Watergate Done Legally: The Predictable Truth About Spying

American Greatness, by Angelo Codevilla, May 24, 2018:

The tug-of war (and it is a war) between Fox News alongside a handful of Republicans on one hand, and the solid front of U.S. government agencies, the Democratic Party, and the mainstream media (Google included) on the other, is focused on who in the Department of Justice and the FBI did what and why to start the July 31, 2016 “Crossfire Hurricane” counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, to secure a FISA warrant for electronic intercepts of Trump advisers, and to vector Stefan Halper and possibly others to spy on them directly beginning around July 11. These details are so few and so jumbled as to obscure the considerably larger extent of the intelligence community’s involvement against Trump.

The following considers additional facts (not in dispute) from the perspective of my eight years of experience with the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. as a senior staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and as part of the group that drafted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (over my opposition).

The events of the past two years have confirmed the objections to FISA I stated in 1978: pre-clearance of wiretaps by a court that operates secretly, ex parte, and that is agnostic on national security matters, is an irresistible temptation to the party in power and its friends in the intelligence agencies to use the law to spy against their political opponents—that is, to do Watergate legally.

The Spying Legacy of 9/11
FISA was a bad idea, made worse after 9/11 by the addition of Section 702. It is a license to collect and use electronic data on Americans, so long as that collection is claimed to be “incidental” in the collection of data relating to foreigners. Since the claiming is done in secret, and the yearly court review can be finessed, officials’ self-restraint is all that keeps Section 702 itself from being an abuse. Item 17, “about queries,” specifically authorizes the collection of emails and phone calls of “U.S. persons.”

The first evidence that Obama Administration officials and their friends in the Community had used intelligence to try thwarting a political challenge came on November 17, 2016, when Donald Trump abruptly moved his transition headquarters from Trump Tower to Bedminster, New Jersey. The previous day, he had been visited by Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. Rogers earlier had delivered the yearly Section 702 certification to the FISA court, saying that the Justice Department had improperly used that portion of the law to direct the NSA to listen in on Trump campaign headquarters. Just prior to Rogers’ delivery, John Carlin, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, tendered his resignation. Rogers was not happy. Trump even less so.

When the Section 702 abuse began is not public knowledge. We do know, however, that a FISA court in June 2016 rejected the Justice Department’s request for traditional FISA authority to monitor some members of the Trump campaign. Since ginning up such documents takes time, the process probably started in May or late April—roughly the time when Trump locked down the Republican nomination. Having failed to get explicit FISA authority, Justice Department officials may well have used the implicit authority of Section 702.

Who Employed Stefan Harper?
Something else unusual happened around that time: Trump associate Carter Page got an invite to an elite and cushy conference in Cambridge, England for Stef Halper. Turns out, Halper was acting on behalf of U.S. Intelligence. According to then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Halper was not “spying”—just gathering information. Page and Halper met at the conference on July 11, a conference for which Page was paid a sizable honorarium for attending.

The commentariat has been atwitter (please excuse the term) about how this squares with the fact that the FBI’s formal “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation (revealed to the New York Times as part of the advance spin on the much-anticipated Justice Department inspector general’s report) began only on July 31. Did the FBI jump the gun? Not by a few days but when the invitation was sent months earlier? Was this another “malum prohibitum” on its part?

Most probably not. At most, searches of FBI documents may turn up information showing that this was, most likely, a CIA operation.

First, dispatching informants outside of formal investigations is not part of FBI’s culture. Sending informants through old-boy networks is the essence of CIA’s culture. Stef Halper is a Boomer generation old boy, having married into the Agency family and lived directly and indirectly from his connections with it. To anyone familiar with CIA’s sponsorship of cultural-academic activities in the postwar period, thereafter transmuted into a long (secret) and pricey list of contracts with personages and institutions in this field, the very name of Cambridge’s Center for Research in the Arts Social Sciences and Humanities shouts CIA!

Most likely, Halper and perhaps others were vectored, authoritatively but semi-formally, by then-CIA director John Brennan. It could hardly have been done except by his authority. Did Brennan’s friend Barack Obama know?  Neither that authorization nor that knowledge would break any laws.

But, boy, oh boy, how many bright red lines likely have been crossed!

How the Intelligence Community Became Corrupted
Recall that in 1947 the main objection to establishing the CIA was the widespread fear that, someday, its espionage would be used against Americans. That is why CIA was given no powers of arrest, why its agents would operate only abroad, and only against foreign targets. But from the very first, CIA officials, from the top down, have thought of themselves as entitled to transcend the role of lookouts for the ship of state. They have identified with and built relationships with policymakers, and placed their hands on the wheel as best they could.

The FBI used to be very different. CIA people looked down on the bureau’s “cop mentality.” But, gradually, the top levels of FBI started thinking of themselves as do those up the river: as partners with policymakers, fellow policymakers.

Just as important, a large part of these agencies—certainly the most personally successful one—absorbed and was absorbed by the ethos of the ruling class, the chief item of which is a sense of rightful superiority over the rest of Americans. The sense of entitlement to power, of the right and duty to do whatever it takes to defend it against bad people whom despicable Americans might elect or have elected, followed naturally.

Now the alternatives are all too clear: either those who have taken America across these red lines are punished severely, and with bipartisan approval—in which case we may return to a politically neutral national security establishment. If they are not, the national security apparatus is sure to become the queen in the nation’s political chessboard.

It would not be the first time in history in which government power started flowing from whoever controlled the security forces. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, too.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace(Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

Also see:

VIDEO: Green Beret Subjects Himself to Waterboarding to Support Trump CIA Nominee Gina Haspel

Breitbart, by Katherine Rodriguez, May 14, 2018:

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter and Green Beret Tim Kennedy posted a live-streamed video of himself being waterboarded on Saturday in support of President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, claiming that the controversial interrogation tactic is not torture.

Kennedy said in the 41-minute video posted to Facebook that he pulled this stunt to show that CIA nominee Gina Haspel has been unfairly criticized for overseeing a CIA black site where “enhanced interrogation techniques” were used on terrorist detainees shortly after 9/11.

The video showed the former UFC fighter’s towel-covered face being doused with water from a hose.

After the experience, the Green Beret wrote a caption explaining his “waterboarding” experience.

“We did this yesterday for almost 45 minutes. The average pour was anywhere from 10 to 60. They wouldn’t tell me when they were going to put the towel on. They would just smash it on my face and start pouring. You can’t hold your breath while they do it because the water runs down your sinuses,” Kennedy wrote. “The water runs through your eyes, down your nose and pools at the back of your throat. It was a baptism in freedom. It’s not torture! Hell we had elk tacos and wine afterwards. Wake up people.”

Kennedy claimed waterboarding is uncomfortable but not torture.

“If I can change one person’s mind about what torture is and what I would do to protect American freedom, I will do this for years,” he said.

Not everybody agreed with Kennedy. Counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance wrote on Twitter that Kennedy’s technique is “wrong” and there is more to waterboarding than pouring water on someone’s towel-covered face:

During her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings on Wednesday, Haspel pledged not to restart the CIA’s controversial interrogations program if selected as CIA director.

“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Haspel said at the hearing.

Trump has backed his decision to nominate Haspel despite concerns from Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate. The president tweeted last week that his “highly respected nominee” has been criticized for “being too tough on terrorists.”


This analysis is very interesting. (h/t Vlad Tepes)

Also see:

Mr. Mitchell, a retired Air Force officer and former CIA contractor, is the author of “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America”

New York Cedes Ground in the Fight Against Terrorism

by Patrick Dunleavy
IPT News
March 7, 2017

Capitulation in a time of conflict is demoralizing to the rank and file charged with protecting the community they serve. This appears to be the case in the latest legal go round between the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Muslim activist groups.

U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr, is about to accept an agreement that will hand over control of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division investigations to a civilian monitor appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. This is the same mayor who loudly cheered President Obama’s last-minute commutation of FALN terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, who will be freed in May. De Blasio extolled the works of a man whose organization was responsible for more than 100 bombings, many in New York City, including one that killed four innocent people.

To understand the impact that this proposed settlement, between the NYPD, and the activist organization known as the Muslim Advocates will have on existing counter terrorism measures, we have to understand how vitally important is the issue of protecting cities against attacks by radical Islamist terrorists. The activist groups claim that the police department unfairly singled out Muslim communities in the greater New York/New Jersey area for investigation and surveillance. They also claim that gathering specific information about the neighborhoods amounted to unprecedented “profiling.” They point to a little known NYPD unit that collected the data and accuse it of spying.

Their argument belies the fact that collecting demographic statistics has been used for years by the U.S. Census Bureau to map out trends and changes in neighborhoods. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have used this practice for decades to investigate criminal organizations such as the Mafia, or Columbian drug cartels. The normal investigative process would include forensic examination of the communities most likely to be victimized by criminal organizations. The FBI did not set up surveillance in Chinatown when taking down the Cosa Nostra. They went to Little Italy.

Radical Islamist organizations have in the past infiltrated Muslim neighborhoods in the United States and exerted harmful influence on those communities.

For example, in 1990 a little known Islamic cleric named Omar Abdel Rahman came to live in the greater New York area. He visited mosques in Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey City and elsewhere, and before long forced out any clergy who were not in line with his radical ideology.

In Brooklyn’s Al Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue, where Mustafa Shalabi served as a treasurer, an argument occurred over how the money should be spent. Shalabi was found murdered in his Coney Island apartment not long after that fight. Another of the mosque’s clerics, a Sudanese imam named Zakaria Gasmalla, was forced out and moved his entire family to the Buffalo area to escape the pressure from Abdel Rahman and his followers. The Blind Sheik and his followers continued to use Muslim communities to raise money for their plots, to hide weapons, and to build the truck bomb that was placed in the garage of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993. Six people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the resulting explosion.

The first soldiers in the jihad against America lived within the Muslim neighborhoods in the New York/New Jersey community.

In 2000, two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, settled into an apartment in a San Diego neighborhood near the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque. There Anwar al Awlaki, a young Islamic clergyman, welcomed them. Today we know the American-born Awlaki as one of al-Qaida’s most influential preachers and most effective radicalizers and recruiters.

Terrorists will seek out the neighborhoods where they feel most at home, a place where they can use the community to their advantage. Members of the Ribat mosque provided both transportation and language education skills to the two terrorists not knowing their true objective.

Minneapolis’ Cedar Riverside neighborhood has been dubbed “Little Mogadishu” because of it large Somali population. It is a community that has seen more than 50 of its members go overseas to join the Islamist terrorist organization Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab preyed on second generation immigrants who felt a disconnect between American society and their ancestral home. To stem the tide of continued recruitment by radical Islamist terrorists like Al Shabaab, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force successfully focused its investigation on the Muslim community in the greater Minneapolis area.

On the other hand, groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) seek to portray law enforcement as sinister characters sneaking through neighborhoods in trench coats looking to do harm to the community. One chapter urged community members to “Build a Wall of Resistance” and not cooperate with investigators in ongoing terrorist investigations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thankfully, many members of Minneapolis’ Somali community rejected this approach.

To blindly think that neighborhoods are somehow immune from the nefarious tactics used by either criminal or terrorist organization is to cede ground to those who would do us harm. Police departments exist to protect and serve communities and one of those tools most helpful is knowing the makeup of each neighborhood they patrol. Turning that responsibility over to a terrorist-friendly mayor will only handcuff police with the ambiguity of political correctness and lead to greater harm.

IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently teaches a class on terrorism for the United States Military Special Operations School.

Trump Must Up The Ante On Russian Subversion In America

Trump should welcome a comprehensive probe into Hillary Clinton's allegations of Russian subversion. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

Trump should welcome a comprehensive probe into Hillary Clinton’s allegations of Russian subversion. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

Forbes, by J. Michael Waller, January 4, 2017:

The real scandal about Russian subversion of the American political process is that the nation’s leadership has known about it for years and done nothing.

Now is the time to put an end to it.

Candidate Hillary Clinton uncharacteristically decried “Russian subversion” during the campaign. She called opponent Donald Trump a “puppet” of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. In so doing, the Clinton team unleashed a wave of unsubstantiated accusations—about which the intelligence community remains divided—that Putin wanted Trump to win the election. This has morphed into a widespread misperception that the Russians “hacked” the election itself.

Clinton’s allegations of Russian subversion must undergo the most rigorous investigation. Trump should welcome a comprehensive probe.

But limiting the scope of “Russian subversion” to the 2016 campaign is a trap. Trump must raise the ante. He must broaden any investigation to cover all foreign subversion of American politics and policies. It’s time to drain the fetid swamp of foreign espionage, subversion and corruption aimed at compromising decision-makers in Washington.

Congress must do the same. For almost 60 years after our involvement in World War I, Congress had bipartisan, standing committees and subcommittees to investigate foreign-sponsored subversion that manipulated or undermined our democracy. Congress shut them down in the 1970s and never replaced them. Occasionally a congressional panel would hold hearings about “active measures,” as the Soviets called their political warfare technique, welcoming classified and unclassified testimony from the FBI and CIA and an occasional outside expert, but generally Congress pretended not to see the problem and surrendered its investigative role to the intelligence community. Private-sector support for continued research and reporting practically dried up.

Documentation and testimony from those old congressional hearings and reports, defector accounts and internal Soviet documents unearthed over the past 25 years show that the Kremlin tried to influence or manipulate the American political process in every presidential election from 1924 to 1952, and from 1968 to 1988. It did so by directly and indirectly funding American political and policy groups amid relentless active measures, campaigns and espionage offensives.

Edward Snowden speaks via video link at a news conference for the launch of a campaign calling for President Obama to pardon him on September 14, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Edward Snowden speaks via video link at a news conference for the launch of a campaign calling for President Obama to pardon him on September 14, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The nation can come to no conclusive understanding of whether or how Moscow tried to manipulate the recent elections—and decades of foreign and defense policy—unless it re-learns the bigger picture and historical context.

By expanding the investigative focus, we can learn from cases like the FBI’s Operation Ghost Stories, a brilliant, decade-long effort that broke up a network of deep-cover Russian spies in 2010. The agents’ assignment was to get close to influential American academic, business and political figures. Mostly under false identities, the agents lived as normal-looking Americans. Russian tradecraft terms them “illegals” because they went without diplomatic protection. The network of 11 known illegals operated primarily in the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridor, with the heaviest concentration in New York City.

One of the Russian spies, federal prosecutors said, worked as a financial advisor to the 2008 presidential campaign chairman of then-senator Hillary Clinton. Another was connected to a New York-based confidant of an unnamed “cabinet member” in 2009 whose identity, though redacted from declassified Justice Department documents, was understood to be then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The purpose of the massive intelligence operation may not have been only to steal secrets. Like some of Moscow’s most successful human intelligence coups, a purpose may have been to subvert American decision-making at crucial times.

When the FBI wrapped up the network on June 27, 2010, after one of the illegals escaped, Clinton moved with unusual speed over an extended Independence Day weekend to whisk the remaining ten spies back to Russia. On July 9, a Friday, the U.S. swapped them in Vienna, Austria for four Russians who had been convicted of spying for the United States.

Clinton’s office pooh-poohed the magnitude of the Russian illegals operation. “There is no reason to believe that the secretary of state was a special target of this spy ring,” Clinton spokesman P.J. Crowley said at the time.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the outspoken New York Democrat whose job on the Judiciary Committee is to oversee U.S. counterintelligence, also showed little concern. He expressed no interest in doing a damage assessment of Russian penetration, whether of America itself or the political machine in his home state. Few in the Republican-controlled Congress made much an issue of either the spying or Clinton’s cavalier attitude toward it. Everyone seemed to forget about the matter. It didn’t come up in the 2016 campaign.

Operation Ghost Stories and other cases help us understand the foreign subversion threat. Congress and the executive branch must spare no effort to get to the bottom of hacking American institutions and subverting or manipulating our politicians. But the recent proposal of Senators Schumer and John McCain (R-AZ) to restrict the investigation to this election’s campaign-related cyber espionage won’t safeguard the nation’s interests. Investigations need to go broad and deep. Both houses of Congress should create new, bipartisan standing committees to investigate, hold hearings and report on all foreign subversion in the U.S.—not only from Russia but from any foreign individual, government or movement. Such a call should elicit widespread resistance from special interests dependent on foreign sources of cash, which is exactly the point.

As part of making America great again, the Trump administration must smack down foreign covert political warfare once and for all. It should instruct the entire intelligence community to prepare a definitive annual National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, to reach the most accurate professional consensus on the scope and cumulative effects of foreign subversion of the United States and its allies. The NIE timeframe should begin at least as far back as the longest-serving federal official has been in office. Separately, Trump should assemble an interagency task force to develop a strategy to identify, monitor and neutralize foreign propaganda, political warfare and subversion from any source. A special hybridized team should provide the president with effective strategies and methods of deterrence and retaliation.

Trump should handle America’s foreign adversaries the way he treats some of his personal opponents: through the specter or acts of exposure, humiliation and destruction. This is where Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and others are especially vulnerable. An easy, off-the-shelf tool is the Magnitsky Act, which the U.S. has used to put the financial squeeze on individual figures close to the Kremlin. The best way to check against foreign misbehavior is to squeeze the ruling inner circles financially. That will make powerful oligarchs pay high personal prices for their regimes’ meddling in American internal affairs, and incentivize them to pressure their leaders to become more accommodating to the new American leadership.

U.S. Intel is Fighting Blind Against ISIS


AIM, by Pete Hoekstra, November 10, 2016:

Gathering intelligence about the plans, intentions, and capabilities of one’s enemies has always been difficult. The United States has always committed to do exactly that. The financial investment has been tremendous.

The U.S. ability to utilize breathtaking tools to steal and manipulate electronic communications and data, as well as operating in the cyber world has proven effective. Spy satellites have unbelievable methods to penetrate enemies’ defenses, and to be able to see the unseeable.

The intelligence community now trains skilled professionals to “connect the dots” from these divergent data sources. These are remarkable capabilities of modern technology and human analysis that is being implemented by the U.S. to keep its citizens safe, but there is a massive gap.

Throughout time there has always been one indispensible tool of espionage – the human spy (also known as HUMINT, or human intelligence). History has proven time and again that human intelligence is the focal point of great intelligence. It is dangerous and risky, yet fundamental to a successful integrated intelligence effort.

In Iraq, the lack of substantial human intelligence resulted in the mistake of assessing that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT) had presented a compelling case. Human intelligence was almost non-existent. The result, a wrong conclusion based on partial information.

It is crucial to note that spy networks take years to validate and develop. It is not something you can easily turn on and off. As the United States now enters the next phase of the war against ISIS, it’s time to rebuild our HUMINT capabilities, to be our eyes and ears in the Middle East and Africa.

Any objective analysis of today’s HUMINT capabilities will indicate that the U.S. is almost blind against the Islamic State.

President Bill Clinton’s decision to reduce reliance on HUMINT in the 1990’s because of the inherent risk has left analysts forced to analyze situations with limited information. The 1990’s action left us weakened but not blind.

More recently, severe errors were made. Egypt and Libya were two countries that provided the U.S. with extensive HUMINT capabilities. Egypt and Libya have now been marginalized as sources. The U.S. support for overthrowing Mubarak in Egypt has limited cooperation since then, and has resulted in Egypt growing closer to Russia. Correspondingly, HUMINT assistance was eliminated in Libya. When the U.S. overthrew Gaddafi they also destroyed Libya’s HUMINT network that had been of substantial help.

Other U.S. “allies” in the region are currently being called into question. Can the U.S. rely on obtaining substantial intelligence from states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are known for supporting the Islamic State? Are there any other options for the U.S.?

Turkey constantly disagrees with U.S. policy vis-a-vis the Kurds. Their inability to back the 2003 war in Iraq signals their limited reliability and cooperation in defeating ISIS today.

Support from Iraq proves improbable that the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, a proxy for Iran, will not afford the U.S. much help.

Syria is now a failed state.

The bottom line is, after being involved in a decades-long war against radical jihadists, America has lost almost all of its HUMINT capabilities in the region. The only real and reliable allies in the region today are Israel and Jordan.

After losing capabilities in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, recognizing the limitations and reliability of Saudi Arabia and Qatar due to their ties to ISIS, and the complex and arduous relationships that the U.S. has with Turkey and Iraq, the outlook is grave.

Those who know and understand the ominous threat of ISIS are the countries in that region. Today they are not aligned to provide the HUMINT that America needs to keep the country safe.

The next president will make decisions on how to confront, contain, and ultimately defeat ISIS with one hand behind their back. They will not have the one profound asset, human intelligence, which will help the President of the United States eradicate ISIS and other jihadist groups from the world.

Our next President will be forced to make tactical and strategic decisions with limited insights into the threat.

The decisions in the 1990s by President Bill Clinton and the actions by the Obama Administration will handicap future Presidents because of the destruction of almost all HUMINT in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

It will be important for the next President and the American people to know of the limited resources and information that will be available as decisions are made. The loss of HUMINT will practically guarantee that more “mistakes” will be made.

Pete Hoekstra represented Michigan for 18 years in Congress, including as chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He currently serves as the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and is the author of “Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya.”

NYT: Refugees Pose Overwhelming Challenge to Europe’s Police


Overwhelmed by refugees about whom they know nothing, Euro police increasingly rely on American intelligence. Is there an alternative?

CounterJihad, October 25, 2016:

The New York Times has a story highlighting the problems facing European police agencies.  It turns on a particular case out of Germany, one in which a refugee turned terrorist without the European police having any idea.  Fortunately, American intelligence tipped them to the terrorist in question before he could stage the attack he was planning.  German attempts to arrest him failed, however, and he escaped back into the flood of Syrian refugees.  Only when other refugees turned him in were they able to capture him.

And then, before they could interrogate him for any intelligence, he hung himself.

The takeaway for the Times is that the Europeans are too reliant on American capacities.

[A] series of [attacks] in Germany, France and elsewhere has exposed the lack of knowledge about the backgrounds of many, if not most, of the newcomers and the potential for them to be radicals or to be radicalized after arriving in Europe.

On both fronts, the situation is creating a particular political tension in Germany. The National Security Agency’s activities are under fierce scrutiny in Germany by a seemingly never-ending special parliamentary committee.

“American agencies are Europe’s best counterterrorists,” said Peter Neumann, a terrorism expert at King’s College London.

Germany’s lawmakers have passed a new spy law that is intended to address some of these challenges.  They are not the first to do so.  In the wake of the Belgian attacks, Italy’s Prime Minister called for a more unified European response to terrorism.  One of the criticisms facing Europe’s response is that it lacks a central police agency like the FBI that can act directly on terror threats across national borders the way the FBI does across state borders.

On the other hand, Marc Tyrell at Small Wars Journal rightly points out that a higher-level bureaucracy is often necessarily blind to street-level indications of danger.  Likewise, the classification of information within major Federal agencies like the CIA and FBI often means that communication doesn’t flow downward to local police agencies either.  There is no guarantee that adding another level of protection will work, especially not if that level of protection is placed behind classification walls.

Likewise, there is a concern about focusing on the right set of dangers.  Spying resources are only helpful if they are properly targeted, but Europe has so far seemed inclined to focus its increased resources on its own citizens instead of the influx of refugees.  For example, Germany has engaged in police raids targeting those who express concern about the refugee influx.  In London, an expensive new cyber security unit — targeting online activity of citizens — will focus not on radical Islam but on “cyber hate speech.”

The scale of the crisis also poses challenges.  Belgian police correctly identified some of the Brussels bombers, but had to drop its inquiry into them because it could not spare the resources for that particular case.  German police are likewise facing a crime wave that is overwhelming their available resources.  Leaked reports indicate that German police only expect this refugee crime wave to worsen.

Even here in the United States, with its advanced security infrastructure, the task is beyond police resources.

[O]f these 1,000 or so suspected terrorists, the FBI only has the resources to thoroughly monitor a select few. The precise number of round-the-clock FBI surveillance teams is classified… but sources familiar with Bureau resources say that the number is “shockingly” low, only in the dozens. At one point last year, sources reported that the Bureau was watching 48 people intensely, a number that is towards the upper limit of the FBI’s regular surveillance resources.

That means that even of the 1,000 American citizens and residents that the government believes are most at-risk of executing a terror attacks—the top .0003 percent most radical threats among the nation’s 330,000,000 residents—only around 5 to 10 percent are under 24-hour watch.

The United States is far richer than most nations in Europe.  It has a government committed to building out the security state.  It has far fewer Muslims, both in raw numbers and as a percentage, and it has accepted only a small percentage of the refugees that Europe has done.  If the United States simply cannot keep up with the terror threat as it stands today, Europe cannot hope to do so.

And that is with the crisis as it stands.  The upcoming Russian-led offensive against Aleppo will bring a new wave of refugees.  The offensive against Mosul, meanwhile, is expected to produce at least a million more just by itself.  Some other solution than admitting floods of refugees, and then trying to police them, must be adopted.

Understanding Subversion: Considerations for our special operations forces

aaeaaqaaaaaaaahdaaaajgmzyjm4mmizlty3ntitngi2zc1hytgwltuzotvkmthmoddmmqBy , September 14, 2016 (h/t Patrick Poole)

Paper & lecture delivered by J. Michael Waller at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, NC, September 12, 2016. Title: “Subversion: Non-Violent Warfare in an Age of Countering Violent Extremism.”


Subversion is an ambiguous form of conflict in war and peace that does not rely on violence. From the perspective of the target, subversion is so ambiguous – and often gradual and long-term – that American diplomatic, security, and military planners find it difficult to identify, recognize, understand, and neutralize. Subversion has a logic and process of its own that permits identification for defense and offensive purposes to Phase 0. This paper summarizes a larger concept paper to explore subversion for defensive and offensive purposes.


  • Subversion as a growing concern
  • What is subversion?
  • Subversion throughout history
  • Four main elements of subversion, as defined by DoD
  • CVE model excludes subversion
  • Conclusion

Subversion as a growing concern

As a nation that’s intellectually and physically equipped to deter and destroy violent adversaries through various degrees of physical force, how do we counter an aggressive adversary that is not waging violence?

Well before the current presidential campaign revived concerns about foreign subversion directed at the United States, the National Intelligence Council found that both state and non-state actors would rely more on subversion as a means of waging conflict. The NIC anticipated that “most intrastate conflict will be characterized by irregular warfare – terrorism, subversion, sabotage, insurgency, and criminal activities.”[1] The same can be argued about interstate conflict, especially concerning China, Iran, and Russia.

What is subversion?

DoD definition. DoD defines subversion as “actions designed to undermine the military, economic, psychological, or political strength or morale of a governing authority.”[2] The scope is understood as both tactical and strategic, the mode both overt and covert, and carried out by civilian and/or military entities but not limited to either. Under the DoD definition, then, subversion is a means of (1) military warfare, (2) economic warfare, (3) psychological warfare, and (4) political warfare. Official U.S. government references to subversion presently provide further definition. We will explore the DoD definition after discussing other definitions and historical contexts.

Definitional challenges. Subversion is both a tangible action and an intangible object, and in societies based on the free exchange of ideas and association, the idea can be difficult to grasp. Definition is difficult, sometimes reduced to “I know it when I see it.” But we don’t always know what to see. We don’t know what we don’t see. And oftentimes, we don’t see it when we see it.

Western societies have no doctrine of operative principles for waging or defending against subversion. The Soviets and Nazis did. Post-Soviet Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic Iran, as well as jihadist movements, certainly do.

DoD defines subversion in a military context suited to its role, but the concept is, at its core, a civilian one. But there is little understanding of, or consensus on, a civilian definition. Just as warfare is politics by other means in a Clausewitzian sense, subversion is politics in a Machiavellian sense. And politics is subjective.

Core features of subversion. Subversion occurs in a state or society that is in “neither war nor peace,” and that can be in either or both. It is most effective when considered a strategic asset or weapon, and not as a mere operational-tactical ancillary tool like PSYOP/MISO. Cultivation of subversive capabilities, especially from within or below, can require years or more to put in place. Subversion can be contained, shaped, neutralized, destroyed, or optimized. It can be employed in a manner similar to, or as part of, a use-of-force continuum.

One can conduct subversion overtly from above (also called “from without”) to achieve the defined goals, without the use of secret agents; and from below (or “from within”) to infiltrate and penetrate the targets from the inside, and undermine the targets to achieve the desired goals.

A key element of subversion is the planned infiltration of people, information, and ideas for the purpose of influencing the attitudes of target audiences, be they individual decision-makers or entire societies. Planned infiltration of people takes time – often well beyond the American electoral, fiscal, or operational military cycles that demand visible measurements of effectiveness. Thus those with a more patient geostrategic approach, like the Russians and Chinese, or a supernatural approach, like the Iranian regime and jihadist movements, have an advantage.

An act of violence against civilians without political intent is a crime, but it is not terrorism. Stealing classified information is a crime, but it isn’t espionage unless it involves a transfer of loyalty by providing the secrets to a foreign power. Likewise, social changes can be subversive of societal norms and ideals, but if they are not planned with specific intent, they are not subversion. They can become acts of subversion when elements exploit those changes for specific intent.

Transfer of loyalty. A main objective of subversion is to induce the target to make decisions against its own interests, and ultimately to transfer loyalty. As a former American practitioner noted more than a half-century ago:

Subversion is the undermining or detachment of the loyalties of significant political and social groups within the victimized state, and their transference, under ideal conditions, to the symbols and institutions of the aggressor. The assumption behind the manipulative use of subversion is that public morale and the will to resist intervention are the products of combined political and societal or class loyalties which are usually attached to national symbols, such as the flag, constitution, crown, or even the persons of the chief of state or other national leaders.Following penetration, and parallel with the forced disintegration of political and social institutions of the state, these loyalties may be detached and transferred to the political or ideological cause of the aggressor.” [3]

Unwitting collaboration. Some argue that subversion requires the unwitting collaboration of the target to facilitate the subversion itself. “Subversion is the proximate end of most political warfare, whether it is affected by agents, propaganda, or policy. Deception is so essential to subversion that the two words describe almost the same phenomenon,” according to Machiavelli scholar Angelo Codevilla:

“The paramount fact essential to understanding deception is that it requires cooperation between the deceiver and the deceived. Just as no one has ever been seduced or subverted against his will, seldom is anyone convinced that something is true that he does not wish were true. Hence the craft of deception and subversion lies mostly in discovering what the target wants to hear and to do. The essence of execution lies in providing just enough excuse for the target to deceive and subvert itself.” [4]

Subversion throughout history

Throughout recorded human history, subversion has played an important role in political, cultural, and military conflict.

The ancient Hebrews faced it in the Old Testament.[5] One of the earliest references to subversion of military strength and morale appears in the Old Testament, in which the Jews are defending Jerusalem from a Babylonian military offensive. As the siege of the city was underway, the prophet Jeremiah said that, due to the Jewish kings’ unworthy rule, it was God’s will that Jerusalem fall to the enemy, and the king of Judah be handed over to the enemy king. Jeremiah thus encouraged his own people to submit themselves to the invaders, the ultimate act of subversion.[6]

Sun Tzu (c. 544-496 BC) prescribed it in ancient China as part of his “acme of skill” to defeat the enemy without fighting.[7] The writers attributed to Kautilya (350-275 BC) described in great detail how to wage subversion to build and expand empires in ancient India.[8] The ancient Romans coined the Latin term subvertere, or “overturning,” to protect and expand their empire. It is from the Latin that our English terminology originates. Niccolo Machiavelli, living in the 15th century, is perhaps the most notorious – and truly subversive – theoreticians of subversion.[9]

In modern history, the Bolsheviks, who began their revolution as a subversive underground movement, and subverted the post-tsarist Russian provisional government thanks to a brilliant subversive move by the German general staff, raised the art to an industrialized form of statecraft. The methods the Soviet regime adapted, pioneered, and refined became a model for other subversive movements, regardless of ideology.

Now, let us look at how the DoD definition of subversion applies to concerns of today and the future.

Four main elements of subversion, as defined by DoD

Using the DoD definition of subversion as “actions” limited to undermine strength or morale, we will look at each of the four itemized elements. We can discuss specific substantiating examples beyond this paper.

Element 1: Undermining military strength or morale. The ambiguous undermining of military strength or morale can be done alone or in concert with un-ambiguous direct action, both non-violent and violent. This element of subversion erodes the will of target nations or societies to initiate or continue military action, take risks, and even to be strong militarily. It undermines force morale and civilian morale at home and abroad, and weakens the command and authority of military and civilian leadership. It undermines the will to deploy when necessary. It not only undermines the will or capability of warriors to fight; at the national strategic level it undermines the will to modernize forces, advise civilian leadership, or even exist at all. Quality subversion can even undermine the proper recruitment, training, and indoctrination of those warriors in the first place – or to waste resources by recruiting the wrong people, and training and indoctrinating them to their detriment.

Element 2: Undermining economic strength or morale. Economic sanctions and blockades are forms of overt economic warfare, and may even be considered casus belli or acts of war. The subversive side of undermining economic strength or morale can come in the form of influencing decisions of foreign government of business figures to damage their own economic interests by inducing them to make self-defeating decisions. Deliberately causing or exacerbating inflation, currency devaluation, runs on banks, capital flight, disinvestment, unemployment, and the secondary strains of increased welfare spending and other social costs, can be acts of economic subversion.

Element 3: Undermining psychological strength or morale. This element of subversion is a component of psychological warfare, but is different because it can be used for purposes apart from war. It has little to do with military information support operations (MISO), which used to be called psychological operations (PSYOP). PSYOP/MISO, as the United States practices it, is almost exclusively tactical-operational in nature and usually directed at combatants and civilians in limited combat areas, instead of at senior decisionmakers or entire societies for prolonged periods. Psychological strength or morale of leaders and societies can relate to the electrochemical reactions within the human brain, and may not be a matter of military capability, economic power, or political will. It involves leveraging elements of the targets’ culture, law, sociopolitical traits, emotions, morals, and values. Manipulating the psychological state of individual leaders or entire nations, in times of hot war or otherwise, is perhaps the most subversive of all.

Element 4: Undermining political strength or morale. Undermining political strength or morale, much like undermining physical or material capabilities, can alter political realities to achieve desired objectives. It can achieve potentially the same (or even superior) results as military action, with much lower human and material costs. Invading a country is not necessary when one can accomplish the same objective by influencing the decisions or its leaders – or changing its leadership – from the inside. History offers hundreds of examples of short-, medium-, and long-term successes here.

CVE model excludes subversion

Because it is generally not violent, subversion sits mostly outside the present countering violent extremism (CVE) model. Consequently, as a nation, we are not prepared to recognize and defend against the subversion of other regimes or movements directed at our capabilities and morale, even when certain subversive movements have exactly the same end state as violent enemies. Some of those movements wage non-violent warfare under a friendly face as a means of infiltrating societies for future revolutionary or violent action.

Even when such networks are visibly extreme, or deployed for extremist purposes, their actions might not be illegal, or we might be tempted to dismiss them as “moderate” because they are not presently using violence against our interests. Thus the CVE model can cause us to consider some extremists as tactical allies against violent forces like al Qaeda or ISIS. And while such tactical alliances may occasionally be necessary to achieve an objective, the CVE lens does not permit us to consider how to prevent those allies of convenience from achieving the shared end state of the violent extremists. This Western gap in mindset is a boon to subversion practitioners, yet is rather simple to resolve by developing indicators.

Countersubversion, counterintelligence, and beyond. Another mindset gap is that Western democracies, to the extent they consider it at all, tend to mirror-image subversion as what we understand as “covert operations.” And covert operations, by definition, are generally relegated to civilian intelligence services. So the United States and most of its major allies tend to consider countersubversion, if they consider it at all, as a role of their counterintelligence services.

That is because we tend to mirror-image. Subversion is not necessarily an intelligence function. Indeed, it can be argued that Russia, China, and Iran wage much of their subversion through entities that are not intelligence services at all. Even if our foreign adversaries’ subversion was primarily executed by their intelligence services, the U.S. and most of its major allies tend to equate “counterintelligence” with “counterespionage,” and thus reduce the counterintelligence function simply to fighting spies who steal secrets.

A useful aspect of the CVE approach is that it reestablishes a precedent by relying on the widest possible array of civilian agencies, and uniformed services both police and military, at every level of the federal governments and through many state governments.


Subversion is an ancient form of human conflict. It is both a military and civilian instrument, executed by state and non-state actors. Subversion is an ambiguous form of warfare from the eyes of the target, both in times of what Western societies traditionally view as “war” and “peace.”

Subversion is most effectively a strategic capability. That capability is to influence individual leaders and governments, as well as entire nations and societies at Phase 0 and onward. It can be employed in a manner to, or as part of, a use-of-force continuum.

Democratic nations and societies generally have little consensus on how to define subversion as a civilian issue, and generally limit their understanding to the military sphere and asymmetrical or hybrid warfare. They tend not to wage subversion and have constructed few defenses against it. Nations, societies, and movements with little or no democratic tradition tend to show a profound understanding of how to wage subversion.

Democratic nations, however, can develop their own defensive countersubversion and offensive subversion capabilities without compromising their principles. To do so, they will have to move beyond the CVE model. That means countering extremists who are not yet violent, and countering “moderates” who share the same end goals as the violent extremists. It also means developing countermeasures to subversion that governments such as Russia, China, and Iran wage against the United States and its allies and interests worldwide.

Without mastering subversion as a strategic instrument of conflict, the United States will not prevail against present and potential adversaries who have done so. The good news is that subversion is not a difficult concept for us to master.

[1] National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, NIC 2012-001, December 2012, pp. 59-60.

[2]DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/dod_dictionary/data/s/7348.html. Emphasis added.

[3] Paul W. Blackstock, The Strategy of Subversion: Manipulating the Politics of Other Nations (Quadrangle, 1964), p. 44. Emphasis added.

[4] Angelo Codevilla, “Political Warfare: A set of means for achieving political ends,” in J. Michael Waller, ed., Strategic Influence: Public Diplomacy, Counterpropaganda, and Political Warfare (Institute of World Politics Press, 2008), p. 217.

[5] Some scholars argue that many Old Testament figures, especially the Deuteronomist prophets, were subversive of ruling civil authority, particularly monarchs who claimed a divine right to rule. See Rex Mason, Propaganda and Subversion in the Old Testament (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1997).

[6] Jeremiah 32:1-5.

[7] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. and ed. Samuel B. Griffith (Oxford University Press, 1971).

[8] Kautilya, The Arthashastra, translated into English (Penguin, 2000).

[9] Of all the excellent translators of Machiavelli, one of the most insightful in terms of understanding the subversive mindset is Angelo Codevilla. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Rethinking the Western Tradition), trans. and ed. Angelo Codevilla (Yale University Press, 1997).

J. Michael Waller was the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC., where he directed the nation’s only graduate program in public diplomacy and political warfare. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy.