It is often said that “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” The line is attributed to Hiram W Johnson in 1929 in a debate over a dubious effort to legislatively ban war. That line is not original to Johnson but what followed should be equally notable: “this mode of propaganda whereby … people become war hungry in their patriotism and are lied into a desire to fight. We have seen it in the past; it will happen again in the future.”
This week, a new story suggests that Johnson’s prediction may be proven . . . yet again. The Washington Post is reporting that material leaked by Jack Teixeira, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, revealed that the Biden Administration knew three months ago that it was Ukraine that was planning to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines. Teixeira is now criminally charged under the Espionage Act.
If true, the Administration withheld the information for months as the media widely speculated that Russia blew up its own pipeline. Russia accused the United States of approving the attack by Ukrainian forces.
President Joe Biden was presumably informed by the intelligence agencies. Yet, as speculation continued and Russia pointed fingers as Ukrainian and the U.S., Biden told the public “the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened. Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”
As Biden “worked with our allies to get to the bottom of what happened,” the Administration knew that months previously it was told by a Ukrainian whistleblower that the CIA was told that a six-person team of Ukrainian special forces were planning to rent a boat, dive to the seafloor and blow up the Nord Stream project. The operation was reportedly led by Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.
It is not clear what president Volodymyr Zelenskiy knew or when he knew it. However, we knew of this report long before the pipeline was destroyed in the very way described by the whistleblower.
Not even the environmental damage by the alleged Ukrainian attack or the blow to our allies was enough for the Administration to reveal the alleged plot. The sabotage reportedly resulted in “more than 115,000 tons of natural gas escap[ing] the damaged pipeline in just six days, with a greenhouse gas contribution of approximately 15 million tons of CO2—or the amount of carbon that can be absorbed by roughly 580 million trees in a year.”
It was also not inclined to tell the press in multiple press conferences or presumably Congress as the Administration demanded billions for the war.
Now a new environmental disaster is building after sabotaging the Kakhovka hydro-electric dam in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine. Russia has accused Ukraine and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused “Russian terrorists.”
This follows new evidence that Ukraine appeared responsible for the drone attack on the Kremlin recently. Zelenskyy also denied any involvement in that attack. Ukraine stood back as many of us speculated that this seemed like a false flag attack by Russia. After all, it seemed almost laughable in its objective if it sought to kill Putin or cause serious damage to the government.
Western countries have stressed that their military aid to Ukraine was premised on the country not attacking Russia on Russian soil. However, the larger question is whether such intelligence should be kept from Congress and the public when we have already spent over $75 billion on Ukraine.
It also raises a continued question over the Biden Administration withholding evidence that contradicts its national security claims. The Republicans have fought to gain access to a critical State Department cable that appears to refute President Biden and other officials who insisted that they had no prior warning of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. We ended up leaving $7 billion in top military equipment to terrorists, costing the lives of service members, and left thousands of allies behind.
The lack of candor over Ukraine denied critical information on the conduct of our ally at a time when the public is debating the increasing costs of the war. If Ukraine is engaging in sabotage against our other allies (and the environment), we have a right to know. If committed by Ukraine, the drone attack on the Kremlin was remarkably stupid. It threatened an escalation of the conflict with little obvious military advantage. With tens of billions of dollars going to Ukraine and a world teetering on the brink of a large conflict, we (and particularly Congress) need to know if our allies are telling us the truth or whether they are reliable allies. Likewise, if Zelenskyy did not now of these major operations, it is a fair question to ask who is really in charge of the country or whether Zelenskyy is engaging in willful blindness.
It is even more troubling when Administration officials are presenting conflicting accounts or denying any knowledge of countervailing facts.
Throughout our history, Administrations have jettisoned truth when embarking on war. The most glaring example is the Tonkin Bay Incident that was used to justify the Vietnam War, an attack on U.S. vessels that was later debunked. Likewise, the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War revealed, according to the New York Times, the government “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.”
This is precisely why Congress is given oversight authority and why war powers are shared with Congress. The most important power held by Congress is the power of the purse. It has an obligation to guarantee that money is being spent wisely and based on accurate information.
Many of us supported the sanctions against Russia and still support the Ukrainians in their fight to protect their homeland. However, that does not mean that we should be played for chumps.