Streetwise Professor

November 17, 2013

Still Naive After All These Years

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:55 pm

I would love to understand the State Department, but I am not a clinical psychologist.  All I know is they have some sort of collective complex that manifests itself in various delusions.

Case in point.  The Russians are asking to install 6 monitoring stations for their GPSski, know officially as GLONASS, in the US.  The CIA and the DoD are saying: “Are you freaking kidding me?  No freaking way!”  But not the gang that Truman used to refer to as the “striped pants boys at the State Department”.  (Yes, there are pretty of women there now.)

No.  The State Department is totally fine with this.  Indeed, they think it’s a great idea.  Why?  Because we need to fix our relationship with the Russians.

No.  I am not making that up. I am not that creative:

For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Let me get this straight.  The Russians screw us sideways over Syria and Snowden, not to mention Putin’s routine anti-Americanism and aggressive attempts to undermine US interests around the world, and the US is the one that needs to do the mending?  By giving the surveillance-obsessed Russians potential listening posts throughout the US?

Really?

If the State Department is so clueless about the Russians and electronic intelligence, maybe they should ask the Finns.

But then again, the State Department is a serial offender.  In 1973, they granted permission the Soviets to build the embassy at the 3d highest point in DC, where it had direct line of sight to the White House, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, and yes, the State Department.  The CIA and Pentagon (i.e., the NSA) objected.  There were well-grounded suspicions that the Soviets would use it for electronic intelligence.  The US prevented the Soviets from occupying the embassy until the US received a similarly favorably located facility.  Then it turned out that the Soviets had built over 100 listening devices right into the new US embassy in Moscow.  American security experts called the building “a giant microphone.” Some called it “the Bug House.”  As a result, it took years for the US to get a new embassy built.  The original building had to be torn down, and the whole project started from the ground up.

Note the big difference in US and Soviet (i.e., KGB/FSB/Russian) approaches:

“Unlike the Soviets … the United States did not employ a systematic, stringent security program to detect and prevent Soviet technical penetration efforts,” judged the report.

For instance, Soviet officials overseeing the Mount Alto construction site in Washington routinely changed their blueprints without warning during the architectural bidding process, according to the Senate study. Their design plans were vague, with rooms identified as nothing more specific than “office space.”

In contrast US blueprints identified office spaces by name, making the location of sensitive areas clear to the Soviet workers—and their overseers.

The Soviets would use only concrete poured on site. The US accepted precast concrete forms constructed off site with no American supervision.

The Soviets inspected all materials carefully and were willing to halt construction work if they had questions. The US inspection system was less stringent, and the construction schedule ruled.

Soviet officials used about 30 of their own personnel to oversee about 100 US workers in Washington, on average. The US used 20 to 30 Navy Seabees to watch upward of 800 Soviet workers in Moscow.

The Soviets used a badge identification system, maintained tight perimeter security, and installed multiple surveillance cameras. The US had perimeter sensors and closed circuit TV monitoring, but they were soon disabled due to various “mishaps,” according to the Senate intelligence committee.In sum, US counterintelligence was playing catch-up almost from the beginning of the Moscow embassy project.

That’s our State Department.  Talk about naivety:

In celebrating the occasion, then-Ambassador James F. Collins called the new building “one of the most challenging construction projects ever undertaken by the Department of State. It has been a task … beset by the unexpected.”

Only unexpected by those oblivious to the Russians and their ways. And State is still naive after all these years.

And if you say “that was the Soviets.  They’re gone.”  I say: have you looked at the resume of the current Russian president?  You know, the one who sings songs about the glories of the KGB?

Consider this assessment:

New construction began in September 1997. The embassy finally opened in May 2000, after more than two decades of delays and at a cost to the US of more than $370 million. Its tortured 31-year history remains a lesson in US diplomatic and technical hubris and a reminder of a spy-versus-spy world that may (or may not) be long past.

The spy-versus-spy world is not long past.  It is still with us: Snowden, and the Russians use of him, is just another battle in this war.

And the US diplomatic hubris is definitely not behind us.  You need to look no further than the State Department’s benign view of allowing GLONASS monitoring stations in the US to find evidence of that.

Every day I lose my faith in the maxim “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.” As dismissive as I am about the State Department’s understanding of the Russians, I find it hard to believe anyone could be this stupid, at this late date.

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13 Comments »

  1. I saw a journal article a number of years ago updating progress in like Karachaganak. The article said that the new production facilities due for completion that year would not be ready and that furthermore the blueprints had been misplaced and that a search for them was under way.

    @Professor-your amazement is minor compared to what must be in the Kremlin. This must have started out as a joke. Let’s ask them to let us open listening bases in the US ha ha ha. The strength of the US has been grounded in our system of government but now we have a bunch of idiots that think they are bigger and smarter than the system. The guys in the Kremlin have zero ethics and are far shrewder at the game than the guys in the White House and State Department. It is not even close to an even match. Putin et al are besides themselves with mirth at the utter stupidity of these self important fools.

    Comment by pahoben — November 18, 2013 @ 9:43 pm

  2. I saw a journal article a number of years ago updating progress in like Karachaganak.

    Although to be fair, Italian-run projects in Kazakhstan can be, and are, hopelessly late for a multitude or reasons. Did you hear about the Kashagan start-up? Shut down the next day, H2S detected 2km away, from a leaking pipeline. Quick repair, started back up…and promptly shut down again: H2S detected. Plant is expected to be down until 2014, rumour is that half the equipment isn’t rated for H2S.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 18, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

  3. Are the drawings missing?

    Comment by pahoben — November 18, 2013 @ 10:08 pm

  4. @pahoben. Tell me about it. I can imagine the Kremlin creeps poking themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming. Can these Americans be that f*cking stupid? Can we be so f*cking lucky?

    Re Kazakhstan. Once a Sovok, always a Sovok. Of all the FSU, only the Baltics seem to have escaped, for the most part, the Sovok dysfunctions.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 18, 2013 @ 10:17 pm

  5. Are the drawings missing?

    Don’t know, but I’ve yet to work on a project where they were both complete and accurate!

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 18, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

  6. @Tim I have to agree.

    Design drawings are a joke these days, don’t even get me started about as-builts when connecting to existing (and recently built) structures…..

    Comment by Andrew — November 19, 2013 @ 2:19 am

  7. From personal experience I disagree with both of you but working on the operator side I don’t know what current practices are industry wide. I can’t imagine that for costly and potentially dangerous grass roots facilities the as builts are not generally accurate.

    Comment by pahoben — November 19, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

  8. I will say that pursuant to a data trade i had a conversation with reps of an italian operating company about a year ago. They were to conduct a very specific type of test in a vaery specific type of well and my sense was they had no idea what they were doing.

    Lack of proper as built drawings implies to me an imprudent operator.

    Comment by pahoben — November 19, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

  9. Pursuant to a data trade i had a conversation with reps of an italian operating company about a year ago. They were to conduct a very specific type of test in a vaery specific type of well and my sense was they had no idea what they were doing.

    Lack of proper as built drawings implies to me an imprudent operator.

    Comment by pahoben — November 19, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

  10. Design drawings are a joke these days, don’t even get me started about as-builts when connecting to existing (and recently built) structures….

    As-builts? Bwahahahahaha! On my last job, we found huge pieces of equipment (e.g. pumps and compressors) up to 20m out of position on “as-builts”. All the engineering contractor does is revise the status on AFC drawings which were never subject to red-line mark-ups. And I’m even seeing contracts which allow the engineering contractor to supply drawings only up to AFC “unless modified during construction”. Sometimes, we don’t even get them. Seriously, I’ve worked on a project that was commissioned a year ago, and we still haven’t got the drawings. Welcome to the modern oil business, where the cheapest price wins every time!

    pahoben, I can only say that you are lucky. In KOC we were pulling out “as-builts” that were produced in the 1960s and were still at Rev.1, implying the plant had never been modified in 50 years. And the stories I hear about our alma-mater on Sakhalin…updating P&IDs wasn’t in the brownfield engineering budget, apparently. This year I completed 3 years as a brownfield engineering manager, I wouldn’t do a thing without a survey. The drawings were next to useless.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 19, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

  11. @Tim

    The situation in Karachaganak was that they couldnt locate even the final design drawings for a facility scheduled for completion.

    Which operator decided not to update P&ID’s on Sakhalin? I think this makes my point. I don’t have any personal experience with KOC.

    My bet is that Exxon has proper as built drawings for Sak 1.

    Comment by pahoben — November 19, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

  12. The situation in Karachaganak was that they couldnt locate even the final design drawings for a facility scheduled for completion.

    Jeez…now that is a mess!

    I think this makes my point.

    It does.

    And yes, the ENL DCC was shit-hot. So was that of the construction contractor, I knew some of them and hired one later.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 20, 2013 @ 1:05 am

  13. @Tim & @pahoben. Seems like HHS/Healthcare.gov are going with the Karachaganak model.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 20, 2013 @ 9:42 am

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