Even If A Terminally Dishonest CIA Says So, We Don't KNOW If Trump Is A Putin Puppet-- But We Do Know He's A Fascist
With the CIA's utter lack of credibility, how will anyone ever know for sure if Putin really did steal the election for el Presidente-elect Señor Trumpanzee? You already read the Washington Post piece that set off the firestorm Friday, right? My gut tells me it could be true and that it probably is, but is there proof that the public will ever see? Or are we supposed to believe professional liars at the intelligence agencies who have been making up stories since inception?
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.By Saturday morning Esquire ran a detailed analysis by King's College (London) professor Thomas Rid, How Russia Pulled Off The Biggest Election Hack In U.S. History. Putin, he implies may have been getting revenge on the U.S. for the hacking of Mossack Fonseca, the "Panama Papers," which, among other things, revealed the nature of the kleptocracy he heads. When asked, he said that the U.S. aim in surrepticiously releasing the hacked treasure trove of highly shady-- and criminal-- data was "to to spread distrust for the ruling authorities and the bodies of power within society." (Keep in mind as well, that many Russians feel-- there is no proof-- that the CIA somehow was complicit, through Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (and possibly Russian President Boris Yeltsin), in the dismantling of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.
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.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking. “I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
This sort of espionage was business as usual, a continuation of long-standing practice. And during the cold war, both the USSR and the United States subtly, and sometimes covertly, interfered with foreign elections. What changed over the past year, however-- what made the DNC hack feel new and terrifying-- was Russia's seeming determination to combine the two. For the first time, Russia used a hacking operation, one that collected and released massive quantities of stolen information, to meddle in an American presidential election. The inspiration and template for this new attack was a poisonous cocktail of fact and fabrication that the Russians call kompromat, for "compromising material."Do you feel you know anything now? Knowing is different from suspecting or even believing. But as Michael Kinsley asserted in the Washington Post over the weekend, one thing that we do know is that Donald Trump is a fascist. And he meant it very precisely and "clinically" as a descriptor for el Presidente-elect. "Now that we’ve seen a bit of him in action," he wrote, "it seems that Trump actually does have a recognizable agenda that explains how he simultaneously can pander to big business generally while 'strong-arming' an air conditioning manufacturer to save a few hundred jobs for a while. Or how he can make nice with the authoritarian Vladimir Putin while making bellicose foreign policy noises in general. Or how he can blithely upset with a phone call the absurdly delicate balance of our relations with China and Taiwan. All this seemingly erratic behavior can be explained-- if not justified-- by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world. He spent his previous career negotiating with the government on behalf of corporations; now he has switched teams. But it’s the same game. The game has several names: 'Corporate statism' is one. In Europe, they call it “dirigisme.” Those two other words for it-- 'Nazism' and 'fascism'-- are now beyond all respectability. It means, roughly, combining the power of the state with the power of corporations. At its mildest, it is intrusive regulations on business about parental leave and such. At its most toxic, it is concentration camps. In the 1930s, a few Americans (including a few liberals) bought into it. Pearl Harbor ended that argument. Even for Trump, 'fascism' itself now is a dirty word, not just a policy choice. Even Trump would not use it-- least of all about himself."
Kompromat had been deployed by the Soviet Union since at least the 1950's, but in 1999 the Kremlin gave the tactic a high-tech update. With parliamentary elections fast approaching, and with post-USSR corruption at a peak, the government of president Boris Yeltsin used anonymous websites to sling mud at opposition candidates. One notorious kompromat repository was run specifically to slander the mayor of Moscow, a rising star in the opposition with his eyes on the presidency. In 2009, a senior British diplomat working in Russia was forced to resign after the appearance online of a four-minute video that showed him having sex with two blond women in a brothel.
One of the first American targets of kompromat was Victoria Nuland, who served as the top U.S. diplomat for Europe during Obama's second term. In February 2014, at the peak of the crisis in Ukraine, Nuland was surreptitiously recorded while speaking on the phone with the U. S. ambassador to Kiev. Frustrated with Europe's lackluster response to the Ukrainian crisis, Nuland said, "Fuck the EU." Shortly after, an aide to the Russian deputy prime minister tweeted a link to a recording of the intercepted phone call. The State Department called the leak "a new low in Russian tradecraft."
The Nuland leak prompted a minor diplomatic hiccup between the European Union and the United States. But the kompromat campaign of the past year appears to be aimed at much bigger game: the American electoral system. According to Reuters, the FBI first contacted the DNC in the fall of 2015, obliquely warning the Democrats to examine their network. It wasn't until May, however, that the DNC asked for help from a cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike, which had experience identifying digital espionage operations by nation-states. CrowdStrike immediately discovered two sophisticated groups of spies that were stealing documents from the Democrats by the thousands.
CrowdStrike was soon able to reconstruct the hacks and identify the hackers. One of the groups, known to the firm as Cozy Bear, had been rummaging around the DNC since the previous summer. The other, known as Fancy Bear, had broken in not long before Putin's appearance at the St. Petersburg forum. Surprisingly, given that security researchers had long suspected that both groups were directed by the Russian government, each of the attackers seemed unaware of what the other was doing.
Meanwhile a mysterious website named DC Leaks was registered on April 19. In early June, a Twitter account associated with the site started linking to the private conversations of Philip Breedlove, who had been, until a few weeks earlier, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. DC Leaks was well designed, but nobody seems to have noticed it until early July.
On June 14, less than an hour after the Washington Post reported the breach at the DNC, Crowdstrike posted a report that detailed the methods used by the intruders. The firm also did something unusual: It named the Russian spy agencies it believed responsible for the hack. Fancy Bear, the firm said, worked in a way that suggested affiliation with the GRU. Cozy Bear was linked to the FSB.
The day after the Post story broke appeared that claimed to belong to a hacker who identified himself as Guccifer 2.0. (Guccifer was the nickname of a Romanian hacker who, among other things, broke into the email account of George W. Bush's sister.) The operators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, dismissed CrowdStrike's attribution, insisting instead that the DNC had been "hacked by a lone hacker." As proof, Guccifer published eleven documents from the DNC, including an opposition-research file on Donald Trump and a list of major Democratic donors. In the weeks that followed, Guccifer offered interviews and batches of documents to several journalists, but he wrote that "the main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks."
Ultimately, more than two thousand confidential files from the DNC found their way to the public. Throughout the campaign, Guccifer maintained that he was the only person behind the hacking and leaking. "This is my personal project and I'm proud of it," he-- or they-- wrote in late June. But several sloppy mistakes soon revealed who was really behind the operation. The unraveling happened more quickly than anybody could have anticipated.
... On July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Wikileaks published the largest trove of files to date, which included nearly twenty thousand hacked emails. Press coverage of the release quickly centered on emails that suggested a bias among some DNC staffers in favor of Hillary Clinton. The leaked emails lent credence to a suspicion held by some Democrats that the party establishment had never intended to give Bernie Sanders, Clinton's opponent in the primaries, a fair shake. Protesters in Philadelphia held up signs that read election fraud and dnc leaks shame. One day before the convention, the Russian kompromat campaign took its first trophy: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, resigned from the organization.
The episode shocked the Democratic establishment, not least because of what it augured for the future. As Clinton's lead in the polls widened after the convention, commentators began to speculate that a damaging leak late in the campaign might be the only chance for Donald Trump to win the election. Fears of a Russia-sponsored October surprise grew as it became clearer that the subversion effort was improving. When files appeared, they were now scrubbed of the sort of distinguishing metadata that had allowed analysts to trace the leak back to Russian intelligence.
The operators behind Guccifer and DC Leaks also appear to have recognized that American journalists were desperate for scoops, no matter their source. The Russians began to act like a PR agency, providing access to reporters at Politico, The Intercept, and BuzzFeed. Journalists were eager to help. On August 27, when part of the DC Leaks website was down for some reason, Twitter suspended the @DCLeaks account. The Daily Caller, a conservative news website, posted a story about the events, drawing an outcry from Trump supporters. Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business anchor, sneered that "leftist fascism" was throttling the last best hope for a Trump victory. Twitter soon reinstated @DCLeaks.
The most effective outlet by far, however, was WikiLeaks. Russian intelligence likely began feeding hacked documents to Julian Assange's "whistleblower" site in June 2015, after breaching Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry. A group called WikiSaudiLeaks, probably a Guccifer-like front for Fancy Bear, claimed that "WikiLeaks have been given access to some part of these documents." The so-called Saudi Cables showed princes buying influence and monitoring dissidents. They became a major news story, proving that the old methods worked even better in the twenty-first century.
...In mid-August, when Guccifer and DC Leaks were making near-daily news, a third mysterious social-media account popped up out of nowhere. A group calling itself the Shadow Brokers announced that it had published "cyberweapons" that belonged to the NSA on file-sharing sites such as Github. The group said that it would soon hold an auction to sell off a second cache of tools. After a security researcher posted a link to a repository of the supposed NSA software, analysts flocked to the dump. Security researchers quickly discovered that the tools, a collection of malware designed to steal data from their targets, were the real thing. Crucially, The Intercept, a media outlet with access to the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden, found a sixteen-character string ("ace02468bdf13579") in the Shadow Brokers' tools that was referenced in a top-secret, and previously unpublished, NSA manual. The connection proved the provenance of the Shadow Brokers' find.
Robbing the NSA, of course, is not easy. The agency's elite hacking unit, called Tailored Access Operations, has an internal network known as the "high side" that is physically segregated from the Internet (the "low side"). Data diodes, devices that allow data to flow one way only, like water from a faucet, make it nearly impossible to hack high-side computers from the low side. When TAO hackers want to attack an adversary, they move their tools from the high side to a server on the low side, navigate through a series of addresses that make their tracks difficult to trace, and install malware on their target. To steal the NSA's malware, the Shadow Brokers had to compromise a low-side machine that the TAO was using to hack its targets. The Shadow Brokers likely got lucky: Some analysts believe that an NSA operator mistakenly uploaded a whole set of tools to a staging computer the hackers were already watching. The alternative theory: an old-fashioned mole passed on the tools.
After going to all that trouble, why publish the results? A possible answer is suggested by a surprising discovery made by the U. S. intelligence community around the time Putin was addressing the journalists in St. Petersburg. American investigators had long known that the Russians were doing more than spear-phishing, but sometime around April they learned that the intruders were using commercial cloud services to "exfiltrate" data out of American corporations and political targets. Cozy Bear, the hacking group believed to be affiliated with the FSB, used some two hundred Microsoft OneDrive accounts to send data from its victims back to Moscow.
Using cloud services such as OneDrive was a cleaver but risky move-- it was a little like taking the bus to make off with stolen goods from a burglary. Though the widespread use of the services by legitimate users offered a degree of cover for the hackers, data provided by Microsoft also helped America's elite digital spies identify the DNC intruders "with confidence" as Russian. It is even possible that the U. S. government has been able to identify the names and personal details of individual operators. The Russians knew they'd been caught. On July 30, an FSB press release announced that twenty government and defense organizations had been hit by high-powered spying tools.
Some intelligence analysts believe that the Shadow Brokers' publication of the NSA spy kit was a message from one group of professionals to another. "You see us?" the Russians seemed to be saying, perhaps in reference to ongoing U. S. efforts to investigate the DNC breach. "Fine, but we see you, too." Similarly, the announcement of an auction—all but certainly phony—was probably intended as a warning that the hackers were prepared to publish a key that would unlock an encrypted container holding a second batch of stolen tools. Like a severed ear in an envelope, the announcement told the Americans: Don't mess with us.
Meanwhile, the kompromat campaign proceeded apace. August and September each saw six data dumps, including files from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had also been hacked. In October, as the presidential election drew near, Guccifer published a massive cache, more than twenty-one hundred files. Three days later, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails stolen from John Podesta's account.
On the day WikiLeaks published the first batch of Podesta's emails, the U.S. government took the unprecedented step of announcing that it was "confident" Russia's "seniormost officials" had authorized the DNC hacks. So far U. S. investigators have not said publicly who was responsible for the Podesta hack, but the data harvested by SecureWorks makes it clear that Fancy Bear broke into the Clinton chairman's account as early as late March. The CIA briefed Trump about the origin of the kompromat, but he continued to cite the material, telling a Pennsylvania crowd, "I love WikiLeaks!"
On October 12, Putin appeared at another forum, this time with more than five hundred guests in Moscow. Sitting comfortably in front of a giant banner that said russia calling! he answered an audience question about the hacks. "Everyone is talking about who did it," Putin said. "Is it so important?" The former KGB officer, proving his full command of U. S. political intrigue, suggested that the Democrats had "supported one intraparty candidate at the expense of the other." Any talk of the hacks being in Russia's interest, he said, was "hysteria" intended to distract Americans from what the hackers discovered: "the manipulation of public opinion." When the audience applauded, a smirk returned to Putin's face. "I think I answered your question," he said.