Russian Hacking Report: All Hat, No Cattle

English: Colin Powell's UN presentation slide ...
English: Colin Powell’s UN presentation slide showing alleged mobile production facility for biological weapons. (Subequently shown to be an incorrect allegation.) Speech entitled: Remarks to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary Colin L. Powell, February 5, 2003 Slide entitled: detail of where material is carried in mobile production facilities for bio weapons work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In early 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell took the stage at the UN “to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” Powell justified the impending US invasion of Iraq on the claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime continued to produce and stockpile chemical and biological weapons in violation of UN resolutions. He dazzled his audience with audio recordings and surveillance photographs that he claimed constituted evidence of Iraq’s perfidy.

Two years later Powell called the presentation a “blot” on his record, admitting that he had deceived the UN. The “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t exist. All the Saddam-era chemical weapons recovered in Iraq since 2003 are of pre-1991 manufacture with no evidence linking them to the regime since the 1991 war.

How long can we expect to wait for the National  Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center to admit that its report,  “GRIZZLY STEPPE — Russian Malicious Cyber Activity” — pre- hyped as providing “evidence” of Russian government interference in the 2016 US presidential election — is a reprise of Powell’s UN speech?

Marcello Truzzi, a skeptic of paranormal claims, once said “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.”

The claim of Russian interference in the election is certainly extraordinary (“beyond what is ordinary or usual; highly unusual or exceptional or remarkable”). So is US president Barack Obama‘s response, including the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and closure of two diplomatic compounds in the US.

The “evidence” in the report, however, is not extraordinary. It’s not even ordinary. It’s non-existent. The report is just a list of cyber warfare methods accompanied by some pretty diagrams. No IP or MAC addresses. No chain of verifiable records showing suspect packets coming from, or going to, Russian machines. The  report’s “evidence” for Russian government involvement is the same “evidence” we’ve been offered before: “It’s so because we say it’s so. Trust us.”

Did the Russians conduct cyber attacks for the purpose of influencing the election’s outcome? It wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t know. You probably don’t know either. The US government continues to state it as fact while declining to prove it.

It seems silly to go to these lengths for no higher purpose than to shift blame away from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton for their poor nomination decision-making and her mediocre campaign. And dangerous to do so at the risk of further queering  already tense US relations with a nuclear power.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Obama’s Christmas Gift to Trump: A Ministry of Truth

The "Lenin" train of literature and ...
The “Lenin” train of literature and propaganda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Friday before Christmas — the kind of time politicians pick to do things they hope you won’t notice — US president Barack Obama signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Along with the usual terrible, horrible, very bad, no good NDAA stuff (all the little mandates involved in continuing to operate the most irresponsibly bloated and expensive military machine on the planet), this NDAA included an ugly little Christmas gift for incoming president Donald Trump: The Countering Foreign Disinformation and Propaganda Act.

The CFDAPA (yes, I’m going to give that mouthful an acronym) started out as a separate piece of “bipartisan” legislation  introduced by US Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) Chris Murphy (D-CT). It got rolled into the NDAA for the same reason Obama signed it on the Friday before a holiday weekend. That is, to minimize public attention and mute criticism.

Some of the more overheated responses to the CFDAPA paint it as a scheme allowing the federal government to “outlaw” media outlets that don’t toe the government’s line: Just wave a magic wand, declare an impertinent blog to be “foreign disinformation and propaganda,” shut the blog down, and maybe drag the blogger off to Gitmo for a long chat.

No, it’s not quite that, at least in theory, but the prospect shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. And in some ways it’s actually worse.

Even given the regrettable decline in Americans’ vigilance against threats to our rights over the last few decades, straightforward, openly admitted political censorship would provoke widespread and likely effective resistance.

Instead, the CFDAPA sets aside $160 million over two years to, among other things, “support local independent media to refute foreign disinformation and manipulation in their communities.” That is, to bribe local media to publish Washington’s disinformation and propaganda instead of disinformation and propaganda from foreign sources. Not an entirely new project — the Office of National Drug Control Policy has been paying Hollywood to lie to us about marijuana for decades now.

The CFDAPA’s purpose is to set the federal government up as the plenary arbiter of truth and to marginalize any and all narratives that don’t accord with whatever line gets pushed out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in drag.

Overt censorship might not be far behind.  Facebook and Twitter are already cooperating with the US government in “countering Islamic State Disinformation and Propaganda.” And  remember that only a only a year ago, Donald Trump publicly called for “closing” parts of the Internet used for recruitment by the Islamic State.  CFDAPA isn’t just bad on its own merits — it’s also tailor-made for abusive expansion by an unbridled chief executive.

Repeal of this abomination should be 2017’s policy priority number one for freedom-loving Americans.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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About That Foreign Meddling in US Presidential Elections …

 

English: Russian president Vladimir Putin with...
English: Russian president Vladimir Putin with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish Community Centre in Moscow. Français : Président russe Vladimir Poutine avec l’ancien premier ministre israélien Benyamin Netanyahou, au Centre Communautaire Juif en Moscou. Русский: МОСКВА. С бывшим Премьер-министром Израиля Биньямином Нетаньяху в Еврейском общинном центре. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we had an election and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won it. If I had all the ink that’s been spilled on why and how Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I’d be an ink tycoon. Much of what passes for analysis focuses on alleged “foreign meddling” in the election. There certainly was some of that. There always is.  But some meddlers get more attention than others.

Mainstream anti-Trump opinion leaders claim that the Russian government, at the direction of president Vladimir Putin, intervened to affect the outcome. Through various means, including but not limited to cyber attacks on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, they believe — although the belief remains unsupported by any publicly revealed evidence — that the Russians illicitly put a thumb on the scale, advantage Trump.

I don’t doubt that Putin preferred Trump to Clinton, or that he acted in furtherance of that preference. Whether or not he went to the lengths asserted is a different question. The fervid denunciations of pols and pundits seem geared more toward stirring up a new Red Scare than toward shedding real light on the subject. They smack of excuse-making and  a desire to incite hysteria.

But while we’re talking about foreign meddling in US elections … what about Israel?

Every four years, American presidential aspirants prostrate themselves before the Israeli lobby. They visit Israel. They refer to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “my good friend.” They compete to see who can most convincingly thump a lectern and proclaim the strongest “commitment” to funding and defending a foreign state and its ruling political party (Likud) at the expense of US taxpayers.

There’s a reason for that. Israel and supporters of a “hard line” (versus Iran, versus the Palestinian Arabs, etc.) Israeli regime put a lot of work and a lot of money into propagandizing for — and in effect buying — the most supportive US government they can get. This year one Israel-focused donor alone — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — spent $25 million boosting Trump’s campaign and another $40 million helping congressional Republican candidates.

There’s little doubt that US policy toward Israel is Adelson’s primary motivator. He’s married to an Israeli, owns a pro-Likud newspaper in the country, spends big money helping Likud hold on to power there, and puts on a quadrennial party in the US to see which presidential candidates can most convincingly kowtow to Netanyahu’s every whim.

Any presidential candidate who spoke of and acted toward Vladimir Putin and Russia the way most of them speak of and act toward Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel would be treated presumptively a sinister agent of a foreign power. Not, to my mind, without justification.

Clinton’s margin of defeat was almost certainly far smaller than the number of American voters captivated by pro-Israel propaganda and brought out by pro-Israel campaign spending. Where’s the outrage at this clear-cut and ongoing meddling in US presidential elections by — or at the very least on behalf of — Israel?

Apparently some meddlers are more equal than others.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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