Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?

A 2015 docudrama entitled “A Good American,” written, produced and directed by Friedrich Moser in Austria, exposes the world of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and claims that 9/11 could have been prevented.  This film based on true events, with interviews with real people, tells the story of Bill Binney and several of his colleagues, who worked at the NSA and were eventually fired.  Here is a brief summary of this explosive story.

Bill Binney was a mathematician and a brilliant data analyst, who early on saw that what mattered in decrypting masses of information was not what people were saying to each other, that is the content of a communication, but rather the analysis of the traffic, i.e. who was talking to whom, how often and from where to where. By analyzing this kind of information, he and others warned of the Tet offensive by the Communist Viet Cong in 1968, but due to “the arrogance of power” it was ignored by the US military in Vietnam.  He was then able to establish a structure of the Russian military command from traffic analysis, before the advent of real computers, and he was able to predict the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 months before it occurred.  Typically his warning was also ignored.

However, his work got him a job in the NSA, where he was given the task of expanding on his method of analysis.  He established a small group and continued his approach of traffic analysis using raw date that was pouring into the NSA from many sources.  At that time the work of NSA involved mainly total data capture and analysis for selected “red flags.”  For example, the use of the word “revolution” might be searched for, and then in each case the conversation would have to be analyzed for its security threat, to distinguish between someone using the word “revolution” to mean let’s start a revolution against the US government, from someone who was talking about turntable speed, i.e revolutions per minute.  This type of analysis involved a great deal of man hours, so much so that the NSA analysts were literally drowning in data.

The NSA had fallen woefully behind in computer technology, and so a new Director was appointed to update the agency, he was Gen. Michael Hayden.  He decided on a new program called “Trailblazer” that would gradually update the hardware at NSA but basically continue the established analysis approach.  The new computer hardware cost billions of dollars, and brought in even more data, thus preventing the NSA from actually doing its job effectively.

Meanwhile Bill Binney’s group had developed a program called ThinThread based on algorithms developed by them, that he showed using NSA raw data could identify groups (networks) constituting real security threats in real-time.  Not only was this traffic analysis approach far faster than the”content analysis approach, and was independent of language, but it was also much cheaper.  However, the leadership of the NSA rejected this approach,.  How could 6 people with a small computer do anything better than 500 analysts with lots of huge computers? Ultimately Bill and his group were prevented from further developing their approach and eventually were fired.  Trailblazer was used to analyze communications between US citizens and lacked the personal protections that had been included in ThinThread.  It was this kind of unlawful intrusion into the lives of innocent US citizens that led to the actions of whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The failure of the NSA to predict the 9/11 attack, after the previous 1993 attack on the Twin Towers and the known threats emanating from al Qaeda, was one of the worst mistakes in US history, and led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 American and other citizens. Later Bill and his colleagues used ThinThread to analyze data that was actually already in the NSA system, and were able to show that they could have predicted the 9/11 attack before it happened from traffic analysis stretching from Afghanistan thru Hamburg and several US cities.

Bill and his colleagues set up a private company that tried to use ThinThread for other US Government agencies.  But by this time the NSA was so defensive in trying to cover up their terrible blunder that they intervened in every case and got the contracts and contacts cancelled.  Then one day FBI agents burst into the homes of several of the group, including Bill, co-worker Ed Loomis, and Diane Roark, who had worked for the Congress and had been convinced of ThinThread’s superiority to Trailblazer. They were arrested at gunpoint.  But, when it came to trial the case was thrown out by the judge for fabrication of evidence by the NSA.

So let’s remember Bill Binney and his colleagues.  They were trailblazing analysts who saw the superiority of traffic analysis, and who were whistle-blowers long before anyone else.  They showed that the NSA was corrupt, incompetent and more interested in bringing in funds than doing its job of  protecting the American people. And above all Bill Binney was a very good American.  And by the way, Gen. Hayden was promoted and became head of the CIA.


Middle East Redux

The eminent British political philosopher Harold Laski once said “States once founded tend to persist.”  In other words, once borders are defined, a government is established and an organizational framework exists, there is a kind of inertia that keeps the State in existence.  This says nothing about nationalism, politics, or economics, per se.  It is merely a statement of pragmatic fact.

In the wake of the so-called Arab Spring of 2010 and the subsequent uprisings in Libya, Iraq and Syria, there were wide-spread pronouncements by many (including yours truly) that these States that were the creation of the imperial powers (notably Britain and France) would cease to exist.  It was expected that they would break up into their component ethnic/religious fiefdoms (e.g. Syria into Sunni, Alawite and Kurdish and Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions).  But, in fact now after 8 years and much bloodshed this has not happened.  Even the establishment of the so-called Islamic State, that was expected to replace parts of Syria and Iraq, has not transpired.

After fighting wars supported  by various allies these States have rebounded.  Iraq was aided by Shi’ite militias, Iran (the IRG) and the US.  Once the IS was expelled from Mosul and Anbar province, the Iraqi government re-established itself and indeed held elections.  In Syria, with the unlikely coalition of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Turkey, each fighting for its own interests, Pres Assad’s regime has managed to survive.  Now Syria, albeit largely destroyed, is close to becoming what it originally was.

States once founded tend to persist!  The status quo ante has been restored.  Except that Israel is a beneficiary, for two reasons.  Once the leader of the rejectionists, Syria is now a shadow of its former self, and certainly is no current threat to Israel.  Similarly with Iraq.  These States have persisted against radical elements that would have certainly brought increased instability and terrorism to Israel.  It is better for Israel to have a stable Syria that is no threat (even under Assad) than a motley conglomeration of unstable pro-Western, anti-Western and Islamist enclaves.

Second, the real arbiter of what happens now in Syria is not Assad, nor the Ayatollahs in Tehran, but Pres. Putin sitting in the Kremlin in Moscow.  With his air force in situ he could, if he wanted to, determine the final outcome in Syria.  That now depends on his intentions.  If he wants to expel Iran from Syria, as Israel has requested, he could essentially force them to leave.  This would place him in a commanding role in Syria and avoid the prospects of a war on the Golan between Israel and Iranian elements.  However, he might like to complicate the situation by involving Israel, the US and others in a potential war with Iran.  Who knows his mind, certainly not Pres. Trump.

Trump and Putin

The historic summit of Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki was notable for its lack of discord and disagreement.  Like two gentlemen, the two leaders of the mightiest and the largest countries in the world, respectively, agreed politely to differ.   Trump was at pains to avoid blaming Putin for anything, and was certainly not going to be led into a contest over who was responsible for the so-called Russian collusion investigation.  The Mueller investigation in fact has been going on for over a year and has come up with nothing definitive.  As far as Putin is concerned, if there was any Russian cyber interference in American affairs it was not by his government.  The fact that he controls almost everything that happens in Russia, including the murders of hundreds of active critics, was, of course, not mentioned.

But, Trump is right.  The US, for good or ill, has to deal with Putin, and its better to be in the game with him talking, than merely shouting at him from the sidelines (to use a topical football metaphor).  The US has dealt with many evil and dangerous men like Putin, including Stalin (who supposedly murdered ca. 70 million Russians) with whom Roosevelt sat down and negotiated the future of the world (although it didn’t turn out as they expected).  The US has also dealt with the Chinese leaders, no less evil, such as Chairman Mao, and currently with Chairman Kim Jong-un of N. Korea, not known for his support of human rights.  No, in the real world such people who wield power have to be dealt with, rather than fought.  Time is on our side, such dictators never last.

During the Summit press conference it was expected that the leaders would refer to issues that divide them, such as their difference over Crimea.  But, what did surprise was their apparent willingness to come to terms over Syria.  Trumps stated that Russia and the US are working together to ensure Israel’s security in relation to the Syrian regime approaching the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.  This presumably refers to Iran and Hezbollah embedded with Syrian troops.  Putin said Syria could be the first example of successful joint work, that would ensure peace and stability in Syria and allow the delivery of humanitarian supplies for the suffering Syrian people.

Most media attention in the US has been on the denial by Putin that he did not interfere in the US election, and Trump’s seemingly lame acceptance of this.  But, what do you expect him to do, there and then insult his negotiating partner.  There seems to be solid evidence of Russian interference and Trump knows this, but he is a politician and he has to be diplomatic.  All those who accuse him of not being diplomatic, namely the liberal media and the Democrats, are now up in arms over his supposed “disgusting” lack of confrontation of Putin.  This is really ridiculous.

Scorched Earth

The latest tactic of the Hamas terrorist organization in their overall strategy of destroying Israel and all of its Jewish inhabitants, is to fly flammable balloons and kites over the border into Israel.  Of course these are indiscriminate weapons, they have set fire to thousands of acres of arable land, houses and businesses, but luckily so far no-one has been killed.  The area of land scorched by these flammable weapons is ca. 7,500 acres or about 5,000 football pitches.

The problem in countering them is that Hamas uses children to protect the launching sites and the terrorists sending these weapons.  Attacking the sites directly would involve the death of children, that of course would be blamed on Israel.   So far Israel has retaliated against only a few of these launching sites.  But, since late Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, Hamas launched about 200 missiles of various kinds into Israel.  Of these ca. 50 were intercepted by the Patriot anti-missile system, and about 75 fell within Gaza territory.  One fell within a kibbutz and another in Sderot, and three Israelis were wounded.  People ask why are the Israeli casualties are so low.  The reason is that we have warning sirens, and although in some cases there is only 30 seconds to take cover, we also have shelters almost everywhere.  In fact, it is required by law for all buildings and all private homes to have shelters.  Those that were built without them must add them if there is any renovation (this is what we did before we moved to Beer Sheva).

There was an immediate counter-attack by Israel.  The IAF hit 40 targets in Gaza in a daytime raid, the largest since  the war of 2014.  Although Egypt and the UN tried to mediate a ceasefire, this was only partially successful, since Hamas refused to stop using the flammable balloons and kites.  PM Netanyahu promised further counter-measures to stop these attacks.  This included stopping all commercial and gas and power supplies to Gaza (food and medical supplies are still being transported). There are some in Israel who see these counter-measures as merely temporary, giving Hamas the time to re-organize, re-train, and start another round of attacks.  Those who think like this, would like to see the IDF use its full might to utterly destroy Hamas and its control over Gaza.

The problem with this approach is that then, contrary to current conditions, there might indeed be a humanitarian problem in Gaza, for which Israel would be held responsible.  This is a lose-lose situation for Israel that few in the West understand, in which the weaker of the two parties to the conflict is always the  aggressor, and in a situation of asymmetric warfare, Israel will always be held to blame by the liberal West for it use of disproportionate force, a phrase that is unknown to military experts.

British Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of the British knows no bounds.  They have bayed against Trump, called him incompetent, unfit to hold office, inveighed against his immigration policy (the latest version of which was upheld by the Supreme Court)  and his “wall,” taunted his tweets, and convicted him in advance of “colluding with the Russians.”  Yet, when a newspaper asks him a question in an interview, and he responds giving his opinion, as he is wont to do, he is accused of “intervening” in the internal affairs of the UK.  They can put up a balloon lampooning him, 50% of the British nation in a poll can say they don’t want him to visit, yet he must not give an opinion about Brexit, and he must not insult the Mayor of London.  What one-sided hypocrisy!

There are, according to experts, two kinds of American Presidents.  One is the Imperial kind, who issues dictats, who says “invade that country,” who acts as a leader.  They take their model from the Emperors of Imperial Rome. Examples of Imperial Presidents were George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.   Then there is the Accountant kind of President, who stops and thinks about every action, who consults his many advisers and still can’t make a decision.  Examples of this kind of President are Jimmy Carter, who got detailed analyses from all his advisers, studied them overnight, and came back the next morning not with a decision, but with a request for more data. This kind of President dithers and considers himself a kind of super-accountant.

Imperial Presidents use the might of the most powerful nation on earth while Accountant Presidents are afraid to use that power. A classic example was the aborted pathetic debacle by Carter to rescue the hostages in the US Embassy in Iran, rather than threatening to annihilate Tehran.  Note that the Ayatollahs released the hostages as soon as Reagan was inaugurated. Calculating Presidents are afraid to take any step that might seem to be using power, they prefer diplomacy.  Another example is President Obama, who tried to engage US enemies rather oppose them.  In this way he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, because he backed down from his supposed “red line” when Assad used chemical weapons and allowed the entry of Russia under Putin into Syria, that resulted in the Syrian Civil War lasting 7 years and the current victory of the Assad regime, contrary to American interests.

For good or ill, Trump is an Imperial President.  Someone said he likes to “throw a grenade into a room before he enters.”   He wants to wield (or threaten to wield) US armed might to get what is rightfully in American interests.  Why is it that previous Presidents moaned about the US footing almost the entire bill for NATO, without doing anything about it?  Why is it that previous Presidents allowed the southern US border to become as pervious as Swiss cheese?  Why is it that previous Presidents were afraid to confront N. Korean dictators, leading to them developing nuclear weapons and ICBM’s while their people starved?  History has shown that it is better to oppose an enemy than to try to contain them.  Where would the World be today if Pres. Roosevelt had not declared war on Japan (after a severe attack) and on Germany, but had followed the path of appeasement?

I received a note from a liberal American friend lambasting Trump for being a liar and a cheat.  He still hasn’t got it.  Trump is the US President and he will twist arms (like LBJ did) in order to get what he wants.  That too is the American way.  A true leader doesn’t worry about what people think of him, as long as he is effective.

Trump in Europe

Pres Trump is very unpopular amongst the leftist and liberal populations in Europe, and he was widely criticized in the media for disrupting the NATO Summit meeting that he attended in Brussels.  Despite this, Trump did a very good deal for NATO, because he disrupted their cozy little get-together to mope about Russia in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and he actually accomplished something important.

He insisted, after last year putting all NATO European members on notice, that the US will no longer foot the bill for ca. 90% of NATO costs, but will insist that they each contribute at least 2% of their GDP as required by the actual NATO treaty. He claimed at his press conference after the NATO summit that European contributions to NATO will now increase from b$12 to b$33 and will be rising.  Although this will not reduce US expenditures for NATO, it will reduce the %age of US support for NATO and make it more European as it is supposed to be.

Against the backdrop of EU disarray over Brexit and widespread demonstrations against his visit to the UK, Trump will go to his meeting with Pres Putin of Russia in Finland, with something concrete in his brief case, namely a large expansion of NATO.  Putin is known to regard NATO with great alarm, seeing all expansion of NATO as a threat and encirclement of Russia.  Now to get some relief from Trump and NATO, Putin will have to make a deal, something Trump is always looking for.

Here is a possible deal, Putin withdraws from Eastern Ukraine (Donbask) and gives up all claims on any other Ukrainian territory, in exchange for US recognition of Russian sovereignty in Crimea.  This would resolve two major conflicts that have been bedevilling Europe and Russian-US relations for some years.  There is no doubt that Putin invaded both these regions because he gambled that Pres. Obama would never use force to prevent him.  While with Trump the opposite is true.  But, the annexation of Crimea is now a fait accompli, and no-one, not even Trump, can reverse it.

Also, in exchange for the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, Putin will have to agree to ensure the expulsion of all Iranian forces from Syria.  This will be in US interests since it will reduce the power of Iran and will reduce the likelihood of a dangerous conflict between Israel and Iran, which could have severe global repercussions.  But, Putin will only do this if Trump tacitly recognizes Russian influence in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean.  This will be possible if there are good relations between the two counties.  One thing Russia can’t afford to do is to get into another arms race with the US and NATO.


A Dangerous Web

PM Netanyahu has committed himself to passing the Likud-sponsored “Jewish Nation State Bill” before the present Knesset session ends soon.  This will finally establish in Israeli law the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Apparently, although this has been widely known since the establishment of the State, it was not actually enshrined in Israeli Law, much as some countries don’t have written constitutions.

But, in order to pass the Bill, Netanyahu needs the support of his coalition colleagues, which includes the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ).  But, these parties vehemently oppose other legal initiatives that Netanyahu has been pursuing.  One of these is the Kotel (Western Wall) compromise between the Orthodox and the Conservative and Liberal Jewish movements.  Another is the Haredi Draft Bill, that requires all haredi men to register to serve in the IDF.  In relation to the former, the ultra-Orthodox represented by Shas and UTJ are totally against any compromise with the non-Orthodox movements, and have threatened to vote against and cause the Government to fall.  As a result Netanyahu has dropped the compromise he had negotiated with them, leading to much consternation among Jews in the US.   Also, he has backed off his former position that all haredi men must serve in the IDF.  He has done this in order to preserve his Government until at least after the summer break.

But, the price for ensuring Shas and UTJ support for the Jewish Nation State Bill may be too high.  Many Likud MK’s are angered by Netanyahu’s lack of leadership on these issues, which from a National Religious point of view are also quite clear-cut.  Most Likud supporters and modern Orthodox support the concept of a compromise at the Western Wall and most support haredi draft enforcement.  So by choosing to accommodate the Ultra-Orthodox versus his basic Likud supporters, Netanyahu may be making a pact with the devil.  Such are the intricacies of politics in Israel.