How Fear of Russia Misleads Americans

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake sees grave dangers in the U.S. government and media exaggerating foreign threats as a means to mislead and control the American public, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Russia has been made “the go-to scapegoat” for distracting Americans from the serious problems afflicting the U.S. government, says Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency who blew the whistle on multi-billion-dollar waste and violations of the rights of citizens through secret mass surveillance programs after 9/11.

As retaliation, the Obama Administration indicted Drake in 2010 as the first whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg charged with espionage, carrying a possible 35-year prison term. However, in 2011, the government’s case against him collapsed and he went free in a plea deal. He became the recipient of the 2011 Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize.

Photo of (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter

I sat down with Thomas Drake on June 3, 2017, at the home of ConsortiumNews editor Robert Parry in Arlington, Virginia, on the occasion of the awarding of the 2016 Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award to Oliver Stone.

Dennis Bernstein: I want to ask you about a story. ConsortiumNews has offered quite a different perspective on the relationship between the U.S. government and Russia [questioning the allegations about] Trump collaborating with Putin. What’s your take on this story? Do you think that ConsortiumNews is onto something in terms of really questioning that whole line?

Thomas Drake: Yes. This hyperbolic narrative that is posited almost to the point of hysteria. They would say that Russians are behind everything. “It’s all the Russians’ fault and you can blame Russia.” It’s just pure political pretension and there is a significant amount of propaganda behind it.

It’s intended to distract. It’s intended to keep people from really looking at some of the deeper truths of our own government and so it is very convenient for the political elites, on both sides of what has become the Democratic/Republican divide, which in fact is not a divide; it’s two sides of the same coin, with slightly different narrative – to project all the blame on Russia and particularly the hyper-conflation of the littlest thing that would appear to be that Trump is ruining the country or Trump is the worst thing that has ever happened. Just really taking this
way, way beyond the pale.

And ConsortiumNews — having written for ConsortiumNews going back several years now as a result of my case and mass domestic surveillance and government abuse of power — is one of the few – it’s surreal for me to say this right now – it’s one of the few alternative media outlets who have the courage to stand up to the elite narrative and get behind this hyper-partisan politicization of blaming it all on external entities.

And, in this case, Russia has become the go-to scapegoat, frankly. And it’s easy to simply focus on that as your excuse without having to concern yourself with the deeper trends in terms of the darker history of American politics.

And Gary Webb – I am quite familiar with his case. Remember he had his own profession turn on him because they wanted to curry favor with power and they wanted to have access to power. So it was full access press and power is an aphrodisiac. Henry Kissinger said that. …

DB: Access press, as in, if you don’t say the right thing […] they can toss you into prison.

TD: Yep, precisely. And so you’re willing to overlook what may be done under the cover or blanket of government, the government structure. And so ConsortiumNews is one of the few. …

I was sort of the pre-Snowden Snowden. …

DB: He cites you for opening that door….

TD: Well, he has said there wouldn’t have been him without me. And he has cited a number of people who have preceded him, right? And I was there at the foundation, at this extraordinary willful violation of, in secret, of what I call the subversion of the Constitution. Really, it was a silent coup against the Constitution….

DB: What are the multiple dangers of the way in which information is used now, and slanted to support policy as opposed to inform?

TD: Well, it’s self-interest. It’s largely self-interest driven. You have, what I have sometimes called Gov-Corp, which is a combination of government and corporations and it’s an extraordinarily pathological relationship because they feed on each other. One protects the other and when you have the government corrupting itself to serve very powerful interests at the expense of public interests, guess what? Something has to give and what gives is public transparency. What gives is accountability. What gives is responsible power. What gives is the promise. What gives is “we the people”, right?

Daniel Ellsberg on the cover of Time after leaking the Pentagon Papers

Power just… generally at least, power is about the people and it’s pathological, and so unfortunately the checks and balances that have in the past – Ellsberg is eyewitness to this — he’s certainly a key person by simply standing up with his colleague Edgar Russo, standing up to power in terms of the bright and shiny light called Vietnam, right? He clearly brought into the public purview what was really going on with Vietnam and, ultimately, as we know, I was a very young teen growing up in the ’70s. He was already in his early 40s at the time. That, yeah, the government can use power… and that, yeah, power does tend to corrupt. Lord Acton was right.

So, what became known as the imperial presidency of Nixon, this era makes that era look like a hyper type of person, especially post-9/11. It’s just extremely concerning. It’s what I would call the devolution of democracy and constitutional rights following 9/11 and Ellsberg has said and I have said, what was actually unlawful and unconstitutional has been made legal from his time.

And the old, what became the infamous statement made by Nixon, “You know, if the President says it’s okay, it’s not illegal.” I heard almost those exact same words when I confronted the lead attorney in the Office of General Counsel. That was the first week in October 2001. I had already found out about the massive domestic surveillance program that had been unleashed. And I confronted him and he said, “This is great. The White House has approved the program. It’s all legal.” …. The hairs on the back of my neck were like…. I’m having major flashbacks… Wait a minute, just because the White House approves it, it makes it okay? I mean, history is not kind. He says,” Yep, we’re the executive agent – all approved. Yes. Don’t ask any more questions.”

So, because the White House approved it, then it’s okay to violate the Constitution. All those checks were put in place as a result of the … president resigning, the standing committees and intelligence House and the Senate, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and a whole lot of others, right? So that was the check and balance, right? Nah, just, hey 9/11, the failure of the government to provide the common defense. 3,000 people murdered that day. It should never have happened. It really should never have happened. And so we are going to use that as sort of a reverse false flag. We’re going to use that as an excuse, because, “Hey, after all, the Constitution is not a suicide pact… you know, we don’t know where the enemy is.”

So just this weird, everything is existential now. We now know how the enemy is because of 9/11. And so it’s weird for me, having been brought up as a very young lad during the Cold War and remembering alarms going off and they’d turn off the lights and block the hall and face your lockers, right? The air raid sign drills and fears of the nuclear winter. It’s like these people want a World War 2.0.

We have far more in common with the Russians than we don’t. We have far in common than our own disputes. I assume there are some differences, right? I recognize, I am well aware, in terms of historical notes, but hey we have far more in common than we have difference.

DB: I guess what we all have in common is the state of the Earth at this point.

TD: The state of the Earth? We are the third rock from the sun. I mean, this is our home. The world is a much smaller place, in part because of technology and in part because we find out that, yeah, we really are dependent on each other.

And yet there is this addiction to conflict. There is this addiction to have threats. There is this addiction to divide. And this is not pretty. I mean, human history, the dark side of human history, and if the 20th century is not an optic lesson, then I don’t know what is….. I could go back to any of the others, in terms of written history that we know of, right? And yet here we are. And so, to me it is a sign of an empire….

The U.S. is an empire… and it is a sign of an empire that is losing it. And so, just like the Roman Empire, I mean, if you go back to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, you know…. Those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.

DB: Well, and the beat goes on. We’re going to let you join the party.

TD: The beat does go on. Yeah.

DB: But as we speak, there’s a major bombing, frightening bombing in Iran today.

TD: I did not know that. Wow.

DB: After the President of the United States is in Saudi Arabia. When is the last time you heard of a major suicide bomb in Iran?

A poster that comic artist Walt Kelly prepared for the first Earth Day in 1970.

TD: Not in Iran, no.

DB: So, here we go and who knows what comes next, who know what that’s going to bring in that part of the world. We thank you for all of your courage and all the suffering you did for all of us so we could know more. Thank you very much.

TD: Yeah. No. I have really become a warrior for peace. That’s what I have become. Ultimately it’s about who we are as human beings and who we are for each other and after all it is us, right? And in terms of U.S. culture and background, I think Pogo was right. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us. We are our own worst enemies.

It’s just that, for some of us, it’s critical to hold power accountable. We recognize we don’t govern ourselves very well. If you put people over others, yeah, bad things happen. But bad things tend to happen. And it’s that whole control, power. It’s all about — psychopathy is an area of study that I increasingly have as an issue, because of this idea that people gaining pleasure from the distress of others. So, it’s a disease. It really is. And some of us, at great sacrifice, weren’t going to just sit idly by and watch it all happen.

I care deeply about who we are as human beings. And I’ve spent a lot of time in front of college students and high school students and civic auditoriums and small group settings and churches and college campuses talking about these things. These are things that matter.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

20 comments for “How Fear of Russia Misleads Americans

  1. Mild-ly Facetious
    June 29, 2017 at 14:29

    Must see video:

    Historian: Republican Push to Replace Obamacare Reflects Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America


    See also;

    These are two salient signals of what right wing control of gov’t means for America.

    and a third —

  2. June 21, 2017 at 22:00

    In discussing the Pentagon Papers Drake mentions “Edgar Russo.” He means Tony Russo. You might want to put “Tony” or “Anthony” in square brackets – there was no “Edgar”.

  3. Mark Thomason
    June 21, 2017 at 16:20

    Foreign “threats” have always been used this way, not just in the US, not just in modern times. It is Machiavellian. It is basic politics.

    It has not always worked, but we must admit that it has usually worked, for a very long time.

  4. Hank
    June 21, 2017 at 10:59

    The meme for Russian hacking has been disproved by many experts: Ray McGovern, Bill Binney (ex NSA who set up the system), Robert Steele (ex -CIA). Is it not Odd that wikileaks offered a reward for the apprehension of the killers of Seth Rich? Yet this does not make Mainstream News (MSN) and thus the masses are once again herded into a false assumption. The Ukraine (NGO-US Led) revolution did not quite go off as planned. Too many Russians were living in Crimea (part of Russia for 200 years). But we must admit that propaganda works.

  5. Liam
    June 21, 2017 at 02:45

    Highly Graphic Video:White Helmets Film Themselves Participating in Beheading of Syrian Soldiers

    #Whitehelmets Pt 1 Beheaded soliders in truck. Note broken rear window, center brake light, broken left tail light.

    The truth about the White Helmets continues to come out. If you can stomach watching it then you can see who Netflix promotes, Hollywood gave an Oscar to and who 60 Minutes/Scott Pelley just did a segment on. This is the real White Helmets in action.

    Massive White Helmets Photo Cache Proves Hollywood Gave Oscar to Terrorist Group

    Direct Terrorist Collusion: Over One Dozen Videos Capture White Helmets Working Side-By-Side With Terrorist Groups in Syria

  6. June 20, 2017 at 20:25

    It’s just kind of incredible to reflect on how much fear and anxiety seems to govern Americans’ lives, and that was true before 9/11. When will folks develop some courage? I suspect Russians are more courageous than Americans, having more direct experience of war, certainly Syrians are more courageous, they have to be. How people could become so manipulated by presstitutes in the 21st century is stunning, there has been incredible devolution in this country.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    June 20, 2017 at 17:40

    There’s a Russian bogey man, he’s coming after you.
    He’s jealous of your inner cities and your unemployed.
    His children study calculus, but some things they avoid.
    Fifty seven gender types provoke his envy too.

    Promiscuous liaisons even teenage unwed moms,
    Neglected public health concerns and psychiatric pills-
    He’s jealous of the finer things and all those fancy frills.
    Modified genetic foods exacerbate his qualms!

    Workers fill his factories, he knows that’s obsolete.
    He has no lifestyle hedonists or game show superstars-
    He lacks the needed criminals and necessary bars.
    Autistic children feed the fear that he cannot compete!

    He’s got a pussy riot but they don’t have pussy hats-
    With only four he can’t disguise the stark disparity,
    Ours fill the streets and march in solidarity-
    All of them proclaim he worked against the democrats!

    He’s an evil bogey man, but he is not in debt.
    He doesn’t run a lottery to pay for public schools-
    He doesn’t ship his kids to jail for breaking silly rules-
    Without a troubled asset scam, he’s plagued by deep regret!

    But you are safe, so rest assured, a program is in place.
    Your phones are tapped, we listen in, and never miss a trick!
    Data gathered fills our files, we’re always on the stick,
    We can even hear your farts, and count them just in case!

    This costs a fortune, yes it’s true, but it’s worth every dime.
    Clapper’s testimony proves unwitting agents lurk.
    You may be disgruntled since we put you out of work-
    Putin could recruit you then, into a life of crime!

    We owe twenty trillion now, which he could still exceed.
    He wants the fame and glory only empire can confer.
    With irredentist dreams he seeks the quagmire we incur,
    As long as we can print more cash, it’s doubtful he’ll succeed!

    Yes, that jealous bogey man is riddled with desire.
    He’s evil and he wants our stuff, our precious usufruct-
    Never mind we stole it from the victims that we fuct.
    He’s devious, conniving and he’s willing to conspire!

    Who cares about a crisis in our Constitution’s law-
    We know that evil bogey man perverts democracy.
    With menace and surveillance soon it will be plain to see-
    Investigating long enough we’re sure to find a flaw.

    Forget about the unemployed, the poor are everywhere.
    Never mind the wanting jobs or healthcare in neglect-
    We’ve got regimes we have to change and spies we must detect,
    Better check beneath your bed ’cause Putin could be there!

    There’s a Russian bogey man, he’s coming after you-
    He’s jealous of prosperity and he’s been keeping score-
    He saw those pictures of Detroit, Newark and Baltimore,
    He’s coming for your stuff because he wants the good life too!

  8. June 20, 2017 at 14:12

    The answer is, of course they depend on ignorance of their subjects, mike, that was a rhetorical question, right? I can’t imagine there is any nation other than a delusional western supporter of the US that doesn’t know by now that the US is a rogue state and has been for years, but it’s getting worse as the mythical “Armageddon” seems closer. There’s that book “Political Ponerology” about the study of evil in political situations, forgot the author, but the US deep state is the foremost practitioner of evil on Planet Earth. Their karma should be coming due soon. I wish the best to Syria and Russia, and I do understand why Iran has called the USA “The Great Satan” for years. (Now this post can be collected by the NSA and be put into the “Treason” basket.)

    • mike k
      June 20, 2017 at 17:09

      I guess I have built a thick file somewhere by now. I’ve been sharing freely on the net for years now, always under the same name. Encryption is just a waste of time; they have six ways to Sunday of breaking any codes you might use on your PC. Encryption even draws more attention to oneself. I’ve never been that careful in my life anyway. that has had some upsides, and some downsides…..

      • Joe Average
        June 21, 2017 at 21:39

        If everyone were going to use encryption, then we could give the spooks a very hard time. They would’ve to upgrade on a large scale (what they probably will do anyway) in order to break the encryption. “Giving up” means: they won, everyone else lost. Not giving up may delay the inevitable for some time.

  9. mike k
    June 20, 2017 at 12:55

    What is the difference between a military dictatorship and a country where the military makes political decisions, and decisions on war and peace independent of civilian control? Very little if any. How big does the military have to get before it controls a nation? About the outrageous size of the US military. When a country is so soaked in patriotic propaganda, that no one dares to criticize the military, isn’t it inevitable that country will become a military dictatorship? Isn’t it nice that nobody names the USA for what it really is? Does the “Deep State” really depend on the population being deeply ignorant?

    • Cirze
      June 21, 2017 at 15:06

      It’s really the US Deep State to which allegiance is pledged.

  10. Abe
    June 20, 2017 at 12:35

    “The Washington Post would report in its article, ‘Russia threatens to treat U.S. coalition aircraft as targets over Syria,’ that:

    “‘On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said its warplanes had been operating in the area of the encounter between the U.S. and Syrian jets. It said the coalition had not used the deconflicting hotline to warn the Russian jet.

    “’Multiple military actions of U.S. aviation under the guise of fighting terrorism against the legal military of a state that is a member of the United Nations are a flagrant violation of international law and constitute de facto military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,’ the ministry said.

    “The Washington Post also made mention of, ‘the possibility that the U.S. could be forced to deviate further from its stated policy in Syria, which only involves targeting Islamic State militants,’ betraying 6 years of reporting even by the Washington Post itself admitting America’s role in Syria as primarily focused on regime change, not fighting terrorists – as the Russian Defense Ministry alluded to. […]

    “With Russia withdrawing – at least temporarily – from a memorandum of understanding regarding US and Russian air operations over Syria, plausible deniability regarding the potential and accidental targeting and downing of US warplanes illegally operating over Syrian territory becomes a distinct possibility. Because of the precedent set by the US itself regarding rogue geopolitical behavior and unwarranted military aggression worldwide, the US will find itself with few sympathizers globally should it begin suffering losses in Syria following its own increasingly reckless behavior.”

    US Downs Syrian Warplane Over Syria Amid War on ISIS
    By Tony Cartalucci

  11. mike k
    June 20, 2017 at 12:20

    Drake and the others in the group photo are heroes for the truth – the only real heroes there are. The truth will make us free – free of the lies we have been living by. Only by finding and acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our world will we ever make it the place of love and cooperation that it could be. This is often difficult work, and it requires a lot of patience, but here is no alternative. Live free (of lies) or die (from lies).

    • Cirze
      June 21, 2017 at 15:04


      And women.

  12. Abe
    June 20, 2017 at 12:17

    The Russian Defense Ministry announced it is halting cooperation with its US counterparts in the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria following the coalition’s downing of a Syrian government warplane on Sunday.

    At the moment of the attack the jet was carrying out operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) some 40km from Raqqa, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

    The ministry has demanded a thorough investigation by the US military command into the incident with the Syrian government military jet, with the results to be shared with the Russian side.

    “In the areas of combat missions of Russian air fleet in Syrian skies, any airborne objects, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles of the [US-led] international coalition, located to the west of the Euphrates River, will be tracked by Russian ground and air defense forces as air targets,” the Russian Ministry of Defense stated.

    National security analyst Gareth Porter explains to RT America why he believes the US made a “fundamental miscalculation” by using its belligerence toward Syria as a threat Russia and its allies in the region.

    • Gregory Herr
      June 20, 2017 at 19:07

      “There’s been nothing like this since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And that’s why there must be, really, a very sharp reconsideration of U.S. policy in Syria.”

      • Cirze
        June 21, 2017 at 15:03

        How to get this word out?

        Is there a way?

  13. June 20, 2017 at 11:27

    Is the threat of nuclear war an example of hyperbole, General Dunford? Why, general, are you fighting as an ally for ISIS?

    “’What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.’

    The Russian foreign ministry also said it would respond to the attack by suspending its communications channel with US forces, which is designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

    The top US general, Joseph Dunford, sought to play down the repercussions of the incident, insisting the hotline established eight months ago between US central command in Qatar and its Russian equivalent in Syria was still open and functioning on Monday morning and would be used to try to defuse the situation.

    ‘I’m confident that we are still communicating between the coalition operations centre and the Russian operations centre,” Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff told the National Press Club in Washington. “I think the worst thing any of us could do would be to address this with hyperbole.’”

    The joint chiefs of staff who are not elected by the people, have no accountability, and who are running the country for the same people who blew up the world trade center! Beautiful example of military fascism that not even the Nazis could rival. Heil Dunford!

  14. Sally Snyder
    June 20, 2017 at 11:16

    In rebuttal, here is what concerns Russia about Americans:

    It is fascinating to see that this concern was severely underreported because it doesn’t fit the anti-Russia narrative prevalent in some sectors of Washington

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