Michael Flynn (Misha to his Russian friends?)

One of the more tragic figures currently in the news is the retired army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. He had a distinguished military career, which involved 33 years service, and most of the latter part was involved with military intelligence. He retired a year earlier than necessary, but there are assertions he was forced to retire as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. There are two versions on the web as to why he was effectively fired. One side says he did not listen, worked against policy, he was a bad manager, and various other things. One such incident involved what Flynn described as a twenty minute meeting with Svetlana Lokhova, who had claimed to have access to Soviet GRU files and was writing a book about them. The meeting was in the presence of an ex-Director of MI6, and a senior person in MI5. Apparently Flynn has been accused of subsequently inviting Lokhova to go to Moscow with him to act as a translator, but that trip did not occur. According to the New York Times, Flynn, as Director of the DIA, exhibited a loose relationship with facts, i.e. initiating “fake facts”. The other version is that Flynn argued al Qaeda was nowhere near defeat, that it would be wrong to topple Assad because radical Islamists were the main force in the Syrian insurgency and that Turkey was looking the other way regarding Daesh in Syria. He criticized Obama for letting al Nusra grow in Syria. The second version suggests he was in fact right, but somewhat inconvenient.

After retiring, he set up a private company as a means of further earning income. This raises a question I cannot answer: what is the exact status of a retired General? Obviously he will be required to keep secure any information he acquired as a General, but as far as I am aware, there is no accusation that he has violated that. However, quite naturally his means of earning income drew on his previous experience. Amongst other things, he had given paid interviews for RT (a Russian television network, which as far as I know, broadcasts in the US), and he also gave an interview unfavourable to Turkish President Erdogan, accusing him of taking Turkey away from secularism. However, after this he was hired by a company indirectly owned by the Turkish Government, to investigate Erdogan’s opponent Fethullah Gulen. Later, Flynn joined the Trump campaign, and spent some time attacking Hillary Clinton. Flynn has been accused of conflict of interest over these events, of accepting money from a foreign agent (although it was an American company) without registering. He also gave a talk in New York for Kaspersky Laboratories (a Russian based company dealing with internet anti-virus software) and received money from these talks. Ex-Presidents are notorious for earning money this way, so it should not be prohibited.

He is also accused of receiving money from Russia in 2015, and he did not fill out the required paperwork and receive consent from Congress, which might violate a clause of the US Constitution. The US Constitution forbids military officers from receiving money from foreign governments, but Flynn could well argue that once he retired from the army, he was no longer a military officer. Added to which, his interview appearing on RT is hardly a covert action. Flynn apparently did report most of these activities to the DIA, so there is no case that he tried to conceal what he was doing. Merely he did not report to all the right places. The essence of all this is, as far as I can see, is that he may or may not have violated laws regarding registration/permission to work, reporting to the required bureaucrats, and he may or may not have done good jobs for those who paid him, but apart from that it is hard to see any problem. Sally Yates, the previous Attorney General, has maintained Flynn would be open to Russian blackmail, but how? Also, like most of the accusers, Yates has several bones to pick with Trump.

President-elect Trump then offered Flynn the job of national security advisor. On the day President Obama announced retaliatory measures in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, Flynn spoke to Russian ambassador Kislyak. The argument was that any secret deal could have violated the Logan act, a rather antique example of a strange law prohibiting a private citizen from discussing anything with a foreign government that might subvert the cause of the US Government, and passed by the 5th Congress. Nobody has ever been prosecuted under it so there is no case law. Flynn argues he never discussed these sanctions. However, somewhere in the mix, Flynn was asked by Mike Pence what happened and Flynn admits he misled Pence. Accordingly he was fired.

Did Flynn offer some deal on sanctions? The evidence that he did seems to be indirect. Immediately after they were announced, Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would certainly respond. So did some others, but nothing happened. Putin announced there would be no retaliation. The argument is that Flynn had assured Kislyak that the sanctions would not last, and hence had undermined US policy, although how is more questionable, since Russia still received the sanctions that still apply and did nothing back. The US comes out ahead here. A strange way of undermining the government.

The next accusation against Flynn is that he has committed a significant crime. Why? Well, he has been asked to give evidence to Congress about Russian involvement in the US election, and he has demanded immunity from prosecution. According to various experts, this “proves” there was serious wrong-doing. I am not so sure. Various people have already accused him of violating various regulations, such as the Logan Act and the requirement to register as representing foreign agents, and when you know there are accusations against you, wouldn’t you ask for immunity? You would be stupid not to. At the very least, by making it a condition to give evidence he can refuse by arguing the Constitutional Amendment against self-incrimination, which, even if he feels he has nothing to hide, at least gets him out of the expense of having to have lawyers present through what could be an extended witch-hunt. If nothing else, you don’t get to be a Lieutenant General by being stupid. You get there by doing things, which is what Flynn apparently did. That was a mistake. According to Congress, he should have sat on his backside for two months, and maybe that says something about Congress.

As an aside, I tried to write a similar tragic figure in my Dreams Defiled, which is on discount over Easter. I don’t think I quite managed someone like Flynn, though, but I would be curious to know what others think.

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Dysfunctional Congress: a foreigner’s view

Both my futuristic novels and this blog often have themes related to governance, and the difficulties that arise when people in positions of influence set off with their own agendas and put everybody else’s interests to one side. One of the oddities is that the US Constitution effectively encourages this bizarre dysfunctional behaviour. Some may think that if the Founding fathers could see what is going on now, they would be horrified, but I doubt it. I think they would understand completely.

One of the points I have tried to make in my futuristic novels is that the behaviour of such “important people” tends to be determined by the system under which they operate. Now, if the people who will use a system are those who design it, they tend to design it to retain as much importance and influence for themselves. The problem for the United States of America was that initially the various states were not that united, other than they spoke a common language and they had got rid of a common “colonial master”. They all considered themselves as emerging countries, and while they united, the federal element was always shaky and the individual states wanted to ensure they kept as many rights for themselves as possible. Accordingly, we get the Senators and the Representatives embedded in a system that gives them quite remarkable ability to assert themselves, but unfortunately often in a destructive fashion. What we see now is probably how the system was designed to operate: to do as much as possible to restrain Federal power. In this light, it may be recalled that the second US President, John Adams, one of the men who was as responsible as anyone for having a United States, had his presidency continually undermined by Jefferson. If people of this stature and who had devoted so much effort to the common cause of creating the United States could not work together under this system, is it such a surprise that this lot cannot? Certainly I have seen little evidence from any of them for me to consider them as an equal to Jefferson or Adams in just about any way at all.

Nevertheless, this particular outburst is disappointing. Think of the logic of the situation. During the election, when Obamacare came up for discussion, it was shown that Romney had, as governor, already introduced something very similar (call it Romneycare) and it had increased healthcare efficiency (patient benefits per unit cost) by several tens of a percent. Now, in logic, either Romneycare and Obamacare are more or less equivalent or they are not. If they are, then the Republicans effectively want to deny the rest of the country something that is both of Republican origin, and something that works. If they are not, why don’t they simply propose amendments to make Obamacare better? There is no evidence President Obama would turn down improvements. But no, instead they shut down certain government functions just to show how irritating they can be.

What I find particularly disappointing about this way of going about their posturing is that it is the public servants who are deemed “non-essential” who suffer. I have received an email informing me that the NASA astrobiology forum is closed for the time being. This may not seem a great loss but the public should realize that NASA has started something that I think is very important for democracy: it has invited the community to comment on and suggest what it should do in its future program. Effectively it is saying, “Hey, we’re spending your money, so tell us where to spend it, and why.” Yes, that can wait, but what happens to the NASA staff who now find themselves with no immediate income, maybe not at home (because they travel) and unable to plan? Since everything they are doing will have to be set up again, there must be a serious waste of money on little more than a political posture.

Then there are other government employees who are doing what they are doing because they believe they are doing something worthwhile. One of my colleagues in the US has posted this blog about one group of these, namely those in the Fish and Wildlife Service. I recommend that everyone read this blog and think about it. The blog is at

https://app.getresponse.com/click.html?x=a62b&lc=BHEg5&mc=BR&s=CXswF&y=t&

Such people are probably not in the highest paying jobs, and like everyone else, they probably have families, mortgages, whatever, and then this bunch of dysfunctional politicians cuts off their income just to make some sort of political point. And what particularly annoys me is the definition of “essential services”. I most certainly go along with “Air Traffic Controllers”; these simply cannot be shut down without terrible chaos. But Congressmen salaries? They cause the problem, so it is essential they are exempt from the consequences? And I wonder who decided that?