Why I Stopped Salsa Dancing (or, Russia Doesn't Play)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

I’d bet that lots who have worked in national security keep quiet about certain things – even in light of any given news, reveals, or leaks.  Many have also been speaking out through various media.  Twitter is a hotbed of national security discussion.  Among other things.

Here’s my national security perspective contribution today.  Because I keep thinking about this.

There’s some stuff you learn when you get into the national security world.  You have various formal briefings on “OP-SEC,” or operational security.

You also have informal discussions with people in the national security world.  You learn what’s okay and what’s not.  Everyone compares notes.  You learn this stuff to keep you on the straight and narrow.  Away from trouble, risk, and threats.  If you run into security trouble, you lose your job.  You need your job.  Plus, you don’t want security-world trouble.  In all of the briefings, you learn about the traitors – and the idiots.  It never goes well for those who are caught.

One of the sort of common-knowledge things you learn is to stay away from Russians.  I lived in the DC area, and at first I didn’t think this would be an issue.  I heard stories from colleagues.  You have to report “close and continuing” contact with any foreign national, but there are certain countries where that is more urgent.  Russia had a reputation for playing a long game.  I don’t know how I learned it, but they were known to have folks who appeared normal for years, but who were actually operatives.  The prudent move was to stay away.  I met one on a flight, and went through a number of contortions balancing being friendly with also not saying a damned thing about what I did for a living.  The volume of questions I got from this friendly person was enough to make me think twice, and that was always in the back of my mind going forward.

I had a colleague report a Russian contact, and a US intel agency approached him later to potentially work the connection.  Too much time had passed, though, for anything to work.  Either way, it was a trip to hear the story.

Still.  I didn’t really think that meeting Russians would be an issue in Washington, DC.  You develop a bit of a social life, go to conferences or networking, travel, and whatnot – and you meet all kinds of people.  I got a group of friends, and we were out and about quite a bit.  At first, I didn’t meet many foreign nationals.  My group of friends largely worked in the national security world, because you can hardly throw a rock around the DC area without hitting someone somehow tied to national security.  Although they may not admit it.  Not everyone can.

Our group was into salsa dancing for a while, which was cool because I’d learned it in California and had a tiny bit of skill.  There was a sort of salsa dancing crowd around DC.  You could find a spot to salsa dance pretty much every night.  It really was a blast.  The salsa crowd knew how to have a good time – no matter where they were.  We checked out salsa events all over the place.

But then we stopped.  Sort of spontaneously.  Except, we were all noticing a trend.


I’m laughing, because it sounds absurd.  We were dancing, for crying out loud.  But:  close and continuing contact.  And the salsa world was a community.  We were all noticing the same friendly people everywhere we went.  An awfully lot of them were Russian.

Our prudence doesn’t sound so absurd now.  This week, the whole world saw the most powerful man in America kowtow to Russia’s leader.

That there was the result of a long game.  Russia doesn’t play.

Look, I’m no national security expert.  I did ten years.  Lots of the folks out on the talk show circuit and verified on Twitter have 30 or 40.  About half of my ten years were around the edges – but I always touched this world.  I know enough to have a sense for what this world entails, and for the level of commitment of the people within it.

I share this because the US president has picked a fight with a bigger world than he knows and understands.  And with a bunch of folks who know better than to f#$% with Russia.  They KNOW.

Tonight the New York Times reported leaked highly classified information that the POTUS was fully briefed on the Russian attack on the US prior to taking office, on January 6, 2017.  So all of this bluster and BS he has been hawking that the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference is a “witch hunt” and there was no Russian attack – well, we know he damn well knew there WAS.

So now the US president is between two massive alliances who don’t play:  the US Intelligence Community, and Russia.  And he keeps siding with Russia.

We all know this isn’t going to go well.

My advice:  Work to secure the US election, because the president isn’t.  We need a strong and funded Federal Election Commission.  There are mechanisms in the US government to secure the election, which Congress could push to action (so far there has been limited activity).  That’s tricky when the Executive Branch is dragging its feet.  Yet, elections are managed at the state level, and can be secured at the state level.  Check out what’s happening in your state, and demand answers or changes where needed.  Governors and other elected officials are responsible for their state’s elections.  There are also organizations working nationally to secure the vote who need support and have actions outlined (referenced in this post).

Also:  Learn more about national security.  Looks like it’s up to all of us, too, so we need to know what it’s about.  Work to protect existing institutions – they will be critical as things intensify.  Institutions are everything from law enforcement, fire, hospitals and local government to media, schools, and non-profits.  Facilitate critical infrastructure resilience.  Infrastructure is the heart of a flourishing society.  Find and build Teams to do the work and stay sane.  Anchor and flank.  Create non-traditional alliances for the greater good.  And for heaven’s sake:  get resilient.  At home, at work, in your community.  Resilience is what we’ll need for the world that’s coming.

There is a way through.  We all get to find it.


Looking for help finding a way forward?  Building a team?  Getting resilientTaking action?  Check out private coaching at inclusive pricing ratesThere are ways to navigate this, to stay grounded, and to do some good while we're at it.

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