One of the joys of writing a weekly column is the opportunity it gives you to spend six days a week scanning the globe for news events that really tick you off. And on the seventh day, you write.
Sound simple? It is really, as long as you stay away from complicated grammatical structures and really big words. If you ever find yourself talking to a columnist, and they start banging on about what a tough old life it is… ooh, the tortured, lonely existence of the weekly columnist, now you’ll know they’re blowing smoke up your patooty. It isn’t rocket science.
I’m fortunate in that any number of things set me off and make me want to write. The difficulty every week isn’t finding a topic, it’s sifting through the steaming pile of potential topics to find the one that really deserves a good spanking. This week is no exception. Since the older I get the more I seem to be suffering from Baby Boomer Attention Deficit Disorder (BBADD), I decided to explore several topics this week rather than muster up the discipline necessary to focus on one issue.
By the way, this week’s dispatch is being delivered unto ye from ol’ Blighty. You’ll be glad to know that all’s well in the United Kingdom following the recent car bomb incidents in London and Glasgow. Not to digress, but here in the UK the public and government tends to react to these events differently than we would in the U.S. Following the recent thwarted attacks, the UK public shrugged, acknowledged the fact that occasionally there will be a close call or even successful attack, and pretty much moved on with their regular routine. The politicians condemned the perpetrators and their sympathizers, the law enforcement elements went about their duty collecting information and making arrests and life goes on.
In contrast, if the thwarted attacks had occurred in the U.S., we would already have formed a commission on Capitol Hill to figure out who’s to blame, demanded some reshuffling of a government entity or two, moaned about a catastrophic intelligence failure and generally blown enough hot air to melt at least one of the two poles. Nobody does the knee-jerk reaction dance better than us. It’s a bit like the hokey-pokey but with a bigger sense of guilt and more finger pointing.
And now, scanning the globe…
It’s tit-for-tat, or Vlad-for-Percy, over here in the UK as the new British government just announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats as a result of Russia’s failure to extradite former KGB agent Andre Lugovoi, the man Scotland Yard believes is responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
For those of you keeping up with old-school espionage, you’ll recall that Litvinenko was the former KGB agent turned British citizen and fierce Vladimir Putin critic, who died late last year after being poisoned with Polonium 210.
Russia argues that extradition is against their Constitution, therefore Britain’s action is unfair and unacceptable. Britain argues that it’s not cricket to commit murder on British soil, adding that the use of radioactive material to do the what’s-what put many people at risk and really isn’t OK. Both sides are reluctant to see this escalate further and impact trade and other bilateral matters, which in diplomatic speak means, loosely, the murder will remain unresolved.
This isn’t the first time either side has resorted to kicking out intelligence officers disguised as diplomats to make a point about something completely unrelated. Back in 1985, the British government kicked out 31 Soviets (we called them Soviets back then), 25 of whom made up the KGB station in London. In response, the Soviets kicked out 25 Brits. It was an explusion explosion, an expellapalooza… which of course accomplished nothing at the end of the day.
Returning to our globe trotting…
Good news from the wilds of the Pakistani northwest region (along the Afghan border)… a peace agreement struck in September last year involving the tribal leaders and the government of General Musharraf appears to be falling apart.
In one of the more frustrating and bizarre events of the War on Terror (with apologies to Mr. Edwards) last year the Musharraf regime basically agreed to pull all Pakistani military personnel out of the region or confine them to outposts in exchange for the tribal council’s agreement to not allow the Taliban or Al Qaeda elements to use the region as an operating base, particularly for staging attacks into Afghanistan.
Right from the start the U.S. expressed concern that perhaps, lemme see, maybe the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements wouldn’t honor the agreement. Ya’ think? Shortly after last week’s storming of the Taliban-style Red Mosque in Islamabad by government troops, violence erupted in the remote northwest region and the tribal leaders unilaterally terminated the peace agreement.
Headlines focused this past week on a resurgent Al Qaeda, due in part to the relative autonomy in the northwest region of Pakistan that they’ve enjoyed since the peace agreement went into affect almost a year ago. The tribal leaders in that region tend to favor hardline causes, distrust any foreign or outside influence, are fundamentalist or conservative in their faith, and have no interest in cooperating with, assisting or tolerating the Pakistani military. In simple layman’s terms, it was the crappiest peace agreement ever.
Now that the extremists in that region are busy blowing up Pakistani military and police, with over 100 killed this past weekend, it is likely we will try to get busy carrying out joint operations to disrupt and dismantle the gains made by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In terms of the War on Terror (sorry again Mr. Edwards), this is the most important theater of operations in the short to mid-term. Unfortunately, political realities prevent us from carrying out unilateral operations in the region. Hopefully, we and the Musharraf regime, can find the wherewithal to work together closely to clean house.
Here’s a thought… let’s redeploy 25 percent of our Iraq based personnel to work with the Pakistani military and police in the areas we know are infested by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This accomplishes the drawdown in Iraq that many on the Hill are increasingly clamoring for (I’m sure it has nothing to do with future elections) while actually putting our war fighters in a position to engage an enemy that can be genealogically (I might’ve made that word up) traced back to 9/11.
The realists out there are saying “…can’t be done… it would weaken Musharraf and politically he couldn’t allow U.S. resources into the border region.” Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.
Turning to other items of interest…
According to my finely honed math skills, the top six presidential contenders (in terms of fundraising) have already spent something like $123 million on an election that still has-- what-- three or four years to go before we finally get to vote? That’s the money spent, not raised. I’m not competent enough with my slide rule to add up all the money these cats have raised already.
Is there a reason we can’t limit the amount of money each candidate could spend on campaigning? Let’s make it really democratic… we’ll set a limited campaign season (I vote for a total of four months leading up to the election) and a set amount of money that each can spend. I honestly don’t need more than four months to review the pros and cons of each candidate, understand their backgrounds and views and make a decision. Frankly, four months is probably three months too many.
Now on the question of how much jack each candidate gets… how about we allocate $4 million to each candidate. Think about it… do they need to spend more than a million a month to get their points across? What the hell is wrong with us? The situation is insane and we’re all going along with it. We watch the tote board to see who’s raising the most dough, then we assume that whoever is raising the most cash each quarter is clearly the strongest candidate.
And what does the money get spent on? Consultants, advisors, pollsters, speech guys, marketing dudes, advertising, charter planes, salaries for numerous guys who make their living running campaigns, haircuts, state wide operations, fleets of rental vehicles to drive around earnest unpaid college kids looking to become the next Karl Rove or James Carville and God knows what else.
While we’re on topic, I wonder if any of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign cash went to fund the recently discovered activities of two of his key Southern states managers/organizers. In the continuing saga of a game I call “Does anyone do due diligence on Rudy’s staff?”, it turns out that Sen. David Vitter (Louisiana Republican and Southern campaign chairman for Giuliani’s campaign) admitted to “serious sin” in his past which might involve hookers.
At the same time, Rudy’s South Carolina statewide chairman, Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, has been indicted on cocaine-distribution charges.
A story in the New York Times recently noted that the 44-year-old Ravenel is known as “T-Rav” on his MySpace page. Which leads us to the most important question in this odd story… What is a 44 year old man doing with a MySpace page? Grow up Skippy.
That’s just my opinion. Let me know your thoughts.
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.