The other intelligence assessment that dropped last week was on so-called Havana Syndrome.
This one was led by the CIA, and, unlike the assessment of how SARS-CoV-2 jumped to humans, there is a reasonable role for intelligence agencies. Whether an adversary country is sending agents with a mystery weapon to disable government workers is the kind of thing the intelligence agencies are set up to investigate. The assessment issued last week also represents several years of effort; investigation of one sort or another has been in progress since the first reports of symptoms in 2016.
A summary report has been issued, but the complete report is classified. Beyond the CIA, none of the intelligence agencies was identified in the New York Times or Washington Post reports, which contain additional material.
Last week Julia Ioffe published an article claiming that Walter Reed Army Hospital had filled up with victims of unidentified health incidents, although she used the title phrase. I use it only because it is familiar; no medical syndrome has been defined. I am also not linking to Ioffe’s article because she published it on Puck News, where everything is behind a paywall.
The good side of that erroneous claim is that some good factual articles showed up.
Some of the insistence that there must be a directed-energy weapon in the hands of our adversaries comes from the feeling that psychogenic illness is “all in your head” and indicates malingering. Bump talks about his anxiety attacks, which bear strong resemblance to some of the incidents.
Over the weekend, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested by the FBI in West Virginia for trying to sell classified information on nuclear submarines to another country. What Toebbe didn’t know was that he was communicating with the FBI from the get-go.
The other country is identified in the criminal complaint only as COUNTRY1. Toebbe contacted them in April 2020, and they handed the material over to the US in December 2020. That suggests that COUNTRY1 examined what Toebbe had sent them, which wasn’t much, and that their investigative services conferred with their submarine experts and diplomats to make a decision.
At a particular point in my youth, I tried to understand various durations of time by thinking back in history. That point was between about 1955 and 1965. I would think about the Civil War a century before, or fifty years back to before the First World War. I still do it to put perspective into the movement of history.
The Second World War had ended only ten to twenty years earlier. Because that was before my memories began, it seemed like a long time. Now ten to twenty years goes back only to the financial crash, or to 9/11. The end of the Soviet Union, a definitional event in my life, now extends back 30 years. In my earlier calibration, that would be before the Great Depression, which had made a permanent imprint on my parents, which they strove to pass on to their kids. Read More
Three Soviet spies in the Manhattan Project are well known – Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass, and Ted Hall. Fuchs and Greenglass were known publicly in the 1950s, but Hall’s story came out only in the 1990s.
Now more documents have been declassified, and Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, who have done much to illuminate Soviet spying during that time, have found a fourth Soviet spy. They have found his path from the United States to East Germany and then Russia in 1952, escaping from possible arrest. Their article in the CIA’s “Studies in Intelligence” lays out what is known about him.
The spy’s name is Oscar Seborer. His story intersects with the FBI’s Project SOLO, in which they turned two members of the Communist Party in the USA. Their communications with Moscow seem to indicate that Seborer furnished information on the atomic bomb project, where he was a technician.
Seborer seems to have operated separately from the other spies, and his reporting seems to have been more to the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) than the civilian KGB. The two intelligence agencies have historically competed.
Klehr and Haynes have uncovered a fair bit of information about Seborer’s family, but not much about what he did at Los Alamos or what information he gave to Moscow. Maybe someone reading this knows something about the Seborer family or, as they called themselves in Russia, the Smiths.
Over the weekend, Will Bunch did a great tweet stream linking Jeff Bezos, National Enquirer, the Saudis, Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump, along with others. He promised he would put it into a column, and here it is. It’s more cautious than the tweet stream, but fairly interesting. He introduces a number of possibilities by asking questions, a relatively safe way to introduce thoughts that you don’t have journalistic confirmation for. They are good questions, worth keeping in mind as things proceed. Read More
Aside from three oddball claims that I couldn’t really classify (6, 7, and 19 if you’re counting), it looks to me like the dossier includes 15 claims that are now fully or partially supported and 27 claims for which we have no evidence so far. These 27 claims include a fair amount of insider Kremlin gossip.
What I found most interesting is this: although there’s no public evidence one way or the other for these 27 claims,² there doesn’t appear to be a single claim that we know with certainty is false. There are claims that have been denied by the American participants, but none that we have documentary proof of being mistaken. Partly this is because it’s hard to prove a negative, but it’s still surprising that not a single claim in the report has been conclusively debunked. It’s especially surprising since the dossier is a patchwork of raw intelligence, and even if it was well done by competent professionals you’d still expect it to include at least a few claims that, two years later, we could say were categorically wrong.
It’s time to reconsider the Steele dossier. Not necessarily to show how much Christopher Steele got right or wrong, but because it is a relatively compact collection of information about how the Donald Trump campaign may have worked with the Russians. Looking at it can help to organize the torrent of information coming at us. Read More
I’m quoted in articles in The Verge and the Daily Beast (also Bellingcat) on chemical weapons in Syria. Rachel Becker discusses the long-term effects of chemical weapons. Adam Rawnsley debunks Russian disinformation.