Debunking the stories about a Trump-Putin conspiracy

Summary: Stories about conspiracies involving Trump and Putin have increasingly dominated the news since the election. Only slowly has rebuttal evidence and analysis accumulated (see the list at the end of this post). Yet the debunkings have had little effect. The stories are too politically useful to both Left and Right, Journalists (haters of Trump) are their collaborators. As usual, gullible Americans are the targets.Cover of Conspiracy: a spy game of bluffing and betrayal

Excerpt from “Russia: The Conspiracy Trap“.

By Masha Gessen at the New York Review of Books.
Her article debunks the major accusation. Here are her conclusions.

For more than six months now, Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination. It is used to explain how Trump could have happened to us, and it is also called upon to give us hope. When the Russian conspiracy behind Trump is finally fully exposed, our national nightmare will be over.

A great many journalists and pundits have been convinced of the Russia conspiracy since December, some since October, a few since July. That conviction helps “connect the dots” as more and more dots seem to appear. Every new story makes the evidence pile up, even if it later turns out to be apparently unrelated…

The backbone of the rapidly yet endlessly developing Trump-Putin story is leaks from intelligence agencies, and this is its most troublesome aspect. Virtually none of the information can be independently corroborated. The context, sequence, and timing of the leaks is determined by people unknown to the public, which is expected to accept anonymous stories on faith; nor have we yet been given any hard evidence of active collusion by Trump officials. …

Given that the story has been driven by the intelligence community and the media, it is perhaps unsurprising that each subsequent revelation creates the sense of pieces falling into place. It builds like an old-fashioned television series, dispensed in weekly episodes with no binge-watching allowed. What remains from the earliest installments is not so much information as mood. …

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Chuck Spinney warns that we’re sleepwalking into a new arms race

Summary: One of the “an echo not a choice” aspects of the election was the war on Russia. Clinton’s team was well-stocked with cheerleaders for restarting the cold war. Trump won, so we have an administration stocked with cheerleaders for restarting the cold war. McMaster as National Security Advisor completed the roster. Here Chuck Spinney describes how the Deep State has managed this impressive feat, and how this game looks like from Russia.

“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”

— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about how to start the Cold War. On 12 March 1947 Truman did exactly that. From “Put yourself in Marshall’s place” by James P. Warburg (1948). In 1941 Warburg helped develop our wartime propaganda programs.

Atomic bomb explosion

Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia.

By Franklin “Chuck” Spinney and Pierre Sprey.
From his website, The Blaster. 24 February 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.

The Nuclear Question is becoming increasingly obfuscated by spin and lobbying as the West sleepwalks into Cold War II — a walk made all the more dangerous when the loose lips of the U.S. tweeter-in-chief announced that another nuclear arms race is a great idea (see linklinklink).  Two Cold War II issues are central and almost never addressed: What will be the Russians’ understanding of all the propaganda surrounding the Nuclear Question and the looming American defense spendup? And how might they act on this understanding?

Background

Barack Obama first outlined his vision for nuclear disarmament in a speech in Prague on 5 April 2009, less than three months after becoming President.  This speech became the basis for what eventually became the New Start nuclear arms limitation treaty.  But Mr. Obama also opened the door for the modernization of our nuclear forces with this pregnant statement:

“To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies –- including the Czech Republic.”

Why call for nuclear disarmament while opening the door to nuclear rearmament?

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Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia

Summary: Stories about the Trump-Russia scandal continue to roil the media. It might dominate the vital start of the Trump administration. Even if it does not, these events are rich with lessons about hidden aspects of America’s politics. Here is an expert’s analysis, a follow-up to Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.

Poster of Trump and Putin in Vilnius
Ints Kalnins/Reuters.

The story of the Trump-Russia file is among the most significant news of 2017. Not because it is yet another disreputable story about Trump (credulously believed by the Left). Not because of its salacious details (which so excite the Left). The involvement of US intelligence agencies makes it important. We can only guess at their motives for publicizing this unverified information. They move like the sandworms in Dune, giant beasts visible only by their wake on the surface.

As usual with scandals (real or imagined), the British press have covered this more closely than their US cousins. Mostly by speculation, but the better elements have presented intriguing analysis. Such as this in yesterday’s London Review of Books: “How to Read the Trump Dossier” by Arthur Snell — a veteran of the UK Foreign Office, now a managing director of corporate intelligence firm PGI Intelligence. This provides the strongest case I have seen for taking the Trump-Russia file seriously. It goes off the rails at the beginning.

“None of the claims made in the dossier has yet been verified, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. Intelligence is information, from a privileged source, that supports decision-making. It is seldom verifiable because that information is rarely in the public domain.”

Why should we take this file seriously if it has no verification? Here is the closest Snell gets to an answer. It’s quite daft.

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Martin van Creveld warns us about Syria

Summary: Martin van Creveld is one of the top experts on modern war. That means non-trinitarian war, more commonly known as fourth generation war (4GW). Today he gives a typically brilliant briefing on the war in Syria, more similar to the Thirty Years War than anything in recent history. While a tiny and poor nation. Syria has become a focal point for the many conflicts twisting our world. We ignored his warnings about Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s not do so a third time.

“What you understand well, you can explain briefly.”
— Paraphrase from “The Art of Poetry” by Nicolas Boileau (1674).

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the English Channel on 21 Oct 2016.

We Shall Win This War, and Then We Shall Get Out.
By Martin van Creveld.
Re-posted with his generous permission.

No, this is not Vladimir Putin speaking. This is Winston Churchill, not long after returning to power in 1951. The context? The conflict in Malaysia, which at the time had been ongoing for three years with no end in sight. The immediate outcome? The war came to an end and the Brits left. The ultimate outcome? To this day, whenever anyone suggests that brushfire war, alias guerrilla, alias people’s war, alias low intensity war, alias nontrinitarian war, alias fourth-generation war (currently, thanks to my friend Bill Lind, the most popular term of all) is beyond the ability of modern state-owned armed forces to handle, someone else is bound to ask: but how about the British in Malaysia?

In response, let me suggest that, had Israel agreed to get out of the territories (I wish!) it could have “won” the struggle against Palestinian terrorism in twenty-four hours. But this is not what it pleases me to discuss today. It is, rather the situation in Putin’s own stamping ground, i.e. Syria.

The following is the story of the war, as far as I can make it out. It all started in May 2011 when terrorism against Assad dictatorial regime got under way. At first it was local, sporadic and uncoordinated. Later the opposition coalesced and assumed a more organized character; even so, by last count there are, or have been at one time or another, about ninety different groups fighting the regime. And even this mind-boggling number includes neither Hezbollah, nor Daesh, nor the various Kurdish militias, nor the so-called Baby Al Qaedas.

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Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.

Summary: The Trump-Russia story creates a situation without parallel since Watergate (Iran-Contra was a sideshow). The news gives us the usual confusing mish-mash. Here is an outline of the story, with links and pointers to the best analysis I have seen so far. Read, decide for yourself —  and watch this story evolve. See the follow-up: Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia.

Donald Trump covering his ears

Contents

  1. The story so far.
  2. Follow-ups to the story.
  3. Analysis of the story.
  4. Updates.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1) The story so far.

Christopher Steele, former SIS (aka MI6) agent and director of London-based Orbis Intelligence Ltd., gathered a file of dirt about Trump — first paid for by Republicans opposing Trump, then by Democrats opposing Trump (details here; the clients carefully concealed themselves). Steele gave the file to the FBI in August 2016 (others did so later). With no visible results from the FBI, Steele gave it to others (e.g., David Corn, who wrote an October article in Mother Jones). They passed it to others (e.g., to Senator McCain, who gave it to the FBI). See The Guardian for details.

At some point US intelligence agencies took it seriously, in combination with information from other sources. The file consists of memos dated from 20 June to 13 December 2016. The memos have misspellings and minor errors. For example, it says that Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, visited the Czech Republic. That was a different Michael Cohen.

On January 10 CNN broke the story, saying that Trump and Obama were briefed about their concerns about Trump’s ties to Russia (including allegations in the file) by four senior intelligence directors: James Clapper (DNI), James Comey (FBI), John Brennan (CIA), and Mike Rogers (NSA).  NBC said Trump was not briefed, and might not have received the two page summary. Some members of Congress also received the summary. Later that day Buzzfeed published a story about it, including the full 35-page file.

Update: Wednesday night James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, released a statement that punctured the fevered speculation by Democrats about the Trump-Russia file. The key lines…

“The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”

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Stratfor explains why Russia won’t join our arms race

Summary: Here Stratfor examines the arms race, one aspect of the propaganda campaign seeking to start a new cold war with Russia. Spoiler: it’s bogus, like the rest of the campaign. Stratfor

An Arms Race Russia Will Not Run

Stratfor, 30 December 2016.

Summary

In the 25 years since the Soviet Union fell, Russia has punctuated military buildups on its border with the occasional rattle of its nuclear saber in response to U.S. provocations. But a muted reaction to President-elect Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the United States should expand its nuclear weapons arsenal reflects a different military and economic reality for Russia, one in which the Kremlin realizes it could not afford to keep up in a new nuclear arms race.

Trump’s Dec. 23 pronouncement that the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be beefed up came as President Barack Obama signed a wide-ranging $618.7 billion defense spending bill. Trump’s remarks, particularly his quip about reigniting an arms race, elicited criticism from the Kremlin. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov responded that his country would not take part in any arms race, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized the United States for trying to spend Russia to death.

In years past, Russia used news of U.S. arms buildups to justify expanding its own arsenals, but echoes of the disastrous Soviet defense spending spree in the 1980s have given Moscow pause. Russia’s more moderate tone does not mean it will pull back on its defense plans, but rather that the Kremlin does not want to repeat a history of military overspending that helped accelerate the demise of the Soviet Union.

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Stratfor looks at the growing monster of Russian ultra-nationalism

Summary: Far right movements are on the march again. In the US, Europe, and Russia. Here Stratfor looks at the disturbing political developments in the one-time superpower as it copes with rapid social change, their lost status as a superpower, and the economic stress from the collapse in oil prices.

Stratfor

Russian Ultra-Nationalism: A Monster of Moscow’s Making
Stratfor, 4 November 2016.

Forecast

  • The rise of Russia’s far right will undermine the Kremlin’s attempts to overcome the country’s deepening ethnic, class and religious divides.
  • The ultra-conservative movement will continue only to grow, thanks to its media influence and militant youth groups.
  • Moscow will work to curb the forces it has long supported in an effort to ensure that they do not challenge the Kremlin’s writ.

Analysis

Since taking power some 16 years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has worked tirelessly to bring about the return of conservative and nationalist values. His government has enthusiastically promoted the Russian Orthodox Church, depicting its patriarchs as the state’s moral compass. After suffering a period of neglect under the Soviet Union, over 25,000 churches and 800 monasteries have been built or refurbished during Putin’s reign. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has also launched a series of youth programs, the largest being Nashi, that teach conservative courses on politics, foreign policy and family values. Finally, after consolidating strategic economic sectors under its control, the government has presented itself as the people’s savior from the liberal, decadent oligarchs who once controlled the country’s resources.

By stoking these long-dormant sentiments, Putin has managed to shore up his power base and create a moral mandate for Moscow’s domestic and foreign policy. Whereas the West could once accuse the Soviet Union of being a “godless nation,” the Russian Federation can now claim to have God on its side. This thinking has undergirded several of the Kremlin’s actions at home and abroad, including the passage of laws restricting homosexuality and pornography and the launch of interventions into Ukraine and Syria. But Putin’s ideological strategy has its drawbacks. Inflaming far-right extremism has given rise to ideologues who want to push the Kremlin further than it is willing to go. And, when the Kremlin balks at their demands, they are no longer shy about voicing their discontent.

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