A week ago, following release of Grizzly Steppe, the FBI/Homeland Security report supposedly substantiating the US intelligence community’s report that Russian intelligence was behind the hacking of the DNC and of Podesta, I said that the Russian hacking scandal is starting more and more to resemble the Iraq WMD debacle, with one dodgy dossier succeeding another.
That claim found vindication today with the release of a further 25 page report, which in the event had nothing new to say about the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC and Podesta, but which focused instead on “analysing” Russian President Putin’s supposed motives, and discussing the role of RT at inordinate length.
The entirety of the case that Russia hacked the DNC and Podesta, and leaked the information it obtained to Wikileaks, is contained in the following paragraphs
Cyber Espionage Against US Political Organizations.
Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties. We assess Russian intelligence services collected against the US primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups they viewed as likely to shape future US policies.
In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016.
The General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) probably began cyber operations aimed at the US election by March 2016. We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures.
By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC.
Public Disclosures of Russian-Collected Data.
We assess with high confidence that the GRU used the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to release US victim data obtained in 3 cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets.
Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to be an independent Romanian hacker, made multiple contradictory statements and false claims about his likely Russian identity throughout the election. Press reporting suggests more than one person claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 interacted with journalists.
Content that we assess was taken from e-mail accounts targeted by the GRU in March 2016 appeared on DCLeaks.com starting in June. We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.
Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.
In early September, Putin said publicly it was important the DNC data was exposed to WikiLeaks, calling the search for the source of the leaks a distraction and denying Russian “state-level” involvement.
The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks. RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT, according to Russian and Western media. Russian media subsequently announced that RT had become “the only Russian media company” to partner with WikiLeaks and had received access to “new leaks of secret information.” RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States.
No substantiating evidence is provided for these assertions, which are purely affirmative, though the references to Putin’s comments about the leaks and to RT’s supposed connections to Julian Assange and to Wikileaks, are apparently thrown in to give the impression that they are such evidence. Needless to say they are nothing of the sort.
Nor is there anything new in these assertions save that the earlier claim that the Russian counter-intelligence the FSB was involved – previously made by the private company CrowdStrike – has been dropped, with the whole blame now being placed on the Russian military’s intelligence agency the GRU. Possibly this is because US intelligence knows, as CrowdStrike apparently does not, that the FSB unlike the GRU is not an espionage agency.
The fact that the entirety of the blame for the Clinton leaks is now being laid at the door of the GRU presumably means that it is now alleged that both Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear work for the GRU even though CrowdStrike says they were working in ignorance and at cross-purposes with each other.
The report is a redacted version of a classified document which supposedly contains the evidence for these assertions. Whilst the report does not say what that evidence is, it does make this statement
Many of the key judgments in this assessment rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior. Insights into Russian efforts—including specific cyber operations—and Russian views of key US players derive from multiple corroborating sources. Some of our judgments about Kremlin preferences and intent are drawn from the behavior of Kremlin loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors, all of whom the Kremlin either directly uses to convey messages or who are answerable to the Kremlin. The Russian leadership invests significant resources in both foreign and domestic propaganda and places a premium on transmitting what it views as consistent, self-reinforcing narratives regarding its desires and redlines, whether on Ukraine, Syria, or relations with the United States.
(bold italics added)
This paragraph strongly suggests that the case is largely inferred from the US intelligence community’s “understanding of Russian behaviour” based on its “insights” rather than from actual knowledge. Indeed the report’s extensive references to President Putin’s public statements, those of other Russian officials, of the Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, of Russian media figures, and of RT, essentially says as much, even though none of the reported statements comes remotely close to being an admission of Russian involvement in the Clinton leaks.
A Reuters report which appeared yesterday makes the following further assertion
U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
U.S. officials had concluded months earlier that Russian intelligence agencies had directed the hacking, but had been less certain that they could prove Russia also had controlled the release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
This is incidentally an admission that earlier claims made during the election that Russia had provided the Clinton leaks to Wikileaks were at that time no more than guesses.
There is no information as to who this supposed “third party” is, or how the Russians provided this “third party” with the Clinton leaks, or how the “third party” provided the Clinton leaks to Wikileaks.
The only information that has appeared publicly since the election concerning how the Clinton leaks actually reached Wikileaks has come from Julian Assange and from Craig Murray. Both have denied that Wikileaks obtained the Clinton leaks from Russia.
There have been some suggestions that in his recent interview with Sean Hannity Julian Assange supposedly admitted that the Clinton leaks might have originated in Russia and have reached Wikileaks through a third party, though not directly from the Russian government. This is however a complete misrepresentation of what Assange actually said. Once again Assange’s clear denial that Wikileaks obtained the Clinton leaks from the Russian government is being treated as an admission of something else: that Wikileaks might have obtained the Clinton leaks from the Russian government via a “third party”.
An NBC report – which has provoked the fury of Donald Trump – has also made the following claim
The U.S. has also identified Russian actors who turned over stolen Democratic material to WikiLeaks, the source told NBC News Thursday.
(bold italics added)
These words are highly ambiguous, and may not refer to the supposed “third party” at all, but rather to the Russian officials or agencies who are supposed to have been behind the release of the Clinton leaks to Wikileaks via the supposed “third party”. However the claim that the US has identified “the Russian actors who turned over the stolen Democratic material to Wikileaks”, taken together with the reference to RT in the report directly after the discussion of the Clinton leaks (see above) may be intended to suggest that the “third party” is RT. That might also explain the disproportionate amount of attention given to RT in the report.
If so then this flatly contradicts what both Julian Assange and Craig Murray have said. Since RT is a Russian government funded broadcaster Assange would certainly treat RT as an agency of the Russian government. RT is therefore covered by Assange’s assertion that Wikileaks did not receive the Clinton leaks from the Russian government.
One thing which has become very clear over the last few months is the extent of the paranoia of some people within the US intelligence community about Wikileaks and RT. Lurid claims about RT dominate the report, whilst an article in the Huffington Post contains this extraordinary comment about Wikileaks by a former NSA official
One former National Security Agency analyst said the consensus view among U.S. intelligence holds there is no real difference between Assange and the Russians ― pointing out Assange’s role in finding NSA leaker Edward Snowden sanctuary in Moscow. “The only real debate is when the relationship began,” said John Schindler, who added that by 2013, Wikileaks essentially had become a mouthpiece for Russian intelligence. “This is not complicated.”
(bold italics added)
This is a paranoid claim, which takes Edward Snowden for a Russian agent, and assumes Wikileaks is an agency controlled by Russian intelligence because of its supposed role in spiriting Snowden to Moscow. That Snowden never wanted to go to Moscow, and only ended up there because the US obstructed his journey to Brazil, is a fact that is apparently of no importance.
Back in October (before the US election) a failed attempt was made to close down RT’s London branch in parallel with action to deny Julian Assange computer access. At that time I linked these two actions together and said they were almost certainly related to the Clinton leaks
Here I am going to align myself with Adam Garrie and with those who think that it is no coincidence that this attack came on the same day as Julian Assange was denied internet access. Moreover this clearly points to the US Presidential election, and the roles Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Russia, are taking or are supposed to be taking in the election, being the reason for the attack.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been hit by a series of leaks of emails published by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Western media, and US intelligence, are all blaming Russia for these leaks, and are saying that it is Russia that is providing the hacked and stolen emails to Assange and Wikileaks. The implication is that Assange and Wikileaks, whether consciously or not, are Russian agents.
The US nonetheless publicly insists it is the case, and it has been talking openly of taking retaliatory action against Russia because of the leaks. The cutting off of Assange from the internet and the action against RT look to me like precisely the sort of retaliatory action the US has been talking about.
To be precise they look to me like an attempt to plug the leaks by simultaneously acting against the person who is producing the leaks and the operation in Britain – the country where Assange is located and where Wikileaks is mainly based – of the Russian television channel the US believes Russia is using to disseminate news of the leaks
The coincidence of the simultaneous actions against Assange and RT is just too strong to leave me personally in any doubt that the two events are connected.
The 25 page report US intelligence just published, with its obsessive and frankly paranoid claims about RT, bears all this out.
However it seems we have now moved a whole giant step further. Whereas in October it appeared that the action against RT was intended to prevent RT disseminating the Clinton leaks, now it seems that US intelligence has convinced itself that RT was in some way responsible for the Clinton leaks as part of some sinister Kremlin inspired conspiracy to swing the election to Donald Trump.
If so then all I can say is that this demonstrates the paranoia involving Russia of some people within the US intelligence community and the Democratic Party, and the extent to which they have become lost in the ‘wilderness of mirrors’.
It is no secret that most people in Russia wanted Donald Trump to win the US Presidential election. Trump has repeatedly spoken of the need to improve relations with Russia. By contrast his opponent – Hillary Clinton – gave the impression of wanting to heighten tensions with Russia to a state not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. That alone is sufficient to explain why most Russians – including most Russian politicians, officials and journalists – would have wanted Trump to win.
That the Russian media – including RT – were influenced by this preference in their reporting is completely natural and unsurprising. It is also something which is completely legitimate.
No one is alleging that the British government illegally interfered in the US Presidential election because some British politicians openly spoke out against Donald Trump, and because the BBC – a publicly funded news organisation with far greater prestige in the US than RT – together with the rest of the British media, openly favoured Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Why then is it wrong for Russian politicians, Russian media, and for people working at RT, to have a preference for Donald Trump?
To lump this together with the Clinton leaks, the saga of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange’s RT appearances, and the fact that the DNC and Podesta hacks may have used malware developed in Russia, in order to form a theory of a gigantic Russian conspiracy to swing the US Presidential election to Donald Trump masterminded by President Putin himself, is beyond ridiculous. That however is the paranoid scenario we are now being asked to accept.
This preposterous affair would never have gained the traction that it has were it not for the fact of it being used by certain politicians in the Democratic Party and by US President Obama himself to try to discredit and delegitimise Donald Trump.
With President Obama about to go, and with this latest report having nothing of substance to say, that attempt has clearly failed. My own view is that we are now passed the peak of this affair, and that it will soon be over.
Donald Trump’s generous statement about the US intelligence community today, which however conceded nothing of substance, suggests that he thinks the same.