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Obama departs, ending the most disastrous Presidency of the post-Cold War era

Obama’s legacy to his successor is division at home and failure abroad, bequeathing a troubled nation and a state of world conflict instead of world peace.

Alexander Mercouris

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As Obama finally departs from the scene, this seems as good a moment as any to assess his Presidency.

In my opinion it has been a disastrous Presidency, which has hugely deepened divisions in America – a fact which more than any other explains the exaggerated reaction to his successor – and which has brought international relations to its most dangerous point of crisis since the end of the Second World War.

If that seems unduly harsh, then I would say that that is because whilst Obama has failed in every other respect, he has proved a genius in one respect, which is in his successful manipulation of opinion and of his own image, which seems to have been his main priority.  The result is that much of what went catastrophically wrong during his Presidency has been successfully concealed, so that unlike his immediate predecessor George W. Bush, Obama’s reputation has – so far – emerged from his Presidency comparatively though undeservedly intact.

In assessing any US President the temptation of a foreign writer like myself is to focus unduly on his foreign policy and to underestimate his domestic policy, which for Americans is however what principally matters.

Obama’s supporters tend to give him high marks for his domestic policy.  They claim that he successfully turned the US economy round after the 2008 financial crisis, and they also give him credit for Obamacare, which they consider a major step in addressing the ongoing catastrophe which is US health policy.

In my opinion the extent of both of these achievements is overstated.

By the time Obama became President the peak point of the financial crisis had already passed as a result of decisive if controversial Central Bank action – first and foremost by the US Federal Reserve Board – whilst Gordon Brown’s government in Britain had already led the way with its equally controversial policy of bailing out the banks.

Obama as President simply continued these policies, or to be more exact, he stood by as an interested and generally supportive bystander as they were put into effect.

The reason a global depression was avoided ultimately had little to do with him.  His much vaunted $800 billion reflation programme had little effect on the economy, its importance being overshadowed by the far more important aggressive quantitative easing policies of the US Federal Reserve Board and of the other Western Central Banks.  Importantly, despite Obama’s reflation policy, the condition of US infrastructure during his Presidency continued to deteriorate.

This is not a discussion about economics, and I will here merely state my belief that the action to avoid depression by bailing out banks and printing money will over time prove nothing short of disastrous, hugely inflating levels of debt in all the Western economies and leaving them in a much worst position than the one they were in before the crisis began.

What I would say is that one practical effect of this approach which has had important political consequences is that it has greatly increased social and economic inequality in all the major Western economies (Germany up to now has been the one important exception) as the dubious benefits of money printing and debt creation have disproportionately benefitted the already inordinately wealthy few at the expense of the increasingly indebted many.

As for Obamacare, its supporters need to ask themselves why unlike other policies to socialise health care costs – the NHS in Britain and Medicare and Medicaid in the US being obvious examples – it has so completely failed to win a critical mass of popular support, so that Donald Trump is now set to repeal it.

The short answer is that Obamacare has created a system which is so costly and inefficient, and which places so much of the economic burden on those it is supposed to help whilst rewarding the already grossly over-rewarded US health insurance industry even further, that it has never proved popular.

Given the political obstacles to genuine health reform in the US it is of course a moot point whether any other President could have done better.  Whilst it is fair to make this point, I cannot see how a health care reform which unlike Medicare and Medicaid is so fragile that it looks like being swept away so soon after Obama leaves office can be called a success.

Obama has also lent his support to issues like climate change, LGBT rights, and other social issues.

In my opinion these are important issues.  However on climate change no breakthrough has been achieved, and the breakdown in international relations over which Obama has presided during his Presidency (see below) has ensured that there can be none, since without international cooperation effective action on climate change is impossible.

On LGBT rights and other social questions Obama’s role has been minimal, with the heavy lifting done by others within US society over previous decades, whilst the economic conditions of black Americans – for perfectly understandable reasons Obama’s most loyal supporters – have actually deteriorated during his Presidency.

Indeed to the extent that Obama and other leading politicians in the Democratic Party have involved themselves in these issues, by seeking to use them to construct a political coalition based on them they have actually exacerbated what were already existing divisions within US society.

It is sometimes said that one of the reasons Obama as President achieved so little in domestic policy was because of the relentless hostility to him of his Republican opponents.

To a certain extent this is true, though the extent of this hostility has always seemed to me overstated.  What this point anyway however ignores is the degree to which Obama by his own behaviour has contributed to it.  Instead of personally reaching out to his opponents as Lincoln and Reagan once did, Obama preferred to withdraw into the solitude of the White House and the golf course, cutting an impossibly remote figure, leaving Republicans he might have charmed and won over feeling unwanted and left out in the cold.  Unsurprisingly they turned on him.

However it is Obama’s mismanagement of international relations which will ultimately condemn the reputation of his Presidency.

In my opinion the fundamental cause of this failure is that Obama has never understood or tried to understand the international system, or that the most important task of a modern statesman is to preserve peace, and that the key to doing this is through the successful management of relations between the three countries that are the world’s Great Powers: the US, China and Russia.

This is especially tragic since the conditions for doing this were never better than at the start of Obama’s Presidency.

The US’s key areas of interest are in north west Europe, the northern Pacific, and the Middle East.  Russia’s primary areas of interest are the territories of the former USSR.  China’s main focus is Taiwan and the South China Sea.

None of these areas of interest overlap with each other in the way that say the Balkans overlapped as a competing area of interest between the Great Powers before the First World War.  Moreover both China and Russia are for the moment principally focused on their economic development and have no wish at present to challenge the global role of the US and its leading position in the world economy.

That should have provided a strong basis for an effective system of cooperation between the three Great Powers, which would have made it possible to manage international relations successfully and to preserve peace.

In the event, instead of managing successfully relations with the other two Great Powers – China and Russia – the US under Obama has disastrously mismanaged them and drifted into confrontation with both of them.

This is in part because of Obama’s disdain for their leaders – which he is incapable of keeping hidden but instead foolishly broadcasts to the world – but it is mainly due to his utter disregard for their interests, which he doesn’t seem able to understand or even acknowledge.

Thus he has allowed the US to drift into a confrontation with China in the South China Sea and with Russia in Ukraine, even though as his interviews last year with The Atlantic show, he understands that China and Russia care about these regions in a way the US does not and will never do, and therefore will always have “escalatory dominance” over the US in both of them.

Beyond this there is the issue of Obama’s manipulative approach to relations with both Great Powers.

In the case of Russia he secured a major nuclear arms treaty by giving the Russians the clearest impression that he was going to give up the preceding Bush administration’s policies of installing ballistic missile interceptors in eastern Europe and its drive to draw Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.  Instead, once the nuclear arms agreement had been secured, Obama doubled down on both of the Bush administration’s policies, pushing ahead with the anti ballistic missile deployments in eastern Europe, and sponsoring an anti-Russian, pro-US coup against the democratically elected government of Ukraine, whose ultimate objective – as repeatedly announced by its leaders – was to bring Ukraine into NATO.

In the case of China Obama’s mishandling of relations was equally bad, though in the West it has attracted less attention.  At one and the same time he has appeared to encourage China to enlarge its role in the world economy, whilst simultaneously declaring a US “pivot to Asia” transparently intended to “contain” China and to mobilise the south east Asian states against it.  He has also – incredibly – allowed the US navy to discuss in public its plans for an economic blockade of China’s coast.

Understandably enough, Obama ended his Presidency with neither the Chinese nor the Russians trusting him.  The result is that the Russian-Chinese alliance – still embryonic when Obama became President – has now become full-fledged and irreversible and increasingly openly directed at the US, as the Chinese and the Russians – under pressure from Obama and previously Bush – have drawn together to oppose it.

Obama’s disastrous habit of making promises which he didn’t keep was unfortunately a hallmark of his whole conduct of foreign relations, and not just of his relations with the leaders of China and Russia.

In 2011 Obama assured not just the Russians and the Chinese but several other world leaders – including notably President Zuma of South Africa in a personal call – that the US had no plan for regime change in Libya.  As soon as these leaders agreed to a UN Security Council Resolution that allowed limited military action in Libya to protect civilians but which stopped well short of authorising regime change, he used it justify a far greater military intervention in Libya than he had promised, which ended first with regime change and then with chaos.

In 2011 Obama persuaded Turkish President Erdogan to support his regime change policy in Syria, leading Erdogan to think the US would see it through, if necessary by military action.  In the event the US failed to carry out military action to see its policy of regime change in Syria through, leaving Erdogan and Turkey high and dry, and with relations between Obama and Erdogan, and between the US and Turkey, in crisis.

Obama led the Iranians to believe that in the event they agreed to the nuclear deal he wanted from them, all the financial sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted.  In the event once Obama got his nuclear agreement many of the sanctions remained in place, with the US Treasury Department continuing to enforce them.

This serial habit of making and breaking promises has had a corrosive effect on international relations.  By shattering trust between leaders it has made effective conflict management all but impossible, most disastrously during the Syrian crisis where painstaking negotiations with the Russians in the end led nowhere.

The result is that instead of cooperation between the three Great Powers there is mistrust and conflict between them, and instead of peace and successful conflict prevention there are now conflicts in almost every potential flashpoint in the world, with the US involved in all of them – in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and in the South China Sea – and losing every one of them.

The most dangerous moment of all came in October, with the US military facing off against the Russian military in Syria, in what was the first outright confrontation between the militaries of the two military superpowers since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and being forced to back down.  The only reason Obama’s reputation has survived this humiliation – arguably the greatest humiliation the US has suffered since the fall of Saigon – is because the Western media intentionally suppressed news of it.

In this climate of conflict – with Obama’s the first Presidency in US history over the course of which the US has been engaged in fighting somewhere every single day – monsters like ISIS have been able to breed and grow to appalling power.  It should be said clearly that ISIS’s success and continued existence would be impossible in any well functioning system of international relations, and is the direct product of the breakdown of the current system of international relations, for which Obama must take most of the blame.

Unfortunately it does not end there.

Obama’s habitual way of concealing his failures has been to use the media – with which he has strong connections and which is predisposed to be very supportive of him – to vilify his opponents, something clearly evident in Obama’s handling of US domestic politics, but which has reached unheard of levels in his increasingly personal campaign against the man he has clearly come to think of as his personal nemesis: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Needless to say this has poisoned the international atmosphere even further, whilst fostering a dangerously hysterical and paranoid atmosphere across the West.

Where the proper function of a US President should be to calm fears and passions, Obama has instead increased them to levels not seen the 1940s and 1950s, triggering ugly witch hunts of the like the US and the West have not seen since the McCarthy era.

The result is that anyone today who calls for an improvement in relations with Russia – something essential in order to ensure world peace – risks being called a “useful idiot” or a Russian stooge, even if he is the US’s formerly most revered expert on Russia – Professor Stephen Cohen – or if he is no less a person than Obama’s successor – Donald Trump – who is now President of the United States.

It is a disastrous legacy of a man who has genuine intellectual gifts combined with the charisma to be a genuinely transformative President, but who was however never quite as intelligent or as well-informed as he always believed himself to be.

The result is that Obama departs the Presidency bequeathing to his successor a deeply divided country, and an unsettled and fraught international situation, which it will require massive work to put right.

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CIA Director and NYT Accidentally Expose Skripal Poisoning Hoax – DUCKGATE (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 189.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the stunning, inadvertent, admission by the New York Times and CIA Director Gina Haspel that much of what we know from the Salisbury-Skripal poisoning is pure fabrication and manipulation.

‘Duckgate’, as it is now being dubbed, was used to trick US President Trump into expelling 60 Russian Diplomats over false photographic evidence presented to him by Haspel, as it was provided to her by UK authorities.

The manipulation of POTUS Trump, courtesy of CIA Director Haspel, the UK government (and accidentally documented on by the NYT), has now blown open some serious holes into the entire narrative that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by Russian agents with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.

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Via The Blogmire…


(SEE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM)

Well this is interesting.

I had intended to put up a new thread for people who want to continue commenting on the Salisbury and Amesbury cases, as the last piece I did on it has reached an unmanageable 1,500+ comments. But just as I was about to do so, I was alerted to an important piece over on the Moon of Alabama website, entitled, “CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump“.

The gist of the piece is as follows. Back in April 2018, the Washington Post published an article about the decision taken by the United States to expel 60 Russian diplomats in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning. According to the authors, the day after the decision was made, President Trump reacted in anger when he found out that the French and the Germans were expelling just four diplomats each:

“The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on. The President, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.”

Mr Trump, it seems, believed that he had been misled by officials, as the piece goes on to say:

“Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. ‘There were curse words,’ the official said, ‘a lot of curse words.’”

Whether Mr Trump was misled about the magnitude of the expulsions is impossible to say without a transcript of that meeting. What does seem certain, however, is that he was misled in another, far more important way, as Moon of Alabama goes on to point out.

In an article in today’s New York Times about the head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, an extraordinary piece of information is revealed — albeit unwittingly, it would seem, by authors who probably have no idea of its significance. Pointing to that same meeting mentioned in the Washington Post article, in which Mr Trump was persuaded to expel 60 diplomats, here is the NYT’s account of what took place:

“During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the “strong option” was to expel 60 diplomats.

To persuade Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the conversation, officials including Ms. Haspel also tried to show him that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were not the only victims of Russia’s attack.

Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives [my emphasis].”

If you’re late joining the party, and don’t understand what is so extraordinary about this, let me spell it out plainly and unambiguously:

Firstly, there were no dead ducks as a result of poisoning. None. Zilch. Nada!

Secondly, there were no children sickened by nerve agent. None. Zilch. Nada!

Yet even though there were no dead ducks, and no sick children, Mr Trump was apparently persuaded by the head of the CIA to expel 60 diplomats after being shown pictures of dead ducks and sick children.

In addition to the extraordinary nature of this revelation, there is also a huge irony here. Along with many others, I have long felt that the duck feed is one of the many achilles heels of the whole story we’ve been presented with about what happened in Salisbury on 4th March 2018. And the reason for this is precisely because if it were true, there would indeed have been dead ducks and sick children.

According to the official story, Mr Skripal and his daughter became contaminated with “Novichok” by touching the handle of his front door at some point between 13:00 and 13:30 that afternoon. A few minutes later (13:45), they were filmed on CCTV camera feeding ducks, and handing bread to three local boys, one of whom ate a piece. After this they went to Zizzis, where they apparently so contaminated the table they sat at, that it had to be incinerated.

You see the problem? According to the official story, ducks should have died. According to the official story children should have become contaminated and ended up in hospital. Yet as it happens, no ducks died, and no boys got sick (all that happened was that the boys’ parents were contacted two weeks later by police, the boys were sent for tests, and they were given the all clear).

And yet despite the fact that no ducks died and no children were made sick, the director of the CIA (a.k.a. the Canard Invention Association), allegedly using information given to her agency by the British Government, showed the President of the United States pictures of dead ducks and sick children, apparently from Salisbury, to persuade him to take extreme action (Note: You can read more about the duck feed and all the other holes in the official story here). In other words, Mr Trump was lied to, and in a big way, and with potentially huge consequences.

I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the claims made in the New York Times piece, since the purpose of inserting the bit about the ducks and the children was to cast Gina Haspel as a strong leader, rather than to cast doubt on the Skripal story. My guess is that Mr Trump might be quite interested to know that he was misled, either by the director of the CIA and/or the British Government. It might even make him wonder this: if no less a person than the President of the United States was given a false version of events, what are the chances that the rest of the story stacks up?

As ever, someone got some ‘splaining to do.  Discuss among yourselves.


PS. An aside. The Independent, which is apparently a publisher of news, has picked up on this storyhere. In their piece, they basically repeat what was said in the New York Times about how Gina Haspel persuaded Mr Trump using the dead ducks and sick children pics. But here’s the thing. Whilst it doesn’t surprise me that writers in the likes of the Washington Post or New York Times might not know too many details regarding the Salisbury case, the Independent knows full well that there were no dead ducks and no sick children. And so since they are writing about it, they must know that either the CIA director or the British Government, or both, knowingly misled the US President. Yet they say nothing about this in their piece. Why? Simply because they are not journalists, but stenographers, and they have no intention of informing their readers of what is true and what is real. I’m not sure how they live with themselves, but somehow they manage.


UPDATE: The Guardian has published an article (18th April), in which the director of public health at Wiltshire Council, Tracy Daszkiewicz, was asked to comment on the New York Times report. Here is what she said:

“There were no other casualties other than those previously stated. No wildlife were impacted by the incident and no children were exposed to or became ill as a result of either incident [my emphasis].”

So according to Ms Daszkiewicz, not only were no children made ill (which we already knew), but nor were any exposed to the substance. How does this accord with the official narrative? In that scenario, Mr Skripal gave bread to three boys, one of whom ate a piece, less than half-an-hour after his hands had become contaminated. In which case, they would undoubtedly have been exposed to it. Then again, if he wasn’t contaminated at that time … well, that would agree with Ms Daszkiewicz’s assessment, but it would have another consequence involving cans and worms!

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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