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A curious lack of imagination

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a former British MI6 agent named Ted Allbeury became a moderate-selling spy fiction writer.  Although never ascending to the heights reached by other British ex-spies such as Ian Fleming and John le Carré; Allbeury churned out a series of books with titles such as The Long Run, The Only Good German and The Other Side of Silence.  It is, however, another of Allbeury’s books – Twentieth Day of January – that has a central role to play in contemporary American politics.

In Twentieth Day of January, Allbeury tells the somewhat incredible story of how the KGB interferes with a US presidential election in order to get an apparently right-wing populist Republican candidate elected.  The President-elect promises to create jobs and restore the USA to greatness by implementing a massive infrastructure spending programme.  But the real motive behind this is to cut spending on expensive arms purchases and to curb US military power abroad. In Allbeury’s book, the plot is rumbled by a British intelligence officer, who uncovers compromising photographs of the President-elect watching Russian prostitutes urinating on a bed in a Moscow hotel.  Sound familiar?  It should.

Allbeury’s book formed the basis of an article by Glenn R. Simpson and Mary Jacoby in the Washington Post, which updates the story for a post-Soviet age in which Russian oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin use their increasing financial leverage in Washington to interfere in US elections:

“[Presidential candidate] Mr. [Bob] Dole, for instance, disclosed in lobby filings with the U.S. Senate his work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. He described it as involving ‘U.S. Department of State visa policies and procedures.’

“Mr. Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin, emerged from Russia’s ‘aluminum wars’ of the 1990s with a virtual monopoly on the nation’s aluminum production.

“Mr. Deripaska has long been dogged by allegations from business rivals in courts in the U.S. and U.K. that he used bribery, intimidation and violence to amass his fortune. Those accusations, which he denies, have never been substantiated and no criminal charges have been filed. But for years they helped keep the State Department from granting him a visa.

“In 2003, the Russian industrialist paid $300,000 to Mr. Dole’s law firm, Alston & Bird, according to lobbying reports. After that, Mr. Dole worked to persuade U.S. officials his client isn’t a criminal and that his business operations are transparent, said people with knowledge of the matter. In 2005, the State Department reversed itself and granted the visa. Mr. Deripaska then paid Mr. Dole and his firm an additional $260,000, filings show.”

Deripaska’s name was to come up again in 2016, when identical allegations of Russian collusion were repeated; as was another character who worked for the Dole campaign, one Paul Manafort; who also turned up as Trump’s campaign manager during the 2016 election.  The author of the piece – Glenn Simpson also played a large part in fuelling the Russiagate conspiracy theory, when his company – Fusion GPS – first used it to deflect attention away from the damning content of the Clinton/DNC emails leaked to Wikileaks (which showed how they stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders).

The so-called “Steele Dossier” (it isn’t a document, but rather a series of fictional reports) compiled by (possibly not so) ex-British spy Christopher Steele is little more than a re-writing of Allbeury’s Twentieth Day of January spliced together with Simpson’s Washington Post article.  It is obvious enough that Steele’s information was fraudulent. After all, Steele was not engaged as a witness to criminal activity; but merely as a purveyor of “opposition research” on behalf of the Clinton campaign via Simpson’s Fusion GPS.  Worse still, though, handwritten notes from an interview of Steele with the State Department’s Kathleen Kavalec (The typed transcript was classified, but not the original notes) record that Steele’s sources for the now debunked story were themselves Russians –  Tripnikov and Surkov.  Vyacheslav Trubnikov is the former Russian First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and – crucially in relation to Steele – the former Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.  Vladislav Surkov is a senior aide to Putin and is widely credited as being an architect of the Russian “post-truth” propaganda initiative.  It appears that Tripnikov and Surkov simply read passages of Allbeury’s Twentieth Day of January with sufficient gravitas to persuade Steele that the misinformation was real.  And since it fitted with the campaign smear run by Simpson ahead of the 2008 election, few questions were raised about the source or the purpose of Steele’s information.

The Kavelac interview demonstrates that ease with which Steele’s information was debunked.  So why did the FBI apparently take it seriously?  One answer can be found in what current Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi refers to as a “wrap-up smear campaign” – a means of laundering dodgy information to make it appear credible.  The information is “leaked” to the press, who duly report it as if it has come from an entirely different source.  Multiple reports give the impression that there must be some factual basis behind the information (forgetting, of course, that all of the stories are the result of the same leak).

Even before the 2016 election, US media outlets were reporting on apparent collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin-connected Russians.  It was, though, merely smoke and mirrors deployed first to try to prevent Trump winning the presidency; and later to try to explain why Hillary lost an election that she seems to have believed she was entitled to win.  We now know – Because Special Counsel Robert Mueller categorically told us so – that there was no collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign.  The Mueller investigation, remember, took more than two years and cost more than $25 million – if there was Russian collusion with Trump (Mueller didn’t look into possible collusion with the Clinton campaign) he would have found it.  The only thing Mueller turned up was the Russian troll farm which allegedly sought to influence the election by running a few thousand dollars’ worth of Facebook adverts.

Even the Democrats in Congress have finally given up flogging this particular dead horse; preferring instead to run a sham impeachment inquiry into whether Trump might have done what Biden admitted he and Obama did in Ukraine.   Allbeury’s book and Simpson’s 2007 article, however, simply refuse to die.  Except that this time it is a Democrat – indeed, probably the only Democrat who could defeat Trump in next year’s election – who is on the receiving end of Clinton’s poison.  As Jason Murdock at Newsweek reports:

“Clinton did not reference [Tulsi] Gabbard by name, but it was clear in political circles who she was referencing.

“As noted by the Associated Press, Clinton showed no evidence to back up the assertion of Kremlin interest in the Democratic presidential candidate, even if prior news reports have said known sources of Russian propaganda are showing signs of interest in Gabbard’s run.”

There is nothing new in US politics in various camps running smear campaigns against political opponents.  Occasionally, they even turn out to have a grain of truth behind them.  But reheating the debunked Russian collusion conspiracy theory even has pro-Clinton journalists questioning her sanity.  In her own way, Gabbard is as dangerous to the vested interests behind the Clinton gang as is Trump.  Despite having almost no chance of winning the Democrat nomination next July, Gabbard is the one candidate who might take swing votes in key states off Trump next November.  The Democrat Party leadership, however, have taken the same stance as Tony Blair did in relation to Jeremy Corbyn:

“Let me make my position clear: I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”

The US Democrat leadership, it seems, take the same view of anyone – Republican or Democrat – who threatens to put an end to the corrupt military-industrial-congressional complex through which they have all become far richer than ought to be possible on the salary of a public official.  The problem, however, given that there is an election in just over a year’s time, is that middle American is fed up with the continued reheating of Allbeury’s story… after all, it wasn’t a particularly good book to begin with.  To have any chance of beating Trump, the Democrats need to stop intriguing and begin an actual campaign.  Developing a programme of government that can win back swing voters in key states, however, requires far more creativity than repeating the same worn out old smear from a Cold War age that no longer exists.

As you made it to the end…

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