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CIA is misrepresenting FBI’s and Clapper’s doubts on CIA’s Russian hacking claims

The CIA claim that ODNI and the FBI are now backing its claims about Russian hacking are wrong. They are based on a misrepresentation by the CIA of the doubts ODNI and the FBI are expressing.

Four days ago on 16th December 2016 the Washington Post, the newspaper which has been the most zealous in spreading the story that Russian hacking influenced the outcome of the US Presidential election, published a report that claimed that ODNI and the FBI – which had previously appeared to express doubts – had fallen into line with the claims concerning the hacking being made by the CIA.

This report follows earlier reports that not just the FBI but more critically ODNI, Director of Intelligence James Clapper’s Office, have expressed doubts about the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking.

The Washington Post article that ODNI and the FBI have fallen into line behind the Russian hacking claims stems from a private memorandum circulated to officials of the CIA by CIA Director John Brennan.

The memorandum, which was obviously leaked to the Washington Post by officials of the CIA, reads as follows

Earlier this week, I met separately with (Director) FBI James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.  The three of us also agree that our organisations, along with others, need to focus on completing the thorough review of this issue that has been directed by President Obama and which is being led by the DNI.  In recent days, I have had several conversations with members of Congress, providing an update on the status of the review as well as the considerations that need to be taken into account as we proceed.  Many — but unfortunately not all — members understand and appreciate the importance and the gravity of the issue, and they are very supportive of the process that is underway.

(bold italics added)
The first thing to say about this memorandum is that it originates from within the CIA, not from ODNI or the FBI.  The media asked ONDI and the FBI to comment on the memorandum but as is their invariable practice they refused to do so.
The second point to make about this memorandum is that – as the memorandum implicitly admits – the CIA’s claims have not gone uncontested within the US political world, and that there have been some complaints from some Republicans and from Donald Trump and his transition team that the CIA is politicising the issue.  In light of this reports of doubts on the part of ODNI and the FBI are dangerous for both the CIA and for CIA Director Brennan personally, giving them a strong reason to play the existence of these doubts down.
The third point to make is that Brennan’s memorandum and its leaking to the Washington Post came immediately following US President Obama’s own public endorsement of the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, and his threats to take retaliatory action against Russia.
In light of the President’s public statement, it is a certainty that ODNI and the FBI have been under intense pressure from the Obama administration and the CIA to endorse what is now the US government’s official line.  Brennan’s memorandum is almost certainly a product of that pressure.
In the event the memorandum stops well short of giving either the Obama administration or the CIA the strong endorsement they were looking for, which is why news of it had to be given in such an indirect way – through the leaking of a private internal memorandum of the CIA to the Washington Post – rather than in a public statement.
That ODNI and the FBI have fallen well short of providing the endorsement the Obama administration and the CIA were looking for is also shown by the language of the memorandum itself.  It speaks of  “consensus” rather than “agreement”, a word that leaves open the possibility for disagreement, especially in light of the review which is now underway.
There is in fact nothing in the memorandum that contradicts the doubts passed on to Reuters by the three ODNI officials who were speaking on behalf of both ODNI and the FBI, and whose comments I have discussed previously.
It is hardly plausible that in the few days since those officials spoke to Reuters the US’s various intelligence agencies have learnt anything new that would cause ODNI or the FBI to change their views.  If anything new had come to light, we would certainly have heard about it, and it is a certainty Brennan would have mentioned it in his memorandum.
As to why ODNI and the FBI doubt the CIA’s claims, as the ODNI officials told Reuters it is because they are inferential

[The CIA conclusion] was a judgment based on the fact that Russian entities hacked both Democrats and Republicans and only the Democratic information was leaked.  (It was) a thin reed upon which to base an analytical judgment.

 The Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the CIA’s analysis – a deductive assessment of the available intelligence – for the same reason.

Note in particular the point made by one ODNI official to Reuters

ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent.  Of course they can’t, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow.

(bold italics added)

Reading this last comment, it is easy to see what has happened.

Brennan is misrepresenting ODNI’s and the FBI’s negative point – that they are not arguing that the CIA is wrong – by presenting it as a positive  – that they accept (“strong consensus”) that the CIA is right.

Affirming a positive from a negative is of course a well known debating trick, even though it is a logical fallacy.   That however is what CIA Director Brennan has done.

I would repeat a point here that I made in my previous article discussing the comments by the three ODNI officials to Reuters: not only were those officials acting on DNI Clapper’s instructions, but it is very likely that DNI Clapper was one of them.  Indeed it is quite possible that he was the one who made the point to Reuters about ODNI “not arguing that the CIA is wrong”.

If Clapper used the same words to Brennan, then it becomes even easier to see how Brennan might be misrepresenting Clapper’s words.  Of course Brennan would be acting in a grossly insubordinate way.  However since both he and Clapper are about to retire, and since Brennan knows he has Obama’s backing, it is doubtful Brennan cares very much about it.

 

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Alexander Mercouris
Editor-in-Chief atThe Duran.

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