Respected US public interest group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) has issued a public warning that uncontrolled escalation of the final battle for Idlib in Syria is worsening the risk of direct US-Russian military clash there. They appeal to Trump to seek better advice and to get involved.
As Syrian forces backed by Russia prepare to launch the final offensive against the jihadi extremists’ last redoubt Idlib in Northern Syria, US and Russian naval and airforces converge on the adjacent area in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russian naval and air bases on Syria are on full alert. An important public warning in the form of a memo to President Trump was issued on 9 September 2018 by the American public interest group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, VIPS. The memo appeals to Trump to seek better advice and to become personally involved in managing the crisis. It warns starkly:
‘We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles. The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high. We are not sure you realize that.’
Ray McGovern is a prominent member of this group and other names will be familiar (see below). Text follows:
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM : Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
We are concerned that you may not have been adequately briefed on the upsurge of hostilities in northwestern Syria, where Syrian armed forces with Russian support have launched a full-out campaign to take back the al-Nusra/al-Qaeda/ISIS-infested province of Idlib. The Syrians will almost certainly succeed, as they did in late 2016 in Aleppo. As in Aleppo, it will mean unspeakable carnage, unless someone finally tells the insurgents theirs is a lost cause.
That someone is you. The Israelis, Saudis, and others who want unrest to endure are egging on the insurgents, assuring them that you, Mr. President, will use US forces to protect the insurgents in Idlib, and perhaps also rain hell down on Damascus. We believe that your senior advisers are encouraging the insurgents to think in those terms, and that your most senior aides are taking credit for your recent policy shift from troop withdrawal from Syria to indefinite war.
Big Difference This Time
Russian missile-armed naval and air units are now deployed in unprecedented numbers to engage those tempted to interfere with Syrian and Russian forces trying to clean out the terrorists from Idlib. We assume you have been briefed on that — at least to some extent. More important, we know that your advisers tend to be dangerously dismissive of Russian capabilities and intentions.
We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles. The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high. We are not sure you realize that .
The situation is even more volatile because Kremlin leaders are not sure who is calling the shots in Washington. This is not the first time that President Putin has encountered such uncertainty. This is, however, the first time that Russian forces have deployed in such numbers into the area, ready to do battle. The stakes are very high.
We hope that John Bolton has given you an accurate description of his acerbic talks with his Russian counterpart in Geneva a few weeks ago. In our view, it is a safe bet that the Kremlin is uncertain whether Bolton faithfully speaks in your stead, or speaks INSTEAD of you.
The best way to assure Mr. Putin that you are in control of U.S. policy toward Syria would be for you to seek an early opportunity to speak out publicly, spelling out your intentions. If you wish wider war, Bolton has put you on the right path.
If you wish to cool things down, you may wish to consider what might be called a pre-emptive ceasefire. By that we mean a public commitment by the Presidents of the U.S. and Russia to strengthen procedures to preclude an open clash between U.S. and Russian armed forces. We believe that, in present circumstances, this kind of extraordinary step is now required to head off wider war.
For the VIPS Steering Group, signed:
William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Philip Giraldi, CIA Operations Officer (retired)
James George Jatras, former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to Senate Republican leadership (Associate VIPS)
Michael S. Kearns, Captain, U.S. Air Force, Intelligence Officer, and former Master SERE Instructor (retired)
John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and Former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC Iraq; Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret) (Associate VIPS)
David MacMichael, Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, Army/Infantry Intelligence Officer and CIA Presidential Briefer (retired)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (retired)
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War. “
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is made up of former US intelligence officers, diplomats, military officers and congressional staffers. The organization, founded in 2002, was among the first critics of Washington’s justifications for launching a war against Iraq. VIPS advocates a US foreign and national security policy based on genuine national interests rather than contrived threats promoted for largely political reasons.