Ken Vogel, who muckrakes the world of the idle-rich weirdos who run our political system like none other, returns Wednesday with the latest inside dope on the famous Brothers Koch, last seen in these pages describing how they'd been "dragged ... kicking and screaming" into politics only to become so terribly disillusioned about all the "character assassination" they found therein.
So what's going on with these pure-hearted sons of the soil who just want a polite political discourse to flourish in America? Oh, no big deal, they're just plowing all kinds of cash into a "secretive operation that conducts surveillance and intelligence gathering on its liberal opponents," you know, as one does. Per Vogel:
The competitive intelligence team has a staff of 25, including one former CIA analyst, and operates from one of the non-descript Koch network offices clustered near the Courthouse metro stop in suburban Arlington, Va. It has provided network officials with documents detailing confidential voter-mobilization plans by major Democrat-aligned groups. It also sends regular “intelligence briefing” emails tracking the canvassing, phone-banking and voter-registration efforts of labor unions, environmental groups and their allies, according to documents reviewed by POLITICO and interviews with a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the group.
The whole angry capoeira that these politically inclined idiot billionaires are combat-dancing with one another is actually pretty amusing. See, as Vogel tells it, there's this one group of uber-wealthy liberal donors called the Democracy Alliance, who aren't anywhere near the Koch brothers' level of wealth, but who unnerve the Koch brothers greatly. Consequently, these two organizations are basically perpetually engaged in a grand game of subterfuge and slap-and-tickle -- tracking each others' movements, fundraising in the dark market, meeting in secrecy, and every once in a while pilfering some intelligence that's been puzzlingly left lying around to be found.
The Kochs are of the mind that their operation got outfoxed in the last presidential election, so this time out, they're looking the escalate their monetary advantage by building out their intelligence-gathering operation. And the guy they've picked to run their "competitive intelligence" team is a man named Mike Roman, a true artist working in the paranoid style in American politics who has "worked to keep himself and his activity low-profile even within the discreet Koch operation." According to Vogel's sources, this team nurtures its neuroses to the extent that even "when people were summoned to meetings" at their offices, they typically "had trouble finding the suite."
“They told people that’s the way they liked it,” the official recalled. “They act all cloak and dagger – like the CIA. There was a joke about how hardly anyone ever met Mike Roman. It was like, if you wanted to find him, he’d be in a trench coat on the National Mall,” said the former official.
Sounds pretty efficient!
If you're wondering where you may have heard the name Mike Roman before, you might remember him as the guy who created the "Election Journal" website, which purported to hunt down the many instances of voter fraud that keep not happening, but mainly contributed only one thing to American life -- the enduring conspiracy theory of the nightstick-wielding "New Black Panthers" that were spotted outside a Philadelphia polling place supposedly intimidating voters. No actual voters came forward to testify to being intimidated, but maybe that just goes to show how effective those nightsticks really were! At any rate, Roman really, really, really doesn't like the New Black Panthers.
And as Vogel reports, he's apparently "scared to death of moles" as well. So much so that his group sees them everywhere:
One former network executive remembers an email containing a photo of a man identified as an operative with the environmental group Greenpeace who allegedly had been spotted taking his own photos outside the network’s cluster of offices in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington.
Connor Gibson, a Greenpeace researcher who focuses on the Koch network, said he visits its component groups’ offices once a year to pick up their tax filings, and he speculated he could have been the operative photographed by the competitive intelligence unit. While he said he’s never sought to conceal his identity during such visits, he added “If the Kochs consider me an opponent, I’m flattered.”
Of course, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. This crack squad did manage to ferret out an "IT contractor" who'd been posting anonymous accounts to Reddit about how he "worked for the Koch brothers but despised their stances." And that's the incredibly true story about how the Kochs stopped some Reddit thread from permanently tipping the balance of political power to the Democracy Alliance!
To be honest, one of the more amusing things about this clash of gilded elites is that there is absolutely nothing at stake -- at least for all the ridiculous plutocrats involved, anyway. These people all live easy, carefree lives of luxury and there is no plausible electoral outcome in this or any election that will ever alter their upward trajectory to greater and greater levels of comfort and extravagance. All of this miserable paranoia and high anxiety is happening in the clouds, a million miles above the real world, in a clash between rival members of America's perma-fortunate class, locked in a death struggle over what amounts to marginal scraps of wealth. Theirs is a battle that will have no losers, just winners with varying levels of wounded pride.
The bad news is that our dumb, corrupt political system shows no sign of changing for the better anytime soon. The good news is that if you want to mess with the Koch brothers, just come to Arlington's Courthouse neighborhood dressed up like a member of the New Black Panthers!
READ THE WHOLE THING:
The Koch Intelligence Agency [Politico]
Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post, and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast, "So, That Happened." Listen to the latest episode below: