The New Russia Investigation 1 31 May 2019.

So, I am puzzled.  First, when did the Trump investigation begin?

In mid-March 2016, George Papadopoulos visited Rome, where he met Joseph Mifsud.

On 21 March 2016, the Trump Campaign announced that Georges Papadopoulos and Carter Page had joined the campaign as foreign policy advisers.  Richard Haas not having joined.

On 24 March 2016, Papadopoulos met Joseph Mifsud and a woman Mifsud introduced as “Putin’s niece” in London.   She was, in fact, Olga Polonskaya.

On 12 April 2016, Papadopoulos again met Mifsud in London.

On 25 or 26 April 2016, Mifsud again met Papadopoulos in London.  Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of e-mails relating to Hillary Clinton.  “This occurred after public knowledge that Clinton had deleted thousands of her emails, but before there was public knowledge of the hack of Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta‘s emails.”[1]  NB: So, the most reasonable thing to conclude would have been that the Russians had hacked into Clinton’s private server while she was Secretary of State.

In late April 2016, the DNC began to suspect that its computers had been hacked.  The DNC informed the FBI and hired a private firm to investigate.

Papadopoulos knew an Israeli diplomat in London named Christian Cantor.  Cantor’s girl-friend (now fiancé) is Erika Thompson, then a political counselor at the Australian High Commission.  Thompson told High Commissioner (ambassador) Alexander Downer that he should meet Papadopoulos.

On 10 May 2016, over one or two gin-and-tonics, Papadopoulos told Downer that the Russians had damaging information about Hillary Clinton and might release it to harm her chances in the election.

[What Papadopoulos told Downer and Thompson] “was all good intel, relayed back to Australia in a cable written by Thompson.  But it was what Papadopoulos had said about Russia, also detailed in the cable, that proved critical.  He said the Russians might use some damaging material they had on Hillary Clinton, who was still some weeks from becoming the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.”[2]  “But the cable came back to Canberra about an aide to Trump saying the Russians had some dirt on Hillary Clinton and were prepared to use it.”[3]

According to Downer, “There was no suggestion — [neither] from Papadopoulos nor in the record of the meeting that we sent back to Canberra — there was no suggestion that there was collusion between Donald Trump or Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians.”[4]  Moreover, neither Papadopoulos nor Downer remember any mention of e-mails in the discussion. Just “damaging information.”  That could be many things.

“The Americans weren’t informed immediately about what Papadopoulos had said to Downer, but when it became known that the FBI suspected a Russian hack of Clinton emails, the information was shared with the Five Eyes intelligence partner.”[5]

This is ambiguous.  Is there a way to nail down the approximate/exact date when the Australians did share the information?  The Russian hack of the DNC was known by 14 June 2016—not in late July 2016, when the FBI formally opened an investigation.

Also, is there a difference between formally and informally sharing?  Did Downer share the information with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Australia, but withhold the information from his own Senior Advisor—Intelligence in the High Commission?  If so, on what basis?

If Downer did share with the Senior Advisor, then did the Senior Advisor pass the information along to the CIA station-chief in London?  If not, why not?  This was a significant Russian attack on American democracy.

Did Erika Thompson share what she had heard with Christian Cantor?  If she did, then did Cantor share this with his own ambassador and his ambassador with his government?

If either the CIA or Israel did learn of what Papadopoulos had said in early May 2016, would they have acted on that knowledge once the Russian hack became public in mid-June 2016?  Would they have acted on it as soon as they discovered it?

Then, when Downer reported to Canberra, the DNC hack was not yet known.  Yet in his subsequent interview Downer refers to e-mails.

On 14 June 2016, the DNC announced that its computers had been hacked by the Russians.  And, what, the CIA and the NSA stood around with their hands in their pockets for the next six weeks?

Still, a pause ensued from mid-June to late July 2016.  What was happening during this period?

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks began publishing many of the stolen documents.

On 26 July 2016, the Australian government formally notified the United States of the report by Downer about Papadopoulos.

On 27 July 2016, Trump publically called for the Russians to release the 30,000 deleted e-mails from the Clinton computer.  So, he’d heard something about Papadopoulos’s claims?

On 31 July 2016, the FBI formally opened “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  FBI counter-intelligence officer Peter Strzok led the investigation and later served for a time on the staff of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In either late July or mid-August 2016, CIA Director John Brennan provided the FBI with “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.”  According to Brennan, these leads “served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred.”[6]  NB: So the CIA had been investigating since when?  In what ways?  It was me, I’d spike Mifsud’s internet.  Come to that, I’d spike the on-line stuff of Thompson and Cantor.  Wouldn’t need a warrant for that.  They’re all foreign, same as that Radical-Lutheran Merkel.

From 31 July to 2 August 2016, FBI agents interviewed both Downer and Thompson in London.  From this point on, the Christian Cantor connection probably would have been known.  “Burned,” as John Le Carre says.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Papadopoulos#Involvement_in_Donald_Trump’s_presidential_campaign

[2] Since this was before the convention that nominated Secretary Clinton, it is fair to ask if they were trying to help Trump or help Senator Bernie Sanders.

[3] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868  ABC = Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[4] See: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/ex-australian-diplomat-explains-why-he-turned-papadapoulos-info-over-to-fbi/  For the somewhat different account of the NYT, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/us/politics/how-fbi-russia-investigation-began-george-papadopoulos.html

[5] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossfire_Hurricane_(FBI_investigation)  Was the August instance additional information or is it a simple error in the article?

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The Deep State Strikes Back.

In a classic essay, George Orwell warned of the distortions of language that come with politicization.[1]  To the rage of their opponents, President Donald Trump or some of his followers have appropriated the terms “fake news” and “deep state” as charges hurled at those opponents.  The term “fake news” began to circulate late in the presidential campaign to describe the largely anti-Hillary Clinton rumors produced by many web-sites in Eastern Europe.  Now Trump slings the term around to answer media criticism.  In his view, the heavy reliance upon anonymous sources by the New York Times[2] means that editors assign reporters to write stories that conform to the paper’s ideological position and to claim that anonymous sources provided the “facts” cited in the stories.   The term “deep state” is a Western academic term[3] itself appropriated from popular usage in Middle Eastern countries.[4]

The current ugly controversy high-lights the reality that civil servants and scholars are not apolitical technical experts serving merely as instruments of a democratic government.  They have policy agendas of their own.  These can reflect belief, settled tradition, or bureaucratic interest.[5]   President Trump is the preferred candidate neither of the Democrats, nor of mainstream Republicans.  These are the groups from which most public servants are recruited.  President Trump’s clownish personal behavior[6] and lack of preparation make him widely disliked in the bureaucracy.  That animus extends to his more outlandish cabinet appointments.

President Trump’s criticism of federal agencies and his lack of a tame clientele with which to fill administrative positions “has put institutions under enormous stress.”  This, in turn, “has forced civil servants into an impossible dilemma.”  They can either defend their institutions against his assault or they can surrender to his demands to do things in a new way.   Either course will weaken the credibility of the institutions they represent.   So far, Trump has lashed out at the courts, the intelligence community, and the mainstream media (MSM).  The current “tribal” polarization of American politics shrinks the role for reason on both sides, regardless of which side has the “facts” on its side.[7]

Critics argue that Trump could be much more effective by working through the bureaucracy and with the press, rather than attacking these institutions.  He should, in short, accept the existence of the “fourth branch” of government.  In this view, the bureaucracy and the press operate as important checks on presidential power, hence as guarantees of American democracy.  The development of a powerful bureaucracy with policy positions of its own is one of the issues not much discussed in the Federalist papers.  Its power has only grown as partisan gridlock in the legislature has led presidents to act through executive branch writing of rules and regulations.  This seems to be what Steve Bannon has in mind when he calls for the dismantling of the “administrative state.”  In this sense, the criticism of Trump’s actions misses a point.

[1] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

[2] See: https://www.google.com/search?q=New+York+Times+public+editor+on+anonymous+sources&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8  Much of the concern has come from a series of a Public Editors.  On the origins of the Public Editors, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howell_Raines

[3] Academia leans left in the same way that professional military officer corps lean right.

[4] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/03/10/the-deep-state/  The term is now being re-appropriated by Trump foes.

[5] Most scientists believe in androgenic climate change and believe government should act to counter it.  Most military officers believe that the military needs bigger budgets and more generals and admirals.

[6] It should be remembered that most young children don’t like clowns.  They find them frightening and offensive.

[7] That is, Democrats would believe the charges even if they weren’t true.

The Deep State.

Anyone who paid attention to the Egyptian coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, or to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s battering of the Turkish military, civil bureaucracy, and intellectuals after a failed coup will have encountered the term “deep state.”  It refers to networks of officers, bureaucrats, journalists, and businessmen who actually control government by concerted actions behind the scenes.[1]  The “deep state” endures across generations, rather than being a momentary conspiracy; it recruits its members by invitation, rather than by public competition; and it is inherently un-democratic, both in its means of operation and its ability to manipulate the course of elected governments.  However, Middle Eastern societies seem particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Now the term has surfaced in American politics.   Breitbart News, other right-wing web-sites, and the social media feeds of many Trump supporters have been using the term for a while now.  When President Trump’s supposed “grey eminence,” Steve Bannon, used the term “administrative state” in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the New York Times construed his words to refer to the “deep state.”[2]  Newt Gingrich seemed to be playing Charlie McCarthy to Bannon’s Edgar Bergen when he said that “We’re up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so.”  Their aim is to undermine the Trump presidency.   Some even see this conspiracy as being directed by former President Barack Obama, who announced his willingness to break the traditional silence of former presidents when the new administration threatened “our core values.”[3]  (This view ignores the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.)

Former Obama administration government officials rushed to denounce the charge, albeit in circumspect language.  One said that “deep state” is “a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not for the American republic.”[4]  Another expressed surprise that a president would suggest that civil servants would try to undermine the government.  So, that’s settled.[5]   The NYT sought to normalize this as habitual Republican back-biting.

What gets lost in this unseemly mud-slinging is the pedigree of the issue.  In his 1959 farewell address Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial complex.”  In the 1960s and again in the last few years, well-informed people have analyzed the power of the national security bureaucracy.  Sandwiched in between these Jeremiads, the journalist-turned-open-novelist Fletcher Knebel hit the best-seller lists with “Seven Days in May” (1962), about a military coup, and “The Night of Camp David” (1965), about a crazy president.  More recently, Chalmers Johnson published three books on the costs of “empire.”  Democracy was chief among them.[6]  Well-informed people haven’t taken the issue as a joke.  Even if everyone else does.

Is there a “deep state” in America?  Of course not.  What seems more likely, and disturbing, is that there is a momentary open quarrel between a president and the national security professionals.   Would such a quarrel precipitate the formation of a “deep state”?

[1] If this is true, then the common public discourse and action beloved of academics has little real meaning.  Instead, the books on the shelves of junior army officers and school principals, and conferences on the middle floors of government ministries or dinner meetings in private homes hold the key to understanding events.

[2] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “’Deep State’?  Until Now It Was a Foreign Concept,” NYT, 7 March 2017.

[3] It is worth comparing these remarks with the boom in sales of dystopian novels to alarmed Democrats.

[4] OK, so what’s the American term?  The NYT reporter did not ask.

[5] Although it doesn’t seem to have been the Russkies who leaked to the press news compromising National Security Adviser-for-a-Day Michael Flynn.

[6] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/13/cinay-sayers/;and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalmers_Johnson