October 31, 2019

Do efforts to kill the Open Skies Treaty, and the al-Baghdadi raid, cross paths?

Aircrew members assigned to Russian air force Open Skies
and Airmen assigned to the 15th Wing, pose for a group photo
at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 14, 2019
Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman, 15th Wing Public Affairs, USAF
There have been a series of startling things in the media which have compelled me to document and draw attention to the timing of events.
Are they related, or a coincidence?

Based on information from multiple leaks, during the 1st week of October, Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s Russia and Europe director, put some sort of letter of intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty under Donald Trump’s fingers while a pen was in them, finishing off the paperwork that John Bolton had drafted before leaving, and progressing a personal quest of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has been on for years, to kill the Open Skies Treaty. Did I mention Tim, Tom, and John are all on the same page about the Open Skies Treaty? Well, they’re three peas in a pod.
On Friday October 4th, 2019 a meeting invite went out to several departments of the United States Government for an NSC meeting on October 7th, Monday, without a set agenda.

On Saturday October 5th, Turkish President Erdogan announced an operation involving Turkish forces in Northern Syria would commence, also on Monday October 7th.

By Sunday October 6th the public was aware that the US Military would be withdrawing, leaving the Kurds to fight the Turks, and it was all defence correspondents were reporting on.

On Monday October 7th there was the aforementioned meeting between members of the NSC, and other government departments. From my understanding, all departments were told that they would have to be prepared for October 26th when they would exit the Open Skies Treaty, because Trump already signed a letter of intent to exit the treaty; which didn’t make any sense to me, since withdrawing from a treaty takes months of negotiations. I asked around if this was something about an NDAA deadline, or some other event that I was unaware of - nobody I asked knew.

On Wednesday October 9th Slate published an article giving a significant amount of detail about the story, 

Several articles were written by many experts (WSJ published one from George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn), even the NYT editorial board, all in support of the treaty, and no interviews were granted to anyone at the White House or National Security Council. The leak was real, and the article by Slate was true - nobody at the NSC was ready to talk about any of it, yet.

Over the next two weeks I spent a lot of time tutoring journalists on the Open Skies Treaty, laying trails of breadcrumbs on Twitter so people could find their own information, hooking them up with experts in the field, publicising new developments about the Open Skies Treaty crisis, and tweeting background for the media and the public. All the while I was being mindful that one of the principal enemies of the treaty was at the helm, in the NSC, destroying the treaty; Tim Morrison. But what would be happening October 26th?

October 23rd, CSIS published an article on the Open Skies Treaty, and when I contacted the author for edits to the piece to make a significant detail unambiguous, he refused to make any changes - not one word - saying he stood behind every word and gave three references to other articles (including The Economist, which he may not have noticed I contributed to). Upon reviewing the articles, none supported his position.

I had contacted the author of the paper, and rethought my many objections, condensing them down to changing just one word toward the top of the article that could be changed to make it clear to the public that flights over Kaliningrad are *not* being blocked; Open Skies Treaty flights are being *frustrated*, by a 500 km limit, and the RCAF has characterised that limit as not significant to their missions over Kaliningrad.  That’s unusual, I thought, but CSIS is a think tank; there is no reason to think they would have any desire to change the piece at all. Why did they publish the piece on October 23rd, two weeks after Slate broke the story on Oct 9th? I still don’t know. That’s unusual, I thought, but CSIS is a think tank, not a newspaper; there is no reason to think they would have any desire to change the piece at all. But why did they publish the piece on October 23rd, two weeks after Slate broke the story on Oct 9th?

This is the 2nd time I’ve run into an Open Skies Treaty article related to someone at CSIS which I’ve found ambiguously worded and riddled with issues, and the author refused to make any changes then too. The last was written by Kath Hicks (and/or her research assistant), for The Cipher Brief. Not one change made out of 8 pages of feedback; I find that fascinating. Perhaps people at CSIS have been, or are being, targeted with disinformation from sources close to Cotton and Morrison; maybe John Bolton is going to appear shortly as one of their senior fellows, time will tell.

(after months of nothing in response to my email, I published the corrections publicly)

October 26th, the strike on Al-Baghdadi happened, and all leads were about the raid on Sunday, October 27th.

October 27th, the Wall Street Journal published what I would call an unusual article, it didn’t “flow” like any previous reporting about the potential Open Skies Treaty pull-out by the Americans. The article had some treaty-positive information, and also spread propaganda from the opponents of the Open Skies Treaty. I felt it missed some obvious counter-arguments about why the treaty should be kept, and it had the first quote that I’ve seen on the topic from Tim Morrison, the aforementioned NSC official who is spearheading the murder of this 34-country treaty. This was October 27th, one day after October 26th, the date given by NSC officials October 7th to be prepared for, or as we now know it, the day of the Al-Baghdadi raid. The published timeline of events so far suggests Tim Morrison would have been aware of the upcoming Al-Baghdadi raid, and I believe the leak to the WSJ was already part of the plan on October 7th. I believe it is reasonable to think Tim delayed the “leak” by “officials” to the WSJ, about their intent to kill the Open Skies Treaty until October 26th. He would be in a position to know it would take that long to get all their domestic allies on the same page, arrange information operations, get their favourite think tanks on board, “experts” lined up for interviews with the major news networks, the Al-Baghdadi raid would provide cover for the bombshell news, and would get the Open Skies Treaty announcement pushed back to a less prominent position in the daily news cycle.

  • Where does that leave CSIS and the WSJ?
  • Are they clandestinely operated by the White House?
  • Do they only publish what the National Security Council ask them to?

No, I’m not that paranoid.

I believe the answer is more human, less conspiracy. Every journalist is under deadlines, and with a limited amount of research, they need to send to press something at the end of the day, even when nobody calls them back, or maybe previous references are less than clear. Also, every journalist and researcher have their trusted sources on the topics that they’re focused on - myself included. Some of those journalists have Tim Morrison in their Rolodex (look it up kids), the guy who is actively trying to kill the treaty (and provided an exclusive quote to the WSJ), and some have John Bolton, or Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) as their sources; three different people, that will give them the same story, more or less. That’s all the due diligence a journalist might need, to prove they’ve researched a story, if their editor didn’t understand that those three people were the greatest threat to the treaty, and were actually the people trying to kill it. Isn’t it presumptive of me to assume they spoke to one of those three? What if they spoke to none of them? Well, those three people are very influential, themselves having contacts at right-wing think tanks, and other people around Washington, who will also parrot their talking points; they don’t live in a bubble. There is no shortage of former White House and DoD officials who have heard their anti-Open Skies Treaty talking points, and most wouldn’t know that they’re mostly trumped up (no pun intended). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and his allies have been slandering the treaty with disinformation for years, feeding half-truths to the media, committees, and the public; since Obama, at least. This faction of American government does not represent the will of the people. They represent their own interests, and should be treated as a radical, well funded, fringe group, out to endanger the world for their own reasons.

The Russian air force Open Skies Tupolev Tu-154M RF-85655,
lands at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 14, 2019
Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman, 15th Wing Public Affairs, USAF

The NYT, Slate, Vox, and many others are already on record about what’s been going on with the Open Skies Treaty. Journalists have been contacting sources and writing articles since October ~8th. I can’t understand how the Wall Street Journal was able to delay by over two weeks covering the story, but I’m now watching for others who haven’t, or won’t, write about it as well because they can’t figure out what’s going on.

I hope my efforts in publicising what’s really going on disrupt any disinformation that’s being spread about the Open Skies Treaty. Any journalist with questions about the treaty or what’s been going on is free to email me questions or catch me on Twitter. I’m more than happy to brief them on the history of the treaty, give references to official documents, and referrals to more arms control academics and experts than you can shake a stick at.

Previous Important Open Skies Posts:

(also posted on Medium 2020-03-04)

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