Archive for February, 2017

Agent Trump

Let me begin by noting that I was a Russian linguist in the US Air Force and so I am quite sure that I know more about Russia and Russians than do most Americans. I am also an avid reader of history, so I believe I know more than many about the Cold War and the arms race. That background has led me to the conclusion that the Russians are not, and never have been, the threat to the United States that our leaders have led us to believe.

Russian behavior before, during, and since the Cold War has been entirely consistent with their thousand-year history of authoritarian rule, a national inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West, and a strong culture of religious or ideological mysticism. Post-World War II Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was not about communism; it was about fear of Western invasion. By the late 1980s, the Soviets finally came close to achieving strategic parity with the US but the enormous cost of doing so bankrupted the country leading to its economic and political collapse in 1991. Since then post-Soviet Russia has watched as its western buffer crumbled and NATO advanced to the borders of the motherland. Perhaps the last straw was the defection of Ukraine to the West. German troops were again, figuratively and in some cases literally, on Russia’s doorstep. Besides symbolically taking back Crimea, which Ukrainian-born Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had ceded to Ukraine in the 1950s, there was little they could do about it.

Throughout the Cold War, the US was two steps ahead of the Soviets in the arms race. Despite the few areas in which they had technical superiority over the US—rocket engine design, for example (current US Atlas V and Delta 4 launchers use Russian-designed engines)—they never had a qualitative military lead over the US and their quantitative superiority in tanks, troops, and nuclear warheads was never sufficient to give them an edge. Perhaps the most ironic incident I recall was the panicky announcement by the Nixon administration that the US was in grave danger because the Soviet Union had tested their first missile with multiple independently-guide reentry vehicles (MIRV). That very same week the US Minuteman III carrying MIRVs became operational. The Cold War was, and its chilly aftermath remains, more about the profits of the US military industrial complex than about defending the United States against a marauding USSR.

There is one field, however, in which the Russians are the best in the world: human intelligence. They cannot come close to the technical prowess of the National Security Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office but when it comes to developing and exploiting human spies, they have no peers. Which brings me to the real point of this piece: Russian infiltration of the 2016 US election with the aim of accomplishing through subterfuge what they could not do militarily: roll back NATO from their western frontier.

Like any good undercover operation, the compromise of the US 2016 election was developed over a long period. The first thing the Russians did was to identify individuals who could be recruited, knowingly or unwittingly. As Malcolm Nance details in The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), Russian spymasters look for certain character weaknesses that they can exploit to turn a person into an asset: avarice, cupidity, and narcissism. One person fits that profile perfectly: Donald J. Trump.

Just when the Russians began grooming Trump as an asset is unclear. His first foray into Russia was in 1987, a year before he first put his toe into the presidential candidate pool. But the internal chaos leading up to the demise of the USSR forestalled any deals. After the Soviet Union collapsed, a small number of entrepreneurs—if one can call them that—became extraordinarily wealthy privatizing Soviet state enterprises. Many, if not most, of them looked to the West to invest and hide their wealth.  Real estate was a favorite investment, especially in large American cities, and Donald Trump was one of the highest flying real estate moguls in Manhattan. Russian investors lavished money on Trump, buying condos in his buildings and reportedly bankrolling several of his grandiose plans. When those plans collapsed into bankruptcy it is likely that Trump was left owing considerable sums to Russian oligarchs. But it is probably after Trump again considered a bid for the Republican nomination in 2004 that the Russian government recognized that he could be exactly what they were looking for. From then on, Russian cash poured into Trump’s coffers. Persistent rumors suggest that the Russians cashed in their second chip, cupidity, when Trump took the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013 and is said to have engaged in what can only be described as tawdry behavior with Russian prostitutes, who were quite possibly in the employ of Russian intelligence. The last character flaw, narcissism, was probably the easiest for the Russians to exploit. Trump is surrounded by toadies with connections to Moscow.

As I suggested earlier, I think it unlikely that Trump is a witting Russian agent. I doubt that a professional intelligence service would hire someone as volatile and unpredictable. But it does seem possible, and indeed probable, that Trump is an unwitting Russian asset sitting in the White House. His inchoate America-First rhetoric fits perfectly with the Russian desire for the United States to disengage in Europe. Without US participation, NATO will probably reverse its expansion into Eastern Europe. Trump’s belligerence in the Middle East makes Russia appear to many in the region as a sane alternative to the US. His promised torpedoing of the Iran nuclear treaty will surely drive that country farther in to the arms of the Russian bear. His apparent determination to make an enemy of China will strengthen Russia’s position in the Far East while slowing China’s growth as an economic superpower. And his hostility toward Latin America may well make Russia appear a reasonable alternative partner for that region. All in all, Trump being Trump is very good for Russia’s interests.

The evidence that Russian hackers interfered in the US election is incontrovertible. Their finger prints are all over the attacks on the DNC and DCCC computer systems. It seems possible, even probable, that Edward Snowden is a Russian asset. His trail to the position that allowed him to steal so much information from NSA seems hardly accidental as does the fact that after Trump was elected talk started of his repatriation. Contacts between Trump surrogates like Michael Flynn and the Russian government have been too numerous to be coincidental. Key Trump appointees, notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have long-standing connections with Russian commercial interests.  

It does not require a conspiratorial mind to believe that, having failed to best the US in overt military and economic power, Russia has, at last, succeeded in beating us through the black arts of espionage where their millennium of experience in insurmountable. Who knows, perhaps it is for the best. Trump himself and his crackpot ideas will not last very long. The very character defects that made him a useful target for the Russians will not likely survive the US legal system very long. The autocracy he threatens will probably mellow into a form acceptable to Americans just as democracy in Russia evolved into a tsarist model with which the Russians are more comfortable. But whatever the future, it seems certain that the Russians have won this round.

Police state

This morning I was bullied by a New York State Trooper named David A. Kemp on behalf of a biker friend of his who objected to my non-threatening email telling him to stop harassing me on Facebook. (See my earlier post Resist and the emails in question below.)  Not only was the trooper was rude but he lied by saying that what I had done was illegal. At one point, he pushed his way into our house and shouted at me. And without my permission, he went to the back of my house to record our car license plates.

This is what Trump’s police state looks like. In fairness, the state police sergeant to whom I complained was fairly conciliatory but this incident should never have happened. I have sent a message to my state assembly representative advising her of this abuse of police power. I urge anyone else subject to this sort of right wing harassment to so likewise.

 

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Golden Bunkers

In its January 30th issue, The New Yorker ran a piece by Evan Osnos, Doomsday Prep by the Super Rich, describing the elaborate measures many billionaires are taking to protect themselves in the event of civil unrest. Those run the gamut from purchasing million dollar luxury condominiums in decommissioned missile silos to buying second (or third or fourth) homes in such presumably safe countries as New Zealand. There is a delicious irony to the rise of this survivalist movement among the very wealthy as billionaire Donald Trump is inaugurated president surrounded by a cabinet from the top 0.1%. Including the $20T national debt run up by tax cuts that largely favor the wealthy, during the past 36 years something of order $30T has been redistributed from ordinary Americans and their progeny to the financial elite. History strongly suggests that the resulting wealth inequality, by far the worst among developed countries, will inevitably lead to social instability. The longevity of the United States owes a great deal to leaders like the Roosevelts and Kennedys who recognized that the interests of their privileged class lay in keeping inequality within acceptable limits. The billionaire preppers would do well to realize that for a fraction of the cost of buying foreign refuges and building bunkers they could reverse the current drift toward anarchy by simply paying their fair share of taxes.

Resist

Free speech is under attack in a very real way. Post something about Trump that someone does not like and you may well find, as I did, your home address posted on Facebook. You might receive an email with a printout from one of those background check sites, full of inaccurate information and the names of people you do not even know. Your ex-wife, who lives in a different state, might receive a phone call telling her that the Trumpster in question has “friends in law enforcement.” You might find this person plastering Facebook with your Twitter account, your Gravatar, copyright material from your blog, and screen grabs of your Facebook posts. If you report those to Facebook you are politely informed that they do not violate their “community standards” but that you have been blocked from posting for a week because you called someone a right-wing coward. When you report the harassment to the police they tell you that none of this is illegal. These are the same police who claimed that saying “fuck” on your deck is illegal (it isn’t).

I know who is harassing me. He is a local businessman catering to a knuckle-dragging segment of the community. He apparently feels that it is his responsibility to protect the world from my having more than one Facebook account. I have created multiple accounts because Facebook’s biased “community standards” result in my frequently being blocked from posting because I offended some thin-skinned yahoo. I am looking into pursing legal action against this person because I will not be silenced by a fascist bully. I urge everyone to stand up to suppression of their rights to speak their minds. We will only survive the Trump regime by refusing to back down in the face of right wing tyranny. And if the harassment continues, I will organize a boycott of this person’s business and that of anyone else who tries to stifle free speech.

Have a nice day.