INTEGRITY INITIATIVE: BIG BROTHER’S MINIONS – OR FLIM-FLAM ARTISTS?

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by JRL2019/16/24,  ZeroHedge, South Front, Straight Line Logic, The New Dark Age, Trade for Profit, The Russophile, Viral News, Olduvai.ca, Truth in Our Time,

I’m not sure what to make of Integrity Initiative (what a great gaslighting name: integrity? Hah hah: no, just furtive paid propaganda and opinion steering). But I watch the unfolding revelations with fascination. Certainly, the whole thing is bigger than it seemed at first and all the documents being revealed appear to be true.

On the one hand, it looks like a group of superannuated old gits gassing on about how warfare today involves everything, especially “information warfare”, while last century it was only bullets. (Ever read any, say, Sun Tzu or Clausewitz? Or, speaking of the last century, Goebbels? How about Bernays?) And how we concerned individuals have voluntarily come together (assisted by £2+ million of the taxpayer’s money) to save democracy. Unpaid, unasked and unplotted. Completely conspiracy-free in fact. To individually and unconspiratorially assure you that only Russian dupes would try to tell us, contrary to all reason, that Russia, a nuclear superpower, has interests that we’d be wise to consider. Or that Western NGOs are often US State Department fronts. Or that the West promised Gorbachev it wouldn’t expand NATO (Too late, the documents are out). In short, that the essence of democracy is never to doubt what the Ministry of Truth tells you. There’s a naïve and bubble-like quality to this: they never think any thoughts but their own. So maybe these guys, instead of kveching at the mirror and shouting at the TV set, have figured out how to flim-flam the government into supplementing their pensions in return for pages of conspiracy-babble.

Or are we looking at something rather bigger? As John Helmer points out, there is a long history of British intelligence operating behind such “independent” and “disinterested” cover. Did they help start the Russia hysteria in the USA? Did they not only play up the Skripal affair but actually create it? Did they have an effect on Spain and Catalonia? Infiltrate Sanders’ campaign? What’s this “impose changes over the heads of vested interests. NB we did this in the 1930s” stuff? Is that a reference to the Zinoviev Letter forgery? (1924 actually, but they don’t look like people who bother to check details). Corbyn, of course, they see as another Kremlin stooge: is it time to “discover” a Dear Jeremy, How can I help you win? Your friend Vladimir letter? There is a danger these “clusters” of like-minded (and paid) flacks pose: in a time when the “news” media solemnly informs us that Putin has weaponised humour and Pokemon, to say nothing of killer squids, a group of “expert” “concerned citizens” who “voluntarily” appear can ratchet the hysteria up to further heights. (Although only a Russian troll would “emphasise the dangers of war in Europe (!!)”) They are trying to establish a base in the USA (“challenging the ignorance of, tolerance of or sympathy for the Russian activity” – tolerance!!?? the US media Russia-bashes 24/7!) So, no matter the temptation, we can’t write them off as silly old fools.

Here’s their website. And here’s some of their output, most of it written straight off the top of the head. Bellyfeel, as they say in Newspeak.

Deadly “Novichok” is not strong enough to kill you today, but is strong enough to kill someone four months later. Whatever – deadly, shmeadly – you read it, my head hurts.

Its [Russia’s, of course] ongoing lawfare activities have shaken the pillars of the post-WWII security architecture in Europe. Who knew? The very pillars!

Russian state media have succeeded in persuading some parts of the Arab world that Russia intervention is required to resolve the region’s disputes, which appears be the ultimate goal of Russia’s strategy in the region. I don’t think it’s Russian media, I think it’s these guys. Here they are again in Manbij.

The Thesis of Conspiracy: The Kremlin’s current world-view is stark, striking and scary. According to senior leaders, including Putin, America is attacking Russia. Silly Russians! NATO expansion, colour revolutions, sanctions, gas wars, rhetoric, tossing arms control treaties – all done to help you!

Russia attacked Georgia in 2008, lying that it was Georgia which had attacked Russia, absurd though this sounds when one compares the respective sizes of each country. A powerful argument, not heard before. (And not considered by the EU either; even its feeble report understood that Tbilisi attacked.)

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is often presented as the most striking symbol of Russia’s resurgent military power. Really, by whom? I follow this stuff and I know Russians like to talk about Piotr Velikiy or their submarines but the elderly Kuznetsov is just functional. (Although, escort tug, belching smoke and all, it works and the British media gets the fantods every time it appears.) This piece tries to show that Russia’s infrastructure is falling apart. Maybe they should spend more time on YouTube.

The Kremlin lies. Repeatedly and seriously. This is the only conclusion which can be drawn if you accept the view of the British Government that the Russian state is behind the attack using a nerve agent on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yuliya. The Russian authorities have already put out at least 17 different versions of what happened. (47 here). Ah, but the prosecution doesn’t win if the accused can’t prove who did it. Presumption of innocence – isn’t that one of those fundamental principles you’re supposed to be defending? The problem with accepting the “view of the British Government” is that it requires superhuman doublethink and crimestop as this summary of the absurdities shows. The latest being that a bit of “Novichok” on a door handle requires removing the roof of the house while Zizzi’s, old roof and all, is open for business!

However, at no time has the Integrity Initiative engaged in party political activity and would never take up a party-political stance. Spain and Catalonia? Sanders? Corbyn? Stay tuned.

These guys really should get out more. If they were being paid by some private individual for this tripe that would be one thing; but the British government (and others?) is paying – in fact, it’s actually paying these people to influence its own policy. Think about that: that’s rather different. Even leaving aside all the stuff about “we did this in the 1930s”. It’s a bit Deep Stateish – it’s a lot Deep Stateish.

Or maybe it’s just a bunch of retirees swindling the government by writing fluff about how Russia is sapping and impurifying all our precious bodily fluids.

Sarcasm is fun but the big question is: who’s winning: these guys with millions and the support of most media outlets, or us with hundreds and sites like this one? But then we have reality on our side and, eventually, but it can be a long eventually, it bites.

You decide. Here and here are the hacks. Or are they leaks? Interesting question, eh? We owe much thanks to Anonymous for exposing these people. Add Kim Klarenberg to your Twitter feed – an actual reporter doing actual reporting! I think there’s lots more to be revealed.

I’m amused by Donnelly saying that the fact that their stuff has been hacked shows that they must be having an effect; no, there are people out there who are tired of the lies, secret manipulations and managed media campaigns whooping up war fever. They found you and they broke into your files. That’s all.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

This has to be the stupidest thing ever said about Putin.

On October 23, 2018, Schiff solemnly told a young audience at the old Hillary Clinton/John Podesta Center for American Progress Action Fund that he had been told that Putin has one of his henchmen follow Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev around with a pillow to smother him in his sleep if he ever gets out of line.

Ray McGovern

Here’s the video. Thanks to Rosie memos at @almostjingo. Watch it – there is nothing to suggest he’s joking.

This man – Adam Schiff – is now the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is an enthusiastic proponent of the Trump-Putin collusion story.

REAL CRICKETS, FAKE NEWS

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

You’re an American diplomat. Posted to Cuba. You compose yourself for peaceful slumber, as an innocent American dip should… What’s that noise? Whine, buzz. Get up. Lights on. Look. Nothing. Head on pillow. Whine, buzz. We’ve all been kept up nights by some unidentifiable sound. You promise yourself you won’t listen to it. Aha, it’s stopped… no, there it is again. Another night of tossing and turning. Very understandable. The next morning you tell a colleague, heard it too, another hadn’t but can’t help listening. Soon everybody is awake listening to this irritating noise. Doctors come, check people out and find this and that (as ageing apes we all have something. Is there any before and after take on these injuries?) This is happening in Cuba, a country richly furnished with noisy insects. At some point, this irritating sound, that could be insects, morphs into something more sinister: “‘microwave hearing,’ also known as the Frey effect” for example.

The US Embassy in Havana re-opened in July 2015. About a year later, it was reported that some American diplomats complained about strange noises. The Guardian reported the story using numerous variations on the word “attack”. Crickets are mentioned, but only to be dismissed; “But this is Cuba”, wink, wink, nudge, nudge; Russia peeps above the horizon:

In fact, almost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack: by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.

Attacks – the story builds. A recording is produced (verrry irritating; keep anybody awake). “High pitched cricket sound”. That’s because they are insects say the Cubans. The phrasing of the AP report that covered the Cuban findings has to be read to be believed: it’s written in the sneering tone that tells you to ignore them:

Cuba on Thursday presented its most detailed defense to date against U.S. Accusations… Cuban officials attempted to undermine the Trump administration’s assertion… alleged was a lack of evidence for the U.S. Accusations… an exhaustive investigation ordered by “the highest government authorities,” a clear reference to President Raul Castro… Thursday night’s special did not present an alternate explanation for the facts presented by U.S. officials, with one significant exception…

What a dishonest way to cover a report by Cuban specialists saying we compared the recordings with cicada sounds and there was a good fit. Fortunately, as we shall see, honest people did follow that lead.

American tourists are solemnly warned “Exercise increased caution in Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy”. Washington expels Cuban diplomats and the Guardian helpfully tells us:

Cuba employs a massive state security apparatus that keeps hundreds and possibly thousands of people under constant surveillance. US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to take action against an American diplomat without an element of the Cuban state being aware.

So the state of play as of the end of 2017 is this. Facts: noises, medical findings, investigations, expulsions. Speculation: they’re “attacks”, the Cuban authorities control everything and the insect explanation should be laughed at. Next year it’s China’s turn.

But at last, in September 2018, the Russian sun rises over the horizon.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence… If Russia did use a futuristic weapon to damage the brains of U.S. personnel, it would mark a stunning escalation in Russian aggression toward Western nations, compounded recently by the use of a military-grade nerve agent to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain.

Love the juxtaposition of “suspicion”, “likely” and “alleged”: how many degrees of uncertainty is that? You have to wonder whether an Integrity-challenged Initiative clusteroid gave that little gem to NBC – the “signals intelligence” will probably turn out to be a five-year-old RT report about insomnia. Also note that the US military “has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats”.

Ensorcelled by this “un-elaborated” “intelligence”, the Gadarene media swine rush straight for the cliff:

Did Russia Attack U.S. Officials in Cuba? U.S.S.R. Used Microwaves Against American Diplomats During Cold War (Newsweek) Russia Is No. 1 Suspect in Mystery Brain Attacks in Cuba and China: Report (Daily Beast) Russia Might Be Behind Those Sonic Attacks on U.S. Government Workers in Cuba and China (Fortune) The U.S. Now Believes RUSSIA May Be Behind Sonic Attacks On Americans In Cuba And China (Daily Wire) So the Russians were ‘sonic-ing’ down in Cuba? (American Thinker) Russia main suspect behind illnesses of US staff in Cuba and China – report (Guardian) Russia suspected in Cuba mystery ‘attacks’ against US diplomats (NBC) Report: Experts Suspect Cuba May Have Had Russian Help in ‘Sonic’ Diplomat Attacks (Breitbart)

Altogether a perfect illustration of how fake news is built.

Step One. Something that could be lots of things but we’ll call it an attack.

Step Two. Attacks have attackers, so who is it? (I find it interesting that they weren’t quite ready to blame Havana, although they expelled a few Cuban diplomats: “‘I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end,’ Tillerson added.”)

Step Three: Drum roll… Putindunnit!

It’s surprising, actually, that it took so long; after all, Putin has weaponised Soviet history, Syrian refugees, Photoshop, humour, Pokemon, and Russophobia, why would you think he’d have forgotten crickets? Nothing is beyond or beneath him: “14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin?“.

This happy complacency was interrupted…

by…

a loud…

POP!

The Sounds That Haunted U.S. Diplomats in Cuba? Lovelorn Crickets, Scientists Say.

And, because they’re Western scientists, not Castro’s Cuban Collaborators, we have to believe them. Two honest scientists – remember their names: Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Zapato of the University of Lincoln in England – on their own it seems, applied human reason to the problem and solved it. Here’s a summary of their paper.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So that’s it; the story’s dead (although the NYT does its best to keep it alive: “That’s not to say that the diplomats weren’t attacked, the scientists added”). Would be nice, though, if State took its warning down. In time the details will fade away leaving a vague sense that Cuba’s a bad and dangerous place and nasty Russians do nasty things for the fun of it. But that’s the purpose of propaganda: to leave an impression when the details are forgotten.

So what really happened? Irritating cricket sounds produced a kind of dancing mania among US diplomats and the presstitutes sank to the occasion – even though the Cuban evidence was out there – and blamed Russia.

PS. My neighbours often ask me from where I get my news when I tell them something they’ve never heard of. Well not from the Guardian or the NYT or NBC or the others that boomed this fake story: I learned from Moon of Alabama that it was crickets waaaay back in October 2017 when he (a one-man operation who does more reporting than the entire NYT building) beat the NYT by 14 months. You should read him too so you too can get next year’s NYT headlines today.

PSYCHOANALYSING NATO: SCHIZOPHRENIA

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation; picked up by SouthFront)

NATO sorrowfully explains its problems with Russia on its official website:

For more than two decades, NATO has worked to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Cooperation has been suspended since 2014 in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine but political and military channels of communication remain open. Concerns about Russia’s continued destabilising pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric go well beyond Ukraine.

None of this – of course – is NATO’s fault: on the contrary NATO is concerned that

Russia’s military activities, particularly along NATO’s borders, have increased and its behaviour continues to make the Euro-Atlantic security environment less stable and predictable, in particular its practice of calling snap exercises, deploying near NATO borders, conducting large-scale training and exercises and violating Allied airspace.

Suffice it to say that this statement would have a closer relationship with reality if the words “NATO’s borders” were replaced with “inside Russia”. And I would be interested to hear the details of “violating Allied airspace”. Why even the Daily Telegraph in 2015 with its suggestive headline of Mapped: Just how many incursions into Nato airspace has Russian military made? had to admit “The Ministry of Defence says the Russian bombers have never violated Britain’s sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from the coast.” Likewise Violated US Airspace 16 Times In Last 10 Days turns out to be Air Defence Identification Zones which is not the same thing at all. Or Most Russian Plane Intercepts over Baltics Due to Error: NATO General. So NATO’s statement needs a further calibration so that “violating Allied airspace” becomes “flying in international airspace close to Allied countries’ airspace”.

Therefore, properly understood, NATO accuses Russia of 1) holding military exercises in its own territory, 2) flying in international airspace, 3) supporting secessionist movements in places that weren’t part of Yugoslavia or aren’t in the Middle East or North Africa. And they accuse it of invading countries that NATO didn’t invade first. NATO projects its behaviour, gaslights its audience and confirms its initial assumption when Moscow objects. But that’s NATOLand for you – the unicorns roam free and all is sunny until the bear smiles.

There is a striking schizophrenia among NATO’s members: Russia is, at one and the same time, so weak it’s “doomed” and so strong that it’s demolishing NATOLand.

Russia is forever, eternally, endlessly, doomed. Always on the edge of collapse. (But Russia has always been doomed here’s Time in 1927) and it was altogether finished in 2001. But doom dooms on. Has an ‘open society’ doomed Russia to fail? (September 2012); Russia Is Doomed (March 2014); Why Putin’s Adventure in Ukraine Is Doomed (April 2014); Putin’s Nationalism and Expansion Strategy Is Doomed to Fail (September 2014); Sorry, Putin. Russia’s economy is doomed (December 2014); Remember Russia? It’s still doomed (January 2015); Morgan Stanley thinks Russia’s doomed (February 2015); Secretary of Defense: Russia Doomed to Fail’ in Syria (September 2015); Is Russia’s Economy Doomed to Collapse? (July 2016); Why The Saudi-Russian Oil Agreement Is Doomed To Fail (September 2016); Putin’s Bridge to Crimea Is Doomed to Collapse (January 2017); Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Fighter Is Doomed to Fail (December 2107); The Russian economy looks doomed (March 2018); Russia is doomed to steadily fall behind the rest of the world (August 2018); Why Putin’s 5-100 project is doomed to fail (October 2018). And its soccer team too! Aging and Inexperienced: Why Russia Is Doomed to Fail (June 2018).

You’d think, with all this doom dooming away at Russia, that no one would be much worried about it. Except of course for the risk of getting bits of it spattered on you when it finally crashes down. Said collapse confidently predicted three years ago by Alexander Motyl, who, making his wish the father of his thought, declaimed that Russia might even “disappear”:

As the new year begins, both Ukraine and Russia are making steady progress. The difference is that, while Ukraine is slowly, and more or less surely, adopting a raft of systemic reforms that will make it a normal Western market democracy, Russia is becoming a failed state. If current trends continue, as they probably will, Russia may even disappear.

But, amazingly, Russia has become more powerful than ever before. Not even Stalin in his wildest dreams imagined choosing the next US President. Yet, even as “weak and dying” Russia freefalls, Putin has done exactly that: “Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump” Trump being what Putin would design to “undermine American interests – and advance his own”. “Trump is Putin’s ally in Russia’s war on the West”. But even before he animated his Trumpenpuppet, his tendrils had slithered deep into Washington: “Putin’s Got America Right Where He Wants It: And that’s bad news for Obama”. So Putin, although he’s no genius, just another Brezhnev, has a puppet in the White House.

But not just there: Putin (Aspergers, “gunslingers’ walk”, lonely psychopath that he is), through his “useful idiots“, affects everything, everywhere. Brexit. French election. Italian election. German election. Austrian election. Dutch election. Canada’s next election. Catalonian separatism. Gilets jaunes. Hungary’s Prime Minister is a Putinist. And it’s more, so much more: Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy: How Vladimir Putin is making the world safe for autocracy. Moscow’s unstoppable “Hybrid War” weaponising Information, Culture and Money. Separatism, migrants, left wing right wing.

Sounds as if we’re the ones who are doomed.

In this race of the doomed: who will get to the FINAL DOOM first?

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1, SECTION DUMBER

(Overheard in the Kremlin by our secret source)

Bad news Boss! Those damned Brits have figured it out.

What now?

Remember all those BSL-4 labs that Ivan Ivanovich said we should set up in public toilets all over Britain?

Yeah.

That fool thought it would be a good idea in case we wanted to whack somebody out and then remix the binary agents so we could re-package them in perfume atomisers.

Da da da. The guy with all the bright ideas, the Elon Musk of the Cheka we used to call him.

Anyway, the Brits have finally figured out that that’s where we do our preparations and they will be shutting them down all over the place. More millions wasted.

Yeah Ivan. Well, he’s going on an all expenses paid tour of the cold parts of Siberia. Won’t be seeing him around any more. But thank heavens that Durakchok can be made anywhere and Russians are naturally immune to it.

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1, SECTION DEUX, BIS

(Our secret source intercepted communications from Salisbury to Moscow)

OK, Boss, I’ve smeared it on the doorknob; it’s nice and thick and gooey and it won’t come off in the rain. I’m just leaving for the airport.

Not yet.

Not yet? Why?

There’s something else for you to do.

What?

Take the rest of Novichok, get back in the car and drive to the secret laboratory we set up.

OK Boss, I’m there. Now what?

Put on the protective gear and take the thick Novichok and thin it so it can work as an aerosol. Then put it in the legitimate perfume bottle you’ll find in the drawer on the counter and seal the bottle in the perfume box. Be careful; it’s very dangerous.

OK Boss, done it.

Now get back in the car and drive to the park. Drop the perfume box where somebody can pick it up.

OK Boss, done it.

And don’t forget to spray Durakchok all around to make more stupid English people.

Done it Boss, I’ve used it all up.

Well done. Now come straight home. Oh wait – I forgot – send a message to us saying “package delivered” so we know you’ve done everything.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

This one is from the New York Times. Once upon a time this outlet affected a certain decorum but, driven to madness by Trumputin Derangement Syndrome, it has disappeared into its own craziness. I have embedded the video at a low resolution should the original be disappeared.

Should you, Dear Readers, have the stomach to watch all the way to the end, you will see credits. In short: the people who made this are proud of it.

 

 

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1, SECTION DEUX

(Overheard in the Kremlin by our secret source)

World Cup’s going well, Boss. Good one!

Yeah, but it makes me nervous when the Western media says good things about us. Doesn’t feel right.

Well, we could get them back to normal, Boss.

How?

Let’s do the novichok thing again. I know we got the formula wrong the last time but I just got the book from Amazon so we can make it properly this time.

What do you mean?

Well, we could put some in a syringe or something and drop it in the park and maybe someone would find it. Then they’d have to stop talking about what a great World Cup we put on and how everybody’s telling their friends how great Russia is.

Could be good for a laugh I suppose. You know, it’s really tiring organising elections around the world as well as writing all the scripts for the nightly news at home; I could use a good laugh. Always wanted to see Boris Johnson with his hair on fire. Do it.

OK Boss. Consider it done. And it’s a great distraction from the real plot.

Yes it is and isn’t that going well? What a brilliant idea to invent Durakchok and spray it around Western government offices. They’re getting stupider by the minute. And, in the long run, stupid loses.

YES, PUTIN ONCE DREAMED THE AMERICAN DREAM

The other day, reading another extrusion of anti-Russia propaganda (here’s the first example that comes to hand) telling us that Putin and those misguided Russians who support him are wholly and obdurately opposed to America and All It Stands For, I was reminded of Charles Heberle’s contrary experience with Putin and Russia two decades ago.

I met Charles nine years ago in Washington on a trip Sharon Tennison organised. Charles wrote up the following account for Sharon’s website Russia, Other Points of View and I referred to it in my Sitrep 20100506. ROPV is now defunct but Charles still had a copy and I asked him for it so as to reprint it on my site to keep it on the record.

In essence, he was invited to teach Russians how to do it the American way and his program was fully supported by Putin (who had just become President); he believes, and the evidence indicates, that the whole idea might have originated with Putin. It is distressing how much has changed in the 18 years since his story begins.

In short, 18 years ago Putin thought so highly of American democracy in theory and in practice that he supported an American program to teach Russians how to be American-style democrats. From Putin’s perspective, the years since 2000 have seen NATO expansions, broken promises, regime change operations, wars, sanctions, accusations and propaganda, none of which well illustrate the program’s citizenship skills. I rather doubt that he would be so confident today that the American Revolution had succeeded but maybe I’m assuming too much. At any rate, Charles assures me that the program is still being practised in Russia and still has official support.

If you watch his video interview, you will see that the program, while undeniably grounded in the US Constitution, is not exclusively American: it is applicable to most societies. It is a training process, a drill – Charles was in the US Army – that generates situations that force the participants to speak and think for themselves, but (this is the kicker) not in some vapid and complacent “self-esteem” way, but with a humble understanding of their imperfections, The program makes them cooperate with others in a spirit of respect and understanding in order to get the job done. Which, when you think about it, are the requirements for a real democracy to work.

But the main point of my reprinting this is to show that Putin, rather than being the fundamentalist anti-American that the anti-Russia camp tells us that he is, started out supporting the inculcation of what he saw as American virtues (values, if you will: “subjects becoming citizens”) into Russia.

I reprint Charles Heberle’s account as he sent it to me.

**************************

Transforming Subjects into Citizens – an Experiment in Russia by Charles Heberle

Many people, when they hear that I have been working in Russia for 9 years, have asked me about the intentions of the Russians. Are they going back to Communism? Do they hate us? Why are they going back to dictatorship? Of course I have no way of knowing the real intention of the Russians, but I get glimpses of it from my experience there. I am writing this article to outline my personal experiences in Russia to help shed some light on these questions.

It started with an email out of the blue in January 2000. It said, “Hello I represent the non-governmental organizations of Northwest Russia. We are unhappy with what your government calls democracy. Our analysis over the past nine years shows us that it will just trade one elite for another. We have had quite enough of this. We want to be country of, by, and for the people. Can you help us?” I was floored. I spent the next 4 months in negotiations with this mystery person, ending with trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. When I arrived I had no idea what I was in for. I quickly learned, however, that Russians don’t do things by halves. The organization consisted of some of the leading intellectual lights of St. Petersburg. They had set up a front organization, researched every web site in the world to find those that purported to teach democracy, invited them to St. Petersburg, and set up a rigorous testing process to make sure they knew what they were doing and that what they were doing would work. I was immediately put through a test where I had complete run of a Russian school for a week and the director did anything I said. I already had developed and copyrighted a civic education program for schools in the USA, so I simply copied the training. This process continued for a year. During that time I spent about 8 weeks in St. Petersburg attending conferences, undergoing a thesis type defense where I was grilled by 5 professors for about two hours, and then more demonstrations in different types of schools. I passed.

They then gave me my mission statement. It was “To help us build a training program that will distill the attitudes, understandings, and skills learned by the American colonists from 1620 to 1775 that made the American Revolution successful where others failed.” They said they wanted to inculcate those values and understandings and skills in their people too so that democracy could flourish in Russia. They felt that until the populace at large was trained no democracy was possible. They feared that simply creating a democratic form of government and some NGOs to work in the field would lead to a “velvet oligarchy”, or worse. They wanted to be a “normal”, that is western, nation of, by, and for the people but could not afford to wait 150 years for their people to understand the process. They wanted me to help them build a training system that could change the mindset of the entire Russian populace from being “subjects” to becoming “citizens” in a generation.

They then sent me to a province near St. Petersburg where we could develop this program without great publicity and opposition and where it could be tested and tried before taking it nationwide. I spent two years there in the capital city giving classes to teachers and monitoring the development of the lesson plans which at that point were all for schools. They gave me the head teacher of the province as my team leader and we rapidly developed a volunteer corps of 200+ teachers who helped develop the program. The program was enthusiastically received and fully supported by the Minister of Education whom I briefed regularly on its progress. Then an election was held in 2003 and the Governor of the province was re-elected. The Minister called us in the next week and the teachers were asked why they supported our program. They said, “Because it is simple, but wise”. The Minister said, “Fine, you are no longer experimental, have a 5 year plan on my desk by Monday.” It was Friday. This resulted in the approval of an official far reaching plan that went way beyond schools and was to end up training the whole population.

The next year our city had a forum, sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, to explore ways that democracy could be furthered through people to people contacts. I was a featured speaker and the Russian NGO that we had helped form was in charge of a sub-forum on civic education. The next day, at that sub-forum, we had a large number of people. I was asking my staff where they were all from and they pointed out all of the visitors from Russia and other countries, except one. I said, “Who is he, a new teacher here?” My team leader, with a look of concern on her face, said “We don’t know.” Having learned that, in Russia, everything is known, I was a little concerned too. At lunch I approached the man and, in my halting Russian, thanked him for coming. He replied in fluent English and said he was President Putin’s personal advisor on civic education. We then had lunch together and I explained what we were doing, that I was here at the invitation of Russia and if he had any suggestions or wanted us to do anything differently to please speak up. He said he was very pleased with what he was seeing and that it was exactly what Russia needed. We then talked about things military and it became clear that he had a lot of high level and formerly top-secret information about the breakup of the Soviet Union. Without talking about things that were Top Secret on our side when I learned them, I can only say that his knowledge was far above that of a foot soldier. I have no doubt that he had good connections within the Kremlin at some time or another. He closed the conversation by asking if I would like to meet then-President Putin’s close associate Sergei Ivanov some time, as he would be glad to arrange a meeting. I said thank you, no as I felt sure Mr. Ivanov had better things to do. At the end of the day he came up to me again and gave me his personal email and telephone number in Moscow and said to come and see him anytime and to call him if we ran into any trouble.

I visited him in Moscow later and asked why they could not fund me directly if they were pleased with the program. He said that Mr. Putin’s team was performing a delicate balancing act between competing factions in the Kremlin and that they had to appear scrupulously neutral. Any outright support of a program run by an American would be seized upon as favoring one side over the other, and so, while they appreciated my work, they could not be seen to support it outright. I said that if they could at least give us a small amount of support to show the locals, some of whom thought of the program as “American”, that it was approved. Within a month we got a call directly from the President’s office to tell us we had been awarded a small grant to promote civil discourse and improve race relations in the province. It came down through channels signed, V. Putin. There has never been any political opposition to the program since.

These specific events and the fact that there has been strong and continuing official support of the program from the start have convinced me that the Russians do want to become a democracy. They also want to do it the Russian way, which is to say plan it thoroughly, follow the plan, and do it on a large scale. Nowhere have I seen them deviate from this in action. Maybe their words are confusing sometimes, and no doubt aimed at a particular audience, but their actions over time are entirely consistent with the goal stated to me in St. Petersburg in 2000.

In retrospect it has become clear that the Russian group was started at the request of Mr. Putin, who had just become President. This accounts for the complete and continuing support of the Russian governments at all levels which is key to its success there and why it delivers so much value for dollar. We were able to train a whole province for one-fifth of what USAID spent on one city in southern Russia. The fact that our program was born out of frustration with the USA’s then and current methods of teaching democracy, which had failed for them, accounts for the fact that it has a completely different basis from the current approved USA methods of teaching democracy – one that is much more useful and effective because it is designed by a first world, highly educated, group of former dictatorial subjects who know their problems in achieving and see this as the best way to solve them.

This makes it extremely difficult to get our part of it funded by the bureaucracy here in the United States. Our goal now is to get additional seed funding from this Administration and/or private foundations to help the Russians expand the program to about 40 million people in NW Russia over 5 years, which would then solidify it. It would also give us a tried and true and extremely well-planned and documented program to use in other former dictatorships. As it were, our program (and Putin’s too, as I have learned) is an attempt to “reset” Russians so that, rather than being resentful subjects of an inimical power, they become participating citizens of a res publica. They all need this before they can become true democratic republics.

All these experiences and watching the Russian hierarchy from the inside convince me that they are serious about becoming a normal western country and have a long term plan for doing so. Thus the current reforms come as no surprise. If my experience is any guide, the Putin/Medvedev efforts are part of a continuum. Maybe someday it will be Russia that teaches the world how to build a democracy.