Friday, December 16, 2016

Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice, or Three Times or . . .

Do you remember this saying which George W. Bush once mangled? It came to my mind when hearing the CIA claim that with "high confidence" they can attribute the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's computers to the Russian government.  President Obama went even further with his claim this week that the CIA have evidence that President Putin ordered the hack, expressly with the aim of helping Donald Trump to win the election.

How could he know that?   No evidence was forthcoming.  We are expected to trust the government and the intelligence service. Perhaps no evidence was presented because the CIA had learned its lesson, from when it provided bogus evidence for Colin Powell to present at the UN Security Council meeting before the invasion of Iraq.  Do you remember the mobile chemical weapons labs (pictures presented) which Saddam was supposed to possess?  And all of the other claims made by the CIA and the Bush Administration.

Of course it could be true that Russia was behind the hacks; even that Putin personally ordered them.  But why should we take such claims seriously when the CIA presents no evidence and at the same time has such a hopeless record of lying and disinformation?  And then there is the issue of the CIA illegally hacking into the computers of the US Senate Committee on Torture.  Perhaps because the CIA illegally hacks computers, they assume that their rivals in Russia do the same thing?  There is little doubt in my mind that the Russians actually do hack computers (that's what spy agencies do), but I do wonder whether they actually hacked the DNC computers.

While there are bold assertions about the Russian guilt, there is also some pretty good arguments against it.  There is a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which as its name indicates comprises veteran intelligence agents and analysts from the CIA, NSA and the US intelligence services.   The Russian spying claim is examined in a recent article

signed by six members of the steering group of this 

They state "it is child’s play to dismiss" the claims of hacking. They first distinguish between a "hack" and a "leak".  The former is when an outsider illegally gains access to a computer and either uploads or downloads data or otherwise interferes with it.  A "leak" on the other hand is  when someone physically accesses a  computer and downloads data from it - usually nowadays onto a thumb drive.  This is what Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did when stealing NSA and Pentagon data. 

The Intelligence Veterans say that the DNC revelations almost certainly derived from a leak.  A leak leaves no trace.  A hack on the other hand will leave a trail.  The NSA has a record of all the packets of information that enter and leave the US (and no doubt pretty much everywhere in the world.)  If a hack was involved the NSA would know "both the sender and recipient".  They state with respect to the allegations of Russian involvement:
"The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network . . . . The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods."

It is interesting that the NSA has not commented, especially since as the Veterans say "the reality is that CIA is almost totally dependent on NSA for ground truth in the communications arena."

There are other suggestions, as well,  that it was a leak and not a hack.  Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks which published the leaks, has said the leaks did not come from Russia.  But given his current problems with the US Government his testimony may not necessarily be reliable.  But also Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange  has dismissed the CIA's claims that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election as "bullshit".  

Murray was dismissed from his ambassadorial position in 2004 after he objected too strenuously about the British Government's using intelligence obtained under torture carried out by the Uzbeki authorities.  He was subsequently slimed by the Foreign Office.  Since then he has been an outspoken critic of government lying and disinformation.  He was Rector of University of Dundee (2007-2010) and in 2005 he received the Sam Adams Award which is given to  "an intelligence professional who has taken a stand for integrity and ethics".

About the DNC leaks Murray is quoted (Belfast Telegraph) as saying:
"I know who leaked them. I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things. If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.  America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

So there is a pretty good case that it wasn't a Russian hack.  Unless the US Government can provide some evidence, given the known mendaciousness of the CIA (and US Government), the case that it was a hack carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin looks pretty thin. My own personal guess (nothing more) is that the e-mails were leaked by a Democratic party insider who was upset at the way the party establishment had conspired against the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and felt that the public should know.

An intersting question remains.  Why should there be such a furore about it all now?  The leaks probably didn't have that great an effect on the outcome of the election.  In my mind the improper statements by James Comey of the FBI were likely to have had a greater effect.  It is not normal for a police agency to release information on any ongoing investigation.  To do so in the case of a candidate for president, a couple of weeks before the election, seems to me a gross abuse of power.  But nobody is raising a fuss about this breach.  

I suspect there are a number of reasons behind the allegations of Russian involvement.  The Democrats, including President Obama, didn't like the fact that they were beaten, and like many Americans they are probably horrified by what may happen under a Trump presidency.  So anything to discredit Trump's victory they see as to their benefit.  There may be some who are holding out a slim hope that the Electoral College may vote against Trump, if he can be painted as a stooge of a foreign power.  But I imagine that is a very, very slim hope.  

And then there is the effect that this campaign may have on future relations with Russia.  Under the presidencies of Bush and Obama relations with Russia have steadily deteriorated.  Russia has outmanoeuvred the US in Syria.  And furthermore Donald Trump doesn't share the same view of Russia as is held by the current administration and other power brokers in Washington.  Under Trump there is every possibility of there being a comfortable modus vivendi with Russia, and no expansion of NATO, no bigger budgets for the CIA, Pentagon etc.  If this can be stopped by simultaneously blacking Russia and Donald Trump then, in the view of many, so much the better. 

But I suspect it will backfire.  It already seems that there is a serious rift between the CIA and Donald Trump.  Who knows what he might do when he takes office.  He is a man known to be keen on taking revenge on those who have gone against him.  So watch out for some fireworks to come.

I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Trump assassinated, perhaps not right away, but after he has done a few outrageous things.  I imagine there are people now weighing up the pros and cons of impeachment vs. assassination.  In either case Mike Pence would become president - somebody no doubt far more acceptable to most of the Republican party, and to the intelligence services and other players.  But how would Trump's supporters react in each case?  After an impeachment there would no doubt be a huge uprising of anger against the Republican party, from erstwhile Trump supporters.  After an assassination?  Who knows?  It probably depends on whom the blame can be pinned.

Interesting times indeed!

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