Former CIA director Michael Hayden said Thursday during a television interview that the 2015 Jade Helm controversy in Texas was an early example of Russian efforts to spread misinformation in the United States.
Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe as part of a book tour, Hayden, a retired Air Force four-star general who also ran the National Security Agency, said Russians fueled the distrust over the military training exercise in an attempt to influence the American public.
“There was an exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 that Russian bots and the American alt-right media convinced most — many — Texans was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents,” Hayden said. “It got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the National Guard to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm.”
In April 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas State Guard — a branch under the Texas Military Forces separate from the Texas Army National Guard — to monitor the exercise and address the concerns of some Texans.
Despite that directive, PolitiFact Texas found no evidence that troops were dispatched or activated.
“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’ and at that point I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process,’ ” Hayden said.
Abbott’s office declined to comment.
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is battling Houston Democrat Andrew White for the chance to run against Abbott in November, used Hayden’s comments to attack the governor.
“Greg Abbott was duped by Russian bots. He indulged in awful conspiracy theories against our own men and women in uniform,” Valdez said in a prepared statement. “He was a puppet in a Russian infowar that sowed distrust amongst Americans and paved the way for foreign intervention in our elections. This is who is lecturing us on being smart on security and integrity in our electoral process?”
Hayden, who is promoting his book The Assault on Intelligence, said the misinformation campaign around Jade Helm exposed that Americans could be turned against one another because of cultural divides. Hayden said the Russians have continued to use that strategy, notably on other topics such as NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and coverage of a meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr.; former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and several Russians.
Hayden said the Russians use these campaigns to disable and distract Americans from exerting influence in places Russia wants to become involved.
The Texas Democratic Party also went on the offensive, saying Abbott’s 2015 decision to call the Texas State Guard was “downright idiocy.”
“Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was a Russian pawn and a useful idiot for Russian efforts to instill fear and distrust in our American institutions,” deputy executive director Manny Garcia said in a prepared statement. “Gullible Texas Republicans turned against the United States. … Abbott still owes the men and women of our armed forces, and every single Texan, an apology.”
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