America’s Real Red Scare

We’re witnessing the slow-motion collapse of the American empire.

America’s Real Red Scare

US and Russian flags wave in the wind upon US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow on April 11, 2017. (Photo by Gleb Schelkunov/Kommersant via Getty Images)

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Jump into your time machine and let me transport you back to another age.

It’s May 2001 and The Atlantic has just arrived in the mail. I’m tantalized by the cover article. “Russia is finished,” the magazine announces. The subtitle minces no words: “The unstoppable descent into social catastrophe and strategic irrelevance.” Could it be that the country I had worried most about as a military officer during all those grim years of the Cold War, the famed “Evil Empire” that had threatened us with annihilation, was truly kaput, even in its Russian rather than Soviet guise?

Sixteen years later, the article’s message seems just a tad premature. Today’s Russia surely has its problems — from poverty to pollution to prostitution to a rickety petro-economy — but on the geopolitical world stage it is “finished” no longer. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has recently been enjoying heightened influence, largely at the expense of a divided and disputatious superpower that now itself seems to be on an “unstoppable descent.”

More than a generation after defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States of 2017 seems to be doing its level best to emulate some of the worst aspects of its former foe and once rival superpower.

Sixteen years after Russia was declared irrelevant, a catastrophe, finito, it is once again a colossus — at least on the American political scene, if nowhere else. And that should disturb you far less than this: more than a generation after defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States of 2017 seems to be doing its level best to emulate some of the worst aspects of its former foe and once rival superpower.

Yes, the US has a Soviet problem, and I’m not referring to the allegations of the moment in Washington: that the Trump campaign and Russian officials colluded, that money may have flowed into that campaign via Russian oligarchs tied to Putin, that the Russians hacked the US election to aid Donald Trump, that those close to the president-elect dreamed of setting up a secret back channel to Moscow and suggested to the Russian ambassador that it be done through the Russian embassy or even that Putin has a genuine hold of some sort on Donald Trump. All of this is, of course, generating attention galore, as well as outrage, in the mainstream media and among the chattering classes, leading some to talk of a new “red scare” in America. All of it is also being investigated, whether by congressional intelligence committees or by former FBI director — now special counsel — Robert Mueller.

When it comes to what I’m talking about, though, you don’t need a committee or a counsel or a back channel or a leaker from some intelligence agency to ferret it out. Whatever Trump campaign officials, Russian oligarchs or Vladimir Putin himself did or didn’t do, America’s Soviet problem is all around us: a creeping (and creepy) version of authoritarianism that anyone who lived through the Cold War years should recognize. It involves an erosion of democratic values; the ever-expanding powers exercised by a national security state operating as a shadow government and defined by militarism, surveillance, secrecy, prisons and other structures of dominance and control; ever-widening gaps between the richest few and the impoverished many; and, of course, ever more weapons, along with ever more wars.

That’s a real red scare, America, and it’s right here in the homeland.

In February, if you remember — and given the deluge of news, half news, rumor and innuendo, who can remember anything these days? — Donald Trump memorably compared the US to Russia. When Bill O’Reilly called Vladimir Putin “a killer” in an interview with the new president, he responded that there was little difference between us and them, for — as he put it — we had our killers, too, and weren’t exactly innocents abroad when it came to world affairs. (“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”) The president has said a lot of outlandish things in his first months in office, but here he was on to something.

My Secret Briefing on the Soviet Union

When I was a young lieutenant in the Air Force, in 1986 if memory serves, I attended a secret briefing on the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan was president, and we had no clue that we were living through the waning years of the Cold War. Back then, believing that I should know my enemy, I was reading a lot about the Soviets in “open sources”; you know, books, magazines and newspapers. The “secret” briefing I attended revealed little that was new to me. (Classified information is often overhyped.) I certainly heard no audacious predictions of a Soviet collapse in five years (though the Soviet Union would indeed implode in 1991). Like nearly everyone at the time, the briefers assumed the USSR would be our archenemy for decades to come and it went without saying that the Berlin Wall was a permanent fixture in a divided Europe, a forever symbol of ruthless Communist oppression.

Little did we know that, three years later, the Soviet military would stand aside as East Germans tore down that wall. And who then would have believed that a man might be elected president of the United States a generation later on the promise of building a “big, fat, beautiful wall” on our shared border with Mexico?

I wasn’t allowed to take notes during that briefing, but I remember the impression I was left with: that the USSR was deeply authoritarian, a grim surveillance state with an economy dependent on global weapons sales; that it was intent on nuclear domination; that it was imperialist and expansionist; that it persecuted its critics and dissidents; and that it had serious internal problems carefully suppressed in the cause of world mastery, including rampant alcohol and drug abuse, bad health care and declining longevity (notably for men), a poisoned environment and an extensive prison system featuring gulags. All of this was exacerbated by festering sores overseas, especially a costly and stalemated war in Afghanistan and client-states that absorbed its resources (think: Cuba) while offering little in return.

This list of Soviet problems, vintage 1986, should have a familiar ring to it, since it sounds uncannily like a description of what’s wrong with the United States today.

This list of Soviet problems, vintage 1986, should have a familiar ring to it, since it sounds uncannily like a description of what’s wrong with the United States today.

In case you think that’s an over-the-top statement, let’s take that list from the briefing — eight points in all — one item at a time.

1. An authoritarian, surveillance state: The last time the US Congress formally declared war was in 1941. Since then, American presidents have embarked on foreign wars and interventions ever more often with ever less oversight from Congress. Power continues to grow and coalesce in the executive branch, strengthening an imperial presidency enhanced by staggering technologies of surveillance, greatly expanded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Indeed, America now has 17 intelligence agencies with a combined yearly budget of $80 billion. Unsurprisingly, Americans are surveilled more than ever, allegedly for our safety even if such a system breeds meekness and stifles dissent.

2. An economy dependent on global weapons sales: The US continues to dominate the global arms trade in a striking fashion. It was no mistake that a centerpiece of President Trump’s recent trip was a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. On the same trip, he told the Emir of Qatar that he was in the Middle East to facilitate “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.” Now more than ever, beautiful weaponry made in the USA is a significant driver of domestic economic growth as well as of the country’s foreign policy.

3. Bent on nuclear domination: Continuing the policies of President Obama, the Trump administration envisions a massive modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, to the tune of at least a trillion dollars over the next generation. Much like an old-guard Soviet premier, Trump has boasted that America will always remain at “the top of the pack” when it comes to nuclear weapons.

4. Imperialist and expansionist: Historians speak of America’s “informal” empire, by which they mean the US is less hands-on than past imperial powers like the Romans and the British. But there’s nothing informal or hands-off about America’s 800 overseas military bases or the fact that its Special Operations forces are being deployed in 130 or more countries yearly. When the US military speaks of global reach, global power and full-spectrum dominance, this is traditional imperialism cloaked in banal catchphrases. Put differently, Soviet imperialism, which American leaders always professed to fear, never had a reach of this sort.

5. Persecutes critics and dissidents: Whether it’s been the use of the Patriot Act under George W. Bush’s presidency, the persecution of whistleblowers using the World War I-era Espionage Act under the Obama administration or the vilification of the media by the new Trump administration, the US is far less tolerant of dissent today than it was prior to the Soviet collapse. As Homeland Security Secretary and retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly recently put it, speaking of news stories about the Trump administration based on anonymous intelligence sources, such leaks are “darn close to treason.” Add to such an atmosphere Trump’s attacks on the media as the “enemy” of the people and on critical news stories as “fake” and you have an environment ripe for the future suppression of dissent.

In the Soviet Union, political opponents were often threatened with jail or worse, and those threats were regularly enforced by men wearing military or secret police uniforms. In that context, let’s not forget the “Lock her up!” chants led by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at the Republican National Convention and aimed at Donald Trump’s political opponent of that moment, Hillary Clinton.

6. Internal problems like drug abuse, inadequate health care and a poisoned environment: Alcoholism is still rife in Russia and environmental damage widespread, but consider the US today. An opioid crisis is killing more than 30,000 people a year. Lead poisoning in places like Flint, Michigan, and New Orleans is causing irreparable harm to the young. The disposal of wastewater from fracking operations is generating earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma. Even as environmental hazards proliferate, the Trump administration is gutting the Environmental Protection Agency. As health crises grow more serious, the Trump administration, abetted by a Republican-led Congress, is attempting to cut health-care coverage and benefits, as well as the funding that might protect Americans from deadly pathogens. Disturbingly, as with the Soviet Union in the era of its collapse, life expectancy among white men is declining, mainly due to drug abuse, suicide and other despair-driven problems.

7. Extensive prison systems: As a percentage of its population, no countryimprisons more of its own people than the United States. While more than two million of their fellow citizens languish in prisons, Americans continue to see their nation as a beacon of freedom, ignoring Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In addition, the country now has a president who believes in torture, who has called for the murder of terrorists’ families, and who wants to refill Guantánamo with prisoners. It also has an attorney general who wants to make prison terms for low-level drug offenders ever more draconian.

8. Stalemated wars: You have to hand it to the Soviets. They did at least exhibit a learning curve in their disastrous war in Afghanistan and so the Red Army finally left that country in 1989 after a decade of high casualties and frustration (even if its troops returned to a land on the verge of implosion). US forces, on the other hand, have been in Afghanistan for 16 years, with the Taliban growing ever stronger, yet its military’s response has once again been to call for investing more money and sending in more troops to reverse the “stalemate” there. Meanwhile, after 14 years, Iraq War 3.0 festers, bringing devastation to places like Mosul, even as its destabilizing results continue to manifest themselves in Syria and indeed throughout the greater Middle East. Despite or rather because of these disastrous results, US leaders continue to over-deploy US Special Operations forces, contributing to exhaustion and higher suicide rates in the ranks.

In light of these eight points, that lighthearted Beatles tune and relic of the Cold War, “Back in the USSR,” takes on a new, and far harsher, meaning.

What Is to Be Done?

Slowly, seemingly inexorably, the US is becoming more like the former Soviet Union.

Slowly, seemingly inexorably, the US is becoming more like the former Soviet Union. Just to begin the list of similarities: too many resources are being devoted to the military and the national security state; too many over-decorated generals are being given too much authority in government; bleeding-ulcer wars continue unstanched in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; infrastructure (roads, bridges, pipelines, dams and so on) continues to crumble; restless “republics” grumble about separating from the union (Calexit!); rampant drug abuse and declining life expectancy are now American facts of life. Meanwhile, the latest US president is, in temperament, authoritarian, even as government “services” take on an increasingly nepotistic flavor at the top.

I’m worried, comrade! Echoing the cry of the great Lenin, what is to be done? Given the list of symptoms, here’s one obvious 10-step approach to the de-sovietization of America:

1. Decrease “defense” spending by 10 percent annually for the next five years. In the Soviet spirit, think of it as a five-year plan to restore our revolution (as in the American Revolution), which was, after all, directed against imperial policies exercised by a “bigly” king.

2. Cut the number of generals and admirals in the military by half, and get rid of all the meaningless ribbons, badges and medals they wear. In other words, don’t just cut down on the high command but on their tendency to look (and increasingly to act) like Soviet generals of old. And don’t allow them to serve in high governmental positions until they’ve been retired for at least 10 years.

3. Get our military out of Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Reduce that imperial footprint overseas by closing costly military bases.

4. Work to eliminate nuclear weapons globally by, as a first step, cutting the vast US arsenal in half and forgetting about that trillion-dollar “modernization” program. Eliminate land-based ICBMs first; they are no longer needed for any meaningful deterrent purposes.

5. Take the money saved on “modernizing” nukes and invest it in updating America’s infrastructure.

6. Curtail state surveillance. Freedom needs privacy to flourish. As a nation, we need to remember that security is not the bedrock of democracy — the US Constitution is.

7. Work to curb drug abuse by cutting back on criminalization. Leave the war mentality behind, including the “war on drugs,” and focus instead on providing better treatment programs for addicts. Set a goal of cutting America’s prison population in half over the next decade.

8. Life expectancy will increase with better health care. Provide health care coverage for all using a single-payer system. Every American should have the same coverage as a member of Congress. People shouldn’t be suffering and dying because they can’t afford to see a doctor or pay for their prescriptions.

9. Nothing is more fundamental to “national security” than clean air and water. It’s folly to risk poisoning the environment in the name of either economic productivity or building up the military. If you doubt this, ask citizens of Russia and the former Soviet Republics, who still struggle with the fallout from the poisonous environmental policies of Soviet days.

10. Congress needs to assert its constitutional authority over war and the budget, and begin to act like the “check and balance” it’s supposed to be when it comes to executive power.

There you have it. These 10 steps should go some way toward solving America’s real Russian problem — the Soviet one. Won’t you join me, comrade?

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a regular contributor to TomDispatch. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, and now teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

http://billmoyers.com/story/americas-real-red-scare/

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html

Taking Trump’s Tweets Seriously

Meet the creator of the Twitter bot that transforms the president’s tweets into formal White House statements.

Katie Martin / The Atlantic

ELAINE GODFREY

4:52 PM ET

After Donald Trump’s election, many Americans wondered whether he’d stop tweeting from his personal account as he’d pledged during the campaign. He didn’t. In fact, in the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump sent more than 500 tweets from his @realDonaldTrump handle. According to an analysis done by The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, those 500 tweets contained 18 explicit references to the TV show Fox & Friends, more than 100 jabs at the media, and the phrase “FAKE NEWS!” four times.

Trump’s personal account has nearly 32 million followers, almost twice as many as the official @POTUS account, and his spokespeople say he tweets because it’s the most direct way to reach his supporters. But Trump’s tweets about the news are often themselves newsworthy: In the past few months, the president has contradicted his own spokespeople, posted unsubstantiated allegations against former President Obama, and most, recently, taken the words of London Mayor Sadiq Khan out of context in the aftermath of a deadly terrorist attack.

In a Monday interview on Today, White House special counselor Kellyanne Conway downplayed the importance of Trump’s social media habits and condemned the media’s “obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter,” and Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka reminded New Day host Chris Cuomo that Trump’s twitter is “not policy, it’s not an executive order. It’s social media. Please understand the difference.”

While it’s true that Trump’s tweets don’t carry any legislative weight, they do appear to come directly from the phone of the president of the United States. Why shouldn’t they be treated as official presidential statements? It’s a question Russel Neiss has been asking himself.

Neiss is a St. Louis-based software developer who, over the weekend, created @RealPressSecBot, a Twitter bot that transforms the president’s tweets into official statement format, like this:

I spoke with Neiss about his bot—and why he believes Americans should treat Trump’s tweets as real presidential statements. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Elaine Godfrey: How did you come up with the idea for the bot?

Russel Neiss: [Former Obama staffer] Pat Cunnane tweeted on June 4 that he mocked up one of the president’s tweets about the London attacks in a traditional presidential format. It struck me as a really powerful image, the idea being that essentially, at their core, these tweets are literally presidential statements for media use.

Putting it in the traditional format made it all the more jarring between what we’ve expected to see from those formal press releases—and the kind of stuff we see coming out of the president’s Twitter account on a regular basis.

So, when my kids took a nap on Sunday afternoon, I took 40 minutes and put [the bot] together.

Godfrey: How does it work? Are you going to go back and reformat previous tweets?

Neiss: Twitter has an application programming interface (API), that allows programmers to interface with the platform. I’ve created a Python script, a small computer program, that triggers that API, and says “Hey, Twitter, give me the last couple of Trump tweets.” Then it takes the text, runs it through an image processing library, converts the text to the nice format as an image file, then posts it to Twitter.

Now it’s basically tweeting in real time. Every five minutes, it scans the president’s Twitter feed for new tweets. We’ve had some requests from folks who have wanted to see some of the classics, but there’s something more pure about just focusing on going forward.

Godfrey: Do you see Trumps tweets as presidential statements? Should Americans treat them as such?

Neiss: We have a press secretary who is being constantly undermined by his boss’s tweets, and we have surrogates who say they can’t speak for the president. At this moment, the best thing we have is the man’s Twitter account.

That classic quote from the campaign that you have to take the president seriously but not literally? Everyone’s been telling Trump not to tweet, and he continues to tweet, and so I think it’s important to take him seriously, even if not literally. These are serious words coming out of the highest office holder in the land, and all that this bot does is just give those messages the proper honor they deserve.

Godfrey: Do you think it’s harmful that Trump is using Twitter as a sort of replacement for more formal presidential statements?

Neiss: I think it’s fine for Trump to tweet. Obama maintained a personal Twitter account. I’m sure that Clinton would have tweeted had Twitter existed at the time. Presidents always use alternative media to get their message out. This idea of going around the mainstream media is completely understandable and legitimate.

But one of the really interesting things about this president, is that it does not appear that these things are filtered through any formal vetting process. As such, it creates this really interesting world to see the thoughts and objectives of this particular president. These are statements of the president. Putting those tweets in this format emphasizes that, more than just saying it.

Godfrey: The account already has 65,000 followers. How long are you planning to keep it active?

Neiss: It’ll run for as long as Trump keeps tweeting. Maybe come 2020, or sooner, when the next president is inaugurated, we’ll turn it off.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/taking-trumps-tweets-seriously/529221/

Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

Updated: May 18, 2017 3:48 PM ET

On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia’s influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia’s multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new.

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter. The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow’s hackers to take control of the victim’s phone or computer–and Twitter account.

As they scrambled to contain the damage from the hack and regain control of any compromised devices, the spy hunters realized they faced a new kind of threat. In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States? At any given moment, perhaps during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, Pentagon Twitter accounts might send out false information. As each tweet corroborated another, and covert Russian agents amplified the messages even further afield, the result could be panic and confusion.

Russia Red Square White House Time Magazine Cover
Illustration by Brobel Design for TIME 

For many Americans, Russian hacking remains a story about the 2016 election. But there is another story taking shape. Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. “Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it’s becoming easier every day,” says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology.

Current and former officials at the FBI, at the CIA and in Congress now believe the 2016 Russian operation was just the most visible battle in an ongoing information war against global democracy. And they’ve become more vocal about their concern. “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress on May 8.

If that sounds alarming, it helps to understand the battlescape of this new information war. As they tweet and like and upvote their way through social media, Americans generate a vast trove of data on what they think and how they respond to ideas and arguments–literally thousands of expressions of belief every second on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Google. All of those digitized convictions are collected and stored, and much of that data is available commercially to anyone with sufficient computing power to take advantage of it.

That’s where the algorithms come in. American researchers have found they can use mathematical formulas to segment huge populations into thousands of subgroups according to defining characteristics like religion and political beliefs or taste in TV shows and music. Other algorithms can determine those groups’ hot-button issues and identify “followers” among them, pinpointing those most susceptible to suggestion. Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior.

That is what Moscow is doing, more than a dozen senior intelligence officials and others investigating Russia’s influence operations tell TIME. The Russians “target you and see what you like, what you click on, and see if you’re sympathetic or not sympathetic,” says a senior intelligence official. Whether and how much they have actually been able to change Americans’ behavior is hard to say. But as they have investigated the Russian 2016 operation, intelligence and other officials have found that Moscow has developed sophisticated tactics.

In one case last year, senior intelligence officials tell TIME, a Russian soldier based in Ukraine successfully infiltrated a U.S. social media group by pretending to be a 42-year-old American housewife and weighing in on political debates with specially tailored messages. In another case, officials say, Russia created a fake Facebook account to spread stories on political issues like refugee resettlement to targeted reporters they believed were susceptible to influence.

As Russia expands its cyberpropaganda efforts, the U.S. and its allies are only just beginning to figure out how to fight back. One problem: the fear of Russian influence operations can be more damaging than the operations themselves. Eager to appear more powerful than they are, the Russians would consider it a success if you questioned the truth of your news sources, knowing that Moscow might be lurking in your Facebook or Twitter feed. But figuring out if they are is hard. Uncovering “signals that indicate a particular handle is a state-sponsored account is really, really difficult,” says Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which tackles global security challenges.

Like many a good spy tale, the story of how the U.S. learned its democracy could be hacked started with loose lips. In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election.

What the officer didn’t know, senior intelligence officials tell TIME, was that U.S. spies were listening. They wrote up the conversation and sent it back to analysts at headquarters, who turned it from raw intelligence into an official report and circulated it. But if the officer’s boast seems like a red flag now, at the time U.S. officials didn’t know what to make of it. “We didn’t really understand the context of it until much later,” says the senior intelligence official. Investigators now realize that the officer’s boast was the first indication U.S. spies had from their sources that Russia wasn’t just hacking email accounts to collect intelligence but was also considering interfering in the vote. Like much of America, many in the U.S. government hadn’t imagined the kind of influence operation that Russia was preparing to unleash on the 2016 election. Fewer still realized it had been five years in the making.

In 2011, protests in more than 70 cities across Russia had threatened Putin’s control of the Kremlin. The uprising was organized on social media by a popular blogger named Alexei Navalny, who used his blog as well as Twitter and Facebook to get crowds in the streets. Putin’s forces broke out their own social media technique to strike back. When bloggers tried to organize nationwide protests on Twitter using #Triumfalnaya, pro-Kremlin botnets bombarded the hashtag with anti-protester messages and nonsense tweets, making it impossible for Putin’s opponents to coalesce.

Putin publicly accused then Secretary of State Clinton of running a massive influence operation against his country, saying she had sent “a signal” to protesters and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the protests. The State Department said it had just funded pro-democracy organizations. Former officials say any such operations–in Russia or elsewhere–would require a special intelligence finding by the President and that Barack Obama was not likely to have issued one.

After his re-election the following year, Putin dispatched his newly installed head of military intelligence, Igor Sergun, to begin repurposing cyberweapons previously used for psychological operations in war zones for use in electioneering. Russian intelligence agencies funded “troll farms,” botnet spamming operations and fake news outlets as part of an expanding focus on psychological operations in cyberspace.

It turns out Putin had outside help. One particularly talented Russian programmer who had worked with social media researchers in the U.S. for 10 years had returned to Moscow and brought with him a trove of algorithms that could be used in influence operations. He was promptly hired by those working for Russian intelligence services, senior intelligence officials tell TIME. “The engineer who built them the algorithms is U.S.-trained,” says the senior intelligence official.

Soon, Putin was aiming his new weapons at the U.S. Following Moscow’s April 2014 invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. considered sanctions that would block the export of drilling and fracking technologies to Russia, putting out of reach some $8.2 trillion in oil reserves that could not be tapped without U.S. technology. As they watched Moscow’s intelligence operations in the U.S., American spy hunters saw Russian agents applying their new social media tactics on key aides to members of Congress. Moscow’s agents broadcast material on social media and watched how targets responded in an attempt to find those who might support their cause, the senior intelligence official tells TIME. “The Russians started using it on the Hill with staffers,” the official says, “to see who is more susceptible to continue this program [and] to see who would be more favorable to what they want to do.”

On Aug. 7, 2016, the infamous pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli declared that Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s. That story went viral in late August, then took on a life of its own after Clinton fainted from pneumonia and dehydration at a Sept. 11 event in New York City. Elsewhere people invented stories saying Pope Francis had endorsed Trump and Clinton had murdered a DNC staffer. Just before Election Day, a story took off alleging that Clinton and her aides ran a pedophile ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor.

Congressional investigators are looking at how Russia helped stories like these spread to specific audiences. Counterintelligence officials, meanwhile, have picked up evidence that Russia tried to target particular influencers during the election season who they reasoned would help spread the damaging stories. These officials have seen evidence of Russia using its algorithmic techniques to target the social media accounts of particular reporters, senior intelligence officials tell TIME. “It’s not necessarily the journal or the newspaper or the TV show,” says the senior intelligence official. “It’s the specific reporter that they find who might be a little bit slanted toward believing things, and they’ll hit him” with a flood of fake news stories.

Russia plays in every social media space. The intelligence officials have found that Moscow’s agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. “They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by–they do that just as much as anybody else does,” says the senior intelligence official. (A Facebook official says the company has no evidence of that occurring.) The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, has said he is looking into why, for example, four of the top five Google search results the day the U.S. released a report on the 2016 operation were links to Russia’s TV propaganda arm, RT. (Google says it saw no meddling in this case.) Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.

As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump’s top political adviser Stephen Bannon.

The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. “Nobody can prove it yet,” the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.

There are plenty of people who are skeptical of such a conspiracy, if one existed. Cambridge Analytica touts its ability to use algorithms to microtarget voters, but veteran political operatives have found them ineffective political influencers. Ted Cruz first used their methods during the primary, and his staff ended up concluding they had wasted their money. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White House did not answer questions about the congressional probes. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica says the company has no ties to Russia or individuals acting as fronts for Moscow and that it is unaware of the probe.

Democratic operatives searching for explanations for Clinton’s loss after the election investigated social media trends in the three states that tipped the vote for Trump: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each they found what they believe is evidence that key swing voters were being drawn to fake news stories and anti-Clinton stories online. Google searches for the fake pedophilia story circulating under the hashtag #pizzagate, for example, were disproportionately higher in swing districts and not in districts likely to vote for Trump.

The Democratic operatives created a package of background materials on what they had found, suggesting the search behavior might indicate that someone had successfully altered the behavior in key voting districts in key states. They circulated it to fellow party members who are up for a vote in 2018.

hacking-democracy-inside-russia-social-media-war-america-2
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper calls Russian cyber­ influence operations a threat to democracy Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images 

Even as investigators try to piece together what happened in 2016, they are worrying about what comes next. Russia claims to be able to alter events using cyberpropaganda and is doing what it can to tout its power. In February 2016, a Putin adviser named Andrey Krutskikh compared Russia’s information-warfare strategies to the Soviet Union’s obtaining a nuclear weapon in the 1940s, David Ignatius of the Washington Post reported. “We are at the verge of having something in the information arena which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals,” Krutskikh said.

But if Russia is clearly moving forward, it’s less clear how active the U.S. has been. Documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and published by the Intercept suggested that the British were pursuing social media propaganda and had shared their tactics with the U.S. Chris Inglis, the former No. 2 at the National Security Agency, says the U.S. has not pursued this capability. “The Russians are 10 years ahead of us in being willing to make use of” social media to influence public opinion, he says.

There are signs that the U.S. may be playing in this field, however. From 2010 to 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development established and ran a “Cuban Twitter” network designed to undermine communist control on the island. At the same time, according to the Associated Press, which discovered the program, the U.S. government hired a contractor to profile Cuban cell phone users, categorizing them as “pro-revolution,” “apolitical” or “antirevolutionary.”

Much of what is publicly known about the mechanics and techniques of social media propaganda comes from a program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that the Rand researcher, Waltzman, ran to study how propagandists might manipulate social media in the future. In the Cold War, operatives might distribute disinformation-laden newspapers to targeted political groups or insinuate an agent provocateur into a group of influential intellectuals. By harnessing computing power to segment and target literally millions of people in real time online, Waltzman concluded, you could potentially change behavior “on the scale of democratic governments.”

In the U.S., public scrutiny of such programs is usually enough to shut them down. In 2014, news articles appeared about the DARPA program and the “Cuban Twitter” project. It was only a year after Snowden had revealed widespread monitoring programs by the government. The DARPA program, already under a cloud, was allowed to expire quietly when its funding ran out in 2015.

In the wake of Russia’s 2016 election hack, the question is how to research social media propaganda without violating civil liberties. The need is all the more urgent because the technology continues to advance. While today humans are still required to tailor and distribute messages to specially targeted “susceptibles,” in the future crafting and transmitting emotionally powerful messages will be automated.

The U.S. government is constrained in what kind of research it can fund by various laws protecting citizens from domestic propaganda, government electioneering and intrusions on their privacy. Waltzman has started a group called Information Professionals Association with several former information operations officers from the U.S. military to develop defenses against social media influence operations.

Social media companies are beginning to realize that they need to take action. Facebook issued a report in April 2017 acknowledging that much disinformation had been spread on its pages and saying it had expanded its security. Google says it has seen no evidence of Russian manipulation of its search results but has updated its algorithms just in case. Twitter claims it has diminished cyberpropaganda by tweaking its algorithms to block cleverly designed bots. “Our algorithms currently work to detect when Twitter accounts are attempting to manipulate Twitter’s Trends through inorganic activity, and then automatically adjust,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, America’s best option to protect upcoming votes may be to make it harder for Russia and other bad actors to hide their election-related information operations. When it comes to defeating Russian influence operations, the answer is “transparency, transparency, transparency,” says Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He has written legislation that would curb the massive, anonymous campaign contributions known as dark money and the widespread use of shell corporations that he says make Russian cyberpropaganda harder to trace and expose.

But much damage has already been done. “The ultimate impact of [the 2016 Russian operation] is we’re never going to look at another election without wondering, you know, Is this happening, can we see it happening?” says Jigsaw’s Jared Cohen. By raising doubts about the validity of the 2016 vote and the vulnerability of future elections, Russia has achieved its most important objective: undermining the credibility of American democracy.

For now, investigators have added the names of specific trolls and botnets to their wall charts in the offices of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. They say the best way to compete with the Russian model is by having a better message. “It requires critical thinkers and people who have a more powerful vision” than the cynical Russian view, says former NSA deputy Inglis. And what message is powerful enough to take on the firehose of falsehoods that Russia is deploying in targeted, effective ways across a range of new media? One good place to start: telling the truth.

–With reporting by PRATHEEK REBALA/WASHINGTON

Correction: The original version of this story misstated Jared Cohen’s title. He is CEO, not president.

http://time.com/4783932/inside-russia-social-media-war-america/

Bye Bye, Net Neutrality

CULTURE

The FCC Pretends, but Moves to Gut Current Policy

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has endorsed a proposal that dismantles net neutrality protections.

Photo Credit: Federico Morando / Flickr

This post originally appeared at the Electronic Frontier Foundation*.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed a plan to eliminate net neutrality and privacy for broadband subscribers. Of course, those protections are tremendously popular, so Chairman Pai and his allies have been forced to pay lip service to preserving them in “some form.”  How do we know it’s just lip service? Because the plan Pai is pushing will destroy the legal foundation for net neutrality. That’s right: if Pai succeeds, the FCC won’t have the legal authority to preserve net neutrality in just about any form. And if he’s read the case law, he knows it.

Let’s break it down.

The FCC’s Proposal Makes It Impossible to Enforce Core Net Neutrality Requirements

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a service can be either a “telecommunications service,” like telephone service, that lets the subscriber choose the content they receive and send without interference from the service provider, or it can be an “information service,” like cable television or the old Prodigy service, that curates and selects what content channels will be available to subscribers. The 1996 law provided that “telecommunications services” are governed by “Title II” of the Communications Act of 1934, which includes nondiscrimination requirements. “Information services” are not subject to Title II’s requirements.

Under current law, the FCC can put either label on broadband internet service — but that choice has consequences. For years, the FCC incorrectly classified broadband access as an “information service,” and when it tried to impose even a weak version of net neutrality protections the courts struck them down. Essentially, the DC Circuit Court explained [PDF] that it would be inconsistent for the FCC to exempt broadband from Title II’s nondiscrimination requirements by classifying it as an information service, but then impose those requirements anyway.

The legal mandate was clear: If it wanted meaningful open internet rules to pass judicial scrutiny, the FCC had to reclassify broadband service under Title II. It was also clear to neutral observers that reclassification just made sense. Broadband looks a lot more like a “telecommunications service” than an “information service.” It entails delivering information of the subscriber’s choosing, not information curated or altered by the provider.

It took an internet uprising to persuade the FCC that reclassification made practical and legal sense. But in the end we succeeded: in 2015, at the end of a lengthy rule-making process, the FCC reclassified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service and issued net neutrality rules on that basis. Resting at last on a proper legal foundation, those rules finally passed judicial scrutiny [PDF].

But now, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed to reverse that decision and put broadband back under the regime for “information services” — the same regime that we already know won’t support real net neutrality rules. Abandoning Title II means the end of meaningful, enforceable net neutrality protections, paving the way for companies like Comcast or Time Warner Cable to slice up your internet experience into favored, disfavored and “premium” content.
Title II Is Not Overly Burdensome, Thanks to Forbearance

While we are on the subject of the legal basis for net neutrality, let’s talk about the rest of Title II. Net neutrality opponents complain that Title II involves a host of regulations that don’t make sense for the Internet. This is a red herring. The FCC has used a process called “forbearance” – binding limits on its power to use parts of Title II – to ensure that Title II is applied narrowly and as needed to address harms to net neutrality and privacy. So when critics of the FCC’s decision to reclassify tell horror stories about the potential excesses of Title II, keep in mind that those stories are typically based on powers that the FCC has expressly disavowed, like the ability to set prices for service.

What is more, Title II offers more regulatory limits than the alternative of treating broadband as an information service, at least when it comes to net neutrality. Where Title II grants specific, clear and bounded powers that can protect net neutrality, theories that do not rely on Title II have to infer powers that aren’t clearly granted to the FCC. As proponents of limited regulation, these theories concern us. The proper way to protect neutrality is not to expand FCC discretion by stretching the general provisions of the Telecommunications Act (an approach already rejected in court), but to use a limited subset of the clear authorities laid out in Title II.
The FTC Cannot Adequately Protect the Privacy of Internet Subscribers

Reclassifying broadband as an information service not subject to Title II also creates yet another mess for subscriber privacy. The FCC crafted good rules for internet privacy, but Congress just rejected them. But it left in place the FCC’s underlying authority to protect privacy under Title II, which leaves privacy in limbo. Abandoning Title II for broadband altogether would mean that the FCC no longer has much of a role to play in protecting broadband privacy — and it’s not clear who will fill the gap.

Some have looked to the FTC to take up the mantle, but just last year AT&T persuaded a federal appeals court that, as a company that also owned a telephone business, the FTC had no power over any aspect of AT&T. That precedent covers the entire West Coast and leaves millions of Americans without recourse for privacy violations by their internet service provider. And there’s no doubt that AT&T and others will try to extend that precedent across the country.

Even without this precedent, the FTC’s enforcement authority here targets deceptive trade practices. The agency will only take action if a company promises one thing and delivers another.  If the legalese in a company’s privacy policy explains how it is free to use and sell your private information, and it follows that policy, the FTC can’t help you.

Tell the FCC What You Want It to Do

The FCC is now accepting comments on its plan. Make yourself heard via DearFCC.org.

*Editor’s Note: This post was edited slightly from its original form.

 

Kit Walsh is a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, working on free speech, net neutrality, copyright, coders’ rights and other issues that relate to freedom of expression and access to knowledge. She has worked for years to support the rights of political protesters, journalists, remix artists and technologists to agitate for social change and to express themselves through their stories and ideas. Walsh holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.S. in neuroscience from MIT, where she studied brain-computer interfaces. Follow her on Twitter: @prilkit.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/fcc-gutting-net-neutrality?akid=15566.265072.rL-xzS&rd=1&src=newsletter1076957&t=18

The Deep State, Explained

Posted on Apr 1, 2017

By John Light / Moyers & Company

The U.S. Capitol. (John Sonderman / CC 2.0)

As the daily drip of information about possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia trickles on, Democrats, commentators and at least some officials in the US intelligence community, it seems, smell a rat. CNN reported last week that according to sources, “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Meanwhile, White House sources continue insisting to reporters that there’s no fire behind all the smoke. The true story, they say, is a conspiracy by the so-called “Deep State” to undermine a democratically elected president.

Trump and his team are good at taking terms and twisting their meaning to suit their own ends. “Fake news,” for example. Once Trump started using it, the mainstream media, which had been using “fake news” to describe online lies packaged in the guise of honest reporting, largely backed away. “Let’s put this tainted term out of its misery,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote.

“Deep State” may meet a similar fate, with some anti-Trump commentators arguing that the term, while appropriate for less democratic governments abroad, has no meaning in the United States, and refers to one of many conspiracy theories that found a home at InfoWars, Breitbart, and, ultimately, in the president’s brain.Yet despite that, the idea of a Deep State is useful when talking about the forces that drive US policy. Here’s a look at its history and use today.

How Trump allies talk about the “Deep State”

In Trump’s world, the “Deep State” is a sub rosa part of the liberal establishment, that crowd resistant to the reality TV star’s insurgent candidacy all along, and which ultimately was rebuffed by voters on Election Day. Although Trump has taken the helm of the executive branch, this theory goes, his opponents lurk just below the surface. “We are talking about the emergence of a deep state led by Barack Obama, and that is something that we should prevent,” Steve King, the right-wing member of Congress from Iowa and a Trump ally, told The New York Times.

Implicit is the idea that the intelligence agencies’ investigation into Trump and his campaign’s Russia ties are baseless, and that leaks about the investigation to the press are part of an effort to undermine him. “Of course, the deep state exists,” Trump ally Newt Gingrich recently told the Associated Press. “There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president. This is what the deep state does: They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie and then deny that they were behind the lie.”

The claim that the campaign was surveilled by Obama is also part of this supposed Deep State conspiracy; House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes fanned the flames last Wednesday when he suggested, based on information shared with him by the administration, that Trump advisers’ communications were likely collected during the transition, perhaps by accident. Breitbart has even started calling the wiretapping story DeepStateGate.

The Deep State abroad

Historically, the idea of a Deep State is an import; it has been used for decades abroad to describe any network of entrenched government officials who function independently from elected politicians and work toward their own ends.

One such network cropped up decades ago in Turkey, devoted to opposing communism and protecting by any means necessary the new Turkish Republic that Mustafa Ataturk founded after World War I. In the 1950s, the derin devlet — literally, “deep state” — began bumping off its enemies and seeking to confuse and scare the public through “false flag” attacks and engineered riots. The network ultimately was responsible for thousands of deaths.

Another shadowy entity exists in present day Pakistan, where the country’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the military exert considerable control over government, often operating independently of the country’s elected leaders and sometimes overthrowing them in military coups. “The vast majority of Pakistanis are effectively disenfranchised by this system,” wrote Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “As far as it is possible to know their views through public opinion polling and interviews, it appears that they perceive the state as generally ineffective, often even predatory, in their daily lives.”

America’s Deep State

Here in the United States, we have another kind of Deep State, one that Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staffer specializing in intelligence, described in an original essay for our site in 2014.

The Deep State, Lofgren wrote, was not “a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day.” It is not a tight-knit group, and has no clear objective. Rather, it is a sprawling network, stretching across the government and into the private sector. “It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies,” Lofgren wrote. “… I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.” In Lofgren’s definition are echoes of President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell address in 1961, in which he implored future presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

But in his Obama-era definition of the Deep State, Lofgren also included “the White House advisers who urged Obama not to impose compensation limits on Wall Street CEOs, the contractor-connected think tank experts who besought us to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq, the economic gurus who perpetually demonstrate that globalization and deregulation are a blessing that makes us all better off in the long run.” These individuals pretend they have no ideology — “their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise.”

In short, by Lofgren’s conception, the Deep State is maintained by the mid-level number crunchers, analysts, congressional staffers and lawyers — technocrats who build and perpetuate the Washington consensus, leading the country in and out of wars, in and out of trade agreements, into and, if we’re lucky, out of recessions, without questioning their own judgment. The 2016 election saw voters rebel against that system, and Donald Trump was the surprising result.

A Deep State divided and debated

The 2016 election shook up the Deep State. It’s without question that elements within it are concerned about Donald Trump and pushing back against him. The FBI, which may have helped Trump win the election with its last-minute announcement about Clinton’s emails, is now investigating him. But some elements of the intelligence agencies may also be the source of stories fanning the flames of Trump’s wiretapping theory.

On one hand, public servants at the State Department are chafing at Trump’s defunding of diplomacy and object to his repeated attempts to put in place a Muslim travel ban. On the other, elements of Lofgren’s Deep State, including Wall Street lawyers and alumni of Silicon Valley companies that help the government surveil citizens, have become part of Trump’s administration.

We are in a moment where the intelligence community has tremendous power. Leakers continue to give to the press part, but not all of the story; declassified documents and testimony by agency heads before Congress yield few definitive takeaways.

Some on both the left and right hope the Deep State will take Trump down. But civil libertarians and such journalists as Glenn Greenwald have been imploring the media, Democratic politicians and Washington insiders to make sure that in their enthusiasm to get rid of Trump, they do not give intelligence agencies too long a leash or too much ability to shape the narrative. Once they have it, Greenwald argues, the agencies won’t want to let it go.

The Deep State to come

While the Russia story continues to trickle out, Trump and his minions have gotten to work trying to build their own network of loyal informants across the government, a web that resembles the deep states seen abroad more than anything America has known.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly has taken the reins of foreign policy from the State Department and is running it out of the White House. He’s also been tasked with overhauling, and potentially privatizing, elements of the federal bureaucracy from his perch at Donald Trump’s side. Meanwhile, Trump has installed hundreds of officials across government to serve as his eyes and ears, rooting out those opposed to his administration and pushing his agenda throughout official agencies.

If Obama’s Deep State is perceived by Trump as the enemy, his solution is to build his own Deep State to counter it.

John Light is a reporter and digital producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He’s a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at@LightTweeting.

 

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_deep_state_explained_20170401

Noam Chomsky: If Trump Falters with Supporters, Don’t Put ‘Aside the Possibility’ of a ‘Staged or Alleged Terrorist Attack’

Chomsky warns of scapegoating vulnerable people: “That can turn out to be very ugly.”

Photo Credit: AFP

It’s March 2017, and the political process and the media in the U.S. are a depressing mess, on top of an ever-growing pile of issues that are not remotely being addressed, much less resolved by society: inequality, climate change, a global refugee crisis, you name it.

Donald Trump presents a new problem on top of the old familiar ones; a toxic multifront political disaster whose presence in the White House is doing damage to the national psyche on a daily basis. But in the first few months of his presidency it appears he is unwilling or unable to carry out almost any of the campaign promises he made to his base. Repealing Obamacare was supposed to be a cinch — well, that was a total disaster for Trump and the Republican party; the first big legislative rollout of his presidency, and it didn’t even make it to a vote. What about canceling TPP? Trump did do that, right?

In a recent interview with the renowned intellectual and public commentator Noam Chomsky, he told me TPP was dead on arrival regardless of who was elected. What about scrapping NAFTA? Chomsky said he was doubtful Trump would be able to do much there either. What Trump appears to be doing, Chomsky observed, is ramming through the standard GOP wish list: tax cuts, corporate welfare, climate change denial. How would Trump’s voters react to that? What we need to worry about, Chomsky says, is the potential for the Trump administration to capitalize on a “staged or alleged” terrorist attack. The text of our interview follows.

Jan Frel: Do you observe any meaningful signs of the key power factions in Washington aligning against Trump?

Noam Chomsky: Well, the so-called Freedom Caucus, which is a Tea Party outgrowth, has been refusing, so far, to go along with the health plan that he has advocated. There are other indications of the Tea Party-style far-right, separating themselves from Trump’s proposals.

On the other hand, if you take a look at what is actually happening in Washington, apart from the rhetoric and what appears in Sean Spicer’s press conferences and so on, the old Republican establishment is pretty much pushing through the kinds of programs that they have always wanted. And now they have a kind of open door that is Trump’s cabinet, which draws from the most reactionary parts of the establishment. It doesn’t have much to do with Trump’s rhetoric. His rhetoric is about helping the working man and so on, but the proposals are savage and damaging to the constituency that thinks that Trump is their spokesperson.

JF: Do you think there will ever be a moment of awakening, or a disconnect for Trump’s supporters of his rhetoric and what he’s been doing in Washington, or can this just keep going? 

NC: I think that sooner or later the white working-class constituency will recognize, and in fact, much of the rural population will come to recognize, that the promises are built on sand. There is nothing there.

And then what happens becomes significant. In order to maintain his popularity, the Trump administration will have to try to find some means of rallying the support and changing the discourse from the policies that they are carrying out, which are basically a wrecking ball to something else. Maybe scapegoating, saying, “Well, I’m sorry, I can’t bring your jobs back because these bad people are preventing it.” And the typical scapegoating goes to vulnerable people: immigrants, terrorists, Muslims and elitists, whoever it may be. And that can turn out to be very ugly.

I think that we shouldn’t put aside the possibility that there would be some kind of staged or alleged terrorist act, which can change the country instantly.

JF: Have you observed any rethinking in elite circles about how to protect and expand multilateral trade and investor agreements since the Brexit referendum, the election of Trump and his scrapping of TPP, and his threat to ‘terminate NAFTA’?

NC: Well, first of all, TPP was kind of dead on arrival. Almost everybody was opposed to it. With regard to NAFTA, I rather doubt that Trump will actually move to abrogate NAFTA; there is too much involved in the integration with Mexico and Canada. There might be some changes, but in general the support for the forms of international trade agreements that have developed over recent years are a strong priority for elites. There’s a lot wrong with them, and they ought to be changed. But for all of Trump’s talk about what’s wrong with them, I have yet to see a proposal as to what he thinks we ought to be doing.

JF: Do you observe any substantial divergence, on Trump’s part, from the longer-term plans and project of the State Department and the Defense Department in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia?

NC: Well, his main policies that have been implemented and not just talked about are in the Middle East, where he has transferred authority more to the Pentagon. Relaxed conditions on drone strikes. Sent more troops. There have been more atrocities in Yemen and in Syria. There is more giving the Pentagon leadership more of a free hand. Which is not a huge change from Obama’s policies, but a more violent and aggressive version of them.

JF: Do you see Russia as anything like a real threat to the integrated and allied industrialized countries in Europe and North America? Lost in the hysteria over Russia’s potential interference in U.S. domestic affairs is that by virtually every measure of modern state power, Russia doesn’t come close, whether it’s finance, science and tech research, advanced manufacturing, agricultural and cultural exports.

NC: Yeah, it’s all just a joke, as it was incidentally through the Cold War almost entirely. Right now the matter of Russian interference in U.S. elections has half the world cracking up in laughter.

I mean whatever the Russians may have been doing, let’s take the most extreme charges, that barely registers in the balance against what the U.S. does constantly. Even in Russia. So for example, the U.S. intervened radically to support [Boris Yeltsin in 1993] when he was engaged in a power play trying to take power from the Parliament, Clinton strongly supported him. In 1996, when Yeltsin was running, the Clinton administration openly and strongly supported them, and not only verbally, but with tactics and loans and so on.

All of that goes way beyond what the Russians are charged with, and of course that is a minor aspect of U.S. interference in elections abroad: “If we don’t like the election, you can just overthrow the country.”

JF: MIT has released a massive archive of your work over the previous decades. Have you had the time to search through it, and did you learn anything about yourself?

NC: That is the kind of thing one doesn’t want to learn. You know, there is a very rich collection there of some stuff that has been published, a lot of things like notes for classes over 60 years, and notes for talks over 60 years, and scraps of paper on which ideas are written. Looking through it all, I am sure that I will rediscover a lot of things that I have forgotten, but maybe rightly.