISIS releases a video of a poor prisoner being burned alive in a cage, the message has been carefully crafted and edited before it reached the international media.  ISIS isn't concerned about the anger this scene creates, they are interested in the fear it provokes.  If I learned one thing during my career, I learned that fear is a very effective weapon.  ISIS is determined to drive us into our homes, bolted in behind heavy doors and suppressing our natural inclination to socialize and explore.  They also have refined the art of distraction, and some within our own society continue to drink the "guilt" Kool-Aid.  Everytime some tenured, Ivy League Professor distracts his classroom full of students with sad stories about U.S. imperialism and economic fascism being the root cause of international poverty and the rise of terrorism, ISIS wins.  While this absurd debate rages within our own schools and water-cooler conversations, ISIS is able to grow stronger.  One of the reasons this group is so much more dangerous than its predecessors is that ISIS functions in the 21st century.  They utilize high-tech methods to recruit and raise money, and they have a growing conventional army fighting in both Iraq and Syria.  ISIS is also patient and devious.  They will use fear and distraction as long as these weapons remain useful.  We can neutralize both right now.     

Friday, November 20, 2015

The importance of protecting confidential information, even after retirement.

The need to access confidential information is not limited to persons working for intelligence agencies.  The U.S. Government employs hundreds of professionals who work in the intelligence for numerous different agencies and departments.  In order for persons to work in the intelligence field, they must pass a background investigation and a polygraph examination.  A successful completion of the investigation with result in the individual being granted a clearance.  There are many retired U.S. government employees who at one time or another had a clearance, including former officers of the Department of State, Department of Defense, Homeland Security and the FBI.  These Americans are entrusted with enough secrets to probably cripple our nation, even after they have left active service.  Although it is vital to have the latest intelligence, some secrets keep their value for a very long time.  The United States has done a tremendous job choosing intelligence officers, as very few Americans trusted with secrets have decided to betray their country.

Unfortunately, some individuals have made that terrible decision and shared classified information with uncleared persons.  In the past, a few CIA officers have traded secrets with the Russians for financial compensation, and I believe at one time a Department of Defense employee with access to classified intelligence betrayed his country at the request of a woman (who turned out to be a Soviet spy).  I don't know much about these persons who have committed the ultimate betrayal, mostly because those events occurred years before I made the choice to enter the intelligence field.  What I do remember vividly is the trial of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, and the revelations of former NSA employee Edward Snowden.  I realize that some folks draw a distinction between these two cases, but I don't.  Both men had agreed to treat classified information in accordance with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency.  Both men showed a complete lack of integrity by breaking that vow.  I understand the sympathy for Snowden; many Americans are concerned that the U.S. Government may have exceeded its mandate with regards to intelligence collection and the American public.  I have complete confidence that the U.S. Government is not illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens, nor has it exceeded the bounds of its mission to provide security for the American people in a time of war.  If Snowden felt that his employer had overreached its marching orders, then he should have quit.  As a former NSA officer, he would have been able to write a book or speak publicly about his concerns, as long as he didn't reveal classified information.  This particular issue is so important to me because when Manning and Snowden released classified information, they very well could have put people's lives in jeopardy.  Snowden may THINK he knows what was included in the information he released, but the reality is, he probably has no clue.  But the enemy may understand the released documents in a way that escapes Snowden, because he isn't trained as an operational Case Officer, and therefore can't fully grasp what is included in the cables that he read on a daily basis.  Its very simple: if you can no longer abide by the obligations of confidentiality that have been agreed to, then you need to resign and find other work.

As stated earlier, the importance of confidentiality and protecting classified information does not end when a person retires.  The U.S. Government fully expects its retired officers who at one time or another during their careers were exposed to classified intelligence, to respect the rules and regulations of security until they die.  After medically retiring, I wrote a memoir about my career.  I followed the process put in place for retired Agency officers who write a book; I submitted by manuscript for review in its entirety, and what they Agency chose to redact, was permanently removed.  This includes photographs that were selected for inclusion in the book.  And when I speak publicly, I never exceed the bounds of what was included in my book.  I am firm believer in the rules of confidentiality; I have seen good security practice save lives, and unfortunately, I've seen bad security destroy lives.  When a Case Officer is conducting a confidential meeting with an asset overseas, his dedication to tradecraft is necessary to protect the life of his asset.  When an Officer working in the Pentagon reviews a classified document on a current operation, that Officer must show the same dedication and respect for security as the Case Officer overseas.  And there are no "do-overs".  The CIA does a tremendous job training its officers to understand and respect the procedures in-place to protect classified information; the old World War II British poster with the phrase, "Lose Lips Sinks Ships", is just as relevant today as it was then.  If you decide to embark on a career in the Intelligence Field, understand that it will more than likely be a very rewarding experience.  Also understand that all it takes is one careless mistake, one time bending the rules, for people to lose their lives.  Its a tremendous responsibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Interest in the weapons and explosives used in Paris attacks draws attention to smuggling networks and European black market.

Link: Paris attacks raises the issue of weapons smuggling in Europe.

Following last Friday's horrendous terror attacks in Paris, the issue plastered on most of the front pages of all the European newspapers is the Syrian refugee crisis.  Its a simple jump from Islamic extremists to the unknown factor of tens of thousands of basically unidentified Muslim refugees being resettled in Europe.  No doubt the number of terrorists or potential terrorists within the refugee population is miniscule.  Certainly its possible that ISIS or even Al -Qaida could hide operatives within the groups that arrived from Syria, but the sad reality is, these groups already have people who are willing to die for the cause.  There is no need to move operatives into Europe within the refugee pipeline, when it is possible to just put them on a plane.  Forging passports and related identity documents is a booming business.  Be that as it may, the timing of these attacks has European leaders revisiting the idea of large resettlement schemes.  ISIS carried out these attacks for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, they are intent on spreading fear in our communities and giving people reason to conduct their lives as usual.  ISIS dreams of the day that the towns roll up the streets at sundown, and parents stop sending their kids to school out of security concerns.  ISIS is also determined to sow confusion, not only with the attacks in urban, residential areas, but also by encouraging the movement of large numbers of refugees into Europe.  Its not a coincidence that this attack occurred as Europe and the United States were discussing the most humane method by which to address the refugee issue.  These attacks have reintroduced the issue for debate in the various European capitals; many EU states are asking for clarification regarding the EU policy on refugees, while many in the poorer states are asking why it is their responsibility to pay taxes to house and feed these people who aren't even European.  Confusion reigns in many corners, which gives ISIS another small victory.  At the end of the day, if the discussion leads some states to refuse refugees, then the label "racist" will return to everyday conversation, and ISIS will have won a more substantial victory.  ISIS realizes that they can't defeat us with the limited resources currently at their disposal.  Their goal is to pit us against ourselves until they are able to confront us in a conventional military capacity.

I have yet to hear a commentator or newscaster opine about the origins of the weapons and explosives used in the Friday evening attacks.  I have seen some thoughtful editorials on the subject, especially in the French press.  Given the strict weapons laws in place in the EU, how were these eight monsters able to arm themselves with Kalashnikovs and AK47s?  As for the suicide vests, any person with the proper training could probably find the parts and ingredients necessary to construct such a device at the local Walmart or Auchan, but my instincts tell me that the forensics people will determine that the origin of the parts and explosives used to build the suicide vests to be Syria.  The sad truth is that it is quite simple to smuggle just about anything through Europe.  The smuggling networks that exist in Europe are amazingly intricate and business-like.  Again, I will rely on my instincts when I say that the weapons used in these attacks probably made their way through the Balkans.  During the time that I spent in Kosovo in early 2000, I discovered that the people of Kosovo are tremendously honest, kind and hard-working.  Unfortunately, it is also the lynchpin location for the largest smuggling operations that feed Europe.  The Black Market dominates much of the economy of Kosovo, and probably of neighboring states as well.  When considering the issue of smuggling, most people consider the illegal transportation of goods such as alcohol and cigarettes.  Well, underneath the boxes of cigarettes are crates of weapons and ammunition.  It is a simple issue of supply and demand.  If people are willing to pay enough money, then these networks will find a way to smuggle the requested items.  We live in a world were women are still transported illegally across borders for the sex business; sneaking weapons into a country shouldn't be that difficult.  As for the suicide vests, I'm sure that the perpetrators were able to request/order exactly what they needed in the way of explosives.  The detailed and professional nature of organized smuggling in Europe should make it easier for European law enforcement agencies to disrupt the movement of illegal weapons into Europe.  The French police have started really focusing on this issue, which will hopefully result in one-less option for terrorists in their effort to obtain weapons.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The world is in need of leader in the fight to destroy ISIS; is it time to reconsider Vladimir Putin?

Link: Number of victims of Paris terror attack continues to grow.

On, Friday, November 13, in Paris, the terror group ISIS carried out an organized, well-supplied attack outside the Stade de France and also at a handful of restaurants and bars.  The first sign of trouble was an explosion that took place outside the Stade de France, during an international "friendly" soccer match between Germany and France.  The terrorist attempted to gain entry to the stadium, and after being refused, exploded his suicide vest.  This started the contagion of violence that moved to the 11 Arrondissement and a cluster of restaurants and bars.  The terrorists also forced their way into a heavy metal concert, shooting people at random.  Three of the four who forced their way into the concert also detonated suicide vests; the fourth had a vest as well, but it didn't detonate until after he had been shot by French police. It has been reported by multiple witnesses that the terrorists claimed that the attacks were in response to French policy in Syria.  Following the January 7 terrorist attack at the offices of French political magazine Charlie Hebdo, the French government instituted measures which were designed to disrupt any further terrorist attacks.  The presence of police and the military at French Airports, Ports, and public places was increased, as were efforts to collect human intelligence.  Working closely with the United States other European nations, France also keep a close eye on the trafficking of weapons, especially the black market transport network which effectively can deliver automatic weapons from eastern Europe to France in a matter of days.  French authorities were also very interested in the number of young Arab-French men and women who had recently travelled to Syria.  But the increased law enforcement and intelligence efforts were unable to prevent Friday's tragedy.  Its apparent that ISIS has the capacity to plan and carry out relatively simple but well-staged attacks on multiple urban locations.  The weapons used were the well-known Kalashnikovs and AK-47s, and the suicide vests did not require a great deal of know-how to make.  It likely that at least some of the perpetrators of these attacks had recently visited Syria, and were probably received weapons and explosives instruction at the hands of ISIS.

With this attack, ISIS has demonstrated its ability and willingness to conduct attacks in public places, regardless of the casualties.  Every city in Europe is a potential target, and security measures will have to be increased.  ISIS has particular goals in mind by conducting these attacks, and will use this event to learn how to be more effective in an urban environment.  It is no secret that Islamic extremists are bound and determined to impact the western, "Christian" way of life.  The aim is to disrupt the transportation systems that keep our society functioning.  Vehicles and planes are necessary for personal and business purposes, and any success in shutting the roads and airports can cause havoc with everyday lives.  The bad guys also get a kick out of creating enough fear in the minds of families that children are kept home from schools and streets are deserted by sundown.  When we enjoy ourselves publicly, in places like parks, beaches and sporting events, it is a celebration of our freedom, the ability to laugh and share in each other's good company in safety.  Scenes such as I have just described can be observed at any time of the year in many different places, from Tokyo to Adelaide to Durban, up to Rome and Paris, and over to the Americas.  There are parts of our world where you rarely see moments of public celebration, unless its male-only political rallies.

North America and South America are different in many ways, as are Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  But its time we focused on what we have in common.  Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves that all-important question, "just how important is my freedom?"  If you turn on the TV or radio, and find a news channel, you will find that everyone seems to agree on the danger posed by ISIS.  Is the Islamic State for the Caliphate movement more dangerous that National Socialism (Nazis?).  Absolutely; this Islamic extremist organization has created a force which can engage our military in conventional warfare, while at the same time they are refining, improving and engaging in the old, horrendous methods of traditional terrorism.  In mid-1941, the entire world except the Americas (excluding Canada, who was already at war, standing side by side with Britain) were engaged in a titanic struggle to overcome expansionist fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan.  Once the United States entered the war, the balance began to tilt in the direction of the righteous.  We have this history of coming together, once we recognize the mutual threat.  Why is it so difficult for us to come together today?  Why hasn't a leader from Europe, Africa, the Americas, or Asia made a speech at the United Nations, calling for a military coalition of all freedom loving nations, to work together and eliminate this evil from the face of the earth?  If a united military force, including the armies and air forces of the United States, the EU, Russia, China, Japan, India, and whoever else was able, surrounded the forces of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and just obliterated them, it would be such a great step forward for the cause of freedom in our culture and society today.  Why has it been so difficult to find a leader to take that walk to the podium, and point the world in the right direction?  Actually, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been on a bit of a campaign to become just such an international leader, not only rehabilitating Russia's image, but the image of Russia's ally Iran at the same time.  I have been very critical of Putin in recent months, holding out hope that maybe Barack Obama would step up to the plate and answer the call of history.  That hasn't happened; is it time that I give Putin a chance?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Russia attempts to block IMF lending to Ukraine as Russian separatists violate ceasefire.

Link: Russia attempts to disrupt Ukrainian IMF loan.

It took two months for Russian-backed separatists to violate the latest ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.  The only surprise was that the ceasefire lasted as long as it did, but we can probably blame the delay on Russia's current pre-occupation in Syria.  The government of Ukraine and the various Russian-backed separatist groups in the east have agreed to two previous ceasefires, at least by my count.  In every instance, the apparently inevitable violation was committed by the separatists, which begs the obvious question: why does Kiev keep making agreements with these jerks?  Simply put, Ukraine has no choice.  President Petro Poroshenko has yet to implement any personal strategy for resolving this conflict.  Every decision from Ukraine's corner has been made by Kiev's European allies.  Ukraine is in no position to ignore the "advice" put forward by the U.S., French and German diplomats, and we all know that these three would just as soon see Ukraine completely overrun with Russians before agreeing to any type of aggressive military action.  Not that the Ukrainian Army is in a position to conduct a serious offensive in the southeast.  Repeated requests for military aid, to the U.S. in particular, have been denied, as the U.S. strives to encourage a more "peaceful" approach the to crisis.  Russia has taken full advantage of the prostrate policy currently put forth by the Europeans and the Obama Administration to occupy strategic villages and all-but off the vital port city of Mariupol from the rest of Ukraine.  During the last three years, Russia and her surrogates in eastern Ukraine have been able to dictate the time and pace of negotiations and military action to suit Russia's international strategy.  Expect the Ukrainian separatists to step-up military action in an attempt to occupy as much territory as possible before the election of a new, less-accommodating administration following the November 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

It appears that Russia's very recent diplomatic effort to interfere with Ukraine's relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has failed.  Russia has been known for this type of occasional diplomatic overreach, and who  can blame Moscow for trying?  Internationally, Russia continues to court various U.S. allies.  Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to enhanced military ties with the Emir of Kuwait, and Putin's envoy to Afghanistan has announced preparations to sell Hind Attack Helicopters and small arms to Kabul.  Russia has also reached out to Tunisia and Algeria, expressing the desire for increased cooperation in the fight against international terror.  The U.S. Department of State will respond to these overtures with some belated offer of aid or a concession on a trade treaty,  but the real problem for the United States has nothing to do with a Russian agreement with Kuwait or Helicopter sales to Afghanistan.  The fact is, Russia is running diplomatic circles around the U.S., and is showing no hesitation to flirt with long-time U.S. partners.  In the past, the United States would have reacted swiftly to Russian diplomatic advances to an ally by taking the same action.  The Bush or Reagan presidencies might have responded by agreeing to sell weapons to Ukraine, or by increasing the presence of U.S. troops in eastern Europe.  At present, the U.S. has no response to these Russian overtures.  Russia continues to express an interest in forming a security alliance of sorts vis-à-vis Syria, to include the U.S. and its allies.  Washington DC has responded in a positive way to this potential agreement, but many suspect it is nothing more than a Russian distraction.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Russia's latest bombing sorties require closer evaluation.

Link: Russia bombs 448 ISIS targets in Syria.

In the last three days, the Russia Air Force in Syria has conducted 137 bombing sorties against 448 ISIS targets.  This latest uptick in the Russian bombing campaign in Syria comes as ISIS continues to claim responsibility for the October 31 destruction of a Russian passenger airliner over the Sinai.  It is beginning to appear likely that ISIS is behind the tragedy, with the recent high-intensity Russian bombing sorties considered to be a response.  Russia claims that the bombing raids have targeted ISIS' infrastructure, in particular destroying a munitions warehouse near Damascus which hosted makeshift unguided missiles.  The attacks have also resulted in numerous civilian casualties, with multiple claims that non-military targets were bombed.  As ISIS and Russia become more familiar dealing with each other as battlefield opponents, and civilian targets on both sides become more frequent, many more episodes of retaliation-type attacks can be expected.  If ISIS was able to plan and execute the destruction of the Russian airliner in question, it will signify an expansion of ISIS' ability to reach beyond the battlefield and attack non-combatants outside of the Middle East.  If Russia continues to conduct its air sorties with little concern for civilian casualties, ISIS have less trouble recruiting supporters and soldiers from the local population.  And if another airliner affiliated with Russia or one of the members of its budding "coalition" becomes victim of ISIS sabotage, expect the Arab community to be less than sympathetic.  After all, its their families who are being indiscriminately blown to pieces and their farms and homes that are being destroyed by Russian bombs.

One development that warrants closer review is Russia's claim to have targeted multiple ISIS infrastructure locations and munitions factories.  When Russia entered the Syrian conflict, one of its priority concerns should have been the lack of intelligence sources.  On the other hand, the United States, with its sponsorship of ISIS opposition groups and its historic close ties to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Kurds, must have a well-developed network of sources providing timely intelligence.  Its true that Russia has always been very close to the Assad regime, but the intelligence that is most needed, information on ISIS and its movements, is in no way accessible to elements of the Assad regime.  Be that as it may, Russia has managed to locate many important ISIS targets.  The question is, if the United States has a well-developed network for collected intelligence in Syria, then why did those ISIS targets exist to be the recipients of Russian bombing sorties? Why hasn't the U.S.-led air coalition already destroyed those facilities and munitions warehouses?          

Monday, November 9, 2015

Russia to host Syrian peace conference; any Assad opposition that the Russian's haven't killed will be invited to attend.

Links:  A. ISIS considered strong suspect in downing of Russian passenger jet over Sinai.
            B. Russian action in Syria strengthens Iran.
            C. Russian sending clear message to Syrian civilians about support for Assad.

Since the destruction of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai on October 31, the international community was left to decide the veracity of claims of responsibility by ISIS.  Although ISIS proved that it had influence in the Sinai last year when an ISIS group attacked an Egyptian military compound, many questioned their ability to actually carry out a successful attack on a passenger plane.  Sadly, it seems to be more apparent everyday that ISIS was indeed responsible for this tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 224 mostly Russians on holiday at Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt.  In addition, experts now believe that an onboard bomb was most likely responsible for the crash.  This event raises the stakes in the war against ISIS.  As most European nations and the United States come to grips with the likelihood that open-border policies have allowed ISIS operatives into the EU and the U.S., security and inspection procedures at airports, ports, and other likely targets will have to be reviewed and increased when necessary.  Any person having access to a passenger plane on the ground or a tourist cruise liner in port will have to be vetted and searched.  This includes regular employees like pilots, cabin crew, ship officers and crew, maintenance and repair staff, medical personnel, refueling crews, and food and beverage suppliers, for a start.  This necessary policy will cause a decided inconvenience for many, but ISIS has shown no regard whatsoever for civilian lives.  If they can successfully access a Russian passenger plane on the ground at an Egyptian Airport (Egyptian Airport Security has a solid reputation), then western nations can not take chances.

Regarding the current conflict in Syria, the latest entrant into the war has decided hold a peace conference.  Russia intends to invite all factions involved in the conflict to this conference in Moscow, including Syrian opposition to Russia's favorite, de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Two questions must be answered before the conference commences: will the Assad opposition boycott the conference?  How many members of the Assad opposition feel safe to travel to Moscow, in light of the beating they have taken from Russian bombs in the last two weeks?  As Russia continues to build its own anti-ISIS coalition, this conference is an important opportunity for Vladimir Putin to demonstrate that Russia is indeed a power-broker in the Syrian theater.  No doubt the United States, which labeled the conference "premature", will send representatives, in order to not appear "unconstructive".  Russia will use the conference as another chance to build up the credentials of its ally, Iran.  The captive audience in attendance, diplomatic representatives of China, the United States, European nations, Israel, Turkey, and other concerned parties, will see Iran treated as the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf.  Russia wishes to perpetuate this idea as often as possible, hoping that the international community will eventually see it as a "fait accompli".  How Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates respond will be pivotal.  The Gulf monarchies understandably do not want to see Iran become the most powerful leader in the Persian Gulf region.  Iran is tied to Shi'a fundamentalism like ISIS is tied to Islamic extremism.  The Gulf states are quick to point out Iran's support for Hezbollah, and Iran responds with accusations of Saudi financial support for ISIS.  Up to now, this effort to reform Iran's image has been basically diplomatic, but for the world to truly consider Iran in a new light, something monumental must occur.  Russia is aware of this fact, and intends on Being the "Eastern Hammer" which will be used to destroy ISIS.  Russia, of course, and her budding coalition, will be the "Western Hammer".  Once Iran has isolated and minimized the U.S. presence in Iraq, then it will be free to deploy regular divisions from Iran into Iraq, to attack ISIS.  By then, Russia will be in a position to fully engage ISIS in the west.

The stage is being set for Russia and Iran to deliver the world from the greatest threat since Nazism.
Wouldn't it be nice if someone else had stepped up to tackle this problem with the conviction of Vladimir Putin. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Russia steps up air campaign in Syria, increasing sorties against ISIS, but continues to target anti-Assad forces.

Link: Russian forces on-the-ground in Syria increase to over 4000.

In response to ISIS advances in the vicinity of Aleppo City, Russian bombing raids against Islamic State targets have increased.  On November 2 and 3, Russian warplanes attacked ISIS positions near Palmyra and Qaraytan in eastern Homs, as well as in ar-Raqqah City.  Russia claims to be working with Syrian opposition in its targeting of ISIS units.  In reality, Russia has coordinated some of its bombing sorties with Syrian opposition that is the least "at odds" with the Assad regime.  Russia claimed to have coordinated with Syrian opposition when utilizing precision weapons to attack ISIS targets near Palmyra and Deir ez-Zour, in an effort to pressure the United States to recognize and support the more "moderate" Syrian opposition.  As Russia negotiates with Jordan and Israel regarding the make-up of a post-ISIS Syrian government, Putin wants to isolate the more determined and uncompromising of the Syrian opposition groups.  A number of the organizations that Russia considers more moderate have only evolved in the more recent stages of the conflict, which will provide a problem for some of the groups who were present in the beginning of the movement to topple Bashar al-Assad.  Its easy for some to forget that this conflict began as an offshoot of the Arab Spring, and was a ground-roots, indigenous effort to remove Assad.  ISIS took advantage of the breakdown in authority and civil control to expand its base and create a three-dimensional battleground in Syria.  In reality, the foreign elements involved in Syria should be exclusively focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is in itself, foreign to Syria.  When attempting to create an anti-ISIS ground force in Syria utilizing mostly former Assad regime officers, great efforts were made to avoid contact with regime forces.  Russia does not accept the obligation to avoid internal Syrian problems.  In fact, Russia has used the excuse of opposing ISIS as a shield to conduct one bombing raid after another against Syrian opposition.  Recent Russian focus on ISIS targets have been in response to ISIS advances near Aleppo City and international criticism of its up-to-now almost exclusive targeting of Assad's Syrian opposition, vice ISIS positions.

The United States and Russia have made some progress in deconflicting military operations in Syria;  a successful short-range communications test with a U.S. fighter was conducted on November 3.  But Russia seems determined to continue with its strategy to build Iran into a dominant regional power, and to counter U.S. efforts at strengthening its military cooperation with its eastern European allies.  This week Russia deconflicted a contract with Iran for S-300 anti-aircraft systems.  This agreement had been stalled for some time as Iran focused on developments in Iraq and nuclear treaty negotiations with Europe and the United States.  In a typically heavy-handed attempt at intimidation, Russia launched one of its largest missile tests of the year on the day of the meeting in Vienna to discuss the Syrian conflict.  Russia is also suspected of supporting the action taken by the Moldovan Parliament on October 29 to remove the current government.  As NATO stepped up efforts to strengthen its ties in eastern Europe, Russia launched a snap aviation drill in Kaliningrad.  Russia has a habit of occupying its opponents with diplomacy and other distractions, while continuing whatever action has caused disagreement.  Expect Russia to continue its efforts to prop up Assad and to build Iran into an international player.  Iran has a very important role to play in Vladimir Putin's larger plan to propel Russia into the role of sole world superpower.    

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Russia and Iran; friends for the moment, or for the distance?

Links: A. Russia making military commitment in Syria.
           B. Russia warming up to Iran is part of broader Russian policy.

Earlier this year, when it became apparent that Barack Obama had ordered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to successfully conclude a nuclear treaty with Iran, regardless of the sacrifices, there was some confusion regarding the continued closeness of Iran with Russia, who had previously been Iran's closest ally with regards to the nuclear issue.  Was it possible that this new treaty, which was actually signed by a few European nations as well, would usher in a new era of cooperation between the United States and Iran, to the detriment of Russia?  It certainly wasn't likely, and in fact, within days after the agreement was announced, Iranian religious leaders were up to their tired old bullshit of parading around mass quantities of zealots, screaming, "death to America!".  No doubt Vladimir Putin didn't even flinch when news of the treaty reached Moscow.  He had been working on his own strategy in the region, and in this plan, Iran is a major player.

Once Putin realized that U.S. President Barack Obama was content to ride out his last term in office, allowing the nuclear treaty to be his "legacy moment in foreign policy", he crafted a new direction for Russian foreign policy, which if successful, would displace the United States as the world's only superpower, to be replaced by Russia.  The advent of ISIS and Russia's long-time close relationship with de-facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave Putin the perfect opportunity to implement his plan.  Russia would intervene militarily in Syria, and using Assad as a proxy, defeat ISIS.  But Putin had no intention of allowing ISIS to retreat into the wastelands of western Iraq, to lick its wounds and reload.  Russia's new best friend, Iran, would be the next opponent for ISIS to confront.  In fact, Putin's plan was to confront ISIS in Syria with Assad/Russian support, and simultaneously push ISIS westward from Iraq, using the Iranian Shi'a militias, Iraqi Army, and Iranian military units, if necessary.  Russia has established itself militarily in Syria, as planned, but Iran has to negotiate its way through a bit of a diplomatic triangle in Iraq.  The United States continues to have instructors imbedded with the Iraqi Army, and the U.S.-led air coalition remains active, conducting daily sorties against ISIS targets.  Iran's plan is to support the Iraq Army and its Iranian-backed militia partners in action separate from Iraqi Army efforts which involve the U.S., with the intention that one effort will be successful and the other will fail.  Currently, the U.S.-supported effort by the Iraqi Army to retake Ramadi appears to be failing, while the recent militia-supported operation to retake Baiji and its important oil refinery was successful.  This occurred on the heels of an announcement of the creation of a joint communication cell in Baghdad between the Russians, Iraqis, and Iranians.  Putin is convinced that once Iraqi military initiatives directly supported by U.S. personnel fail, that the Obama Administration will throw in the towel.  He is betting on the likelihood that a failure in Ramadi will lead to demonstrations against U.S. involvement in Iraq.  Once the U.S. is out, then Iran will "lead" the Iraqi Army, militias, and Iranian Special Forces/Republican Guard units in confrontation with ISIS.

Putin's long-term strategy is that by defeating ISIS, Russia and Iran will increase their influence, Russia internationally, and Iran regionally.  Russia's entry into the Syrian conflict has removed the eyes of the west from Ukraine, allowing Putin to forget that within the last two years, Russia has annexed Crimea, an integral part of the Republic of Ukraine, and that Russian military equipment was responsible for the tragic destruction of a civilian airliner and the murder of hundreds of innocent people.  Putin has changed the topic of international conversation.  Today, the world is focused on Syria and the continuing refugee problem, which provides Putin with more justification for military involvement in Syria.  Someone has to do something; if not Russia, then who?  The United States is totally reactive in its international relations, and the current administration does not have the stomach for military casualties.  Certainly a united military force created by the various EU nations would handle ISIS without much difficulty, but that option has never even been suggested.  Russia had an invitation to take on ISIS, and Iran will have the opportunity to become the dominant nation in the Persian Gulf region because of its impending involvement in the destruction of ISIS.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Russia masquerades a moderate international powerbroker, while the Obama Administration belatedly attempts to protect U.S. interests.

Links: U.S. troops "on the ground" have usual rules of engagement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is aggressively pursuing a policy that is intended to re-mold Russia's international image.  For the greater part of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was faced with regular difficulties complicated by Russia's image as the aggressor in the conflict.  When the Russians originally demonstrated their intention to militarily support de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the question was, to what extent?  Russia has been a long-time ally of Assad, his predecessor father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and the Syrian Ba'ath Party apparatus, and Vladimir Putin's desire for a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean is no secret.  How far would Russia go to prop up Assad?  When considering this issue, I was missing out on the greater plan that Russia was putting into place.  In order to understand Putin's motivations in Syria, it is necessary to understand Russia's international ambitions.  First, lets examine Russia's diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis some of the bit players in this drama.

  Russia has softened it tone in all its diplomatic conversations, and is portraying itself as moderate and much less militarily focused as in the past.  This may seem like a hard sell, given that Russian jets are currently pounding targets in Syria.  But Putin has been successful in shifting world opinion to the idea that Russia is truly interested in destroying ISIS, and that support for Assad is secondary.  Certainly no one would accuse Russia of wanting to annex Syria as they Crimea.  Russia has targeted U.S. allies Jordan, Egypt and Iraq as part of its campaign to "co-opt" U.S. supporters in the region.  Although the U.S. has recently made attempts to defend its traditional turf, the Russians had weeks to chip away at the pro-U.S. attitude in all three nations.  In particular, Russia wants to perpetuate the idea that United States is no longer willing to support its allies in serious times of crisis.  The knowledge that the Obama Administration is theoretically opposed to large-scale military action is no secret, and these "at risk" countries know that ISIS can only be defeated by a full-on, large scale military commitment, similar to the one the Russians are making in Syria.  The comparison makes itself.  In fact, the pronouncements of the last few days have come in response to Russian activity.  The international community is catching on to something that many of us have known for a some time; that the Obama Administration, all the way back to the days of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is intent on being REACTIVE, as opposed to PROACTIVE.

In eastern Europe, Russia has also mended a few diplomatic fences and won some important electoral victories.  A number of towns and communities in eastern Ukraine elected pro-Russian representatives, which was a blow to efforts by Kiev to take the electoral momemtum before any serious referendums are planned.  The results also take pressure off Russia regarding the current ceasefire.  If fighting breaks out again, Kiev won't be able to accuse Russia and its Donbas separatist allies from trying to refocus world attention after disappointing election results.  Most important, and visible from the beginning of Russia's direct military involvement in Syria, is the creation of a Russian client-state in Iran.  Everyday it becomes more apparent that these two former adversaries have become BFFs, with Iran going so far as to deploy volunteer "militia" members to fight alongside Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria.  Russia successfully lobbied to have Iran invited to an upcoming major international conference on the conflict in Syria.  This is the first time that Iran has been invited to a conference of this importance.  The question is, why was Iran invited?  They do not share a border with Syria, although they have been strong allies of Bashar al-Assad.  An even more prescient question? Instead of an invitation to attend the conference, why wasn't Iran issued an invitation to remove its "militiamen" from Syria?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

ISIS bares its teeth in Syria, as Obama authorizes "boots on the ground" for U.S. troops.

Links: Obama authorizes use of U.S. troops in Syria.

On Friday, President Obama authorized the use of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.  Not surprisingly, Obama waited until Friday to make the announcement, limiting the media response.  The Administration made it clear that the use of U.S. troops would be limited to special forces action, and the decision comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict.  It was not immediately apparent what impact limited action by U.S. special forces would have, or if Russian and U.S. forces might come into contact.  Russia has not shied away from aggressive military action against U.S.-supported Syrian opposition.  If the United States decides to deploy U.S. troops, even in non-operational roles, a random Russian bombing raid could cause American casualties.  So even though "troops on the ground" have been authorized, don't expect to see it anytime soon, at least not in support of any of our so-called allies.
Until now, the Obama Administration had responded to increased Russian action in Syria with diplomatic commentary.  The decision to allow the use of U.S. ground troops is nothing more than an extension of that policy.  The Obama Administration has no intention of allowing U.S. troops to be directly involved in military action, especially following the death of a U.S. soldier in last week's successful joint operation with Kurdish forces to rescue a group of Kurdish prisoners.

On October 23, ISIS launched a major counteroffensive around the city of Aleppo.  In recent weeks, the Syrian regime, with support from Russian air elements, had retaken large areas in northeast Syria.  With a few exceptions, Russian bombing sorties focused on Syrian opposition positions.  While the world was focused on Russian and Syrian regime forces decimating the Syrian opposition, ISIS was preparing to take advantage of the new situation.  The ISIS attack put pressure on the main road which the regime uses to re-enforce Aleppo City from Homs and Hama Provinces.  ISIS also initiated attacks on Safira, a strategic town which is suspected of hiding some of the Assad regime's chemical weapons development.  The ease with which ISIS forces dispatched regime units in this week's attacks around Aleppo diminishes the impact of recent regime advances.  Since most of the groups opposed to the Assad regime are also opposed to ISIS, the Russian bombing sorties did much to aid the Islamic State.  As long as the Russian Air Force and regime forces limit their offensive efforts to attacking the Syrian opposition, ISIS will profit.  The current military situation in Aleppo provides a good example.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Russia taking advantage of disinterested Obama Administration to project military strength internationally.

In the last few months, Russia has aggressively extended its military footprint around the globe.  While most eyes are focused on Russian military action in Syria, Moscow has completed construction on a military facility in the Arctic, and stepped up diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Baghdad, Cuba, and the United Nations.  Everytime that Russia succeeds in extending its military influence, the United States suffers accordingly.  Russia's move to establish s military base in the Arctic comes on the heels of discoveries that the vast frozen areas north of the Arctic Circle hold great potential for mineral and fossil fuel exploration.  Researchers and businesses in the United States have also expressed interest in Arctic resource exploration, but the Obama Administration has responded to such entreaties with suspicion and concern regarding the potential ecological impact.  Also, the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba has apparently not dimmed the close relationship between Moscow and Havana.  Many expect Cuba to lead the proposed Russian military "coalition" in Syria.  Presently, this coalition can count Iran, pro-regime Syria, Hezbollah, and possibly Belarus as members; many consider this grouping of Russian allies to be a counter to the U.S. coalition already in place in Syria.

A number of U.S. allies are beginning to discreetly express concern over the apparent apathy that appears to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the later period of the Obama Presidency.  Since the election of 2008, most European leaders have been quick to support the Obama Aministration's policies, with the crises in Ukraine and Syria being two prime examples.  But as the failure of these policies become more apparent, and Obama seems unwilling to stand up and confront increased Russian global activity, certain European leaders are reviewing what options might be available that do not require the presence of the United States government in a leadership role.  No doubt our allies outside of Europe are also concerned about the lack of movement on the part of the United States.  China must also recognize that an opportunity currently exists, and will assuredly take advantage as well, while Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Australia wonder if the status quo can hold until a new administration takes over in Washington DC.

At present, more so than at any point in the last seven years, the United States needs to be an international leader.  This administration was quick to mobilize its diplomatic resources to conclude terrible treaties with both Russia (2010 New Start disarmament treaty with Russia), and Iran (2015 agreement on Iranian nuclear research).  Given that our allies are simply waiting for some sign of strength and consistency, it's not too late to check Vladimit Putin's strategy to create in Russia the world's sole super-power.  A fascinating aspect of these developments is that Russia's aggressive military and diplomatic moves have come while the Obama Administration continues to characterize Russia's economy as being close to collapse.  It seems as is if we've been waiting for that collapse ever since the beginning of the sanctions regime that was imposed on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.  I'm glad we weren't holding our breath.....

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Events in Iraq strengthen Iran's position.

On October 14, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) announced the commencement of a military ground offensive in the direction of Baiji and the strategic Baiji Oil Refinery.  Possession of the refinery has been contested since the initial early successes of the Islamic State (ISIS) in its invasion of Iraq.  This particular military initiative is being conducted in close cooperation with the Iranian-backed Shi'a militia Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, with a number of recognizable Iranian military advisers directly involved.  The announcement of this effort came as a bit of a suprise as beforehand the priority of the Haider al-Abadi Administration had been the recapture of Ramadi City and the defeat of ISIS in Anbar Province.

Early reports from Baiji indicate that the ISF and the Kata'ib militia have made impressive gains against ISIS positions.  A number a small, strategic communities to the west of Baiji have been recaptured, and The refinery itself has been returned to Iraqi government control.  We repeat these reports with a word of caution: the Iraqi press has a tendency to produce over-optimistic battlefield reporting, especially in the early stages of a new ISF offensive.  ISIS has been on the run in Baiji before, only to return quickly with stronger forces.  The Baiji Refinery has consistently been the site of heavy fighting because of its strategic value.  Additionally, the Iraqi people have expressed great interest in this particular contested location, which increases its importance from a public morale perspective.  During the next week, the actual success of the ground offensive in Baiji will become clearer.  If indeed the ISF, with strong support from the proxy militia Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, has reoccupied both Baiji City and the Refinery, it will constitute another victory for Iran over the United States in the effort to curry favor and influence with the Abadi Administration.

Because the United States was heavily involved in training the military units that are currently engaged in the effort to recapture Ramadi City, if the offensive fails, it will have a potentially catastrophic impact on U.S. influence in Baghdad.  Coincidentally, since the genesis of recent direct Russian military involvement in Syria, the Iranians have increased their visibility in Iraq.  In the past, the Iranians were content to limit their overt exposure to involvement with the Shi'a militias.  This has changed, as the Iranians,Russia and Iraq recently created a military coordination office in Baghdad, alongside offers from Moscow to the Abadi Administration to provide valuable intelligence  on ISIS.  The U.S. responded with a successful raid alongside Kurdish Peshmerga to rescue seventy Kurdish hostages from imminent beheading, but otherwise, the United States appears content to discuss cooperation with Russia regarding Syria, and to leave present military influence in Iraq to Iran.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The CIA in 2015: balancing force protection, terrorism, and traditional intelligence collection.

Since I formally retired from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) roughly five years ago, and I was given the opportunity to come out from under cover, I have been regularly approached by young people who are interested in a career with the organization.  The fact that I published a memoir, and had the misfortune to be poisoned during my career while working operationally, has created an awkward, public persona with my name attached.  I don't mind, because I come from the mindset that only experienced officers can truly recognize the attitude and determination necessary to be a successful Case Officer.  Unfortunately, I've never been approached regarding one of the many other opportunities the Agency offers.  The CIA consists of four separate Directorates, and each one promises a career unlike any other, with tremendous opportunity to learn about the world we live in, and to be part of supporting National Security.  Any job with the Agency also provides regular opportunity for advancement in an environment of great challenges.  When I chose to write this blog post, I decided to avoid any appearance of a recruitment pitch.  No job is perfect, and the CIA exists under intense public and even international scrutiny.  I had instances of frustration, but they were almost always connected to the unfortunate bureaucracy that comes with working for Uncle Sam.  If someone is under the mistaken belief that typical government problems don't exist at the Agency, the reality is, because of the sensitive nature of the job, scrutiny is even more a part of everyday work, and officers must be vigilant to follow ALL rules, regulations, and guidelines.  That being said, let me take a little time to express to you why my career with the CIA was the pivotal, most incredible experience of my life.

As a Case Ofiicer, I was given the opportunity to complete the most intense, all-encompassing training regime that has ever existed for an Intelligence Officer.  The organization will not put officers in the field who have not demonstrated a thorough understanding and respect for security, counter-intelligence, and tradecraft.  What is tradecraft?  Simply put, tradecraft are the skills a Case Officer requires to operate successfully in an overseas environment.  Because of the current public obsession with the subject of espionage, the average American has a distorted perception of the Agency.  The CIA has no law enforcement authority, and only functions domestically in joint-arrangements with our Federal Law Enforcement partners.  Following the horrific and mind-numbing events of September 11, 2001, the Agency began an aggressive effort to share resources with Law Enforcement in support of National Security.  I have worked closely in just such an environment, and the results have been more successful than the public realizes.  Also, CIA officers, beyond the security officers the Agency hires for its facilities, DO NOT carry weapons domestically.  Outside of war zones, CIA officers aren't normally armed overseas.  And if an officer has been assigned to a war zone or dangerous environment, he or she is required to complete a thorough weapons training and familiarization course.  Having to work in a wartime environment should not come naturally to most Case Officers, but the changed circumstances of National Security have necessitated the Agency's involvement in various conflicts worldwide.  This effort is part of the mission to ensure Force Protection- the collection of vital intelligence to protect our young men and women in uniform.  I was also fortunate to work in a number of denied environments, and I can assure you that there is no more important job than defending our troops, and no greater satisfaction after the successful completion of a job-well-done.

I decided to write a memoir in order to share my experiences as a victim of intended poisoning by someone I was meeting for intelligence purposes.  Please understand, this wasn't a situation involving a foreign government, it was about someone who was mentally unstable and trying to play "spy".  When you chose a career as a Case Officer, you do not have the luxury of deciding who has access to vital information.  Eventually in their career, every Case Officer will be obliged to meet with unpleasant people.  I was young and anxious, and probably missed warning signs that a more experienced officer would have detected.  Be that as it may, I discovered the true meaning of dedication once my medical issues became a concern.  The Agency supported me in every way, providing access to the best physicians and specialists that the country had to offer.  I will always be  grateful for the support I received for my medical difficulties while still working.  The CIA Office of Medical Services is as good as it can possibly get, with brilliant on staff physicians and nurses, who travel at a moment's notice to treat unexpected illnesses.  The Agency will travel anywhere to collect the intelligence that the government needs to keep the American people safe.  Therefore, you will on occasion find officers suffering from conditions normally foreign to us.  The Office of Medical Services keeps the Agency healthy in both mind and body, because the need for intelligence never sleeps.

During my career, I discovered a support network within the Agency that went well beyond my expectations.  In one way or another, everyone working at the CIA does a job in support of life-saving intelligence.  In a nutshell, CIA Operations Officers spend time overseas, collecting confidential information that is vitally needed by our government.  The information is relayed back to the United States, where it is organized, formatted, and disseminated to the appropriate government agencies.  Its obviously much more complicated, and planning, hiring, training, and execution are all essential elements of the CIA's mission.  In order to collect the intelligence to keep America safe, the CIA must continue to attract the best and the brightest that our country has to offer.  I always tell interested persons that bringing a language skill to the table, especially Arabic, Russian or Chinese, is a good start, as is a history of some overseas living experience.  But not every Agency employee ends up, or even desires to go overseas.  For those that do, the key is being to assimilate oneself into foreign environments.  The name of the game is discretion; the art of NOT being able to draw attention to one's self.  Also, any officer serving overseas must understand the no-compromise importance of following the rules.  Espionage is not a game or a movie, and people can die if someone gets lazy.  A career with the CIA requires extreme discipline, as inevitably you will be exposed to classified information of one kind or another.  Understand before you even begin to fill out the application, that the organization can only be successful if the need for secrecy is paramount and non-negotiable.  If you have a natural habit of sharing things without thinking, then probably the CIA is not the place for you.  But if you enjoy current events and foreign affairs, if you have great discipline and want to be daily challenged, if you love Democracy and want to be a part of protecting national security, then without a doubt, give it some serious consideration.