Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was The Play?
Let’s suppose you’re a mother. It’s late on a Saturday night and you receive a phone call that your 20-year-old daughter was in an automobile accident and is in a coma. A blood test showed her BAC was .11. After the initial shock wears off, having awakened your husband and 17-year-old-son, you’re dressing to go to the hospital when your son tells you he received a text from someone claiming to be at the scene who says the first officer on the scene didn’t smell alcohol on your daughter’s breath. How do you spend the next several days? Do you spend them at your daughter’s bedside, not caring whether or not she was drinking, just wanting her to heal and wake up? Or do you spend time demanding someone tell you whether the police or the hospital lab techs are right? Do you insist you don’t believe them because of an unconfirmed story you heard third hand? Do you refuse to look at the actual facts of the matter, or at your daughter for that matter, demanding more information before you’ll believe any of the stories you’ve been told? Your husband starts to wonder if you’re not losing it a bit; your son, however, is on your side. Like you, he’s all over social media, insisting the hospital’s lying about your daughter being drunk to cover up something, maybe that the accident was a hit and run and someone else is responsible for your daughter’s condition. Many of your friends and family are worried about your mental health; many, however, including your daughter’s friends, are on your side. People far distant from the events are confused about the whole thing and don’t know what to think.
Such is what is happening with the bombshell news stories about the President and senior members of Congress from both parties being briefed by members of the Intelligence community about their assessments of Russian tampering in our recent national election. There are two further parts of the story that make it far more disturbing. First are reports from multiple sources that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) downplayed the information and threatened to make political hay of the story in the midst of a bitter Presidential campaign; should the President attempt to go public with the information, McConnell would simply say he received the same information, wasn’t convinced, and the President is trying to manipulate the electorate. Second, the FBI, titularly in charge of cyber-terrorism, while not part of the group of reporting agencies (CIA, NSA), insisted the information the other services had was overblown.
All day yesterday I’ve been hearing a two-part chorus of questions: Who’s right, the CIA/NSA or the FBI? Who are the news outlets reporting the story? As the FBI refuses officially to comment on anything related to this story, we have only multiple reporters stories the FBI was less sure than the CIA. Of course, the matter of the veracity of the reports is important, although hardly germane to the larger matter before us. Neither the FBI nor the Intelligence community have stellar track records when it comes to dealing with important (after the fact) national security information; political administrations sometimes take reports with a grain of salt (“You’ve covered your ass now.” – President George W. Bush on hearing a report of credible threats of terrorist attacks on US soil, one month before 9/11). That is always a prerogative, particularly if the information just doesn’t seem to gel with much the rest of the information other agencies are receiving. These are important and necessary follow-ups that should be, and I’m sure either have been or are being pursued.
The point of the stories, however, isn’t the veracity of the reports, or which agency called it correctly. The point of the stories is that people in charge of protecting and defending our country against any and all kinds of foreign intrusions were told by people who’s job it is to know about these threats before they become big and public that a foreign country was actively engaged in attempting to influence a national election. Now, this isn’t surprising in and of itself; that’s part of the game of international relations, and Lord knows we’ve done more than our fair share of the same kind of finagling. What is surprising is that, with reports already surfacing in news outlets in the summer regarding Russian hacking of DNC then later RNC databases and information, anyone who swore an oath both to abide by and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States would refuse to act upon what seems – at least from my distance from the matter – pretty credible reports. This isn’t a partisan political matter, as some of the Republicans at the meeting were willing to go along with the President’s plan to present a united, bi-partisan front regarding what seemed to be a clear and present danger to the integrity of our national elections. Nor is it a matter of dismissing the reports because they come from the New York Times, The Washington Post, the UK Guardian, the BBC, or wherever. We don’t have the information presented by Intelligence, nor should we. What we do have is a story of a meeting, and what seems on the face of it a casual dismissal of the very real, possible, and credible threat to a major American institution for partisan political gain.
Like the Mom insisting the doctor’s are wrong about her daughter’s drunkenness and refusing to believe the accident is her fault, we have people asking all the wrong questions and never liking the answers they receive. Why don’t they like the answers? Because they’re demanding answers to questions that are irrelevant to the story we’re being told. It will take time and a whole lot of resources to decide whether the FBI or CIA are right. It seems to me, however, the very possibility of such a state of affairs should piss off any American regardless of ideology and party. It seems to me most Americans should be shocked that a senior American political figure would prefer party over country when given information regarding a possible threat to our national integrity. As long as people keep shouting those questions and others waste time trying to answer them, the main matter – the facts before the public – will be ignored as we chase all these shiny object people keep tossing on the floor.
This election was a a colossal fuck-up from the beginning. Reports of Russian hacking and interference were very public in July; the Intelligence services were sure enough of the situation by mid-September to brief senior officials. Why aren’t people pissed off about this? Why all the wrong questions? Have we become so crazed we no longer recognize a real threat to our sovereignty and integrity?