A UFO Book?

With Unidentified now available in both Print and Kindle,

it’s time to answer a few questions and share some detail on my newest work.  For those familiar with my research and writing the first question might be – why a UFO book?  For others an equally good question might be why another UFO book?  After all there are already few hundred books dealing with the subject, with more constantly coming out.  Of course the same was true for books dealing with the Kennedy and King assassinations, albeit far fewer in regard to MLK Jr. Given that readers with an interest in UFOs may not be familiar with my work and my approach to books, the following will provide an introduction. In subsequent posts I’ll get more specific about the content of Unidentified and what makes it different from other books on the subject.

The answer to the basic questions of “why” is that Unidentified, like all my books – including November Patriots (a work of docufiction with former Dallas reporter Connie Kritzberg; still available on eBay) – did not actually begin as a book. It began as a historical question that I wanted to answer for myself.  Initially my questions had to do with the political assassinations of the 1960s. Luckily, as I began to have the time to seriously study those questions (and I can’t tell you how much of that was done carrying books and documents on airplanes during business travel) a tremendous number of documents and oral history material were becoming available. That allowed me to move into a level of detail in research that simply had not been possible in earlier decades. And in two instances, it led me to conclusions that were relatively unique – in contrast to much that had been written up to that point.

The result were lengthy and extensively cited books on the Kennedy and King assassinations. In the third instance, the assassination of RFK, the result was a virtually book length essay made available on the Mary Ferrell archive web site. In that case my research partner Stu Wexler and I could not satisfy ourselves sufficiently to move it to the level of a book, so we didn’t.

One of the fundamental lessons I learned in dealing with the political assassinations is that looking at events in isolation can be a mistake. It is critical to have a baseline when you are evaluating the activities of law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies or even Congressional committees. The broader the experience, the easier it is to uncover what is unique and want is simply standard practice (or standard CYA for that matter). The same can be said for reading and interpreting agency and service documents, struggling though thousands of pages of CIA, FBI, and military documents fine tunes your appreciation for how things are actually recorded and communicated, including the not uncommon practices of obfuscation for purposes ranging from security to public relations.

That exposure also tweaked my interest in broader patterns, especially those related to questions pertaining to national security and military operations – another long time interest. And that lead to thousands of pages of more documents and to my studies of American covert and deniable warfare and the practices of high level command and control during crises.  I was interested to see how covert operations had evolved and how well they had worked – during the Cold War and following the attacks on America in 2001.  It proved to be an interesting enough story for a book (Shadow Warfare) and exposed several of the horrific inconsistencies that continue to plaque those operations even today. The study of national command authority and command and control contained in Surprise Attack proved to be equally disconcerting; it made me a lot more nervous than I had been and I felt compelled to surface the seemingly endemic issues – hence the book.

Fine, so what about UFOs, is he going to drag this on forever?  The answer is that I literally grew up with UFOs, the flying saucer wave of 1947 happened a few weeks after I was born and it was in the news from then on, you couldn’t escape it. It was intriguing, mysterious and the Air Force kept issuing highly questionable explanations for what was being reported – one more case of the government seeming to be in denial.

Of course if we had seen the internal documents of those early years at the time we would have known they were desperately trying to keep us calm – while they tried to get a handle what was undoubtedly happening.  So, one more Cold War mystery, one more area of skepticism about official story lines. And when I decided to take a look at it myself I found that some very dedicated researchers had used Freedom of Information Inquiries to pry out a huge trove of actual military and intelligence documents that simply were not being addressed in the increasingly sensational and speculative contemporary UFO books which had essentially taken over the subject.

My reaction was very much the same as it had been to the political assassinations, once I saw the depth of the actual historical data available I could not resist digging into it.  The only question was whether or not it would take me to an answer I would be comfortable with from a historical perspective – obviously it did, hence the book.

That’s the “why” of the book, the next post will begin to explore the “what”.   Oh, and if you haven’t read my other books and are unfamiliar with my obsession for detail, I suppose the length of this answer will give you a taste for that as well.

Warren Commission Disconnects

I’ll be back with more news on Unidentified and its availability (in both Kindle and Print) shortly, but this past week Chuck Ochelli invited Carmine Savastano and I back onto his program for another episode in our JFK 101 series.  We had a full two hours to dig into the fundamentals of the commission’s formation and its intrinsic weaknesses – some of which apply to any Presidential panel, especially as compared to an actual legal inquiry as might be conducted by the Justice Department or in particular by a Special Investigator empowered by the Justice Department.

We explored the standard problems and issues with the Warren Commission, as well as certain points which don’t get talked about much these days. However we also delved into the significant disconnects between its purported charter and how its work was actually conducted.

In the end we did a bit of a comparison between the Warren Commission and its “report” with the work of the HSCA – keeping in mind that the Warren Report was basically no more than a fleshing out and endorsement of the FBI report. Of course the FBI report itself was largely prepared over some three days and submitted within a couple of weeks and its “shooting scenario” actually conflicts with that of the Warren Report – but that was not obvious at the time since the FBI report was not made available to the public for comparative purposes.

We will be returning to the HSCA in a future show but the contrast in the two pieces of work is certainly dramatic.  The Warren Commission essentially certified the lone nut position of the FBI report (something internal FBI memos show was considered to be quite a challenge by the Bureau) while the HSCA submitted a conclusion of conspiracy and handed the matter to the Justice Department to pursue with the full weight of legal action – something Justice managed to totally dodge.

I think the dialog was quite educational; if it sounds interesting you can listen to it at the following link:

https://ochelli.com/thursday-62217-jfk-101-part-4-larry-hancock-carmine-savastano/

 

 

 

Unidentified interview

Well we are in the last stages of getting the book into print. I’ll leave it to your imagination what the galley proofing of a 465 page book involving  some fifty years of history and the extensive citation of military and intelligence documents involves. I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart. Still looking for late June availability but it may be close to July.

In the meantime, I wanted to post an interview I did recently with my friend Doug of the Dallas Action.  We have talked before about the challenges of vetting sources, of historical analysis and exactly how far you can and cannot go out on limbs when you engage in that sort of thing.

If you have ever been interested in both political assassination, especially in the context of the JFK, RFK or MLK cases and in the subject of UFOs as well, you have likely noticed that there are similar challenges and similar pitfalls in both areas of interest. You find disconnects between internal inquiries and official public positions. You find obfuscation, diversions, outright hoaxes,  witness and source recall and vetting issues – and in both instances there are real world issues of classification, security and even counter intelligence activities.

After chatting a bit about Unidentified, Doug and I decided that it might be interesting to do a show about it but also to explore some of the crossover  (no I don’t mean “Dark Skies” …if you missed that TV series look it up on the internet, conspiracy television fiction at its best).  What I mean is crossover in terms of the challenges and how demanding it is to deal historically with subjects that many people consider “fringe” or worse and to do it in a manner which establishes some level of broader credibility.

If that sounds interesting, check out this link for the interview – and enjoy the burst of intense music that gets it going:

 

 

Gene Wheaton

Readers of Some Would Have Talked (2010) will be familiar with Wheaton and the implications of his information.  So will those who have attended my presentations or seen my blog posts on him.  Most recently, in 2016 at the JFK Lancer November in Dallas conference I presented my assessment of Wheaton as a source.  The points in that assessment are provided below.

The good news is that at long last, courtesy of Mark Sobel and Debra Conway, a very important interview with Mr. Wheaton is now available to all those interested.  The interview is on YouTube and the link to it is at the end of this vetting assessment.  As always comments and questions are welcome.

  • Wheaton provided information consisting of comments made by two individuals who he described as having information relating to individuals involved in the attack on JFK
  • While the men purportedly named individuals, or at least described them in some detail, the men themselves were not involved
  • One of the men had trained certain of the individuals during his work with the CIA as a military trainer and the second was a Cuban exile who had been in that training and personally knew some of the individuals involved in the attack
  • Wheaton provided no details, only named the two men and identified them as secondary sources in regard to a conspiracy
  • Wheaton provided corroborative documents demonstrating his personal association with both men during the time frame of the purported remarks they had made related to the events in Dallas
  • Wheaton did not add any further details over the time frame of his efforts to register his information – first with a Congressman and ultimately to the ARRB
  • Wheaton attempted to take his information to the government via a Congressperson as soon as he was aware of it
  • The timing of his contact with the two men is independently corroborated
  • Wheaton’s association with both men is corroborated
  • The two men’s backgrounds are corroborated as Wheaton described them
  • Independent – albeit anecdotal – information connected individuals associated with one of the men named by Wheaton as having knowledge of a conspiracy related to the attack on JFK – that information includes a call made by RFK the afternoon of the assassination
  • Wheaton took none of his information public and never expected his confidential contact with the ARRB to become public
  • Wheaton described the threats made to him if he did attempt to report his information even if only privately – primarily consisting of efforts to discredit him as a viable source
  • Efforts to discredit Wheaton can be corroborated
  • Wheaton later expended his own resources in an effort to bring his information to the ARRB, making multiple contacts and providing extensive documentation
  • The ARRB totally failed to pursue or even corroborate Wheaton’s information
  • The ARRB staff member handling Wheaton’s information resigned from the ARRB staff
  • When contacted several years later the staff member claimed not to have any memory at all of Wheaton, his documents or repeated contacts with him

The interview – conducted by William Law and produced by Mark Sobel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DPT9Oc0lsU&feature=youtu.be

Introducing “Unidentified”

 

It’s time to move forward to an introduction of my new book, which should be available this month (June). I’ll return to the topic of Russian covert political action – which is nothing new but is currently being treated in a fashion which undoubtedly has the entire intelligence community butting its head against the wall.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like of the current Executive and Congressional communities’ willful ignorance in regard to a subject of national security – especially from the political wing that used to dote on exactly these sorts of threats.

Strangely enough, I’ve still received no calls from either arm of government requesting my input so in the interim I’ll try to provide a bit better picture of what is in my newest work (some 455 pages of it), “Unidentified / The National Intelligence Challenge of UFOs”.  We have tried to capture the gist of it in the press release (which is still pending, held for actual availability).  To quote the release:

“There is simply no doubt that unidentified aerial objects were taken seriously by military intelligence.  Over some three decades both military and civilian intelligence groups used the standard methods of conventional and technical intelligence to resolve what was officially stated to be a serious security and air defense problem.  Those well-established methods failed, frustrating those involved in investigations and creating serious public relations and credibility problems for the U.S. Air Force. Ultimately the only solution to the UFO problem was to simply abandon it. In the end the intelligence challenge of highly anomalous “unknowns” – unconventional aerial objects internally and confidentially described in both Air Force and CIA reports as national security threats – had literally beaten the system.

Unidentified explores that intelligence failure, beginning during World War II and continuing over some three decades of official inquiries. It also profiles the events – including inter-service and inter-agency political posturing – which prevented the problem from being elevated to a level of true national security tasking. The ongoing Air Force decision to study the problem only at the level of individual incidents and the larger failure to task the broader intelligence community with a longer term, strategic analysis of security related UFO activities ensured that the fundamental problem was simply not addressed. The end result was nothing more than over a thousand highly unconventional and anomalous UFO reports officially classified and archived as “Unknowns”.

In Unidentified, Larry Hancock turns to the strategic intelligence practices – better known as indications analysis – that were not tasked to the national intelligence community. He presents a series of indications studies which suggest something very different from the official statement on UFOs officially offered by the Air Force. In these studies Unidentified examines and details patterns of UFO activity strongly suggesting that “unknown parties” actively probed America’s strategic military capabilities – at the same time demonstrating an undeniable ability to project force against the nation’s atomic warfighting complex. Beyond that, the operational patterns in the UFO activities revealed in the analysis also suggest a clear effort at “messaging”, one which appears to have failed.”

Now I have to say it’s not easy to capture the full content of this  book in three or four paragraphs of a press release. However I’ve just finished the first few interviews on it and one is already up on Facebook. The host did a wonderful job with it and I think it would give anyone a good feel for what I’m doing with Unidentified.  If you are interested take a listen:

https://youtu.be/EkPf32u-DQM

If you do, you’ll notice the host was very interested in a series of Air Force and CIA quotes I present and discuss in the book.  In my next post I will elaborate further on those and their significance.

Patriotic Russian Hackers

As promised, I’m returning to a second post on certain contemporary events.  But before I jump into that I’d like to revisit my post relating to Denial and “Back Channels”.  I’ve noticed some commentary that attempts to minimize the security implications of having the President Elect’s son-in-law in direct contact with known Russian intelligence contacts (OK, known to American intelligence, if you think for a moment that the Russian Ambassador or the head of any major Russian investment bank is not directly connected to the FSB then you need to do some serious research and I can recommend some good sources – including actual Russian sources on the intelligence function of their diplomatic Residencies).

The attempts at minimization offer up RFK’s contacts with Georgi Bolshokov, including ones during the Cuban missile crisis which may have been of great help in establishing a quid pro quo over American missiles in Turkey  (indeed those missiles are what triggered Khrushchev’s paranoia and overreach in his Cuban gambit, I go into that in some detail in Surprise Attack).

So here’s the problem, yes President’s do indeed have back channels and they can be good things.  But that implies they are done properly and that’s the rub.  In no way were the RFK back channels comparable.  First RFK was Attorney General, a principal on the National Security Council and security vetted for extremely classified information. Second, he was in direct contact with the President, was given parameters for his discussion and interacted directly with the President during the exchanges.

In no way can that be compared to what happened with Trump’s son-in-law – although it does raise the question of whether he was acting at his own discretion (which would be really bad) or at the direction of the President Elect (and if so, with what specific instructions).

Now on to those “patriotic Russian hackers” that Mr. Putin appears to find both innocent and even laudable…and certainly shows no indication of attempting to restrain. I’ve also seen posts claiming that no connection between the election meddling and the Putin regime can be proven.  To some extent that may be true because deniable in 21st cyber-warfare turns out to be a lot easier than deniability in 20th century regime change and paramilitary operations. However the clues are all there and I can assure you our intelligence folks have far more than they are sharing – for the interim I’d refer you to a number of sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/23/politics/trump-russia-hacking/

https://fbnewsroomus.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/facebook-and-information-operations-v1.pdf

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-alleged-russian-hacker-teamed-up-with-florida-gop-operative-1495724787

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/gop-operative-russian-hacker-gave-him-2016-voter-data

For more information I’d recommend Malcolm Nance’s The Plot to Hack America, I think he might be a little over the top in certain of his extensions but his detailing of the actual hacking and the participants is about the best we have in the public domain at the moment.

It is true than in the early years of this new type of deniable warfare, a good number of the intrusions appear to have been conducted by nationalist Russian volunteers, encouraged by Putin’s calls for a new era of Russian patriotism – and assisted by actual government training programs and covert outreach by special groups within the FSB (Federal Security Service). Under Putin the FSB became Russia’s senior national security service, the contemporary successor to the KGB.

The use of “patriot attackers” allowed a great deal of deniability for the early cyber-attacks, even those which progressed to more sophisticated practices such as a new form of “kompromat” – the hijacking of targeted government web sites to place specific and compromising information on public figures. But by 2008 the overt Russian military campaign against the nation of Georgia was accompanied by a series of even broader and more sophisticated of cyber warfare efforts, designed to shape the public opinion battlefield and at the same time disrupt both Georgian military and government communications.

And by 2015, a truly advanced Russian hybrid warfare campaign against the Ukraine combined all the elements of cyber propaganda including high level kompromat and active resource disruption (taking the nation’s power grid out of service) with the use of deniable Russian paramilitary units (the “Little Green Men”) in the eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The Russian action proved to be immensely effective, regaining Putin the Crimea and critical Black Sea naval bases – even though it did not restore total Russian hegemony over all of the Ukraine.

With that track record, all the pieces were in place to extend the covert political action to the U.S. elections in 2016, then the French elections in 2017.  Forms of “active measures” that the Russians had attempted repeatedly during Cold War, with limited success.  But a new century brought them new tools and new opportunities – and if the White House chooses to remain officially in denial, those opportunities can only expand.

Denials

As much as I would like to talk about my newest book I’m going to have to hold off for just a bit – largely due to my frustration over certain current events. Before I jump into that I have to say that – for a change – what is known as the main stream media is doing a great job at covering what I will be discussing in my next couple of posts.  They are interviewing people with real experience, doing some strong fact checking and really working at getting their heads around the larger story rather than just giving into sound bytes.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the White House and worse yet of its national security principals, in particular the SecDef and the Director of Homeland Security (the National Security Advisor had gone so silent he’s not even making the uniformed statements we are getting from the first two principals mentioned).

Where to start, well first lets take their position that “back channels” are nothing special and nothing to be concerned about – even when they involve a major player in the Trump campaign and administration who was repeatedly in contact with Russians who are well known to the intelligence community to play point in Putin’s covert political action campaigns. As reference they cite President’s Kennedy and Nixon using back channels and make vague references to it being a common practice.

For those who have not been following the media deconstruction of such remarks, lets delve into that a bit.  It is true that JFK was developing a significant back channel to Fidel Castro at the time of his assassination.  However he was doing so with the full knowledge of the Secretary of State and using state department employees in what was intended to be an effort to undermine Russian influence in Cuba, very possibly taking Cuba neutral in the process. I’ve blogged and written about this and it should be known that from its inception that back channel contact (originated by Castro) had been known to the CIA as well as other senior administration figures.

What is less discussed is that one of the main reasons for that back channel approach was that both leaders were very well aware of the extent of Russian intelligence collection operations and cautious about the Russians finding out and moving to abort the contact.  At that point Castro was very upset with the Russians and had begun actively suppressing the Communist Party within Cuba itself. It has to be stressed that American intelligence was quite well aware of the very active Russian electronic spying operations conducted by their residencies in New York and Washington D.C. and Castro was more than a concerned about huge electronic collections site they had developed in Cuba itself.

In the case of Nixon, Kissinger and the back channel contacts with China, the story was actually quite comparable to that of JFK and Cuba.  Nixon was making a move to separate China from Russia, to at least partially deconstruct the alliance known as the Communist bloc and to take advantage of Chinese and Russian territorial enmities that had been developing.

Once again both sides were quite well aware of Russian intelligence and Kissinger went to absurd lengths to hide his communications with the Chinese.  However, absurd or not, it was a sanctioned outreach, carried out with due diligence to communications security and most often using secure White House facilities and communications channels.

In no way can the JFK and Nixon back channel communications be compared to what President elect Trump’s son-in-law was doing. Even in the most generous terms his independent contacts have to be considered as what Russian intelligence, both the the FSB and GRU, would view as an invitation to accelerate their “active measures” practices against the American political environment and specifically against the incoming administration. Nothing could be more attractive than seeing “business people” operating in international policy with no advice from intelligence professionals.  The Russians have been playing the “Great Game” for centuries. We one can only imagine the glee that would have been expressed over this type of “back channel” into a new administration – especially with the extent to which the Russians had already had access to others involved in the campaign, individuals obviously destined to be playing major roles in forming American policy.

As a footnote, its important not to confuse these sort of back channel contacts with the routine back channels that exist internally in any ongoing administration.  Those sorts of back channels involve attempts to use personal contacts to cut through the formal, official and filtered reporting that occurs within the government.  We have numerous examples of that, including JFK’s efforts to get the real story out of Vietnam in the face of overly enthusiastic progress reports from personnel in country.

However this sort of back channel is totally domestic, and generally one directional.  It involves no dialogs or discussions or potential quid pro quos – it is for information purposes only and all parties are ostensibly on the same side. Of course it would be naive to think that the principals of any Administration do not establish their own similar back channels, its safe to say that each of them wants the advantage of having the most current and realistic data.  LBJ’s back channels into Vietnam come to mind in that context.

But the current smoke screen being created to obfuscate the significance of Trump campaign – Russian back channel contacts is only part of the picture. Even if none of those figures had a clue to what was going on,  their Russian contacts most certainly understood the potential of the contacts. In that sense I disagree with the current trend to describe it as checker players competing with chess players; I see it more as marble players going up against Russian chess Grand Masters.

Next post I’ll turn my attention to the denial of Russian information warfare in the 2016 campaign, now even something which Putin laughingly admits – calling it an action by individual “patriotic” Russians. The fact that he is taunting the American intelligence community is obvious; the fact that the White House and its senior security principals refuse event to acknowledge that possibility or comment on it is absolutely dangerous.

You actually need to listen to Putin himself to appreciate how much he is enjoying it all:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/30/politics/clapper-russia-election-meddling-cnntv/index.html

 

New Book

My good news is that its time to introduce my newest book to everyone who has followed my research and writing through the last couple of decades – including the six works that precede it.  If you have, then you know that my interests revolve around Cold War history and in particular the national security aspects of that history – ranging from the political assassinations of the 1950s and 1960s through much broader subjects including covert/deniable warfare, command and control during national crises and the national intelligence community in general.

 

Coming to even a basic understanding of those subjects, and the functioning of national intelligence/security at an operational level has been a long slog – and a real strain on my library, my best estimate is that in addition to document research I have cycled a minimum of six hundred books through my shelves since the late 1990’s.  Unfortunately that counts the ones still stashed behind various pieces of furniture – sigh.

 

Having said that, my newest work has actually been done in parallel with all the others. In checking end notes I found emails related to it going back to 2003; it had not seemed nearly that long. Of course the source materials themselves, part of that immense book collection, go back to the first acquisitions about 1964. And with that, here we are and the new book is titled:

 

“Unidentified – The National Intelligence Problem of UFOs

 

Yes, it is a UFO book. To be more accurate it is a study of various types of intelligence practices and the response to unidentified aerial objects by  the intelligence community – beginning during World War II and into the 1980’s.  It covers areas of that intelligence organizations and activities untouched in my previous books and gets into some new and revealing aspects of inter-service rivalry (that will be more familiar, it’s something I examined in a different context in Surprise Attack).

 

In other words, this is a book about national intelligence and a problem that for various reasons was not assigned to the one group that might have been able to deal with it.  I chronicle and explain that failure – the problem is that leaving it at that just was not enough.  And that led me to explore the area of intelligence work that does exist to tackle such problems – referred to by a number of different terms including “strategic analysis”, “indications analysis” or in military terms “threat and warnings intelligence”.

 

I had been exposed to a few of the techniques during my business career, the ones used in business and marketing planning. Studying the practices from a military standpoint was an education in itself. The result is that the book includes a series of chapters presenting that analysis and what I found to be some pretty interesting indications related to over three decades of vetted observations from military, security and scientific personnel –  as to what those are, I’ll leave that for the book.

 

The book will be available in Amazon and for order by the end of June, I will post a bit more on it here as that happens but I anticipate a separate blog to discuss it since its only one of my interests in the area of national security. This is just a bit of advance notice before the issue of the actual press release and the arrival of the first interviews online.  I hope it sounds interesting and I think it will prove unlike any other book on the subject you have ever encountered.

Agents of Influence

One of my ongoing goals is to place contemporary events in historical perspective – and to take the long view, searching for potential patterns of behavior. And for several years my interests have turned towards the intelligence community and national security. So if you were expecting I would stop posting on the subject of Russia and Vladimir Putin’s recent and current activities – nope, not yet.

The good news is that I was able to participate in a two hour discussion of just that last evening so I can simply refer those who are interested to that show, available online, and leave it to the reader’s choice to pursue it or not.  If you do and have questions or observations post them here.  The show link is:

https://ochelli.com/05182017-thursday-larry-hancock-carmine-savastano-trump-russia-unidentified/

It was a far ranging discussion of Russian covert political action over the decades, from the KGB to the current FSB – and on into the Russian involvement in “active measures” targeting the United States. Such measures have been continually in play but were reinvigorated beginning in 2008 – with a special focus on the recruitment and use of business “agents of influence” (that covers both knowing and unknowing assets and extends to what the Russians designate as “useful idiots”, their term not mine).

On a personal note, I’m obviously listening to a lot of news these days and have to say I am astounded by the remarks from certain members of Congress – remarks that demonstrate either a tremendous naivete in regard to intelligence practices or a level of hypocrisy that is equally appalling. This evening I even heard a couple of them boldly stating that being concerned, investigating or even giving air time to covering Russian activities targeting American politics and policy was literally unpatriotic. Apparently because it diverts attention from their parties’ and the President’s agendas. Its probably a good thing I was not on camera with them…one of them said it was all simply Eastern Establishment posturing.  I’m from Oklahoma, I don’t posture and ….yep, good I wasn’t there.

If you do choose to listen in, well there’s a bit of a teaser at the end, soon to be discussed briefly here and later on an upcoming,  separate blog. It has to do with my newest book, coming out in June and going where…well, we’ll get to that.

 

Sources, Methods and Facts

 

Those of us who pursue certain types of historical research become very familiar with terms such as “sources and methods” – its normally what is cited in not giving us what we are looking for in FOIA requests, or the justification for “redacting” huge chunks of the documents we can get.  We complain about it and often with good cause because such things do age and what was withheld at some point in time because of legitimate concerns is no longer reasonable or necessary.

 

But in regard to contemporary intelligence or even of intelligence collections activities of the past couple of decades, there can be very good justification. Which is why we see something that is normally discussed only by “geeks” showing up in news headlines today. I’ve written about this before but it seems like a good time to hit on some of the basics since this sort of thing is not normally daily conversation.

 

First off, there is nothing more important in intelligence collection than sources – regardless of whether they are human, electronic, photographic etc.  And the only thing more important than your own sources is information allies or trusted parties are willing to share with you, especially since they often have far better assets on the ground in their regions than the U.S. does.  At present that is especially true in areas of southwest Asia, especially in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the parts of Iraq and Afghanistan where ISIS and the Taliban are still active (and if you had not been following it I should point out that the Russians have launched a number of new contacts with the Taliban to reassert themselves in Afghanistan; that is one of the biggest concerns of our military commanders there at present).

 

If you compromise covert human sources they either get killed or worse yet they start getting misinformation and misdirection. The same thing is true whether they are your assets or a third party nation. If you compromise technical collections, you risk losing sources of information across whole regions.  When Ben Laden became aware his satellite phone was compromised we lost what was at that point the lynchpin for all Al Qaeda communications. And compromising sources is a lot easier than you might think – especially if you are dealing with intelligence sophisticated opponents. You don’t name to name them, you can out them simply by letting it be known where they are operating, by country, by city, etc.  Facts can destroy you.

 

I’ll give a simple example from the past.  In JFK research Mexico City is a big topic, in particular Lee Oswald’s visit and even the certain telephone calls made during that visit.  When Bill Simpich and I began looking at that one of the big questions as to what was the source of certain intelligence on those calls was where they had been tapped.  There were options, it could have been on a particular phone inside the Cuban or Russian embassy, the Cuban consulate, it could have been on an outside telephone connection locally at one of those buildings which implies certain things about sources and methods, it could even have been within the telephone network at a local switch or a central routing office – which would mean the Mexican government had been cooperating in intelligence activities. That would have been explosive at the time, even internally within Mexican politics.  The blow back from even simple points such as where a phone conversation was tapped can have substantial consequences.  In the end, with enough facts Bill and I felt that we had indeed identified the source and if it’s where I think it was, at a local CIA surveillance location where such calls were tapped and recorded, the implications for the JFK assassination are significant.

 

I went into the above only to demonstrate that “facts”, even minor facts, can be very dangerous.  That is normally why so much vetting and discussion is done in sharing information about any intelligence collection; if it involves foreign sources you can triple the normal dialog. Because if you compromise voluntary information sharing it can either just stop or worse yet it can become poisoned, with consequences for both you and the source nation. Right now that doesn’t even have to be a nation, it could be a Kurdish or Syrian group, it could be a particular source within Jordan or Lebanon or even Saudi who shared something based on a level of personal trust…and now will suffer the consequences.

 

Last night I heard one former CIA collections officer make the remark that at some “desks” this has already been a rough week since immediately following the President’s meeting with Russia (by the way, if you don’t think their chief diplomat works directly for the FSB you just don’t have the facts) someone had the good sense to warn both CIA and NSA.  And all this does not even go into the nasty details of how the Russians have much better assets in the countries I mentioned and have their own agenda which would allow them to market such information, to leverage it and at a minimum poison the well in regard to sharing anything with the U.S.

 

Hopefully this might have helped clear up a few things about today’s news, in short “facts” can be truly dangerous if shared with the wrong people – and clearly Russia should be high on that list at present.  But in this case knowing more about it only makes the news worse…sorry about that.