by Robert Morrison
October 8, 2010
Laura Blumenfelds excellent story was run by the Washington Post on Sunday, July 4th. Was that a way of burying it? It was, after all, right there on the front page. But there arent many people who race to read the Post on the nations birthday. In her report, Miss Blumenfeld details all kinds of interesting information about our national security team. Its filled with the kind of portentous sentences (Headlights approach on an empty road. A government agent steps out of an armored SUV, carrying a locked, black satchel…) that give Tom Clancy readers their sense of being in on really big events.
Why did this story appear at all? Was it a good idea to splash all over the front pages specific information on who is briefed by whom, where, and about what?
We are led to believe by the weighty headlineUp All Nightthat some very important people are very serious about our security. Why, Attorney General Eric Holder is described as occupying the loneliest perch among the Presidents nighthawks. Here he is at 1 a.m., munching Chips Ahoy and deciding that the 9/11 terrorists should be tried in a civilian court in Lower Manhattan. His late-night deliberations are so important that hes even left his Jay-Z and Tupac music back at his massive office in the Justice Department. Here, we are told in ponderous tones, Holder is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States and the Presidents good friend. The tension is to be independent, yet part of the administration, he says. Chip Chip Ahoy!
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cant quite get her antiquated FAX machine to function reliably. But shes dead sure that the borders have been secured. Shes depicted fussing in a matronly manner over her midnight cup of tea. Tea party, anyone?
Most indelible of all the impressions in this longish holiday article is the portrait of retired Marine Gen. James Jones. Hes the Presidents National Security Advisor. And he just resigned today.
He should be remembered well. It is with Gen. Jones that we get inside the White House Situation Room. The story is worth quoting here:
White House Situation Room
The night duty officer can’t hear his own voice. A White House maid is vacuuming. “Can you wrap it up?” He plugs a finger in his ear and presses his mouth to the classified, yellow phone: “This is the Situation Room. We are going to try to connect Gen. Jones with his Russian counterpart.”
“Yes, sir,” replies a communications officer at the end of the line, cruising with Jones on the C-40 toward Pakistan.
The national security adviser is 37,000 feet over the Atlantic, bunking with Leon Panetta. Jones has changed out of charcoal pinstripes into a Georgetown sweat shirt. He checked an e-mail update about his pregnant daughter-in-law. “No baby yet,” his son said. There are complications, and Jones is concerned.
Before he can sleep, Jones also needs to talk to Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko, to help negotiate a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The Situation Room officer who handles secure calls for the West Wing is trying to locate Prikhodko, who’s traveling in Kiev.
All most impressive, perhaps even reassuring—-if you didnt know anything about national security. While I thank Gen. Jones for his service and revere his Marine Corps, I am not comforted by the fact that he felt the need to connect with his Russian counterpart.
Gen. Jones does not have a Russian counterpart. The general serves a constitutional republic. The leaders of this republic, ever since that first Fourth of July in 1776, have been chosen by our free people.
Segei Phkhodko serves the regime of Vladimir Putin. Putin spent a career in the Soviet KGB before making a quick transition to become Prime Minister to the last democratic leader in the Kremlin, the only freely chosen leader in Russias thousand-year history of tyranny. That was the heroic, but drunken Boris Yeltsin.
It was Putin who gave President Yeltsin the heave-ho on New Years Eve, 2000. While the West was distracted by Millennium celebrations and absorbed with Y2K jitters, Yeltsin doubtless woke up on Jan. 1, 2000 with a hangover, a pension, and a security detail whose purpose it was to keep him closely guarded. Interesting, isnt it, that no one ever saw ex-President Yeltsin anywhere in the West?
President George W. Bush gushed early in his administration met President Putin. It was then that he looked into the Russian rulers eyes, had seen into his soul, and pronounced him a good man.
Nice to hear it. Vladimir Bukovsky, the great Russian dissident, said he had looked into the eyes of many a KGB agent. He didnt find the experience especially souful. Nor did he pronounce any of his jailers and torturers good men.
On the same day Gen. Jones has resigned, the Post reports a memorial service in Moscow. Four years after the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politikovskaya, there have been no breakthroughs in the investigation of her killers. Brave Russians gather to remember this wonderful woman. Does anyone think Sergei Phikhodko would be among her mourners? Or that he and Putin would stir themselves to find her killers? Politikovskaya is one of fifty-two Russian journalists murdered since 1992.
It is deeply depressing to learn that our emperors are naked, that they have no idea what they are doing to render us safe from espionage and foreign attack. I never had the chance to meet anyone so powerful as Vladimir Putin or Sergei Prikhodko. I operated at the lowest level, dealing with Soviets as a Russian language interpreter for the Coast Guard.
We were doing fisheries patrols in the Bering Sea, boarding the floating garbage scows they call trawlers. Very low level stuff. But I learned then not to trust the Soviets. I saw their newly printed postersapproved by the state censors at Glavlit in Moscowthat showed nothing but a violent hatred of the United States of America.
I did not hate the Russians. I felt compassion for them in their cheap, shoddy clothing, their cardboard shoes, and their ill-fitting uniforms. I tried always to respect their human dignity. I could feel their resentment, though, their wounded sense of inferiority that made them a dangerous adversary.
Never for a moment did I forgot that I was a representative of the Great Republic. My authority came from a good and free people whose liberties and constitutional government are the wonder of the world. I never doubted American Exceptionalism. And I had no Russian counterpart.
Gushing all this sensitive information to the Washington Post is unwise in the extreme. Has anyone in this administration ever heard of the spetsnats, the Soviet-era assassination teams whose function it was to decapitate the governments of Western democracies, to render them incapable of responding to a Soviet assault? Do we seriously think that all those spetsnats units have been disbanded? If were not worried about Russians, do we think jihadists in nearby Falls Church, Virginia, cant read the Post?
Winston Churchill explained Russias behavior to us at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, back in 1946. It was that famous speech in which he described an Iron Curtain, giving that phrase currency for the first time. He said the Russians did not want a war. What they wanted was the fruits of war without war.
They wanted all they could get through espionage, deception, and Western naivety. And now, with this administration, they are getting all they want. The Post article, Up All Night, has had me up all night on a number of occasions. I find myself praying late nights that our unprepared, irresolute leaders learn what we need to know before a tragedy strikes.
Robert Morrison served as a Russian language interpreter and Top Secret Control Officer in the Coast Guard, when we had top secrets.