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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......