Wednesday, July 10, 2013

NSA Scandal: The Bolivian Plane Incident

Welcome to Vienna Mr. President!
Photo: Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

The shenanigans surrounding the blocking and subsequent search of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane last week will probably never be publicly explained.  That is the way of these things.  Fear not, I have an expansive conspiracy theory that reveals everything.  Like most good conspiracy theories, this one hasn't a shred of proof.  100% unadulterated speculation. 

For those not following the story breathlessly, here is a write up from The Guardian.  The brief version is that Morales was flying home to Bolivia after meetings in Moscow.  France, Italy, Spain and Portugal denied passage to the plane which ended up in Vienna.  There it was searched by the Austrians to determine if Edward Snowden was on board.  He was not.  These airspace closures were, as has been admitted, requested by the Americans who were apparently convinced Snowden was on the plane.  Just about everyone in South America is up in arms over the incident. The European governments in question are running for cover.  So what happened?

Here is my guess.  The Americans got information that Snowden was on the plane, and they panicked.  Remember that they are still extremely freaked out over Snowden's ongoing leaks.  They don't simply want to get him for what he has done, but for what he might do yet.  So they asked these five European governments to act (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Austria). But Snowden wasn't on the plane.  And all five governments, plus the Americans, are now humiliated. 

Why were the Americans so certain he was on the plane?  The information must have come, one way or another, from Moscow.  American agents could not have seen Snowden get on the plane.  He is at a different airport, and was nowhere near the Bolivian plane.  So the information must have come from from sources in Moscow, or from an intercept.  So that brings us to the crux of the conspiracy theory.  I think the Russians deliberately gave the information to the Americans as a nice "Fuck You", anticipating the panic and embarrassment that would ensue.  Further, to get the Americans to bite on the bait, it must have come from a source the Americans believed in.  Like an intercept.  An intercept like the ones Snowden is in trouble for revealing.  Wouldn't it be delightful if the Russians communicated the false story among themselves through a channel they knew the Americans were listening to?  One that the Americans thought the Russians did not know was compromised?  

If they did pass false information, the payoff was immense.  The incident might be forgotten soon among the general public and media, but institutions have a longer memory.  Trust has been broken.  Politicians are embarrassed.  Careers could be derailed.  And Snowden is still in Moscow.  So it was all for nothing.  Somehow I think the next urgent request from Washington will get a frosty reception in Europe.  Whether they are behind this or not, the Russians must be delighted. 

Monday, July 8, 2013


“Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value.”
National Research Council president John MacDougall
This is apparently the Canadian Government's new position on publicly funded scientific research. Galileo and Einstein?  Pasteur?  Darwin?  No work of any value there. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


"This is not a military coup.  Coups happen early in the morning when everyone is asleep, not in the afternoon with 15 million people on the streets supporting them. 
Commentator on Al Jazeera

NSA Scandal, The Other Shoe

As the NSA details continue to leak, I'm looking for one in particular.  In most Western countries, the intelligence services are forbidden from spying on their own citizens.  I'm guessing, and its only a guess, that one of the many functions such services carry out is to spy on each other's citizens and exchange the information, thus avoiding the prohibition on domestic spying.  Again this is only speculation, but it would explain some of the bizarre behavior around Edward Snowden.  European governments are condemning US spying on the one hand, but embarrassingly intervened with the Bolivian President's flight home on the other.  Spain, Portugal and France covered themselves in shame over this incident.  If they are so pissed off about US spying, why would they risk serious international embarrassment over this flight?  Because there is a lot more to this story than we know now. Being seen as American lapdogs is a very poor political position, especially in France.  Possibly the incident was a result of American diplomatic pressure, but I doubt it.  Something more fundamental is going on.  Given the leaks of the last month, I think that something will come out.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg and Stalingrad

     The Sharpshooter's Den, Alexander Gardiner, 1863

    Stalingrad Attack, Georgie Zelma, 1942

    The most iconic images of the two battles.  Both staged.

Though vastly different in time, place and circumstance, the battles of Gettysburg and Stalingrad share some interesting similarities.

Both were the culmination of invasions gone wrong.  Both marked the strategic high water mark for their respective nations.  Both were attacks by smaller, more powerful forces against larger armies, more poorly organized and led.

Although neither battle was decisive, in the sense of deciding the war, both represented a change in momentum that lasted the duration of the contest.

The preceding campaigns had ended in disaster for the battle's defenders, Case Blue in summer 1942 had cleared Southern Russia and cleared the way to the Caucasus, Chancellorsville in May 1863 was the Army of the Potomac's worst defeat.

These previous defeats set the psychological tone for the battles, leading to fatal overconfidence in the invaders.  Lee had come to feel (IMHO), that his boys could defeat the North on any field at any time.  The German high command, from Hitler on down, were certain the Red Army was on their last legs.  Both were looking for a chance to pin the enemy in order to crush them.  As a result, neither battle was planned in advance by either side.

The other notable psychological issue was that the attacker's overconfidence led them to discount the ability of the defending soldiers to withstand their assaults. They became contests between the high commands of one side, and the regular soldiers of the other.  In both cases, the soldiers stood their ground and won.

On a tactical level, both attacking armies gave up inherent tactical advantages to press the assaults.  This changed the nature of the combat, allowing the defenders to at least partially offset the attacker's superior mobility and firepower.  The assaults themselves were numerous, and the failure of each to finish off the defenders was taken by commanders to indicate the defenders were weakened enough for the next assault to work.  In neither case did the attacking commanders take a step back and contemplate alternative approaches despite the stated objections of their colleagues (most notably Longstreet,  and von Richthofen).

But these parallels only go so far. Gettysburg was all Lee, Stalingrad was all Hitler.  At Stalingrad, the German side had better equipment and an air force.  At Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac was better equipped, and had a cavalry.  Lee's object was to capture Washington destroy the Army of the Potomac and force a political collapse, ending the war.  Hitler's object was to acquire the Soviet Union's main oil reserves to prolong the war.

Meade was unsuited and unable to deliver a strategic counter-stroke.  Had I Lee's army on the run, I would have been careful too.  The Soviets, on the other hand, delivered a devastating counter-stroke, led by Vasilievsky.  The Army of Northern Virginia got away.  The German Sixth Army was destroyed. 


Some photos of the battlefield at Gettysburg, 1996.