On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Hacking the Russian Environmental Report
Once in a while when a suspect news report gets aired with a misleading spin, the Footloose Forester goes into one of his petulant moods and yearns to compose a chronicle to mollify himself and his sense of propriety. With a little luck, and if he shares his chronicle accounts, once in a while he might make an impression on others. This is one of those chronicles that he hopes will touch a nerve somewhere.
The private meeting between the President of the United States and the President of Russia, as part of the recent meeting of G20 nations in Hamburg, Germany just might get spun in some outlets of the American press as a consensus determination that Russia did not hack our 2016 national elections. So said the Russian president, and his contention may seem to be accepted by our own president, based on his very weak response to the issue. Such a state of affairs would open the door to all parties just moving on, as they say they want to do. Maybe moving on by not even looking back, regardless of the gravity of the circumstances.
Unfortunately, somebody on one side of the logistical arrangement agreed to have a very limited number of persons present during the two-hour session, during which no notes were taken. Henceforth any historical accounts of the meeting must make use of high-level “he said/ he said” versions that cannot easily be disputed. If either side has anything to hide, all they have to do is to appease their own constituents with whichever version they want. Whatever one thinks of our own president or the Russian president, there is little doubt that both of them have a long history of deceits and lies.
The reason for this chronicle is to make a very personal point that has a painful and ironic petulance associated with it. It pertains to a confidential matter about Russia and an episode or two that transpired inside the US Embassy in Moscow during the mid-1990s. As an Environmental Analyst, one of several consultants working on Vice-President Al Gore’s environmental initiative in the Russian Far East, the Footloose Forester was responsible for putting together his own individual report of findings and recommendation regarding a long-term strategy on the green environment in the Russian Far East. To do so, he took notes wherever he went and compiled them into his working draft. When it was time to submit his report, his draft of 53 type-written pages was turned over to the purported editors who were then instructed to boil down all of the several reports into a 5-6 page executive summary. There were many environmental issues at stake, including conservation of the Siberian Tiger and forest resources.
Although he eventually got a copy of the executive report that was submitted to the office of the Vice President of the United States, the Footloose Forester hardly recognized any of his words or ideas. Furthermore, he believes that most of his recommendations were ignored and a few of them were actually changed. So much for taking detailed notes and committing his findings to a draft report that may have affected his established reputation. The point is, taking notes and putting concrete evidence into the form of a written account ensures the intellectual honesty of the note taker, even if the notes may be challenged. But it does not preclude having somebody else doing the hacking to their own advantage. Having said that, the excerpted comments that Footloose Forester cut and pasted in the space below is another version of a hack. The excerpt** has nothing to do with the current chronicle except to demonstrate that it is easy to hack the work of someone else. Changing things around is just another way to look at things, so authors of field studies have to be prepared to defend their works.
**Political appointees at DOE and the White House can and do make changes in reports from the career staff. But in five years as a DOE political appointee in the 1990s, I’m not sure I ever saw the secretary’s office actually reverse the findings of a study they had ordered. I imagine this draft was leaked to make any such reversal politically harder.
We will find out soon enough if team Trump erases yet more findings contradictory to their ideology, since the final version of the already overdue...
Having a high-level policy meeting between two world leaders without the benefit of a written record is an invitation for mischief. Contortions, word parsing, disguised intentions, backtracking, you name it. The nation awaits the deliberations and the fallout.
If the President of Russia tells the world that his administration did not hack the American electoral process in 2016, and if the President of the United States peddles the same idea, only time will tell what consequences will manifest. The irony associated with his own hacked reports about environmental circumstances in Russia in 1995 was enough to open an old wound in the Footloose Forester. If he is ever called to testify under oath about his version of events, he is prepared to take that oath and use his contemporaneously written notes and draft report as a basis. As regards our current policies vis-à-vis diplomacy issues with the Russians, don’t count on our elected president to tell the truth, the whole truth, based on his selective memory.
Detractors and critics of our elected president may sound the alarm regarding attempts to change official transcripts. Supporters may deny that changing the wording and the import of transcripts has taken place, but there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure that sounding the alarm about hacking official records does indeed take place. One only has to compare the live and recorded broadcasts of meetings in the White House with the doctored (after the fact) transcripts that purport to document the events as part of official proceedings.* As a reminder, any sceptical reader of this chronicle should compare the live recording of the POTUS on 10 January 2018 with the doctored transcript of the meeting which has been made available for public consumption. HINT: the transcript has been hacked to make it sounds that our elected leader took a stance different that he actually did at the time.
* The private meeting between Putin and our POTUS that was held in Helsinki, Finland in July 2018 was a more egregious example of an opportunity to collude in an official political summit. An open press conference held afterward was on the record, but alas, that transcript was altered (hacked) by our own White House to make it seem less incriminating. History will not be kind to the politicians who try to hide the truth, the whole truth.
A written record is the best way to establish points of view. But don't expect solid evidence to hold up against those who would deliberately hide the truth.
If nobody takes the responsibility to address and report the deliberate alteration of official proceedings within the White House itself, chances are that future generations will discount critics' versions of documented events. On 10 January 2018 and following a live White House filming of a staff meeting, the official transcript of what the POTUS said was changed. It eliminated a full sentence and the actual meaning of what was uttered by the POTUS. Historians should note that such practices are dishonest.