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.


About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

4 responses »

  1. Matt says:

    Excellent summation!
    Is there any broad reason you can imagine that tactical thinking has so totally overtaken strategic thinking these days? This is a broad-brush assertion but it seems that one reason (among many) that our engagement with places like Yemen and Afghanistan are not successful is that there is no larger strategic trajectory. Sure JSOC has incredible capabilities but what use are those capabilities when they aren’t supported by a larger vision. To use Yemen as an example, our operations there tend to be disastrous and the intentions of those operations seem hollow, likely because of the absence of a strategy. In the literature you can sense that Obama was aware of this but for a variety of reasons was unable to produce a larger framework. Obama seemed trapped and embittered by his Yemen adventures! I am not suggesting that there is an available and reasonable set of options in Yemen, Syria, or Afghanistan, what I am suggesting is that the War on Terror has never ever had ‘a strategy.’ Not in the Bush administration or the Obama administration. I recognize that the neocons liked to imagine they had a strategy. It was actually a fantasy.

    Your persuasive analysis of this trend with regards to Putin is interesting. Without looking into it further, I had sort of imagined Putin as a strategist. Perhaps he appears that way because he’s been at it for so long.

    Thank you Larry


    • Matt, I’ll take your second point first – Putin has a motive and a goal, but that does not necessarily translate to a consistent strategy. His goal has always been to position himself as the leader who would restore Russia to its cultural heritage (hence his nativist/ethnic agenda and outreach to some pretty racist supporters) and to its rightful place as a global superpower. Not one seat among five or twenty at a meeting but a true power broker, one of two or perhaps three on the globe. First he tried that by being adult – nuclear disarmament and an open government. But when that didn’t get him more than being invited to the big table with a lot of others, and he lost overt domestic power and control, the gloves came off.

      It would take a timeline to do this justice but step by step he got more assertive, working through an expanding set of tactics, first internally to reset his power base and then on to the global power challenge. Its important to remember what Russian military strategy has always been – probe many fronts and find a weakness, then you throw everything back of the advancing army and let the rest of the groups fight to survive and hold in place. Actually Putin probably does have a strategy, destabilize NATO and the US, create infighting, create chaos, produce FUD…then take whatever opportunities that presents to position for more global leverage.

      As to our lack of strategy, well heck, we haven’t declared war since 1941 so its hard to have a military strategy… At times we have had something of a geopolitical strategy…but during the Cold War it was always more of a reaction against perceived communist advances. Your point is well taken, I think Obama realized we were just reacting and he was trying to walk a fine line between enabling more attacks via inaction and creating more enemies via action. What we do not have is a geopolitical strategy that addresses long term strategic issues like shifts in energy sources, population, climate change – but then since our current government doesn’t even admit such things as climate change are happening how could we develop one. If you turn back to the 1950s (which I personally love but still..) then certainly can’t come up with a strategy for this century. Russia on the other hand is much more pragmatic, and they have a strategy to address all those some searching on Russian activity in the Arctic, including its claim for all the land up to and beyond the North Pole.

  2. An excellent view that may describe motives means etc. Where does this abate and at what point is PUTIN satisfied without provoking a half wit presently in office as US president, without tumbling over the deep end.
    Personally the Russians probably are entitled to more respect than some are willing to give. This chronic condescension has been addressed many times. PUTIN objected to Obamas use of American exceptionalism and still he used it in a speech in his presence and PUTIN did a noticeable burn.
    while some of the Eastern Europe countries have bitter memories and deep hatred of Russia, the past is the past not likely to be repeated. Our protection of the Baltic states while necessary needn’t close in on Russian borders.
    To what extent Russia is/was involved in our election remains to be seen. Demonization and isolation and condemnation gives him his strength and appeal putting him in the reactive position, while giving credence to the West and feeding Russian paranoia.
    The involvement of Russia in ISIS is an extremely dangerous spot, the lack of both Eastern Europe and Syria in a western narrative is most dangerous for all.
    Governments the world over seem to be less in touch with the people than any time I can remember. I’m 63. I’ve seen alot have not given up hope but I feel a gathering storm if not careful, not only will there be no shelter, the storm may rage for a long time.

    • The wild card is that given his domestic problems, Putin really does need a foreign threat to hold his power, especially given the declining energy revenues that his whole military buildup was based upon. I suspect that during his first era in office, if we had brought him to the table as a true superpower leader rather than just added him to the existing global counsels he would have been satisfied. But now, it’s a different story and he is essentially (well maybe literally too) “riding the tiger”. He needs military sales, which explains some of the strange Russian behavior in Syria to show off new weapons systems but most of all he needs to destabilize NATO and the US – which seems to be reasonably well for him at the moment given President Trumps fumbling with NATO, the Germans and BREXIT.

      There are a number of things we could have done – canceled the ABM system in Eastern Europe, sought a moratorium on hypersonic weapons with Russia and China, both of which do threaten MAD to some extent and are a real concern for Russia. We might try to walk back at this point but I’m afraid Putin can’t and that the Russian meddling in our election poisoned that particular well for the Trump administration.

      As to the election meddling, I think it’s not at all a simple thing; psychological and political action always works to “shape” a favorable environment – it has to be subtle and deniable. I’ll be blogging more about that but what happened was an extension of relations with Trump and Trump associates which had been in play for years, not necessarily “collusion” but merely a series of tactical actions which would have weakened either a Clinton administration or encouraged a more favorable relationship with Trump as president. As I said earlier, Putin is a creature of tactics, ready and able to change in a heartbeat, so don’t look for any long term strategy, look for opportunism.

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