Disinformation of Disinformation: The Russian caper

russia gate

The public demands the truth and is willing to accept dishonest exaggerations.

Despite its polarizing effect, which has disturbed the political process and crippled relations between the major political Parties, the story of Russian Interference in the 2016 United States (US) presidential election has no end in discussion and no room for contradiction in the United States. It has achieved a life of its own, and grown to becoming a convenient method for rationalizing the Democratic defeat, for proving Democratic credentials, and for bashing Russia. Absurd exaggerations attached to the Russian caper demonstrate what has become wrong in America; agendas are determining facts rather than facts determining agendas. Let the country be torn apart, let relations between nations deteriorate, just score points and lose the game.

Hillary Clinton criticized the Conservative leader, Boris Johnson, declaring it “shameful” that the British Prime Minister decided not to publish a parliamentary report on Russian meddling in UK politics until after the parliamentary election. Her remark, followed by British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s statement, “There’s absolutely no evidence that I’ve ever seen of any Russian interference in UK democratic processes,” and her later statement to The Guardian, “Someone said to me, ‘Quit with the Russians.’ I said, ‘I’ll quit with the Russians when the Russians quit with us.’ That’s how I feel,” expose the true nature or the situation. An American, Ms. Clinton, casually interferes in British politics, accuses the British Prime Minister of mishandling “evidence,” and refuses to accept his findings. Debate on the accepted Russian interference is not accepted and silenced with derision and scorn. “Remember Russian Interference in the 2016 election” has replaced “Remember the Alamo.”

In a nation of an open society, which prides and advertises itself as the bastion of democracy, it is expected that citizens would be agreeable to learning that Russian interference in the 2016 election is grossly exaggerated; best characterized as a hysteria that conveniently fits misinterpretations and exaggerations into a warped agenda, Democrats constantly utilize the charges to full advantage, and Republicans demonstrate their impotence by an inability to counter the charges. Read the reports, and not tealeaves, and three conclusions are obvious.

(1) Russians electioneered but did not actually interfere in the 2016 election.

(2) No reliable evidence implicates the Russian Government in election interference, and

(3) The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the culprit that interfered in the Democratic process.

The mostly quoted proof of Russian interference in the 2106 presidential election contains seven accepted elements:

  1. Seventeen United States (US) intelligence agencies certified the Russian interference.
  2. The Mueller report described the Russian government interference.
  3. Employees of the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) have been indicted.
  4. Eleven Russian intelligence personnel have been indicted.
  5. The Russian government engaged in a massive interference operation.
  6. The Russian government attempted to undermine faith in the US democratic process.
  7. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the operation.

Examination of each of these elements shows that conclusions were derived from faulty interpretations, suppositions, exaggerations, prejudices, mischaracterizations and opinions, and not by substantiated evidence.

Seventeen United States (US) intelligence agencies certified the Russian interference.
Acceptance of the charges came from the belief that 17 US intelligence agencies reached a definite conclusion that Russia interfered in the US election. Not one US intelligence agency researched the supposed interference. Former Director of National Intelligence chief, James Clapper, revealed this in his testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8, 2018, and exposed one face of the hysteria. Although headlines and Hillary Clinton statements featured “Seventeen intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacking,” Clapper testified that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community.” There was no specific intelligence agency involved. A few analysts from various agencies made an assessment, which is far from being definite proof, and 17 intelligence agencies accepted the assessment without adding any of their own intelligence.

The Mueller report described the Russian government interference.
None of the individuals indicted for interfering in the election are Russian government officials. Employees of Internet Research Agency (IRA), a public relations company, were indicted, but no Russian officials were cited in the indictment of election interference. Soviet intelligence officers were indicted for illegal phishing and cyber-attacks, “with intention to interfere,” and not directly for election interference. By the way, an indictment is only a predictor of a trial; it is not a conviction. Although it is possible the Russian government surreptitiously funded or assisted the IRA, no link has been established. Effort to provide a link is done in the usual manner; IRA owner, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” (by whom?) because he caters state dinners with foreign dignitaries (as do others) and provides meals for Russian schools and the military (as do others) is cited in the indictment. By inference, where any Russian committing a crime is considered a close associate of President Putin, and any Russian who is victim of a crime is considered a known enemy of President Putin, the link is carefully placed in the public’s psyche.

Eleven Russian intelligence personnel have been indicted
What do intelligence agencies do? They gather intelligence – 24 hours each day and by any means. Cyber warfare, using computer hacking, has become a favored means for all intelligence agencies to gather information and confuse the adversary with misinformation. At campaign election time, when computers buzz with finger tapping of wide-eyed volunteers, eager idealists, and networking individuals, completely untrained in preventing cyber-attacks, the campaigners become big fish for the “phishers.” What better time for intelligence agents to sharpen their crafted skills? Kudos to Robert Mueller for conducting an exhaustive and penetrating investigation that proved investigating agencies can actually gather intelligence – tremendous accomplishment. Note that to acquire all the information about Russian hacking, U.S. intelligence departments must have engaged in hacking of Russian intelligence computers. Russian intelligence did what it does daily – probed the cyber world, located some vulnerability, and extracted the data lode. Rather than presenting the American public with adulterated news, the GRU dumped all it had into contrived websites and WikiLeaks and let the American public digest the findings. The leaked contents had some noteworthy revelations: (1) The Democratic National Committee Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, framed activities to assist Hillary Clinton and undermine Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, (2) DNC fund raising staff discussed and compiled a list of people (mainly donors) who might be appointed to federal boards and commission, and (3) Former aide to President Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, claimed France was concerned that Libya’s large gold reserves might pose a threat to the value of the Central African Franc and displace French influence in Africa.

Hacking is an intelligence operation and not an election interfering operation. The Russian intelligence agents had no previous knowledge of what they would find and therefore had no prepared method of how to use the information. Leaking was only a result of what to do with the intelligence information and not a prepared activity. Revealing that the DNC, which should be an impartial arm of the Democratic Party and not committed to assisting any candidate, was helping Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and deriding Bernie Sanders’ campaign can be viewed as a worthwhile exposure of corrupt practices and distortion of the political process. The DNC is the culprit that interfered in the Democratic process.

The Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) has been indicted.
Election Interference was only a supposition; there might have been other reasons for IRA’s operations. The IRA, the only Russian organization involved in the US election activity, does the same activities worldwide, mostly in Russia, and has done the same for many years. Why conclude that its activities were meant to interfere in the election? Isn’t this a conspiracy theory?

Despite interpretations of some correspondence, words, thoughts and deeds, because its activities were infinitesimal compared to the total election rhetoric and communications, why would the IRA believe it could influence the election? Being a public relations company, is it more likely that it was data mining – placing ads, and learning by feedback their effectiveness and the public pulse, information that could be sold or used in other election activities in Russia? Widely predicted, and even conceded, that Hillary Clinton would win the election, why would any foreign entity support the wasting of resources and leave itself open to criticism in a futile effort?

One Mueller charge is that

Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. 

Can this “derogatory information” add much to millions of other similar postings in normal electioneering activities? The IRA did not have the resources (only tens of millions dollars and hundreds of persons short) to interfere in the US election; their meager resources and minor operations can better be characterized as mischievous conduct of no consequence.

A YouTube video made by InfoWars writer, Paul Joseph Watson, claimed Hillary Clinton had several diseases, including autism and a brain tumor. That video had more than 3 million views and was mentioned by media. None of the IRA ads provoked conversation. Has anyone seen an IRA election ad or You Tube video prepared from its messages?

The Russians engaged in a massive interference operation.
Despite intention to inflate figures and characterize the “interference” as massive, the activity was trivial and had trivial impact.

No argument that the IRA violated U.S. election laws and deserves the indictments. However, its entire operation is independent of the Russian intelligence services and the 365-day operations of TV channels Sputnik and RT. No case can be made for a coordinated or massive campaign to influence the 2016 election. The IRA farce does not deserve the magnitude of attention it has received. Internet Research Agency accomplished nothing and had no way of accomplishing anything.

According to New York Magazine, about 3,000 ads were purchased at a cost of around $100,000. Compare this to a Facebook audience in the United States of 214 million users, and more than 1.8 billion monthly active users, millions of electioneering twitter accounts, hundreds of mass demonstrations in the United States, and spending for the 2016 elections (presidential and congressional) estimated at $6.5 billion by campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org. Facebook’s General Counsel, Colin Stretch, stated, at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, that Clinton and Trump together spent $81 million on pre-election day Facebook ads. It is obvious that IRA’s efforts could not compete for eyeballs of the American electorate.

From USA Today:

We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians (ED: Not Russian government and only 3,517 of many millions by others during the election). Here’s what we found. Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

Inflating the eyeballs to “Exposure of organic content to more than 126 million Americans,” is countered simply by noting that there are no figures of who actually looked at and paid attention to the messages. If an attempt by IRA to hold a rally in which nobody showed up is descriptive of the endeavors, then maybe only a few persons paid attention to all of IRA’s efforts.

The Russian government attempted to undermine faith in the US democratic process.
Has not the public expressed for years its loss of faith in the US democratic process with organizations such as Black Lives Matter, White nationalism, slogans, such as, Make America Great Again, and polarized activities, such as, Trump impeachment, Immigration, and Climate Change? The 2016 election, in which the losing candidate received 3 million more votes than the winner, mostly reinforced the loss of public faith in the democratic process.

Excessive mention has been made of the propaganda efforts by Sputnik and RT, English radio and TV broadcast services established by the Russian government and headquartered in Moscow, and their influence on the U.S. voter. Compared to the myriad of other news sources, including Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and Christian networks, few Americans are influenced by the Russian programs. These programs are mostly watched by those who are either already pro-Russian or seek alternative news, which is news that antagonists always label as propaganda. RT is an equalizer – engaging in bashing American activities as an antidote for American media’s engagement in bashing Russian activities.

These “disinformation sources” have almost zero impact when compared to what the American public receives from the “liberal establishment” media, the “alt-right” conspirators, and the Republican controlled Fox network, which pours out 24 hour of disinformation, each day of the week, and each week of the solar year.

THE TELEGRAPH, Facebook: Most political trolls are American, not Russian, Laurence Dodds, 12 OCTOBER 2018

Facebook has banned hundreds of pages and accounts which it says were fraudulently flooding its site with partisan political content – although they came from the US instead of being associated with Russia. 

The company said it had banned 559 pages and 251 accounts that were mostly controlled by Americans, including independent news websites with millions of followers. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the operation.
The intelligence report stated, “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.” Based on what?

Not based on any evidence – only a conclusion made from an assumption that because the operation was “massive,” Putin must have been involved. As shown, the operation was not massive; it may not have been an interference operation; and why would Putin waste his time on overseeing Facebook ads?

Sinister Aspects
The manner by which events are interpreted to fit an agenda is noted by the claim that IRA activities consisted of “tens of millions of dollars spent over several years to build a broad, sophisticated system that can influence American opinion.”

What a waste; no evidence that the IRA changed the opinion of one person. Regard the operation from another viewpoint – the IRA had been already operating in the United Sates and therefore, the 2016 operations were not special and only a continuation of previous operations.

The Russian efforts are also described in the indictment as “focused on establishing deep, authenticated, long-term identities for individuals and groups within specific communities,” and “establishment of servers and VPNs based in the US to mask the location of the individuals involved….All of this deception was designed to make it appear that these activities were being carried out by Americans.”

Is it expected that the accounts would say, “Hello, I’m Boris from St, Petersburg and want to tell you something about the election?” Nobody but the FBI would take heed to that and the account owner would be immediately arrested. Many people, who do not want to reveal their political biases or be typed by their statements, use false identities on social media. Not recommended and definitely criminal action by IRA employees, but not a gigantic hoax.

Focusing only on Russia
Don Levin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, found that the U.S. attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000. All told, the U.S. allegedly targeted the elections of 45 nations across the globe during this period, Levin’s research shows. In the case of some countries, such as Italy and Japan, the U.S. attempted to intervene in four or more separate elections.

If consistency and not being hypocritical are guidelines in exposing nefarious actions by public relations firms, why has there been little mention of the shadowy Israeli firm, Black Cube? Former Israeli military officers founded the firm in 2011, and it has recruited many former Mossad agents.

Richard Engel, Aggelos Petropoulos and Kennett Werner of NBC News, in an article, Black Cube: Inside the shadowy Israeli firm, at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/black-cube-inside-shadowy-israeli-firm-accused-trying-undermine-iran-n877511, question Black Cube’s role in political affairs and its attempts to coerce individuals. An excerpt.

A source familiar with Black Cube’s outreach to the Kahls (an assistant to President Barack Obama and national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden) told NBC News that it was part of an effort to discredit Obama administration officials who had worked on the Iran nuclear deal – and, by extension, the deal itself. Black Cube sought evidence of nefarious behavior, such as financial or sexual impropriety, by the deal’s architects, including Colin Kahl. Operatives hoped to obtain such evidence by befriending their targets or their targets’ associates.

Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, NRA’s backer, is only one of many wealthy persons who use their money and influence to castigate their foreign foes. Compared to the others, such as George Soros, he is a bottom crawler in a sea of interfering sharks.

From Forbes at https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardminiter/2011/09/09/should-george-soros-be-allowed-to-buy-u-s-foreign-policy/#6b581be16238 (maybe a little exaggerated)

Through strategic donations, Soros helped bring down the communist government in Poland, toppled Serbia’s bloodstained strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and fueled the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia. Soros has also funded opposition parties in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Georgia, and Macedonia, helping them into either power or prominence. All of these countries were once Russian allies.

Commentators, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/israel-us-elections-intervention-russia-noam-chomsky-donald-trump-a8470481.html, have claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appearance before the U.S. Congress, without previously informing President Obama, undermined the president’s Iran policy.

David Andrew Weinberg, in an article in the Christian Science Monitor, What Netanyahu’s meddling in US election means for Obama, Romney, September 27, 2012, supported the claim.

Some observers claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to tip the scales against President Obama in the elections this November. Judging by his recent behavior – and based on my own research about how such efforts have played out in other settings – these accusations are probably correct.

Digesting all the facts that accuse the Russian government of a massive conspiracy of interference in the 2016 US election, in which only one private agency, the Internet Research Agency, is indicted for interference, indicates that the accusation is absurd. Continuation of the spurious accusation has caused great damage to the political system and to foreign relations.

Were the real purposes of the charges that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. election attempts
(1) To turn the spotlight away from the nefarious dealings by the DNC?
(2) To turn the spotlight away from the careless attention to cyber threats by Democratic personalities?
(3) To make the public believe Hillary Clinton’s loss was due to illegal Russian activities?
(4) To find reasons for greater sanctions against Russia?

Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election deserved investigation, revelation, and indictments but not the hysterical attention it received. Being told that intelligence services gather intelligence, nations engage in information warfare, and authoritarian nations, which are subject to daily criticism, are trying to influence the populations in countries that are always attacking them, is not unique. Contradiction – the Russian socially directed activities have not been shown to create any additional divisions, and no Russian government involvement has been proven.

Extensive discussion of the alleged Russian interference has greatly added to the existing political and social divides, and done more damage to the American society than any of he charged interferences in the 2016 US election. Authorities can harshly criticize Russia for many nefarious actions, but wanton criticism that intends to inflame and incite hatred diminishes the effects of Russia’s more egregious actions and complicates the approaches to abate them.

Compare the Russian government dubious interference in the 2016 American presidential election with U.S. government’s overt intention to overthrow the elected Venezuelan government, and the truth shall be told.

Dan Lieberman edits Alternative Insight, a commentary on foreign policy, economics, and politics. He is author of the book A Third Party Can Succeed in America, a Kindle: The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name). Dan can be reached at [email protected] 




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