The Deeply Disturbing Implications of the Washington Post Story of the Inadequate US Response to Russian Hacking, and a Long Term Proposal

It is almost impossible to force oneself to read the Washington Post’s brilliant reporting of the US failure to respond adequately to the Russian election-related hacking.

However, attention must be paid, and the implications go far further than judgements about the Obama administration, that I am sure will go well explored in classic blame the victim manner.

First,  I think we have to admit that the current situation of a largely unpunished and undeterred coup/attack on the US has to be broadly blamed on the entire political process in the US.  While the lack of response, either public or covert, is hard to defend either now, or then, it has to be seen as in part the product of the hyper-politicization of foreign policy.  The Obama administration was operating in a toxic environment in which any honest reporting or respect was, and would be thrown back in the face of the government and the electorate, without any concern for considerations other than short term victory.   The administration could not ignore the reality of that environment.

That must be recognized as a product of Trump active encouragement of hacking, of his trivialization of any reporting, and of his contempt for truth.  The enablers carry as much if not more of the blame.

Second, we must be honest about where we are.  We no longer can be confident that the American people control our own fates through the political process.  It was and has to be assumed to be about to be again, another Pearl Harbor.  (That the US has its own long bi-partisan history of interference in other counties electoral, and political processes, not to mention coups, does not make this any less serious, it only makes it harder to defeat.)  Given the massive reluctance of Trump to take this threat in any way seriously, or even to recognize the risks of the legitimacy this has already lost him, we can have no faith that the governmental system will protect us against more and worse future surrenders of control.  (If Trump is forced out, as I strongly believe he has to be, and will be, this last is no longer true, but issues of trust and legitimacy will long remain.)

Finally, we have to build a new layer of institutions that protect the integrity of our political system regardless of short term interest.  For a start, I can imagine a Commission led by prior presidents, with an independent staff, with direct access to the intelligent services.  The Commission would have a mandate to issue public reports, including on the credibility of challenges to our democratic electoral system, and to publicly and privately urge actions of all kinds, thereby making it easier for presidents to take needed actions without being effectively accused of putting partisan interests first.  While hacking will be one part of the charter of duties, all forms of foreign interference and collusion will need to be included.

The problem, as always, and as we learned in the cold war, is that is is almost impossible to give groups power that is not democratically constrained without then in fact surrendering democracy to those powers.  In the absence of the consensus of  the cold war years, the need is even greater than it was then, and the risks are far greater.

It is a measure of what Trump and his enablers have wrought, and what his opponents have failed to do, that we now face this choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Pre-President Trump Does Not Know the Limits, What Will Post-President Trump do?

So, Trump (or at least his most trusted advisor) felt it OK to act as a President, and go around his own intelligence agencies to create a secret channel to an adversary, what will he do after being President?

Set up his own private channel?

Continue to leak secrets from our allies (no, post presidents do not have the declassification power.)

Alienate allies regardless of cost?

Use his reputation to increase the value of licensing his name?

“Take this plane to Moscow?”

Have taxpayers continue to finance his buildings, his travel, and his security?

Undercut his successor has he has tried to do his predecessor?

Bottom line.  There has to be a strategy to keep him under tight control.

 

If They Can not Control Trump While He is Cocooned, How Are The Intelligence Services Going to Keep The Secrets That Trump Knows Secure After He Leaves the White House — However and Whenever That May Turn Out to Be?

If I were a senior executive at Langley (CIA) or in the Hoover Building (FBI), I would not only be wondering how to keep the removal momentum going, but I would also be starting to think about how the endgame has to be structured to keep a “liberated” Trump from doing even worse damage after he is no longer in the White House.  Its going to be a problem however and whenever he finally leaves.

If we have seen anything in the last four months, it is that even a Trump with a rational national security staff around him all the time, and a secret service that can keep him away from most people, can do immense damage to our national security interests.  (“I never said Israel.”)

Take those, and the rest of the cocoon away, and literally anything can happen.  Here are three general possible approaches.

Approach One – Ongoing Cocooning:  Make sure that the end game plays out so that Trump remains under cocooned.  The only sure ways to do that are to imprison him, or put him in a mental institution.  There are likely already grounds for either.

Approach Two – Threatened Cocooning:  Create massive incentives to ongoing compliance.  I.e. have him so that he understands that approach one is triggered if he crosses certain lines.  I do not think that is likely to be reliable.

Approach Three – Information deprivation:  Make sure, starting now, that he really does not know anything that can do any harm.  For all we know, his briefings may well already be carefully structured with this in mind.  Indeed, after this trip, I am not sure it is not professional malpractice to tell him anything that is both true and secret.

The benefits of approach one (ongoing cocooning) accrue to many beyond the intelligence community, so that may well be the one chosen path, if only because it will be easier to build a behind the scenes consensus for the approach.

But following the approach of “stifle and isolate,” maybe it is safer to combine one (cocooning) and three (information deprivation).  The advantage of number three is that the public and the base need never learn of it.

These are such unusual times, that you do not have to be a rabid conspiracy theorist to be thinking along these lines.  I can imagine that many would see it as their duty.

Trump and Python Go Together Again — Brave, Brave, Sir Donald

Its hard not to see the Trump presidency as a full time Monty Python marketing campaign.

I feel particularly bad for the US Navy here, they have to do what they are told.

But I can not avoid combining the Washington Post headline below and the scene from the Holy Grail, that clearly references our national leadership, “Brave Sir Donald” — particularly the last 30 seconds or so.

Despite talk of a military strike, Trump’s ‘armada’ actually sailed away from Korea

Why Did Sessions Not Report His Russian Contact to the FBI?

According to the Washington Post:

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

Given the context, I find it hard to believe that Sessions would not have told State, FBI, CIA or NSA about that contact.  Moreover, surely any sane politician would have written a “memo to file” as a future potential defensive tool.  I would have assumed that they one or more of the above would have known anyway.

I regard the apparent absence of both (or even just a failure to report them by now), as something close of consciousness of guilt — although I have no personal knowledge of such general procedures, or what he did.

This story is just not going to go away.

 

Is Trump Becoming a PINO, “President in Name Only,” Or Maybe a “So-Called President”

In the last few days, tweets notwithstanding, we seem to be seeing how Trump’s extravagant utterances are being constrained and limited in their actual effect.

On foreign policy, settlements, Jerusalem, Ukraine, etc., the backing off is very fast, and really quite astonishing.

On domestic policy, the constraints are more complex but building, from business leader anxieties, to Republican caution, to sudden understanding about the complexities and risks of health care changes.

Of course, the most obvious example is on border control, and that highlights the constraints that the legal system is already imposing on Trump and his gang — and the fact that the legal system is particularly hostile to policy on the fly and public statements designed to inflame, that in fact illustrate the real purposes of policy changes.

So, notwithstanding all the damage being done, and going to be done, “In Name Only,” seems more and more likely.  Maybe “In Name Only” will be followed by “Not Even In Name Now.”

Remember, the question is not whether huge amounts of damage will be done — it will.  The question is whether the damage will be reversible.  That depends on whether we emerge with a free press, a functioning democratic system, and an independent and deferred-to judiciary.  I feel a bit more optimistic about that than I did a few days ago.

Thank you Mr PINO.  Or should we say “so-called President?”

What Emma Lazarus Would Write Today

Christine Webb is a British poet of great accomplishment and also a close multi-generational family friend.

I feel honored that we are able to share this magnificent poem that Christine has written in response to recent actions taken in the name of the United States.  It is an almost unbearable reminder of the contrast between what our country used to be seen as, and what we are now doing.

We can only hope that the millions around the world who have been inspired by the best in us, even as they always saw our defects, will remember that this is in no way a majority Presidency, and that what is done in our name is not what the majority of us tried to choose.

webbI am certain that Emma Lazarus would have welcomed these words, even as she cried with us. (Statue of Liberty plaque poem here.)