Benghazi Entanglement

The full Benghazi story has been at least somewhat obscured by the political jousting which continues around the attacks of 2012. In Shadow Warfare, Stu and I discuss a number of indications that a major CIA operation involving both weapons interdiction (aimed at both Syrian and Trans Saharan weapons flow) and weapons procurement (routing deniable Soviet weapons to favored anti-government Syrian groups) was in play. Those operations were dealt a serious blow by the killing of the American ambassador and the exposure of the CIA operations base in the “annex”. I revisit Benghazi again in Surprise Attack, dealing with issues of diplomatic facility security, the actual attacks and what is can and cannot be done to deal with such attacks in the future.

Beyond both those topics, the question is whether or not Benghazi indicates a major structural change related to CIA practices. There is no doubt that CIA personnel have become increasingly “embedded” in military campaigns. We saw that early on in Afghanistan and we continue to see it with CIA personnel being assigned to Joint Task Forces. What was once a strategic intelligence organization has become more and more tactical, with personnel forward deployed into what are effectively combat zones. To some extent this indicates the extent to which real time intelligence has become part of contemporary, non-state war fighting.

But then there is Benghazi. Historically, CIA personnel (intelligence, counter intelligence and political action officers) were routinely deployed within State Department facilities, under State Department employee cover. Placing “spies” in Consulates and Embassies is an ages old game, played by virtually every nation. However there was great caution taken to separate operational and paramilitary staff and provide different types of covers for them. Commercial covers have been common, military assistance and advisory covers have been popular and of course there are other government agencies such as USAID. These days everyone suspects NGO’s to host a variety of intelligence types, depending on who is really providing the funds for their activities.

Great lengths were taken to locate CIA operations well away from diplomatic facilities, you can trace that from the CIA operations in Tibet, through Mexico City, and on to operations in Angola where officers were not even officially allowed to cross the border. All this may have been a form of gamesmanship but the efforts to keep operations covert and deniable were quite serious and the tradecraft to accomplish that was extensive.

Yet in Benghazi, the CIA ran an operations base several times larger than the American diplomatic mission, located within a mile or so of it and according to Congressional testimony from the CIA Chief of Station, there were even plans to consolidate the facilities. All of which is much like painting a bull’s-eye on the diplomatic staff – especially if said staff does anything at all to support the CIA’s in country mission. In Libya you had the State Department admitting it was attempting to control arms flow out of the country and the CIA doing exactly that and likely more secretly. As far as we can tell it appears that Joint Task Force Trans Sahara personnel may have been working out of the State Department mission in the capital and we know that an unarmed surveillance drone was flying over eastern Libya at the time of the attack. DOD personnel had also performed some security missions in Benghazi. It is no surprise that the paramilitary contractors performing security at the CIA base (using State Department cover) have said that the Annex was well known to militants in the city and that the attack on the Annex appeared to have been staged at one point from an adjacent house. Yet when the attack came, it appears that AFRICOM, the command with military responsibility for North Africa was not aware of the CIA annex location, even those certain DOD and Joint Task Force personnel were.

All this raises the question of whether Benghazi was an example of exceptional “entanglement” between CIA and State or whether it illustrates a sea change in standard Agency practice – as CIA intelligence personnel become more and more operational. Perhaps it was an exception, reflecting the Libyan ambassadors personal in country experience and connections. If not, it illustrates how far the CIA is being taken off its original course as a Central Intelligence collection and analysis function and shows the risk of closely coupling operational intelligence and diplomatic missions.

Surprise Attack Kirkus Review

The first pre-publication review of Surprise Attack – from Kirkus – is now out and those interested can read it directly from Kirkus:
Rather than just repeating it here, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide some further information about points which are noted in the review.
The book begins with a study of not only Pearl Harbor but on the intended simultaneous Japanese attack on American installations in the Philippines. While there were multiple commissions and official inquiries into the Hawaiian attack, there were none on the Philippines strikes, which did not go according to plan and actually occurred following several hours after the Hawaii attacks. The weather delays in the Japanese Philippines’ attack allowed extensive warning and orders to prepare for attack and execute the standing war plan against Japan. All the Pacific and Pacific Rim installations – from Alaska and the Panama Canal to Hawaii and the Philippines were already under advanced war alert and had been since late October. In particular the Philippines had been specifically warned that it would be the target of any Japanese surprise attack. There is a general knowledge of the strategic value of the American fleet which had been deployed to Hawaii but much less of the strategic bombing force that was being built in the Philippines, in a major effort to at least delay any Japanese military action. Yet with hours of warning, including specific orders not to let the bomber force be destroyed on the ground, that is exactly what happened. The very complex and intertwined story of warnings and failures for both Hawaii and the Philippines is explored in what I think is a unique fashion in the book.
Surprise Attack also digs into elements of the warnings intelligence and “fear factors” in the first years of the Cold War, exploring areas generally not examined in conventional history books. One of those is the extent to which the American military became convinced that Stalin and the Soviets were very actively engaged in both aggressive and risky psychological warfare but also in aerial reconnaissance over the British Isles, American bases overseas and very possibly over America itself. The first post war intelligence group – CIG – offered that estimate to President Truman and later Army Air Force Intelligence conducted a highly covert and extremely serious overseas collections effort based on leads that the Soviets were deploying German jet and missile technology and it was followed by early Air Intelligence “estimates of the situation”.  There was also a frenzied intelligence effort partly based in information that the Soviets were building a massive fleet of “flying wing” jet bombers – to be used in support of a western surge by the Red Army across Western Europe.
The Kirkus review touches on several areas relating to the book’s focus on the evolution and performance of National Command Authority and efforts towards civilian control of the American military – efforts both successful and critical during both the Berlin and Cuban crises under JFK and unsuccessful and costly in terms of American lives under the military micromanagement of LBJ and Nixon/Kissinger. Equally importantly the review does not mention (after all Surprise Attack has ended up being a 500 plus page book) the book’s analysis of how civilian national command authority has performed during decades of crisis and attack – a very important (if depressing) subject and an examination that I think is relatively unique to Surprise Attack.

One of the reasons the book is so long is that seven decades of history allows patterns to emerge which are not easily visible in individual events. And a considerable portion of the book is an effort to evaluate those patterns against both recent history and current events. It becomes a great deal easier to see what tools and tactics work in terms of both warning and preparedness – and even in command and control while under surprise attack. In that regard, Surprise Attack delves into the details of the national security response following domestic events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and shooting of President Reagan, to overseas incidents involving American intelligence collections ships (from the destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf, to the Liberty in the Mediterranean and the Pueblo off North Korea).   From there it advances to the warnings intelligence and the defensive responses to the World Trade Center bombing, the Millennium plots, the attacks of 9/11 and the more recent attacks on American diplomats and facilities overseas, including those in Libya. There are some hard lessons to be learned from each of those crises, the book pulls no punches and that section will no doubt be more controversial than the Kirkus review suggests. My intent was to make the examination factual enough and objective enough to push past the agendas, politics and yelling to some substantive assessment and even recommendations. Suggesting, of course, that I must be an eternal optimist.

9/11 CIA IG Report

Late last week the CIA released its Inspector General report relating to the 9/11 attacks. It may be found at:
Since I cover the subject of 9/11 attacks in considerable detail in Surprise Attack, in this post I’m going to focus on the report in regard to the value and issues with sources of this type. However in the interest of blatant salesmanship, if you are interested in 9/11 and planning to order Surprise Attack go ahead and pre-order it now, you don’t get billed in advance and it helps convince Amazon, Borders, etc. to place a reasonable initial stocking order. I plan to post the first book review – from Kirkus – in a couple of days but it is still “embargoed” at this point so I will save that for later.
On the CIA IG report, first it’s important to keep in mind what it is and what it’s not – which is actually very well stated it its introduction. It is not a comprehensive CIA self-examination nor does it examine the overall performance of the intelligence community, although there are a few comments in that regard. It is actually a specific response to the Joint Congressional inquiry and the joint commission’s report (referred to as the JI report in the CI study). Specifically it was supposed to assess and report on accountability issues within the Agency – bottom line being that it should identify performance failures and lead to management action related to individuals determined to have failed in their duties. Of course the CIA IG can’t actually make that happen, all they can do is report and then senior CIA officers have to respond. And indeed the CIA IG did call for accountability boards to be convened and individual performance acted upon.
Amazingly enough (sarcasm noted), that did not happen, no boards were convened and as far as is known no personnel actions resulted – all in all the same result that followed the CIA IG report on the Bay of Pigs fiasco back in 1961. At least during the Iran Contra / Oliver North mess, certain CIA officers were determined to have been culpable and disciplined – even though many of the related legal consequences were overturned by Presidential action.
Beyond that, the CIA IG did find and report on a variety of “systemic” failures within the Agency, in particular its CT group. It would be useful to know what those were however the report notes that they were identified and reports on them were forwarded internally to the management of the sections involved – they are not part of the report itself. I write a good bit about such things in Surprise Attack, in particular the process by which such reports either make a difference in future operations – or don’t. Actually there some good contemporary examples of where IG reports make a difference, as well as some consistent and ongoing failures, documented by the IG groups themselves.
In regard to the overall value of the report for historical analysis – factually its valuable and to a large extent accurately factual, but only in terms of the limited context of the Agency. In terms of the much larger subject of the attacks, if read by itself it would be very incomplete and even misleading. For instance the CIA IG says that it cannot identify a single point of failure – which is a questionable statement, undermined even by remarks in the report itself. It is far more questionable if you know the full story of the CIA, FBI, NSA, FAA and the Bush Administration principals. The report is actually compelling in its discussion of warnings and threat indicators surging prior to the attacks – but does its best to be politically correct in qualifying its language and offering certain comments which could be used to support disclaimers given by highly placed officials following the attacks. If you have the rest of the story it’s easy to cut through that and the reality will leave you gritting your teeth.
Perhaps one of its worst sections is its discussion of aircraft as weapons. What it says is accurate enough; what it doesn’t is far more important. Once you factor in the Bojinka plot, the FBI warnings, the NORAD exercises and the activities of Clarke’s NSC counter terrorism group, the whole artifice falls apart. Apart from more teeth gritting, that leads to the conclusion that one of the most systemic failures that should have been noted is that the CIA was truly not functioning as a Central Intelligence Agency, proactively correlating threat and indications information and translating it to operational warnings – domestically. Perhaps due to its history and charter it focused on threats overseas, leaving the FBI to deal with domestic issues – which is another story indeed. There is even an argument to be made that its overseas focus delayed warnings that could/should have been given domestically.
Bottom line, read the report, its good context and background, actually it’s what it claims to be, which is a very limited and focused effort to identify failures within a single Agency. Now if we had the equivalent internal inquiries from a Justice Department IG, an FAA IG, a NORAD IG, a NSC IG or if there was such a thing as a National Command Authority IG.…


Well I’m back after having spent a week on the final print/proof edit and corrections for Surprise Attack. One of the things that makes the job so agonizing is the end notes, in particular the number of end notes which I include with links to the original source document. The objective of that is twofold, first conceptually it lets the readers check me out to see if I’m cherry picking or otherwise misrepresenting sources. Second, hopefully the sources will be of value to students or others who want to take off and pursue certain topics for their own research, papers, etc. Still, it takes up an agonizing amount of print space and that’s not something that most publishers are happy about; fortunately Counterpoint has been very tolerant.

Which leads me to the gist of this post – and that is whether anybody really reads the references or for that matter how many people truly read sources of any sort these days. I have to say that I often hear discussion of subjects that make it clear that folks are speaking to what they have heard on their preferred news source or from their favorite editorial source – but in many cases where I’ve actually read source documents on the subjects, I know what is being stated is either really incomplete or considerably slanted.

I know that is true for historical events and as my work on Shadow Warfare and Surprise Attack moved into contemporary events I find it far more true there than it should be – in researching Surprise Attack I found that to be true in regards to distant events but also relatively recent events such as the 9/11 attacks and even the attack on Benghazi. Now the caveat there is that of course I don’t expect the full story to necessarily be in official inquiries – but to my surprise I have found far more than I might have expected. For example it’s amazing how much high level detail on CIA operations is contained in State Department documents – and not just high level but details on budgets, logistics, internal political debates, etc.

For example, if you want to find out about CIA act ivies in the Far East, say in Tibet, check out the documents in this series: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, China, Volume XIX

Or you want to see details of say CIA meetings related to the Guatemala coup, recorded not by the CIA but copied and preserved in State Department files:

CIA Memorandum to Deputy Director of Plans,, July 22, 1954, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Retrospective Volume, Guatemala, Document 279, Meeting between Mr. Joe Montgomery and Mr. Corcoran and Col. J.C. King, Chief CIA Western Hemisphere.

Or let’s say you are interested in CIA covert action:

Note on U.S. Covert Actions, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XII, Western Europe, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian

There are Foreign Relations documents for the other global regions as well. Of course if you want dirt on the State Department – oh let’s say during the Kissinger era – you have to look elsewhere. A great starting point for that is the National Security Archives.

My point is simply that you can really get a feel for personalities, debates, objections, and of course obfuscation by reading source documents. And when you move into national security, as I have with Surprise Attack, there are whole new realms of available data – a good deal of which contradicts much of what is said in the common, daily conversations that I hear.

I think many people will be really surprised by much of what is in Surprise Attack. I know I was when I did the research. But the good news is that all of the references are there and you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s true that some are fairly esoteric and if you want the book you may have to do inter-library loan – but a great many are reachable through links in the end notes. So – I hope lots of you read the book but that at least some readers actually take the time to do some homework on the sources – it would make all that editing pain just a bit more bearable.

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.