White House Ghosts

December 26, 2017–Our latest reporting suggests that the Ghosts have moved into the White House. That is, according to today’s Washington Post, by the end of the Obama administration the president had already signed a Memorandum of Notification–the kind of document used to authorize a United States covert operation–for the intelligence services to employ active countermeasures against the Russian Caper, Moscow’s hacking of U.S. politics and the American election in 2016.

The new reporting (Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe, “KREMLIN’s TROLLS BESET WEB AS U.S. DITHERED,” Washington Post, December 26, 2017) shows an extended example of one web troll identified as a Russian source, ties that pseudonym to a range of posts fronted to many online outlets, from Counterpunch to Veterans Today, and outlines the chronology of Washington’s grudging choice to begin countermeasures. The notification memo, more frequently called a “presidential finding,” put the CIA and NSA and their brethren on point by early 2017. The Obama National Security Council (NSC) staff director for intelligence briefed his successor, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, along with intelligence community officials. H.R. McMaster, the general who ended up as national security adviser after the flame-out of Donald J. Trump’s first pick, Michael Flynn, even agreed with the policy, although he suspected Cohen-Watnik –Flynn’s man–and soon got rid of him. But McMaster quickly locked horns with Trump homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, over who had charge of the cyber portfolio. The net result was that actions have to be justified by new presidential findings–and those have never been issued. President Trump, with his alternate “there’s no scandal here,” and “anybody could have hacked” stances, is an obstacle to meaningful action. So nothing is being done.

In my book The Ghosts of Langley the “ghost” serves as metaphor for the kind of character whose example or behavior her successors want to avoid because inappropriate, mistaken, or worse. Earlier you could have argued that Ghosts fueled the reluctance to act of the Obama White House. The Trump White House has now added bureaucratic infighting to the list of excuses for inaction. Clearly the Ghosts are strong at the White House. –And the Russian trolls are still out there.

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