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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change Headline: “Trump to Planet: Drop Dead”

Let hope it does not come to that, but at 3 PM today, this may be the tragically perfect headline:

“Trump to Planet: Drop Dead”

That, basically, was the NY Daily News headline  (Ford to NYC: Drop Dead) in 1975 when then President Ford came out against loan guarantees for the bankrupt New York City.  Ford the narrowly lost New York, and so the 1976 election.

Today may be the planetary tipping point.

Update: Lets hope that this does Trump’s Presidency in.  Later on June 1, the Huffington used the same language to headline their coverage on their main page, apparently as of 3:36 PM that day (posting time of actual article.)

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.

An Additional Example of The Breakdown of Nation State Autonomy– White House staff and Trudeau

At one level, this is astonishing. From The Hill.

White House officials enlisted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help convince President Trump not to unilaterally withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to a Monday report.

The unique and potentially embarrassing approach, which was first reported by Canada’s National Post, apparently worked. Following phone calls with Trudeau and Mexican President Peña Nieto, Trump backed off of reported plans to pull out of NAFTA last month.

Instead, Trump announced that he would renegotiate the 23-year-old deal agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

I am sure this will draw attention mainly as yet another example of the dysfunction of the White House and its nominal occupant.

But the idea that the staff of a nation’s chief executive would find it appropriate to bring in as an ally the chief executive of another country to change their own bosses mind is in fact merely symptomatic of the fact that today the real disputes are between loose alliances of elites whose loyalties and communications now cross national boundaries.

It is related to the interest of foreign countries in state by state politics in the US, is reflected in part by Flynn, and whoever else is ultimately implicated in “Russiagate,” (what did the President know, and when did he know it?) not thinking through what they did.  It is surely also reflected in the myriad state department staff who have tried to reassure elites among our allies that we are not yet as unpredictable as monitoring twitter might suggest.  Think about the conversations between Brussels officials and the British Civil Service right now.  Or between Bannon and LePenn.

At least arguably, the problem for Flynn, and whoever, is not that they had conversations, but that they made no distinctions between our friends and our allies, or rather that their actions reflected a lack of understanding that there is a distinction.

The fact is that as national interests become more and more interconnected, this is an almost inevitable process.  The questions are how to manage it so that the interests of the excluded are not even more abandoned, and how to see this as part of the process of creating trans-national institutions and governments.  Would the United States ever have been established if the leaders of the thirteen states had not already somewhat  known each other, and known whom they could trust.

We need very new ways of thinking about this.

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.

 

A Reflection on America’s Long Term Strength

I should start by acknowledging that there are no new ideas in the post.  I just want to remind us all of something its easy to forget in the news cycle.

Notwithstanding our largely paralyzed political process, a party and President with plans to effectively destroy our openness and our generosity to the less fortunate, and an international environmnt with several major players whose committement to the values for which we have stood is, dubious to say the least, our overall assets are such that any other country and leader could only dream that their nation will possess them in their children’s time, if ever.

Not only do we still have massive economic power now backed by a powerful innovation machine, we have most of the leading educational institutions, speak the utterly dominant language, have a human capital pool from every country in the world, democratic values that remain a beacon for those of goodwill throughout the world, a political system with checks and balances that usually work, although not always as quickly as they have in the last three weeks, and not just a free free press but a system in which multiple layers protect that essential ingredient of freedom and progress.  (If you have any doubt about how all those interact in a time of crisis, just look at the list of amici in the immigration case in the Ninth Circuit, as discussed here.)

Now, lots of terrible harm is going to happen to lots of people.  The sate net will take vicious hits.  There will be serious limits on voting rights.  Government support of education and research will be very seriously hit.  Only by a miracle will the damage to our health care system be less than the good that is done — although “repair” might end up giving us a better system in some states.  One could add to this list.

But, unless our entire political system is destroyed (and I am actually less worried about that right now) most of our essential uniqueness will remain.  Unless things get much worse, people will still want to study, teach, and invest here.  They will still see English as the only non-native language they need to speak.  Above all, we will remain the only country that large groups of people in every country see as the model to emulate.

If we are really lucky, or rather if we really deserve it, the way we ultimately overcome our current challenges will enhance our uniqueness and appeal.  Few countries have the capacity for defense in depth of democracy that we have already shown.  It may take four years, or even eight, but this too will pass.  To quote Lee Hayes from an earlier era: “I’ve had kidney stones and I know.”