"Exclusive: Despite mainstream media acceptance, the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment on alleged Russian “hacking” still lacks hard public evidence, a case of “trust-us” by politicized spy agencies, writes Robert Parry."
"Repeating an accusation over and over again is not evidence that the accused is guilty, no matter how much “confidence” the accuser asserts about the conclusion. Nor is it evidence just to suggest that someone has a motive for doing something. Many conspiracy theories are built on the notion of “cui bono” – who benefits – without following up the supposed motive with facts.
But that is essentially what the U.S. intelligence community has done regarding the dangerous accusation that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a covert information campaign to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.
Just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper vowed to go to the greatest possible lengths to supply the public with the evidence behind the accusations, his office released a 25-page report that contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.
The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information – built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump.
But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses” – as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”
The DNI report admits as much, saying, "Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”
But the report’s assessment is more than just a reasonable judgment based on a body of incomplete information. It is tendentious in that it only lays out the case for believing in Russia’s guilt, not reasons for doubting that guilt.
A Risky Bet
For instance, while it is true that many Russian officials, including President Putin, considered Clinton to be a threat to worsen the already frayed relationship between the two nuclear superpowers, the report ignores the downside for Russia trying to interfere with the U.S. election campaign and then failing to stop Clinton, which looked like the most likely outcome until Election Night.
If Russia had accessed the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication, Putin would have to think that the National Security Agency, with its exceptional ability to track electronic communications around the world, might well have detected the maneuver and would have informed Clinton.
So, on top of Clinton’s well-known hawkishness, Putin would have risked handing the expected incoming president a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. Historically, Russia has been very circumspect in such situations, usually holding its intelligence collections for internal purposes only, not sharing them with the public.
While it is conceivable that Putin decided to take this extraordinary risk in this case – despite the widely held view that Clinton was a shoo-in to defeat Trump – an objective report would have examined this counter argument for him not doing so.
But the DNI report was not driven by a desire to be evenhanded; it is, in effect, a prosecutor’s brief, albeit one that lacks any real evidence that the accused is guilty.
Further undercutting the credibility of the DNI report is that it includes a seven-page appendix, dating from 2012, that is an argumentative attack on RT, the Russian government-backed television network, which is accused of portraying “the US electoral process as undemocratic.”
The proof for that accusation includes RT’s articles on “voting machine vulnerabilities” although virtually every major U.S. news organizations has run similar stories, including some during the last campaign on the feasibility of Russia hacking into the actual voting process, something that even U.S. intelligence says didn’t happen.
The reports adds that further undermining Americans’ faith in the U.S. democratic process, “RT broadcast, hosted and advertised third-party candidate debates.” Apparently, the DNI’s point is that showing Americans that there are choices beyond the two big parties is somehow seditious.
“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham,’” the report said. Yet, polls have shown that large numbers of Americans would prefer more choices than the usual two candidates and, indeed, most Western democracies have multiple parties, So, the implicit RT criticism of the U.S. political process is certainly not out of the ordinary.
The report also takes RT to task for covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reporting on the environmental dangers from “fracking,” topics cited as further proof that the Russian government was using RT to weaken U.S. public support for Washington’s policies (although, again, these are topics of genuine public interest).
Behind the Curtain
Though it’s impossible for an average U.S. citizen to know precisely what the U.S. intelligence community may have in its secret files, some former NSA officials who are familiar with the agency’s eavesdropping capabilities say Washington’s lack of certainty suggests that the NSA does not possess such evidence.
For instance, that’s the view of William Binney, who retired as NSA’s technical director of world military and geopolitical analysis and who created many of the collection systems still used by NSA. Binney, in an article co-written with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, said, “With respect to the alleged interference by Russia and WikiLeaks in the U.S. election, it is a major mystery why U.S. intelligence feels it must rely on ‘circumstantial evidence,’ when it has NSA’s vacuum cleaner sucking up hard evidence galore. What we know of NSA’s capabilities shows that the email disclosures were from leaking, not hacking.”
There is also the fact that both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have denied that the purloined emails came from the Russian government. Going further, Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.
In response, Clapper and other U.S. government officials have sought to disparage Assange’s credibility, including Clapper’s Senate testimony on Thursday gratuitously alluding to sexual assault allegations against Assange in Sweden.
However, Clapper’s own credibility is suspect in a more relevant way. In 2013, he gave false testimony to Congress regarding the extent of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans. Clapper’s deception was revealed only when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the NSA program to the press, causing Clapper to apologize for his “clearly erroneous” testimony.
A History of Politicization
The U.S. intelligence community’s handling of the Russian “hack” story also must be viewed in the historical context of the CIA’s “politicization” over the past several decades.
U.S. intelligence analysts, such as senior Russia expert Melvin A. Goodman, have described in detail both in books and in congressional testimony how the old tradition of objective CIA analysis was broken down in the 1980s.
At the time, the Reagan administration wanted to justify a massive arms buildup, so CIA Director William Casey and his pliant deputy, Robert Gates, oversaw the creation of inflammatory assessments on Soviet intentions and Moscow’s alleged role in international terrorism, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Besides representing “politicized” intelligence at its worst, these analyses became the bureaucratic battleground on which old-line analysts who still insisted on presenting the facts to the president whether he liked them or not were routed and replaced by a new generation of yes men.
The relevant point is that the U.S. intelligence community has never been repaired, in part because the yes men gave presidents of both parties what they wanted. Rather than challenging a president’s policies, this new generation mostly fashioned their reports to support those policies.
The bipartisan nature of this corruption is best illustrated by the role played by CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton but stayed on and helped President George W. Bush arrange his “slam dunk” case for convincing the American people that Iraq possessed caches of WMD, thus justifying Bush’s 2003 invasion.
There was the one notable case of intelligence analysts standing up to Bush in a 2007 assessment that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, but that was more an anomaly – resulting from the acute embarrassment over the Iraq WMD fiasco – than a change in pattern.
Presidents of both parties have learned that it makes their lives easier if the U.S. intelligence community is generating “intelligence” that supports what they want to do, rather than letting the facts get in the way.
The current case of the alleged Russian “hack” should be viewed in this context: President Obama considers Trump’s election a threat to his policies, both foreign and domestic. So, it’s only logical that Obama would want to weaken and discredit Trump before he takes office.
That doesn’t mean that the Russians are innocent, but it does justify a healthy dose of skepticism to the assessments by Obama’s senior intelligence officials."
"[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia” and “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears.”]"
Added: US teen hacked top US spy chief James Clapper and CIA boss John Brennan. Teen rerouted Clapper family phone number to Free Palestine Movement-BBC, Computer World, Jan. 2016:
1/13/2016, "Hacker hits US spy chief James Clapper's personal accounts," BBC
"The US director of national intelligence has had several of his personal online accounts hacked, his office has confirmed.
A spokesman said the matter had been "reported to the appropriate authorities", but declined to say more.
As director of national intelligence, James Clapper serves as a key adviser to the US president on security matters including cyberthreats.
It follows a similar cyber-attack on the CIA's director (Brennan) in October.
The Motherboard news site reported on Tuesday that it had been contacted by a young hacker who had claimed responsibility. Motherboard reported the teenager had said he was part of the same group - Crackas With Attitude (CWA) - behind the earlier breach.
The youth said he had broken into Mr Clapper's personal email, his Verizon phone and internet account settings and a Yahoo email account belonging to Mr Clapper's wife.
The BBC understands that Mr Clapper's office has only seen evidence that the hacker actually accessed Sue Clapper's email and the couple's family phone number.
It appears that the teenager altered the phone number's settings so that calls were rerouted to a spokesman for the Free Palestine Movement, a cause the CWA says it supports.
Motherboard said the hacker had also passed on what he claimed was a log of home calls Mr Clapper had recently made and received."...
Oct. 19, 2015, "CIA boss John Brennan's personal email 'hacked'," BBC
"(James) Clapper became DNI in 2010 and acts both as head of the 17-agency intelligence community and a lead adviser to President Barack Obama on intelligence issues." 1/27/2015
As of Jan. 2016, James "Clapper (Director of National Intelligence) had taken no steps to keep his phone number or home address hidden as both can reportedly be found via a simple Google search. That’s “insane” according to information security expert Michael Adams; he told Motherboard, “If I’m the Director of National Intelligence of the United States of America nobody is going to know where the [bleep] I live, nobody is going to have my [bleep] phone number or address.”" In 2015, "one of the CWA hackers originally dubbed a teenage stoner – took control of CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account."
Jan. 13, 2016, "Hackers took over Director of National Intelligence's phone and personal email," ComputerWorld.com, Darlene Storm
"If you were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and confused colleagues inquire as to why they keep reaching the wrong number when they try to call you, then it would have to be embarrassing to explain that hackers had taken over your Verizon My FiOS account and all your calls are being forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.
Social engineering is apparently no less effective for a group of hackers flying under the banner of Crackas With Attitude (CWA) than it has been in the past when Cracka – one of the CWA hackers originally dubbed a teenage stoner – took control of CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account.
This time, “Cracka” told Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that CWA had taken control of "a series of accounts connected to Clapper, including his home telephone and internet, his personal email, and his wife’s Yahoo email. While in control of Clapper’s Verizon FiOS account, Cracka claimed to have changed the settings so that every call to his house number would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.” CWA is aligned with the #FreePalestine movement.
Cracka claimed the group was “pretty sure” Clapper didn’t know he’d been hacked, but a spokesman for Clapper, Brian Hale, said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was “aware of the matter and reported it to the appropriate authorities.”"...
[Ed. note: Where are you finding "appropriate authorities" when the top US official on computer safety isn't an "authority"?]
(continuing): "After Cracka handed over Clapper’s home number to Motherboard and Franceschi-Bicchierai called it, Paul Larudee, the co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement, answered. Larudee confirmed that he had been getting calls by people trying to call Clapper.
Clapper had taken no steps to keep his phone number or home address hidden as both can reportedly be found via a simple Google search. That’s “insane” according to information security expert Michael Adams; he told Motherboard, “If I’m the Director of National Intelligence of the United States of America nobody is going to know where the [bleep] I live, nobody is going to have my [bleep] phone number or address.”
CWA also provided Motherboard with a phone number allegedly belonging to Clapper’s wife, screenshots of their Verizon FiOS account, her Yahoo account, and a list of call logs to Clapper’s home number, including Vonna Heaton, a former senior executive at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. She seemed shocked to receive a call from a journalist and politely ended the call.
Cracka, using a different Twitter account this time, taunted various agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, but that’s not surprising since most of the agencies are already on the long list of CWA’s enemies.
Besides previously targeting CIA Director John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines, and FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliana, CWA claimed to have gained access to the national Joint Automated Booking System (JABS), a database of arrest records, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the FBI's Virtual Command Center. After CWA dumped personal details of 2,400 government employees, the Internet Crime Complaint Center warned police and public officials of an increased risk of being the target of cyber-attacks and doxing." Image from Medill DC