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The pumpkin and the football

The US is taking long strides towards a national security state. ZOLTAN ZIGEDY explains

UNLESS you are my age or spent time hanging around old reds, you probably don’t know about Richard Nixon’s “great pumpkin ploy.” 

Nixon ran for office in California in 1946 under a “Red under every bed” platform, successfully red-baiting a New Deal Democrat House incumbent. 

His understanding of the power of anti-communism became the driving force in his career, which was further realised when he joined the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) soon after his election.

Always on the lookout for scandalous new revelations about communist “mischief,” Nixon soon found a source in Whittaker Chambers. 

Chambers, a damaged personality, had been allowed in the 1920s and ’30s to take on responsibilities in the Communist Party far greater than his stability or trustworthiness. 

After he broke with the communists, he tried to peddle his ever-changing, exaggerated tales of clandestine activity and espionage to the Roosevelt administration. It declined.

In the early war years, the FBI interviewed Chambers and also walked away from his stories.

As the cold war heated, Chambers made another attempt to sell his product, this time to the HUAC. Many, including president Harry Truman, discounted Chambers’s claims.

But they underestimated Nixon. In a media-recorded drama, orchestrated by Nixon, Chambers visited his farm where he proudly showed the public a pumpkin in which he had hidden documents allegedly incriminating Alger Hiss, a former high-ranking State Department official, in Soviet espionage.

The Great Pumpkin Caper, infused with the ominous threat that communists were out to assassinate Chambers for his treachery, proved to be just the right amount of theatrics and fear-mongering to put Chambers’s wild accusations into mainstream respectability. 

It should be added that many New Deal liberals quickly lost their spine and dutifully joined the anti-communist crusade.

I was reminded of these cold war hysterics when I read a Bloomberg News 45pt headline, “Putin’s Soccer Ball for Trump Had Transmitter Chip, Logo Indicates.”

Could the gift from Putin to Trump after the recent summit actually be a spy device?

Author Vernon Silver attempts to place an inch of distance between his suppositions and an actual allegation of Russian perfidy, but he takes it seriously enough to enquire with the ball’s maker, the president’s spokesperson and a hacker group. 

Further, he reminds us of a Forbes article that described an engineer who used a chip similar to the that affixed to the ball to invade a nearby cell phone.

Could the soccer ball be a nefarious Russian attack?

Another intrepid journalist apparently thought so. Clare Foran, writing for CNN, revisited the story under a 42pt headline “Putin gave Trump a soccer ball that may have a transmitter chip.” 

Like Silver, Foran checked in with Adidas, the president’s spokesperson and the ubiquitous “cyber-security expert” hanging around newsrooms and TV studios. 

In addition, she checked with the US Secret Service. Its prepared statement, reassuring readers, suggests that many other amateur sleuths had enquired about the suspicious football.

Despite the cautions, Foran remained vigilant, citing Senator Lindsey Graham’s “warning” — “if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”

Not for lack of effort, these two elite-school graduates failed to generate enough interest to warrant a serious look from the master conspiracy theorist Robert Mueller.

Nixon would have got it done.

In another crackpot moment, Newsweek writer Cristina Maza sensed a Trojan Horse in the Nato camp.

Her article, VLADIMIR PUTIN’S BIKER GANG SETS UP MILITARY CAMP IN NATO MEMBER STATE, PUBLIC FIGURES URGE GOVERNMENT TO TAKE ACTION, raises the spectre of a military takeover by a group of Russian and Slovakian motorcyclists from the Night Wolves motorcycle club. 

The group recently occupied a building complex about the size of a large high school campus. Maza worried “that the group had access to tanks and armoured vehicles.” 

Apparently, they had rented a few Soviet-era tanks from a local military museum to add some colour to their gathering. 

While the Night Wolves claim to have organised the event to inaugurate a new chapter, 200 “public figures” signed a petition urging the Slovakian government to expel the invaders.

The enduring US regime change vehicle, Radio Free Europe, quotes the vigilant petitioners as characterising the Night Wolves ominously as “Putin’s paramilitary vanguard in a hybrid war against the EU, Nato and Slovakia.”

Nixon would approve.

How do you “infiltrate” the National Rifle Association (NRA)? Like most membership organisations (AAA motor club, the local library, even the Democratic Party), you give your personal information and pay a fee to the NRA and you’re a member. If you want to join from Russia, Afghanistan, or Colombia, it’s an additional $10.

Yet an uncommon diversity of news and entertainment organisations — MSNBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Chicago Tribune, Vox, Democracy Now, Rolling Stone, Jimmy Kimmel Live, etc etc — have charged Russian national Maria Butina with “infiltrating” the NRA. 

I suppose that my membership of the Green Party, coupled with my openly expressed desire to influence the organisation towards advocating socialism, makes me an “infiltrator” too.

Curiously, her Department of Justice affidavit does not describe as an “infiltration” Butina’s engagement with a more elite, politically charged organisation, The Fellowship Foundation, and its annual National Prayer Breakfast.   

Wikipedia describes the National Prayer Breakfast as “designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships,” seemingly an ideal event to “infiltrate.” 

Wikipedia also asserts that the guest list is limited to about 3,500 people, including guests from 100 countries, presumably none of whom, except Russians, were bent on influence-peddling.

The Butina case reeks of the media’s hysterical “Russian under every bed” campaign. Nixon would be pleased with the use of the cold war-tested, sinister-conjuring word, “infiltrate.”

It is no surprise that the Gallup poll reports that only 22 per cent of its respondents have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the criminal justice system. 

The recently reluctantly released — and heavily redacted — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) application that the FBI submitted to the secret Fisa court in October of 2016 and the ensuing disputes give ample evidence for that lack of confidence.

The focus of the request for extra-legal surveillance was Carter Page, a business consultant and a campaign adviser to Trump for six months or so. 

Despite the fact that the FBI released 414 pages, the meat of the case could be carved out in about 30 heavily redacted pages. The rest of the release was redundancies, boiler-plate and blackened copy to add gravitas to an otherwise slight document.

No doubt the FBI anticipated that the Fisa courts are perceived as pushovers for government agencies. Of 22,990 Fisa requests from 1979 to 2006, only five have been rejected. So much for judicial vigilance.

Remarkably, much of the revealed substance of the suspicions about Page are based, in one way or another, upon the infamous Christopher Steele dossier.

To an objective observer, the fact that no-one wants to take ownership of the claims made in the dossier would cast suspicion on the real intent of the FBI and Justice Department officials who sought the surveillance approval. 

Even when the security agencies presented the dossier to Obama and Trump before the 2017 inauguration, they refused to attest to its veracity. They refused to take ownership of Steele’s “research.”

The Fisa request does not, in those sections not redacted, explicitly reveal that the Steele information was gained at the paid behest of the Democratic Party.

Steele was told, his immediate employers [Fusion GPS] claim, that he was only instructed to answer the question, “Why did Mr Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?” — a question akin to “when did he stop beating his wife?”

Surely, no-one would contend that the Democrats were paying for positive information on Trump. Nor could any rational person expect Steele to receive the instruction and not understand that his job was to dig up dirt. 

And just as assuredly, the failure to explicitly reveal the Democratic Party connection, with no independent verification of the dossier, casts a long shadow over the Fisa request and its granting.

Either the FBI withheld relevant information or the Fisa court is such a rubber stamp that its standards of evidence are nearly non-existent. 

Or, perhaps, the FBI used unverified claims for a fishing expedition and the Fisa court is a sham.

If further proof of the corruption of the legal system is needed, it is provided by the vapid, amoral defence of the FBI Fisa request by three former US attorneys. 

Writing in the Daily Beast, they argue that, in fact, hearsay — a sophisticated word for gossip — is a sufficient condition for surveillance. 

The FBI would have been “derelict” if it had not sought a Fisa request based on the Steele dossier or any other hearsay — leaks, innuendo, anonymous calls, vendettas. They seem little concerned with establishing the limitations of hearsay.

They assure their readers that a Fisa request only requires revelation of “potential for bias.” What an amazingly low standard for the credibility of evidence!

Nixon would have regretted not living to exploit such an abysmal decay of journalistic and legal standards.

Had he lived, he would have enjoyed the incredible expansion of the surveillance state, the demise of critical, combative, questioning journalism, the glorification and unchallenged legitimacy of the security services and the punitive use and abuse of the grand jury and court system. 

He would have seen opportunity in narrowing the scope of permitted discourse and action — all long strides towards a national security state. He would have hailed the promise this development offers for protecting the interests of the rich and powerful.

On the other hand, he would have been surprised at the complicity, even enthusiastic advocacy, of many liberals and “civil libertarians” in furthering this agenda.

 

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