Last night (9-6-17), Terry Gross interviewed John Le Carré on her show Fresh Air. Le Carré is a world famous author and more:
If John le Carré’s espionage novels seem particularly authentic, it may be because the author has first-hand experience. Le Carré worked as a spy for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 early in his writing career, and only left the field after his third book, 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, became an international best-seller.
He’s had a fascinating life, and the saying goes, he’s seen things. From growing up with a father who was a pathological liar, navigating the cloak and dagger world of the cold war and the Soviet Union, to becoming a best-selling author, he’s got some interesting observations and the background to have his opinions carry some weight.
Gross ranged over a number of subjects with him, but of course Russia and current politics came up. Kind of hard to avoid it when a former KGB Colonel is running Russia — and our elections? Le Carré spoke on several points worth discussing. You can listen to the show here, or go right to the transcript.
Le Carré has this to say about Russia and their skill at compromising targets — and Trump. I’ve emphasized points of particular interest. From the transcript:
Now, as to what is happening in the other areas of Russian behavior and Mr. Trump’s association – there, I think we follow the money trail. I think it’s perfectly possible that Trump was taken into what I call a honey trap – that he had ladies found for him, and he misbehaved in Russia. I don’t think – if that film was shown tomorrow worldwide, Trump would get away with it. People would say, well, boys will be boys. Or they would say the different parts of the body in the video don’t add up; this is all fake stuff. And 35 experts would testify to that – so wouldn’t get any distance on that.
But on the money, that’s a deep and persistent theme in Trump’s business affairs. It’s gone on for a long, long time. It relates, also, to a great extent to property held in the United States, which brings the thing closer to home. And it relates, also, to Mr. Trump’s family.
LE CARRE: Well, first of all, let’s remember that Putin, when he was running the KGB from Dresden in East Germany, was a master of kompromat. So when he wanted to obtain a Western diplomat, a Western official, a target of some kind, he would surround them. He would tempt them. He would set stuff up. He would fake a background. They couldn’t deny whatever it was.
That’s an old skill. It goes back hundreds of years, not just in Russia. But the Russians specialized in it, even in czarist times. And they – the gray czars of today are experts at it. They love it. They love the complexity of it. They love the chess game of it. But I don’t think it would work.
So I think the kompromat, if it’s taken place, has taken place very largely through Trump’s own endeavors to raise money in all sorts of dark places. And together, all those efforts amount to a self-compromising activity, which the Russians have embraced. I think they have him by the short hairs.
The whole interview is well worth a listen. Le Carré has a particularly alarming observation about what’s happening in Russia today — and among the rich, right wing extremists in America and elsewhere.
LE CARRE: Let’s look, first of all, at the operation influence, if you like, and how that’s exerted, what we suspect the Russians are doing, not only in the United States, but they did in Britain for the referendum, maybe, in Britain for the election. They certainly interfered in Macron’s election in France. So who are these forces? And what is really spooky, I think, and profoundly disturbing is they come from the West as well as the East – that there are oligarchs in the West who are so far to the right that they make a kind of natural cause with those on the other side of the world. Both of them have in common a great contempt for the ordinary conduct of democracy.
They want to diminish it. They see it as their enemy. They see – they’ve made a dirty word of liberalism – one of the most inviting words in politics. They’ve – and so they’re closing in on the same target from different points of view. That’s the first thing. So whether they’re called Cambridge Analytica, whether they’ve got some spooky name and they’re hidden away in the Ukraine, they’re actually doing much the same job. They’re undermining the decent processes of democracy, and that’s having its effect. It’s had its effect in Europe, in Hungary, in Poland. And I think it’s had a quite disturbing effect in my own country. We’ll come to that later.
Read/Listen to the Whole Thing. (It’s 42 minutes long.) This interview ought to be front page news.
If you’d like a little more background on those right wing oligarchs Le Carré mentions and what they’re doing, I just happened to write them up yesterday. George Monbiot has a long article on the determined campaign to ‘save’ capitalism by undermining democracy.
It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.
The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.
Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.
This is what Le Carré is referencing.
In his reminisces about the world of espionage, he notes the unsettling realization that the people he was opposing, the KGB and others, people in other intelligence agencies, everyone in that dark world shares the bond of people engaged in the same line of work. They’re all colleagues, they have experiences that separate them from people outside the trade.
It looks like oligarchs in Russian and in the U.S. and elsewhere have a similar thing going.
This is disturbing on so many levels…