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The Truth About Election Meddling; Michael Ian Black: America's Boys Are Broken And It's Killing Us

Aired February 26, 2018 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, we know that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election, but how much do we know about America's

history of interference in other countries' elections. I'm joined by Steve Hall, the former CIA station chief in Moscow and the former Kremlin adviser

Alexander Nekrassov.

Plus, comedian and author Michael Ian Black on why America's toxic masculinity is killing us.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. President Trump still needs convincing of Russia's

meddling in the US election, but the rest of his government seems certain of it.

The State Department today unveiled a new program aimed at countering state-sponsored propaganda just as the intelligence chiefs are warning that

the Kremlin is already targeting the midterm elections of 2018.

American lawmakers are aghast at Russia's actions, but what's rarely ever mentioned in that the United States has been guilty of the very same thing.

The US has long used its own power to influence elections all over the globe.

So, is what Russia is doing par for the course or is there a motivation gap? Here now to dig into these questions is Steve Hall, the retired CIA

chief of Russia operations and the former Kremlin adviser and journalist Alexander Nekrassov.

Welcome to you both, gentlemen. I want to go straight to the American side of things because we haven't really discussed this in this ongoing story.

But, Steve, lay it out there. Is what Russia is doing so out of the ordinary?


ordinary because Russia, of course, has a long history of involving themselves in what they refer to as active measures, which we would call

covert action, and it takes a lot of different forms and they've been doing it really since Soviet times and even before.

That said, this is the first time that we've seen, at least in recent history, the aggressive attack on our elections, and indeed, not just our

own, but also on Western democracies really across the globe.

So, it is really sort of a new incarnation, I would argue, of a very old artform which the Russians and the Soviet special services, the KGB, now

the FSB and SVR and others, are undertaking.

AMANPOUR: So, in terms of what the US did, is that sort of par for the course what Russia is doing?

HALL: In terms of what the United States has done historically?


HALL: I think that the phraseology that you used in the lead-in is accurate. Motivation and context matters. In the case of covert action in

the United States, which is, of course, a legal responsibility of the CIA, which only acts at the behest of the executive - in this case, the

president - covert action is certainly one of the tools in the toolbox, but the motivation is important.

I would say recently, in the past - let's say, since the end of the Cold War, the primary motivation for US covert action has been to try to enable

- in societies that are autocratic and closed, to try to enable individuals in that society to act in a free fashion.

You can imagine an autocracy, for example, where the autocrat has complete control over the press, where there are no free and fair elections and

where the intelligence services and the security services of an individual country will actively work against anybody who is a dissident or anybody

who wants to somehow oppose the government.

US covert action oftentimes seeks to assist those people who are already in a country looking for more openness in their society, and that's been a

primary goal of covert action at least in recent history.

AMANPOUR: But in previous history, going back to 1946, I mean, after the war, we know in Iran, Mossadegh, an elected official, was overthrown. We

know in America and in all sorts of places. That was pretty toxic stuff, wasn't it?

HALL: Well, if you go back a little bit further, the eras that you're talking about, let's say the 50s and 60s, again, I think context matters.

In a lot of those - not in every single case - but in a lot of those cases, what you are looking at is a world that was basically involved in a tension

or a fight or a battle between the communist Soviet Union, whose stated effort was to take over and spread communism throughout the entire world,

and with the United States being labeled as the main enemy, the "glavny protivnik."

[14:05:12] This was a worldwide fight that the US, and the West indeed, was engaged in to try to stop Soviet - essentially a Soviet takeover of the

entire world.

So, yes, I think you could safely say that the gloves were a little bit more off there because the context was sort of - for lack of a better

phrase - about world domination and the West, and the United States specifically, felt the need to push back harder in many cases. That was

much less so in the 70s, 80s and 90s and even today.

AMANPOUR: So, let me turn to you Alexander Nekrassov, I mean, you just heard it - how it's been put into context, do you, first and foremost, all

these years after the Cold War buy the historical view of it that Russia really did, or rather the Soviet Union had this world domination policy?

And, yes, the United States played these covert games and everybody was doing it.

ALEXANDER NEKRASSOV, FORMER KREMLIN ADVISOR: First of all, I need to say something unusual. It is in the nature of intelligence services to

exaggerate their role in every event in the world.

And, unfortunately, KGB did it as well. They exaggerated their role greatly and basically deceived the Kremlin on many occasions, only to get

more money. The CIA does the same.

A lot of things are happening in the world and intelligence services are trying to get - to jump on the bandwagon and say we did it, we did it, we

sent out people there and so on.

In the Ukraine, for example, the CIA was saying, oh, yes, we worked hard there, our embassy and so on. Unfortunately, it was mostly the Russians

who messed up everything and they basically gave it to the Americans.

And to say that the Russian FSB or SVU (ph) could influence the American elections is laughable. Any professional will tell you it's impossible.

It's physically impossible. You have to spend billions and billions of dollars and you still get nothing.

AMANPOUR: I want to pick up on that. And let's use a President Trump tweet. He said a while back - last week, in fact, that "If it was the GOAL

of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they

have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"

Alexander, are they laughing as the president suggests in the Kremlin?

NEKRASSOV: Well, I can tell you, obviously, that Putin's team was laughing because they have their election campaign done for them by the Western

media, by the Americans, by President Trump. So, Putin looks like an all- powerful leader who can influence elections in America, in Europe, all over the place. He can appoint presidents, prime ministers.

He doesn't even need to convince the Russians to vote for him because they will come out and vote for him. So, you must understand it's a game. And

the game is being played and has been played for centuries by intelligence services by the governments and so on.

Putin and his team, if you noticed, didn't really reject any accusations in a hardened way that would say, no, we didn't. They are basking in the

spotlight. They are thinking, OK, the Americans are doing everything for us.

The Russian people - and they care about the domestic audience primarily, the Russian people are saying, wow, we have a president and intelligence

service that can do for peanuts - they are saying $2.2 million was spent for four years on rigging the American election. Excuse me? Such tiny

amounts cannot be spent on this.

AMANPOUR: So, let's put the indictment aside because that's real. Thirteen people, three organizations were indicted.

Let me turn to Steve. I mean, the way Alexander lays it out, peanuts and giving way too much kudos and credibility to the FSB and to whoever else

might be doing this, does he have a point about the amount of effect that they've had.

HALL: Alexander makes some interesting points, not many of which I would agree with, perhaps not unsurprisingly.

First of all, the Russian security services have a long history in being able to do this type of thing. And it really - there's very little in

today's world with social media and the ability of - to get out there and spread one's message is much easier than it used to be and costs a lot less

money and infrastructure and resources to accomplish something.

The other thing is with the use of bots and trolls. You've got almost an automated system. So, somebody tweets one thing and it automatically gets

millions and millions of repeats, which is amazing propaganda work really for anybody to do. So, this is sort of an old-school solution in a new

capability, in a new technical capability.

[14:10:20] AMANPOUR: So, Alexander - go ahead.

HALL: I would agree with one point that Alexander did make, which is we do help the Russian side in the sense that the Russians don't come up with

propaganda on their own. They see American fissures. They see splits in society in the West and those are the things that they take advantage of

and echo.

So, it's not out of whole cloth. And in that sense, we do provide the grist, I think, for a lot of the work that the Russians have been able to

take advantage of.

AMANPOUR: Yes. I was actually going to turn to that. The using - whatever it might be, the Black Live Matter movement, the school shooting,

all these very divisive issues that are going on in the United States right now, the Russian bots and others are jumping into that, so to exacerbate a

very partisan situation.

NEKRASSOV: Well, first of all, I'm on social media myself, on Twitter. And I can tell you the impact of Twitter is not significant.

Social media is greatly exaggerated, its influence. A lot of people there are just bored and want to just to spend time. I think it's a great, great

mistake to think you can influence a public opinion in a country like America and or even in Europe by using social media. Social media is not

that active.

I think what we're hearing here at the moment is a new type of Cold War. It's not as sort of dangerous in the sense that we don't have two different

ideological camps standing against each other, which was, by the way, much more stable in the old Cold War.

The new Cold War is much more dangerous because it's predictable. Nobody understands what's going on, who is the real enemy, where is the enemy,

what it is doing. And I think that this debate about Russia involvement in the elections - and the Russians are blaming the American now, by the way,

for their involvement in the current elections.

I don't think it actually works because the Americans have failed, for example, in this election in Russia to position Putin as an enemy of the

Russians, which they wanted.

So, a lot of people look and say, no, no, no, we'll better vote for Putin because this American support for his - for the opposition, we don't like

it. So, it doesn't really work.

AMANPOUR: So, final word on how does one end this? Steve, we've seen a much more robust pushback against the Kremlin, against this kind of

interference from Angela Merkel in Germany, from President Macron in France and even from Prime Minister May here in Great Britain. Much more robust

than is coming out of the White House.

Wouldn't just a couple of well-placed condemnations by President Trump go a long way to sort of putting this to bed?

HALL: Well, first, Christiane, you make an interesting point. I suppose it's possible that all those leaders in the West that you were just

mentioning, to include the United States, are somehow wrong or somehow making it up, the social media and that the Russians aren't taking

advantage of that.

So, I think it's pretty much a fact that throughout the West, there have been these incursions, if you will, into these open societies.

How to fix it? How to fight against it? That is one of the most, I think, difficult questions that we face today as open societies because what Putin

has figured out how to do is how to leverage open societies against ourselves.

We all want the ability to get on social media. We all want the ability to communicate freely. And what the Kremlin has managed to do is insert

itself into this process. And so, how do you solve that tension between wanting to have that open communication, yet protect it against outside


Part of it, I think, is education. If you're talking about actually voting in and of itself, part of it is doing the very best you can to

electronically protect yourself, so to make sure that your voting systems aren't hacked into.

But at the end of the day, I think it's going to rely primarily on governments to educate their societies and their citizens to understand

when news is being manipulated, when information is being used, is essentially being weaponized.

That, I think, is the real challenge in the years ahead, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And we know some of the European countries are already doing that. Finland apparently has a robust sort of program to try to educate


Well, we're, obviously, going to be talking about this for a long time to come. Steve Hall, thank you so much. Alexander Nekrassov, thanks for

joining me here in the studio?

AMANPOUR: So, turning now to the trauma that continues to shake America. Nowhere is the heartache and anger at the school massacre in Parkland,

Florida more acute, of course, than with the victims, their families and the first responders.

[14:15:00] In fact, the school girl Maddy Wilford, who survived multiple gunshot wounds, and Lt. Laz Ojeda who saved her life. Listen to them



LT. LAZ OJEDA, FIRST RESPONDER: At first, it was believed that Maddy had deceased. She looked very pale. I gave her a sternal rub. I go, hey, how

old are you? No response. Second sternal rub. Hey, how old are you? She came around. She told me she was 17.

MADDY WILFORD, PARKLAND, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I'd just like to say that I'm so grateful to be here and it wouldn't be possible without those

officers and first responders and these amazing doctors and especially all the love that everyone has sent.

And I was sitting on my couch today just thinking about all the letters and gifts that everyone has given, just like all the love that's been passed

around. I wouldn't definitely wouldn't be here without it.


AMANPOUR: Such emotional first-hand testimonials. And Americans are increasingly fed up. A new polling says there is a spike amongst

Republicans who now support stricter gun laws, though many in Congress are pessimistic about the chances for action.

Guns are undoubtedly a central issue, but my next guest says there is another aspect that we're overlooking. The writer and comedian Ian -

sorry, Michael Ian Black says, "What do these shootings have in common? Guns, yes. But also boys. Girls aren't pulling the triggers. It's boys.

It's almost always boys. America's boys are broken and it's killing us."

And Michael Black joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: That's a really right-in-your-face statement and conclusion. And, yes, it is obvious all those guns are wielded by boys. But what do

you mean that they're broken? What do you see and feel?

BLACK: America's boys - and this can probably be applied to boys worldwide, but I'm confining my remarks to America in particular in

relationship to the shooting epidemic that we have - are defined, as we always have been by our masculinity.

And the model of masculinity that boys and the men that they grow into seems to be broken and it's having profound and devastating effects not

just in these spectacular violent episodes that we see, but all across the spectrum of American life.

And I think we can - we need to look more closely at what it means to be a boy and be a man in America and how we define masculinity.

AMANPOUR: So, I just want to quote from you yourself, what you wrote in "The New York Times". Many feel that the very qualities that used to

define them, their strength, aggression and competitiveness are no longer wanted or needed. Many others never felt strong or aggressive or

competitive to begin with. We don't know how to be and we're terrified."

I mean, it is an important conversation to be having right now because it's true many boys/men don't - say they don't quite know how to navigate the

current environment, whether it's the toxicness that you talk about or even whether it's the other major issues in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Just explain from your writing, your stand up, your experiences what you think they're feeling.

BLACK: I'll speak from personal experience and also as the experience of a father of a teenage son.

Growing up, I felt and observed that there was a narrow model of what it meant to be a man in the culture. And that model embraced a lot of good

qualities - strength, ambition, at times competitiveness, aggression - but it was and continues to be a very narrow model and doesn't speak to the

fullness of the experience of being a man.

And that fullness can and should encompass all - the full spectrum of what it means to be a human being. In the piece, I talk about how feminism

opened the door and change the language for what it means to be a girl or woman in the culture. It greatly expanded how women viewed themselves.

So, now, when we think of, for example, a strong woman, we don't think of a masculine woman. We think of strength as being inherent in being female.

At the same time, when you look at boys and men, what we don't have is a commensurate language.

[14:20:14] So, you don't have the phrase sensitive boy or sensitive man existing in a positive way in the full spectrum of what it means to be a

man or a boy.

So, instead those words, there are certain words that have a kind of feminine quality to them. And what I guess I'm looking for and asking for

is a decoupling in the language from this idea of femininity associated with masculinity as a negative thing or rather to say that we need a

broader language for how we discuss masculinity, so we can encompass these ideas.

AMANPOUR: So, the British artist Grayson Perry who has also written a book about masculinity and about young men and adolescents, I spoke to him a

while back. And he is even more pessimistic than you are about a young man's role or their self-perception in society today.

Listen to what he told me about when he visits prisons and others.


GRAYSON PERRY, BRITISH ARTIST: I talked to sort of young offenders and people and I saw that it was when you take away the other ways where a man

can have status, he resorts to something very primal, which is sort of defending territory and competition with other men.

And I feel a bit sorry for men, in that masculinity has become a sort of redundant phenomena. I call it a skeuomorph. It's an architectural term

that used to be functional has become decorative.


AMANPOUR: Yikes! I mean, that is a very harsh indictment of how some men think of themselves in today's society. I don't know whether you think

it's that harsh, but, I guess, the question then would be how do you channel that kind of feeling, some of the anger that you talk about into

relevance, into being able to discuss how you're feeling and into some kind of change in this kind of toxicity?

BLACK: I think that is the big question. For men, the way we're raised, we have really two avenues of self-expression. And they both tend to be

kind of negative. Withdrawal or rage. Those are kind of the two socially acceptable means for men to really express themselves and neither are


When we talk about masculinity, there's a kind of stoicism to it, a kind of strength that we're meant to exhibit. And when we don't feel those things,

when we don't feel stoic, when we don't feel strong, we don't have a language to express those things.

I don't think masculinity is redundant. What I think it is too narrowly focused. And I'm trying to figure out a way, and I'm looking for help, to

start a conversation about not how we redefine masculinity, but how we expand masculinity, how we make it OK to have a powerful empathy, how we

have the courage to be vulnerable.

Those are difficult things for most men myself included.

AMANPOUR: Well, one of - Grayson Perry has his men's rights and he's talked about what you just said, the right to be vulnerable, the right to

be wrong, the right to be intuitive, the right to be uncertain and the right to be flexible and the right not to be ashamed of any of these.

But I wonder - I want to just expand a little bit. Melania Trump, the first lady, today spoke about social media and some of the challenges of

social media, but also about the children, men and - boys and girls who are affected at the Parkland school. Just listen to this for a moment.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been heartened to see children across this country using their voices to speak out and try to

create change. There are our future and they deserve a voice.


AMANPOUR: I wonder, Michael Ian Black, whether you are impressed by the real strength of these boys and girls from the school and from around that

area, what they've done to move the dial and how, in fact, President Trump has shown that that he's been affected by their pleas? He's moved his dial


And now, the figures are changing in the country, especially amongst Republicans who want you to see potentially stricter gun laws.

[14:25:07] BLACK: I'm more than impressed by these teenagers. I'm inspired and it has been a brilliant, incredible response to yet another

one of these tragedies.

I don't quite know how they're finding the strength to do this. I don't quite know how their finding their voices so easily and have such steely

resolve in the face of very powerful opposition. It has been heartening and it has given me, I feel like, courage to talk about this subject in

relationship to it.

I can't say I am particularly impressed with either the first lady or the president. The president, in particular, his words will always ring hollow

to me until we see him actually doing something. I question his ability to be empathetic, not only to these students, but to anybody other than


And so, I look for him to lead on this and to actually move the ball forward. I'm doubtful, but I am incredibly optimistic about these students

and I hope there are no students to follow, although I remain doubtful about that.

AMANPOUR: Well, these children, these students are really showing us that at least for the moment enough is enough and they are really leading from

the front. it's pretty amazing.

Michael Ian Black, thank you so much for joining us.

And that's for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.