Ex-CIA chief says Russian bots fueled Jade Helm conspiracy theories
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said this week that Russian bots helped fuel a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration would use a 2015 military exercise to impose martial law in Texas.
Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009 after serving as director of the National Security Agency, said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as part of a book tour that Russians likely viewed their success in promoting the conspiracy theory at the time as a green light to try and influence the 2016 election.
“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, and it got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the [state guard] to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm,” Hayden said.
“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,” he said.
The military exercise, known as Jade Helm, took place across seven states during the summer of 2015. However, conspiracy theories about the exercise flourished, particularly in Texas, which had been designated as a “hostile state” in the war game.
The secretive nature of the eight-week military exercise, which was used to try out new tactics, among other uses, caused some to speculate that the Army would try to impose martial law or that the government would seize people’s guns and land.
Some high-profile figures also weighed in on the theory, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and actor Chuck Norris.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) placed the State Guard on alert for the duration of the exercise.
Hayden’s comments come as the role of Russian bots in the 2016 election is under intense scrutiny. Lawmakers have questioned social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook over their policies on bots and what actions they will take to prevent bots from influencing future elections.