Ever since Dwight Eisenhower denounced the military-industrial complex in no uncertain terms, the intelligence community (IC) can be seen as the literal brain of an immense, tentacular but poorly-structured system of economic and political governance. The clandestine nature of its activities within an officially democratic system of government means that this reality will never be publicly acknowledged.
Without IC, the Democratic Party could not have entertained the nation for four years with the Russiagate show. One of the unintended consequences of the media’s obsession with alleged Russian interference in US elections has been to highlight both the central role of the IC brain and its fatal weaknesses.
A Double Twist in Russiagate
The New York Times and The Washington Post have relied on the IC to provide the substance of unending streams of stories revealing the functions of the brain. MSNBC and CNN have rivaled against each other to recruit and then display the insight of former intelligence chiefs, presenting them as paragons of objectivity.
The NY Times provided an example of this last week in an article by Robert Draper concerning the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a classified report on Russiagate. A close reading of Draper’s analysis reveals some of the subtleties both of how the IC brain works and how The Times has become the voice of that brain.
Here is an example in which Draper quotes veteran national intelligence office, Christopher Bort: “The intelligence provided to the N.I.E.’s authors indicated that in the lead-up to 2020, Russia worked in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as well. But Bort explained to his colleagues … that this reflected not a genuine preference for Sanders but rather an effort ‘to weaken that party and ultimately help the current U.S. president.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
In the language of intelligence agencies, the official interpretation of facts that should be retained to the exclusion of the facts themselves
Draper and Bort want Americans to understand that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is committed to one thing alone: maintaining their man, Donald Trump, as the US president. If Russia speaks kindly of Senator Bernie Sanders, it can only be a tactic to comfort Trump’s reelection. It certainly cannot be the hope that, if elected, Sanders might be less rigid than past presidents — including both Trump and Barack Obama — in terms of his Middle East policy, for example. Elections are not about concrete issues. They are only about personalities and loyalties.
As the brain of the system, the IC has the role of defining acceptable and unacceptable codes of behavior for itself and for the population as a whole. It can define, for example, what is “genuine.” Unlike moral codes, the behavioral code it defines is a single ethical criterion called “interest.” This is particularly evident in the realm of foreign policy, where actions can always be justified as the defense of “American interests.”
The system’s most obvious feature is the nature of what fuels it: money. But the IC doesn’t understand money as an allocated budget measured in dollars and cents. Instead, money exists in a far more abstract sense, taking it beyond any form of traditional reckoning. The IC uses unlimited amounts of unaccounted-for means of payment to conduct operations designed precisely to optimize the national and global environment in ways that will boost the production of unaccounted for streams of profit.
The profit will ultimately accrue to the commercial beneficiaries of the system. These are the famous “American interests,” though they are never specifically named. The system functions as a community structure but with no dimension of personal kinship. In its opaqueness and focus on money, it resembles the mafia, but devoid of the cumbersome sense of honor that can sometimes get in the way of straight business.
The IC has traditionally steered clear of electoral politics. Because the US is technically a democracy, the IC must play the role of the influencer rather than a manipulator. The task of manipulation has been confined to the media, essentially privately-owned tentacular structures whose role is to orient and stabilize an ideology and worldview shared by the population. Influenced by the brain, the media define what is normal (good and reassuring), what is tolerable (not so good but non-threatening) and what is extreme (to be banished or shamed). Such a system is designed to ensure the stability that will permit the perpetuation of profits for the entire corporate class, of which the media is a part.
In normal times, the IC prefers to remain invisible. But Trump’s election victory in 2016 forced the Democratic Party and its sympathizers in the media to bring it into the spotlight. Together, they provided the American public with four years of Russiagate entertainment. They also revealed how close the ties are between the Democratic Party and the brain of the oligarchic system.
In a Foreign Affairs article published on August 5 bearing the title, “There Is No Russian Plot Against America” and the subtitle, “The Kremlin’s Electoral Interference Is All Madness and No Method,” seasoned analyst Anna Arutunyan examines the history of Russia’s purported interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In contrast with Christopher Bort, who, among other things, claimed to know that Russia did not have “a genuine preference for Sanders,” the author warns that “ascribing motive and intent is a tricky business, because perceived impact is often mistaken for true intent.”
Arutunyan notes that the intelligence community has unearthed plenty of evidence of “activities of Russian actors with ties to the Kremlin during the 2016 election.” But the IC possesses “comparatively little information about the real impact of these measures on the election’s outcome—and still less about Moscow’s precise objectives.” In other words, the brain is doing only half its job. It fails to see the connection between what it sees as causes and the reality of the effects produced.
The author concludes that the campaign to subvert the 2016 election was essentially “a series of uncoordinated and often opportunistic responses to a paranoid belief that Russia is under attack from the United States and must do everything it can to defend itself.”
Concerning the motives, Arutunyan describes a chaotic environment encouraging the “activities of this or that activist, or special forces group, or businessmen and entrepreneurs—these people are always active in fields like this. It’s what they do.” And what do they want? “They are trying to earn money or political capital that way,” she writes.
As for the 2020 election, she speculates: “If there is another Russian operation, expect contrarian messages targeting both candidates’ campaigns and highlighting generally divisive issues such as the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. The messaging will not be coherent, and it will have no further purpose than to provoke arguments.”
Could this be Vladimir Putin’s ultimate stroke of genius? The Russian president understands how to exploit, with the least amount of effort, the fact that Americans love nothing more than to argue, insult, cancel, shame and, by any other means possible, put in their place fellow Americans who don’t agree with them. It requires far less effort than dialogue or debate. Addressing the issues implies listening, revising one’s judgments, seeking nuanced understanding of complexity, and finally agreeing on collaborative actions adapted to the nature of the challenge.
If the 2020 election continues to focus on nothing more than the increasingly visible inadequacies of the two candidates — Donald Trump and Joe Biden — their failure to understand the historical context in which they are living and their lack of vision for the future, Putin’s strategy will have paid off.
The big question facing electors today seems to be: Which of the two men is the most cognitively impaired? Which has the worst history of corruption? Neither appears to want to focus on the concrete measures required to address the issues that Americans are struggling with today, whether it’s race, the economy or health care.
On the other hand, there will be plenty of room for arguments. But the satisfaction of a good dispute may not appease those about to be evicted or deprived both of the prospect of finding a job and, in the midst of a pandemic, the guarantee of health care that would accompany it.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.