In 1962, science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick published an amazing novel entitled “The Man in the High Castle.” Amazon has turned it into a truly captivating series. Set in 1962, it depicts an “alternate universe” with the alarming premise that Japan and Germany had won World War II. The victorious Axis nations carved up our country, with Germany controlling the East Coast and Japan the West (the Midwest was a “neutral zone”). Disguising hatred and divisiveness in the shroud of patriotic slogans, the Nazis, in particular, are successful in quelling dissent and in turning the press into an arm of its propaganda machine. The one glimmer of hope is an apparently explosive and revolutionary film, which both the government and a small band of resisters sought to obtain, supposedly made by The Man in the High Castle. Although fiction, the storyline is quite disturbing. It reminds me that our democracy is not guaranteed and that we must be forever vigilant to challenges both foreign and domestic.
As in the television series, a similarly sought after film depicting Russia’s top prosecutor Yuri Skuratov engaging in sex with various women (none were his wife) emerged in 1999. It quickly spelled the end of his career and ushered in a new form of espionage, which the Russians call “Kompromat.” During the last 17 years, the Russians have expanded this modern day “weapon” beyond compromising videos and tapes to a whole array of sophisticated cyber hacking, fake news distribution and other insidious maneuvers all designed to disrupt and destroy a perceived enemy, both domestically and internationally.
Their influence and reach was made evident with their alleged meddling in last November’s United States’ presidential election—so much so that President Obama felt compelled to order our intelligence community to report on Russia’s interference. Their report (submitted last week) had within it a little noticed addendum. Last week, that addendum was released as a 34-page report outlining disturbing allegations so potentially explosive that the mere publication of the document itself became extremely controversial. An abridged form of the “dossier,” which reads like a John le Carre plot, initially found its way into the hands of Sen. John McCain and he forwarded it to the FBI, which was given the task of verifying its authenticity, a job that is still ongoing. In the meantime, the intelligence community has briefed President Obama, incoming President-elect Trump and ranking members of Congress as to the existence of said dossier. The task of the FBI in testing the veracity of the paper is not an easy one since the nature of the information itself makes it extremely difficult to confirm or refute. However, there are some things we do know.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the author of the report is a person whose veracity is highly regarded, a former British intelligence officer. The former intelligence officer, who is now the director of a private security and investigations firm, was hired by former political opponents of Mr. Trump to compile information on his activities in connection with Russia. The agent, whose present whereabouts are unknown, reportedly interviewed numerous sources before compiling his findings in his report, which only Buzzfeed was willing to publish. Since journalistic standards require verification from multiple sources, which has not been accomplished in this case, The New York Times and other organizations correctly declined to publish the document in its entirety.
Even so, there are some assertions that are corroborated by our own intelligence community. For example, it is not disputed that Mr. Putin hated Hillary Clinton, seeing her as an imposing adversary who had been a thorn in his side for some time. He actively employed hackers to do three things: 1) invent and disseminate “fake news” against her in such a way that their sheer volume drowned out any positive or real reporting about her and her campaign, 2) hack into the Democratic National Committee’s computers and disseminate any embarrassing information that could be found, and 3) use the entire internet apparatus at his disposal to advance the candidacy of Donald Trump and cause as much instability in our democratic process as possible. He clearly succeeded in all three goals.
The unverified dossier contains claims that Mr. Trump was the unknowing victim of “Kompromat.” President-elect Trump denied this and absent corroborative evidence we have to take him at his word.
At the conclusion of “The Man in the High Castle,” one of the main protagonists finds himself in a free America circa 1962. Their nightmare is over. Ours will be only when we can finally either verify this explosive report’s veracity or better still chalk it up as yet another example of the “fake news” that has so polluted our election cycle in 2016. In the meantime, we would be wise to heed the words of our outgoing president when he warned the nation in his farewell address: “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions…and all this depends on our participation; accepting the responsibilities of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings…it falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy.”
Truer words were never spoken.