Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I used to read Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News) in Russian. Not to learn either truth or news directly, but to uncover clues as to what the truth or the news might be, or at least what the rulers of the Soviet Union wanted their readers to think was the truth or the news.

It was a more complex task than it might seem.

In October, 1962, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, announced that the Soviet Union had placed offensive nuclear missiles on Cuba, a mere 90 miles from military targets in the United States. The Soviet Union denied it.

The world chose to believe the United States even before Ambassador Stevenson displayed aerial photos of the missiles.

The world believed the United States because in the past our official statements had been true, even when lies might have seemed advantageous.

In most cases, the truth turned out to be stronger than lies.

In May 1960, President Eisenhower admitted that he had known about and approved of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, correcting an earlier CIA cover story.

So the world often gave us the benefit of the doubt and a great deal of credence.

But what will happen when the world comes to believe our president and the people around him never tell the truth?

This last weekend the New York Times compiled and printed a comprehensive list of lies - at least one a day - that President Trump has told since he was inaugurated.

This matters.

I have many anecdotes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Forty-Five Years Ago: Committee To Reelect The President And Undo Rule Of Law

Forty five years ago, a band of burglars perpetrated what was later referred to as a "third rate burglary."

The target: Democratic Party Headquarters. The customer: Committee to Reelect The President (AKA "CREEP). The purpose: to collect information on the Democrats. The goal: reelect President Richard Nixon.

What exactly did Nixon hope to find? It still isn't clear. What is now clear in the aftermath of Russian cyber attacks on the democrats is that even innocuous information can be manipulated to seem ominous.

What is even more clear is that the burglary was an attack on democratic norms. It was also a attack on the rule of law.

This wasn't Nixon's first burglary. There was an earlier burglary on the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. That didn't glean much useful information, either.

I learned several things from the incident:
1. Richard Nixon was dishonest;
2. Richard Nixon was unscrupulous;
3. Richard Nixon did not trust democracy;
4. In 1972 the attack on rule of law did not succeed because:
5. There remained a degree of integrity in the Republican Party;
6. Professional Civil Servants continued to do their jobs in service to the country.

In 1972 as a nation, we still believed in democracy and endeavored to make it better.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

USS Fitzgerald - What Happened?

Earlier today I was asked several times if I could explain what happened to bring about the collision between USS Fitzgerald and a large container ship three times her size.

The truth is, I don't know. It should never have happened.

Neither should the sinking of the Titanic.

At 2:00 a.m. I imagine Commander Bryce Benson, who had taken command of Fitzgerald about a month earlier, had no idea that his ship was in peril. Sailors sleeping below decks on the starboard side forward had no idea that they were in peril.

The ship was operating only about 56 nautical miles from their home port of Yokosuka, Japan, an easy two hour steam. The sea was calm, the night was clear.

We don't yet know who had the conn. We don't know whether Captain Benson was on the bridge or in his sea cabin.

Some of these details won't come out until after the navy completes the investigation.

We only know that something went badly wrong.

Fitzgerald bristles with lethal weapons, with sensors probing the air, sea and ocean depths surrounding the ship. Everything moving in the ship's vicinity is detected, tracked and recorded by her many digital computers. Everything said over the interior telephone systems, every radar or sonar contact, every radio transmission or received signal is digitally recorded to be played back and analyzed.

I can speculate as to the cause, but even though I helped design the ship's equipment and have operated similar ships at sea very near the site of the collision, it would only be a guess.

Rather than engage in guesswork, I would rather remind us of what is certain - USS Fitzgerald is a mighty warship, whose crew willingly encounters the hazards of operating at sea. This is well expressed in the first verse of the Navy Hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
      For those in peril on the sea!

For the rest of it, I'll wait for the investigation report.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Catastrophe At Sea: USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)

About 0230 the morning of June 16, 2017, USS Fitzgerald, a 20 year old guided missile destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class, operating near the volcanic island of O Shima, about fifty miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on the way from the port of Nagoya, to the port of Tokyo  in a calm sea on a clear night.

Damage to Fitzgerald was extensive both topside and below decks, she took on a lot of water, a number of sailors were injured, and seven sailors are missing. Two crew members were evacuated by helicopter to a hospital ashore, including CDR Bryce Benson, her commanding officer, who took command last month. The ship's executive officer has assumed command.

There is no information as to what caused the collision, but one report indicates that the Philipine vessel reversed course in a u-turn about 25 minutes before the collision. Fitzgerald has returned to her base at Yokosuka under her own power, flooding is under control, and the ship is in no danger of sinking. Commander Seventh Fleet has promised updates as soon as more information is available.

USS Fitzgerald is one of fifteen guided missile destroyers and three guided missile cruisers designated as anti-ballistic missile ships.

Admiral Arleigh Burke was the most distinguished destroyer squadron commander of World War II, who went on to become Chief of Naval Operations. He brought about many improvements in the capabilities of the navy and was an inspiration to my generation of officers.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him and working with him at annual Naval Academy foreign affairs symposiums. A great man.

I also had the honor to work on the design of USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) at RCA after I retired from the navy.

Very sad to learn of USS Fitzgerald's collision.

The sea is a demanding task master.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quisling And Fifth Columnists

It was clear when Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president that he thought he was running for the office of dictator. It was equally clear that many of his supporters wanted a dictator.

For those of us with long memories, this is reminiscent of an earlier time when, especially in Europe but also in this country ("America First"), authoritarian dictatorships were seen as the wave of the future. Dictators (e.g. Mussolini), it was said, could make the trains run on time.

Dictators turned out not to be the wave of the future. Democracies prevailed in World War II. When our troops came home in 1945, we recognized the victories in Europe and Asia as victories for democracy and we built a post war world around democracy. But recent surveys suggest that millennials no longer believe it important to live in a democracy. I hope they don't learn their error the hard way.

In the meantime, the 1930's and 1940's enriched many languages with words for people of an authoritarian bent.

In Norway, following the 1940 Nazi invasion, Vidkun Quisling, a former army officer and defense minister,became prime minister. He was a collaborator during German occupation. He was executed in 1945, and his name became synonymous with Nazi collaboration.

Before the German invasion, the way was prepared by Norwegians sympathetic to fascism, sometimes referred to as the "fifth column," a term arising out of the Spanish Civil War.

Both "Quisling" and "fifth column" became terms of opprobrium for persons disloyal to their own people and to democracy.

Now we live in a time when our own president seems to venerate the authoritarian tyrant who leads Russia. Not good. How did we get here? What can we do?

What if we don't want a dictator?

One of the most telling facts from the senate hearings last week and yesterday is the deep lack of Republican curiosity about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Let's be clear. The Russian effort to affect the outcome of our election was an intelligence operation by a hostile power to damage our democracy.

It appeared to succeed, though we can't yet know how many votes were affected. Apparently none were hacked in any voting machines, though some 39 state boards of elections had their voter registration records hacked.

What we do know is that this was a big deal,  using well developed Russian techniques of propaganda, disinformation, false news, cyber warfare and other approaches,

I am not a professional intelligence officer, but I know a bit about it. I had not kept up with recent developments in cyber warfare. So I consulted a recent book, The Plot To Hack America, by Malcolm Nance. Very informative.

Can we protect ourselves? Somewhat, but not completely.

Watch out for Cyber Bears.

The senate seems to be getting on the case. Today they voted 97 - 2 to take away the president's power to lift sanctions on Russia.

This may be a big deal, depending on what the House does.

As they used to say in radio: "don't touch that dial!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Cabinet Of Billionaire Sycophants

Yesterday's scene in the cabinet room of all the cabinet members declaring their personal loyalty to Donald Trump was disgusting. It showed what Trump had wanted of James Comey but didn't get. It was not an example of serious people doing the country's business.

In my eighty years, I have never seen or read of such a scene in America.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comey Testimony - Some Thoughts

I've been reading, watching TV and listening to commentary for the past few days. Conclusions: America's democracy is under serious attack.

The attackers are Russia and the American GOP.

Russia has been attacking our democracy since about 2008.

The GOP has been attacking our democracy since at least 2,000 but in some areas since about 1948.

Only we can protect democracy.


Don't wait for the Lone Ranger.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Comey Hearing

I'm getting ready to watch the Comey hearing.

I have some preliminary conclusions and am waiting for the hearing to either confirm my thinking or call it into question.

I'll have more to say later.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Russian Election Interference

My Russian is a bit rusty, but I still speak it. It has been a few years - maybe a couple of decades since I followed Russian politics in detail, but I have studied Russian and Soviet history, politics, national security policy, etc. since about 1956. So I know a thing or two about Russia.

I have been deeply involved in American elections and related legal and regulatory matters for the past decade. I have spent my adult life in defense of democracy both here and in allied countries.

I'm not an expert, but I know a thing or two.

I spent the Watergate years in Washington DC. I had friends and colleagues in the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, the Congress and the press. I was interviewed for a job on the National Security Council Staff, but the incumbent decided to stay, so I went to the Pentagon instead..

I know more about international than domestic affairs, but I know a bit about that, too.

I mention these things to make a point - I know much of what I know not from reading books, but because I was there. And I paid attention. I've been paying attention for more than seven decades.

I read books not necessarily to learn things from scratch, but often to refresh my memory or sometimes to fill in some blanks.

Today I'm reading The Plot To Hack America by Malcolm Nance. What a terrific book.

Nance speaks Russian and Arabic and has been in the intelligence business for more than three decades.

I find him immensely credible.

Plainly Russia tried to steal the 2016 US election for Trump.

Did they actually pull it off?  They got the outcome they hoped for, but did they cause it?

I think they did, but I can't prove it. One must avoid the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Other possible factors? Jim Comey's intervention, which may have been triggered by deceptive active measures by the Russians. Hard to prove.

There has been heavy criticism the past few days of Hillary Clinton's explanations.

I say baloney.

After every airplane crash, the site is inundated with investigators. Many participants have conflicting interests at risk.  The airlines hope to show that a pilot or some other crew member was at fault. They would be equally pleased at a finding of some structural or design fault in the aircraft. Pilot error lets the manufacturer off the hook.

You get the idea.

But the airline industry as a whole wants to know what caused the mishap so the problem can be fixed.

Someone needs to do that kind of autopsy with failed campaigns. Not to assign blame, but to know what happened. And to fix it.

We all need to know in case the outcome was the result of an attack on democracy.

That's where I would look first.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

D-Day Anniversary Allied Landing In Normandy

Morning Joe this morning on MSNBC called attention to this being the anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landing at Normandy. It was the largest amphibious landing in history. Remarkable.

Joe called attention to participating allies, mentioning the UK and Canada.

There were, in fact, nine allied nations whose forces took part in the landing. The main Allied forces came from the United StatesUnited Kingdom, and Canada, but another nine nations sent units, the rest being AustraliaBelgiumCzech Republic, FranceGreecethe NetherlandsNew ZealandNorway and Poland. 

We should not forget the others.

Someone should tell the White House.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Thoughts On Russia

I am a bit puzzled by how anxious Donald Trump and the people around him are to make nice with Russia.

Let's put Russia in perspective.

The per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Russia is about the same as Mexico. So why isn't Trump and Co. making nice with Mexico?

Russia doesn't make anything the rest of the world wants to buy. What they sell is oil and gas.

There isn't much of an international market for matryoshka dolls.

Russia's GDP is declining.

We will not become prosperous by deals with Russia.

Today's Russia is a kleptocracy. Vladimir Putin is the chief kleptocrat.

Russia is a closed society.

Her most talented young people seek futures elsewhere.

Reminds me of Mississippi.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Russia - Long History Of Autocracy - And Fake News

I am not an expert on Russia, but I know a thing or two.

I started studying Russian history, government and culture in 1956. I speak the language. I worked for years in the Pentagon on Soviet policy issues, studied Soviet economics, Soviet naval affairs, foreign policy, etc. Still, I am no expert.

I am appalled at the ignorance in the White House concerning Russia.

I was taught Russian by former Tsarist naval officers, former Soviet generals, Russian scholars, doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, etc.  I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I ever knew any secrets.

I am a certified expert in national security policy and in naval warfare.

And I served in Washington during Watergate.

In time, I'll have more to say.

Remember, democracy is under attack.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Covfefe - I don't know what it means, either

Trump tweeted a new word last night - "covfefe."

No one seems to know what it means.

I won't even hazard a guess.