Monday, January 23, 2017

Did Trump Bring His Own Cheering Section To CIA Speech?

The plan was to make America believe the CIA agreed with him that reporters are liars. He said it at the CIA and was greeted by cheers and applause. This is troubling. Our intelligence agencies should not be cheering sections for the president. When they are we have a problem.

Only later was it reported that the cheers and applause were brought with him or organized by Trump staff from Trump fans at the CIA. CBS News reports that Trump's visit left the intelligence community in a state of unease.

After eight years of responsible leadership we appear to be reverting to the Bush/Cheney standard, where intelligence is bent and cooked to suit the White House’s political goals.

As the investigations continue into Trump’s money ties to and possible blackmail by the Russian government and Russian mobsters who function as agents of Putin’s government, there’s been angry pushback from TrumpWorld. Trump has accused the CIA of Nazi-like tactics. They have also tried to discredit the agency, saying they got the facts wrong on Iraq’s WMD, a sore point for all CIA and intelligence professionals. The CIA didn’t get WMD wrong. The Bush/Cheney White House demanded they shape their analysis to fit Cheney’s war aims. When the facts began coming out the White House outed a CIA agent in order to discredit the reports. Valerie Plame’s husband, heroic career diplomat Joseph Wilson, had written an op-ed for the NYTimes to correct the record and the White House decided to get back at him by ending his wife’s career and ending the lives of who knows how many agents she had working covertly on anti-nuclear proliferation cases around the world. Politics came first for the White House, national security a distant second if it was considered at all.

(There have been many theories why Dick Cheney would corrupt our intelligence networks to advance a disastrous war. One of the most plausible being that Cheney saw the war as vital for the survival of Halliburton, which he had led into near bankruptcy as its CEO. The Iraq War turned Halliburton from a failing company into a massively profitable one. Halliburton has since then moved its headquarters from the U.S. to Dubai, and Cheney has retired to wealthy retirement on investments that very likely include large holdings in his former company’s stock.)

This distortion and corruption of our vital intelligence processes was boasted of by Karl Rove at the time and reported in the New York Times Magazine by Ron Suskind:

"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality— judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’"

As MotherJones later explained this corruption of fact and intelligence put us into Iraq and caused the massive failure in Iraq, which led to the rise of ISIS.

It is worrying to think our intelligence gathering agencies, our eyes and ears around the world, are being made hostage to the ego of President Trump. Trump now has the power to fund or defund the agencies. If he doesn’t get answers that match his beliefs or interests he will treat the agencies the way he treats contractors who work on his buildings.

So… what about that [applause] at the CIA? Was it a fearful applause by fearful offered up to a new hacksaw CEO who can fire employees who don’t applaud? Was it a carefully selected audience applauding? Did Trump bring his claque with him? (The applause at his press conference two days earlier was supplied by staffers brought to the press room.) Trump has a history of paying for applause. The Republican Party itself has a history of deploying its staffers as flash mobs to intimidate or applaud. Recall the flash mob of GOP congressional staffers who attacked the Florida recount en masse in 2000. The reporting at the time painted it as a spontaneous outburst of vox populi.

Rachel Maddow reported on this pivotal 2000 story in 2009 as the same mob tactics were being used to shout down Obama’s agenda in Congress and in town hall meetings across the country.

Republican up-and-comers wanting to get ahead in the GOP put this flash mob on their resumes and were on the quick road to higher positions. From the Washington Post

This appears to be happening again, this time in the White House and at the CIA. The backstory of Trump's applauding claque appeared in the Independent

"Pool reports later clarified that the attendants who were cheering and clapping when Mr Trump spoke were not CIA staffers but people who accompanied Mr Trump to the briefing."

SLATE reports that the Trump campaign launch was, according to FEC filings, applauded by a paid crowd.

This story from MEDIUM describes the dismay felt by CIA professionals at the misuse and abuse of the CIA Saturday

Arbiter News tracks the debunking of the Trump applause at the CIA source by source

Newsweek was among the first to correct the impression that the CIA were in Trump's cheering section

But Trump’s seemingly warm reception might have been somewhat manufactured. The Washington Post’s longtime CIA watcher, Greg Miller, tweeted Saturday that the audience was “a self-selected bunch: CIA employees who signed up to come in on a Saturday to see the new POTUS. Mostly Trump voters.” A pool reporter selected to witness the closed event indicated "the cheering and clapping was not from the CIA staffers but people who accompanied Trump,” according to The Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler. He later clarified on Twitter that it was "unclear who the people on the side were. But the folks in the front apparently did not react until the end.”

Another thorough analysis of what transpired appears at the Atlantic

"CNN reported that the crowd of intelligence officials were broken into two sections, with the main area full of agency staff, and a separate section in front of the lectern full of senior agency leadership, including agents. There was some applause at times from the all-agency section, CNN reported, but the leadership stood, looking stoic, and did not applaud.”

What is the story here? Was the CIA being pulled into the Trump noise machine? What explains Republicans' habit of turning vital intelligence agencies into lackeys? Nothing excuses it. It represents a danger to our security.

A longer read at the New Yorker by Robin Wright included the disappointment and disgust felt by senior CIA employees that Trump would use the memorial to the CIA agents who have died to defend our country to mount a rambling attack on the news media and brag about the size of his audience the day before.

Wright concluded with Trump’s disgraceful, defensive, self-contratulatory tweet at 7:35 Sunday morning: “Had a great meeting at CIA Headquarters yesterday, packed house, paid great respect to Wall, long standing ovations, amazing people. WIN!”

The complex American security apparatus is now a tool for massaging the ego of our Dear Leader. Once again facts and evidence are being retooled to create an alternate reality.

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