Here it is already Easter in the Spring after an election year, yet it’s still hard to keep up with all the political back-and-forth since the election in November (and previously, of course). But it’s becoming clear to me what is behind the endlessly-flogged story that The Russians Tried to Influence the Presidential Election in Favor of Donald Trump. The tale has become an article of faith for every two-bit Congressman, every half-bit pundit in print and online (bloggers don’t count as ‘pundits’), not to mention every quarter-bit talking head on cable news (even Fox).
According to this tale, the dastardly Russians under orders from Vladimir Putin ‘hacked’ into computers at the Democratic National Committee and stole bags of email, then gave them to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, so the Republican nominee could Trumpet the juicier bits at campaign rallies and interviews. Then, just to stick the knife into the Democrat’s nominee, the Russians are alleged to have seeded social media and obscure websites on the Internet with ‘fake news’, e.g. the notorious claim that the Clintons were associated with a child-trafficking ring run out of a pizza shop in Washington, DC. The assumption, of course, is that bottom-feeding Internet denizens in the USA were not competent at spinning their own erotic speculations into fabulous absurdities—they had to rely on secret conspiracy-mongers in the Kremlin.
There were also rumors that the Russians might be able to penetrate eletronic voting machines, but nothing seemed to come of this, even in the wildest conspiratorial dreams of the Democrats.
In fact, no one has produced any evidence that the alleged Russian hacking or ‘fake news’ had any effect whatsoever on the election November 8th, other than giving partisans more to talk about over an evening beer or two.
Nonetheless, we have now been treated to months of non-stop headlines about investigations and dire warnings about insidious foreign influence on our ‘most-sacred’ institution, the Presidential election. Never mind that there is widespread evidence of perfectly mundane voter fraud, which somehow always seems to benefit Democrats the most, and which Democrats are always admantly against any measures to prevent (like voter ID).
The great mystery is how such an implausible and fanciful story ever came to prominence in the halls of Congress and the national (Democrat) media. But the solution is becoming clear: it’s a cover story.
The FBI Director, James Comey, has testified that he has been investigating Mr Trump and his associates for evidence of Russian collusion since July (2016). But we now know that the Obama administration (presumably the NSA, not the FBI) was engaged in spying on Mr Trump and his associates (the term of art is ’surveiling’), well before he got the Republican nomination (1). Obama’s National Security Director, Susan Rice, has admitted identifying (‘unmasking’) Trump people whose phone conversations were collected in the course of listening to foreigners, incidentally or not. Remember, the White House has no investigative authority; for a sitting President to authorize the unmasking of American citizens for political purposes is not only grossly unethical, it is illegal.
But, fortuitously, the Democrats discovered they had been ‘hacked’. Tens of thousands of emails were siphoned off their unsecured server and slipped to the outlaw website Wikileaks, which broadcast them to the world. They were a huge embarrassment, testifying to insider chicanery, like villifying Hillary-Clinton competitor and rogue socialist Bernie Sanders, enough to cause Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign. By October Wikileaks released a huge tranch of sordid emails from long-time Clinton associate and Campaign Chairman, John Podesta. Back in May the FBI had offered to investigate, but the Democratic National Committee demurred, and instead invited in a large IT firm called CyberStrike, which was both a Clinton-Foundation contributor, and run by an anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist named Dmitri Alperovitch. Surprise! They said it was the Russians!
What was the evidence that it was the Russians who got into the DNC server? CyberStrike claimed the hacking was accomplished by malware created by ‘Russian front’ operatives using the names ‘Cozy Bear’ and ‘Fancy Bear’, who also used similar malware to disable Ukrainian weaponry in Russian-Ukrainian encounters. But recently this claim has been debunked (2), and it has become apparent that Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear used cyber-hacking techniques that are widespread in the state-sponsored and wildcat hacker underground. Mainly they involve ‘phishing’ schemes that rely on users to inadvertently open doors for intruders. And as it turns out, John Podesta’s computer easily succumbed to a malware attack when he was mistakenly told by an IT guy to click on a suspect link in a phishing email.
Does that account for all the DNC exposure? As Podesta’s computer would have led the intruder into the DNC server, probably. But surprisingly, a former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan claims that a DNC insider physically delivered some contents of the DNC server to him, to give to Wikileaks (3). Then, in an unsettling development that seems to have been hushed up outside the back alleys of the Internet, a young DNC staffer was murdered on the streets of Washington, DC, beaten and shot for no apparent motive; he was not robbed. His name was Seth Rich; was he the leaker? (4)
In any case, whatever happened, beyond the claims of CyberStrike there is no published evidence that any Russians were involved in the DNC hack(s), nor in the Wikileaks releases. Nevertheless, over the summer the ‘Russians-did-it’ spark soon ignited a fast blaze, which quickly became a ‘Trump-colluded-with Putin-to-hack-the-election’ conflagration. How did this happen? Apparently, the leftovers in the waning days of the Obama administration, like John Brennan at CIA, decided that this was a good story, as if to say, “Now we have an excuse to sneak around with our wireless high-tech gizmos and see what dirt we can find. Who knows, maybe even some collusion between Trump people and the Russians!”
I’m speculating, of course, but that’s where the evidence leads. We learned only recently that the FBI began an investigation into ‘Russian influence’ back in July. Most likely, Director Brennan and maybe James Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), seizing upon the CyberStrike conclusion, managed to convince James Comey to begin an investigation which would robustly improve the ‘the Russians did it’ story. There may not be any evidence to make public, but the simple fact of an FBI investigation gives the story immediate credibility.
We also know that phishing attacks had been made on the Republican National Committee, but their server(s) had been better secured than the Democrats’, and they asked the FBI to investigate. There was no hacking, and no embarrassing email releases. It was the Democrats who were victims—of their own incompetence, as it turned out. But what did that prove to the myth-makers? The Russians must want Trump to win!
That of course was ludicrous, as Candidate Trump was promising to substantially beef up the US military and US oil and gas production, both anathema to the Russians. Candidate Clinton, of Russian ‘Reset’ fame, was also in bed with various Russian friends-of-Bill and donors to the pay-to-play Clinton Foundation, and was promising to continue President Obama’s lackluster ‘lead from behind’ policies, which had already allowed the Russians great leeway in their global ambitions. Why would they favor a nationalist like Donald Trump, who wanted to “Make America Great Again”?
Word was spread to the leftwing media that no less than 17 intelligence agencies had concluded that the Russians were supporting Trump and hacking Clinton. The candidate herself trumpeted it in the last ‘debate’ on national TV in October, citing an intelligence memo and calling her opponent Putin’s “puppet.” But in actuality there were not 17 agencies; there were only three (CIA, FBI, NSA); Fred Fleitz of the Center for Security Policy writes on The Federalist website:
U.S. intelligence agencies issued two assessments on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The first was an October 7 statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that said WikiLeaks disclosures of Democratic emails during the election were “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts” but did not say there was any evidence of Russian involvement.
Moreover, although this statement said the U.S. intelligence community held this position, the memo was issued by only two agencies, and was called a “Joint DHS and ODNI Election Security Statement.” Hillary Clinton seized on this statement in the last presidential debate on October 19 by inaccurately claiming “We have 17, 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin.”
The fact that this memo was not an intelligence community document issued by all agencies with equities in this issue was very unusual. It also was suspicious that an unclassified intelligence analysis so advantageous to one presidential candidate was issued just before the election and only two weeks before the last presidential debate. In my view, this looked like looked like a clumsy attempt by the Obama White House to issue an intelligence assessment to boost Clinton’s presidential campaign and hurt the Trump campaign. (5)
The second assessment in January was similarly dubious. Nevertheless, the Congress and the salivating saps in the media swallowed this tall tale hook, line, and sinker. Hearings were scheduled. Alarms were sounded. Director Comey testified that the FBI had been investigating since July. The new Attorney General Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any investigation of the putative connection between the Russians and the election.
But the new President himself was not taken in. He fought back with his secret weapon, the ‘tweet’ (yes, that’s still a new word for me): “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’.” And, lo and behold, of course he had! That is, Obama’s intelligence agencies had been busy listening to every conversation between Russians and the Trumpers, and then in their eagerness to buttress this phony Russian-collusion story, gave the details to the White House, which leaked sly hints to the press. General Michael Flynn had actually talked to the Russian Ambassador before the Inauguration! So had Senator Sessions! Horrors!
Of course there was nothing untoward, nothing illegal, nothing unusual in anything the nominees and advisors for the new administration did. The Ambassador was ubiquitous—he talked to everyone—and until the inauguration and confirmations, Mr Trump and all his associates were private citizens. But the leaks helped to keep the fairy tale going, and that made it harder to see the real crime: the former President had been spying on his successor. Not only did the ‘Russian-collusion’ myth work to distract from the rampant DNC chicanery revealed by Wikileaks; it also served to cover up and justify the crimes of spying and leaking, leading astray the Congress, the Press, and the Public. As a bonus, it ‘explained’ to the distraught Democrat electorate why Hillary Clinton lost to a novice politician, the New York real-estate mogul and TV personality. And finally, it characterized the new Trump administration as illegitimate pawns of Vladimir Putin, interlopers who should not be in the White House at all, leading Democrat partisans to even mutter about Impeachment.
As the truth comes out, thanks to the President’s tweets and revelations about the unconscionable behavior of the Obama leftovers—Brennan and Clapper and Comey and Rice, and all the rest of them—and as President Trump begins to chart his own course in foreign and domestic policy, we are most likely going to see the fable of Russian ‘influence’ in the election fade away like a weird dream. One has to hope that those who promulgated it shall suffer an appropriate indignity themselves, perhaps in a court of law. Or is the claim that they were all taken in by a ridiculous fantasy invented by a Ukrainian IT guy an acceptable excuse, as children might be forgiven for thinking that chocolate eggs hidden in the bushes are laid by the Easter Bunny?
(1) “Report: Trump Surveillance Began Before He Was Even GOP Nominee.” Townhall 31Mar17
(2) “EXCLUSIVE: Cybersecurity experts who were first to conclude that Putin hacked presidential election ABANDON some of their claims against Russia – and refuse to co-operate with Congress.” Daily Mail 5Apr17
(3) “Julian Assange associate: It was a leak, not a hack and the DNC insider is NOT Russian” BizPac Review 11Dec16
(5) “Was Obama’s White House Politicizing Intelligence To Influence The 2016 Elections?” The Federalist, 6Apr17