President Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.
The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike. The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.
The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.
When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programs this month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”
Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.
But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Meet the Press this past weekend to discuss the Trump-Russia scandal. Chuck Todd asked: Were there improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?
JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that…
CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist?
JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.
Todd pressed him to elaborate.
CHUCK TODD: If [evidence of collusion] existed, it would have been in this report?
JAMES CLAPPER: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.
This is the former Director of National Intelligence telling all of us that as of 12:01 a.m. on January 20th, when he left government, the intelligence agencies had no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump‘s campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Virtually all of the explosive breaking news stories on the Trump-Russia front dating back months contain some version of this same disclaimer.
WikiLeaks on Tuesday released a trove of purported CIA documents hailed by security expert Jessalyn Radack as “in same category as [the] biggest leaks of classified info by [whistleblowers] Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.”
Indeed, Snowden himself described the leak as “genuinely a big deal” on Twitter. “Looks authentic,” the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower added. The New York Times also described the documents’ authenticity as “likely.”
The Times went on to describe the bombshell revelations included in the trove of documents:
Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the CIA and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”
Tuesday’s release of documents comprise part one of a series, WikiLeaks wrote in a press statement. This first installment, titled “Year Zero,” contains “8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va.,” according to WikiLeaks.
Newly released by WikiLeaks today is a collection of CIA documents referred to as “Vault 7,” detailing the CIA’s hacking and surveillance technology development. The current release spans “Year 0” of the program, with several more years of documents expected to be released.
Officially called “Weeping Angel,” the program sought 0-day exploits in myriad technology, including not just computers and routers, but things like smartphones and even Smart TVs, with documents showing the CIA could make a Samsung-branded TV go into a “fake-off” mode, where it would appear to be turned off, but its microphone was active and the CIA could listen in to everything happening.
The same was true of the phones targeted, with the CIA having what is said to be a large cache of exploits against both Apple and Android-based phones, exploits they carefully kept guarded from the manufacturers of the phones so that the flaws were never properly repaired. The phone breaches were focused in part on having an OS-level exploit that would render security features in encrypted applications useless,
Also among the efforts, the CIA was trying to hack into cars, with an eye toward gaining remote control over cars anywhere in the world, leading to speculation that the cars would be made to “assassinate” the drivers in an undetectable manner.
[…] When questions began to swirl about the Bush administration’s use of the “black sites,” and program of “enhanced interrogation,” the chief of base began pushing to have the tapes destroyed. She accomplished her mission years later when she rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters and drafted an order to destroy the evidence, which was still locked in a CIA safe at the American embassy in Thailand. Her boss, the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center, signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a giant shredder.
By then, it was clear that CIA analysts were wrong when they had identified Abu Zubaydah as the number three or four in al-Qaida after Osama bin Laden. The waterboarding failed to elicit valuable intelligence not because he was holding back, but because he was not a member of al-Qaida, and had no knowledge of any plots against the United States.
The chief of base’s role in this tale of pointless brutality and evidence destruction was a footnote to history — until earlier this month, when President Trump named her deputy director of the CIA.
The choice of Gina Haspel for the second-highest position in the agency has been praised by colleagues but sharply criticized by two senators who have seen the still-classified records of her time in Thailand.
On February 3, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported President Trump’s plans to pave the way for a broad rollback of the recent financial reforms of Wall Street.Although no surprise, the news was in ironic contrast to the rhetoric of his campaign, when he spent months denouncing both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for their links to Goldman Sachs, even when his campaign’s Financial Chairman was a former Goldman Sachs banker, Steve Mnuchin (now Trump’s Treasury Secretary).
Trump was hardly the first candidate to run against the banking establishment while surreptitiously taking money from big bankers. So did Hitler in 1933; so did Obama in 2008. (In Obama’s final campaign speech of 2008, he attacked “the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street.” But it was revealed later that Wall Street bankers and financial insiders, chiefly from Goldman Sachs, had raised $42.2 million for Obama’s 2008 campaign, more than for any previous candidate in history.)
However, Trump’s connections to big money, both new (often self-made) and old (mostly institutional) were not only more blatant than usual; some were also possibly more sinister. Trump’s campaign was probably the first ever to be (as we shall see) scrutinized by the FBI for “financial connections with Russian financial figures,” and even with a Russian bank whose Washington influence was attacked years ago, after it was allegedly investigated in Russia for possible mafia connections.
Trump’s appointment of the third former Goldman executive to lead Treasury in the last four administrations, after Robert Rubin (under Clinton) and Hank Paulson (under Bush), has reinforced recent speculation about Trump’s relationship to what is increasingly referred to as the deep state. That is the topic of this essay.
But we must first see what is really meant by ‘the deep state”.
In 2014 Bill Moyers was joined by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, to talk about what he calls Washington’s ‘Deep State’, in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers. Lofgren also authored an essay titled: Anatomy of the Deep State. (Moyers & Company)
[…] One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”). Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents.
But at best this is an extremely partial picture.
In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous:
The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission.
The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System.
The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.
The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.
[…] Democracy is an exquisitely fragile enterprise, “a delicate eggshell in the rough-and-tumble of history,” as I wrote in my book, “The Devil’s Chessboard.” Rule by the people must always contend with rule by elites who are much more organized, financed, ruthless and armed.
What’s odd about these increasingly odd times is that many engaged citizens, including progressives, are eagerly hoping for the overthrow of our elected government, if we can rid ourselves of the dangerously unhinged Trump. But a coup would mean the coup de grace for American democracy. Yes, the mad king would be gone. In the process, however, we’d be empowering the most militaristic, secretive and sinister elements of our society.
I agree that saving America means bringing down Trump. But it’s a revived democracy that must be his downfall — a newly invigorated media, judicial system and citizenry — not the dark maneuvers of spies and generals.
[…] It is increasingly plausible that there are powerful forces inside the intelligence community attempting to engineer U.S. foreign policy in a way that would fully reignite the Cold War and thwart any attempt to cooperate with nuclear-armed Russia at even the most basic level.
The Kremlin’s response to Flynn’s departure was fairly muted. Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called it an internal U.S. matter and refrained from commenting further. Other officials were more colorful in their language. The general view in Moscow is that anti-Russia hysteria is simply so bad in the U.S. that the intelligence agencies will do anything in their power to prevent Washington from becoming friendlier with the Kremlin. Leonid Slutsky, chair of the foreign relations committee in the Russian State Duma, said the “target” in all this was U.S.-Russia relations. He later commented that recent statements from the White House on the status of Crimea were like a “cold shower” that cooled expectations of a better relationship.
If the “anti-Trump plot” theory sounds more than a bit dubious coming from Moscow, take a listen to former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, who represented the Bernie Sanders left before Sanders did. He makes a reasonable case that Flynn’s departure was essentially the first shot fired in a “deep state” coup against Trump.
“What’s at the core of this is an effort by some in the intelligence community to upend any positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” Kucinich said on the Fox Business Network. “There are people trying to separate the U.S. and Russia so this military-industrial-intel axis can cash in.”
[…] The idea of a “Deep State” constraining Trump was not new. Back in February, when the idea of a President Trump still seemed wildly implausible, Megan McArdle wrote that he wouldn’t be able to do that much damage even if he won, thanks to bureaucrats who could slow-walk or even block his priorities. “This is the reality: Most of what you want to do to Washington won’t get done—and neither will much of what you want to get done outside of it, if you insist on taking Washington on,” she wrote. After the inauguration, some liberals took new heart in that idea.
But the Deep State motif has really gained in popularity over the last few days, as the pace of leaks undermining Trump has accelerated. “The fact the nation’s now-departed senior guardian of national security was unmoored by a scandal linked to a conversation picked up on a wire offers a rare insight into how exactly America’s vaunted Deep State works,” Marc Ambinder writes at Foreign Policy. “It is a story not about rogue intelligence agencies running amok outside the law, but rather about the vast domestic power they have managed to acquire within it.”
It’s not just the leaks. At Slate, Phillip Carter argued that pushback from career officials had helped prevent Trump from instituting a plan to reinstate torture, labeling this the work of a deep state.
Not everyone buys the analogy.
“I wouldn’t call what is going on in the United States a Deep State,” said Omer Taspinar, a professor at the National War College and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution who is an expert on both national security and Turkey.
The who, what, where, and why of the Trump administration’s first major scandal — Michael Flynn’s ignominious resignation on Monday as national security advisor — have all been thoroughly discussed. Relatively neglected, and deserving of far more attention, has been the how.
The fact the nation’s now-departed senior guardian of national security was unmoored by a scandal linked to a conversation picked up on a wire offers a rare insight into how exactly America’s vaunted Deep State works. It is a story not about rogue intelligence agencies running amok outside the law, but rather about the vast domestic power they have managed to acquire within it.
We know now that the FBI and the NSA, under their Executive Order 12333 authority and using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as statutory cover, were actively monitoring the phone calls and reading text messages sent to and from the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Glenn Greenwald: Empowering the ‘Deep State’ to Undermine Trump is Prescription for Destroying Democracy
Amy Goodman speaks to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, about the deep state and the Trump administration. Greenwald recently wrote a piece titled: The Deep State Goes to War With President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer. (Democracy Now!)
The Trump administration is preparing a sweeping executive order that would clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas “black site” prisons, like those where it detained and tortured terrorism suspects before former President Barack Obama shut them down.
President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” and obtained by The New York Times, would also undo many of the other restrictions on handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the George W. Bush administration.
If Mr. Trump signs the draft order, he would also revoke Mr. Obama’s directive to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in American custody. That would be another step toward reopening secret prisons outside of the normal wartime rules established by the Geneva Conventions, although statutory obstacles would remain.
Fourteen Senate Democrats joined all but one Senate Republican in confirming Rep. Mike Pompeo as the new CIA director on Monday evening, failing a crucial first test of whether Democrats would present a united front to defend human rights and civil liberties in the Trump era.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the lone member of his party to vote against his confirmation.
Pompeo is a far-right Kansas Republican who has in the past defended CIA officials who engaged in torture, calling them “patriots.” Last week, he left the door open to torture by acknowledging in his written responses to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would be open to altering a 2015 law prohibiting the government from using techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual.
As a member of Congress, he repeatedly appeared on the radio program hosted by anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney, and has portrayed the war on terror as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. He has also claimed that “Islamic leaders across America [are] potentially complicit” in terrorism because they supposedly don’t speak out against it, which is not true.
While Pompeo’s confirmation was opposed by Human Rights Watch, it netted votes from a variety of Senate Democrats, including the caucus’ leader: Chuck Schumer of New York.
CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo — whose confirmation vote in the Senate is set for Monday — has said he is open to changing the rules governing the interrogation of detainees, which could mean re-authorizing the use of the torture technique called waterboarding.
The vote is shaping up as a test for Senate Democrats, who will have to choose between letting Donald Trump fill a key national-security post, on the one hand, and supporting basic human rights on the other.
Pompeo’s admission came in a written response to inquiries from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Asked if he would refrain from taking steps that would reintroduce waterboarding or other similar techniques, he replied that he would “consult with experts at the agency and at other organizations in the U.S. government” on whether the Army Field Manual — which currently establishes the legal limits of interrogation — should be changed. In other words, he’ll follow the law, but he’s open to changing it
The Labour Party is “in the hands of urban leftists given to ideological extremes with only fringe appeal”.
That isn’t an assertion about today’s politics. It was the verdict of the US Central Intelligence Agency on Labour back in 1985, in a memo for the agency’s director on the early phase of Neil Kinnock’s leadership.
This memo is one of millions of the CIA’s historical records which have just been made available online. Previously researchers had to actually visit the US National Archives in Maryland in order to access this database of declassified documents.
The records reveal the deep level of concern inside the CIA about the strength of the Left within Labour in the early 1980s, a political force which the agency regarded as anti-American.
Tuesday’s UK Supreme Court ruling, allowing two Libyans to sue the British government for alleged complicity in their rendition and torture by the CIA, takes us back to the dark days after 9/11 when America kidnapped people and handed them over to squalid foreign regimes, like Colonel Gaddafi’s or President Assad’s.
However, it has gone unnoticed that US President-elect Donald Trump looks set to continue renditions when he takes office in a few days. True, his cabinet nominees told Congress last week that they would not use torture, despite Trump’s calls for waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” on the campaign trail. But Mike Pompeo, his pick for CIA Director, has effectively confirmed that rendition will be an available policy. In response to written questions from Senators recently, he said that, if the CIA does conduct “rendition/transfers” of prisoners to foreign countries, he will seek “diplomatic assurances” from those countries that torture will not occur.
In other words, rendition is on the table. This isn’t surprising, because the US has been in the rendition business for decades, long before George W Bush came on the scene. It basically involves the extralegal transfer of prisoners from one country to another without going through formal extradition or deportation procedures.
When Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, outgoing president Harry Truman informed him of an important secret: Days before the election the United States had tested the world’s first hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. The nation now possessed a weapon roughly a hundred times as powerful as any before—and almost nobody else knew.
Eight years later, when Eisenhower handed the keys to John F. Kennedy, his administration passed along its own secret: America had a covert plan underway to invade Cuba. Kennedy let the Bay of Pigs mission proceed, and the result was a fiasco that would take the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The president of the United States has more access to official secrets than any other human being in the country—and the potential to know more about the world than anyone else on the planet. And on January 20, the person being handed access to all of those secrets will be Donald J. Trump.
When Donald Trump takes the oath today, he will also take responsibility for a longer list of national security problems than any recent president has had to face. He will soon discover that they do not yield easily to campaign slogans, tweets or verbal thunderbolts.
Dealing with these problems will require marshaling and coordinating diplomatic, military, intelligence and economic tools in dozens of agencies across the federal government. Watching this process through half a dozen U.S. administrations, I noticed what many other veterans have: Operating as we traditionally have, the U.S. has trouble dealing simultaneously and effectively with more than three or four of these problems at a time. Some would argue fewer.
Trump’s bombastic claims and ever-shifting narrative make it impossible to discern his real priorities. We can only hope that cool heads in his entourage will be asking what demands immediate concentrated attention and what can hold a bit?
President-elect Donald Trump’s national security transition has been more chaotic than others in recent memory, with important positions unfilled and many of his people less able, or willing, to engage on substance, U.S. officials said.
The uncertainties surrounding Trump’s personnel, policies, and rise to power have rattled many of America’s allies, including Japan, Germany and Britain, at a time when China is more assertive, Russia more aggressive, terrorism more diffuse, the Middle East still unstable and North Korea nuclear-armed and unpredictable, said U.S. and foreign diplomats.
Disruption and uncertainty can provide strategic advantages, Mark Lagon and Ross Harrison of Georgetown University wrote in Foreign Policy magazine. “But what is seriously in doubt is whether Trump’s disruption will be strategic or beneficial to U.S. foreign policy interests. Even before getting elected, he acted like a missile without a guidance system.”
Top Trump officials, however, described the transition as having gone smoothly, including on national security.
Decades ago, the CIA declassified a 26-page secret document cryptically titled, “clarifying statement to Fidel Castro concerning assassination.”
It was a step toward greater transparency for one of the most secretive of all federal agencies. But to find out what the document actually said, you had to trek to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland between the hours of 9 am and 4:30 pm and hope that one of only four computers designated by the CIA to access its archives would be available.
But today the CIA posted the Castro record on its website along with more than 12 million pages of the agency’s other declassified documents that have eluded the public, journalists, and historians for nearly two decades. You can view them here.
The title of the Castro document, as it turns out, was far more interesting than the contents. It includes a partial transcript of a 1977 transcript between Barbara Walters and Fidel Castro in which she asked the late Cuban dictator whether he had “proof” of the CIA’s last attempt to assassinate him. The transcript was sent to Admiral Stansfield Turner, the CIA Director at the time, by a public affairs official at the agency with a note highlighting all references to CIA.
But that’s just one of the millions documents, which date from the 1940s to 1990s, are wide-ranging, covering everything from Nazi war crimes to mind-control experiments to the role the CIA played in overthrowing governments in Chile and Iran. There are also secret documents about a telepathy and precognition program known as Star Gate, files the CIA kept on certain media publications, such as Mother Jones, photographs, more than 100,000 pages of internal intelligence bulletins, policy papers and memos written by former CIA directors.
[…] The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.
The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations.
And it contains some out-dated information that seems slapdash considering the attention focused on it. Errors in the report were almost inevitable, because of the haste in which it was prepared, said one U.S. official briefed on the report. The report comes in three levels—unclassified, classified and then one so top secret that only a handful of intelligence professionals was able to view the whole thing. That most classified report is the one that went to President Barack Obama, and to Trump. The merely classified version will be briefed to lawmakers in the coming days. The classification issues alone meant it was “hard to transmit around” to be fact-checked, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
After months of anticipation, speculation, and hand-wringing by politicians and journalists, American intelligence agencies have finally released a declassified version of a report on the part they believe Russia played in the US presidential election. On Friday, when the report appeared, the major newspapers came out with virtually identical headlines highlighting the agencies’ finding that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump win the presidency—a finding the agencies say they hold “with high confidence.”
A close reading of the report shows that it barely supports such a conclusion. Indeed, it barely supports any conclusion. There is not much to read: the declassified version is twenty-five pages, of which two are blank, four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report by the CIA’s Open Source division. There is even less to process: the report adds hardly anything to what we already knew. The strongest allegations—including about the nature of the DNC hacking—had already been spelled out in much greater detail in earlier media reports.
But the real problems come with the findings themselves.
Reports late Tuesday of Russia having “compromising” information on President-elect Donald Trump quickly escalated into a media frenzy on Wednesday, with the release of the full dossier making the allegations by Buzzfeed, which both fueled serious doubts about the veracity of the claims and a flurry of speculation surrounding some of sexual allegations therein.
The dossier makes several different claims, none of them substantiated beyond the claims of alleged and anonymous officials, accusing the Trump campaign of direct cooperation with Russia on the election, trading dirt on Hillary Clinton for intelligence somehow collected by the Trump team on Russian oligarchs living in the US, and providing leaked Clinton emails in return for Trump expressing doubt about US support for NATO.
The more salacious aspects of the report got the most attention, however, centering on claims that Russia had substantial dirt on Trump himself, not the least of which a 2013 video in which Trump putatively rented the presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, knowing that the Obamas had stayed there, explicitly to “defile” their bed.
[…] There is a real danger here that this maneuver can harshly backfire, to the great benefit of Trump and to the great detriment of those who want to oppose him. If any of the significant claims in this “dossier” turn out to be provably false — such as Cohen’s trip to Prague — many people will conclude, with Trump’s encouragement, that large media outlets (CNN and BuzzFeed) and anti-Trump factions inside the government (CIA) are deploying “Fake News” to destroy him. In the eyes of many people, that will forever discredit — render impotent — future journalistic exposés that are based on actual, corroborated wrongdoing.
Beyond that, the threat posed by submitting ourselves to the CIA and empowering it to reign supreme outside of the democratic process is — as Eisenhower warned — an even more severe danger. The threat of being ruled by unaccountable and unelected entities is self-evident and grave. That’s especially true when the entity behind which so many are rallying is one with a long and deliberate history of lying, propaganda, war crimes, torture, and the worst atrocities imaginable.
All of the claims about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and ties to Trump should be fully investigated by a credible body, and the evidence publicly disclosed to the fullest extent possible. As my colleague Sam Biddle argued last week after disclosure of the farcical intelligence community report on Russia hacking — one which even Putin’s foes mocked as a bad joke — the utter lack of evidence for these allegations means “we need an independent, resolute inquiry.” But until then, assertions that are unaccompanied by evidence and disseminated anonymously should be treated with the utmost skepticism — not lavished with convenience-driven gullibility.
Most important of all, the legitimate and effective tactics for opposing Trump are being utterly drowned by these irrational, desperate, ad hoc crusades that have no cogent strategy and make his opponents appear increasingly devoid of reason and gravity. Right now, Trump’s opponents are behaving as media critic Adam Johnson described: as ideological jelly fish, floating around aimlessly and lost, desperately latching on to whatever barge randomly passes by.
There are solutions to Trump. They involve reasoned strategizing and patient focus on issues people actually care about. Whatever those solutions are, venerating the intelligence community, begging for its intervention, and equating their dark and dirty assertions as Truth are most certainly not among them. Doing that cannot possibly achieve any good, and is already doing much harm.
Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who defected to the West in 1951, was struck by the ostentatiousness of American cultural programs: “You could smell big money from a mile away.” The era’s finest little magazines, titles like Partisan Review and The Paris Review, published enduring fiction, poetry, and essays. The writings of Clement Greenberg and Lionel Trilling set the high-water mark for art and literary criticism. Richard Wright wrote the mournful poem that would provide the title for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 best-seller, Between the World and Me. The artists who waged the radical political battles of the 1930s emerged in the 1950s as cultural institutions, achieving a prominence—even a celebrity—that has eluded subsequent generations.
Plenty of observers, however, suspected that the free market of ideas had been corrupted. World tours, fancy conferences, prestigious bylines and book contracts were bestowed on artists who hewed to political positions favored by the establishment, rather than on the most talented. In 1966, The New York Times confirmed suspicions that the CIA was pumping money into “civil society” organizations: unions, international organizations of students and women, groups of artists and intellectuals. The agency had produced the popular cartoon version of George Orwell’s anticommunist classic Animal Farmin 1954. It flew the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a European tour in 1952, to counter prejudices of the United States as uncultured and unsophisticated. It promoted the work of abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock because their artistic style would have been considered degenerate in both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The propriety of such largesse, both for the CIA and its beneficiaries, has been hotly debated ever since. Jason Epstein, the celebrated book editor, was quick to point out that CIA involvement undermined the very conditions for free thought, in which “doubts about established orthodoxies” were supposed to be “taken to be the beginning of all inquiry.” But Gloria Steinem, who worked with the CIA in the 1950s and ’60s, “was happy to find some liberals in government in those days,” arguing that the agency was “nonviolent and honorable.” Milosz, too, agreed that the “liberal conspiracy,” as he called it, “was necessary and justified.” It was, he allowed, “the sole counterweight to the propaganda on which the Soviets expended astronomical sums.”
Today’s intellectuals approach their labors in a very different set of circumstances. The struggle for academic patronage and the strained conditions of nearly all media properties have led to fewer jobs and fewer venues for substantial writing; the possibility of leading a public-facing life of the mind now seems vanishingly small, which only heightens nostalgia for the golden age of the 1950s. Yet the shadow of the CIA lurks behind the achievements of that time. The free play of ideas—the very thing that was supposed to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union in the first place—turned out to be, at least in part, a carefully constructed illusion. What if the prominence of midcentury intellectuals, the sense that they were engaged in important political and artistic projects, is inseparable from the fact that they were useful to America’s Cold War empire?
Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak to former CIA analyst John Nixon who interrogated Saddam Hussein after his capture 13 years ago. Nixon is the author of the new book, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, in which he reveals that much of what the CIA believed they knew about Saddam Hussein at the time of the invasion was wrong. During his interrogation, Hussein revealed that by 2003 he had largely turned over power to his aides so he could concentrate on writing a novel. There was no program of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was also deeply critical of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups inspired by Wahhabism. During the interrogation, Hussein also had a warning for the United States about Iraq. He said, “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq. You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.” Part Two of the interview with John Nixon can be found here. (Democracy Now!)