Classified Intelligence Reveal – Not

In looking at today’s news leads I was surprised to find that one of the top stories was that the “twitterverse had exploded” (not necessarily a bad thing) over the fact that Hillary Clinton might have revealed classified information in the third debate. The concern seemed to be that in demonstrating her knowledge of actual Commander In Chief protocols she had revealed classified information – speculation being that it was from an intelligence briefing.

First off, let me say that is utter nonsense. In my book Surprise Attack I cite numbers of open sources – going back to the early 1960’s – that give specific details about ICBM launch times and about the actual sequence of events, along with the timing and protocols required for launch. One of the most often discussed topics in all of those sources and for that matter in the press is the so called “3 AM call” in which the sequence of events from missile strike detection to Presidential launch authorization is within a 15 min time frame and the National Command Authority (President/SecDef) has no more than four to five minutes decision making time.

This scenario has appeared in dozens if not hundreds of fiction novels and stories, over some five decades. If those going to twitter had gone to Google or even Amazon with a word search we could have saved the twitterverse – truly not the best place to go for fact checking.

The good news is that Clinton knows how these things work and the parameters for the CIC in regard to national security at such a level. In Surprise Attack I discuss a series of  incidents which demonstrate that a good number of our former presidents and national security advisors really did not know the protocols/constraints and were never trained on such things. Generally the SecDef has had a clue; no Vice President appears to have had any idea of such matters and things only get worse as you go down the down the chain of designated successors.

In terms of a classified reveal, Clinton’s remarks simply show she knows what she is talking about in regard to such matters.

Which I must say is a lot better than most of the commentary that  I read in the news articles on the issue. Frankly I was pretty amazed to see that mainstream media folks carrying some sort of national security byline seem to have done a very poor job in addressing the question.

OK, so I’ve attacked the twitterverse and returned to attacking the main stream media – probably enough for the day.

Its not all about WikiLeaks

It’s not all about Wikileaks.  At least psychological warfare is not all about Wikileaks and whether or not Russian hackers used it as an outlet to insert information into the America presidential campaign. It’s true that a skeptical person might wonder about why all the recent email hacks being leaked targeted only one candidate, or about the timing given that many of the emails in question are several years old. Certainly an agenda is obvious, regardless of whoever is logistically involved.

What seems strange is that some of the same skeptics who have long been suspicious of Wikipedia as a tool for manipulating history and opinion don’t seem to realize that same exposure when brought to the table in the form of Wikileaks. From an actual tradecraft standpoint Wikileaks is far better for psychological warfare since the insertion of both real and crafted documents offers much more potential. The news media live on leaks and protected sources, mysteriously appearing documents have always had great impact – whether they turn out to be totally true as with the Pentagon papers, totally false or a well-crafted combination.

But the Russian psychological warfare I’ve been blogging on, and will continue to, is far more complex and has been in play for at least four years now. Perhaps that makes it harder to recognize?  I don’t know but I began writing about it when I was working on Surprise Attack. The key point is that psychological warfare is all about reducing the will to resist – it can be the will to resist an attack during wartime, the will to resist a geopolitical initiative during peace time or even the reshaping of your target’s political system before either of the those – “shaping the battle” doesn’t just occur during combat.

And psychological warfare always includes at least three elements – intimidation, the creation of doubt and the diminishment of the will to resist. Diminishing the will to resist includes convincing the target that whatever is your goal may be, it’s not really that bad, not really harmful and actually may be in the best interests of peace, morality, and maintaining the status quo.

So – back to Mr. Putin and his agenda (which over the last four years he has been able to make the Russian agenda – certainly the two were not one in the same for some years following the end of the Soviet hegemony). The earliest years of the Putin campaign truly focused on Eastern Europe and involved a push back against Western influence in former Soviet bloc nations. While much of that influence was economic and even cultural, there was a military element to it and the expansion of NATO provided the context for what began as a campaign to reinvigorate Russian nationalism domestically (and to insert Putin back into power) and military intimidation against NATO nations in support of that nationalism. The intimidation included not only conventional Russian military activities but seemingly out of the blue, the frequent assertion of Russian nuclear capabilities. I’ve covered all this in the book and in earlier blog posts so for the moment I’m going to try to illustrate my point that psychological warfare is not all about Wikileaks by turning to a smaller venue and certain less dramatic – but very effective psychological warfare tactics relating to Russian involvement in Syria.

Given that the Russian objective was to maintain a vital position on the Mediterranean Sea and grow influence in the Mideast (not an easy feat given their fiasco in Afghanistan) they needed to maximize intimidation – which they did though the use of sub launched cruise missiles out of the Baltic (totally unnecessary), tactical air strikes with nuclear capable strategic bombers (also not necessary) and finally the deployment of their most advanced Anti-Aircraft defense systems (not all that helpful against either ISIS or the Syrian rebels who have no air assets). It all sent a very strong media message, highly publicized by Russian outlets from Sputnik to RT (which had made a large expansion into the American media market, even bringing on respected liberal American news commentators).

But following intimidation comes “shaping”, convincing the American public – which at one time was strongly supportive of major American military involvement in Syria. First that involved the story line that Russia was actually wanting to work with the U.S. targeting ISIS. And that became the Russian media line – regardless of what the actual air strike data showed. You can check that out for yourself – and of course it’s even more effective if your stories get repeated into the American presidential campaign so as to create an instant base for your theme.

To take a step further, doubt and confusion are very handy, perhaps a few news stories to convince everyone that the American government is really the unseen evil hand in Syria.

First intimidation – accept that Russian forces are really in control of Syria already – then doubt as to who really is the bad guy and finally diminished will on the part of your target.  There are many ways to do that but one is to shape matters so that your target appears to be the trouble maker, the adversary of peace. If the target would only be more accommodating things would be far less dangerous, if not – it could mean war or a full return to a Cold War.  Again, if you think that is an exaggeration check out these links – and remember, these story lines are being carried as heavily inside Russia as they are internationally:

I’m sure this will be controversial but I offer it for your consideration.


PsychWar 2.0

When you are in the midst of a major geopolitical event sometimes you see it – sometimes you don’t. At the moment domestic American politics are covering up a story which began years ago and which the media is actually trying to cover (see, I can say nice things about the media).  But that media coverage is getting as little public traction as the initial investigative reporting on the CIA related aspect of Benghazi did, to some extent because the context is simply outside most people’s experience.  Beyond that the implications are such that its much more comfortable to ignore it – if you accept it you have to do more work, maybe even gossip less and what fun is that.

I can only skim the surface in blogging on it but the basic point is that the advent of the internet as the general public’s primary news source represents a tremendous opportunity for those parties who choose to use it for psychological warfare. To a large extent the United States pioneered the concept of using media as a psychological warfare tool in the early 1950 – primarily focused on radio and to a lesser extent physical mail.  I’ve written about one of the CIA’s most famed practitioners, David Phillips, who mastered the art of counter spin – planting news stories that the government would rightly deny but which were spun with just enough truth that the public would assume it was true because the government was denying it.  His techniques contributed to the fall of at least one Latin American government.

The British had practiced certain elements even earlier, their specialty was inserting faked documents and leaked diplomatic communications inside third countries in a manner that they would be discovered and influence the target country. In one particular instance it worked beautifully, with the United States as the country being targeted.

At the moment, Putin’s Russia has become an active practitioner of psychological warfare, in an evolved fashion, taking full advantage of the public nature of the internet. Russia is carrying out its current campaign at both a strategic and a tactical level. The internet campaign is also being beautifully orchestrated by synchronizing it with the editorial controlled content of various stories inserted via Russian press outlets and its RT television network.

These stories are picked up on the internet and become embedded in internet media outlets – where they are less obvious – and then are repeated both by individuals and at the moment by Donald Trump.  He represents a perfect target for psychological warfare as he clearly gets most of his news off the internet but from a limited set of  internet sources that seem eager to pass on material that in some instances can be traced back to Russian media stories. Several recent instances of this have even been noted in the media, revealed in their fact checking coverage.   The way the Russian psychwar folks are managing this is truly brilliant, David Phillips would have to admire it.

But there are much more advanced efforts in play as well, taking advantage of open source news and the ability to use hackers to obtain and then – either anonymously (or via faked identities) – plant either actual content, whether it be actual emails or possibly even documents. All this is relatively inexpensive – and allows Russian govt hackers to take advantage lone wolf, independent Russian and Eastern European hackers/hacker groups already in operation for financial purposes – using them and their servers as covers.

The next phase is obvious – they begin taking real hacked emails,  tweak them appropriately and leak them. Or, even more aggressively, inserting them into real world email exchanges  – the potential for for generating confusion as well as organizational hate and discontent is immense.

As I said, it a big and complex subject, and one that all of us who rely on the internet would prefer to avoid because it suggests we have to put in a lot more work and a lot more diligence on where we get our information.  And if you think I’m still being alarmist or just making this stuff up, check out the following links:


Presidents as Commander in Chief

Presidents may not know what to do in a military crisis but they have advisors who do.  That’s not me speaking but something that came up in a conversation I was having a couple of weeks ago and I had a hard time responding to it in an impromptu fashion. Of course the discussion was political, at this point in time everything seems to be – and I was expressing my strong concerns about one of the candidates who is notorious for talking and acting off the top of his head (well I suppose that gave it away right there).  The thing is, the original statement is true – Presidents do have advisors who are on hand and ready to offer experienced advice in contemporary times.  Since the early 1960’s,  Presidents have also had some level of direct communications with the actual point of the crisis (if they choose to use it).

The thing is that before I researched and wrote Surprise Attack I was a lot more comfortable about Presidential action at moments of crisis than I am now – because they do have resources available.  What I learned in doing that work is that their personal agendas and modes of action quite often override everything else including their advisors and what is going on at the crisis point. Their seems to be an intense personal motivation to take control and do so with immediate decisions.

To be clear, taking control can be issuing orders to do something, or orders to stop doing something.  That sounds convoluted so a couple of illustrations are in order.

The first takes us to 1964 and the destroyer Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam.  Word reached Washington D.C. of a possible attack on the American destroyer and within the span of some three hours President Johnson, with the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense, ordered a series of intense air strikes which essentially committed the U.S. to full scale conventional warfare against North Vietnam.  Before those orders could be carried out the U.S. Admiral responsible for the ships advised Washington that he was already receiving information suggesting that the destroyers had actually not been attacked and requesting a delay in any retaliation.   A Navy pilot observing the purported attack confirmed by radio that there were no signs at all of North Vietnamese boats anywhere near the destroyers. And on the Navy carrier which was preparing for the strikes,  there was general knowledge that it was a false alarm. The carrier commander is on record as being quite clear that the U.S. attack was launched under false pretenses, contrary to advice and requests from the senior on-scene military commanders.

Johnson rejected all that advice, moved forward and the rest is history.  Worse yet there was a cover-up of NSA signals intelligence proving no attack had occurred.

The second takes us to the Israeli attack on the Liberty signals intelligence ship in 1967, an attack which killed and injured dozens of Americans.  Once aware of the attack in progress, military commanders in the Mediterranean had scrambled Navy jets to defend the ship and repel attacks that continued to go on for hours. When President Johnson was advised of the situation and of the military action being taken, he ordered it stopped, leaving the Liberty alone and undefended. We have copies of the American carrier messages of support to the Liberty, we have confirmation of Johnson’s orders, beyond that we have anecdotal stories that he even considered sinking the American ship over political concerns.  Its clearly one of the most damming stories relating to any Presidential action and it was in direct contradiction to all advice  from military commanders on the scene, senior military advisors – and ongoing pleas for help from the ship.

Unfortunately these are only a couple of examples, there are far more in Surprise Attack. My problem is that after having written the book and having become familiar with what Presidents do and don’t do under pressure, I tend to become speechless when trying to respond to the point that things will be OK because President’s have advisors.  President GWB had advisors as well and after 9/11 swore that the US would act militarily but would never become a policeman or get into nation building – but of course he had advisors too.

Experience makes such a huge difference under crisis situations; you can see it in JFK’s character and in his personal experience in combat and having been involved with almost going to war over Berlin.   The other good thing is to have a CIC that thinks a bit before they actually act….

And if you think this is a bit alarmist, just remember that we have ships and planes operating in the South China Sea and in several areas with increasingly hostile contact not just from the Iranians but from the Russians and that the probability is that we will have an aircraft or plane damaged withing the near future, even if accidentally, because the contacts are becoming too close and too dangerous.  All that without even weighing in the insanity of  the North Korean leadership.  A moment of military crisis similar to the Tonkin Gulf or the Liberty is coming to the next President..count on it.

Revisionist History

I’m going to turn to contemporary events in this post, and talk about politicians rather than historians.  Historians have a challenging enough job revising history as new information emerges. Increasingly they have a tough time doing that in the face of the establishment political structures which are in place to some extent at University level but much more in regard to American High Schools – where history textbooks have become a primary tool of creating a history that is palatable to the power structures that manage to control appointments to the school book committees (Texas being a huge influence in that regard but more recently Colorado being an example of how bad things can get in that regard).  If you think I’m exaggerating just check into how many bills have been introduced in State legislatures to do away with advanced history in high schools because teachers might just be opening up to0 many doors for some people’s comfort.  My own state, Oklahoma is a prime example.

I’ve blogged on all that before here so instead let me turn to contemporary politicians  and select as an example the recently elected President of the Philippines. At the moment he is demanding that all American advisory forces depart the southern islands in his nation because they are responsible for the fundamentalist Muslim insurgency there – well actually he goes a bit further and blames that on the American occupation after the Spanish American war. If the American’s would just stop interfering in his country there would be no  problem.  Check the following link if you are not aware of this story:

Now while attitude may be true in more than one instance, it just so happens that the Muslim insurgencies throughout the western Pacific go back decades, and indeed centuries – provably traceable to locals attending and being trained in Saudi fundamentalist madrassahs.  I’ve blogged on that before, citing sources tracing insurgencies and waves of terror back into the seventeen and eighteen hundreds.

The thing is, President Duterte should well remember that the insurgency on those islands in modern times predated the arrival of any American advisors…in fact the insurgents were taking prisoners, and either raising a large war chest though hostage payoffs or just beheading them. Perhaps Duterte also has forgotten that the first major al Qaeda terror attack (the Bojinka plot) against America was organized in the Philippines; if it had not been interdicted the attack would have killed as many Americans as that of 2001 – and Bojinka came out of Manila, not the southern islands.

The Philippines requested American assistance in the years following the attacks of 2001 and the U.S. complied – sending in a small JSOC force in 2002; it maintained a very low profile and in working with the local military carried out one of the most effective programs to date against fundamentalist terror groups. I discuss that in Chapter 27 of Shadow Warfare.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about all of this is that its hard to tell if Duterte just doesn’t know all this and is not interested in finding out or if he is simply and effectively playing demagogue, telling people what they want to hear…?    What I do know is that when any politician shows no sense of understanding history, and tells the crowds just what they want to hear whether its true or not…. any nation is entering very dangerous waters with them in charge.  The other thing I know is that when those making national security decisions don’t know history, they will make mistakes and the rest of us will suffer the consequences. Been there, seen that.


What is missing from most of the research and commentary on President Kennedy’s assassination is much attention to what happened afterwards at a national security level.   That would exclude discussion of what happened in regard to Vietnam – which has received a great deal of attention.  What I’m speaking of is what happened among the national security principals over the first 72 hours immediately after the assassination.  It has always seemed to me that actions in the immediate aftermath of such a crisis could reveal a lot about what the most senior people believed – but would never say in public or put on the permanent record in any fashion.  Of course that presents a serious challenge because if its not recorded, you have to look for much more subtle indications. In my JFK research I spent considerable time with Johnson’s telephone log, his meeting schedule, and as far as possible his personal meetings and contacts during the three days following Dallas.  Someone should do the same sort of thing with the other major NSC principals. And that would include a through review of the biographies and articles done by their friends and acquaintances who might pass on personal remarks they heard relating to that period of time.  Writing out a cross linked chronology of activities and comments for about half a dozen of the principals could prove quite interesting.

My own work led me to speculate in SWHT that certain conversations and meetings during the first 72 hours led to the official issuance of a classified Presidential directive (which remains unlisted and classified but legally binding) pertaining to the control of certain types of information and even evidence related to the assassination. More specifically I connect that to certain phone calls and a meeting related to evidence pertaining to Lee Oswald in Mexico City. With that premise, it then becomes quite interesting to lay down what happened with major items of evidence during the first week, including materials related to the Presidential autopsy, the limousine, material evidence taken out of Dallas , the two sets of Zapruder story boards prepared by NPIC and even the convoluted story of the various editions of LIFE magazine (hint – relate that to the phone call from Johnson to Henry Luce on Sunday evening).  Also relate it to the remark by the CIA Director to a friend the following week that he had seen evidence of multiple shooters.

I would love to see serious researchers carry on that sort of study; I think it would prove far more convincing than a great deal of things that tend to drain off energy from some truly innovative research.  Pursuing that line of study – testing the hypothesis/scenario that much of what we see post assassination is damage control related to a legally issued executive order – would be a worthwhile pursuit.  In support of that idea you might start by pondering the following list of meetings and what might have gone on in each of them.  My thanks to Michael Swanson for recovering this link for me; at this point I can remember a great many documents I have seen over the past 16 years – but putting my hands on them again is a lot more challenging.


JFK Suspects

OK, after a foray into contemporary and international affairs I’ll return to the 1960’s and the assassination of President Kennedy.  To be more specific I recently returned to the assassination via a radio interview with my friend Doug.  Our discussion was quite focused since we both feel there is not doubt that there was a conspiracy and one traceable to a well defined network organized at a tactical level around certain CIA officers and fervent anti-Castro Cuban “patriots”. Between us we largely agree on the conspiracy, the unifying motive, the tactic of using Oswald in an attempt to frame Castro and that there was a decision at the highest levels of government not to pursue any actual investigation of conspiracy in fear of exposing intelligence connections and operational activities – not to mention the potential national security risk of where an actual investigation might lead within the CIA.

With that level of agreement the obvious place to turn is to follow the leads to Dallas and to determine credible suspects which might give a more definitive picture of how the Dallas attack came into being. What puzzles us both is that there are people that were known to be in Dallas, specifically reported to the FBI as having been involved in the attack on JFK and with two of them proven to not only have been very close friends but operationally involved in attacks against Castro…both before and after the assassination.  And one of them even admitted going to Dallas, brought in as an actor in the conspiracy.

Given that level of definition, both Doug and I ponder why so much focus and dialog is elsewhere…well we not only ponder it but we go on about it for half an hour…if that sounds interesting, take a listen:



Russian propaganda

OK, so I’m not really planning on turning this blog into a political outlet but in line with my most recent posts I felt I had to continue to give some attention to how a new form of Cold War is emerging.  It’s something I forecast in Surprise Attack and I do think its serious, particularly so since it plays to some of the real strengths of what is a particularly nasty form of psychological warfare – one which integrates a moderate level of deniable military action (most often through surrogate forces) with some extremely effective geopolitical propaganda.  We are seeing that in the Ukraine now, and in Syria. The Russians have always been extremely adept at this sort of thing, much more so than the U.S.   Not that we didn’t try it a great deal back in the Cold War, we just didn’t ever make it work that well.  And it frequently turned back on us in domestic politics while a given administration was trying to execute it internationally.  A two party system helps in that regard. On the other hand, the Russians with their Cold War level of  control over their press were much more efficient. Now with Putin’s renewed control over Russia and its media –  and with what is effectively now a single party system or at best an oligarchy, Russia is once again prepared to be very effective with such tactics.

Actually its a good thing that our open press so often deconstructed our own efforts in deniable and covert warfare – the contemporary problem with the Russians using it against is two fold, first that the Russian press had been brought massively in line and shows some success in channeling their propaganda message – even thought ostensibly independent news channels.  The second is that internet news sources and blogs makes it much easier to feed stories into the American public and into our political process.

We were all rather naive about such things back during the Cold War, we can see it all much more clearly in retrospect. The danger is not applying such history lessons and insights to what is happening today in real time….its not clear to me we are doing that, hence my continued focus on the issue.  For starters, take the little piece of internet news below and just remember that it is all a very artful propaganda construct, actually incorporating pieces of real news stories for a purely dis-informational pitch – a very nice job indeed, so nice its scary (and note how easily it picks up the NATO theme, something omnipresent with Russian propaganda these days).




Political Hacking as psychological warfare

This is a follow up post to the “Russians are Coming” from a week or so ago.  If that raised your interest, you need to read the following article.  I was quite serious in my first post and unfortunately it appears that things are escalating.  The use of cut-outs and “covers” in covert action and spying is well documented and now that same trade-craft is being translated into American domestic politics.  With these sorts of attacks it is very difficult to trace a specific source, although as described in the article, it is possible to focus in on some of the moist likely ones – the easiest way to figure out the who and why is to focus on who is being targeted and what motive that reflects.  Read on, this is very current and its deadly serious…




Gaeton Fonzi on Cuban Intelligence

In late 1995, journalist and former HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi traveled to Cuba and interviewed Fabian Escalante, the former head of Cuban Counter Intelligence. The interview was part of a planned article for Esquire magazine. Escalante talked with Fonzi for hours about his role protecting Castro, and together they toured a museum devoted to artifacts of assassination plots against the Cuban leader.

The article was never published by Esquire. But, through the generosity of Fonzi’s widow Marie, the Mary Ferrell Foundation is now making it available for the first time. It is entitled “And Why, By the Way, is Fidel Castro Still Alive?: The Inside Story of Cuban Intelligence.  You will find the article through the link below.

We were happy to have Marie Fonzi speak at last year’s JFK Lancer conference in Dallas and even happier that she will be returning to present again this November.  She has some fascinating insights into what her husband did while working as one of the few experienced investigators to serve Congressional inquiries – as well as his personal thoughts about the people involved and his inside view of the HSCA  practices.