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Well then. Two passages in a New York Times article from this morning’s print edition were sure conversation-stoppers when it comes to the ongoing uproar about charges that President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia to boost his election odds and ensure soft treatment from his administration. That is, if you read far enough into the long piece to encounter them. In fact, they’re so important that they should have been the main angle – or at the very least, the main theme of front-page stories from now until we ever find out what’s really happened.

The passages (which make the same critical point):

First, according to Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg, by some point last September (at the latest), American intelligence officials were worried that Russia had developed an “operation to create discord inside the American government.”

Second, and more specifically, the intelligence agencies viewed one key part of this operation as feeding information suggesting that Vladimir Putin’s regime could blackmail the President (and/or the candidate) to “United States intelligence agencies and pit them against Mr. Trump.”

And here, in Rosenberg’s words, is the context:

American intelligence agencies believe that Russia’s spy services see the deep political divisions in the United States as a fresh opportunity to inflame partisan tensions. Russian hackers are targeting American voting databases ahead of the midterm election this year, they said, and using bot armies to promote partisan causes on social media. The Russians are also particularly eager to cast doubt on the federal and congressional investigations into the Russian meddling, American intelligence officials said.

Part of that effort, the officials said, appears to be trying to spread information that hews closely to unsubstantiated reports about Mr. Trump’s dealings in Russia, including [a] purported video [depicting him in compromising sexual situations], whose existence Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed.”

In plainer English, if Rosenberg has it right, the Russians have not only been trying to put Mr. Trump over a barrel and make sure that he defeated his main rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. They have not only been trying to shake Americans’ confidence in their democratic institutions by hacking into them and unleashing a flood of fake news onto its media platforms, social and conventional. They have not only been trying to cover their tracks by using such fake news and other tactics to discredit the Congressional investigations into election meddling and related reported outrages.

They have also – separately – been trying to whip up antagonism between the President and the intelligence community. Achieving this goal of course would both tend to hamper America’s own intelligence operations and broader foreign and national security policies, as well as undermine the nation’s political system and its underlying social and cultural unity. And the tumult engulfing the capital and the nation as a whole suggests that the Russians are succeeding with this disinformation campaign, and that the intelligence agencies are playing their hoped for role.

Not that this possibility lets Mr. Trump and his aides totally, or mainly, or partly off the hook when it comes to their Russia ties either before or after his election.  For this objective could well have been sought on top of an effort to turn Mr. Trump into a Manchurian Candidate and President, not instead of it. But it does raise the question of how many of the allegations have stemmed from simple, and completely fictitious, plants.

Something else noteworthy about this article: If it’s accurate, then the potentially disastrous loss of America’s cyber-weapons to Russia and perhaps other adversaries that keyed Rosenberg’s piece was just the latest disclosed possibly catastrophic intelligence failures that occurred during Barack Obama’s presidency, and on the watches of the former intelligence agency chiefs, like his Director of National Intelligence (the complex’s top job) James R. Clapper, and one of his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John O. Brennan – both of whom have been particularly sharp Trump critics.

Two others? China’s penetration of the CIA’s operations in the People’s Republic, which reportedly resulted in the assassination or capture of “more than a dozen sources” (according to press accounts, the breach began in 2010, under Brennan’s predecessor, former General David Petraeus) and the failure to anticipate the speed of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development (which can be laid directly at Clapper’s feet, and which Brennan apparently missed as well).

Clapper, incidentally, is now a “national security analyst” for CNN. Brennan has just joined NBC and MSNBC in the same capacity. Good luck to you if you think there’s any chance these networks’ weekend talk shows tomorrow will raise any of this, including the Rosenberg article, with them?