Agents of Influence

One of my ongoing goals is to place contemporary events in historical perspective – and to take the long view, searching for potential patterns of behavior. And for several years my interests have turned towards the intelligence community and national security. So if you were expecting I would stop posting on the subject of Russia and Vladimir Putin’s recent and current activities – nope, not yet.

The good news is that I was able to participate in a two hour discussion of just that last evening so I can simply refer those who are interested to that show, available online, and leave it to the reader’s choice to pursue it or not.  If you do and have questions or observations post them here.  The show link is:

https://ochelli.com/05182017-thursday-larry-hancock-carmine-savastano-trump-russia-unidentified/

It was a far ranging discussion of Russian covert political action over the decades, from the KGB to the current FSB – and on into the Russian involvement in “active measures” targeting the United States. Such measures have been continually in play but were reinvigorated beginning in 2008 – with a special focus on the recruitment and use of business “agents of influence” (that covers both knowing and unknowing assets and extends to what the Russians designate as “useful idiots”, their term not mine).

On a personal note, I’m obviously listening to a lot of news these days and have to say I am astounded by the remarks from certain members of Congress – remarks that demonstrate either a tremendous naivete in regard to intelligence practices or a level of hypocrisy that is equally appalling. This evening I even heard a couple of them boldly stating that being concerned, investigating or even giving air time to covering Russian activities targeting American politics and policy was literally unpatriotic. Apparently because it diverts attention from their parties’ and the President’s agendas. Its probably a good thing I was not on camera with them…one of them said it was all simply Eastern Establishment posturing.  I’m from Oklahoma, I don’t posture and ….yep, good I wasn’t there.

If you do choose to listen in, well there’s a bit of a teaser at the end, soon to be discussed briefly here and later on an upcoming,  separate blog. It has to do with my newest book, coming out in June and going where…well, we’ll get to that.

 

Sources, Methods and Facts

 

Those of us who pursue certain types of historical research become very familiar with terms such as “sources and methods” – its normally what is cited in not giving us what we are looking for in FOIA requests, or the justification for “redacting” huge chunks of the documents we can get.  We complain about it and often with good cause because such things do age and what was withheld at some point in time because of legitimate concerns is no longer reasonable or necessary.

 

But in regard to contemporary intelligence or even of intelligence collections activities of the past couple of decades, there can be very good justification. Which is why we see something that is normally discussed only by “geeks” showing up in news headlines today. I’ve written about this before but it seems like a good time to hit on some of the basics since this sort of thing is not normally daily conversation.

 

First off, there is nothing more important in intelligence collection than sources – regardless of whether they are human, electronic, photographic etc.  And the only thing more important than your own sources is information allies or trusted parties are willing to share with you, especially since they often have far better assets on the ground in their regions than the U.S. does.  At present that is especially true in areas of southwest Asia, especially in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the parts of Iraq and Afghanistan where ISIS and the Taliban are still active (and if you had not been following it I should point out that the Russians have launched a number of new contacts with the Taliban to reassert themselves in Afghanistan; that is one of the biggest concerns of our military commanders there at present).

 

If you compromise covert human sources they either get killed or worse yet they start getting misinformation and misdirection. The same thing is true whether they are your assets or a third party nation. If you compromise technical collections, you risk losing sources of information across whole regions.  When Ben Laden became aware his satellite phone was compromised we lost what was at that point the lynchpin for all Al Qaeda communications. And compromising sources is a lot easier than you might think – especially if you are dealing with intelligence sophisticated opponents. You don’t name to name them, you can out them simply by letting it be known where they are operating, by country, by city, etc.  Facts can destroy you.

 

I’ll give a simple example from the past.  In JFK research Mexico City is a big topic, in particular Lee Oswald’s visit and even the certain telephone calls made during that visit.  When Bill Simpich and I began looking at that one of the big questions as to what was the source of certain intelligence on those calls was where they had been tapped.  There were options, it could have been on a particular phone inside the Cuban or Russian embassy, the Cuban consulate, it could have been on an outside telephone connection locally at one of those buildings which implies certain things about sources and methods, it could even have been within the telephone network at a local switch or a central routing office – which would mean the Mexican government had been cooperating in intelligence activities. That would have been explosive at the time, even internally within Mexican politics.  The blow back from even simple points such as where a phone conversation was tapped can have substantial consequences.  In the end, with enough facts Bill and I felt that we had indeed identified the source and if it’s where I think it was, at a local CIA surveillance location where such calls were tapped and recorded, the implications for the JFK assassination are significant.

 

I went into the above only to demonstrate that “facts”, even minor facts, can be very dangerous.  That is normally why so much vetting and discussion is done in sharing information about any intelligence collection; if it involves foreign sources you can triple the normal dialog. Because if you compromise voluntary information sharing it can either just stop or worse yet it can become poisoned, with consequences for both you and the source nation. Right now that doesn’t even have to be a nation, it could be a Kurdish or Syrian group, it could be a particular source within Jordan or Lebanon or even Saudi who shared something based on a level of personal trust…and now will suffer the consequences.

 

Last night I heard one former CIA collections officer make the remark that at some “desks” this has already been a rough week since immediately following the President’s meeting with Russia (by the way, if you don’t think their chief diplomat works directly for the FSB you just don’t have the facts) someone had the good sense to warn both CIA and NSA.  And all this does not even go into the nasty details of how the Russians have much better assets in the countries I mentioned and have their own agenda which would allow them to market such information, to leverage it and at a minimum poison the well in regard to sharing anything with the U.S.

 

Hopefully this might have helped clear up a few things about today’s news, in short “facts” can be truly dangerous if shared with the wrong people – and clearly Russia should be high on that list at present.  But in this case knowing more about it only makes the news worse…sorry about that.

Cover-up?

It’s really easy go off course quickly in an investigation of you don’t set the right focus – and it’s especially easy to lose focus by getting diverted by the wrong words.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think that certain of the current Russian investigations are being undermined by people tossing around the term “collusion”.  Basically collusion implies conspiracy and it also implies secret agreements, and knowledge of cooperation in illegal or deceitful activities.

 

While it’s not impossible that Donald Trump or certain of his associates knowingly conspired with individuals working for or in league with Russian intelligence – or even Putin’s personal financial/governance network –  that might have had nothing to do with the 2016 election at all, relating to contacts which began much earlier. You can imagine a dialog about making it easier to do business if American foreign policy was more positive towards Russia, or later on putting it in terms of pragmatism and the removal of certain sanctions. And Manafort worked as a consultant for individuals wishing to shape the Ukrainian elections, it’s almost impossible to think that similar discussions of American politics and popular opinions never came up.

 

Beyond that, if the Russian FSB were involved – along with experienced Russian political action and psyops officers – you can imagine the verbiage in any dialog would have become quite convoluted.  Reportedly Putin is a master of the same techniques used by Cold War era CIA directors who got people to conduct operations up to and including assassination without ever giving a specific verbal order, much less putting it in writing. The people who work for Putin have become very good “guessers”, the ones who didn’t fell out of power, lost their positions or are no longer with us.

 

What the FBI and Congressional committees should be focused on is Russian covert political action, exposing current practices and waking everyone up to the fact that it never stopped at the end of the Cold War and restarted with a vengeance circa 2008.  If “collusion” falls out of the investigation, people need to go to jail but that’s a secondary issue.  If not, it will just show that the Russian practices are far more effective and far more dangerous.

 

So what does that have to do with “cover-up”, well recently I got into a dialog with a fellow researcher on the use of that term.  Traditionally it’s been applied to the JFK assassination in terms of an operation carried out after the murder to cover up a conspiracy. Peter Dale Scott brought forth the concept of a two phase operation, Phase 1 involving a plan to blame the act on Castro/Cuba and Phase 2 to cover up the evidence of a conspiracy and substitute a lone nut.  The interesting thing is that many researchers have the same plotters involved in both phases…which makes absolutely no sense (to me at least). And I think the use of the word “cover-up” really defocuses our research and investigation – since it also implies the people who doing it actually have some idea what they are covering-up and continued to work for decades to suppress that knowledge.

 

As a counter I would offer an alternative – a three stage scenario in which first the plotters attempt to shape the assassination in order to point towards Castro, using Oswald’s prior associations as a tool. To some extent that worked, you can see it in some newspaper headlines the next morning. That was followed by a bandwagon effect with Cuban exiles jumping in and trying to enhance that story line in the days and weeks that followed. So for simplicities sake let’s just call the first phase the “plot”.

 

And then, as my friend Bill Kelly writes, there was the second phase, which followed a “tipping point”.  That point can actually be identified, it’s the point at which LBJ calls Hoover that evening and asks him to take over the investigation and at the same time has Cliff Carter calling key people in Dallas and Texas and ordering them to shut up about conspiracy, change their legal charges on Oswald and just focus on Oswald as a lone nut.  Now DPD was slow to get that storyline, they kept investigating and pulling people in all night – but then they were just behind the curve.  What Johnson chose to do, for whatever reason, was to abort any investigation of conspiracy, not cover it up per se but simply abort it ever being developed – or at least officially documented.  Which correctly let to a raft of suspicions and a descent by all parties involved into phase 3 – denial.

Perhaps there are better words but I’m stuck with Plot/Abort/Denial…surely somebody must have a better suggestion.  Think about it…

History Channel Special – JFK Declassified Tracking Oswald

The new History Channel special was well promoted, including a good deal of Facebook visibility.  People called me and emailed me about it. It was a surprise to me becasue there had been no sign that the people involved had made any contact with the JFK research community, either to solicit help on their research or to peer review their findings. As it turns out the program appears to have gone even further in the direction of “entertainment history” that earlier efforts on the History Channel – which at least nominally included some panel comments to present point/counterpoint.

In point of fact there is so much wrong with even the first show in the series that it drew scathing remarks and reviews from people with extensive experience in the subject.  You can get a feel for that with the following review:

https://kennedysandking.com/john-f-kennedy-reviews/jfk-declassified-tracking-oswald

The review says a good deal and much more could be said but I’m not going to belabor that point since there is little to nothing new in the shows content to date. Much of what is presented as ground breaking was known in as early as 1964 to the Warren Commission and areas such as Oswald in Mexico City have been explored in far more depth by several well respected historical researchers – who spent years and even decades on the subject rather than weeks.

In evaluating the series its important to realize that the show’s production company is a general freelance firm which has done shows ranging from topics such as “Booze Traveler” to “Spy World”, even revisiting Hitler (probably the 200th program on that topic by the History channel, which at one time was so focused on Germany during World War II that it was referred to as the Hitler Channel).

The on camera lead for their Hitler show is the same individual who leads the JFK team in the new special; whether they recruited him or he proposed the topic to them is unknown but its far from the first JFK show on cable entertainment channels. I refer to them in that manner since regardless of topic its become pretty clear that even their outdoor/adventure reality shows are highly sensationalized and clearly staged for maximum entertainment.

The JFK show’s lead is a former CIA Case Officer for Eastern Europe and he has been very active in retirement, serving as an intelligence columnist, major news outlet commentator/contributor and an intelligence/security analyst for CNN. He was also the host for the “Hunting Hitler” program on the History Channel.

Perhaps one of the more discouraging things about the new JFK special is that someone with his background would be part of a program with historical issues as noted in the linked review above. Hopefully that does not suggest anything about his more serious work as a news commentator – hopefully..

The other thing that must be noted is that as early as the first segment, the program appears to be going in the direction that every other book and movie program involving or steered by former CIA employees or CIA supported authors has – pointing towards a conspiracy with an Oswald/Castro/Cuba connection.  From that perspective its almost as familiar as finding “entertainment history” on the History Channel.  Many of us spend a lot of time these days arguing for “fact checking” on the stories you see out of this administration, off of media outlets and even from Facebook or email spamming.  I can only advise the same diligence with what you encounter on cable TV, especially those shows promoted as real history.

JFK 101

Over the last couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to join my friends Chuck and Carmine in doing a series of two hour shows on Chuck Ochelli’s program – delving into the basics of the assassination of President Kennedy.  We have been working hard at staying focused, discussing the basic facts and issues of that day in Dallas, the initial criminal investigations and the follow on actions by the FBI and Warren Commission.

Some of it will be quite familiar to those who have researched this subject for years, but if you are a relative newcomer we hope that it will be helpful and a balance to some of the rather sensational things that you can become immersed in by over-dependence  on YouTube videos as your only sources of information. Not that we don’t address suggestions of conspiracy but objectivity is our watchword – well at least it is for Carmine given that Chuck and I might stray a bit now and then.

If it sounds interesting you can find the current show at the following link and Chuck has the others posted as well; along with reference material for each of the shows. We should have another one coming up in a few weeks.

https://ochelli.com/podcasts/04202017-thursday-jfk-101-part-3-larry-hancock-carmine-savastano/

Hope you enjoy the dialog,  Larry

By request, here are the first two in the series:

https://ochelli.com/podcasts/03302017-thursday-jfk-101-part-2-with-carmine-savastano-and-larry-hancock-dpd-in-focus/

https://ochelli.com/podcasts/03162017-thursday-jfk-assassination-101-with-larry-hancock-and-carmine-savastano/

 

 

Russian “Meddling”

One of the things that emerges after even a modest investigation of the subject is that the Congressional intelligence committees ought to be very well aware that it has been standard practice for Russia to insert itself into American politics and American elections. There is simply no speculation on that point. In 1992, the Chief Archivist for the KGB sought asylum, bringing with him a trove of thousands of operational documents describing operations conducted against the Soviet Unions “main adversary” nations, including the United States and Britain.

 

Those documents recorded political action projects which included efforts to circulate damaging personal information – including the use of falsified documents – into American media circles. Individuals targeted in the campaigns included a national security advisor, senators and presidential candidates. One of the most extensive, albeit least successful, active measures programs was conducted against Ronald Reagan, in both his presidential campaigns.

 

Later, in 2000, a senior operations manager in the Russian New York residency defected to the United States – remaining in place for some years before actually seeking asylum. The officer had been on a fast track inside the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence service which succeeded the KGB.  His work in Canada had been particularly good, including a proposal which led to a whole series of new practices based on what was called “business recruitment”, gaining control over foreigners seeking to do business with post-Soviet Russia. The practice involved covers which allowed for payments under the guise of both consulting and actual projects such as construction work inside Russia. In some instances the target came to understand the quid pro quo of the relationship; in others they simple became “agents of influence”, apparently with no clear idea that they were being manipulated.

 

Based on this sort of information it is clear that the FBI and other American intelligence organizations are quite well of the evolving Russian practices. Recent events have shown us that they certainly have the capability to target and collect information on American businessmen who become heavily involved financially with Russian oligarchs, agencies, investment firms and even key individuals supportive of the Putin regime.

 

Clearly the long term Russian game is still in play (for some decades it was referred to inside the KGB as the “long war”).  So why is it that the members of intelligence committees seem to be unable to grasp the fact that Russian political meddling is and has been a constant?  The Russian SVR officer who came over in 2000 was amazed that American businessmen and even government officials seemed so naïve – or at least pretended to be – he named some individuals who then defended themselves by denying that they could have actually been manipulated. However none of them denied their extremely close personal relationships with Russians who were shown to have intelligence connections. And the SVR files carried them as key political action assets.

 

Why is it that as of 2017 so many senior people are still able to claim ignorance that there may have been more to their Russian connections than meetings, dialogs, discussions – or speaking and consulting fees?  More in terms of a covert agenda on the part of their Russian associates. Apparently they had never heard of the decades long Russian practice of establishing “agents of influence”. Did they totally lack any sense of history?  Did they not see that as of 2008 Russia under Putin had most definitely begun to slip back into an adversarial position with both NATO and the United States?  I’m finding it hard to believe they were all that naïve…or is it just me being too much of a skeptic.

Shaping the battleground

Context is very important in understanding the Russian connections to the Trump administration – which of course was preceded by the Trump business network, its foreign business dealings and at one point its major need for foreign financial investment – and remember the Trump motto, never use your own money, use someone else’s.

One of the most important pieces of that context is Vladimir Putin. At present, understanding Putin and understanding contemporary Russian actions around the globe means appreciating that Putin is not an ideologue but that he is naturally tactician. For him strategy is simply control and power….it’s a survival mechanism bred within the Soviet leadership structure and especially within the KGB. On the other hand, tactics are how he operates day to day, week to week and year to year and those evolve – a tactician probes, measures responses and resets. In confronting an enemy a tactician also attempts to create as much chaos as possible since that exposes opportunities while keeping the target off balance.

Putin comes out of the operational side of the KGB, not the collections or analysis areas.  Which means his experience was in seeking operational advantages for political action and psychological warfare – experience which translates directly to how he is conducting contemporary Russian foreign affairs.

To elaborate on that, at its most basic a practice called “shaping” comes into play.  In combat it’s referred to as “battlespace shaping” and in sales it’s sometimes called “battleground shaping”. If you have ever been in a good sales war room, and I have, it often sounds like warfare and the terms can be used in much the same way when you are talking about competitors – or sometimes actually about potential customers.

In the military context shaping involves maneuvers to keep the enemy off balance, continually posing new problems for them. It sets the stage to gain operational advantage and hopefully makes any responses ineffective.

In sales – and in political action / psychological warfare – shaping is a matter of building relationships, establishing trust, creating a presence that makes you the one to listen to when your target begins to make decisions. These days there is a lot of talk about people listening only the news they want to hear – which means that in regard to psychological warfare, it’s very important to ensure you can penetrate the media for your target population – you need to become skilled in feeding information and disinformation through the correct channels to perform effective shaping.

All of which is pretty esoteric so back to Putin and context. Putin went through several stages to get where he is today.  Initially in his first Russian Federation presidency he made sure to focus all the state’s resources, including its intelligence and security services, behind Russia’s energy companies – the obvious place to secure massive financial resources. In a way it was relationship building not totally unlike the CIAs early associations with major international American corporations. Of course for Putin it was also more personally rewarding.

Then in his second presidency he began to take positive control, if you played ball you kept your energy company and if not you went to jail and his associates took over your company. Following that, using the huge pool of money he created through such actions, he put selected cadre, including security service personnel, in charge of the banks and financial companies which were going to place it overseas.  Good business but also in intelligence terms a type of “honey trap”. Given that the investment targets were in Europe and America, well you can begin to see the sort of political action shaping I introduced above.  First you get bait, then you hook the little fish and then you go to the ocean and use the little fish for bait the really big fish.

Putin needed no long term geopolitical strategy, he certainly didn’t need to have a plan to put Trump in the Presidency. What he needed was to shape a positive financial relationship with western businessmen and in Europe set leverage by controlling eighty percent of their energy imports. With the shaping in place and in his second presidency, he could begin to get tactical, probing, testing, looking at the response, and maneuvering. The first test was in Georgia…

But for the moment, before we continue, don’t think “collusion” (that is really bad intelligence and political action tradecraft), instead think shaping, manipulation and deniability (it was only a business meeting, we just want positive relationships, check the tape).

Shadow Warfare in the 21st Century

 

In wrestling with the various contemporary Russian political and military initiatives it’s important to remember that Putin is primarily a tactician and we are seeing an iterative series of actions rather than the execution of some long term, grand strategy which would have been more typical of the Soviet Cold War era. In fact one of the points which differentiates the tactics being put into play today is that they are actually more extensions and elaborations of American Dulles era (1950s) covert political/military action than they are historic Soviet practices.

During that era America and the West considered itself to be under siege, facing the existential threat of an expanding global Communist movement and seeing nation after nation fall to socialist or communist regimes. Only during the Kennedy presidency was there any understanding that many of those new regimes owed more to anti-colonialism and nationalist movements than to the root economic and social causes forecast by Lenin.

It was during the Dulles era that the U.S., the CIA, the Directorate of Plans and specifically a cadre of P/P officers began to launch regime change operations to undermine, destabilize and – if possible – remove leftist leaning regimes around the world. For reference, the P/P designation covered political action, psychological warfare and deniable paramilitary activities.

The CIA developed a highly sophisticated set of practices for deniability, establishing both individual and operational covers, using complex financial networks, proprietary businesses and ostensibly independent media outlasts – covering print, newspaper, newsreel and radio outlets. To a great extent these practices were known to Soviet intelligence but given that most often the Soviets were simply providing logistics and weapons support to their surrogates they made much less use of them.

The U.S. took great pains and expended vast amounts of money to achieve “deniability”. In contrast when the Russians preferred not to show their military involvement they simply lied, sincerely and consistently (from Korea and Laos onward).  Otherwise they were quite happy to just ship military weapons to the regimes they openly supported.

This left the CIA as masters of the tools of covert political action, propaganda and psychological warfare. And while actual successes using those tools were few and far between, they were just frequent enough to keep the tools in play (much like gambling).  One of the major problems was that the penetration of the tools was limited. Radio and leaflets could only reach so many people in target nations, the Communist regimes were centralized and extremely security conscious, no matter how well-crafted the content it was extremely challenging to get disinformation in front of enough people (or the right people) to make a difference, to crate truly widespread fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Fast forward to the 21st Century, the Internet, Social media, Wiki’s, and a Global economy where everybody talks to everyone and if possible does business with everyone. A new world and an entirely new set of tools and venues in which to apply some very well developed practices out of the Cold War. In that new venue it becomes far easier to quickly and widely spread disinformation, to circulate leaked or altered documents, to manipulate politics though global business relationships.

And at the beginning of the second decade of the new century the Cold War is history, “nativism” and ethnic identify are in resurgence, and security concerns are pretty much a non-starter except for ISIS or terrorism. The Russians are our friends, they could be great business and military partners. Everybody talks to everybody, why shouldn’t they. And if senior officers of Russian banks and investment groups actually came out of the Russian Federal Security Service, who’s asking…

Then a former senior KGB officer loses power in Russia; and very much wants it back. He turns to a very frustrated military industrial complex, a number of well-placed global business oligarchs and offers a world view more to their liking – and his political aspirations. As with Dulles in the 1950s Putin sees a threat in NATO and the West (or if not a real threat at least a path back to leadership) and a way to ensure that Russia can reassert itself as a global power rather than being just one vote at G20 meetings.

Opportunity knocks…..and this time the P/P tools will be brought to bear on the West.

Collusion?

Since I’ve spent the last few weeks revisiting areas of the JFK assassination, it’s time for me to return to more contemporary interests and affairs – turning my attention back to an area that Stu Wexler and I explored in Shadow Warfare. If anyone has any outstanding JFK questions or a topic you want addressed, post a comment and I’ll do my best. However current affairs are calling and if nobody has any requests that’s where I will be going.

 

“Hybrid Warfare” is one of the buzzwords being tossed around in relation to what the Russians have been doing in Eastern Europe, SW Asia and now North Africa during the last two to three years. It also applies to the practices they have initiated against the American political system and as importantly – to them – the deconstruction of traditional American global alliances.  If such a strong statement surprises you, then you did not read my posts on information warfare last fall (leading up to the election) or perhaps you think such charges are simply political whining or paranoia.  I assure you they are neither and I’ll be exploring that in my ongoing posting.

 

If you read Surprise Attack, it should be no “surprise” (I don’t know if that’s a bad pun or not, most of my puns are unintentional).  It became clear while I was researching Surprise Attack that Russia under a resurgent Putin was dramatically changing.  I detailed that at some length in the final chapter and laid out what I thought were developing trends – which unfortunately proved to be far too accurate.  I would have preferred to be wrong.  In the interim there have been lots of articles about a return to the Cold War, Cold War 2.0 etc., but I’m pretty sure that is way off the mark.  What’s going on is not about parity, or even deterrence. It’s not about returning Russia to Super Power status.

What it is really about is creating chaos in international affairs, leveling the playing field and deconstructing traditional alliances to create a free a global free for all. Putin (and the KGB political warfare groups of the past) thrives on chaos and random action and the creation of tensions – does that sound vaguely familiar. Where have we seen that recently, yes we have, you can fill in the blank yourself – the clue is “think domestic politics”. Or better yet think about the stated political agendas of President Trumps most influential advisor.

 

So what does all that have to do with Hybrid Warfare, actually a great deal and that is where I will be going. In reality, Hybrid Warfare is a return to deniable warfare, with the same fundamental tactics but simply different tool sets. Stu and I coined the term “shadow warfare” to describe deniable military operations using non state actors and deniable surrogates – think military contractors, think Black Water.  But it also involved the use of very real military and intelligence personnel in extremely low profile operations, some military, some political action – think JSOC and the very special task forces around the globe, originally a concept tested in Iraq and Afghanistan but extended fair beyond that in following years.

 

What we didn’t explore was the information warfare side of that, largely because it was not something the US was doing in contemporary times – not that we hadn’t done it before, especially in the immediate post war years. For over two decades the CIA carried out information warfare (psychological warfare in those olden days) and political action in Europe, SW Asia and Latin America.  Unfortunately the tables have now turned and it’s being played from the other direction, particularly in Eastern Europe and now domestically against the U.S.  It’s a very sophisticated specialty, and a very cunning and indirect one.

 

Which leads me back to the title of this article, and the subject of much dialog in Washington DC over the weekend and no doubt this coming week.  Check the following for what I mean.

 

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/19/politics/tom-cotton-fbi-russia/index.html

 

Do I expect to find actual evidence of collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign in terms of some sort of planning on how to win the election, tactics to influence voters or to leak information?  No, not at all. That would be the worst sort of tradecraft on the Russians part, they have never been that unskilled.

Information warfare (psychological warfare) is far more subtle, and far more manipulative. Which is actually the scary part….I don’t think the current administration is nearly sophisticated enough to know when they are being manipulated; they do have intelligence assets that could educate them but it’s pretty clear they are not listening to them (which may in itself be the result of some absolutely brilliant information warfare).

 

It’s not a pretty picture, but I’ll do what I can to paint at least parts of it in coming posts.

Update:  Further details emerging in the committee hearings offer a great illustration of how manipulation can occur without what might be legally called “collusion” – the White House response also illustrates the risk of denial.  Check out the following, its a virtual lesson in covert Russian political action, played by true professionals.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2017/03/20/intelligence-committee-leader-offers-outline-mysterious-russia-trump-associate-contacts/UIsBsDZwmJ2ODBSpN2KZOO/story.html

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/21/politics/rex-tillerson-nato-meeting/index.html

 

Afterwards – Part 5 Anti-Castro Elements

So finally I get to the folks I’ve been writing books about for a couple of decades. And I think it’s fair to say that this particular category of potential assassination suspects didn’t make any newspaper headlines, didn’t get widely discussed around water coolers or in bars and certainly were not considered or investigated as possible associates or as having influenced Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

A few years later the House Select Committee on Investigations weighed in on a probable conspiracy, but its chair certainly did not devote a book to them, or even mention them for that matter. Before that the District Attorney in New Orleans looked their way, even sending his investigators to Miami to inquire into mysterious Cubans associating with Lee Oswald. That early effort was successfully obstructed (by a very well connected anti-Castro figure who exposed Garrison’s investigation to the press and tried to steer them towards conspiracy and Castro sponsorship) and ultimately Garrison was steered in other directions.

One of the elements that obscured any focus on these folks is that even talking about them was not easy, naming LBJ was simple enough, pointing to public and strident ultra-right figures wasn’t too hard and calling out the mob godfathers that RFK had hassled was no particular challenge. You could put well-known names to those categories.

But the anti-Castro link was “messy”, with names nobody had heard of before (outside Miami) and individuals actively working for or around the CIA’s JM/WAVE covert efforts against Cuba – which nobody would talk about or acknowledge, much less name, even during the HSCA inquiry. Coming up with their names is a long story and a longer book and Someone Would Have Talked does that so I’m just going to pull a few names from that and focus on what happened to them “afterwards”.

The first name is Ted Shackley, certainly an anti-Castro figure although probably not literally a suspect. The interesting thing about Shackley is that he went on record stating that he had done nothing to inquire into possible involvement by the anti-Castro community that the CIA was both engaged with and covertly monitoring – he stated the assassination was the Warren Commission’s concern, not his. It appears that in that regard Shackley lied because we now know that he actually assigned the head (Tony Sforza) of the Cuban Intelligence Group (the AMOTS) to conduct a detailed investigation of exactly that. The investigation was done, a report compiled and submitted – and apparently vanished.

One of Shackley’s personnel (Rip Robertson, working under David Morales, in Operations) was very much involved with an off the books Castro assassination project and was close to certain Cuban exiles as well as other interesting people, such as John Martino.  Within months of the attack in Dallas Rip had been assigned to hand pick a group of Cuban exiles and was in Africa, on a mission in the Congo. While there he would be heard to make interesting comments about the Kennedy assassination and his Cuban friends.

Of course some of the most interesting individuals were not directly affiliated with JM/WAVE at all.  The FBI was tracking Filipe Vidal, a very well respected independent operator – they monitored him on several trips to Dallas that fall (breaking a court restraining order on travel). His closest friend and fellow independent operator, Roy Hargraves, was reported to the FBI immediately after the assassination, as having Secret Service ID and being a suspect in an action against JFK.  Of course at the time Hargraves denied anything of the sort – decades later Hargraves would confirm the he and Vidal had been in Dallas as part of just such an action. More immediately – within weeks – the boat that Hargraves and Vidal were preparing for a mission into Cuba mysteriously exploded, almost killing both men.

And within a few months Vidal was off on his own in a covert mission into Cuba; despite his extensive naval experience in Cuban waters, Vidal was almost immediately captured and executed (almost as if they knew he was coming). Years later Hargraves would voluntarily travel to New Orleans to “assist” DA Garrison with his investigation – much later Hargraves would serve as a consultant for Roger Stone on his movie work.

Tony Cuesta was another very active exile group leader, taking boat missions into Cuba. Cuesta was well connected into the most radical exile circles; one of his raids following the assassination was intercepted in much the same way Vidal’s had been. His crewmen including Diaz Garcia (rumored to have been involved in the Dallas attack) were killed; Cuesta reportedly described what Garcia had told him about exiles being involved in the assassination of the President.

Another individual reported to the HSCA as having inside knowledge of the conspiracy remained in Miami, became very active with the exile Brigade which had reformed after the Bay of Pigs, worked with his brother’s private investigations agency and eventually became the individual to expose Garrison’s investigation to the press and point them towards a Castro connection to Lee Oswald. Bernardo de Torres became a serious person of interest to the HSCA, in particular due to the investigations of Gaeton Fonzi.  However Fonzi received no support at all in his desire for an active criminal investigation of de Torres and when the committee did at least allow testimony (using an alias) de Torres certainly disclosed nothing of interest.

The list could go on, and does in SWHT, but this a long enough post to suggest why certain anti-Castro elements both within and outside the CIA have emerged as potential suspects in the assassination.  It did take quite a long while for them to make the list though; in reviewing the initial FBI investigations of late 1963 and early 1964 it’s very plain – as agents themselves have confirmed – that any time spent on such leads was not a positive career move.