Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 3

Part 1 of Advice for a New Secretary of State is about the kind of job-skill knowledge that can be found in books, and the kind that cannot. Students of military tactics study the tactics of famous and successful generals, but nobody can lay a finger on exactly why Alexander Suvorov may have been the best general of all time. He never lost a battle, but why?

The reasons include leadership,  expertise that cannot be bottled, and  luck. Of the many generals throughout the ages,  luck shone on a few. Those who had luck preferred it. Lefty Gomez said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Part of it is the situation, finding a space to work in. Since World War II, the space in which the Secretary of State operates has been constrained by other power centers that want to work in the same space.

In Advice for a New Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Part 2, the suggestion is offered that Russian subversion could be handled as a foreign policy issue by the mechanism of linkage. This is so novel, you might ask, why can’t it be handled by statute and by law enforcement?

There were two Red Scares. The official “run times” were 1917 to 1920 for the first, and 1947-1957, with considerable overhang, for the second. Each scare was characterized by an actual threat. In each case, the response had elements of fakery. The Palmer Raids of 1920 were justified by the display of bombs that were just balls of iron. The second Scare featured McCarthyism,  precisely a modern form of witch-hunt, ruining the lives of complete innocents, as well as those whose socialist beliefs did not approach the definition of sedition.

The first Scare did not even deter the growth of communist sympathy in the 20’s and 30’s.  The second Scare was followed by intolerance in America for communism, but this was mostly due to the actual threat posed by the Soviet Union, not the burning of witches. The second Scare  damaged civil rights in America for a long time, lingering into the 70’s.

In The Anatomy of Revolution, Crane R. Brinton likened a revolution to the fever of illness. It’s time for another analogy. The second Scare provoked a prolonged autoimmune response;  the body-politic attacked its’ own tissues, weakening and damaging them. Like an autoimmune disease, there was no way to turn it off. Only the turn of generations, the passing of the electorate, could do that.

If the American public were smarter, could they have detected the fraud that was Joseph McCarthy? In Part 2, I offered:

Homework:  Google Of Moles and Molehunters: A Review of Counterintelligence Literature, 1977-92, by Cleveland Cram. download the pdf, and read. (I can’t provide a functional direct link.)

The answer is No! The literature of counterintelligence is both captivating and sad. The  fears and fakes in the microcosm of the intelligence agencies mirror the larger world.  James Jesus Angleton corresponds strongly to Joseph McCarthy. True, Angleton’s character was mysterious while McCarthy’s was malevolent, but both destroyed  innocents in rough proportion to the sizes of their communities. The brilliant analytic minds of the intelligence communities were just as vulnerable to fits and fears of traitors as the larger world. Smarts didn’t save them.

Angleton’s success in finding moles in the C.I.A. was zero. The few  possible moles that actually existed outlived him. McCarthy’s record  is slightly better; nine possible moles. But in the process of discovery, he strafed the crowd.

But this  old problem of rooting out “commies”  was much easier than the modern equivalent. Excepting a few very professional spies, the bearer had a set of characteristics, an ideological point of view,  social contacts, sometimes even a party card, that could be assembled, though frequently in error, to a conclusion. This was the basis of McCarthy’s extortionate demand to “name names”, to betray your friends. Associations are still important with security clearance. You are known by the friends you keep.

The old threat came from individuals who knowingly worked for Russia as moles inside the U.S. government.  The threat persists. Without ideology, motivated by pecuniary gain, frequently fronted by legitimate business, it has enough novelty to be part of the new subversion. It’s not part of this discussion.

What does the above have to do with today, with attacks through social media, using unwitting agents who repeat and amplify? The common element is that defense from within damages our society. Social media is pervasive, so statutory attempts to stop the flow of fake news would amount to the end of freedom of speech. Voluntary work by social media hosts and users is the most that can be done within our society.

The more of it that can be carried out by means  external to our society, avoiding the autoimmune response,  the better.  Let’s concentrate on mass media and social media, because it is particularly amenable to a foreign policy response.

To be continued in a bit.


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