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Journalists covering Russian influence on social media not bothered by US government online psyops

By Danielle Ryan | RT | October 11, 2017

American journalists are having a field day with the latest accusations of “Russian influence” in social media during last year’s presidential election. It would be great if they cared as much about how their own government tries to manipulate them online.

First, some recent history.

On July 2, 2013, the United States Congress silently legalized the use of American propaganda on the American people. Until then, there had been something known as the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which prevented the government from broadcasting its propaganda aimed at foreigners within the US itself. A bipartisan amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill undid that — and so the ban on dissemination of propaganda produced by the US State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was no more.

What’s interesting about this is that the very people in Congress who are complaining night and day about the nefarious influence of Russian propaganda actually don’t have a problem with American citizens being targeted with fake news and propaganda at all — just so long as it’s coming from their own government. What’s more, since this amendment was tucked into the defense authorization bill with relatively little fuss being made, one can assume that journalists charged with disseminating the real news aren’t too bothered by it either.

The coverage it did receive was amusing in that journalists appeared to be completely fine with disseminating pro-US government propaganda to foreign audiences, which is precisely what they accuse Russia of doing, and which they pretend to find so uniquely heinous.

One concerned Pentagon official who spoke to BuzzFeed about the amendment said it gave the government sweeping powers to push propaganda on the American people with no oversight. He worried the government could circulate information domestically that is “entirely false.” While that’s not exactly a shocker to anyone who has ever watched a White House or State Department news briefing, it’s interesting because it’s a pretty clear admission from a Pentagon source that the US does spread “entirely false” information abroad. Not a shocker either, but given some recent reportage on Russian influence in the US, it’s pretty clear that many American journalists either don’t care or are completely blind to the role their own government plays in the politics of foreign nations.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression the US government only started using domestic propaganda in 2013. That’s just when they made certain types of it legal. In reality, they were doing it long before then. The best example is Operation Mockingbird — a Cold War project wherein the CIA allegedly supported journalists at major American news publications as part of its propaganda war against the Soviet Union. One CIA operative told the Washington Post that you could get a journalist “cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.”

In 1977 investigative reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that more than 400 American journalists over the previous 25 years had secretly carried out assignments for the CIA. Many times this was done with the consent of the management at top news organizations. The CIA even ran a training program teaching its operatives how to be journalists before planting them at newspapers and broadcasters.

This is worth remembering when we look at the self-righteousness spewing from many of the same news organizations today about the horrible scourge of Russian propaganda. We ought to remember, we’re talking about institutions which not too long ago were knowingly and actively helping the CIA disseminate propaganda not only to foreigners but to Americans who had no idea they were sitting down with their morning coffee to — quite literally — read CIA press releases in the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

So, let’s fast forward a little bit to more modern times and modern methods.

Any consumer of American news media will be aware that journalists are up in arms about the Russian government allegedly using paid ads on Facebook and bots on Twitter to influence the American electorate not only before, but after the election to exacerbate social division.

But where was all the sanctimonious outrage in 2011 when it was revealed the US military was developing software that would allow it to secretly manipulate social media platforms using fake personas to “influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda,” as reported by the Guardian at the time.

“The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sockpuppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies, and non-government organizations to do the same,” The Guardian wrote.

So, if American journalists and politicians want to blame anyone for Russia potentially utilizing social media sockpuppets to influence online conversations, they need look no further than their own military, it seems.

The US military enlisted the services of a California corporation to create the fake online personas. Under the contract, one serviceman or woman would be able to control up to ten separate fake identities worldwide — identities which would need to have their own convincing backgrounds and histories.

Of course, Centcom and the US government explain all this away, promising that they only use programs like these to counter violent and extremist enemy propaganda, but is there anyone naive enough to believe that’s truly all these sock-puppet accounts are used for?

In 2014, the US military studied and recorded the activities of people on Twitter and other social media services to understand how influenced behavior happens on social platforms. The study, which was funded by the US Department of Defense’s military research department (Darpa) went so far as to message unknowing participants to see how they responded. The aim was for the US military to become better at detecting online propaganda campaigns — and running its own. Surprise, surprise, the official description of the study states its aim was simply to “counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information.”

We know that is hogwash thanks to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who revealed information showing massive and wide-reaching government efforts to use social media for propaganda and disinformation. The NSA along with the British GCHQ run entire units dedicated to “discrediting their targets online through disinformation campaigns — which include fake blog posts and emails and texts being sent to colleagues, neighbors, and friends.

In 2014, the Obama administration created a “Twitter-like Cuban communications network” which was run through shell companies to give the impression that it was a privately-owned operation, but would actually work to “undermine the communist government” in Cuba. The Cubans who used the service had no idea it was being run by the US government, which was secretly gathering their data to use for political purposes.

It is nothing short of stunning that this kind of operation is roundly ignored by American journalists who claimed to be disturbed by government manipulation of social media.

Then there are the more overt efforts at influence.

In 2009, during anti-government protests in Iran, the US State Department asked Twitter to reschedule maintenance work, so that Iranian protesters could continue to use the social media platform to get the word out about their movement. It’s hardly the most egregious of asks, but can you imagine if Twitter had scheduled maintenance time during the 2016 protests against police brutality in Ferguson and the Kremlin asked Twitter to please hold off on the downtime so that the people of Missouri could keep tweeting about inequality in America? The Russian government would be immediately accused of “meddling” and trying to stoke racial tensions and social divides in the US. When the US does it in Iran, though, that’s not meddling, it’s simply promoting “freedom of expression.”

In 2015, The Guardian reported the British Army was creating a special force of “Facebook warriors” who are “skilled in psychological operations and social media,” to engage in “unconventional warfare” in the information age. It’s interesting too that we’re supposed to call Russians “trolls” and “bots” — but Western social media propagandists get to be “warriors.”

The force would attempt to “control the narrative” in favor of British foreign policy goals. The same Guardian report noted that the Israeli Defense [sic] Forces had pioneered military engagement with social media since its 2008 war in Gaza and was active on 30 platforms in six languages.

Both the US and UK are aggressive in their manipulation of people through online forums — both domestically and abroad. This sparks little outrage and receives practically no coverage in comparison with the coverage that reports of Russian influence on Facebook and Twitter have received in recent weeks.

A global conference held last year in London made clear just how dedicated Western governments and NATO are to exploiting social media to gain influence and support for their military operations abroad. One panel on “digital outreach” described NATO’s aim as “cultivating a global audience through social media to support The Alliance.”

Those are not minced words. Western governments aren’t denying that they are engaging in this sort of behavior — they are simply framing it in such a way as to make it sound honorable and good — a counter to the ‘bad’ kind of propaganda used by their enemies.

The obsessive refrain of “Russia hacked our election” which appears in American media daily — together with a sustained effort in recent years to paint all Russian information as “fake news” is in itself a kind of psychological warfare.

In 2016, a group of crusaders against Russian propaganda wrote a report for a think-tank called the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), which not incidentally, is funded by American arms manufacturers. The authors suggested “deradicalization” programs for anyone who has “fallen victim” to Kremlin propaganda online.

Well, where are the deradicalization programs for those who have fallen victim to American propaganda? Who is going to fund those? Maybe the Kremlin can lend a hand. I’m sure the CIA wouldn’t mind.

This is an opportune moment for American journalists to remind people just how much their own government tries to control their minds and control narratives online. Instead, they’re busy obsessively parroting US intelligence officials and whipping the public into a frenzy about Russia.

Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer, journalist and media analyst. She has lived and traveled extensively in the US, Germany, Russia and Hungary. Her byline has appeared at RT, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, The BRICS Post, New Eastern Outlook, Global Independent Analytics and many others. She also works on copywriting and editing projects. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook or at her website http://www.danielleryan.net.

Read more:

US ends ban on ‘domestic propaganda’

American defense contractors think you have been brainwashed

October 11, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Russia-gate Jumps the Shark

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | October 10, 2017

A key distinction between propaganda and journalism is that manipulative propaganda relies on exaggeration and deceit while honest journalism provides context and perspective. But what happens when the major news outlets of the world’s superpower become simply conveyor belts for warmongering propaganda?

That is a question that the American people now face as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and virtually the entire mainstream media hype ridiculously minor allegations about Russia’s “meddling” in American politics into front-page hysteria.

For instance, on Tuesday, the major news outlets were filled with the latest lurid chapter of Russia-gate, how Google, the Internet’s dominant search engine, had detected suspected “Russia-linked” accounts that bought several thousand dollars worth of ads.

The Washington Post ran this item as front-page news entitled “Google finds links to Russian disinformation in its services,” with the excited lede paragraph declaring: “Russian operatives bought ads across several of Google’s services without the company’s knowledge, the latest evidence that their campaign to influence U.S. voters was as sprawling as it was sophisticated in deploying the technology industry’s most powerful tools.”

Wow! That sounds serious. However, if you read deeply enough into the story, you discover that the facts are a wee bit less dramatic. The Post tells us:

“Google’s internal investigation found $4,700 of search ads and display ads that the company believes are Russian-connected, and found $53,000 of ads with political content that were purchased from Russian Internet providers, building addresses or with Russian currency, people familiar with the investigation said. …

“One Russian-linked account spent $7,000 on ads to promote a documentary called ‘You’ve Been Trumped,’ a film about Donald Trump’s efforts to build a golf course in Scotland along an environmentally sensitive coastline, these people said. Another spent $30,000 on ads questioning whether President Obama needed to resign. Another bought ads to promote political merchandise for Obama.”

A journalist – rather than a propagandist – would immediately follow these figures with some context, i.e., that Google’s net digital ad sales revenue is about $70 billion annually. In other words, these tiny ad buys – with some alleged connection to Russia, a nation of 144 million people and not all Vladimir Putin’s “operatives” – are infinitesimal when put into any rational perspective.

A Dangerous Hysteria

But rationality is not what the Post and other U.S. mainstream news outlets are engaged in here. They are acting as propagandists determined to whip up a dangerous hysteria about being at “war” with nuclear-armed Russia and to delegitimize Trump’s election last year.

Photos by Gage Skidmore and derivative by Krassotkin

It doesn’t seem to matter that the facts don’t fit the desired narrative. First of all, none of this content, detected by Google, is “disinformation” as the Post claims, unless you consider a critical documentary about Trump’s Scottish golf course to be “disinformation,” or for that matter criticism and/or support for President Obama.

And, by the way, how does any of this material reveal a Russian plot to put Trump in the White House and to ensure Hillary Clinton’s defeat, which was the original Russia-gate narrative? Now, we’re being told that any Internet ads bought by Russians or maybe even by Americans living in Russia are part of some nefarious Kremlin plot even if the content is an anti-Trump documentary or some ads for or against President Obama, but nothing attacking Hillary Clinton.

This surely does not seem like evidence of a “sophisticated” campaign to influence U.S. politics, as the Post tells us; it is either an indication of a totally incoherent campaign or no campaign at all, just some random ads taken out by people in Russia possibly to increase clicks on a Web site or to sell some merchandise or to express their own opinions.

And, if you think that this latest Post story is an anomaly – that maybe some editor was having a bad day and just forgot to include the requisite perspective and balance – you’d be wrong.

The same journalistic failures have appeared in similar articles about Facebook and Twitter, which like Google didn’t detect any Russian  operation until put under intense pressure by influential members of Congress and then “found” a tiny number of “Russia-linked” accounts.

At Facebook, after two searches found nothing – and after a personal visit from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a key legislator on the high-tech industry – the social media company turned up $100,000 in “Russia-linked” ads spread out over three years (compared to its annual revenue of $27 billion). Facebook also reported that only 44 percent of the ads appeared before the 2016 election.

Facing similar pressures from key members of Congress, Twitter identified 201 “Russia-linked” accounts (out of Twitter’s 328 million monthly users).

Tiny Pebbles

However, rather than include the comparative numbers which would show how nutty Russia-gate has become, the U.S. mainstream media systematically avoids any reference to how tiny the “Russia-linked” pebbles are when compared to the size of the very large lake into which they were allegedly tossed.

The mainstream Russia-gate narrative also keeps running up against other inconveniently contrary facts that then have to be explained away by the “responsible media.” For instance, The New York Times discovered that one of the “Russia-linked” Facebook groups was devoted to photos of “adorable puppies.” That left the “newspaper of record” musing about how nefarious the Russians must be to cloak their sinister operations behind puppies. [See Consortiumnews.com’sThe Mystery of the Russia-gate Puppies.”]

The alternative explanation, of course, is unthinkable at least within the confines of “acceptable thought”; the alternative being that there might be no sinister Kremlin campaign to poison American politics or to install Trump in the White House, that what we are witnessing is a mainstream stampede similar to what preceded the Iraq War in 2003.

In the run-up to that disastrous invasion, every tidbit of suspicion about Saddam Hussein hiding WMD was trumpeted loudly across the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major U.S. news outlets. The handful of dissenters who questioned the groupthink were ignored or dismissed as “Saddam apologists”; most were essentially banned from the public square.

Another similarity is that in both cases the U.S. government was injecting large sums of money that helped finance the pro-war propaganda. In the Iraq case, Congress funded the Iraqi National Congress, which helped generate false WMD claims that were then accepted credulously by the U.S. mainstream media.

In the Russia-gate case, Congress has authorized tens of millions of dollars to combat alleged Russian “propaganda and disinformation,” a sum that is creating a feeding frenzy among “scholars” and other “experts” to produce reports that support the anti-Russia narrative. [See Consortiumnews.com’sThe Slimy Business of Russia-gate.”]

Of course, the big difference between Iraq in 2003 and Russia in 2017 is that as catastrophic as the Iraq invasion was, it pales against the potential for thermo-nuclear war that could lie at the end of this latest hysteria.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

October 10, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , | 1 Comment

Smoking gun or nothingburger? WaPo claims Russia ‘meddled’ in election through Google, YouTube

RT | October 9, 2017

In the latest of its near-weekly scoops, the Washington Post has claimed that “Russian operatives exploited Google’s platforms to interfere in the 2016 election.” However, as previously, its own evidence can’t bear the weight of its allegations.

While the report did genuinely break the news of an internal investigation at the California tech giant, which Google has since confirmed, it waits until paragraph six to specify what it has found so far.

“The people familiar with its investigation said that the company is looking at a set of ads that cost less than $100,000 and that it is still sorting out whether all of the ads came from trolls or whether some originated from legitimate Russian accounts,” write the authors.

Even if the figure involved is closer to $100,000 than, say, $10,000, it is notable that the two leading candidates in the 2016 election spent at least $1.8 billion, with Hillary Clinton outspending the winning candidate Donald Trump by a factor of two to one. Evidently, she didn’t have genius Russian “trolls” authoring her ads. But then again, the authors go on to note that “the number of ads posted and the number of times those ads were clicked on could not be learned” by Google, so maybe not.

The second part of the statement – about “legitimate Russian accounts” – seems to run even more contrary to the tenor of the report, suggesting in fact that adverts being audited may represent normal spending after all, something the Washington Post omitted from its headline and intro.

The use of anonymous sources – “people familiar”  that also later featured in a Reuters version of the report – to make claims about Russia that go beyond the factual, even in situations where there is no fundamental security reason to stay off the record, has become too common to produce more than a disappointed sigh.

But there is more.

“The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook – a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far,” write Elizabeth Dwoskin and Adam Entous, responsible for many of the newspaper’s Russian-tech-meddling stories.

So, when a “Kremlin-affiliated troll farm” buys adverts, it is evidence of Russian meddling, but when that “troll farm” doesn’t buy adverts, it is also evidence of Russian meddling, indeed perhaps “broader” in scope?

It is in fact not until the penultimate paragraph of the story that the method of the investigation is revealed.

“Google downloaded [historical tweet] data from Twitter and was able to link Russian Twitter accounts to other accounts that had used Google’s services to buy ads,” write Dwoskin and Entous.

So, from this it appears that Google has simply identified Russian Twitter accounts, and tried to find which of them bought ads on YouTube and its DoubleClick ad network – and that’s it so far. In fact, somewhat sheepishly, the authors admit in the very last paragraph that “Google’s probe is still in its early stages.”

And that is fine. But now cycle back to the claims made in the headline and compare. Why not just report the investigation? Why the tenuous insinuations and overblown allegations?

Dwoskin is the newspaper’s Silicon Valley correspondent, Entous has two decades’ experience as a well-known security, intelligence and foreign affairs correspondent. Yet over the past year the stories by  them and others from the same newsroom, have resulted in multiple retractions, denials, and instant  takedowns.

That is not to say that they are no longer capable of credible journalism. Almost apropos of nothing in their attempt to see what sticks, at one point they state “RT also has a sizeable presence on YouTube.” That part is definitely true.

October 9, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook Reportedly Removes Russia References From Report on Election Influence

Sputnik – 06.10.2017

Despite its recently released report claiming that Russia-linked entities allegedly bought $100,000 worth of political ads before and after the US presidential election, Facebook has decided to omit Russia references from its April 2017 white paper covering the influence on the public opinion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Facebook staff were debating on whether to include references to Russia in a public report on “false news” spread via the social network and eventually decided against it, so the white paper issued in April makes no mention of it, according to the Wall Street Journal newspaper.

Some people working in the company insisted that Russia should not be mentioned in the report on the attempt to influence the US presidential campaign in 2016 as Facebook had no proof of subversive activities, the WSJ reported on Thursday, citing sources familiar with the situation.

The April report said that “malicious actors” were involved in an attempt to compromise certain political targets and to push certain narratives, but stressed that it could not say with any certainty who was sponsoring these activities. Facebook said in April that it would add new technologies to weed out fake accounts and improve security.

The media report comes after Facebook said in early September that supposedly Russia-linked entities bought $100,000 worth of political ads linked to inauthentic pages in a two-year period up to May of this year. According to the company, these pages were found to be linked and were “likely operated” out of Russia. Most of the ads did not reference the US presidential election, but focused on amplifying divisive social and political messages.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow was not behind the ads or even aware of them.

According to media reports, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has asked senior managers from Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify in front of the US Congress at a public hearing scheduled for October as part of the probe into Russia’s alleged attempts to use social media to influence the election. Russia has faced persistent allegations of having interfered in the 2016 US election, many of them suggesting that an information campaign took place on social media. Russian officials have denied meddling in other states’ domestic affairs.

October 6, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

Russian election meddling probe will show media ran untrue stories – head of US investigation

RT | October 6, 2017

The investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election will ultimately show that “quite a few” news outlets ran stories that were not factual, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told Politico.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said that although his committee will not be investigating news organizations, it does plan on providing the public with the information needed to hold them responsible for what they reported.

“We’re not going to investigate news organizations, but we will use the findings of our report to let the American people hold every news organization accountable for what they portrayed as fact, in many cases without sources — at least, no sources that would admit to it,” Burr told Politico on Thursday.

“And I think, when we finish our report, we will find that quite a few news organizations ran stories that were not factual,” he added.

He went on to state that some incorrect news stories had also emerged since Wednesday’s news conference held by himself and Senator Mark Warner, which was aimed at providing an update on the status of the investigation into alleged Russian meddling.

Burr’s comments come after US President Donald Trump questioned why the Senate Intelligence Committee fails to investigate so-called “fake news.”

Trump has often criticized the mainstream media for its reporting of alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election, and has referred to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the matter as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Russia, for its part, has consistently denied any interference in the election.

October 6, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Canada’s House of Commons Passes Magnitsky-Style Law

Sputnik – October 5, 2017

Canada’s House of Commons passed a Magnitsky-style law that aims to impose restrictive economic measures on foreign nationals responsible for alleged human rights violations.

The House of Commons passed the measure by a vote of 277 to 0 on Wednesday.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Ministry expressed deep disappointment in Canada’s plans to adopt the law.

“In many ways, it was simply copied from an odious US bill named after Magnitsky and leads to further deterioration of Russia-Canada ties,” — the ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova said. “It will not be left without an appropriate response”, she added.

Russia has repeatedly warned Canada against the adoption of the law. Earlier, the head of the commission on state sovereignty protection of the Russian Federation Council, Andrei Klimov said that the possible adoption by the Canadian parliament of such act will be an “unfriendly step” toward Russia leading to a response by Moscow.

The United States was the first country to introduce the so-called Magnitsky Act, imposing travel bans and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnistky, who had been arrested in Moscow in 2008 on tax evasion charges and later died of heart failure while in prison.

In 2015, the US Senate expanded Russia-specific human rights and corruption sanctions to other countries by adopting the so-called Global Magnitsky Act.

October 5, 2017 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

The Mystery of the Russia-gate Puppies

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | October 4, 2017

What is perhaps most unprofessional, unethical and even immoral about the U.S. mainstream media’s coverage of Russia-gate is how all the stories start with the conclusion – “Russia bad” – and then make whatever shards of information exist fit the preordained narrative.

For instance, we’re told that Facebook executives, who were sent back three times by Democratic lawmakers to find something to pin on Russia, finally detected $100,000 worth of ads spread out over three years from accounts “suspected of links to Russia” or similar hazy wording.

These Facebook ads and 201 related Twitter accounts, we’re told, represent the long-missing proof about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. presidential election after earlier claims faltered or fell apart under even minimal scrutiny.

In the old days, journalists might have expressed some concern that Facebook “found” the ads only under extraordinary pressure from powerful politicians, such as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a leading legislator on the tech industry. But today’s mainstream reporters took Warner’s side and made it look like Facebook had been dragging its heels and that there must be much more out there.

However, it doesn’t really seem to matter how little evidence there is. Anything will do.

Even the paltry $100,000 is not put in any perspective (Facebook has annual revenue of $27 billion), nor the 201 Twitter accounts (compared to Twitter’s 328 million monthly users). Nor are the hazy allegations of “suspected … links to Russia” subjected to serious inspection. Although Russia is a nation of 144 million people and many divergent interests, it’s assumed that everything must be personally ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Yet, if you look at some of the details about these $100,000 in ads, you learn the case is even flimsier than you might have thought. The sum was spread out over 2015, 2016 and 2017 – and thus represented a very tiny pebble in a very large lake of Facebook activity.

But more recently we learned that only 44 percent of the ads appeared before Americans went to the polls last November, according to Facebook; that would mean that 56 percent appeared afterwards.

Facebook added that “roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. … For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.”

So, as miniscule as the $100,000 in ad buys over three years may have seemed, the tiny pebble turns out really to be only a fraction of a tiny pebble if the Russians indeed did toss it into the 2016 campaign.

What About the Puppies?

We further have learned that most ads weren’t for or against a specific candidate, but rather addressed supposedly controversial issues that the mainstream media insists were meant to divide the United States and thus somehow undermine American democracy.

Except, it turns out that one of the issues was puppies.

As Mike Isaac and Scott Shane of The New York Times reported in Tuesday’s editions, “The Russians who posed as Americans on Facebook last year tried on quite an array of disguises. … There was even a Facebook group for animal lovers with memes of adorable puppies that spread across the site with the help of paid ads.”

Now, there are a lot of controversial issues in America, but I don’t think any of us would put puppies near the top of the list. Isaac and Shane reported that there were also supposedly Russia-linked groups advocating gay rights, gun rights and black civil rights, although precisely how these divergent groups were “linked” to Russia or the Kremlin was never fully explained. (Facebook declined to offer details.)

At this point, a professional journalist might begin to pose some very hard questions to the sources, who presumably include many partisan Democrats and their political allies hyping the evil-Russia narrative. It would be time for some lectures to the sources about the consequences for taking reporters on a wild ride in conspiracy land.

Yet, instead of starting to question the overall premise of this “scandal,” journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, etc. keep making excuses for the nuttiness. The explanation for the puppy ads was that the nefarious Russians might be probing to discover Americans who might later be susceptible to propaganda.

“The goal of the dog lovers’ page was more obscure,” Isaac and Shane acknowledged. “But some analysts suggested a possible motive: to build a large following before gradually introducing political content. Without viewing the entire feed from the page, now closed by Facebook, it is impossible to say whether the Russian operators tried such tactics.”

The Joe McCarthy of Russia-gate

The Times then turned to Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and a top promoter of the New McCarthyism that has swept Official Washington. Watts has testified before Congress that almost anything that appears on social media these days criticizing a politician may well be traceable to the Russians.

For instance, last March, Watts testified in conspiratorial terms before the Senate Intelligence Committee about “social media accounts discrediting U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.” At the time, Ryan was under criticism for his ham-handed handling of a plan to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Watts saw possible Russian fingerprints.

Watts also claimed that Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid “anecdotally suffered” from an online Russian campaign against him, though many of you may have thought Rubio flamed out because he was a wet-behind-the-ears candidate who performed robotically in the debates and received the devastating nickname “Little Marco” from Donald Trump.

Watts explained that these nefarious Russian schemes left no discernible earmarks or detectable predictability. Russians attack “people on both sides of the aisle … solely based on what they [the Russians] want to achieve in their own landscape, whatever the Russian foreign policy objectives are,” Watts complained.

Watts’s vague allegations appear to have been the impetus behind Sen. Warner’s repeated demands that Facebook find some evidence to support the suspicions. After Facebook came up empty twice, Warner flew to Silicon Valley to personally confront Facebook executives who then found what Warner wanted them to find, the $100,000 in suspected Russia-linked ad buys.

So, it perhaps made sense that the Times would turn to Watts to explain the rather inexplicable Russian exploitation of puppies. According to Isaac and Shane, Watts “said Russia had been entrepreneurial in trying to develop diverse channels of influence. Some, like the dogs page, may have been created without a specific goal and held in reserve for future use. ‘They were creating many audiences on social media to try to influence around,’ said Mr. Watts, who has traced suspected Russian accounts since 2015.”

In other words, if you start with the need to prove Russian guilt, there are no alternative explanations besides Russian guilt. If some fact, like the puppies page, doesn’t seem to fit the sinister conspiracy theory, you simply pound it into place until it does.

Yes, of course, Russian intelligence operatives must be so sneaky that they are spending money (but not much) on Facebook puppy ads so they might sometime in the future slip in a few other ideological messages. It can’t be that perhaps the ads were not part of some Russian government intelligence operation.

The Russ-kie Plot

But even if we want to believe that these ads are a Russ-kie plot and were somehow intended to sow dissension in the U.S., the totals are insignificant, a subset of a subset of a subset of $100,000 in ad buys over three years that, as far as anyone can tell, had no real impact on the 2016 election – and surely much, much, much less than the political influence from, say, Israel.

If we apply Facebook’s 44 percent figure, that would suggest the total spending in the two years before the election was around $44,000 and much of that focused on a diverse set of issues, not specific candidates. So, if some Russians did spend money to promote gay rights and to push  gun rights, any negligible impact on the 2016 election would more or less have been canceled out between Clinton and Trump.

Yet, over these still unproven and speculative allegations of Russian “links” to these Facebook ads, the national Democrats and their mainstream media allies are stoking a dangerous and expensive New Cold War with nuclear-armed Russia.

I realize that lots of Democrats were upset about Hillary Clinton’s humiliating defeat and don’t want to believe that she could have lost fairly to a buffoon like Donald Trump. So, they are looking for any excuses rather than looking in the mirror.

The major U.S. news outlets also have joined the anti-Trump Resistance, rather than upholding the journalistic principles of objectivity and fairness. The Post even came up with a new melodramatic slogan for the moment: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

But yellow journalism is not the way to shed light into darkness; it only blinds Democrats from seeing the real reasons behind Trump’s appeal to many working-class whites who feel disaffected from a Democratic Party that seems disinterested in their suffering.

Yes, I know that some Democrats are still hoping against hope that they can ride Russia-gate all the way to Trump’s impeachment and get him ridden out of Washington D.C. on a rail, but the political risk to Democrats is that they will harden the animosity that many in the white working class already feel toward the party.

That could do more to strengthen Trump’s appeal to these voters than to weaken him, while hollowing out Democratic support among millions of peace voters who may simply declare a plague on both parties.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

October 4, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , | 1 Comment

Whose Bright Idea Was RussiaGate?

By Paul Craig Roberts | Institute For Political Economy | October 3, 2017

The answer to the question in the title of this article is that Russiagate was created by CIA director John Brennan.The CIA started what is called Russiagate in order to prevent Trump from being able to normalize relations with Russia. The CIA and the military/security complex need an enemy in order to justify their huge budgets and unaccountable power. Russia has been assigned that role. The Democrats joined in as a way of attacking Trump. They hoped to have him tarnished as cooperating with Russia to steal the presidential election from Hillary and to have him impeached. I don’t think the Democrats have considered the consequence of further worsening the relations between the US and Russia.

Public Russia bashing pre-dates Trump. It has been going on privately in neoconservative circles for years, but appeared publicly during the Obama regime when Russia blocked Washington’s plans to invade Syria and to bomb Iran.

Russia bashing became more intense when Washington’s coup in Ukraine failed to deliver Crimea. Washington had intended for the new Ukrainian regime to evict the Russians from their naval base on the Black Sea. This goal was frustrated when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia.

The neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony requires the principal goal of US foreign policy to be to prevent the rise of other countries that can serve as a restraint on US unilateralism. This is the main basis for the hostility of US foreign policy toward Russia, and of course there also is the material interests of the military/security complex.

Russia bashing is much larger than merely Russiagate. The danger lies in Washington convincing Russia that Washington is planning a surprise attack on Russia. With US and NATO bases on Russia’s borders, efforts to arm Ukraine and to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO provide more evidence that Washington is surrounding Russia for attack. There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack.

Washington is fully aware that there was no Russian interference in the presidential election or in the state elections. The military/security complex, the neoconservatives, and the Democratic Party are merely using the accusations to serve their own agendas.

These selfish agendas are a dire threat to life on earth.

October 3, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Militarism, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , | 1 Comment

US ‘completely & unlawfully seize’ Russian SF consulate as blacksmith breaks lock

RT | October 2, 2017

A blacksmith has broken a lock as the police guarded Russian consular residence in San Francisco under the cover of a tarp. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Washington has failed to “give up on its unlawful intents” and reserves its right to respond.

A “Pop-A-Lock” van could be seen parked near the entrance to the Russian consular residence in San Francisco Monday, with a blacksmith in casual clothes having dealt with a lock at the residence.

Covered by a large piece of tarp, the blacksmith entered the premises and proceeded to its entrance while the gate was guarded by police officers. In broad daylight, the tarpaulin was then moved to cover the doors of the consular residence, with the blacksmith having apparently worked on the lock under its cover.

Russian diplomats were given an October 1 deadline to vacate the residence, following a directive by the US State Department ordering the closure of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco.

“Despite warnings, US authorities have not listened to the voice of reason and didn’t give up on their unlawful intents. Today they completely seized all premises of Russia’s Consulate General in San Francisco, with the residential section of the administrative building,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday, adding that American secret services have been “bossing around” in the building’s restricted areas for a month.

A separate residence of the consul general has also been “seized,” the statement added, saying that US actions are a “new flagrant violation of international law.”

October 2, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Assange: Forget Russia,The Real Threat to America comes from Israel and the Israel Lobby

AWD News | September 22, 2017

From his refuge in the Ecuador Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed a press conference of his supporters in Berlin on Tuesday, amid speculation that he planned to reveal potential threats to America.

But early into his speech, Assange said that while more revelations were to come, he would not be making any major announcements, asserting that there would be no point in making such revelations at a time when most Americans would be sleeping.

“Russian actions on its own doorstep in Eastern Europe do not in fact threaten the United States or any actual vital interest. Nor does Moscow threaten the U.S. through its intervention on behalf of the Syrian government in the Middle East. That Russia is described incessantly as a threat in those areas is largely a contrivance arranged by the media, the Democratic and Republican National Committees and by the White House. Candidate Donald Trump appeared to recognize that fact before he began listening to Michael Flynn, who has a rather different view. Hopefully the old Trump will prevail, there is, however, another country that has interfered in U.S. elections, has endangered Americans living or working overseas and has corrupted America’s legislative and executive branches. It has exploited that corruption to initiate legislation favorable to itself, has promoted unnecessary and unwinnable wars and has stolen American technology and military secrets. Its ready access to the mainstream media to spread its own propaganda provides it with cover for its actions and it accomplishes all that and more through the agency of a powerful and well-funded domestic lobby that oddly is not subject to the accountability afforded by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 even though it manifestly works on behalf of a foreign government. That country is, of course, Israel” said Assange.

The assessment of Israel and what damage it does regarding what most Americans would regard as genuine national interests is most definitely not reported, revealing once again that what is not written is every bit as important as what is. I would note how what has recently happened right in front of us relating to Israel is apparently not considered fit to print and will never appear on any disapproving editorial page. Just this week the Senate unanimously passed an Anti-Semitism Awareness bill and also by a 99 to zero vote renewed and strengthened sanctions against Iran, which could wreck the one year old anti-nuclear weapon proliferation agreement with that country.

The Anti-Semitism bill makes Jews and Jewish interests a legally protected class, immune from any criticism. “Free speech” means in practice that you can burn an American flag, sell pornography, attack Christianity in the vilest terms or castigate the government in Washington all you want but criticizing Israel is off limits if you want to avoid falling into the clutches of the legal system. The Act is a major step forward in effectively making any expressed opposition to Israeli actions a hate crime.

And it is similar to punitive legislation that has been enacted in twenty-two states as well as in Canada. It is strongly supported by the Israel Lobby, which quite likely drafted it, and is seeking to use legal challenges to delegitimize and eliminate any opposition to the policies of the state of Israel.

As the Act is clearly intended to restrict First Amendment rights if they are perceived as impacting on broadly defined Jewish sensitivities, it should be opposed on that basis alone, but it is very popular in Congress, which is de facto owned by the Israel Lobby. That the legislation is not being condemned or even discussed in the generally liberal media tells you everything you need to know about the amazing power of one particular unelected and unaccountable lobby in the U.S.

October 2, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , | 5 Comments

The problem with modern “journalism” summed up in one story

By Kit | OffGuardian | October 1, 2107

That a protest Facebook/twitter account focusing on the mistreatment of black people by American police was actually a fake account run by Russians to make the US look bad and spread division in the West… is one hell of a claim. If you were to make it, you’d probably be expected to supply evidence to back up your accusation. That’s only reasonable.

Well, CNN don’t feel the need. Two days ago they reported this story verbatim, here. Under the headline:

Exclusive: Fake black activist accounts linked to Russian government

Now, the headline doesn’t say HOW these accounts were linked to Russia, or indeed who linked them. But that’s OK, because neither does the body of the text. There’s not a single link, source or piece of evidence cited at all. The only basis for the claim is:

two sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN

That’s it. In total. They never say who these two sources are (leaving the very real possibility they don’t even exist), they never say what their supposed “knowledge of the situation” is. They tell us nothing of any note, and have the gall to put “exclusive” in the headline.

“Some guy said so” is NOT an exclusive.

The Guardian then took this one step further down the path of insanity – they reported that CNN had reported, that 2 guys told them something. Their headline…

Did Russia fake black activism on Facebook to sow division in the US?

… at least has the decency to use a question-mark, although none of that implied doubt makes into the body of the article. They don’t mention that CNN never provided any evidence of this claim, or CNN’s anonymous sources. Instead they choose to focus on whether or not it sounds plausible. After providing soundbites from professors who study “Russian interference in elections”, and referencing the Soviet Union’s supposed support of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, they decide that it does sound plausible. And since it’s plausible… it’s probably true. Right?

No reference to the keystone questions of journalism – who, when, where, why, how. No reference to evidence or sources, or agendas. Just a vague analysis of the plausibility of a rumor started by CNN on the basis of two anonymous sources with “knowledge of the situation”. This is the modern method of spreading propaganda – through a concerted effort of repetition without evidence, you can turn a lie into a “fact”.

That is the cancerous absurdity of today’s “journalism” in a nutshell.

October 1, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 6 Comments

Russia-gate’s Shaky Foundation

By Daniel Herman | Consortium News | September 29, 2107

Anyone who watches the news knows that Russian hackers gave Democratic National Committee documents to WikiLeaks and hacked voter databases in 21 states. Prominent Democrats call these shenanigans “a political Pearl Harbor.”

On the blog Daily Kos, one contributor cries “we were robbed!” (arguing that somehow Russian meddling gave Trump a victory in North Carolina, where his margin was 180,000, and where no evidence whatsoever indicates a successful hack of voter databases).

In a new video propamentary, er, docuganda, or something like that, Morgan Freeman declares “we have been attacked. We are at war. This is no movie script.”

Before we hop on the Morgan Freeman train, we might want to consider some history. In 1898, the American press — taking the word of naval investigators — reported that a Spanish mine had destroyed the battleship, U.S.S. Maine. Leading newspapers promptly called for war, and the U.S. government obliged.

Finally, the U.S. became an imperial power with the acquisition of Cuba and the Philippines and a few other odds and ends, at the bargain cost of 2,500 American soldiers dead, plus another 4,000 lost in the Filipino rebellion that followed, not to mention the lives of tens of thousands of Filipino opposition fighters. Only later did it come to light that the Maine was destroyed by a boiler explosion.

In 1915, leading newspapers again whipped up the American public by announcing that a German submarine had sunk the unarmed passenger ship, Lusitania. Two years later — and in part due to lingering outrage over the Lusitania — the U.S. went to war, this time costing 116,000 American lives and over 200,000 wounded, not to mention creating a patriotic frenzy at home that led to beatings, lynchings, and attacks on civil liberties. Decades later, divers proved that the Lusitania was carrying arms to Britain — contrary to government assurances — thus violating international law. German naval intelligence had proved correct.

In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed he had a list of men in the State Department who were communists. A credulous press played up his accusations, despite the fact that the numbers on his supposed list kept shifting. McCarthy and his allies in Congress recklessly charged Americans in Hollywood and in government with being either communists or “fellow travelers,” often ruining their careers.

Congress meanwhile passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which required suspected “subversives” to register with the government. It also permitted the government to round up and hold those same suspected “subversives” on the order of the President. McCarthy, of course, had no real list, and finally ruined his own reputation by accusing Army brass of communist sympathies. McCarthy’s many allies, however, paid no penalty for overreach.

Fake Intelligence

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the North Vietnamese had attempted a second torpedo attack on an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin, then used the incident to get Congress to give him the power to make war.

Thanks to the press endorsing the war effort and cheerleading on the nightly news (at least until the Tet Offensive four years later), the Vietnam War led to 58,000 American deaths and over a million war deaths altogether. Covert U.S. forces, meanwhile, kick-started a civil war in Cambodia that ended in genocide after the Khmer Rouge took power. Cambodia lost over half of its population of 7 million between 1970 and 1980.

It later became clear that there had been no second attack on the destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin; its crew had misread radar signals.

In 2002, U.S. intelligence, via George W. Bush’s administration, told the American public that Iraq had a hand in planning the 9/11 attacks and, moreover, that Iraq secretly maintained an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that might be shared with Al Qaeda. Both claims were utterly false, yet the American press — particularly the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN — led Americans to believe they were true. Far from questioning authority, the press became its servant. The result: 4,500 American war deaths; at least 110,000 Iraqi deaths (some estimates put the figure at over a million); and a destabilized Middle East, wherein both Iran and ISIS (who are bitter enemies) were empowered. In all likelihood, moreover, there would have been no Syrian war had there been no Iraq War.

When the American press and American political leaders loudly accuse another country of “an act of war,” in short, the American public needs to be on the alert. Rather than marginalizing and belittling skeptics, the press and public should give them a fair hearing. Far better to have a spirited debate now than to come to the realization in the future that groupthink created catastrophe.

Hack or Leak? It’s Worth Asking

With all that history in mind, we should be grateful that William Binney, the National Security Agency’s former technical director, is shouting with everything he can muster that the U.S. intelligence community has no solid evidence that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee. The NSA, he says, would have a record of any overseas exfiltration and could release that data without danger to national security; yet the NSA hasn’t. Though Binney left the NSA 16 years ago, he should know: he created the powerful cyber-vacuum that the NSA still uses.

Binney’s organization, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), has produced a report in which they argue that forensic evidence from documents produced by Guccifer 2.0 (G2) suggests — strongly — that G2 was a hoaxer. Skip Folden, a VIPS associate and a former elite tech executive with IBM, has issued his own report that buttresses the VIPS report. Adam Carter (a pseudonymous investigator) and Forensicator (another pseudonymous investigator) have also buttressed the VIPS Report, as have cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr and former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter (Ritter disagrees with VIPS in part but not on the basic charge of insufficient evidence).

To the extent they mention the skeptics, American journalists dismiss them as fringe. Yet the skeptics deserve a hearing. Among the important points they make is that U.S. intelligence has only identified the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups (APT 28 and 29 to be precise) associated with the hacking, and not the hackers themselves. An APT is a set of common parameters — tools, modes of operation, target patterns — used by hackers. But how certain are our intelligence agencies that Russians stand behind APT 28/29?

It happens that Dimitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike — the cybersecurity entity that analyzed DNC servers — was asked that question in June 2016. His answer: “medium-level of confidence that FancyBear is [Russian intelligence agency] GRU… low-level of confidence that CozyBear is [Russian intelligence agency] FSB.”

Skip Folden suggests that Alperovitch’s estimates equal a 37-38 percent probability that Russian intelligence stands behind APT 28/29. It’s not clear how Folden came up with that figure. We should note here that Alperovitch subsequently raised his confidence levels to “high,” but then had to reduce them again in March 2017 after realizing that his new assessment was based on phony data published by a Russian blogger. Meanwhile, in January, Director of National of Intelligence James Clapper’s hand-picked team had used Alperovitch’s “high confidence” assessment of Russian hacking of the DNC, which every major network reported dutifully without so much as a blink.

It’s hard to say what additional evidence the NSA/CIA team might have had — or whether there was any — though there are rumors that a Kremlin mole working for Latvia confirmed that Putin ordered his cyber-warriors into action. The NSA, however, didn’t consider the source fully trustworthy (remember Curveball, the wonderful gift of German intelligence?), hence it committed itself to only “moderate confidence” even as the CIA stated “high confidence.” At any rate, the January report lacked both solid technical evidence and more traditional evidence confirming Russian hacking.

Not Making Sense

Several other oddities stand out: first, why would G2 announce himself two days after the DNC reported being hacked, brag he was the hacker, and add that he had given his material to WikiLeaks? WikiLeaks exists for one reason: to give whistleblowers deniability. Normally, people don’t give material to WikiLeaks and then brag about it publicly.

Least of all would Russian intelligence do such a thing, assuming — as some allege — that they routinely use WikiLeaks to disseminate hacked data. Why would Russia implicate its proxy? Why, indeed, would Russia not only cast aspersions on Julian Assange’s honesty, but also cast doubt on the authenticity of the DNC data, given that intelligence services are known to doctor hacked documents? Why, moreover, would G2 give information to WikiLeaks in the first place, given that he had the ability to curate it and disseminate it on his own, as he showed by distributing “choice” (but actually innocuous) data to journalists?

Then there’s the forensic evidence, which shows that (1) G2 put DNC documents into a Russian template; and (2) G2 made those changes on the computer in an East Coast U.S. time zone. Plus, linguistic evidence suggests that G2 showed none of the typical speech idiosyncrasies of a native Russian speaker.

Metadata can be fudged, so it’s possible that (1) and (2) don’t matter. If that is the case, however, one must explain why G2 would drop deliberate clues indicating that he’s Russian — including leaving the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police in one document, along with Cyrillic error messages in another — while also dropping deliberate clues indicating he’s an American leaker. Tricky indeed.

Then there’s another important piece of forensic evidence: the transfer speed, which corresponds to the speed of a download to a local thumb drive rather than to an overseas exfiltration. Critics — including a few VIPS dissenters — promptly insisted that the VIPS report was wrong to assume that such speeds could not be attained in an overseas exfiltration in 2016. Signers of the original VIPS report, however, subsequently conducted multiple experiments to prove or disprove that hypothesis; not once did they achieve a transfer speed anywhere close to that indicated in the DNC metadata.

Critics have also argued that the DNC documents transfer speed may refer to a download to a thumb drive after the initial hack, yet the download would nevertheless have had to have been done on the East Coast of the U.S., since transfer speed metadata correlate to time stamp data. Why would a hacker exfiltrate data to Romania or Russia, then return to the U.S. to download the material to a thumb drive?

Inconsistencies and Uncertainties

The above inconsistencies, I should add, apply to the DNC data, not the Podesta emails. No one, so far as I know, has cast doubt on the theory that the Podesta emails were phished via APT 28. Still, the same rules of caution apply. As Alperovitch himself testified in June 2016, APT 28 does not necessarily prove Russia involvement, and even if it did, no one has proven that Russians gave the Podesta emails to WikiLeaks. There are many other possibilities.

The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reported that Republican operatives were desperately reaching out to the hacking community to locate Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. They made contact with several hacking groups including some that claimed to have the emails and even sent samples. The Republicans told the hackers to turn over the emails to WikiLeaks, but — supposedly — offered no payment. It’s not inconceivable, however, that the same Republican dirt-diggers — or others — indeed did pay hackers to turn over materials to WikiLeaks. Even if that occurred, however, the hackers might well have been non-state actors who occasionally work with Russian intelligence, but who otherwise work independently (more on that later), and who were not under orders from Putin. Or, they may have been hackers who have no connection to Russia whatsoever.

Regarding Roger Stone’s infamous remark that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel,” which has been cited as proof that Stone had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ publication of Podesta’s emails, Stone explained on Tuesday that he was referring to his own research on Podesta’s consulting work for foreign governments in the context of similar complaints being lodged against Stone’s friend and Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Questioning the Investigation

There are worrisome implications here. First, if we are “at war with Russia”; if the hacking was “the crime of the century”; if it’s “bigger than Watergate”; why didn’t the FBI examine the DNC server, given that James Comey admitted that was “best practice”? Why did he rely on CrowdStrike’s analysis, especially given CrowdStrike’s strong ties to the Atlantic Council (created solely to support NATO and heavily funded by foreign entities) and CrowdStrike’s grossly mistaken charges of Russian hacking in other contexts?

Second, why has there been no comprehensive or coordinated Intelligence Community Assessment or a full-scale National Intelligence Estimate — weighing evidence of Russian culpability against contrary theories — by the U.S. intelligence community, given that it has known about alleged Russian election hacking of both the DNC and state voter databases for well over a year?

What we got in January was a hurried intelligence assessment put together by a “hand-picked” team from three agencies, not a consensus of “17 agencies,” as the U.S. press wrongly blared for months. If Russia had committed an “act of war,” then surely President Obama would have ordered the fullest assessment of intelligence that the U.S. is capable of producing; yet he didn’t.

Third, why would Putin order an enormous campaign against Hillary Clinton, knowing that she would very likely win anyway (and did win the popular vote). Would Putin risk the likelihood of President Hillary Clinton finding out about his shenanigans? What implications would that have for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, for additional sanctions, for Syria, for Ukraine, for NATO funding, for the possibility of renewed Cold War? Perhaps — as James Comey contends — Putin hated Clinton so much that he was willing to play “Russian roulette.” Yet one wonders.

Has the Press Fed Hysteria?

Why, moreover, has the U.S. press barely mentioned the fact that U.S. intelligence services — and the press itself — wrongly accused Russia of the Macron hack? France’s head of cyber intelligence, after finding no evidence of Russian hacking, said this: “Why did [NSA Director Michael] Rogers say that, like that, at that time? It really surprised me. It really surprised my European allies. And to be totally frank, when I spoke about it to my NSA counterparts and asked why did he say that, they didn’t really know how to reply either.”

Think about those words for a moment; they were not meant to be diplomatic. They were unabashedly chastening.

Why, too, has the U.S. press barely mentioned the fact that German intelligence, after a months-long investigation, found no Russian meddling in its recent election (and moreover, found that the supposed Russian hack of the Bundestag in 2015 was likely a leak after all), despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ insistence that Germany was Russia’s next target?

Why do we not hear that Britain found no evidence of Russian efforts to influence Brexit, despite allegations to that effect? Why has the U.S. press wrongly reported a Russian hack of a Vermont utility; a Russian hack of an Illinois water pump; a Russian hack of north Texas voter rolls; a Russian hack of Qatari news media? Add to those examples the latest round of debunkings: there was no Russian attempt to hack Wisconsin voter rolls, nor any Russian attempt to hack California’s. Despite all the debunked stories, the U.S. press eagerly reports new Russia-done-it stories every time some anonymous source breathes a leak.

Here’s a test you can do at home:  Type “Germany Russia hacking” into your search engine and see what comes up. Then type “Brexit Russia hacking.” Then try “France Russia hacking.” You’ll get an absolute barrage of stories — hundreds of links — that melodramatically attest to Russian hacking and/or meddling in all three situations, but you’ll struggle mightily to find stories refuting those charges.

One can readily see why some curious soul sitting at home who takes it upon himself to do a little internet research would come away utterly convinced of Russian perfidy. Google here becomes an instrument not of truth-finding, but of algorithmic fake news.

Why, too, did former Assistant Secretary of Department of Homeland Security for Cybersecurity, Andy Ozment, insist in September 2016 that hacking attempts on voter rolls were not of Russian origin, but rather were criminal attempts to steal identification data for sale on the dark net? Why did DHS say as late as October that they lacked evidence to blame Russians? Were they simply protecting the nation against mass hysteria that could cast doubt on the presidential vote?

And yet the basic evidence pattern for attributing the attempted hacks to Russia (or anyone else) hasn’t changed; it’s not as if some new damning piece of evidence emerged after September. Even Reality Winner’s leaked NSA document from June 2017 notes uncertainty about the identity of the hackers. If one looks at the leaked chart showing details of the flow of hacked information, one notes that the final arrow on the left pointing to Russian intelligence (GRU) is marked “probably.” Click here and scroll down to see the blown-up chart.

Incidentally, if you think the case of Reality Winner is a bit suspect — i.e., a cleverish ruse to undermine The Intercept (publisher of the “Winner leak”) and puff up the Russia hysteria — you might want to check out this story. I withhold judgment, personally.

What I Am Arguing

Am I implicating Obama in a conspiracy? No way. Am I suggesting that G2 was a DNC actor seeking to blame Russia for a damaging insider leak to Assange? Not necessarily, but not “not necessarily,” either. There is reason for suspicion at least.

Am I suggesting that U.S. intelligence agencies are lying in order to protect massive U.S. funding for NATO and to force Russia to loosen its ties to Iran and Syria, not to mention lay off Ukraine? No, I am not suggesting any deliberate lie, though yes, wishes can father thoughts. Certainly Trump’s campaign talk of defunding NATO, friendship with Russia, and leaving Syria to Assad ruffled feathers in the intelligence community.

I am far from being a cyber-security expert, let alone knowledgeable about IT, so I write all this in modesty. And yet I find myself agreeing with experts who say that APT associations are not grounds for “high confidence” intelligence assessments, and that the American public deserves to see strong evidence not just of hacking — but of actual Russian hacking — given the magnitude of the issue.

I also find myself agreeing with cyber-security experts who tell us that U.S. intelligence agencies — as well as private cyber-security firms like CrowdStrike — tend to build the evidence around hypotheses, rather than letting the evidence lead to its own conclusions.

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy; I think there’s bias, groupthink, and boss-pleasing — in both the press and the intelligence agencies — just as there was in the Iraq WMD fiasco.

As Folden points out, there are numerous international crime organizations (an $800 billion industry last year) that might well stand behind APT 28/29. Given the sloppiness of the DNC and Podesta hacks (assuming they were hacks), what’s probable is that Russia isn’t doing the work directly, but might be paying a third party that sells its wares to bidders. Or, perhaps Russia isn’t involved.

As Folden notes, numerous states and international crime organizations have strong economic and/or strategic interests in both internal U.S. campaign information and in U.S. elections outcomes. The same observation goes for allegations of hacked voter databases. Any number of entities have both the wherewithal to employ APT 28/29 and an economic interest in harvesting voter identification data.

We should pause to note here that almost all the state database attacks were just that — attacks — not breaches. Unsuccessful attacks cannot be traced to APT groups, only to IP addresses, which are highly unreliable evidence. What few confirmed breaches there were (e.g., Illinois), moreover, did not change election results, and — as with the alleged DNC hack — can only be traced to APTs, not to actual hackers.

Here’s an aside just for fun: why would Russian hackers imagine for a second they could turn Illinois into a Trump state? Clinton won that state by a million votes. Sure, one can understand why Russians might want to meddle with voter roles in a swing state, but Illinois? More likely the hackers were criminals seeking voter identification info, which is precisely why they downloaded 90,000 registration records. The FBI absurdly claimed that Russians needed all those records to figure out precisely how Illinois voter registration works, thus to improve their dirty work. Really? They needed 90,000 records for that?

Pressuring Facebook

Of course, if the voter database attacks turn out to be no-big-deal, the press still will find some new way to exploit the Russia hysteria. The Washington Post and the New York Times — along with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — are now investigating Russian attempts to use Facebook ads and posts to help Trump win the election. Facebook — thanks to subpoenas from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and pressure from congressional Democrats — has turned up $100,000 of suspicious ad buys from phony accounts.

Think of that for a moment: Russians (supposedly) mustered fully $100,000 for ads in a presidential campaign that cost $2.4 billion. Talk about bang for your buck! The current allegation is that over the past three years, a few hundred Russian trolls armed with $100,000 and 470 Facebook accounts (compared to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue and 2 billion monthly users) deployed issues ads (not primarily attack ads against specific candidates) to out-brigade millions of ordinary Americans who posted campaign pieces on Facebook every day, not to mention Clinton’s public relations army.

Poor David Brock paid a million dollars for his own pro-Clinton troll brigade, but they were children compared to these nefarious Russians. It’s a feat right up there with Xenophon’s Anabasis … a tiny force of foreigners, slashing their way through the Persian hordes! Someone get an epic poet!

Of course Sen. Mark Warner, a hawkish vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, informs us that the $100,000 is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Who knows, maybe the Russians spent $200,000.

Even if these propaganda charges turn out to be 100 percent true — and even if the Russians were clever enough to target voters in the Upper Midwest — it is highly unlikely that they had more influence on the election than a host of other factors, ranging from Clinton’s bad campaign decisions to emailgate to anti-establishment fervor to Trump’s 4-Chan volunteers (did he really need several hundred Russians? Surely he had plenty of home-grown trolls).

Silencing Dissent

So, maybe the Russians did play some small role on Facebook — though I suspect this suspicion, too, will be challenged — but should we therefore conclude that we’re at war, as Morgan Freeman declares? Should we demand that Facebook and Google continue to rework algorithms to shut down posts or ads deemed pro-Russian? Doesn’t that remind anyone of the anti-German hysteria — and censorship — during World War I?

Should we demand, moreover, that the tiny Russian-owned media outlet RT register as a foreign agent — as the Atlantic Council has insisted, and as the Justice Department is now demanding — but not require the same of the BBC and CBC, which are financed by the British and Canadian governments respectively?

What about the Atlantic Council itself, which, receives much of its funding from foreign nations that seek to strengthen NATO? Should the Atlantic Council be required to register as a foreign agent? Does anyone seriously think the Atlantic Council doesn’t propagandize for NATO and for hawkish policies more generally? Or what about the hawkish Brookings Institution, or a host of other think tanks that welcome money from foreign powers?

The unspoken assumption here is that only Russia propagandizes; no other nation is so shifty. Surely Saudi Arabia wouldn’t do such a thing, nor Israel, nor Ukraine, nor countless other nations that seek to influence American policy. After all, they have their paid lobbyists and press buddies working for them every day; they don’t need several hundred trolls.

Let’s be honest, we live in a world in which foreign powers seek to influence American public opinion, just as we seek to influence public opinion in other nations. Which brings to mind a bill that President Obama signed in December, at the outset of the Russia hysteria: “The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act,” which created the State Department’s “Global Engagement Center,” which seeks to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.”

The act also offers grants to organizations (think news agencies and research groups) that promise to “counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability” of the U.S. and allied nations. (Shout out to Rob Reiner; did you apply for one of those grants? Might be a good opportunity for you.)

Does no one see a problem with this?  What exactly is foreign propaganda? Is it RT’s occasional charges that the U.S. press treats Trump unfairly? Is it RT’s penchant for left-wing, anti-establishment commentary, e.g., Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and Lee Camp? Our intelligence elites certainly think so, judging from the seven pages they dedicated to RT’s supposed rascally programming in the January intelligence assessment.

And what exactly will it mean to “counter … foreign … disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda”? Will it mean countering any news or commentary deemed anti-NATO or pro-Russian? Any news or commentary deemed pro-Iranian? How exactly will our government define “foreign propaganda”? How, moreover, will it define “national security”? What lengths will it take to deny the American public — not to mention foreigners — access to legitimate opinions?

Alien and Sedition Acts

Perhaps the real analogue here isn’t World War I after all, but the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Of course it wasn’t Russians that President John Adams worried about; it was hot-blooded Irish radicals and French émigrés with their revolutionary idealism, which was ostensibly corrupting the nation. Ordinary Americans were suddenly refusing to vote for their Federalist political betters, and those betters determined to make them pay. Far better to jail Jeffersonian editors and drive out foreigners than to let them endanger America’s “national security.”

We are forsooth reliving the age of Hamilton, I fear, when political elites dance to Wall Street theatricals about anti-democrats while feeling virtuous about opposing “deplorables.” Just don’t expect them to care about free speech. Thanks to our government’s push against so-called fake news, both Google and Facebook have already altered algorithms to such an extent that they have pushed down readership for one old progressive venue, AlterNet, by fully 40 percent (other progressive venues have seen similar declines), thus starving them for ad revenue. Meanwhile neoconservative researchers are trumpeting inch-deep investigations into supposed Russian propagandizing that — thanks to vast funding — may get churned out for years to come.

Let’s not kid ourselves; this project isn’t about shutting down “fake news.” From the moment the Washington Post ran its infamous PropOrNot story in November 2016, the message has been clear: the real threat isn’t Russians, it’s any media outlet that fuels anti-establishment politics.

The Universality of Hacking 

All that said, it is still very possible that CrowdStrike and the intelligence community are correct to attribute at least some DNC exfiltration of data to Russians or to loose-leashed teams working as subcontractors, or, alternatively, criminal organizations that sometimes answer to Russia. The one thing that the skeptics (of whom I am obviously one) have not answered is why the CrowdStrike investigation found uniquely modified X-TUNNEL source code in DNC servers, which would seem to have been created for this particular hack.

Since I don’t have years to become a cyber-security expert, I’ll leave the technical experts to further argue that question. However, I am left to wonder whether X-TUNNEL indeed betrays a Russian hack of at least some DNC emails, but that another party altogether — a leaker — was nevertheless responsible for handing the full complement of DNC documents to Wikileaks.

None of the skeptics are claiming that the Russians for certain didn’t hack the DNC (which wouldn’t be that surprising, really; we probably hack their political entities, too). The skeptics are only claiming that G2 was an insider who downloaded documents onto a thumb drive. Both claims can be true.

I’ll add — just to be clear — that I am quite certain that the U.S. intelligence community is correct that the Russian government is engaged in broad hacking attempts aimed at targets all over the world, many of them associated with APT 28/29. But that doesn’t mean they carried out the particular hacks at issue here (or, at least, it doesn’t mean that Russian state actors were behind the WikiLeaks releases, or the attacks on state databases).

And it certainly doesn’t mean — contrary to what over-wrought bloggers claim — that Russians changed 2016 vote tallies. The answer isn’t to shout “war” and create hysteria; the answer is to secure U.S. infrastructure.

I’ll also add that even “high confidence” that Russia hacked the DNC, Podesta, and/or state databases is insufficient grounds for aggressive policy — e.g., harsh sanctions and diplomatic ejections, not to mention military action — let alone grounds for announcing “we are at war.” Suppose for the sake of argument that “high confidence” is 75 percent probability. Would we convict an accused murderer on 75 percent probability?

If we did that — and if the accused were then put to death — we would be knowingly killing 25 innocents out of every 100 we adjudge. The same logic should apply to foreign policy. We should not be taking punitive measures unless we can assess culpability with greater certitude, else we risk harming millions of people who had no role in the original crime.

Where We Stand

It seems to me that we are in uncharted waters. Not everyone can be a cyber-security expert; we must trust those who are. And yet in doing so, we put enormous powers into the hands of unelected technocrats with their own biases and agendas. As others have noted, moreover, the cyber-war community is at odds with the cyber-security community.

On the one hand, intelligence operatives are constantly developing new tools to exploit cyber vulnerabilities of other nations and criminal actors. On the other hand, cyber-security people (e.g., DHS) seek to patch those same vulnerabilities to protect U.S. infrastructure. The problem is that the people who know how to exploit the vulnerabilities don’t want to report those vulnerabilities because it means years of work down the drain. Why make your tools obsolete?

We need to resolve these contradictions in favor of security, not cyberwar.

I cannot say this loudly enough. This whole episode isn’t just about Hillary Clinton losing the election, or Russian hacking of the DNC, or Deep State bias and boss-pleasing. The upshot is that we are entering a cyber-arms race that is going to become ever more byzantine, hidden, and dangerous to democracy, not just because elections can be stolen, but because in guarding against that, we are handing over power to unelected technocrats and shutting down dissenting speech. We are entering a new era; this won’t be the last time that hacking enters political discourse.

We might already be in the midst of a cyber Cold War, though the American public has no idea — flat zero — what sort of offensive gamesmanship our own cyber-warriors are engaging in. (One interesting theory: The Russians deliberately implicated themselves in the DNC hack in order to send a warning to U.S. cyber-warriors: we can play dirty, too).

Presumably not even our cyber-security experts at the DHS and FBI know what the CIA and NSA’s cyber-warriors are up to. Thus Russian hacking becomes “Pearl Harbor” rather than an unsurprising reciprocal response. Both the State Department and the CIA, after all, have been in the foreign propaganda business for decades; the American public, however, has not the vaguest idea of what they do.

We might also be on the brink of something else nightmarish: an international cyber-war with multiple parties participating — attacking one another while no-one-knows-who-did-what.

The intelligence community’s whispered “trust us, we’re the experts” simply isn’t good enough. If we don’t demand hard evidence, then we’re following the same path we took in 1898, 1915, 1950, 1964, and 2003. Let’s not go there.

Daniel Herman is Professor of History at Central Washington University. He specializes in American cultural history and the American West.

September 29, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment