A ‘Dicks Out’: On the Reported U.S. Intelligence Assist to Ukraine

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

By now you’ve probably read Marcy’s post, Bragging on U.S. Intelligence. I agree with her take in part, but I suspect the situation isn’t just dick-wagging.

It’s a ‘dicks out‘ situation, an attempt using the media to make a statement.

Not in the sense there’s any competition here between dick-swinging leaders — dick-wagging — but in the sense there’s a display. It looks like a show of power and it is, reminding Putin and Russia’s military leadership within view of the Russian public and the globe that the world’s largest army can aid an eastern European democracy and make it look like it’s a trifling amusement.

Russia media already acknowledges the aid provided by the U.S. and other NATO countries is tough competition.

The report about U.S. intelligence in The New York Times wasn’t a surprise to Russia, though. There had been numerous reports in social media about a U.S. military surveillance aircraft flying over the Black Sea shortly before the Moskva was reported to have taken a hit from Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — or caught fire, if one paid attention only to pro-Russian accounts. The flight was not unexpected as the U.S. had been flying surveillance over the Black Sea for years before the invasion began.

Note there was more than just a lone P-8 flying surveillance the day the Moskva was hit, though these reports shared here are likely well after the attack.

What’s not clear is the timing of the attack on the Moskva — late on April 13, or very early on April 14. Lithuania’s Defense Minister posted early morning ET about the attack:

By evening GMT the vessel had sunk which Russia confirmed.

Russia and the U.S. have had run-ins over the Black Sea even during the Trump administration.

The U.S. military made a point then that its duties continued in spite of the change in leadership. This may even have been an issue during the Helsinki summit in July 2018 but we may not know for certain since Trump squelched interpreter’s notes.

~ ~ ~

The British newspaper The Times reported at 12:01 a.m. BST on April 20 about the same surveillance aircraft which had been sighted over the Black Sea before the Moskva was in distress.

A U.S. aircraft was patrolling the Black Sea in the hours before the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian missiles, The Times can reveal.

A Boeing P8 Poseidon was within 100 miles of the Moskva on the day the Russian cruiser sustained catastrophic damage. …

“The Times can reveal” suggests either The Times were waiting validation from local sources, or the outlet had received authorization to report this news from either British or U.S. military. The just-past-midnight time stamp suggests the latter.

But this wasn’t just a show of power for the benefit of NATO; EU member states who are NATO members are too deeply committed now whether the U.S. gets involved or not providing assistance to Ukraine. The chances of Russia nailing a EU member accidentally or on purpose is real, while the risk to the U.S. is slim to none; we don’t have any real skin in the game. NATO members likely knew already the U.S. was providing intelligence because of the emergency session between NATO and G-7 allies on March 24 in Brussels where commitments of effort from sanctions and aid were discussed.

Who else benefited from the published confirmation the U.S. had provided intelligence to Ukraine? Cui bono?

1. Ukraine — not just because they have access to the intelligence apparatus of the largest military in the world, but their own intelligence sources and methods are no longer in the spotlight drawing the attention of Putin and his remaining intelligence system from FSB to ad hoc hacking teams.

2. U.S. — because one of the audiences who needs to know U.S. intelligence is both capable and effective is the U.S. itself, in Congress, the intelligence community, and the public; the reports assure the general public in the U.S. and abroad that the U.S. has an active role if not as a combatant. We’re providing intelligence as well as materiel but not the personnel who ultimately act on intelligence available.

3. U.S. corporations — in particular, Apple and John Deere, because there have been stories of apps built into their products which may have allowed their hardware to be used for intelligence collection directly and indirectly, placing the companies at risk of attack by Russia.

4. Iran and other parties to the JCPOA P5+1 agreement — because elements in Iran are still demanding revenge for the assassination of Lt. General Qasem Soleimani; it’s a reminder the U.S. is watching though Iran’s intelligence apparatus surely knows this; factions desiring a return to the agreement know retribution works against them.

5. Japan — with Russia’s military demonstrating weakness, Japan has seen opportunity to not only recover some of its stature post- Abe but make demands related to the occupation of the Kuril Islands; its public may be reassured its partner is watching Russia closely as it does so.

6. Taiwan — China is watching closely how the U.S. responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a model for its response should China attempt to realize its One China ideology and take Taiwan; it’s already seen in Hong Kong a lack of U.S. intervention. While China’s leadership surely knows about U.S. intelligence provided to Ukraine, Taiwan’s public needs to know this is on the table for them as well.

7. Aspiring NATO members Finland and Sweden — while these two countries have been prepared for Russian hostilities since WWII, the invasion of Ukraine has heightened their sensitivity to national security. Both are now pursuing membership in NATO as Marcy mentioned; open acknowledgment of the benefits of membership may help their public feel more at ease with joining after holding out for so long.

Marcy’s post noted the value of the publicized intelligence to several of these beneficiaries’ voting constituencies.

Of all of who benefit, two most critical are Ukraine and U.S. corporations. As a ‘dicks out’ effort, the U.S. draws attention to itself and its intelligence capabilities which the media have gladly hyped up.

I have to wonder if this change in NYT hed was really because of an error, or an attempt to ensure the Russians were sitting up, paying attention to, and pissed off at the U.S.

Especially since the NYT’s article pointedly said there was no targeting information.

… The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, asked about a report in The Times of London that a Navy P-8 spy plane from Sigonella air base in Italy was tracking the Moskva before it was hit by Ukraine, spoke of air policing missions in the Black Sea as part of a carefully worded response: “There was no provision of targeting information by any United States Navy P-8 flying in these air policing missions,” he said. …

By drawing attention away from Ukraine and U.S. corporations, the use of non-traditional sources of intelligence based on non-government private resources becomes less obvious, potentially reducing their risk from retaliatory attack by Russia.

(An aside: Did you know that Apple iPhones were the second or third most popular cell phone in Russia? While Apple has now stopped selling its products in Russia, it’s not clear iPhones and MacBooks are no longer operative on Russian networks.)

~ ~ ~ 

There were two other things worth noting related to the day the Moskva was hit and Russia’s response afterward.

First, the U.S. Navy P-8 (and other surveillance craft) weren’t the only unusual flights on April 14. A “Doomsday” plane took off from Moscow; the plane is equipped for use in the event of nuclear war.

But it wasn’t just a Russian “Doomsday” plane in the air that same day.

Most media didn’t appear to have noticed the Russian plane. The Daily Express-UK published an article on April 14 at 13:16 hours London time, edited at 14:25 hours, about the Russian craft’s kit, and wrote about a flight at 4:16 pm which lasted nearly four hours. It also mentioned the U.S. “Doomsday” plane taking a flight but in little detail. The Daily Express didn’t tweet their article.

Second, Russia told the families of Moskva crew members who died on April 14 that they would not receive survivor compensation:

This seems particularly callous especially since crew members families were told little to nothing immediately following the Moskva’s “fire” and sinking, calling to mind the handling of the Kursk submarine disaster. Were the Moskva’s crew and their surviving families punished financially for failing?

Another particularly odd detail was the immediate reaction of crew on board the Moskva after it was hit by Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — the radar didn’t respond as if it wasn’t watching for another attack, and life boats didn’t appear to be deployed and loaded once the ship appeared to be in extremis. A report by U.S. Naval Institute News said the ship was blind to the attack, its radar not detecting surveillance by drones or planes or the missiles once it was targeted.

One analysis of the attack in this following Twitter thread suggests the weather conditions the night of April 13/morning April 14 may have helped mask the missiles if the radar was working and its 180-degree range aimed in the correct direction.

There are a lot of ifs here even after reading an analysis of the attack (pdf) shared by USNI News.

Perhaps the publication of the news that the U.S. intelligence isn’t merely a ‘dicks out’ statement to garner attention away from others, or make the point the U.S. is assisting with intelligence up to but not including targeting.

Perhaps the message was meant to tell Putin, “The U.S. intelligence community knows exactly what happened to the Moskva,” implying another mishandling of information a la the Kursk could be used strategically against weakened Russian leadership.

The deployment of our own “Doomsday” plane the same day Putin moved his also says something, but that may be even more cryptic and intended for a very small audience compared to the ‘dicks out’ about the Moskva’s sinking.

40 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Still thinking about the “Doomsday” planes up in the air thousands of miles apart on the same day.

      • Rayne says:

        There were other factors that particular day which I didn’t even address — like Russian MOD Sergei Shoigu’s heart attack. Did the attack on the Moskva trigger that?

    • KP says:

      Where I’m at is off the beaten tracks for commercial air traffic — that is typically well north or south (east-west along the KC track, or the OKC track). There is a USAF air-refueling wing based in Wichita, so for the observant, with nothing much to do while at a dog park, will notice very high-flying, n-s tracking comtrails, or even spot them high above. While I have thought about flights out of Omaha … nah, not one I usually consider. More interesting to me are the much faster moving mid-high-flying aircraft. Too fast for private jets (which do occasionally fly into and out of the small local airport a few miles south of town), and too fast for lumbering KC-135s out of McConnell. Another fun factoid, folks farther north, would sometimes be treated to the antics of USAF pilots exercising the ground support role with the Big Red One at Ft. Riley, racing along the Flint Hills ridgeline. Those guys are very good at what they do.

  2. rattlemullet says:

    I ask, “how will they contain it?” It seems as if they, NATO and Russian, are not putting any effort toward containment. Putin is wild card and seems to suffer from being short. With all the loss of living knowledge of the actual horror of the use of a nuclear weapon bodes ill for the lack of future use of a “tactical nuclear weapon”.

    • timbo says:

      Uh…if they hadn’t, we and a good part of Europe would be in a hot war with Russia at this very moment. So, uh, yeah, there’s been a little containment so far here.

    • Rayne says:

      Contain what? Be specific. If you mean nuclear war there are layers to this onion — which weapon, when, affecting who and what? Containment will depend on which genie appears to be let out of its bottle. There are many stories about the poor state of maintenance of Russia’s nuclear weapons making it a bigger risk to Russia to attempt any deployment, and the Russian military knows it. Even potential new weapons have been a bigger threat to Russia than to any other country as the 2019 Arkangelsk explosion proved.

      If you mean the spread of the war itself, there are all kinds of smaller containment efforts. Belarus’ government-in-exile is surely doing things we are not fully aware of, in concert with anti-Lukashenko resistance as just one angle. The efforts of neighboring countries like Poland to receive refugees and assist in shipments of materiel is another. Sanctions are yet one more method of containment in that the loss of non-ruble currency has diminished Russia’s ability to manufacture and repair its own materiel, while leaving the country prey to demands of China and India.

      IMO, you’re stuck in the past thinking of 1945 Hiroshima rather than 2006 London or 2018 Salisbury. I’d be far more worried about the latter two.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Add to that the de facto containment by the CSTO members that were ‘far too busy’ or something to send troops to be slaughtered in Ukraine. That list included Belarus with Lukashenko in charge in Minsk. Putin has to realize (or his advisers do) just how few friends he has here. Even the German Empire did better under Wilhelm II.

  3. Bobster33 says:

    As I said before, the US gave Ukraine intel and tactics for dealing with the Moskva.

    For US intel, this is kinda like, you mess with our elections, and we mess with your little war.

  4. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I simply cannot keep up with EW’s legal posts, much as I wish that I could.
    I’m so glad to have read this, and her previous post about intel dick waving. It makes a lot of sense.

    As for ‘US corporations’, any sort of compendious knowledge is beyond me.
    But from my tiny perch, I’ve observed numerous ex-Russians and emigres from Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Romania primarily), who have found their way to the US because of: (1) their technical skills, and (2) their revulsion about having to raise their kids in nations so corrupt that they were anxious about their childrens’ futures.

    In conversations, I’ve been intrigued at their utter loathing of ‘corruption’, of which Putin and Yanukovitch (and Trump) are apotheoses.

    Back in 1998, it was ‘the economy, stupid’.
    Now, it’s ‘the corruption, stupid’.
    And just to reiterate the ‘corruption’ theme, evidently Steve Schmidt (McCain campaign 2008) is now finally confirming that the GOP has been largely overtaken by Russian interests, paid for and overseen by kleptocrats. Which explains several decades of growing corruption in the US: abetted and funded by kleptocrats.

    Biden is hugely underrated, in my view, if only because there is not nearly enough attention to his anti-kleptocrat initiatives.

    Biden’s release of intel is surely having a quiet, but significant, impact on people in many nations who are fed up with corruption and specifically with corruption enabled and abetted by surveillance technologies. (More on Pegasus some other time…, but I’ll simply note that Apple’s privacy initiatives are a breath of fresh air.)

    Recently, the ?WaPo? reported that Biden was impressed with Zelensky; in their initial call, he recounted a Biden speech made in Kyiv in 2015, specifically on the topic of anti-corruption. Yanukovitch, Paul Manafort’s (Putin’s) client, had been chased out of Ukraine the preceding year, in 2014.

    In 2015, the Ukraine was regarded as too corrupt to join NATO, although implementing anti-corruption initiatives was the carrot held out as the price of eventual NATO membership.

    In 2015, Zelensky starred in, ‘A Servant of the People’, now on Netflix, and well worth my time. The theme: trying to function under suffocating political corruption.

    Zelensky plays a high school history teacher whose furious outburst about living under corrupt politicians is filmed and uploaded to YouTube by one of his students. When the members of the class realize that all of their parents strongly agree with their history teacher’s rage about political corruption, they ‘crowdfund’ the sum of money that is required to enable their history teacher to run for President. He does so as a terrible joke. Because the mobsters who run the country decide to amuse themselves, he becomes President (to his horror and shock), and the comic results are truly worth a watch.

    I don’t want to spoil your fun, and am still watching the first season, so will stop at that — other than to say that it appears that life is imitating art, or at least giving its best effort.

    If my radar is functioning, and if corruption is the issue of the hour (not only in Ukraine, but here in US) then it seems to me that Biden is pulling off a masterstroke. Assuming that to be the case, a little dick waving is in order.

  5. Desider says:

    By staying a bit detached from actual fighting, Biden may miss some backstabbing from Dem peacenicks with their Putin-supporting peace advocacy and “any war unacceptable” suicide (for one side at least) approach.

  6. jaango1 says:

    Permit me transition this subject matter, “intelligence gathering made public” and consequently, I am glad that the United States and European Nations have been providing this subject matter to the Republic of Ukraine.

    And subject to this transition, for these past many years, I have been advocating for the legislation that personalizes the National Technology Centers and where the second element of these Centers would require our intelligence gathering effort be made readily available to the general public. To wit, I am speaking solely as this pertains to our political, social and economic relations within the Latin American Region and throughout our Indigenous Hemisphere.

  7. Rayne says:

    In re: Decider — “Dem peaceniks,” you called them.

    1) The four Democrats who voted against sanctions on oligarchs did so because they were concerned about setting precedent on asset seizures without due process in violation of the 4th Amendment. Apparently you didn’t actually bother to read The Hill article you cited because their rationale had nothing to do with being “Dem peaceniks.

    They didn’t make a strong argument since the bill itself approved the seizures which Biden can authorize under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and other existing legislation.

    The problem is their conflation of the rights of American citizens and residents inside the U.S. with actions taken by a president using executive powers “in time of war or national emergency” against foreign nationals who pose an economic threat to Ukraine. If they can’t see the risk of a widening war and nuclear proliferation arising from Russia’s attack on Ukraine, there are other issues besides asset seizures which need to be discussed.

    2) The Democrats — Omar and Bush — who voted against the ban on Russian oil had different concerns.

    Ilhan Omar is worried the ban will punish the EU; she was also worried the ban would be ‘sticky’ and last far longer than necessary for which she cited precedent.

    Cori Bush explained her vote:

    “I support sanctions that target the murderous Putin regime, Russian oligarchs, and corporate fossil fuel executives profiting off human suffering. …I opposed the House bill to ban oil imports from Russia because it fails to address the underlying problem of imposing sanctions that are not accompanied with a clear diplomatic process for de-escalation, incentives for a ceasefire, and a condition of withdrawal of Russian military forces in Ukraine…I also have deep concerns that the push for a statutory ban is being used to justify even more dangerous drilling at home and increased imports from other authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia…This approach categorically makes our communities less safe, does nothing to jumpstart our transition to renewable energy, and further burdens regular, everyday people already financially strained by the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis…”

    Neither of their concerns are “peacenik” in nature.

    3) Ilhan Omar is all by herself on misunderstanding progressives’ values with regard to war:

    “A lot of progressives, I feel, have abandoned their principles of being anti-war, anti-broad-based sanctions, anti-harmful policies that not only impact us here in the United States, but inadvertently impact the civilians of our adversary regime…”

    There’s no way in hell the average progressive would deny the right to self-defense; it’s a facet of self determination. Russia’s violent assault on a sovereign democracy is not at all like the U.S.’s defacto military occupation of Afghanistan in lieu of a police action to eliminate a terror threat, or its unlawful war in Iraq chasing non-existent weapons of mass destruction to mask a pursuit of oil.

    On this point Omar is on her own as her vote shows.

    But she has expressed a legitimate concern about the potential risks resulting from aid extended to Ukraine:

    We need to address blowback early; we do not need to see weapons provided to Ukraine turned back on NATO, as Stingers were turned back on the U.S. after the USSR exited Afghanistan.

    Further, Omar did express support for Ukraine:

    She’s placed herself in a bad situation with conflicting remarks which are at odds with her actions. This should not be used against other progressives.

    This might be the only legitimate “Dem peacenik” to which you can point and even that’s debatable.

    4) This is bullshit:

    “Squad + other Dems – any US troops to Ukraine needs Congressional approval (somewhat understandable, but “no troops”, even small contingent for training and such, is a huge restriction on executive branch management of defense/security matters, restricting reasonable small covert activity upfront.”

    You’re implying the Dems who insist on Congressional approval are acting outside of their remit, when the power to declare war, raise and support armies is Congress’s under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The executive executes what Congress authorizes — it’s not a restraint on the executive, it’s the damned job description.

    The U.S. has no current impetus to send troops to Ukraine because it is not a formal declared belligerent in the Russo-Ukrainian War. It has obligations to aid Ukraine under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances though it is not legally obligated to respond as it is not a signed and ratified treaty.

    Should Russia attack any NATO member state during the course of its war on Ukraine, NATO’s Article 5 will legally obligate the U.S. to respond and defend NATO. At that point Congress will be expected to authorize military force beyond the troops it has already stationed as precautionary measure in NATO states bordering Ukraine — and Congress should authorize this immediately because NATO is a signed and ratified treaty of long stature.

    As for the sources you cited: next time select those which offer explanations of the positions taken, which that POS from red state Idaho doesn’t. And then fucking read them, because you clearly didn’t. You just flogged your personal biases against the Squad.

    • Desider says:

      I normally don’t come to your posts because you have a shitty self-absorbed attitude, and i won’t make that mistake again. Yes, those sources were impromptu for Veruca Salt. A good deal of my opinion is based on Hillary trying to develop sane Dem security policy for 15 years and getting blasted by the left over and over as “war mongerer”. (people still don’t understand the significance of the successful UN Iraq inspections, and misinterpret, much less what happened in Libya) Sorry, no sources, tho remember Susan Sarandon approvingg of “Trump would be better” because we’d be at war (she missed the troops still in Afghanistan, etc.). Bye now, won’t be back.

      • bmaz says:

        Just don’t come back at all, jackass. Oh, and also, screw your “Squad” bigotry. Again, do not come back at all.

      • Rayne says:

        LOL Susan Sarandon is the person you’ve relied on as a source or example? Why not Jill Stein while you’re at it? Oh, I get it, it’s easier to conflate Sarandon with the Democratic progressives than Stein because she’s not actually affiliated with a party.

        Bon voyage.

  8. Ginevra diBenci says:

    Thanks, Rayne, for another highly informative and well-written post. I always learn something(s) new when you bring your research ability and crystal-clear prose to a topic. For the record, I have never perceived your posts to exhibit a “self-absorbed” tendency. What that accusation (from desider, above) reminds me of is every time I’ve every been told to stop talking about myself, when my transgression amounts to using “I” and “me” in an effort to contextualize my subject in lived experience–to which my only access is mine own.

    I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the ones thus chastising me have been men. I’m guessing a similar dynamic obtains in the present case (yours with desider).

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks, Ginevra. When I write about my life it’s because the topic may have been ignored or treated as a theoretical challenge instead of an issue with a human face and human concerns. Race, for example, can be abstracted too easily when most of our readership is white and the people about whom we write are majority-white policy makers — same, too, with gender. But I’m not white and I can remind readers it’s not an abstraction, it’s personal. You get this.

      And yes, cis-het white men who live in insular social circles are most likely to mansplain and lecture whenever reality presses a little firmly on their bubble.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        ” … it’s not an abstraction, it’s personal.”

        Lately my head and heart have exploded whenever I hear someone like Asa Hutchinson refer to how abortions due to rape or incest are “less than one percent” of the total. Does he (or Tate Reeves or any of them) ever think about those percentage points as comprised of individual human beings? To me these too are examples of the abstractionation of the experiences people like us live. Just the label “minority” (itself an adjective weaponized as a noun, like Trump talking about “my Blacks”) makes me want to scream. I’ve been trying to stay coherent my whole life, but it takes a toll. It’s always a gift to me when you write, because I feel part of the burden of expressing all this lifted, because shared.

        Thanks again.

        • Rayne says:

          Hutchison, Reeves, other white male anti-abortionists don’t even listen to the few white men who are strong advocates for pro-choice because of their own lived experience. In spite of Sen. Gary Peters’ gut-wrenchingly moving speech on the Senate floor, the entire GOP Senate caucus voted against the WHPA bill yesterday.


          Abortion is health care.

  9. mospeck says:

    Just bad luck last week where Sapega got the full 6 years from lukashenko .. and just for her having a bad luck boyfriend. And the russian jets they didna wanna fly on VE day .. guess they were worried about the weather. What a cold and a rainy day and no jets fly today

  10. Lex says:

    Hilarious. This place has become a conspiracy theory echo chamber of staggering proportions. But still a good barometer of what good democrats believe, so it’s no wonder that the party continues to fail the American people while holding hands across the aisle for empire.

    You do realize that the ethnic cleansing in Donbas could have been solved at any time over the last 8 years by negotiation, right? You do realize that the architects of our behavior in Ukraine working for two dem administrations are hardcore neo-conservatives, right? Maybe not since you link to the Kyiv Post as if it’s a reliable source of information. I know, I know, their our Banderites. Just like we had to fund terrorists in the Middle East for freedom to ring there. Democratic imperialists are the worst. Y’all pretend to have humanist values but get all giggly over dead bodies.

    • bmaz says:

      No. I flatly deny that Putin could have been successfully negotiated with then, and cannot be now. And your postulate is full of shit. But, hey, thanks for the tilted lecture. Would you fly air cover over Ukraine? Would you clear out the Black Sea? What do you “realize”?

    • Rayne says:

      LOL Alexi, I mean, Lex, we know where you stand on the unlawful invasion of Ukraine. You didn’t need to waste so many characters on your apologia for Putin.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You’ve been reading too much Greenwald and naked capitalism. But you did pack everything you’ve read into that shit sandwich.

      No political figure willing to commit genocide in an occupied neighboring territory would be willing to stop committing genocide because another head of state said pretty please, will you negotiate with me. Putin’s explosive rhetoric and conduct seems clear on that.

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