By Doug Porter
On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell of a story making the claim that disinformation/hacking efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign were aimed at supporting the candidacy of President-elect Donald Trump.
On Saturday, the New York Times took it a step further, reporting that the Russians had also hacked the Republicans’ data, but didn’t disclose it out of antipathy to the Clinton campaign.
At that point the domestic political universe as I know it collapsed. (Some) Republicans became overtly pro-Putin. (Some) Democrats called for a new Cold War. And the conspiracy-driven quadrant of the internet universe collapsed into a heap.
Meanwhile, most people don’t give a shit. The ‘Democrats are sore losers’ meme has won the day. There is little interest in the truth or even an investigation. And just about zero chance these revelations will alter the outcome of the election.
Almost everything discussed in the media about Russian involvement in hacking or disseminating information is hidden behind the veil of ‘sources and methods.’ What we’re hearing about are analyses of data. Much of that ‘knowledge’ comes from traffic analysis, namely knowing who sent what when and the form used to transmit the data.
So the bottom line is there is no smoking gun; no pictures of secret agents handing over materials, no confessions of captured spies, and no clear record of data or money going from point A to point B. And there never will be.
The best reporting on how these intrusions into various computers were carried out came via Thomas Rid via Esquire in late October. There are some damning technical details in his story giving credence to Russia’s involvement.
It’s hard to ignore the reality of how leaked documents are appearing in election contests worldwide in a manner favoring the interests of the Russians.
Here’s what the Washington Post knows:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
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.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
Here’s what the New York Times knows:
It is unclear how many files were stolen from the Republican committee; in some cases, investigators never get a clear picture. It is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.
The Russians were as surprised as everyone else at Mr. Trump’s victory, intelligence officials said. Had Mrs. Clinton won, they believe, emails stolen from the Democratic committee and from senior members of her campaign could have been used to undercut her legitimacy. The intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia tried to help Mr. Trump was first reported by The Washington Post.
In briefings to the White House and Congress, intelligence officials, including those from the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, have identified individual Russian officials they believe were responsible. But none have been publicly penalized.
Trump as Putin’s Bitch
Then there’s what Donald Trump knows (or at least was told), via NBC News in early October:
…weeks prior to the first debate, Trump had already been told privately by the intelligence community that the Russians were implicated.
On August 17, Trump got the first of the private briefings from U.S. intelligence officers to which he and Hillary Clinton are entitled as the major party presidential nominees.
As NBC News previously reported, classified materials prepared for the first briefing and examined by NBC News showed U.S. officials had drawn “direct links” between Vladimir Putin’s government and the recent hacks and e-mail leaks.
Trump’s official response to the CIA hacking claim has been a sour mash of lies, lies, and more lies. (h/t Anna re: sour mash) Now he’s saying he doesn’t need to get daily security briefings because he is smart and doesn’t need to hear the same stuff over and over.
Unless you catch “hackers” in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
It’s not hard to understand Donald Trump’s usefulness to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Back in July, Politico asked Mikhail Zygar, author of All the Kremlin’s Men, for his assessment of Russian involvement in the electoral process. Explaining that “Putin has always suspected that Western leaders are every bit as cynical as he is, and that all politicians are the same: they simply want more power, even if their efforts at attaining it might be veiled in terms like “democratizing” or “nation-building,” Zygar shows why the then-GOP candidate was a natural choice:
Trump fits perfectly into that worldview. He’s a cynic who doesn’t appear to care about international moral issues like human rights. He’s a populist who doesn’t pretend to be a saint. He’s a normal businessman with whom you can always cut a deal—as he has said himself many, many times. And if necessary, as Putin seems to believe, one could figure out how to carve up the world with Trump. At least he won’t lie to you and fill your ears with nonsense about democratic values.
Those folks who are imagining a Russian takeover of the US, ala Red Dawn, can rest easy. Putin has no interest in real estate. He’s found a kindred spirit whose faith in power for profit matches his own.
— The Baxter Bean (@TheBaxterBean) December 10, 2016
What It Means
One of the best takes on all this was posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money:
A lot of this is, if true, confirmation of what experts have long believed about Russian interference in the 2016 election. We should also not react with high moral indignation toward Russia. Moscow is just using the instruments at its disposable to enhance its influence and security. That’s what great powers do. Both Moscow and Washington have long histories of intervening in the affairs of other states—including engaging in regime change. Moscow is particularly reliant on information warfare against western democracies because of its relative geopolitical weakness. Unfortunately, the strategy is working pretty well, and Germany’s next on the list.
But we don’t need to act like hypocrites to recognize the general terribleness of last twenty-four hours of news. We already knew that Mitch McConnell was willing to break the system for partisan ends, but even I never throught that he would actually run interference for a foreign power simply to achieve political power.
Conspiracies and Ignorance
I saw so much ignorance on the internet/social media over the weekend.
Some of the analysis I read says being opposed to advancing the interests of the kleptocracy based in Moscow is now the same as ‘red baiting.’ Silly me, I thought the term had something to do with political ideologies. At least that’s what it says in the history books.
Marcy Wheeler gets it right, making fun of the Russia is still communist ignorance.
Can someone go poke Dead-Marx in the ribs and let him know the Capitalist-Communist Cold War ultimately ended in fiesta of Kleptocracy? Thx
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) December 11, 2016
Funny thing, though, the only instances I see blackballing and faux investigations are the Trump campaign’s demand for a list of EPA officials favoring Climate Change mitigation and Exxon’s blanket subpoenas targeting 350.org, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and other environmental advocates.
Then there are the Trumpistas and hardcore BernieOrBusters who say this scandal is all about handing the election to Hillary via the Electoral College. Some even think there is a physical location where votes are cast.
They’re so immune to history as to be unaware that failure to get a 270 vote majority throws the decision to the House of Representatives. And that the vote isn’t actually announced until January.
Even though his name wasn’t on any ballot, Texas Rep. Louie ‘Crazy & Proud of It’ Gohmert has a better shot of being President under those circumstances than any Democrat. His latest claim to fame, in case you missed it, was a 55-minute speech on the floor of House denouncing Big Gubmit because he’s not allowed to BBQ ribs on his office balcony.
Always useful to know that there are human beings who’ll buy a ticket to “Pizza Pedophiles” but not “Russia” at Conspiracy Theory Theater
— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) December 10, 2016
A Historical Challenge
First of all, the situation really is grim, as Charles P Pierce points out in Esquire:
There is something profound in the moment through which we presently are living. We are a month away from inaugurating a manifestly unqualified and ethically unfit man as president of the United States, a man who has lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, who already is reneging on almost every promise he made while campaigning, who steadfastly refuses to be transparent about who holds the note on his finances and who is on his way to raising conflicts of interest to stratospheric levels, and who now may very well be the willing bobo for a foreign dictator.
The situation is the most stark challenge to a free people that has arisen in my lifetime.
We have political and democratic muscles that have atrophied from disuse that now have to be called upon immediately to rescue the republic no matter how many people find that to be too rowdy and inconvenient for their refined political tempers. We have institutional safeguards that have rusted from neglect, but which still work if we’re strong enough to turn the handles. We are in the deep, dark woods now. We all are, in a very real sense, survivalists.
Don’t Be Distracted!
I keep returning to Masha Gessen’s article in the New York Review of Books when pondering the future under Donald Trump. She warns the mere existence of our institutions isn’t enough to stop a determined plutocrat.
As Pierce notes in the above quote, our political and democratic muscles are not in great shape. The political institutions designed to protect the country need to be pushed; to be awakened from their slumber.
While it’s shocking and sad that the United States of America is now facing an uncertain future as a representative democracy, despair, and a defeatist attitude are the wrong response.
While Trump is not yet President–and I doubt the wisdom or likelihood of success of trying to stop the process–he’s already making choices for the people who will actually run much of the day to day business of government.
Those choices should be informing activists as to what needs to be done in the future, not headlines in the mainstream media.
All the rest of his antics, whether it be tweeting or proclamations made at rallies, amount to diversions. Investing too much time and energy in this behavior with anything more than outrage is a waste. (And that includes his clownish associates.)
I get it that people want to protest the symbols of the transfer of power. Let’s protest the balloting of the electoral college. Let’s protest the inauguration. And let’s use those exercises to start building our political muscle and resolve, because, lord knows, we’re gonna need it.
It will be even more important to fight back and be outraged about the actual exercise of power.
We can do this. It’s hard right now to see our way through all the distractions out there.
But remember, we have to defend the historically disenfranchised, oppose the further enrichment of the 1%, and fight for policies benefitting the 99%.
In the meantime:
- Show up, in your community.
- Make stopping Trump a regular habit.
- Take care of yourself and others.
On This Day: 1925 – The “Motel Inn,” the first motel in the world, opened in San Luis Obispo, CA. 1970 – In New Orleans, LA, the Doors made their last appearance with Jim Morrison. 2000 – The Supreme Court found that the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court in the 2000 Presidential election was unconstitutional. Vice President Al Gore conceded the election to Texas Gov. George W. Bush the next day.
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