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Former CIA director says Russians spread misinformation on Jade Helm military exercise

Retired Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former CIA Director, listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Cyber Policy, Strategy, and Organization, May 11, 2017, on Capitol Hill.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By JAMES BARRAGÁN | The Dallas Morning News (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 3, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas — 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. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott then directed the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise. 

"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.

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 influences in places Russia wants to become involved.

Gov. Greg Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The Texas Democratic Party 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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