The Real Story With Russia
A historic and unprecedented attack on America
Our country has enjoyed a fairly safe history from aggressors. We have not been immune though. Our country and our citizens have been directly attacked on a number of occasions. We've endured history changing attacks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11. We've also experienced just as important attacks on a smaller scale, like the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon and the Oklahoma City bombing on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. In all of these cases, we set our differences aside and responded as a unified country of patriotic Americans. I wonder if our political dysfunction has taken root so deep that we can no longer come together.
On March 21, 2017, FBI Director James Comey and the head of the NSA, Admiral Michael Rogers, testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
A monumental investigation was revealed during the testimony. Ignore the pundits and distracting side stories. Here is what every American should keep front and center.
- Russia is an adversary of the United States. The FBI and NSA stated this in no uncertain terms, specifically using the term 'adversary'
- Russia successfully attacked the 2016 Presidential election with the intention of helping Donald Trump win and preventing Hillary Clinton from winning
- The FBI is investigating, and has been since July 2016, connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia
Read those statements again. These were clear and certain statements made by the FBI and NSA. This isn't politics as usual. This is an attack by a foreign and hostile country. This is an investigation whether Americans, in positions of trust, participated in the attack on the United States.
Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) had an interesting statement during the hearing. Perhaps she overreached or perhaps she was the rare voice of reason when she said, "I actually think that their [Russia] engagement was an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare and I think that's why the American people should be concerned about it."
Whether you agree or disagree with Ms. Speier's labeling of this as an act of war, surely there can be no disagreement that our country has to come before political parties. We must be Americans first, and Democrats or Republicans second.
Let's get the noise and distractions out of the way
Parts of 21st century politics are downright ugly, I accept the reality of what it has become and am here to focus on Russia, not debate how things should be. As such, I sincerely hope readers of all political affiliations can recognize that Russia is the core issue and stay away from partisanship.
Human nature tends to cling onto defenses regardless of their merit rather than accepting that a different perspective may be correct or better. So we just have to dive in and clear out the nonsense and partisan distractions. Let's cleanse the palate, pass the ginger please?
Broadly speaking, Democrats want Trump's Russian connections investigated. I can't attest for their motives, but it's hard to find fault with wanting a foreign attack to be investigated. On the other hand, I've been disappointed by how Republicans have responded. I will use the questions and comments made by the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee as a proxy for Republicans in general. While imperfect, the GOP tends to message fairly uniformly so I don't believe this to be an unreasonable approximation.
Intelligence leaks are a major concern for our country. In no way should leaks to the press be overlooked, especially when the information is classified and vital to our national interests. An investigation must be conducted to identify the party responsible, the scope of what was leaked, and how this can be prevented from occurring again. Once the leak is identified, they should be prosecuted and held responsible for their actions. No disagreement there.
There's one thought I'd like to put forth. In 1996, Jeffrey Wigand became an infamous whistle blower when he appeared on the CBS news program 60 minutes. He stated that Brown & Williamson, his employer, intentionally manipulated its tobacco blend with chemicals to increase the efficacy and addictive nature of tobacco. I guarantee the top story on your evening news or the page 1 headline in your paper wasn't Jeffrey Wigand violated his employer/employee confidentiality agreement. The public recognized that the story uncovered by the leak far outweighed how the story came to light. I'm going to assume you can all see the connection here.
I am absolutely stunned that any American, regardless of political party, would try to redirect or distract the public from an attack by Russia and put party before country (I'm looking at you Mr. Nunes). To quote someone far more qualified, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asserted that, "politics stops at the water's edge". Bravo, good sir.
Deeper into the abyss
If trying to distract the public's attention away from Russia to a media leak wasn't audacious enough, the Republicans also established a new low in obfuscation. Here's the line of defense from Mike Turner (R-Ohio). Step 1, Russia is trying to undermine the trust Americans have in our government. Step 2, by investigating Russia, the investigation itself will undermine the trust Americans have in our government. Step 3, therefore, we should not conduct an investigation.
To be honest, I am astounded that a presumably well educated (at least well dressed) adult could say this out loud without breaking down into tears of shame. It's almost so unbelievable, you just kind of have to take it in as a once in a lifetime spectacle. 'golf clap'
Lastly, we have an oldie but a goodie, "it's just a partisan attack" or "the issue is just being politicized". This is actually a fairly common way politicians dismiss a question or an opponent, but it doesn't actually refute anything and I'm not sure most voters understand that. The Russia investigation has already taken on a partisan tone and I can't imagine that will change. As such, I expect this defense to be employed at some point. Here's the thing though. An attack can't be dismissed carte blanche because it's an attack. I think people forget that something can be partisan and it can be politically motivated and it can hearsay and it can still be true all at the same time. Put another way, just because it's a partisan attack doesn't mean it is wrong.
Finally, let's get to the core of the issue
Maybe it's just a lot of coincidences. Maybe people were merely conducting normal business and nothing nefarious happened. Maybe it was an honest oversight to not register as a foreign agent or disclose payments received. Maybe Donald Trump sincerely believes that it would be great to be friends with Russia, ignoring the invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Why is this important? There's a long history of espionage and counterintelligence, but I propose that not all espionage is the same.
- Contrary to most history textbooks, the 'cold war' never really ended. We listen in on phone calls and read emails. China steals technology. Russia hacks Yahoo IDs. Not to be dismissive, but these attacks are fairly common. They are national security issues and usually the only thing the public needs to know is that our counter intelligence is making every effort to protect our country from these types of attacks.
- If the attack relied upon or involved an American citizen or citizens, the scope and significance increases immediately. Who aided the foreign country? Were there others?
- What if the American(s) holds a position of power? For example, why did a company build a factory overseas instead of in the U.S.? Was sensitive technology placed in a foreign factory for legitimate business purposes? The size and scope of any investigation has again increased. First, what did the individual do? And second, what did their organization do?
- At long last. The worst possible scenario is if it involves a government official. Why? What makes them special? Academically speaking, it's what we call a principal-agency conflict. Here's the question, if someone acts on your behalf, are they truly acting in your best interests all the time? Our democracy is actually something called a representative democracy. We don't directly vote on laws. We elect representatives to act on our behalf. Our entire political system relies on an implicit and absolute trust that the people we elect to represent us, do so with our best interests at heart. Because our government is involved nearly everywhere, the potential for damage is nearly limitless. Once tainted, everything must be scrutinized.
Let's wrap it up
As Americans, we take pride in our democratic process and that process relies on elected officials to represent our country's interests. This is why conflicts of interest are so damaging.
As an example, does anyone actually think large donors are treated just like any other voter? How do we know if a representative really talked to experts, weighed the evidence, and sincerely concluded that climate change is nonsense? Maybe they came to a certain conclusion because they needed money from large energy, industrial, and automotive donors to run for reelection? I think every normal voter knows this is how things are to varying degrees. But as individuals, we've each come to our own conclusion on how much of a problem this poses. Some people fight to have Citizens United repealed. Others just accept it as the normal course of business. I think many people find ways to accept it because at the very least, it's all in the family, so to speak. We're all Americans, we're all on the same team, and while it may not be perfect, we're not talking about someone helping the other team. This is why influence of a foreign government on one of our elected officials is the worst possible scenario. Can anyone really talk themselves into thinking it is okay for an elected official to be batting for the other team?
Conflicts of interest are poison pills that harm public trust. The very legitimacy of representative government and our political system cannot survive without public trust. There can be no compromise on this, we must have faith in our elected officials to represent us and our country solely with out best interests at heart. This is why relationships between our elected officials and a foreign country must be above board at all times and err on the side of caution to never give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Partisanship has already reared its head. As such, we must have an independent investigation. The investigation must have unfettered access to information and witnesses. Our President's integrity has come into question. The only response must be 100% disclosure to restore public trust.