Book Review: Ball of Collusion, by Andrew C McCarthy (Encounter Books, 2019). Hardcover, 266 pages. US$35.99
America’s Central Intelligence Agency in concert with foreign intelligence services manufactured the myth of Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, argues Andrew McCarthy, a distinguished federal prosecutor turned public intellectual.
A contributor to Fox News and a prolific writer for The National Review and other conservative media, McCarthy well knows how to build a case and argue it before a jury. His latest book Ball of Collusion should be read carefully by everyone with an interest in American politics. It is exhaustively documented and brilliantly argued, and brings a wealth of evidence to bear on behalf of his thesis that an insular, self-perpetuating Establishment conspired to sandbag an outsider who threatened its perspectives and perquisites.
From my vantage point as an American, the constitutional issue is paramount: The American people elected Donald Trump, and it is horrifying to consider the possibility that a cabal of unelected civil servants supported by the mainstream media might nullify a presidential election. That is why I support the president unequivocally and without hesitation against his detractors.
But this sordid business has deep implications for America’s allies as well as her rivals. Trump is not a popular president overseas, except in Poland, Hungary, and Israel. In the eyes of polite opinion, McCarthy writes, “Donald Trump was anathema: a know-nothing narcissist – as uncouth as Queens – riding a populist-nationalist wave of fellow yahoos that threatened their tidy, multilateral post-World War II order.” China (and not only China) views Trump as a bully who presses American advantage at the risk of disruption to the global economy.
Donald Trump has one quality for which the rest of the world should be grateful: He really does not care how China, Russia, or any other country manages its affairs. By “America First,” he simply means that he cares about what happens in America, and is incurious about what happens outside America unless it affects his country directly. That stands in sharp contrast to view of all the wings of America’s political Establishment – progressive, “realist” and neoconservative – who believe that America should bring about the millenarian End of History by bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, by expanding NATO into a giant social-engineering project, by pressing China to transform itself into a Western-style democracy, and so forth.
McCarthy reports in persuasive detail how the spooks set up the president. There is more to be said, though, about why they did it. I will summarize McCarthy’s findings, and afterward discuss the motivation.
The FBI’s investigation of alleged Russian links to the Trump campaign required the FBI to present evidence of foreign intelligence activity to a secret court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The sole evidence the Federal Bureau of Investigation brought to bear was a concoction paid for by the Clinton campaign and assembled by a Washington consulting firm, Fusion GPS.
“The only thing resembling evidence – ie made to look like authentic intelligence reporting – was the Steele dossier.… The blanks were filled in by unverified tales from the unidentified sources of Christopher Steele, a British spy who perfectly reflected the transnational-progressive pieties of his Fusion GPS collaborators, his Obama-administration admirers, and his global network of current and former spooks.”
The Fusion GPS team already had told their tale to theObama Justice Department.
“Christopher Steele and his dossier co-author, Glenn Simpson, informed Bruce Ohr, a high-ranking Justice Department official, of their Trump-Russia allegations that summer…these conversations occurred both before and after the FBI formally opened ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ in Late July. The allegation against Trump cannot have been much of a surprise to Ohr; Not only were Steele and Simpson longtime acquaintances of his, Ohr’s wife Nellie – a Russia scholar, CIA contractor, and Hillary Clinton supporter – had been hired by Simpson as a Fusion GPS contractor. She was collaborating with Simpson and Steele on the Clinton campaign’s anti-Trump project.”
Steele and Simpson provided the only written documentation for the FISA court, but the CIA had been drawing on confidential reports from the British and other European intelligence services for months.
“In late 2015, after Trump entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination.… [Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters] began taking note of suspicious ‘interactions’ between Trump associates and ‘suspected Russian agents.’ This information was passed along to the American intelligence community as part of the allies’ regular exchange of information. Other European spy services followed suit. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Estonia and Poland were all contributors, as was Australia. In Senate Intelligence Committee testimony, Obama National Intelligence Director James Clapper later confirmed this ‘sensitive’ stream of European intelligence, originally reported by The Guardian’s Luke Harding.”
As it turned out, the case for contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians depended on unsubstantiated reports about two young, low-level campaign aides, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Trump’s detractors never got their story straight. Page surveilled under a FISA warrant because of his connection to the Trump campaign. On April 20, 2017, a team of six New York Times reporters claimed that Page, a former US Navy officer who had visited Moscow on business, “got the FBI’s attention.” The Times wrote: “From the Russia trip of the once-obscure Mr Page grew a wide-ranging investigation, now accompanied by two congressional inquiries, that has cast a shadow on the early months of the Trump administration.”
But Page disappeared from the press after the credibility of the Steele dossier collapsed, and The New York Times seven months later wrote that another junior aide, George Papadopoulos, became “the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump Administration.” McCarthy is outraged that this sort of thing was used by the FBI to obtain a warrant to surveil the Trump campaign as an espionage target. Not only that: As McCarthy explains on the strength of his direct knowledge of FISA procedure, then-president Barack Obama and his top aides had to know about this.
It is all the more outrageous after the Clinton Foundation – run by Bill Clinton while his wife Hillary was secretary of state – arranged the sale of a fifth of America’s uranium production to a Russian state company.
In short, Trump’s enemies did all the things they accused Trump of doing. They conspired with foreign countries to influence the outcome of a US presidential election. The story seems improbable and outrageous, but in McCarthy’s masterful account, it’s something that one could put before a jury in a court of law.
McCarthy believes that the spooks went after Trump to protect their cozy post-World War II order. I think the reasons go much deeper: Trump threatened to turn over the rock and expose the creepy-crawlies underneath to the harsh light of day. A strict accounting of the intelligence community’s actions over the past two decades would leave heads rolling and pensions canceled. The peasants were marching on Dr Frankenstein’s castle, and their leader had to be put down.
The great American catastrophe of the 21st century came about because America wasted its resources and depleted its moral pursuit of unattainable, utopian goals, and left a gigantic mess in its wake. Washington’s support for majority rule in Iraq destroyed the longstanding Sunni-Shiite balance of power in the region and unleashed a new Thirty Years’ War, with devastating consequences for Syria.
The Clinton-Bush vision of NATO expansion to include countries in which the United States has no strategic interest and no capacity to defend. As Professor Walter McDougall of the University of Pennsylvania wrote this year, “The nations admitted in the second round of NATO enlargement were of another order altogether. They included Balkan countries inside Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, or else heirs to Eastern Orthodox civilization, or else – in the case of the Baltic republics – had been integral and strategic parts of Russia since Peter the Great.… In 2008, Putin finally pushed back, ordering the Russian army to occupy the Georgian provinces of Ossetia and Abkhazian in support of local rebels.”
The Syrian debacle brought Russia into Syria in 2015; the American-backed jihad had turned into a Petri dish for Russian Muslims from the Caucasus, as well as Chinese Uighurs and a motley assortment of foreign militants. Russia had interests of opportunity, for example, a warm-water refueling station for its Mediterranean fleet, but the risk of blowback from the Syrian civil war was the most urgent motive for President Vladimir Putin’s intervention.
After the heavy hand of the Obama State Department was visible in the 2014 regime change in Ukraine, Putin seized the Crimea, which had been Russian territory since Catherine the Great took it from the Tartars. McCarthy quotes US Representative Devin Nunes, a Trump ally, complaining that “the biggest intelligence failure we’ve had since 9/11 has been the inability to predict the leadership plans and intentions of the Putin regime in Russia.”
That is the background to the mutiny in the US Intelligence Community against the elected commander-in-chief. McCarthy avers, “The inquiry came to include the Trump-Russia angle, thanks to the exertions of CIA Director Brennan and his counterparts in British and European intelligence services – likeminded in their transnational-progressive alarm at Trump’s NATO-bashing and overt infatuation with Putin.” This does not quite capture the state of play in 2016. Instead of a glorious march towards democracy through the transformation of NATO into a grand NGO, the US had landed in a nasty confrontation with Russia over Crimea. Instead of the dawn of Arab democracy, we had the Syrian slaughterhouse.
America’s noble – or perhaps narcissistic – intentions did more damage than Trump’s indifference. The world is better off with an America that does not choose to play Don Quixote. The problem is not that the emperor has no clothes but that the empire has no tailors. Both the left and right wings of the American foreign policy share the End of History delusion in one form or another, as they made clear with their unanimous support for the 2011 overthrow of an American ally, Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak.
This is hard to explain to people who don’t understand the depth of American narcissism.
“General Petraeus created ISIS in order to destabilize China,” a senior Chinese military official informed me over dinner in 2015. The individual in question appears, incidentally, as one of China’s masterminds of so-called unrestricted warfare in Michael Pillsbury’s now-celebrated book The Hundred Year Marathon.
“That’s ridiculous,” I replied.
“It is not ridiculous in the least,” the Chinese soldier continued in the benevolent tone in which one instructs low-aptitude recruits. “There are ISIS leaders whom we have identified and tracked who were trained by Petraeus during the ‘Surge,’” the counter-insurgency campaign that David Petraeus conducted in 2008-2009 to contain a Sunni rebellion against the majority Shiite government that the United States had helped bring to power in 2007.
I tried to explain: “This was a comedy of errors. The neoconservatives in the Bush administration believed in majority rule as a matter of dogma, so the US held elections in 2007 and the Shiite minority won. Then the Sunnis who used to run Iraq under Saddam Hussein resisted with guerrilla war and terrorist attacks. Petraeus was just a careerist looking for another star, and he told the Bush administration that he could fix the Sunni problem by paying off the Sunni tribal leaders. He handed out hundreds of millions of dollars to the Sunnis and gave them weapons and training through the ‘Sons of Iraq’ and the ‘Sunni Awakening.’ When Obama took US forces out of Iraq, a lot of the same Sunnis who took money from Petraeus faced the same Shiite state, and became non-state actors, that is ISIS. And the CIA’s support for Sunni jihadist opponents of the Assad government in Syria made matters worse, as the Defense Intelligence Agency warned in a notorious 2012 report.”
My Chinese interlocutor was not impressed. “You’re trying to tell me that the people who run the world’s great superpower are complete idiots who don’t think about the consequences of their actions? I don’t believe you.”
I told the Chinese officer to read my 2010 essay, “General Petraeus’ Thirty Years War.” And I referred him to Lieutenant-General Daniel P Bolger’s brilliant Iraq war memoir, Why We Lost, which I had reviewed when it appeared in 2014. Majority rule in Iraq, Bolger explained, meant permanent war: “The stark facts on the ground still sat there, oozing pus and bile. With Saddam gone, any voting would install a Shiite majority. The Sunni wouldn’t run Iraq again. That, at the bottom, caused the insurgency. Absent the genocide of Sunni Arabs, it would keep it going.”
Now retired, General Bolger is teaching history at the University of North Carolina, while General Petraeus remains an Establishment superstar, currently advising the private equity firm KKR. A few months ago I heard him speak to a fawning audience at the Economic Club of New York. Petraeus waxed eloquent about the great ideas of his generation: “Jack Ma … Jeff Bezos … the Surge!” The Wall Street swells cooed at the general’s self-eulogizing. I suppressed the desire to puke.
The Petraeus surge was one of the most destructive things any military leader ever undertook, but it stands as a symbol of the Establishment’s collective reputation. The Republican Establishment had hailed Petraeus as the savior of George W Bush’s failed Iraq policy, and they are sticking to their story. When Bush took office in January 2001, the United States was the world’s sole hyperpower. Russia had defaulted on its foreign debt in July 1998, and China was a small dark cloud in the geopolitical sky. US government debt was a manageable 55% of GDP, compared with more than 100% of GDP today. America had more than 17 million manufacturing workers, vs only 12 million today. It still dominated high-tech manufacturing, including computer chips and telecommunications equipment. Fast-forward to 2019: China is challenging American pre-eminence in a range of civilian and military technologies, while Russia has returned to the world stage as a major power, notably in the Middle East.
Donald Trump was obnoxious enough to declare that the emperor had no clothes. Breaking with the iron discipline of the Republican Establishment, he told voters that the United States had wasted $7 trillion, thousands of dead, and millions of lives disrupted in the disastrous nation-building campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only other Republican candidate to repudiate the “Bush Freedom Agenda” was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. That is why the 2016 Republican primary became a two-man race between Trump and Cruz. The whole of the American Establishment had signed on to a utopian crusade to impose the liberal world order on the Muslim world. After nine years of frustration in Iraq, it saw in the so-called “Arab Spring” demonstrations of 2011 a second chance to bring its agenda to fruition. The result of this was the near-collapse of Egypt and an eight-year civil war in Syria that killed half a million people and displaced 10 million refugees.
That is what makes the case of Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn so central to the mutiny against Trump. As chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012, Flynn had warned that American support for Sunni jihadists in Syria had the unintended effect of supporting the new caliphate movement, that is, ISIS. Among all the heads and former heads of the 17 agencies that make up the US intelligence community, Flynn was the only one who had objected to the disastrous covert intervention in Syria and foreseen its baleful consequences. Obama fired him, but Donald Trump hired him as a top campaign aide and then appointed him national security adviser.
McCarthy reviews evidence that is still before the courts showing that the FBI set Flynn up in a White House interview, in order to claim that the distinguished general had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russians. Flynn’s lawyers have now produced evidence that the charges against him stemmed from an FBI forgery – FBI officials appear to have altered the interview report to put his remarks in an incriminating light. I have written about the CIA’s witch-hunt against Flynn here and in other locations. Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell claims that the CIA sandbagged him to stop an audit of its operations – the first audit since its founding.
Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, the possibility should be horrifying that the world’s oldest continuous democratic constitution might be subverted by a cabal of spies with the support of the major media.