Trump and Intelligence (2)

Until enough time has passed that the data can be declassified, we may not know the full extent of the damage that Trump did during his time in office through revelation of classified information and sabotage of the intelligence apparatus of the U.S. government. Everything about our intelligence operations is, for good reason, classified. My work in Vietnam was not completely declassified until 2016, over forty years after the end of the Vietnam war. So the details of Trump’s malfeasance may not be made public during our lifetimes.

I am most concerned right now about what Trump may do now that he is out of office. His fondness for Vladimir Putin and the Russians is well known. His desire for revenge against those who failed to reelect him is well documented. He is deeply in debt and owes large sums to foreign interests. Might he bargain with foreign governments offering information in return for favors? Would we even know that he had done so?

It seems intrinsically obvious to me that the less classified information Trump has, the better. Someday Americans will learn the full scope of damage Trump inflicted on our country. My children and my children’s children will likely know the whole truth.

Meanwhile, let’s not give any more precious secrets to Donald Trump.

Trump and Intelligence

I read in the press that President Biden has delegated to his intelligence staff the decision on whether to stop further intelligence briefings to former president Trump. And Biden faces the herculean task of restoring the federal bureaucracy and repairing the enormous damage inflicted by the Trump administration. My guess is that the worst injury was to the State Department and the intelligence agencies. The repairs will take years.

There is no question in my mind that Trump should be denied any classified information. He has proven himself not just irresponsible but actually malfeasant in the handling of sensitive data. He revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting on 10 May 2017. In addition, evidence suggests that he shared secrets with Putin on at least one occasion. And we know that he disclosed national secrets during a pep rally with supporters. Whether he was criminally negligent or actively destructive is not clear. It doesn’t matter. He demonstrated why he is a danger to the nation’s security.

We know that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, did not qualify for top secret clearances, but a Trump-appointed official overruled career security experts and cleared Kushner. Kushner’s was one of at least 30 cases in which that official overrode security specialists and granted clearances despite information that should have disqualified the candidates.

From my thirty-five-plus years working in the intelligence community, I’m quite sure that Trump himself would not have met the requirements for security clearances had he not been elected president. With huge debts, including some to foreign concerns, and many incidences in his history for which he might have been blackmailed, Trump would have been rejected out of hand.

More tomorrow.

Alan Lightman’s The Diagnosis

I have just finished reading The Diagnosis (Pantheon Books, 2000) by Alan Lightman. I began it more than twenty years ago, when it first came out. Something like a quarter of the way through the book, I was distracted and put it aside. When I returned to it late last year, I had to go back and reread from the beginning.

The novel is the story of Bill Chalmers’ descent into illness. It starts as he’s heading to work, getting ready to board the Boston subway Red Line. It’s 8:22 in the morning. Bill looks at his watch in what becomes one of his most characteristic habits and sees the exact time.

His decline begins when he can’t remember where he’s supposed to exit the train. His deterioration continues until he is completely disabled. On the last page of the text, unable to move, Bill listens to the rain. My sense was that the author intended the reader to understand that Bill is dying. His illness never was diagnosed.

The book is a model of modern literary fiction novel. Not much happens. The focus is on the protagonist and his attempts to go on living in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Given the defeats he is subjected to, Bill comes across as both humble and admirable.

As a fiction author, I found much to admire in Lightman’s work. He made no attempt to romanticize Bill or disguise the human defects that weaken all of us. Instead, Bill comes across as profoundly human, doing the best he can knowing that death lies ahead.

That said, I was less than impressed with some of Lightman’s fiction technique. As is so often true with me, I was impatient with Lightman’s wordiness. I wanted more economy, less wandering. I found especially irritating his fondness for repeating sentences verbatim.

But I’m all too aware that my preferences spring from my discipline, namely writing literary fiction. Most readers won’t notice what I consider flaws. More serious is the overall outlook of the book. It ends with the protagonist accepting defeat. In my writing, I emphasize what I have done in my living: finding hope. All my novels and most (maybe all—I’m not sure) of my short stories end with hope for the future.

Hope springs eternal. Thank God.

Combat

I am the only man I know now living who saw combat as a civilian. For thirteen years during the war, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My job there for the majority of that time was working with combat troops on the battlefield, providing them with information about the enemy obtained by intercepting his radio communications. Most of the time, I didn’t do the intercepting myself but was the recipient of data from sites all over South Vietnam, from aircraft, and from ships at sea. I operated under cover as an enlisted man assigned to the unit I was supporting.

I was a civilian through it all. I had completed my military service before the Nati0nal Security Agency (NSA) hired me and sent me to Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, I did two multi-year tours in Vietnam and many shorter trips, called TDYs (temporary duties), usually four to six months in length. I was comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages that showed up in enemy communications, and early on I earned a reputation for being very good at working with friendly forces on the battlefield. No sooner would I complete a tour and return to the states than a message would come saying “send Glenn back” and back I’d go.

And I saw combat close up and personal. I lived with the outfit I was supporting, pretending to be a unit member. I got to know the guys I was working next to on the battlefield. They were kids, eighteen and nineteen years old. When one of them was killed standing next to me, my psyche was permanently damaged. To this day, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury from watching men die hideous deaths in combat.

My soul, in other words, was subjected to enduring injury. As a combat veteran, I am a member of a rapidly diminishing coterie. Something like 7 percent of our adult population are veterans. Of those, 10 percent saw combat. And nearly all of that number show signs of psychic impairment.

Why? Because combat is one of the most ghastly experiences a human being can endure. Nothing else I know of approaches it in horror. I don’t know how to describe it and wouldn’t if I could.

Nor did my support to U.S. and friendly forces cease with the end of the Vietnam war. After 1975, partly because I spoke seven languages, I was sent to a number of other locations for direct support. Where and when that was and who I was working with is still classified, so I can’t talk about it.

I urge all my readers to reach out to any combat veterans you may know. Thank them not only for putting their life on the line for the good of the country but for bearing the weight of unbearable memories. They suffer from wounds that can’t be healed.

But they can be comforted.

Three Interviews

You can access three recent online presentations involving me:

—Larry Matthews just posted again his interview with me from last year. You can hear it at   https://pod.co/impact-radio-usa/matthews-and-friends-1-11-21 

—Spotter Up interviewed me recently. Watch at https://spotterup.com/last-of-the-annamese-by-tom-glenn/

—Jim Bohannon interviewed me on his radio program. You can hear it online at https://omny.fm/shows/jim-bohannon/jim-bohannon-02-03-21  Click on the listen button, then advance to 1:40:00

Let me know what you think.

Trump and Russia

I wonder what revelations will gradually seep out over the next year or so about Donald Trump and Russia. Trump has verbally attacked just about every nation in the world, especially traditional U.S. allies, but he has never once had anything bad to say about Russia. Russia committed plenty of grievous sins, including the massive cyber attack against the U.S. and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. But the worst was probably the offer of bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops. And Trump has said nothing.

Trump verbally attacked hundreds of people, especially on Twitter (from which he is now banned). Why was Trump so hesitant to criticize—or even mention—Vladimir Putin?

I can only conclude that Russia—or maybe Vladimir Putin—has some kind of power over Trump. Maybe it’s financial. Trump has colossal debt. Maybe it’s personal, some scandalous act Trump committed that only the Kremlin knows about. That possibility strikes me as unlikely because Trump doesn’t seem to care much about scandal. Maybe it’s legal. Maybe Russia has damning evidence of crimes Trump has committed.

Or maybe it’s Trump’s pure admiration for dictatorship. While Trump has verbally abused just about every western democratic leader, he has been gentle with autocrats like Egypt’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman. Indeed, he has expressed envy for the power that tyrants hold.

Time will tell. I suspect that in coming months we will learn of some kind of secret tie with Russia that Trump succeeded in concealing during his years in the White House. As more and more of Trump’s secret dealings are revealed, I continue to expect that he will end up in prison.

Unless Biden pardons him. That would be rank unfairness in the service of “unity.”

Public Servant

I spent my entire career as a public servant, first in the military, then as a government employee. I took my role seriously. My job was not to get ahead, not to seek promotions, not to climb the corporate ladder, but to work for the good of the citizens of the United States.

And I did it to the best of my ability. I worked as a spy, helping U.S. troops on the battlefield, then as a leader of analysts to monitor the actions of governments hostile to the U.S. I struggled to be the best that I could be and later to help others to be the best that they could be in service to the country. Our achievements were sometimes spectacular, and we took justifiable pride in what we were able to do.

Now that I am retired, I reflect on the honor that my country bestowed on me by calling on me to serve. My life is richer and my country is better off because I answered that call.

Review of False Light

I have completed and submitted for publication my review of Eric Dezenhall’s new novel, False Light. The review will be published later this month—I’ll post the URL here when it comes out.

For all the years I’ve been reviewing books, I’ve stuck by one rule: never pan a book. If I judge a book to be of such poor quality that I can’t recommend it, I don’t review it at all. The Dezenhall novel presented me with a dilemma I’ve often faced: what do I do when I don’t really like a book but recognize that my personal taste does not justify condemning it as being of poor quality? Answer: give the book an impersonal review based on universally accepted writing standards.

False Light was, on the whole, was not my kind of book. Granted, there were aspects I enjoyed—the humor, the ingenious plot, the likeable protagonist. But too often the writing struck me as amateurish and longwinded. I was impatient for the author to get on with the story and stop rooting about. I suspected, as I so often do, that the author was deliberately adding text to make the book long enough to qualify as a novel. Nor was the story about life-and-death issues that can rivet my attention.

In short, the novel was not to my taste. That didn’t make it bad fiction. So I did my best to give it a fair review. I stressed the aspects I enjoyed the most and downplayed my negative reactions. I allowed myself to mention the aspects I disliked but ended with the qualities I most enjoyed.

I guess that’s about as fair as I can get.

My Hospice Work (4)

I volunteered to help AIDS patients in part because I couldn’t stand to watch men dying alone on the streets and in part to help me cope with my own Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). The experience changed me. While acting as a buddy helped me deal with my own unbearable memories, it also inflicted its own psychic wound. Just as I had turned to writing to get me through my struggle with PTSI, I did the same to cope with the shock and grief of seeing so many AIDS patients die. The result was my novel, No-Accounts, the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS.

The book has been honored over the years by the Eric Hoffer Awards and the Indie Book Awards. It was at the time my only novel not about Vietnam. Some readers tell me it is my best book.

As the AIDS crisis wound down and I was no longer needed as a buddy, I moved on to other charitable causes. I worked for less than a year as a volunteer visiting men dying in a VA hospital. Then I discovered hospice, a system of palliative rather than restorative care. Hospice volunteers visited with dying patients, befriended them, ran errands for them, comforted their loved ones. I worked as a hospice volunteer for seven years. I only dealt with one patient at a time, but before I ceased my volunteering, I had handled over twenty patients. As with the AIDS patients, I loved each and every one of them and mourned when they died.

I am a better man for having been an AIDS buddy and a hospice volunteer. But my willingness to face death squarely makes me an unusual American. One of the peculiarities of our culture is that we avoid mentioning or talking about both sex and death. Those are taboo subjects to Americans. We banish them from our consciousness and try to pretend they don’t exist. In other cultures I’ve lived and worked in, physical loving and dying are openly spoken of and are accepted as aspects of living. So I don’t feel that I deserve credit for working with the dying. It’s what people everywhere do.

Except in the United States of America.