Ray McGovern on Russia’s Humanitarian ‘Invasion’

Before dawn broke in Washington on Saturday, “Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists” – more accurately described as federalists of southeast Ukraine who oppose last February’s coup in Kiev – unloaded desperately needed provisions from some 280 Russian trucks in Luhansk, Ukraine. The West accused those trucks of “invading” Ukraine on Friday, but it was a record short invasion; after delivering their loads of humanitarian supplies, many of the trucks promptly returned to Russia.

I happen to know what a Russian invasion looks like, and this isn’t it. Forty-six years ago, I was ten miles from the border of Czechoslovakia when Russian tanks stormed in to crush the “Prague Spring” experiment in democracy. The attack was brutal.

Once back in Munich, West Germany, where my duties included substantive liaison with Radio Free Europe, I experienced some of the saddest moments of my life listening to radio station after radio station on the Czech side of the border playing Smetana’s patriotic “Ma vlast” (My Homeland) before going silent for more than two decades.

I was not near the frontier between Russia and southeastern Ukraine on Friday as the convoy of some 280 Russian supply trucks started rolling across the border heading toward the federalist-held city of Luhansk, but that “invasion” struck me as more like an attempt to break a siege, a brutal method of warfare that indiscriminately targets all, including civilians, violating the principle of noncombatant immunity.

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The Rear-Guard Defense of Torture

John Rizzo, the CIA’s former Acting Counsel General, is feeling the heat for his role in blessing what President Barack Obama has now admitted was “torture” during the Bush/Cheney administration. Rizzo went on friendly Fox News to charge that the (still withheld) Senate Intelligence Committee investigation report on torture reflects a “Star Chamber proceeding” and accused some lawmakers of “craven backtracking,” claiming that they had been briefed on the interrogation program years ago.

Rizzo also revealed that he and other former CIA officials implicated in the torture scandal have found an ally of sorts in current CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior aide to CIA Director George Tenet when the torture practices were implemented and who is now leading the rear-guard defense against the Senate report.

“He’s been with us ‘formers’ during this period. He has been the honest broker,” Rizzo told Fox News. “He has done the best he can. He is in an extraordinarily difficult position.”

Rizzo’s audacity in defending torture should have prompted some kind of reaction like the one that finally called Sen. Joe McCarthy to account: “Have they no sense of decency, at long last? Have they left no sense of decency?” But Rizzo, like other defenders of the “war on terror” torture policies, have yet to face any meaningful accountability. Rather, some like Rizzo remain respectable figures.

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Kerry’s Unenviable Record for Veracity

The last time major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. On Aug. 30, 2013 he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “We know” the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on August 21.

Just a few days later, it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. On Aug. 30, no one knew for sure. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground in refusing to say “we know” when U.S. intelligence did not know. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this in a Memorandum for the President on September 6. [for details, see Consortium News.com’s Obama Warned on Syrian Intel.]

Determined to avoid a repeat of the fraudulent intelligence performance on WMD before the March 2003 attack on Iraq, this time our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as the British Downing Street Minutes document put it. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director, John Brennan, was able to provide Kerry with the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best he could do was to issue a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence.

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Facts Needed on Malaysian Plane Shoot-Down

It will likely take some time to determine who downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 298 people onboard. Initial speculation is that someone with a missile battery mistook the plane as a military aircraft, but the precise motive may be even harder to discern.

Given the fog of war and the eagerness among the various participants to wage “information warfare,” there is also the possibility that evidence – especially electronic evidence – might be tampered with to achieve some propaganda victory.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko immediately labeled the tragedy “a terrorist act” although there was no evidence that anyone intentionally shot down the civilian airliner. But Poroshenko and others in the Kiev government have previously designated the ethnic Russians, who are resisting the Feb. 22 overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, as “terrorists” so Poroshenko’s bellicose language was not a surprise.

For their part, the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine denied responsibility for the crash – saying they lacked anti-aircraft missiles that could reach the 33,000-foot altitude of the Malaysian airliner – but there are reasons to suspect the rebels, including their previously successful efforts to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft operating in the war zone.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin deflected questions about who may have fired the missile as he called for an international investigation. But he made a telling point when he noted that the “tragedy would not have happened if military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine.”

Those likely to agree with that statement include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande who, during a lengthy four-way conference call with Poroshenko on June 30, tried desperately to get him to prolong the ceasefire. Only the U.S. voiced support for Poroshenko’s decision to spurn that initiative and order Ukrainian forces into a major offensive in the east.

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No Tears for the Real Robert Gates

In the early 1970s, I was chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch in which Robert M. Gates worked as a young CIA analyst. While it may be true that I was too inexperienced at the time to handle all the management challenges of such a high-powered office, one of the things I did get right was my assessment of Gates in his Efficiency Report.

I wrote that if his overweening ambition were not reined in, young Bobby was sure to become an even more dangerous problem. Who could have known, then, how huge a problem? As it turned out, I was not nearly as skilled as Gates at schmoozing senior managers who thus paid no heed to my warning. Gates was a master at ingratiating himself to his superiors.

The supreme irony came a short decade later when we – ALL of us, managers, analysts, senior and junior alike – ended up working under Gates. Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey had found in Gates just the person to do his bidding, someone who earned the title “windsock Bobby” because he was clever enough to position himself in whatever direction the powerful winds were blowing.

To justify the expensive military buildup of the 1980s and the proxy wars that Reagan wanted fought required judging the Soviet Union to be ascendant and marching toward world domination. In that cause, Gates was just the man to shatter the CIA’s commitment to providing presidents with objective analysis. He replaced that proud legacy with whatever “information” would serve the White House’s political needs.

As Casey’s choice to head the CIA analytical division and then serve as deputy CIA director, Gates showed himself to be super-successful at weeding out competent analysts, especially those – like Melvin A. Goodman – who knew the Soviet Union cold and recognized its new President Mikhail Gorbachev for the reformer he was.

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Sunday on ‘Face the Nation’: Gen. Michael ‘No Probable Cause’ Hayden

Barring a last-minute frantic call from the White House, CBS’s “Face the Nation” will interview whistleblowers Thomas Drake (ex-senior executive at the National Security Agency) and Jesselyn Radack (ex-ethics adviser at the Justice Department). Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA and CIA and now is a chief NSA defender on CNN and Fox News, will also be interviewed this Sunday.

It was a high privilege for me to join Drake, Radack and FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley on a visit to Edward Snowden in Russia on Oct. 9. Never have I been in the company of persons who are such incorruptible straight-arrow patriots. Not so, sadly, Michael Hayden.

Given how these network interviews go, however, Hayden will probably be introduced as the patriot he isn’t. Here is a more fact-based introduction that I would urge the moderator, CBS’s Major Garrett, to use:

“Let me also welcome former Gen. Michael Hayden. Gen. Hayden was the first director of NSA to violate his oath to the U.S. Constitution by acquiescing in the Bush administration’s order to violate the Fourth Amendment, which, until then, had served as the ‘First Commandment’ at NSA.

“On May 8, 2006, former NSA Director Adm. Bobby Ray Inman stated publicly that what Hayden did was in clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Another former NSA director, Army Gen. William Odom, told an interviewer on Jan. 4, 2006, that Hayden ‘should have been court-martialed.’

“This sad reality was known to CBS and our mainstream media colleagues before Hayden was confirmed as CIA director on May 18, 2006, but we were successful in deep-sixing it, keeping it out of the public debate.

“We also are grateful to both the Bush and the Obama administrations for making it possible to have Gen. Hayden with us in the studio here today rather than having to speak with him via Skype from a federal prison where he assuredly belongs for his eavesdropping crimes at NSA. Hayden and the enabling giant telecoms escaped accountability via the Bush-pushed 2006 law holding all harmless for these violations of law.

“As for President Obama, had he not decided to ‘look forward and not backward’ and thus avoid prosecuting Bush administration criminals, Hayden might be locked away today for crimes against the Constitution and international law. As CIA director, he was a staunch defender of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ including waterboarding.

“Gen. Hayden also has been one of the harshest critics of Edward Snowden, hinting broadly that Snowden should be put on the President’s Kill List, a motion that was immediately seconded by House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers. So, our thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama for enabling Gen. Hayden’s presence here today, and thanks also for the rest of you for being here this morning.”

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