Russia hacked the DNC emails

During the Presidential election campaign in 2016 thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee were leaked and subsequently published by Wikileaks. The content of the emails was highly damaging in that they suggested the DNC had colluded to prevent the nomination of Bernie Sanders, and showed the avaricious nature of the campaign. The Democrats quickly blamed the leak on “the Russians” which claim was supported by some in the US intelligence community. A hacking group or person “Guccifer 2.0” claimed responsibility for accessing the emails. Some in the US intelligence community and several private cyber security firms claimed that Guccifer 2.0 was linked to the Russian government. This was denied by Guccifer 2.0 and the Russian government.

Wikileaks stated that the person who supplied the emails had no links to the Russian government. A former British Ambassador and associate of Julian Assange, Craig Murray, stated that the leaker was a Democratic insider who had legal access to the information and was disgusted with corruption in Clinton’s campaign and the sabotage of Bernie Sanders. As discussed below, the US Intelligence community provided no actual evidence of Russian involvement, merely innuendo and assertion. This was, at best, highly unprofessional.

Russia hacked the Podest Emails

In March 2016 the Gmail account of John Podesta, then chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US presidential campaign, was accessed. 20,000 pages of emails were subsequently obtained and published by Wikileaks. Russian intelligence services were blamed. Wikileaks stated that the emails were not obtained from “a state actor”.

Russia colluded with Wikileaks

The Democrats have no love for Wikileaks. One Democrat staffer publicly called for Julian Assange to be assassinated because “dead men don’t leak stuff”. Wikileaks has a long history of publishing credible leaks from anonymous sources without fear or favour. In an unprecedented move Wikileaks publicly stated that they had no relationship with the Russian government. Wikileaks has since continued its commitment to an open society, and publicly attacked President Trump for his criticisms of the press. If the US Intelligence community had solid evidence of collusion they have had ample opportunity to make it publicly. As of early 2017 zero hard evidence has been made public.

Russia hacked the election

This is the claim that the election result is morally invalid because of Russian influence. Let’s examine this claim.  First, did Russian intelligence hack the electronic voting machines? No. The Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security  states that: The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.”

In January 2017 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which co-ordinates intelligence from the CIA, FBI and NSA, reported on their assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in the Recent US Elections.  The report represents the best efforts of an intelligence community worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This was the big moment when all the Russian hacking could be laid bare and any undue influence made clear. 3P Training has read the 15 page publicly available de-classified version line by line.

The report concluded, without disclosing evidence, that Russian hackers had “maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.” This gave them some insight into the tally count but no ability to actually enter votes. Significantly, it states: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” The Report makes numerous judgements and assessments stating that: “Judgements are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based in collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary”….(page 13).

The report in essence observes that the Russian government communicated a number of truths about Hillary Clinton, the US government, and the US electoral process to the American people, and expressed a clear preference for Trump over Hillary. While the report put this down to personal spite, the evident reason is Mrs Clinton’s stated intent to impose a ‘no fly zone’ over Syria which would have automatically brought Russia and the US into direct military conflict. This fact was consistently ignored by the mainstream Western media, but animated Russia’s information efforts. The report outlines attempts by RT (formerly Russia Today) to present a pro-Russian narrative to American audiences. It blames Russia, without evidence, for all the leaks to DC Leaks and to Wikileaks. It notes that none of the content on Wikileaks contains “evident forgeries” but insinuates bias. It provides no evidence at all that Russia influenced the US election in any improper way.[1]

To add further complexity the Vault 7 disclosures in early 2017 show that the CIA created hacking software that would leave a trace identical to a Russian hack. In other words, it was/is the intent of the CIA to illegally access the records of American citizens and their allies and blame the disclosure on the Russians. In that context, nothing the CIA says about Russian hacking can be taken at face value. The robustness of the US election process has been extensively debated elsewhere. Russian intelligence was clearly active in monitoring the progress of the election and its likely result, as one would expect them to. Russia clearly adopted a messaging strategy in an effort to push back on the ‘war with Russia’ policy as represented by Mrs Clinton. However, as of early 2017, there is no evidence of ‘Russian hacking’ in the sense if improper influence.

Absent from the report and most media discussion is:

  • The significance of the content of the leaks – what do they tell us?
  • Why the US population must rely on leaks to know the truth about a given candidate or about their campaign?
  • Why the most reliable source of ‘insider’ information is hiding in the embassy of a third world country in London if the US government and security establishment are committed to ‘freedom’ ‘liberty’ ‘transparency’ and ‘liberal democracy’?
  • Whether Russians ‘messaging’ is factually correct or relevant?
  • Why Russia’s foreign policy should be supported or opposed?
  • The existence, motivation and efficacy of Western ‘information operations’ directed against the Russian government?
  • The proper role of intelligence agencies in a liberal democracy?
  • The effectiveness and relevance of 16 intelligence agencies…

In that context 3P Training contends that much of the effort to ‘counter Russian propaganda’ is a massive exercise in non-thinking. It represents a co-ordinated attempt to narrow the field of intellectual inquiry and make any statement that does not fit within prescribed parameters a ‘thought crime.’ Perhaps it is this culture of non-thought that makes alternative media, including Russian media, attractive. Russia has simply joined with the alternative media in exploiting an intellectual vacuum.

So did those 15 million people who PropOrNot claim access Russian propaganda, sway the vote? The Russian government made their preferences in the election clear. So did the British and German governments. President Obama made his preference on Brexit clear even to the extent of flying to the UK and urging a vote in favour of remaining in the EU. Many Western leaders have made their views on President Putin clear. It’s how things are in the real world. Influence maybe; hacking not.

Russia influenced members of the Trump Administration

This claim made in an atmosphere of anti-Russian hysteria created in large part by the unsubstantiated allegations noted above, is the least substantiated of all. It consists entirely of the observation that a number of persons in the Trump administration had formal and informal, but public, interactions with Russian officials prior to the election of Donald Trump. This was also true of Democrat aligned officials. None of this has been shown to be illegal or improper. By this logic, one might equally say that the Trump administration has suborned Russian officials because they held informal discussion with them. It is non-sequitur.

Russia blackmailed Trump

A claim from anonymous sources alleged that Trump was being blackmailed by the Kremlin which included allegations of bizarre sexual behaviour. This is truly an extraordinary claim. No evidence at all has been provided in support of this claim by any person or organisation. Nevertheless, the unsubstantiated story from an anonymous source was picked up by the mainstream media, circulated and commented on. This is an exact copy of the tactic allegedly used by “the Russians” to create false news. That is, plant an unverified news story in a sympathetic publication, then watch it spread through the news media ecosystem. Despite all this smoke, there is, according to former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton supporter Michael Morell, no fire. In other words, there is inuendo and accusation but no actual evidence.

Russia creates ‘fake news’ to spread in the disinformation ecosystem

This is the allegation that Russian intelligence agencies run a major operation in various media to spread falsehoods on behalf of the Russian Government. These falsehoods are then picked-up, circulated and amplified by a compliant and intellectually lazy alternative media that is thus unwittingly controlled by the Russian government.

For its part Russia has made no secret of the fact that it has opened up an ‘information front’ within the West to put Russia’s version of events and counter blatant war mongering and Russiaphobia in the Western media. Putin is quite open about that and regularly seeks Western audiences, even pleading with Western Journalists to communicate Russia’s concerns.

As discussed in the InfoWar section, psychological operations are part of the Russian concept of war and influence. At issue is the claim that the whole English language alternative media is simply a vector for Russian propaganda. No credible evidence has been put in support of this claim. Some analysis tracks how Russian origin or pro-Russian articles are picked up and circulate in the alternative media. However, the mainstream media also circulate and copy stories including highly slanted stories or outright fabrications; it is simply how the media works. The real issue is whether or not the stories are correct and whether professional standards of journalism apply. Often, in both the MSM and the alternative media, they do not. However, the alternative media is much more likely to include detailed background commentary and analysis from subject matter experts on a given topic. See further below.

Russia uses troll farms to drown out other voices on social media and comments pages

Troll farms have been found linked to patriotic/far right parties in Europe. At least one American journalist, Samantha Bee, claims to have penetrated the Russian trolling effort.  More credible sources can be found in the foot notes to the relevant Wikipedia article. It appears that Russian propaganda/psychological warfare operations include the use of troll factories and standard ‘lines’, ‘talking points’ and media memes on topics of interest to the Russian government.

Russia funds a vast network of NGO’s which aim to destabilise the EU and support far right political parties

It would be natural for Russia to make common cause with parties and groups with similar values and objectives. At issue is the extent of that influence. Both the extent of Russian involvement and the extent of that influence appear highly overstated. It is important always to differentiate between capacity and intent. I may want to rule the world, but sadly….

Russia is engaging in a long term psychological warfare with the West

See ‘Russian Subversion’ lessons in the InfoWars section.

[1] An improper way would be through actual manipulation of voting results, bribery, or intimidation. A ‘proper way’ in international relations would be to warn of potential problems in future relations if a particular contestant wins or adopts a particular policy. This was done by Russia on multiple levels.