ONTD Political

Something About This Russia Story Stinks

2:22 pm - 12/30/2016
Nearly a decade and a half after the Iraq-WMD faceplant, the American press is again asked to co-sign a dubious intelligence assessment

In an extraordinary development Thursday, the Obama administration announced a series of sanctions against Russia. Thirty-five Russian nationals will be expelled from the country. President Obama issued a terse statement seeming to blame Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails.

"These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government," he wrote.
Russia at first pledged, darkly, to retaliate, then backed off. The Russian press today is even reporting that Vladimir Putin is inviting "the children of American diplomats" to "visit the Christmas tree in the Kremlin," as characteristically loathsome/menacing/sarcastic a Putin response as you'll find.

This dramatic story puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.

Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco.
"It's déjà vu all over again" is how one friend put it.


You can see awkwardness reflected in the headlines that flew around the Internet Thursday. Some news agencies seemed split on whether to unequivocally declare that Russian hacking took place, or whether to hedge bets and put it all on the government to make that declaration, using "Obama says" formulations.

The New York Times was more aggressive, writing flatly, "Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking." It backed up its story with a link to a joint FBI/Homeland Security report that details how Russian civilian and military intelligence services (termed "RIS" in the report) twice breached the defenses of "a U.S. political party," presumably the Democrats.

This report is long on jargon but short on specifics. More than half of it is just a list of suggestions for preventive measures.
At one point we learn that the code name the U.S. intelligence community has given to Russian cyber shenanigans is GRIZZLY STEPPE, a sexy enough detail.

But we don't learn much at all about what led our government to determine a) that these hacks were directed by the Russian government, or b) they were undertaken with the aim of influencing the election, and in particular to help elect Donald Trump.

The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.

If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now.


Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham noted the "small price" Russia paid for its "brazen attack." The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, said Thursday that taken alone, the Obama response is "insufficient" as a response to "attacks on the United States by a foreign power."

The "small price" is an eyebrow-raiser. Also, like the WMD story, there's an element of salesmanship the government is using to push the hacking narrative that should make reporters nervous. Take this line in Obama's statement about mistreatment of American diplomats in Moscow:

"Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year."

This appears to refer to an incident this summer in which an American diplomat was beaten outside the diplomatic compound in Moscow. That followed a 2013 case in which a U.S. diplomat named Ryan Fogle was arrested in similar fashion.

Fogle was unequivocally described as a CIA agent in many Russian reports. Photos of Fogle's shpionsky rekvisit, or spy kit – including wigs and a city map that were allegedly on his person – became the source of many jokes in the Russian press and social media. Similar to this hacking story here in the states, ordinary Russians seemed split on what to believe.

If the Russians messed with an election, that's enough on its own to warrant a massive response – miles worse than heavy-handed responses to ordinary spying episodes. Obama mentioning these humdrum tradecraft skirmishes feels like he's throwing something in to bolster an otherwise thin case.

Adding to the problem is that in the last months of the campaign, and also in the time since the election, we've seen an epidemic of factually loose, clearly politically motivated reporting about Russia. Democrat-leaning pundits have been unnervingly quick to use phrases like "Russia hacked the election."


This has led to widespread confusion among news audiences over whether the Russians hacked the DNC emails (a story that has at least been backed by some evidence, even if it hasn't always been great evidence), or whether Russians hacked vote tallies in critical states (a far more outlandish tale backed by no credible evidence).


As noted in The Intercept and other outlets, an Economist/YouGov poll conducted this month shows that 50 percent of all Clinton voters believe the Russians hacked vote tallies.

This number is nearly as disturbing as the 62 percent of Trump voters who believe the preposterous, un-sourced Trump/Alex Jones contention that "millions" of undocumented immigrants voted in the election.

Then there was the episode in which the Washington Post ran that breathless story about Russians aiding the spread of "fake news." That irresponsible story turned out to have been largely based on one highly dubious source called "PropOrNot" that identified 200 different American alternative media organizations as "useful idiots" of the Russian state.

The Post eventually distanced itself from the story, saying it "does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot's findings." This was a very strange thing to say in a statement that isn't an outright retraction. The idea that it's OK to publish an allegation when you yourself are not confident in what your source is saying is a major departure from what was previously thought to be the norm in a paper like the Post.

There have been other excesses. An interview with Julian Assange by an Italian newspaper has been bastardized in Western re-writes, with papers like The Guardian crediting Assange with "praise" of Trump and seemingly flattering comments about Russia that are not supported by the actual text. (The Guardian has now "amended" a number of the passages in the report in question).

And reports by some Democrat-friendly reporters – like Kurt Eichenwald, who has birthed some real head-scratchers this year, including what he admitted was a baseless claim that Trump spent time in an institution in 1990 – have attempted to argue that Trump surrogates may have been liaising with the Russians because they either visited Russia or appeared on the RT network. Similar reporting about Russian scheming has been based entirely on unnamed security sources.

Now we have this sanctions story, which presents a new conundrum. It appears that a large segment of the press is biting hard on the core allegations of electoral interference emanating from the Obama administration.

Did the Russians do it? Very possibly, in which case it should be reported to the max. But the press right now is flying blind. Plowing ahead with credulous accounts is problematic because so many different feasible scenarios are in play.

On one end of the spectrum, America could have just been the victim of a virtual coup d'etat engineered by a combination of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which would be among the most serious things to ever happen to our democracy.

But this could also just be a cynical ass-covering campaign, by a Democratic Party that has seemed keen to deflect attention from its own electoral failures.

The outgoing Democrats could just be using an over-interpreted intelligence "assessment" to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration and force Trump into an embarrassing political situation: Does he ease up on Russia and look like a patsy, or escalate even further with a nuclear-armed power?


It could also be something in between. Perhaps the FSB didn't commission the hack, but merely enabled it somehow. Or maybe the Russians did hack the DNC, but the WikiLeaks material actually came from someone else? There is even a published report to that effect, with a former British ambassador as a source, not that it's any more believable than anything else here.

We just don't know, which is the problem.

We ought to have learned from the Judith Miller episode. Not only do governments lie, they won't hesitate to burn news agencies. In a desperate moment, they'll use any sucker they can find to get a point across.


I have no problem believing that Vladimir Putin tried to influence the American election. He's gangster-spook-scum of the lowest order and capable of anything. And Donald Trump, too, was swine enough during the campaign to publicly hope the Russians would disclose Hillary Clinton's emails. So a lot of this is very believable.

But we've been burned before in stories like this, to disastrous effect. Which makes it surprising we're not trying harder to avoid getting fooled again.



by Matt Taibbi
blackjedii 30th-Dec-2016 10:48 pm (UTC)
shhhh blaming russia is a lot easier than a party platform overhaul and we still haven't gotten a president in that wants to bomb them so we gotta get as close as we can shhh
nemesid 30th-Dec-2016 11:31 pm (UTC)
I lived in Russia for a while and can tell you that anyone claiming Russian government was involved in us election is either misinformed or outright liar.

Russia is a third world country run by mafia, they can't even fabricate their own elections without being caught in every other voting station.

blackjedii 30th-Dec-2016 11:53 pm (UTC)
A Russian guy invented teh best game of all time thou

OF ALL TIME
evildevil 31st-Dec-2016 02:23 am (UTC)


lollycunt 31st-Dec-2016 04:14 pm (UTC)
I really can't with the number of liberals claiming Russia falsified the vote. Even Obama outright said that is not what happened and none of the US intelligence has claimed that either. You can tell it's all desperate bullshit because those same people are screaming about getting back at Russia instead of pushing for reform that would make voting more secure.
natyanayaki 31st-Dec-2016 05:00 am (UTC)
i kind of feel like the dems will focus on this for years to come, and will stop talking about the electoral college after a year maybe two...you know until the next time a republican wins the electoral college and loses the popular vote.

there's a part of me that hopes a democrat loses the popular vote but wins the election in the near future (even though that would be awful because it would mean most voters sided with the republicans), because at least the republicans fight till they get their way.
blackjedii 31st-Dec-2016 01:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah. The constant focus is doing nothing to help the Dems at all. And they really, really need some help that as a party, they seem loathe to get.
moonshaz 31st-Dec-2016 07:04 am (UTC)
I was particularly struck by the last two paragraphs of this article:

I have no problem believing that Vladimir Putin tried to influence the American election. He's gangster-spook-scum of the lowest order and capable of anything. And Donald Trump, too, was swine enough during the campaign to publicly hope the Russians would disclose Hillary Clinton's emails. So a lot of this is very believable.

But we've been burned before in stories like this, to disastrous effect. Which makes it surprising we're not trying harder to avoid getting fooled again.


If I'm understanding correctly, the author is not saying he categorically believes the Russian hack didn't happen. He's saying that, as a journalist, he's uncomfortable reporting on it because of the lack of transparency involved. He feels like he's being told, "Believe this, and report it to the public, but don't ask us why. Just believe it because we say so." And having been burned in the past, he's uneasy about taking the government's word, despite his feeling that "a lot of this is very believable."

I completely agree about the transparency issue. Personally, I find "a lot of this is very believable" myself, and knowing what I know of Trumputin and their gangster-spook-scum-swine qualities, I have no trouble believing on a purely personal level that Vlad the Impaler probably did do this and Donnie Do-Wrong knew all about it and cheered him on (at the very least). However, I don't have to deal with the journalistic responsibilities Taibbi faces, and if I did, I'd probably feel the same way he does. Because how do you, as a journalist, tell the public "This thing happened" when you don't really KNOW it happened. Having a personal opinion abut what you may think probably happened is NOT the same thing as knowing for a fact that it did.

Totally leaving aside the question of whether the Russians did do the hacks and whether they tried to influence our election and/or succeeded in doing so, the government needs to realize that the American people are (with good reason) a lot more skeptical than we once were and be more transparent about this. IF it did happen, I think it's important that people believe it did, and it's obvious to me that a lot of people are not going to believe it as long as the only reason given is "the intelligence community says so." At this point in time, with some of the things that have gone down in the past, that just isn't going to cut it. *sigh*

So now, we have a lot of people saying, "I don't believe this happened," and even though I'm inclined to believe it myself, I can certainly see where the skepticism is coming from.

Sorry for the ramble, I'm just thinking out loud, I guess. Just one more point before I go...

For those who do not believe the Russians hacked us and tried to mess with the election and feel the government is lying, I have a question: exactly WHO ALL in the government do you think is lying? What I mean is, we have Obama saying it happened and ordering sanctions and stuff. Do you think he is deliberately lying, doing and saying all this, knowing that it's not true? Or do you think he has been duped by the intelligence community lying to him? I'm genuinely curious, because 1) he's a smart enough guy that it's hard (for me, anyway) to imagine him being that thoroughly duped, but if he knows it's not true, then 2) he's a boldfaced liar of proportions that rival Bush/Cheney. Which do you think it is? I'm honestly having problems wrapping my head around either of those possibilities myself. But if the Russians really didn't hack us, then one of them must be true...right? Or is there some other explanation I'm missing?

Edited at 2016-12-31 07:07 am (UTC)
blackjedii 31st-Dec-2016 01:05 pm (UTC)
He feels like he's being told, "Believe this, and report it to the public, but don't ask us why. Just believe it because we say so." And having been burned in the past, he's uneasy about taking the government's word, despite his feeling that "a lot of this is very believable."

Yes, exactly. Especially this year and how both political parties leaned on the media for positive coverage (and likewise, that reporting has been driven by profit instead of news), I'm wary of trusting anything where a story is repeated over and over again as "sources say" without sharing legitimate sources.

FWIW... I don't believe Russia "hacked the election." Hacking the election implies that the Russian government went in to various election machines throughout the USA to muck with the voting machines and there is no evidence that anything like that was done. So it's largely an issue with phrasing in order to scaremonger and after 9-11 and the WNDS!1!! like the writer says, deeply concerns me.

Is it possible though, that a hacking group got ahold of DNC emails through phishing (which is what is reported to have happened to Podesta) and Russian government paid a big sum to get that information? Absolutely, and I think that's a fair assessment. It's also fair that they may have passed it on to Assange who's enough of a slimeball to share it even further.

I also question the intelligence community given that the same FBI "leaked" the Clinton email re-open days before the election in what was widely at the time seen as agents going rogue and well, CIA acts in CIA's best interests.

In short the only one that doesn't necessarily have an angle is Obama. Who missed the boat speaking about it because he didn't want to seem biased and who is largely chasing windmills now anyway because the second Trump's in office he can reverse those sanctions. So it really feels like some twisted theater all around.
lollycunt 31st-Dec-2016 04:28 pm (UTC)
Obama is a boldfaced liar but I think Russian hackers probably did hack the DNC and RNC, apparently using methods that would not even fool my mom, a woman who only learned to text this year. The new sanctions are basically worthless symbolic crap to save face after Obama got so much backlash from his last press conference.

Between Republicans loving Russia and Liberals saying we need to arm Al Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria, this year really is a grab bag of foreign policy insanity.

Edited at 2016-12-31 04:29 pm (UTC)
nemesid 1st-Jan-2017 02:04 am (UTC)
I think democrats elite is trying to play this russian card for whatever reason and Obama is just a puppet on the matter. And yes, they decided to come up with this lie and forced it on their cronies.

I do believe someone probably hacked a couple servers. What I do not believe is involvement of russian government.So the lie is not in somebody trying to break into server. Lie is in blaming Russia.
ceruleanst 31st-Dec-2016 10:44 am (UTC)
On that note, how does this community (the only thing LJ seems to be for anymore) intend to face the news that SUP is moving the LiveJournal servers to Russia where none of our laws apply? Seems like a problem.
lollycunt 31st-Dec-2016 03:36 pm (UTC)
Why? What do you think the Russians will do that the Trump administration won't do with the information? Now that Trump is elected, Russia doesn't need to care about people criticizing Trump and the US government can tell who we all are anyway.

In terms of surveillance laws none of us know what laws apply anyway, a lot of it is secret law.

Edited at 2016-12-31 03:36 pm (UTC)
lokilaufeysanon 31st-Dec-2016 12:53 pm (UTC)
Do I think the Russian government is capable of hacking the DNC? Yes. And they have done it before to others (although, I'm not aware of them doing it to the US before). Do I believe that Putin at the least had some knowledge? Yes. But I don't think it's All Putin's Fault, either. If anything, I place the vast majority of the blame on the FBI, James Comey and his bullshit letter, and that whole mess. But it's easier to go after Putin than it is to go after James Comey and the FBI. I also think that James Comey conveniently decided to jump on the "Russia hacked us" bandwagon to take some of the heat off himself/the FBI. (Even though I doubt a Republican controlled Congress would have gone after him, but I wonder if it was for a matter of public opinion/the media.)

I don't think the DNC hack helped matters, but I honestly think the FBI bullshit did more damage, ultimately.

Edited at 2016-12-31 12:54 pm (UTC)
moonshaz 31st-Dec-2016 04:41 pm (UTC)

I definitely agree that the FBI (i.e., that jerk face Comey) did the most damage. I haven't said so here until now, because there seems to be a consensus shared by many here that it's a copout to suggest Hillary lost for any reason other than poor strategy or just being a "shitty candidate" (wish I had $5 for every time I've seen that phrase posted here in the last year lol). But yeah, the DNC hacks didn't help AT ALL, but it was Comey who put the whipped cream, the candy sprinkles, and the cherry on top of that shit sundae with his stupid sneaky ass letter.

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