The perpetual ‘Red Scare’ mentality that has sustained the high levels of US military spending for a century has taken a curious turn. The basic charge is that the Russian government materially involved itself in the US presidential election by hacking into the websites of the Democratic party, and especially the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta, and released those emails through WikiLeaks in order to hurt her campaign and aid in the election of Donald Trump, and that the Russian government was actively in communication with the Trump campaign. An additional charge against the Russians is that they doctored some of the documents leaked through WikiLeaks to make them look worse than the originals and that they also helped in the dissemination of fake news.
It has become almost an article of faith in some liberal and Democratic circles that this charge is true. The problem is that the charges are based on anonymous leaks, some of them of highly dubious origin like the shady group PropOrNot that the Washington Post in particular has heavily promoted, though in recent days the paper has made a cryptic addition to that story distancing themselves from it.
Meanwhile, president Obama has called for a full probe of these charges. This is undoubtedly a good thing but only if, as Jeremy Scahill and Jon Schwarz write, the results of the probe are made public and the evidence is declassified and made public as well. Too often, all we get are the conclusions with all the evidence redacted and the plea to trust the government’s version of events.
HERE ARE TWO of political history’s great constants: first, countries meddling in the internal affairs of others (both enemies and “friends”); and, second, bogus charges from a faction in one country that foreigners are meddling in its internal affairs to help another faction.
Both are poison for any country that wishes to rule itself.
So if we’re serious about being a self-governing republic, we have to demand that President Obama declassify as much intelligence as possible that Russia may have intervened in the 2016 presidential election.
Taking Donald Trump’s position — that we should just ignore the question of Russian hacking and “move on” — would be a disaster.
Relying on a hazy war of leaks from the CIA, FBI, various politicians, and their staff is an equally terrible idea.
A congressional investigation would be somewhat better, but that would take years — like the investigations of the intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction — and would be fatally compromised by the Democrats’ political timidity and GOP opposition.
The only path forward that makes sense is for Obama to order the release of as much evidence as possible underlying the reported “high confidence” of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia both intervened in the election and did so with the intention of aiding Trump’s candidacy.
What is curious is how various factions have lined up on this issue. Most Republicans would normally be extremely anti-Russian but in this case many of them, and especially those close to the Trump camp, are decidedly downplaying the charge. The Republican chair of the House Intelligence committee says that he sees no reason to open a new probe. Meanwhile, Democrats are ramping up anti-Russian feeling.
The CIA, another source whose credibility is hardly unimpeachable, has added to the story by anonymous leaks to the media that support the Russian hacking charge. Glenn Greenwald condemns this kind of uncritical reporting of anonymous sources.
THE WASHINGTON POST late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.
Deep down in its article, the Post notes — rather critically — that “there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.” Most importantly, the Post adds that “intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.” But the purpose of both anonymous leaks is to finger the Russian government for these hacks, acting with the motive to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Greenwald also writes that while the ‘fake news’ label has been applied to the output of Macedonian teenagers out to make a quick buck, that label could well be applied to what are considered mainstream US media outlets and even to people supporting the Clinton campaign who spread a false story that Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs had been doctored and placed the blame on WikiLeaks for it, though that organization had never published the document.
But the person who created that forged Goldman Sachs transcript was not a “Trumpist” at all; he was a devoted supporter of Hillary Clinton. In the Daily Beast, the person behind the anonymous “The Omnivore” account unmasks himself as “Marco Chacon,” a self-professed creator of “viral fake news” whose targets were Sanders and Trump supporters (he specialized in blatantly fake anti-Clinton frauds with the goal of tricking her opponents into citing them, so that they would be discredited). When he wasn’t posting fabricated news accounts designed to make Clinton’s opponents look bad, his account looked like any other standard pro-Clinton account: numerous negative items about Sanders and then Trump, with links to many Clinton-defending articles.
As if this whole story is not confusing enough, it further looks like the FBI, or at least many of its senior people, have lined up against Clinton while the CIA has taken her side and against the Russians. We are witnessing a battle of anonymous leaks between two major government agencies and any investigation will have to arbitrate between these two competing powerful organizations.
What is highly disturbing are the charges that are being leveled at anyone who merely asks that the evidence of Russian government hacking be made public, that they are either agents of Russia or dupes. That is a classic and despicable Cold War tactic, where the motives of the US must always be assumed to be noble while that of the enemies are always evil and no evidence need be provided for either claim.