by James A. Russell
Hollywood has always had a vivid and creative imagination in providing entertainment that an adoring public eagerly gobbles up around the world. That imagination, however, has proven prescient on more than one occasion.
We are now in the midst of a plot foreseen by the 1962 Hollywood movie of John Frankenheimer and Frank Sinatra—The Manchurian Candidate—in which the Sino-Soviet menace threatened to manipulate the US election by using a brainwashed Korean War Congressional Medal of Honor winner to assassinate a presidential candidate. Given the ravages of the Korean War, McCarthyism, and Vietnam, the plot actually resonated with life-or-death struggles that the United States was having with Communists in Berlin, Cuba, and the Straits of Taiwan.
Today’s dastardly plot is not just entertainment for the theater-going masses. A variation of the movie’s plot appears to have actually happened in the recent election. The Russians appear to have successfully intervened in the election and helped secure their desired outcome of a pro-Russian president. Although the character assassinations of fake news and strategic leaks in the election thankfully bore no relation to the old movie, the Russian manipulations helped in the right-wing character assassination of Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton. Propaganda became real news, aided and abetted by a ravenous media that lost the capacity to detect lie from truth.
Other curious elements of this real life plot remain loose ends. The Trump campaign’s former chairman, Paul Manafort, worked for the Russians in support of the pro-Moscow candidate in Ukraine. The Trump organization reportedly communicated with a Russian bank. The FBI apparently declined to pursue the investigation aggressively during the campaign, then refused to make their investigations public, and finally, at the last moment, publicly intervened in the campaign at the eleventh hour with “revelations” of yet more potential email scandals surrounding Hilary Clinton. Last but not least, a classic intelligence community food fight has broken out between the FBI and the CIA on the scope and objectives of the Russian involvement.
History of Disinformation
During the Cold War, both sides engaged in countless propaganda and sabotage campaigns. Particularly between the 1920s and the 1970s, the Soviets used the Communist International and other front organizations as Trojan horses in the domestic politics of the Western European and US democracies. These efforts reached their apex in the late 1970s during the debate in NATO Europe over the decision to deploy intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles to the continent to counter the Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles into Eastern Europe. We now know that the Soviets helped fund parts of the seemingly home-grown opposition in Europe’s “peace movement.” In this way Vladimir Putin learned his trade as a KGB man in Dresden, East Germany.
Vladimir Putin has simply dug into the old KGB playbook for the latest U.S. election, adding a few critical updates to the plan. After all, the digital age provided opportunities for sabotage and subterfuge not available to his KGB colleagues of yesteryear. The domestic politics of such nations as the UK, France, Germany, Austria, and Hungary are also in the bull’s eye of a new Russian propaganda offensive. In the United States, Russian hackers gleefully tore down the server firewalls of both political parties and continued the drip of harmful stories against Hilary Clinton, no doubt saving material seized from the Republicans for some fateful moment in a crisis to come.
In America’s great democracy, the public is not supposed to be led around on a leash held by a few KGB thugs, unprotected by a vaunted law enforcement community and an intelligence community flush with money in the post-9/11 era of terror. The last time such an assault happened on US soil was the 9/11 attacks, and no senior government official ever took responsibility for what happened. Today, accountability has fallen by the wayside, and America’s right-wing political leaders figure that the means justify the ends in their attempt to create an authoritarian or even fascist form of government. This time around, however, the consequences for our republic and the entire world are far more serious than anything that happened on 9/11.
Russia on the March
Beginning in January 2017, a pro-Russian president may well turn a blind eye to the Kremlin’s manipulations of the electorate, inviting only more mischief from Putin and his KGB cronies. The impact on security in Europe and beyond cannot be gainsaid. Russia’s playbook in the US elections were already prefigured in Western Europe with the Kremlin spreading disinformation around a Dutch referendum last spring and providing support to far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen in France. Now, the Germans are dealing with penetrations of the state security systems and phone companies in anticipation of the 2017 election with fateful implications for the resilience of western parliamentary democracies.
Russia is playing offense. America’s constitutional system of government is now on the table and at risk—an objective that Putin’s Soviet predecessors always sought but could never achieve much to their everlasting frustration. Russia’s hackers of today have accomplished what their thousands of nuclear weapons could not. Their candidate, someone who has little regard for America’s institutions or the Constitution, is about to take the oath of office.
Perhaps the only defense left in the republic are a few Republican senators, including one whose plane got shot down all those many years ago by Soviet-made missiles over North Vietnam. Let’s hope that Senator McCain can muster a few of his remaining honorable Republican Senate colleagues to man the ramparts of democracy in its time of need.
Image courtesy of Donkey Hotey via Flickr.