Above: An unarmed Trident II D5 missile is launched from the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) during a missile test off the coast of Fla., August. 31, 2016; public domain photo by John Kowalski, courtesy U.S. Navy.
As the nation collectively holds its breath until Wednesday, February 5th, questions about the nature of our republic swirl. Nothing, it seems, makes armchair historians and political philosophers out of common men and women than the impeachment of a president. Questions long-thought settled are revealed to be as yet open intellectual rifts mended with a quick stitch in the interest of legislative expedience. Now the phrase “constitutional crisis” is on the lips, or at least minds, of anyone who has spent any time pondering exactly how our system of government is constituted. For the first time, we are asked to consider what a “failure of democracy” might look like in America.
These are dark days.
Recent sightings in the mainstream press of terms like “authoritarianism” and “fascistic tendencies” hint that even the most staid and serious journalistic institutions are taking measured, if belated, steps towards an inquiry into the direction the current political regime is driving 300 million people, $20 trillion in GDP, and a military that is reaching proportions and lethality normally conceived of only in science fiction. And in control of it all is one man (or one small group of men, more realistically) who asks us to believe that anything that benefits him benefits the United States; therefore, what may appear to be self-interested High Crimes and Misdemeanors to his detractors are actually expressions of the most abject patriotism.
In all likelihood, the president and his lawyers probably don’t care whether or not anyone believes their clumsy defense of international extortion levied against Ukraine to pressure them into carrying out a political hit against a rival presidential candidate. The probability of the United States Senate voting to remove the 45th president from office is very nearly zero. In all likelihood, this episode, in a presidency that should never have been, is just another deformation of reality in Donald J. Trump’s long-term deception of the American people.
Aggressive, expansionist states are most easily stopped early on when they are weak and vulnerable…James M. Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies
at the Council on Foreign Relations
And in that context, his strategy should be very familiar — at least to scholars and the intelligence community. His tactics of deceit have been used with great success in the not-so-distant past, in other, very dark days. A close parallel of Trump’s arrogation of power is Germany’s slow, deliberate, discreet rearmament beginning almost immediately after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and leading up to the invasion of Poland on Sep 1, 1939. This week, twin disturbing news items barely surfaced in the media churn surrounding the Senate impeachment trial — the first deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads aboard a ballistic missile submarine, and the termination of a U.S. ban on the use of land mines. These developments point to U.S. preparations for a global, prolonged, and catastrophic armed conflict in the near future, reckless preparations that must be reversed while there is still time.
Trump regime wears trappings of expansionist state
Many students of history have asked how the former Allied Powers could have been so blind as not to see the warning signs of German militarization in the followup to World War II. People continue to be dumbstruck at the lack of action on the part of the former Allied Powers to confront their First World War enemy once evidence of an accelerating weapons buildup was undeniable. In “Lessons Learned: Hitler’s Rearmament of Germany,” James M. Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes of this period:
“Aggressive, expansionist states are most easily stopped early on when they are weak and vulnerable,” he says, but “precisely because their capabilities are limited at that point—and their intentions can only be guessed at—it is often hard to persuade other countries to act.”
Together, the president and core of the GOP power structure are best viewed as a domestic, “aggressive, expansionist” political entity. During Trump’s 2016 campaign, his bombastic, often barely coherent, monologues were met with ridicule in the press. As his popularity grew, however, alliances were forged, as is obvious now, that would ensure that a nationalist, corporatist, militarist agenda would be followed, unimpeded by law, custom, or public opinion once the candidate was sworn in. That agenda, however, has been maddeningly difficult to plumb. Certainly greed is a major factor behind the sweetheart favors to business. Tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans were obviously calculated to garner the quiet compliance, if not the admiration, of the elite. The cruelty inflicted upon immigrants and asylum seekers, and the steady pulses of barely concealed white supremacist overtures, by this administration have done much to recruit and command an army of intolerant trolls.
Sure. All of the above. But…why? Every political power has some ultimate purpose, some endgame in mind. Whether in implementing a string of policies or overcoming a national crisis, the leaders of any order have a big picture that guides them toward the set of conditions that, upon acquisition, represent victory. The Trump administration was initially mocked for seeming to fly by the seat of its pants, to stumble from one chaotic, embarrassing misstep to the next. The entire time, however, executive orders were being signed, cabinet members hostile to the very departments they were to oversee were being appointed, and protections for humans, plants, animals, and the very Earth itself were being discarded.
A regime can choose to release truths, exaggerations, or lies as best projects the desired perception of the time, even if it contradicts past or simultaneously released information.
And then there were the lies. At first, the media wasn’t sure how to handle the barrage of utter bullshit coming out of the president’s mouth. Reporters treated Trump with kid gloves, as if by giving him time to settle in, some of the decorum of the Oval Office might seep in and temper his tendency to indulge in “alternative facts.” Nearly three years had to elapse before his “misstatements” were called out for what they were: lies. And yet, even now, observers are at a loss to explain what this administration, and the GOP, hope to gain by peddling falsehoods great and small, other than to suggest that the sheer volume of lies serves to desensitize us and create a general murkiness. I believed that, too, until fairly recently.
Barrage of misinformation can be sorted by purpose
But you have to start paring away the outrage-inducing details of any one misinformation signal, no matter its connection to an act of pure barbarism. In every piece of information released, false or true, it’s imperative that an attentive public try to discern what role it plays in the ultimate, long-term deception being perpetrated by this president and his legislative and judicial henchmen. Fortunately, the Central Intelligence Agency has already done some of the legwork that can help us make sense of the disinformation campaign launching the smokescreen meant to obscure the coming military campaign, whatever it might be. In the study “Long-Term Deception: The Rearmament of the German Air Force, 1919–39,” analyst Brian J. Gordona describes a “Deception Methods Matrix.” This matrix places different communications tactics in the categories of Reveal Fact, Conceal Fact, Reveal Fiction, or Conceal Fiction. A regime can choose to release truths, exaggerations, or lies as best projects the desired perception of the time, even if it contradicts past or simultaneously released information. Likewise, facts can be withheld in the interest of genuine needs for secrecy or to produce the appearance of the need for secrecy.
The Deception Methods Matrix
• Release true information that benefits the deceiver (e.g., the double bluff ruse)
• Display real equipment or facilities (e.g., to build a source’s credibility)
| Conceal Fact |
• Secrecy (clearance programs, physical security, and INFOSEC)
• Withholding information to create a false or misleading impression
• Camouflage, concealment, signal reduction (e.g., stealth designs and materials, spread spectrum communications), disguises, dazzling
• Nonverbal deceit
|Reveal Fiction |
• Disinformation, which includes lying or providing information known to be untrue or dazzling (e.g., providing large volumes of information)
• Decoys, diversions (feints and demonstrations), duplicates, disguises, dummy positions, equipment, and facilities
• Suppress a lie
• Hide a sham
Fig. 1 from “Long-Term Deception: The Rearmament of the German Air Force, 1919–39.”
Nearly all of the methods of misinformation used by Germany during its military build-up have counterparts in the Trump communications strategy, from the perpetuation of provable falsehoods to the misrepresentation of his, or an adversary’s, intentions, to the censuring of news organizations seen as inadequately deferential, to the refusal to provide facts and details about even mundane policies in any forum that provides an opportunity for clarifying questions to be posed. This administration has successfully kept journalists and watchdog groups off-balance for three years, sending them on futile quests to ascertain the truth of his assertions while Trump and his surrogates move on to executing the next atrocity.
I won’t make you visit the CIA’s website to review this fascinating study. I’ve embedded a PDF of it below, and I urge you to absorb the concepts, and then start thinking for yourself how various volleys in Trump’s unrelenting misinformation campaign fit into the Deception Methods Matrix. If it weren’t so chilling, it would be an entertaining academic exercise.
Unfortunately, these are dark times, and we have to determine, soberly and with a solid methodology of our own, what the long-term agenda is in Trump’s long-term deception. What we know already is that his administration comprises, and is surrounded by, oligarchs. And despite its early isolationist rhetoric, the regime doesn’t exist in a vacuum, any more than the United States does. We live in a world marked by the scars of late-stage capitalism, depleted of resources, in which the final jockeying for positions of control is taking place at remarkable speed. Revealing the president’s climate denialism as yet another manipulative façade, the United States is, seemingly, preparing to assert its dominance for a future of markedly diminished potable water, arable land, and mineral wealth.
Info about unthinkable weapons can itself be weaponized
The most terrifying evidence by far of this mobilization is the installation of low-yield thermonuclear warheads aboard a submarine, believed to be Ohio-class USS Tennessee. The term low-yield is, in itself, part of the long-term deception. The warhead in question, the W76-2, possesses a five- or six-kiloton (equivalency in TNT) blast yield, depending on whom you ask.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists points out in a recent article on the issue that although this seems modest compared to the explosive power of the original W76, 100 kilotons, “it’s worth noting that a six-kiloton weapon is still 500 times more powerful than the most powerful conventional explosive in the American arsenal.”
What kind of damage could a W76-2 actually do? Well, given how much of an attractive target Pittsfield, Mass., makes, being home to Raytheon and General Dynamics Missions Systems, let’s use that quaint county seat of the Berkshires as the scene of destruction. If one of America’s adversaries were using the Trident II D-5 missile system that comes as part of the standard package on all Ohio-class subs, like the USS Tennessee (built, incidentally, by General Dynamics), they could be pretty much anywhere off the Atlantic OR Pacific seaboard, given that the submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) aboard have a top range of nearly 7,500 miles, although the upper limits of that range are classified, and could be much farther (or much shorter, if that stated distance is, itself, part of the long-term deception surrounding U.S. war preparations).
Assuming the warhead detonated dead center in Monument Square, you could forget about meeting for coffee at Dottie’s. Everything within just under a square mile would be subjected to “Moderate Blast Damage,” which, according to Alex Wellerstein, historian of science and nuclear weapons and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, means that:
“At 5 psi overpressure, most residential buildings collapse, injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread. The chances of a fire starting in commercial and residential damage are high, and buildings so damaged are at high risk of spreading fire.”
Estimated fatalities: 4,710
Estimated injuries: 8,280
Well, at least Berkshire Medical Center is nearby. The wounded and the blinded can drag themselves through the debris and fallout to the ER, right? Yes, but unfortunately each SLBM missile can pack up to eight independently targetable warheads, which increases the payload to 40 kilotons. In that case, BMC and everything else just up to the northern edges of the Hebert Arboretum would be blown to bits. (Everything in the previously described blast radius has been set on “espresso grind.”)
Estimated fatalities: 15,060
Estimated injuries: 11,300
Of course, if you happen to be in the central fireball (orang on the map, solidly engulfing both Barrington Stage and the Colonial Theatre, and then some) you won’t have to worry about going for a cup of coffee or radiation burns treatment since, as Dr. Wellerstein explains “anything inside the fireball is effectively vaporized.” Also, if the fireball touches the ground, “the amount of radioactive fallout is significantly increased.”
The USS Tennessee, by the way, carries 24 of these SLBMs, so if the United States enemy really had a hate on the Berkshires, they could inflict third-degree radiation burns on everyone from Jiminy Peak to Shakespeare & Company.
And just in case you’ve forgotten what a nuclear hellstorm looks like, why not have a look at some of these golden oldies from the middle of the Cold War?
But since these warheads are independently targetable, I’m sure they’d send a few to other locations that contain strategic installations. I’m guessing Pittsfield would escape with just its commercial, cultural, and industrial core in ashes. If you’d like to play around with the simulated nuking of cities of your choice, varying the blast strength, viewing fallout patterns, and so on, be sure to visit Professor Wellerstein’s Nuke Map at his site, NuclearSecrecy.com.
The proposal to create “mini-nukes” has been around for a while. An “escalate to de-escalate” fallacy posits that high-yield nuclear warheads are useless as a deterrent to aggression because everyone knows that no one is going to launch one. No country would choose the path of “suicide over surrender.” If, however, a nation possesses a so-called surgical nuclear weapon, adversaries would be ever-mindful, the theory goes, of the potential that they could be targeted at a moment’s notice from beneath the waves in retaliation to (or preemptive prevention of hostilities.
If the adversary detects even a single missile launch, it has no choice but to react as if the United States has decided to escalate to the strategic nuclear level. Vipin Narang
Because the United States possesses, and is willing to use, nuclear weapons small enough only to decimate and irradiate the world one postal code at a time, no nation would be likely to launch a full-scale first or retaliatory strike against us. In the Nuclear Posture Review released by the Trump administration in early 2018, the development of a low-yield nuclear warhead option was described as a remedy to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable ‘gap’ in U.S. regional deterrence capabilities.”
This selectively chosen factual reveal serves to rattle cages around the world. With world leaders — friends, frenemies, and foes alike — all struggling to divine some motive and purpose to this shift in policy, one could be forgiven for succumbing to the assumption that this new posture merely makes a session of chest-pounding easier. The president had already established a history of conflicting comments that suggested he’d somehow lived through the end of the Cold War without having seen the movies “War Games,” “The Day After,” or “Threads” or pondered Sting’s hope that the Russians love their children, too.
The Discrimination Problem
A significant technical detail has been overlooked, as well — something known as the “Discrimination Problem.” Vipin Narang of the national security analysis site War on the Rocks explains the issue very simply — a nation’s incoming missile detection system has no way of differentiating, or discriminating, between the low-yield version of the warhead, the W76-2, and the original formula of the W76. Recall that the W76 is configured to deliver a 100-kiloton blast, which would annihilate cities of most any size. Narang spells out the ramifications of such a case of mistaken identity:
“If the adversary detects even a single missile launch, it has no choice but to react as if the United States has decided to escalate to the strategic nuclear level. Even if the other side may hope or believe that the incoming warhead might just be a low-yield weapon, it must assume the worst, because the risks of guessing wrong include losing millions of people or potentially its entire nuclear force.”
In other words, if the whole point of adding low-yield warheads to our arsenal was to show that the United States has nuclear warheads we’re prepared to use, the exercise fails from the start. Cruising around under the oceans’ waves with missiles that MIGHT be low-yield is no more likely to prevent Armageddon than with missiles that are definitely full strength. The Trump administration’s reasoning is patently (if feebly) deceptive, since it acknowledges that the sheer destructive capabilities of previous ballistic missiles is ALREADY deterring their use by any nation.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: They’re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president.
TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them? March 30, 2016 interview on MSNBC
This flawed reasoning is clearly meant to be called out — Trump gets to maintain the unconvincing language of de-escalation while the rest of the world hears, “I have nukes that not only can I use with plausible deniability, but I have nukes that I fully intend to use with extreme prejudice.” After the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Trump immediately stated, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” Again, this is an example of the Trump administration’s use of facts to sow confusion and anxiety, rather than an understanding of just what course of action they intend.
If one looks to the Trump’s public statements about nuclear weapons, the president can be quickly and rightly judged to be an imbecile who is wholly unqualified to speak even casually on the issue.
Viewed as a whole, however, the administration’s policy pivots and reversals indicate steady progress toward a nuclear readiness not seen in the United States since the most strained points in U.S.-Soviet relations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. From the 2019 withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia, as well as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) to preparations to spam the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) 2020 Review Conference with the disingenuous initiative, “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (which will ensure that impossible conditions for a nuclear-free future are contrived), a pattern has emerged that has the undeniable shape of war preparations.
Seeds of the devil
The outlines of this design are brought into yet starker relief with the reversal of President Obama’s 2014 prohibition on all anti-personnel land-mines employed anywhere but the Korean peninsula. While the United States has repeatedly refused to join the 164 state parties and signatories to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Obama’s ban follows much of the same arc of decommissioning, including the dismantling of U.S. stockpiles.
In a press conference explaining the Trump administration’s decision, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made a weak, if typical, case for the reintroduction of landmines in live combat scenarios.
“Landmines are an important tool that our forces need to have available to them in order to ensure mission success and in order to reduce risk to forces,” he offered.
As terrifying as is the creation of a low-yield nuclear arsenal, the recurrence of the barbarism of landmines is morally sickening. These devices are not, as Esper claims, “tools.” You build things with tools. Landmines can barely be described as weapons, since the word weapon calls to mind at least a conscious act of violence, right or wrong. Landmines are autonomous dismemberment devices.
The international organization the Landmine Monitor reports that between 1999 and 2017, landmines, IEDs, and explosive remnants of war have claimed the lives of more than 120,000; as many as another 1,000 per year may go unrecorded. Of these casualties, 87 percent were civilians — 47 percent were children. About twice as many victims are injured — becoming disfigured and requiring the amputation of limbs — as are killed. Statistics such as these strongly convict any military that makes use of these devices. With any other tactic of warfare, an 87-percent civilian kill-rate would raise charges of crimes against humanity.
For the Trump administration to champion the indefensible is, yet again, part of the smokescreen of long-term rearmament plans. While most of us focus on the horror of the consequences of landmines, we should be focusing on what these devices are really, really good at doing: securing the borders of newly occupied territory. Landmines don’t assist soldiers in firefights, troop movements, or general peacekeeping patrols. They enforce a perimeter. An army would also be unlikely to use landmines for operations that are strictly short-term, given that the danger and expense of their removal outweighs the benefits for missions that are limited in scope and duration.
Considering that Americans have little history of landmine use on home soil, the facts revealed in this landmine policy reversal will have a mostly intellectual effect on domestic consumers of this information. We may be shocked, and we may be outraged, but we are not likely to internalize what this development means in the same way that an official in, say, North Korea or Afghanistan would, where these devices have been used widely for decades and continue to kill and maim civilians.
Together, the debut of low-yield thermonuclear warheads and a return to the savagery of landmines, both signal a dramatic shift in how the U.S. conducts the business of warfare. They serve to prepare the American people for potentially catastrophic conflicts that flare up with little notice, and to normalize the gruesome methods of occupation. The factual reveals also give notice to adversaries that the U.S. is both capable of and willing to inflict instantaneous mass casualties or long-term suffering. To our allies, we send the message that the Unites States is willing to abandon all previous standards of conduct and will be completely unrestrained by historical concepts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or the consensus of the scientific or diplomatic community.
In all cases, the Trump administration is relying on creating a destabilizing anxiety due to the inability to ascertain what the U.S. military’s agenda is for the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, and so on. Trump himself has said, on more than one occasion, that one of his strategies is unpredictability. While the motives behind any single deception effort may be difficult to tease out, by looking at the running list of truths, half-truths, and lies being perpetuated, some large scale offensive/pre-emptive mobilization is in the offing, possibly as early as late Spring or early Summer.
Little can be done at this point, legislatively, to counter these effects or thwart the administration’s imperial agenda. The lack of knowledge of specifics, however, should be adequate motivation for activists, scholars, journalists, and the public to hammer away at this long-term deception with every chance that presents itself.. Putting a crack in this old, but effective strategy of misinformation and secrecy may be the only way to reveal the most destructive, and perhaps nationally suicidal, presidential blunder in history.
In CIA analsyt Gordon’s study, he notes that:
“In her work on self-deception, Roberta Wohlstetter points out that British estimates of operable German aircraft were consistently low throughout the 1930s. She offers one very plausible explanation: that placing the estimates higher would have necessitated some form of action on the part of the British government — that officials did not want to take.”
In other words, if we here in the United States today refuse to acknowledge the Trump administrations military buildup for what it is, we’re only fooling ourselves.