That’s what I want to know!!
That’s what I want to know!!
Following the indictment of the PSNI by a judge in the Belfast High Court last week for its failure to complete an investigation into the activities of a joint UVF/Security Forces gang based at Glennane in Co. Armagh during the 1970’s, it is worth revisiting an RTE documentary on collusion broadcast in June 2015. I had a hand in the production. Enjoy:
Back on July 11th, in the immediate wake of the revelation that Team Trump had met Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 to discuss dishing the dirt on Hillary Clinton, I raised in a post, Amateur Hour At Trump Tower, the following puzzling aspect of the affair:
What strikes this writer is the sheer amateurishness of the plot, not least the Russian failure to protect the secrecy of the emails flying between Russia and Trump Tower, or alternatively not using a more discrete and deniable way to make contact with team Trump, like flying the British contact to New York for a face-to-face meeting with people he seemingly knew well enough already.
If that was not feasible then the very least the Russians should have done was to ensure that both the British contact – former tabloid reporter turned music publicist, Rob Goldstone – and Donald Jr. were equipped with an email encryption programme…….
So why didn’t the Russians employ this basic precaution? Conspiracy theorists will doubtless conclude that this was a deliberate mistake intended to create confusion and conflict in American politics once the emails were discovered – and anyway who could have imagined a Trump victory last June?
I suspect, however, that the simpler explanation is the right one, that it was a simple cock-up born of stupidity and hubris on the part of the FSB, the post-Communist successors to the KGB.
Well, this is one of those instances when the spooks seem to prefer the conspiracy to the cock up. In The New York Times today, former CIA station chief Daniel Hoffman suggests that the Russians wanted to get caught in order to cause political turmoil in the U.S.
What has been sold as a Russian plot to undermine Clinton and assist Donald Trump was really a clever ruse to throw American politics, and the media, into mayhem, dismay and disorder.
If so, it must be ranked as one of the cleverest and most successful counter-intelligence plot in recent history.
Whatever the truth, it makes for a fascinating read:
Russians are fond of a proverb, “besplatniy sir biyvaet tol’ko v mishelovke”: “Free cheese can be found only in a mousetrap.”
Having long considered the United States its main enemy, the Kremlin deploys a full quiver of intelligence weapons against America and its national security agencies, political parties and defense contractors. Its intelligence services, though best known for clandestine operations to recruit spies, also run covert “influence operations” that often use disinformation to try to affect decisions or events in rival countries. A central tool of those operations is “kompromat,” “compromising material”: things of seemingly great value that are dangled, at what appears to be no cost, before unwitting targets. This is the “free cheese” that ensnares victims in a trap.
I know all this from having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the C.I.A., observing Soviet, and then Russian, intelligence operations. I came to realize that President Vladimir Putin, who spent his formative years in the K.G.B., the Soviet Union’s main intelligence agency, and served as director of its successor agency, the F.S.B., wants, as much as anything, to destabilize the American political process. For all his talk of desiring friendly relations, Mr. Putin favors a state of animosity between our two nations. By characterizing the United States and NATO as Russia’s enemies, he can attack within his own borders what threatens him the most — the ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy, of which the United States has been a defender.
This background is necessary for understanding the real meaning of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Kremlin-connected Russians and three representatives of Donald Trump’s campaign: his son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign manager. The evidence that has emerged from this meeting strongly suggests that this was not an effort to establish a secure back channel for collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign but an influence operation with one simple objective: to undermine the presidential election.
No conclusive proof has yet emerged that the Kremlin arranged this meeting, and the Russians involved have asserted they were not working for the Putin government. Mr. Kushner himself told Senate investigators that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But to me, the clearest evidence that this was a Russian influence operation is the trail of bread crumbs the Kremlin seemed to have deliberately left leading from Trump Tower to the Kremlin. This operation was meant to be discovered.
The meeting was arranged by a British publicist named Rob Goldstone, who told Donald Trump Jr. via email that his client, the Russian pop star Emin Agaralov, wanted to share incriminating evidence on the Clinton campaign that had been obtained from the Russian government. Sophisticated Russian intelligence tradecraft that was meant to be kept secret would not have permitted such an insecure opening gambit for establishing continuing communication with the Trump campaign. They would not have used something as insecure as email, or relied on liaison cutouts who could so easily be traced to the Kremlin. Instead, the Russians who attended the meeting had obvious Kremlin ties, including Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Moscow lawyer who has done work on behalf of the F.S.B.; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who served in the Soviet military; and Mr. Agaralov, whose father is a real estate titan close to Mr. Putin.
I can’t say how news of the meeting broke, but once it did, Mr. Putin achieved one of his goals: throwing the American government into greater turmoil amid the frenzied media coverage, escalating F.B.I. and congressional investigations and intensified political conflict. And with the revelation that Russia was behind the meddling, Mr. Putin achieved another objective: to allow Russia, despite its economic and military inferiority, to claim that it could rival the United States on the global playing field. He could do all this while denying, with a wink and a nod, any involvement.
If this all sounds far-fetched, consider that the Russians have a long history of these kinds of operations, including in the United States. In the 1968 presidential campaign, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin unsuccessfully offered financial assistance to the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, according to a K.G.B. archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin. Mr. Mitrokhin also uncovered a Soviet intelligence campaign to spread vicious attacks in 1976 against Senator Henry Jackson, a Democratic presidential candidate known for his anti-Soviet views. Russia’s active-measures operations slowed during the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin, but Mr. Putin has resurrected the art of covert influence often in conjunction with cyberwarfare, particularly against Georgia, Ukraine and the United States.
The most effective method to combat Russia’s intrusions into our political process is to be clear, transparent and honest with ourselves about how the Kremlin operates and what it hopes to achieve. The Trump campaign did not need to collude with the Kremlin for Russia’s cyber and covert influence campaign to be considered a serious breach of our electoral process, and hence our national security. The Trump administration and both parties in Congress need to speak with one voice against Russia’s attack on our democratic institutions. If they do not, Mr. Putin will have won.
It is not just the unhinged megalomaniac in the White House who is the danger to the survival of the globe, but the military robots just underneath him.
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said Thursday he would launch a nuclear strike against China next week if President Donald Trump ordered it, and warned against the military ever shifting its allegiance from its commander in chief.
Adm. Scott Swift was responding to a hypothetical question at an Australian National University security conference following a major joint U.S.- Australian military exercise off the Australian coast. The drills were monitored by a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off northeast Australia.
Asked by an academic in the audience whether he would make a nuclear attack on China next week if Trump ordered it, Swift replied: “The answer would be: Yes.”
“Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” Swift said.
He added: “This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.”
July 27, 2017
By Joe Kloc
U.S. president Donald Trump, who in the 1990s posed as his own spokesperson to brag to tabloid reporters about cheating on the woman with whom he was cheating on his wife, appointed as his communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedge-fund manager who in 2015 called Trump a “hack” from “Queens County” with a “big mouth,” and who after his appointment made several media appearances in which he said he loved Trump, said leaks from the White House offended him “as a Roman Catholic,” said he was going to “fire everyone,” and said he took the job so he could “aid and abet” Trump. Scaramucci told a journalist the president discussed with him his ability to pardon himself and members of his staff, a lawyer for Trump said Trump had never discussed pardons with anyone, and Trump tweeted that he could pardon whomever he wants. Trump then tweeted that because of the cost of health care for transgender soldiers he would ban them from serving in the U.S. military, which spends an estimated ten times as much on medications that treat erectile dysfunction; and Scaramucci praised Trump as a man capable of throwing a football in a “dead spiral” through a tire. Trump gave a speech before 40,000 Boy Scouts as young as 11 in which he announced that during his presidency children will say “Merry Christmas” when they “go shopping,” and told a story about when he was a “very young” man at a cocktail party in New York City with “the hottest people” and met for the first time a real-estate developer named William Levitt, who gave him life advice; and it was reported that Trump told the same story in a 2004 book, except in the latter version he was 47 years old and already acquainted with Levitt, who he claimed died two weeks after the party, but who news reports indicate spent the last 18 months of his life in the hospital suffering from a ruptured intestine. Trump said that he “could use some more loyalty,” joked that he would “fire” one of his cabinet members, told reporters that he regretted hiring another of his cabinet members, and accepted the resignation of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, who during his six-month tenure asked journalists to be “big boys and girls,” referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers,” was spotted on one occasion hiding from reporters behind bushes on the White House lawn, and was spotted on another occasion dragging up the White House driveway a mini fridge he had taken from his staffers so he could cool beverages in his office. Trump said he would “get somebody” if the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act did not pass the Senate; and, after the bill failed, Trump’s secretary of the interior phoned both of Alaska’s senators and delivered a message that one senator told reporters made it “pretty clear” that “pro-jobs” policies in the state “are going to stop.” Energy secretary Rick Perry had a phone call in which he discussed the “scientific development” of making fuel from pig manure and home-brewed alcohol with a caller who he thought was the Ukrainian prime minister but who he later discovered was a prankster from Russia. A Trump adviser said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government were working for the Democrats because several of them had in the past three decades donated to the Democrats a total of $56,000, an amount less than the individual Democratic contributions of Trump’s son-in-law, his daughter, his secretaries of the treasury and commerce, and Trump himself, who has donated more than $250,000 over the past 20 years. One of Trump’s former campaign managers told a reporter that Trump has “the legal authority” to fire Mueller, a former Republican congressman said there would be a “tsunami” if Trump fired Mueller, it was reported that Trump has been considering firing Mueller, and meteorologists reported that a tropical storm named Don had formed in the Atlantic, but that it wouldn’t last long.
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*UPDATE: Thanks to Nate Lavey who points out that ‘RUC’ may in fact be FBI-speak for ‘Referred Upon Completion’ rather than the former NI police force. You can see here that the acronym/phrase is part of the government’s law and order lexicon.
Two of these FBI files in thebrokenelbow’s continuing analysis of the Nate Lavey FBI archive are skimpy affairs. Part 7, which begins in December 1983 and ends in September 1984 is a mere 19 pages long, nearly half of which have been nearly entirely redacted.
Part 8, which spans September and October 1987, is even shorter, at just twelve pages, and deals almost entirely with plans to deal with anticipated Noraid-inspired protests at concerts performed by the regimental band of the Grenadier Guards, a British Army outfit touring North America.
*Both files have, for the first time, markings which suggest that FBI intel on Noraid was now being shared with the RUC. In Part 8, for instance, a stamp announced: ‘RUC ON THIS’; in part 7 it appears that one document may have been partly based on RUC-provided intel.
These are the first such references to intel sharing with the RUC in the archive and they prompt an interesting question or two, to wit, what level of co-operation existed before this, and if this was a new development, how did it come about?:
Part 7 is the more interesting of the two documents, if only because less of it has been redacted and its contents demonstrate how closely the Irish-American community was under surveillance for signs of pro-IRA views and activity.
The FBI investigation described in the files begins when a TV viewer in Kentucky answered an advertisement ‘in support of a movement to oust the British from Northern Ireland’. The unnamed Kentucky citizen then received correspondence from, inter alia, the Irish-American Unity Conference (IAUC) and this sparks an FBI probe into the source of this contact.
The IAUC was of interest to the FBI because Noraid was one of nine Irish-American groups which came together at a conference in Chicago, Illinois in July 1983 to form the umbrella group whose aim was to agitate for Irish unity in American political life.
The sender turns out to be a man called ‘Delaney’ who was originally from Chicago but moved to San Antonio, Texas where the correspondence to Kentucky originated. We know his name because the redactor missed one instance where it appears.
‘Delaney’ turns out to be clean – ‘there is no derogatory information on him’, in FBI-speak – although he is active in the AOH. Interviewed by the FBI in Texas, ‘Delaney’ stated that his main aim was to promote ‘harmony between Protestants and Catholics’, but the FBI notes ominously: ‘….one cannot rule out, however, the possibility that (Delaney) harbors anti-British sentiments’.
The message from this document is that in its hunt for IRA sympathisers in the US, few in the Irish-American community were immune from FBI surveillance, even if they were members of respectable groups like the AOH or the IAUC, since they were linked with Noraid through the formation of the IAUC.
Given the absence of any further reference to ‘the Kentucky citizen’, it seems this person may have been a freelance fisher, and possibly a Unionist/British sympathizer, intent on discovering who had placed the TV advert and then passing on the intel to the FBI. I would not find this surprising since in my experience ‘dropping the dime’ is a major American past-time, a relic, perhaps, of hysterical anti-communism.
Part 9, a file which covers 1984 and 1985, is an altogether more substantial document at 168 pages in length; it includes evidence of two recurring features of the FBI’s dealings with Noraid: an apparent obsession with Noraid’s annual summer trip to Ireland being one, and penetration of the organisation’s ranks in the search for intelligence being the other.
Both these activities were carried out in the belief that one way or another Noraid was the American vehicle used to provide the IRA in Ireland with money and guns to fight its war against the British.
The Noraid summer tour of Ireland, which usually happened every August, appears to have been regarded by the FBI as an opportunity for Noraid to deliver money to the Provos, and sending an informer along with the delegation, which could number over 100 people, was always an FBI priority.
Both these aspects of the FBI’s surveillance of Noraid appear very early on in Part 9 of the archive in a report of intel provided by what the FBI called ‘a confidential and reliable source of continuing value’ concerning Chicago Noraid leader, Alex Murphy.
The intel on Murphy is contained in a May 14th, 1985 ‘New York teletype’, i.e. a confidential message to the Director of the FBI from the FBI’s New York office, and this suggests that the source on Murphy was a figure in the New York branch of Noraid.
The teletype describes what appears to be a phone conversation between Murphy and an unnamed activist from Ireland. We know this because the report describes Murphy asking the activist how long he/she would be in the United States. The activist asks Murphy for an address in Chicago he could write to and there is some apparent talk of the activist appearing at Noraid fundraisers.
The fact that the ‘confidential and reliable source’ was privy to such an exchange – which common sense suggests was a conversation between Murphy and an IRA figure of some stature visiting the US – may mean that he or she was part of, or close to a high level of Noraid activity in New York.
A native of Belfast, born in 1912, Murphy had an FBI file since 1977, according to Part 9, when he was described as the head of Southside Chicago chapter of Noraid. The report adds:
Alex Murphy was also indexed in Chicago file 199F-465-44, page 4, dated August 1982, wherein he was referred to as being a suspect of having carried money from the US to the provisional IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY (PIRA) in Ireland’.
Presumably in the hope of stumbling across another such transaction, the FBI’s informer in the ranks of the Detroit branch of Noraid had joined the delegation for the August 1985 tour of Ireland and a report dated August 22nd, 1985 details what he told his FBI handlers he had learned.
The informer, DE -T1, who has figured in earlier document in the Lavey archive, told his handlers that a branch of Noraid would be established in Norway, of all places, and that a hitherto unheard of Noraid front group had been created, known as the ‘Irish Defense Committee’. DE-Ti also reported on contacts between Noraid figures and presumed senior Provos, all of whose names are redacted in the document.
But of money changing hands between Noraid and the IRA there was no mention.
The FBI report also includes a New York Times’ report of Noraid’s participation in the internment anniversary march in west Belfast, traditionally the high point of the annual Noraid tour. Written by the paper’s London correspondent, Jo Thomas, the report carries a quote from Sinn Fein’s (and the IRA’s) director of publicity, Danny Morrison, which he might not like to be reminded of:
Mr Morrison said he saw no prospect of uniting Ireland by constitutional means. “There’s only two ways our troubles can be ended”, he said. “Either we surrender and give in, or we go on to victory.”
The FBI’s confidential sources reported on more than Noraid activity, as the following report on an April 26, 1985 meeting organised by IAUC and a body called the Justice for Ireland Committee illustrates. Noraid also sponsored the meeting and its chairman introduced the main speaker, Michael Farrell, the Northern civil rights and left-wing political leader.
The FBI report of the meeting is almost entirely taken up with Farrell’s remarks, which include the surprising claim that:
‘Irish opinion in both the Republic and Northern Ireland are turning in favor of the IRA.’
Anyway, here are the three FBI files, Parts 7, 8 and 9:
File this under ‘ludicrous’ – and subtly racist.
A CBS television report, broadcast on July 12th, believe it or not, quotes a so-called art investigator as claiming that a half billion dollar art collection stolen from a Boston, Mass. art museum in 1990, is now in the hands of the IRA.
And how does Arthur Brand – touted by CBS as ‘the Indiana Jones of the art world’, no less – know that the 13 masterpieces, including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer, valued at $500 million are now gathering dust in an IRA art dump? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? It’s the IRA, so he gathered his intel in a pub, over what he calls ‘Guinnesses’. Where else could it happen?
Here is how the super sleuth knew he was on to the big story. By the way when will Americans learn that the plural of one glass or pint of Guinness is two glasses or pints of Guinness?` There’s no such thing as ‘Guinnesses’.
Anyway he managed to persuade a highly paid CBS reporter, a producer and a presenter to run with this rubbish:
“We have had talks with… former members of the IRA – and after a few Guinnesses, after a few talks – you can see in their eyes that they know more,” Brand said.
“How do we believe you?” Doane asked.
“Well, I have a track record. We have found some pieces back before. So let’s give this a shot,” Brand said.
I didn’t make that up. Here’s the full report:
Twenty-seven years later, it’s still a mystery.
The biggest art heist in history, thieves targeted some of the highest-value art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, leaving behind empty frames, tied-up security guards and few clues.
The 13 stolen masterpieces valued at around half-a-billion dollars included a Rembrandt and a Vermeer, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.
“I’m 100 percent sure that they are in Ireland. Hundred percent sure. No doubt in my mind,”said. He’s described as the Indiana Jones of the art world.
It’s an audacious claim to make after nearly three decades. But Brand alleges his leads point to the Irish Republican Army, or the IRA.
“We have had talks with… former members of the IRA – and after a few Guinnesses, after a few talks – you can see in their eyes that they know more,” Brand said.
“How do we believe you?” Doane asked.
“Well, I have a track record. We have found some pieces back before. So let’s give this a shot,” Brand said.
Brand’s highest-profile find to date came working with German police to recover bronze horse statues which stood in front of Adolf Hitler’s Grand Chancellery building. He also helped recover Salvador Dali’s “Adolescence.”
“How is this stolen art used?” Doane asked.
“They use it as payment for drug deals, for arm deals,” Brand said. “Sometimes they use it for, like, art-napping. They kidnap paintings and they use it as – to get a lesser sentence.”
To find pieces the black market, Brand claims to have brokered deals with terrorist groups, the mafia and a slew of shady characters.
“On one hand you have the police, insurance companies, collectors, and on the other hand you have the criminals, the art thieves and the forgers. So there are two different kind of worlds and they do not communicate. So I put myself in the middle,” Brand said.
Recently he helped recover art which had been stolen from Westfries Museum in his native Holland.
“For the Netherlands – and especially for the town of Hoorn – these paintings are their history,” Brand said.
The paintings had been stolen in 2005 in the quaint town of Hoorn. Eleven years later, thanks to leads that Brand followed to Ukraine, five of the 24 pieces were returned with great fanfare.
“They stole a catalogue of 17th century Dutch masters,” museum director Ad Geerdink said.
“And you’ve left these empty frames as a reminder?” Doane asked.
“And as a protest,” Geerdink said.
“Why a protest?” Doane asked.
“Art crime, well, there isn’t anyone dead. Okay, it’s art – so many people don’t take it too seriously,” Geerdink said.
But, Brand said folks should. Interpol ranks art crime as the 4th highest-grossing criminal trade.
“When you steal a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh – this is… international cultural heritage. It belongs to you, to me, to the viewers,” Brand said.
The Gardner Museum is offering a $10 million reward and welcomes any efforts to get the stolen work back. But when we asked about Brand’s leads, they told us: “They’re not new… we’ve covered them years ago.”
“The museum is skeptical. The museum says your leads are dead-ends,” Doane said.
“Of course. Yes, but – well, we’ll see if it’s a dead end,” Brand said.
Navigating this underworld requires patience, a bit of luck – and a fair share of bravado.
Brand said he doesn’t care about the reward money, so what’s behind the drive?
“It’s the fame. If you solve the Isabella Stewart Gardner theft after 27 years, what more can you do?” Brand said.
It’s an irresistible challenge for what so far has been an unsolvable mystery.
© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
A useful pocket guide to the links beween Russia and Team Trump produced by the ever assiduous McClatchy newspaper group. Note the minot but not insignificant role played by Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC.
Mind-boggling stuff here courtesy of The American Conservative magazine. The problem is that with this White House, it is not inconceivable. Obscene and scary, for sure, but not unthinkable. Monetise war and you make it permanent, in the same way the American prison population is the world’s largest. All part of Making America Great Again!
On July 10, the New York Times revealed that the Trump White House had recruited Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security firm Blackwater, and wealthy Trump backer Steve Feinberg, the owner of the high-profile military contractor DynCorp International, to “devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.” The story suggested that the president and his top advisers were dissatisfied with the military’s thinking on the conflict, the subject of an intense series of a consultations between senior military officers and Trump’s national security team over the last several months.
While the recruitment of Prince and Feinberg, who are close friends, was intended to provide new options for winning the 16-year war, the administration has been hesitant to describe their role. Both men are controversial for their advocacy of the U.S. government contracting out the Afghan conflict to a private company that would build Afghan state capacity, provide logistical support to the Afghan army, and battle the Taliban. At the very least, the new arrangement would mean a lighter footprint for the U.S. military (or perhaps none at all); at the most it would mean that corporate America, and not the U.S. government, would be responsible for running an overseas war—a kind of “War Inc.”
“Dyncorp has its hands all over Afghanistan anyway, and I mean they’re just everywhere,” a high-level former intelligence officer who is privy to the administration’s thinking told me, “so [senior White House adviser Steve] Bannon and crew figure, ‘What the hell, let’s just turn the whole country over to them.’”
But the proposal has shocked the handful of senior Pentagon and CIA officials familiar with it, who point out the difficulty the United States has had in controlling private armies—and those who run them. This was particularly true of Blackwater, whose contractors gave the U.S. military fits in Iraq’s Anbar Province in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where both national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis served in key command positions. Senior military officers blame Blackwater for destabilizing Fallujah in 2004 (forcing Mattis to send his Marines into the city in “Operation Vigilant Resolve”) and for the deaths of 20 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad (the “Nisour Square Massacre”) in 2007.
“That Trump’s people would even think that McMaster or Mattis would listen to Prince shows just how tone-deaf they are,” a senior military officer told me after the Times piece was published. “If there’s one name guaranteed to get H.R.’s back up it’s Erik Prince. How you can’t know that is beyond me.” Even so, Bannon and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner insisted that McMaster read a May 31 Wall Street Journal oped written by Prince entitled “The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan.” The president read the article and liked it, McMaster was told.
In fact, Prince’s op-ed read like a plea for new business for his Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group (FSG), which would supplant the U.S. military in providing “reliable logistics and aviation support” to Afghan security forces, monitor a new effort to exploit Afghanistan’s vast mineral holdings, be charged with building Afghan state capacity and, not least, oversee an aggressive air campaign targeting the Taliban. Prince suggested that a “viceroy,” a Douglas MacArthur-like figure, be appointed to oversee the effort. In sum, Prince’s plan would turn Afghanistan over to an American version of Britain’s famed East India Company—which, as Prince wrote, “prevailed in the region” for 250 years by relying on private military units. It was a neat package: the Prince model would save the U.S. billions of dollars, help build Afghanistan’s economy, and settle the conflict by forcing the Taliban back to the negotiating table.
McMaster didn’t buy it, as he told Prince when they met at the White House soon after Prince’s Wall Street Journal article appeared. According to the McMaster colleague who spoke with TAC, “The meeting began well enough,” but soon devolved into a series of increasingly acrimonious exchanges. “It got ugly fast,” TAC was told. McMaster, who is notoriously short-fused, told Prince “in no uncertain terms” that the United States wasn’t going to replicate the British colonial empire in South Asia and wasn’t going to serve as an agent for FSG profits. (The details of this meeting remain uncertain, but the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this article.)
But, while the reaction to Prince’s ideas on Afghanistan was immediate and negative, the views of Feinberg proved less controversial, in part because the New York financier went out of his way to solicit outside opinions on the conflict and to sidle up to Washington insiders with strong ties to officials close to both McMaster and Mattis. Feinberg, who is close to Trump and was a major donor to his 2016 campaign, also had an in-depth discussion with the president on his ideas, we were told. “This isn’t Steve’s first time at the dance,” says a fellow business executive who has known him for years. “He knew that if he showed up at meetings on Afghanistan with dollar signs in his eyes this would be a non-starter.”
Over the last three weeks, Feinberg has quietly held a series of high-level meetings on the conflict, which included a recent dinner at Washington, D.C.’s Trump International Hotel. Included in the confab, TAC was told, was then-Dyncorp CEO Lewis Von Thaer and Ambassador Michael Gfoeller, a now retired 26-year veteran of the U.S. diplomatic service and close associate of retired Gen. David Petraeus. Since that dinner, Von Thaer’s place as a Feinberg sidekick has been filled by George Krivo, brought on to bring added credibility to Feinberg’s Afghanistan initiative. Krivo is a 20-year Army veteran, served in Bosnia and Iraq, and was once a policy adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Additionally, as TAC has been reliably told, Von Thaer (who has moved on to become the head of Battelle, a well-heeled Ohio-based research firm), “was never entirely comfortable with the whole Dyncorp hired gun thing.”
That is certainly not true for career diplomat Gfoeller, a smooth foreign-policy intellectual. Gfoeller was Petraeus’s senior political adviser from 2008 to 2010, before heading off to Exxon Mobil, where he served as the corporate giant’s head of Middle East and North African affairs in its office of government relations. Not surprisingly, Gfoeller’s stint at Exxon Mobil also put him inside the orbit of Rex Tillerson, a not inconsiderable ally in any effort to reshape the U.S. approach to Afghanistan.
“Sitting down with Gfoeller was the smartest thing Steve could do,” a Middle East hand says. “When you get to Mike, you get to Petraeus, when you get to Petraeus you get to Mattis. You have to remember, Mattis and Petraeus worked together on the counterinsurgency manual and they remain in close touch. Gfoeller is a known quantity in the Mattis Pentagon.” Indeed over the last weeks Feinberg and Gfoeller have become nearly inseparable, a tag team intent on selling the Feinberg-Prince initiative in official Washington. “It’s an unbeatable constellation—you have the money man [Feinberg], the public intellectual who adds heft [Gfoeller], and the can-do adventurer, Erik Prince,” the high level former intelligence officer told me. “You add Krivo to that mix, with his JCS contacts, and suddenly this looks sellable. But Gfoeller is the key.”
Indeed, Gfoeller might well be the most important under-the-radar official in Washington, with ties not only to Petraeus at global investment powerhouse KKR but also to the Washington, D.C.-based Chertoff Group (a security firm headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff) and the U.S. intelligence community. This latter is the result of his work as coordinator of U.S. counterterrorism policy while serving as deputy chief of mission in Saudi Arabia. Gfoeller’s intelligence community ties are crucial because a large segment of that community loathes military contractors. “The key here is [CIA Director] Mike Pompeo and [National Intelligence Director] Dan Coats. They will be asked to sign off on this and their opposition would probably kill it. That’s why Gfoeller is important. He’s the guy who would sell this across the river [at the CIA headquarters in Langley].” Under the Feinberg initiative, TAC has been told Dyncorp would not answer up a military chain, but be under the supervision of the CIA.
Feinberg also solicited the views of a number of well-known development hands with experience in South Asia, including economists tasked with building Afghanistan’s economic capacity during the Bush and Obama years. That effort, initially headed up by former Rumsfeld trouble-shooter Marty Hoffman and labeled the “Afghan Reachback” program, identified extensive mineral deposits that could be used to attract international business investments. Additionally, Gfoeller promoted the establishment of a “New Silk Road” that would link the Afghan economy more tightly with its neighbors during the Obama years—a high profile effort that brought him into close contact with the corporate side of the Afghanistan conflict.
“I have to admit, watching this guy Feinberg work is pretty impressive,” says the high level former intelligence officer interviewed by TAC. “He’s checked all the boxes, conferred with all the right people and gotten Bannon on his side. Forget a MacArthur-like viceroy for Afghanistan. Right now it looks like that viceroy will be Feinberg.”
Yet when Steve Bannon suggested that Defense Secretary Mattis meet with Feinberg, Mattis politely but firmly declined. Mattis’s “no” was, in large part, the result of having to subdue Fallujah after four Blackwater contractors died there in 2004 (“he’s convinced that his Marines died for Blackwater,” I was told, “and he hasn’t forgotten that”). For Mattis, the issue with the Feinberg initiative is accountability. “The problem is that mercenaries don’t come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” a senior Pentagon officer says. “If they were under a UCMJ structure there could be confidence in command and control and there would be accountability. But they’re not; which means their behavior is impossible to control. Young testosterone filled men carrying weapons and operating outside the law is a recipe for disaster. That scared the hell out of Mattis in 2004, and it scares the hell out of him now.”
As crucially, TAC has been told, Mattis doesn’t believe that Prince or Feinberg understand the conflict. Indeed, according to a senior Pentagon officer, both Mattis and McMaster believe the real challenge for the Trump administration isn’t Afghanistan but Pakistan—which is what former CIA officer Bruce Riedel told Barack Obama aboard Air Force One after his own 90-day deep dive into the Afghanistan problem back in 2009. The Taliban are making gains in Afghanistan, Riedel said, because Pakistan is allowing them to.
That’s true now, eight years later. The one who knows this best is McMaster. During the first week of April, he appointed Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, to head up the NSC’s South Asia desk. The Curtis appointment signaled McMaster’s acceptance of Curtis’s view that to succeed in Afghanistan the U.S. needed to be tougher with Islamabad. Curtis made this point prior to her appointment in a widely circulated paper that she wrote with Husain Haqqani, an official of the Hudson Institute.
In “A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties,” Curtis and Haqqani proposed the adoption of a new get-tough approach to Pakistan as a necessary centerpiece for resolving the Afghanistan war. The United States, the two wrote, should “no longer sacrifice its anti-terrorism principles in the region for the sake of pursuing an ‘even-handed’ South Asia policy, but rather should levy costs on Pakistan for policies that help perpetuate terrorism in the region.” It won’t be enough for the Trump White House to somehow “coax” a change in views in Pakistan, as was done during the Obama years. What will be needed is for the United States to enforce its principles, even if that means losing an ally.
This means that while Trump advisers Bannon and Kushner promote what they tout as the administration’s new thinking and foster the plans of men whom they consider “out of the box” thinkers—such as Prince, Feinberg, Gfoeller and Krivo—the powerhouse figures of Mattis, McMaster, and Curtis have yet to weigh in. Then too, highly respected former CIA officers who served in South Asia, are known to be upset by the Feinberg proposal, and are expected to weigh in against it with Pompeo. The key, ultimately, will be Trump. He will decide whether America’s wars should continue to be fought by Americans or whether they will be contracted out to an out-of-uniform army of guns for hire who will be allowed to kill in the name of America.
The Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams yesterday announced that he intends to appeal two convictions dating back to 1975 on charges that he attempted to escape from Long Kesh internment camp, once when he was with a group of prisoners trying to cut through barbed wire and another when he switched places with a visitor.
Mr Adams, who publicly denies ever being in the IRA, said in a statement:
“Following the recovery of a document by the Pat Finucane Centre in October 2009 from the British National Archives in London, I instructed my solicitor to begin proceedings to seek leave to appeal the 1975 convictions.”
So, what is in this document found by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) at the Kew archives in 2009?
Well, Mr Adams is not saying and neither is the PFC.
This was the Centre’s emailed reply today to a request from myself for a copy of the Kew document:
A couple of thoughts. One, regarding this statement: “PFC has a policy whereby if we find document(s) concerning an individual……(W)e only publish or disseminate this information with third parties with the explicit consent of the individual and if they ask us to do so.”
I must have acquired dozens and dozens of files from the Pat Finucane Centre over the years and I was grateful always for the friendly help given by the researchers there.
Many, if not most of the documents that came my way, mention individuals by name and this problem of seeking permission from those individuals before I was given access never raised its head once.
Now, admittedly most of the names were of serving or former members of the security forces and that suggests that if the person or persons named in a Kew document were combatants then the PFC does not apply the rule. But surely Gerry Adams falls into the same category as other combatants in the Troubles and should be treated in the same fashion?
And bear in mind that this is how the PFC defines its aims and identity on its website:
The PFC is a non-party political, anti-sectarian human rights group advocating a non-violent resolution of the conflict on the island of Ireland.
PFC believe that all participants to the conflict have violated human rights.
So, by that definition Gerry Adams and the British military commanders share the same status – as violators of human rights as well as participants in the conflict – and should be treated equally by the ‘non-party political’ PFC.
So if General so-and-so is named without his permission in a document and the document is released by the PFC to journalists like me, then so should a document naming Gerry Adams.
Unless, that is, the PFC is endorsing Mr Adam’s own claim that he was never a participant in the Troubles and thus should be treated like an ordinary, uninvolved civilian.
I can understand the PFC not wishing to embarrass non-involved civilians, but Mr Adams, like his equivalents in the RUC, British Army and UDR, was never a civilian.
The other solution to this is for Gerry Adams to simply make the document public. After all by placing it on the shelves at Kew for academics and researchers to peruse, that is what the Brits have done.