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Sexual Blackmail’s Long History

Maybe Donald Trump is an aficionado of weird sexual practices, and maybe not: I really have no way of knowing. But I do know that stories of precisely this sort are a very common tactic used by intelligence agencies to discredit political figures at all levels. With very little effort, I can also tell you exactly how such tales emerge and how they fit into the modus operandi of particular agencies and governments, and there is no excuse whatever for other people not to know this.

The fact that U.S. agencies and media are being so uncritical of these latest Trump exposés and “dossiers” is alarming. The whole affair should alert us to the wave of bogus stories we can expect to be polluting our public life in the next few years.

Since so many roads in this affair seem to lead back to Russia, some background might be helpful. In 1991, senior KGB officer Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the British, carrying with him an amazing haul of secret documents and internal archives. Working with respected intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, Mitrokhin published a number of well-received books, including The Sword and the Shield [1] (1999). The Mitrokhin Archive demonstrates the vast scale of Soviet disinformation—the invention and circulation of stories that were untrue or wildly exaggerated, commonly with a view to discredit critics or opponents of the USSR. These functions were the work of the KGB’s Service A, which was superlative at planting stories around the world, commonly using out-of-the-way news media. Service A also did a magnificent job of forging documents to support their tall tales. (Even serious and skeptical historians long accepted the authenticity of a particularly brilliant forged letter notionally sent by Lee Harvey Oswald.) Such disinformation was a major part of the KGB’s functions during the 1970s and 1980s, which were the formative years of the up-and-coming young KGB officer, Vladimir Putin.

One instance in particular illustrates Service A’s methods and how triumphantly they could shape public opinion. The Soviets naturally wanted to destroy the reputation of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a dedicated and lethally effective foe of Soviet espionage until his death in 1972. Even after his death, the vilification continued, and in the context of the time, the deadliest charge that could be levied against him was that of homosexuality. Accordingly, the Mitrokhin Archive shows how hard the Soviets worked to spread that rumor.

Now, Hoover’s real sexual tendencies are not clear. He was a lifelong bachelor who maintained a very close friendship with a male subordinate, and our modern expectations would be that he was a closeted homosexual. Having said that, during Hoover’s youth it was common for members of the same gender to share close non-sexual friendships. What we can say with total confidence is that Hoover was fanatically conscious of his privacy and security, to the point of paranoia, and there was no way that he would do anything public that could arouse scandal or permit blackmail.

That context must make us very suspicious indeed of claims that Hoover was not only homosexual, but also a transvestite, stories that have become deeply entrenched in popular culture. But the origins of the cross-dressing stories are very suspect. The only source commonly quoted is a 1991 affidavit by a woman who claimed that some decades earlier she had met a heavily dragged-up Hoover at a private event, where he allegedly wished to be addressed as “Mary.” The story is multiply improbable, most would say incredible, and has been rejected even by historians who normally have nothing good to say about Hoover. Yet the tale circulated widely, and wildly. In 1993, searching for a new head of the FBI, the ever-tasteful new president Bill Clinton joked that it would be hard to find someone to fill Hoover’s pumps.

We can’t prove that Service A invented or spread the specific cross-dressing stories about Hoover, but they fit exactly with other Soviet efforts through the 1970s and 1980s. And that legend has subsequently become a truth universally acknowledged.

The Russians were absolutely not the only agency that circulated disinformation. Such tactics are common to most major agencies, including those of the U.S. But looking at the recent Trump revelations, we constantly encounter Russian sources for scabrous tales that are about as improbable as that of “Mary” Hoover.

The Trump dossier that is the source of current attention might be accurate, but there are real grounds for suspicion. The main source is a respected and credible British private agency, which like most organizations of its kind draws heavily on former members of that nation’s mainstream intelligence service. But this particular dossier was evidently not compiled by the standard means used by such agencies, where competing sources are evaluated and judged in an adversarial process. (Team A makes the best case for one interpretation, Team B argues the opposite, and you see which side makes the most credible argument.) Rather, the Trump material was gathered on a parti pris basis with the specific goal of collecting negative information on the then-candidate. This is in consequence a partisan report, which just did not exercise the kind of skepticism you would expect in a normal intelligence analysis. The stories (including the one involving the fetish) look not so much like kompromat (compromising material, which might be true) but rather seem to be Russian dezinformatsiya, disinformation.

I was stunned to read a recent story in the British Guardian [2] suggesting that the CIA and FBI had “taken various factors into consideration before deciding [the dossier] had credibility. They include Trump’s public comments during the campaign, when he urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.” Is there really anyone who did not hear that “urging” as a classically outrageous Trumpian joke? Yet that is here cited as major confirmation of his sinister Russian connections.

Why would the Russians create such material, if it might discredit a figure who actually promised to be a close ally on the global stage? Perhaps it was a kind of insurance, to keep Trump in line if he became too hostile to future Putin actions. Far more likely, it was part of a general series of stories, scares, myths, and downright falsehoods that have circulated so freely over the past 18 months, with the collective goal of discrediting the U.S. democratic system and fomenting dissension, paranoia, and outright hatred in American public life. The Russians control our elections! The Russians watch everything you say and write, no matter how private you think it is! Russian hackers gave the Rust Belt states to Trump! Trump is a Putin puppet!

If the Russians were seeking to undermine the American political order, to discredit the U.S. presidency, and in short to destabilize the United States, then they have succeeded magnificently in their goal.

Over the next few years, Donald Trump’s many critics will be very open to accepting any and all wild stories about him and his circle. Some of those rumors might even be true. But a great many will be disinformation stories spread by the Russians and, who knows, by other international mischief makers. It would be wise to exercise some caution before falling for the next tall tale.

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels [3]. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Sexual Blackmail’s Long History"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 16, 2017 @ 4:43 am

Or most likely of all, disinformation spread by internal mischief makers with bigger political axes to grind, right here at home.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 16, 2017 @ 9:14 am

“Maybe Donald Trump is an aficionado of weird sexual practices, and maybe not: I really have no way of knowing.”

Why then do you write that, Mr. Jenkins?

Let me turn my question around. Suppose someone wrote: “Maybe Philip Jenkins is an aficionado of weird sexual practices, and maybe not: I really have no way of knowing.”

Would it be fair to you for someone to write that? I don’t think so.

By publicly suggesting that you might engage in “weird sexual practices” – notwithstanding the tacking on of the words “maybe not: I really have no way of knowing” – significant damage to you would already be done.

And the damage to you would last – at least among some people — for the rest of your life.

And what, if any, recourse would you have?

Yesterday in its “Of Note” section under “BuzzFeed and the Libel Law” TAC linked to this Washington Post article by Eugene Volokh: “When ‘there is serious reason to doubt’ rumors and allegations, is it libelous to publish them?

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#3 Comment By Chris Chuba On January 16, 2017 @ 9:18 am

There are people coming out and calling this Russian source disinformation, like Charles Krauthammer and David Satter of the National Review. We know that the dossier was produced by Christopher Steele from anonymous contacts in Eastern Europe.
1. Maybe those contacts just fabricated a boilerplate story for money.
2. Maybe those contacts have ties to the Ukrainian govt and wanted to kneecap Trump. The Ukrainian govt was actively involved last summer in the election campaign with the production of the Manafort financial ledgers which were never authenticated.

How would this be Russian sourced disinformation, would one of Steele’s contacts be a triple information who contacted the FSB who then made up the Dossier on the spot? Would one of Steele’s contacts have been legitimate and found an old FSB file that was produced years ago in anticipation of Trump winning the White House? These last two explanations look to be the least likely.

#4 Comment By Rehmat On January 16, 2017 @ 10:26 am

Please spare Russia and KGB for using ‘sex’ as an espionage weapon. CIA, MI6, RAW, DGSE, and Israeli Mossad are all known to use ‘Honeypots’ to extract information and even commit assassination of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim opponents. However, none other than Israeli rabbis have blessed this practice.

Many of ex-KGB sexpots are now work for Mossad. Yonah aka ‘Dr. Mossad’ had teamed-up with Mossad ‘honeypot’, Cheryl Ben Tov nee Cheryl Hanin aka “Cindy” who lured Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu while buying cigarettes from a kiosk in Leicester Square in 1986.

In 2010, Israel Rabbi Ari Shvat claimed that Mossad’s use of Jewish women as ‘honeypot’ is kosher, saying: “Our Sages of Blessed Memory elevate such acts of dedication to the top of the Halacha’s mitzvahs pyramid”. However, he recommended that these missions (honeypot) may naturally be tasked to women who are already promiscuous as no practing Jew will marry such women….

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#5 Comment By Appalachian Trail On January 16, 2017 @ 1:19 pm

I’m at a loss to understand why TAC is continuing to claim that this lie “may or may not be true” or that the Russians were involved. Uh, no – on both counts. It has already been shown that this entire dossier (or the main story before being embellished) originated on 4chan as a means of trolling Rick Wilson, a prominent NeverTrumper…who apparently then foolishly passed it along (he was claiming during the campaign to have ‘devastating’ information that would sink Trump).

It has been credibly claimed that there is a chain of custody from Wilson all the way through neocon John McCain, the FBI and the CIA to Buzzfeed. We should be focusing on who peddled this lie to Buzzfeed, not blaming the Russians for doing some they didn’t and probably wouldn’t do in this case (it would destroy relations with Trump – and he doesn’t strike me as someone with a sense of shame anyway, so blackmail wouldn’t work in this case). Hmmm….who in that chain of custody would want to sabotage relations with Russia? Think about it.

#6 Comment By Mark Thomason On January 16, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

The same was done to Julian Assange. The unique Swedish version of rape allegations was arranged in order to gain extradition to the US, and to smear an opponent of our intelligence agencies’ behavior.

They got away with that. It has been hyped uncritically in the Western press for years.

Trump is not the first victim of these same Western agencies doing this same thing. He likely won’t be the last.

What works keeps happening. Our media let it work, and so we get more of it. Eventually, it will bite them, and only then will they scream in outrage.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 16, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

With respect to BuzzFeed some may have forgotten, but back on June 7th “The Hill” ran an interesting little piece entitled “BuzzFeed chief to host Obama for Dem fundraiser”:

“BuzzFeed’s chairman plans to host President Obama for a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser, according to a new report. Obama will join Kenneth Lerer Wednesday evening for the event in New York City…CNN Money on Tuesday reported the DNC expects about 60 donors at Lerer’s home in Manhattan with wife Katherine Sailer. Tickets vary in cost, with the highest priced at $33,400. BuzzFeed on Monday announced it is cancelling a $1.3 million ad deal with the Republican National Committee (RNC) over Donald Trump…”

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#8 Comment By Phil Giraldi On January 16, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

“Far more likely, it was part of a general series of stories, scares, myths, and downright falsehoods that have circulated so freely over the past 18 months, with the collective goal of discrediting the U.S. democratic system and fomenting dissension, paranoia, and outright hatred in American public life.”

Professor Jenkins does not know if any of that is true yet he treats it as if it is. Absolutely no evidence has been produced by anyone confirming that that is true.

#9 Comment By James Rogerson On January 16, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

Appalachian Trail, my understanding is that the suggestion that the dossier was an internet hoax failed once the identity of the author (MI6 agent Christopher Steele) became apparent?

#10 Comment By Rafael On January 16, 2017 @ 8:08 pm

Every time one of its idols may be compromised by accusations and documents, true or not, 4chan trolls will claim to be the origin of the evidence so as to discredit it. This is not the first time they do this. Why would they even do this? Even if the document is baseless, and I think it is, it is harming Trump more than the ones promoting it. Then again it may be too much to ask embittered, 300lbs nihilists at 4chan to plan ahead the consequences of their actions.

In any case, the source of the file has already been identified – it’s former MI6 official Christopher Steele. What does it mean to say that 4chan started this all? Are you saying Steele found this document trawling on anime porn boards?

#11 Comment By RVA On January 16, 2017 @ 9:12 pm

The whole article made sense, except for something in the very beginning:

‘The fact that U.S. agencies and media are being so uncritical of these latest Trump exposés and “dossiers” is alarming. The whole affair should alert us to the wave of bogus stories we can expect to be polluting our public life in the next few years.’

Only now you’re alarmed? Been out of the country? We just had an election that produced the end of a number of things (including Bushes & Clintons onstage, thank God). Another casualty is media standards of any kind. Done. Gone. Where are we now? ‘America, the reality show, 2017’ Starring all of us.

Facts are so last year. It’s all about storyline now. As driven by your ratings. ‘network’ meets ‘celebrity apprentice – bachelor island’. Phil, you gotta keep up.

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 17, 2017 @ 3:12 am

In the first place, since Mr. Trump is not the Pres. of the US whatever his private practice among consenting adults is none of my business. And while as i a community member have responsibility to support marriage ultimately the burden of marriage rests on the people who are married.

In the second place, even when he is inaugurated. While in office, the primary nature of his intrapersonal relations will still remain a private affair.

I absolutely press that fidelity n and out of marriage is a must. If single, then celibate. If married, relations with on’s spouse is the only appropriate means of relational expression.
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I am a little dubious of the use of relations being a source a of press for coercive manipulation (blackmail). If it were not the pervasiveness of such conduct (relational expression) my view might be different. But if one wanted use dalliances or something more beyond the norm they would have to have some idea of its value to the person being blackmailed as well its value o the receivers. If I wee looking at the how the press has already treated the subject.

I am not sure their would be much in the way of force aside from an inter/intrapersonal personal dynamic. There would be hand ringing and recriminations but how much actual force in socio-political arena is unclear. The erosion of etiquette propriety exited the mainstream media with Mrs Onassis. And more than likely long before that. Mrs Meryl Gummer has it all wrong about who the most vilified group is. If imitation is flattery, then the Hollywood elite and all of their self absorbed popularity and personal drama handed out by the press are quite beloved as we have embraced the salacious for news of value.

Vice Pres Cheney’s comments on entering the dark side are many years too late. Our government has been quite handy in its attempt to coerce via relational impropriety. I can only imagine how many besides Dr/Rev King were invited to take their lives for the same by the FBI. I have no idea whether Director Hoover dance the night fantastic in a dress. But I think the record remains damning on such tactics described above. So much of the record remains out of reach.

But the record is clear that personal political revenge, in the name of security, national interest, common good, national security and political expedience exceed truth and moral value. And writers may be quite handy at rhetorically or maneuvering their darkness around a chess board. But let’s not pretend such tactics reside in heart of Russia or even the former Soviet Union.

Matta Hari is child’s play in our current environment. And that so many of our own leadership seem to have abandoned all decency to win is beyond troublesome.

#13 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 17, 2017 @ 1:31 pm

Most countries, including the US have used sexual blackmail in their intelligence gathering. We should not be shocked by it, as it goes way back, with a lot of people.

We do not know if J. Edgar Hoover was gay or not. Hoover’s relationship with Clyde Tolson looked a little lavender, but FBI bigshot and Deepthroat Mark Felt was quoted as saying that he thought the relationship was more fraternal rather than romantic.

Hoover made a lot of enemies, so it is not surprising that a lot of people said bad things about him.

#14 Comment By libertarian jerry On January 19, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

A look back at the last 85 years or so of history will shine the light of truth on the sexual escapades of past U.S.Presidents. FDR had affairs while in office with among others Lucy Mercer,Eisenhower had an affair(as A General)with his Jeep driver,JFK was a well known sexual cheater,even in the White House,as was LBJ. And perhaps the biggest sexual predator of all was Bill Clinton. To make statements and accusations designed to smear Mr.Trump as being a sexual deviant,even without hard proof,is the height of hypocrisy. What is really amazing is how desperate Trump’s opposition is to taking him down.

#15 Comment By David Smith On January 20, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

They threw everything they had at Trump during the primaries and general election, and it all bounced right off. What makes anyone think this will be any different?