Amongst the myriad of reasons for the Obama-Clinton-CIA campaign about alleged Russian hacking during the US election, a key one was to bluff Donald Trump into condemning Russia.
Following the failure to orchestrate a rebellion against Donald Trump in the Electoral College, Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President on 20th January 2017 is now a certainty. The continued campaign over the alleged Russian role in the Clinton leaks since then was undoubtedly motivated in part by a continued desire to delegitimise his election victory by implying that it was somehow caused by Russian interference in the election.
It was also intended to provoke a rupture in relations between the US and Russia, which would have put Trump in a very difficult position, and made much harder his professed intention to improve the US’s relations with Russia. However the Russians sidestepped that trap by refusing to be provoked by Obama’s fresh sanctions and the expulsion of their diplomats.
The two reports from the US intelligence agencies that have appeared over the last 10 days also however had a further purpose. Amidst a chorus of condemnation of Russia’s alleged interference in the election by US Congressional leaders – including certain prominent Republicans – there has been massive pressure on Donald Trump to do the same. The repeated expressions of horror that Donald Trump might be skeptical of the claims of the US’s intelligence agencies – something which he is perfectly entitled to be given the repeated intelligence failures of recent years – is largely about this.
If Donald Trump had been stampeded into condemning or criticising Russia for its alleged interference in the election in the way the Obama administration, the US intelligence community and certain leaders of Congress have urged him, he would have walked into a trap. It would have been extremely difficult if not impossible for him to have made serious efforts to improve relations with a foreign government he had himself criticised for interfering in the US election.
In the event, just as Vladimir Putin sidestepped Obama’s trap by refusing to retaliate to Obama’s sanctions and expulsion of Russia’s diplomats, Donald Trump has sidestepped this trap by calling the bluff of the US intelligence community.
The statement he published on Friday after his briefing with the US intelligence chiefs shows this clearly. It reads as follows
I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.
While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.
Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.
These are very carefully chosen words, which show that Trump possesses high political intelligence, and (since they bear the clear hallmarks of a lawyer) that he has sought legal advice.
This statement not criticise or condemn Russia. It does not say Russian intelligence agencies hacked the DNC. It says nothing about Russia providing the hacked DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. Nor does it refer only or specifically to Russia. Instead it lumps Russian cyber activity with that of other countries (“Russia, China, other countries”).
The one categoric comment the statement makes is an unqualified statement that hacking whether by “Russia, China, other countries” had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines”.
Trump is actually stretching what the US intelligence community has said. Whilst they admit that “there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines” they have not said that the alleged Russian hacking had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”. What they say is this
We assess the Russian intelligence services would have seen their election influence campaign as at least a qualified success because of their perceived ability to impact public discussion.
(bold italics added)
Trump has cleverly seized on certain comments of DNI James Clapper to the US Senate, in which he admitted that it was beyond his call to say how much influence on the US election the alleged Russian interference had, and the fact that no evidence of tampering has been detected in voting machines, to make it appear that the US intelligence community has admitted that the alleged Russian effort to interfere in the election had “absolutely no effect on its outcome”. For the record here is what Clapper said
Whether it was [Russia Today], the use of social media, fake news, they exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking. And of course, I think the totality of that — regardless of the impact, which we can’t gauge — just the totality of that effort, not only as DNI, but as a citizen, I think is of grave concern.
(bold italics added)
The reason Trump was able to sidestep the trap the US intelligence community laid for him is because its claims of Russian interference in the election have been exposed as bluff.
Grizzly Steppe – the FBI/Homeland Security report which was supposed to prove that it was Russian intelligence which hacked the DNC – not only failed to do so, but has been much derided by the IT expert community. The unclassified report the US intelligence community produced on Friday is empty of factual evidence, and is completely unconvincing, being principally a tirade against RT. Moreover it seems the classified report Trump was shown on Friday has been admitted anonymously by individuals who have seen it to contain no ‘smoking gun’.
The reason there is no ‘smoking gun’ is because there is no gun. As I have discussed previously, following the information provided by Julian Assange and Craig Murray, and the detailed technical explanations provided by the NSA’s own technical director William Binney and other retired intelligence officers, it can be said with certainty that Wikileaks’ source for the DNC and Podesta emails was not a Russian hack but an internal leak.
What this affair does however show is the alarm within what can legitimately be called the US ‘Deep State’ at the prospect of a President who is sincerely committed to improving relations with Russia. All the stops have been pulled first to prevent him being elected, then to discredit and delegitimise him, and then to trap him and box him in.
Moreover this campaign is by no means ended. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s own Vice President, is known to hold different views about Russia from his chief, whilst the relentless questioning and forced admission extracted by a Fox interviewer from Reince Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, shows the pressure members of his administration are coming under. A battle over the confirmation of Rex Tillerson – Trump’s choice for Secretary of State – is a certainty.
However this episode also shows something else: that Trump’s desire to restore relations with Russia is genuine, and that he is aware of the strength and the depth of the opposition to this policy, and that he is skilled at avoiding the traps its enemies are laying for him.
For someone who comes to Washington as a complete outsider it has been a surprisingly skilful start.