The sixteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 2,900 people in the United States were marked once again on Monday with ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center’s demolished Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania where one of four hijacked planes crashed as passengers fought to regain control of the aircraft.
Thousands gathered in New York City for the solemn reading of the names of those who lost their lives to a criminal and reactionary terrorist attack that served only the interests of US and world imperialism, which ever since have exploited the events to justify wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights the world over.
The genuine emotions of sorrow and remembrance shared by those who lost loved ones on 9/11 once again stood in sharp contrast to the banality and hypocrisy of the official commemorations staged by US officials.
This longstanding dichotomy reached a new level with the main speech of the day delivered by the fascistic billionaire con-man President Donald Trump at the Pentagon Monday. Trump, whose first reaction on the day of the attacks was to brag—falsely—that the toppling of the Twin Towers had made his own property at 40 Wall Street the tallest building in lower Manhattan, delivered remarks that consisted of barely warmed-over platitudes from previous addresses, repeated tributes to the American flag and a vow to “defend our country against barbaric forces of evil and destruction.”
Trump repeated the well-worn cliché that on September 11 “our whole world changed.” The phrase is meant to suggest that the unending wars, police state measures and sweeping changes in American political life over the past 16 years have all been carried out in response to the supposedly unforeseen and unforeseeable events of September 11, having nothing to do with anything that came before.
That this is a cynical and self-serving lie becomes clearer with every passing year.
On the eve of the anniversary, new revelations emerged linking Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest ally in the Arab world, to the preparation of the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The corporate media, which published nothing of any significance on the anniversary, largely blacked out this new evidence. The New York Timesmarked the anniversary with an editorial detailing efforts by the New York City medical examiner to identify human remains.
A federal lawsuit on behalf of the families of some 1,400 of the 9/11 victims has presented evidence that the Saudi embassy in Washington financed what was apparently a “dry run” for the 9/11 attacks in 1999. Two Saudi agents posing as students boarded an America West flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. with tickets paid for by the Saudi embassy. The lawsuit states that both men had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan with some of the 9/11 hijackers. While on the flight, the two asked flight attendants technical questions about the plane that raised suspicions and twice attempted to enter the cockpit, leading the pilot to carry out an emergency landing in Ohio. Both men were detained and questioned by the FBI, which decided not to pursue any prosecution.
This is only the latest in a long series of revelations that have made it abundantly clear that the events of 9/11 could never have taken place without substantial logistical support from high places. Despite the repeated claims that the attacks “changed everything,” there has never been an independent and objective investigations into how they were carried out. And, despite being what is ostensibly the most catastrophic intelligence failure in American history, no one was ever held accountable with so much as a firing or a demotion.
What evidence has emerged makes it clear that the 9/11 hijackers were able to freely enter the country and attend flight schools despite the fact that a number of those involved had been subjects of surveillance by the CIA and FBI for as long as two years before the attack. Two of them actually lived in the home of an FBI informant.
Twenty-eight pages of heavily redacted documents released in 2016 after being concealed from the public for 13 years established that Saudi intelligence officers funneled substantial amounts of money to the hijackers in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, while assisting them with finding housing as well as flight schools to attend.
While Saudi Arabia was the government most active in carrying out the September 11 attacks, the involvement of Saudi intelligence really means the involvement of a section of the American state apparatus. This is not a matter of conspiracy theories, but established fact. It is bound up with very real conspiracies involving the CIA, Afghanistan and Al Qaeda going back to the Islamist group’s founding as an arm of Washington’s dirty war against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Far from the attacks having “changed everything,” they provided the pretext for acts of military aggression long in preparation. In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union a decade earlier, the ruling class initiated a policy developed to use US military might to offset the decline of American capitalism on the world arena. Afghanistan and Iraq were targeted to secure military dominance over two major oil- and gas-producing regions on the planet, the Caspian Basin and the Middle East.
This thoroughly criminal enterprise, justified in the name of 9/11’s victims, has claimed the lives of over 1 million Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and unleashed the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
The invocation of a “war on terror”—passed down from Bush to Obama and now to Trump—to justify these crimes has become not only threadbare, but patently absurd. The results of 16 years of uninterrupted US wars of aggression have included an unprecedented growth of Al Qaeda and related Islamist militias, largely as a result of US imperialism’s utilization of these elements as proxy ground forces in wars for regime change in Libya and Syria.
Moreover, the multiple wars and interventions conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA, from North Africa to Central Asia, can quickly metastasize into a global conflagration, with Washington simultaneously threatening nuclear war against North Korea and pursuing increasingly dangerous confrontations with its principal geo-strategic rivals, Russia and China.
September 11 did not “change everything,” but it did mark the beginning of an escalation of what George W. Bush called the “wars of the twenty-first century,” that is, escalating imperialist aggression that is leading mankind toward a third world war.
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.
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.
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.
The bitter internecine struggle within the US state apparatus and ruling political establishment, featuring unsubstantiated Democratic claims of Russian hacking in support of Trump, on the one hand, and Trump’s own charge that his campaign was bugged by Obama, on the other, was overshadowed Tuesday by a massive release of CIA documents by WikiLeaks.
The 8,761 documents contained in what WikiLeaks has described as “the largest intelligence publication in history” have begun to lay bare a vast system of surveillance, hacking and cyberwarfare directed against the people of the United States and the entire planet.
The anti-secrecy organization called the first document trove “Year Zero” and said that further CIA data dumps are still to come under a larger project dubbed “Vault 7.”
The files were taken from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, a huge and little-known command that includes some 5,000 hackers, both CIA agents and private contractors. Much as in the case of Edward Snowden’s leaking of secret documents exposing the global spying operation of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, the CIA documents have apparently come from a former agency hacker or contractor concerned about the scope and purpose of the agency’s cyberwar operations.
The programs described in the documents indicate that the CIA, according to WikiLeaks, has developed “more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses and other ‘weaponized’ malware” allowing it to seize control of devices, including Apple iPhones, Google’s Android operating system (used by 85 percent of smart phones) and devices running Microsoft Windows. By hacking these devices, the CIA is also able to intercept information before it is encrypted on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman.
The agency has apparently stockpiled so-called weaponized “zero-day” threats that can be used to exploit unidentified vulnerabilities in a wide range of devices before their manufacturer is able to detect the flaw and correct it. Under the Obama administration, the White House had supposedly established a “Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” under which the intelligence agencies would inform manufacturers of most software vulnerabilities while keeping some to itself for exploitation. In part, this was designed to prevent US companies from losing market share overseas. The vast character of the CIA arsenal establishes that this program was a sham from the outset.
One of the programs developed by the CIA, codenamed “Weeping Angel,” turns Samsung smart televisions into the kind of technology envisioned by George Orwell in 1984, in which “thought police” monitored “telescreens” that served as both televisions, broadcasting the speeches of “Big Brother,” and security cameras, monitoring every word and action of the viewer. This surveillance technique places targeted TVs in a “fake off” mode, transmitting conversations in a room over the Internet to a covert CIA server.
WikiLeaks reported that a large amount of information had been redacted from the leaked documents, including computer codes for actual cyberweapons as well as the identities of “tens of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.”
That “targets” exist in the US indicates that the agency is engaged in wholesale domestic spying in violation of its charter.
The documents also establish that the CIA has developed these programs in collaboration with MI5, the British intelligence agency, and that it operates a covert cyberwarfare center out of the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.
One chilling revelation provided by the documents, according to WikiLeaks, is that, “As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks.” WikiLeaks notes that “The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”
While WikiLeaks does not specifically mention it, this was the scenario suggested by many in the 2013 fatal single-car accident in Los Angeles that claimed the life of journalist Michael Hastings. At the time of his death, Hastings, who had previously written an article that led to the removal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top US commander in Afghanistan, was working on a profile of Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan. Before the accident, Hastings had informed colleagues that he was under government surveillance and had asked a neighbor to lend him her car, saying he feared his own vehicle had been tampered with.
One other politically significant element of the revelations contained in the WikiLeaks documents concerns a CIA program known as “Umbrage,” which consists of a sizable “library” of malware and cyberattack techniques developed in other countries, including Russia. The agency is able to exploit these “stolen” tools to mask its own attacks and misdirect attribution to their originators. The existence of such a program underscores the lack of any foundation for the hysterical campaign alleging Russia’s responsibility for the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party emails.
While the Democrats continue to center their fire against Trump on the question of alleged ties to Russia—rather than the reactionary policies his administration has unleashed against immigrants and the working class as a whole—the WikiLeaks revelations about the CIA are being dismissed by sections of the media as another Moscow plot.
Along similar lines, the New York Times Monday published a lengthy article mocking alleged “signs of a White House preoccupation with a ‘deep state’ working to thwart the Trump presidency” following Trump’s charge that he had been bugged during the presidential campaign.
Such a term might be appropriate for countries like Egypt, Turkey or Pakistan, the Times argued, but could not be applied to the US because it “suggests an undemocratic nation where legal and moral norms are ignored.”
The reality is that the “deep state” in the US is more massive and powerful than anywhere in the world and is the patron of similar military-intelligence complexes in countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. As for “legal and moral norms,” the latest revelations about the CIA, an organization long ago dubbed Murder, Inc., offer a glimpse of the real methods of the American state.
That the Times attempts to dismiss concerns about the activities and influence of the military-intelligence apparatus only establishes its own role as a propaganda organ and ideological instrument of this “deep state,” with the most intimate ties to the CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies.
The documents released by WikiLeaks cover the period of 2013 to 2016, the last years of the Obama administration, which presided over the continuation and spread of the wars begun under Bush, a sweeping expansion of the power the US intelligence apparatus and a corresponding assault on democratic rights. This included the organization of an international drone assassination program under which the White House claimed the authority to order the extrajudicial murder of American citizens.
This vast apparatus of war, repression and mass surveillance has now been handed over to the administration of Donald Trump, a government of billionaires, generals and outright fascists that is determined to escalate war abroad and carry out unprecedented attacks on the working class at home.
While the Democratic Party is calling for a special prosecutor over alleged Russian “meddling” in the US election—a demand aimed at sustaining the US war drive against Russia and diverting the mass opposition to Trump into reactionary channels—and Trump is calling for a probe of the alleged bugging of his communications, neither side has called for investigation of the CIA spying operation. Both Democrats and Republicans are agreed that such police-state measures are required to defend the crisis-ridden capitalist system against the threat of a social revolution by the working class.
Army Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas didn’t offer specifics but said he wants the government as “stable as possible”
(Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Army Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, the head of US Special Operations Command, bemoaned the “unbelievable turmoil” racking the United States government during a symposium in Maryland on Tuesday.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” Thomas said in his speech, according to CNN. Although he didn’t specify what “turmoil” he was referring to, he clarified when later asked about his comments, saying, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”
The Special Operations troops include Navy SEALs and the Army Green Berets, both of which have become increasingly prominent in military operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and which are equally prominent in our national folklore.
While it is unclear what Thomas was referring to, it is quite possible that he was discussing the war that has been ongoing between the so-called “deep state” and the Trump administration. Critics have accused America’s intelligence agencies of trying to promote an anti-Russian agenda and punishing both President Trump and various administration advisers with targeted leaks intended to discredit them. There are also reports that members of intelligence communities, convinced that the Trump administration has been compromised by the Russian government, has withheld information from the president in order to avoid having it leaked out.
Naturally, the most recent manifestation of the poor relationship between Trump and the intelligence community were the events leading up the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Although Flynn initially claimed that he had not spoken with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about President Barack Obama’s sanctions, intelligence leaks later revealed that he had in fact done so, prompting his resignation.
Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.
You know you’re living in a looking-glass world when former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks out against one of Donald Trump’s executive orders. He’s a good example of how past adversaries of movements for peace and justice are lining up against our current adversary: the new president.
The United States, Cheney told radio host Hugh Hewitt, should not exclude people from our territory on the basis of religion. That was just a few days after Trump had signed an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Such a move, said Cheney, “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
In the same interview, Cheney revealed the origins of his personal affinity for Muslim refugees. His own ancestors, he said, arrived on this continent to escape religious persecution. “They were Puritans,” he explained. “There wasn’t anybody here then when they came.” No one? It was a sparkling display of the European-American solipsism that so deeply marked the Cheney years in power.
Refugees, he acknowledged, do represent “a serious problem.” To begin to solve it, however, “You gotta go back and look at why they’re here. They’re here because of what’s happening in the Middle East.”
The refugees Cheney refers to aren’t “here,” of course, or what would be the point of Trump’s entrance ban? Otherwise, I’d have to agree with the former vice president: You do need to look at “what’s happening” but also — something he didn’t mention — what happened in the Middle East to explain their need for refuge. Refugees from Iraq and Syria (among other places) have indeed lost their homes and homelands by the millions, in significant part because of the very invasions and occupations that Cheney and his president, George W. Bush, launched in the Greater Middle East, radically destabilizing that part of the world.
The enemy of my enemy?
What should it mean for those of us hoping to resist the grim presidency of Donald Trump to find Dick Cheney, even momentarily and on a single issue, on our side? One thing it certainly can’t mean is that Cheney stands for the same “everything” that moved thousands of people to rush to U.S. airports, demanding the release of visitors, immigrants and green card holders detained under Trump’s new order. Although in the Muslim refugees of today he may indeed recognize a reflection of his Puritan ancestors, Cheney’s disagreement with Trump does not, in fact, make him a friend of the cause of compassion, justice or the rule of law.
Few of us who spent eight years opposing Bush and Cheney or who remember their record of invasions, occupations, torture, black sites and so much more are likely to imagine that his opposition to the ban on refugees makes him our friend. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take some satisfaction from where he’s landed on this issue.
It’s been harder, however, for many of us to find clarity when it comes to certain of the other war hawks who, for their own reasons, don’t trust Trump.
It’s a trap most of us avoided last summer when 50 members of the national security establishment, including former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and one of George W. Bush’s CIA directors, Michael Hayden, wrote an open letter warning the world that Trump lacked “the character, values and experience to be president.” We recognized that the letter signers themselves lacked the “character, values and experience” to comment. After all, in the Middle East and elsewhere, this bunch had helped to pave the way for Trump’s rise.
In recent months, as the Russian hacking scandal hit and Trump’s feud with the CIA gained ever more media attention, that agency has proven another matter. Here is a real danger to avoid: In our efforts to delegitimize Trump, it’s important not to inadvertently legitimize an outfit that most of us have long opposed for its vicious campaigns around the world. Just because Trump all but called its operatives Nazis shouldn’t lead the rest of us to forget its long history of deceit or accept its pronouncements at face value because they happen to fit what we would like to believe.
When Barack Obama said that there was convincing evidence Russia had used its hacking efforts to throw the U.S. election to Trump, the president-elect not surprisingly labeled the claim “ridiculous.” But there’s also been a bit of sympathy for the CIA in some odd places. For example, long-time CIA critic and Hullabaloo founder Heather Digby Parton (generally known as “Digby”) wrote at Salon that the CIA “understandably” felt there was something “a tad unfair” about the Trump transition team calling the agency “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” After all, they were under a lot of pressure from the White House back then. As Digby wrote, “It’s now known that Vice President Dick Cheney went out to [CIA headquarters in] Langley [Virginia] in order to personally twist arms and ‘stovepipe’ the intelligence report on Iraq.”
That’s certainly true, but it’s also true that the CIA director of that moment, George Tenet, assured President Bush that there was a “slam-dunk case” that Saddam Hussein had such weaponry. The fact is that the CIA caved in to pressure from top administration officials for the intel they so desperately wanted for the invasion they already knew they were going to launch in Iraq. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the agency’s integrity or political independence. An “independent” CIA is bad enough, but the CIA’s vulnerability to political pressure from the White House is another reason we should be cautious about using agency pronouncements as an instrument against Trump. That’s the slippery terrain we find ourselves on now.
Digby is certainly no admirer of the CIA, and her article wasn’t primarily focused on the quality of its intelligence under Bush, but on a far more recent turf war between the agency and the FBI. She rightly calls out FBI director James Comey for his 11th hour intervention in the election, the way he alerted Congress to the (vanishingly tiny) possibility that the hard drive on the computer that Anthony Weiner shared with his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, might have contained evidence of Clinton’s failure to protect State Department emails. Nevertheless, the reader is left to infer that — at least when it comes to intelligence rather than clandestine operations — the CIA’s pronouncements might prove a reliable instrument against Trump, an urge that was relatively commonplace among opponents of the new president.
For example, the Atlantic, which has carried excellent reporting about CIA deceptions, published a piece by Kelly Magsamen, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) under both Bush and Obama, expressing alarm at Trump’s plan to exclude the CIA director from his version of the NSC. (In fact, the new president reversed himself on the matter almost immediately.) It’s not surprising that Magsamen would have this view. For those of us who would like to dismantle the entire national security edifice, however, it would be shortsighted indeed to attack Trump by shoring up the reputation of an agency — the CIA — that, as former counterintelligence officer John Kiriakou has suggested, the country and the world “do not need.” Kariakou, you may remember, was jailed for discussing the CIA’s torture program with a journalist.
Support for America’s spooks has continued to resound in odd places. For example, there’s been much outrage expressed at President Trump’s bizarre behavior on a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In a performance that was indeed shocking, he used the occasion to complain about the way the media underestimated the size of the crowd at his inauguration, after which he asserted that God had stopped the rain during his inaugural address.
What many commentators found far more bizarre and disturbing, however, was that Trump gave his performance in front of a memorial wall commemorating CIA agents who had died on the job. Writing for the Huffington Post, Neil McCarthy claimed that the wall honors “un-named heroes who have died in our service.” In a New Yorker article headlined “Trump’s Vainglorious Affront to the CIA,” former Washington Post diplomatic correspondentRobin Wright chided the new president for his lack of respect for the agency’s martyrs. Trump, she suggested, should have followed the example of President Ronald Reagan, who on his first visit to the CIA told the assembled staff:
“The work you do each day is essential to the survival and to the spread of human freedom. You remain the eyes and ears of the free world. You are the ‘trip wire’ over which totalitarian rule must stumble in their quest for global domination.”
While I would never applaud anyone’s untimely, violent death, the fact that Trump (despite his denials) has been feuding with the CIA shouldn’t erase that agency’s history or just what those agents died defending. Trump’s annoyance shouldn’t magically transform an agency responsible for decades of violent and bloody coups against democratic governments in places like Iran, Guatemala, the Congo and Chile into an organization “essential to the survival and spread of human freedom.” Whatever pleasure we may take in Trump’s irritation, it doesn’t vindicate the murder of between 26,000 and 41,000 Vietnamese, many of them tortured to death, in the CIA’s notorious Phoenix program during the Vietnam War. It doesn’t erase the training in torture and repression its agents provided to dictatorships around the world. And it certainly doesn’t make the CIA’s use of terror and torture in its black sites as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” any less horrific or illegal.
Nor does the CIA’s future look much more promising than its past. When it comes to torture, its new head Mike Pompeo has clearly wanted to have it both ways. During his confirmation hearing, he proved unwilling to call waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods torture, but did acknowledge that they are illegal under a 2015 law, which limits interrogation techniques to those described in the U.S. Army Field Manual.
There are two problems with reliance on that law. The present Field Manual contains a classified annex, which permits among other things repeated 12-hour bouts of sensory deprivation and solitary confinement for up to 30 days at a time. Both of these are forms of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment prohibited by the U.N. Convention against Torture. In addition, the manual itself is up for revision in two years. A new version might provide very different guidance.
But it’s not clear that Pompeo is actually wedded to the manual anyway. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, in his written testimony for his confirmation hearing he “indicated that he would consult with CIA staff to determine whether the application of the Army Field Manual was an ‘impediment’ to intelligence-gathering, and whether it needed to be rewritten.” Note as well that Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s newly appointed deputy director at the agency, is notorious for her involvement in its black sites and torture practices in the Bush years (as well as the destruction of video tapes of waterboarding sessions — evidence, that is, of those criminal activities).
Trump himself supports such torture practices. On Jan. 25 he told ABC News that he still clings to his belief that torture “works.” His evidence? The testimony of “people at the highest level of intelligence” who “as recently as 24 hours ago” told him that it works “absolutely.” It seems likely one of those “people” was Gina Haspel, who has a good reason to cling to that same belief.
In reporting ABC’s interview with Trump, CNN, like most mainstream media, allowed itself to be distracted by the question of whether or not torture is an effective way of getting information from someone. It isn’t, as the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its landmark 2014 report. However, the question really shouldn’t be whether torture “works.” The question should be: Is it either moral or legal? And Donald Trump notwithstanding, the answer in both cases is no.
Pompeo is also a big fan of NSA-style mass surveillance and has called for the reinstatement of the NSA’s massive secret collection of telephone, internet and social media metadata. The telephone data part of the program officially expired in November 2015 as a result of the USA Freedom Act, passed earlier that year. Under the new arrangement, metadata is held by the phone companies, rather than directly by the NSA, which now needs a FISA warrant to get access to those records. Internet and social media records are still directly available to the NSA, however.
But that’s not enough for Pompeo. Human Rights Watch points to a 2016 Wall Street Journalop-ed, in which Pompeo urged Congress to “‘pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata’ — that is, records of communications, such as their dates, parties and durations — ‘and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.’”
HRW observes that, in spite of “repeated written and oral questions in the context of the hearing, Pompeo remained vague on what he meant by the potentially expansive and discriminatory term ‘lifestyle information.’” As one devoted to the lesbian “lifestyle,” I don’t find this particularly encouraging.
Fortunately for those of us who hope to see the national security state dismantled someday, as recent events have indicated, that edifice and its friends in both parties are not a seamless whole. There are runs and tears throughout its fabric, and part of our job is to help open those gaps wider — always keeping in mind that while politics may make strange bedfellows, there are some people you don’t ever want to sleep with. Even in the Trump era, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, at least not when that enemy is the CIA.
Enemies of enemies of enemies
If the CIA is the enemy of my enemy, then Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia must be the enemy of the enemy of my enemy. Is it therefore my friend?
This is a complicated and delicate question. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just set its doomsday clock forward to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer to catastrophe.
In the shadow of nuclear war, who wouldn’t be eager to see tensions between Russia and the United States defused? At the same time, I become uncomfortable when some of my colleagues on the left appear to believe that any adversary of U.S. hegemony may represent a potential ally for us.
For example, the Nation’sStephen Cohen, whose many years of writing on the Soviet Union served as an important corrective to the official narrative of the time, characterizes those who today are wary of Putin as “enemies of détente.” He points to a New York Times editorial whose descriptions “of Putin’s leadership over the years” were “so distorted they seemed more like ‘Saturday Night Live’’s ongoing parodies” and calls out Times columnist Paul Krugman’s “neo-McCarthyite baiting” of Trump for his admiration of Putin.
I can agree with Cohen that Krugman goes over the top when he refers to the present administration as the “Putin-Trump regime.” But it’s a mistake to equate legitimate suspicion of Russia and Putin with the efforts of Senator Joe McCarthy to discredit the U.S. left (and liberals) during the Cold War. The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union, and distrust of Vladimir Putin is not McCarthyism.
Cohen is certainly correct that Putin has good reason to be wary of what he calls “NATO’s highly provocative buildup on Russia’s Western border.” But even if Russia quite rightly objects to the way NATO has moved east, it doesn’t prove that Putin’s government didn’t try to influence the U.S. election. Such things are hardly beyond the realm of possibility. After all, the United States has a long history of doing just that to countries around the world (as did the Soviet Union in its day).
That the Washington establishment opposes Russian challenges to the U.S. urge for global dominance doesn’t make Vladimir Putin any less an autocrat, or Russia under his rule any more a country to emulate. Indeed, on Jan. 27, the Russian parliament voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence. A week later, Putin signed the bill into law. Which way, I wonder, would Donald Trump go if similar legislation were on the table here?
What about friends?
When the thieves who run our government fall out, we should be glad — and find ways to drive the wedge deeper. When John McCain does something we approve of, like objecting to Trump’s executive order on immigration, we can agree with him, but notice as well that, in the next breath, he says he supports Trump’s “commitment to rebuilding our” (already vast and unprecedentedly powerful) military.
There’s a difference between people who find themselves sharing the same adversary and people who can be, to use an old-fashioned term, in solidarity with each other. Those of us who oppose U.S. military adventurism abroad and inequality, racism and sexism at home need to remember who our friends are. The next few years must be a time of building broad coalitions and tightening the bonds among organizations and people who believe that, even now, a better world is still possible.
In the mixed-up looking-glass universe that is Trumplandia, we are going to need our friends more than ever. This is true domestically, which means, for instance, that tenants’ rights groups will need to keep jumping into struggles for immigrant rights (as is already happening in many places), and veterans’ organizations will need to keep on supporting fights to preserve Native land and water rights as in the struggle over the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s true on the international level, as well. We will need to build strong ties with people in Europe fighting the rise of the far right there, and to continue our solidarity with the victims of U.S. military actions around the world.
But it’s also true at the level of our individual lives. Now especially we need contact with the people we love to keep us strong and hopeful. Now is a good time to remind your friends that you love them and that you will have their backs. It’s a time to march together, but also to eat together. To strategize and organize, but also to make each other laugh. It’s a time to remember who our adversaries are, but also to cherish our friends.
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I don’t doubt that the Russian Federation employs hackers and PR people to influence public opinion and even election outcomes in other countries. So does the United States of America. But I am skeptical that anything the Russians did caused Donald Trump to be president.
It wasn’t like Trump was a Manchurian Candidate, a stealth plant in the US body politic who would only be operationalized once elected.
Trump was in plain view. He had all along been in plain view. His hatred for uppity or “nasty” women, his racism, his prickliness, his narcissism, his rich white boy arrogance and entitlement (apparently even to strange women and other men’s wives), his cronyism and his fundamental dishonesty were on display 24/7 during some 18 months of the campaign, and it wasn’t as though he were an unknown quantity before that.
Americans voted for him anyway. Slightly more Americans voted for him than for a respectable person like Mitt Romney. No Russians were holding a gun to their heads. And they knew, or should have known, what they were getting.
By a “black swan” fluke, a few tens of thousands of the Trump voters were distributed differently, state by state, than the McCain and Romney voters; and in some key states like Michigan Sec. Clinton did not do as well as Obama had, even if she was beloved in California and New York.
One of the cleverest things Trump said during the campaign was directed to African-American voters, asking what they had to lose by challenging the status quo and voting for him. It was a trick, of course, and they have everything to lose, both because the Republican Party’s economic policies aim to help rich people at the expense of workers and most African-Americans are working class, and because the GOP since Nixon has connived at attracting a white racist constituency, and succeeded.
But despite the dishonesty of the quip (which did not fool African-Americans one little bit), that kind of thinking appears to have been widespread. In some states, as many as 14 percent of the white working class deserted the Democratic Party compared to the previous two elections, and, worse, 21 percent of white working class voters who used to vote for Obama just stayed home. They weren’t being irrational. Things have been bad for them and they haven’t participated in the recovery after 2008 the way the stock market has. Their death rates have even increased.
Nor did any Russian hacking related to Wikileaks, if that is what happened, prove decisive. Clinton’s own polling people found the big turning point was when she called Trump voters a “basket of deplorables.” Americans don’t like being talked down to, and had already gotten rid of Romney for the same sin. The spectacle of Clinton taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give a speech to the people who put them out of their homes in 2008-9 also turned many of them off so that they stayed home, while another section of them decided to take a chance on Trump. He will screw them over, but from their point of view, they worried that she might have, as well. Trump was promising to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs via protectionism, whereas everyone understood that Sec. Clinton’s first instinct was to do TPP and send more jobs to Asia.
So it was Clinton’s public persona and public positions that hurt her and depressed Democratic turnout in places like Detroit and Flint, not anything in Wikileaks (can anyone name even one newsworthy email?) Or on the other hand it was neofascist disinformation campaigns like spirit cooking and pizzagate. It wasn’t anything as rational as a Putin sting.
No, America had its eyes wide open. The Republican Party, the usual 61 million, voted for Trump, despite his vulgar talk and vulgar style of life. Since the GOP is mostly the party of Protestant whites plus about 40 million Catholics who think they are white, nobody over there too much minded the racism against minorities. There were some defections among the white Protestant married women from the GOP (either stay-at-homes or aisle-crossers) and there were some defections among the white working class from the Democratic Party. But those two may well have just cancelled each other out.
The GOP voted for a champion of the business classes, which Trump will be, in spades. And that is what everyone should expect. There is nothing surprising about it. The GOP wins nationally when it can add to its base of small and large businesspeople and farmers and exurbanites, and Trump managed to attract a few tens of thousands of other sorts of people in the districts where it happened to matter.
In an op-ed column in Friday’s New York Times, former top CIA official Michael Morell publicly endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In the article, Morell branded Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, as a pawn of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Morell retired from the CIA in 2013 after a 33-year career, having spent two decades in high-level positions in Washington. His duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief for George W. Bush. For three years he was deputy director, running the agency day-to-day, and he had two stints as acting director, for three months in 2011 and for four months in 2012-2013.
The crimes with which Morell is associated are legion. He was a top official throughout the period of CIA kidnappings (renditions) of victims who were then held in secret prisons and tortured. He helped lead the CIA when it was carrying out drone missile assassinations and other forms of covert state terrorism. Throughout his tenure in Langley, Virginia, the CIA was engaged in war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and many other countries.
After Morell left the agency, Obama appointed him to the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which prepared a whitewash of National Security Agency spying following the revelations by Edward Snowden. He then moved seamlessly to a position as a well-paid media commentator for CBS News, while joining the campaign of former CIA officials to block the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.
That such an individual comes out publicly in support of Hillary Clinton says a great deal about the nature of the Democratic presidential campaign and the type of administration Clinton will head in the event that she wins the November election.
Morell’s op-ed column appears under the headline: “I Ran the CIA. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.” As far as the New York Times is concerned, support for Clinton from an organization that is identified around the world with torture and murder should be shouted from the rooftops. It is something to be proud of, a positive credential for the Democratic presidential nominee.
The former CIA official declares Clinton “highly qualified to be commander in chief,” praises “her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world,” and notes that in the internal discussions over US intervention in the Syrian civil war, “she was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach.”
Morell denounces Trump as unqualified to be president, in part because of his volatile personality and lack of national security experience, but mainly because of his supposed connection to Russia.
He writes: “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated…
“Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests—endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States. In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
This extraordinary allegation adds fuel to the campaign launched by pro-Clinton pundits like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, portraying Trump as a “Siberian candidate” whose campaign represents a Russian intervention into the US elections.
The Clinton campaign has embraced and promoted these McCarthyite smears, issuing a video Friday posing the question, “What is Donald Trump’s connection to Vladimir Putin?” The video, available on YouTube, consists of clips of right-wing media figures, including Joe Scarborough, Charles Krauthammer and George Will, denouncing Trump for his praise for Putin, interspersed with questions suggesting that Trump has secret business ties to Russia and is being financed by Russian oligarchs.
In style and political content, the video recalls the ravings of the John Birch Society, the anticommunist organization of the 1950s and 1960s that claimed leading US political figures, including President Eisenhower, were Soviet agents.
This underscores the drastic shift to the right in the political orientation of the Democratic Party. It does not oppose Trump on the basis of his militarism or his authoritarian contempt for democratic rights. Instead, the Clinton campaign is presenting itself as the authoritative party of the military-intelligence complex and the political establishment, appealing to billionaires, the military brass and the intelligence agencies.
In the form of Trump vs. Clinton, the US electoral system has provided working people the “choice” between an openly fascistic demagogue and an avowed representative of the Pentagon, the CIA and the financial establishment hell-bent on launching new imperialist wars.
The barrage of claims by the corporate media that Trump, as distinct from “normal” US politicians, is deranged deserves only contempt. Both Trump and Clinton are deadly enemies of the working class. They may be opposed to one another in the election campaign, but that is no argument for working people to take sides. Rather, workers and youth must draw the conclusion that the entire political system is deeply dysfunctional and should be swept away.
The Democratic Party is appealing, not to the mass opposition and disgust with Trump on the part of working people, but to the opposition to Trump within the US ruling elite, whose main concern is that the Republican candidate’s friendly gestures towards Putin, his open questioning of the value of NATO, and his expressed reservations about US wars in the Middle East are cutting across the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in Washington.
This poses immense dangers to the working class. The logic of the Democrats’ anti-Trump campaign is to channel mass opposition to Trump behind preparations for war with Russia, a nuclear-armed power. In the event of a Democratic victory—increasingly likely according to polling this week—Clinton will claim a mandate for war policies that can be carried out only through a frontal assault on the living standards and democratic rights of American workers. This demonstrates that the differences between Clinton and Trump are purely tactical: how best to subordinate the working class to the war drive of American imperialism.
As the WSWS has previously pointed out, Trump did not crawl out of the Manhattan sewers or a Munich beer hall. He emerged from the well-heeled, corrupt circle of real estate speculators in New York City, where he had the closest ties with the Democratic Party machine. He was molded and promoted for decades by the corporate-controlled media and the political establishment. He and the Clintons are old friends: he invited them to one of his weddings; they asked for his money for their political campaigns and bogus charities.
If Trump is suddenly branded as a monster who must be kept out of the White House, it is only because the US financial aristocracy and the military-intelligence apparatus have a different monster in mind, one they consider more dependable: Hillary Clinton. She’s the monster who is on message—on Ukraine, Russia, NATO and the anti-Chinese “pivot to Asia.” She knows which generals to salute and which billionaires to flatter. She’s a “safe pair of hands,” which means she can be relied on to kill the right people.
That is the meaning of Clinton’s endorsement by the CIA’s Michael Morell and, more generally, the wave of support for her campaign from billionaires, Republicans, generals and the media.