Barr the Door 17 October 2019.

By April 2019, the investigation into allegations of conspiracy between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russkies concluded with a sort-of “Scotch verdict.”  Depending on your point of view of course.  Soon, Attorney General William Barr ordered an investigation of the origins of the “Russia probe” that had been carried out by the FBI before and after Donald Trump was elected President.  Barr wondered if the FBI might have “abused its power” in the investigation.  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice already had launched an inquiry into the FISA warrants used to justify surveillance of Carter Page.  However, the IG could compel testimony and secure documents only within the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Barr’s new investigation, backed by a presidential order for all agencies and departments to co-operate and permitting Barr to declassify any documents that he thinks right, seemingly could touch on the State Department, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community.  Barr had asked US Attorney John Durham to carry out that investigation.

In early October 2019, Barr and Durham went to Rome.  The two wanted the cooperation of the Italian government in their investigation.  Why Italy?  It’s the operating base for Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who is suspected of having ties to the Russian intelligence service.  Mifsud had told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  Later, Mifsud eluded the FBI and then disappeared.  Where is he?  Will he talk?  Furthermore, in early July 2019, Christopher Steele met with an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  They had known each other from having participated in investigations of Central Asian-Russian organized Crime.  Steele shared his early concerns with the agent, who reported them to Victoria Nuland at the State Department.  It might be useful to sort out the details not covered by the documents and e-mails.

In addition, the two hoped to get help from the governments of Britain and Australia.[1]

They are interested in Australia because Papadopoulos told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain and his assistant, that he had learned that the Russian had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during a meeting in May 2016.  Durham may want to know exactly when the Australians communicated this knowledge to the Americans.  Did they share the knowledge immediately, by mid-May, with the FBI or the CIA?  Did they share it in mid-June after the Russian hack of the computer server of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s secret server became public knowledge?  Did they wait until mid-July, as the timeline of the FBI seems to suggest?  If they waited, why did they wait?  It was interesting news.

They may be interested in Britain because of the potential involvement of the British intelligence services, both MI-5 (domestic) and MI-6 (the foreign Secret Intelligence Service).  Christopher Steele had been a senior member of MI-6.  Now he runs a private “intelligence” organization out of London.  Can that business thrive if the intelligence “community” doubts you?  So, what—purely out of self-defense—did Steele tell the British s well as various Americans?  Did British agencies share that information with their American “cousins”?

It is important here to not confuse William Barr with Rudolph Giuliani.  Nor—so far–do the subject areas of their investigations overlap.  Will Barr’s investigation survive?

[1] “Barr hunts for signs of a plot to undermine Trump,” The Week, 11 October 2019, p. 5.

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The Kurdish Crisis-of-the-Moment 16 October 2019.

The Kurdish crisis requires some explanation. First, the idea of Nationalism[1] began in Western Europe, then spread to other areas, slowly.  Eventually it reached the Middle East during the last stage of the Ottoman Empire. It penetrated the Greeks of Ionia, the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Arabs.

Just as the body’s immune system generates resistance to dangers, so did Nationalism among the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire generate Nationalism among the Turks. Horrific things followed. In brief compass, the Ottoman Turks drove out the Armenians during the First World War, and the revolutionary Turkish Republic slaughtered large numbers of Greek Christians. Regardless of whether these were acts of “genocide,” a ton of Greeks and Armenians died as a result of Turkish government action. (Certainly, lots of Greek soldiers deserved to die for their actions in Turkey, but most of them got away to ships for home, while the civilian population was abandoned to the revenge-minded Turks.[2])  However, many Kurds remained within the boundaries of modern Turkey.

Second, when the George W. Bush administration decided to attack Iraq in 2003 for no good reason, one effect was to fracture the country into its component parts.  A Shi’a Arab majority in the east opposed a Sunni Arab minority in the west and the Kurds in the northern part of the country. Us liking it or not, the Iraqi Kurds saw their self-governing territory as the core of a united Kurdistan. The projected Kurdistan would include Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, and even Iranian Kurdistan. So, Kurdistan has many enemies and few friends.  OTOH, “neither are they afflicted by the disease of indecision.”[3]

Third, when ISIS attacked out of eastern Syria and over-ran much of Iraq, the armies of Iraq and Syria were rotted by corruption and civil war. The US faced a choice: leave it to Turkey, Iran, and–needs be–Israel to solve the ISIS problem OR thrust ourselves back into regional affairs. The Obama administration chose a partial re-engagement.  Send Special Forces troops as trainers and target-spotters and send US air power. The real heavy lifting would be done by an “Arab” army of mostly Kurds, with an icing-on-the-cake of “moderate” Arabs.

Fourth, basically this worked OK.  Not perfect, but OK. Now we’re faced with the question of how to get out of the “Forever War.” What do we owe to the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own nationalist interests? What do we owe to Turkey, a NATO ally with a large and restive Kurdish population? What do we owe to ourselves, to our self-image?  “You dance with the girl you brung,” my Dad always said.[4]

Fifth, Russia gets Syria? So what? The place is a ruin. The Russians already have alliances with Iran, the Shi’ites in Iraq, and the Alewites of Syria.  All formed under the Obama Administration. Turkey has already bolted on NATO. Much of that seems to be on the watch of the Obama administration. Focus on the essentials of American interests: oil from Saudi Arabia; and–more importantly–the Far East.

[1] I’ll leave aside all the BS that has been talked about of late about Patriotism as “the love of one’s own country” versus Nationalism as “the hatred of other countries.”

[2] See: Smyrna.

[3] See: “”In Harm’s Way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXzNQHNsQHk

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBplbfXgSY

Vaccination 16 October 2019.

Some diseases can be transmitted from one person to another person or from other sources to humans.  These “transmissible” diseases include HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, pertussis/whooping cough, syphilis,[1] Hepatitis B, pneumonia, influenza, a host of tropical diseases, and smallpox,  .

Fortunately, the human body has a defense system called the immune system.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always strong enough to resist diseases, especially “new” diseases that a community has not encountered before.  The body has to develop immunities over time.  For thousands of years, people have known that people who have been sick with a disease and survived, then don’t catch it again in the future.  They are immune.

Sometime between 900 and 1000 AD, a Chinese doctor wondered if giving somebody a very mild case of an infectious disease could make them immune to the more severe version.  Basically, make a small cut, pour in some infected material,[2] bandage up the cut, and wait for the patient to get not-as-sick.  Over time, this important knowledge migrated westward from China to India to the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

From 1716 to 1718, Sir Edward Wortley-Montagu (1678-1761)—a very rich British aristocrat—served as ambassador in the Ottoman Empire.  He took along his wife, Lady Mary Wortley-Montague.  She was beautiful, intelligent, and very independent minded.  Her younger brother had died of smallpox and she had lived through a case herself.  When she accompanied her husband to Istanbul, her inquiring mind vacuumed-up information.  One thing she picked up was that the Turks had a method for preventing full-blown smallpox.  She had it applied to their young son.  Back in England, she became a strong advocate for this method, called inoculation.

It didn’t catch on entirely because the risk of developing full-blown smallpox.  Then, in 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner tried inoculating a patient with the related, but far less dangerous, disease called cowpox.  This worked very well without running any grave risks.  The Latin word for cow is “vacca,” so Jenner’s method came to be called “vaccination.”

In the 20th Century, the American medical researcher, Dr. Maurice Hilleman (1919-2005) discovered vaccines for forty diseases.[3]  He saved more lives than any medical researcher in the Twentieth Century.  For much of his career, he worked for Merck in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Since 1945, the World Health Organization of the United Nations has sponsored vaccination programs around the world.  Especially in the “developing world” these efforts have massively reduced childhood deaths.  In 1990, there were 93 deaths per 1000 live births; in 2017, there were 39 deaths per 1000 live births.  If you don’t want to do the math yourself, this is 1 in 11 children dying before reaching age 5 in 1990; versus 1 in 26 children dying before reaching age 5 in 2017.  Anyway you cut it, this is a great story of human progress.[4]  Not that it will appear on the nightly news.

[1] When my Dad was in the Army, guys with syphilis used to say that they must have caught the disease in a bathroom.  Doctors often asked “Wasn’t the tile floor cold?”

[2] The powdered scab of smallpox patients, for example.  I never said it would be pretty.

[3] Including those for measles, mumps, chickenpox, influenza, pneumonia, meningitis, and Hepatitis A and B.

[4] See: “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.”

Apophenia 6 October 2019.

The German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad (1905-1961) studied the development of schizophrenia.  In a 1958 book he defined an early stage of schizophrenia as “apophenia.”  Conrad explained that apophenia consisted of the “unmotivated seeing of connections [accompanied by] a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness.”[1]  What follows is an attempt to illustrate this idea by reference to a contemporary political controversy.

 

The “Steele Dossier” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2016.   The “Whistleblower Complaint” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2019.

The author of the “Steele Dossier” reportedly was Christopher Steele, a highly-regarded former British intelligence officer.  The author of the “Whistleblower Complaint is believed to be a highly-regarded Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The basis of the “Steele Dossier” was unverified hear-say.  The basis of the “Whistleblower Complaint” was largely then-unverified hearsay.

The “Steele Dossier” was first communicated to a consulting firm in the employ of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and to an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  Then, when the information did not reach the public or result in an official investigation, it was shared with journalists.  The “Whistleblower Complaint” was first communicated to a government “tip-line” and resulted in a formal complaint.  Then, when the information did not result in an official investigation, it was shared with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The “Steele Dossier” alleged—among other things–that: 1) that Trump presidential campaign officials conspired with the Russians; 2) that Carter Page played a key role in this conspiracy; 3) that Paul Manafort directed the conspiracy; 4) that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had met secretly with Russian representatives in Prague.

“The Whistleblower Complaint” alleged—among other things–that: 1) Trump tried to extort the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden; 2) Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, played a key role in this conspiracy; 4) US Attorney John Durham may be investigating Ukrainian leads as part of his probe of the origins of the Russia-Trump investigation.

It is useful to recall the context for both cases.  In the case of the “Steele Dossier,” Russians had intervened in the 2016 US presidential election, not least by releasing secret information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton.  The Australian government informed American officials that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told one of their diplomats that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  President Trump has doubted/denied the reports of American intelligence agencies about Russian interference and took umbrage at the investigation of alleged conspiracy between his campaign and the Russians.

In the case of the “Whistleblower Complaint,” 1) Ukraine suffers from endemic corruption.  During the Obama Administration, Vice President Joe Biden led an effort to pressure the government of Ukraine to shape up.  2) Information on the dealings in Ukraine of Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, provided some of the basis for Manafort’s indictment.  3) In 2014 Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company run by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.  Once Vice President Joe Biden took charge of trying to damp-down Ukrainian corruption, Hunter Biden’s position created an apparent conflict-of-interest that was acknowledged by the New York Times.  4) In Spring 2019, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko began alleging “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election by Ukrainians working against Trump.  Other officials have denied these allegations.

 

It is impossible at this point to predict the final outcomes of the two cases.  The case of the “Steele Dossier” is not yet concluded.

1) In March 2019: Special Counsel Robert Mueller “did not establish” that a Trump-Russia conspiracy had existed.  2) The Special Counsel did not charge former Trump campaign official Carter Page with any crime.  The Special Counsel stated that Michael Cohen never visited Prague.  Paul Manafort was convicted of financial crimes committed before 2016 and for obstruction of justice committed during the investigation of those crimes.  He was not charged with conspiring with the Russians.  3) The Department of Justice Inspector General has been investigating allegations of Federal Bureau of Investigation misconduct in FISA warrant applications to surveil former Trump campaign official Page.  This investigation included a July 2019 extended interview with Steele.  By mid-September 2019, a draft report on the FISA warrants was circulating inside the Department of Justice and the FBI.   4) In late April 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.

The case of the “Whistleblower Complaint” is just beginning.

1) After the Mueller Report, Democratic efforts to impeach Trump had languished, with House majority leader Nancy Pelosi paying more attention to public opinion polls and the situation of the moderate new members of the House than to the left wing of the party.  2) The “Whistleblower Complaint” shifted the balance of forces.  House of Representatives Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry.  3) Attorney General Barr has denied being asked to contact Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Giuliani with regard to Ukraine, and knowing about the Trump phone call until several weeks later, possibly as a result of the whistleblower’s complaint.  4) In late September 2019, John Durham was reported to be investigating how the incriminating information on Manafort reached the FBI from Ukraine.

There is a lot of scope for apophenia in these events.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia.  I first encountered the term in William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003), a sort-of science fiction novel set in what John LeCarre called “the recent future.”