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Putin Would Like You to Forget About Russia’s Election Hacks

Russian leader wipes the slate clean for a reset with Trump

It was an adroit public relations ploy by Vladimir Putin, his decision to do nothing in retaliation against President Obama's expulsion of 35 diplomats and a list of other penalties — and to even invite American diplomats' kids to the Kremlin to celebrate the New Year and Russian Orthodox Christmas. Angry Obama, peace
loving Putin, if you choose to be fooled. The move was also to dim the memory Russia's serious act of aggression against the United States, its cyber hacks into the American electoral process, attacks aimed only at Democrats, putting a bear claw on the scale to weight it in Trump's favor.

But we'd rather not forgot Russia's actions. They are just the beginning, now that Putin has discovered how easily it was to tamper with American democracy. Let's review how this happened.

whodunit

All 18 government intelligence groups ultimately concluded that it was the Russians who breached the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign computer systems and gave WikiLeaks thousands of emails to release.

But the damage could have been averted were it not for a stunning tale of ineptitude between the FBI and the DNC told in a remarkable piece of reporting by Eric Lipton, David Sanger and Scott Shane of The New York Times. As far back as September 2015, an FBI agent named Hawkins called the DNC to warn them that their computer system had been compromised by a cyber-espionage team the Bureau called “the Dukes” that was linked to the Russian government. The FBI had for years been trying "to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff".

A technical consultant to the DNC named Tamene picked up the call. When he found nothing in the Committee's system, instead of reflecting that he might not have the ability to track Russian malware, he ignored the warning, thinking it might be a prank. The article then recounts that the FBI called several times over the ensuing months during which neither Tamene nor someone from the DNC thought to visit the FBI to ask whether there was an actual agent named Hawkins, nor did Hawkins or others at the FBI think to visit the DNC half a mile across town to strike fear in their hearts about what was happening to their sensitive data and email. “I did not return his calls, as I had nothing to report”, Mr. Tamene explained in an internal memo, not even when two months later in November Hawkins called the DNC to say that one of its computers was "calling home" — the embedded malware was sending material to Russia. Not until seven months had passed did the DNC bring in cyber experts to seal off the leak. By then a river of information had flowed to the Kremlin.

owning up

 Finally, in June, to get ahead of possible leaks, the DNC revealed to The Washington Post that it had been hacked. The next day an individual calling himself Guccifer 2.0 and claiming to be a Romanian said he had been the hacker, and to prove it posted on the web the Committee's opposition research paper on Trump. That he rushed to come forward made it seem a diversionary tactic, like a killdeer leading a predator away from its nest. The Russians have been known to use intermediaries so as to provide themselves deniability.

 In July, three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks let loose 44,053 DNC e-mails with 17,761 attachments exposing the hostility of some DNC principals toward Bernie Sanders that forced the resignation of chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was to have run the convention. WikiLeaks releases continued through the summer and into the fall.

 On October 7th, the National Intelligence Director James Clapper and Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, representing 17 government intelligence groups, formally accused the Russians of being behind the break-ins, and that they had to have been approved by "Russia's senior-most officials". That same day, WikiLeaks released 10 years of e-mail from the files of John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair.

 Early in December The Washington Post broke the story that the CIA had just met with key senators in a secure room in the Capitol building meant for presenting classified material to tell them its conclusion that the Russians had as their goal not only to erode Americans' confidence in their electoral process, but that it was "quite clear" from multiple sources that they aimed to help Donald Trump become president by damaging the campaign of Hillary Clinton. The CIA had identified those who had given WikiLeaks the thousands of e-mails as actors already known by the agency to be only "one step" removed from the Russian government. At a press conference, President Obama left no uncertainty, saying, "I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.”

trump backs russia

Donald Trump's response was to attack the entire intelligence community. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”, embracing the side of the most serious controversy of the Iraq War that tried to place all blame on the CIA. The statement continued:

“The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again'.”

The media made sport of that; in fact it ranked 13th from the bottom of the slimmest margins of victory in the nation's 58 elections.

In an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Trump said about the Russians, “I don’t believe they interfered” in the election. The hacking “could be Russia, and it could be China, and it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey” or, as he said on another occasion, "someone "sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds".

His response to Chris Wallace's question about Russia committing the hacks on "Fox News Sunday" is worth quoting in full:

"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. I don't know why they talk about all sorts of things. Every week it's another excuse. If you look at the story and you take a look at what they said , there's great confusion. Nobody really knows. Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act, you're not going to catch them. They have no idea if it's Russia, or China, or somebody, it could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea".

Asked by Wallace why the CIA would put out this story, Trump continued:

"I'm not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country. Personally, it could be Russia. I don't really think it is. Who knows. I don't know either. They don't know and I don't know."

Working from no information at all — he had already refused to sit still for the "presidential daily briefings" — he had nevertheless launched an outright dismissal of all U.S. intelligence agencies. In a kind of desperate ramble, even to the point of saying for a computer hacker to be caught, he must have fingers on the keyboard, Trump had gone over to the Russian side against the agencies on which he must rely for the next four years for knowledge of what secret threats may be emerging against the United States.

bear hug

Running interference for Russia , of course, has added fuel to the swirl of questions about Trump's connections to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. Hadn't he tacitly revealed his belief that Russia was doing the hacking when he said, "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30000 emails that are missing", thus inviting a foreign power to spy on his rival candidate for the presidency? Was that a signal to Putin when Trump said he might not come to the aid of NATO countries who fall behind in paying for their allotted share of military costs?

nothing?

At a rally in Florida in late October Mr. Trump had said, "I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK. I'll give you a written statement. Nothing to do".
 In 2008, son Donald Jr. told a real estate gathering that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” adding “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
 Several of the President-elect's staff choices have had Russian connections, most notably campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was forced to resign that post when a ledger of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine revealed secret payments to him of $12.7 million. NBC News reported that the FBI is looking into the foreign business ties of Manafort.
 Carter Page, picked by Trump as a foreign policy adviser, travels to Russia looking to make energy deals, but is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly meeting while in Moscow in July with two Russians in Putin's circle who are on the sanctions list.
 Soon to be national security adviser, former general Michael Flynn, was paid by RT — a state run "English-language news channel that brings the Russian view on global news" — for a speech. "I get paid so much", he said.
 Two days after the election, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said “there were contacts” between Moscow and Mr. Trump’s campaign. “Quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives,” Mr. Ryabkov said.
Trump's choice for secretary of state, Exxon-Mobil chief Rex Tillerson, wants to get rid of sanctions levied against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its incursions into Ukraine because that would free up the company's $500 billion deal that Tillerson negotiated.

And of course, what raised suspicion originally, the mutual admiration exchange with Putin. Trump reveled in Putin's calling him "brilliant" last December (which Trump has inflated to "genius" on occasion), although the Russian word uttered by Putin refers not to intelligent but to someone who is bright and colorful. Mr. Trump called Mr. Putin “a strong leader” compared to Obama.

These warm regards have put the media on high alert for what might be going on, so when a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry wrote on Facebook, “This tale of ‘hacks’ resembles a banal brawl between American security officials over spheres of influence,” the media were quick to notice Mr. Trump's echo a day or so later about American security officials — “They’re fighting among themselves” — when in fact they were in agreement and only differed in interpretations of findings.

Trump supporters have minimized the Russian attacks as something all nations do, pointing out that the U.S. has often meddled in other countries' affairs. For them the hacks have made a stir only because they are being exploited by Democrats attempting to delegitimize his election. Trump tried to make that so with this mid-December tweet that implied accusing Russia of the hacks was a post-election invention for why Trump won.
That earned a "pants on fire" lie at Politifact; the administration had announced its findings about Russia a month before the election (see earlier timeline), a finding that gave Hillary Clinton the ammunition to call Trump Russia's "puppet" in the debate that followed.

When asked "How much does Russia's interference bother you" in a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-December, 55% of Americans said "a great deal" or "quite a bit". But when that result was split by party, 86% of Democrats said "a great deal" or "quite a bit" to that question, whereas only 29% of Republicans felt that way. There should be no partisan difference when the subject is an attack by a foreign power. That dramatic split makes for a powerful proof that Americans are highly susceptible to being told what to think.

the Siberian candidate

There are those who believe all of this can be attributed to Donald Trump's desire to tamp down the heated relations with Russia, a welcome change in our angry posture against a country that poses an existential threat to the U.S. They would say that we should be unconcerned for Ukraine and countries in Russia's sphere of influence. We should choose our fights more sensibly and hew only to those affecting America's national interest.

But then there' s this: Mother Jones's magazine's investigative unit has learned that a former Western intelligence officer with almost two decades working on Russian intelligence matters was assigned to research Trump's dealings in Russia and elsewhere by the firm where he now works. His findings would be for the firm's corporate clients, but he came across information that he regarded as "sufficiently serious" to cause him to write a report for the FBI about "an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit". Mother Jones said a senior U.S. government official vouched for the researcher as "a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the U.S. government".

There's a strong hint that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid knows of this matter. He sent FBI Director James Comey a letter saying, "In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government...The public has a right to know this information."

The report and added memos by the former intelligence officer to the FBI are based on conversations with Russian sources who told him — quoting from the report seen by Mother Jones — that the "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance". Trump "and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals". The ex-intelligence officer's report said that Russian intelligence had "compromised" Trump during his trips to Moscow and could "blackmail him". He says the FBI's reaction was "shock and horror".

Mother Jones editor David Corn says, "We don't know the details. We don't know whether the FBI found any legitimacy to the reports, but there have been a lot of business links, a desire to do business and be considered an important person in Russia". Trump took the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 which he called "a big, big incredible event" that led him to claim to Fox News, “I know Russia well” this past May. Asked if he had met Putin, he demurred, but added: “I got to meet a lot of people.”

1 Comment for “Putin Would Like You to Forget About Russia’s Election Hacks”

  1. aletheia33

    i am sorry to see you buying the fabricated, new mccarthyite, neoliberal-serving stories about the supposed Russia hacks. hope you will check out naked capitalism for more balanced info on this issue.

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