In 1975, the book “Inside the Company: CIA Diary”, penned by CIA case officer of 12 years, Philip Agee, was published causing a furore in western countries as it detailed, or should I say, exposed, CIA exploits in various Latin American countries about covert ‘spying’ activities of the company. Living in Britain at the time, Agee was forcibly deported in 1977 and went to The Netherlands where he was also subsequently deported followed by France, Germany and Italy. Reading the book, I was not exactly shocked; rather, enlightened by the depth and breadth of CIA activities, no different to what I’d read in the newspapers about the KGB in Russia, Stasi in East Germany and MI6 in Britain among others as The Cold War raged behind closed doors in the hallowed chambers of governments.
Recently, the media has penned CIA claims that Russia tilted the American election to Trump as revealed in a secret report which asserted that the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails- and their release to Wikileaks- was the work of Russian operatives with ties to the Putin government, all intended to help elect Mr Trump, according to the Washington Post reprinted in The Age in Melbourne. Putin, who is a former head of the KGB pre-the fall of The Wall, dismissed the allegations as “hysteria”, surprise, surprise, while senior Democratic legislators have called for a full investigation of the CIA claims. Trump’s reaction to the report was “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Ironically perhaps, he is spot on. Former presidential wannabe, Republican Senator John McCain, now Senate armed services committee chairman, acknowledged “the CIA has not always been exactly right, to say the least.” Senate majority whip John Cornyn tweeted, far more realistically and knowledgably: “All this ‘news’ of Russian hacking: it’s been going on for years. Serious, but hardly news.”
The focus on Russia failed to mention that in July 2015, just 18 months ago, the US National Security Agency was ‘eavesdropping’ into the phone of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, among others, as well as accessing emails of German government officials. So what else is new? Apparently, Russia’s alleged espionage is far more frightening than America’s, yet as Philip Agee wrote in his book, the US government regularly and routinely engaged in activities that ‘incriminated’ and/or ‘eliminated’ various political activists who were inimical to American policies, in particular of course, capitalism. Its clandestine operations succeeded all too often in toppling so-called politically unfriendly governments to install their own ‘puppets’ in power. I’m not defending Russia’s alleged hacking of DNC emails that ‘incriminated’ Hillary Clinton, but simply highlighting that spy games are not nation exclusive and are centuries old as many and varied countries vie to establish supremacy in the world. As John Cornyn tweeted “It has been going on for years.” What does concern me is that the Washington Post report did not mention what the US government under supposedly benign and amicable Barack Obama did to Angela Merkel, among others. And she was not even a Putin sycophant.
An Age editorial headline suggested “Trump, Russia and why we should be worried” asserting “an injury to one liberal democracy can be seen as an injury to all…(threatening) the network of democracies that rely on each other as allies.” Personally, I find what the US did to Germany’s Angela Merkel, a NATO ally, no less worrying than what Russia purportedly did for Trump. As one friend pointed out to me, Russia’s email release influenced the outcome of a presidential election for the first time in history. That he believed is a heinous crime, facilitated by the internet and technology, that’s never happened before. My counter argument was that it has indeed happened before though more covertly and less discernibly as my reading of Agee’s CIA Diary attested to. The one big difference is that the internet has made it easier and more obvious, but Machiavellian machinations seem intrinsic to international politics for hundreds of years. It doesn’t appear to have changed. He then suggested of course that Russia’s ‘interference’ with the world’s greatest power, no less a liberal democracy, contributes to making the crime somehow more disturbing. Morally and ethically, he may have a valid point, as America adheres to a guise of liberal democracy whereas many other countries don’t even both with the pretence, particularly Russia. But in a realpolitik perspective, is the behaviour of Russia more worrying than any others? Maybe its lack of pretence is to be applauded as so many people can be or are deluded by America’s delusional fantasy as a liberal democracy without acknowledging recent affairs contradict that notion; namely that some of the instigators of the subprime mortgage scandal and GFC of 2008 were later installed as economic officials in the Obama government. Moreover, the business behaviour of former American vice-president Dick Cheney, as chairman of Haliburton, who manipulated the government to secure billions of dollars worth of arms deals for his company for the Iraq war, prior to becoming vice-president, makes one appreciate the corrupt and nefarious wheeling and dealing in America as elsewhere. Moreover, when thousands of people are shot by police for no other reason than being black and millions live in poverty and unemployment, while the 1% of elite establishment Americans endeavour to dictate their destiny, albeit surreptitiously, I can only consider whether Russia’s support of Trump is any more worrying? Also, The Age Foreign Editor claimed in the newspaper on the same day as the editorial that under Trump, America could face “Four years in which corruption or the potential for corruption (could)…eat away at the US government and society.” His naive ignorance is staggering as if corruption or even the potential for corruption is not already extant but only now is a real possibility because of Trump with supposedly Russian support. What has this guy been reading over the past couple of decades? What is his worldly experience?
There is no doubt that technology has changed the scope of spy games internationally, but as far as I’m concerned, it is just a superficial development making it easier and less costly perhaps to orchestrate other nations’ politics. The disturbing reality of power politics is that this scenario is not new. The editorial further contended that “The prospect of Russia helping Mr Trump is a significant turn of events for law-based societies around the globe. The internet has created a back door for foreign meddling in a way that undermines Westphalian sovereignty. That concept, originating in the 1600s in Europe, enshrines the principles that every nation-state has autonomy over its own affairs and that countries shouldn’t interfere with each other’s internal politics.” This is a noble ideal, but I only have to remember what America, and Australia, did in Vietnam as but one recent example in my own lifetime, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, to understand how those principles can be undermined and rendered irrelevant when political expedience and ideology seek an outcome that may be at variance to what others deem significant. Interference in affecting a nation-state’s politics by America has been well documented for decades, and not just by Agee. It is a fact of political life that’s how countries such as America, China and Russia, among others, have operated since I studied politics as a teenager. The editorial continues that “The full impact of the internet on democracy is only becoming clear now…” Indeed, to restate my case, it is just that the internet has facilitated the ease of spy games and reduced the expense involved, but the quintessential nature of the games haven’t changed. That of course is worrying on one level as hackers everywhere can now access information very quickly and social media broadcasts it all on a vast global scale. Spy games have taken on a new dimension but I’m unsure as to whether the potential consequences are that different from decades ago. What it does focus on is a really urgent need for ordinary people to ‘educate’ themselves and find out exactly what is going on behind the scenes to clarify and understand what is really happening and the cost in their lives. How much do people value their freedom to exercise their own free will and on what basis do they choose to exercise it?
Political education must be made compulsory so that people can identify the ugly ramifications of fascism as well as communism and it should not just be the responsibility of journalists who too often are just as ignorant as the people in understanding what is actually presenting as fact. The media landscape during the Trump campaign attests to that as most well-respected political pundits ‘misjudged’ the election outcome, due to, I surmise, because of ignorance and/or assumptions about millions of ordinary Americans. Russia probably did play a part, but that’s only one aspect of the story. As many media reports have stated, journalists got it wrong because they live in a “bubble”, so out of touch with what is going on beyond their beat.
Moreover, the demise of democracy has been lamented for several years before Trump made his foray into politics as I wrote three years ago in my blog Conspiracy of Control. Maybe the pertinent fact is that Trump’s victory symbolises what’s been going behind the surface for decades and the light has now been switched on to illuminate the dark shroud too many pundits were enveloped in. Some journalists and political scientists were aware of the warning signals years ago about the dangers to democracy  but it’s depressing they were seemingly ignored and/or dismissed as simply arrant idealists so that Trump could ascend as President. It is no different to what happened in Germany pre-second world war either. What’s really scary for me is the rise of far-right extremists now spreading their hate and fear across the world, including in Australia. Personally, I find these people far more worrying than Trump per se. I can only hope governments might realise their own ignorance and naivety, as well as the populace, to ensure understanding fascism and communism is made mandatory in schools to enhance recognition and awareness of symptoms of these aberrant ideologies. We must enshrine not just Westphalian sovereignty but a moral integrity that embraces difference, be it of gender, colour, religion and sexual diversity of people to counteract the hatred and fear encompassing us more and around the world.
Four years ago, I read a new biography of Hitler by a British historian, indeed the second one I read, to enhance my understanding of how he came to be a person of hate who marketed fear in his bid for power. Successful as he initially was, it was Britain, not America, who declared ‘war’ against him. The point is that I told a male gay friend of mine, just 12 years younger than me, not tertiary educated but a journalist and scribe of sorts, who lives in Sydney, that I read this book and his reply was revealing: “Why are you reading that?” his tone of voice insinuating I didn’t need to read it at all. Of course, he wasn’t even interested in asking about its contents. I didn’t bother answering him as his question revealed his apathy about understanding what is now happening all around us. It’s this kind of book that must be made compulsory at schools if the world’s liberal democracies are to flourish not decline. This could at least assist in thwarting, even negating, Russian influence, among others, in liberal democracies by equipping people with knowledge and understanding internationally, to ensure voting on election days is not shadowed by ignorance but carried out with wisdom and perspicacity. Maybe I am a naive idealist but if we believe in the reality of liberal democracies we must act before they fall by the way without us even noticing.