“Fake News” Friday Continues! Episode II: The CIA Says Russia Was Helping Trump [UPDATED]

trump-tweet

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.)

She wrote in part,

“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.

“Next:

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.

Now today, another shoe dropped. The Wall Street Journal reported that unlike its cyber security-challenged counterparts at the DNC  (From yet another Times report:

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.

 

20 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet

20 responses to ““Fake News” Friday Continues! Episode II: The CIA Says Russia Was Helping Trump [UPDATED]

  1. fattymoon

    And Obama pontificates the US will retaliate for Russia’s interference. Great chess game the two super powers are playing.

    • A.M. Golden

      Obama’s pontifications are meaningless, as Russia well knows.

      Unless credible evidence is released that proves Russia wrote the emails (or edited them to make them say what they didn’t) or hacked the implements of voting to give Trump more votes than he got, this whole issue is just a big distraction and a sad attempt to make Americans question the democratic principles we’ve had for almost 250 years.

      It’s dangerous when people give up on democracy….ask the Germans.

  2. Slick Willy

    I don’t think the Russians thought Trump had a prayer, and thus messed with the presumptive President (ulp, vomited into my mouth there) Clinton in an attempt to undermine her.

    What I do not see reported is that Hillary messed with Putin’s elections some years ago, and reportedly Putin holds a grudge, as only a former KGB head can. There is no love lost between the two, that is certain.

    On another note, Democrats (the smartest people in the room) were once again incompetent with technology that the drones at the RNC used as a matter of course and it led to damaging consequences. Look at all the hacks in the US Gov the past few years to see other examples of this characteristic Democrat trait.

  3. dragin_dragon

    Don’t know how true this is, as it came from Huffington Post/AOL, but Mr. Podesta is now claiming the FBI is SERIOUSLY broken. Why, you may ask?
    1) Having the temerity to investigate HRC’s personal server and e-mails in the first place.
    2) Re-opening the investigation when more e-mails were found in an unlikely place; and
    3) Disagreeing with the CIA report, largely based on a lack of supportive evidence for Russian interference.
    ‘Course, this may also be fake news, as HuffPuffPo news has been suckered that way more than once previously.

  4. One more data point: back in August, Julian Assange said, “We do have some information about the Republican campaign….I mean, it’s from a point of view of an investigative journalist organization like WikiLeaks, the problem with the Trump campaign is it’s actually hard for us to publish much more controversial material than what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth every second day….I mean, that’s a very strange reality for most of the media to be in….If anyone has any information that is from inside the Trump campaign, which is authentic, it’s not like some claimed witness statement but actually internal documentation, we’d be very happy to receive and publish it….” So Assange was asking not just the Russians, but all the guccifers of the world for dirt on Trump, and either nothing turned up or we’re into another conspiracy for why it was suppressed by the Russians, Assange, and Wikileaks.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/293453-assange-wikileaks-trump-info-no-worse-than-him

  5. Sam

    This was all orchestrated by the Chinese to convince us that Russia and not China is our great adversary.

  6. Any comment.

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/10028347473

    He needs to go on TV and speak to the nation. He has to lay out the interference by Russia in our democratic process, even at the risk of compromising sources and methods. He needs to go on to say an election that happened under the influence of such interference is a nullity. He should set a new election date. Then he should announce he has positioned troops around the country and called up the National Guard and he will not hesitate to declare martial law in the event of violence.

    He will rank with Washington and Lincoln in the history of this nation if he does. If he doesn’t we will have to fix things ourselves and it will be very messy.

    • What’s to say? They reveal the totalitarian strain among progressives. Thank them for the warning. Damn Russians let everyone know how corrupt they are. Tough. If their President wasn’t so weak, it wouldn’t have happened.

      • Have you ever heard of the phrase “It’s following the constitution down the drain:”.

        Boston Globe columnist Sam Allis mentioned this phrase back in 2006, two years after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state’s Equal Rights Amendment to the Massachussetts Constitution required legal recognition of same-sex marriage. One might think that the phrase was used by a same-sex marriage opponent. After all, to these people, defining marriafge as between one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony is so important that the state’s highest law should not stand in the way.

        The man whom Allis quoted was John Reinstein. Was he the director of the Massachussetts branch of the National Organization of Marriage or Focus on the Family, arguing that state officials should simply defy the constitution in favor of his preferred policies?

        He was not.

        Reinstein was legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

        Just let that sink in. A legal director of a state branch of the ACLU, using the phrase “following the constitution down the drain”. (he was describing a legal dispute of whether the Massachusetts legislature had a constitutional duty to have an up-and-down vote on a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage.)

        Reinstein’s words implied that it was okay for the legislature to refuse to vote on an amendment on same-sex marriage, regardless of whether it was permitted by the state’s constitution.

        But, if Reinstein was okay with the state defying the constitution in this one instance, then what principled objection could he have had to Kim Davis’s actions?

    • dragin_dragon

      However, if you infer, as I do, that this idiot is threatening a civil war if HRC isn’t elected in some manner lacking in ethical, moral or legal basis, then you have pretty well defined the democratic party.

  7. Back as long as media has existed it has sought to influence public perception. Just watch an old war movie from the period, read papers from wartime, election times – and especially focus on the times pre-computer boom. It’s called propaganda and has been used by governments and media worldwide. It has helped us demonize our enemies, or those our leaders want us to see as enemies. It has allowed governments to suppress and exploit events as required and to function with the support of a public largely kept in the dark and fed Nationalism through the entertainment and news sources. Here, there, everywhere. There was blissful ignorance and naivete, an innocence of the population and trust in leaders and government. Even if they did not deserve it. The people didn’t see that.

    The computer era smashed all that. It’s a chaos of conflict now. There are facts, there are lies and there is misinformation at every turn. Everything is published, everything is vulnerable to some pundit on one side or another to twist, manipulate or edit things to serve their agenda. Who does a person believe? Who does a person trust? Given so much conflicting information, people hole up and just listen to what confirms their own bias. We don’t hold our governments and leaders in awe anymore. We realize that people, governments and leaders and religions are not benevolent protectors and watching out for us. We have lost respect, trust. The rose-colored glasses have been removed….but the light of truth burns our eyes, so we shut them tight. Which is/was better? We now see into the minutia (sp?) of their lives and thoughts and we are disappointed. No one can bear up to the scrutiny anymore. ESPECIALLY anyone who aspires to that sort of leadership position.

    The computer has been the key to open Pandora’s box upon the world.

    World leaders had it much easier a hundred years ago. Even 20 years ago.

  8. I’m often left wondering sometimes whether Trump has purposely said something profound, accidentally said something profound, or just said some garbage that I’m inferring profundity onto.

    For instance: “This was the same CIA that said Saddam had WMDs”

    He’s right, it is… But the CIA isn’t always so abysmally corrupt and inept, is it? This seems a 14 year old smear on a usually competent department. But. This situation is similar in a lot of ways to the WMD assertions; an assertion that makes the life of the president earlier, with little or no evidence backing the assertion up, despite assertions of evidence.

    I don’t know enough about the CIA to tell whether this is how they normally operate, and the public doesn’t usually care what the CIA releases, or if the Russian Hackers and the WMD assertions are similar in nature and this is actually indicative of a trend of the department getting political.

    Either is possible, but from the perspective of the uninformed (of which I am on this subject) the APPEARANCE is awful, and that’s important because it allows Republicans a certain control of the dialogue. Again… Is Trump blasting out tweets and hoping something sticks, or was this calculated? Who knows!

  9. As an aside “fake news” follows a disturbing trend I’d like you to spend a couple of minutes thinking about.

    As with so many other progressive labels, “fake news” follows a formula:

    1) There is a real phenominon, described by a real theory.

    Eureka!

    2) It’s horribly named to describe what is meant.

    These theories often seem designed to rile up opposition; “Safe Spaces”, “Trigger Warnings”, “Patriarchy”, “Toxic Masculinity”. Really? That’s the best you could come up with? Could you get something a little more vague and accusatory? Is anyone surprised at how they turned out?

    3) It’s misinterpreted by progressives, and weaponized.

    “Privilege” theory is one of the better examples. I think that the world would be a much better place if we took a step back every now and again and examined the things that other people have to deal with, that we do not, and approached life with a little bit of introspection and humility. And if you read the early works on privilege theory, that seems to be what the authors meant. Fast forward a couple of decades, and what was supposed to be a discrete, personal tool for self improvement is now being wielded as a cudgel by people too stupid to understand what they’re saying as a tool to silence others. “Check your privilege, bigot!”

    4) It’s defended by the original architect, internalised by the progressives, and mocked by the opponents.

    Because whether or not the unwashed masses understand the theory, the architect knows that there’s merit to their ideas, and could explain them if given the time (which they never are), meanwhile the progressives are working out how the theory intersects with the progressive stack, and start treating their misinterpretation as a sacred cow. The results are usually absurd, and the correct response to absurdity is mockery, so the opponents

    How does “Fake News” fall into this?

    1) It’s a real thing, and needed to be called out.

    2) The name almost weaponizes itself.

    3) Progressives assume in their smug sense of self-superiority that “fake news” only applies when the other side is spreading lies, and is oblivious an un-self-aware enough to realise that this sword should cut both ways, so they trumpet the label as a call to action.

    4) Well, look around.

    I just did something unique and told my broker to do a little shuffling and acquire some stock in ConAgra, so that when everyone is chowing down on popcorn and enjoying the fireworks, they’re contributing slightly to my retirement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s