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.

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Syria–Mumbling, Frowning, and Arms Shipments

By Jay Holmes

When we last published an analysis of the war in Syria in April 2013, this was where things stood:

  • Various factions of Islamic fundamentalist-branded gangs had hijacked the conflict.
  • Russia had announced its continuing support for Assad.
  • Turkey’s own Islamic-brand despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan (a.k.a. Yippy) was criticizing the American interventionist approach to the Mideast circus while loudly demanding that the US immediately intervene in Syria to save Turkey from the chaos. Erdogan mumbled this nonsense while simultaneously explaining that Turkey’s archenemies, the “dastardly and disgusting Kurds,” were really always their good friends–good friends with oil to sell.
  • Iran was directing its always-adventurous Hezbolalalalala branch employees to strike against Syrian rebels while continuing the ongoing campaign of murder and mayhem in Lebanon.
  • The Iraqi government, though unable to govern in Iraq, was growing more helpful in assisting the Iranian-backed Shia factions in Syria.
  • Not to be outdone by the Iranian Mullahs, the Gulf petrol-sheiks were sending cash and arms to Syria to counter Iranian goals. The petrol-sheiks were not altogether certain to whom they should hand over the cash and weapons, but they didn’t let that delay their shipments.
photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

If this all sounds too complicated to fit into an Italian comic opera, remember that while it seems too absurd to be real from a distance, the view from the streets in Syria and the refugee camps is far less comical. The 1.25 million-person-sized elephant in the in the Mideast room—the refugees from Syria—are not enjoying their long vacations. If the Syrians that left Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are less than thrilled with their lives, their countrymen at home have still less reason to celebrate. In Syria, rival factions frequently execute children for the crime of having been born in Syria.

With their eagerness to occasionally appear relevant, spokesmen for the international cash cow that we sentimentally refer to as the United Nations have since decided that they are certain at least 100,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria. They remain just as certain that they are uncertain what they should do about it, but if things continue at the current murderous pace, the UN might eventually escalate to having a spokesman demonstrate a “dark frown” to assembled journalists.

I am less optimistic than the UN. I will offer my own estimate of 130,000 deaths, but my own personal dark frown will do no more to prevent the next child execution in Syria than the dark frown that the UN will eventually demonstrate. Don’t rush them. The fine art of “grave concern and dark frowns” as practiced at the UN is a slow and well-financed process. It all takes time. They’re still busy bringing peace and happiness to Korea.

Since the spring of 2011, the Obama administration and its partisan pals in Congress have stuck to strong rhetoric and menacing finger waving as a foreign policy response to the Syrian chaos. The White House loudly proclaimed that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian despot Assad’s forces would constitute the crossing of a “clear red line” and the US would not tolerate it. Naturally, opponents of Assad were listening and soon started claiming that Assad had used chemical weapons.

The rebels’ vague hope that Obama would follow up his grandiose statements with grandiose action was not fulfilled. The White House instead responded by explaining that we were not certain that chemical weapons had been used. That doubt was honest enough a year ago, but the current balance of evidence indicates that doubt is not well-founded now. Not everyone is convinced, but on June 14, the US government announced that it had confirmed that Assad’s forces had, indeed, used chemical weapons.

It now turns out that when President Obama said “clear red line,” he really meant something more like “crooked dull pink smudge.” This month, the Democrat-controlled US Senate helped out the President by declaring that the US should support the Syrian rebels by shipping arms to them. The White House agreed and announced that it decided to help arm the Syrian rebels. The Senate quickly followed up its strategy statement with guarantees that it had received (apparently invisible and very magical) assurances that any US arms shipments to Syria would not fall into the hands of any people that were likely to shoot at Americans or American allies.

The Senate and its pals in the White House have not disclosed the nature of these magical assurances of a clean and predictable indirect intervention. Perhaps these weapons will include some of the safety devices that anti-second amendment lobbyists often demand. Perhaps the weapons will have magic chips that will prevent them from functioning when people that like shooting Westerners or Israelis are holding them. Perhaps a sensor would determine the degree of Islamic jihadi fervor before allowing the weapon to fire or detonate. No one is sharing that information.

The White House has not said what weapons the US will deliver. Like the Senate, the White House also has not mentioned precisely how it will ensure that such weapons will remain in the hands of the Syrian rebels and out of the hands of al-Qaeda and the other various sectarian migrant jihadi workers that are currently harvesting this summer’s crop of Syrian mayhem. The White House’s announcement to arm the rebels seems to be the result of a need to “do something” while not having any actual policy goals to follow.

The vast majority of the American public responded with a yawn. This lack of interest is easy to understand. With the looming war in Egypt between jihadi factions and the rest of Egypt, the continuing river of cash and US blood flowing into Afghanistan, and the continued drift toward third world poverty status for so many unemployed and low wage earning Americans, it’s tough for the US public to get too excited about Syria. Idealism is a hobby most easily practiced when life is comfortable, and for many Americans right now, life is not comfortable.

Europe is currently busy doing next to nothing about its own dazzling array of economic disasters and immigrant issues. The crowds of deeper-thinking-than-thou devout and loyal Obama admirers in Europe have painted over their “Obama is our Savior” signs with “Hang the war criminal Obama” messages.

Their respective governments, particularly France and the UK, have followed a “whisper” diplomatic policy concerning Syria. They mumble vague statements about chemical weapons and rush to demonstrate frowns for the media before the UN can upstage them. When the cameras are turned, they look to the West and whisper, “Obama, hurry up and get involved in Syria so that we don’t have to.” Their speech writers have already written their denouncements of whatever action the US might decide to take. Just fill in the blanks when the time comes. The US will be blamed for “creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

Europe Frowning on Flag

While it’s easy for me to criticize the US administration for its lack of a meaningful foreign policy, it’s a bit tougher to come up with an approach they might sell to a disgusted American public. One highly-respected foreign policy expert recently published a suggestion that the US concentrate on improving education in the Middle East as a long-term strategy for reducing violence and despair in the region. While in theory it sounds like a great idea, many Americans would hasten to point out that before we reduce the slaughter of children in the Middle East, we might want to do something about the slaughter of children in regions such as Chicago. Before we attempt to educate Middle Eastern children, we might wish to achieve a minimal standard of literacy in places like Detroit, east L.A., and the halls of our Congress. While it’s concerning that Obama and Congress continue to rely on a strategy of “slow drift” foreign policy, it would be even more disturbing for them to pursue a “leap now look later” policy toward Syria. The combination of over a decade of wildly expensive and ineffective US intervention in the Middle East and the declining standard of living for working class Americans has left US politicians with a tough audience concerning foreign policy.

The US and Europe are making small and “low noise” efforts to find and assist legitimate Syrian rebels, but for the moment, those efforts have proven inadequate. For the moment, Assad will not be trying to sneak away from Syria. He and his supporters have staked their lives and fortunes on defeating the rebels at all costs.

In my opinion, strategies for supporting the Syrian rebels without violating our own national interests are possible, but they are not clean and easy. Those strategies would require the White House and Congress to make clear choices and act decisively. It would require them to place foreign policy concerns above 2014 election concerns. The degree to which US politicians will do that will determine whether or not the US will be able to impact events in Syria. For now, expect more mumbling and frowning.

Adios, Morsi! Update on Egypt

By Jay Holmes

On July 3, 2013, as Americans were preparing to celebrate the 4th of July Independence Day, the Egyptian military acted on its threat to remove Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office. While it seems clear that a majority of Egyptians are happy to have Morsi gone, it’s less clear what the future holds for the Egyptian government.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi image by Trinitresque wikimedia commons

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
image by Trinitresque
wikimedia commons

After the fall of the ineffective Mubarak dictatorship in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood supported Morsi as their candidate under their newer and more marketable “Freedom and Justice Party” label. They were victorious in Egypt’s first attempt at democratic elections in 2012. Though Morsi may not have had an actual majority, the various nascent opposing political parties were far less organized than the 83-year-old Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and they were simply unable to organize in time to succeed.

When Morsi came to office, he understood the frailty of his power and acted accordingly. The Muslim Brotherhood owned Morsi completely, but held little influence over the police and military. Nevertheless, Morsi temporarily held the police and military at bay by convincing them that they would keep their positions of privilege in Egypt, and that he was operating with democratic intent.

With the police and military acquiescing, Morsi forced through legislation that gave him and the Muslim Brotherhood broad power and seemed to guarantee them dictatorial control over Egyptian political might for the foreseeable future.  It was clear for the world to see that Morsi and his “Justice and Freedom Party” were acting unjustly in pursuit of an anti-freedom political agenda.

Morsi always understood that he could easily be replaced with a new puppet by the Muslim Brotherhood at its convenience. He also understood that the growing opposition to his newer, shinier post-Mubarak dictatorship had to be repressed by the police and military in order for him and the Muslim Brotherhood to remain in power. To achieve this, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood needed to gain effective control of the Egyptian police system, courts, and military.

As scored by events of July 3, Morsi lost the crucial battle to take control of the Egyptian military and courts. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Parliament managed to install new laws that satisfied the impatient radical elements of the Brotherhood, but in doing so, he lost any semblance of majority backing.

Once the frail, but fast-growing pro-democracy movement mustered more protestors and demonstrated their support from the majority of Egyptians, the Egyptian military decided that they had had enough of Morsi. They tossed him off of his throne and suspended the Egyptian constitution.

The US White House miscalculated and expressed concern that the military coup in Egypt that removed Morsi was an attempt by the Egyptian military to seize political power for themselves. The US’s failure to support the removal of Morsi has left President Obama wildly unpopular with the Egyptian public.

For the moment, Constitutional Judge Adly Mansour is acting as Interim President, and Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has been appointed Interim Prime Minister. Mansour is known to oppose Sharia Law and support democracy. Though known for his work as the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei  is a New York University School of Law graduate and a respected legal scholar. As an educated scholar with a reputation for openness and pragmatism, ElBaradei is not popular with the Muslim Brotherhood. Given his reputation for integrity and honesty, he will likely be, at least momentarily, popular with the majority of Egyptians and Western observers.

Interim Prime Minister Mohamed ElBaradei image from US Dept. of State

Interim Prime Minister Mohamed ElBaradei
image from US Dept. of State

At the moment, the average Egyptian voter might not be overly concerned with what Westerners think about their government, but they should be. While the US White House seems to lack a coherent policy toward Egypt, the West on the whole matters to that country.

At least some of Morsi’s inability to remain in office stems from his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to understand the Egyptian economy. Morsi’s unpopularity is primarily rooted in the fact that the majority of Egyptians do not wish to live under a Sharia dictatorship. The Egyptian public’s willingness to stand up against Morsi and his government was accelerated by the economic crisis in Egypt. With each passing day of high unemployment, low foreign investment, and declining economic indicators, the willingness to openly oppose Morsi increased.

ElBaradei and Mansour must quickly build a coalition government that the Egyptian people find acceptable. If they succeed, they will be celebrated in Egypt and the West, but that celebration will be short-lived. In order to jump-start the Egyptian economy, they will need to convince the international community to invest in Egypt. If they fail to do so, then they will face renewed discontent.

From the US point of view, the current situation in Egypt constitutes an improvement. Hopefully the White House will get over its blatant miscalculations and move on to pragmatism. Though the popular anti-Obama protests in Egypt might obscure the fact, the best interests of the Egyptian people and the people of the US are not at cross purposes. Avoiding an Iranian-style dictatorship in Egypt is good news for Egyptians and for the world at large.

While our own lack of employment opportunities and stagnant economy in the US limit what the White House can do to help Egypt, President Obama could do a lot by simply staying out of the way and allowing the private sector to invest as they see fit in that country.

Some of the White House’s seemingly odd response to events in Egypt may be influenced by the US’s complicated relationship with the Turkish government. While Obama is being cursed in Egypt for his support of Egyptian President and Aspiring Dictator Morsi, the Turkish Prime Minister and Fledgling Dictator Recep Erdogan is all but publicly cursing Obama and the US for—in his view—failing to support Morsi.

With the international media focused on the fast-changing events in Egypt, it’s easy to forget that Dictator-in-Training Erdogan has lost his popularity in Turkey. Erdogan has the advantage of having had a full decade to conduct purges and bogus trials to gain a degree of control of the Turkish military, police, and courts that Morsi could only dream of. But Erdogan is showing signs of panic. Last week he was lame enough to play the “jew conspiracy” card to explain the growing protests in Turkey. Erdogan has also been angry at “blacks” lately. How that fits into his persecution conspiracy passion play is yet to be explained. Perhaps a black rap singer did something to destroy Turkey this week. I’ll have to check. But with so many of Turkey’s journalists in prison and a large military on Erdogan’s side, who needs to explain anything? The less obvious foreign policy factor in our relationship with Erdogan is the promise that Kurdish oil will flow through Turkey to the West. Though he had the availability of the Suez Canal to offer the West, Morsi had little oil to offer.

While Erdogan is wildly demanding and openly insulting to the US government, and although he is transparently a creepy despot with little regard for the Turkish people, he is becoming a creepy despot with oil, and that changes everything. But we’ll leave that particular turkey to roast another day.

In Syria, the view of Egypt varies yet again. Dictator Assad is enthusiastically pointing to Morsi’s ouster as “the end of Islamist political forces.” Given that Islamic terrorists have co-opted the Syrian revolution, Assad can enjoy that view of events. Unfortunately for him, nobody has explained this “new reality” to the various Islamic terrorist groups that are hunting for his head.

My best guess is that if the Egyptian military and police can keep foreign terrorists at bay with moderate economic investment by the West, Egypt can indeed grow a workable democracy.

PRISM Surveillance on Americans–What Price Convenience?

By Piper Bayard

Sure, I could be writing about my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, which was released last week by Stonehouse Ink. In fact, I planned to do that very thing. And while I certainly hope you’ll decide to check it out, there is something even more important happening that we need to discuss.

Last week, former National Security Agency (“NSA”) intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward and released training slides used to train operatives at the NSA in a surveillance program called PRISM. PRISM allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple and search for any information on anyone at all. It was begun under a previous administration for the purpose of collecting information on foreign terrorists. It was greatly expanded by President Obama to include data collection on all Americans. These are two of the slides.

PRISM - Providers & Dates when collection began

PRISM Collection details

Some of these companies cooperated without protest. Others required warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). However, FISA does not grant authority to collect data on Americans or others within US borders, something which PRISM does. All of these companies are denying knowledge and participation at this point.

Not only does the NSA directly access these companies’ servers, which serve primarily Americans, they are sharing PRISM’s power of unbridled access into our internet usage with the UK government. That’s right. The GCHQ – that’s the UK’s NSA equivalent – has the same access to all of our information that our own Obama administration is enjoying.

As for President Obama, he and his administration are, of course, downplaying the whole PRISM-gate and denying that PRISM was ever used to collect data on Americans or on people living in the US. At the same time, he says this is a “modest encroachment” on privacy that is a worthy trade off for preventing terrorism. (Attorneys will recognize this as “arguing in the alternative.”) Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disagree with the inconsequential nature of these violations and are considering the legal options on behalf of the American people and others living within US borders.

As a recovering attorney, I could give you my take on the constitutionality and legal implications of this surveillance program. As a senior intelligence operative, Holmes could certainly enlighten us were he at liberty to do so. However, former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden says it best in his own words. Please take a few minutes to listen to this interview with him about PRISM, why he gave up the good life he led in Hawaii—he can never go home again—and what he hopes to accomplish with his revelations.

Programs like PRISM are extremely powerful and can reach into anyone’s email, internet records, and phone records. I am not suggesting that America should not track terrorists, but I see no sign from the Obama administration that any safeguards whatsoever are in place. Instead, the president suggests that we should take it all on good faith that his administration is not targeting Americans. Strong echoes of Richard Nixon’s infamous, “Trust me.”

In all of the stir this has created, we haven’t yet heard the deeper questions. Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection? Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors? Do the IRS and other agencies get to use this information collected on us in the name of safety for their own purposes? After all, it’s much easier to target political opponents with such things as IRS scrutiny when their entire communication history is available for review.

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the most important point to remember is this:  the American government doesn’t do anything that the American people don’t let it get away with—yet. Where will we draw our line?

Related Links:

1)    Here’s the Law the Obama Administration is Using as Legal Justification for Broad Surveillance. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

2)    Obama: No One is Listening to Your Calls. Michael Pearson, CNN Politics, June 9, 2013.

3)    Obama Blasts Media ‘Hype’ Over Secret Program, Calling Them ‘Modest Encroachments on Privacy’. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

4)    Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations. Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Lora Poitras, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.

5)    NSA PRISM Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google, and others. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.

6)    U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program. Barton Gellman and Lora Poitras, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.

Chinese Theft and Hacking in the News — Where Lies the Blame?

By Jay Holmes

Headlines this week are reporting the not-very-new “news” that China is—drumroll and sound track of gasping readers please—stealing US technology and hacking into classified US government computer systems. A secondary aspect of the story focuses on daily denials by China. So is China really stealing US technology? If it is, then what does it mean to us US taxpayers and consumers? What does it mean to our allies and their well-bled taxpayers and highly unemployed consumers?

Stealing Data Canstock

Let’s first consider this “news” from the Chinese side of the issue.  Chinese denials are generally orated in monotone fashion by one highly placed spin doctor or another with even less acting skill than the average D.C. government mouthpiece. The denials, themselves, are always about as convincing as those issued by well-paid celebrity lawyers defending their highly privileged clients.

In China, as in Hollywood or D.C., reasonable observers start with the assumption that the spokesman is a well-practiced, lying crook. They then try to extract some grain of truth from the transparently nonsensical denials being issued. In the case of Chinese government spin doctors, the only truth available from them is the simple truth that they have no need to or intention of ever telling the truth about anything to anyone. They don’t have to. Or at least have never had to until recently.

Different cultures view truth-telling in different ways, and in the Chinese culture, telling the truth to the world at large is considered a form of severe naiveté bordering on mental illness. Add to that the fact that China has never had a government that answered to the Chinese people. As a result, in Chinese government culture, the rare and refined art of telling the truth is about as useful as space heaters in a Congolese home. In a Western context, one might imagine how weasel-like White House and Whitehall spokesmen would become if their masters and their masters’ masters never had to face the expense of another election campaign.

And yet there is one group of listeners that the Chinese find more complex and difficult to deal with—the world’s non-Chinese consumers. The Chinese have figured out that while the thoughts and opinions of their own well-policed prisoner-citizens can be easily dismissed or silenced, the image of the Chinese communist police state now matters to the Chinese oligarchy for financial reasons.

China makes trillions of dollars from Western consumers and Western corporations. As the image of the Chinese government rises and falls from the depths of the public opinion sewer, profits rise and fall. Western consumers buy cheap Chinese junk with the same enthusiasm that heroin addicts demonstrate in their methadone lines. But even with the severity of the West’s addiction to low-priced Chinese garbage, sales can and do rise and fall. A small movement in sales levels represents billions of dollars in lost revenue to the economic warlords that now run China.

What if a Chinese nouveau riche politician is considering buying another Caribbean island or US skyscraper, and his profits drop? What if he and his pals desperately need to rent some Western politicians to do their bidding, and the cash flow takes a dive? To those few people in China who are used to getting anything they want when they want it, that would be annoying. That threat of annoyance inspires Chinese devotion to keeping those revenue bumps from happening.

Predictably, the Chinese have recently switched from routinely denying that anyone in China ever would or could hack a computer, steal technology, or violate a patent, to doing the old “shoulder shrug” response. They are now saying “all governments hack other countries’ computers.” And, of course, they’re not quite right. Not all governments hack other countries’ computers. Only governments with the required resources do that. And furthermore, not all governments ignore patent violations. China does.

Now that we’ve had a laugh considering China’s denials, let’s consider the “hacking” from a Western perspective. China’s routine theft of US technology makes Western companies less competitive in the giant sludge pit that we call “the world market.” That means higher unemployment leading to higher tax rates to help the unemployed, which in turn makes the West still less competitive in the world marketplace.

As well as commercial technology, the Chinese hacking efforts also focus on US military secrets, including advanced weapons design. This means that China gets to develop their advanced weapons, such as their stealth fighter or their drones, without the expense of years of scientific research or the subsequent thousands of engineering hours that lead to lots of engineers having strokes and their employers eventually delivering a useful product. It also means that our weapons systems are less useful as deterrents to Chinese imperial aims.

In Maoist times, the Chinese military only needed to be well-enough equipped and trained to keep the Chinese people obedient to Mao. The most important characteristic of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was obedience to Mao. The emphasis was not on developing a highly skilled, powerful military, but rather a highly obedient one.

In 1978, Viet Nam invaded Laos and Cambodia to overthrow their Chinese-backed governments. In 1979, after yearlong logistical preparations, China confidently invaded Viet Nam. After China’s logistical support for its invading army collapsed, they were forced to withdraw from Viet Nam.

The Chinese military leadership has wanted to do two things since that 1979 disaster. One, it has wanted to continue using its control of the Chinese military and Chinese military industries to acquire personal wealth. In this it has excelled fantastically. In the post-Maoist era they need not hide their profits. They don’t. Their second concern has been to become a more powerful military capable of conquering someone other than themselves. They needed science and technology to do that.

The Chinese suffered decades of “cultural revolution” that included purges of “intellectuals” that would have made even Stalin jealous. The problem with killing all those nasty, opinionated university types, though, is that nobody was left to develop technology. As a result, stealing science and technology became a huge imperative for the Chinese government in the post-Mao age.

Now that China has avoided the routine random slaughter of university professors for a few decades, they have a powerful and effective scientific/engineering community, but that community remains hamstrung by government agencies that are so corrupt that they make Western governments appear to be honest and efficient by comparison. So stealing technology and military secrets remains a priority for China. In fact, it remains a priority for all governments that have the ability to effectively spy.

It’s easy to get angry at the Chinese for being the thieving crooks that they are, but let’s be realistic a moment. The Chinese would give us the standard Chinese answer to that indignation. They would—and frequently do—laugh at us for being so stupid as to allow ourselves to get robbed. In this, they are right.

Most of the Western corporations that whine about the Chinese hacking their computer systems and stealing their technologies have factories in China manned by Chinese employees. While unemployment remains depressingly high in Western nations, these same Western corporations are building yet more factories in China.  Wondering where all your GM bailout cash went? It went to building factories and research centers in communist China. No need for the Chinese to steal GM’s technology. GM gives it to them on a silver platter. And YOU paid for that silver platter!

Whose job is it to secure US military secrets? Is that the job of the Chinese? I don’t think so. Hacking into US intelligence and military networks should not be a “crime.” It should be an impossibility. The fact that it can be done at all is a travesty. Basic compartmentalization to keep top-secret data off of internet systems would prevent that.

So while we listen to the not-so-new news reports about Chinese theft of US technologies and military secrets, we should perhaps not bother questioning China’s spin-doctors. Instead, we should be asking our own government and corporations why it’s happening in the first place.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: What Does It Mean, and Where Will It Lead Us?

By Jay Holmes

By now, you will have heard about the bombs that detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Before offering opinions concerning that event, I would like to point out an important fact that is easy to miss as the United States and interested foreigners focus on the “who” and the “why” of the tragedy.

Boston Marathon Bombing image by Aaron "tango" Tang, wikimedia commons

Boston Marathon Bombing
image by Aaron “tango” Tang, wikimedia commons

I offer my thanks and admiration to the many bystanders that did so much to help the dozens of badly wounded victims. Several victims of the bombing lost limbs and yet did not bleed to death. This was due to the fact that many of those who were not wounded or not severely wounded reacted quickly and calmly.

For someone to survive the loss of a limb in an explosion requires the immediate application of first aid. While trained First Responders were fortunately present at the finish line, they faced the task of dealing with approximately one hundred seventy wounded people. Without the quick calm actions of many bystanders, the death toll would have been much higher than three. For the loved ones of the three victims who died, three no doubt seems like infinitely too many. Our sincere condolences to those families that mourn those losses, along with our humble encouragement to the dozens of badly wounded victims who are fighting to recover some measure of health.

The questions that loom largest in the minds of most Americans are, “Who did this?” and, “Why?” In the days immediately after the bombing, a variety of politicians and “journalists” offered their guesses about who was responsible and what their motives were. Many of those early guessers did little to hide their obvious personal political agendas when voicing their opinions and assumptions about the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Which politicians and journalists spouted the most asinine and annoying nonsense is a topic worthy of an entire article, but let’s leave that for another day.

On April 17, 2013, rumors circulated that the FBI had arrested a Saudi Arabian suspect. The FBI and Boston Police stated that no arrests had been made. Reports of an unscheduled meeting between US President Obama and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal fueled speculation that the White House was doing damage control in response to a supposed connection between Saudi al-Qaeda members and the Boston bombing. However, the White House said that the president had simply joined the meeting, which was already scheduled with other White House staff members and the Saudi Foreign Minister concerning the ongoing civil war in Syria. Thus far, no connection between al-Qaeda and the Boston bombing has been announced by the White House or by US government agencies involved in the investigation.

On April 18, the FBI released photos and videos of two bombing suspects. At about 10:00 p.m. that night, police received a report that one of the bombing suspects had robbed a convenience store. As police headed for the scene of the robbery, 26-year-old policeman Sean Collier of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology responded to a report of a disturbance. He was allegedly murdered when the two bombing suspects attacked him.

The murderers of the MIT policeman are alleged to have subsequently hijacked an SUV and its owner. They forced the owner to withdraw $800 from an ATM, but later allowed him to leave as they continued their seemingly disorganized escape attempt in his SUV.

In the early morning hours of April 19, police located the bombing suspects. The details of the ensuing chase and shootout remain unclear, but the police were able to mortally wound 26-year-old Chechen immigrant Tamerlain Tsarnaev. Unfortunately, his 19-year-old brother and alleged accomplice in the bombing managed to escape the confrontation. Boston was placed in an “emergency lock-down” as the police conducted a manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

During the evening of April 19, a resident of the Boston suburb of Watertown noticed that the tarp covering his boat had been disturbed. He found a bleeding man hiding in the boat and alerted the police. After an hour long police action, the wounded Dzhokhar was taken into custody.

As Boston and the nation rejoiced in the capture of the two bombing suspects, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick reminded the public that “a million questions” remain to be answered. Given the stress of the last week, the governor can be excused for his exaggeration.

From my point of view, the most important questions are as follows. Were there any conspirators to the bombing beyond the two Chechen immigrant brothers? What were the motives of the two bombers and any other conspirators? How forthright will the current administration be in releasing information about any groups that may have conspired with the two bombers?

Some speculate that the two bombers were acting on behalf of the Chechnya Nationalist Movement. This is not altogether impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely. Chechen Islamic jihadis have fought in a number of conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current civil war in Syria. This can be compared to the fact that Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, and Syrian Islamic jihadis have taken part in various armed conflicts outside of their individual homelands. They were, in most cases, not acting as representatives of their home nations.

It seems likely to me that the older Tsarnaev brother would have received training from Chechen Islamic nationalists, as is common for young male Chechens. However, we don’t yet know if any ongoing relationship with any radical group in Chechnya existed, or if such a group had any foreknowledge or involvement in the Boston bombing. In the long struggle between Chechnya and Russia, Chechen nationalists thus far have cautiously avoided acquiring enemies beyond their formidable Russian opponents and their immediate neighbors. It would seem contrary to Chechen nationalist goals to instigate a conflict with the US. For those who are unfamiliar with the recent history of Chechnya and its war with the Soviet Union and now Russia, we will publish a brief outline of the history of Chechnya on Wednesday.

One of the more popular current theories about who else—if anyone—might be behind the Boston bombing is the theory that the two Chechen brothers might be working on behalf of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda clone group. However, al-Qaeda is generally quick to claim credit for any crimes that they may have had a hand in, but, thus far, they have not claimed credit for the Boston bombing. This does not exclude the possibility that they or some less expert Islamic terror group was behind the bombing.

Early theories espoused by some were that “white supremacist” or “right-wing pro-gun radicals” or “tea party supporters” were behind the bombing. Since the apprehension of the two Chechen suspects, these ideas seem even more improbable than they did in the early hours after the attack. Also, although it might support marketing opportunities to excitedly proclaim that the Boston Marathon Bombing somehow represents a new type of threat to the American public, there is as of yet no evidence to suggest that.

Any nation that can remain free enough to avoid devolving into a totalitarian police state is, in its comparatively free state, going to be vulnerable to violent criminal attack. While the Boston bombing represents a new type of horror for the good people of Boston, criminals like the Tsarnaev brothers are not a new development.

While the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers and any other co-conspirators have yet to be clarified, another important question remains unanswered. To what degree, if at all, will the people of Boston, the people of the Massachusetts, and the people of the US respond to the tragedy with a greater willingness to surrender more civil rights in an attempt to gain more security?

The North Korean Sky is Falling

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On April 15, North Korea will celebrate its 68th anniversary of independence. While the Western world will barely notice the celebration, it will undoubtedly be a big occasion in North Korea. Unlike the 4th of July in the US, there will be no hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill. Maybe there will be one half of a hot dog per person at maximum, and no ketchup. Generally, celebrations in North Korea take the form of televised military and party cadre parades with a strong dose of religious worship for whichever unimaginative Kim happens to be in charge at the moment. Other than that, it will be just another miserable day in North Korea.

USGS info poster showing intensity of Feb. 12, 2013 North Korean nuclear test.

USGS info poster showing intensity of Feb. 12, 2013 North Korean nuclear test.

On February 12, 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, detonating a weapon with a seven kiloton yield. Fortunately, yields from nuclear detonations are easily measured by other nations, and we know that the explosion was one-third the size of the yield of the atomic bomb that the US dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

It was hardly the massive Armageddon weapon that North Korean dictator Kim Un’s propaganda machinery described. However, it represents a technical leap forward from previous North Korean nuclear detonations, and it is sufficient yield to cause thousands of deaths in any South Korean city or US base.

This missile test was yet another predictable violation of the latest nuclear weapons agreement between North Korea and the rest of the world. Why anyone in the US government would ever believe that North Korea would hold to an agreement remains one of the more curious mysteries of US foreign policy. My suspicion is that diplomats are instructed to pretend to believe that they have some quiet agreement in place with the Kim dynasty for political value at home in the US.

Even Madeleine Albright had to know she was talking nonsense when she pretended to be giddy with the “successes” of her miserable diplomatic efforts with Kim Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, during the Clinton era. The upshot of Madeleine’s diplomatic “victory” was to exchange US aid for the assurance that North Korea would not pursue nuclear weapons. Only the staunchest of Clinton administration supporters were able to convince themselves that Madeleine’s diplomatic performance was anything more than self-delusion. Madeleine’s “work” with North Korea did, however, fulfill one critical purpose. It allowed President Clinton to pass the buck to the next administration.

No US president since Eisenhower has wanted to deal with North Korea. Bill Clinton was no exception. Every US president arrives to his first day of work with his heart and mind filled with optimistic projections of how he will build his particular version of the “great society.” These optimistic visions generally start with something like a beautiful No Child Left Behind butterfly. Those visions then end up devolving into some ugly No Corporate Donor Left Behind parasite, but that’s a topic for yet another day.

And therein lies the second motive for the North Korean Kim Machine. If the first urgent goal of the North Korean government is to convince North Koreans to remain obedient, then the second goal is to be noticed by the US White House.

North Korea desperately needs the West for two important reasons. It needs us and the rest of the world to feed them. Like any undeveloped infant, North Korea is not grown up enough to feed itself. It’s too busy playing with military toys to learn that basic survival technique. Also, the Kim Dynasty’s entire 68-year-old Kim Marketing Plan relies on the perceived great and urgent threat to North Korea from the outside world.

Any time the North Koreans can broadcast a genuine video clip of a US president uttering the words “North Korea” without having to rely on their unskilled photo-shoppers, it’s a propaganda victory. In North Korea, a day without “international tension” is like, . . . well, we can only imagine what that would be like. Who knows? It hasn’t happened yet.

North Korea has also been developing a missile that has the ability to reach Alaska. Kim claims that missile can hit Los Angeles and Austin. It can’t. In fact, it is highly unlikely that North Korean missiles could reach the US mainland as of yet. It’s also unlikely that North Korea could equip a long range missile with a light enough nuclear weapon in a reentry device that would enable delivery to US soil and detonation.

In spite of the lack of a real threat, the US Defense Department has reinforced missile defense systems on the US West Coast. That reinforcement was intended for psychological rather than tactical benefit. Precisely what, if anything, occurred as a result of the announced reinforcement is a matter that I will leave to the Defense Department to (not) talk about. That “(not) talk” session would likely consist of a terse statement that the precise details of military deployments are classified.

For folks living in South Korea and Japan, including the 63,000 US forces stationed in those two countries, the view is less comical. For one thing, North Korea has about sixty-five percent of its military at or near the border with South Korea. Thousands of artillery pieces with hundreds of thousands of shells are within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. While some media pundits like to point out that the US and South Korea could easily wipe out that North Korean artillery, they are assuming a massive first strike by US and South Korean forces before North Korea could launch a barrage of missiles and artillery shells against Seoul and other targets. And a preemptive strike by South Korea and the US is highly unlikely.

To people living in South Korea and Japan, the clownish threats by Kim are not just rhetoric. North Korea does represent a real threat to its neighbors, and it has a long history of attacking South Korea. Remember that in March 2010, a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean Navy Corvette in South Korean waters, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The following November, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing three South Koreans. The South Korean island garrison responded with their artillery and killed about ten North Korean soldiers.

On March 26, 2013, after listening to a month long series of nuclear threats by North Korea, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye stated that North Korea’s only path to survival was through abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. North Korea responded by cutting its “hot-line” communications system with South Korea. Given that nobody in South Korea was ever going to believe anything that was spoken by a North Korean on that hot-line system, it hardly matters.

On March 29, Pyongyang announced, “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.” It then ordered North Korean missile teams to be prepared to fire on US bases in the South Pacific. We in the US could afford to laugh, but there was less laughter in South Korea and Japan.

On March 30, North Korea stopped pretending to be on the verge of all-out war with South Korea and the US and, instead, announced that it is in an actual state of war. Fortunately, Kim has remembered that he is only pretending to be at war, and no unusual troop movements or communications have been detected in North Korea. The US responded by moving high tech F-22 Raptor fighters from Japan to South Korea. Any changes in deployment of US ballistic missile submarines in the waters of East Asia would be classified, but we may reasonably assume that, in the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea, the US would respond with strikes by US submarine launched missiles.

This morning, North Korea did something interesting. It announced the appointment of Pak Pong-Ju as the new premier. The premier would not be in the top five of the power structure in North Korea, but he would formulate and present economic policies to Kim Un. Pak was fired from his post as prime minister in 2007 after proposing some very minor U.S.-style economic policies.

This appointment is seen by Western leaders as a rare, positive bit of news from North Korea. The appointment of a North Korean who has dared to utter a few non-hateful words about the US is interpreted by some as a signal from Kim Un that he would like us to remember that he knows that he cannot hope to survive any war with South Korea and the US. It is also good news because North Korea’s most serious threat to South Korea and to its ally China is the threat of the complete economic collapse of North Korea.

While an economic collapse in North Korea might seem like a welcome possibility to distant observers, it is far less appealing to South Korea, to China, and to half of the 25,000,000 North Korean people who suffer from chronic malnourishment. China and South Korea quietly agree about two things concerning North Korea. One is that Kim Jong Un is an annoying twerp. The other is that if North Korea collapses, both South Korea and China will be flooded with millions of hungry North Koreans. Neither country wants to deal with such a large humanitarian crisis or the chaos that it would introduce inside their borders.

So what does this mean to those of us fortunate enough to not live in North Korea? It means that the US and South Korea have no choice but to remain prepared for war with North Korea. To the White House, that means annoying distractions from urgent domestic economic issues. Even the most loyal Obama lovers do not believe the White House’s recent optimistic self-assessments concerning the US economy. While Los Angeles will not be destroyed by a nuclear device from North Korea any time soon, it and the rest of the nation remain under attack by a home grown economic weapon of mass destruction. With so many foreign policy challenges to deal with in the Middle East, and so many millions of Americans slipping into poverty, Obama and the rest of the nation would prefer to not have to spend time and money dealing with North Korea.

However, Iran would love a war between the US and North Korea or between the US and any nation not named “Iran.”  To the north, Russia seems confused about what it wants in Korea. It can’t tell if a war in Korea would represent a net gain or loss to the Russian economy or to Russian foreign policy goals. The rest of the world is either unaware of the situation in Korea or simply hopes that war does not erupt there.

The greatest danger in North Korea is the possibility that, based on North Korea’s complete lack of understanding of the world outside of its borders, Kim Jong Un and his hard line pals in the North Korean military might miscalculate and trigger an all-out war. This morning’s announcement of their selection of a new “pro-Western” premier may indicate that, in lieu of a reasonable diet, Kim urgently needs to keep feeding his own subjects a heavy diet of war propaganda, but that he hopes that the US continues to not take him too seriously.

Yet in his confusion about the world outside of North Korea, Kim apparently feels that the only way to be taken seriously is to remain a military threat. He wants to be taken seriously enough to rate bribes from the rest of the world in the form of desperately needed food and oil shipments. My estimate is that North Korea wishes to remain one inch from that threatened war, but wants the US and South Korea to remain able to accurately measure that ever important last inch. In an ironic twist of any intelligence service’s basic goal, North Korea desperately wants everyone outside of North Korea to know more about their intentions than their own people know at home.

So far, North Korea’s war rhetoric has not been matched by military moves. Let’s hope it remains that way.

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“Jay Holmes” is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations who spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. Now, he is a Senior Mouseketeer in the intelligence community, and he writes spy thrillers with author Piper Bayard. Piper is the public face of their partnership. Their first spy thriller, APEX PREDATOR: THE LEOPARD OF CAIRO, is due out this fall through Stonehouse Ink Publishing.

For more about Jay Holmes, see No Room for Fragile Egos–A Spook’s World.