The Real Motive Behind the FBI Plan to Investigate Trump as a Russian Agent

Coverage of this episode by The New York Times and CNN further stigmatizes any dissent from new Cold War policy toward Russia, writes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times and CNN led media coverage last month of discussions among senior FBI officials in May 2017 of a possible national security investigation of President Donald Trump himself, on the premise that he may have acted as an agent of Russia.

The episode has potentially profound political fallout, because the Times and CNN stories suggested that Trump may indeed have acted like a Russian agent. The New York Times story on Jan. 11 was headlined, “F.B.I. Opened Inquiry into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.” CNN followed three days later with: “Transcripts detail how FBI debated whether Trump was ‘following directions’ of Russia.”

By reporting that Russia may have been able to suborn the president of the United States, these stories have added an even more extreme layer to the dominant national political narrative of a serious Russian threat to destroy U.S. democracy. An analysis of the FBI’s idea of Trump as possible Russian agent reveals, moreover, that it is based on a devious concept of “unwitting” service to Russian interests that can be traced back to former CIA director John O. Brennan.

The Proposal That Fell Apart

The FBI discussions that drove these stories could have led to the first known investigation of a U.S. president as a suspected national security risk. It ended only a few days after the deliberations  among the senior FBI officials when on May 19, 2017, the Justice Department chose Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to be special counsel. That put control over the Trump-Russia investigation into the hands of Mueller rather than the FBI.

Peter Strzok, who led the bureau’s counter-espionage section, was, along with former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker, one of those involved in the May 2017 discussions about investigating Trump. Strzok initially joined Mueller’s team but was fired after a couple of months when text messages that he had written came to light exposing a deep animosity towards Trump that cast doubt over his  impartiality.

The other FBI officials behind the proposed investigation of Trump have also since left the FBI; either fired or retired.

The entirety of what was said at the meetings of five or six senior FBI officials in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director on May 9, 2017, remains a mystery.

Closed-door Testimony

The CNN and Times stories were based on transcripts either obtained or, in the case of the Times, on portions read to it, of private testimony given to the House Judiciary and Government Oversight and Reform committees last October by Baker, one of the participants in the discussions of Trump as a possible Russian agent.

Excerpts of Baker’s testimony published by CNN make it clear that the group spoke about Trump’s policy toward Russia as a basis for a counter-intelligence investigation. Baker said they “discussed as [a] theoretical possibility” that Trump was “acting at the behest of [Russia] and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will.”

Baker went on to explain that this theoretical possibility was only “one extreme” in a range of possibilities discussed and that “the other extreme” was that “the President is completely innocent.” 

He thus made it clear that there was no actual evidence for the idea that he was acting on behalf of Russia.

Baker also offered a simpler rationale for such an investigation of Trump: the president’s firing of FBI Director Comey. “Not only would [firing Comey] be an issue of obstructing an investigation,” he said, “but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security.”

But the idea that Comey’s firing had triggered the FBI’s discussions had already been refuted by a text message that Strzok, who had been leading the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians, sent immediately after the firing to Lisa Page, then legal counsel to Andrew McCabe, formerly the bureau’s deputy director who was then acting director.

“We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting,” Strzok wrote, referring to McCabe.

As Page later confirmed to congressional investigators, according to the CNN story, Strzok’s message referred to their desire to launch an investigation into possible collusion between Trump and the Russians.  Strzok’s message also makes clear he, and others intent on the investigation, were anxious to get McCabe to approve the proposed probe before Trump named someone less sympathetic to the project as the new FBI director.

Why the FBI Wanted to Investigate

The New York Times story argued that the senior FBI officials’ interest in a counter-intelligence investigation of Trump and the Russians sprang from their knowledge of the sensational charges in the opposition research dossier assembled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele (paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign) that the Putin government had “tried to obtain influence over Mr. Trump by preparing to blackmail and bribe him.” 

But the Times writers must have known that Bruce Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general, had already given McCabe, Page and Strzok information about Steele and his dossier that raised fundamental questions about its reliability.

Ohr’s first contacts at FBI headquarters regarding Steele and his dossier came Aug. 3, 2016, with Page and her boss McCabe. Ohr later met with Strzok. 

Ohr said he told them that Steele’s work on the dossier had been financed by the Clinton campaign through the Perkins-Cole law firm.  He also told them that Steele, in a July 30, 2016 meeting, told him he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” according to Ohr’s contemporaneous notes of the meeting. 

So, key figures in the discussion of Trump and Russia in May 2017 knew that Steele was acting out of both political and business motives to come up with sensational material. 

Strzok and Page may have started out as true believers in the idea that the Russians were using Trump campaign officials to manipulate Trump administration policy.  However, by May 2017, Strzok had evidently concluded that there was no real evidence.

In a text message to Page on May 19, 2017, Strzok said he was reluctant to join the Mueller investigation, because of his “gut sense and concern” that “there’s no big there there.”

Why, then, were Strzok, Page, McCabe and others so determined to launch an investigation of Trump at about the same time in May 2017? 

CNN article about the immediate aftermath of the Comey firing reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and senior FBI officials “viewed Trump as a leader who needed to be reined in, according to two sources describing the sentiment of the time.”

That description by anti-Trump law enforcement officials suggests that the proposed counter-intelligence investigation of Trump served as a means to maintain some leverage over his treatment of the FBI in regard to the Russia issue.

That motivation would be consistent with the decision by McCabe on May 15, 2017 – a few days after the discussions in question among the senior FBI officials – to resume the bureau’s relationship with Steele. 

The FBI had hired Steele as a paid source when it had earlier launched its investigation of Trump campaign official’s contacts with Russians in July 2016. But it had suspended and then terminated the relationship over Steele’s  unauthorized disclosure of the investigation to David Corn of Mother Jones magazine in October 2016. So, the decision to resume the relationship with Steele suggests that the group behind the new investigation were thinking of seizing an opportunity to take off the gloves against Trump.

The ‘Unwitting Collaboration’ Ploy

The discussion by senior FBI officials of a counter-intelligence investigation of Trump has become part of the political struggle over Trump mainly because of the stories in the Times and CNN.

The role of the authors of those stories illustrates how corporate journalists casually embraced the ultimate conspiracy theory – that the president of the United States was acting as a Russian stooge.

The reporters of the CNN story — Jeremy Herb, Pamela Brown and Laura Jarrett — wrote that the FBI officials were “trying to understand why [Trump] was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.” 

The New York Times story was more explicit.  Co-authors Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos wrote that the FBI officials “sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”

The same day the Times story was published, the lead author on the piece, Adam Goldman, was interviewed by CNN. Goldman referred to Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in the days after the Comey firing as something that supposedly pushed the FBI officials over the edge.  Goldman declared, “The FBI is watching him say this, and they say he’s telling us why he did this.  He did it on behalf of Russia.”

But Trump said nothing of kind. What he actually said — as the Times itself quoted Trump, from the NBC interview —was: “[W]hen I decided just to do it, I said to myself – I said, you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” The Times article continued: “Mr. Trump’s aides have said that a fuller examination of his comments demonstrates that he did not fire Mr. Comey to end the Russia inquiry. ‘I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people,” Mr. Trump added. ‘He’s the wrong man for that position.’ ” Goldman was evidently trying to sell the idea of Trump as a suspected agent of Russia.

Goldman also gave an interview to The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, in which the interviewer pressed him on the weakest point of the Trump-as-Russian-agent theory.  “What would that look like if the President was an unwitting agent of a foreign power?” asked Chotiner.

The Times correspondent, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, responded:  “It is hard to say what that would look like.” Goldman then reiterated the concept. “People were very careful to tell me that: ‘It is wittingly or unwittingly.’” And in answer to a follow-up question, Goldman referred to evidence he suggested might be held by the FBI that “perhaps suggests that the President himself may be acting as a foreign agent, either wittingly or unwittingly….”

The idea that American citizens were somehow at risk of being led by an agent of the Russian government “wittingly or unwittingly” did not appear spontaneously. It had been pushed aggressively by former CIA Director John O. Brennan both during and after his role in pressing for the original investigation.

When Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee in May 2017, he was asked whether he had intelligence indicating that anyone in the Trump campaign was “colluding with Moscow.”  Instead of answering the question directly, Brennan said he knew from past experience that “the Russians try to suborn individuals, and they try get them to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.” And he recalled that he had left the government with “unresolved questions” about whether the Russians had been successful in doing so in regard to unidentified individuals in the case of the 2016 elections.

Brennan’s notion of “unwitting collaboration” with Russian subversion is illogical.  Although a political actor might accidentally reveal information to a foreign government that is valuable, real “collaboration” must be mutually agreeable. A policy position or action that may benefit a foreign government, but is also in the interest of one’s own government, does not constitute “unwitting collaboration.”

The real purpose of that concept is to confer on national security officials and their media allies the power to cast suspicion on individuals on the basis of undesirable policy views of Russia rather than on any evidence of actual collaboration with the Russian government. 

The “witting or unwitting” ploy has its origins in the unsavory history of extreme right-wing anti-communism during the Cold War. For example, when the House Un-American Activities Committee was at its height in 1956, Chairman Francis E. Walter declared that “people who are not actually Communist Party members are witting or unwitting servants of the Communist cause.”  

The same logic – without explicit reference to the phrase — has been used to impugn the independence and loyalty of people who have contacts with Russia. 

It has also been used to portray some independent media as part of a supposedly all-powerful Russian media system.

The revelation that it was turned against a sitting president, however briefly, is a warning signal that national security bureaucrats and their media allies are now moving more aggressively to delegitimize any opposition to the new Cold War.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on U.S. national security policy. His latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.

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Dismantling the Doomsday Machines

Dan Ellsberg has given us a book that shows the urgency of re-engaging on nuclear disarmament, writes John V. Walsh.

With Two Minutes to Midnight, Time Is Running Out

By John V. Walsh
Anti-war.com 

“From a technical point of view, he [director Stanley Kubrick] anticipated many things. … Since that time, little has changed, honestly. The only difference is that modern weapons systems have become more sophisticated, more complex.  But this idea of a retaliatory strike and the inability to manage these systems, yes, all of these things are relevant today. It [controlling the weapons] will become even more difficult and more dangerous.”  — Russian President Vladimir Putin commenting on the film, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” in an interview with Oliver Stone, May 11, 2016. Putin had not seen the movie and did not know of it before Stone showed it to him.

The “Doomsday Machine,” the title of Daniel Ellsberg’s superb book, is not an imaginary contraption from a movie masterpiece.  A Doomsday Machine uncannily like the one described in “Dr. Strangelove” exists right now.  In fact, there are two such machines, one in U.S. hands and one in Russia’s.  The U.S. seeks to hide its version, but Ellsberg has revealed that it has existed since the 1950s.  Russia has quietly admitted that it has one, named it formally, “Perimetr,” and also tagged it with a frighteningly apt nickname “Dead Hand.” Because the U.S. and Russia are the only nations with Doomsday Machines to date we shall restrict this discussion to them.

Ellsberg’s terrifying message in the book has failed to provoke action in the year since its publication. Instead, on Jan. 24 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept its Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, poised perilously close to Armageddon for a second year, marking a “new abnormal.” 

The first component of a Doomsday Machine is a mechanism of launching nuclear weapons with a command structure not always in the hands of a president in either country, something carefully hidden from the U.S. public. 

The second component is a weapon of such destructive force that it can kill billions at once and then more gradually the entire human race and perhaps all animal life on earth. 

Here is a brief consideration of Ellsberg’s views as a reminder of the nuclear peril we face along with a plan of action that he and others suggest. 

Launch and Command

Russia and the U.S. each have the ability to strike the other with great force, destroy the other’s cities and industrial and military bases.

The essence of this first-strike capacity is the ability to wipe out the deterrent of the other side or weaken it so that the remaining force could be intercepted for the most part. 

How can a targeted nation respond to such a capability?  It must convince the adversary that such a strike is futile because it will not destroy the deterrent of the targeted nation.  The attacker must understand that the nuclear force of the targeted nation, its nuclear deterrent, will survive, and the attacker will be annihilated.

The first approach to ensure this survivability is to build ever more nuclear weapons.  Thus, when the U.S. pioneered its first-strike capability in the Cold War, the Soviet Union responded with a buildup. Quite quickly both had a first-strike capacity with the competitive buildup reaching the insane levels shown here.  Each side also took the following additional measures.

The first measure to prevent the loss of deterrence is to put the nuclear force on Launch on Warning, which is also described as Hair Trigger Alert.

Most of us have heard about this, but we ought to quake in our boots every time it comes to mind.  Since the time to respond to a first strike is only tens of minutes for an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) attack, which takes about 30 minutes to travel between the U.S. and Russia, and even less time for a short or intermediate range missile, a targeted country must have its nuclear force loaded onto delivery vehicles and capable of being launched on warning of a nuclear attack.

Nuclear warheads that are loaded onto delivery vehicles are said to be “deployed.” They are ready to be launched in minutes.  On each side —both in Russia and in the U.S. — roughly 1,600 such warheads were loaded onto long-range delivery vehicles in 2018. (There are several thousand more warheads in reserve on each side but not “deployed.”)  It is easy to see the danger inherent in this situation.

The second measure to prevent loss of deterrence is “delegation.”  This is not widely known or understood.

One aspect of a first strike would be an attempt to knock out known command centers so that a retaliatory strike could not be ordered.  This is known as “decapitation.”The antidote to decapitation is “delegation,” that is, others besides the presidents and their immediate successors are authorized to press “the button.”  It works this way.  These “others” are located in secret command centers far from Washington or the Strategic Air Command Base in Colorado, both of which will be targeted in a decapitation strike.  If these secret centers find themselves cut off from communication with Washington or Moscow, then the assumption is made that a decapitating nuclear strike has occurred.  In that event these “others” removed from the centers of power are authorized to press the nuclear button.  These others are not elected officials and in fact we do not know who they are. What Ellsberg discovered is that some of these “others” are military people who are concerned that they too could be hit in a decapitating strike.  So they also have the authority to delegate.

In fact, no one, perhaps not even the president, nor his circle of advisors, knows who can launch the nuclear weapons. Is it possible that one might be like the fictional General Jack D. Ripper, the psychotic, delusional fellow who gives the launch order in Dr. Strangelove, or someone lusting after the Rapture?  

In summary, first-strike capability is the source of the problem.  It leads to a nuclear arms buildup, launch on warning and delegation. The idea of having such a capability is deeply imbedded in U.S. “strategic” thinking and will be hard to dislodge.

Weapons of Human Extinction

The second component of a Doomsday Machine is the weaponry. What is the destructive power of the nuclear weapons used in a first strike?  In 1961, when Ellsberg was among those working on nuclear-war fighting strategy for the Kennedy administration, he requested an estimate from the Pentagon of the deaths due to a first strike as the war planners had mapped it out then. To his surprise the estimate came back at once — the Pentagon had made it and kept it hidden.  At a time when the global population was about 3 billion, a first strike by the U.S. would result in the deaths of 1.2 billion from explosions, radiation and fire.  That number was deaths only, not injuries.  And it was only the result of U.S. weapons; it did not include deaths from a Soviet response if they managed one.  The deaths would be concentrated in targeted countries, then and now the U.S. and Russia.  Ellsberg was stunned to learn that the Pentagon would coolly make plans for such a gargantuan and immediate genocide.  And so should we all be. 

 

But the damage does not stop there.  This is the surprise that the Pentagon did not understand at the time.  The ash from the fires of burning cities would be cast up into the stratosphere so high that it would not be rained out.  There it would remain for at least a decade, blocking enough sunlight to prevent crops from growing for 10 years.  That is sufficient to cause total starvation and wipe out the entire human race, with only a handful at most able to survive. Nuclear winter was  publicized in the 1980s and encountered some initial skepticism.

Now with the interest in global warming, better computer models have been developed. When the results of a nuclear first strike are put into these models, nuclear winter again makes its appearance as Brian Toon, Alan Robock and others have shown.  The TED talks of Toon and of Robock describing their findings are well worthwhile; they are brief and well-illustrated.  We are confronted with a genocide of all or nearly all humanity, an Omnicide.”

The launch of the 1600 “deployed” warheads of either the U.S. or Russia is sufficient to give us nuclear winter.  So we in the U.S. have put in place a weapon system on hair-trigger alert commanded by we know not whom that can kill virtually all Americans – along with most everyone else on the planet. 

We have on hair trigger alert a weapon that is in fact suicidal.  Even if we neglect the effects of nuclear winter, the nuclear attacks would be concentrated on Russia and the U.S.  So most of us would be consumed.  Thus MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) is replaced with SAD (Self-Assured Destruction).

Abandoning First-Strike Policy & Capacity

Dismantling the Doomsday Machine with its hair-trigger alert and system of delegation means abandoning a first-strike policy and capacity.  And right now, only two countries have such first strike capacity and only one, the U.S., refuses to take the right to use it “off the table” even when not under attack

What does the elimination of first-strike capacity mean in practice?  This involves two basic steps for the U.S.  First, the land-based ICBMs, the Minuteman III, must be entirely dismantled, not refurbished as is currently being undertaken at enormous cost.  These missiles, the land-based part of the Strategic Triad, are highly accurate but fixed in place like “sitting ducks.” They are only good for a first strike, for they will be destroyed in a successful first strike by an adversary. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and James E. Cartwright, formerly head of the Strategic Air Command and formerly vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both called for dismantling the Minuteman III. The second step is to reduce the Trident Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) force to the level where it cannot destroy the entire Russian land-based missile force. 

Russia would also need to execute similar measures, taking into account the specifics of its arsenal.  Here negotiations, treaties and verification are necessary.  But these are impossible in the current atmosphere of Russiagate and Russophobia, which is why both are existential threats and must be surmounted. We must talk despite our differences, real or perceived. 

An additional measure has also been proposed.  All nuclear warheads should be removed from deployed status by Russia and the U.S.  (The anodyne term is “de-alerting.”) That is, the warheads should be removed from their delivery vehicles and stored in a way that would take days or even weeks to deploy – that is to remount.    This has been proposed by the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction whose plan is laid out here.

The Work Ahead

Total abolition should be the ultimate goal because no human hand should be allowed to wield species-destroying power.  But it seems that an intermediate goal is not only needed to give us the breathing space to get to zero nuclear weapons.  An intermediate and readily achievable goal can call attention to the problem and motivate large numbers of people.  The Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s is a very successful example of this sort of effort; it played a big role in making the Reagan-Gorbachev accords possible. 

The effort to kill the Doomsday Machines might well be called something like “Step Away from Doomsday” or simply “Step Away.”  At two minutes to midnight we must make haste to do this.  Abolishing nuclear weapons will require a breakthrough in the way countries deal with one another, especially nuclear armed countries.  Let us give ourselves the breathing space to accomplish that.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Anti-war.com.

 John V. Walsh can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com.  He writes about issues of war, peace and empire, and about health care, for Antiwar.com, Consortium News, DissidentVoice.org and other outlets.  Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently professor of physiology and cellular neuroscience at a medical school in New England.




Watch the 14th Vigil for Assange

Julian Assange’s lawyers filed a petition with the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and WikiLeaks is mentioned in a new Mueller indictment unveiled Friday, two of the topics that were discussed on the 14th Vigil on Friday. 

Guests included Peter B. Collins, John Kiriakou, Brian Becker, Ian Shilling, Craig Murray, Cathy Vogan and Ray McGovern, hosted by CN Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria.  You can watch it here in its entirety: 




Mainstream Media Is Literally Making People Sick

The most obvious and significant culprit in ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder’ is the mass media, which has been fanning the flames of panic, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

A new, updated data set is now available on a psychological phenomenon that has been labeled “Trump Anxiety Disorder” or “Trump Hypersensitive Unexplained Disorder,” and it says that the phenomenon only got worse in 2018. The disorder is described as a specific type of anxiety in which symptoms “were specific to the election of Trump and the resultant unpredictable sociopolitical climate,” and according to the 2018 surveys Americans are feeling significantly more stressed by the future of their country and the current political environment than they were last year.

Pacific Standard reports as follows:

“As the possibility of a Hillary Clinton victory began to slip away—and the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency became more and more certain—the contours of the new age of American anxiety began to take shape. In a 2017 column, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described this phenomenon as “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder”: Overeating. Headaches. Fainting. Irregular heartbeat. Chronic neck pain. Depression. Irritable bowel syndrome. Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath. Teeth grinding. Stomach ulcer. Indigestion. Shingles. Eye twitching. Nausea. Irritability. High blood sugar. Tinnitus. Reduced immunity. Racing pulse. Shaking limbs. Hair loss. Acid reflux. Deteriorating vision. Stroke. Heart attack. It was a veritable organ recital.

Two years later, the physiological effects of the Trump administration aren’t going away. A growing body of research has tracked the detrimental impacts of Trump-related stress on broad segments of the American population, from young adults to women, to racial and LGBT communities.

The results aren’t good.”

I do not for one second doubt that Americans are feeling more stressed and suffering more health-degrading symptoms as a result than they were prior to Trump’s election. But Pacific Standard and its “growing body of research” ignore the most obvious and significant culprit behind this phenomenon which is tearing people’s health to shreds: the mass media which has been deliberately fanning the flames of Trump panic.

The always excellent Moon of Alabama blog has just published a sarcasm-laden piece documenting the many, many aggressive maneuvers that this administration has made against the interests of Russia, from pushing for more NATO funding to undermining Russia’s natural gas interests to bombing Syria to sanctioning Russian oligarchs to dangerous military posturing.

And yet the trending, most high-profile stories about Trump today all involve painting him as a Putin puppet who is working to destroy America by taking a weak stance against an alarming geopolitical threat. This has had the effect of manufacturing demand for even more dangerous escalations against a nuclear superpower that just so happens to be a longtime target of U.S. intelligence agencies.

If the mass media were in the business of reporting facts, there would be a lot less “Putin’s puppet” talk and a lot more “Hey, maybe we should avoid senseless escalations which could end all life on earth” talk among news media consumers. But there isn’t, because the mass media is not in the business of reporting facts, it’s in the business of selling narratives. Even if those narratives are so shrill and stress-inducing that they imperil the health of their audience.

Like His Predecessors 

Trump is clearly not a Russian asset, he’s a facilitator of America’s permanent unelected government just like his predecessors, and indeed as far as actual policies and administration behavior goes he’s not that much different from Barack Obama and George W Bush. Hell, for all his demagogic anti-immigrant speech Trump hasn’t even caught up to Obama’s peak ICE deportation years. If the mass media were in the business of reporting facts, people would be no more worried about this administration than they were about the previous ones, because when it comes to his administration’s actual behavior, he’s just as reliable an upholder of the establishment-friendly status quo as his predecessors.

Used to be that the U.S. mass media only killed people indirectly, by facilitating establishment war agendas in repeating government agency propaganda as objective fact and promulgating narratives that manufacture support for a status quo which won’t even give Americans health insurance or safe drinking water. Now they’re skipping the middle man and killing them directly by psychologically brutalizing them so aggressively that it ruins their health, all to ensure that Democrats support war and adore the U.S. intelligence community.

They do this for a reason, of course. The Yellow Vests protests in France have continued unabated for their ninth consecutive week, a decentralized populist uprising resulting from ordinary French citizens losing trust in their institutions and the official narratives which uphold them. The social engineers responsible for controlling the populace of the greatest military power on the planet are watching France closely, and understand deeply what is at stake should they fail to control the narrative and herd ordinary Americans into supporting U.S. government institutions. Right now they’ve got Republicans cheering on the White House and Democrats cheering on the U.S. intelligence community, but that could all change should something happen which causes them to lose control over the thoughts that Americans think about their rulers.

Propaganda is the single most-overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of human society. The ability of those in power to manipulate the ways ordinary people think, act and vote has allowed for an inverted totalitarianism which turns the citizenry into their own prison wardens, allowing those with real power to continue doing as they please unhindered by the interests of the common man.

The only thing that will lead to real change is the people losing trust in corrupt institutions and rising like lions against them. That gets increasingly likely as those institutions lose control of the narrative, and with trust in the mass media at an all-time low, populist uprisings restoring power to the people in France, and media corporations acting increasingly weird and insecure, that looks more and more likely by the day.

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.




MSM Begs For Trust After BuzzFeedNews Debacle

On Thursday BuzzFeedNews delivered the latest “bombshell” Russia-gate report to fizzle within 24 hours of its publication, one in a long series of wrong Russia-gate stories that have the media begging for forgiveness, says Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

Following what The Washington Post has described as “the highest-profile misstep yet for a news organization during a period of heightened and intense scrutiny of the press,” mass media representatives are now flailing desperately for an argument as to why people should continue to place their trust in mainstream news outlets.

On Thursday BuzzFeedNews delivered the latest “bombshell” Russiagate report to fizzle within 24 hours of its publication, a pattern that is now so consistent that I’ve personally made a practice of declining to comment on such stories until a day or two after their release. “BOOM!” tweets were issued by #Resistance pundits on Twitter, “If true this means X, Y and Z” bloviations were made on mass media punditry panels, and for about 20 hours Russiagaters everywhere were riding the high of their lives, giddy with the news that President Trump had committed an impeachable felony by ordering Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a proposed Trump office tower in Moscow, a proposal which died within weeks and the Kremlin never touched.

There was reason enough already for any reasonable person to refrain from frenzied celebration, including the fact that the story’s two authors, Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, were giving the press two very different accounts of the information they’d based it on, with Cormier telling CNN that he had not personally seen the evidence underlying his report and Leopold telling MSNBC that he had. Both Leopold and Cormier, for the record, have already previously suffered a Russiagate faceplant with the clickbait viral story that Russia had financed the 2016 election, burying the fact that it was a Russian election.

Then the entire story came crashing down when Mueller’s office took the extremely rare step of issuing an unequivocal statement that the Buzzfeed story was wrong, writing simply, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”

According to journalist and economic analyst Doug Henwood, the print New York Times covered the BuzzFeedNews report on its front page when the story broke, but the report on Mueller’s correction the next day was shoved back to page 11. This appalling journalistic malpractice makes it very funny that the NYT’s Wajahat Ali had the gall to tweet, “Unlike the Trump administration, journalists are fact checking and willing to correct the record if the Buzzfeed story is found inaccurate. Not really the actions of a deep state and enemy of the people, right?”

This is the behavior of a media class that is interested in selling narratives, not reporting truth. And yet the mass media talking heads are all telling us today that we must continue to trust them.

“Those trying to tar all media today aren’t interested in improving journalism but protecting themselves,” tweeted NBC’s Chuck Todd. “There’s a lot more accountability in media these days than in our politics. We know we live in a glass house, we hope the folks we cover are as self aware.”

More accountability in media than in politics, Chuck? Really? Accountability to whom? Your advertisers? Your plutocratic owners? Certainly not to the people whose minds you are paid exorbitant sums to influence; there are no public elections for the leadership of the mass media.

“Mueller didn’t do the media any favors tonight, and he did do the president one,” griped the odious Chris Cuomo on CNN. “Because as you saw with Rudy Giuliani and as I’m sure you’ll see with the president himself, this allows them to say ‘You can’t believe it! You can’t believe what you read, you can’t believe what you hear! You can only believe us. Even the Special Counsel says that the media doesn’t get it right.’”

“The larger message that a lot of people are going to take from this story is that the news media are a bunch of leftist liars who are dying to get the president, and they’re willing to lie to do it, and I don’t think that’s true” said Jeffrey Toobin on a CNN panel, adding “I just think this is a bad day for us.”

“It does reinforce bad stereotypes about the news media,” said Brian Stelter on the same CNN panel. “I am desperate as a media reporter to always say to the audience, judge folks individually and judge brands individually. Don’t fall for what these politicians out there want you to do. They want you to think we’re all crooked. We’re not. But Buzzfeed now, now the onus is on Buzzfeed.”

CNN, for the record, has been guilty of an arguably even more embarrassing Russiagate flub than BuzzFeedNews’s when they wrongly reported that Donald Trump Jr had had access to WikiLeaks’ DNC email archives prior to their 2016 publication, an error that was hilariously due to to the simple misreading of an email date by multiple people.

The mass media, including pro-Trump mass media like Fox News, absolutely deserves to be distrusted. It has earned that distrust. It had earned that distrust already with its constant promotion of imperialist wars and an oligarch-friendly status quo, and it has earned it even more with its frenzied promotion of a narrative engineered to manufacture consent for a preexisting agenda to shove Russia off the world stage.

The mainstream media absolutely is the enemy of the people; just because Trump says it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The only reason people don’t rise up and use the power of their numbers to force the much-needed changes that need to happen in our world is because they are being propagandized to accept the status quo day in and day out by the mass media’s endless cultural engineering project. They are the reason why wars go unopposed, why third parties never gain traction, why people consent to money hemorrhaging upward to the wealthiest of the wealthy while everyone else struggles to survive. The sooner people wake up from the perverse narrative matrix of the plutocratic media, the better.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, 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.




BuzzFeed Writer Fails Again

Chalk up another failure for a rabid media desperately trying to prove the Russia-gate story, this time a piece by a reporter with a history of failure, as Joe Lauria reports.

In their haste to prove they are right after going out on a limb many times in the Russia-gate saga, reporters have made numerous, egregious errors or have produced unsubstantiated reports that have nonetheless not deterred them from future mistakes. There are at least 50 examplesThe Washington Post in Dec. 2016  erroneously reported that Russia had hacked into a Vermont power grid.   CNN fired its newly created investigative unit in June 2017 when it wrongly connected Donald Trump to a Russian bank.  In Dec. 2017, CNN, CBS and MSNBC all botched the date of an email which led them to falsely report that WikiLeaks had somehow offered Donald Trump Jr. advanced copies of the DNC emails.

Guardian reporter Luke Harding, desperate for proof to back up his bestseller “Collusion,” reported in Nov. 2018 that Paul Manafort, briefly Trump’s campaign manager, had met three times with WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the Ecuador embassy in London in a story that provided zero evidence and hasn’t been confirmed by anyone else.

In Nov. 2017, reporter Jason Leopold reported for BuzzFeed that Moscow had sent $30,000 to the Russian embassy in Washington “to finance [the] election campaign of 2016,” only for it to be revealed that the money was to pay for Russian citizens in the U.S. to vote in the 2016 Duma elections. Now Leopold has done it again. His report last week, with Anthony Cormier, that Trump had told his lawyer to perjure himself before Congress was refuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  

After Brian Ross of ABC News wrongly reported in Dec. 2017 that Michael Flynn, President Trump’s choice for national security advisor, had met with Russia’s ambassador during the campaign rather than after the election, Ross was forced to resign. Yet Leopold, despite his long history of getting it wrong, continues to be employed. Leopold has had more success with stories based on FOIA requests than with unnamed sources. Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria had the following encounter with Leopold in 2006, which he wrote about in The Washington Post.

My Unwitting Role in the Rove ‘Scoop’

By Joe Lauria
The Washington Post   Sunday, June 18, 2006

The May 13 story on the Web site Truthout.org was explosive: Presidential adviser Karl Rove had been indicted by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in connection with his role in leaking CIA officer Valerie Plame’s name to the media, it blared. The report set off hysteria on the Internet, and the mainstream media scrambled to nail it down. Only . . . it wasn’t true.

As we learned last week, Rove isn’t being indicted, and the supposed Truthout scoop by reporter Jason Leopold was wildly off the mark. It was but the latest installment in the tale of a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction whose aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade — and raised serious questions about journalistic ethics.

In his nine-year reporting career, Leopold has managed, despite his drug abuse and a run-in with the law, to work with such big-time news organizations as the Los Angeles Times, Dow Jones Newswire and Salon. He broke some bona fide stories on the Enron scandal and the CIA leak investigation. But in every job, something always went wrong, and he got the sack. Finally, he landed at Truthout, a left-leaning Web site.

I met Leopold once, three days before his Rove story ran, to discuss his recently published memoir, “News Junkie.” It seems to be an honest record of neglect and abuse by his parents, felony conviction, cocaine addiction — and deception in the practice of journalism.

Leopold says he gets the same rush from breaking a news story that he did from snorting cocaine. To get coke, he lied, cheated and stole. To get his scoops, he has done much the same. As long as it isn’t illegal, he told me, he’ll do whatever it takes to get a story, especially to nail a corrupt politician or businessman. “A scoop is a scoop,” he trumpets in his memoir. “Other journalists all whine about ethics, but that’s a load of crap.”

I disagree, but I felt some sympathy for the affable, seemingly vulnerable 36-year-old. Before we parted, I told him a bit about myself — that I freelance for numerous newspapers, including the Sunday Times of London. His publicist had earlier given him my cellphone number.

Three days later, Leopold’s Rove story appeared. I wrote him a congratulatory e-mail, wondering how long it would be before the establishment media caught up.

But by Monday there was no announcement. No one else published the story. The blogosphere went wild. Leopold said on the radio that he would out his unnamed sources if it turned out that they were wrong or had misled him. I trawled the Internet looking for a clue to the truth. I found a blog called Talk Left, run by Jeralyn Merritt, a Colorado defense lawyer.

Merritt had called Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department spokesman who is now privately employed by Rove. She reported that Corallo said he had “never spoken with someone identifying himself as ‘Jason Leopold.’ He did have conversations Saturday and Sunday . . . but the caller identified himself as Joel something or other from the Londay [sic] Sunday Times. . . . At one point . . . he offered to call Joel back, and was given a cell phone number that began with 917. When he called the number back, it turned out not to be a number for Joel.”

A chill went down my back. I freelance for the Sunday Times. My first name is often mistaken for Joel. My cellphone number starts with area code 917.

I called Corallo. He confirmed that my name was the one the caller had used. Moreover, the return number the caller had given him was off from mine by one digit. Corallo had never been able to reach me to find out it wasn’t I who had called. He said he knew who Leopold was but had never talked to him.

I called Leopold. He gave me a profanity-filled earful, saying that he’d spoken to Corallo four times and that Corallo had called him to denounce the story after it appeared.

When he was done, I asked: “How would Corallo have gotten my phone number, one digit off?”

“Joe, I would never, ever have done something like that,” Leopold said defiantly.

Except that he has done things like that. His memoir is full of examples. He did break big stories, but he lied to get many of them. He admits lying to the lawyers for Enron executives Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow, making up stories to get them to spill more beans. “I was hoping to get both sides so paranoid that one was going to implicate the other,” he wrote.

I don’t really know why Leopold may have pretended to be me to Corallo. I can only speculate that he either was trying to get a reaction and thought Corallo would be more likely to respond to a conservative-leaning mainstream paper, or he was trying to get Corallo to acknowledge that Rove had been indicted by bluffing that the Sunday Times had confirmed the story. In fact, Corallo told me that “Joel” told him that he had Fitzgerald’s spokesman on the record about the indictment. He has also said he believes Leopold made up the whole story.

Leopold still stubbornly stands by the story, claiming that something happened behind the scenes to overturn the indictment. Marc Ash, Truthout’s executive director, said last week that his site will “defer to the nation’s leading publications” on the Rove story, but he declared his continuing faith in Leopold.

We may never know what really happened. Most mainstream news organizations have dismissed the Leopold story as egregiously wrong. But even if he had gotten it right and scooped the world on a major story, his methods would still raise a huge question: What value does journalism have if it exposes unethical behavior unethically? Leopold seems to assume, as does much of the public, that all journalists practice deception to land a story. But that’s not true. I know dozens of reporters, but Leopold is only the second one I’ve known (the first did it privately) to admit to doing something illegal or unethical on the job.

After reading his memoir — and watching other journalists, such as Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Jack Kelley at USA Today, crash and burn for making up stories or breaking other rules of newsgathering — I think there’s something else at play here. Leopold is in too many ways a man of his times. These days it is about the reporter, not the story; the actor, not the play; the athlete, not the game. Leopold is a product of a narcissistic culture that has not stopped at journalism’s door, a culture facilitated and expanded by the Internet.

In the end, whatever Jason Leopold’s future, he got what he appears to be crying out for: attention.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .




Triumph of Conventional Wisdom: AP Expunges Iran/Contra Pardons from Barr’s Record

Sam Husseini writes that the news agency ignored the nominee’s link to a major U.S. scandal broken by its own investigative reporter at the time, the late Robert Parry, founder of Consortium News.

By SamHusseini
FAIR

A president facing a major scandal, just as the highest-profile trial is about to begin, pardons the indicted or convicted officials around him to effectively stop the investigation that’s closing in on his own illegal conduct.

Trump soon? We’ll see. But this actually describes what President George H.W. Bush did in 1992.

The Iran/Contra scandal revealed, among other things, that the Reagan/Bush White House had secretly sold missiles to Iran in exchange for hostages held in Lebanon, using the proceeds to fund right-wing forces fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government in violation of U.S. law.

On Christmas Eve 1992, just as the indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was about to face trial, Bush pardoned him and five others, including former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams and and former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane. The New York Times (12/25/92) reported this as “Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Averting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up.’”

The attorney general for Bush who approved the pardons, William Barr, is now being nominated for the same position by Trump. Is this background relevant? Though current news columns are rife with speculation that Trump might likewise protect himself by pardoning his indicted or convicted associates, the dominant U.S. news wire service doesn’t seem to think so. 

In “Barr as Attorney General: Old Job, Very Different Washington” (1/14/19), Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker made no mention whatsoever of the Iran/Contra pardons. Rather than seriously examine the trajectory of presidential power and accountability, Tucker framed the story, as the headline indicates, as a stark contrast between the gentlemanly Bush and the “twice-divorced” Trump:

Serving Trump, who faces intensifying investigations from the department Barr would lead, is unlikely to compare with his tenure under President George H.W. Bush.

The false implication is that Bush did not himself face intensifying investigations from Lawrence Walsh, who operated out of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel.  The misleading comparison is compounded by Tucker describing Trump as “breaking with the practice of shielding law enforcement from political influence” and ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions for “not protecting him in the Russia investigation”   —   as if Barr didn’t have direct experience in the first Bush administration with imposing political influence on law enforcement to protect a president from investigation.

Instead, Tucker cites Barr’s supporters calling him “driven by his commitment to the department” and “very much a law-and-order guy.” (The praise for the new head of the department Tucker regularly covers marks his article as a “beat-sweetener,” a long and unfortunate tradition of journalists’ making their jobs easier by sucking up to sources.)

This deceptive piece was apparently picked up by literally thousands of media outlets. A search of “unlikely to compare with his tenure under President George H.W. Bush” produces over 2,400 results.

As Consortium News founder Robert Parry, who broke much of the Iran-Contra story for AP, would later write in a review of Walsh’s book Firewall: Inside the Iran/Contra Cover-Up:”

“The Republican independent counsel [Lawrence Walsh] infuriated the GOP when he submitted a second indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the 1992 elections. The indictment contained documents revealing that President Bush had been lying for years with his claim that he was “out of the loop” on the Iran/Contra decisions. The ensuing furor dominated the last several days of the campaign and sealed Bush’s defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton.”

Walsh had discovered, too, that Bush had withheld his own notes about the Iran/Contra Affair, a discovery that elevated the president to a possible criminal subject of the investigation. But Bush had one more weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992, Bush destroyed the Iran/Contra probe once and for all by pardoning Weinberger and five other convicted or indicted defendants.

Parry, who died a year ago, left AP after many of his stories on Iran/Contra were squashed (Consortium News1/28/18).

After I criticized AP on Twitter for the omission, a later piece by Tucker, co-written with Michael Balsamo, noted perfunctorily in the 16th graph: “As attorney general in 1992, he endorsed Bush’s pardons of Reagan administration officials in the Iran/Contra scandal.” (A search on “as attorney general in 1992, he endorsed Bush’s pardons of Reagan administration officials in the Iran/Contra scandal” produced a mere 202 results.)

While much of the media obsesses over every bit of “Russia-gate,” some breathlessly anticipating the next revelation will surely bring down the Trump presidency, it’s remarkable how little interest there is in the trajectory of presidential power.

Rather, much of the establishment media has gone to great lengths to rehabilitate officials from both Bush administrations, including the elder Bush himself when he died last month. (One exception to the generally hagiographic coverage of his death was Arun Gupta’s “Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran/Contra Scandal” — in The Intercept, 12/7/18.) Indeed, Trump naming Barr just after George H.W. Bush’s funeral could be seen as a jiu-jitsu move: How could anyone object to his nominating the AG of the just-sainted Poppy Bush? It’s as though Trump were saying, “If you all like him so much, I’ll have what he had.” [See the Institute for Public Accuracy news release, “Barr as AG? Bush and Trump Dovetail.”]

AP’s actions also fit into the institution-protecting mode of what Parry derided as the “conventional wisdom” — which in its current formulation depicts Trump’s authoritarian tendencies as aberrations from the norms of U.S. politics, rather than a continuation of the worst tendencies of his predecessors.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy, and founder of VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Democrats and Republicans to pair up. Follow him on Twitter @samhusseini.




Ray McGovern: Russia-gate Evidence, Please

Was former FBI Director James Comey pulling a Hoover on Trump to keep him in line? asks Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

For those interested in evidence — or the lack of it— regarding collusion between Russia and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, we can thank the usual Russia-gate promoters at The New York Times and CNN for inadvertently filling in some gaps in recent days.

Stooping to a new low, Friday’s Times headline screamed: “F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.” The second paragraph noted that FBI agents “sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.”

Trump had been calling for better relations with Russia during his presidential campaign. As journalist Michael Tracy tweeted on Sunday, the Times report made it “not a stretch to say: the FBI criminally investigating Trump on the basis of the ‘national security threat’ he allegedly poses, with the ‘threat’ being his perceived policy preferences re: Russia, could constitute literal criminalization of deviation from foreign policy consensus.”

On Monday night CNN talking heads, like former House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, were expressing wistful hope that the FBI had more tangible evidence than Trump’s public statements to justify such an investigation. Meanwhile, they would withhold judgment regarding the Bureau’s highly unusual step.

Evidence?

NYT readers had to get down to paragraph 9 to read: “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.” Four paragraphs later, the Times’ writers noted that, “A vigorous debate has taken shape among former law enforcement officials … over whether FBI investigators overreacted.”

That was what Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy was wondering when he grilled former CIA director John Brennan on May 23, 2017 on what evidence he had provided to the FBI to catalyze its investigation of Trump-Russia collusion.

Brennan replied: “I don’t do evidence.”

The best Brennan could do was repeat the substance of a clearly well-rehearsed statement: “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign … that required further investigation by the Bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.”

That was it.

CNN joined the piling on Monday, quoting former FBI General Counsel James Baker in closed-door Congressional testimony to the effect that FBI officials were weighing “whether Trump was acting at the behest of [the Russians] and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will.” The problem is CNN also noted that Lisa Page, counsel to then FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, testified that there had been “indecision in the Bureau as to whether there was sufficient predication to open [the investigation].’ “Predication” is another word for evidence.

Within hours of Comey’s firing on May 9, 2017, Page’s boyfriend and a top FBI counterintelligence official, Peter Strzok texted her: “We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy [McCabe] is acting [director].” After all, if Trump were bold enough, he could have appointed a new FBI director and who knew what might happen then. When Page appeared before Congress, she was reportedly asked what McCabe meant. She confirmed that his text was related to the Russia investigation into potential collusion.

Comey v. Trump Goes Back to Jan. 6, 2017

The Times and CNN, however unintentionally, have shed light on what ensued after Trump finally fired Comey. Apparently, it finally dawned on Trump that, on Jan. 6, 2017, Comey had treated him to thetime-honored initiation-rite-for-presidents-elect — with rubrics designed by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

It seems then-FBI Director James Comey rendered a good impersonation of Hoover that day when he briefed President-elect Trump on the scurrilous “Steele dossier” that the FBI had assembled on Trump. Excerpts from an interview Trump gave to the Times(below) after the firing throw light on what Trump says was at least part of his motivation to dump Comey.

To dramatize the sensitivity of the dossier, Comey asked then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper and the heads of the CIA and NSA to depart the room at the Trump Tower, leaving Comey alone with the President-elect. The Gang of Four had already briefed Trump on the evidence-impoverished “Intelligence Community Assessment.” That “assessment” alleged that Putin himself ordered his minions to help Trump win. The dossier had been leaked to the media, which withheld it but Buzzfeed published it on Jan. 10.?

‘This Russia Thing’

Evidently, it took Trump four months to fully realize he was being played, and that he couldn’t expect the “loyalty” he is said to have asked of Comey. So Trump fired Comey on May 9. Two days later he told NBC’s Lester Holt:

“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

The mainstream media and other Russia-gater aficionados immediately seized on “this Russian thing” as proof that Trump was trying to obstruct the investigation of alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. However, in the Holt interview Trump appeared to be reflecting on Comey’s J. Edgar Hoover-style, one-on-one gambit alone in the room with Trump.

Would Comey really do a thing like that? Was the former FBI director protesting too much in his June 2017 testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee when he insisted he’d tried to make it clear to Trump that briefing him on the unverified but scurrilous information in the dossier wasn’t intended to be threatening. It tool a few months but it seems Trump figured out what he thought Comey was up to.

Trump to NYT: ‘Leverage’ (aka Blackmail)

In a long Oval Office interview with the Times on July 19, 2017, Trump said he thought Comey was trying to hold the dossier over his head.

“…Look what they did to me with Russia, and it was totally phony stuff. … the dossier … Now, that was totally made-up stuff,” Trump said. “I went there [to Moscow] for one day for the Miss Universe contest, I turned around, I went back. It was so disgraceful. It was so disgraceful.

“When he [James B. Comey] brought it [the dossier] to me, I said this is really made-up junk. I didn’t think about anything. I just thought about, man, this is such a phony deal. … I said, this is — honestly, it was so wrong, and they didn’t know I was just there for a very short period of time. It was so wrong, and I was with groups of people. It was so wrong that I really didn’t, I didn’t think about motive. I didn’t know what to think other than, this is really phony stuff.”

The dossier, paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, relates a tale of Trump allegedly cavorting with prostitutes, who supposedly urinated on each other before the same bed the Obamas had slept in at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel. [On February 6, 2018, The Washington Post reported that that part of the dossier was written Cody Shearer, a long-time Clinton operative and passed it along to Steele. Shearer ignored a request for comment from Consortium News. [Shearer had been a Consortium advisory board member who was asked to resign and left the board.]

Trump told the Times: “I think [Comey] shared it so that I would — because the other three people [Clapper, Brennan, and Rogers] left, and he showed it to me. … So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there. … As leverage.

“Yeah, I think so. In retrospect. In retrospect. You know, when he wrote me the letter, he said, ‘You have every right to fire me,’ blah blah blah. Right? He said, ‘You have every right to fire me.’ I said, that’s a very strange — you know, over the years, I’ve hired a lot of people, I’ve fired a lot of people. Nobody has ever written me a letter back that you have every right to fire me.”

McGovern lays out more details during a 12-minute interview on Jan. 10 with Tyrel Ventura of “Watching the Hawks.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A CIA analyst for 27 years and Washington area resident for 56 years, he has been attuned to these machinations. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The Twitter Smearing of Corbyn and Assange

Historian and U.K. analyst Mark Curtis checks out the Twitter accounts of journalists whose names have been associated with the Integrity Initiative, a British “counter disinformation” program.

By Mark Curtis
British Foreign Policy Declassified

The U.K.-financed Integrity Initiative, managed by the Institute for Statecraft, is ostensibly a “counter disinformation” program to challenge Russian information operations. However, it has been revealed that the Integrity Initiative Twitter handle and some individuals associated with this program have also been tweeting messages attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This takes on special meaning in light of the numerous U.K. military and intelligence personnel associated with the program, documented in an important briefing by academics in the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media.

Several journalists have been named as associated with the Integrity Initiative, either in program “clusters” or having been invited to an Integrity Initiative event, in the documents that have been posted online. (For more on this see section 7.1 of this briefing note, the “UK” section of the “Xcountry” document and journalists invited to speak at an Integrity Initiative event in London in November 2018.)

Analysis of 11 of these individuals has been undertaken to assess to what extent their tweets have linked Corbyn unfairly (for a definition see below) to Russia. The results show two things:

  • first, the smearing of Corbyn about Russia is more extensive than has been revealed so far;
  • second, many of the same individuals have also been attacking a second target – Julian Assange, trying to also falsely link him to the Kremlin.

Many of these 11 individuals are associated with The Times and The Guardian in the U.K. and the Atlantic Council in the U.S. The research does not show, however, that these tweets are associated with the Integrity Initiative (see further below).

Linking Corbyn to Russia

The Integrity Initiative said in a tweet, “we are not ‘anti-Russian’ and do not ‘target’ Mr Corbyn.” However, that tweet was preceded by the following tweets: 

  • “Skripal poisoning: It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”
  • “An alleged British Corbyn supporter wants to vote for Putin.”
  • “’Mr Corbyn was a ‘useful idiot’, in the phrase apocryphally attributed to Lenin. His visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.’” This tweet was a quote from an article by Edward Lucas in The Times, Corbyn’s sickening support of Soviet Empire.”

Here are examples of tweets from the 11 individuals.

Times columnist Edward Lucas has published an article on the Integrity Initiative website and been quoted as saying that his work with the Initiative has not been paid or involved anything improper. (See section 7.1.3 of this briefing note.) On Twitter, he has accused Corbyn of having blind spots on Putin’s plutocracy and Kremlin imperialism.”

 Lucas has also tweeted:

  • “Why does Corbyn not see that Russia is imperialist and Ukrainians are victims?” and  “It’s not just Corbyn. Here’s Swedish leftie @AsaLinderborg explaining why Nato not Putin is the real threat to peace” – linking to the latter’s article in a Swedish newspaper. 
  • “German hard-leftist GDR-loving wall-defending @SWagenknecht congratulates Corbyn on win” [in the Labour leadership contest]
  • “More excellent stuff on Corbyn’s love of plutocrats so long as they are Russian.”

In another tweet, he praised as brilliant an article about Corbyn “playing into Russia’s hands on the Scribal poisoning.” 

Deborah Haynes, until recently defence editor of The Times and now foreign affairs editor at Sky News, has tweeted:

Haynes has also tweeted about Corbyn “displaying staggering naivety and a complete failure to understand this state-sponsored attack by Russia on the UK. Appalling. Is he for real?”

Haynes has also tweeted: “Incredible that @jeremycorbynis attempting to score party-political points in wake of hugely significant statement by @theresa_may on Skripal attack by Russia.”

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum has tweeted that Corbyn is a “useful idiot” of Russia; about a “precise echo of Kremlin propaganda from Corbyn,” and that “Surprise! Russia sides with Corbyn against Cameron.”

Below is another. 

David Clark, a former adviser to the late Labour PM, Robin Cook, has tweeted that Corbyn is an “apologist” for Putin.  Below is another of Clark’s tweets. 

Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council in the U.S. has tweeted, referring to Corbyn: “Once a communist always so.”

His colleague at the Atlantic Council, Ben Nimmo, sent the following three tweets on Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership in August 2015:

  • “Why Russia loves Corbyn, in one headline”
  • “Russia’s certainly pushing Corbyn’s candidacy”
  • “From Russia with coverage – how RT is campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn.” Here’s one more, promoting a piece he wrote for the Daily Beast:

Natalie Nougayrede, Guardian columnist and on its editorial board, has tweeted this:

Nougayrede also retweeted an article by Jeremy Corbyn isn’t anti-war. He’s just anti-West.”

Three Guardian/Observer-linked journalists were invited to speak at an Integrity Initiative event in London in November 2018: Carole Cadwalladr, Nick Cohen and James Ball.

Cadwalladr has tweeted that “Labour has a Russia problem,” that Corbyn adviser Seumas Milne is “pro-Putin” and that “Milne’s support for Putin has made him a Russian propaganda tool.” One of Cadwalladr’s tweets noted:

  • “Here’s Corbyn’s principal advisor Seamus Milne on RT explaining why it was the fault of NATO aggression that Russia invaded Ukraine.

Another by Cadwalladr:

Nick Cohen has tweeted that “Labour is led by Putin fans” and: “What is worse? Farage and Corbyn and twitter trolls divert attention from Russia’s political assassinations because they believe Putin is innocent or because they are morally corrupt?” He has also retweeted an Observer article of his claiming that Labour leaders have promoted “endorsements of Russian imperialism” and that Corbyn’s policy has given Russia “a free pass” in Syria. 

Here is another: 

James Ball has tweeted a link to his own article in the New Statesman saying that Corbyn is “playing into Russia’s hands on the Skripal poisoning” and accusing Corbyn to the effect that he “took money from Russia Today.”

Linking Assange to the Kremlin

Many of the same individuals have also been tweeting false statements about Julian Assange and Russia.

The Integrity Initiative twitter site itself retweeted a Guardian smear article about a  lawyer, Adam Waldman, visiting the Wikileaks founder. 

It also tweeted: “If you still believe Assange is some kind of hero, you deserve pity at best.”

Anders Aslund has tweeted that Assange “represents certain Russian agencies” that “Wikileaks, Assange & Snowden are nothing but highly successful Russian special operations” and “Kremlin agents” and that “Assange is collaborating w[ith] Russia Today as program host. Would be strange if not full-fledged agent.”

Cadwalladr has also sought to overtly link Assange to the Kremlin.  She has tweeted that “Assange & Milne… are both Russian propaganda tools,” that Assange is a “special friend” of Russian intelligence and that Wikileaks has “colluded with…the Kremlin.”

In addition, Cadwalladr has tweeted several times that “Assange was in direct communication with Russian intelligence in 2016” and that “Wikileaks sought assistance from Russian intelligence officers to disrupt the US presidential election.” Cadwalladr is here claiming that Wikileaks knowingly colluded with Russian intelligence by releasing the files on the Democratic Party in 2016: in fact, this is not known or proven at all, while numerous media outlets also published or had contacts with Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks in 2016 – though do not figure as targets in her attacks.

Nick Cohen has also made many smears against Julian Assange, variously calling him a “Russian stooge,”  a “Putin agent,”  “pro-Putin,” a “Russian toady”, that he “works for Russia propaganda machine” while “Wikileaks will think whatever Putin tells it to think.”

David Leask, chief reporter of The Herald (Scotland), has described Assange as a “Kremlin proxy” while Anne Applebaum tweeted: “’Wikileaks is a front for Russian intelligence,’” linking to an article of the same headline. Edward Lucas retweeted his Times article suggesting that Assange and Wikileaks are part of the “Kremlin-loving camp”while David Clark has tweeted that “Assange is an active accomplice” of autocrats such as Putin.

Need for further research

There are some key points to be made about this analysis.

First, some of the tweets made by these individuals on Corbyn and Assange, not all of which are included here, are fair comment, even if, in my view, they are usually wrong. But others go beyond this, inferring that Corbyn (and Assange) are in effect agents of Russia and/or are willingly and knowingly amplifying Russia’s agenda, as little more than “tools” – with no evidence provided (understandably, since there is none). There is also sometimes the association of Corbyn with former communists. These areas are held to constitute smearing.

Second, it is not known and certainly not proven that these tweets are associated with the Integrity Initiative. Little is known of the internal workings of the Initiative. It is possible that some of the individuals may have been chosen by the Integrity Initiative to be associated with it precisely because of their pre-existing criticism of Russia or their willingness to accuse figures such as Corbyn with association with Russia. While I am not suggesting that these individuals’ tweets are necessarily linked to their role in the Integrity Initiative, there does appear to be something of a pattern among these people of smearing both Corbyn and Assange.

Third, and equally important, this is not a full analysis of these individuals’ outputs: it is limited to their tweets. Neither is it a full analysis of the false linking to Russia by individuals associated with the Integrity Initiative: several other journalists and figures named in the documents are not analysed here. Again, further research is needed.

Mark Curtis is an historian and analyst of U.K. foreign policy and international development and the author of six books, the latest being an updated edition of “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam.”




Covert British Military-Smear Machine Moving into US

After mobilizing a disinformation campaign across Europe, documents show that the Integrity Initiative is now infiltrating the U.S., report Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames.

By Max Blumenthal and Mark Ames
Grayzone

A bombshell domestic spy scandal has been unfolding in Britain, after hacked internal communications exposed a covert U.K. state military-intelligence psychological warfare operation targeting its own citizens and political figures in allied NATO countries under the cover of fighting “Russian disinformation.” 

The leaked documents revealed a secret network of spies, prominent journalists and think-tanks colluding under the umbrella of a group called “Integrity Initiative” to shape domestic opinion—and to smear political opponents of the right-wing Tory government, including the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin.

Until now, this Integrity Initiative domestic spy scandal has been ignored in the American media, perhaps because it has mostly involved British names. But it is clear that the influence operation has already been activated in the U.S.. Hacked documents reveal that the Integrity Initiative is cultivating powerful allies inside the State Department, top D.C. think tanks, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, where it has gained access to Katharine Gorka and her husband, the fascist-linked cable news pundit Sebastian Gorka. 

The Integrity Initiative has spelled out plans to expand its network across the U.S., meddling in American politics and recruiting “a new generation of Russia watchers” behind the false guise of a non-partisan charity. Moreover, the group has hired one of the most notorious American “perception management” specialists, John Rendon, to train its clusters of pundits and cultivate relationships with the media. 

Back in the U.K., Member of Parliament Chris Williamson has clamored for an investigation into the Integrity Initiative’s abuse of public money. 

In a recent editorial, Williamson drew a direct parallel between the group’s collaboration with journalists and surreptitious payments the CIA made to reporters during the Cold War.

“These tactics resemble those deployed by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird that was launched at the height of the cold war in the early 1950s. Its aims included using the mainstream news media as a propaganda tool,” Williamson wrote.

“They manipulated the news agenda by recruiting leading journalists to write stories with the express purpose of influencing public opinion in a particular way,” the Labour parliamentarian continued. “Now it seems the British Establishment have dusted off the CIA’s old playbook and is intent on giving it another outing on this side of the Atlantic.”

Unmasking a Smear Machine

The existence of the Integrity Initiative was virtually unknown until this November, when the email servers of a previously obscure British think tank called the Institute for Statecraft were hacked, prompting allegations of Russian intrusion. When the group’s internal documents appeared at a website hosted by Anonymous Europe, the public learned of a covert propaganda network seed-funded to the tune of over $2 million dollars by the Tory-controlled U.K. Foreign Office, and run largely by military-intelligence officers.

Through a series of cash inducements, off-the-record briefings and all-day conferences, the Integrity Initiative has sought to organize journalists across the West into an international echo chamber hyping up the supposed threat of Russian disinformation—and to defame politicians and journalists critical of this new Cold War campaign. 

bid for funding submitted by the Integrity Initiative in 2017 to the British Ministry of Defense promised to deliver a “tougher stance on Russia” by arranging for “more information published in the media on the threat of Russian active measures.”

The Integrity Initiative has also worked through its fronts in the media to smear political figures perceived as a threat to its militaristic agenda. Its targets have included a Spanish Department of Homeland Security appointee, Pedro Banos, whose nomination was scuttled thanks to a media blitz it secretly orchestrated; Jeremy Corbyn, whom the outfit and its media cutouts painted as a useful idiot of Russia; and a Scottish member of parliament, Neil Findlay, whom one of its closest media allies accused of adopting “Kremlin messaging” for daring to protest the official visit of the far-right Ukrainian politician Andriy Parubiy — the founder of two neo-Nazi parties and author of a white nationalist memoir, “View From The Right.”

These smear campaigns and many more surreptitiously orchestrated by the Integrity Initiative offer a disturbing preview of the reactionary politics it plans to inject into an already toxic American political environment. 

Aggressive Expansion

A newly released Integrity Initiative document reveals that the outfit plans an aggressive expansion across the U.S. 

The Integrity Initiative claims to have already established a “simple office” in Washington, D.C., though it does not say where. It also boasts of partnerships with top D.C. think tanks like the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and its close relationships with U.S. officials. 

A major hub of Integrity Initiative influence is the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, a de facto U.S. government propaganda operation that was established by President Barack Obama to battle online ISIS recruitment, but which was rapidly repurposed to counter Russian disinformation following the election of Trump.

The Integrity Initiative has also recruited one of the most infamous American PR men to organize its clusters of journalists and political figures. 

He is John Rendon, best known as “The Man Who Sold The War”— several wars, in fact, but most notoriously the Iraq invasion. Rendon was the self-described “information warrior” who planted fake news in major U.S.-U.K. media about non-existent WMD threats. With deep ties to the CIA and other military-intelligence agencies, his PR firm was paid $100 million to organize and sell Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. In 2002, The New York Times exposed a Pentagon program using Rendon to plant “disinformation” — including “false stories” and “the blackest of black PR” — in media outlets around the world, in order to shape public opinion and sell the Iraq invasion. 

Journalist James Bamford outlined a catalogue of disinformation feats Rendon performed for the Pentagon, such as identifying “the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships.” Bamford also found proposals and programs Rendon was involved in that aimed to “‘coerce’ foreign journalists and plant false information overseas… [and] find ways to ‘punish’ those who convey the ‘wrong message.’”

These tactics seem particularly relevant to his work with the Integrity Initiative, especially considering the internal documents that reveal further Rendon-style plans to produce reports and studies to be “fed anonymously into local media.” (Among the outlets listed as friendly hosts in Integrity Initiative internal memos are Buzzfeed and El Pais, the center-left Spanish daily.)

Keeping up With the Gorkas

Internal documents also refer to interactions between Integrity Initiative Director Chris Donnelly and top Trump officials such as Katharine Gorka, a vehemently anti-Muslim Department of Homeland Security official, as well as her husband, Sebastian, who earned right-wing fame during his brief tenure in Trump’s White House. 

The latter Gorka is an open supporter of the Hungarian Vitezi Rend, a proto-fascist order that collaborated with Nazi Germany during its occupation of Hungary. Following Trump’s election victory in 2016, Gorka appeared for televised interviews in a black Vitezi Rend uniform. 

Gorka was among the first figures listed on an itinerary for Donnelly to Washington this Sept. 18 to 22. The itinerary indicates that the two had breakfast before Donnelly delivered a presentation on “Mapping Russian Influence Activities” at the federally funded military research center, CNA.

 

According to the itinerary, Donnelly was granted access to Pentagon officials such as Mara Karlin, an up-and-coming neoconservative cadre, and John McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker, another neoconservative operative who also serves as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine. Numerous meetings with staffers inside the State Department’s Office of Global Engagement were also detailed. 

Foreign Agent in State?

Of all the State Department officials named in Integrity Initiative documents, the one who appeared most frequently was Todd Leventhal. Leventhal has been a staffer at the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, boasting of “20 years of countering disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and urban legends.” In an April 2018 Integrity Initiative memo, he is listed as a current team member:

Funded to the tune of $160 million this year to beat back Russian disinformation with “counter-propaganda,” the State Department’s Global Engagement Center has refused to deny targeting American citizens with information warfare of its own. “My old job at the State Department was as chief propagandist,” confessed former Global Engagement Center Director Richard Stengel. “I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”

Like so many of the media and political figures involved in the Integrity Initiative’s international network, the Global Engagement Center’s Leventhal has a penchant for deploying smear tactics against prominent voices that defy the foreign policy consensus. Leventhal appeared in an outtake of a recent NBC documentary on Russian disinformation smugly explaining how he would take down a 15-year-old book critical of American imperialism in the developing world. Rather than challenge the book’s substance and allegations, Leventhal boasted how he would marshal his resources to wage an ad hominem smear campaign to destroy the author’s reputation. His strategic vision was clear: when confronting a critic, ignore the message and destroy the messenger.

Integrity Initiative documents reveal that Leventhal has been paid $76,608 dollars (60,000 British pounds) for a 50 percent contract. 

While those same documents claim he has retired from the State Department, Leventhal’s own Linkedin page lists him as a current “Senior Disinformation Advisor” to the State Department. If that were true, it would mean that the State Department was employing a de facto foreign agent.

As a cut-out of the British Foreign Office and Defense Ministry, the Integrity Initiative’s work with current and former U.S. officials and members of the media raises certain legal questions. For one, there is no indication that the group has registered under the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act, as most foreign agents of influence are required to do.

Grants from Neocon Foundation

An Integrity Initiative memo states that the right-wing Smith Richardson Foundation has also committed to ponying up funding for its U.S. network as soon as the group receives 501 c-3 non-profit status. The foundation has already provided it with about $56,000 for covert propaganda activities across Europe.

The Smith Richardson Foundation has old ties to the U.S. intelligence community and controversial cold war influence operations. According to reporter Russ Bellant, the foundation was secretly bankrolling radical right-wing “indoctrination campaigns for the American public on Cold War and foreign policy issues”— programs that got the attention of Senator William Fulbright, who warned then-President John F. Kennedy of their dangers. At one of these indoctrination seminars, a Smith Richardson Foundation director “told attendees that ‘it is within the capacity of the people in this room to literally turn the State of Georgia into a civil war college,’ in order to overcome their opponents.”

Smith Richardson has funded a who’s who of the neoconservative movement, from hyper-militaristic think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute to the Institute for the Study of War. “To say the [Smith Richardson] foundation was involved at every level in the lobbying for and crafting of the so-called global war on terror after 9/11 would be an understatement,” wrote journalist Kelley Vlahos.

Besides Smith Richardson, the Integrity Initiative has stated its intention to apply for grants from the State Department “to expand the Integrity Initiative activities both within and outside of the USA.” This is yet another indicator that the U.S. government is paying for propaganda targeting its own citizens. 

‘Main Event’ in Seattle

An Integrity Initiative internal document argues that because “DC is well served by existing US institutions, such as those with which the Institute [for Statecraft] already collaborates,” the organization should “concentrate on extending the work of the Integrity Initiative into major cities and key State capitals [sic] across the USA.”

This Dec. 10, the Integrity Initiative organized what it called its “main event” in the U.S. It was a conference on disinformation held in Seattle, under the auspices of a data firm called Adventium Labs. Together with the Technical Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, the Integrity Initiative listed Adventium Labs as one of its “first partners outside DC.”

Adventium is a Minneapolis-based research and development firm that has reaped contracts from the U.S. military, including a recent $5.4 million cyber-security grant from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. 

Inside a modest-sized hotel conference room, the Adventium/Integrity event began with a speech by the Integrity Initiative’s Simon Bracey-Lane. Two years prior, Bracey-Lane appeared on the American political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.” Now, the young operator was back in the U.S. as the advance man for a military-intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader widely regarded as the British version of Sanders.

Bracey-Lane opened his address by explaining that Integrity Initiative director Chris Donnelly had been unable to appear at the event, possibly because he was bogged down in the scandal back home. He proceeded to read remarks prepared by Donnelly that offered a window into the frighteningly militaristic mindset the Integrity Initiative aims to impose on the public through their media and political allies.

According to Donnelly’s comments, the West was no longer in a “peace time, rules based environment.” From the halls of government to corporate boardrooms to even the U.K.’s National Health System, “the conclusion is that we have to look for people who suit a wartime environment rather than peacetime.”

During a Q&A, Bracey-Lane remarked that “we have to change the definition of war to encompass everything that war now encompasses,” referring vaguely to various forms of “hybrid warfare.” 

“There is a great deal to be done in communicating that to young people,” he continued. “When we mean being at war we don’t mean sending our boys off to fight. It’s right here in our homes.”

The emphasis on restructuring society along martial lines mirrored the disturbing thinking also on display in notes of a private meeting between Donnelly and Gen. Richard Barrons in 2016. During that chat, the two officers decided that the British military should be removed from democratic supervision and be able to operate as “an independent body outside politics.”

While Bracey-Lane’s presentation perfectly captured the military mindset of the Integrity Initiative, the speakers that followed him offered a diverse array of perspectives on the concept of disinformation, some more nuanced than others. But one talk stood out from the rest — not because of its quality, but because of its complete lack thereof.

Theorist of ‘Red-Brown’ Networks

The presentation was delivered by Alexander Reid Ross, a half-baked political researcher who peddles computer-generated spiderweb relationship charts to prove the existence of a vast hidden network of “red-brown” (or fascist-communist) alliances and “syncretic media” conspiracies controlled by puppeteers in Moscow. 

Ross is a lecturer on geography at Portland State University with no scholarly or journalistic credentials on Russia. But with a book, “Against the Fascist Creep,” distributed by the well-known anarchist publishing house, AK Press, the middling academic has tried to make his name as a maverick analyst. 

Before the Integrity Initiative was exposed as a military-intelligence front operation, Ross was among a small coterie of pundits and self-styled disinformation experts that followed the group’s Twitter account. The Integrity Initiative even retweeted his smear of War Nerd podcast co-host John Dolan.

In a series of articles for the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, Ross attempted to bring his warmed-over Cold War theories to the broader public. He wound up trashing everyone from the co-author of this piece, Max Blumenthal, to Nation magazine publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel to Harvard University professor of international relations Stephen Walt as hidden shadow-fascists secretly controlled by the Kremlin. 

The articles ultimately generated an embarrassing scandal and a series of public retractions by the editor-in-chief of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen. And then, like some Dr. Frankenstein for discredited and buried journalism careers, the British Ministry of Defense-backed Integrity Initiative moved in to reanimate Ross as a sought-after public intellectual. 

Before the Integrity Initiative-organized crowd, Ross offered a rambling recitation of his theory of a syncretic fascist alliance puppeteered by Russians: “The alt right takes from both this ‘red-brown,’ it’s called, or like left-right syncretic highly international national of nationalisms, and from the United States’ own paleoconservative movement, and it’s sort of percolated down through college organizing, um, and anti-interventionism meets anti-imperialism. Right?”

In a strange twist, Ross appeared on stage at the Integrity Initiative’s Seattle event alongside Emmi Bevensee, a contributor to the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) think tank, whose tagline, “a left market anarchist think-tank” expresses its core aim of uniting far-left anarchists with free-market right-libertarians. 

Bevensee, a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona and self-described “Borderlands anarcho into tech and crypto,” concluded her presentation by asserting a linkage between the alternative news site, Zero Hedge, and the “physical militarized presence in the borderlands” of anti-immigrant vigilantes. Like Bevensee, Ross has written for C4SS in the past. 

The irony of contributors to an anarchist group called the “Center for a Stateless Society” auditioning before The State – the most jackbooted element of it, in fact – for more opportunities to attack anti-war politicians and journalists, can hardly be overstated.

But closer examination of the history of C4SS veers from irony into something much darker and more unsettling.

White Nationalist Associates

C4SS was co-founded in 2006 by a confessed child rapist and libertarian activist, Brad Spangler, who set the group up to promote “Market anarchism” to “replace Marxism on the left.”

When Spangler’s child rape confessions emerged in 2015, the Center for Stateless Society founder was finally drummed out by his colleagues. 

There’s more: Spangler’s understudy and deputy in the C4SS, Kevin Carson — currently listed as the group’s “Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory” — turned out to be a longtime friend and defender of white nationalist Keith Preston. Preston’s name is prominently plastered on the back of Kevin Carson’s book, hailing the C4SS man as “the Proudhon of our time” — a loaded compliment, given the unhinged anti-Semitism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the influential 19thCentury French anarchist.

Carson only disowned Preston in 2009, shortly before Preston helped white nationalist leader Richard Spencer launch his alt-right webzine, Alternative Right. 

The C4SS group currently participates in the annual Koch-backed International Students For Liberty conference in Washington, D.C., LibertyCon, a who’s who of libertarian think-tank hacks and Republican Party semi-celebrities like Steve Forbes, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and Alan Dershowitz.

In 2013, C4SS’s Kevin Carson tweeted out his dream fantasy that four Jewish leftists—Mark Ames, co-author of this article; Yasha Levine; Corey Robin, and Mark Potok — would die in a plane crash while struggling over a single parachute. Potok was an executive editor at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which last year retracted every one of the crank articles that Alexander Reid Ross published with them and formally apologized for having run them.

For some reason, the super-sleuth Ross conveniently failed to investigate the libertarian group, C4SS, that he has chosen to partner with and publish in. That ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right—while cozying up to groups as sleazy as C4SS and authoritarian as the Integrity Initiative —is the sort of adaptive trait that MI6 spies and the Rendon Group would find useful in a covert domestic influence operation.

Ross did not respond to our request for comment on his involvement with the Integrity Initiative and C4SS.

Disinformation for Democracy

As it spans out across the U.S., the Integrity Initiative has stated its desire to “build a younger generation of Russia watchers.” Toward this goal, it is supplementing its coterie of elite journalists, think tank hacks, spooks and State Department info-warriors with certifiable cranks like Ross. 

Less than 24 hours after Ross’s appearance at the Integrity Initiative event in Seattle, he sent a menacing email to the co-author of this article, Ames, announcing his intention to recycle an old and discredited smear against him and publish it in The Daily Beast — a publication that appears to enjoy a special relationship with Integrity Initiative personnel. 

Despite the threat of investigation in the U.K., the Integrity Initiative’s “network of networks” appears to be escalating its covert, government-funded influence operation, trashing the political left and assailing anyone that gets in its way; all in the name of fighting foreign disinformation. 

“We have to win this one,” Integrity Initiative founder Col. Chris Donnelly said, “because if we don’t, democracy will be undermined.”

Mark Ames is the co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd on Patreon.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,” Goliath,” The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery,” which will be published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic reper