Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The blurring of current events

As 2014 winds down, the events of the world seem to be moving faster.  When things move faster, we sometimes see things as blurred rather than clearly.

Take for example all of the electrons that were needlessly during the Sony hacking story.  At first, Americans did not understand they were supposed to be upset that North Korea had hacked a the entertainment division of a Japanese corporation.  Americans were far more entertained by the scandalous content of the leaked emails rather than by how these emails had been obtained.  The likely culprit was North Korea since their president was insulted by his fictional assassination in the movie "The Interview".  The connection did not seem to resonant at first with the media and public.

Sony's Amy Pascal was far more fascinating to Americans.  She came off looking like a backstabbing phony insulting the very people who were making money for her division.  Things were looking bad so Sony Pictures had to lawyer-up in an attempt to stop the media from sharing everything the hackers had leaked.  At the same time, the FBI was the first government agency to announce that yes indeed, North Korea was to blame (albeit a week late).

But things began to take an interesting turn.  North Korea is not known for having a sophisticated cyber-warfare ability, even more telling was the fact that the servers used to hack Sony Pictures were not in North Korea at all but China.  When the White House asked China for their help in tracking down the hackers, they received a non-answer from Beijing.  A fair question is, why wasn't China a suspect especially given the number of cyber-attacks launched against the US (and the former "pivot towards Asia" strategy by the US)?

Strangely, had this been say China or Russia the calls for taking action would have been much louder.  If this were somehow or other a ruse to get the US and North Korea into some sort of a conflict, it has fizzled thus far (despite North Korea's threat to attack any theater showing "The Interview" in a 9/11 style attack).  Sony did pull "The Interview" at first but when their stars started to grouse, Sony released the movie via the Internet (from the reviews, probably just as well).

The story became blurs though as US headlines were grabbed by the assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a gunmen allegedly set on killing officers in retaliation for Eric Garner (who had been choked to death by a NYPD officer who was not indicted).  The situation between NYPD and Mayor de Blasio has deteriorated to the point where the officers attending the funeral for Officers Ramos and Liu turned their backs en masse on their mayor.  NYPD officers are now allegedly ignoring petty crimes for fear this might be a set-up for another assassination attempt.

Meanwhile other officers have been slain in Florida and an unsuccessful attempt in Durham, NC.  Police had already been vilified by shooting of Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO) and Tamir Rice (Cleveland, OH).  Distrust between the public and those sworn to protect them hasn't been this low since probably the Civil Rights era.

As I've said before, wouldn't this though be a very interesting way to manipulate the US for if matters continue as they seem to be headed, martial law for at least New York is not inconceivable.  If martial law ends-up getting imposed, then it will escalate as more and more Americans become concerned of the probability of martial law being imposed across the nation.  What an awesome way to take our mind off of foreign matters.

While your mind gets blurred by that thought, an interesting thing happened on the way to the Christmas break.  Mr. Obama took the first steps to normalizing relations with Cuba.  (It has always puzzled me why once the Soviet Union fell that the US did not reach out to Cuba.)  At first, this looked like an excellent move to trump Russia's increased military activity in this hemisphere.  But then Mr. Obama announces that Iran has the opportunity to become "a successful regional power"?  WTF?

After the history the US has had with Iran (not to mention the US citizens being held hostage by Iran), now Mr. Obama wants to make nice and is even talking about a US embassy in Tehran?  Well if normalizing relations with Cuba was to be some kind of check on Russia, the overture to Iran has had just the opposite reaction from Moscow.  Russia may halt any bilateral cooperation in regards to Syria and Iran's nuclear program.

If you haven't started scratching you head and rubbing your eyes, then ponder for a moment that while Mr. Obama "celebrates" the end of the war in Afghanistan, the US has quietly been increasing troops in Eastern Europe (as part of the NATO rapid reaction force) and Western Africa (to deal with the ebola outbreak).  Russia has not pulled any of their forces out of Ukraine and are now fielding ballistic missiles mounted on rail cars.

My conclusion is we are being manipulated by information overload to avoid a clear understanding of what is going on.  We can't worry about things overseas if we are worried that our own police force may is out to get us (or vice versa).  We can't worry about a potential war with Russia if our minds are being occupied by salacious tales of our favorite celebrities by sent by movie studio executives.  And just in case you may still think we are going to war, then you won't be once you pay less than $2.00 per gallon at the pump (thanks to Saudi Arabia wanting to stick it to Russia's oil production).  Yes, speed does blur everything.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture and protests, what does this mean for the future of the US?

The problem with any information obtained through torture has always been it's reliability.  On one hand, the victim may just give the answers the interrogator wants in order to stop the torture.  The validity of the information still then has to be checked so the torture may have been for nothing should the information prove to be false.  On the other hand, should the victim give up accurate information that we know to be true then the torture was pointless (although supporters will say this is why it is effective, to help validate other information).

Now the Democrat Senators of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have combined to put torture back in the headlines amidst on-going demonstrations protests in support of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.  To an enemy, the US must appear to be in absolute chaos and treats its citizens as badly as it treats its hostages.  What an opportune time to exploit these raw emotions and truly set the US into complete chaos!  Far-fetched?  Think about how this is exactly what the Obama White House has tried to do in both Libya and Syria, exploit internal divisions to create regime change (to be fair, this is not the first White House administration to try this tactic.  They are merely the most recent).

The information from the CIA contained in the Senate investigation of course has been heavily redacted and while that practice may protect the names of sources, it also makes the CIA look even more incompetent and culpable.  The Republican Senators are nowhere to be found on this matter and their charter won only last month to take on the President has already evaporated thanks in large part to Congress. The Republicans are proving to be gutless and the Democrats are lame ducks.

Syria, Jordan and Libya have been identified as likely collaborators in detaining and torturing suspected terrorists on behalf of the US (Daily Beast).  If true, it makes US led hostilities against Syria and Libya look hypocritical and may further elicit additional support for groups such as Daish, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The release of the report also has put countless operatives and sources at risk.  Anyone even remotely suspected of working with the US may be killed, tortured or arrested.  It also just made the job of US operatives abroad damn near impossible.  Who in their right mind now wants to risk being found out as an ally of the US?

Ever since the war on terror as framed as "asymmetrical", this has given license to pursuing and targeting suspected terrorists in a wild free-for-all.  Under President Bush, we first learned of water-boarding which was supposed to be a legal means of obtaining information from a suspected terrorist under extreme duress.  Bush and Cheney assured the public this was only used in the rarely and only for the most dire cases.

It now appears the CIA withheld how often torture was actually being used from the Bush White House.  Worse, the CIA (even through the heavily redacted reports) did not find any major intelligence through these means and appears especially incompetent at keeping track of who that had in custody.  Slopping bookkeeping makes any intelligence from the CIA suspect as well.  How do we know it came from reliable sources when the CIA doesn't seem to have accurate rosters of who they have detained?

A very serious concern for the US should be the ability of Daish and other terrorist groups to successfully recruit US citizens over to their facilities.  Given the recent racial tensions ignited by incidents in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland it would seem likely that groups such as Daish will have even greater success in the future.  Those Americans that go and get killed aren't the ones we need to worry about.  The ones we should be worried about are the ones that go over, get radicalized and trained, and slip back into the US.  Imagine what just a few of these operatives could do amongst the protestors?

The current protests here in the US may have been ignited along racial lines but the result has also been to turn more citizens against law enforcement.  If this pattern continues with more and more citizens becoming suspicions or actively hostile towards law enforcement, anarchy will surely result.  The response to anarchy is of course martial law which will fulfill every paranoids worst fears and a revolt would seem inevitable.

Meanwhile as we sort through our feelings about the protests and use of torture by the CIA, the US military is going through a morale crisis.  Thirteen years of rotations into combat zones, along with dealing with sexual assault scandals and the ability of gays and lesbians to now openly serve in the military has put the troops through major paradigm shifts while still waiting to see if they will even have jobs in the near future.  And while the White House and press attempt to convince the public that now new troops will be put into Iraq, it now appears we have 300 troops in Poland as part of the NATO rapid response.  We have also quietly added 2 Aegis class frigates at Rota, Spain (Sputnik News) ostensibly to be closer to the Black Sea and respond to additional aggression by Russia.

Perhaps all of this is why Putin feels no pressure to handle Ukraine as he sees fit.  The state of the US has to be appealing to him and his advisors cannot have missed the reports about morale amongst US troops which thanks to sequestering may be even thinner in the near future.  There are also many signs that US legacy weapon systems (such as the A-10) are too old and the replacement systems won't be brought on-line in time.

A colleague of mine wrote a rather long response as to why the A-10 needs to be retired (too many years of 2.5G turns stressing the airframe beyond its life-cycle).  What his reply did not address is that the F-35 is never going to have the numbers and performance characteristics of the A-10.  The F-35, even if we assume that it meets the need of future wars, has a horrible ratio of flight-time to maintenance time.  Reports are that for ever 1 hour of flight time, the F-35 requires 27 hours of maintenance time.  Compound that with fewer aircraft to begin with and will see sortie rates plummet.

But there is another problem for both the F-35 and F-22 (as well as the legacy F-15, F-16 and FA/18).  The US tends to development the big dollar weapon system first (i.e. fighter aircraft) but only later do they upgrade the weapons.  Several articles have come out recently pointing out the the main air-to-air missile carried by US and allied fighters, the AIM-120 (AMRAAM), can now be jammed by Russian counter-measure (Daily Beast).  If the reports are correct, this mean at best case it will require multiple shots to down an aircraft armed with Russian made countermeasures.  At worst, the AIM-120 becomes useless.  Along with the news of a Su-24 being able to completely shut-down the electronics on-board an Aegis class destroyer would seem to mean Russia has prepared to confront  US technology either in a limited engagement or in an all out war.

Given all of this, community leaders and police need to start having dialog on how to improve relations.  Compare how police chiefs and community leaders reacted to a shooting in Iceland last year to our own.  The police AND community came together to grieve the death of a citizen.  No, I don't expect US police chiefs to accept blame or throw their officers under the bus but they should show some compassion whenever someone loses their life.  Police need to become more of the community and NOT be seen as separate by those they are sworn to protect.

Our elected officials, especially at the federal level, need to stop meddling in local politics and focus on protecting the country.  We all need to remember that no matter how transparent and fair our favorite news outlet claims to be, they are in the business of selling copy.  That means we only see stories that are guaranteed to sell copy or increase viewership so only the most scandalous stuff goes on the air.  As the character Herb Tarlik on WKRP in Cincinnati once quipped, "Tasteless sells!  The more tasteless the ad, the better it sells!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Divide and Conquer

When Obama used his executive power to push his immigration reform, it appeared the President and Republicans were headed toward a major confrontation.  What promised to be a tempest, however, turned out to be something akin to a mere sprinkle.  John Boehner, Speaker of the House and fellow Buckeye, seems unable to deal with a lame duck president and now his own party may go rogue.

The tepid Republican response has been to create a "cromnibus" (Beltway-speak for a combination Continuing Resolution and Omnibus bill).  The "cromnibus" insures the government is funded through the fiscal year, however it puts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under a continuing resolution authority.  A mealymouthed attempt at limiting the President's decision by limiting the funding of the agency responsible for immigration (ICE which is under DHS).  Somehow the Republicans seem to have forgotten that the Secret Service, which has come under scrutiny for its lax protection of the President, is also part of DHS.  Under-funding them could be seen by the Democrats as a way of exposing the President to additional peril.

The Republicans have also masterfully exposed themselves to criticisms of being now soft on terrorism.  The US has conducted over 80% of the airstrikes against Daish (the Iraqi term for "ISIS") and now Ron Paul wants to sign a declaration of war officially recognizing actions against Daish.  Given these developments, threatening the funding of the agency established by former President Bush to prevent further attacks by terrorists seems stupid.  The FBI has warned military troops to be careful about their posts on social media that might attract the attention of terrorist groups.

Of course this assumes DHS is the right agency to deal with terrorism.  If we go back to 2001, we see that what everyone was criticizing was the intelligence failure that allowed the terrorists to be successful.  This was the impetus that lead to the creation of DHS which crammed together some 20 plus agencies and over 180,000 federal employees (who as a result lost their union rights).  But a two very important agencies were left out of this mess; the FBI and CIA which just happen to be two agencies that had the most intelligence regarding the potential terrorist attack on 9/11.

The history of the FBI and CIA and their lack of cooperation goes back to their respective founding.  The FBI of course was founded by J. Edgar Hoover who kept extensive files on any and all that he perceived as a threat.  William "Wild Bill" Donovan founded the CIA out of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to counter Hoover's agency.  The two agencies have no love lost between them but over time, it developed that the FBI dealt with domestic terrorism (since it was a criminal activity) and the CIA dealt with foreign terrorism.  Despite their doctrines however, they were notably exempt from formation of DHS.  Without the vast intelligence resources of the CIA and FBI, there really is no way for DHS ever to be truly successful (and when one remembers that each branch of the military has its own intelligence branch, not to mention the Defense Intelligence Agency, DHS has even less of a chance).

Daish is still functioning and Secretary of State Kerry has said while the airstrikes have been successful it may still take many years before we finally defeat them.  In the midst of all this, Chuck Hagel resigned as SecDef.  He was so frustrated with the Obama White House that he didn't even wait for a successor to be named.  He basically packed his stuff and left (and earned some well deserved kudos in my opinion).  Obama's first pick was Michelle Flournoy who quickly said, "Thanks but no thanks".  Speculation is she is banking on the next President being Hillary Clinton.  Now Obama has to go with his second pick, Ashton Carter who appears to be even less complacent than Hagel.

If approved, Carter will become Obama's fourth Secdef.  Gates and Panetta both bristled at being micromanaged by the White House.  Hagel was brought in to be a less tempestuous SecDef but even he could not stand the Obama approach to foreign policy, publicly criticizing the President for his handling of Syria and Daish.

All of this turmoil comes at a time when Russia is becoming more aggressive in Ukraine and elsewhere.  The economic sanctions and devalued Ruble are driving much of this aggression along with an increase in oil production by Saudi Arabia (some are speculating we may see gas prices drop below $2 by next week).  The increase in Saudi oil production means reduced demand for Russian oil.  Putin's response seems to be to protect Mother Russia by re-establishing its preeminence via military action.  Notably Russian is dusting off rail mounted ballistic missiles, something we haven't seen since the Soviet Union.     Russian aircraft and naval vessels continue to harass NATO and US assets.  But all of that may just be a smoke screen to make world leaders look for the wrong thing.

Over the last several weeks, the US has found itself divided over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO back in August.  The grand jury did not find evidence to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  Based just on my own perusal of FB from my friends, comments were divided along racial lines.  Whites tend to believe all would have be find had Brown simply obeyed orders.  They failed to see the greater implication of yet another black person being killed by a white officer.  Blacks tend to believe that Michael Brown was trying to obey yet an over aggressive white officer still shot him dead.  The criminal history of the victim and the fact that the grand jury did not find evidence to indict does nothing to persuade the black community that they are unjust targeted by law enforcement.

I'm not saying either side is right or wrong.  I'm not even looking for some middle ground.  What is of interest to me is why did this particular case jump out?  You see there was another shooting in St Louis involving a black suspect and white officer back in October yet there is hardly a mention in the media.  Perhaps because in this case the suspect was armed but given how closely this occurred to the Ferguson shooting, you would think this would have been used to add more fuel to the fire.  But it didn't yet we get the "Hands up, don't shoot" mantra even though there is no evidence that this is in fact what Michael Brown said.

What if the situation in Ferguson is being manipulated by psychological warfare operatives from outside the US?  Far-fetched perhaps but bear with me.  Let's look at what Ferguson presents from the standpoint of internal unrest.

We have a country that still has racial tensions, a legacy of slavery of blacks and the subsequent national policy of segregation implemented by whites.  Whites, even though increasingly a minority, still control the majority of power over blacks (look at Ferguson city council and the Ferguson PD which almost exclusively white even though Ferguson is mostly black).  Ferguson PD did not help matters when the they responded fully armed in military body armor and armored vehicles to the first round of protests back in August.  Governor Nixon of Missouri further exacerbated matters by calling out the National Guard in anticipation of the violence in response to the grand jury announcing its decision last month.

So now we have black Americans believing that nothing much has changed since the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 receiving confirmation in their beliefs by seeing their streets flooded with armed soldiers.  What white Americans do not understand is this isn't as simple as merely law and order issue, this is a deeply ingrained belief by black Americans that they are perceived as a threat to be dealt with military force.  The police officers seeing angry mobs of protestors (mostly black) that are a threat to their own safety so their natural recourse is to "gear-up".

Stop for a moment and instead of "black and white" substitute "Sunni and Shia" or even "Catholic and Protestant", would you still have a problem seeing that this goes beyond the bounds of merely being a law and order issue?  I just read a headline now that Obama calls "killer cops an American problem".  Ah yes, how to further divide a country already divided by race is to make those responsible for maintaining the peace part of the problem.

Psychological warfare is not overt, in fact often it merely goads existing issues of alienation and disenfranchisement into action (see Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, etc).  A friend of mine from St Louis informed me that during the week the grand jury verdict was expected, you could not get a hotel room in downtown St Louis.  While some of the rooms were obviously booked by the media, most were booked by protestors from outside the area.  How were these "protestors" recruited and coordinated?  The obvious answer is social media but take a look at this graphic from the Huffington Post;

It shows all of the protests that were scheduled throughout the US.  In Cincinnati, protestors shut down northbound I-75 by kneeling down in the interstate.  That's not just some random sympathizers, that's a coordinated effort to wreck chaos on a widespread level.  With so many involved, isn't it possible that at least some were being manipulated by Daish, Russia, China or some other foreign intelligence agency?  It's a low risk, high return venture to foment this type of dissent and it will keep US resources from being brought fully to bear against Russia, China or Daish.

So the next time you want to label all cops as killers or Ferguson protestors as idiots, stop and think about the bigger issues at work here and how we all may be turned against one another by outsiders for their own gain.  Divide and conquer.