Category Archives: Intelligence and Espionage

Saturday Matinee 2017 14: Breach (2007)

Weapons content of this film is minimal, but it’s a mostly true recounting of the last months of one of the most significant espionage cases in American histoOry. Robert Hanssen was an FBI Special Agent who, while working counterintelligence against the Soviet target, spied for the Soviets. For 22 years, before being caught (he’s now one of the guests of honor in Florence, Colorado’s Supermax, where he lives out his days in solitary confinement).

Hanssen’s motivations were a complex stew of greed and ego; his feelings were hurt that other agents were promoted ahead of him, and he got a sick thrill out of leading an inquiry into the possibility of a mole — an inquiry that would never find the mole, because it was him. 

Breach hit the screens without much impact at all.  Which is a pity, as it’s a tense, psychological drama with deep and, sometimes, puzzling characters. There’s a good bit of tension there, as the FBI closes in on its rogue agent, while at any time the rogue may learn the jig is up. He has two ways he can beat the FBI: by dropping out of espionage before they have enough admissible evidence to convict him, a concept he naturally understands perfectly, or by running a ratline he has asked his handlers to prepare for him.

Acting and Production

The actors here go the extra mile to sell their characters. One small example is the way that Chris Cooper as Hanssen is so intense that, walking down the corridor with a junior officer, Hanssen tends to walk him into the wall, quite unconsciously. In the excellent add-ons on the DVD (of which more below), Cooper’s immersion in this deep, strange, and mysterious character is discussed at some length, but on the screen it’s just a rocking performance, the best in the film, maybe a career best by the underrated actor.

Laura Linney is especially good in a key supporting role as an FBI supervisor so dedicated that she has sacrificed any hope of personal happiness in pursuit of her vital mission. But the way this is exposed is brilliant: when an agent working for her is having problems with his wife, she snaps: “I’d offer you some advice, but it wouldn’t be worth much. I don’t even have a cat.” She delivers the line with just the right blend of anger (she has a good reason to be angry at the agent, who has just screwed up) and bitterness, and the director and writer use it as a transitional moment. This is one example of the way the writer and director often choose to show the audience rather then tell them; to deliver important facts and enriching details in a sparse, telegraphic manner.

An even smaller FBI agent role goes to Dennis Haysbert (now the Allstate Insurance pitchman with the deep voice).

There are no surprises from Haysbert’s character, but the actor brings his trademark gravitas to the part and was a great addition to the film.

Unfortunately, two parts of the production of Breach are far below average. The first is the cinematography, which is extremely dark in 21st Century fashion. Every single one of the screenshots here had to be lightened, or you might not even see the actors or the objects. Some of them had to be lightened a second time (the shot of Linney, above) and some couldn’r really be saved with our image enhancement skills (Haysbert).

The second failure is a surprising one, because it’s one that in most films tends to be so good it’s invisible: make-up. Chris Cooper’s make-up as Hanssen is positively dreadful, and makes one wonder if the producer hired a bibulous mortician by accident. Ryan Phillippe as Eric O’Neill also suffers from obtrusive face paint.

In addition to these, there is one gratuitous, political jab that makes a jarring and incongruous entrance in unrelated dialogue, perhaps thrown in as a Hollywood virtue signal by the writers.

One thing the producers deserve thanks for is the excellent array of special features on the DVD. These include a number of scenes that were cut, primarily, we think, for pacing. By and large the scene cuts were appropriate but having them on the DVD was enriching.

The menu is visible to the left, and we watched each and every one of them and enjoyed them. The Dateline NBC news story, The Mole, is first class, as is Anatomy of a Character, describing how Chris Cooper brought a frankly repulsive, contradictory, and fatally flawed character to life.

Accuracy and Weapons

As you might expect for a true spy story, there is no gunplay, but that’s not the same thing as saying there are no guns. Hanssen has a seeming love-hate relationship with guns and with the FBI’s gun culture. Being able to hit a target is a skill that he’s contemptuous of, even as he warns a young agent that the FBI is a shooting culture and you will be judged by your shooting skill. Indeed, even senior executives are prone to impromptu shooting matches in the Hoover Building’s basement ranges, competing for small wagers or bragging rights.

A plot point turns on this.

Later, the scene is reprised, darkly, with Hanssen and another character.

Of course, Hanssen’s treachery has fatal consequences for Soviet traitors whose identity he learned, and sold back to the USSR. They are walked down a corridor to a meeting… with destiny.

And Hanssen was very prepared for things to go non-linear in his life. As a glimpse in his trunk indicates (AK, 2 G36s, MP5K, AR-15 (A1 style) w/203, and CAR-15 (under the AR):

As it happened, he did not reach for the guns when Bureau agents moved in with overwhelming force, catching him red-handed at a dead drop. Apart from the arsenal in his trunk, he was unarmed.

The accuracy of the tradecraft Hanssen uses to pass intelligence information, and that the Bureau uses to surveil him and build their case against him, is quite good, even though it is generally a background to the human story.

The bottom line

Breach is a powerful character study of a character who remains a disturbing enigma, almost 20 years after his exposure. It was a tough movie to make, especially to make while staying true to the source material — the History v Hollywood link below shows the departures made for the sake of drama, which were many but, mostly, small. But it also does something few movies so, shows the price that many people in the intel and CI world pay for their service.

At one point, Eric O’Neill asks his supervisor, played by Laura Linney, “Is it worth it? Being an agent?” and Linney makes a long, introspective, pause before answering, “Ask me when it’s over.”

There’s nothing in the film that says he asked her, or if so, what she said. But it’s a matter of record that the real Eric O’Neill ceased his pursuit of his dream of a Special Agent job, and resigned from the FBI… in his own way, he was a casualty of Hanssen’s treachery, also.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page (version we reviewed):

Alternative, streaming version (seems overpriced):

Alternative, 4-spy-movies-for-$5 (w/o the DVD extras, and maybe with worse compression):

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page:

  • Infogalactic  page:

  • History v. Hollywood page:

(It’s not on HvH but the same thing at a partner site):

How Does the Partition of Korea End?

North Korea has a large military but few other trappings of civilization.

We humans tend to believe that the life we experience today is “normal” and that it will go on like this indefinitely. Evolutionary psychologists probably have some pat explanation for this, but we don’t know what it is. We do know, however, that many things thought permanent were anything but.

In the late 1960s, a Soviet historian named Andrei Amalrik wrote a prescient essay: Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984? At the time, it seemed laughable, but the KGB didn’t think it was funny, and Amalrik did a couple of stints at the Kolyma concentration camp before being exiled to the Netherlands. He was dead by 1981, in a car crash that, although certainly convenient for the KGB, was probably just a car crash.

In 1984, grinning KGB goons told Scharansky, “It’s 1984, Amalrik’s dead, and we’re still here.” The eternal workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary state, like the thousand-year Reich that was modeled upon it, seemed destined to last forever.

Amalrik admitted that he had nothing in the way of evidence. Just observation and logic. And he said logic guaranteed that a state built on terror and oppression could not stand forever. As it happened he was off by only a few years, although he was thwarted in his desire to live to see “the end of… the Russian Imperial state.”

I have been hearing and reading a great deal about the so-called “liberalization” of Soviet society. This idea may be formulated as follows The situation is better now than it was ten years ago; therefore ten years from now it will be better still. I will attempt to show here why I disagree with this notion. I must emphasize that my essay is based not on scholarly research but only on observation. From an academic point of view, it may appear to be only empty chatter. But for Western students of the Soviet Union, at any rate, this discussion should have the same interest that a fish would have for an ichthyologist if it suddenly began to talk.

The fish had this to say about the long-term prospects of his fishbowl:

I have no doubt that this great Eastern Slav empire, created by Germans, Byzantines and Mongols, has entered the last decades of its existence. Just as the adoption of Christianity postponed the fall of the Roman Empire but did not prevent its inevitable end, so Marxist doctrine has delayed the break-up of the Russian Empire, the third Rome, but it does not possess the power to prevent it.

Carrying this analogy further, one can also assume that in Central Asia, for instance, there could survive for a long time a state that considered itself the successor of the Soviet Union, a state which combined traditional Communist ideology, phraseology and ritual with the traits of Oriental despotism, a kind of contemporary Byzantine Empire.

For all that Amalrik and other dissidents, exiles and refuseniks experienced the USSR as a nightmare regime, that was not the experience of most Soviets. Especially Russians. They lived their lives, they did their best, they loved their country and its culture and some of its institutions, and they cultivated a healthy sense of humor about the unloveable parts. Most of the fish loved the fishbowl. Many today are nostalgic for it, because it wasn’t all KGB guys with coshes and steel-toed shoes: it was a proud, strong nation, and for some Russians today the USSR with all its flaws has the same appeal as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy (with all its flaws!) had to generations of American southerners.

Yet it still came crashing down; Amalrik, almost alone of the tens of thousands of historians, economists, and other experts in the USSR, had it right.

An Army with a nation. Will fight for food.

Which brings us back to the starvation state, North Korea,

The division of a single nation into separate states is a force like the chemical bonds between atoms in a molecule. It is stable right up until the moment that it is not stable.

Then, the bonds break with a great release of energy, and reform in new ways.

In chemistry, this reaction is predictable with mathematical certainty. In statecraft, it is not.

What, then, are the beliefs and guiding ideas of this people with no religion or morality? They believe in their own national strength, which they demand that other peoples fear, and they are guided by a recognition of the strength of their own regime, of which they themselves are afraid. ….

Under this assessment it is not difficult to imagine what forms and directions popular discontent will take if the regime loses its hold. The horrors of the Russian revolutions of 1905-7 and 1917-20 would then look like idylls in comparison.

It should be noted, however, that there is another powerful factor which works against the chance of any kind of peaceful reconstruction and which is equally negative for all levels of society this is the extreme isolation in which the regime has placed both society and itself. This isolation has not only separated the regime from society, and all sectors of society from each other, but also put the country in extreme isolation from the rest of the world. This isolation has created for all from the bureaucratic elite to the lowest social levels an almost surrealistic picture of the world and of their place in it. Yet the longer this state of affairs helps to perpetuate the status quo, the more rapid and decisive will be its collapse when confrontation with reality becomes inevitable.

Amalrik, in that last paragraph, is predicting the exact sort of preference cascade that actually occurred in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-92. As it happened, restraint by Soviet and particularly Russian leadership ensured that the transition was largely peaceful.

But Amalrik saw coming for the USSR what no one had seen coming for Rome:

Evidently, if “futurology” had existed in Imperial Rome, where, as we are told, people were already erecting six-story buildings and children’s merry-go-rounds were driven by steam, the fifth-century “futurologists” would have predicted for the following century the construction of twenty-story buildings and the industrial utilization of steam power.

As we now know, however, in the sixth century goats were grazing in the Forum just as they are doing now, beneath my window in this village.

The USSR, unlike North Korea, had many strengths in natural and human resources; there is a lot of ruin in a nation, and a lot more in a large and forward-looking nation than there is in a small, isolated and regressive land.

One wonders if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the world’s most backward and inbred absolute monarchy styles itself, can survive until 2024. And what terrors will be unleashed by its long-delayed expiration.

Amalrik’s essay is available online:


Latest Threat to Mullah World: Exploding Rocks

Ah, the Islamic Republic of Iran, where everyone except the nuclear physicists and rocket scientists is a product of several generations of first-cousin marriages.

Last year, a couple of their nuclear-weapons-base guards found a suspicious-looking rock adjacent to their voice and data cables. When they tried to handle it, it did a most unrocklike thing: it blew up.

Tentative conclusion: a foreign intelligence service’s bug just self-destructed.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops were inspecting data and telephone links to the Fordo nuclear facility in August when they found the rock, tried to move it and saw it explode, intelligence sources told the Sunday Times, according to Al Arabiya.

The ‘rock’ was able to intercept computer data from the facility, the newspaper reported on Sunday, citing those who surveyed parts of the device after the explosion.

They’re still a little bent out of shape about the whole “exploding” thing. Nothing’s supposed to explode unless the Supreme Leader says so, dammit.

(Idle question: is there a relationship between quality of governance in a nation, and presence of some dude, invariably dressed real funny, who styles himself “Supreme Leader”? And is that relationship inverse?)

The U.N. and western powers suspect Iran’s nuclear program is intended for the creation of weapons, but Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.

Yeah, but their definition of “peaceful” is reenacting the Final Solution with hydrogen bombs.

The Fordo facility, near Qoms, is currently enriching uranium to a level close to the amount used in nuclear weapons, the Associated Press reports.

via Spy device disguised as rock reportedly explodes outside Iranian nuclear facility | Fox News.

They’re so keen on nuclear materials over there. Well, at the rate they’re going, they’re going to get plenty. Which is definitely going to be one of those, “Be careful what you ask for, because…” moments.

Where Treason is A-OK, and Criticism of it is Forbidden

We’re referring (and this is unlikely to shock you) to the People’s Republic of California, and specifically to the Senate of that failing State.

Legislative éminence grise Tom Hayden, perhaps best known to the general public as the former Mrs. Jane Fonda, expired in October (or, as practitioners of one of the few faiths still alive in San Francisco put it, “Satan called him home.”) And naturally his peers — we use the term advisedly — in the Senate have spent from then till now engaged in hosannas to the pulchritude and luminosity of the former violent radical turned typical grifting, grasping, greedy politician.

State Senator Janet Nguyen, who on her election was (and as far as we know, still is) the first ethnic Vietnamese state senator in any American state, was not having any of that, and she prepared a powerful statement. Here are the highlights:

I and the children of the former South Vietnam soldiers will never forget the support of former Senator Tom Hayden for the Communist government of Vietnam and the oppression by the Communist Government of Vietnam for the people of Vietnam.

After 40 years, the efforts by people like him have hurt the people of Vietnam and have worked to stop the Vietnamese refugees from coming to the United States, a free country. We will always continue to fight for freedom and human rights for the people of Vietnam.

Members, I recognize today in memory of the million of Vietnamese and the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who died seeking freedom and democracy. … I would like to offer another historical perspective.

… I want to share what Senator Hayden meant to me and to the over 500,000 Vietnamese Americans who call California their home, as well as to the over 1 million Vietnamese Americans across the United States.

As you may be aware, Tom Hayden chose to work directly with the Communist North Vietnamese Government to oppose the efforts of United States forces in South Vietnam.

Mr. Hayden sided with a communist government that enslaved and/or killed millions of Vietnamese, including members of my own family. Mr. Hayden’s actions are viewed by many as harmful to democratic values and hateful towards those who sought the very freedoms on which this nation is founded.

…. In contrast to the great many people who fought to defend freedom and democracy, Mr. Hayden supported a Communist agenda ….

In sum: bad cess to him. Naturally, his friends and allies would not let Nguyen make that statement, but you can read it here (she got away with the introduction, in Vietnamese, before Kevin de Leon called the Senate Bouncers to give her the bum’s rush).

Hayden is especially beloved in institutional and academic Californistan — the environment that produced his modern cognate, Sulayman al-Faris, aka Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi, aka John Walker Lindh — for his “opposition to the Vietnam war.” This opposition included gathering information for the People’s Republic of Vietnam and harassing American families of prisoners of war. He first came to the public’s attention of one of the organizers of the Alinskyite attack by hippies armed with sticks, bricks and molotov cocktails on the police at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968. Hayden himself, a physical coward, was far from the “cannon fodder” he sent in, for his objective was to provoke the police into “overreaction.”

The media, safe behind the cops, and in on Hayden’s plan, produced thousands of these images, making it look like the Chicago PD made an unprovoked attack on “protesters,” and that’s how they reported it. (It wasn’t a complete loss. A lot of deserving skulls got cracked, and a beginning news fabricator named Dan Rather got punched in his glass jaw. What’s the frequency, Kenneth?)

Hayden went on to win a mistrial as one of the Chicago Eight clown show defendants, and continued to serve the interests of Communism and foreign powers for the rest of his miserable life.


After trying to make a statement about the late Tom Hayden and his opposition to the Vietnam War, Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) was removed from the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, a tense scene that ended in a slew of angry accusations…

Nguyen, who was brought to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee when she was a child, said she wanted to offer “a different historical perspective” on what Hayden and his opposition to the war had meant to her and other refugees.

Hayden, the former state legislator who died last October, was remembered in a Senate ceremony Tuesday. ….

“I’m very sad because the very people who elected me to represent them and be their voice on the Senate floor, I wasn’t allowed to speak on their behalf,” Nguyen said later in an interview with The Times. “I was told I cannot speak on the issue at all,” she said.

The LA Times, being the LA Times, can’t even describe the sanguinary efforts of Hayden honestly. (Apart from all he did directly in Chicago and Vietnam, he also was a founder of the SDS, the “overt” political branch of the murderous Weather Underground terrorist movement).

Hayden was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and made celebrated trips to North Vietnam and Cambodia, offering to help broker a peaceful end.

via A state senator is removed from the chamber for her comments about Tom Hayden and Vietnam – LA Times.

“Broker a peaceful end,” that is probably the most dishonest phrase ever written, and it took two LA Times hacks, John Myers and Melanie Mason, to generate a lie that big. (That’s like saying the Wannsee Conference met to “broker a peaceful end” to the “Jewish Question.” It’s always peaceful if you just get on the boxcars yourself, which was always Hayden’s goal for the free people of Vietnam).

Let’s reconsider what Hayden actually did during his period of Vietnam “protest.”

On visits to Vietnam, he not only performed propaganda for his Communist masters, but worked to help Communist organs recruit propaganda mouthpieces and spies among disaffected, tortured prisoners:

Tom Hayden’s anti-war efforts included recruitment efforts of military personnel, and propaganda from release of American POWs. Whether or not Hayden and Fonda were in bed together on this one (literally and figuratively) is not clear.

His efforts (among other traitors’) were an inspiration to Vo Nguyen Giap, the military leader of North Vietnam, and extended the war, leading to over 50,000 more Americans killed. (Same page as last quote).

General Giap and the NVA viewed the Tet 1968 offensive as a failure, they were on their knees and had prepared to negotiate a surrender.

At that time, there were fewer than 10,000 U.S. casualties, the Vietnam War was about to end, as the NVA was prepared to accept their defeat.

Then, they heard Walter Cronkite (former CBS News anchor and correspondent) on TV proclaiming the success of the Tet 1968 offensive by the communist NVA. They were completely and totally amazed at hearing that the US Embassy had been overrun. In reality, The NVA had not gained access to the Embassy–there were some VC who had been killed on the grassy lawn, but they hadn’t gained access. Further reports indicated the riots and protesting on the streets of America.

According to Giap, these distorted reports were inspirational to the NVA. They changed their plans from a negotiated surrender and decided instead, they only needed to persevere….

Today, there are 58,229 names on the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

We know where we stand on this. We stand with State Senator Nguyen. Her powerful statement is available on her State Senate web page, at least for now. Who knows how long that will stand, before the Cult of Hayden burns it down?

Terror Sponsors Using Lobbyists, Unwitting Veterans to Quash Lawsuits

Some of the nation’s slimiest lawyers and lobbyists work, out of sheer greed, for state sponsors of terrorism. A number of these have been trying to mislead veterans into supporting terrorism, too. This Nevada gun show booth last month was established by Saudi terrorist hireling Eric Eisenhammer of California, and was trying to mislead vets into supporting a paid Saudi “legal jihad” lobby working to protect Arab terrorist financiers from American lawsuits.

The amendment pushed by the Saudis and their coin-operated American friends would gut a law named the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which lets Americans sue the foreign nations whose terror sponsors have injured them and their loved ones. Essentially, it is a counterstrike against Iran, whose Revolutionary Guard Corps exports terrorism worldwide and is behind most Shia islamic terrorism, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi state clerics and terror financiers promote terror globally and are behind most Sunni islamic terrorism.

These bloodthirsty terror exporters are also oil-rich, and have found no impediments to hiring American lawyers and lobbyists to advocate for them; and the sort of amoral lawyer and lobbyist who pursues that sort of client has no problem buying American politicians, whose boundless greed is a watchword.

Such an amoral terrorist lawyer or lobbyist, a person pleased to serve the architects of 9/11 as long as the check clears, can’t be expected to have compunctions about misleading veterans to act, bizarrely, as spokesmen for, in cases, the very terrorist sponsors behind their wounds and their buddies’ deaths. Eric Owens writes:

Saudi Arabia’s government … appears to be funding luxurious, all-expenses-paid trips to Washington, D.C. for the veterans which include stays at the $500-per-night Trump International Hotel.

The law is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which creates a way for American citizens to file civil claims against foreign governments for deaths and other damage related to terrorist acts if the foreign governments financed those attacks.

In November, two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, proposed an amendment to JASTA that would allow Americans to sue foreign governments for terrorist attacks only if the foreign nations “knowingly engage with a terrorist organization directly or indirectly, including financing.”

Saudi Arabia is paying Qorvis MSLGROUP, “one of the largest public relations firms in the world,” to lobby for the McCain-Graham amendment.

The McCain/Graham amendment, written by and ordered by their Saudi paymasters, means that the Saudis’ millions-of-dollars-of-traitorous-lawyers will be able to drag out the suits against their laughing terrorist paymasters forever.

Eric goes on to name names of the lobbyists grasping for al-Qaeda dollars:

One of the consultants Qorvis has hired — on an undisclosed salary — is Eric Eisenhammer, the founder and CEO of Dauntless Communications, “a digital communications and public affairs company” in California.

Qorvis has also hired Tennessee-based consultant Paul Stanley….

Not related to the former KISS guitarist, we think.

A third person attempting to recruit veterans who will personally tell members of Congress they oppose JASTA is Sarah Durand, the former chief of staff for Kentucky first lady Glenna Bevin (and, before that, president of the Louisville Tea Party).

Durand may or may not have any affiliation with Qorvis.

One of Qorvis’s terrorist henchmen, who was understandably unwilling to give his name, did speak to Eric Owens, the author of the piece.

“This is not some back-stage, behind-the-scenes maneuver,” the spokesman told TheDC. “This is totally out in the open. This is totally transparent.”

However, none of the materials they’re sending veterans admit that they are funded by the Saudi terror sponsors.

“We’re not telling veterans what to think or what to say,” the spokesman also said. “The charge that veterans didn’t know what they were talking about is not really the truth. It could have been the truth for a couple you talked to. But the veterans who come to Washington are conversant with JASTA. They all think it is bad policy.”

…after being given the one-sided story of the terrorist mouthpieces, naturally.

Among the veterans who have lobbied against the law are military attorneys and retired generals, the Qorvis spokesman said.

Military attorneys! — there’s a bunch to trust about as high as you can deadlift an Abrams.

Retired generals! — gee, that’s a group some members of whom got that star and flag by walking over the bones of their own betrayed subordinates… it isn’t a reach for some of them to sign on with the Saudi-controlled Qorvis and the global moslem terror campaign.

So, basically, it’s lawyers and lobbyists, and former military officers with the morals of lawyers and lobbyists. Got it.

Do go Read The Whole Thing™, as Eric has documents, emails, etc. backing up his whole story.


Espionage, Reverse Engineering, and Soviet Long Range Aviation

This is a documentary on how a Soviet design team, led by a man who’d been a political prisoner during the Great Purges, conducted the single greatest feat of reverse engineering in engineering history: the knock-off of the B-29A bomber as the Tupolev Tu-4. The creation of this aircraft instantly made Soviet Long-Range Aviation (their equivalent of the USAF Strategic Air Command) a credible force worldwide. Got an hour and a half today?

Like most other European powers, the Soviets had experimented with long-range, four-engined bombers before and during the war, but depended instead on large fleets of twin-engined, medium-range medium and light bombers. Only the USA and Great Britain actually developed credible long-range bomber fleets.

But the B-29 was qualitatively different from first-generation fourmotors like the Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24, or the Avro Lancaster or Handley-Page Halifax. It used next-generation technologies throughout, including engines of greater complexity and power, much higher-technology defensive armament with remote-control, low-drag turrets, and a pressurized, shirtsleeve environment for the crew. Some parts were so sophisticated that new manufacturing processes were invented to suit. The entire airplane was a Hail Mary effort by the world-leading American aviation industry; at that, in came very close to failing. (The parallel effort that produced the Consolidated B-32 Dominator did fail).

The Soviet effort included espionage by the NKVD (later KGB) and GRU as well as direct reengineering of “captured” B-29s. How could the Soviets capture B-29s when the USA and USSR were allies, not enemies, in World War II? Ah, that was in the West. From the Soviet point of view, the war with Japan was Britain’s and America’s problem, and the USSR maintained neutrality. Thus, combatant aircraft of either nation that landed on Soviet territory, and their crews, were subject to being interned. As the 20th Air Force stepped up raids on Japan from bases first in China and later in the Marianas Islands, an occasional B-29 made an emergency landing in Soviet territory. The crews usually made their way back to the United States (minus anyone the KGB interpreted as a Soviet citizen, who vanished into the Gulag forever). The planes never did. What were the Russians doing with them? When the Tu-4 appeared in 1947, we had the answer.

The primary effort to copy the B-29, ordered by Stalin himself, was the re-engineering effort, but espionage was also involved, especially where novel industrial processes were involved. Fortunately for the Soviets, they had a comprehensive network of agents in place and potential recruits.

There’s a reason that Americans in the fifties and sixties were asked if they were, or had been, members of the Communist Party. The Party throughout its existence owed its loyalty to the USSR; while many misguided idealistic Americans cycled through its ranks, anyone who came and stayed was, not to put to fine a point on it, an agent of a foreign power already. (Additionally, the Soviet intelligence services recruited from within the Party. They would usually direct an espionage recruit to break with the Party for cover purposes, something our counterintelligence was slow to grasp and exploit). And nobody in 1942-45 cared if some guy was a Communist or liked the USSR — hell, everybody liked the USSR, they were bearing the brunt of the fight against Hitler. This network of willing ideological agents fanned out across the engineering firms, manufacturers, even steel and aluminum smelters and foundries, stealing not just the detail design of the B-29’s systems and components, but the industrial processes that made them possible.

The Russians also manipulated Lend-Lease to get some B-29 components. Lend-Lease reported to Harry Hopkins, a lifelong friend of President Roosevelt who was a committed Soviet agent. The US would not give the Soviets B-29s or their engines… so Hopkins arranged for them to get examples of an unarmed seaplane that had the same engine. Soon enough, factories in Russia turned out perfect, even improved, copies of the engines. This happened on a smaller scale with items like analog gun control computers, turbosuperchargers and pressure recovery turbines, electrical servos and lightweight hydraulics.

The classified Norden bombsight had already been acquired by agents in the design and production; vaccum tube production technology was stolen and improved Soviet production. Many of the American spies doing this didn’t think of themselves as traitors: why, they were just helping our best ally, “Uncle Joe!” Wartime propaganda, often produced by writers and artists who were Party members or fellow travelers, made it easy to rationalize as a patriotic duty, and one problem Soviet agent handlers had, in those pre-Cold War years of alliance, was convincing their American agents to clam up about their efforts to help the USSR. Even during the war, that kind of boasting caused the roll-up of agent networks, although with less fanfare than such events would have produced pre-1942 or post-1945.

The first flight of the Tu-4 was carried out by a test crew led by long-time test pilot Mark Lazarevich Gallai, who would also test the early jet MiG-9. Gallai’s memoir, Through Invisible Barriers, is available in several languages but not, as far as we know, English.

Having stolen the B-29, the Soviets found out that it still had a lot of teething problems, including a tendency to engine fires that made flying it one of Gallai’s most memorable experiences. They had plenty of engineers on the job, though, and tended to solve these problems by independent engineering, more than by redirecting the espionage apparatus to nick the American solutions.

The USA followed the B-29 with two amazing bombers that owed much to the concepts and processes of the B-29, but little to the actual aircraft: the Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker, and the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. The USSR, lacking the easy access of wartime, didn’t try to steal these in toto. Instead, the Soviets built directly upon their Tu-4 in the design of next generations of bomberr. Some trace Tu-4 DNA still exists in the Tu-95 NATO codename Bear, a 1950s design that still serves Russia today. But Soviet engineering, bootstrapped by the crash Tu-4 project, (and perhaps, especially in turboprop propulsion, some war-trophy engineering from Germany), would continue to serve Soviet needs. The USSR was never as far behind in aviation again as it had been at the outset of the Tu-4 program; indeed, after that remarkable catch-up it was often ahead (as it sometimes had been in the 1930s, before the purges).

And when native engineering fell short? Well, the spies were always willing to accept a tasking. But they never again stole a whole airplane design, and all the industrial processes to produce it.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: IC on the Record

This Tumblr, Intelligence Community on the Record, is a real-world resource for anyone interested in the US intelligence community. IC on the Record was created by the United States’ intelligence community Powers That Be to react to the public relations shellacking the community and the Obama Administration had taken since the Snowden defection; it remains live in the Trump Administration (we think. Last post was on 1/20).

(President Trump is widely seen has having fences to mend with the community, with both sides having a share of the blame, Trump for blasting the intelligence professionals and the community, which tends to be top-heavy with idle Washington bureaucrats, for leaking documents which appeared to frame Trump. Accordingly, it makes sense that his first vist to any agency was to The Agency (YouTube video of officials’ speeches; Trump beings about a half-hour in). It also makes sense that IC on the Record will survive any admin-change website purge.) 

In case you’ve been under a rock, an NSA contractor named Edward Snowden defected to the Russians under a smokescreen of revelations in the media, information calculated to embarrass, shame or disrupt national intelligence operations.

This was made possible, of course, by the overreach of said operations, increasingly targeted on US persons and increasingly abused for reasons beyond foreign intelligence; but to the irritation of insiders, only some of Snowden’s and his media and foreign intelligence service enablers’ accusations have been correct.

(It may be more irritating when the accusations are correct; the FISA court is clearly, for example, a rubber stamp that gives no serious consideration to the constitution or the rights of men, a statement that stings the expensive do-nothing court all the more because it is true. For example, periodically the FISA court rubber-stamps NSA dragnet collection of all American telephony metadata for another period… the actual rubber stamp is, of course, classified).

The site has information in the following categories:

  • Official Statements
  • Declassified Documents
  • Testimony
  • Speeches & Interviews
  • Fact Sheets
  • Oversight & Compliance
  • Video

Of these, the only one of real value is the  Declassified Documents section. Occasionally there is a nugget in congressional testimony. The rest of it is pablum and obfuscation written by PR flacks.

Many of the declassified documents are written by lawyers and they’re worth reading for the many fine-print and exact-terminology ways of obfuscating what their clients, the spymasters building their surveillance state, are actually doing. Here’s an example of that:

But one thing the tumblr did do is flag us to the DNI’s release of lists of the books and excerpts of the documents that were recovered by the sensitive site exploitation of Osama Bin Laden’s Abbotabad, Pakistan hideout. The third, and they say final, tranche of declassified (and translated) material from Bin Laden’s Bookshelf was published on 19 January 2017.

It includes, inter alia, this gem in a letter to two of Bin Laden’s sons (.pdf), that indicates (1) how sophisticated the Iranian intelligence services have become, and (2) how paranoid Bin Laden had become. (Well, serious people really were out to get him. Was it really paranoia?)


You and the brethren should remember any questionable action or observation in any hospital in Iran. If they inject you with a shot, this shot might be loaded with a tiny chip. The syringe size may be normal but the needle is expected to be larger than normal size. The chip size may be as long as a seed of grain but very thin and smooth. Notice if they take any of you for an operation, for good or no good reason, and inject you. Make sure to remember any comments about the reasons for setting you free.

Take notes of dates and times of any of such actions.

The Reason for Going to Peshawar:

There are instructions to all brethren to get out of Waziristan. It became clear that the region is well known to the enemy. Upon receiving this message, move immediately into Peshawar. I told the brethren to move their children to inside Pakistan if they fail to go to Peshawar.

We can’t guarantee you’ll find something fascinating like that in every document you pick up from the archive, but you just might.

Makes you wonder what they got that isn’t declassified.

A Master Class on Influence Operations at CIA

There are basically three classes of personnel at CIA, and there are a few simple rules to understanding them:

  1. There is a tiny minority of no-fooling spymasters: operational intelligence officers in the Clandestine Service, who are responsible for 100% of the Agency’s agent recruiting and collection of HUMINT information;
  2. There is a larger number of technical brains: headquarters-bound analytical and technical personnel, who contribute by working many of the other intelligence collection disciplines, and analyzing and fusing the information produced here and elsewhere;
  3. There is a shockingly large number of mighty old tuskers: executives, managers, middle managers, managers manqués and supernumeraries who live to play the Langley version of the Washington Influence Game. These people are indistinguishable from their counterparts at, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Board for the Promotion of Mohair Production.
  4. A great number of the people in Group 3 imagine they’re in Group 1, even if they only did one uneventful and unproductive tour in a backwater twenty-five years ago. They cling to certain aspects of clandestine service as status symbols, even as they live in a development in McClean that’s entirely populated by Agency people, and push papers related to various support and overhead functions back and forth to one another.

There is always conflict between the classes, as well as between the constituencies, but the old tuskers, wise in the ways of Washington warfare, generally win. Thus, the bureaucracy is many times the size it was in 1950, but it is a rare intelligence officer who will go out on a limb and suggest it is more effective. No one can credibly make the argument that it is more efficient.

This is the necessary framework for understanding the appearance of President Trump at the Agency. He spoke in front of an audience of Agency personnel, all of whom volunteered to hear him; that may explain some of the audience enthusiasm (a CBS reporter has floated a story that he packed the audience with non-Agency employees; we’ll discuss this below). While this video is very long, Trump does not appear until over a half hour in, so we have set up the video to begin at about 37:00, with the acting director’s introduction of the President. He concludes his remarks at about 59:00 on the timeline.

Much of it is a sideshow about reporting, but note the reaction of the assembled intelligence officers when the President belabors the press. The guys and gals in this room are not the ones that have half the newsrooms along the Acela Corridor on speed dial.

Hell, they even had a director (who, now as an ex-director, is carping about the agency) who was a supporter of American Communist Party Leader Gus Hall, and who voted for him. (Admittedly, as an undergrad, a period in many lives where the retard is strong).

But for what purpose did Trump go to CIA, first thing? Why did he do this? In our opinion, he was delivering a master class in influence operations, or as longtime student of Trump Scott Adams might say, persuasionHe has no illusions that the tuskers love him. The tuskers hate and fear him: hate, because he’s not in and of their culture; and fear, because he threatens their comfortable positions. They can be expected to undermine him. And if the reporters can be believed, these tuskers already have been the wellspring of a veritable Niagara of leaks that thunder back at each tusker from the headlines of his, her, or zhys morning Washington Post. 

But here comes Mr Trump, right into their own headquarters building, and he appeals directly over their heads to their line workers. The smart kids call it “disintermediation.”

Yes, the culture of the CIA (like the very similar and cross-pollinated culture of the Foreign Service) does tilt left, but it tends to be a left that is far less hopped up on hopium with respect to the nation’s competitors and adversaries around the world, than the manifestations of the left in Congress and academia (both of which cross over with the tuskers).

It got considerably worse for the unhappy managers and their media friends. On a press conference with Sean Spicer Monday afternoon, a CBS newsman, Steven Portnoy or Jeff Pegues, kept insisting that his high-level sources in CIA had said that the people President Trump spoke to were not CIA officers, but were 40 supporters bused in by Trump. As Spicer contradicted each of the CBS man’s quibbles — he had to seek the information from others, because, as he put it, “I don’t have the seating plan” in front of him — the newsman sourly fell back to further defensive lines, like a fanatical Hitler Youth in April ’45.

  • “The front row was Trump people” — Spicer checked. No Trumpers in the front row; no 40 people; only 10 people went over, including Trump, Gen. Kelly of DHS, and CIA Director Designee Mike Pompeo.
  • “I didn’t say row,” Portnoy-or-Pegues, sneering, countered: “I said rows” Spicer checked again. Nope, nobody in any of the front rows.
  • Portnoy-or-Pegues then fell back to his veritable Reichstag bunker with another quibble, but Spicer countered with a confirmation that nobody you can see in the camera’s view (just the backs of their heads; it is the clandestine service after all) is a Trump administration person.

After this, though, Pegues, who had already gone live with the fake-audience story before the press conference, hastily edited his story to insert a minimized version of Spicer’s denial, but made it much less prominent than the fake charge. Indeed, he liked the charge so much he pasted one paragraph twice (the fake story was not marked to show it had been, however ineptly and poorly, corrected; it was a stealth edit, so it may be edited again).

Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team originally expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate  Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.

An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team originally expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate  Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.

(Since the first edit, Pegues has edited the story again to add the quibble that Spicer only denied that the 400 people in the room were Trump or White House people. They coulda been Pompeo people, who were coming to see him sworn in, except that Vietnam draft dodger and campus radical Chuck Schumer went back on his word on Pompeo’s confirmation).

Now, the question is, whose fake news was it?

  1. Did Pegues (or Portnoy) make it up? Given the weaselly character Portnoy-or-Pegues displays asking questions, that’s how Occam would slice it. But it’s not the only possibility.
  2. Did he actually have real sources from among CIA’s tuskers tell him that because, even though they knew it was false, they were trying to mislead him? That’s probably the next most probable attribution. But there’s still one more:
  3. Did he actually have real sources from among CIA’s tuskers tell him that because, even though it actually was false, they leaped to a wrong conclusion?

The last and least possibility is not off-the-charts impossible. Remember, CIA managers are the bureaucratic descendants of the guys that argued with Your Humble Blogger that “there is no resistance potential in East Germany, because the people there love Communism even more than the Soviets do.” The brilliant brain trust that took the lead in creating the free and democratic Libya and Syria that we don’t have today. Never rule out blind, paralytic ignorance, especially the further you go from the operational area in question.

Top Ten Things Nobody Ever Said About Bradley Manning

With the creepy little critter about to be sprung from prison by leaders that, in the end, privileged treachery over loyalty, Bradley Manning has been much in the news lately.

People are saying a great many things about him. But what about the things that they are not saying? Without further ado, we present the Top 10 Things Nobody Ever Said About Bradley Manning.


10. “I want to be just like him/her/it when I don’t grow up.”
9. “He’s logical and rationally grounded.”
8. “Ex-private Manning is a keen analyst of military strategy.”
7. “A poster child for loyalty.”
6. “Well done, the clearance adjudicators.”
5. “Bradley Manning: America’s secret weapon.”
4. “A credit to his uniform.”
3. “A great American and an exemplary soldier.”
2. “The textbook case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, from being his unit’s worst intel analyst, miles from any action.”

Bradley Manning as he (?) sees him(?)self.

And, the Number One Thing that Nobody Ever Said About Bradley Manning:

1. “I’d hit that.”

Remember, this is the person that the DC plutocrats found to admire in the US military — a traitor.

What 17 Intelligence Agencies?

If you’ve heard all the drama about “17 Intelligence Agencies” recently, you might have wondered 1. who the hell all those agencies are, and, 2. why do we need so many?

Unfortunately, we can’t answer the second question. But we’ll take a shot at the first.

The current, highly dysfunctional and ineffective structure of the intelligence community was a result of a re-organization after the 9/11 Commission found that interagency rivalry and stove-piping prevented unity of command and efficiency in the IC. So they created several new agencies, including “One Ring to Rule Them All,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which duplicated the primary function of the Director of Central Intelligence. They also created the duplicative Department of Homeland Security.

So, Congress’s response to too much bureaucracy in intelligence was to create two more enormous, empire-building, and completely non-operational bureaucracies. That bid against each other, raising the prices of credentialed and cleared personnel in the National Capital Area, and have 17 independent, redundant and leaky massive overhead bureaucracies. None of the overhead — the great bulk of the personnel and costs of these agencies — does a thing to secure an adversary’s secret or protect a friendly one. Feeling safer, yet?

So, the ODNI (website here) is one of the agencies. Here’s how ODNI presents what it sees as the subordinate 16 (not all the agencies are subordinated willingly):

That’s a really illogical way to do it, and we have no idea why they listed them like that. Wait… duh. They’re in alphabetical order. OK, let’s break it down functionally and historically for you. With ODNI accounted for, we have 1 down and 16 to go.

First, we have Cabinet Departments that want to horn in on intelligence. DOE was formerly involved in nuclear intelligence, because it’s involved in nuclear everything. State contains the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which has always been an attempt to duplicate CIA capability in Foggy Bottom, and has a long history free of significant attainments. Treasury wants to play the-spy-as-auditor. And DHS has already been mentioned. Treasury and DHS do have some agencies with intelligence capabilities, mostly domestic. This accounts for 4 more of the agencies: 5 down and 11 to go.

There are the service intelligence bureaucracies, five of them (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard), plus the long-standing DIA which is mostly another duplicative analysis shop, but does run some military HUMINT and CI projects. This happens because the main HUMINT agency has dropped the ball on HUMINT and is unresponsive to military tasking. 10 down and 6 to go.

Then, we have the flatfeet. These agencies are primarily crim catchers, but DEA gets intel (mostly by liaison) about transnational drug traffic that often has other intelligence implications, and FBI has internal security and national security responsibilities — they’re supposed to be our prime spy catchers. These 2 chiefly-crimefighting crowds bring us to 12 down and 4 to go.

The four that remain are what you probably think of when you think of US intelligence. They are divided along functional lines of intelligence disciplines (the “INTs”).

  1. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) runs HUMINT (as well as an organization that institutionally hates to leave the flagpole can), runs any collection it can, and runs a comprehensive all-source analysis shop. It has some paramilitary “regime change” capability, first developed early in the Cold War but now waxes and wanes because many politicians have turned against it.
  2. The National Security Agency (NSA) runs most electronic and technical intelligence collection and analysis, using swarms of military personnel as its foot soldiers (think Bradley Manning). Its Central Security Service branch is also responsible for securing American codes and ciphers. Like CIA, it was established by the National Security Act of 1947.
  3. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), in conjunction with the Air Force Space Command and other intelligence agencies, manages intelligence collection via overhead platforms. Until the last couple of decades, its very existence and everything it did was classified.
  4. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) is a textbook example of bureaucracy creep. Like the NRO, the NGA’s intelligence work is kept mostly secret for good reasons. It also has overt and public responsibilities; it used to be the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), before that it was the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), and before that it was the very prosaic Army Map Service. Along with its secret responsibilities (many of the agency’s personnel and contractors got a well-deserved attaboy for the OBL raid), the NGA also makes our maps and charts, both paper and digital. (Having used stuff from all round the world, our digital stuff can be incredibly awesome, but the Russians make the best paper maps by far).

That brings us to 16 agencies plus ODNI. Now, frequently you will see some Beltway drone or chinless broadsheet bloviator talking about what “17 intelligence agencies” (or “16” if the berk leaves off the DNI) did or didn’t do, and that should act as a handy tag, like the ones that Tracking Point puts on a target, but a kind of photographic negative version — a marker that that guy is so stupid he’s not worth shooting and/or so dishonest that he’s not worth listening to. When you hear “17 intelligence agencies” all you need to understand is “ODNI Opinion” which generally means something coming from the top down. From the political appointees and the career officers who suck up to them.

“The last piece of the puzzle before we can execute this mission will be the ODNI analysis,” said no one operational, not in any of the “17 agencies” nor military services. We can guarantee you that. ODNI is entirely a Beltway political knob-polisher and brings nothing to the the intelligence community but more headcount (and a concomitant lowering of the entry bar and product quality). They do, however, have a lot of really flashy document formats, logos, and slide deck templates.

This may be because they have learned what leaks best to their journalism pals.

Most of actual production of useful and actionable intelligence is done by individuals and very small teams, usually working for a single agency, often taking the sort of risks that ensure that they, ultimately, won’t be promoted, and the teeming HQ credit-thieves will.

Our bloated, blind, and Beltway-bound intelligence community is mostly in the wrong place. Intelligence is, mostly, foreign information, but we insist on gathering it and analyzing it from DC desks.

Fun facts:

  • the majority of our intelligence analysts have never been to the countries or regions on which they’re supposedly experts.
  • Perhaps 5 or 10% are functional in the languages of their target area. Professional fluency is vanishingly rare, and usually rests on immigrants and first-generation Americans.
  • Many analysts have never been outside the First World.
  • Another large percentage of them, who have been to the area, were on an escorted 7-capitals-in-11-days tour.
  • You can rise to the Senior Executive Service level in any of the agencies without ever having to move from your Maryland or NoVA suburb.

And yeah, we’re worse off in intelligence than we were on 11 September, 2001, despite producing vastly more output (and leaking it, to the press and adverse intelligence agencies, but we repeat ourselves). Because we didn’t solve the bureaucracy problem, we exacerbated it. And we blew billions — and continue to blow billions — on the project.

Which is increasingly a government jobs program — the WPA for liberal arts graduates. Except, we’re still using some of the useful bridges and town halls the WPA built.

(Note: with this post, we’ve added a new category, which we seldom do. A lot of previous writing on Intelligence and Espionage has been characterized as Unconventional Warfare, but they’re not the same thing. For practical reasons, we’re probably not going to go back in five years’ of archives reassigning the new I&E label, but we’ll use it going forward. -Ed.)