On May 6, 2021, Vladimir Kozin joined me on a webinar for a broad discussion of U.S.-Russia relations, focusing mostly on military developments and mutual tensions that could leave us all dead. World Beyond War and the Center for Citizen Initiatives organized the session.
Ray led off, speaking for 19 minutes beginning at minute 1:45, followed by Vladimir Kozin for 17 minutes before the Q and A. Many of the questions were right on the mark; same goes for the answers, many of which covered new territory. So much so that the moderators decided to lengthen the time for Q and A.
More than 600 initially signed up for the webinar; over 300 actually took part. They were from the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, among other countries. A very international audience.
At last report, Donald Rumsfeld remains at large. 15 years ago today in Atlanta, citing his own words, I asked him why he lied about WMD in Iraq. Anderson Cooper confused, could not understand how I could do that: “Weren’t you afraid?” he kept asking me.
I was happy to be asked by the World Ethical Data Foundation to speak at their Forum this year about the media. I chose to select a couple of instructive “for instances” (short for what the Harvard Business School calls “case studies”) to put flesh on this dismal subject. Still all thumbs at making slides, at the last minute I enlisted the help of my friend Ann Batiza; kudos to Ann if you find my presentation coherent.
I decided, also at the last minute, to begin with a song. And those interested in why I chose Die Gedanken Sind Frei can find a fulsome explanation below. But first, to provide some idea as to my train of thought — and hopefully whet an appetite or two — I’ll just list the titles of the slides in the order shown:
1 — William Casey’s Dream Fulfilled 2 — Ken Delanian: John Brennan’s Dream Come True 3 — Comey: Steele Dossier ‘Verified’, also ‘Not Corroborated’ 4 — Chuck Grassley Laments the Department of ‘Just Us’ 5 — CNN: Expect ‘Technical Difficulties’ the Moment Israel Criticized 6 — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Why I Did 9/11 7 — Don Lemon to Ray McG: Huh? Julian Assange NOT a Terrorist? 8 — The Noah Principle
Are Die Gedanken Frei – Really?
On a train hurtling through Germany in September 2015, my former CIA colleague, Elizabeth Murray, was teaching me a German song: Die Gedanken Sind Frei, in English “Thoughts are Free”. We were giving presentations in major German cities on the general theme Wie Werden Kriege Gemacht — loose translation, “How Do Wars Get Started”. We encountered considerable puzzlement at how we could feel free to speak so candidly and fearlessly about the responsibility of our own government for causing chaos in the Middle East. In that light, this old German song seemed worth bringing to mind — and perhaps singing at some point during one of our talks. Besides, we thought it might add a much needed lighter, more hopeful note to our dreary theme.
“Collateral damage”, so to speak, from the various wars in the Middle East was having a palpable effect in Germany at the time, with the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees primarily from Syria. We witnessed this personally everywhere our train stopped — and particularly at the main Bahnhof in the north German city of Rostock when we arrived to give a talk there. The railroad station platform could hardly be seen under the open bags and suitcases of hundreds of Syrian refugees.
Under a huge banner ALLE Sind Herzlich Willkommen!, local German volunteers were serving their Arab “guests” coffee, milk, and bread. The refugees’ relief and joy were poignant, the more so when Elizabeth walked into their midst to add words of welcome, using her fluent Arabic to engage them person to person. I felt a strange mixture of shame at our country’s part in causing so many to have to flee their own country; and I felt some hope as I watched the local Germans “welcome the stranger”. (It was entirely predictable that Chancellor Angela Merkel would eventually have to take heavy flak for observing this key biblical mandate. She did it anyway. In my view, it was the right thing to do.)
After Rostock our next engagement was in Berlin, and as our train sped south, Elizabeth and I were rehearsing — discreetly, we thought — Die Gedanken Sind Frei. Not quietly enough, it turned out. It was not long before the four elderly women sitting across the aisle spontaneously joined the singing — and then almost at once, to our astonishment, the entire car of that train joined in.** When the verses had all been sung, I thanked our four women co-passengers for joining in, adding “You were probably not able to sing that when Hitler was in power.” As with one voice, they shouted:
A forceful way of saying “NO WAY did we stop singing that song; we sang it all the time.” (I later learned that Sophie Scholl, a leader of die Weisse Rose student resistance group bravely played that song on her flute outside the walls of the prison in which her father was detained for calling Hitler a “scourge of God”. Sophie herself was later caught and executed.)
What If You Don’t Know What to Think? As mentioned above, Die Gedanken Sind Frei again came to mind as I was preparing to present to the World Ethical Data Foundation in March. OK, I thought, even under Hitler people felt free to sing a song about being able to have thoughts that are free. But if such thoughts are not informed by accurate information, how much are they really worth? How can they engender action aimed at “doing the right thing”? With those thoughts in the back of my head, I decided to sing the first stanza of the song to begin my talk and then proceed to wrestle with that key question.
I had given my talk the title: “Mainstream Media: Vestigial Organs” — which eventually morphed into “Turnkey Tyranny”. And I sang the first stanza:
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten, sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten. Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger sie schießen mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Below is a good literal English translation:
Thoughts are free, who can guess them? They fly by like nocturnal shadows. No person can know them, no hunter can shoot them with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
**A similar thing happened a week later in Cologne in the cavernous — and very full — Lutherkirche toward the end of our presentation. I froze after singing the first line of the song, gave the microphone to Elizabeth who picked up beautifully and, yes, by the third line the entire church had broken out in song. It was quite moving. For those interested, this very short but poignant interlude takes place at minute 1:13:30 of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7Lia8caiZM
Reviewing the chronology of events over the past five tense weeks, it became clear that several things came to a head on April 13, culminating in President Biden’s very strange call to President Putin. My guess is that it was Putin who called first and left a “voicemail” saying: “Your Ukrainians and the crazies abetting them are playing with fire; please call me — and quickly.”
Lots more was covered in the interview:
— The key role of China — yes, China — a increasingly important factor in the background
— The meretricious “mainstream media” as the anchor, the linchpin of the MICIMATT
— Who’s in charge in Washington?
— Has Russia matched the U.S. in sophisticated weaponry?
— How a kindergarten teacher showed me more wisdom than George Kennan
— Dan Berrigan, simple but profound: “Do the right thing. Results are not unimportant, but they are secondary,”
I hope listeners enjoy the interview as much as I did.
The annual award ceremony was as instructive and as warm as usual, even though held virtually. The honor was given to former MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon who, together with a MI5 colleague, did their best to expose serious misdeeds of British intelligence.
In addition, an honorary award was given posthumously to Russian scholar Stephen Cohen, husband of Katrina vanden Heuvel, who added poignant remarks to her reading of the citation honoring Steve.
The awards were presented on March 17 at the World Ethical Data Forum.
Here is the video of the Sam Adams Award ceremony; the texts of the two citations follow below the video:
Citation for Annie Machon
Know all ye by these presents that Annie Machon is hereby honored with the traditional Sam Adams Corner-Brightener Candlestick Holder, in symbolic recognition of her courage in shining light into dark places.
“If you see something, say something.” Long before that saying came into vogue, Annie Machon took its essence to heart.
MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency, recognized how bright, enterprising, and unflappable Annie was and recruited her as soon as she completed her studies at Cambridge.
The good old boys in MI5 apparently thought she would have a malleable conscience, as well — such that she would have no qualms about secret monitoring of the very government officials overseeing MI5 itself, for example.
Annie would not be quiet about this secret abuse. Her partner, David Shayler, an MI5 colleague and — like Annie — a person of integrity and respect for law, became aware of an MI6 plan to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
They decided to blow the whistle and fled to France. (Many years later, a woman of high station but more flexible integrity openly gloated over Gaddafi’s brutal assassination.)
After three years on the lam, hiding mostly in France, they returned to the UK, where Annie was arrested (but never charged with a crime). The powers-that-be, however, chose to make an example of Shayler (not unlike what they are now doing to Julian Assange).
Shayler’s whistleblowing case dragged on for seven years, during which he did a brief stint in the infamous high-security prison where Julian Assange still rots (having been denied bail, yet again). A strong mitigation plea by Annie helped reduce Shayler’s remaining prison time. All in all, though, what he was forced to endure took a hard toll on him.
More broadly, the issues that surfaced around whistleblowing at the time remain largely the same two decades later. Annie Machon has been a very prominent and strong supporter of Julian. She has also been a much admired mentor to less experienced women and men as they seek to become better informed on issues of integrity and courage, and take Annie up on her offer to “help them meet interesting people”, as she puts it.
We would be remiss today were we not to call to mind the courageous example of our first two awardees, Coleen Rowley (FBI) and Katharine Gun (GCHQ), who took great risks in exposing malfeasance and in trying to head off the attack on Iraq. And, as Julian Assange did when he won this award, we again honor his treasured source, Chelsea Manning, for her continuing courage and scarcely believable integrity.
Ed Snowden, our Sam Adams awardee in 2013, noted that we tend to ignore some degree of evil in our daily life, but, as Ed put it, “We also have a breaking point and when people find that, they act.”
Annie is still acting, as one can see as this World Ethical Data Forum unfolds.
Presented this 17th day of March at the World Ethical Data Forum by admirers of the example set by the late CIA analyst, Sam Adams.
Citation for Posthumous Award to Stephen F. Cohen
Know all ye by these presents that Sam Adams Associates honors Professor Stephen F. Cohen with a posthumous tribute for his exemplary scholarship, integrity, and courage.
Stephen Cohen is still with us — in the hearts of those who knew him and try to emulate his courage. The word comes from cor – Latin for heart. It means “to speak one’s mind AND heart”. Aristotle saw courage as the sine qua non for all other virtue. In plain-speak, it doesn’t matter how much you know, if you lack courage.
Steve knew a lot about Russia. But at his courageous core, he was also a Mensch — influencing hearts as well as minds — whether the hearts of kids playing schoolyard basketball on the Upper West Side, or the hearts of presidents in Washington and Moscow. And it was Steve’s courageous commitment to historical truth that set him apart from self-styled specialists on Russia bowing to prevailing Russophobic winds.
Though Steve often was an outlier, his scholarship and advice were valued by top U.S. and Russian leaders alike. Three weeks after the Berlin Wall fell, Steve and his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel were with President George H. W. Bush at the summit in Malta at which Bush reassured Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. would not take advantage of the ferment in Eastern Europe. Under Bush’s successors NATO crept east — right up to Russia’s border, despite George Kennan’s warning that this “would restore the atmosphere of the cold war”.
Ever the historian, Steve put both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin in context, showing that Putin assumed power in a country on the verge of collapse, Yeltsin having allowed the plundering of Russia’s wealth. After the February 2014 coup on Russia’s doorstep in Ukraine, Steve quickly explained — with a candor unwelcome in Washington — why Russia reacted the way it did. Steve was “controversialized” and put in “Putin’s pocket”.
We veteran Russia-watchers took encouragement in knowing that Steve’s analysis was congruent with our own. Particularly welcome was the seal of approval given by Steve and Katrina to a newly coined acronym enumerating the main forces behind the campaign to portray Russia as enemy: MICIMATT — the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex.
Fortunately, Steve did not have to resort to samizdat. He had a close friend at a highly respected periodical — one known for its hospitality to serious scholarship and to views shunned elsewhere. The Nation. Our deepest thanks go out to its publisher, who faced into the prevailing winds and gave Steve a platform for his uniquely astute views on Russia, the country he and Katrina had come to know so well.
Presented this 17th day of March 2021 at the World Ethical Data Forum by admirers of the courageous example set by the late CIA analyst, Sam Adams.
We cranked in some new reporting against the background of the events of recent days.
Chances are better now that the Kiev crazies (and the chickenhawks egging them on from Washington) will factor in Putin’s warning and back off, at least for a while — the more so, inasmuch as the deployment of some 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine pretty much defined and gave flesh to “asymmetrical”. Putin said Wednesday that Russia’s response to provocations from Ukraine “will be asymmetrical, swift, and tough” and that the provocateurs “will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.”
I noted that on Wednesday morning before Putin spoke, Gennady Zyuganov told Russian news services that the upper house of the Duma (parliament) was expecting a message from President Vladimir Putin directing them to vote without delay on any legislative resolution authorizing the president to send the armed forces into action outside the borders of the Russian Federation. Zyuganov, who is leader of the main opposition (communist) party in the Russian parliament, said he would vote for such a resolution. During his address, Putin did not drop that shoe, apparently believing his stern warnings would suffice to rein in the crazies. Oddly, no Western news outlet seems to have picked up on what Zyuganov said.
Just an hour or two before my interview, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that the large military exercises near Ukraine had been completed and that he had ordered troops to return to their permanent bases by May 1. One can still count on Russian retaliation for any further provocations from Ukraine but, Putin having made his point, such responses from Russia can be expected to be more “symmetrical”, so to speak.
Strategically, the Russian military and Kremlin leaders are frequently reminded that there are crazies at the U.S. 4-Star level — beyond the military and civilian crazies in Washington and Ukraine. New weapons and deployments have reduced the time leaders need in order to distinguish between a false alarm and an actual attack. And loose talk on Twitter in the middle of Monday night by the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) adds to the things Gen. Shoigu has to worry about.
The Tweet read, in part:
We must account for the possibility of conflict leading to conditions which could very rapidly drive an adversary to consider nuclear use as their least bad option.
Writing in the U.S. Naval Institute Journal early this year, STRATCOM commander Admiral Charles A. Richard warned:
There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons,” he wrote, demanding that the United States “prepare for the conflict we prefer, instead of one we are likely to face.
If this betokens a change in U.S. strategic doctrine or policy, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin owes it to the world to have the words translated into understandable English. Otherwise, prudence would force Gen. Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart to read Admiral Richard’s prose — and the Tweet from STRATFOR — the the most alarming light.
Sanity from Intel Director Avril Haines: “Climate change can’t be addressed by one nation on its own.” Dare she add that lies regarding the threat from Russia/China and the HUGE carbon footprint from our military are major obstacles? Does “Threat Briefing” point to new honesty?