Category: National Intelligence

Russia, Putin, and the American Right

George S LedyardHow did a party, that still pays lip service to Ronald Reagan is the father of modern conservatism end up as the tool of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Reagan spent his entire career fighting against Russian influence globally. In just a few years, his beloved party is now an apologist for Russian efforts in their own country domestically and around the world globally.

To understand all of this, one needs to see just how brilliant Vladimir Putin and his intelligence service have been. Historically, the old Soviet Union would launch covert ops designed to co-opt the left. Socialist groups, anti-Vietnam War groups, progressive journalists, pretty much anyone on the left that was anti-establishment could be targeted. They looked for sympathetic political allies.

In those days it was simply assumed that guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who had gotten a start in their political careers crafting their foreign polices with countering Russian influence around the globe as the central goal, were not easily influenced. So it was the lefties that got targeted for manipulation by Russian intelligence.

This was true all the way back to the very beginning of the Soviet state when the Comintern infiltrated every Russian emigre group, used lefty socialist student groups at universities to recruit spies, and so on.

The brilliance of Putin’s intelligence effort to influence US policy towards Russia is that he made the decision to target American Conservatives. Russians have a very sophisticated understanding of individual and political psychology. During their entire history since the Revolution, the field of psychology has been treated as a tool for maintaining state control.

Russian intelligence has realized that the main objection to Russia as a nation on the part of the US was it’s adherence to Godless Communism. Now, that any pretense of being a Communist country has been dropped, they have realized that as an autocratic, totalitarian state, there are many areas on confluence with the American right. Now that Putin’s Russia has embraced its Orthodox heritage and dropped notions of socialism and communism in favor of oligarchy in which a small group of fabulously wealthy individuals run the country, the American right has realized just how much they have in common with their former enemies.
 

Russian intelligence understands this. They know their history. Back in the 1930’s, it was the American right that toyed with Fascism as a perceived defense against the popular revolt of the unemployed working class. The American oligarchs, the Bushes, the Morgans, Duponts, Fords etc actually initiated a coup to overthrow President Roosevelt which never coalesced. Up until Pearl Harbor these people openly admired the Fascist leaders like Hitler in Europe in just the same way we see Donald Trump openly expressing admiration for Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s intelligence service recognized that Putin’s narrative of Russia as the Christian bulwark against the Asiatic menace of the Islamic hordes, their draconian anti-LGBT policies, even Putin’s strong man ability to crush media opposition all appeal to the American right and represented points of entry for targeting Russian influence efforts.

Really, what it comes down to is that the American right has a built in bias towards authoritarianism. Donald Trump is openly admiring of various strong men around the world. The GOP has been praising Vladimir Putin’s leadership.  All of this is the result of a twenty year campaign on the part of Russian intelligence to influence the American right.

They still do work the left. It’s fairly clear that the Russians used Jill Stein as a tool to split voters off of the Democratic Party and prevent at least a portion of progressive voters from unifying with the Clinton campaign after Bernie Sanders lost the nomination. This continues… `It is quite revealing to see that the pro-Russia narrative being pushed by many members of the far right is virtually identical to that of the far left radical progressives. But the Russians understand that the far left in the US is politically marginalized and has no actual political power.


As voters, we need to look at administration and Republican policy from the stand point of how it serves Russian policy objectives. Despite Putin’s courting of Donald Trump and other right wing figures, he is not a “friend” of America but a savvy adversary whose real interest in in creating division between the US and its European allies, damaging political unity on the US, and even damaging our essential confidence in our democratic institutions. We need to be very careful to see what is happening through this filter or we risk being manipulated into policies that damage the country in the long run.

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Election Cyber Security Going Forward

George S LedyardSheila Kennedy has blogged about our election security situation in her article Smoke and Fire and Vote Suppression
As usual she is thoughtful and articulate and brings up some points that we really need to be considering and under the Trump administration, for reason that are really not justifiable, we are not.
Donald Trump’s obsession with trying to prove that he really didn’t lose the popular vote, that the three million more votes for Hillary Clinton were fraudulent, has caused him to set up a Federal probe to investigate this so-called “fraud” for which there is ZERO evidence.
At the same time, Trump is adamant in his attempts to minimize the Russian interference in the 2016 election, for which there is massive evidence. Furthermore, given what we know of the Russian penetration of state voting systems, it would seem to be crucial that we take a look at the electronic voting machines, the security of the voter data bases, and so on because that’s where the really significant vulnerabilities lie.
But Trump’s Dept of Homeland Security has nixed that effort. So, the bottom line here is that the Trump administration wishes to spend many millions of dollars investigating a problem that doesn’t exist but will not do anything about a problem that is potentially REALLY serious. Many see this as a stealth effort to set up Federal level voter suppression measures and 40 states so far have refused to cooperate wit the probe’s request for records.
Putin - Russian hacking- 2016 electionThe Russians have managed to interfere with our 2016 election. We know that much. The extent to which their cyber penetration, their vast social media propaganda effort and other tactics, tipped the scales in 2016 has not been quantified and may not ever be. Their intelligence operation against Hilary Clinton and for Donald Trump was so complex that we may find it impossible to separate out what effect the Russian interference and from other elements that would have happened anyway.
But one thing is certain. The Russians have incurred almost no negative consequences for their cyber attack on our system. I suspect that the 2016 election interference op will go down in history as one of the most successful covert ops in intelligence history. Espionage professionals will be studying this operation in spook school for many years.
election security, cvyber attacks, election hackingGiven its success and the negligible price that Russia has paid, it’s virtually certain that they will continue this effort going forward. The Russians look at our democratic system as our big vulnerability. With a public that is polarized to the point at which elections at the national level are won by a mere percentage point or two we are uniquely vulnerable to fake news, disinformation campaigns designed to sway just enough votes to change the outcome. Tipping the scales is quite possible when elections are this close.
We desperately need to address the security of this process at the state level and this will require Federal coordination and financial support. Because it isn’t just he Russians we have to worry about. Other nations have cyber units that regularly hack our business and government systems. And now that they’ve seen how successful the Russian covert op was, we can expect other players to try the same thing.

The Russian Scandal Is Not Just a Distraction

George S LedyardCatherine Rampell in the Washington Post (link below) writes that the Russian Scandal distract us from the REALLY important issues with Donald Trump’s Presidency.
 
“Focusing on the terrible things Team Trump did during the campaign and transition conveniently distracts you from all the terrible things Team Trump is doing during the presidency.”
I happen to think she’s dead wrong. Not because so many of the Trump actions aren’t really important. Not because they, in the long run, won’t effect each of us more than the Russian scandal.
It’s because no matter how disastrous his climate change denial is, the dismantlement of the EPA, the GOP Health Care atrocity, the dismantling of the Federal regulatory capacity, etc, NONE of these things is illegal.
The GOP has the Presidency and both Houses of Congress. If they can agree among themselves, the Democrats are helpless to do anything but watch them destroy everything we’ve built since the New Deal.
Our first chance of even slowing things down, under normal circumstances, would be 2018 and possibly taking back the Senate.
But we have the Russian Hacking and / Election Interference scandal. The sheer scope and scale of this scandal is possibly historic. The great scandals like the Teapot Dome Scandal, Watergate, Iran Contra, all may end up dwarfed by this one.
While yes, we as voters may find that we are being “distracted” by the daily revelations, more importantly it is the President, the administration, and the GOP Congress who are getting distracted to the point of being ineffective. The GOP Congress has passed almost no landmark legislation since the election. Almost all of Trump’s destructive actions have been done via executive order.
Frankly, the more time and attention that the President and the administration officials have to put on legal defense, testifying in the various investigations, defending themselves in the media, simply doing damage control, the less time they have to pushing through their disastrous agenda.
The strength of the GOP position in Congress only makes a difference if they are unified. As the Trump associated scandals deepens, they will lose their central focus, the one who provides a unifying leadership for their efforts. GOP representatives will find themselves needing to distance themselves from the sinking Trump ship and GOP party discipline in Congress will almost assuredly suffer.
Finally, criminal charges against administration officials with the consequent specter of impeachment for President Trump provide our best chance of stopping the Trump agenda even before the mid-terms, and certainly before 2020. Impeachment proceedings would almost certainly bring other Congressional business to a full halt. And, this scandal could well be the motivating factor in producing a record turnout at the mid-terms.
No matter how destructive and disastrous the various Trump initiatives are, none, with the possible exception of the health care issue, are likely to fire the base, get people involved politically, and turn out the vote the way the Russian collusion issue may. The extent to which we can hammer the administration over the scandal and let the GOP Congress know that we hold them responsible for being “enablers” of this dysfunction, is directly related to our ability to slow down or prevent destructive legislative initiatives from being pushed through.

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Trump Thinks It’s All OK Now

George S LedyardYou will notice, that from the very start of the Russian hacking intrusion, the number one concern of the President has been on trying to tell us all that he wasn’t involved and he wasn’t being investigated.

Trump is acting like his exoneration, which of course hasn’t actually happened yet, no matter how the GOP wishes to spin it, will make everything all right.

The fact that half of his associates, including family members, are still being investigated or the fact that, even if none of his people did collude with the Russians, it is still a fact the Russians, a foreign power, interfered with the electoral process of the United States seems to be of little interest to him.

Trump’s only concern, as usual is Trump. The Russian hacking investigation casts a pall on the legitimacy of his win. Trump as shown all along a disproportionate investment in misrepresenting his win. He claimed that Clinton didn’t really win the popular vote. He claimed his win in the electoral college was a by a record margin whereas it was one of the closest wins ever.

TrumpI believe that Trump is such a colossal narcissist that he’s willing to let he Russians get completely away with their massive and unprecedented cyber attack on this country rather than have it taint his win, the win of which he is most proud, the win where he showed Clinton and Obama up. He simply doesn’t want to hear about Russian hacking.

In many ways, what is even more troubling however, is the number of GOP representatives and party leaders who would rather let the Russians slide than allow Trump to be damaged or give the Dems ANYTHING to use against them. Their unwillingness to protect this country from the intrusions of a hostile power borders on treason. For a bunch of people who wrap themselves in the flag at ever turn, this is greatest show of hypocrisy I think I have seen in my lifetime.

Ronald Reagan, the man they all seem to idolize, spent his life fighting the Russians. He felt his greatest achievement was in defeating the evil empire. Now Putin, like Sauron, has risen from the ashes, and Morder is once again a threat. If there is indeed a heaven, can you imagine Reagan looking down and seeing his Party, the one he devoted his life to, looking the other way when the country was attacked by the Russians.

Ronald-ReaganReagan would be in a full sail rage over this. I think he would find what the GOP has become, totally incomprehensible.

Watergate and Its Relevance to the Trump Administration Scandals

George S LedyardFor those that are impatient to be rid of Donald Trump, it is good to remember that Watergate, the worst scandal in US history, took 26 months to unfold.
The Nixon people had a war with the journalistic establishment every bit as vicious as what we are seeing with Donald Trump and company.
Initially, the GOP attempted to shield the President but as more and more information came out, they hung him out to dry and began to distance themselves.
The importance of having an independent investigation in bringing Nixon to justice can’t be overestimated nor should the integrity of various members of his administration who refused to go along with his attempts to shut the investigation down.
Our current scandal isn’t just one of political evil doing… it’s about foreign influence over our electoral process, possible collusion with a foreign power by current members of our administration,and even potential penetration of the administration by Russian FSB agents.
I was in college when the Watergate scandal broke. I was quite the aficionado of all the details. I knew the names of all the Watergate burglars, the names of all the “Plumbers” inside the white house. Everyone in the country watched the Senate hearings presided over Sam Ervin. Every day more details emerged of just how much illegal activity has been occurring. It was stunning.
The biggest thing I came away with was the extent to which people will go when they are “true believers” in a cause. Nixon and comp[any really believed that everything they did was necessary and justified in order to protect the nation from Socialism at home, Communism abroad, and dissent from liberals, minorities, women, etc who didn’t understand the realities of world power politics.
These people had a “mission” and they believed that it was their job to save the rest of us, often from ourselves. The law was inconvenient and could justifiably be circumvented for the greater good, as determined by… themselves.
The similarities with today are too many to ignore. We have a sociopathic leader for whom truth is what currently suits him, surrounded by zealots. Some are religious zealots some are captains of capitalism once again saving us from creeping socialism. Some are single issue zealots on issues like abortion, others are big picture Global strategists in the East West culture wars fighting for the lest vestiges of white Eurocentric American culture. But the one thing that Trump’s people all have in common is that they are all “true believers”  in much the same mold as the old Nixon minions.
They all are on a “mission”, they all see themselves as important figures in turning back the forces of progressivism, of undoing just about every advance we have made since the New Deal in terms of the government role in protecting civil rights, providing the social safety net, and managing those areas we have deemed “public goods” such as clean air, drinkable water, workplace safety, safe food, and so on. Some are fighting what they see as the result of globalization which is diversity itself. They are “crusaders” for America first”. which really means white America first.
I bring this out as a way of understanding that for “true believers” there is seldom any behavior that is out of bounds in advancing the agenda. Couple that with the very real possibility that one or more of the administration figures may have been compromised by the Russian FSB and are compelled to do their bidding and one can see just how threatening the current situation is to our democracy. This is a crisis of the first order, potentially worse than the Watergate scandal.
Robert Redford has written a wonderful piece on Watergate and its relevance to what is happening now. Take a look, it’s a great piece of work.
45 Years After Watergate, The Truth is Again in Danger
Trump as Nixon and Watergate - Russian Hacking

Trump Goes on the Offense – Here Comes the Witch Hunt

George S LedyardBy now. anyone who pays even the least attention to politics, knows about the issues with potentially inappropriate ties to Russia on the part of Donald Trump and associates. The number of campaign workers, even family members, who had meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, also known to be Russia’s top spymaster in the US, during and after the campaign seems to grow almost daily.

Sergey Kislyak with Vladimir Putin
Sergey Kislyak at the center

The timing of many of these meetings seems suspicious as various events took place around the same times, such as the change in the language of the GOP platform regarding the Ukraine (a softening of the position vis a vis Russia) and the release of the hacked emails which are seen by members of the intelligence community as almost certainly coming out of a state sponsored Russian hacker effort.

Russian influence scandal, Sessions, Flynn, Kisyiyak

Mike Flynn met with the Russians and said he didn’t and has resigned. Now Jeff Sessions is in the spotlight for precisely the same thing. Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner is also known to have met with Kislyak, a fact kept quiet until just recently,  and the question remains about all of these meetings, what was being discussed? Why were members of a camping team having multiple contacts with the Russian Ambassador?
Suffice it to say that this whole affair has occasioned something of a crisis within the new Trump administration. Try as he might, Trump has failed to shake this widening scandal and comparisons with Watergate and Richard Nixon abound.
So, what is Donald Trump’s response to these perceived attacks on his new regime? What it has always been throughout his career, go on full counter attack. In a series of tweets is has accused Barrack Obama of having Trump Tower wire tapped during the campaign. Today, he is calling for an all out Congressional investigation into these supposed wire taps, while calling them a form of McCarthyism.
Well, the GOP has closed ranks behind their leader and so far, steadfastly refused to initiate investigations into the Russian hacker activity and whether it improperly influenced the election. Now, the President wishes to turn the tables and loose his GOP controlled Congress on the former Obama administration.
This is clearly, transparently, a standard Trump response to any attack he can’t make go away or from which he can’t distract attention with outrageous behavior, and that is attack. Trump learned this tactic as a young man from his friend and mentor, Roy Cohn, the vicious lawyer behind Joe McCarty and a New York mob lawyer and ruthless litigator.

Roy Cohn and Donald TrumpThe attacks against the previous President serve multiple purposes for Trump. First, they fit his on-going narrative that Obama administration holdovers are waging a guerrilla war from with the various government agencies via leaks that embarrass the administration. This has been an only partially effective tactic given the fact that Trump would probably not be President if it weren’t for the infamous email leaks which targeted the Clinton campaign.
Also, these accusations now dominate the news cycle, giving the Trump team some time to regroup. They also put the GOP members of Congress in a position where they have to start choosing sides. While it is clear that virtually all of the Republicans members of Congress are perfectly happy to stone wall any possible investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian interference in the election, they have been able to sit back on the sidelines so far.
Bannon and Miller, Donald Trump advisers, Russian scandalBut now, Trump’s strategy, no doubt worked out with his closest advisers, is to attempt to turn Congress into a weapon to be used against the enemy. Because Trump has been in full control of the government, having won the election and with a GOP controlled House and Senate, Trump hasn’t had anyone to act as a foil for his inherently aggressive instincts. Obama and Clinton are gone, former Obama administration officials are being purged, and the Democratic Congress is powerless to do much at all. So, the Trump tactic of finding an external enemy to go after has not been helping him.

Trump tweet Obama wire tapNow, completely out of the blue, he is trying to turn his Russian problem into a Congressional witch hunt focused on the previous Obama administration.  Of course, as usual, his diatribe against Obama has no basis in fact. The President of the United States has no power to order such wire taps. It requires a court order to do so. This begs the question, if there were wire taps, what was the probable cause that justified them? This may actually be Trump’s attempt to expose and discredit a classified investigation into his own campaign by the intelligence service and the FBI. Either that or this is another one of his completely fictitious creations which are so hard to refute because there’s no factual information involved at all.

This also serves to force the media into devoting their limited resources to another investigation. Hours spent digging to verify a potentially unverifiable accusation translates into hours not spent looking more deeply into Russian penetration of the Trump administration.
But, this whole thing may backfire on the Trump regime if it serves to make public the reasons a court would grant a surveillance order involving Trump and his associates. The Russian influence / hacking scandal when combined with so many of Trump’s associates having extremely close ties to Russian government and business figures takes one very close to the line past which we start talking about espionage or spying. Trump may not like what comes out now that he’s opened another can of worms.
Joe McCarty, Roy Cohn, Trump Russian scandal, wire taps, ObamaIn any case, Trump is ready to take us back to the McCarthy era. He wants to initiate a Congressional investigation into his perceived enemies. If he can get this started, one can rest assured its scope will expand from wire taps during the campaign to searching for anti-Trump “leakers” within the various government agencies, especially the FBI and the intelligence services. If he can get this started, it will turn into a witch hunt. I believe this is Trump’s excuse to go on the offensive and identify and purge the government of any resistance to his administration.
We have not seen a vicious, attack dog, like this in the white house since Richard Nixon. Trump and his minions are every bit as ruthless about consolidating power as anyone who has ever been in the office. This is not a man who plays “defense”. After a couple weeks of taking hits, he has rallied himself and his minions and the have gone into full attack mode. Expect to see this played out today (Sunday) on all the talk shows.

Trump and Putin, Russian influence scandalWe cannot let this counter offensive succeed. Our representatives must keep on pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian hacking scandal and possible related improper relationships with Russian officials / spies. We must encourage the media to stay focused on the real story and not let Trump get away with distracting them. And we have to keep our representatives focused on the continuous effort to get Trump to release his tax returns. All of his outrageous behavior is designed to protect him from what could be politically lethal revelations and we should not allow that effort to succeed.

Our National Intelligence is at Risk

George S LedyardWe are all freaking out over the evolving disaster over the Trump administration’s domestic policies, which really represent nothing less than a total giveaway of our country to the corporate elites. Add to that the shift of domestic security considerations to a blatantly anti-immigrant agenda and we hardly recognize what our country is becoming.
For most of our citizens, the workings of our national security establishment are a mystery. They take place in the background of our lives and they seldom intrude into our consciousness unless there’s a major event, like 9/11, which reminds us how important the intelligence function is and what the cost can be of mistakes.
Normally, the President, as Commander in Chief not only heads up the military but also presides over the entire intelligence apparatus, covering both domestic and foreign intelligence functions. However, we now have an unprecedented situation in which the President of the Untied States is actively at war with his own intelligence community.
From the start of his candidacy, Trump has treated the intelligence function with disdain, often suggesting that his own expertise is enough to ensure good decision making. He is known for not bothering to receive the daily intelligence briefings which summarize the world military and political situation each day. But even worse, he has treated the intelligence community as an unwanted step child, especially the CIA.
Now, it seems that the Trump administration’s much discussed relationships with Russia are being treated by the intelligence community as a serious security breach. The implications for this are staggering. What happens when the intelligence community, whose members are sworn to protect the nation, believes that their own President is a security risk? Additionally, intelligence gathering relies on the sharing of intelligence with ones allies. What happens when our allies begin to assume that anything they tell the United Sates will go straight to the Russians?
Cambridge Five, Blunt, Philby, Burgess, McLeanThe idea that our CIA is operating on the assumption that anything that gets as far as the oval office is also in the hands of Putin and the Russians is a bombshell. It places us in much the same position that England was in after Blunt, Maclean, Burgess, and Philby, all senior members of British Intelligence had been Soviet Spies since the 30’s. British Intelligence was crippled for years. No ally would risk sharing intelligence with them. We could find ourselves in the same position.
Mike Flynn, National Security AdviserTrump has appointed Mike Fynn as National Security Adviser. Flynn was actually fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for his erratic, behavior and inability to provide coherent management. Now, it has been revealed that during the campaign, Flynn met with the Russians and essentially tried to undermine the diplomatic efforts of President Obama, something which he and the administration deny.
Now, we find that the CIA has refused to grant Robin Townley, one of Flynn’s closest deputies, a security clearance which caused him to be removed from his seat of the National Security Council. The move was apparently sanctioned by Mike Pompeo, Trump’s newly appointed Director of the CIA.
Donald Trump, Mike Flynn, National SecurityTake a look at this article in the Observer tiled The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins
Its conclusions are chilling indeed. While the Trump administration seems obsessed with immigrants as a threat to national security, we might find that his administration itself is a bigger threat. No one knows how this is going to play out but it is a scandal of huge proportion for an administration less than a month into power.