Russia has grown to exert huge influence over American political discourse, especially with allegations that Donald Trump is somehow indebted to Vladimir Putin. Where do the facts about threats posed by Russia end and conspiracy theories begin? Jack Posobiec, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer who is a correspondent for One America News Network and prominent conservative social media figure, explains on this week's episode of 'Cotto/Gottfried.'
COTTO: Russia has become a political firestorm in American life. Just how much of what is said is fact and conspiracy theory though? That’s an important question, and Jack Posobiec has some answers. He’s a correspondent for one America News Network, a very prominent Twitter personality in favor of conservative causes and an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve. He joins us on this week’s episode of Cotto/Gottfried. I am your cohost Joseph Ford Cotto, editor of the San Francisco Review of Books. My cohost is Paul Gottfried, head of our editorial board.
People hear a lot about Trump and Russia and I think we all can agree that a great deal of what’s said is total nonsense; conjecture of this, that and the other thing, that it’s not worth anyone’s time, but there is the question of whether or not Russia poses a serious national security threat to the United States, specifically in terms of the elections coming up, but I suppose one also could talk about other things too, we’ll just focus on the elections. Jack, do you think people should be worried about what Russia might do to the US?
POSOBIEC: Well, people should be worried from Russia in terms from a national security standpoint just because they are another great power in the world. I’ll be drawing from my experience as a naval intelligence officer, obviously I can’t go into classified, but Russia though despite their weak economy and failed aircraft carrier (sorry, I’m a navy guy), but they do have a substantial military presence throughout the world, they have substantial military relationships throughout the world, and they continue to train for potential great-power war with the United States or with some of our allies. So there is no question that Russia absolutely represents a National-security threat from that military perspective.
Now from the perspective you mentioned, in terms of what’s been talked about very much, in terms of social media influence or social media meddling as has been said, absolutely. We need to make sure that anything that’s going on out there, whether or not these social media companies can determine, or with US government backing can determine what exactly is going on, where these accounts are coming from, who’s behind them, whether or not they can notice sort of bad activity or “bad actors“ as it’s called; that needs to be codified and if the FBI or whoever is looking at it can then come to those social media companies and say, “hey we’ve got information that says XYZ accounts, regardless of what they’re pushing well just to let you know, these are tied back to some sort of bot-farm troll-network,” whatever it be, I think they absolutely should do this.
And that’s not to say that Russia is the only country that does this by the way, the Chinese are behind a ton of cyber operations against the United States, we’ve seen commercial operations running stuff against the United States, going back North Korea’s run information operations and cyber operations against the United States, and it is a huge Wild Wild West out there when it comes to this sort of stuff on the Internet, so when we’re looking at it from the perspective of elections, we really always have to be careful and cognizant of that.
COTTO: Paul, do you have anything to add?
GOTTFRIED: I’ve been listening to Jack’s remarks with a great deal of interest. The one thing that concerns me here is that while I’m certainly willing to concede that Russia poses a security threat, I am very disturbed by the anti-Russian hysteria that’s whipped up both by the neoconservative press and recently for obvious reasons by the democratic opposition to Trump. I think this is harmful, and it could lead to something really hysterical. It seems that most of the American people see Russia as some kind of major danger to the United States, much more so than China, although China I think obviously does pose much more of a threat economically and militarily than Russia right now.
I wonder if Jack has any comments about this, I mean the degree of concern that has been whipped up by the media and by politicians concerning Russia as an extremely dangerous threat to the United States, moreover as some kind of a horrible, immoral power that we are to treat as governed by a monster with whom the United States should not even try to negotiate.
POSOBIEC: See, that’s where I would disagree with a lot of the mainstream media take on this is that, while I don’t necessarily think that Russia is someone that should be our closest ally, I don’t necessarily think they’re one of our top strategic threats the world. Clearly China is the looming threat in terms of great power out there. I moved to China right after College, I lived there for two years, learned Mandarin, the whole nine yards. China is coming at the United States and the world really with the whole of society approach to everything they’re doing. Whether it’s economics, whether it’s military, whether it’s commercial, whether it’s political, they are using every front they can to really exert their will. First starting in the East Asian sphere of influence which they’re completely growing and expanding, though of course to put it in the Chinese mindset they are restoring it to where it was, or their primacy that they once had following the hundred years humiliation as they referred to it by the west, and they’re expanding reach now and that influence throughout Europe, throughout South America throughout Africa. They call it the “nonaligned movement” they’re really using that as a bulwark against American and Western influence.
This is the real story, is China, right? But so many, quite frankly there are so many organizations, and I put Hollywood on this list too, that are taking so much money, millions and millions of dollars, from the Chinese that they are inundated with this cash, there is a major financial interest to kind of look the other way on China. And it’s a poignant example, and it’s not necessarily political, but the movie Red Dawn when they went to remake it, originally it was going to be the Chinese who were invading, ya know the old John Milius movie, and the Chinese were going to be invading and taking over part of either Seattle or part of Washington state or something, and the Chinese government just completely shut it down and went to that company, I don’t know I think it was Lionsgate but I might be wrong about that off the top of my head [it appears that it was MGM], they went to them and said, “if you put this movie out the way it is, [you] will never see another dollar from us for the rest of time.” They went in and digitally changed all of the uniforms and even the language to North Korean. So you can’t even make a movie where China is the bad guy. That’s telling. And you don’t see that stuff with Russia, every other movie these days is Russia.
COTTO: That is also had the Russians and the North Koreans, the remake of Red Dawn I mean working together, I find it humorous the idea of North Korean soldiers invading the United States. [laughing]
POSOBIEC: It’s ludicrous! It’s ludicrous on its face! It’s ridiculous! I mean, what would they come over him?! Their boats can barely go past their coasts.
COTTO: They might get King County, and that’s about it.
GOTTFRIED: It also seems to me that Russia is a country to which Americans can relate, even in a negative way, because it’s a part of the same general civilization. When it was a communist country they were godless, but they were Europeans they were a part of the same civilization as we are. Now they’re a right wing regime, and they are being compared to European fascists. But in any case they sort of fit into our frame of reference in a way that the Chinese don’t. I mean, the Chinese culture is very, very different. They also are not white people, so one might say that they’re sort of at least partially exempted from the criticism that is visited on fellow westerners, which I suppose Russians are. And, as I said, they’re also more remote physically, culturally, ethnically in other ways. So, the Chinese are really not the what should we say the ideal enemy for the American people. It’s hard to relate to them in the way that the Americans can relate to the Russians.
COTTO: I think that there’s definitely a spirit of Russophobia that’s very much en vogue in the United States, but it goes back to the post Soviet era, I don’t think the old anti-Russia sentiment ever really went away, certainly in Russia the anti-American sentiment didn’t. So there’s this sort of mutual cultural dislike that politicians can easily capitalize on.
POSOBIEC: You know, one thing I notice with this, just to throw out real quick, is a real generational split on the issue of relations with Russia. And typically, so I am 33 years old and I remember the fall of the Soviet Union and Russia being this poor country that didn’t have anything for so many years, and so I’m used to … a weak Russia that can’t feed their people, that doesn’t have a very strong military, that isn’t much of an issue for us, and in a sense that we defeated. That’s what we were told, peace dividend, that’s why we were able to draw down our military in the nineties under Clinton. And yet there are people who grew up in the 50s, 60s, or even the 40s to some extent who remember the Cold War when it was the height of the Cold War, and there was so much really just, I don’t want to say propaganda but essentially that’s what it was, just anti-Russia, anti-Soviet messaging that was going on, and again talking about movies, talking about TV shows, talking about magazines, cartoons, comic books all of it and rife throughout academia and government, and anyone who seems to have lived through that time, it’s not to say that it wasn’t warranted during the Soviet Union, anyone who lived through that really it sort of like picks up more on the anti-Russia stuff now, whereas I notice the younger crowd it doesn’t seem to resonate with them.
GOTTFRIED: Well, I think there is a difference in the way the United States fought Nazi Germany and the way it opposed the Soviet Union . If you notice some of the people who are the most violently anti-Soviet and anti-Communist are today Russophiles, and this is particularly true of people like Buchanan, generally the old right with which I’ve been associated for the last forty years, they’re very, very pro-Putin. They think he’s great. He defends Christianity, he doesn’t allow gay pride parades. These are people who hated the communists, but seem to like the Russians.
In the case of the Germans, they were defeated, humiliated, never developed a sense of national pride again after the Second World War, and they were made to feel guilty for mass murder in a way that the Russians were not, and that also committed mass murders. Because the Russians were communists, and therefore were sort of given at least a partial free pass even if they did horrible things as communists.
But I don’t think that the Russophobia that came out of the Cold War was ever as intense as the Germanophobia that came out The Second World War; the dislike of the Japanese I think sort of went away after about a year or two, it just evaporated. And also in the case of Russia, they not only did not suffer the stigma of the Germans after World War II, there was no Nuremberg trials, they were not occupied, anything like that, but the Country retained its national pride. So that somebody like Putin went from working for the KGB to becoming a right-wing Russian nationalist, and that was possible in Russia. And it was also possible for people to walk around with pictures of Stalin, and expressing nationalist sentiments in a way that it would not be possible for Germans to run around with pictures of Hitler, or probably even Kaiser Wilhelm. So that the Russians came out of the Cold War in a much better shape than other great powers that had been defeated or which lost, and their sense of national pride was never really destroyed or taken away from them, nor was there the kind of hatred against them as a nation that I think was expressed against the Germans after World War II, and which continues down to the present.
COTTO: I think that if you look at the history of Russia and the United States, the countries never were very close really after The Bolshevik Revolution. I mean, World War II there was a temporary alliance there but obviously things went downhill immediately after. So, it seems just like an easy thing to scapegoat for more pressing domestic concerns which brings me, and this is directed at Jack, you brought up some extremely important points before about national security threats from Russia, but if you listen to a lot of the mainstream media it’s like conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia and all this spy-level, infamy, want-to-be nonsense. Why do you think that people don’t look more closely at the serious national security threats? Why do you think there is this tinfoil-hat conspiracy-theory nonsense?
POSOBIEC: Well, there’s two reasons for it really, I would consider any foreign country with that level of a military to be a serious national threat regardless of what our relations are because we always have to be careful about something like that. That’s certainly number one, but I think for most people what they’ve really decided to cling on to, and the media and everyone else, we have to put this into context, right? So the context is that it’s related to Trump who was not supposed to win the 2016 election. Every major poll said he was going to lose. Every major newspaper said he was going to lose. The entire main stream establishment largely even parts of the right many right-leaning mainstream publications all said that Trump is going to lose. And so when he did when there was this pervasive sense that he had cheated, that something had gone awry in the process, that somewhere in the system there was a breakdown and they had to go back and pinpoint what that was and really what they’re really doing is they are feeding their own cognitive dissonance in terms of his win with this Russiagate, I actually called them Russia truthers sometimes, with this nonsense to be able to say that the Russian state played some part in this, and it couldn’t possibly be that they were all that wrong even though they were.
GOTTFRIED: And also there are millions of Americans, presumably liberal Democrats who persist in believing this where they’re polled, even though there is no evidence. This is almost an article of faith that Trump won because Putin rigged the election in his favor. So, it’s not just media elites, it seems to be pervasive among a very, very large anti-trump constituency in the country.
COTTO: It’s really spectacular stuff to see that it’s caught a hold of so many people, but then the question is, I think Jack could answer this, do they really believe it, do they really believe the conspiracy theory or do they just use it as the means to an end? Or could it be some combination of the two?
POSOBIEC: Well, like anything else I think there’s different layers to it. I think there are people who realize that that’s not what was going on, that are kind of more behind the scenes, or were in the driver’s seat of the Hillary Clinton campaign, John Podesta comes to mind, who know what really happened on the ground, and know that this had nothing to do with some sort of Russian espionage or operation, and also people who have worked in elections long enough to simply know that that type of thing isn’t possible. Even if it were attempted it just would not be possible, that’s not how American elections are run. I could digress on just simple voting machines and how those are run at a local level that are taken to different parts of … it could not be done even if you wanted to. Which is actually interesting because prior to the election it was actually the right, it was Trump, who was worried about voter rigging and election security, so actually his campaign came out and was providing a lot of voter security and a lot of ballot box securities.
But then, you’ve also got people who are just down wind of it who absolutely love it, who have created almost a theology around it and I think because there’s that theological belief this Russia truth stuff that now there are people who are moving in to it realizing that you can make money off of that, the Krassenstein brothers, and Louise Mensch and Seth Abrahams and all those I think are kind of at that level.
COTTO: I was going to bring up those two fellows. They really have turned this into a cottage industry. You almost have to admire them just for their business acumen.
POSOBIEC: You know, they actually ran a Justin Bieber fan site. We tracked back their Twitter accounts to when they first used to be up, and all they used to tweet about was Justin Bieber. These guys are just looking to make a buck, and they’ve been busted for Ponzi schemes, they’ve been rated by the feds in the past, and they just move onto the next thing. Now, I think even the left wants to try and excommunicate them somehow.
GOTTFRIED: The Trump-collusion theory also seems to be driving among never Trump so-called conservatives or Republicans, they’re really not conservatives, people like Jonah Goldberg, Max Boot, National Review generally, I think there it’s a combination of being anti-Russian or of taking money from people who are anti-Russian and hating Trump. So you combine this, it seems they’re going to reject this and they go back to it. But they can’t ever let it go because the narrative sort of kills two birds with one stone. I mean, it alerts us to the Russian danger, and these people are violently anti-Russian, and it also can be used to bring down Trump.
COTTO: I think there are different sorts of anti-Russia never-Trumpers. Not just never Trumpers, people who hate trump from outside the Republican Party, you have someone like Jennifer Rubin or Bill Kristol both of whom I don’t think really necessarily believe what they say what they throw out there but they do it as a means to an end. Then you have total lunatics like Rosie O’Donnell, who I think she really believes that the Russians hacked into election systems, and that goes back to what Jack was saying about the impossibility of that. But you definitely have, and this is another thing Jack was talking about, the theology here operating at different levels. You have a people who are shilling it, who know it’s nonsense, and then you have the true believers who are just lapping it up. It’s a very sad state of affairs. A sad commentary on ...
POSOBIEC: Well, and if you notice that there’s now this group out there, and they call themselves Hamilton 68. I believe Bill Kristol is a part of it and General Hayden, the former CIA director. And so what they’ve done is come out and put together this organization and they say “well we track Russian activity on the internets, and we will tell you what it is that the Russian trolls or Russian bots on the Internet are talking about,” right. And so they’ll put out frequently, maybe once a week sometimes these papers that say, “oh, the Russians are talking about this.” And I’ve noticed that mainstream publications like New York Times or CNN Will pick up their reporting, and use it as a way to sort of defuse or deflect from any story or any news cycle that they don’t like because they will just say that “oh this is a Russian thing.” Now, keep in mind when you actually drill down in to their methodology it says “well, we’ve found accounts that we believe (they don’t even tell you their methodology) that these are associated with Russian active measures.” Who are they? What does that mean? How did you determine that? Did you meet with them? Do you know that they’re track back to some shadowy outfit in St. Petersburg? No! You won’t even tell us who it is. But then all of a sudden CNN will have the headline up or The independent or the New York Times, whoever falls for these things or is complicit with them, and it says (the one I just saw last night), “Mollie Tibbetts was used by Russian bots to deflect from the Michael Cohen story.” No, I’m pretty sure American citizens were pretty upset that Mollie Tibbetts this sweet Iowa girl in a cornfield was murdered by an illegal immigrant. No, I’m pretty sure that’s real Americans talking about that, but thanks to this group now they can use that to defuse any negative news cycle that they don’t like, or any narrative that is counter to their purposes.
COTTO: This goes to the absurd levels of nonsense that people will believe going back to the Red Dawn remake the idea of the North Koreans invading Washington State, I made my joke that they probably could only hold King County, but not even that for long, but people will believe this stuff I think if it’s repeated enough and they want to believe it. They can use it as a rationalization for their political views which are totally independent of anything we’re mentioning here. It’s definitely an interesting situation.
GOTTFRIED: Yeah, it’s not like McCarthyism. Republicans will say this is like McCarthyism, but really it’s not because most of the things McCarthy said had some basis in truth. He may have exaggerated, he may have pulled things out of context. Here the story is just being made up [out of] whole cloth.
It also seems to me that it may go away if they can get Trump for something else; for paying off these ladies of the night, for something else that Mickey Cohen accused him of doing. I think the important thing for most of these people who trade in the Russian-collusion story is going after Trump. And if there’s something else that seems to work better than the Russian-collusion story, it’s quite possible to move on to this other narrative. Nothing is happening anyhow.
POSOBIEC: And it’s so incredible you mention that, because so just in this past week Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen’ lawyer has been making the rounds on all ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, everything but FOXNews and talking about Michael Cohen and he said all these different things; “Cohen’s going to testify, he’s going to give all the evidence to Mueller, he’s going to open up his BlackBerry and show you this and show you that,’ but there’s one line that he’s actually stated and the New York Post brought this up today they said, because at one point they actually asked him about the dossier, this Russia dossier where Michael Cohen is, if you ever actually sit down and read the dossier Michael Cohen is like the central player, and his trip to Prague is a big sort of turning point in the whole story they asked Lanny Davis about that they say “are you ever going to talk about the trip to Prague,” and Lanny said “no, he has never been to Prague, the dossier is completely false, this is absolutely ...” So wait a minute, wait a minute, his own lawyer is now debunking the rest of the Russia-collusion narrative and yet nobody even seems to care about it because, oh well… Stormy Daniels. And so they just move on to the other thing and completely expose the fact that it has nothing to do with Russia, it is just an anti-trump narrative.
GOTTFRIED: Yeah, it’s political polarization and one side and the other side will grab hold of anything, any narrative they can use. So that you’re right. The people that hated Trump last week don’t care what Lanny Davis said on television, denying that Michael or Mickey Cohen had ever been to Prague, it doesn’t make any difference. They’ll even go back to the Russia-collusion story because they basically want to get rid of Trump.
COTTO: It’s interesting, the Russia-is evil,-the-ultimate-source-of-
pain-and-misfortune folks on the left when Barack Obama was in office they really thought Russia wasn’t a big deal at all. But all of a sudden when it’s convenient politically it’s the worst thing ever with regard to Trump. There’s no sense of consistency at all.
POSOBIEC: And actually I had the opportunity thanks to One America News they were able to send me to the Helsinki summit and I got to actually be in a room right there in the presidential palace with President Trump, President Putin sitting about ten feet away from them, not too far behind Jim Acosta actually, and throughout the entire press conference I’ve got to tell you in all honesty I was almost bored. I was almost board because it was just, to me it seemed like a very perfunctory, getting to know you, nice to meet you, here’s a soccer ball, you know, kind of thing and there wasn’t even a treaty signed, there wasn’t a declaration, there wasn’t a joint statement. Anything! There was no deliverable from the entire meeting. So I’m sitting there thinking ‘gosh, what in the heck is Jack Posobiec going to report about the press conference?’ And then I happened to walk into the next room, because all the press is together internationally, and CNN is just screaming from the top of their lungs about treason and it was this and that and everything else that came up, and I’m watching that, and I’m standing there and I’m not even watching it on TV, I’m watching it with my own two eyes and hearing it, and I can’t believe that we were in the same room. You see something that isn’t there. Scott Adams the writer and cartoonist he actually calls it The Bigfoot Hypothesis. It’s like being with someone who’s telling you that they can see Bigfoot and you just can’t see it.
GOTTFRIED: I listened to it and I have to say, although I was not in Europe at the time I was sitting in my living room, I had exactly the same impression and then I heard people screaming this is treason, and then FOXNews picked this up, probably from CNN and then violently scolded the president for making all these concessions and so forth, I didn’t see at all any evidence that he was giving away the company store in his remarks. I didn’t see evidence of much of anything, except that he said that President Putin has denied this, which is factually true. I’m sure that he denied this. And obviously Trump did not want to worsen relations with Russia at the time or use the press conference to go after Putin, which he didn’t do, and he may have been behaving quite discreetly with what he did, but I really saw no evidence of treason.
COTTO: I saw that press conference live as well from my house in my kitchen and when I sought I figured they would go after Trump because he did not go after Putin, because he was very gentlemanly with him, which I thought was a great thing and exactly what he should have done, but it’s one of those things if there isn’t a problem and if you hate someone you’ll create it for them.
GOTTFRIED: Or if you want bad relations with Russia you will create a problem.
COTTO: That too, probably both.
POSOBIEC: And there really is something to say about that, about the relations between US and Russia are sort of writ large as they’ve existed throughout the time of the two countries, that they’ve always sort of gone through this cycle and certainly since the Bolshevik Revolution of one side demonizing the other and then using that for political gains domestically. Whereas in this sense Trump is trying to end that cycle of demonization and hatred and non-discussion, and this is really just kind of taking a page out of Reagan’s book. Reagan met with Gorbachev at Reykjavík and he sat down with him ended up leaving early but, and Reagan was accosted, and the same things were said about him, that “you’re going to lead us to a nuclear war, this is a foolish play, this is never going to work, you’re trying to appease the Russians.” And what did Reagan do? He never did anything. And actually, to kind of continue in that vein it’s talked about a lot that Reagan used the threat really of his Strategic Defense Initiative, this sort of space program to shoot down Russian missiles, as a way to sort of goad the Russians into overexpending and overextending on the military front. Well, what’s Trump talking about lately? His Space Force. He’s talking about that, and he’s saying we’re going to put military assets in space, and you can’t stop us. And these treaties actually don’t say anything about conventional military force in space. They say WMDs in space. So we can do it. And I really do think that people aren’t seeing the parallel there, not just between our relations with the US and Russia, but also the US, China, and India. Who are also putting assets out into space and realizing that if American military force beats them there then again, we will have primacy of that.
This is not somethings that those countries want. This is not in their best interests, it’s in the best interests of America. And so [it’s] completely against the narrative of all of this but they refuse to see it.
COTTO: For the final question Jack, as someone who has background in military intelligence and the media, what would you encourage people to look out for when it comes to national-security oriented reporting on Russia? What should they do to [differentiate] fact from fiction more than anything else?
POSOBIEC: My gosh! Consider the source, consider the source, consider the source. That was the same when I was at Guantánamo Bay reading reports in the humid cell and the same now. It’s always consider the source, and even consider the sourcing. We talked about Michael Cohen’s trip to Prague; McClatchy put out a report just a few months I go sort of re-upping that story, but in their article they had no corroboration, they had no evidence, they said it was based on one single anonymous source. And I said, you know what, looking at something like this, I can discard it. And guess what, it’s never come back up.
COTTO: Another great discussion. Thanks for joining us Jack, and thank you for tuning in everyone. See you next week.