In this itchysilkLIVE we talk to the producer and director Jack Bryan about his politically charged docu/film active measures. It is a film that takes us back to a dark nostalgia (as it were). A period when the cold war between America and Russia filled the globe with fears of the dreaded nuclear war. Post the work of ostensibly Mikhail Gorbachov the fear of nuclear annihilation was quelled.
But with modernity we are in new times and if we are to believe the current political global climate the ‘cold war' has been re-ignited. Lies, subterfuge and more seemingly the order of the day.
It is within these “new times” Active Measures charts the controversial rise of Donald Trump. Through “rigged elections” and “clandestine meetings” Active Measures brings compelling “evidence” that Russia (ergo Vladimir Putin) orchestrated a global cyberwar which helped bring Donald trump to power. And while the recent Mueller Report was unable to find any evidence of illegal activities the adage there is no smoke without fire may have credence.
But the story that Active Measures seeks to explore, and expose is more than Donald Trump. This is a worrying expose which overtly states that Russia are intent on creating a type of global chaos that will form the foundation for Russia to be a titanic force once again.
And while we must be aware that America (and the West generally) are not innocent in the propaganda ‘game', current news stories regarding Brexit and assassinations instigated by Russian secret forces make it hard to dismiss fears of Russia's apparent negative intentions.
“Mirroring” the foundation of the Active Measures programme
My writing partner (Marley Clements) and I had been interested in the Trump story since June of the campaign. It was in this period that she brought up the idea of the film. At that time, we knew that the Russians were hacking and the whole dis-information campaign in the elections was in full flow. At the time however, we did not know what Trump was doing and if he had any involvement in the activities with the Russians. But what we knew there was Russian interference.
I kept seeing the bots and the trolls and the fake news and then by March of 2017 everything we had seen lined up with the concerns we had. In the congressional testimony and this guy, a former FBI agent walks in. He was asked at the time why the Active Measures campaign by the Russians was so successful. He said the campaign was successful because the president was mirroring the campaign. So, he was saying the same things being pushed by the Russian propaganda machine. It added credibility to the campaign.
This was an important point. This guy was saying what I was thinking but he was saying this in front of congress. So now if someone wanted to make a documentary about this, they could go to any congress man or woman and say under congressional testimony he said this what do you think about that. It was a way to not get chased out of the room.
The jump off point was that someone should investigate this, but they should do this it should be someone who can create the documentary independently and it should be someone with a film background not a journalist because it has very complex story and you need to make it watchable.
Donald Trump-the compliant puppet?
I would resist looking at the fact they [Russia] were pushing Trump from the 80's as some kind of conspiracy. In the 80's the Czech intelligence was aware he was thinking of running for the Presidency because his wife was Czech. They thought it would be good if he got in because of course his wife was Czech. They were essentially supporting the idea because he had publicised an interest to run for presidency and it could be beneficial.
What this does show is that over a long period of time the relationship between a Trump and Russia has grown. The seed for the current actions was already there and helped to create a compliant puppet. But there is another danger. He is a very good marketer. He is very good at controlling the news cycle. Before he ran for President for four or five years, he went on every conservative talk show. His talent is he listens with his mouth. So, he would say a lot of things and he would figure out was playing and not playing and he figures that very astutely.
His whole raison d'etre was to get famous and be in newspapers and so his ability to manipulate a swathe of the population is a real danger as well.
The Mueller Report and exoneration
Obviously for the film it would have been better if Robert Mueller had indicted everyone, but the report is still very interesting. All we know right now is he will not be charging anyone with any more crimes. Maybe he looked at this and saw a bunch of coincidences and while there were some sketchy things there was nothing illegal. Possibly, he has identified that all those things happened, but it is not illegal. The most likely possibility however is the trail went cold when it went to Russia.
He was not able to establish the contacts in Russia and so he charged them with other crimes related to but not directly connected to the events. But there are clear worries. Paul Manafort meets with Konstantin Kilimnik during a campaign and gives him polling data. He was a member of the Russian GRU, and international polling data is exactly you want if you are going to target voters. Is it legal to give polling data to a foreign intelligence agency while they are waging cyber war against our election campaign-it can't be?
We must remember, Mueller only got the job because he wrote a letter to the president saying he did not think the President could be indicted for obstruction. This is also the guy who was Attorney General for George H W Bush, and he pardoned everyone in the Iraq Contra scandal. Given his history, there must be questions despite the verdict in his report.
Hyper-warfare and impending dangers
The Russians did not just attack the Democrats they also hacked Republicans they just did not field that information. They are still sitting on that information. That maybe part of an on-going compromise operation. It would be hard not to think they would use it otherwise why would they attain that information? I think we have not even seen all of what has happened.
In America we see a lot of financial influence in elections be that the Koch brothers or Robert Mercer. They have a lot of money they can spend but the thought that a foreign state could attack our elections with hyper-warfare, and everyone involved could commit these acts with little repercussions opens the floor for a very dangerous future.
But across the globe I think we should be worried. Look at the UK, I worry for them? We have already seen that Russia does not mind killing on foreign soil and in a flagrant manner. But of course, there is Brexit and the Russian influence.
I mean the situation in the UK and US are different but, in many ways, there are many overlaps. The continued fall out from Brexit and the future must be something that the Russians are lapping up. It's clear as well that they do not mind people knowing what they are doing. They are prepared to deal with the consequences. They just lifted sanctions against oligarch companies.
Ultimately, I think it is going to be a while before things change. What is more worrying is we may now be in a place where ‘this' is the ‘new normal'. We are going to have to be a lot more cautious. There might come a time where we will look back at our domestic elections and see them as simpler times.