We’ve been hacked before

If you look hard enough, current events always have precedence in history. Maybe the players are different and the circumstances changed but, to turn a phrase from Mark Twain, “History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.”

In a few days we will swear in a new president whom many think was put in place thanks to third party meddling. True or not, it’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time strings have been pulled by an overseas power in order to influence our election to favor a particular outcome.

Steve Usdin, who is working on a book about the topic, posts on Politico about a time when our closest ally, the United Kingdom, resorted to all manner of subterfuge to influence the largely isolationist United States to enter into the war against Germany.

British intelligence employed the full range of cloak-and-dagger techniques in America in 1940 and 1941: forgeries, seductions, burglaries, electoral dirty tricks, physical surveillance, intercepting and reading letters sent under diplomatic seal, illegally bugging offices and tapping phones. British intelligence even listened in on a telephone call in June 1940 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House and his ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. A report on the call was quickly relayed to Churchill, alerting him that the U.S. was making contingency plans in case the U.K. fell to the Nazis.

Wartime England even used another familiar ruse in order to sway public opinion. Fake News went by another name in Churchill’s England.  “Sibs,” short for sibilare, the Latin word for whisper or hiss were the brainchild of a secret clandestine government outfit, the Underground Propaganda Committee.

While rumors spread in Europe by word of mouth, in the U.S., they were disseminated through a network of friendly reporters and, starting in the spring of 1941, by the Overseas News Agency, a news service that received subsidies from, and was controlled by, the BSC. ONA articles appeared in newspapers around the country. Especially prior to Pearl Harbor, these stories were picked up by newspapers in Germany, Japan and occupied countries.

Using intelligence hacking and fake news to swing an election? Same as is everwas.

Finnish Ingenuity

We had some house guests over last night who shared some observations about the Finnish people and their incredible spirit and creativity, especially when their backs are up against the wall.

World War II was a time of extreme struggle for the Finns who found them up against the full wrath of Stalin’s Army. Out-numbered and out-gunned, the Finnish people were left with their wits, here are a couple of highlights:

Winter War – In 1940, the Finns faced a full-scale invasion of their homeland. As the Russian Army advanced on Finland in the winter of 1940, they ran into sub-zero temperatures and long nights of darkness. Using this to their advantage, small squads of Finnish troops would infiltrate enemy lines between larger divisions and set up machine gun lines pointing outward, towards each division. After short bursts to the left and right, the guerrilla squads would retreat and leave the two, recently alerted adjacent divisions to open fire upon each other thinking they were firing on the enemy when in fact they were firing upon the neighboring division.

The Bombing of Helsinki – In February of 1944, Stalin ordered bombers to flatten the city in order to break the spirit of the Finnish people. In preparation for the bombing which they knew was coming, the civil defense forces laid out a grid of signal fires out on the frozen bay and surrounding islands which roughly matched the layout of Helsinki at night. When the bombers flew towards the city, the civilians doused the lights and the bombers, thinking the lights they saw out on the bay were the city, dropped a majority of their bombs harmlessly into the water, sparing most of the city.

Don’t mess with the Finns, they’ll mess with you.

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Alexander Vraciu, the original Top Gun

Alex with his full page story in the 1944 Chicago Tribune
Alex with 1944 Chicago Tribune

On my way back from a day trip to LA, I sat next to a quiet old man who was settling in for the short flight back home to Oakland. I asked him how his day was going and was kind of surprised to hear him say he’s been really busy. He then told me he just got through with his interviews for a segment of the History Channel about WWII fighter pilots.

I put my book down and then prepared to listen to what I knew would be a fascinating tale. At first I had to draw it out of him a bit but once he got going he was full of stories. He was not the bragging type – he told me a little of this, and a little of that about his activities during the war but as the time went on I later realized that I was talking to one of the top aces of the Pacific War.

Alexander Vraciu flew Grumman Hellcats during the war and shot down 19 enemy aircraft over the course of the war and was the fourth-ranking Naval Ace of the war. During this time he served on six separate carriers (two were torpedoed) and was shot down over the Philippines where he parachuted to safety and spent five weeks with the guerrilla forces in the jungle, leading command of 180 of them through Japanese lines to link up with General McArthur’s advancing forces.

Alex came home to Chicago a war hero later taking command of a jet fighter squadron in 1951. As one of the top naval pilots, he was sent a congratulatory message from then Admiral Stump, “delighted to hear that you are top gun in jets” which is the first known use of that phrase.

Despite his age (he’s 88), he was sharp as a tack and you could see his eyes sparkle as he swooped his hands through the air, recounting his famous dogfight where he took out 6 Japanese planes in the space of eight minutes. “It was my personal payback for Pearl,” he said.

I didn’t have it in me to break in and say I’m half-Japanese.

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