Note to Finland and Sweden: Join NATO NOW!

(CNN) The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis – Roughly 75% of Russian conventional forces deployed against Ukraine, US official says. Quoting,

According to the latest US intelligence assessment, Russia now has close to 75% of its conventional forces postured against Ukraine, a US official with direct knowledge of the intelligence told CNN.

You have a window of opportunity during this engagement: Join NATO NOW!  The normal political process must be compressed into a few days. NATO tripwire forces must urgently be deployed. Impressive as your armies are, they are no match for Russia.

Your internal enemy is ironically known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Zelensky had a bad case of it. Germany is getting shock therapy.

Act with haste. Otherwise, the Bear may well take a bite out of your apple.

Editing Political Opinion at CNN or NYT

Intel9 is a specialized blog. I was tempted to do a series on the process of editing  political opinion. I collected mediocre examples to dissect. I ultimately concluded it would cost readership. You don’t read Intel9 for politics.

This reticence may have resulted in a missed opportunity. It does allow me to expose without fear how my approach to the political editorial would differ from the norm. There are two basic choices: Show how one would fix badly written examples, or, with a well written piece, explore what is wrong with the genre, and how to fix it. A genre example follows.

In narrative reporting, a news team attempts to integrate many separate sources, separated by time, space, and perspective,  into a coherent story: who, what, when, where, why. Too often, the result falls short, but it would fall much shorter without this propulsion.

The op/ed is something entirely different, in which the author is encouraged to frame an opinion, with an implied story, in a few hundred standalone words. For any issue of real-world complexity, this is impossible. What results is either juvenile simplification, or the single facet of the deep-diving specialist. Both make it into print. With rare exception, the political op/ed makes the splash of a pebble thrown into a pond, ripples quickly disappearing from view.

In On New Year’s Eve, Goodbye to the Future; Politics Part 3, I wrote,

Of ancient origin, neoteric political thought, disconnected from material conditions, excluding time itself,  has the result of ingrown political literature. We will explore this.

For  fixing the genre, the example is a very well written piece, (CNN) The LBJ delusion about Biden. My apologies to author

  • Who thought Biden could be the next LBJ? Not me.
  • The audience for this is those to be disabused of the illusion, and those who are interested in the deluded.
  • The deluded are left wing Dems. I knew they were deluded. Do I need this article to tell me?
  • The infrastructure fight has been so well covered, I don’t need to see it again. It is nevertheless required by the format of this op/ed.
  • Am I interested in left wing Dems? They were marginalized before publication of this piece.
  • LBJ was both the product (see 1948 United States Senate election in Texas) and  practitioner of machine politics. Biden is neither, and there isn’t enough money for pork barrel.
  • The Dem hold on the south, dating to post-Reconstruction, was recharged in the 60’s by disproportionate flows of federal money. Loyalty lasted until the 1994 Republican Revolution.

I reread the article. It offers no insights new to me, but it is a rich seed bed. Though these strands are not the outline of a single follow-on op/ed, each is the seed of a  single facet deep-dive piece by the author who can bring the most to that facet. And so a story develops, spanning multiple, connected opinion pieces. The story may have a meaningful conclusion, or it may become part of the national debate.

I continue to think on the title question. In an idle moment, vote bank flashes into my head. Though I’ve never seen it used for U.S. politics, the politics of India is full of it. A vote bank is a block of votes that can be reliably delivered. Indistinguishable from a political machine, it is too soiled a notion to be useful for punditry. Yet in the 60’s, for which we may have misplaced nostalgia, vote banks existed.

They were called Big Labor. In the 60’s, the blue collar work experience was still heavy, hard, and hazardous, with a real blue/white collar class divide. Big Labor was a Dem vote bank, yet Big Labor was culturally conservative; think Archie Bunker. The Democratic Party was far to the right of where  it is today.

In my tentative, editorial fashion, I speculate that the close cultural convergence of the Democratic and Republican parties may be at the root of the LBJ phenomenon. Re-convergence is not personally an attractive idea.. Big Labor comes with some nasty memories of paralyzing strikes and stagflation. Are there other models of stable, collaborative two-party systems?

I would supplement the amnesiac format of the standalone op/ed, to  explore these and other questions in depth. This is a new editorial model, the conversational, in which pieces chain together in a careful balance of referential and novel.

CNN or NYT, now you have the program. Hire me.






(CNN)Unspooling the latest twists in special counsel John Durham’s investigation – The Alfa Bank/ Trump Tower Connection – Screen Scraper Theory

(CNN) Unspooling the latest twists in special counsel John Durham’s investigation.  Quoting,

One dataset possibly linked the Trump Organization to Alfa Bank, the largest private bank in Moscow.

The FBI investigated the underlying data and ruled out any improper cyber links, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report said in 2018 that it accepted the FBI’s conclusions, but the report also pointed out that the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank gave contradictory explanations for the “unusual activity.”

My suspicions were not allayed, so I developed a hypothesis. The Trump campaign was running NationBuilder  software, or something like it. The Russians wanted the donor database for future espionage.

The challenge for the Russians was, how to access the NationBuilder database without detection? NationBuilder is remotely monitored by the company, so it’s a hard target. A virus risks detection. The answer is the minimally invasive technique known as the screen scraper.

This is actually a family of techniques. The camera of a Russian cellphone, pointed at the NationBuilder screen, could be triggered or synchronized by a sequence of simple pings between the NationBuilder server and the Alfa server. The data is captured as a sequence of .jpgs, analyzed by OCR.





(CNN) The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis – Blinken outlines ways Russia may target Ukraine, including “plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack”

(CNN) The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis- . Quoting Blinken,

“First, Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack. … We don’t know exactly the form it will take. It could be a fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia. The invented discovery of the mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians or a fake, even a real attack using chemical weapons,” he said.

For one scenario, exploited in a previous conflict, see Russia’s Ukraine Provocation; Informed Speculation, an Apartment Bombing?

Russia’s Ukraine Provocation; Informed Speculation, an Apartment Bombing?

What follows is speculation informed by history, not current information.  This is the rare occasion when speculation could impede a plot. Because of time urgency, this is a preliminary, to be followed in more detail.

The centerpiece is a staged apartment bombing.

  • Corpses are sourced from the Russian prison system, to play the parts of deceased bomb squad personnel.
  • Inert or unfused bombs, portrayed as live and dangerous, are “discovered” in the basement(s) of an apartment building.
  • The occupants are evacuated.
  • A large cordon is set up around the building.
  • A bomb squad of actors responds, smuggling the corpses into the basement in heavy transit cases.
  • The actors are smuggled out in the transit cases.
  • A low order explosion mangles the corpses, now “heroes” who died trying to defuse the bomb.
  • This may be augmented by live actors just close enough for fake superficial wounds.
  • The event is documented in a form suitable for mass consumption.
  • Public outrage results in Russia, the only place where it counts.

Real, not fake apartment bombings, probably committed by Dagestanis, were exploited to jump-start the Second Chechen War.








Russia, the new Sparta; Putin, Lycurgus & Oswald Spengler

In Putin,…, Lycurgus, the Ruble, and War, Part 2, I wrote

But for someone who consciously went shopping for the constitution of a warrior state, we must look to antiquity, to Lycurgus of Sparta. His virtues are remarkably easy to understand:  equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity. The Spartan system was cruel by western standards of 1945 to present; not so cruel 1933-1945, and positively enlightened compared to 1 July and 18 November 1916 on the Western Front, with more than a million casualties  in the Battle of the Somme, or the two million of Stalingrad in a longer period.

This was written in 2014. Now it applies directly to Vladimir Putin, who  consciously went shopping for the constitution of a warrior state.  The reason: Russia is indefensible without resort to nuclear weapons.

  • To the south, China, a more advanced civilization with 10X the population.
  • To the west, NATO, with 5X the population.
  • In the Caucasus, a powerful internal enemy.
  • In Russia east of the Urals, emptiness.

While most historical leaders are described as constants throughout their lives, Putin is the exception. He changed in perception of these threats. Once vaguely progressive, he became illiberal in the manner defined by Hungary’s Victor Orban. See Russia’s Ethnocentric Il-liberalism; Implications for Aggression Against Ukraine.

At the start of Putin’s rule, Russians, fresh from the breakup, were short on patriotism, to the extent that civil government was impeded. And who would pick up a gun to fight for Russia? The solution was the manufacture of patriotism, which in degree seemed benign.

Russian culture was the wellspring from which patriotism could be manufactured, essential to motivation of a new military. Russia’s status as a “great power ” could then be reconstructed. The more patriotism, the more power. It became an addiction, to which pluralism, the antecedent of democracy, was obstructive. The combination of cultural supremacy, patriotism, and military power is dangerously tempting to use.

Like crime, war is the responsibility of those who make it. In 2014, Europe was at peace. Germany had become the most pacific of nations. Yet with apparent reference to the conflicts of the 19th century, Putin prioritized geopolitical alignments over the peace dividend. Ironically, the remilitarization of Germany may ultimately present Putin with the adversary of his imagination. If one continually tickles the tail of the dragon, it will wake up.

,As foretold by George F. Kennan, the West bears some responsibility; see Ukraine; Let’s Make a Deal; Suggestion to Vladimir Putin. The rest of the causation has diverse roots. As per John Donne, no man is an island. Putin is the sum of a lifetime of influences, combined with, for those who believe in it, free will. And the books he has read. For one title, see The Book Putin Read.  But Henry Kissinger’s writings are about diplomacy, not illiberal social constructs.

Putin  has not described the details of his conservative Russia. Hence my resort to Victor Orban’s “illiberalism” as an approximate substitute. There is an obvious common element, the primacy of culture. It seems as if Putin and Orban have some familiarity with Oswald  Spengler, whose book, The Decline of the West, was a hot topic circa 1918-1940.

To the typical non-specialist reader, The Decline of the West is an inaccessible waste of time, a pseudo-scientific  theory of history. Spengler’s atomic element is a culture, which he treats as a living organism with a life cycle: birth, growth, senescence, and death.  This echoes in Victor Orban, ruler of a tiny Hungary of 12 million people, who  claims primacy of culture/state over the individual as a linchpin of illiberalism.

Spengler’s culture life-cycle echoes in Putin’s growing contempt for the West, and his attempts  at CPR on the Russian cultural corpus. Elevating the cultural organism over the nation-state, it justifies Putin’s exclamation, “Ukraine is ours.” Culture does not inhabit the individual; the individual, a single living cell, belongs to the culture. The right of Ukrainians to have their own  country is alien to the concept. If people, like skin cells, must die, it’s bearable. Survival of the cultural organism is supreme; “Ukraine is ours!”

Spengler’s predictions have a mystical quality, attractive to believers who seek confirmation in current events. He asserted the life cycle of a culture to be 2000 years, with the “birth” of Western culture in the 10th century. In 1918, he saw the end of Western democracy around 2000,  followed by several hundred years of “Caesars”, a.k.a. strongmen, followed by total collapse. He knew nothing of the Technological Singularity or climate change; his reference was the glacial history before the Enlightenment. Having experienced many rebirths, Western culture now has little resemblance to then. Anyone can take a stab at the future, and occasionally be right for the wrong reasons.

Spengler is attractive to those who seek formal confirmation for intuitive notions of cultural supremacy. A romantic view of culture is a typical trait in all but the cynic. It is used by Orban to justify obligation of the individual to society.  It becomes Spenglerian poison when used to deprecate  human rights, destroy democracies, incite persecution of minority cultures, or justify war.

Spengler failed to anticipate a self-referential irony, the current resurgence of  Spengler-inspired cultural supremacy, in Russia, China, India, and even the U.S., which motivates a cycle of inter-culture conflict analogous to Hindu cosmology and the proclivities of man:

Birth of a culture–>expansion–>conflict–>death–>repeat

This is what happens when a man steeped in the conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries reintroduces the stratagems that caused those conflicts.

If one continually tickles the tail of the dragon, it will wake up.











Afghanistan Evacuation; U.S. Army Probe; (CNN) Jake Tapper on Biden’s Dismissal

(Edit, to reflect that Antony Blinken was not a career state department officer. Lawrence Eagleburger was the only career officer to become Secretary of State.)

(Wapo) Documents reveal U.S. military’s frustration with White House, diplomats over Afghanistan evacuation. Quoting,

Military personnel would have been “much better prepared to conduct a more orderly” evacuation, Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the top U.S. commander on the ground during the operation, told Army investigators, “if policymakers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground.”

The collapse of the Afghan army was foretold by many. In Biden: Leaving Afghanistan, I wrote,

I have grave certainty that they [Taliban] won’t uphold. This will be a slaughter of the good. The   future reeks of the fall of Saigon, when our friends were falling off helicopter skids as they begged for rescue.

(Wapo) Declassified Afghanistan reports back U.S. commanders who said Biden team was indecisive during crisis. Quoting,

…concluding that indecisiveness among Biden administration officials and initial reluctance to shutter the embassy in Kabul sowed chaos and put the overall mission at “increased risk.”

With the military exonerated, this leaves as targets NSC and State. In  (CNN) Don’t you have an obligation, sir?’: Tapper on Biden’s probe dismissal, Jake Tapper criticizes Biden for his blunt rejection of the Army report.

The  ritual  Washington solution is to look at the organizational chart, determine the highest appointee through whom the errors flowed, and fire that person. It relies on the fiction  that the errant logic actually inhabits  the person to be sacrificed. Ritual human sacrifice is a political vice that offers two choices: lop off the head, or multiple eviscerations of subalterns.

The organizational chart does not tell the real story, which has these elements:

  • The tendency of rank-and-file foreign service officers to “go native”, to develop strong affinities and personal bonds with Afghans.
  • Profound depression at the prospect of abandoning Afghans, with paradoxical dissociation from morbid ground knowledge.
  • Group-think among these officers.
  •  Absence at State of an active dissent channel, stocked with voices of conviction. A consequence of groupthink, it risks insularity, unless balanced elsewhere in the organizational chart. Who do you believe, and why?
  • The background of NS Advisor Jacob Sullivan, while not inherently insular, does not suggest a strong pushback against State insularity.
  • The debacle was caused by a broadly decentralized effect, involving dozens, if not hundreds of people, each of whom possess valuable areas of competence.

Biden had two choices, ritual sacrifice, or preserve the team. He chose the latter, with “The buck stops here.” It is a politically costly choice,  a particular form of integrity. The solution is not assignment of blame, which would be fictionalization of a complex error.

Biden might address Tapper’s concern, for free upward flow of information, with a more direct  military channel than “NSC principal” implies.


(CNN) Heated exchange between State Dept official, veteran reporter

(CNN) Heated exchange between State Dept official, veteran reporter. Quoting,

A heated exchange took place between AP reporter Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Ned Price regarding Russia’s alleged “crisis actors” propaganda plot.

My sympathies were torn between purpose and privilege.

  • Purpose, to deter Russian aggression against a smaller, weaker country of people who simply want to live in their own polity.
  • Privilege, the right of a reporter to ask any question that might winkle out the truth.

I am not personally skeptical, though intelligence always has a margin of error. Matt Lee’s job is to be skeptical. Both Price and Lee are responsible for a dialectic that terminates in prejudice instead of logical opposition. Even a disagreement should have clear logic. Since Lee’s line was monotonic, nuanced elaboration fell to  Price, who was either not prepared, or hobbled by the stilted language of “spokes-speak.”

The intelligence could have been obtained in three basic ways:

  • SIGINT, signals intelligence, which includes bugging, wiretapping, and interception of radio signals. The Kremlin  is paranoid about this; all important orders go by typewritten letter. It  is impractical to organize hundreds of extras to lie in the snow sprayed with red ink, so phones must be used.
  • HUMINT, human intelligence. It’s impossible to keep a movie production secret. Even bit players are excited.
  • Brokered information, purchased by  CIA from third parties. CIA  is deliberately not terribly selective; there is always the possible diamond-in-the-rough, along with false intelligence manufactured for profit. Made notorious by the Steele dossier, there have nonetheless been plenty of diamonds.

If I were Price, unhobbled by the conventions of his office,  the dialog might have gone like this:

Price: Matt, do you want to get someone killed?

Lee: I just want to see some evidence.

Price: We’re taking a chance revealing this much. If we say more, it might get someone killed.

This could be mildly deceptive, if it’s SIGINT, but forgivable. The penalty varies between major asset loss, and death.

Lee: Then you don’t have anything.

Price: We do, but I don’t think it will help prevent a war to tell you.

Lee: Why (enumerating intel failures  of the past) should you be trusted?

Price: Like I said, it’s not like we have a piece of plane wreckage. It is, literally, a movie plot. We don’t have the script, only the synopsis. Do you expect used typewriter ribbons?


Lee: I’ll repeat the question…

Price: I have nothing more on this, except a simple request: Let your readers decide.

Ned Price was unprepared, because he is a member of one of the most intentionally honest post WWII administrations. He simply did not anticipate that Matt Lee would turn his jaded, gimlet eye on him.

Ned, next time, loosen your tie and your wit.











Russia’s Ethnocentric Il-liberalism; Implications for Aggression Against Ukraine

I’ve written over 800 articles, so I’ve lost a personal relationship with the older ones. Every so  often, an anonymous reader draws my attention to the relevance of an old article, in this case Trump Putin Meeting Part 1.

The Kremlin’s incipient aggression against Ukraine has two underpinnings:

  • To thwart their perceived threat of NATO to strategic balance.
  • An expression of illiberal, ethnocentric nationalism, which is actually put to words by Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The second point is explored in Trump Putin Meeting Part 1, written in 2017. It has new relevance, explaining Putin’s possessive attitude towards Ukraine. Start your read with

In other words, we are afraid that our president may not have understood the lesson of the Yalta Conference, in which an ailing F.D.R. thought he could make Uncle Joe his friend. Vladimir Putin is in no way comparable to Uncle Joe. But Putin has expressed a desire for a new Yalta,…

Thank you, Anony Mouse, for your implied recommendation.


CNN & Jeff Zucker

Intel9 is by itself incapable of focusing public interest. So from inception  it has often keyed off CNN, who are usually first, and keep their links in good order. As I studied the media world, I became aware that Zucker’s influence on the CNN voice  rivals, in many ways, the media moguls of legend. This is perhaps disguised  by a genial, persuasive style that contrasts with the capricious, dictatorial legends.

Under Jeff Zucker,  in a state of challenged democracy, CNN became the flag-bearer of modern liberalism. It is a cruel irony that his fall resulted from the application of a very high moral standard which has been rigorously enforced only in the past few years.

CNN has not done well lately. Zucker may have felt that saving democracy is more important. In Chris Wallace announces he is leaving Fox News, joining CNN+, a Great Match, I wrote,

Journalism has a history of frequent, though not inevitable political bias. CNN is these days self-consciously liberal. Liberalism is not by itself the foundation of U.S. political discourse, which is a perpetual state of teeter-totter. To best defend democracy, CNN should build  bridges to those moderate Republicans who believe  defense of democracy is of supreme importance. This can be done by providing a cross-party debate platform on a scheduled basis.

If lack of broad appeal  is the only flaw in Zucker’s approach, his is still a life well lived, to be reflected on with contentment.

Readers of old Intel9 articles are aware that I have occasionally been critical of particular CNN articles. Search sloppy journalism. See CNN and Yellow Journalism, “U.S. bomber flies over DMZ”, and CNN, Shame! Raise Your Standards! “Russia unveils ‘Satan 2 Missile”. Though this sloppiness never involved people, it distorted world affairs in important ways. After AT&T acquired CNN in 2018, this became much less common.

CNN remains highly variable in quality. Politics, particularly tactical, is the strong suite; it always betrays intelligence. Even when I disagree, I think, that is a well-thought out opinion. This does not extend universally to other areas, when too often sophistication is lacking, or the tone patronizing. Too often, the word “expert” is invoked, in place of drilling down to reason.

This take may result from the liberal arts backgrounds of media executives. It even extends to foreign affairs, when the adversary shares nothing of cultural background, and to economics, in discerning the dichotomous rift between numbers and social welfare.

One point of view is that this smudged mirror is the necessary result of tuning the news presentation to the average person. But the smudging affects all of us; public discourse is getting dumb and dumber. Could CNN swipe that mirror with some Windex?