Showing posts with label election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label election. Show all posts

12 April 2017

Keystone Cops - the Trump-Russia Connection


by David Edgerley Gates

Once again, a disclaimer. This post isn't political comment, but thinking out loud about the spycraft involved. Nor do I claim special knowledge. It's pure speculation.



If you're one of the people following what Rick Wilson of The Daily Beast has characterized as "the Trump-Russia intelligence and influence scandal," you can be forgiven for experiencing a certain bemusement. The story keeps wandering off-narrative, the cast doesn't know their lines, the whole thing is like a dress rehearsal for the school play. Lucian K. Truscott IV, writing for SALON, sounds a note of gleeful despair, trying to strike a balance between the giddy anarchy of a Three Stooges routine and the jaws of darkness yawning open beneath our feet. You don't have to take sides to take it seriously, but it has an unreal quality. Farce, caricature, exaggeration of effect, clown noses and oversized shoes. 

What would a working intelligence professional make of all this? If we discount the attitude, and the partisanship, and the Whose-Ox-Is-Being-Gored, and focus on the basic operational dynamics - the tradecraft of recruitment, the servicing of resources, the value of the product - does it show any return on the investment? What's our cost-benefit ratio?

Security operations are often graded on the curve. You might have a downside risk, but if you're blown, the exposure is quantifiable. It's worth losing X to acquire Y. Penetrations are always high-value. Getting someone inside. Philby and Blake. Gunter Guillaume. Alger Hiss. Penkovsky. It's a tightrope act for the spy, of course. For his handlers, not so much. Embarrassment, contrition, crocodile tears. Deep-cover assets understand their vulnerability. It's a buyer's market. You're only as good as your last picture. So forth and so on. The point here being that a penetration is usually considered well worth the money, the extra effort, the aggravation. Any rewards justify the sweat equity. But defectors are known to inflate their resumes. They give themselves better credentials, they claim better access. Another thing to remember is that the more difficult the courtship, and the more it costs, the more highly you value the object of your desire. In other words, we both want to close the sale. It's to our mutual advantage. And who's to say there isn't as much wishful thinking on the one side as on the other?

Intelligence consumers want what's known in the trade as collateral, telling detail that gives your product a material weight, the force of gravity. What we've got here is disconnect. Peripheral vision, low light. Manafort is compromised because he was a bagman for Yanukovych. Kushner met with VneshEconomBank chair Gorkov, and VEB launders dirty money for the Kremlin. Flynn broke bread with Putin at a meet-and-greet sponsored by RT. Page and Stone were coat-trailed by SVR. All of it suggestive, none of it at all imperative.

There's a moment in Smiley's People, about a third of the way through, when George learns that Karla is "looking for a legend, for a girl."  This is the place where the story - the story within, the hidden narrative - begins to shape itself. George first hears that voice, and we're taken into his confidence, and feel its muscularity, and the book turns a corner (its secret just around the next one). 

How do we apply the comforts of a fiction? We suppose not, but hold the phone. The absence of structure tells us something. We're used to the idea of conspiracy, plots laid, inductions devious. I'd suggest this wasn't a concerted effort. Not at either end. I think the Russian services went after targets of opportunity. Putin's an old KGB guy of course, but he seems to have buried the hatchet with GRU. He's made extensive use of both, in Crimea and the Donbass. Russian information warfare strategy has also been formalized. Kaspersky Lab, which on paper is private sector, works in cybersecurity. Once upon a time, this was all under the authority of the Organs, the state apparat, but the chain of command is more flexible. I'm guessing an approach to an American or European businessman could be made by anybody, sanctioned or not. Is it corporate espionage, or government? What's the difference? you might ask. If you're shaking hands with the siloviki, the oligarchs, you're already in bed with the Mafia and state security. It's not at all difficult to imagine a guy like Paul Manafort being recruited, because he'd be recruiting talent himself, working both sides of the street. He's cultivating influence, that's his currency. So let's say we see this happen with other examples. No grand design or discipline, just low-hanging fruit.

Moving ahead, we get to the past summer of an election year, 2016, and evidence of Russian e-mail hacking. We know the FBI opened their investigation in July, and it's now being reported that CIA began briefing the Gang of Eight - the senior majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and on the intelligence committees - in mid-August. Slight cognitive dissonance, as the Bureau believed the Russian threat was meant only to disrupt the political process in general, CIA believed it was specifically focused on sabotaging the Clinton campaign and electing Trump. CIA suspects active collusion.

What are the basics? We know any intelligence community is top-heavy with turf warriors. MI5 and MI6. FBI and CIA. SVR and FSB and GRU. But there was a trigger mechanism. My guess is that a ranking somebody in the Russian spy orbits took notice and pulled the various threads together. We imagine frustrations expressed at the top of the food chain, "Who will rid me of this tempestuous priest?" And the barons mount up. I'm also thinking this was as much accident as anything else. The necessary tools were ready to hand. All it required was an organizing principle. The rest is housekeeping, who carried the water.

One last observation. The feckless and the foolish are easily led. You play to their vanities, their limitless self-regard. it's never truer than in the spook trade that you can't cheat an honest man.

Recommended:
Lucian K. Truscott IV in SALON
http://www.salon.com/writer/lucian_k_truscott_iv/

08 March 2017

The Ghost in the Machine


by David Edgerley Gates

Again, first off, a disclaimer. This is not a political rant any more than my previous post. Last time, I went after Michael Flynn for his lack of deportment. This time, I'm inviting you into the Twilight Zone.  

We have a habit, in this country, of thinking we're the center of attention. In other words, Trump's issues with his Russian connections are all about American domestic politics. There's another way to look at this. What if it turns out to be about Russian domestic politics?

Bear with me. Filling in the background, we have Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This appears not to be in dispute. There's a consensus in the intelligence community. Fairly obviously, Hillary Clinton wasn't the Russians' first choice, and she seems to have inspired Vladmir Putin's personal animus. It's not clear whether the Russians wanted simply to weaken Clinton's credibility and present her with an uncertain victory or if they thought they could engineer her actual defeat.



Deception and disinformation are tools of long standing. Everybody uses them, and the Russians have a lot of practice. They've in fact just announced the roll-out of a new integrated platform for Information Warfare, and under military authority (not, interestingly, the successor agencies to KGB). Their continuing success in controlling the narrative on the ground in both Ukraine and Syria, less so in the Caucasus, demonstrates a fairly sophisticated skill-set. To some degree, it relies on critical mass, repeating the same lies or half-truths until they crowd out the facts. Even if they don't, the facts become suspect.

Now, since the Inauguration, we've had a steady erosion of the established narrative. Beginning with Gen. Flynn, then Sessions, former adviser Page Carter, Jared Kushner. Consider the timeline. Nobody can get out in front of the story, because the hits just keep coming. They're being blind-sided. "They did make love to this employment," Hamlet says, and none of them seem to realize they could be fall guys, or that it's not about them.

The most basic question a good lawyer can ask is cui bono. Who benefits? If the object was to have a White House friendlier to the Kremlin than the one before, that doesn't appear to be working out. But perhaps the idea is simply to have an administration in disarray, one that can't cohesively and coherently address problems in NATO, say, or the Pacific Rim.  Short-term gain. Maybe more.



Let's suppose somebody is playing a longer game. We have a story out of Russia about the recent arrests of the director of the Center for Information Security, a division of the Federal Security Service, and the senior computer incident investigator at the Kaspersky Lab, a private company believed to be under FSB discipline - both of them for espionage, accused of being American assets, but both of them could just as plausibly be involved in the U.S. election hack. What to make of it? Loose ends, possibly. Circling the wagons. Half a dozen people have dropped dead or dropped out of sight lately, former security service personnel, a couple of diplomats. Russians have always been conspiracy-minded, and it's catching. You can't help but think the body count's a little too convenient, or sort of a collective memory loss.

Here's my thought. This slow leakage and loss of traction, the outing of Flynn and Sessions and the others - and waiting for more shoes to drop - why do we necessarily imagine this has to come from the inside? Old rivalries in the intelligence community, or Spec Ops, lifer spooks who didn't like Mike Flynn then and resented his being booked for a return engagement later. Just because you want to believe a story badly doesn't make it false. But how about this, what if the leaks are coming from Russian sources?

Remove yourself from the equation. It's not about kneecapping Trump, it's about getting rid of Putin, and Trump is collateral damage. There are factions in Russia that think Putin has gotten too big for his britches. He's set himself up as the reincarnation of Stalin. And not some new Stalin, either. The old Stalin. None of these guys are reformers, mind you, they're siloviki, predators. They just want to get close enough with the knives, and this is protective coloration. Putin, no dummy he, is apparently eliminating collaborators and witnesses at home, but somebody else is working the other side of the board.



If the new administration comes near collapse, because too many close Trump associates are tarred with the Russian brush, the strategy's going to backfire, and the pendulum will swing the other way. The scenario then has the opposite effect of what was intended. Putin will have overreached himself, embarrassed Russia, and jeopardized their national security. That's the way I'd play it, if it were me, but I'm not the one planning a coup.

This is of course utterly far-fetched, and I'm an obvious paranoid. Oh, there's someone at the door. Must be my new Bulgarian pal, the umbrella salesman.

11 November 2016

On NOT Talking Politics on Social Media


By Art Taylor

Needless to say, it's been quite a week in U.S. politics—the stunning finale to a long and bitter political campaign. And while a Washington Post feature on Wednesday was headlined "Our Long National Nightmare Is Over" (an article on the election season ending, a different headline in the online version here), the truth is, of course, that the nightmare is just beginning from the perspective of half the country. Another headline that day talked about half of the country being filled with hope, the other half horrified, and I realized that this second headline would have been true no matter which candidate won, and the same would be true of that nightmare beginning—for Republicans if Hillary had claimed the presidency, same as for Democrats now.

As for the meaning behind that first headline—the election done, the ads gone, whatever—clearly it's only half true. The news remains focused on coverage and commentary, office chatter still revolves around the election and what's ahead, and likely your Facebook wall or Twitter feed is still as thick with election talk and post-election talk as mine is.

While I've occasionally shared online an article I've found interesting (I particularly appreciate when the Post covers my home state of North Carolina, as in this article I shared yesterday), I almost steadfastly avoid talking politics in my posts. I rarely post articles with any clear partisanship, and I haven't talked publicly about my own beliefs, hopes or fears. I don't know if I'm the minority here; it seems like so many of my friends are very vocal on such topics, but it's hard to gauge the absence of such talk—who's avoiding politics and, equally important, why.

For me, politics is a fairly private thing. I have very strong feelings on most political issues, and I try to stay educated and informed as best I can. I subscribe to the Post, and its website is the homepage on both my office computer and my laptop, so I'm checking in there several dozen times a day. I read both news coverage and commentary—from both sides of the divide—and I read letters to the editor to get a sense of what readers are thinking. (Despite myself, I occasionally read the comments section on online articles, and then remind myself again why I shouldn't.) Circling back to social media, while some people I know went on Facebook blackouts during the election season, I scanned my newsfeed to see what friends and acquaintances had to say or what they posted. And come election day on any year, I always vote—and my wife and I have taken our son with us each time we've voted in the nearly five years since he was born, hopefully inculcating in him the importance of taking part in the process.

So I read. I listen. I participate. But when it comes to talking about it or posting about it....

My family has never been one of those to passionately debate politics across the dinner table (I assume this happens in reality somewhere and not just in the movies), and on those occasions when we've been divided on topics or candidates, we've politely agreed to disagree and then steered clear of discussing it any further. At times at cocktail parties or dinners, I've had people talk to me with some assumptions (often mistaken assumptions) of my political beliefs, and while I have other friends who would've jumped into such conversations—expressed themselves, explained themselves, gone on the defensive or even on the attack—I usually listen briefly and then steer myself away, exiting rather than engaging. Frankly, I don't see anything to be gained by such a confrontation, especially in this era of solidly entrenched beliefs. (I hope that the other motives don't lurk beneath this, that this isn't evidence of some cowardice on my part.)

Maybe that same aversion to confrontation is true for me of social media conversations. I've seen how one person's passionate post can provoke another person's vitriolic comment and then the endless spiral of back and forth and back and forth on a topic until exhaustion sets in (or perhaps until someone is muted, blocked, unfriended); this is not how I want to spend my time and energy.

Maybe my reluctance comes from recognizing the futility of it all. Many of us—maybe most of us—live to some degree in an echo chamber; we're drawn to people whose interests and values mesh well with our own. It's become a cliche—and then the punchline to a joke—that Facebook posts on politics won't ever change anyone's mind on a topic, won't change anyone's vote or anyone's post-election perspective either. (Revisiting my aside above, maybe it's not cowardice at all but pessimism that drives my decision.)



Maybe it's just that question "Why would anyone care what I think or feel about politics?"

But then a counterpoint there too, because I guess I do care what even strangers think when I see them making those moves. I admire the people who've stood at the Farmer's Market each Saturday or who've gone door to door canvassing, even if my reaction was simply to smile and wave and think that they already have my support, I'll be there, I'll vote. Is social media the same way? Does the voice being heard matter? Or is it just a smile and a wave between those of us who share the same values? And then—further down the sidewalk toward the Farmer's Market—a brisk pass by the other party at the other tent? Just keep on scrolling down the newsfeed.

And sticking with that counterpoint, I recognize that much of speaking out is also standing up, taking a stand and going on the record with it—not just letting your vote be heard in the ballot box but letting your voice be heard as well. As my wife pointed out, reading a rough draft of this post, sometimes being a silent witness isn't enough.

I have indeed appreciated reading what other people have posted online in the wake of the election—their thoughts and reflections, their hopes and fears. In many cases, it's as simple as seeing someone express an idea in print (or pixels) that I've been thinking, of feeling that brief connection of extending that bit of empathy. And I'll admit, in the days since the election, I've been aware of the silences on my own Facebook page—conscious, self-conscious both with the sense that I should say something about what has happened (shouldn't I be an active member of the world?) and with some desire to say something, to get those thoughts and feelings out.

A small step here then:

I could say that my heart hurt watching the election returns roll in, but that's too metaphorical to be accurate enough. It was a physical hurt: not a weight in my chest, not just a tightness, but a clench, a ripping; restless throughout the night, I worried that my heart might simply seize up, stop. When I got up (I can't say "when I woke"), I was haunted by the fear that the America I hoped our four-year-old son would grow up in was suddenly on track to become an America I didn't want him to grow up in. I expect I'll be living under that fear for a long while.

If you agree with me, you'll understand what I mean here. If you don't, you may already be scoffing or at least with your own responses in mind. As I said, half are filled with hope, half horrified, not much middle ground to be found.

The last thing I want is for this post to spur folks to rehash the election, to call attention to or widen that divide. But what I am interested in are the questions I've been circling around: Do you talk politics or avoid talking politics on social media? What prompts you to do it? what do you hope to gain, from others or for yourself?

Whichever side of the aisle you're on, I'm curious about your answers there. And whichever side of the aisle, best wishes to all of us on the road ahead.

11 November 2012

Red, White, and Blue


by Leigh Lundin

Today is Veterans Day. Saying "Happy Veterans Day" doesn't seem right, but like Thanksgiving, this is a day we say thanks, especially to those who didn't survive to see a Veterans Day of their own.
 Bish
© Bish
Florida Fallout

The election is over, thank God. We can clap ourselves on the back for yet another peaceful transition of power. The year was long and the invective sometimes nasty, but I admired the symbolism of Chris Christie and President Obama. They stood shoulder to shoulder helping storm victims, reminiscent of days when opponents respected each other. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were known for hiring their admirable adversaries, which is the way it should be.
 Wiley
© Wiley Miller

I'm grateful we had decent candidates. Despite differing political persuasions, both were decent family men, both well educated, both moderate, both dedicated to improving the country, and both seemed better than their parties. (I know, I know… opinions vary.)

But in Florida, we have a problem. The past half year alarmed me. I gathered news clippings– 55 to date– about my home state's attempts at voter suppression. As an independent, I disdain both parties, but coming up to the election, how could I document voter suppression without seeming to zero in on one party? I couldn't; the only solution was to let the problem become so evident it could no longer be ignored.

By now you know Florida's governor and legislature made it difficult to register and vote. Changes in state law reduced the number of days to vote by 43%, reduced the number of hours, and reduced resources. Worse, the law provided harsh, harsh penalties for the simplest of mistakes when helping others to register.

League of Women Voters– out of Florida

Penalties were so draconian, the League of Women Voters– sneered at in Florida as 'leftist'– abandoned its registration drives for the first time in 72 years.

What we took for granted was no more: Civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli headed New Smyrna Beach's student government association, which encouraged students to take part in democracy. She tripped over the new regulations and found herself subjected to prosecution and 'massive fines' for helping qualified students to register.

Why restrict new registration? Florida is a magnet for several groups, including retirees and Hispanics. Florida's percentage of voters past a certain age tends to top other states. Health care is of great concern to the elderly as insurance premiums and outright rejections shoot up while income plummets. The aged was only one minority group targeted by strategists, but that was where another part of the new restrictions kicked in.

Not Just Any ID


Originally an applicant's details were gathered during registration including address and signature. On voting day, we once simply identified ourselves in the book, we signed in, precinct workers matched the signatures and addresses, and we were free to vote. The new law required not merely ID, but Florida photo ID. An out-of-state license would not do, nor would student ID, or a utility bill to prove residence, or even a passport if it still had an address from 'up north'. On election day, hundreds of new residents were turned away because, as per the new law, they hadn't updated their IDs.

By the end of October, former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush had had enough and spoke out. Charlie Crist sharply chastised Governor Scott reminding him he was supposed to serve all Florida citizens, not just his own party.
Voting Overseas

Although I've often lived and worked in other countries, this is the first time I've filled in a ballot overseas. The process takes two steps.

For federal election, you can request a mail-in package from your embassy or consulate, or visit the nearest consulate, in my case Durban, South Africa. Before 911, a reception center might have looked like an old-fashioned drawing room where avuncular employees called you into wood-paneled offices for conversations. These days consulates are found on secured floors in secured buildings with lexan and more lexan, rather like banks. Once you're admitted, you wait at a teller-like window until an employee comes to help.

The federal package contains questionnaires and identification forms, then a couple of envelopes and a ballot, or 'smart ballot' if you vote by party rather than candidate. What that means is if you don't happen to know your congressional candidates or senators, as long as you select a president, the rest will be filled in automatically by residence and party affiliation. To split a ticket, fill in your candidates as you please.

Place your ballot in the small envelope and seal it. Place the small envelope and the questionnaire in the large envelope and write your county and state upon it. Your ballot is delivered, presumably by diplomatic pouch.

For state, county, and local, you have to contact your county elections office and request a packet well in advance of elections. Fill in the questionnaires, fill in the ballots, and mail them before election day. Florida ballots are huge as is the postage required.

Sim-Florida

The Speaker of the House of the Florida Legislature ducked acknowledging the obvious when he said he'll investigate what went wrong during the election. Cynics perhaps unfairly say the investigation will be how his party failed to deliver his party's vote. For his part, Governor Rick Scott still insists the election worked exactly as planned– precisely what most people feared.

Who is Governor Rick Scott? He engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in US History. The fines alone were $1.7 BILLION. That didn't touch the great wealth Scott socked away. Records show he spent $71 million of his own money to acquire the governorship– actually $71 million of our money.

Florida should feel embarrassed even if Scott isn't. Since then, he's run the state like he's playing a Sim-City game. In doing so, he's managed to become one of the most unpopular governors ever.

Meanwhile in America

I once lived in a forest in the distant north. I got to know two men– one young, one not– each who caused fatal DUI accidents and spent time incarcerated. Each petitioned the state for restoration of civil rights including the right to freely travel and vote.

We're taught in civics classes once a felon pays his obligation to society, he's free to rejoin and live his life as normal. But that doesn't always happen. Some people endure continuing punishment: sex register lists, restrictions on foreign travel, and often curtailment of voting rights. Not all states restore civil rights when a sentence ends.

A California sheriff is taking a different approach. He encourages inmates in his jail to integrate into society by voting. And, as long as an inmate isn't a convicted felon, he helps inmates register.

Who knows how that might work out? I admire lateral thinking and any experiment that offers a chance of reducing our exploding prison population deserves a shot.

On this Veteran's Day, I'm pleased this election year is behind us. For many of us, a shorter election season now looks attractive. Whatever your political party, whoever your candidate, we owe a debt to others who can't be with us. Have a good, good Veterans Day.

05 November 2012

November Already


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!  Congratulations to Elizabeth Dearborn, the winner of our first monthly contest at SleuthSayers.  She will receive a copy of David Dean's exciting new novel THE THIRTEENTH CHILD as soon as we learn her snail-mail address.  Stay tuned later this month for another giveaway!  Back to Jan...

I can't believe it's November already. We had that silly time change this morning at 2 AM. Did you get to church an hour early or get to the football game early. Oh yeah, I guess if you got to the Pro game early that was a good thing.

I can't believe it's November already. It's only hours until we will have a final vote and tally for a President. All I will say here is PLEASE vote. I voted early the other day which is the best way to do it. No line and it only took a few minutes. Thank goodness it's almost over, I'm sick of politics. I'm definitely sick of the negativity, the vitriolic words and the racist overtones from some people.

I can't believe it's November already and it's only two and a half weeks until Thanksgiving. Have you bought your turkey yet? Made out your menu? Invited all your in-laws and out-laws? Gosh, I haven't even taken down my Halloween decorations. And before I can turn around twice it will be time to put up the yuletide items.

I REALLY can't believe it's November already and it's only fifty-two days until Christmas. Yikes! Have you got any shopping done? I haven't but I'm not worried about it, I give money. One size fits all and the color is always right.

One thing I can admit is I love holidays and I hate holidays. I love seeing family and enjoying good food. But I hate trying to travel any distance and all the hoop-la that the stores and television bombard us with. I saw on facebook the other day that Nordstrom's say they won't put up any Christmas decorations until AFTER Thanksgiving. Way to go, Nordstrom's. Wish other stores would follow that example. I actually heard X-mas music in a store the other day and I thought, NOOOO! Not ready for X-mas music yet. Not even ready for November yet, but here it is. Rolling along.

I do want to bring a blog and interview to your attention. The Maine Crime Writers had a blog today that's an interview with an expert, Jayne Hitchcock, on cyberstalking and cyberbullying. This is a must read for all of us who use social media as much as we do and importantly it's important for our children and grandchildren. This is fantastic information. So head to www.mainecrimewriters.com

I don't know if any of our writers or readers were in the path of the storm. I hope if so, then hope that you are safe and warm. I do have writer friends who were without power for several days but are now electrified and warm and safe.

This is about all I know to write about today. Real life seems to take up a lot of my day...like vegging out on the sofa and watching Texas Longhorns yesterday and tonight Dallas Cowboys.

Take care all and keep writing and reading.