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All, Prior to the ‘Briefing Book’ to which ‘Harper’ linked, the National Security Archive published, last December, one entitled ‘NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard.’ (See .) A crucial point not mentioned in the – generally excellent – introduction to this series of documents is that Gorbachev did not even ask for the verbal assurances he was given to be put in writing. This, incidentally, is a matter which Putin raised in his interviews with Oliver Stone. In these, his comments on almost all the people discussed – up to and including John McCain – are restrained and emollient. His contempt and distaste for Gorbachev, however, shine through. Part of the background to Gorbachev’s approach at the time was the advice he was getting – very bad advice, it now seems clear, with hindsight wisdom – in particular from Georgy Arbatov, the long-serving head of the Institute of the USA and Canada. In a letter to the ‘New York Times’ in December 1987, in response to a column by William Safire, which was headlined ‘It Takes Two to Make a Cold War’, Arbatov made clear that Gorbachev was intended to, as it were, ‘walk away’, from the Cold War. And he wrote: ‘And here we have a “secret weapon'” that will work almost regardless of the American response – we would deprive America of The Enemy. And how would you justify without it the military expenditures that bleed the American economy white, a policy that draws America into dangerous adventures overseas and drives wedges between the United States and its allies, not to mention the loss of American influence on neutral countries? Wouldn't such a policy in the absence of The Enemy put America in the position of an outcast in the international community?’ (See .) As it happened, Arbatov was completely and utterly wrong. The liquidation of the security posture inherited from the Stalinist period, followed by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the abandonment of communism, in no ways decreased Western hostility to Russia. The seething and near unanimous hatred of Putin is greater by far than that towards any of the leaders of the old Soviet Union. The truth, it turned out, was that people like Gorbachev and Arbatov were naive fools. What however then becomes material is that if Western behaviour makes clear that those who sought good relations with us were indeed such, it really is very foolish to expect that Russians will vote for such people. Something that saddens me somewhat is that, as became clear if one probed, a strong undercurrent in the thinking of people like Arbatov was the belief that, although this had not been Stalin’s intention, his post-war policies had gratuitously wrecked the relationship with the United States built up during the wartime ‘Grand Alliance.’ I have difficulty thinking of any more promising way causing people to abandon such beliefs than allying with those who venerate Stepan Banderistas in an attempt to bring the Crimea into NATO. One thought people might be aware that Sevastopol is the scene of two great sieges, by the French, Ottomans and British in 1854-5, and by the Germans, Romanians and Italians from December 1941 to July 1942. In both cases, the city fell. In the latter, however, the defenders tied up Erich von Manstein – one of the greatest exponents of mobile warfare – and the German Eleventh Army for seven crucial months, which among other things made a major contribution to the fact that Stalingrad did not fall, and the Germans were decisively defeated there.
b, Re comment 22 On Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, there is a good deal of useful material on the page entitled ‘Talk: British involvement in Syria’, now renamed ‘Porton Down investigatives Syria, on the ‘A Closer Look On Syria’ site. (See .)
r whitman re comment 155. With respect, the piece to which you link is an article in a publication of the American Chemical Society, not a statement by that society. As to its credibility, the following quotation from Jean Pascal Zanders illustrates the quality of argument deployed: ‘Novichok agents are not specifically listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), says Zanders, because “they only became public after the treaty negotiations had been concluded.” But that does not amount to a loophole that would allow their use, because the CWC places a blanket prohibition on the manufacture of any toxic chemical intended to be a weapon. “It covers any toxic chemical, be it past, present, or future,” says Zanders. Russia has been a party to the convention since it entered into force in 1997, and the Novichok agents “should have been declared to the OPCW, even if they don’t appear in the schedules,” says Zanders.’ As was made absolutely clear in the March 2013 document from the Scientific Advisory Board of the OPCW which I quoted in comment 121, ‘Novichoks’ could have been included, and were not, because the evidence was not deemed adequate: ‘[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”.’ (See ) The ‘Chemical & Engineering News’ article is clearly based upon the premise that Vil Mirzayanov is a reliable source. It seems clear that the OPCW scientists were not persuaded of this. These are facts which Zanders must know, so his contribution would appear to be patently dishonest, and the inclusion of it by the author of the article a reflection either of similar dishonesty or incompetence. What this emphatically does not mean is that we are in a position to assume that there was no ‘fire’ beneath the ‘smoke’ put out by Mirzayanov. The fact that Russian statements have not denied the existence of ‘Novichoks’ may simply be due to ignorance on the part of those involved. The most authoritative statement I have seen is in a ‘tweet’ from the Russian Ambassador to the UN. This however denies research, development and manufacturing in Russia – while the reports generally refer to Uzbekistan. (See .) This may simply be a slip, it may be a subterfuge. We are not yet in a position to make definite judgements.
Barbara Ann, In reply to 139. Ironically, while I think the notion that the Russian authorities would have organised this kind of attack now is peculiarly preposterous, I think there are a very large number of suspects – including both state actors and some non-state. So, for example, Ukrainian oligarchs would very likely be in a position to organise such an operation. Moreover, if they did, the British authorities would have very little option but to cover up for them. One thing which is striking me forcibly is the way that the claims about a long history of assassinations of ‘dissidents’ in the UK in the ‘investigation’ by ‘BuzzFeed’ last June, of which the centrepiece was a long piece entitled ‘From Russia With Blood’ are now being recycled all over the place. (See, for example, this from the ‘Chicago Tribune – .) A possible element in the story is that both ‘BuzzFeed’ and Christopher Steele face very serious potential problems in lawsuits relating to the ‘dossier.’ Both have been sued by Aleksej Gubarev and XBT, while the former also has to face actions from the Alfa oligarchs, Michael Cohen, and Carter Page. The best way of avoiding a disaster for both ‘BuzzFeed’ and Steele – which could have large knock-on implications – may be to reinforce the already prevalent climate of hysteria, so that even the most preposterous claims in the dossier can be made to seem reasonable.
LondonBob, In response to comment 87. Unfortunately, although the pieces by both Séamus Martin and Craig Murray to which you link are much better than most MSM coverage, among many problems with them is the rather basic one that both accept without question an unproven assumption that is fundamental to the whole British case against Russia over Skripal – that a class of lethal CW called ‘Novichoks’ actually exists. A relevant post has just appeared on the site of a ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’ recently set up by a group of British academics. It is co-authored by Paul McKeigue, Professor of Statistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology at Edinburgh University, and Piers Robinson, Professor of Politics, Society and Political Journalism’ at Sheffield University, and is entitled ‘Doubts about “Novichoks”.’ (See .) In the Commons on 12 March, Theresa May claimed that ‘world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down have established that Skripal was poisoned with one of a ‘group of nerve agents known as Novichok,’ developed by Russia. Until recently the head of the detection laboratory at Porton Down was Dr Robin Black. As McKeigue and Robinson note, back in 2016 this ‘world-leading expert’ on chemical weapons – he really is that – published a chapter in a book on ‘Chemical Warfare Toxicology’ entitled ‘Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents.’ The link to this at the site of the Royal Society of Chemistry is at the end of the piece by McKeigue and Robinson – a free download if one registers. I would very strongly recommend the whole chapter to anyone seriously interested in getting to grips with issues to do with chemical weapons, as it provides an authoritative account accessible to those without a scientific background. Of particular interest in relation to May’s accusations against Russia is the fact that Black specifically states that the existence of the Russian programme to which she refers was unconfirmed as of his writing: ‘In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the “Foliant” programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published.’ What he is suggesting is that in the course of the – OPCW-monitored – destruction of the Russian chemical weapons programme, no evidence emerged confirming the claims by Mirzayanov. For this to be consistent with the Prime Minister’s claims, some pretty radical assumptions have to be introduced. As McKeigue and Robinson also note, a similar scepticism was expressed in a March 2013 report by the Scientific Advisory Board on the OPCW – again, the link is in the ‘Working Group’ document: ‘[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”.’ Of course, it is possible that, since Dr Black wrote, both Porton Down and the OPCW have received conclusive evidence vindicating the claims by Mirzayanov. It is even just remotely conceivable – very remotely conceivable – that all these people are part of a conspiracy to cover the devastating information revealed by Mirzayanov. But those who want to argue this owe us at least an attempt to provide a coherent account of how this might be so. And then, it has to be born in mind that there is a long history of people in the West accepting, without critical examination, claims from ‘dissidents’ and ‘defectors’ from the former Soviet Union and now Russia. In this connection, I would refer people to two reports from Judith Miller. One, from 1999 in the ‘New York Times’, is entitled ‘U.S. and Uzbeks Agree on Chemical Arms Plant Cleanup’. It both accepts Mirzayanov’s claim’s at face value, and suggests American officials also did this. (See .) Another, published yesterday in the ‘City Journal’ is entitled ‘Chemical Weapons are Back, Thanks to Russia; The banned agents are increasingly being used for assassination and terror.’ (See .) The ‘City Journal’ is an outlet with which I was unfamiliar. At first glance, and particular in the light of their publishing Judith Miller, it seems to me it might usefully be retitled ‘Still useful idiots, after all these years, and proud of it’, or ‘Inside the bubble, and terrified of having it pricked.’ If this seems extreme, have a look at her article. Compounding the confusion is the fact that various Russians quoted repudiating Theresa May’s accusations have not denied that the ‘Novichoks’ programme existed. In general, these seem to me to be people who could not be expected to have a grasp of the detailed history of the Soviet chemical weapons programme, and this would not be the first time that such figures have opened their big mouths in response to questionable accusations and in so doing given these unmerited credibility. (See ; .) However, these are not matters which need to be prejudged. What we clearly need is clarification about the actual state of the evidence about ‘Novichoks’ from people who are well-informed, both on the Western and Russian sides. Maybe if some people in the Western MSM actually did some journalism, as it used to be understood, we might get it. It would not be sufficient to establish Russian responsibility to establish that the programme to create ‘Novichoks’ actually existed, but it would seem rather close to a necessary condition. Until the problems raised by McKeigue and Robinson are cleared up, it really is premature to conduct any discussion of the Skripal poisoning on the basis of the assumption that it did. Meanwhile, it is difficult to see what possible grounds there can be for the apparent reluctance of the British to supply the Russians with samples for testing. An intriguing question is raised by the arguments made by McKeigue and Robinson. Clearly something was tested at Porton Down, and some kind of results produced. If in fact ‘Novochoks’ do not exist, what was it that was tested, and what were the results? As with the test results from Porton Down and other laboratories on samples from incidents where CW have been used in Syria, one comes back to the urgent need to have the actual test results in the public domain, and the obvious implausibility of claims that ‘sources and methods’ considerations mean that this cannot be done. Incidentally, Professor McKeigue is also the author of what I take to be a highly cogent demolition of the report of the UN/OPCW ‘Joint Investigative Commission’, issued last October, which blamed the Syrian government for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin atrocity, to which I have referred in earlier comments. (See .) Among other things, his argument provides very strong reasons to suspect that intense pressure was put on people at the OPCW to collaborate in the cover-up of a ‘false flag.’ It thus becomes perfectly natural to ask whether similar pressure may have been put on people at Porton Down. The fact that Theresa May simply assumed away the possibility of a ‘false flag’ would seem reason at least to a range of possibilities regarding her role – ranging from very great naivety to actual collusion in a cover-up of a ‘false flag.’ If she wants to prove such suspicions are groundless, she should order the disclosure of the kind of information I have suggested needs to be made public – just as General Mattis should order the disclosure of the test results relevant to Syrian CW incidents which publicly available evidence indicates must be available to him. In all these cases, what we most of all simply need are the charts showing the ‘spectra’ of the various compounds identified by the testing processes. It is difficult to see any cogent ‘sources and methods’ grounds for not disclosing these. Once they were disclosed, an informed discussion by people with relevant scientific competence would become possible. Until they are disclosed, suspicion will be unavoidable that those who do not want to see them disclosed are afraid of what such informed discussion would reveal.
PT and all, More material on the British end of the conspiracy. Commenting on an earlier piece by PT, I suggested that a key piece of evidence pointing to ‘Guccifer 2.0’ being a fake personality created by the conspirators in their attempt to disguise the fact that the materials from the DNC published by ‘WikiLeaks’ were obtained by a leak rather than a hack had to do with the involvement of the former GCHQ person Matt Tait. (See .) To recapitulate: Back in June 2016, hard on the heels of the claim by Dmitri Alperovitch of ‘CrowdStrike’ to have identified clinching evidence making the GRU prime suspects, Tait announced that, although initially unconvinced, he had found a ‘smoking gun’ in the ‘metadata’ of the documents released by ‘Guccifer 2.0.’ A key part of this was the use by someone modifying a document of ‘Felix Edmundovich’ – the name and patronymic of Dzerzhinsky, the Lithuanian-Polish noble who created the Soviet secret police. As I noted, Tait was generally identified as a former GCHQ employee who now ran a consultancy called ‘Capital Alpha Security.’ However, checking Companies House records revealed that he had filed ‘dormant accounts’ for the company. So it looks as though the company was simply a ‘front’, designed to fool ‘useful idiots’ into believing he was an objective analyst. As I also noted in those comments, Tait writes the ‘Lawfare’ blog, one of whose founders, Benjamin Wittes, looks as though he may himself have been involved in the conspiracy up to the hilt. Furthermore, a secure income now appears to have been provided to replace that from the non-existent consultancy, in the shape of a position at the ‘Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law’, run by Robert Chesney, a co-founder with Wittes of ‘Lawfare.’ A crucial part of the story, however, is that the notion of GRU responsibility for the supposed ‘hacks’ appears to be part of a wider ‘narrative’ about the supposed ‘Gerasimov Doctrine.’ From the ‘View from Langley’ provided to Bret Stephens by CIA Director Mike Pompeo at the ‘Aspen Security Forum’ last July: ‘I hearken back to something called the Gerasimov doctrine from the early 70s, he’s now the head of the – I’m a Cold War guy, forgive me if I mention Soviet Union. He’s now the head of the Russian army and his idea was that you can win wars without firing a single shot or with firing very few shots in ways that are decidedly not militaristic, and that’s what’s happened. What changes is the costs; to effectuate change through cyber and through RT and Sputnik, their news outlets, and through other soft means; has just really been lowered, right. It used to be it was expensive to run an ad on a television station now you simply go online and propagate your message. And so they have they have found an effective tool, an easy way to go reach into our systems, and into our culture to achieve the outcomes they are looking for.’ (See .) What has however become clear in recent days is that the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ was not invented by its supposed author, but by a British academic, Mark Galeotti, who has now confessed – although in a way clearly designed to maintain as much of the ‘narrative’ as possible. Three days ago, an article by Galleoti appeared in ‘Foreign Policy’ entitled ‘I’m Sorry for Creating the “Gerasimov Doctrine”: I was the first to write about Russia’s infamous high-tech military strategy. One small problem: it doesn’t exist.’ (See .) A key paragraph: ‘Gerasimov was actually talking about how the Kremlin understands what happened in the “Arab Spring” uprisings, the “color revolutions” against pro-Moscow regimes in Russia’s neighborhood, and in due course Ukraine’s “Maidan” revolt. The Russians honestly – however wrongly – believe that these were not genuine protests against brutal and corrupt governments, but regime changes orchestrated in Washington, or rather, Langley. This wasn’t a “doctrine” as the Russians understand it, for future adventures abroad: Gerasimov was trying to work out how to fight, not promote, such uprisings at home.’ The translation of the original article by Gerasimov with annotations by Galeotti which provoked the whole hysteria turns out to be a classic example of what I am inclined to term ‘bad Straussianism.’ (See .) What Strauss would have called the ‘exoteric’ meaning of the article quite clearly has to do with defensive strategies aimed at combatting the kind of Western ‘régime change’ projects about which people like those who write for ‘Lawfare’ are so enthusiastic. But Galeotti tells us that this is, at least partially, a cover for an ‘esoteric’ meaning, which has to do with offensive actions in Ukraine and similar places. Having now read the text of the article, I can see a peculiar irony in it. In a section entitled ‘You Can’t Generate Ideas On Command’, Gerasimov suggests that ‘The state of Russian military science today cannot be compared with the flowering of military-theoretical thought in our country on the eve of World War II.’ According to the ‘exoteric’ meaning of the article, it is not possible to blame anyone in particular for this situation. But Gerasimov goes on on to remark that, while at the time of that flowering there were ‘no people with higher degrees’ or ‘academic schools or departments’, there were ‘extraordinary personalities with brilliant ideas’, who he terms ‘fanatics in the best sense of the word.’ Again, Galeotti discounts the suggestion that nobody is to blame, assuming an ‘esoteric meaning’, and remarking: ‘Ouch. Who is he slapping here?’ Actually, Gerasimov refers by name to two, utterly different figures, who certainly were ‘extraordinarily personalities with brilliant ideas.’ If Pompeo had even the highly amateurish grasp of the history of debates among Soviet military theorists that I have managed to acquire he would be aware that one of the things which was actually happening in the ‘Seventies was the rediscovery of the ideas of Alexander Svechin. Confirming my sense that this has continued on, Gerasimov ends by using Svechin to point up an intractable problem: it can be extraordinarily difficult to anticipate the conditions of a war, and crucial not to impose a standardised template likely to be inappropriate, but one has to make some kinds of prediction in order to plan. Immediately after the passage which Galeotti interprets as a dig at some colleague, Gerasimov elaborates his reference to ‘extraordinary people with brilliant ideas’ by referring to an anticipation of a future war, which proved prescient, from a very different figure to Svechin: ‘People like, for instance, Georgy Isserson, who, despite the views he formed in the prewar years, published the book “New Forms Of Combat.” In it, this Soviet military theoretician predicted: “War in general is not declared. It simply begins with already developed military forces. Mobilization and concentration is not part of the period after the onset of the state of war as was the case in 1914 but rather, unnoticed, proceeds long before that.” The fate of this “prophet of the Fatherland” unfolded tragically. Our country paid in great quantities of blood for not listening to the conclusions of this professor of the General Staff Academy.’ Unlike Svechin, whom I have read, I was unfamiliar with Isserson. A quick Google search, however, unearthed a mass of material in American sources – including, by good fortune, an online text of a 2010 study by Dr Richard Harrison entitled ‘Architect of Soviet Victory in World War II: The Life and Theories of G.S. Isserson’, and a presentation summarising the volume. Ironically, Svechin and Isserson were on opposite sides of fundamental divides. So the former, an ethnic Russian from Odessa, was one of the ‘genstabisty’, the former Tsarist General Staff officers who sided with the Bolsheviks and played a critical role in teaching the Red Army how to fight. Meanwhile Isserson was a very different product of the ‘borderlands’ – the son of a Jewish doctor, brought up in Kaunas, with a German Jewish mother from what was then Königsberg, giving him an easy facility with German-language sources. The originator of the crucial concept of ‘operational’ art – the notion that in modern industrial war, the ability to handle a level intermediate between strategy and tactics was critical to success – was actually Svechin. Developing the ambivalence of Clausewitz, however, he stressed that both the offensive and the defensive had their places, and that the key to success was to know which was appropriate when and also to be able rapidly to change from one to the other. His genuflections to Marxist-Leninist dogma, moreover, were not such as to take in any of Dzerzhinsky’s people. By contrast, Isserson was unambiguously committed to the offensive strand in the Clausewitzian tradition, and a Bolshevik ‘true believer’ (although he married the daughter of a dispossessed ethnically Russian merchant, who had their daughter baptised without his knowledge.) As Harrison brings out, Isserson’s working through of the problems of offensive ‘operational art’ would be critical to the eventual success of the Red Army against Hitler. However, the specific text to which he refers was, ironically, a warning of precisely one of the problems implicit in the single-minded reliance on the offensive: the possibility that one could be left with no good options confronting an antagonist similarly oriented – as turned out to be the case. As Gerasimov intimates, while unlike Svechin, executed in 1938, Isserson survived the Stalin years, he was another of the victims of Dzerzhinsky’s heirs. Arrested shortly before his warnings were vindicated by the German attack on 22 June 1941, he would spend the war in the Gulag and only return to normal life after Stalin’s death. So I think that the actual text of Gerasimov’s article reinforces a point I have made previously. The ‘evidence’ identified by Tait is indeed a ‘smoking gun.’ But it emphatically does not point towards the GRU. Meanwhile, another moral of the tale is that Americans really should stop being taken in by charlatan Brits like Galeotti, Tait, and Steele.
In response to Dmcna, comment 14. I had another look at Norman’s ‘twitter’ output. It seems that he is doing precisely what it was suggested was going to be done according to the ‘protocol’ which it is alleged he authored. Among items he ‘retweets’ is one from the U.S. Embassy in Syria, with a slide quoting the ‘White Helmets’ head Raed Saleh, announcing: ‘It’s Putin Who Is Actually Ruling Syria, not Bashar Al Asad.’ In relation to the ‘White Helmets’, the ‘case for the prosecution’ was set out in detail in a presentation by the journalist Vanessa Beeley to the Swiss Press Club in Geneva back in November, with Richard Labévière also involved – available, together with links to a range of supporting material, at The first appearance of the ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’ was in a letter submitted to the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the ‘Guardian’, and not published by them, in response to an article by Olivia Solon which attacked Beeley among others. It claimed that critical discussion of the White Helmets in Syria has been ‘propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government’. The article rejected by the ‘CiF’ was reproduced, together with an account of the failure of the ‘Guardian’ either to publish it or to defend their decision not to, on Tim Hayward’s blog in January. It contains links to material which calls into question the role role of the ‘White Helmets.’ (See .) There are interesting parallels between the history of that group, in which a key figure is the former British Army officer James Le Mesurier, and other operations with a strong ‘StratCom’ element in which former British military people have been involved, the ‘InCoStrat’ operation run by Paul Tilley, and the ‘Secure Bio’ one run by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon. Evidence about these is presented on the page entitled ‘Talk: British Involvement in Syria’ on the ‘A Closer Look On Syria’ site. (See .) So a great deal of other material ‘meshes’ with the suggestion implied by the comments attributed to Benjamin Norman, that the United Kingdom has a kind of speciality in ‘StratCom’ in relation to the attempts of Western powers to achieve ‘régime change’ in Syria. One advantage of this may be to keep such operations away from prying American eyes. Concluding his demolition of the ‘Joint Intelligence Mechanism’ report into Khan Sheikhoun, also published on Hayward’s blog, Paul McKeigue writes: ‘The weight of evidence favouring the hypothesis of a managed massacre over a chemical attack has obvious implications also for the role of the White Helmets in this incident.’ (See .) This brings us back to a critical question about the ‘false flag’ chemical attacks in Syria, and in particular Khan Sheikhoun – that of whether the involvement of elements in Western élites is purely a matter of ‘ex post facto’ involvement in cover-ups, or whether ‘ex ante’ involvement in planning these operations may also be at issue. And, of course, in relation to Benjamin Norman and other FCO people, prominent among them Matthew Rycroft and Boris Johnson, a question really does arise as to: ‘What did they know and when did they know it?’ It also seems to me quite possible that someone does not like Norman – and I would have every sympathy with them. Who it might be is an interesting question. A difficulty is, I think, that although I have no doubt that there is a great deal of fire beneath the smoke of the Al Akbar report, it shows every sign of having been carefully constructed so as to obscure the real source of the leak. It is also by no means impossible that some element of distortion of the contents of the ‘protocol’ was involved. It is said to have been prepared for the FCO, but ‘point 20’ suggests it was directed to David Satterfield, the Deputy Secretary of State for the Middle East. Meanwhile, what nobody has so far provided are cogent reasons why the document should not be released in full. But then, it is not uncommon for this kind of leak to involve a mixture of accurate and inaccurate information, creating a kind of ‘snooker.’ So Norman is not in a position to say: yes I did complain about the French not paying for ‘StratCom’, but it wasn’t in the ‘protocol.’ And that complaint does sound to me authentic.
In response to LeaNder @11, I think that a lot of interesting stuff may be going to appear on the site. Making it possible for academics, journalists, and others interested in the propaganda aspect to ‘network’ may be very useful. In passing, do you have sense of what kind of site ‘Rubikon’ is?
PT and all, A German site called ‘Rubikon’ – not hitherto known to me, with an interesting choice of name – published a longer discussion of Benjamin Norman’s ‘protocol’, and then a German translation of the original Al Akhbar article. Putting the translation from Arabic into German into English with Google Translate produces something quite coherent, although obviously one cannot be certain that the double translation has not introduced errors. (See ; .) Some extracts from the discussion on ‘Rubikon’ are interesting, in some ways particularly so from a British point of view: ‘The meeting took place on January 11, 2018 in Washington. The participants were Hugh Cleary, head of the British Department of the Middle East, Jérôme Bonnafont, director of ANMO (Afrique du Nord et Moyen-Orient) and North Africa and the Middle East of the French Government, David Satterfield, Deputy Secretary of State the USA for the Middle East, as well as the Jordanian Nawaf Tell and the Saudi Jamal al-Aqeel… ‘According to the report, the Saudi participant warned of the risk of further splitting the opposition into different groups and called for help to ensure cohesion. Satterfield responded that opposition representatives “should be more concerned with finding a political solution rather than high salaries and long stays in pleasant hotels.” France supported this remark by emphasizing the necessary “communication”. ‘In this regard, according to the article [that in Al Akhbar – DH] , the Commentary is found in the British Protocol: “Unfortunately, the Fifth Republic does not intend to finance these efforts.” Britain recalled that “the opposition’s communication was financed primarily by Great Britain”.’ That ‘the opposition’s communication was financed primarily by Great Britain’ tallies with what is emerging about the British involvement in ‘StratCom’ – material which different people have posted in different places is going to be appearing on the site of the ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’ to which I referred in earlier comments, together with much fresh research. (See .). My suspicion is that what may be lurking just beneath the surface of the document are French reservations about what the ‘Anglo-Saxons’, in collaboration with the Saudis, have been doing. I am not convinced that the suggestion that ‘the opposition’s communication was financed primarily by Great Britain’ was in Norman’s ‘protocol.’ It sounds to me quite likely that someone involved in leaking this document had information about what was, in essence, a sharp exchange between French and British representatives, and wanted to make this public. In passing, the figure credited with authorship of the ‘protocol’, Benjamin Norman. featured in the second of the ‘open letters’ I wrote to the members of the Commons’ Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees following the Khan Sheikhoun incident. (See .) Given the importance of the issues involved, it seems worth repeating what I wrote then, in response to claims made by our buffoon of a Foreign Secretary to the House of Commons on 18 April 2017: ‘What the Foreign Secretary told the House on Tuesday was that “we know from shell fragments in the crater that sarin had not only been used, but that it was sarin carrying the specific chemical signature of sarin used by the Assad regime.” Responding to the Khan Sheikhoun incident on 4 April, Mr Johnson asserted that “this bears all the hallmarks of an attack by the regime which has repeatedly used chemical weapons.” ‘So, what is the Foreign Secretary now suggesting? Is it that tests have shown that the “particular properties” of the sarin found in the samples purporting to come from Khan Sheikhun have been shown to match those of the materials whose destruction on the U.S. vessel MV “Cape Ray” was completed in August 2014? Or is it that they have been shown to match those identified by tests on samples from the incidents which have been adduced in support of the claim that the Syrian government ‘has repeatedly used chemical weapons’? ‘As I pointed out last week, precisely the contention of those who have argued that the 21 August 2013 atrocity at Ghouta was a “false flag” is that the test results on samples from that incident, and its predecessors, demonstrate that the sarin used there did not have the “particular properties” of that in the Syrian government arsenal. ‘Specifically, their case is that the results on tests from Ghouta incidents indicate that the sarin used there was, “not manufactured professionally” (“sasa wawa”, on the “Who Attacked Ghouta?” blog,), “homemade” (Sergei Lavrov, interviewed by the “Washington Post”), “kitchen sarin” (Seymour Hersh – in interviews on “Democracy Now!” and elsewhere). ‘The “chemical signature” of the sarin used at Ghouta, those who have argued that the incident was a “false flag” assert, was totally different from that of the high-quality toxin produced for the Syrian programme, intended to provide a “poor man’s deterrent” against Israel. ‘Before we can get involved in substantive arguments about the Foreign Secretary’s assertions, we really do need to clarify precisely what it is he and his officials are claiming. The only attempt I have seen at such clarification was made by Charles Shoebridge, a former army officer and Scotland Yard detective, on “Twitter”. ‘His attempt was provoked by a “tweet” from a British diplomat in Washington covering Syria and the Middle East, Benjamin Norman, repeating the Foreign Secretary’s claims. “Furthermore, ‘we know from shell fragments in the crater that sarin had not only been used’, but it was #Assad’s sarin”, Mr Norman “tweeted”. And he went on to add “Got cut off by Twitter character limits, but analysis of samples shows chemical markers of Assad’s sarin supply.” ‘The thread shows Shoebridge attempting to secure clarification, and in so doing putting the crucial question – which “chemical markers” were at issue. At 8.46 am on 19 April he “tweeted”: “Thanks for reply: To be clear, CW from 4.4.17 an exact match of @OPCW samples of old Syria govt sarin stocks?” At 12.48pm, Norman responded: “You’re welcome! Think it is a question of same markers, but will check.” ‘So, when the Foreign Secretary was making confident assertions to the House, a British diplomat in Washington specialising in Syria did not really have a clear idea what he was claiming. It is now 22 April, and Norman has provided no clarification. We still do now know precisely what HMG are suggesting the test results at Porton Down prove, and it is not clear whether the Foreign Secretary does either.’ Unsurprisingly, none of the – gutless – MPs to whom I was writing took up the questions I was raising. Subsequent claims in reports from the UN/OPCW ‘Fact-Finding Mission’ and ‘Joint Investigative Mechanism’ are rather transparent attempts to obfuscate these crucial questions. So to find Benjamin Norman – another of those crooked British ‘retards’, (Andrei Lugovoi’s phrase) who so eagerly collaborate with equally crooked American ‘retards’, surfacing as the author of the ‘protocol’ referred to in PT’s post, is not surprising. The list of ‘usual suspects’ keeps growing: to Benjamin Norman we can add Christopher Steele, Robert Hannigan, Matthew Rycroft, Matt Tait, as well as successive heads of MI6, and as the Germans might say, usw. Another interesting aspect of the reports of the reports of Norman’s ‘protocol’ is that, if true, they suggest a continued delusional optimism about the prospects of getting Russia to climb down in Syria. This assumption that one could always – to use a term beloved of Victoria Nuland and Strobe Talbott – get the Russians to ‘eat their spinach’, dies very hard. The difficulties of bringing such delusional – and extremely unpleasant – people into contact with some kind of reality may be among the many factors relevant to Putin’s decision to focus in the most public possible way on what has clearly been a long-term Russian strategy to use asymetric means to nullify, at one and the same time, American attempts to use missile defence to establish an incontestable nuclear superiority, and American naval power.
In response to Adam, comment 19. I look forward to your reworking with interest. Often the most economical explanations of small puzzles like this are ‘errors of imprecision’, but then sometimes they are not, and can hold the key to solving intractable puzzles. The oddness of the ‘sarin or sarin-like’ formulation, clarification of which was one of the things I was looking for in the initial ‘open letter’ I sent to the Commons’ Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee members last April, is another puzzle which may merit more exploration. Particularly given the delays in clarifying the crucial issue of whether ‘environmental’ or ‘physiological’ samples were at issue, it now seems to me that this may have been a deliberate trap. If people could be encouraged to suggest that sarin might not actually have been found in the samples, then they could be set off chasing red herrings – such as the suggestion that the strike we know to have happened significantly later than the supposed time of the attack accidentally struck a store of chemicals. Among the materials which one could have imagined might be stored could be ‘organophosphates’, found in pesticides and fertilisers, which could if exploded be assumed to leave some traces in ‘environmental’ samples similar to those left by sarin. And this was both the line taken in the early responses by those who were convinced that this had to be another ‘false flag’, on the lines of Ghouta, and that taken later by both Seymour Hersh and Gareth Porter. Such claims could then be wrong-footed when it emerged that the test results had actually shown sarin. Such a strategy could have had another advantage, which is actually implicit in McKeigue’s argument. If one accepts both that sarin was genuinely found in the samples, and that the scenario of the munition delivered by air does not stand up, then one is pushed, logically, to the hypothesis of a staged incident – in which case, even leaving aside the analysis of the videos, the hypothesis of a ‘massacre of captives’ becomes practically inescapable. (The more deaths, the larger the massacre one needs to explain them.) As regards the blood test results, moreover, it then becomes material that modern ‘chemical forensics’ can trace levels of sarin in blood which could come from doses which would not come remotely close to being lethal. So it would be possible to make people think it inconceivable that any ‘live’ victims could have been part of a ‘staged incident’, when in fact it might not be inconceivable at all. However, the ‘massacre of captives’ hypothesis is one of those which will be regarded by most people as so extreme that those putting it forward are automatically to be dismissed as ‘conspiracy theorists.’ Accordingly, it is not difficult to see reasons why even people who think the evidence does point that way might be reluctant to say so publicly. It could be that, at the outset, people genuinely fell into the trap that had been laid, and then later, did not feel in a position to seek to demolish the ‘narrative’ which had been constructed by saying what they had come to realise was likely to have happened.
In response to John_Frank, comments 9, 11. Certainly Mattis was not referring to Khan Sheikhoun, but to claims about later incidents. It is not clear to me that ‘Willy B’ meant to suggest he was. As it happens, there is overwhelming evidence that Khan Sheikhoun, like Ghouta, was a ‘false flag.’ In relation to Ghouta, I would refer anybody interested to my discussion entitled ‘Sentence First – Verdict Afterwards?’, which by coincidence was posted on SST shortly after the Khan Sheikhoun story broke. Both that, and two ‘open letters’ I wrote at that time to the members of the House of Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, can be accessed by clicking the tab ‘Habakkuk’ on the right hand side. The ‘open letters’ pointed to the urgent need for clarification as to precisely what it was being claimed that the ‘chemical forensics’ proved, both in relation to Khan Sheikhoun and earlier incidents, and ‘the critical importance of getting the significant stock of test results we know to exist into the public domain as soon as possible.’ As regards Khan Sheikhoun, what I take to be a devastating demolition of the report of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism published last October was posted in December by Professor Paul McKeigue on the blog of his Edinburgh University colleague Tim Hayward. (See .) The argument of McKeigue’s post reflects the fact that his chair is in ‘Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics.’ In simple English, this involves using modern statistical methods to isolate inherited factors in disease, which can have very major public health benefits. In relation to the investigation of chemical weapons incidents, this background means that, although in his piece he makes clear that he is not expert in chemistry, McKeigue is far better equipped to deal with the ‘chemical forensics’ issues than almost all of the rest of us who take an interest in these matters. A central tool of his trade is a methodology called ‘Bayesian inference’. Its modern development owes a very great deal to the work of Alan Turing’s statistical assistant, Jack Good, at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and his development of this in his later career. At its most basic, ‘Bayesian inference’ involves evaluating competing hypotheses by assessing how well they predict a range of different pieces of evidence. Starting with an initial estimate of their relative probability, often termed the ‘prior odds’, one then assesses how probable a given piece of evidence would be under the different hypothesis, the relative probability being termed the ‘likelihood ratio.’ Modifying the ‘prior odds’ by this gives one the ‘posterior odds’, which one can then successively modify further by evaluating how well further pieces of evidence are predicted. Among the strengths of this method is that, if one is prepared to play the game honestly, one can very rapidly find that one’s initial assumptions about what is or is not likely to be the case are clearly untenable. (At Bletchley, ‘Bayesian inference’ was used to make it possible for machines to keep up with the modifications introduced by the Germans to make Enigma more secure. In ‘statistical genetics’, it is used to isolate genetic factors from the mass of other factors affecting disease.) In earlier posts on Hayward’s blog, to which his latest one linked, McKeigue used this method to argue that the hypothesis which most successfully predicted the available evidence about Khan Sheikhoun was that of ‘a managed massacre of captives intended to bring about a US military intervention, using small quantities of sarin to generate a forensic trail.’ A similar hypothesis, he argued, best predicts the evidence about Ghouta. As he notes in the December post, the hypothesis of a ‘managed massacre’ was not even considered in the Joint Investigative Mechanism report. Discussing this, McKeigue points to a range of different pieces of evidence which are, in his view, far more probable under the ‘managed massacre’ hypothesis that under that, adopted by the JIM, according to which ‘sarin had been released through an aerial bomb.’ However, he also notes that the authors of the report had access both to the Pentagon’s map of the flight track of the aircraft supposedly responsible, and to ‘another aerial map’ which ‘indicated that the closest to Khan Shaykhun that the aircraft had flown had been approximately 5 km away.’ And McKeigue goes on to suggest that unless the flight track evidence is wrong, which the JIM authors do not claim, ‘the hypothesis of a chemical attack by the Syrian air force can be excluded as having zero likelihood.’ If correct, this argument has some extremely disturbing implications. The Pentagon, quite clearly, has analysts who are extremely well-equipped to assess the evidence about flight paths and draw the relevant conclusions. If McKeigue’ argument is right, then either material exonerating the Syrian government has not been made available to the Secretary of Defense, or he is aware of it and has colluded in suppressing it. Here, however, another key argument which McKeigue makes is relevant. Put briefly, both the analytical methods and the technologies available for doing ‘chemical forensics’ on incidents such as Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Of the laboratories certified by the OPCW for competence in this kind of analysis, one is the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland. It was this facility which was given the task of designing and equipping the MV ‘Cape Ray’, on which the Syrian government’s declared stocks of the sarin precursor methylphosphonyl difluoride – known as DF – were destroyed in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2014. It seems abundantly clear that detailed tests were carried out on samples from these, both by scientists from the OPCW and by those from Edgewood CBC facility. The 2011 paper to which McKeigue links in discussing the implications of this, entitled ‘Impurity Profiling to Match a Nerve Agent to Its Precursor Source for Chemical Forensics Applications’, by Carlos G. Fraga of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and colleagues, is behind a paywall. However, a very lucid piece summarising developments in the field in terms accessible to scientific illiterates like myself was published by Bethany Halford under the title ‘Tracing A Threat’ in ‘Chemical & Engineering News’, a journal of the ‘American Chemical Society’, in February 2012. (See .) As well as interviewing Fraga, Halford quotes an expert called Joseph Chipuk, from a consultancy called ‘Signature Science’ in Austin. He explains in detail how the ‘spectra’ – different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation associated with different ‘impurities’ in samples, including ‘environmental’ ones, such as soil, fragments of weapons, and clothing – can be matched with reconstructions of possible ‘synthetic pathways’. The levels of sophistication of which this kind of analysis was already capable in 2012, he made clear, are close to breathtaking: ‘To figure out signatures based on various synthetic routes and conditions, Chipuk says that the synthetic chemists on his team will make the same chemical threat agent as many as 2,000 times in an “almost robotic manner,” following a database that tells them exactly what conditions to use. They then hand off the product to the analytical chemists, who look at all the tiny impurities that turn up along with the toxic chemical – “the stuff that’s down in the weeds,” as Chipuk describes it. From there, the hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of spectra that are collected go to statisticians and computer scientists who work their magic to tease out the unique attribution signatures.’ One implication is that the suggestion that a single chemical, or small number of chemicals, can be treated as a ‘smoking gun’ is patently ludicrous. Moreover, it will be known to be so by any of the many scientists working for the OPCW or the laboratories it certifies, which include besides the Edgewood CBC facility the British laboratory at Porton Down, the French at Le Bouchet, and the Russian in Moscow. Likewise, officials or journalists who have taken the trouble to familiarise themselves with rather basic information about ‘chemical forensics’ will know it is ludicrous. However, precisely this suggestion forms the basis of the notorious ‘hexamine hypothesis’ originally put forward by Dan Kaszeta, and carried onwards in the ‘National Evaluation’ published by the French government not long after the incident, and – in a somewhat more sophisticated form – into the JIM Report. It is very difficult to see any coherent ‘sources and methods’ reasons why the kind of detailed analyses of the tests carried out by the Edgewood CBC – and specifically, the charts of the ‘spectra’ – on the Syrian government stocks should not be made public. Likewise, it is not clear why the detailed results of tests on ‘environmental’ samples from a range of incidents, including as well as Khan Sheikhoun and Ghouta the earlier ones at Saraqeb and Khan Al-Asal, which we know to have been carried out by various of these laboratories, should not be made public. This basic point, which was central to my ‘open letters’ last April, has not been addressed. If Secretary Mattis has the courage of his convictions, he should organise for these materials to be put in the public domain. If he continues to claim that Khan Sheikhoun was, in essence, a ‘slam dunk’, without doing so, then one is back to the question of whether crucial evidence has been kept from him or he is colluding in suppressing it. As both McKeigue and Hayward are involved with the ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’ which has recently been set up over here, more material on the ‘chemical forensics’ and related matters should be appearing on that site in due course – see .
Sid Finster, In response to 42 – I agree. In two posts on SST, and a number of comments on other threads, I have dealt produced rather strong evidence that Steele could not be regarded as a ‘reliable reporter’ on anything whatsoever. If TTG or anyone else wants to continue to maintain that there is any case for treating him as such, they should attempt to rebut the evidence I have presented. Otherwise: what is the point in my wasting my time arguing with such people? (See ; ) As I have repeatedly noted, in the press conference in May 2007 where he responded to the request for his extradition submitted by the Crown Prosecution Service, the figure whom Steele colluded with the Berezovsky group in framing, Andrei Lugovoi, claimed that: ‘Litvinenko used to say: They are total retards in the UK, they believe everything we are telling them about Russia.’ (For one of a number of comments on SST in which I have discussed this – very revealing – remark – see .) An excerpt from a programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 16 December 2006, presented by Tom Mangold, illustrates this rather well. An ‘Unidentified Informer’ claimed: ‘Well it’s not well known to Western leaders or Western people but it is pretty well known in Russia. Because essentially it is common knowledge in Russia that by the end of Nineties the so called Russian organised crime had been destroyed by the Government and then the Russian security agencies, primarily the law enforcement and primarily the FSB, essentially assumes the functions and methods of Russian organised crime. And they became one of the most dangerous organised crime group because they are protected by law. They’re protected by all power of the State. They have essentially the free hand in the country and this shadow establishment essentially includes the entire structure of the FSB from the very top people in Moscow going down to the low offices.’ (The links on the Inquiry website often do not seem to work, but the transcript can be accessed by putting the reference ‘HMG000513’ into Google.) When Mangold asks how the ‘Unidentified Informer’ – who supposedly cannot be identified for ‘reasons of your own personal security’ – how he knows this, the response is that he is himself ‘former KGB.’ What better validation of Lugovoi’s claim about ‘retards’ could one want. The assumption is that ‘former KGB’ are divided into two categories: people like Lugovoi, who aren’t on your side, whose every word can be dismissed as lies, and people like Shvets, or Gordievsky, or Kalugin, who profess to be on your side, and whose every word is to be regarded as gospel truth. This is indeed infantile. I have been reading the testimony of Glenn Simpson to the House Intelligence Committee. (For that, and his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, see .) The testimony he gives, and which a lot of people appear to take seriously, is extremely reminiscent of the programme presented by Mangold. Rather than the – utterly preposterous – suggestion that the FSB already already destroyed people like Mogilevich before Putin came to power, one has the not quite so totally preposterous suggestion that shortly after that event he brought the Russian mafia under control and established himself as the new ‘capo de capei.’ Frankly, if he is such a superman, the only advice I can give to Americans, or Brits, is – surrender now, while there is still time. And then, Simpson provides a whole series of claims about Semyon Mogilevich and the ‘Solntsevskaya Bratva’, which however manage to leave out the ‘evidence’ produced by Shvets and Litvinenko, which was supposed to establish that Putin used these in attempts to supply Al Qaeda with a ‘mini nuclear bomb’ – aka ‘suitcase nuke.’ A POINT IN PASSING: THE QUESTION OF WHETHER CONTEMPORARY RUSSIA IS, OR IS NOT, AN APPROPRIATE ALLY IN FIGHTING JIHADIST TERRORISM IS A SERIOUS MATTER. IT IS NOT TO BE DECIDED ON THE BASIS OF ‘EVIDENCE’ PROVIDED BY THE LINKS OF SHVETS AND STEELE, AND APPARENTLY CREDULOUSLY ACCEPTED BY PEOPLE LIKE TTG. Some of the evidence about these matters which was supplied by me to Sir Robert Owen’s team is discussed in the posts to which I have linked, as are the activities and background of Shvets and the former FBI operative ‘Bobby’ Levinson, which were not made clear to the BBC audience by Mangold. (So low has the BBC sunk.) In discussing these matters, Simpson does what so many others do – turns an extraordinarily complex history of intrigue, in a collapsed social system, into an essentially infantile story in which, for instance, it becomes impossible to include information that cannot be fitted in that kind of ‘narrative.’ Among such information is a great deal of evidence suggesting that both Putin and Tymoshenko had a good deal to hide in relation to Mogilevich, but they colluded in removing the intermediary companies linked to him from the gas trade to and through Ukraine: a benign development. This, the evidence suggests, was resisted not simply by Yanukovych – who is not actually ‘pro-Putin’, but not much else but ‘pro-Yanukovych’ – but also Yushchenko. Any ‘non-retard’ knows that, if people like Mogilevich are to be sidelined, this cannot be done by extraditing them to the United States. A mass of compromising information he has accumulated on others would, if he was accused of what he has really done, be produced in court. If somebody attempted to assassinate him, he would have organised things so that it would be made public. What may be possible, is that he can be sidelined, partly because he is growing old, and also because a negotiated accommodation can be worked out. This is rather basic to anyone who lives in the real world. But, apparently, few in Washington and London any longer do. Normally, I would immediately supply links for claims like this. But I am ‘clocking off’ for the evening. I am quite happy to provide such links tomorrow, but really, the information on which I am drawing is available to anybody who is prepared to do some rather basic research with Google. A fundamental problem, however, has to do with what is implied in being a ‘retard.’ Years ago, I much amused a young acquaintance of mine who grew up in the West Ukraine by saying that the problem with Western coverage of post-Soviet politics was that it was as though people were on the set of the Godfather, and were determined to believe they were on the set of the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ (All a Balrog needs to do is to put on a pair of pointed ears, and people will take him for an elf.) People with ideological blinkers of this kind, such as Simpson patently has, are, in essence, asking to be fooled by people like Shvets. Once however they have been fooled, they get drawn into situations they cannot control or handle. Accordingly, people may start off gullibly accepting disinformation, but will end up having to disseminate what they themselves know to be outrageous falsehoods. If you want examples, look at the claims and counter-claims about the deaths of Stephen Curtis, ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili, and Boris Berezovsky.
RC, It really does help if, when you make claims, you link to the source so that others can evaluate them. In the case of the claims you are making, the source is clearly a post two days ago by ‘sundance’ on the ‘Conservative Treehouse’ site entitled ‘Tying All The Loose Threads Together – DOJ, FBI, DoS, White House: “Operation Latitude”…’ (See .) As it happens, I think the suggestion that Steele’s role may have been, in very substantial measure, to give the impression that material from other source was the product of a high-quality ‘humint’ investigation merits being taken extremely seriously. However, to repeat claims by ‘sundance’, while not taking the – rather minimal – amount of trouble required to provide the link which allows others to evaluate them, simply puts people’s backs up and makes them less likely to take what you are suggesting seriously.
EO, In response to 114 – a fine comment. My only criticism is that, while I think that the ‘Shtetl on the Potomac’ – or indeed the Thames – is an important part of this story, one should not neglect the importance of traditional British Russophobia. (Also, while many of the most damaging Western analysts of Russian affairs are Jewish, many of the best have been and still are.) As regards Ukraine, it is material that one is dealing with divisions not simply between people but within them. The area was at the centre of collectivisation, and also the scene of some of the most savage fighting in the war. Take a somewhat extreme example. Suppose you have an – ethnically Russian – kulak, who goes out into the street in Smolensk shortly after the news of the German attack is broadcast, and is never seen by his family again. His daughter ends up living in a hole in the ground across the river from Stalingrad, making shells. At the end of the war, with Smolensk flattened, a relative in the NKVD recommends she go to Lviv, which is largely undamaged. There she meets and marries an – ethnically Ukrainian – railwayman, who has a close relative in the SS Galicia Division. It would not be impossible that their children might be, how shall I put it, a mite confused. What the Galician nationalists have sought to do is to overcome these confusions, and forge a unitary national identity, by portraying the ‘Holodomor’ as a deliberate genocide directed against Ukrainians by Russians. Into what you aptly describe as a ‘power keg’ one then injects ‘retards’ – Andrei Lugovoi’s apt term – like Christopher Steele and my sometime BBC Radio colleague Mark Laity, now ‘Chief StratCom’ at SHAPE, and their American counterparts. One of the mantras of Laity’s presentations is ‘perception becomes reality.’ In relation to Ukraine, it appears, the ‘perception’ he thinks that ‘StratCom’ can make ‘reality’ is: ‘“I am a Ukrainian” “We have this freedom inside our hearts … we have this freedom in our minds … and now I ask you to build this freedom in our country.’ In his presentation, this is followed by a slide entitled ‘Objects of desire ...', featuring images of expensive cars. ( .) What then happens, with people like Laity, or Steele, or indeed Glenn Simpson, is that the Galician nationalists, or the sometime KGB officers anxious to turn a dishonest penny, say ‘we’ve got some real “retards” here, absolute ‘useful idiots’: If we just “talk the talk” we can twist them round our little finger and tie them in knots from which they have not a cat in hell’s chance of escaping.’ And that is what happens, in Ukraine, in Syria, and all over the place. The ‘retards’ think they are the ‘dog’, and in control, while in practice what they regard as the ‘tail’ ends up wagging them. And if the ‘tail’ chooses to, as it were, ‘go off the reservation’, there is nothing they can do but cover up. The dynamics of this process were brilliant analysed, all those years ago, by Graham Greene in ‘The Quiet American.’ What is particularly galling, from a British point of view, is that these days were seem to be mass-producing our own versions of Alden Pyle. This was the problem with NATO expansion, from the start. As soon as one moves a hard dividing line East in what were, historically, the ‘borderlands’ between different empires, to leave areas which were part of the Soviet bloc out is – not surprisingly – perceived by many of their inhabitants as implicitly consigning them to remain in a Russian sphere. For others in these areas, however, Russia has historically been seen as their friend and protector, and also, central to their culture (including modern culture.) Historically, in the ‘borderlands’, different groups have looked to stronger outside powers not simply to defend them but – if possible - to impose their own maximalist agendas on rival groups. The expectation of NATO membership quite predictably, encouraged Saakashvili to attempt to do this with the Abkhaz and Ossetes, and encouraged the Galician nationalists to do with the same with the East of the country, and – most ludicrously of all – Crimea. The gamble they were taking – with the ‘retards’ apparently following – was that Russia was too weak to stop them. However, ‘perception becomes reality’ can be a double-edged sword. If the Western powers are determined to treat Russia as an adversary, this behaviour is indeed liable to be self-fulfilling. More specifically, if Russian weakness is treated as simply something to be exploited, then obviously the ‘Eighties-era ‘new thinkers’, who believed that the threatening nature of the security posture inherited from the Stalin era was largely responsible for Western hostility, were ‘useful idiots.’ One can then end up with a new ‘narrative’, to use the ‘StratCom’ term, in which Gorbachev features as Russia’s answer to Neville Chamberlain: the man who didn’t even ask for a ‘scrap of paper.’ Perhaps, when it finally dawns on at least some of the ‘retards’ that Russia may not be quite as weak as they thought, the realisation may sink in that there are can be costs from discrediting those who seek to be one’s friends.
rkka, Tom, In response to #52 and earlier comments. A few random remarks about collectivisation and related matters. The idea of a ‘complete militarization’ of the national economy, which underpinned collectivisation, did not originate with Stalin. On this, the 1988 paper ‘Mass, Mobility, And The Red Army's Road To Operational Art 1918-1936’ by Jacob W. Kipp, of what was then the U.S. Army’s Soviet Army Studies Office, and is now the Foreign Military Studies Office, is critical (together with other of his writings.) (See .) What Kipp demonstrated is how in the ‘Twenties the arguments about the ‘New Economic Policy’, and the ‘smychka’, or alliance with the peasantry, ran in parallel with an argument about the appropriate military strategy for the new Soviet state. On the one side, Tukhachevsky saw the new technologies whose potentialities had become apparent towards the end of the First World War as validating a renewed emphasis on the ‘Napoleonic’ strand in Clausewitz – the idea that one could win by decisive offensive operations at the outset of a war: which was the basis of ‘blitzkrieg.’ (Possibilities which the machine gun had taken away, or at least severely compromised, although enormously more on the Western Front than further east, could be restored by aircraft and tanks.) And the conclusion Tukhachevsky drew was quite precisely that a ‘complete militarization’ of the national economy was necessary, in order to provide the instruments for this kind of warfare. Against this, the sometime Tsarist ‘genstabist’ Aleksandr Svechin developed the two-sidedness of Clausewitz – the way that the ‘Napoleonic’ strand is counterbalanced by the emphasis on defence as the stronger form of war. Following a great German Clausewitzian, the pioneer military historian Hans Delbrück, Svechin distinguished between strategies, and wars of ‘destruction’ – as in ‘blitzkrieg’ – and strategies, and wars, of ‘attrition.’ And Svechin was no more convinced in the ‘Twenties than he had been before 1914 that it was wise to gamble on the possibility that initial successes with strategies of ‘destruction’ could obviate the need to plan for a prolonged war of ‘attrition.’ A key to success in war was the ability to decide which approach was appropriate in a given situation, and when to switch between them. And at the outset of a conflict, the appropriate strategy for Russia was likely to be defensive. In a protracted war, of course, the need for maintaining social cohesion becomes far more salient, a fact of which Svechin had very concrete reasons to be well aware, not simply because of the experience of the First World War, but because his initial experience of military operations was in the disastrous 1904-5 war against Japan, which had precipitated the initial attempt at revolution. Accordingly, it was hardly surprising that the corollary of Svechin’s strategy was an emphasis on the need to maintain the ‘smychka.’ In relation to the peasantry Bukharin, who was a leading champion of maintaining the alliance with the peasantry, became what one might call a ‘capitalist roader’ – arguing in 1925 that we need to say to the entire peasantry, to all its different strata: enrich yourselves, accumulate, develop your farms.’ A natural corollary, obviously, was an industrial strategy geared to satisfying peasant demand. In the 1922 Testament which I think most historians still think Lenin actually wrote, it was suggested that the cost of abandoning the ‘smychka’ would be a split in the party which was likely to be fatal. In the event, it did precipitate just such a split, out of which came the Terror – which involved, among other things, cataclysmic damage to the officer corps of the Red Army and, not least important, military intelligence. In turn, these facts encouraged Hitler to believe that a rapid ‘blitzkrieg’ could destroy the Soviet system. As Kipp brings out, the adoption by Stalin of Tukhachevsky’s approach came when, in 1930, in the wake of the economic crisis, he abandoned Bukharin’s thesis about the ‘stabilisation of capitalism.’ The ideas of Svechin had been developed at a time before war with Germany became a central concern. Whether a strategy based on those ideas could have coped with that threat as well as that which Stalin actually adopted must remain an open question. There is obviously a very powerful argument that a kind of Bukharin/Svechin strategy simply could not have created the necessary military-industrial base. But then, there are counter-arguments. So other problems, as well as those created by collectivisation and the Terror, might have been avoided. For one thing, key military-industrial facilities would not have been located in vulnerable areas such as Ukraine. A key problem which Stalin confronted in the summer of 1941, which recurs in many contexts, might also have been avoided. It is often difficult to judge whether or not war is inevitable, and the courses of action appropriate if one is still trying to avoid it may be diametrically opposed to those it is prudent to adopt if one concludes that this is impossible. The offensive nature of Soviet contingency planning ended up leaving Stalin with the worst of both worlds. Terrified that anything resembling mobilisation would be provocative, he ended up leaving the Red Army totally exposed to a devastating preemptive strike: and the sheer scale of the destruction the Germans inflicted in the opening period of the war almost beggars belief. Had contingency planning being based upon a defensive posture at the outset of a war, as Svechin thought appropriate, the problem would not have arisen. In relation to current arguments, however, it is material that an important and neglected strand in the Gorbachev-era ‘new thinking’ was the revival, among a number of ‘General Staff’ people, of Svechin, which had begun in the ‘Seventies, if not indeed earlier, and which always had strong anti-Stalinist undercurrents. Involved here were arguments not simply about the pre-war and wartime years, but about the immediate post-war period, and the belief that Stalinist strategies, while not intending to, had gratuitously turned the United States from a wartime ally into an enemy. A corollary of this was the belief that liquidating the Stalinist heritage would defuse Western hostility to Russia. It was precisely in the Institute of the USA and Canada, under Georgy Arbatov’s direction, that General Staff people like Colonel-General Nikolai Lomov and General-Mayor Valentin Larionov, both, like Arbatov himself ‘Old Mohicans’, were collaborating with younger civilians like Andrei Kokoshin in reviving Svechin. It may also I think be material here that quite a lot of Russian military people always had a certain nostalgia for the wartime alliance with the United States. A rather obvious effect of current Western strategies has been to persuade practically all thinking Russians that the notion that liquidating the Stalinist security posture would eliminate Western hostility was ludicrously naive. A natural enough next logical step – although it does not actually follow – is to conclude that in fact the Western powers would have been quite as hostile, if indeed Stalin had adopted strategies intended to avoid their hostility. If one wanted to persuade thinking Russians of this, I can think of no better strategy than to align with ‘Banderistas’ in an attempt to bring a united Ukraine, including Sevastopol, into NATO. There are, however, costs to this. Some are, I think, apparent in an interesting item I encountered some time back on ‘Youtube.’ (See .) A further irony, perhaps, is that, in relation to Syria, Western policymakers assumed that the Russians would be either become involved in a protracted war of ‘attrition’, or, precisely because of fear of that contingency, and overall weakness, stay out. So, it would be, from the ‘neoconservative’ point of view, an ‘each-way bet.’ What we saw instead strikes me as pure Svechin. A strategy based upon upon seeing technical military and political considerations as an interrelated whole, on calculating when it has been appropriate, as it were, to ‘go for the jugular’, and when to wear down the adversary by ‘attrition’ or indeed to do nothing: if there is a ‘Beyond’ somewhere, the old ‘genstabist’ must be beaming approval and feeling thoroughly vindicated.
All, Societies cannot survive without some culture of honour. One cannot sustain such cultures unless there are serious sanctions for dishonourable conduct (as well as rewards for honourable.) The point of such sanctions is partly to create fear, but it is not just that. It is clearly to mark out such conduct as dishonourable – to burn a message into people’s thick heads. Inevitably, in this process there will, not all that infrequently, be elements of ‘rough justice.’ It does not seem to me that severely punishing this man would be such.
Richard, Thanks for the kind words. A great deal to think over in your reflections and the comments they provoked. As it happens, I have been kept busy trying to follow up leads in Glenn Simpson’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary and House Intelligence committees. I read, with incredulity, his suggestion that ‘it’s not the reporter’s job to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not or who’s right and who’s wrong’. Much of the interest – and fun – of journalism used to lie in the opportunity to talk to a variety of people, some of whom would be giving you accurate information, some a pack of lies, and many a mixture of both, and then trying to work out what the truth about the matter at hand actually was. And the honour of the activity, such as it was, had to do with being willing to follow down the paths in which doing this led you, irrespective of whether or not they made you feel comfortable. So the agendas of figures like Simpson, be they acting as journalists or in whatever role Fusion ended up adopting, are certainly not to do with making matters clearer. On a related matter, I think quite a lot of people in Britain share some of the ambivalence towards aristocracy that ‘English Outsider’ expresses. It is not a matter of snobbery, or a nostalgia for a ‘Downton Abbey’ world, simply a kind of bafflement and horror at the way that the new élites think and act – and also, the way that people who come from old élites, like David Cameron or Boris Johnson, seem to have lost any sense that privilege has to be justified. Moreover, Ingolf’s remark about ‘ubiquitous fools who consider themselves masterminds’ seems to the point. And ironically, precisely what contemporary Western élites cannot be accused of is any kind of rational, calculating Machiavellianism. The growth of the discontents which impelled both Trump’s election victory on your side, and the Brexit vote and also Corbyn’s election as Labour leader on ours, has been visible to anyone who would look for many years. They could have been headed off, but instead, on both sides of the Atlantic élites locked themselves further and further into a cocoon. They are now compounding the problem by refusing to face up to the causes of the backlash against them. So they attempt indiscriminately to tar a wide range of different responses in the backlash against them by treating a fringe which actually is neo-Nazi as though it was representative. To make matters worse, they also fall back on the old Stalinist strategy of covering one’s old failures by accusing one’s enemies of plotting in collusion with demonic foreigners. (Of this strategy, Simpson’s testimony provides an interesting example.) As to whether ‘a sort of counterreformation’ is possible, I think the jury is very much out. However, in relation to Babak Makkinejad’s argument about manners, I do see some grounds for optimism. My SWMBO was noting the other day that, although very often travellers on London buses are ill-mannered, younger people on the tubes are often surprisingly willing to give up their seats to their elders. Likewise, some of our younger relatives and friends, who have young children, do seem to be quite successful in finding a balance between avoiding a kind of Victorian-style harshness, and insisting on the parameters and disciplines which children need to flower into responsible adults: perhaps significantly more so than very many of our own generation did.
PT and all, Recent developments are raising new questions, as well as giving fresh urgency to familiar ones. An article by a Los Angeles lawyer called Allan J. Favish which has just appeared in the ‘American Thinker’ is headlined ‘Prediction: Sessions will find FBI lied about Steele credibility to spy on Trump.’ (See .) It provides a concise summary of the evidence in the memoranda from Republicans on the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees that the FBI gave the FISA Court misleading information in relation to Christopher Steele, and that there are strong grounds for suspecting this was done so knowingly and deliberately. One can however I think take the argument further. I cannot see any cogent reason for believing claims from the FBI that that they were unaware of the contacts Steele had with the press prior to October 2016. Moreover, if they were aware of these contacts, the notion that they were ‘unauthorised’ might also be misleading – this could be a situation where key figures in the FBI knew and approved what their informant was doing, but simply wanted ‘plausible deniability.’ Moreover, the suggestion apparently made by the FBI to the FISA Court that the organisation suspended its relationship with Steele in October 2016 because of his – supposedly – unauthorised disclosures to the press might also be misleading. Even if the suspension actually happened, this again could have been to do with ‘plausible deniability’, with contacts continuing behind the scenes. I certainly find it increasingly difficult to see how Mueller can consistently refrain from bringing proceedings against Christopher Steele under the ‘general conspiracy statute.’ The relevant questions, obviously, are whether he was involved in making statements he ‘knew to be false, fraudulent or deceitful’ to the FBI, whether the FBI were involved in making such statements to the FISA Court, and whether Steele and the FBI colluded in a conspiracy to deceive the Court. An obvious question is whether a significant number of key figures in the FBI, up to and including James Comey, are candidates for indictments under the statute. In view of this situation, of course, it is difficult to see how justice can be served by having a former long-serving director of that organisation, who also appears to be a friend of Comey’s, deciding who is, and is not, to be prosecuted.
In response to #38 Apologies. I should have written Alex Van Der Swaan 'worked' for Skadden Arps, rather than 'works.'
Tidewater, In response to #33. I had not thought of the comparison with the Zinoviev Letter, but it is certainly a very interesting one, about which I need to think further. Doing a quick Google search, I see that when the FCO historian Gill Bennett produced a study of the incident in 1999, her best guess was that it was commissioned by White Russian intelligence circles from forgers in Berlin or the Baltic states, most likely in Riga. And it brings one up against a question of continuing relevance – where credulity ends and active mendacity begins. As to what is happening now, so much has been happening on so many fronts that I am finding it difficult to keep up. With regard to Steele, there is ample material available demonstrating that fabricating evidence and corrupting judicial procedures are part of his ‘stock-in-trade’. I can prove this, and I can also prove that ample evidence establishing a ‘prima facie’ case that he had been involved in a ‘conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice’ in relation to the death of Alexander Litvinenko was made available by me to Sir Robert Owen years before his Inquiry into that event opened, and suppressed by him. In relation to current events, however, it still seems to me very much an open question how far Steele was actually involved in producing the memoranda attributed to him, and how far he was simply brought in to make it seem as though a hodge-podge put together by others was a proper intelligence product, adequate to justify FISA applications. Another set of puzzles has to do with information from pro-Russian sources. With ‘The Duran’ and ‘The Vineyard of the Saker’, it is rather more than possible that, at least some of the time, these are channelling material from Russian intelligence. This, incidentally, is not an argument against reading them. Both Alexander Mercouris and Andrei Raevsky are highly intelligent people, whose views are commonly well worth pondering. An ironic element, moreover, is that information channelled from Russian intelligence sources can be both important and accurate because, much of the time, these have every interest in telling the truth. As it happens, in relation to the ‘Internet Research Group’, I think Russian repudiations of the suggestion that this was used in a Russian government attempt to influence the American elections are highly likely to be true. Something so transparent, for so little gain, does not make much sense. And I agree with ‘Smoothie X12’: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke)” sounds like someone trying to frame Russian intelligence, not an operative caught red-handed. However, while I have not got to the bottom of this, I think the Scott Humor piece to which people have linked may mix up the arrests of the two FSB cybersecurity people, and one Kaspersky person, with those of the members of the ‘Shaltai Boltai’ group. And Mercouris earlier appeared rather too happy to suggest that the former were simply involved in criminal activity. To my mind, the second memorandum in the dossier, and the final memorandum, read as though they could have been the product of material supplied through the contacts between the FBI and FSB cybersecurity people, with a view to laying a trap. For one thing, if the first memorandum was a fabrication pure and simple, I would expect it to have ‘meshed’ better with the improvised disinformation from Alperovitch, of the ‘Atlantic Council’, and the former GCHQ operative pretending to run a consultancy which did not actually trade and writing for ‘Lawfare’ Matt Tait. For another, I think the ‘howlers’ in both memoranda could have been deliberately included, in the expectation that people like Nellie Ohr might believe them – indeed, I think I may be able to detect a wicked sense of humour. To have Steele compelled to defend himself in court against a libel suit brought by Aleksej Gubarev, in relation to claims which would be very difficult to defend, and for which he had to accept responsibility, although he was not actually responsible, might well have struck some people as, how shall one put it, ‘neat.’ So I think there are a very great many inadequately explored questions about the origins of the dossier – and also that its eventual effects are very unpredictable. Both MI6, and Steele personally, have in the past very successfully manipulated judicial processes in the U.K. in their favour. However, they have had at least one spectacular failure, which comes of particular interest in relation to the indictment against German Khan’s son-in-law, where he is apparently entering a guilty plea. It may be material here that Khan, along with his Alfa colleagues Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, was the subject of another memorandum which provoked a lawsuit. Interestingly, it was the firm for which Alex Van Der Swaan works, Skadden Arps, which instructed Lord Sumption on behalf of Roman Abramovich in the case brought up against the latter by the late Boris Berezovsky. Having been given a very easy ride by the British courts up to that point, the latter found himself confronting one of the best legal minds in recent British history. As a result, Mrs Justice Gloster did not simply throw his case out, but delivered a damning and long overdue verdict on his credibility as a witness. Whether Berezovsky’s subsequent death was suicide or murder remains an open question. That if it was murder, the Russian security services were about the least likely culprits does not. (As with Stephen Curtis and ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili.) In addition to the Gubarev suit against Steele, and his suit and that of Khan and his colleagues against BuzzFeed, suits against that company have also been brought by Carter Page and Michael Cohen. Unfortunately, Lord Sumption is no longer practising. But the spectacle of Christopher Steele being cross-examined by some really heavyweight counsel in one or other of these cases might be a very interesting one. (I would enjoy it!)
Fred and all, Much enjoyed this post. One observation. It seems to me it is time that we abandoned the pathetic pretence that the contemporary United States, and Britain, are secular, rational, societies. It has become increasingly clear that beneath a thin veneer of rationality, we believe in witchcraft, every bit as much as our seventeenth century forbears. However, I am not sure that Robert Mueller is really up to the roll of ‘Witchfinder General’. We need better candidates. Paul Krugman, perhaps? (See .)
b, In response to #146. As to TTG’s claim about ‘the objective of exacerbating the discord that already existed in this country.’ I asked him to produce evidence in exchanges on an earlier thread, and got referred to the January 2017 ‘Intelligence Community Assessment.’ LOL! On an earlier thread I discussed that document and Brennan. However, it seems appropriate to say something about James Clapper. In the session entitled ‘Under Assault’ at the Aspen Security Forum last July, where he and Brennan were questioned by Wolf Blitzer, Clapper had this to say: ‘Well, understanding – and I guess I’m old school Cold War warrior and all that so I have all of this truth in advertising, great suspicions about the Russians and what they do. And a lot of this to me had kind of a standard textbook tradecraft long employed by the Russians and or the Soviets and now into the Russians.’ (See .) Actually, it is a rather basic principle in either intelligence analysis or serious journalism – not the kind practised by the likes of Wolf Blitzer – that, even with leaders and governments one may really dislike, the possibility of deception should, in general, be an hypothesis, not a presumption. In the nature of things, a pattern of evidence which can be interpreted as indicating that someone is trying to deceive you may be equally compatible with the hypothesis that they are telling the truth. What is then necessary is to formulate alternative hypotheses clearly, and look for means of testing them against each other. A reasonably sure route to sooner or later making catastrophic errors is to commit oneself to one interpretation and interpret ambiguous evidence so as to validate it. As it happens, in the period between Gorbachev’s initial introduction of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ following his coming to power in 1985, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, it was precisely the kind of ‘great suspicions of the Russians’ to which Clapper refers which shaped most American, and British, intelligence analysis. The sheer scale of the errors to which this led is vividly apparent in the ‘Briefing Book’ on ‘The Last Superpower Summits’ published on the ‘National Security Archive’ site in January last year – shortly after the ‘Intelligence Community Assessment.’ This puts together what were at the time confidential papers from both sides. (See .) One central assumption underlying the so-called ‘new thinking’ was clearly laid out by one of its key architects, Georgy Arbatov, the Director of the Institute of the USA and Canada, in a letter in response to a column by William Safire published in the ‘New York Times’ in December 1987. What Arbatov argued was that if Western security élites failed to respond to Gorbachev, they would find themselves losing support – the ‘hardliners’, those who came to be called ‘neoconservatives’, would find the ground cut from under their feet. (See .) This was the point of the suggestion he frequently made at that time, and reiterated in his response to Safire: that ‘we have a “secret weapon” that will work almost regardless of the American response – we would deprive America of The Enemy.’ Just as TTG does now, American intelligence analysts interpreted this kind of talk as an attempt at ‘reflexive control’ – the previous month, the then deputy director of the CIA, Robert Gates, had predicted that Soviet reforms were merely a ‘breathing space’ before a resumption of the ‘further increase in Soviet military power and political influence.’ In fact, what Arbatov said in public corresponded to what he was saying privately to Gorbachev. The latter proceeded to carry out precisely the programme to ‘deprive America of The Enemy’, liquidating the whole security posture inherited from the Stalinist period, and in some ways before. A fascinating passage in the ‘Briefing Book’ comes from the closed-door CIA testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on 7 December 1988, when one of the organisation’s top Soviet analysts, Doug MacEachin found himself wrong-footed by Gorbachev’s announcement to the UN of a 500,000 man cut in Soviet forces: ‘Now, we spend megadollars studying political instability in various places around the world, but we never really looked at the Soviet Union as a political entity in which there were factors building which could lead to the kind of – at least the initiation of political transformation that we seem to see. It does not exist to my knowledge. Moreover, had it existed inside the government, we never would have been able to publish it anyway, quite frankly. And had we done so, people would have been calling for my head. And I wouldn’t have published it. In all honesty, had we said a week ago that Gorbachev might come to the UN and offer a unilateral cut of 500,000 in the military, we would have been told we were crazy. We had a difficult enough time getting air space for the prospect of some unilateral cuts of 50 to 60,000.’ So, in essence, serious exploration of alternatives to the deception hypothesis was not possible at the CIA, as it had been reshaped by Casey and Gates. As it happens, a great deal of information about these ‘factors’ which could make for a ‘political transformation’ was already available in ‘open source’ material, if one cared to look for it, and some fascinating complexities were to become apparent in the years that followed. So, for example, an article in the ‘Journal of Soviet Military Studies’ in 1992 by a ‘Foreign Military Studies Office’ analyst, the then Lieutenant-Colonel Timothy L. Thomas, discussed Arbatov’s highly influential deputy, Andrei Kokoshin. Born in 1945, his original education was ‘STEM’, but in 1972 he gained a doctorate in history at Arbatov’s Institute. (See .) An interesting feature is that key mentors turn out to have been ‘General Staff’ people. A military analyst at the Institute was Colonel General Nikolai Lomov. Born in 1899, he had ended the Second World War war as Deputy Head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff. The chairman of the Division on Military Aspects of Foreign Policy at the Institute, who was Kokokoshin’s thesis advisor, was then Colonel Valentin Larionov. Born in 1924, he had like Arbatov himself gone to war as a teenager, and seen action at Kursk, Warsaw, Prague and Berlin. Later Larionov had compiled and co-authored the classic Soviet statement of the strategy of winning a nuclear war by pre-emption, the original 1962 edition of the study ‘Military Strategy’ published under the name of Marshal Sokolovsky. So you would have thought that Arbatov got, as it were, a good Soviet ‘hardline’ education. But you would quite precisely wrong. This was actually the time when Soviet military men in general were realising that the idea of winning a nuclear war was totally empty. Moreover, the ‘Twenties, when Lomov himself had been a young man, had been a time of extraordinary free-ranging and fertile intellectual debate about Soviet military strategy. The figure to whom he introduced Kokoshin was Aleksandr Svechin, who had been an implacable opponent of the kind of one-sided emphasis on the ‘Napoleonic’ strand in Clausewitz that came to Soviet strategic thinking, as it had German. Ironically, both Svechin and Tukhachevsky, who had succeeded in marginalising his far more sophisticated reading of the great German thinker, would perish in the purges. From mid-1987 on, Kokoshin and Larionov would collaborate on a series of openly published articles, drawing on Svechin, advocating a radical shift to a defensive strategy. Another collaborator of Kokoshin, and enthusiast for Svechin, General Vladimir Lobov, born in 1935, was appointed First Deputy Chief of the General Staff in January 1987, and then Chief of the General Staff after the failed August 1991 coup. One can then add into the picture another figure from Arbatov’s Institute, who took his doctorate there in 1974, Vladimir Pechatnov. In 1995, he would publish, in English, a paper entitled ‘The Big Three After World War II: New Documents on Soviet Thinking about Post War Relations with The United States and Great Britain’, discussing policy papers written in 1944-5 by Maisky, Litvinov and Gromyko.’ Among other interesting articles is a 2010 piece entitled ‘The Cold War: A View from Russia.’ (See ; .) If you want a crude summary of the arguments of these, it is that Stalin was actually not looking for a confrontation with the United States at the end of the war, but behaved in a way that was inherently likely to make it inevitable. Furthermore, Pechatnov noticed a crucial point which Western historians of the Cold War frequently miss. The figure generally, if somewhat misleadingly, regarded as the architect of ‘containment’ – George Frost Kennan – actually understood very well that Bolshevism had been, in large measure, a phenomenon of the ‘borderlands.’ A corollary of this was the realisation that, by attempting to control those ‘borderlands’ which had earlier been parts of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, Stalin had put Russia an essentially unsustainable strategic position. It was trying to control areas which in the long run were likely to be uncontrollable, but retreat was always liable to precipitate a process of destabilisation going right on into the Soviet Union itself: as it did. The second part of the argument, however, is likely to reflect what happened after 1991. An important point is that Arbatov’s optimism about the likely implications of liquidating the Stalinist posture was rooted in currents of thinking which had been developing under the surface for a long time. In the event, as we now, he was proven quite wrong. Far from having the ground cut from under their feet by Gorbachev’s liquidation of the Stalinist security policy, it became a key part of the basis of the ‘neoconservative’ ascendancy alike in the United States and Britain, and the visceral hostility to Russia is now orders of magnitude greater than it was when Arbatov wrote. As is very evident if one reads Putin’s interviews with Oliver Stone, and much else he has said, he himself shared the initial euphoria about the possibilities of relations with the West, but came – as many others did – to the view that they had failed to grasp the extent to which the Cold War was underpinned by agendas which had nothing to do with Communism. That however does not mean that he has any desire to repeat Stalin’s mistakes. While he has made it quite clear that he will defend groups in the ‘borderlands’ who have historically looked to Russia, at no point has there been the slightest indication that he intends to go any further. The idea that because Putin is not prepared to see Sevastopol under the control of ‘Banderistas’ he is aching to retake the Baltics is complete BS, and precisely what he does not want is to follow Stalin and involve Russia in military confrontations from which it cannot escape. Quite clearly, a highly transparent operation which could even if successful have the most marginal effect on the American Presidential election suits the agendas of those, be they in Russia or the West, who are happy to see a new Cold War. If there is anything more in this than the ‘commercial enterprise’ to which you point, those are the likely suspects.
In response to ~57. Apologies for bad proofreading. I wrote 'Nikolai Struve', when I meant 'Nikolai Berdyaev.' The work that Putin recommended to regional governors in 2014, which is - misleadingly - entitled 'The Philosophy of Inequality', represents Berdyaev's most grief-stricken, and unequivocally hostile, response to the Revolution. (When it was published in Berlin in 1923, Berdyaev made it clear he thought the work unbalanced.) Likewise, I wrote 'Dzerzinsky', rather than 'Dzherzinsky.'
Patrick Bahzad, Thanks for that. Very good to have you back posting. A lot of food for thought. One comes back to the basic point that unless one gets the military technicalities right, one’s political analysis is liable to end up completely off the mark. And the reverse is obviously also true – that military analysis without grasp of the relevant politics is liable to come unstuck. People should read Clausewitz more. The inability of almost everyone in the West to grasp that the Russians were in a position to have a reasonable prospect of success in finessing objectives in tension – preventing the fall of Assad, while avoiding an Afghanistan-style quagmire – would seem to illustrate what happens when people lack the intellectual equipment to do the relevant political and military analysis, and integrate them. A further paradoxical result of all this is that Putin, who has always been concerned to maintain good relations with Israel, ended up in a position where he had to do everything possible to make the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ capable of fighting modern warfare: which one would have thought is not exactly what the Israelis want. How well the Russians can continue to finesse these objectives successfully, of course, is an interesting question.
F.B.Ali, In response to #26. As so often, I completely agree with you. A few points may be worth adding in to the debate. With regard to the January 2017 ‘Intelligence Community Assessment’, I would recommend to anyone seriously interested in evaluating the evidence a post entitled ‘Fact and Comment’ put up the time by Professor Paul Robinson of Ottawa. (See .) Its author was a contemporary, at Eton and Oxford, of our embarrassment of a Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. But while Johnson went into a London media ‘bubble’, Robinson joined the Army, and spent five years in Army Intelligence. So, having explained how the document looks to a competent intelligence professional, he concludes by remarking that none of what he says proves the claims are false, simply that ‘the assessments are not supported by the information which the report provides.’ There are however larger issues here, to which remarks made by Ambassador Chas Freeman in his recent speech ‘The United States and China: Game of Superpowers’ are relevant: ‘China seeks affirmation by foreigners of its self-image as a virtuous society, but, for the most part, Chinese are indifferent to how we non-Chinese govern ourselves. By contrast, Americans are convinced that only constitutional democracy on the U.S. model can confer legitimacy, that other systems of government are inherently unjust, and that it is therefore appropriate to insist on their reform or overthrow. This difference manifests itself in US-China interaction both internationally and bilaterally.’ (See .) When Paul Robinson returned to academic life, he chose a thesis subject apparently totally irrelevant to the present day – what had become of the defeated White Army in exile. One of the consequences was that acquired a very good understanding of the complexities of the politics of anti-communist Russians. As he brought out in a 2004 article which was headlined ‘Putin’s Might is White’ in ‘The Spectator’ – it was then edited by Boris Johnson – some of the leading thinkers of the emigration, such as Ivan Ilyin and Petr Struve, had no principled hostility to ‘constitutional democracy.’ (See .) What they thought was that so many of their educated compatriots, convinced that the Tsarist system was ‘inherently unjust’ had insisted on its ‘reform or overthrow’, without thinking through what were the actual possibilities of the situation, given the legacies of Russian history. And in so doing, they had unleashed a measureless catastrophe: ‘Both men [Robinson wrote] understood that the intelligentsia’s obsession with liberating the people was unleashing forces which would eventually destroy all liberty in Russia. Only an authoritarian government, they decided, could protect individual freedoms in the absence of a political culture that accepted basic ideas such as property rights. A society whose people understood legal rights and duties could successfully govern itself. One that did not must be ruled by a powerful individual, who would educate the people in its legal consciousness until such time as it was fit for self-rule.’ So, ironically, the irrelevant subject that Robinson had chosen turned out very relevant. In the 2004 article, he described Putin as a ‘typical Soviet radish – red on the outside and white at the core.’ As he was pointing out, in the arguments that had been going on beneath the surface as the bankruptcy of Marxist-Leninist ideology became clearly apparent, it was not at all unnatural that, as it were, a ‘grandchild of the Revolution’ could come to see some of its opponents as vindicated, and look to them for guidance. Likewise, Putin had come to agree with figures like Struve and Ilyin, and also the religious philosophers Nikolai Struve and Vladimir Solovyov, that the characteristic hostility of the ‘intelligentsia’ to religion, and determination to uproot the traditional beliefs of Russian society, had been a disaster. Just as Russians have abandoned a messianic universalism, the West has decided to embrace it: we have become ‘neo-Bolshevik.’ As no lessons whatsoever were learnt from the failure of the ‘liberal’ project in Russia after 1989, the United States and Britain have gone on spreading chaos: witness Irag, Libya, Syria. As ‘plantman’ noted, the first of the ‘key judgements’ in the ‘Intelligence Community Assessment’ is that: ‘Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.’ This is a projection onto Putin of a hostility to the ‘liberal-democratic order’ which is based on a total inability to understand the ideological tradition from which he comes. He is no more hostile to liberalism as such than Struve or Ilyin. His hostility, which has been consistent, is to any kind of messianic universalism which refuses to examine the concrete possibilities of actual situations. And he is right. Over the years, I have found it a useful ‘rule of thumb’ that if people involved with ‘covert intelligence’ make claims about other societies whose politics, culture and history they have made no serious attempt to understand, and clearly hold absurd ideological convictions, then it is very unwise to take what they say they know from secret sources on trust. A further point about the kind of universalistic projects embraced by the contemporary West is that often – as with the projects once embraced by Marxist-Leninists – one has reason to suspect that the ostensible idealistic agendas veil less savoury ones. Moreover, those involved not uncommonly come to believe that, because their virtue is self-evident, they cannot be expected to be bound by any kind of moral scruples. As with the Bolsheviks, the end of the road, by no means always but quite commonly, is rascality pure and simple. Among the many people involved in ‘Russiagate’, two seem to merit comment in this regard. As you say, to advance John Brennan as a credible source is ‘to taint the story irredeemably.’ It may be worth supplying some supporting evidence, in particularly because it bears upon another key figure, the former GCHQ head Robert Hannigan. Over the past few years, I have spent a good deal of time following up leads which originally arose out of a memorandum sent to Obama on 6 September 2013 by the ‘Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity Group’ entitled ‘Is Syria a Trap?’ (See .) It opened: ‘We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this.’ According to CIA officers working on the issue, the group reported, ‘CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public and perhaps even you.’ (See .) As to Hannigan, he was appointed in 2007 to the newly created post of Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. In March 2010, he moved to the FCO as Director General, Defence and Intelligence, before being appointed to head GCHQ in April 2014. As was made clear on his appointment, he had been a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee ‘for many years.’ (See .) It seemed overwhelming probable that, if the claims in the VIPS memorandum were correct, and British intelligence officials knew that Assad was not to blame, when on 29 August 2013 the JIC provided David Cameron with a document to take to Parliament alleging that his responsibility for Ghouta was a ‘slam dunk’ – although they did not use the phrase – they must have been lying. It turned out, as I explained on SST back in April last year, that there was a very strong ‘prima facie case’ that they were in fact lying – in so doing, committing ‘contempt of Parliament’, a very serious offence in the British system. If so, Hannigan must have been involved up to the hilt. (See .) From the testimony of Glenn Simpson to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, it has also been clear that Semyon Mogilevich and the ‘Solntsevskaya Bratva’ have been central to the ‘information operations’ against Trump. As I have made clear in two posts on SST, and a large number of comments, these were earlier employed in ‘information operations’ which were central to the projects of ‘régime change’ in Ukraine and Russia. These involved, among other things, the use of a mixture of accurate information and pure fabrication to implicate the FSB and Putin in attempting to supply a ‘suitcase nuke’ to Al Qaeda. (See ; .) When the ‘covert operations’ contests ran out of control, Steele clearly played a major role in orchestrating a cover-up of what was happened by making total bogus accusations against two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, and also the FSB and Putin, of responsibility for the deliberate murder of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium. Again, it would seem Hannigan must have been involved up to the hilt. For reasons I have given in the posts, I think it extremely likely that elements in American intelligence were intimately involved with Steele both in the original ‘régime change’ projects and the cover-up. Accordingly, I fully agree that nobody can take claims by Brennan as credible and expect to be regarded as credible himself. And when I discover that a ‘twerp’, formerly employed at GCHQ, whose consultancy turns out never to have traded, has proclaimed that the name and patronymic of Dzerzinky in the metadata of a document implicate the GRU, I do not think the most plausible explanation is that this was a ‘rather shoddy Guccifer 2.0’ improvisation on the part of that organisation. It seems to me rather more likely that we are dealing with people who have been impelled to subvert the constitutional order, in part because they have a lot to lose by having an outsider coming in, who might conceivably expose what they have done.