The value of Intel

Julius Caesar and his advisors

 

While many people lacked surprise at President Trump’s removal of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Mcguire, I was appalled. Shooting the messenger can be a bad move, poking your eyes out is worse.

The DNI coordinates the various agencies in the committee, creating National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) that are as insightful as possible. The position was created in the aftermath of 9/11, when the president was overwhelmed by competitive and sometimes conflicting intel. Don’t be surprised, each agency has its own value to prove, sharing intel between agencies has always been dicey. I’m going to use the names you are familiar with rather than the nicknames they have. The FBI is charged with a counterintelligence mission, thwarting foreign intel. The FBI is only authorized to operate within the United States. The CIA is charged with intelligence gathering, their theatre is strictly outside the United States. The intel of one is crucial to the other, yet they are in competition with each other to produce results.

There are seventeen major agencies that you may be aware of, and over twelve hundred that you are probably not aware of, each chasing their own prescribed threats according to their specialties. There is very little respect among them, each believing they are the best, sometimes thwarting other agencies to remain so. You are no doubt aware of situations in your own experience in which one law enforcement agency refused access to another, it works the same in the intel community.

By removing the DNI, Trump has created an environment of fear within the community. “Don’t tell the boss bad news or he’ll fire you” can be deadly. Prior to the Cuban Missile crises, the Kennedy administration belittled Nikita Kruschev, and publicly stated that he would never bring nuclear missiles to Cuba. At the time, intel was presented to the President by the United States Intelligence Board, which provided an estimate that the Soviets were unlikely to base nuclear missiles in Cuba. The current consensus is that the Board knew that the Kennedy Administration would discount any other conclusion because it had already publicly dismissed it. Intelligence officials and White House advisers knew that bringing forward an estimate contrary to the Administration’s position could damage their careers or weaken their influence in future debates. Sound familiar?

It took the death of U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr., and the subsequent words of Airman 1st Class Michael Davis; “Major, take a look at this, I think you’d better call the colonel” when he saw cigar shaped tubes in the photographs, to provide the fortitude required to brief President Kennedy with the truth. (Full disclosure, Airman Davis was a member of my wing, the 544th SIW; I’m still rather proud).

Trump has denigrated the intel community before, but removing the DNI because he didn’t like the NIE is reminiscent of Caesar ignoring the call to beware of the Ides of March. We can only hope the results are personal to Trump rather than the downfall of our nation.

The president has created the visage of a ruthless tyrant. That may have served him well in the corporate jungle, but as a world leader he looks more like Kim Jong-un. Fear of reprisal destroys the community, and there is every reason to believe he will be lovingly sabotaged. Without intel there is no insight.

Every president has had intel blunders, even after 9/11 Obama ignored NIEs about Russian cyber threats, setting up Secretary of State Clinton’s cyber naivete. But dismissing the DNI and replacing him with a civilian with zero experience is insane.

Your impression of spooks may be formed by James Bond or Jason Bourne. My experience is radically different. The point is to not stand out in a crowd, just accomplish your mission in silence. In that silence we are often forgotten, which was the purpose from the beginning. In doing so, we have no glory, only medals locked in a box somewhere. The public probably shouldn’t even know who is the DNI, our service is clearly labeled clandestine. Michael Davis wasn’t recognized for over fifty years.

You should seriously question a president who publicly denigrates the community.

 

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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Beware of Darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

 

 

This happens to be my favorite recording of this song, Leon Russell’s verse stands out as a life lesson in itself. File this under “Are you listening yet?”

But this article is not about George Harrison or Leon Russell, maybe a little bit about Bangladesh, but not in a direct way. Today I write about Maya, as I do most of the time. The veneer which many accept as reality.

Our National leaders are a measure of the consensus of gullibility. When Obama was elected his charisma was palpable. For those of us who have experienced cult behavior, the parallels of his blind followers and the Jonestown Massacre were frightening. As the years passed, most intelligent people have been able to see him for what he is, a deluded puppet with no understanding of politics, leadership, or the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, intelligent people are a minority.

How he was re-elected at the point his approval rating was at an all-time low astounds me, and as polls show his increasing irrelevance (those who “strongly approve” of his performance decreasing while those who “strongly disapprove” rising) they also indicate the polarization he has reintroduced to American society.

For some reason, the adage “Politicians lie” is accepted by an increasing number of people, the more disturbing subtext is the number of people who don’t care that politicians lie. Obama’s inability to accept the responsibilities of the office he holds has me fuming this morning. In two years and four months he’ll be gone, but it appears he intends to do as much damage as possible before he goes.

A man who is so widely accepted by his followers as being incredibly intelligent has been able to use the “I didn’t know about that” defense for years. I take that as an indication that his followers are equally uninformed, as anyone with a passing familiarity of the subjects he has claimed ignorance about knew more than he claimed to know. One would assume that during his daily intelligence briefings he picked up more than golf tips. I guess that’s the down side of having followers who believe anything you say, being honest becomes unnecessary.

In case you’ve been playing golf for the last couple of years, there is a group who call themselves “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” abbreviated as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and also known as “those freaking bloodthirsty maniacs” by almost everyone else on the planet. When Al Qaeda calls a group “too extreme,” they might be worth tracking. Somehow, a retired intelligence analyst in Princeton NJ is more aware of their threat than the President of the United States. I am certain his sources are better than mine.

He is not. The rise of ISIS, which began in Syria and flowed into Iraq over the last few years, was an absolute surprise to POTUS, the man who actually had wanted to support them over Assad last year. Rather than stating he underestimated them, he blames the intelligence community for not informing him of their fanaticism. He blames the CIA for overestimating the Iraqi army’s ability to fight ISIS. Who would have ever expected the army that surrendered to journalists in both 1991 and 2003 to actually fight radicals? A few lines from the film “Full Metal Jacket,” (Emma’s favorite) comes to mind, “I’ve got some ARVN rifles, never been fired and only dropped once”, and “yeah, I’ve seen plenty of the local troops, most of them were running the other way.”

A leader takes responsibility for his team. Six years into his term he is totally responsible for his advisers, yet he still blames failures on them instead of either admitting he wasn’t paying attention to them or he made poor choices in appointing them. I wish I could feel pity for this pathetic fool but right now all I feel is disgust. If you can’t trust your intelligence, try tuning into BBC, CBC, Al-Jazeera, or even your media pet CNN. How is it that the President of the United States is the only person on the planet that underestimated ISIS, and somehow that is the fault of his intel team?

Okay, maybe it’s a soft spot for me, Clinton decimated the intelligence community and then bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade due to bad targeting intel. The waves from Clinton’s purge still affect us today, it can take decades to build assets in societies that are closed to Westerners. But Bill Clinton did not blame the agency he had torn down for their subsequent failures, personally apologizing to Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Obama misses news that is available on the street corner and blames his intel sources? Is this why intruders keep “slipping by” the Secret Service, gaining access to the White House? Just wondering…

A friend had a saying when the Air Force was undergoing a “management overhaul,” in which officers were promoted based on their management skills. Carl would say “You don’t manage a man into battle, you lead.” Over the years the entire concept of “leadership” has devolved into “management.” I see it everywhere, but when the President stops being a leader and is just another manager, dodging responsibility and stealing the limelight from true achievers, the attitude spreads throughout society’s expectations of their leaders. It seems unlikely that our next President could be worse, but it is altogether possible considering what the American public will settle for.

I was just Skyping with Lieve, and she mentioned an incident in which a two year old ate some mushrooms, and had to be rushed to Lieve’s father with an uneaten mushroom so he could identify the species. The baby had been left under the supervision of his five year old sister, who was being berated for not watching the baby closely enough. If you think it is appropriate to make a five year old a babysitter, is it really the babysitter’s fault if something goes wrong?  Responsibility lies upon the top authority figure, in this case the Father, he made a foolish choice entrusting his baby’s safety to another child.

We, as citizens of the United States, are ultimately responsible for the performance of our elected officials. I didn’t choose Obama, but I accept my responsibility as a member of a democracy to accept his authority. I just wish my fellow Americans could accept their responsibilities in choosing a leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The horror

I’ve seen some incredibly ugly things in my life. Sadly, the video below is not the worst. You don’t need to watch it, the thumbnail tells you what you need to know, but for some reason I feel the need to document its existence.

syria

 

Warning

DO NOT view this video unless you are comfortable viewing graphic executions

Link to “LiveLeak”

I’m trying to figure out which is the most disturbing element. A crowd of men and women, most with their faces covered, stand around a group of eight or nine men who are kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs, A flag, black with gold Arabic writing, is displayed as the event is recorded.

The man to the right holds his Glock a few feet from the first prisoner’s head and fires, a total of four times. The next man fires into his victim’s head twice with an AK-47. The remainder of the men take their turns shooting their victims, and the scene quickly degrades into a hail of gunfire, with scores of rounds fired into the dead bodies.

I know nothing about the victims. I know nothing about the person who posted the video. I know nothing about the shooters.

What I do know is that I was overwhelmed with a desire to exterminate all life in the Middle East after viewing this, but why stop there? God can sort them out, you don’t sift through a cancerous tumor to see if there are any healthy cells present.

I know there is no shortage of bullets, which leads me to believe it is not Syria, where a single bullet can cost a day’s wages. At least that’s how it was a year ago, maybe foreign interests have flooded the area with weaponry. I know that if the intent of recording the event was to induce fear it is only a partial success. If I lived in the area I would believe it takes a well armed crowd to build up the courage to execute an enemy, from where I sit my fear is that people like this exist. I know that if the intent of the recording was to gain support for the shooters, it is an absolute failure, I have never been so repulsed in my life. If the intent was to gain sympathy for the victims, it also fails, because I don’t know who they are. I’ve asked the person who posted this why they did so, so far no response, but the comment “surprisingly enough no media hse (sic) is reporting this” suggests he isn’t familiar with current broadcast standards.

In the last few weeks I have been disappointed by my fellow human beings, the level of “humanity” in the humans I have had to interact with has been lacking in every sense. In a country that prizes liberty the rights of the individual have been stripped bare. Corporations and Politicians abuse the public trust and play “divide and conquer” with the populace. Groups designed to increase tolerance display and teach intolerance. Individuals find rudeness preferable to civility. Organizations trying to gain acceptance insulate themselves to the point they are not accepted.

Anyway.

As compassionate as I attempt to be with the raggedy mobs, they get under my skin from time to time. I snap back at the guy who loves everyone except the person who disagrees with him. But the level of verbal violence is disturbing, because it starts with a word and moves to road rage in a heartbeat.

So please. The next time you find yourself slipping into hyperbole, saying “they ought to be shot,” come back to this article and watch the video. Is that really what you want? If not, hold your tongue, don’t say what you don’t mean.

 

 

My friend the suicide bomber

The Ides of March were last week, a date that stands in my mind as the birthday of an old friend. I haven’t heard from John in years, but I remember him because of his birthday, and because he was a suicide bomber. John wasn’t crazy (well yes, by some standards he was). John had served in the United States Army, and while posted in what was called West Germany he was the human link in the chain nuclear deterrence. John controlled access to tactical nuclear weapons.

You may not be familiar with tactical nukes. Unlike the big, city leveling nuclear weapons most people had the sense to avoid, tactical nukes were smaller (in the sense they are only a few times as powerful as the weapons we used in Japan), and were intended for use within the theater of combat. Beyond artillery, tactical nuclear weapons were used in short-range missiles, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. In several applications, the distance to the target was less than the radius of lethal effects, thus John’s term “suicide bomb”.

There are a variety of factors in the effects of nuclear weapons. First there is the explosive blast, the shock wave that destroys buildings and less stable structures such as human beings. You can see the effects by using this application. Enter your address, and the explosive yield of the weapon in question. Tactical nukes ranged from 0.04 Kt (rifle fired projectile) to 40 Kt (155mm shells). Tank projectiles were in the 15 Kt range (similar to the Hiroshima weapon), as were several anti submarine weapons.  The various radii represent the different component effects of a detonation, and while one might survive inside the area affected due to precautionary sheltering, going on the assumption more than one weapon would be used creates multiple zones, overlapping in both area and time of effects.

Also in the category of tactical nukes are low (less than one megaton, or one thousand Kt) missiles and bombs, and “atomic demolition munitions”, bombs designed for the purpose of destroying structures or geography like bunkers, mountain passes, or tunnels, preventing enemy supply, escape, or evasion.

The experience of contemplating mortality, for not only himself but also his friends and possibly the world, left a mark on John. It is one thing for people to sit in an office one hundred feet below Omaha Nebraska and plan nuclear wars based on reconnaissance imagery and written reports from assets they’ll rarely meet face to face, and quite another to spend your tour living in  your target zone, looking at faces that will cease to exist if you ever have to do your job. Sanity lurks in a forest of rationalizations, the belief that the threat prevented the reality. It alters the way you interact with people, the way you respond to authority, the elements of life you choose to value.

John was a loving and caring man, who felt a need to care for the weak, and a need for primal screams. He would be gentle with his wife when she was sick, doing all he could to protect her from the dangers of her disease (diabetes) which she would or could not monitor on her own. We would meet in biker bars, because he felt safe there knowing we wouldn’t run into anyone from “the real world” of work. Neither of us weighed more than 140 lbs, he was maybe 5’6″, and we were obviously out of place, but somehow we fit right in.

It takes all kinds to make a world. Just because someone seems a little odd doesn’t mean your way of life hasn’t depended on them. More goes on under the surface than you might ever suspect.

 

 

Seeing is believing

There has been a trend against language for some time. The masses, easily misled by words, prefer pictures.

Several alleged “news” sources simply post video. No analysis or comment, occasionally going as far as stating “At 2:15 he makes his point” suggesting I should watch two minutes and fifteen seconds of a video to discover what the point might be. Just tell me, I can read, and I can read much faster than the video can tell its story. I have seen “articles” that consist of a collection of “memes”, with no original content. A string of pictures with captions rather than an actual opinion. “You know what I mean” moves to the next level.

“Meme” is derived from “mimeme”, meaning to imitate. The person who coined the word (Richard Dawkins) was looking for a monosyllabic expression. Rarely does a word fit its own definition so well, in some ways an intellectual onomatopoeia.

Recently footage of a chunk of ice falling off a glacier into the sea was headlined “Watch as a piece of the planet disappears forever!”. I watched, and saw ice fall into water. Nothing disappeared. Nonetheless the site was filled by global warming enthusiasts wringing their hands over the shame of it all. Pictures are like that. This is why anti-abortion activists carry pictures of aborted fetuses. The portion of the brain that reacts to visual stimuli skips the part that weighs facts and balances arguments. It’s a function of the survival instinct.

I’ve also noticed a grotesque misuse of graphs. A line on a page is not a graph. Unequal indices and unequally spaced indices are misleading. A graph with missing indices is just a set of meaningless lines. Yes, we can all see the line goes up as it moves from left to right, which influences my opinion as much as a picture of the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. But look! The line goes to the upper left hand corner! Turn the page ninety degrees, has the data changed? Why does the line go down now?

You may have noticed certain words in my articles are underlined. This was once the common way of letting readers know they could click on those words to link to an article verifying the information. Even that simple non-verbal form of communication has been corrupted. In a recent article about climate change, more than half the links were “broken”, that is, they lead nowhere, most often to a “404 Error” page. The casual reader would think there was documentation. Whether this was an intentional ruse to mislead readers or this was a case in which the documentation had been withdrawn is purely speculation.

The written word is not a natural form of communication. It is the product of intellectual evolution. De-evolution is a choice, it is a failure of intellect, and a great band from the ’80s. It is not the path a “progressive” should be attracted towards.

Numerals

Numerals are the names we give to numbers. Twelve, 12, Dozen, XII, Двенадцать, Twaalf, and Doce all refer to the same number. The number is the collection of objects, so the numeral is an adjective describing the collection. In the sentence “Bob has twelve blue eggs” the words “twelve” and “blue” describe the eggs Bob has. If he gives away an egg, the collection has changed as much as if he had bleached one white.

Just wanted to get that out of the way. The word “number” is in some ways similar to the word “anesthesia”, something that makes you numb. Maybe not you, but many people.

Most people do not understand numbers or their relationship to each other. As the data is translated into numerals, the level of understanding does not increase. Part of this is rooted in language, almost everyone understands the difference between addition and geometry, without realizing the difference between million and trillion is geometrical rather than linear. Moving a decimal point is not a function of counting, the simple addition or subtraction of a single unit, it is the multiplication (or division) of a number by a factor of the base. We use base ten, one hundred is ten times ten, or ten squared, one thousand is ten times ten times ten, or ten cubed. One is ten divided by ten, zero point one (0.1) is ten divided by ten divided by ten. 0.1 is related to 10 the same way 10 is related to 1,000. Decimals are easy, fractions drive people insane.

Really big events are often expressed using numerals, but if numerals and the numbers they represents are not understood, the event isn’t understood either. It is often said “Numbers don’t lie”. Words don’t lie either. Both can be used to tell lies.

I give you this as a preface to some numbers I’ll be referring to in the coming weeks. I’m going to be exploring some common myths in our culture, and I want to get your minds in a place where they can analyze the data without taking my word for the meaning of the numbers. For today, I’m just going to go over a couple of ways numbers have been used to lie, or at least mislead.

I have nothing against H&R Block, I’m using their ad as an illustration.

There is a commercial for H&R Block in which they state one billion dollars in tax deductions are missed by people who complete their own returns. We’re going to accept this as a fact without any verification, one billion dollars in deductions. As anyone who has prepared a tax return is aware, one dollar of deductions does not equal one dollar of taxes, but this is an ad for people who haven’t done their own tax returns, so why not go ahead and accept that one billion dollars in taxes have been overpaid. I won’t go into the representations of one billion dollars used in the commercials other than to say there would be different results if the money was in one dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, or pennies.

The population of the United Sates is estimated to be just over 316 million people in 2013. That means the one billion dollars is about $3.16 per person. Using the logic presented by H&R Block, your family of four is due an extra $12.65. Knowing that, are you ready to spend thirty dollars to have them prepare your taxes?

Of course, my numbers are wrong. Although each person should be represented on a tax return, each person does not file a tax return. Of actual tax returns, less than half are individuals (people rather than businesses). A small number (relatively speaking) are filed on paper rather than digitally. That small number is estimated as less than ten percent of the total number of returns, or a little over twenty four million returns for 2013. What, you didn’t think twenty four million was a small number?

So who knows what H&R Block is referring to in its commercials? All that is important is you should get your share of one billion dollars. If that share is a three hundred sixteen millionth, it isn’t much of a share, but you’re not supposed to think about anything other than the pile of bills shown in the commercial.

Next we’ll talk about graphs, visual representations of numbers.

 

 

The price of being an Ambassador

There is a class system within the Department of State, one that might seem obvious to outsiders. There are career diplomats, people who have sacrificed life as an American in order to be in the Foreign Service, and the political appointees, chosen for their contributions to the incumbent administration.

Chris Stevens served in the Peace Corps during college, and went on to earn his JD from Hastings in 1989, He joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and served for ten years before being appointed Ambassador to Libya. He then paid the ultimate price.

Chris Stevens was one of the good guys. When the administration said about Chris and his colleagues “They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.” you would never have believed he had been left twisting in the wind without help during an attack.

It is nothing new for presidents to sell the position of ambassador to the highest bidder, it just seems the price has gone up, the qualifications have been eliminated, and the value of a position in which the folks who sent you may choose to martyr you should have fallen.

At least Joe Kennedy could speak the language of the nation to which he was appointed ambassador, and had actually visited in 1933 (with FDR’s son, James Roosevelt, to buy distribution rights for Scotch whisky). He was an absolute failure as a diplomat and came home before things got too hot in England, leaving others to promote his personal agenda.

Our appointed Ambassador to Norway started his term by apologizing. Not knowing anything about the nation he would be an ambassador to had not prevented him from insulting them, before he ever visited the country. Our Ambassador to Argentina has never visited the country, and doesn’t even speak Spanish. If we were talking about China (and we will be) I would understand, but Spanish? Our new Ambassador to Hungary can’t find the country on a map, and has no clue what she will be doing there. All these people do understand that the base price for a position as foreign ambassador is $500,000. Despite their inadequacies, we should hope they never have to pay the price Chris Stevens paid.

Our newly appointed ambassador to China does fit a time honored tradition. Promoting troublemakers out of the arena so they can no longer cause trouble. Max Baucus, senator from Montana, states openly that he’s no expert on China, but looks forward to this new adventure. Had he been an expert on China maybe he wouldn’t be quite as excited.

Diplomacy is an art, a slimy art of lying and deception but an art none the less. It is increasingly important in our world, where impressions and innuendos are more lethal weapons than assault rifles. Now is not the time to be assigning “ugly Americans”, people with no sensitivity to other cultures, to represent America.

This pattern of assignments indicates a failure in foreign relations, a contempt for the process of statesmanship. It is quite amazing the person making these appointments was recognized in 2009 for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. Unless that award was for sale as well.

Meanwhile, at the rebel base on Tatooine…

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No, not really. Those are not X wing fighters, although they have been mistaken for alien spaceships. These are A-12 (OXCART) aircraft, very possibly the most advanced aircraft ever built, doomed to be killed by a blackbird.

Now that much concerning the development of these craft has been declassified, we can talk about these exotic craft and the people who worked with them.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, since the flurry of activity last November and a number of friends sharing photographs that are no longer classified. What finally motivated me was a reference to Polaroid cameras the other day, and the recognition that strategic reconnaissance is a vastly unknown art.

Almost everyone has heard of Dr. Edwin Land, creator of the Polaroid camera. What many are unaware of is Dr. Land’s contribution to surveillance. In World War two he adapted his vectograph, a polarized 3D image, to defeat camouflage. Vectograph uses a system that polarizes the left/right images rather than using color filters. Dr. Land developed the cameras used in the U-2, OXCART (and later SR-71 BLACKBIRD), and several series of satellites.

These cameras took images from incredible distances. The closest perigee of a KH-11 was 157 miles, while the A-12 was flying at about 19 miles with an air speed over three times the speed of sound. The precise resolution remains classified, but paired with excellent photo interpretation, we managed follow a great deal of activity.

Strategic surveillance has always been around, we watch each other, and sometimes the curtain of secrecy which separates engineers of differing political persuasions can be pierced.  The greatest airframes have been designed by Russians, but the imaginations required to exploit those airframes with superior avionics have been American. You knew the Mig-25 magically turned into the F-15, but now you know the stealth program began with a Russian design. When we first saw one on a runway we thought it was a Russian space shuttle prototype, the design became TACIT BLUE.

Today surveillance is more signal oriented. In the flood of communications made available to every drooling biped on the planet, computer algorithms “listen” to our conversations, looking for keywords. The same way advertisers zero in on you, hitting you with ads for whatever you just looked for, programs like NARUSINSIGHT look for key words or combinations. Even with the most sophisticated and immense computers in existence, only about thirty percent of traffic can be monitored. Observe a smaller pool of communication, and you can catch everything (reveal what you’ve found and people stop talking).

The “revelations” about surveillance are only surprises to those who haven’t been paying attention. The fears about surveillance are only as founded as our own self measurements of guilt. Was it a bad thing for Victoria Nuland to express her feelings in a private phone conversation? I don’t think so. I think it points out the importance of appropriate interpretation. Personal opinions are not state agendas.

The biggest secret is there really are no secrets.

Lawyers, guns, and money

There are a variety of stereotypes about “spies”. Having worked in the intelligence community, and having had some of those stereotypes applied to me, I can verify that they are almost uniformly false. I do prefer my martinis shaken though.

There are no James Bonds, Jim Phelpses, or Jason Bournes. The effective operative doesn’t draw any attention to him or her self. They blend in, just interesting enough that their blandness is not notable. They tend to live relatively boring lives, and when its all over their recollections are usually low key.

There are a number of agencies that use field operatives for various purposes. It’s not the kind of job you find in the newspaper, there’s not an HR department that you send a resume to. That’s because it’s not the kind of job you list on your resume. It’s the kind of job that you kind of fall into. You can aim for it, but usually it finds you. When the field operative gets caught, he’s not missed. If he’s lucky, he’ll get traded for someone from his target country who also wasn’t missed, because spies are not acknowledged as existing. There’s not a position titled “spy”. It’s all part of the job.

Once in a while they make the news, outing a spy ends his job, if he can’t be arrested he’s at least been neutralized, called home if he has any value there. If he can be arrested, he’s fortunate if he’s in a country with “Western” sensibilities, where he has a chance of a public trial and humane prison.

Robert Levinson has not been so lucky. After a career in the FBI, he did some consulting on money laundering for some old contacts. He ended up traveling to Iran to investigate a couple of leads. Then he vanished from the face of the Earth. That was six years ago.

A video has surfaced that may be of Levinson, along with the story that he is being held as a Central Intelligence Agency spy. Iran denies he is in custody. The CIA denies he is a spy. His family knows he’s missing.

Reading between the lines, anyone who has been connected to the community can see what probably happened, and how it will probably turn out. Levinson had a full career in the FBI, he probably understood the risks he was taking, and his family probably never knew a thing. His paycheck probably didn’t say “Central Intelligence Angency” on it, so Langley is telling the truth. He was probably not even directly employed, just a “contractor”. The government of Iran may not have him in custody. They may have executed him, or he he may have been kidnapped by a radical group, so they’re telling the truth. When the United States Secretary of State says we haven’t abandoned Levinson, he’s telling the truth. Levinson wasn’t technically a government employee, so he’s only a missing person. There’s not much the Department of State can do (as if there ever was).

I suspect Levinson, if he is still alive, is aware of his “situation”. He may have been collecting intelligence, and that may depend on what definition of “collecting” and “intelligence” you apply. Iran isn’t Disneyland, he knew what kind of people he would be dealing with.

I do feel bad for his family. They couldn’t have known what he was facing, they probably didn’t know what he faced in the FBI either.

Our intelligence community is a mess. After Clinton eviscerated it, rebuilding in the aftermath of 9/11 was an impossibility. Assets take decades to develop, leadership is expected from people with inadequate experience. Filling the ranks with contractors has given us a variety of problems, Edward Snowden no doubt the worst, although when the President acknowledges that he has no idea what the NSA is doing, maybe Snowden was a blessing of sorts. This is not a good time to foray into unknown territory without an extraction plan.

 

The misinformation superhighway

Lou Reed died last week. Really.

I mean, it’s not an incredible shock that a seventy one year old ex heroin user who had a kidney transplant last year would die, it’s just shocking that he died on Sunday, 27 October. Because on Saturday, 26 October, his agent had confirmed that Lou was alive, after an internet hoax spread the rumor of his death the week before. He had flown away from the dirty disinformation boulevard, just to be run down on the misinformation superhighway. Ambiguous in life, ambiguous in death.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if he was still with us or not. Rolling Stone and the New York Times were running the story. The story. As I checked various “sources”, I found the same story, word for word, published by every news agency. Does the story take on more credibility when both Rolling Stone and the New York Times cut and paste the same piece?

Despite all the amputations, you know you could just

Journalism seems to have sunk to the level of telephone tag. As I and others were trying to separate fact from fiction, one perfectly reasonable issue was raised. If the article doesn’t mention the hoax from the week before, it’s less credible. Unfortunately, Lou was dead, and he hadn’t made many friends in the press, so either they were lousy journalists or just weren’t aware of the hoax. More than likely both.

It is harder and harder to verify information, because a good deal of it is just re-posted with the primary source uncredited. When it is also re-posted without a date, old rumors can become new again. Even people who think they’ve avoided a hoax still manage to propagate one, as happened a few weeks ago when I received an email warning about a new Christmas stamp honoring Muslims. At the bottom of the email was a link to Snopes.com, which shows the information in the email to be false. I’m guessing not many people click on links, they just see “snopes.com: New Forever Stamp — Muslim EID Stampand assume that the link confirms the email. I’m sure some people see EID and fail to recognize it means “Festival” in Arabic, perhaps confusing it with I.E.D.

Most hoaxes can be dispelled by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. How likely is it that Obama has a staff of twenty secret service agents to polish his golf clubs? Wouldn’t you have heard something about it over the last four years? Isn’t that website a source of satire? Does the fact that the author’s last credit was “Twenty four ways to vulcanize a chicken” suggest that he may not have the background to be reporting this information? Is the person who sent you this email the same person who told you that the Earth’s magnetic field was about to reverse?

The internet is filled with information. Information is not facts. Facts are not “the truth”. The truth is not the story. Example: Information “There are fourteen million child brides every year worldwide” (Defined as bride under eighteen years of age). Fact The legal age for marriage is under eighteen in much of the world (The lowest legal age in the world is New Hampshire, USA, at thirteen, and Yemen, where there is no limit on age for marriage, but intercourse is not legal until “the indefinite time they are suitable for sexual intercourse”). The truth early marriages affect both men and women, both positively and negatively.  The Story Young women are often forced into servitude under the guise of marriage. 

Don’t miss the forest, don’t miss the trees.

The Golden Rule

There is a reason that the intelligence community and the Department of State don’t mix. No, not the obvious. Intelligence services play by the Golden rule, the Department of State has diplomatic immunity.

The Department of State spends its time pretending it’s not gathering information. Pretending to be playing nice. They tend to foul intelligence operations to protect their own interests. Which brings us to my favorite loose cannon, Edward Snowden.

The reason that the initial uproar to capture Snowden came from the Department of State rather than any of the recognizable sources is because Edward pulled open the curtain on political spying. It was alright if we spy on Americans, but diplomats? Back in 1979 we found so many bugs in the new embassy in Moscow that we couldn’t use the building, but we were adversaries with the Soviets.

Obama has tried to spin the release of information into a “everybody does it (wink wink)” story, but the Germans and French don’t want to play that way, so they’re raising a fuss now. You’re not supposed to admit you’re spying on each other. That’s how it works.

This is only one reason I’ve always detested “Staties”. An intelligence service is upset when an operation is blown because work has been lost, contacts revealed, and possibly lives endangered. The Department of State is more concerned with keeping up appearances. One line that always touches me in espionage stories is when the seniors reminisce, “I miss the old days”. Obama can’t decide whether he’s a diplomat or a generalissimo.

There are no rules today. Part of this is blamed on the middle east, the viciousness of their security has been difficult for some people to accept. We said the same thing about the Japanese in World War two and the Koreans in their conflict. The NAZIs said that Jews ate children. It is normal to dehumanize the enemy, especially when they have a different culture. The fact is we all play rough, but we used to play fair.

The truth has not changed. By lowering our standards we validate the standards of others. Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer was just as true for Sun-tzu as Michael Corleone. We have always kept an eye on our friends, long before Jonathan Pollard or Kim Philby, we made no secret of not trusting our allies.

This entire episode reeks of inexperience. Clinton gutted the intelligence community, and it was being rebuilt during the Bush administration. Obama came along and expanded intelligence tasks without adequate personnel, and rather than wait for proper clearances, people like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning found themselves in positions they should never have been in. An administration which can only be described as isolated from reality has no idea how to deal with such situations, other than to deny the existence of issues, or to  flex its muscles and make threats. Parallels can easily be drawn to Kennedy’s fumbling in Cuba.

This is not a game for amateurs. The stakes are too high.

Who do you trust?

I don’t know how other people choose what to believe. Most of us go with our gut feelings, but some of us have better trained guts than others. Some people choose to believe things despite hard facts to the contrary. Telling a delusional person that they are delusional is pointless, just remember that by rule of mathematics, half the population has a below average intelligence level, and have another glass of wine.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a strong sense of observation and memory. I have a good sense of people, I feel their vibe. Sometimes I’m wrong, but usually I’m right, and the weight I apply to the decision is based on the importance of the decision. In addition to those skills, I have this handy little guide for evaluating information:

First evaluate the source,

A – Reliable: No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B – Usually Reliable: Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C – Fairly Reliable: Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
D – Not Usually Reliable: Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E – Unreliable: Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the reliability of the source

Then evaluate the content,

1 – Confirmed: Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; Consistent with other information on the subject
2 – Probably True: Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 – Possibly True: Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 – Doubtfully True: Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 – Improbable: Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the validity of the information

Some of you might be familiar with that system. You evaluate the source, then you evaluate the information, and you have a metric to compare data. Obviously, A1 is almost blind trust, E5 is useful only in knowing the information is false, F6 is between C3 and D4, and there are thirty six permutations. It’s a basic thing that some of us do subconsciously, but it works so well it’s been codified into intelligence agencies.

In a world where we are swamped with information, being able to know what is “true” is a valuable asset. In a world with opinions driving the course of society, it is invaluable. This is one of the reasons I enjoy having a wife who constantly questions me, I am reminded to evaluate my opinions and their sources daily.

I find it frustrating that the general view has moved from trust to belief. One symptom of this is the “accreditation” given to Jenny McCarthy, by her placement as a co-host on “The View”. To me, this just furthers my appraisal of The View, and opinions produced by it, as E5. But millions of viewers will adopt the “I saw it on TV” attitude and believe. Jenny has a child with autism who received childhood vaccinations. In the 80’s a preliminary report linked autism to vaccines. That link has since been refuted. But Jenny continues her crusade against vaccines.

When I was in the Air Force, the preliminary study made headlines. NBC ran an “investigative report” on the subject. A Staff Sergeant I worked with said to me “If you love your kids, you’ll watch this program”, to which, after I restrained myself from punching him in the face, I replied “Never question my love for my kids, I’ll read the study“. I did, all my kids received their vaccinations. Since then Measles epidemics have run rampant, causing thousands of deaths every year. Mumps have gone epidemic. God only knows how many birth defects can be traced to exposure to Rubella.  Other children, with even less intelligent parents, have been left at risk of Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis, Polio, Tetanus, and Pneumococus. Evolution at work.

When the “Global Warming” furor began, I gave it a C3. When Al Gore got involved it became an E3. After going over the data it moved to E4. Now, there is adequate data to confirm it at E5, and in fact, false. Nonetheless, egos have continued to refuse they were wrong, and a large percentage of people believe it to be true. My mother told me not to argue with crazy people, so I have removed myself from most arguments on the subject.

I do not seek marital advice from people who have not had successful marriages, but some people will trust a friend, regardless of their actual experience. Presently the President of the United States enjoys almost messianic, and certainly maniacal, immunity from his history. I can understand forgetting the man made a cornerstone of his campaign transparency, and now runs the most secretive administration in history. Heck, 2007 is ancient history, right? People who really remember ancient history agree that Obama is worse than Nixon. Nixon, that horrible guy that everyone can remember, or at least claims to. Selective memory, that cognitive dissonance that allows people to forget what Obama said six weeks ago, but “remember” to hate the previous vice president runs rampant.

We live in a society led by individuals who have earned a D rating at best. They are driven by information that rates a 4 or worse, and have demonstrated opinions with a value of 5 routinely. When they make decisions that can be corrected at the next election cycle, I try not to get upset. When they drive us toward a World War, I feel the need to become more vocal.

Although I have used the term “acceptable losses” in the past, there are no acceptable losses prior to entering a war. Zero is the acceptable number, best achieved by staying out of the war.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)

Limited response

I am not currently employed. When I have applied for jobs, and been interviewed, I have heard the phrase “Well, if you can do what you say you can…” and tried not to take much insult. It would never occur to me to say I could do something that I couldn’t. I’d like to keep a job more than a few days. It would never occur to me to lie to people and expect them to trust me again. I am, I’ve been told, “Weird”.

Why would it be odd to suspect an average person to make unrealistic claims, when it is commonplace for the President to do so? In 2007, Senator Barack Obama stated “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”, although he had changed his mind shortly after the next shiny object entered his field of vision. By 2011, just two years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for diverting soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan, he stated quite clearly that the rules didn’t apply to him, and bombed Libya.

Then he decided to “draw a red line” over the use of chemical weapons. Just ninety years late, chemical weapons were banned as part of the Geneva Protocols in 1925. America is not the judicial or correctional arm of the UN, the President’s threat of a military response was out of line. War crimes are not prosecuted during a hot war, and they are prosecuted by bringing the criminal to justice, not by killing civilians. Even Assad knew this, but apparently not Obama. Assad also knew that Obama could not act on his own, he would need the approval of congress. It’s so sad when a foreign dictator knows more about your constitution than a “Constitutional Scholar”.

After realizing that almost no one was supporting his unilateral threats, the President decided to “allow” congress to vote on whether we should commit the lives of our children to a war with no sides.

We’ve gotten used to the idea of “push button wars”, but the futility of such actions hasn’t sunk in. There is no such thing as a “Limited war”, unless you want to surrender before beginning.

Diplomacy works when both sides of the table take each other seriously. No one is taking the President of the United States, and by extension the entire United States of America, seriously any more. We might have been successful in ending the war in Syria with an embargo, but it’s unlikely we can pull that off now. How safe are our soldiers enforcing a blockade when the Syrians believe we won’t respond if attacked?

I was born in Texas, and over the years have spent about a fifth of my life there. Every state has it’s “State Police” or “Highway Patrol”, in Texas we have the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers aren’t just police who work for the state. They are like the Marines. If you’re a bad guy, you don’t want to even see a Ranger.

The Ranger’s motto comes from an incident in Dallas TX in 1896. A riot had started so the Rangers were called in. They sent Captain Bill McDonald, and his pistol. When asked why they were only sending one man, the response was “there’s only one riot”. Other stories of Rangers facing down crowds include a Ranger on the steps of a courthouse, facing a mob. From the mob came a shout “He’s only got six bullets!” to which the ranger replied “I guess I can only shoot the first six up front”. The mob inverted, as no one wanted to be in front.

So far this year there have been thirty one homicides in Trenton NJ. About the number for Philadelphia PA in January, but per capita a higher rate. The governor wants to send in the State Police. The problem is that the bad guys in Trenton don’t take the police seriously, in fact two of the homicides were police officers. The police officers I have known in the Northeast are either afraid to shoot because they don’t want to be sued, or trigger happy, shooting people when they reach for their wallets. We need the Texas Rangers.

If we want to be taken seriously as a “superpower” we need a President with the soul of a Texas Ranger. All ours has is the mouth of an impotent bully.

I saw it on TV

And so it was. Every night a grandfatherly gentleman told us the monsters would stay under our beds for another night. He was the most trusted man in America for a large portion of the late twentieth century. History hasn’t judged him as kindly, for which we may thank Walter and his contemporaries. He was human, he was flawed, and he upheld most of the standards of the golden age of journalism.

As a nation, we turned from the newspaper to the television. When Walter said “And that’s the way it is”, we believed that we didn’t need to know anything more. There was no need to look any deeper. Today’s “joke”, “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”, began as “they can’t put anything on television that isn’t true”. Only it wasn’t a joke back then, we believed it. Believing that what we saw on television had to be true is what made some people believe that the internet (a television) had the same standards.

An unexpected blow to the newspaper industry was recycling, as unread newspapers stacked up people realized there was no point in subscribing. With the decay of actual investigative reporting, “real” journalism became a thing of the past. “News” has been replaced by “Infotainment”, which has quickly been replaced by pure entertainment. So where is the news?

We have, unfortunately, regressed to word of mouth. Making things worse, we’re not all political analysts, for Christ’s sake we’re not all terribly bright, so discovering valid information and knowing what it means has become increasingly difficult. Being able to do something with that information is next to impossible.

I’m not big on the concept of conspiracies. If I was, there’s enough stuff out there to put me in a rubber room. Everyone with an opinion can publish a blog (you’re reading one now), a website with a unique domain name can be had for ten dollars a year, There are a lot of voices out there, who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or worse, they do and they’re lying to you. I include in this the media outlets who give sixty seconds of airtime to a laughing baby, but don’t get around to mentioning riots in Brazil. Omission is a class of lying in and of itself.

These are some of the reasons why credible sources use links, to take you to source material so you can determine accuracy yourself. I’ve always linked pertinent sources, but I’ve become aware that links are not very visible on this blog, so from this post forward I will underline any links to make them more noticeable.

I could tell there were alternate views of the situation in Egypt, the early days of democracy are bound to be difficult. To me, it seemed obvious that a democratically elected president being deposed by the military satisfied the criteria for “Military Coup“, despite the fact that a number of Egyptian contacts were calling it a “democratic process” or “anti-terrorism protests“, and our own government won’t call it a coup.

A few weeks ago, some outlets were reporting protests in Brazil. I have friends in Brazil (who I will in no way identify), so I asked what was going on. I can’t go into depth of the explanation without possibly revealing the source, but there is much more than a “protest against bus fares“. There are economic issues similar to those in America, and political unrest similar to Syria. Nonetheless, the civilian population was taking measures to ensure peaceful protests, including ostracizing trouble makers, and befriending the police.

No large gathering escapes the attention of hooligans, and things have gotten out of hand at times. You might have heard about it, unless you live in Brazil. According to my source, the only media news about the protests refers to the traffic jams. Not even that a protest caused the traffic jam, just that there is a traffic jam.

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My “meme” friends are into revolution, and conspiracies. According to my source, Brazil is experiencing neither, but these conflicts in reality give the meme folks some credibility. And this is where we run into a problem.

As our traditional media becomes less trustworthy, one way of verifying sources is “Have they been right before?”. I’m giving this one to the wanna be revolutionaries, with a reminder that there are other ways to verify a source. Consider what your source has to gain (in this case, supporting “revolutions” emboldens the timid). When people try to get you to back them in a fight, make sure they plan to be in front.

The other part of verification is the believability of the information itself. A secret UFO base under the Washington Monument is going to draw immediate furrowed brows, but let’s use the Egyptian example.

Was there a coup? Yes. Was it facilitated by the military? Yes. Why does the American government say it wasn’t a military coup? Because they’ve been providing equipment to the Egyptian military, and don’t want to be seen as “puppet masters”. But what about the word on the street? Since we have nothing more reliable than social media, we need to recognize that what we are hearing is opinions. The “people of Egypt” took to the street and demanded change. But who are the people of Egypt? In order to be a candidate in the election, one had to be of Egyptian parentage. Not just a citizen, but at very least a second generation citizen, without dual citizenship, and not married to a non-Egyptian. To vote, one only needed a national identity card. That ruled out about half the population. Democracy has many definitions, and the half that wasn’t eligible to vote can make a demonstration look like it expresses the will of “the people”. We face a similar dilemma in America, where were we to allow non citizens to vote we could settle the “National Language” question, we would be required to speak Spanish.

So the real question in Egypt is the legitimacy of the elections, and to determine that, we need to know who the legitimate voters are. My best source of information in the Middle East is Lebanese, and he ran from country to country making bad decisions on where the next revolution would be. I haven’t heard from him in a bit, so I suspect he made a tragically poor decision. All we have is the voice of social media. A demonstration in which sixteen people are killed would tend to get a lot of press if it happened in, say, Memphis, and I doubt it would be characterized as a “peaceful demonstration”, but to understand that aspect requires an “Arab mind”. Here’s one view into that mind.

It’s complicated. Too complicated for the evening news, more suited to a number of books, in tandem with some understanding of the culture of the applicable society. Contrary to the beliefs of many American politicians, understanding world affairs requires understanding the world.

Next question. Is there a “conspiracy” preventing you from understanding what is happening in the world, and if so, why?

United Nations

As Americans, we’re not really thrilled with the United Nations. From what I understand, it goes both ways, but America is a great place for diplomats, so they remain headquartered here. Where else can you violate all the laws of your country, and then leave your car parked in the middle of a bridge, and just wave your credentials when the police show up? In England, if you’re a foreigner,  you can’t vote in national elections, but local elections, that affect you, you can vote in. With diplomatic immunity in America, nothing affects you.

As an idea, the United Nations is wonderful. Peace is almost always preferable to war. Unfortunately, for a situation to be bad enough to require UN “peacekeepers”, diplomatic efforts have failed, and it’s time for war. There’s a reason we don’t issue soldiers badges and nightsticks, soldiers are not intended to “keep the peace”, they are tasked to end the war.

Despite our diplomatic failures, our military has routinely won the conflicts they have been involved in. We won in Vietnam militarily, then the politicians threw it away. We nailed the Soviets in Afghanistan, then we lost the peace because the politicians walked away. Today, our biggest enemies use different tactics, and the politicians declare war on the populace. My view is biased, I believe that the military is the big stick you pull out when other efforts have failed, and in using the big stick, you leave it alone to do its job. Then you send in the diplomats, with the lawyers and documents.

We are often called “The world’s policeman” in a derogatory way. We are not. That is the job of the UN. We are the world’s enforcers.

The UN has a history of failures, all or at least many of which could have been avoided. You don’t send “Peacekeepers” into a war zone anymore than you bring skittles to a gunfight. Unfortunately, when the UN applies the wrong tools, people die. Lots of people die. And being diplomats, deaths are less important than responsibility, so the paper pushers figure to ways to blame the people whose hands they had tied.

Take for instance the Bosnian conflict. A UN “peacekeeping” force was deployed to key villages, including Srebrenica, which in 1993 the UN Security Council had formally designated a “safe area”, the French UN commander telling the people of the village that he would never abandon them. Then he did. The enclave of three hundred fifty square miles was assigned to a force of four hundred Dutch troops, surrounded by two thousand Serbian troops, arranged as thee brigades with tanks, artillery and mortars. The fifty thousand Bosnians inside were under siege, with roughly one peacekeeper per square mile to protect them.

If you’ve ever known of a case of domestic violence, you know the value of a “protection order”. This situation is analogous, two groups that wanted to kill each other for centuries divided by a sign reading “UN Safe Area”.  Thousands of civilians were killed, tens of thousands evacuated (exiled), and the UN blamed the Dutch. After the dust settled, it seems everyone was blamed except the Serbians.

Let’s talk about Rwanda. In January of 1994, the Canadian commander of UN forces in Rwanda became aware of multiple weapons caches and troops, and made UN headquarters aware that he was going to seize the arms. He was told that seizing arms was beyond the scope of his mission, and to notify President Habyarimana of possible Arusha Accords violations. The Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF- Tutsis) began to systematically take control of the country.

On 6 April, the presidents plane was shot down, and on 7 April, fifteen peacekeepers arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence to find it already under attack. The Prime Minister attempted to escape, but was captured and killed. After being told there was no back up, the peacekeepers surrendered. The five Ghanaian troops were released, and the ten Belgian troops were tortured, castrated and dismembered with machetes.

Over the next one hundred days as many as one hundred thousand people died. European forces evacuated their civilians, but refused to assist the UN forces.

The UN does not fight wars, nor should it. They are guided by a “Prime directive” that prevents getting involved in local politics. So you might ask, “What is the point of peacekeepers?”. I have dark, ugly suspicions, having to do with using human lives as pawns in diplomatic games, that a certain number of people have to die before retaliation is appropriate. But I’ve spent a number of years holding my nose around diplomats, I’ve lost friends to wars that didn’t need to happen, so I’m biased.

The seed for this article came from a “Dutch Uncle”, literally not figuratively. Lieve’s uncle lives in Holland and is a human rights activist. He spoke with me a week after I toured Ypres, and after investigating Srebrenica, and a number of other UN failures, I am able to understand again the necessity of war, the need to attempt to wipe evil from the face of the Earth.

Evil cannot be eliminated, or negotiated with. It can be controlled, and that control is force. As humans, our tight rope is to control evil without becoming evil ourselves.

Dancing with Shiva

I’m going to “reblog” articles that haven’t had many views, this one is from 17 April 2013

KBlakeCash

Change is not something most of us embrace. We get comfortable with things the way they are, and it seldom occurs to us that improvements are available. That’s largely due to the fact that we don’t really take notice when things get better, only when they get worse. So change gets a bad rap.

Image

Ham’s was a little bar just off base, right outside the Bellevue gate (stumbling distance). In a brotherhood of acronyms and abbreviations, Ham’s was called “Building H”. Besides, having the Colonel overhear you saying “meet you at the bar” doesn’t sound quite as professional as “There will be a briefing at 1730 in building H”. Yeah, the old man thought we were working late.

Ham’s closed a few weeks ago, it was a family run place, it’s been thirty years since I was there last and it was old when I arrived. I guess Ralph ran…

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The man in black

You may have noticed my last name. I wrote about the first two earlier, my last name has been a constant source of interest and humor. There is a certain balance to my eyes, that along with a tilt of my head says “Yes, we are related, thank you for being the three hundred fourteen thousand one hundred and fifty ninth person to mention it. You are proportionately interesting”.

When I was much younger, there were two other Cashes. Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Johnny Cash. I was ever so happy when Cassius Clay changed his name, it helped in avoiding a number of schoolyard fights, and gave me a deep understanding of conscientious objection. I am proud of my twisted connection to Mohammed Ali, he taught me how to stand up for my beliefs.

So did cousin Johnny. Yes, through a genealogy I have never seen on paper, I am related to the Man in Black. For the longest time I didn’t really believe it, but my Aunt Bernay confirmed it a few years before she died, and it is not within my imagination that Bernay would ever stray from the truth. There are the similarities, watching the video “Hurt” is like watching a movie of my father aging through the years. But the most important thing is, if Bernay said it is true, it is true.

Johnny provided a number of influences. Many people at the time (and perhaps still) fail to realize his activist nature, even “Ira Hayes” missed the attention of the masses. Johnny spent time in prison, not as a prisoner, but as a performer. He was a long time advocate of prisoner rights. He was, like me, a complicated and difficult to read person. We both use it to our advantage, but it also causes some less than pleasant consequences.

Some of you associate me with a different “MiB”. I found the irony of being on both sides of the double entendre exceptionally humorous, even using it as a screen name on a couple of forums in which a few people knew my name, but most were just science fiction fans, and almost no one knew about the third connection. Which is one reason that I so adored “Griffin” in the film “Men in Black 3”.

Of course, being social in the 80s, I actually did wear black quite a bit. I continue to do so, when I worked with printers black was a natural, my friends who wore white were typically wearing black by the end of the day anyway. It suits my figure and personality, and works as something of a trademark. Our friend Yuko brought a gift of a narrow black tie with skull and crossbones designs from Japan, I’ll be wearing it at the next appropriate occasion (though not a job interview, to which I typically wear a black shirt and a Jerry Garcia tie).

Being a Cash has its benefits, we are an unusually friendly bunch, and always happy to meet relatives whether we know the lineage or not. Rat’s restaurant (named for the character in “The Wind in the Willows”) has Chef Shane Cash in the kitchen, and Buddy Cash and I probably wouldn’t have met had it not been for the name.

shanebuddy

So the other day, some friends were laughing about fashion faux pas, with an article about wearing black the center of the discussion. Imagine my dismay. I don’t pay much if any attention to “fashion”, primarily because I can’t be bothered to care about something that is less meaningful than the art of speaking to trees. What you think about what I wear  can only be important to me if I care what you think, and if you spend your days worrying about what people wear…well you’re off to a bad start. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.

I’m the man in Black. 

Apples and Orangutans and Helicopters.

Sometimes totally different events can be compared. Usually the comparison is more about differences than similarities. Today we will be comparing Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. The three men have only a few things in common. First, they are all men. Second, they all held security clearances at one time. Third, they all released classified information. They are also all licensed drivers, but that has less to do with the subject than the fact that only one of them has grey hair.

The subject is, as you might have guessed, the third similarity, releasing classified information. For the record, let me state that with the exception of accidentally mentioning the size of the Syrian Navy at a cocktail party, I have never released, nor do I in any way endorse releasing, classified information. Any statements I make have been officially declassified by the Department of Defense.

How does something get declassified? Glad you asked. It starts with why the item was classified. Once the why is no longer relevant, or the secret is out and publicly verified, the Department of Defense (or whichever authority classified the item in the first place) may declassify it. They may down classify, moving something from Top Secret to Secret, or they may totally declassify, making the item true and verified by the United States Government.

“Wait”, you say, “even after something has been publicly verified it could still be classified?”. That’s right. Because in the world of intelligence, it isn’t true unless the governing authority says that it’s true. At one time I had to declassify a briefing from Top Secret to Secret, so that it could be disseminated to Congress. The acceptable method at the time was to produce two examples of the information that had been published in national periodicals. I used stories from Time and Newsweek, showed that it had already been reported and published, and the briefing was classified Secret. Why? Because providing the information in a briefing to Congress was stating that the information was verified by the Department of Defense. As far as the public was concerned, it was still an unverified report.

So let’s look at Ellsberg, our apple. Certainly the brightest of the group, PhD from Harvard in Economics. He published the Ellsberg Paradox in 1961 as his doctoral thesis. An excellent commentary on decision making in adverse conditions. Then he found himself in adverse conditions. While working at RAND corporation he contributed to a project concerning the decisions, and the conditions under which they were made, in Vietnam. Although Robert S. McNamara should be applauded for commissioning the project, Ellsberg couldn’t follow why it was classified Top Secret. There was no information about future strategies, techniques, or resources. The document was classified because of what it said about the politicizing of the war in Vietnam. It was the little boy revealing that the Emperor had no clothes, and in this case, the Emperor had the ability to muzzle the little boy. Mr. Ellsberg tried to get members of congress to discuss the “Pentagon Papers”. When they would not bring the issue to the public he gave the papers to New York Times. Maybe he should have read his thesis. Fortunately for Mr. Ellsberg, the government went so far overboard  in trying to make a case against a man who surrendered himself to authorities, the judge threw out the case against him.

Next is Bradley Manning, the orangutan. Bradley had at least finished High School, but seems to have had some issues locating a direction for his life. Unable to find a steady job, he joined the army. As Bradley’s case is still being tried, we do not have the perspective of history, but if my opinion matters, I wrote about him here on 4 June. Bradley, as an analyst stationed near Baghdad, found the environment so boring that he became involved with an online “greyhat“, who assisted him in downloading classified material. Bradley then disseminated this material to Julian Assange, who published them on a little known outlet called the World Wide Web. The information consisted of reams of documents, from diplomatic cables to troop movements to intelligence reports and estimates to the identities of resources. When he realized that the World Wide Web happened to be a world wide enterprise, and that his superiors were bound to have facebook accounts, he emailed his sergeant that he was “gender dysporic“, hoping to get moved back to the states. He really should have read Ellsberg’s thesis. He was literally hours too late, not that initiating a medical discharge would have protected him. He released information that has and will continue to cost lives.

So what exactly does Edward Snowden, the helicopter, have to do with these guys? Edward didn’t finish high school, but he was clever enough to find work with Booz Allen Hamilton. Edward found himself, as many do, disillusioned with the procedures used by various agencies that he was contracted with, and decided to talk about it. Edward didn’t say “what”, he said “how”, and “how much” information was being collected from “who” and concerning “who”. You’ve read the stories. He said that the government was collecting specific information that you didn’t know about on you and everyone else. He said he was aware that he was breaking the law and expects prosecution. Let’s say he hopes for prosecution. The released information was classified much like the Pentagon Papers, they didn’t want you to know they were watching you. The reaction by the public has been similar to the reaction at the release of the Pentagon Papers. The reaction of the government has been a little scarier, at least to me. Last night on the evening news it was reported that Edward possesses the identities of over one hundred covert resources. This information is completely out of sync with the information he released. I’m not saying that he could not have had access to it, I’m saying that a guy who says “the government is collecting data on you” is not the same guy who says “and here is a list of people who are spying in a different part of the world for completely different reasons”. What seems infinitely more likely is that a list will be “found” and “returned” to Langley, along with the bullet riddled corpse of Edward, right after his “suicide”, proving that he was unbalanced and dangerous.

The helicopter is more like the apple than it is like the orangutan. You may quote me on that.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s trial began Monday, three years after his arrest. There are allegedly a number of ways to look at this case. I disagree. I feel the same way about Jonathon Pollard.

The stories are similar. Both men transferred classified material. Pollard, a civilian Naval Intel Analyst, was also working for Israel, our ally. Do you keep secrets from your friends? We do, and with good reason. Kim Philby. You may not recognize the name, but Kim was a British subject, member of MI6 and various British services, was also under the employ of the NKVD and KGB. He was able to use his contacts to transfer American Intel to the Soviets. From him we learned we can not police other agencies, so some information should not be shared. There are things we don’t share with Israel, and vice versa. It continues today. Just recently Mossad operatives were using covers as CIA operatives. That one really pissed off the folks at Langley, they had been using Mossad identities as cover.

Pollard’s defense was that we should not keep secrets from our allies. Had he read his copy of the National Security Act, or any of the dozens of documents he had signed in obtaining a security clearance, he would have known that he did not possess the authority to declassify material, or to determine to whom he may release such material. Oh, that’s right, he had. He was working for Mossad. But he had the best of intentions.

Right about the time Pollard was pleading guilty to espionage charges, Bradley Manning was born. Bradley had an interesting childhood, his father was with Naval Intel, and his mother was from Wales. When his father left the Navy and took a job in IT, the traveling associated with his job led to marital problems. After his parents divorced, Bradley moved with his mother to Wales, returning to the states when he felt that she was too ill to cope with him. He enlisted in the Army, and despite a variety of issues, received a TS/SCI security clearance and was deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Bradley has an odd personality. I am not a psychiatrist, but his history shows a number of “stability” issues. He displayed a strong personality when he was younger, declaring himself an atheist and refusing to say the words “under God” when reciting the pledge of allegiance. He told friends in America he was gay, but in Wales denied it, then lived as an openly gay man before enlisting in the Army. He claimed to have a nervous breakdown in Basic Training, but fought being discharged.

Bradley decided that he should release classified material to wikileaks, because if only the people back in the states knew what was going on, they would put an end to the war. At least that’s one of his stories. Being a rather bright young man who created his first web page when he was ten, he didn’t know that www stands for World Wide Web. But of course nobody in Al Qaeda looks at the internet anyway.

Bradley Manning is essentially using the same defense as Pollard, that he was entitled to declassify and distribute classified information because it was the right thing to do. It was not. Information is classified for a number of reasons, many beyond the understanding of a twenty five year old private first class. He did not just reveal a page or two about a particular event, he released gigabytes.

The information itself covered a variety of issues. But back to why, if it matters, information is classified. If I know that you know something I only told one other person, I know how you know. Releasing information gained through human assets reveals identities, not only of the source but also possibly the handler. There is no due process for collaborators or spies during wartime. Bradley’s releases may have cost untold lives of intel resources. Some information reveals strategies. Knowing your opponent’s strategy allows you an upper hand. Bradley’s releases may have cost untold lives on the battlefield. Some information reveals capabilities and technology. Once again, Bradley’s releases may continue to cost untold lives, both military and civilian.

Some people feel that his punishment does not fit his crimes. Last I checked the penalty for treason is death. He was well aware of the offense he was committing and the consequences. He didn’t just walk in off the street and was handed reams of classified information. Despite his boyish appearance, he is not a naive innocent child. He is not a whistle blower. He is not a Grey Hat hacker. He is not a persecuted homosexual.

Bradley Manning is a traitor, and should be imprisoned until fully debriefed, then executed.

Not that there is any likelihood of that happening. Despite popular opinion, America does not execute many people, forty three last year in a country of three hundred million. The last execution for espionage was in 1953, the Rosenbergs. Most spies in America receive prison sentences, Edward Lee Howard escaped to the Soviet Union, Robert Hansen, and Aldrich Ames, are both in prison for the remainder of their lives, as most likely John Walker will be, even though his plea deal saved him from a life without parole sentence (it did not protect him from throat cancer). The Judge in Bradley’s case has already stated that his sentence will be reduced by 112 days due to his “harsh treatment” when he was arrested, I don’t know how that would work with a life sentence. The people he betrayed will receive no leniency, although if they are Chinese citizens their families will no longer be charged for the bullet used to execute them.

I take this personally. I knew some of the faces that Ames and Hansen erased, we will never know how many faces will never be seen again due to Bradley, but they may very well be faces that you know.

 

Dancing with Shiva

Change is not something most of us embrace. We get comfortable with things the way they are, and it seldom occurs to us that improvements are available. That’s largely due to the fact that we don’t really take notice when things get better, only when they get worse. So change gets a bad rap.

Image

Ham’s was a little bar just off base, right outside the Bellevue gate (stumbling distance). In a brotherhood of acronyms and abbreviations, Ham’s was called “Building H”. Besides, having the Colonel overhear you saying “meet you at the bar” doesn’t sound quite as professional as “There will be a briefing at 1730 in building H”. Yeah, the old man thought we were working late.

Ham’s closed a few weeks ago, it was a family run place, it’s been thirty years since I was there last and it was old when I arrived. I guess Ralph ran out of patience, or his kids got tired of running the place. It was popular after a night shift, the best one dollar chili dog and a beer special you could find at 0730, but the world is changing. I remain hopeful that the destruction of one icon brings the creation of the next.

I checked on line to see what was said about it. Very little outside the Air Force Alumni community. The reviews were funny, some (obviously civilian) reviewer absolutely hated it, one of his complaints was “bath room big as an air plane bath room”. Well yeah, what more do you need at a bar? He followed that up with “not shure (sic) if i could find the door after one more drink”, as if that was something bad. But as I said, the world is changing. We went to a bar to drink, not to use the toilets.

Ham’s outlasted the Strategic Air Command, no one thought we were needed after we won the cold war. No gratitude required, we were just doing our jobs. Most of my friends from those days have disappeared into the alphabet soup of governmental organizations around the world, when we do run into each other we can’t talk about work, but we can talk about the time Kip almost lost his clearance for drunk driving because he passed the SP on the right. Over the lawn. With the SP’s girlfriend in his car. Took a General to get him out of that one.

I’m sure today the people who do what I did then drink smoothies and bottled water, and eat veggie wraps and hummus chips, and that does not reflect on their mettle in any way. The world is changing.

I do know that even as bearers of the gauntlet filled with lightning bolts, we were searching for peaceful resolutions. Intel is about avoiding conflicts. I’m a little concerned with the new generation’s blood thirst. Those words have been spoken for centuries. The world is always changing, yet it stays the same in many ways.

We keep wishing that we have won, that the conflict is over. The world continues to find idiots who think nuclear weapons make up for their shortcomings. We try to force peace down the throats of people who only know how to hate. We get so very close, then we screw up the end game and have to do it all over again. Perhaps we will finally reach that final reincarnation and stop making mistakes. Until then, the only cushion we can put between our head and the wall is labeled “we did the very best we could with what we had”.

siw

Vishnu is right behind Shiva, isn’t he?