Foreign spies are watching — and probably targeting — Fox News Channel

So if I were a spymaster in the employ of a hostile foreign service, I’d devote some significant effort to penetrating one specific private institution: Fox News Channel.

.. It’s no secret that Fox News — specifically, shows such as “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” — have outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government.

.. Mediate recently argued that the most influential people working in the media today are “Fox & Friends” hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt, because “they have captured the President’s attention — which often then gets tweeted and covered by the media — the topics they cover essentially set the national agenda for the rest of the day.”

.. When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively. His tweet threatening North Korea with his “Nuclear Button” at 7:49 p.m. last Tuesday appeared to have been spurredby a Fox News segment on the very same topic that occurred 12 minutes beforehand

.. The Kremlin has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin reads Trump’s tweets and views them as official White House statements. Pakistan recently summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to account for Trump’s tweet bashing what he called the country’s “lies & deceit.”

.. Trump’s unfiltered Twitter feed provides world intelligence operatives with “a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind” — traits to be exploited in further dealings on the global stage.

.. A truly aggressive intelligence effort would not just monitor what’s being said on the network. It would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like.

..  Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show. If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.

.. For Russian intelligence, a systematic effort to threaten, coerce and co-opt journalists is a decades-old practice.

.. Kalugin wrote that the KGB’s Tumanov helped spread rumors and disinformation within Radio Liberty for years, turning staff against each other and identifying further potential targets for recruitment. He even had a hand in the bombing of Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Munich in 1981.

.. Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets.

.. Also, it’s television — full of trade secrets, big personalities and titanic egos. Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.

.. Few, if any, have the sort of counterintelligence training the U.S. government administers to people in sensitive positions

.. One of the major rationales for Putin’s behavior is to cause chaos, ultimately weakening and undermining his American adversaries. It’s his real long game.

 

Trump’s Threat to Democracy

four warning signs to determine if a political leader is a dangerous authoritarian:

  1. The leader shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules.
  2. He or she denies the legitimacy of opponents.
  3. He or she tolerates violence.
  4. He or she shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.

.. “With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century,” they say, which sounds reassuring. Unfortunately, they have one update: “Donald Trump met them all.”

.. democracies are more likely to wither at the hands of insiders who gain power initially through elections. That’s what happened, to one degree or another, in

  • Russia, the
  • Philippines,
  • Turkey,
  • Venezuela,
  • Ecuador,
  • Hungary,
  • Nicaragua,
  • Sri Lanka,
  • Ukraine,
  • Poland and
  • Peru.

.. Venezuela was a relatively prosperous democracy, for example, when the populist demagogue Hugo Chávez tapped the frustrations of ordinary citizens to be elected president in 1998.

.. the Venezuelan public overwhelmingly believed that “democracy is always the best form of government,” with only one-quarter saying that authoritarianism is sometimes preferable. Yet against their will, Venezuelans slid into autocracy.

“This is how democracies now die,” Levitsky and Ziblatt write. “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”

.. he has tried to undermine institutions and referees of our political system: judges, the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I., the intelligence community, the news media, the opposition party and Congress. But to his great frustration, American institutions have mostly passed the stress test with flying colors.
.. Levitsky and Ziblatt warn of the unraveling of democratic norms — norms such as treating the other side as rivals rather than as enemies, condemning violence and bigotry, and so on. This unraveling was underway long before Trump (Newt Gingrich nudged it along in the 1990s), but Trump accelerated it.
.. It matters when Trump
  • denounces the “deep state Justice Department,”
  • calls Hillary Clinton a “criminal” and
  • urges “jail” for Huma Abedin,
  • denounces journalists as the “enemy of the American people” and
  • promises to pay the legal fees of supporters who “beat the crap” out of protesters.
.. The answer, they said, is not for Trump opponents to demonize the other side or to adopt scorched-earth tactics, for this can result in “a death spiral in which rule-breaking becomes pandemic.” It’s also not terribly effective, as we’ve seen in Venezuela.
.. they suggested protesting vigorously — but above all, in defense of rights and institutions, not just against the ruler.
.. build coalitions, even if that means making painful compromises, so that protests are very broadly based.

Coreligionists in Kleptocracy

What Russia and Iran have in common is someday their people will say ‘enough.’

.. Vladimir Putin must get a clammy feeling from the logic of Iranians taking to the streets against a corrupt government conducting costly adventures in places like Syria.

.. The average Iranian in the street doesn’t think the benefits of the nuclear deal failed to materialize. He thinks they were hijacked and hoarded by regime cronies.

.. Widely reported was the Obama administration’s shipment of $1.7 billion in untraceable cash, via cargo plane, directly to Iran’s leaders. Of 110 international business deals touted in the Iranian press as the fruit of sanctions relief, a Reuters accounting showed that 90 went to companies controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or other top officials.

.. the average Russian has seen his real income continue to shrink, no end to sanctions

.. Nor can the Kremlin shield him from the growing phenomenon of internet-based reporting on the absurd luxuries enjoyed by such regime favorites as Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, much less the astonishing offshore wealth of Mr. Putin’s personal “friend,” the cellist Sergei Roldugin.

.. In both countries, normal, patriotic feeling has clearly begun leaching away from leaders whose defining quality is hypocrisy.

.. Under current leadership, 100% of everything is gobbled up in the corrupt power rivalries and overseas adventures of the leadership class (e.g., the Syrian war).

.. Nobody predicted the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew his ally Viktor Yanukovych, or the roadside execution of Gadhafi, an omen that Mr. Putin reportedly dwells on.

.. He was angry at Hillary Clinton for what he considers her efforts to foment a coup against him personally.

.. What the U.S. has over such countries is stable institutions in which to contain unpredictable events and forces.

Russia and Venezuela’s Plan to Sidestep Sanctions: Virtual Currencies

Russian and Venezuelan officials are hoping virtual currencies can help their countries make an end run around American sanctions.

Both governments, with ambitions to create state-sponsored cryptocurrencies, are looking to take advantage of the promise that Bitcoin introduced to the world financial system: a new kind of money and financial infrastructure, outside the control of any central authority, particularly the United States.

.. “When it comes to state-sensitive types of activities, this instrument suits us very well,” one of Mr. Putin’s aides, Sergei Glazyev, said last month in a conversation about the crypto ruble, according to several Russian news outlets. “We can settle payments with our business partners all over the world regardless of sanctions.”