Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 26, 2017

How a Russian troll sucker-punched CounterPunch

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 6:17 pm

Yesterday’s Washington Post had a startling article titled “Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options” that begins:

The first email arrived in the inbox of CounterPunch, a left-leaning American news and opinion website, at 3:26 a.m. — the middle of the day in Moscow.

“Hello, my name is Alice Donovan and I’m a beginner freelance journalist,” read the Feb. 26, 2016 message.

The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named “NorthernNight.” Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.

Her first articles as a freelancer for CounterPunch and at least 10 other online publications weren’t especially political. As the 2016 presidential election heated up, Donovan’s message shifted. Increasingly, she seemed to be doing the Kremlin’s bidding by stoking discontent toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and touting WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials say was a tool of Russia’s broad influence operation to affect the presidential race.

“There’s no denying the emails that Julian Assange has picked up from inside the Democratic Party are real,” she wrote in August 2016 for a website called We Are Change. “The emails have exposed Hillary Clinton in a major way — and almost no one is reporting on it.”

Since the article is behind a paywall, I have appended it to the bottom of this post.

While the article starts off on Jeff’s initial encounter with Donovan, it then changes gear and relates how the Obama administration dropped the ball on countering what it calls “disinformation”.

For example, it mentions that a State Department official named Richard Stengel was unable to pump episodes of “Game of Thrones” into Russia. This failure was equated to bringing a tiny, little Swiss Army knife to a gunfight. It is not exactly clear what difference that escapist fantasy would make on Russian politics but in fact it had already shown up on REN-TV, a private station owned by self-professed liberals that has a far greater reach than RT has in the USA.

They return to Jeff in the concluding paragraphs:

In late November, The Post informed Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch’s editor, that the FBI suspects that Donovan is a Russian government persona. St. Clair said in an interview that Donovan’s submissions didn’t stand out among the 75 or so pitches he receives each day.

On Nov. 30, he sent her an email saying he wanted to discuss her work. When he got no response, St. Clair followed up with a direct message on Twitter, asking her to call him immediately.

On Dec. 5 Donovan finally replied by email: “I do not want to talk to anyone for security reasons.”

St. Clair tapped out a new message, begging her to provide proof — a photograph of her driver’s license or passport — that would show that she was the beginning freelance journalist she claimed to be in her introductory email from 2016.

“It shouldn’t be that difficult to substantiate,” he wrote.

He has yet to receive a response.

You can now read a response to the Post article on CounterPunch co-written by Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank that is much more gripping than any spy novel written by Eric Ambler. Titled Go Ask Alice: the Curious Case of “Alice Donovan”,  it grapples with puzzles even harder to solve than why Russia sponsored ads during the 2016 elections that took both sides of a hotly debated issue like immigration. Can you imagine the Voice of America broadcasting the pro and con side of Pussy Riot or homophobia in Russia? I can’t.

Essentially, Alice Donovan was submitting the same types of articles that have appeared a million times in CounterPunch, Consortium News, the Nation, AlterNet, the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, The Independent, the Boston Globe, et al from the liberal to radical left. You can also read the same analysis on the right, from David Horowitz to David Duke. Did the Kremlin think that her pro-Assad articles would make a difference in the battle for ideas that people like me lost 4 years ago? If so, then it is not the master of dezinformatsiya that the Post article would have you believe. Indeed, the main threat to democracy in the USA is not the Russian-backed troll farms or RT.com. It is the iron grip on the media from the Clintonista NY Times and Washington Post on one side and the Murdoch-type media on the other. The one missing perspective on Syria or Ukraine—two of the supposedly critical terrains of geopolitical struggle—is based on class. Did you think that either the New York Review of Books or the New York Post had any interest in reporting on the class contradictions of Syria in 2011? You have to be fucking kidding.

Much of the article deals with the question of determining the identity of Alice Donovan, who the FBI identified as a Russian operative. How exactly is someone like Jeff St. Clair supposed to track this down? I was shocked to see that he has to deal with 75 submissions a day. If he was responsible for making sure that some pro-Assad article was being written by a real “anti-imperialist”, whose numbers exceed the grains of sand on the Coney Island beach, rather than someone operating out of a Moscow basement, there would be no CounterPunch. In fact, I read through my submissions at least 3 times on Thursday to catch any typos because I don’t expect Jeff to do it. Even then, I miss them occasionally to my chagrin.

Maybe if CounterPunch was funded to the same degree as Truthout or AlterNet, this would be possible. For the fiscal year 2015-2016, Truthout reported income of $1,244,266 to the IRS while AlterNet operated on a budget of $1,825,395.00 last year. CounterPunch’s annual fund-drive this year amounted to $75,000 for comparison’s sake. Meanwhile, there are usually over 50 articles a week on CounterPunch whose provenance would be beyond AlterNet’s ability to validate, let alone the two-person team of Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank.

There’s only one cavil I have with Jeff and Joshua’s penetrating analysis of this mysterious intervention by one Alice Donovan. They write:

There’s no question that Donovan’s writings gave weight to the idea that US interference in both Syria and Ukraine might spark a new and dangerous Cold War. But there’s nothing remarkable about those sentiments. It’s a perspective that is at least partially shared by many US foreign policy analysts, from Stephen Cohen to Henry Kissinger. And it’s a perspective that readers are entitled, though rarely given the opportunity, to hear.

As I pointed out earlier, there are ample opportunities to hear such perspectives. You can even describe them as hegemonic even though you would get the impression from many on the left that this is just like 2003 and the USA is poised for a “regime change” operation in Syria. Ironically, the USA has been intervening massively in Syria but mostly against the jihadists that are supposedly a threat to all we hold dear (Madonna videos, cabernet sauvignon, Marlboro cigarettes, etc.) For the entire time, the USA was bombing ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, there was not a peep from the “anti-imperialist” left. It was up to my friend Anand Gopal to make the biggest stink about the American warmongering in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, of all places. This was the sort of investigative reporting a responsible left should have been engaged in, if it wasn’t so fucked up. If you haven’t read Gopal’s article, I invited you to read it now. Here’s a representative paragraph:

LATER THAT SAME day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses.

That’s the sort of information we used to get from Wikileaks—that is until Julian Assange turned into Alice Donovan.


Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options

By Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe December 25 at 2:14 PM

The first email arrived in the inbox of CounterPunch, a left-leaning American news and opinion website, at 3:26 a.m. — the middle of the day in Moscow.

“Hello, my name is Alice Donovan and I’m a beginner freelance journalist,” read the Feb. 26, 2016 message.

The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named “NorthernNight.” Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.

Her first articles as a freelancer for CounterPunch and at least 10 other online publications weren’t especially political. As the 2016 presidential election heated up, Donovan’s message shifted. Increasingly, she seemed to be doing the Kremlin’s bidding by stoking discontent toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and touting WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials say was a tool of Russia’s broad influence operation to affect the presidential race.

“There’s no denying the emails that Julian Assange has picked up from inside the Democratic Party are real,” she wrote in August 2016 for a website called We Are Change. “The emails have exposed Hillary Clinton in a major way — and almost no one is reporting on it.”

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said.

This account of the United States’ piecemeal response to the Russian disinformation threat is based on interviews with dozens of current and former senior U.S. officials at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and U.S. and European intelligence services, as well as NATO representatives and top European diplomats.

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election trace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States. “I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

The sun sets at the White House on Dec. 19. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

With the 2018 elections fast approaching, the debate over how to deal with Russia continues. Many in the Trump White House, including the president, play down the effects of Russian interference and complain that the U.S. intelligence report on the 2016 election has been weaponized by Democrats seeking to undermine Trump.

“If it changed one electoral vote, you tell me,” said a senior Trump administration official, who, like others, requested anonymity to speak frankly. “The Russians didn’t tell Hillary Clinton not to campaign in Wisconsin. Tell me how many votes the Russians changed in Macomb County [in Michigan]. The president is right. The Democrats are using the report to delegitimize the presidency.”

Other senior officials in the White House, the intelligence community and the Pentagon have little doubt that the Russians remain focused on meddling in U.S. politics.

“We should have every expectation that what we witnessed last year is not a one-shot deal,” said Douglas E. Lute, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. “The Russians are onto something. They found a weakness, and they will be back in 2018 and 2020 with a more sophisticated and targeted approach.”

Digital blitz

The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an all-out information battle during the Cold War. But the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and the Bill Clinton administration and Congress in 1999 shuttered America’s preeminent global information agency.

“They thought it was all over and that we’d won the propaganda war,” said Joseph D. Duffey, the last director of the U.S. Information Agency, which was charged with influencing foreign populations.

When President Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia began searching for ways to make up for its diminished military. Officials seized on influence campaigns and cyberwarfare as equalizers. Both were cheap, easy to deploy and hard for an open and networked society such as the United States to defend against.

Early warning signs of the growing Russian disinformation threat included the 2005 launch of RT, the Kremlin-funded TV network, and the 2007 cyberattacks that overwhelmed Estonia’s banks, government ministries and newspapers. A year later, the Kremlin launched a digital blitz that temporarily shut down Georgia’s broadcasters and defaced the website of its president.

Closer to home for Americans, Russian government trolls in 2012 went after a U.S. ambassador for the first time on social media, inundating his Twitter account with threats.

But for U.S. officials, the real wake-up call came in early 2014 when the Russians annexed Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. An intercepted Russian military intelligence report dated February 2014 documented how Moscow created fake personas to spread disinformation on social media to buttress its broader military campaign.

The classified Russian intelligence report, obtained by The Washington Post, offered examples of the messages the fake personas spread. “Brigades of westerners are now on their way to rob and kill us,” wrote one operative posing as a Russian-speaking Ukrainian. “Morals have been replaced by thirst for blood and hatred toward anything Russian.”

Officials in the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence branch, drafted the document as part of an effort to convince Kremlin higher-ups of the campaign’s effectiveness. Officials boasted of creating a fake Facebook account they used to send death threats to 14 politicians in southeastern Ukraine.

Five days into the campaign, the GRU said, its fake accounts were garnering 200,000 views a day.

Mixing entertainment, news and propaganda

The Ukraine operation offered the Americans their first glimpse of the power of Russia’s post-Cold War playbook.

In March 2014, Obama paid a visit to NATO headquarters, where he listened as unnerved allies warned him of the growing Russia threat. Aides wanted to give the president options to push back.

President Barack Obama speaks in Brussels after meeting with NATO leaders in March 2014 about, among other things, the threat posed by Russia. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

In the White House Situation Room a few weeks later, they pitched him on creating several global channels — in Russian, Mandarin and other languages — that would compete with RT. The proposed American versions would mix entertainment with news programing and pro-Western propaganda.

The president brushed aside the idea as politically impractical.

In the Situation Room that day was Richard Stengel, the undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, who, like Obama, disliked the idea. “There were all these guys in government who had never created one minute of TV content talking about creating a whole network,” said Stengel, the former top editor at Time magazine. “I remember early on telling a friend of mine in TV that people don’t like government content. And he said, ‘No, they don’t like bad content, and government content sucks.’ ”

So Stengel began to look for alternatives to counter the threat. Across Eastern Europe and Ukraine, Russian-language channels mixing entertainment, news and propaganda were spreading the Kremlin’s message. Stengel wanted to help pro-Western stations on Russia’s periphery steal back audiences from the Russian stations by giving them popular American television shows and movies.

Shortly after Obama nixed the idea of American-funded networks, Stengel traveled to Los Angeles in the hope that a patriotic appeal to Hollywood executives might persuade them to give him some blockbusters free.

Stengel’s best bet was Michael M. Lynton, then the chairman of Sony Pictures, who had grown up in the Netherlands and immediately understood what Stengel was trying to do. He recalled how in the 1970s one Dutch political party sponsored episodes of “M.A.S.H.” to portray America as sympathetic to the antiwar movement. A rival party bought the rights to “All in the Family” to send the message that U.S. cities were filled with bigots like Archie Bunker.

But Sony’s agreements with broadcasters in the region prevented Lynton from giving away programming. Other studios also turned Stengel away.

Back in Washington, Stengel got Voice of America to launch a round-the-clock Russian-language news broadcast and found a few million dollars to translate PBS documentaries on the Founding Fathers and the American Civil War into Russian for broadcast in eastern Ukraine. He had wanted programing such as “Game of Thrones” but would instead have to settle for the likes of Ken Burns.

“We brought a tiny, little Swiss Army knife to a gunfight,” he said.

A counter-disinformation team

The task of countering what the Russians were doing fell to a few underfunded bureaucrats at the State Department who journeyed to the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon and the FBI searching for help and finding little.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of 9/11 prioritized counterterrorism. They worried about the legal peril of snooping on social media and inadvertently interfering with Americans’ communications. The State Department created a small team to tweet messages about Ukraine, but they were vastly outnumbered by the Russian trolls.

Frustrated U.S. officials concluded that the best information on Russia’s social media campaign in Ukraine wasn’t coming from U.S. intelligence agencies, but from independent researchers. In April 2015, Lawrence Alexander, a 29-year-old self-taught programmer who lived with his parents in Brighton, Britain, received an unexpected Twitter message from a State Department official who reported to Stengel.

“Can you show what [the Russians] are swarming on in real time?” the official, Macon Phillips, asked. “Your work gave me an idea.”

A few months later, Phillips requested an in-person meeting. Alexander, who suffers from a genetic disorder that often leaves him chronically fatigued, wasn’t able to make the two-hour trek to the U.S. Embassy in London. So Phillips took the train to Brighton, where Alexander walked him through his research, which was spurred by his alarm over Putin’s intervention in Ukraine and his crackdown on gays and journalists.

Phillips’s ideas sprang from his work on Obama’s first presidential campaign, which used social media analytics to target supporters. One proposal now was to identify “online influencers” who were active on social media spreading Kremlin messages. Phillips wanted to use analytics to target them with U.S. counterarguments.

State Department lawyers, citing the Privacy Act, demanded guarantees that data on Americans using social media wouldn’t inadvertently be collected as part of the effort.

The pre-Internet law restricts the collection of data related to the ways Americans exercise their First Amendment rights. The lawyers concluded that it applied to tweets, leaving some State Department officials baffled.

“When you tweet, it’s public,” said Moira Whelan, a former deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy. “We weren’t interested in Americans.”

The lawyers’ objections couldn’t be overcome. The project, which Phillips worked on for more than a year, was dead.

Zapping servers

While Stengel and Phillips were struggling to make do with limited resources, the CIA, at the direction of Obama’s top national security advisers, was secretly drafting proposals for covert action.

Russia hawks in the administration wanted far-reaching options that, they argued, would convince Putin that the price he would pay for continued meddling in the politics of neighboring democracies would be “certain and great,” said a former official involved in the debate.

One of the covert options that officials discussed called for U.S. spy agencies to create fake websites and personas on social media to fight back against the Kremlin’s trolls in Europe. Proponents wanted to spread anti-Kremlin messages, drawing on U.S. intelligence about Russian military activities and government corruption. But others doubted the effectiveness of using the CIA to conduct influence operations against an adversary that operated with far fewer constraints. Or they objected to the idea of U.S. spies even doing counterpropaganda.

James R. Clapper Jr., the top spy in the Obama administration, said in an interview that he didn’t think the United States “should emulate the Russians.”

Another potential line of attack involved using cyberweapons to take down Russian-controlled websites and zap servers used to control fake Russian personas — measures some officials thought would have little long-term effect or would prompt Russian retaliation.

The covert proposals, which were circulated in 2015 by David S. Cohen, then the CIA’s deputy director, divided the administration and intelligence agencies and never reached the national security cabinet or the president for consideration. Cohen declined to comment.

Putin and Obama shake hands at the United Nations in September 2015. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

After top White House officials received intelligence in the summer of 2016 about Putin’s efforts to help Trump, the deadlocked debate over covert options to counter the Kremlin was revived. Obama was loath to take any action that might prompt the Russians to disrupt voting. So he warned Putin to back off and then watched to see what the Russians would do.

After the election, Obama’s advisers moved to finalize a package of retaliatory measures.

Officials briefly considered rushing out an overarching new order, known as a presidential finding, that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union would authorize sweeping covert operations against Russia. But they opted against such a far-reaching approach. Instead, the White House decided on a targeted cyber-response that would make use of an existing presidential finding designed to combat cyberthreats around the world rather than from Russia specifically.

As a supplement to the cyber finding, Obama signed a separate, narrower order, known as a “Memorandum of Notification,” which gave the CIA the authority to plan operations against Russia. Senior administration and intelligence officials discussed a half-dozen specific actions, some of which required implants in Russian networks that could be triggered remotely to attack computer systems.

Members of the Obama administration expected that the CIA would need a few weeks or, in some cases, months to finish planning for the proposed operations.

“Those actions were cooked,” said a former official. “They had been vetted and agreed to in concept.”

Obama left behind a road map. Trump would have to decide whether to implement it.

‘This is what we live with’

Before Trump took office, a U.S. government delegation flew to NATO headquarters in Brussels to brief allies on what American intelligence agencies had learned about Russian tactics during the presidential election.

U.S. officials are normally reluctant to share sensitive intelligence with the alliance’s main decision-making body. But an exception was made in this case to help “fireproof” all 28 allies in case Russia targeted them next, a senior U.S. official said.

The Obama administration had gone through an agonizing learning curve. The Russians, beginning in 2014, had hacked the State Department and the White House before targeting the Democratic National Committee and other political institutions. By the time U.S. officials came to grips with the threat, it was too late to act. Now they wanted to make sure NATO allies didn’t repeat their mistakes.

Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, gaveled the closed-door session to order, and the Americans ran through their 30-minute presentation. The Europeans had for years been journeying to Washington to warn senior U.S. officials about Russian meddling in their elections. The Americans had listened politely but didn’t seem particularly alarmed by the threat, reflecting a widely held belief inside the U.S. government that its democratic institutions and society weren’t nearly as vulnerable as those in Europe.

For the first time since the days after 9/11, the American officials in Brussels sounded overwhelmed and humbled, said a European ambassador in the room.

When the briefers finished, the allies made clear to the Americans that little in the presentation surprised them. “This is what we’ve been telling you for some time,” the Europeans said, according to Lute, the NATO ambassador. “This is what we live with. Welcome to our lives.”

Mr. Preemption

After Trump took office, Russia’s army of trolls began to shift their focus within the United States, according to U.S. intelligence reports. Instead of spreading messages to bolster Trump, they returned to their long-held objective of sowing discord in U.S. society and undermining American global influence. Trump’s presidency and policies became a Russian disinformation target.

Articles from Donovan and other Kremlin-backed personas slammed the Trump administration for, among other things, supporting “terrorists” and authorizing military strikes that killed children in Syria.

“They are all about disruption,” said a former official briefed on the intelligence. “They want a distracted United States that can’t counter Vladimir Putin’s ambitions.”

The dilemma facing the Trump White House was an old one: how to respond.

In the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Brett Holmgren, a top intelligence official in the Obama White House, briefed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, his Trump administration counterpart, on the actions Obama had taken. Holmgren and Cohen-Watnick declined to comment.

Once in the job, Cohen-Watnick sent out memos identifying counterintelligence threats, including Russia’s, as his top priority, officials said.

He convened regular meetings in the White House Situation Room at which he pressed counterintelligence officials in other government agencies, including the CIA, to finalize plans for Russia, including those left behind by the Obama team, according to officials in attendance.

By spring, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, senior White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill and Cohen-Watnick began advocating measures to counter Russian disinformation using covert influence and cyber-operations, according to officials.

But, just as in the Obama administration, the most far-reaching ideas ran into obstacles.

McMaster and Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, both laid claim to controlling the cyber-portfolio and would sometimes issue conflicting instructions that left policymakers and intelligence officials confused about whose direction to follow.

Obama’s 11th-hour actions had cleared the way for spy agencies to conduct cyber-operations to counter the Russian threat. But the CIA still had to finalize the plans, and the Trump White House wanted to review them.

Bossert was more cautious than McMaster about using cyber-tools offensively. His message to the National Security Council staff, a senior White House official said, was: “We have to do our homework. Everybody needs to slow down.”

Directing the CIA to conduct covert influence operations was a similarly fraught process. Before the agency could proceed, intelligence officials informed the White House that it would need new authorities from the president.

To Trump officials, the CIA appeared to be more interested in other priorities, such as proposals to target WikiLeaks. The National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment on the covert options.

The policy debates were further complicated by the difficulty of even raising Russian meddling with a president who viewed the subject as an attack on his legitimacy.

[Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked]

In an effort to bring Trump around, officials presented him with evidence of Putin’s duplicity and continued interference in U.S. politics. But the president’s recent public statements suggest that he continues to believe that he is making progress in building a good relationship with the Russian leader.

Earlier this month, Trump noted that Putin, in his end-of-year news conference, had praised Trump’s stewardship of the U.S. economy.

“He said very nice things,” Trump told reporters.

Putin later called Trump to praise the CIA for providing Russia with intelligence about a suspected terrorist plot in St. Petersburg. “That’s a great thing,” Trump said after the second call with the Russian leader, “and the way it’s supposed to work.”

Even White House officials who take the Russia threat seriously fret that aggressive covert action will just provoke Putin to increase his assault on a vulnerable United States.

“One of the things I’ve learned over many, many years of looking at Russia and Putin is that he’s Mr. Preemption. If he thinks that somebody else is capable of doing something to him, he gets out ahead of it,” said a senior administration official. “We have to be extraordinarily careful.”

What’s real and not real

The Kremlin has given little indication that it intends to back off its disinformation campaign inside the United States. More than a year after the FBI first identified Alice Donovan as a probable Russian troll, she’s still pitching stories to U.S. publications.

In the spring, Donovan’s name appeared on articles criticizing Trump’s conduct of the war in Syria and defending Russian-backed leader Bashar al-Assad. “U.S.-led coalition airstrike on Assad’s troops not accidental,” the headline of a May 20 piece on CounterPunch read. Her last piece for CounterPunch, headlined “Civil War in Venezuela,” was published Oct. 16.

Other pieces under her byline have been published in recent months at Veterans Today, where Gordon Duff, the site’s editor, said he knew nothing about Donovan.

“I don’t edit what people do,” Duff said. “If it’s original, I’ll publish it. I don’t decide what’s real and not real.”

At We Are Change, which has also recently published Donovan’s work, Luke Rudkowski, one of the site’s founders, wondered why the FBI didn’t contact his publication with its suspicions. “I wish we could get information from the FBI so we could understand what’s really happening,” he said. “I wish they had been more transparent.”

The FBI, in keeping with its standard practice in counterintelligence investigations, has kept a close hold on information about Donovan and other suspected Russian personas peddling messages inside the United States.

The bureau does not have the authority to shut down the accounts of suspected trolls housed on U.S. social media companies’ platforms. “We’re not the thought police,” said one former senior law enforcement official.

The Russians are taking advantage of “seams between our policies, our laws and our bureaucracy,” said Austin Branch, a former Defense Department official who specialized in information operations.

The FBI said in a statement that it has employed cyber, criminal and counterintelligence tools to deal with the disinformation threat. “The FBI takes seriously any attempts to influence U.S. systems and processes,” the statement said.

In late November, The Post informed Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch’s editor, that the FBI suspects that Donovan is a Russian government persona. St. Clair said in an interview that Donovan’s submissions didn’t stand out among the 75 or so pitches he receives each day.

On Nov. 30, he sent her an email saying he wanted to discuss her work. When he got no response, St. Clair followed up with a direct message on Twitter, asking her to call him immediately.

On Dec. 5 Donovan finally replied by email: “I do not want to talk to anyone for security reasons.”

St. Clair tapped out a new message, begging her to provide proof — a photograph of her driver’s license or passport — that would show that she was the beginning freelance journalist she claimed to be in her introductory email from 2016.

“It shouldn’t be that difficult to substantiate,” he wrote.

He has yet to receive a response.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Adam Entous writes about national security, foreign policy and intelligence for The Post. He joined the newspaper in 2016 after more than 20 years with The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, where he covered the Pentagon, the CIA, the White House and Congress. He covered President George W. Bush for five years after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She covers cybersecurity, surveillance, counterterrorism and intelligence issues.

Follow @nakashimae

Greg Jaffe is a national security reporter for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009. Previously, he covered the White House and the military for The Post.

Follow @GregJaffe

16 Comments »

  1. Say get this. I have often had a hard time in the past trying to decide whether or not to post something under my real name or under a fake name. There were times that I wanted to use a fake name just for the sake of modesty. Some of my past posts have been so brilliant that I wanted to use a fake name so that it would not appear that I was bragging about how smart that I was. Was being the operative word. And I mean smart in a way that other people might not use it. I certianly can not solve a crossword puzzle, fix a Rubics cube, or beat anyone over the age of 7 at chess or go, or any such thing that people who are really smart can do. Well of course, no doubt, there will be some people that will think that my assessment of having written posts that were very insightful was, or is, wildly misplaced as well. After all I can not sight a single example.
    Therefore I do not think that it was really very important at all that Alice used a fake name. I also do not think that it is important that Alice plagurized. Did she benifit from this plagurism financially? Did she benifit in other ways? Are her sins greater than the sins of the Washington Post article about her and Counter Punch. Who is actually more manipulative? Finally why did she not want to talk with the editors at Counterpunch? Could it be that she did not want to take a chance that if she did, they would detect not a Russian accent(s) but an Iranian, or perhaps even an Israeli accent(s)*?
    *If she was actually the pen name for multiple people.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 27, 2017 @ 1:25 am

  2. I really doubt that using sock puppets to submit crappy plagiarized articles to CounterPunch is the best the Russian intelligence services can come up with, or that putting “Game of Thrones” on Russian tv is the best that U.S. counterintellugence can come up with. The implication of Jaffee’s article is that the CIA is fighting with one hand tied behind its back, and ought to be unleashed. Given the CIA’s well-documented record of torture, murder, drug smuggling, etc., that’s truly frightening.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — December 27, 2017 @ 2:18 pm

  3. Louis – Very interesting piece. I thought of you when I read the article yesterday morning (I subscribe to the Post). My background is in the history of Soviet/Russian security operations and I speak Russian. I studied under John Dziak at George Washington University & Georgetown, and also Ray Rocca. Dziak was the senior Soviet analyst for some years at DIA and Rocca was Deputy Chief of Counterintelligence at CIA for a long time and a mentor to Dziak. Rocca personally knew all the defectors from the early Soviet period and was a great historian of the Cheka. What I think you are missing in focusing on the Russian operative known as Alice is that this individual is but a small part of a much larger program of deception, disruption and disinformation on the part of the Russians. It isn’t just limited to planting articles in publications. It’s a broad-based program to disrupt and take advantage of our open system and incite political conflict. One of their most effective tactics is to co-opt people, organizations, and criminals. Most of the GRU’s and FSB’s top hackers are criminals that were facing serious jail time for using their skills to steal money in Russia. And take Wikileaks. You will recall when Wikileaks first came on the scene some years ago they promised to leak Russian secrets as well as US ones. A Russian official physically threatened Asange in a public statement and we never did get the Russian secrets. Yet just a few months later Assange had a tv show on RT. Coincidence? My favorite part of the Post article was when the U.S. went to Europe with their little presentation and the Euros laughed at them and said they had told them about all this two years before. People here in the US just do not understand how Russia operates. Deception has always been a favorite weapon and they are very good at it. You mentioned once that you have Netflix. Watch the Norwegian miniseries “Occupied.” That really shows the kind of stuff they practice and why Europeans are much more aware of the problem than we are. Finally I will address Curt’s post in which he says it’s no big deal that Alice is a fake name. Well if it’s no big deal, then why bother using a fake name? Why bother having trolls go to the comments sections of major newspapers in droves and pretend they are Americans? Why not just say “I’m a Russian and here is what I think.”? Why is it that Russia feels the need to continually run deception operations on a massive scale, something that no other country in the world does? That’s the bigger issue here, not just that some GRU or FSB operative planted a few articles. It a very serious issue that most Americans, even in government just don’t understand at any level. One other recommendation to get an understanding of Russian deception is the classic book “The Conspirators” by G. Bailey. It’s the story of the most famous Russian deception operation of all time, The Trust, which caused huge damage to anti-Soviet organizations in the early days of the Soviet regime. It’s considered the prototype of all deception operations and is critical in understanding Russia’s use of this weapon.

    Comment by Charlie — December 27, 2017 @ 2:42 pm

  4. @Charlie: “Something that no other country in the world does?” Really? Even in El Salvador, Nayib Bukele (a politician who I otherwise respect) was caught using sock puppets on social media. My daughter’s boyfriend’s unused Twitter account even got taken over by someone posting pro-Nayib content. The irony is that, given the fact that Nayib is the most popular politician in the country and that the ARENA and FMLN leaderships are pretty much discredited, not to mention the glowing reviews Nayib has received from U.S. media such as Univision and Time magazine, there really doesn’t seem to be any pressing need for Nayib to use fake Internet personaes to promote his candidacy.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — December 27, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

  5. No other country has large scale deception operations, involving hundreds or even thousands of people, like Russia, not even close. Russia and the Soviet Union even have had specific agencies within the security services that do nothing but disinformation operations. In the old KGB it was called Department D (for Dezinformatsiya) However, other countries are indeed starting to get in on the action. It appears the Chinese are now, for instance, systematically using a Japanese messaging app called LINE which about 75% of the Taiwanese population uses to get news. The Turks also seem to be currently running some sort of program targeting the Turkish dispora in Europe, especially Germany. All governments lie on occasion as do all politicians but no country has ever come close to devoting the kinds of resources to deception and disinformation like Russia. In the case you cite, that’s one guy and perhaps some staff member, not an organized part of the government involving dozens or hundreds of people running operations all the time on all sorts of subjects. I would note also there is an unusual culture of lying in Russia in general that most non-Russians cannot understand. The term for it is “vranyo.” If you look in a Russian-English dictionary it will probably define it as “lies, all lies.” But that does not even begin to explain the concept. In English vranyo means that Party A lies to Party B. B knows A is lying and A knows B knows A is lying but a charade of normal discourse continues. That’s vranyo. Look how many words it took in English to explain the concept that in Russian everyone knows by one word. This is what they do, they have lots of experience and they are very good at it.

    Comment by Charlie — December 27, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

  6. The Russian security services probably like to believe that they are unique in their capacity for disinformation, and clearly it’s in the self-interest on U.S. “Russia hands” such as the ones you studied with to promote such a view. It’s also in the interest of U.S. intelligence agents such as the anonymous sources in the Post article to promote the idea that Russian counterintelligence capabilities are unique (and that therefore U.S. intelligence services need more resources to deal with this special threat). However, in the end, rather than focusing on whatever “particularly Russian” features it may have, I think it’s more useful to see Russian intelligence operations in the context of what every great power has done for centuries, and also specifically what the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services (among others) do today.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — December 27, 2017 @ 5:44 pm

  7. There’s a fine line to be trod here. The Democratic Party has placed pretty well all its hopes for a future slim victory on the idea of impeaching or at least profoundly discrediting Trump for his allegedly treasonous connections with the Russians in their shocking! incredible! intervention in our stainless pure bourgeois election process. This allows them to avoid any semblance of actual politics, which might lead to unacceptable demands for a halt to their eternal rightward creep, as would really big electoral victories based on what the anemic Sanders/DSA wing of the party playfully call “socialism” or, more acceptably, “progressivism.”

    Trump is no doubt elbow-deep in money-laundering and other actually criminal activity involving the Russian oligarchy and the Russian mob, but it’s the much more questionable “treason” theme that the Democrats want to push to the limit. What goes along with this is the shameless, quasi-sexual adulation by reactionary Democrats of Robert Mueller–a dyed-in-the-wool representative of neoliberal authoritarianism at its most insidious.

    (“War hero” my foot, BTW. There are no heroes in bad wars, but the Democratic Party–as always–care for nothing in the world more than the “intelligent conservative” figure of male authority if he can be seen as punishing their enemies [and of course keeping the “infantile” socialists in their place]. Mueller is temporarily and accidentally performing a useful function–why do Democrats all want to go to have sex with him? )

    One must avoid associating oneself with such poisonous and destructive nonsense.

    Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, this episode does reflect a pattern of behavior by Putin and his crypto-fascist and imperialist government of thieves, thugs, and murderers that should not, on its own demerits, be overlooked. The issue bears on the fraudulent icon of Putin as progressive hero that is being put forward by most writers on Syria in Counterpunch and elsewhere on the left, and by the likes of Max Blumenthal–someone whose stature demands a vehement response when he veers in a bad direction, and makes his betrayal all the more sickening.

    The exposure of this shadowy, minor sockpuppet should alert us to the conspiratorial depths to which the Putin regime is willing to sink in addition to the well-known and public subornation of talents like Blumenthal and such lesser lights as Ben Norton, John Wight, Mike Whitney, and pretty much the whole borgata of allegedly progressive vedettes on RT and Sputnik News.

    If you doubt that, review the evidence of Putin’s personal involvement in the Olympic doping scandal, which was exposed (for whatever self-serving reasons) by the defector Rodchenko in the recent Netflix documentary. This is how those bastards operate and a relatively small operation can in principle be greenlighted all the way up to the Kremlin. Very little of the Dear Leader’s time is needed for this.

    The fact that such activity is actually conspiratorial should not provoke a flood of paranoia. The CIA are not involved and nor is super-thermite or common fertilizer that can be transformed by political necessity into the raw material of nerve gas. There are no Martians at work and no illuminati, and no strings are being pulled by George Soros or the Elders of Zion.

    But facts are facts, and the exposure of this sock-puppet should alert us all to the completely untrustworthy nature of any pro-Putin opinionating published anywhere in English as well as the readiness of shadowy figures like Assange to be bought off or duped. Where there are volunteer suckers, Putin will use them. But their chorus will be swollen by puppets and spies. We have to understand that not because we are frothing at the mouth about “treason” (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean) but because we must not believe the lies that are being propagated. It’s our responsibility to the truth, not our so-called patriotism, that should be engaged here.

    Only fools regard the “progressive” or “anti-imperialist” Putin as a reality–this episode merely confirms what most of us know already. We can take comfort in the fact that, as Louis and others have consistently shown, the pro-Putin case–any pro-Putin case–on the left is self-destroying when read critically with or without reference to the planted Russian-government sources of at least some of it.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 27, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

  8. Dear Comrade Charlie and Chris from Iowa,
    Charlie, did you forget who your audiance is here? Do we all look like a bunch of unquestioning high school students from farms in Iowa. Well I am writing this not just for you but for a high school student who does live on a farm in Iowa and is just starting to question everything that (s)he has been taught about America.
    Charlie, you speak of the large number of people involved with Russian attempts to manipulate Americans and other people around the world as if the size of the operation is what makes it dangerous and dispicable. Well if the US government only used 5 or 6 agents to overthrow Mosadeq or Allende or Zelaya does that not make the US methods of interference in other countries even thousands of times more insidious? After all if to many people get thier hands in the pie one of them might be a Christopher Boyce, or a Russian Version of Christopher in the case of a Russian Agency.
    Furthermore if the US intellegence services claim that my friend Alice is a Russian agent then we can be 95% sure that (s)he is NOT a Russian Agent. In addition you write that it is only the Russians that feel the need to mount deception operations on a massive scale. But is the scale of an operation the principle by how it should be judged? Furthermore if American desception operations are disemmenated by the NY Times and the Washington Post should the people of those organizations involved not be counted just because they do not get a government paycheck, or because they trust people that they should not trust? Much of the world outside of the United States sees the United States exactly for what it is. One massive disinformation machine.
    Finally I gave you a good answer as to why (s)he used a fake name, modesty. If that is not good enough how bout this, if she actually uses her real name people would immediately prejudge his (her) stories or comments. Yet the most important point about this case was made by Jeffery which is that when you take all the pieces of this puzzel and try to make a coherent picture it is clear that to many of the pieces are missing from the picture to recreate a picture that comes anywhere close to approaching the truth.
    One thing that you got correct is that the Russians are good at what they do, in reference to their ability to decieve and divide their enemies. Sadly such an ability is not always decisive.
    They had a very good intellegence system in place during the cold war and they still lost because the best intellegence is wortheless if the people who posses its secrets can not take advantage of the information that is produced. Had there been a hot war they would have lost even faster. The same is true now with thier attempts now to gain influence outside of Russia. They might be abel to achieve some short term damage against their targets but with out the ability to build on such short term gains what ever damage that they do will in time get repaired.
    Now a really cynical person could say that such failure is deliberate. A really cynical person could conclude that because Putin is a corrupt autocrat (plutocrat) that the entire perception of conflict between Russia and the west, or even Iran for that matter, is only a stage managed event designed to keep the population of the countries involved focused on an enemy abroad rather than the enemy at home. Well as an American I can say that is clearly the case for the USA. As an American it is clear to me that Russians or Iranians or North Korean or Chinese have to decide for themselves whether or not they are being suckered by their own governments.
    Dear Chris from Iowa, the reason that it is not hard to conclude that Americans are being suckered is because of their unique location and resource rich environment. Americans live so far away from any potential predator with access to such emense local resources that if the whole world were to join forces to try to destroy, or occupy, America the whole world would destroy itself, or get destroyed in the process. The only thing that Americans have to fear is the stupidity and evil of other Americans.
    Since these facts are not convient for the plutocrats in America they go to great lengths to convince young American men that it is their duty to help protect the Germans or the Ukrainians from the Russians, or the Israelis from the Arabs and or the Iranians, or the South Koreans from the North Koreans, or the Kurds from Saddam, but not Erdoguan, or to protect Assad from ISIS but not from the Free Syrian Army, and on and on and ön. Now I can not go so far as to say that the USA should never get involved in a foreign conflict. What I can say is that up to now, even in the second world war, America did not get involved in foriegn conflicts to save anyone in the local populations. They got involved to benifit a very narrow segment of the American population.
    Chris, I would advise you not to repeat anything that you have read here at school. It will do nothing other than cause your estrangement from your classmates.
    Good Luck on your education.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 27, 2017 @ 10:28 pm

  9. I forgot to point something out when comparing the abilities of the Russians and the Americans to decieve, divide and demoralize an enemy to aid in their defeat. The Russians, or more accurately someone working alone or for a goverment or an NGO who has been accused of being a Russian can copy and paste and aritcle and send it to some small internet sites to be reposted. The US on the other hand has the capabiltiy to have one of its assets, Israel in this case attack another of its assets, a US Naval vessel in this case, to disguise the fact that Israel is not merely an asset of the US. Or it has the capability to stage manage the Monica Lewinsky scandal to prove that the leadership of the Republicans and the Democrats are really trying very hard to beat the other one so that people will be convinced that their votes count for something. NOW THOSE SUCCEESFUL MANIPULATIONS DEMONSTRATE REAL POWER UNMATCHED ANYWHERE IN THE WOLRD!

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 27, 2017 @ 11:44 pm

  10. plutocrats in America they go to great lengths to convince young American men that it is their duty….<<<

    Effectively you are dependent on the US govt to tell you who to be against and presumably who to be for, without further "education" needed. You admit it is "really cynical" to assume it could be manipulation — the old being suckered trick. Nevertheless, you conclude, it is preferable to trust your good old American mistrust of your govt dutifully drawing a minus whereever they draw a plus. In a confusing world one needs hope the govt will do the wrong thing, I suppose. What could possibly go wrong?

    Comment by seaspan — December 28, 2017 @ 8:49 pm

  11. Dear Seaspan,
    I am not sure that I follow you comment. But in so far as I can I will try to respond. You say that I am dependent on the US gov. to tell me who to be for and against I guess as a result of drawing a minus where ever the US governmenr draws a plus. There fore no further education is needed. The way that i see myself is that my education has revealed that the US government has been lying a lot long before Trump, or Bush, or Reagan, or even Johnson became president. The way that I see myself is that my education revealed that other governments lie alot too. The way that I see it is that the lying that the US does is the most uncondonable on the planet because of our unique geographical location makes it the most unneccessary to do so, except for that very narrow spectrum of the American population that benifits from US policies. As for what other countries, or political moviements with in other countries do I do not see myself as automatically drawing a plus where the US government draws a minus. My view is that it is very difficlut to know what is going on in ones own country let alone a distant country, especially one that speaks a different language. Therefore I think that the US government should avoid entangleing foriegn involvement. That is not an absolute view but if a person starts making to many exceptions to a rule then we are no longer dealing with exceptions to the rule but a different rule all together. There are of course many countries in the world that deserve better leadership. It is the job of the people in other countries to decide if they are living in one of those countries that deserves better leadership. If the anwer is yes it is up to them to decide on the most effecient means to achieve that better leadership. Just ilke me they are like jurors in a courtroom but the case that they are involved in an the evidence that they get presented to them is in a courtroom different from the one that I am in. It should see it as different courtrooms in the same courthouse, As trails take breaks and people linger in the hallways or in the cafeteria we pick up reports of what is going on in different the other courtrooms. Much of the information is inaccurate, some of outright lies.
    There fore it would really be quite presumptuous of me to critize the decisions made by other juries. Yet not absolutely presumptuous. Some jury decisions are outrageous and clearly motivated by bad intentions, or the really bad upbringing of the jury members, which would equate to a national population in this example.
    Now where there is surely some wiggle room to attack my generally non interventionist platform is with the question of what non governmental institutions should do in reguard to helping people in other countries. As I said we get some information about what is going on elsewhere and we are sometimes moved by the stories we hear and want to do something. Not only that since the world is an interconnected place when things go badly in one country the problems spill over in to nearby countries. Borders really do not make any sense. But a world without borders does not make any sense either. Non Governmental institutions, at least those that are not just fronts for government institutions, have a role to play in improving conditions for mankind. The key for these organizations is with so much to choose from how should they prioritze the most urgent needs. I can not answer that question.
    Further this phrase of drawing pluses and minuses is really a lame phrase. A person should just say spefically what they are talking about. So I will now give some specifics.
    1.) Catalonia. The independence movement there has got to be the most unjustified independence movement that I have seen mounted in my life time. The whole movement is based on language. Yes I know that a leftist party was in support of independence but this party does not get very much support. If this movement was really about issues I might support it. It clearly is not. If the Catalonians do not want to be part of Spain they should be forced to be part of France. Furthermore even if this movement was to create socialsm they are going to fail badly unless all of EU is part of the plan. Catalonian socialists should understand what the IRA understood years ago socialism has to be an international project.
    2) The Ukraine, the Russians were more than justified in reuniting the Crimea in to Russia. Those Ukrainians fighting for independence from the Regime in Kiev are justified in not wanting to be part of NATO or the EU. Therefore they are justified in rebeling against the government in Kiev. I do not give a rats ass if all the rest of the people in the Ukraine do want to be part of the EU or NATO. People do not have the right to join a continuing criminal enterprise even if it is a more effecient one than they already belong to. When I was in the US military I told my soldiers that an order to attack a country that had not attacked another country is an illegal order no matter who it comes from. If the American people had a referendum and decided by a unanimous vote to attack North Korea before it had attacked another country and you were ordered to to take part in attack on North Korea and you do so you are really no different than the nazi soldiers who attacked Europe. The American people do not have the authority to wage a war of aggression therefore they can not delegate that authority to the government.
    Since the Americans have been waging war against the entire planet for decades any country that voluntarily allies itself with the USA is gullty of collaboration. It is a crime and no country has the right to do it. Furthermore many of those Ukrainians who support a closer relationship with the west will be disappointed by the results anyways.
    3.) Syria, Assad would have fallen long ago had it not been for the support of Iran and Russia. Iran and Russia had every right to support Assad because everyone else in the world was supporting other sides in the conflict. If leadership of Iran and Russia had not felt threatened by American hostility and if they had not thought that Syria was an important battleground in defending themselves against that hostility they would not have support Assad the way that they did. I myself think that the leadership of both of those governments were mistaken in that belief but I could not convince them otherwise. The ungrateful bastards did not even ask for my opinion.
    As far as which side was (or perhaps is but will soon probably be a was) the lesser evil I do not presume to know. I tenatively support the Kurds and the Kurds are tactically aligned with Assad. That would make me in the eyes of some people an Assad supporter. But since I am not going to give money, or blood to any side in the conflict I think that I can say that I am neutral. Many years ago I wrote on the now defunct feralscholar web site that I thank god that I did not have to choose sides in the Algerian civil war because both sides seemed make reasonable assertions about they were fighting for. I imagine that the same thing is true for all 24 sides in the Syrian conflict.
    4.)Israel, it is not really an independent country. It is the covert 51st state of the USA and Saudi Arabia is Israel´s biggest provence. The idea that the Israelis had the right to push Arabs off land that had been Arab for many hundreds of years and set up a country based on the Jewish religion is really really stupid. If the Jewish religion really has something to offer the world then Jews should spend their time making converts. If it does not is should disappear in to the dustbin of history just like the roman gods. The only rights that Israelis should have after the way that they have as a country behaved is the right to leave with out going to prison first. It would be OK if some stayed but only as part of Egypt or as part of something new in the region, a regional federation of Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Persians, and Azeris, and a several other small ethnic groups that are almost unkown outside of the region, such as Baluchis.
    5.) North Korea, if the US was not there in Korea and Japan then the North Koreans would not have any excuses to threaten anyone.
    6.)Iran, the US should just leave Iran alone. Everytime it threatens Iran it strengthens the hands of the hard liners in Iran.
    7.) Venezula, its government has really fucked up. The only reason it is still in power is to many people remember how bad things were before Chavez came to power and they do not wnat those people to come back in to power. The US should stay the hell out of Venezuala and Columbia.
    8.) Cuba, could Castro have done things differently and still have done well by the Cuban people? Should he have developed other leaders more quickly?
    9.)Libya, it was a mistake for NATO to get involved in that conflict. Except those that fought for NATO I think that everyone else who fought for what ever side can say that he fought for the lesser evil. Who can really say?
    10.) Egypt: I would personally prefer to live under a secular military dictatorship than a popular Islamic dictatorship if the economic conditions would be equal. Would the economic conditions be equal?
    11. ) Yemen, no idea who the lesser evil is but I suspect that it is whoever is against Saudi Arabia. Here is an example of making a plus of where the USA makes a minus and it seems quite reasonable to me. But would any differences really be noticable if we could let two seperate histories play out and then view the results.
    12.)Turkey, Erdogan might be acting like an ass. But, someone did try to get rid of him and it was not all that long ago. He has been charged with staging this coup attempt himself. I do not believe that for a second because to many people actually died. I do think that he was tipped off in advance. You can not blame him though for not showing his hand to soon. For the time being I think that Erdogan should be excused for his behavior.
    13.)South Sudan, I do not even know who the US supports here.
    14.) Burma, what?
    15.) Zimbawue, did I spell that right, lets hope for the best
    16.) The rest if Africa, US involvement is not making things any better for Africans. It is not designed to.
    I think that what this shows is that one does not need a Harvard education or even to be a feral scholar to know that drawing a minus where ever the US government draws a plus is a pretty darn good rule of thumb.
    Dear Seaspan I am free to continue the discussion.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 29, 2017 @ 12:28 am

  12. any country that voluntarily allies itself with the USA is gullty of collaboration<<<

    This sort of confirms my point,,, The only problem I have is your phrasing. Instead of saying "a country allying with US" interests, some of your examples clearly mean the US allying with 'people' in their own struggle (or more accurately, co-opting them to US interests, undermining their struggle). I am surprised that never occured to you, reading the many sources offered from this site…

    Comment by seaspan — December 29, 2017 @ 1:49 am

  13. OK again I am not quite sure what you are driving at but I would tenatively say that it is correct to say that any at time a foreign people ally themselves with the United States whether it is to battle against their own home grown tyranny or to maintian their own home grown tyranny these people are discrediting themselves. History clearly shows that the US is not and never has been the arsenal of democracy. Yes it the US is getting involved it is getting involved to coopt someone to the very narrow intrests of a small segment of US society. Therefore any politicians that ally themselves with the government of the USA are discrediting themselves. Furthermore we can not say that just because a people are in revolt somewhere that there revolt is justified so honestly words like, allying with the people in their own struggle, have no effect on me what so ever.
    Of course I can understand the temptation to seek material aid where ever one can get it when one is in a conflict. But, seeking aid from the United States is a short term fix that will have negative longer term consequences.
    So I guess that I am confused a bit by your comments. Are you saying that the Free Syrian Army should seek US aid. Are you saying that the US government should support the Free Syrian Army? Or are you saying that a new International Brigades should be formed by socialists from Europe and the USA and socialist volunteers should go and fight along side the Free Syrian Army so that they do not feel the need to ask for US aid. Or are you saying that we should just write comments on our computer about what a terrible leader Assad is and that we hope he gets overthrown soon. Or are you saying that we should write that the US government should stop stabbing the FSA in the back by publically pretending to back it publically while it sabotages its efforts in many other ways like preventing it from getting portable surface to air missles, which would kind of prove my point about the government of the USA never doing anything for altrusistic purposes anyways. Or are you saying that we should all write the Russian and Iranians Embassies and demand that they stop supporting Assad? Or are you saying that we should try to call those Assad supporters in Syria who are still alive and encourage them to surreneder and start walking towards Germany where they will be temporary asylum and then sent back to a war ravaged country in a few years? Clearly spell out what you think should be done because despite all the griping about how the western left has failed in its understanding of the middle east in general and Syria in particular with out offering a clear better alternative the griping about the failure of the left is it self a failure to understand the situation(s) and it is also a failure of policy.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 29, 2017 @ 11:09 am

  14. You are repeating your method, confirming my point. I am not sure what you expect me to do, Draw you a list where the US supported, temporarily or fleetingly or even for all the wrong reasons, movements and people’s struggles
    — ones that we should have solidarity with? I’m afraid you are doomed to disagree with every single example I could share, given your analytical approach. That is what I am driving at….

    Comment by seaspan — December 29, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

  15. OK I guess that means that I am KOed.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 29, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

  16. Getting back to Alice. It is just stunning that an ant hill has been portrayed as a mountain, even if it did happen in the world´s most fraudulent society. It completely exposes a society with out a shred of integrity. Except for a few small exceptions scattered around in diverse locations.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — December 30, 2017 @ 9:50 am


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