The Senate hearings into the Russian hacking scandal that took place on Thursday 5th January 2017 came across to me as something of a damp squib.
Director James Clapper provided no actual evidence to support the allegation that Russia was responsible for the Clinton leaks, and refused to go along with Senator McCain’s wildly over-the-top claim that Russia’s alleged interference in the election was an “act of war”.
As to that, all I would say is that if foreign interference in a country’s election is an “act of war”, then the US, which has interfered in the internal affairs of other countries on numberless occasions, has committed such “acts of war” countless times. One Republican Senator, Thom Tillis, actually pointed out that a Carnegie Mellon University study has found the US interfered in 81 foreign elections since World War II, whilst the USSR or Russia has interfered in 36.
Clapper did engage in some mild criticism of Donald Trump, implying that his Trump’s comments about the intelligence claims went beyond “skepticism” and amounted to outright “disparagement”, and not surprisingly he and his subordinates in the US intelligence community made clear their low opinion of Julian Assange. However Clapper admitted that there is no evidence Russia actually decided the election outcome
They did not change any vote tallies or anything of that sort. We have no way of gauging any impact it had on the choices the electorate made.
The single thing that struck me most about what Clapper had to say was that much of his case of Russian interference in the US election revolves around the work of the Russian media especially RT.
RT was very active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc. Whatever crack, fissure they could find in our tapestry, they would exploit it.
This amounts to saying that the Russian media should not report on or comment about a US election, which is a frankly astonishing demand to make.
Certainly it is not a demand the US applies to itself. The US media, including those parts of the US media that receive public funding, regularly report on and broadcast their opinions about elections in other countries, those which happen in Russia being a case in point.
I have to say that Clapper’s decision to bring up the issue of the Russian media looks to me like an attempt to strengthen the claim of Russian interference in the election whilst relying less on the Clinton leaks. If so then it inevitably strengthens the growing suspicion that the US intelligence community’s case of Russian involvement in the DNC and Podesta hacks is very weak. That suspicion has already been greatly strengthened by the debacle of Grizzly Steppe, the FBI/Homeland Security non-report into the Russian hacking allegations of a few days ago, which has been universally derided by the experts.
I would add that the typically anonymous claims of US intelligence officials that Trump’s briefing on the hacking scandal was not postponed until Friday 6th January 2017 is simply not reconcilable with the public record.
Trump made clear all last week that he expected to be briefed by US intelligence on either Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. If that was wrong then there was ample time to correct him. Besides if the information already exists – as Clapper says – then why is it taking so long for Trump to be briefed on it?
Clapper reassured the Senate committee on Thursday that the US intelligence community will provide a more detailed report next week. This report looks increasingly like the US intelligence community’s last opportunity to avoid a fiasco.