I confess it: This post offers a conspiracy theory. Or rather, two related theories.
Unlike Alex Jones, I don't mind admitting that my ideas are in a germinal phase, and that they may soon prove misguided or foolish. I present these theories to you because I'd appreciate your criticisms: You're all wrong, Cannon, and here's why...
All day long, the talking heads on teevee have focused on the alleged Trump "tape" of Jim Comey. Trump has promised to show his cards (as it were) "in the very near future," and he told reporters that they would be "disappointed." Nobody knows what he meant by that word. Would we be disappointed in Comey? Or disappointed to learn that no recordings exist?
As readers know, I lean toward the view that recordings do exist. We know that Donnie has surreptitiously recorded individuals in the past, and we've seen the photo of Trump in the oval office with a digital voice recorder
on his desk.
There is also the not-inconsiderable fact that Trump just volunteered to testify under oath
. All of a sudden, a man who often seems to be imitating the stars of those "guilty dog" videos is acting like a gambler with an ace up his sleeve, and one or two more aces secreted in his pockets.
Why on earth is Donnie behaving in this fashion? Axios
can offer only a couple of hoary political axioms: "The best way to defend is to attack. If you're explaining, you're losing."
The widely held view in Republican circles, according to Axios' Jonathan Swan, is that Trump's aggressiveness undercuts the notion that there are tapes.
That's a counterintuitive conclusion. As far as I'm concerned, a display of confidence indicates that the president does
Let's take another look at the wording of the tweet that started it all:
"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
-- plural. At no point does Trump say that he
made the recordings.
Mike Rogers runs the NSA, and Rogers proved in his testimony that he is Trump's man. In this context, it may be worth mentioning Rachel Maddow's observation that Rogers made a strange visit to Trump Tower
while Obama was still president. I've been saying for more than a year that there is a pro-Trump faction within our own intelligence services.
Yes, it is certainly true that Trump frequently promises evidence which he never produces, as this list
demonstrates. Nevertheless, the wording of the "tape" tweet leads me to believe that Trump may actually have something on the former FBI head. As weird as Trump is, he would not threaten a man unless he had something to threaten him with
. You can't use a hallucination to intimidate an adversary.
The "tape" is but one of two Comey mysteries that have bedeviled us in recent days. We must also account for...the THING
As Comey describes it in the statement he prepared for Thursday’s Senate hearing, Trump called him on the morning of April 11 and brought up a matter he’d raised before: What was Comey doing to sell the public on the idea that Trump wasn’t under investigation by the FBI? When Comey replied that Trump should take it up with the leadership at the Justice Department, the president said he would do so, then continued: “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.”
Comey claims that he has no idea what all this talk of loyalty signifies. He says that he cannot identify the "thing."
Conventional thinkers would argue that the "thing" was simply the dinner they shared, and that Trump believes that he showed loyalty when he let Comey keep his job. That comforting scenario just doesn't sit right, at least not with me. This is Trump
we're talking about. Trump always has something up his sleeve other than his elbow.
All day yesterday, I asked myself: Is there a single narrative which would explain both the "tape" mystery and the "thing" mystery? By midnight, I had cobbled together two different theories.
Theory 1: Comey really does have a secret.
The secret could involve adultery (yawn
), financial problems, or an uncharacteristic lapse into unethical behavior. The "tape" could be a recording of a telephone conversation during which this secret was discussed. The conversation may have been recorded by the NSA or by GCHQ -- perhaps even the Russians.
Trump showed "loyalty" when he agreed to keep Comey's "thing" secret.
Comey may feel protected, for now. He knows that if the NSA intercepted the conversation, revelation would be illegal. If the GCHQ intercepted the conversation, revelation could cause an international uproar.
Ah, but what about the idea of a Russian intercept? Comey may want
to bait Trump into admitting that the Russians spied on his behalf. To prove that Trump colludes with the Russians, Comey may be willing to undergo a certain amount of public humiliation. Sometimes a warrior must fall on his sword.
If Theory 1 is correct, did Comey lie in his testimony before Congress? Not necessarily. He can claim that he left out part
of his narrative in open hearings in order to avoid a conflict with Mueller's probe.
Theory 2: Comey is about to be framed.
(This theory is both more fun and more frightening.) Let us posit that Trump is using Putin as his model. The question then becomes: WWVD?
What Would Vladimir Do? Let's ask it another way: In the past, how has Putin operated against his foes?
We know that his enemies have been arrested for possession of child pornography, which was almost certainly planted
Old-style kompromat featured doctored photographs, planted drugs, grainy videos of liaisons with prostitutes hired by the K.G.B., and a wide range of other primitive entrapment techniques.
Today, however, kompromat has become allied with the more sophisticated tricks of cybermischief-making, where Russia has proved its prowess in the Baltic States, Georgia and Ukraine. American intelligence agencies also believe that Russia used hacked data to hurt Hillary Clinton and promote Donald J. Trump in the U.S. presidential election, according to senior officials in the Obama administration.
Also see here
Another tactic of choice involves sex tapes. In 2010, videos of Russian opposition journalists and politicians who had been filmed separately having sex with the same young Russian woman were leaked online. Last year, an opposition political party was damaged when a tape emerged of a married party leader having sex with an aide. Putin has been involved in such operations for years: In 1999, when he was the head of the FSB (the post-Soviet successor to the KGB), Putin reportedly helped then-President Boris Yeltsin to discredit and dismiss powerful prosecutor Yuri Skuratov, who had threatened to reveal which Russian officials were siphoning money to foreign bank accounts. When Yeltsin could not persuade the parliament to fire Skuratov, a video of the prosecutor — or at least a man who resembled him — having sex with prostitutes was aired on television. This all may sound like something out of “The Americans,” but it’s politics as usual in Russia.
Still, some clumsy attempts have backfired: In 2012, a media outlet published a picture of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny allegedly posing with exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a Putin nemesis; the caption darkly suggested that forces outside Russia were funding opposition efforts. Navalny then produced the original photo, in which he was actually standing with a different man, and Russians were soon gleefully creating their own doctored images online of Navalny with individuals such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adolf Hitler and an extraterrestrial.
Kompromat is beautifully flexible. If a story isn’t playing well or if there is too much credible pushback, the perpetrators simply move on without apology or correction. The story disappears abruptly, leaving only confusion or unease in the minds of the audience.
Trump could have been planting the seed for a deception operation when he made those seemingly-bizarre references to "tapes," and "that thing" and the "loyalty" which he has allegedly shown toward Comey.
Jim Comey may have no idea as to what is about to hit him.
Modern technology makes it possible to create a fake "tape" of Comey saying certain incriminating things to Trump, things that the former FBI Director did not actually say. In fact, the technology has existed for more than a decade -- maybe even two
decades, as this 2003 Science Daily article
In 2017, we have a consumer-level app called Lyrebird
Today, a Canadian AI startup named Lyrebird unveiled its first product: a set of algorithms the company claims can clone anyone’s voice by listening to just a single minute of sample audio.
A few years ago this would have been impossible, but the analytic prowess of machine learning has proven to be a perfect fit for the idiosyncrasies of human speech. Using artificial intelligence, companies like Google have been able to create incredibly life-like synthesized voices, while Adobe has unveiled its own prototype software called Project VoCo that can edit human speech like Photoshop tweaks digital images.
But while Project VoCo requires at least 20 minutes of sample audio before it can mimic a voice, Lyrebird cuts this requirements down to just 60 seconds. The results certainly aren’t indistinguishable from human speech, but they’re impressive all the same, and will no doubt improve over time.
Although Lyrebird recordings are not completely convincing, it is fair to presume that the intelligence services of the United States, Britain and Russia possess software that is far more advanced. The above-cited 2003 article indicates that our spooks had already reached an impressive level of sophistication fifteen years ago.
My critics will say that Theory 2 ascribes more cleverness to Trump than some would consider possible. My response: Never underestimate your foe.