Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War Lost
The BBG Saga: Leaving On A Jet Plane
You just can’t make this stuff up:
We feel sorry for Jeffrey Shell, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), for making a colossal fool of himself with the help of his BBG advisors. We really do, because he is an accomplished private sector businessman who does not know much about the U.S. government or foreign policy and has been truly poorly served and poorly advised by the agency’s senior staffers. But then, he either kept them or selected them, and therefore he is ultimately responsible for his own and the agency’s troubles.
Chairman Shell, along with his two BBG traveling companions, John Lansing (BBG/CEO) and Jeffrey Trimble (a senior staffer), recently decided to hop a jet to Moscow to mark the 25th anniversary of the Radio Liberty bureau in the Russian capital, where it seems they were hoping to rub shoulders with Putin’s officials reportedly invited to the party being hosted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
But as incredible and as disturbing as it may sound, according to reports, Chairman Shell was also planning to do some private business in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the private company he works for, which is Universal Filmed Entertainment. This is his day job in addition to being presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed chairman of the BBG, a federal agency of the U.S. government.
As far as the United States is concerned, his BBG job is far more important than his private employment. His public role on behalf of U.S. interests and U.S. taxpayers has been seriously compromised. Making deals with Russian businessmen who answer to the Kremlin mafia, meeting Russian Foreign Ministry officials, and showing support for RFE/RL journalists whose job is to expose Russian government and business corruption all during the same planned visit to Moscow looked to us like a perfect overture to a diplomatic and inside-the-U.S. government disaster that anyone but Mr. Shell, Mr. Lansing and their BBG advisors could have foreseen.
Upon arrival in Moscow, Mr. Shell was promptly detained by Russian officials, put in a locked room, and then hustled off to catch a jet to Amsterdam for an unexpected change of itinerary. Did Mr. Lansing and Mr. Trimble really expect anything different, especially after the U.S. and Russia recently expelled each other’s diplomats and a U.S. diplomat was attacked in front of the U.S. embassy in Moscow?
If you are an American taxpayer, it’s mind boggling. It’s also pretty slick on the part of the Russians if you are not the one being beaten or detained. Cleverly, the Russians allowed Mr. Lansing and Mr. Trimble to enter Russia–a fact conspicuously missing from subsequent BBG press releases and a Voice of America (VOA) news report, which also failed to disclose or explain any of Mr. Shell’s private business activities in Putin’s Russia.
Of course, they are all hopping mad in the Cohen Building in Washington at this affront to the BBG Chairman, etc., etc. Less so, it seems, at the White House and at the State Department, where they’ve long ago reached their limit of BBG blowups. President Obama does not even bother to mention the BBG when he talks about countering ISIS propaganda.
The State Department spokesman was not exactly rushing to defend Mr. Shell over the Moscow incident. Responding to a reporter at the State Department press briefing, the spokesman said: “…your question highlights some of the ongoing questions and details that we’re trying to sort through, which is in exactly what capacity he [Jeff Shell] was travelling. And I have to stop there because you said he is – it is a role that he plays. He is also a private citizen.”
American taxpayers who think that the BBG is run by people who will effectively expose and counter propaganda lies from the Kremlin with determination and competence and without any apparent or real conflict of interest should care and be worried. But the Russians certainly don’t! They are probably having a good laugh over this one.
Why? Because at the end of the day, the Russians despise weakness, especially weakness cloaked in ignorance and foolish behavior. The Russian Government perceives the US Government to be weak. Mr. Shell and his traveling companions presented a golden opportunity to the Russian officials to demonstrate their contempt for the United States and give a nod to anti-American sentiment in Russia.
Chalk this one up in the “Win” column for the Russians, made easy by BBG blunders.
One has to wonder: are Mr. Shell, his BBG companions and the rest of the bureaucracy in the Cohen Building this naive and even stupid on foreign policy, public diplomacy and Russia?
Answer: Yes, they are!
As to Mr. Shell himself, in view of the pronounced anti-American posture of the Russian government, did he not think to question the wisdom of putting himself in a scenario where the Russians could make an example of him as the purveyor of anti-Russian sentiment on the part of BBG entities? Did he really think or believe his BBG advisors that the Russian government would greet his private business proposals with open arms and that the U.S. government agency he leads can continue to report on criticism of the Kremlin while he is making money in Russia for Universal Filmed Entertainment?
Or rather maybe, Nyet!
If you want to know how inept, how oblivious, how supremely arrogant the senior cabal of BBG officials are, this is it.
Let’s shift the focus off Mr. Shell. We’ve written him off a long time ago despite his earlier promises to members of Congress and others that he will stay clear of any apparent or real conflict of interest. He and Mr. Lansing are on the record telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they oppose some of the key restructuring provisions of the bipartisan BBG reform bill, H.R. 2323, approved unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Had the bill been passed, Mr. Shell could not do private business in Putin’s Russia and continue to serve at the same time as the BBG Chairman because the BBG Board could have been abolished by now. His BBG advisors could have lost their jobs.
Let’s turn our attention to Mr. Jeffrey Trimble.
Mr. Trimble has had a long tour through the US Government international broadcasting apparatus. In so many words, that makes him the consummate apparatchik.
Some of the things that stand out in our mind with regard to Mr. Trimble in most recent memory:
- He was the recipient of a $10,000 cash award. In light of BBG performance – or more accurately, the lack thereof – one questions the wisdom of the award.
- He was supposed to write a report on the fiasco of firing almost all of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service Moscow bureau staff in 2012 that drew protests from Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Nemtsov, and many Russian human rights activists. Where is Mr. Trimble’s report? To all appearances, it has never seen the light of day, leaving some people to question if it was ever written at all. What did Mr. Trimble do to try to prevent and/or solve the 2012 Radio Liberty crisis?
- He was part of a BBG delegation sent to Azerbaijan, in part to secure the release of Khadija Ismayilova, a jailed RFE/RL Azeri service reporter. The mission didn’t turn out too well. Ismayilova remained in Baku lockup until a recent decision by Azeri authorities.
- Last but not least, this latest fiasco of putting Chairman Shell out there where he could be detained and expelled. It could have been even worse for Mr. Shell. Thank God it wasn’t.
One needs to consider that Mr. Trimble spent some time in Russia as a reporter and also did some studies in the Russian academic circles. One would think he more than anyone else should have been able to gauge the posture of the Russian government and advise against jetting off to Moscow when things are not going so well between Moscow and Washington.
We can’t wait to hear the justification for this debacle.
But, one must remember that Mr. Trimble isn’t one for making timely reports public.
This is your BBG in action:
- “Dysfunctional” (Heritage Foundation scholar Helle C. Dale)
- “Practically Defunct” (Hillary Clinton)
- “Broken” (US statesmen, diplomats, media experts and journalists interviewed by former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty executive Elizabeth M. Portale)
- “Truly Rudderless” or Leaderless (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce)
There you have it! The BBG’s Five Points of Acceptable Performance! Expanded and “improved” upon every day!
The end result:
- “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman Ed Royce, February 23, 2016.
And let’s add another:
Naive and Stupid!
If nothing else, it has become an exercise in futility to expect this agency to be informed and to act in an informed manner in what it does. And as this incident demonstrates, the stupidity starts at the top!
We believe the Congress has ample justification to shut this agency down and transfer its functions to another entity or department of government.
The BBG is a known commodity: Incompetent!
The Russians will get a lot of mileage out of this. And they won’t forget. They will bring it up any and every time they believe they have something to gain from it. They plan. They calculate. They put the right people in place to make sure the desired outcome is achieved. They play hardball.
And don’t think the Russian people are going to rise up in protest.