The Return of the Jolly Roger

Jeff Gerth and Sam Biddle at Gawker write that Hillary’s private email server acted as portal to a private intelligence network that included retired members of special operations, former CIA clandestine personnel and foreign informers.  Acting in some indeterminate capacity over it was Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to president Bill Clinton and now apparently a retainer to the family dynasty.  It was the compromise of Blumenthal’s emails by the Romanian hacker Guccifer that in part led to journalists to discover Hillary’s private email account.  Publicly available sources describe Guccifer as a taxi driver who penetrated the email accounts of the Bush family, Colin Powell and of course Sidney Blumenthal by sheer persistence.


Returning to the subject of Hillary’s private apparatus, the Gawker story, based on a laborious reading of the emails, which were posted on the internet in 2013, says Blumenthal sent Hillary reports which “appear to have been gathered and prepared by Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service in Europe who left the agency in 2005.”

There are references to “Cody”, “Cody is Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton family operative—his brother was an ambassador under Bill Clinton and his sister is married to Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott—who was in close contact with Blumenthal.”

There are references to “Moin”. “While it’s not entirely clear from the documents, “Moin” may refer to the nickname of Mohamed Mansour El Kikhia, a member of the Kikhia family, a prominent Libyan clan with ties to the Libyan National Transition Council.” The correspondence appears to show Hillary watching Libya fall apart. A private fact finding mission was apparently commissioned to ascertain facts on the ground.

A May 14, 2011, email exchange between Blumenthal and Shearer shows that they were negotiating with Drumheller to contract with someone referred to as “Grange” and “the general” to place send four operatives on a week-long mission to Tunis, Tunisia, and “to the border and back.” Tunisia borders Libya and Algeria.

“Sid, you are doing great work on this,” Drumheller wrote to Blumenthal. “It is going to be around $60,000, coverting r/t business class airfare to Tunis, travel in country to the border and back, and other expenses for 7-10 days for 4 guys.”

[“The general” and “Grange” appear to refer to David L. Grange, a major general in the Army who ran a secret Pentagon special operations unit before retiring in 1999, according to the article.]


All in all the emails provide a glimpse into the world of a great political family, conducting what at times appears to be a private policy and rewarding loyal individuals with access to governments who were influenced or indeed installed in power by the actions of the United States. “At least 10 of the memos deal in whole or in part with internal Libyan politics and the government’s fight against militants, including the status of the Libyan oil industry and the prospects for Western companies to participate.”  There is nothing overtly illegal described in the emails.

However there is clearly the  question of whether enlisting private parties, both foreign and domestic to perform certain tasks in exchange for access or rules in successor governments is not in some ways like issuing letters of marque by executive order or private assignment.  For those who don’t know what a letter of marque is, “in the days of fighting sail, a letter of marque and reprisal was a government license authorizing a person (known as a privateer) to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. Cruising for prizes with a letter of marque was considered an honorable calling combining patriotism and profit, in contrast to unlicensed piracy, which was universally reviled.” Under US law only the US Congress can issue letters of marque.

Article 1 of the United States Constitution lists issuing letters of marque and reprisal in Section 8 as one of the enumerated powers of Congress, alongside the power to tax and to declare War. However, since the American Civil War, the United States as a matter of policy has consistently followed the terms of the 1856 Paris Declaration forbidding the practice. The United States has not legally commissioned any privateers since 1815, although the status of submarine-hunting Goodyear airships in the early days of World War II created significant confusion. Various accounts refer to airships Resolute and Volunteer as operating under a “privateer status”, but Congress never authorized a commission, nor did the President sign one….

In December 1941 and the first months of 1942, Goodyear commercial L class blimp Resolute operating out of Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California, flew anti-submarine patrols. As the civilian crew was armed with a rifle, many thought this made the ship a privateer, and that she and sister commercial blimps were operated under letter of marque until the Navy took over operation. Without congressional authorization, the Navy would not have been able to legally issue any letters of marque.


After September 11 serious consideration was given to reviving the practice, and was in fact proposed by Congressman Ron Paul. A recent article in the Federalist argues that private warfare is a good answer to fighting Islamic terrorism.  It works like this: one declares open season on the supporters of terrorism and authorizes people to legally steal their money.  The new buccaneers wipe out the old and all is well. There is of course the problem of cleaning up afterward when the legitimate governments have to hang all the privateers who refuse to haul down the Jolly Roger at the end. The Federalist article says:

Letters of marque allow the government some measure of control over the conduct of the recipients, allowing for prosecution if individuals are found in violation. Lack of accountability is in no one’s best interest, and letters of marque provide a way for private individuals to serve the interests of their country and global communities while still being accountable to a formally recognized authority.

One can think of letters of marque as an old solution fashioned anew to meet the unique challenges of an ideologically motivated organization bent on destroying the West and any regions touched by its influence.

Some superficially acquainted with this tool might raise legal objections to its use, namely that the Treaty of Paris “banned” letters of marque. Although we have honored the treaty during military conflicts with countries that acceded to it, the United States never formally acceded to the 1856 Paris Declaration.

The name of today’s game is proxy warfare. Right now the United States is in the position of supporting Saudi airstrkes against the Shi’ite rebels in Yemen while simultaneously conducting airstrikes against Sunni ISIS fighters in Iraq on behalf of Iran. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, the “US finds itself on both sides at once in Middle East”.  This is not war the way we remember it from old 1940s newsreels.


U.S. forces were on both sides simultaneously Thursday.

In Iraq, U.S.-led fighter jets, bombers and drones launched a second day of airstrikes to support Iraq’s mostly Shiite military, backed by Iran, which had stalled in an offensive aimed at ousting Sunni militants from the strategic city of Tikrit.

In Yemen, the U.S. provided intelligence and logistical support to Saudi Arabia as it carried out airstrikes aimed at dislodging Shiite Muslim rebels, backed by Iran, who have overrun much of the Sunni-dominated country.

To make the situation even more complex and fraught, the military actions come as the United States and five other global powers scramble to meet a Tuesday deadline for negotiating a preliminary deal with Iran aimed at preventing it from someday building nuclear weapons.

This is something very different. It’s all very confusing until you realize that the “United States” as a country may not even be a central player in this game. The whole drama in the Middle East may be playing out for the benefit of private individuals or interests who stand to win or lose vast amounts of money and power and are using state power to advance their agendas. The implication of private communications systems and private intelligence networks is private gain.  If there are no enemies any more then there are just people with whom you can make a deal. Our “partners for peace”.

The replacement of national ends with more indistinct goals has been going on for some time. When president Obama said “I was elected to end wars, not to start them,”  he was in some sense telling the truth.  The Middle East may be on fire  and the Poles note may be warning they are in the path of a “hybrid warfare” invasion, but president Obama will be the first person to tell you that this is not legally warfare.  There’s no piece of paper which actualy says “war”. He’s good at parsing words and never better than when splitting hairs.  That is cold comfort to those on the ground.


A senior Polish general is warning NATO members that Russia will wage “hybrid war” through propaganda and “information aggression” to achieve its geopolitical goals in the region. …

“In case of an open, regular aggression on our territory, I am positive that the defense would be made by NATO within article 5 of the Washington Treaty. We cannot be that certain in case of threats under the threshold of war — hidden aggression, diversion, which cannot be disregarded since Russian annexation of Crimea. […] I can say that espionage as a hybrid war element is a serious threat nowadays,” Gen. Koziej said, Newsweek reported.

The Russian hybrid warfare is the analogue of Western “Lawfare” and is at least the first cousin to Proxy Warfare.  The goals of such activities are not national victory or defeat, but individual power.  Who’s going to win in Eastern Europe? Gazprom. In the modern world, no country gets to declare victory.  But certain individuals stand to reach the pinnacle of wealth and power.  It may be immoral to go to “War for Oil”, but nobody said anything if the same end is achieved by persons as part of Smart Diplomacy.

Perhaps the whole key to restoring sanity to the world is returning the objects of diplomacy and military action to public ends. The great thing about traditional warfare, if such a thing can be said about so reprehensible an activity, is that that was waged openly for national goals, for the benefit of those who fought it. Today it is old-fashioned. Secret armies, email servers, private intelligence networks, hybrid warfare and lawfare have taken its place. Avast there me hearties!

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