Archive for February, 2018


February 20, 2018

Washington Times on January 29, 2018, published an interview with Luke Hunt, the Australian author of “The Punji Trap — Pham Xuan An: The Spy Who Didn’t Love Us”. It is a story of a North Vietnamese operative who managed to influence how the Tet Offensive in 1968 was viewed in America. Pham Xuan An served as a correspondent for Time Magazine and Reuters. Excerpts from the interview below:

Question: “The Punji Trap” was a long time in the making. Why?

Answer: It took almost 30 years for a number of reasons. During my childhood, I became fascinated with Vietnam as the war played out on television and a family friend died there, which really left its mark. While at university in the 1980s, I wrote an undergrad thesis on An way back when his role was still a secret. I then managed to interview him several times…

Q: How did An pull off one of the 20th century’s most successful covert propaganda efforts?

A: Americans were always interested in beating themselves up about the lies that came from the White House… An spread the [three major] lies that came from the North Vietnamese.

One: [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh convinced the world that the conflict was a national war of liberation — but really the ethnic Viets were trying to colonize the entire Southeast Asian peninsula.

Two: An convinced the world that the Tet Offensive was a victory for the Communists, which militarily it was not.

Three: The North pledged not invade the South, but they did in 1975 and have spoon-fed communism to the population every day since.

Q: How did An do his work?

A: An…joined the Viet Minh as a teenager and fought the Japanese in World War II and the French as they sought to return at war’s end. He then went to college in California, worked awhile at The Sacramento Bee, then returned to Saigon to work for the Western media. He was well-respected…and played the media like a Stradivarius. [A speciality was to] set up bogus interviews with people in sidewalk cafes — “You’re going to meet this bloke from the opposition who knows all about the North’s tactics,” etc…But it was all made up.

Hunt’s book is not only about Pham Xuan An. It also covers journalistic experience in general during the Vietnam War.

Comment: We don’t know how many journalists of Western media during the Vietnam War were North Vietnamese spies. Certainly the North Vietnamese propaganda and psychological warfare had a well prepared ground in the West. News media rarely used the statements of the South Vietnamese government. Emphasis was made on napalm, defoliation or emotional subjects while the deeds of the North Vietnamese and their guerrilla army was rarely touched upon. A survey of broadcasts by CBS in the United States concluded that 95 percent of commentators were against the US government viewpoint and only 5 percent supported the government.

Guerrilla wars are determined as much, if not more, by political and psychological factors as by military factors on the ground. General Edward Lansdale, a leading American expert on guerrilla warfare, has said that there were no political costs in the war to the leaders in Hanoi. America never really attempted to use its vast communications resources to make the North Vietnamese leaders accountable for their actions in the war…first President Johnson and the President Nixon were challenged grievously by highly vocal portions of the American people, despite the fact that North Vietnamese leaders were elected to leadership through part back doors and rigged, totalitarian elections.

Another expert on guerrilla warfare, British General Sir Robert Thompson said that the North Vietnamese not only were not accountable to their own constituents, they never became accountable to world opinion.


February 13, 2018

Washington Times on February 6, 2018, published a commentary on maritime chokepoints. See excerpts below:

In 1988, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were still locked in the Cold War, with most nations siding with liberty or totalitarianism. The 1990s were marked by America’s unipolar moment,…

The last 10 years have witnessed the resurgence…in Moscow undermining Western cohesion and American influence in Europe and the Middle East, joined by a revisionist authoritarian regime in Beijing determined to manage Asia’s commerce and overturn the international liberal economic order sustained by U.S.-led alliances for 70 years.

The question for political, corporate and finance leaders centers on how to engage these new power arrangements, sure to be in flux for the foreseeable future.

Many…flashpoints have emerged immediately adjacent to the world’s most important waterways, carrying the bulk of total global commerce and much of the world’s oil and natural gas supplies. Sovereignty disputes between China and almost every Pacific neighbor, from Japan to Indonesia, play out regularly in the South and East China Seas, through which a combined 35 percent of the world’s commerce traverses.

The Straits of Malacca, between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, is the entry point for China’s ambitious naval security strategy deep into the Indian Ocean, where it has established a “string of pearls” comprised of ports and harbors in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan, and in several countries along Africa’s eastern coastline. China established its first foreign military base, in the African nation of Djibouti, across the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint guarded by the U.S. and NATO allies against pirate and terror organizations exploiting the civil war in Yemen and long-standing anarchy in Somalia.

India is emerging from the self-imposed isolation of decades of non-aligned socialism, seeking to build a modern economic powerhouse and assert its sovereign national interests across the south Asian continent and throughout the Indian Ocean, bordered by two dozen countries from South Africa in the southwest to Australia in the southeast. India’s strategic priority is to constrain China’s maritime, commercial and military ambitions from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden, and to conduct military operations and project power expansively into the open ocean — ideally in a strategic partnership with the U.S., Japan and Australia.

In the Middle East, transformed by the 1979 Iranian revolution that provoked the radical Shia-Sunni sectarian divide with Saudi Arabia, Washington is conceding Moscow’s growing influence.

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy recognizes Moscow’s newfound regional power status, buttressed by 49-year leases to maintain and expand Russian naval and air bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Moscow is now positioned to project greater military power and diplomatic influence throughout southeastern Europe and the Middle East than at any time since it was expelled from Egypt in the early 1970s.

Russia’s pronounced eastern Mediterranean presence will reassure China, which has designated southeastern Europe as its entry point into central European markets, and will challenge the U.S. and Egypt guarding the Suez Canal, through which 40 percent of global oil shipments and over 10 percent of world trade pass annually.

These are just some of the paramount geopolitical risks concentrating the minds of today’s political and financial leaders. Their concerns are growing, clear answers are few, and the potential for significant disruption is kaleidoscopic. What is needed is far-sighted, innovative and realistic leadership as the foundation for essential American predominance in a stable and surer world order, limiting the reach of those countries that would undermine the relative security and prosperity of recent decades.

The alternative is a world economic order dominated by a mercantilist Chinese Communist Party, weighed down by the constant menace of Russian revisionist ambition, and the undermining of political stability, regional economies and energy resources by…Iran.

With 90 percent of total world commerce — including that of the West’s most determined adversaries — borne on ships, the United States and its partners have no recourse but to maintain free and open shipping across and throughout all international waters. Such are the daunting challenges of our constant turmoil, seeking to mitigate geopolitical risk in a world as dangerous as ever, where history and geography remain the bedrock of political choices and decisions — today, tomorrow and always.

John Sitilides, geopolitical strategist at Trilogy Advisors LLC, specializes in global risk analysis and regulatory affairs.

Comment: Mr. Sitilides is correct in highlighting the Strait of Malacca. Between the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia’s Sumatra Island the strait is very important for the movement of petroleum from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific. There are numerous navigational hazards in the strait. Using any other alternative strait (Sunda, Lombok and and Ombia-Wetar is however adding to distance and cost. Both Japan and India are closely monitoring the strait.

Growing present Russian activity in the eastern Mediterranean adds to the importance of the Suez Canal.

Other crucial chokepoints remain. The Strait of Hormuz is probably the best-known. Between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman it is 100 nautical miles long and only 24 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point. It is estimated that 70 and 80 ships pass the strait each day. A high proportion of these ships transport oil to the West and to China.

The chokepoints are examples of the importance of geography in what Mr. Sitilides rightly calls a world of constant turmoil.


February 3, 2018

The United States Department of Justice in a January 11, 2018, press release announced to creation of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT). Excerpts below:

[This is] a group of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors. HFNT prosecutors and investigators are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases. The HFNT will begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations, including cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations.

The HFNT will coordinate with, among others, investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), including the DEA’s Special Operations Division; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; Assistant United States Attorneys; and attorneys from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and National Security Division.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution. The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”

“The investigation and prosecution of terrorist organizations that contribute to the growing drug crisis are a priority for this administration,” said Acting Assistant General Cronan. “At the Attorney General’s direction, the HFNT will use all appropriate tools to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who provide financial support to Hezbollah in an effort to eradicate the illicit networks that fuel terrorism and the drug crisis.”

Comment: This is a welcome addition to the U.S. administration’s other efforts focusing on the subversive efforts of Iran in the Middle East. Teheran is seeking a dominating position in the area. It is threatening important Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia with its large oil and gas reserves. By supporting Hezbollah and Hamas Iran is actively threatening Israel. Situated in the rimland of Eurasia Iran is a leading threat to the West.


February 3, 2018

Voice of America on February 2, 2018, reported that President Donald Trump spoke in the Oval Office with a group of North Korean defectors. Excerpts below:

“Their story is amazing,” Trump said before asking the eight Koreans to speak about their ordeals. The president listened intently as they spoke for 20 minutes.

“We actually have two other people outside and they are literally afraid of execution — they didn’t want to be with cameras,” the president told reporters.

Those defectors who decided to appear on camera thanked Trump for highlighting North Korean human rights abuses. Trump addressed the subject during his speech last November in the South Korean National Assembly and in his State of the Union address last week.

Several appealed to Trump to do more.

Those who escape North Korea to China “would rather die and kill themselves than be repatriated to North Korea,” said Lee Hyeon-soo, adding many carry poison with them in case they are caught.

Lee added that “escaping North Korea is not like leaving another country, it’s more like leaving another universe. I’ll never truly be free of its gravity no matter how far my journey.”

Lee, now a student in South Korea, has written a memoir about her experience, The Girl with Seven Names.

Kim Kwang-jin, who was a banking agent in Singapore for the North Korean government and defected in 2003, told Trump his attention to the human rights issue “will be an inspiration” to many in his native country.

Ji Seong-ho, a double amputee who attended Trump’s State of the Union address, where he stood to wave his old crutches when he received an ovation, told Trump: “I’ve been crying a lot these past few days since the speech, as I was so moved by the whole experience.”

Peter Jung, who escaped to China in 2000, told Trump he is now a broadcaster for the U.S.-government-supported Radio Free Asia, which — as does VOA — broadcasts to North Korea in the Korean language.

“I was very honored to become a United States citizen” last year, he told Trump.

During the meeting, Trump said, “We’re doing a lot” regarding North Korea. “We have many administrations that should have acted on this a long time ago.”

“It’s a very tricky situation,” the president added. “We’re going to find out how it goes, but we think the Olympics will go very nicely and, after that, who knows?”