The Megyn Kelly Interview With Vladimir Putin We Deserve

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, January 27, 2018)

In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria. 

Conditioned to respond to all the threats. 

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.

-- From the song "Russians" by Sting.

In 1985, when Sting wrote “Russians,” there was still a Soviet Union. Besides that difference, today’s Russia hysteria is familiar and, as long as the Trump-Russia collusion probe continues, it is not likely to subside.

The histrionic headlines on Russia’s election meddling are numerous:

Our democracy is under threat from Trump and Russia,” cries a headline from The Hill.com.

Russia and the threat to liberal democracy,opines The Atlantic‘s Larry Diamond.

And if you want the gory details about how the Russians attacked our democracy, there is an article by Wired’s Garrett M. Graff: “A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy.”

The American media see Russian meddling and interference everywhere, often where it doesn’t exist.

When the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag exploded on Twitter earlier this month, Democratic leaders pumped up a story on the major news networks suggesting Russian twitterbots were promoting the hashtag, giving the appearance that Americans (on Twitter at least) wanted the release of the Nunes memo on FBI/Dept. of Justice malfeasance during the 2016 election.

The truth? According to Twitter, it wasn’t the Russians. It was normal, everyday Twitter users. Oh well, doesn’t matter in today’s media environment. Nobody needs to apologize. No politician loses credibility for launching a false narrative about Russian twitterbots. That’s the journalistic system we live in right now.

“So we got the story wrong. But what about that time Donald Trump lied about…….?” is now a common retort following acts of journalistic malpractice.  Move along citizens. Nothing to look at here. Trust us.

Now back to the Trump-Russia collusion story…

As the American media sautés in its own juices over the Russian threat, the American people dutifully fall in line. According the Gallup Poll, today, 70 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Russia, compared to only 29 percent at the start of the George H. W. Bush presidency.

What happened?

Well, we know the proximate reason for this rise in anti-Russia sentiment: the hacking of the 2016 presidential election, the evidence of which is still based almost solely on government leaks and classified intelligence kept outside the public domain.

Again, our government and media elites tell us in near-unanimity: “Trust us, the Russians hacked our election. How do we know? Because sources we can’t reveal told us so.”

After a year of the FBI and journalists investigating the Trump-Russia collusion story, the only known felonies linked directly to the Trump-Russia investigation are the ones committed by (presumably) U.S. government sources who are leaking classified intelligence to the media.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation has issued indictments for activities tangential to actual Trump-Russia collusion — none related to any conspiratorial act by the Trump campaign involving collusion with the Russians. That could change, but as of today, no conspiracy has been uncovered.

But, even the government and the news media have earned our skepticism, the public information that is available does paint a compelling, though incomplete, picture of what happened in the 2016 election.

The gestalt view is that the Russians mucked around our election through a combination of email hacks, social media botnets spreading ‘fake news,’ and, increasingly evident, the flooding the U.S. intelligence community’s human- and signals-based raw information reports with rumors, half-truths, and other deceptions. The Christopher Steele dossier being the most public example of these Russian efforts.

The Russians’ fusion of modern cyber tools with good old-fashioned, Cold War-perfected spycraft is impressive.

Equally impressive is Russia’s apparent long-game perspective. Russian intelligence’s interest in Donald Trump goes back three decades, according Politico and other reports. And it isn’t that Donald Trump was perceived as a ‘future U.S. president’ thirty years ago. He was just another wealthy American businessman traveling to Russia. And Russian intelligence was there to greet him and shower him with praise, prostitutes, and promises of business deals.

The Russians are known for throwing wave after wave of intelligence officers, social elites, businessmen and even prostitutes (whatever it takes) to get their hooks into a potential intelligence asset. It has less to do with sophisticated technology or spycraft and more to do with smart, long-term investing.

We will eventually learn how deep Donald Trump and his organizations are financially entangled with the Russians. It may be surprisingly little. It may be substantial. We won’t know until the Mueller investigation reveals what it has learned — and, even then, the conclusions will most likely include incomplete information and a lot of analytic hedging.

But, as we wait for Mueller, we can still piece together a fair assessment of what most likely occurred in 2016 and speculate on what Vladimir Putin would tell us if he broke out of character and came clean.

If only someday Russian president Vladimir Putin would sit down with Megyn Kelly (again) and tell the real story of the 2016 hacking of the U.S. presidential election.

It might go something like this:

Megyn Kelly: Thank you Mr. President for sitting down with me.

Vladimir Putin: (Through a translator) It is always a pleasure to talk to you Megyn.

Kelly: Let’s get right down to it, Mr. President. Did your country hack our 2016 presidential election?

Putin: Of course we did. We meddled. We hacked. But, probably not to the extent Donald Trump’s critics want to believe, nor as little as Trump’s allies suggest.

Kelly: How exactly did you meddle in our election?

Putin: Before I tell you how, you need some perspective. You must understand these facts. My country is surrounded by enemies, particularly on our western borders. All attempts therefore by the U.S. and her allies to penetrate, militarily or economically, our Soviet-era partners, is viewed by us as a hostile act. No less hostile than anything we may or may not have done during your presidential election.

Kelly: So you feel justified in attacking a U.S. election?

Putin: As justified as your country feels when it intervenes in the domestic affairs of the Ukraine or any other former Soviet partner. As justified as you felt when you helped Boris Yeltsin win the Russian presidential election in 1996.

Kelly: What the U.S. did in 1996 was out in the open.

Putin: Really? Did your country advertise that it sent California media consultants in the spring of 1996 to live in Moscow’s President Hotel and, behind a guard and locked doors, run Yeltsin’s media campaign? If it did, it did so after the election.

Kelly: The U.S. had a compelling national interest in Russia becoming a stable democracy.

Putin: Do you want to talk about national interest? Russia has an economy the size of Italy’s but with twice the population. An economy built largely around gas and oil exports, along with a first-world defense technology industry. The U.S. spends eight times as much on defense as we do. So we must do more with less when defending ourselves. We must also stay focused on the long-term, instead of wasting too much money and effort on short-term threats. America can afford overkill. We can’t.

Kelly: Cyber attacks are a relatively low-cost weapon, yes?

Putin: Cyber warfare is but one tool and useless without a long-term perspective and strategy. And if you don’t understand your enemy, even that won’t be enough. That is why we have studied your country’s greatest defensive genius and have used this learning in our long-term strategic planning.

Kelly: You studied Patton? Sherman? Marshall? Ridgeway?

Putin: No. Belichick.

Kelly: The Patriots’ coach?

Putin: Yes. And this is what we learned from him: You don’t need the most money or the best talent to win. Instead, first and foremost, you have to get into the head of your opponent. It is the ultimate force multiplier.

Kelly: A force multiplier?

Putin: The Patriots put 11 men on defense, just like everyone else; but when the Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has to make ONE decent offensive call from the two-yard line to win the Super Bowl, he’s calls a goddamn pass play?!

Kelly: It was the one-yard line.

Putin: That reinforces my point. You could see in Carroll’s eyes that Belichick was dancing on his cerebral cortex. Suddenly, Carroll thinks he has to out-think the thinker and thinks up the biggest mistake of his coaching career. An offensive call a 11-year-old, on simple instinct, would have gotten correct — go beast mode and send Marshawn Lynch straight off left tackle. How goddamn hard was that? But Belichick was in Carroll’s head. He was fighting more than 11 defenders at that point.

Kelly: So the paranoia many Americans feel about Russia is, in part, just in our heads?

Putin: Before I answer that, let me finish my football example. More recently, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the ball in Patriot territory, up 14 – 3, with less three minutes to go in the second half. After a timeout, the Jaguars can’t get a play off in time and, instead of first-in-ten inside the 30-yard line, they have a third-and-long. They end up punting and the Patriots score a touchdown to end the half. Score 14-10. What could have easily been a 17-3 score at half was now a close game. Why? Because the Jaguars were over-thinking during the timeout. Belichick, again, was in the head of the opposing coach. Jaguars lose and Patriots go to the Super Bowl.

Kelly: That’s football, not nation-state politics.

Putin: Perhaps, but think back to the 2016 election. Rumors of our involvement in the hacking of the DNC and Podesta emails were presented as indisputable fact by your media. Whatever their sources, strong inferences were being made. Not just ‘what ifs’ or ‘maybes.’ The U.S. media had concluded by October that we stole the emails and flooded your social media with ‘fake news,’ amplified by our botnets. The facts didn’t matter; the interpretation through the media is what mattered.

Kelly: So your hacking was more about disruption than any deliberate attempt to change people’s votes?

Putin: If we thought we could dictate your election outcome, Bernie Sanders would be president right now. We focus, instead, on what we know — on what we do well — spreading misinformation and chaos. Your own investigations found that 90 percent of the Facebook ads attributed to us were “issue” ads that didn’t endorse either candidate.  We were provocateurs trying to sow social discord, not choose your president.

Kelly: But some have claimed you employed very sophisticated market targeting methods with your Facebook ads and Twitter posts. Did you, in fact, target ‘battleground states’ with these Facebook ads and tweets?

Putin: You give us too much credit. Your own Senate Intelligence Committee said five times as many of our ads were sent to Facebook users in Maryland than in Wisconsin. If we were targeting battleground states, clearly we weren’t very good at it. Furthermore, according to Facebook itself, half the ad buys attributed to us weren’t even seen until AFTER the election.

Kelly: And your country was also implicated in the use of Twitter bots, correct?

Putin: Again, your own country’s analysis attributed about 202,000 tweets to our Twitter bot army between 2011 and August 2017. Is that a lot? Well, Twitter calculated that 1 billion election-related tweets occurred between August 2015 until Election Day. That means the tweets attributed to Russia accounted for 0.02 percent of all election tweets.

Kelly:  But if well-targeted, these tweets could change votes, yes?

Putin: If your election outcome was determined by 0.02 percent of all tweets, your country has bigger problems than Russian election meddling.

Kelly: Then why do it?

Putin: Because the Russia election hacking myth is more powerful than the reality. As long as you think we affected the election outcome, we win.

Kelly: But your cyber agents did steal the DNC and Podesta emails?

Putin: Of course. That was easy. And don’t think those are the only emails we have stolen. Our intelligence operatives steal emails all the time. As your GEICO commercial might say, that’s what we do.

Kelly: Those emails blunted any momentum Hillary Clinton tried to develop. A reasonable person could conclude that alone may have affected the vote.

Putin:  Pure speculation. To us, it simply doesn’t matter. The goal was disruption and having Americans, and the world, question the legitimacy of that election.

Kelly: Disruption is fine, but you still wanted Donald Trump elected, right?

Putin: That was our best case scenario. But we never thought that was actually possible. We just wanted to introduce chaos into the American election. To make the Americans see Russian influence even when it wasn’t there. To make Americans question the security and validity of their own election. To draw into question the entire concept of liberal democracies.

Kelly: Lets put aside the election meddling issue. Do you have kompromat on Donald Trump that you could use for blackmail?

Putin: It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that you think we do.

Kelly: But since you are clearly happier with Trump as president and not Hillary Clinton, I have to believe you have something compromising on Donald Trump?

Putin: As your intelligence services know well, we play all sides. You don’t think the Clintons have financial ties to us? As your Republican Party tries to push the Uranium One story, we sit back and laugh. We just wanted the very profitable Kazakhstan uranium mines. It is your toxic partisan environment that turned that story into more than it really is. As long we insert ourselves into the mix, your partisan politics does the rest of the work. We are the boogeyman, and as every kids knows, the boogeyman is everywhere.

Kelly: How can we protect against future Russian operations against U.S. elections?

Putin: You can’t. At least not in the way you think. As long as the internet exists and as long as we have a pipeline into every American home, we will be there. If you think the U.S. government working with Facebook or Twitter to censor internet content is the answer, you are doing our work for us. We couldn’t be happier that you think Facebook and Twitter can be trusted to censor the internet. When you lose freedoms, we gain power. All autocrats gain power when open societies start to trim their freedoms.

Kelly: You are saying we should do nothing?

Putin: We don’t care what you do. The Europeans have faced the same election-time attacks as the U.S., but somehow they have resisted turning those attacks into anti-Russia propaganda. Instead, they treat their voters like adults and expect them to educate themselves about Russian interference. Education is the best defense against Russian election hacking. Training people to distinguish good information from bad. To filter the noise on their own instead of relying on government bureaucrats and internet companies to do it for them.

Kelly: Education? That is not exactly a sexy idea that U.S. politicians can get behind.

Putin: No, it’s not. That’s why Americans will always be vulnerable to us, or anyone else with an internet connection. Rachel Maddow gins up the Russian scare, but the Chinese, the Saudis, the Iranians, the French, the North Koreans, and the U.S., of course, are all in the same game. And then there’s the Israelis. We’re even in awe of what they’ve done. But, at the end of the day, we’re all doing basically the same thing, some better than others, of course.

Kelly:  Are you saying, American elections will always be subject to external influences — meddling, if you will — and attempts to censor bad actor-sourced information will actually do more harm than good?

Putin: It’s like that whack-a-mole game you play at carnivals. Close down our twitter bots? We’ll find something else to do. Stop our Facebook ad buys? We will find other ways to get our messages out there. If an American voters wants to get their news from RT.com and tweet it out to their friends, how can you stop them and still call yourself a free country?

Kelly: In general, we believe the marketplace of ideas will sort out the falsehoods from the truth. But when we know there are bad actors out there, we owe it to our people to identify them and stop them.

Putin: Fine. And if you censor a few legitimate actors as well, what is a little loss of freedom in the big picture? I guess we will find out if your country really does believe in freedom of speech. Good luck.

Kelly: Mr. President, I thank you for your candor and your time.

Putin: My pleasure Megyn. Do svidaniya!

K.R.K.

{Send comments to: kkroeger@nuqum.com}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

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