French Thought Police and the Creeping Dictatorship of Virtue

A new French law to combat so-called “fake news” fits in all too well with the growing establishment campaign to censor dissident opinion by one means or another, argues Jean Bricmont. 

By Jean Bricmont

The French government of Emmanuel Macron has introduced a new law to protect the French from “fake news” during election periods. This vaguely drafted amendment to existing press law seems to have been inspired by Macron’s resentment at rumors circulated against him during last year’s presidential election – which didn’t prevent him from winning. Widely opposed by opposition parties from left to right, and by most journalists, this amendment fits in all too well with the growing establishment campaign to censor dissident opinion by one means or another. The main pretext is the copycat Clintonite accusation of Russian “interference in Western elections.”

Applying initially only to election periods, to protect “our democracy”, this attempt to legislate the difference between true and false is a dangerous step in the door toward official censorship. Similar plans to ban “fake news” are brewing on the European level.

The law is superfluous to start with, since the existing 1881 French press law already sanctions insults, defamation and the artificial creation of panic, such as shouting fire in a crowded theater. But Macron’s government wants to go much farther, outlawing the spread of “false information”, obscurely defined as “alleging or lending credibility to a fact lacking verifiable elements of a nature to make it believable”. (…“une allégation ou imputation d’un fait dépourvue d’éléments vérifiables de nature à la rendre vraisemblable”.)

This definition is both unclear and potentially far-reaching.

To start with, a skeptic could ask what are the “verifiable elements” proving the existence of God, of life after death or of the effectiveness of prayer. There goes religion. How about the “verifiable elements” proving the effectiveness of astrology? There go some popular daily newspaper features. Numerous scientists have raised questions as to the “verifiable elements” justifying psychoanalysis without receiving satisfactory answers. Should psychobabble be banned in the name of combatting fake news?

And what should be done with post-modern French philosophy, whose most famous names take psychoanalysis very seriously and pride themselves on leaping to subjective conclusions? No one proliferates more fact-free assertions than Bernard-Henri Lévy, which so far has not interfered with his position on the board of major media from Le Monde to the cultural channel Arte.

But that’s only the beginning. What do we do with scientific theories that have been advanced without experimental confirmation? For example, string theory in physics and various hypotheses in cosmology.

In fact, many scientific discoveries begin with unproven hypotheses. Better not mention them!

And what about mainstream media? In one recent news report after another (Skripal poisoning, chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the falsified murder in Ukraine of an anti-Putin journalist, not to mention the responsibility for firing a missile that shot down a Malaysian airliner in July 2014), there is a big difference between the Western version of the facts and that which prevails in Russia, Malaysia, Syria and much of the non-Western world.

A Mental Border with Russia

Instead of Pascal’s “truth on this side of the Pyrenees, and error on the other side”, we would be establishing “truth on one side of the Mediterranean, error on the other”. Or rather, truth exists up to the Eastern border of NATO, with error on the other side. This is no way to advance toward universal understanding. The only way to resolve our differences with the rest of the world is free discussion. Inasmuch as the law against fake news seems to be designed mainly to counter what Western governments describe as Russian propaganda, there is a strong likelihood that it can only enforce the mental border between us and the Russians.

When the independent journalist André Bercoff simply raised a couple of questions concerning anomalies in reports of the amazing rescue by Mamoudou Gassama of a child hanging from a Paris balcony, his own colleagues instantly condemned him for “provoking doubts” and engaging in “conspiracy theories”. The official regulatory agency, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, hastened to open an investigation… of Bercoff. President Macron had invited Gassama to the Elysee Palace, offering him French citizenship and making the event an exemplary national legend. Thus sacred.

It is an odd sign of the times to reproach a journalist for asking questions. Leaving aside the rescue incident, raising questions used to be considered a primary function of journalism. If it is better to let ten guilty persons go free than to imprison one innocent man, in terms of rational scientific method, it is better to have ten extravagant doubts than one unchallengeable dogma.

It is true that what the dominant media call “conspiracy theories”, going everywhere from legitimate questioning of their own narratives and of official assertions to the wildest fantasies, do indeed proliferate on social media. But can anyone believe that describing Bercoff’s doubts as “conspiracy theorizing” will in any way stem that proliferation?

The French Minister of culture, Françoise Nyssen, has decided that public radio and television, financed by taxpayers, should be devoted to combatting French people’s “highly reactionary” ideas, notably concerning “diversity”. Note that Macron’s ruling party, Republic in Movement, considers “reactionary” exactly what was considered progressive only a few decades ago: defense of public services and national sovereignty. Is it legitimate to oblige adults to pay for their own ideological re-education?

I by no means suggest that the current government is consciously intent on installing a totalitarian regime. The problem stems rather from the overwhelming subjectivism of contemporary culture in which talk of “values” leaves little space for concern for facts or objectivity. This is increasingly true even in discussions of scientific or technical progress. Of course, legislation cannot be fully objective, but since the Enlightenment reflection on freedom, the ideal has been to seek to establish reasonable rules to protect the individual from arbitrary power. This rule applies particularly to freedom of expression.

Those who speak endlessly of their values are merely trying to show off their own moral superiority. That is the basis of the corruption of the legal system in the matter of “fake news”, the reaction to Bercoff’s doubts, and the crusade of Madame Nyssen against what she considers “reactionary ideas”. Once a group of people convince themselves that they embody Virtue itself thanks to their “values”, they become unable to perceive any legitimate grounds for limiting their own power. That could be called the totalitarianism of the naïve.

This article originally appeared on RT’s French-language site. It was translated and adapted by Diana Johnstone. 

Jean Bricmont is professor of theoretical physics at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), and author of numerous articles and books, including Humanitarian Imperialism, La République des Censeurs,and Fashionable Nonsense (with Alan Sokal).




The Eerie Silence Surrounding the Assange Case

Julian Assange remains cut off from the world in Ecuador’s London embassy, shut off from friends, relatives and thousands of supporters, leaving him unable to do his crucial work, as John Pilger discusses with Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

In a recent communication between Randy Credico, an Assange supporter, comic and radio producer, and Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, Assange’s fear of arrest and extradition to the US was confirmed by the leader of the Russia-gate frenzy.

Credico received the following response from Schiff after meeting the the Congressman’s staff, in which Credico was trying to connect Assange with Schiff: “Our committee would be willing to interview Assange when he is in U.S. Custody and not before.”

Dennis Bernstein spoke with John Pilger, a close friend and supporter of Assange on May 29. The interview began with the statement Bernstein delivered for Pilger at the Left Forum last weekend in New York on a panel devoted to Assange entitled, “Russia-gate and WikiLeaks”.

Pilger’s Statement

“There is a silence among many who call themselves left. The silence is Julian Assange. As every false accusation has fallen away, every bogus smear shown to be the work of political enemies, Julian stands vindicated as one who has exposed a system that threatens humanity. The Collateral Damage video, the war logs of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Cablegate revelations, the Venezuela revelations, the Podesta email revelations … these are just a few of the storms of raw truth that have blown through the capitals of rapacious power. The fakery of Russia-gate, the collusion of a corrupt media and the shame of a legal system that pursues truth-tellers have not been able to hold back the raw truth of WikiLeaks revelations. They have not won, not yet, and they have not destroyed the man. Only the silence of good people will allow them to win. Julian Assange has never been more isolated. He needs your support and your voice. Now more than ever is the time to demand justice and free speech for Julian. Thank you.”

Dennis Bernstein: We continue our discussion of the case of Julian Assange, now in the Ecuadorian embassy in Great Britain. John Pilger, it is great to talk to you again. But it is a profound tragedy, John, the way they are treating Julian Assange, this prolific journalist and publisher who so many other journalists have depended on in the past. He has been totally left out in the cold to fend for himself.

John Pilger: I have never known anything like it. There is a kind of eerie silence around the Julian Assange case. Julian has been vindicated in every possible way and yet he is isolated as few people are these days.  He is cut off from the very tools of his trade, visitors aren’t allowed. I was in London recently and I couldn’t see him, although I spoke to people who had seen him. Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador, said recently that he regarded what they are doing to Julian now as torture.  It was Correa’s government that gave Julian political refuge, which has been betrayed now by his successor, the government led by Lenin Moreno, which is back to sucking up to the United States in the time-honored way, with Julian as the pawn and victim.

Should be a ‘Constitutional Hero’

But really it comes down to the British government. Although he is still in a foreign embassy and actually has Ecuadorian nationality, his right of passage out of that embassy should be guaranteed by the British government. The United Nations Working Party on Unlawful Detentions has made that clear. Britain took part in an investigation which determined that Julian was a political refugee and that a great miscarriage of justice had been imposed on him.  It is very good that you are doing this, Dennis, because even in the media outside the mainstream, there is this silence about Julian. The streets outside the embassy are virtually empty, whereas they should be full of people saying that we are with you. The principles involved in this case are absolutely clear-cut. Number one is justice. The injustice done to this man is legion, both in terms of the bogus Swedish case and now the fact that he must remain in the embassy and can’t leave without being arrested, extradited to the United States and ending up in a hell hole.  But it is also about freedom of speech, about our right to know, which is enshrined in the United States Constitution. If the Constitution were taken literally, Julian would be a constitutional hero, actually. Instead, I understand the indictment they are trying to concoct reads like a charge of espionage! It’s so ridiculous.That is the situation as I see it, Dennis. It is not a happy one but it is one that people should rally to quickly.

DB: His journalistic brethren are sounding like his prosecutors. They want to get behind Russia-gate freaks like Congressman Adam Schiff and Mike Pompeo, who would like to see Assange in jail forever or even executed.  How do you respond to journalists acting like prosecutors, some of whom used his material to do stories? This is a terrible time for journalism.

JP:You are absolutely right: It is a terrible time for journalism. I have never known anything quite like it in my career. That said, it is not new. There has always been a so-called mainstream which really comes down to great power in media. It has always existed, particularly in the United States. The Pulitzer Prize this year was awarded to The New York Times andThe Washington Post for witch-hunting around Russia-gate! They were praised for “how deeply sourced their investigations were.” Their investigations turned up not a shred of real evidence to suggest any serious Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

Like Webb

The Julian Assange case reminds me of the Gary Webb case. Bob Parry was one of Gary Webb’s few supporters in the media. Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series contained evidence that cocaine trafficking was going on with the connivance of the CIA. Later Webb was hounded by fellow journalists and, unable to find work, he eventually committed suicide. The CIA Inspector General subsequently vindicated him. Now, Julian Assange is a long way from taking his own life. His resilience is remarkable. But he is still a human being and he has taken such a battering.

Probably the hardest thing for him to take is the utter hypocrisy of news organizations—like The New York Times, which published the WikiLeaks “War Logs” and “Cablegate,” The Washington Post and The Guardian, which has taken a vindictive delight in tormenting Julian. The Guardian a few years ago got a Pulitzer Prize writing about Snowden. But their coverage of Snowden left him in Hong Kong. It was WikiLeaks that got Snowden out of Hong Kong and to safety.

Professionally, I find this one of the most unsavory and immoral things I have seen in my career. The persecution of this man by huge media organizations which have drawn great benefit from WikiLeaks. One of Assange’s great tormentors, The Guardian‘s Luke Harding, made a great deal of money with a Hollywood version of a book that he and David Lee wrote in which they basically attacked their source. I suppose you have to be a psychiatrist to understand all of this. My understanding is that so many of these journalists are shamed. They realize that WikiLeaks has done what they should have done a long time ago, and that is to tell us how governments lie.

DB:One thing that disturbs me greatly is the way in which the Western corporate press speculate about Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 election, that it was a hack through Julian Assange. Any serious investigator would want to know who would be motivated. And yet the possibility that it might be the dozen or so pissed-off people who went to work for the Clinton machine and learned from the inside that the DNC was all about getting rid of Bernie Sanders…this is not a part of the story!

Eight Hundred Thousand Disclosures on Russia

JP:What happened to Sanders and the way that he was rolled by the Clinton organization, everybody knows that this is the story. And now we have the DNC suing WikiLeaks! There’s a kind of farcical element to this. I mean, none of this came from the Russians. That WikiLeaks is somehow in bed with the Russians is ludicrous. WikiLeaks published about 800,000 major disclosures about Russia, some of them extremely critical of the Russian government. If you are a government and you are doing something untoward or you are lying to your people and WikiLeaks gets the documents to show it, they will publish no matter who you are, be they the United States or Russia.

DB:Randy Credico, because of his work and his decision to devote a very high-profile series to the persecution of Julian Assange, recently found himself under attack. He went to the White House Press Roast and, after having a nice discussion with Congressman Schiff, he yelled out “What about Julian Assange?”  The room was packed full of reporters but Randy was attacked and dragged out. It was if everyone there was embarrassed to recognize that one of their brethren was being brutalized.

JP:Randy shouted some truth. It is very similar to what happened to Ray McGovern. Ray is a former member of the CIA but extremely principled. I might suggest he is a renegade now.

DB:It was hysterical to watch these four armed guards who kept shouting “Stop resisting, stop resisting!” and they are beating the hell out of him!

JP:I thought the image of Ray being hauled off was particularly telling. These four overweight, obviously ill-trained young men manhandling Ray, who is 78 years old. There was something highly emblematic about that for me. He stood up to challenge the fact that the CIA was about to hand over leadership to a person who had been in charge of torture. It is both shocking and surreal, which of course the Julian Assange case is as well. But real journalism should be able to get through the shocking and the surreal and get to the truth. There is so much collusion now, with all these dark and menacing developments. It is almost as if the word “journalism” is becoming blighted.

DB:There has certainly been a lot of collusion when it comes to Israel. Then the word “collusion” is quite appropriate.

JP:That’s the ultimate collusion. But that’s collusion with silence. Never has there been a collusion like the one between the U.S. and Israel. It suggests another word and that is “immunity.” It has a moral immunity, a cultural immunity, a geopolitical immunity, a legal immunity, and certainly a media immunity. We see the gunning down of over 60 people on the day of the inauguration of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Israel has some of the most wickedly experimental munitions in the world and they fired them at people who were protesting the occupation of their homeland and trying to remind people of the Nakba and the right of return. In the media these were described as “clashes.” Although they did become so bad that The New York Times in a later edition changed its front page headline to say that Israel was actually killing people. A rare moment, indeed, when the immunity, the collusion was interrupted. All the talk of Iran and nuclear weapons is without any reference to the biggest nuclear power in the Middle East.

DB:What would you say have been the contributions that Julian Assange has made in this age of censorship and cowardice in journalism? Where does he come into the picture?

JP:I think it comes down to information. If you go back to when WikiLeaks started, when Julian was sitting in his hotel room in Paris beginning to put the whole thing together, one of the first things he wrote was that there is a morality in transparency, that we have a right to know what those who wish to control our lives are doing in secret. The right to know what governments are doing in our name—on our behalf or to our detriment—is our moral right. Julian feels very passionately about this. There were times when he could have compromised slightly in order to possibly help his situation. There were times when I said to him, “Why don’t you just suspend that for a while and go along with it?” Of course, I knew beforehand what his answer would be and that was “no.” The enormous amount of information that has come from WikiLeaks, particularly in recent years, has amounted to an extraordinary public service. I was reading just the other day a 2006 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Caracas which was addressed to other agencies in the region. This was four years after the U.S. tried to get rid of Chavez in a coup. It detailed how subversion should work. Of course, they dressed it up as human rights work and so on. I was reading this official document thinking how the information contained in it was worth years of the kind of distorted reporting from Venezuela. It also reminds us that so-called “meddling” by Russia in the U.S. is just nonsense. The word “meddling” doesn’t apply to the kind of action implied in this document. It is intervention in another country’s affairs.

WikiLeaks has done that all over the world. It has given people the information they have a right to have. They had a right to find out from the so-called “War Logs” the criminality of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They had a right to find out about Cablegate. That’s when, on Clinton’s watch, we learned that the NSA was gathering personal information on members of the United Nations Security Council, including their credit card numbers. You can see why Julian made enemies. But he should also have made a huge number of friends. This is critical information because it tells us how power works and we will never learn about it otherwise.  I think WikiLeaks has opened a world of transparency and put flesh on the expression “right to know.” This must explain why he is attacked so much, because that is so threatening. The enemy to great power is not the likes of the Taliban, it is us.

DB:And who can forget the release of the “collateral murder” footage by Chelsea Manning?

JP:That kind of thing is not uncommon. Vietnam was meant to be the open war but really it wasn’t. There weren’t the cameras around. It is indeed shocking information but it informs people, and we have Chelsea Manning’s courage to thank for that.

DB:Yes, and the thanks he got was seven years in solitary confinement. They want to prosecute Assange and maybe hang him from the rafters in Congress, but what about Judith Miller and The New York Times lying the West into war? There is no end of horrific examples of what passes for journalism, in contrast to the amazing contribution that Julian Assange has made.

Click here to listen to this interview.

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. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.




Spooks Spooking Themselves

As the role of a well-connected group of British and U.S. intelligence agents begins to emerge, new suspicions are growing about what hand they may have had in weaving the Russia-gate story, as Daniel Lazare explains.

By Daniel Lazare Special to Consortium News

With the news that a Cambridge academic-cum-spy named Stefan Halper infiltrated the Trump campaign, the role of the intelligence agencies in shaping the great Russiagate saga is at last coming into focus.  

It’s looking more and more massive.  The intelligence agencies initiated reports that Donald Trump was colluding with Russia, they nurtured them and helped them grow, and then they spread the word to the press and key government officials.  Reportedly, they even tried to use these reports to force Trump to step down prior to his inauguration.  Although the corporate press accuses Trump of conspiring with Russia to stop Hillary Clinton, the reverse now seems to be the case: the Obama administration intelligence agencies worked with Clinton to block “Siberian candidate” Trump.  

The template was provided by ex-MI6 Director Richard DearloveHalper’s friend and business partner.  Sitting in winged chairs in London’s venerable Garrick Club, according toThe Washington Post, Dearlove told fellow MI6 veteran Christopher Steele, author of the famous “golden showers” opposition research dossier, that Trump “reminded him of a predicament he had faced years earlier, when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and alerted US authorities to British information that a vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.”

Apparently, one word from the Brits was enough to make the candidate in question step down.  When that didn’t work with Trump, Dearlove and his colleagues ratcheted up the pressure to make him see the light.  A major scandal was thus born – or, rather, a very questionable scandal.

Besides Dearlove, Steele, and Halper, a bon-vivant known as “The Walrus” for his impressive girth, other participants include:

  • Robert Hannigan, former director Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, UK equivalent of the NSA.
  • Alexander Downer, top Australian diplomat.
  • Andrew Wood, ex-British ambassador to Moscow.
  • Joseph Mifsud, Maltese academic.
  • James Clapper, ex-US Director of National Intelligence.
  • John Brennan, former CIA Director (and now NBC News analyst).

In-Bred

A few things stand out about this august group.  One is its in-bred quality.  After helping to run an annual confab known as the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, Dearlove and Halper are now partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  Both are connected to another London-based intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co. Halper is also connected via two books he wrote with Hakluyt representative Jonathan Clarke and Dearlove has a close personal friendship with Hakluyt founder Mike Reynolds, yet another MI6 vet.  Alexander Downer served a half-dozen years on Hakluyt’s international advisory board, while Andrew Wood is linked to Steele via Orbis Business Intelligence, the private research firm that Steele helped found, and which produced the anti-Trump dossier, and where Wood now serves as an unpaid advisor.

Everyone, in short, seems to know everyone else.  But another thing that stands out about this group is its incompetence.  Dearlove and Halper appear to be old-school paranoids for whom every Russian is a Boris Badenov or a Natasha Fatale.  In February 2014, Halper notified US intelligence that Mike Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, had grown overly chummy with an Anglo-Russian scholar named Svetlana Lokhova whom Halper suspected of being a spy – suspicions that Lokhova convincingly argues are absurd.

In December 2016, Halper and Dearlove both resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar because they suspected that a company footing some of the costs was tied up with Russian intelligence – suspicions that Christopher Andrew, former chairman of the Cambridge history department and the seminar’s founder, regards as “absurd” as well.

As head of Britain’s foreign Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, Dearlove played a major role in drumming up support for the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq even while confessing at a secret Downing Street meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [regime-change] policy.”  When the search for weapons of mass destruction turned up dry, Clapper, as then head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, argued that the Iraqi military must have smuggled them into neighboring Syria, a charge with absolutely no basis in fact but which helped pave the way for US regime-change efforts in that country too. 

Brennan was meanwhile a high-level CIA official when the agency was fabricating evidence against Saddam Hussein and covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Wood not only continues to defend the Iraqi invasion, but dismisses fears of a rising fascist tide in the Ukraine as nothing more than “a crude political insult” hurled by Vladimir Putin for his own political benefit. Such views now seem distressingly misguided in view of the alt-right torchlight parades and spiraling anti-Semitism that are now a regular feature of life in the Ukraine.

The result is a diplo-espionage gang that is very bad at the facts but very good at public manipulation – and which therefore decided to use its skill set out to create a public furor over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It Started Late 2015

The effort began in late 2015 when GCHQ, along with intelligence agencies in Poland, Estonia, and Germany, began monitoring what they said were “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”  

Since Trump was surging ahead in the polls and scaring the pants off the foreign-policy establishment by calling for a rapprochement with Moscow, the agencies figured that Russia was somehow behind it.  The pace accelerated in March 2016 when a 30-year-old policy consultant named George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser.  Traveling in Italy a week later, he ran into Mifsud, the London-based Maltese academic, who reportedly set about cultivating him after learning of his position with Trump. Mifsud claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials,” according to prosecutors.  Over breakfast at a London hotel, he told Papadopoulos that he had just returned from Moscow where he had learned that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

This was the remark that supposedly triggered an FBI investigation.  The New York Times describes Mifsud as “an enthusiastic promoter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and “a regular at meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference held in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin attends,” which tried to suggest that he is a Kremlin agent of some sort.  But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange later tweeted photos of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a high-ranking British intelligence official named Claire Smith at a training session for Italian security agents in Rome.  Since it’s unlikely that British intelligence would rely on a Russian agent in such circumstances, Mifsud’s intelligence ties are more likely with the UK.

After Papadopoulos caused a minor political ruckus by telling a reporter that Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements, a friend in the Israeli embassy put him in touch with a friend in the Australian embassy, who introduced him to Downer, her boss.  Over drinks, Downer advised him to be more diplomatic.  After Papadopoulos then passed along Misfud’s tip about Clinton’s emails, Downer informed his government, which, in late July, informed the FBI.

Was Papadopoulos Set Up?  

Suspicions are unavoidable but evidence is lacking.  Other pieces were meanwhile clicking into place.  In late May or early June 2016, Fusion GPS, a private Washington intelligence firm employed by the Democratic National Committee, hired Steele to look into the Russian angle.  

On June 20, he turned in the first of eighteen memos that would eventually comprise the Steele dossier, in this instance a three-page document asserting that Putin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Russian intelligence possessed “kompromat” in the form of a video of prostitutes performing a “golden showers” show for his benefit at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.  A week or two later, Steele briefed the FBI on his findings.  Around the same time, Robert Hannigan flew to Washington to brief CIA Director John Brennan about additional material that had come GCHQ’s way, material so sensitive that it could only be handled at “director level.”  

One player was filling Papadopoulos’s head with tales of Russian dirty tricks, another was telling the FBI, while a third was collecting more information and passing it on to the bureau as well.   

On July 7, 2016 Carter Page delivered a lecture on U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow in which he complained that “Washington and other western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.”  Washington hawks expressed “unease” that someone representing the presumptive Republican nominee would take Russia’s side in a growing neo-Cold War.

Stefan Halper then infiltratedthe Trump campaign on behalf of the FBI as an informant in early July, weeks before the FBI launched its investigation. Halper had 36 years earlier infiltrated the Carter re-election campaign in 1980 using CIA agents to turn information over to the Reagan campaign. Now Halper began to court both Page and Papadopoulous, independently of each other.

On July 11, Page showed up at a Cambridge symposium at which Halper and Dearlove both spoke. In early September, Halper sent Papadopoulos an email offering $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, his specialty. “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper asked when he got there, but Papadopoulos said he knew nothing. Halper also sought out Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, with whom he chatted about China for an hour or so over coffee in Washington.  

The rightwing Federalist website speculates that Halper was working with Steele to flesh out a Sept. 14 memo claiming that “Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and [are] considering disseminating it.”  Clovis believes that Halper was trying “to create an audit trail back to those [Clinton] emails from someone in the campaign … so they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”  Reports that Halper apparently sought a permanent post in the new administration suggest that the effort was meant to continue after inauguration.

Notwithstanding Clovis’s nutty rightwing politics, his description of what Halper may have been up to makes sense as does his observation that Halper was trying “to build something that did not exist.”  Despite countless hyper-ventilating headlines about mysterious Trump Tower meetings and the like, the sad truth is that Russiagate after all these months is shaping up as even more of a “nothing-burger” than Obama administration veteran Van Jones said it was back in mid-2017.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted Papadopoulos and others on procedural grounds, he has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for corruption, and he has charged a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency with violating US election laws.  

But the corruption charges have nothing to do with Russian collusion and nothing in the indictment against IRA indicates that either the Kremlin or the Trump campaign were involved.  Indeed, the activities that got IRA in trouble in the first place are so unimpressive – just $46,000 worth of Facebook ads that it purchased prior to election day, some pro-Trump, some anti, and some with no particular slant at all – that Mueller probably wouldn’t even have bothered if he hadn’t been under intense pressure to come up with anything at all.  

The same goes for the army of bots that Russia supposedly deployed on Twitter.  As The Washington Post noted in an oddly, cool-headed Dec. 2 article, 2,700 suspected Russian-linked accounts generated just 202,000 tweets in a six-year period ending in August 2017, a drop in a bucket compared to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months leading up to Election Day.

The Steele dossier is also underwhelming.  It declares on one page that the Kremlin sought to cultivate Trump by throwing “various lucrative real estate development business deals” his way but says on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business were unavailing and that he thus “had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

Why would Trump turn down business offers when he couldn’t generate any on his own?  The idea that Putin would spot a U.S. reality-TV star somewhere around 2011 and conclude that he was destined for the Oval Office five years later is ludicrous.  The fact that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm Perkins Coie renders it less credible still, as does the fact that the world has heard nothing more about the alleged video despite the ongoing deterioration in US-Russian relations.  What’s the point of making a blackmail tape if you don’t use it?

Even Steele is backing off. In a legal paper filed in response to a libel suit last May, he said the document “did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications.”   The fact is that the “dossier” was opposition research, not an intelligence report. It was neither vetted by Steele nor anyone in an intelligence agency. Opposition research is intended to mix truths and fiction, to dig up plausible dirt to throw at your opponent, not to produce an intelligence assessment at taxpayer’s expense to “protect” the country. And Steele was paid for it by the Democrats, not his government.

Using it Anyway

Nonetheless, the spooks have made the most of such pseudo-evidence. Dearlove and Wood both advised Steele to take his “findings” to the FBI, while, after the election, Wood pulled Sen. John McCain aside at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let him know that the Russians might be blackmailing the president-elect.  McCain dispatched long-time aide David J. Kramer to the UK to discuss the dossier with Steele directly. 

Although Kramer denies it, The New Yorker found a former national-security official who says he spoke with him at the time and that Kramer’s goal was to have McCain confront Trump with the dossier in the hope that he would resign on the spot. When that didn’t happen, Clapper and Brennan arranged for FBI Director James Comey to confront Trump instead.  Comey later testified that he didn’t want Trump to think he was creating “a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation – I didn’t want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way.”  

But how could Trump think otherwise? As Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry observed a few days later, the maneuver “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.”  

Since then, the Democrats have touted the dossier at every opportunity, The New Yorker continues to defend it, while Timescolumnist Michelle Goldberg cites it as well, saying it’s a “rather obvious possibility that Trump is being blackmailed.”  CNN, for its part, suggested not long ago that the dossier may actually be Russian disinformation designed to throw everyone off base, Republicans and Democrats alike.

It sounds more like CIA paranoia raised to the nth degree.  But that’s what the intelligence agencies are for, i.e. to spread fear and propaganda in order to stampede the public into supporting their imperial agenda.  In this case, their efforts are so effective that they’ve gotten lost in a fog of their own making.  If the corporate press fails to point this out, it’s because reporters are too befogged themselves to notice.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  

 




Ecuador Hints It May Hand Over Assange

Julian Assange has remained incommunicado for more than six weeks and as his health deteriorates many of his former supporters have remained silent too, says James Cogan.

By James Cogan

Julian Assange is in immense danger. Remarks made this week by Ecuador’s foreign minister suggest that her government may be preparing to renege on the political asylum it granted to the WikiLeaks editor in 2012 and hand him over to British and then American authorities.

On March 28, under immense pressure from the British and U.S. governments, Ecuador imposed a complete ban on Assange having any Internet or phone contact with the outside world, and blocked his friends and supporters from physically visiting him. For 46 days, he has not been heard from.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa stated in a Spanish-language interview on Wednesday that her government and Britain “have the intention and the interest that this be resolved.” Moves were underway, she said, to reach a “definite agreement” on Assange.

If Assange falls into the hands of the British state, he faces being turned over to the U.S. Last year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that putting Assange on trial for espionage was a “priority.” CIA director Mike Pompeo, now secretary of state, asserted that WikiLeaks was a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

In 2010, WikiLeaks courageously published information leaked by then Private Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning that exposed war crimes committed by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. WikiLeaks also published, in partnership with some of the world’s major newspapers, tens of thousands of secret diplomatic cables, exposing the daily anti-democratic intrigues of U.S. imperialism and numerous other governments.

For that, Assange was relentlessly persecuted by the Obama administration. By November 2010, it had

convened a secret grand jury and had a warrant issued for his arrest on charges of espionage—charges that can carry the death sentence. The then Labor Party government in Australia headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard threw Assange, an Australian citizen, to the wolves. It refused to provide him any defense and declared it would work with the U.S. to have him detained and put on trial.

On June 19, 2012, under conditions in which he faced extradition to Sweden to answer questions over fabricated allegations of sexual assault, and the prospect of rendition to the United States, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuador’s embassy in London.

Since that time, for nearly six years, he has been largely confined to a small room with no direct sunlight. He has been prevented from leaving, even to obtain medical treatment, by the British government’s insistence it will arrest him for breaching bail as soon as he sets foot outside the embassy.

Silenced

Now, for six weeks and three days, he has been denied even the right to communicate.

Jennifer Robinson, the British-based Australian lawyer who has represented Assange since 2010, told the London Times in an interview this month: “His health situation is terrible. He’s had a problem with his shoulder for a very long time. It requires an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging scan], which cannot be done within the embassy. He’s got dental issues. And then there’s the long-term impact of not being outside, his visual impairment. He wouldn’t be able to see further than from here to the end of this hallway.”

The effort to haul Assange before a U.S. court is inseparable from the broader campaign underway by the American state and allied governments to impose sweeping censorship on the Internet. Lurid allegations of “Russian meddling” in the 2016 U.S. election and denunciations of “fake news” have been used to demand that Google, Facebook and other conglomerates block users from accessing websites that publish critical commentary and exposures of the ruling class and its agencies—including WikiLeaks, Consortium News and the World Socialist Web Site.

WikiLeaks has been absurdly denounced as “pro-Russia” because it published leaks from the U.S. Democratic Party National Committee that revealed the anti-democratic intrigues the party’s leaders carried out to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary elections. It also published leaked speeches of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that further exposed her intimate relations with Wall Street banks and companies.

As part of the justification for Internet censorship, U.S. intelligence agencies allege, without any evidence, that the information was hacked by Russian operatives and supplied to WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton and assist Trump—whom Moscow purportedly considered the “lesser evil.”

In response to the hysterical allegations, WikiLeaks broke its own tradition of not commenting on its sources. It publicly denied that Russia was the source of the leaks. That has not prevented the campaign from continuing, with Assange even being labelled “the Kremlin’s useful idiot” in pro-Democratic Party circles. WikiLeaks is blamed for Clinton’s defeat, not the reality, that tens of millions of American workers were repulsed by her right-wing, pro-war campaign and refused to vote for her.

Silence of Former Supporters

Under conditions in which the Ecuadorian government has capitulated to great power pressure and is collaborating with British and U.S. agencies to break Assange, there is an almost universal and reprehensible silence on the part of dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals who once claimed to defend him and WikiLeaks.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which in February 2016 condemned Assange’s persecution as “a form of arbitrary detention” and called for his release, has issued no statement on his current situation.

In Britain, the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn have said nothing on the actions by Ecuador. Nor have they opposed the determination of the Conservative government to arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy.

In Australia, the current Liberal-National government and Labor leadership are just as complicit. The Greens, which claimed to oppose the persecution of Assange, have not made any statement in Parliament or issued a press release, let alone called for public protests. Hundreds of editors, journalists, academics, artists and lawyers across the country who publicly defended WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 are now mute.

A parallel situation prevails across Europe and in the U.S.. The so-called parties of the “left” and the trade unions are all tacitly endorsing the vicious drive against Assange.

Around the world, pseudo-left organizations, anxious not to disrupt their sordid relations with the parties of the political establishment and the trade union apparatuses, are likewise silent.

If Assange is imprisoned or worse, and WikiLeaks shut down, it will be a serious blow to the democratic rights of the entire international working class.

A version of this article originally appeared on WSW.

James Cogan is the national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party Australia.




‘Russian Talking Points’ Look An Awful Lot Like Well-Documented Facts

Taking positions critical of U.S. foreign policy long antecedes RT but to protect themselves from legitimate criticism Western elites brand you a Moscow mouthpiece, argues Caitlin Johnstone. 

By Caitlin Johnstone

Things aren’t looking great for the Democratic establishment, which recently admitted that it stacks its primaries against progressive candidates and is currently engaged in a desperate, Hail Mary lawsuit against WikiLeaks for its factual publications about the party. So of course you know what that means.

That’s right! It’s time for Democratic pundits to begin down-punching Jill Stein.

Jill Stein is on @NewDay right now repeating Russian talking points on its interference in the 2016 election and on US foreign policy,” tweeted CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto today, without shame or self-reflection.  

Sciutto was referring to comments Stein made on a CNN interview Tuesday about America’s undeniable, entirely factual and well-documented history of meddling in other countries’ elections, including a citation of an ex-CIA director’s recent admission that the US has interfered in foreign electoral processes and continues to do so to this day.

That’s what constitutes a “Russian talking point” these days: raw, easily verifiable facts.

Stein’s interviewer, Chris “It’s illegal to read WikiLeaks” Cuomo, echoed a similar sentiment in response to her points, in essence arguing that only Russians should be stating these blatantly obvious and extremely relevant facts.

You know, that would be the case for Russia to make, not from the American perspective,” Cuomo said. “Of course, there’s hypocrisy involved, lots of different big state actors do lots of things that they may not want people to know about. But let Russia say that the United States did it to us, and here’s how they did it, so this is fair play. From the American perspective and you running for president, more than once of this country, shouldn’t your position have been, this was bad what they did, they’re trying to do it right now and we have to stop it?”

Right. Because you have so many Russians on your show making that case, do you Chris?

Only the Russians Can Say It

This is absolute lunacy. The implication here is that it isn’t ever okay for Americans to talk about Russia in any other context than how awful and evil its government is; that nobody can speak about how America’s behavior factors into the equation in a very real and significant way. Not because it’s not factual, not because it’s not relevant, but because it’s a “Russian talking point”, and only Russians should be saying it.

And this sentiment being promulgated by these establishment pundits is being swallowed hook, line and sinker by the rank-and-file citizenry who consume such media. Every single day, without exception, I am accused multiple times of being a propagandist for the Kremlin. Not because there’s any evidence for that, not because I’m writing anything that is untruthful, but because I’m writing “Russian talking points”, i.e. arguments that have ostensibly been made at some point by Russians.

And it is, to be perfectly honest, infuriating. These people are actively making the case for willful ignorance and stupidity. They’re actively arguing that facts which don’t support the narratives being promulgated by the CIA and the State Department should be completely excluded from all discussion within the Western Hemisphere, and that only Russians should be making them. They do this while simultaneously arguing that Russian media is dangerous and should be avoided by Americans. Only Russians should argue against CIA/CNN narratives, and we should never, ever listen to those arguments.

They’re arguing for the deliberate omission of relevant facts from dialogue. They are arguing that we should all be morons, on purpose.

Of course it’s relevant to the discussion that the US interferes with foreign democratic processes far more than any other government on the planet! Are you nuts? Yes, obviously if yours is the primary country responsible creating a climate wherein governments meddle in the elections of other nations, that undeniable fact must necessarily be a part of any sensible analysis of what’s happening and what should be done about it. Anyone who tries to argue that that fact shouldn’t be a part of the conversation is making an argument in favor of stupidity.

That’s not a “whataboutism”, as empire loyalists like Eric Boehlert habitually claim. It’s crucial factual information.

Hostile to Democracy

The environment that these pundits are creating is itself hostile to democracy. If all “talking points” are excluded from the conversation other than those which lead to continually escalating sanctions, proxy wars, nuclear posturing and brinkmanship, then there’s no way for activism or democracy to tap the brake on the West’s ongoing trajectory toward direct military confrontation with a nuclear superpower.

In her interview, Stein outlined this quite clearly:

You know, I think that kind of position which says that we’re in a totally different category from the rest of the world is not working. This century of American domination, you know, sort of didn’t play out the way we thought it would, we’re embroiled now — we have the military in practically every country around the world. In the recent taxes that people pay, the average American paid almost $3,500 that went into the Department of Offense, I would call it, not the Department of Defense, $3,500, whereas we put $40 into the EPA. 

You know, 57 percent of our discretionary dollars now are going into the military. It’s part of a mindset that says, we’re always right and they’re always wrong and we’re going to be dominating militarily and economically. We’re in a multi-polar world right now and, you know, we need to behave as an exemplary member of the community and that is by upholding ourselves and leading the way on international law, human rights and diplomacy. That approach is really paying off on the Korean peninsula right now. I think we should be using it more broadly.”

Cuomo, who as the son of a New York Governor and brother of the current New York Governor is as much Democratic Party royalty as a Clinton, had some very interesting facial expressions in response to Stein’s arguments. Whenever an interviewee makes strong points which go against the establishment grain he always looks like he’s taking a really uncomfortable one.

There have been far too many cartoonishly absurd responses to Stein’s interview for me to address in a single article without putting my laptop through the wall in a fit of rage, but this tweet from MSNBC and Atlantic contributor Natasha Bertrand is really something else.

Jill Stein just told @CNN that her presence at RT gala in Moscow Dec 2015 wasn’t controversial at the time because Obama ‘was still on track for a reboot’ with Putin,” said Bertrand, adding that “Russia had already annexed Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine, intervened in Syria for Assad, and hacked the DNC.”

This is actual, real-life “Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia” Orwellian revisionist doublethink. There was no public information about any Russian DNC hack in 2015, and the average American hardly ever thought about Russia at that time. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry personally met with Vladimir Putin in July of 2016 to discuss collaboration against terrorist forces in Syria. Only in the most warped, revisionist, funhouse mirror Orwellian reality tunnel can it be claimed that Stein visiting Moscow in December of 2015 would have been considered shady or controversial at the time

The fact that Bertrand’s tweet was liked and shared thousands of times on Twitter is extremely creepy and disturbing. Establishment media didn’t start indoctrinating American liberals with Russia hysteria until the tail end of 2016, but it’s been so effective that MSNBC mainliners are now gaslighting themselves into a revision of their own history.

This is why people like myself fight the CIA/CNN Russia narrative so aggressively. Not because we’re propagandists, not because we’re “useful idiots”, not because of “Russian talking points”, but because the US-centralized power establishment’s nonstop campaign to manufacture support for its agendas of global hegemony are making us all stupid and crazy.

Stop playing along with this bullshit. Stop letting them make us stupid and crazy. Stop letting them manipulate us into consenting to escalations with a nuclear superpower. Stop. Turn back. Wrong way.

This article was first published on Caity Johnstone’s blog

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.





Robert Mueller: Gone Fishing

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s strategy may be to try to lure Donald Trump into perjury when Mueller can already get all the answers to his questions from the NSA, say Ray McGovern and Bill Binney.  

 

By Ray McGovern and Bill Binney Special to Consortium News

After a year of investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, in effect, admitted that he has hit a dry well.  He is under strong pressure to keep the charade going until the November elections, however, so he and his high-priced legal brain-trust have devised a new tactic.

One would think they could come up with something less transparent.  After all, Mueller was FBI Director from 2001 to 2013 and knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak.  But it does not appear likely that he is going to get his man this time.  So, rather than throw in the towel, he is making a college try at cajoling President Donald Trump into helping him out.

Today’s New York Times print-edition lede by Michael S. Schmidt, “Questions for President Show Depth of Inquiry Into Russian Meddling,” bespeaks an embarrassingly desperate attempt to get President Donald Trump to incriminate himself.  And, given Trump’s temperament and his dismissive attitude toward his legal advisers, the President might just rise to the bait.

Schmidt reports that Mueller’s high-powered legal team has prepared over four dozen questions for Trump “on an exhaustive array of subjects.” Assuming the Times is correct and the questions indeed are Mueller’s, an earlier electronic Times headline would seem more to the point: “Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Quest on Russia Ties and Obstruction.”  Not depth, as in the earlier headline, but breadth.  Deep dry well already dug.  A “broad quest,” yep, now that could be the ticket!   The questions leaked to the the Times betoken a very wide quest, indeed,

stopping just short of the proverbial, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Or, in Trump’s case, “What discussions did you have with Stormy Daniels during your dalliance with her?” Schmidt reports that “the open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers.”  

Here’s one “open-ended” query as described by the Times: “[W]hat happened during Mr. Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow.” That’s the trip about which an opposition-research investigator working for the Clinton campaign (through a cut-out) came up with the scurrilous “pee-tape” story about Trump consorting with prostitutes.

Also included in the “exhaustive array of subjects” are questions like this: What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?” In an attempt to put some gravitas behind this question, the Times explains that “Mr. Priebus, who was Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, has said he raced out of the White House after Mr. Sessions and implored him not to resign. Mr. Mueller has interviewed Mr. Priebus and would be able to compare his answers with those of Mr. Trump.” Aha!  Might this be a clue to Mueller’s approach?  Something informally called The Flynn-Papadopoulos Playbook for Dummies?  What if the President’s recollection does not exactly match that of Priebus?  A gotcha moment?  Perjury.

But does anyone really care if recollections don’t square on such trivia?  Never before has it been clearer that the Mueller investigation is 90 percent charade.  Often, lawyers are not very good at the game.  This is no exception.

Theater of the Absurd

Mueller knows better than anyone, where and how to find the dirt on the Trump campaign, collusion with Russia, or anything else.  That he has been able to come up with so little — and is trying to get some help from the President himself — speaks volumes.

Mueller does not need to send his team off on a “broad quest” with “open-ended” queries on an “exhaustive array of subjects.”  If there were any tangible evidence of Trump campaign-Russia collusion, Mueller would almost certainly have known where to look and, in today’s world of blanket surveillance, would have found it by now.  It beggars belief that he would have failed, in the course of his year-old investigation, to use all the levers at his disposal — the levers Edward Snowden called “turnkey tyranny” — to “get the goods” on Trump.

Here’s what the “mainstream” media keeps from most Americans:  The National Security Agency (NSA) collects everything: all email, telephone calls, texts, faxes — everything, and stores it in giant databases.  OK; we know that boggles the mind, but the technical capability is available, and the policy is to “collect it all.”  All is collected and stored in vast warehouses.  (The tools to properly analyze/evaluate this flood of information do not match the miraculous state of the art of collection, so the haystack keeps growing and the needles get harder and harder to find.  But that is another story.)

How did collection go on steroids? You’ve heard it a thousand times — “After 9/11 everything changed.”  In short, when Vice President Dick Cheney told NSA Director and Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to disregard the Fourth Amendment, Hayden saluted sharply. 

And so, after 9/11, NSA’s erstwhile super-strict First Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Collect Information on Americans Without a Court Warrant,” went the way of the Fourth Amendment.  (When this became public, former NSA Director Adm. Bobby Ray Inman stated openly that Hayden violated the law, and former NSA Director Army Gen. William Odom said Hayden ought to be courtmartialed.  The timorous “mainstream” media suppressed what Inman and Odom said.)

Mischievous “Hops”

On January 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama directed the intelligence community to limit their warrantless data searches for analysis/evaluation to two “hops,” either he did not understand what he was authorizing or he was bowing, as was his custom, to what the intelligence community claimed was needed (lest anyone call him soft on terrorism). 

Intelligence directors were quite happy with his decision because, basically, it authorized them to spy on anyone on the planet.  To explain: Hop” is a term used in Graph Theory for social network analysis.  (In WW I, this activity was called net reconstruction.  During and after WW II it was labeled contact chaining.  The general practice in the U.S. goes back at least as far as the Civil War.  By watching who was visiting whom in Washington, the Pinkertons were able to uncover a Confederate spy ring.)

Hop” refers to one connection in a series of connections in a social network.  For example, I call you (that’s the first hop); then you call someone else (second hop).  Another term for hop is degree of separation, 2 hops = 2 degrees of separation.  

Several of us NSA alumni/members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried, in vain, to warn the White House of the danger of allowing the second hop to apply to government departments or to businesses. The reason is straightforward; if you include “businesses” like Google, for example, which has up to a billion connections per day, it will not take very long before you have included everyone.

Small wonder, then, that leaders of NSA and the rest of the intelligence community were delighted with Obama’s January 2014 decision.  It meant they could continue collecting and targeting anyone they wanted.  In essence, this means that the FBI/NSA/CIA believe they have approval to surveil any US citizen without a court warrant.  And that is what they are doing.

Parallel Construction & ‘Wiretapping’

But when the FBI, for example, does find evidence enough to prosecute, it is has to circumvent rules of criminal procedure by creating a “parallel construction.”  This involves obtaining evidence similar to that in NSA-collected data and using the new “legal” evidence in court, without telling the judges, lawyers, or defendants where they originally got it from. This, of course, can amount to perjury and applies also to any warrant requests and sworn affidavits submitted to get the warrants.  Former FBI Director Mueller has said he was comfortable with this process, which the Bureau has been using since 2001, right after 9/11.

In a 2011 interview by Barton Gellman for Time magazine, Mueller made it clear his FBI had been using the “Stellar Wind” program since late 2001. This is the program by which the NSA has been collecting and storing domestic data on virtually all US citizens. 

So, in essence, Mueller and his FBI were fine with deceiving court and defendant alike, denying defendants the right to proper and full discovery. Finally, performing surveillance on anyone in the Trump campaign or in his administration, would mean the NSA/FBI/CIA could “legally” (by their own warped standards) spy on everyone associated with the Trump administration even retroactively, going back to before the campaign began. That means Mueller could have access to all the answers before he even asks Trump the first question. 

We do not know exactly what prompted Trump to claim a year ago that he had been “wiretapped” (“wiretapping” has gone the way of the Edsel Ford), but if he was told he had been surveilled, he was probably accurately informed.  No doubt he was/is but one hop, skip, and a jump away from others under surveillance, without any requirement even for the skip and the jump — much less a warrant.

Ray McGovern (rrmcgovern@gmail.com) was a CIA analyst for 27 years; from 1981 to 1985 he briefed the President’s Daily Brief one-on-one to President Reagan’s most senior national security officials.  William Binney (williambinney0802@comcast.net) worked for NSA for 36 years, retiring in 2001 as the technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and reporting; he created many of the collection systems still used by NSA.