Coming Soon

It’s time for another progress report on Surprise Attack.  At present I’m starting on a final authors review of the actual print layout of the book. That’s where I get my last chance to find minor things that all the editors missed up to this point – hopefully it won’t be that much and involves word usage, expressions, acronyms or other such things that editors not deeply immersed in the subjects I’m discussing might catch.  Just as in covert and clandestine operations, when you get into military intelligence, command and control, and all things related to the national security venue, acronyms and special terms proliferate (as with atomic weapons targeting under the SIOP – an acronym associated with efforts ensure total target destruction while not to killing your own forces when the Air Force, Navy and Army all attack at the same time).

As I have intimated, this is a very broad (and deep) subject, especially when you tackle it over a 70 year period.  The book begins in early 1940 and the last information inserted relates to events of June, 2015.  And as I see in the final pdf file, at present it comes in at some 546 pages….and that is before the index gets added.  The end notes are extensive, the majority have embedded source links for those who want to check my interpretations or do further reading and research.  I think its fair to say that there are enough sources identified to support a large number of student essays and papers – and of course we hope to get it into libraries for that purpose.  That said, I think it will read a lot livelier than the sheer quantity of end notes might make it sound, human factors are a huge part of the story  and the story that emerges is — well to use a local expression, “it ain’t pretty”.

While certainly not self explanatory, the chapter titles may give you a feel for what is discussed in the book:

Chapter 1 Warnings
Chapter 2 Interdiction vs. Interception
Chapter 3 Errors of Command
Chapter 4 A New Threat
Chapter 5 Hollow Force
Chapter 6 Uncertainties
Chapter 7 Fear Factors
Chapter 8 Mirror Imaging
Chapter 9 Targeting
Chapter 10 Crisis
Chapter 11 Continuity of Command
Chapter 12 Mind Games, Maskirova and Atomic War Fighting
Chapter 13 Reality Check
Chapter 14 Preparedness
Chapter 15 Out of the Shadows
Chapter 16 Shadow Boxing
Chapter 17 Inertia
Chapter 18 Attack
Chapter 19 Points of Failure
Chapter 20 Going Forward
Chapter 21 Diplomatic Insecurity
Chapter 22 Hindsight and Foresight

So….now its time for me to dig in and do some work, my blogging will probably be cut back while this is going on but at least you will know I’m not just on the beach.  The schedule is still calling for availability in September and that is really close, I best get to it.

Following the Money

One of the standard operating practices in criminal (and other) investigations is to “follow the money”. Of course that is generally easier said than done, especially if the trail goes “global”. The pre WWII a global financial network had largely been based in British and German commercial institutions; French and Spanish participation had trailed as those nation’s colonial revenues decreased. Similar but smaller financial firms had formed in the U.S. as wealth migrated there, largely to service private fortunes and business interests.

Fundamentally the pre-war network was very conservative, accessible to the wealthy, to well established and politically connected businesses and to national governments. Secrecy in transactions was generally driven by competitive concerns but there was always the issue individuals and companies wishing to avoid or minimize taxes and duties – or skirting trade sanctions of their governments. All the colonial powers had done business in nations were activities such as the drug trade were actually legal, earlier slavery had been a substantial business. Moving money from such dealings into circulation in nations with legal restrictions on such trade required financial creativity.

The established global network did have its shadow side, facilitated by tightly controlled Swiss banks. It was relatively stable and sufficient for standard international business, even for the escalating global arms sales and national financial transfers of the World War I and II era. Increasingly obfuscating the nature of certain funds transfers began to assume a political context, selling weapons or even raw materials and machinery to nations during a war in which your nation was neutral, or even a combatant was attractive financially by required serious efforts to make such deals “deniable”.

A new element began to be added to “shadow” financial dealings following WWII, first with the explosion of covert American overseas political activities (cash could be carried but still needed to be deposited and distributed in the target countries). Then with clandestine/surrogate military operations. Surrogate political operations were intended to be politically deniable but they often required lots of open market arms and materials purchases – along with a chain of money transfers to obscure the origins of the money and provide deniability. In Shadow Warfare we detail some of the first examples of the new covert operations shadow network by examining Roosevelt’s pre-War activities in China and the CIA’s post war activities in Burma and Thailand.

Of course actually moving the weapons and supplies required private companies, introducing private business people to the chain of shielded money transfers. And once the outbound supply and money chain was in place, certain individuals in the chain recognized the opportunity to use the new networks themselves – to shield funds from legal/ illegal arms sales and increasingly drug traffic. Sam Cummings comes to mind with the former, Paul Helliwell the latter. Among the bankers and lawyers involved in the new, shadow banking and shipping network there were those who realized that their services could be useful to a variety of individuals who needed to shield their transactions and accounts from both law enforcement and/or various governmental tax agencies. The global activities of lawyers and Washington insiders such as Tommy Concoran and Paul Helliwell illustrate how individuals used for specific and authorized American covert projects went on to utilize their contacts and networks to spread the benefits of front companies and new banking entities far beyond the CIA.

It was all business, they looked for friendly board members including those with interests who might use their institutions and add legitimacy – and name recognition. Then they looks for customers who wanted no visibility at all. And when the nature of their business creations became known to others who had an increasing need for international money laundering and obscured transaction trails – including first organized crime factions and then the growing drug and weapons trades – their business grew. Of course with lots of covert/deniable cash going into SE Asia and later Latin America, local military and government leaders were quick to replicate their own shadow financial linkages – Thailand and Taiwan were early adopters in a big way. It proved helpful for some of them to use experienced legal and financial consultants in establishing their own connections to the shadow network, no real surprise that Helliwell represented Thailand in its overseas activities.

These evolving shadow financial networks originated as a tool to support the exploding range of American covert activities overseas but some of the individuals that helped build it (both inside and outside the Agency…and moving in between) were perfectly willing to use it for their own agendas and personal profits. They were also perfectly willing to share it with selected members of the “establishment” who had proved supportive politically. That ranged from high end relationships with wealthy Americans (especially those with overseas business interests) to the level of the individual CIA officer such as Ted Shackley, Ed Wilson or even David Morales – who used his connections to as a tool to support his commodity trading and arms brokering deals after retirement.

The net result of all of this was what I would term the first generation of the shadow financial network, originating during the late 40’s, evolving and growing during the 50’s and 60’s along with America’s Cold War era overseas operations and existing as an independent entity/tool being used by a host of clients by the seventies and eighties. However, by that time expertise in such dealings was becoming available to a much broader range of users and individuals in the right place could virtually build their own – custom networks – as with Frank Nugan and the Nugan Hand bank, which evolved out of the Viet Nam era covert supply and drug return traffic or even the “enterprise” that Oliver North built to support the Contra effort. Of course the financial side of North’s network was fairly simple, basically he just kept dumping cash into willing albeit private Contra bank accounts (first from presidential discretionary accounts, then from foreign donors and finally from US weapons sales). The Contra leaders showed that they could use it for their own ends with no problems and happily made their own banking arrangements, with advice from friends in Miami with experience in drug money laundering. Of course they also proved most willing to take Cartel money in return for the use of the shipping fronts that North had created – and as in many other covert projects, Agency and non-agency, that was simply ignored collateral damage, secondary to keeping the mission going.

Then a strange thing began to happen under the first Bush Administration, essentially the U.S. increasingly turned from covert action to overt warfare, legally funded military assistance programs and huge foreign aid programs – no need for shadow financial networks when you are legally dumping gigantic amounts of money to contractors or into the accounts of foreign allies. In addition, a much more global economy had evolved by the 90’s and a host of non-traditional electronic instruments were emerging – capable of moving large amounts of money almost anonymously. Of course those families and institutions who were experienced with the shadow network continued to use what was in place for their own but as the US government had less need for shadow transactions, a new clientele was emerging.

That clientele would involve newcomers to the drug trade, ultimately adding human and antiquities trafficking to their business. It would also come to include the globally networked jihadi terror groups such as al Qaeda. This new clientele found the established shadow network less accessible, especially after the attacks of 9/11 and turned to the creation of what I would call today’s Deep or Dark Financial Network, comparable to what is known as the Dark WEB – but not just using the internet. It does use the anonymous segments of the web, were huge amounts of cash can be transferred in real time with simple cover activities such as on line gambling. But it also makes use of NGO’s, global charities and a host of legitimate and illegitimate support organizations – a few individuals infiltrated into the right jobs allow funds to be hidden in the groups regular business. Hawala networks perform the same function.

Counter terror czar Clarke summed it up well when he said that while the FBI understood the old shadow financial networks, and had become somewhat adept at tracing organized crime and drug cartel activities, as of 2000 it literally had no clue about the operation or monitoring of this newest shadow network. To a some extent this new network has driven the hope that metadata could be used to track its transactions, many of which occur in real time on the WEB, were records last only for hours or days at the most and all of which require access to private data from the corporations which host the transactions. While metadata and bulk data collection have become highly controversial in terms of privacy concerns, the clearly do represent a quest for counter terrorist and law enforcement to try and at least stay even with the new, highly sophisticated Dark financial networks. Following the money has always been hard, FBI RICO specialists would spend years collecting records and establishing transaction and transfer trails. In the 21’st Century, real time life on the global internet has increased such challenges exponentially.

Patriot Act Theatre

The current state of legislative disarray over the Patriot Act provides an educational, if frustrating, window into exactly how bad Congressional dysfunction has become. I’m probably more sensitive to it than usual because it covers an area I write about in some detail in Surprise Attack.  One of the things going on now is that Congress actually has is access to a great deal of actual data on the emergence of the Patriot Act, what it was crafted to accomplish and how well various elements of it are working. That’s the sort of data most business managers would love in reviews of expensive company projects, especially ones that have become controversial and even drawn customer criticism. Normally you would call senior management together, have the departments affected give some background for context, update it with measurements and assessments (or send them back in disgrace to get some hard data) and do some hard decision making on continuing the program “as is” or adjusting it for better performance and/or customer satisfaction. No MBA required to grasp that sort of process.

So for a bit of back story on the Patriot Act, as early as the mid-90’s during the Clinton Administration, counter terrorism chief Clarke – working with the FBI – helped identify a limited number of legal loopholes which seemed to be interfering with efforts to abort potential terror attacks. In addition to the legal issues, in his first counter-terrorism meeting (as head of the new National Security Council Counter Terrorism Security Group) with Janet Reno (head of the Department of Justice) and the FBI, Clarke was told that any information developed during a criminal investigation simply could not be shared with “civilians”. The best he could get was a verbal understanding – which Reno never committed to in writing – that if Justice or the FBI did get information on what might be terrorism involving a foreign group, they would share it with a “few senior NSC officials”. Clearly communications between the FBI and the NSC were an issue.

In 1998 a special Congressional Appropriations subcommittee had focused on the issue of coordination, taking testimony from a variety of law enforcement principals. I evaluate that testimony in great detail (possibly too much but you never know) in Surprise Attack and one of the points that clearly emerges is that Reno failed to push for any further enabling legislation, even minor tweaks. In contrast to Reno, FBI Director Freeh specifically mentioned the areas previously identified by Clarke – the need for legislation adding to the FBI’s ability to investigate areas of terrorist financing, the ability for multipoint wiretaps, the need to be able to establish call tracing registers and the availability of emergency, quick response wiretap authorization. He pointed out that existing law made that available for serious criminal offenses but not terrorism.  Freeh’s remarks suggest that as early as 1995 Clarke had been forthright and accurate in citing issues with FBI legal investigatory limits – and that those issues had not been addressed in the following three years.

Needless to say, given Reno’s position and lack of “push” the only result of the dialog was a bit of political theater with select Congressmen questioning if Clarke had actually been overstepping his boundaries in his contact with the FBI and Justice.  Nobody asked for further detail on his or Freeh’s concerns.  And three the matter set until September, 2001. Immediately following the attacks Justice did submit requests for new legislative authority and tools and Congress rushed to respond, creating the Patriot Act (a name which of course tells you nothing about the legislation or what it is intended to accomplish; Congress had moved almost to the level of the military in coming up with public relations oriented names for its activities).   Even a superficial study of the Patriot Act shows that it covered far more territory than Clarke or Freeh had earlier requested.  Some of it more egregious issues were addressed with amendments to the legislation during its first re-certification – given that the AG would not support it without changes, even arguing from his hospital bed. But with time, it became more clear that some of its elements were indeed producing demonstrable results in identifying and preempting plots, others were not. More recently studies have shown that the vast majority of the hotly debated bulk data / metadata collection practices have been virtually useless – while very specific elements are of value, especially as used in specific areas such as tracking terror financing networks and identifying “self radicalized” domestic jihadis.

Those studies are available, some done by private organizations, some by the government itself.  Yet we don’t see Congress setting down and objectively going through what has been learned, making the hard decisions about what to toss or keep and explaining their selections – true there would be cries of dismay since they would not be pleasing everyone but at least there would be some substance to the decisions – useful the next time the legislation comes up for re-certification.   Instead we have yet more political theater, name calling, appeals to patriotism and appeals to personal liberty and privacy – producing photo ops and sound bytes but little else.  In the Corporate world if you behave this way, sooner or later you are at risk of hurting your business, losing your job or your customers.  If you do it in Congress, and do it well, it just gets your more money donations from your base and serves as fodder for your next campaign.

— so yes, occasionally I do blog opinions, not just research….

Update:  And if you thought using the word “theater” might be hyperbole…check the following:

If you do I would point out that there are specific examples of which elements of the act which have assisted investigations and which have not.  Its also important to note that tossing around words like “essential” is an interesting way to force conclusions…..if its not possible to prove something is “essential” then its easy for it to get tossed.  Actually rating its value would be more pragmatic, as in how many investigations did you use it, how many times did it produce positive or even negative results that were helpful, did it actually delay or confuse the investigation.  If you have ever been in a budget meeting where somebody starts pushing the “essential” criteria, you know there is an agenda in play and they want something forced onto the chopping block – but they also want to feel good about doing it and to cover their position if something bad happens later.







My apologies for the limited blogging the past few weeks.  The explanation is simply that last month I was tied up with the publisher edit or Surprise Attack and the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with the changes and corrections required by the just completed copy edit.  For those who have not gone through the process with a publisher, it has several phases and if its a history book you take about six months to get it to the galley stage, the galley’s go to reviewers and then you have another four to five months to actually get the manuscript formatted, reviewed and published.  All that happens after you feel you are done with it and don’t really want to read your writing any more….but that’s not the way it works.

I’ve had some email questions about my books and how they fit together and even what the reading order should be – so I’m going to use this post to address that and then get back to the historical commentary posts.

I’ve written three (some would say four) books related to the JFK assassination.  The first was a docufiction, November Patriots, which is out of print now.  I worked on the document phase of that book paying a great deal of attention to the Texas trip and the events that immediately preceded it including the aborted trip to Chicago.  My friend Connie Kritzberg, a Dallas reporter in 1963, wrote the fiction portion.  That was at a time before the internet became the resource it is now so the book had a large number of documents actually printed in it.   Follow that, I began work on Someone Would Have Talked, which evolved through three issues, the most recent in 2010.  SWHT what I would call a deep context book, giving extensive detail on various individuals and groups plus a very concrete presentation of what I think was the conspiracy scenario and a detailed analysis of the damage control and aborting of an open ended investigation which followed.

Someone Would Have Talked is very much a detailed, bottoms up study…working from the operators up into the conspiracy.  But its a deep book, a long book and some readers are not prepared to wade through that amount of detail.  My response was to write NEXUS, which is a historical study of how political assassination was conducted within the CIA (and most definitely not like you see in the movies or in the ongoing slew of “tell all” books) – how projects originated, who made the call, how the directive was passed and who was actually used in the assassinations/attempts.  Based on that study I went on to write a scenario of how I actually think the Kennedy assassination was stimulated, incited and evolved, down to the tactical level.  NEXUS is a tops down look, very much more focused than SWHT and I would recommend it as the starting point….if you read it and find it viable, then go to SWHT for context and details.

Having become intrigued by actual CIA operations and personnel, I went on to do Shadow Warfare with Stu Wexler.  It is a long term historical study of covert and clandestine operations from 1940 to contemporary times. If you want to get a good idea of the evolution of covert operations and trace the careers of several of the individuals you encounter in SWHT and NEXUS, then Shadow Warfare would be the place to go.

In addition to the above my friend Stu Wexler and I took a look at two other major assassinations of the 60’s, RFK and MLK.  The research on RFK is available on Mary Ferrell as a series of essays; unfortunately although we became convinced that we had that conspiracy fairly well defined, we could not get the confirmation needed to take it to a book level.  In regard to Dr. King’s assassination, we felt more confident and published The Awful Grace of God which contains our research.  That was followed up by a short eBook this spring, giving more information from ongoing documents research and interviews.  Stu has actually carried on, and will be publishing a related book dealing with religious terrorism in the United States – that book will be out in August and is already getting good library reviews.

I decided to go another direction, and do a study of the same period of history that is in Shadow Warfare, focused instead on conventional and terror attacks over the period.  That work, Surprise Attack,  focuses on threat and warnings intelligence, preparedness measures, the concept of deterrence and perhaps most importantly on the issues of command and control and human factors related to both preempting and dealing with both conventional/nuclear/cyber threats and attacks.  With the documents and studies available, it allowed me to make some relatively strong statements in those areas and I anticipate that it will be the most controversial thing I’ve written to date.  As noted above, it is moving towards actual publication and availability in book stores and on Amazon in the September time frame.

So…that’s my history with books, what’s out there, what’s coming and where you might start reading if any of it strikes your fancy,   Larry




Bissell and the Bay of Pigs

A week or so ago I enjoyed doing a couple of presentations for the DPUK annual conference held in Canterbury, England.  In response to the one focusing on new research relating to the transition and in particular Navy participation for the Cuban Brigade project, I received a question that has come up before but which caused me to rethink its implications.  The question was simply that Bissell was certainly a smart fellow so did he actually mess up the project or was it intentional, suggesting some high level CIA effort to manipulate the new President – forcing him into full scale military action.  My current thinking on that is as follows:

1) Bissell and the whole Guatemala team were treated as miracle workers over the success of the Guatemala coup project; so much so that they were personally honored by President Eisenhower.  It was that team that formed the core of the new Cuba project that Eisenhower ordered in 1960.   However in retrospect, the success in Guatemala my have had more to do with a full scale blockade which Eisenhower had ordered and the fact that a Navy landing force with Marines was off shore to support the CIA operation – it now appears that the Guatemalan leader was convinced that a full US invasion to support the meager CIA exile contingent was inevitable.

2) We know now that Eisenhower was far more supportive of the initial Trinidad plan – which did not include a beach landing but sailing the Brigade force right into the harbor – than is often taken into consideration.  One of our problems is that nothing about that plan was put in writing, all briefings were verbal and we do not have a copy of the Navy Rules of Engagement.  However based on recent oral history work and in the information in blogs I’ve made here it appears that Ike was far more willing to go overt.  He suggested to the CIA that they might stage an incident to trigger American military involvement, he appears to have approved a ROE for Trinidad that would have allowed full destroyer and combat air support for the landing itself and he even cautioned JFK that he needed to be bold and not back off being as overt as necessary.  We can’t prove it but its very likely up to Dec, 60 that Bissell thought he would have far more overt support than JFK would end up allowing him – and after all, JFK’s win in the election was a narrow one.  Bissell could very well have been taking orders from Nixon, who had been heavily involved in encouraging the whole Cuba project.  Beyond that, Ike had given verbal approval to assassination projects and it now appears that there were multiple projects in play to assassinate Castro, all the way up to the final weeks before the landing.

3) The Navy recommended and the Joint Chiefs endorsed Rules of Engagement that would have provided combat air patrols, engaging any Cuban forces approaching the Brigade ships and extending into an area only one or two miles off shore – if JFK had accepted that then Cuban aircraft would undoubtedly have been engaged and full scale American military support would have evolved quickly.  We know, and JFK may not have, that the carrier Essex – serving as the landing command ship – had secretly embarked a Navy attack air group and that the carrier was stocked with a full set of munitions, not just for air to air but air to ground attack.  JFK rejected the ROE proposal and directed that if the Brigade ships were detected or engaged they should retreat and the landing should not occur.

4) We also know that a suite of additional Navy ships had been alerted, but this appears to have been done by senior Navy command itself and was not in the plan approved by JFK.  Ostensibly it was to provide a safeguard for Guantanamo in case it was attacked but it may very well have originated in the much more extensive verbal discussions with the Navy that occurred under Eisenhower.  The real point here is that was not a force setting off shore waiting – as had been the case in Guatemala – and it would have required time to bring it into combat.  All that could happened during the landing if JFK had been talked into Navy air support were Essex air strikes and destroyer bombardment of the landing area.  That would have help cover a retreat but by that point in time the Brigade was already in dire straits and it support ships had retreated, its ammunition ship was sunk.  It is not as if a switch could be thrown and the Marines would immediately hit shore to relive them.

In summary, my conclusion is that Bissell was a bright guy but he got rolled up in a time frame and political transition that essentially trapped him.  His estimates of Soviet military support for Castro lagged significantly, there was no blockade to prevent that as there had been in Guatemala, he was encouraged by Ike and no doubt envisioned military support that JFK didn’t give him and in the end he was in a position of either throwing up his hands and calling the whole thing a bust or gambling on the assassination attempts and/or rules of engagement that the Navy proposed – as well as apparently believing in promises from his own Air Group had made him vs. the harsh critique of that he had received from the Joint Chiefs team assigned to evaluate it.  JFK would have loved to see the CIA back off, in turn it would have been a huge embarrassment for Dulles and the Agency and a career disaster for Bissell.  So, I think he was a bright guy left holding the bag without enough nerve to call off the whole thing and in the end simply taking a gamble that he should not have.  Given how much he did not tell his own military commanders or the exile commanders I suspect he knew that they would have aborted themselves if he had been honest with them.  Instead, he steadfastly blamed the whole think on JFK to the end…a perfect case of going into denial.


Current Events

As longer time readers know, this blog – like my writing – cycles back and fourth between events of the Cold War and more contemporary matters, in particular the current state of America’s involvement in both shadow warfare and more overt combat against the radical jihadi movement.  That sort of scope gets very challenging.  Right now my editor and I are working on the last six chapters of Surprise Attack, which moves us through the attacks of 2001, the challenges of international diplomatic involvement and Benghazi, right up to the reemergence of a new confrontation with a resurgent nationalist movement and the return of the nuclear card to Geo-politics.

While that’s all well and good,  I continue to be appalled at the tremendous lack of knowledge exists in Washington DC in regard to the evolving jihadi war – the fact that nobody has coined a good name for it (its certainly not as simple as a  war on terror and) only illustrates the dramatic lack of national strategy to deal with it. It’s particularly galling to see the degree of ignorance expressed in the political positions of virtually all the declared 2016 Presidential candidates, or those with enough nerve to actually express their beliefs.  About the best that can be said is that the dysfunction in DC has prevented us from making the sort of abysmal strategic mistake we made in invading Iraq.  OK, if by now you haven’t figure out this is an “opinion piece” I suppose that made it pretty clear.

While I’m still satisfied with the treatment we gave to the emergence of the jihadi war in Shadow Warfare, and with our treatment of what worked and didn’t during the early days of Afghanistan and the later days in Iraq, I’ve been searching for some source that I feel really understands the intelligence and true tactical issues of what went on there and how it evolved into the current combat across the Middle East.  I have not really been satisfied with the mainstream journalists, some of whom push their own political world view on the subject and some who have a good strategic sense but insufficient field background.  The good news is that I finally found somebody who I think has the sort of pragmatic insights needed to drive a national strategy – but who has no chance of ever making it in DC – he talks too straight.  So in that regard, let me introduce you to him with the following article….and I encourage you to read the threads and commentary that follows it where he responds to questions.  This guy is the real deal IMHO.  But way to real for Washington I’m afraid.






JFK’s First Crisis

The more historical research I do the more I’m surprised by the reality of the decades I’ve lived through. Perhaps that’s not exactly right, what I’m surprised by is reality as compared to what is often discussed and assumed to have been true about different events and personalities. As an example, the research we did for Shadow Warfare revealed that a career military officer such as President Eisenhower was perhaps the most avid believer in covert operations and CIA regime change activities. Yet President Bush Sr., a former CIA Director, virtually abandoned covert action in pursuit of very overt, conventional military action. Perhaps more consistently, President Eisenhower was much more rigorous in actually defining the legal limits the President as Commander in Chief than President Johnson, who assumed his authority to have no limit and inserted himself into an operational role in military command with no regard for either limits or involvement of experienced military advisers. If you think that’s a little strong, read some of what we currently know about Johnson’s personal command of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam and see what you think the families of those air crews lost in the campaign would have thought if they had known who was defining the missions and rules of engagement.
Researching and writing Surprise Attack has taken me into the same deep waters and the book will challenge a good number the popular images that have evolved over the years. As an example, the Carter Administration actually devoted a great deal of attention to plans and practice for nuclear war fighting on a limited scale. There were assumptions that even with a strategic nuclear parity with the Soviets (emerging only in the 1970’s) that escalation could be controlled and actually managed following an initial nuclear exchange. That attitude set the stage for what emerged as actual Soviet panic early in the Reagan Administration – bringing the world as close as it ever had been to a preemptive Soviet nuclear strike, in the early 1980’s.
In more contemporary terms, today we find Russian Federation military and covert action programs in Eastern Europe forcing a re-invigoration of ground forces in Europe. There is little talk of nuclear weapons from the West, especially given that the huge inventories of tactical nukes once held in NATO service are long gone. In contrast, the Russians seem to be compelled to routinely bring up the nuclear option and tout their renewed focus on nuclear weaponry. Of course from different perspectives it’s all coming about because either NATO provoked Putin or because Obama is “weak” and Putin is taking advantage of him. Such simplistic views are hardly ever correct but sometimes it takes decades to see what is really happening.

As an illustration, you often read that the Cuban missile crisis was partially due to Khrushchev’s view of Kennedy as being “weak” and not willing to escalate confrontations – as somehow illustrated by matters in Berlin. A deeper study of affairs, especially now that we have access to highly secret memoranda and communications reveals a totally different story.  I go into it in detail in Surprise Attack but in short, the Kennedy Administration’s first major military confrontation with the Soviets did involve the ultimate risk of either a limited nuclear exchange or of a Soviet surprise attack. In June 1961, during a meeting between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, the Soviet premier threatened to sign a peace treaty with East Germany. Khrushchev further stated he would end all previous Allied access agreements regarding Berlin. The American’s, British and French responded that no such treaty would abrogate their rights of access to Berlin. In turn Khrushchev issued an ultimate for Western bloc forces to withdraw from the city by the end of 1961.
With a potential crisis developing over Berlin, President Kennedy addressed the nation via television on July 25, stating that he was willing to begin new talks on Berlin, but that while the United States wanted peace, it would not surrender to the Soviets in regard to Berlin. Kennedy also requested an additional $3.25 billion dollars in military spending and called for the addition of six new Army divisions and two new Marine divisions. As the confrontation continued, JFK ordered 148,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel to active duty on August 30. The mobilization included 18 tactical fighter squadrons, 4 tactical reconnaissance squadrons, and 6 tactical air transport squadrons. During November, three more Air National Guard fighter squadrons were mobilized.
From late October into November, eight of the tactical fighter units, with 216 aircraft, moved to Europe in operation Stair Step. Beyond those overt military moves, Kennedy and his staff began a detailed planning process for a series of steps which were to guide the evolving confrontation; the planning was highly secret and was conducted under the code names Poodle Blanket and Pony Blanket. Kennedy’s guidance outlined a series of stages beginning with non-nuclear air action, non-nuclear ground action, worldwide maritime control and blockade – but as a very last resort, first selective “demonstration” nuclear attacks and limited tactical use of nuclear weapons.
JFK was highly focused on directing initial military action towards conventional forces. His intent was to sufficiently increase conventional Western forces to the point that he Soviets would be deterred before any combat began. One of his early problems was that for various reasons, American’s European allies were much more willing to move towards early use of tactical atomic weapons than to rush into conventional force build ups.
With what we know now, it can be argued that President Kennedy, with a full knowledge of American strategic nuclear superiority, carefully leveraged that advantage in a controlled, incremental response to the Berlin crisis. He focused on conventional options, fully knowing that the Soviets were well aware of the extent of their strategic weakness. In turn, Khrushchev was fully aware of the American nuclear advantage – including the numerous tactical atomic weapons available for use in Europe. Most recently a number of historians have come to conclude that the Kennedy Administration viewed Khrushchev’s decision not to force the Berlin issue not only to Kennedy’s wiliness to negotiate but to his full appreciation of the “correlation of forces”. Khrushchev might have felt he had been able to browbeat JFK in their first personal meeting, but Kennedy’s determination to leverage the full weight of American strategic military superiority was a strong dose of reality for the Soviet premier.
His perception of American strength, not weakness would force the premier into his high risk gamble in Cuba…but that of course is another story we only fully understand at this distance from events.

Killing King

As many of you know, I and my friend and fellow researcher Stu Wexler have spent a great deal of time on the assassinations of Dr. King and of Robert Kennedy.  Unfortunately, while we think we may have developed significant new details of the conspiracy in the RFK murder, the total failure of the LAPD and the FBI in their investigations – including the LAPD’s provable effort to obfuscate the case – and our inability to connect with Sandra Serrano has left us hanging with our RFK research.  Fortunately we had a great deal more success in pursuing the King assassination, we were able to extend a good deal of the original 1968 investigation and to detail a series of attempts  to kill Dr. King. The level of detail in those attempts allow us to derive a concrete pattern in the assassination efforts – a pattern involving a very specific network of individuals.  We were fortunate enough to locate, connect with and re-interview a number of key individuals from that network as well as individuals in the original 1968 inquiries. Beyond that we were also able to locate an individual who had initially been involved with a bounty offer to kill Dr. King and ultimately had been used to carry funds to be used in the bounty payment. We were able to connect James Earl Ray to that same offer, although only circumstantially and not absolutely.  Extensive FOIA research also allowed us to  reexamine and raise issues with the evidence offered in both Ray’s criminal and civil trials – as well as to spell out specific holes in the criminal investigation.

We described that work and our conclusions in The Awful Grace of God.  But as many researchers know, the FOIA process grinds slowly, especially when you are challenging release decisions. Fortunately Stu is a stubborn guy and quite able to pursue FOIA work with an energy far beyond me.  Now, after several years in the King inquiry,  he has been able to expand our original work and update it in a new electronic edition of our book titled Killing King.  That work is now available on Amazon:

Fortunately we were also able to get some international press attention to the subject – the US media seems to consider it old news, over and done – and for that I would refer you to the following Daily Mail article:

Our MLK work has been challenging, not only because of the normal barriers in conspiracy research, but because the conspiracy we are tracking and writing about is not the one that many people want it to be.  As we have found in the past, when you come up with what people want to believe they consider you are doing great work and must be pretty smarty.  When you come up with a contrary view, its a far different story.




Border Wars

The Shan Stated of Burma – now Myanmar – have a long history of conflict, and an even longer history of opium production. Indeed the border areas in one region which includes Thailand and Laos are commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle – one the primary regions of global drug production. Equally important, the Shan states also border with southern China.
While enormous amounts of attention has been given to the history of drug traffic in the region, most people do not know that it was one of the very first venues for CIA operations at the very beginning of the Cold War. Actually those operations had little to do with the nation of Burma (which adamantly opposed them) and everything to do with the Republic of China (ROC) and Thailand. In contrast to more well-known CIA operations, the operation (in support of ROC forces in the region) supported a series of actual land incursions into southern China and was intended to divert Chinese Army forces.
The incursions were an embarrassing military failure and an international public relations disaster at the newly formed United Nations; the Eisenhower Administration abandoned them relatively quickly, turning the CIA’s attention to first Iran and then Guatemala. The net result was that armed ROC formations and various rebel groups were left to their own devices for funding, turned increasingly to drug sales, and leveraging new modes of transportation which had been used to carry in weapons and supplies for the Chinese incursions. Among the new options were small air fields and Taiwanese based aircraft. Over the years new air routes developed over both Thailand and Laos.We detail that early CIA operation in Shadow Warfare, and go on to trace its impact in the growth of Golden Triangle drug trafficking though the 1960’s. That legacy involved the movement of the ROC forces from point to point, at times attacked by the Burmese and at other times by Chinese forces invited in by Burma. Ultimately it led into Laos and to huge escalation in shipments during the fighting across SE Asia.
All that is interesting in a historical context but certain contemporary news recently brought it to my attention. Readers of Shadow Warfare may be interested to follow the Shan State story into today’s headlines. The crux of the matter is that as in many nations, the remote Shan States have always been neglected by the Central Government (very similar to the situation in several African nations today, particularly in Nigeria) and that neglect has led to decades of distrust, rebellion and hostility. The rebel groups involved always need to raise money, if drugs are available they have the weapons and organization to assume control over established drug traffic. If drugs are not available, they often turn to human trafficking – from kidnap and ransom to slave sales (as we see in Nigeria). And while CIA operations have often provided a multiplication factor by dramatically improving local logistics and transport options (in Afghanistan that first involved large quantities of small pickups shipped in to rebel groups through Pakistan), the rebellions and the trades continue, with or without American involvement.
Back in the early 1950’s, following the CIA’s short lived activity, Burma actually invited the Red Chinese Army across its borders to engage the ROC formations. In 2015 Myanmar is taking a different approach, using its own military assets and making mistakes which are increasingly annoying the Chinese. If you want to follow the history in Shadow Warfare into current events you can find more details here:
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Surprise Attack

I’ve mentioned my forthcoming book, Surprise Attack, a few times but since it is now available for pre-order I wanted to give it a bit more formal introduction.  In researching and writing Shadow Warfare, I became intrigued with the fact of how much new historical information has become available over the past decade or so. That includes not only government document releases and a huge amount of oral history but records from non-traditional sources ranging from professional and historical journals.  Deep internet searches have made a range of sources visible which previously were only known to specialists in certain areas  – my recent blog posts in regard to new findings in regard to the Navy and Joint Chiefs role in regard to the Trinidad and Zapata plans for landings in Cuba are an example. The first clue to that was an article in a very special interest naval history journal.   As it turns out military unit histories and unit journals are a prime source of information generally not visible or used in past works.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the Shadow Warfare research, was how much information accepted as “common knowledge” in regard to events of the last few decades is called into question by the facts now available – or can be seen to represent political worldviews or agendas rather than real history.  It’s clear that to some extent talk radio and TV as well as internet social media have fueled  that situation – if only there were built in “fact checkers” for  such things the world might be a saner place. My own experience suggests that over 90% of the “news” emails I get via social media have an agenda and are either only partially true or totally false.  Another aspect of the problem is that “contemporary” books often come into the market weeks or months after current events. Given that the full history of virtually any significant event – especially one with political ramifications – takes years and sometimes decades to become truly visible (since the real primary sources remain protected either by national security classification, legal concerns or just simple CYA) such books are at best “first cuts” at real history.  Problem is, that those books remain on the market for years and continue to have an impact long after new information is available.

Stu Wexler and I went to great lengths in Shadow Warfare to use as many of the very latest sources available and to be as balanced as possible about historical events, issues and activities which are politically sensitive. This gained us some attention from reviewers who noted that such balance is not necessarily found in much of what goes into print these days – but much less in the way of attention or plaudits from media folks who want something truly sensational or something that is playing to a particular “base” and therefore guarantees immediate viewers, listeners, acceptance and endorsement.   In any event, when we finished with Shadow Warfare, which addresses the covert and clandestine history of the last 60 years, I decided I would take a deep breath and begin to dig into the more conventional side of America’s military history.  I’ve long been immersed in Cold War history, but given what we had found in looking at the new data on the covert/clandestine side, it seemed that a fresh look might offer some new and potentially different insights.

The result of that effort will be available in early fall.  Surprise Attack delves into the evolution of  threat and warnings intelligence, of planning and preparedness against conventional, nuclear and terror attacks and most especially into a study of how well everything works under the stress of actual attacks and crises. It devotes considerable attention to the performance of the upper levels of both military and civilian command, especially the evolution and effectiveness of what is known as national command authority.  And while I try to maintain the same degree of “balance” as in Shadow Warfare, readers will find much which will be considered controversial and not necessarily comfortable.  Which of course is what good history tries to do, it doesn’t sell as many books as certain other approaches but that’s just the way it goes.

If any of this piques your interest, be the first person on  your block to pre-order Surprise Attack, it won’t cost you anything now and it would make my publisher really happy.  Just check out my web site for the appropriate links: