John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden - We Are The Mighty
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John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden


Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden spoke with HBO’s John Oliver in Moscow recently, and one exchange stood out amid the discussion of Hot Pockets and nude photos.

“How many of those documents have you actually read?” Oliver asked, referring to the estimated 200,000 NSA documents Snowden stole and turned over to journalists in Hong Kong.

“I have evaluated all of the documents in the archive,” Snowden replied.

“You’ve read every single one?”

“Well, I do understand what I turned over.”

“There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents,” Oliver countered.

“I understand the concern,” Snowden said.

Oliver was right to press Snowden, especially considering what Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013.

“I care­fully eval­u­ated every sin­gle doc­u­ment I dis­closed to ensure that each was legit­i­mately in the pub­lic inter­est,” Snowden said. “There are all sorts of doc­u­ments that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harm­ing peo­ple isn’t my goal. Trans­parency is.”

Based on the HBO interview, that claim is not true.

What about the rest?

And then there are the documents Snowden stole but didn’t give to journalists.

While working at two consecutive jobs in Hawaii from March 2012 to May 2013, the 31-year-old allegedly stole about 200,000 “tier 1 and 2” documents that mostly detailed the NSA’s global surveillance apparatus and were given to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in June 2013.

The US government believes Snowden also took up to 1.5 million “tier 3” documents potentially detailing US capabilities and NSA offensive cyber operations. The whereabouts of those documents remains unknown.

Snowden doesn’t talk about the second cache of documents anymore.

In October 2013, James Risen of The New York Times reported the former CIA technician said over encrypted chat that “he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong.” (ACLU lawyer and Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner later told Business Insider the report was inaccurate.)

In May 2014, Snowden then told NBC’s Brian Williams in Moscow that he “destroyed” all documents in his possession while in Hong Kong.

The only reporting on this second cache of documents came when Snowden provided information revealing “operational details of specific attacks on computers, including internet protocol (IP) addresses, dates of attacks and whether a computer was still being monitored remotely” to Lana Lam of South China Morning Post.

“I did not release them earlier because I don’t want to simply dump huge amounts of documents without regard to their content,” Snowden told the Hong Kong paper in a June 12 interview. “I have to screen everything before releasing it to journalists.”

He added: “If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment.”

Eleven days later, on June 23, Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow.

Here’s the video. The exchange starts at 19:43:

More from Business Insider:

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

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Base to troops: don’t chase virtual Pokemon into restricted areas

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
Military.com / Reddit


At least one military base is warning service members against the dangers of wandering into unauthorized areas while chasing Pokemon.

“Since Pokemon Go hit last week there have been reports of serious injuries and accidents of people driving or walking while looking at the app and chasing after the virtual Pokemon,” says the message posted this morning to the Joint Base Lewis McChord official Facebook page. “Do not chase Pokemon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings, or homes on base.”

The wildly popular iPhone and Android app, “Pokemon Go,” leads players on a real world chase via their phone’s GPS system and camera, through which they can “catch” virtual Pokemon that appear around the player within the app. At least one player has reportedly stumbled on a dead body while playing the game, according to news accounts, while others have been lured into corners and robbed, other sources have reported..

Lewis-McChord officials said the notice was a precaution and that there have been no reports of problems on the base caused by service members, families or employees playing the game.

“We talked about it here this morning with our director of emergency services, and said, as a precaution, let’s just tell people right away ‘do not be using the app to follow Pokemon creatures into restricted areas on base or controlled areas,'” said Joseph Piek, a JBLM spokesman. “We’re not saying don’t play — but we are saying there’s certain areas, don’t chase the Pokemon there, you’ll just have to leave them be.”

Officials with the Defense Department said they have no plans to issue military-wide Pokemon guidance or rules for playing the game within or around the Pentagon.

“Our personnel are well informed on the restrictions regarding restricted areas, regardless of if they’re chasing Pokemon or otherwise,” they said.

JBLM is home to the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Special Forces Group as well as the Army’s I Corps and the Air Force’s 62d Airlift Wing.

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These hilarious USAF ‘Freestyle Friday’ videos will start your weekend with a laugh

Most outsiders may not know about an Air Force tradition that gives the hard-charging crew chiefs of some of the most high-tech airplanes in the world a chance to show a little personality.


You might have seen some funny videos or gifs here and there featuring Air Force maintainers directing taxiing aircraft with the flair of a funny dance or outrageous outfit, and you might have wondered how they got away with it without their commander coming down on them like a ton of bricks.

YouTube user Kyle Gott 

What you’re seeing is “Freestyle Friday,” a military version of “casual Fridays” where Air Force crew chiefs – the tactical aircraft maintainers who coordinate the maintenance and care of the world’s most expensive airframes — are allowed to have a little fun on the job.

YouTube User alexwannberg
YouTube User alexwannberg
YouTube User alexwannberg 

Crew chiefs have one of the hardest jobs in the Air Force; one that requires a lot of training, long hours, and a lot of responsibility to make sure the planes are in tip-top shape for their dangerous missions. There’s a reason the crew chief often gets his name on the nose of a plane with the pilot’s.

YouTube User AirmanSnuffie 

Some consider Air Force crew chiefs and maintainers the “grunts” of the Air Force, and no one should be surprised when they have a little fun on the flightline during Freestyle Fridays to blow off a little steam.

YouTube user Jeff Wilms 

The ground crews work in extreme heat and cold, depending on their duty station, with little rest between shifts, and sometimes multiple launches and recoveries per day.

YouTube User juukbox 

Crew chiefs have to deal with exhaustion from a high operational tempo, hearing loss from the jet noise on the flightline, and may sometimes feel a little underappreciated by the rest of the maintenance group.

YouTube User Chris Bosley 

Like most enlisted folks with this level of responsibility, they’re known for blunt talk and a no-nonsense attitude. They take care of the planes they’re charged to maintain very seriously. So it’s no surprise they’re known to be hardasses for doing things their way.

YouTube User jw040789 

But while crew chiefs work hard, they play hard too and are often the genesis of some hilarious nicknames for the airmen that work with them.

Happy Freestyle Friday from We Are The Mighty!

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Feds sentence two who scammed Marines looking for love

Two people who ran a fraud scheme that took roughly $160,000 from active duty Marines were sentenced June 5 in federal court.


According to a release by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Jones Tyler Martin and Hailey Tykoski carried out a “catfishing” scheme targeting Marines. Officials say the two persuaded Marines to hand over personal and financial information by posing as women interested in relationships.

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
US Marines training with small arms. (US Navy photo)

According to an October 2016 release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Tykoski was accused of impersonating the women in phone and online conversations, while Martin would use the information the pair acquired to obtain credit or make wire transfers.

The two were taken into custody after an investigation by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service’s Carolinas Field Office out of Camp Lejeune. The two were later indicted on charges of conspiring to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting.

The Charlotte News and Observer reported that Martin and Tykoski used the social network MeetMe.com to lure the Marines in. Over a two-year period between 2013 and 2015, they hooked several Marines by convincing them they would be moving into to an off-base apartment.

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
Cyberspace recently proved dangerous to some Marines’ wallets. (DOD photo)

On Jan. 30, Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, and on March 27 Tykoski pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Martin was sentenced to 57 months in prison and five years of supervised release while Tykoski was given five years of probation.

Both were also ordered to make restitution. Martin was ordered to pay $117,306.42m while Tykoski was ordered to pay $42,289.05.

“The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this district treat cases such as this one with high priority,” U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce said in the release. “There will continue to be vigorous prosecution of those who commit fraud and cybercrimes targeting members of the armed services and veterans.”

H. Andrew Goodridge, the NCIS Special Agent in Charge of the Carolinas Field Office, added, “This case reminds all of us to remain vigilant about what information we provide to strangers, it also demonstrates that NCIS is committed to pursuing those who exploit US service members.”

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This is the legendary Nazi general who turned on Hitler

Nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” Gen. Erwin Rommel was a decorated officer who was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his outstanding service on the Italian Front. During World War II, the legendary military leader commanded the 7th Panzer Division as the Nazis invaded France, earning himself a reputation as a brilliant tank commander.


While his fame turned him into a propaganda tool, Rommel had another agenda — to kill Adolf Hitler.

On July 20th, 1944, a bomb was planted and exploded under Hitler’s East Prussia Headquarters — but the Führer survived the blast.

Related: This soldier fought off a German tank with his pistol

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
Hitler visits some of the injured survivors of the headquarters explosion in the hospital. (Source: Smithsonian Channel/ YouTube/ Screenshot)

“A very small clique of ambitious, corrupt and at the same time irrational, criminally stupid officers have conspired to do away with me. It is a tiny group of criminal elements, which will now be mercilessly extinguished,” Hitler stated as he vowed revenge.

As Hitler’s Gestapo conducted intense interrogations of bomb plot suspects, one famous name managed to surface — Erwin Rommel.

Then, in Sept. 1944, British intelligence tapped into one of the conversations of captured German General Heinrich Eberbach which revealed: “Rommel said to me that the Führer has to be killed, there is nothing for it … that man has to go.”

Weeks later, two German generals arrived at Rommel’s home and explained his narrow options. He could either be tried in the people’s court which would lead to ultimate disgrace in the Third Reich or drink a small bottle of cyanide which they brought with them.

General Erwin Rommel died that same day, but the German people were told that their famous hero passed in a car wreck. At his funeral, the German people saluted him as his casket carried away.

Also Read: Patton once sent 300 men to rescue his son-in-law from a Nazi prison

Check out the Smithsonian Channel’s video for the failed attempted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SerzqZfqBM
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
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Previously removed pages of 9-11 report show possible link between terrorists and Saudi government

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New documents released by the White House July 15 show both the FBI and CIA found substantial evidence that several of the 9/11 hijackers received assistance from officers with the Saudi Arabian intelligence service while preparing for their attacks on Washington and New York.

While the intelligence described in the documents leaves some doubt on how strong the link between the 19 terrorists and the Saudi government was, it is the first time since 2003 that information on any ties between al Qaida and Saudi Arabian intelligence connected to the 9/11 attacks has been made public.

“While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with and received support or assistance from individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” the report says. “There is information … that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”

The newly-released documents are 28 pages from the so-called “9/11 Report” ordered by Congress in the wake of the terrorist attacks that were removed from the final draft in an effort that some say was intended to shield one of America’s most important Middle East allies from embarrassment.

But pressure has been mounting on the Obama Administration to release the formerly classified pages by some in Congress and by attorneys for the families of 9/11 victims who are suing the Saudi government for its alleged role in the attacks.

The documents describe tactical help several of the attackers received from suspected Saudi intelligence operatives here in the U.S., including housing assistance, meetings with local imams and even one case where officials believed a Saudi operative was testing airline security during a flight to Washington, D.C.

“According to an FBI agent in Phoenix, the FBI suspects Mohammed al-Qudhaeen of being [REDACTED],” the report says. “Al-Qudhaeen was involved in a 1999 incident aboard an America West flight, which the FBI’s Phoenix office now suspects may have been a ‘dry run’ to test airline security.”

While the newly-released pages paint a detailed picture of how some suspected Saudi government officials and intelligence agents had ties to the al Qaida attackers and may have helped them plan and execute the attack, it’s unclear whether the effort was officially sanctioned by the Saudi royal family.

Congressional investigators “confirmed that the intelligence community also has information … indicating that individuals associated with the Saudi government in the United States may have other ties to al Qaida and other terrorist groups,” the report says. “Neither CIA nor FBI witnesses were able to identify definitively the extent of Saudi support for terrorist activity globally or within the United States and the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature.”

While not necessarily a “smoking gun,” the most damning evidence in the pages deals with Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, alleged Saudi intelligence officers who provided direct assistance to “hijackers-to-be” Kahlid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi after they arrived in San Diego in 2000. Both men were financed by a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and they used those funds to secure housing and other incidentals for the future hijackers.

Along with illustrating how protracted the terrorists’ 9/11 planning was — taking place over several years — this newly-released section of the report also shows that the FBI dropped the ball on several occasions, failing to share intelligence between headquarters and the San Diego field office and summarily ending an investigation into the suspicious funding of a mosque construction — an investigation that — in hindsight — may have allowed the FBI to stymie the chain of events that eventually led to the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Editor-in-chief Ward Carroll contributed to this report.

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9 interesting reasons behind US military uniforms

Have you ever been sweating the details of an inspection or searching the rack at the PX and wondered how your branch’s uniforms came to be? Here are 9 reasons behind the uniforms in seabags and footlockers worldwide today:


1. Why are there three white stripes on a sailor’s jumper?

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The three white stripes go back to the U.S. Navy’s origins and the service’s ties to the British Royal Navy. Each stripe represents one of Lord Nelson’s major victories (the wars of the First, Second, and Third Coalition, which included the Battle of Trafalgar).

2. What’s the flap for on the back of a sailor’s jumper?

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(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman)

Jumper flaps originated as a protective cover for the uniform jacket because sailors greased their hair to hold it in place. (In those days showering wasn’t an every day thing.) (Source: Bluejacket.com)

3. Where did a sailor’s black neckerchief come from?

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(Photo: U.S. Navy)

The black silk neckerchief was originally a sweat rag. Black was chosen as the color because it didn’t show dirt. (Source: Bluejacket.com)

4. Why do sailor’s wear bellbottoms?

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(Photo: U.S. Navy Historical Command)

Bellbottoms are easier to roll up than regular trousers, and sailors have always had occasion to roll pant legs up whether swabbing decks or wading through the shallows when beaching small boats. (Source: Bluejacket.com)

5. Why does the eagle face to the right on emblems?

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World War II-era officer’s crest. (Photo: Navy archives)

The eagle on an officer’s crest actually faced left until 1940 when it was changed to conform with “heraldic tradition” that hold that the right side of a shield represents honor, while the left side represents dishonor.

6. Why is the Army Service Uniform blue?

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Anybody know where we’re going? (Photo: U.S. Army, Eboni Everson-Myart)

The origin of the blue Army service uniform goes back to the earliest days of the nation when General George Washington issued a general order October 1779 prescribing blue coats with differing facings for the various state troops, artillery, artillery artificers and light dragoons. The Adjutant & Inspector General’s Office, March 27, 1821 established “Dark blue is the National colour. When a different one is not expressly prescribed, all uniform coats, whether for officers or enlisted men, will be of that colour.” (Source: Army.mil)

7. What is the meaning of the symbol on top of a Marine Corps officer’s cover?

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(Photo: AntiqueFlyingLeatherneck.com)

The quatrefoil — the cross-shaped braid worn atop an officer’s cover— represents the rope pre-Civil War era officers wore across their caps to allow sharpshooters high in the rigging of a sailing ship to identify friend from foe in a shipboard battle.

8. What does the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem represent?

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(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The eagle represents the United States. The globe represents the Corps’ willingness to engage worldwide. And the (fouled) anchor represents the association with the Navy as an expeditionary fighting force from the sea.

9. Why doesn’t the U.S. Air Force have much in the way of uniform traditions like the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps?

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
Somewhere in this picture is a four-star general. Nope, not her. Good guess though. (Photo: U.S. Air Force, Michael J. Pausic)

The USAF is a relatively young service, having been formed from the Army Air Corps after World War II. That lack of heritage has made creating meaningful uniform symbology a challenge, and Air Force leader’s attempts to improve uniforms have generally caused confusion or been met by the force with a lack of enthusiasm. In fact, at one point in the 1990s the Air Force actually had three authorized versions of the service dress uniform. The result of all of this has been a fairly straightforward (read “boring”) inventory of uniforms over the years.

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Poll reveals military sentiments on POTUS

On Sunday, a poll from Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families displayed the thoughts and sentiments of active-duty military troops about President Barack Obama as he ends his eight years as commander in chief.


The results showed that U.S. service members have an overwhelmingly negative view of Obama — or a neutral view at best.

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President Barack Obama (U.S. Coast Guard file photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David B. Mosley/Released)

Overall, 60.3% of Marines, 53% of the Army, 49.6% of the Air Force, and 45.9% of the Navy said they disapproved of Obama — a plurality in each case. Enlisted soldiers and Marines were more likely than officers to disapprove of Obama, by about 4 percentage points.

In total, 29.1% of soldiers said they had a very unfavorable view of Obama’s leadership, and 18% said they held a very favorable view.

The poll elicited responses from 1,664 participants. The responses were weighted to better reflect the entire military, according to the poll. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Obama sought to reduce the role of the military during his presidency, with drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and a decrease in the overall size of the force.

Troops interviewed by Military Times said those steps possibly made the U.S. less safe, as the last few years of Obama’s presidency have seen the rise of ISIS in Iraq and a resurgence of Taliban aggression in Afghanistan.

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Break out the rulers because the Marine Corps’ new tattoo policy is here

After some consultation between senior leaders and their ink’d subordinates, the Marine Corps has just hit the company street and deckplates with a new tattoo policy.


“The Commandant and I have been talking with Marines throughout the Corps during our visits and we’ve taken their questions and comments to heart because it continues to be important to Marines,” said Sgt. Major Ronald L. Green, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.  “The Commandant said it best in the Marine Corps Bulletin in that we’ve attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession.  I think we have accomplished just that with MCBUL 1020.  We took the time we felt this policy deserved, we wanted to make sure we got it right.”

Here’s a graphic that highlights the details of the new reg:

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
(Graphic: USMC)

Note that officers are limited to no more than four tats visible in the PT uniform. (And just when Justin Bieber was thinking of heading to OCS.) Also, the width of a single tattoo standard is defined by the width of an individual’s hand, which — according to campaign rhetoric — means that if Donald Trump was a Marine he’d have relatively small tattoos.

The regulation reinforces the overall intent that “any tattoo, regardless of where it is cannot express sexism, nudity, racism, vulgarity, or anything that is offensive and is of nature to bring discredit to the Marine Corps or damage the nation’s expectations of them.” No ruling on where “Nickleback” logos fit within those guidelines.

“There is a reason why Marine Corps Recruiting has remained so successful throughout the years, when you ask Marines why they chose the Corps, most will tell you because they wanted to be different,” Green said. (Really . . .)

And nothing says “different” these days than some killer ink. Tribal armband, anyone? Just keep it under three inches wide, Devil Dog.

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Mat Best’s biggest battle yet

Ever wonder what members of Special Forces do in their free time?


We do, too.

Unfortunately they’re not too keen on disclosing information — go figure. But lucky for you we’ve found the next best thing; in fact, even his name backs that statement.

Meet former Army Ranger, Mat Best, best known for the Bikini Snap and Article 15 clothing apparel. And of course… the most epic of epic rap battles.

Image credit: Recoil Web

 

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The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 4 edition)

Here’s a quick look at what’s going on:


Now: You can be in the next ‘Call of Duty’ by supporting military veterans

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This Army veteran running for Senate assembles an AR-15 blindfolded in a new ad

Army veteran Jason Kander is running for the US Senate to unseat Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and he just dropped an incredibly effective ad pushing back on criticism of his gun rights positions.


He assembles an AR-15 blindfolded while simultaneously talking about his time serving as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “I approve this message, because I would like to see Sen. Blunt do this,” he says, holding up the finished rifle, in what is the political equivalent of a mic drop.

Last week, the National Rifle Association released an ad that criticized “liberal Jason Kander” for a 2009 vote against the defensive use of guns. The spot criticized the Democrat as being weak on Second Amendment rights.

John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden
Missourians for Kander | YouTube

In response, Kander is seen blindfolded in a new ad released Wednesday, pushing back on that view.

“Sen. Blunt has been attacking me on guns. In Afghanistan, I volunteered to be an extra gun in a convoy of unarmored SUVs,” Kander says. “And in the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks so that terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.”

Brandon Friedman, a former Army officer and CEO of public relations firm McPherson Square Group, told Business Insider the spot was “a masterpiece.”

Still, Kander has an uphill battle in the race. His opponent Roy Blunt scored the endorsement of the influential NRA in April, and he currently leads the challenger by three points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of Missouri’s US senate race.

Watch the ad below:

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The secret air campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War

“The job of the Ravens was to, literally, look for trouble. And they often found it . . .”


—Orr Kelly, FROM A DARK SKY, The Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations

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The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog FAC aircraft was unmarked when flown by Raven Forward Air Controllers. Photo: Wikipedia/US Air Force

Two wars were being waged in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and early 1970s. One was the “public war” in Vietnam. Highly publicized and highly controlled from Washington, it had all the media trappings associated with major military operations. The other was a “secret war” in Laos. Waged under the tightest of security, little oversight and with minimal assets compared to the conflict in Vietnam, its objective was to interdict and destroy the flow of men, equipment and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Responsibility for conducting day-to-day air operations, in what one pilot called a “high risk, no-bullshit war,” was assigned to volunteers operating under the call sign Ravens, a small group of unconventional and incredibly fearless air combat controllers thinly disguised as civilian operatives.

The reason the campaign in Laos had to waged in secret was the terms of the Geneva Accords signed between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) on July 23, 1962, that guaranteed the neutrality of the Kingdom of Laos, a land-locked nation abutting Vietnam’s western border. One of the provisions in the Accords was the requirement that all foreign military forces had to leave Laos. Though the United States complied North Vietnam ignored it. Laotian Prime Minister Price Souvanna Phoumo’s request for American military aid against North Vietnam’s violation presented President John F. Kennedy’s administration with a quandary: how to comply with the prince’s request without violating the accords. Another concern was that official American military involvement might inspire a tit-for-tat response by China and the Soviet Union that risked escalating hostilities, touching off World War III.

But Laos’ strategic location, along with the fear that doing nothing would cause the country to go communist, caused President Kennedy to direct the Air Force to formulate a plan to assist Laos. Working in partnership with the CIA, the result was a covert operation placed under the command of America’s ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan, and later his successor G. McMurtrie Godley, who closely controlled all American activities there. Air Force Attaché Colonel Gus Sonnenburg and his successors directed air operations. The covert air program began modestly with the deployment in 1963 of four combat control team sergeants, call sign Butterfly.

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A CIA U-10D Helio Courier aircraft sits on a covert mountaintop landing strip (LS) “Lima site” in Laos. The planes were owned by a CIA front company, Air America. Photo: Wikipedia

To get around the Geneva Accords restrictions, the Air Force Butterfly NCOs (and all subsequent volunteers) were scrubbed of their military identity and given a new civilian cover for the duration of their deployment in Laos, a process colorfully referred to as “sheep dipping.” Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the spotter aircraft, Butterflies would issue targeting instructions to Thai, Laotian, and later Hmong pilots trained through Project Water Pump. Originally created to teach indigenous and Thai pilots how to conduct Search and Rescue missions from forward bases along the Laotian border with Vietnam, Water Pump was soon expanded to train pilots for combat roles.

The Butterfly program came to an abrupt end in April 1966 when General William Momyer, the 7th Air Force commander, learned that the Butterflies were NCOs, and not jet fighter pilots, per doctrine. The following month, on May 5, 1966, Air Force lieutenants Jim F. Lemon and Truman (“T.R.”) Young, upon returning to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base after directing air strikes at the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam, were presented with an offer they couldn’t refuse by their commanding officer: volunteer for a secret program, and a variety of minor disciplinary breaches including “rat-racing” (unauthorized acrobatics in O-1 Bird Dogs) and furniture broken during an excessive outburst of enthusiasm at a recent party would not appear in their personnel files. The lieutenants volunteered and the Raven program was launched.

The Ravens were part of a new air campaign in Laos begun in 1967 under the code name Palace Dog/Project 404. FACs for the program included pilots trained by Colonel Henry “Heinie” Aderholt following his tour of duty as commander of the 56th Air Commando Wing at Nakhon Phanom. After that deployment he was assigned deputy chief of staff for operations at the Special Air Warfare Center (now Air Force Special Operations Force) at Eglin Air Force Base.

After completion of their training and upon arriving for duty in Vietnam the FACs were informed that after six months they could volunteer for special duty through the Steve Canyon Program. After being successfully vetted and screened, the volunteers were sent to the American embassy at the Laotian capital of Vientiane where they were sheep dipped and assigned.

Mavericks, with an aggressiveness and courage bordering on the foolhardy, and stamina to endure flying twelve or more hours a day under some of the most harrowing combat and weather conditions, the Ravens and their Hmong counterparts the Nokateng (Swooping Bird) fought the war from bases at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Long Chieng, flying O-1 Bird Dogs, O-2 Skymasters, modified for combat AT-28 Trojans, Porter Pilatus and other aircraft.

To say that the flights were dangerous is an understatement. Of the 191 who served as Ravens, thirty-one paid for their dedication with their lives.

Major Mike Cavanaugh was a Raven in 1969. He recalled that the intensity of action over Laos caused them to become extraordinarily adept at spotting signs of enemy presence. “One time,” he recalled, “I saw bushes which came to a ninety- degree angle. The clever devil that I am, I know that bushes don’t grow in ninety- degree angles. That’s all I had to go on; I hit it with a set of fighters. I uncovered pallet after pallet of 122 mm rockets. . . . [W]e had secondary explosions for two solid days.”

One Raven’s routine was to do a dawn patrol scouting flight before breakfast,looking for such signs of enemy activity as smoke from cook fires that might indicate an enemy bivouac, or trails where the early morning dew had been brushed away by troop traffic. Upon returning for breakfast, he’d have a checklist of locations to investigate later that morning.

On one flight another Raven, Captain Karl L. Polifka, spotted a suspicious mound in the Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars), so named for the thousands of megalithic stone jars scattered throughout it. After alerting the base of his finding, he was informed that Intelligence indicated it was the entrance to a cave storing 500 barrels of fuel. Polifka called in a fighter-bomber who dropped a guided bomb on the mound. The resulting explosion created a fireball 1,000 feet across and was so hot that a passing rain cloud was sucked into its vortex.

While the Ravens participated because they were volunteers, their Hmong counterparts fought because it was their country. Polifka said that the Hmong pilots’ dedication was “unsurpassed by any combat pilot anywhere. . . . They seemed to have no fear, although I do think they had a vision of early mortality.” Raven Darrel Cavanaugh said, “In close, they were damned accurate. They liked to get down there and mix it up with the bad guys.”

The best pilot among the Hmong, and his admirers argued the best combat pilot in Laos regardless of nationality, was Ly Leu (also spelled Lee Lue). A schoolteacher and son-in-law to the charismatic Hmong leader General Vang Po, Captain Ly Leu was the first Hmong to volunteer for Project Water Pump. After completing T-28 training and earning his wings at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, he returned to Laos to wage war against the communists. His motto was “Fly ’til you die”

The Ravens who worked and fought with him loved him. One Raven who observed Ly Leu in action recalled that in strafing runs it was not unusual for him to fly twenty feet above the ground and that his idea of strafing “was to stick a .50 caliber gun in the enemy’s ear and pull the trigger.” From dawn to dusk, Ly Leu flew non-stop, as many as ten missions a day. After returning from a mission, to reduce downtime he’d assist in loading ordnance for the next mission before flying off again. When he landed at dusk he was so tired he had to be lifted out of the cockpit. Ly Leu averaged 120 missions a month and racked up more than 5,000 sorties during his career. On July 12, 1969, the newly promoted Major Ly Leu flew his final mission. Attacking Pathet Lao forces in Moung Soui, northwest of the Plaines des Jarres, he was shot down and killed by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Posthumously promoted by General Vang Po to lieutenant colonel, in gratitude the Americans posthumously awarded Ly Leu the Silver Star.

Though Ravens operated throughout Laos, their major base was at Long Chieng (or Long Tieng). Located southwest of the Plaine des Jarres in Xiangkhouang Province in the north central highlands of Laos, Long Chieng (officially code-named by the Americans Lima Site 30, but usually referred to as Lima Site 20 Alternate, or just “Alternate”) was located in a mountainous valley at an elevation of 3,100 feet. The Hmong are mountain dwellers and General Vang Pao made Long Chieng his headquarters, eventually gathering 30,000 troops into his guerilla army.

At its peak of operations, Long Chieng had a population of more than 40,000, and its airfield conducted about 400 flights a day, making it one of the busiest in the world. Long Chieng gained a reputation of being “the most secret place in the world” because despite its size (it was the second largest city in Laos after the capital, Vientiane, and had the world’s largest Hmong population), it never appeared on any map.

Compared to the air war over Vietnam, the forces available in Laos were negligible—the number of Ravens in Laos at any one time was always small, and General Vang Pao’s air arm often numbered less than a dozen serviceable aircraft. That was a major reason why Hmong pilots flew the high number of missions they did. Even so, they were not alone in the skies. Raven FACs, who also flew a grueling schedule, became expert in calling in Air Force assets when needed, whether it was to aid Hmong ground troops in danger of being overrun or taking out a target of opportunity.

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An armoured North American T-28D-5 Nomad plane at Long Tieng airfield in Laos. Photo: Wikipedia

In some cases, the enemy ironically helped the Ravens in their interdiction missions. Polifka recalled that enemy troops had been taught that an AK-47 was capable of shooting down an F-4 Phantom, something that was possible if it was flying a low-flying strafing mission. Cruising at 12,000 feet or more was another matter. But Polifka said the enemy troops didn’t take that difference of distance into account.

He recalled there would be times that he’d be on a Raven mission, flying between 2,500 and 3,000 feet and he’d look down and suddenly see a ridge line light up with muzzle flashes. “[Enemy troops] wouldn’t really be shooting at [me]; they would be shooting at a bunch of F-4s flying somewhere.” With the enemy soldiers having revealed themselves, Ravens would then call in an air strike. He said, “We know of one case where there were three survivors of a five-hundred-man battalion that straggled into a regimental command post.”

By 1969 Raven guided air operations had become so deadly and successful that Vang Pao was able to switch from guerrilla to conventional war and launch an offensive that wrested control of the Plaine des Jarres from the Pathet Lao. Though because of what happened in Vietnam ultimate victory in Laos was not achieved, the record of the Ravens’ accomplishment demonstrated that when the time came, a handful of highly skilled, dedicated, resourceful, and courageous men could accomplish a mission others regarded as impossible.

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