Washington is falling

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

The theme of foreign intervention in American elections just got bigger after Judy Woodruff recently tweeted that “James Clapper … personally concluded Russians not only influenced but DECIDED outcome of 2016 election.”   The statement comes from Clapper’s forthcoming book, portions of which have been read aloud on TV.


Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election … buying advertisements on Facebook promoting Clinton’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and ensuring those ads ran only on the pages of white conservative voters in swing states… they created lies that helped Trump and hurt Clinton and promoted these falsehoods through social media and state-sponsored channels to the point that the traditional US media were unwittingly spreading Russian propaganda… they ran a multifaceted campaign and sustained it at a high level from early 2015 until Election Day 2016… Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win.

Whether or not the reader believes this the fact is that outside interference is now a hot topic in Washington.  Foreign threats to to the political system are not confined to the US. Australia was recently rocked by allegations that a Chinese-Australian billionaire operating under the control “of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front program” had bribed a senior United Nations official.  The same man had also given $US 4 million to Australian political parties and $US 45 million to Australian universities.  Hillary Clinton then “in Auckland as part of a speaking tour … warned about China’s foreign-interference campaigns and urged [Australia and New Zealand] to take the issue ‘seriously.'”

The scale of China’s efforts in a small country like Australia contrast starkly with penny ante amounts Mueller’s plots so far appear to involve.  The disparity raises the question of why?  Are we missing the rest of the story?


China’s United Front Department was described by a New York Times article as a potentially far more powerful and dangerous than Russian intelligence. Beijing for one has much more money than Moscow. “There is a conspiracy afoot, and it isn’t theoretical. The Confucius Institutes and Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) cells being established on campuses outside China are but a few dots in this picture — when the whole lot are properly connected they outline a vast, smooth-running machine that taps Chinese people throughout the world to spread its influence and harvest intelligence in the service of the Chinese state.”

The United Front Work Department is a nimble and tightly led party organ, headed by the chief of the secretariat of the C.C.P.’s central committee. It oversees a dozen organizations that do political networking, through both persuasion and infiltration. One of those is the European and American Alumni Association, which keeps close tabs over the ever-larger number of Chinese students and academics training or residing in the West, and enjoins them to conduct “people diplomacy” — in effect turning all those scholars into foot soldiers for the United Front.

Estimates of the United Front’s budget are hard to come by, but the scale at which it operates can be inferred from a recent Australian think tank report that it had recently brought 40,000 extra employees aboard.

Dr Varrall said there was one conclusion to be drawn from the information at hand: “The United Front is stepping up its operations in Australia”, she said.

“We can presume its that because we can add up the increase of investment in the United Front and combine that with what we’re seeing elsewhere.

But a hallmark of the United Front, is that “it’s hard to find out what it’s up to”, making its activities difficult to verify, according to Dr Varrall.

“The United Front is so multi faceted and flexible. It’s hard to see, it’s hard to spot, it’s hard to pin down,” she said.


If it’s operations are so widespread in the US why doesn’t the press see it?  Uri Friedman writing in the Atlantic goes some distance towards solving the mystery by observing that “Russian interference” may be the merest tip of the iceberg.  “Russia’s apparent interference in the U.S. presidential election is a big story, but it’s part of an even bigger one: the ease with which foreign actors can insert themselves into the democratic process these days, and the difficulty of determining how to minimize that meddling.”  The rest of the interference, like the iceberg, is under water. Friedman mentioned 5 legal modes of foreign interference the political system can’t even react to.

1. Foreign controlled news organizations
2. Political ads online
3. Lobbyists representing foreign companies
4. Nonprofits and foundations
5. Foreign governments openly expressing their preferences.

Influence applied “right out in the open” probably constitutes a far larger source of foreign interference than the meetings allegedly held with Russian nobodies and paltry sums spent on Facebook.

In a Washington Post article … foreign policy writer Josh Rogin claimed Washington was now “waking up to the huge scope and scale of Chinese Communist party influence operations inside the United States”.

Rogin described Beijing’s foreign influence campaign as “part and parcel of China’s larger campaign for global power, which includes military expansion, foreign direct investment, resource hoarding, and influencing international rules and norms”. … Republican senator Marco Rubio told the newspaper: “We have a lot of discussion of Russian interference in our elections, but the Chinese efforts to influence our public policy and our basic freedoms are much more widespread than most people realize”.


A kind of collective sea change has overtaken the capital.  The day in October 2016 when president Obama admonished Donald Trump for worrying that the November 8 election could be rigged “telling the Republican presidential candidate to ‘stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes'” now seems as far away as the moment when Obama mocked Governor Romney for warning that Russia was becoming a threat again.

He responded with a blistering attack on the Republican candidate, noting that U.S. elections are run and monitored by local officials, who may well be appointed by Republican governors of states, and saying that cases of significant voter fraud were not to be found in American elections.

Obama said there was “no serious” person who would suggest it was possible to rig American elections, adding, “I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”

But that insouciance was before Hillary lost. Now the confident narrative in political globalization has given way to Clapper’s abject panic. It’s the complete reverse. The sky is falling — has fallen.  Special counsel Mueller, even should he succeed in pursuing his narrow investigation on Russian interference to a conclusion will almost certainly miss 99.9% of the foreign influence silently corrupting Washington.

They will miss it it because it is baked into the global institutions which were ironically their greatest boasts.  Miss it because it’s out in the open. The lobbying, the nonprofit foundations, the paid speeches, the revolving door hiring, the recruitment of immigrants pressured to cooperate whose circumstances are taboo due to political correctness — all will remain untouched — because maybe that’s just how some people like it.


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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty but also experience wrenching change. Professions of all kinds – from lawyers to truck drivers – will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, MIT’s Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity.

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