In the last few articles on this site I was talking about the military-intelligence community – and specifically about the operational unit known as Enemy Intentions. I also talked about the language those at the top of the hierarchy use.
I’ve realised I’m not quite done with that yet.
There is a phrase in economics which those in Intentions adapted to suit their own purposes. That phrase is “oscillators and indicators”. It is used to plot market trends – to try and predict the future essentially – and it involves a complex mix of studying past patterns and weaving them around present systems, to come up with a likely picture of future developments.
In Intentions, they use a similar system, studying the past actions of the enemy as well as the conditions which formed those decisions. They then apply that knowledge to the current world, to try to predict what the enemy might do next.
One of the key principles they follow is this; do not believe in coincidences.
Despite this belief, events take on their own trajectory, and improbable things do happen, giving lie to the idea that coincidences do not exist and blowing apart the view that if the pieces on the board are arrayed in a certain way you take it at face value.
Before I move on to the point of the article – and this is a “What If” piece regarding a recent “coincidence”, or series of them, at Sevco Rangers – let me tell you the story of how we, every single one of us, almost died.
Bear with me through this. It’s going to be long, but I’m sure you’ll find it as fascinating – and probably as deeply chilling – as I do.
This is a story about how a series of bizarre events – and a few freakish quirks of fate – almost wiped us out. History calls it the Able Archer episode.
In the late seventies, the United States and the UK, along with their allies in NATO, believed they had a very clear understanding of Soviet strategic thinking. They believed there would be a crisis in that system, essentially an economic and political one, in roughly 1985. They believed this was a time of imminent danger for the West, and they were determined to do everything they could to protect themselves. They ramped up rhetoric against the Eastern Bloc, and they began a series of operations designed to screw with the Soviet’s own assumptions about them.
The Soviets took note of this sudden unpredictability. In 1981, unbeknown to the West, they instigated a project called Operation RYAN, which was a system of surveillance against personnel and sites involved in the command and control of America’s nuclear arsenal. The Soviets believed that this made it possible to foresee a coming nuclear first strike, which they thought the Americans were contemplating.
By 1983, the West had begun to assert itself more openly, in a way the Soviets believed was nakedly aggressive, and in that year NATO announced that Pershing II medium-range nuclear missiles were being moved to Germany. The Soviets saw this as further proof that they were, themselves, facing an imminent and deadly threat.
In March of that year, Ronald Reagan commissioned the American scientific community to construct a defensive weapon system which could protect the country from a nuclear strike. They called it the Strategic Defence Initiative. Historians refer to it as Star Wars, designed to put lasers in space where they could shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles shortly after they were launched.
In April of that year, NATO organised the largest naval exercise in its history, FleetEx ‘83, in the North Pacific, where 23,000 personnel, 40 ships and 300 aircraft baited the Soviets, in an attempt to draw their forces out so the West could study their capabilities. NATO organised over-flights of Soviet controlled islands. In response, the Soviets organised over-flights of islands which flew the American flag. It was a game with almost unfathomable dangers.
The Soviets, of course, were even more gravely concerned about what might be going on in the capital cities of Washington and London, both in the hands of leaders – in Reagan and Thatcher – who spoke of the Soviet state as a beast that needed to be tamed.
In June, Reagan confirmed this view when he travelled to London and made an incendiary speech to the House of Commons where he told the world that “Freedom and Democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history.”
By now the Soviets were convinced that the leaders of the Western democracies were Hell-bent on war. On 1 September, Soviet aviation radar picked up an unknown signal in the area where FleetEx ’83 had taken place earlier in the year. There was already a heightened military presence in the area because the Soviet’s were conducting a missile test nearby, and it was being watched by US intelligence gathering aircraft.
The Soviet’s scrambled fighters, and a heated discussion is known to have taken place between two of the commanding officers in the air corps. One wanted to make sure – definitively – that it was some kind of military flight before taking action, and the other was adamant that the plane should be shot down even after it had left Soviet airspace because it had already crossed that line and was clearly on some kind of operational flight plan.
Common sense did not prevail. The aircraft was downed over the ocean. It turned out not to be an American warplane, but a civilian airliner, Korean Air Lines Flight 007. All 269 persons on board were killed, including a United States Congressman. It was the moment relations between the two countries plummeted to a depth not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was the backdrop to a series of events which almost killed us all.
Whilst the world was still recoiling in outrage and US Congressmen were debating the finer points of reducing their nuclear arsenal one missile at a time by launching them at the enemy, there was a moment where the whole of the human race literally danced on the edge of the abyss.
On 26 September, the satellites the Soviet’s used to keep their eyes on the American ICBM fields, the Early Warning Orbital System, detected a launch from the continental United States.
It appeared to be a single missile, armed with up to five independently targeted warheads.
The man on duty that night at the Serpukhov-15 bunker was named Stanislav Petrov. You might never have heard of him up until now, but say a prayer for him when you go to bed tonight. He definitely saved your life, and the lives of your children.
Petrov was responsible for reacting – and reacting swiftly – to any perceived attack on his country. Those satellites were the best warning system the Soviet’s had. If an attack could be launched that circumvented those systems, or if the systems failed to detect it, there would be no further warning until a couple of minutes before impact. Trust in those systems was to be absolute, and the man who was in charge of them was mandated to tell his superiors at once if he believed his country might be under nuclear attack.
At the time, the Soviet’s operated a system called “Launch on Warning.” It meant that 100% verification – usually only possible when something actually exploded – was not required before a retaliatory strike was ordered, and put into effect.
That night, when the alarm klaxons blared, amidst the worst crisis to engulf the two powers since 1962, Petrov remained incredibly calm. He looked at the radar projection and concluded that it was a mistake. A first strike would involve hundreds of missiles, not just one. There is some debate over what he told his superiors – if anything – but what is clear is that he did not trust what he was seeing and acted according to his own beliefs and not the protocol.
A few minutes later, the system detected another four missiles in the air, hardening the evidence that this was, in fact, a counterforce nuclear strike designed to cripple the Soviet Union’s ability to wage war. Petrov remained just as calm as before. He told his staff to stand down. He refused to recommend a retaliatory response. He told his people it was a computer malfunction of some kind, and he waited for the confirmation of that.
He was correct. The system was fairly new, and it had been “tricked” at the worst possible moment in history, by a rare alignment of sunlight on high altitude clouds.
The world had skirted the razor’s edge, but only a handful of people in the Soviet command & control community even knew it had happened. As unlikely, and insane, as it sounds, the human race was to have an even closer shave in the weeks to come.
In the month after the false alarm at Serpukhov-15, the Soviet Union’s signals intelligence units detected a massive wave of radio communications between the United States and British governments, and their military forces. This was one of the things Soviet analysts expected to see in the run-up to preparations for war.
In point of fact, they were, but they were related to the US’s imminent invasion of Grenada, an island which was significant to the British because it was, technically, part of the Commonwealth. The Soviet analysts were not to know that.
The signals intelligence worried the Soviet high command. They began to step up surveillance on American and British military and political command structures.
A week after the Grenada invasion of October, on 2 November, the NATO alliance launched Operation Able Archer ’83. It was a command and control test, designed to see how quickly Western forces could respond to a Soviet attack, paving the way for a nuclear first strike.
At the very moment the Soviets were looking for signs that the American’s might be on the verge of ordering such an attack, the NATO alliance launched an exercise to simulate that very thing. In the week that followed the world came the closest it has ever been to a war since the Soviet ships approached the American naval vessels blockading Cuba during the Missile Crisis.
As incredulous Soviet analysts watched, the American and British war machines suddenly started their engines. Communications traffic – most of it encrypted to a level beyond the Soviet’s ability to crack – flew between capitals, including, for the first time, those of key NATO allies. In fact, Thatcher herself and her counterpart in Germany, Helmut Kohl, took part in the exercise. Only the historical reluctance of the Americans to have senior officials involved in such test runs – motivated by a need to keep their reactions secret from the enemy – prevented Reagan and his advisors from joining in, which would have given even greater cause for concern in Moscow.
Not that it mattered. Soviet military intelligence looked at the build-up of forces, the cycle up through the NATO alert levels, the movement of key advisors and politicians, the sharp increase in communications traffic and the geopolitical situation which formed its backdrop and they, and their KGB counterparts, hurriedly wrote a report, which they then presented to their political leadership.
We now know that they told the Politburo that they were seeing a series of moves consistent with preparations for war. Everything from the deployment of Pershing II, the increase in rhetoric, the plans for a ballistic missile defence system, through the FleetEx deployments and even the satellite failure – which some believed at the time might have been a US military stratagem designed to blind or trick their early warning systems – suggested a pattern of events, culminating in what looked like political and military forces gearing up for an attack.
Their report suggested that their country might be just days away from that and that, in all likelihood, it would involve the use of nuclear arms, probably at an early stage.
They offered no recommendation, because, in truth, many of the intelligence agents who commissioned the report thought it all sounded ludicrous.
Yet the government appears to have accepted what was in it and the decision was taken to ratchet up their own alert level, to get the bombers fuelled, the missiles readied, and to prepare for their own nuclear first strike.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, that the Soviets were so scared of what they thought they were seeing that they did, in fact, order the first strike but that there was one last monumental screw-up in command and control – this time on the side of the good – and the wrong codes were sent to the silos.
Regardless, for a time, the political leadership of the Soviet Union was convinced their country was about to be attacked by the West, and they were willing to act first.
Then Able Archer came to an end. The communications traffic all but ceased. The Americans spun through their alert levels again, and stood down. The Soviets were confused, but relieved. In the weeks that followed, they picked up intelligence which confirmed that the whole thing had been a particularly realistic political-military exercise and they were horrified at how close to a nuclear exchange the world had come.
The whole thing was a series of coincidences, then. The grand conspiracy existed only inside their heads. In fact, Reagan had, in October of that year, seen the apocalyptic movie The Day After, and was rethinking his, and his country’s, entire philosophy towards the Soviet state. Ironically, the Able Archer episode only increased his determination that war should never come to pass.
The story of what almost happened makes me distrust patterns (as well as making me support disarmament). That’s why I approach this one with some caution.
I have no wish to drop nuclear fire on the Sevco Rangers fans when I might be seeing shadows on the wall, but I feel the need to note that six days ago, in my article The Seeds of Insanity, I noted that an odd occurrence had sprung up, when two members of the Charles Green Ibrox regime wound up at the same airport, and then on the same flight, and headed to the same destination, as the current Rangers board when they flew to London last week.
Keith Jackson notes that it was a “coincidence” that Media House’s Jack Irvine and the Charles Green appointed former director of finance, Brian Stockbridge, just happened to have met up with the board as they prepared to debate the club’s future.
I said if you believed that this was a coincidence I had a blue painted bridge to sell you.
I wonder who believes it’s a coincidence now. Since then, we’ve had days of frenzied speculation and rumour, and if I were in Intentions I would be tempted to suggest that it’s all leading up to a revelation which will come as no surprise to Celtic fans … that the Charles Green regime never really went anywhere at all. That it has been, and still is, running Sevco Rangers.
I won’t present what I write next as fact. It’s a series of speculative “What If’s …”, a pattern that, for all we know, is as deceptive as that which emerged during Able Archer in 1983.
Yet I won’t deny that I find this oddly … compelling.
A number of Celtic sites, this one included, have never believed that Charles Green and his cohorts walked away from Ibrox. The people currently running the club were, one way or another, brought there by his regime … the Easdale’s most prominent amongst them.
Many of us have been looking for signs that this is the case, and I will stick my neck out right now and say that I believe many in the media are looking for the same, for reasons of their own, mostly to do with destabilising the current regime at Ibrox to whip up support for Dave King.
I find it instructive that Jackson broke the story of who exactly was on that flight. I think he used the word “coincidence” in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, word-to-the-wise kind of way.
Yet Jackson misjudged his audience. He was, and is, shilling on behalf of semi-literate idiots and so few, if any, in the wider Sevco support actually got the message.
Note to Jackson for the future: Must Try Harder. When you are dealing with complete muppets you do have to spell it out to them.
For a start, what particular aspect of this was coincidence? What was the precise configuration of the various parties? We know the Sevco Rangers board was traveling as one. But were Brian Stockbridge and Jack Irvine traveling as a pair? Why would they? What business do they have together? What’s the connection?
If they were traveling separately, then we’re not being asked to believe in one coincidence at all, but a series of them, and that stretches credibility to snapping point.
Are we really to believe that Stockbridge just happened to meet Irvine in the same airport at the same time, and they just happened to meet the entire Sevco board? That three entirely separate strands of the Sevco Rangers story were in the same place, at the same time, traveling on the same flight, to the same city, but for … different purposes?
What happened in the days that followed? There was a press leak that the meeting was to discuss setting up a brand new offer of shares to the existing investors. In my last article for this site I said I didn’t believe that would ever happen and it’s been reported in some quarters that the Easdale’s themselves have confirmed that this will not take place. I don’t know about that, because I have yet to read those denials. What I have read is a number of “well informed sources” confirming that this was the point of the London meeting, and that those measures were agreed.
It seems, on balance, to me, that those discussions took place and that this is one of the proposals the board decided to implement. They admitted as much to the Stock Exchange.
Yet, in between that meeting and today, we’ve had another bizarre spectacle, and another bizarre coincidence, where the Easdale’s have had to explicitly deny that they, or Sevco Rangers, are still employing Jack Irvine to do spin on their behalf.
Why are they denying this? Well, it is being suggested that it’s Irvine himself who is responsible for leaking details of the share plan to the media.
Am I really the only person who’s asking how that can be? After all, we know the meeting was held in the same city as Irvine was visiting … but that was only a coincidence. He wasn’t at the meeting, was he? He was there, in London, for something else entirely.
That has to be the case, because if Irvine actually was at the meeting, and is still doing spin on behalf of Sevco Rangers, then his being in the airport, and on the flight, and headed for London, wasn’t really a coincidence at all, was it?
And if we’re going to point the finger at Irvine, and say the chances are good that he was in the room, then are we really supposed to believe that Brian Stockbridge was somewhere else?
Well, he too has to have been somewhere else, right? Cause he and Charles Green have left the Good Ship Sevco, and they did this a while ago, and very publicly. Why would he be at a Sevco Rangers board meeting? For what purpose?
This brings us to another sunny point. Because, in this “What If …” scenario, doesn’t it stand to reason that if Stockbridge hasn’t really gone that, perhaps, Green is still there too? They came as a package, after all. They are one in the same.
If I were in Intentions, my focus would, now, therefore, be on trying to find some Charles Green connection to this whole messy series of events …
… and coincidently enough, BBC Scotland appears to have stumbled onto just that, with their revelation that Charles Green is seeking the funds to “return to Rangers.”
What were the chances of that happening, eah?
I find this beyond strange, and beyond the point where it can be dismissed as a series of unrelated events, brought together by mere happenstance to look like something else.
But then I think of Able Archer, and how a series of actual coincidences almost killed us all and I pause, and I think, and I re-evaluate, and I ask “What if …?”
Able Archer was almost cataclysmic because it presented the Soviet’s with exactly what they had expected to see. Many of us on the Celtic sites have been patiently waiting for some explosion of events which confirmed that Charles Green, and perhaps even Craig Whyte, still had their talons dug in to the Sevco Rangers carcass. The reason I’m writing this article as I am is because I realise this is a time when we have to be coldly dispassionate, instead of jumping to conclusions.
Yet, if I had to write an analysis of this, and lean one way or another, I think I’d have to over-ride caution somewhat and state a belief that these events point towards Green still having some involvement in the running of the club.
We know, for example, that he no longer sits on any of the boards of any of the organisations which are run out of Ibrox. This is public information. Yet Green and Stockbridge didn’t just serve on the boards of some of these organisations, but they formed them themselves, and probably had shareholdings in many of them, including Rangers Retail Ltd.
Resigning from the board of a company you partly own doesn’t mean you’ve given up control. If the people who serve on that board are your own creatures – Graham Wallace included – then you don’t need to be on it yourself to wield influence … or draw income.
Other sites have hinted at the existence of nearly irrevocable contracts, which bind Sevco Rangers like a vice. How many of these contracts are actually with companies set up by the cadre of Green, Stockbridge, Ahmed and others?
Am I saying this is the case? No, I’m asking “What If …?”
Let me go even further, and pose you a scenario.
What If Green, Stockbridge, Ahmed and others have been running Sevco all this time? What if they are worried about the season ticket boycott, and are looking for ways to recapitalise the club? What if they know Sevco Rangers is now largely seen as a toxic brand and that those who are in positions of official responsibility within the club can no longer rescue it with a share issue? Half of the fans have deserted, and have no faith in the current plan.
According to the BBC, Green has been talking to interested parties about launching a second takeover of Sevco Rangers. How likely does that sound to you? Isn’t it more likely that he’s been looking for investment into a company he’s already partly running, but is trying to do so in a way that appears to keep him at arm’s length from the chaos inside it right now?
Is he really looking for investors to back him, or has he left a trail of breadcrumbs to something else? Is he actually looking for investors to back a new frontman, someone he’s handpicked? Has he been caught holding the puppet strings this time, and now has to go front and centre himself? Does he really think he can spin this as his coming in as a saviour?
I have no doubt that the BBC has it partially right. They are too good not to have something solid, and what they have is definitely Charles Green going round various financial institutions trying to raise money for Sevco Rangers. He is clearly beavering away in the background.
I also think Keith Jackson was telegraphing something to interested persons about the presence of Jack Irvine and Brian Stockbridge at the meeting held in London. I find it impossible to believe that even a journalist as bad as he is would casually accept the “coincidence” explanation being offered by the various parties here. He knows he doesn’t have a story he can lean on, but I reckon he wanted to get the word out regardless, possibly in the hope that it would inspire other people to get their shovels out and start to dig.
It is even possible that this led directly, or indirectly, to the BBC catching Charles Green himself with his mitts on the open cookie jar, even if not with a hand inside it.
I think we’ve had a glimpse behind the curtain here, and a preview of future events. Green’s sudden re-emergence will have the online detectives buzzing. It will have inspired more research and examination of his role in all this. It might even have scuppered whatever plan was in motion, whatever scheme was in progress, whatever strategy was being implemented.
That meeting in London was about more than we’re being told, and it seems to me that much of what we’ve seen in the last week suggests Green was there, in spirit, if not actually in person.
What happens next is anybody’s guess, really. Green, Stockbridge, Irvine, Whyte, Easdale, Murray, King and others continue to circle this mess like vultures above a killing field. None shows even the slightest sign of having a plan to unify the Sevco support far less take the entire stuttering, stumbling, staggering hulk of this football club into the future.
If large swathes of the Sevco support were not mired in hate, smug (and misplaced) superiority, mindlessly wedded to fables of the past (note the Union of Fans plans for a “march” and their efforts to find a “band” to play “traditional Rangers songs” for a measure of the kind of mind-set you are dealing with) and impervious to how the rest of the world views them, and why, it might even be possible to feel some sympathy for them.
They are being lied to on a hitherto unseen scale. My advice to them would be simple; trust no-one, not even each other. It doesn’t leave much room for looking on the bright side.
Yet it’s undeniably true to say that they did this to themselves. The scheming and jockeying for influence going on behind the scenes has happened because they did not take hold of this thing when they had the chance.
It’s now out of their hands, and oh what a shambles it all is.
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