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Posts Tagged ‘JOHN WAYNE’

MERCS FOR HIRE: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2014 at 12:33 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

Throughout the movie, wealthy Romans assume they can buy anything–or anyone.  When seeking a favor, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver) says bluntly: “Name your price.”

Today, “Name your price” has become the password for entry into America’s Intelligence community.

Althugh not portrayed in Spartacus, one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire lay in its reliance on foreign mercenaries.

Roman citizens, who had for centuries manned their city’s legions, decided to outsource these hardships and dangers to hired soldiers from Germany and Gaul (now France).

Although Germans and Gauls had proven capable fighters when defending their own countries, they proved highly unrelible as paid mercenaries.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, drew heavily on ancient history for his examples of how liberty could best be preserved within a republic.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Fully aware of the Romans’ disastrous experience with mercenaries, Machiavelli believed that a nation’s army should be driven by patriotism, not greed.  Speaking of mercenaries, he warned:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

America’s defense and Intelligence industries, writes Mazzetti, once spread across the country, have relocated to the Washington area.

They want to be close to “the customer”: The National Security Agency, the Pentagon, the CIA and an array of other Intelligence agencies.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden, it should be remembered, was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

In March 2007, the Bush administration revealed that it paid 70% of its intelligence budget to private security contractors.  That remains the case today–and the Intelligence budget for 2012 was $75.4 billion.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

MERCS FOR HIRE: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 14, 2014 at 1:49 am

A movie critic, reviewing John Wayne’s 1968 gung-ho film, The Green Berets, said that Wayne had reduced the complex issues behind the Vietnam war to the simplicity of a barroom brawl.

In the same vein, the American news media displays a genius for ignoring the complexities of a major news story and focusing on just a single, sensationalistic aspect of it.

Take the Paula Deen scandal.  The media universally focused on Deen’s admitted use of the “N-word”–and utterly ignored far more important aspects of the story.

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, employees at the restaurant were routinely subjected to violent behavior, racial and sexual harassment, assault, bettery and sexual discrimination in pay.

Similarly, in covering the odyssey of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee turned mass secret leaker, the media have followed the same path.

Edward Snowden

Following Snowden’s disappearance from the United States, the media focused their attention on charting the almost daily whereabouts of Snowden.

Would Snowden receive amnesty in Hong Kong?  In Russia?  In Cuba?  China?  Venezuela?  Nicaragua?

For the moment, he has settled on Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, is keeping a protective eye on him.

Yet even though he has momentarily obtained asylum, there’s no guarantee it will last.

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the international terrorist better known as “Carlos the Jackal,” can attest to that.

By 1994, he had spent almost 20 years on the run from the French Intellilgence agents.  They were seeking him for a series of terrorist attacks across France–and for the 1975 murders of two counter-intellilgence agents and their informant.

Carlos “The jackal”

After living in a series of countries that had no extradition treaty with France–such as Syria, Iraq and Jordan–he settled down in the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

He felt utterly safe, since he had been accorded official protection by the Sudanese government.  But he had misjudged his protectors.

French and American Intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. In 1994, Carlos was scheduled to undergo a minor testicular operation in a Sudanese hospital.

Two days after the operation, Sudanese officials warned him of an assassination plot–and moved him to a villa for protection.  They also provided him with bodyguards.

One night later, the bodyguards entered his room while he slept, tranquilized and tied him up–and slipped him into the custody of his longtime pursuers.

On August 14, 1994, Sudan transferred him to French Intelligence agents, who flew him to Paris for trial.  He is now serving two sentences of life imprisonment.

There is no guarantee that any nation that guarantees the security of Edward Snowden today won’t decide, in the future, to betray him.

And, eventually he will run out of secrets to spill.  That’s assuming that Russian and/or Chinese Intelligence agents haven’t already helped themselves to the secrets on his laptop.

As Mr. Spock once famously said during an episode of Star Trek: “Military secrets are the most fleeting of all.”

So where does the significance of the Snowden story lie?

In the fact that Americans have become too lazy or fearful to do most of their own spying.

Yes, that’s right–60 to 70% of America’s Intelligence budget doesn’t go to the CIA or the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Instead, it goes to private contractors who supply secrets or “soldiers of fortune.”

One such contractor is Booz Allen Hamilton–which employed Snowden and gave him access to the super-secret NSA.

The outsourcing of government intelligence work to private contractors took off after 9/11.

This was especially true after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003–and found its Intelligence and armed services stretched to their furtherest limits.

The DIA estimates that, from the mid-1990s to 2005, the number of private contracts awarded by Intelligence agencies rose by 38%.

During that same period, government spending on “spies/guns for hire” doubled, from about $18 billion in 1995 to about $42 billion in 2005.

Many tasks and services once performed only by government employees are being “outsourced” to civilian contractors:

  • Analyzing Intelligence collected by drones and satellites;
  • Writing reports;
  • Creating and maintaining software programs to manipulate data for tracking terrorist suspects;
  • Staffing overseas CIA stations;
  • Serving as bodyguards to government officials stationed overseas;
  • Providing disguises used by agents working undercover.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“There are two types of armies that a prince may use to defend his state: armies made up of his own people or mercenaries….

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal.

“They are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Machiavelli, on meeting Edward Snowden, would no doubt find his judgment confirmed.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART THREE (END)

In History, Military, Social commentary on March 9, 2014 at 4:00 pm

On the night before the final Mexican assault, one man escaped the Alamo to testify to the defenders’ courage.

Or so goes the most famous story of the 13-day siege.

He was Louis Rose, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and the dreadful 1812 retreat from Moscow.  Unwilling to die in a hopeless battle, he slipped over a wall and sneaked through Mexican siege lines.

At Grimes County, he found shelter at the homestead of Abraham and Mary Ann Zuber.

Their son, William, later claimed that his parents told him of Rose’s visit–and his story of Travis’ “line in the sand” speech.  In 1873, he published the tale in the Texas Almanac.

But many historians believe it is a fabrication.  The story comes to us third-hand–from Rose to the Zubers to their son.  And it was published 37 years after the Alamo fell.

After a 12-day siege, Santa Anna decided to overwhelm the Alamo.

Some of his officers objected.  They wanted to wait for bigger siege cannon to arrive–to knock down the Alamo’s three-feet-thick adobe walls.  Without shelter, the defenders would be forced to surrender.

But Santa Anna insisted on an all-out assault: “Without blood and tears, there is no glory.”

The first assault came at about 5 a.m. on March 6, 1836.

The fort’s riflemen–aided by 14 cannons–repulsed it.  And the second assault as well.

But the third assault proved unstoppable.

The Alamo covered three acres, and held at most 250 defenders–against 2,000 Mexican soldiers.  When the Mexicans reached the fort, they mounted scaling ladders and poured over the walls.

Travis was one of the first defenders to fall–shot through the forehead after firing a shotgun into the Mexican soldiery below.

Death of William Barrett Travis (waving sword)

Mexicans broke into the room where the ailing Bowie lay. In Three Roads to the Alamo, historian William C. Davis writes that Bowie may have been unconscious or delirious.  Mistaking him for a coward, the soldiers bayoneted him and blew out his brains.

But some accounts claim that Bowie died fighting–shooting two Mexicans with pistols, then plunging his famous knife into a third before being bayoneted.  Nearly every Alamo movie depicts Bowie’s death this way.

Jim Bowie’s death

As the Mexicans poured into the fort, at least 60 Texans tried to escape over the walls into the surrounding prairie.  But they were quickly dispatched by lance-bearing Mexican calvary.

The death of David Crockett remains highly controversial.

Baby boomers usually opt for the Walt Disney version: Davy swinging Old Betsey as Mexicans surround him.  Almost every Alamo movie depicts him fighting to the death.

David Crockett’s death

But Mexican Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena claimed Crockett was one of seven Texans who surrendered or were captured and brought before Santa Anna after the battle.  Santa Anna ordered their immediate execution, and they were hacked to death with sabers.

Only the 2004 remake of The Alamo has dared to depict this version.

Although this version is now accepted by most historians, some still believe the de la Pena diary from which it comes is a forgery.

An hour after the battle erupted, it was over.

That afternoon, Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the slain defenders stacked and burned in three pyres.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the garrison survived:

  • Joe, a black slave who had belonged to William B. Travis, the Alamo’s commander;
  • Susannah Dickinson, the wife of a lieutenant killed in the Alamo, and her baby, Angelina;
  • Several Mexican women and their children.

Also contrary to legend, the bravery of the Alamo defenders did not buy time for Texas to raise an army against Santa Anna. This didn’t happen until after the battle.

But their sacrifice proved crucial in securing Texas’ independence:

  • The Alamo’s destruction warned those Texans who had not supported the revolution that they had no choice: They must win, die or flee their homes to the safety of the United States.
  • It stirred increasing numbers of Americans to enter Texas and enlist in Sam Houston’s growing army.
  • Santa Anna’s army was greatly weakened, losing 600 killed and wounded–a casualty rate of 33%.
  • The nearly two-week siege bought time for the Texas convention to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declare independence from Mexico.

On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna made a crucial mistake: During his army’s afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries around his camp. That afternoon, Sam Houston’s 900-man army struck the 1,400-man Mexican force at San Jacinto.

In 18 minutes, the Texans–shouting “Remember the Alamo!”–killed about 700 Mexican soldiers and wounded 200 others.  The next day, a Texas patrol captured Santa Anna.

Resisting angry demands to hang the Mexican dictator, Houston forced Santa Anna to surrender control of Texas in return for his life.

The victory at San Jacinto won the independence of Texas.  But the 13-day siege and fall of the Alamo remains the most famous and celebrated part of that conflict.

Like Thermopylae, the battle of the Alamo proved both a defeat–and a victory.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In History, Military, Social commentary on March 8, 2014 at 12:02 am

Americans “remember the Alamo”–but usually for the wrong reasons.

Some historians believe the battle should have never been fought. The Alamo was not Thermopylae–a narrow mountain pass blocking the Persian march into ancient Greece.  Santa Anna could have simply bypassed it.

Painting of the Mexicans’ final assault on the Alamo

In fact, several of Santa Anna’s generals urged the Mexican dictator to do just that–leave a small guard to hold down the fort’s defenders and wipe out the undefended, widely-separated Texas settlements.

But pride held Santa Anna fast to the Alamo.  His brother-in-law, General Perfecto de Cos, had been forced to surrender the old mission to revolting Texans in December, 1835.  Santa Anna meant to redeem the fort–and his family honor–by force.

In almost every movie made about the Alamo, its two co-commanders, James Bowie and William Barret Travis, are portrayed as on the verge of all-out war–with each other.

In John Wayn’e heavily fictionalized 1960 film, The Alamo, Bowie and Travis agree to fight a duel as soon as they’ve whipped the Mexicans besieging them.

In fact, the frictions between the two lasted only a short while.  Just before the siege, some of Bowie’s volunteers–a far larger group than the regular soldiers commanded by Travis–got drunk.  Travis ordered them jailed–and Bowie ordered his men to release them. Bowie then went on a roaring drunk.

The next day, a sober Bowie apologized to Travis and agreed they should share command.  This proved a wise decision, for just as the siege started, Bowie was felled by worsening illness–typhoid-pneumonia or tuberculosis.

In Wayne’s film, Bowie repeatedly leaves the Alamo to ambush unsuspecting Mexicans.  In reality, he stayed bed-ridden and lay close to death throughout the 13-day siege.

Most people believe the Texans intended to make a suicidal stand. Not true.  From the first day of the siege–February 23–almost to the last–March 6, 1836–messengers rode out of the Alamo seeking help.

The defenders believed that if they could cram enough men into the three-acre former mission, they could hold Santa Anna at bay.

It’s widely believed that no reinforcements reached the Alamo.  Not so.

On March 1, thirty-two men from Gonzalez–the only ones to answer Travis’ call–sneaked through the Mexican lines to enter the Alamo.

Meanwhile, the largest Texan force lay at Fort Defiance in Goliad, 85 miles away.  This consisted of 500 men commanded by James Walker Fannin, a West Point dropout.

Fannin was better-suited for the role of Hamlet than military commander. Upon receiving a plea of help from Travis, he set out in a half-hearted attempt to reach the mission.  But when a supply wagon broke down, he returned to Fort Defiance and sat out the rest of the siege.

After the Alamo fell, Fannin dithered in Fort Defiance until it was too late.  Fleeing before the advancing Mexicans, his army was encircled on the open prairie and forced to surrender.  On March 27, 1836, Fannin’s entire force was massacred.

After it became obvious that the Alamo would not be sufficiently reinforced, the Texans still refused to evacuate.  “I’ll die before I run” might have been their official motto.

The Alamo garrison was fully prepared to confront the Mexican army.  False.

When the Mexicans suddenly arrived in San Antonio on the morning of February 23, 1836, they caught the Texans completely by surprise. The previous night, they had been celebrating the birthday of George Washington.

The Texans rushed headlong into the Alamo, hauling all the supplies they could hastily scrounge.

Santa Anna sent a courier under a flag of truce to the Alamo, demanding unconditional surrender.  In effect, the Texans were being given the choice of later execution.

Travis replied with a shot from the fort’s biggest cannon, the 18-pounder.

Santa Anna ordered the hoisting of a blood-red flag and the opening of an artillery salvo.  The siege of the Alamo was on.

Many Americans believe that San Houston, who was elected general of the non-existent army of Texas, desperately tried to relieve the siege. Not so.

Sam Houston

At Washington-on-the-Brazos, 150 miles east of San Antonio, the Texans convened a convention to form a new government. When news reached the delegates that Travis desperately needed reinforcements, many of them wanted to rush to his defense.

But Houston and others declared they must first declare Texas’ independence.  On March 2, 1836, they did just that.  Houston spent a good deal of the time drunk.

Did Travis draw a line?

Easily the most famous Alamo story is that of “the line in the sand.” On the night of March 5–just prior to the final assault–there was a lull in the near-constant Mexican bombardment.

Travis assembled his men and gave them a choice: They could surrender and hope that Santa Anna would be merciful. They could try to escape. Or they could stay and fight.

With his sword, Travis drew a line in the dirt and invited those who would stay to cross over to him. The entire garrison did–except for two men.

One of these was bed-ridden James Bowie. He asked that his his sick-bed be carried over to Travis.

The other was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars–Louis Rose.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In History, Military, Social commentary on March 7, 2014 at 12:50 am

John Wayne fought and died there–cinematically.

So did Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Fess Parker, Sterling Hayden, Jason Patrick, Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson.

The Alamo

March 6, 2014 marked the 178th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio, Texas.

The combatants: 180 to 250 Texans (or “Texians,” as many of them preferred to be called) vs. 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

On the Texan side three names predominate: David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis. “The Holy Trinity,” as some historians ironically refer to them.

Crockett, at 49, was the most famous man in the Alamo. He had been a bear hunter, Indian fighter and Congressman. Rare among the men of his time, he sympathized with the Indian tribes he had helped subdue in the War of 1812.

David Crockett

He believed Congress should honor the treaties made with the former hostiles and opposed President Andrew Jackson’s effort to move the tribes further West.

Largely because of this, his constituents turned him out of office in November, 1835. He told them they could go to hell; he would go to Texas.

James Bowie, at 40, had been a slave trader with pirate Jean Lafitte and a land swindler. His greatest claim to fame lay in his fame as a knife-fighter.

James Bowie

This grew out of his participating in an 1827 duel on a sandbar in Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was acting as a second to one of the duelists who had arranged the event.

After the two duelists exchanged pistol shots without injury, they called it a draw. But those who had come as their seconds had scores to settle among themselves–and decided to do so. A bloody melee erupted.

Bowie was shot in the hip and then impaled on a sword cane wielded by Major Norris Wright, a longtime enemy. Drawing a large butcher knife he wore at his belt, he gutted Wright, who died instantly.

The brawl became famous as the Sandbar Fight, and cemented Bowie’s reputation across the South as a deadly knife fighter.

William Barret Travis had been an attorney and militia member. Burdened by debts and pursued by creditors, he fled Alabama in 1831 to start over in Texas. Behind him he left a wife, son, and unborn daughter.

William Barrett Travis

From the first, Travis burned to free Texas from Mexico and see it become a part of the United States.

In January, 1836, he was sent by the American provisional governor of Texas to San Antonio, to fortify the Alamo. He arrived there with a small party of regular soldiers and the title of lieutenant colonel in the state militia.

On the Mexican side, only one name matters: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, president (i.e., absolute dictator) of Mexico. After backing first one general and would-be “president” after another, Santa Anna maneuvered himself into the office in 1833.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Texas was then legally a part of Mexico. Stephen F. Austin, “the father of Texas,” had received a grant from Spain–which ruled Mexico until 1821–to bring in 300 American families to settle there. The Spaniards wanted to establish a buffer between themselves and warring Indian tribes like the Comanches.

These immigrations continued after Mexico threw off Spanish rule and obtained its independence.

But as Americans kept flooding into Texas, the character of its population changed, alarming its Mexican rulers.

The new arrivals did not see themselves as Mexican citizens but as transplanted Americans. They were largely Protestant, as opposed to the Catholic Mexicans. And many of them not only owned slaves but demanded the expansion of slavery–a practice illegal under Mexican law.

In October, 1835, fighting erupted between settlers and Mexican soldiers. In November, Mexican forces took shelter in the Alamo, which had been built in 1718 as a mission to convert Indians to Christianity. Since then it had been used as a fort–by Spanish and then Mexican troops.

Texans lay siege to the Alamo from October 16 to December 10, 1835. With his men exhausted, and facing certain defeat, General Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, surrendered. He gave his word to leave Texas and never take up arms again against its settlers.

Texans rejoiced. They believed they had won their “war” against Mexico.

But others knew better. One was Bowie. Another was Sam Houston, a former Indian fighter, Congressman and protégé of Andrew Jackson.

Still another was Santa Anna, who styled himself “The Napoleon of the West.”  In January, 1836, he set out from Mexico City at the head of an army totaling about 7,000.

He planned the 18th century version of a blitzkrieg, intending to arrive in Texas and take its “rebellious foreigners” by surprise.

His forced march proved costly in lives, but met his objective. He arrived in San Aotonio with several hundred soldiers on February 23, 1836.

The siege of the Alamo–the most famous event in Texas history–was about to begin.

JAMES BOND FOR HIRE: PART TWO (END)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Military on July 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

Throughout the movie, wealthy Romans assume they can buy anything–or anyone.  When seeking a favor, Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Oliver) says bluntly: “Name your price.”

Today, “Name your price” has become the password for entry into America’s Intelligence community.

Althugh not portrayed in Spartacus, one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire lay in its reliance on foreign mercenaries.

Roman citizens, who had for centuries manned their city’s legions, decided to outsource these hardships and dangers to hired soldiers from Germany and Gaul (now France).

Although Germans and Gauls had proven capable fighters when defending their own countries, they proved highly unrelible as paid mercenaries.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, drew heavily on ancient history for his examples of how liberty could best be preserved within a republic.

Fully aware of the Romans’ disastrous experience with mercenaries, Machiavelli believed that a nation’s army should be driven by patriotism, not greed.  Speaking of mercenaries, he warned:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

America’s defense and intelligence industries, writes Mazzetti, once spread across the country, have relocated to the Washington area.

They want to be close to “the customer”: The National Security Agency, the Pentagon, the CIA and an array of other Intelligence agencies.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden, it should be remembered, was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

In March 2007, the Bush administration revealed that it paid 70% of its intelligence budget to private security contractors.  That remains the case today–and the Intelligence budget for 2012 was $75.4 billion.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

JAMES BOND FOR HIRE: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Military on July 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

A movie critic, reviewing John Wayne’s 1968 gung-ho film, “The Green Berets,” said that Wayne had reduced the complex issues behind the Vietnam war to the simplicity of a barroom brawl.

In the same vein, the American news media displays a genius for ignoring the complexities of a major news story and focusing on just a single, sensationalistic aspect of it.

Take the Paula Deen scandal.  The media have universally focused on Deen’s admitted use of the “N-word”–and utterly ignored far more important aspects of the story.

According to the complaint, employees at the restaurant were routinely subjected to violent behavior, racial and sexual harassment, assault, bettery and sexual discrimination in pay.

Similarly, in covering the odyssey of Edward Snowden, the former NSA worker turned mass secret leaker, the media have followed the same path.

Edward Snowden

In an updated version of “Where’s Waldo?” the media have focused their attention on charting the almost daily whereabouts of Snowden.

Will Snowden receive amnesty in Hong Kong?  In Russia?  In Cuba?  China?  Venezuela?  Nicaragua?

The blunt truth is that Snowden, as an individual, doesn’t matter.

Either he will obtain aslym in a country that hates the United States–or he won’t.

Even if he obtains such asylum, there’s no guarantee it will last.

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the international terrorist better known as “Carlos the Jackal,” can attest to that.

By 1994, he had spent almost 20 years on the run from the French Intellilgence agents.  They were seeking him for a series of terrorist attacks across France–and for the 1975 murders of two counter-intellilgence agents and their informant.

Carlos “The jackal”

After living in a series of countries that had no extradition treaty with France–such as Syria, Iraq and Jordan–he settled down in the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

He felt utterly safe, since he had been accorded official protection by the Sudanese government.  But he had misjudged his protectors.

French and American Intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. In 1994, Carlos was scheduled to undergo a minor testicular operation in a Sudanese hospital.

Two days after the operation, Sudanese officials warned him of an assassination plot–and moved him to a villa for protection.  They also provided him with bodyguards.

One night later, the bodyguards entered his room while he slept, tranquilized and tied him up–and slipped him into the custody of his longtime pursuers.

On August 14, 1994, Sudan transferred him to French Intelligence agents, who flew him to Paris for trial.  He is now serving two sentences of life imprisonment.

There is no guarantee that any nation that guarantees the security of Edward Snowden today won’t decide, in the future, to betray him.

So for all the efforts of the news media to treat him like the Flying Dutchman, he is just one man.

And, eventually he will run out of secrets to spill.  That’s assuming that Russian and/or Chinese Intelligence agents haven’t already helped themselves to the secrets on his laptop.

As Mr. Spock once famously said during an episode of “Star Trek”: “Military secrets are the most fleeting of all.”

So where does the significance of the Snowden story lie?

In the fact that Americans have become too lazy or fearful to do most of their own spying.

Yes, that’s right–60 to 70% of America’s Intelligence budget doesn’t go to the CIA or the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Instead, it goes to private contractors who supply secrets or “soldiers of fortune.”

One such contractor is Booz Allen Hamilton–which employed Snowden and gave him access to the super-secret NSA.

The outsourcing of government intelligence work to private contractors took off after 9/11.

This was especially true after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003–and found its Intelligence and armed services stretched to their furtherest limits.

The DIA estimates that, from the mid-1990s to 2005, the number of private contracts awarded by Intelligence agencies rose by 38%.

During that same period, government spending on “spies/guns for hire” doubled, from about $18 billion in 1995 to about $42 billion in 2005.

Many tasks and services once performed only by government employees are being “outsourced” to civilian contractors:

  • Analyzing Intelligence collected by drones and satellites;
  • Writing reports;
  • Creating and maintaining software programs to manipulate data for tracking terrorist suspects;
  • Staffing overseas CIA stations;
  • Serving as bodyguards to government officials stationed overseas;
  • Providing disguises used by agents working undercover.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“There are two types of armies that a prince may use to defend his state: armies made up of his own people or mercenaries….

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Machiavelli, on meeting Edward Snowden, would no doubt find his judgment confirmed.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART THREE (END)

In History on March 8, 2013 at 12:03 am

On the night before the final Mexican assault, one man escaped the Alamo to testify to the defenders’ courage.

Or so goes the most famous story of the 13-day siege.

He was Louis Rose, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and the dreadful 1812 retreat from Moscow.  Unwilling to die in a hopeless battle, he slipped over a wall and sneaked through Mexican siege lines.

At Grimes County, he found shelter at the homestead of Abraham and Mary Ann Zuber.

Their son, William, later claimed that his parents told him of Rose’s visit–and his story of Travis’ “line in the sand” speech.  In 1873, he published the tale in the Texas Almanac.

But many historians believe it is a fabrication.  The story comes to us third-hand–from Rose to the Zubers to their son.  And it was published 37 years after the Alamo fell.

After a 12-day siege, Santa Anna decided to overwhelm the Alamo.

Some of his officers objected.  They wanted to wait for bigger siege cannon to arrive–to knock down the Alamo’s three-feet-thick adobe walls.  Without shelter, the defenders would be forced to surrender.

But Santa Anna insisted on an all-out assault: “Without blood and tears, there is no glory.”

The first assault came at about 5 a.m. on March 6, 1836.

The fort’s riflemen–aided by 14 cannons–repulsed it.  And the second assault as well.

But the third assault proved unstoppable.

The Alamo covered three acres, and held at most 250 defenders–against 2,000 Mexican soldiers.  When the Mexicans reached the fort, they mounted scaling ladders and poured over the walls.

Travis was one of the first defenders to fall–shot through the forehead after firing a shotgun into the Mexican soldiery below.

Death of William Barrett Travis (waving sword)

Mexicans broke into the room where the ailing Bowie lay. In Three Roads to the Alamo, historian William C. Davis writes that Bowie may have been unconscious or delirious.  Mistaking him for a coward, the soldiers bayoneted him and blew out his brains.

But some accounts claim that Bowie died fighting–shooting two Mexicans with pistols, then plunging his famous knife into a third before being bayoneted.  Nearly every Alamo movie depicts Bowie’s death this way.

Jim Bowie’s death

As the Mexicans poured into the fort, at least 60 Texans tried to escape over the walls into the surrounding prairie.  But they were quickly dispatched by lance-bearing Mexican calvary.

The death of David Crockett remains highly controversial.

Baby boomers usually opt for the Walt Disney version: Davy swinging Old Betsey as Mexicans surround him.  Almost every Alamo movie depicts him fighting to the death.

David Crockett’s death

But Mexican Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena claimed Crockett was one of seven Texans who surrendered or were captured and brought before Santa Anna after the battle.  Santa Anna ordered their immediate execution, and they were hacked to death with sabers.

Only the 2004 remake of The Alamo has dared to depict this version.

Although this version is now accepted by most historians, some still believe the de la Pena diary from which it comes is a forgery.

An hour after the battle erupted, it was over.

That afternoon, Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the slain defenders stacked and burned in three pyres.

Contrary to popular belief, some of the garrison survived:

  • Joe, a black slave who had belonged to William B. Travis, the Alamo’s commander;
  • Susannah Dickinson, the wife of a lieutenant killed in the Alamo, and her baby, Angelina;
  • Several Mexican women and their children.

Also contrary to legend, the bravery of the Alamo defenders did not buy time for Texas to raise an army against Santa Anna. This didn’t happen until after the battle.

But their sacrifice proved crucial in securing Texas’ independence:

  • The Alamo’s destruction warned those Texans who had not supported the revolution that they had no choice: They must win, die or flee their homes to the safety of the United States.
  • It stirred increasing numbers of Americans to enter Texas and enlist in Sam Houston’s growing army.
  • Santa Anna’s army was greatly weakened, losing 600 killed and wounded–a casualty rate of 33%.
  • The nearly two-week siege bought time for the Texas convention to meet at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declare independence from Mexico.

On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna made a crucial mistake: During his army’s afternoon siesta, he failed to post sentries around his camp. That afternoon, Sam Houston’s 900-man army struck the 1,400-man Mexican force at San Jacinto.

In 18 minutes, the Texans–shouting “Remember the Alamo!”–killed about 700 Mexican soldiers and wounded 200 others.  The next day, a Texas patrol captured Santa Anna.

Resisting angry demands to hang the Mexican dictator, Houston forced Santa Anna to surrender control of Texas in return for his life.

The victory at San Jacinto won the independence of Texas.  But the 13-day siege and fall of the Alamo remains the most famous and celebrated part of that conflict.

Like Thermopylae, the battle of the Alamo proved both a defeat–and a victory.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In History on March 7, 2013 at 12:00 am

Americans “remember the Alamo”–but usually for the wrong reasons.

Some historians believe the battle should have never been fought. The Alamo was not Thermopylae–a narrow mountain pass blocking the Persian march into ancient Greece.  Santa Anna could have simply bypassed it.

In fact, several of Santa Anna’s generals urged the Mexican dictator to do just that–leave a small guard to hold down the fort’s defenders and wipe out the undefended, widely-separated Texas settlements.

But pride held Santa Anna fast to the Alamo.  His brother-in-law, General Perfecto de Cos, had been forced to surrender the old mission to revolting Texans in December, 1835.  Santa Anna meant to redeem the fort–and his family honor–by force.

In almost every movie made about the Alamo, its two co-commanders, James Bowie and William Barret Travis, are portrayed as on the verge of all-out war–with each other.

James Bowie

William B. Travis

In John Wayn’e heavily fictionalized 1960 film, The Alamo, Bowie and Travis agree to fight a duel as soon as they’ve whipped the Mexicans besieging them.

In fact, the frictions between the two lasted only a short while.  Just before the siege, some of Bowie’s volunteers–a far larger group than the regular soldiers commanded by Travis–got drunk.  Travis ordered them jailed–and Bowie ordered his men to release them. Bowie then went on a roaring drunk.

The next day, a sober Bowie apologized to Travis and agreed they should share command.  This proved a wise decision, for just as the siege started, Bowie was felled by worsening illness–typhoid-pneumonia or tuberculosis.

In Wayne’s film, Bowie repeatedly leaves the Alamo to ambush unsuspecting Mexicans.  In reality, he stayed bed-ridden and lay close to death throughout the 13-day siege.

Most people believe the Texans intended to make a suicidal stand. Not true.  From the first day of the siege–February 23–almost to the last–March 6, 1836–messengers rode out of the Alamo seeking help.

The defenders believed that if they could cram enough men into the three-acre former mission, they could hold Santa Anna at bay.

It’s widely believed that no reinforcements reached the Alamo.  Not so.

On March 1, thirty-two men from Gonzalez–the only ones to answer Travis’ call–sneaked through the Mexican lines to enter the Alamo.

Meanwhile, the largest Texan force lay at Fort Defiance in Goliad, 85 miles away.  This consisted of 500 men commanded by James Walker Fannin, a West Point dropout.

Fannin was better-suited for the role of Hamlet than military commander. Upon receiving a plea of help from Travis, he set out in a half-hearted attempt to reach the mission.  But when a supply wagon broke down, he returned to Fort Defiance and sat out the rest of the siege.

After the Alamo fell, Fannin dithered in Fort Defiance until it was too late.  Fleeing before the advancing Mexicans, his army was encircled on the open prairie and forced to surrender.  On March 27, 1836, Fannin’s entire force was massacred.

After it became obvious that the Alamo would not be sufficiently reinforced, the Texans still refused to evacuate.  “I’ll die before I run” might have been their official motto.

The Alamo garrison was fully prepared to confront the Mexican army.  False.

When the Mexicans suddenly arrived in San Antonio on the morning of February 23, 1836, they caught the Texans completely by surprise. The previous night, they had been celebrating the birthday of George Washington.

The Texans rushed headlong into the Alamo, hauling all the supplies they could hastily scrounge.

Santa Anna sent a courier under a flag of truce to the Alamo, demanding unconditional surrender.  In effect, the Texans were being given the choice of later execution.

Travis replied with a shot from the fort’s biggest cannon, the 18-pounder.

Santa Anna ordered the hoisting of a blood-red flag and the opening of an artillery salvo.  The siege of the Alamo was on.

Many Americans believe that San Houston, who was elected general of the non-existent army of Texas, desperately tried to relieve the siege. Not so.

Sam Houston

At Washington-on-the-Brazos, 150 miles east of San Antonio, the Texans convened a convention to form a new government. When news reached the delegates that Travis desperately needed reinforcements, many of them wanted to rush to his defense.

But Houston and others declared they must first declare Texas’ independence.  On March 2, 1836, they did just that.  Houston spent a good deal of the time drunk.

Did Travis draw a line?

Easily the most famous Alamo story is that of “the line in the sand.” On the night of March 5–just prior to the final assault–there was a lull in the near-constant Mexican bombardment.

Travis assembled his men and gave them a choice: They could surrender and hope that Santa Anna would be merciful. They could try to escape. Or they could stay and fight.

With his sword, Travis drew a line in the dirt and invited those who would stay to cross over to him. The entire garrison did–except for two men.

One of these was bed-ridden James Bowie. He asked that his his sick-bed be carried over to Travis.

The other was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars–Louis Rose.

REMEMBERING THE ALAMO: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In History, Social commentary on March 6, 2013 at 12:36 am

John Wayne fought and died there–cinematically.

So did Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Fess Parker, Sterling Hayden, Jason Patrick, Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson.

Today–March 6, 2013–marks the 177th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio, Texas.

The combatants: 180 to 250 Texans (or “Texians,” as many of them preferred to be called) vs. 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

On the Texan side three names predominate: David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis. “The Holy Trinity,” as some historians ironically refer to them.

Crockett, at 49, was the most famous man in the Alamo. He had been a bear hunter, Indian fighter and Congressman. Rare among the men of his time, he sympathized with the Indian tribes he had helped subdue in the War of 1812.

He believed Congress should honor the treaties made with the former hostiles and opposed President Andrew Jackson’s effort to move the tribes further West.

Largely because of this, his constituents turned him out of office in November, 1835. He told them they could go to hell; he would go to Texas.

James Bowie, at 40, had been a slave trader with pirate Jean Lafitte and a land swindler. His greatest claim to fame lay in his fame as a knife-fighter.

This grew out of his participating in an 1827 duel on a sandbar in Natchez, Mississippi. Bowie was acting as a second to one of the duelists who had arranged the event.

After the two duelists exchanged pistol shots without injury, they called it a draw. But those who had come as their seconds had scores to settle among themselves–and decided to do so. A bloody melee erupted.

Bowie was shot in the hip and then impaled on a sword cane wielded by Major Norris Wright, a longtime enemy. Drawing a large butcher knife he wore at his belt, he gutted Wright, who died instantly.

The brawl became famous as the Sandbar Fight, and cemented Bowie’s reputation across the South as a deadly knife fighter.

William Barret Travis had been an attorney and militia member. Burdened by debts and pursued by creditors, he fled Alabama in 1831 to start over in Texas. Behind him he left a wife, son, and unborn daughter.

From the first, Travis burned to free Texas from Mexico and see it become a part of the United States.

In January, 1836, he was sent by the American provisional governor of Texas to San Antonio, to fortify the Alamo. He arrived there with a small party of regular soldiers and the title of lieutenant colonel in the state militia.

On the Mexican side, only one name matters: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, president (i.e., absolute dictator) of Mexico. After backing first one general and would-be “president” after another, Santa Anna maneuvered himself into the office in 1833.

Texas was then legally a part of Mexico. Stephen F. Austin, “the father of Texas,” had received a grant from Spain–which ruled Mexico until 1821–to bring in 300 American families to settle there. The Spaniards wanted to establish a buffer between themselves and warring Indian tribes like the Comanches.

These immigrations continued after Mexico threw off Spanish rule and obtained its independence.

But as Americans kept flooding into Texas, the character of its population changed, alarming its Mexican rulers.

The new arrivals did not see themselves as Mexican citizens but as transplanted Americans. They were largely Protestant, as opposed to the Catholic Mexicans. And many of them not only owned slaves but demanded the expansion of slavery–a practice illegal under Mexican law.

In October, 1835, fighting erupted between settlers and Mexican soldiers. In November, Mexican forces took shelter in the Alamo, which had been built in 1718 as a mission to convert Indians to Christianity. Since then it had been used as a fort–by Spanish and then Mexican troops.

Texans lay siege to the Alamo from October 16 to December 10, 1835. With his men exhausted, and facing certain defeat, General Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, surrendered. He gave his word to leave Texas and never take up arms again against its settlers.

Texans rejoiced. They believed they had won their “war” against Mexico.

But others knew better. One was Bowie. Another was Sam Houston, a former Indian fighter, Congressman and protégé of Andrew Jackson.

Still another was Santa Anna, who styled himself “The Napoleon of the West.”  In January, 1836, he set out from Mexico City at the head of an army totaling about 7,000.

He planned the 18th century version of a blitzkrieg, intending to arrive in Texas and take its “rebellious foreigners” by surprise.

His forced march proved costly in lives, but met his objective. He arrived in San Aotonio with several hundred soldiers on February 23, 1836.

The siege of the Alamo–the most famous event in Texas history–was about to begin.

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