On Sunday, January 19, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mi.) appeared on Meet the Press to announce their entirely speculative insinuation that Edward Snowden -- the contractor who disclosed the National Security Agency's (NSA) wholesale collection of Americans' digital information -- had help from the Russians (note: the segment aired on the web is sponsored by multibillion-dollar Defense Department contractor Boeing).
Also on Sunday, the New York Times published "Russians: Still the Go-To Bad Guys." The article, by Steven Kurutz, critiques the movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which opened at multiple theaters last week. Jack Ryan revives the eponymous Tom Clancy hero who uncovers a financial terrorist plot hatched by a drug-addicted Russian sadist with advanced computer skills and peculiar tastes in interior design. The Russian, together with his sinister heavily-accented cronies, intends to crash the US economy.
On Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. day was unseasonably warm in Washington, D.C. A solemn wreath-laying at his new memorial belied the fact that the FBI tried for years to tie him to Soviet Communists, illegally tapping his phone and tracking his movements with the blessing of the US Attorney General. In 2014, we have occasion to recall this in some detail as it was only a few months ago that those responsible for the 1971 break-in at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania came forward. Among the documents they gave the press was the one that ultimately led to the exposure of COINTELPRO and the slander designed to portray Dr. King as a dupe of the Russians.
Never mind. Dr. King was not a Communist sympathizer. Nor is Mr. Snowden a Russian defector. Still the accusation carries a toxic charge. For those of us raised in America during the Cold War, the Russians are a terrifying people. We fear and loathe them. We grew up with the incessant warning: "The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming." We believed that they were about to incinerate us and the rest of the world at any moment for no reason whatsoever.
But guess what? The Russians never came. Instead their ramshackle Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fell apart 25 years ago. Without a shot fired, the empire disintegrated in 1989.
Feinstein and Rogers must have missed that bit of news. This is unnerving because they both hold responsible posts in government. They are high-placed elected officials in the legislature of the United States and they chair committees with responsibility for oversight of the NSA. Of course, as we now know they both failed utterly in this job. Nonetheless, they are currently wondering whether the Russians were behind the exposure of NSA dragnet domestic surveillance that made them -- Feinstein and Rogers -- look like useless political hacks.
But let's give the two of them the benefit of the doubt and inspect the plausibility of their quasi-allegations. What on earth would the Russians gain from forcing the US to dial back its purportedly essential and effective dragnet surveillance of the world's peoples?
That's a tough one, but the obvious answer is "nothing," because we are not at war with Russia. Despite the appalling ignorance/duplicity of the Feinstein and Rogers song-and-dance team, Russians have their own problems with terrorist groups, and they cooperate with the US in tracking suspects. Recall for a moment that the Russian police alerted US federal authorities to the danger posed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. Twice. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the feds, busily surveilling the rest of the planet Earth, forgot to tell the Boston police commissioner about the Brothers Tsarnaev.
Shortly thereafter, however, according to Feinstein and Rogers, the Russian secret police elaborated a nefarious plot to install Edward Snowden at an NSA contractor's facility in Hawaii, then spirit him off to Hong Kong, where he met with indie journalists, and then fly him to Moscow. The Russians are, in fact, so clever that they duped the US State Department into revoking Mr. Snowden's passport as he attempted to transit Russia, thus stranding him in the Moscow airport and forcing him to seek asylum there because he couldn't go anywhere else. By the way, this chain of events strongly suggests that the Russians also have a mole at the State Department conveniently canceling the passports of would-be "defectors" like Mr. Snowden, as soon as they arrive in Moscow.
As Boris and Natasha would chortle: "MMWOOOHAAAHAAAHAAA!!!"
But wait. If the Russians are such a menace, why is the US government making it impossible for Mr. Snowden to leave Russia?
Another tough one. As Rogers said yesterday: "There are certain questions we have to get answered." Presumably, this is one of them.
However, in the absence of brainpower, evidence, logic or sense, if you're a useless US politician caught promoting yourself and not doing much else, you have one pretty safe fallback when faced with awkward questions. Blame the Russians -- and hope the Americans believe you.
Bea Edwards is Executive & International Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.