The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War's most epic heists - We Are The Mighty
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The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

 


With the use of a massive ship and a cover story involving billionaire Howard Hughes, the CIA pulled off one of the most epic heists of the Cold War during the 1970s.

The story begins in 1968, with the sinking of a Soviet submarine. In September of that year, the nuclear-armed K-129 and all of its crew sank 16,500 feet to the bottom of the Pacific ocean. The Soviets conducted an unsuccessful search over the next two months — and that’s where the CIA comes in.

Via PRI:

After the Soviet Navy failed to pinpoint the location of the wreckage, the US Navy found it. So the CIA decided to raise it off the seabed. They called this mission “Project Azorian,” and its details have been an official secret for decades. It took three years for retired CIA employee David Sharp to get permission to publish in 2012 his account of the mission and his role.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
The K-129

Onboard the sub were live nukes, secret documents, electronics, and cryptography equipment that could help the Americans crack Soviet codes, according to Maritime Reporter. But the CIA couldn’t just build a massive recovery ship emblazoned with “US Navy” on its side and get to work in the middle of the Pacific. The Soviets would be very suspicious.

Long before the CIA concocted the fake movie “Argo” to rescue hostages in Iran, it brilliantly bullsh–ted the Soviets with the help of an eccentric billionaire. The agency approached Howard Hughes, and recruited his help in providing the cover story: The ship, called the Glomar Explorer, would be conducting marine research “at extreme ocean depths and mining manganese nodules lying on the sea bottom. The ship would have the requisite stability and power to perform the task at hand,” according to the CIA’s account of the operation.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

The massive 618-foot-long ship took four years to build, and was incredibly complicated. Meanwhile, Hughes was talking up the mining effort in the press, enjoying headlines like “SECRET PLAN: HUGHES TO MINE OCEAN FLOOR.”

While Moscow had no idea what was going on, in August 1974 the Explorer wrapped its mechanical claw around the K-129 and began raising it up from its three-mile depth. Unfortunately, the operation did not go exactly as planned: As it neared 9,000 feet below the surface, the claw failed and a large part of K-129 broke apart and fell, according to PRI. But the CIA still managed to bring up the ship’s bow, with the bodies of six Russian sailors.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

The CIA could have given it another try (and planned on it) if it had time to build a new claw, except the secret operation was exposed in the press shortly after Hughes’ L.A. headquarters had a break-in. The thieves had stolen a number of secret documents, one of which linked Hughes, Glomar, and the CIA. The Los Angeles Times broke the story in 1975.

There’s are a few interesting post-scripts to the story. The bodies of the Russian sailors were buried at sea in a secret ceremony, video of which was later shared with the Soviets in 1992 as a gesture of goodwill. And the Glomar Explorer was later bought by TransOcean and converted for deepwater oil drilling, though it’s soon headed to the scrapyard after 40 years of service.

But perhaps most famously, the incident highlighted the CIA’s standard “Glomar Response,” an incredible non-answer that has annoyed everyone from average Joes to journalists alike: “We can neither confirm or deny the existence of such an operation.”

NOW: Researchers unveiled cloaking technology that the US military has been waiting for

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It’s time for the F-35 to start blowing up old F-16s

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
The first QF-16 target aircraft seen at Tyndall Air Force Base in 2012. | US Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing


Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle of the US Air Force recently declared a squadron of 15 unmanned F-16s operationally capable, IHS Jane’s reports.

These drone versions of the F-16, called QF-16s, will provide targets for the Air Force as it tests out new weapons capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target will provide the next generation of combat training and testing for US warfighters,” a Boeing statement on the drones said.

While the old F-16s may seem like costly targets, the Air Force is touting them as a more realistic opponent than what was previously available, and they are economical to some extent because they’re made from older, retired F-16 airframes.

“The QF-16 will replace the existing QF-4 fleet and provide a higher-capability, fourth-generation aerial target that is more representative of today’s targets and threats,” the Boeing statement continued.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Having realistic targets to train against will help the F-35 pilots. F-35 Joint Program Office

“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, the commander of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, told C4ISRNET in an email.

In fact, an F-35 already participated in a test in which a QF-16 drone was shot down, though it did so with an SM-6 missile fired from a land-based silo.

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The White House is letting researchers study whether pot helps with PTSD

The White House has lifted a major obstacle long standing in the way of studies into the use of pot to treat victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.


The Health and Human Services Department has published in the Federal Register its announcement eliminating Public Health Service reviews of marijuana research projects not funded by the government.

“The significance is that the Obama Administration is making formal a decision that they made informally more than a year ago,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which plans to conduct a study whose test subjects include 76 veterans.

The Veterans Affairs Department estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD.  For veterans of the Persian Gulf War, the estimate is 12 percent, and for Vietnam veterans, 15 percent.

The Public Health Service granted review approval to the association in March 2014, but also noted in its letter that what it had previously set down as requirements for approval were now suggestions.

The latest move, Doblin said, signals “the Obama Administration is open to ending federal obstruction of privately-funded medical marijuana drug development research.”

HHS in a statement said it was aware that the Public Health Service review “is perceived to be an obstacle to non-federally funded research” and so eliminated it as a requirement.

“The Department expects the action … will help facilitate further research to advance our understanding about the health risks and any potential benefits of medications using marijuana or its components or derivatives, as well as the health implications of other uses of marijuana,” the statement said.

HHS took the step after its officials, along with those of the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, concluded that there was enough “overlap” between the two reviews as to make unnecessary the Public Health Service requirement, which has been in place since 1999.

According to Doblin, the reviews offered nothing to advance the kinds of studies his association and others might undertake.

“The PHS reviewers come from the world of basic science, seeking knowledge about how things work. The FDA reviewers come from the perspective of drug development, where you don’t need to know how things work, you just have to prove safety and efficacy,” Doblin said.  “There was a mismatch between the approaches of the different reviewers which ended up with the PHS reviewers rejecting multiple FDA-approved protocols.”

Doblin said another important step that must be taken is to end the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s monopoly on the production of Drug Enforcement Agency-licensed marijuana that can be used in FDA-regulated research.

The move helps clear the way for an oft-delayed study into the use of marijuana in treating veterans with PTSD, Doblin said.

The administration’s decision also comes one month after a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell demanding an end to the requirement for a review by the Public Health Service.

Marijuana is the only Schedule 1 drug for which independent research had required such a review, according to Americans for Safe Access, a group dedicated to ensuring safe and legal access to pot for medical research.

Though the government approved the MAPS study well over a year ago, research has been delayed, in part because the University of Arizona, designated as one of two testing sites, without explanation fired lead researcher, Dr. Suzanne Sisley shortly after it won approval.

The university reportedly terminated Sisley under pressure from Arizona lawmakers opposed to the study.

In a statement released on Monday, Sisley said the government “has systemically impeded marijuana efficacy research, and the PHS review has played a large role in that stonewalling … To see the government finally eliminate this waste of taxpayer dollars is a triumph and hopefully represents another historic shift in drug policy reform.”

Doblin said there is still one more hurdle: ending the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s “monopoly” on the production of marijuana that can be used in Food and Drug Administration-regulated research.

He said the marijuana made available by NIDA can be used for research, “but not for prescription use,” which means the pot will not meet FDA requirement that “studies be conducted with the exact same drug for which marketing approval is being sought.”

He said MAPS will soon begin working in July with Lyle Craker, a professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to apply to the DEA for a license to grow marijuana specifically for federally regulated research purposes.

Craker has been trying for about a decade to get that permission from the DEA, so far without success.

–Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2015. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

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Why Iran is ‘playing with fire’ in the Persian Gulf against US Navy ships

For the fifth time in about a month Iranian fast-attack craft have harassed US Navy ships with “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers at sea in the gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.


While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.

“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.

“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.

Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.

According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”

In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.

“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”

The messages Iran wants to send

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Picture of US Sailors captured by Iranian fast-attack craft in the Gulf. | Released by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Jan. 13, 2016.

“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.

According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.

But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.

The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”

So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
The coastal patrol ship USS Squall, one of the ships harassed by the Iranians. | US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Michelle Turner

“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”

According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.

“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.

The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.

“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”

“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.

Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.

However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”

For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”

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This new special operations C-130 Hercules can do it all

One of the world’s most reliable military workhorse aircraft is getting a makeover that emphasizes beefed-up special operations for an international market.


On June 20th, at the Paris Air Show, executives with Lockheed Martin Corp. presented the C-130JSOF, a variant of the C-130J Super Hercules built for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, armed overwatch, and on-demand forward aerial refueling, among other features.

Painted a stealthy black, the aircraft is depicted in promotional materials targeting tanks from the air, dropping parajumpers, and swooping low for exfiltration operations.

Tony Frese, vice president of business development for Air Mobility and Maritime Missions for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said the concept for the aircraft variant is built on experience and feedback from customers on how they use the Super Hercules.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
C-130J Hercules soars over Jordan. USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley.

“It is in the world of special operations and special missions the true versatility of the C-130J is on display, accrued day after day in life and death situations,” he said. “In more than 50 years, the C-130 has been synonymous with special operations and special missions.”

The United States already uses the C-130 for special operations, with purpose-built American configurations including the MC-130E/H Combat Talon, flown by the Air Force and used for airdrop, special ops helicopter in-flight refueling, and psychological operations, and the MC-130J Commando II, flown by Air Force Special Operations Command.

The new SOF aircraft is the first time a purpose-built configuration has been made available for the international market, Frese said.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
MC-130J Commando II. USAF photo by Senior Airman James Bell.

Lockheed expects interest from nations in the Pacific and Middle East, he said, and anticipates building 100 to 200 of the aircraft for international buyers. As is standard practice, all international sales of the aircraft would have to be approved by the US government.

While standard configurations of the C-130J sell for roughly $70 million, Frese said this aircraft would likely start in the mid-$80 million range, with more for additional modifications.

“We understand the world we live in today is increasingly unpredictable,” he said. “Our operators, current and potential, tell us they need to support their special ops forces with a solution that is reliable, affordable and effective and, in this case, proven to support special operations in the sky and on the ground.”

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The Army is preparing its medics for a war without medevac helos

The Army’s top surgeon said Aug. 18 the service is working with its combat medics to deal with casualties that can’t be airlifted immediately out of the battle zone and back to surgical facilities for hours or days, arming the first responders with new gear and techniques designed to keep a soldier alive well past the so-called “Golden Hour” that’s contributed to a record-level survival rate for wounded troops.


Lieutenant Gen. Nadja West said the Army’s 68W Healthcare Specialist cadre will have to be armed with sophisticated sensors to measure a patient’s vital signs, be trained to use new lifesaving equipment like tourniquets that can wrap around a patient’s waist or chest and be given technology that will allow them to “reach back” from the battlefield to surgeons in the rear who can deliver expert advice far from the operating room.

“We’ve had the luxury of air superiority so we could evacuate our casualties at will,” West told WATM at a recent meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to make sure that in an environment where it’s not as permissive — where we’re going to have to retain casualties longer — we have the ability to do this prolonged care.”

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Specialist Thomas Appelhanz, C Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade flight medic checks to ensure IV fluid is flowing properly to a wounded Afghan National Army soldier during a patient transfer mission at Forward Operating Base Tagab, Kapisa province, Afghanistan Nov. 5, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Duncan Brennan

West added that in Afghanistan, for example, there were cases where patients were flown out of the combat zone and back to Bethesda Naval Medical Center and on the operating table within 24 hours. But in future wars, that capability might not exist.

In the wars since 9/11, the Army has benefitted from American air dominance which allowed slow-moving, poorly-armed medical evacuation helicopters to speed to the battle and pick up wounded in a matter of minutes. That’s led to a 93 percent survival rate for wounded soldiers, a 75 percent increase since the Vietnam war.

But the Army is worried that wars in the near future won’t allow a speedy MEDEVAC, so its medics will have to deal with situations like potential limb loss from tourniquets staying on longer than usual to fluid pooling in the brain or organs, West said. That doesn’t mean that all of the sudden 68Ws have to be trained as vascular surgeons, but they do have to be able to get detailed information that’ll help keep their patients alive.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Army Spc. Trent McIlwraith, of Edmond, Oklahoma., a combat medic for Bravo Company, 1-179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, administers an I.V. to Tech Sgt. Gevoyd Litlle, of Columbus, Ohio, an explosive ordinance disposal technician supporting Task Force force Maverick in Operation Lionheart on Sept. 12. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Zackary Root.

“Telehealth is going to be very important and we’re working on that,” West said of capabilities being developed for detailed medical communication on the battlefield.

“So you’re actually talking to a vascular surgeon when you’re down range and say ‘Hey I’m looking at this vessel, what do I need to do?’ ” West explained. “You’re not going to make them trauma surgeons, but at least you have someone that can give them the expertise that can do things right there.”

West also said the Army was experimenting with ways to attach sensors to soldiers so that intensive care specialists in the rear can get detailed information about a patient’s condition and be able to render advice to a medic on managing the casualty over a longer period.

“So I see not having to train them on every single thing, but having the reach-back capability to say okay, I’m looking at this, what do I need to do?” she said. “That’s what I see in the future. Rather than trying to overload them with everything, give them the reach back to help them answer those questions.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Coke exists thanks to this wounded warrior from Civil War

There’s a fun fact that you can’t escape in the South: Coca-Cola used to have cocaine in it. The Coke brand is everywhere down here, and every 14-year-old will bring up the cocaine fact a couple of times a week for the first six months after they learn about it.


The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

(Public domain)

The fact that cocaine used to be offered in every town usually gets written off as an odd quirk of history, but it turns out the inventor had a good reason to appreciate the coca plant: He had a number of gunshot and saber wounds from the Civil War.

Coke was invented by John Stith Pemberton (the drink is named after the coca plant, not the inventor or company founder). Pemberton became a doctor at the ripe old age of 19 in 1850. He was a successful surgeon and chemist in the 1850s, but he signed up for frontline service when the Civil War broke out.

He didn’t serve as a doctor, though. He started as a first lieutenant in a cavalry unit in 1862 and climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel. He faced his fiercest fighting when Union Gen. James Wilson attacked Columbus in 1865. Pemberton suffered multiple gunshots wounds and even a saber strike to his chest.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

Union Gen. James Wilson led Union troops during the Battle of Columbus.

(Brady National Photographic Art Gallery)

Pemberton would suffer for years from the wounds he took near Columbus, and he struggled against an opium addiction thanks to all the painkillers he was given. But Pemberton was, luckily, a skilled chemist and pharmacist. He moved to Atlanta after the war and developed new chemical products.

He became aware of a new European product already popular in Italy and France, wine infused with extracts from coca leaves. After a new business partnership in 1870, he was able to purchase the equipment to develop even more complex products.

And, in 1885, he made his own version of the coca-infused wines which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. One thing worth noting here, this isn’t technically cocaine in a drink. Coca leaves are a precursor to cocaine, but you have to use a solvent to extract cocaine sulfate from the leaves in order to get actual cocaine out. But Pemberton’s wine did have anesthetic effects like cocaine would.

Pemberton sold the drink as a way to settle nerves, relieve pain, and cure morphine addiction. You know, the same morphine addiction that he and many of his veteran friends had.

The jump from French Wine Coca to Coca-Cola came when wine was threatened by alcohol prohibition in Atlanta and Pemberton decided to replace the sweetness from the wine with sweetness from sugar. After a few more changes to refine the taste, the product was renamed Coca-Cola and released in 1886.

It has gone through a few formula changes since, including switching fresh coca leaves out for spent coca leaves which have had the cocaine sulfate extracted. So, you know, you can’t get high from Coke anymore.

Pemberton never got rich off his invention, though. He was still standing up the Coca-Cola Company under his son, Charles Pemberton when he died. The company passed into the hands of another investor, and the Pembertons were largely ousted.

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US-backed forces were supposed to assault ISIS capital two weeks ago

The start date of the offensive to oust Islamic State fighters from the city of Raqqa and end the terror group’s state-building project has been announced several times in the past few months, often with great fanfare by commanders in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States’ ground ally in northern Syria.


The last announcement came in March when Kurdish commanders said an assault on the city would begin April 1.

Two weeks later that start date, like many others, has come and gone, prompting the months-long question: when will the U.S.-backed SDF offensive shift gears from isolating Raqqa, which is hemmed in on three sides now, to mounting an assault to retake the capital of the jihadists’ self-styled caliphate?

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
A Marine directs an F/A-18D Hornet returning to an undisclosed location in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community, June 9, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)

Over the weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP he would support whomever wants to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa, but mocked the delay in an assault on the city, which U.S. officials believe is being defended by around 4,000 IS fighters.

“What we hear is only allegations about liberating Raqqa. We’ve been hearing that for nearly a year now, or less than a year, but nothing happened on the ground,” he said. “It’s not clear who is going to liberate Raqqa…It’s not clear yet.”

No firm answer about a new start date was forthcoming on April 15 from U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis when he met in Washington with his Turkish counterpart, Fikri Isik.

The Turkish defense minister again complicated the U.S. effort to choreograph an agreement among multiple local and international players about a Raqqa offensive by pressing Ankara’s long-standing demand for the U.S. to end its alliance with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, whose fighters dominate the ranks of the SDF.

There were no signs that the Turkish request made persistently by Ankara in recent months, and relayed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a February phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, will be heeded.

U.S. officials say they envisage the Raqqa battle will resemble the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local indigenous forces have been waging the struggle to retake the northern city of Mosul, the last IS major urban stronghold in that country.

Also read: Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

Some 500 U.S. special forces soldiers deployed in northern Syria are helping to train and advise SDF units.

Mattis later said at a press conference the U.S. remains in solidarity with Ankara when it comes to fighting Islamic State militants and Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but he made no mention of discontinuing the alliance with the YPG, the armed wing of Syria’s Democratic Union Party, or PYD.

The Turks, who fear the emergence of a Kurdish state in north Syria, maintain there’s no real distinction between the PYD and the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)

Mattis cited the long security relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, dating back to 1952 when Turkey joined NATO; but, in the wake of the April 16 constitutional referendum that greatly enhances the Turkish president’s powers, analysts say it is unclear how much Erdogan values his country’s alliance with the West, and whether his slim victory will embolden him to disrupt a Raqqa assault by the SDF.

Earlier in April, Erdogan ramped up the pressure on Washington, saying his government is planning new offensives in northern Syria this spring against groups deemed terrorist organizations by Ankara, including IS and the PYD’s militia.

In March, Turkish forces escalated attacks on the YPG in northern Syria, forcing the U.S. to deploy a small number of forces in and around the town of Manbij to the northwest of Raqqa to “deter” Turkish-SDF clashes and ensure the focus remains on Islamic State.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is being pummeled by airstrikes mounted by U.S.-led coalition forces and Syrian warplanes.

Local anti-IS activists say the air raids fail to distinguish between military and non-military targets; however, with IS fighters seeded throughout the city and surrounding villages, being able to draw a distinction is become increasingly challenging, say U.S. officials.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
U.S. Airmen load pallets of nonlethal aid for the Syrian Opposition Coalition onto a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at an undisclosed base May 9, 2013. U.S. forces provided humanitarian aid to refugees of the Syrian civil war. (Dept. of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares, U.S. Air Force)

“Civilians are now [caught] between the criminal terrorists on one side and the international coalition’s indiscriminate bombing on the other side,” said Hamoud Almousa, a founding member of the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is opposed to an assault on the city being led by the YPG.

“Liberating [Raqqa] does not come by burning it and destroying it over its people who have suffered a lot from the terrorist group’s violations,” he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group that relies on a network of activists for its information, said that four civilians — two women and two children — were killed April 17 in an airstrike believed to have been carried out by coalition warplanes on the Teshreen Farmarea north of Raqqa.

The Observatory says between March 1 and April 10, airstrikes killed 224 civilians. They included 38 children under the age of 18, and 37 women.

Another mainly Arab anti-IS activist network, Eye on the Homeland, complains at the lack of international condemnation about the civilian casualties from the airstrikes, arguing civilians caught in the conflict are being treated inhumanely.

“We assert that the liberation of civilians from all forms of terrorism requires that military forces acting in the area avoid civilian killing, displacement, and the destruction of their properties whenever possible,” the network said recently on its website.

It warned the deaths will “be used to by terrorist organizations in their propaganda to convince civilians that these military forces do not have their interests at heart” and will “only further fuel radicalization.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 forgotten facts about the Forgotten War

In 1945, the unified Korean country was split along the 38th parallel, creating North Korea and South Korea. The communist north was backed by the Soviet Union and the democratic south by the United States. Though the split allowed these two countries to be formed, neither the north or south felt that the division was accurate, and each side believed the other part of Korea was rightfully theirs.

To rectify this, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, with China’s help and the Soviet Union. This started the Korean War, though the U.S. involvement didn’t officially happen until later.


In the U.S., it’s often called the Forgotten War, since WWII and the Vietnam War largely overshadowed the conflict. As the country tried to heal from WWII, our involvement in the Korean conflict was largely ignored by the media. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which began in 1955, also overpowered the conflict in Korea.

What’s in a name?

North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War, and South Korea calls it Six-Two-Five. This numerical reference indicates the date the war started, June 25, 1950. China calls it the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea. Names aside, here are four more forgotten facts you need to know about the Korean War:

A Never-Ending War

Six decades later, we’re still no closer to a peaceful conclusion. The Korean Armistice Agreement put an end to the “acts of armed violence” but didn’t actually declare an end to the war. The agreement is technically just a ceasefire that was written to hold the countries over until they could come to a more lasting peaceful solution. As time went on and neither side was willing to budge on their terms, no official end was ever declared. Now, the two countries are still technically at war.

Speaking of “war”

On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, following approval and a pledge of support from the Soviet Union. In 1950, the US was actively pulling out of South Korea, and there were few service members left in the country. But just two days later, President Truman made the decision for air, and naval action as the North Korean Army approached Seoul.

However, the Korean War was only ever considered a “conflict,” and Congress never officially declared war. As the conflict unfolded, the United Nations publicly demanded that North Korea stop attacking South Korea and retreat back to the 38th parallel. Of course, the order was ignored, so the UN called on the rest of the world to help support South Korea. The call was answered by over 15 countries, including France, Ethiopia, Canada, and Australia.

The 38th Parallel has always been hotly debated

The idea of a North Korea and South Korea isn’t something new. In fact, in the late 1890s, Japan wanted to separate Korea and split the landmass with Russia. Japan wanted to use the 38th Parallel to slip the country, giving Russia control of the North and keeping the South for itself. The peninsula wasn’t officially split apart until 1945 after WWII.

On either side of the 38th Parallel is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which houses meeting spaces for the two countries to meet in a neutral location for talks. The DMZ was created in 1953, and the zone is about 5 km wide. Ideally, this buffer is supposed to be the place where no military action can occur, but there have been instances of violence, directed to both the military and civilians.

The North Koreans captured an American General

A month after the war broke out, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces while he attempted to help wounded service members. He was out looking for water when he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. During the next 26 days, Dean was isolated in the mountains and lost 80 pounds. He also suffered a broken shoulder and a head wound from the fall. Two South Koreans found him and told him they were leading him to safety. In reality, they took him to a North Korean ambush site. Dean tried to fight his captors, but couldn’t resist for long. Officially, he was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained a POW until the end of the war.

Though the Korean War might not have had much time in the media spotlight, it’s still fiercely remembered by the service members who were called to serve as well as the families who lost loved ones during the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

Since the dawn of humanity, people have been as competitive as hell. We want to be the best. The first. While most of the world has already been explored today, the tallest peaks, darkest caves, and iciest tundras were once undiscovered mysteries, and humans were obsessed with discovering every corner. Before the 1900s, the North Pole was one of those untouched corners. All early attempts failed, upping the allure of the so-called top of the world. 

In 1909, that changed. First, US Navy engineer Robert Peary claimed to have reached the pole on April 6th of that year. But shortly after, an American explorer named Frederick Albert Cook declared he had actually reached the pole first, nearly a year prior. So who was right? 

The Race for the North Pole Was Cutthroat and Controversial

The North Pole is both barely habitable and intensely difficult to reach. Situated in the moddle of the Arctic Ocean, accessing the pole is impossible without first traversing treacherous, unpredictable sea ice. Every attempt before the 20th century fell flat. William Edward Parry, a British Naval officer, tried but didn’t even get close. An American explorer named Charles Hall tried and failed in 1871. Over two decades later, a pair of Norwegian explorers, Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen and Fridtjof Nansen, got painfully close before having to return home defeated. An Italian explorer got marginally farther before giving up as well. 

Then came Peary and Cook. They began as friends, but their differences were pointed. Peary was born in 1856, and he was deadset on achieving fame. His expeditions, like most, relied heavily on the assistance of the locals in each region he explored, but he treated them more like chess pieces than friends. He went as far as to dig up graves to sell to New York’s Museum of Natural History. Cook, born nearly a decade later in 1865, was an ambitious, young doctor with a more modern approach. He was genuinely interest in the lives of indigenous peoples, diving into their culture and learning their languages. 

The two traveled together to Greenland once, but Cook turned down a second invitation. Peary wanted him to sign a contract preventing any accounts of the expidition from being published before Peary did it first. Left with a bad taste in his mouth, Cook broke contact with Peary for several years. They were reunited when Peary was lost in the Arctic and Cook was called upon to rescue him. Rescue him he did, treating him for scurvy and several other conditions. On a later expedition to Greenland, Peary badly broke his leg and Cook stepped in once again to treat his injury. Still, the two were very different men. Instead of colleagues, they were competitors. 

Peary, one of the last imperialistic explorers, would have died for fame. 

In a message to his mother about his longing to conquer the elusive North Pole, he wrote, “My last trip brought my name before the world; my next will give me a standing in the world….I will be foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will….Remember, mother, I must have fame.”

Peary did travel to the Arctic once more, but whether or not he made it all the way to the pole is highly disputed. According to him, he made it to the North Pole on April 6th, 1909, but he straight up refused to share any definitive proof. According to a later review conducted in 1989 by the US National Geographic Society, the photos Peary took suggest that he did make it within eight kilometers of the official North Pole. 

Even with this supposed endorsement, the truth of his claims remained controversial. Firstly, no one else on the expedition had the navigational skills to confirm or deny Peary’s reports. They did, however, mention multiple, agonizingly long detours, while Peary claimed to take a direct route. Secondly, even on his own expedition, he may not have been the first to arrive at the pole. He was joined by four Inuit men and his assistant, a black man named Matthew Henson. Henson was a skilled explorer of his own right, adventuring in the Arctic alongside Peary on seven different occasions. 

Yet Peary considered himself to be superior to Henson, and was unwilling to share the credit with him. In fact, he intended to abandon Henson to reach the Pole first on his owe. He lost track of the distance, however, and according to Henson, he was livid that five others shared “his” glorious North Pole victory. He later took all the credit, and it wasn’t until Henson published a book in 1947 that he began receiving recognition for his achievements. 

Whether they truly made it to the pole or not, their unopposed rule of polar discovery didn’t go unopposed for long. 

Cook claimed that he reached the pole nearly a year earlier, but his evidence was unconvincing. 

The daring Doctor Cook was just as keen on finding the far north as Peary was. After a Mount Denali expedition that was also shrouded in suspicion, Cook headed straight for the Arctic. He set off from Annoatok, a settlement in Greenland, February, 1908. He claimed to have arrived at the pole on April 21st, yet he didn’t make it back to Annoatok until the next spring, nearly starving along the way. 

In total, they were gone for 14 months, and it remains unclear where they ended up. Cook was never able to produce convincing navigational records. According to him, he left the records in a box along with some of his other belongings at Annoatok. There, an American hunter, Harry Whitney, attempted to load the box onto Peary’s ship, the Roosevelt, Peary forbid it. The contents of that box were never seen again. 

By December 1909, experts at the University of Copenhagen determined that Cook’s records were insufficient to prove he had reached the pole. Some researchers have noted that Cook’s account of the journey, which he tracked in a diary, describes the landscape with remarkable accuracy. If he didn’t reach the pole, how could he have known what it looked like? 

Whoever got there first, both men were intrepid adventurers who paved the way for later, less disputable expeditions. 

north pole
Personnel at an Antarctic Base, circa 1946-47. Back Row:(left to right) Dustin; Cox; Dr. Paul A. Siple; Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN; and Boyd Kneeling: (left to right) Morency; Shirley; Amory H. Waite: Richardson; and Wiener U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

The true “first man to the North Pole” is nearly impossible to determine, but many have followed in their footsteps. About 60 years later, American Ralph Plaisted, along with three companions, were the first to reach the pole without a shred of controversy…by snowmobile, in 1968! Other adventurers have succeeded as well, by plane, submarine, and on their own two feet. I wonder which murderous wasteland will explorers fight over next. 

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Here’s why North Korea is thumbing its nose at US threats

North Korea provocatively launched a ballistic missile over Japan Aug. 29, dramatically escalating tensions and demonstrating that it has no interest in restraint.


The launch, the fourth in a matter of only a few days, followed statements by President Donald Trump claiming that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is starting to respect the US and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserting that North Korea has shown “restraint” by halting its missile tests. America’s lead diplomat even suggested that there might be a path to dialogue.

Evidence indicates that Trump and Tillerson may have misread North Korea’s behavior. “This is not the action of a country that is interested in showing restraint or in creating a glide-path to dialogue, at least not on our terms,” James Schoff, an East Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Post.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile. Photo from KCNA

Not only is North Korea apparently frustrated with the activities of the US and its allies, but it may also be determined to set a precedent for new missile testing.

The US and South Korea began the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises Aug. 21. The North perceives joint military exercises as a precursor to an armed invasion of North Korean territory.

“This is a clear indication of the attempt to mount a preemptive attack on the North,” a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling party, argued Aug. 27. North Korea is particularly concerned with the preemptive strike elements of Operation Plan 5015, which the North claims is a key part of this year’s exercises.

“The warmongers at home and abroad are working hard to master and perfect the performance procedures and the actual maneuverability of the “beheading operation” and “secret operation” under OPLAN 5015,” the North Korean state media report explained.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Ulchi-Freedom Guardian 2016. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar.

“The DPRK will continue to strengthen its defensive capability with nuclear force, as long as US … does not stop military drills on the doorstep of the DPRK,” North Korean ambassador to the UN Han Tae Song explained Aug. 29. “US pressure and provocative acts only justify the DPRK’s measure to strengthen its self-defense capabilities.”

North Korea is also irritated with the regular high-level meetings between senior US military officials and their South Korean counterparts.

“It is a very ill-boding development that timed to coincide with the exercises, the US Pacific Command chief, the US Strategic Command head, the Missile Defense Agency director, and other US high-ranking military officers flew into South Korea to hold confabs on the DPRK,” North Korean state media explained.

Furthermore, the North is aware of allied efforts to boost their offensive and defensive capabilities in response to the growing North Korean threat. South Korea conducted its own missile tests last week, testing weaponry designed to penetrate North Korea’s underground and hardened facilities, and Japan just deployed a collection of new missile interceptors.

 

There is also a strong possibility, as this has long been a strategic objective, that North Korea is trying to drive a wedge between the US and its allies in Asia.

The latest missile launch may also clear the way for a more realistic weapons testing program, helping North Korea develop combat-capable missiles to boost its deterrence capabilities.

“There is a technical imperative for conducting this test,” Mike Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told WaPo. “They want to be able to look at reentry dynamics and how it performs on a more normal trajectory.” North Korea will need to ultimately move ships into the area to get telemetry data, but this is a first step.

If the consequences for North Korea’s actions are limited, Pyongyang may assume that the benefits are worth the risks and conduct additional tests of this nature in the future, possibly for its new intercontinental ballistic missile.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
Ulchi-Freedom Guardian 2015. DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Schneider.

“In a way, it’s kind of a trial balloon,” Elleman said. “If we overfly Japan, what happens? If the blowback isn’t too significant, they will feel more comfortable with launching a Hwasong-14 to a good distance to validate its performance on a normal trajectory.”

North Korea typically tests its missiles by lofting them, and then analysts calculate their theoretical range were the missiles to be fired along a normal trajectory. North Korea needs more reliable data if it intends to field a viable nuclear deterrent. When North Korea threatened to fire missiles into waters around Guam earlier this month, some observers suspected that North Korea might be trying to set a precedent for launches over Japan.

“This sets a new dangerous precedent of overflying Japan and launching into the western Pacific,” Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, posted on Twitter after North Korea’s threats.

While the North may have deescalated earlier, it does not appear to have backed down. The country appears as committed to its strategic ambitions as ever.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The original ‘Iron Mike’ was an Irish firefighter who would not die

The Great Depression was a tough time in America. Today we can see the effects of 10-11 percent unemployment due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. Imagine what life in the United States would be like if unemployment was around 50 percent.

No one was driving Uber to make ends meet in the 1920s, so they had to resort to some pretty spectacular money-making schemes. One of these schemes was murdering alcoholic bums – which turned out to be pretty lucrative. But you couldn’t do this alone; you needed conspirators.


Michael Malloy was a victim of this kind of scheme but his death would end the lives of four of his conspirators, some former friends. Those “friends” would try to kill him seven different times, seven different ways.

Malloy was an out-of-work firefighter who became the target of his favorite bartender at his favorite speakeasy. The bartender, Joe Murphy, and the owner of the bar, Anthony Marino, decided no one would miss the 50-year-old drunk if he happened to drink himself to death one sad night. With two other customers, Dan Kriesberg and Frank Pasqua (who also happened to be an undertaker), they decided they would help that death along.

But first, the payoff. If they could get Malloy to sign a life insurance policy on himself, they could kill the old fellow and collect the insurance money. No one would be the wiser. So one night they got Malloy so drunk, he signed a petition to help Marino run for office. What the drunk really signed was three life insurance policies that would pay upwards of ,000 in today’s money if he died in an accident.

All that was left was to make sure the old fireman had an accident. But that proved much harder than they thought.

Their first attempt was to simply pour drinks down the old Irishman’s throat. They laughed and joked with him as they fed him free drinks all night. When he passed out, he passed out in the bar, only to wake up to more free hooch. The problem with this scheme was that Malloy’s health actually improved because he was no longer depressed. He didn’t struggle to pay for drinks and he had all the friends he could handle.

The conspirators decided that a new tactic was needed. Bartender Joe Murphy mixed Malloy a new cocktail they just got in – a drink mixed with antifreeze. Malloy remarked at how smooth the beverage was before he went to lie down… only to get back up later for more drinks.

Murphy then began to throw any kind of dangerous substance he could think of into Malloy’s drinks. The old firefighter drank more antifreeze, rat poison and turpentine. They served him food laced with wood alcohol, tin shavings, and rotten sardines. Malloy just loved the attention.

Stupefied, the conspirators began to take more direct actions. They doused him with water while he was blackout drunk and threw him into the snowy New York City streets and left him there. When Malloy showed up at the bar that night, he was wearing a new suit, courtesy of the good samaritans who found him and cleaned him up.

Soon they switched to outright murder. They paid a local cab driver to run the man down with his car and leave him. He survived. They tried to call in a hitman. They tried to substitute another drunk who resembled Malloy and kill him, but he survived. When none of that worked, they killed Malloy themselves.

They got the poor man drunk on wood alcohol – normally fatal for humans – and pumped his lungs full of cooking gas. That did the trick. They hired Dr. Frank Manzella, a local official, to produce a death certificate, Pasqua (the undertaker) arranged a pauper’s funeral, and Malloy was dead and buried within four hours.

The bartender, Murphy, received the first insurance policy. But the other insurers became suspicious and the whole plot started to unravel. First, the gang never paid the cab driver who ran over Malloy. Then, they told the hitman too much about their scheme and he began to talk around town. Finally, the insurers learned about another death under those circumstances surrounding the same speakeasy.

The jig was up and all the conspirators were caught, tried and sentenced to the electric chair at Sing-Sing Prison.

When the story about Mike Malloy’s indestructible nature, the local legend began to earn the nickname “Iron Mike.”

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Brits fighting ISIS vow to avenge Manchester victims

British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the Manchester attack by defeating the extremists in their de-facto capital.


British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the deadly suicide attack at a pop concert in Manchester on May 22.

The British combatants, who have been fighting among the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] in Syria, promised on May 23 to soundly defeat the extremists in their de-facto capital of Raqqa.

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists
ISIS militants in Syria (Photo: Flickr)

IS has claimed responsibility for the the massacre that killed 22 people including one girl aged just eight at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.

“We’re taking it to them. When I go to Raqqa I’m giving them no quarter. I will expect no mercy from them and I will not give them no mercy,” said Michael Enright, a YPG fighter from Manchester.

“I will remember Manchester,” he swore in a video posted on Twitter.

He added that he had become accustomed to death while fighting in Syria but the attack targeting children and teenagers in his hometown was “heartbreaking”.

Macer Gifford, another YGP volunteer, said in an online statement that IS would soon be crushed in Raqqa, adding that the British government must back Kurdish forces their fight.

“We will destroy their military capital which will effectively cut off the snake’s head,” Gifford said.

“We must urge the UK government to do more to defeat [IS] in Syria. Terror has been brought to London and Manchester. Our children have been targeted!”

He added that British authorities should follow the lead of the US and send military aid to the YPG’s ally the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF].

Also read: This colonel-turned-mercenary has been battling terrorism for decades

In November last year, the SDF — a Kurdish-Arab alliance — began an offensive aimed at taking the city of Raqqa.

The fighters are still 40 kilometres from Raqqa to the west, and have not controlled any territory directly to the city’s south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.

The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.

The Kurdish forces have received a steady stream of recruits from the West to help in the fight against IS extremists.

In December last year, a 20-year-old British YPG fighter was killed during the ongoing Raqqa offensive, making him the third Briton to die fighting IS in Syria.

Critics have however cautioned that the YPG and its allies are committing human rights abuses, and pursuing an agenda for Kurdish independence including by collaborating with the Syrian regime, despite its atrocities that eclipse those of IS.