Archive for the ‘intelligence’ Category

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

On Sunday, July 23rd on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, Congressman  Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the most important issue facing the country in the Russian matter was whether or not the President had some as yet unearthed vulnerability that might make him susceptible to political control from Moscow.

In this crazy world, the President is his own worst enemy.  Despite his virtually endless statements about “fake news” and this “witch hunt”, all he has managed to do with his constant tweets is keep the matter alive and on the front pages, to the detriment of his own and the Republicans’ agendas.

In what clearly was a rash initiative on the President’s part, he said recently of those states that refuse to participate in the work of his “Election Integrity Committee”, “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”  Did it not occur to him that the exact same question could be asked about his dogged refusal to release any information on his tax returns?  What then would be his reason to worry of those returns became public.  Parenthetically, it is beginning to look as if the Mueller investigation may go after that information.

There is a wealth of factual information available that reveals much of what motivates the President.  Just look at the Mueller investigation and the events that led up to it.  Start with the firing off FBI Director Comey whom he has ever since done his very best to vilify.  Move on to Attorney General Sessions who is now be castigated for having recused himself from the investigation of the Russian matter, despite the fact that that recusion was dictated by Justice Department rules.  Just now we see the President attacking the acting Director of the FBI for not vigorously pursuing Mrs. Clinton and her “wrongdoings”.

The President clearly will do or say anything to get the Russian investigation off his back.

One must ask if the vilification of Sessions is a precursor to his firing, to the appointment of a new Attorney General and to the ultimate firing of Mr. Mueller.  In the meantime, it has been widely reported that the Trump White House has ordered that Mueller and his investigators be thoroughly vetted with the goal of impugning their integrity and impartiality.  That sounds like the good old Nixon days!

It would appear that, irrespective of his success in denigrating the Mueller group, the President will have to deal with increasingly bipartisan motivated investigations in the House and Senate Committees.  And in the midst of all this, some of his closest advisors and family members are being asked to appear before those committees.

That apparently has persuaded the President to ask about his ability to pardon people, even including himself.  In this specific case, the President has reacted to outside stimuli in a way totally consistent with someone who is guilty of something.  It is certainly not the reaction of a person who has nothing relevant to hide.

Finally, and in the same context of the issue put by Congressman Schiff, we need to look at the President’s policies as reflected in his actions and statements, to see if they are  consistent with the goals of any foreign power.

Examine the moves made by President Trump during his short time in office.  Under hostile influence, every move would have to undermine American strength.  He would have to undercut NATO, weaken the European Union, causing dissention within the former East European countries, damage US foreign policy goals, weaken the international influence of the US, encourage the destabilizing flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe.  He would move us out of international agreements (Climate, NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership). Trump’s recent move to cease support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria is a specific Russian goal, now achieved.

He would get an A+ from any hostile country on all of these issues.

Putin’s underlying goal is to return Russia to the kind of “glory” and “power” that it had during the Cold War. To do that, he would have to somehow reduce the vast world-wide influence of the United States.  It really doesn’t matter whether, as suspected by Rep Schiff, the President is under Russian influence.  The President could see Russia as a power base and consider his close support of their policies to be his exploitation of the Russians, rather than their exploitation of him..

What really does matter is that Trump’s policies are clearly closely aligned with and supportive of Russian goals for the world, making our current policies a real cause for worry for Americans who recognize that Russia is not our best friend.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe, and the Middle East working primarily against Soviet and East European targets.  He was also Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff and Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the CIA. 

The author’s other writings can be seen on https://rural-ruminations.com

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First Published in Vermont Digger

The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook defines an “agent of influence” as “an agent operating under intelligence instructions who uses his or her officialdom or public position, and other means, to exert influence on policy, public opinion, the course of particular events, the activity of political organizations and state agencies in target countries.” Thus, the concept of an agent of influence was well known in the USSR and remains so in today’s Russia.

During the Cold War, it was generally accepted at the CIA that coercive recruitments involving some sort of blackmail more often than not did not work at all, or if they initially appeared to work, they often fell rapidly apart. The reason for this is clear. People who are coerced into recruitment find themselves in a subservient position to the recruiter (case officer). They are constantly worried that the secret on which the coercion was based will become public and are continually concerned that the secret will ultimately be used to force them into increasingly dangerous situations. All of which is a shaky basis on which to start an inherently dangerous clandestine relationship.

We learned that good recruitments are based on mutual interest. Recruitment is a successful nonsexual seduction. If the potential agent can be found to have needs or desires that can be satisfied by the case officer, that is precisely where we wanted to be. We wanted the potential agent to understand that we supported him or her in many possible ways. Money? Perks? No problem! Some of our targets wanted revenge on their bosses. One particularly fascinating agent wanted revenge on the KGB because during collectivization in the 1930s, they had taken and later killed his grandfather’s cow! That was his sole motivation for cooperating with us. He never took a penny while he totally raped the KGB and the USSR.

In fact, some “successful recruitments” never involved acknowledgement on the part of the agent that he or she was an agent at all. Normally in such cases, some fig leaf of a noble motive for mutual cooperation was concocted to make such an admission unnecessary – support of world peace, avoiding conflict, etc.

This could be particularly important when dealing with a potential agent of influence, many if not most of whom were important people in their own environments. If they had not been, how could they be of assistance? The only important characteristic in an agent of influence, is that he be motivated to carry through on the goals important to the case officer. Even if he was recruited in a “honey pot operation” (sexual seduction), a critical staple of the Russians, or was motivated by his need for money, power, recognition, revenge or anything else, that agent could often be enticed into full cooperation on the basis of the premise that he was cooperating for reasons that were morally acceptable to him, that he was saving world peace or improving relations between the two countries involved. It mattered not one whit whether or not this was objectively true.

What mattered was that he support the goals of his case officer and take direction from him.

In this context, it is fascinating to look at the positions taken by President Donald Trump on U.S. national and international issues, as those positions clearly support the goals of today’s Russian government.

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats. Ditto our relations abroad, particularly those with European countries. He applauds our disengagement from economic cooperation around the world, seeing us therefore weakened.

Additional Russian goals include: The weakening or destruction of NATO and the European Union; the encouragement of authoritarian governments in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark in the context that European dissent would weaken Europe and increase Russian chances of reestablishing hegemony over the USSR’s former Warsaw Pact allies. They support Brexit as it weakens European cooperation. These goals are supported by most Trump policies.

And through it all, Trump defends Putin in the context of Russian meddling in our elections over the judgments of his intelligence community!

Despite the fact that there are clearly jointly held goals and policies, this does not mean that any sort of formal relationship exists between Russia and Trump. If he falls into any convenient category, it may well be that of unacknowledged cooperation as described above.


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During the Cold War, the United States Intelligence Community was plagued with conspiracy theories covering just about any event that was deemed to be important to our national interest. Some of those theories were so wild that they were unprovable one way or the other. Others were clearly the product of some individual’s paranoia. Many of them were the product of a general unease within the Intelligence Community over the aggressive activities of the Soviet Union and her allies.At the end of the Cold War, those paranoid concerns began to drop by the wayside. They were not revived until the planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field on 9/11. That raised a wholly new paranoid concern – that the 9/11 events had somehow been engineered by unidentified powers within the United States government. The Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Intelligence Community were all labeled at one time or another as the evil powers behind that horrendous event.

In retrospect, what finally put most of those old conspiracy theories to rest were two realities. First, there was never any hard intelligence provided to prove the theories. Second and more important was the realization that any theory that relied on the participation of vast numbers of American citizens would be doomed to failure simply because, at the very least, one of them would have blown the whistle on the plot. The best example of that was the realization that American government involvement in 9/11 would have required far too many participants to have kept it secret. And such a conspiracy was never proven or revealed by hard intelligence or human penetrations.

Was that the end of the age of conspiracies? No way! The 17 member organizations of the U.S. Intelligence Community have said unequivocally that Putin’s Russia was involved in a conspiracy to effect the U.S. elections of 2016. Although few “facts” have been made public, there is a solid consensus that it really happened and that the Russians were actively involved in the operation.

However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors.

One thing that makes today’s new conspiracy theorists so intensely focused on this Russian involvement is the clear picture that our president has given about his likes and dislikes, most emphatically including his views about the world leaders with whom the United States must deal. What he has told us is that, first and foremost, he admires strongmen who seize power and exercise it in whatever way is necessary to maintain it. However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors. What sort of intellectual, moral and ethical environments do these attitudes set for members of this administration?

The list is endless and includes primarily those who, at best, have terrible human rights records and employ what in this country would be seen as extra-judicial methods in order to maintain their power. His favorites begin with Vladimir Putin of Russia and continue with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdelfattah Said Al Sissi of Egypt, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In addition, he has spoken admiringly of Syria’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moamar Khaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, China’s Xi Jinping, Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Why would any president of the USA openly deal with or speak positively of such a group? When thinking about that, one has to consider that that may be precisely what our president would like to be, a powerful autocrat. If that is the case, and particularly given Russia’s involvement in our 2016 elections and his recent praise for Putin, it becomes less problematical to speculate about Russia’s further involvement in U.S. politics.

Today’s Russia, particularly under the leadership of former KGB Col. Vladimir Putin and his former KGB colleagues, and specifically in the fields of intelligence collection and intelligence manipulation, is simply a continuation of Soviet Russia. The KGB’s successor organization, the SNB, is simply a continuation of the old days with new people.

The questions that any conspiracy theorist has to ask are pretty simple. What was the nature of Russian intervention in the 2016 election? What if any assistance did the Russians get from people in the Trump campaign? If they exist, who were they? Most important, if such relationships existed, as broadly alleged, have they been maintained by the Russians into the president’s first term?

That is the crux of the matter and that last question is essentially rhetorical. Soviet and Russian modus operandi dictates that they would maintain such relationships, particularly given the overriding importance of America to them as an intelligence target. Given the acknowledged meddling of Russian intelligence in our election, it would be foolhardy to assume, at least until proven otherwise, that the Russians have not recruited and are not running any penetrations of the current American administration.

In the end, conspiracy theories will persist. Some of them are accurate, particularly when they appear to be supported by existing facts.

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Originally published in Vermont Digger

Thanks to the infighting between the Trump administration and the congressional Democrats, it is now patently clear to anyone who cares to know that the U.S. government has phone taps on the Russian Embassy in Washington. That was probably an unnecessary revelation, but it will have few negative ramifications for the United States.

Equally, there will be few consequences for the Russians in their embassy. They all know from their own experiences and their own identical operations against other countries that such taps must exist and that they must conduct their business accordingly. The only consequences for them will be that people who might want to contact them anonymously may now have a second thought about doing so, fearing their identification through those taps.

The issue that remains in this bizarre situation is, what was in those phone calls? Does anyone in his or her right mind believe that there are no transcripts of those calls? There simply are no phone taps that do not produce transcripts.

It must be obvious that Russia is hostile to the United States. To think otherwise is dangerously naïve.

 Having acknowledged the existence of the phone taps, we have already done as much damage to our own counterintelligence efforts as we could have – and that was not too much. Having done that, why don’t we release the contents of those calls between members of the Trump primary campaign and the Russians?

The Trump primary workers and the current Trump administration have indicated that those employees have committed no crimes or indiscretions and that there have been no contacts with members of the Russian Embassy staff. They have only acknowledged those made by Gen. Michael Flynn on the issue of sanctions. That being the case, they should be happy to see the contents of the transcripts revealed, since, according to them, they will be vindicated.

This is not an issue that should be brushed aside. It must be obvious that Russia is hostile to the United States. To think otherwise is dangerously naïve. Their national goals and ours are totally different and increasingly in conflict.

It seems obvious that the Russian government has made a number of covert attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, that is internationally unacceptable behavior. It would seem that this Russian government has every intention of continuing this kind of covert action operation and since it strikes at the most basic elements of our democratic form of government — free elections — we cannot afford to let it slide by unchallenged.

Given what we have been told by the congressional Democrats and the Trump administration and assuming that everyone involved is telling the truth, there would seem to be no American losers, only Russian, in an examination of the transcripts of those phone calls.

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Originally appeared in The Rutland Herald

It’s hard to believe that anyone save the most rabid republicans, could have watched the goings on in the White House over the past few weeks and not be horribly disappointed in what has been revealed.


In less than a month, we have been informed that President Obama was unaware of the fact that the NSA was listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, as well as the phones of thousands and thousands of other friends and allies, or that the Affordable Care Act’s internet roll-out in early October was facing crippling problems and that more related problems would be revealed almost daily thereafter.


Something is gravely wrong here.  Either the President/White House is lying, or it is not in control of the Executive Branch of our government.  Either way, the situation is unacceptable.


The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is President Obama’s most important legislative initiative.  It may well prove to be the foundation of his presidential legacy.  Given those facts plus the energy and attention he has paid to Obamacare and its implementation, the premise that he was not aware of the problems well in advance is simply unacceptable.  If he was aware, then his action in going ahead with the roll-out before it could be a guaranteed success was incomprehensible and inexcusable.


Of course, the other possibility is that the President’s staff did not keep him informed on the incipient problems.  If that’s true, then heads should roll, but none have.  How could a President sit idly by and not be intimately involved in his most important legislative initiative?


The third possibility is that the President simply does not have control over either the White House or the Executive Branch.  That could only be explained by the White House’s lack of experience in Washington.  For a President to be successful in this country he and his staff have to be on top of everything of any importance that’s going on in the government, particularly any issues that are directly threatening to the President himself.


Which brings us to Mr. Snowden, the former NSA contractor, and his revelations about American electronic intercepts.  First, for those readers who see him as some sort of admirable or heroic whistle blower, it seems more likely that his efforts will prove to be highly traitorous.   Only time will give us a definitive answer, but there is every likelihood that what he has done will prove to be one of the most devastating reverses ever suffered by our intelligence community.  In the process of telling our enemies precisely what we do, he will aid them immeasurably in helping them defeat our efforts to protect ourselves.


The first question one must ask is how an employee of a private US firm which contracted to the NSA got such incredibly broad access to extremely sensitive information.  At a minimum, existing clearance and access procedures need to be carefully examined by our security experts.


The root issue here is not when the President got to know about NSA’s programs, the issue is whether or not he was ever informed at all.  If he was informed, say about Chancellor Merkel, then he most certainly should have put a halt not only to that effort, but to all other efforts targeting the leadership of our important foreign allies.  When it comes to risk vs. gain, there would seem to be little argument in this and other similar cases in support of gain.  Only a President could make that kind of judgment.


The other possibility, however remote, is that his staff was aware of these NSA programs and chose not to inform him.  If that proves to be the case, then the responsibility still lies at the foot of the President. The first question any incoming President has to ask the leaders of his intelligence community is whether or not they are doing anything at all that, if made public, could seriously damage our security or our standing in the world.  At that point, risk vs. gain kicks in and any president is left with the choice of whether or not to continue the program.


In one month, we have seen two such programs, one that has damaged the President and the other our standing in the world.  As the President himself has said, quoting Harry Truman, “The buck stops here”.  And it really does.  And in doing so, it has made the President and the White House look like amateurs.

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Originally published in the Perspective Section of the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times Argus

When Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947, establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, it was the first time the United States had ever had a peacetime intelligence organization.

The concept of a secret U.S. intelligence organization had been widely publicly discussed between the end of the Second World War and l947.  Those who opposed the idea pointed out the dichotomy of housing such an organization in a liberal democracy.  Wouldn’t its existence go against the basic tenets of democracy?  It was a serious, prolonged discussion which was finally resolved in favor of the creation of the CIA.  The rise of the USSR and its acquisitive policies in Europe played a major role in forming a consensus that America would need the services of such an organization in the coming years.

So, the CIA was created to stand with existing military intelligence organizations and, in 1949, with the National Security Agency, as the United State’s primary espionage agencies.  This effort came to exist primarily because of the proclivity of other nations to guard their secrets, particularly when those secrets represented any potential threat to the U.S. and its citizens.

All of this discussion was open and public in nature.  None of it was classified.  Anyone who wished to become informed on the subject could find ample original source information in the public media.  The result was that anyone who chose to know could find out in short order that the United States was setting up a post-war intelligence structure to support foreign and military policy makers in the coming Cold War.

Now, suddenly, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have jolted us, as an amnesic nation, into re-opening the same conversation, proving, if nothing else, that

America has no corporate memory.

If you believe that serious threats to the American nation ended with the demise of the Soviet Union and that no other such threats exist against the United States today, then probably you don’t see any objective need for this country to maintain an intelligence gathering structure.

If, on the other hand, you are concerned with America’s ability to protect herself against non-state terrorism, nuclear proliferation and nations that might somehow wish to harm us, then perhaps you can see some advantage in our having an efficient, functioning intelligence collection system.

The sole purpose of such a system is to provide policy makers with accurate information on the capabilities and intentions of any group that might wish to harm us.  During the Cold War we benefitted from the fact that we knew pretty well precisely who and where those hostile groups were.

Today’s world is far more complicated and confusing.  We are faced with a fragmented, franchised terrorist enemy which comes at us not only from abroad, but from within our own country.  Unlike an enemy directed by the Soviet Union, today’s enemies are self-directed individuals and groups, often with no ties to any central organization.  In intelligence terms, this deprives us of the option of penetrating the main organization to learn what the affiliates are planning to do.

Then, strictly in support of foreign policy, we are dealing with regions like the Middle East where political stability is a thing of the past and where the main result of the “Arab Spring” has been chaos, which has made policy decisions extraordinarily complicated and accurate intelligence mandatory.  Further, the nuclear activities of countries like Iran and North Korea mandate intelligence input.  And because none of these countries and non-state actors is going to tell us what they are up to, covert intelligence collection is the only answer.

Intelligence collection was never designed to go unmonitored in America.  The 1947 Act and subsequent legislation creating the intelligence community have had built into them appropriate controls that mandate legislative and judicial monitoring.  In fact, today all we have are allegations that wrongdoing is possible, not that it is actually happening. That’s akin to saying that the US military shouldn’t have guns because they might one day aim them at their fellow Americans.

What that implies is that those Americans who are most agitated by information coming from today’s leakers and are most negative on intelligence collection are those who believe that those who work in the intelligence community or monitor their work are not to be trusted.

There are two keys here.  First, the overwhelming majority of employees in the intelligence community are honorable, patriotic, well-intentioned people.  When you combine their sense of right and wrong with solid, appropriate oversight, you minimize whatever problems might arise.

Second, without intelligence, we are blind in an increasingly hostile and dangerous world.


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Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

By Haviland Smith

It would be fascinating and probably terrifying to know even roughly what amount of money and resources it took for this country to prepare for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A quick look at New York City shows the kind of money everyone wants to spend and no one wants to fund.

When Osama bin Laden first got geared up on his quest to bring down the United States, he said very clearly that one of his goals was to bankrupt us. Of course, what he meant was that he planned to create the conditions that would bring us to bankrupt ourselves.

It is critical to remember here that terrorism is not designed to overwhelm. It is designed to undermine. In that context, whatever it does to cause or initiate anxiety in targeted populations and governments, it relies on the reaction of those populations and governments equally as much to achieve its final goals. And America has reacted in ways that have haunted us and will continue to haunt us for decades. Bin Laden could not have wished for more.

The American measures that have flowed from 9/11 have cost us trillions of dollars. Our “War on Terror,” upon which our military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been hung, our domestic “counterterrorism” operations and our intelligence operations designed to wipe out al-Qaida leaders have contributed to trillions of dollars of post-9/11 debt.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration and the country as a whole had a choice between two reactions. We could stick with the basic tenets of counterterrorism operations and go after al-Qaida with our police, special operations and intelligence resources, or we could introduce measures that would prolong the atmosphere already created by the attack by introducing countermeasures that would keep our country perpetually on edge.

We chose the latter in violation of Benjamin Franklin’s injunction that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

We passed the Patriot Act, which added a layer to an already bureaucratized intelligence community. It also “legalized” major diminutions in our civil and individual liberties with highly questionable and warrantless surveillance and police programs and the new “national security letters.” We implemented a color-coded warning system, which, it seemed, was ramped up whenever our leadership thought we were getting complacent. We instituted Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “enhanced interrogation” and renditions.

And we did all this in the face of sheep-like acquiescence of the American people and their elected representatives who clearly felt that safety was more important than freedom.

What would have happened if we had not orchestrated major military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and become involved up to our ears in Pakistan? Would we have suffered a second major attack here at home? No one can answer that question with certainty, and it is possible that we will ultimately suffer such an attack despite everything we have done that we think has prevented just that.

Part of that possibility lies in the fact that everything we have done has had the side effect of alienating those moderate Muslims (at least 99 percent of the Muslim world) who had no fundamentalist beef with us. Much of that damage has been done by the presence and operations of our military in the name of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, where there are practically no terrorists, and Iraq, where there were none until after our 2003 invasion.

What we have done in our paranoia is put ourselves at the mercy of our own federal, state and municipal governments, which are singularly preoccupied with covering their posteriors. They cannot afford to overlook anything they think is a “credible” threat.

Even worse than that, we have put ourselves in the position of being vulnerable to any provocations that the remnants of al-Qaida, or anyone else, might wish to run against us, and we have done so completely voluntarily.

We have fulfilled bin Laden’s and the other terrorists’ dreams. They can now simply whisper to anyone we consider to be a reliable source that there is an attack in the works and America will galvanize as we did on 9/11 of this year, raising national paranoia and spending billions. Curiously, that could be what just happened in New York City.

The big question here is how can we undo what we have already done to ourselves before we go bankrupt in an ultra-frightened and paranoid national security environment?

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

One of the primary purposes of any foreign intelligence organization like the CIA is that it provide to policymakers the best and most accurate information and analyses. In the language of the trade it’s called “speaking truth to power,” a statement that correctly implies that not all makers of foreign policy welcome the information provided to them by the intelligence community.

It is a simple fact of life that much of our foreign policy evolves as a result of domestic political needs rather than the intelligence and analyses that reflect the facts on the ground where the policy is to be implemented.

An excellent example of the perils involved in foreign policy formulation can be seen in the efforts of the Bush White House to influence the production of intelligence analysis during the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Former CIA officers have reported that Vice President Dick Cheney made numerous visits to CIA headquarters to ensure that a crucial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction was alarmist enough to scare Congress into authorizing the Iraq invasion.

At the same time, an Office of Special Plans was set up in the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz and headed by Douglas Feith to “relook” or re-examine the raw intelligence that had led to the unhelpful conclusions that the White House found “inaccurate” and unsupportive. Its purpose was to find “overlooked” raw intelligence that would support the White House’s planned Iraq invasion.

It also has been reported that George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, finally told his analysts that if they wished to have any influence on Bush White House foreign policy, they would have to modify their analyses.

This can happen during foreign policy formulation. If the foreign policy authors have already decided on the policy they want to pursue and that policy is not supported by the available intelligence and analyses, it can lead to attempts to subvert the intelligence system.

The appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA raises some interesting issues. In his March 2011 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee he said, “As a bottom line up front, it is ISAF’s assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible. Moreover, it is clear that much difficult work lies ahead with our Afghan partners to solidify and expand our gains in the face of the expected Taliban spring offensive.”

Petraeus is an intelligent, ambitious, educated military officer. He enjoyed unprecedented success with the “surge” in Iraq, even though there were other critical elements over which he had no control that heavily contributed to the surge’s success.

However, while the general was speaking of the progress made in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times was saying that the analysts of 16 intelligence agencies in Washington (in an NIE) “contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban” and that Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to train, support and manipulate Taliban groups in Afghanistan.

And this while we are dealing with a totally dysfunctional President Karzai and Afghan realities and history that have defied foreign manipulation and exploitation for centuries.

It was subsequently reported that the 2011 NIEs on Afghanistan and Pakistan said that the fight was not winnable without Pakistani engagement against Taliban militants on its side of the border. Our military commanders have challenged this conclusion.

The question here is not who is right or wrong about Afghanistan. The question is whether or not any individual, despite an exemplary character and record, is capable of changing roles from that of head cheerleader for Americans who favor our continued involvement in the Afghan war to director of the organization that up until now has been reluctant to be optimistic, given the realities that exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, about our prospects for any kind of success in that region.

Given the current demands on our national purse — our aging population, our current economic fragility, our infrastructural disintegration, our failing educational system and the expense of the largest military establishment in the history of the world, it is inordinately important that the new CIA director be able to accept the analyses of his organization and pass them on to the White House.

He must speak truth to power.

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The old saw tells us that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.  But that really isn’t true.  A terrorist is a  terrorist and an insurgent, or freedom fighter, is an insurgent. If we are able to stick to labeling them on the basis of what they actually do, rather than what we think they represent, we will be able to keep them straight and stand a much better chance of dealing effectively with terrorism.

Insurgencies are movements designed to overthrow existing governments.  Some are popular and have pretty good prospects for success. Some are not. Generally they spring from within populations.  If they are successful, it is because they generally represent the population’s views and thus have their support.  That makes them very difficult to defeat, particularly by a foreign government.

It is extremely difficult to define “terrorism” largely because it is such an emotional subject.  The United Nations has been unable to do so. Having said that, there are certain characteristics that are helpful in identifying terrorists.  They use violence and asymmetrical warfare as their primary tools.  They are not typically organized like insurgencies, but rather resemble politically oriented covert action groups. They use their terror psychologically for maximum impact to intimidate populations rather than simply kill individuals.  Finally, they are non-state groups.

Historically, governments have been far more successful against terrorist groups than they have been against insurgencies, primarily because insurgencies tend to enjoy more support from local populations

Today’s American foreign and domestic counterterrorism policies have been built on the “Global War on Terror” or (GWOT).  The Bush Administration labeled everyone it didn’t like a “terrorist”, never taking the time to differentiate between terrorism and insurgency.  That was our first mistake. The Taliban, despite the fact that it commits terrorist acts, is essentially an insurgent organization. Yet, until recently, they were constantly referred to as terrorists, perhaps because we needed terrorists for our GWOT in an Afghanistan where there were hardly any Al Qaeda members left.  Even though Afghans generally hate Taliban policies, and with good reason, they will often chose them over us if they are forced to do so.  We are, after all, the foreigners in the fracas.

Our second mistake was in deciding to “solve” our terrorism problems with the military might that had so brilliantly served us during the preceding fifty years.  In employing a military response, we were using an asset that had been designed in the Second World War to sweep across northern Europe in an attack on Germany and then further fine-tuned during the Cold War to sweep across Germany and Poland to defeat the USSR.  How we figured that was an appropriate tool for dealing with the new terrorism is hard to understand.  The answer probably lies in the fact that the military establishment wanted a piece of the action, and all it had to offer was its sword.

Until the early May operation that dispatched Osama bin Laden, the only example we had that argued that massive military response might not be the best approach, was the initial invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.  In that operation, a handful of special operations troops accompanied by a small number of intelligence officers, kicked off a blitzkrieg that ended in very short order with the literal destruction of Al Qaida in Afghanistan and, coincidentally, the defeat of the Taliban.  Remember, this was the “GWOT”.  Afghanistan initially had nothing to do with insurgencies, only with 9/11 and the terrorists.  Even though it all went south with the subsequent invasion of Iraq, the lesson was there to be studied, absorbed and implemented.


In 2010, the Rand Corporation reviewed the findings of its own 2008 study of 648 terrorist groups that existed around the world between 1968 and 2006.  It concluded that of those groups, 43% were absorbed quietly back into the environments in which they had been active, 40% were defeated by police and intelligence operations and 7% by military confrontation.

In Islam, as elsewhere, true terrorist groups most often are involved in activities that are dangerous to the general population.  Such groups, as in the case of Al Qaeda, often include members who are foreigners, who have goals inimical to the local population’s goals, or serve non-local causes. In the case of Al Qaeda, they often kill Muslims, a sin under the Koran. In short, they do not necessarily spring from and represent the ideas and desires of the local population.

Terrorists normally operate clandestinely in their local environments, trying to avoid identification by local populations. In fact, they often conduct operations designed to pit one portion of the population against another, simply for the purpose of creating chaos.  That was part of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) operational approach under Abu Musab al Zarqawi. AQI provocations were designed specifically to goad Shia into attacking Sunnis or vice versa, simply to keep the pot boiling.

When terrorists are the object of an essentially clandestine response like the one we conducted in Afghanistan in early October 2001, it is they alone, not the local population that are being targeted. That fact gives operational advantages to the special ops personnel and non-military police and/or intelligence officers working against them and permits local resident neutrality or even support for the local authorities.

When terrorist operations become known to local populations and are recognized as threatening or opposed to their interests, those populations often turn against them, as was the case with AQI at the beginning of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq, when the Sunni “Awakening” began to methodically wipe them out.

In direct contrast, when terrorists are confronted with military power, particularly foreign military power, the entire equation changes.

Let’s start here by stipulating that what America seeks from local Muslims in the struggle with radical Muslim terrorism, is optimally their support or, failing that, their neutrality.

As we know from our own experiences in the Middle East, American military confrontation tends to force the local non-combatant population to make a decision about whom to support, particularly if the local population believes that our “terrorist” is his “insurgent”. Will it be the foreigner or the local?  This is the main reason that accurate labeling is so critically important and that a non-military approach is preferable in cases of terrorism. Is he a terrorist who is not seeking the same goals as the population and can be justly opposed? Or is he an insurgent who is on the same page with the population and must be supported?  If he is a terrorist he is less likely to be accepted or protected by the locals.  If he is really an insurgent, he will be one of them and they will back him against the foreigner.

If we misidentify out of carelessness, stupidity or even willfulness, as may very well have been the case in the past, we will likely employ the wrong techniques against the troublemaker, whatever he really is.


As if all this terrorism/insurgency discussion is not enough, our problems in the Middle East are made especially difficult by the facts that exist both there and here in America.  The historical, political and cultural differences between us are numerous and important.

The Middle East is rife with ongoing conflicts.  Sometimes they are absolutely overt, sometimes they are less obvious, but they are always there and have been for millennia.  The Shia/Sunni split, the Persian/Arab competition for hegemony in the Gulf, the anomalous position of the Kurds. The hangovers of the Crusaders, Western imperialism and US Regime change operations in Syria and Iran have all added up to a region in which, today, the notion of liberal democracy is quite foreign and its bearer is viewed with extreme suspicion.  There is little history of democracy. The peoples of the region, particularly given their tribalism, ethnic and sectarian differences have no experience that would prepare them for the freedoms and responsibilities that must come with self-rule and liberal democracy.  What they do have is a Koran which gives any believing Muslim an exhaustive blueprint for life.

On the other side of the ledger, we have a United States that is ruled by its own American exceptionalism and eager to save the world by exporting its model.  Yet, we are a wildly impatient, ADHD nation, short on planning, and married to short-term political timetables. In foreign affairs, we tend to evolve policies for American domestic political reasons, eschewing the realities that exist abroad.  We talk democracy and support the most repressive rulers in Islam. For over sixty years we have failed miserably to bring peace to Israel and Palestine. We are so bereft of influence there that the sides are preceding in their own respective directions without reference to America.   Yet, our goal seems to be a desire to install “democracy” in a world that has little reason to want to accept it.  As a result, we are seen as opportunistic, narcissistic and hypocritical.

Many, if not most of these problems have solutions that would help us.   The “Arab Spring” will change the Middle East forever, as the rebellions against existing authority have completely stolen the show from Al Qaeda, rendering their dreams of a medieval caliphate virtually obsolete.  The rebellions have brought some sort of self-determination to those people who outlast the tyrants that have recently ruled them.  If we can bring ourselves to accept self-determination in place of democratization as a viable goal for them, active nation-state hostility to us will subside.

What we can do completely on our own is change our counterterrorism policy.  When we attack terrorism with our military establishment, as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2003, terrorism morphs into insurgency. That insurgency then demands our involvement in the export of democracy and nation building, all of which are matters at which we are demonstrable failures.

We are proposing to do all of this in the face of popular American disinterest in and lagging support of our adventures in the Middle East.  Reality is additionally determined by a burgeoning national debt, ongoing national economic problems, a wildly expensive military establishment built for wars we do not face and acute national taxophobia.

We need to acknowledge that our current use of military might against terrorism in acutely counterproductive. In the absence of that constant military presence, local governments will find it politically more acceptable to share Al Qaeda as an enemy than they do today.  We need to concentrate on our liaison relationships with friendly countries, our production of intelligence on all terrorism activities and our training and deployment of the kind of special operations teams that we have recently seen operating so successfully.

The effectiveness of those teams and of a program based on them, coupled with the absence of our provocative uniformed military in battle all over the region, will give us a better shot at solving our problems in the region.  At the same time, a change in counterterrorism tactics and the deployment of a greatly reduced, but uniquely competent force should permit the saving of billions of dollars and the opportunity to put our economic house in order here at home, while it raises our prospects of diminishing the future threat of terrorism.

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[Originally published in the Randolph Herald.]

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The recent tragic events in Arizona have caused some American legislators to consider whether or not we should be paying more attention to some of the more important people in our country with a view to protecting them from the armed crazies who would try to kill them.

Before we plunge headlong into that activity, it might be useful to consider some of the ramifications of any course of action that is purportedly designed to increase safety.

First, you can be safe, or you can be free. You cannot be both. In the process of acquiring safety, you will have to give up some of your freedoms, and they are not easy to retrieve.

Just think back on the immediate post-9/11 period when our government, in an attempt to improve our security, passed the Patriot Act and amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, both of which directly impinged on Americans’ civil liberties.

The ACLU summarized our losses under that legislation quite succinctly. Overnight we got: wireless wiretaps; statutory authority for the government to get a court order to come into your home without your knowledge and even take property without notification; the ability of the government to obtain many detailed, personal records including library and bookstore records, financial and medical records, and Internet communications without probable cause and without meaningful judicial review.

For those records that could be obtained using “national security letters” there was no judicial review at all. Finally, changes to immigration regulations and the President’s claimed authority to detain “enemy combatants” sanctioned indefinite detention without criminal charge and without meaningful judicial review.

In March 2002, we were given a color-coded terrorism threat advisory scale—green, blue, yellow, orange, red—which had no objective criteria and therefore could not be accurately evaluated. It was a massive government CYA operation that had absolutely no positive outcomes for us or our security. It served only to show that the government was at least doing something about our security.

At the same time, it kept us on perpetual edge and fostered an environment in which additional “security measures” would be more readily accepted, making the population more susceptible to the Neoconservative concept of the “Long War”.

If you want the closest thing you can get to total security, you need to look at the old Soviet model. In that system, a police state was set up, not to provide security, but to remove liberty and opposition to the state. Over the years, informing on others became so ingrained in the people that the elaborate Soviet informant system evolved. Everyone was expected to report anything different to the KGB. That system did a pretty good job of insuring security for the people, but it also completely removed their civil liberties.

If you drive south on I-95 in Maryland you will see widely distributed overhead signs erected by the state’s terrorism tip line (800 number provided) encouraging you to “Report Suspicious Activity”.

Our airports, railroad stations and bus terminals are filled with reminders to report suspicious activity and suspicious packages.

The Department of Homeland Security has provided us with the “Eight Signs of Terrorism,” which urges reporting “suspicious” activities. DHS has also produced a video to outline those signs and provides an elaborate format for reporting them.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with any of these measures. Our federal state and municipal governments would be foolish not to try to enlist its citizens in the struggle with terrorism. Any US citizen would be derelict not to report any activity he or she sees as part of an impending terrorist attack.

The problem is that all of these post 9/11 laws, measures and policies have led and will continue to lead to a diminution of our civil liberties. Once you get momentum in that direction, it’s really hard to pull back. Ask anyone who has lived in a totalitarian state.

It’s your choice, free or safe. You can’t have both.

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.

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