Image taken from Gawker Media

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The Trump press conference today was a shambles for both Trump and honesty and transparency in politics. His main target seemed to be the press and the intelligence community. Part of the conference was spent trying to put aside any criticism of self-dealing. However, with his family still in total control of his assets and the Trump Organization, the President-Elect will continue to face criticism and lingering questions about conflicts of interest. Trump also declared his company would not make any more “significant” foreign deals, but the tone and substance of these decisions would give an informed citizen a deep concern for our nation’s direction if closely examined. 

He took on, as expected, the intelligence community on the leaked reports that alleged Russia had personal dirt on him. Trump made his anger clear and seemed to threaten the intelligence community. He denied that the report was leaked by his staff and painted it as the work of his political opponents. He said his intelligence community appointees would provide a report on foreign hacking but did not address the deeper question of his relationship with these agencies once president.

But from what he did say, and what he implied, that relationship will be strained. This is then likely to be a weak point for our larger security strategy as an ignorant president will be uninformed of vital realities in our complex and conflict filled world by agencies with which he is in open conflict.   

He would not answer the question if any of his staff or family had any contact with the Russian authorities during the campaign or after the election. Regarding Russia and Putin, he acknowledged that they had conducted hacking, but pointed much more to China and non-state actors as a major source of hacking. He deflected any questions on Putin’s support for his candidacy. He said, in effect, he could handle Putin and hope to gain his cooperation, but would defend US and fight to protect American interests. As Trump defined it, a good personal relationship with the Russian President would be an asset rather than a liability. He also tweeted that he had no business interests in Russia.

A good portion of the news conference was taken up by a Trump Organization lawyer outlining the means by which he was going to disassociate himself from conflicts by turning his assets over to his two adult sons!  

He said the US government defenses against cyberwarfare were weak under Obama and with the Democratic Party, and he would make government defenses strong. Just how was not stated except he would bring in the best people.

But as we have seen over the last two years, much of his statements were vague and discombobulated even contradictory. He did not really answer many of the questions asked. He mostly made a pitch of why he was so great and all would be just wonderful and repeated many of his slogans from the campaign and tweeter posts. There were almost no specifics on many key issues except he still held that Mexico would pay for the wall and hinted at taxes against Mexico, but the wall would start without money from Mexico. Trump justified this change by noting he wants to begin construction immediately and not wait “a year and a half” to conclude negotiations with Mexico first.

Nuclear issues and climate change were largely ignored to the detriment of the conference providing insight on these issues as nuclear security is one of the critical issues for our nation and world and the same can be said about climate change.

Hang on to your hats readers this is going to be a difficult four years.

After the press conference I was reminded of the poet’s Alfred Lord Tennyson’s lines: “Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.”

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By Harry C. Blaney III

Now that we have a definitive unclassified American intelligence reading and finding of the extent and purpose of the Russian hacking of American political parties and efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections. Those responsible for its writing and those with access to the classified document say the unclassified finding is in keeping with the more detailed classified document. Now the question is whether there will be further U.S. action in response to this report and what the consequences for both sides will be?

We have not yet seen, but may soon see this week, the response by the Obama administration to these now public findings. Also of great importance will be the reaction and statements by Donald Trump and Republican Party leaders. Both Trump and the Russians have been, and are still downplaying, the significance of these acts of active cyberwarfare.

The final great question is whether the reactions and policies and strategies that follow will enhance the security of America and its allies as well as protect the democratic institutions and processes of all NATO members and other American allies. In that context we can put in place protective and preemptive actions to halt or, more likely mitigate, and effectively respond to efforts to divide and weaken Western institutions, especially NATO and the EU. The Russians also have an active program to bring into power far right-wing fascist parties with an anti-American, anti-EU/NATO, anti-liberal democratic, and pro-Russian tendencies. If Russia has its way, these parties will be dependent on Russian support and money – all efforts already undertaken by Russian intelligence agencies, surrogates, and online trolls.

One question that is being asked is whether Trump plans to “clean house” or “de-fang” the CIA and other intelligence agencies and/or set up his own intelligence unit in the White House as has been rumored. This would and should be seen as a major gift to Russia and it security and military forces. Our allies are already scared of what they hear and our cooperation with them on security and intelligence is at risk.

But of even more importance is how to balance the long term American strategic and political interest of working to help create the conditions for a responsible, rational, and cooperative Russia. A Russia where its people can have large measures of freedom and see a future as part of a larger peaceful, cooperative, and non-threatening international community. From what we have seen so far, it is not at all clear that Trump and his often reckless, extreme, and myopic ideological advisors have the temperament, knowledge, and openness to receive expert and unbiased advice or the smarts to navigate that complex path. It also takes courage and patience to fight the “long-game” and there is little ego satisfaction to simply avoid catastrophic mistakes.

In that long-run both Russia and America must learn to live with each other otherwise we as a human civilization will not survive. Both sides have more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization. This is not time to play games on the part of either side. That is a mistake that Putin has made and in the long run will cost him and Russia dearly.

We may on our side have a new leader that is even more reckless and more ignorant of the necessity of caution, understanding complexity, and the proper use of the tools of diplomacy and carefulness than Putin – not a very happy combination for the world.

In Russia, Putin’s advisors have become lackeys. These and his appointment of former KGB colleagues with the same mind set that won’t argue with him – some of them who have dissented have lost more than their jobs. The result is a nation lead by kleptomaniacs, self-serving officials, and lackeys. The result is an inefficient economy, inequality, and the deadening hand of authoritarian rule that deprives Russia of joy, initiative, and not least openness of debate and any real democracy. Its brutal suppression of its citizens’ freedoms, media, and free organized groups are all part of Putin’s aim to create a dictatorship with the use of all the instruments of the state to ensue his rule without question. Is it this Russia that Trump so admires and sees as his modal? 


Image taken from the New York Review of Books

In America, those already chosen by Trump, in large part, were picked because of unquestioned obedience, with a fair share of flawed but be-medaled military paraded by Trump like “arm candy,” or billionaires without a nickel of experience in running a government. There are already reports that Trump’s son-in-law will be controlling foreign Affairs from the White House and that he is the “go-to” person if you want Trump’s ear on foreign affairs or security issues.

All of this is a sign of setting up a family plutocracy. One has to wonder what real role will the incoming Secretary of State have or Trump’s new National Security Council head? That, along with disrespect for the intelligence community when it needs to tell an “inconvenient truth.” Especially this is the case when it has to say the truth to a leader most known for his habitual lies and an ego that brooks no dissent.

In short, we could see an administration made up of not much more than useful idiots, stooges, and unquestioning family members with no experience in governing on sensitive national security issues! Cyberwarfare by Russia may not be needed in a Trump administration

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By Harry C. Blaney III

Today President Obama was briefed on and received the intelligence community’s CLASSIFIED report of Russia’s hacking of Democratic officials and likely other US hacking activities especially aimed to influence the 2016 presidential elections. It is reported that the unclassified version will be released possibly Monday and Obama will brief our citizens on its content and its import and possibly US actions.

Already on Capital Hill hearings are taking place on this subject with the Republican Senate leadership adamantly opposing a separate investigation and bipartisan committee to look into the issue. In the hearings the intelligence heads today have made clear, on an unclassified basis, that Russia did the hacking and it was aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election outcome and it was ordered by the highest levels of the Russian government.

The witnesses included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers and Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence,  testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russian cyberattacks or hacking during the 2016 election as well addressing the greater cyber threat Russia poses to the U.S.

There was concern about this action by both Republican and Democratic members. Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, brought up the Watergate scandal and cited the congressional investigation that followed. “It is my hope that this Congress is willing to stand in a bipartisan way…as the Congress did in 1974.” Kaine talked about how he was a victim of fake news during the election and criticized Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has promoted some of those stories.

On the Republican side Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked Clapper if there’s a difference between espionage and Russian hacking. Clapper said that espionage “implies passive collection,” but the hacking is “activist.” Sen Graham said. “If we don’t throw rocks, we’re going to make a huge mistake.” “It’s time now not to throw pebbles, but to throw rocks,” ….. “Putin’s up to no good; he’s got to be stopped. Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people you can be skeptical, but you have to understand they’re the best among us.” When asked later, why we did not retaliate for espionage fully Clapper said “If we’re going to punish each other for acts of espionage, that’s a different policy issue.”

When Clapper talked about Russia’s “multifaceted campaign” against the U.S. He said, for example that RT, funded by the Russian government, was “very, vert active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.” Further, Clapper added that Russia used RT, social media, fake news. “They exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking. The totality of that effort, not only as DNI, but as a citizen, is a grave concern.”

The exchange in the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing was clear as to who did the hacking and beyond with Director Clapper noting that “Hacking was only part of it,” he added told the panel that “It also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation and fake news.”

The question before both Obama, and now soon, Donald Trump is what will be done about the action or any repeat of such activities? So far Trump and his team seem to throw doubt and disparagement upon the entire Russia hacking effort against the Democrats.

The question that needs to be asked and will be taken up next week by this blog, is what President Obama will say about what needs to be done and the import of these actions for American democracy, and not least, shortly a statement by Trump “after briefing on this issue by our intelligence people, our thoughts whether if Trump is protecting himself or our nation as president!

So far my judgement, contrary to some commentators like in the Washington Post today (“Could Trump be playing Russia?” by the conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt), that it is Trump playing a game on Putin. My bet is the other way around by far, as the evidence shows Trump is ignorant of Russian realities, ignores facts, and seems to put “relations with Putin” and his own ego ahead of national interests and use of smart diplomacy including understanding the U.S. intelligence findings and its consequences.

We welcome your comments!