Spy stuff

Seems to me that if you had to pick one source for all that scary CIA hacking technology dumped on Wikileaks today, it would be the FSB. They had it, made use of it, and are now dumping it on the world through their useful idiot Assange. That is my guess. How they got it, who knows, but I imagine the vast reams of intelligence they got from Edward Snowden could have easily contained the keys (or at least a key) to it all. Snowden had no idea what he had in there. Or maybe he did. But I don’t think he did, for the most part. He’s always struck me as kind of an idiot, spy-wise. A low level functionary with sticky fingers and few scruples about where he stuck them. His real or feigned ignorance alone gives him an air of innocence in some circles, of martyrdom. Abraham, Martin and Ed. Many of us keep treating him and others in this biz like martyrs, like saints for the greater good. But they’re spies. And spies turn. Snowden did. Putin didn’t take him in out of the goodness of his stone cold heart. Snowden was one of the great intelligence assets of our time, the moral equivalent of one of those doofus hedge fund guys who wears a wire in return for immunity when the SEC comes knocking. But he’s no martyr. Martyrs don’t live in nice Moscow apartments with everything paid for by a foreign intelligence service. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily gave the Russians the means to get into this technology. He might have helped, perhaps unintentionally. Then again, it might not have been Snowden at all, but someone within our own vast intelligence community, perhaps not even American. Perhaps an ally. Or a well placed FSB agent. A well placed double agent. Or triple agent. Or agents, a whole network of them skulking about when no one is looking in the classic FSB/KGB/NKVD/Smersh/Cheka and all the way back to the Czarist Okhrana style. Russian intelligence methods go deep into the 19th century if not earlier, back when our own incompetent spymaster Pinkerton was telling Lincoln that Robert E Lee had a million confederate soldiers just across the Potomac. Unlike gullible Americans, Russians seem to have an instinct for this sort of work. They reel in the vulnerable, the contractors with a taste for cocaine and Russian blondes, the addled ideologue, the embittered fuck ups, or any combination thereof. How we can seem so startled by this I do not know, as if none of us ever heard of how Stalin got the plans for the atomic bomb, and then the hydrogen bomb. Stalin put Beria in charge of the whole operation. Beria wove an elaborate web of Russian agents and  Americans and a seemingly unlimited number of upper class English communists who were utterly taken with the glory of Stalin. They used Canadians (there’s an interesting contemporaneous movie, the title of which escapes me, about that part of their operation). They used American scientists deep in debt. They thoroughly infiltrated our most confidential secrets and places and people and before you know it had themselves a nuclear arsenal. These are facts, Mr. Marlowe, historical facts. Not schoolboy history, not Mr. Stone’s history, but history nonetheless.

So I find it odd how in news analyses I heard today–one on the BBC, no less–the notion that maybe Russian intelligence sprung this was never even mentioned, as if it had never occurred to them that Russians have an incredibly effective intelligence service with a long history of doing just this sort of thing. I listened in disbelief as people rattled off all the possibilities without ever mentioning the fact that it was highly possible that this was another well played FSB operation, even as we are investigating the FSB’s well played  infiltration of our own presidential election. Like we cannot connect the FSB’s capability to do both. There’s a Russian concept, maskirovka, which badly translates as military deception, though it goes far beyond that. It is basically the ability to carry out vast plans without the one being planned against having an inkling what is going on. The Russians inflicted devastating defeats on the German army that way in 1941, 1942, and 1944, defeats that put together essentially lost Hitler the war. Their military academies taught the idea to the Chinese who caught MacArthur flat footed on the Yalu in 1951 and nearly destroyed him. Their academies taught it to the North Vietnamese who launched huge offensives in 1968, 1972 and 1975 that caught the Americans and our South Viet Namese allies by surprise and had us, in the end, fleeing from embassy rooftops in helicopters. They even taught it to the Egyptians who nearly beat the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War using it. People talk about the lightning war concept of the Blitzkrieg, but you’d be hard pressed to find another more succesful strategem than maskirovka. And the odds that anyone reading this has ever even heard the term before are close to nil. I only stumbled upon it myself in a footnote.

It seems to me that the same principle is applied to Russian intelligence operations with just as devastating results. I have no idea if they  call it maskirovka, but in practice the strategy is the same, and the results just as complete. They got the plans for our nuclear program, twice. More recently, they messed with our election and got Trump elected. They probably engineered the whole Snowden defection, perhaps the greatest intelligence coup of all time.  And I would be flabbergasted if they were not behind this latest CIA humiliation, all our creepy secret monitoring techniques–using TVs, iPhones, cars, whatever–dumped onto the internet in front of God and China and ISIS and everybody. There was massive deception involved, it was probably the Russians, yet we seem clueless as to actually who was behind it. Even the BBC never mentioned the possibility it was the Russian’s hand, even though never has there been another county with a history of well bred treason like the fraffly wicked spies of Great Britain. Everything about this operation could have been the work of Russian intelligence. We stare right at them and don’t see it. Maskirovka. The Russians massed two million soldiers, six thousand tanks, thirty thousand cannon and eight thousand aircraft right in front of the Germans in 1944 at the height of summer and the Germans never noticed. The Germans never saw anything, or heard anything, or suspected anything till the day the Russian army came blasting though, unstoppable. Getting hold of our surveillance technology must have been a breeze, like stealing candy from a baby.

Maybe you have to be old enough to remember the Cold War to be so suspicious of Russian spies. Maybe you have to remember just who the bad guys were in those early James Bonds. Or remember Kim Philby or Julius Rosenberg, or the unparalleled Richard Sorge, the greatest Russian spy of them all. Sorge, indeed, was probably the greatest spy of all time, the one who, all by himself, might have changed the course of World War Two. There has never been a spy from any other country’s intelligence services that came anywhere near that level of effectiveness. But if reporters and pundits don’t know that history, some of it fairly recent, they’ll never understand what is happening now. They won’t find the answers scrolling their Twitter feeds. To quote Chicolini, this is spy stuff.

A mere piece of paper

My right to speak, worship and defend myself do not come from a piece of paper, as glorious as the Bill of Rights is.
They come from God.

— Kurt Schlichter on Twitter (@KurtSchlichter) March 6, 2017

We’ve got ourselves a genuine constitutional crisis when Trump supporters begin thinking of the Bill of Rights as a mere piece of paper. “Natural rights”, as they call them, trumps the constitution every time, or at least the amendments to. Kirk Schlichter is a senior columnist at Townhall.com and a Trump true believer, every word as gospel. He doesn’t seem the least bit religious in his daily deluge of tweets. Instead it seems an excuse to dispense with constitutional niceties when they conflict with Donald Trump. He’d disagree, I’m sure, quite colorfully, but that must be the impression that all but the true believers get from him. And as the Trump administration descends into chaos, Schlichter’s tweets have taken on a ferocious, humorless intensity, very militant, often offensive, jibing with Breitbart and hinting at the increasingly crazed talk of civil war you see on InfoWars. He’s an impressive writer for what he’s doing, taut and angry, with nearly a hundred thousand followers, old friends of mine among them. He’s a masterful propagandist on Twitter, and Twitter is the social media battlefield now. Trump made it so, and battle lines surge back and forth angrier and angrier by the day, by the hour, in huge numbers. Schlichter is in the thick of it, hurling himself into the breach like John Bell Hood at Antietam, matching every thrust with a counter thrust, every insult with a sharper insult, every attack on Trump with an attack on Obama or Hillary or the press or Sweden or anybody. Just keep attacking. It’s impressive.

But look at the war of words over the long term. This political struggle is turning into a generational battle, Baby Boomers vs Millennials, with GenXers in between. The Boomers have another ten years of dominance in Red States and red counties before age and disease start thinning their ranks. You can do extraordinary damage in a decade. Schlichter and a zillion other Schlichters could be complete Bannon acolytes by then. All those old fashioned Tea Party principles gone the way of Barry Goldwater, replaced with this scary new economic nationalism. Imagine the battle lines then, long since hardened into trenches and barbed wire. A lot can happen in ten years. The country descended from peace into fanaticism and war in the ten year span from 1850 to 1860. You couldn’t have seen 1860 coming in 1850, and could scarcely have remembered 1850 in 1860. And all they had then was telegraphs. But telegraphy had shortened the news cycle from weeks to a couple days in that ten year span. The sheer velocity of news upped the intensity to crackling levels and the killing began. John Brown launched his raid because he knew that telegraphy gave him the possibility of starting a revolution overnight. He didn’t. But he certainly rushed the southern states headlong into secession.

So do I see a civil war happening again? No, I adamantly do not. It’s a comparison you hear more and more, however, and will hear even more so as the politics gets fiercer. But the differences in 1860 were much more stark, two civilizations existing under one constitution, each hating the other. We are nowhere near that now. We never will be. That was decided for us way back in 1865. Nor will we have revolution, that possibility ended with the election of FDR back in 1932. Besides, as Trump’s boomers fade from the scene everything will mellow out nicely. This is a scarily intense interregnum, the most conservative generation since the 1920’s–the baby boomers–wielding their maximum ballot box power just as their economic security plunges to an all time low. Thus the stark differences that have sundered the county now, these two huge camps of Americans who can’t agree on almost anything, even besmirching the Super Bowl with crazy political talk, and people talking idiotically of guns and revolution and civil war. All the time technology changes the news in minutes. Our never ending, never even slowing down news cycle, frantic as the electrons its made from, gushing with updates and breaking stories arriving by the second. The potential for vast and sudden change seems in there. It’s a perfect medium for extremism. I read David Duke’s vicious screes supporting Trump and hating Jews and realize that thirty three thousand people see those every time he pushes the enter button. For a second I get nearly metaphysical, wondering what all this means.

Well, it mean this is going to be a helluva fight, for one thing, and that 2018 is all important. So vote. If you love your Bill of Rights and constitution, you must vote. Resisting is all well and good, but voting wins.

Kurt Schlichter

Kurt Schlichter with what looks like a damn fine cigar.

Left and Right versus the press

It wasn’t so long ago that Bernie Sanders supporters hated the press, and Bernie held events that the press was barred from. Much of Bernie’s own stump speech railed against the media. He wanted reform. His first big event after conceding a discussion of how to change the nature of mass media in America. He said instead of a media like we have now–which he insisted was entirely corporate, all of it–we need to have a network run by the Democratic Party to promote a progressive agenda. He wanted a progressive Fox News. Trump wanted, and got, Breitbart. Both Bernie and Trump ran against the media. It’s just that Trump was elected. What you are seeing now is what happens when a campaign that ran on an anti-media platform wins the presidency. The antipathy toward the press in America is equally strong on both ends of the political spectrum. Most people prefer to read or hear only what they agree with, a tendency that has been reinforced by Facebook, where people do not like to see opinions they don’t agree with. Probably at least half the population of the U.S., perhaps a lot more, would support some sort of restrictions on the freedom of the press in this country. It’s just that since Trump is the one in the White House, progressives suddenly love the independent press again. But that creepy totalitarian streak when it comes to the news is not far beneath the American surface, and should another progressive candidate with so little regard for a free media come along like Bernie Sanders (left over from his hard left days, where Marxists cannot abide a free press), then you could have both Democrats and Republicans running against the media, and our tradition of a free press could be in serious jeopardy. Of course, that is a tradition that neither Trump and the alt-right nor most Progressives are particularly attached to.

I think when it comes to Donald Trump on the media, the progressives of America are looking at a hideous, distorted funhouse mirror reflection of their own attitudes toward the media and the First Amendment not too long ago.

first_amendment2_featured-624x382

What did the president know and when did he know it?

The reporting in the Washington Post makes clear that both Trump AND Pence have been aware that Flynn had been compromised by Russian intelligence, and have been aware for some time. We are not sure now how all the investigating into this will go. The press will be focusing on this with extraordinary intensity and with a White House that leaks like no other….and will now begin gushing like the Oroville Dam. Congressional investigations are inevitable. A special prosecutor seems at some point to be likely. And the FBI and CIA and several other agencies have been investigating as well, indeed, Flynn’s resignation seems to be the result of those investigations. And should both Trump and Pence be found to have been party to a conspiracy to hide the fact that Flynn had been potentially turned by Putin, then both Trump and Pence could be forced to resign. None of this is likely, but it is well within the realm of the possible without resorting to paranoid conspiracy thinking. In which case, unless Pence were to go first and a replacement chosen by Trump before Trump resigned, Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, will be president. People are no doubt talking to Ryan about this right now, telling him he has to be ready because there is an outside chance that he will constitutionally required to take the path of president. And that is how weird this is getting, and getting there so fast. Because we simply do not know. How much did the president know, I have heard asked several times on television tonight, and when did he know it. If you are old enough to remember the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker’s double question to John Dean will send chills down your spine. It seems so impossibly unlikely that any of this could happen, but then Watergate began as an odd little burglary, and this seems to be so much more.

Stephen Miller

Apparently the only reason Trump lost in Nevada was that the entire population of California, every one of them an illegal alien, pulled up in old people buses to gamble and bingo and drink and vote for Hillary. They then took way too long picking out what to eat at the buffet before piling back on the bus back to Cathedral City. You can talk to anybody, they will tell you.

They also took all the ashtrays.

stephen-miller

White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, really, just ask anybody.

 

Sorry people, but 2018 will likely not be a very good year for Democrats.

I can tell you all right now that unless there is an economic disaster and medical insurance catastrophe, 2018 might not be a very good year for Democrats. We are highly unlikely to win the Senate–indeed, we are likely to wind up with fewer Democratic senators than we have now–and the House might be a wash, maybe a few more Democrats or a few more Republicans, but we will not take the House. We might well expand our governorships, and maybe regain some of the legislative seats we lost last year (I believe we lost a thousand seats across the fifty states, an absolute calamity that few Democratic voters are even aware of). Perhaps if some vast and horrible scandal overtakes Trump then things could be different. Barring that, given how Trump’s supporters are spread across lots and lots of rural and small town America while Democrats are crammed into urban and suburban districts mostly on the coasts, there will be more districts with a Trump majority than with anti-Trump majorities. Rural voters are over represented as rural districts have smaller average populations than urban districts. And of course as far as the Senate goes, small states have the same number of seats as big states. So we will at best chip away at the GOP majority in the House, but in the Senate, 2018 is the year of the rural voter. And as Millennials move to where the jobs are, in the big city megalopolises found mostly along the coasts, the average age in these rural parts keeps aging, and older voters–us baby boomers–just adore Donald Trump. Only a third of the senate is up for grabs, but alas most of the states in 2018 are in those aging rural and small town states where Trump did really well. That’s just the way it rolls. This mess is unlikely to end until 2020, provided we don’t mess that up again. It might not end until 2024, by which time a whole lot of baby boomers will have died off and Millennials will be hitting that age when people finally start to vote regularly. Some candidate who probably none of us have heard of now and is thoroughly progressive will win that year, and our long national nightmare will be over. I’ll be 67.

The source of Trump’s power

I think many of us–maybe most of us–have forgotten that Betsy Devos’ purpose is to essentially shut down the Dept of Education. She wasn’t brought in to run the place but to dismantle it; not to support public education but to begin its replacement by private education. And she could be very good at this sort of thing. It would be like putting a hardcore pacifist–Father Philip Berrigan, say–in charge of the Defense Department. The goal would be to reduce the department and its policies to the lowest, least intrusive level possible. You have to understand that. That’s why, to her partisans, all the objections to her lack of expertise were completely irrelevant. Because hopefully there will not be much of a department left to run anyway.

The same thing with the head of the EPA. And HHS. They don’t need to know how to maintain, all they need to do is tear down. This is revolution. It’s not reaction. It’s revolution. We are the counter-revolution. This is as deep and fundamental a struggle as there has been in this country, as profound as the change brought about by the Reagan Revolution and the New Deal. The thing was, both FDR and Reagan swept the electorate and Congress in mighty waves. Trump won with three million fewer votes than the loser, and holds a small lead in Congress. His power now is based almost completely on the terror among establishment Republicans of the hold that Trump has on his base. And that base includes most–perhaps two thirds or more–of the Republican party. That is, when Republicans face their primary voters, they will be looking at almost all hardcore Trump supporters. And if Republicans in the House turn against Trump, it is assumed that they will be swept away in the primary by rabidly pro-Trump voters who throw all their support to a pro-Trump challenger who will be backed to the hilt by a vengeful Donald Trump.

Just about every single Republican member of the House faces this problem. Only a third of the Senate does (only a third of the Senate’s six year terms are up for election every two years), though all but one of the eight GOP Senate seats coming up in 2018 are in states that Trump won strongly (Nevada being the exception.) It is this, and only this, that keeps the entirety of the House GOP and all but a few of the Senate GOP licking Trump’s boots every day, no matter what he says. And it is this, and only this, that is Trump’s source of political power right now. But as long as Trump holds the GOP in congress by the short hairs like this, just about every outrageous cabinet pick and every executive order and every crazy tweet and every idiotic foreign policy stumble will be supported by this Republican Congress. And unless Trump’s base cracks–and there’s nothing saying even blatantly treasonous revelations about he and Putin could shake their frightening devotion–Trump will still maintain this hold on his party. This is why he seems to play to his base only. His devoted followers represent maybe a third of the electorate, but they are eighty or ninety per cent of those who vote in Republican primaries. And that is all Trump needs to carry out his revolution. Successful revolutionaries are rarely popular with everybody. But they know who in power to shoot to get their way. Of course, unlike Steve Bannon’s role model Lenin, Trump can’t actually execute anyone. But he can tweet with deadly accuracy. The first Republican congressman who gets out of line will find that out.