Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Part 1

Have a look at Moderna Partial Results Part 1. This is in the same theme.

Russian confidence in their vaccine is based on 40 human study participants. It did not take long for U.S. researchers to realize that the Russians had tested the vaccinated volunteers with live COVID-19 virus.  It could have been a death sentence for some.  Judging by their tone, they won their gamble – for now.

So we have to imitate!  (NBC) U.S. to make coronavirus strain for possible human challenge trials. Putin is right; this truly is a Sputnik moment. Then it was the space race; now the germ race. Quoting,

Such trials are typically done when a virus is not widely circulating, which is not the case with COVID-19. Many scientists consider human challenge trials of the novel coronavirus unethical because there are no “rescue therapies” for those who fall ill.

There is no situation of “typically done.” Someone is trying to open the door a crack.

The space race was a test of technological dominance, capitalism-versus-communism, which implied political and cultural superiority of the winner.  The Germ Race requires innovation of ethics. Quoting,

Van Hoof said such trials would offer a testing option in case the virus stops circulating widely, but the company would only move forward with such trials if the ethical issues are resolved and an effective treatment is available.

If there were an effective treatment, there would be no need for desperate measures, but let us not be distracted from our goal, which will be conveniently defined by a combination of need, greed, and momentum.  Someone is prying at the door.

We must rise or sink to the occasion. Groucho Marx, said “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Facetious, of course. This is  a Nathan Hale moment for the study volunteer, who might say “‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country on a ventilator.”

Should Russia be condemned for risking 40 lives?  Absolutely not. In the West, there are already indications of viable vaccines for every need. Take your pick: speed of production, immunogenic potency, shelf-life stability. Russia is not the West. Outside Moscow, it is a poor country that cannot afford the parallel efforts of the West. Their vaccine has to work.  

Should Russia be condemned for exaggerated claims? The propaganda is irritating, but they don’t have to worry about lawsuits.

Should we congratulate ourselves for appropriating Russian ethics? I think not.  Though if he were he alive today, Dr. Str_____  would pronounce the Russian move an astonishingly good idea. If the Russians have an unethical protocol, we have to have one too. This is as race to the bottom we cannot afford to lose. There must be a bottom. How low can you go? We cannot let the Russians get to the bottom first.

We’ve been there already. The history of Western medicine is replete with studies that make the Russian study innocuous. The atrocities are not limited to the likes of Nazi Josef Mengele or Japan’s Unit 731.

We can find it close to home. The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, on black males without knowledge or consent, ran from 1932 to 1973.  Even in the 30’s, syphilis could be treated with difficulty. After World War II, a single shot of penicillin was curative in stage 1, while all but those who had progressed to tertiary  syphilis could have been treated.

While the Tuskegee study is a powerful statement about racial bias, the  human radiation experiments conducted by U.S. Public Health Service and the Atomic Energy Commission between 1944 and 1947 apply the same ethical flaw to the weak, sick, old, and disabled.

Operation White Coat,  bio-warfare experimentation on consenting participants is the bookend of questionable U.S. human challenge studies. Conducted at Fort Dietrich on enlisted volunteers  between 1954 and 1973, there were no deaths. Some participants report persistent health problems.

Like the Russian vaccine trial, the White Coat experiments were challenge studies of no benefit to the participants. You might insist there is a difference between military bio-warfare research and protection of civilians.  But much of the work at Fort Dietrich was defensive in nature, and COVID is a potential bio-warfare agent. It has already disabled an aircraft carrier. The line between bio-warfare and plagues does not exist.

This was the country of our fathers. We have progressed beyond with the strength that comes from reckoning with ugly truth. In 1978, the  Belmont Report attempted to fix our little ethical problem (pdf original document).  Wikipedia makes a nice abstract from these quotes:

  1. Respect for persons: protecting the autonomy of all people and treating them with courtesy and respect and allowing for informed consent. Researchers must be truthful and conduct no deception;
  2. Beneficence: the philosophy of “Do no harm” while maximizing benefits for the research project and minimizing risks to the research subjects; and
  3. Justice: ensuring reasonable, non-exploitative, and well-considered procedures are administered fairly — the fair distribution of costs and benefits to potential research participants — and equally.

This reads like the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in LA.. It was built by the William Mulholland of Muholland Drive.  LA must have had a critical street name shortage. The foundation of the Belmont Report is self-levitating prose. Lacking the force of gravity, the push for human trials of the deadly COVID-19 virus will level the Belmont Report.  The rubble will consist of a few paperclips.

Quoting from NBC,

NIAID said it is continuing to prioritize field trials to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates, but it opened the possibility to challenge trials for future generations of vaccines or treatments.

This is not a possibility we should be open to. We should fight it tooth and nail.  If you are a decision maker, tempted in a weak moment, consider this. The Russian human challenge trial shows efficacy, but not safety.

  • Both the Russian and Oxford vaccines contain novelties.
  • Novelties can contain surprises.
  • Surprises can be bad.

We’ve finished this segment with  Russian doll logic. Fitting? This will be followed by  the “unknown unknowns” of Donald Rumsfeld that may exist in both the Oxford and Russian vaccines.

Sometimes fear has no name.

I’m going to look into recreational submarines so I can follow this underwater-Sputnik- germ race to the bottom.








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Beirut Explosion; Bomb Maker’s Delight?

Edit 8/05 1:40 p.m., to include the fireworks theory, of which I am skeptical. Read down.

If you’re a chemist, you are probably already familiar with the content of these papers:

The papers indicate that ammonium nitrate can do many things, and not all of them have been exhaustively studied.

This is for the nontechnical reader. Ammonium nitrate is not burnable. It acts to oxidize something else, meaning to burn it by supplying oxygen. The CNN video has clues:

  • The orange color of the initial reddish-brown plume is typical of  nitrogen dioxide, (NO2) which gives color to smog, It is produced by decomposition of ammonium nitrate mixed with not-enough of another substance to be oxidized. This is the trigger explosion.
  • The white “dome” that appears a second after the plume is composed of water vapor and N2O, nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”. This is  decomposition of pure ammonium nitrate, without oxidizing another substance.

The video suggests an initial trigger reaction that caused the subsequent explosive decomposition of the bulk of ammonium nitrate at the site. The orange plume of nitrogen dioxide, left-over oxidizer, indicates that the ammonium nitrate was not mixed in correct stoichiometric ratio for an explosion. Hence, if terrorism was involved, the explosion was accidental.

In pure form, ammonium nitrate is not  explosive, except for spontaneous decomposition in the event that it is heated to greater than 170C = 338F. When used to make an explosive mixture, it serves as the oxidizer, mixed with something combustible, like fuel oil. Lacking signs of combustion, such as orange glow, an infrared pulse, or flames, the white dome in the video goes against this. The white dome resulted from  decomposition of pure ammonium nitrate, triggered by an actual explosion.

The official explanation is that fireworks provided the trigger. This is not an explanation, though it could be part of one.  Have a look at (Wikipedia) Ammonium nitrate disasters. All of them involve one or more of

  • industrial processes, where intimate mixing of ammonium nitrate with other substances has occurred
  • High explosive trigger. Fireworks are not high explosives.
  • Accidental intimate mixing of hazardous materials.
  • Confinement in a container that concentrates heat and pressure, such as fire in the hold of a ship.

What fireworks can and cannot do:

  • Fireworks are not high explosives; they are low explosives. They do not detonate to produce supersonic shock waves. Fireworks contain black powder, which just burns rapidly, in deflagration.   This rules out one mechanism. Although ammonium nitrate can be detonated by a supersonic shock wave, fireworks do not produce them.
  • Ammonium nitrate usually survives intense fires, unless confined in a hard container and heated for for some time. But in the video, everything happens in a few seconds.
  • Perhaps for these reasons, the fireworks theory lacks support in the literature. Fireworks would be the lowest energy addition to the Wikipedia disaster list.
  • Fireworks could ignite a bomb under construction.

The Russian paper suggests that in an explosion in France, broken  bags became mixed with a modern disinfectant containing chlorine. This creates a complete explosive, oxidizer + something combustible. The size of the initial orange plume suggests the rare trigger powerful enough to cause the bulk ammonium nitrate to explode.

For the chemical detective, there is a natural question. In the initial explosion, what material mixed with the ammonium nitrate to produce the orange nitrogen dioxide plume? Was somebody trying surreptitiously to make something useful to someone?

  • Ammonium nitrate/fuel oil is a terror favorite for large projects. The explosion could have been a bomb maker’s accident. The port was a convenient place to make car bombs since the ammonium nitrate was already there. The fuel oil to make bombs is easily sourced within the port. The colored plume suggests bombs under construction.  A complete bomb would have a cleaner burn.
  • For the sake of completeness,  broken bags accidentally mixed with a common household/industrial cleaner, in the course of some illicit manufacturing enterprise.
  • The official theory, initiation by fireworks, is inconsistent with known ammonium nitrate disasters. This is not the same as impossible.

Lebanon is governed in a power sharing  arrangement that includes groups known for bomb making. An explanation that implicates them, such as bomb construction, is politically unacceptable. A politically acceptable fireworks theory, which lacks support in literature or experiment, can easily be sold to the public by confusion of low explosives with high explosives.

With Beirut’s history, the bomb maker’s factory is more attractive.



Why I Support Dr. Anthony Fauci

In the U.S., government is the activity of the political establishment Politics is not the only establishment.  Dr. Fauci is a member of the scientific establishment.

The start of The  Enlightenment is marked by some as the year 1637 with René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method. Thus begins the genesis of modern thought, and the growth of these establishments towards the forms they have today. Descartes wrote Cogito, ergo sum, I think, therefore I am.  With this single sentence, he freed the human mind from the bondage of belief.

If you value freedom of thought, if you are engaged with the scientific method, you are a spiritual heir of René Descartes. If you prefer to follow or believe, your roots are elsewhere. Dr. Fauci, as a research physician in the modern mold, is one of Descartes’ heirs.

  • In politics, people are the problems and also the solutions, more so than even ideas. People are the currency of politics. Organizational charts take on the illusion of fundamental reality.
  • In science,  personalities hardly count. What counts is a kind of naked truth  never found in politics, which would be a lie if it did. Such were the lies of fascism and communism.
  • The two establishments  tolerate each other from mutual need. Science values truth and needs money. Politics can’t sell truth to voters; it needs deliverables.
  • Politics tends to look at science as a label for job programs.
  • When “technocrats”, meaning scientific types, have attempted to apply science to problems of government, the results have been mediocre or worse.

Since the U.S. response to COVID-19 became a mess, it is natural for politicians to think of it as a people problem.  It would be a mistake to think of  it this way.  Everybody who has said anything about COVID has been wrong. This does not imply universal incompetence.

Blame the virus. In all their years of planning, nobody in the whole wide world planned for a pathogen with  the COVID characteristics of:

  • Contagiousness
  • Severity
  • Stealth

Never was it imagined that one bug could combine the three. There are sound scientific reasons for this, which we will explore with the Astrodome experiments: COVID Resurgent: Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 3.  Had COVID been Ebola, a different combination of contagious and deadly, the public health systems would have been less stressed. Shortcomings in response would have been noted as glitches, not catastrophes.

Blame epidemiology the subject, long on retrospection and short on predictions for novel pathogens. It lacks the mathematical tools for modeling all but the most simple scenarios. If it is possible to develop better models, it will require individuals who have looked at a lot of data for a very long time. Besides impersonal data, clinical experience is key.

COVID has  outrun the competencies of epidemiology. To advance the competencies requires the best and most prepared minds.  Louis Pasteur,  one of the fathers of  epidemiology,  said, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.

Dr. Fauci has been working at NIH for 52 years, with many achievements of distinction. He is a rightful heir toCogito, ergo sum “. That’s preparation.

Cogito, ergo sum .” Try it, you’ll like it.

COVID Resurgent: Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 3

We continue from COVID Resurgent: Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 2.

The Houston Astrodome is ideal for what scientists call a controlled experiment. With the entrances sealed, it becomes a world unto itself.  We can study a situation analogous to the relationship between communicable disease, and the people, or animals, that are infected.  This experiment will help us explore five questions:

  • How can a virus appear to have an intelligent strategy, when it isn’t even alive? Does Darwin’s theory of natural selection play a role?
  • What drives virulence, and what holds it back?
  • Public health policies can influence a pandemic. Can we also influence the evolution of the virus itself?
  • Why has most of the early advice and predictions been so wrong?
  • (NY Times) Europe Said It Was Pandemic-Ready. Pride Was Its Undoing describes the failure of models that predict the course of a pandemic. Are better models possible?

Our Astrodome experiment is arranged like this:

  • Underbrush and hay cover the floor, which is also stocked with rabbit feed.
  • A few hundred hares are let loose, and allowed to make themselves at home.  Then the dozen foxes are let loose.
  • The keepers return each night to tidy up and restock the rabbit feed.

In the natural world, hares eat plants. If the plants are overgrazed, the hares destroy their food supply, and starve to  death.  To better mimic the natural world, we add this twist:

  • If the keepers discover that the hares have eaten all the feed, they do not replace it. The replacement feed is proportionate to the amount that remains.

The mortal combat between foxes and hares has these constraints:

  • Hares can eat only rabbit feed. If the hares run out of feed, they all die.
  • Foxes can only eat hares. If there are no more hares, the foxes all die.
  • The more numerous the hares, the harder it is for them to hide, and the easier for foxes to catch.
  • When there is more food for foxes, the foxes produce more baby foxes. The population of foxes skyrockets.
  • All those foxes eat more rabbits, until fox food become scarce and lots of foxes starve to death.
  • If all the foxes die, the hares overpopulate, eat up all their feed, which is then not replaced, and directly starve to death, or die of disease from starvation.

If we run this experiment for a few years, we find that:

  • The populations of foxes and hares see-saws back and forth. This situation was first described in math by the predator-prey equations of Lotka-Volterra  in 1925, and have been verified as reasonably representative of real situations involving wild animals.
  • If either hares or foxes dies out completely, the food supply of the surviving species dies out too.  So neither foxes nor hares can exist without the other.
  • Usually, neither the foxes or rabbits die out completely. This is the balance of nature.

The predator-prey equations are ancestral to epidemic modeling. They are not used directly, but inspire the present. There is a correspondence:

  • COVID is the fox, and you are the hare. Rather than eaten, you are infected.
  • You could die,  but you most likely become immune, which still means you are not available to the “fox” as food.
  • If your immunity wears off, you again become an edible “hare.”
  • Unlike the hare, you are not dependent on COVID for survival.

If you are a decision maker, the above could replace:

  • A blank feeling about how things work.
  • Emotionalizing as if we’re fighting an opponent:”We beat back the virus.” The equations and the virus don’t care.
  • Hoping “This too will pass.” The Lotka–Volterra equations say the pendulum will swing, until science makes it stop.

This describes the basic situation. With elaboration, we will use this framework to address the five initial questions.

How should we think about COVID-19 ?

Let Kingsfield be your guide.


COVID Resurgent: Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 2

We continue from COVID Resurgent: Of Hares and Foxes; Primer for Policy Makers, Part 1. Of relevance,

(CNN) Kazakhstan denies Chinese government report that country has ‘unknown pneumonia’ outbreak more deadly than Covid-19

(The Diplomat) China Missteps With Wild Allegation of a ‘New’ Deadly Pneumonia in Kazakhstan, Certain of total falsification, the article blames aggressive diplomacy.

So is  “unknown…more deadly pneumonia” reliably false? Quoting CNN,

In a statement later on Friday, the Kazakhstan health ministry acknowledged the presence of “viral pneumonias of unspecified etiology,” but denied that the outbreak was new or unknown.

Condensed and paraphrased, this is “We don’t know what they/it are but they/it aren’t new.”   But if they don’t know what it/they are, how can “authorities” authoritatively know it/they aren’t new? The political penalties of admitting or denying anything related to COVID-19 are huge. When we stir it all together, a disquieting soup emerges:

  • The existence of a  more deadly pneumonia in Kazakhstan cannot be completely discounted. China’s loudmouth ambassador may have actually noticed something. Anecdotal evidence is one of the doors to the scientific method.

Companion thoughts:

  • Whoever writes an article will focus on what they know. For The Diplomat, it’s diplomacy.
  • As  Dr. Fauci has remarked, we are still in the first wave of a pandemic.  (CNN) US is still ‘knee-deep’ in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci says.
  • A second wave, which has not yet occurred,  has a very specific character: an initial geographic focus, spread along travel routes, with some change in symptoms and outcome.
  • Pandemics of the past had second waves of increasing virulence.
  • Kazakhstan has all the characteristics of a place where a second, more deadly wave would start.

While the medical community has learned a lot about COVID, there are still places in the halls of power where knowledge is scarce. So I’ve come up with a dramatic demonstration. We’ll need to rent the Houston Astrodome. It should be cheap, because it’s practically falling down. There is a phone number on the web. Also, pick up a few hundred hares or rabbits, a dozen foxes, lots of hay and loose underbrush, and a year’s supply of rabbit feed.

When you’ve got it all set up, with the lease signed, preferably by later today, get back to me and we’ll continue.

It should be most enlightening.





Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 3

We continue from Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 2.

In deference to readers in the Russian government, this is not a judgment of  their domestic policies. But Russian foreign policies are malign to the West, with no better justification than Richelieu. In the West there seems to be increasing understanding that Putin is not a potentate; he is the designer of a nation. He has the kind of power that like money, is diluted by use, and concentrated by conciliation.

Future historians may analogize Putin  to Lycurgus, author of the constitution of Sparta. Both were scientific endeavors. Both fall short.  See Putin, Balance of Power, Richelieu, Lycurgus, the Ruble, and War, and Putin,…, Lycurgus, the Ruble, and War, Part 2. 

Lycurgus created an obsessively military state. Russia  is very loose-jointed with violence. The old Soviet Union was  held together by stolid, phlegmatic old men. The new Russian foreign policy is alive with the metaphor of switchblades, box cutters, guns, poisons, and all sorts of improvised weapons, deployed with casual abandon. Salisbury was not an accident. It is an institution.

Since Putin is not a potentate, there is the intriguing possibility that as with Special Tasks, the Kremlin is fearful of  processes they cannot completely control, yet addicted to their use. The Skripals were poisoned in March of 2018. In the kind of bungle that Unit 29155 has become renowned for, the targets survived, multiple areas of Salisbury were contaminated, and an innocent person died.

In November 2018, Igor Korobov, head of the GRU, in charge of Unit 29155, died of undisclosed cause.  There are open source notes to the effect that Korobov was severely reprimanded by Putin some months before his demise. Pick your own reason for his liquidation:

  • To neutralize an insubordinate power center.
  • As punishment for failure.
  • As defector Viktor “Suvorov” thinks, at risk for defection. Possible, though “Suvorov” does not bat 1000.
  • Victim of his own poisonous garden.

The abandonment of glasnost is a factual tragedy of Russia. In consequence  there exists no way to

  • Adjudicate Korobov’s offenses.
  • Punish him openly without admissions Russia is too small to make.
  • Develop, by precedent, the myth of the most advanced countries, that justice will prevail.

Russia seems stuck on Stalin’s solution, described by Anatoly Rybakov as “Death solves all problems,. No man, no problem.” Hence, poison is likely. Yet Korobov’s probable liquidation did not stop the bounty killings which occurred in 2019. “Suvorov” scores a point. This is the backstory of the Afghanistan bounties.

Did Putin know or approve of the bounties? Open source has nothing to say. If clandestine know more, they aren’t tipping their hand.

Were the bounties intended to hurry U.S. withdrawal? This is the mainstream analysis, probably correct.  It is  possible to imagine the opposite. The U.S. neutralized the Taliban as a threat to Russia. As precedent, I refer to a former U.S. secretary of state, who is reputed by some to have said about the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, “It would have been great if it had gone on forever.”

It is also possible that the bounties had no reasoned purpose other than someone’s good idea.

Will U.S. punishment of Russia deter this kind of behavior? It does not appear to bother Russia in the least that it has become a pariah in the West.  It is more significant to Russian strategists that harrying the enemy is producing results. That is what they think.

Quasi academician-apparatchik hybrids  exercise think-tank creative freedom to prove that the decline of the West is all their work. They have been shaking the tree pretty hard, and we provide the evidence with our own behavior. Our response also falls short in technical comparison:

  • Apart from the violence of units like 29155, the Russian art is psychological  manipulation. We call it subversion, but the art has outraced the term.
  • U.S. sanctions, which emphasize material damage, have little or no psychological effect.

The counters to manipulation and violence:

  • Convince the Russians of our great faith in ourselves, which we will do by acting on that faith.
  • Meld  sanctions, and other forms of material policy, with applied psychology. A visible scoreboard is required to translate from the numerical purity of sanctions to psychological impact, manipulation  in kind.

 If  within the Kremlin there are voices opposed to subversion of the West, a sophisticated U.S. strategy could empower them. There are established techniques. See Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 6; How to Use a Skinner Box.

With our persuasion, perhaps they can finally bury Stalin’s words.


Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 2

We continue from Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 1.

The Stasi  archives that pertain to the 1986 West Berlin discotheque bombing reveal that the participants were known to the Stasi, and one, Musbah Abdulghasem Eter, was a Stasi agent. The most provocative open source comes from (AP) Report: East Germany Allowed Libyan Attack On Discotheque. Quoting,

WEST BERLIN (AP) _ Ousted East German leader Erich Honecker and his secret police chief allowed Libyan terrorists to carry out the 1986 discotheque bombing that killed two American soldiers, a leading newspaper reported today…The report in the West Germany paper Die Welt was the latest in a string of disclosures on relations between international terrorists and Honecker’s Communist regime.

Multiple sources state that while the Stasi provided no active assistance, it  was instructed not to interfere. Still other discountable sources, remnants of the Communist propaganda machines, describe an outraged Stasi on discovery of the involvement of their agent.

Surviving KGB veterans  claim that terrorism was forbidden by KGB policy, though it had many relationships with groups that did use terror. When specifically asked about the Berlin disco bombing, they uniformly deny. Yet Soviet compartmentalization was so extreme, few had complete understanding of their own times. The opacity allows for rogues and cliques.

The  Stasi, though an independent intelligence and security agency, was not ocean-going-with a world view. Their native concerns were restricted to Eastern Bloc security, and external espionage in West Germany. Libya meant nothing to them. It would have been a remarkable exception in their society of ultimate control, to allow foreign conspirators to commit a terror act in West Berlin, which at that time was a West German enclave, completely surrounded by East Germany.

So  the plot was allowed to proceed at the behest of a power with a world view. The choice most compatible with Occam’s Razor is a person or power center within the Soviet Union, but not the Kremlin  itself.  This was early in the tenure of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary. He had no sympathies with terror or grudges with the West.

The order probably came through a backdoor channel, as simple as personal acquaintance of the resident KGB, or as elaborate as the Gavrilov Channel, a backdoor phone line between the CIA and the KGB, who proposed it in 1983. But who was at the Soviet end of the channel? Vladimir Putin doubtless knows. I’ll trade him a Starbucks gift card for the answer.

In his absence, the only hint is in the rapid change that came with the assent of Gorbachev to General Secretary. Early in his tenure as General Secretary, his challenge was to gain dominance over an elderly and conservative Politburo, which he did by shuffling and forced retirements. During this period, someone on his way out, or some clique with personal losses in Afghanistan, may have had a need for revenge against the U.S. The Soviet-Afghan war  began in 1978. U.S. arms deliveries to the Mujahedin began in 1980, though deliveries of the Stinger MANPAD did not begin until after the Berlin disco bombing.

This rogue or clique-based authorization of terror without approval of the Party is an early marker of breakdown of the Soviet system. In 1991, the breakdown became almost total. Russia’s short experiment with democracy was aborted by those who sought to reconstruct a country more related to traditional Russia.

To build a country out of the wreckage, they grabbed  all the myths they thought serviceable, which included paternal government, Slavic nationalism, Orthodox Christianity, militarism, and a “great power” myth. Unit 29155 is simply reassignment of the mythic role of the Yasha Group.

If the bounties are a fact, (change to my highest class of real world certainty, the almost-fact) the builders grabbed the wrong myths, and repurposed them in the wrong way. The error is above and beyond a clique or single individual who may have authorized. This is Russia today.

Next: Towards an understanding; techniques to counter; balms for our souls.


Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 1

Note: for the sake of clarity, traditional Soviet acronyms, such as KGB and GRU, are used. The name changes were frequent and of little consequence.

If this  were any other decade, and but for (NY Times) Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers, I would be skeptical. The other open source evidence is based on interrogations of captured Taliban. The captives were caught in proximity to large amounts of cash. I would have wondered if the story of the captives was intended to conceal a drug-mule operation.

But the reality of Unit 29155, and likely spinoffs, cannot be denied. It has turned Britain and Germany into a hunting ground, where Russia claims the extraterritorial right to assassinate. Most of the victims are Russian citizens, but not all. Slavs, and troublesome spies are eligible. Britain is looking at a whole slew of unsolved deaths.

If it weren’t for the unsolved deaths, the reputation of Unit 29155 would be of paramount bunglers, leaving in their wake trails of failed hits and ID’d operatives. So it does not disqualify that the estimated U.S. toll in Afghanistan centers around a handful.

Unit 29155 exists because it always has, though the organizational chart follows a wide historical arc. In concept, it began in 1920 as the “Yasha Group.”  It was actually a third intelligence service, though under the control of the NKVD.  Although all the names have changed, the GRU also dates to this era. In the Soviet Union, no power center could be allowed to exist outside the Communist Party. As the enforcer of political discipline, the NKVD was closely tied to the Party. The greater distance of the military from that center of power was enforced, at first by hierarchical design, later by the purges.

Hence while the GRU was more numerous, the NKVD was higher in the power hierarchy. The para-military activities of the Yasha Group, which became the Administration for Special Tasks under Pavel Sudoplatov,  parallel the modern GRU-29155. During World War II, Special Tasks included a motorized brigade level commando force.

But the capabilities of Special Tasks, which included sabotage and assassination, were inherently dangerous to the Party. Special Tasks was the principal client of the KGB poison lab, run by Grigory Mairanovsky. (Guardian) Russia’s Lab X: poison factory that helped silence Soviets’ critics. (The lab was such a hideous idea, the Soviets kept changing the number on the org charts.) Hence it was considered safest to subordinate it to the the NKVD.

With the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union returned to an unstable collective leadership with ingrained fear of the repressive instruments of the purges, which included the use of poisons, and the necessity of propaganda  to apportion blame for Stalin’s atrocities, in which they were all complicit to varying degrees. The poison lab was denounced, and continued with a different number on the door.

With the death of Beria a short time later, the leadership moved to reassert total Party control, by destruction or reformation of institutions associated with Stalin and Beria. Ranking members of Special Tasks were imprisoned, partly due to association with Beria, partly from fear of the group’s lethal expertise, and from the desire of Khrushchev to use the group as a scapegoat for his own share of atrocities.

For a long time, a real question of the leadership, which shows the fear Special Tasks inspired, was, how many had they actually killed? The Soviet system was sufficiently opaque to confuse those who had lived close to the center of power.

Soviet/Russian presence on the world stage can be divided into four periods, with some overlap, as actors from a previous period persisted into the next until final removal:

  • 1918-1922, World revolution, Leninist dogma, strongly  influenced by Trotsky.
  • Stalinist, 1922-1953  — Build Soviet communism first, world communism later. While10 years elapse for Stalin to obtain total control, Trotskyism gradually fades, ending with his assassination, an early achievement of Sudoplatov.
  • 1950’s to breakup: Phlegmatic collective  leadership with infighting; “peaceful coexistence.”
  • Modern: Aggressive, lacking in principles, resource starved  yet genuinely threatening to the West, though not devoid of positive domestic qualities.

From the 50’s, up till the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet foreign policy is described by Kissinger as ponderously bureaucratic. When did the mission of Sudoplatov’s Special Tasks, formerly under the thumb of the NKVD, move over to the military GRU?  It could not happen as long as the Communist Party was in control. Curiously, they seemed as personally abhorrent of poisons as the rest of us, fearful that personal loyalties were insufficient protection from that form of diabolism.

Bulgarian dissident  Georgi Markov was assassinated by the Bulgarian secret service via a novel ricin delivery system in 1978. The rather credible testimony of defectors Oleg Kalugin and Oleg Gordievsky assert that the KGB provided the poison. Hence, a date stamp; as late as 1978, the GRU was not what is now referred to as the “go to” resource for clandestine violence.

By 1986, as Party control imperceptibly weakened, there is a hint of change or loosening of the control of special ops, with the West Berlin discotheque bombing, the casus belli for the 1986 United States retaliatory strikes against Libya 10 days later. It required opening of the Stasi archives in 1990 to provide sufficient evidence for prosecution of individuals.

What did the Stasi archives reveal? This is the perfect cliffhanger, so stay tuned!

Intel9's world view

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