With the escalating Ukrainian crisis towards the top of the agenda at this week’s NATO summit in Wales, a group of former American intelligence workers is urging the alliance to be careful before crafting a response.
Sixty foreign leaders and dozens of diplomats and defense officials from around the globe will convene at the event this week and are expected to approve a plan that calls for assembling a 4,000-strong “spearhead” force to counter “Russia's aggressive behavior,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday, in the wake of the release of satellite images purported to show the advancement of at least 1,000 Russian troops and artillery into eastern Ukraine.
But on the eve of the first major NATO meeting since 2012, a coalition composed of seven former United States intelligence officers is asking the alliance to recall the 2003 invasion of Iraq before authorizing any military action.
According to the group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, the evidence produced by NATO from the Ukrainian-Russian border is on par with the “same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq.”
“We saw no credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq then; we see no credible evidence of a Russian invasion now,” reads an excerpt from the memo signed by the VIPS steering group — a coalition composed of former National Security Agency analyst William Binney, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern, retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright and others — published online over the weekend and addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Photos can be worth a thousand words; they can also deceive. We have considerable experience collecting, analyzing and reporting on all kinds of satellite and other imagery, as well as other kinds of intelligence. Suffice it to say that the images released by NATO on August 28 provide a very flimsy basis on which to charge Russia with invading Ukraine,” the group added.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, begged to differ, however. Upon release of the satellite images last week, the UN group held an emergency meeting on Thursday, the likes of which Power said marked the twenty-fourth time the Security Council hosted a meeting “to try to rein in Russia’s aggressive acts in Ukraine.”
“Every single one of those sessions has sent a straight-forward, unified message: Russia, stop this conflict. Russia is not listening,” Power added. “We said it when Russia flagrantly violated international law in occupying Crimea. We said it after the shocking downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, which took the lives of innocent men, women, children and infants from 11 countries. And we say it today, as Russia’s soldiers, tanks, air defense and artillery support and fight alongside separatists as they open a new front in a crisis manufactured in and fueled by Russia.”
Power’s sentiments were countered by Russia’s UN representative, Vitaly Churkin, who said, “Russian volunteers in eastern parts of Ukraine” are involved in the conflict, but not the Kremlin.
Despite insistence from the State Dept., all-but-one member of the Security Council and NATO, however, VIPS wrote in their statement to Chancellor Merkel that evidence alleged to show actual encroachment into Ukraine by the Russian military lacks substance.
“If the photos that NATO and the US have released represent the best available ‘proof’ of an invasion from Russia, our suspicions increase that a major effort is under way to fortify arguments for the NATO summit to approve actions that Russia is sure to regard as provocative,” reads part of their open letter to Merkel.
On her part, Merkel said over the weekend that evidence continues to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin is behind attacks on Ukraine, Bloomberg reported, and that the European Union plans on soon introducing a new round of sanctions against Moscow in response.
“It’s become ever clearer that, from the beginning, this hasn’t been about a conflict within Ukraine, but a conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Merkel said Monday during an event in Berlin.
Both Merkel and Obama have said the conflict in eastern Ukraine must be resolved by diplomatic means and not a military response. With intelligence suggesting that Russia continues to move troops across the border, however, Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, said the alliance must be ready to respond to any activity in the region at a “very, very short notice,” and that “several thousand troops” could be deployed within “very few days” to counter future advancements from the Kremlin.
Mikhail Popov, the deputy secretary of Russia’s national security council, countered that the alliance’s plan is "evidence of the desire of US and NATO leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia,” according to The Telegraph, and defense officials in Moscow added that a new expanded military doctrine is being drafted in response.
In addition to Binney, McGovern and Wright, the VIPS steering group consists of retired National Intelligence Council official David MacMichael, retired deputy national intelligence officer for Middle East, Elizabeth Murray, retired US Army Judge Advocate Todd Pierce and a former FBI special agent, Coleen Rowley.