This week in an open door Senate hearing, the nation’s top intelligence director James Clapper, told lawmakers that the Russian government used a multi-faceted campaign of hacking, fake news and propaganda to sway US voters before they went to the ballot box for the 2016 presidential election.
“I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere with our election process,” said James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence a political appointee of President Obama.
On Friday, intelligence officers made their way to Trump Tower to brief the incoming president. Three agencies of the 17- member Intel community claimed their unclassified Russian hacking report would provide ironclad evidence the Ruskies have been up to no good when it comes to America’s elections.
Nevertheless, the lackluster details of the report were leaked to NBC News and that prompted a famous President-elect Donald Trump Tweet that read: “I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.”
Not only does the report lack a smoking gun, the Intel report found only two (CIA & FBI) of the three agencies reported high confidence, while the NSA said it was moderately confident that Russia interfered in the elections. Hardly the blockbuster Americans were expecting. However, the 25-page report (including lots of empty pages) was littered with so-called fake news that “apparently” swayed voters, even though the Director of National Intelligence Clapper repeatedly told Capitol Hill lawmakers they found no evidence Russia hacked voting machines nor could they confirm Vladimir Putin swayed voters.
Clapper did say there were ample examples of Russian-run media outlets providing plenty of stories that were unkind to Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. The funny thing about the “fake news” is that the root of the stories was anchored in fact. The Democrat National Committee, Hillary Clinton, and John Podesta all had their email accounts hacked and the information was released to WikiLeaks who found ample readers wanting to know what was really going on behind the scenes at the DNC. Despite the Democrats complaints, WikiLeaks has a bi-partisan history and has hit both political parties as well as receiving scorn from both parties. For example, WikiLeaks released all of GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s emails, unsavory details about the unpopular war in Iraq that Army Private Bradley/Chelsea Manning removed from government computers as well as the massive surveillance state the US maintains.
Regarding election enthusiasm, there is no question the Russian’s exploited the 2016 election. They aggressively took information that was somewhat known within the journalistic world but wasn’t really being widely reported. Once the information made it to WikiLeaks a lot of journalists were able to confirm the damning information. As a result of the fact that the Obama administration has consistently slowed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process, leaving many journalists unable to correctly report the news.
Another point, when the Russian government saw the released hacked emails, it was easy to write the slant based on “true email facts.” The IC report relies on Russian TV “RT” that is a Russian state-run outlet as the main boogieman. Of course, the various Intel talking heads tried to debunk WikiLeaks, but so far, they have yet to get a story wrong.
As for the so-called “fake news,” it’s based on “facts.” Unless the Main Stream Media (MSM) forgot to report the story, Putin didn’t tell Mrs. Clinton to use a “home-brewed” unencrypted, private email server that was separate from the State Department. Nor did he counsel Clinton to mix State Department business with Clinton Foundation business and he certainly did not tell Clinton to fundraise rather than campaign, the fault rests with the former Secretary of State. On the other hand, Podesta allegedly fell for a phishing campaign that convinced him to reveal his email password opening all of his emails to hackers, although WikiLeaks reported the leaks were from an insider.
Nobody knows for certain how the oodles of scandals that followed Clinton around like the plague changed the minds of voters; America has become a very polarized country. If anything the Russian influence highlighted and exploited the glaring facts that the journalistic world may not be a fair broker. The leaked emails demonstrated that the MSM might not be reporting all the information that comes their way.
The voters spoke loud and clear. A Rasmussen poll found last week that 48 to 31 percent of the American electorate believe the MSM media is still reporting Trump unfairly and are turning the channel.
Chances are if the majority of Americans read the IC report, “Key Judgments Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” they would see the politicized Intel community highlights “Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US- led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”
The declassified IC report claims the conclusions reached, mirror the highly classified assessment but “does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.”
- Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment. NSA has moderate confidence.
- Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign…When it appeared that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.
- Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”
- 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.
- Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data.
- Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.
- Russia’s state-run propaganda machine contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences. We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election process.
Incoming National Security Advisor for President-elect Trump, Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn has been worried about the intelligence communities’ increasing politicization and leadership’s new trend of telling the Commander in Chief what he wants to hear rather than the cold hard facts. In 2010, he penned a position paper titled “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” The tough-talking general believes the IC needs to refocus its energy on human intelligence and “in the field” operations to better access what the enemy is feeling and doing. “Because the United States has focused the overwhelming majority of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, our intelligence apparatus still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade,” Gen Flynn wrote. “I felt the Intel system was way too politicized, especially in the Defense Department.”
In closing, there can be little doubt that Russia has engaged in both and cyber-sabotage and cyber-espionage against America and its allies. But America’s flirtation with coining news you don’t agree with, as “fake news” doesn’t mean it is true or not.
The US should heed the warning from Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebel’s slogan, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”