Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘War and Rumors of War’ Category

Victory Day, День Победы–May 9th

In Russia, War and Rumors of War on May 8, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Russian Officer o2

 

May 9th is celebrated in Russia as Victory Day, the final defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and the conclusion of what Russians call The Great Patriotic War.

Putting wholly aside the political wars, cold and hot, that followed and still simmer, two things have to amaze anyone who has bothered to learn the real history of the Second World War. The first is the disparate weight that the Soviet Union carried in winning the war. The second is the shocking difference between the destruction and casualties in the West (including even “war-battered Britain”) and those of the East.

The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College posted an excellent paper on this questions, The Soviet Experience in World War Two, by J.T. Dykman. What follows are relevant excerpts:

Overview

Americans have little conception of the Soviet Union’s experience in World War II. No cities in the United States were besieged, not a single bomb was dropped by an enemy airplane on any of our 48 states, no part of our population was enslaved, starved or murdered, and not one village, town or city was completely destroyed or even heard a shot fired in anger.

About the only way we can begin to understand is through imagination. The distance between Moscow and Berlin is about the same as that separating New York City and Atlanta. Imagine twenty million people being violently killed between those two American cities in four years. The Eastern Front in the war wound like a serpent from Sevastopol on the Black Sea to Leningrad on the Baltic. Including the twists, bulges and turns of the line of battle at the height of German penetration, November 1942, the line would have stretched from Baltimore to Cheyenne, Wyoming. In place of Leningrad, can you fathom Chicago under bitter siege and constant shelling for 900 days? Is it possible for us to mentally picture thousands of dead bodies lying on the frozen streets between Lake Shore Drive and Evanston? Could we endure seeing a million people die, mostly from starvation, during the Chicago siege or begin to fathom our own citizens engaging in cannibalism for profit? At the same time of the Chicago siege think of Cincinnati becoming a battleground such as Stalingrad where not a single structure was left habitable and several hundred thousand soldiers killed each other in the process of leveling the city. Mentally switch names such as Smolensk, Karkov, Minsk, Kiev and Rostov for American cities and picture them destroyed and silenced. If such images are possible for us to even conceive, we can begin to understand why Americans refer to the conflict as World War Two, but the Russians universally refer to it as the Great Patriotic War.

The Numbers

The populations of the United States and the USSR were about the same, 130,000,000, when both nations went to war within six months of each other in 1941. To Americans, we were sending our boys to fight a foreign war that we’d never experience. To the Soviets, it was an up front and personal war of monumental savagery. America would lose slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II and the USSR, depending on which historian you believe, would lose at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilian population during the Great Patriotic War.

Numbers of such dimensions are hard to grasp in the abstract. This graphic from Business Insider helps understand the relative losses of the principal combatants:

this-chart-shows-the-astounding-devastation-of-world-war-ii

War is Hell.

From Miniskirts to Shoulder Boards—Women in the Russian Military

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, Russian Army, Ukraine, War and Rumors of War on January 13, 2017 at 11:50 am

putins-miniskirt-army

The mysterious and intoxicating beauty rarely left Russia. But she was definitely confirmed by multi-sourced intelligence to be the most dynamic senior force in the Russian military research and development hierarchy. If there was a glass ceiling in the Russian armed services, she refused to accept it. Colonel Nadezhda Sergeevna Vodovatova was one of a handful of women who had not merely overcome, but blasted through, the sexism that still abounded in Russia’s hierarchy of power. Even President Gribov was said to treat her as a full equal, not merely some sexy dangle to be shown now and again, but a true equal.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Three strong women play pivotal roles in the novel Cronatos Hybamper. Others have lesser but key places in the narrative.

Things get very complicated when Russian Colonel Nadezhda Sergeevna Vodovatova and a CIA operations officer go toe-to-toe. (You’ll have to read the novel to get the full significance of that very deliberate double entendre. I won’t spoil the plot by leaking any more classified data on that series of events.)

One might fairly ask, so what is the status of women, and especially high-ranking women, in the real life of the Russian armed forces?

Well, it turns out that there actually is woman who is a Russian Deputy Minister of Defense. Her name is Tatiana Shevtsova. However, unlike Col. Vodovatova, Shevtsova’s career was made in the civil service and not in the military.

Another woman, Natalia Poklonskaya, was supposedly the youngest general in Russia when she resigned and was elected to the Duma, or parliament. But, her rank was also not military. She was formerly the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Crimea. She also has the distinction of being the only woman on the United States’ list of individual sanctions against Ukrainian separatists and Russians.

Poklonskaya enjoys international fame for her beauty, according to Wikipedia:

After a video of Poklonskaya at a press conference on 11 March 2014 was uploaded to YouTube, her attractiveness and youth went viral among Japanese and Chinese internet users and also became the focus of attention of Internet communities…Within a month, the press conference was viewed over 1.7 million times. Many fan-created anime-style images of her uploaded to the Internet also attracted international media attention. A music video by Enjoykin based on Poklonskaya’s press conferences and interviews has had 20 million views on YouTube.

The only “real” female Russian military general I could find in my background research was General Yelena Knyazeva, deputy chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department for International Military Cooperation. According to the Russian outlet Sputnik News. “She became Russia’s first woman general in almost two decades and second after woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who was bestowed the rank of the Major General Lieutenant of the Air Force in the middle of the 90s.”

I’m not sure that General Knyazeva’s views on gender would fly in the U.S. military, however. “Maybe it would be good [for women to do voluntary service], but I think it’s better for women to get married, have children and bring up their sons who will serve their Motherland,” Knyazeva, the only one-star female officer in Russia’s Armed Forces, told RIA Novosti.

On the lighter side, one should not miss the current (real) Russian President’s so-called “Army in Miniskirts.” An interview with one of the female soldiers can be found on a Pravda Report on You Tube.

You can buy the novel and read about Colonel Nadezhda Sergeevna Vodovatova and the other strong women characters in Cronatos by following the link below, which also opens a long read from the book’s beginning pages.

 

 

Answer Me This, Just for the Hell of It: Is Satan Real?

In Cronatos Hybamper, Political Satire, War and Rumors of War on January 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm

nick

“Call me Nick,” the wizened old man in the open vehicle said.

His perch was a ridiculously outsized bucket seat in what looked like a big, rusted-out toy wagon. He licked his thin lips, drawn back like two unevenly twisted rubber bands. The resulting expression was something between a lecher’s smirk and a dead man’s grimace.

“Or Nicholas. Or Nikolai. Whichever pleases you. I answer to them all. If you don’t like any of them, I have others I can suggest.”

“Okay, Nick,” Staff Sergeant Keiko Boynton nodded. “Nick is good.”

She smiled at him. Maybe he was fucking with her, the way he talked in smart-ass riddles. Still, she thought, that was no reason to assume that the locals are unfriendly, or that this one in particular was dangerous. She could see nothing on him or in the vehicle that looked like a weapon. He was just a Jawa, a bare-chested, wrinkled old guy wearing tan cargo shorts and flip-flops cut out of old tires.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

“Nick” is an interesting character. He shows up at the damnedest places in the novel, Cronatos Hybamper. Even people who have met him face to face develop doubts about his reality.

Let’s say—just for the sake of discussion—that the character Nick in the novel is actually “Old Nick.” The Devil.

Do you believe such a being actually exists?

Or, do you think that Satan is just a Biblical metaphor, or the invention of medieval moralists, or just silly? And thus, by extension, the character Nick must be regarded as entirely fanciful?

Not that there is anything wrong with using the Devil as a literary device in a novel, even in pursuit of a “higher” mythological or theological meaning:

…Satan is a character about whom one is always tempted to tell stories, and one may best understand him not by examining his character or the beliefs about his nature according to some elaborate and rootless metaphysical system, but rather by putting him back into history, into the narrative contexts in which he begins and which he never really leaves. That is, we must try to see him as an actor, or what Aristotle called an “agent,” with a role to play in a plot or mythos.

Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy—Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 4.

In the United States, at least, polls show that a very large number of people believe that the Devil, Satan, is as real as it gets.

Gallup asked Americans if the devil is something they believe in, something they’re not sure about, or something they don’t believe in. Sixty-eight percent said in a May 2001 poll that they believe in the devil, 20% said they don’t, and 12% said they aren’t sure. Majorities of Americans of every political inclination, region, educational level, and age group said they believe in the devil.

Gallup, “The Devil and the Demographic Details,” by Jennifer Robison

Here is a chart from the same article.

belief-in-the-devil-graph

It perhaps won’t surprise anyone that belief in Satan’s existence varies by geographic region as well as religion and political affiliation.

belief-in-the-devil-by-region-graph

Bottom line from Gallup?

Over the centuries, science has been able to explain many phenomena that once seemed supernatural. Bad weather, ill health, and heretical opinions may not be the work of the infernal after all. With the advent of evolutionary theory and modern psychology, these days we’re more likely to think of people who do terrible things as broken human beings, rather than agents of the netherworld. Furthermore, religion has ceded its civil authority, and religiosity has declined somewhat in American society. So we might expect belief in the devil to have largely evaporated. It hasn’t. Regardless of political belief, religious inclination, education, or region, most Americans believe that the devil exists.

This leads inevitably to the question, why? Why do people in a modern, aggressively “secular” culture believe in the literal existence of this creature known by so many names? Libraries of books have been written about Satan and this question of why (not counting scripture and its gloss). I have half a dozen in my own library, as well as books of art about how the Devil has been represented throughout the ages.

Here is one representative explanation of Satan’s necessity from a Christian perspective:

In Satan, nothing that is good, humane, or redeemable can reside. Unless the wretched sinners cling to the mercies of God provided through Jesus Christ, the reprobate would spend all of eternity suffering in the never-ending fires of Hell where they would be tormented by hordes of hideous creatures…Even if we wanted to move beyond dualistic notions of absolute Good (God) and absolute Evil (Satan), the fact remains that the current religious imagination of Christians, fueled by centuries of reinforcements from popular culture, is locked in this binary world-view that dates back to the early church and its struggle against paganism. To hint that evil comes from God (as did some biblical passages), or that Satan can lead believers to good consequences, continues to be considered blasphemy among most Christians.

Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernandez, The Quest for the Historical Satan (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), p. 197.

On the other hand, the Christian Post reported in 2009 that most U.S. Christians “do not believe that Satan is a real being or that the Holy Spirit is a living entity.” Rather, citing another survey, the Christian Post stated that “nearly six out of ten Christians either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that Satan ‘is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.’” Christian Post, Jennifer Riley, “Most U.S. Christians Don’t Believe Satan, Holy Spirit Exist,” April 13, 2009.

You can read more about Nick in the novel, which you can preview and order from this link.

The Latest Aircraft Carrier is a rowboat

In Chicken Hawks and Other War Birds, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Defense Spending, Ethics in Washington, Expendable Youth, Political Satire, politics, True Patriotism, War and Rumors of War, Washington Bureaucracy on January 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

carrier-landing

“Now, the job we and the military writ large face is going to require funding. And lots of it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. And don’t be shy about the numbers. We’ll get our foot into the door and shove it open from there. Those expensive experts are going to help us, whether they know it or not. Think big! If it helps, General, think of Cronatos Hybamper as chump change, lint in your pocket. The latest nuclear aircraft carrier is a rowboat. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Secretary nodded and smiled. General Sanders was like a hound on a new bone. He would be the perfect fulcrum at—what was the man always calling it—“the serendipitous yet decisive axis of intersecting strategic forces?” Gus Scoggins settled back into the limousine’s cushioned seat. It’s just wonderful, he thought, how God, apple pie, the axis of intersecting strategic forces, and the American security interest have a way of magically coming together in a way that helps those who help themselves to it.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Secretary of Defense Gus Scoggins, the focus of the quoted passage from my novel Cronatos Hybamper, knew jack about things military when he was offered the post of Secretary of Defense. But he did understand how to make money out of opportunity. He was, after all, one of the richest men in America.

The new Secretary of Defense was happy to leave the strategic thinking to the generals, men like General Sanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What Scoggins saw clearly was that the Department of Defense is like a massive seed corn silo. And when the troubling, extraordinary incident spotted by Cronatos Hybamper came along, he was ready to take a giant shovel and start spreading the gullible taxpayers’ wealth among his friends in the technology-defense-industrial-mega-complex.

Scoggins knew that what goes around in defense funding circles would come back around to him and his many money interests sooner or later.

Read more about Scoggins and his wonderful tax milking machine in the novel. You can read a sample by clicking on the link below.

The Most Intelligent Men in the Washington Play Pen. Or Not.

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Ethics in Washington, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, politics, Turf Wars, War and Rumors of War, Washington Bureaucracy on January 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

clapper-hearingedited

“Our biggest challenge with implementing the Cronatos system,” Wes McRae, the Director of National Intelligence, quipped at a seemingly casual but well-planned off-the-record moment in a joint briefing that he and the Secretary of Defense gave on Capitol Hill, “Was separating out the workers’ farts from the chemical leaks at the Russian’s special warfare facilities.”

McRae was the iron-fisted paterfamilias of the intelligence community, a giant man with bushy eyebrows and an unflinching gaze. He was given to good wine, fine cigars, black cowboy boots, and the classics of literature and music. Although the DNI post had once been little more than royal eunuch and far less than godfather, Wes McRae had changed that. He had clawed his way to the top of the heap and had the requisite skills—the ability to ruthlessly kick or exquisitely kiss ass, as the strategic moment demanded—to enforce his will through fear, favor, and tactical brown-nosing. As long as half of the secret world loved him and half hated him, he was happy, because he then always had the deciding vote. Lesser aspirants came to learn the pleasures of life in such posts as outer Bolivia, deep Minnesota, and anywhere in Chad.

No one had ever proven that Wes McRae had leaked a single syllable about any elected or appointed member of the civilian government. Everyone, the President included, knew that he could. No one wanted to find out if he would.

The second was a portly, balding man in a dark gray pinstripe suit. He was Manfrey J. Ferbe, director of the CIA. Ferbe held an office that once commanded the heights of the intelligence world, and from those heights a great deal of America’s foreign policy. No one but the President of the United States told the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency what to do or when to do it.

That was true until Wes McRae was appointed to the theoretically higher post of Director of National Intelligence, charged with coordinating the work of all of the intelligence agencies. Generations of CIA directors had just ignored any nominal superior, including the DNI. But McRae succeeded where previous DNIs had failed. He wrestled the agency into limping submission to his superior authority as top dog of everything that even hinted at intelligence.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

If you write a novel that touches on the geopolitics of the United States, it’s fun to feature the preening cuckoos at the top of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The two excerpts above reflect the struggle between the Director of National Intelligence and the subordinate agencies.

Well, daggone it! No sooner did I write Cronatos Hybamper than a wee-wee match broke out in the real world spook play pen. Guess I was ahead of the curve.

[Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn] … has called President Obama a “liar,” declared the U.S. justice system “corrupt” and insisted that he was pushed out of his assignment as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his views on radical Islam. The claim has left former superiors seething, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to current and former officials who said Flynn was removed because of management problems.

Dana Priest and Greg Miller, “He was one of the most respected intel officers of his generation. Now he’s leading ‘Lock her up’ chants,” The Washington Post, August 15,2016.

You can read the rest of the future here.

Bar-B-Q GRU Style—Who Was That Colonel Burned Alive for Treason?

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Nuclear Weapons and War, Obama, Putin, Russia, Russian Active Measures, Russian Army, Russian Intelligence Operations, War and Rumors of War on December 31, 2016 at 6:11 pm

look-into-a-crematory-furnace

Looming over the sergeant’s internal ruminations was the inescapable fact that Minister of Defense and General of the Army Vyacheslav Maximovich Biryukov—recently returned from a secret trip to America—had no patience for mistakes. None. And, like most senior Russian military and security service commanders, the Minister was also clinically paranoid. He often perceived innocent failure as deliberate sabotage, gossip around the samovar as whispering intrigue.

If a room fell silent the instant he entered, he was known to seal the door and call everyone who happened to be in the room into his office, one at a time. His unblinking gaze pinned each to a chair, like a butterfly in a museum of natural history, treated as a prime suspect in a vague crime, the specifics of which only Biryukov knew. He saw no need to explain the offense to his specimens. Each suffered a thorough interrogation, a talent for which had helped make the general’s fame as a junior officer of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. Most survived the ordeal. An unlucky few were referred for “further processing” and fell from favor. One or two disappeared and were never seen or heard from again.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Well, isn’t this timely?

No sooner do I write a novel in which an alumni of the GRU (Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye) is a prominent character than the “real” news accommodates me. President Obama expels a pot full of GRU officers from the USA!

Long regarded as the understudy of the infamous KGB and its successor services, Russian military intelligence is now front and center in the Moscow-Washington showdown…But on Thursday the GRU suddenly emerged from the shadows when the waning Obama administration imposed sanctions on the four top-ranking GRU officers for their roles hacking the private email correspondence of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta. The entire spy agency, along with the FSB, was also sanctioned institutionally.

Michael Weiss, “The GRU: Putin’s No-Longer-So-Secret Weapon,” The Daily Beast.

I am not sure that “understudy” is a word properly applied to the GRU, but Weiss mentions the story of Col. Oleg Penkovsky, who played a key role in preventing war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Penkovsky was “a GRU colonel and… a double agent being jointly run by Britain’s MI6 and the CIA…When Penkovsky’s betrayal was discovered it cost him his life.”

“Cost him his life” may be an understatement. Therein hangs a gruesome tale. Or not, depending on whose version of which story you believe.

A GRU defector who wrote under the pen name of Victor Suvorov described the horrible execution of an unnamed colonel in one of his books, Inside the Aquarium: The Making of a Top Soviet Spy (New York: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 2-3. Supposedly, his class of GRU recruits were shown a film of an anonymous colonel being cremated alive. The black and white silent film was a cautionary lesson in keeping one’s mouth shut.

The fire doors open smoothly to each side, the coffin is given a gentle push and it bears its unknown occupant into the roaring flames. Then the camera gives a close-up of a living person. A face swimming in perspiration. It is probably very hot near the furnace A face is displayed from all sides of what seems an eternity. At last the camera pulls back to show the person full length. He is not in a gown. He is dressed in an expensive black suit, terribly crumpled. His tie is tightly screwed round his neck. The man himself is bound fast with steel wire to a stretcher, and the stretcher has been propped up against the wall so that the man can see the furnace…At last it is the turn of the man bound to the stretcher…I study the man’s face in the hope of finding there signs of madness. It’s easier for madmen in this world. But there are no such signs on that handsome face. It is simply that he doesn’t want to go into the furnace and is trying somehow to make that clear. But what can he do except scream? So he screams…Then his patent leather shoes go into the fire, and that is that.

Some believe that the unfortunate colonel was Penkovsky. Some think it was not. Others think the whole story is fiction.Who am I to judge?

Here is how that every-ready open source Wikipedia sums up the matter.

GRU agent Vladimir Rezun, known for his controversial books under the pseudonym Viktor Suvorov following his defection from the Soviet Union to the United Kingdom, claimed in Aquarium to have been shown a black and white film in which a GRU colonel was bound to a stretcher and cremated alive in a crematorium as a warning to potential traitors and since Penkovsky is the only GRU colonel known to have been executed, Suvorov’s story was taken by many to be an account of Penkovsky’s execution. A similar description of the process was later included in Ernest Volkman’s popular book and Tom Clancy’s novel Red Rabbit. However, Suvorov in an interview in 2010 denied that the man in the film was Penkovsky, and claimed that he had been shot. Greville Wynne in his book ‘The Man from Odessa’ claimed that Penkovsky committed suicide.

There is more grist for the imagination.

One of the 24 episodes of the CNN-BBC documentary Cold War is about the spies on each side. It includes actual footage of Penkovsky’s interrogation and an interview with his interrogator, Alexander Zagvozdin. Here is the relevant excerpt from a brief cut posted on YouTube:

“I know for sure that Penkovsky was shot. I can’t tell you anything else. I know his body was cremated. I don’t know anything more. And I’m not interested.”

There’s a lot of wiggle-room in that answer. Was he shot to death? Or just enough to let him savor the smoke on the way in? And, just by the way, why wouldn’t you be interested?

For a brief and very sober account of Penkovsky’s story, you can find the CIA’s version at “The Capture and Execution of Colonel Penkovsky, 1963.”

[Oh, wait, I guess one should properly write “CIA’s version,” rather than “the CIA’s version,” as the article “the” is tres gauche when applied to either the name or the acronym of the organization. Get it? It’s CIA. Not, the CIA.]

AND, WE HAVE A NUCLEAR WINNER! BIGLY HANDS, BIGLY BOMBS…MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

In Chicken Hawks and Other War Birds, Cronatos Hybamper, Ignorance of History, Movies, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Weapons and War, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, The Great Stupid, True Patriotism, Trump, War and Rumors of War on December 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

tsar-bomb

It was true that he had never worn a uniform. He had never been shot at, much less wounded in action. He didn’t know a brigade from a corn cob, and he was widely thought to have been a hack in the Senate. Fair enough. These were facts, unflattering, immutable facts. But he had taken the Oath of Office and he was now the only person in the United States of America who could turn to the uniformed officer who followed him everywhere he went, and say without fear of contradiction or cowardly cavil, “Now, Colonel. Launch them right now!” And God only knew how many missiles bearing how many megatons would then go thundering off to smack the Holy living shit out of Russia, or Iran, or North Korea, or pretty much anywhere that he damned well pleased.

 From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident, by Tom Diaz

 Yes, with all due modesty, it’s true once again. Cronatos Hybamper has an eerie way of wrapping its soul around the good stuff. This passage is from the chapter in which accidental President Roger Wilson Lane decides to flex his muscles and demand a little respect around the White House.

Stay ahead of the “real news” curve and read fiction. You can get Cronatos here.

And now, a break from the heavy stuff. Seasons Greetings, Earth People, from the author:

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year! Whatever!

Back to reality.

Michael D. Shear And James Glanz, “Trump Says the U.S. Should Expand Its Nuclear Capacity,The New York Times, Dec. 22, 2016.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Thursday that the United States should greatly “expand its nuclear capability,” appearing to suggest an end to decades of efforts by presidents of both parties to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in American defenses and strategy.

sac

WHEN AMERICA WAS GREAT!

OPERATION LENTIL—A STEAMING BOWL OF RUSSIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING. SIDE DISHES? GROZNY AND ALEPPO

In Chechnya, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Expendable Youth, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mass Incarceration, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, Russian Army, Russian Intelligence Operations, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm

chechen-deportation-1944

A grainy old sepia photograph appeared on the screen. Soviet soldiers stood guard in the background as a line of civilians shuffled diagonally across the frame from right foreground to center left middle ground, where waited a chain of Studebaker trucks. A tangled heap of dead bodies lay in the left foreground.

“This picture captures everything you need to know about Operation Lentil. Soviet troops were sent into Chechnya on phony missions and positioned in key locations. Any Chechnyan men who were organized and could potentially resist the Soviets were diverted to fake work sites, where they were disarmed. On Red Army Day, February 23, 1944, the hammer of Operation Lentil fell. Chechnya was to be liquidated. Over half a million Chechnyans were rounded up, loaded onto trucks supplied by America to Russia for the war effort, dumped into the cars of freight trains, and transported to Central Asia. Tens of thousands were murdered intentionally or died as collateral damage during the transport. Many starved to death in their new homeland. Thirteen years later, in 1957, the Chechnyans were allowed to return, albeit to a shrunken and more tightly defined homeland. Most came back. Many have not been inclined to forgive and forget their exile.”

 From Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

This brief fictional discussion by a fictional CIA operations officer of real history—Operation Lentil—serves as a fulcrum, a plot device in Cronatos Hybamper. If Bad Old Stalinist Russia could deport an entire nation, what would fictional President Gribov’s New Russia be capable of?

Readers of Cronatos Hybamper find out the answer in the next few pages of the novel.

One doubts that those who will be in charge of American foreign policy on February 23, 2017—the 73d anniversary of Operation Lentil—will give much thought to Operation Lentil or its implications, if, indeed, they have even heard of it at all. One suspects that if the history of this horrible episode is somehow brought to the attention of the plutocratic old boys who will be running the American side show, it will be sent straight down the memory hole. (cf: Orwell, George, 1984.)

Pity.

Operation Lentil was an axial point in history, when Russia turned from the level of harsh brutality in which all nations fighting real or perceived insurgencies inevitably engage to the impudence of ruthlessly obliterating innocent men, women, and children with the sledge-hammer of the unaccountable state.

The fever has subsided but not gone away.

The Chechen case fits snugly into Max Boot’s observation. “The transition from politically motivated to religiously motivated insurgency—from leftist to Islamist extremism—was the product of decades, even centuries of development.” Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), p. 481.

The violent line marking this transition in Chechnya began early in the 18th century, when Czarist Russia first confronted the fierce mountain people of the North Caucasus. Imperial Russia quieted but never really subdued these people, and the Soviet Empire had only marginally greater success.

The Chechens and other independent-minded “small peoples” of the Northern Caucasus really annoyed Stalin and his thugs. Stalin and his creepy secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria invented the myth of Chechen cooperation with Hitler’s Nazi army to “justify” the wholesale exile of Chechens and others. The stunning brutality of Stalin’s deportations, of which the Chechens were numerically the greatest, was meticulously documented by Robert Conquest in The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (New York, Macmillan, 1970). It is the kind of story in which statistics overwhelm human tragedy.

From the Stalinist cleansing of Operation Lentil the Chechen transformation continued through Russia’s two modern wars (1994-96, 1999-2009), all the way to the Chechens who are fighting in Aleppo today. The Chechen wars followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and began as a political fight over whether or not Chechnya (known by various tongue-twisting names) could withdraw from the New Improved Russia. The Russians thought not. Yeltsin was sick, drunk, and ineffective. Putin was ruthless, sober, and very effective.

There are a number of sources about this whole line of history, some listed below, but there is a fine summary of the two modern wars in Max Boot’s Invisible Armies:

The Russians invaded in 1994 and pulled out in 1996, stymied by Chechen guerrillas who, like their nineteenth-century predecessors, resisted to the death. But the Russian army returned in 1999 to subdue the breakaway province using scorched-earth tactics. An estimated 100,000 Chechens were killed out of a prewar population of just a million…Perhaps 20,000 Russian soldiers also perished.

 Russia’s success in Chechnya…showed that even in the twenty-first century a brutal approach could work as long as the counterinsurgents did not care about world opinion and were operating on their home soil, where they enjoyed a de facto level of legitimacy… (p. 514)

Two clear consequences.

One, Chechen fighters are today waging jihad. There is even a blog, the bona fides of which I do not know or care to endorse, but yet exists and “tracks North Caucasian militants in Syria and Iraq and the impact of their participation in the Syrian battlefield on the insurgency in the North Caucasus.”

Two, the brutal methods Putin’s various military forces learned and applied in Chechnya are being repeated today in Syria. See these articles, for example:

“Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo,” by Mark Galeotti, Foreign Policy, September 29, 2016

A city blasted into rubble, its civilians fleeing, hiding, or simply dying in the ruins while a world looks on in horror. Bombs spilling from Russian warplanes and shells and rockets thundering from Russian guns and launchers. Today this is a portrait of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Not long ago, it was Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Anyone trying to understand Russia’s military strategy in Syria would be wise to examine the heavy-handed methods Vladimir Putin used during his first war as Russia’s commander in chief, the bloody Second Chechen War, which lasted from 1999 to 2000 (even if sporadic small-scale violence never really stopped). These are very different wars, fought in different ways by different forces, but they nonetheless highlight one central aspect of Putin’s approach to fighting insurgents: the value of brutality.

And.

“Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again,” by Oliver Bullough, The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016

 If moderate Syrians, the kind of people the West might seek to build a movement around, remain in the country, the Russian government can help Mr. Assad destroy them.

This is what Mr. Putin did in Chechnya, where his security services picked off anyone worth negotiating with. The rebel leaders who lived longest were the fanatics, driven by rage and perverted Islam. They sent traumatized women to blow themselves up on the streets of Moscow, or attacked soft targets — a school, a theater, a concert. Every atrocity blackened their cause, conferred greater legitimacy on Mr. Putin’s allies and ensured less sympathy for his victims.

In addition to the Robert Conquest and Max Boot books noted above, here are some other sources I referred to in whole or in part in researching this and related passages of Cronatos Hybamper (and the prequel which I am writing now):

Czarist Period

The classic history (in the public domain and thus available in a reprint version) is John Frederick Badderley, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908).

Leo Tolstoy fought in the Caucasus and, among other things, wrote the wonderful novel Hadji Murad. (I read Hadji Murad as the best kind of satire—just recounting the things that important people actually think and do.)

The Recent Wars

Mark Galeotti, Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009 (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2014). An excellent package of the historical roots and military aspects of these two wars.

Olga Oliker, Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001). As the title indicates, this monograph ends before the second war did. Based to a large extent on Russian press clippings.

People Who Were There

Arkady Babchenko, One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press, 2007). Babchenko fought in both wars and this kaleidoscopic book makes sense best if one has an overall grasp of the period he writes about.

Andrew Meier, Chechnya—To the Heart of a Conflict (New York: Norton, 2005). Classic and admirable journalism, going in harm’s way to report the beast.

Anna Politkovskaya, A Small Corner of Hell—Dispatches from Chechnya (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). One of the searing truth-tellings that ultimately cost this brave, brave woman her life. Grim to despair in its details of the impact on little people of the Putin way of war in Chechnya.

Context

Masha Gessen, The Man Without a Face—The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Another brave woman, eventually driven out of Russia, recounts the rise of Putin, including his exploitation of war in Chechnya.

Masha Gessen, The Brothers—The Road to an American Tragedy (New York: Riverhead Bo0oks, 2015). The story of the Boston Marathon bombers. Useful background on the pinball world of refugees, but in my opinion, Gessen wades into over her head in her discussion of the prosecution’s case and appears apologetic in her naïve discussion about the supposed difficulties of constructing a pressure cooker bomb and the government’s damning evidence.

Paul J. Murphy, Allah’s Angels—Chechen Women in War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010). Snipers, bombers, and other fighters who were women.

DEEP SPACE SATELLITE SURVEILLANCE–PROJECT CRONATOS HYBAMPER IS WATCHING…YOU!

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, Russian Army, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 20, 2016 at 6:10 pm

darpa-space

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident

A Novel by Tom Diaz (2016)

Project Cronatos Hybamper is a system of deep space satellite observation, connected through real-time data download, lightning computer analysis, product sorting, and automatic routing to scores of intelligence centers.

Four satellites—tiny compared to the huge old clunkers that were hurled into space during the Cold War Era—coordinate with each other to watch every square inch of the earth’s surface, without blinking and without rest. Packed with purpose-built sensors tuned to every known observable spectrum, the satellites capture images in any weather, hear radio and microwave signals, sense changes in physical elements, detect underground phenomenon through certain observable surface signatures, and even smell chemical anomalies by means of spectral analysis.

The visual sensors can read a handwritten name and address on an ordinary post card. The signals sensors can trap and dissect even the most clever communications evasion. By using alternative sets of sensors, the satellite system slices through fog, cloud cover, and the shroud of midnight. It does all of this in the dark, shielded by random but choreographed movements among the satellites, the black arts of stealth technology, and the camouflage of esoteric spoofing. The workings of these satellites are maddeningly invisible to the prying eyes of even the most advanced of America’s friends, friends with benefits, frenemies, rivals, and outright blood enemies.

“Our biggest challenge with implementing the Cronatos system,” Wes McRae, the Director of National Intelligence, quipped at a seemingly casual but well-planned off-the-record moment in a joint briefing that he and the Secretary of Defense gave on Capitol Hill, “Was separating out the workers’ farts from the chemical leaks at the Russian’s special warfare facilities.”

PSST! WANNA READ THE PRESIDENT’S DAILY INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING? COME ON IN!

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

intelligence-briefing

Then there was the fact that Lane had recently taken control of his daily intelligence briefing. This surprised and delighted the CIA. The PDB—the President’s Daily Briefing—was cloak and dagger revelation, top secret gospel written daily, read only within the holiest of holies. The PDB was the most revered work of the American intelligence community, the very reason for its existence, secret knowledge made manifest unto a select few.

Until recently, however, President Lane had no questions. He had refused to meet at all with the CIA’s briefers. He preferred instead to let Dr. Quin Rivera read the PDB, talk with the officers if she thought it necessary, and spoon feed him ten minutes of a desultory and derivative summary of the summary of summaries. In the event, the chastened CIA briefers’ only role was to wait alone in a bare anteroom until Rivera had finished reading the PDB. She then handed it back without comment. The officers escorted the iPad back to Langley, where it would be “rinsed and repeated” for the next morning’s ritual.
One recent morning that had all changed.

From the novel Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident, by Tom Diaz

These excerpts are from a longer passage in Cronatos Hybamper about a day during which the worm turns.

President Roger Wilson Lane, an accidental and wholly unqualified hack, has been passive. He has been content to be manipulated by the people around him. But internal changes in the man have come with experience on the job. The President is shedding his old ways. The sucker fish and manipulators have—in their arrogance and selfishness—failed to notice a number of signals about the change building up in President Lane.

I never imagined that the daily news would be so much like what I wrote in this passage. This scene is based on background research and my own imagination about what I learned about the President’s Daily Brief (which I must confess I called the “President’s Daily Briefing,” although I see that it is more correct to call it the “Brief,” just like people used to call a certain organization “the CIA,” but now the real slicks call it just plain “CIA,” dropping the “the.” Go figure.)

There are number of public sources from which anyone can learn about the PDB and the high priestly ritual that attends it. (Come to think of it, this subject would make a great episode of The Simpsons!)

At the easiest and quickest but most superficial level one can read the news, such as this article by Charlie Savage in The New York Times of December 12, 2016, “What Is the President’s Daily Brief?”

Or, you can go to school at the Central Intelligence Agency.

No, not literally, silly (except for some of you).

The CIA website hosts the “Center for the Study of Intelligence,” and the Center has posted many interesting and scholarly documents about how the world of intelligence either works or ought to work. Among them are a series called “Studies in Intelligence.”

The mission of Studies in Intelligence is to stimulate within the Intelligence Community the constructive discussion of important issues of the day, to expand knowledge of lessons learned from past experiences, to increase understanding of the history of the profession, and to provide readers with considered reviews of public literature concerning intelligence.

Among the posted documents is the PDF form of a book by John Helgerson, Getting to Know the President, Second Edition: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–2004.

Even though the book is mostly about the history of briefings for candidates, it has a ton of fascinating information that applies just as well to the briefing of Presidents in office. Here are two excerpts that give the flavor of how three Presidents approached the CIA’s briefing:

Nixon and Ford

During his eight years as vice president in the 1950s, Richard Nixon had had broad exposure to the activities of the civilian US Intelligence Community. He was aware CIA had briefed the presidential candidates in every election since 1952 and undoubtedly harbored mixed feelings about the way the process had worked in 1960, when his narrow defeat by John Kennedy might well have hinged on the candidates’ different perceptions of the intelligence process. This familiarity with the IC’s capabilities and practices made him willing, at the outset of his new campaign for the presidency in 1968, to accept briefings from CIA Director Richard Helms. It also led him to decline to receive routine briefings from lower level officers, opening the way for Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor, to play a central and expanding role. (p. 61)

Ford accepted a suggestion that the PDB be brought to him directly, acknowledging that this would be the most secure way to receive the sensitive document. He specified that he would like to see it early each morning, prefer- ably as his first appointment. Beginning 1 July that became the regular rou- tine, one that was altered only occasionally by such diversions as a vice- presidential breakfast with the president or a speaking engagement out of town. On a few occasions Ford was seen at his Alexandria home before he flew off to keep such an engagement. Always a gracious host, he brewed and served instant coffee.

Ford came to the vice-presidency an informed consumer of the products of the Intelligence Community. He notes that he “had become familiar with CIA first as a member of the Intelligence subcommittee on Appropriations; later in other roles, including Minority Leader. I knew Colby from my days in Congress.” This familiarity, particularly with Colby personally, was to provide the Agency at least a temporary buffer in some difficult times to come. (p. 77)

Jimmy Carter

In late June 1976, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter distinguished himself in the eyes of CIA officials by becoming the first presidential hopeful to request intelligence briefings even before receiving his party’s nomination. Carter’s request, which was directed to President Ford, prompted discussions involving the president, CIA Director George Bush, and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft about who should provide such briefings and when they should be made available to the candidate. (p. 87)

Another source is a more recent book by David Priess, The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama. Written by a former CIA officer and State Department desk officer, it has the benefit of real first hand experience, if written in a sort of cheer-leading style. Don’t expect any gossip.

A source of endlessly annoying (to me) and usually partisan ankle-biting is the blame game about the PDB and other high-level briefings—what was in them and should the person being briefed have “caught” that item? In my humble opinion, most of the people who raise this issue know little about the real-world process of gathering and assessing intelligence, and especially the difference between knowing an adversary’s capability and his intentions.

I call these people “ball-scratchers,” like the guy at the end of the bar who knows just about everything and has an opinion on it that he is happy to share while relieving his STD itch.

If you feel compelled to either scratch yours or tell one of them to STFU, here is a place to start. The National Security Archive at GWU has a post on the famous or infamous briefing about Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the United States. It includes a link to a declassified version of the August 6, 2001 PDB. Scratch away at this!

The National Security Archive, “The President’s Daily Brief,’ and link to August 6, 2001 PDB.

Finally, there is this short video which features clips of actual professionals from the intelligence community who know what they are talking about (as opposed to some meme generator at a political boiler room or a Hill “staffer.”)

http://www.history.com/topics/white-house/videos/the-presidents-daily-briefing

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