Category: Russian Influence

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.

Domestic Politics “Trumps” Foreign Policy Positions

George S Ledyard“There’s no such thing as foreign policy, there is only domestic policy” – Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.com in an interview on NPR today.
In this case he was talking about Donald Trump’s recent bombing of Syria, ostensibly in response to Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians. His take on it, and I think it makes sense, is that Trump is basically bombing Syria, in order to try to show the American people that he isn’t in bad with the Russians.
Cruise missiles SyriaInterestingly, the total flip flop from the Reagan era when the GOP was full of anti-Russian cold warriors and the Democrats, as the opposition party were obligated to oppose Reagan’s global anti Communist efforts, we now have a Republican administration which is clearly positively disposed towards Russia and an almost hysterically anti-Russian Democratic Party.Anti RussianThis creates the most amazing political conjunction. Many of the far left Progressives who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign, seem far more focused on the perceived evils of the Democratic Party establishment, the so-called Neo-Liberals, than they are  with what the people on the ultra right are doing. So, we find these Progressives putting forth the same pro-Russia, anti-Democratic messages that the far right talk show hosts are putting out.
WikiLeaksThey question whether the Russians really did hack the DNC, they deny that the Russians intervened in the election to benefit Donald Trump, they are depicting the Syrian gas attack as a false flag operation designed to generate support for anti-Assad  forces and pressure the Russians to perhaps distance themselves from their ally.
Isn’t it rather insane that a group of people who share absolutely no agenda items in their vision of America with the GOP or the Tea Party radicals end up allied on foreign policy issues with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
And the Democrats themselves, have so committed to the anti-Russian narrative that, when their arch enemy, the Great Satan, Donald Trump chooses to bomb Syria in order to convince people he isn’t in the pocket of the Russians, they end up praising his actions and actually assisting him in his attempts to appear more “Presidential”. It is actually the far right nationalists, who thought Trump was going to be an isolationist that are upset about the bombing and his flip flop on the US as a global policeman.
My point here is that the Syrian issue ends up highlighting just how irrational most folk’s foreign policy positions are. They have little or nothing to do with the realities of the political and military situation on the ground in Syria. Folks take their positions based on the interplay of political considerations here on the domestic scene.
Trump PutinTrump clearly has a serious Russian influence problem. So, he goes against his publicly stated stance as an isolationist, and bombs Syria in order to show he’s not in the pocket of the Russians. The Democrats who have suddenly become hyper anti-Russian (just since the election amazingly) have been using the Russian influence scandal to bludgeon Trump. So, when Trump actually does something that runs counter to Russia’s stated interests, the Dems end up helping to legitimize and normalize this man whom they strongly oppose. This of course totally validates Trump’s attempts at deflection.
Hillary Clinton Progressive OppositionThe far left Progressive fanatics are trying to create a movement to set up a third party. Their narrative is that the Democratic Party is compromised beyond repair. They want to split off Democratic Party support in order to grow support for their new party. This means that their major focus isn’t on resisting Trump or the Alt Right, it’s on opposing any and all Democratic efforts to appear to recover from the Hillary Clinton / DNC electoral loss. So, if the Democratic establishment is taking an anti-Russian stance in response to Trump’s clear pro-Russia agenda, the Progressives end up pursuing the same agenda as the Trump forces.
Can everyone see just how little this has anything at all due to historical, cultural, and political reality in Syria? While I am sure that in the intelligence and military communities there are educated people striving for fact based decision making. But if one is listening to the leaders of ANY of the different political factions, Tea Party, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, it doesn’t matter, you see their positions change with the wind, based on domestic political concerns and with little regard to educated and consistent foreign policy agendas.

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