Mueller Indictments; Why We’re Mad; Walter Lippman’s Democracy

The pdf of the indictment can be downloaded here.  Although the trolling itself was conducted under the cover of a visible public company, several items of KGB tradition also appear.

An  “illegal” is a Russian operative who assumes a fictitious identity in the target country, complete with a fictitious nationality. In the past, one fictitious identity was used to enter the target country, and then discarded. A second identity was used in residence. During the Cold War, KGB agents spent a lot of time combing graveyards for IDs that could be recycled.

The most recent illegals ring, busted in 2010, was made notorious in the media by Anna Chapman. This time, “illegal” was modernized.  Russian operatives visited the U.S. using their true identities. Once here, they used traditional spy craft to create “web illegals” via identity theft.

We begin with a set of questions for a worksheet. Fill in tentative answers, and read all the way to the end. Then have another look at the worksheet.

  • What is the overall state of our relations with Russia? Sergei Lavrov often used the word “partner”, which seems a little deceptive. This Russian Embassy link is provides an example of the word in context. Quoting,  “However, our American partners refuse to discuss these embarrassing issues…”

Your multiple-choice is: a) partner, b) rival; c) adversary, d) enemy. But Facebook lets us “un-friend” people. (CNN) Nikki Haley said. “Russia is not our friend.” Is Russia an  e) “unfriend”?

  • The election hacks did not occur in isolation. There is increasing suspicion that in Cuba, Russia permanently damaged the health of American diplomats by assault with a novel weapon. Should this be confirmed by U.S. intelligence, will it inevitably force the conclusion that we are in a state of low intensity, “hybrid war” with Russia? Are there circumstances such that we could we let this pass as “water under the bridge”?

(NPR) What Was Russia’s Role In 2016 U.S. Election? 2 Former KGB Officials Weigh In samples some interesting Russians, close enough for insightful perceptions, but distant from the Kremlin, yet tolerable enough to the Kremlin to survive in Russia. Both appear to be dissident patriots, with viewpoints that are different from ours, but not intentionally deceptive.

Quoting ex KGB Colonel Gennady Gudkov, “In fact, Putin and his entourage are absolutely not interested in bad relations with America. They’re scared of that,” Gudkov said. “But the circumstances are such that they can’t help but use anti-Americanism to strengthen their grip on power.”

Alexander Lebedev, also ex-KGB, who has already exported a good amount of his wealth from Russia, but afraid to leave Russia to be denied reentry, said, “It’s only fair to treat it as a phenomenon where all the major countries are using all the resources they can to influence others to follow their goals,” he said. “So why should it be one-sided – that the Americans are always right, and the Russians are always wrong?”

Vladimir Frolov defines a red line. Quoting, “When intelligence-gathering went to an influence operation, that was crossing the red line…”

  • So does interpreting the election hacks as an act of aggression depend solely on our perceptions of the gravity, or also  the Russian perception of the same? Does it matter that espionage, under the aegis of the Russian state, was used to enhance the operation?

The “sonic attacks” have yet to be factored into American anger with Russia. But our answers to the above questions could be influenced what psychology calls “floating anger”, an emotion searching for attachment to a cause. It could be that we are angry about our new vulnerability. Simply put, before social media came about, the influence of the election hacks could not have been accomplished. Even at the height of communist infiltration, in the years preceding and following World War II, the Russians lacked the capacity for influence of this magnitude. Now they have it with the press of “Enter.”

Walter Lippmann figured this out in 1922, with the publication of Public Opinion. He grappled with the fact that democracy works, even though many issues are beyond the comprehension of the average citizen. Recently, I mentioned Lippmann to a Columbia journalism teacher, who, surprisingly, was not familiar with him. This paragraph, published in 1922, reflects today’s problem (Wikipedia,  additional boldface):

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

Lippmann proposed that public opinion is molded by elites. Such was his reputation that his public persona survived his attack on the myth of democracy. If he was correct, this explains our new vulnerability. Social media has destroyed the hierarchy of the elites, replacing it with  random, and lateral structures.

In 1955, in Public Philosophy, Lippmann repudiated much of Public Opinion, arguing that the elites are destroying democracy. Perhaps both points are true. Thomas Jefferson thought we should have a revolution every 19 years.

But if democracy is a fiction, it is a very useful one. By all measures, the democracies are the most humane governments on the planet. All attempts to supplant their imperfection with the “perfection” of the dictator’s “vision” have failed.

Now social media purveyors are attempting to patch the vulnerabilities exploited by malign, lateral connections. This corporate limitation on the purest form of democracy cannot be denied. But what else  can we do? We still have the best serviceable democracy. We’ll keep rolling along. And after a while, maybe we’ll lose some of the anger.

Keep on truckin’.




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