Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

They Said It:

According to Mr. [Allen] Dulles, the government had to “fight fire with fire,” and then with a disarming frankness by which the former head of the CIA distinguished himself from his colleagues in other countries, he went on to explain what this meant. The CIA, by implication, had to model itself upon the Soviet State Security Service, which “is more than a secret police organization, more than an intelligence and counter-intelligent organization. It is an instrument for subversion, manipulation and violence, for secret intervention in the affairs of other countries.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New Edition), 1973.



For years, we’ve sold ourselves as slow, steady, and intentionally out-of-touch analysts of the political social scenes.  We have tried – for the most part, successfully – to avoid being a clip-service, simply retelling the major stories of the week in our own words.  That’s what Fox News is for.  Or CNBC.  Or National Review.  Or any of the other major media outlets.  They can – and do – chew on one bone for hours, even days on end.  And good for them.  We, by contrast, have always wanted to take a longer, more epochal approach to our examination of the world.  The talking heads and the rest of the chattering class can have the news.  We’re more interested in the broad historical trends.

A few years ago, though, a funny thing happened.  The broad trends we’d been discussing for decades started to make their effects obvious, almost undeniable.  We couldn’t exactly ignore current events any more, since current events seemed, more and more to conform to our analysis and confirm our predictions.  We found that we couldn’t outrun the news.

And so has it been this past week.  Two major stories dominated the headlines, and both were, in very serious ways, confirmations of matters we’ve discussed over and over.  The first of these, the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, is, like all spree shootings, a complicated and sordid mess of conditions and causes.  One such cause that is largely ignored by the mainstream press, however, is one that we have discussed for years (and which we are discussing again here and here), namely the emptiness of our culture and the effects of moral chaos on the minds and souls of the American people, especially young American people.

There’s more to it than that, obviously, and we think that there is an even bigger, longer-term story to be found hidden in the reaction to the shooting.  But since we’ve addressed the issue elsewhere, we will return to this larger story at a later date, perhaps next week.  In the meantime, we want to focus today on the other big story from last week, Independent Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of a handful of Russians and Russian companies for having social media accounts…or something.

Needless to say, we are not quite as upset about this story and these indictments as many people in the press and in Washington seem to be.  Part of the reason for this, as you shall see, is that we understand the history off such things.  Another part of the reason is that this doesn’t strike us a particularly effective electoral disruption campaign.  Byron York, one of the premier investigative reporters in the country, agrees and put it this way (emphasis added):

Combining the 37-page indictment with testimony from social media executives before congressional intelligence committees — and there isn’t much in the indictment that the intel committees didn’t already know — the Russian operation, while warranting serious U.S. punishment, emerges as a small, poorly funded operation with a level of effectiveness that is impossible to measure but could be near zero.

The Russia operation has been discussed almost exclusively in terms of Donald Trump, but it did not start out that way.  According to the indictment, it began in May 2014 with “the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

The indictment says three of the Russian defendants traveled to the U.S. to “collect intelligence for their interference operations.”  That didn’t seem to be a Trump-specific operation; one trip, a three-week visit, was in June 2014, the other, a four-day visit, was in November of the same year.

The group’s work was done through social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  Most of it consisted of buying ads or posting messages and keeping track of their spread through the social media world.

The indictment quotes an unspecified Russian document saying the job was to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”  That involved focusing on angry fringes and hot-button issues: immigration, the Black Lives Matter movement, religion.

When attention turned to the 2016 race, the Russians “engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”

None of this is to say that there isn’t more to the story or, we suppose, even the possibility that Donald Trump or someone in his campaign colluded with the Russians.  What it does say, though, is that all of the hyperventilating about Russia “tampering” with or “hacking” the American presidential election is mostly hysterical and historical nonsense.

For starters there is the simple fact that “meddling” in foreign elections isn’t new, isn’t usually considered a crime, and is by no means exclusive to the Russians.  In 2016, just before the presidential election, reporters uncovered a tape of an interview Hillary Clinton had given to The Jewish Press a decade earlier.  In what is clearly meant to be a swipe at the democracy-promotion agenda of the George W. Bush administration, Hillary complained about the Palestinian elections that the Bush team had promoted but which were won by the terrorist group Hamas.  “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories, Clinton said.  “I think that was a big mistake.”  She continued:  “And if we were going to push for an election then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”

Hillary should know, of course.  In 1999, her husband, then the President of the United States, sent his top two campaign hacks – Stan Greenberg and James Carville – to Israel to work on the campaign of Ehud Barak, who was running to replace Benjamin Netanyahu.  Clinton hated Netanyahu, saw the so-called “Peace” Process as the key to his legacy, and knew that Barak would (and DID!) give him everything he wanted in terms of Land-for-Peace.  And so he sent his best men to Tel Aviv to help make it happen.  Which they did.

Thirteen years later, the American State Department sent more than $300,00 to an Israeli group called OneVoice.  In turn, OneVoice used the money for a variety of campaign-related activities – including hiring 270 Strategies an Obama-connected consulting firm – again in an effort to defeat Netanyahu.  This time, Netanyahu won, though not for a lack of State Department effort.  And who, you may ask, ran the State Department at the time?  Why, none other than Hillary Clinton.

Then there is this, which comes courtesy of Scott Shane, a national security reporter for the New York Times:

Bags of cash delivered to a Rome hotel for favoured Italian candidates.  Scandalous stories leaked to foreign newspapers to swing an election in Nicaragua.  Millions of pamphlets, posters and stickers printed to defeat an incumbent in Serbia.

The long arm of Vladimir Putin? No, just a small sample of the United States’ history of intervention in foreign elections….

Most Americans are understandably shocked by what they view as an unprecedented attack on our political system. But intelligence veterans, and scholars who have studied covert operations, have a different, and quite revealing, view.

“If you ask an intelligence officer, did the Russians break the rules or do something bizarre, the answer is no, not at all,” said Steven L. Hall, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was the chief of Russian operations.

The US “absolutely” has carried out such election influence operations historically, he said, “and I hope we keep doing it.”  Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s investigating the CIA as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard US practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.

“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the CIA was created in 1947,” said Mr Johnson, now at the University of Georgia.  “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it.  We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers.  We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”

The US’ departure from democratic ideals sometimes went much further.  The CIA helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s. It plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

In short, the Russians are merely doing what we would do – what we have done – in their place.

And speaking of the Russians, the second component of the historical nonsense on display in the reaction to the indictments handed down last week revolves around the simple fact that Russia – and its predecessor the Soviet Union – has been doing this type of thing or worse for the better part of a century now.

Let us be clear:  we have no interest whatsoever in defending the late Senator Joseph McCarthy.  The man was a bully, to put it mildly.  And his reputation as a violator of civil rights is well earned.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he was also correct the Soviet communist influence in the American federal government.

We suppose that most of you are, by now, familiar with the Venona Project.  From 1943 to 1980 the United States Army’s Signal Intelligence Service and the National Security Agency intercepted and decrypted countless Soviet messages transmitted by the KGB and the Soviet military intelligence service (GRU).  In 1995, four years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Venona messages that had been decrypted were declassified.  And the information contained therein shocked many, because it revealed that there had, in fact, been a concerted effort on the part of the Soviets to infiltrate and undermine the American government.  Among other things, the Venona messages confirmed the guilt of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss.  But they were just the start.  In 1999, John Earl Haynes, a historian at the Library of Congress, and Harvey Klehr, a professor of politics at Emory University, published a book titled Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America.  In it, they shared much of what they’d learned from the declassified Venona, which, as you’ll see was not everything:

The Soviet Union’s unrestrained espionage against the United States from 1942 to1945 was of the type that a nation directs at an enemy state.  By the late 1940s, the evidence provided by Venona of the massive size and intense hostility of Soviet intelligence operations caused both American counterintelligence professionals and high-level policy-makers to conclude that Stalin had already launched a covert attack on the United States.  In their minds, the Soviet espionage offensive indicated that the Cold War had begun not after World War II but many years earlier . . ..

The Soviet intelligence community enjoyed the cooperation of key persons in high positions in the U.S. government – among them, Harry White (assistant secretary of treasury), Alger Hiss (assistant to the secretary of state), and Lauchlin Currie  (administrative assistant to the president).  But just as impressive is the number of lower-ranking officials in virtually all major U.S. government agencies, civilian and military, who passed information to Soviet intelligence . . ..

By 1948 the accumulating evidence from other decoded Venona cables showed that the Soviets had recruited spies in virtually every major American government agency of military or diplomatic importance . . . The deciphered Venona messages also showed that a disturbing number of high-ranking U.S. government officials consciously maintained a clandestine relationship with Soviet intelligence agencies and had passed extraordinarily sensitive information to the Soviet Union that had seriously damaged American interests.

Harry White – the second most powerful official in the U.S. Treasury Department, one of the most influential officials in the government, and part of the American delegation at the founding of the United Nations – had advised the KGB about how American diplomatic strategy could be frustrated.  A trusted personal assistant to President Franklin Roosevelt, Lauchlin Currie, warned the KGB that the FBI had started an investigation of one of the Soviets’ key American agents, Gregory Silvermaster.  This warning allowed Silvermaster, who headed a highly productive espionage ring, to escape detection and continue spying.  Maurice Halperin, the head of a research section of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), then America’s chief intelligence arm [and the predecessor of the CIA], turned over hundreds of pages of secret American diplomatic cables to the KGB.  William Perl, a brilliant young government aeronautical scientist, provided the Soviets with the results of the highly secret tests and design experiments for American jet engines and jet aircraft.  His betrayal assisted the Soviet Union in quickly overcoming the American technological lead in the development of jets . . .

And then there were the atomic spies.  From within the Manhattan Project two physicists, Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall, and one technician, David Greenglass, transmitted the complex formula for extracting bomb-grade uranium from ordinary uranium, the technical plans for production facilities, and the engineering principles for the “implosion” technique.  The latter process made possible an atomic bomb using plutonium, a substance much easier to manufacture than bomb-grade uranium.  The betrayal of American atomic secrets to the Soviets allowed the Soviet Union to develop atomic weapons several years sooner and at a substantially lower cost than it otherwise would have . . . and emboldened [Stalin’s] diplomatic strategy in his early Cold War clashes with the United States. 22

Of the 349 Americans the deciphered Venona cables revealed as having covert ties to Soviet intelligence agencies, less than half could be identified by their real names and nearly two hundred remained hidden behind cover names.

As the Cold War progressed, the Soviets made disinformation – dezinformatsiya – a key component of their foreign affairs program.  The Soviets funded leftist organizations in the West and the Middle East.  They spread lies about various governments and various government agencies.  They did everything it could to sow discord, confusion, and anger among their adversaries.  Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former Bulgarian intelligence chief and, at one point, the highest-ranking Warsaw Pact official to defect to the West, has long written about the Soviet disinformation tactics, many of which he carried out personally.  In fact, in 2013, he wrote a book about his life as a dezinformatisya master.  Just after Trump was elected, Adam Taylor, a foreign affairs reporter for the Washington Post, recounted some of these Soviet disinformation campaigns, including some of Pacepa’s observations.  He wrote:

This week, a number of groups alleged that a Russian propaganda effort had helped spread these “fake news” stories to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton’s chances in the 2016 presidential election.  But during the height of the Cold War, these false stories were referred to as something else: “disinformation.”

That term came into use in the early 1960s, and came into widespread use in the 1980s.  It is based upon a Russian word: Dezinformatsiya.  According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, a high-ranking official in Romania’s secret police who defected in 1978, the French-sounding word was invented by Joseph Stalin after World War II.  A definition from the 1952 Great Soviet Encyclopedia called it the “dissemination (in the press, on the radio, etc.) of false reports intended to mislead public opinion” and suggested that the Soviet Union was the target of such tactics from the West.

In his book “Disinformation,” Pacepa wrote that the Soviet manuals he read as a young intelligence officer described disinformation as a tactic used by Moscow with roots in Russian history.  According to Pacepa, these manuals suggested the history of the tactic lay in the fake pasteboard villages that 18th-century nobleman Grigory Potyomkin had built in Crimea to impress Russian leader Catherine the Great during her visit in 1783.  (Ironically, that story itself is now considered largely apocryphal, but the phrase “Potemkin Village” remains in use as a description of government falsehoods.)…

[T]he scale of the Soviet efforts appears to have dwarfed others.  A number of other stories have been linked to Soviet “misinformation” over the years — the idea that the CIA was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy is one, for example.  The AIDs story is especially notable because Yevgeny Primakov, a former intelligence chief who later went on to become a post-Soviet prime minister, told Russian reporters in 1992 that the KGB really did orchestrate the whole thing.

Over the weekend, a handful of journalists and Democrats all read the same talking points and started running around insisting that President Trump’s apathy in the face of Independent Counsel Mueller’s indictment of the Russian Facebook friends was not just shocking, but was the equivalent of ignoring an act of war.  Karen Tumulty, a strange and hysterical columnist for the Washington Post; Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic Congressman from New York; Paul Begala, a onetime Clinton toady; Mathew Dowd, a former pollster for George W. Bush; and Jonathan Alter, a progressive journalist were among the countless members of our ruling class who all insisted that Trump’s reaction was like FDR simply shrugging his shoulders at Pearl Harbor.  “Imagine,” Tumulty wrote, “how history would have judged Franklin D. Roosevelt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, if he had taken to the radio airwaves to declare that Tokyo was ‘laughing their asses off.’”

Remember, these people are our political leaders and opinion makers.  They are, as they are wont to remind us, our purported “betters.”  And yet, they are all mere dupes.  They describe Trump fans as “low-information voters,” yet they are the modern day version of those whom Lenin described as “useful idiots;” the farm team from which the Russians obtained their most productive American agents during the Cold War, who could be counted upon to “look the other way” when they saw evidence of deceit by actual Russian agents.  To borrow and to slightly mangle an image from Mao Tse-Tung’s essay “On Guerrilla Warfare,” the useful idiots were the fish among whom the counterinsurgents swam in order to escape notice.

Unfortunately, today, as in the past, there are today many real insurgents swimming in among them.  Last Tuesday, Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard and one of the Left’s preeminent constitutional law scholars, join ether “Pearl harbor” caucus, tweeting:  “FBI Director Wray just testified in the Senate that — despite Russia’s ongoing intrusions into our electoral systems — POTUS has NEVER charged the FBI with protecting US elections from Russia!  LET THAT SINK IN.  That’d be like FDR doing nothing in response to Pearl Harbor.”  Tribe knows better.  He’s not some dumb hack who only thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us.  He’s a sharp tack.  Which is to say that his insistence on using same logic as the hacks can be chalked up not to stupidity but to blatant dishonesty, his own version of a disinformation campaign.  And how can we be so sure that Tribe is waging a disinformation and not simply ill-informed like the rest?  Because that’s what he does.  That’s what so many of them do.

Consider, for example, a column penned last week by the inimitable Mark Steyn on the subject of another terrible-but-not-really violation of human dignity committed by the Trump administration.  Steyn put it this way:

Every so often I’m minded, after the latest Absurdity of the Day, to caution that “sometimes a society becomes too stupid to survive”.  The latest example thereof, alas, is too sad and pathetic even for my dismal catchphrase.  On Monday the Attorney-General of the United States addressed the National Sheriffs Association thus:

“I want to thank every sheriff in America.  Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process… The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

“We must never erode this historic office,” Sessions continued.

After which the world went nuts, starting with a CNN pearl-clutcher of a headline:

Sessions invokes ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of sheriff’s office

The fact that expensively educated but ignorant reporters thought the phrase newsworthy made it even newsworthier – after which its newsworthiness became accusatory. Newsweek:

Jeff Sessions Faces Fresh Racism Charge After Praising ‘Anglo-American Heritage of Law Enforcement’

Which prompted the usual professional grievance-mongers to weigh in:

NAACP Critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions Latest Racially-Tinged Statement

Followed by one of a mere hundred citizens, in a nation of a third of a billion, who gets to sit in the self-described “world’s greatest deliberative body”. United States Senator Brian Schatz deliberated thus:

Do you know anyone who says “Anglo-American heritage” in a sentence?  What could possibly be the purpose of saying that other than to pit Americans against each other? For the chief law enforcement officer to use a dog whistle like that is appalling.  Best NO vote I ever cast.

And then one of a mere 45 citizens, in a nation of a third of a billion, who gets to be lieutenant governor of an entire state.  (My own is among the five that manage without, happily.)  California gubernatorial candidate and current Number Two Gavin Newsom:

Reminder that our Attorney General is an outright racist who wants us all to acknowledge “Anglo-American heritage.”

We live in wretchedly moronic times in which even senators, lieutenant governors and other panjandrums who bestride the land know nothing of anything that happened before last Tuesday.  Yet one who cannot plead that excuse is a constitutional law professor – such as Harvard University’s Laurence Tribe:

Good for @brianschatz!  He’s the real deal.

Indeed. Perhaps Senator Schatz will now call out other racist dog-whistlers, like this guy:

…one of the oldest privileges in Anglo-American jurisprudence…

Oh, hang on, that was Laurence Tribe who said that.  Okay, what about this racist dog-whistler?

The foundational case in the Anglo-American legal tradition is Thomas Bonham v. College of Physicians, commonly known as Dr. Bonham’s Case.

Oh, wait, that’s Professor Tribe, too.  Golly, you’d almost get the impression “Anglo-American” is a common term with reference to the legal heritage of the United States

Laurence Tribe sure gets around, doesn’t he?

The moral of the story here is that these people – which is to say the members of our ruling class – will stop at nothing to discredit the duly elected President of the United States.  Again, Tribe’s central role in this story serves merely to confirm that this is not only about ignorance but about intentional and willful dishonesty as well.  This type of rhetoric, particularly from people who should know better, is dangerous, and not just because it smells of banana-republic-dom.  It’s also dangerous because it hardens the beliefs of those who are already predisposed to distrust them.  Based on what we know thus far, when Independent Counsel Mueller releases his final report on his investigation, he will not find that Trump campaign team colluded with Russia.  But what if he does?  What if he finds that the President was a knowing accomplice in a scheme to defraud the voters of the United States?  Will anyone believe him?  Will Trump’s diehard supporters?  And if they don’t, can you blame them?  Why would they believe him, after the displays of dishonesty and contempt made by “scholars” such as Laurence Tribe?

We have long written about the fact that the United States is engaged in what our old friend Angelo Codevilla has called a “Cold Civil War.”   We sincerely hope that it stays “cold.”  Unfortunately, if the ruling class continues to ignore and belittle the country class and continues to lie, cheat, and steal its way to deposing a sitting president, we could see an increase in political violence.  We could see the word “cold” dropped from the phrase.  And that would be a damn shame for everyone – including the financial markets.

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