Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bowe Bergdahl: The Real Story (Interview)

I don't normally do interviews- in fact, I've only posted one interview previously. And I am normally skeptical of the "confidential source" interview, especially when the "confidential source" is claiming to 'blow the lid off' of some conspiracy theory.

However, this is not a conspiracy theory. While I realize the subject matter will be unpopular with some readers, I believe this is a story which needs to be told.

This is an interview with "Mr. Smith", an active-duty U.S. Army intelligence specialist who has asked to remain anonymous. He should be known to many of my Twitter followers. His bona fides have been confirmed publicly by some "big-name" Twitter users with impressive military credentials. He brings to the topic the refreshing viewpoint of, as he puts it, a soldier who is "not an officer, who actually works in the field and doesn't do pretty slide shows". This pragmatic viewpoint is revealed by the nature of his comments: He has no problem relating the facts, no matter how uncomfortable they may be.

What follows is the interview, edited only to put it into a readable format and to protect "Mr. Smith's" identity.


Mr. Smith: A little more of my background is needed so you know where I'm coming from.

At the time of Berghdahl's "capture" I was acting as a liaison with Afghan officers partnered with our command in Bagram.  In large part because I was awake and many Americans were not, since in my field we operate off of human time and not the time the unit typically operated on. So I had known them and we benefited from their insight. In addition to that, I was responsible for setting up oversight of an informant network to support offensive operations. 

Me: I think most readers are familiar with the official account of Bowe Bergdahl; in what way does your account differ from the well-known account of him?

Mr. S: So on 30 June he was at his outpost, not on the main FOB itself. From what I remember what was passed to us was he was a part of a platoon at the OP working with Afghan National Security Forces (Police or Army)

The bottom line was he was not well respected among his unit. I have a friend now who basically says "what round [indicating he'd like to shoot him] for desertion". And that's basically what it was. I'm sure you've heard of the story that he wasn't captured but pretty much went with the Afghans right?

Me: I have heard something to that effect, yes, but I wasn't sure whether it was true or not.

Mr. S: Well go back to him not being respected. He was disgusted with his deployment which was not very exciting. He was also known to not be a very patriotic person. Not everyone in the military is, but we're also not all Bradley Manning.

If there's one thing I could say to sum up Bergdahl, it's that he is to the infantry what Bradley Manning was to the intelligence corps. Minus the homosexuality, both were sour on the US, the war, their rather ultra comfortable lifestyle growing up and were running away when they joined the Army.

Me: I see. So, for lack of a better way of expressing it, you think it was youthful discontent and bad judgment which caused him to leave, as opposed to some other motive like, for instance, being an Islamic convert?

Mr. S: Yeah, because there's the fact he was drunk as all hell that night. As far as being a convert, he wasn't very religious, by accounts of his company or his parents if you look at their side of things. Most disaffected youths aren't very religious.

Me: Do you think he would have done it sober?

Mr. S: He probably would have actually put up a fight if he was actually captured. What happened that night is what teenagers do when they want to piss off their parents after being told what not to do. He was off duty and went to drink with his Afghan buddies who he had grown closer to according to more than one report. He left a note behind and in it was his send off. So he threw a plan together at somepoint to leave. I think getting drunk might have been liquid courage. But there’s still the possibility he was just stupid and getting drunk with the wrong crowd… but again, leaving his weapon behind? Head scratcher…

Me: Do you think the reason he hasn't been repatriated is because it's known that he went willingly? As in, "why bother 'rescuing' someone who went voluntarily?".

Mr. S: I know the vast majority of people, after those first few weeks, in RC-East at that time did not want to go hunting him down because they felt he was a deserter. And frankly, I think that's why no serious effort has been made to get him since that time. Lots of questions surround his “capture” and commanders nor politicians should be willing to risk lives on a possible deserter.

Me: Are you familiar with any attempt to recover him?

Mr. S: There were several operations conducted immediately afterwards because we did not know if he was a deserter or if he was legitimately a POW. Let me share a quote from one of the people who was there:

"Solely responsible for destroying the campaign plan of a BCT and derailed two months of election prep. and that says nothing about all the other shit that got delayed by the ass hole."

One guy calls it a "walkabout" and I'd agree.

Me: How did he destroy the campaign plan? By deserting, or something else he did?

Mr. S: By deserting. We take DUSTWUNs, the code we give to missing US personnel, seriously. So basically for two months things shut down to look for Bergdahl. In the heat of fighting season we had to shift offensive operations, projects, plans, to look for a guy that may not have wanted to be sought after. 

I learned the night/morning he went missing we had a bead on him. Those Afghans I liaison with came to me with some information. We knew that day, less than 12 hours after he went missing the Haqqanis had him, and we knew exactly what they were going to use him for but there was some fear he would be publicly executed. So the military put everything into finding him.

Additionally, SPC Brandon Steffey was killed in action on 25 October 2009 on such an operation. Steffey was a Combat Tracker Dog handler who was on his way to follow an alleged trace on Bergdahl when he and his CTD (also KIA) were struck by an IED en route to the location of the trace. There are probably more but my buddy remembers this mission he and SPC Steffey were on.

Me: So, contrary to the belief by some people- the "Bring Bowe Home" people- who believe nothing was done to retrieve him, in reality thousands of troops were involved, in some way, in looking for him.

Mr. S: Troops? Whole brigades were told to cease all operations and start to immediately pound the doors from Kabul to Kandahar. Then there's the cost of the airframes. UAVs and helicopters were literally flown to the breaking point for a solid two weeks after that. Every Kiowa, Apache Longbow, and Blackhawk was broken for about a month because of that. They had to take them down to avoid serious airframe damage. We basically surged every feasible aircraft into RC-East for 2 weeks and broke a lot of them.

I personally took a tip and guided a UAV around the Afghan countryside. Nothing came up from it. But there were plenty of operations launched because there were "spottings" of him and every Afghan knew we'd pay for his return. About a week after it all happened is when we started hearing stories about his "capture". Ultimately people got tired of chasing a ghost that everyone was learning had left his weapon, his gear, body armor, and much of his supplies with the Afghans he was partying with that night. 

Now I've drank with Afghans too so I'm not going to say he's wrong for it because I’m not a hypocrite. But he was wrong for not having a gun on him, which should say a lot about the circumstances surrounding the event. Everyone always has their gun on them when you’re at an outpost like that.

Me: Do you think it's even possible to find him now, or is he lost for good?

Mr. S: We know is probably in Waziristan, Pakistan.  We kept running tabs on tips and hints at his wearable after the immediate 2 weeks. Every scent we got in my field I had to run it up to the intel chiefs and operations immediately and our teams covered that part of the border where he would of crossed at. There were very few hits on his transport. But we think he was in Pakistan within a day or two. 

Will we "find" him? Possibly if we're allowed to capture guys... but that's another story. We're not capturing anyone anymore and all missions are Afghan partnered, which means going after a missing American isn't a priority for them. Furthermore, we believe he's in Waziristan and well... Obama risked a mission to get UBL but not Bergdahl. Because the Haqqani network is good at hiding itself and they own that region of Pakistan. So getting an accurate location on him will be hard. Any chance we have of recovery of him will likely come from some exchange. That's if he's still alive after we've killed a few Haqqani leaders. They might have killed him already.

Me: As a final word: if you wanted to tell the "Bring Bowe Home" group something else, to make it easier for them to swallow (since they have a lot invested emotionally in this), what would it be?

Mr. S: I'm still an innocent until proven guilty guy. I say he needs to come home but don't welcome him home as a hero. He's not. He did absolutely nothing to deserve that title. Had he wanted to come home I think we would have seen something a lot sooner... but we haven't, have we? His only value as a prisoner is as a propaganda tool which the Taliban has made good use of, so basically he's living rent free as a prisoner.

So to make it easier on them so swallow? Yes, he should come home. Yes, our government should do more to get him home. But don't expect the story to be one you should be proud of. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Shady Origins Of The Conservative Movement

I want to take you all on a trip back in time. The year is 1987, and "shall-issue concealed carry" is the law in only a few states. It was, by and large, a legislative non-starter- until Marion Hammer (later the first female President of the National Rifle Association) made Herculean efforts to get it passed in her home state of Florida. Her efforts paid off for all gun owners nationwide- the firestorm of concealed carry liberalization eventually led to the current situation today, where it is legal (in some fashion) in all 50 states, and the majority of US states have shall-issue laws.

It was a huge victory- which presented a problem for the NRA.

You see, there's a dirty secret to advocacy groups: If they win too much, they don't make as much money, since Joe Public assumes "they're doing pretty well, they don't need my twenty bucks" and fails to donate or renew his membership.

The NRA's membership rolls declined for a few years after 1987. Although the actual decline is difficult to determine, since the NRA's membership numbers have long been difficult to discern, author Emilie Raymond estimated a drop of about 700,000 members between 1989 and 1991.

The NRA needed a major loss to balance the scales.

Enter William B. Ruger- co-founder of Sturm, Ruger, & Co. (known colloquially as "Ruger Firearms"), and- ironically- advocate for banning "assault weapons".

In 1989, Ruger published a letter calling for a 15-round magazine limit "as an alternative to banning guns":

"The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining 'assault rifle' and 'semi-automatic rifles' is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could effectively implement these objectives."

Notice the line I have highlighted. The later 1994 Assault Weapons Ban used a complicated "features test" to define "assault rifle" by cosmetic features such as a carrying handle, protruding grip, forearm which surrounds the barrel, and so on.

The photo below is typical of many photos found around the internet, describing the absurdity of a "features test" for defining an assault weapon. (I got this photo here.) The rifle on top is an AR-15 (banned by the AWB); the bottom, a Ruger Mini-14 (not banned by the AWB). Both are semiautomatic .223-caliber rifles which can accept high-capacity magazines.

Ruger's company produced, among other firearms, semiautomatic .223-caliber and 7.62x39mm rifles, to compete with AR-15s, AK-47, and other such "assault rifles"- and, conveniently, the '94 AWB's "features test" banned most of these rifles- but not Ruger's rifles!

Now, I won't say Bill Ruger helped to write the AWB... but I will say that it's damned convenient that a) he called for a magazine capacity limit, which became part of the AWB; and, b) the AWB banned virtually all of his competitors- or would have, had it not been for the ingenuity of manufacturers designing gun parts to get around the AWB's limitations. Read Dean Speir's excellent, in-depth treatment of Ruger and the AWB here.

Ruger- also a long-time associate of the NRA (upon his death, for instance, he gave the NRA money and firearms for its museum, some of the exhibits being named for Ruger), had just handed the NRA the loss it needed to "balance the scales" and bring the memberships and donations back in.

The NRA had discovered a winning formula for making money: lose the war, but win some battles; look like the ever-fighting underdog, and people will donate money. While the NRA was losing the fight over federal gun laws, they were winning on a smaller scale by pushing for shall-issue concealed carry in state legislatures.

Further, if people believe their personal identity as a "true believer" is under attack from all sides- from enemies and "moderates" alike- they will donate even more money. Read NRA publications from the 1990s, and you will see this message oft-repeated. The NRA used gun issues "purity tests", for lack of a better term, to divide "true believer" gun rights advocates (of which I am one) from gun-rights "moderates".

Now let me bring you ahead in time to the current day.

The strategy of "losing the war, but winning some battles", "making your supporters feel like true believers attacked from all sides", is precisely the message of today's "conservative movement"- i.e., the Tea Party movement.

And a list of current and former board members of the NRA reveals a lot of familiar (and unfamiliar) faces in the conservative movement, including members of the American Conservative Union (ACU)'s board, an attorney for Tea Party candidates for US Senate, and on and on. Let me note that, while I am loathe to use a leftist resource like that particular website, it's about the only list of the NRA's board members available on the 'net. The NRA has, historically, avoided releasing the list of its board members. In fact, the last time it did so was at this link, which directed to a working web page as of January 2013, but which is now dead.

Let me advance a theory, which goes like this: The strategy of "making money by losing", perfected by the NRA in the 1990s, has been transplanted to national politics at large via the "conservative movement", which is managed from the top by many "old faces" in the NRA. These faces include, among others, both Grover Norquist and David Keene- prominent figures in the ACU; Cleta Mitchell, a prominent campaign finance attorney described by George Will as "... the most important Washington conservative not in public office...", who represented (among others) Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller; and a whole host of other interesting characters.

It's a pretty disjointed bunch, too, as this article from POLITICO describes. (The photo at the top of this post is borrowed from that article.) It references the same players I've mentioned above, but wearing their ACU/CPAC 'hats' and not their NRA 'hats'.

I want you, the reader, to consider this: The weeks and months ahead will be filled- mark my words- with stories about FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and other "Tea Party" groups and their fundraising efforts. And those stories will follow the pattern I laid out above- losing important battles while winning small battles (think, 2010 and 2012 Senate elections, which were lost due to poorly-chosen "Tea Party-backed" candidates) to give the illusion of "winning battles but losing the war", and so forth.

In fact, this story-breaking has already started. Sen. John Cornyn went on Glenn Beck's program last week, describing FreedomWorks as "an organization that, that uses Republican on Republican violence, so to speak, to raise money. That’s why they exist. They don’t exist to run against Democrats. They use it to try to divide Republicans". See also Sen. Mitch McConnell's comments about SCF, along similar lines.

Remember what I said above: The use of "purity tests" to weed out all but the "true believers" and attack "moderates" (how often have you seen the term 'RINO' thrown around recently?), a tactic used extensively by conservative groups today, was developed by the NRA in the 1990s.

And, for the record: I am a former NRA member. I support Gun Owners of America. I support the Second Amendment Foundation, which has brought gun owners their greatest legal victories, namely, the Heller and McDonald decisions before the U.S. Supreme Court; I also support Jews For The Preservation Of Firearms Ownership (even though I am not Jewish). I am not just "pro-gun", I'm so blisteringly pro-gun that I make other, lesser-involved gun owners' eyes roll. One need only read this blog to see my unwavering support for gun rights.

I am a patriot. My country is being lost to unbridled socialism. The organizations and people I have mentioned here are helping the socialists win by interfering with the one and only tool we have to beat them- the Republican party. We are losing our rights, our institutions, our businesses, and our livelihoods, and these people are perpetuating this loss- while claiming to be the only movement fighting it!- in order to line their own pockets.

Shedding light on them is, to me, "work of national importance".