Conspiracy theories about U.S. military exercises a few years ago in Bastrop County that grew so intense that Gov. Greg Abbott summoned the Texas State Guard to observe them were the consequence of a Russia disinformation campaign, a former head of the CIA and U.S. National Security Agency said on Wednesday.
Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe as part of a book tour, Michael Hayden said controversy about the Jade Helm training exercise was exploited by Russians trying to sow division in the American public.
“They took their game to North America in 2015, and I won’t belabor it here but 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, Abbott announced that he’d told the all-volunteer Texas State Guard — not the National Guard — to monitor the exercise, though aides said at the time he wasn’t buying into conspiracy theories. An Abbott spokeswoman at the time said Abbott “deeply trusts and respects the United States military.”)
Hayden said the success of the Jade Helm Russian provocateurs served as a template for eventual election interference.
“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 spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said Thursday the governor’s office would not comment on Hayden’s remarks.
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement calling the 2015 decision to keep watch on the operation “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. “Gullible Texas Republicans turned against the United States.”