[Also published at Huffington Post.] One of the foundational ideas of artificial intelligence is the Turing Test, named for the brilliant Briton Alan Turing. According to the Test, if a computer can act enough like a human mind to fool an actual human, the computer can be said to have achieved human intelligence.
If we adapt the Turing Test for Russian agents, Donald Trump passes.
We don’t have direct knowledge that Trump is in fact a Russian agent, for now at least. But he acts so much like one that it’s impossible to tell the difference.
I know how crazy this sounds, and believe me, I am no fan of conspiracy theories. But the evidence keeps piling up.
At Monday night’s debate, Trump once again defended Russia against charges that it’s interfering in our election, like he did in the first debate, and at other times. In so doing, he argues against his own country’s intelligence services, which have unequivocally stated — including in briefings to Trump — that Russia is behind the hacking and disinformation we’ve been facing.
Trump defends Russia against criticism whenever he has the chance. He also frequently praises its dictatorial president, Vladimir Putin — a man who jails and kills political opponents — as a stronger leader than the democratically elected Barack Obama.
Until it became too awkward, Trump’s campaign manager was Paul Manafort, who enriched himself by consulting for the former Ukrainian prime minister, and Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovych. While Manafort was still in charge of the Trump campaign, it removed a plank from the Republican platform that had called for arming the new Ukrainian government against Russian incursions.
Trump has also on the one hand denied that Russia has gone into Ukraine (to be fair, this might just have been stupidity), and on the other suggested the annexation of Crimea (part of Ukraine) might have been justified.
Trump’s position on NATO — that the U.S. shouldn’t protect allies unless they pay — might as well be custom-designed to advance Putin’s dream of weakening the alliance that has protected the West since World War II.
Trump has pursued and profited from multiple business dealings in Russia. According to comments by Donald Trump, Jr. in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
And now there’s this: Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald has noticed that the Russian government appears to be feeding disinformation directly to Trump. At a rally today in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump read from a document that purports to prove a connection between Hillary Clinton and supposed perfidy in Benghazi, via an email Trump claimed was written by Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal.
“He’s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi,’’ Trump said, dropping the document to the floor. “This just came out a little while ago.”
The crowd booed and chanted, “Lock her up!”
The trouble is, Eichenwald knows the email is a fake, because it uses language misleadingly lifted from one of Eichenwald’s own Newsweek articles, in a form only ever published by the Russian government propaganda organ Sputnik:
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment).
The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump?
An agent is someone who acts on behalf of another. Possibly it’s unwitting, as so much of his behavior seems to be, but by his own words and deeds, Donald Trump is indistinguishable from an agent for Vladimir Putin‘s Russian Federation.