This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers - We Are The Mighty
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This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers

The best snipers in the world meet up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina each year to fight for top bragging rights and to learn from each other.


This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Snipers compete during the 2014 US Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shelman Spencer

Twenty-five sniper teams from the U.S., Ireland, Singapore, Kazahkstan, and other allied nations competed in 21 tough events during the 2016 U.S. Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition, which took place Mar. 20 to 25.

Each event tests snipers’ professional and tactical skills and is based on actual combat experiences. The competitors conducted day and night shoots in a tactical environment at ranges from a few dozen feet to over 3,000.

“The competition is combat-oriented on things that have been used on deployment,” Master Sgt. Jason Brown, a Special Forces Sniper Course instructor and an event coordinator during the 2014 competition told an Army journalist. “Because of this, it tests the competitors on tasks that will help them complete their missions down range.”

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
A sniper with the Army Marksmanship Unit prepares for the stalk event during the 2014 competition. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shelman Spencer

Snipers have to prove they can stalk through the bush and fire a variety of weapons to win. And the competition is fierce, most units send their best sniper and spotter teams to earn top honors. They have to be masters of sniper techniques.

One of the best things about this competition and others like it is that when top-tier snipers from friendly militaries get together, they trade tips and secrets on how to be effective. The cadre running the event can also see skills they can teach to future students.

“It brings all the snipers together from all over the world, which gives them a chance to communicate on what they are doing in training to become better snipers,” said Brown. “This helps the SFSC committee because most of the competitors are from the Special Operations Forces Regiments and it allows us to see how well they have been trained by us and how well they are conducting their own training once they have completed ours.”

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
US Army snipers compete in a pistol event. Photo: US Army Sgt. Joshua Laidacker

Special Forces Association-Chapter 62 with The Special Forces Charitable Trust sponsored the competition and funded prizes such as rifles, optics, and other high-quality, essential equipment.

Green Berets swept the podium as 3rd Special Forces Group took the top spot in 2016 and two other Special Forces groups took second and third.

The U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence Sniper Course instructors ran the annual U.S. Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition.

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New Iran chief at CIA suggests a stern approach

The CIA’s new chief of operations for Iran is the man who ran the CIA’s drone attack program in Pakistan, took out a high-ranking member of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorist group, and was involved in the CIA’s interrogation program.


Michael D’Andrea has been widely credited with hampering al Qaeda since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to a New York Times report, the officer in question’s selection for the post is seen as a sign that President Donald Trump wants to act on the hard line against Iran he advocated during the campaign.

There also appear to be other appointments, including the selection of a new counter-terrorism chief, who reportedly wants more authority to carry out strikes.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Geneva. (Photo: U.S. Mission/Eric Bridiers)

The Trump Administration has named a number of people whose views on Iran have been described as “hawkish,” among them Lieutenant Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor. McMaster had commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, and the New York Times notes that McMaster believes Iranian agents aiding Iraqi insurgents were responsible for the deaths of some of his men.

Trump’s CIA director, former Congressman Mike Pompeo, has also been an Iran hawk, vowing during his confirmation hearings to be very aggressive in ensuring Iran abides by the 2015 nuclear deal that was widely criticized by Trump during the 2016 campaign.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
An aerial port view of the captured Iranian mine-laying ship IRAN AJR with a U.S. Navy landing craft alongside. (U.S. Navy photo)

Iran has also been responsible for a number of incidents in the Persian Gulf, often harassing U.S. Navy ships and aircraft.

In the late 1980s, American and Iranian forces had several clashes, including one incident when Nightstalkers damaged an Iranian ship laying mines in the Persian Gulf, and a full-scale conflict known as Operation Praying Mantis.

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Navy states poor training, leadership failures led to Iran capturing sailors

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
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As the U.S. Navy crews of two riverine command boats were being held on Iran’s Farsi island by members of the Revolutionary Guard, their captors began to interrogate the group, demanding to know where the Navy “mothership” was.

The ten crew members insisted on the truth — that there was no mothership, and the 50-foot boats were making a transit of 250 nautical miles from Kuwait to Bahrain on their own.

Reportedly, the captors were incredulous, telling the group they didn’t believe the boats could make the distance on their own.

“Yeah,” at least one of the Navy crew members reportedly laughed. “I wish you could tell my people that, because we told them these boats can’t do that.”

This exchange, revealed for the first time in a Navy command investigation made public Thursday, highlights many of the key findings regarding the circumstances that led to the 15-hour detention of the ten sailors Jan. 12.

The 170-page probe found shoddy training, poor preparation, communication gaps and leadership failures all were to blame for the international incident, which was manipulated into a propaganda victory by the Iranians.

Among other discoveries, the investigation found that members of the riverine boat crews had been up all night before the planned transit attempting to repair the poorly maintained boats, a violation of policies requiring ample rest before journeys of that length.

They determined that the sailors had unknowingly passed through Saudi Arabian territorial waters before accidentally entering Iranian territorial waters. And they found the sailors had committed multiple code-of-conduct violations while detained, demonstrating a lack of understanding of policy and insufficient training.

In all, the investigation recommends that eight Navy officers and petty officers be held accountable for leadership and conduct failings in the incident.

Transit gone wrong

According to the investigation, the transit of the two riverine boats, assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 began in the afternoon Jan. 12. The boats were ordered to transit from Kuwait to Bahrain to support an upcoming military exercise, a longer distance than the crews, or anyone from the squadron, had ever covered before in the vessels.

The boats planned to meet up with the Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy before sunset to refuel, and altered their course as soon as they got underway to reach the cutter faster, but without notifying anyone of their plans, according to the investigation.

From the outset, communications were a problem. The second riverine boat, 805, eventually established satellite communication with officials from the parent unit, Task Force 56.7, in Bahrain. The lead boat, 802, never established satellite communication.

Shortly into the journey, just before 3:30 p.m. local time, the boats unknowingly entered and passed through Saudi Arabian territorial waters. Just after 3:45 p.m., they entered Iranian waters around Farsi Island, which lies between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Persian Gulf. The Monomoy, monitoring the journey, notified task force officials that the boats appeared to be in Iranian territorial seas.

Fewer than 30 minutes after the boats entered the region, boat 802 discovered a loss of lube oil pressure. The two boats decided to go “dead in the water” to investigate the engine issue, just 1.5 nautical miles south of Farsi island.

Minutes later, two small Iranian boats approached, crew-mounted weapons pointed at the riverine boats. Some of the riverine crew members went to man their own crew-mounted weapons, but the captain of the lead boat, a Navy lieutenant and the only officer in the group, waved them off in an attempt to de-escalate.

Sailors detained

As Iranian troops racked their weapons and pointed AK-47s and .50-caliber guns at the sailors, the officer made another attempt to extricate the boats from the worsening situation, ordering the lead boat’s coxswain to accelerate through the Iranian boats in a getaway attempt. But the coxswain disregarded the order, telling investigators later that he thought members of the crew would be killed if he followed it.

Two additional Iranian boats arrived, and members of the guard boarded the riverine boats, tearing down the American flags they were flying and hoisting Revolutionary Guard flags in their place. They blindfolded the sailors, taking their personal belongings and tying their hands together with pieces of Iranian flag, according to the report.

Then the guided the two riverine boats to Farsi island, where the sailors would spend their brief period as detainees.

The ten sailors were kept together in a room, where they were first interrogated together, then one-by-one, in sessions ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. Iranian captors would bring in food and attempt to film the sailors with a video camera as they ate. The lead boat captain resisted these efforts to film the crews, but ultimately told the sailors they should eat because it wasn’t clear when their next meal was coming.

In perhaps the most significant misstep during this period of detention, the lead boat commander agreed to read scripted remarks on camera in front of an Iranian “news crew” in which he apologized for the mistake of ending up in Iranian water and said the incident was “our fault.” He did this in exchange for the promise of release, the investigation found, against military code of conduct rules for such situations. Unbeknownst to him, the release of all the sailors had already been secured by the U.S. government and their departure from Farsi island was imminent.

Contributing factors

Because of unit upheaval and reorganization in previous years, Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 and its parent unit, Coastal Riverine Group 1, found themselves undermanned and overtasked. The crews of the two command boats had missed key skills training periods due to operational commitments, the investigating officer found, and were lacking navigation training as well as training needed to prepare them to operate in the Middle East during their deployment.

Poor communication meant that the then-commander of Task Force 56, Capt. Kyle Moses, didn’t realize the units were inadequately prepared for deployment, the investigator found. On top of that, the investigation determined, the task force fostered a “can’t say no” command climate, meaning that lower-ranking troops fell in line rather than raising important concerns.

Neither Moses, nor the commander of Task Force 56.7 in Bahrain, nor the Kuwait detachment officer-in-charge, understood the poor condition of the riverine command boats, neither of which was fully operational, the investigation found. Neither task force had a sense of ownership of the boats, officials said.

This lack of leadership and training was considered by investigator to be an extenuating factor in the conduct of the riverine boat crews, which made a series of bad choices starting with “blindly” deviating from course at the outset.

The two boat captains did not understand proper procedure for addressing an engine failure underway. They failed to keep their weapons manned while dead in the water to guard against a surprise attack. Both captains failed to exercise self-defense when the Iranians demonstrated hostile intent, the investigation found, due to a lack of understanding of how to do so. The lead boat captain surrendered both boats to the Iranian authorities, the probe found. While the military code of conduct acknowledges that troops may be captured, it forbids surrender if they have the means to resist.

And while detained, the crews showed some confusion about what they were permitted to say. The investigator found some volunteered pieces of information apart from name, rank and serial number, including the top speed of the riverine boats and the fact that the parent command owned a third boat. The sailors’ comment about telling their command the boats couldn’t make the journey demonstrated lack of trust in their chain of command to the detaining forces, the investigator said, and could have been used for propaganda purposes.

Discipline and recommendations

Despite the missteps of the captain of the lead boat, the investigating officer accounted for his junior rank and lack of fleet experience and oversight, recommending only that a copy of the investigation be forwarded to his commander for appropriate oversight.

“He was placed in a difficult position, albeit one in which his own actions placed him and nine other sailors in danger,” the investigating officer wrote. “His deployment to the Fifth Fleet area of operations lacked any form of oversight and he lacked basic mentorship and development from his entire chain of command. Left to his own devices, he emulated the poor leadership traits he witnessed firsthand within his own chain of command.”

The report also recommends discipline for the commander of the second boat and the coxswain who disobeyed the order to accelerate away, asking that the investigation be forwarded to their chain of command for action.

Discipline is also recommended for Task Force 56 Commander Moses, the Task Force 56 chief staff officer, the commanding officer and executive officer of Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, and the Kuwait officer-in-charge at the time of the transit.

The Navy announced that CRS-3 executive officer Cmdr. Eric Rasch had been relieved from his post in May. Moses was relieved earlier this month. Actions regarding the other officers have not been made public to date.

The investigating officer also recommended an immediate operational training and readiness stand-down for Task Force 56 to ensure adequate training and readiness, as well as the implementation of monthly live-fire training and a review of policies and procedures for maritime operational centers.

In view of the confusion surrounding who was in charge and the chain of command once the riverine boats got underway and the lack of familiarity with the boats’ capabilities, the investigator recommended developing a career track “specifically for the competitive selection and detailing of post-department head surface warfare officers to officer-in-charge billets at the coastal riverine squadrons.”

The report casts a strongly unfavorable light on the actions of the Iranian guards, who the investigating officer found accosted and detained U.S. sailors in an innocent passage through territorial waters, against international norms. The riverine boats were inappropriately searched and communications wires cut, the probe found. And many of the sailors who were interrogated had their personal space invaded during periods of questioning as Iranian interrogators sought to intimidate them into giving up information.

These findings appear to run somewhat counter to remarks from Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the sailors’ release and thanked Iranian authorities for their quick response.

“All indications suggest that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet,” Kerry said Jan. 13.

In a largely damning report, there are a few commendations. The investigating officer recommended that the No. 2 gunner aboard the second riverine boat — the only female sailor among the ten detained — be recognized for her quick thinking in activating an emergency beacon while “kneeling, bound and blindfolded” at Iranian gunpoint, in a brave but ultimately thwarted attempt to call for help.

The commanders and crews of the cutter Monomoy and the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, which coordinated to track the captured sailors and provided assistance on their return, were also recommended for special recommendation.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was expected to discuss the findings of the investigation on Thursday.

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These are the events that led to the ‘Miracle at Dunkirk’

The “Miracle at Dunkirk,” when 338,000 troops were evacuated in Operation Dynamo where optimistic estimates topped out at 45,000 might be rescued, was a turning point for the allies, allowing them to salvage troops that would fight in North Africa, at D-Day, and beyond.


In 7 steps, here’s how the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on the beaches of France and then rescued in Operation Dynamo.

1. The Brits arrive on the continent

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
British troops from the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, march through Cherbourg, France, in late 1939. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

The seeds of Dunkirk were laid on Sep. 3, 1939, when the British Expeditionary Force was sent to France following Germany’s invasion of Poland and amidst the obvious German military buildup of the late 1930s. Eight first and second-line infantry divisions as well as a number of support troops had arrived by May 1940, spending most of their time training and preparing defenses.

The military maneuvers and buildup between the two sides were dubbed the “Phoney War.” Belgium, the Netherlands, and other countries across Europe prepared for the likelihood of a German invasion.

2. The Germans invade

On May 10, 1940, the “Phoney War” came to a violent end as the Germans invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. The Germans quickly took ground and captured bridgeheads on the River Meuse, allowing them to invade France through the Ardennes Forest.

3. Allied countries collapse

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was thought to be one of the strongest forts in the world in 1940. German paratroopers exploited weaknesses to capture it in hours. (Photo: Public Domain)

The German blitzkrieg advanced faster and harder than most Allied leaders could believe, and countries quickly collapsed. One of the world’s greatest forts was captured in Belgium in only hours. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and others surrendered within weeks.

4. The French and British withdraw towards the beaches

As army after army and country after country surrendered to the German war machine, those still fighting were forced to withdraw further and further east and north. They were pushed against the beaches of France. Panzer forces attacked and captured the French deep-water ports at Boulogne and Calais on May 25 and 26, limiting the potential evacuation options.

5. The Panzers stop

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
German panzers invade western Belgium in May 1940. (Photo: German Federal Archives)

The 48-hour timeline was agreed upon because it was the longest that forces could reliably hold out against German armor. But the German tanks had mysteriously stopped their push towards Dunkirk itself on May 23 by order of Gen. Ewald von Kleist. The next day, a full “stop order” was given by Hitler.

The Allies responded by quickly shoring up their defenses as best they could. What was a loose line of troops on May 23, likely to be brushed aside quickly, became a much more formidable line of dug in but exhausted forces.

6. The evacuation begins

On May 26, Operation Dynamo was launched with the goal of evacuating 45,000 troops within 48 hours before the beaches fell. British defenders helping to hold Calais sent their own evacuation ships to Dover to help evacuate those troops at Dunkirk. Calais fell that evening; all British and French forces there were killed or captured.

7. The evacuation runs for 10 days

The pace of the evacuation started slow on May 26 with 8,000 men removed, but increased in efficiency quickly result in more men getting off.

Within the first few days, Royal Navy officers working the “Mole,” a pier-like breakwater that protected the harbor from ocean currents, turned it into an improvised dock that evacuated 1,000 troops an hour at its peak. Additional men embarked from improvised piers and the beaches themselves.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers

One of the most shocking events in the evacuations began on May 27 when the Royal Navy requisitioned small vessels for use in the evacuations. Most of the ships were manned by the Royal Navy, but some ship owners insisted that they would pilot their craft to assist in the evacuation.

The crews of the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” grew on May 29 when the BBC broadcasted an appeal “for men with experience of motorboats and coastal navigation.”

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
The British Army evacuation from Dunkirk (Source: Public Domain)

The fleets of navy and civilian vessels crossed back and forth across the English Channel, rescuing about 338,000 troops, mostly British and French, by June 4 when Operation Dynamo ended.

Learn more about the events of May and June 1940 in the video below:

YouTube, World of Tanks North America

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These 4 Montford Point Marines were just honored posthumously for their Marine Corps service

They volunteered to become Marines 75 years ago to fight a common enemy yet entered a Corps and community divided by segregation and rife with inequalities.


On the morning of Aug. 24, the community and Corps came together as one to honor their legacy and determination during a 45-minute ceremony on hallowed ground dedicated in their honor.

Three living Monford Point Marines and the families of four, along with hundreds of spectators, paid tribute to the more than 20,000 African-American Marines who entered service in 1942 and trained aboard Camp Lejeune on land called Montford Point.

In recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the first “Montford Pointers,” the August 24 gathering was used to present Congressional Gold Medals posthumously to family members of four former Montford Point Marines: Gunnery Sgt. Leroy Lee Sr., Sgt. Virgil W. Johnson, Cpl. Joseph Orthello Johnson, and Pfc. John Thomas Robinson.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
A platoon of Montford Point Marine recruits stand at parade rest in 1943 at New River, NC. Photo from MarineParents.com

Robinson’s son, John Robinson who traveled from his home in Tennessee to attend the August 24 service, was overcome with emotion when he accepted, on behalf of his father, a Congressional Gold Medal and plaque by Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East and Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune.

“He never talked about his service,” Robinson recalled about his father who left home in Michigan and arrived at Montford Point during World War ll where he would fight in Saipan. “He would always say, ‘I crossed the international dateline,” Robinson said with a chuckle.

After the war, Robinson returned to Michigan where he raised a family and supported his household as a welder and a musician.

The Montford Point Marines, “found courage and determination and grit to overcome inequalities. Because of their determination and all that they went through, we all now are able to serve freely,” Alford said speaking near a granite and bronze statue which symbolically portrays a Montford Point Marine scaling an uphill incline with a bayonet affixed to his rifle.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
African-American US Marines attached to the 3rd Ammunition Company take a break from supplying the front lines during World War II in Saipan. Photo courtesy of USMC

Three Montford Points sat quietly in the front row: Norman Preston, 95, accompanied by his daughter Christine Allen Preston; John L. Spencer, 89, from Jacksonville; and 89-year-old F. M. Hooper, of Wilmington.

Hooper enlisted in 1948 and said the division in Jacksonville was evident.

“We’d walk three miles from base to downtown. My shoes were spit shine like mirrors,” the Brooklyn-raised Marine said. “We passed establishments but weren’t permitted to go inside because we were black. I remember walking across the railroad tracks and the streets were dirt and my shoes were no longer shiny.”

Onslow County Commissioner Chairman Jack Bright spoke from the dais invoking the name and legacy of the late Turner Blount, a Montford Point Marine and later an elected official in Jacksonville.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett, 17th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, personally thanks every Montford Point Marine in attendance before a Congressional Gold Medal presentation ceremony at the historic parade grounds of Marine Barracks Washington. Photo by Cpl. Jeremy Ware.

“He was always upbeat and ready for controversy as a councilman. Turner was a pillar of our community,” Bright said before recognizing Blount’s family seated in the gallery then leading the gathering into a moment of silence. Blount died on July 21 at the age of 92.

The Congressional Gold Medal was first awarded on June 27, 2012 in Washington, DC and presented to retired Marine 1st Sgt. William Jack McDowell on behalf of all Montford Point Marines.

Because the Marine Corps was segregated at the outbreak of World War ll, African-American recruits entering the Marine Corps in 1942 endured boot camp at Montford Point aboard Camp Lejeune rather than Parris Island, SC. After training, the Montford Point Marines were assigned to the Pacific Theater to function in support roles. The Montford Point Marines quickly proved themselves to be as capable as their Caucasian counterparts wearing the same uniform and soon found themselves on the frontlines, spilling their blood and defeating the enemy during fierce combat.

In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981, negating segregation and in September 1949, Montford Marine Camp was deactivated.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
US Marines jump over an obstacle during basic training at Camp Montford Point, NC. Photo courtesy of USMC.

In April 1974, the camp was renamed Camp Johnson in honor of the late Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Hubert “Hashmark” Johnson, who served in the US Army, US Navy, and as a Montford Point Marine.

Despite overcast skies and the threat of rain, the presence of American heroes adorned with Montford Point Marine covers shined over the crowd with admiring spectators posing and snapping pictures with the spry albeit elderly men.

“You are truly part of our greatest generation,” Col. David P. Grant, commanding officer of Marine Corps combat service support schools, Camp Johnson and the ceremony’s keynote speaker said. “They simply wanted to serve their country during the war and they wanted to do it as Marines.”

The Congressional Gold Medal was first awarded on June 27, 2012 in Washington, DC and presented to retired Marine 1st Sgt. William Jack McDowell on behalf of all Montford Point Marines.

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It looks like Turkey-backed forces are taking pot shots at US troops in Syria

US troops fighting in the coalition against ISIS came under direct attack near Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers in Northern Syria.


Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman told Business Insider that “unknown groups” have engaged with US forces on “multiple occasions over the past week or so Northwest of Manbij,” a town in Syria formerly held by ISIS.

“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told Reuters. “The coalition has told Turkey to tell the rebels it backs there that firing on US-led coalition forces is not acceptable.”

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
A fighter for the Free Syrian Army loads a US-made M2. The YSA is supplied by the US, but opposes the YPG, also supplied by the US.

Sources told CNN that no casualties occurred on either side.

Turkey backs a number of forces that oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad and has made efforts to keep its border area clear of ISIS and other militants.

The US supports several Syrian militias that also oppose Assad, though the US now only supports them in their fight against ISIS. However it seems that the Turkish-allied forces likely knew they were exchanging fire with US soldiers.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Image from Google Maps via Business Insider.

“These patrols are overt. Our forces are clearly marked and we have been operating in that area for some time,” said Dillon. “It should not be news to anyone that we are doing this, operating in that particular area.”

“We’re there to monitor and to deter hostilities and make sure everyone remains focused on ISIS,” said Pahon. “We’re going to have to continue our patrols but we have had to move to some protected positions.”

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Today in military history: Atom bomb successfully tested

On July 16, 1945, the atom bomb was successfully tested by the United States.

During World War II, the Manhattan Project was created to continue the efforts to develop a uranium bomb. Albert Einstein himself wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt to chime in theories about the potential of such a weapon. 

In 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer, director of Project Y at a lab in New Mexico, and his team made significant progress in the development of harnessing a nuclear explosion and the creation of a deliverable bomb. 

The next step was to put their theories to the test.

From about five and a half miles away, the scientists watched as “Trinity” –  the first atomic bomb – was detonated in the New Mexico desert. Years later, Oppenheimer recalled an expression from a Hindu holy book that came to his mind after the test quote:

“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

Less than a month later, similar devices would be dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing at least 129,000 people, and finally — and violently — ending the second World War.

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The story of the most important Cold War spy most people have never heard of

One of the most significant US intelligence operations in modern history took place in the heart of Soviet Moscow, during one of the most dangerous stretches of the Cold War.


From 1979 to 1985, a span that includes President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, the 1983 US-Soviet war scare, the deaths of three Soviet General Secretaries, the shooting-down of KAL 007, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA was receiving high-value intelligence from a source deeply embedded in an important Soviet military laboratory.

Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.

Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.

When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.

Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.

The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: U.S. Navy

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.

It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Adolf Tolkachev in KGB custody. Photo: CIA

Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.

Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.

And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.

“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”

The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.

Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?

David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.

We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.

But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.

Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …

Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: Wikipedia/NVO

The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …

[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.

We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.

I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.

But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Aldrich Ames spied for the Russian for nine years before being arrested on February 24, 1994.

There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.

BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.

And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.

DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?

These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …

A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Joseph Stalin. Photo: YouTube/ITN

He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.

He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.

All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.

This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.

The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.

And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.

BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?

I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …

There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.

In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.

The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.

The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.

Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A

nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …

There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the stern vertical launch system of the USS Shiloh (CG 67) to attack selected air defense targets south of the 33rd parallel in Iraq on on Sept. 3, 1996, as part of Operation Desert Strike.

One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.

Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …

The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.

BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?

There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.

In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …

I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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Some guy is using Twitter to show where Russia has SAM sites in Syria

Want to see where in Syria that Russia is parking its surface-to-air missile batteries? If you do, you may think that you are out of luck by not being in the military or part of the intelligence community. Guess again – you just have to go to Twitter.


A person going by the username “Rambo54” – Twitter handle @reutersanders – has been posting some images from Google Earth showing where the Russians are parking their air-defense systems.

Among the sites that Rambo54 is pinpointing for any interested parties are two with the S-300 surface-to-air missile system (also known as the SA-10 Grumble), five of the SA-8 Gecko (a short-range radar-guided system), one of the Buk-M2 (also known as the SA-11 “Gadfly”), one of the SA-6 “Gainful” surface-to-air missile system (best known as the missile that shot down Scott O’Grady over Bosnia in 1995), one site for the S-200 (the SA-5 “Gammon”), and one for the Pechora (the SA-3 “Goa,” known as the missile that shot down a F-117 Nighthawk over Serbia). Pretty impressive work.

This Twitter feed also has satellite-eye views of various aircraft and air bases in the region, including photos of an Il-28 “Beagle” (a Soviet-era bomber) in Aleppo, and photos of MiG-21s and MiG-23s, among other planes. This Twitter feed even features photos of an air base overrun by ISIS.

Rambo54 has posted other images as well, including moon landing sites (to refute those who claim the moon landings were faked), as well as submarines (he had photos of an Indian Kilo-class sub and a Type 212), and air bases. And that’s just in the last 48 hours.

So if you want some very interesting military photos, go to https://twitter.com/reutersanders and start scrolling.

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Today in military history: Largest tank battle in history ends

On July 13, 1943, the largest tank battle in history ended.

The Battle of Kursk began on July 5 when the Germans attacked the USSR forces in western Russia. Operation Citadel, as it was named, was Adolph Hitler’s last great attempt to take down the Soviet Union. With his army struggling around the world and slowly losing ground to the Russians, the Führer ordered his armies to hold the line at Kursk in the western Soviet Union. Additionally, they were to launch a massive offensive to reverse the tides and serve as a beacon to German forces around the world.

Hitler called for two German Army groups with hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks to use a pincer attack to cut off a large Russian salient, a 100-mile deep and 160-mile wide section of Soviet territory that jutted into the German lines. This would give the Germans control of important rail lines and hopefully destroy five Soviet Armies, about 30 divisions worth of soldiers.

The fighting was truly hellish. Columns of oily smoke rose from burnt out wrecks as shells and bombs burst among the tanks on both sides. Russian infantrymen were known to launch near-suicidal attacks through the smoke, running up to German tanks with mines in their hands and hurling them under the enemy treads.

While the Soviets were losing more men and material than the Germans, the Germans were running out of fuel and men more quickly. Hitler finally decided that they were losing too many men to reclaim too little territory. He ordered the Panzer units to withdraw on July 13 and the Soviets resumed their own march west towards Berlin.

The battle involved 6,000 tanks, 2 million men, and 5,000 aircraft — and left over 350,000 men dead on both sides. Unable to match the Soviet’s fortification, a defeated Hitler withdrew from the operation, shifting the operational balance of the Eastern Front in favor of the Soviets, who began a major offensive that forced the German army to retreat. 

The war on the eastern front would continue for another two years.

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This is why it’s actually illegal to shoot at pilots who’ve bailed out

Okay, you’re relieving some stress by playing some video games and you just downed an enemy plane.


The pilot bails out.

You’ve got him in your sights — one less bad guy to deal with later, right?

Wrong.

According to the law of war, it is a crime to gun down a pilot who’s bailed out of his plane. While the video game world might give some allowances on this, in the real world it’s a major no-no.

Field Manual 27-10, “The Law Of Land Warfare,” says that a pilot who has bailed out of his plane is a non-combatant. That’s different from a paratrooper who’s notionally armed on his way down and is technically engaged in combat while under canopy.

 

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Don’t do it Fritz! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons).

 

Here is the exact quote: “The law of war does not prohibit firing upon paratroops or other persons who are or appear to be bound upon hostile missions while such persons are descending by parachute. Persons other than those mentioned in the preceding sentence who are descending by parachute from disabled aircraft may not be fired upon.”

This was formalized in 1977, in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

But even before all that legalese was codified in the Geneva Conventions, some militaries had already adopted a similar code of conduct. During World War II, the Nazis — whose crimes against humanity were legion — generally forbade its pilots from shooting downed enemy airmen.

One German commander, famously told his pilots, “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Even Hermann Goering found potential orders from Hitler to carry out such acts as distasteful, approving of Adolf Galland’s characterization of such an act as “murder.”

On the American side, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that shooting at enemy aircrew who had bailed out as forbidden.

 

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
These guys are fair game. (Photo by Elena Baladelli/US Army)

Pilots on the Japanese side had no such hesitation, partially stemming from a code that viewed surrender as dishonorable. Many Allied airmen in the Pacific found that bailing out from a crippled plane was sometimes like going from the frying pan into the fire.

One airman, though, was able to shoot a Japanese pilot trying to machine gun him with his M1911!

In short, if you’re even playing a video game and you’re tempted to shoot at the folks who bailed out, don’t do it.

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Famed P-51 Mustang ‘Berlin Express’ is returning to Europe

A World War II-veteran North American P-51B Mustang restored to look like the P-51B that flew through the Eiffel Tower during a dogfight in 1944 will soon make a tour through the United Kingdom.


According to a press release about the flight, the Mustang, dubbed “Berlin Express,” is currently making a 5,470-mile voyage to the airshows that will include stops in Maine, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland before arriving at Duxford Airfield in England on July 4.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
P-51B parked at an air base. (DOD photo)

The Mustang will appear at the Flying Legends Airshow on July 8 and 9, and then will take part in the International Air Tatoo on July 15 and 16 in Fairford, England. During that show, the “Berlin Express” will fly alongside the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

The pilot of the plane, Dan Friedkin, owns one of the largest private military warbird collections in the world. In addition to the P-51, he has also flown the F6F Hellcat, F4U Corsair, Supermarine Spitfire, F-86 Saber, and T-6 Texan, among other aircraft.

“The ‘Berlin Express’ is an iconic war plane that is symbolic of our country’s strong aviation history,” said Friedkin, who’s chairman and CEO of The Friedkin Group. “It’s an honor to pilot this aircraft in the Flying Legends Airshow as we pay homage to the brave men and women who have flown in the U.S. Air Force.”

Friedkin founded the Horsemen Flight Team — an aerobatic demonstration team that flies vintage warbirds — and the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation, which honors the men and women of the U.S. Air Force.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
P-51B Mustangs with the 361st Fighter Group. (DOD photo)

The P-51B being flown to England was originally designated 43-24837 before it was restored and painted to look like the original “Berlin Express.” The 43-24837 plane crashed in the U.K. after its pilot bailed out during a training mission on July 10, 1944.

The “Berlin Express” was famous for a dogfight in which its pilot, William Overstreet, Jr., was engaging a German fighter. During the battle, the Nazi pilot tried to evade Overstreet by flying through the Eiffel Tower.

Overstreet followed the Nazi, flying between the tower’s arches, and proceeded to shoot the enemy plane down. Despite heavy enemy ground fire, Overstreet made good his escape.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
William Overstreet, Jr., who flew a P-51 through the Eiffel Tower to get a kill. (DOD photo)

In 2009, Overstreet was awarded France’s highest military decoration, the Legion of Honor, for the engagement. He died in 2013. The release did not mention whether or not there would be a repeat performance of the flight through the Eiffel Tower.

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13 photos showing the incredible determination of wounded warriors

The Department of Defense Warrior Games began in 2010 as a way to celebrate the the talents of injured or ill warrior-athletes. The 2015 games showcased some of the finest talent of the American and British wounded warrior communities. Showcased below are 13 of the most inspiring photos from the games.


While the games are about celebrating recovery and the warrior spirit, there are winners and medals. The Warrior Games closed on Sunday with the Army winning the overall competition. Check out the the final medal counts and more photos at Defense.gov.

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Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Mark Watola

1. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Marcus Chischilly takes off during the swimming finals at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., June 27, 2015. Chischilly is a member of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games All-Marine Team. The 2015 DoD Warrior Games, held at Marine Corps Base Quantico June 19-28, is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill, and injured Service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Jared Lingafelt

2. Lance Cpl. Charles Sketch is presented with a gold medal during a standing ovation from spectators from around the world at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials. Competition provides opportunities for the Marines to train as athletes, while increasing their strength so they can continue their military service or develop healthy habits for life outside the service. The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive.

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Photo: US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

3. A member of Team Air Force throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Fareeza Ali

4. Retired Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, an Orlando, Florida native, keeps his eyes on the ball during sitting volleyball practice at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Terry W. Miller Jr.

5. U.S. and British athletes compete in the 100-meter sprint at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

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Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

6. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ray Hennagir prepares to shoot the ball during the wheelchair basketball championship game at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

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Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom

7. Army visually impaired cycling teams finish together to take gold, silver and bronze during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.

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Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

8. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Peter Cook practices swim form during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

9. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jenae Piper prepares to serve during the bronze medal volleyball game during the 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico, Va, June 26, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom

10. Army Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, left, And Army Staff Sgt. Vestor ‘Max’ Hasson compete, but in separate 1,500 meter wheelchair race categories during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas April 1, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Ashley Cano

11. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Clayton McDaniels’ son receives a gold medal on behalf of his father whose team won the wheelchair basketball championship game at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Army Spc. Garry Abidin

12. U.S. Army Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md., attempts to block the shot of his Air Force opponent while playing a wheelchair basketball game during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at Barber Fitness Center, on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 20, 2015.

This annual competition tests which country has the best snipers
Photo: US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

13. A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

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