Archive for April, 2016

US bombing ISIS banks could flush out Daesh leader

April 27, 2016


Christopher Lee

28 April 2009, London

ISIS is losing $millions to US Intelligence and airstrikes.  US Intelligence agencies plus electronic and human gathered intelligence (HUMINT) on the ground in Syria and Iraq have been so good at locating terrorist strong boxes that within the past twelve months perhaps up to $800 million dollars of ISIS cash has been destroyed.

For the man in charge of targeting the asset stripping operation against ISIS strongrooms, US Major General Peter Gerstner the Operations and Intelligence deputy commander in Iraq reckons that all this has been done using good information and fewer than 20 airstrikes – one of them on the ISIS banknote depot in Mosul.

Some of this explains recent Intelligence briefings in Washington that ISIS the most organised and superrich terrorist organisation on the streets until last year – assets then in excess of $2bn – is pushed for funds and partly as a consequence of that is losing support.

There are three aspects here that US strategists think they may be getting ahead of ISIS:

US bombing of ISIS controlled oil fields has reduced income and, given the price of oil, this is something of a double-whammy

Secondly, with fewer funds the volunteer flow that was as high as 2,000 a month this time last year has trickled to 200 a month.  Terrorists are mostly for hire than inspired by ideology. ISIS numbers maybe dropped by as many as 15%

Thirdly, ISIS has not been able to cope with success inasmuch that it has found it hard to administer and command expansion. The move into Afghanistan has a different leadership and may not feel any of these pressures- but they are felt throughout ISIS Middle East.

These examples of US success if they are checked out may be one reason why the Italian led coalition that includes France and the UK want to get in to Libya.  They think that if ISIS is not getting the big wages as once they did then demoralisation should be hammered as soon as possible.

The ISIS contingent in Libya is concentrated on perhaps two coastal towns, Sirte being one of them.  There is a school advising the Foreign Office in London that this is not a well organised group and the time is to hit them.

It could be sound advice.  It is true also that British hit and run policy means that it is relatively simple for the ISIS to regroup if the Libyan mission cannot take over the vacated territory.

What has all this to do with the bombing of a dozen or so ISIS cashpoints?

The real success story of the US led forces against ISIS during the past 12 months has been assassination operations against terrorist leaders plus commercial fields such as oil and bankrolls.  In other words, reduce resources and constantly harass leadership, demoralises manpower; any commander knows that this the temporary but easily actable upon state he needs his enemy in before he sends in the strategic solution.

Could be the battlefield circumstances are changing and the word is that the assassination top target that will pull this together is the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Talk to General Gerstner and he says that the Intelligence people are not sure where he is.

But talk to the people debriefing special forces and the until recently frustrated electronic Intelligence (ELINT) desks and some say that if what is going on here gets better for them and worse for ISIS then al-Baghdadi will break cover – which may just turn out to be the long term success story in the news from General Gerstner’s office.





Europe – The War Grave of Politics

April 22, 2016


Christopher Lee

22 April 2016, London

Ted Heath, shortly after he retired as Prime Minister told me that EU membership made war less likely in Europe. We were sitting in the drawing room of his house in the peaceful embrace of Salisbury Cathedral Close with the garden running down to the sweet Avon.

It was a warm summer and the future was safe in the hands of Europe – as long that is, the hands were firmly clasped together.

President Obama’s message this morning is that too many American soldiers died on the beaches and ditches of this continent for the United States not to have a view on the UK referendum on EU membership. Ted Heath M.C. and Obama would have understood each other.

What Heath said and the point Obama made is a reminder that the EU was born out of the tragedy of World War II. The founding fathers, men like Jean Monet, Joseph Bech, Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak et al were of one mind; the Benelux Customs Union, the Coal and Steel and later the Economic Community brought together minds in political and commercial unity.  But the purpose was greater: Europe should never again be split in war.

This was all during the opening moves of the Cold War. The USSR prepared for war – the Channel Ports in four days was the brag of the 16th Shock Army in Magdeburg. A wise European elder, sat with me this morning, sipped from his bowl of coffee, dragged on his now socially unacceptable Gauloises (a successor to Monet perhaps) and observed, Putin has his new Shock Army.

This past week, Putin’s suits sat once more in the NATO-Moscow Council in Brussels (No No Smoking signs needed – you simply don’t) and with splendid diplomatic curtness ran through an agenda to see if the Alliance and Russia could get back to an practical informality that predated the taking of the Crimea and the interference in the Ukraine. It was good that the cocktail of ambassadors met after two years apart. Yet the political and military differences are as great if not greater.

As my vieux sage rasped, Putin works on the break-up of the EU. The Americans are throwing in brigades. Not what we had in mind when we all signed in 1975.

Equally let no one doubt that the US would never pay to join an organisation that dictated 60% of its laws.  Nevertheless the imagery of committed soldiery is stark. Today, with remaining suspicions about Putin’s ambitions and the demonstration of Daesh tactics in Brussels and Paris quite clear, the Obama message should be understood. In effect, Europe remains America’s front line.

That is not a political point as is the June referendum.  It is Intelligence Analysis at its simplest.

Ted Heath too understood this as did many of his Cabinet – five Military Crosses, including his Defence Secretary.  They had got their knees brown. Heath’s view was simple: membership of NATO was not enough even though it brought Canada and the US into some future ORBAT.

The real Order of Battle is the diplomacy and long term thinking of the EU. Could be why Obama has gone out on a diplomatic limb.





US Interrogators Go For Kim Jong-un’s General

April 11, 2016


11 April 2016


US interrogators have been working over a North Korean general. No water boarding.  No white sound. No hood. No extraordinary rendition. This one was a walk-in. This was a two-star North Korean general who defected from his Dear Leader last year.

The word in Washington and Seoul is unanimous. The man is no has been looking for a  a never empty rice bowl. On the day he jumped the general was head of overseas Intelligence gathering for North Korea’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance. He was the officer who signed off spy operations against South Korea including US force capabilities in the south.

So, what have the interrogations produced? There are four main phases of interrogation for the two-star.

Firstly and immediately he needs checking out. Is he who he says he is? Why has he come over? It has to be understood that this man did not simply climb over the fence one dark and stormy night. Why now? Why not before? Why not next year? It took a lot of planning and nerve and a need for reassurances before he jumped. Was his move pure Le Carre? Did he come in from his northern cold? Who were his handlers from day one?  What promises of protection and comfort were made?

Secondly, the first phase of practical interrogation is tactical questioning. His interrogators South Korean and American started list building. Names of senior people. Their jobs. What is everyone working on now?

Immediately and importantly, he has handed over a list of all the North Korean spies and wiring diagrams of spying operations by his people in South Korea.

The general has also given what he thinks he knows about key tactical plans by North Korea: test firings, power demonstrations, readiness states of forces, senior personnel changes. This phase is on-going. The general is now having to do a daily reading of  the North. What does this action mean? Who is this person we have not seen before? Etc.

The third stage is strategic intelligence. For example, he has been asked about Kim’s personal standing among senior generals – thus what chance a palace revolution.

The longer look interrogation has included power levels of general officers, state of mind of The Dear Leader, military capababilities and matching intentions (if any known) plus the all-important routines of North Korean leaders – Kim is not the only authority in the state. The interrogators have established and in some cases confirmed what they were not sure about and raised questions about what they thought was true.

Who meets, when they meet, under whose chairmanship, to whom they report has two-fold significance: it suggests power levels and confirms patterns that are indicators of events about to happen.

They key question on the interrogation list it seems could not be answered with any certainty. The general revealed information and confirmed what is already thought about what is going on in North Korea. However, although he said what he believes about capabilities he could not get far with the intentions of Kim Jong-un. Put simply, he said that this is what the leader has but the general had not idea what he intends to do with it.

There has apparently been an important uncertainty in the interrogation. Officers have had to spend time deconstructing the answers from the general.  There has been a suspicion that sometimes he simply told the Americans what he thought they wanted to hear – to make himself more important.

The two main assets the general has brought south are one practical and two theoretical: He has given the South Koreans and the Americans the names and operations of North Korean spying operations and plans. He has also given his thinking on what the United States has long believed to be the only practical solution beyond warfare to relations with North Korea: the possibility of a palace revolution.

We have the answer to the last question: if there was chance of a palace revolution and the replacement of Kim Jong-un by his own people then why would the general have defected?

Moreover it is understood (whoever that can mean in this situation) that he feared his loyalties were being questioned and that would mean execution. However that is read, the Americans are assuming the Dear Leader is there for the long term.

They now need the general to give a running explanation of every move from now on. British Intelligence will nod to that one. It is a game they too have played.

In 1985 a Soviet KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky who had worked for British Intelligence was brought back to the UK.  He spent years after that telling British governments, including that of Margaret Thatcher, exactly what the USSR was up to.

Taken as precedent, that should be a comfortable day job for the two-star general.