Sunday, October 23, 2016

Goebbels' Ghost

The broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily. ~ Joseph Goebbels

The Nazi propaganda chief's quote is often paraphrased as: "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."

The Nazis were evil geniuses in their use of The Big Lie to manipulate a gullible citizenry. In Mein Kampf, Hitler elaborated on this: "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies, but would be ashamed to tell big lies."

And --

"The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another... All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed." (Italics added.)

Amid the ocean of bullshit the Third Reich spewed with its nonsensical ideology, its leaders nailed it with their highly effective use of lies in their propaganda. And the bigger the lies, the more people tended to believe them: Jews were in a conspiracy to take over the world. "Aryans" were the master race. Germany owed its defeat in the First World War to a "stab in the back" by domestic enemies.

I am well aware, dear readers, that here I succumb to Godwin's Law:  "If an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism."

But the parallels between Goebbels and Donald Trump in their use of propaganda to sway the minds of gullible masses is uncanny. Behold the following Big Lies repeatedly trotted out by Trump (all have been deemed outright falsehoods by PolitiFact and/or FactCheck):

"It’s possible that non-citizen voters were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina."

"Of course, there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. The following information comes straight from Pew Research, quote, ‘Approximately 24 million people — one out of every eight — voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or significantly inaccurate.’ One in eight more than 1.8 million deceased individuals, right now, are listed as voters."

"More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote."

"Because non-citizens tend to favor Democrats, — to put it mildly — Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 sample."

When Hillary Clinton "ran the State Department, $6 billion was missing. How do you miss $6 billion? You ran the State Department, $6 billion was either stolen — they don't know."

Hillary Clinton is "proposing to print instant work permits for millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody's jobs, including low-income African-Americans."

Barack Obama "founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton."

"I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed."

And the lies go on and on. The fact checkers, in fact, have a hard time keeping up. I would say the key difference between Joseph Goebbels and Donald Trump is that Goebbels was much smarter and more clever than Trump, not to mention more disciplined. But both men are effective in manipulating the elastic minds of the willingly gullible utilizing The Big Lie. And as Goebbels' boss so astutely pointed out, all propaganda "must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed," i.e., primarily the undereducated.

Which brings America to a potentially dangerous historical crossroads. Even though almost all credible indicators show a Clinton electoral victory, Herr Trump isn't going anywhere. It is clear, by asserting our voting process is "rigged," he is setting himself up to lead a post-election movement of his aggrieved followers, all wallowing in Trump's Big Lies, having drunk the Kool-Aid of alleged betrayal by domestic enemies, the stab in the back.

What form will Trump's populist movement take? An American fascism? A resurrected Coxie's Army occupying the Mall? A bunch of bomb-throwing Timothy McVeigh zombies?

The ghost of Joseph Goebbels is laughing his ass off.

See also --

Voting With Your Middle Finger

The Dumbass Vote: A Modest Proposal to Repeal Universal Suffrage

This Isn't My Father's Republican Party: Waiting for 9 Thermidor

Friday, September 30, 2016

What Will You Federal Employees Do Under President Trump?

With our quadrennial presidential election nigh, folks are at wits' end. I hear Canadian consulates are swamped with visa queries from would-be American refugees who are planning ahead in the event collective derangement drives their fellow citizens to install Mr. Trump as the next president. Other reports, no doubt apocryphal, have it that seppuku website searches are at an all-time high, visited by despondent Yanks wanting to know the proper manner for eviscerating oneself. As one who lives near the northern border and knows many of the unmanned land and water trails into eastern Canada, I'm setting myself up as a coyote human smuggler, fluent in Quebecois as well as Canuck English, eh. I'll just dust off those routes used by Harriet Tubman to deliver escaped slaves out of the country. Besides, the money should be good.

But I digress. This is indeed serious business. I've been through it all. I came into government as the utopian social engineers of Jimmy Carter were leaving and the Jesus-crazed supply-siders of Ronald Reagan were flocking into federal offices like so many escaped creatures from Pandora's box. And I left just as impeachment-wracked, starry-eyed Clintonistas were being replaced by the Brooks Brothers clad corporate neo-cons of Dubbya. While often exasperated, I was never tempted either to emigrate or tear my guts out. I simply steered my diplomatic assignments away from those issues with which I disagreed to fight the good fight on other weighty policy matters. A Trump presidency, on the other hand, poses special challenges. I mean, who among you readers would carry out a direct presidential order to "go much stronger than water boarding" to extract information? Or, who among you is ready to play the role of Godfather enforcer Lucca Brasi to extort more cash from our allies in return for "protection"? Let's face it. Donald Trump is more than a piece of work. He's nuts.

Which has gotten me to pondering: How will our government civilian and military personnel function under a Trump administration? What if, unlike me, you won't be able to dodge illegal, immoral or crazy orders? Mainly because all of the orders will be illegal, immoral and/or crazy? During the Vietnam War, some officials resigned rather than carry out policies they regarded as unjust or lacking a moral foundation. Some of these, e.g., Richard Holbrooke and Anthony Lake, subsequently returned to government service, and at senior levels. Former DoD official Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, revealing the true policymaking behind U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

I believe many feds out there are asking themselves what they will do when told by the Trump White House to round up, Gestapo-style, hundreds of thousands of undocumented aliens; or to reject visa applicants under article INA 212(m) - inadmissable for being Muslim; or to deliver the message to South Korea and Japan that "You're on your own now"; or to prepare a state visit for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; or to sign a Friendship Treaty with Vladimir Putin that not only recognized Crimea as Russian territory, but ceded defense of the Baltic states, who are NATO members; or to launch "carpet bombing" raids on already ravaged Middle Eastern cities.

Which gets me to a sensitive request. As many of you know, I contribute articles relating to foreign policy to national publications as well as blog here. And, occasionally, I offer commentary on national radio and television. I am writing an article with the working title, "What Would Feds Do?" - i.e., what would federal employees working in foreign affairs agencies do if faced with legally and morally questionable orders from a President Trump? To round it out, I need input from those who would face this dilemma. Therefore, I would welcome private and anonymous comments from those of you working in foreign affairs agencies. Don't give me your names. But I would welcome knowing your agency affiliation. You can contact me at the email address attached to this blog. And beware that I am very skilled at screening out frauds from the real McCoys.

Meanwhile, commit the following to memory: "Je souhaite demander l'asile politique."

See also --

Donald Trump’s Farcical Foreign Policy (Washington Monthly)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Getting Into Trouble as a Writer

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. ~ Winston Churchill

Throughout history, writers have been notorious for getting themselves into trouble for their ideas. Socrates was forced to kill himself by drinking poison for the crime of "impiety." My namesake, Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake for having the temerity to state, among other things, that the earth revolved around the sun. The British Crown convicted the great English-American firebrand, Tom Paine, of "seditious libel" in absentia for advocating in popular pamphlets a progressive tax and social welfare programs to alleviate poverty. Hannah Arendt, author of "The Banality of Evil," managed to escape Nazi Germany by the skin of her teeth and resettle in the United States. The Soviet Union expelled Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the country in 1974 for exposing the vast gulag forced labor camp system. Today, PEN International monitors the cases of some 900 writers who suffer persecution in countries across the globe.

I dealt with dissident writers in various countries in the course of my more than two decades as a Foreign Service officer. I helped resettle several dissident Cuban writers in the U.S. My favorite Vietnamese dissident was the writer Duong Thu Huong. At our first get-together over lunch in Hanoi, I asked this spirited woman how she planned to deal with communist officials who were harassing her. With a twinkle in her eye, she said without hesitating, "I spit in their face!"

Artyom Borovik was a groundbreaking Russian investigative journalist who was critical of Vladimir Putin. I'd occasionally meet him to discuss his reporting on Moscow's role in Afghanistan. His "Top Secret" TV program exposed the corruption of Russia's political and economic elite, earning him many enemies. Borovik quoted Putin in an article in 2000 as saying, “There are three ways to influence people: blackmail, vodka, and the threat to kill.” Days later, he died in a still-unsolved Moscow plane accident - one of what was to be many Putin critics who have turned up dead. He was 39.

I had the privilege of being acquainted with a number of very courageous writers over the years who stood up to tyranny and authoritarianism and paid a heavy price in terms of denied employment, harassment, imprisonment and loss of their life. Such people deserve our unmitigated admiration and respect, not to mention support.

And then there are those of us who merely get into mischief.

Whether as a diplomat or as a writer, I don't feel fully successful in my work unless denounced by oppressive regimes and their propaganda organs. The Cuban publication, El Heraldo Cubano, denounced me as a "yankee ex-intelligence officer" who helped "carry out subversive actions against the Cuban government" after my novel, Havana Queen, was published three years ago. In it, I spun a tale centering on the cataclysmic collapse of the Castro regime. "Mr. Bruno decided to fictionalize his experiences in a kind of thriller, under the suggestive title of Havana Queen," El Heraldo continued, "where he distorts the internal situation and invents others, with views that were approved by the Department of State, revealing the espionage work of American intelligence.” 

Havana Queen clearly gave Cuban officialdom agita. After all, digital copies were circulating throughout the island. Several Cubans even emailed me asking if I could send them hard copies (I politely declined). Meanwhile, I got into an escalating pissing match with Castro's propaganda machine, egging them on, daring them to denounce me in the communist party rag, Granma.

"Unintentionally, James Bruno confirmed in Havana Queen that which Cuba has denounced repeatedly, that the United States uses its diplomatic mission in Havana as a headquarters for human and technological spying, while it selects, trains and finances counterrevolutionary elements to carry out subversive acts against the Cuban government," ranted a known Cuban intelligence officer in his quasi-official blog. Ominously, he added, "If someday Bruno goes missing, remember Martí: 'If I go missing, look for me... in Cuba.'" I covered up my whereabouts in social media after that.

Well, what can I say? First, thanks to El Heraldo Cubano for adding to my authorial notoriety. We writers crave attention and, the more controversial, the better. History has shown that official condemnations have done wonders for authors' book sales. Boris Pasternak comes to mind. While by no means in his league, I can use all the denunciations I can get.

And then there was the time three years ago when I was called out of the blue by a federal law enforcement officer asking if I could help in tracking down a murderer who had been on the lam for almost four decades. William Bradford Bishop, Jr. was a Foreign Service officer who in 1976 bludgeoned to death his mother, wife and three young sons and then made a clean getaway. The FBI placed Bishop on their Ten Most Wanted list two years ago. Asked how I could help, the Bishop task force requested that I blog about Bishop. I had previously published a bestselling thriller, CHASM,  whose protagonist was modeled on Bishop. They wanted me to reach out to him and persuade him to turn himself in. I not only said yes, but I also traveled to Europe, where he is thought to have hidden himself, to try and find him. I visited seven countries looking for Bishop. You can read my many accounts of this fruitless search in this blog.

My family deemed me even more nuts than they'd always assumed. In response to my daughter's fear Bishop would attack me, I said, "Why, I can take on any 80-year old any day of the week."

Needless to say, Bishop is still out there somewhere. My brazen efforts have come to nought. But what if we'd met up...?

I walk a thin line at times vis-à-vis Uncle Sam on what I can and cannot say in my writings. You see, as a result of a Faustian pact I made with the federal government in return for a top secret security clearance back when I was young and naive, I gave away my soul for eternity. I must submit for official censorship virtually all that I write and wish to publish till my dying day. You can see the blacked-out redactions in my blog posts as well as The Foreign Circus for your entertainment pleasure. Uncle Sam has a unique way of messing up a recalcitrant writer's life if s/he doesn't follow these rules. Read of my Kafkaesque adventures with the green-eyeshaders in Why I am Censored.

Finally, there are the negative book reviews all serious writers inevitably incur. They constitute a sort of ego-deflating authorial notoriety. Here are some of my favorites:

On Permanent Interests --
“Probably the most ponderous 100 pages of text I've read in a long time.”

“Hate to burst everyone's bubble but unless you're looking for absolutely brainless entertainment, you might want to move on.”

On Tribe --
“While there are moments of good writing and wry observation, this book is a dud and so is the author.”

On Havana Queen --
“The biggest problem is the characters, none of whom have vaguely plausible motivations for anything they do, and much of what they do is idiotic.”

On The Foreign Circus --
“To James Bruno, everyone who doesn't see things his way is an idiot. He's a classic Washington has-been who sees everyone else as a moron. These narcissistic tendencies go very well with his evil twin's misogyny.”

James Bruno is a "Male, Pale, and Yale misogynistic, self-centered, and angry FS officer."
(I confess to the first two failings; but substitute "Columbia" for "Yale" on that last one, even though it doesn't rhyme. Misogynistic, I am not, but I could perhaps be a tad self-centered as well as angry on occasion.)

We authors can also be thin skinned. Sulphuric reviews deflate our egos and get our imaginations all worked up in very unconstructive ways. I mean none of these individuals knows me. How would they know I am a "has-been" much less an angry, self-centered, male, pale and Yale misogynist? A thug might act on such verbal attacks with physical force. Writers, on the other hand, marshal their arsenal of mental weapons and deploy them on paper and pixels.

So, Sir Winston, yes, I have made my share of enemies and am proud of it. I feel we have something in common.

Edward Snowden: Fade Left

The New York Times last week called for ex-NSA data-dumper Edward Snowden to be pardoned. That paper's chief competitor, The Washington Post, on the other hand, urged that he be prosecuted for his crimes. Alas, for once, the allegedly liberal "mainstream media" aren't on the same page. Now here's my two cents, for what its worth: Eddie boy, please fade away. Embrace the obscurity that a socially maladjusted geek like you richly deserves. Folks are wearying of you. They have other obnoxious iconoclasts to obsess over, like, say, Donald Trump. You will soon morph into yesterday's news and people won't give a crap about you any more.

Yes, that trollish gadfly movie-maker, Oliver Stone, has given you a boost in the public consciousness with a hagiographic biopic which the Christian Science Monitor's movie critic dismissed as "a fawning piece of work." And the U.S. House Intelligence Committee just issued a report denouncing you as "a serial exaggerator and fabricator." All this notoriety must have you ghoulishly rubbing your hands out there in exile in Putinland. Notoriety-laced narcissism clearly is another trait you share with the Republican presidential contender. But before you go too far with your delusions of returning to America as a fully pardoned conquering hero, you would be wise to examine several case studies of other turncoats who ended up in jail or exile.

First, there's Jonathan Pollard, the unhinged civilian naval intelligence analyst who sold tens of thousands of classified documents to the Israelis and attempted to shop yet more to other countries before being nabbed in 1985. These included the NSA's ten-volume manual on how the U.S. gathers its signals intelligence. He used his ill-gotten cash, which included a monthly clandestine $2500 stipend, to live high, including with cocaine. His wife was his partner in crime, helping to conceal crates of classified information and using some of the Israeli cash to fund her business. Upon his arrest, Pollard suddenly became an Israeli patriot, asserting he was helping the Jewish state when the U.S. government would not. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Israeli government and a broad network of supporters pulled every trick in the book to get Pollard sprung, ranging from letters from Israeli and American big shots to formal entreaties and cockamamie three-way spy swap deals from Tel Aviv. But none of them took. The U.S. intelligence community, defense establishment, veterans groups and members of Congress vehemently opposed freeing Pollard. Pres. Clinton came close to pardoning him, but retreated in face of the domestic opposition and Pres. Obama likewise demurred when Vice President Joe Biden said Pollard would be pardoned "over my dead body." Well, Pollard finally won parole after thirty years in the slammer in accordance with sentencing guidelines at the time of his conviction. Under the terms of his parole, Pollard must wear an ankle locator bracelet, reveal all of his internet use to the authorities and remain in the U.S. for at least five years. He is a jobless 62-year old.

Kim Philby was the principal double agent in the notorious "Cambridge Five," British intelligence officers and diplomats who spied for Moscow in the years surrounding WWII. A clandestine Soviet agent for three decades, he headed up Britain's counterintelligence operations and served as MI-6's head of station in Washington in the '50s. Philby gave up the ghost in 1963, defecting to Moscow. Two of his treasonous cohorts, Donald Mclean and Guy Burgess, tipped off by Philby that they were about to be arrested, had defected in 1951. None fared well there. Philby drank heavily and suffered from loneliness and depression; according to his Russian wife, he had attempted suicide by slashing his wrists in the 1960s. He lived to 76, having gone through four wives. She said, "he was struck by disappointment, brought to tears." Burgess and Mclean both succumbed to alcoholism, dying at 52 and 69, respectively.

Edward Lee Howard was the only former CIA employee ever to seek asylum in Moscow. A brawling drunk and drug abuser, Howard fled to Moscow in 1985. A case officer in the Soviet division of the CIA's Operations Directorate, he was trained by the CIA for deep-cover clandestine operations against the Soviets. There he remained, lonesome, embittered, alcoholic until 2002, when the Russian news agency TASS reported that Howard, 50, had died in a drunken fall from a stool at his KGB-owned dacha outside Moscow, breaking his neck. Breaking your neck falling from a stool? Hmm. Thriller film producer, Robert Stone, asserts that the KGB's successor agency, the SVR, whacked Howard simply because he was no longer useful to Moscow as it then sought to improve relations with Washington.

"There's little evidence from historical records that [Snowden] has anything good to look forward to," says Peter Savodnik, author of, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union. "Essentially, nobody from the U.S. who has defected to Russia has gone on to think that's a smart decision." Echoing Robert Stone's assertion that defectors to Russia have a way of wearing out their welcome, Savodnik adds, "Whatever value he has to the Kremlin has already been drained... They'll probably try to marginalize him and send him where he's less likely to make noise or attract the attention of the media or others."

So, Ed, enjoy your last splash of public fame. Rest assured it will fade. Resign yourself never to return to your home country - alive anyway. Beware the booze. And, uh, don't be climbing any rickety Russian stools.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bin Laden Raid ex-SEAL Forfeits Millions for Defying Uncle Sam

Exactly four years ago, I wrote the following regarding ex-Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, one of the members of the team that carried out the raid to get Osama bin Laden:

Bissonnette "will most assuredly face a protracted legal battle which will probably result in the royalties of his book being forfeited to the government."

You see, Mr. Bissonnette defied government regs and proceeded to publish a book about the raid without submitting it for security review with the Pentagon. As a result, according to the New York Times , he will forfeit all of the $6.7 million in royalties he has earned on “No Easy Day,” as well as $100,000 in fees for six speeches. Ouch!

The Times reported that "Mr. Bissonnette acknowledged that he was required under his security clearances to let the Pentagon review the book, and he blamed another lawyer for advising him that he did not need to do so." In something akin to a Maoist show trial confession required of all such offenders, he issued the following statement, “I acknowledge my mistake and have paid a stiff price, both personally and financially, for that error. I accept responsibility for failing to submit the book for review and apologize sincerely for my oversight.”

In that blog article of four years ago, I cited the cases of an ex-CIA officer and a State Department official who similarly got nailed for publishing books on their adventures while in the service of Uncle Sam, got caught, were prosecuted and forced to pay a heavy price in the end. 

At that time, I had just shipped off to the State Department my fourth book for security review. I pointed out that, "taking an average of six months per review, my books will have sat a total of two years with the green eye-shaders in Washington. That's two years of not being published. Two years of royalties not flowing into my bank account." Whether or not my public laments had anything to do with the State Department adopting new regulations shortening the review process, I can't say, but they now promise a 30-day turnaround on books and up to 20 days for articles. At the same time they announced these tighter turnaround times, the Department pointedly emailed me with the following message:

"We are reminding former employees of their obligations under their Non- Disclosure Agreement(s) (SF-312):" 

I have been advised that the unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling of classified information by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation. I hereby agree that I will never divulge classified information to anyone unless: (a) I have officially verified that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it; or (b) I have been given prior written notice of authorization from the United States Government Department or Agency responsible for the classification of information or last granting me a security clearance that such disclosure is permitted. I understand that if I am uncertain about the classification status of information, I am required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before I may disclose it, except to a person as provided in (a) or (b), above. I further understand that I am obligated to comply with laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Can't be more clear than that. The other national security agencies have almost identical rules. And all employees are briefed on them prior to their signing obligatory nondisclosure contracts. So, Bissonnette's blaming his lawyer or claiming ignorance or disingenuously asserting his publisher had already screened his book for sensitive information was blowing smoke a la Hillary Clinton proportions with her emails.

One frustrated ex-fed who faced prosecution for publishing a book without vetting and got himself fired for the effort had the audacity to call me a "whore" in an online chat forum for my following the rules. I did not respond to this Tar Baby trash talk. I do not take a moral position on this matter, though I do acknowledge the government's interests in wanting to protect sensitive information. I am a mere pragmatist. I like to keep my royalties and I have this aversion to jail (actually been there once, but that's another story).

I feel for Mr. Bissonnette, a man with multiple awards for valor for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he let ego and greed get the better of him and now he's paying the piper. 

See also -

Monday, August 1, 2016

William Bradford Bishop: This Is What Hell Is Like

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. 
 ~ John Milton, Paradise Lost 

Dear Brad,

Pardon me for not wishing you a happy 80th birthday. Frankly, you don't deserve it. But that's another matter. Barring any new twists in your case, this likely will be my last message to you, or about you. Why? Because if you aren't already dead, you soon enough will be. Mortality knocks. Tap. Tap. Tap. I don't recall your religious beliefs, if any, but if you do believe in an afterlife, think about the celestial reunion with your murdered family members. Thanksgiving with the in-laws pales by comparison.

What will they say when meeting face-to-face with you at the Pearly Gates? "Hi, Dad?" "Glad to see you again darling?" "Oh, son. I missed you so?" Ahh. I think not. Their faces will reflect haunting remonstrance to your horrendous crime. Their silence will both reject you and beseech you for answers. "Why did you rob us of our lives and selfishly carry on with your own?" "You used to tell us you loved us. But it was false, wasn't it? We had love in our hearts for you when you crushed our lives while asleep in our beds, while relaxing with a good read, while entering the house after walking Leo, our dog. What was in your own heart? Hellfire and rage. Why? Why? Why?"

Upon reaching 80, you're playing with the house's money. To paraphrase Houseman, "Now fourscore years it's been, twenty will not come again." As we approach the precipice of death, most of us reflect back on our lives. We ask ourselves questions like, "Did I use my time wisely?" "Was my life meaningful?" "What did others think of me?" "Will my loved ones cherish my memory?" What about you, Brad? After killing your mother, wife and three sons, did you use your time wisely? Doing what? Hiding in the shadows, constantly on edge, fearful of being caught. Were you able to retrieve any meaningfulness as a fugitive on the run? As for what others think of you, well, I can assure you that it's been universal revulsion. Finally, having no more loved ones, there's obviously no one left alive to carry any memory of you.

Now here's my definition of hell: not only having your children predecease you, but actually ushering them into their graves. My definition of hell is contemplating how their lives would have progressed had their father not bludgeoned them to death. William would be 54 today. Sportive like yourself, one can imagine a self-directed, fit middle-aged family man. Brenton would have turned 50 this year. He was playful and had a lively sense of humor. He would likely have been popular and a cut-up at social gatherings. Geoffrey would be 45. A rambunctious kindergartner when you ended his life, he no doubt would have been a productive citizen as well. All three boys inherited their parents' smarts. One can assume they would have ended up as successful educated professionals.

And think of the grandchildren they would have brought you. That late-life event embraced by most parents but which you denied yourself. When you lie in bed at night, does your mind not dwell on your truncated bloodline? That essential progression of human life that you dumped into a shallow trench in a North Carolina woods and lit afire. Do you have nightmares? Have you ever contemplated putting a bullet into your own head to end the pain? If not, give it consideration. But do leave us a note before pulling the trigger.

Annette, 37 when you bashed her head in as she was catching up on reading, would now be 77. Your high school sweetheart was the ideal woman: smart, personable, artistic and beautiful. While your love for her was consumed in a vortex of murderous rage, hers for you never wavered. Do memories of the tender moments occasionally overwhelm you as your aged body fails you, as your own handsomeness has eroded, ravaged by time? As your attractiveness to women has faded over the years? In your lonesome existence as a hunted man, have you even dared to seek relationships of any kind?

And, finally, your mother, Lobelia. Does your mind ever dwell on how she nurtured you growing up, how she doted on her grandchildren? How does matricide fit with your conscience? Do you have one?

Yes, it appears you have slipped the noose of justice. Literally got away with murder. That may be so. But if a higher moral justice awaits us all in the end, you are in big, big trouble, my friend.

William Shakespeare said, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” I cannot imagine your life over the past four decades having been anything other than empty. And the devils indeed are here soon to escort you to your deserved destination. Think of them as U.S. Marshals of the hereafter. But before they take you, talk to us. Reveal yourself as an act of atonement, as a final sign that deep in your heart you held a reserve of caring for those who loved you.

See also:

William Bradford Bishop Murder Case: After Forty Years, Is It Time to Move On?

An Open Letter to William Bradford Bishop, Jr.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Russians Are Bullying Our Diplomats. Here’s How to Stop It

The following is my latest article in the Washington Monthly, July 28, 2016 

I once got into a drag race with a KGB agent. It was during the Cold War, as the clock was ticking down on the Soviet empire. As a junior diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Stalinist-run Laos in the ‘80s, I was regularly surveilled, harassed, propositioned and even once arrested at gunpoint and jailed, resulting in a diplomatic row. The place was lousy with Russians and all manner of East Bloc functionaries seeking to consolidate the small Southeast Asian country into Moscow’s orbit. And America was not welcome.

One of the Soviets’ favorite tactics was to tail us, letting us know they were always there watching us, onto whatever activities, official and otherwise, that we handful of American officials were up to. The more active we were, the greater the harassment. Being especially outgoing with the locals and fluent in their language, I was a top target. After leaving a reception one evening, I was tailed by a Russian well known to us as a KGB operative in the Soviet embassy. The squat, bald Khrushchev look-alike gamely tried to tailgate my Malibu in his creaky little Lada sedan. When I sped up, so did he. When I braked, so did he. When I
turned, so did he. Pissed, I decided to show the little creep what Detroit was capable of. I led him onto an unpaved country road. Then I let all eight cylinders of the Chevy reach their full potential. I’d get a lead on the KGB guy, then suddenly brake, raising billowing dust clouds for him to choke on. I repeated this stop-and-go tactic until he finally gave up and limped home for his pulmonary health, if nothing else.

This kind of cat-and-mouse play has been a feature of life for Western diplomats posted to hostile nations for many years. I was bugged, watched and intimidated in a variety of ways during my two-decade-plus diplomatic career, once even having my tires slashed by Cuban secret police. Many of my colleagues can tell harrowing tales of being shoved, having their children followed, their homes ransacked and dog feces smeared on their door knobs, among other imaginative acts of vandalism perpetrated by agents of America’s adversaries.

What’s currently happening in Russia, however, appears to go far beyond the pale. The Washington Post reported that a U.S. diplomat attempting to enter our embassy was recently assaulted and seriously injured by one of the Russian police goons who linger just outside our mission. The diplomat had to be medically evacuated to another country for treatment. This was not merely a “diplomatic incident,” which surely was the subject of an official U.S. protest, but a crime. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which Russia is a signatory, states, “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity… The private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission.” These protections further extend to diplomats’ family members.

The official harassment of U.S. diplomats has increased dramatically. Diplomats report harrowing tales of being shoved, having their children followed, their homes ransacked and dog feces smeared on their door knobs.

The Post further reports incidents recently involving home intrusions – including defecation on one family’s carpet, slashed tires and intimidation by Russian traffic police. A U.S. defense attaché’s dog was killed while he was away. Former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul was incessantly hounded by ostensible Russian TV crews badgering him with belligerent statements. His children were followed by Russian security personnel. McFaul, who actively promoted human rights, was particularly singled out during his two years in Moscow. Now back at Stanford, Moscow continues to deride him. “We remember his professional incompetence. McFaul’s diplomatic mission fell through with a crash,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman with undiplomatic bluntness. Not missing a beat, McFaul shot back in a tweet: “Why is she so obsessed with me?”

The official harassment has increased dramatically since the U.S. and its allies imposed sanctions against Russia following its aggression against Ukraine and 2014 takeover of Crimea. Moscow, in fact, makes no bones about its actions. “Diplomacy is based on reciprocity. The more the U.S. damages relations, the harder it will be for U.S. diplomats to work in Russia,” the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman tweeted.

A U.S. embassy Moscow official told me, “We are deeply troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past two years. We have raised, and will continue to raise, at the highest levels any incidents inconsistent with protections guaranteed by international law, and we will also respond appropriately in accordance with U.S. and international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but thus far to no avail. The State Department announced it had expelled two Russian embassy officers on June 17 in response to the Russian policeman’s assault on the U.S. diplomat. Russia responded in kind, kicking out two U.S. embassy Moscow officials.

The State Department is now providing special training in how to deal with aggressive actions by Russian security to select personnel headed for diplomatic assignments in Russia and neighboring countries.

So, why do they do it? Petty revenge? To mess with our diplomats’ heads? Just plain barbarism?

“They do it to humiliate the diplomats, to deny you any sense that you control your environment – your home. They do it to mess with your mind. They do it to make you angry because then you make bad decisions. They do it because they can, and they want you to know that,” a former ambassador to a post-Soviet republic told me. During her earlier years of service in Moscow, this U.S. diplomat was the target of repeated acts of vandalism and harassment, ranging from her car windows being smashed to Moscow’s issuing a visa to her crazy ex-husband. Others in the embassy have had their homes vandalized, their windows opened in the dead of winter and their freezers unplugged, resulting in the spoilage of expensive imported provisions.

Here’s the rub: we cannot retaliate by beating up their diplomats and ransacking their diplomats’ homes. Why? Because we are a civilized nation that follows the rules. On one occasion of which I am aware, the State Department, in fact, years ago intervened to stop some retired federal employees who had planned to pull vigilante-style pranks against one communist nation’s diplomats in response to their government’s maltreatment of our diplomats.

Diplomatic immunity is a concept and practice that has evolved over generations, having been practiced by ancient monarchs of the Indian subcontinent and refined by the Italian city-states of the Renaissance. Realizing that killing the messengers was actually bad for a sovereign’s and a people’s long-term security interests, heads of state, over the centuries, developed the practice of protecting foreign envoys from attack and indeed treating them as honored guests. Ironically, Genghis Khan was a staunch defender of diplomatic immunity. His Mongols would often wipe entire cities off the map as revenge for the killing of their ambassadors. They even destroyed the Khwarezmid Empire after their envoys had been manhandled.

In recent times, the most egregious case of a state-sanctioned action against diplomats was the 1979 Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy and its 52-member staff. The Iranians held them for 444 days. Many of the Americans were tortured.

“The problem with retaliating against the Russians for harassing our diplomats is that you have to find a way to do it that is both legal and does not hurt your side more,” a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who specialized in Russia told me. This is not just a moral issue, but also a practical one. Each retaliatory act generally leads to another, further aggravating the problem. Further restricting the movements of Russian diplomats in our country or expelling some inevitably leads to a spiral of mutual retaliation that can get out of control as happened in 1986 when the Reagan administration kicked out dozens of KGB operatives, leading to Moscow’s expulsion of an equal number of American diplomats.

The best approach is to isolate it from the other issues in the relationship and to find a way to make the Russians see that it is in their interest to engage in more civilized behavior. A policy of carrots and sticks is needed, one that entails identifying and taking away something the Russians want and, should they retaliate, will lead to their losing more than we will. At the same time, we should be forward-leaning by proposing changes in the way we treat each other’s officials to make life easier for them in both countries.

Measures could include: 

Publicizing Russian harassment by installing video cameras in and around the homes of U.S. staff as well as at entrances to the U.S. embassy, if they do not already exist, to catch the Russians in the act of harassing or assaulting our employees. Then disseminate footage of such attacks to the global media. 

Declaring a travel advisory for areas of Russia where our diplomats are being mistreated, specifically, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The advisories would warn American citizens to avoid these areas for their own safety. The resultant drop in tourism and business travel would be felt by the Russians. 

Increasing the number of FBI and other counterintelligence personnel who monitor Russians in this country. The Bureau’s Counterintelligence Division is too thinly stretched to be able to adequately monitor the suspected spies of Russia and other hostile nations. 

Reconstituting the Cold War era Active Measures Working Group, which exposed Soviet disinformation and covert operations. The new working group would counter Russian disinformation, including the very active social media troll farm in St. Petersburg. It would also publicize Moscow’s actions against diplomats. 

Continuing to raise the issue with the Russians via diplomatic channels, preferably after they have lost something they want to get back, in order to re-start a process in which both sides would be looking for ways to help each other’s diplomats, rather than to harm them.

The Obama administration would be wise to adopt actions ahead of Congress. The draft 2017 Intelligence Authorization Bill currently being considered by the Senate would impose some tough anti-Russia measures, including tighter travel restrictions on Russian officials, that could backfire on our diplomats’ abilities to do their jobs.

A government’s attacking foreign diplomats is an act of weakness. It is what bullies do when frustrated by their own lack of innovative thinking in addressing the challenges facing them. And I can speak from experience that official harassment never deterred my colleagues and me from doing our jobs. Russia has backed itself into a corner by its aggressions in Ukraine and Crimea. Instead of reconsidering its actions and pursuing innovative diplomacy, a morally and intellectually bankrupt Kremlin sends thugs to beat up foreign official guests and otherwise makes life difficult for them and their families via Halloween-style hijinks, and worse. This is not the civilized behavior of a modern nation-state, but the barbaric actions of a strongman-led autocracy. That the Russian government cannot even meet the standards of Genghis Khan speaks for itself. 

The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the United States Government. 

 See also:

Why Does America Send So Many Stupid, Unqualified Hacks Overseas?

 Russian Diplomats Are Eating America's Lunch