Did Russia Really Hack The Democrats?

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss takes a hard look at the evidence, widely accepted by the US and European media, that Russia hacked the Democratic party’s computer archives and finds that not even the US government is making that claim.

Despite media assertions Russia is behind DNC hack, US government does not say so

US Politics

on August 21, 2016

It is now an accomplished fact in the mainstream media that the Russian government perpetrated the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails that Wikileaks dropped in July to such fanfare ahead of the Democratic Convention.

Politico reflects this conventional wisdom:

Hackers linked to Russian intelligence services may have targeted some prominent Republican lawmakers, in addition to their well-publicized spying on Democrats

The Washington Post also says, the hack is “widely thought by U.S. intelligence officials to be the work of the Russian government.”

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said that was the gospel truth on MSNBC’s Hardball Friday night: 

Chris Matthews: Do we know that the Russian intelligence forces hacked into DNC emails and dumped them on us?

McFaul: Yes. You know, Government officials have said as much on background. A public– a private firm has investigated it. I have talked to very senior officials at the

White House about it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they have done that. And let’s remember Chris, that is their job. It’s called spying, it’s called intelligence.

Then covering his ass, McFaul said, “Let’s be precise about what we know and we don’t. Wikileaks dumped [the emails]…The part we don’t know precisely is did the Russians give it to Wikileaks, and I don’t think we’re ever going to know that.”

So gosh, we do know or we don’t know?

This story is glaring because despite all the certainty expressed in the mainstream media, the sources are all unnamed, and there’s a complete absence of hard evidence offered.

Also: the US government does not say what these experts are saying.

Secretary of state John Kerry gave the party line in Laos, July 26, the FBI is investigating:

Okay. Well, with respect to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I did raise the issue of the DNC. And as you know, the FBI is investigating the incident and it’s important for the FBI to do its work. And before we draw any conclusions in terms of what happened or who is behind it it’s very important that whatever public information is put out is based on fact.

So I raised the question and we will continue to work to see precisely what those facts are. And the FBI has responsibility for this investigation and we’ll let them speak as they proceed forward gathering those facts.

State’s John Kirby later specifically addressed the media claims:

Q. one of the major media outlet – the U.S. media – has said – quoted intelligence official that they believe that it’s Russia.  So will you be able to confirm or deny if you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY:  No.  As I said, this is a matter that the FBI is investigating, and I’m not going to get ahead of the work that investigators have to do.  And so I think that’s where we absolutely need to leave it.

The Russians have repeatedly denied responsibility for the hack (Sergei Lavrov dismissed the assertion out of hand). Meantime, the Clinton campaign has said that Russia did the hacks.

When a reporter asked deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz what the government knows, he was very careful. The Russians have done this kind of thing, but we don’t know who did this one. And: “There’s a host of usual suspects out there.”

 Russian officials said today that basically — that the accusations that they were involved in the hacking of the DNC or the DCC are basically just a cover or a way to distract from the fact that there’s actually been domestic tampering with the campaign, and basically accusing, I guess, the U.S. of trying to use them as a scapegoat.  I was wondering, did you have any response to that?  And then also, if the Russians or if a state actor is involved in these hacks — I know you kind of dealt with this before — but what is the administration considering as a way to respond?  What is the appropriate response to these types of hacks if they’re being carried out by other state actors?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Ayesha, I’ll address a couple points there.  First, the FBI is still investigating this matter, so it’s important that I not get ahead of that investigation.  So we’re going to wait for that investigation to conclude.  They will also make a determination if it’s appropriate to publicly implicate the culprit.  That’s a decision that will be made by the FBI and our national security officials to determine if that’s in the U.S.’s best interest, to make that public declaration.

I would refer you to the Director of National Intelligence  — James Clapper actually spoke to this late last week.  He said that there’s “a host of usual suspects out there that engage in this sort of activity.”  But the FBI is still investigating, and if there’s a point where they determine who was responsible for this attack and that it’s in the United States’ best interest to make that conclusion public, that they’ll be the first to do so.

So I don’t have any updates on the investigation for you.  We do know — and the President has spoken to this — that Russia has a record of engaging in this activity.

To be clear, I have no idea who did the hacks. What I find concerning is that the media go around saying Russia did it without a lot of backup for the assertion. Again, here is Michael McFaul on MSNBC a month ago.

Let’s be clear what we know and what we have to guess about. I think Everybody agrees that it were Russian organizations tied to the Russian government that hacked the DNC. There’s no debate about that.

Many commenters are reflecting the New York Times story on the matter in July: “Spy Agency Consensus Grows That Russia Hacked D.N.C.” David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported that high US intelligence officials believe Russia was behind the hack. Unnamed sources, and belief:

American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.

When it came to actual names, The Times offered one, this essay at the Lawfare blog by a former NSA lawyer, Susan Hennessey, concluding, “Paired with the technical indicators, the sum total of evidence is about as close to a smoking gun as can be expected where a sophisticated nation state [Russia] is involved.”

But a lot of Hennessey’s evidence was conjectural. Like:

There are well-documented connections between Wikileaks—the chosen vehicle for the leak release—its founder Julian Assange, and the Russian state apparatus.

Or the fact that DNI director James Clapper said in May that foreign governments were targeting the campaigns.

And some of her recommendations had an argumentative cast: “The US government is uniquely positioned to make the case for Russian attribution.” Again, what are we dealing with, a claim or a proof?

As the New York Times did– and McFaul and Politico too– Hennessey cited the assertion in June by Dmitri Alperovitch of a private outfit called Crowdstrike “specifically naming Russian state actors as behind the DNC hack.”

Without assessing his ideology or background, it is obvious that Alperovitch is an entrepreneur. At his site, he describes himself as “a renowned computer security researcher and thought leader on cybersecurity policies and state tradecraft.”

And BTW, Lawfare has Israel lobby bona fides: it is edited by Benjamin Wittes, who happily sells the Israeli Defense Forces attack on Gaza two years ago as one that took supreme care to protect civilian life (though to her credit, Hennessey has called the civilian casualties in that slaughter “outrageous”).

I’m not going to get to the bottom of this. What is clear is that there is a lot of establishment consensus on this story: Clintonites want a new cold war, against Iran’s good friend. And D.C. security types who are auditioning for jobs know the tune. Even though the head of national intelligence has said, “There’s a host of usual suspects out there that engage in this sort of activity.”

This is a transparent case of leading public figures talking out of their hats when they don’t really have the goods but want to believe something. Leftwingers and outsiders could never get away with anything like this claim. Then the highest epistemological responsible Gradgrindian standards of fact and knowledge would be brought to bear. This story just shows, there’s a sliding scale for truth when access and position are at stake.

Thanks to an anonymous friend for pointing me to the substance of this post

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