Maureen Dowd: Appeasing the Trigger Gods
Thomas L. Friedman: Get Out of Facebook and Into the NRA’s Face
Eugene Robinson: The Issue is Not Mental Health. The Issue is the Guns
Charles Krauthammer: The Guardrails Hold
Frank Rich: After Trump
Peggy Noonan: The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe
Paul Krugman: Trump’s Twin Deficits
E. J. Dionne, Jr.: A Groundswell for Sanity
Dana Milbank: Why Stormy Daniels Isn’t a Bigger Hurricane
Adam Gopnik: Four Truths About the Florida School Shooting
James Fallows: Show Us the Carnage
David Brooks: Respect First, Then Gun Control
David Gergen: The Secret to a Healthy Relationship With the Press
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Another Trump Failure: Infastructure
Charles M. Blow: Scandal-Ridden Scoundrel
Carl Hiassen: Going to School Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence
Charlie Pierce: So, Who Will Be the Next Person Kicked to the White House Curb?
Matt Taibbi: If We Want Our Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop Too
Fareed Zakaria: There’s a Lot to be Optimistic About and Then There’s the Middle East
George F. Will: Los Angeles Mayor Deserves a Presidential Hearing
David Ignatius: How to Tackle the Biggest Obstacle to Finishing the War Against the Islamic State
Nicholas Kristof: What Poisons Are In Your Body?
Froma Harrop: In November, Democrats Need to Be the Third Party
John Underhill: Trump, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Whatever the ring of spies that entrapped the Trump Organization ends up being called, this so-called ‘Russian meddling’ plot will have some damned difficult names to pronounce when all is said and done. As former President George W. Bush used to like to do, I suggest a few nicknames to keep track of all these characters, and we’ll start with ‘The Professor,’ Joe Mifsud. He dangled Olga Polonskaya to the Trump dupes, calling her ‘Putin’s niece’ to entice the star fuckers in the Trump ‘brain trust.’ Olga was actually a dupe herself, apparently only Facebook friends with ‘The Professor’ Mifsud – who flew (on a whim!) to New York with Olga to attend a shady meeting at Trump Tower with a bunch of guys in shiny suits. In what the Papadopoulos Complaint described as a ‘Female Russian National’ attending the infamous June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, The 31-year-old lives in St. Petersburg and apparently graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Her Russian Facebook page says she works for a wine import company, but there’s no picture of her, so we can’t see if she looks anything like old Uncle Putin. Also apparently, Olga Vinogradova was her maiden name, and the New York Times has reports that her name is now Polonskaya, so I don’t know what the fuck to think. Let’s call her ‘Olga.’
The other ‘carrot’ offered to the Trump dupes was the so-called ‘Crown Prosecutor of Russia,’ Natalia Veselnitskaya, who said that they only talked up the Magnitsky Act, before Donald Jr. stupidly blabbed about the real reason for the meeting: dirt on Hillary! Anyone know who Magnitsky was? He was murdered in jail after he revealed bad stuff about Putin (while doing his job as an accountant) and the U.S. placed sanctions on Russia as a result. We’ll call Natalia, (while wishing her name was Natasha) ‘The Crown Prosecutor.’ Then there’s Rinat Akhmetshin, the shady ‘lobbyist’ who attended the Trump Tower meeting as well, taking copious notes. This one I’ll call ‘The Spy,’ because Akhmetshin is a ‘former’ Russian counter-intelligence officer, by his own account. Back to Moscow in 2013, the Agalarov father/son team, promoters of the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow (all mixed up with hookers and other blackmail-able shit) we’ll call ‘The Russian Trumps.’ Then we have Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who received daily briefings from the campaign from Paul Manafort in exchange for – what exactly? He’s ‘The Olegarch,’ oh, and there’s also another Russian businessman Sergei Millian, who once said about Trump, “He likes Russia because he likes beautiful Russian ladies. He likes talking to them, of course. And he likes to be able to make lot of money with Russians, yes, correct.” Millian is head of the so-called ‘Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC),’ and he insists the organization has nothing to do with the Russian government. Millian was a BIG source in the mysterious Steele Dossier, even though he denies that he’s the nattering nabob that forwarded the most salacious accusations. His real name is Siarhai Kukuts, but who cares, we’ll call him ‘Source E.’ He also appears in the ‘Paradise Papers,’ revealing Russian government-linked VTB Bank and Gazprom among his organization’s ‘angel’ investors. A Russian named ‘Yuri’ is Yuri Milner, a high-tech billionaire and an early investor in Twitter – plopping down a whopping $800 million on Twitter in 2011. Nice play! Along with his business partner Alisher Usmanov (a close associate of Vladimir Putin) they paid $200 million for a 2% stake of Facebook in 2009 and sold it for $525 mil just four years later, in 2013. Another nice play, but they probably should have held that one.
Eric Trump’s Georgetown bro, Boris Epshteyn, is an interesting character, born in Mother Russia, a friend and confidant of the ‘other Trump kid,’ Boris had a Trump love fest with Bill Maher that you gotta see to believe, and for that reason, he’s ‘Boris Badanov.’ This is fun! Felix Sater is ‘The Rat,’ who did time for stabbing a guy in the face with a margarita glass. Any questions? Okay, moving on, Viktor Khrapunov, a former government minister (and mayor in Kazakhstan) is ‘Borat,’ (your welcome) and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian foreign minister, is ‘Russian Mike.’ Sergei Ryabkov, another Russian foreign minister is ‘The Contact,’ because he contacted the Trump campaign, by his own admission, during the campaign. Jared Kushner decided to ‘pass’ on an offer of help from the Russians because it didn’t strike Jared as particularly plausible, warning the email chainers that they should be careful who they trust. Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully defended Bill Clinton against impeachment in 1998, said:
If you look at the content of these emails, he’s the hero. He’s the one who’s saying there shouldn’t be any contact with foreign officials or foreign entities. That’s what the Senate Judiciary Committee should pay attention to and not create some sort of partisan gotcha game.
Some hero! A hero would have done the right thing and gone straight to the F.B.I to set up these bastards in a sting! It seems Kushner rarely does the right thing. Abbe Lowell would go on to say, “In my communications with the Senate Judiciary Committee, I said, ‘Take these documents, and let’s talk about what else is relevant. They jumped the gun to make a media event.” In other words, the Kushner team said to Mueller, “Hey, here’s a few documents directly related to Russian meddling, let’s see if you find any more and we’ll talk then!” Does Lowell even hear himself? Mueller’s team caught his client in a lie of omission, then Lowell calls it a ‘media event’ because the committee is using it as leverage? That’s their fucking job! At least lawyers are paid to lie, and Abbe is well paid. Trump campaign officials handed over “communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner,” that Jared had failed to disclose voluntarily. Kushner also received an email that discussed ‘RE: Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ (the email subject header, I shit you not) from Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank, according to NBC.
The Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, is obviously ‘The Ambassador’ in our continuing saga and should be played in the movie by the versatile character actor Toby Jones – who played ‘The Tinker’ in Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lesser players on the Russian stage, and also of great interest to grand juries in Virginia, New York, Maryland and elsewhere, include: Arkady Dvorkovich; Shlomo Weber; Ivan Timofeev; Andrey Baranov; Igor Sechin; Randa Kassis and Dmitry Peskov among an expanding list of difficult to pronounce names.
We haven’t had such interest in spying and espionage since the end of the Cold War, so it’s a real shot in the arm to the genre, as far as I’m concerned. Spy novels and films have a largely male audience and most spy movies are eye-rollers to wives and girlfriends everywhere. A few films try to play up the romance and exotic scenery along with the complicated plots, like the cheesy Bond films and Hitchcock’s wonderful North By Northwest (1959), but for my money, Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935) and Notorious (1946) are the best examples of spy movies, with precise casting and direction, shot in beautiful black and white. Nazis and Russians have a monopoly as spies since as long as anyone can remember, and either Germans during the world wars or Russians after, spy vs. spy has been a fairly black and white game.
Donald Trump is a big movie buff, once sitting down with the intelligent, missed by millions, Robert Osborne on TCM’s guest programmer series, currently featuring David Letterman and Alec Baldwin. Trump’s favorite film, Citizen Kane, was inspired by the huge blowhard William Randolph Hearst – more on that in my next post – and it turns out that The Donald and I actually like a lot of the same movies. I bet we would get along fine if we only talked sports and movies instead of politics. Unfortunately, he’s the President of the United States. I relish with anticipation all the unwritten books and undirected movies that will be made about the Trump Administration, and this ‘Russian thing’ is a central plot in the mystery. I hope it plays out like the Coen Brothers’ funny and imaginative Burn After Reading (2008), with Trump the bumbling hero versus their latest Cold War spy effort, Bridge of Spies (2015), a collaboration produced and directed by Stephen Spielberg dramatizing the ‘Hollow Nickel Case’ and the high stakes prisoner exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers with captured Russian spy Rudolph Abel.
Abel was convicted of the same charge that Paul Manafort’s attorney says are ‘old and never prosecuted’ and well, here the ‘old’ FARA charges were concurrent with a criminal conspiracy charge, in addition to conspiracy to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, without notification to the Secretary of State. On October 25, 1957, a U.S. jury found Abel and his accomplices guilty on all counts and they received three sentences to be served concurrently, equaling 45 years of hard time. Perhaps Manafort might also be available for a prisoner exchange with Russia for, say, Russian turncoat Colonel Alexander Poteyev? I’m sure the U.S. government would love to catch up with ‘ol Alex.
We all learn about Benedict Arnold in grade school, his name synonymous with the word ‘traitor.’ Prior to the Revolutionary War, Arnold dueled with a British sea captain in South America who called him a “damned Yankee, destitute of good manners or those of a gentleman.” The captain won the argument, but lost the duel, apologizing for his heated remarks while tending to his gaping leg wound. Arnold later famously tried to hand West Point over to the English and then fled to the Redcoats to lead them in future battles against his former brothers-in-arms. Benedict Arnold will forever be a byword for treason and treachery.
Some of our earliest, most legendary heroes were spies. Nathan Hale, caught behind enemy lines in New York City during the American Revolution and executed just after uttering his famous line, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ Hale’s last words were paraphrased – inaccurately – from a report on his death the Boston Chronicle published six years after his execution. He actually said, “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” I like the Reader’s Digest version better.
We also know the story of the heroic Harriet Tubman, Union spy among her many history-making feats, and yet another African-American hero (and spy) known to us only as ‘Cato‘ may have done more to promote what would become known as abolition more than any man in history. As part of the famous Culper spy ring, Cato may have saved George Washington’s life more than once during the Revolutionary War, and was credited by his former ‘master’ Hercules Mulligan by introducing the first society to end slavery in America. Other famous Confederate spies include Rose O’Neal Greenhow, prominent Richmond, Virginia socialite and spy credited by Confederate President Jefferson Davis with ensuring the South’s victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. The value and effectiveness of spies has been obvious long since, highlighted by the most common punishment for spying: death by hanging.
Pinkerton Security was born as a counter-intelligence network in Washington, D.C., with Alan Pinkerton sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Confederate capital of Richmond at the outbreak of Civil War. A spy associated with John Wilkes Booth – Sarah Slater – was extremely valuable to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, (impressed by her beauty, french-speaking skills and bravery). Slater was the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, and during the Civil War, began carrying messages for the Confederacy, and although she only served as a spy for a few months, managed to work her way into John Wilkes Booth’s inner circle, occasionally staying at co-conspirator Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse in Washington D.C.. Lost to history, Sarah Slater, as many spies before and since, vanished without a trace.
By WWI, the infamous German spy Mata Hari (executed by a French by firing squad) offered up her body to enter the shady world of ‘spies among us,’ especially those that are beautiful and horny. Spying for the Good ‘Ol USA during WWI, the femme-fatale (and founding member of the Society of Women Geographers) Marguerite Harrison and the estimable General Julius Klein worked for the good guys versus the Imperial German war machine, however it really wasn’t until WWII that spies, and spy fiction, really got into gear.
We start with the odd cases of Julia Child, TV chef and foodie icon who spied for the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during WWII, going on to marry her sweetheart – also an OSS spy; and Moe Berg: a Princeton and Columbia Law School-educated, multilingual Boston Red Sox catcher in the summer – and U.S. spy in the off season, gathering information on the Nazi nuclear program while barnstorming in Europe. Other famous spies include the Rosenbergs, of course, and the meek Klaus Fuchs, and the meeker Ted Hall, the Russian-born spy who gave the Soviets the blueprints to the Little Boy in perhaps the world’s greatest espionage coup. The Manhattan Project bore a slew of Russian spies, names like David Greenglass; Jones Orin York; Bill Weisband; Harry Gold; Alger Hiss; Whitaker Chambers; Nathan Silvermaster (of the Silvermaster spy ring); Henry Dexter White; Alexander Koral; Frank Coe; Jacob Golos; Charles Kramer; Laughlan Currie; Victor Perlo; J. Peters; John Abt and the sneaky Elizabeth Bentley, who confessed to everything and exposed the entire Soviet plot after her defection. Lee Harvey Oswald said in his only public statement, after being arrested in Dallas, “I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago.”
The whole ‘atom spies‘ case was blown open by a few cryptanalysts working at Arlington Hall, Good ‘Ol USA’s version of England’s Bletchley Park, the famed breakers of the Nazi ENIGMA code. Meredith Gardner and a few intrepid linguists and mathematicians, after making short work of the Japanese government’s diplomatic PURPLE cipher, got to work on coded Soviet diplomatic cables from New York to Moscow during the war, over 200,000 intercepted in 1946 alone. These unsung heroes of WWII figured out that the Soviets had made a big mistake, by repeating identical passages of text, opening up the ‘unbreakable’ code to solution. The VENONA project revealed many Russian atomic spies and was a huge success, and by May, 1947, Lieutenant Richard Hallock, working on Soviet diplomatic codes (and who first discovered that the Soviets were reusing pages) with Genevieve Feinstein, Cecil Phillips, Frank Lewis, Frank Wanat, and Lucille Campbell, went on to break into a huge amount of Russian ‘trade’ traffic. Gardner then used this info to crack the KGB codes:
Gardner read a decrypt that implied the Soviets ran an agent with access to sensitive information from U.S. Army Air Corps Major William Ludwig Ullmann. It became apparent to Gardner that he was reading KGB messages showing massive Soviet espionage in the United States. Meredith later related how a young pipe-smoking Englishman named Philby used to regularly visit him and peer over his shoulder and admire the progress he was making. Gardner “was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency.”
Meredith Gardner died on August 9, 2002, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at the age of 89 – a true American hero. By the way, the Russian code name that Gardner revealed for Washington D.C. was Carthage, a Phoenician city-state which gained independence around 650 BC, and by the beginning of the 5th century BC, Carthage had become the commercial center of the West Mediterranean. An oligarchy marked with a few democratic social reforms, a code name for Moscow today could easily be Carthage.
The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or ‘SVR’ is the successor to the foreign agent branch of the KGB under Soviet leadership. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and the President of Russia, is a card-carrying member of this clandestine class. He oversaw the Russian Federation’s transitional baby-steps from the KGB to the current GRU (army) and SVR (diplomatic) clandestine services, and as President of Russia since 1999, he directly oversaw the Russian ‘Illegals’ program in the United States. Looking suspiciously like so many Russian spy operations under Stalin and Khrushchev before, the ‘Illegals Program‘ was blown by Russian double-agent Colonel Alexander Poteyov, and on July 9, 2010, the Russian spies were busted. Anna Chapman and others tried to compromise the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton for two years, which was set into motion many years earlier. Anna’s ex-husband, Alex Chapman, told the London Telegraph,
When I saw that she had been arrested on suspicion of spying it didn’t come as much of a surprise to be honest. Towards the end of our marriage she became very secretive, going for meetings on her own with ‘Russian friends’, and I guess it might have been because she was in contact with the Russian government.
The FBI tried to warn us back in 2010, saying that these Russians were a ‘new breed’ of spy, revealing that we were entering a new arena of ‘political warfare,’ building on Russia’s nearly century of experience in espionage. Since 1919, the Comintern (or Communist International) set into operation hundreds of plots to discredit and slander Western leaders and undermine democratic elections worldwide. They trained agents for infiltration into the capitalist West with the purpose of advancing Marxist ideology and sewing doubt about social democracy. America has done this as well, of course, advancing Western ideology and democratization around the world, and yes, we have committed some pretty heinous acts in the defense of our liberty since 1776. I’ll leave that discussion to America’s critics, for now. Donald Trump, when asked by Bill O’Reilly in February if he was repelled by Putin’s record of human rights abuses and the remarkably short life spans of (good) Russian investigative reporters under his leadership, Trump retorted dismissively, “We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” Nice. What the ‘illegals’ plot reveals is that unlike the United States, a free and open democracy where we have always revealed wrongdoing through commission after commission since our first days a a nation, the former Soviet Union, or Russia, has continued to deal from the bottom of the deck without so much as a slap on the wrist. Since the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, Russia has been an Autocracy.
Within the past ten years, Russia planted spies among the Democratic Party and specifically, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Obama Administration made short work of the plot, with the FBI exposing the smokin’ hot Russian spy from England, Anna Chapman, before she could spring her trap. She was the bait, the Mata Hari if you will, prepared by her handlers in Moscow to trap a particular Obama Administration official in a standard ‘honey pot’ arrangement, cooked up to embarrass Obama after it was clear that he wasn’t going to play ball with Putin. In another part of the plot, a big-time Hillary Clinton donor and Democratic big-wig was targeted the dupe. The whole thing was handled very quietly and ‘in house’ by U.S. intelligence agencies, but the British tabloids had a field day, revealing Chapman and her 10 co-conspirators, charged with (surprise!) FARA violations. They couldn’t be charged with anything else, because there was no evidence that any part of their plot succeeded – except for the ‘Trump piece’ that may have emerged last year. According to the complaint, Chapman used a laptop computer to transfer intelligence to another laptop computer, operated by another spy for the Russian SVC, from a Starbucks on 47th Avenue in New York City and a Barnes & Noble on Warren. “They’re not all sneaking around in capes and floppy hats.” said CIA analyst Peter Earnest recently, ‘It’s a carefully executed influence campaign, and might be more like lobbying and fundraising than what we traditionally think of as espionage.” While some, like Anna Chapman, were more active, others were doing little more than low-level networking and information gathering in the final years – not unusual in a long-term influence campaign. Current Prime Minister of Russia, (then) President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed the highest state award on Chapman during a Kremlin ceremony in 2010 where (then) Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s) met with the agents and sang patriotic songs with them over toasts of Stolichnaya.
Before the Berlin Wall went up, on November 10, 1958, Nikita Khrushchev issued to the West an ultimatum to withdraw from Berlin. Shortly after that, President Eisenhower and Khrushchev met at Camp David and talked turkey while negotiating over a few days and made real progress toward peace. Khrushchev reportedly came away thinking that a deal was possible over Berlin and they agreed to continue the negotiations at a summit in Paris in May, 1960. However, the Paris Peace Summit that was to resolve the Berlin problem was cancelled after the fallout from Gary Powers’ failed U-2 spy flight on May 1, 1960. A year later, the Berlin Crisis of 1961 brought East and West to the brink of World War III, where the legendary U.S. Army General Lucius D. Clay, John F. Kennedy’s Special Advisor in West Berlin, faced down the Russians as if he were Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Dr. Strangelove (1964). From October 27, 1961 until October 28th, American and Russian troops lined up against each other across the Brandenberg Gate, and as per standing orders, both battalions of tanks were loaded with live munitions and both sides’ commanders had issued orders to fire if fired upon. At that time, Robert F. Kennedy secretly negotiated with Russian spy Georgi Bolshakov, a Soviet operative under journalist cover posted to Washington, D.C. and the Kennedys used this ‘back channel’ to Moscow to diffuse the volatile standoff, and then they used Bolshakov again to set up the successful Vienna Summit in June, 1961, which was in turn scuttled by the Cuban Missile Crisis. It seems that every time the Russians talked peace, weird things began to happen – just like last year.
I’ve always been partial to actor Michael Caine. Born Maurice Mickelwhite, Jr., Caine was born to play a real spy, most notably the middle-class Harry Palmer, the workaday British spy who resented the high hat aristocrats in charge of London’s Foreign Office in author Len Deighton’s spy novels. In movies like The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Caine delivered that unmistakable, understated British sense of duty and honor, portrayed best by stalwart actors such as Alec Guinness, Robert Shaw and Laurence Olivier. Later, in 1987’s The Fourth Protocol, based on the Fredrick Forsyth book, Caine matched wits with a Russian spy played by Pierce Brosnan in one of the best roles delivered in either actor’s career.
Kevin Costner, before he was famous, was only known as the ‘dead guy’ – his character committed suicide in The Big Chill, providing the plot device for the film, and he is never shown in 1983’s Best Screenplay winner. In his film No Way Out (1987) with Gene Hackman – spoiler alert (thirty years after the movie premiere) – Costner was revealed as the Russian sleeper spy at the end of the movie. This extremely clever casting, with Costner remembered as the Western sheriff archetype Wyatt Earp in Silverado (1986) and starring as the squeaky-clean Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) in his previous two films, provided a great twist – that Costner was the Russian spy known only as ‘Yuri’ all along.
Yuri Shvets was a Major in the KGB during the 1980’s and from 1985 to 1987 worked in the Washington D.C. ‘rezidentura’ (residence) of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, the predecessor of the current SVR, and may have been the inspiration for the character. Costner’s Yuri, working as a double-agent for the Russians, is put in charge of finding a Russian mole, implicated in a political murder with a faint Polaroid image of Costner, himself, providing the film’s MacGuffin. Another famous Russian spy named ‘Yuri’ was Yuri Nosenko, who arrived at the CIA’s doorstep a scant two weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. To this day, there is significant debate in U.S. intelligence circles about the truth behind Nosenko’s ‘defection’ to the West in 1963. Yuri offered up that he was a former KGB agent with direct knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald’s connections to Soviet intelligence, and said that no connection existed between Oswald and the KGB. He was kept in isolation and interrogated by the FBI for three solid years and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, after reading a book about the Nosenko affair in 2007, expressed serious concerns about who was behind the Kennedy assassination.
An unsung hero in the world of American counter-espionage is a man by the name of William G. Sebold, who was a German-born, naturalized American citizen who, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest, was an unwitting player in the Cold War who tried to do the right thing. After visiting Germany before WWII, Sebold was confronted by Nazi thugs who threatened him and made him pledge to spy against his adopted country. Sebold immediately went to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, unlike EVERYBODY in the Trump campaign, and told them what had happened. In one of the greatest counter-espionage stings in American history, Sebold set up dozens of other co-opted German spies, unraveling the famous Duquesne Spy Ring.
A word here about The Americans and the rant in my last post about movie sequels, and how awful they usually are. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) was a good sequel, I’ve been recently reminded, yet I’ll stick to my guns: sequels usually suck. The long form TV series format, begun with David Chase and HBO’s success with the groundbreaking The Sopranos, has changed the game in the entertainment business. The quality and production associated with some of these film series are as good as it gets, and some of these shows will stand among the greatest movie franchises of all time. The Americans, a complex and hard-to-tell story – set during the Reagan years – is a fine docudrama that shows how little has changed with the standard Russian-trained spy. They are capable of offering up their own children to the Russian Federation, to raise them as little baby spies, created in a sham marriage of spies, hatched by a commiserat of spies working just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.
Ramón Mercader, the Soviet spy who assassinated Leon Trotsky in 1940, reversed the standard Russian ‘honey pot’ arrangement, having the suave, debonair Mercado seduce the (butt ugly) American intellectual Sylvia Ageloff from Brooklyn. A trusted friend of the deposed Trotsky in Paris (founder of the Red Army, Trotsky was expelled from Russia in 1929), Ageloff was Mercader’s dupe after he assumed the identity ‘Jacques Mornard,’ supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat, who followed Ageloff to New York with plans to marry her. He then ‘broke up’ with her shortly thereafter and headed to Mexico City, a location where Leon Trotsky was rumored to be hiding. The dupe Ageloff dutifully followed her (base) instincts, and lead Mercader directly to the archenemy of Joseph Stalin, where he promptly plunged an ice axe into Trotsky’s head, killing him. While in jail awaiting trail for the murder, Ramón Mercader was awarded the Order of Lenin by Stalin in appreciation for his service to the Motherland. The story was recently made into a movie shot in Barcelona, Spain and Mexico City titled ‘El Elegido‘ (2015) or, The Chosen.
The recently released Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original Blade Runner, was based on the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Recently, non-traditional film studios such as HBO Pictures; FX; Netflix; Showtime Originals, you name it – have handled the the idea of the sequel, or follow-up, much better than the traditional Hollywood studios. The Amazon Studios-produced The Man in the High Castle (2015-present) is a great example of the high quality of these new long form films. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Man Booker prize-winning, first novel published in 1963. The book imagines a dystopian outcome to WWII, with Nazi Germany using the ‘Heisenberg Device’ (or an atomic bomb) to wipe Washington D.C. off the map, thus winning the war. An uneasy piece then exists between victors Japan and Germany, where the United States is carved up into three zones. The Pacific zone is controlled by the Japanese and the Eastern zone is controlled by the Germans – but the middle zone is neutral – and this neutral zone, a kind of Orwellian ‘Wild West,’ is where the last true Americans have escaped from being chased down, tortured and beaten into submission in this alternate reality set in 1963.
The British actor Rufus Sewell delivers a fantastic portrayal of the Nazi In charge of the German Eastern zone, headquartered in New York City. Philip K. Dick cleverly replaces the United States and Russia with Germany and Japan in this recast Cold War scenario in which Germany and Japan find themselves approaching something like Thirteen Days, Robert F. Kennedy’s book which recounts the United States response to the provocation of Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962. In the Amazon film series, we have a scenario where Germany and Japan enter territory that the United States and Russia never entered – tactical nuclear war. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear power has never been used as a weapon against populations. They were used to kill innocent people, yes, during the conflagration of WWII, and the idea that the Nazis could acquire such a weapon drove the scientists at the Manhattan Project, and all civilized societies in general, to defeat the Nazis in 1945. The war was held in the balance in 1943 and to imagine an America in 1963 – defeated and partitioned – is healthy medicine in the Trump era.
The treatment of the Japanese in the series is handled far more delicately than the Germans – Nazism can easily be separated from the idea of the modern, democratized German. The old order in Japan is less easy to explain, with prewar Japan slightly less ‘propagandized’ than Nazi Germany, perhaps, but with a long history of conquest and bushido-based militarism drummed into the culture from the earliest age, with similar ideas to Aryanism – and they were destined to clash. In The Man in the High Castle, the crown prince of Japan, visiting San Francisco, is murdered by a sniper, inviting comparisons to the Kennedy assassination. Philip K. Dick leaves no doubt that he believed that the Russians were involved in Dallas, as Germans were involved behind the crown prince’s murder in the book and the film. It’s a fascinating retelling of the Kennedy assassination yarn – written just after Kennedy’s murder. Later in the series, Nazi General Reinhard Heydrik eventually leads a coup in Berlin to eliminate the ailing, elderly Adolf Hitler. Here, Philip K. Dick imagines that the only guy in the room more evil than Hitler himself would eventually take over if Germany had won. Heydrich, The architect of the Holocaust, would be as good a choice as any. Hitler outwits his would-be killer and survives the attempt in this chilling parable.
On Long Island, New York, just prior to the war, American Nazis met 40,000 strong in the summer during the 1930’s, boarding the ‘Siegfried Special’ train from New York City to Camp Siegfried – the purpose of which was to “Raise the future leaders of America – and make sure they were steeped in Nazi ideals.” The modern day remnant of German Gardens in Yaphank, Long Island is a vivid reminder of just how close the Nazis came to the heart of America: just 50 miles outside New York City, where the German-American Bund paid for the camp with money provided by the German government. Camp Siegfried was just one of many of these camps in the U.S. in the 1930s, including Camp Nordland in Andover, New Jersey; Camp Hindenberg in Grafton, Wisconsin and Deutschhorst Country Club in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. At this time, it was well understood that German financial support came from the blood and treasure of the Jews of Europe, whose wealth and property the German government was expropriating on a massive scale. Camp Siegfried also had swastikas and Hitler Youth flags displayed on the grounds, where you could meet for coffee on the corner of Goering and Hitler streets, and where men were photographed in Italian Fascist blackshirts, SA brownshirts and Nazi military uniforms:
According to a court case brought against the German American Settlement League in 1938 for failing to register with New York’s Secretary of State – a violation of the Civil Rights Law of 1923, which was enacted to control the Ku Klux Klan – to become a member of the League one had to swear allegiance to Hitler and to the leaders of the German American Bund; the court found against the League.
To this day, the owners association of German Gardens has successfully kept out African-Americans and Jews from their neighborhood since the end of the war. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (while also investigating Trump-Russia connections) as recently as this year, (June, 2017) had to employ punitive measures just to get these ex-Nazis to allow the freedoms that all Americans share as a birthright.
Back to Russian spies, Kim Philby, one of the most famous spies of the 20th Century, (and the one peering in on the U.S. Venona team at Arlington Hall) was also a peer OBE (as in, Sir Kim Philby), yet he was also awarded the Order of Lenin (Russia’s highest civilian honor) in 1965 – after he defected from the West. The Cambridge Five spy ring was broken up by happenstance, when American scion Michael Straight (of the rich and famous Whitney family of New York) revealed, when being vetted for a U.S. government position to friend (and Secretary of State) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., that he had been a Soviet spy while a young student at Cambridge University in the 1930’s – outing Sir Anthony Blunt and four others as spies for the Russians, providing the treasure trove of material for the British spy novels and films that we guys love so much. This because a man by the name of David Cornwell, who worked as a British intelligence officer for both MI5 and MI6 in the 1950’s, said that Kim Philby, along with betraying his country, betrayed his (Cornwell’s) identity to the Russians at the same time, which ended his intelligence career in 1964. Fortunately for us all, that gave him more time to work on his writing. His pen name was (and is) John le Carré, a German language scholar and expert on the German intelligence network created under KGB guidance, the notorious German Stasi, which took surveillance to unprecedented, intrusive levels to gather deep knowledge about what the East German people did and said, which they then used to manipulate and control the population.
In his first book, Call For the Dead (1961) le Carré introduces the earliest days of spymaster George Smiley’s service to country, where his close, German friend ‘Dieter’ worked with him as allies against the Nazis. After the war, as relations between the East and the West began to cool, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. In a showdown that le Carré only hints about, he reveals that Smiley had killed Dieter – even though his friend refused to raise his weapon against him. Smiley had put country over friendship (or family, as his wife is compromised later in the saga), solidifying his place as Britain’s finest spy, “Dieter had let him do it, had not fired the gun, had remembered their friendship when Smiley had not.” Statecraft is bereft of any kind of ‘moral’ structure – beyond the fact that it is simply an extension of the pure self-interest of governments themselves. “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” Our president said that about China, while on Chinese soil, then he got home and got in a Twitter spat with LaVar Ball, saying he should have left his NBA bound son, LiAngelo, cooling his ‘Big Baller’ heels in a Chinese jail. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. Comedian Seth Meyers made the obvious point:
Helping to keep American citizens out of communist prisons is part of your job. That’s not above and beyond… Not only are these tweets childish and embarrassing, they’re also part of a disturbing pattern: Trump is clearly a thug and wannabe dictator who lashes out at anyone who isn’t sufficiently obedient.
Donald Trump is a moron, as his Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense certainly know. What isn’t clear is why Trump would take the word of Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence professionals. Since our founding, many of these brave and selfless men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our democracy, and to dismiss the work of the FBI, NSA, CIA and DIA as ‘political’ is counter-intuitive for an American, let alone the President of the United States. The only realistic conclusion is that Putin has Trump by the short ones. As so many ‘cultivates’ before, Trump was entrapped into a plot of some kind, and the Steele Dossier lays out just one of the possible Russian game plans. Trump’s personal body man Keith Schiller recently admitted that the Russians offered Trump ‘five women,’ to which The Donald, apparently, politely declined. I wish I could believe him, but my gut tells me there’s a whole lot more to the Russian story than we know today.
Christopher Steele, the former British agent who wrote the infamous dossier, is no fly-by-night operator. The Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS didn’t waste their $10 million, believe me. In the dossier, Trump associate Sergei Millian has been identified as either ‘Source D or E,’ and the FBI sure as hell knows which one is which. By the way, Steele was head of MI6’s Russia desk when the infamous poisoning of British agent Alexander Litvinenko (the Russian assassin using a Stalin-era umbrella-dart) occurred in 2006. Sir John Scarlett, Chief of Britain’s MI6 from 2000 to 2004, put Steele in charge of the investigation and it was Steele, sources say, who uncovered that Litvinenko’s death was a Russian Federation-approved assassination. Steele also served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, overseeing highly sensitive intelligence operations, and is, by all accounts short of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, a solid citizen. A graduate of Cambridge University, Steele is a real-life George Smiley, if you will. Better yet, he is a new John Cornwell, driven from the ranks of the intelligence services (yes, even the private ones) – as true defenders of democracy – in defiance of mortal danger from the enemies of the West, straight into the arms of eager publishing houses. You gotta love free speech!
This Christmas, I plan on giving two gifts in my yankee swaps, one is 86-year old John le Carré’s new book, Legacy of Spies (2017), well reviewed, it looks like a fine retrospective of his wonderfully bland and complex characters. I can’t wait to read it. On a recent tour to promote his new book, in a rare public appearance, le Carré worried that,
Something truly, seriously bad is happening and from my point of view we have to be awake to that, and I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running [again] in Poland and Hungary.
Another new book I plan to gift is by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, titled Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, written in collaboration with Christopher Steele, in which he predicts that the essential findings in Steele’s eponymous dossier will prove to be “70% to 90% true.” Should be one hell of a read. If that book hasn’t been optioned yet, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. It’s got Best Picture written all over it. Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said this weekend that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and that the president and those close to him will be exonerated. That’s weird, because the trial of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, for example, is many months away and Mueller’s investigators are still gathering documents and other evidence to present in those cases. So far, at least nine people in Trump’s campaign had contact with Russians during the election or the transition to the White House according to the charging documents and records obtained by The Washington Post. George Papadopoulos is a cooperating witness with the FBI and wore a wire, so who else might be on Mueller’s naughty list? One thing for sure, he’s got a yuge chunk of coal for the Trump dupes.
November 21, 2017