Trump White House weighing plans to create rogue global spy network

The Intercept reports: The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency.

The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.

“I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.” But a current U.S. intelligence official appeared to contradict that assertion, stating that the various proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. The Intercept reached out to several senior officials that sources said had been briefed on the plans by Prince, including Vice President Mike Pence. His spokesperson wrote there was “no record of [Prince] ever having met with or briefed the VP.” Oliver North did not respond to a request for comment. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is slowly destroying America’s national security agencies

Jeffrey H Smith writes: The Guardian has reported that John Le Carre, the famed British spy novelist, recently said of the Trump presidency: “something truly, seriously bad is happening and we have to be awake to that.” Chillingly, he expressed alarm about the “toxic” parallels between the rise of President Trump and hard right regimes in Poland and Hungary and the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

Mr Le Carre may be overstating the risk of rising fascism but he is surely right to warn that many of Mr Trump’s early actions and words challenge fundamental tenets of democracy.

These challenges include his assertion that the media is “the enemy of the people”, that news he doesn’t like is “fake news,” that there were “good people” among the neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, and that the Senate should change its rules to abolish the requirement for 60 votes to end a filibuster, thus eliminating the single most important protection of minority interests in our system of government.

At the same time, the Trump administration has mounted a systematic effort to “deconstruct the ‘administrative state’” as his recently departed chief strategist, Steven Bannon, was fond of saying.

Much of this effort has been focused on the regulatory agencies rather than the national security agencies. But make no mistake; the president’s words and actions are deconstructing those agencies with perhaps even greater consequences. [Continue reading…]

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Trump can’t believe both Putin and his own intelligence agencies

Ryan Goodman and John Sipher write: When asked on Saturday about his conversation with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vietnam, President Donald Trump reported that the Russian president denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That, of course, directly contradicts the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community. “Every time [Putin] sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said. The next day, in confusing fashion, he walked back parts of his earlier statement, saying he believes “in our intel agencies.” (Regarding what, exactly, he left unclear). But he also seemingly doubled down on his previous assertion. “I believe that [Putin] feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said.

Trump went on to say he hopes to cooperate with Russia to solve global problems like North Korea and Syria. But if he does in fact seek such help, based on the false premise of Putin’s sincerity, that’s bad news. Putin is a world-class liar—indeed, he’s professionally trained in the art of deception. He grew up in the Soviet KGB, ran Russia’s brutal internal security service, and has remade the government into a personal fiefdom. He now serves as an unchallenged autocrat. Analysts assess that he is one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, despite his modest claim that his official salary is less than $200,000 a year.

Inside Russia, truth and falsehood are purposely clouded so that Putin can create facts serving his own interests and those of his coterie. Truth is only what he says it is, at the time of his choosing. The same truth may well be denied the following day. And conveyers of real truth, including dissidents and reporters, are eliminated.

Putin seems to regard his capacity to assert obvious lies as truth as an exertion of his power. Immediately following the shoot-down of a Malaysian airliner in which 298 civilians were killed, he lied about the circumstances that led to their murder. He denied the illegal use of chemical weapons by his allies in Syria. He lied about the Russian invasion of Crimea and the use of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, and he covered up the secret state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes. In each case, his deceit has been revealed. Yet he has doubled down on his rendering of the truth, remaining steadfast no matter how ridiculous he appears. [Continue reading…]

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Trump distances himself from his own remarks on Putin over election meddling

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday attempted to clear up confusion over whether he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling in the U.S. election last year.

At a news conference in Vietnam, Trump distanced himself from remarks he made on Saturday in which he suggested he believed Putin when he said there had been no Russian meddling in the election that took him to the White House.

The comments had drawn criticism at home because U.S. intelligence agencies have long since concluded there was Russian meddling.

“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” Trump said at a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.

“As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

He was careful to make clear he sided with the intelligence agencies under his own leadership.

Former U.S. intelligence director James Clapper had told Reuters: “The fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump misrepresents intelligence findings on Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Thursday that only “three or four” of the United States’ 17 intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election — a statement that while technically accurate, is misleading and suggests widespread dissent among American intelligence agencies when none has emerged.

The “three or four” agencies referred to by Mr. Trump are the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, all of which determined that Russia interfered in the election. Their work was compiled into a report, and a declassified version was released on Jan. 6 by the director of national intelligence. It said that all four agencies had “high confidence” that Russian spies had tried to interfere in the election on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin.

The reason the views of only those four intelligence agencies, not all 17, were included in the assessment is simple: They were the ones tracking and analyzing the Russian campaign. The rest were doing other work.

The intelligence community is a sprawling enterprise that includes military officers who track enemy troop movements, accountants who analyze the finances of Islamist militants and engineers who design spy satellites. There are soldiers, sailors and Marines; tens of thousands of civilian government employees and tens of thousands of private contractors.

Asked about Russia’s election meddling during a news conference on Thursday in Poland, Mr. Trump repeated his familiar refrain that “it could” have been Russia or other countries that interfered in the election, and then appeared to suggest that there was hardly an intelligence community consensus on the matter.

“Let me just start off by saying I heard it was 17 agencies,” he said when asked about the intelligence assessment.

“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a lot.’ Do we even have that many intelligence agencies, right? Let’s check it. And we did some very heavy research,” Mr. Trump continued. “It turned out to be three or four — it wasn’t 17 — and many of your compatriots had to change their reporting, and they had to apologize, and they had to correct.”

Mr. Trump was also correct about inaccurate news reports. Some, including an article in The New York Times, incorrectly reported that all 17 American intelligence agencies had endorsed the assessment.

But there is no evidence that significant uncertainty or dissent exists across the intelligence community, simply because not all 17 were involved in the assessment of Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump doth protest too much

It’s easy to dismiss a lot of Trump’s behavior — especially his Twitter rants — as expressions of petulance from a man who never developed the emotional maturity of an adult.

But it’s become clear that nothing triggers him more predictably than the story that won’t go away — his campaign’s ties to Russia.

Why protest so much if there’s truly nothing there? Why scramble desperately for distractions if a simple resolution would come from a full airing of all the facts?

Trump behaves not like a man with nothing to fear, but on the contrary as one terrified of what will sooner or later be revealed.

Perhaps former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler knows why:

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The ‘Deep State’ is a myth. No secret entrenched bureaucracy is plotting to overthrow Trump

John R. Schindler writes: It would be terrible for the United States if the Trump administration convinces citizens that any sort of derin devlet [Deep State] in Turkish fashion exists in our country. Since it certainly does not. In the first place, American spies exhibit no political unity. There are Republicans, there are Democrats, there are Independents. Nearly every political viewpoint under the sun is represented in the IC, and while generalizations can be made — e.g. FBI agents are mostly conservatives while CIA analysts are largely liberals — they are so broad, and so marred by exceptions, as to be almost useless.

When spies in Washington leak to the media, they do so not out of any ideology, much less overt partisanship, but to protect bureaucratic turf and to settle personal scores. Mark Felt, the senior FBI official whose leaks to The Washington Post as the infamous Deep Throat made Watergate a national scandal, spilled the beans on the Nixon White House for entirely personal reasons. President Nixon repeatedly refused to appoint Felt — who was no liberal — the Bureau’s director, the top post that the bitter leaker felt he deserved. Exposing the Watergate scandal was Felt’s careerist vendetta.

Today, the Intelligence Community is deeply unhappy with President Trump. They dislike his repeated public insults and impugning of their professional integrity — something no president has ever done before. Many spies distrust the commander-in-chief, which is why some of our secret agencies are withholding highly classified intelligence from a White House they think is penetrated by Russian intelligence.

The Russia angle is most troubling to the IC. Behind closed doors, plenty of American intelligence experts believe that President Trump is the pawn of the Kremlin, wittingly or not, and assess that it’s only a matter of time before unseemly Moscow ties are exposed and the White House enters unsurvivable political crisis. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans are failing to protect the nation

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference from January 2015 until August 2016, when he left to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election, writes: President Trump’s disturbing Russian connections present an acute danger to American national security. According to reports this week, Mr. Trump’s team maintained frequent contact with Russian officials, including senior intelligence officers, during the campaign. This led to concerns about possible collusion with one of America’s principal strategic adversaries as it tried to influence the election in Mr. Trump’s favor. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after details of his communications with the Russian ambassador emerged.

Republican leaders in Congress now bear the most responsibility for holding the president accountable and protecting the nation. They can’t say they didn’t see the Russian interference coming. They knew all along.

Early in 2015, senior Republican congressional leaders visited Ukraine and returned full of praise for its fight for independence in spite of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the country and annex some of its regions. And in June, coincidentally just before Mr. Trump announced his campaign for the Republican nomination, they met with Ukraine’s prime minister in Washington — one of many meetings I attended as a senior aide to the House Republican Conference.

As the presidential race wore on, some of those leaders began to see parallels between Russia’s disinformation operations in Ukraine and Europe and its activities in the United States. They were alarmed by the Kremlin-backed cable network RT America, which was running stories intended, they judged, to undermine Americans’ trust in democratic institutions and promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Deeply unsettled, the leaders discussed these concerns privately on several occasions I witnessed. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants another billionaire to join his gilded inner circle

Reuters reports: Stephen Feinberg, the chief executive of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management [CBS.UL] who backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign, is being considered to lead a review of the vast U.S. intelligence operation and whether it can be restructured, current and former officials told Reuters.

While cautioning that the appointment was not final, the U.S. officials said Feinberg, if named to the role, would look for ways to streamline 17 separate agencies, a roughly $70 billion annual budget and tens of thousands of employees.

Trump’s advisers have expressed particular interest in reforming the role of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to coordinate the work of U.S. spy agencies.

The White House declined comment on Feinberg’s potential role. Cerberus declined to comment.

Cerberus said last week that Feinberg was in talks to join Trump’s administration in a senior role, without specifying what that role could be. The firm told its investors that it had a succession plan in place that would result in minimal changes to management and operations.

Potential conflicts of interest would also have to be resolved before Feinberg could join the administration. In a letter to investors last week, Cerberus said clearing that hurdle would require Feinberg to provide “voluminous information” and disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics.

Feinberg, 56, who donated to Trump’s 2016 election campaign and served as an economic adviser to him, has no prior experience in government. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy. [Continue reading…]

In 2012, Matt Taibbi characterized the business class to which Feinberg belongs, in this way: The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.

The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. “We try to hide religiously,” explained Steven [sic] Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person,” Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. “We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” [Continue reading…]

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The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary, and the public are fighting back against Trump with some success

Peter Beinart writes: Nothing Donald Trump has done since becoming President is particularly surprising. The attacks on judges and the press, the clash of civilizations worldview, the ignorance of public policy, the blurring of government service and private gain, the endless lying, the incompetence, the chaos — all were vividly foreshadowed during the campaign. The Republican-led Congress’ refusal to challenge Trump was foreseeable too. The number of Republicans willing to oppose Trump’s agenda pretty much equals the number who refused to endorse him once he became the GOP nominee.

Less predictable has been the response of other elements of the American political system: The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary and the public. Here, the news is good. So far, they’re not only pushing back, they’re having some success.

The latest example is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn’s resignation is a welcome development both because he held crudely bigoted views of Muslims and because he was unable to competently manage the foreign policy process. But that’s not why he lost his job. He lost his job because of an independent bureaucracy and a vigorous press.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has reconstructed the chain of events. On January 12, a “senior U.S. government official” told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the [Russian] hacking” of the presidential election. Three days later, CBS’ John Dickerson asked Vice President Mike Pence about the call, and Pence insisted that Flynn had not discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

But the Washington Post followed up, citing “nine current and former officials” who claimed that Flynn had discussed exactly that. The New York Times reported that there was a transcript of the call. Eventually, it became impossible to deny that Flynn had lied, and caused Pence to lie. If the Trump administration had been able to deny reality, as it so often does, Flynn would likely still have his job. But good reporters, aided by government sources, made that impossible. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, “it wasn’t the lying that got him [Flynn] fired; it’s that his lying leaked to the press.” [Continue reading…]

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How Donald Trump became a national security threat

John Schindler writes: For the first time, an American president is causing our allies and partners to wonder if Washington can still be trusted.

As I’ve explained, Trump’s aggressive comments about American spies — mocking them and comparing them to Nazis on Twitter, for example — have generated unprecedented enmity in our Intelligence Community. Going to war with the IC is a bad idea for any new administration, particularly given the new commander-in-chief’s rumored links to Vladimir Putin, which are keeping American spies up at night.

It’s not just Washington that’s worried. Throughout the Western spy alliance, intelligence agencies are pondering the previously unthinkable: Is the American president compromised? On several occasions over the decades, the IC had to reduce spy-links, usually only temporarily, to various partners when a new government contained too many cabinet ministers with Moscow linkages. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s the American government that seems to have a Kremlin problem.

Just how alarming things are was revealed by a recent report in The Times of London that British intelligence has asked the IC for reassurances that the new administration — which has several officials with Kremlin ties that aren’t exactly hidden — won’t compromise British spies operating clandestinely inside Russia. When America’s oldest and most intimate intelligence partner is worried that the White House can’t be trusted with secrets, we’re in uncharted and dangerous waters.

The cost of breakdowns in the Western spy alliance won’t be theoretical. If intelligence sharing wanes, the world gets more dangerous and jihadist attacks will increase, perhaps quite quickly. When spy-partners aren’t confident their shared secrets can be protected, they will become reticent to talk to us. As Mike Hayden, the former director of both NSA and CIA explained, “How many foreign intelligence agencies might say, ‘I’m not sure giving this information to the Americans will do any good anyway. So why should we share it in the first place?’ If they come to the conclusion that the decision-makers don’t pay attention to the intelligence and the Intelligence Community is not respected, then why take the risk?” [Continue reading…]

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Obama opens NSA’s vast trove of warrantless data to entire Intelligence Community, just in time for Trump

The Intercept reports: With only days until Donald Trump takes office, the Obama administration on Thursday announced new rules that will let the NSA share vast amounts of private data gathered without warrant, court orders or congressional authorization with 16 other agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The new rules allow employees doing intelligence work for those agencies to sift through raw data collected under a broad, Reagan-era executive order that gives the NSA virtually unlimited authority to intercept communications abroad. Previously, NSA analysts would filter out information they deemed irrelevant and mask the names of innocent Americans before passing it along.

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. intel sources warn Israel against sharing secrets with Trump administration

Ynet reports: Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus oprandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.

The cause of concern are the suspicions of unreported ties between the president-elect or his associates and the Kremlin, whose agents are also associated with intelligence officials in Tehran.

These fears, which began upon Trump’s election, grew stronger following a meeting held recently between Israeli and American intelligence officials (the date of the meeting is not mentioned to protect the sources of the report). During the meeting, according to the Israelis who participated in it, their American colleagues voiced despair over Trump’s election, as he often lashes out at the American intelligence community. The American officials also told the Israelis that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “highly credible information” that Russia’s intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, were responsible for hacking the Democratic Party (DNC) servers during the elections and leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The American officials further added that they believed Russia President Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump – but did not elaborate. They were apparently referring to what was published Wednesday about embarrassing information collected by the Russian intelligence in a bid to blackmail the president-elect.

The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump was briefed on his vulnerability to getting blackmailed

The Daily Beast reports: “For the moment, the most significant story is not the allegations themselves, but the fact they were briefed to the president and president-elect,” Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency official, told The Daily Beast. “The intelligence community does not take mere innuendo to the president, so it means that intelligence professionals and law enforcement are at least taking the claims seriously. But that is absolutely not the same as these allegations being verified. There are very specific facts in the document which law enforcement should be able to prove or disprove. So the smart course is not to dismiss this as fake news or assume it is not credible, but to wait for more information to emerge.”

The document is mostly composed of memos prepared by a former British intelligence operative who was hired to do research on Trump, first by his Republican opponents and then by Democrats. USA Today reports that his work on Trump had traveled so widely in Washington that America’s top spies felt a summary of the information needed to be presented to Obama, Trump, and to the eight senators and congressmen who oversee the intelligence community.

“I can picture how difficult a decision this must have been,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden told The Wall Street Journal of the decision to inform Trump. “But if we had this data, others may have had this data too. And regardless of truth or falsity, I can see why they thought the president-elect should know.” [Continue reading…]

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In a clash between the intelligence community and the White House, the president has the advantage

Gideon Rachman writes: The clash between the president-elect and America’s powerful “intelligence community” has led many wiseacres to suggest that Mr Trump is making a dangerous error. It is said they could easily destabilise the new president. The idea that the spooks are more powerful than the president himself sounds worldly. But it is almost certainly wrong. If there is a struggle between the White House and the intelligence agencies, Mr Trump is clearly in the more powerful position.

The legal, political and bureaucratic prohibitions placed on the intelligence agencies spying on Americans — let alone the president — are formidable. It is true that the spooks are powerful and well-resourced actors in the Washington system. But their main skill is gaining the ear of the president in struggles with other government agencies. When the president is the problem, it is less clear what the spies can do.

In any battle between the spies and the White House itself, the intelligence community’s only real resort is to brief or leak against the president. But there are no guarantees that this will be effective.

In 2004, CIA officials were widely accused of briefing against the administration of George W Bush, reflecting the agency’s discontent with the handling of the Iraq war. The Wall Street Journal even ran an editorial headlined “The CIA’s insurgency” and accusing “senior rungs of the agency” of “clearly trying to defeat President Bush and elect John Kerry”. But if regime change was indeed the intention, the CIA failed. Mr Bush was re-elected.

The whole controversy highlights a divergence in the international and domestic images of the US intelligence agencies. For the global left, the CIA has always been regarded as a sinister rightwing organisation supporting a reactionary world order. But in Washington the CIA is often regarded with suspicion by conservatives who believe it to have a liberal bias. The agency is, after all, full of people with advanced degrees and knowledge of foreign languages, who tend to raise tiresome factual objections to the right’s worldview. [Continue reading…]

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Trump voters mostly indifferent about Russian interference in U.S. election

The New York Times reports: “Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

“From the parts of the report I’ve seen,” said Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who twice ran for Senate here as Tea Party favorite, “it seems silly.”

There are genuine concerns about Russia’s cyberoperations, he said, but the notion that they changed the outcome of the election was absurd. (The report made no determination on how they affected the election.)

Of the comments he had seen from fellow Trump supporters on Facebook and in emails, he added, “90 percent of them are like, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

The Russians may have very well gotten involved, several people said. They added that kind of interference should be combated. But many assumed that foreign actors had long tried to play favorites in American elections, and that the United States had done the same in other countries’ elections. Even if the Russians did do it — which some were more willing to concede than others — what difference did it make? People did not need the Russians to make up their minds about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s election opponent. Blaming her loss on the Russians was, as one Trump supporter here said, “just being sore losers.” [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s man in the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted:


Contrary to Trump’s claim that the DNC “would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News via email prior to Trump’s tweets: “the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers” [Walker’s italics].

Following an intelligence briefing today, Trump released a statement in which he said:

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.

That conclusion — “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — is Trump’s and not the conclusion of the intelligence agencies.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Brushing aside Donald Trump’s dismissiveness, the nation’s intelligence chief insisted Thursday that U.S. agencies are more confident than ever that Russia interfered in America’s recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Did Russian hacking sway the results? There’s no way for U.S. agencies to know, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Asked about the possible effect of the disclosure of private information stolen by hackers, Clapper said, “The intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”

Where Trump and the intelligence community are in agreement is that, as Clapper said, Russian hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”

After having become a lonely holdout in sustaining his skepticism about whether any Russian hacking had even occurred, Trump now claims absolute certainty about the hacking’s effect — which is to say, that it had no effect.

The overarching message Trump wants to promote is that Russia had no role in his election.

Until it became an unsustainable viewpoint, Trump insisted that he simply didn’t believe there had been any Russian involvement.

Now that he can’t push that line any further, he’s changed his tack slightly by abandoning his hard denial and instead says Russia’s interference was of no consequence.

What is clear, is that Trump is convinced that if he gives any real ground on this issue, he is going to end up being viewed — or as many of us would say, recognized — as Putin’s man in the White House.

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Putin ordered ‘influence campaign’ aimed at U.S. election, report says

The New York Times reports: American intelligence officials have concluded that the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” and turned from seeking to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The conclusions were part of a declassified intelligence report, ordered by President Obama, that was released on Friday. Its main determinations were described to President-elect Donald J. Trump by the nation’s top intelligence officials earlier in the day, and he responded by acknowledging, for the first time, that Russia had sought to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems. But he insisted that the effort had no effect on the election, and he said nothing about the conclusion that Mr. Putin, at some point last year, decided to aid his candidacy.

The report, a damning and surprisingly detailed account of Russia’s efforts to undermine the American electoral system and Mrs. Clinton in particular, went on to assess that Mr. Putin had “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

The report described a broad campaign that included covert operations, including cyberactivities and “trolling” on the internet of people who were viewed as opponents of Russia’s effort. While it accused Russian intelligence agencies of obtaining and maintaining “access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards,” it concluded — as officials have publicly — that there was no evidence of tampering with the tallying of the vote on Nov. 8. [Continue reading…]

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