Sometimes when you hear people in the Trump administration, or congressional Republicans, or conservative media, muttering about “deep state” conspiracies against Trump or whole agencies planting dirt on POTUS while thwarting his will, it’s hard to know if they believe this stuff or are simply putting one over on credulous MAGA people who will believe anything about Trump’s many enemies.
But Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker have published a report suggesting that at least within the Trump White House, believe in outlandish conspiracy theories has been widespread:
In early 2017, some of Donald Trump’s advisers concluded that they faced a sophisticated threat responsible for “coordinated attacks” on the new Administration. They circulated a memo, titled “The Echo Chamber,” which read like a U.S. military-intelligence officer’s analysis of a foreign-insurgent network. Instead of being about enemies in a distant war zone, however, the network described in the memo consisted of former aides to President Barack Obama …
It called the network the Echo Chamber and accused its members of mounting a coördinated effort “to undermine President Trump’s foreign policy” through organized attacks in the press against Trump and his advisers. “These are the Obama loyalists who are probably among those coordinating the daily/weekly battle rhythm,” the memo said, adding that they likely operated a “virtual war room.”
Now anyone actually familiar with how media works would immediately be suspicious of any claim that anyone was coordinating “the daily/weekly battle rhythm,” so to speak. Even among media outlets hostile to Trump, nobody’s going to take direction from people who lost their juice the minute the Obama administration ended. So perhaps it shows how green — and/or paranoid — the Trump people entering the White House in 2017 really were. The memo in question was totally unambiguous about the conspirators:
The memo lists Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser to President Obama, as “likely the brain behind this operation” and Colin Kahl, Vice-President Joe Biden’s former national-security adviser, as its “likely ops chief.”
Sounds like people who travel by night and leave no prisoners, right?
But then the story gets stranger: More or less the same conspiracy theory has popped up in documents prepared by a private-sector Israeli intelligence firm with the ominous name Black Cube (famously hired by Harvey Weinstein to collect dirt on Weinstein’s enemies). And there were earlier reports that “Trump aides” or people in Trump’s circle had hired an Israeli firm — which Ronan Farrow identified as Black Cube — to get dirt on Rhodes and Kahl in connection with Trump’s goal of reversing the Iran deal.
It seems that perhaps the Trump people and/or their Black Cube friends were not only taken in by but blew up to fantastic proportions Rhodes’s own boasts about manipulating journalists during the Iran fight in a famous 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of the foreign policy staffer, which aroused widespread derision at the time. Apparently Black Cube believed it all, or wanted its client or clients to believe it:
The firm compiled a list of nine reporters and commentators it claimed were part of the Echo Chamber, including The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the New York Times’ Max Fisher, and NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell. Fisher is described as having “heavily advocated” for the Iran deal and “placed himself at the service of Rhodes’ ‘Eco-chamber,’ ” while Mitchell is at one point identified as being a “vessel for Rhodes’ ‘eco-chamber.’”
With presumptions like this, no wonder the Trump White House was a hotbed of belief in a deep-state netherworld encompassing the FBI, elements of the Justice and State Departments, and of course the Enemy of the People, the media.
It’s all a bit grotesque, as one alleged instrument of the Echo (or “Eco”) Chamber, Jeff Goldberg argued:
This is one of the stupider conspiracy theories circulating through a city currently drowning in stupid conspiracy theories.