Last month, while this site was down, I published a recollection of the last two years of systematic character assassination at Medium. (I’ve had a few tech problems while writing about the Global Corruption Scandal, as have many of my colleagues.) Having produced my wrap up of life in America since my Game Theory Twitter thread, it compliments the story from my personal vantage point.
In 2005, I had a book deal with a New York publisher.
In 2007, I was teaching executives, out in hardcover in multiple languages, and targeted by a foreign spy to get access to the information my Washington, DC-based consulting firm possessed.
In 2008, I predicted the financial crisis down to the month and maneuvered my employees to get new jobs in anticipation of the crash. On the day the stock market crashed, I gave a keynote in Manhattan on the need for a renaissance of leadership.
In 2012, I wrote for The Atlantic and Harvard Business Review.
In 2014, I gave a keynote in São Paulo on “The Golden Age of the Intelligence Analyst” and started it in Portuguese. They graciously let me transition back to English. The next day, I gave an eight-hour master class in advanced strategic analysis. They had two interpreters on staff.
But by December of 2016, after pointing out the Russian influence on the US election in a Twitter thread that started with “Guys, it’s time for some Game Theory,” according to Slate, I was “fueled by prescription amphetamines and craft beer” and “a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman, peddling sleek gibberish to people.”
In the annals of gaslighting, there must be some record around going from being a moderately well-known entity in a niche profession to being a public menace of mental instability worthy of 200 articles about how you aren’t worthy of public attention, published in a variety of global outlets.
Welcome to my 2016–2018. This is what happened if you stepped up to Russia, the Global Mob, and the financial elite during their seminal and doomed attack on democracy.
A life in the intelligence community, erased
My position was unusual in 2016, and it collided with fate. I am a member of the intelligence community, the private-sector version of it: competitive intelligence. We work for businesses and government agencies outside of a military context, although we are allied with government professionals, sharing knowledge and training. Never having possessed a full government security clearance, I am free to speak without seeking permission from a former employer.
I am a member of this community in good standing. I started briefing senior executives of corporations in 1997. I have written articles for the field since 2000, the same year I gave my first speech on the subject in Paris. I have taught courses on strategic foresight to executives since 2006.
In October 2018, I was made the 78th inductee as a Fellow of the Council of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, the most senior rank of our profession. I know the majority of the other 77. Many are friends, some are former co-workers, some are former students of mine. The group is comprised of innovators and paragons of our tradecraft from both nation-state intelligence backgrounds and the corporate world.
But for many billion-dollar media companies, their twenty-something-year-old freelancers and staff writers were allowed to publish that all of that was a lie. All of it joke.
All of it without fact checking or calling for a quote. This, apparently, is journalism today.
Their claims were not that I was a sub-par intelligence professional – not that any of them had the standing to make such a judgment. The shared thesis of these articles was not that the description of Russian political influence operations I made on December 11, 2016 was inaccurate. They did not argue that my background in the commercial and non-military governmental application of nation-state intelligence tradecraft was insufficient to support my conclusions. They argued thatI was a fraud. A joke. A Democrat sore over Hillary’s electoral loss. A sign of “The Left’s” enduring problem. Paranoid. A drug addict. Mentally ill. Not a professional in the field of intelligence analysis at all, much less an innovator in that field. And, as the year progressed with an increasing number of headlines proving my thesis to be sound, a grifter, cheating my customers.
The language was unusually harmonious in terms of common phrases.
As per my profession, I ran a statistical analysis of it. The word clusters among the 100-plus articles were, in terms of median probability, unlikely. Most writers put a stamp on their prose. Catch phrases. Favorite zingers. It is unusual to see the same phrasing turn up constantly without a guiding force.
Grifter. Fraud. “So-called strategist.” Establishment Democrat. Amphetamines. Craft beer.
Always with the quotes around my career. Not, “guy who started in 1997 in this particular field who gives lectures at conferences and writes peer-reviewed journal articles.”
“So-called” or “self-described.”
Twenty-one years of a well-regarded career, libeled to the world with the aid of billions of dollars in capital — and erased for anyone who would do a Google search seeking to hire me or my consulting firm.
Not “described by other professionals as an expert, because they incorporated his proprietary methodology in the board rooms of top European corporations,” or “teacher of thousands of executives in speciality skills.” Instead, they have for two solid years, in concert, churned out hundreds of nearly identical articles attacking me personally without taking on an argument or correcting a factual error in good faith.
The machinery of journalistic mediocrity
There were four publications — of the dozens — that bothered with an actual interview, a search for quotes.
Two were surreptitious. Their proposed tone of the interviews reflected in no way the final product. That tone was dismissive in nature, to put it charitably, in both cases.
The third flatly lied about the content of the interview. The author straight-out invented statements.
Only one writer called for an interview, had an editor check quotes, and produced an article of which the final product was exactly as described. She is the only journalist worthy of mentioning by name, Virginia Heffernan in Politico, who wrote about the phenomenon of the “Twitter thread” as changing the media environment. She did so with simple, erudite accuracy.
The rest — a triple-digit number of slams — never adhered to anything that remotely resembles what the profession of journalism claims to cherish: rigor, honesty, research, a factual basis for a story, a gatekeeper that makes sure a voice represented to the public has the proper background to offer an opinion worthy of a platform for the subject under discussion.
Why did this happen? You would have to ask the individual journalists and editors. When I attempted to engage them, as I did Mother Jones’ Clara Jeffrey as to why their director of content Ben Dreyfuss (son of actor Richard Dreyfuss) was accusing me of defrauding subscribers to my private Twitter channel — one designed to avoid the trolling I’ve experienced for two years — I got no response.
When I politely emailed Julia Turner of Slate to retract the most basic factual errors in a puerile piece of character assassination (“in any true meritocracy he’d be putting his strategic skills to work hawking trinkets by the roadside. And it shows.”) I got no response to what was the most serious accusation of professional malfeasance.
Note that these are supposed liberal outlets.
An unlikely emergence
As I have said to many friends and colleagues, when intelligence analysts suddenly emerge as pop culture figures, things are definitely weird and probably very bad. In the last three years, they have been both. It was not my intention to enter the public consciousness with a social media presence that outstrips many entertainers, and it occurred both by accident and under duress. I, more than most and certainly more than the mainstream media, understood the implications of Trump, a Mobster under the yoke of hostile foreign powers, being near the levers of all of America’s political and military might. After a month of sleepless nights and intense pursuit of information, I burst forth on Twitter with an impromptu use of Internet slang and all-caps to accompany my knowledge of nation-state intelligence operations so as to give some comfort to my fellow citizens.
It worked all too well. The two-year price I have paid, my reputation, I would pay again. The American Republic is worth it. The messages from my fellow citizens, that I helped them feel better about the future, has been worth it. The new comrades engaged in this fight are absolutely worth it. A dignified future for our children is completely worth it.
As for those who chose to green-light pieces about me instead of digging into a thousand different opportunities to expose corruption or elucidate espionage, I wonder what it is they find worthwhile. But I don’t think the opinions of this current batch are especially important.
The general public is catching on and the money for this effort will surely soon run out.