Donald Trump v. the Spooks

Exclusive: President-elect Trump is in a nasty slugfest with U.S. intelligence agencies as they portray him as a Russian tool and he blasts their attempt to delegitimize his election, says ex-British intelligence officer Annie Machon.

By Annie Machon

The clash between plutocratic President-elect Trump and the CIA is shaping up to be the heavyweight prize fight of the century, and Trump at least is approaching it with all the entertaining bombast of Mohammed Ali at the top of his game. Rather than following the tradition of doing dirty political deals in dark corners, more commonly known as fixing the match, Trump has come out swinging in the full glare of the media.

In that corner, we have a deal-making, billionaire “man of the people” who, to European sensibilities at least, reputedly espouses some of the madder domestic obsessions and yet has seemed to offer hope to many aggrieved Americans. But it is his professed position on building a rapprochement with Russia and cooperating with Moscow to sort out the Syrian mess that caught my attention and that of many other independent commentators internationally.

In the opposite corner, Trump’s opponents have pushed the CIA into the ring to deliver the knock-out blow, but this has yet to land. Despite jab after jab, Trump keeps evading the blows and comes rattling back against all odds. One has to admire the guy’s footwork.

So who are the opponents ranged behind the CIA, yelling encouragement through the ropes? The obvious culprits include the U.S. military-industrial complex, whose corporate bottom line relies on an era of unending war. As justification for extracting billions – even trillions – of dollars from American taxpayers, there was a need for frightening villains, such as Al Qaeda and even more so, the head choppers of ISIS. However, since the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015, those villains no longer packed as scary a punch, so a more enduring villain, like Emmanuel Goldstein, the principal enemy of the state in George Orwell’s 1984, was required. Russia was the obvious new choice, the old favorite from the Cold War playbook.

The Western intelligence agencies have a vested interest in eternal enemies to ensure both eternal funding and eternal power, hence the CIA’s entry into the fight. As former British MP and long-time peace activist George Galloway so eloquently said in a recent interview, an unholy alliance is now being formed between the “war party” in the U.S., the military-industrial-intelligence complex and those who would have previously publicly spurned such accomplices: American progressives and their traditional host, the Democratic Party.

Yet, if the Democratic National Committee had not done its best to rig the primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton, then perhaps we would not be in this position. Bernie Sanders would be the President-elect.

Two-Party Sham

These establishment forces have also revealed to the wider world a fact long known but largely dismissed as conspiracy theory by the corporate mainstream media, that the two-party system in both the U.S. and the U.K. is a sham. In fact, we are governed by a globalized elite, working in its own interest while ignoring ours. The Democrats, openly disgruntled by Hillary Clinton’s election loss and being seen to jump into bed so quickly with the spooks and the warmongers, have laid this reality bare.

In fact, respected U.S. investigative journalist Robert Parry recently wrote that an intelligence contact told him before the election that the intelligence agencies did not like either of the presidential candidates. This may go some way to explaining the FBI’s intervention in the run-up to the election against Hillary Clinton, as well as the CIA’s attempts to de-legitimize Trump’s victory afterwards.

Whether that was indeed the case, the CIA has certainly held back no punches since Trump’s election. First the evidence-lite assertion that it was the Russians who hacked the DNC emails and leaked them to WikiLeaks: then the fake news about Russia hacking the voting computers; that then morphed into the Russians “hacked the election” itself; then they “hacked” into the U.S. electric grid via a Vermont utility.  All this without a shred of fact-based evidence provided, but Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last month solidified this dubious reality in Americans’ minds.

All this culminated in the “dirty dossier” allegations last week about Trump, which he has rightly knocked down – it was desperately poor stuff.

This last item, from a British perspective, is particularly concerning. It appears that a Washington dirt-digging company was hired by a Republican rival to Trump to unearth any potential Russian scandals during the primaries; once Trump had won the nomination this dirt-digging operation was taken over by a Democrat supporter of Hillary Clinton. The anti-Trump investigation was then sub-contracted to an alleged ex-British spy, an ex-MI6 man named Christopher Steele.

The Role of MI6

Much has already been written about Steele and the company, much of it contradictory as no doubt befits the life of a former spy. But it is a standard career trajectory for insiders to move on to corporate, mercenary spy companies, and this is what Steele appears to have done successfully in 2009. Of course, much is predicated on maintaining good working relations with your former employers.

That is the aspect that interests me most – how close a linkage did he indeed retain with his former employers after he left MI6 in 2009 to set up his own private spy company? The answer is important because companies such has his can also be used as cut-outs for “plausible deniability” by official state spies.

I’m not suggesting that happened in this case, but Steele reportedly remained on good terms with MI6 and was well thought of. For a man who had not been stationed in Russia for over 20 years, it would perhaps have been natural for him to turn to old chums for useful connections.

But this question is of extreme importance at a critical juncture for the U.K.; if indeed MI6 was complicit or even aware of this dirt digging, as it seems to have been, then that is a huge diplomatic problem for the government’s attempts to develop a strong working relationship with the US, post-Brexit. If MI6’s sticky fingers were on this case, then the organization has done the precise opposite of its official task – “to protect national security and the economic well-being of the UK.”

MI6 and its U.S. intelligence chums need to remember their designated and legislated roles within a democracy – to serve the government and protect national security by gathering intelligence, assessing it impartially and making recommendations on which the government of the day will choose to act or not as the case may be.

The spies are not there to fake intelligence to suit the agenda of a particular regime, as happened in the run-up to the illegal Iraq War, nor are they there to endemically spy on their own populations (and the rest of the world, as we know post-Snowden) in a pointless hunt for subversive activity, which often translates into legitimate political activism and acts of individual expression).

And most especially the intelligence agencies should not be trying to subvert democratically elected governments. And yet this is what the CIA and a former senior MI6 officer, along with their powerful political allies, appear to be now attempting against Trump.

Chances for Peace

If I were an American, I would be wary of many of Trump’s domestic policies. As a European concerned with greater peace rather than increasing war, I can only applaud his constructive approach towards Russia and his offer to cooperate with Moscow to stanch the bloodshed in the Middle East.

That, of course, may be the nub of his fight with the CIA and other vested interests who want Russia as the new bogeyman. But I would bet that Trump takes the CIA’s slurs personally. After all, given the ugliness of the accusations and the lack of proof, who would not?

So, this is a world championship heavy-weight fight over who gets to hold office and wield power, an area where the U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have considerable experience in rigging matches and knocking out opponents. Think, for instance, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953; Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973; Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003; and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is wobbly but still standing, thanks to some good corner support from Russia.

However, it would appear that Trump is a stranger to the spies’ self-defined Queensbury Rules in which targets are deemed paranoid if they try to alert the public to the planned “regime change” or they become easy targets by staying silent. By contrast, Trump appears shameless and pugnacious. Street-smart and self-promoting, he seems comfortable with bare-knuckle fighting.

This match has already gone into the middle rounds with Trump still bouncing around on his toes and still relishing the fight. It would be ironic if out of this nasty prize fight came greater world peace and safely for us all.

Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service (the U.S. counterpart is the FBI).




America’s Self-Destructive Obsessions

The U.S. population is led from one hysteria to the next, now transitioning from the Global War on Terror to the New Cold War with Russia, a fearful madness that is infecting the collective psyche, says Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

Captain Ahab’s obsessive hunt for Moby Dick was driven by the thirst for revenge. The great white whale had maimed Ahab – in soul as well as body. Ahab was consumed by the passion to restore his sense of self, and make himself whole again, by killing his nemesis – a compulsion that his wooden leg never lets weaken.

America’s “war-on-terror” has become our national mission for restoration. The psychic wound of 9/11 is what grieves us; it inflames our collective passion for vengeance. The physical wound is already healed. By now, it must be memorialized in order for the scar to be seen.  It never did impair our functioning. In that sense, little more than a broken toe.

In the aftermath of 9/11, there was genuine fear of a repeat attack – something that we now know never was in the cards. Our enemy has been emasculated; the great Satan was shot dead in Abbottabad. Only pinpricks at long intervals from within our midst draw blood.

Catharsis has eluded us, though. We still seethe with emotions. We suffer from the embedded anxiety that is dread, from uneasy feelings of vulnerability, from a seeming lost prowess and control. A society that talks casually about “closure” on almost all occasions cannot find closure on 9/11. Instead, the society has a powerful need to ritualize the fear, to pursue the implacable quest for ultimate security, to perform violent acts of vengeance that neither cure nor satiate.

So, we search the seven seas hunting for monsters to slay; not Moby Dick himself, but his accessories, accomplices, enablers, facilitators, emulators, sympathizers. Whales of every species, great and small, fall to our harpoons. The dead and innocent dolphins far outnumber even the smallest of whales. Fortunes of war.

Since there is no actual Moby Dick out there to pursue, we have fashioned a virtual game of acting out the hunt, the encounter, the retribution. We thereby have embraced the post-9/11 trauma rather than exorcised it. That is the “war-on-terror.” That war is about us – it no longer is about them.

Ahab destroyed himself, destroyed his crew, destroyed his ship. He sacrificed all in the quest – a quest for the unattainable. The United States is sacrificing its principles of liberty, its political integrity, the trust that is the bedrock of its democracy, its standing in the world as the “best hope of mankind,” and its capacity to feel for others – including its fellow citizens. America’s Moby Dick has migrated and transmuted itself. It now is lodged in our innermost being.

There, it spawns fictive offspring, such as Vladimir Putin. But the phantasmagoric Putin is but the projection of our own existential dread. The spectral persona who haunts our minds, “Putin” has no objective existence. “Putin” is the creation of our troubled national psyche. We have transposed onto him the whole maelstrom of turbid emotions we had imparted to Osama bin-Laden, and then the Islamic State.

To be rid of America’s transmuted Moby Dick we must kill part of our tainted being – a form of psycho-political chemotherapy. Otherwise, our national soul will whither away just as Ahab was sucked into the ocean depths entangled in the very ropes he had fashioned to ensnare Moby Dick.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu




The Scheme to Take Down Trump

Exclusive: The U.S. intelligence community’s unprecedented assault on an incoming U.S. president – now including spreading salacious rumors – raises questions about how long Donald Trump can hold the White House, says Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Is a military coup in the works? Or are U.S. intelligence agencies laying the political groundwork for forcing Donald Trump from the presidency because they can’t abide his rejection of a new cold war with Russia? Not long ago, even asking such questions would have marked one as the sort of paranoid nut who believes that lizard people run the government. But no longer.

Thanks to the now-notorious 35-page dossier concerning Donald Trump’s alleged sexual improprieties in a Moscow luxury hotel, it’s clear that strange maneuverings are underway in Washington and that no one is quite sure how they will end.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper added to the mystery Wednesday evening by releasing a 200-word statement to the effect that he was shocked, shocked, that the dossier had found its way into the press. Such leaks, the statement said, “are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.”

Clapper added: “that this document is not a US Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

Rather than vouching for the dossier’s contents, in other words, all Clapper says he did was inform Trump that it was making the rounds in Washington and that he should know what it said – and that he thus couldn’t have been more horrified than when Buzzfeed posted all 35 pages on its website.

But it doesn’t make sense. As The New York Times noted, “putting the summary in a report that went to multiple people in Congress and the executive branch made it very likely that it would be leaked” (emphasis in the original). So even if the “intelligence community” didn’t leak the dossier itself, it distributed it knowing that someone else would.

Then there is the Guardian, second to none in its loathing for Trump and Vladimir Putin and hence intent on giving the dossier the best possible spin. It printed a quasi-defense not of the memo itself but of the man who wrote it: Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 officer who now heads his own private intelligence firm. “A sober, cautious and meticulous professional with a formidable record” is how the Guardian described him. Then it quoted an unnamed ex-Foreign Office official on the subject of Steele’s credibility:

“The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false, completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He’s not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip. …  If he puts something in a report, he believes there’s sufficient credibility in it for it to be worth considering. Chris is a very straight guy. He could not have survived in the job he was in if he had been prone to flights of fancy or doing things in an ill-considered way.”

In other words, Steele is a straight-shooter, so it’s worth paying attention to what he has to say. Or so the Guardian assures us. “That is the way the CIA and the FBI, not to mention the British government, regarded him, too,” it adds, so presumably Clapper felt the same way.

What is Afoot?

So what does it all mean? Simply that U.S. intelligence agencies believed that the dossier came from a reliable source and that, as a consequence, there was a significant possibility that Trump was a “Siberian candidate,” as Times columnist Paul Krugman once described him. They therefore sent out multiple copies of a two-page summary on the assumption that at least one would find its way to the press.

Even if Clapper & Co. took no position concerning the dossier’s contents, they knew that preparing and distributing such a summary amounted to a tacit endorsement. They also knew, presumably, that it would provide editors with an excuse to go public. If the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency feel that Steele’s findings are worthy of attention, then why shouldn’t the average reader have an opportunity to examine them as well?

How did Clapper expect Trump to respond when presented with allegations that he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail and potentially under the Kremlin’s thumb? Did he expect him to hang his head in shame, break into great racking sobs, and admit that it was all true? If so, did Clapper \then plan to place a comforting hand on Trump’s shoulder and suggest, gently but firmly, that it was time to step aside and allow a trusted insider like Mike Pence to take the reins?

Based on the sturm und drang of the last few days, the answer is very possibly yes. If so, the gambit failed when Trump, in his usual high-voltage manner, denounced the dossier as “fake news” and sailed into the intelligence agencies for behaving like something out of “Nazi Germany.” The intelligence community’s hopes, if that’s what they were, were dashed.

All of which is thoroughly unprecedented by American political standards. After all, this is a country that takes endless pride in the peaceful transfer of power every four years or so. Yet here was the intelligence community attempting to short-circuit the process by engineering Trump’s removal before he even took office.

But the Guardian then upped the ante even more by suggesting that the CIA continue with the struggle. Plainly, the Republican congressional leadership has “no appetite” for an inquiry into Steele’s findings, the paper’s New York correspondent, Ed Pilkington, wrote, adding:

“That leaves the intelligence agencies. The danger for Trump here is that he has so alienated senior officials, not least by likening them to Nazis, that he has hardly earned their loyalty.”

What was the Guardian suggesting – that disloyal intelligence agents keep on searching regardless? And what if they come up with what they claim is a smoking gun?

Explained Pilkington: “To take a flight of fancy, what if it [i.e. Steele’s findings] were substantiated? That would again come down to a question of politics. No US president has ever been forced out of office by impeachment (Richard Nixon resigned before the vote; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted by the Senate). Any such procedure would have to be prepared and approved by a majority of the House of Representatives, and then passed to the Senate for a two-thirds majority vote. As the Republicans hold the reins in both chambers, it would take an almighty severing of ties between Trump and his own party to even get close to such a place.”

It’s a long shot, but the Guardian’s recommendation is that rogue agents keep on digging until they strike pay dirt, at which point they should go straight to Congress and persuade – if not pressure – the Republican leadership to initiate the process of throwing Trump out of office.

This is not the same as sending an armored column to attack Capitol Hill, but it’s close. Essentially, the Guardian was calling on the intelligence agencies to assume ultimate responsibility regarding who can sit in the Oval Office and who cannot.

A Desperate Establishment

All of which demonstrates how desperate the military-intelligence complex has grown after Clapper’s report on alleged Russian hacking of Democratic emails met with such a derisory reception following its publication on Jan. 6. Even the Times admitted that it provided “no new evidence to support assertions that Moscow meddled covertly through hacking and other actions” while the Daily Beast said it was “unlikely to convince a single skeptic” due to a notable absence of anything by way of back-up data.

The Steele dossier was supposed to take up the slack. Yet it has fallen short as well. It asserts, for example, that Trump attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to discuss hacking with a Russian official named Oleg Solodukhin, a claim that both men have since denied. It misspells the name of a major Russian bank and gets its Russian geography wrong too.

As Owen Matthews points out in a very smart article in Newsweek, it “seems to be under the impression that the suburb of Barvikha on the tony Rublevskoe highway is a closed government compound, instead of just an expensive vacation home area favored by the new rich.”

The dossier misspells the name of an Azeri real-estate mogul named Aras Agalarov and “reports his association with Trump as news in August 2016 – when Agalarov publicly organized Trump’s visit to the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 and arranged a meeting with top Russian businessmen for Trump afterward, both of which were widely reported at the time.”

Other aspects of the dossier don’t add up either. It reports that the Russian government “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years” in order to “encourage splits and divisions in the Western alliance.” But as Matthews points out, Trump wasn’t in politics five years ago and was considered a long shot for months after entering the presidential race in mid-2015. So how could the Kremlin be sure that their man would ultimately prevail?

The dossier says that Trump “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on Democratic and other political rivals.” But Trump gave no hint of having inside information when he called for “Crooked Hillary” to be locked up for purging her email files; to the contrary, he did so on the basis of information available on every front page. The memo says that the Russians also had “compromising material” on Clinton. If so, then why wasn’t it used?

Hearsay Evidence

The discrepancies go on. But this is what one would expect of a document based entirely of hearsay in which Source A claims to have gotten a juicy tidbit from Source B, who heard it from Source C deep inside the Kremlin.

Grasping at straws, the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington conceded that no news agency has been able to verify the dossier’s findings. But, he said, they are “unlikely to be discarded as quickly or as conclusively as Trump would like” for the simple reason that “the flip side of information that cannot be classed reliable is that neither can it be classed unreliable.”

But the same could be said for information that someone got from a friend whose brother-in-law heard from a park ranger that Barack and Michelle like to while away their evenings snorting cocaine. It can’t be classed as reliable because no one can verify that it’s true. But it can’t be classed as unreliable because no one can prove that it’s wrong. So maybe the best thing to do is to impeach Obama in the few days he has remaining just to be sure.

This not to say that the so-called President-elect’s legitimacy is not open to question. To the contrary, it is questionable in the extreme given that he lost the popular election by more than 2.86 million votes. In a democratic country, this should count for something. But the intelligence community is not attacking him on democratic grounds, needless to say, but on imperial.

Trump is a rightwing blowhard whose absurd babblings about Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen reveal a man who is dangerously ignorant about how the world works. But he has managed to seize on one or two semi-good ideas over the years. One is that Obama administration’s confrontational policies toward Russia are a recipe for disaster, while another is that toppling Syria’s Bashar al-Assad with Al Qaeda and ISIS still up and about will only hasten their march on Damascus.

Both views are perfectly sensible. But because Washington’s endlessly bellicose foreign-policy establishment is wedded to the opposite, it sees them as high treason.

This is very serious. U.S. foreign policy has been marked by a high degree of continuity since World War II as Republican and Democratic presidents alike pledged to uphold the imperial agenda. But Trump, as radical in his way as William Jennings Bryan was in 1896 or Henry A. Wallace in 1948, is bucking the consensus to an unprecedented degree.

Even though its policies have led to disaster after disaster, the foreign-policy establishment is aghast. Consequently, it is frantically searching for a way to prevent him from carrying his ideas out. The intelligence agencies appear to be running out of time with the inauguration only a few days away. But that doesn’t mean they’re giving up. All it means, rather, is that they’ll go deeper underground. Trump may enter the White House on Jan. 20. But the big question is how long he’ll remain.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).




Mainstream Media’s Russian Bogeymen

Exclusive: The mainstream hysteria over Russia has led to dubious or downright false stories that have deepened the New Cold War, as Gareth Porter notes regarding last month’s bogus tale of a hack into the U.S. electric grid.

By Gareth Porter

In the middle of a major domestic crisis over the U.S. charge that Russia had interfered with the U.S. election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) triggered a brief national media hysteria by creating and spreading a bogus story of Russian hacking into U.S. power infrastructure.

DHS had initiated the now-discredited tale of a hacked computer at the Burlington, Vermont Electricity Department by sending the utility’s managers misleading and alarming information, then leaked a story they certainly knew to be false and continued to put out a misleading line to the media.

Even more shocking, however, DHS had previously circulated a similar bogus story of Russian hacking of a Springfield, Illinois water pump in November 2011.

The story of how DHS twice circulated false stories of Russian efforts to sabotage U.S. “critical infrastructure” is a cautionary tale of how senior leaders in a bureaucracy-on-the-make take advantage of every major political development to advance its own interests, with scant regard for the truth.

The DHS had carried out a major public campaign to focus on an alleged Russian threat to U.S. power infrastructure in early 2016. The campaign took advantage of a U.S. accusation of a Russian cyber-attack against the Ukrainian power infrastructure in December 2015 to promote one of the agency’s major functions — guarding against cyber-attacks on America’s infrastructure.

Beginning in late March 2016, DHS and FBI conducted a series of 12 unclassified briefings for electric power infrastructure companies in eight cities titled, “Ukraine Cyber Attack: implications for U.S. stakeholders.” The DHS declared publicly, “These events represent one of the first known physical impacts to critical infrastructure which resulted from cyber-attack.”

That statement conveniently avoided mentioning that the first cases of such destruction of national infrastructure from cyber-attacks were not against the United States, but were inflicted on Iran by the Obama administration and Israel in 2009 and 2012.

Beginning in October 2016, the DHS emerged as one of the two most important players – along with the CIA—in the political drama over the alleged Russian effort to tilt the 2016 election toward Donald Trump. Then on Dec. 29, DHS and FBI distributed a “Joint Analysis Report” to U.S. power utilities across the country with what it claimed were “indicators” of a Russian intelligence effort to penetrate and compromise U.S. computer networks, including networks related to the presidential election, that it called “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”

The report clearly conveyed to the utilities that the “tools and infrastructure” it said had been used by Russian intelligence agencies to affect the election were a direct threat to them as well. However, according to Robert M. Lee, the founder and CEO of the cyber-security company Dragos, who had developed one of the earliest U.S. government programs for defense against cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure systems, the report was certain to mislead the recipients.

“Anyone who uses it would think they were being impacted by Russian operations,” said Lee. “We ran through the indicators in the report and found that a high percentage were false positives.”

Lee and his staff found only two of a long list of malware files that could be linked to Russian hackers without more specific data about timing. Similarly a large proportion of IP addresses listed could be linked to “GRIZZLY STEPPE” only for certain specific dates, which were not provided.

The Intercept discovered, in fact, that 42 percent of the 876 IP addresses listed in the report as having been used by Russian hackers were exit nodes for the Tor Project, a system that allows bloggers, journalists and others – including some military entities – to keep their Internet communications private.

Lee said the DHS staff that worked on the technical information in the report is highly competent, but the document was rendered useless when officials classified and deleted some key parts of the report and added other material that shouldn’t have been in it. He believes the DHS issued the report “for a political purpose,” which was to “show that the DHS is protecting you.”

Planting the Story, Keeping it Alive

Upon receiving the DHS-FBI report the Burlington Electric Company network security team immediately ran searches of its computer logs using the lists of IP addresses it had been provided. When one of IP addresses cited in the report as an indicator of Russian hacking was found on the logs, the utility immediately called DHS to inform it as it had been instructed to do by DHS.

In fact, the IP address on the Burlington Electric Company’s computer was simply the Yahoo e-mail server, according to Lee, so it could not have been a legitimate indicator of an attempted cyber-intrusion. That should have been the end of the story. But the utility did not track down the IP address before reporting it to DHS. It did, however, expect DHS to treat the matter confidentially until it had thoroughly investigated and resolved the issue.

“DHS wasn’t supposed to release the details,” said Lee. “Everybody was supposed to keep their mouth shut.”

Instead, a DHS official called The Washington Post and passed on word that one of the indicators of Russian hacking of the DNC had been found on the Burlington utility’s computer network. The Post failed to follow the most basic rule of journalism, relying on its DHS source instead of checking with the Burlington Electric Department first. The result was the Post’s sensational Dec. 30 story under the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”

DHS official evidently had allowed the Post to infer that the Russians hack had penetrated the grid without actually saying so. The Post story said the Russians “had not actively used the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter,” but then added, and that “the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

The electric company quickly issued a firm denial that the computer in question was connected to the power grid. The Post was forced to retract, in effect, its claim that the electricity grid had been hacked by the Russians. But it stuck by its story that the utility had been the victim of a Russian hack for another three days before admitting that no such evidence of a hack existed.

The day after the story was published, the DHS leadership continued to imply, without saying so explicitly, that the Burlington utility had been hacked by Russians. Assistant Secretary for Pubic Affairs J. Todd Breasseale gave CNN a statement that the “indicators” from the malicious software found on the computer at Burlington Electric were a “match” for those on the DNC computers.

As soon as DHS checked the IP address, however, it knew that it was a Yahoo cloud server and therefore not an indicator that the same team that allegedly hacked the DNC had gotten into the Burlington utility’s laptop. DHS also learned from the utility that the laptop in question had been infected by malware called “neutrino,” which had never been used in “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”

Only days later did the DHS reveal those crucial facts to the Post. And the DHS was still defending its joint report to the Post, according to Lee, who got part of the story from Post sources. The DHS official was arguing that it had “led to a discovery,” he said. “The second is, ‘See, this is encouraging people to run indicators.’”

Original DHS False Hacking Story

The false Burlington Electric hack scare is reminiscent of an earlier story of Russian hacking of a utility for which the DHS was responsible as well. In November 2011, it reported an “intrusion” into a Springfield, Illinois water district computer that similarly turned out to be a fabrication.

Like the Burlington fiasco, the false report was preceded by a DHS claim that U.S. infrastructure systems were already under attack. In October 2011, acting DHS deputy undersecretary Greg Schaffer was quoted by The Washington Post as warning that “our adversaries” are “knocking on the doors of these systems.” And Schaffer added, “In some cases, there have been intrusions.” He did not specify when, where or by whom, and no such prior intrusions have ever been documented.

On Nov. 8, 2011, a water pump belonging to the Curran-Gardner township water district near Springfield, Illinois, burned out after sputtering several times in previous months. The repair team brought in to fix it found a Russian IP address on its log from five months earlier. That IP address was actually from a cell phone call from the contractor who had set up the control system for the pump and who was vacationing in Russia with his family, so his name was in the log by the address.

Without investigating the IP address itself, the utility reported the IP address and the breakdown of the water pump to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn passed it on to the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, also called a fusion center composed of Illinois State Police and representatives from the FBI, DHS and other government agencies.

On Nov. 10 – just two days after the initial report to EPA – the fusion center produced a report titled “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion” suggesting a Russian hacker had stolen the identity of someone authorized to use the computer and had hacked into the control system causing the water pump to fail.

The contractor whose name was on the log next to the IP address later told Wired magazine that one phone call to him would have laid the matter to rest. But the DHS, which was the lead in putting the report out, had not bothered to make even that one obvious phone call before opining that it must have been a Russian hack.

The fusion center “intelligence report,” circulated by DHS Office of Intelligence and Research, was picked up by a cyber-security blogger, who called The Washington Post and read the item to a reporter. Thus the Post published the first sensational story of a Russian hack into a U.S. infrastructure on Nov. 18, 2011.

After the real story came out, DHS disclaimed responsibility for the report, saying that it was the fusion center’s responsibility. But a Senate subcommittee investigation revealed in a report a year later that even after the initial report had been discredited, DHS had not issued any retraction or correction to the report, nor had it notified the recipients about the truth.

DHS officials responsible for the false report told Senate investigators such reports weren’t intended to be “finished intelligence,” implying that the bar for accuracy of the information didn’t have to be very high. They even claimed that report was a “success” because it had done what “what it’s supposed to do – generate interest.”

Both the Burlington and Curran-Gardner episodes underline a central reality of the political game of national security in the New Cold War era: major bureaucratic players like DHS have a huge political stake in public perceptions of a Russian threat, and whenever the opportunity arises to do so, they will exploit it.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.




Pulling a J. Edgar Hoover on Trump

Exclusive: President-elect Trump is fending off a U.S. intelligence leak of unproven allegations that he cavorted with Russian prostitutes, but the darker story might be the CIA’s intervention in U.S. politics, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The decision by the U.S. intelligence community to include in an official report some unverified and salacious accusations against President-elect Donald Trump resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.

In this case, as leaders of the U.S. intelligence community were pressing Trump to accept their assessment that the Russian government had tried to bolster Trump’s campaign by stealing and leaking actual emails harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Trump was confronted with this classified “appendix” describing claims about him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.

Supposedly, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan included the unproven allegations in the report under the rationale that the Russian government might have videotaped Trump’s misbehavior and thus could use it to blackmail him. But the U.S. intelligence community also had reasons to want to threaten Trump who has been critical of its performance and who has expressed doubts about its analysis of the Russian “hacking.”

After the briefing last Friday, Trump and his incoming administration did shift their position, accepting the intelligence community’s assessment that the Russian government hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta. But I’m told Trump saw no evidence that Russia then leaked the material to WikiLeaks and has avoided making that concession.

Still, Trump’s change in tone was noted by the mainstream media and was treated as an admission that he was abandoning his earlier skepticism. In other words, he was finally getting onboard the intelligence community’s Russia-did-it bandwagon. Now, however, we know that Trump simultaneously had been confronted with the possibility that the unproven stories about him engaging in unorthodox sex acts with prostitutes could be released, embarrassing him barely a week before his inauguration.

The classified report, with the explosive appendix, was also given to President Obama and the so-called “Gang of Eight,” bipartisan senior members of Congress responsible for oversight of the intelligence community, which increased chances that the Trump accusations would be leaked to the press, which indeed did happen.

Circulating Rumors

The stories about Russian intelligence supposedly filming Trump in a high-end Moscow hotel with prostitutes have been circulating around Washington for months. I was briefed about them by a Hillary Clinton associate who was clearly hopeful that the accusations would be released before the election and thus further damage Trump’s chances. But the alleged video never seemed to surface and the claims had all the earmarks of a campaign dirty trick.

However, now the tales of illicit frolic have been elevated to another level. They have been inserted into an official U.S. intelligence report, the details of which were leaked first to CNN and then to other mainstream U.S. news media outlets.

Trump has denounced the story as “fake news” and it is certainly true that the juicy details – reportedly assembled by a former British MI-6 spy named Christopher Steele – have yet to check out. But the placement of the rumors in a U.S. government document gave the mainstream media an excuse to publicize the material.

It’s also allowed the media to again trot out the Russian word “kompromat” as if the Russians invented the game of assembling derogatory information about someone and then using it to discredit or blackmail the person.

In American history, legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was infamous for using his agency to develop negative information on a political figure and then letting the person know that the FBI had the dirt and certainly would not want it to become public – if only the person would do what the FBI wanted, whether that was to reappoint Hoover to another term or to boost the FBI’s budget or – in the infamous case of civil rights leader Martin Luther King – perhaps to commit suicide.

However, in this case, it is not even known whether the Russians have any dirt on Trump. It could just be rumors concocted in the middle of a hard-fought campaign, first among Republicans battling Trump for the nomination (this opposition research was reportedly initiated by backers of Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP race) before being picked up by Clinton supporters for use in the general election.

Still, perhaps the more troubling issue is whether the U.S. intelligence community has entered a new phase of politicization in which its leadership feels that it has the responsibility to weed out “unfit” contenders for the presidency. During the general election campaign, a well-placed intelligence source told me that the intelligence community disdained both Clinton and Trump and hoped to discredit both of them with the hope that a more “acceptable” person could move into the White House for the next four years.

Hurting Both Candidates

Though I was skeptical of that information, it did turn out that FBI Director James Comey, one of the top officials in the intelligence community, badly damaged Clinton’s campaign by deeming her handling of her emails as Secretary of State “extremely careless” but deciding not to prosecute her – and then in the last week of the campaign briefly reopening and then re-closing the investigation.

Then, after the election, President Obama’s CIA began leaking allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated the hacking of Democratic emails and provided them to WikiLeaks to reveal how the DNC undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign and what Clinton had told Wall Street bigwigs in paid speeches that she had sought to keep secret from the American people.

The intelligence community’s assessment set the stage for what could have been a revolt by the Electoral College in which enough Trump delegates could have refused to vote for him to send the election into the House of Representatives, where the states would choose the President from one of the top three vote-getters in the Electoral College. The third-place finisher turned out to be former Secretary of State Colin Powell who got three votes from Clinton delegates in Washington State. But the Electoral College ploy failed when Trump’s delegates proved overwhelmingly faithful to the GOP candidate.

Now, we are seeing what looks like a new phase in this “stop (or damage) Trump” strategy, the inclusion of anti-Trump dirt in an official intelligence report that was then leaked to the major media.

Whether this move was meant to soften up Trump or whether the intelligence community genuinely thought that the accusations might be true and deserved inclusion in a report on alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics or whether it was some combination of the two, we are witnessing a historic moment when the U.S. intelligence community has deployed its extraordinary powers within the domain of U.S. politics. J. Edgar Hoover would be proud.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Did Trump Kill ‘Liberal Democracy’?

Donald Trump’s victory has spurred commentary about the “death of liberal democracy,” but the seeds of that demise were planted in the 1980s amid elite orthodoxy in favor of neoliberal economics, argues Mike Lofgren.

By Mike Lofgren

The election of Donald Trump has triggered as much wonderment abroad as it has in the United States. David Runciman, a professor of politics at the University of Cambridge, has written in the London Review of Books a provocative reflection on the nature of democracy in the age of Trump: “Is this how democracy ends?

There is much to praise in his essay, including his heavy qualification that we really don’t know for sure if what we are seeing is the end phase of mature Western democracies since we do not have the appropriate historical precedents to be certain.

Runciman is correct; as an admirer of Karl Popper, I believe that there is no such thing as historical determinism, either in the form of the Marxist dialectical process, or in the guise of its mirror image, the invisible hand of laissez-faire. Accordingly there is no surefire way to tell in advance whether Trump, Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders would spell the end of democracy as we have known it. History, as Popper would tell us, is an open system, full of contingency. Waterloo, the Battle of Britain and Stalingrad were all close-run things.

That said, Runciman may, in fact, be too optimistic. He makes much of the evidence that post-election violence in America was scattered and relatively minor. There were no pitched battles in the streets on the scale of Berlin in 1932, no tanks on the Washington Mall and no generals appearing on television to announce a curfew or to say that order has been restored.

Trump Consequences

But that establishes an awfully easy test for Trump to prove he is harmless, especially as he had not even assumed office at the time of the author’s writing. We do not know what the next four years have to offer, particularly when Trump begins to dismantle government programs on which people rely for subsistence, or when he ignites a trade war with China and downscale consumers, the archetypal Walmart customers, suddenly discover either that the shelves are empty or that their cost of living has increased by 45 percent.

If we look at Russia in the age of Vladimir Putin, we also see no tanks in the streets, bloody battles between opposing factions or generalissimos restoring order. Elections there proceed in an orderly manner, as they did last September. This is what managed democracy looks like. Runciman may argue Russia was never a mature Western democracy, and he would be right.

But it also shows that an absence of chronic civil unrest or domestic military intervention is not a benchmark for deciding whether a country remains in the camp of liberal democracies. Even countries visibly undemocratic by Western standards can maintain a façade of civil order and normality. Hungary, an E.U. member since 2004 after 84 percent of the electorate approved accession, is undeniably regressing toward a one-party, authoritarian state under Brussels’ very nose.

Just as Putin’s United Russia Party has moved to disqualify troublesome opposition parties from the ballot and centralize power around the president, and as Viktor Orbán’s Fedesz Party has weakened those Hungarian institutions that challenged his power, Trump’s Republican Party has been laying the institutional groundwork for illiberal democracy for several years. States whose legislatures and governorships are controlled by Republicans not only gerrymander federal congressional districts with scientific precision, they have restricted voter qualifications, polling hours and locations as a way of hobbling their opponents.

When North Carolina voters elected a Democrat as governor this November, the Republican legislature passed measures to strip the governorship of many of its powers. Since the governor-elect had not assumed office yet, he was in no position to veto it.

Even more questionable are some of Trump’s own actions as president-elect. When do American politicians hold rallies? Typically, when they are running for office. The freshly elected Trump, rather than studying up for the job or attending intelligence briefings, went on an extended “thank you tour,” staging political rallies across the country. As the American media have noted, these are not meant to heal divisions and unite the country; they have more to do with score-settling with his opponents while stoking his political base. There was no magnanimity or graciousness as he continued to attack his bested opponent, Hillary Clinton.

He also said he intends to maintain his private security squad even after assuming office. Quite apart from its redundancy, given the presence of the taxpayer-provided Secret Service, the specter of a national leader retaining a private security contingent, particularly one that distinguished itself by roughing up protesters at campaign rallies, is troubling indeed. Bringing up party rallies and private security forces may be condemned as an inadmissible argumentum ad Hitlerum, but it is also hardly grounds for complacency given the violent imagery of Trump’s rhetoric.

Problems Beyond Easy Solutions

Runciman is absolutely correct in pointing out the hidden problems that Trump is incapable of solving, particularly the rise in the death rate in parts of Appalachia, the Midwest and the American South. This phenomenon arises from a social crisis characterized by underemployment, inadequate health care and community decay that culminates in epidemic use of opioids and alcohol. What he neglects to emphasize is that these are precisely the areas where Trump’s support is the strongest.

During the primaries, pollsters began noticing his electoral support correlated significantly with counties having the highest number of opioid addiction cases. In the general election, Trump outperformed expectations in key Rust Belt states that he had to win in order to gain an Electoral College majority; he ran particularly strongly where the opioid epidemic was acute. Correlation is not causation, of course, but opioid use may be a symptom of a cluster of social dysfunctions that lead to voters being attracted by Trump’s message.

It is at this point where Runciman’s thesis goes seriously wrong. He says that voters chose Trump to shake things up precisely because they knew he couldn’t do it; in other words, they counted on the political system they rail against as worthless to be worthy enough to protect them from the consequences of their foolish mistake.

The author shows either a remarkable ability to infer the thought processes of an unemployed Kentucky laborer without health insurance, or he is guilty of constructing an attractive-sounding paradox that is a little too clever. If he is right, then Trump was elected in some colossal mistake right out of an O. Henry short story. But among Trump’s most ardent supporters in the blighted areas of the Rust Belt, it is possible they felt the entire system had failed them and they had nothing left to lose.

Indeed, one of the striking characteristics of some Trump supporters is a kind of embittered nihilism and a perverse glee at bringing down the system. These, of course, are by no means all of his voters, although they may have been enough to make the difference.

As for the rest, American party politics has become so polarized and tribal identification with party sufficiently intense, that a Republican national candidate is virtually guaranteed a reliable 40 percent floor at the polls, and the rest of what he gets is what he earns. That 40 percent will vote for the Republican on the ballot regardless of whether the candidate has two horns and a tail; considerations as to whether the system will save them from their choice does not enter their heads.

Hubris Despite Popular Vote Loss 

And even if Trump were elected out of voters’ mistaken premises, what of it? Does that imply Trump will not perform the many potentially destructive acts he has promised to his supporters and threatened to his opponents? Despite his unprecedentedly large popular vote loss as a winning candidate, he and his operatives call his Electoral College victory a landslide and act as if they possess the most overwhelming mandate in history.

If the past is any precedent, the signs are not good. George W. Bush won under similar electoral circumstances and proceeded to bulldoze through a policy of stunning fiscal irresponsibility while provoking a war that may have been America’s single greatest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam — or possibly ever.

As to Trump’s carrying out his agenda, only time will tell, and here Runciman may be a little too optimistic about the resiliency of American institutions. As a former career congressional staff member, I had extended experience seeing them close up and interacting with them.

One of those institutions is the campaign-industrial complex that comprises both major American parties. Trump, operating from his private playbook, handily dispatched the Republican wing of that complex in the primaries and went on to defeat Hillary Clinton’s extremely well-funded machine in the general election.

As for the military-industrial-intelligence complex that Runciman suspects will save the day, I doubt senior personnel in that establishment are immune from the blandishments of career advancement or the object lesson of being sacked. Bush and his vice president succeeded in concocting a fictitious pretext for unprovoked war by jawboning intelligence agencies to give them what they wanted. “Go along to get along” is the Washington Beltway’s prime directive, and why will it be different this time?

Fear-mongering Terrorism 

One of the glaring omissions in the essay was the absence of any discussion of terrorism as a potential solvent of liberal democracy. It is precisely here that the example of Bush’s pretext for the invasion of Iraq is instructive. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, unhinged a sizable slice of the American people; the invasion of Iraq and its unsatisfactory resolution amplified the syndrome; the rise of ISIS may have brought the public to a tipping point where a caudillo like Trump became possible.

Nor are other polities immune: the Madrid train bombing of 2004 and the London underground attack of 2005 did not engender panicked fear-mongering in Europe, but the civil war in Syria and the terrorist attacks that followed, all of them on a smaller scale than Madrid, have roiled the continent in a way that is seriously upsetting political stability there.

It is well and good for optimists to say Americans should stop being so paranoid, and to point out that the opioid epidemic is a much greater problem because it kills vastly more Americans than terrorism. But perception is political reality.

Fear of terrorism has upset the post-World War II consensus about the balance between freedom and security in the Atlantic democracies. Personal privacy and freedom of movement are essential aspects of the autonomy and dignity of the individual human being. They constitute a bedrock principle of a liberal social order; terrorism erodes these, and the all-but-interminable duration of the war on terrorism suggests time may be on the side of illiberalism.

The parliamentary liberalism unevenly developed over the past two centuries maintains another central tenet: that the litmus test of truth is not blind faith or coerced assent, but corroborable facts and evidence agreed to by all rational observers. This standard has come under attack in America as digital media have fractionated to serve hermetic partisan groups who believe only that which confirms and amplifies their existing biases.

The new approach was best summed up by Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump campaign surrogate who told a stupefied moderator and panelists on a radio talk show that “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”

She went on: “And so Mr. Trump’s tweet[s] amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up. So…”

One of the paradoxical twists of history is that when leftist deconstructionists posited the notion of situational truth in the 1970s, the American right responded with fury against their “moral relativism,” a denunciation that became the leitmotif of staunch conservatives like Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, William Bennett. Now, among the Trump supporters, who have usurped the mantle of true conservative standard-bearers, the very idea of truth is relative to the beliefs of the observer.

Republican Creation 

Many observers, Runciman included, see Trump as a maverick not in tune with the American security apparatus. To some extent, this is true, but the full relationship is more differentiated than that. It is by now universal wisdom that the subversive rhetoric and insurrectionist tactics of the GOP, the Tea Party and their associated propaganda outlets helped create Trump, however much the party establishment claimed to have detested him.

But even though the GOP in the era of the Tea Party sired Trump, it shares parentage with the transpartisan national security complex of the United States. Politicians, generals, CIA directors, think tank warriors and terrorism “experts” have been driving a message of fear about terrorism into our heads for a decade and a half — a fear that has activated the latent authoritarianism and paranoia that lurk in all too many ordinary people.

This dynamic helps explain why Trump’s candidacy took off like a moon rocket in November and December of 2015, the period of the terrorist attack in Paris and the murders in San Bernardino. Government officials and the corporate media whipped up a mood in the country that approached hysteria; Trump deftly exploited that mood to his advantage. By being the only politician brazen enough to openly advocate torture — not merely to gain information, but to inflict pain for its own sake — he tapped into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11.

Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina who handed Trump a walkover victory declared terrorism to be their foremost concern, one that eclipsed a low-wage economy — deteriorating living standards that have led to an actual increase in the death rate of the GOP’s core demographic of late-middle-aged, non-college educated whites; and the most expensive and least available health care in the so-called developed world.

So while Trump — a Vietnam-era draft avoider who appeared not even to know what the nuclear triad was — could hardly be considered a product of the national security sector, his demagogic skills and authoritarian demeanor placed him in a far better position than his rivals to exploit the national neurosis created by the war on terror.

Who’s Your Daddy?

On the question of Trump’s authoritarian appeal Runciman states, “It is sometimes said that Trump appeals to his supporters because he represents the authoritarian father figure who they want to shield them from all the bad people out there making their lives hell. That can’t be right: Trump is a child, the most childish politician I have encountered in my lifetime.”

Of course, Trump would appear as a child to a cultured and educated product of Cambridge and an exponent of liberal democracy. His babyish tantrums and 4-in-the-morning tweets are hardly indicative of an adult in control of his emotions. But the problem with the author’s reasoning is that Trump’s demeanor might well appear reminiscent of an authoritarian father in a West Virginia mining town or a South Carolina trailer park.

The American media have collected dozens of quotes from Trump supporters who used father metaphors to describe him; The Washington Post chronicled the story of one rabid supporter, a late-middle-aged woman in Pennsylvania, who habitually referred to Trump as “Big Daddy.” It hardly requires the services of Dr. Freud to infer that there’s something going on there, and it assuredly doesn’t validate the rational choice theory beloved of sociologists.

Donald Trump is one aspect of a much larger story: the fraying of post-World War II institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and NATO. The oldest of these are now seven decades old. If you count its embryonic precursor, the European Coal and Steel Community, the E.U. is almost that old. It may be that these institutions have a natural lifespan.

More likely, perhaps, there was a wrong turning about midway through the postwar period, when Britain and the United States went all in for laissez-faire fundamentalism, with almost all of the Atlantic democracies following in their wake. These policies exacerbated what was already bound to be a difficult adjustment for Western industrial workers when China and other East Asian countries became manufacturing powerhouses.

Voters’ Dismay

In some ways, Trump and his European soul mates are populist reactions, albeit authoritarian ones, to voters’ dismay over the mature democracies’ own slide into illiberalism. To wall off their pet economic nostrums from popular challenge, elites wrote binding clauses into trade treaties to prevent national or regional legislatures from challenging corporate prerogatives on safety or environmental grounds.

Brussels and the European Central Bank forbade member governments, regardless of their popular mandate, from undertaking measures to help their citizens after the 2008 economic crash. The geopolitical situations may be different, but rigid austerity was as much a mistake in the Greece or Italy of today as it was in Chancellor Brüning’s Germany of 1932, or Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s Britain of the same year.

So perhaps democracies die of old age and we cannot quite see which event will cause their final cardiac arrest. But more likely, their leaders make avoidable mistakes, and then persist in them because their ideological disposition causes them to resist the warning signs of danger ahead. If authoritarian populism is the wave of the future, its midwife is neoliberal economics turned punitive and illiberal.

Mike Lofgren is a former career congressional staff member who served on the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book is The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.. [This article previously appeared at  http://billmoyers.com/story/maybe-democracy-ends/

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The Democrats’ Russia-Did-It Dodge

To avoid facing up to why Hillary Clinton’s pro-corporatist candidacy really lost key Rust Belt states, national Democrats are finding it easier to blame Russia, a dangerous and self-defeating game, says Norman Solomon at The Hill.

By Norman Solomon

Two months after the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the most cohesive message from congressional Democrats is: blame Russia. The party leaders have doubled down on an approach that got nowhere during the presidential campaign — trying to tie the Kremlin around Donald Trump’s neck.

Still more interested in playing to the press gallery than speaking directly to the economic distress of voters in the Rust Belt and elsewhere who handed the presidency to Trump, top Democrats would much rather scapegoat Vladimir Putin than scrutinize how they’ve lost touch with working-class voters.

Meanwhile, the emerging incendiary rhetoric against Russia is extremely dangerous. It could lead to a military confrontation between two countries that have thousands of nuclear weapons each.

At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Thursday on foreign cyber threats, ranking member Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, denounced “Russia’s rejection of the post-Cold War international order and aggressive actions against its neighbors,” and he condemned “a regime with values and interests so antithetical to our own.” It was the kind of oratory that would have made John Foster Dulles or Barry Goldwater proud.

Like so many other senators on the committee, Reed seemed eager for a new Cold War while accusing Russia of digital aggression. “In addition to stealing information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign,” he said, “and cherry-picking what information it leaked to the media, the Russian government also created and spread fake news and conspiracies across the vast social media landscape.’’

The Russia-Did-It Conspiracy Theory

The Russian government may have hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign emails, and it may have given those emails to WikiLeaks. But that’s hardly a slam dunk.

Over the weekend, after Friday’s release of a much-ballyhooed report from the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the report underwent a cogent critique by former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry. Stripping the 25-page DNI report down to its essence, Parry pointed out that it “contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.”

Parry added: “The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information — built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump. But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof.”

While stenographic accounts of official claims have dominated coverage of the Jan. 6 report, major flaws are coming to light in mainstream media. For instance, a piece that appeared on Saturday in the New York Times, by Scott Shane, reported in its ninth paragraph: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack.”

The article reported: “Under the circumstances, many in Washington expected the agencies to make a strong public case to erase any uncertainty. Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’ There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.”

No Doubts

But Democratic lawmakers aren’t interested in doubts or caveats. They believe the Russian hacking issue is a political winner. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly a convenient way to evade the sobering lessons that should have been learned from the last election about the Democratic Party’s lack of authenticity in its claims to be fighting for the interests of working people.

At the same time, enthusiasm for banging the drum against Putin is fast becoming a big part of the Democratic Party’s public identity in 2017. And — insidiously — that’s apt to give the party a long-term political stake in further demonizing the Russian government.

The reality is grim, and potentially catastrophic beyond comprehension. By pushing to further polarize with the Kremlin, congressional Democrats are increasing the chances of a military confrontation with Russia. By teaming up with the likes of Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to exert bipartisan pressure for escalation, Democrats could help stampede the Trump administration in reckless directions.

This approach is already underway. It is worse than irresponsible. It is madness that could lead to a nuclear holocaust.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org, which has 750,000 members. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. [This article originally appeared as a column at The Hill, at http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/313295-democrats-are-playing-with-fire-on-russia ]




The ‘Post-Truth’ Mainstream Media

Exclusive: U.S. mainstream media sees itself as the definer of what’s true and what’s “propaganda,” but has gotten lost in a fog of self-delusion and is now the principal purveyor of “post-truth” news, writes Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

For several months, Western officials and media outlets repeated thousands of times that there were between 250,000 and 300,000 civilians trapped under Syrian and Russian bombardment in East Aleppo. Western reports rarely mentioned the Syrian government’s estimate that there were only one-third that number of civilians in the rebel-controlled enclave – nor that its estimates were solidly based on what it had found in Homs and other rebel-held areas after it restored state control.

Once East Aleppo fell to government forces, it turned out that there were less than 90,000 people there, about what the Syrian government estimated but only a fraction of the much higher numbers confidently repeated ad nauseam by Western officials and media.

Part of the reason for this misreporting was that Syrian rebels had publicly killed Western and independent journalists to secure a monopoly on information coming out of rebel-controlled areas. Given the West’s disdain for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and sympathy for his opponents, the mainstream Western media then became reliant on anti-government rebels and allied activists for what was going on in those parts of Syria.

Now the complicity of Western media in the success of this strategy has been exposed as a systematic and deadly lapse in journalistic standards. So we should by now have seen widespread corrections and retractions from mainstream media that helped the rebels broadcast propaganda that conveyed a misleading, one-sided picture of the crisis in Aleppo.

The absence of corrections or retractions reflects a “new normal” in Western media practice. The mainstream media reports propaganda, usually produced by Western governments but in this case even by Al Qaeda splinter groups, as uncontested fact. Then, when the bubble bursts and the propaganda is exposed, it is quickly swept down the memory hole as the same reporters, editors and producers who got it all wrong unapologetically move on to other equally unsubstantiated narratives, in this case, ”Russia hacked the election,” and even, “Russia hacked the electric grid.”

‘Post-Truth’ Media

It is thus fitting that the Oxford Dictionary has chosen “post-truth” as its “word of the year” for 2016 (although ironically the word is usually hurled by the mainstream media against people who don’t accept Western propaganda as truth). Yet, so much of what we are now told by politicians, newspapers and talking heads has little basis in the real world beyond the media echo chamber. The real human experiences that once provided the raw material for “news” have been displaced by statements and press releases from government officials and corporate P.R. staffs that post-truth editors, producers and reporters repackage as their lead stories.

The resulting talking points are then repeated ad nauseam on infotainment TV shows to give Americans an utterly misleading picture of the world beyond our borders. That this is the only view of the world many Americans ever see fuels an ever-widening and dangerous gap in public perceptions between Americans and the rest of the world, crippling international efforts to solve many of the most serious global problems, including endless war.

Commercially-driven media corporations have adopted the “talking heads” model mainly because it is much cheaper and easier to produce than real news reported by real journalists who actually live, work and know their neighbors in countries all over the world. The increasingly monopolistic U.S. infotainment industry has, in a couple of decades, reprogrammed many Americans to accept this talking-heads model as a substitute for real journalism, simply by offering them nothing else.

When I tell friends and relatives that they’re being misled by cable news, the most common response is, “But where else can I go to find out what’s happening?” The growth of alternative and independent media and easier access to foreign media are gradually providing Americans with more informative and reliable options, but most Americans still rely on domestic TV and radio as their primary sources of “news.”

The astonishing reality is that the mainstream media often leaves the public more ignorant and confused than if they ignored them altogether. This is in fact what polling by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll has found: that people who said they didn’t follow the news at all were better informed about international events than either Fox News or MSNBC viewers, and about as knowledgeable as CNN viewers. People whose main news source was Comedy Central’s The Daily Show scored second highest of all, outscored by NPR listeners but better informed than Sunday talk show and “talk radio” junkies as well as cable news viewers.

Pollsters found the same pattern in media coverage and public understanding of the reasons behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguably the most critical foreign policy issue of our generation. A PIPA poll three months after the invasion found that only 7 percent of Americans by then understood that there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, while 52 percent believed that U.S. invasion forces in Iraq had found “clear evidence” that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda. This number was actually higher among people who were tuning in regularly to U.S. news media to try and make sense of the crisis, rising to 78 percent among “Republicans following Iraq news closely,” which was higher than among Republicans at large.

Incredibly, a Zogby poll of U.S. troops in Iraq a full three years into the U.S. occupation found that 85 percent still primarily defined their mission as “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks.” This can only have exacerbated the murderous brutality of the U.S. occupation, especially when coupled with illegal rules of engagement and no training in their responsibilities toward Iraqi civilians under the Fourth Geneva Convention – training that is legally required by the Convention.

Al Qaeda’s Social Media

In Syria, “social media” reports approved by Al Qaeda and its allies and, in many cases, funded directly or indirectly by Western governments have provided a new stream of inexpensive material to spice up the talking heads format and assist corporate news make more money from the reductionist, profit-driven logic of its business managers. But these selective, sometimes fabricated, reports come at a moral price, which is that they take corporate media even deeper into the looking-glass world of propaganda, sensation and even pure fiction.

The corporate media’s selective crocodile tears over the plight of civilians in East Aleppo stand in sharp contrast to their diametrically-opposed framing of the similar plight of an estimated 1.5 million civilians in Mosul, under siege and daily bombardment by the U.S. and its allies. While the plight of civilians in East Aleppo was blamed entirely on the attacking forces and not on their Al Qaeda-linked captors, the crisis facing civilians in Mosul is blamed entirely on ISIS, while the forces gradually destroying the city with artillery and air strikes are presented as the people’s liberators.

In reality, U.S. air strikes have killed thousands of people in and around Mosul, destroyed all the bridges over the Tigris, and struck at least two hospitals, the university, food warehouses, dairies, flour mills, factories, banks, apartment buildings, private homes, telephone exchanges and water and electricity plants.

After months of escalating siege, artillery bombardment and air strikes, much of the population has lost access to food, water, medicine, electricity and other necessities of life, but still have no means of escape from the twin dangers of American bombs and Iraqi government death squads on one side and ISIS’s murderous rule on the other.

Can we hope that U.S. corporate media will now pay more attention to the plight of civilians in Mosul, or even acknowledge our country’s leading role in the destruction and misery that is engulfing them?

‘Russian Aggression’

Another meme established by endless repetition in Western media is the term “aggression” applied to Russia. Western officials and media use it to refer to the annexation of Crimea, support for the armed resistance to the post-coup government in Eastern Ukraine, military operations in Syria, cyber-warfare and Russian foreign policy in general.

But the word “aggression” has an actual legal meaning in international relations, referring to the crime of aggression, the planning and launching of a war or armed attack against another country in violation of international treaties and/or customary international law.

When American judges convicted German officials of aggression at Nuremberg, they called aggression the “supreme international crime,” for which they sentenced many of them to death by hanging. Germany, like the U.S., was a signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in which the world’s major powers renounced war as an “instrument of national policy.” The judges ruled, on the basis of that treaty, that, “those who plan and wage such a war, with its inevitable and terrible consequences, are committing a crime in so doing.” The Kellogg-Briand Pact is still in force today, now reinforced by the U.N. Charter, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) convicted the United States of aggression against Nicaragua in 1986, and international lawyers regard the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the U.S.-U.K invasion of Iraq and U.S. drone strikes as crimes of aggression under international law. Many believe that the invasion of Afghanistan, the overthrow of the government of Libya, the U.S. role in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and the U.S. bombing of Syria are also crimes of aggression for which the United States and its leaders should be held criminally accountable.

But the U.S. has carved out a regime of impunity for its crimes by withdrawing from the binding jurisdiction of the ICJ after its conviction in U.S. v. Nicaragua, undermining the new International Criminal Court, and using its U.N. Security Council veto twice as often as the other Permanent Members combined since the 1980s. U.S. government lawyers therefore enjoy the privilege, unique in their profession, of issuing legally indefensible but politically creative legal cover for war crimes, secure in the knowledge that they will never have to defend their opinions before impartial courts or the Security Council.

Imbalanced Accusations

To loosely use the term “aggression” to describe any Russian action that conflicts with U.S. or Western interests is to trivialize what the judges at Nuremberg called the “supreme international crime.” If U.S. officials or commentators were serious about the legitimate enforcement of international laws against aggression, they would first call for the prosecution of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and then try to make a reasonable case that President Putin’s actions meet the same standard of criminality.

But that would be difficult because of other legal principles that justify or mitigate Russian actions:

–Russian forces are operating in Syria at the invitation of the internationally recognized government, unlike U.S. forces bombing Syria since 2014.

–Russia’s sovereignty over the Republic of Crimea has not been internationally recognized. But its annexation was a direct and arguably proportional response to the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev, which followed NATO’s decision to accept Ukraine as a prospective new member at a meeting in Bucharest in 2008 and therefore threatened to hand Russia’s most strategic naval base at Sevastopol over to NATO. Plus, the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to separate from Ukraine in two referenda – by 94% in 1991, and then by 97% in 2014. So Russia’s annexation of a territory that had been part of Russia since 1783 was also a response to the long-held and clearly expressed loyalties of most Crimeans. In contrast with the bloody, intractable wars unleashed by recent U.S. aggression, only two Ukrainian troops were killed before Ukrainian forces withdrew from Crimea.

–After the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev, two Russian-speaking provinces in Eastern Ukraine refused to accept the post-coup government and declared independence as new “People’s Republics.” The Kiev government formed new “National Guard” units, drawing from Svoboda and Right Sector, the neo-Nazi groups that had provided the shock troops for the coup, and sent them to fight the rebels in the East. The rebels appealed to Russia for help, but the true nature and extent of Russian support to the rebels is hotly disputed. Russia is now working with France, Germany and the new Ukrainian government to resolve the conflict under the Minsk II agreement.

–Nobody denies that the U.S. engages in cyber warfare and tries to influence elections in other countries, so the unsubstantiated charges against Russia over the 2016 U.S. election are only that they do the same as we do. In any case, Julian Assange of Wikileaks has explained in interviews that Russia was not the source of the emails he published. Former U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray, who risked and ultimately lost his career for telling the truth about CIA complicity in torture in Uzbekistan, claims that there were two separate sources, both American, and that he met with one of the sources (or a representative) in Washington last September.

Murray’s record of integrity as a whistle-blower and truth-teller makes him a highly credible informant, which may explain why U.S. officials and corporate media have chosen mainly to ignore him instead of trying to impeach his credibility. Assange has also pointed out that nobody has challenged the authenticity of the emails he published, so, if their publication somehow lost the election for Hillary Clinton, it was because voters reacted to what she and her staff wrote in them, not to anything he, the Russians or anybody else said or did.

–As for some kind of generalized “aggression” or threat to its neighbors, Russia has not been involved in an attack on another country since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Instead it is the U.S. that has surrounded Russia with missile batteries, nuclear-armed submarines, Aegis missile destroyers, military bases and exercises on a scale that Russian military leaders could only dream of, since their military budget is only one-tenth of ours.

When a truly aggressive military power falsely slanders a rival nuclear-armed power as an aggressor, we should all be afraid, very afraid, not so much of the target of this campaign, but of the proven aggressor that threatens the very existence of human life on Earth by stoking these dangerous rising tensions.

Three Minutes to Doomsday

The dangers of a “New Cold War” are not distant threats that might materialize at some point in the future. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, advised by Stephen Hawking, 17 Nobel prizewinners and 20 other eminent scientists and experts, has been warning for two years that we are already as close to Doomsday as at any time in our history except for the period from 1953 to 1960, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union first deployed hydrogen bombs. As the U.S.-Russian confrontation escalated in Ukraine and Syria, the atomic scientists advanced the hands of their “Doomsday Clock” from 5 minutes to midnight to 3 minutes to midnight, with this warning:

“The threat is serious, the time short. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not move the hands of the Doomsday Clock for light or transient reasons. The hands of the clock tick now at just 3 minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty – ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.”

And yet, in the midst of these real existential dangers to human society, Orwellian “post-truth” media are leading the public into a kind of dream world in which words like “aggression,” “propaganda,” “terrorism,” “defense,” “security,” “threat” and “violence” are exclusively appropriated as tools in the hands of powerful political interests and deprived of their objective meaning as useful terms for discussing the real dangers we are facing.

A recent campaign by an anonymous and shadowy Web site — given credibility by the Washington Post – sought to brand Consortiumnews.com and other independent alternative media as “Russian propaganda.” The blacklist of some 200 Web sites was produced by a new group called PropOrNot (which hides the identities of its participants and may be linked to the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command or Cyber Command at Fort Belvoir in Washington D.C.).

PropOrNot and the Post abused the term “propaganda,” which was defined by Edward Bernays in his classic 1928 book, Propaganda, as involving the use of mass media to plant ideas in the mind of the public on behalf of powerful political and commercial interests. Ironically, this is exactly what the Washington Post and PropOrNot are doing and the exact opposite of what independent alternative media do, so this campaign has given Americans one more reason to trust independent news sites with long records of producing genuine journalism over profit-driven servants of power like the Washington Post.

President Obama has just signed into law a “National Defense” bill that includes $160 million for new U.S. propaganda operations, nominally designed to counter “Russian propaganda.” But the Keystone Cops PropOrNot operation suggests that this escalation of U.S. information warfare will produce more blacklists, trolling, hacking, denial-of-service attacks and demonization of alternative, independent media by U.S. military psy-ops, “intelligence” agencies and P.R. firms, which will be loyally amplified and reinforced by censorship, rote repetition and circular analysis in the echo chamber of the corporate media, including by “social media” corporations like Facebook.

Like many institutions in our society, the U.S. media system has been degraded by the inherent corruption of the neoliberal order that has been consolidating its power over our lives and society for the past generation. Just as commercially driven corporate control has proven to be a destructive model for education, healthcare and other public services that leads only to corruption and declining quality, handing over the responsibility for informing the public about what is happening in the world to increasingly monopolistic for-profit corporations is eroding yet another vital pillar of American life.

Understanding the world we live in is a basic human need, and an informed, educated population is the most basic building block of any form of democratic society. So we desperately need independent media institutions that genuinely and honestly shed light on the world around us, instead of profit-obsessed media corporations cynically exploiting and abusing our concerns for our world and our future as bait for advertising and propaganda.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




The Left’s Challenge in Age of Trump

The impending Trump presidency challenges the American Left to consider how to contest a right-wing agenda and how to create electoral options beyond Democratic Party orthodoxy, as Dennis J Bernstein and Norman Solomon discuss.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Left activists plan to take on President Donald Trump from Day One, with tens of thousands of protesters promising to show up in Washington to protest his inauguration on Jan. 20 and a major women’s march scheduled the next day.

But the challenge for the Left goes deeper than protesting Trump and some of his policies. The difficulty also involves how to build a progressive agenda that is not compromised by corporate Democrats at election time. I discussed these questions with Norman Solomon, media activist, author, former delegate for Bernie Sanders Delegate and Rootsaction co-founder.

Dennis Bernstein: Norman Solomon, welcome back. […] Say a little bit about your background. I want people to know where you’re coming from and, if I’ve got it right, you sort of came in the activists door.

NS: I did, although, that was not my first ambition. That was to be a major league baseball player and a lawyer, but I was born in the early 50’s and the first time I thought about going on a picket line was in 1966.

I lived in Maryland, and there were still segregated apartment buildings, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. And so, I learned about a picket line, went there, and it’s maybe not a natural feeling, to be protesting when you’ve grown up in white bread, middle-America, but I got acclimated.

DB: And, how I met you as an activists in New York State working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. You were also beginning to write columns. You also wrote books, and got deeply engaged in the anti-nuclear movement, where I believe you were arrested multiple times, in this country, and other countries.

NS: Blockading nuclear weapons trains, as well as other non-violent actions, to try to shut down nuclear power plants, as well.

DB: And, how did you become a media columnist?

NS: Well, journalism became a lot of my interest and then professional ambition as I was getting out of high school, and so writing and reporting came to seem natural, and so did protesting the horrific Vietnam War, in the late 60’s and early 70’s. In our culture, I think then as now, in the United States there’s this tacit, if not prohibition, at least, looking askance at, the concept of activism and journalism being unified.

I remember when Chinese reporters, before Tiananmen Square, in the 80’s were protesting against suppression of the press in China, the U.S. journalists would cheer that on, but wouldn’t dream of protesting themselves, to affirm the rights of freedom of the press or human rights. And I think that’s a juxtaposition that for me has not made sense.

As with so many other people, including you, Dennis Bernstein, I think the reality is that, if you’re a journalist, you are fighting to learn and ventilate and expose truth, [then] that goes hand-in-hand with fighting for human rights, fighting for a society where life is treasured instead of destroyed.

DB: Norman, I want to, sort of, bring you head on with the political struggle now… and before we get into strategy, let me ask you to assess where you think we are now, or what you see as the front-line dangers, given the current situation. We’ve seen a lot now about where this is going.

NS: Really, on the front-line and the main-line dangers, we’re facing the most right-wing administrations out of the federal government, in any of our life times, no matter how old we are. And the consolidation of power, not just that it’s a Republican White House coming in and Congress, as well, but how extreme it is.

And this merger of bogus, ultra right-wing populism, with corporatism, with, for the most part, great militarism and support for the military-industrial complex, and political repression, and contempt for basic civil liberties, as well as human rights….That’s a toxic mix that requires, I think, whatever we’re going to call ourselves, [to be] “in opposition.”

And there are a lot of different, favorite terms: liberal, progressive, left-wing, libertarian. The names matter less than taking a firm position, not just in what we say over the dining room table, but what we do, which is most important. And that is activism, organizing, building institutions, strengthening the ones that exist, like the radio station people are listening to, as well as building institutions that are too weak to fight back against this right-wing, corporate, militarist onslaught, which is embodied now in what’s coming up as the Trump administration. So we’re in very, very deep peril.

Ecologically, we’ve got a climate denier moving into the White House. We’ve got, in terms of civil liberties, and human rights and civil rights, a racist moving into the White House, with a racist base that he has cultivated, and he continues to excite an extreme militarism.

So, we have enormous work to do. And I think we need a broad, deep and wide, united popular front, without caving in to the lowest common denominator, which is what is going to come from the top of the Democratic Party, unfortunately.

DB: Alright, I want to tap your media skills now, which are many and strong. You open up your most recent piece… I think it’s up at a bunch of places. I grabbed this off of Consortium News. I think it’s up at Common Dreams, as well. It’s called The Left’s Risk in Blaming Russia.

And you open up the piece with this comment from Donna Brazile at the DNC. And she is essentially raging about how the Russians threw the elections, in a sense that’s why Hillary Clinton didn’t win. And you quote her saying, “By now Americans know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian government orchestrated a series of cyber attacks on political campaigns and organizations, over the past two years and used stolen information to influence the presidential campaign and congressional races.” She goes on to say, “The integrity of our elections is too important for Congress to refuse to take these attacks seriously.” What’s wrong with that statement?

NS: Well, what’s wrong with it is, it implies, or directly states, that the problem with our last election was Russian interference. And, as has been documented at the Intercept and elsewhere, it’s far from clear to whatever extent the interference took place from Russia. But even if we assume that the CIA has a great, credible record of honesty and integrity as a source of information to the public, and that it is “a slam dunk” so to speak– a phrase used to tell us there were WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq more than a dozen years ago from the CIA–still, if we give all that [the] benefit of doubt, let’s be real about this,  I’m very concerned, so many progressives in their understandable concern, deep concern, horror…

DB: …fears…

NS: … that Trump is going to be president, they’re somehow conflating what has occurred with a Russian menace.

And, if we want to move into a new Cold War that could escalate into a military confrontation in Europe, with Russia, and hair trigger the aiming of nuclear weapons in both directions… if we want to excite and push forward a modern version of a McCarthy era, then let’s go ahead and demonize Putin.

Let’s forget that it was the United States that expanded NATO despite the promises coming from the first President Bush, and President Bill Clinton. If we want to just obviate and obscure history, and demonize Putin and the Kremlin, in this time, in late 2016, and going into 2017, then we’re going to have a very dangerous political climate, made worse by progressives.

And we’re getting [an] enormous tendency because people are, understandably, so upset about Trump, that they are combining in their own minds, Putin and Trump. And the fact is that, in my opinion, I think this is a fair thing to say, as horrific as Trump’s positions are – even a broken clock is right twice every 24 hours. And in addition to his stance against the TPP, one of the reasons that so much of the democratic and even some of the Republican Party establishments are so concerned and upset, and angry, and denouncing Trump, is that he has departed from the hostility to Russia.

DB: And one of the victims in this move to blame the Russians, also includes the independent press.

NS: Oh, absolutely.

DB: This has become a witch hunt, you know, in terms of the blame-game here.

NS: At the rootsaction.org site we’ve had a petition which challenges the Washington Post’s McCarthyite front page story, a couple of weeks back [which], without any sort of real journalism, endorses a 200 web site named list from a shadowy group, whose identity we don’t even know, saying that they are flunkies and “useful idiots for the Kremlin.” Now, what does this sound like? If you know the history of the McCarthy era, you know this is how it functioned and was a way to suppress dissent.

And yet, we have here one of the purportedly liberal papers, which actually has somewhat of a neo-con foreign policy position on the front page and the editorial page, stoking this kind of McCarthyism. And I think what a lot of groups have not recognized, including for instance MoveOn, is they have stoked this.

DB: They’ve jumped right on…

NS: …Right on, “blame Putin.” […] They think they’re kind of picking low hanging political fruit. It’s a way to bash Trump, and get more strength for the Democrats against them, and delegitimize his election, and so forth. But when you ride that tiger of McCarthyism and militarism, and souping up a new cold war, that is a tiger that not only is going to come back and bite you, but actually quite likely is going to devour you.

If you believe in diplomacy instead of warfare, if you believe in civil liberties instead of suppression, and witch hunting against dissenters, it’s time to really, I think…and part of this was propelled by these illusory hopes about the electoral college on the 19th of December…but now it’s time to recognize that progressives, rather than joining in the chorus to demonize the Kremlin and Putin, and so forth, we should be organizing against that. And at rootsaction.org we are organizing against it. Some groups definitely are.

What’s at stake? What’s at stake is whether we’re going to have continuous momentum towards military confrontation with a power that has thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the U.S. and vice versa. What’s at stake is the entire political climate in the U.S. vis-a-vis foreign policy, militarism, war and dissent.

What I started to sort of allude to is that Trump has sounded a note of “Let’s find common ground with Russia.” And when it comes to ending the horrible slaughter in Syria, for instance, other diplomatic solutions, and avoiding confrontation that could turn military and [be] horrific in Europe, for instance, this is an opportunity to say, “Let’s have detente.”

And by hitching itself to the star of congressional leadership of the Democratic Party, all too many progressives have assumed that, “Oh, we’re going to make Trump look bad, so therefore, we’ll cheer lead on when Nancy Pelosi and others say ‘Oh, it’s the Russians who are causing it all.’” And that’s a very dangerous bargain to make.

Another way to put it, Dennis, is that yes, we need a broad, deep, united popular front against Trump, at the same time we need to not have our dependency on the line of the top of the Democratic Party because they’re militarists. I mean that’s why Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and the top of the Democratic Party leaders are so, in part, upset with Trump foreign policy, because they had, as Hillary Clinton did, their hearts set on a confrontation with Russia.

Hillary Clinton, very much more than Obama, was into that mode. She was a de facto neocon in that kind of foreign policy. And a lot of people, like myself, and I was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the National Convention this year, a lot of people who were Bernie supporters haven’t realized that by jumping on the band wagon, that is being led by these main line, establishment Democratic Party leaders, we are strengthening the Clinton wing of the party.

Because they would like nothing more than to change the subject about what happened in the last election and just say “It’s Russia’s fault.” It wasn’t the Wall Street alliance between Hillary Clinton in the election, and for years before. It wasn’t the speeches she gave for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It wasn’t the fact that she lacked credibility when she pretended to be some sort of populist. It wasn’t the way in which the  Democratic National Committee unfairly put its thumb on the scales even while claiming to be neutral, in the primary battle between Bernie and Hillary Clinton. All those other factors, the structural…

DB: The way she supported the coup in Honduras, it wasn’t her Libya policy. It had nothing to do with the dangers of a no fly zone [in Syria]….

NS: Absolutely. Her record of talking about super-predators in the 1990s, the institutional racism, the mass incarceration, the record of the Clinton wing of the party – oh, no it’s none of that. It’s not the structural racism and classism that kept so many people out of the polls and [not] having their votes registered on election day this year.

No, it wasn’t that and it wasn’t the inability of the Democratic Party, under Clinton, as the nominee, to speak meaningfully to poor people around the country because she was so obviously a phony entwined with Wall Street, [and was] the author, with her husband, of welfare so-called reform, that was a savage attack on poor women and families of all races. It wasn’t that. It was Vladimir Putin.

Well, what does that do? That kind of lying, absolutely gives more power, going forward, to the very corporate forces at the top of the Democratic Party that the Bernie campaign has been fighting.

DB: I want to ask you more about strategy, but I want to ask you another question about the media. Now, the way I see the corporate media, they wanted these two candidates. And they collaborated with the two parties to get these two candidates. And, they knew, if they could give, if you will, Trump to Hillary, they were going to have a bonanza. And they all have admitted now that they have gotten rich on Donald Trump. This corporate media, with the kinds of reporting, the shallow reporting, the misreporting, the refusal to report [meaningfully]… they gave us this moment in history.

NS: The fact is that the CEO of the CBS network said during the primaries that the Donald Trump candidacy might be very bad for America, but it’s very good for the profit margin of the networks. And that is, as you say, what happened. Literally, billions of dollars in free air time for Donald Trump during the primaries from cable TV. Without that he would not have seen the light of day, in terms of a strong candidacy.

And, of course, we know, and this comes with the territory, a lot of bias against Bernie Sanders. I think FAIR, the media watch group, counted a dozen anti-Sanders’ stories in a 24 hour period, out of the Washington Post. And this is the terrain that we’re walking through. And now I think it’s very hazardous for people who are among the 54% who voted for candidates other than Donald Trump, very hazardous to trust the mass media.

Doesn’t mean that it’s always wrong, obviously. But we need to be very wary and suspicious, if you will, of the spin. And that’s where I get back to this bandwagon thing about “Oh, our big threat to democracy is the Russian government.” Well, this is a way of sort of cleansing ourselves of the very dirty, ugly reality of a serious, severe, debilitating lack of democracy in our own country, that is self-inflicted, and we’ve got to solve it ourselves.

DB: Alright, what are you going to do, Norman? What’s your plan for taking on this, I mean we’ve got the Supreme Court, you know, coming up here. And that’s going to go south, fast.

NS: Yes, well, without being over dramatic, I think this is a question that so many of us, millions of us, are asking ourselves and each other. What are we going to do, as individuals? I think of something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned by Hitler, ultimately…

DB: War resister, died in prison, right?

NS: Yes, and he said, in his prison writings, that resistance cannot be accomplished just as an individual, that we need community. Whatever gives us community, personally, interpersonally, and in terms of relationship building and organizations and activism and organizing. We need community more than ever. Like a healthy forest we need a lot of different aspects.

We started out this discussion, you were talking, Dennis, about many different ways and diverse ways that people can respond to our situation. And I think that means that we find ways to fight back that are consistent with our particular abilities, skills, interests, personalities, if you will, and work with others. Because we can’t do it on our own. So, existing organizations need to get stronger, and fight back.

Myself, as somebody who works day-to-day for rootsaction.org and the Institute for Public Accuracy… especially at Roots Action we’re very much into building coalitions that can fight back to support immigrants’ rights, for instance, can support Muslims who are under threat, can oppose the war machinery.

And that means, I think, [being] in the streets, petitions, and strengthening media aspects and also really putting the screws on, in a positive way, if I can say it in that respect, elected officials. Because there are a lot of democrats in the Senate and the House who, just as in the past, they have been GOP-lite, there’s a big temptation, if they think it’s opportunistic, to become Trump-lite. And we need to make, as constituents…

DB: You can see it already.

NS: Yeah. And absolute clarity needs to come from us. We will not accept that. We might already need to plan primary challenges for any Democrat who in [2018] isn’t absolutely resolute to oppose every [one]… of the numerous, massive, pernicious aspects of the Trump program. And that means, for those of us who may not love to do electoral politics, that we come to see it as part of the mix. It’s part of the garden that we’re cultivating.

Yes, we need to be in the streets, we do activism, we do organizing, non-profit work, we work in houses of worship. I’m in touch with people working at the Rotary Club for Peace. There’s thousands of them around the country, everywhere, like water finding and […] widening the cracks in the wall. We need to do all that.

And I think that needs to include already looking at the electoral arena, because if we’re waiting until [2018], that’s too late. Wherever you live, scrutinize those who represent you in the state legislature, on county electoral boards, in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House… and if they’re not getting the job done, let them know that you’re cultivating some primary challenges if they’re democrats or strong challenges otherwise.

Because we have to get that done. It’s about power, and I think ultimately power is something that progressives often think is almost a dirty word. And so if we grew up with a concept of power to the people, maybe it can have a different connotation.

No wonder people hate the idea of power. Because it’s usually so awful, it’s coming from the top. It’s so oppressive. It takes lives. It destroys the environment. It pushes for war. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. No wonder we hate power. But power can be something else. Power can be a countervailing force that affirms life instead of crushes it. Which is what we deal with in terms of the power structure of our society right now.

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 www.flashpoints.net




US Report Still Lacks Proof on Russia ‘Hack’

Exclusive: Despite mainstream media acceptance, the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment on alleged Russian “hacking” still lacks hard public evidence, a case of “trust-us” by politicized spy agencies, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Repeating an accusation over and over again is not evidence that the accused is guilty, no matter how much “confidence” the accuser asserts about the conclusion. Nor is it evidence just to suggest that someone has a motive for doing something. Many conspiracy theories are built on the notion of “cui bono” – who benefits – without following up the supposed motive with facts.

But that is essentially what the U.S. intelligence community has done regarding the dangerous accusation that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a covert information campaign to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.

Just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper vowed to go to the greatest possible lengths to supply the public with the evidence behind the accusations, his office released a 25-page report that contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.

The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information – built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump.

But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses” – as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”

The DNI report admits as much, saying, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

But the report’s assessment is more than just a reasonable judgment based on a body of incomplete information. It is tendentious in that it only lays out the case for believing in Russia’s guilt, not reasons for doubting that guilt.

A Risky Bet

For instance, while it is true that many Russian officials, including President Putin, considered Clinton to be a threat to worsen the already frayed relationship between the two nuclear superpowers, the report ignores the downside for Russia trying to interfere with the U.S. election campaign and then failing to stop Clinton, which looked like the most likely outcome until Election Night.

If Russia had accessed the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication, Putin would have to think that the National Security Agency, with its exceptional ability to track electronic communications around the world, might well have detected the maneuver and would have informed Clinton.

So, on top of Clinton’s well-known hawkishness, Putin would have risked handing the expected incoming president a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. Historically, Russia has been very circumspect in such situations, usually holding its intelligence collections for internal purposes only, not sharing them with the public.

While it is conceivable that Putin decided to take this extraordinary risk in this case – despite the widely held view that Clinton was a shoo-in to defeat Trump – an objective report would have examined this counter argument for him not doing so.

But the DNI report was not driven by a desire to be evenhanded; it is, in effect, a prosecutor’s brief, albeit one that lacks any real evidence that the accused is guilty.

Further undercutting the credibility of the DNI report is that it includes a seven-page appendix, dating from 2012, that is an argumentative attack on RT, the Russian government-backed television network, which is accused of portraying “the US electoral process as undemocratic.”

The proof for that accusation includes RT’s articles on “voting machine vulnerabilities” although virtually every major U.S. news organizations has run similar stories, including some during the last campaign on the feasibility of Russia hacking into the actual voting process, something that even U.S. intelligence says didn’t happen.

The reports adds that further undermining Americans’ faith in the U.S. democratic process, “RT broadcast, hosted and advertised third-party candidate debates.” Apparently, the DNI’s point is that showing Americans that there are choices beyond the two big parties is somehow seditious.

“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham,’” the report said. Yet, polls have shown that large numbers of Americans would prefer more choices than the usual two candidates and, indeed, most Western democracies have multiple parties, So, the implicit RT criticism of the U.S. political process is certainly not out of the ordinary.

The report also takes RT to task for covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reporting on the environmental dangers from “fracking,” topics cited as further proof that the Russian government was using RT to weaken U.S. public support for Washington’s policies (although, again, these are topics of genuine public interest).

Behind the Curtain

Though it’s impossible for an average U.S. citizen to know precisely what the U.S. intelligence community may have in its secret files, some former NSA officials who are familiar with the agency’s eavesdropping capabilities say Washington’s lack of certainty suggests that the NSA does not possess such evidence.

For instance, that’s the view of William Binney, who retired as NSA’s technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and who created many of the collection systems still used by NSA.

Binney, in an article co-written with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, said, “With respect to the alleged interference by Russia and WikiLeaks in the U.S. election, it is a major mystery why U.S. intelligence feels it must rely on ‘circumstantial evidence,’ when it has NSA’s vacuum cleaner sucking up hard evidence galore. What we know of NSA’s capabilities shows that the email disclosures were from leaking, not hacking.”

There is also the fact that both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have denied that the purloined emails came from the Russian government. Going further, Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.

In response, Clapper and other U.S. government officials have sought to disparage Assange’s credibility, including Clapper’s Senate testimony on Thursday gratuitously alluding to sexual assault allegations against Assange in Sweden.

However, Clapper’s own credibility is suspect in a more relevant way. In 2013, he gave false testimony to Congress regarding the extent of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans. Clapper’s deception was revealed only when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the NSA program to the press, causing Clapper to apologize for his “clearly erroneous” testimony.

A History of Politicization

The U.S. intelligence community’s handling of the Russian “hack” story also must be viewed in the historical context of the CIA’s “politicization” over the past several decades.

U.S. intelligence analysts, such as senior Russia expert Melvin A. Goodman, have described in detail both in books and in congressional testimony how the old tradition of objective CIA analysis was broken down in the 1980s.

At the time, the Reagan administration wanted to justify a massive arms buildup, so CIA Director William Casey and his pliant deputy, Robert Gates, oversaw the creation of inflammatory assessments on Soviet intentions and Moscow’s alleged role in international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

Besides representing “politicized” intelligence at its worst, these analyses became the bureaucratic battleground on which old-line analysts who still insisted on presenting the facts to the president whether he liked them or not were routed and replaced by a new generation of yes men.

The relevant point is that the U.S. intelligence community has never been repaired, in part because the yes men gave presidents of both parties what they wanted. Rather than challenging a president’s policies, this new generation mostly fashioned their reports to support those policies.

The bipartisan nature of this corruption is best illustrated by the role played by CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton but stayed on and helped President George W. Bush arrange his “slam dunk” case for convincing the American people that Iraq possessed caches of WMD, thus justifying Bush’s 2003 invasion.

There was the one notable case of intelligence analysts standing up to Bush in a 2007 assessment that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, but that was more an anomaly – resulting from the acute embarrassment over the Iraq WMD fiasco – than a change in pattern.

Presidents of both parties have learned that it makes their lives easier if the U.S. intelligence community is generating “intelligence” that supports what they want to do, rather than letting the facts get in the way.

The current case of the alleged Russian “hack” should be viewed in this context: President Obama considers Trump’s election a threat to his policies, both foreign and domestic. So, it’s only logical that Obama would want to weaken and discredit Trump before he takes office.

That doesn’t mean that the Russians are innocent, but it does justify a healthy dose of skepticism to the assessments by Obama’s senior intelligence officials.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia” and “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).