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

Comment of the Day: “Journalism Ethics: The Washington Post Enables Disinformation Regarding Hillary’s Email Machinations”

"Hello, Dave. You have absolutely no clue how to deal with me, do you?"

“Hello, Dave. You have absolutely no clue how to deal with me, do you? Or even your email…

Much-abused Ethics Alarms commenter Beth, a D.C. lawyer with impressively thick skin, provided a real service with her comment on today’s post on the widespread obscuring of the Clinton e-mail scandal. Scandal is the right word, even if somehow a plausible and fair conclusion is reached that Hillary didn’t breach national security laws. The incident is shameful, and Clinton’s refusal to acknowledge that is  one of the many ways this episode indicts her character. Beth focuses on a systemic problem of which Clinton is a symptom: the government isn’t keeping up with the challenges posed by its increasing dependence on technology, and it can’t do that.

The public, most of whose interactions with technology is restricted to e-mails, games, social media and videos, if anything, has no idea the degree of competence and care complex organizations and the professions must devote to technology. The challenge is daunting, getting harder by the day, and may be hopeless, which is terrifying. The Obama Administration’s technology disasters, including the Edward Snowden affair, the OPM hack, the ridiculous failure of the Obamacare website and who knows what else they have managed to cover up, far exceed those of any previous administration. Most insiders I talk to are certain that far worse is on the way, and they know enough to be terrified. The public doesn’t understand how important the problem is, and therefore the news media ignores what it perceives as being uninteresting.

Here is Beth’s Comment of the Day on the post Journalism Ethics: The Washington Post Enables Disinformation Regarding Hillary’s Email Machinations:

What Clinton did was atrocious — our agencies need to lead this nation by example, and she was the head of the agency. But, all of our agencies are doing an awful job. There are policies in place that aren’t followed. And I can’t stress this last piece enough. Agencies draft policies, put them on a shelf, and never bother to hire people to update or actually enforce the policies. Further, there are insufficient protections in place — as demonstrated by the OPM data breach.

Continue reading

The OPM Hack And Accountability: The Sign On The President’s Desk Apparently Now Reads, “The Buck Stops Where I Want It To Stop”


At a government legal ethics seminar a week ago, one of my attendees told me of the nightmare he and his family were going through because all of his personal data, including confidential information from his FBI background check,and his fingerprints, were now available to those hostile to the US, and potentially hostile to him. He was furious. He trusted his government, and it proved incompetent…as usual, under this President

The data stolen from the Office of Personnel Management affected 22 million Americans directly, and indirectly many more, through their now imperiled families. It took an almost unimaginable amount of pure gall, as well as a complicity and incompetent news media, for President Obama and his supporters to be  claiming status a transformational leader because of a Supreme Court decision that was inevitable and that he had no hand in at all, while two more federal agencies  run by his appointees—Homeland Security is supposed to prevent such attacks— had failed the American people in epic fashion. Continue reading

A Woman On The $10 Bill, Because Pandering To The Democratic “Base” Is One Thing The Obama Administration Can Do Competently


I guess they couldn’t announce that they were putting Hillary on the $10 bill as the first female President because she isn’t dead. This also ruled out such equally worthy possibilities as Sandra Fluke, Gabrielle Giffords, Mattress Girl, Caitlyn Jenner and, of course, Michelle.

Yesterday’s announcement by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was inevitable the second a feminist started lobbying for it. Never mind that that her effort was ignorant and self-refuting: the list she generated of women proposed as potential faces on the currency contained none whose historical contributions to the nation come within miles of the achievements of Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, George, Tom, Abe and Ben. Some of the women—Patsy Mink?—are footnotes at best, one (Margaret Sanger) balanced her leadership of the birth control movement with ugly advocacy of white supremacy and eugenics,  and one of the most qualified candidates, Abigail Adams, didn’t make the list at all.

In a year in which President Obama’s party is trying to justify running a corrupt, unqualified, untrusted candidate for President on the sole justification that she has a vagina, nothing was going to stop his administration from putting someone on a bill for the same “reason,” as well as the other reasons, affirmative action, cynical group identification politics, and trying to deflect attention from this crew’s utter incompetence in matters of national interest and substance.

For example, the week has been filled with the jaw-dropping story of how the Office of Personnel Management was hacked by China as a result of utter, unforgivable management incompetence. You know, like the utter, unforgivable management incompetence (or worse) at Justice, HHS, the Secret Service, the IRS, the Veterans Administration, Homeland Security, the TSA, Hillary’s State Department and others—I don’t want to rub it in by running the whole list. You can read about the OPM calamity here, here, here , here and here for a start, then watch this to clear your palatte, as in throwing up. Continue reading