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Archive for July, 2008

Iraqis hold key to their own success

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald.]

One result of the ongoing presidential campaign is that the two issues of “success in Iraq” and “success of the surge” have become so conflated that many Americans have no idea that the two are totally separate matters.

John McCain has backed the surge from the onset. In fact, he was one of those who sought such a military strategy well in advance of its implementation. The surge, as a purely military operation, has gone a long way toward accomplishing the goal of bringing civil stability, or a lessening of violence, to Iraq.

The problem, which is exacerbated by disingenuous political campaigning, lies in confusing the success of the surge with ultimate political success.

Unfortunately, the real problem does not end, but rather begins with the success of the surge, and the outcome of the subsequent process of reconciliation is far from clear. If real political reconciliation were likely to come from our continued military presence in Iraq, then our best bet would be to persevere. However, the end result is unlikely to be favorably influenced by our continued presence there. In fact, as this is strictly an internal Iraqi problem, there is little we can do to help in any positive way. Our absence might be the best contribution we could make.

The surge was never sold by the military as an end in itself. Virtually all of our military leaders have said that there could not be a military solution to the problems in Iraq. The surge, in their minds, was designed to provide the civil stability and lessening of violence needed to permit the Iraqis to settle their differences and reach agreement on the future course of their country.

That goal has not been reached.

The reason this kind of agreement is difficult in Iraq is a function of the largely negative influence that 18th and 19th century Western colonialism had on that country and on the region as a whole. Many of the “countries” in the region are products of British or other colonial imperatives. The boundaries and ethnic/religious composition of these “countries” were configured to benefit the British Empire, certainly not the locals on whom they were imposed.

So in Iraq we have Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Shia, Sunnis, and Christians to name but a few.

That diversity, replete as it is with its ages-old rivalries and hatreds, is why the process is so difficult. To reach the kind of agreement needed for lasting political stability, each competing political, ethnic and religious group will have to voluntarily relinquish some of its individual interests and imperatives in favor of a greater national compromise.

The fact that the Shia are by far the largest group in Iraq and have long suffered at the hands of the previously ruling Sunnis is the kind of reality that makes turning Iraq into a real country such an ephemeral quest.

In the ongoing election process, John McCain has said clearly and repeatedly that he wants to leave timing to the “commanders on the ground.”

He has also said that success in Afghanistan is inextricably tied to success in Iraq.

Barack Obama wants to leave Iraq in 16 months. In addition, he wants immediately to begin planning for the transfer of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, where he sees them as badly needed and where he believes our real interests lie in the struggle with terrorism.

The Iraqi government, reflecting the will of the Iraqi parliament and people, would like us out by 2010, a date compatible with Sen. Obama’s 16-month withdrawal plan.

The real issue here, which is not being examined in the press or public forums, is that we need a reasonably accurate estimate of what is likely to happen when our forces are no longer in Iraq in sufficient numbers to maintain civil stability and whether or not a prolongation of our presence will have a positive or negative effect on that outcome.

The fact is that there will be either a peaceful transition to a new nation state, or unrest, competition and possible civil strife. The immutable here is that our continued stay in Iraq is likely to have little positive effect on that transition — it is a home-grown issue. In fact, if we stay longer, the Iraqis are likely to tire even more of us and become more inclined to support any insurgencies that might arise against us.

Short of a repressive, hundred-year, American occupation, we can’t save the Iraqis from themselves.

Haviland Smith, a Williston resident, is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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[Originally published in the Herald of Randolph.]

Americans are in a bind.  We are bogged down in an incredibly costly adventure in Iraq.  Our dollar is crashing.  Our national and foreign debt is skyrocketing.  We are mired in personal debt and losing our homes. Inflation is increasing at an unusual rate.  We have a worldwide petroleum shortage bringing us frightening prices at the pump and the furnace. And we face mounting prices for the food we need. There’s not a whole lot of good news out there.

In the midst of all this, we face the existential threat of global warming, a judgment which is now supported by the vast majority of scientists worldwide and even by President Bush, one of the earliest nay-sayers.  Americans who continue to deny this are living in a fool’s paradise, prayerfully hoping it isn’t so and driving SUVs and Hummers.

White House supporters tell us that we are going to solve all our problems by finding and pumping more crude.  Yet they all admit that this tactic will have no effect for at least 10 years, and probably not much even then.  Neither they, nor the Democrats have a solution for tomorrow.

There seems to be agreement, even among those who would drill in our waters and in Alaska, that we can’t pump our way out of the shortage.  So what are we to do?  Are we going to turn coal into oil?  The Germans did a lot of that during the Second World War and, God knows, we have a lot of coal.  Are we going to start producing shale oil?  There are apparently gazillions of barrels available there. Of course the problem with all of this is that these are carbon-based fuels that, when burned, contribute mightily to global warming.

So, it would appear that to solve both our energy needs and the global warming issue, we will have to do something else, something new, something different.

T.  Boone Pickens, the Texas oil billionaire and conservative Republican, sees the problem and has a passionate solution.  He is investing heavily in solar and wind energy.

General Motors arbitrarily scrapped its first electric, the EV-1, in 1999, before the advent of new, more efficient batteries. This car was produced from 1996-99 to comply with California clean air standards. The cars, all of which were available solely on lease, were recalled in 2003 and crushed, as if to remove all the evidence.  Now, GM says it will have a new, plug-in hybrid model, the “Volt”, in showrooms in 2010.

Right now, we are spending trillions of dollars on imported petroleum from abroad, using dollars that have been devalued by our profligate spending in Iraq, by our tax cut program, by our relentless consumption of imported goods and by our incredible energy consumption.

Some of that money indirectly supports terrorism aimed against our interests.  Most of it is coming back here and buying America lock stock and barrel. With real estate foreclosures rampant, Asians, Europeans and Middle Easterners, people with strong currencies, are snapping up American properties.  The same is true of our stocks and bonds and government instruments.  America is for sale!

Even if you can’t stand him, Al Gore is right! So is T. Boone Pickens and at least one GM executive.  We need to invest heavily in alternative, non-carbon based energy innovation. We need to become self-sufficient.

Americans are clever.  We always have been.  We can solve the technical problems involved here and in doing so, we will create products and technologies that will be in high demand around a globally warming world, items that will fix our balance of payments problems and put us squarely on our international and national economic feet again.  This will happen only if we get going right now.

Winston Churchill once said, “Americans always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else!” That’s remarkably perceptive. The absolute worst thing that could happen to us, given this Churchillian observation, would be to see the price of crude go down in any meaningful way.  If gas dropped to $2 a gallon, we would never put a penny into alternative energy research, prolong our petroleum pain and ultimately cook ourselves off our globe.

In fact, as some have suggested, we probably would be well served if the Federal Government put a floor under the price of crude.  Let’s say, they would never let it be bought here for less than $130 a barrel.  Any income they made in the process could be channeled into research on alternative fuels while the reality of that price would keep private investment focused on the research process and American drivers pushing industry and government for viable alternatives to their SUVs and Hummers.

Americans probably look at our current energy plight as wholly negative.  In fact, it bears with it the seeds of our national and international economic and political redemption.  America really needs to get on with it.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.  A long-time resident of Brookfield, he now lives in Williston.

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[Originally published on Nieman Watchdog, written by Steven Kleinman and Haviland Smith.]

Two veteran intelligence officials write that this country has a long history of successful interrogations – based on seduction, not coercion. Torture not only violates our core values, but leads to misinformation.

Fifteen former interrogators and senior intelligence officials with more than 350 years collective field experience in the military, the FBI and the CIA, spanning the period from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq, gathered last month for a two-day conference in Washington D.C. organized by Human Rights First. When it was done, we agreed on the following set of principles related to on torture and interrogation:

  1. Non-coercive, traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence.
  2. Torture and other inhumane and abusive interview techniques are unlawful, ineffective and counterproductive. We reject them unconditionally.
  3. The use of torture and other inhumane and abusive treatment results in false and misleading information, loss of critical intelligence, and has caused serious damage to the reputation and standing of the United States. The use of such techniques also facilitates enemy recruitment, misdirects or wastes scarce resources, and deprives the United States of the standing to demand humane treatment of captured Americans.
  4. There must be a single well-defined standard of conduct across all U.S. agencies to govern the detention and interrogation of people anywhere in U.S. custody, consistent with our values as a nation.
  5. There is no conflict between adhering to our nation’s essential values, including respect for inherent human dignity, and our ability to obtain the information we need to protect the nation.

Interrogation is the process of obtaining intelligence and/or information from detainees.  Over the many years it has been practiced by this country in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has become clear that coercive interrogation techniques not only do not work, but are often counterproductive.

Once a detainee is in our custody, the process of successfully obtaining what intelligence he has, is at its very best, a process of seduction during which the detainee is developed as a potential source of information.  This involves a solid understanding of what motivates the detainee and an ability to use that motivation to the interrogator’s advantage.

For anyone who has been involved in a seduction, it will be immediately clear that coercion simply will not work. What works is the exact opposite – a careful and thoughtful exchange of ideas and attitudes that will help the interrogator find a path to the desired intelligence.

Coercive techniques do not build mutual understanding, rapport and respect, the bases of successful interrogation.  In the world of terrorism, terrorists are taught to expect that the US will torture them.  Coercive techniques of any sort will be confirmation of that expectation and will thus harden their resolve not to divulge anything of value.  On the other hand, humane handling will be disarming and disorienting for any such detainee, leaving him open to non-coercive manipulation

Careful, non-coercive handling of the detainee from the moment of his apprehension is critical. Once in our custody, if any sort of coercion is applied to a detainee, the likelihood of a subsequent non-coercive approach being successful is just about over.

The FBI has never sought permission to use coercion on its detainees simply because they know it does not work and they can succeed without it.  The same is true with the Pentagon for the same reason and also because military use of coercive methods it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions and invites torture when and if its own personnel are detained by an enemy.

When people are tortured they will tell the interrogator what they believe he wants to hear, or lie, simply to put an end to the torture.  That puts the interrogator at the mercy of the detainee.  Misinformation and disinformation are logical, often dangerous outcomes of coercive techniques.

We are now often told that coercive interrogation has produced actionable information, however, some of what has been produced under torture may have been at best inaccurate and at worst, deliberately false.

There is no way of knowing what results could have been achieved if a detainee who has been tortured had been humanely handled with non-coercive interrogation techniques from the moment of his capture.  Such detainees often have the kind of massive, messianic ego that is easily manipulated by a really good interrogator.

Finally, there is the question of who we Americans really are.  It is simply inconsistent with everything we say we stand for to indulge in coercive interrogation techniques.  Even if they worked, which they do not, what kind of nation have we become in the eyes of the rest of the world as practitioners of torture?  That is not an image that is likely to produce significant intelligence, let alone promote our worldwide interests.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief, who served in Eastern and Western Europe, Lebanon and Tehran and as chief of the counter-terrorism staff.

Steven Kleinman is a military intelligence officer with twenty-five years of operational and leadership experience in human intelligence and special operations. He served as an interrogator in three major military campaigns in addition to teaching advanced interrogation and resistance to interrogation courses.

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[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.  Written by Steven Kleinman and Haviland Smith.]

Editor’s note: The authors both attended the June 24 conference cited below.

On June 24, Human Rights First published the following set of principles on torture and interrogation. The principles were put together during a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., by 15 former interrogators and senior intelligence officials with more than 350 years collective field experience in the military, the FBI and the CIA, spanning the period from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq. They declared unanimously that torture is an “unlawful, ineffective and counterproductive” way to gather intelligence.

The officials stated the following:

“Non-coercive, rapport-based interviewing approaches provide the best possibility for obtaining accurate and complete intelligence.

We reject torture and other inhumane, abusive interview techniques. We believe such techniques are unlawful, ineffective and counterproductive.

Use of these techniques has resulted in false and misleading information, loss of critical intelligence and serious damage to the reputation and standing of the United States. Use of such techniques also facilitates enemy recruitment efforts, misdirects or wastes scarce resources, and deprives the U.S. of the standing to demand humane treatment of captured Americans.

There must be a single well-defined standard of conduct to govern the detention and interrogation of people in U.S. custody, consistent with our values as a nation.

There is no conflict between adhering to our nation’s essential values, including respect for the inherent dignity of individuals, and our ability to obtain the information we need to protect the nation.”

Of the 15 present, all but a few of them had been directly involved in the process of interrogation during their careers. All those who had been practitioners of interrogation agreed without exception or reservation with the above statement.

Interrogation is the process of obtaining intelligence and/or information from detainees. Over the many years it has been practiced by this country in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has become clear that coercive interrogation techniques not only do not work, but are often counterproductive.

Once a detainee is in our custody, the process of successfully obtaining what intelligence he has, is at its very best, a process of seduction during which the detainee is developed as a potential source of information. This involves a solid understanding of what motivates the detainee and an ability to use that motivation to the interrogator’s advantage.

For anyone who has been involved in a seduction, it will be immediately clear that coercion simply will not work. What works is the exact opposite – a careful and thoughtful exchange of ideas and attitudes that will help the interrogator find a path to the desired intelligence.

Coercive techniques do not build mutual understanding, rapport and respect, the bases of successful interrogation. In the world of terrorism, terrorists are taught to expect that the United States will torture them. Coercive techniques of any sort will be confirmation of that expectation and will thus harden their resolve not to divulge anything of value. On the other hand, humane handling will be disarming and disorienting for any such detainee, leaving him open to non-coercive manipulation.

Careful, non-coercive handling of the detainee from the moment of his apprehension is critical. Once in our custody, if coercion of any sort of coercion is applied to a detainee, the likelihood of a subsequent non-coercive approach being successful is just about over.

The FBI has never sought permission to use coercion on its detainees simply because they know it does not work, and they can succeed without it. The same is true with the Pentagon for the same reason and also because military use of coercive methods it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions and invites torture when and if its own personnel are detained by an enemy.

When people are tortured they will tell the interrogator what they believe he wants to hear or lie, simply to put an end to the torture. That puts the interrogator at the mercy of the detainee. Misinformation and disinformation are logical, often dangerous outcomes of coercive techniques.

We are now often told that coercive interrogation has produced actionable information, however, some of what has been produced under torture may have been at best inaccurate and at worst, deliberately false.

There is no way of knowing what results could have been achieved if a detainee who has been tortured had been humanely handled with non-coercive interrogation techniques from the moment of his capture. Such detainees often have the kind of massive, messianic ego that is easily manipulated by a really good interrogator.

Finally, there is the question of who we Americans really are. It is simply inconsistent with everything we say we stand for to indulge in coercive interrogation techniques. Even if they worked, which they do not, what kind of nation have we become in the eyes of the rest of the world as practitioners of torture? That is not an image that is likely to produce significant intelligence, let alone promote our worldwide interests.

Steven Kleinman is a military intelligence officer with 25 years of operational and leadership experience in human intelligence and special operations. He served as an interrogator in three major military campaigns in addition to teaching advanced interrogation and resistance to interrogation courses.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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[Originally published in the Burlington Free Press.]

The Vermont economy, like the national economy, is in trouble. We are often given vapid reassurances by politicians that things are not all that bad, but economists and real working people have rather different take on the matter.  Unfortunately, many are anticipating a further, probably fairly serious deterioration of our national economy.

Vermont does not have the kind of balanced revenue mix that mitigates economic recessions. It is a state that is inordinately dependent on tourism for its income.

Spending on tourism is almost entirely discretionary. That money is spent after the necessities of life have been secured, that is, if there is any money left over. Vermont’s visitors, who directly and indirectly provide a large amount of Vermont’s tax revenues, are squarely in that category.

Wednesday’s Burlington Free Press had an interesting front-page article on IBM’s decision to invest $l.5 billion in new production and 1,000 new “nanotech” jobs in New York rather than in Vermont (“IBM investing $1.5 billion in New York,” July 16). In it, IBM’s concerns about the negatives of conducting business in Vermont, which have been made “quite clear” to Vermont officials, are laid out once again. Listed are: “the circumferential highway, energy prices, housing costs and site permitting issues”.

In contradistinction to these issues stand the contemporary Vermont preoccupations with sprawl, opposition to the Circ, environmental laws that slow down and sometimes paralyze the permitting process as well as attitudes toward energy generation, particularly alternative approaches, and other regulatory issues.

Vermont Republicans, in the main, would like to see a more favorable business climate because it would stimulate job growth and that, in the long run, would increase state revenues. Additional revenues would then permit investment in Vermont’s infrastructure, which would also support a more favorable business climate.

Democrats, on the other hand would like to have more money for social programs, medical services, education, low income housing and support for our underprivileged citizens. Presumably this would come through increased across the board taxation.

Increased taxation and the continuation of Vermont’s current attitudes toward businesses like IBM will not provide new income sources for Vermont’s economic needs. In purely economic terms, that will not foster growth. Without growth, there will be little hope for increased revenues to support the projects favored by either Democrats or Republicans.

It is absolutely pointless take sides on these issues, even though virtually all Vermonters do so. Given the structure and current state of Vermont’s economy, which does not favor increasing state incomes, Republicans and Democrats want additional resources, albeit for different purposes.

And yet, no party seems ready to budge an inch. Talk about the softening regulatory environment or building the Circ and there is a great hue and cry from those organizations that oppose them, even though they might be part of the solutions they seek for greater revenues. Talk about increased state resources for education in support of a better-prepared work force or state sponsored health care that would ameliorate the business climate and the Republicans howl.

The key here is well-paid jobs. Right now, because of its practices, laws and policies, Vermont has not positioned itself favorably in the national inter-state competition for those jobs.

No one can have it both ways. The kind of entrenched, diametrically opposed political attitudes that exist in Vermont today are not going to solve any of the state’s problems, particularly in these difficult economic times. Vermont will continue to have to try to muddle through.

Haviland Smith lives in Williston.

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What was it we were fighting for?

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

As a group, intelligence officers are like automobile repairmen and electronics technicians: They are preoccupied with why things happen. In the case of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, that has presented a perplexing problem: Given the results, just why did the Bush administration invade Iraq?

All of the “compelling reasons” that supported an Iraq invasion and which have been presented by the White House to the public and Congress, have been proven to be either suspect or deliberate distortions of the truth. The existence of weapons of mass destruction, substantive Iraqi contact with al-Qaida, the suggestion that Iraq was behind or in some way involved in 9/11, the liberation of the Iraqis from a repressive regime, that we would be greeted by Iraqis throwing flower petals, the spread of democracy in the Muslim world and “fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them at home” have all succumbed to subsequent examination.

All of these mendacious rationales should be relegated to the category of things said by the Bush administration to keep the American people frightened and thus willing to continue to support a war in Iraq. Americans are also asked to support all those administration policies – wireless wiretapping, renditions, torture, Guantanamo, etc. — which are claimed to be an integral part of that effort and of the “Global War on Terrorism” and, coincidentally, to keep them supporting the Republican Party.

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s recent “tell-all” book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” whether you admire him personally or not, indicates clearly that every time the White House or its supporters says anything that pertains to Iraq, Iran, terrorism or just about anything else, we all need to think again and question what has been said. It’s not that this book is going to tell us a lot about the Bush White House that we don’t already know or suspect, it’s that it gives us a frame of reference for just about everything said by this administration and its supporters since the decision was made to invade Iraq.

It now appears that the slow and deliberate parceling out of “reasons” for the invasion were part of a carefully designed propaganda effort designed to get America behind the Iraq invasion and the global war on terror. At worst, this effort appears to have been a purposeful administration attempt to mislead the public and the Congress. Of course the next question that begs to be asked is, “why was this ‘culture of deception’ put in place?”

This administration, probably because it believed that a perpetual climate of fear would keep Republicans in power, has done everything possible to keep its citizens ginned up and fixated on their personal security. Only a frightened, intimidated and security-obsessed population could be counted on to support the war on terror and the Iraq occupation. As long as that atmosphere could be maintained, the Republicans could fantasize about long-term occupancy of the White House and the Congress, the “permanent Republican majority” dreamed of by Karl Rove. Hence we also have the Rumsfeldian concept of the “long war” and Sen. John McCain’s recent notion that we could maintain a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years” and that “would be fine with me.”

Until the national repudiation of Republican Iraq policy in the 2006 congressional elections, this deception effort was quite successful. The machinations that have provided those successes have included measures like our color-coded terrorist warning system, enhanced airline security, increased border controls and the Patriot Act. Most effective of all have been the constant accusations by the administration and its supporters that if you are not with them, if you say anything negative about any of the so-called global war on terror policies, you are you are somehow unpatriotic, an appeaser or worse.

We now know from two insider “tell-alls” that the Iraq invasion had been planned prior to 9/11. It would appear that, in order to perpetuate Republican power, the Bush administration undertook the invasion, inter alia, to mire America in a permanent struggle which would create and maintain political support at home. Incredibly, they did so against the advice of the vast majority of experts on foreign policy and the Middle East, both in the government and in academic life.

This Iraq policy, sold by a duplicitous domestic propaganda machine, has brought America international political isolation, a severely damaged military establishment, rejuvenated Muslim fundamentalist terrorism, a weakened dollar, record national and foreign debt, a recession uniquely accompanied by inflation, diminished constitutional rights and political divisiveness here at home. Who is winning here?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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