Maria Butina & Your Next Russian Date

I feel a little sorry for Maria Butina. (Reuters) Exclusive: Accused Russian agent Butina met with U.S. Treasury, Fed officials. But CNN, always keen on human interest stories, takes the cake with The Russian accused of using sex, lies and guns to infiltrate US politics.

Unlike Anna Chapman, Butina was not directly controlled by the SVR. Her effective controller was Alexander Torshin,  long a member of the Kremlin’s inner circle. Torshin is widely believed to be a Kremlin representative of the Kremlin criminal faction, or “clan”, as the Russians say. (Bloomberg) Mobster or Central Banker? Spanish Cops Allege This Russian Both.

But unlike Chapman, who was not a productive spy, Butina was working the system with panache, netting Paul Erickson, a former Reaganite.  Erickson’s sentiment has plenty of company. Dana Rohrbacher, with his strange Russian affinities, was also a Reaganite. (NY Times) He’s a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name.

But as Butina’s espionage job description was not inked in the blood of the SVR, she may have not understood where she stood  on the scale of grays that leads from mere affinities to espionage. Quoting CNN,

In a search of their property, a prosecutor said, they found a note in Erickson’s handwriting titled: “Notes on Maria’s Russian patriots-in-waiting organization.” A second note referred to a Russian spy agency, reading: “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” The context of the notes is not clear.

Irrespective of who received  the FSB offer, this casualness is not in accord with meticulous secrecy of the  professional spy. It has shades of   the reckless amateur, like the latter behavior of Andrey Lugovoy, who four years after poisoning Alexander Litvinenko, sent Boris Berezovsky (Telegraph) a tee shirt with an explicitly threatening message. Butina sounds more like a girl desperate to escape from Siberia, and willing to sell her soul to do it. But in the U.S., many forms of soul-selling are indictable offenses.

It appears that while Torshin managed Butina’s  job,, Konstantin Nikolaev managed the money. (USA Today) Report: Alleged spy Maria Butina paid by Russian billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev. She was kept on a tight leash. (CNN):

Butina fretted about her finances while in school and told colleagues she had a scholarship that covered her tuition but not her living expenses, according to one person who knew her. In addition to her internship, she held part-time jobs on the American University campus, a university spokesman confirmed.

CNN quotes an unnamed friend:

Butina, who had told classmates she hoped to one day open a consulting firm in Washington, mentioned that all of her dreams were disappearing. She said it was no longer safe for her to return to Russia, either.

We have this distillation:

  • Butina was being squeezed financially, by inadequate financial support from the Russians.
  • She had the notion that returning to Russia would not be safe. Only an explicit threat, of Russian origin, could reverse the expected reward for service to the Russian state.
  • She contemplates an offer from the SVR to become a spy, with a note to that effect in her apartment.

Conclusions:

  • Butina is likely the victim of  manipulation by the Russians, to force her to accept SVR employment. Perhaps the  next step of her “development” involved transitioning to secure work habits and clandestine communications. So they wanted to squeezer her into becoming  a “real spy”.
  • She did not understand the legal difference between a domestic political operator/lobbyist, and an agent of a foreign power. The job activities can be so similar,  the differences  blur. It all depends on who you’re working for.
  • To work for the SVR, which she may have been resisting in spite of severe pressure, she would have had to give up something that she didn’t want to part with. What was it? The burial of her identity beneath a rigid mask?

In factual comparison, she may be a little less gray than Harry Dexter White, or the numbers of communist sympathizers in government between the 30’s and the 50’s, the lingering overhang of a romantically viewed of the Russian Revolution. Yet people are still arguing about whether White was a spy.

So why prosecute Maria Butina? These reasons contend in the mind of a prosecutor:

  • A strong FARA case. The F.B.I. is very reluctant to submit a case to federal prosecutors unless it’s very strong. Winning is part of the mystique that serves as a deterrent, and keeps  strong the incentive for the defendant to plea-bargain.
  • A conviction, even a plea-bargain, strengthens future cases against unnamed U.S. citizens, of whom one is likely Paul Erickson.
  • To raise awareness of Americans in politics. That friendly Russian could be a Russian agent.  The prosecution, or follow-on cases, must serve as a cautionary tale.

A cautionary tale of what? It would be easier if we had a word for it. The word “treason” has had some play recently. But in the U.S. prosecutions for treason have been restricted to strongly symbolic political offenses, with the Constitutional requirement of two witnesses to the same act.

So those who spy, conspire, or subvert are prosecuted under a miscellany of other statutes, for which there is no single bad word. “Betrayal” might be general enough, but it has no legal meaning. The offenses in this article are all covered by FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But the name of the act sounds more like a technical violation than betrayal of your country.

At least two former Reaganites, former warriors of the “Evil Empire”, have been caught up in this moral confusion, It should be no surprise that some Republicans a generation younger than Dana Rohrbacher and Paul Erickson are naive about the dangers.

What’s missing is the equivalent of a stop-look-listen rule for interacting with Russians. The confusion has to do with Russia’s current dual nature. In place of Bolshevik  romance, it has a decent domestic government, compared to what came before. It has a system of state capitalism that superficially resembles our own.  The similarities serve as a cover for a foreign policy of subversion in the West.

The case of Maria Butina has lurid aspects. As with Anna Chapman, it involves the attraction of influential men on the basis of power, ego, gain, and sex, cloaked as “mutual interest”. Once you understand, the approach, it’s very easy to recognize.  But political operatives, professional spin artists, are themselves strangely vulnerable in their search for the edge that will take them to the top.  The Butina story is an old one, but it has value in deterrence.

To all members of the political strata, three word of advice. Ironically, they were coined by a Reaganite:

Just say no.

 

Trump Denies Russian Election Hacking; of Godfathers and Mafia

I don’t usually comment on U.S. strategy, but to write nothing would be a statement in itself.

The Russians hacked the election. This is a fact. So why did Trump choose to deny it on the most visible platform on the planet, a summit? It’s been described as  “inappropriate”, “a betrayal of  our values”, or “a win for Putin”. On the mild side, it has been speculated to be “some kind of carrot”,   a form of positive reinforcement for Putin’s better behavior. John Brennan calls it treason: Former intel chiefs condemn Trump’s news conference with Putin.  Dan Coats has put his job on the line:  Trump clashes with intelligence chief over Russian threat.

Prediction is not about reading minds. In place of it, we have empathy, not the emotionally expressive kind, but the kind that enables one to “get inside somebody’s head.” It amounts to running another person’s thought processes inside one’s own brain. It does not lead to infallible understanding, but it gives the predictor an edge over someone to whom the person in question is a complete black box.

I recognize a possible explanation for Trump’s words in his career as a real estate developer in NYC, particularly before Rudy Giuliani cleaned the place up. In the 70’s and 80’s, behind the fancy facades of Midtown, there lurked the Mafia. Everything that had to do with construction, the Mafia raked off from. Everything that had to do with permitting, politicians raked off from. Even inside Trump’s own organization, there was the threat that money for a purpose, such as buying loyalty, would end up in the hands of the rapacious.

At the time, it was said that the Mafia owned the sidewalk you walked on. Even today, the Mafia has a strong presence in the concrete business. To avoid having your concrete “watered”, you had to make the right friends. To have your garbage collected, you had to have the right friends. To avoid having your building vandalized in myriad little ways, to avoid union “trouble”, you had to have the right friends. The Italian Mafia lingers with a lower profile. But organized crime, and the threat it poses to real estate, and the many unions involved, will never go away. This was what Trump had to grapple with in his crucible years.

There is an address popular among leaders to those that they command: “I expect the best of you”, or, “I hope you will live up to my expectations.” The root of it is the idea that trust is a gift, which the recipient will try not to devalue. It’s about personal connection. Shades of this can also be seen in Trump’s approach to Kim Jong-un. (Politico)  Trump praises Kim Jong Un as ‘very honorable’.

Dealing with the Mob, there is no law. There is only personal connection. This is is the origin of what some have called Trump’s overly personal presidency.  This is behind Trump’s desire for personal loyalty of members of his administration. If you wanted to heal relations with Don Corleone, how would you approach him?

I wouldn’t have suggested exonerating Putin. On the other hand, beating Putin over the head, as a matter of principle, or to deter what is already happening again, has been shown ineffective.  Yet on the other hand, Trump could argue it’s a throwaway, a gesture he can give without material consequence. If this is so, Trump will continue to support the efforts of the intelligence community to disrupt the next wave of Russian hacking.

Dan Coats, stand strong.

 

Trump-Putin Summit; Calling out CNN & Reuters

On the eve of the summit, the journalism of CNN and Reuters does not measure up to the event.

The CNN front page displays “Analysis: Putin reached goal befoe the handshake”, which links to With Putin, Trump insists he’ll be ‘different’ Quoting,

Vladimir Putin has stood the test of time through four American presidents, but from Donald Trump he is looking for one thing in particular: to be elevated on the world stage, away from global isolation...That goal has been achieved before their first handshake here.

According to the CNN theory of world history, which ranks in eminence with Arnold Toynbee, the crucial factors of historical turns are fetes and “optics”  Their justification is the famous work, “World History Through the Lens of PR, Volume I”, which proves that the History of the World is just one photo op after another.  Just as Reuters captured the recent North Korea events as a series of handshake photos.

Reuters has attempted a bit more sophistication by counting the official phone calls made by Trump and Putin. This is justified by  “World History Through the Lens of PR, Second Edition”

The only problem is, that book does not exist. It’s BS. The idea that the Trump-Putin meeting has “optical” significance, with Putin the automatic “winner”, seems to be universal. Quoting from (Reuters) Trump and Putin to hold first summit talks as twitchy West looks on,

“We can say confidently that Putin’s political risks are lower than those of President Trump,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a Moscow think-tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry….“Putin has less to lose and more to gain because he does not have a domestic opposition, a potentially hostile legislature, and is not begin investigated like Trump.

Even the Russians “believe.” This leaves no one in either camp to be influenced in any way, unless you count watchers in sports bars, who are likely to forget it in their alcoholic haze. Things which are universally believed are not likely to be true. Especially, ideas like prestige.

So the summit has been turned into a Simon Cowell talent competition about who has the best singing dog. Scroll back recent history, and try tracing the flow of history in terms of media events. You won’t find it.

Both CNN and Reuters have fallen into a trap,  interpreting events in terms they are familiar with. CNN knows media, so they interpret the summit optically. Reuters is primarily a business information service, so they offer “business statistics” about Trump and Putin.

Optics is relevant to domestic politics.  Business statistics are relevant to economics. The statistics of who calls who is relevant to the NSA and DHS, but not to the Reuters reader. How does this kind of journalism help the CNN or Reuters reader understand foreign affairs?  Answer: Not at all. The real issues are buried by puff pieces.  Both Reuters and CNN have done excellent pieces. But this is not their finest hour.

For a list of the issues that deserve exploration in journalism, read Trump-Putin Summit; An Executive Summary; The Oldest Russia Analyst.

I’m waiting with breathless anticipation for  the next handshake photo or cakewalk.

I think I’d rather tune out and watch Carson’s singing dog contest instead.

 

 

 

 

Trump-Putin Summit; An Executive Summary; The Oldest Russia Analyst

Imagine for a moment that I am tasked with authoring an executive summary for the upcoming Trump-Putin summit.  There isn’t room for historical justification or the semi-literary style so popular with foreign policy journalism. And it has to be self contained, so I can’t tell POTUS to go read Kennan’s Long Telegram. Instead, here’s a quote from the first modern Russia analyst:

...From the very first ghastly dawn of her existence as a state, she had to breathe the atmosphere of despotism, she found nothing but the arbitrary will of an obscure Autocrat at the beginning and end of her organization. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true in Western thought. Western thought when it crosses her frontier falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles, of her national life which are looked upon with such curiosity by the rest of the world. The curse had entered her very soul; Autocracy and nothing else  in the world has moulded her institutions, and with the poison of slavery drugged the national temperament into the apathy of a hopeless fatalism...

These are the words of  the first modern Russia analyst,Joseph Conrad, from “Autocracy and War“, quoted from page 44 of The North American Review, Vol. 181, No. 584, July 1905. You might know Conrad better for Lord Jim, Nostromo, or Heart of Darkness. But with apologies to Vladimir Putin, these words from 1905, if not literally true today, are the foundation of modern Russia. And much of the foundation shows through cracks in the facade. Conrad was interested in Russia because the land of his birth, Poland, was the plaything of Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Mind these words, and don’t fall under the spell:

Western thought when it crosses her frontier falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself.
  • Russia’s   ruler, Vladimir Putin, is a romantic nationalist, torn between a reverence for the past that Conrad condemns and a future that, with increasing urgency,  he wants to bring to Russia – but on his own terms.
  • Putin is not Russia. He is a product of Russia,  half-modern and half traditional. He has not yet reconciled the two. His power is based on balancing constituencies; his freedom to act is overestimated in the West.
  • Russia is not Putin. Russia is better described as the ghost of Conrad’s description. But as with all things about people and nations, there are many descriptions, useful in spite of errors.

In 1953,  following the death of Stalin, collective leadership was restored to the Soviet Union. Until 1985, with the death of Konstantin Chernenko,  the Soviet government was characterized by bureaucratic  inertia, what foreign affairs wonks call “policy.” The Soviets were more inclined to continue a behavior than to suddenly change or innovate. Collective leadership deprived the Soviet Union of tactical flexibility. The elderly, collective leadership did not approve of  Khrushchev’s playing  poker with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he was deposed as premier in 1964.

  • Putin has tactical flexibility that the old system of collective leadership lacked.
  • The stability of Russia is not based on tradition. It’s based on Putin.
  • Because stability is provided by the role of one person, agreements could come undone very quickly.
  • Russian foreign policy identifies the U.S. as the strongest state. So it is Russia’s goal to reduce the power of the U.S. Many aspects of Russia’s foreign policy are explained by traditional balance of power.
  • There are various explanations for Russia’s hostility towards the West:
    1. Recreate the Iron Curtain as a tier of buffer states.
    2. Hold onto Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
    3. Eastward expansion of NATO. George F. Kennan was emphatic about it at the time it occurred. It may be Kissinger’s pov also.
    4. Putin’s  traditional mindset, and the strong presence in government of former KGB. By this line of thought, it would have occurred anyway.
  • The collective leadership of the Soviet Union was composed of professional  politicians. In the new Russia, these are replaced by KGB, industrialists, and  organized crime.
  • In the Soviet Union, the KGB was subservient to the collective leadership and the party. In Russia, the KGB is the leadership.
  • The rate of assassinations on foreign soil, and the broad use of poisons against external and internal opponents, is new.  Although the Soviet Union used poisons, the  leadership had a normal human fear of them.
  • Putin can’t back up, or he becomes vulnerable to Russian nationalists.
  • Putin can’t be placated, because he is not Russia.
  • Russia is a natural resource state, subject to the “oil curse” of civil corruption.
  • Russian business practices are not compatible with national security.
  • By reducing the mobility of Russian assets, sanctions are a helpful counter to subversion cloaked as economic activity.

How can we avoid the “spell” described by Joseph Conrad,. which is thinking we understand the place? We could avoid the illusion entirely with a simple stratagem: Watch and wait for a change in behavior. Russia engages in many inimical activities, including  subversion, assassination, and unsafe intercepts, with no measurable benefit to Russia. Cessation of these activities would convey meaning that words cannot.

But since it is Russian dogma to subvert a stronger power, what is the catalyst for change? The reasoning that the U.S. is the greatest threat is  moronically outdated: The U.S. gives strength to Europe, the historical source of threats.

It’s not something that can be solved by a summit.  I’ve suggested that the Skinner Box approach, rapid fire carrot-and-stick, might be a help. Kissinger pioneered “linkage” for the same purpose. This could change the way Putin, consummate tactician, plays the game, but not the game itself.

Only the rise of China can do that. At some point in the future, Russian strategists will identify China as the greater threat. This prediction, about two adjoining land powers that were at war in 1969,  has more historical precedent than any other.

In the meantime, play the game.

Iran/MEK Bomb Plot; Assassinations; Russia Comparison

Edit: CNN) Two people poisoned by same nerve agent used on ex-spy, police say. Read down.

The tally of arrests in the Iranian bomb plot against the MEK has reached six: (VOA) Iran Diplomat Arrested in ‘Plot’ to Bomb Opponents in France.

We can now understand Mike Pompeo’s May statement about Iranian ops in Europe. (Slate) Mike Pompeo Says Iran Is Carrying Out “Assassination Operations” in Europe. What Is He Talking About? He was talking about the elaborate covert preparations made by Iran’s Quds Force in advance of actual assassinations, creating networks of operatives,  provision of weapons, safe houses, surveillance of targets, and escape routes.

For some insight into the real world complexities, John le Carré ‘s The Little Drummer Girl is a fictional but  well informed (le Carré has  an intelligence  background) account of a Mossad operation against a PLO assassin in Europe in the 70’s. A dry, factual account of the assassination of Leon Trotsky is given by Pavel Sudoplatov in his autobiography, Special Tasks.

As with a spy network, the elaborate network created to support assassinations is typically discovered by a dangling thread, poor tradecraft, visibility, or  pattern that does  not disclose the full extent. A network is typically followed for years without arrests, with observations of a few operators progressively  leading to the discovery of others. Only imminent threat forces investigators to take action, possibly leaving undetected operators in place.

The exception to careful planning is post breakup Russia. While at their best, Russians still excel at the undetectable murder, their reputation has been sullied by high profile embarrassments, amateurish exploits involving high tech poisons, such as the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko,  and the contamination of half of Salisbury with Novichok A-234. It suggests that, contrary to the almost automatic “Putin approved…” theory of assassinations, there are multiple entities in Russia that initiate, including the SVR, and multiple entities that execute, including possible freelancers.

This hypothesis has just received a little extra support from  (CNN) Two people poisoned by same nerve agent used on ex-spy, police say.  This is likely the result of bungling; the Russian operatives seem to have had a poison leakage problem. Tales of the old KGB reveal they had their share  of drunks and bunglers. But  at the institutional level, they strove for perfection. There would have been consequences; the operatives would have been cashiered.

As with the recent misadventure of Russian mercenaries in Syria (Newsweek: ‘A Total F***up’: Russian Mercenaries in Syria Lament U.S. Strike That Killed Dozens), and the Litvinenko hit, this implies  multiple entities, not inherited from the Soviet Union, with varying degrees of competence, which may not be in complete  control of the Kremlin. A sentence from one of Putin’s speeches following his reelection appeals to “the clans”, not to take actions that damage Russia.

If you dig into the subjects of the above  paragraphs, you’ll notice that these operations come in three noxious flavors:

  • With the use of simple  means, such as bombs and hand weapons, an operation requires a large footprint, with elaborate logistics, deception, concealment, and elaborate preparations for escape.
  • With exotic poisons, the fact of murder can be concealed. An operation can have a small footprint, as with Litvinenko and the Skripals.
  • At the height of the dark art, the Russians commit murders that speak as unsolvable crimes, such as (my opinion)  the death of Mikhail Lesin (see Mikhail Lesin, a Kremlin Hit, a Theory, Part 1, Part 2, and Takeaway) and (my opinion) the death of Gareth Williams.

Iranian operations have been of the first category, requiring large footprints vulnerable to discovery and interdiction. The disadvantage of discussion  in advance of  public disclosure is the broad suspicion of political motive. Quoting The Slate,

It appears that the secretary, who was CIA director until a month ago, was either revealing some classified information or relying on some fairly sketchy reports in his charges against Iran. Given the stakes of this conflict, he should reveal what evidence he’s relying on.

This Pompeo could not do, without compromising  operations to trace and dismantle the Quds networks. But even in May, Pompeo’s assertion was highly plausible. As a Quds Force policy, assassination has been institutionalized for decades, and is widely employed. See  (The Diplomat) Did Iran Really Plan a US Hit Job? and  (WaPo) U.S. officials among the targets of Iran-linked assassination plots.

From 1979 to 1992, Iran may have had the most active assassination program  operating in the West of any sovereign state.  The total number of hits is not definitively known. A low count (Wikipedia, List of Iranian assassinations) of 18 includes only high profile political figures. A count of  162 given in (Iran Human Rights Documentation Center) No Safe Haven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign includes Iranian expatriates for whom political motive may exist but is not obvious. The murder of Gelareh Bagherzadeh had all the appearance of an assassination. The alleged perpetrator, Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, is (Chron) currently on trial for what appears to be an honor killing.

Iran and Russia share the distinction of running the only assassination programs now threatening the West. Russian means tend towards the sophisticated, with operations varying from sophisticated to amateurish-as-if-by-freelancers.  Iran’s methods are more conventional, hand weapons and explosives. requiring larger, more vulnerable footprints. But there are no amateurs among the Quds Force.

 

 

 

Trump ally Giuliani says end is near for Iran’s rulers

(Reuters) Trump ally Giuliani says end is near for Iran’s rulers. Quoting,

“I can’t speak for the president, but it sure sounds like he doesn’t think there is much of a chance of a change in behavior unless there is a change in people and philosophy,” Giuliani told Reuters in an interview.

Somewhere in Rudy’s address to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), (context missing) is the phrase “…suffocate Iran’s “dictatorial ayatollahs”. In duplication of the threat, The NY Times ran the headline Trump Ally Giuliani Says End Is Near for Iran’s Rulers.”

The shared headline is too much of a leap, an unjustified inference. It’s surprising that major news outlets would leap to “regime change”. It’s also surprising that Rudy Giuliani would address the NCRI, which is almost synonymous with the MEK, which is almost synonymous with a cult of terror.

In 1981, the MEK tried to decapitate Iran’s government with a wave of assassinations; see A New Reign of Terror in Iran ?  Thus began a 7 year reign of terror,  as the Islamic Republic became even more extreme, culminating in the bloodbath of 1988. By accounts of some credibility, teenagers  as young as 12  were executed in extirpation of the MEK. Yet the MEK remains unpopular in Iran today. It has no potential as an instrument of change, either via terror or as political opposition.

The press has not yet gotten used to the new hyperbolic style of the Trump Administration, which, using words as weapons, is not to be taken literally, at least by us. There is no reason to assume that Rudy Giuliani is so simple as to mean what he says.

But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Giuliani means what he says. Perhaps the possibility gains credibility when we consider Giuliani’s great achievement in life. Rudy is the most successful social engineer of recent American history. As mayor, he rescued NYC from what appeared to be terminal social decay, replacing it with the profoundly safer, comparatively boring, and  much pricier city that everyone takes for granted today. He accomplished this by a novel approach,   targeting “social crimes”, such as turnstile jumping, graffiti writing,and  disorderly behavior. The homeless, and beggars, were deported to Rikers Island.  Street musicians were silenced forever.

Whatever the costs, Rudy molded NYC into a locale where street crime was no longer the dominant topic of conversation. Nowhere else in America has such a profound transition been achieved. His latter career is somewhat of a comedown. But I still think of Rudy as formidable. So, to prepare myself for battle, just the other day, I jumped a turnstile. Rudy, I’ll wait for your summons in the mail.

In the meantime, before I am deported to Rikers, let’s consider whether renewed U.S. sanctions have a chance to cause regime change in Iran. The answer begins with an Italian general, Giulio Douhet, who, in the period following Word War I,  invented the concept of strategic air power. A Wikipedia quote summarizes his theory:

Douhet believed in the morale effects of bombing. Air power could break a people’s will by destroying a country’s “vital centers”. Armies became superfluous because aircraft could overfly them and attack these centers of the government, military and industry with impunity, a principle later called “The bomber will always get through“.

In 1920, Douhet published his treatise, The Command of the Air (Il dominio dell’aria), which was the basis of all subsequent attempts to use strategic air power in replacement of ground forces. This seminal work served as the basis of a multitude of targeting strategies. By the end of World War II, every strategy of attack on entire nations by air power had been tried, either by intent, accident, or combinations of both.

In the countries most severely tried by strategic bombing, Britain, Germany, and Japan, no hint of  political change, or loss of will  arose that was attributable to strategic bombing with conventional explosives. Nuclear weapons are not part of this discussion. Quoting Wikipedia,

However, subsequent conflicts would largely discredit Douhet’s theory. Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris set out in 1942 to prove Douhet’s theories valid during World War II. Through four years under his command, RAF Bomber Command attempted to destroy the main German cities. By 1944–1945, in partial concert with the USAAF, they had largely achieved this aim; but no revolution toppled the Third Reich.

Both sanctions and strategic air power are attacks on a national identity.

From the history of strategic bombing  comes the conclusion that attacks on national identity strengthen the identity.  With sanctions, as with air attack, the vox populi has two choices:

  • Blame the government.
  • Blame the aggressors.

For the argument that the headlines have put in Rudy’s mouth to work, it requires the arbitrary selection of “government”, which, by control of the media, has many ways to deflect that choice onto the “aggressors.”

This is why Iran’s government has stood 40 years. National identity, the common element of most human history, has a primal basis. It spontaneously arises, and resists external pressure.

This awareness is the rationale for most of Russia’s  external strategy. Recent Russian military threats against the Baltic states, a form of external pressure, backfired. Subversion continues to pay dividends.

Rudy, I’ll wait for your summons. You have one little problem. I jumped the turnstile at Newark.

 

Newsroom Gunman, Jarrod Ramos, Free Speech & Social Media Part 1

(Reuters) Gunman held, newspaper publishes a day after five killed in newsroom. The issues that come to mind are gun control and social media. I feel passionate about both, but social media is more complex and interesting, the restructuring of our society that is happening now.

Jarrod Warren Ramos is a monster, but monsters have always walked among us. By some estimates, 2-3% of men are psychopaths, women half as frequently. Most of them are not violent; the workplace psychopath is recognized as the ‘bad boss”, or as executive material.  It has been claimed that most criminals are not psychopaths. This may be a matter of definition, or more than that, but from this uncertain pool come the monsters of social media.

What is the issue? Not how to avoid creating psychopaths, because that seems to be an unavoidable part of our heredity. Nor is it about locking them up; there are too many of them, many are gifted, and acting against Future Crime is the essence of totalitarianism — on steroids. One or more steps down from proactive incarceration of possibly dangerous people  is weakening of freedom of speech.

Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater has never been protected speech. Other kinds of speech, such as verbal representations of fraud, or violent threats, are of similar category, lacking constructive purpose. In the U.S., transient weakening  of protection has occurred in times of war,  feared subversion, and most recently,  threat of terrorism.

Freedom of expression does not have the same protection as freedom of speech; child pornography is broadly restricted, as is threatening behavior. High school civics explains the concept of individual liberty with the expression, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.” But the issue is too complicated for the pure libertarian creed. Society is constantly adjusting the balances, to afford protection from random mischief and intimidation.

In the U.S.,  the first restrictions were imposed by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, in direct contradiction to the First Amendment of  1791. One portion, the Alien Enemies Act, remained in force until 1920.  In the Civil War, the press as a whole escaped censorship, though numerous prosecutions of individuals occurred in connection with war powers granted by Congress to Lincoln. The most serious attack on free speech came about during World War I, with the Sedition Act of 1918, during the administration of otherwise liberal Woodrow Wilson. Quoting, it forbade

…disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt.

Unlike the prior infringements, the 1918 Act actually sent a number of people to jail. Repealed in 1920, enduring regret for the Act is largely responsible for the modern American commitment to freedom of speech, which barely wavered during World War II

Now we find ourselves astonished by the evolution  of our world in social terms. Technological advances have not resulted in the cornucopia of plenty. But the social aspects of the new world are not evolutionary, but revolutionary. Nothing could have predicted the augmentation of the media pyramid with a parallel structure that connects every individual on the planet, who wants to be connected, with someone else, even if that someone does not want the connection.

Marxism refers to the “means of production”, which, according to the theory, should be owned by the “masses.” It never happened, and it’s doubtful that it should. The  media analogy is the “means of publication”,  which encompass these activities:

  • Information gathering.
  • Editorial process and content creation.
  • Distribution, in the form of radio or TV empires, traditional, and internet.
  • Revenue, via advertising, paywall, or subscription.

This is the up-and-down media pyramid, which selectively winnows the expressions of hundreds of millions of citizens, down to the summary called public opinion. The bulk of content comes from officials, authorities, sources, leakers , human interest, and editorial. Uncountable and unmemorable, the individual citizen is left out, except by chance encounter with the news truck at the water main break outside his house.

Back in the day, we can probably remember occasional  encounters with lonely individuals waving placards and handing out flyers. Physically exhausting, that one-on-one activity is itself is a deterrent for all but the most committed. It has been replaced by individuals acting as their own publishers on social media. Sometimes they find  audiences, and sometimes they don’t. Some are constructive, while others are destructive. Social media is almost neutral to these considerations, because the cost to the user, and to the sponsoring organization, is nearly zero.

So although the prerogative of freedom of speech has been well protected by the First Amendment, the audience of the individual was  limited by access to the media. Until recently, free speech was  a legal right, but without discussion of how the individual is enabled.

The media pyramid remains, but augmented by a new peer-to-peer modality. Now the definition of “protected speech” is challenged again, with new costs. Social media platforms have based the neutrality of their platforms on the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The Act protects service providers from liability for the content they host as long as they do not exercise editorial control. Quoting (Electronic Frontiers Foundation),

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230).

But when providers edit the content of their networks, they become responsible for all of it. Protected more by wide popularity than by statute, the misuse of social media by terrorists and the demented has pushed providers towards ever greater control.

The utopian goal was for every individual to have a personal publishing platform. It has been achieved, but it is no utopia. It never occurred to us that, in a word challenging to democracy, it could be unhealthy. Social media enables the individual, with the legal right to free speech, to reach a large audience of unwilling respondents. If we were to decide that this purest form of free speech were bad for society, how could it be limited without undermining free speech as a whole?

To be continued shortly; the maladjustment of man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Humor; Duterte will ‘go to war’ over South China Sea Resources

I wrote this May the 29th. Perhaps now is a time for some humor, as relief from current events.

(CNN)  Duterte will ‘go to war’ over South China Sea resources, minister says. Quoting,

“(Beijing) said some red lines, we said some red lines … The President has already said that. If anyone gets the natural resources in the Western Philippines Sea, South China Sea, he will go to war. He said, “Whatever happens, happens.” He will go to war,” Cayetano said.

Minister Cayetano, your official position  requires you to speak in the ponderous, sleep inducing cadences of the professional diplomat. This is important, so that the listener  sleeps through  obfuscation. You have broken the code. You’ve put your foot in it. In fact, you woke me up.

If you go to war with China, you are short of the means to wage it. China is a big target, but you are short of slingshots and catapults.  The Philippines has been short of catapults ever since the U.S. was ejected from Subic Bay in 1992.  And large ballista take years to procure. You can’t just say, “War with China, let’s order bullets.”

But an island, which is like a castle, can be defended with novel tactics. The French excelled at it. The China Sea is the moat of your castle. All it takes is imagination, which you have in spades.

If you dare to war with the insignificant nation of China over the holy grail of oil, this is a critical time for the Philippines.   It is vitally important that you watch this video (click), outlining the “French Tactic” of castle defense, with ammunition made in copious quantities by human activity.

It worked for them. Why not you?

 

Yemen Hodeidah Assault

The assault on Hodeidah is significant as the first heavy ground assault by the Saudi led coalition. Previous fighting around Aden was much lighter.

In Saudi, Houthis, Yemen & Pirates of Penzance, it was noted that the wealthy Gulf states do not have a lot of young men willing to endure the privation and danger of grunts in the infantry. The forces of Yemen’s titular president, Mansour Hadi, were also inadequate. In this assault, much of the manpower is reported to come from a UAE run training camp  in Somalia, and possibly Eritrea. Most of the assault troops are mercenaries in the African tradition, with basic infantry skills and nothing more.

The mercenaries have  limited skills, limited motivation, and no connection with the Yemen culture. So this  is not a prelude to a military resolution of the conflict. The taking of Hodeidah would give the coalition a grip on the supply lines, though small  arms could still be smuggled from Iran in small boats.

With Hodeidah in control of the coalition, aid can be directed to political advantage.  In a country of tribes, aid buys loyalty. The war will continue, because there are too many tribes; the northwest and the whole of the south want their own ways, and there are too few resources for any of them. Not too long ago, the south was a separate country.  From Yemen, Saleh (Now Dead), and Civil War, Part 2,

With lower population density, absence of the tertiary conflict potential, and the civic, if not national feeling of Aden, the  south has potential for natural stability. This is best actualized by splitting it off.

Reuters offers a Yemen “factbox” , as part of (page down) French special forces on the ground in Yemen: Le Figaro.

But the tangled weave cannot be captured in a factbox. Ali Abdullah Saleh was Zaydi Shi’a. The Houthis are primarily Zaydi Shia, yet Saleh was their principal persecutor before he became their ally. Yemen does not organize along casually assumed lines.

For the weave, take a look at

Trump – Kim Summit; Tritium Choke Point

The pundits have displayed their scorecards, with suggestions that Trump has given away too much for too little. This is possible, but Trump’s strategy may be more complex than it appears. To cozy up to Kim is either naive or Machiavellian. The techniques of this blog do not allow us to  discern which. We hope, of course, that Trump’s outward enthusiasm is tempered by inner caution. Of mistakes that can be made, effusing about what a great guy Kim is, is the least of them.

The techniques of this blog do not contain a method for input of displays of emotion. Some may remember how FDR,  a very astute politician, attempted to charm Stalin at the Yalta Conference. Stalin, himself a charmer, convinced FDR that he had succeeded. To cement the relationship, FDR favored Stalin with attention in ways that excluded, slighted, and insulted the third great man at YaltaWinston Churchill. Yet FDR’s reputation has endured, even though, when very ill, at the end of his life, he made a fool of himself. Trump, in excellent health, has many upcoming chances to review  his judgement.

In March, CNN ran Trump teeters on the edge of a familiar North Korean trap. The possibility remains as real now as in March.  But if it is a trap, it’s not his fault that Trump  has to play it.  In diplomacy as in golf, one must play the ball where it lies. The world does not look kindly on leaders who pluck the ball out of the sand trap. Trump knows that he has to hit it out.

Whether  Kim’s nuclear complex can be destroyed by strike was doubted by the media, though H.R. McMaster made it clear that the option exists. Military action has risks, it may have to be repeated at intervals, and it invites very unpleasant retaliation. It doesn’t matter if the man with the gun is big or small.

If schmoozing  a dictator saves lives, is it the wrong thing to do? Only if you believe what you are saying. The primary danger is a weakening of sanctions, which were agreed to by China to avoid a strike.

In a later act of this play,  a troupe of inspectors descends on the North, a mountainous country with thousands of caves and no informers. Unlike Iraq, those on the ground will not be able to buy information. Unlike Iran, dissident thought survives only in the most private corners of the mind. The North Koreans will helpfully stage manage the process of getting from place to place. Under these conditions, shell games flourish.  There is, of course, nothing to stop the North from being completely honest. But why would they be?

So it may interest journalists who normally focus on figments of modern life in that country,  and culture, that there is one question they can ask that is so crucial to the North, it would tend to result in a few yeas in a labor camp, or at least destruction of their cameras.  Ask about tritium.

The North’s nuclear program has a choke point, tritium. All miniaturized nukes require a few grams of it. This is called boosted fission.  North Korean photos indicate that the pure, gas form of tritium is used, injected into the center of the plutonium core under high pressure. The tritium acts as a neutron amplifier.

Tritium has a half life of 12.3 years. Every few years, the tritium in a nuke  must be flushed out and replaced with fresh. The expired tritium can be refined to get some “fresh”, but regardless, the total  inventory decreases by half every 12.3 years, This means that a nuclear power must continually make it, which requires a nuclear reactor.

Boosted nukes are  portable, by one man, or several. They can be carried out the back door when inspectors come in the front. Nuclear reactors are not portable; they typically weigh thousands of tons. If the reactor(s) used by the North to produce tritium were disabled or destroyed, the North’s arsenal would become inoperable in three to five years. After that time, without replenishment of tritium, the majority of their warheads would either fail to  detonate, or fizzle. In the case of a 160kt hydrogen nuke, the secondary, fusion stage would fail to light. The yield of the primary without the tritium boost would be zero to very low.

Could the North Koreans hide a tritium producing reactor in a cave? It would be very difficult, since a reactor has a large infrastructure footprint, and produces a lot of heat, which must be dissipated by the environment. Tritium production is the conspicuous activity to maintain an already extant nuclear arsenal. Without it, the weapons become duds.

One can anticipate the North’s excuse,  that the reactors must operate to produce medical isotopes. Ludicrous in a starving country, but diplomacy has suffered worse.

By tracking the tritium, open source monitors can participate in the process of devising and enforcing a durable denuclearization. Allowing the reactors to remain fueled and in place  would reprise the Iran treaty.

Follow the tritium like you follow the money.

 

 

Intel9's world view

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