Monday, August 24, 2015

Wonder If Pyongyang Was Reading These Hillary Emails -- When Former President Carter Offered to Go to North Korea "Commercial"

In early 2009, a pair of U.S. television journalists got picked up by North Korean police near the border with China. Never ones to let a potential hostage crisis go to waste, North Korean officials in June sentenced the still-photogenic young women to hard labor. Within days, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got an email.

It was an offer of help from a high-profile American who'd been to North Korea before as part of an unofficial effort to resolve a crisis (this one the 1994 showdown over North Korea's nuke program, which deflated into years of hapless American diplomacy that ultimately left Pyongyang with a stockpile of atomic weapons).

"Hillary: As I explained to you on the phone, I don't think it is appropriate to tell them (the North Koreans) that I will come only if they agree in advance to release the women. Your response was, in effect, 'They have already agreed.' Is this correct? If not, I will go, by commercial airline if necessary, representing The Carter Center, and try to induce them to approve the release. JC:" emailed someone with the first name "Jimmy" and the last initial "C," whose last name has been redacted from the email (below) by the State Department, but who is almost certainly former President Jimmy Carter.

Secretary of State Clinton's initial response was not to send a warm thank you back to Carter, or even offer him some frequent flyer miles for the trip, but rather to look for someone else to consult (Or dump the problem on?)

She asked her assistant for the emails of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Kurt Campbell, State Department Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

If Secretary Clinton ended up emailing these officials, we didn't see that string in the declassified Hillary email files (are those resulting emails classified? or did Hillary pick up the phone instead?). But we do know one thing for sure: When the time came to send someone to Pyongyang to retrieve the journalists and boost his humanitarian cred, it was a former president, but not the one who emailed for the job.

In early August 2009, the world learned that Bill Clinton had jetted to North Korea (not on commercial, bur rather the private jet of one of his billionaire supporters). According to media reports, other emissaries had been discussed (former Veep Al Gore was cited in one report on a list that did not include Carter). But Pyongyang apparently held out for a bigger title.

After Bill offered some modest apologies and spent face time with then North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, the journalists received a special pardon and the former President whisked them home.

President Obama was quick to thank Clinton (and Gore): "I want to thank President Bill Clinton – I had a chance to talk to him – for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists."

[To be sure, Bill Clinton deserves praise, since flying across the world to a dangerous country, treating with a homicidal maniac dictator and riding back with two exhausted journalists long separated from American bath products was no doubt more risky and less enjoyable than other trips he's taken on that private jet. That said, it was some great press for the "Clinton Brand."]

Hillary was careful to emphasize that Bill's role was "private" and separate from the official discussions between America and the North: “I want to be sure people don’t confuse what Bill did, which was a private humanitarian mission to bring these young women home, with our policy..."

We haven't run across President Carter's reaction to losing out on the mission. Given his fondness for high-profile diplomatic initiatives, and willingness even to fly commercial on this one, we don't imagine he was smiling:

One addition note: Accompanying President Clinton on his trip to Pyongyang was his long-time aide and former White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta.

Podesta is now Chairman of Hillary's presidential campaign.

Returning from the trip Hillary's chief of staff pronounced "quite fab," Prodesta quipped: "I think I am now waived in to practice in the North Korean military courts." (Editorial aside: Those are probably not the courts in which Hillary may one day need Podesta's legal assistance.) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

U.S. Special Forces Now Train the Same Middle East Group They Helped Crush During the Top Secret "War That Didn't Happen"

In the tangle of ethnic and religious bloodletting across Iraq and Syria, one group stands out for its fighting spirit and friendliness to America: the Kurds. Many in Congress have urged the Obama Administration to do more to assist this ethnic minority and the region they control in Northern Iraq, and U.S. Special Forces are now training and supporting them.

Ironically, few Americans (but probably many more Kurds) are aware that U.S. Special Forces were once dispatched on a secret mission to crush the Kurds during a Cold War insurgency.

This was "The War That Didn't Happen," as an official U.S. special operations history calls it (see below a page in 1994's Air Commando! from the Air Force Special Operations Command, written by then-Air Force Colonel and well-known special operations historian Michael Haas.)

The 1963-4 mission to help subdue a Kurdish insurgency in Iran was "the one and only clear-cut, unambiguous victory I would be associated with in my career," later wrote a veteran of numerous American special operations during the Cold War, Air Force Maj. Gen Richard Secord. He adds in his book Honored and Betrayed (see below): "Perhaps it was the last such victory America would enjoy until the 'great' Panama raid of 1990..."

Secord writes respectfully of the Kurd's warrior spirit and desire for independence, long frustrated by the sprawl of their ancestral lands across the modern borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey. After World War II, the Kurds sought Soviet sponsorship for their fight to establish an independent Kurdistan, starting with territory in Iran, which put them on the wrong side of America and its then-ally, the Iranian government. Under the leadership of their so-called "Great General" Ben Bella Mustafa Barzani, the Kurds obtained safe haven in Iraq and began an insurgency across the border in Iran.

"By 1962, the Iranian police...had lost control in many of the rural and mountainous areas," wrote Secord (later known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair). Soon Iran's leader, the Shah, a major recipient of US military aid during the Cold War, asked for help.

Secord, another Air Force officer and 80 U.S. Army Special Forces troops arrived to help the large Iranian military defeat the Kurds. First the Americans helped develop a plan to seal the border between Iraq and Iran, reducing the movement of guerillas into the battle space, then moved to improve Iranian counterinsurgency units and their leaders, said to rely more on beating their troops than training and inspiring them.

The Army film "Assignment Iran," from this general era, shows U.S. Special Forces training Iranian special operations troops in Iran.

Iranians tutored in counter-insurgency tactics were sent into the mountains for the classic combination of civic action to win support from locals and combat operations to root out the guerillas.

"Our advisors went into the field with Iranians in the role of stiffeners," recalled Secord. He and the other Air Force advisor rigged Iranian trainer planes with rockets and machine guns to provide close air support, plus outfitted a transport plane with a load speaker for psychological operations.

"By spring 1964, the war was essentially over...the hard-core Kurdish troops withdrew permanently to the Iraqi side," Secord recounted.

Before long, the sides had flipped as Kurds re-targeted their guerilla war against the Iraqi government, with covert assistance from Iran and the U.S during the 1970s. This too ended badly for the Kurds when Iran suddenly shut off their aid and sanctuary, leaving many to the mercy of Saddam Hussein (and convinced they'd been double-crossed by Washington.)

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurds fought alongside American Special Forces, ultimately carving out their own jurisdiction. More recently, the Kurdish "Peshmerga" military force in Iraq has proven the most effective Iraqi unit in the fight against ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

U.S. Special Forces units are now training the Peshmerga while a related group of Kurds across the border in Syria, the YPG, are helping direct American air strikes against ISIS. Yet a third Kurdish group is present in the area -- the PKK is a communist force that has long fought the Turkish government over Kurdish areas in Turkey. Considered a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States, the PKK controls bases in Northern Iraq.

These relationships grew even more tangled this month, as Turkey bombed PKK positions in Iraq, upsetting the American military. “We had U.S. Special Forces not far from where the Turks were bombing, training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters," a U.S. source told Fox News. There are also reports of the Turks firing on YPG forces, despite their help to the US fight against ISIS in Syria.

It's been over fifty years since U.S. Special Forces helped build what Secord called the "sinews of war" -- combat infrastructure such as communications, intelligence, training and logistics -- to help the Iranians beat the Kurds.

Now they're doing the same thing for the Kurds to help them beat ISIS.

Given that Iran's regime is now an enemy of the Kurds and Americans alike, it's certainly not out of the question that the Kurds might use their new "sinews" to help American special operators gather intelligence against Iran, where many Kurds still live.

And who is the president of today's Iraqi Kurdistan, which works so closely with the U.S. military? Massoud Barzani, son of the very "Great General" whose Kurdish guerilla army was beaten with the help of U.S. Special Forces advisors in the 1960s.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Need More Reasons to Love Ronald Reagan? How He Took On an Anti-Semite and the Communists: Declassified FBI Files

Ronald Reagan nearly punched out an anti-Semite during World War II, before becoming a "One-Man Battalion" against the attempted communist take-over of Hollywood, declassified FBI files show.

The voluminous files (most about threats against Reagan) were posted a couple months back and can be found here (and appear to include some files provided in the past as well).

Reagan played a key role in preventing the Communist Party from subverting the influential Screen Actors Guild in his first stint as the union's president from 1947-52 (he returned to the position years later to help negotiate a ground-breaking agreement that provided health and pension rights for actors, along with residual payments for their performances. In contrast with presidents since, prior to his election Reagan had actual hands-on accomplishments improving the position of union members.)

Reagan's fight for the soul of his union was not some witch-hunt against left-wing dissent or attempt to "blacklist" innocent liberals. He publicly defended the right of people to hold communist beliefs, but drew the line against secret efforts to undermine democracy itself, the goal of many members of the American Communist Party and its task-masters in Moscow. Downplayed, whitewashed and mischaracterized for decades by the media and mendacious, often compromised entertainment figures, the communist effort to gain control of Hollywood, and the plan's overseas links, were indeed wide and insidious. This has been increasingly documented by historical work in recent years that parallels revelations from declassified US and Soviet files about the range of American government officials working for the Soviets during the Cold War. For a new look at this effort in Hollywood, see: Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters – Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler  [Find related work on communist agents in the government here and real life "Manchurian Candidates" here.]

Reagan's effectiveness in thwarting these plans was highlighted by none-other than well-known actor and one-time communist Sterling Hayden, known to modern filmgoers for his role as the corrupt police captain in "The Godfather." (To be fair, despite his involvement with communism and numerous personal problems, Hayden was a WWII combat hero, in contrast to Reagan, who had weak eyesight and spent the war as an officer in public relations and movie production. For more on Hayden's remarkable life, see here.)

Hayden, as seen in the document above, revealed Reagan was responsible for blocking the efforts of his communist cell and was a "one-man battalion" against the communist movement in Hollywood.

Of course, the Soviets were also known for their anti-semitism (and their agents in Hollywood -- as documented in the book above -- literally followed the "party line" to discourage opposition to the Hitler regime during its alliance with Moscow.)

Ronald Reagan apparently was having none of that either. The declassified document below quotes a report from the FBI's LA office that "Ronald Reagan almost came to blows with a man who made anti-Semitic remarks" during a 1943 cocktail party in Beverly Hills.

[The document below also mentions a radio broadcast by Reagan against the Ku Klux Klan.]

There's no doubt that history -- including declassified history -- continues to treat Ronald Reagan well.

Monday, February 9, 2015

FBI Disses Wikipedia

To review the FBI files on a dead person (or as much of the files as the Bureau will release), one has to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the organization with evidence the person has died (unless the subject's birth date is more than 100 years ago). Such "proof of death" can include "copy of a death certificate, Social Security Death Index, obituary, or other recognized reference source" (emphasis ours).

We have made such FOIA requests many times, including recently for Harry Towers, a deceased entertainment producer once linked to some political intrigue of interest to us.

For proof of Towers' death, we provided the FBI with his Wikipedia page, see it here, which includes links to obituaries from well-known publications Variety, The Guardian and The Independent.

However, the FBI kicked back our request, saying: "The FBI does not accept Wikipedia as a recognized reference source" (see the letter below).

In our experience, Wikipedia entries on dead celebrities are generally accurate and usually include links to outside publications that can certainly be considered reliable and "recognized reference source(s)."

But the FBI's policy again raises questions about Wikipedia's accuracy  -- questions that surface with some regularity. Back in 2005, the well-recognized journal "Nature" reported Wikipedia was almost as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. That analysis sparked a debate that continues until today, a debate well summarized by -- you guessed it -- this Wikipedia entry. [Worth noting is that the FBI, in our experience, is always eager to find ways to dismiss FOIA requests at their earliest stages, so the motive here may also involve making it harder for requesters to provide acceptable "recognized reference sources." Another example: the FBI told our network that it could not find any records on North Korea's top intelligence and terrorist organizations; see here.]

So what do you think: Should the FBI accept Wikipedia entries for proof of death, even if that means an FBI processor might have to visit the page to double check the sources? Or is the Bureau correct to reject this crowd-sourced information as a "recognized reference source?"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Millennials" Are Security Threat, Says Army's WikiLeaks Investigation

Along with a host of bureaucratic shortcomings, cybersecurity flaws and leadership screw-ups, the US Army investigation of 2010's massive WikiLeaks compromise of classified information identifies a major threat: "Millennial Generation "soldiers, those born between 1980 and 2000. [Note: Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who released massive amounts of classified information after the Manning case, is also a Millennial according to the definition in this report.]

Also known as the "Net Generation," they are the most technologically savvy yet, but bring a "new culture" in conflict with key military standards, says the 2011 report, recently released by the Army in redacted form (see excerpts below from "AR15-6 Report -- Compromise of Classified Information to Wikileaks (sic)").

WikiLeaks' source, PFC Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, is a "bellwether" of this "new cohort of Soldiers (sic) who enter military service with attributes and beliefs that differ markedly from those espoused by their predecessors," reports the investigation's author, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Jr., currently superintendent of West Point. [Manning pled guilty to leaking the documents -- which the US government says disrupted diplomatic relations, endangered US troops and exposed Afghan informants -- and is now serving a long sentence.]

Their "new culture" is based on social medial, isolated from "the real world," dismisses the need for confidentiality and ignores potential "tangible results" from online activities.

"Millennials develop values and loyalties in the virtual world that often clash with more traditional values and loyalties in the physical world," the general writes, "Millennials believe it acceptable to act in any way one wishes -- their actions generate no perceived consequences for which they may be held to account," asserts the report.

This creates a substantial threat, given the military (and broader government and intelligence world) shift after 9/11 in the philosophy or providing access to classified information -- from the old "need to know" to the new "need to share."

The Army must train its leaders (often from "Generation X," with some "Baby Boomers") about the "new culture" and have them drum into their Millennial subordinates an awareness that releasing sensitive information can risk the lives of their Army buddies -- or as the report puts it, "secrets and security are both necessary and appropriate in an Army at war; failure to safeguard sensitive information has the undesired consequence of putting them and their buddies in the unit at risk."

Along with the Millennial management issue, Gen. Caslen (a Baby Boomer) notes an almost unbelievable litany of failures in security doctrine, technology and management. Manning -- who suffers from gender dysphoria and is now suing the military for sex-change therapy in prison -- lied, publicly proclaimed his lack of patriotism, exhibited glaring emotional and psychological problems, had work problems and got into fights. At one point, he went berserk while being counseled for repeated tardiness -- his superior responded by removing the bolt of his weapon, presumably to keep Manning from gunning down other soldiers and/or himself. Despite all this, he kept his job processing highly-sensitive information.

The general concludes that Army leaders, after years of war, are now strong in combat leadership, but weaker in leading and managing soldiers in the garrison.

Though not someone with whom the grizzled Gen. Caslen likely texts or Snapchats, novelist Bret Easton Ellis, bard of his "Generation X," is coincidentally now in the news for his own critique of the Millennials, whom he dubs "Generation Wuss." Ellis cites their "over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, (and) the overreacting..."

To be sure, most Millennials in the military have performed well, often heroically, and appear to need no training that sharing military secrets on the Internet, where ISIS and other enemies can read them, is not the same as blogging about your lunch.

Previous generations have had their share of leakers and traitors -- could the real issue be that modern technology just makes it easier for people to act on impulses they've always had?

Or do Millennials really represent a new sort of security threat? Let us know your thoughts.

Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Jr.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ukraine Flashback: KGB Plan to Use American Support of Ukrainian Guerrillas to Discredit CIA Director

The folks at the Wilson Center have once again come up with a fascinating document from previously Top Secret Soviet files. This one highlights how Washington-Moscow tensions in Eastern Europe have been going on for decades, including in Ukraine.  This history provides important context to today's news from the region.

The 1960 document concerns a global plan by KGB chief Alexander Shelepin to discredit CIA Director Allen Dulles; it came a month after the embarrassing U-2 incident in which an American spy plan was shot down over the Soviet Union and its pilot captured.

Aside from spy flights, Dulles had also supported guerrilla warfare against Soviet occupiers in several Eastern European countries -- including in places such as Ukraine and Poland, where the guerrilla's side eventually won, but whose leaders must still fear Moscow.

The KGB plan included dirty tricks and propaganda efforts across the world, from planting false news stories in Japan to making claims that US intelligence was working with Israeli spies in the Middle East.

One of the plots involved exposing the KGB's penetration of CIA-supported guerrillas in Ukraine. After World War 2, anti-communist Ukrainian guerrillas killed an estimated 15-30,000 Soviet occupation troops and their local supporters. But the KGB had penetrated the resistance organizations (and those in other communist-occupied countries) and in 1959 killed Ukrainian leader Stefan Bandera with a cyanide gun. [See our declassified documents on the assassination of Bandera here and the guerrilla war in Ukraine here.]

The excerpts below are from the Top Secret June 7, 1960, KGB plan. See the complete document at the Wilson Center site. Please leave comments if you know whether and how the KGB carried out this plan and its subplots...

The failure of the intelligence action prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with the plane “Lockheed U-2” caused an aggravation of existing tensions between the CIA and other USA intelligence services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and also provoked protests by the American public and certain members of the Congress, who are demanding investigation of the CIA activities.

The Committee of state security considers it advisable to make use of this newly complex situation and to carry out the following measures targeted at further discrediting CIA activity and compromising its leader Allen DULLES:
b) to agree with Polish friends about the exposure of the operational game led by the organs of the KGB along with the MSS PPR [Ministry of State Security of the Polish People’s Republic] with a “conduit” on the payroll of American intelligence of the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists (OUN)- “Melnikovists.” To this end to bring back to Poland the Polish MSS agent “Boleslav,” planted in the course of this game on the OUN “conduit,” and to arrange for him to speak to the press and radio about subversive activity by American intelligence against the USSR and PPR. To arrange, in addition, for public appearances by six American intelligence agents dropped on USSR and PPR territory as couriers of the “conduit” in the course of the game.

7. To work out measures which, upon implementation, would demonstrate the failure of the CIA efforts to actively on a concrete factual basis use various émigré centers for subversive work against countries in the socialist camp.

In particular, using the example of the anti-Soviet organization “The Union of the Struggle for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia” (SBONR), to discredit in the eyes of American taxpayers the activities of American intelligence in funding émigré organizations. To bring to light, along with other measures, real or forged American intelligence documents on its finances and guidance of subversive activities of the SBONR.

German U-boats in New York Harbor

The German submarine glided through the icy water past New York City, its captain noting the glowing skyscrapers of Manhattan and then Coney Island’s brilliantly-lit Ferris wheel.  Soon his lookouts spotted a large oil tanker, steaming ahead without escort. Maneuvering into position, the captain easily acquired his target, framed by the city’s lights, and fired a torpedo into the vessel, sending a fireball into the sky worthy of America’s most dazzling city.
It was January 1942, the beginning of one of America’s most important, and underappreciated, campaigns to defend the homeland. Peak operations would continue – below, on and above the seas from Florida to New England – through the summer, influencing the fate of World War II and interring ships and sailors from several countries in watery graves off what are now some of America’s most popular beaches and harbors.
This is the gripping story told in Ed Offley’s newest book, The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America (Basic Books, 2014). 
While the circumstances of this battle are unique, the oft competing roles played by bureaucratic infighting, intelligence collection, combat leadership and blind luck will be familiar to students of America’s most recent conflicts.
The German submarine, or “U-boat,” threat of early 1942 certainly came as no surprise to America’s political and military leadership. Indeed, the U.S. Navy and German subs had joined battle months earlier, even before war was declared, when President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to protect allied shipping.
When official hostilities began, top brass recognized the “imminent probability of submarine attack” along the East Coast, thanks in large part to British intelligence. Yet the admirals failed to respond effectively. See our review at Real Clear History...