Written by Brian Kalman exclusively for SouthFront; Brian Kalman is a management professional in the marine transportation industry. He was an officer in the US Navy for eleven years. He currently resides and works in the Caribbean.
Politico Magazine has joined the ranks of the Washington Post and the New York Times on the Anti-Russia bandwagon. Not only did their “investigation” rely exclusively on insider sources linked to the U.S. government and intelligence community, half of which remain anonymous and far from unbiased sources, but went a step further by insinuating that U.S. service members and veterans are unable to discern the truth from lies. Apparently, men and women smart enough to defend the nation cannot be trusted with access to the free market of ideas present in an open society.
In an investigative report titled, “How Russia targets the U.S. Military. With hacks, pro-Putin trolls and fake news, the Kremlin is ratcheting up its efforts to turn American servicemembers and veterans into a fifth column.”, author Ben Schreckinger asserts that the Russian state is engaged in a hybrid information war aimed at both coopting U.S. service members and veterans into embracing the Russian government’s world view, while at the same time harming them financially and psychologically via an aggressive hacking campaign. Mr. Schreckinger never explains the validity of Vladimir Putin’s strategy of building a fifth column of indoctrinated and brainwashed U.S. soldiers and retired soldiers by undermining them by stealing their personal information. This strategy of winning hearts and minds while violating privacy and pilfering bank accounts doesn’t exactly sound very logical, but who cares about logic when the narrative is the only thing that matters. Maybe the author also believes that U.S. soldiers and veterans are too stupid to see the obvious contradiction in this assertion.
Firstly, the author seems to take the position that only nefarious foreign governments engage in cyber war or what he states intelligence experts define as,“ ‘active measures’- a form of political warfare that includes disinformation, propaganda and compromising leaders with bribes and blackmail”. Any educated and informed individuals would understand that the United States, with its 17 different intelligence gathering agencies, rewrote the book on such active measures long ago. The Snowden leaks, followed up by the Vault Seven revelations made known to the world thanks to WikiLeaks, have shed new light on U.S. surveillance methods and cyber warfare efforts both domestically and internationally. I find it hard to stomach the author’s assertion that, “all of it amounts to a new kind of low-intensity or “hybrid” warfare that Western governments are still struggling to effectively counter.” Any reasonably informed and critically thinking individuals, U.S. veterans included, accept the reality that all governments engage in espionage and subterfuge. It is laughable to consider the U.S. government as somehow too noble or innocent in such a respect. The United States has been the most widespread and effective manipulator of information, disseminator of propaganda, and underminer of foreign elections and governments for decades. I am making no moral judgement here, it is simply the nature of all governments in positions of power.
While identifying a number of independent media websites as active partners of the Russian state government in the dissemination of propaganda, the author quotes a number of individuals and security experts. It is important to take a more in depth look at these individuals, as well a cursory look at Politico Magazine itself. If the likes of New Eastern Outlook, Veterans Today, and SouthFront are being questioned for their connections to the Russian state, shouldn’t we investigate Politico’s own ties to the U.S. state? How about the connections to the U.S. government and security apparatus of a number of the experts quoted in the article?
Firstly, Politico, the self-admitted media service serving “politicos”, and the most read “Capitol Hill” publication online, is far from independent and unbiased. Politico cannot truthfully and ethically assert that they have no relationship with the U.S. government. Politico’s current CEO, Patrick Steel, served as Senior Advisor to the White House China Trade Relations Group and Deputy Chief of Staff to Agriculture Secretary (Dan Glickman) for President Bill Clinton, as well as a Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton. The current Editor in Chief John Harris, worked at The Washington Post (which continues to destroy its lackluster reputation by producing the most vial and unsubstantiated propaganda stories that it has repeatedly been forced to retract within 24 hours of print) for years, making his career reporting on the Bill Clinton presidency. He even wrote a book about the Bill Clinton Presidency, “The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House”. The past connection of these two senior staff members alone to the Clintons, and the U.S. government in general, would bring into question their lack of bias in reporting. I do believe that Politico and the Washington Post endorsed Hillary Clinton for president?
It is also important to point out that Politico’s current President, Poppy MacDonald was previously employed in many capacities at the National Journal, a publication that identifies itself as “a premier research and insights company committed to helping organizations effectively navigate Washington. We serve more than 1,000 government and business leaders in the nation’s capital with the intelligence, insights and connections they need to save time, increase efficiency and deliver success.” Didn’t Poppy also start her career working as an aid for Oregon Congressmen and Senators on Capitol Hill? After briefly reviewing just the above resumes, whose interests does Politico actually serve?
Ben Schreckinger himself worked for a time as an Atlantic Media fellow with National Journal “covering politics and policy from Washington”. He was even awarded the Robert Novak Collegiate Journalism Award in 2011, an award named after the infamous “journalist” who blew the cover of Valerie Plame, who was an active CIA operative at the time, for partisan political reasons. How appropriate.
Now let’s take a look at some of the author’s quoted experts:
General Philip Breedlove USAF, Retired.
Possibly the most rabid, anti-Russian voice in the Pentagon and NATO before he stepped down as Supreme Allied Commander Europe at NATO Allied Command Operations in May of 2016. He retired shortly after, when a number of his private emails were leaked by DC Leaks, which showed that he was actively working against the administration of President Obama in an attempt to force the United States deeper into a proxy war with Russia over the conflict raging in the Ukraine. Breedlove’s bellicose statements regarding Russian aggression and his inflated estimates of Russian military personnel and equipment deployed in eastern Ukraine were met with exasperation and confusion by the intelligence services of other NATO nations. Some of the hacked emails even alluded to Breedlove’s attempts to work with Pakistani arms merchants to supply Ukraine with more advanced offensive weaponry, against the wishes of his commander-in-chief.
Tom Kellerman, CEO of Strategic Cyber Ventures
Prior to his current role at Strategic Cyber Ventures, Mr. Kellerman worked at the World Bank Treasury Security Team. He was also a member of the Commission on Cyber Security for the Obama administration, as well as serving as an advisor to the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance (ICSPA). ICSPA is based in UK, where it works closely with the government and law enforcement agencies of the UK and other NATO member countries, including The Netherlands, Canada and the United States, to identify and thwart cyber-crime. So, Mr. Kellerman has connections to the White House, a number of Western governments and the World Bank. He is the CEO of a cyber security company that directly benefits from thwarting alleged Russian cyber threats.
Kate Starbird, Assistant Professor Dept. of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.
Professor Starbird was a professional basketball player before her move into academics. According to her homepage she states:
“Using a combination of empirical methods, including qualitative, computational and network analysis, I examine both small group and large scale interaction online within the context of disasters and other mass disruption events, studying how digital volunteers and other members of the crowd work to filter and shape the information space.
At a higher level, we are examining how digital volunteerism during crisis events informs what we know about crowdwork and collective intelligence.”
I am not sure how the professor comes to the conclusion that the websites mentioned in the article are active partners in disseminating Russian propaganda. None of her methods or evidence are explained in the article; however, she is quoted as saying:
“But the intentional targeting of U.S. military, active and retired, seems to be a strategy of information war. I have anecdotes from friends, family members, and now strangers who tell me about their family members who are deeply engrossed in this information ecosystem.”
Sounds very scientific, doesn’t it? Maybe professor, active members of the military and veterans are interested in the Russian point of view on relations with the West, and the conflicts raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, because they understand more than anyone else in our society, the ramifications of misguided foreign policy and the military conflicts that result. Men and women that experienced the degradations of war and went through combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, or guided drones in Somalia and Yemen, just may have an interest in another point of view other than the U.S. political establishment. Many of these men and women, more than anyone else, understand the damnable waste of war, and the failure of U.S. regime change efforts. With such personal experiences of warfare, and understanding the realities of war, renders the majority of the armed forces community of all ranks quite astute as to how the world really works. Soldiers understand integrity, and can identify when they are being lied to.
Joel Harding is identified in the article as a former Army intelligence officer who is now an independent researcher. In reality, Joel Harding served in the U.S. Army for 26 years, mostly in the area of Information Operations (IO). He later established a private sector IO company, the Information Operations Institute. Information Operations, or Inform and Influence Operations (IIO), are defined by the U.S. Army in publication FM 3-13, Information Operations in the following manner:
“IO seeks to create specific effects at a specific time and place. Predominantly, these effects occur in and through the information environment. Immediate effects (disrupt, corrupt, usurp) are possible in the information environment’s physical and informational dimensions through the denial, degradation, or destruction of adversarial or enemy information-related capabilities. However, effects in the cognitive dimension (influence) take longer to manifest. It is these cognitive effects—as witnessed through changed behavior—that matter most to achieving decisive outcomes.”
The field manual further elaborates:
“The information environment has increased in complexity. Due to the widespread availability of the Internet, wireless communications and information, the information environment has become an even more important consideration to military planning and operations, because the military increasingly relies on these technologies. Activities occurring in and through the information environment have a consequential effect on the operational environment and can impact military operations and outcomes.”
Joel Harding spent most of his military career engaged in IO/IIO operations against the adversaries or perceived adversaries of the United States. He continues to engage in IIO activities, although much more lucratively, in the private sector. A man that is vilifying a number of websites, Veterans Today and SouthFront in particular, by labeling them as active partners in a Russian IO campaign against U.S. interests, has spent his entire military and professional career doing the same type of activities at the behest of the United States government. If this isn’t the height of hypocrisy I don’t know what is. Those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones Joel.
U.S. Active Members and Veterans Want the Truth, not a Fraudulent Narrative
As much as the politicos inside the Beltway are struggling to control the flow of information and to buoy up a fraudulent narrative, the free market of ideas which is aided by the global access to information and almost limitless opinions and points of view made possible by the internet and social media, will render their aims impossible. Sisyphus would have an easier time finally pushing that boulder up a hill. In a free society, the free market of ideas allows an intuitive and intelligent citizenry the ability to review many different points of view, whether it be that of a state, a media outlet or a private citizen, and gives them access to evidence (especially in a world where everyone has a smart phone), sometimes in real time. Any critically thinking individual will not rely on one source to develop an accurate picture of the truth, but will review as many different sources as possible. The more logical and truthful ideas will win the day, and the less truthful will not be widely accepted. If the U.S. political and media establishment is pushing a less than truthful narrative, people today find it easier and easier to find more reasonable and logical answers elsewhere.
Members of the U.S. military live by the most noble of human attributes, duty, honor and integrity. If they are embracing alternative points of view, and increasingly rejecting the narrative of their own political class, it’s probably because that narrative is untruthful. If given the choice between believing the story told to me by your average gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and your average Capitol Hill politician, I would trust the gunnery sergeant over the politician 100% of the time. If the establishment media is looking for a skulking boogie man to explain why American service members and veterans are no longer buying what they are pushing, they need only look in the mirror. Try telling the truth.
The Story of Alexander Prokhorenko
In closing, there is a portion of Mr. Schreckinger’s “investigative report” which deserves special attention. The author alludes to an interview of a Serena Moring, identified as “a former military contractor from a military family” in which she states that she “first became concerned about pro-Russian sentiment among soldiers on social media last spring, when an unverified report purporting to relate the story of a Russian soldier who died heroically fighting ISIS in Syria began circulating among American service members on social media.” She was alarmed by the “very soldier-to-soldier bond that was created through social media.”
This can only refer to the last actions of Russian Spetsnaz lieutenant Alexander Prokhorenko. The young officer had infiltrated behind ISIS lines to locate and “paint” enemy units so that they could be targeted by Russian attack aircraft engaged in airstrikes against ISIS units and defenses in the Palmyra area on the 17th of March, 2016. He was discovered, surrounded and wounded in a firefight with the enemy, and instead of surrendering and being taken as a prisoner, he called in an airstrike on his own position. The resultant airstrike killed him and a number of ISIS fighters, and denied the militants the propaganda opportunity of capturing a Russian soldier. He was posthumously awarded a Hero of the Russian Federation, his remains were repatriated and he was buried with high honors. He left behind a young pregnant wife, having never met his first child.
I have no reason to believe that Alexander Prokhorenko did not die this heroic death. Similar acts or sacrifice are numerous in Russian military history. Soldiers of many nationalities, including Americans, have died in a similar noble fashion, and should always be remembered for their bravery and self-sacrifice. Alexander Prokhorenko is no different. Warriors understand this, and that is why American soldiers and veterans have embraced the lesson and the spirit of Alexander’s story. The day that American warfighters do not celebrate such a noble act will truly be a time to be concerned. I trust that day will never come.
Until such time that evidence is presented that disproves the official story behind Alexander Prokhorenko’s death, as was the case with the false stories propagated by the U.S. government regarding the “rescue” of Jessica Lynch or the death of Pat Tillman, I will not dishonor the memory of a young officer who sacrificed his life for the highest of human ideals. The martial traditions and values of U.S. and Russian soldiers, their love of country, culture and family are so very similar in so many ways. These similarities should be embraced and celebrated. I happen to believe that if it was left up to the young soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors of the militaries of both countries, they would be fighting side by side as allies against the common enemy of Islamic extremism that threatens the civilized world. If only the politicos could acknowledge the ugly truth in the mirror, shut their mouths for a brief moment and clear a path for the soldiers to step forward.