LTG Flynn: The Primer

Rumors are flying that President Elect Trump has chosen/selected/designated LTG (ret) Flynn as his National Security Advisor. This position does not require Senate confirmation. The only thing I’ve seen is the MSNBC crawl – nothing else. The National Security Advisor is basically the defense, foreign, security, and intelligence policy gatekeeper for the President. In many ways the position is a Chief of Staff position for these areas. When they do their jobs well, they deconflict disputes between the various principles and senior deputies from the defense, foreign affairs, security, and intelligence portions of the Interagency and manage the National Security Staff. The classic organizational document for this is National Security Council Paper 68 (NSC-68) issued under President Truman. Each President modifies and adapts the National Security Staff structure and processes to better suit their preferred leadership style. Here’s the link to President Obama’s orders restructuring the National Security Council System to fit the needs of his Administration.

If, indeed, LTG (ret) Flynn is the next National Security Advisor, it makes sense to get a better idea of how he understands the global system and the threats, challenges, and opportunities facing the US and how the US should approach them. Fortunately for us, al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan got LTG (ret) Flynn to join him in committing an act of journalism and reporting. Hasan’s interview with Flynn is below.

We Hold the Line II

I know everyone is coping with the election’s results differently. And I’m not here (front page or in comments) to tell everyone to just get over it already. But I do think its important that we not panic. All panicking is going to do is make things worse. Someone asked me in a comment if we are in the last days of the Republic. The short answer is I do not know, but if we are it shouldn’t be allowed to fall without a fight – and I’m not talking an actual, violent one.

My longer answer is I do not think that we are in the last days of the Republic. When 650,000 or more of us are strewn across battlefields from Pennsylvania to Florida and from New Mexico to South Carolina and there’s still no end in sight, then we might be in the last days of the Republic.

I’m not going to say things aren’t grim. That we’re in uncharted territory. That we appear to be nationally compromised by Russia and that the Chinese now perceive their long game to eclipse us may have sped itself up. All of this is true. But we’ve come through worse. And when we have we’ve almost always made advances. But no advancement, no progress in America has ever come without a sharp, strong, and uncomfortable attempt at retrenchment and reprisal. This is what happens when your state and society are the Constitutional Republic version of liberal democracy and, at the same time, the oldest and most aged of revolutionary states and societies in the modern period. The latter tend towards reactionary beliefs, attitudes, and actions as they age.

So where does this leave us as Americans? The same place it always does; the inheritors of great ideals and promise. Great ideals and promise that are all to often unfulfilled or more often than not paid lip service, rather than actualization. If we fall to pieces now, if we turn on each other out of fear and panic, then the Republic really will fall. If we hold fast, hold to the ideals, hold to the promise, then we may make it through this even if doing so is emotionally, mentally, and physically painful.

I leave you with the painting of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, Commander II Corps, the Army of the Potomac placing himself in the line of fire near what would become known as the high water mark opposing Major General George Pickett’s charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.* When MG Hancock’s subordinate’s asked him to remove to a safer location, he responded with: “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.” Shortly thereafter he was wounded in action, but not fatally, and remained at the front until the attack was over and the Confederate assault had been repulsed. If you are concerned for the Republic, then I recommend you take Major General Hancock’s example to heart and hold the line.


The Rising Neo-Nationalism

With Steven Bannon being named Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor in the upcoming Trump Administration, his ties to neo-nationalist and neo-fascist movements are getting some press and being downplayed or ignored in other places. And while I’m planning on doing a more detailed post about the linkages between these groups, their receipt of patronage from Vladimir Putin as part of his revanchist strategy against the West (the US, the EU, NATO, liberal democracy), I think it is important to pay attention to sort of the Ur-neo-nationalist of the late 20th/early 21st Century. Dr. Jasmin Mujanovic (h/t: Dr. Sarah Kendzior) does just that for us in a tweet storm:

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A Day Late, But Not Forgotten

Two important anniversaries happened yesterday that we should still remark on, even a day late, amid all the hubub. The actual events happened 51 years apart, but both took place, or at least started, in Germany. On November 9th 1938 the series of attacks and pogroms known as Kristallnacht occurred in Germany and German annexed Austria and the Sudetenland part of what was then Czechoslovakia.

The other was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

These two events – one of humanity lost and at its most depraved and the other of humanity’s desire for freedom and liberty – are important reminders in uncertain times.

We Hold the Line

As you all know, I try to stay out of domestic politics in my writing here, except where the foreign policy stuff that I focus on – such as the maskirovka series – crosses the boundaries. I also don’t think that despite my staying out of the domestic politics arena here there are too many of you wondering how I view domestic or foreign policy. So I want to focus a moment on where things go from here. What has to happen, what needs to happen going forward is that we need to hold the line.

We need to hold the line because America is an ideal, a set of ideas, that don’t belong to any of us specifically. Rather we hold them in trust for each other. If we give up on the ideal, if we refuse to continue to fight for it, then we have no reason to hold the line. Now is the time to hold that line. Now is the time to dig in and, amazingly enough be conservative – conserve and preserve as much of the status quo as possible. To stand and yell stop! We do this by holding everyone’s feet to the fire regarding that ideal. Ideas can’t be killed. Signals can’t be stopped. Unless we stop believing in them and transmitting them.

Bernard Fall, the epitome of the scholar-soldier and one of my professional forebears, gave a lecture entitled Theories of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency at the US Naval War College in 1964. Fall recognized that the key center of gravity in the Vietnam War was ideas. It wasn’t physical terrain, it wasn’t infrastructure – it was ideas. The key to being successful in preserving America the ideal is to take Fall to heart and actually keep putting forward better ideas. This is not a new concept, but the failure to grasp it has often led to strategic failure despite tactical success. Bernard Fall referred to this as Civic Action and explained it as:

Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of anti-malaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.

While I think many of us would agree that the ideas put forward by Secretary Clinton, even though they weren’t perfect, were, overall, the better ideas in this specific election, they weren’t received as such. And I think we all agree that we really don’t know what President Elect Trump’s ideas really are given how all over the map he and his surrogates have been over the course of the now completed campaign. What needs to be done, to fully embrace Fall’s strategic wisdom, is to figure out how to change the frequency, so to speak, so that better ideas are not only transmitted, but received. Right now that means holding fast to the understanding that America is a set of ideas, an ideal. And that those ideas, that ideal are worth fighting for within the political arena. That is the challenge for all Americans – liberal or conservative – who were concerned with Trump’s candidacy and are concerned with the potential coming Trump Administration. America has come through many dark periods bloodied, but unbowed. Now, as then, is the time to plant our feet, yell stop, take the political punch, and hold the line. We hold the line for our friends, families, for those we agree with and those we don’t, and for those yet to come who we hold America as an ideal for in trust.

I’m not a big believer in indispensable people or Nations, but right now – for good or for bad – a significant portion of the world depends on us. Not only are our own, but many other states and societies have their people in harms way, in contact with ISIL and other reactionary forces, and if we go to pieces we do none of them any good. Right now a lot of states and societies in Europe, as well as in Australia and Israel, are grappling with similar societal divisions, rancor, and acrimony. How we handle this transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration and how we hold the line to preserve the American ideal signals to them how to hold their own lines. Whether its in Germany or France, which are the next two European states up in this fight against reactionary nationalism and xenophobic isolationism. Or Montenegro that just fought off a coup believed to be supported by Russia. Or the people of Turkey who are themselves seeing a consolidation of power and authority within the hands of an increasingly autocratic and dictatorial Erdogan. And for our allies and partners in Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia who are worried about Russian aims and expansionism. Falling upon each other and tearing ourselves apart will not do us or them any good.

As I put in a comment last night: my service, whether as a term appointed civil servant or a contractor, is to the Constitution and through it to the American people. This is the case for every single national security professional I have ever met – uniformed or civilian, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. We serve an ideal and a set of ideas on behalf of all Americans. An electoral majority of those Americans chose to elect Donald Trump as the next President. They’ve chosen to give him unified Republican control over the Federal legislature. If you disagree, if you think this is a mistake you have to respect these electoral outcomes if you ever expect, even if its a fool’s expectation, that your preferred electoral outcomes will be respected when they occur. For good, bad, or otherwise Donald Trump is our next President and he has, for now, unified GOP control over the Federal legislature. Now is the time to hold to the ideal of America. The ideas that are America. You want a more perfect union? Hold the line. You want to provide for the general welfare? Hold the line.


The Maskirovka Slips VI: The Grey Zone Attacked


As we’ve chronicled the reporting on Russian attempts to impact the US election for their own ends one thing has become increasingly clear: the real target of Russia’s cyber operations, psychological operations, and information operations is the American Grey Zone. While Putin’s ultimate goal is to delegitimize America in the eyes of its allies, partners, and peer competitors, as well as liberal democracy, the target of the attack to achieve these effects is the American Grey Zone. The American Grey Zone, the civil society space that allows both native born and naturalized US citizens, as well as immigrants in various legal categories (students, workers, etc) to be part of the warp and weft of American life in public while at the same time having a private life that is their own. And being able to share as much, bring as much of that private life into public as each individual is comfortable with. The form of that private life – being a member of a minority religion or minority ethnic or racial group or being LQBTQ – is irrelevant to the attack being made on it.

The weaponization of hacked material, whether completely accurate, doctored, and/or completely falsified by selective leaking is one of the major forms of ordnance in this attack. Another is the creation of massive amounts of completely inaccurate disinformation and pushing it into the American and European news and media cycle. If anyone or everyone can have their private lives dumped into the public eye or even worse have their private life adjusted for effect by those who have stolen it and then dumped into the public eye it will not merely stifle dissent, it will also make people think twice before standing up to run for public office or work for organizations that contribute to the public good or make a stand on controversial issues. Or even vote.

The attack on the American Grey Zone isn’t the only attack on the Grey Zone we’ve seen in the past year. ISIL’s terrorist actions outside of the areas they still hold in Iraq and Syria are attacks on the civil spaces of the states and societies where those attacks take place. So to was Russia’s semi-covert support for the UKIP and Brexit. As well as Russia’s overt and covert support for the neo-nationalist and neo-fascists movements and parties in Europe that seek to weaken the European Union and Texas’s largest neo-secessionist movement. Russia’s information, psychological, and cyber operations within Eastern Europe are all also attacks on the Grey Zone.

The point of all of these attacks on the Grey Zone, on the civil space where we life is lived within liberal democracy, are intended to force the citizens of liberal states to chose sides. ISIL wants Muslims to adopt their doctrine of the radical unity of the Deity (tawheed) and then chose to either relocate to the self proclaimed caliphate or to take terrorist action at home against those Muslims that won’t adopt tawheed, as well as their non-Muslim fellow citizens. Russia wants to delegitimize liberal democracy, both within the US and other liberal states in order to demonstrate the US and its EU and NATO allies and partners, as well as its Australian and New Zealander allies, are hypocrites and should not be emulated. Moreover, this attack on the Grey Zone is intended to weaken the EU and NATO, as well as other western alliances and partnerships. Putin’s strategic objectives are revanchistgetting revenge for what he believes is US, EU, and NATO meddling for their own benefits in post-Soviet Russia and intended to allow Russia to reestablish influence and power over its historic near abroad and sphere of influence.  It is also economic. Putin’s attempts to weaken the US, the EU, and NATO – even if it is only their prestige – is intended to create the opportunity for the post Crimean seizure economic sanctions to be weakened or fall apart completely. Not because Putin expects a President Trump would get rid of them as soon as he is inaugurated, but because the idea of a President Trump is enough to make European and NATO allies wonder whether they will be able to rely on the US for support and leadership, which will lead to the sanctions regime falling apart of its own weight.

Putin and ISIL are unlikely to be successful in their goals, and can only really be effective if Americans or any other states and societies they are each targeting buy into the intended effects of the information and psychological operations directed against them and, as a result, facilitate the destruction of their own civil spaces. However, the damage that they are doing by creating the opportunities to pull extremism into the mainstream, for helping to make it acceptable for some citizens to set upon their fellow citizens will take years of hard work to fix. Ideas that had never existed, outside of the extremes, in even the worst periods of American history or that had been pushed from the mainstream to the extreme fringe over time, have now been given a new life within the mainstream of American politics.

It was less than eight years ago that Republicans, nervous about a presidential election cycle that delivered the Presidency and sizable majorities in both chambers of Congress to the Democrats, were very, very concerned about politicizing, and possibly criminalizing policy differences. Specifically, the policies that had led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the conduct and normalization of torture under the euphemism of enhanced interrogation, the political weaponization of DOJ investigations into Democratic candidates in proximity to elections, and the fiscal, monetary, and budgetary decisions that had led to the 2008 economic crash and crisis. Today the vast majority of elected Republican officials, many the same men and women who were so concerned in 2009, stand mute when members of the Republican Party shout “lock her up” at campaign rallies, as well as “hang the bitch”. Sometimes they also participate as was seen with Governor Christie’s public indictment and trial of Secretary Clinton at the Republican National Convention in July and Senator Burr’s somewhat obtuse reference to gun owners targeting her just last week. Even when Federalist Party President John Adams was engaged in a bitter and divisive campaign against his Democratic-Republican rival Thomas Jefferson, the suggestion that one would imprison the other should he be elected never made an appearance. These extremist ideas, as well as thinly veiled allusions to global conspiracies of bankers, intellectuals, and other elites seeking to oppress and defraud the average American, will continue to infect and effect the Grey Zone, the civil space for years to come. It will take consistent, hard work to push these beliefs back to the fringe and keep them there.

By the time the polls close tonight in the eastern time zone, as well as the US’s Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, it will be November 9th in Germany, Austria, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. On November 9, 1938, seventy-eight years ago, Kristallnacht occurred. The Night of Broken Glass was a set of violent attacks by some Germans, Austrians, and Czechoslovaks against their Jewish German, Austrian, and Czechoslovak neighbors. While it is alway easy to fall into the historical analogy trap, it is also important to recognize historic parallels and trends. In this case the lessons of Kristallnacht are the lessons of what happens when the Grey Zone is successfully attacked through dedicated information and psychological operations promoting extreme and extremist ideas. In 1938 the civil space in Germany, Austria, and German occupied Czechoslovakia was gravely wounded and would eventually be destroyed and remade in the NAZI’s ideological image. While it is unlikely that this will be the case in the US in 2016 it is important that we recognize that America’s Grey Zone, its civil space where we all live as citizens and participate as much or as little as we choose in the life of the state and society, has been attacked, has suffered some very real damage, and that we all have important work ahead of us to repair that damage. This is the real challenge going forward from the 2016 Presidential election. It will not be fun, it will not be easy, and it will not be pleasant. But it will be necessary if we really care about forming a more perfect Union, establishing Justice, insuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general Welfare, and securing the Blessings of Liberty.

The Maskirovka Slips V: The Counter-Threat


NBC News is reporting out that the US Government has taken steps to prepare to counter-strike a Russian cyber attack on election day next week.

U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary, according to a senior intelligence official and top-secret documents reviewed by NBC News.

American officials have long said publicly that Russia, China and other nations have probed and left hidden malware on parts of U.S critical infrastructure, “preparing the battlefield,” in military parlance, for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights or turn off the internet across major cities.

It’s been widely assumed that the U.S. has done the same thing to its adversaries. The documents reviewed by NBC News — along with remarks by a senior U.S. intelligence official — confirm that, in the case of Russia.

U.S. officials continue to express concern that Russia will use its cyber capabilities to try to disrupt next week’s presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials do not expect Russia to attack critical infrastructure — which many believe would be an act of war — but they do anticipate so-called cyber mischief, including the possible release of fake documents and the proliferation of bogus social media accounts designed to spread misinformation.


Brown and others have noted that the Obama administration has been extremely reluctant to take action in cyberspace, even in the face of what it says is a series of Russian hacks and leaks designed to manipulate the U.S. presidential election.

Administration officials did, however, deliver a back channel warning to Russian against any attempt to influence next week’s vote, officials told NBC News.

The senior U.S. intelligence official said that, if Russia initiated a significant cyber attack against critical infrastructure, the U.S. could take action to shut down some Russian systems — a sort of active defense.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, who served as NATO commander of Europe, told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. is well equipped to respond to any cyber attack.

“I think there’s three things we should do if we see a significant cyber-attack,” he said. “The first obviously is defending against it. The second is reveal: We should be publicizing what has happened so that any of this kind of cyber trickery can be unmasked. And thirdly, we should respond. Our response should be proportional.”


One problem, officials say, is that the doctrine around cyber conflict — what is espionage, what is theft, what is war — is not well developed.

“Cyber war is undefined,” Brown said. “There are norms of behavior that we try to encourage, but people violate those.”

For further reading if anyone is interested, here’s the link to Joint Publication (JP) 3-12(R)/Cyberspace Operations. JP 3-12 covers all the Joint Force doctrines and concepts for cyberspace operations. Here’s the link to the US Army Cyber Center of Excellence (COE)* doctrine and concepts brief for those that like death by powerpoint. Finally, here’s the link to a very interesting monograph on cyberspace operations published by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute (full disclosure: I know the author, he was on the faculty of USAWC during the first two years of my assignment there).

* The Army uses Center of Excellence for the overarching Branch commands at their Professional Military Education (PME) schools. These are not traditional, civilian academic Title VI Centers of Excellence.