Talk of conspiracy and collusion in politics may seem more rampant than ever before. But on Dec. 9, Jeff Rogg told a lively Zoom audience of congregants from Temple Shalom, in Middletown, that history shows this is nothing new.
It’s part of the political landscape, and it has been for most of the life of the United States, said Rogg, an intelligence specialist and a postdoctoral fellow in the National Security Affairs Department at the U.S. Naval War College, in Newport.
“I love intelligence,” Rogg said. “What’s better than telling spy stories?”
He explained how the United States got its start with conspiracy and spies.
“Benjamin Church was the first real American spy. He’s the reason the battles of Lexington and Concord happened,” he said.
Then there was Benedict Arnold, who was channeling letters to the British. One letter, lying on a shelf, was found and made its way to George Washington: The rest is history.
“Conspiracies are in our blood,” said Rogg. “They make us uncomfortable but curious.”
He told how Thomas Paine was the first to leak classified information, because of political disputes in the Continental Congress. And he pointed out that throughout history, Americans have always been divided. He also said that allegations of collusion are as old as the U.S.
“There were allegations of collusion between the Federalists and the British,” he said.
Rogg’s takeaways for today’s political atmosphere:
“Intelligence and politics don’t mix.”
“There’s a long history of spying on your opponent in politics.”
“American politics is messy stuff and it always has been.”
“Politicians will be politicians. Intelligence officers have a job to do, and if they get involved in the mud, shame on them.”
Of today’s politics, he said, “It’s not irredeemable. The best way is to understand history.”
A lively discussion followed Rogg’s talk, with many of the more than dozen attendees commenting or asking questions.
Rogg is finishing his Ph.D. at Ohio State University with a dissertation titled, “The Spy and the State: The History and Theory of American Civil-Intelligence Relations,” which details the evolution of American intelligence from the Revolutionary War to the present.
FRAN OSTENDORF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.