The Russian hacking hysteria in the US media, and among parts of the public — especially liberal Democrats — is becoming increasingly embarrassing.
Over and over we have been told that the government, whether in the form of the departing President Obama or unidentified “intelligence sources” cited in news reports, or statements by private security contractors with their vested interest in trying to show how vulnerable America’s (and the Democratic Party’s!) servers are, that they have solid evidence that the Russians hacked DNC emails and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, only for it to turn out to be more of the same innuendos, circumstantial “evidence,” suspicions, and inevitably ridiculous and embarrassing errors (like the Washington Post’s breathless and false story that the Russians had hacked the Vermont power grid and could shut off the heat during a cold snap).
The latest example is yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, which featured the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who is the boss of the CIA, the NSA and the rest of the whole vast US intelligence apparatus. Clapper told the committee that he stands “more resolutely” than ever behind the CIA’s initial assessment of Oct. 7 that Russian leaders at the “senior-most levels” had orchestrated a campaign of interference in the presidential election.
Clapper testified ominously about a vast campaign of interference which he claimed involved everything from hacking the DNC to spreading disinformation and what he called “fake news.” He said, “Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry…they would exploit.” Why, he said in outrage, their state-owned English-language television station RT-TV (available in about 15% of American home cable packages) even “disparaged our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights.”
Gee, how evil can an empire be? (And worse yet, Clapper disclosed that the NSA had recorded Russian officials cheering and laughing when they realized Trump had defeated Clinton! My god! We should retalliate!)
Seriously, if an American citizen is ignorant enough not to at least be skeptical about a report about American politics that is being aired by a news organization called Russia TV, we’re in serious trouble. But I guess that’s another issue for another day. And as for that annoying glee heard in the Kremlin election night, can’t we assume there was the same glee in the White House when Boris Yeltsin narrowly defeated Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov in a run-off to win a second term as Russian president? So gloating counts as election interference now?
Meanwhile, is it really that unreasonable that a Russian news organization (or a Chinese news organization, or even a German one for that matter) might air a report about American hypocrisy on human rights, when ours is a country, after all, that routinely criticizes other countries for such violations while at the same time is itself still holding people without charge in a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba 14 years after they were captured and rendered to that hell-hole, that boasts the largest prison population in the world, both in absolute numbers and as a percent of population, that as a matter of policy holds some 25,000 of its 2 million incarcerated prisoners in long-term solitary confinement which global norms and the psychological profession insist is cruel and unusual punishment, that still has over 2250 people serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors, and that still produces and uses antipersonnel weapons that most of the rest of the world has banned? All of these things are viewed as human rights atrocities by most of the civilized world, including the democracies of Europe — our closest allies.
Amid all that verbiage, which had nothing at all to do with Russian evil-doing, Clapper never did offer any of the promised proof that Russia had “hacked the US election.” Indeed, under questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Clapper conceded that “imprecise language” had been used in claiming that the Russians had “hacked the election,” as there is no evidence that Russia had hacked voting machines. The claim is that Russia hacked the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails and provided them to Wikileaks, which released the damaging information that the DNC had sabotaged the Democratic primary to help Clinton defeat her opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and also copies of her embarrassing secret and highly compensated speeches to Wall Street banks.
But when it came to proving the Russians guilty of this alleged hack, again Clapper came up with nothing. Instead, he promised the missing proof would be made available later with release of a declassified report.
Clapper at the Thursday hearing said the classified version of the new report, to be provided Friday to president-elect Donald Trump, the administration and perhaps the Senate committee, will remain secret, though he promised to “push the envelope” to include as much detail as possible in the publicly available redacted version. So much for that: Released late today after Trump met with top intel officials, including Clapper, for a briefing, that report again offered no proof of any hacking.
Remember, Clapper is a career Washington intelligence bureaucrat who helped put over the WMD fraud that led the country into the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and who lied to Congress when asked about whether the NSA he directed was spying on Americans’ communications.
This man’s word is not exactly his bond.
UPDATE (1/7/2016): In a surprisingly good analysis of the publicly released intelligence report on the alleded Russian campaign to undermine US democracy, hack the DNC server and help elect Donald Trump, Scott Shane of the NY Times on Saturday writes:
“What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack…Instead the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’ There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’ propaganda machinery…
“The absence of any proof is especially surprising in light of promises on Thursday from …Clapper, that he would ‘push the envelope’ to try to make more information public….But Susan Hennessey, a former intelligence agency lawyer who is now managing editor of the online journal Lawfare, writes: ‘The unclassified report is underwhelming at best. There is essentially no new information for those who have been paying attention…”
“This report is unlikely to change the minds of skeptics who, like the president-elect, remember the intelligence agencies’ faulty assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and fear being misled again.”
Another sign that even the completed classified report on Russian election manipulation will be yet another dud is word that “US officials” say it will contain “no major new bombshell disclosures” regarding Russian hacking. Does anyone besides me hear the sound of someone attempting to lower expectations?
Already the outline of a climb-down is starting to take shape. After for months insisting that the intelligence agencies had “all the evidence” to prove a Russian hack of the DNC’s and Podesta’s emails, despite Wikileaks’ and founder Julian Assange’s insistence that their source was a leaker, not a hacker, and was someone not connected with Russia or the Russian government in any way, the story now has become that the Russians hacked the DNC and Podesta, but then used a “third party” to funnel the purloined emails to Wikileaks, perhaps without Wikileaks knowing the Russians’ role.
Clearly the first version of the CIA’s and Clapper’s story has collapsed.
We’ll have to see now whether this Russian hacking story 2.0 holds up better than a typical Microsoft Word security patch.
My view on all this is that it is a tempest in a teapot. It’s not that Russia is a fine upstanding example of a country that minds its own business, any more than the US is such a nation. Maybe there will even be proof sometime showing there was a Russian hack of the DNC. But I’d say if Russia can so easily undermine a presidential election in what we’re always told is the world’s oldest, greatest and strongest democracy, we have bigger problems than just getting hacked. If Americans can be suckered by fake news that, as Sen. Tim Kaine (Clinton’s running mate in November), said, “most fourth graders would find incredible,” we’re in big trouble too. Besides, recall that peddling fake news and meddling in elections is the US government’s stock-in-trade around the world, and has been for decades — including inside of post-Communist Russia.
The big story to me is that the DNC “hacked the election” by subverting the democratic process of nominating a candidate to run as the party’s nominee for president, even to the extent of using friendly news organizations to publish trashy hit pieces on Clinton’s dogged opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (a form of peddling fake news). Polls consistently showed through the primary months beginning in January (and right through Nov. for that matter) that Sanders was more popular than Hillary Clinton and more importantly, that he had a better chance than she did of trouncing any of the potential Republican candidates, including Trump. Clinton was already under investigation by the FBI for her violation of the Freedom of Information Act and of State Department secrecy rules regarding classified information with her use of a home server to handle her State Department communications, and she was also being battered by pressures to reveal what she had said for $250,000 a pop to private groups of Wall Street bank executives. All of this made her a very dangerous person to put at the top of the party’s ticket, but the party establishment didn’t want a firebrand critic of the corpratocracy like Sanders, so they went down and dirty for the hugely compromised and politically tin-eared Clinton.
The emails that blew all that corruption into the public’s awareness were accurate and they were devastating. How they became public is not the important issue, though. It is the reality that the DNC destroyed the integrity of the party’s primaries, and that Clinton gave those obscenely obsequious banker speeches that should outrage us.
Instead of facing up to that reality and resigning wholesale from the DNC, or being forced out, Democratic Party leaders, with the help of the outgoing Obama administration and its political appointees in the intelligence agencies (all of whom are about to be swept out of office by the new Trump administration in a few weeks), have been working desperately to change the narrative to one of Russian perfidy, Trump illegitimacy, and their own blamelessness in blowing the election so disastrously.
The sad thing is that unless the Democratic Party is thoroughly purged of the Clintonites, neo-liberals and neo-cons who have infested it for the past quarter century or more, turning it into a pale imitation of the Republican party that vies not for progressive votes but for the financial backing of corporate America, there is little hope that the wholesale Republican takeover of Washington last November 8 will be undone, either in 2018 or in 2020.
For those of us on the left and for those genuine liberals and progressives who really worry about the future of US politics and society, not to mention world peace and the survival of humanity on a globe that is rapidly heating up past the point of no return, the alternative to a complete ejection of the Democratic Party’s corrupted leadership and of the sell-out Democratic senators and representatives currently padding their wallets in Washington while pretending to be an opposition party, is to return to the streets where we were in the 1960s and early ‘70s.