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Down the Rabbit Hole. Notes on Marcy Wheeler and Emptywheel.

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

— Thomas Pynchon

— Gravity’s Rainbow

“…he made the many lies similar to the truth.”

— Homer

— The Illiad


Marcy Wheeler has a blog. It’s called Emptywheel. That’s a nice Buddhist concept. Wheeler has advanced training in close textual analysis – specifically, in literature. That gives her an enormous advantage over most people, especially profesional spooks who tend not to be that good at close textual analysis, and consistently miss the forest for the trees. On the other hand – and this is crucial for the spooks and Wheeler – they operate on a more or less level playing field, in which all the major players have roughly the same abilities, follow the same protocols, and use the same methods of analysis. The result of that is that while the world of intelligence is, as a famous spook said quoting a famous poet, a wilderness of mirrors, everyone pretty much has the same set of mirrors. Add in the brute blunt fact of server farms the size of cities, and then missing the forest for the trees is not necessarily as fatal as it might otherwise be. On the other hand, missing the forest for the trees can lead you into things like Vietnamese dead ends, or hiring Osama bin Laden.

All of which brings us to Wheeler.

She’s been in the news lately because she admitted to going to the Hoovers to tell them that a source she’s used, that she says, posses a threat to innocent people, American national security and who is apparently a creep, with inside dirt on many things Trumpian and all without being (apparently) inside the Trump machine, and needs to be dealt with.

Before getting to the issue and questions surrounding Wheeler and “Guccifer 2.0” it’s crucial to take a look at Wheeler’s rather pedestrian analysis of the notorious Steele Dossier – aka – the pee dossier.

Christopher Steele – the man with the name from central casting – is a former British MI6 agent, now in what is politely called, the private sphere. He still does intelligence work but it’s for a company called Fusion. His area of expertise is Russia but having been exposed/burned, he was pulled from Russia and eventually left government service. Now, when doing business in Russia he uses intermediaries because if he went to Russia the local thugs, cops, spooks and so on, would be all over him like white on a polar bear.

Luckily for Steele and Fusion the world is full of former spooks – after all, just ask Harvey Weinstein who was up to his greasy gills in “ex” Mossad thugs. And keep in mind, the line between former and current, private and state assets is wafer thin.

As Wheeler notes, the Russians don’t believe in “former” and view all spooks as being attached one way or another to their former mothership.

A point to which we shall return.

But as to Steele, and the dossier which contains and alleges any number of compromising details about Trump, Wheeler has concluded that it not only is essentially bunk, but that it is Russian manufactured bunk.

That is, the Russians with their Dr. No or Blofeld super abilities saw Steele coming before they rolled out of bed and had breakfast, and started a campaign to fill his work with disinformation and sprinkles of genuine dirt, all in order to play traditional Russian chaos among the oh so gullible and soft Westerners.

Wheeler supports this with a curious timeline of events, and more importantly, a series of nice quotes from former spooks who all line up neatly to support some basic assumptions.

First, per the spooks, the Russians are brilliant at disinformation.

Second, they’ve been doing it for a long time and have it down to the level of both art and a kind of template, that just rolls off an assembly line.

Third, since the Russians don’t believe in the idea of former spooks, Steele and by extension all former spooks, are treated as still being on the state payroll, they are all over such people and therefore cannot be surprised.

In other words, it’s Boris and Natasha and take me to your fearless leader.

Wheeler is here, repeating some of the hoaryiest clichés in the playbook.

The Russians are no better, and no worse at disinformation than any of the other major player – CIA, MI6, MOSSAD, etc.

And let’s be clear, what exactly is mass advertising if not a vast disinformation campaign? After all, convincing millions of people that cigarettes were good for you is one of the great disinformation campaigns of all time, and RJ Reynolds was not based in Moscow. And to come close to overkill and stating the obvious, Don Draper wasn’t Russian. And neither was Ronald Reagan and millions of people bought that pig in a poke.

Why do we point this out? Because the media is a monopoly structure and even if one factors in the thousands of independent blogs and Twitters, the fact is all the data is both aggregated by the same set of pipes and secondly, uses the same data sets. Therefore, tapping the pipe is not complicated, and since all the data flows upstream to a small group of homogenous corporate platforms, that spew out roughly the same talking points, it takes little to no effort to tweak the stream and fill it with bogus details.

In other words, CNN is not so very different from MSNBC, and the New York Times is not so very different from The Washington Post and The Young Turks are not that different from The Majority Report. Consider that when you tune in, you will notice that they all cover essentially the same talking points. One group is corporate and the other isn’t but it’s still the same echo chamber.

This brings us to the idea that the Russians manipulated voters by flooding the zone with fake news.

No doubt, they did both.

What has been conveniently forgotten by the media is that prior to the advent of the internet era, the goons on K Street and Madison Avenue were all too willing and able to do exactly the same thing.

Willie Horton, anyone?

A darker than genuine OJ on the cover of Time?

Hell we can even remember a dreary TV sci Fi mini series from the 1980s, in which a Soviet agent is planted in any town USA and while working as a DJ turns a party into a chaos fest resulting in violence.

Oh those dastardly Ruskies.

Which is not to say the Russians are innocent.

They’re not.

But they’re not Ming the Merciless or Sauron either.*

History is littered with Russian espionage success stories. The Cambridge Spy Ring and James the rules don’t apply to me Angleton’s mole hunt are important for legitimate reasons.

But anyone who thinks the Russians are geniuses who stand head and shoulder, cloak and dagger above everyone else, needs to remember one thing:


Putting aside the very important issue of blowback – as in you knock down the wall and end up with Putin – the fact remains that the Soviet Union not only scored on its own goal, it burned down the stadium.

As a result, Wheeler’s tone comes across as a bit pedantic and in the manner of a forest for the trees autodidact in the world of intelligence.

For example, she speaks earnestly about how the Russians would have been all over Steele.

And she’s not wrong but her view and her certainty, rest on a strange assumption – the Russians she says, were aware of Steele and thus able to compromise his sources. Which is essentially, a tautological narrative.

But she does not – so far as we can see – offer up the idea that Steele, as an experienced agent, would have known that and acted accordingly. What she does offer is that Steele and Fusion hired subcontractors in Russia but, foolish naifs of the West, they didn’t count of Russian perfidy, experience and voodoo.

Her Steele is a bit of a fool – a cliché of the wide eyed Westerner who is manipulated by the crafty wiley foreigners.

This is a retread of Alden Pyle aka, Graham Greene’s Quiet American. Except, Wheeler is not a literary genius, and Greene was writing about an American type from over fifty year ago, when the world was full of people who could tell first hand stories about the Kaiser and the Czar. Pyle’s naivete is of a type that though still around, is not as dominant as it used to be. And the myth that the Europeans and the Russians have some innate wisdom by definition alien to America, is just hokum. One need only consult a Le Carre novel or Monty Python, to know that stupidity and arrogance and bureaucratic sloth, do not recognize borders and are certainly not an American monopoly.

In Wheeler’s narrative, the whole dossier story is a Russian ploy full of bogus dirt mixed with genuine dirt, and all designed to sow confusion and draw out sources, and then create a disinformation echo chamber, in which no one knows up from down, left from right, good guy from bad. How this is distinct from the reality distortion field of day to day existence, she does not say.

What’s far more important is that, in her oh so MLA conference tone, Wheeler has walked right up to the front door of a bigger issue and missed it. Namely that ultimately, Russian schemes breakdown at the border of perception and become indistinguishable from the schemes of everyone else.

Consider this piece of pop culture affluvium: A hardboiled Miami vice detective and his partner are on the trail of a norotirus drug kingpin. They chase him all the way up the foodchain until they confront his patron – the death head CEO of a major bank.

Said CEO, explains to the jaded detective that he knows all about him – knows how much or how little as the case may be – he has in the bank; knows where he lives and so on.

But then comes the coup de gras.

The CEO explains that of course the bank is laundering drug money. Do you, he sneers, really think that Columbia is going to ever pay back its IMF loans of 60 billion dollars by selling trinkets to tourists. Of course not. But cocaine – well, a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

He ends by saying: If we sneeze, the world catches the flu.

In other words, a Russian disinformation campaign goes viral because it is designed to go viral, but in doing so it becomes “news” and if it is designated as “fake news” it becomes a different type of news but is still the space inbetween the commercials, and as such it does not matter if it is real or not real. What matters in the words of noted intelligence guru, George Costanza – why are you watching it? Because it’s on television.

Contrast this with a comment by retired spook Richard Clarke who, when asked if he thought Trump was being controlled or manipulated by Putin said – if he weren’t would you be able to tell the difference?

In other words, if he’s being controlled by Putin he would act as he has, and if he’s not his actions are exactly like a man who was being blackmailed by the Russians.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Heads I win, tails, you lose.

Which we hasten to add doesn’t rule out the possibility that he is also being blackmailed by any number of other people.

Exactly where is it written that Trump’s shady, sketchy as fuck New York real estate goon from Queens persona, can only be susceptible to blackmail by Russians?

Hello Sheldon Adelson – tell me just how clean are things in Las Vegas?

Are the Chinese blackmailing him?

The Saudis?

The Yakuza?

Are the Israelis blackmailing Trump?

For decades, a hot rumor among spooks has been that part of Angleton’s bizzaro behavior, was down to his being blackmailed by the Israelis or the Soviets or both.

And then there’s the mafia.

Does anyone really believe that Jack Kennedy was the only pol with ties to organized crime?

Exactly how does anyone do business in the US, at the upper reaches of the food chain, without crossing paths with gangsters and people who work for gangsters, even if it’s tangentally?

Answer – they don’t.

Deregulation – the mantra of the freak bitch republicans, breeds corruption like a petri dish of financial plague.

The less regulation you have, the more informal regulation you create in the form of bribes and kickbacks and black market bartering.

Do it long enough and you end up with – Putin Incorporated.

Or, Trump Incorporated.

Because Trump did not arrive from another planet, though you could be forgiven for believing Queens is another dimension.

God knows New Yorkers do, and they live there or right next door.

Here’s Wheeler setting her table:

“Since we’re going to be obsessing about the dossier for the next while again, I want to return to a question I’ve repeatedly raised: the possibility that some or even much of the Christopher Steele dossier could be the product of Russian disinformation. Certainly, at least by the time Fusion and Steele were pitching the dossier to the press in September 2016, the Russians might have gotten wind of the project and started to feed Steele’s sources disinformation. But there’s at least some reason to believe it could have happened much sooner.”

Okay, let’s consider the possibility that the Russians, like Carl Reiner in Clooney’s Ocean’s remake, saw Steele coming before he even got out of bed.

Nowhere in her analysis does Wheeler offer up the possibility that Steele knew that, and acted accordingly. More interestingly is this scenario:

Posit that the Russians saw Steele in advance or soon enough, and targeted him for disinformation.

Then consider that Wheeler quotes former spooks as saying, the Russians have a well earned reputation for being very good at this sort of campaign.

Therefore, sending Steele as bait suddenly becomes a possibility in which he is used to shake the rat line and see who bites. In other word, since the CIA and MI6 have been dancing with the Russians for forever and a day, and that they might reasonably be concerned about Trump, and they know the Russians know Fusion and Steele, how far fetched would it be for them to use Steele as their bait to see what data the Russians sent back along the line?*

Welcome to the rabbit hole, watch your step as it’s a long, long, long, way to the bottom, or the light of day.

In other words, once you start with things being set up, the number of Potemkin Village Idiots grows exponentially.

Or, by indirection find direction out.

A play, inside a play, which while annoyingly postmodern, is in fact the sine qua non of intelligence work.

And Wheeler starts to sound like an ardent amature.

Consider the very next paragraph from Wheeler (her emphasis):


A number of spooks had advanced this idea in brief comments in the past. Today, former CIA officer Daniel Hoffman makes the arguement at more length at WSJ.

There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and America’s political process. This is what seems most likely to me, having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the CIA, observing Soviet and then Russian intelligence operations. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.”

Well, no reason for a “former” CIA spook to either play Wheeler or promote his own agenda or both.

But let’s take it as read.

Everything former CIA officer Hoffman says could be true. But notice that it’s presented as a kind of Maginot Line, static reality. The Russians do x, and have been doing x for y number of years, and under Putin, they continue to do x.

This is the cliche of the wiley, furtive Russian as both savant and fool, who is rigid but brilliant.

But then, wouldn’t someone, say a very large, well endowed hyper aggressive intelligence agency, have done something to counter that?

There is no getting around it – Wheeler sounds like a professional rube in the grand tradition of American reporters, who get off on believing that they have the inside track on what the Spooks are doing.

Mulder, it’s me.

Yeah but, the spooks don’t look like Gillian Anderson – and more’s the pity – but while the Russians may have played Steele the idea that Steele and his bosses and their client(s) and their friends, wouldn’t have thought of that doesn’t pass the giggle test, or the tiny microphone in the olive in your martini.

And while the dossier may very well be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, who is to say that it wasn’t itself part of an American or British counter disinformation campaign, designed to thwart, confound, manipulate and generally just fuck with the Russians?

And then notice the extent to which the media – always useful for a good laugh – has not bothered to deconstruct Wheeler’s analysis and instead treats her like some sort of intelligence savant.

And also consider that no one from the “intelligence community” has bothered to point out the obvious flaw in Wheeler’s analysis?


We assume because they don’t think she’s worth it and because it’ more useful to let her spray the stage with bunk, junk and spunk.

Wheeler then adds more:

 “The pattern of such Russian operations is to sprinkle false information, designed to degrade the enemy’s social and political infrastructure, among true statements that enhance the veracity of the overall report. In 2009 the FSB wanted to soil the reputation of a U.S. diplomat responsible for reporting on human rights. So it fabricated a video, in part using real surveillance footage of the diplomat, that purported to show him with a prostitute in Moscow.

Similarly, some of the information in the Steele dossier is true. Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, did travel to Moscow in the summer of 2016. But he insists that the secret meetings the dossier alleges never happened. This is exactly what you’d expect if the Kremlin followed its usual playbook: accurate basic facts provided as bait to convince Americans that the fake info is real.”

Okay, the Russians aim to degrade their enemies’ social and political infrastructure.

Okay, that’s logical.

Except, what would America’s social and political infrastructure look like if the Russians didn’t do a damn thing?

Is Springsteen a sign of a healthy social and political infrastructure?*

Murder Incorporated, a death trap, a suicide rap, Darkness On the Edge of Town, The River?

Really? A sign of a healthy society?

How about, To Pimp a Butterfly?

How about the deadening mysogony of so much of Hollywood? Rap? Video games? Is Harvey Weinstein a sign of a society in rude health, or just a rude society?

What do we say about the seemingly endless parade of mass shootings?

How about banking scandals?

Sex scandals?

Preachers in private jets asking poor believers for money?

Poison water in Michigan?

Heck of a job Bronwie and New Orleans turning into a submarine?

How about a look at the trajectory of American literature from Hemingway’s wounded alienated survivors to Gatsby, to Eliot’s Prufrock, to the brutalities of Southern Gothic or Ray Chandler and Hammett? What does Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas tell us about ourselves? What about Death of a Salesman?

Who the fuck needs the Russians?

Do those stories have a shelf life?

Well then what do we say about DeLillo and Pynchon?

Not one of those facts of our culture has anything to do with the Russians, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of everything from Teapot Dome to Nixon, to the president getting railroaded in a shabby attempted coup because he was reckless enough to get blown in the Oval Office.

Consider the history of the Hoovers, from the glory days of COINTELPRO to the second sloppy coming of the Patriot Act.

Were we to list the pratfalls of the CIA and its impact on the social fabric of America, we would have to buy our own server farm and chain our hands to the keyboard. After all, while MK Ultra and Tuskegee and the radiation experiments may have been “inspired” by the Russians or a paranoid fear of the Chinese, the fact remains they were all directed inward at Americans, and the Russians and the Chinese did not run them.

What we have here is that Wheeler may be right but if she is, she’s right for all the wrong reasons, and there is so much other data to consider that she is almost certainly not right.

So bye bye Miss American pie, but these things are not just more complicated than are imagined in your telling but they are in fact so Pynchonian, so Nabokovian, so completely Postmodern, that any attempt to render a through line of cause and effect is doomed to fail.

Including, this one.

Consider how that paragraph ends:

“This is exactly what you’d expect if the Kremlin followed its usual playbook: accurate basic fact provided as bait to convince American that the fake info is real.”

Let’s deconstruct that sentence.

If it’s what you expect, then you must expect the spooks to turn their counter-intelligence machine loose to defeat it or neutralize it or take advantage of it.

And such actions are hardly confined to the Russians. In WW2 the US code breakers confirmed that they had tricked the Japanese by inserting key words into their transmissions. When the Japanese repeated the key words the US knew they had broken the Japanese code; knew the target was Midway, and, thanks to their intelligence, their courage, the tricks of fate and chance, and a host of other factors, the Japanese fleet was wrecked and the war was turned from a near catastrophe to a slow but all but certain grind to victory.

Or consider the apocryphal Coventry story. Churchill is told that his codebreakers have advanced warning of a massive German attack planned for the city of Coventry. Tens of thousands of live are at stake. Evacuate the city he saves those lives, but reveals he has broken the German code which then results in the potential loss of millions and perhaps the war.

The story need not be true to be illustrative of any number of things including the paucity of Wheeler’s imagination, her analytical skills, and the trickster in history.

Wheeler then offers that other experts believe the dossier, however flawed, still points to the conclusion. But then she pivots:

“The Russians are the best in the world at this disinformation and deception. I don’t think, based on what we saw in the June, the first of his reports, that the Russians would have controlled all of those sources and controlled that whole narrative. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And if in fact they did control the information that was given to Mr. Steele at that time, you have to wonder what was the point. If they were trying to send a message that they had compromising information on Mr. Trump, that might be that they wanted Mr. Trump to know what they had so he would act accordingly. In terms of using kompromat you don’t have to go to the person and make the quid pro quo, you just have to let them know that you have the information and they’ll do the right thing. So, I do agree, as time went by, and as she mentioned, for example, that what GPS Fusion information had in the connections they had there’s, it’s certainly possible that the Russians could have come across some of these sources and provided disinformation especially as time went by. I don’t think that that’s out of the realm of possibility.”

A hallmark of bad intelligence, and of a systemic rot is the use and repetition of received wisdom.

The Russians are the best.


Define best?

And how do you know?

What’s the criteria?

Normally at this point someone brings up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a piece of Czarist postmodernism that has bedeviled people for a century.

What they leave out of course is that the document, though fake, was a workable seed because the soil was already ripe. In other words there already existed a social structure built on lies and distortions and so the Russian disinformation campaign, of the Czarist spooks, was after the fact of the disinformation campaigns of the Vatican, the ruling class and a millennia of other disinformation campaigns, going all the way back to the original disinformation campaign that said the genial nut job from Galilee was, going to stage a coup and had to be stopped.

So much for the Russians being the best.

What really matters here is the extent to which people are willing to surrender control of the narrative, and allow others to define what is and is not data, and from that allow others to work the alchemical voodoo that changes the data to information and the information into a fact.

This is followed by Wheeler using the quote to hedge her bets. Maybe the Russians were involved and maybe Steele was played, but some of the info was probably genuine and then you ask why?

Anwer, per Wheeler: to subtly tap Trump and let him know he was deep in the shit.

As if Trump didn’t know that already.

Exactly what does anyone think he used to talk to eminence grise Roy Cohn about? Sure they talked about all the bitches of both sexes they were going to skull fuck, but Roy was a slithering god king of the world of sleaze and sadistic gutter warfare.

They say – in the better biographies and histories – that when he was Attorney General, RFK used to jump up and down while talking in his office and the elevator, because the vibrations disrupted the bugs Hoover had planted.

When during the Watergate hearings they said they were shocked; shocked to discover the president had bugs in the White House exactly who were they bullshitting? They all knew that if it wasn’t Nixon’s bugs, it would be Hoovers or the CIA or the foreign spooks.

Does anyone believe Sam Ervin was surprised?

Because the truth is the last time that old man was surprised was the day he was born and he looked around the delivery room and said: This ain’t the damn courthouse! Someone git me a good driver and a fast car. I got Bidness to take care of.

What’s missing from Wheeler’s deconstruction is not just a historical context, which is certainly reason enough to be skeptical of her thesis, but a psychological profile of Trump.

While it’s clear that Trump cannot admit he is responsible for anything, or that he is wrong about anything, another factor in the hysterical personality is the uncontrollable compulsion to get caught as a means to get attention.

Take note of Trump’s recent scrum with reporters where he said: “I never do anything wrong.”

Dismiss this as the typical bluster of a raging narcissist – which it is – but it is also clearly the OCD mantra of a man who feels that everything he does is wrong.

Hence the obsession with “filth” followed by a ritual of cleaning and the need to get caught.

Trump’s trajectory is towards being hauled away in devastating shame.

And even if one were to assume that this portrait is wrong or unprovable, the fact remains that like Gatsby’s more stupid cousin, Trump knows his past can’t be outrun; he knows where the bodies are buried and Wheeler’s exclusionary focus on the Russians subtly letting him know that they know, excludes what surely must be a long list of others ranging from the spooks at Langley, the Hoovers, the NSA, the  NYPD, the army of private investigators, lawyers, contractors, Mafioso, and other billionaires with their own private armies of ex spooks and contacts in the world of pols and professional spooks – and the reporters who are old New York hands and have been covering Trump for decades and have spent many an evening talking to confidential sources with dirt to sell and scores to settle. Begin to consider it and the list gets awfully long.

What we have here is that Wheeler while having a background in literary studies, lacks the skill of a writer.

She does not seem to be able to see how the pieces fit together, or how the board on which they sit rolls.

Once you begin to think about the number of people with whom Trump has interacted you, end up with an encyclopedia of potential enemies.

This is a kind of Murder on the Orient Express situation, as reimagined by Ray Chandler or Pynchon.

While it is highly likely that Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians, the idea that you’re not looking at a cubist painting in which the borders are provisional and not certain, doesn’t fly, and more importantly, and as result of that, the number of people potentially blackmailing Trump rises to the far horizon.

And that implicates the entire system.

The issue is not Russian expertise, or ability, (who’s better or who’s half as good) but that Trump is a symptom of an entire rotten machine that is coughing up blood from its infected organs.

In other words, who isn’t blackmailing the malignant troll?

And following from that, it doesn’t matter if the Russians fed Steele bogus dirt mixed with genuine dirt.

It’s all relevant because you can’t swing a moldy Trump steak without hitting someone who’s dirty and out to cash in on Trump incorporated.

And here, a word about Guccifer 2.0

Wheeler has apparently relayed information on Guccifer’s identity to the Hoovers.

But let’s consider some of the known details or rather, the details Wheeler has admitted.

Per Wheeler, Guccifer is not inside the Trump machine but had access to inside information including details about Michael Flynn and his contacts with both the Russians, the Syrians and the Israelis.

Let’s reverse engineer that:

If she’s right, then Guccifer is unlikely to be a Russian agent, or an agent of the US or any other of the state actors.

A key piece of the story is that Wheeler has said that Guccifer apparently tried to hack her computer in an effort to, among other things, enable him/her to post on Emptywheel as “Wheeler.”

More shades of Russian trickery but revealing because, Russian and American and Israeli state actors would be able to hack Wheeler with relative ease; and would be able to do it without her knowing it.

Wheeler also has connected Guccifer to people she describes as dangerous and potentially lethal.

The media instantly associates that with Russian thugs, but while that’s plausible one would be foolish to rule out local thugs or thugs that are foreign but not Russian.

But it also suggests something freelance about Guccifer.

If Guccifer is a Russian tool/asset then he/she would be aware that freelancing (or as the spooks say – wandering off the reservation) would be as dangerous as kissing a scorpion.

And then we must ask, why bother to fuck with soneone as relatively unimportant as Wheeler? And that’s not a knock against Wheeler but, in the scheme of things, in the world of spooks, she’s third guard on the left saying: Lord Fortinbras approaches.

The answer we think, is that Guccifer is one of an army of freelance computer geeks hired by a series of shell companies that all ultimately both knowingly and not, trace their patronage back to the spooks – except that the spooks are not just state intelligence agents, and are also, assorted corporations and Wall Street actors, and as a result we go full circle back to Trump Incorporated – a wholly owned subsidiary of America Incorporated.

Guccifer, if Wheeler is to be believed, sounds like a group of geeks who answered adds and went to work for shadowy companies spreading “fake news” via social media. But these people are like the ones crunching numbers for Cambridge Analytica – that is, a cadre in a generic office with red bull straight to the veins, relatively good pay, lots of sugar heavy junk food, and men who report to men, who know men you don’t want to know.

But that’s not a Russian monopoly. There are front companies everywhere.

It’s the modern economic thunderdome and where one player ends and another begins is a question of where you choose to stop asking questions.

Which is not to say Trump isn’t being played by the Russians.

By way of comparison and as an attempt at context, we offer the following.

Years ago a group of personal injury lawyers in California realized they could make more money by having doctors fabricate insurance claims about injuries.

The lawyers split the insurance payments with the doctors.

To sell the scam the doctors started to hire homeless people, who they paid a hundred bucks to come into their offices and sign their names to the bogus claims.

This went on for a while and then the local Bulgarian mafia (no, really) in Los Angeles found out and told the doctors and lawyers, that for a cut they would steal cars, mangle them, take pictures and help sell the bogus claims.

This expanded the scam exponentially, and soon a lot of people were involved and making a lot of money.

The insurance company got supiscious and started an investigation.

An interesting side note is that among the private investigators they hired were several who began to pad their hours to bilk the insurance company out of money. In other words, they wrote fake reports mixed with real reports to run a scam within the scam.

The insurance company eventually collected enough dirt to bring a lawsuit.

They sued the lawyers and doctors. The case was so massive it involved at various times upwards of 1,000 lawyers. They in turn hired support staff numbering in the thousands.

An interesting factor in all of this, is that the insurance company that brought the lawsuit, was a subsidiary of another insurance company which provided lawyers to the doctor and lawyers.

In other words, insurance company A was suing people who were represented by insurance company B, which was the parent company of A.

Welcome to the contemporary world.

Do you really believe Columbia is going to pay off its debt by selling trinkets or cocaine?

What moves Gatsby and Fitzgerald from very good to the rarefied air of seminal genius, is that in the end, the provincial is shown to exist inside the universal. Gatsby’s tragedy while personal is our tragedy because his broken dream is the broken dream of America.

The big houses on the shore were silent and dark, and the dream of the new world had faded to an echo, as it had long ago moved on from crashing upon the coast and what remained was a memory.

Everyone is guilty. Everything is tainted.

To borrow another literary idea, you can always tell when a Shakespeare tragedy is finished because the stage is littered with corpses.

Who is Trump?

Trump is New York.

What is New York if not the capital of the empire.

Trump is captain real estate, and the banking and predatory loans which are themselves the stock market, which is the government and the mob and lawyers, and the media, the courts, the cops, city hall and the governor’s mansion right out of All the King’s Men, and the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires.

Trump is the mob, both the mafia and the ginned up atavistic base of fascists and the Klan and they in turn are part of the heartbeat of America.

Of coure the dossier is genuine. Of course it’s fake. Of course it is both because Trump is both.

Welcome to the funhouse.

Step right this way.


See Wheeler on Steele, here:

*Regarding Springsteen, or any work of art that speaks to social decay, we are in mind of Walter Benjamin’s idea that, there is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism. Thus, Springsteen is both symptom of the disease and antibody. And let’s be clear: The man’s body of work is brilliant, consistent and paints a portrait of America as a waste land of post industrial existential hell. Or as Jon Stewart put it: When you listen to Springsteen you’re not a loser. You’re a character in an epic poem…about losers.

Addendum: There is another aspect to this that neither Wheeler nor any of the rest of the media has considered. While there has been a great deal of focus on Stormy Daniels and other women, and now focus on Michael Cohen’s apparent recording of his and Trump’s plan to pay yet another woman hush money, the world of such arrangements has gone unexamined.

What we mean is this: While every woman who poses for Playboy or is a stripper, or works in adult entertainment is not by definition, a prostitute, the fact is that those industries attract a lot of prostitutes and more importantly, what are the odds that a pig like Trump would bother with women who weren’t for sale?

Obviously all of the women involved were willing to take payments for services rendered and/or to keep quiet about services rendered.

But then we must pull our critical lens back even further. Consider Karen McDougall who features in the recent Cohen recording. She and Trump met at a bungalow at a posh hotel. Per McDougall it was Trump’s regular spot.

All well and good and almost banal. Except it puts us in mind of a series of stories that reflect the niche industries of Los Angeles. We are thinking of L.A. Confidential, The Big Sleep, and James Elroy’s Blood’s a Rover, and The Cold Six Thousand, or anything by Robert Crais, among others.

What they all have in common is the hive that throbs beneath the surface and attaches like remora to the big fish of money.

Does anyone believe that Harvey Weinstein didn’t have an army of help and fixers? Lawyers, private investigators, producers, agents, photographers, drug dealers, drivers, pimps, whores, doctor feel goods, and publicists, PR hacks, and tabloid punks, all for sale. Weinstein is a pig but he was also king pimp in an army of thugs and punks. And those people had friends, families, homes; connections that bound them to each other.

And the currency? Money, contracts, promises, movie deals, a weekend at the Malibu mansion or the house up in the hills with the drug addicted super model and the Porsche thrown in for free. No questions asked.

Even poorly written detective novels rely on a backbone of believability. The kid who parks your Maserati, keeps his eyes open and his mouth closed – unless you have the cash or the muscle to make him talk.

And it turns out his roommate is a dealer. Nothing heavy and no guns but he knows a guy who knows a guy with connections in Mexico, Canada and Santa Cruz. And they know people and one of the people they know is LAPD Narcotics, and he knows a guy who is DEA and is crooked. And is being looked at – hard – by the Hoovers.

And they have a warrant. The bungalow is bugged. The phones are hot. The car(s) are bugged. The guy who writes the scrip for the Viagra and gets the bennies is being watched. The personal lawyer who calls the guy who knows the girls who pose for Playboy is being watched as well. And while he’s at a party, someone sees him talking casually to a man with an accent – something central European. And he get’s followed.

Trump Incorporated.

Who isn’t a suspect? Who doesn’t have a motive for blackmailing this rat fucker?

Bogus dossiers?

Give me a fucking break.

For a crude but pitch perfect deconstruction of the culture of what people knew or don’t see the following:


*Regarding the idea that the Russians are geniuses at deception one might consider a survey of Russian literature. Once engaged a reasonable person would note the myriad ways in which the Russians are exactly as prone to stupidity and self-inflicted emotional gunshots as everyone else. Crime and Punishment? Anna’s appointment with the train? The Master and Margaritte?

Or consider that when told that Brodsky was being sent to a GULAG, Akhmatova said of the geniuses at the KGB: They are giving him a perfect biography.

*Regarding the “rat line” and its uses. For a fairly detailed examination of a significant example of this subject see, Jefferson Morley’s, The Ghost, a biography of the notorious former chief of CIA Counter intelligence, James Angleton.

Or go watch Smiley’s People.

Update: 8/13/18

For a look at a detailed examination of Trump’s wider entanglements see the following:

Addendum: Regarding the received wisdom about the Russians being the best at deception, versus the longevity of the practice of deliberate obfuscation and the mixing of truth and lies, we offer the following, from Karl Popper’s book on the pre-Socratic enlightenment, The World of Parmenides (emphasis added):

“…we have first a passage in the Odyssey 19.203: wily Odysseus tells Penelope (who does not recognize him) a story which is false, but which contains quite a few elements of truth; or as Homer puts it, ‘he made the many lies similar to the truth‘ (etumoisin homoia). The phrase is repeated in the Theogony, 27f.: the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus, say to Hesiod: ‘ we know how to speak many lies similar to truth; but we also know, if we want to, how to speak the truth (aletheia).”

Popper’s on “truthiness” (sic!) continue for 6 pages of notes. They detail the ancient tradition of truth/lies being different sides of the same narrative coin and that they represent a belief in how approximations of reality were the best one could and should hope for.

What goes missing of course is that boilerplate statements like, the Russians are the best at this sort of thing, are betrayed by, the historical record (the truth) and the discipline of close textual analysis.

Lastly a word about potential criticism. One could assert that there is an enormous distance between Homer, Popper and contemporary Russian mendacity and deception. That is true but is, essentially pushing against an open door as the argument is not that the Russians are not engaged in a coordinated campaign of deception, but that traditions of such things go back to the beginning of recorded history; are woven into the tapestry of culture (like Penelope hard at work) and have produced epics of truthiness.

Or to put it succinctly: Homer does not come with an expiration date.


Note: To clarify, Steele works for Orbis Business Intelligence, which was subcontracted by Fusion GPS.

Update: 10/4/18

Simply the best:

Update: 10/8/18

Simply the best, part 2:


5 comments on “Down the Rabbit Hole. Notes on Marcy Wheeler and Emptywheel.

  1. “Wheeler has advanced training in close textual analysis – specifically, in literature. That gives her an enormous advantage over most people, especially profesional spooks who tend not to be that good at close textual analysis, and consistently miss the forest for the trees.”

    I’m not sure about the intelligence community these days. I suppose those with tech experience are more sought after. But it’s interesting to note that apparently wasn’t the case in the early Cold War. Old school textual analysis was what they relied upon.

    “A leading figure in this enterprise was Norman Holmes Pearson, who, like Perry Miller at Harvard, was a secret agent for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) – precursor of the CIA – during World War II. Where Perry’s protégés at Harvard included the Jesuit priest Walter Ong, Pearson’s at Yale included James Jesus Angleton, who learnt there the craft of practical criticism of decontextualised documents. Angleton went on to apply it as chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA, where he remained for a generation (Holzman 2008). While at Yale, as Terence Hawkes has pointed out, Angleton was much influenced by the New Criticism, especially as practised by William Empson (1930), whose theory of the irreducible ambiguity of expression served Angleton well in his search for double meanings as evidence of Soviet “double agents,” within the CIA itself.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      Ah yes! It was only a few years ago that the Hoovers brought in a guy with an MA/Lit to help them understand things. He’s now an analyst on CNN. Name’s Phil Mudd.

      Of course the spooks define “close textual analysis” differently than say a PhD.Lit from Duke or UC Berkeley, etc. The spooks tend to look for “code” and not in the Structuralist sense. Also it’s not their style to use “Imagist” or Postmodern technique to make connections. It’s understandable to a certain extent. I’m not ure I’d want the CIA to have an office of Abstract Expressionism or Jazz Improv;-)

      Angleton of course is endlessly fascinating. He is the straw stirring the drink from the late 40s until the Church Commission. He knew T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound; ran a lit mag at Yale and published work by e.e.cummings among others. Jefferson Morley’s bio, “Ghost” is a serviceable one volume overview and has a lot about Angleton’s use of literary criticism in his spook work.

      But, here’s a whopper – I met him! Long long story short – I was very young and someone I knew knew him. It was a few years before the shit hit the fan with the Church and Pike Commissions. I went ice skating with one of hi daughters – who later became a member of the Sikh community in DC and then moved to a kind of commune in Arizona. With a father like that it’s understandable.

      Liked by 1 person

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