Tuesday, January 31, 2017


by K.J. Howe

Weather is a powerful force in both real life and in fiction.  Humans are very sensitive to temperature changes, weather shifts, and the elements.  Ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis demonstrate that mother nature can leave us rather vulnerable.

In fiction, weather can be a valuable tool to create havoc for your characters.  I've set scenes in the Sahara, where dehydration and sun stroke are setting in, and tensions are rising.  Other backdrops include frozen mountaintops where the frigid temperatures can cause hypothermia.  Weather affects our physical safety, but it can also profoundly affect our mood.

Fall means shorter days, longer nights, and cooler temperatures.  When Daylight Savings Time hits, we tend to burrow in at night, stay at home more, enjoying movie nights, takeout, and family gatherings.  Like those smart bears, we hibernate.  But why?  What do cold, dark days do to our internal chemistry?  And why do we feel so energized in sunshine?  And how about the sluggish feelings we have on rainy days?

There is a scientific reason behind each reaction to the weather, and by understanding these responses, we can better prepare ourselves for shifts in climate.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD is a mood disorder that usually kicks in between October and April when daylight becomes scarce.  Your body craves mid-day naps, your brains produces lower levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, sleep, and sexual desire.  If you're feeling down because of SAD, try setting your bedroom lights on a timer so they come on before you wake up, tricking your brain into thinking it is actually a sunrise.  Or purchase a light therapy box that will give you year round sunshine.

Cold Temperatures

When the snow falls, you tend to feel unmotivated to get up early, hit the gym, and tackle your day.  Cold temperatures reduce your sensory feedback, dexterity, muscle strength, blood flow, and balance, which can impact your ability to perform complex physical tasks.  To combat these doldrums, pile on layers of clothes, do 15 minutes of stretching first thing in the morning, so the added warmth and movement will stimulate blood flow and get you in a better frame of mind to work out.  Bundle up, and get yourself moving.  You won't regret it.


It's tough to imagine any downside to sunshine, as it always lifts your mood.  That said, sunlight has been associated with higher spending patterns.  Yes, that's right, better to shop on cloudy days unless you're in the mood to break the bank.


When torrents of rain fall, your serotonin levels dip and your carbohydrate cravings skyrocket.  You tend to reach for pasta and other comfort foods, as carbs spike your serotonin levels.  But the surge of happiness doesn't last, as the levels drop soon afterwards, leaving you feeling deflated. When you feel that carb craving come on, reach for vegetables like parsnips, potatoes or pumpkin instead of pasta.  They offer the same benefits as spaghetti, but also offer vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Rain isn't easy on people.  Not only does it cause sadness, it can also cause pain.  When the pressure in the atmosphere decreases, clouds and rain become more likely.  Bodily fluids move from blood vessels to tissues, causing pressure on nerves and joints, which leads to increased pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.  For workouts on rain days, pilates or yoga might work better than running on your treadmill.

Fresh Air

Feeling low?  Go outside.  Experts share that 30 minutes outside in pleasant weather can improve mood, memory, and creativity.  Even in cold weather, taking a brisk walk can make you happier and more productive.

Knowing how we react psychologically to weather can really impact how we plan our days.  And if we use this insider knowledge in our books, our characters' reactions to the changing climate might resonate with readers.  Consider some of the best books you've read lately.  Did the author use weather as setting, or even become a character itself?  Weather profoundly affects us all, and that's why it's a great bonding topic when we first meet someone.  Wishing you sunny days...except for when you're shopping!

Sunday, January 29, 2017


S. Lee Manning: The topic for this month is weather and how it affects us as writers and readers. Or how we use weather as a character. Or how’s the weather? Or you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  (If you’re not from the 60s, look it up.)

Confession: writing this blog is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Already wrote and threw one draft out after looking at my husband’s face while he was reading it.

What idiot came up with this topic – oh, wait, it was me.

I thought it’d be interesting. Weather as character. After all, what would Game of Thrones be without the line, intoned with fear, “Winter is Coming” – and a lot of half frozen creatures coming over a wall of ice?   What would The Long Hot Summer be without a long hot summer – and a young, shirtless Paul Newman trying to cool down? What would The Producers be like without “Springtime for
Hitler?” What would Europe look like today if 75 years ago, there hadn’t been a Russian winter?

Weather matters. In real life, it matters a lot. That’s why I’m sitting in a condo here in Margate, Florida, where there’s always someone blowing leaves or cutting grass or playing television too loud, because everyone here is old and can’t hear worth a damn – instead of holed up in my office in Vermont with views of woods and mountains, and acres of land between me and my closest neighbor. It’s 77 degrees here, noise and all, and in Vermont, in the calm and beauty of the mountains, it’s a balmy 17 degrees. Weather matters.

It’s just hard to write about.

Think about it. It affects us and our moods, and what we do, and how we dress, but how long a conversation do you really have about weather?
“Sure is cold today.”
“Sure is.”
“Gonna get colder.”
“Sure is. Maybe snow.”
Then you go on to talk about something more likely to get you into a fight but more engaging, like politics or religion…(or climate change, which is again about weather but which I’m not writing about today, even though it’s real).

So, I’m going to do what I always do when faced with a blog and have no idea what to write. I’m going to make a list. And here you are, six suggestions on how to write about weather.

1.     Be realistic. If the novel starts in October in New Jersey, check out what typical temperatures are – and typical weather. Don’t have it snow. It snows in Vermont in October – sometimes – but not in Jersey, usually. Well, caveat, there was a Halloween snow a few years ago in Trenton, back   
when I still lived there. It knocked out our power for a day – but that was weird and atypical, although the weather is getting weird and more atypical all the time. (Climate change?)Go for typical weather.

2.     Be consistent. If you have snow on page 50, don’t have anyone cutting the grass on page 60, unless they flew from Vermont to Florida; then it’s fine. Otherwise, nope. Climate change is real, but it doesn’t work that fast.

3.     Extreme weather can play into the plot. It can be another obstacle that the protagonist has to fight and overcome. Work it. Have the hero battling a hurricane or trapped in a blizzard – with the villain. And five cats.  Winter is coming. Oh yeah, definite reader interest, especially with the five cats.

4.     If your character is driving in Vermont in the winter, and she’s not an idiot, put her in a Subaru or a 4x4 pick-up truck. Okay, this isn’t so much a suggestion about writing as it is about traveling in Vermont in the winter. Don’t drive there in a mini-van, even if you bought a min-van, because you drove a carpool and had two kids and two German Shepherds and a cat, because you’ll be on the side of the road, watching the Subarus whizz by you, laughing, until you trudge through five feet of snow to find a farmer with a tractor who will tow you to a paved section of road. Not that I know anyone who did that. (Whistling.)

5.     Unless you’re making the weather into a plot device or a symbolic device, don’t spend too much time on it. Scroll above to reported conversation about weather. Not that interesting.

6.     Like any other rule for writing, take every one of these suggestions with a grain of salt – which is kind of how I wrote them anyway.

Now, armed with my suggestions, you are ready to face any weather related writing. Or not. But I’m ready to wrap this up, because it’s 77 degrees, and I’m going for a walk. Winter may be coming, but I’m in Margate, baby.

Be safe out there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


The Council Bluffs, Iowa, Public Library, finished in 1905 & now a museum.
By Gayle Lynds:   I’m tall.  That’s for those of you whom I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet.  Yep, five-foot-ten.  I love parades, theater seating, and looking for my husband because I can see over almost everyone’s heads.

I grew fast, eventually having to take my mother along to vouch that I wasn’t too old for folks to give me Halloween candy.  As fast as I grew, so did my love of reading.  Books were my friends, my teachers, my allies, my secret under-the-covers companions to ward off the evil hand that lived in the dark under my bed.

My mother, Marian Hallenbeck, loved books as much as I.  She introduced me to the Council Bluffs Andrew Carnegie Public Library before I could read.  We didn’t have money for books, but library cards were free.  My mother and the librarian were acquaintances.  Her name was Mildred Smock

Mildred was stylish.  Although she was thin, there was something sturdy about her, especially when she picked up a stack of hardbacks.  She had a good face, long fingers, and a brown bob that curled more than it bobbed.  She wore serviceable pumps and dark dresses with narrow little belts.  Her expression was serious.  To a child, she was intimidating.  It never occurred to me that her looks were merely her dust jacket, that there was far more inside.

Summers were grand.  The day after the last day of school, I’d ride the city bus downtown to the library.  With awe, I’d enter the Mark Twain Room of children’s literature.  The first time I returned the books I borrowed by myself, Mildred checked them closely for abuse.  Mildred followed the rules, and she expected everyone else to do so, too. 

She and I seldom talked, except when she’d stop me and put a book in my hands.  And then she was gone, while I’d be entranced by a new author or genre to follow.

I worked my way through the stacks, devouring novels, adventure tales, fantasies, and mysteries.  By the age of nine, thanks to Mildred, I went through a period of biographies and histories — Marco Polo, the Empress Josephine, Mozart, Madame Curie, the kings and queens of England.
William Campbell Gault at work.

Then I discovered the sports section and the novels of a fine writer who eventually became my friend — William Campbell Gault, of Santa Barbara.  From him I learned about baseball, football, hockey, soccer, and the life lesson that all great athletes must learn: never give up. 

When I was eleven, I got very lucky — a neighbor joined the Doubleday Book Club and gave me her books as she finished them.  The world of popular literature opened up to me with Pearl Buck, Graham Greene, Daphne Du Maurier, and James Michener.  I was riveted by the breadth of their stories.  So many interesting characters trying to solve problems, create new lives, and operate in cultures that were foreign and fascinating. 

I remember my mother discussing my latest reading habits with my Aunt Margaret, who was concerned about the sex in adult books. 

“Don’t worry,” my mother assured her.  “She won’t understand what’s going on.”

As every child knows, there’s power in eavesdropping.  After that conversation, I was suddenly interested in the sex scenes.  Thank you, Mom.

As I neared the age of twelve, I was almost five-feet-seven and looked like a teenager despite no makeup.  I kinda liked that, except I could no longer convince bus drivers and ticket-sellers at movie matinees that I was young enough to pay the kid price.

As soon as school was out that summer, I rode the bus through the June sunshine to the library and climbed the familiar granite steps.  I had that wonderful stirring in my stomach.  What great tales would I find?

In the children’s section, I walked up and down the aisles.  I’d read many of the books.  Devoured them, really.  But now all of them seemed somehow too familiar. 

I turned on my heel and left.  I wanted books like I’d been reading.  Adult books.  But there was a problem — Mildred of The Rules.  She knew I was too young to enter the adult stacks.

I spotted her at the card catalog, her back to me as she bent over, working.  I skirted the room and sneaked into the tall shelves packed with hard covers.  Oh, to be able to read every one!

Thus began my short life of crime. 

Avoiding Mildred, I checked out my prizes with other librarians, even though my library card was marked for the children’s section.  My tall height and teenager looks had its advantages.  For a month I sailed through. 

Then one day I set my latest choices before the young librarian at the checkout counter.

“Your card?”  She picked up the books.

As I handed it to her, Mildred’s voice sounded.  She was coming around the corner.  “Wait.  Is that Gayle again?” 

I felt a chill.  “Yes, Miss Smock.”

Her stride was purposeful.  Serious as always, she picked up the novels.  She examined them.  “What’s your telephone number?” 

I had no choice.  I had to give it to her.

She dialed and identified herself to my mother.  Then she did the unexpected, the shocking, the act of the book saint:  Mildred Smock winked at me. 

“Would you object if I gave Gayle an adult library card?” she asked my mother.

And that was that.  She’d been monitoring me all along and realized I wasn’t going back to the Mark Twain room.  Thank you, Miss Smock.
The great Mildred Smock in later years

While I grew up to be a writer, Mildred Smock continued on at the library, enriching people’s lives book by book.  She began as a clerk in 1941, rose to be director in 1957, and after more than a half century, retired in 1992.  Continuing to contribute to the community in numerous ways, she died in 2014, much lauded and much loved. Her extraordinary gifts continue to echo.

What season of the year do I like to write?  Summer, of course.  As June rolls around, I feel that wonderful stirring in my stomach.  I want to read a great tale.  But first, with patience and humility, I want to write one.  Thank you again, Miss Smock.

With this post, we Rogue Writers begin a series about seasons and how they affect us and our writing. Are there any topics you’d like us to address?  Please let us know!

Sunday, January 22, 2017


by Sonja Stone

Happy Sunday! We have a few announcements to share:


It’s easy to enter (and completely free)! Just CLICK HERE and leave a note in the comment section.

Enter to win a slew of autograph novels!


Slightly less exciting (but still noteworthy) is the decision of the Rogue Women to mix up our blog schedule a bit. Moving forward, we’ll be posting on Wednesdays and Sundays. As a reminder, lest you plunge into withdrawal, we’re all on Facebook, and you can visit OUR PAGE to chat with us and view our upcoming events. Which brings me to…


K.J. Howe is beginning her cross-country book tour to promote her debut novel, THE FREEDOM BROKER! For those of you who’ve never met K.J., she’s absolutely delightful—the Miss Congeniality of the Rogue Women. She also happens to be an excellent writer. If you have a chance to meet her in person, I highly recommend you do so. I’ll be at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale to see her and Stephen Coonts!

K.J. Howe, THE FREEDOM BROKER book tour!

We hope to see you at a signing!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Intelligence at work

...by Karna Small Bodman

All this week my Rogue colleagues are writing about the importance of gathering intelligence and how our brave intelligence agents work day and night to protect this country.  While there have been questions from time to time about some of the methods used by our agencies, the fact is: plots have been foiled....many more than most of us could have imagined.

The Director of our National Security Agency testified before Congress that over 50 potential terrorist attacks have been thwarted by the use of two controversial programs that tracked over a billion phone calls and internet data every single day, including one plot to destroy the New York Stock Exchange.

New York Stock Exchange
Details of a plan to hit not only the exchange but the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Citigroup Center were declassified and made public when Dhiren Barot was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. A year before that a man was arrested, accused of giving aid to al-Quaeda and trying to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.  He was sentenced to 20 years.

Other foiled plots have targeted the Sears Tower, FBI offices, New York and New Jersey subways, JFK Airport, a Dallas skyscraper and especially locations in our nation's capital.

It was February of 2012 when FBI undercover agents arrested a Moroccan man, El Khalifi, for planning a suicide bombing of the US Capitol.  Another plan discovered and thwarted by our agents involved a US convert to Islam, Christopher Lee Cornell, who was going to set off pipe bombs inside the Congress. Then when panicked members and their staffs ran out, he planned to gun them down with an assault rifle.

In fact, a former colleague of mine at the White House National Security Council who works in the intelligence field told me just this week that since 9/11 there have been 197 plots against the US homeland and 136 outside the US identified by our FBI and CIA operatives using various means of detection, infiltration, observation, research and the follow-up of tips from civilians including many called CHS's (meaning FBI Confidential Human Sources).

James Gonzalo Medina
A CHS was instrumental in the FBI's arrest of James Gonzalo Medina just last year after uncovering his plan to place an explosive device in an 800 member Jewish Center in the Miami, FL area during Passover. He was quoted as saying "Watch your back...ISIS is in the house." This "home grown" terrorist, a US citizen living in Hollywood, FL faces up to life in prison.

Of course not all plots against our country and our citizens emanate from ISIS or ISIS-inspired characters (just the majority of them now). Our agents also infiltrate and uncover plans by Neo-Nazis and militias among others. Many will recall the case of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose group was called the Patriots Defense Force. One of his operatives was William Keebler. The group had seven members, but three clever men had infiltrated and
William Keebler

were actually undercover FBI agents. These three learned about how the militia was scouting certain federal offices including National Guard facilities for possible attacks. Keebler was arrested when he tried to blow up a building in Arizona.

When I read or hear about any ONE of these cases, I thank my lucky stars that we have such hard working intelligence agents willing to risk their lives and work 24/7 to keep us and our country safe and I want to thank them for their dedication! Please leave a comment below about your views on the value of intelligence.

...submitted by Karna Small Bodman

Saturday, January 14, 2017


by KJ Howe

Does intelligence matter?  It is a sad state of affairs when we have to even consider the self-evident answer to this question, but in the Western world we have many naysayers.  One only has to look at past examples to determine that intelligence operations are absolutely vital to the success of nations, organizations, companies, and individuals involved with security issues.  

Unfortunately, some current political figures seem willing to undermine the value of the modern intelligence community for short-term political gain.  As a society, it is important that we respect and value these agencies and operatives even if we can’t immediately realize that value.

In support of this goal, I'd like to share an amazing success story from Canadian intelligence that proves the Mounties always get their man--and that if you mess with a Canadian citizen anywhere in the world, you should be prepared to pay the price.

When we consider intelligence operations, we often think of “spy-vs-spy” scenarios where government operatives work against each other in the field, attempting to gain information to enhance national security or protect national interests.  In the post 9/11 world, this model has changed to a significant degree.  Now state agencies are seeking information about terrorist organizations in order to prevent attacks.  Or alternatively, governments are trying to find ways to starve terrorists of resources in an attempt to degrade their capacity to generate the very fear they thrive on.  But sometimes, even beyond advancing national interests or enhancing security, intelligence operations can deliver that most rare, but valuable, commodity…justice.

Amanda Linhout
In August of 2008, two days after arriving in Mogadishu, Somalia, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photojournalist were kidnapped by teenage members of the Hisbul Islam fundamentalist group.  Held captive for 460 days, Lindhout was repeatedly raped and tortured.  When she was eventually returned home after the payment of a $600,000 private ransom orchestrated by the AKE international risk management company, Amanda was malnourished and battered, both physically and emotionally.  Several Canadian journalist organizations complained about the federal government refusing to fund ransoms directly or indirectly, feeling that they had not done enough to bring Amanda home.  Other than this mild backlash, the case seemed to be closed.

Except that it wasn’t.

Immediately after the kidnapping, the Canadian government installed covert assets on the ground in Somali, and these assets gathered intelligence, risking their lives in chaotic and dangerous circumstances to help.  To give a little background, it's important to know that the Criminal Code of Canada grants extra-national jurisdiction to several Canadian law enforcement agencies over kidnappings of Canadians anywhere in the world.  In this case, they began operating in a country that was in virtual anarchy, hostile to any type of western intervention.  You might think that after Amanda was freed, they would shut down the operation and go home.

Except they didn’t.

Equipped with only a cell phone number and several recordings of the lead kidnapper's voice captured during calls with Amanda’s parents while conducting ransom negotiations, the team got to work.  They spent years developing human sources, conducting surveillance, engaging in communications intercepts and investigations throughout the war-ravaged country until they were able to identify Ali Omar Ader as the ransom negotiator as well as  one of the key players in the kidnapping.  A teacher, Mr. Ader had been a member of at least one fundamentalist group, and he owned an internet cafe and a small publishing house in Mogadishu.  Normally there would be nothing that could be done to punish Mr. Ader for his involvement in this horrific crime.  Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Somalia.  It seemed that all Canada could do with the information was to issue a warrant for his arrest and add his name to seemingly never-ending lists of wanted individuals maintained by international law enforcement organizations.

But that was not acceptable.

Seven years after the kidnapping, the announcement of Mr. Ader’s arrest in Ottawa stunned the Canadian public.  How had the Mounties apprehended this fundamentalist criminal who lived across the globe?

The would-be author, Mr. Ader
After identifying their target, the RCMP spent years building secret connections to him through his business and social circles.  After working their way into his life and earning his trust, the Canadian operatives offered him the one inducement that no one can refuse, the one potential bribe so tempting that it lured him out of his safe haven right into the Canadian capital.  

A book deal.  

It appears that Mr. Ader fancied himself a budding author and through a front organization, he was offered a publishing contract to pen a book on Somali history.  He flew to Ottawa believing that he was going to be signing a publishing contract.  Imagine his surprise when he was greeted by his Mountie "publishers."  Now he sits in a Canadian jail awaiting trial.

Operation Slype was a masterwork of gathering and utilizing overseas intelligence.  As one Canadian government official shared, “This operation posed a number of significant challenges, as it was  carried out in a extremely high risk environment in a country plagued with political instability.”  It also has reflected a new and more aggressive Canadian policy towards harm directed at Canadians overseas.  Recently, charges have also been filed against Syrian Colonel Sallourm for torturing Canadian engineer Mahar Arar in 2002 and 2003.  The investigation in this case was expensive, complex, risky and took over a decade to complete.

So, yes, intelligence does matter.  And the Mounties still get their man.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When Stalin ignored intelligence – a cautionary tale

S. Lee Manning: We Rogue Women Writers are blogging these two weeks on why intelligence matters. In essence, it’s quite simple. The purpose of intelligence services is to give government leaders information so that they can act, well, intelligently.

One of the unfortunate things about intelligence is that we rarely see when it works. We see it when it fails. But sometimes the failure can’t be blamed on the intelligence community. Sometimes the failure lies with what a head of state does with information gathered by his intelligence services.

Case in point: Operation Barbarossa – and Stalin.

Background: Stalin was a mass murdering dictator, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953.  Note: Under Putin, Stalin has been somewhat rehabilitated, but since I have the luxury of not living under Putin (yet), I’m calling Stalin as I see him.

Under Stalin’s rule, millions were killed for being of the wrong class, for speaking the wrong thing, or generally just pissing Stalin off. He was paranoid and a megalomaniac.  He was obsessed with the possibility of betrayal and he was suspicious of even his own followers, murdering anyone he thought might betray him, whether or not there was any basis in reality for that fear.

So, not unsurprisingly, everyone around Stalin agreed with whatever he said. Disagreeing did not lead to a long life span.

Hitler. Kind of the same as Stalin, except for being a Fascist instead of a communist, and except for murdering millions of people more for ethnic origin than class. Also murdered people for saying the wrong thing or just generally pissing him off. Along with hating communism, he also believed Slavic peoples, i.e. Russians etc., ranked somewhere between the subhuman status of Jews and gypsies and the true superiority of the Aryan race. They were slave status, not slated for automatic extermination as were the Jews, but could be killed without conscience if they were bothersome.

So two megalomaniac killers in charge of two powerful countries in Europe in the 1930s with starkly different views of the type of dystopian future they wanted to impose on the world led, of course, to the….

Non-Aggression Pact between Russia and Germany. Surprise! Germany and Russia signed the pact in August 1939, just prior to Germany invading Poland.

It was, for want of a better description, a marriage of convenience between true deplorables. (Yes, Virginia, there really are deplorables – and Stalin and Hitler were two of them.)

As in all marriages of convenience, they wanted different things:
Hitler wanted an easy invasion of Poland. England and France might or might not do something besides talk, and Hitler didn’t want to face them AND the Soviet Union.

Stalin was enamored with the idea of the Western countries, Germany, France, Poland, England, all fighting it out and then the Soviet Union could take over in the ruins of what had been Europe. Then there were the Baltic countries. He wanted those little countries served up on his platter, with German blessing – along with a strip of Poland au juste.

Stalin was not a complete idiot. He knew this was no marriage of true love. Sooner or later, the Soviet Union and Germany would fight it out, but he believed Hitler wanted to polish off England first. He thought he would be the one to end things between them. He was wrong.

What intelligence knew

Then as now, the Russians had spies everywhere.

The Russians had one of the more developed spy networks in the world at the time – despite periodically killing off some of their best spies in political purges from time to time. And they had good information.

In 1940-41, credible intelligence from at least 87 sources came in. Agents recruited inside the German government. Diplomatic sources reaching out with the same information. The marriage had gone sour. Germany was planning an invasion.

Tanks and troops began to build up on the German ruled side of the border with the Soviet Union.

Stalin didn’t believe it.

Part of the reason he didn’t believe might be found in two letters recently found in Russia, allegedly from Hitler to Stalin, swearing that Hitler had no intention to invade.There was also a German disinformation campaign. Further, Stalin distrusted anything that came from England.  And Stalin preferred to believe Hitler and the disinformation because he liked the position he thought he was in.

He thought he’d be the one to end the marriage – when the time was right.

I already mentioned that people who told Stalin things he didn’t want to hear had a short life expectancy.  His head of the foreign intelligence arm of the NKVD, Pavel Fitin, knew the truth about German plans, but truth was a lot less important than agreeing with Stalin, unless you had a really strong desire for a bullet in the back of the head in the yard of the Lubyanka.

The wisdom of saying nothing was reinforced by Soviet Foreign Affairs Chairman Beria who threatened the execution of anyone forwarding information on the coming invasion.

To the extent he did speak up, Fitin was not only personally disbelieved. His sources were considered unreliable. He was ordered to check whether the Cambridge Five (British spies for the USSR – responsible for the deaths of British and American agents after the war) were double agents.

Ironically, Fitin may have been saved from execution by Operation Barbarossa – which by proving him right, also proved he was not a tool of the British.

Operation Barbarossa commenced on June 22, 1941.  The Germans invaded Soviet territory in a move that was a surprise to Stalin and his close circle. The story is - Some generals in the Soviet Army were not surprised, but they knew the rule. Don’t tell Stalin what he doesn’t want to hear. They stuck to it even as the Germans swarmed over the border.

So at the start of the invasion, the Soviets were unprepared. Soviet forces at the border were overwhelmed, and German initial victories were massive.

We all know how this ended –because the Germans underestimated the Russian winter and they overestimated their Aryan prowess. But there were millions of deaths – civilians and  soldiers – as a result of the German invasion. Would it have been any different if Stalin had taken the intelligence seriously instead of living in his own bubble?

Maybe not. But maybe. Maybe if the Soviets had been prepared, the Germans wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did. Maybe they could have been fought back at the border and missed the fun battle of Stalingrad and the siege of Leningrad. Maybe some of the millions of deaths could have been avoided if Hitler’s forces could have been stopped at the border. Maybe the war would have ended earlier.

But maybe not. It’s hard to know exactly what might have been. But it is important to know that there could have been a different outcome to the German invasion – and that the bloodiest war in history might have ended sooner if Stalin had not been, well, Stalin and unwilling to listen to intelligence

The reason it’s important to know that history could have been different goes back to my original point: why intelligence matters. The surprise aspect of the invasion of the Soviet Union wasn’t a failure of intelligence.

The failure to prepare for the German invasion occurred because no one dared to tell Stalin anything that he didn’t want to hear. It was the failure of a paranoid and insecure leader, who surrounded himself only with people who agreed with him, to take credible intelligence seriously when it contradicted his preconceived notions of the world. It was the failure of a leader who didn’t want his own ambitious plans interrupted and thus chose to believe Hitler, a lying dictator and murderer, over intelligence sources. It was a failure with horrific consequences, but it was a failure of leadership, not of intelligence.

It stands as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a leader does not treat intelligence with the respect it deserves. 

Of course, one needs to distinguish between a country's leader refusing to accept credible intelligence about an adversary because the intelligence does not support policies he wants and a country's leader refusing to accept credible intelligence because he is in fact in the pocket of said adversary. Both pose grave dangers to the existence of a country. I leave it to you to decide which is more dangerous, and I leave it to you to decide whether this cautionary tale has any relevance today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Gayle Lynds: These days, perhaps the more relevant question is — how can U.S. intelligence matter if we can’t trust it?  Whoa!  That’s like asking a guy being investigated for a white collar crime how long he’s been beating his wife.  It’s a fallacy of relevance.

For all the detective knows, the guy has never so much as flicked the gravy from her ear.  And it’s irrelevant to the crime — but the accusation will likely rattle the guy, maybe make him mad, which might be the detective’s purpose all along.

So let’s try this question — why is U.S. intelligence such a failure?  Curses!  Arrrgh!  That’s an ad hominem attack, aiming a nuclear missile at all of the intelligence agencies.  Are they really “such a failure” — because right now that’s being hotly debated.  Or is the question actually about the quality of their information gathering and analyses and missions?

Spies have always been with us.  The first recorded instance of espionage occurs in the Old Testament, when Moses sent out spies to scout Canaan.  Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, and George Washington all used spies extensively.  In some respects, at least for thriller writers who prefer clear-cut issues of black and white, good and evil, the Cold War was the modern heyday of spies and their spymasters. 

Since then, our intelligence community (IC) has been through many changes.  In the early '90s, Congress debated whether we really needed the CIA, and the CIA considered focusing on economic espionage.  Technology seemed a cheaper and better way to go than human intelligence — “humint.” Some prescient social scientists predicted that not Communists but religious fanatics would be our next threat, our next great danger. 

And then 9/11 happened, and the world changed again. 
Yes, sometimes the IC gets it wrong.  We hear a lot about that when it happens, and the price can be heavy.  But what we seldom hear about are the times they get it right.  That’s because not only is it critical they keep secret the networks, the assets and agents and fronts and operations, it’s also critical that they selflessly fall on their swords in order to keep those secrets.  And that’s what they do.

Curious, I googled “CIA successes.”  The result was 462,000 hits. 

Then I googled “U.S. intelligence successes” and got 105 million hits.

So if you’re also curious and would like to see a few wide-ranging articles that discuss IC hits and misses, here are four:

In finding Osama bin Laden, CIA soars from distress to success
“The first CIA officers who rushed to Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden after the terrorist attacks of 2001 had to buy field gear at an REI camping goods store in Virginia. Some flew in on rickety, former Soviet helicopters. A few rode horses....”

Five intelligence successes that changed the course of war
“A recent Associated Press article detailed a US Intelligence failure to recognize that an informant was also involved in planning terror attacks in 2008. This got me thinking and, for a change, I decided to research some military intelligence successes from modern history. Below are five historic intelligence coups that changed the tide of war and, in some cases, the world's balance of power.”
39 Terror Plots Foiled Since 9/11: Examining Counterterrorism’s Success Stories
“Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, at least 39 terror plots against the United States have been foiled thanks to domestic and international cooperation, as well as efforts to track down terror leads in local communities.”

Operation CEDAR FALLS: an Intelligence Success Story
“It basically comes down to the idea that when intelligence is right and organizations react and stave off disaster, then [outsiders may think] that the intelligence was wrong because nothing happened.”

Let’s be grateful for the women and men who work hard for us in the intelligence community.  They’re people like us, sometimes better than us.  They get up in the morning, put on their clothes, and go into work to help the country — our country. 

Do you have a favorite story about the IC and those who work there?  Please share!