Deniability in the 21st Century

It’s pretty easy to understand why once again the “doomsday clock” setting has been moved back closer to midnight. As I predicted in Surprise Attack, Mr. Putin continues to practice the classic Cold War posturing which he has successfully used to regain his internal popularity and preserve his “base” within Russia’s military-industrial complex. It seemed clear to me at the time I was writing that the likely outcomes of Putin’s strategy were two-fold. First his actions would ultimately undercut the attempts to freeze or reduce American and European defense spending. It has now done that. Second, while his strategy was at grave risk due to the exposure to oil pricing, his personality is such that if pressed he would push even harder – which we see in the Russian military campaign in Syria and most obviously in the tactically useless (and expensive) practice of launching long range bombing and cruise missile strikes from within Russia against Syrian targets.
Militarily it’s extremely questionable, but it makes for dramatic Russian TV and complements the increasing internal coverage given to the Russian military.
Beyond Syria, while there is no reality that would justify Putin’s reigniting the nuclear warfare card, he has clearly done so, with an emphasis on nuclear ICBM’s and nuclear submarine deployment. The Russian nuclear sub force in the Pacific has doubled and the surge has now increased to the point that the Russian nuclear submarine force deployment into the Atlantic is back to some of the the highest levels seen during the Cold War. You won’t find much of that being discussed in the current political debates (which is probably a good thing) but you see it if you lurk in the military blogs I tend to frequent.
Of course all this is just the opposite of Cold War covert warfare and deniable operations, its posturing and it will drive budgets and military spending and may well lead to actual live fire situations which could trigger regional warfare – the Turkey/Russian confrontation is obvious but it’s not the only potential flash point.
What worries me more though, is that a new type of covert/deniable warfare has emerged and it carries the risk of igniting something even worse – full scale cyber warfare. Several years ago counter terrorism specialist Richard Clarke wrote about North Korean cyber warfare teams actually operating from within China, very capable teams whose full capabilities and activities might or might not have been known to the Chinese. The real danger is that national or rogue cyber-attack teams could operate from virtually anywhere, intentionally implicating nations or groups with their attacks. Tracing the actual source and proving guilt in cyber-attacks is extremely difficult. Attacks in recent years have included either American or Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and Israeli attacks on the Syrian air defense system. Most recently Russian appears to have sponsored a massive attack on the Ukraine’s power system infrastructure.
Over time, such attacks can generally be traced, but not with the certainty that allows absolute proof. What we are seeing is the emergence of a new type of deniable warfare. America has suffered a number of attacks to date, one of the most potentially being an attack on the New York Stock exchange and through it the international financial community. In retrospect that attack was perhaps only a test – or a message – but it allowed the Obama administration to actually get legislation through Congress which elevated the level of response to such attacks – actually allowing the sort of preemptive response previous sly authorized only to a massive nuclear attack on the nation. I discuss that in Surprise Attack, it has received little attention overall but it demonstrates the real risk of this new deniability. If a major attack takes were to take out major sections of the U.S. power grid (such as the recent attack on the Ukraine did), the FAA traffic control network, or the banking system I can promise there would be a response. The problem would be who to target.
In 1946 an alarming science fiction novel was published, the title “The Murder of the U.S.A.” Its premise was that by placing undetected nuclear missiles in orbit, and then only launching them at a later point in time, a deniable nuclear attack could be conducted. It would be impossible to identify the actual source and retaliation would be precluded or intentionally directed the wrong adversary. Fortunately the timing of rocket and atomic weapons development precluded that scenario. The question now is, decades later in 2016, are we more literally exposed to the same sort of risk, given the possibility of deniable cyber-attack?
I’m afraid that clock setting is far too accurate for comfort…

Day Jobs

One of the things that actually hooked me on digging deeply into the Kennedy assassination was the realization that actual people, with real names and personal histories were involved, and that those people operated within a knowable historical context of work and social relationships. Up to that point I had read a few books, Jim Marrs’ Crossfire being one of the first, and lurked in the CompuServe JFK chat area (yes, it was that long ago). OK, you might be laughing but even today if you just browse YouTube or visit a few forums you could easily get sucked into the Zapruder film debates, the extensive dialogs and arguments over film and move footage from Nov 22, 1963, the unending exchanges over Oswald’s rifle, the back yard photographs, the infamous paper bag or even whether Oswald was holding a Dr. Pepper, a Coke or anything at all when first encountering motorcycle officer Baker that day – all activities focused on things/evidence rather than groups and individuals either as suspects or accessories.
I got mired down in all that myself…but one day in a Dallas airport, coming back from a business trip, I happened to buy a JFK book that talked about very specific people, their connections to each other and their personal involvement in the assassination. Of course it took me a few years to determine that book and its scenario were both as totally bogus but it definitely sent me off on a different tangent, one dealing with people rather than things.
That was exciting but after a few years I began to realize that most people discussing or even writing about people and groups as suspects painted with very broad brush strokes. You had the Mafia and Godfathers, or the ultra-right, the CIA or perhaps even larger and more nebulous groups such as the Military Industrial Complex or the Eastern Establishment (or maybe it was even more generic – the Cowboys or the Yankees). Later, the Aliens and then the Alien/MJ 12/JFK conspiracy jelled, but the Majestic 12 were relatively late comers as villians.
The problem is that operating with such broad categories of suspects doesn’t take you all that far…well tends to leave you with basic sociology and the six levels of association, or perhaps 12 levels etc. At some level of association almost everybody can be linked to everyone else (which works in genetics as well). Not that social network diagraming and dynamics are not important, they are – but when you start looking at individuals as suspects, you need to understand their day jobs as well. More specifically what were they doing in 1963, who were they were talking to, what official and unofficial sources of information did they have and who did they really trust vs. who were in competition with. In other words what were they really hearing that would evolve not just a general motive but push them into actual steps towards something as mind-blowing as a conspiracy to kill the President of the United States. Not just talking about him, cursing him, hating him – but actually committing to the capital crime of killing him.
So where am I going with this rather than just sharing (we called it that in the 70’s, this Century it’s become less friendly and more bitter – with a lot fewer hugs). As most of you reading this know, my own path led to suspects inside or at least provably associated with the CIA. Not the CIA as some generic entity but specifically within the Operations Directorate (Plans) and the Office of Security. A years and a few thousand documents later I felt I was almost beginning to understand that area of the Agency, focusing on the PP staff (psyops and paramilitary staff), a few more years and I gained a grasp on Technical Services, CI, Staff C and Staff D. In more recent years I’ve ranged much further afield, moving from upwards to the analysts, the Intelligence Board, Joint Chiefs, etc as well as more broadly throughout the intelligence community, the NSA, DIA, military services groups and their extensions. And in pursuing a broader view I often come across something that leads me back to JFK, my suspect’s day jobs in 1963 and what they may really have known that motivated or aided them.
If you have read NEXUS you know that I focus in on James Angleton and William Harvey as principal suspects in regard to the higher level origins of the conspiracy that evolved to the point of the Dallas attack. Over the past few years my friend Bill Simpich and I have spent a good deal of time looking at Lee Oswald in Mexico City, the spy games going on there and the role of Oswald impersonation in regard to the conspiracy. One of the key points to pursue in regard to Mexico City, in terms of our suspects, is to establish what connections Harvey and Angleton might have had to the intelligence sources and methods being used to collect covert intelligence in Mexico City – giving them insights into how to manipulate and use that information (or advise others on how to do so). The collection in question would have involved the targeting of the Cuban and Soviet diplomatic missions in Mexico City – both associated with Oswald and with impersonations.
As it turns out both men had been involved with a CIA group designated as Staff D, Harvey most recently. Finding information on Staff D has been challenging, you don’t find it called out even in some of the best books on the intelligence community (such as Richelson’s). You do find division D/staff D as a function under the Foreign Intelligence Staff – and if you dig you find that its activities ranged from bugging foreign embassies and burglarizing diplomatic missions to bribing or strong arm work with diplomatic staff and couriers. In more polite terms that’s a mix of signals intelligence and human intelligence. And of course in those days signals intelligence was a main point of both cooperation and contention between the CIA and the NSA (primarily in regard to satellite based collections).
What gets really interesting is the extent to which both the CIA local station staff, the headquarters and field Staff D staff, and the NSA might all have been involved in collecting and sharing (or not) information coming off the phone taps, building bugs, radio transmissions, cable traffic and telephone trunk calls into Cuba (all a mix of both CIA and NSA collections). It would also be interesting to know specifically what targets or individuals NSA was being tasked to collect information on during 1963.  Both Bill and I discuss parts of that in our writing but it poses serious and ongoing questions in regard to what extent Lee Oswald (ex military, ex Soviet “defector” and suspected Fair Play for Cuba chapter head) was being talked about by the Cubans and Soviets during his time in Mexico City. David Phillips wrote that Oswald was simply not “on the radar” during his visit – that is a provable lie. The real question is how many radars he was on and who was really tracking him. What is clear is that with their former connections and longtime “friends” in place, both men would have had access to whatever information they wanted from Mexico City collections – all as part of their day jobs and with no questions asked.
For more detailed background on CIA and NSA joint activities, and some minimal references to Staff D, check out the following link:

Limits to Transparency

Its not uncommon to find public discussion and concern about the reasonable limits to privacy in the face of ongoing terror attacks – if you haven’t counted lately, the United States has now been involved in its unofficial war on terror for almost forty years, we just didn’t start calling it that until 2001 and of course its still legally undeclared.  That discussion, and the corollary discussions of covert action oversight and transparency in government have slipped in the background during what has become a multi-year presidential election campaign.  The subjects emerge periodically but in terms of news last no more than headlines for a day or so, the fate of most challenging topics.

When the subject of transparency does come up it can get pretty confusing, bringing forth the subject of security classifications, legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, and slippery terms such as “redaction” and “sources and methods”.  Having been waist deep in such things for a couple of decades myself, and being heavily involved in document access in my work with the Mary Ferrell Foundation, I recently took the time to share some thoughts about the subject, including the realities of what to expect if and when you do start pursuing government documents. It is actually possible to get an amazing amount of previously restricted information and I’ve listed a couple of places to find such things on line.  But you have to understand the system, and have some concept of what will and will not be released.

Those interested in such challenges can find the essay at the following link:



MLK Jr. conspiracy interview

Stu Wexler and I were fortunate enough to be guests on Chuck Ochelli’s radio show late last week – in a two hour interview dealing primarily with our study and findings in regard to the conspiracy associated with Dr. King’s murder.

Actually two hours turns out to be just enough time to bring out some of the differences paths we followed in our research and to surface information and names that you probably have not come across if you have explored previous books on the King conspiracy.  It’s in not enough delve into all the areas we cover in The Awful Grace of God or give the details of the data we turned up, but  its a start.

If you have some time, or happen to be locked inside during this weekend’s snow storm, hopefully you would find it interesting – its archived at the link below.  Chuck also offered us the opportunity to come back on and discuss our RFK research and we will probably be doing that some time in February.




Martin Luther King Jr.

Having written, along with Stu Wexler, one of the most contemporary books on the King assassination, it’s surprising to me that I rarely blog about Dr. King, his murder or the related conspiracy – and certainly there was a conspiracy in his murder, one that had been ongoing for some four years at that point in time.
The common failure to acknowledge the true nature of that conspiracy truly undervalues his steadfast refusal to turn anything other than peaceful pursuit of his cause – and having been there during that period of time, I can swear to how frequently various movements were tempted to respond to violence with violence. Unfortunately by 1968 Dr. King was becoming one of the few leaders still arguing for totally passive resistance. That stance was costing him followers among the young but more significantly it was making him an even more attractive target for the clique that had been trying to kill him since 1964.
Regardless of what you may have read (or worse yet seen on YouTube) Dr. King was not viewed as a danger in 1968, other than in the mind of FBI Director Hoover, who was himself drawing increasing distain and even jibes about his personal obsession with Dr. King. In contrast the anti-war movement was increasingly viewed as almost an existential danger, it led to the virtual resignation of President Johnson, a level of paranoia rarely since outside the McCarthy era (and today’s election campaigning) and a domestic intelligence/active harassment response that very few people still appreciate.
What is even less appreciated is the fact that rather than being a major threat as of the spring of 1968, Dr. King was struggling to maintain his non-violent approach and to extend it to Washington. That effort had become burdened by the violence that accompanied his offer to lead a sanitation worker protest march in Memphis; he had agreed out of personal friendship but the resulting rioting raised real concerns as to whether he could indeed carry out a massive peaceful protest in the nation’s capital – and that led him back to Memphis in April, 1968, to prove that he could carry that off and to essentially prove that peaceful resistance was still workable.
Unfortunately what was a challenge for Dr. King proved to be an irresistible opportunity for those who had been working on killing him, individuals who had tried it themselves with guns and bombs and when that failed had turned to actual bounties, extended through their prison contacts. The story of that effort, and the involvement of James Earl Ray, is what we tell in The Awful Grace of God and in Killing King. And we continue our work on that conspiracy, new leads and new corroboration continue to emerge and we are still actively engaged in that research.
So, since I rarely blog on the subject, in respect to the upcoming observance of Dr. King, I’ll be happy to take questions on the subject here on the blog or privately if you wish to email me at I’ll tackle the questions, leaving Stu to continue with the slogging research work, he’s younger and should have more energy.

Ignorance or Hypocrisy?

Normally I hate public name calling, although I must admit that contemporary congressional antics and sound bites move my blood pressure to the point of doing so in private. The title of this post isn’t really just an expression of frustration though, it is actually a serious question.
Once again, the subject of authorizing military force against ISIS is in the news.  Its a continuation of the dialog which started back in February 2015, one based in a furor of  Congressional calls for military action against ISIS that had begun months earlier.

This week, the leader of the House told the press that he was once again talking to colleagues about an Authorization for Military Force against ISIS. He referred to a recent “productive listening session” on the subject and the need for providing flexibility to the military. Yet beyond that, the statement quickly moved on to politics and criticism of Presidential leadership – with the disclaimer that the Administration does not really need a new AUMF because it “already has all the authority to take the fight to Islamist terrorists that it needs.”
Now the question is, does Mr. Ryan actually believe that and despite the staff and legal resources available to him is he ignorant of the fact that the only AUMF approved by Congress specifically stated that the President is only authorized to use force against those individuals and groups which had carried out, supported or enabled the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Is he not aware of the fact that the language in that legislation was altered to ensure that in a concern for Congressional caution, the Presidential authority did not extend beyond those individuals or groups personally involved in the 2001 attacks? If you would like the details of that, I refer you to in Shadow Warfare were we discuss the give and take on that AUMF in some detail as well as the fact that President Bush intentionally asked Congress not to give him the broader powers associated with a declaration of war – yet immediately began using the term “war on terror”.
Later, after military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress commissioned a legal assessment on the 2001 AUMF and its limitations; the opinion provided to them was that the language in the AUMF had been specifically crafted to focus only on the 9/11 attackers. Which leaves us with the only Congressional legislation in place being designed to be limited, legally not extending to a broader war on terror and with Congress obtaining the legal opinion confirming that to be true.
So does Mr. Ryan, as speaker of the house, not have anyone who can give him a true read on an authorization now some fifteen years old, which clearly limited Presidential authority – yet which everyone has been using as justification for an immense level of global military action? At this point its clear that the 2001 AUMF is as irrelevant to current military activities as the Tonkin Gulf resolution was to the war across south east Asia. So is the Speaker of the House ignorant of Congress’s failure of actual military oversight – or is this political hypocrisy? I honestly don’t know.
As to the leadership in the Senate, well that is even more confusing. Following Mr. Ryan’s remarks, the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, announced that Ryan was wasting his time and that no new AUMF was going to be seriously considered. He too seems to have a total lack of knowledge on the history of the AUMF that is in place and its limitations. His reason for opposing any new AUMF is a bit different though, it seems that it’s not an issue of one not being needed, but rather that one passed now might “tie the hands” of the next elected President in regard to opposing ISIS.
“I think an AUMF, an authorization to use military force, that ties the president’s hands behind his back is not something I would want to do to a new president who’s going to have to clean up this mess,” he said.
Let me see if I follow that, so Congress is going to default on setting any specific direction for military action against ISIS – McConnell clearly feels that the current President has not done enough – but rather than taking charge of the matter and directing something more, the caution is to wait for a year so as to avoid constraining whoever might be elected as the next commander in chief. I can see it now on a tactical level, the current commander of a military operation says to his staff – well I’m not going to give you any orders now because I don’t want your next commander to be unduly constrained by what we do when he comes on board next year. (yes, that was intentionally sarcastic).
So is McConnell ignorant of the current AUMF limitations, well it certainly sounds like it. Is he being hypocritical about Congress not exercising its strategic national security responsibility? Without being inside his head I can’t say, but I can say that his logic, and the consistent position of Congress in not exercising any real involvement in national security decisions is agonizingly predictable.

2016 Radio Interview

It’s shaping up to be a rough winter here, two major ice storms and power outages, snowing at the moment…all sort of slowing me down.  I’m hoping to get back to some topical posting but in the meantime I wanted to post a link to this past week’s two hour interview with Charles Ochelli.  A two hour interview is pretty challenging but Chuck is a fine host and we covered a broad range of subjects related to both Surprise Attack and Shadow Warfare.  One of the themes for the discussion was identification of “patterns” related to American deniable and overt military actions over the past sixty years.  As Charles noted, just reading the subtitle of Surprise Attack leads to the obvious question of what in the world would be common to Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Benghazi –  given the time span, the evolution of international affairs and the differences in the events themselves.  Its not an easy question to answer but fortunately this sort of extended interview allows the time to at least begin to do it some justice.

Another area we spent a good deal of time on is one that particularly concerns me, as evident to anyone who has read Shadow Warfare. The privatization of military operations, first seen in Iraq and Afghanistan has a number of negative consequences, and the practice is increasingly buried in the new integration of multi-agency, multi-unit covert operations.  Stu Wexler and I coined the term “gray warfare” to describe it, because it crosses the lines between not only military and private participants but even more importantly the lines between actions covered under Title 50 and Title 10,  the legal codes that support declared military action with participants subject to the Unified Code of Military Justice to the much more nebulous interpretation of what is permitted under the national security acts of 1947 and 1948.   What is of special concern is that its now clear that the “privatization” is being extended to both intelligence collection and even to scientific developments related to military challenges.  Its important to remember that the entire post 9/11 water boarding fiasco was based on the opinions of a couple civilian consultants who ended up applying highly questionable techniques, wielding amazing influence and overriding the experience and opinions of virtually all career combat officers involved in actual military interrogation work.  And when  you see a higher level DIA office take something like the Jasons away from DARPA , making a scientific advisory group even darker and seemingly under even less oversight as to both their selections and assignments, there are questions to be asked (just search for “Jasons” and “research group” if none of that made sense to you) .  We managed to tilt open the lid on Pandora’s Box in the 1950’s, how far its being opened now is a real concern and I have a sense that the oversight has become increasingly personalized, and sketchy.

In retrospect, it the scope of the interview was obviously considerable and hardly does it justice – but if these subjects are new to you it would be a place to get started:




Thoughts from 2015 NID Conference

Well I promised to try and get a few thoughts in before Christmas and that pretty much means now. What I’m going to shoot for here are my overall impressions from the conference – the videos of the individual speaker presentations should be available from JFK Lancer by the end of January so I’ll not try to repeat the presentations themselves here.
The first thing that struck me is that the more documents we see, the more comparisons are done and the more primary evidence is seriously investigated, the weaker the legal case against Lee Oswald becomes. From fingerprint evidence to the chain of possession on the hulls, the prosecution’s evidentiary case is literally shattered by conflicting statements and records. Worse than shattered, it’s possible to point out dozens of instances of actual conflicting official statements and reports. Attorney Bill Simpich and Crime Scene specialist Sherry Feister both commented on the situation in our final wrap up panel on Sunday morning and their opinions were the same – this sort of mess is not indicative of the sort of simple human error encountered in criminal cases.
The evidentiary case in Dallas was literally so bad that it’s impossible to believe that individuals were not adjusting their remarks as time progressed, Pat Speer did an exceptionally good job of highlighting that in the area of fingerprints. And it’s here that I’m beginning to see a real difference between Dallas and Washington. What we see in Dallas seems to be a case where individuals had to adjust themselves against the official story which evolved in Washington. Their choices were pretty simple, they could be stubborn, push back and risk their careers and reputations or just adjust, accepting that maybe they really had been wrong themselves. In the case of the DPD crime scene officers they are simply left looking incompetent.
The Doctors at Parkland were in a similar bind and we now know how much effort was spent bringing them in line after the fact, both subtly and not so subtly. Being professionals they too had to consider whether they might have simply gotten it wrong themselves, made inaccurate observations and conclusions on the wounds they had seen. After all, they would have had to object to an official autopsy report and they themselves had only seen the body in passing. I would say after hearing more Doctors first hand at this conference, they are finally coming to realize that their trust in the official autopsy was misplaced.
The thing is that when you get to Bethesda and the events in Washington, there is something else going on – with the evidence retrieved from Dallas and with the official autopsy materials, from the Doctors notes all the way through the process. It’s not that anything is necessarily “faked”, or not initially at least. It’s all just “managed” as time goes on. Not managed in real time, but essentially edited as the official record is developed. It becomes not a matter of what you see but what you don’t see in the official record. Dr. Chesser’s presentation, based on his recent review of primary X-ray materials is an example of that. Perhaps the best way to say it is that the official materials are incomplete but even with what is now available suggestive of a frontal shot to the President’s forehead.
Of course there were many more presentations and the opportunity to meet both some first generation researchers who have been missing in action but are back with us now as well as well as a chance to talk with some of the first day witnesses. My personal take away from that is that rather than going away after the 50th anniversary, the level of dissatisfaction with the official story of the assassination continues to grow. This conference was one of our largest in years, with more new attendees than I’ve seen in a good while.
I should also mention that the conference reinforced one of my own ongoing areas of interest – the official story of the Baker/Truly/Oswald encounter. I’m making no judgements there yet but my gut tells me it is flawed and that even if it happened there was a far longer lag time than some 90 seconds. We did get a chance to ask Buell Frazier about it and he has no recollection of seeing a uniformed police officer (in a motorcycle helmet no less) run by him on the stairs. I understand the situation was chaotic (although not so much for folks on the stairs right at first) but I’m having trouble accepting that you don’t see a police officer almost immediately rushing up the stairs and past you – unless it just didn’t happen all that quickly.
Enough for now, Santa’s on his way and need to spend time being really good today to try and save myself…

Surprise Attack Update

For those interested, I will be spending an hour or more this evening with Brent Holland on his Nightfright show this evening.  You can listen in live:

Or stream it later from the Night Fright web site.  We will be focusing on Surprise Attack and spending time on both 9/11 and Benghazi.  It ought to be interesting, Brent tells me that he has recently interviewed an officer who was in the White House bunker on 9/11 and describes it as Cheney and Rice’s best hour.  My view is a good bit different so that dialog should be educational for both of us.  We will also be comparing command and control and the overall national security response on 9/11 to that following JFK’s assassination in 1963.  I presented on that at the November in Dallas JFK Lancer conference last month, bench-marking events on Air Force One and at the Pentagon in 1963 not only to 9/11 but to the shooting of President Reagan.   That was well received and most present were surprised since normally the events of November 22, 1963 are discussed in isolation, without relating them to other similar crises.

The good news on Surprise Attack is that within two months of publication its now in over 300 libraries including almost all major US Universities and a number of overseas locations.  Its also making its way into military and intelligence institutes and even to the FBI’s academic library.  Getting Shadow Warfare and Surprise Attack into libraries is a major goal for me, Shadow Warfare topped out at around 400, hopefully Surprise Attack will follow. The down side is that retail sales and most especially online sales have fallen below hopes, that never pleases authors or publishers. We are not sure why, the topic would seem to be extremely relevant and contemporary, both in regards to events like Benghazi, the interdiction of lone wolf terror attacks and the emergence of what is coming close to a renewed Cold War – in that regard things are playing out far to close to what I predicted in the last chapter to suit me, I would have preferred to be wrong on that.

The book has gotten overwhelmingly good reviews, but the media traction and name recognition is just not there to boost the sales – not uncommon for history books unless you are a news or entertainment figure putting out history titles…just the way of the world.  In any event, listen in to Brent and I if you have a chance and feel free to raise your own questions here.  I plan to follow up with some remarks from the NID conference shortly, before Christmas if at all possible, so stay tuned for that as well.

Lone Wolves and Radicalization

I’ve waited for a bit too post on this, hoping that some sort of sanity would prevail but it looks like that could take longer than the years I have left.

It’s time we cut through the fear mongering and take a realistic look at lone wolf  terror attacks (which actually turn out not to be so “lone” in most instances) and radicalization in general. I’m not talking about well-organized jihadi attackc carried out in Madrid or in Paris, those are a risk of being at war with jihadist groups and not acknowledging it as a war (still no Congressional AUMF for ISIS, much less a declaration of war after Paris; hypocrisy rules the day in politics). I’ve said enough about that issue already.
Lone wolf attacks in London, Boston, San Bernardino and other places over the past few years are a product of Muslim religious radicalization, not strategic attacks organized by al Qaeda or ISIS for true psychological warfare. You did not find an Isis flag when a British soldier was attacked with knives in London, at the site of the Boston bombing or even in San Bernadino – you also didn’t find well prepared videos of the attacker’s jihadi declarations and al Qaeda or ISIS propaganda trailers. You might find a last minute Facebook statement or an affiliation tweet but that’s about it.
These days radicalization of all types occurs almost entirely via internet contact and social networking – it may be facilitated by trips overseas but that isn’t mandatory. And the radicalization process itself is really not new at all. In the 1960’s, bombing and shooting attacks against Jews and Blacks were carried out by radicalized lone wolves (and their friends) who had been converted and incited via Christian Identity social network propaganda. That message was distributed via radio broadcasts and by the dispatch of “ministers” across the nation, carrying cassette tapes to areas outside the reach of the radio (most of the broadcasts coming from the LA area). Numbers of people were injured and killed in attacks, including dozens in the bombing of Synagogues and black Christian churches – as well as the homes of Rabbis and black voting rights organizers. In one incident, a CI terrorist planned to dynamite a conference center in LA, killing Martin Luther King and hundreds of Jews as the meeting he was to address. Informants allowed that plot to be aborted. In later decades we have the example of the terrible Oklahoma City bombing – where the primary attacker was radicalized by ongoing contacts with ultra-right, anti-government “believers”, in particular by the leader of a cult retreat in eastern Oklahoma.
In the late 1960’s, when the FBI was ordered to stop the White Knight/Christian Identity terror attacks in the south – primarily in Mississippi – and verbally given the directive to do whatever was necessary, the networks were broken and the vast majority of the attacks were interdicted. There is no doubt the FBI violated civil liberties in doing so and that it conducted stings and entrapment. There is also no doubt that the agents involved stopped a vicious and escalating domestic terrorism initiative. Stu Wexler and I tell part of that story in The Awful Grace of God. In terms of the basic process and religious motivations the radicalization of Tommy Tarrants and Kathy Ainsworth was not all that different than the Muslim couple radicalized in San Bernadino – Tommy was recruited and converted to terror attacks by individuals carrying a apocalyptic message and went to LA for the final steps in his operational conversation and tasking. Syed Farook was recruited by radical jihadi’s carrying an apocalyptic message and went to Saudi Arabia (and possibly Pakistan) for the final conversion to becoming a terror attacker.
The fundamental difference is operational, Tommy and Kathy were using bombs and were targeting Synagogues and Rabbis while Syed and his wife had automatic weapons, and had been trained for much broader, mass murder type attacks. Of course that makes jihadi terror attacks more fearsome, since they are designed for mass murder. However the intelligence work and activities required to identify and defeat such converts are not all that different.
There are two points to be made here. First, like it or not the world is simply not a safe place. Apocalyptic religious causes make it less safe, so do politics – which can itself feed the radicalization process. The recent Colorado Springs lone wolf shooter (a true loner in that instance and imbalanced as well) was radicalized through political messaging – something actively denied by the politicians involved. Nothing new there, the Atlanta Olympics bomber was radicalized by the same message, he just didn’t kill as many people (bombs vs. automatic weapons again).
Second, the number of such attacks can be minimized. Intelligence groups and law enforcement know what to do and they are happy to tell the politicians what tools they need. I cover that in detail in Surprise Attack. I also dig into the numerous lone wolf attacks that have been aborted (the sort of successes something not much mentioned on talk shows). The sane solution would be to the defenders the legal powers and data access they request – and no more – and let them do the job as best they can, knowing attacks and casualties will still occur. Of course the trade-off is that increased security does involve some loss of privacy and total personal freedom – it always has, always will.
Back to the first point – the world is not a safe place now, but it never has been. Radicalization of all types will continue, the internet and social media of all sorts will facilitate it. There will be more attacks of all types and there will be more causalities. The sane solution lies in using all the tools available, focusing the defense as much as possible, interdicting as many of the attacks as possible and minimizing the ones that do occur by training and quick response – which was done extremely well by all the first responders in San Bernardino (need I say that I am always in awe of the first responders and always despise the attackers who leave bombs for them).
We just need to get beyond the search for quick solutions. There are no “magic bullets”, CIA executive action programs were a fool’s game during the Cold War, so is targeted assassination. Getting rid of dictators does not bring democracy. Attacking Mosques in America and shouting at Muslim worship groups does not defeat jihadi terror attacks. I can only paraphrase the lines from a classic Eagles song – “No more pitching and whining and throwing a fit – get over it.”