Writing Spies–How the Pros Bug a Room

 By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The basic function spooks serve is to spy on people and organizations. Technology makes that task easier. One major segment of that technology revolves around “bugs.”

 

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug. Of course, he finds one. Image from "From Russia with Love."

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug.
Of course, he finds one.
Image from “From Russia with Love.”

 

In spy parlance and crime stories, the term “bug” refers to electronic devices for clandestinely monitoring targeted spaces. We’ve all seen and read about fictional spooks locating bugs in homes, offices, and hotel rooms. The characters usually find them in a few seconds on lampshades, behind pictures, and inside desk phones. It’s cute and convenient, but it’s far from the truth.

After the Soviets successfully bugged the US Ambassador’s residential office in the US Embassy in Moscow from 1945 – 1952 with a gift of a carving of the US Great Seal, the US Central Intelligence Agency invested heavily in developing better bugging and bug-detection technology. They developed “audio teams,” whose specialty it was to bug targeted spaces. The term predates video surveillance. Modern intelligence services around the world now all field such specialty teams.

Bugging technology has improved tremendously since audio teams were first formed, but they still use some of the basic practices and principals developed prior to 1960. While other types of intelligence operatives partake in bugging activities as opportunities allow, when time and opportunity permit, a specialized team can do a better and less detectible installation of bugs.

Canstock 2014 Surveillance Word Collective

How an operative or a specialty team bugs a location depends on several factors.

  • Time—How soon do they need the information?

If critical information is needed quickly there may not be time for an audio team to show up and do a thorough job. In that case, field operatives would do the job, and they have varying degrees of training and expertise in basic bugging techniques.

  • Time—How long will they have to plant the bugs?

If a team or operative has only a few minutes, then they will use the simplest installations of disguised bugs. If a specialty team has as much as twenty minutes to work, they consider it a luxury. With less time, they will be less thorough.

  • Time—How sophisticated is the target?

In twenty minutes, a six-man team can install a high quality eavesdropping system that will be difficult for a sophisticated opponent such as a Russian or Communist Chinese embassy to detect. With a less sophisticated target, such as a drug gang or a third world military or diplomatic installation, a good team can do a great job in as little as five minutes.

  • Time—How long must the power source for the bug last? (Are you seeing a theme?)

Transmitters—bugs—need a power source. They are now smaller than a dime, and in the smallest devices, battery power is limited. However, technology allows for bugs to use external power sources, such as the target’s own electrical system, without a direct tap into the electrical system.

The bug’s transmission need not be powerful. In fact, if a bug transmits too strong a signal, the target can too easily detect it.

  • Location—Where can the operative or audio team monitor the bugs?

If the operative or team can’t safely monitor the installed bug from a nearby location, such as an apartment or business in an adjoining building, then larger (but still compact) relays can be installed nearby to receive and retransmit the bug’s weak signal. They can also install monitoring equipment in a vehicle. A car’s trunk can contain equipment that can trigger a relay to quickly transmit information and recordings picked up by the bug in a matter of seconds when the car drives past the relay.

  • Alternative Installation Methods

Sometimes, the operative doesn’t need to access the space. Many a bug has been placed by sending a nice gift to a target, such as a heavy desk clock, a lovely antique lamp, or the US Great Seal carving referenced above. The trick in these cases is to have a viable source for the gift. A contractor trying to do business with a foreign embassy might serve as such a source if the contractor is in the employ of the folks doing the bugging. Unfortunately, most of the premier targets, such as a Russian Embassy, will not be easily duped into accepting gifts and placing them in secured areas.

 

1945 Great Seal Exibit Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

1945 Great Seal Exibit
Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman
Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

 

In the most ideal case, a targeted building can be bugged during construction. These windfalls are infrequent, but they provide the best opportunity for placing the most sophisticated, long acting bugs.

A more frequent event would be gaining access when repair work is being done. If you can intercept a delivery of new furniture or appliances, then you have a great opportunity to place the highest quality bugs with well-disguised installations without setting foot on the premises.

  • The Field Spook’s Bugging Kit

Once an operative gains access by way of bribery or burglary, his bugging kit need not be any larger than a paperback novel. A basic bugging kit would include bugs that can be programmed to record and/or transmit on preset schedules. The bugs can also be turned on and off remotely to foil bug sweepers. The kit would also contain a small hand drill, a minimal paint kit, and epoxies for patching minute holes in walls. The paint is odor free and fast drying. For the finishing touch, the kit would contain a “puffer” for adding a layer of ambient dust to a painted area. The entire kit may be disguised in something such as a travel-size chess set or built into real cosmetic containers for a female spy.

  • How a Field Spook Plants a Bug in a Wall

The operative first selects an advantageous location—often just above a baseboard. She begins by drilling a small hole, catching the dust on a little piece of plastic. She then selects a bug from her assortment, pops it in the hole, and seals the hole with epoxy. She empties the wall dust from the hole into a baggie and then uses the plastic as a palette to mix dabs of paint to match the color of the wall. With a small brush, she paints over the epoxy and then collects all of her materials to take with her. As a finishing touch, she sucks up ambient dust from against the baseboard with the puffer and puffs it onto the freshly painted wall until it looks like the surrounding area.

In short, your characters’ bugging efforts will be believable if you consider the full nature of the opportunities they have for surveillance and plan their bug installations accordingly. Where are they? How much time do they have? Who is the target? What equipment do they have? Work logically with your space, time, and tools, and your characters will bug like the pros.

Do you have any questions about bugging? What kinds of surveillance equipment do you see or use in books?

Hillary’s Private Server — What Difference Does It Make?

Early this month, security firm Venafi reported that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her private email in conjunction with a private server at her house to conduct formal State Department business. It is State Department security policy that any official correspondence be done on the State Department secured system, or, under certain circumstances, military or CIA equipment.

Not only did Clinton keep her entire email correspondence outside the State Department system, for the first three months she was Secretary of State, access to her personal email server was not encrypted or authenticated by a digital certificate. During that time, she traveled to China, Egypt, Israel, South Korea and other places outside the U.S.

We have invited our own web site host, Jay Donovan of Techsurgeons, LLC, to explain the security implications.

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

Meme by Lars Larson and Jose Lopez.

Meme by Lars Larson and Jose Lopez.

 

Hillary’s Unencrypted Emails – What Difference Does It Make?

By Jay Donovan

As our Vice President Biden once said, “It’s a big ****ing deal.”

To understand why this lack of encryption is significant, we need to go a little bit into the tech. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief.

Digital certificates are used to prove that a site is run by the actual person or group. Certificates vary in strength depending on the submitted proof of identity. Certificates are created and validated by Certificate Authorities.

With a certificate, “keys” can be created for securely encrypting network connections and files. If you suffer from insomnia, Wikipedia has a fine technical explanation of how key cryptography works.

Okay, that’s all the technical background we need. Now, let’s talk a little about how an email server without a certificate is insecure.

Without a certificate and the related keys, a mail server cannot encrypt anything. Not only would any email be transmitted “in the clear,” but passwords would be, as well. Anyone with the ability to view the information transmitted over the network path between the device and the server could eavesdrop on the conversation. This includes anyone on the same Wi-Fi network. When former Secretary of State Clinton was abroad, and she was behind a foreign national firewall or on a foreign government network, you can bet that country’s intelligence officers were monitoring and recording all of her communications.

It’s not just the link between the users and the private email server that’s insecure. It’s also the link between the private mail server and government mail servers. Without a certificate, all communications between mail servers is, again, “in the clear.”

Here’s the dirty little secret about email.

Messages are almost always stored on the servers in plain text. Anyone with administrator access to a server can read any email stored on said server. There are ways to encrypt email on the server so the admin can’t easily read it, but if the email is encoded or decoded on the server, an unethical administrator can see it. This is especially bad if the server administrators do not have security clearance.

Buying a reasonably secure certificate and configuring the mail server to require encrypted connections for devices can be done in half a day. If the server didn’t require encrypted conversations, any device that wasn’t reconfigured to use encryption would still be transmitting email and passwords “in the clear.” For safety sake, all passwords should have been changed during the switch from the communications being unencrypted to being encrypted.

 

Clinton had none of these protections when transmitting State Dept. communications.

Clinton had none of these protections when transmitting
State Dept. communications.

 

And the grand finale – why former Secretary of State Clinton’s email server made classified information ripe for the picking.

Having read the above, you’re probably a few steps ahead and realize that the idea that Secretary of State Clinton did not receive classified information on her phone is implausible. In her press conference, she made a specific reference to classified documents. Technically and legally, there is a difference.

Classified documents are generally physical documents and have specific handling procedures. Classified electronic documents are on a separate network and require clearance – this is why Edward Snowden’s ability to copy what he did is such a big deal. He breached the security on the ‘secure’ network.

There are many classified mailings that go out, including daily status reports regarding the assorted diplomatic hot spots and troubled areas. It’s just inconceivable (and yes, I know what the word means) to think that not a single classified email was sent to the Secretary of State.

And if her email password was not changed regularly, someone who grabbed her password when communications were insecure could simply have set up an email program to log in to the server with Sec State Clinton’s email credentials and copied every message sent or received from her account.

 

This guy and thousands of his friends are on the job 24/7.

This guy and thousands of his friends are on the job 24/7.

 

My feelings regarding SecState Clinton’s private email server are best described by the German word “fremdschämen.” The word means “vicarious embarrassment,” as I’m embarrassed for the people involved with the creation and use of a dangerously misconfigured email server.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Jay Donovan of TechSurgeons, LLC, has done it all, from remotely debugging the Internet connection for a US aircraft carrier deployed to *REDACTED*, to building the servers & networks for one of the largest Internet sites in the world. He’s trained as a Certified Ethical Hacker and always uses his geeky powers for good. When he’s not neck deep in wires and computer parts, you’ll find him hanging out on Twitter as @jaytechdad or on Facebook. He is the co-founder of TechSurgeons, LLC and can be contacted at jay.donovan@techsurgeons.com.

Changing US-Mideast Relations — Turkey’s Hot and Cold Running Erdoğan

By Jay Holmes

During the past twelve years, US-Turkey relations have been in a state of flux. Statements from Ankara and Washington D.C. to the Western media have been almost habitually optimistic, but the reality beneath the rhetoric has proven problematic for both nations. For the West, the rise to power of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party has introduced complications in the previously stable US-Turkey relationship.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Image by Govt. of Chile, wikimedia commons.

 

As compared to earlier Turkish leaders, such as Abdullah Gül, the outspoken Erdoğan has demonstrated less finesse when dealing with Western leaders. In his three terms as Prime Minister and now as the President of Turkey, Erdoğan has represented himself as an agent for change. Precisely what sort of change Erdoğan represents is not so easy to identify.

Erdoğan is a case study in contradictions.

Turkey has been moving toward economic integration with the European Community for over a decade, and Erdoğan openly supports this. He’s counting on European markets to provide the cash that will satisfy the “development” aspect of his Justice and Development Party platform. Yet, in spite of his desperate need to bring Turkey into the European Community, he simultaneously sees himself as leading Turkey into a leadership position among Islamic nations.

These two positions are not realistically or mutually sustainable. The values, standards, and laws that are central to European Community membership are not compatible with the values, standards, and laws of most Islamic nations.

One of Erdoğan’s dilemmas is his relationship with Iran.

Iran, unlike Turkey, is a Shia nation with a radical Shia theocracy. Therefore, it might seem a simple choice for Erdoğan to openly oppose Iran and Iranian ambitions in Syria and Iraq. However, Iran is Turkey’s second largest export customer. Iran also provides Turkey with about 35% of its oil supplies. Instead of being at odds, these two countries have fostered closer relations in recent years.

The rise of a democratic reform movement in Syria followed by the birth of the ISIS cancer presents Turkey with obvious security risks. It also presents Turkey with a golden opportunity to assume a leadership role in the fight against ISIS at a time when Turkey so desperately wants membership in the European Community.

In light of this golden opportunity, one might envision coalition air attacks being conducted from Turkish air bases, which are ideally located near the Syrian border. One might even expect the Turkish Air Force to take part in those raids. However, one would be quite mistaken. While Erdoğan has loudly demanded and received prompt NATO protection in the past, he refused to allow US and European air forces to conduct raids against ISIS from Turkish bases. For apparent diplomatic reasons, the US and its allies have downplayed their frustration with Turkey over this and several other issues concerning ISIS.

Another contradiction in Turkish policies is Erdoğan’s changing relationship with the Kurds. While most Kurds see themselves as being one people in need of an independent homeland, Turkey views them as three distinct groups.

The first group is the Kurds within Turkey. In order to enter the European Union, Turkey has been under pressure from Europe to improve its stance on human rights. Erdoğan and many Turks see the Kurds within Turkey as enemies of Turkish culture and a challenge to Turkish nationalism. In order to gain entry to the European Community, Turkey has changed some of the laws that discriminated against Kurdish Turks, but Turkey’s relationship with other Kurds remains more complex.

The second group of Kurds resides to the east of Turkey in Iraq. From Erdoğan’s point of view, they are “our dear Kurdish friends to the east.” The central feature of those particular Kurds that makes them dear to Erdoğan is the oil reserves in their region. Perhaps I oversimplify. It’s not just the oil. There’s gas, as well.

 

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014 Image by Voice of America, public domain.

Kurdish refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, Nov. 19, 2014
Image by Voice of America, public domain.

 

The third group of Kurds is in Syria. Many of these Kurds previously resided in Turkey, but they escaped to Syria to avoid oppression by the Turkish government. While practicing to pretend to love Kurds in Iraq, Erdoğan is hosting 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees in Turkey. These Kurds have no oil and no gas to sell to Turkey, and so to Erdoğan, they are only a problem.

Removing ISIS from Syria would be a simple solution to the refugee problem. However, when ISIS attacked Kobani, Syria, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey refused to allow the US and other coalition members to supply the Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobani through Turkey. In Erdoğan’s mind, Kurdish control of part of Syria represents a threat to Turkey. Erdoğan fears that the Kurds will one day do to Turkey what Turkey has done to the Kurds.

The US grew tired of negotiating with Erdoğan and resorted to airdropping supplies to the Kurdish fighters. In spite of Erdoğan’s opposition to US assistance to the Kurds, the Kurdish resistance fighters were able to drive ISIS from Kobani.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobani, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

One particularly nasty rumor that surfaced during the battle of Kobani is that members of the Turkish army supplied ISIS with ammunition during the battle. Another serious allegation against Turkey is that it may have been supporting ISIS affiliated rebels in Libya.

Turkey denies those allegations, but they cannot deny that a Turkish-born ISIS commander, Emrah Çaçan , is being treated in a Turkish hospital after being wounded in Kobani. At the same time, Turkey is prosecuting a Kurdish-Turkish medical student named Esra Yakar for providing volunteer medical treatment in Kobani.

Esra left school to volunteer as a physician in Kobani. She was badly wounded there, and with the promise of better treatment, she was taken to a hospital in Turkey. Her Turkish doctor requested that she receive advanced care by eye specialists, but he was ignored. She then lost the use of her right eye. After she was finally transferred to a hospital in Ankara, Esra Yakar was ordered out of her hospital bed by police, arrested, and thrown in jail. Though she was released a few days later, she is still awaiting a trail date on April 30. Apparently, Erdoğan and his government consider anyone that gives medical treatment to Kurdish fighters to be criminals, yet they are happy to give medical care to a well-known terrorist.

To be clear, not everyone in Turkey supports Erdoğan’s pro-ISIS behavior.

The medical community in Turkey is outraged by what was done to Esra Yakar and has lodged complaints and petitions on her behalf. Unfortunately, the opposition in Turkey counts for less each day since Erdoğan’s government has stifled the press and used the police and intelligence services to crush any opposition to his rule.

So why is Erdoğan so willing to defy his Western “allies”? Why would the European Community seriously consider Turkey’s application when Turkey has so clearly rejected all of the European Community’s shared values?

In large measure, the answer is oil and gas.

Turkey is serving as a major conduit for oil from Russia, Central Asia, and Iraq. Turkey must import most of the oil and gas that it consumes, and if the Justice and Development Party is to deliver on its “development” promises, it needs even more oil and gas to do so.

 

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline -- only one of many through Turkey. Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline–only one of many through Turkey.
Image by Amirki, wikimedia commons.

 

Although Turkey has none of its own gas and oil to sell to Europe, it collects lucrative fees on each barrel of oil or cubic yard of gas that flows through its pipelines or transfers through Turkish ports. At a time when Russia’s trans-Ukraine oil and gas pipelines are under threat because of its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Europe will likely remain quiet about whatever Erdoğan does as long as he keeps allowing that oil and gas to keep flowing across Turkey.

And what will the US do?

For the moment, the US administration has decided to keep pretending that Erdoğan is an ally to the US and NATO. Elections in Turkey are scheduled to take place in June. Whether or not the throttled opposition can manage a victory remains to be seen.

The US will not be interested in harming European allies by slowing the transit of oil and gas across Turkey to European markets. My guess is that, if Erdoğan and his party remain in power, the US will begin to disregard Turkish interests while continuing to pretend that Turkey is an ally.

If the Justice and Development Party loses the next elections in Turkey, Turkey will likely end up with a more secular-leaning government, and it will abandon its fantasies of friendship with Iran and ISIS.

Until that happens, we cannot expect any real improvement in US-Turkey relations.

 

 

Turkey’s Tug of War–The Changing Face of US-Middle East Relations, Part Two

By Jay Holmes

The basic relationship between Turkey and the US was founded on post-WWII Cold War realities. Since then, there has been a tug of war between Western-leaning Turkish political factions and pro-Islamist contingents. To understand current US-Turkey relations, we need to also understand the fundamental internal shifts that Turkish politics and society have undergone over time.

 

Canstock 2015 March Tug of War

 

Traditionally, Turkey and Russia have been imperial rivals since the 1700s. Conflicts between Turkish kingdoms and Russian kingdoms date back to ancient times and were originally a product of the location and size of these two empires.

In 1952, Turkey faced a hostile, nuclear-armed USSR, and it quickly made the decision to join NATO.

From the point of view of Europe, Turkey was the crossroads between Eastern and Western civilization. From NATO’s perspective, Turkey was vulnerable to attack by the numerically and technically superior forces of the USSR. Nonetheless, Turkey was a valuable ally for two critical reasons. First, because it allowed NATO to station air forces and nuclear missiles on the USSR’s southern border. Second, because Turkey sits astride the narrow Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits that separate the Black and Mediterranean Seas, respectively. This gave NATO forces a strong double “bottle cork” for containing Soviet naval forces in the Black Sea if war were to break out between the USSR and NATO.

 

Aerial view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Image by NASA, public domain.

Aerial view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Image by NASA, public domain.

 

NATO membership also played a practical role in preventing Turkey and Greece from descending into armed conflict over their various territorial disagreements.

In 1974, Turkey invaded Cypress on the premise that it was protecting Turkish Cypriots from Greek oppression. That conflict stretched US-Turkey relations thin, but in the end, the larger issue of the Soviet military threat forced the Greeks and Turks to localize and limit their conflict.

In November of 1979, the Iranian Shia Islamic coup, followed by the invasion of the US Embassy in Tehran, had the side effect of forcing Sunni Muslim Turkey and the US to improve their relations. Then, when the Kurdish separatist PKK launched attacks in southeastern Turkey in 1984, it was an easy decision for the US to condemn the PKK as a terrorist group.

In 1987, Turkey took a major step toward the West by applying for European Economic Community membership. This was a clear and significant financial alignment with the West, and the minority Islamists in Turkey were solidly against the move.

Also in the late 1980s, concerns grew over Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and against its own citizens. The US and other Western nations became interested in the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq. The fact that NATO member Turkey was simultaneously fighting an internal war with the Kurdish PKK complicated US decisions to establish a relationship with Iraqi Kurds. The Iraqi Kurds had been some of the primary victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons. However, from the Turkish point of view, chemical weapons in Iraq were worrisome, but not quite as worrisome as the PKK.

 

Family graves of Iraqi Kurds killed in chemical attack by Saddam Hussein in 1988. Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., wikimedia commons.

Family graves of Iraqi Kurds killed in Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on Halabja in 1988.
Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., wikimedia commons.

 

When Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia in August of 1990, Turkey again took on greater importance to the US and NATO.

Turkey allowed the US-led coalition to use Turkish airbases to launch air strikes against Saddam Hussein’s military. The US and other coalition members had hoped for Turkey to take a more significant role in the war against Iraq, but internal politics in Turkey were unstable, and the Turkish government declined to become more involved.

By January of 1991, the US and its allies accepted that the UN would not take meaningful action against Iraq. In January and February of that year, the coalition attacked Iraq and liberated Kuwait. Coalition forces dealt a decisive and one-sided blow to the Iraqi military, but did not invade central or northern Iraq.

Against the wishes of the US and NATO, Turkey sent 20,000 heavily armed troops into the Kurdish region of Iraq in 1992, supposedly to strike PKK terror bases.

Many observers speculated that large, untapped oil reserves in Kurdish Iraq were a stronger motivator for the Turkish invasion. Under Western pressure, Turkey withdrew most of its forces within a week. With permission from Saddam Hussein, smaller Turkish incursions into the Kurdish Iraq continued until 2003, when a US-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the Hussein regime.

 

US President Clinton and Turkish PM Tansu Çiller at the White House in 1995. Image by US govt. employee, public domain, wikimedia commons.

US President Clinton and Turkish PM Tansu Çiller at the White House in 1995.
Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

 

In 1993, Tansu Çiller became the first female Prime Minister of Turkey.

She formed a fragile coalition government with centrist and right wing parties against the opposition of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. Two years later, Turkey again invaded Kurdish Iraq with 35,000 troops. Again, under heavy pressure from the West, the troops were withdrawn. Tansu Çiller’s coalition government collapsed.

In the political vacuum, a united front of pro-Islamist groups under the Welfare Party banner won elections, but they lacked a majority to form a government. Instead, moderate and right-wing political groups formed an anti-Islamist coalition government. Amidst the political turmoil, Turkey took a strong pro-Western step by entering the European Customs Union.

In 1996, Turkey reversed directions.

The center-right coalition collapsed, and the pro-Islamist Welfare Party formed the first Islamic government in Turkey since 1923. The Welfare Party’s rise to power signaled a shift away from the West and the US. Under pressure from the Turkish military, this Islamist coalition government resigned in 1997, and a center-right coalition took power once more.

The following year, the Turkish government banned the Welfare Party on the grounds that it was plotting an anti-constitutional/anti-secular takeover. The pro-Islamic members of the Welfare Party stepped back and reorganized as the Virtue Party.

 

Virtue Party (pink) held 111 of the 550 seats in Turkish Parliament after 1999 elections. Image by T.C. Ataturkiye, wikimedia commons.

Virtue Party (pink) held 111 of the 550 seats in Turkish Parliament after 1999 elections.
Image by T.C. Ataturkiye, wikimedia commons.

 

In 1999, a devastating earthquake killed 17,000 people in northwest Turkey. In response, the UK pledged £50,000 pounds sterling, and the US pledged US$1 Billion dollars for disaster relief.

In June 2001, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the opposition pro-Islamic Virtue Party due to its anti-secular/anti-constitutional activities. Apparently the Virtue Party’s principal “virtue” was the destruction of freedom and progress in Turkey.

The following month, the members of the banned Virtue Party formed the pro-Islamist Saadet party.

Saadet morphed into the Justice and Development Party when it realized it could bring in a larger following by pretending to emphasize justice and development. This pro-Islamist party won elections in 2002.

 

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
Image by US govt. employee, public domain.

 

Current Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a principal founder of the Justice and Development Party. The continued rise to power of Erdoğan and his pro-Islamist party quickly caused serious complications to US-Turkey relations. Next week, we will look at those complications and the current state of US-Turkey relations.

The Changing Face of US — Mid-East Relations, Part One

By Jay Holmes

The cancerous growth of ISIS across Syria and Iraq since 2014 both exacerbates and illuminates a series of changes in US-Middle East relations. The most crucial and obvious of these changes is to the relationships between the US and Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighters in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

The simplest case to review from the whirlwind of US foreign policy transformations is the relationship between the US and Iraq.

When ISIS rolled into Iraq, the US-financed and Iraqi-led Iraqi Army collapsed anywhere ISIS appeared or threatened to appear. Only the lightly armed, poorly supplied Kurds halted the tide of ISIS terror. The much better armed, well-financed Iraqi Army proved to be an embarrassment to themselves and to the US administration that had overseen their creation.

The US had, until then, pursued a policy of pretending that their extravagantly well-financed “friend,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, was capable of leading a democratic government in Iraq. He never was. Many observers had long felt that Maliki was not capable of leading anything other than a self-promotion campaign. Perhaps it was that particular resemblance to Western politicians that caused some in the US government to mistake Maliki as a functioning politician as opposed to a common circus clown.

 

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki Image by US government, public domain.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
Image by US government, public domain.

 

The collapse of the Iraqi Army leadership in response to the ISIS invasion forced the US to stop pretending that Maliki was anything like a “leader.” At the urging of the US, Iraq formed a new government with the less laughable and more pragmatic Haider al-Abadi taking the lead as Prime Minister.

Students of world history will undoubtedly wonder what “US urging” looked like in this case. Was it something dark, complex, and difficult? Did it involve secret assassinations or long propaganda campaigns? No, and no. The US simply explained that without changes, next month’s check would not be arriving.

Rather than expose himself to the justifiable wrath that would soon be unleashed on him by the people of Iraq, Maliki took the pro-Maliki option and stepped down. Under new leadership, the Iraqi military is beginning to resemble a real military, and it appears that, with the assistance of the Kurds and US air support, it will begin to push ISIS out of Iraq. Whether or not this or any future US administration will have learned any long term lessons from the fantastically expensive Maliki debacle remains to be seen.

 

President Barack Obama Re: Nuclear talks with Iran ". . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal." Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German PM Angela Merkel. Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

President Barack Obama
Re: Nuclear talks with Iran
“. . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal.”
Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

 

A less straightforward and more mystifying case can be seen in changing relations between the US and Iran.

As near as rational observers can determine, based on the information thus far available, the change has been minimal. Previously, US-Iran relations were a case of the US completely distrusting Iran and worrying about its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, but not doing much about it. In return, Iran responded by pretending to not want nuclear weapons while continuing to pretend to love or hate the rest of the world depending on the time of day.

In particular, Iran vacillates between claiming that it is no threat to Israel and claiming that it will annihilate Israel, Zionists, and those that sympathize with Zionists. Iran has not budged an inch from its decades of anti-Western/anti-Israel policies, yet the US is now oddly pretending to trust Iran. Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards are now operating openly in Iraq with US acquiescence, and the White House now seems convinced that Iran isn’t really developing nuclear weapons after all. This one-sided rapprochement with Iran seems to be an unwise change in US foreign policy.

That leads us to another simple case: US-Israel relations.

The US government’s increasing friendliness toward Iran and the Israeli perception that the US has gone soft on terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah has complicated relations between the two allies. To understand the US alliance with Israel, one must pragmatically ignore personal sympathies and admit that the relationship has been rather one-sided for over half a century.

 

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin at Camp David Accords Image from US National Archives, public domain.

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin
at Camp David Accords
Image from US National Archives, public domain.

 

Confident of continued US financial and military support, Israel has never made much effort to consider US interests in the region when making foreign policy decisions. Israel has only been able to do this because successive US administrations consistently allowed it. The one major instance of Israel acceding to US pressure was the Camp David Accords. The result of the Accords has been of mixed value from Israel’s point of view. Israel now enjoys better relations with Egypt and Jordan, but Syria, the Palestinians, and Iranian-controlled Hezbollah remain at war with it.

From the US point of view, it often seems like we should expect more cooperation from Israel. From the Israeli point of view, it often seems like trusting in US idealism will lead to the death of Israel. In practical terms, the current tension in US-Israel relations changes almost nothing. It likely will require a change of US administration before US-Israel relations improve, and there is no guarantee that the next administration will seek closer relations with Israel. In the meantime, the US will continue to send the checks.

One if the more complex foreign policy cases in the Middle East is that of US-Egypt relations.

 

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011. Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011.
Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

 

 

The US relationship with Egypt since the Camp David Accords in 1978 has been fairly stable. The Mubarak dynasty did what it wanted, left Israel alone, and received lots of cash from the US. After the Mubarak dynasty collapsed in 2011, the Egyptian military took control of the country until elections were held in 2011. Some Middle Eastern potentates wondered why the US had so quickly abandoned “their guy” in Egypt. In any event, the US had little influence in the Egyptian version of the “Arab Spring” that lead to the “Mubarak Winter.”

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt, and Mohammed Morsi became the president. Morsi then quickly forgot his centrist moderate views and proceeded to try to consolidate power in his office while moving Egypt toward an Islamic theocracy. Many believed the elections were rigged, and As Morsi became more theocratic, many of his own supporters felt betrayed.

In 2013, Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military. Although he and his radical supporters had clearly lost the support of much of the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of Egypt, the US reacted negatively to what they considered a coup. As required by US law, coups prevent any US aid from continuing. The rule is often ignored. In the case of Egypt, the administration wavered, and most of the military and other financial aid to Egypt continued. Nonetheless, the US response to the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi aggravated the Egyptian military and many civilians. From their point of view, they had saved Egypt from becoming the “next Iran.” Morsi had been positioning himself as increasingly anti-West, anti-US, and anti-Saudi, so most Egyptians expected the US to be glad for Morsi’s removal.

 

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

 

In 2014, military leader Abdul al-Sisi won the presidential election. In theory, US-Egypt relations became simpler again with democracy appearing to be functioning in Egypt. The US was happy to have the sticking points gone from US foreign aid, but al-Sisi now has little confidence in his friendship with the US.

One obvious and interesting symptom of the cooling of US-Egypt relations is that Egypt has signed an agreement with France for the purchaser of French-made fighters. Anyone in the US government that happens to be awake this week might ask why, at a time when US unemployment is so high, US tax dollars are going to purchase French-made fighters for the Egyptian Air Force.

At the same time, Egypt has now joined in in the fight against ISIS, though they have been clear that they are operating on their own and not as a part of a US coalition. As in the case of Israel, it will likely require a new US administration for US-Egypt relations to improve. Whether or not the next US administration will develop better relations with Egypt or wish to continue foreign aid to Egypt remains to be seen.

Next week in Part Two, we will look at the changing relationship of the US and Turkey.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion–The Cost

By Jay Holmes

Precisely who is fighting in Ukraine depends upon whom you ask. When Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin speaks to non-Russians, he claims the Russian-speaking Ukrainian rebels are valiantly fighting to save Russian-speaking orphans, Jews, and senior citizens from the vicious onslaught of the Ukrainian government. When Putin speaks at home, he says the Jews are plotting with Americans to overthrow Ukraine. The Ukrainian government, along with most of the rest of the planet, takes a different view. According to Kiev, the violence in eastern Ukraine is instigated by, funded by, and in part fought by Russian security forces.

 

 

Base image for Putin meme  from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

Base image for Putin meme
from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

 

From Putin’s office in Moscow, the Russian invasion must seem like a great idea. His entire campaign platform—for the next campaign, last campaign, or any campaign—is his vision of returning Russia to the former glory that, in his view, it enjoyed during the Soviet era. Many Russians don’t have the same memory of enjoying that glory, or much of anything else during that time. Unfortunately, their memories and opinions no longer count for much since Putin has consolidated his power as a New Age Stalin.

A year ago, NATO-aligned nations warned Putin that the costs to Russia for invading Ukraine would far outweigh any nationalist glory that he might obtain.

In response, Putin confidently explained to Western journalists that Europe would suffer more than Russia would from any Western-imposed economic sanctions. At that time and to this day, Putin is denying that any such invasion has taken place, or that the economic sanctions are hurting Russia. They are.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s currency and its stock market have plummeted, and energy prices have dropped like a rock. Between that and the damaging economic sanctions that Putin had so confidently laughed off, the economic outlook for Russia is much less favorable today than it was a year ago.

Given Putin’s plans for increased military spending, the Russian taxpayers can expect decreased standards of living, accompanied by decreased civil rights.

The Russian people are already experiencing a decline in the standard of living in economic terms. Along with this, Putin is intolerant of dissent, the state controls the media, and political opponents are being jailed. Apparently, Putin’s visions of former Soviet glory come down to more centralized authority, fewer human rights, and the same economic hopelessness that made life so miserable in the old regime. Welcome to the “good old days.”

 

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate
Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

 

For the most part, we in the West have measured the consequences of Putin’s folly in Ukraine in terms of damage to his economy, but there are deeper and less obvious consequences that will affect Russia for decades to come.

For starters, Putin grossly overstated his support at home for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The lack of real democracy in Russia means that Putin can pretend to ignore the unpopularity of his Ukrainian adventure, but even for a skillful, self- promoting dictator, there are limits to his power. I don’t know what those limits are. Unfortunately for Putin, he doesn’t know either. He would not like to discover them, as his increasing ruthlessness could mean that if he is toppled, he could end up with a retirement plan similar to that of his old pal Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Another price Russia is paying is that a substantial percentage of its young professionals are immigrating to the West in the wake of Russians allowing Putin to install himself as a modern czar.

That brain drain is hurting Russia. In fact, if so many Russian engineers and scientists had not left their country during the last fifteen years, Russia might not have needed to pay France to build new amphibious assault carriers for them. And now, with the sanctions, Russia doesn’t get the carriers from France. Putin wants desperately to modernize and enlarge his military, but that modernization depends on Russian engineering and scientific capacity, which has has been badly damaged by the intellectual exodus resulting from his repressive policies at home.

Russia is also paying in the form of deteriorating relations with Scandinavian countries.

Last week, Sweden suggested to its partners in the Nordic Defense Cooperation that they do two things. First, that they raise the status of cooperation from the current minimal form by establishing an actual Nordic standing task force to deal with growing aggression from Russia. Second, that deeper military coordination and cooperation be extended beyond Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark to include Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

 

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries
Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

 

The bad news for Russia is that it didn’t take more than a few hours for the Nordic members to enthusiastically agree to Sweden’s suggestions. But that’s not all. Sweden has suggested that the combined force that they create should be available to integrate in NATO operations. So in effect, Putin has achieved what Western diplomats could not achieve with half a century of their best efforts–he has managed to get Sweden to join a Western alliance against Russia.

These developments are all consequences of Putin’s adventurism in the Ukraine, and they are all precisely the sorts of developments that Putin was hoping to avoid.

In an alternative scenario, Putin would be capable of seeing beyond 1986.

It is a view that would leave Russia without enemies in Europe. It would be a country where the aspirations of so many of its brightest young people would not include relocation to London or Paris. In that alternative paradigm, Russia could pick up a phone and ask Sweden if it could send a submarine to Swedish waters, and Sweden would say “yes,” because Russia would be a modern nation with a modern foreign policy and friendly relations with its neighbors.

That Russia would experience a better standard of living, greater scientific and cultural achievements, and far better national security. The NATO nations would be happier for it and would enjoy all the advantages of real cooperation between Russia and the West. But that’s the alternative paradigm and a view that Vladimir Putin will not entertain, because such a view would place the interests of the Russian people above his own desire for absolute political power.

The scope of Russia’s lost opportunities is spectacular to behold, but until new leadership arrives, Putin’s dingy Stalinist Cold War reality is all that we can expect for that country and its unfortunate neighbors. Proof that you can take the boy out of the Cold War, but you can’t always take the Cold War out of the boy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Related Posts

France–At the Crossroads of Russia and NATO

How Putin is Having His Way with the West

Dances with Bears–The Putin/West Waltz

Ukraine in Crisis:  Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

Timeline of Ukrainian Turmoil–Part Two, 2001 – Present

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Invasions

 

 

Personal History Improvement Service — Don’t Settle for a Mundane Past!

By Jay Holmes

The hot media story has been the NBC anchor Brian Williams debacle. In an apparent attempt to burnish his personal image, Brian claimed to have been in a helicopter that was hit by an Iraqi RPG, when in fact he had been in a different helicopter.

 

Brian Williams Misremembers Iraq meme.

Brian Williams Misremembers Iraq meme.

 

My personal reaction was wonderment that anyone would be surprised that a TV reporter lied. Given the fantastic liberties that news outlets take with basic facts on important news stories, Williams’s helicopter fantasies don’t quite stir my passions. Not even when he compounded his dilemma with an apology that amounted to another obvious lie, claiming that his memories were confused. If lying disqualified news reporters, would the networks have any reporters left? What network really wants to hire people that will ignore their corporate agenda and simply tell the truth?

Of course, after shrugging my shoulders, I quickly realized that the Brian Williams problem was yet another wonderful opportunity for the Bayard & Holmes Business Conglomerate. Brian Williams’s real mistake was not that he fabricated what was, by his standards, a heroic tale, but that he did such a sloppy job of it. Clearly, he could have used professional help, and that’s where we come in.

We are proud to announce yet another fantastic product from our highly successful Bayard & Holmes Personal Services Division – the Bayard & Holmes Personal History Improvement Service.

Why should veterans hog all the attention when war stories are being swapped at the neighborhood barbeque? Why should selfish CIA field operatives be the only ones to access professionally constructed legends? Tired of hearing other peoples’ stories about wartime memories while you’ve never been closer to real combat than Black Friday at Walmart?

Don’t be a forgotten victim of your own mundane past.

As an American, or as an illegal alien with a valid credit card or cash, you have a right to not be marginalized when others become the center of attention. Have your credit card handy and contact our Personal History Specialists to receive your very own PTSD-inducing combat history that will have your friends marveling!

 

Brian Williams Misremembers Viet Nam meme.

Brian Williams Misremembers Viet Nam meme.

 

Our best selling Back In Nam product is growing in popularity, even as you read this news release. This gem provides you with heroic tales of jungle combat as a member of the Special Forces group of your choosing.

You say you want to tell everyone about your great times with Delta Force in Nam? Why not? So what if Delta forces didn’t form until well after the Viet Nam War ended? When uncooperative listeners point out this historical inconsistency, you’ll be prepared to fire back details about how your Special Forces were so special that only you and a few other super heroes were aware of their existence.

What about when people wonder how you survived receiving nine Purple Heart commendations before your eighteenth birthday? No problem. We’ve contracted with brilliant medical consultants to provide you with the convincing battle scars that you’ll need to back up those fantastic combat stories. After a brief vacation at the Cholo Loco Discount Upholstery Shop in the popular resort town of Tijuana, Mexico, you’ll look like you’ve crashed and burned in half a dozen thrilling helicopter missions.

For added evidence of your exciting past, our CGI team will provide you with convincing combat footage of you personally strangling Ho Chi Min with the gauze from your first aid kit while simultaneously roundhouse kicking General Nguyen Giap in the head.

What’s that you say? Your grandfather served in Nam, and you need something more recent? No problem. This month only, we are selling When I Was In Iraq packages with no payments due until April! These packages include pictures of real vets wrapped up in so much modern combat gear that you can’t tell who the hell they are anyway.

 

US Army Spc. Joshua Rachal in Baghdad Image by US Army, public domain.

US Army Spc. Joshua Rachal in Baghdad
Image by US Army, public domain.

 

Since the Iraqi Army has no desire to use the billions of dollars in combat gear that we give them every year, they’ve agreed to a generous pricing structure for cool-looking, authentic personal gear from the Iraq War. These like-new items have suffered no wear and tear other than being stored in vast warehouses in Iraq and Kuwait. Our equipment specialists will add a respectable amount of scratches, tears, and scuff marks before shipping you your boots, uniform, pack and other gear to make it look as though this equipment was actually worn by a soldier in Iraq!

You find Iraq war stories too cliché and need something more original? No problem. For a small fee, our exclusive Frequent Lier card holders can obtain the Bayard & Holmes When I Stabbed Gadhafi to Death Package.

This package comes complete with authentic Bedouin clothing, sand-encrusted sandals, and a bloodstained Marine Corps Issue OKC-3s bayonet. After practicing with the Bayard & Holmes Libyan Militia Histrionics Language Kit, you will be able to re-enact that exciting day for your friends and neighbors. Our CGI team will even insert you into the famous “Gadhafi’s Last Moments” video, and no one will be the wiser that you were actually at home drinking beer that day.

What if heroic military service isn’t your fantasy? No problem. We even have a package that allows you to beat Brian Williams at his own game.

The US government sometimes loses a helicopter at a time and location where a US helicopter supposedly should not be present. We’re offering Uncle Sam help with these often embarrassing Whoops-We-Lost-Another-%&$@-Helicopter moments. We’ll fly you to the scene of the wreckage and film you in blood-stained clothes as you explain to the audience how you are the lone survivor from your foreign aid team, and how the rebels du jour shot you down while you were rescuing local orphans from the latest and most fashionable third world epidemic.

At no extra cost, we’ll include a screaming toddler to add to the dramatic impact. With a little effort on your part, you might even convince NBC to hire you as Brian Williams’s replacement.

 

Brian Williams Osama Bin Laden meme

It’s an exciting world, and you, too, can be a part of it without leaving the safety of your home. Stop wasting your money investing in your future. Improve your life now by investing in your past!

Remember. Your future is yours to create, but your past is best purchased from us.

Bayard & Holmes . . . Bringing the world a better past.