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Archive for the ‘Russia’ 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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President Trump addressed our NATO allies in Brussels today, giving a speech that perfectly well could have been written by Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? Because it was brazenly inappropriate for the NATO venue and almost certainly was badly received by those allies and their constituents.Forget his boorish, egocentric behavior in abruptly and rudely shoving a fellow NATO member out of the way so he could move to the front of the assembling pack of dignitaries. Focus instead on what he actually said and did not say during his speech and on the likely effect that those words, or lack of words, would have on his fellow NATO presidents and their people.

The president hit hard on his view of the need for NATO members to tighten their immigration procedures. That is one of his ongoing complaints and one on which most Europeans disagree with him. It is an issue on which he has minor support around the world or even at home. It was hardly appropriate for that particular meeting of NATO heads of state.

In addition, he used the occasion to complain bitterly about the ongoing disinclination of many NATO member countries to pay their way, thus saddling the American taxpayer with expenses that should have been borne elsewhere. All of that is true and it is a theme that has been addressed by every American president since Harry Truman. This was a message well known to NATO and one which, under two of Trump’s predecessors, was beginning to have a positive impact resulting in rising contributions. His harping is not likely to help his cause.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West.

What would have been appropriate for Trump to cover was a reiteration of America’s support to its fellow NATO members to accept and support the provisions of Article 5. That NATO provision commits every member to support any and all attacks against any of its fellow members. It was Article 5 that prompted the entire NATO membership to sign on with America after 9/11.

We are now at a moment in time when Russia is behaving very aggressively with most of the Western world, most emphatically including NATO’s European members. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Crimea. Additionally, the Russians have clearly been meddling in European elections. Here at home we have seen it in their covert meddling in our primary election process.

Under present circumstances, what our fellow NATO members wanted from the United States president was a clear, unequivocal statement that we still support NATO and adhere to the provisions of Article 5. They got neither.

What they got was a speech that never seemed to contradict Trump’ previous negative statements on NATO or the European Community. It never stated this new American administration’s commitment to NATO and the provisions of Article 5.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West. It was almost entirely negative and non-supportive on those issues on which the NATO members wanted, needed and expected to hear — a strong reiteration of America’s past supportive policy.

America will find diminishing support for its leading role in NATO and the world, including in the counterterrorism arena, one of great importance and one of Trump’s favorites.

Just what Putin would have wanted if he had written the speech himself.

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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 published in THE RUTLAND HERALD                      

 

Vladimir Putin is a Russian who understands Russian history. He is swayed only by his pragmatism and has a very precise picture of what he wants for Russia in the world today.

President Donald Trump has a sparse record on the policy level and can only be measured by his statements since the beginning of the primary campaign.

Keep in mind that Russia is still very much our enemy. The fascinating thing is that Putin’s stated goals seem to be almost completely in harmony with those of Trump. Precisely what are those goals?

NATO

If Putin could write his own ticket today he would want to see the end of NATO, which has been a thorn in the side of Russia since its inception in 1949.

Trump has called NATO “obsolete.” There is concern here and in Europe that Trump’s comments will not only undermine the European Union, but benefit Russia, which would prefer a weakened NATO and a strained Europe-U.S. alliance.

Trump, in his distaste for NATO, has made it abundantly clear that he opposes the membership of any of the former Soviet satellite countries in that organization. What this has done is strengthen right-wing political movements in those countries, movements that oppose the E.U. and NATO and their countries’ involvement with them.

EUROPEAN UNION

Putin will revel in Britain’s exit from the E.U. and in the chaos it causes. The political swing to the right resulting from the xenophobic European reaction to the refugee flow and the concomitant move away from European political cooperation is clearly approved by Putin. Such is the case in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Trump shows little love for the E.U., saying recently that he had a “very bad experience” in which “getting the approvals from Europe was very, very tough.” Trump seemed to be referring to an E.U. ruling against a wall he wanted to build at an Irish golf course he owns because it would endanger protected snails.

Trump has negatively dismissed the 28-member E.U. as a “vehicle for Germany.” European officials and analysts say the Trump administration seems to be trying to rewrite the terms of the U.S.-E.U. alliance in ways that are potentially destabilizing for Europe.

SYRIA

The flow of refugees from Syria, the rest of the Middle East and Africa to Europe does not bother Putin because that flow also further weakens the E.U. and, through that, NATO. That partly explains the continuing heavy involvement of Russia in the Syrian conflict.

Trump’s Syria strategy, as seen by Foreign Policy, would be a “disaster.” The president-elect wants to fight the Islamic State and to cease support to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The main effect of those policies, however, would be to eliminate the moderate opposition to the Assad regime, empower extremism and create chaos across the Middle East.

EAST EUROPE

The historical Russian preoccupation with border states like Estonia, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, all of which are showing indications of dissatisfaction with E.U. involvement, is of critical interest to Russia today. One of the causes of that discontent, migration from the Middle East and Africa, is something the Russians would clearly like to foster.

US DOMESTIC

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.

Given the first few days of his administration, it is clear that Trump wishes to continue the ideological and political divide that has plagued this country for far too long. His recent edicts on Muslims in the U.S. have provoked widespread, divisive demonstrations around the country. His moves in foreign policy have exacerbated the same national divisions.

US INTERNATIONAL

Putin would want to see America to withdraw from the world, particularly from areas like the Middle East where Russia has had unmet goals for centuries. He would do everything possible to see us lose our ability to affect events abroad.

“America First” — we all know that to be a cornerstone of Trump’s overall policy. What it means in terms of our foreign policy is that we will withdraw from the world. No longer will America be a dominant force, politically economically or militarily, in the international arena.

If you agree with Russian policies as reflected here, then there is no problem. If you do not, this administration’s policies are a real cause for worry.

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Originally published in the Valley News

Ukraine is in ferment. Roughly one-half of the population (largely the half that populates western Ukraine) is in favor of joining up with Western Europe and most of the rest of the world both politically and economically.

 

The other half, which populates the eastern side of Ukraine and contains most of Ukraine’s nearly 8 million ethnic Russians, favors joining Russia. Western Ukraine is largely Roman Catholic, where the east is Russian Orthodox.

 

Does that sound vaguely familiar? Well, it should, because it is really nothing much more than a replay of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, the old KGB colonel, has never given up on the Soviet theme of hegemony in their “near abroad” — those countries that abut their borders.

 

With a population of almost 50 million, Ukraine is high on the list of countries he would like to see return to mother Russia. In fact, what is clearly a major initiative on the part of Russia in Ukraine can logically be expected, should Russia succeed, to refocus the same sort of attention on the other countries in Eastern Europe that slipped out from under the Soviet/Russian yoke with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

 

It seems highly unlikely that Russia will interfere directly and overtly in the ongoing Ukrainian struggle. The events of 1991 probably ended Russia’s option for that kind of direct military intervention in its old Eastern European domain, and current realities in the West would make such a move fraught with danger for the Russians.

 

But then that’s not how the Russians like to operate. They are far more at home with covert, clandestine operations and provocations of the sort run so often by the old Soviet Union.

 

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the communist regime’s last-ditch effort made to keep control was to order the Soviet military into action against the demonstrations. It didn’t work because almost every soldier knew that he or she had friends and relatives among the demonstrators. In this context, it is fascinating that the only concrete warning given by President Obama on the Ukrainians was that they not commit their military establishment to the struggle. Additionally, there is little reason to believe that the Ukrainian government would be any more successful with military intervention than were the Soviets in 1991.

 

Masters that they are of provocation, it is likely that the Russians are doing everything they can to increase tension in Ukraine. It is worth noting that where the struggle started with rubber bullets, there were later live rounds in use. The demonstrators were reportedly using them against the Ukrainian authorities. But who were those demonstrators? Given what we know about Russia and its history in clandestine operations, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that there are Russian agents provocateurs on the streets firing live rounds at the Ukrainian authorities.

 

So, what is the United States to do? Clearly there is an element that feels we should get involved in any and all events where we somehow feel threatened. The real question is whether or not our involvement is in our own national interest.

 

To better judge that issue, we need to look at Russian motivation and goals. Putin would clearly like to reassemble the old Soviet East European Empire, and the best possible first step there would be to succeed in bringing Ukraine back into the Russian fold. If, for no other reason, that would encourage the Russians to think they could succeed with the rest of their reassembly project.

 

But that seems incredibly far-fetched. Ukraine is a European issue, and it seems unlikely that Western Europeans will be enthralled by the prospect of Russian success. The European Union has already entered the fray with sanctions against those Ukrainians believed to be involved in the Kiev carnage, coldly dismissing strident Russian criticism of their plans.

 

Given West European attitudes and the likely failure of Ukrainian military involvement against the demonstrators, Russian success in returning Ukraine to the fold seems highly unlikely. We can and certainly should give moral support to the European Union. Anything more that that would be crazy.

 

 

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