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Leaked Pentagon Docs Show U.S. & U.K. Special Forces Already in Ukraine as War Heads to Stalemate

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We look more at what recently leaked Pentagon documents reveal about the war in Ukraine, and U.S. spying on both its adversaries and its allies, including Israel. In Part 2 of our interview with James Bamford, the longtime investigative journalist discusses how the leaks challenge the corporate media’s portrayal of the war in Ukraine, and more. Bamford’s latest book is Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence.

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StoryApr 11, 2023“Spyfail” Author James Bamford: What Leaked Pentagon Docs Show About Ukraine War, U.S. Spying on Allies
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show looking more at the recently leaked Pentagon documents, which have revealed secrets about the war in Ukraine, as well as U.S. spying on its adversaries and allies, including Israel and South Korea. The BBC reports one document shows dozens of special forces from Western nations, including the U.S., are operating inside Ukraine. The document, which was marked “top secret,” says the U.K. has 50 special forces; Latvia, 17; France, 15; U.S., 14; and the Netherlands has one. The Pentagon and Justice Department are investigating the source of the leak.

On Tuesday, I interviewed James Bamford, a longtime investigative journalist and author focused on the intelligence community. In 1982, he published The Puzzle Palace, the first book exposing the inner workings of the NSA, the National Security Agency, like many times larger than the CIA. His latest book, just out, is called Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence. I asked Jim Bamford to talk more about what the documents reveal about the Ukraine war, among other issues.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I think it paints a clearer picture of what actually is happening over there. There has been the problem on cable news, both of Fox, CNN, MSNBC. You get a lot of people that are pro-war, and they’re the Congress — members of Congress, senators, and so forth, and they’re all giving these upbeat accounts of how well it’s going for Ukraine. The documents give a far more realistic view, saying that, basically, it’s going to come down to a stalemate. There is not going to be any big winners necessarily. And the Ukrainians are in a very bad position, because they’re not getting enough ammunition. The Russians have far more, have much more access to ammunition than the Ukrainians do. So there’s a switch between the way America perceives the war, I think, to these documents, which give a more realistic — because it’s done with intelligence, more realistic view of how the war is going.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s some interesting findings in these documents that have been released. One, The Guardian points out: “One slide suggested … a small contingent of less than 100 special operations personnel from Nato members France, America, Britain and Latvia were [already] active in Ukraine.” Talk about the significance of that.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s what the Russians have been charging for a long time, that the U.S. is more heavily involved, or not just the U.S., but NATO and our NATO partner countries, have been involved far more closely and far more directly with the war than is led to believe by the government, by the Biden administration. So it adds to the weight of those charges that the U.S. and its allies and the NATO partners are more heavily involved in this war. And that’s a very dangerous situation, since you’ve got nuclear powers involved — Russia, the United States, France and so forth, all nuclear powers — and we’re all fighting over this one piece of territory, and it keeps getting more and more out of hand. So I think that’s a very big danger.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times points out, “Military analysts said the documents appear to have been modified in certain parts from their original format, overstating American estimates of Ukrainian war dead and understating estimates of Russian troops killed. The modifications could point to an effort of disinformation by Moscow, the analysts said.”

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. I think what actually happened, I mean, if you read closely, the documents weren’t — the documents were original. They were placed on the internet in their original form. And then what apparently happened was somebody copied some of those documents, and then they altered a bit of the numerical equivalents of who, how many died, on which side and so forth. So, the documents are real. The documents are not disinformation. Somebody apparently took some of those documents, a couple of them, and crudely changed a few numbers. But it doesn’t affect the overall value of the documents that were released.

AMY GOODMAN: Another point The New York Times makes, “The Russian military may be flailing, but the private Wagner mercenary group — led by an ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russia — is flourishing in much of the world. Wagner is working to thwart American interests in Africa and has explored branching out to Haiti, right under the nose of the United States.” Jim Bamford?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s been going on for quite some time. It’s not just Russia. It’s China, has been working hard in Africa to develop. I mean, as the U.S. has been bombing Middle Eastern countries and spending trillions and trillions of dollars on these useless wars we get into, the Chinese and the Russians, to a large degree, have been spending billions of dollars ingratiating themselves with African countries, building bridges, building roads and so forth. So, it’s not a big surprise that virtually none of the Russian — none of the African countries have joined in the embargo of Russia or the sanctions. And that’s why, you know, the Vice President Harris flew over to Africa to try to regain, bring back some of that goodwill that we have been squandering while we’ve been launching wars in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, quoting The Washington Post, “The documents also demonstrate what has long been understood but never publicly spelled out … : The U.S. intelligence community has penetrated the Russian military and its commanders so deeply that it can warn Ukraine in advance of attacks and reliably assess the strengths and weaknesses of Russian forces. A single page in the leaked trove reveals that the U.S. intelligence community knew the Russian Ministry of Defense had transmitted plans to strike Ukrainian troop positions in two locations on a certain date in February and that Russian military planners were preparing strikes on a dozen energy facilities and an equal number of bridges in Ukraine.” James Bamford?

JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah, those are the most significant, I think, of all the revelations, because there’s only really two ways that the U.S. could have gotten that intelligence. So, one is through signals intelligence, the NSA, and the other is through human intelligence, basically, the CIA. So, in either of those cases, what the Russians are going to do, once they learn this, is do an extensive mole hunt and analysis of their communications. So, the mole hunt, they’ll be looking for any humans that might be assisting the United States by telling them this information about what — the dates and the times of these planned operations, and they’ll be checking all their communications facilities, changing their codes and so forth, in case we’re getting this information by eavesdropping on their communications, by the NSA picking it up. So, in either case, it’s bad news for the United States, because we may be losing that, whatever source it was that we were getting that information from.

AMY GOODMAN: And one of the things NBC pointed out was a February 28th document assessing “'pathways' for Israel to provide 'lethal aid' to Ukraine, providing hypothetical situations that might drive Israel from its balancing act between Kyiv and Moscow. Marked 'secret,' the document also suggests what Israeli weapons could be transferred to Ukraine, [like] Israel’s Javelin equivalent and other missile systems. The analysis says the 'most plausible' scenario is that Jerusalem adopts a Turkish model under U.S. pressure. Like Ankara, it would mean that Israel 'sells lethal defense systems or provides them through third-party entities' while openly advocating for peace and 'offering to host mediation efforts.'” James Bamford?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, once again, it shows how widespread the NSA’s eavesdropping capabilities are in terms of picking up what’s going on within the Israeli Knesset and the Israeli president’s office and so forth, or prime minister’s office. So, it shows a wide variety of how much we’re eavesdropping.

The United States has been pushing Israel to get more heavily involved in the supply of weapons to and technology to Ukraine, but Israel doesn’t want to do it, because it doesn’t want to anger Russia. Russia is sort of turning a blind eye to Israel’s attacks in Syria. And they’re afraid that if they overtly aid Ukraine to a much greater extent, then Russia will be angry at Israel and not allow Israel, basically, to send its fighters into Syria anymore.

So, it’s a complicated situation. But the United States is apparently able to eavesdrop on decisions that are made within the Israeli government.

AMY GOODMAN: And also, this latest news out of these documents that Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, the equivalent of the U.S. CIA, was pushing Israelis in fomenting a rebellion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for gutting the Israeli judiciary.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it shows that we’re also eavesdropping on their equivalent of the CIA, basically, the Mossad. And in my book, Spyfail, I write extensively about how we eavesdrop on Israel. I mean, there’s a huge building in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in Maryland, where the Hebrew linguists are all gathered, and they eavesdrop on whatever communications goes in and comes out of the Israeli Embassy. So, the U.S. does a great deal of eavesdropping on Israel, both within Israel and of its diplomatic facilities in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to refresh our audience’s memory, we last had you on, Jim, as we talked about Spyfail, your new book, and your revelations about Benjamin Netanyahu’s interference with the 2016 election. The media made a lot of allegations that Russia was involved with subverting the U.S. elections in 2016. But just lay out once again for us what you learned about Netanyahu’s efforts to support Trump in the 2016 election and the extent to which he went, something that is known by the U.S. government and Congress, but not revealed.

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, everybody remembers Russiagate and the hysteria that the news media, mainstream news media, basically, focused on that for two years, looking under every rock for a Russian spy or Russian collaborator, and they never found any. There never was any collusion between the Trump administration and — or, the Trump campaign and the Russian government. So, the Mueller report came up with a blank when it came to Russian collusion.

What people don’t know, until I reported it in my book, is the fact that the Mueller group were — the Mueller investigation was not only looking at Russia, they were also looking at other countries that may have been involved in eavesdropping and spying within the U.S. and also being involved with campaigns. And what they found was that there was a Russian — I’m sorry, an Israeli agent who had been sent over by Prime Minister Netanyahu to collude with the Trump campaign. The idea was that the Israeli agent would pass on intelligence that the Israelis came up with to help the — this is intelligence on Hillary Clinton — to help the Trump campaign win. And the quid pro quo for that was that the Trump campaign, or President Trump, once he was elected, would recognize Jerusalem as being the sole, basically, possession of Israel. In other words, it wouldn’t be divided between Israel and Palestine, which always would have been the hope to have a peaceful resolution of that. It would be solely Israeli. So that was the deal.

And I discovered this by coming across the actual affidavit, FBI affidavit, and search warrant. The search warrant was for the communications of this Israeli agent. And it laid out, in the affidavit, the FBI affidavit, exactly how this plot took place. So, it was extraordinary to see that all these two years they were doing this investigation on Russia and coming up empty, and they never revealed to the American public the fact that there was this Israeli agent who was deliberately attempting to throw the election for the benefit of Benjamin Netanyahu.

AMY GOODMAN: So, going back, James Bamford, to these latest revelations, I’m wondering — I mean, you have been studying for decades, and Spyfail, your new book, shows this, of course — I’m wondering what surprised you most, whether it’s the scope of the documents across all of these agencies, or where they were released, on this gaming platform, the name released under — what is it? Wow Mao, W-O-W-M-A-O. Was it the fact that the U.S. government didn’t seem on top of it? I think Austin, this defense secretary, was just briefed last week. And what it means, I mean, if they’re able to find, and do you think they’ll find, the person or persons involved with this?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, basically, all those things surprised me. You know, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen documents leaked onto a gaming platform. But if I was to guess, just arbitrarily guess, as I mentioned before, there’s basically three or four reasons why people steal secrets and make them — and release them. One is that they’re actual spies, and they want to make money, and they want to sell them to a foreign government. Another is that they have ideological reasons. They want to help a foreign government, so they leak it. They’re not looking for money. They just leak it for ideological reasons. And a third reason is anger. They didn’t get the promotion they wanted, or they aren’t treated as well as they think they should be in the office, so to get back at the government or the agency, they leak documents onto some platform. And basically, those are the reasons. And this, I think, would probably fall into that third category. It seems like — I mean, again, I’m just speculating here, but somebody who happens to be on this game platform gets angry at his job, or her job, in the U.S. intelligence community or at the Pentagon, and decides to leak a whole bunch of documents to get back at the government.

There didn’t seem to be any real intelligent selection of documents. In other words, they didn’t all focus on Ukraine. So it wouldn’t be somebody that’s just, “I’m just focused on Ukraine, because I want Ukraine to win,” or “I want Russia to win,” or “I wanted us to get out of this war,” or whatever. It didn’t seem like it was directly focused on that. It seemed like the person just sort of grabbed the closest stack of documents on his desk and folded them up — you could see the folding marks — stuffed them in his pocket. And again, it could be a man or a woman; I’m just using a male as a hypothetical, since most men — most spies end up being men.

But the point is that it didn’t seem like there was a lot of planning this. They put it — the person put it on a desk, and you could see parts of a magazine. It looked like a fairly — a magazine designed for certain people who are interested in guns or something, or hunting. So, you know, that’s a clue. And you can see the image after you take it, and yet you still put it on the internet with that little bit of an image there. You’re not being very careful. And so, it seems like it was sloppy. It seems like it was haphazard, like it was done quickly. And again, to me, it seems like it’s somebody who did it out of anger.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the end of the title of your book, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence? Like you’re saying right now, this indicates how successful U.S. intelligence is, maybe not so much on keeping the secrets, but on gathering them. What about the collapse of America’s counterintelligence?

JAMES BAMFORD: Well, that’s what I’ve been describing, the fact that, you know, that somebody can take all these secrets and — you know, the American public pay a lot of money for the intelligence agencies to collect this intelligence on Russia and China and all over the world. And it only takes one person to walk out the door with all this information to cancel it all, actually make it even worse, because then they could do countermeasures and put phony information out there for the U.S. to pick up. So, being able to collect all that intelligence is fine. It’s very nice. But the problem is they leave the back door open. So, you have all these people, the latest one being this person who, you know, put these documents on a gaming platform, folded them up, put it in his pocket and walked out the door. So, you have this failure at the end. You have success at the beginning in order to collect the intelligence, but you have the failure at the end to protect the intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: James Bamford, longtime investigative journalist, author of Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence. Visit democracynow.org to see Part 1 of our conversation with Bamford, talking about how the leaked documents are based on intelligence gathered by the National Reconnaissance Office, the NRO; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Defense Intelligence Agency; and the National Security Agency. On Tuesday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby urged reporters not to cover the leaked documents, saying, quote, “It has no business on the front pages of newspapers or on television. It’s not intended for public consumption, and it should not be out there,” he said.

That does it for our show. Happy birthday to María Inés Taracena and Anna Özbek! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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“Spyfail” Author James Bamford: What Leaked Pentagon Docs Show About Ukraine War, U.S. Spying on Allies

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