Tag Archives: CIA

Comment Of The Day: The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

putin

Ethics Alarms is grateful to reader Greg, the author of this first Comment of the Day of the New Year, for supplementing the recent post here, and providing a critical and more detailed assessment of the intelligence community’s much ballyhooed report on its conclusions regarding Russian cyber-attacks during the 2016 election, with the alleged purpose of defeating Hillary Clinton.

I am particularly relieved that he shares my own reaction to the report, which simply did not deliver on what was promised by James Clapper in the hearings earlier in the week. Oddly, the news media and almost everyone I know miraculously seem to think it did.  The two key issues I, and I assume everyone, wants clarified is 1) whether Russia was indeed trying to elect Donald Trump, as opposed to generally gumming up the works, embarrassing the likely President (Clinton, of course), undermining public faith in the democratic system, and basically making everyone involved look like fools, knaves, and boobs (Note that Trump appeared to be handling his side of that task all by himself) , and 2) did their efforts in fact have any effect on the results? Answering the first clearly and decisively is essential to understanding the second: to most people, if Russia’s actions were designed to make Trump President, and in fact Trump did shock the world by becoming President, this creates a rebuttable presumption that in fact the Russian Government, and Vladimir Putin in particular, did affect the results of the election. That millions of people regard the matter in this way is certain, because we know that millions of people are desperately searching for some conspiracy or sinister outside agency to explain an event that shattered their expectations and world view.

We also know that the false belief that the sequence Conduct  A is intended to cause Result B, A occurs,  B occurs after A, ergo A caused B, is widely accepted, because public school  teachers are too busy teaching that the United States oppresses minorities  to get around to logic.  Now, that sequence is utter crap, validating, among other things, superstitions and rain dances, but never mind most people think that way.

Yet the report provides no evidence to support the intelligence community’s conclusions in either matter. I find that incomprehensible, and also irresponsible. What the report does  say, in essence, is, “Trust us, we’re experts,”  and leaves the rest to confirmation bias. Could the authors not have provided some evidence to support these conclusions? If not, why not?

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions:

This so-called “25-page report” is almost entirely padding and filler. I read it and I don’t see anything in it that adds to what we knew before the report was issued. Continue reading

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The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

The first page of the Joint Analysis Report narrative by the Department of Homeland Security and federal Bureau of Investigation and released on Dec. 29, 2016, is photographed in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017. Computer security specialists say the technical details in the narrative that the U.S. said would show whether computers had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence services were poorly done and potentially dangerous. Cybersecurity firms ended up counseling their customers to proceed with extreme caution after a slew of false positives led back to sites such as Amazon and Yahoo Inc. Companies and organizations were following the government’s advice Dec. 29 and comparing digital logs recording incoming network traffic to their computers and finding matches to a list of hundreds of internet addresses the Homeland Security Department had identified as indicators of malicious Russian intelligence services cyber activity. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

From The New York Times today:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.

The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.

Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.

The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.

Observations and Questions:

1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and  ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.

2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct  appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:

“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”

The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?

I do.

3.  Much further down in its story, the Times admits, Continue reading

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The “Russian DNC Hacks”: Who Do You Believe, And Why Should You Trust Them?

russia-sign

Here at Ethics Alarms, the starting point for ethical analysis is the question, “What’s going on here?” It’s impossible to reach a fair and useful conclusion about where any conduct falls on the right/wrong scale unless one has a clear picture of what the conduct is--what happened and why. The still percolating saga of the  hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails so far defies ethical analysis, because so many of the key facts are in doubt, so much of their impact is a matter of speculation, and virtually all of the participants, sources and advocates for one interpretation or another are untrustworthy.

I have never seen anything like it.

“What’s going on here?” I really have no definitive answer, but lets slog though the muck:

I.   Some of what’s going on here is that Democrats, progressives and Clinton bitter-enders are making a concerted effort to use the fact that troubling DNC e-mails were released to the news media and the internet late in the Presidential campaign to prove the theory that Russian interference with the election was responsible for the victory of Donald Trump. This, they argue in turn,  justifies regarding Trump as an “illegitimate President,’ thus justifying ignoring the election results, defying the election results, impeaching Trump immediately, blocking his swearing in, treating him in discourse and conduct as if he had just been convicted of beastiality rather than elected President, “doing something” to “stop him,” and obstructing anything he tries to do to govern.

Another way of putting it is that Democrats want to throw the nation into something perilously close to a Constitution crisis, a revolution, a civil war, and the unraveling of the nation itself because they couldn’t manage to win an election that should have been a breeze, and they refuse to accept accountability.

2. This, I can say without restraint, is unethical beyond question, and despicable as well.

3.The Russian hacks theory is the fourth wobbly leg of the Democratic Party’s  “We refuse to accept the results of the election because Trump is unfit to be President as shown by the fact that he said he might not accept the results of the election” position. The other legs: 1)  the Electoral College isn’t a legitimate way to choose a President, even though it would have been if it elected Hillary Clinton, and should be retroactively repealed, discarded or defied 2) Trump was elected by morons, racists, xenophobes, woman-haters and morons, while the virtuous, intelligent Americans voted for Hillary, and they know best, and 3) The head of the FBI, who saved Clinton’s candidacy by a very generous interpretation of her highly suspicious conduct after a strangely informal interrogation, thus causing Republicans to question his independence and integrity, intentionally sabotaged Clinton’s coronation by keeping his public promise to Congress that he would alert it if there were any new developments.

Since these are 1) ignorant 2) anti-democratic and 3) ridiculous, all adding up to pathetic and desperate, the weight of the whole effort now rests on Leg #4.

4. Much of the mainstream news media is bolstering that leg by short-handing the story in headlines and print as Russian “hacking of the election.” This characterization is a lie. The ongoing Ethics Alarms Fake News Project, which is dedicated to settling on what “fake news” is (another “What’s going on here?” inquiry) questions how this is any less fake news than “Pope Tells Followers To Support Trump.” Both are intentional lies, designed to confuse and mislead, with the mainstream media lie far more insidious, since only microcephalics are even a long-shot to buy the Pope story, whereas the Democratic Deranged, unhinged by confirmation bias and an inexplicable trust in journalism, are eager to accept the Russian lie. Fact: nobody, anywhere, has alleged that the Russians “hacked the election.” The only way an election gets hacked is when there is interference with the vote totals. “The claim that the ‘election was hacked’ is a bit of a misnomer,” writes former CBS reporter Sheryl Atkinson. “There’s no standing allegation by U.S. officials that the Russians (or anyone else) “hacked” into our elections system or altered vote counts.”

No, the term “bit of a misnomer” is a misnomer for “lie.” I would describe Atkinson as a hack by engaging in such equivocation to shield her colleagues, but that might confuse people. Continue reading

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“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!” Continue reading

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Fake News Headline Of The Afternoon: “Electors Demand Intelligence Briefing Before Electoral College Vote”

fake-newsWow! The Electors have been so impressed by the CIA’s unsupported guesswork that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump win that they are demanding an intelligence briefing! The Electors! You know…well…

…Nine Democratic electors who are already pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton, and self-important paramedic Chris Supron, Republican Never-Trumper who has already said he is voting for John Kasich.

This headline by Politico (The Hill’s is just as bad:” Electors Want Briefing on Russian Interference”)  is deliberate and calculated fake news, and far more disruptive to the election and the nation than anything the Russians leaked. It’s in the specialized category of deceitful reporting to mislead, as well as click-bait. “Electors” sounds like the news media’s unconscionable drum-beating for Democrats trying to undermine both the election and Trump’s Presidency has a chance of actually overturning the results. “Ten electors”—the truth— sounds irrelevant to anything, which it is: Nine partisan Democratic electors and a faithless Republican who has already made up his mind comprise a pathetic and biased group of bitter-enders, and nothing more. It isn’t worthy of a news story at all. I wonder, what is the minimum number that The Hill and Politico would try to justify referring to as “electors.” Five? Two?

Among the Democrats, by the way, are Christine Pelosi, Nancy’s daughter, New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter, a former member of Congress, and three three former  Democratic New Hampshire legislators, Terie Norelli, Bev Hollingsworth and Dudley Dudley. (Yes, Dudley Dudley.) Then there is D.C. Councilwoman Anita Bonds, former Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Clayborne Pell, Maryland progressive activist Courtney Watson, and Colorado  delegate Micheal Baca, who has been working since the election to use the Electoral College to veto the votes of millions. No political agendas there!

And Chris, of course, the sole Republican.

I certainly hope the public understands and remembers how the Democratic Party disgraced its traditions and role in American politics by trying to win an election through twisting the rules after the votes were counted. I thought the fixed Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton was a travesty, but this is infinitely worse.

I haven’t heard any prominent party leaders condemning this attack on democracy, which tells us how just corrupt and unprincipled this increasingly anti-democratic party has become. The news media is complicit, of course, as Politico’s inexcusably misleading reporting shows.

Both deserve to pay a high price in the loss of respect and public trust.

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Gene Autry Misinformation Update: Believe It Or Not, It Happened Again!

"Wild Bill" Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway...

“Wild Bill” Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway…

Yesterday I wrote about a lawyer in a legal ethics seminar interrupting me with a revelation about Gene Autry that was completely false.

Today I taught another legal ethics seminar, this time for a government agency. I was discussing was the various government ethics dilemmas in “Bridge of Spies,” the story of how lawyer Jim Donovan helped secure the release of downed U.S. flyer Francis Gary Powers in a famous incident during the Cold War. Many of the issues covered in my presentation were explored in this Ethics Alarms post.

As the film portrays it, Donovan, an insurance lawyer, does such a tenacious job defending an accused Soviet spy from U.S. government prosecution that the CIA recruits him to broker the trade of his now-former client, convicted and in prison, for Powers. In discussing the classic government lawyer dilemma of “who is the client?,”  I noted that the CIA agent who recruited Donovan told him that he would have no client. “Why did the CIA trust Donovan?” I asked socraticly. “Why did Donovan, an insurance lawyer, think he was qualified to engage in this kind of representation, it it was a representation?”

For the second time in nine days, an attendee piped up with an amazing piece of information.

“I suspect some of the answer to both questions is that James Donovan was the son of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who is considered the father of the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said. Continue reading

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“Kill The Messenger” And The CIA Crack Story Ethics Train Wreck

I finally saw the 2014 docudrama “Kill the Messenger,” which completed—I hope—the passenger list for a 30-year-old Ethics Train Wreck.

The film purports to be the true story of Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who wrote the sensational “Dark Alliance” series of investigative reports in 1996. The series attributed the inner city crack cocaine explosion in part to Nicaraguan anti-government Contra rebels in  the 1980s funding their efforts by drug smuggling and sales, all with the knowledge and assistance of the  CIA. The agency, the series claimed, was acting to support the Contras despite Congress rejecting the Reagan administration’s request for aid. Like most Hollywood accounts of anything, the film distorts and misrepresents facts to make a better story. Unfortunately, Webb’s story is made more dramatic by making him out to be a tragic hero and victim of a sinister alliance between the mainstream media and the U.S. Government. That’s not exactly true, fair or accurate, and in this matter, affirmatively harmful.

The fastest way to survey this particular Ethics Train Wreck is to list the distinguished passengers, more or less in order of boarding: Continue reading

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