When the dust settles from the current dramatic paroxysms of the DOJ IG report and the unwatched impeachment hearings, we have a reasonable idea what comes next.
Attorney General Barr’s prosecutor John Durham will come out with findings from his investigation of U.S. government agencies and their handling of the “Russia-Trump” probe.
And if the House votes to impeach President Trump, the Senate will decide how to reject the House’s absurd lack of foundation and not remove Trump from office.
We don’t know if the latter will entail a trial in the Senate or not. The Senate may decide not to hold a trial, because there’s no evidence and the counts of impeachment are meaningless bunk.
As for the former – the Durham investigation – we’re likely to see some indictments to go with the evidentiary findings.
The big question that lies before us isn’t really whether the impeachment run at the president will succeed. The indications are that it won’t.
The question is whether Durham’s investigation will satisfy what the nation really needs after the genuine political trauma of the Russiagate hoax. Criminal convictions are important, to the extent we can get them. But the basic problem here is much too big to be adequately addressed by convicting a comparative handful of people for statutory crimes.
The problem goes even beyond what the U.S. federal government now has the power to do to us, and the lack of restraints on that power.
The even deeper problem is that government, as organized and chartered today, offers so much power that people will go to the lengths we are seeing in the Horowitz IG report to take down a political candidate who is likely to reduce that power, and change the course it has been on for the last 30 years.
What is called the “deep state” consists of people who are so invested in the current scope and course of government that they cannot endure seeing it change – no matter how lawfully and constitutionally the change is brought about.
There is nothing the slightest bit lawless about the American people deciding, for example, that they don’t want to keep trading with China or Mexico on the basis preferred by a previous president. There’s nothing unconstitutional about the people deciding they want barriers at the national border. There’s no outrage to due process in the people deciding they don’t want to accept the measures that come with “large landscape management” by the Interior Department, or that they don’t want the federal government telling schools that disciplinary measures must look first at the “race” of a student, lest statistical records be upsetting to advocacy groups.
If Americans decide they don’t, in fact, want to make everyone in the country pay for exactly the same health insurance coverage, that is no affront to democracy. Indeed, changing the course of government on contingent policy issues is the essence of functioning consensualism.
If we don’t want invested groups to have to lose money or livelihoods over such course changes, the remedy is not to say government can’t change course. It’s to say government mustn’t be in control of so much.
That, at least, is the remedy in the American political philosophy.
Voting money out of other people’s pockets is a bad and dangerous temptation regardless of how it’s done. Many people want to do it straightforwardly to benefit themselves. But some – who think like Cass Sunstein – see it as a way of “nudging” their fellow humans, with negative incentives, to adopt behavior that wouldn’t occur to them voluntarily. The impulse is equally evil in both cases.
The point of going through that brief litany is to illustrate concretely the reality of investment in big government. It’s important to keep that in mind, because almost all statements about why there’s been such an unrestrained frenzy to get rid of Trump are much too shallow and situational.
It’s not because Trump might finally expose and lock up Hillary Clinton. It’s not because Trump might undo Obama’s legacy. Early on (i.e., back in 2017), those were popular theories. But even then, they missed the mark. No one who has been desperate to get rid of Trump cares that much about Hillary Clinton or Obama’s legacy.
What the anti-Trump “resistance” can’t accept is losing the power tool and source of sustenance that big government is today.
The question about that is what exactly the “deep state” of 2016 had in mind, when it surveyed what it would lose if Trump became president.
That is what we need to know. For our safety, for the security of our rights and liberties, for hope and a future – that is what we have to find out and understand. What were they getting out of it? Why could they not bear to let it change, when the voters demanded it? Indeed, why can they still not bear it, and therefore refuse to accept it?
Unless we interdict the structure of government that has caused the “deep state” to want to cling to the Obama-era status quo ante, so badly that it is prepared to lie, cheat, and steal, we will remain at risk from a “deep state” until it finally does club us to death in our sleep.
The near horizon
Herewith, then, a roadmap proposing what specifics we need to look at in the days ahead.
Two sets of steps are obvious, in my view. One is pursuing the convictions indicated by the combined findings of the DOJ IG reports (on the Hillary Clinton matter and Crossfire Hurricane), John Durham’s investigation, and John Huber’s (remember him?) investigation. We must follow through on these. But they’re not enough.
The second set of steps is constituting an extraordinary commission to review the sum total of what the heck has just happened to the United States of America. The tools of law enforcement and the justice system have been badly abused to target Americans, with the purpose of torpedoing a national election. The tools of national intelligence have been used for the same purpose.
I am not even sure how to address this next issue, but the freedom of the press – freedom from schemes of mandatory outside scrutiny; so proper and necessary in principle – has also been exploited for the wrong purposes. It has been used to aid and abet the abuse of government power, rather than to expose that abuse and hold it accountable. Freedom of the press has been turned upside down. In too many cases, it has become the abuse.
That’s even more true when we look at the treatment accorded by legacy media to new media with which the legacy institutions disagree politically. Legacy media don’t just defame and misrepresent politicians and other public figures, or frame political issues misleadingly. They actively try to silence and limit the reach of alternative media outlets. They try to defame and suppress whole segments of the population.
“Big tech” organizations use their communications market power do the same thing. Basically, the mechanisms of the infosphere have been weaponized against the people instead of serving the people in a fair arena of competition for thought, facts, and ideas.
This trio of weaponized excesses – law enforcement, intelligence, information – is the hinge-point of the 2016 election story. If we shrug and leave it all just as it is, everything we’re going through will happen again. The next time, if not this one, an actual electoral outcome could be unlawfully disrupted. And elections aren’t the only due processes that could be affected.
So it is essential that we look into the particulars of what happened. It’s not just about crimes. It’s about motives, incentives, and the tools of government and informational power that, to “deep state” actors, seemed made to serve them.
How to constitute a commission to look into this? I believe it would have to be an extraordinary undertaking: not exactly like any commission we have had before. It would be indispensable to have the same power of inspection and review for both political parties, and for the president to have a separate and equal say in the proceedings that could not be overridden by Congress. It’s as important for both elected branches of government to have a say as it is to look into the right things. Let the people – not the political parties, and not the media – decide what the truth is.
However, this is not the place to argue further on the topic of commission structure. The point is that we need the kind of wirebrushing that only such an entity could give us.
Targets for investigation: A preexisting campaign of political transformation
As to what the commission needs to look into – that is what gets us to understanding 2016. It’s the heart of my argument, and this article. So I have a handy list.
The list has been culled from patterns of activity, and patterns of focus for the anti-Trump effort. Some of them are obvious. Others are rather curious, and much less obvious.
But let me begin this section by referring to an interesting tweet thread posted by Raheem Kassam in September 2019. (Screen caps are below in case the archive link stops working.) My reason for including it is not that I agree it fully defines what was behind the Russiagate hoax and Spygate, with all the threads that run through them.
But it highlights a very important aspect of the problem, which is that the anti-Trump campaign is about fighting off the threat Trump voters pose to a preexisting effort – by the groups that form the “deep state” – to transform the structure of governance and power on a transnational scale.
My own view is that it’s this threat from Trump and his voting base that has caused the anti-Trump forces to fight so hard. They’re not fighting just for situational relief (e.g., to keep Hillary out of prison), or for principle or symbolic affirmation.
They’re fighting to avoid losing ground they think they’ve already taken: territory gained in a campaign to change the political landscape for America and the world.
The terrain of the fight is mainly executive regulatory bodies in governments and supranational organizations, along with the control levers of the infosphere and international finance and trade. The goal of transnationalist deep-staters is to exercise supervision over regulatory bodies, set boundaries for the infosphere, and hold a veto over finance and trade.
But the insight from Kassam’s tweet thread is key, because he highlights the importance of political philosophy as a motive for the transnationalists. They don’t only seek power. They have a concept of social and political structure they want to keep migrating toward, one in which there is voting (“democracy”), but not firm national boundaries to make voting actually matter. Voters, in effect, are to be presented with menus of choices, and some of those choices may be unpopular for a while, and not be approved right away. But what voters will not have is the means to reject the menus wholesale and choose another path altogether.
For voters to have that latter kind of option, there must be an idea of inviolable national boundaries, within which a people can go its own way. As Kassam points out, that is the fundamental proposition of the United States and our Constitution.
Speaking in my own voice now, I would build on Kassam’s proposition and suggest that the U.S. has withstood so much of the last century’s transition away from civic nationalism because of two things: our extraordinary power as a nation-state, which has deterred attempts at putting us under mortal threat; and the powerful, unifying idea of our Constitution and the American political philosophy.
Today’s transnationalists have recognized that traditional attempts to undermine American power – e.g., weakening America militarily, attacking our economy directly, attacking our territory and other interests – can have only limited success on a short timeline. (Attacking our territory in fact has never turned out well for anyone, and can hardly seem advisable, given that it would promise only the most Pyrrhic of victories.)
But undermining America from within, by nudging us into giving up our freedoms while gutting the civic ideas that bind us together, could potentially have an even more useful effect. That effect would be leaving a remnant of American power to be used in the world, but with a political structure inside the country too paralyzed, and too out of touch with freedom, to resist seeing the remnant used against our interests – but out of our own resources, and in our name.
In other words, don’t get rid of America. Reduce America to an exploitable hulk: still, for a while, a persuasive symbol, still with a powerful military and a global footprint, but without a way to turn the inconvenient spark of freedom – of popular resistance to being “nudged” and homogenized – into a real resistance.
The way to do that starts with what Raheem Kassam has identified: seeking to tear Americans’ allegiance away from the actual ideas of our Constitution and our founding, and from the most basic of our social mores (e.g., that experimentation with sexual mores is not, under any circumstances, to involve minor children).
For what it’s worth, I don’t think George Soros is the only source of such strategizing. I believe he is merely the best known. Much of the thinking and planning is done by an army of NGO executives, academics, government bureaucrats, think-tank analysts – the population of what Soros refers to piously as “civil society.”
The Western middle class might think of civil society as volunteer groups that do good in local communities. But for transnationalists, civil society is much more political than that. Its ultimate purpose is to create leverage and ties that cross national boundaries, so that the local independence protected by national sovereignty is under relentless political challenge.
If we acknowledge that the Trump presidency is thwarting and undoing a preexisting campaign on this scale, we can see the motive for fighting Trump to the death. Creeping transnationalism has relied on not being challenged: on being able to become effective mostly without public inspection or realization on the part of those it will affect. It has embedded itself with the apparatus of government in the U.S. and European West, and now has a financial hold on many politicians, along with its lock on politically correct thought and policy.
But Trump’s tenure in office is reversing not only its policies, but literally its occupation of the halls of executive government. The Washington Post regularly laments something few Americans outside the Beltway care about: the loss of legacy personnel at the State Department (and to a lesser extent at other agencies). Many citizens, if they do know about it, see this as a feature, not a bug, of the Trump presidency. The deep state regards it as an unmitigated tragedy.
As Raheem Kassam implies, the deep state is seeing years of work undone before its eyes.
But the key to the list I present here is this: unless we understand the importance of it to the transnationalist effort, the work can be redone quickly, the next time a Washington “insider” – Democrat or Republican – is elected to the Oval Office. The structure will still be there; undermanned, perhaps, and with a few pesky rule changes to overcome, but ready to be exploited again.
The defining themes of the anti-Trump campaign
The list must begin with the items that shed the most light on the priorities of the anti-Trump effort. Those items are the themes it consistently flogged, from 2016 until the end of the Mueller operation in 2019.
There were three basic themes, which were woven together to generate the Russiagate narrative.
First, Russia was attacking the U.S. election. Russia did this by penetrating Democratic email systems and exposing the emails; intruding in state voter databases; and running a social media troll operation to sow disinformation.
Second, Russia’s actions produced a “loss of confidence in our democratic processes.”
And third, unfettered operation of social media and other elements of the infosphere made us vulnerable to Russia’s exploitation of the infosphere, to sow doubt about “our democratic processes.” Internet freedom, in other words, was scary and dangerous. Russian trolls could pretend to be Americans and say American-sounding things to us, thus – implicitly – washing our brains.
Trump, it was said, was colluding with Russia to introduce damaging material into the infosphere in order to improperly affect the U.S. election. The supposed misbehavior of Trump was the focal point for all uses of the narrative, whether the argument being mounted was anti-Trump or pro-Trump. The component parts of the narrative rarely came in for rigorous inspection.
But they were not chosen at random. That became clear when we saw Robert Mueller take concrete action to investigate Russian use of social media during the election, and actually indict Russians and Russia-connected entities in the U.S. for related offenses. Those indictments did not tar Trump and will never have an impact on him – nor will they ever result in meaningful trials or convictions. But Mueller obtained them anyway.
Moreover, it has been noteworthy how relentlessly the themes have been flogged in spite of the fact that in some aspects, they are ridiculous. The details of the Russian social media effort have served only to expose how little effect that effort had, or indeed could possibly have had. If the FBI operation was named Crossfire Hurricane, we might call the Russian social media campaign the Fart in a Thunderstorm.
But the Russiagate narrative wants us to take it seriously, and be alarmed that social media were so poorly controlled that it could happen. Just take a moment to ponder the purpose of alarming us about social media, and ask if that theme was really something that emerged at random.
Because these themes were chosen for unrelenting emphasis, we have to view them as important to the anti-Trump planners.
Questions raised by the campaign themes
Thus, it is imperative to ask questions like the following.
Why Russia? China has also attempted for decades to meddle in U.S. elections. China hacks into U.S. government and other key institutional IT systems. China operates radio stations in the United States and funnels money to American politicians; China spies on us incessantly; China sells us IT devices and parts that are probably spying on millions of us right this minute.
A lot of nations spy on us and try to influence our politics and elections. The anti-Trump planners chose to focus on the threat from Russia – which is real, but not more so than the threat from other nations.
For my part, I suspect Russia was selected mainly because Russia is, by geopolitical nature, a grand-strategic counterweight to Europe, and in that role is a (perhaps the) premier thorn in the side of transnationalists in Europe and the U.S. – apart, that is, from the U.S. itself. George Soros, of course, is very prominent among those transnationalists, and he is known to be in a years-long spat with Russia, and in particular with the Putin regime.
The near-psychotic obsession with blaming electoral outcomes in Europe and the U.S. on Russia clarifies the centrality of vilifying Russia to the anti-Trump campaign effort. During France’s 2017 election, for example, a theme was prepared before the final round that Russia was behind the exposure of some communications in the Macron campaign, apparently in case Macron lost, and such a theme was needed to cast doubt on the outcome. Russia has been blamed for each and every electoral outcome in the UK from the Brexit vote in 2016 to Thursday’s national election.
No one doubts that Russia tries to influence foreign politics, including elections. But it is absurd and non-credible to propose that Russia is systematically and unerringly driving electoral outcomes in Western nations.
One thing the focus on Russia helps us with: identifying who’s behind all this. It’s obviously someone with a serious animus against Russia, one that invents offenses and picks fights, rather than sticking soberly with the offensive things Russia has actually done.
Meanwhile, the theme of “undermining confidence in our democratic process” might seem vague and not particularly important. I believe that’s an erroneous take on the matter.
So, in turn: why this theme about “democracy”? The purpose of the theme is not so much to enlighten us about what Russia was doing, as it is to set the terms of the definitions. In that regard, the theme is much more important for what it doesn’t say than what it does.
Being concerned that Russia is attacking our elections would inherently be about an attack on America’s national integrity and sovereign prerogatives – if the reason for concern were left unstated.
But the narrative doesn’t leave it unstated. The narrative supplies for us a thematic boundary in which to think. We are supposed to be indignant not about the attack on national integrity and sovereignty, but on “our confidence in democracy.”
One thing I noticed immediately when this Russian interference theme emerged in 2016 is that it was never treated by the media as a national security issue. That was actually odd, because the Homeland Security secretary at the time, Jeh Johnson, was extremely keen to increase federal control over U.S. voting systems by designating the voting systems as critical national infrastructure.
But that’s all the Obama administration did: make a power move on voting systems (and only well after the election, in early January 2017), rather than taking concrete measures to secure the actual 2016 vote. Through it all, the media just kept harping on how Russian interference would undermine our confidence in democratic processes.
That’s not an accident. The theme has been flogged in those specific terms because its authors intended to emphasize voting, a democratic process, but not national integrity or sovereignty. The transnationalists are fine with voting. They are opposed to the inherent function of the nation-state, however, which allows people within their own borders to vote down the measures demanded from without.
We mustn’t forget that the retailing of the Russia-Trump narrative wasn’t just an effort to bring down Trump. It has been an effort to sell the whole narrative as a way to see and understand what happened in 2016, and inculcate in the American people a very specific mindset about it. Trump colluded, yes. But Russia interfered; it was democracy – not sovereignty or security – that was interfered with; and in the process, Russia showed us how dangerous and dreadful it is to not have the hand of government supervision limiting what we can do with social media.
Which raises the third question: why frame this night-terrors theme about social media at all?
Heavens, if social media are left unsupervised, Russians as well as Americans can post silly memes in our social media feeds! Russians can make it look as if more people “like” and share those memes than really do! Russians can amplify the reach of illiterate posts by Americans advocating left- and right-wing points of view! Quick – supervise and monitor social media, lest we be exposed to overshared memes!
Of course, Americans can game the appearances of social media too. And that is manifestly not beside the point.
Rather, it seems closer to the central point. The very second the theme of Russians attacking “our democracy” through social media burst forth, it was surrounded by and implicitly associated with the companion theme of our fellow Americans trying to inflict “fake news” on us – in the same forms by which the Russians were said to have trolled us.
Stories framed in unapproved language (e.g., speaking of “religious freedom” when the approved language is “anti-LGBT bigotry”) were being shared on social media. Too many non-blue-checked users were retweeting them. There was inauthentic behavior going on. Apparently, this might give social media users the idea that it was OK to speak in terms of “religious freedom,” instead of referring to the topic as “anti-LGBT bigotry.” Failure to understand or acknowledge this put both predators and victims on the wrong side of … fake news!
To reinforce that this was bad, it was linked through ellipsis, implied syllogism, and preternaturally coincident timing to Russia’s social media attack on the U.S. election. The dragon lairs of social media were everywhere. If fake-news purveyors weren’t trying to convince us, via a meme image, that Obama had appeared in a pink tutu wielding a magic wand, Russian trolls were pretending to be a thousand Americans posting a photoshopped image of Hillary in an orange prison jumpsuit – which we didn’t even notice because we’d already seen it dozens of times before, posted by actual Americans (or, who knows, by Brazilians or Ugandans).
And still today, wherever the theme of “threats” to us all from social media crops up, even if it’s about Big Tech censoring conservative or Republican speech, the mainstream media cover it. The concern appears to be to frighten the public about social media, and encourage us to demand government supervision of their operation.
The major themes stressed in the Russiagate narrative were not mere paper-thin conveniences. Parsing them helps us to see the motives behind the attempt to take down Trump. His purposes, and his voters’, conflict directly with the purposes of his opponents. His opponents’ purposes are about the themes of Russiagate. And those purposes, in turn, are about the future of the entire world.
The means of attack against Trump and the Trump campaign
The next category on the list can be called the means of attack that have come into play against Trump in the Russiagate-Spygate campaign.
Something especially important about this category is that there is really no ranking the significance of its components. All of them were necessary to the anti-Trump campaign, in effectively equal measure. Besides the existence by 2016 of a campaign actively underway to “fundamentally transform” America and the world, there had to be by 2016 a concatenation of conditions that allowed the specific means of attack to be used as they were.
This category, although complex, should for the most part be the simplest to address in concept. It’s mostly about the tools of government, and the industries that have developed because those tools exist.
But we can also learn from them about the motives of the anti-Trump campaign. Keeping these tools in place, in the conditions that had been achieved for them by 2016, was a motive of Trump’s opponents.
The activities of government agencies – Tapping Big Data (“Surveillance”)
The first sub-category can be grouped as activities within government agencies. The most famous of them at this point is the FBI’s use of FISA surveillance to spy on the Trump campaign through Carter Page.
Less remembered is that Paul Manafort was also under surveillance with FISA authorization when he approached the Trump campaign in early 2016. The authorization on Manafort reportedly expired about the time he joined the Trump campaign, on 29 March 2016. Additional reports suggest he came under surveillance again later in the year, apparently after he left the campaign in August 2016. (FISA authorization obtained on Manafort after that date would still have allowed the FBI to see whom Manafort was in contact with in the campaign before he left it, as well as after. Whatever gap there may have been in the FBI’s Manafort profile would have been made up quickly once new authorization was granted.)
A very important point about the electronic surveillance must not be missed. Little of it was about literal, contemporaneous wiretapping. For the most part, it wasn’t about “listening in” on ongoing phone calls at all.
In some cases, such as the felonious leaking of Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak’s phone call with Michael Flynn, “listening in” may have been the method of obtaining the intelligence.
But the great bulk of the effort was about tapping Big Data. Big Data heads the list for this sub-category.
For the purposes of a forensic probe by commission investigators, it is essential to remember that. The forensic problem-set doesn’t entail looking for formal logs of wiretapping events. It entails retrieving computer-language keystroke records of what analysts – system users – did to pull structured data from massive data stores.
Unless an investigation goes after its information with that in mind, we are likely to miss as much as 95% of the evidence we need to unearth and understand. The evidence won’t just be about what was done to spy on Trump. It will be evidence of how Big Data spying is done by government agencies, and the exceptional power it places in the hands of unelected government employees.
Americans need to see in technicolor why the deep state wanted so badly to hang onto that tool. In terms of what constitutes a national emergency, hiding that information from the people is a far bigger one than the short-term losses that might come with revealing it. Wielding Big Data against the American people changes for the worse the relationship between government and the people – but without the bother of amending the Constitution, passing new laws, or even holding public debates. Letting the conditions of 2016 stand, uninspected, is simply not acceptable.
The conditions that had to be in place for the Big Data tap
This point leads to the next item on the list of government agency activities. This item has to do with the conditions of execution for those activities, and in the case of Big Data is as extraordinarily important as the profile of “Big Data” operations itself.
Here are the concrete examples, all of which I have written about before. I offer three.
One, we have known for more than two years that between 2013 (and possibly earlier) and April of 2016, intelligence community (IC) users were able to access telecom surveillance data through online queries that went through NSA, in thousands of transactions that could not be certified to meet the requirements for securing that data.
Most famously, at least some of the users were civilian contractors; i.e., not government employees. The bottom line was that U.S. person information (USPI, or “unmasked” information about Americans) was probably or definitely exposed to unauthorized viewers, including contractors.
Automation of data query-and-retrieval processes underlay that development. The automation didn’t occur by accident. It was actively fostered by the leadership of the IC, starting with then-DNI James Clapper. The automation was integral to the IC’s vision for its IT enterprise.
NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers took steps in April 2016 to restore system obstacles to that automation. And we can hope that his measures made a difference.
But a separate, related Big Data development from 2012 is, as far as we know, still in place as implemented.
This second example also involves contractors (and a big chunk of them are linked to John Brennan).
This development entailed opening a data-sharing channel between the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The sensitive point about NCTC’s data is that it represents a profile of the activities of individuals, including Americans. It ties a number of lifestyle-activity indicators (notoriously, the information in the terror watch-list used by TSA) to the profile of a human person, thus going beyond the less-tailored, less individually distinctive store of electronic data on phone numbers or ISP user accounts through which the FBI might have to sort.
The data-sharing channel was opened in 2012 at the behest of John Brennan, who was then Obama’s counterterrorism “czar.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) keyed on it in April 2019 as a potential player in Spygate, because of its provision for incorporating data shared among the “Five Eyes” intelligence consortium (the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand). We don’t know the extent to which it may have played a role in Spygate on that score or in terms of data-sharing between the FBI and NCTC.
But we do know that a company called The Analysis Corporation (TAC), headed by John Brennan from 2005 to 2009, obtained major data-management contracts with both agencies, in the timeframe preceding the 2012 interagency data-sharing agreement. Those contracts, very extended ones, are still active. Brennan was the director of the NCTC’s immediate predecessor, the Terrorist Threat Information Center (TTIC), holding that position in 2004-05, just before he retired from government and moved to TAC.
That bears looking into, any way you slice it. An interesting sidelight to this illustration involves Michael Flynn. In the period 2010-2014 (Flynn’s retirement year), he was one of the most senior advocates in the military for data-mining software produced by the company Palantir (founded by Peter Thiel in 2004). Palantir is widely used in military, intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism systems, including those in use at the FBI and NCTC.
Flynn’s push was for the Army to adopt Palantir’s data-mining software to improve (or simply replace) the capabilities of the troubled DCGS (Distributed Common Ground System) fielded Army-wide for “C4I2” – Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Intelligence, Information. The principal capability of the Palantir package relied on commonly by its many customers was (and is) data-mining, rapid correlation, assembly of network and individual profiles, and user-friendly presentation to analysts.
Flynn’s advocacy for the software package in question (which he reiterated during the primary season in 2016) arose from his time with the hands-on troops who had used it in Afghanistan, although not as part of DCGS. (As often happens in the military, deployed forces and their support networks find ways to pack out with preferred software purchased in small batches, even though it’s not officially integrated with the major enterprise systems, such as DCGS.)
The point of interest here is that Brennan’s TAC was a subsidiary of defense contractor Sotera, which had big contracts for DCGS working with lead contractor Raytheon. Sotera thus had contracts for the Army DCGS and data analysis and maintenance at the FBI and NCTC. Palantir was effectively a competitor, with contracts at NCTC and the FBI, and being touted by senior officers, including Michael Flynn, for a major contract with the Army.
Some readers will recognize quickly that Brennan and Flynn having links to competing vendors was an interesting situation in itself. There’s a lot of money, access, and influence at stake in such dynamics.
But in light of all that we’ve seen about the use of government intelligence tools against Americans, we must at least consider that there could have been even more at stake. TAC’s contracts with both the FBI and NCTC are not proof that anything untoward happened, or that the inside-the-firewall access to data conferred by those contracts benefited Brennan. But this is the outline of a vulnerable, morally hazardous condition.
Palantir’s reach across government agencies, meanwhile, is actually extraordinary, and its cachet in the industry significantly beyond Sotera’s. The Palantir name has become almost synonymous with preternaturally smart (even alarming) data retrieval and people-tracking. The company had momentum and buzz going for it.
But the import of Michael Flynn’s connection with Palantir wasn’t necessarily so much about the possibility that Palantir might at some point supplant Sotera and its subsidiaries. It was that Flynn understood what the competition for data management means in the intelligence and law enforcement world.
The data stores and how to get at them are a defining element of power of all kinds today. Flynn was already versed in the industry’s landscape, with a roadmap in his head and knowledge of where the closets were with the skeletons in them.
When commentators talk about the deep state’s fear of what Flynn would bring as national security adviser, this was the kind of thing they had in mind. If associates of Brennan (or other interrelated actors) had a sweetheart deal going on data access in government systems, Flynn was equipped to spot it, where Susan Rice wouldn’t even know to look for it.
We need not draw conclusions prematurely, to recognize that when there’s evidence of widespread spying and abuse of government-managed Big Data tools, a situation like this is one of non-dismissible possibilities.
The third example may be the most important of all. It’s the unmasking activity performed by the NSC staff, coupled with the likelihood that – before April 2016 at the very least – NSC staffers were making automated, “back-door” retrievals of unmasked USPI, even without leaving an audit trail of formal “unmasking requests.”
The report the Rogers NSA made to the FISA court in October 2016 demonstrated that such retrievals had been possible, if an authorized user employed “uncareful” query terms. Given the remarkable number of formally logged unmaskings done by the NSC in the years 2015 and 2016, it is extremely likely that informal, back-door unmasking was also done. (The skyrocketing numbers of the related queries between 2013 and 2016 make it all but inevitable.)
The third condition: Running the op from the White House
It might in fact have continued, at least at the NSC level, even after Rogers adjusted the valve settings on automated queries in April of 2016.
I’ve written before about the mechanics of this, and suggested an outline for auditing the systems (assuming their histories haven’t been scrubbed) to get the best picture we can of what IC users were doing in and before 2016.*
But in terms of the conditions for execution of this government activity, the most significant aspect of this third example is simply that it was being done by the NSC staff.
That means it was the least-supervised use of the Big Data/unmasking tool by anyone in government. The other major users – the FBI, NSA, CIA – could be held with some expectation of integrity to a prescribed schedule of self-auditing and reporting.
The NSC staff, as part of the Executive Office of the President, has only the president himself to really worry about, when it comes to being held accountable.
If NSA, as administrator of the safeguards, sees a reason to complain about the behavior of NSC staff users, it can try appealing to the president. But that doesn’t mean the president will agree there’s a problem and do something about it.
Expanding the NSC staff as much as Obama did, and giving it an intelligence IT system with more automated responses – and less paperwork – was a recipe for expanding a Big Data security vulnerability. Through the open cavity of that expanded vulnerability walked months and months of spying on the Trump campaign.
It’s likely that similar spying was done against other targets. One more point must be emphasized on this head. It’s also one I’ve addressed before, but it matters to reconstructing what happened, and needs to be reiterated.
It took all of the agencies involved in Spygate to bring off the Big Data spying. That’s because of the legal firewalls that are intended to protect Americans’ rights. There are things each agency can do – the FBI, the CIA, potentially the NCTC – that the others can’t. There are also forms of collaboration they are either not supposed to engage in, or only engage in under strict procedural regulation and supervision.
To get around the latter limitation, the solution in Spygate was to do it at the NSC level, and call the spying on Trump a national security matter under the purview of the president. We essentially know that’s what happened. It had to happen, when the White House interagency task force on “Russian interference” was formed in August 2016, with an FBI that claimed to be investigating Trump for collusion in that interference, and a CIA that claimed to have received warning signs of such collusion from foreign sources.
If the Obama administration actually had a solid, reasonable case for why that arrangement was appropriate, we would already have heard it.
Instead, we have heard years of denials that spying on Trump, under the aegis of the NSC, was even what was done. That’s a huge red flag.
Human assets of ambiguous status
Another sub-category in the “means of attack” list is that of human assets of dubious status. Stefan Halper is the most obvious example, because of the clear connection that can be inferred from his being paid during the relevant timeframe via a poorly audited Defense Department funding sump, and from his activities in direct contact with the principal targets of Spygate (in particular Carter Page and George Papadopoulos).
But there are others of whose status we are less demonstrably certain, including Joseph Mifsud and the woman introduced to Papadopoulos (in company with Halper) as “Azra Turk.”
In Mifsud’s case, although all evidence points to his being a Western intelligence asset, a paper trail like the one we have on Halper is missing.
“Azra Turk” was introduced to us by the New York Times as an “FBI investigator” – but neither her name nor the role she reportedly played is mentioned in the DOJ IG report, which specifically probed the FBI’s conduct of the anti-Trump operation.
Yet another person in this group is Charles Tawil, the businessman who allegedly met with Papadopoulos in the summer of 2017 in Israel, escorted him to Cyprus (purportedly to scout energy business opportunities), and handed him $10,000 in cash in a hotel room. Papadopoulos concluded later, reasonably (assuming his story is accurate), that Tawil was used to plant the cash on him for the FBI to find when its agents arrested him at Dulles Airport in July 2017. (Papadopoulos left the cash for safekeeping with a lawyer in Greece instead of taking it to the U.S.)
The use of Steven Schrage, a graduate student under Stefan Halper’s wing at Cambridge, also needs a look. Schrage is the individual who approached Carter Page about the Cambridge seminar in July 2016, and he seems to have an awful lot of the same connections as Halper. It’s virtually certain that he was deployed to approach Page. We need to know by whom, and for what official purpose.
The unaccountability in ambiguity
There are three aspects of this use of human assets that need a good wirebrushing. One is the shadowy nature of the assets. Not one of them is acknowledged as an asset in (or apparently redacted from) the Horowitz report. So either the FBI didn’t disclose them to the IG as part of the operation (in spite of the fact that the IG would be fully cleared to review them), or they weren’t actually FBI assets.
If they weren’t FBI assets, whose assets were they – and why were they being deployed against American citizens? The latter is the most important question in any case. Even if the FBI used them, the legal restrictions on deploying such assets against Americans require a rigorous paper trail, and decisions higher up the chain of command than the IG report found for human sources used in Crossfire Hurricane (see Fox News link above).
But the first question – whose assets were they? – demands an answer. And an answer delivered to the American public: not an answer hidden behind a classification firewall and visible at most to select members of Congress. The strongest likelihood is that whoever directly dispatched these individuals (and it may have been a foreign intelligence service), it was the either the CIA or even the FBI, using a cutout, that was behind it.
The second aspect requiring inspection is the use of funding for these activities. Again, putting Stefan Halper on retainer via the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment is the best-known example. It may well be that Halper hired “Azra Turk” using walking-around money from that source.
Charles Tawil is a different proposition. He had $10,000 in what were probably marked bills to place on a bed in a hotel room in Israel. Of course, it’s possible a foreign intelligence service did one of ours a solid and just ponied up $10,000 for the cause. But however the cash was sourced, the point a commission needs to come to grips with is that spy-craft, necessary as its seamy side may be, is being deployed against Americans too easily, because it has become too unaccountable.
Sources of funding that are unaudited – indeed, effectively unauditable – make that virtually inevitable.
The third aspect of this sub-category – human asset use – is a related one. I will only touch on it here, because it’s part of a larger pattern that comes up in a different category of the roadmap. But it’s this: Stefan Halper’s history should have excited more interest from us over one particular line of work, and that’s his foray into boutique banking in the 1980s and 1990s.
Halper had no background in banking when he left the Reagan administration to co-found a bank with a partner. The alarms are screaming on that one, especially given that his father-in-law at the time was a long-time CIA official. The bank he founded in the 1980s survives to this day having been bought out in a couple of transactions since (and with Halper remaining involved with both of them). That is very much worth pulling the threads on.
In fact, on the periphery of Russiagate and Spygate, there’s a whole lot of stuff going on with banking, and indeed with other money-making enterprises, that raises serious questions about what financial maneuvers are being used for by governments – starting, but by no means ending, with ours.
We can leave it there for now.
“Cooperation” from foreign intelligence – against American citizens
A fourth sub-category in the means of attack is cooperation with foreign intelligence services. It isn’t necessary to discuss this at length, but it is essential to have it investigated.
It is inherently a problem for the constitutional rights of Americans that information on Americans gathered by foreign intelligence agencies can be provided to government agencies in the U.S. There are no real firewalls against the abuse of that open channel.
Such abuse is not just about the likelihood that accepting foreign intelligence on Americans can cross over into soliciting it. It’s about accountability.
The example of Russiagate-Spygate is actually a near-ideal example of that point. We are told that government agencies and responsible actors from at least a dozen countries, from the UK to the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia (!), Ukraine, and Australia, provided intelligence on Americans – members of the Trump campaign – to agencies of the U.S. government. Yet with all that information-sharing, nothing has ever been proven in terms of the supposed predicate for the “investigations” in the United States.
In other words, there was never any there there – but the ensuing, real government processes have exacted years of political agony from America, based partly on collateral information from foreign agencies that supposedly confirmed a basis for suspicion.
Because the collateral information came from those foreign sources, we will never be able to fully evaluate it and hold it accountable.
That is a problem. We can’t leave it as an open-ended one.
The private consulting army
We move on now from the activities of government agencies, to two very significant and problematic categories in the means of attack on Trump and his campaign. The categories are interrelated today, to a historically unprecedented extent.
The first we can group as the phalanxes of consulting and lobbying firms that now form the effective foundation of Washington, D.C. These firms for decades were mostly about lobbying for policy, which in effect meant developing expertise in writing policy and selling it to the public. As Conservative Treehouse laid out in a superb series of articles in 2017 (see here for further discussion and all the links), that had especially significant import for the relationship of these firms with Congress and the federal agencies. It meant the expertise in the latter’s jobs – the jobs of those government entities – actually migrated to the consulting and lobbying firms.
That there was a revolving door for Beltway professionals between government employment and the private firms was a given. That carried its own set of moral hazards – because, of course, the funding sources for the private firms then became paramount in how policy was written, even if not always in how it was prioritized.
Spending, per se, has remained – if somewhat tenuously – the province of the actual elected members on Capitol Hill. For quite a while now, however, the 535 members of Congress have served more as an occasional obstacle to the spending proposals of the consulting industry than as the drivers of the train.
For most Americans, that has always been easiest to visualize in terms of defense contracting (and perhaps other niche activities of the federal government, such as supervising the safety of the oil and gas industry. People cynically understand the purpose of rotating back and forth between jobs as regulators and lobbying for the regulated, or jobs in policy and procurement and jobs in lobbying for the vendors).
But in the last 25 years or so, government consulting and lobbying has become much more about literally authoring the political narrative by which the whole of our national polity navigates. In the case of something like Obamacare, for example, it isn’t just about writing thousands of pages of regulations. It’s about preparing the whole political mindset for urging massive changes in their daily lives on the people. (“Health care” is an especially good example, because the jumpstart for this model of policy operation was Hillary Clinton’s effort during husband Bill’s first term as president to sell Congress and America on a “national health system.” Although Hillary’s effort was unsuccessful, the model took off like a rocket.)
The resulting narratives purport to do nothing less than tell the people what reality is, and dictate to us how we are supposed to feel about it, and therefore act.
Whether the consulting firms coalesce around quasi-think-tanks, lobbying companies, media consulting, investigation, or law practices, the model now is about that comprehensive narrative writing. It’s why a law firm like Perkins Coie is very much in the business of promoting narratives that defame some, vaunt others, and flog political themes.
It’s why Media Matters for America and Shareblue Media/The American Independent exist. It’s why National Security Action, founded by Obama aide Ben Rhodes and Hillary aide (and Obama official) Jake Sullivan, exists – and why, like David Brock’s Shareblue/American Independent, it has a “war room” for propagating media themes. It’s why the Penn Quarter Group and Democracy Integrity Project headed by former Senate staffer Daniel Jones exist.
It’s why Fusion GPS, lately employed by Democracy Integrity Project, exists. In the UK’s version, it’s why Orbis Business Intelligence, Christopher Steele’s firm, exists. But there are numerous similar companies in the United States.
To a great extent, the mechanics of politics have been outsourced to armies of private-firm specialists, inherently acting as advocates for points of view because they are writing narratives to justify their and their clients’ proposals.
If this consulting-firm apparatus can be used to write the narrative making health care a national emergency, and Obamacare the only solution, why can’t it write a narrative making a specific president a national emergency – with impeachment and/or at least some form of summary removal the necessary “solution”?
Well, manifestly, it can be used for that purpose. Between 2015 and today, that’s exactly what has happened.
And remember, the people engaged in this effort are being paid by private actors with particular axes to grind. The consulting-firm army trying to bring down Trump is being funded by the Democracy Alliance donors who exercise their right to fund PACs that press for agendas like open borders, disarming the public, and flipping state and local government offices from centrist and moderate to radical left.
The reason to reiterate this point is that there is a serious accountability deficit in this model of politics. Privately funded, it has led the mechanisms of the U.S. federal government around by the nose for the last four years, subjecting dozens of people to life-altering legal attacks, and 327 million of us to a paralyzing political attack.
I don’t see a way of interdicting it directly, given that the rights being exercised – organized expression, advocacy, suasion, petitioning the government for a redress of grievances – are rights we want to have honored.
But it can be interdicted indirectly: by dramatically reducing the scope of government, so that the model can’t sustain itself the way it does today. The less money there is to be made off of affecting government policy, the less viable this model is.
As long as Americans accept having government involved in absolutely everything, this model will only metastasize further. The stakes are so enormously high now, our whole life quality depends on what smoke comes from the regulatory caves of government every day. Affecting the nature of that smoke, and who is fanning its flames, is simply too big a prize for power-seekers to leave it unpursued.
We can no longer go without putting in the hard thought to grapple with this problem. The anti-Trump campaign has done us such injury precisely because we haven’t put in that thought. Instead, we have skirted around it, paid it to go away by indenturing our future, and just kept putting it off.
Partisan, complicit media
The second of these final two, interrelated categories in the means of attack is the role of the media. Going through the last section no doubt raised that point with many readers. The media merit their own mention because in the anti-Trump campaign, they have played such an integral role in instigation of the attack. They have by no means been duped or coopted bystanders. In company with the consulting firms that work hand-in-glove with them, the media are driving the train.
To see clearly the operation of this campaign, I can’t recommend anything better than reading Lee Smith’s The Plot Against the President. In it, he brings together much of his previous reporting on how an anti-Trump narrative concocted by private consultants (at Fusion GPS) was quite literally fed in the form of comprehensive story notes to major media outlets, and then retailed by them.
This started before the Steele dossier was even under contract (see Smith’s chapter entitled “The Protodossiers”). And it mirrored work Fusion GPS had done for previous clients, whom, again, you may read about in Smith’s book.
One of Smith’s most important points is how common and industry-standard this practice has become – partly as a result of structural evolution in the infosphere that has changed how news and opinion can be monetized. News organizations have less and less of a budget to pursue stories on their own. Even verifying basic facts is now left too often to outsourcing through the consulting firms.
But, ominously, the widespread nature of the practice has had the inevitable result of beating down ethical resistance to its most likely consequence. The line has been fudged between not verifying facts, and knowingly retailing information that isn’t true (or at the least has been sourced from known, paid partisans) – and that favors one faction of the public against another.
In the opening paragraphs of his chapter “The Press Breaks,” Smith lambastes the mainstream media for crossing that line as Trump was transitioning to the White House.
Very rarely has a free press sacrificed its independence and prestige by putting its rights and privileges into the service of intelligence operations designed to target one faction on behalf of another. But that was what the US media did in the winter of 2017. They became political operatives. The bylines they used were part of the journalistic apparatus that camouflaged the dirty work they were undertaking.
It cannot be overstressed how deliberately complicit the media have been in fomenting the anti-Trump narrative as a catalyst for government action – action whose outcomes Smith goes on to summarize:
The effect of their campaign was to break men and women, including other Americans, to separate them from their families and friends, to strip them of their liberty, their homes, their savings, simply for exercising their constitutional right to participate in a political campaign.
As with the consulting firms discussed above, it is not clear how to address this with direct restrictions on the media. We want to continue having a free press, one that can’t be silenced on the suspicion of having bad motives.
But there are things we can do to limit the power of government to break men and women in the ways listed by Smith. We can’t stop information from pushing government levers. But we can limit the kinetic reach of levers. We can improve the supervision of levers. We can limit the number and kind of levers. We can make levers harder to push.
Controlling the features of the apparatus of government is well within the people’s purview, and rightfully in our power. It’s high time we reassert that fundamental truth.
In the meantime, there is nothing wrong at all with laying bare before the American people what the mainstream media have done. Perhaps one way to see that done properly is to allow government-appointed commissioners to present their version of how the media behaved and misbehaved – to be achieved mostly without intrusive government investigation (unless warrantable crimes are at issue) – and encourage the industry and its private watchdogs to investigate independently, and offer additional or countervailing information. Let the people be witness to everything. Let the media give the people an account, if they want to keep (or restore) the trust on which their institutions depend.
However we address the problem, there is no moving forward, and out of the institutional trap we have spent the last century setting for ourselves, without taking it on.
Patterns of interest, intersecting with the deliberate campaign
The final section of this treatment may in some ways be the most important. It is also the most obscure – opaque to the public – and the hardest to tie together neatly as part of the anti-Trump campaign.
But I believe it is indispensable to address the category of these issues, which I would call patterns of interest. Most of them map to the Obama administration. At least one goes back to well before it.
Most relate to the anti-Trump effort in both directions: i.e., they are motives to try to get rid of Trump (in order to preserve preexisting gains made in “transforming” America), but some are also means of getting rid of Trump.
It is mainly as motives that we are interested in them. That’s partly because they’re about transforming the political landscape, on the kind of long but finite timeline suggested by Raheem Kassam’s tweet thread.
But it’s also because, if such powerful levers of information and influence remain “transformed,” they can be used as often as necessary against inconvenient political figures – like Trump.
Why did so much of the drama center on these nations?
The first sub-category is that of interestingly prominent nations. We have discussed Russia already; the pattern of interest category applies more, in my view, to the selective prominence in the anti-Trump campaign of Iran and Ukraine.
Iran has figured mostly as the subject of Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, whether the discussion is about why Trump is dangerous, or about why the anti-Trump forces are so determined to actually get rid of him.
The Iran tripwire
Yet it has been transparently obvious from the beginning that the Iran “deal” concluded in 2015 – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – does not actually insure the world against Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. At the very best, it might delay Iran in nuclear weapons acquisition: if Iran can be held to the JCPOA’s terms.
But it became evident, immediately on implementation, that there is no way to hold Iran to those terms. Even the inadequate UN monitoring regime administered by the IAEA before the JCPOA became less effective and accountable after it was implemented.
The point from that summary is that there is no legitimately urgent case that the U.S. must continue to honor the JCPOA (through relaxing sanctions on Iran), so that the world may have safety.
The world is not less safe because Trump’s Iran policy differs from Obama’s. There is no valid assessment of motive here, to explain the near-derangement of the anti-Trumpers.
Moreover, it is fatuous in the extreme to explain their behavior as the quest to preserve someone’s legacy. No one breaches every canon of lawfulness and decency merely to preserve a legacy.
The extraordinary eagerness of the Obama administration to make and keep a bad deal with Iran – an eagerness shared with the EU-3 (the UK, France, and Germany) – has to raise other troubling possibilities. It’s not what is being interdicted or repressed by the JCPOA. It can’t be, since nothing is being interdicted or repressed.
It may rather be what someone is getting out of enabling Iran to maintain a suspect nuclear program: still in operation, still suspect, but always just short of demanding kinetic interdiction by the United States or Israel.
This possibility would seem far less likely if we did not have the JCPOA to judge from. The deal can hardly be called a “deal” at all, since it holds Iran to no measure of performance that matters.
The JCPOA was clearly pursued with much greater eagerness by the Western powers than by Iran (or Russia or China). The latter three nations would have been happy to still be negotiating it, stringing the West along and getting incrementally more sanctions relief and monetary concessions for Iran, rather than proclaiming it done.
Obama had to give up the more effective, intrusive inspection regime in place before the JCPOA to get the “deal” in July of 2015. He had to soften the language on Iran’s pursuit of delivery devices – ballistic missiles – in the UN resolution that implemented the JCPOA. He had to accept seeing previously known intelligence on Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear warhead officially swept under the carpet.
He had to begin honoring a promise of up to $150 billion in direct payoff cash to Iran – plus see additional trade revenue flow to the radical regime, helping Iran to buy arms and fund terrorism and proxy wars abroad.
Obama and the EU-3 wanted the “deal” more than they wanted to actually prevent Iran from getting the bomb. The EU3’s behavior since Trump began formally withdrawing U.S. participation has borne witness to that.
So the question is why. This looks much more like a case in which someone is getting something out of the status quo perpetuated by the JCPOA than like the JCPOA being used as an instrument to change the conditions for Iran’s nuclear program.
The most obvious questions that would be prompted by this situation are about the nuclear and nuclear weapons industries. Does someone we aren’t looking at have an interest in them, as they relate to Iran?
That is a key aspect of this final category, “patterns of interest.” Things we weren’t looking at directly may turn out, if we pull the thread, to be things the anti-Trump effort is about.
Ukraine, the bag of tricks for desperate Democrats
Ukraine offers a similar situation. Ukraine, as a pattern of interest in Russiagate-Spygate, is a unique pastiche of NGO activism (largely under the Soros brand), anti-Russian animus (in a nation that is profoundly divided over its historical links to Russia), infestation with oligarchs, and recurring themes related to the energy industry.
Something that has been clear from the beginning is that the U.S. Democrats and other anti-Trump forces have far more connections with Ukraine than Trump ever has. Trump’s connection boils down to Paul Manafort. And Manafort has no demonstrable centrality to either Trump’s personal or his professional life. It was reportedly Roger Stone who lobbied to get Manafort into the campaign in 2016. Trump didn’t know Manafort well enough to have considered him without prompting.
The Clintons, on the other hand, received the most in donations to their foundation of any single country from Ukraine. The U.S. State Department under Obama shoveled money at Soros-sponsored “civil society” activity in Ukraine, much of it anti-Russian. (This is not, of course, to suggest that the U.S. should be funding pro-Russian activity in Ukraine. But it isn’t clear how America’s national interests are served by backing the operations of organizations as overtly linked to a single, controversial individual as Soros’s are.)
Of all the nations where American officials could have taken an effectively political interest in the energy industry – Poland, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cyprus, Algeria, just to name a few – it seems awful darn particular that the Biden connection landed on Ukraine.
Especially given that there was so much engagement between Democrats and Ukraine in other realms – and that the two most bizarre targeted outreaches to the Trump campaign, i.e., to Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both involved men with professional backgrounds in the energy industry.
Little has been made of that aspect of the anti-Trump operation. But in retrospect, it doesn’t seem random. The original reporting on both Page and Papadopoulos made light of their energy industry connections, almost to the point of making fun of them, as if the connections weren’t real. But as we’ve come to know more, it’s clear that their backgrounds in energy analysis and industry investment were quite real.
These are the things you pull the threads on, to find out what motivated and informed a hydra-headed monster like the anti-Trump campaign.
There is another odd point of interest with Ukraine, which may or may not fit any holes we have in understanding the anti-Trump campaign. But it does fit in with the next pattern of interest.
That point is the fact that in 2010, when then-President Obama held his first summit on nuclear security, including reducing the world’s stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, two nations stepped forward to relinquish their stockpiles and agree to rely on supplies of fuel-ready uranium from foreign partners. One was Chile (which had already agreed to transfer a stockpile of enriched uranium to the U.S.). The other was Ukraine.
What are all these nuclear industry connections doing in our American coup?
That brings us to the second sub-category in patterns of interest: the recurrence of connections with the nuclear industry. In considering these connections as a general matter, the focus has always been on how political figures were lining their pockets. The Clintons and the sequence of donations, payments for speeches, and the regulatory outcome for the Uranium One deal is the most prominent example. (Including those factors, and the point that a whistleblower who had information straightforwardly implicating the Clintons in a pay-for-play scheme in that incident later had his home raided by the FBI.)
But there are reasons to ask if there’s more there. Specifically, to ask if at least some of what we’ve seen is about the nuclear industry itself, and where the levers of power over it are located – beyond the simple identification of Russia as the purchaser of Uranium One.
Keep in mind that one of the signal results of the Uranium One deal was that at least some uranium mined in the United States ended up being shipped to foreign recipients. The uranium went through Canada, but the recipients were reportedly in Europe.
Perhaps there is nothing untoward in that, even though Congress was assured, when the Uranium One deal was approved in 2010, that it would not result in American uranium being shipped outside the country.
But what, exactly, is going on with the nuclear industry in Europe is its own interesting question. It may not be as safe as it once was to assume that controls over the industry there are intended to remain what they have been up to now.
A number of publicly known incidents occurred in the period 2003 to 2015, which emerge as a pattern of interest given the later involvement of their principals in the anti-Trump effort. One is Uranium One and the Clintons, which occurred in the period 2009-10.
Another is the decision by Ukraine, at Obama’s behest, to give up Ukraine’s stockpile of spent nuclear fuel (and indeed to give up uranium enrichment altogether). That policy decision was announced in 2010.
But there was a very striking sequence of events early in the 2000s, when Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi renounced his nuclear weapons program and disclosed its procurement information to the UN. He did this in December 2003. The foreign patron of his program, Pakistani A.Q. Khan, had been living at large in Pakistan for some time, in spite of his connection with nuclear weapons proliferation in North Korea and Libya. He was also suspected of being linked to proliferation in Iran.
On 4 February 2004, Khan – formally exposed by Gadhafi’s disclosures – made a public confession before Pakistani authorities. The Pakistanis detained him for a number of years, but never made him available to other nations for interrogation.
Within weeks of Gadhafi’s dramatic move, two other events of interest occurred. One was the recovery of a laptop, which came into the possession of U.S. intelligence, containing information on Iran’s nuclear program. The laptop indicated Iran’s pursuit of design and technology for nuclear warhead detonation (implicitly with links to A.Q. Khan), and its contents were shared with the UN.
In IAEA reporting, those contents became known as the “Alleged Studies.” The IAEA questioned Iran about them, when a monitoring regime resumed after new UN sanctions were introduced in 2007, and the Iranians artfully dragged their heels on answering the questions until the material in the Alleged Studies was simply written off in late 2015, as part of the implementation of the JCPOA.
The other event of interest is quite a remarkable one, because of its timing and the fact that it involved Pakistan. Within weeks of A.Q. Khan’s arrest in Pakistan, the first employment of a member of the Awan family by Democrats on Capitol Hill was initiated (with Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida). Imran Awan became employed with Wexler for IT services in January 2004.
A nuclear two-hop
In the ensuing years, there were events more directly involving the human principals (as opposed to recurring patterns) of the anti-Trump operation. A fascinating sequence revolved around the lawyer who represents Joseph Mifsud, a Swiss national named Stephan Roh who is also of concern because he bought a major interest in Link Campus University in 2016, and created business entities in the UK to fund his venture with Link Campus, and a firm with a name similar to the London Centre for International Law Practice, where Mifsud – along with big names in UK intelligence – had an affiliation for several years.
The latter transactions took place in February 2016, and seemed designed to facilitate moving money around as quietly as possible. (The entities were incorporated with near-anonymity in the Marshall Islands.) According to public records, the second entity never did move very much money. But the amounts look interestingly appropriate for paying an intelligence asset for a handful of small jobs.
With remarkable timing, Roh, in October 2005, purchased a small nuclear materials business from a proprietor in the UK. The company, formed in 2004, was called Severnvale, and specialized in uranium for medical use, according to its business registration. BBC reporting indicated Severnvale was the only company in the UK that fit such a single-proprietor profile.
The story on Severnvale itself has mostly been told elsewhere, so I won’t recount it here, except to mention a couple of arresting features. One was the exceptional increase in revenue the company suddenly saw in 2008.
The other is discovery of a Russian connection to a trading company incorporated in Ireland, shortly after Roh took over Severnvale, with the name Severnvale Nuclear Trading LLC. More on that below.
In hindsight, one thing remarkable about the timing of Roh’s Severnvale purchase was how closely it tracked Bill Clinton’s exertions on Frank Giustra’s behalf in Kazakhstan. The Giustra-Clinton connection in Kazakhstan, which resulted in a widely reported visit by Clinton in September 2005, was about the uranium mining industry there.
The timing of Roh’s subsequent Severnvale purchase may simply have been coincidence. But it looks less like coincidence if we fast-forward to February 2013, when Roh dissolved Severnvale and shut down its operations – immediately after Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state.
Some online researchers (including me) also found the shipping services company with the name Severnvale Nuclear Trading LLC that set up in Ireland in September 2006. The company changed its name to Vinkins Holdings Limited in March 2008 and remains in operation.
As Scott Stedman reports at Forensic News, however, Irish business documentation from December 2013 on what is now Vinkins indicates that two other companies are subsidiaries of Vinkins. One is incorporated in Cyprus, the other in Russia, and both are linked to a Russian lawyer named Alexey Klishin, with whom Stephan Roh is associated.
If this seems to tell us something related particularly to Russiagate-Spygate, it would be information about the company Joseph Mifsud has run in. Western intelligence agencies are no doubt well aware Mifsud’s lawyer owned a nuclear services company, and apparently have had no problem with that. It seems likely, in fact, that UK intelligence knew exactly what Stephan Roh’s UK-based company was doing when it experienced the sudden, massive surge in revenue in 2008. Indeed, MI-6 could probably tell me why the UK company Severnvale ceased operations 12 days after Hillary Clinton left Foggy Bottom.
The same intelligence agencies are probably aware as well that Roh is an associate of Alexey Klishin, and that Vinkins operates out of Ireland with two subsidiaries connected to Klishin.
Mifsud’s own activities in Italy and the UK have always made it much more likely, to the extent he is an intelligence asset, he works with Western intelligence rather than with the Russians. Roh, however, is another story. Forensic News found another Russian connection of Roh’s here, a Russian client for one of Roh’s service companies (based in the UK), whose income from contracts with Russian government entities skyrocketed starting in December 2015.
Roh remains something of a mystery. I was able to read his 2018 book, The Faking of Russia-Gate, and I had the curious sense while reading it that it had been written by someone for whom Russian was the first language. Something in the distinctive, earnest cadence of the argumentative material had the sound, to my ear, of passages of argument and exposition from Dostoevsky or Tolstoy when they are rendered in English. I don’t suspect Roh of being Russian, but if I were a betting person, I’d take odds that there’s an author of at least part of The Faking of Russia-Gate who is.
None of that means anything about Trump, who doesn’t know Mifsud or Roh from Adam. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, does know Roh. How well is a question we don’t have the answer to.
Another nuclear two-hop
Fast-forward now, once again, to the period 2016 to 2018, and the peculiar saga of Franklin Haney, recounted here. This unusual character’s political connections were all with Democrats – Gores, Clintons, the Chinese election-cash scandal in the mid-1990s – until, out of the blue, Franklin donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund in December 2016.
Not to Trump’s election campaign. Just his inaugural fund. Franklin is one of the oddest ducks in this whole melodrama, because he is also trying to buy and refurbish a defunct nuclear power plant in Alabama, which would make him the world’s only sole proprietor of a nuclear power plant. Eyebrows must at least go up at the prospect of someone with Franklin’s longtime political connections seeking such a role. Why a solely-owned nuclear power plant?
In early 2018, Franklin asked Michael Cohen – the lawyer from the anti-Trump narrative who was never in Prague, the one who ran the Stormy Daniels payoff – to represent him in an effort to gain funding for the nuclear power plant venture from a group of Qataris. That, of course, by itself sets off alarm bells. Who would employ Michael Cohen for such a job?
Franklin’s proposal to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to put the plant in operation depended on gaining such funding. It’s not clear why Franklin seemed to have waited as long as he did to make this run at a funding source; he owed the NRC some good-faith answers by a drop-dead date of 1 December 2018.
When Cohen’s office and home were raided in May 2018, and he was subsequently arrested, Franklin excused him from their contract. And just one day before his deadline on the nuclear power plant, the NRC told Franklin his plan for operating the plant would not be approved. (As noted in my report at the time, this had the aspect of the Trump administration waking up, shortly before that date, to whatever Franklin was up to.)
America: Nuke-wise, we’re not exactly Number One
Meanwhile, we circle back to Europe’s use of uranium and nuclear power, and note two significant conditions. One is that URENCO, Western Europe’s consortium for operating uranium enrichment, is government owned and controlled (by the UK, Netherlands, and Germany). But there has been public discussion in the last decade about sale to private ownership. As of the latest annual report from URENCO, there appears to be no movement on that proposal. Presumably, it will be affected by the UK Brexit.
It’s worth pondering, however, considering how it goes against the tide of European preferences in such matters. The Europeans are usually more likely to want to keep such industrial activities under direct government control. (It’s also notable that in August 2016, URENCO agreed to begin supplying Ukraine with uranium for nuclear power plant use – thus diversifying Ukraine’s supply beyond Russia.)
The other is that there is only one uranium enrichment facility operating in the United States. It’s in New Mexico, although the name of the corporation that runs it is Louisiana Energy Services. (There was a proposal for a number of years to open it in Louisiana, but state voting interests opposed it.)**
The U.S. uranium enrichment facility is owned by a parent company: URENCO.
That doesn’t mean URENCO exercises a controlling interest that would override U.S. law or NRC regulation. What it does mean, however, is that URENCO is entitled to visibility into law and regulatory information that the NRC holds confidential.
The same entitlement accrued to Russia’s Rosatom when it bought out Uranium One, with Uranium One’s mining concessions in the U.S.
We know that Rosatom is just a commercial branding sticker slapped on the Russian government.
But it’s an important question: if URENCO is sold to private interests, who will be queuing up for URENCO’s access to confidential U.S. nuclear industry information? Discovering the answer to that might shed light why the government owners of URENCO have expressed a desire to sell it in the first place.
And certainly, at some point, we will want to know who exactly holds the keys to facilities in Europe that process and store URENCO’s nuclear materials.
There are just enough loose ends in the developments of the nuclear industry over the last 15 years to make us wonder if more is going on than meets the eye. That’s especially the case when seemingly drive-by connections to uranium and nuclear power keep cropping up in a sprawling political drama like Russiagate-Spygate.
From A.Q. Khan to Capitol Hill, to the political obsession with leaving a hobbled but viable nuclear program in Iran’s hands, to the Clintons and Uranium One, to the foreign ownership of the sole uranium enrichment facility now operating in the United States, and the weird one-offs involving participants in the anti-Trump effort – is it all pure coincidence? Or do the elements of a pattern indicate that some of it is about the nukes?
It’s pure speculation to suggest that a group of people who wanted leverage against nation-states for transnational entities would regard nuclear weapons as a way to gain such leverage. At least, it is if we look beyond terrorist groups, to ideologues with less sanguinary visions. No one doubts that terrorists may well seek nuclear weapons.
But might not Western ideologues with visions for “peaceful” transformation away from the nation-state model seek nuclear deterrence? It’s not unthinkable. Nuclear deterrence has been held to be a responsible exercise of power for 70 years.
There is one more major sub-category in patterns of interest attending the anti-Trump drama. This one goes back even more years than the arresting developments in the nuclear industry, In terms of specifically known activity, it has only a couple of links to the developments of Russiagate-Spygate, in the form of the transactions surrounding human assets (Stefan Halper, Charles Tawil and George Papadopoulos), and through peripheral actors known to have an interest in taking down Trump (more below).
But it is virtually certain to be a window-opener on what the anti-Trump campaign is about; i.e., on what the motives are.
The pattern involved has been identified for a long time, but was especially pronounced in the Obama years. I have reported on it before under the general heading of “Funny Money.”
Some of the money is funny because there are enormous chunks of it that appear to have gone missing, especially in the Department of Defense. Over the years, these apparent losses, reflected largely in the accounting for equipment inventories, have mounted into the trillions of dollars. The Pentagon is currently undergoing a series of long-overdue audits (started under Trump, when Secretary Mattis was at the helm), and we can be encouraged by that to wait and see what comes out of it.
The possibility that at least some of the apparently missing money has been siphoned off for illicit use can’t be discounted, however. And there are an awful lot of opportunities for such outcomes in the current operation of government.
Another form of funny money is the pockets of poorly audited spending represented by things like the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment and the payments to Stefan Halper.
But those pockets also include the Obama-era practice of distributing court-settlement fines to Obama’s political cronies: people with non-profits who advocated for his political agenda, and raised money and marshaled votes for his political operations.
A key concern with court-settlement fines, as with other forms of non-tax income to the U.S. Treasury, is that the administration of such money has little accountability to Congress. The hundreds of billions of dollars paid by the financial industry to bolster Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after the 2008 TARP bailout was one of the largest such sources in U.S. history – and because it was never subject to a specific spending plan directed by a budget originating in Congress, we can have substantially less certainty than we would with formally budgeted federal income that it was spent in a manner we would approve. (The Treasury might tell us honestly how it was spent. But we have no set of prior expectations to compare that account to, as we would with Congress allocating monies a line-item at a time.)
There’s another form of Funny Money that is especially problematic, in my view. That is the package of fines and federal supervision that have come to be common in the “deferred prosecution agreements” made with giant banks to settle federal charges of money-laundering and financing things like drug-running, terrorism, and arms proliferation.
In those cases, it’s not just that fine money flows to the Treasury, without Congress holding a hammer over it.
It’s that supervisors with a federal charter alight on the bank and supervise its operations, until there is an agreement that the purpose has been fulfilled and the bank can do without them.
The moral hazard in this practice is the size of a black hole in space. One of the largest banks in the world, HSBC, was placed under U.S. federal supervision in a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in December 2012, and, going by news reports, spent the next four-plus years wholly unable to stop itself from laundering money and funding terrorism, etc. – in spite of being under supervision. (Some readers will recall that James Comey joined HSBC’s board for a brief period in 2013, as part of the supervision agreement, until he went on to become director of the FBI.)
Even acknowledging that HSBC is a very large bank, this doesn’t pass the smell test. From December 2012 to January 2017, federal supervisors answering to the Obama administration were unable to get HSBC to stop acting stupidly with money. Yet between January 2017 and December 2017, HSBC seemed to have finally been straightened out. The Trump administration allowed the DPA to expire in December 2017. (The Trump administration has also prosecuted individuals at HSBC who were alleged to have been involved in felonious misdeeds. In another fascinating development, UK-based HSBC is moving its regulatory compliance division – the one that deals with preventing money-laundering – from Britain to France, in preparation for Brexit.)
One need not be a flaming cynic, but only a competent analyst, to have reasonable suspicions that the U.S. government under Obama was getting something out of the DPA with HSBC other than some rewarding employment for the federal supervisors. A global bank with senior executives looking to stay out of prison could be a very useful house pet. Readers can speculate for themselves as to what kind of favors might be done for government officials in that situation.
HSBC was also accused of laundering money in 2008-09 through fake bank accounts set up using the credentials of its customers. Federal authorities were tipped by a whistleblower on that matter, and Congress held hearings on it in 2012 (before the DPA) and 2015. But in spite of the supervision agreement in place by 2015, Congress was unable to get the Obama DOJ to take action.
Additionally, a lawsuit was filed against HSBC in 2016 by Americans who claimed damages after their family members were killed by operatives from the cartels for which HSBC had laundered money.
With continued poor performance in cleaning up the money-laundering problem, and the evidence of felony conduct at the bank mounting, an angry House of Representatives in July 2016 reported out an investigation of the 2012 DPA. The UK (where HSBC in headquartered) had weighed in during the DOJ’s 2012 investigation with an urgent appeal to the Obama administration to avoid prosecution. According to correspondence reviewed by the House, the appeal from Britain was a key factor in the decision not to prosecute HSBC executives.
A Funny Money two-hop
There’s a reason to go through this particular episode in a treatment of the anti-Trump campaign. The problem of big banks laundering money through fraudulent accounts set up in unknowing customers’ names has come up in glancing connection with anti-Trump actors.
I emphasize at the outset that we have no reason to assume the actors in question had anything to do with the money-laundering, which in this case involved the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). But interestingly, a private intelligence firm hired to look into the matter by one of RBS’s customer victims did suspect a connection. This was apparently because the money-laundering benefited sanctions evasion for Iran.
The individuals in this case are Obama alumni Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl (who, like Rhodes, worked on the NSC). Their known link to the anti-Trump campaign is their determination to oppose Trump’s foreign policies and restore the JCPOA-driven sanctions relief for Iran, and the role they played in 2017 in bringing down Michael Flynn and interfering with Trump’s mastery of his own NSC staff.
There is also a suspected link, with Rhodes in particular, involving the rampant unmasking of Americans through NSA surveillance data done by the NSC staff in 2015 and 2016. It should be stressed that nothing is proven in that regard.
As the link above indicates, I wrote about the RBS money-laundering case and its victim, shipping magnate Nobu Su, at the time the news of it broke in 2018. Nobu Su had one of the largest cases of alleged money-laundering through a fraudulent account created in his name, running to the tens of millions of dollars. For undisclosed reasons, the private intelligence firm Black Cube seemed to think Rhodes and Kahl would have information relevant to the shipping executive’s case, and tried to approach them through contact with their wives.
Black Cube’s approach sounds like a tactic most of us would deplore, and it is not to excuse it, or draw conclusions about the Nobu Su case, that I highlight it here. Rather, it is to illuminate the reality and pervasive nature of the Funny Money pattern. When a government has no qualms about using its intelligence and law enforcement tools against the people, for political gain, we can expect it to have no qualms about exploiting access to money for the gain of its officials as well. This sub-category, as a pattern of interest, demands the fullest investigation.
The intelligence tail wagging the dog
As a last stop in the patterns of interest category, we can briefly survey a grab-bag of patterns that merit a mention, even though they were not as persistent or necessarily as significant as the others.
One is the pattern, by now well known, of tailored leaking from the intelligence community to manipulate the context in which presidential policy will be viewed. This practice isn’t new, although it isn’t all that old either, at least in its current form.
Probably the most noteworthy case of it prior to the Obama administration was the fostering of the theme during the Bush 43 administration that intelligence had been comprehensively wrong about “WMD in Iraq,” and therefore, concerns about the nuclear program in Iran were inherently suspect.
In fact, U.S. intelligence was not comprehensively wrong about WMD in Iraq. It got quite a bit right, as the post-war Duelfer Report (by the “Iraq Study Group”) indicated. Whatever the American news consumer had been induced to believe, Saddam Hussein certainly thought he had a WMD program right up through February of 2003. The U.S. and our allies found chemical weapons, chemical agents, prohibited missile parts, design documents for uranium enrichment centrifuges, and a store of yellowcake that we fully expected to find, during the pacification phase of Iraqi Freedom. Senior officers including Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the CENTCOM deputy commander, told the media after the combat phase that our surveillance assets had seen convoys ferrying suspect items out of Iraq and into Syria from the Iraqi bases with known WMD associations. (The CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks, made similar statements, which mirrored the DeLong interview.)
Yet because political leakers from the intelligence community wanted to cast doubt on the intelligence concerning Iran, they framed a narrative no one outside the community was in a position to effectively counter, painting a picture of the “Iraqi WMD” intelligence as woefully inaccurate and perhaps even criminally misused.
As for the intelligence on Iran from the same period – 2003 to 2007 (the latter date being when the famous NIE came out proclaiming a drawdown of Iran’s nuclear endeavors) – the trove of documents obtained by Israel’s Mossad in the 2018 raid in Tehran has confirmed that the worst-case assessments from that period were in fact accurate. We actually had the important basics of the Mossad document trove more than a decade ago.
It’s the 2007 NIE, which played them down, that was tendentiously framed and misleading as a basis for policy. And, as the report at the last link indicates, by 2015, when the JCPOA was adopted, the IAEA monitoring agency was significantly out of step with the reality the Mossad raid revealed about Iran’s nuclear weapons program,.
During the Obama years, intelligence leaking was often used to make it seem as if the administration’s policies were more significant or effective than they actually were. On numerous occasions, for example, military deployments and exercises that had been scheduled not just months but years in advance were depicted through leaks as if they were in response to what another nation was doing (often North Korea or China).
Obama-era leakers also frequently “disclosed” assistance to Israel as if it were being given in reaction to recent events. In virtually all cases it was previously scheduled, whether as part of a foreign military sales package arranged years before, or a longstanding agreement on joint exercise opportunities.
Since Trump took office, intelligence leaking has resumed its hostile profile. It is usually deployed to foster the impression that administration policies are ineffective. As often as not, leaks are clearly designed to simply make people from the administration look bad; i.e., incompetent, foolish, ignorant, etc. Sometimes, leaks appear to be aimed at sabotaging the administration’s intentions in advance (e.g., when one set of leaks was essentially a primer on how to evade sanctions monitoring by the U.S. government).
And that’s all before getting to the leaks that expose intelligence sources and methods by disclosing genuinely sensitive, actual intelligence to the world. The extent to which intelligence leaks have come to be a constant reality in our information environment has probably desensitized us to their dangers. But this pattern – incessant and well established as part of the anti-Trump campaign – needs to be taken seriously and shut down hard.
Oligarchs, gun rights, and data privacy – Oh my
A small handful of other patterns merit mentioning. One is the prevalence of oligarchs and shadowy business magnates originating from Russia and Eastern Europe in the walk-on cast of Russiagate-Spygate. Although the anti-Trump narrative has tried to link them to Trump, the two most actively connected ones, Oleg Deripaska and Felix Sater, seem to have had much more significant links to U.S. law enforcement, and – in Deripaska’s case – other principals in the anti-Trump campaign.
Given the links such individuals usually have with the Russian government, a thorough probe of their relations to everyone in Russiagate-Spygate would be in order.
The narrative writers – i.e., the strategists – of the anti-Trump campaign clearly made an effort to throw in the kitchen sink as part of their undertaking. They seem to have wanted to tar as many policy issues as possible with the taint of the anti-Trump narrative. Two instances of this stand out in particular.
One is the little side drama with Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy who attended some NRA events and sought to engage senior, connected Americans on the topic of gun rights. Members of the Trump family came into her orbit. She attended a prayer breakfast at one point.
This has been depicted by the media as a nefarious instance of Trump being vulnerable in this regard, apparently – by implication – to recruitment by Russians who embrace gun rights.
The former CEO of the Overstock company, Patrick Byrne, had a romantic relationship with Butina for a while, and says he was later induced by U.S. law enforcement to pretend to have a romantic relationship with her, in order to track her activities. (He said he engaged in the pretense with her knowledge and consent.)
This weird incident having been shoved in our faces by the media, and sold to us as an example of zealous law enforcement at work on our behalf, the American people are owed an accounting of what this was about, and why it was deemed necessary.
One other pattern brings up the rear. Its emblem is the “Cambridge Analytica” kerfuffle, which flared briefly in early 2018 and dwindled rather quickly into a sort of low-level cult obsession. The topic it seems to mostly relate to is data privacy, indignation over breaches thereof, and the use of social media data to predict and try to shape and exploit voting habits.
An attempt continues to link Cambridge Analytica to Russians, although in terms of persuasive effect, it seems to have borne little fruit. No one much cares, moreover, that the Trump campaign made use of social media data to predict the vote, since the Obama campaign in 2008 had done the same thing to robust applause from the political community, and both Obama and Romney had done it even more effectively in 2012.
The road ahead – Not like the one behind
No roadmap of this kind can be fully comprehensive. This one is already long. I hope some of the examples and analysis laid out help to clarify why we need to investigate particular categories of activity and elements of concern. If we don’t investigate them, we will be at grave risk for missing motives that we need to stop in their tracks now, by changing our expectations of government and our policies – so that no one has reason to acquire such motives again.
The human heart is such that many people will continue, no matter what we do, to want to have such levers of power, such opportunities, and such motives.
But our system of government does not need to accommodate them. Now, as we work through the most severe political trauma we have had since the Civil War, is the time to rethink what we have let government become, and the habits of thought we have fallen into that make us vulnerable to exploitation.
In one way, the last few years are reminiscent of World War I, when our technology and the march of demographics and human expectations had left behind the set of sclerotic assumptions, in European capitals, about what war would be, and what crises would look like. In that dreadful war men were slaughtered in lines of trenches for months at a time, on fronts that barely moved over the course of four years, largely because war did not fit our assumptions, and technology danced circles around them.
In a similar way, America does not have, today, the government we think we do. It has become unrecognizable to us, somehow dominated by a fiction-hungry news cycle and big-donor propaganda and thousands of faces we never see. That unrecognizable government is very real, and it has real consequences. It can spy on us, steal from us, and make up reasons to jail us.
It doesn’t respect our expectations about its intentions and its compliance with our wishes. As in World War I, we have reached the point where too much of it no longer works the way we expected it to.
We have to probe this problem. We have to put in the thought and effort to see the world as it is, and not try to simply move on, seeking a return to something that is no longer there.
I believe there’s not as much rebuilding ahead of us as we may fear.
But there’s more than we might like. There is no one else to do this job for us. If we do not do it, it will not get done.
* A curious fact about a former NSC staffer may indicate that an audit of this kind has already been arranged. One of the staffers brought in by Michael Flynn in early 2017 was Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom some news sources suggested tipped Devin Nunes to the extent of the unmasking done at the NSC staff under Obama. He departed the staff in August 2017, and went to a job with the data management company Oracle.
That move was out of profile for his known area of expertise (in national security intelligence). But Oracle has been a major structured-database vendor for the U.S. government for many years, and it’s possible the move to Oracle put him in a position to spearhead the hunt for evidence in data system records of how users were accessing the NSA data related to unmasking.
** A presentation made at the Aspen Institute conference in 2017 painted a somewhat gloomy picture of the U.S. uranium industry. This slide from the presentation shows the decline to zero of U.S.-owned uranium enrichment facilities.