This is a long-ish post about anonymous sources.
Many respected mainstream writers have used them. Lately, though, non-
mainstream writers have made some very startling claims based (they say) on information from unnamed insiders. And that's a problem.
Consider, for example, the case of Watergate's Deep Throat, the most famous anonymous source of all time. Everyone knows that Throat turned out to be FBI man Mark Felt, who "came out" a few years before his death in 2008. There are solid reasons to suspect that Woodward cultivated other sources whom he has never identified -- sources who worked for a Certain Interesting Agency. (See here
.) Woodward's description of Throat -- a lanky, chain-smoking, hard-drinking "former military man with intellectual proclivities"
-- describes Jim Angleton one hell of a lot better than it describes Mark Felt.
The tale of Throat exemplifies one of the main problems with anonymous sourcing: Even after the story has reached a resolution, mysteries may linger. After the Big Reveal, nobody subjected Felt to some much-needed intensive questioning because he was quite elderly.
Still, Woodward and Bernstein were not indulging in "fake news" when they wrote their Throat-based stories (even though Nixon might have used that term if it was in circulation at the time). The famous duo's reportage turned out to be accurate, even if they did keep the Agency in the shadows. They revealed the name of their source to their editor, Ben Bradlee, and reportedly to a few other people (including the remarkable J. Stanley Pottinger
Most importantly: Woodward and Bernstein worked for a reputable journalistic institution which has never been inclined to publish anything likely to result in a libel case.
The WP must be careful because it has sufficiently deep pockets to justify a lawsuit.
The same cannot be said of some of today's storytellers.
Take, for example, this remarkable headline
in The Palmer Report, a repository for all of the wilder Trumpgate claims made on any given day:
Report: FBI has recordings of Newt Gingrich setting up Trump-Russia meetings during campaign
A headline like that would raise the eyebrows of anyone not named Mona Lisa. But what is the basis for this claim? It traces back to a writer who goes by the handle Puesto Loco, which, according to Google Translate
, means "put out crazy." Not a pseudonym likely to inspire confidence.
Here's his tweet
FBI has Sept, 2016 tapes of Newt Gingrich setting up multiple Team Trump/Russia meetings with Kislyak et al. (reliable source)
And here's the photo montage he put together:
Not many hours later, Mr. Loco tweeted another big claim
Sources tell me there's enough House GOPers who've pledged that if Trump fires Mueller & Ryan interferes rehiring him, Ryan will be ousted.
This assertion also comes with a photo montage:
I wouldn't dismiss the possibility that the Germans "have something" on Trump. But I do have a simple question: What is Merkel's motive for keeping the secrets of Ryan, McConnell and Trump at this
stage of the game?
Here's an even better question: Why would we be learning this tidbit from a little-known tweeter who calls himself Puesto Loco? Why would an insider divulge such important material to that
guy, and not to the Washington Post or the NYT or even Buzzfeed? It just don't add up!
Here's how Mr. Loco describes himself:
Military Anchor Baby - My Mom never saw the irony in calling me a Son-of-a-Bitch. GOP fascism is destroying my country.
He gives his location as "Florida Central West Coast." (Incidentally, CIA personnel often retire to Central Florida, though usually on the east coast.) Mr. Loco offers another photo montage which bears on the very problem under discussion in this post:
While I'm hardly in a position to dismiss all
conspiracy theories, the problems on display here should be obvious:
1. Someone displaying this level of concern about credibility should not have chosen "Puesto Loco" as his nomme-de-net
2. Although I remain fascinated by her, Louise Mensch has so thoroughly damaged her reputation by this point that even the Palmer Report won't link to her anymore. You can't blame spooks for that situation; she did it to herself. Besides, Mensch loves
spooks. She's a spook fangirl.
3. I've read a lot about Allen Dulles. Maybe I'm forgetting something, but I'm pretty sure that he never said anything about demonizing the term "conspiracy theory." However
: As any student of the JFK assassination knows, Dulles' CIA pioneered the technique of using sensationalized claims to hide the truth. It is legitimate to suspect that this technique is still in use.
About a week ago, Puesto Loco and Louise Mensch separately offered the same scoop
-- a claimed linkage between Paul Ryan and Wikileaks. (I've seen no evidence to back this scenario.) As we've seen, Mr. Loco has risen to the defense of Louise Mensch. And yet, just yesterday, Mensch accused Mr. Loco
Oh hell. Do I even need to say it? This is Louise Mensch
we're talking about...
For example puesto loco tweets many true things but is also Russian intelligence.
As are so, so
many others. Louise, since you are very free with paranoid accusations, how about one for little ol' me?
Look, I'll help you out. Here's the incontrovertible proof of my perfidy: I've read War and Peace
. I like Tarkovsky's films. As a teen, I once traveled 40 miles by bus in the rain to see a double bill of Potemkin
. I've met Marina Oswald Porter. I picked up a few Russian words from A Clockwork Orange
. I occasionally drink vodka. When it comes to heavy metal, I'll take Khatchaturian's Third Symphony
over Metallica any day.
(Betcha didn't know that Aram Khatchaturian invented heavy metal in 1947. Someone should re-score that piece for electric guitar instead of organ.)
And yet I don't think that Mensch is a disinformation agent, at least not a witting one.
True, there's a lot of evidence against her: Her friendship with the vile Milo Yiannopoulos, her work for the even viler Rupert Murdoch, her pre-election paranoid fantasias directed at Hillary Clinton, her vaguely pro-Trump pre-election tweets (issued under the name Louise Bagshawe), her membership in the same Tory party that supplies Cambridge Analytica with so many top employees, her generally divisive behavior, and -- of course -- her many unlikely scoops based on intel from nameless insiders who, for some unfathomable reason, would rather talk to her than to (say) Michael Isikoff or Kurt Eichenwald.
One could also cite her propensity to spook-bait fellow anti-Trumpers. Yet this is precisely the factor which inclines me to think that she is sincere: A professional disinformationist would make a greater effort to maintain credibility -- and would strive to be liked
Hm. I suppose that a similar argument could be made in favor of Puesto Loco. Wouldn't a witting agent be more likely to call himself "Muy cuerdo" or something like that?
And then there's John Schindler, perhaps the best-known of the "spooks against Trump." Surprisingly few people recall this remarkable piece
from May 26, in which Schindler discusses a secret meeting between NSA Director Mike Rogers and key employees:
This week’s town hall event, which was broadcast to agency facilities worldwide, was therefore met with surprise and anticipation by the NSA workforce, and Rogers did not disappoint. I have spoken with several NSA officials who witnessed the director’s talk and I’m reporting their firsthand accounts, which corroborate each other, on condition of anonymity.
In his town hall talk, Rogers reportedly admitted that President Trump asked him to discredit the FBI and James Comey, which the admiral flatly refused to do. As Rogers explained, he informed the commander in chief, “I know you won’t like it, but I have to tell what I have seen”—a probable reference to specific intelligence establishing collusion between the Kremlin and Team Trump.
Rogers then added that such SIGINT exists, and it is damning. He stated, “There is no question that we [meaning NSA] have evidence of election involvement and questionable contacts with the Russians.” Although Rogers did not cite the specific intelligence he was referring to, agency officials with direct knowledge have informed me that DIRNSA was obviously referring to a series of SIGINT reports from 2016 based on intercepts of communications between known Russian intelligence officials and key members of Trump’s campaign, in which they discussed methods of damaging Hillary Clinton.
NSA employees walked out of the town hall impressed by the director’s forthright discussion of his interactions with the Trump administration, particularly with how Rogers insisted that he had no desire to “politicize” the situation beyond what the president has already done. America’s spies are unaccustomed to playing partisan politics as Trump has apparently asked them to do, and it appears that the White House’s ham-fisted effort to get NSA to attack the FBI and its credibility was a serious mistake.
It’s therefore high time for the House and Senate intelligence committees to invite Admiral Rogers to talk to them about what transpired with the White House. It’s evident that DIRNSA has something important to say.
Here's the thing: Since Schindler wrote those words, Rogers has
testified to Congress. And he played Johnny Tightlips, at least in the open session. If, in the closed session, he had said anything this
startling and damning, we probably would have received some indication by now.
I mean, what would be the purpose of continued secrecy? And why the hell would Comey (who supposedly has all of the NSA's juiciest material) keep these SIGINT reports under wraps?
Schindler wants us to believe that a whole bunch of NSA guys and a whole bunch of congressfolk (of both parties) and the former FBI Director have absolutely damning evidence that Trump conspired with Russians. Yet instead of using
this evidence, they all prefer to let Trump continue to hang on to the nuclear launch codes.
Does that make sense to you?
Reality Winner revealed that the NSA possesses evidence of Russian interference with our voting systems. We didn't get that from Admiral Rogers. Why not?
Keeping a thing like that secret from the American public is, in and of itself, an act of collusion with Russia.
Yes, the NSA is traditionally the most secretive of agencies, and Rogers is no doubt an extremely circumspect individual. I know all that. But I don't care. If Russia has hacked our vote, then we need to know
. Period. No excuses. On rare occasions, secrecy
is tantamount to complicity
Here's a more sensible theory: NSA chieftain Mike Rogers, like former DIA chieftain Michael Flynn, is on Team Trump -- which explains why the NSA keeps Trump's dirty secrets.
No, I can't prove that theory -- but I can
point to this overlooked nugget
from Rachel Maddow:
Maddow began her conspiratorial suggestion by first noting how highly publicized Trump’s transition was, specifically when it came to who was coming in and out of the golden elevators. But she noted that nine days after the election, a serving Obama administration official made a surprise visit to Trump Tower. It was Admiral Mike Rogers.
She pointed to an NBC News report that showed Rogers “took a personal day” to visit the president-elect and to an NPR report that Rogers never told the sitting president (aka President Obama) that he was going to meet with Trump. Maddow then seemed to agree with The Wall Street Journal‘s report that Rogers was seeking a promotion to become the Director of National Intelligence (a job that ultimately went to Dan Coats).
Maddow was relishing a WaPo report that came out days later that then-DNI James Clapper and then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter urged then-President Obama to fire Rogers from the NSA.
Before moving on to Rogers’s testimony, Maddow concluded by saying that this was a “very strange story.”
Indeed! Please note: Maddow's story cannot be reconciled with Schindler's tale, at least not easily.
So: Did Schindler's sources tell him the truth about what Rogers said? What about Mr. Loco's sources? Ms. Mensch's?
The best way to hide a Hershey's Kiss is in a pile of horseshit.