Is James Risen a CIA Mouthpiece? (or The Extraordinarily Bad Journalism of James Risen)

In a piece called “Is Donald Trump a Traitor” Risen reveals himself as incapable of following some basic journalistic practices leading to questions about what his actual agenda is.

February 16, 2018


It is considered bad journalism to pose a question as a headline that there is even a (humorous) law associated with it called Betteridge’s Law of Headlines which essentially posits that the answer is always usual “no” and

..the reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

Risen by asking this question does exactly that as the rest of this blog will show.

But first let’s start with my Headline.

Is James Risen a CIA Mouthpiece?

A fair view would be: what’s the evidence he is? But one can turn this around and ask Risen style: what’s the evidence he is not? Would anyone outside Risen and a few close individuals in the CIA really know? After all Risen has extensive ties with various folks in the CIA which have allowed him to report in various National Security matters. He co-authored a book called “The Main Enemy” which is an inside account of the CIA’s showdown with the “Enemy”, the KGB.

In other words his sympathies are already for the CIA – the good guys – and against the KGB – the bad guys. So is he a CIA agent simply posing as a journalist?

Keep in mind that it has been acknowledged though hardly talked about now, that the CIA ran an Operation Mockingbird which had the CIA plant journalists inside major media organizations. Carl Bernstein in a 25,000 word piece in the Rolling Stone in 1977, The CIA and the Media subtitled “How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up” wrote of various media executives including that of the New York Times who signed agreements with the CIA and allowed various agents and/or sympathizers to work under cover in their foreign bureaus and even plant stories, what’s today called Fake News. It is worth reading in full.

So it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Risen, who was a key journalist in the New York Times and accepted a buy out recently (or did he? [ed. Following Risen’s practice]), is a long time CIA plant.

But any good journalist would argue that one cannot base a headline on circumstantial evidence but actual positive proof. One cannot disprove a negative.

Yet this is how Risen, an alleged journalist (as opposed to a CIA agent), titles his entire piece which I’ll now dissect at a high level.

Risen on National Security

I don’t have a problem about Risen hating Trump. I agree with him that Trump a low-rent racist, a shameless misogynist, and an unbalanced narcissist. He is an unrelenting liar and a two-bit white identity demagogue.

Then Risen makes the following observation:

The fact that such an unstable egomaniac occupies the White House is the greatest threat to the national security of the United States in modern history.

How so? Putting aside Trump’s obnoxiousness, how have Trump’s actual policies differed from what Ted Cruz – who had a good shot as the GOP nominee if not for Trump – would have followed? Is the assertion that Cruz would not have proved as divisive policy wise (as opposed to rhetoric)? That he would not be pursuing almost exactly the same domestic policy that Trump is pushing albeit with more “Presidential” heft?

Bush the second illegally invaded Iraq, and destabilized a whole region – as clearly warned by not just the Arab League but by Saddam’s mortal enemy, the Iranians and in opposition with millions of Americans and Europeans – with reverberations to this day, and led to the deaths not just of 100,000s of Iraqis but even assuming you care two hoots about [insert your favorite derogatory word for Arabs], thousands of Americans were killed and injured resulting in trillions of dollars of current and future spend. American credibility went down the toilet not just in the Middle East, where it still has to recover, but even Europe where Germany and France (along with Russia) opposed the war. (Recall the relief when Obama won the Presidency that the Europeans awarded him a Nobel Peace prize before he did anything and before he actually started a few wars of his own.)

Domestically, Bush pursued various conservative policies that benefited his oil rich friends, with civil rights taking a beating, and oversaw the worst recession since the Great Depression whose effects are still being felt in middle America (and which were a large part of why a key demographic voted for insurgent/anti-establishment candidates whether it was Obama in 2008 or Trump in 2016).

So why was Bush not a National Security threat? What is National Security? Keeping the CIA happy? Playing business as usual with the DC establishment? Or ensuring Americans are safe financially with good health and personal security?

Risen of course never explains this. (Again if Risen is a CIA agent it explains his perspective.)

“Is Trump a Traitor?”

Risen goes on with:

Which brings me to the only question about Donald Trump that I find really interesting: Is he a traitor?

Did he gain the presidency through collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Actually the second question of whether Trump gained the Presidency because of collusion with Putin is simpler to answer than Risen posits.

And the answer is “No”. Amazingly Risen effectively answers it similarly further down in his article (see Risen Buries the Lede below).

This is because the real question Risen is asking is:

Is there any evidence that either:

(A) Voting machines were hacked to change the results?

(B) Americans who would have voted for Hillary Clinton either voted for Trump, a third party, or stayed home in significant numbers because of Russia’s alleged campaign thus throwing the election to Trump.

So even IF Russia is guilty of every sin it is accused of – leaking DNC / Podesta emails – and using vast armies of trolls to spread memes, and even if Trump was fully aware of this, the question of whether it changed the result is easier to answer.

And no one in the Obama administration or so far the Mueller investigation has made that assertion: that the election results were changed because of the alleged vast Russian interference.

Indeed various polls/Post mortems have shown that Clinton – whose approval levels were the second worst for a recent POTUS candidate behind Trump, the worst – was always in danger of losing in the swing states and if anything along with Clinton stupidly refusing to campaign in key states at the end – ignoring advice from even her husband – the furor regarding the last minute Comey announcement regarding Clinton’s emails being found on Weiner’s laptops, made a significant difference to the final electoral tally.

So by Risen’s logic, is Comey a Traitor? (Perhaps it’ll be Risen’s next piece).

The first and main question which is whether Trump purposefully colluded with the Russians is the complex one starting with the definition of what “collusion” is.

If “collusion” means: “Did Trump take advantage of news from various leaks now attributed by the IC to Russians to embarrass Clinton”? the answer is of course “yes”. Trump used every bit of information he could find on Clinton against her often twisting the truth (as Clinton also of course did).

Did Trump know who were the alleged hackers? Should he have cared? If (say) the Russians have released a compromising picture of Trump, would the Clinton campaign have refused to use it “because it came from the Russians”?

The answer of course is “No”. Neither candidate would have cared what the source or motives were. Did anyone question who leaked Trump’s tax return? Indeed the New York Times pompously (but correctly) tweeted: “Why the NYT…does not care who leaked us Trump’s tax return, or what the motivation was.”. All that matters is whether the allegations are true.

The Trump campaign met with Russians to see if they had any dirt on Clinton’s dealings with Russians (eg on Uranium One that the GOP seemed obsessed about) while the Clinton campaign hired a firm that hired an ex-UK intelligence agent to meet with Russians to get dirt on Trump’s dealings with Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign ran a close family run business versus the sprawling operation that was the Clinton campaign with various surrogates insulating Clinton from direct involvement does not mean both efforts were not in effect having the same goal: to show that the other candidate was subservient to Russian interests. Yet the Trump campaign meetings with the Russians is seen as nefarious whereas the Clinton campaigns’ is seen as “normal Opposition Research.”

Both of course are part of the dirty, muckraking politicking in the US that it proudly calls “an exercise in democracy”.

If by “collusion” Risen means that Trump carefully coordinated with Russians in some manner fully aware of their goals or that indeed he is a puppet of the Russians, as much evidence of this has come forward as showing that Obama was a secret Muslim bent on imposing Sharia Law on the US and thus a National Security threat.

Risen Goes Maximum Hysteria

Risen writes:

Americans must now live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the president has the best interests of the United States or those of the Russian Federation at heart.

Really? As a journalist, Risen’s job should be to look at the actual evidence of Trump’s policies which he does not, to begin to answer this claim. (If Risen is a CIA agent of course his job is to spread innuendo and propaganda.)

Keep in mind why Trump was first accused of being a Russian agent or soft on Russia. Because he refused to insult Putin.

Now insulting Putin is as acid a test of American Patriotism as Saluting the Flag in some circles. Risen himself is a Patriot because straight off the bat he calls Putin a dictator, though of course not only Putin elected by the Russian populace but every poll shows Putin genuinely has a large support from the Russian population not just compared to the alternatives (which critics say he has suppressed) but because they actively think he has led the country to better financial, social and security stability from the depths of the 90s. So Risen calling Putin a dictator is pure propaganda – more typical of a CIA agent than a journalist (but no doubt he thinks Merkel a shining example of a Democrat though she has used every trick in the book including ensuring no challengers come from within her own party while forming coalitions with other centrists – including those who allegedly disagree with her on social and economic policy – to hold on to power since 2005, that even the establishment outlet Der Spiegel wrote “Surveying the Ruins of Merkelism“).

So by asserting Putin is a dictator, Risen is not acting as a journalist. (But perfectly of course as a CIA agent.)

The simple reason why Trump for all his obnoxiousness did not insult Putin is that he doesn’t start insulting someone unless there is a reason to. He had praised Hillary once only turning on the viciousness once he had to win; he praised Bannon when the latter left office only viciously turning against him when Trump felt Bannon had betrayed him.

Part of Trunp’s “dealmaking” is to not to box himself into a corner with making enemies when he doesn’t need to but then when he feels they have wronged him, he comes out with all guns blazing. With Trump everything is personal.

If one looks at what the Trump administration has actually done – a majority of his actions are either continuation or worsening of Obama policies towards Russia.

In the UN, there is a rabid anti-Russia hawk who makes John Bolton, let alone Samantha Power, look like a milquetoast diplomat. In Ukraine, a hardline hawkish McCain-ite, Kurt Volker, has been appointed US envoy. Discussions of arming the Ukrainians are underway. NATO expansion and increased war games are on-going much to the protests and consternation of the Russians. In Syria, while there has been coordination at the Pentagon level, the US has taken a hardline, essentially occupying and beginning to consolidate a good chunk of Syria including various oil resources and demanding that until Assad steps down, the US will not only hold on that chunk but also try to block reconstruction funds. The Russians are livid but can’t do much. Trump has also expanded the defense budget, signed off in an aggressive Nuclear Posture Review which identifies Russia as a threat, alarming even the Russia-hating Democrats as being too much. Trump also seized Russia’s diplomatic facilities (in response to the Russians reacting belatedly to Obama’s crude expulsion with two days notice of Russian diplomats and their families on the eve of most important celebration for Russians, the New Year) an escalation from Obama who simply had them vacated.

Also as a Washington Post piece noted, Trump has not blocked an Obama initiative to plant cyberimplants in Russian networks to inflict “pain and discomfort” remotely as needed.

In short, he has – with the exception of insulting Putin – behaved exactly like a GOP President towards Russia and worse overall for Russia than how Obama behaved.

Risen seems blind to all this. Indeed the rhetoric among some is why Trunp is not being even MORE belligerent towards the Russians. (At the same time many Dems who are saying this are also warning against Trump’s belligerent rhetoric towards North Korea. Apparently it is dangerous to threaten a minor nuclear power like North Korea but too soft not to poke the world’s largest nuclear power more instead of seeking common ground. The New York Times managed to both decry Trump’s aggressive rhetoric towards North Korea and fault him for not enough versus Russia on the same day.)

So Risen in amping the hysteria does not act like a journalist. (However a good CIA agent would do just that.)

Risen Doubles Down

Risen acknowledges hacking is a common practiced on all sides. Indeed the question is not whether Russia has been hacking entities in the US – it would be astonishing if it was not as the US has been shown to do on a much more extensive scale world wide – or trying to influence opinion (as the US does via its various lobbying groups aka – “Think-Tanks”- or via mass media outlets like CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post) but how organized and extensive they were.

What Risen conflates again is any evidence of Russian interference in the election with affecting the final result. Mentioning the recent Mueller indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for various technicalities relating to their alleged meddling in the US election, Risen writes:

Given all this, it seems increasingly likely that the Russians have pulled off the most consequential covert action operation since Germany put Lenin on a train back to Petrograd in 1917.

He doesn’t mention that in a Q&A announcing the indictment DAG Rosenstein said there was no accusation or evidence in the indictment that the final result was effected as a result and that there is no evidence in the indictment of collusion of any Americans let alone Trump.

What Risen Leaves out of His Narrative Framing

Risen claims that there are 4 important tracks to the Trump-Russia story.

1. Whether there is credible evidence Russia intervened in the US election to help Trump win.

2. Second, we must figure out whether Trump or people around him worked with the Russians to try to win the election.

The next 2 have to deal with Obstruction of Justice charges against Trump/GOP of trying to derail the Russian investigation.

What Risen as a journalist leaves out is an important 5th, 6th tracks

5. Is there any evidence that the Clinton campaign (which thanks to the leaks was shown to be actively sabotaging the apparent democratic primaries within the DNC as well as getting debate questions in the finals) and later the Democratic establishment decided to activate the Trump-Russia collusion story to advance their own voting chances in 2018 and 2020 and to rehabilitate their image.

6. Were FISA standards followed in seeking surveillance of Trump campaign associates? This should be key to anyone concerned with National Security since the Trump (or Pence) admin can in 2020 seize on some dossier that Biden is a Chinese agent to surveil his campaign.

Risen is not only not bothered to be curious about the answers to these questions but indeed refuses to even put them in his framework.

Indeed by his very headline and narrative framing, Risen has already started to drum up a particular, familiar narrative. It’s clear what his agenda is. Not journalism for sure. (Then again one would not expect a CIA agent to be concerned with journalism).

What Risen Considers a Disgrace is Journalism

Risen, an alleged journalist, considers it a disgrace that

To their disgrace, editors and reporters at American news organizations greatly enhanced the Russian echo chamber, eagerly writing stories about Clinton and the Democratic Party based on the emails, while showing almost no interest during the presidential campaign in exactly how those emails came to be disclosed and distributed.

Really? The emails showing various Clinton shenanigans were not relevant? Why not? Shouldn’t it be relevant that the establishment of one party tried to shut down a insurgent candidacy and stacking the game against it? Why is this not a threat to American Democracy?

(The DNC response by the way has been that it doesn’t have to play fair since it an make up whatever rules it wants which is legally accurate but certainly not what most would call fair. Risen who no doubt can expound on how rigged the system in Russia is for the establishment candidate, Putin, probably does not think this avenue of questioning relevant. )

Risen goes on to insinuate that the very real news taken from emails is reminiscent of “KGB propaganda”. How is an organization reading Clinton emails first hand and sharing them, propaganda? Why is sharing Trump’s tax returns or the “pussy tape” not propaganda then? Is it propaganda when actual news doesn’t favor your candidate?

Risen goes on a long tangent to show off his knowledge about the KGB and its propaganda, completely of course omitting that the CIA engaged in a far greater global propaganda effort given its global reach and resources. (Can you think of any global Russian media organizations during the Cold War? A couple? The CIA had dozens. )

He then talks of Putin’s

personal humiliation…felt watching the Soviet empire collapse help[ing] explain his drive to return Russia to great power status.

Putin has spoken many times including to US journalists like Mike Wallace (an interview worth reading in full) that what he bristled about was not the collapse of the Soviet Empire per se but that 25 millions Russians outside Russia suddenly had uncertain status. What he resolved was not necessarily to recreate the Soviet Empire – which he has criticized on other occasions for being anti-democratic (witness how Kruschev simply gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 with a strike of a Pen with Crimeans’ opinions not considered) and trying to push ideologies abroad (as the West does) – but ensure that Russian citizens are never treated as outcasts (which is of course why a huge effort is being made by various arms of the US establishment to do just that.)

Risen then goes on to defend the decision of CrowdStrike to deny the FBI access to its computer systems by saying it’s because CrowdStrike’s lead investigator was an FSB expert. Really? And the fact that CrowdStrike is led by an Atlantic Council (think civilian arm of NATO) “Senior Fellow” (think paid propagandist) is not relevant? Since when has a private company told the FBI to fuck off from a federal investigation and the FBI meekly acquiesced?

Risen Buries the Lede

Risen then says

The scope of the impact of Russian hacking and subsequent disclosures of Democratic Party emails and data on the outcome of the 2016 election remains unclear.

If even Risen admits the impact on the outcome of the election remain “unclear” why claim that the “Russian effort succeeded” earlier? That Trump was in the White House because of Putin?

The rest of Risen’s piece about evidence that Russia was trying to hack various pieces of US infrastructure is as surprising as saying Russia constantly tries to figure out the weakness in US missile or Air Defenses or transmissions: obviously the US does it too and more likely on a much larger and effective scale. (Recall the Washington Post story earlier about how the US is putting cyber-implants inside Russia’s infrastructure to activate as needed. And of course the stories of NSA hacking and spying of pretty much the entire globe’s infrastructure and devices speak for themselves. But when Russia does it, it’s because they’re just bad guys still lusting after the Soviet Empire.


Whatever else it was, this piece by James Risen was not journalism as the numerous examples above show, but more a propaganda effort to paint Russia as a unique villain and cast any attacks on the US establishment as nefarious Kremlin plots.

What’s more interesting is that this all appeared in the Intercept an outlet hitherto more critical of the machinations of the US Government worldwide which has caused disquiet in US Establishment circles that the Intercept is acting like a Kremlin agent.

Indeed there are some in the dissident left who have long held that given that the Intercept is owned by Pierre Omidyar, someone who is very much part of the Globalist establishment who see any insurgency from the Left or the Right, as well as Russia as threats, that it is a front to lull dissidents into thinking it’s safe for them to approach it about US Government shenanigans.

This was a view that has been promulgated over the past few months by among others MintPress News. Whatever the truth, this latest by Risen cannot help but fuel the rumors that the Intercept is turning into yet another Establishment shill.

Post Script

To be clear I don’t believe Risen is a CIA agent. I do believe that he’s so wrapped in a particular echo chamber sympathetic to the CIA and a hatred for Trump and the Russian establishment that while he has published many critical pieces on US politics, when push comes to shove his patriotic and political loyalties trump journalistic sense.

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