How else do you think it works?
“It” being the century-long fight for global supremacy between the United States and Russia.
That was my first thought last week when I learned with the rest of America that a federal grand jury had indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for failing to register as foreign political agents and interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
“Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment alleges. “These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants…. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
The 37-page indictment alleges that the defendants illegally used various means to support Donald Trump during the election (and Bernie Sanders during primaries). The defendants in the wake of Trump’s victory then turned around and became part of “The Resistance” by supporting protests against Trump’s victory.
“In order to carry out their activities to interfere in U.S. political and electoral processes without detection of their Russian affiliation,” the indictment alleges, “Defendants conspired to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit….”
Again – how else do you think it works?
Let me make clear that such a question is not in any way a criticism of the grand jury or the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. If laws were broken in this instance or elsewhere in Campaign 2016, I say: Nail the bad guys!
My question is aimed at a modern America shocked that the Russians might try to advance their interests by using our open society’s principles and institutions to undermine those principles and institutions.
Page 24 of the indictment helps me make my point.
The defendants allegedly began their operation in mid-2014. U.S. social media companies by September 2017 smelled a rat. These companies began helping the Special Counsel’s Office of the federal Department of Justice.
The ring around the Russians was tightening.
“Defendants and their co-conspirators thereafter destroyed evidence for the purpose of impeding the investigation,” the indictment alleges. “On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: ‘We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks with the colleagues…. I created all these pictures and posts, and Americans believed that it was written by their people.”
KAVERZINA is Irina Kaverzina, one of the defendants. The parenthetical comment is part of her email.
The first part of Kaverzina’s email made me chuckle. Let’s see if I have this right: The Russians spent three years and millions of dollars to set up and operate an elaborate and deceitful media campaign based exclusively on the Internet and the conviction that nondescript corporate brand names would be enough to securely hide their digital tracks; the Russians then paid for Internet advertisements that said in part “Donald wants to defeat terrorism … Hillary wants to sponsor it,” “Trump is our only hope for a better future!” and “We cannot trust Hillary to take care of our veterans!”; the Russians, blissfully serene in their belief that the Internet was their answer to reaching everyone instantaneously while remaining totally anonymous, then sent these and many other similarly cheeky messages out into an Internet universe populated by 325 million Americans, an estimated 324 million of whom are creating and posting 24/7 their own daily tidal wave of provocative Internet content; and then, when the good guys began taking action and the Russians’ illusions about their mastery of the Internet collapsed, Irina Kaverzina, with breathtaking insouciance, decided to tell her family about this dramatic turn of events by … going on the Internet!
Makes me think the Russians’ strategy all along was to get caught.
The second part of Kaverzina’s email is relevant to my question at the top of this blog.
“I created all these pictures and posts,” she says, “and Americans believed it was written by their people.”
Kaverzina obviously is from a different world than me. Americans don’t use “people” that way. We’re much too diverse and individualistic and dynamic and free to look upon our fellow citizens and say, “They are my people.” America is based on a concept, a concept found in our Declaration of Independence. If someone with a working sense of the USA had been in Kaverzina’s shoes, she would have written, “… and Americans believed it was written by Americans.”
When Americans use “people” in a political sense it’s always about sovereignty, not tribalism. The preamble of our Constitution: “We the People of the United States….” Lincoln at Gettysburg: “… government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The incomparable Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in the final scene of “The Grapes of Wrath”: “We keep a-comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ‘cause we’re the people.”
What world is Kaverzina from? As the Mueller indictment makes clear, Kaverzina and her co-defendants (and their superiors) are from a world that doesn’t believe in the sovereignty of the American people. To use a phrase from Nikita Khrushchev, Kaverzina wants to “bury” the American people. The Irina Kaverzinas will always want to bury the American people.
That means the Irina Kaverzinas will always try to sow nation-destroying discord in our body politic by meddling in our elections and their aftermath. It doesn’t matter which election – 2016, 2116 or 3116. Irina Kaverzina will be there.
In other words, the Muller indictment is proof positive that the Cold War never ended. As President Trump would say, America, wake up! Don’t show shock. Show resolve.
The Berlin Wall fell nearly 30 years ago. For Americans under the age of 50 (which is about two-thirds of the population), the Cold War is either a fuzzy childhood memory or a lifeless chapter in the history books. It wasn’t real.
But the Cold War is real. The global forces that spurred it remain in place.
Russia wants global empire. That is the nature of Russia and the nature of her leaders. This was true in 1917. It was true in 1945. It’s true now.
The beginning of National Security Council report No. 68, the famous NCC-68 sent to President Truman in April 1950, sums up in four paragraphs the conflict that inspires all the Irina Kaverzinas:
“The fundamental purpose of the United States is laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution: ‘…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.’ In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.
“Three realities emerge as a consequence of this purpose: Our determination to maintain the essential elements of individual freedom, as set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights; our determination to create conditions under which our free and democratic system can live and prosper; and our determination to fight if necessary to defend our way of life, for which as in the Declaration of Independence, ‘with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’
“The fundamental design of those who control the Soviet Union and the international communist movement is to retain and solidify their absolute power, first in the Soviet Union and second in the areas now under their control. In the minds of the Soviet leaders, however, achievement of this design requires the dynamic extension of their authority and the ultimate elimination of any effective opposition to their authority.
“The design, therefore, calls for the complete subversion or forcible destruction of the machinery of government and structure of society in the countries of the non-Soviet world and their replacement by an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled by the Kremlin. To that end Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass. The United States, as the principal center of power in the non-Soviet world and the bulwark of opposition to Soviet expansion, is the principal enemy whose integrity and vitality must be subverted or destroyed by one means or another if the Kremlin is to achieve its fundamental design.”
Russia today has had enough of communism, but not of empire.
My intent here isn’t to get into Cold War strategy. I simply note in the wake of the Muller indictment that the Cold War of yore required Americans at all levels to be at least modestly aware that daily political life wasn’t always what it seemed. There was a lot of bluff out there. Innocence had its downside.
Permit me to use an example from my youth. In the late summer of 1971, when I was 21 and in the army, I was assigned to the headquarters company of SASCOM in Frankfurt, West Germany.
SASCOM stood for Special Ammunition Support Command. The “special ammunition” included tactical nuclear weapons. We had units throughout West Germany plus a smaller presence in Greece and Turkey. (SASCOM, as I’ve learned from online chat rooms for former SASCOM personnel, was long ago reorganized out of existence.)
My job, as it was for most of the lower enlisted ranks in the building, was to push information – orders, messages, etc. – up or down the chain of command. That chain encompassed a lot. SASCOM had assets spread over a wide area. SASCOM was part of American defense strategy in Europe that included NATO. NATO, in turn, was part of America’s worldwide defense strategy.
All the soldiers in SASCOM’s headquarters company had at least a “secret” security clearance.
Security was tight. When we used an army landline phone to talk to Greece or Turkey, we spoke in code. The main door to SASCOM’s suite of offices consisted of thick steel bars like you see on an old-fashioned prison cell. The soldier who let you in was armed with an M-16. When a soldier pulled CQ (charge of quarters), he, too, was armed. An agent with CID (the army’s investigative force) was part of the landscape. He often dropped by in the evening when you had CQ to chat and see how things were going.
Once each night, the field telephone would ring in the CQ’s post. Heidelberg was on the other end. It was the daily system test. I, like my buddies, didn’t give much thought to the high-level logic of tactical nuclear weapons. But we intuitively understood that if the President ever had reason to authorize the use of our “special ammunition,” the use of strategic “special ammunition” by both sides would soon follow.
In the late fall of 1971, a handful of my SASCOM buddies and I got a weekend pass. We took the train to West Berlin to see the sights. Those sights included East Berlin. We checked in at Checkpoint Charlie, then walked across no man’s land to the communist side. Each of wore his Class A (formal) uniform.
The Berlin Wall itself spoke volumes about the Cold War. Some of the East Berlin buildings along the wall appeared to still have scars from World War II. The contrast between West and East Berlin was stark.
We came across a building that included restaurants and a bowling alley. My buddies wanted to eat lunch. I decided to see some of East Berlin. I told them I’d return in an hour or so.
I walked along a wide boulevard. I wanted to go in a straight line so I wouldn’t get lost. There weren’t many cars on the road or pedestrians on the sidewalk. Pretty soon I heard steps behind me. Someone was running. It was a young man. He stopped about 15 feet in front of me, did a fast 180 and faced me. He had a camera. He raised the camera and snapped a couple of shots. He lowered the camera and returned the way he had come.
I can still see him smiling as he ran by.
I walked a bit, then did an about-face and hurried back to my buddies.
As Dr. Johnson might have said, the incident greatly concentrated my mind.
Here’s hoping Special Counsel Mueller does the same for The People of 21st century America.