June 28, 2021

Film Review: From the Sky (Ian Ebright, 2014)

From the Sky is a short film, only 18 minutes long, but it’s worth the watch. 

The film was released in the spring of 2014, so I am estimating that it was probably filmed in 2013. The producers did this on a small budget, and filmed it in of all places, the state of Washington. It works well enough for what they were trying to accomplish.


The stated premise of the film: A peaceful father (Hakim) and troubled son (‘Abbas) suffering from post traumatic stress disorder traveling through a region that often experiences U.S. drone strikes. 

The two are forced to make difficult decisions when two armed militants (Dhiyah and Samir) visit their camp. 

I watched this film, which is in Arabic with English subtitles. The actors playing the father and the two militants spoke with in a light Levantine dialect and accent, although at times it appeared they were trying to speak unaccented standard Arabic. The actor playing the son spoke the clearest unaccented Arabic, which is probably what they were going for.


I say this because at no time is a location mentioned, no country, city, village, or region.  Given the Levantine accent, one could almost believe that it is supposed to be Syria. That is also underscored by the fact that when Dhiyah and Samir first meet Hakim and ‘Abbas, they greet and are surprised that the father and son speak Arabic. The only place these two things would be likely is Syria, where there is a large Kurdish-speaking minority. Although there are Kurds also in Iraq, Iraqi-accented Arabic is much different than the Levantine accent heard in this film.


The subtitles in English are accurate in the interpretation, although the translations are not exact – I have no problem with interpreting the meaning, not the actual words. That’s what I did in my interpreting assignments.


The problem with the scenario as presented is the date. Assuming the film was made in 2013 or even early 2014, the United States was not using armed drones in either Syria or Iraq – other areas of the region, yes, but not Syria. The first air attacks, by both manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, were on September 23, 2014, six months after this film was released. It was almost as the producers were prescient as to what was going to happen – a bit uncanny, actually.


I remember the initial airstrikes clearly. I was having dinner at Guantanamera, a Cuban restaurant in Manhattan on 8th Avenue just a few blocks from the CNN bureau in Columbus Circle. My phone rang and I was asked to get back to the studio as soon as possible as we were going live with coverage of the strikes. Since I had served as the air attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in the past, I was the first call they made. Never mind the few beers….


I digress. Without spoiling the film, the interaction between the father and son on one had and the two armed militants is intense and well-done. The son is suffering from an earlier traumatic incident and is susceptible to the not-so-subtle recruitment efforts of Dhiyah, the more charismatic of the two militants.


A comment – there is one drone strike in the film. There is no way that strike would have made it through the rigorous target validation process required for approval to strike. This is just a film, maybe with political overtones.


If I say more, it will give too much away. Watch it – it’s just 18 minutes long, but the film says a lot. Just keep in mind, the producers are probably against drone strikes. I, on the other hand, support them fully.


The Ian Ebright film is available on Amazon, and free to Prime members. Watch it here.

June 24, 2021

Defense Department Linguist Sentenced to 23 Years in Prison


Miriam Taha Thompson

In March 2020, I wrote and analysis of a U.S. Army contract linguist who was arrested for espionage. You can read that article here: Department of Defense Linguist Charged with Espionage – A Spy Story.


This week, that linguist, Miriam Taha Thompson, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for “delivering classified national defense information to aid a foreign government.” The sentence was part of a plea agreement – Thompson admitted that she knew that the Top Secret intelligence information that she was passing to a Lebanese national would be provided to Hizballah, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Given the fact that Thompson is 62 years of age, a 23-year sentence constitutes a virtual life sentence. 


I’m fine with that. She should spend the rest of her life in prison. When I wrote the article last year, we knew from Thompson’s admissions that she not only provided information that included true identities of eight human intelligence sources, she activity advised her Lebanese lover/case officer on how to collect more information on the sources.


What we did not know a year ago is that the operation in which she willingly participated was an Iranian intelligence operation focused on determining the American intelligence sources who made the assassinations of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qasem Suleimani  and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the founder of the notorious Iranian-backed and controlled Iraqi Shi’a militia Kata’ib Hezbollah. Both men were killed in an American drone strike on January 3, 2020 just outside the Baghdad International Airport.


The killing of Suleimani and al-Muhandis was made possible by an excellent U.S. intelligence operation. Likewise, the Iranian-Hizballah operation to ferret out the Americans’ human sources was also effective. Unfortunately, it is spy versus spy.


According to the Department of Justice announcement, in 2017, she started communicating a Lebanese national (an unindicted co-conspirator), with whom she entered into a romantic relationship. She was aware that he had ties to Lebanese Hizballah.


In December 2019, while Thompson was assigned to a Special Operations Task Force facility in Iraq, the United States launched a series of airstrikes in Iraq targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah; that effort culminated in the drone strike that killed Soleimani and al-Muhandis.

Following Suleimani’s death in January 2020, her Lebanese case officer began asking Thompson to provide “them” with information about the human assets who had helped the United States to target Suleimani. Thompson admitted that she understood “them” to be senior Lebanese Hizballah officials. It is widely understood that providing anything to HIzballah is the same as providing it to the IRGC.


After receiving this “request for information” – this is actually her tasking – in early January 2020, Thompson began accessing dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the human assets, as well as reports detailing information the assets provided to the U.S. intelligence community.


By the time she was arrested by the FBI on February 27, 2020, Thompson had provided Hizballah with the identities of at least eight clandestine human assets and a list of at least 10 U.S. targets for future strikes.


She knew what she was doing.


As I said in my earlier article, no matter how naïve Thompson tries to appear, her own words transmitted to her case officer indicate her level of involvement. She warned her case officer that at least four of these U.S. assets were operating in Lebanon, targeting the Amal organization among others, and suggested that the assets’ telephones be tapped. That’s not just providing information, that’s actively participating in an operation of a hostile intelligence service against the United States.


My question for the U.S. intelligence community writ large, and specifically the Special Operations Task Force in Irbil – why was this relatively low-level contract employee capable of gaining access to human source true identification data?


Inexcusable. Someone should be held accountable for that, but will they? Doubtful – they found the spy, so it’s congratulations all around and back to business as usual.

June 15, 2021

NSA leaker Reality Winner released from prison – now what?

That’s not a rhetorical question – I think I have a fairly good idea of what comes next for Reality Winner. She will gain fame and fortune as a darling of the left-wing media.


Winner was arrested in 2017 for the unauthorized release of a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information report produced by the National Security Agency about Russian attempts to interfere in U.S. elections. See my earlier views on this: Reality (is the) Winner - former NSA contractor pleads guilty.


Winner has become the new darling of the left, following in the footsteps of fellow felon Bradley/Chelsea Manning. Many of their supporters believe them to be noble whistleblowers – they’re not. Both are misguided traitors who released highly classified information to the media.


There are avenues for actual whistleblowers to report irregularities and possible illegalities – releasing top secret intelligence documents to the media is not one of those avenues. Winner was caught, and admitted her felonious activity. Her plea agreement allowed her to receive a sentence of just over five years (plus three years of supervised release) instead of the 10 years she could have received.


Winner has been released from prison after just four years and will remain in a halfway house until November, at which time she will begin the three years of supervised release. She is prohibited from public appearances and contact with the media while at the halfway house.


I hope these restrictions continue during the supervisory period as well. If not, I can guarantee you that she will become a media darling, fawned over by the left-wing media and portrayed as a heroine standing up to the government. As I said, she’s not – she’s a convicted felon who betrayed her oath to safeguard intelligence sources and methods.


Winner sought a pardon from President Trump, who declined to interfere. She did the crime, let her do her time. I am not sure how you can request a pardon for a crime you admit you committed.


Now she is seeking the same from President Biden, who just might go along with the cries from the left-wing media to grant her a pardon. I think that would send the wrong signal to the men and women of the armed forces and the intelligence community.


Watch for a book deal….