RFK and Conspiracy

Many readers may have already seen my posts and essays on the murder of Robert Kennedy.  If so, you are familiar with my view that there is absolutely no doubt that there was a conspiracy involved with his death.  My conclusion comes from a considerable amount of time spent not only with the research of others but my own time in the LAPD and FBI files as well a other original materials in key archives. It includes issues ranging from the weaknesses in the LAPD investigation to the evidence for far too many shots to be from a single gun.  Once you get through all that, and become deeply familiar with the evidence, the witnesses and the chronology of events, you know there was conspiracy in play.  At that point, matters begin to hinge around a number of key witnesses to other parties than Sirhan – and the importance of the Polka Dot Dress girl.  Over the last few years Stu Wexler and I have spent a fair amount of time on a  search for that young women and continue to pursue confirmation of our identification.

Stu and I had the opportunity to talk with Chuck Ochelli about all this last week for some two hours.  That conversation would be a good introduction for anyone not familiar with the subject.  We hope to continue the discussion this week, with particular attention to the girl and her two young male companions.

If you are new to the subject or want a refresher,  you might want to check out the recent interview:

 

 

Roy Hargraves and Dallas in Nov 63

Over the decades we have come to learn a good deal about the actual conspiracy that murdered President Kennedy.  We have very credible information on the people who went to Dallas in November, 1963, who those individuals were personally connected to in independent anti-Castro operations and we know a great deal about their hatred for the President and their view that he was both a traitor and an ongoing national security risk.  Yet over 50 years later there is still broad debate about the conspiracy and a lack of focus on those most directly involved.

I suspect part of the reason for that lack of focus is a failure to truly appreciate what we have learned, and to grasp its internal consistency and independent corroboration.  That understanding takes a great amount of study. And it involves a considerable understanding context, of fully knowing the related social networks – all in all what might simply be dismissed as minutia.  It is an effort which involves slogging – and that is clearly not as much fun as internet browsing  (sorry, sarcasm disclosure).  And its not a grand story of a terrible, complex conspiracy.

Instead its a story of a relatively small group of individuals, almost all of whom considered themselves to be patriots acting in the best interest of their native country, whether it was Cuba or the United States.  It’s  a scenario I lay out in obnoxious detail in Someone Would Have Talked and in a much more focused fashion in NEXUS.  But for those who have not read those works, or who might not feel like digging into them without some incentive, I offer you Roy Hargraves.

Roy Hargraves, a man who was independently reported to the FBI in early 1964 as a suspect in the attack on the President, a man who volunteered to help Jim Garrison and along with Bernardo de Torres helped poison Garrison’s investigation of the Cuban exile community. A man who, in the presence of his lawyer, years later admitted going to Dallas and building a bomb which did not have to be used.  He admitted to a great many other things as well, but cautiously, under guidance.  Among the things he acknowledged was the presence of his very good friend Felipe Vidal Santiago in Dallas – another fact which had first been registered in FBI reports back in 1963.

Hargraves represents a good entry point into understanding the actual nature of the conspiracy and the attack on JFK.  And for a brief introduction, I offer the following interview done a couple of days ago, I hope you find it interesting if you have the time to listen.

https://22novembernetwork.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/the-dallas-action-pt-87-the-gunboat-cowboys-roy-hargraves-with-larry-hancock/

 

Mary Ferrell Foundation Resources

Hopefully most readers are familiar with the Mary Ferrell Foundation – but perhaps only as a documents archive.  Certainly the foundation’s web site does contain over a million pages of actual documents relating to the assassinations and related investigations of the 1960’s and 1960’s.  It has an extremely good search function and as part of the search will show you not only documents and sources but related books and articles on your search item.  I suspect a number of folks think of it as totally focused on JFK but its far broader than that as you can quickly see by scanning the home page and finding the major areas include MLK, RFK and other major events of the period.

https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Main_Page.html

The home page also introduces you to a wealth of essays, articles and interviews on the site – including my own. and in particular my book length essays on the RFK assassination.

Currently and for the next year, a major focus of the Foundation and of the site is the exploration of what sets of documents have been released, where the holes are and what seems to have disappeared along the way. That applies not only to government agency documents but also to the work of the various investigations such as that of the Church Committee.  If you want to stay current on what is going to be released in 2017, what is being reclassified, denied or apparently been lost the site is not only a very good place to start but one you should visit periodically.

Beyond that, one of the major areas of Foundation research at the moment has to do with interpreting documents, in particular CIA documents.  A of individuals has been at work researching CIA cryptonyms and  publishing the results of that research.  You can find new releases and a guide to the entire set of research at:

https://www.maryferrell.org/php/cryptdb.php

If you really want to learn some American history, as well as how the CIA has actually carried out its missions, the way to jump head first into it is to begin wading through the cryptonyms, it will give you a true sense for the types of activities they have engaged in, who they work with and how they carry out that work.  And I assure  you its a lot different than you find represented in a great deal of popular fiction and action novels. There is a lot more bureaucracy, an obsessive concern over deniability, a constant concern over internal security and far more “political” action and manipulation than there is covert and paramilitary action.  That’s there too, enough for me to do over 400 pages in Shadow Warfare, but that’s only one branch of the Agency and only one area of their missions.  The crypts give you a much broader view.

If you have not visited the Mary Ferrell Foundation, take a look.  You can dig deeply into a great many areas and I can promise you it will be closer to reality than spending your time on YouTube…

 

 

Sources, News and Fact Checking

 

One of the ongoing problems we all face in dealing with contemporary history (where sources can come forward or be questioned years or decades after the fact) is the issue of memory vs. reality. I’ve posted about that issue and it’s a challenging one – especially when the sources start telling us things we really want to hear, things they did not say to anyone at the time, offer to official investigations (even anonymously) or record in any way prior appearing  with new and explosive information.

I noted a series of posts the other day in which the release of James Files was being discussed.  The most striking comment was one person saying that Files sounded sincere and they would believe him until it was conclusively proved he was making false statements. OK, but that is a matter of belief, of faith and a personal decision and needs to be accepted for what it is and no more.

What is becoming more of a concern to me is that more and more elements of the media are also sliding into news which either factually suspect or presented with little background or context. In some instances that appears to be just part of an overall trend in the news media, which has  re-positioned itself as a combination of “reality TV” and as entertainment (same thing with the Weather if you look closely).  I first sensed we were entering a sea change when CNN came up with the “Situation Room” format….essentially saying to the audience that this is not just news, its “participation” and anything and everything can be made into a crisis or situation.

Worse yet, the exponential increase in the number of news outlets on cable/satellite and on the internet has combined with talk radio and blogging to create a demand for content which is really not news, it’s simply grist for editorial, most often with a pretty obvious agenda. Those outlets are on the air so frequently that they constantly need new content and are constantly on the lookout for content that “fits”.  They want it so much that they increasingly accept it with no vetting of sources or any real fact checking – even to the extent of not vetting their own on screen analysts.  Fox got burned just last week for long term use of a military/national security specialist whose background was a good deal less than what Fox was touting –  and the discrepancies were not that hard to find.

The last couple of weeks brought us a dramatic example of this rush to news in the national story about Ted Cruz’s father being linked to Lee Oswald and the JFK assassination.  I’m not going into that here, it’s been widely deconstructed since it was based in nothing more than some highly problematic opinions by two facial recognition “specialists” who then became pretty defensive about even their own remarks on the identification.  It’s not clear how the story was generated, it is clear that it was promoted for political purposes.  And sadly one of the main bloggers promoting it appears to have committed suicide.

http://www.ibj.com/articles/58378-blogger-gary-welsh-dies-in-apparent-suicide

Of course if you follow his death down the right internet trails that in itself will reveal a conspiracy and actually verify the original Cruz story (uh, that was sarcasm, just to be clear).

And this week I ran across the following on Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/05/12/could-have-been-there-squadron-member-speaks-out-on-stalled-benghazi-response.html

The story first focuses on an unnamed source (we don’t know his unit, his rank or most important his career specialty or his base of assignment).  We are told his remarks are in regard to aircraft on the flight line at Aviano Air Base in Italy….

The source said: “I definitely believe that our aircraft could have taken off and gotten there in a timely manner, maybe three hours at the most, in order to at least stop that second mortar attack … and basically save lives that day.”

The story about a failure to deploy aircraft then transitions to Mike, described as a former team sergeant for a military anti-terror quick reaction force, once known as the CIF…

“For some reason they were all shut down, and I think it leads back to a policymaker somewhere because nobody in the military is going to shut down an operation,” he said. On the night of the attack, Mike was at Delta Force headquarters in the U.S. monitoring the events as they happened.

And if you can’t guess the political implications of the story – which appeared to gain little traction other than at Fox – you can read it for yourself.

The thing is that the average reader is simply presented with no context and no real facts which would allow them to evaluate either the man from Aviano or Mike as to their credibility, or perhaps most importantly for the value of their observations. Having researched Benghazi in considerable detail – and written about it in Surprise Attack – I can tell you that both the activities at Aviano and Special Forces headquarters were examined in great detail by lots of people including Congressional Committees desperately seeking evidence of exactly the sort of failure to respond that the Fox article pursues with these two new sources.

Those investigations left few stones un-turned, we have the details of the teams that were assembled and dispatched, we have the details of the air units and weaponry at Aviano and exactly why the decision was made not to send fighter bombers to Libya. We even know the command structure in that decision and the fact that for most of the night that command was aware of the embassy in Benghazi but not of the CIA operation being conducted out of the annex. If anyone is interested in all that it’s available in numerous sources and summarized in my chapter on Benghazi.  Email me if you want to chat about it. Perhaps the most discouraging fact is that there are some serious lessons to be learned from the attack and changes that were made afterwards – but since the media doesn’t cover those sorts of stories it’s hard to tell if those changes are still in effect, or have been funded in the current budgets.

Admittedly I’m rambling a bit, but my real message here is that everyone certainly will reach their own conclusions, opinions and beliefs on such events.  Fine.  But the media – well what at one time was called the news media, now it’s just the media – either needs to return to its roots in fact checking and true investigative journalism or we need to be a lot more cautious and critical about what it sends our way as news.

Surprise Attack interview

Over the past year or so I’ve done a serious of lengthy interviews with Brent Holland.  Brent allocates and hour to two hours for the interviews so it gives the time to go into a level of detail that is normally missing in interviews – and the time for some far ranging discussion.  Brent has had some difficulty in keeping the interviews up on YouTube due to certain of its content guidelines – some of their reviewers don’t like controversial content and of course that’s pretty much all that I write about.  They also have some qualms about going into subjects with associated violence and of course that’s a little hard to avoid when you write about assassination, covert action, special operations, gray warfare and surprise attacks.

In any event, for the moment at least, the interviews are up so I thought I would post a new link every few days, allowing time for questions for anyone who has not seen the interviews or read the books.  The first one up is my focused on my newest work, Surprise Attack….which deals with preparedness, command and control and the effectiveness of the military response beginning with Pearl Harbor, moving on through various Cold War incidents such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Tonkin Gulf, the Liberty and Pueblo attacks and on though 9/11 to Benghazi. It ends with some lessons learned and some speculation in regard to current affairs and contemporary Russia.  Unfortunately some of that speculation has come far closer to the mark than I would have liked.

I think its also fair to say that there are some interesting lessons in regard to what is most desirable in a Commander in Chief, certainly a relevant subject in an election  year.

So, take a listen and either post or email questions as you prefer; hope  you enjoy the discussion.  Brent’s a lively host.

 

 

 

 

2016 JFK Lancer Conference

Almost everyone with any interest in the assassination of President Kennedy is aware of the fact that the initial investigation of that crime as well as a series of follow-on inquires has created an immense body of government documents.   Some people feel that the government actually determined the true nature of a conspiracy in the assassination and that information is withheld in documents – or at least documents suggestive of a conspiracy are still being withheld.

Concerns over “withheld” government documents are so great that as recently as the 1990’s a special body, the Assassination Records Review Board was created, with the expressed purpose of locating records that might be missing, obtaining them and making them available through the National Archives. It’s fair to say that tens of thousands of documents have been made available to researchers over the past decade and there is much anticipation of a “final” release of JFK records by the National Archives in 2017.

Exactly what that release is going to consist of has actually been announced and researchers are already digging into that listing, even though the documents themselves are not yet available.  However those eager for access to additional information have to deal with the fact that agencies can still withhold documents on the basis of national security and can also designate documents at the National Archives to be either redacted (meaning that portions of the document are blacked out) or withheld in full.

In anticipation of the 2017 release, JFK Lancer is holding its 20th research conference in Dallas this November   The conference will be devoted to preparing attendees to deal with the body of data that is already available as well as the information that will be forthcoming in 2017.  Both experienced researchers and newcomers to the events of November 22, 1963 have to deal with an almost overwhelming amount of information available though many sources, many of which are credible and some of which most certainly are not.

The 2016 conference will focus on research techniques that have been proven to work, offering attendees the personal experiences of a group of long time researchers, as well as those recently entering the quest to understand the murder of President Kennedy.  My own presentation will deal with the difficulties in assessing purported “insider” sources – and the type of work that is necessary to separate reality from fiction in historical research.

For those interested in the subject or wish to register for the conference, you can find further details at the link below, I’m happy to respond to questions here or, as usual, you can email me.

http://jfklancer.com/Dallas2016/welcome.html

 

Deep Money / Dark Money

Deep (or dark, your choice) money has once again come briefly into view, the subject of global news attention for at least a few days in the Panama Papers scandal.  If you were away from the news for a time an internet search will give you the basics, this time the news is centered on the customers of a very low profile law firm in Central America – Mossack Fonseca. Mossack Fonseca specializes in the use of shell companies and blind trust accounts to effectively obscure the movement of money and to shield its ownership from those who don’t want their names associated with it. The firm uses the international banking services of firms such as Commerzbank, HSBC and Societe Generale.  The banks themselves simply make their services available without too much concern other than effectively moving money from account to account and location to location.

Technically it’s all a process which had its roots in international banking during the two World Wars, when various corporations determined it would be profitable to conduct business with nations who were at war with their own governments – but wished to avoid governmental scrutiny or public outcry while in search of possible short term, highly profitable business opportunities. Those transactions set the stage for “financial deniability” in the twentieth century.

Following World War II, and during the early decades of the Cold War, a new form of deep money operations came into play, driven largely for the need provide “political deniability” for covert government operations. If you have Shadow Warfare, you find this phase of deep money described in detail in the chapter on “Evolution of a Covert Warfare Infrastructure” and further detailed in a following chapter, “Autonomous and Deniable”. We also discuss the roots of that practice, illustrated by the actions of President Roosevelt in covertly funding a program to provide both defensive and offensive air forces to China – with the intent of preemptively striking Japan.

The lesson to be learned from the early covert operations, especially those in SE Asia, is not only how deep money really works, but how quickly certain of the front and shell companies – and the banking infrastructure put in place to move money through them – were taken over by criminal elements.  The lawyers who put the infrastructure in place proved aggressive in marketing its capabilities to a wide variety of customers, asking few questions along the way. Their Boards of Directors generally asked even fewer questions. Within a short period of time drug money from the Golden Triangle, skim money from Las Vegas and Havana and yet more drug money from New York, Florida and the Gulf states were flowing through the same deep conduits, sometimes even within the certain of the more autonomous shell companies the CIA was using for its own tasks.  The CIA’s surrogates often became quite skilled at using the same deep money practices for their own profit.  In fact, by time of the Contra activities, the CIA actually had to establish an “understanding” with the Justice Department to allow it to remain involved with Contra leaders who were  doing drug business on the side – without reporting them to DEA as the CIA was obligated to do by law.

Today both the CIA and and operational units within joint counter terror task forces find themselves still facing  the reality that the people they need to use/support in their mission are sometimes more than ready to make and engage in illegal activities on the side, once again turning to dark money transactions.  It’s a fact of life, it comes with the territory and its naive to think you can do regime building or collect information on terror groups with their own darn money networks without occasionally enabling such transactions. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as stupid (a little attitude showing) as shipping tons of American cash into Iraq, loaded on pallets.  It would be interesting to compare the amount of actual dollars lost to fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan to the dark money activities of the locals being supported in regime and nation building. Not likely to happen though.

Back to Panama Papers and today’s large scale deep/dark money trends.  What appears most significant to me is not how Mossack Fonseca was gaming the financial system but rather that most of their customers appear to have been politically connected individuals using their services to shield questionable internal financial activities within their own nations (Mr. Putin and his friends come to the fore, as do individuals from China, Iceland, Syria).  Some twenty-nine Forbes-listed billionaires have been named in Mossack Fonseca transactions. No doubt further investigation will uncover drug money and possibly even artifact money, the latter having become really big business following the massive archeological thievery in Iraq and Syria.  But primarily its a matter of individuals with a lot of political reach and/or financial clout hiding their money making from their national media and, of course, from taxation.

So, with the end of the Cold War (well the first Cold War, let’s call it CWI for short) deep financial transactions are no longer primarily a tool for covert military and political operations.  Now the American government just ships cash overseas to fund regime building and military missions. Nothing covert about that. Now the dark money techniques and infrastructures originally built to provide national deniability, quickly penetrated for use in shielding criminal activities, have now become largely devoted to simply protecting ultra-rich individuals and global corporations from paying taxes.

Putting it all in perspective, there seems to be something of a political message in all this.  We used to follow the money to dig into the covert side of international relations.  Now it seems that it’s become much more personal, that in itself suggests some interesting political implications. Almost as interesting as tracking the political contributions and potential legislative manipulation carried out by those same individuals and corporations.  At the moment Supreme Court rulings have left us in a state where those investigations are much more challenging. But who knows, perhaps “anonymous” will turn their attention to the arena of campaign donations?

I also can’t fail to mention the irony in all this – that tools and techniques originally developed for government covert action are now being turned against governments world wide to seriously gut those government’s own tax collections.

Mitch Werbell

One of the challenges for anyone interested in the assassination of President Kennedy is simply dealing with the immense amount of material that has gone into print and onto the internet.  The good news is that in terms of actual data – documents, primary evidence, material from official investigations – decades of research and legal pressure have generated a host of material and  a large amount of it is available online.  In addition, a great deal of contextual historical material for the period available. You don’t necessarily find it in JFK assassination discussions but it is contained in independent historical studies of the early Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations –  especially in the growing numbers of very solid biographies and autobiographies of individuals associated with the Kennedy era – individuals commonly discussed in conjunction with the assassination.

In many instances I’ve found that corollary material to be more important – and more factual – than what may be found in postings and books about the assassination itself.  For example, it is common to find claims that Mitch Werbell, one of the larger than life figure of the 60’s  and a person of interest for both official investigations and JFK researchers, was involved in the assassination.  It has become something of an article of faith for many that Werbell provided advanced silencers that were used in the attack in Dallas.

The problem with the belief is that it literally cannot be true, even if on occasion Werbell himself might have made remarks to encourage such an idea. Being an an expert at self promotion, Werbell happily claimed a great number of things which helped make him a figure of mystery, a man of vast connections and a person of great value to anyone wanting to buy advanced weapons or acquire experienced mercenary personnel.  It’s fascinating to read his media interviews.  I recall one recording a trip by Werbell to Washington, traveling with an attractive secretary, a  locked briefcase and verbally pondering in front of the journalist about which military service to visit first, which foreign embassy to contact next and asking his secretary not to let him miss his appointment at the “farm”.  His sales style was admirable in terms of impressing dictators of small foreign countries, not so much for the CIA office of security.

As for myself, he was one of the figures that intrigued me in my early research so I obtained a good amount of his actual CIA file – which led me to that previous remark about the CIA’s view of him. I wrote about him at some length -” The Legendary Mitch Werbell” – in Someone Would Have Talked.  Of course these days you can search and read online much of what I had to dig out of NARA the hard way back then.  It all paints a much more complete picture of Werbell and his career, but most importantly it allows time stamping of exactly when he became involved with silencer technology including when he acquired the patents and started his weapons business.  All of which occurred well after the Kennedy assassination. The key word there being “after”.  Whatever reputation he developed for amazing silencer technology came about after the events in Dallas, not before.  Its all there in the documents and today its also available in articles such as the one at this link:

http://warisboring.com/articles/mitchell-werbell-silenced-the-u-s-armys-m-14s-and-m-16s/

My point in all this is that it pays to read widely and search broadly when you jump into the Kennedy assassination.  Don’t limit yourself to just the JFK books (even mine) and certainly not to the YouTube videos on the assassination – test what is presented to you with other sources.  The first generation JFK researchers referred to themselves as skeptics – skeptical of the official story on the assassination.  Skepticism was a healthy thing then, it remains so today.

 

 

Eyewitness Issues

 

In terms of research I often describe myself as a “document geek”, there are a number of reasons I tend to focus on primary or at least secondary documents – one may be that some decades ago I had a very good teacher in a graduate course on historiography. We received an intense and clinical introduction to risks of relying on individuals as sources and his remarks seem to have embedded themselves in my psyche.  When I first became involved with research into political assassinations, in particular the murder of President Kennedy, I was fortunate enough to get a complete set of the early Dallas Police hand written statements.   That was back before the internet when scoring such materials was a lot tougher than just using Google and a browser.

One of my first lessons in using the statements was how dramatically witness testimony evolved, either expanding or being refocused within days or at most a week.  Another point was that what researchers focused on in terms of a particular witness was not at all what the witness had themselves focused on in their statements.  Following that I did a lot of work with FBI interviews and reports and quickly learned a) that FBI agents used closed interview techniques rather than open and b) if a subject wanted to talk about something not on their investigation list they closed them down quickly and dug into what their specific interests were – interviews of individuals who knew Jack Ruby are a really good example of that.

In later years, people have asked me why I didn’t really concentrate on follow up interviews.  My response is that while I have talked to many of the people whose names come up in regard to Dallas, both witnesses, police, “suspects”, I just don’t view it as being productive research.  Not when I’m talking to them four decades after the event, and especially when I was talking to really bright people like Gerry Hemming.  I learned I could catch them in misstatements but that only confirmed what I already suspected, which was that I was wasting my time.

More recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time evaluating eyewitness testimony for some new work I’m doing and I’ve turned back to some of the best available professional studies on the subject.  My friend Sherry Feister, a Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst, provides some excellent insight into witness perception – evaluating witnesses to violent crimes, focusing on their observational ability’s during chaotic events such as shootings.  Certainly I would recommend her book, Enemy of the Truth, Myths, Forensics and the Kennedy Assassination to anyone who wades into the JFK, MLK or RFK assassinations.

http://www.amazon.com/Enemy-Truth-Forensics-Kennedy-Assassination/dp/0988305003/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459340294&sr=1-1&keywords=sherry+feister

For a broader perspective, I would also recommend reading Elizabeth Loftus work Eyewitness Testimony, it tends to focus on witnesses from a legal perspective, in particular how law enforcement collects witness information and how it is offered and received in court.  However the basic research that she offers and illustrates should make all of us stop and seriously reconsider witness information taken after the first two hours or the first two days. In addition, it also calls into question the tendency to rely too heavily on witness detail.

http://www.amazon.com/Eyewitness-Testimony-Elizabeth-F-Loftus/dp/0674287770/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459342155&sr=1-9&keywords=loftus

Extensive testing has shown that marked inaccuracies occur in witness reports of the time involved in observed events, the speed of an object or distance of an object – judgement of speed is especially difficult. Witnesses also routinely overestimate the time of their observation and the time of an event – stress or anxiety in the witness magnify the overestimation – duration of an event is perhaps the most common inaccuracy in estimates.

Going beyond problems with the acquisition of information during events, additional and extensive tests show that “forgetting” occurs rapidly and tapers off over time – accuracy suffers with duration but most significantly in the near term.  First day data is far superior in terms of accuracy, one week delay can make a major difference. The reason behind that rapid loss of accuracy is part memory dynamics but also the proven fact that new and even erroneous information quickly contaminates observations- whether it is from the news or from simply talking with other individuals.

Post-event information can actually change memory to the extent of firmly embedding new or false information along with original memories, it becomes almost impossible to separate and witnesses seldom accept the difference even when shown proofs.  One of the classic tests demonstrates that witness will argue against their own written, immediate statements – claiming weeks and years after the fact that they must have been mistaken in notes made within hours since they remember it definitely a year or a decade later.

Loftus continues with a detailed study of the impact of “retrieval”, providing examples of how different questioning techniques, innocently or intentionally, can actually add concrete details to a witness story.   Signs can be inserted or changed in traffic accident reports, Weapons or other evidence related elements can be added or deleted from robbery or even murder testimony.

Lesson learned –  if you are serious about the facts, start with first day statements – to anybody – simple statements to the press are fine, written statements are good but it has to be the witnesses’ own words and not as restated by anyone in a media story or police interview.  Now obviously we don’t always have this information, but the closer you get to it the closer you are getting to the reality the witness.  At least then you reduce the number of issues down to those of witness perception.

Deter or Defer?

As described in recent posts, Russia’s current leadership – which translates quite literally to Vladimir Putin – has chosen to establish and maintain its power through an appeal to national security (NATO as a threat) and Russian nationalism.  In doing so Putin has been extremely heavy handed in returning the Russian media to virtually total government control. For Putin it was simply a calculated risk and one that had to be taken, his only route to regaining and maintaining political power was though the traditional appeal to Russian nationalism, reinforced with an assertive and successful Russian foreign policy. Events in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine quickly validated the approach and also demonstrated that traditional Soviet era techniques were still effective in quashing the free press that had emerged following the collapse of the communist regime.

To this point Putin has proved extremely successful with his political strategy and in managing his resources – advertising Russian strategic and nuclear weapons while selectively using his tactical military assets sparingly and largely for intimidation, letting third party surrogates do most of the actual dyeing in both the Ukraine and Syria. Maintaining the fiction of some undefined but existential western threat has also allowed Putin to funnel virtually all available monies into a resurgent Russian military, including the initial development of new ICBM’s, strategic bombers, powerful naval vessels-  and very advanced submarines.  All of which are highly symbolic of Russian power and make for great internal media opportunities.

After two years of Putin’s strategy,  Russia has seen over two billion dollars leave the country, its gross national product is down by almost four percent in the last year, the Ruble has lost half its value and inflation is now around 17%.  In most other countries this would be politically disastrous, but that assumes a viable political opposition (now nonexistent in Russia) and the fact that Putin has managed to establish his own personal persona as a leader – symbolizing Russian power yet disassociated from the day to day administrative and financial problems of the Russian government.

http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/15/opinions/russia-syria-presence-aron/

Syria proved to be an excellent example of Putin’s tactical sophistry, allowing Russia to put trade and political pressure on perhaps the most internally challenged and conflicted NATO member – Turkey – while simply using up a portion of their older, “dumb” weapons, showing off Russian air power in a low threat environment against the Syrian rebels and demonstrating new long range cruise missiles to boost foreign weapons sales. When it was becoming clear that Russian aircraft were about to become exposed to man portable antiaircraft missiles being fed into Syria, they began drawing down their air strikes while leaving advisors and advanced helicopters in action, and totally securing at least two Mediterranean ports under their direct control, protected by highly advanced, very long range anti-aircraft missile systems.  I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the Russia will hold those ports for decades, much like is holding the Crimea, regardless of what happens to Assad.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-300_%28missile%29

As an update to the original post, the following link will provide some good insight into the Russian withdrawal from Syria – which is most definitely tactical only:

https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/even-russians-withdraw-their-legacy-syria-remains?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syriasatellitelegacybutton&utm_content=topimage&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–qVbylaqA7ggsQTqqXXQezKB72FZgGGUxVNeUnurWb2gqfhnxMgzJGBKX74cJSnRfW4UVAG2eH2G-vu3Z3mHlKOoXdag&_hsmi=27476267&hsCtaTracking=07e585f3-81d9-4e00-aa99-cf5be0c7ac2d|76e4d208-1870-40b9-a56d-79eefd6a8121

So from the Russia perspective all this is really pretty obvious, old school strategy.  The reason I’m writing about it here has to do with the concepts of strategic deterrence and mirroring.  To this point Putin has been highly successful in focusing Russian dollars on a military resurgence, both strategic and tactical. And the Russians are very good at engineering high powered weapons and are coming up with some extremely advanced and capable designs.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-shows-that-russia-built-an-effective-military-now-how-will-putin-use-it/2016/03/17/aeaca59e-eae8-11e5-a9ce-681055c7a05f_story.html

They are also quietly and very effectively supporting a set of new buffer state armies.

http://warisboring.com/articles/little-armenia-could-play-a-big-role-if-russia-and-turkey-ever-go-to-war/

What is fascinating is that Putin and the successes of his domestic/international power politics strategy seems to be having no significant impact on American politics. That is truly a major change. The American political contests have become so socially charged and so internally focused that Putin is simply not registering as either a threat or a challenge – in fact you have one of the major presidential candidates stating that he views Putin as being a powerful and assertive leader and feels they will have much in common.  This is all something really new, there are no debate questions of weapons “gaps”, of the cost of sustaining the nuclear triad (which is probably good since several of the candidates had no idea what that was), of a European Assurance Initiative which would begin to rebuild NATO capabilities against further Russian territorial moves in Eastern Europe or of national security issues beyond immigration and terrorism.

http://www.airforcemag.com/DRArchive/Pages/2016/March%202016/March%2018%202016/Funding-Full-Military-Might.aspx

Those things have just not been given a place on this year’s campaign table. They will however be very much on the budgetary table and administration table for the 2017 budget. So, the question is, has “mirroring” become a thing of the past, are the politicians now sophisticated enough to understand that Putin is only playing to his internal public and all those new weapons systems and all those troop movements around Eastern European borders are just propaganda (after all, it’s one thing to design new systems or even to build prototypes but to produce and deploy them in quantity is an entirely different financial challenge). Will a new administration be able to resist the national security budget initiatives that the military services have already put on record?  Will someone step forward to propose an international moratorium on hyper-sonic weapons development – a weapons technology which by itself has the potential for starting a highly expensive arms race? Such weapons hold first strike/preemptive strike capabilities and any defense against them would be far beyond that of comparatively simple ballistic missile defense – the military in both Russian and Chinese fully recognize their value in offsetting many of America’s current weapons advantages and are aggressively developing them.

http://www.airforcemag.com/DRArchive/Pages/2016/March%202016/March%2016%202016/Beyond-the-Hypersonic.aspx

As I explored in Surprise Attack, post-World War II American politics has always been highly driven by national security and “deterrence”; the question now is whether or not we have actually gotten smarter about such issues – are we seeing a sea change – or is it all just a matter of an overriding political urge to “defer” national security issues as most all other decisions are being deferred these days.