Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Would you like spies with that?

Kilauea eruption, 1983, via Hawaii Volcano Expeditions (When I write about Greenwald, as I haven't done in a while. I like to illustrate it with volcano pix in tribute to the special qualities of his prose).

An odd thing in relation to the scandal du jour over the weekend, and the revelation that the FBI had asked an academic in England to try to worm some information out of both George Papadopoulos and Carter Pageon their knowledge of the conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian state (and, as it later turned out, Michael Flynn as well, though that was possibly just in 2014, and Papadopoulos's and Page's boss in the campaign, Sam Clovis, who talked to him about relations with China), or as Donald Trump put it, sounding more and more hysterical every day, put it,
Yipes! Though I didn't see any reason why they shouldn't have had an embedded informant in the heart of this criminal conspiracy, as they might inside a mafia family, there was no reason to supposed that they did in fact have one. As we soon learned (apparently The Daily Caller was the first to report it), what they had was Stefan Halper, a veteran of Republican administrations who has been for some time a Fellow of Magdalen College and was director of Cambridge's American Studies program, who enticed Papadopoulos to talk by commissioning a bona fide research paper from him and engaged him over dinner and drinks and apparently failed to get him to talk about the tens of thousands of incriminating Hillary emails; and had what Page described as "benign interactions" with that person.

Republicans, of course, decided to go with the Deep State Infiltrates Spy Into Trump Campaign line, where they were joined by our old friend Glenn Greenwald, as I learned from LGM, has been at work reinforcing that in The Intercept, demonstrating how especially sinister Stefan Halper is, with the allegation that he

Oversaw a CIA Spying Operation in the 1980 Presidential Election

That checked out, and even worse, according to Hogan in the LGM comments, citing Wikipedia:

Only that's the odd thing—Wikipedia's source for this information, footnote 2 there, is Greenwald's essay from Saturday. That sentence was just added to the biography, in an immense flurry of Wikipedia activity over the two days, evidently by somebody who thought it was important to mention that they weren't talking about just any Glenn Greenwald, but the really distinguished one:

Which the editors deleted ("we don't need to trumpet Greenwald's awards here"), maybe a little haughtily.

So it looks as if Greenwald's only source for the assertion that Stefan Halper ran a spy operation for the 1980 Reagan campaign is Greenwald's assertion that Stefan Halper ran a spy operation for the 1980 Reagan campaign. Which would not be entirely fair, he does have a case that he didn't just make up, but I think it's pretty weak.

The story, most fully developed (or overdeveloped) by the late Robert Parry and more than a little paranoid (but not completely too paranoid for me), is that Reagan's campaign manager, Bill Casey, an authentic World War II spymaster (he headed the Secret Intelligence Branch of the OSS, the CIA's wartime predecessor), put together some kind of secret intelligence group against the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter, which included CIA veterans and even, possibly after George H.W. Bush joined the campaign as Reagan's vice presidential candidate, some rogue active agents (lots of people in the CIA hated Carter and his director of central intelligence Stansfield Turner because of their efforts to shrink it and limit its power on the black ops side and are said to have adored Bush for his stint as Director in the last year of the Ford administration).

This group is thought to have had two main accomplishments. One was to steal a (classified) briefing book Carter was using in his preparation for debates with Reagan, and get it to the Republican campaign; how it was done and who exactly did it is poorly understood, but it definitely did happen. The other, which is vividly understood but may not have happened at all, was negotiating with the Iran revolutionary government, then holding 52 American hostages in the US embassy in Tehran, against the Carter government's efforts to get the hostages released in an October Surprise that would boost Carter's popularity.

"Wait till the inauguration," they allegedly told the Iranians, "and we'll give you a better deal," which would be the origin of the arms sales of the Iran-Contra mess—beginning with Israel's secret shipment of a planeload of F-4 aircraft tires, in contravention of the US boycott of Iran, between 21 and 23 October 1980, according to Gary Sick, who is the most respectable believer in the story (first published by somebody I have no respect for at all, Bob Dreyfuss, in those days a Lyndon Larouche acolyte). Needless to say, this was, if it happened, as horrible a subversion of American democracy as anything the Trump campaign is said to have done in its collusion with Russian, Saudi, UAE, Israeli, and who knows what other foreign governments, though maybe less disgusting in that the Reagan conspiracy, unlike the Trump conspiracy, wasn't in it for the money.

And William Casey was at the heart of it, while what old Bush's role might have been remained unclear to Sick—

At least five of the sources who say they were in Paris in connection with these meetings insist that George Bush was present for at least one meeting. Three of the sources say that they saw him there. In the absence of further information, I have not made up my mind about this allegation.
Robert Parry, in contrast, was convinced Bush was the mastermind, and that Stefan Halper "ran" the secret group as Bush's and the CIA's creature:
According to a suppressed chapter of a later congressional review of the October Surprise case, "many of the [Operations Center's] staff members were former CIA employees who had previously worked on the Bush campaign or were otherwise loyal to George Bush. 
The center was run by Stefan Halper, son-in-law of former CIA official Ray Cline, the "secret" chapter read. "Halper often wrote memoranda on the hostage issue addressed to senior campaign officials urging them to attack Carter more aggressively on his handing of the crisis," stated the chapter, which I uncovered in 1994 while digging through unpublished material from the congressional inquiry.
Wait a minute there, though, what did the chapter state? If it simply said he wrote memoranda about the way the campaign should talk about the hostages, that isn't the same as running a secret rogue CIA cabal. It may suggest he had some advance knowledge that the hostages weren't going to be released, but it doesn't suggest his job was anything other than the one he subsequently put on his résumé. If the document said Halper ran the cabal, why aren't you quoting that instead?

We may never know, but there's one other bit of evidence I want to note, which was reported on the briefing book or "Debategate" scandal (which has gotten plenty of press, while the October Surprise has remained mostly a fringe story), at the tail end of this UPI article from 1983:
-Some conservatives in the Reagan White House have alleged that Stefan Halper, who served as director of policy coordination in the Reagan-Bush campaign, used former CIA agents to run a data-collection operation on the Carter administration's foreign policy. Halper has acknowledged employing former CIA agent Robert Gambino in his office, which he said was responsible for monitoring and analyzing all news developments 24 hours a day. However, Halper, a GOP moderate, said to his knowledge the existence of an intelligence network of former agents spying on the Carter administration was 'absolutely false.' Some sources assert the allegation is part of an attempt by the conservative wing at the White House to oust Baker and his allies from the Bush campaign.
So this is the only journalistically vetted account of what Halper's status might have been, as far as I know, and it already includes the possibility that the story could have been cooked up by one despicable faction of the people who created Iran-Contra to deflect suspicion from themselves to another despicable faction.

Which doesn't prove that Halper didn't run the secret cabal, but if that and Parry's mysteriously hollow quotation are all the evidence we've got, it's just an awfully thin story, and certainly doesn't justify Greenwald's headline or unqualified assertions. I should add that he mentions the objection from the UPI story in his piece, so he clearly knows there is reason for doubt.

I don't know why Greenwald would be doing this, and lending indirect support to the Trump claims that they've been "spied" on on a the basis of a journalistically unjustifiable claim of his own, but it's wrong and bad practice and needs to be called out. If he's also been tampering with Wikipedia, as I suspect, that's really disgusting (Wikipedia is tougher, of course, and the unjustified language in my screenshot above has been moderated a good deal).

No comments:

Post a Comment