Tuesday, April 24

THE SPECIAL FEELINGS BETWEEN C.I.A. AND MONTENEGRO

Dedicate to H.E. JOHN McCAINE (from Adriaticus)

U.S. Congressional investigators want to know what an former CIA operative was doing in Montenegro last fall at the time of an alleged Russian backed coup plot against NATO’s newest member.
Michele Rigby and Joseph Assad
(U.S. authorities say they are curious why former CIA operative Joseph Assad, seen above in 2016 with his wife, Michele, was in Montenegro last fall around when an alleged coup plot was foiled). 
Photo by Lady Hereford/ Palm Beach Atlantic University
Former Central Intelligence Agency‎ Officer Joseph Assad is celebrated in Washington for helping extract dozens of Iraqi Christians from Islamic State territory in 2015‎. Last October, days before a hotly contested national election in Montenegro, Mr. Assad flew to the tiny Balkan country that has been the subject of tensions between the U.S. and Russia.


The imbroglio is a sign that old East-versus-West spy games are alive again in Europe. Current and former U.S. and Russian officials acknowledge privately that their operatives are at work in the Balkans and in Montenegro in particular.


U.S. and Montenegrin officials say the campaign culminated in a Russian-backed plot that was thwarted at the last moment. The government’s opponents say the events amounted to a fake coup intended to rally the people to the ruling party’s side.


Montenegrin officials said they are investigating whether Mr. Assad was hired to help the alleged perpetrators. Prosecutors have charged 14 people in the alleged plot, including what the indictment describes as a group of Serb nationalists, several of whom called themselves The Wolves. 

The indictment, recently upheld by Montenegrin courts, says the men planned to overthrow Montenegro’s government, possibly kill its prime minister and install a pro-Russian regime. It doesn’t charge Mr. Assad, but names him as a potential contractor hired to help to lead a subsequent escape from the country.

U.S. and allied officials have said it makes no sense that the coup plotters would use an outsider to help extract their team from the country. But Montenegrin and U.S. officials said it is possible Russian operatives wanted to associate a former CIA officer unwittingly with the plot so as to obscure Moscow’s responsibility.

U.S. and allied officials said one reason they believe there was a coup planned was that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said his country’s security services had found “undeniable and material” evidence to back the Montenegrin account and cooperated with the investigation.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Mr. Assad approached a Florida security firm, Patriot Defense Group, looking for someone to help with “counter surveillance and evacuation” for the opposition party.

Brian Scott, a former CIA official and chief executive of Patriot Defense Group (John McCain), said a staff member spoke with Mr. Assad about general security work in Montenegro for a company affiliated with Patriot. Mr. Scott said he didn’t know if the work was to conduct an evacuation, adding his company quickly turned down the job because it wasn’t aligned with his firm’s mission to assist U.S. companies overseas.

Mr. Assad, who hasn’t been indicted, declined to speak to The Wall Street Journal. His lawyer, Vincent Citro, said Mr. Assad had been in Montenegro to assist a friend and colleague who was managing the opposition’s campaign. Mr. Citro says Mr. Assad had nothing to do with any plot and denies Mr. Assad was working as a spy for Russia or anyone else.

Mr. Citro confirmed there was a call between Mr. Assad and Patriot Defense Group. He said Mr. Assad has cooperated with the U.S. government “to clarify misinformation coming from Montenegro” but said he was told his client isn’t under investigation.

A story about Mr. Assad and his wife on the website of his college alma mater and a 2016 profile in a Florida newspaper provides this sketch of Mr. Assad: He is an Egyptian Christian raised in Lebanon and Egypt and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. He moved to the U.S. to attend Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, where he focused on political science and biblical studies and graduated in 1994. In 1999, Mr. Assad and his wife, born in the U.S., both joined the CIA.

In 2015, after Mr. Assad moved to a private security consultancy, ABC’s 20/20 featured a segment on how the Assads helped rescue 149 Iraqi Christians from ISIS.

Among those charged in the alleged plot in Montenegro are two accused Russian operatives, three members of the Montenegrin opposition and nine Serbs. The trial will hinge on the credibility of the government’s main witness, a (unindicted) Serb who in a statement cited in the indictment says he was recruited by a Russian intelligence agent to overthrow a government.

Staff members and investigators of the House Intelligence Committee this week reached out to Mr. Assad and Mr. Scott to ask them questions. “If Americans were involved we need to investigate,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), the committee’s chairman. He recently visited Montenegro to meet with prosecutors about the allegations of Russian involvement. “This was an attempt to take down the pro-NATO government by Russian interests,” he said.

Last year, Montenegro’s Democratic Party of Socialists, which has ruled the country since independence in 2006 and has pushed for NATO membership, faced a stiff challenge from the Democratic Front, a coalition of opposition groups that campaigned on an anticorruption platform and called for a referendum on NATO.

The opposition hired Aron Shaviv, a British-Israeli campaign manager who had made his mark producing amusing political advertisements for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With Mr. Shaviv’s satirical ads poking fun of the government on the air, Mr. Shaviv said, he was followed and pulled over by Montenegrin police and security.

Mr. Shaviv said he called Mr. Assad, with whom he had worked previously, to come to Montenegro to conduct a security assessment. Mr. Assad’s lawyer says his client provided the assessments for Mr. Shaviv, then left on the day of the election.


Montenegrin and U.S. congressional investigators have questioned the timing of Mr. Assad’s exit. In conversations with the Journal, they asked why a security adviser would leave his client on the day of the election, hours after high-profile arrests of alleged plotters.

Mr. Shaviv, who hasn’t been accused in the plot, said the Montenegrin prosecutors’ allegations amount to believing Moscow tried to topple a government using a team made up of a political consultant, a former CIA agent and “some farm boys from rural Montenegro with their hunting rifles.”

Mr. Shaviv said Montenegro’s government faced defeat in the October election and whipped up the “sloppiest conspiracy theory ever concocted.” Both the Montenegrin government and ruling-party officials deny the allegation.


While Russian officials deny they are trying to destabilize NATO aspirants or countries on their borders, U.S. officials said they expect more Russian interference across Europe. 

Gen. Ben Hodges, a senior U.S. Army commander in Europe, said Russia is “going to continue doing this, putting pressure on countries on their periphery.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com

Sunday, April 15

CHEMICAL ARMS (WEAPONS) THE TRUTH FROM 1918 TO 2018

Edward M. Spiers, professor of strategic studies at Leeds University, in England, explores both the myths and realities of chemical and biological warfare. Organized more or less
chronologically, Spiers recounts the evolution of chemical and biological weapons from the first mass uses of chemical weapons in World War I to the potential of modern biology to transform bioterrorism.

Spiers writes that chemical and biological weapons have probably been around as long as warfare itself. Ancient European, Indian, and Chinese history is replete with the use of poisonous snakes, insects, diseased animals, incendiaries, poison-tipped weapons, and poisoned water supplies in warfare. The first large-scale use of chemical weapons occurred in World War I, when the Germans discharged chlorine gas from cylinders at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915. 

Reported casualties from the gas ranged from 7,000 to 15,000 people, but after the initial surprise, the Allies were able to improvise protective measures. Within five months, the British were able to retaliate at the Battle of Loos, but they suffered 2,000 casualties to their own gas.

The failures of gas to break the enemy’s lines at Ypres, Loos, and other battles contributed to the legacy of gas warfare in World War I as a failure. However, Spiers argues, this legacy was largely shaped by postwar historians, because few participants shared that view. The use of gas actually increased over the course of the war. In addition to consequent casualties, gas negatively affected morale and considerably contributed to psychological and physical stress. Antigas defenses also made warfare more cumbersome, exacerbating logistical and communication challenges.

As evidence of the effectiveness of chemical weapons, real or imagined, Spiers writes that the Allies prohibited Germany from manufacturing and importing asphyxiating or poisonous
gases as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Furthermore, in 1925, 44 nations signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons by international law and the “conscience and practice of nations.” Nonetheless, during the period between World Wars I and II, Britain considered but, for largely moral and political reasons, did not use chemical weapons in Egypt, Afghanistan, India, and Iraq.

Winston Churchill himself was “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Spiers writes. The eventual use of gas bombs by the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935–36, however, in direct contravention of the Ge ne va Protocol, reawakened Europe to the possibility of gas warfare. In Britain, more than 50 million “antigas” helmets had been distributed by the beginning of World War II. 

INHUMANE

A Kurdish woman carries photos of relatives killed in chemical weapons attacks ordered
Questions of efficacy aside, Spiers writes that a combination of other factors averted the use
of chemical weapons during the Second World War. Because of the industrial and economic
hardships engendered as a result of the First World War, German, French, and British
chemical production capacity was limited. Hitler personally disdained chemical weapons,
which had injured him during World War I

Moreover, early in World War II, Germany did not need to resort to chemical weapons, and the Allies could not risk using them near friendlycivilian populations. Eventually, Germany did test its V1 and V2 rockets with chemical warheads, although the nation was deterred from using them by fear of reprisal against its civilian population. 

By the end of the war, U.S. military-industrial might had produced the world’s largest stock of chemical weapons and the air power to deliver them. However, the development of the atomic bomb, and success on other fronts, made their use unnecessary.

Biological weapons were not used to a significant extent in either the First or Second World
Wars. Nonetheless, as Spiers describes, there were still chilling reminders of the potential
power of even crude biological weapons. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, six Japanese soldiers released hordes of plague-infested rats and 60 horses infected with glanders into the Chinese countryside, leaving Changchun and surrounding environs uninhabitable until the mid-1950s.

Nuclear weapons, of course, came to dominate deterrence strategies during the Cold War.
Nonetheless, the proliferation of a new class of chemical weapons, nerve agents such as
sarin [2-(fluoro-methylphosphoryl)oxypropane], touched off a new chemical arms race, Spiers writes. From 1954 to 1969, the U.S. also manufactured and stockpiled numerous antiplant and antipersonnel biological weapons.

In Vietnam, the U.S. faced criticism, both at home and abroad, for its use of riot-control agents (to clear tunnels, for example), defoliants, and chemical weapons to kill crops and render soils infertile. In 1967 alone, the U.S. defoliated 1.5 million acres of vegetation and destroyed 220,000 acres of crops in Vietnam. In 1969, the Nixon Administration announced the end of the U.S. biological weapons program, in part, Spiers argues, to blunt criticism for its use of herbicides and riot control agents in Vietnam.

In the meantime, Spiers writes, the Soviets were developing the world’s most advanced chemical and biological weapons program.

During the Cold War, Iran and Iraq also waged a devastating war (1980–88) that again witnessed the mass by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Credit: Newscom use of chemical weapons. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) later confirmed that the Iraqis had used some 1,800 tons of mustard agent, 140 tons of tabun (ethyl Ndimethyl phosphoramido cyanidate), and 600 tons of sarin. 

Iraq estimated these attacks resulted in more than 30,000 Iranian casualties (compared with the 500,000 to 1 million estimated total Iranian casualties). As Spiers notes, although the number of casualties from chemical weapons may have been small on a relative basis, the psychological impact was significant. Iraq’s ballistic missiles, and the fear of their potential to deliver chemical warheads to Iranian cities, played a role in Iran’s accepting the United Nations-brokered truce in 1988. Iraqi chemical weapons also helped to suppress the internal Kurdish rebellion, killing and injuring thousands of Kurds and leading to the flight of 65,000 others to Turkey in 1988, Spiers writes.

By the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had significantly restocked and improved its chemical weapons capabilities. U.S. Central Commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf originally planned for 10,000 to 20,000 chemical weapons casualties, but Iraq never resorted to chemical weapons. The George H. W. Bush Administration had already decided not to respond with nuclear or chemical weapons if coalition forces were attacked with chemical weapons, but they deliberately conveyed the opposite impression.

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Tariq Aziz later commented that the Iraqis understood that the use of chemical weapons might very well provoke the use of nuclear weapons against Baghdad by the U.S. Although Iraq’s SCUD missile attacks against Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain inflicted minimal physical damage, the specter of chemical warheads inflicted great psychological damage. Spiers quotes Schwarzkopf: “The biggest concern was a chemical warhead threat. … Each time they launched … the question was, is this going to be a chemical missile. That was what you were concerned about.” 

Their unique ability to engender such fears, of course, is precisely what makes chemical and biological weapons appealing to terrorists. As Spiers astutely notes, “terrorists can choose when, where, and how to attack their targets, they can avoid many of the uncertainties that have bedeviled the military use of chemical and biological weapons. By maximizing the element of surprise, they can attack targets with low or non-existent levels of protection; by careful choice of target environment, especially an enclosed facility, they need not wait upon optimum meteorological conditions; by attacking highly vulnerable areas, they may use a less than optimal mode of delivery; and by making a chemical or biological assault, they may expect to capture media attention and cause widespread panic.”

Although chemical weapons have been used much more frequently, Spiers notes that on a per-mass basis, biological weapons are more lethal than chemical weapons. As advances in production technologies can simultaneously result in increased yields in smaller, harder-todetect facilities, the potential utility of biological weapons to terrorists will become even more significant. 


In the most well-known example of biological terrorism to date, in October 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, anthrax-tainted letters began appearing in the U.S. Despite fears of another international attack, the strain was identified as having come from a domestic source, the Army research facility at Fort Detrick, Md. Letters were received in Florida, New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., including a Senate office building. As Spiers described it, “massive panic and chaos” erupted, and Congress and the Supreme Court were closed for several days, although only 22 cases of anthrax actually resulted, including just five fatalities.


One of the most sobering developments outlined in the book is the application and
proliferation of emergent molecular biology techniques to the production of biological
weapons. Through the use of genetic engineering, new or modified organisms of greater
virulence, antibiotic resistance, and environmental stability may be produced. 

In one notable example foreshadowing the utility of biotechnology to weapons production, the Soviets developed the host bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which through genetic engineering could also produce the myelin toxin. Infected animals developed both the tuberculosis-like symptoms caused by the bacteria and the paralysis induced by the myelin toxin. One former Soviet scientist recalled that after a briefing on the results, “the room was absolutely silent. We all recognized the implications of what the scientists had achieved. A new class of weapon had been found.”

Additional topics in this comprehensive book include the various international attempts at chemical and biological weapons disarmament, deterrence, and nonproliferation, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention; the sarin attacks on the Japanese subways in the mid-1990s; the use of chemical warfare in developing-world conflicts; and the embarrassing failures of American and British intelligence regarding Iraqi chemical weapons that led to the second Gulf War. 

For those of us interested in the potential impacts of chemistry and biology on humankind, Spiers’s book is a thoroughly documented, no-nonsense (often to the point of being dry) review of the malevolent potential of our science.

Read also here
and here
here