June 20th, 2019


Uninvited guests

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Feb. 21, 2018

Uninvited guests

In the unlikely event that readers may not have noticed, this country has developed a three-party system. For in addition to the usual Democrats and Republicans, there are the Russians, who even now are trying to horn in on this country's mid-term elections.

Just the other day, the U.S. Senate's intelligence committee was warned by one of its all too outspoken members, Angus King (I-Maine): "We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, without a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists."

The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, pointed out that there is no single agency in charge of foiling the Russian threat. (That didn't sit well with some senators.) But we'd add, if there were a single agency in charge, its head -- call him the security czar -- would represent a threat himself. For power corrupts, and unbridled power may corrupt most. Surely one J. Edgar Hoover, with his dossiers on everyone in Washington, was enough.

Director Coats was joined by the heads of five other American cloak-and-dagger agencies as he told the Senate committee: "At a minimum, we expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States." It's not as if our spy agencies were unaware of the Russian threat because they decline to talk about it in open session -- and thus risk letting the Russians know that we're on to them and their bag of tricks. Why tip our hand?

Director Coats assured the committee that American intelligence agencies pass on to the policymakers, including the president, "any relevant information they come across." But that wasn't good enough for the president's inveterate critics on the Senate committee.

"Passing on relevant intelligence is not actively disrupting the operations of an opponent," Jack Reed, the Democratic senator from Rhode Island, insisted.

"We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities," Director Coats responded. Mike Pompeo, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, chimed in by assuring Sen. Reed, "we have a significant effort. I'm happy to talk about it in closed session." His word-under-oath ought to be good enough for the committee and the country.

Case closed. Or it should be, in the judgment of any reasonable observer of these all too tedious proceedings.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.