Media

Donald Trump, Intelligence and National Security

And Gen. Flynn’s adventure in Moscow.

Donald Trump, Intelligence and National Security

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Rossiya Segodnya general director Dmitry Kiselev, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today (RT) television news network and Rossiya Segodnya international news agency, (left to right) at the during a Putin visit to the international news agency's Moscow headquarters. (Photo by Mikhail KlimentyevTASS via Getty Images)

Donald Trump, intelligence, national security — if this were a game show, it might be amusing to see how well contestants do stringing these words into a single sentence.

But in fact, the words appear together in the news this week about the intelligence briefing that Donald Trump and some of his advisers received in New York on Wednesday. According to NBC News:

The briefing, which lasted about two hours, was designed to give him a slightly more detailed picture of worldwide threats than the one US analysts regularly present in public; it [did] not reveal sensitive intelligence operations….

Although Trump himself does not hold a security clearance, he was accompanied by advisers who, by custom, are required to hold them. One of these advisers was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Perhaps he was there to ask questions about the George Washington Bridge. Another was former Defense Intelligence Agency director and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the same who was for a while touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate and who spoke for Trump at the Republican Convention.

Perhaps Trump will succeed in keeping the nonsensitive matters on which he was briefed as secret as he keeps his tax returns. Or perhaps he will blurt out the revelation that his briefers are stupid people who concealed from him the truth he already knew about Obama and ISIS.

Now, as the entire population of planet Earth must know by now, Hillary Clinton has been subjected to voluminous and repeated investigations of her notorious emails. Last month, in one of those two-steps in which he utters an outrage and then claims his words have been twisted by the “so dishonest” press — Trump said that he hoped it had been Russia that hacked her account and asked for Russian help to find the missing ones. Since Trump thinks, or affects to think, that Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama (he makes an ostentatious habit of using the president’s middle name), between them, “literally” founded ISIS, it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t objected yet to her receiving a classified briefing; but perhaps this will come soon now that his new Breitbart-inspired management team is in charge.

What use Trump himself will make of his briefing remains, of course, to be seen. Perhaps he will succeed in keeping the nonsensitive matters on which he was briefed as secret as he keeps his tax returns. Or perhaps he will blurt out the revelation that his briefers are stupid people who concealed from him the truth he already knew about Obama and ISIS.

But there’s an aspect to Trump’s briefing that, so far as I know, has been missed by most of the mainstream media. Michael Crowley of Politico noted that Flynn was present at a gala event at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow on Dec. 10, 2015. The occasion: the 10th anniversary celebration of Russia’s state-funded TV network RT, and a conference called “Information, messages, politics: the shape-shifting powers of today’s world.” At dinner, Flynn was seated two seats away from Putin, the two bookending RT’s editor-in-chief. (Another American in attendance was Green Party candidate Jill Stein — a subject I shall return to on another occasion.)

RT has been making a big push to establish itself as the place to go for a “second opinion.” It snapped up Larry King and former MSNBC liberal Ed Schultz for regular shows, since their old venues discarded them. But all in all, RT stands for Russia Talks. Last October, when I looked at their front page, the top stories were Putin’s knock at the US for criticizing Russia’s “op” in Syria, a triumphal report of Russia’s air attacks on ISIS, and this little classic:  Oxford’s new geography textbook names Crimea as part of Russia.

I happened to notice that front page because Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg had embedded in his article on RT a video of a particular RT broadcast. (The video — formerly up on YouTube but subsequently taken down — was delivered by an announcer whose smile succeeded in being broad, insinuating and mocking at the same time.)

Take A Look: The Video RT Doesn't Want You To See

“If you have any doubt at all that Hillary Clinton is the Illuminati’s candidate,” the announcer said, “take a look at this logo.” It’s a triangle over a dot! This exotic little item, she went on to say, was the logo for a company that did digital work for — wait for it! —the Clinton campaign. Triangle over dot, we were informed, symbolized the Illuminati, a Bavarian secret society of 1776 and time-dishonored prototype for go-to conspiracy fraud.

The diabolical triangle-dot logo, RT went on, adorned a tech company called The Groundwork, which, they said, was financed by Eric Schmidt, CEO of the company that controls Google. Groundwork, in other words, worked for “one of America’s top oligarchs.” The reference was to Clinton, not Schmidt himself.

If this wasn’t enough to curl your hair into a beard of which any Orthodox Jewish man would be proud, the announcer went on to say that The Groundwork’s parent company is named for — a Hebrew word.

Yes, Eric Schmidt’s company spoke Hebrew! Illuminati + Hebrew = World Zionist Conspiracy to Take Over the World.

From the debased national culture that in 1903 forged and promoted the crazed and malevolent conspiracy theory called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now crawls forward Czar Vladimir, a man himself well-acquainted with oligarchs.

In the run-up to RT’s gala, posters sprang up around Manhattan advertising something called RT. One poster depicted a poorly drawn Colin Powell above these capital-letter words: “IRAQ WAR. NO WMDS. 141,802 CIVILIAN DEATHS….THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS NO SECOND OPINION.” Below, these words: “GO TO RT.COM FOR THE SECOND OPINION.” Another proclamation featured an even more poorly drawn version of George W. Bush standing in front of a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” sign; this time, instead of “NO WMDS,” the words “FALSE STATEMENTS” appeared. A third was all words: “IN CASE THEY SHUT US DOWN ON TV, GO TO RT.COM FOR THE SECOND OPINION.”

When the Washington Post’s Dana Priest asked Flynn this week about his relationship to RT, this dialogue ensued:

PRIEST: Why would you go on RT, they’re state run?

FLYNN: Well, what’s CNN?

PRIEST: Well, it’s not run by the state. You’re rolling your eyes.

Flynn says he is not paid for his appearances on RT, though he was paid an unspecified amount to give a lecture in Moscow. Flynn shows no sign of unease about appearing on RT. Trump shows no more unease about working with Michael Flynn than he does about affecting a relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Way back when, in another century, it was a Republican talking point that, in 1969, as a student based in Oxford, Bill Clinton had visited the USSR on a tourist trip. Imagine! The USSR is no more, and neither is Republican skepticism about the Kremlin. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, archdeacons of liberty, missionaries for democracy — are you paying attention?

Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of 16 books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin.