Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

February 22, 2018

The Weaponization of Conspiracy Theories and Information Pollution in the Trump Era
Could Putin Be Reading Trump’s PDB?
Trump Wants Teachers to Be Trained to Shoot the Kids They are Supposed to Educate
Program Notes

We begin with the weaponization of conspiracy theories and cynical propaganda that has flourished and is encouraged by Donald Trump who continually refers to the mainstream press as “fake news” while often citing hideous and sick lies manufactured by Alex Jones and others on the fringes of media and sanity. David Carroll, a professor of media design at the New School who researches and analyzes major shifts in the media as it relates to privacy, surveillance, social media and journalism, joins us to discuss how You Tube has had to take down scurrilous videos it has been hosting which claim one of the Florida students who survived the recent massacre is a “crisis actor”. We look into “information pollution” that is deliberately manufactured to further political ends and discredit a genuine reaction to a social crisis and an American tragedy which right wing operatives are defiling by claiming an outspoken student survivor David Hogg is an actor, “bought and paid for by CNN and George Soros”. We will also explore whether the decline in public education and the lack of critical thinking contribute to why Americans appear to be susceptible to such disgusting lies as Alex Jones’s claim that the massacre of kindergarten kids at Sandy Hook was a government “false flag” operation.

Then we speak with a 23-year former member of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who retired as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats, about the extent to which Putin and the Russians have penetrated not just the United States’ political and electoral system, but the White House itself. Glenn Carle, the author of “The Interrogator: An Education” joins us to discuss his concern that not only does Putin appear to own Trump, he might even be reading the top secret PDB, the President’s Daily Brief.

Then finally we assess whether Donald Trump’s answer to the latest school massacre to not just to arm teachers, but to pay them a bonus for packing concealed weapons, is something he truly believes or is an NRA talking point. John Donohue III, a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and the author of “Shooting Down The More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis”, joins us to discuss the contrast between the passion, clarity and conviction of the young victims who met with the president in the Oval Office and the solution offered by the nation’s leader which is to give a bounty and firearms training to those charged with educating our kids and a license to kill them.

David Carroll | Glenn Carle | John Donahue, III

February 21, 2018

Why Won’t the Intelligence Community Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance?
The Ultimate Coup by the Koch Brothers
The Kochs Already Have 28 Out of the 34 States Needed to Rewrite the US Constitution
Program Notes

We begin with the looming showdown between White House Chief of Staff Kelly and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner who is resisting giving up his access to the nation’s top secrets which, although he does not have a permanent security clearance, Kushner is the biggest consumer of in terms of top secret information, much of which could be highly profitable to private business interests. Jeff Stein, who covers spy agencies and foreign policy for Newsweek and wrote the Spy Talk column for the Congressional Quarterly, joins us to discuss how vulnerable the Trump White House is to foreign spies with 130 staffers with access to top secrets unable to get security clearances. We also speculate why the intelligence community does not want to give Kushner a security clearance and why he is getting his hands on as much vital intelligence as possible, even though he has not qualified for a permanent security clearance.

Then we investigate what could be the most amazing power play and greatest coup by the Koch Brothers who are poised to rewrite the entire U.S. Constitution according to their policy preferences and ideological whims and wishes. Joining us is Lisa Graves, the co-director of Documented, a new investigative website at who served in all three branches of the federal government – as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, as Chief Counsel for Nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as a Deputy Chief for the U.S. Courts. We discuss how the entire U.S. Constitution could be up for grabs if the Koch-funded effort to bring about a Constitution Convention via the ratification of 34 states is successful.

Then finally we explore further the possibility that the laws of the land and the very foundation of American democracy are about to be rewritten by the Koch Brothers who already have 28 of the 34 states needed to convene a Constitutional Convention in their pocket, so it would seem that the billionaire right wing donors are well on their way to pulling off the ultimate coup. Alex Kotch, an investigative journalist focusing on money in politics who was until recently part of the Political Capital investigative unit at the International Business Times, joins us to discuss his article at the Center for Media and Democracy, “Kochs Bankroll Move to Rewrite the Constitution”.

Jeff Stein | Lisa Graves | Alex Kotch

February 20, 2018

How the Right Wing Media and Bots Took Down Senator Al Franken
Mueller Closes in on Manafort as Putin Sacrifices His “Cook”
Nikki Haley’s Snarky Rebuke of the Palestinian Leader
Program Notes

We begin with the explosive revelation in Newsweek from new research which has found that the case against Senator Al Franken was largely manufactured by right wing operatives and then amplified by bot networks and orchestrated and disseminated by the right wing echo chamber in the media. Nina Burleigh, the National Politics Correspondent at Newsweek joins us to discuss her latest article at Newsweek “How an Alt-Right Bot Network Took Down Al Franken”. We will trace the roll of Trump’s dirty trickster Roger Stone and the right wing media network surrounding the alleged victim, the Hooters pin-up model Leeann Tweeden, along with the Japanese bots. We will also look into how the Democrats folded thinking Roy Moore would be elected to the Senate and that they’d need to take the moral high ground by sacrificing Senator Franken while in the rush to judgement, not investigating who the women who came forward accusing Franken were and whether they were for real and their stories based in truth.

Then we get an update on the Mueller investigation following today’s announcement of a guilty plea from a former attorney at an international law firm charged with lying to federal agents about work he had done for Paul Manafort on behalf of Putin’s puppet in Ukraine Yanukovych.  Anders Aslund, a professor at the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, who served as an economic advisor to the governments of Russia and Ukraine, joins us to discuss the ties between Manafort, Rick Gates and the lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan, who is the son-in-law of a powerful oligarch and co-owner of Russia’s Alfa Bank.

Then finally we speak with a former editor of The New York Times, Dulcie Leimbach, the founder of Pass Blue that covers the United Nations, for which she writes and edits. We discuss the address today to the U.N. Security Council by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that was followed by a snarky rebuke from the U.S. Representative to the U.N. Nikki Haley who castigated the Palestinian leader reminding him that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a done deal, even though Abbas had left the chamber before she made her speech.

Nina Burleigh | Anders Aslund | Dulcie LeimbachM

February 19, 2018

Trump’s Presidential Rating on President’s Day?
Florida Exposes Trump’s Priorities and Human Failings
Trump Distracts Us From the Enactment of the Koch Brothers’ Agenda
Program Notes

We begin on this President’s Day with the latest survey conducted by 170 members of the American Political Science Association’s President’s and Executive Politics section on presidential legacies and the rankings and ratings of our presidents over the nation’s history. The co-author of the report Justin Vaughn, a Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State University, joins us to discuss his article at The New York Times “How Does Trump Stack up Against the Best – and Worst – Presidents?”  We assess the recent presidential legacies that have soared like President Obama’s going up from 18 in 2014 to eighth place today, and those that have declined like President Clinton and Andrew Jackson whose embrace by Donald Trump, along with changing attitudes over Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans, might have added to his demise, particularly since our current president has replaced James Buchanan as the worst president in America’s history with Donald Trump after just one year in office, placed at the bottom.

Then finally we speak with Nancy Maclean, a Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University and the award-winning author of “Democracy in chains, the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America”. She joins us to discuss how much the press and public are distracted by Trump’s daily headline-grabbing antics while behind the scenes the Republicans are making every bit of the Koch Brothers’ agenda the land of the land as America more and more drifts away from democracy towards plutocracy.

Justin Vaughn | Jennifer Mercieca | Nancy Maclean

February 18, 2018

Is Donald Trump a Traitor?
Could the Young Students in Florida Revive Gun Control?
How Growing Inequality Threatens the US Constitution
Program Notes

We will begin with the latest indictment in the Mueller investigation announced on Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein which accuses 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities of intervening in the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.  James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize-winner former investigative reporter with The New York Times who is now the Senior National Security Correspondent at The Intercept where he has an article “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?”, joins us. We will discuss what could be the most consequential covert operation since Germany put Lenin on a train to Petrograd in 1917 and how much Russia’s new Czar, the former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, has created a state run by a consortium of spies, gangsters and oligarchs in which Putin regulates the oligarchs, handing out state assets and government contracts in exchange for political favors and off-the-books covert operations and influence campaigns which are augmented by legions of trolls and self-financed Internet criminals.

Then we will look into the possibility that something might actually be done in response to the latest mass shooting beyond the usual sop of “thoughts and prayers”, this time led by the young survivors at the Florida High School who held an impassioned rally over the weekend calling out President Trump and lawmakers on the NRA payroll with chants of “shame on you” and “vote them out”. An expert on the 2nd Amendment, Saul Cornell, the Chair of History at Fordham University whose latest book is “The Second Amendment Goes to Court”, joins us to discuss the planned march by the students on Washington on March 24 and how the 2nd Amendment has been misinterpreted to give unlimited rights to a small minority of gun fanatics at the expense of the rights of Americans to have, as the founder fathers intended , “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”.

Then finally, we will speak with Ganesh Sitaraman, a Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School and a longtime advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren who is the author of a new book just out, “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic”. We will discuss how the United States was uniquely set up as an egalitarian democracy in opposition to the feudal rule of the British aristocracy and that if rising income inequality is not addressed, it will destroy the American Constitution.

James Risen | Saul Cornell | Ganesh Sitaraman

February 15, 2018

Politicians Offering Prayers Instead of Solutions
How Society Failed the Victims and the Shooter
The Culture of Violence in America’s Disposable Society
Program Notes

We begin with the 18th mass shooting at a school so far this year which took place yesterday at a high school in Florida and has left 17 dead and 14 injured with 5 in critical condition. Doug Phillipsthe assistant city editor at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale who is a few miles away from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, joins us to discuss what his reporters in the field are finding out today about the 19 year old shooter Nicholas Cruz and the victims and their families. We  discuss the reactions from Florida’s Governor who allowed the possibility of looking into the connection between mental illness and access to assault rifles, and the different responses from Florida Senator Marco Rubio who has an A+ approval rating from the NRA as opposed to Florida’s Democratic Senator Ben Nelson who is not afraid to ask the obvious question as to how this troubled young man who telegraphed his violent intentions on social media was not flagged by the FBI but was able to buy a military-style assault rifle.

Then we  speak with Kenneth Nunn, a Professor of Law at the University of Florida and the Associate Director of the Center on Children and Families. He joins us to discuss how society clearly failed the 17 innocents who were killed at what should be a safe place of learning and also how society failed the troubled 19 year old shooter who had lost both parents and was displaying violent and threatening anti-social behavior on social media, having received firearms training from a white supremacist ethno-nationalist group. Why he was never given help, counselling or treatment yet was able to purchase an assault rifle remains and open question?

Then finally we will examine our culture of violence and America’s disposable society where not just the homeless population of disposable people is growing, but an all-but homeless 19 year old had become so alienated from his more affluent peers and seduced by violent white supremacist fantasies that he sought vindication and notoriety by slaughtering his classmates. Henry Giroux, who holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest and is the author of “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism” and “America at War with Itself”, joins us.

Doug Phillips | Kenneth Nunn | Henry Giroux

February 14, 2018

Israeli Police Recommend a Criminal Indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu
South Africa’s Corrupt President Steps Down
The Wall Street Takeover of the White House
Program Notes

We begin with the corruption scandal in Israel that has ensnared Prime Minister Netanyahu who Israeli police say there is enough evidence against in two corruption cases to recommend his indictment Robert Malley, the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group who was the White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama Administration joins us to discuss whether Netanyahu will weather the storm of scandal and end up being Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. We will also look into the possibility of an uprising in Gaza as Israel turns the screws punishing its beleaguered inhabitants who are the victims of an intra-Palestinian power struggle, caught between the fanaticism of Hamas and the corruption of Fatah.  And we’ll explore the suggestion by Secretary of State Tillerson that the Trump Administration has a plan in the works that won’t be so lopsided as their lavishly pro-Israel stance so far would suggest, and that the U.S. might demand some concessions from Israel in a deal with the Palestinians in exchange for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Then we examine the resignation of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma who stepped down today after eight years in power, the last years of which found him mired in a series of corruption scandals that finally cost him the support of his ruling African National Congress party. Katherine Newman, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Massachusetts and the author of “After Freedom: the Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa” joins us to assess what might follow Zuma’s spectacular fall from grace.

Then finally, with Donald Trump reversing his populist election campaign message of draining the Wall Street swamp and making hedge fund billionaires pay the same tax rate as their secretaries do, we speak with Sheelah Kolhatkar, the author of “Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street”. Now that Trump is surrounded by former Goldman Sachs executives and is giving away the store to Wall Street, we follow the tale of insider trading and the downfall of a disgraced hedge fund titan who is now back in business.

Robert Malley | Katherine Newman | Sheelah Kolhatkar

February 13, 2018

Intelligence Chiefs Warn That Russia Will Meddle in the 2018 Elections
The Broken Security Clearance System
Pakistan’s Secret Unit That Thwarted the US at Every Turn in Afghanistan
Program Notes

We begin with today’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee from America’s top intelligence officials who sounded the alarm on Russian interference in this year’s election following Russia’s successful manipulation of our 2016 election, and speak with Justin Levitt, a Professor of Law at Loyola Law School and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. An expert on election law and voting systems, he joins us to discuss whether there is the political will to follow up on the dire warnings from intelligence chiefs, particularly in the White House where President Trump continues to deny Russian meddling in our politics which continues to this day. We also assess whether the threat to our democracy and the 2018 elections could be seen as an opportunity to fix our broken election systems since the Department of Homeland Security has found that the Russians probed the election systems of 21 states in 2016 and could easily go much further to manipulate results or sow confusion in 2018.

Then we examine another aspect of testimony today from the intelligence chiefs with the Director of National Intelligence describing a broken system for issuing security clearances that has a current government-wide backlog of 700,000 applications.  There is also a clear double-standard in which White House officials and relatives of Donald Trump are quickly given clearances for access to the nation’s most secret information, even if the FBI has concerns that arise in background checks.  Josh Gerstein, a senior White House reporter for POLITICO specializing in national security joins us to discuss his article at Politico “FBI director puts responsibility for Porter on White House” and how a top White House aide like Rob Porter who is accused of being a wife-beater, could be vulnerable to blackmail.

Then finally Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll joins us in the studio. He is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer for The New Yorker and his latest book, just out is “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. We discuss how this secret unit within the ISI, Pakistan’s Military Intelligence, Directorate S, has been thwarting the U.S. at every turn in its 17 year-long slow-motion military and political disaster in Afghanistan.

Justin Levitt | Josh Gerstein | Steve Coll

February 12, 2018

Trump’s Budget and the $1 Trillion It Adds to the Deficit
Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Critics Call a Scam
America’s Retreat Under Trump
Program Notes

We begin with President Trump’s 2019 budget  released today which guts diplomacy by 32% and environmental protection by 34% while slashing domestic spending by billions in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies at the same time boosting defense spending and immigration enforcement. Mike Lofgren, who has spent 28 years in Congress the last 16 of which as senior analyst on the House and Senate Budget Committees, joins us to discuss the $4.4 trillion budget which adds $7 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years and his article in tomorrow’s New York Times which is a detailed analysis of the budget. We look into the charges of Republican hypocrisy leveled by Senator Rand Paul over the GOP’s sudden abandonment of their mantra on the doom and gloom of mounting deficits, and assess how long it will be before Trump’s working class voters realize they have been scammed by a one-time bonus instead of a pay raise while consumer protection is eliminated, workplace health and safety stripped and collective bargaining outlawed.

Then we get an analysis of Trump’s much-ballyhooed  infrastructure plan that critics are calling a scam and speak with Robert Puentes, the President and CEO of the ENO Center for Transportation, an independent, non-partisan think tank which focusses on infrastructure. He joins us to discuss a largely aspirational plan that takes $200 billion from existing infrastructure spending with the hope of leveraging that with state and local spending and private investment up to $1.5 trillion.  This is far below what the American Society of Civil Engineers considers is the $4.59 trillion needed in infrastructure spending and would likely mean that more tolls and usage fees would be involved to create revenue streams to attract private investors.

Then finally with Trump’s budget taking an axe to American diplomacy, we examine the paradox of throwing more money at defense while the president’s ignorance, ineptitude and inattention has seen America lose ground in the Middle East with Russia moving in to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Turkey while China makes gains in Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Southeast Asia. Historian Alfred McCoy, the author of “In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power”, joins us to discuss America’s retreat and his article at The Nation“Fortress America in Crumbling: Trump’s inept one-man diplomacy is wrecking U.S. foreign policy”.

Mike Lofgren | Robert Puentes | Alfred McCoy

February 11, 2018

The Creeping Coup is Underway in America
Making the Case for Impeachment
Could Clashes Between Israel and Iran Lead to a Wider Escalation of the Syria War
Program Notes

We begin with revelations in The New York Times that American intelligence agents tried to buy back NSA and CIA hacking tools stolen by the so-called “Shadow Brokers” but were instead offered dirt on Trump cavorting with six Russian prostitutes in Moscow’s Ritz hotel. Trump has seized on this story to claim vindication tweeting out that “the Russians sold phony secrets on Trump to the U.S…Its all starting to come out now - DRAIN THE SWAMP!”  We will examine this bungled operation with a former CIA operations officer Robert Baer who is now the national security analyst for CNN and discuss whether there is a creeping coup underway in America as Trump appears to be winning in his efforts to change the subject from investigations into him, his family and his business activities by turning the tables with constant calls for investigations of the press, the intelligence community, Hillary Clinton, the FBI, the DOJ and Democrats on the Intelligence Committees. Now that Trump has fired or forced out almost every official in the FBI and DOJ in change of investigating him, as he sits on the Democrat’s rebuttal to the phony Nunes memo, we will assess whether Trump will be able to either delay, neutralize or shut down the Mueller inquiry.

Then we speak with the American political historian Allan Lichtman, who has studied both the American right and the presidency and is the author of the national bestseller “The Case For Impeachment”, just out now in an updated edition. He joins us to discuss the apparent determination if not desperation on Trump’s part to prevent the evidence against him that Mueller has collected from seeing the light of day, and whether in terms of comparisons to Watergate, the reverse is true that this time Trump’s crimes are worse than the cover-up underway.

Then finally, we look into whether the Iranian drone incursion into Israel and the punitive airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria that followed the downing of an Israeli F-16, could lead to a wider escalation of the many-sided war in Syria. Asher Kaufman, Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace at the University of Notre Dame and author of “Contested Frontiers: Cartography, Sovereignty, and Conflict at the Syria, Lebanon, Israel Tri-Border Region”, joins us. We will discuss Russia’s fear of an escalation and the further complication that two NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. could also be drawn into a confrontation over the Kurds.

Robert Baer | Allan Lichtman | Asher Kaufman


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