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by John Helmer, Moscow

Nobody learned to write a simple narrative better than Georges Simenon, with the result that over a lifetime of 86 years he drew 550 million paid-up readers, not counting millions more of library and other loaners. He rewarded himself with a well-known fortune banked in Switzerland, and carefully counted numbers of orgasms with thousands of willing women. It’s unclear whether the latter were also Simenon’s readers. He admits he preferred to pay the women in cash for the five minutes he says he averaged spending himself on them. 

Simenon was also much too busy to develop convictions himself about the wars, judicial and extra-judicial killings, and politics through which he and his readers lived. They don’t even serve as backdrops, soundtracks, or motivations for his characters or their stories. “I’m not interested in politics,” he wrote in his diary in 1960 when he was fifty-seven. “But still I’m intrigued by a problem posed by politics: that of sincerity and insincerity.” Simenon’s uniqueness was to narrate the investigation and pursuit of killing and killers with almost no judgement implied by himself, or his policeman for that matter, of the truth. Truth, Simenon’s works illustrate, doesn’t have the same sale value as sincerity, at least not in the book market. Noone quite as insincere and deceptive as Simenon has been quite as readable.

In the real world that’s called false consciousness; in government operations it goes by other names – propaganda, active measures, disinformation. It’s what official narratives lacking in truth are full of. Like the one the US Government and its media tell every day about the killing and lying crimes Russians allegedly commit. On Simenon’s anniversary, it’s worth pausing to contemplate the method for selling such narratives successfully, over and over.

This past September 9 was the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Simenon, a low-class Belgian whose fictional detective, Inspector Jules Maigret of the French Police Judiciaire (lead image, left), first appeared in the novel, “Pietr the Latvian”.  That will have been ninety years ago next year.   

Left: Georges Simenon in a publicity photograph in front of a display of his books. Right: his first Maigret novel in its newest English language edition by Penguin.

Actually, Pietr the Latvian wasn’t Latvian; he was a Russian forger, gangster and murderer from Pskov whom Simenon named Fyodor Yurievich, quite possibly because Simenon didn’t understand the difference between Russian family names and patronymics. He also made a  mistake thinking Pskov was much closer to the Baltic Sea than Paris is to the Atlantic. 

Simenon’s second Maigret novel followed a year later, titled “The Carter of La Providence”. That one also had a Russian character named Vladimir, a 25-year old who spends the book serving as a valet on a motor yacht but never acquires a surname.  He had been a cadet in the imperial Russian Navy; during the civil war he was on the White side, serving in Wrangel’s fleet,  but Vladimir wasn’t homicidal, at least not in France.

Seventy-five Maigret novels were published between 1930 and 1972; Penguin started to reissue them all in 2013. Rowan Atkinson (aka Blackadder, Mr Bean) is the most recent film actor to portray Maigret; he added breasts, cleavage, and other titillations – they had suited Simenon but not Maigret —  to Madame Maigret, the inspector’s wife, in a four-part series broadcast between 2016 and 2018. Here’s the list of novels with their French titles.    And here’s Penguin’s list.  If the estimate of 550 million copies of his books sold is accurate, then Simenon’s Maigret is the best known policeman in history.

Less well known is that Simenon couldn’t create credible Russian characters, or any non-French, non-Belgian foreigner for that matter.

Simenon didn’t hit his form, style, or grip on the market for almost a decade; by then there were a great many foreign criminals in France. They were Germans from the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo. With them Simenon got along unspeakably well. That led between 1945 and 1955 to his taking refuge in the US and Canada, where he produced more Maigret stories; in one of them Maigret was in New York. Especially when they are guilty of something, the Americans Maigret encounters are as pasteboard as the Russians. Simenon respects their money, however. Real Americans as varied as Henry Miller and Charles Chaplin liked Simenon, possibly for the same reason.

William Faulkner, the southern novelist, once said “I love reading Simenon. He makes me think of Chekhov.” This is silly. There’s nothing like Chekhov’s subtlety in Simenon’s characters, plots, or dialogue. But this is the point of Simenon’s mastery of story-telling. It’s also why he could write so many 150-page novels in clips of four days a piece.

There is something importantly in common between Simenon, his 550 million readers, and a thousand or two employees of the US Government engaged in spying, soldiering, or running foreign policy on Russia at the moment. They haven’t any understanding of foreigners, especially not Russians.

As a result, the American narratives created of these Russians, especially of the crimes they commit before the American inspectors track them down, are fictional. They are also produced at a fast clip. They aren’t as readable as Simenon. They don’t hold their liquor as well as Maigret. Like the inspector and like Simenon himself, there are no jokes in the narratives. When Simenon himself decided to write a diary of three years of his life, 1960-62,   no one is ever recorded laughing. In the books, the only laughter reported is coming from psychopaths or hysterics.

If Andrea Kendall-Taylor (lead image, right) wasn’t a genuine CIA analyst on Russia, the Agency would have had to invent her; in a sense that’s exactly what it has done. Kendall-Taylor has fancied herself as a policeman on the trail of crimes committed by Russians. She is now engaged by the US television networks to broadcast with the credential of a CIA agent confirming the sincerity of herself and her colleagues in the narrative of Russian criminality. Her accomplices, fellow inspectors, include Fiona Hill, the recently departed senior director for Russia at the National Security Council (NSC) and  Marie Yovanovitch, a State Department staff specialist on Russia and Ukraine,  and until her sacking in April of this year, ambassador to Ukraine. For more on Hill, start here. For the Russian narrative of Hill and Yovanovitch, click to read.  

By comparison with Hill and Yovanovitch, there is a peculiarity about Kendall-Taylor. She didn’t study Russia academically. According to her résumé, she did her university scholarship and graduate work on Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; in those countries she spoke Russian, not the local languages. Officially and academically, Kendall-Taylor has never been to Russia. After she graduated from university, she was an analyst for stock and bond salesmen at Deutsche Bank Securities. Several years after that are missing from her curriculum vitae before she says she turned up in 2009 at the CIA as “senior political analyst, Office of Russian and European Analysis [OREA]”. Had she been a junior analyst first, or a trainee for undercover operations? Her record doesn’t say. 

From the OREA branch Kendall-Taylor was moved sideways, out of the Agency and into the National Intelligence Council; that’s an inter-agency unit compiling and coordinating all of the US Government’s intelligence work. There Kendall-Taylor was titled “Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia.” She did that job for three years until 2018 when she joined the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). This is a Washington think-tank funded    by the State Department and allied governments, defence contractors*, and the National Intelligence Council. The largest single source of money for CNAS is the Murdoch media family through its Quadrivium Foundation,   the Fox media network, and Rupert Murdoch’s son James out of a personal pocket.   

It’s through this think-tank that Kendall-Taylor’s Russia stories are distributed into the market of readers; to them her whodunit, Russia-did-it narrative is for sale. So far, there are fewer buyers than Simenon’s, but the story line is big business and there is still time; Kendall-Taylor is only one of many producing and selling it. In the book and mainstream media markets they make a cartel; there is almost no competition.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor in her regular broadcasting for NBC, Fox and CNN. She does not include media engagements in her  curriculum vitae to Congress.

In a recently published study of the CIA whistleblower whose claims started the impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump, Scott Ritter cites Kendall-Taylor as a colleague, likely a line superior of the whistleblower. Ritter doesn’t name him, but provides his identity through other publications;    the name is Eric Ciaramella.

Kendall-Taylor is also Ritter’s source for his assessment of Ciaramella’s training and expertise.  “As a junior analyst, the whistleblower worked alongside colleagues such as Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who joined OREA [Office of Russian and European Analysis] about the same time after graduating from UCLA in 2008 with a PhD is Slavic and Eurasian studies. A prolific writer, Kendall-Taylor wrote extensively on autocratic leaders and Putin in particular. Her work was in high demand at both the CIA and NSC, which under the Obama administration had undergone a massive expansion intended to better facilitate policy coordination among the various departments that comprised the NSC.” 

By high demand, Ritter means Kendall-Taylor’s superiors, including political appointees and the regular bureaucrats now known collectively as the Deep State. 

Ritter adds that when Kendall-Taylor was Deputy National Intelligence Officer at the NIC, Ciaramella was her junior, a lower pay-grade analyst also assigned to report on Russia. Ciaramella then moved to the Russia branch of the National Security Council (NSC). After the Trump administration began, he was replaced by Fiona Hill, and then promoted to be an  executive assistant to Trump’s second national security advisor, General Herbert McMaster. Hill’s papers on Russia for McMaster started with Kendall-Taylor and Amy McAuliffe, head of the National Intelligence Council; they then moved through Ciaramella.  

Left: Amy McAuliffe, a 20-year CIA agent specializing in Arab affairs, appointed head of the National Intelligence Council in October 2016, just before the presidential election.   Centre: Eric Ciaramella. Right: Fiona Hill. 

After a year in his job, McMaster was dismissed by Trump in March 2018. Ciaramella and Hill stayed at their desks. When Kendall-Taylor left the NIC soon after, Ciaramella applied for her job, and got it. After almost another year, Hill left her NSC post in July 2019; during that year she was in regular contact with Ciaramella. His name was mentioned by Hill during her closed-door testimony to the Congressional impeachment investigation on October 14; she identified him as one of the colleagues to whom she referred on Ukraine energy issues and on the allegations of Trump’s involvement in Ukrainian corruption. For Hill’s narrative on Russia and her campaign against those who are sceptical, read this. In the transcript of Hill’s testimony, Ciaramella’s name has been blacked out at page 59

Kendall-Taylor started publishing her narrative on Russian criminality while she was still a serving intelligence officer. Here’s a sampler  of the stories she tells from a publication of another Washington think-tank, the Elliott School of International Affairs. 

  • No one would dispute that power in Russia today lies firmly in the hands of President Vladimir Putin.”
  • “Scholars estimate that Putin and a circle of 20–30 trusted advisors with ties to the military and security services make most of the decisions in Russia, and that the real power resides within an inner circle of just half a dozen individuals.”
  • “Over time, however, more and more autocrats are assuming power through a process we call “authoritarianization,” or the slow and incremental dismantling of democratic systems by democratically-elected leaders. In the 1970s and 1980s, authoritarianization accounted for less than10 percent of new autocracies. Since1990, this figure has more than doubled.”
  • “Relative to other forms of dictatorship, personalized leaders pursue the most risky and aggressive foreign policies; they are the most likely to invest in nuclear weapons, the most likely to fight wars against democracies, and the most likely to initiate inter-state conflicts more generally… the lack of accountability that personalist leaders face translates into an ability to take risks that dictators in other systems simply cannot afford.”
  • “Russia underscores the link between rising personalism and aggressive foreign policy. While Putin’s actions in Crimea in 2014 and military intervention in Syria in 2015 were designed to advance a number of key Russian goals, it is also likely that Putin’s lack of domestic constraint and accountability increased the level of risk he was willing to accept in pursuit of those goals. The Kremlin has refined a number of tactics to reduce Putin’s accountability for his foreign policy decisions. For example, Putin’s tight control over the media ensures that the public receives only the official narrative of foreign events.”
  • “Moreover, personalist leaders are among those autocrats most suspicious of U.S. intentions, and view the creation of an external enemy as an effective means for boosting public support. Anti-U.S. rhetoric, therefore, has been most pronounced in more personalist settings. Personalist leaders including Russian President Putin, Venezuelan President Maduro, and Ugandan President Museveni have used anti-U.S.rhetoric to distract technology-empowered publics from economic decline and other regime shortcomings.”

Simenon wouldn’t have sold 550 million copies if Maigret used words like authoritarianization. But here’s the new money shot – the point where Kendall-Taylor has joined the Russia narrative of her old CIA employers to the anti-Trump narrative of her new media employers: “the U.S. election [of Trump] has led political observers to question whether the United States is also ripe for personalization of its political system.” By political observers, Kendall-Taylor means Ciaramella, Hill, Yovanovitch, and herself.

Selling this narrative also requires self-defence. That’s when Kendall-Taylor, joining Hill, Ciaramella, and her current and former colleagues, fires back at those who call them Deep Staters doing no more than to protect their jobs and increase their salaries, consulting and appearance fees,  and royalties. Listen as NBC broadcasts    each of the lines of the Russia best-seller, with Kendall-Taylor adding: “the Deep State narrative undermines our democracy… It runs the risk of shutting down the innovative thinking that the intelligence community does that keeps American safe.” 

The sincerity as she says that is written right across Kendall-Taylor’s face. But as Simenon judged when he was counting his success, so long as readers didn’t doubt the inspector’s and the author’s sincerity, they would buy the book — never mind the truth.  

[*] One of the defence contractors, and after the Murdochs the next largest individual financier of CNAS, is Neal Blue.  He and his brother Linden Blue own General Atomics of San Diego, a military contractor which produces, among other things, surveillance technology and the Predator drones used by the CIA. Carol Blue, a member of the General Atomics family, was the wife of a journalist whose targets in his publications included many of the CIA’s Predator targets on the ground; that was Christopher Hitchens

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