Reader Beware: The following may qualify as an unfounded conspiracy theory. A healthy dose of skepticism should be maintained while reading this essay.
By Kent R. Kroeger (May 25, 2018)
As Charlotte Hollis in the Robert Aldrich-directed film “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte,” Bette Davis portrayed an aging, wealthy recluse living in her family’s Louisiana mansion, whose fiancee was murdered 40 years earlier, a crime many felt she committed.
As she fights to keep her home from commercial developers, her cousin, Miriam, and Miriam’s beau, Drew, move into the mansion under the pretense of helping Charlotte in her fight. But, in fact, Miriam and Drew unleash a cruel psychological campaign against Charlotte to make her lose her sanity and force the court to transfer control of the family estate to Miriam.
After watching and reading the news for the past two weeks about Spygate, I’m wondering if Donald Trump is a real-life Charlotte Hollis, targeted by a sophisticated and coordinated psychological operation to make him go nuts.
What is a “Charlotte Op”?
Towards the end of my time in the U.S. intelligence community, I had the opportunity to study the U.S. intelligence agencies’ use of information and influence operations in the pursuit of national interests.
Information and influence operations is commonly defined as “a collection of tactical information about an adversary that is often disseminated as propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.”
But far more interesting were psychological operations (PsyOp), a special type of influence operation used to influence the emotions, motives, and objective reasoning of targeted audiences. The targets could be entire populations (e.g., Afghanistan or Iraq), groups or individuals (even national leaders).
Many examples are well-known:
(1) Japan used “Tokyo Rose’ broadcasts to demoralize American troops and their families back home. Not commonly known, however, is that no female Japanese announcer ever used the name “Tokyo Rose.” The name was used as a descriptor of all female Japanese broadcasters. The U.S. had its own response to “Tokyo Rose” called “Tokyo Mose,” who was a male journalist named Walter Kaner.
(2) In the First Gulf War (1991) the coalition forces dropped leaflets on Iraqi troops telling them they would be bombed the next day by B-52 bombers, and urged them to surrender before the bombing started. This PsyOp was considered exceptionally successfully, saving many lives (mostly Iraqi) and leading to a quicker end of the war.
(3) In Afghanistan, one PsyOp campaign broadcast the following message to Taliban fighters in an effort to get them to confront American troops on the battlefield
Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be.
(4) Perhaps the most famous example of a U.S.-initiated PsyOp effort was Operation Nifty Package in December 1989.
In October 1989, Panama leader Manuel Noriega, a former CIA-backed no longer in good graces with the George H. W. Bush administration due to drug-trafficking charges revealed through reporting by journalist Seymour Hersh, was asked to give up his control of Panama. Unsurprisingly, Noriega refused but was forced to seek refuge in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, in Panama’s diplomatic quarter. In an effort to force his surrender, the U.S. Navy Seals implemented a PsyOp campaign involving the loud playing of heavy metal rock music and other psychological warfare tactics to convince Noriega to surrender.
The Noriega-targeted playlist included: I Fought The Law by The Clash, Panama by Van Halen, U2’s All I Want Is You, and Bruce Cockburn’s If I Had A Rocket Launcher.
Noriega eventually gave himself up to American military forces, though it is not clear which songs most broke his will. I would surrender by the third verse of U2’s All I Want Is You.
National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft would later however describe Operation Nifty Package as an embarrassing moment in U.S. military history, calling it “silly, reproachable and undignified.”
But the PsyOp is generally considered to have worked.
So what is a Charlotte Op?
I first heard the term, Charlotte Op, from a colleague in an information and influence operations class, who said such PsyOps were designed to destabilize individuals without needing direct, physical contact with the individual.
“Find their vulnerabilities and weaknesses,” he said. “And exploit it until they break.”
The instructor, a long-time CIA contractor, had never heard the term Charlotte Op before, but did not deny our country’s PsyOp personnel have targeted individual adversaries for psychological manipulation. Such a PsyOp might include planting stories in newspapers or news broadcasts ridiculing the leader, or questioning the loyalty of his subordinates, and even starting rumors about a spouse’s affair.
The goal is to get under the target’s skin.
The critical element in such an operation is the degree to which the targeted leader is vulnerable to manipulation.
A leader already dealing with mental health issues would be potential target. A deeply insecure or paranoid leader also would facilitate the effectiveness of such an operation.
In other words, Donald Trump is the perfect target.
Would a Charlotte Op work against Trump?
First, the Charlotte Op team would need to establish if Trump has specific vulnerabilities to psychological manipulation.
Does Trump exhibit any negative psychological predispositions, such as low self-esteem, a fragile ego, narcissistic tendencies, deep insecurities or high levels of distrust towards others?
No president has been as psychoanalyzed as often as Donald Trump. In September 2017, Psychology Today published an article titled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” A highly-regarded Harvard psychologist, Lance Dodes, wrote an open letter describing Trump as possessing a malignant form of narcissism particularly toxic with respect to the skills and capabilities necessary to be president.
“He (Trump) lies because of his sociopathic tendencies,” Dodes said. “There’s also the kind of lying he has that is in a way more serious, that he has a loose grip on reality.”
But I believe Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, offers a more balanced psychological description of Trump.
Says McAdams: “I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.”
A growing mountain of anecdotal evidence also exists demonstrating Trump’s need for constant affirmation and a deep aversion to criticism. Early in Trump’s presidency, three White House employees told VICE News that Trump received a folder of positive cable news summaries and print news articles.
That sounds like a man very much open to manipulation.
Next, the Charlotte Op team would need reliable communication channels through which to communicate with Trump.
Does Trump read or watch specific media on a regular basis?
Why, yes he does! Trump’s favorite programs include “Fox & Friends” as well as Fox News primetime shows from Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro. Trump also “hate-watches” hostile cable news shows like CNN Tonight hosted by Don Lemon, according to New York Times reporting on Trump’s personal habits.
Yes, it should not be hard to find media venues for our Charlotte Op team to place its messages.
Finally, the team will need a network of willing participants to propagate and amplify the Charlotte Op messages. Enter busloads of former members of the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
Who do you want? Former CIA Director John Brennan? Former Obama intelligence chief James Clapper? Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau?
They are all available and willing to attack our current president.
It also helps to have a compliant mainstream news media (CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, etc.) always willing to repeat criticisms of Trump.
All the necessary elements of a successful PsyOp against Trump exist.
Now its timing and execution…
The Spygate-controversy, triggered by a Trump tweet that his presidential campaign was spied on by the FBI, is the perfect opportunity:
Boom! A ready-for-cable-news Trump tweet-generated controversy.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN’s Don Lemon, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Vox.com couldn’t yell ‘liar’ fast or loud enough. Here’s just a small sample:
The consistency of these “Trump lies” philippics are breath-taking. Not one from the mainstream media (excluding Fox News and The Wall Street Journal) even entertains the possibility that the FBI hiring a Nixon-era-dirty-tricks-and-former-CIA-operative — now ‘informant’ — to casually interview Trump campaign advisers about their Russian connections constitutes something at least close to the concept of ‘spying.’
“Trump lies,” chides Don Lemon. “His campaign was not spied on.”
But facts are prickly things. The FBI has acknowledged launching a counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign in late-July. So we know there was ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign after the launch of “Crossfire Hurricane.”
When the FBI’s paid-informant Stefan Halper just happened to stumble upon Carter Page at a London conference on July 11th, the “Steele Dossier” was already in the development process and the Fusion GPS contract funding Christopher Steele’s work had been picked up by a Democratic Party-aligned law firm with connections to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
If we are to believe the reporting by The New York Times, on July 11th, the FBI had not yet been told about George Papadopoulos’ drunken confession to the Australian diplomat in a London bar. The “Steele dossier” — a raw intelligence summary based exclusively on second-hand hearsay — had only just been brought to the F.B.I.’s attention by Steele in London (on July 5th).
But, remember, the dossier had nothing to do with why the F.B.I. started a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, according to The New York Times.
It was that Papadopoulos-Downer meeting in May that created such a ‘Holy Crap!’ moment at the FBI that they almost immediately opened a counterintelligence investigation. Though, oddly, the Australians didn’t think that much of the meeting as they didn’t relay knowledge of it to the Americans for two months(!).
That odd inconsistency should elicit a ‘hum, that’s weird’ moment for inquisitive journalists.
There is a reason the Australian government (hardly friends of Trump) are openly annoyed at the FBI for bringing their diplomat, Alexander Downer, into this mess. Their credibility, not just with the current administration, but with the world would be damaged if it turns out the Australians were more involved in the Trump-Russia investigation than currently admitted.
There is lying going on with respect to Spygate, but its not necessarily Trump.
The lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of the news media about the inconsistencies and coincidences riddled throughout the Trump-Russia story is stunning.
It is a lack of intellectual curiosity I’ve only seen at such a dystopian level once before — yeah, that guy — Donald Trump.
Which is what makes my Charlotte Ops theory more plausible. Nothing could possibly make Trump go crazier than other people calling him a liar while openly lying themselves.
As I’ve written, the ‘spy’ versus ‘informant’ distinction is a distinction without a substantive difference. That intelligent people could say the FBI planting an informant ‘near’ the Trump campaign doesn’t constitute some form of intelligence collection (‘spying’) says to me their purpose is not to shed light on the events of 2016, but to send Trump a clear message: If you call the sky ‘blue,’ we’ll call it ‘black.’
That will drive Trump nuts.
The response of the Obama-era intelligence officials to the Trump Spygate tweet is probably not a coordinated Charlotte Ops. It is more likely the Democrats, the news media, and most of elite Washington, D.C. and New York want to see Donald Trump driven from office, any way possible.
In the process, the news media is ignoring what may have been a serious abuse of power by the Obama administration. That explains why the Sally Yates and others in the Justice Department emphasized the importance of doing things by the book because…there is no book on the rules for “spying on the presidential campaign of the opposition party.”
The Obama administration was making it up as they went along. Need to do extra unmasking? Sure, we’ll find a legal justification. Need to place an informant near the Trump campaign? No problem, we have friends in London. Want to submit a FISC application using political opposition research as one of the key justifications? Got that covered, we’ll just bury it in a footnote.
I have no doubt the Obama administration thought they were doing their patriotic duty. But coming to that conclusion makes them look even more incompetent
There are important questions not being asked arising from the FBI’s acknowledgment of using a paid informant to collect intelligence through Trump campaign advisers.
Did the Obama administration abuse its power by running an intelligence operation against the presidential campaign of the opposing party?
Was the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation opened solely on the basis of an Australian diplomat recalling a conversation with a drunk George Papadopoulos months earlier?
If so, was that sufficient cause to open a counterintelligence investigation? Which, as it happens, was named after a Rolling Stones song that was also the title of a movie about a former British spy running for his life from the Russians. Hum? Somehow I think Christopher Steele and his dossier are a little bit more important than the FBI is letting on.
Nonetheless, the news media’s attacks on Trump for his Spygate tweet has the appearance of a concerted effort to undermine the legitimacy of a president. They aren’t opposing his policies, they are opposing his fitness to serve in the Oval Office.
Instead of asking tough questions of the Obama administration, the news media is too busy trying to bring down a president.
Yes, we need to know if our president is being influenced by an adversarial power, possibly holding kompromat against him (and, as yet, there is no direct and verifiable evidence to prove this exists). However, if the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ Robert Mueller most likely already possesses the evidence. According to excellent reporting by Wired.com’s Garrett Graff, the Mueller investigation is tightening up the evidence for their existing conclusions as they prepare for interviews inside the White House. They are not, therefore, collecting evidence on wholly new lines of inquiry. Mueller already knows how this is going to end.
Once the Mueller probe ends, we need to investigate how badly the Obama administration screwed up
At a time when our president may be making substantive unilateral decisions regarding North Korea and Iran, Mueller needs to show his hand now, not in September or October. To do it then is to look partisan. But, more importantly, the more he delays the more serious the global consequences if Congress needs to consider removing Trump from power.
District Judge T.S. Ellis has made it clear the Mueller probe has limits.
“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis told prosecutor Michael Dreeben. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”
Equally important, we need an independent investigation into how our intelligence community failed to recognize the Russian threat (in a timely fashion) and then failed to counteract this election meddling once it was known. When we see congressional Democrats grilling Obama administration appointees with tough questions about their incompetence, then we can believe this country is ready to move on from the 2016 election and all of its mistakes.
But as of today, all I see and hear are political and media elites doing their own version of “Hush…Hush Sweet Donald.”
Like the movie it is based on, this won’t end well for anybody.