The CIA Can’t Learn From Its Own History

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Chatham NH – photo by Robert F. Bukaty

From the NYT: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The CIA is expanding its covert operations in Afghanistan, sending small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country, according to two senior American officials, the latest sign of the agency’s increasingly integral role in President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy.

This new effort will be led by small units known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. They are managed by CIA officers from the agency’s Special Activities Division and operatives from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence arm. It will include elite American troops from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). But most of the troops will be current members of the Afghan militia.

The NYT quotes Ken Stiles, a former CIA counterterrorism officer:

The American people don’t mind if there are CIA teams waging a covert war there…They mind if there’s 50,000 U.S. troops there.

Well, Mr. Stiles, Wrongo minds quite a bit. And if Americans really don’t mind a covert war over there, then we shouldn’t wonder “why they hate us.”

But as with most Trump administration initiatives, it gets worse: The NYT article says that contractors will have a significant role. In August, the former head of Blackwater, Eric Prince, lobbied the Trump administration for a contractor-led effort to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. This might be his payday for that marketing effort. Let’s assume until we learn otherwise, that Prince and his contractors will be involved in the CIA’s new campaign.

It is possible that this campaign will be a boon for the Taliban. It will certainly kill a few of them, but it will also alienate quite a few Afghans. Think about it: Most Taliban fighters are locals. Killing them creates new local recruits for the insurgency.

The worst part of this is that we’ve been here before. During the Vietnam War, we stood up something called Operation Phoenix:

[Phoenix] was designed to identify and “neutralize” (via infiltration, capture, counter-terrorism, interrogation, and assassination) the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong). The CIA described it as “a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Viet Cong”.

There were two components of the program. Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) and regional interrogation centers. PRUs would kill or capture suspected NLF members, as well as civilians who were thought to have information on NLF activities. Many of those captured were then taken to interrogation centers where some were allegedly tortured in an attempt to gain intelligence on VC activities in the area.

Phoenix operated from 1965 to 1972. By 1972, Phoenix had neutralized 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed. We had the body count, but the passive support for the Viet Cong in South Vietnam increased because of Phoenix.

And of course, we went on to win lose the war.

So, we are starting down a road that we shouldn’t, because we haven’t learned from our past experience. Perhaps CIA Director Mike Pompeo could open a book, and learn something about the CIA’s history before he jumps at the latest shiny idea.

For years, the primary job of the CIA in Afghanistan has been training the local Afghan militias. It also used members of the militias to develop informant networks and collect intelligence. This means the CIA has few independent sources of intelligence in the country. It will have to depend on the people it has trained in the militias, each of which are local, and have their own agendas. Success in this campaign depends on reliable intelligence. Who in this or that hamlet is a member of the Taliban? Without trusted local sources, the militia, whether under CIA or contractor command, will likely use torture to get answers they need.

It is predictable that this campaign will end up with big body counts just like Operation Phoenix, and without having made Afghanistan secure for its people.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 15, 2017

In a week filled with news that forces you to look at it, one thing stands out: The “Dossier” on Donald Trump which purports that the Russians have collected some things that could be used to blackmail our Orange Overlord. There are many things to “get”, in order to understand this story, but let’s focus on the blackmail element.

According to the 35-page Dossier, Russia (supposedly) has blackmail material on Trump but isn’t using it. OTOH, the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community (IC), and certain media players are using it, both by making sure we know that the Dossier exists, and that Trump and Obama were told about it.

The story, which had apparently been around DC since the summer, was retailed to the rest of us this week. Trump’s reaction was typical, blaming the IC, while saying it was more fake news. And it could be just that, no one seems to know.

Then, Trump was warned by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader, saying on MSNBC: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

Wow! The president-elect threatened by the Senate Minority Leader, implying that the IC will get back at him if he doesn’t stand down. And there was no shock from Democrats, who have decided that they are the CIA’s best buddies, and that they love, love the rest of the IC.

Yet, when Clinton was being skewered for her emails, Dems protested loudly about the interference by the FBI. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece about the IC inserting itself into the US election, along with the Russians and others. As part of the story, he has this to say about the Democrats:

Did Russia attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Did the agents of the FBI et al attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Is the national security state today interfering in the outcome of a US election, by trying to destabilize and force its will on the incoming administration? Of course, and Democrats are cheering it.

The Dems are seeing just what they want to see, and that’s the (for now) flesh wound inflicted on Trump by the IC. They are not looking at what’s in plain sight. Which is the many efforts at false news stirring the pot of presidential illegitimacy, by domestic state actors as well as foreign.

Democrats should not support this; it’s dangerous…for them as well as for America. More about this next week.

The IC is far from happy with the Donald:

The GOP has started on their Repeal and Replace plan:

The GOP wants to take care of at least one pre-existing condition:

Trump’s cabinet nominees began their Senate hearings this week:

Secretary of State Nominee, Rex Tillerson, has to prove he’s not channeling Exxon:

Obama gave his farewell speech, and headed into the sunset:




America: Fearful and Dysfunctional

It didn’t take long for America’s pollsters to get feedback about the CIA’s torture program. Pew interviewed 1001 people from December 11-14. 500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 501 were interviewed on a cell phone. About a third each were Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The results are surprising:

• 51% of the public think the CIA methods were justified.
• 56% believe that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.

Here are the top line results:

Pew Torture surveySo, according to a bare majority of the American people, torture is justified, and it works.

Before 9/11, most Americans were against torture. Yet here we are. The drumbeat of propaganda and our deep need to justify what America does (America is good, therefore America does not do evil), has coarsened the country.

And the public is less concerned about the methods used by the CIA, and way more about the Senate committee’s decision to release the report: As many call the decision to publicly release the findings the wrong decision (43%) as the right decision (42%).

A large majority of Republicans (76%) say the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 were justified. Democrats are divided – 37% say the methods were justified, while 46% disagree. About twice as many liberal Democrats (65%) as conservative and moderate Democrats (32%) say the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not justified.

Young people also are divided over the CIA’s post-9/11 methods: 44% of those under 30 say that the torture methods were justified, while 36% disagree. Among those 50 and older, 60% think the methods were justified. The over 65 group had the highest agreement at 62%. You can review the detailed survey results here.

While we could quibble about the form of the questions asked, every demographic had at least a plurality in favor of torture: men and women, young and old, white and non-white. The exception was Democrats, who did not believe that torture was justified, although they believed it was helpful.

• 65% of liberal Democrats said torture was not justified
• 25% said torture was justified

The opinions of conservative and moderate Democrats were much different: 48% say the CIA interrogations were justified compared with 32% who say they were not.

What does this say about America?

The physical damage done on 9/11 was nothing compared to the psychological damage to the US population. It has seemingly unleashed a latent fascism. We got nuked emotionally, we haven’t recovered, and we may never recover.

We are propagandized to an incredible degree. While people must ultimately take responsibility for their own opinions and actions, the media industry is bent on shaping perception and they are very good at it. Think television isn’t influential? Last night, the Wrongologist’s local TV news covered the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. But the facts were used only as a jumping off point: The vast majority of the talking head’s time was spent quoting people from the DC security apparatus regarding how such attacks could happen here, how such attacks mean that we should to be hyper vigilant. This continual spinning up of average American’s fears about terror creates a response that isn’t easily calmed.

In post 9/11 America, our politicians have decided that the ends justify the means. They understand that instilling fear pays dividends politically. Their message to the people is that “any means necessary” is acceptable in order to keep us safe. At first, it was the gradual erosion of free speech and habeas corpus. Then, the “collect everything” mode of the NSA.

Now, for the majority of Americans, its “OK, torture if you have to, just keep me safe.”

Those people who think torture is justified are good people who have lost their moral compass, or whose compass points only in a bad direction. This is the dark side of moral relativity: the greater good can lead to terrible outcomes like torture. People do bad things all the time, particularly when they think the good produced outweighs the bad. If a few people’s suffering creates enough “good” (for the rest of us) and that good outweighs the suffering of the few, then, we guess that we should have no issue with it. Thus, torture is now acceptable to the majority of Americans.

And when you look closely at the Pew numbers, although “only” 51% think torture is justified, 20% didn’t have an opinion, so only 29% really think torture is wrong.

Ain’t that America: Fearful, and Dysfunctional.

Smell that American Exceptionalism!



The CIA Needs an Intervention

This Part III of an unintentional three-part series on how the National Security State (NSS) has hurt our standing around the world. You can read parts I and II here and here. There is not a single aspect of American geopolitics that has not been infected by the NSS. In recent years, various foreign governments have occasionally expelled US agencies from their countries. We have assumed that this was a paranoid reaction by their undemocratic leaders to American goodwill.

Now, we can’t be so sure. It is increasingly obvious that the USAID is operating as a CIA front organization.

The AP reported last week that USAID funded a program in Cuba designed to spur anti-government activism among Cubans. It brought people from Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Peru to Cuba posing as tourists or health workers who were to lead HIV prevention workshops, but with the real goal of grooming opposition activists.

It’s not the first claim this year of political meddling in Cuba for USAID. In April, the AP uncovered a “Cuba Twitter” program also designed to undermine the Cuban government. It was a Twitter-like social media platform promoted by USAID that had about 40,000 Cuban users. And there’s more. In 2009, a USAID contractor was jailed in Cuba for alleged spying.

And we shouldn’t forget Pakistan, where the CIA used a hepatitis vaccination campaign as a cover to spy on Osama bin-Laden’s compound. One outcome from that effort was that our Seal team got Osama bin-Laden. But there were two bad outcomes: First, our agent, Dr. Shakeel Afridi went to jail, convicted as a spy for a foreign government. Second, Muslims all over the Middle East now reject the efforts at polio immunization as a Western ploy. Foreign Policy reports that the Centers for Disease Control says there were 416 reported cases of polio in the world last year and 99 of them were in Pakistan, a 60% increase from the prior year despite the availability of polio vaccine there since 1962. The problem is that the Taliban is shooting those administering the vaccine, and it has banned the vaccine outright. More than 60 polio vaccination health workers have been killed since the Pakistan ban was initiated in 2012.

Subsequently, the word has spread throughout the Middle East that those giving injections are CIA agents, and should be shot on sight.

Now we can add two cases this year where USAID has used subversion to try to overthrow the Cuban government. Cuba would open up far more quickly if the US ended its embargoes on Cuba, especially its ban on visits by Americans to Cuba. See the Wrongologist’s report on his trip to Cuba and our future relationship here.

USAID admitted the HIV workshop’s primary purpose was not HIV education: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[It]…enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desire Cubans expressed for information and training about HIV prevention.

Do any of you find it hypocritical that America is currently sanctioning Russia for its interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine while our government engages in similar practices in Cuba?

The fact that USAID is used by the CIA is a tragedy for all concerned, since it taints any good work that they perform. The AP quoted Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who said that suspicions over US programs would deepen in countries already wary of the United States: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The problem is that, especially [when] it comes to public health, even with countries we don’t particularly like, we probably want to be able to cooperate…Take the Ebola outbreak. It crosses borders very rapidly. Even if the places where it happens aren’t places we want to touch, in public health emergencies, we want to help stop [outbreaks] from becoming bigger.

And like clockwork, on Tuesday USAID and CDC announced Ebola assistance for West Africa. We shall see how our USAID people are treated when they get there.

So, is this Obama’s Bay of Piglets? Our CIA is more interested in stoking a silly, and dangerous Cold War militarist world view wherever it can. The actions of our CIA and the resultant poor image of America is one reason China is more competitive than the US in Latin America and Africa. They don’t meddle politically, they just want a fertile business environment.

When a family member can’t stop doing something that is bad for him/her, the rest of the family gets together with the bad actor and have an intervention: they work together to try to get the person to change their ways.

John Brennan and the CIA need that intervention right now.


John Brennan: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Following up on yesterday’s post about the corrosive impact of an out-of-control National Intelligence State, you may have missed that on July 7th, Bloomberg reported that Germany asked our CIA Head of Station to leave the country. From Bloomberg:

The expulsion, described as “an extraordinary event” by a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, reflects Chancellor Angela Merkel’s frustration about US spying on one of its most important allies and the political risk of growing mistrust of American intentions among the German public.

Bloomberg called Germany’s action the lowest point in relations with the US since Edward Snowden revealed extensive surveillance activities by the US, including the alleged hacking of Merkel’s mobile phone. Lawmakers and officials in Merkel’s governing coalition urged the Obama Administration to come clean on German surveillance and make a no-spying pledge. The US has made it clear that isn’t on the table.

Pressure on Merkel grew after an alleged American double agent was found in Germany’s foreign-intelligence service, known as BND. According to Spiegel Online: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[The spy] had already been working for an American intelligence agency for two years. That relationship had…begun with an email, which he had sent to the US Embassy in Berlin, he explained. [He] talked about clandestine meetings in Austria, at which he had allegedly been paid a total of €25,000 ($34,000).

Bloomberg quoted Wolfgang Bosbach, a lawmaker in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party:

The US still hasn’t grasped what a burden this case is for the German-American relationship…Germany cannot tolerate espionage activity on its soil.

America came to this realization too late. Bloomberg reported that on July 9th, US Ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, went to the German Foreign Ministry with a Washington-authorized offer to provide Germany a US intelligence-sharing agreement resembling the “5 Eyes” relationship available only to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. The goal was to assuage Merkel and prevent the expulsion of the Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief in Berlin.

But, that same morning, Merkel convened her top ministers and decided to ask the US intelligence chief to leave Germany. Merkel said:

We don’t live in the Cold War anymore, where everybody probably mistrusted everybody else… The notion that you always have to ask yourself…whether the one sitting across from you could be working for the others, that’s not a basis for trust…So we obviously have different perceptions and we have to discuss that intensively.

In addition to Ambassador Emerson’s efforts, Bloomberg reported that CIA Director John Brennan contacted Germany’s intelligence chief prior to the CIA official being asked to leave. He offered to visit Berlin to help resolve the dispute. But, Brennan’s offer was perceived in Berlin as too little, too late. The Germans had moved beyond a symbolic visit.

It wasn’t always this way. Before the current tensions, the US and Germany had a history of extensive intelligence cooperation. For many years, much of US electronic spying on Iran was conducted out of a CIA station in Frankfurt known as Tefran.

Now we have a big repair job on our hands, precisely when we need the German government to work closely with us on Ukraine and the Middle East.

Nicely played, US Security State! This conflict with Germany underscores the opinion that US intelligence agencies lack a good risk-assessment model, one that judges the benefits of operations directed at friendly powers against the potential risks that can come from those operations.

In the LA Times, Jacob Heilbrun said:

If Obama is unable to rein in spying of Germany, he may discover that he is helping to convert it from an ally into an adversary. For Obama to say Auf Wiedersehen to a longtime ally would deliver a blow to American national security that no amount of secret information could possibly justify.

And on the same date, Spiegel Online’s lead article was: “Germany’s Choice: Will It Be America or Russia?” Europeans in general, and Chancellor Merkel specifically, are examining how (or if) they can survive geopolitically without the US. And for Germany, and possibly others in Europe, this could push them into the logical alternative, a European tent that includes Russia.

Mr. Putin’s grand plan has been to separate Germany from the US. Yet, even in light of knowing Putin’s strategy, we still alienate Germany. This makes one ask: Who is in charge of our geopolitical strategy? Brennan, or Obama? Can anybody in DC play this game? Is it wrong to ask: How about firing Brennan over screwing up our relationship with Germany?

Mr. Brennan may be thinking of this exchange between Lady Clementine Churchill and French General Charles De Gaulle on December 9, 1967:

Clementine Churchill:

General, you must not hate your friends more than you hate your enemies

De Gaulle (in English):

France has no friends, only interests

Sadly, both De Gaulle and Brennan have been proven wrong. Germany will move us from the “friend” to the “interest” column.

Let’s hope we don’t need them to do something that only a friend would do.