The danger of uncritically riding the anti-Russian bandwagon


A commenter responded with dismay to my post about how the story of Russian influence in the US election was being treated as a fact by supporters of the Democratic party despite the thinness of the evidence being presented, writing:

So having just watched Trump win the election using blatant lie after blatant lie left-wingers get a story dropped in their laps which could be used to attack and delegitimize his entire presidency and what do they do with it? Waste their time fretting over whether or not the allegations are true.

God I hate my side sometimes.

I can understand the frustration that the commenter feels and it is an interesting argument. When one faces an opponent for whom the truth does not seem to matter in the least, should one be willing to abandon truth too if one has the chance to discredit him? I think that the line here divides between strong partisans of the two parties and those who think that even in the worst of times, truth does matter and one should not abandon the normal standards of evidence.

There is no question that for Trump and for many of his supporters, any lie in the service of getting him elected was justifiable. But should those who oppose Trump respond in kind? To do so is to take a road similar to the one that took us into the Iraq war where we were asked to overlook the lack of any credible evidence that Saddam Hussein presented any imminent threat to the US. The fact that he was an ‘evil doer’ was supposed to be enough. Although delegitimizing a Trump presidency using an unsubstantiated Russian government hacking story may not seem to have the same level of seriousness, Norman Solomon disagrees. He describes the eagerness with which some Democratic partisans have seized on this issue and writes that it carries with it its own dangers.

Such eagerness to share undocumented spin as absolute fact has led many progressive groups to go with knee-jerk reactions. Bent on gaining a propaganda advantage over Trump, those reactions are helping to stampede this country toward a modern form of McCarthyism — as well as brinkmanship with Russia that could lead to a cataclysmic military conflict.

Zeal to blame Russia for a bad election outcome has spread like contagion among countless self-described progressives, understandably appalled by the imminent Trump presidency. But those who think they’re riding a helpful tiger could find themselves devoured later on.

If civil liberties instead of repression and diplomacy instead of war are progressive values, then all too many progressives — eager to tar Trump as a Kremlin product — have been undermining those values.

Of all the good reasons to “delegitimate” Trump, alleged Kremlin intervention in the election should rank quite low. Trump’s evils are huge, with a very incomplete list including vast greed, pathological lying, contempt for facts, enthusiasm for oligarchy, bigotry, environmental destruction, racism, misogyny, economic injustice, voter suppression and rampant conflicts of interest.

While echoing the anti-Russia themes belted out by Democratic Party officials and loyalists, the chorus on the left may think it’s merely grabbing the low-hanging political fruit of this historical moment. But the fruit is already turning rancid, and apt to become poisonous. It won’t be the first time in recent decades when liberals and others thought they were being clever and politically adroit as they aided and abetted the suppression of principles found in the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, while helping to gear up the machinery of war.

Let’s face it: Some of the fierceness of media attacks on Trump, such as from de facto neoconservative liberal-tinged entities like the Washington Post, is propelled by rage that his stance toward Russia lacks the neocon qualities that a Hillary Clinton presidency offered.

Like Solomon and so many others, I am appalled by the prospect of the damage that a Trump presidency can wreak on the country and the world. But apart from my personal distaste at abandoning a policy of providing credible evidence when making serious charges, I think that putting so much effort into following a trail that might lead to a dead end can backfire, because one can be manipulated to lose all credibility.

Comments

  1. Hj Hornbeck says

    I think that the line here divides between strong partisans of the two parties and those who think that even in the worst of times, truth does matter and one should not abandon the normal standards of evidence.

    I’m at a complete loss here.

    The more information someone reveals about how they were hacked, the more they reveal about their capabilities to any hacker out there. This means any announcement of being hacked should leave out crucial details that would be handy for convincing skeptics.
    Multiple anonymous sources within the FBI and CIA have claimed both organizations were convinced the hack was done by Russia. While these sources are anonymous, they have named specific individuals within both organizations who agree to this, and none of those individuals have publicly disclaimed this view. Yet because the sources are anonymous, skeptics dismiss them entirely.
    The CIA could easily compromise the identity and safety of ground-level agents if they revealed more information, which again means skeptics are denied crucial details.
    Seventeen intelligence agencies have blamed Russia, but these don’t count because it’s claimed they’ve either bought into the Red Scare or are pawns of the CIA.
    The Kremlin’s history of interfering with other elections has not shifted the priors of skeptics.
    Two independent security firms have linked the DNC hack to Russia, yet because these organizations are either eager to promote their brand or benefit from a Red Scare their evidence has been dismissed.*

    As far as I can tell, the only evidence which would convince you and other skeptics the DNC hack was done by the Kremlin cannot be released, and all the evidence which has been released is insufficient. Your disbelief in this Russian hack is unfalsifiable.

    * Speaking of which, CrowdStrike published another report.

    In June CrowdStrike identified and attributed a series of targeted intrusions at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and other political organizations that utilized a well known implant commonly called X-Agent. X-Agent is a cross platform remote access toolkit, variants have been identified for various Windows operating systems, Apple’s iOS, and likely the MacOS. Also known as Sofacy, X-Agent has been tracked by the security community for almost a decade, CrowdStrike associates the use of X-Agent with an actor we call FANCY BEAR. This actor to date is the exclusive operator of the malware, and has continuously developed the platform for ongoing operations which CrowdStrike assesses is likely tied to Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). The source code to this malware has not been observed in the public domain and appears to have been developed uniquely by FANCY BEAR. […]

    From late 2014 and through 2016, FANCY BEAR X-Agent implant was covertly distributed on Ukrainian military forums within a legitimate Android application developed by Ukrainian artillery officer Yaroslav Sherstuk. […]

    Successful deployment of the FANCY BEAR malware within this application may have facilitated reconnaissance against Ukrainian troops. The ability of this malware to retrieve communications and gross locational data from an infected device makes it an attractive way to identify the general location of Ukrainian artillery forces and engage them.

    You can verify some of the story yourself with a quick Google search.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Hj Hornbeck
    I am one who thinks the accusations against Russia are, at the moment, groundless. Vaguely possible but highly unlikely.

    A bunch of hysterical Democrats decide to raise the specter of the Evil Russian Bear interfering with an American election. The evidence to date is either non-existent or so ridiculous that only a paranoid conspiracy theorist would believe it.

    Gee, it reminds me of the Iraqi debacle where to anyone outside the USA (with the possible exception of Tony Blair) it was blindingly obvious that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

    Believe the US intelligence agencies when they do not release their evidence. Not bl…y likely. I remember the “yellow cake” and “aluminum tubes’ lies the USA told in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.

    I am also old enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin lies and the assurances that the USA was not bombing Laos.

    The Russians are not dumb enough to try to influence a US election so crassly.

    The Russians were looking at a narcissistic idiot or a war-mongering idiot stuck in the Cold War. Why support one bad choice over another when it would be obvious that any hint that they were supporting XX would mean a backlash against XX?

    When I first hear these rumours, I did think that, if they were true, it might mean that the Russians preferred Clinton over Trump. At least they were used to dealing with irrational Cold War remnants as opposed to something like Trump. Of course I am assuming that FSB analysts had a good handle on Trump but then that’s their job and they are probably just as good as the CIA analysts.

    Note: I suspect CIA analysts are very good; the CIA operations and political directors appear incompetent and often raving mad.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hj Hornbeck @ # 1: … because the sources are anonymous, skeptics dismiss them entirely.

    Wrong and wrong. I at least find the information given by these sources – particularly the Crowdstrike report furnished by the Democrats – insufficient and self-contradictory, and thus quite insufficient to overcome these sources’ long-established reputation for rank dishonesty. Anonymity comes in rather low on the reasons for doubt.

    Further, I for one don’t dismiss them “entirely” – the idea of Russian hacking does remain a serious possibility. It simply hasn’t been established well enough to exclude other plausible explanations, nor enough to justify actions likely to lead to serious worldwide consequences.

    Seventeen intelligence agencies have blamed Russia…

    Which ought to raise red flags in itself. For example, the National Reconnaissance Office provides invaluable intelligence from high-altitude and orbital cameras and other instruments, of great use to military and economic analysts – but, unless it’s illegally and wastefully duplicating the efforts of other agencies, NRO has no basis for making allegations about internet hacking. Their (& others’) participation in such statements implies significant political motivation/pressure, which makes these statements more questionable rather than less.

    You can verify some of the story yourself with a quick Google search.

    Such a search can also “verify” that the Earth is 6,000 years old and its inhabitants’ lives strongly influenced by astral forces distributed among 12 constellations and certain planets visible to the naked eye.

  4. says

    Considering that Trump’s opponent was hell-bent into kickstarting Cold War II, “Hacking” the election would make a lot of sense for them, the evidence is still quite flimsy, though.

    The way it’s being reported “Russians Hacked the Election”, now that’s shady. There is, so far, no evidence of tampering with electronic voting machines, which would be the appropriate situation to label “hacking”. I’m also hearing conflicting reports about the “hacking” of the DNC. Something about Podesta leaving his phone in a cab. Something about a DNC employee typing “legitimate” instead of “illegitimate” when warning his higher-ups about a phishing e-mail. The e-mails being leaked by disgruntled DNC employees, with no foreign input.

    These stories, while also low on evidence, seem more likely to me. People don’t realize that Hacking, that is, the act of writing some kind of malware that can actually bypass modern defenses, record data, send it elsewhere, and remain undetected long enough to actually accomplish anything, is hard. Seriously fucking hard.
    So hard, that most “hackers” don’t even bother with that shit. The most vulnerable (and obvious) exploit of any security system requires little to no actual hacking. That exploit is the user.

    The “phone in the cab” or “intern typo” explanations ring more likely to me because they follow more closely the pattern of real life leaks, unlike the long ass “russian IP this”, “foreign client that”, CrowdStrike shilling that HjHornbeck keeps bringing up.
    For example, the iCloud leak (the one with the Jennifer Lawrence pictures) didn’t happen because some genius coder chipped away at the top-notch security of Apple. It happened because some mildly clever asshole sent out a massive e-mail telling people that he was Apple Security, that there had been a breach, and that he needed their passwords for some security whatever. And a lot of people, not being tech-savvy or being to busy to properly check the legitimacy of the e-mail, fell for it.

    If anything, the DNC got “hacked”, not the election. You may try to link the consequences of the leaks and the results of the election, but even then. Assuming it was the Russians, the worst they did was provide the american people with factual information about the misdeeds of the Democratic Party.

    Which leads me to the disgusting way the media keeps putting “Russia Hacked the Election” at their frontpages. It’s inaccurate on many levels. On the few levels where it might potentially be accurate, it’s unfounded. And it’s a clear attempt at peddling some sort neo-McCarthyism. Hillary Clinton’s Syrian no-fly zone was provocation. The accusations of hacking are slanderous without evidence. And the prior threat of responding virtual attacks with military force give you the full message. A significant portion of the american government don’t mind the risk of nuclear war with Putin, fucking maniacs.

    I get it. Trump is a piece of shit. And if you can take him down through any other means (Hamilton Electors, impeachment for his misconduct, blocking him in the midterms and voting him out in 2020, what have you) by all means, do it. But fabricating an international conflict with another nuclear nation, potentially escalating into the second cold war or worse?

    Not. Fucking. Worth it.

  5. Holms says

    HJ, in addition the the replies you’ve already had on this point please note that your reasoning can be adapted to support almost any claim by simply blanking a few words:

    Multiple anonymous sources within the ______ and ______ have claimed both organizations were convinced the ___________________. While these sources are anonymous, they have named specific individuals within both organizations who agree to this, and none of those individuals have publicly disclaimed this view. Yet because the sources are anonymous, skeptics dismiss them entirely.

    Try it with the examples given above. Yellowcake, centrifuges, rods, completed WMDs… it all fits. Scepticism is the only thing that is acceptable.

  6. Holms says

    (Off topic: Mano, have you seen this development? I suspect you might find it very interesting being that you have been a keen observer of this topic in the past.)

  7. says

    @7 Holms
    I’m surprised that Obama didn’t bend over backwards to accommodate the right-winger. But we should have seen it coming. Netanyahu, being an entitled shithead, really bit the hand that feeds him last year.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/24/obama-binyamin-netanyahu-congress-speech-boehner-leaks

    What I don’t understand is why the Obama administration is now escalating tensions with Iran, undoing one of the few unquestionable accomplishments of his presidency. The US already had virtually unlimited access to Iran’s nuclear industry. Iran was complying with their end of the deal and, out of nowhere, the sanctions come back. Prompting Iran to drop their end of the deal. Is this a round-about way of provoking Russia by attacking their allies? Are they merely trying to create problems for the incoming administration? What is the end goal here?

  8. Dunc says

    Anybody who believes that this story could delegitimise Trump in the eyes of his supporters hasn’t been paying attention: many of them admire Putin, and the rest are willing to ignore anything.

  9. jrkrideau says

    # 8A Lurker from mexico
    What I don’t understand is why the Obama administration is now escalating tensions with Iran, undoing one of the few unquestionable accomplishments of his presidency.

    It does not seem to make any sense at all. It may be that there is such an outcry by the Right-wing and what passes for “foreign policy experts” in the US that Obama and his people feel some need to shield the Democratic Party from some of the more mad claims about being soft on Iran/Russia/Monaco and .

    This is not exactly a very believable scenario but it’s the only one that seems vaguely plausible to me at the moment. But US foreign policy over the last few years, decades, has not always been rational so who knows?

  10. says

    Hj Hornbeck@#1:
    The CIA could easily compromise the identity and safety of ground-level agents if they revealed more information, which again means skeptics are denied crucial details.

    Uh you mean “that server, in that rack over there”?? Ground-level agents, wtf are you smoking and where can I get some?

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