Government officials in Norway have been breached by a phishing attack which authorities promptly pinned on ‘Russian hackers,’ claiming the hack was allegedly traced back to the same culprits that compromised the DNC servers in the US last year.
Nine personal civil-servant email accounts have been compromised, the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) announced, just days after the agency coincidentally identified possible Russian spying as the greatest potential threat to the country.
The Labor Party and “a handful of other Norwegian targets” were subjected to email attacks that allegedly took place last autumn, the Dagbladet reported. The defense and foreign ministries as well as security service staff were among those targeted, the BBC reports citing local media.
“The attacks had a signature that indicates those behind the hacking can be identified as APT29,” PST spokesman Martin Berntsen told the Associated Press. “They can be traced back to Russia,” he stated without elaborating further, while conceding that no classified information has been compromised.
CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to investigate the June 2016 data breach, was first to accuse APT29 – which they named “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” – of being Russian government entities. However, CrowdStrike has never offered any proof for this assertion.
Spear phishing – the forging of trusted communication to access private data – isn’t a Russian know-how but a popular and quite unsophisticated fraud technique that is widely used around the world to hijack electronic accounts.
Labour’s leader, Jonas Gahr Store, also confirmed the breach of his party’s emails, after being notified of the hack by PST on Wednesday.
“I can confirm that we are informed by PST that Labour’s parliamentary group was subjected to an attempted digital attack by a group that PST ties to foreign intelligence,” Store’s press spokeswoman Camilla Ryste, told Nettavisen, The Local reports.
The new revelations follow PST’s latest threat assessment on national security published Wednesday, where Norway said that Russian intelligence poses the greatest challenge for the country.
“It is primarily Russia that has intentions and capacity to do intelligence activities with big damage potential for Norway and Norwegian interests,” the annual report from the Police Security Service (PST) reads.
“Intelligence pressure from foreign states, especially from the Russian side, has been high and stable over the years,” PST Chief Benedicte Bjornland said in the report, according to The Local. “The reason why we increase [the risk] now is that there is a tougher security situation. This means that the intelligence activities of Russia, in particular, have the potential to be more dangerous now than before.”
The Russian embassy in Norway called the Russian threat a “myth” blaming Oslo of staging a “witch hunt” instead of dealing with real threats like terrorism.
“Unfortunately, it seems like some are uninterested in normalization of our relationship and strive persistently to return to the times of the Cold War,” the embassy said on Facebook.
With Trump’s arrival in the White House, European leaders were the first to talk of «a new historical era» (Angela Merkel) and the fact that «the old world of the 20th century is over» (Frank-Walter Steinmeier). The alarmism running through these statements is fuelling discussions about the uncertainty and unpredictability of the new American president. In my view, however, judgements on his «unpredictability» should be tempered slightly. At the very least because if a political entity is «unpredictable» and everything surrounding it suddenly becomes uncertain, then one can easily imagine that planning would be impossible, leaving nothing to do but wait and see what Trump is going to do next and then react. Ultimately, this way of thinking will prevent countries from developing their own national strategies.
If there is any «unpredictability» with regard to Trump, then it is only in comparison with the White House’s previous policies, which the new administration will not be pursuing. When Richard Nixon was impeached, it heralded a creeping coup d’etat that resulted in supporters of cosmopolitan finance capital coming to power in the US. Over the past quarter of a century, the interests of American banksters have brought about the large-scale demolition of industry and the middle class in their own country. A huge number of Americans with links to the real economy were never going to be happy with such a state of affairs, and this is where the interests of certain groups of manufacturers coincided with the interests of parts of the middle class and skilled workers. Trump’s arrival in the White House is a victory for this group of manufacturers and workers and is seriously changing the rules of the game that have existed for almost forty years. And in this sense, Trump’s victory could be considered revolutionary.
At the same time, however, Trump’s rhetoric and his ‘soothing’ remarks should not be idealised for a number of reasons.
Firstly, whatever extraordinary personal qualities the president may have, the US political system is designed in such a way that he needs the support of its major segments. Trump is not an island; he is a man of the system, or, to be more precise, a certain part of it. Only «collective Trump» was able to become the president of the United States. Wealth and connections are an indispensable part of big politics and if these are used to achieve supreme power, then this supreme power will, in turn, be used to serve the interests of all those who helped the rise of a new political star.
Secondly, by promoting ‘their’ presidential candidate, stakeholders already have a strategy, a plan of action, the audit results of resources and capabilities. What’s more, domination and influence are primarily ideas that produce money and galvanise other resources. Trump’s team has such ideas. They are balanced and well thought out and show the new US president’s ‘business approach’ to politics. And, equally importantly, Donald Trump is committed. Unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other hired managers of the ‘global elite’, he is sure that he’s right.
Thirdly, the laws governing the development of society, the class struggle, and social solidarity are still in place. As the richest president ever, Trump will not indulge in altruism or hand out money on the streets. His goal is to streamline economic and political institutions, which he’s already doing. The world views he expressed in his inauguration speech are acquiring clear outlines.
Among the recent news stories demonstrating his readiness to back up his words with deeds is his decision to introduce a tax on Mexican oil. This looks like the protection of domestic oil producers with a view to revolutionising the offshore oil and gas sectors. And let it contradict the rules of ‘free trade’ – for Trump and those who brought him to power, these rules mean absolutely nothing. The most important thing is to revitalise the US economy and improve the country’s industrial capacity.
By combining nationalism and protectionism, prioritising America’s internal problems, and appealing to labourers, blue collar workers and America’s Rust Belt, Trump is building on the authority of America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson (who, incidentally, was the founder of the Democratic Party). Jackson’s ideology and policies are fundamentally different from the Wilsonian principles so dear to those in charge of the Federal Reserve System (it’s no coincidence that America’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, who is quite rightly considered to be the founder of the liberal world order project, is on America’s biggest bank note ($100,000)).
By following in Jackson’s footsteps, Trump is putting national interests rather than global leadership at the heart of his policies, and this is an interesting point that will not necessarily coincide with the interests of Russia and may actually go against them. During his inauguration speech, Trump said: «We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow». These words are worth thinking about.
Fourthly, the respected American analyst Edward Luttwak is convinced that the emergence of a politician like Trump was a reaction to what went before and was 90% unavoidable.
In fact, much of what went before has led to catastrophic changes in global politics. Anti-modern forces have replaced secular regimes in the Muslim world. The strategy of ‘controlled chaos’ chosen by the Democrats has not only helped destroy secular states, but has also given rise to anti-system forces where aggression and destruction, archaism and barbarity have infiltrated Europe along with hundreds of thousands of refugees who no longer have borders. With his global expansion policy, Obama drove the European Union into a trap and contributed to its weakening and imbalance. The split within the American elite and the support for Trump are largely down to a reluctance to repeat Europe’s experience. Hence the tough anti-immigration rhetoric and the new administration’s desire to destroy the Islamic State. That’s on the one hand.
On the other, «collective Trump» knows all too well that expansion does not just bear fruit in the form of military bases, a vassal mentality in the leaders of other countries, cheap goods, and the triumph of the dollar on all continents. Expansion is also a heavy burden that threatens to tear such forces apart. A little breathing space is needed to make a breakthrough and «shine as an example for everyone». Efforts need to be concentrated and regrouped and resources need to be optimised. The entire history of the US has been an alternation of two trends: a period of expansion, of enlargement (under the Democrats Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy) followed by a period of ‘contraction’, of concentration (under the Republicans, with the exception of George W Bush).
Trump as a reaction to what went before is, above all, this much-needed breathing space; it is America focussing on its internal problems; it is a period to digest what has been eaten. Trump’s America could be regarded as America getting ready for a new leap, for new heights. Hence its focus on its own internal problems. This focus is temporary, however. There is no point in portraying Trump as an isolationist. He will implement a foreign policy that will strengthen the US and there are a number of ways that this could happen. By weakening the European Union and China, for example, or by abandoning an active policy towards Ukraine. Ukraine had already become an old suitcase without handles for the Obama administration – difficult to carry, but a shame to throw away. Getting rid of something in politics is the same as losing face, but Trump is not in danger of losing face – he can easily swap Ukraine for other options.
As far as Russia is concerned, Trump’s arrival mostly opens a window of opportunity. While the US digests its thick broth of globalisation, brought to the boil by Obama, Russia will be able to solve a few of its own problems. The most important thing is that it has a clear understanding of these problems, and a clear understanding of America’s new strategy. And with such an understanding, there will be no «unpredictability».
Cover of Ecaudor in the Sights: The Wikileaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa | Photo: El Telegrafo
In his new book, “Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa,” released this week in Quito, Norwegian journalist Eirik Vold details attempts by the U.S. government to topple Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and derail his Citizens’ Revolution.
“Correa was not about to let Washington maintain its dominance through financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” Vold told the Andes press agency in explaining the motivation behind years of U.S. efforts to undermine the Ecuadorean president.
The book is largely based on the “Cablegate” documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010, including thousands of secret documents sent from the U.S. Embassy in Quito and the U.S. consulate in Guayaquil.
“There is direct U.S. interference in Ecuador,” Vold told El Telegrafo, adding that “documents show a close relationship between several figures of Ecuadorean political life, the financial sector, and the United States Embassy.”
In the book, Vold outlines how the U.S. looked to thwart Correa from the very beginning, trying to directly prevent his election out of fear of losing the U.S. military base in Manta, the base of CIA operations in the region, as well as control over the U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum Corp.
After his 2006 election, Correa nationalized the oil company and closed the U.S. base in Manta.
Vold says his book documents multiple attempts by the U.S. to sabotage UNASUR — the regional cooperation body founded in 2007 by progressive governments in Latin America — as well as extensive contacts between the U.S. Embassy and members of the national police force before an attempted 2010 coup, known as 30S.
In 2015, 22 police officers were found guilty of insubordination for their role in the failed coup.
Vold also claims the secret cables identify multiple NGO, media, finance, and political contacts which the U.S. embassy used to attempt to destabilize Correa’s government.
One of those Vold names is current vice presidential candidate Andres Paez. Paez, formerly the president of the left-wing Left Democracy Party, is now running on the right-wing CREO ticket along with former banker Guillermo Lasso.
“The U.S. says in a document he is one of our most trusted contacts. In other documents, it is pointed out that he was considered an ally for imposing free trade agreements, and it is evident that he had meetings at the United States Embassy.”
The Norwegian journalist, who has written extensively about U.S. involvement in Latin America, including a book about Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, said that Ecuador is of particular importance due to its efforts to protect WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from U.S. persecution, ensuring its role as a “protector of the right to information for the whole planet.”
“We’re talking about a region with the world’s greatest concentration of natural resources, and obviously a region which has been known as the U.S.’s ‘backyard’,” he told Andes. “So U.S. activities are very intense in the region, but they have been maintained, for the last decade, with a more discrete, more covert strategy.”
“The revelations are many, the purpose is one,” he said at a book launch in Quito on Thursday. “That the Ecuadorean public regardless of their political inclination has access to truthful information about the activities of U.S. officials. And local informants in the country who had previously been concealed from them.”
Last month German media revealed that German weapons supplied to Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq are being sold on the black market, where they may end up in the hands of terrorist groups.
Weapons on sale included Heckler and Koch G3 rifles on sale for $1450 and $1800, and Walther P1 pistols with an asking price of $1200.
One arms dealer told a reporter that he could procure the Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle for $5000.
These weapons sales have also financed the flight of refugees from Iraq to Germany, an Iraqi Kurdish refugee living in Germany told the news program.
Former Peshmerga Mustafa S said that he is one of hundreds of fighters who have sold their weapons to finance their escape from Iraq.
“Mustafa S said that he knows around 100 Peshmerga who have sold their weapons in recent months in order to flee. The situation has become unbearable for many. The low oil price, lack of payment from the Iraqi central government and the battle against Daesh, which guzzles about five million dollars daily, have brought the Kurdish regional government to the brink of bankruptcy. (Mustafa) himself had not been paid for five months and did not know how he was going to pay rent, food, and medicine for his disabled daughter. Now, he lives with his wife and their six children in a home for asylum seekers in East Germany,” Tagesschau reported.
Deputy Chairman of the Die Linke opposition party in the German Bundestag Tobias Pfluger called on the government to stop supplying arms to the Peshmerga. He told Sputnik that the deliveries are counter to the German constitution.
“The interesting thing is that the training missions that are connected with these weapons deliveries break several domestic federal laws. German and EU legislation, the War Weapons Control Act and the Foreign Trade and Payments Act, prohibit direct deliveries to war zones,” Pfluger explained.
The German Defense Ministry has delivered an estimated 2,400 tons of arms and munitions to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters since it began to supply the militia in summer 2014. A government spokesman told NDR and WDR that the government of Iraqi Kurdistan is responsible for the weapons’ misuse.
The German Defense Ministry is committed to the “proper verification of supplied weapons,” and their use in accordance with international law.
However, since the Ministry is unable to trace individual arms, “the sale of individual weapons cannot be excluded with absolute certainty.”
Pfluger said that assurances from local forces that the arms will remain in their possession are “worthless.”
“It is completely perverse that they have to sign a so-called confirmation of retention. That is nothing other than a completely worthless piece of paper because we know that the weapons show up on the markets in Iraq and Syria. In this respect, we say that this commitment must be ended, it is an intensification of the war and is in no way something that creates peace there.”
Peace activist and spokesman for Aktion Aufschrei — Stop the arms trade! Jurgen Grasslin told Sputnik Deutschland that German guns have ended up far removed from their intended destination.
“The federal government usually has no idea where their weapons are actually delivered to, when they are exported. My research, based on (studies of) numerous countries and trips to crisis regions and war zones over the past 30 years, shows clearly that weapons roam. Weapons do not stay in the place where they are delivered.”
Grasslin, author of a book entitled “The Black Book of Arms Trading: How Germany Profits from War” (Schwarzbuch Waffenhandel: Wie Deutschland am Krieg verdient), alleges that German arms deliveries constitute “complicity in murder.”
“If Daesh is firing German weapons, and of course weapons from other countries, that is more than a scandal, it is a breach of the law. It is complicity in murder. You are delivering to a war zone. You know that these weapons don’t stay in the hands of the recipients, and that they land in the hands of the worst terrorist groups, for example Daesh. The people who authorize these arms exports must be named, that is namely members of the Bundessicherheitsrat (Federal Security Council) or Federal Government. The first to be named should be Chancellor Angela Merkel and her deputy Sigmar Gabriel, who lead the Bundessicherheitsrat and are thus responsible for these armed forces.”
The United States has highlighted a recent missile test by Iran and imposed new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Washington claims the missile test is violating the spirit of a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries including the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany. Iran ruled out the allegation explaining that the test has nothing to do with the nuclear agreement. According to the nuclear deal, Iran must avoid testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
America is worried about Iranian military might because it sees Iran as a regional power whose deterrent might can be a big hurdle in the way of the United States’ hegemonic intervention in the Middle East, said Kaveh Afrasiabi, an author and political scientist.
The US is not genuinely concerned about the Iranian missile being nuclear capable, “their real concern is Iran’s military strength that’s deterrent vis-à-vis America’s intrusive force in the region,” Afrasiabi told Press TV’s Top 5.
The American officials are “doing whatever they can in order to diminish the Iranian power in the region,” he said on Friday night.
Since Tehran is facing a lot of security threats from the United States, Iran has the right to enhance its defensive capabilities to confront any potential American aggression when needed, the analyst argued.
The UN Resolution 2231, which endorses the nuclear deal dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), underlines implementation of obligations of the accord as an international agreement.
Afrasiabi went on to say that “Iran’s missile technology is for deterrent purposes” and there is no evidence to support Americans’ allegations against Iranian missile program.
Russia and other world powers do not believe in what the United States says about Iran’s missiles, because they are aware the Islamic Republic does not have any nuclear weapons program that could be connected to its missile technology, he noted.
The commentator also expressed hope some rational figures among the Trump administration would prevent hawkish American elements from pushing the US into another war in the Middle East.
CHISINAU – Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip stated that the issue of defining the details of the special legal status of the self-declared republic Transnistria as a part of Moldova will be a top priority in 2017 for Chisinau.
“In 2017, our main interest is to raise the issue … of elaboration of the special legal status of Transnistria as a part of Moldova within the negotiating process,” Filip said following the meeting with Austrian Prime Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Sebastian Kurz.
Filip stressed that Chisinau opposed federalization and considered it “not a good decision.”
The Moldovan prime minister expressed hope that the negotiations on the Transnistrian settlement would be more consistent and productive, making specific mention of “the intensification of 5+2 format meetings” in 2017.
The Transnistrian conflict began in 1990 when Transnistria, a region with a predominantly ethnic Russian and Ukrainian population, seceded from the Soviet Republic of Moldova, fearing possible reunion with Romania. The separation led to a conflict known as “The Transnistria War” that ended in a ceasefire declared on July 21, 1992. However, the conflict remains unresolved and the breakaway republic continues to be governed by an independent de facto government.
Since 2005, the talks on the conflict have been held in a 5+2 format, where the ‘five’ refers to Transnistria, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, and the ‘two’ are the EU and US, which act as external observers. The latest round was held on June 2-3, 2016 in Berlin.
The controversy over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election shows no sign of letting up. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its acts of “cyber intrusions.”
At a press event in Washington on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called Election Day 2016 “a day that will live in cyber infamy.” Previously, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee “an act of war,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has claimed that there is near unanimity among senators regarding Russia’s culpability.
Despite all this, the question of who exactly is responsible for the providing WikiLeaks with the emails of high Democratic Party officials does not lend itself to easy answers. And yet, for months, despite the lack of publicly disclosed evidence, the media, like these senators, have been as one: Vladimir Putin’s Russia is responsible.
Interestingly, the same neoconservative/center-left alliance which endorsed George W. Bush’s case for war with Iraq is pretty much the same neoconservative/center-left alliance that is now, all these years later, braying for confrontation with Russia. It’s largely the same cast of characters reading from the Iraq-war era playbook.
It’s worth recalling Tony Judt’s observation in September 2006 that “those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq war … are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs.”
While that was true then, it is perhaps even more so the case today.
The prevailing sentiment of the media establishment during the months prior to the disastrous March 2003 invasion of Iraq was that of certainty: George Tenet’s now infamous assurance to President Bush, that the case against Iraq was a “slam drunk,” was essentially what major newspapers and television news outlets were telling the American people at the time. Iraq posed a threat to “the homeland,” therefore Saddam “must go.”
The Bush administration, in a move equal parts cynical and clever, engaged in what we would today call a “disinformation” campaign against its own citizens by planting false stories abroad, safe in the knowledge that these stories would “bleed over” and be picked up by the American press.
WMD ‘Fake News’
The administration was able to launder what were essentially “fake news” stories, such as the aluminum tubes fabrication, by leaking to Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of The New York Times. In September 2002, without an ounce of skepticism, Gordon and Miller regurgitated the claims of unnamed U.S. intelligence officials that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes … intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Gordon and Miller faithfully relayed “the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view that the type of tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make centrifuges.”
By 2002, no one had any right to be surprised by what Bush and Cheney were up to; since at least 1898 (when the U.S. declared war on Spain under the pretense of the fabricated Hearst battle cry “Remember the Maine!”) American governments have repeatedly lied in order to promote their agenda abroad. And in 2002-3, the media walked in lock step with yet another administration in pushing for an unnecessary and costly war.
Like The New York Times, The Washington Post also relentlessly pushed the administration’s case for war with Iraq. According to the journalist Greg Mitchell, “By the Post’s own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war.” All this, while its editorial page assured readers that the evidence Colin Powell presented to the United Nations on Iraq’s WMD program was “irrefutable.” According to the Post, it would be “hard to imagine” how anyone could doubt the administration’s case.
But the Post was hardly alone in its enthusiasm for Bush’s war. Among the most prominent proponents of the Iraq war was The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who, a full year prior to the invasion, set out to link Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Writing for The New Yorker in March 2002, Goldberg retailed former CIA Director James Woolsey’s opinion that “It would be a real shame if the C.I.A.’s substantial institutional hostility to Iraqi democratic resistance groups was keeping it from learning about Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda in northern Iraq.”
Indeed, according to Goldberg, “The possibility that Saddam could supply weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terror groups is a powerful argument among advocates of regime change,” while Saddam’s “record of support for terrorist organizations, and the cruelty of his regime make him a threat that reaches far beyond the citizens of Iraq.”
Writing in Slate in October 2002, Goldberg was of the opinion that “In five years . . . I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.”
Likewise, The New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan was certain that “we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I have no doubt about that.” Slate’s Jacob Weisberg supported the invasion because he thought Saddam Hussein had WMD and he “thought there was a strong chance he’d use them against the United States.”
Even after it was becoming clear that the war was a debacle, the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer declared that the inability to find WMDs was “troubling” but “only because it means that the weapons remain unaccounted for and might be in the wrong hands. The idea that our inability to thus far find the weapons proves that the threat was phony and hyped is simply false.”
Opponents of the war were regularly accused of unpatriotic disloyalty. Writing in National Review, the neoconservative writer David Frum accused anti-intervention conservatives of going “far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies.” According to Frum, “They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.”
Similarly, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait castigated anti-war liberals for turning against Bush. “Have Bush haters lost their minds?” asked Chait. “Certainly some have. Antipathy to Bush has, for example, led many liberals not only to believe the costs of the Iraq war outweigh the benefits but to refuse to acknowledge any benefits at all.”
Yet of course we now know, thanks, in part, to a new book by former CIA analyst John Nixon, that everything the U.S. government thought it knew about Saddam Hussein was indeed wrong. Nixon, the CIA analyst who interrogated Hussein after his capture in December 2003, asks “Was Saddam worth removing from power?” “The answer,” says Nixon, “must be no. Saddam was busy writing novels in 2003. He was no longer running the government.”
It turns out that the skeptics were correct after all. And so the principal lesson the promoters of Bush and Cheney’s war of choice should have learned is that blind certainty is the enemy of fair inquiry and nuance. The hubris that many in the mainstream media displayed in marginalizing liberal and conservative anti-war voices was to come back to haunt them. But not, alas, for too long.
A Dangerous Replay?
Today something eerily similar to the pre-war debate over Iraq is taking place regarding the allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Assurances from the intelligence community and from anonymous Obama administration “senior officials” about the existence of evidence is being treated as, well, actual evidence.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told CNN that he is “100% certain” of the role that Russia played in U.S. election. The administration’s expressions of certainty are then uncritically echoed by the mainstream media. Skeptics are likewise written off, slandered as “Kremlin cheerleaders” or worse.
Unsurprisingly, The Washington Post is reviving its Bush-era role as principal publicist for the government’s case. Yet in its haste to do the government’s bidding, the Post has published two widely debunked stories relating to Russia (one on the scourge of Russian inspired “fake news”, the other on a non-existent Russian hack of a Vermont electric utility) onto which the paper has had to append “editor’s notes” to correct the original stories.
Yet, those misguided stories have not deterred the Post’s opinion page from being equally aggressive in its depiction of Russian malfeasance. In late December, the Post published an op-ed by Rep. Adam Schiff and former Rep. Jane Harmon claiming “Russia’s theft and strategic leaking of emails and documents from the Democratic Party and other officials present a challenge to the U.S. political system unlike anything we’ve experienced.”
On Dec. 30, the Post editorial board chastised President-elect Trump for seeming to dismiss “a brazen and unprecedented attempt by a hostile power to covertly sway the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.” The Post described Russia’s actions as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”
On Jan. 1, the neoconservative columnist Josh Rogin told readers that the recent announcement of sanctions against Russia “brought home a shocking realization that Russia is using hybrid warfare in an aggressive attempt to disrupt and undermine our democracy.”
Meanwhile, many of the same voices who were among the loudest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq have also been reprising their Bush-era roles in vouching for the solidity of the government’s case.
Jonathan Chait, now a columnist for New York magazine, is clearly convinced by what the government has thus far provided. “That Russia wanted Trump to win has been obvious for months,” writes Chait.
“Of course it all came from the Russians, I’m sure it’s all there in the intel,” Charles Krauthammer told Fox News on Jan. 2. Krauthammer is certain.
And Andrew Sullivan is certain as to the motive. “Trump and Putin’s bromance,” Sullivan told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Jan. 2, “has one goal this year: to destroy the European Union and to undermine democracy in Western Europe.”
David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, believes Trump “owes his office in considerable part to illegal clandestine activities in his favor conducted by a hostile, foreign spy service.”
Jacob Weisberg agrees, tweeting: “Russian covert action threw the election to Donald Trump. It’s that simple.” Back in 2008, Weisberg wrote that “the first thing I hope I’ve learned from this experience of being wrong about Iraq is to be less trusting of expert opinion and received wisdom.” So much for that.
Foreign Special Interests
Another, equally remarkable similarity to the period of 2002-3 is the role foreign lobbyists have played in helping to whip up a war fever. As readers will no doubt recall, Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which served, in effect as an Iraqi government-in-exile, worked hand in hand with the Washington lobbying firm Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey (BKSH) to sell Bush’s war on television and on the op-ed pages of major American newspapers.
Chalabi was also a trusted source of Judy Miller of the Times, which, in an apology to its readers on May 26, 2004, wrote: “The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles.” The pro-war lobbying of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has also been exhaustively documented.
Though we do not know how widespread the practice has been as of yet, something similar is taking place today. Articles calling for confrontation with Russia over its alleged “hybrid war” with the West are appearing with increasing regularity. Perhaps the most egregious example of this newly popular genre appeared on Jan. 1 in Politico magazine. That essay, which claims, among many other things, that “we’re in a war” with Russia comes courtesy of one Molly McKew.
McKew is seemingly qualified to make such a pronouncement because she, according to her bio on the Politico website, served as an “adviser to Georgian President Saakashvili’s government from 2009-2013, and to former Moldovan Prime Minister Filat in 2014-2015.” Seems reasonable enough. That is until one discovers that McKew is actually registered with the Department of Justice as a lobbyist for two anti-Russian political parties, Georgia’s UMN and Moldova’s PLDM.
Records show her work for the consulting firm Fianna Strategies frequently takes her to Capitol Hill to lobby U.S. Senate and Congressional staffers, as well as prominent U.S. journalists at The Washington Post and The New York Times, on behalf of her Georgian and Moldovan clients.
“The truth,” writes McKew, “is that fighting a new Cold War would be in America’s interest. Russia teaches us a very important lesson: losing an ideological war without a fight will ruin you as a nation. The fight is the American way.” Or, put another way: the truth is that fighting a new Cold War would be in McKew’s interest – but perhaps not America’s.
While you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage (or from reading deeply disingenuous pieces like McKew’s) as things now stand, the case against Russia is far from certain. New developments are emerging almost daily. One of the latest is a report from the cyber-engineering company Wordfence, which concluded that “The IP addresses that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] provided may have been used for an attack by a state actor like Russia. But they don’t appear to provide any association with Russia.”
Indeed, according to Wordfence, “The malware sample is old, widely used and appears to be Ukrainian. It has no apparent relationship with Russian intelligence and it would be an indicator of compromise for any website.”
On Jan. 4, BuzzFeed reported that, according to the DNC, the FBI never carried out a forensic examination on the email servers that were allegedly hacked by the Russian government. “The FBI,” said DNC spokesman Eric Walker, “never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers.”
What the agency did do was rely on the findings of a private-sector, third-party vendor that was brought in by the DNC after the initial hack was discovered. In May, the company, Crowdstrike, determined that the hack was the work of the Russians. As one unnamed intelligence official told BuzzFeed, “CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate.”
Perhaps not. Yet Crowdstrike is hardly a disinterested party when it comes to Russia. Crowdstrike’s founder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, is also a senior fellow at the Washington think tank, The Atlantic Council, which has been at the forefront of escalating tensions with Russia.
As I reported in The Nation in early January, the connection between Alperovitch and the Atlantic Council is highly relevant given that the Atlantic Council is funded in part by the State Department, NATO, the governments of Latvia and Lithuania, the Ukrainian World Congress, and the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. In recent years, it has emerged as a leading voice calling for a new Cold War with Russia.
Time to Rethink the ‘Group Think’
And given the rather thin nature of the declassified evidence provided by the Obama administration, might it be time to consider an alternative theory of the case? William Binney, a 36-year veteran of the National Security Agency and the man responsible for creating many of its collection systems, thinks so. Binney believes that the DNC emails were leaked, not hacked, writing that “it is puzzling why NSA cannot produce hard evidence implicating the Russian government and WikiLeaks. Unless we are dealing with a leak from an insider, not a hack.”
None of this is to say, of course, that Russia did not and could not have attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election. The intelligence community may have intercepted damning evidence of the Russian government’s culpability. The government’s hesitation to provide the public with more convincing evidence may stem from an understandable and wholly appropriate desire to protect the intelligence community’s sources and methods. But as it now stands the publicly available evidence is open to question.
But meanwhile the steady drumbeat of “blame Russia” is having an effect. According to a recent you.gov/Economist poll, 58 percent of Americans view Russia as “unfriendly/enemy” while also finding that 52 percent of Democrats believed Russia “tampered with vote tallies.”
With Congress back in session, Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain is set to hold a series of hearings focusing on Russian malfeasance, and the steady drip-drip-drip of allegations regarding Trump and Putin is only serving to box in the new President when it comes to pursuing a much-needed detente with Russia.
It also does not appear that a congressional inquiry will start from scratch and critically examine the evidence. On Friday, two senators – Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse – announced a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigation into Russian interference in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. But they already seemed to have made up their minds about the conclusion: “Our goal is simple,” the senators said in a joint statement “To the fullest extent possible we want to shine a light on Russian activities to undermine democracy.”
So, before the next round of Cold War posturing commences, now might be the time to stop, take a deep breath and ask: Could the rush into a new Cold War with Russia be as disastrous and consequential – if not more so – as was the rush to war with Iraq nearly 15 years ago? We may, unfortunately, find out.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.