Senate Allowed Spy Program to Lapse — Playing With Lives

The NSA spy program expired at midnight, 40 minutes ago.

In The Senate Report, Torture, & Anatomy of Fear, I ended with, “Next: But what could there possibly be to be afraid of?” But I didn’t write about it, because I felt that illumination of what there is to be afraid of might inspire evil-doers. I did not want an explication to be captured by search engines.

I still don’t want that. But now, 40 minutes after the expiration, I am very, very afraid. You should share my fear. The security situation is actually much worse than you know, unless you are one of those who is in the know.

After 9/11, our government was caught on the horns of a dilemma. If the public was fully aware of our vulnerability, paralysis of normal life would occur. In the opposite direction, if the public were assured that we have been, as a nation, victorious in the war on terror, we would conversely become more vulnerable.

Now, 14 years later, we have become innured to the pinpricks of lone wolves, but the fear of another 9/11, or worse, has receded. Fear has gone away because it is an emotion, and emotions dim with time. But the risk has never gone away. It may have increased. Here’s a list of sentences. Take home the one that feels like a gut-punch:

  • The security situation is much worse than you know.
  • The responsible persons at the FBI do not sleep very well at night.
  • The risk of casualties in the millions is greater than zero. The risk of casualties in the hundreds of thousands is very real.
  • Events of the above magnitude would cause the suspension, for a very long time,  of civil liberties as we today enjoy.
  • Of Senate obstruction, even for a brief period of time, those responsible must bear the burden of those lives.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rubber stamped NSA activities. There have been abuses at the NSA. But to enjoy civil liberties, you have to be alive.


Russia Masses Firepower, Next Ukraine Grab?

Reuters reports, “Russia masses heavy firepower on border with Ukraine”. Also from Reuters, “As Russia growls, EU goes cool on eastern promises”.

“Eastern Promises” is a pun on the title of an excellent movie. If you’re into indie film, it’s a must-watch.  It is a voyeur’s delight, a vision of the unique Russian contribution to criminal culture, the “thief in law.” The movie title is nonsensical, but it perfectly expresses the EU retreat from the promise of membership to former Soviet-bloc states. The reporting of the Latvia meeting provides a read of EU sentiment that is surprisingly hard to obtain by other methods. It offers the the open-sourcer an opportunity to compete, prognostically speaking, with the insiders. In this case, it suggests that the cost to Moscow of an additional grab is minimal, provided that it does not add fuel to the potential instability of right wing extremism. The assassination of Alexey Mozgovoy may have mitigated the immediate hazard.

Perhaps the difficulty of estimating  the size of the Russian bite  is because the Russians did not know themselves. This depended more on the EU response than perhaps the EU would care to admit.  Moscow “rattled the saber”, which in this case was nonsensical talk about nuclear war, and the press sang the song of fear. The softness of Western psychology was music to Moscow’s ears.

Ukraine actually had a terrific chance to join the West. After the Soviet breakup, and before the election of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine predated itself with a level of political corruption that makes Russia look like an honest place.  Perhaps Russia’s decision to predate Ukraine, born in the minds of men, was not solely, coldly, based on strategic interests. Perhaps an element of disrespect also figures. None of this is an excuse for Russia.

The lynchpin of EU response is Angela Merkel. Of all the  individuals with an influence on the future existence of Ukraine, Merkel is, or was, paramount. In his 2001 book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy, Henry Kissinger wrote (page 41),

As Germany's relative role and power grow, and as Russia recovers, there will emerge temptations for a special Russo-German rapproachment based on the Bismarckian tradition that the two countries prospered when they were close and suffered when they were in conflict.

Kissinger’s remark was prescient. While the U.S. may have illusions of autonomy, Germany is a trading nation. Until a few years ago, it was the world’s largest exporter of finished industrial goods.

A German once said to me (paraphrasing), “If your country should have an economic disaster, and the economy should stop, eventually you would be able to get it started again. If the economy of Germany stopped, it might be impossible to restart it.”  He was thinking of post World War I Germany. Until recently, no German could forget it. Historically, the German family owned business has had a sense of responsibility to the worker.  Angela Merkel is burdened with a sense of responsibility to the German economy over and above considerations of foreign policy that are not at the core of the western alliance.

The invasion and annexation of Crimea was a planned action, motivated by the strategic need to secure the Black Sea naval base. But the subsequent invasion of Ukraine appears to have been provoked by the separatists, who accused Putin of abandonment. Some stories, relevant regardless of accuracy:

Russian nationalists dragged Putin in,  he found the water  warm,  it grew to a surfer’s delight, the Big One, and then a monster that worries him a bit. One could hopefully desire that the Russian armor concentration is just a warning to Ukrainian nationalists. But mind reading is beyond our ability, particularly as Putin’s thinking appears to have a dynamic element.

The stories suggest that the initial Russian incursion was ad hoc, which makes the idea of a Russian strategy absurd. They’ve been playing it by ear, but they do have an idea of costs and benefits. Some benefits:

  • Russia doesn’t have a decent shipyard. The Black Sea Shipyard, actually a complex of three yards, is located at  46°56’49.51″N,  31°58’9.66″E , lies 96 miles from Crimea, on the opposite, western side of the Dnieper. It is a modern industrial jewel that would energize rebuilding Russian naval power. The shipyards are located 328 miles from the present concentration of Russian armor at Matvev Kurgan.
  • The Dnieper River, a conventional barrier to land invasion, bisects Ukraine. To a modern strategist, it seems ludicrous, but the river figured prominently in World War II.
  • Food. Russia is a large grain exporter, but with a population of 144 million. The high export figures are due also to a trade with the EU for processed foods. The maximum population that Russia can support with theoretical self-sufficiency has historically been limited by the northern latitudes of grain belts, which makes them less productive than those of southern Ukraine.  Renovation of the Russian agricultural economy could increase the supportable population . As of 2015, it is still a limitation. Kherson Oblast, on the road to the Black Sea Shipyards, is highly productive land for winter wheat. See grain map.
  • Human. Eastern Ukraine has a skilled industrial labor force.

The costs are three:

  • Economic. The acquired territory should preferably be an economic asset. Western Ukraine is not such an asset.
  • Sanctions. Putin has said that the sanctions will be in place for a long time. The EU holds that the annexation of Crimea is illegal, which means the sanctions can abate only by gradual decay. The Cuban Embargo is analogous: 52 years without fundamental change in either Cuba or the U.S., abandoned by the assumption of new attitudes. 52 years of resolve is not likely with Ukraine. The degree of resolve depends upon whether the insult to EU sensibilities subsides by virtue of “no news”, or becomes in some way a permanent irritation.
  • Import of political instability, covered here. I have been wondering if Putin will freeze the conflict now, or make one more acquisition.

Several scenarios can now be graded for attractiveness:

  • An incursion far west into Ukraine would create a large number of displaced persons, the equivalent of Cuban exiles. This would be impossible for the EU to forget.
  • Acquisition of the Dnieper River as a border would add  a lot of mouths to feed, without any particularly productive land. The Soviet occupation of Austria, between 1948 and 1955, was abandoned in steps, influenced by the inability of the occupiers to run expropriated industries at a profit.
  • A sweep across southern Ukraine would acquire the Black Sea Shipyard, and provide a land bridge between Crimea and Russia. It would cut Ukraine off from a major part of their industrial base. And the Russians can grab a bite to eat along the way.

Among Kremlin strategists, there is likely a popular game. How many years of sanctions must they pay for each of these goals?


Ash Carter says the Iraqis Have “…’no will to fight’ in Ramadi”…Patton’s Response


Carter’s statement of the situation is doubtless accurate. He has reliable observers, and no inclination to bias. But “will to fight” sounds like description of a virtue. In places and times, it is. The phrase risks mislabeling Iraqi soldiering as a moral issue. It distracts from our issues, which are U.S. interests. If one decided (and I am not doing so here) that Iraqi soldiers were yellow-bellied cowards, it would still be in the interest of the U.S. for them to win.

It is not in U.S. interest for a lion-hearted ISIS  to prevail over a cowardly Iraqi army.

T.E. Lawrence, fighting in the same general area between 1916 and 1918, described exactly what Carter remarks about. Better known as Lawrence of Arabia, he put his experiences together in a great read, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in 1922. Not much has changed since then. In the interim, in the shadow of a protectorate and then a weak monarchy, a thin crust of intellectuals toyed with nationalism among themselves, until they were booted by strongmen in 1958. It was all downhill from there, with a Ba’ath coup in 1963. The father of their countries, Winston Churchill, had ulterior motives usually skipped in discussions of his greatness.

Since American soldiers fight so remarkably well, it is perhaps natural to expect the same from other cultures. But little has changed since Lawrence of Arabia led charges against Turkish trains defended by heavy weapons. His tribal fighters were interested in booty, not nation building. If there was a train to sack, they charged. If the goal was a strategic objective, they went home. We might call this desertion.

I wish we could just send George S. Patton over to deliver his speech.  A less profane adaptation: Listen now, it’s important. Of those Americans who soldier, and among many who do not, it strikes a chord. Don’t be embarrassed, because, at the time, it was an exhortation to save humanity by making the unthinkable thinkable.

About Americans, Patton said,

“Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”

The Iraqis don’t have the cultural hooks described above, so the speech would not make any particular impression. Not so long ago,  how the U.S. Marines turned men into soldiers was demonstrated by R. Lee Ermy in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (clip).  The  U.S., with a population of 320 million, has since replaced the conscript army with a volunteer army, so  harsh psychological manipulation is no longer a necessary part of basic training.

The psychological hooks of our secular society, that make possible the transformation of ordinary young men into exceptional soldiers, are not available in Iraq. The Iranians do it, with their own soldiers, and the Iraqi militia, but the hook is religious, not secular. Mullahs travel with the militias, delivering religious exhortations from pickup trucks with loud speakers. Religious indoctrination is reinforced daily.

While Americans can be convinced to fight for “duty, honor, country”, the corresponding Iraqi concept is martyrdom. On the subject of martyrdom, Patton said, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

So, with respect to the roots of will to fight, the cultures of the U.S. and Iraq have no common logic.  Unfortunately, mullahs with loudspeakers on pickup trucks are not part of the U.S. arsenal. Perhaps a line item should be included in the next defense budget. The morale builders available to us are demonstrations of success. We have a saying, “Success breeds success.” The converse is also true. Prior to the modern era, part of the salvage of victory from defeat was to show that the enemy was not invincible.

We don’t have mullahs; we have no direct psychological hooks, but we do have Tac Air Control Parties, which would, at the very least, boost morale. In November 2014, the Iraqis successfully repelled an assault on Ramadi, so perhaps success can breed success. Useful assessment of the idea could be provided by individuals, now retired, who worked with indigenous elements in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2003.

Deployment is not without risk. In the current environment, betrayal to the enemy is not inconceivable, resulting in a prolonged national nightmare. But then we must ask, how important is it to us that Iraq survive as a country? We could allow Iran to take the better part of it, leaving a rump state of unknown composition. It may happen anyway. In October of last year, I wrote,

Southern Iraq is bound to Iran by culture and religion dating back to 680 A.D.  The connections are vastly powerful, yet curiously under weighted by U.S. strategists. There is, in the scheme of things, an exceedingly minor theological rift between the religious institutions of Iraq and Iran. With the passing of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is currently 84, integration of the religious establishments of Qom and Karbalā will become total. Secular fusion will inevitably follow.

Whether we consciously allow it to happen, consciously or by default, will become immaterial in a few years. But the fact of it will  persist.



Rebel Commander Aleksey Mozgovoy Killed in East Ukraine, Frozen Conflict?

Yahoo. Quoting, “The defence ministry of the self-proclaimed Lugansk republic confirmed that Alexey Mozgovoy, the commander of a police battalion in the war-torn region, was among the dead and said it was hunting for the assailants behind the attack.”

So let’s round up the usual suspects. Russia makes the list, and here’s a helpful guide to the others: A Guide to the Warlords of Ukraine’s ‘Separatist Republics’

There has been of a lot of friction between the various rebel commanders, so they cannot be excluded. A Ukraine based site,, says the Russian GRU killed Mozgovoy, because he would not obey orders from Moscow. But every interest has a conceivable motive to name someone other than the actual. A rebel commander would name either Ukraine, or a rival, which avoids irritating Moscow and also weakens the rival.

But quoting from a 5/24 article in The Independent, “Over the past six months, several of the most unwieldy rebel leaders have been removed – and many assume Mr Mozgovoi is next on the list. It is well known that Mr Mozgovoi is on difficult terms with the Kremlin-annointed leader of the Luhansk republic, Igor Plotnitsky.”

Why he was on difficult terms is concisely described by the title: Ukraine crisis: Separatist rebel commander Aleksey Mozgovoi says he is ‘ready for more deaths’ – and warns ceasefire with Kiev won’t hold.  Mozgovoy’s assassination accords with a pattern of murders that overlap in time with the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and includes the execution of one, and possibly more, of Chechnya ruler Kadyrov’s men, discussed in Chechnya threatens Russia; Expansionist Complex.

A reasonable surmise is that the murder of Nemtsov catalyzed thought in the Kremlin, particularly Putin’s own, that the Expansionist Complex now poses more of a threat to Russia than Ukraine ever did. The situation has evolved into the political equivalent of a thunderstorm supercell, in which the natural tendency to dissipate is thwarted by cyclonic updraft. The unexpected energy supply owes to the instability of North Caucasus, evidenced by Kadyrov’s men doing a hit for the separatists. So Moscow may now  try for a frozen conflict.

As early as 9/2014, an article in the International Business Times, with Novaya Gazeta as a source, claimed “Cash-Strapped Russia Won’t Support Ukrainian Separatist Regions Of Donetsk And Luhansk.” The article cites financial burden, but the danger of  imported political instability is more compelling. Moscow would have to kill off every member of the rebel leadership who has  a mind of his own, and try to absorb the others, who would remain security risks. And as a reservoir of disaffection, the general population would not be without risk.

A purge is not as practical as it seems. Despite the occasional assassination, Russia has become, compared to what it was before, a humanitarian state. We abhor some of the methods, such as extrajudicial execution. But Russia is nothing like it was before. The mind of today’s Russian has not been brutalized by purges. It has merely been deceived by Russian news media. Whatever type of the state Vladimir Putin desires to construct, it is distinct from the totalitarian familiar.

A purge  would not kill their ghosts, which  would live in the minds of others, brutalized by knowledge of the deed. And the Caucasus is a graveyard of ghosts yearning to escape from the grave.



Acquiring Intuition about Nationalism; Grocking a Vice Video

One purpose of this blog is to make transferable the skill of open source analysis. In the service of that goal, pseudo derivations of  the conclusions are provided. This is not to say that the mental process is so formal. Since the 1980’s, the limitations of the “expert system” based on formal methods have been laid bare.  Such systems do not approach the general problem solving ability of the human expert, although they can exceed it in specialized areas. Computer chess is one such example, but chess is a game with formal rules.

Open source intelligence has no formal rules. It is an occupation of neural networks, and has been long before the term was known. A humanist who is acquainted only with the useless system of formal logic would benefit from a look at Ludwig Wittgenstein and Franz Zwicky.

Wittgenstein destroyed the concept of formal language as a complete system of communication. His Tractatus is only 75 pages in length, yet he is regarded as one of the first rank philosophers of the 20th century. That should tell you something. That he did not provide a replacement for the destroyed concept of language is the mark of an honest man. Whether you understand the payload of Tractatus after the first 30 pages, or remain puzzled after the whole 75, is a point of self-discovery.

The Wikipedia page on Franz Zwicky places him as a Caltech astronomer. But Zwicky also designed jet and rocket engines, an incredibly complex undertaking, and hypothesized the existence of dark matter using the virial theorem. Having addressed these problems, he then studied how he solved them, which he described as the method of general morphological analysis. The Wikipedia article on this is questionable, but the method itself is an important suggestion as to how neural networks might be coupled to create a mind capable of complex strategies.

The highfalutin introduction done with, watch a Vice video, The Yakuza’s Ties to the Right Wing. You’ll see most of the elements of the post World War I German right wing: the lost territories to be regained, the authoritarian impulse, represented as Japanese version of honoring the “Leader”; the various factions: thinkers, politicians, and brown shirts; factional conflict; the search for civic respectability by providing services; the desire to kill; the desire for conflict. Racism, which is denied, is replaced by an equivalent, xenophobia.

Since virulent nationalism with the right wing shadow is one of the most popular and persistent national delusions, grocking the Vice video will enhance your predictive toolkit much more than knowing the interminable history of conflict on the plains of Poland. The take-away, the thing to be extracted, is Zwicky’s morphology–the shape of the problem, once all the cultural influences are subtracted. That this is Japan makes this easy, because the Western norms, so easy to gloss over, are replaced by jarringly different customs, as in the banquet towards the end of the video.

With the cultural norms subtracted, and Zwicky’s morphology squirreled away in your memory banks, it will usefully come to mind when examining three extant or brewing troubles: Russian, German, and Indian nationalism.


Syria, fall of Palmyra

It is not impossible to desire that Bashar al-Assad should remain in power until ISIS is so drained by defeat in Iraq that the Syrian part can be vanquished by Sunni allies of the U.S.  This is called a pipe dream. Last year, it had a little more reality, and even more the year before that. This is mentioned in the interest of understanding the trend.

Perhaps the strategists hope to deal with ISIS-in-Syria later. But the word “hope” should never be used in government except in the context of selection between alternative strategies. In this case, the strategy of training the “good” Syrian opposition has been more than overtaken by events. It has been run over by a truck. The loss of Palmyra describes a situation that could result in the partition of Syria between ISIS and Hezbollah.

With Iraq,  useful adjustments to strategy are feasible, if victory, or achievement of strategic objectives, are replaced by the concept of contained chaos. In terms of any conventionally defined goal, the existing Syria strategy is completely unworkable.  So tinkering will not work. There is a complex diplomatic problem to be solved. The Secretary of State who solves it will Vulcan mind-meld with the key players: el-Sisi of Egypt, Erdoğan of Turkey, Abdullah II of Jordan, Iran’s proxy–Hezbollah, and the U.S.

The above list includes people who might have done a bad thing or two to former presidents and journalists. It includes hostile entities, and unreasonable entities.  In the context of established policies, these unfortunate facts cause any derived solution to be “unthinkable.”  To whom it may concern: You’ll just have to deal with it.

No specifics can be offered, because the assembly of a pan-Arab army (with Turkish add-on) is a very human endeavor. For any other part of the world, my helpful suggestion would be lots of Havana cigars and  Macallan Lalique 55 Year Old Single Malt.


Iraq reversals and Close Air Support

Back in the day, close air support implied identification of targets by compass coordinates and visual features, largely by ground observers without specialist training, relayed in real time to loitering aircraft. This is an obsolete conception. For a suitable replacement, think of an embedded team that provides air traffic control, and electronically determined target coordinates created by a variety of designation gadgets, suitable for direct input into the launch system of a precision guided weapon.

“Advisers in Iraq: What They Do, What They Can Do” offers examples of how deployment of a Tactical Air Control Party can positively modify the effectiveness of ground troops. With rag-tag militias, the effect can be so profound as to almost verify the discredited notion that wars can be won with air power. Wars cannot be so won, but battles can.

The precision and scope of a Tac Air Support Party is readily evident on the ground. A precision guided strike leaves a characteristic footprint, and Iraqi troops are talkers. The absence of the talk suggests that  Iraqi troops have not had more than occasional benefit of this force multiplier.

The taking of Ramadi by ISIS forces that are reported to have formed a massed concentration before the attack suggests that something is missing from U.S. strategy.  Concentrations are targets of opportunity. This does not immediately lead to the conclusion by Lindsay Graham that 10,000 U.S. ground troops are appropriate. But the Administration strategy contains an undefined hole.  To date, responses  have  provisioned  inadequate force, and deferred too much to the forms imposed on our thinking by the traditions of Western diplomacy. Although relevant to us, those traditions are irrelevant to the actors.


email contact info

An email  link,, has been added for contact out of the public eye. Because of the need to know who the dialog is with, please provide a phone number and expect a call. Queries from the U.S. academic and intelligence establishments are welcome. If you are not in that category, the public forum is still open to you.

Please do not use this as a “tip line.” This blog is about open source intelligence. Tips cannot be used here in any way, shape, or form. Private consultation cannot be provided, with the possible exception of U.S. institutions of sterling quality.

If you are an academic, your interest in this blog should be in the methods used,  provided to help make analysis a teachable skill.