Welcome to the New Cold War: A Massive Distraction From How You’re Being Screwed

Politics Features Russia
Welcome to the New Cold War: A Massive Distraction From How You’re Being Screwed

Friday night, The Washington Post released a bombshell report: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.”

That’s right, according to WaPo’s unnamed sources inside the CIA, Russia hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign emails in order to help President-elect Donald J. Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Twenty-five minutes later, the Post followed up with a piece titled “The CIA concluded Russia worked to elect Trump. Republicans now face an impossible choice.”

Scandal! A foreign nation actively worked to help one candidate in a presidential election—the move is “unprecedented.”

Instantly the story caught fire with The Hill, USA Today, Reuters, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and others reporting on it. “Secret CIA” and “Russia” began to trend on Twitter, and that was that: one of the biggest stories of the year.

And what a story it was. A sinister plot; an administration unsure how best to balance diplomacy with the protection of our American system of democracy; and of course, do not forget the intrepid reporting that brought it all to light.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

But something odd stood out.

For a report this important, one would think that surely WaPo would lay the damning evidence out for its readers in plain English. After all, the disastrous Iraq War was sold to the American people with the assistance of a complicit media which ultimately failed to give due diligence to the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein was producing “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs).

Confoundingly, the evidence backing the CIA’s central claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump, is decidedly missing, as some on Twitter were quick to call out:

Reliance on circumstantial evidence and the word of anonymous intelligence sources has been an omnipresent feature of virtually every article asserting that the Democratic Party hacks were the work of Moscow.

Last month, Reuters published an opinion piece by the renowned James Bamford, in which he made several compelling arguments for questioning the entire narrative:

CrowdStrike took just a month or so before it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous.

That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year…

It is strange that clues in the Nasdaq hack were very difficult to find ? as one would expect from a professional, state-sponsored cyber operation. Conversely, the sloppy, Inspector Clouseau-like nature of the Guccifer 2.0 operation, with someone hiding behind a silly Bolshevik cover name, and Russian language clues in the metadata, smacked more of either an amateur operation or a deliberate deception.

And yet, WaPo buries the red flags that threaten the narrative like the fact that nobody has yet seen the evidence, affording the CIA deference:

A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.

For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability…

Seven Democratic senators last week asked Obama to declassify details about the intrusions and why officials believe that the Kremlin was behind the operation. Officials said Friday that the senators specifically were asking the White House to release portions of the CIA’s presentation..

It even goes so far as to paint skepticism as motivated by partisanship:

Some key Republican lawmakers have continued to question the quality of evidence supporting Russian involvement.

“I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence — even now,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team. “There’s a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.”

Now, none of this is to to say the intelligence community is wrong, and Russia is not the party behind the hacks, or that its actions were not motivated by a desire to see Donald J. Trump elected over Hillary Clinton. However, more evidence must be shown to the American people, and journalists should demand it.

Unfortunately, that is not happening. Clinton-friendly journalists have been unquestioningly reveling in the news.

That is because, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s Earth-shattering loss to Donald Trump, after outspending him by a ratio of over 2-to-1 per electoral vote, they have been looking for someone to blame.

The reason why their preferred candidate lost could not be that America’s ‘reasonable people’ simply misread the political moment after years of complacency. The fault could not lie with them for artificially propping up someone who not only came with serious baggage, but who had had the audacity to level with the American people about the limitations of status quo politics without proposing solutions for fixing the system. How could people not have related to Clinton who had made many millions of dollars in her public service career? Why should they have been bothered when she dismissed calls to be more forthcoming about her past and her ties to special interests, and called her detractors naive and “deplorables?”

No, the problem was not the ‘reasonable people’ or their candidate, but rather a combination of the ordinary folk, or useful idiots—the bigoted, uneducated, spoilers—and the pièce de résistance: meddling by a foreign power. How could Clinton have overcome those odds?!

Now Clinton’s beleaguered champions must take up the righteous cause of cracking down on “fake news,” and holding Putin “accountable,” as Sen. Claire McCaskill so eloquently put it—even if it means spreading verifiably false stories that other journalists have discredited over and over:

Yes, that victimization narrative is far more appealing than the alternative: shedding light on the problems that put Donald Trump in the White House, which were created by the ‘reasonable people.’

Professors Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern and Martin Gilens of Princeton conducted a study of policy outcomes over multiple decades. Their exhaustive research revealed that the support of the economic elite, rather than popular will, is the best indication of whether an initiative succeeds or fails in Washington. The findings make sense in light of the fact that the average member of Congress spends half of his time fundraising.

In fact, ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision from the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, which held that spending money is a protected form of speech, wealth’s influence has become outsized in politics. And yet, that has been normalized over the years, largely thanks to “access journalism.” The ‘reasonable people’ in the media have just come to accept politics as usual from their ‘reasonable’ partners in public office. The relationship has been mutually beneficial so far, so what incentive is there to change that? This is why, at none of the general election presidential debates, was a single question asked about campaign finance reform.

But, for everyone outside the political or donor class, the situation is dire. Billionaires have literally taken over the country.

The billionaire President-elect of the United States, earned his title by playing off American’s anger, resentment, and mistrust fostered by the oligarchy. Since winning, he has set about appointing his donors and fellow economic elites—people like Wilbur Ross and Betsy DeVos—to his cabinet, as well as individuals from Goldman Sachs. He is even considering ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. These individuals all have one thing in common: a dangerous detachment from everyday Americans. Most have an ideological antagonism to the agencies they’ve been tapped to lead.

The situation spells disaster for struggling families, the environment, and the country’s future.

That said, before we start piling on Trump for these decisions too much, it is worth noting that Hillary Clinton’s cabinet picks—while arguably more traditional—would, more likely than not, have have included her donors, and people from Wall Street and major industry.

Without being hyperbolic, government is for sale to the highest bidders, and ordinary people are suffering for it. Potential Russian interference to help one candidate over the other is obviously a dangerous precedent, but that is not what cost Clinton the election, nor is it the greatest threat to our democracy. All the hacks did was reveal the underside of politics that was already there.

The only thing anyone can do now to fix this mess is get involved and keep fighting for control of the opposition party at the local, state, and federal level. Ousting the ‘reasonable people’ and their establishment should be first priority.

Update: Donald Trump named ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson his Secretary of State, and CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder his Labor Secretary.

Follow Walker Bragman on Twitter.

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