Yes, those emails.
(No, it wasn’t illegal, just incredibly unethical.)
It all began with this story in the Washington Post:
“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.”
When the New York Times later came out with a story headlined “C.I.A. Judgment on Russia Built on Swell of Evidence,” non-partisan law prof/blogger/ skeptic Ann Althouse inquired, as the mainstream news media did not, whether the content of the article supported that headline “because there’s so much fake news these days.” (Ann is funny.)
“There’s a lot of material in the article that is not about [ Russia helping Donald Trump win] at all. I’m excluding that, which is padding if the headline is the correct headline. Go to the link if you want to see what it is. The first relevant material comes in the 16th paragraph: The DNC’s servers and John Podesta’s email account were hacked and a lot of damaging and embarrassing material was released onto the internet.
American intelligence officials believe that Russia also penetrated databases housing Republican National Committee data, but chose to release documents only on the Democrats. The committee has denied that it was hacked.
“So here’s the crucial disputed question of fact: Were the GOP servers also hacked? We’re not told what evidence supports the belief that the GOP servers were also hacked, but the GOP says they were not. Yet some “intelligence officials believe” it was. Why? Where’s the “swell of evidence” you were going to tell me about?
“Even if that fact were nailed down, there would still be more leaps needed to get to the conclusion. First: Was there any embarrassing material? What? If I knew what, I could begin to think about the next question: Why would embarrassing material be withheld? All I can see from the supposed “swell of evidence” here is an assumption that if the DNC was hacked, the GOP committee was also hacked, and that if bad material was found in the DNC server, bad material would also be found in the GOP server, and since we only saw the DNC material, there must have been a conscious decision — by whom?! — to leak only the DNC things and that decision must have been made to help Trump win. That’s not evidence itself, only inference based on evidence.
“Finally, there are a few paragraphs about why “Putin and the Russian government” might be thought to prefer a Trump presidency to a Clinton presidency. Trump and Putin have given each other some compliments.
“That’s no swell of evidence! That’s a lot of leaping guesswork. And this is nothing more than I already read in the article the NYT put out on December 9th, which I put effort into combing through and rejected for the same reasons I’m putting in this new post.
“This might be the biggest fake news story I’ve ever seen!”
Nonetheless, this non-existent “swell of evidence” was accepted as fact by those looking to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. My temporarily-deranged liberal friends on Facebook (I sure hope it’s temporary) used the story to claim that this mandated Republican electors to take it upon themselves to veto millions of their states’ voters. One equally deranged law professor got 15 minutes of fame by insisting that there needed to be a new election. When Trump tweeted that he didn’t buy the story, pundits and Democrats went, I think this is a fair description, bonkers. How dare Trump question an unsourced leak from the CIA , that impeccably ethical, honest, law abiding organization that throughout its existence has routinely engaged in murder, torture, international law-breaking, cover-ups, lying, subterfuge and attempted assassinations?
Thus the narrative was constructed, on what Althouse correctly flagged as potential “fake news,” that Russia wanted Trump to beat Clinton, and did its best to see that it happened, and since it DID happen, Trump was fraudulently elected. This narrative was confusingly juxtaposed with the media’s simultaneous “fake news” obsession, so that it would be easy for the public to forget that there has never even been any allegation that the information revealed by Russian hacking wasn’t true. IF the Russian hacking lost Clinton a significant number of votes (Full disclosure: it lost Clinton mine), the information included important revelations about Clinton, her Foundation and her party that the public had every right to know before electing her President.
Then the certainty and motives of the CIA report began to degrade. The Washington Post reported that the FBI did not believe the CIA’s conclusions about Russia’s intent were warranted:
“The divergent messages from the CIA and the FBI put a spotlight on the difficulty faced by intelligence and law enforcement officials as they try to draw conclusions about the Kremlin’s motives for hacking Democratic Party emails during the 2016 race. Officials are frequently looking at information that is fragmentary. They also face issues assessing the intentions of a country expert at conducting sophisticated “influence” operations that made it hard — if not impossible — to conclusively detect the Kremlin’s elusive fingerprints.
The competing messages, according to officials in attendance, also reflect cultural differences between the FBI and the CIA. The bureau, true to its law enforcement roots, wants facts and tangible evidence to prove something beyond all reasonable doubt. The CIA is more comfortable drawing inferences from behavior.”
Let me clarify what the Post is really saying. The available facts do not prove the CIA’s conclusion is correct. Inferences are not facts. Inferences are also not news.
Meanwhile, another report surfaced that FBI Director James Comey told the President-elect that there was “no credible evidence to suggest that the Russian government played any part in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, or the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” During the same phone conversation, Comey reportedly told Trump that National Intelligence Director James Clapper agreed with the FBI’s stance that there was no evidence to suggest Russian influence in the election, and that there was only one U.S. intelligence official who was convinced the Russians were behind the hacked emails: CIA Director John Brennan.
Comey allegedly added, “And Brennan takes his marching orders from President Obama.” The same sources also stated that “Comey told Trump he saw the recent leaks to the Washington Post and New York Times as an attempt by the Democratic party to diminish Trump’s victory in the election by alleging he had outside help from the Russian government. The connection between the Russian government and the email hacking was still an “open question,” the reports said. In fact, “it was equally as likely that the email hackers had no connections to Russian government whatsoever.”
Now what is this? Fake news? News that exposes the CIA story as fake news? Fake news about fake news? If you believe one or the other because of what you want to believe, that’s confirmation bias. What we need is to get all of those intelligence officers in the same room and sort this mess out!
Yesterday, it was reported that the FBI, CIA and National Intelligence directors had refused a request that they brief a House panel on the Russian cyber attacks that occurred during the Presidential campaign. “The committee is deeply concerned that intransigence in sharing intelligence with Congress can enable the manipulation of intelligence for political purposes,” Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes said.
When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk. His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks. Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.
That’s right: the FBI tried to warn the DNC, but the DNC ignored the warning because it didn’t believe it really came from the FBI! Doh!], the Republican National Committee successfully blocked the hacking attempt! Here’s the WSJ:
Russian hackers tried to penetrate the computer networks of the Republican National Committee, using the same techniques that allowed them to infiltrate its Democratic counterpart, according to U.S. officials who have been briefed on the attempted intrusion.
But the intruders failed to get past security defenses on the RNC’s computer networks, the officials said. And people close to the investigation said it indicated a less aggressive and much less persistent effort by Russian intelligence to hack the Republican group than the Democratic National Committee. Only a single email account linked to a long-departed RNC staffer was targeted.
The disclosures came as a political furor grows over suspected Russian hacking of U.S. political organizations. The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Russian hackers, whom analysts say work for that country’s military and intelligence apparatus, stole emails from the DNC, as well as another Democratic organization and the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, to harm her candidacy and boost Republican Donald Trump’s chances of winning. Russia has denied the allegations.
The possibility that Russians tried and failed to infiltrate the RNC doesn’t necessarily conflict with the CIA’s conclusion. A senior U.S. official said analysts now believe what started as an information-gathering campaign aimed at both parties later took on a focus of leaked emails about Mrs. Clinton and Democrats.
This supports outgoing RNC chair and incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus denial that the RNC had been hacked at all. It also is consistent with Althouse’s objection about the unwarranted assumption that there was dirt on the Republicans that the Russian obtained but did not leak. If the hackers could only acquire Democratic Party emails, then teh fact that only Democratic e-mails were released does not indicate anything but the desire of the Russians to cause trouble.
So what’s going on here?
The story that Russia was messing with the campaign seems to be true. The stories suggesting that Russia was doing this to help Trump, or that it did help Trump, or most ridiculous of all, that the revelation of real disturbing conduct by Democrats somehow makes the election invalid, were false, misleading, or hyping weak evidence. That part of the news story was “fake.” Is the account of Comey’s position true? We don’t know, but it casts more doubt on the CIA story. If the Wall Street Journal story is accurate, and it is as reliable a news source as the Post or the Times, then Althouse’s analysis was spot on. There is no evidence to support the claim that Russia was trying to boost Trump.
Don’t you wish we could trust somebody?
UPDATE (12/16/15): Now there’s yet another report that Comey, Clapper and the CIA all agree “on on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.” The DNI and the FBI have not confirmed, so who knows? This story has been oddly without named sources from the start.