Friday, September 22, 2017

Chuck Hagel's Demise...and James Fanell's Rise...and Australia!

The dismissal of an unwilling Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense in 2014 was, I think, a watershed in the fortunes of the China hawks, both in the Pentagon and at Pacific Command.

Perhaps because it is bad form to explore the possibility that Hagel was purged for insufficient enthusiasm for a pro-active China confrontation agenda, nobody went there.  But I did.  Natch.

In 2015, I buried my analysis in a tediously long piece that was meant to give an overview of the evolution of US China policy, and provide a corrective to the "Chinese aggression" meme that China hawks like to lean on.

The narrative of escalating Chinese aggression is central to the China hawks' thesis that we need an escalating response. 

Rather interestingly, today a lot of this narrative is coming out of Australia. Google "Chinese influence Australia" and you'll get an idea of the barrage of local and global coverage keying on the skillfully shaped message that Chinese influence--though it is not illegal--must be feared.

I've recently come to the conclusion that spate of panic stricken reports emerging from Australia concerning the China menace in economics, politics, and academics are a belated and improvised substitute for what was supposed to be the real deal: a pivot from Obama namby-pambyism to steely Clinton resolve to confront China in 2016.

The unexpected Trump victory--and the determined gutting of the State Department by Team Trump--has temporarily put paid to dreams of running a united and highly coordinated global anti-China initiative out of a Clinton White House drawing on allies and assets in Asia and Europe. 

Instead, the aggressive anti-China alliance is being improvised in exile and, in Australia, with the support of James Clapper, who did a visiting scholar thing down there, the unflagging efforts of the Lowy Institute (which, in addition to serving as the FP mouthpiece of the Lowy family, which bundled for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and contributed coin to the Clinton Foundation, also employs Hillary Clinton's foreign policy major domo Jake Sullivan), and the assistance of a local flock of eager pro-US China hawks at Australian unis and think tanks and in the media.

More significantly, I'm guessing Team Clinton might be getting more than a little help from the king of PACOM's China hawks, Admiral Harry Harris, in supporting the Australian natsec establishment in eliciting a remarkably aggressive anti-China posture out of previously dovish Malcolm Turnbull.

Admiral Harris, indeed, is rumored to be ready to retire from the US Navy to take over as US Ambassador to Australia next year, which would give him the opportunity to get hands-on in coordinating the China confrontainment mission.

With this perspective, it's interesting to read what I wrote in 2015 after Chuck Hagel hit the bricks:

Now, of course, the DoD has a new boss—Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; and PACCOM has a new commander—Admiral Harry Harris, and the general consensus is that the muscular defense sector has wrestled China policy away from the milquetoastian White House.  Interestingly, Admiral Harris was previously the Pentagon’s liaison to to the State Department under Hillary Clinton as well as John Kerry, which reinforces my impression that Hillary Clinton and her foreign policy advisors have pre-loaded China policy with her supporters, and I expect things to get ugly quickly so that the nasty and awkward business of starting the confrontation can be done under Obama before Clinton enters office.
As I put it elsewhere: Hillary wants to inherit her China crisis from Obama, not foment it herself.
 
And maybe now we've had to outsource the crisis to Australia!
For those who want to go through a lengthy and taxing account of how the China hawks developed their narrative and strategies since 2010, there's the full 2015 piece: It's Official.  America Has a China Containment Policy

For those who want to read about Chuck Hagel getting shivved (a story I don't think anybody has told in full) read on in this tasty excerpt:

The Chuck Hagel years (Feb 2013-15) are a sore point for US hawks, and perhaps explain why they like to date the South China Sea crisis to 2012 and a period of accommodation/appeasement/common sense during which the PRC ran amok in the South China Sea, and not 2010 when the carnival really started.

In an end-2013 piece on the South China Sea, Bull In The China Shop, Professor Pedrozo, the legal muse for China hawks in the navy,  (now at the US Naval War College, the go-to institution for US SCS lawfare) gave full rein to his China hawk side.  Beginning with an epigraph from Franklin Roosevelt, “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him”,  and concluding with an exhortation to America, with its allies, to “stand up to Chinese brinkmanship before it is too late”, Pedrozo’s piece is also remarkable for the venom it displays toward then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, PACCOM’s Admiral Locklear, and the Obama China team for its caution/appeasement in dealing with the PRC on the Cowpens incident, the East China Sea ADIZ, and the tussle over Scarborough Shoal.

A key event in 2014 was a speech given in February by a key Navy insider and China hawk, Captain James Fanell to a US Naval Institute conference, in which he stated: 

“[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [island] — as some of their academics say.”

Maybe bullshit, as in Fanell seizing on the  “everybody has a warplan for every contingency” thing to make China-bashing hay.  But the key element was that Captain Fannel was the head of intelligence for PACCOM…and he had gone off rez.

And he had gone off rez at the same time that Secretary Hagel was prepping for a make-nice trip with the PRC.

Fanell’s comments come at the same time that Washington is arranging a trip for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Beijing, with the expressed goal of enhancing U.S.-China military-to-military relationships. U.S. military officials want this relationship, among other reasons, to prevent some of the tense encounters between U.S. and Chinese ships in recent years.

In that context, Washington officials, when asked about Fanell’s comments, dismissed them.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who has been in Beijing laying the groundwork for Hagel’s visit, went a step further.

Asked about Fanell’s “short, sharp war” assessment, Odierno responded: "I've seen no indications of that at all."

And Fanell’s speech to an obscure conference about East Asian hypotheticals miraculously received the widest possible attention in the non-specialist media.

Fanell was reassigned i.e. demoted in November 2014 (took a while, didn’t it?  Admiral Harris, at the time the nominated but not yet confirmed Commander, Pacific Command, promoted from Commander, Pacific Fleet [and Fanell’s boss], did the dirty, perhaps as a condition of his new employment). 

Navy Times reported:

Fanell's views have supporters inside naval intelligence, and he has become a high-profile spokesman for a more alarmist view of the rise of China than those espoused by Navy senior leadership, an intelligence source who spoke to Navy Times said. Fanell's articles on China have been published by Hoover Digest, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly and the U. S. Naval Institute's Proceedings.

So Fanell was gone, but guess what?  Two weeks later, Hagel was gone as well!

Supposedly Hagel was booted because he wasn’t up to the IS challenge, but I wonder.  I’m not alone.  Per US News & World Reports at the announcement of Hagel’s involuntary retirement:

“I can’t figure out what he did to merit being voted off the island,” says Eric Edelman, who until 2009 served as the undersecretary of defense for policy, essentially the No. 3 position at the Pentagon. 

 “He gave them the strategy and the budget they asked for and wanted,” Edelman says. The White House has planned for a military drawdown after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reset toward a renewed presence in the Pacific. “I understand there were a few occasions when he may have leaned a little too far forward on his skis with regards to ISIS. But it’s kind of hard to figure out what it is they found lacking in his performance.”

US Middle East policy in 2015 is, for lack of a better term, still totally for sh*t under Ash Carter and still characterized by conflicted flailing and an utter unwillingness by the US uniformed forces to re-embrace the jihadi tar baby, a sentiment that Hagel shared completely, but Asia policy…well, galloping along in the new hawkish direction.

Fanell retired too, but his January 31, 2015 retirement party was pretty much a victory lap and a sounding of the China threat tocsin.  In his farewell speech, Fanell said:


[T]he Communist Party of China’s designs stand in direct contrast to espoused U.S. national security objectives of freedom of navigation and free access to markets for all of Asia. 



This not only threatens our own national security, but is also very clearly upsetting the entire Asia Pacific region has enjoyed for over 70 years. 



The challenge, as I have seen it, is for intelligence professionals to make the case, to tell the truth and to convince national decision and policy makers to realize that China’s rise, if left unchecked or undeterred, will necessarily disrupt the peace and stability of our friends, partners and allies.  We should not have to wait for an actual shooting war to start before we acknowledge there is a problem and before we start taking serious action.  The “Rebalance” is a good first step forward, but it must be backed up with a real, tangible deterrent force and we must stand-up to Beijing’s propaganda and bullying campaign, especially those that come at the expense of our allies and partners.

To continue the synchronicity of Hagel & Fanell’s careers, Hagel’s retirement ceremony took place three days earlier and was, we can say, shrouded in defeat & failure:

A senior Pentagon official told NBC News at the time that Hagel was asked to step down because the president no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the military as it struggled to defeat Islamic extremists waging war in the Middle East.


'He wasn’t up to the job,' the official said. 


...

Today Earnest's stand-in, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, said 'friction' between the White House and the Pentagon is 'something that predates this administration.'




...
Schultz said the White House believes it has 'good relationships with the military leaders.'


Uh-huh.

With Hagel gone, the US on track to extract new defense guidelines from Japan, and with the DoD in the hands of the China hawks, it was clear to the PRC it was time to make hay while the sun shone and get its facts on the water for a prolonged period of China containment struggle, one that might endure for the next decade factoring in the possibility of two terms for Hillary Clinton.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Four Corners/Fairfax Levels Up to US-Class National Security Steno Work on China



There's a big to-do about an investigative thing by Australia's Four Corners/Fairfax Media concerning Chinese influence in Australia.



ASIO is the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which curated the dossiers that Four Corners/Fairfax assiduously summarized and spun.

I think the series is highly significant, perhaps not in the way the journos hoped and intended, and the June 21 episode of China Watch will pick apart the details.  

That's a teaser, folks.  China Watch is behind the paywall, so you gotta open your wallets.  I'm proud of what I'm doing there, it's unavailable elsewhere, and its worth more than what you're paying to watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

So pony up.

A couple notes that didn't make it into the broadcast.

I found this nugget rather interesting:

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan has defended former trade minister Andrew Robb, who took an $880,000 part-time job as a consultant to a Chinese billionaire days after the 2016 federal election.

Robb was handled rather gently, even though the billionaire in question was the guy who took the 99-year lease on Darwin port, the one that gave conniptions to the US natsec community. 

Wonder why.

The second thing that struck me was the emphasis on "the Chinese Communist Party" instead of "the People's Republic of China" as the evil agency behind the Chinese billionaires.

The CCP doesn't do overseas espionage, as far as I can tell.  So that would seem to hinder the attempt to inflate the Chinese espionage menace.  And the other big deal was Chinese billionaires Huang Xiangmo & Chau Chak Wing were big bucks contributors to Australian political parties which is legal even for foreigners down there and Chau's even an Australian citizen.

I got no problem with allegations that China is buyin' and spyin' and oppressin' and surveillin' inside Australia.  But the report was more along the lines of choreographed threat inflation.

The bulk of the report was, to be unkind, third-rate national security journo-ing. 

On China Watch, I was going to cite the instances of crude, dog-whistling assertions trotted out instead of hard facts but the list got too darn long.  So I'm doing it here.

At the end of this post, I document the atrocities from just one of the articles, which obligingly passes along a report from the ASIO about a break-in it conducted on Sheri Yan's apartment in 2015.

Sheri Yan probably deserves a post for herself.  She ran what looked like a Clinton Foundation clone, the Global Sustainability Foundation, that got funds from Chinese moneybags and delivered access to and if possible allegedly favors from UN bureaucrats.  According to the U.S. government, in the person of NeverTrump celebrity Preet Bahara, Yan passed on some of that money as bribes to UN officials, including John Ashe, who became president of the UN General Assembly.

One billionaire she allegedly did errands for was Chau Chak Wing.  If that was the case, Yan took the fall--she's doing 20 months in federal prison--instead of rolling over on him.  Another was Ng Lap Seng, who was named and nailed in the indictment.

This Ng Lap Seng.



Ng's first brush with bribery in the US (but no conviction!) was in the 1990s.  He won fame in the United States in 1997 for funneling a few hundred thousand dollars to Bill Clinton through Little Rock restauranteur Charlie Trie, visiting the White House a few times, and helping lose Al Gore the White House with the "Chinagate" scandal.

An interesting data point is the allegation that the Clinton-related influence buying in the US was reputedly ordered by Jiang Zemin when Jiang was running the show and felt China needed a little more post-Tiananmen international political oomph.  

According to the indefatigably anti-Jiang Zemin Epoch Times, Chau Chak Wing is also a member of Jiang's Shanghai clique.  In my China Watch video I speculate that Australia has become a haven for Shanghai clique members seeking to escape the attentions of Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, and their credentials as trusted PRC state actors are open to question.

Anyway, ASIO, the FBI, and whoever obviously has a hardon for these people, maybe along the lines of, Hey, they bribed Clintons so we'll get 'em for this! and believe they deserve to be nailed no matter what.  Four Corners/Fairfax obliged by cranking up the innuendo machine.

Here I am documenting the dishonest dossier hustling in the Sheri Yan piece, with my disapproving sniffing in boldface:


“The raid…reflects deep concern inside ASIO”


“it is the Chinese Communist party causing the greatest concern…”


“ASIO suspected…that Ms Yan’s activities extended well beyond bribery.  Classifed material shared between FBI counter-espionage officials and ASIO…suggested Ms Yan may have been working with Chinese intelligence.”


It is understood the investigation into Ms Yan involves suspicions she  infiltrated or sought clandestine influence in Australia and the US on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.”


Professor Rory Medcalf…says the ASIO raid would not have occurred without…input from many parts of the Australian national security community”…”the targeting reflects a small part of a ‘deep and real concern’…Eight serving government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, broadly confirmed Mr. Medcalf’s assessment…also confirmed …the agency had been collating intelligence suggesting…ASIO feared the campaign was succeeding…

[ASIO] prepared an extraordinary document…at the top was a diagram representing the Chinese Communist Party with lines connected this diagram to photos of two Chinese born billionaires [Huang and Chau].


Donors could be channels to advance Beijing’s interests: AISO.   

“[Lewis] said ‘be careful’…he was saying the connections between these guys and the Communist Party is strong”…

In the oh, for f*ck's sake column, here's the takeaway the head of ASIO offered the political parties while wielding his "extraordinary" picture-and-line filled document:

In his briefing, Mr. Lewis was careful to stress that neither Dr. Chau nor Huang Xianmo was accused of any crime and that Mr. Lewis wasn’t instructing the parties to stop taking their donations.”

Back to the smear stuff:


“We have to assume that individuals like that have really deep, serious connections to the Chinese Communist Party”.


“Mr. Medcalf said ASIO’s decision to come out of the shadows and identify Dr Chua in its briefings is “certainly unusual”…”it would reflect very real concern


If Dr Chau has taken a position on any policy issue in Australia he’s not done so publicly…But for parts of the Chinese Communist Party, access to the right networks may be worthwhile in and of itself.


This may be why Sheri Yan sought to compromise UN chief John Ashe, according to former CIA officer turned China watcher Peter Mattis.

The magnificent coda to this effort is provided by a Ford Foundation guy:

“John Fitzgerald, a former Ford Foundation director…told Four Corners and Fairfax Media of a warning he received from an “old friend in Australia’s security establishment” to “stay away from Yan”.


 “Once you know that, you don’t need to know much more.”

Well, Fitzgerald's sharing that corner with...Four Corners/Fairfax.

Watch my  June 21 episode to learn why this circus is going global.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Archaeology, Biology, Appropriation, and Empire in Honduras




The best works of art strike you the wrong way…and maybe not in the way that the artist intended.

I had that feeling reading Douglas Preston’s Lost City of the Monkey God (hereinafter LCMG).

LCMG is a purpose-built celebration of archaeology, technology, and adventure in the detection and partial exploration of some ruins in the jungle in Honduras.  But as the book plays out, the whole thing plays out as a rather creepy calculated geopolitical operation.

The basic adventure premise—buncha white folk appropriate a region and its history thanks to their superior capabilities in exploration, interpretation, and conservation—is pretty much de trop in the post Edward Said/Orientalism era.  And the book suffers from the “gee whiz another benighted realm conquered by the forces of civilization” cheerleading.

Add to that the whole milsec overlay a.k.a. “flabby civilians must rely on the hard men of the military to keep them safe” which starts with the entire foray into the jungle getting put under the command of some ex-SAS types, whose legacy of mad survival skillz probably goes back to doing the dirty during the Malay insurgency.

Beyond the “civilization would not survive without the soldiers” vibe I picked up, the key technology that made the mission possible—lidar—is a core military capability.

Lidar is basically radar using lasers instead of microwaves.  Add high precision, military grade GPS and some fancy number crunching to the lidar, it turns out the jungle surface below the canopy can be imaged.  Lidar provided the imagery that demonstrated that there was a big, ancient civilization thing beneath the jungle canopy in Honduras.

Lidar works great in dry, sandy spots like the Middle East, where I assume its ability to detect the camps of hostiles, IEDs, and maybe hostiles itself is a valued asset; well, turns out it works satisfactorily in jungle environments too.  So if this breakthrough occurred thanks to the LCMG operation, I guess we can thank “Big Archaeology” for the enhanced capability to waste America’s enemies in jungle battlefields as well.

The “people in peril” plot hook for LCMG is that several members of the expedition, including the author, Douglas Preston, came down with a nasty parasite, leishmania, carried by mammalian vectors & transmitted to humans via sand flies, which required treatment with experimental drugs at the National Institutes of Health.

Preston got access to the NIH parasitology lab where “leish” is studied, and penned this passage:

Inside was an off-putting sight: two anesthetized mice lying belly up, paws in the air, twitching.  They were completely covered with feeding sand flies, whose tiny guts were expanding into bright red berries of blood…Later these sand flies would be infected artificially, a complicated process.  A delicate, hand-blown, tiny glass bottle has a piece of raw chicken skin stretched over it like a drumhead.  This skin is moistened with mouse blood to fool the flies into thinking it is mammalian skin.  The liquid inside the bottle is also mouse blood, seeded with the parasite…Once a sand fly is infected, the lab workers must coax it into biting a live mouse…At the end of my tour, a lab assistant brought out two bottles of live leishmanial parasites for me to look at under the microscope…As I focused the eyepieces, the parasites sprang into view, thousands of them in ceaseless motion...

Since I’ve been raised on a diet of Alien movies, I suppose I’m excessively sensitive to the feeling that Preston had gained access to America’s premier bioweapons lab, where rest-of-world biothreats are appropriated in the best imperial fashion for study, neutralization, and exploitation, and to make sure they don’t interfere with the national mission of doing stuff anywhere and everywhere.

By this point in the book I’m thinking, golly, this expedition has a sh*tload of stroke.  It gets a planeful of classified lidar equipment to run the survey and when things go off the rails for members of the team, disease-wise, they’re in tight with the NIH.

Made me think about some other things, like how this book is basically a handjob for the current right wing regime that deposed Honduran president Zelaya in 2009.  

The post-coup outfit clearly regards the “City of the Monkey God” as an opportunity to burnish the regime’s credential as good guys, and the president and military of Honduras are all over the book and described in the most glowing terms as dedicated to the protection and conservation of this snake-filled hellhole.

Preston also refers to the controversy that surrounded the search for the ruins, especially carping by Zelaya-era archaeologists and their sympathizers in the United States, that the expedition was imperial bullsh*t.  Hard to argue that lidar didn’t turn up a significant archaeological find; also hard to argue that the whole thing doesn’t have the flavor of a Yanqui military PR romp through Honduras to enhance the legitimacy of the current ruling outfit.

I began to wonder if there was a US political angle in the expedition, which sure enough popped up when I googled Bill Benenson.

Bill Benenson’s role in the book is primarily that of good-hearted filmmaker who somehow comes up with the tons of money and access needed to transform a quixotic 25 year search for the lost city by Steve Elkins into a big-tech success story.

Well, turns out Bill Benenson prefers to think of himself as a filmmaker, but he’s also the scion of a New York City real estate empire that one could characterize as anti-Trumpian: low profile, successful, and hard-core Democratic.  

The family’s total worth, split between Bill Benenson and two other brothers, is probably around $200 billion, a modest enough figure but sufficient to put the family on the Forbes 400 list.  One of the other brothers, Lawrence, is on the advisory board of Patriotic Millionaires, a non-profit whose ringing mission statement pretty much encapsulates the premises of oligarchy a la Democrat:

The Patriotic Millionaires is a group of high-net worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation. The Patriotic Millionaires’ goal is to create an overwhelming public demand - a true mandate - for economic policies that serve regular Americans and political process policies that ensure everyone participates fully and equally in our democracy.

It would, of course, be a funny joke if billionaires were exempt from the leveling policies the group proposes for mere millionaires.  The chair of Patriotic Millionaires, Morris Pearl, who was managing director of BlackRock, has rather coyly declined to state his net worth, only remarking he and his wife would be able to “live well” off their investments.

Anyway…

Bill Benenson and his wife are hardcore do-gooders in the conservation NGO way and also in the political way.  They were not only Clinton bundlers during her presidential campaign; they also donated to the Clinton Foundation in the 100-250K range.  And thanks to google, I acquired this gem, in which Nancy Pelosi characterizes one of Benenson’s other filmmaking endeavors, Beasts of No Nation, when it was screened at the White House with Benenson in attendance:

In Leader Pelosi’s words, “This is very special, the imprimatur of the Obama Administration is on this work of art, which is of course a statement of challenge to the conscience of all of us…”

The interesting question is, did Bill Benenson (and the US government) (and US globalist friendly media—Preston himself writes for the New Yorker which, under David Remnick, proudly flies its colors as a globalist rag and I actually laughed out loud when I read Preston’s account of how the founder of the New York Review of Books flew down to Honduras just to get a gander at this archaeological breakthrough; Why not Paris Review? I thought)…

…get behind the LCMG project to try and burnish the reputation of the new Honduran government (and Hillary Clinton, who was burdened politically among the lefties by her role in sh*tcanning the old Honduran government), and demonstrate the contributions to science and conservation and civilization (and in the process, empire) that could be made by enlightened capitalists and their cultured factotums working that whole glorious public/private partnership thing to advance the principled international order and, at the same time, secure the fortunes of a regime of pro-American sh*theels in Central America?

That question might make for an interesting book.  But that book isn’t LCMG…at least not advertently.