In an extraordinary judgment that throws U.S. policy in the Middle East into complete turmoil, strategic analyst Michael Ledeen has concluded, in regard to the activities of the Islamic State, “I think the Russians are involved, in tandem with the Iranians, who have had their own troops on the Syrian battlefield for years.”
This means that a U.S. congressional declaration of war on the Islamic State would miss the point, and that the Russians and the Iranians are the bigger threat.
“It’s part of the global war, of which Syria is only one killing field, and IS [Islamic State] is one of the band of killers,” says Ledeen.
The analysis of Ledeen, who previously served as a consultant to the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Defense Department, should serve as an opportunity to review what is really happening in the Middle East, and to examine whether the Islamic State is a Russian creation that is designed to pave the way for Iranian expansion.
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Ledeen notes evidence that the top IS military commander, Abu Omar al-Shishani, is a Russian asset, and that “the Russians are exploiting their strategic position in Ukraine to set up transit facilities for IS.” He adds that Ukrainian security forces recently arrested five IS volunteers coming from Russia or the former Soviet republics.
Last September we reported on some of this evidence, noting, “We have heard repeatedly about Americans and Europeans fighting for ISIL [the Islamic state], but little attention is being devoted to the Russian-speaking foreign fighters that make up the group. Their numbers are estimated at 500 or more. Omar al-Shishani is usually described as a prominent Islamic State fighter who is Chechen. In fact, he was born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and was trained there.”
Those who believe the Russians are incapable of such deception and misdirection have conveniently forgotten about the history of the old Soviet intelligence service, the KGB. It is represented in the Kremlin today by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer once based in East Germany.
In another area of global affairs that reveals a hidden Russian role, The New York Times has taken note in a June 7 story of evidence that the Russians under Putin are financing conservative movements and political parties around the world. The Times reports, “Not only is it [the Kremlin] aligning itself with the leftists traditionally affiliated with Moscow since the Cold War, but it is making common cause with far-right forces rebelling against the rise of the European Union that are sympathetic to Mr. Putin’s attack on what he calls the West’s moral decline.”
This is actually an old story. We have been reporting for more than a year about Putin acquiring agents of influence or dupes in the West, even in the United States. Perhaps the most prominent name associated with this pro-Moscow trend is veteran conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan. The World Congress of Families is the most prominent organization to embrace Moscow’s alleged devotion to Christian values.
It is quite natural for conservatives in favor of traditional values to abhor the Obama administration’s embrace of the so-called LGBT agenda, here and abroad. But to adore Putin in reaction to this trend is a major miscalculation that assumes Moscow is genuinely interested in preserving Western values.
It is a welcome development that The New York Times has finally taken note of Moscow’s hand in right-wing political movements.
But there’s more. The paper added, “American and European officials have accused Moscow of financing green movements in Europe to encourage protests against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a move intended to defend Russia’s gas industry. And a shadowy ‘troll farm’ in St. Petersburg uses Twitter to plant fake stories about chemical spills or Ebola outbreaks in the West.”
Another example of how Putin is deceiving the world lies in his exploitation of Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee still being hailed as a whistleblower in the United States.
Buchanan’s magazine, The American Conservative, has written about how figures on the U.S. political right such as Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley have rallied to Snowden’s defense. In a recent column, Shirley condemned “the senior GOP leadership’s embrace of the National Security Agency’s enveloping surveillance activities.”
What Shirley and other Snowden supporters ignore is the fact that the NSA’s surveillance activities rely mostly on a Ronald Reagan Executive Order (12333) and that funding and manpower for the NSA increased dramatically under Reagan.
In fact, President Reagan used the NSA to undermine America’s enemies, especially the old USSR.
National security reporter Bill Gertz wrote in 2013 about how a former “top-secret” document, “United States Cryptologic History, Series VI, Vol. 5: American Cryptology During the Cold War, 1945-89,” contained a section on how President Ronald Reagan realized the value of the NSA’s unique electronic intelligence collection capabilities.
The history notes that “the best known exposure of SIGINT [signals intelligence] since the Pearl Harbor hearings of 1945 had actually come in 1983, when the Reagan administration played the intercepted cockpit conversations of the Soviet pilot as he shot down KAL-007. The SIGINT gave the administration a tremendous foreign policy coup.”
On September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down the civilian airliner KAL-007, killing 269 people.
In 1986, the document states, Reagan became the first American president to visit the NSA, as he gave the official dedication speech for the NSA’s two new buildings. He wanted to loosen “the legal reins governing intelligence,” the document says, giving rise to Reagan executive order 12333. It gave the NSA latitude in SIGINT collection that the agency had not had during the disastrous Carter years.
This executive order remains in effect. Not even Obama has tried to revoke it.
Based on this history, one would have to conclude that President Reagan would defend the NSA, just as the GOP leadership in the U.S. Senate has done. Leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) defended the NSA against the Obama administration, liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans.
The tragedy is that, with Obama in office rather than a conservative like Reagan, some conservatives decided to join the campaign to undermine the agency that Reagan considered absolutely essential to America’s security and survival.
Could it be just a coincidence that the Islamic state, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and aggressive Chinese cyber-warfare against the U.S. have emerged as major problems in the wake of Snowden’s arrival in Moscow?
Those who blame Obama alone for all of our foreign policy setbacks should examine the evidence that Putin and the Russians may ultimately be pulling the strings. At the same time, the NSA can’t be blamed for Obama’s failure or unwillingness to use the agency effectively against our enemies.
When the next president takes office, he will need an NSA capable of gathering the intelligence information the nation needs to defend itself. The next administration will have to consider apprehending and then prosecuting Snowden for operating as a Russian/Chinese agent of influence and committing espionage against the United States.
Hopefully, those who defended or praised Snowden will one day have to answer for their foolishness.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.