The Theory vs. the Facts

9/11 conspiracy theorists responded to refutations by alleging more cover-ups.

It’s worth lingering over Griffin’s response to illustrate a typical reaction among conspiracy theorists to refutation. One of the bedrocks of the conspiracy theory is that U.S. military planes should have been easily able to intercept any of the four hijacked airplanes on 9/11 to prevent the attack. The Popular Mechanics article notes that only one NORAD interception of a civilian airplane over North America had occurred in the decade before 9/11, of golfer Payne Stewart’s Learjet, and that it took one hour and 19 minutes to intercept before it ultimately crashed. Based on initial reports that misread the official crash report, conspiracists had previously cited the Stewart case as evidence that it normally only took NORAD 19 minutes to intercept civilian aircraft.

“That’s a very debated thing,” Griffin told me. “It looks like somebody has kind of changed the story there. I don’t know what happened, but I’ve read enough about it to look like that’s not true that it took that long.” And what about other physical evidence that debunks the interception theory, specifically the NORAD tapes, which document the chaos and confusion of American air defenses that morning in painstaking detail? Griffin’s response is that the tapes have likely been doctored using morphing technology to fake the voices of the government officials and depict phony chaos according to a government-written script. It’s not surprising, he says, that after 9/11, mainstream historical accounts would be revised to fit the official narrative.

“This is a self-confirming hypothesis for the people who hold it,” Meigs says. “In that sense it is immune from any kind of refutation and it is very similar to, if you’ve ever known a really hardcore, doctrinaire Marxist or a hardcore fundamentalist creationist. They have sort of a divine answer to every argument you might make.”

.. Another article of faith among conspiracy theorists is that the conspiracy would not have to have been very large. In Crossing the Rubicon, Michael Ruppert writes that there didn’t have to be any more than two dozen people with complete foreknowledge of the attacks to orchestrate 9/11, and that they would all be “bound to silence by Draconian secrecy oaths.” But those numbers begin to balloon out of control if all of the people and institutions accused of playing a part in the cover-up are counted. They would have to have included the CIA; the Justice Department; the FAA; NORAD; American and United Airlines; FEMA; Popular Mechanics and other media outlets; state and local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and, finally and perhaps most prominently, the 9/11 Commission.
.. Of the alleged conspirators in the cover-up, few play a greater role than Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director. A career academic and diplomat, he was asked to resign from his post in 2004 by representatives of 9/11 families because of an alleged conflict of interest stemming from his role on George W. Bush’s transition team. Zelikow recused himself from any part of the investigation dealing with the time period that he worked with the transition team, but his presence on the commission is all the conspiracists needed to discredit the entire report.
.. “I play a very prominent part in their demonology of the world, but the people themselves don’t come across like raving lunatics,” Zelikow says. “They’re often people who in many respects seem quite sincere, very concerned, very patient. They just are fixated.” The obsessive nature of conspiracism makes it very difficult to discuss or debate issues with some of the more hardcore believers. “They’re not really able to listen to you,” Zelikow says. “It’s almost like you’ll say something and then the tape will just replay its loop again.”
.. In 2007 a conspiracist confronted Zelikow in public with the “fact” that many of the hijackers are still alive. Zelikow responded that the 9/11 Commission had looked into the claims and found nothing to them but could not fit every single debunked conspiracy theory into the final version of the report. The questioner’s reply was to repeat his accusation.
.. I had a similar experience on the same topic when questioning Griffin, who begins his book The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortionswith the “hijackers are still alive” theory. I sent him an email pointing out that this theory relied on discredited media reports—the “hijackers” they had found were just people with the same names as the hijackers. In response, he emailed me a chapter on the topic from one of his books and said he was too busy to discuss the issue further.
.. Another common conspiracist tactic is to obsess over minor points of contention and exaggerate the importance of often easily explained inconsistencies in very hard evidence, such as phone calls victims made to family members on the ground describing the hijackings. For example, Griffin says that the phone calls, records of which were made public as part of the 9/11 Commission, were faked by “voice-morphing” technology that fooled family members on the ground.
.. . The petition he started at the time now has signatures from more than 1,500 licensed or degreed architects and engineers, and he is considered one of the movement’s most persuasive leaders.
.. “We’re calling for a federal grand jury investigation of the lead investigator and his co-project leader,” Gage says. “Whoever’s names are on those reports need to be investigated.”
.. Dozens of peer-reviewed papers have been written that support the official hypotheses, but those are dismissed as well. Both Gage and Griffin do, however, point to the movement’s own peer-reviewed paper, published by former BYU professor Steven Jones and Danish scientist Niels Harrit. Because traditional controlled demolitions would have been audible throughout lower Manhattan had they actually occurred on 9/11, conspiracists have been forced to posit a very obscure scientific explanation for their central thesis: that the demolitions used an incendiary chemical called nano-thermite.
.. Griffin and Gage hold this up as mainstream validation of the movement’s work, but the peer-review process of the paper is suspect. (The editor of the journal resigned over the paper after it was published without her approval, for example, and one of the paper’s peer reviewers is a 9/11 conspiracist who has speculated that the passengers on the four flights are actually still alive and living off of Swiss bank accounts.)
.. The man who created the single most influential piece of propaganda about the 9/11 conspiracy is now ambivalent about the movement he helped make popular. “There’s a certain thing called tact that you need when you’re dealing with the public,” says Dylan Avery, director of the film Loose Change, released in 2005 and since viewed tens of millions of times online. “And I think that is a certain approach that a lot of people lack.”

Avery should know. He has been accused of being a traitor, a spy, or—slightly more charitably—just plain “sloppy.” According to 9/11 conspiracy proponent Michael Ruppert, the movement has been hurt by its acceptance of some of the (relatively speaking) more absurd notions that were featured prominently in the early versions of Loose Change, notions that he says were planted as disinformation by those looking to discredit conspiracists. “That’s one of many reasons why I completely cut myself off from the 9/11 Truth movement in 2004,” Ruppert says. “They just swallowed too many poison pills.”

.. Because conspiracy theorists can’t just have disagreements. If you disagree with a conspiracy theorist, then you probably belong to the conspiracy.

.. But in 2005, Haupt started preaching a theory, referred to disparagingly by other conspiracists as the “no-planer” hypothesis, that the footage of jetliners hitting the WTC seen live on TV that morning was actually of holograms. Around that time, he started accusing other leaders in the movement, including Jones and David Ray Griffin, of being government plants themselves. At the end of 2006 he nearly got in a fist fight with Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi, and by May 2008 he was accused of assaulting fellow conspiracists protesting at Ground Zero.

.. Conspiracists are not being entirely irrational when they express their fears of government infiltration. The FBI’s counterintelligence operation, known as COINTELPRO, spied on and sometimes infiltrated suspected Communist groups, civil rights groups, anti-war activists, and hate groups, among others, until the program was exposed and shut down in 1971. The FBI was using some of these tactics, including surveillance of journalists, as late as 1987.

..  Cass Sunstein, the current administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In it, Sunstein says that domestic and foreign conspiracy theories pose “real risks to the government’s anti-terrorist policies” and argues that the government should be “cognitively infiltrating” groups that purvey these theories. Sunstein proposes having the government send undercover operatives and paid “independent” contractors onto online message boards and websites—and into some real-life groups—in order to undermine the theories.

.. By the third day of actually speaking with people he had believed responsible for covering up mass murder, Veitch was starting to believe he was wrong about 9/11. “After meeting all of these alleged conspirators that were supposed to be in on it, I realized they were normal family men,” Veitch said. “There wasn’t anything conspiratorial about them.” It was when he questioned a demolitions expert atop the rebuilt World Trade Center 7 that he finally changed his mind about 9/11.

.. Veitch announced his “conversion” on June 29, 2011, on his blog and YouTube channel, saying that he hadn’t been wrong to believe that the government was capable of orchestrating 9/11, but he had been wrong about the facts:

I think because the government has lied about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, we do suspect foul play when other terrible events [happen] … and if governments can lie and kill half a million people, why wouldn’t they lie about killing 3,000? It doesn’t take an incredible leap of fantasy or faith or gullibility. We’re not gullible, we’re just truth seekers. And the 9/11 Truth movement is trying to find out the truth about what happened. … [But you should] not hold onto religious dogma. If you’re presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do.

.. This relatively mild renunciation by a relatively minor advocate of 9/11 conspiracy theories was treated as major news in the conspiracy community. Veitch received threatening phone calls and emails. Donations to his site dried up. He was accused of having taken a payoff from the BBC, of having been subject to mind control by “neuro-linguistic programming experts,” of being under hypnosis by British illusionist Derren Brown, and of being a Sunstein-sent cognitive infiltrator. “The best theory I heard has been that I have been deep undercover MI6 or CIA agent,” Veitch said. “[They say] I was basically a one-man sleeper cell waiting to discredit the 9/11 Truth movement and destroy what they call ‘the resistance’ from within.” Last month, Veitch’s site was hacked and a message was sent to his 15,000 subscribers calling him a child abuser. “When your mom phones you saying, ‘Why have you sent me something admitting to being a child molester?’ it’s not very good,” Veitch said.

.. Professional conspiracists like radio host Alex Jones and Ruppert preached conspiracy theories for years before 2001. But for many “truthers,” as they would call themselves, the 9/11 conspiracy was a kind of gateway drug. Most of the leading activists I spoke with became involved in the movement because of the Iraq war, but their anger at the Bush administration soon spread to all major institutions of government and media. “In order to maintain the bubble of the conspiracy, it needs to get more demonic, and it needs to include more people,” explains 9/11 conspiracy apostate Charlie Veitch. “You need more and more evil until you hit the wall of absurdity.”
.. The theory that Veitch gave the most credence to was that there was an ancient order of freemasons, or illuminati, or an extremely rich central banking family that had been in control of all world events since the time of Babylon. According to this theory, 9/11 was a propaganda spectacle orchestrated to make the common man fearful. “There’s something about it which appeals to the ego in people,” Veitch said. “You suddenly feel empowered by having secret knowledge.
.. A more typical theory about who is behind world events like 9/11, espoused by Alex Jones, is that a hodgepodge of disparate banking, corporate, globalization, and military interests are working together to bring about a New World Order of centralized “globalist” government. Jones’ “world government” bogeyman has been around for decades. In his quintessential essay on the psychology of paranoia in American political life, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter describes an episode from 1964:

Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, a great deal of publicity was given to a bill, sponsored chiefly by Senator Thomas E. Dodd of Connecticut, to tighten federal controls over the sale of firearms through the mail. When hearings were being held on the measure, three men drove 2,500 miles to Washington from Bagdad, Arizona, to testify against it. Now there are arguments against the Dodd bill which, however unpersuasive one may find them, have the color of conventional political reasoning. But one of the Arizonans opposed it with what might be considered representative paranoid arguments, insisting that it was “a further attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government” and that it threatened to “create chaos” that would help “our enemies” to seize power.

.. Like in the case of the Kennedy assassination, [when] you have a horrible tragedy that seems absurd and it’s hard to account for the fact that a single individual could inflict so much grief on the nation, there’s a natural tendency to believe that there must be more at work,” says Lawrence Wright. “In the case of 9/11 there was a sense of disbelief that a man in a cave in Afghanistan could reach out and humiliate the most powerful nation in the history of the world. How could that happen? It must be that something else was at work and because we are so powerful, we must have done it to ourselves.”

.. When Wright was touring the country with his book, he would regularly be confronted by conspiracy theorists who hadn’t read the book but thought that, through clever questioning, they could demolish a case he had arrived at by five years of research and interviews with 600 sources. “I spent a lot of time trying to reason with various people who had these kinds of perspectives. And it was very frustrating,” he said. “There was absolutely no way to argue with them because they rejected any kind of factual evidence.”

 .. The conversation was similar to others Wright had had with other conspiracy theorists. “What they call facts aren’t typically facts,” Wright said. “They sound like facts. They’re asserted. But basically, at the root of the conspiracies are these unproven theories.”
.. the numbers believing the most radical version of the theory have been fairly steady. In 2006, 16 percent of respondents in a Scripps-Howard poll said it was either somewhat or very likely that the collapse of the Twin Towers was aided by explosives secretly planted in the buildings. That number was virtually unchanged in an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll this month.
.. One likely explanation for this trend may be the record numbers of Democrats and Republicans who say they distrust the government.
.. “One of the things I find particularly sad is that the conspiracy theorists in the U.S. have augmented this tendency in the Middle East to deny any cultural responsibility,”
..  “He thought, ‘well, why should I accept any responsibility. Americans are saying they did it themselves.’ “
.. “Middle Easterners are so susceptible to conspiracy theories, but it seems that Americans aren’t much better.”

No New Special Counsel

Why not, then, appoint another special counsel to squeeze the squeezers? Why not turn the tables?

.. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a foundational error in appointing Robert Mueller to be special counsel to investigate . . . well . . . um . . . come to think of it, that was the error: The investigation has no parameters, and thus no limitations.

Investigations conducted by prosecutors are supposed to be rooted in known crimes — or, at the very least, articulable suspicion that known crimes have occurred.

those crimes must form the basis for two salient findings:

(1) that the Justice Department has a conflict of interest so severe that it cannot conduct the investigation in the normal manner, and

(2) that it is necessary to appoint, from outside the Justice Department, a quasi-independent prosecutor.

..  This special prosecutor is to be given a grant of investigative jurisdiction limited to the crimes that the Justice Department is too conflicted to investigate — and no other crimes, unless the special counsel explicitly requests, and the Justice Department grants, an expansion of jurisdiction.

.. Because counterintelligence is not lawyer work, and because the objective of counterintelligence is to gather information about a foreign power, not to build a criminal case against a suspect, prosecutors are not ordinarily assigned to counterintelligence investigations.

.. In the Mueller appointment, then, counterintelligence is camouflage for something that should never happen: a special counsel unleashed to hunt for crimes to prosecute despite the absence of known crimes warranting appointment of a special prosecutor.

.. is looking into whether Jared Kushner’s financial woes influenced Trump-administration policy towards Qatar.

.. Where I part company with them is not over whether we need an investigation; it is over whether that investigation should be done by a special counsel.

.. The patent flaw in the Goodlatte-Gowdy proposal is the same one that plagued Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller: There is no triggering crime.

.. Investigative Excesses Are Usually Not Crimes
It is very bad for investigators to exhibit bias, to allow bias to taint their exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion, to depart from Justice Department guidelines, and to provide unverified information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court). But none of these things is a crime – at least, not obviously so.

.. There is no criminal statute addressing bias on the part of agents and prosecutors. We all have biases. It would not be possible to have bias-free investigators.

.. But if deviations from guidelines were to become a basis for legal action, including criminal prosecution, one of two things would happen: The guidelines would be repealed, or they would be rewritten in a broadly permissive manner, endorsing investigative behavior that might be justifiable in exigent circumstances but would be grossly inappropriate the rest of the time.

..  If police and prosecutors came to believe enforcement errors would lead to prosecutions or civil lawsuits against them, they would refrain from taking any but the most uncontroversial enforcement actions. In another context, Heather Mac Donald has written compellingly about this phenomenon as “the Ferguson effect.” To discourage policing is to erode the rule of law, imperiling societal peace and prosperity.

.. If there was a good-faith basis for the FBI and Justice Department to investigate possible Trump–Russia ties of a corrupt nature, it would be very difficult to prove that investigators broke the law in conducting their investigation

.. Candidate Trump made alarmingly ingratiating statements about Vladimir Putin

.. Trump brought Manafort and Gates into his campaign at a very high level. They had notorious ties to Kremlin-backed Ukrainians. Those ties are not speculation; they are established fact. Moreover, Trump publicly identified Carter Page, an obscure Kremlin apologist, as one of his campaign’s handful of foreign-policy advisers. Simultaneously, the FBI was alerted that the Russians might be in possession of thousands of hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, and might have made a point of communicating this claim to George Papadopoulos, another of the few identified Trump foreign-policy advisers.

.. Then the bureau was approached by Christopher Steele. Far from being unknown to the FBI, this former British spy was a proven asset, having provided information that helped the bureau crack the FIFA soccer case

.. Steele alleged that Trump was involved in a corrupt conspiracy with Russia, in which Manafort, the point man, was using Page as an intermediary. Because of his prior work with the bureau, Steele would not have been ignored by the FBI, regardless of the Clinton campaign’s sponsorship of his work

.. given the preexisting reasons for concern: Trump’s pro-Putin rhetoric; the backgrounds of Manafort, Gates, and Page; and the report about possible Russian involvement in hacked Democratic emails.

.. It would not be credible to claim that the Trump-Russia investigation was fabricated out of whole cloth. Even stipulating that the top FBI/DOJ hierarchy was biased against Trump, and thus too quick to credit sensational allegations of Trump wrongdoing, there were good-faith reasons for concern about ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian regime. These reasons do not prove that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails; that Carter Page was a Russian agent; that Manafort and Gates were choreographing a Trump–Russia conspiracy; or that Trump’s Russia rhetoric was anything more than a political novice’s effort to do what American administrations have been doing for decades — seek better relations with Moscow.

.. Goodlatte and Gowdy are also right to suggest (as I believe they have) that the contemplated investigation should scrutinize the handling of the Clinton-emails probe

.. The special counsel is a pernicious institution that operates outside the procedures and discipline of a normal U.S. attorney’s office — where the merits of every case must be weighed against those of every other in the competition for limited investigative and prosecutorial resources.

.. Attorney General Sessions should assign a U.S. attorney from outside Washington to conduct a probe of how the Clinton-emails and Trump-Russia investigations were handled by the Justice Department and FBI. A good model would be John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut just confirmed by the Senate.

.. the Bush administration was cut no slack by Fitzgerald, then a career prosecutor who is remembered for conducting a hyper-aggressive probe.

.. Mueller is effectively independent only because Rosenstein has chosen to be passive

.. Mueller reports to Rosenstein, who could assert more active supervision.

.. There is no reason that Attorney General Sessions cannot structure a probe that can be credibly conducted by the Justice Department’s standard investigative arrangement

‘Delegitimizing’ Mueller? Don’t Blame the Nunes Memo

The FBI and Justice Department hyped Trump–Russia collusion. Rod Rosenstein can right that wrong.

.. The most bitter dispute over the Nunes memo involves Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. This might seem odd since the memo, published last week by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes (R. Calif.), does not address the Mueller investigation. Rather, it homes in on potential abuses of foreign-intelligence-collection authorities by Obama-era Justice Department and FBI officials, said to have occurred many months before Mueller was appointed.

.. Nevertheless, it is simply a fact that many ardent supporters of President Trump claim the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation is destroyed by revelations in the Nunes memo — particularly, the improper use of the unverified Steele dossier to obtain a FISA-court warrant to spy on Carter Page, who had been a Trump campaign adviser. The idea is that without the Steele dossier, there would be no Trump-Russia narrative, and thus no collusion investigation — which is how Trump supporters perceive the Mueller probe.

.. Trump critics see the Mueller investigation as the path to impeachment, and thus anathematize Chairman Nunes as a Trumpist hack bent on razing the FBI

.. The Mueller investigation is supposed to be a counterintelligence probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Getting to the bottom of Russia’s perfidy is a goal every American should support

.. Yet the FBI and the Justice Department went out of their way, and outside their own policy, to frame the Russia investigation within an innuendo-laden narrative of Trump collusion. They did so by selectively broadcasting investigative information that is supposed to be confidential and non-public.

.. Thus the bleating about how Republican worries over FISA abuse are just a smokescreen for discrediting Mueller’s investigation. But they did the same thing: exploiting concerns about Russian interference in our election process as camouflage for a campaign to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.

.. From a law-enforcement perspective, the government should speak publicly about an investigation only in court, when it formally charges a person with a crime, and when that person thus enjoys all the due-process protections our system affords. Prior to that point, confirming an investigation would stigmatize a suspect who has not been charged and is presumed innocent; while denying that an investigation is ongoing would create a need to confirm or deny in every case.

.. From a counterintelligence perspective, the wisdom of the no-comment policy is even more obvious. Intelligence work is classified. The point is not to prosecute crimes; it is to derive information about foreign governments and actors who threaten American interests.

.. The FBI and Justice Department should always resist acknowledging that an investigation is under way. Even when the fact of an investigation is unavoidably public (because, for example, people find out a search warrant has been executed, or someone has been subpoenaed to the grand jury), the no-comment rule enables prosecutors and investigators to decline to answer questions about their work.

.. The real problem with Director Comey’s announcement involves what he said next. The counterintelligence investigation, he elaborated,

includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. [Emphases added.]

None of this should have been said.

.. There was still no reason to broadcast these suspicions. The public announcement created the perception that the bureau strongly suspected that a nefarious, overarching Trump–Russia conspiracy was afoot.

.. This would have been indefensible under any circumstances, but the lapse is especially glaring given that Director Comey was privately telling President Trump and congressional leaders that Trump himself was not a suspect. Why gratuitously say something that could only lead people to believe he was?

.. Moreover, there was no reason for Comey to publicly mention “an assessment of whether any crimes were committed” in the context of a counterintelligence, rather than criminal, investigation.

.. The stunning announcement conflated two things it has always been important to keep discrete:

  1. the counterintelligence investigation of the threat Russia, with its advanced cyber capabilities and anti-American intentions, clearly poses to our electoral system; and
  2. the dubious Trump–Russia collusion angle. For much of the public, they became one and the same.

.. Ordinarily, prosecutors are not assigned to intelligence cases because intelligence work is not prosecution — it is the work of trained analysts assessing threats, not lawyers proving statutory offenses

.. the deputy attorney general did not undertake his own description; he instead adopted as his own Comey’s description of the probe in the March 20 House testimony — i.e., the portrayal of the probe that emphasized Trump–Russia collusion.

.. Only a week before appointing Mueller, Rosenstein had authored a memorandum arguing that Comey should be removed as FBI director for failing to adhere to traditional Justice Department policies and norms. In particular, Rosenstein scolded Comey for publicly revealing derogatory investigative information about people who have not been formally charged with crimes.

.. Comey’s defensive claims that he had tried merely “to say what is true,” and to protect the FBI from charges that it had “concealed” from the public important information about a politically fraught investigation.

.. there is no basis in the regulations for the assignment of a special counsel to a counterintelligence investigation.

.. his task was to describe the factual basis for a criminal probe and the crimes that he was giving Mueller jurisdiction to investigate. The Comey testimony that he adopted had done neither of these things — it floated speculation

.. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein could do a great service by amending his special-counsel appointment to make clear that

(a) Mueller is to investigate Russia’s actions to interfere in our election;

(b) the previous statements about possible Trump campaign “coordination” with the Russian government were unnecessary and are withdrawn; and

(c) President Trump is not personally suspected of wrongdoing

.. Rosenstein should relieve the president of the burden of this suspicion if that can be done honestly.

.. If Rosenstein did that, Mueller’s investigation would have the public support it should have

Jared Kushner Is China’s Trump Card

How the President’s son-in-law, despite his inexperience in diplomacy, became Beijing’s primary point of interest.

.. Kushner was intent on bringing a businessman’s sensibility to matters of state. He believed that fresh, confidential relationships could overcome the frustrations of traditional diplomatic bureaucracy. Henry Kissinger, who, in his role as a high-priced international consultant, maintains close relationships in the Chinese hierarchy, had introduced Kushner to Cui during the campaign
.. On at least one occasion, they met alone, which counterintelligence officials considered risky. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,”
..  you think your background is going to allow you to be able to outsmart the Chinese Ambassador?
.. Americans are accustomed to reports of Russia’s efforts to influence American politics, but, in the intelligence community, China’s influence operations are a source of equal concern.
.. “The Chinese influence operations are more long-term, broader in scope, and are generally designed to achieve a more diffuse goal than the Russians’ are,”
.. Kushner often excluded the government’s top China specialists from his meetings with Cui, a slight that rankled and unnerved the bureaucracy. “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,”
.. Kushner was “their lucky charm,”
.. “It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.”
.. By the end of the Obama Administration, seven White House officials were authorized to receive the same version of the P.D.B. that appeared on the President’s iPad. The Trump Administration expanded the number to as many as fourteen people, including Kushner. A former senior official said, of the growing P.D.B. distribution list, “It got out of control. Everybody thought it was cool. They wanted to be cool.”
.. Kushner’s difficulty obtaining a permanent security clearance has become a subject of fascination. Was it his early failure to disclose foreign contacts? Or did it have something to do with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections?
.. Kushner had established links to China. A Kushner project in Jersey City, which opened in November, 2016, reportedly received about fifty million dollars, nearly a quarter of its financing, from Chinese investors who are not publicly named, through a U.S. immigration program known as EB-5, which allows wealthy foreigners to obtain visas by investing in American projects.
.. Ivanka Trump has her own business endeavors in China, where some of her branded handbags, shoes, and clothes are manufactured.
.. Trump would be “inundated with requests for thousands of calls from around the world,” they warned, through “campaign staff, outside advisers, and other third parties.” He must not accept them. Requests must be “methodically returned” in “a sequence of calls that will not create any diplomatic incidents or negative press stories.”
.. The President-elect must have a classified intelligence briefing before conversations with foreign leaders, and then conduct the meetings only when a note-taker and a national-security aide are present.
The aides suggested that Trump make five “waves” of calls over a number of days, starting with the United Kingdom and ending with Pakistan.

.. “Obviously, all that just got tossed aside,” a senior transition official recalled recently, because Trump was “excited that important people were calling him.”

.. In another break with protocol, Trump was accompanied to the meeting by his daughter and son-in-law, while they were still running their respective businesses.

..  he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.

.. In 2007, the Kushner Companies had bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a forty-one-story office tower, for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. The deal turned out to be a potential disaster for Kushner.

.. he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building’s finances.

.. On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu’s possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue.

.. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.

.. In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business. On December 13th, at the recommendation of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank.

.. Schiff pointed to statements by V.E.B. and a spokesman for Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, which suggest that Kushner held the meeting in his capacity as head of the Kushner Companies.
.. On December 2nd, encouraged by the fiercest anti-China hawks among his advisers, including Steve Bannon, at that time his chief strategist, Trump took a telephone call from the President of Taiwan
.. Chinese officials turned to the man that Kissinger had recommended to them: Jared Kushner. Kushner later told others that he took on the China portfolio reluctantly, after “clamoring” Chinese officials called Trump Tower and asked for him by name.
.. “It was clear that heated arguments were taking place among the President’s advisers.” On one side, hard-liners, including Bannon, who has said he believes that China is “bent on world domination,” advocated a confrontational stance on trade and other issues. On the other, according to Russel, “Jared Kushner was described as adamant that Mar-a-Lago should be exclusively about bonding.” Russel continued, “We were told that the theory was to first establish a warm family friendship, using meals and Trump’s personal charisma.”
..  China overwhelmingly achieved its objectives: a soft-focus summit with regal photo ops and little talk of trade and other touchy subjects. It was also an auspicious occasion for the Kushner family. While Xi met with Trump, Beijing regulators approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, to sell bags, jewelry, and spa services.
.. Somebody with more experience, tied to the old ways, may not have necessarily been able to pull off the Mar-a-Lago summit like we did.” He added that the officials who have criticized his approach to foreign affairs “usually get pretty uncomfortable when they’re not in control of something and it doesn’t go the way they want.”
..  Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner’s business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner’s views.
.. But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner’s close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time.
.. Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. Kushner and Ivanka Trump had known her for about a decade, and she was a regular guest at their Washington home. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch’s ties to the Chinese government
.. In November, the Chinese Society of Education issued a video quiz for primary-school students, which included the question “What number should you dial when you spot spying activities?”
.. The President’s children resist the argument that their undivested assets, their behavior, and their willingness to mix government service and personal profit present a target to adversaries and allies alike.
.. The senior transition official believes that’s a mistake. “They’re going to slowly, over time, get what they want out of him, and it’s not going to be obvious,”
.. Still, by his own description, he is as confident as ever that his instincts, honed in the family business
.. Porter read aloud from “The Inner Ring,” a 1944 oration by C. S. Lewis. It was Porter’s warning to his ambitious students about the temptations that haunt higher office, and the allure of favor-seekers.
..  “You will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.”

How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets

The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.

.. More than 60 percent, or $374 million, of the company’s $633 million in annual sales come from customers in the United States and Western Europe.

.. “Antivirus is the ultimate back door,” Blake Darché, a former N.S.A. operator and co-founder of Area 1 Security. “It provides consistent, reliable and remote access that can be used for any purpose, from launching a destructive attack to conducting espionage on thousands or even millions of users.”

.. Kaspersky reported that its attackers had used the same algorithm and some of the same code as Duqu, but noted that in many ways it was even more sophisticated. So the company researchers named the new attack Duqu 2.0, noting that other victims of the attack were prime Israeli targets.

.. Kaspersky uncovered were hotels and conference venues used for closed-door meetings by members of the United Nations Security Council to negotiate the terms of the Iran nuclear deal — negotiations from which Israel was excluded.

.. Kaspersky noted that its attackers seemed primarily interested in the company’s work on nation-state attacks, particularly Kaspersky’s work on the “Equation Group” — its private industry term for the N.S.A. — and the “Regin” campaign, another industry term for a hacking unit inside the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency

.. It is not clear whether, or to what degree, Eugene V. Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, and other company employees have been complicit in the hacking using their products.

.. Mr. Kaspersky, who attended an intelligence institute and served in Russia’s Ministry of Defense, would have few illusions about the cost of refusing a Kremlin request.

James Comey Is Maxwell Smart

How Comey’s botched mission to safeguard a Hillary presidency elected Trump.

It’s far more likely that Mr. Comey conceived of his intervention as a counterintelligence operation. Hillary would win. Russia’s fake email about Ms. Lynch conspiring to prevent a Hillary indictment would become public and be used by Trump partisans and America’s adversaries to discredit her victory. Therefore he would neutralize this Russian threat by clearing Mrs. Clinton himself. In doing so, it now appears he accidentally secured Mr. Trump’s win.

Free yourself from any hindsight bias. All actors at the time were convinced Hillary would win; for U.S. officials, the urgency was to protect Mrs. Clinton’s inevitable presidency from Russian dirty tricks.

.. Mr. McAuliffe, in last month’s podcast, opined flatly that Russia also expected Mrs. Clinton to win and wanted to destabilize her presidency.

Mr. Comey himself, in public testimony, gave mumbly assent to the “intelligence community’s” now-claim that Russia wasn’t just trying to weaken Mrs. Clinton but elect Donald Trump, arguing that in a two-person race, hurting one necessarily helps the other.

Such sophistries aside, this is implausible. Against all polling, Russia would not have thought trying to elect Mr. Trump a good investment. In effect, this claim about Russian motives is another counterintelligence operation by our own intelligence community to distract from its botched counterintelligence operation that elected Mr. Trump.

To be clear, we’re not talking about a conspiracy exactly, but about intelligence leaders adjusting their statements and emphases on the fly to pretty up an embarrassing picture.

.. Hillary and her surrogates tirelessly flogged an apparent Trump-Putin affinity to her advantage. Mrs. Clinton’s mistake was devoting too many of her resources to the wrong states.

..  It’s useful to recall that what the FBI handed over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller was a “counterintelligence investigation”—an inquiry into the facts of Russia’s meddling, not a criminal investigation seeking something, anything to pin on Donald Trump.

If Mr. Mueller does not see the importance of coming clean on the Comey intervention (whether or not he wants to acknowledge that the Comey intervention may have elected Mr. Trump), then Mr. Mueller is part of the stonewall.

Mueller’s Investigation Must Be Limited and Accountable

To speak in terms of collusion rather than conspiracy—as the Russia investigation coverage often does—only confuses matters. Contrary to what you may have heard from sundry “strategists” and “analysts,” collusion is neither a crime nor a term that has a legally consequential meaning. The word has a pejorative feel, especially in the last seven months. But literally, all it means is “concerted activity.” That could be criminal or noncriminal, sinister or benign.

Thus, if we insist on asking about “collusion” in the context of a criminal investigation, we’re really asking two questions: was there any concerted activity between two or more people, and, if yes, what was the precise nature of the activity—i.e., collusion in what?

That is where we are at with respect to the Trump Tower meeting. In light of the Donald Trump, Jr. emails and the meeting that followed them, it makes little sense to me to claim there was no “concerted activity.” Yet, the “in what?” question remains vital.

.. Since there is now indisputable proof of some kind of concerted activity between Trump campaign staff and potential Russian operatives, it is worth focusing investigative attention on the exact purpose of that activity and the nature of the relationship.

.. Nevertheless, a counterintelligence investigation is the wrong vehicle for such an inquiry. It is not designed to investigate wrongdoing. Its purpose is to collect intelligence in order to understand a foreign power’s designs and to predict its behavior. It is forward-looking, whereas criminal investigations are retrospective. It seeks to assess, not to prove. As such, there are no natural limitations on the investigator’s warrant; it is completely open-ended.

.. It is fair to observe that there was more interaction between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian regime (including Putin’s oligarch cronies) than the president and his subordinates acknowledged. Even if that interaction is unrelated to Russia’s cyber-espionage, the nature and extent of the relationship merits investigation.

But an investigation of a president necessarily compromises an administration’s capacity to govern. That can harm the country. Therefore, the investigation must have parameters.

.. The applicable regulations make it incumbent on the Justice Department to specify what exactly a special counsel is authorized to investigate. The Justice Department has failed to do this, a dereliction that must be rectified. Complying with this requirement would not prevent special counsel Mueller from seeking an expansion of his jurisdiction were he to discover behavior that warrants additional investigation. But limits must be imposed.

If they are not, there is no telling where the probe will wander, how long it will take, and how paralyzing it will be. And that does not serve the country well.