Putin Applies MH17 False-Flag Template To Syria’s Gas Attack To Convince Russian Public

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East where the ongoing conflict in Syria was discussed on April 12, 2017 in New York City. It is expected that the Security Council will vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Forbes, by Paul Roderick Gregory, April 13, 2017:

It should be a piece of cake for the Kremlin to convince the Russian people that the massacre of civilians by sarin gas in Idlibe, Syria was a false-flag operation undertaken to discredit Putin and his client, Bashar al-Assad. The rest of the world will believe the findings of international investigators that Syrian jets dropped bombs on the Syrian town, killing some 80 men, women and children with chemical poison gas. Putin’s job, however, is not to convince the world– but the Russian people — that client Assad is a victim of a vast conspiracy mounted by a combination of agents from the U.S., ISIS, Turkey and hostile Sunni states.

The Kremlin has already demonstrated its ability to convince the Russian people that an open-and-shut case, backed by an air-tight international investigation, was in fact a sinister U.S., CIA, NATO, Ukrainian false-flag operation to blame the Kremlin for the murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines 17 flight over occupied Donetsk territory on July 17, 2014. This Syrian business should be easy to defuse compared to MH17.

Consider the MH17 evidence: Minutes after MH17 was downed, the rebel commander boasted on social media that his missiles had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. Insurgents on the crash scene reported with shock that it was a civilian plane. Phone intercepts captured communications as the missile crew was directed to the field from which it fired the missile. Social media posted pictures of the missile system fleeing back into Russia. Forensic evidence proved that the plane was downed by a missile (and not a trailing Ukrainian jet).

Within hours of MH17, the Kremlin mounted an incessant campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence. The Russian military staged a press conference with photoshopped images, false radar readings, reports of a Ukrainian pilot admitting he had shot down the plane, and fables that MH17 was loaded with dead bodies or that the attack was an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin. As Russian denials mounted, the Dutch-based international investigations team appealed to the UN to create an international MH17 criminal tribunal to charge those Russians and rebels responsible for crimes against humanity. Russia vetoed the proposal in the Security Council, thereby indirectly admitting its guilt.

Russia’s campaign to deny the obvious paid off. Per the latest opinion poll, only 5% of Russians blame Russia and its separatist allies for MH17. Half believe MH17 was downed by Ukrainian forces, and 14% say it was Western special services. On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile and 84% hold Russia directly or indirectly responsible.

Fast forward to the Syrian gas attack: Within hours, Putin’s press secretary floated the false-flag theory (backed by the Russian defense ministry) that the Syrian air force unwittingly exploded a local chemical weapons depot as it dropped conventional bombs. The chemical weapons, per the Russian spokesman, had been brought into Idlibe from Iraq. The Assad government took up this line of argument stating the poison gas was released after its military planes dropped conventional bombs on a local terrorist arms depot, which happened to contain chemical weapons.

An investigation of these competing claims could be conducted rather quickly. A storage facility full of sarin gas could presumably be identified and detected by technical experts, and the facility would have to be in a crater caused by a Syrian bomb. If there is no evidence of a local chemical weapons storage depot, then the Russian-Syrian false flag story falls apart. Although Syria has offered international inspectors access to its Shayrat air force base, presumably they have had time to remove traces of poison gas.

Despite this simple procedure for assigning responsibility, Putin will clearly be able to convince his people that his client is being framed and that Russia is not backing a monster. Putin can cite the support of the “Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD” crowd, who argue that President Trump acted too hastily without adequate evidence. “Manchurian candidate Trump” adherents will argue that the bombing was a diversion arranged between soul mates Trump and Putin to divert attention from their conspiracies. Putin will even find allies among U.S. isolationists upset by Trump’s intervention in a foreign war.

The Kremlin had to fight the entire international community in convincing the Russian people that Russia was blameless in the shooting down of MH17. In the case of the Idlibe chemical weapons attack, Putin has a formidable army of Western skeptics on his side. Few understand that in such cases Putin’s primary objective is to keep the Russian people on his side. If he can convince the international community, so much the better. With anti-Trump supporters the world over potentially on his side, Putin has a chance of winning not only Russian minds but Western minds as well.

In their April 12 meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States agreed to a UN investigation of the Idlibe bombing. Russia will pressure its allies into a long and inconclusive exercise and will ignore results that point to blame of the Assad regime.

***

***

Also see:

U.S. Ill-Prepared to Stop Widespread Russian Information Warfare

Clint Watts testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee March 30 / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, April 4, 2017:

Russia is engaged in wide-ranging information warfare operations aimed at undermining the United States, and the federal government has few defenses against the attacks, information specialists told a Senate hearing last week.

Moscow’s large-scale operations include the covert attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election and dissemination of false news reports to sow confusion and weaken American democracy, according to testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday.

The committee hearing was called as part of an investigation into the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election.

In addition to the hacking and leaking campaign during the election, Russian intelligence agencies engaged in covert influence operations that falsely reported terrorist attacks in the United States and against the key U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey.

The Russian government also backed the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and trumpeted racially charged news to sow social unrest.

The federal government has been unable to stop Moscow’s propaganda and influence operations. Likewise, it has failed to counter cyber attacks aimed at stealing data or sabotaging critical networks.

“Americans should be concerned because right now a foreign country, whether they realize it or not, is pitting them against their neighbor, other political parties, ramping up divisions based on things that aren’t true,” said Clint Watts, a cyber security expert and former FBI special agent.

Russian information warfare operations seek to erode Americans’ trust in the government.

“If they can do that, if Americans don’t believe that their vote counts, they’re not going to show up to participate in democracy,” said Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, said the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with information warfare and adequate defenses for protecting private sector infrastructure from attacks.

“The consequence is if there were a massive attack, we’d have to go back and get authority to act,” Alexander said. “Where, if it were missiles coming in, we already have rules of engagement. So, I think we need to step that up as well.”

Alexander, who once led the military’s Cyber Command, lamented that the military “wouldn’t have the right people set up to react” to a major cyber attack.

“The American public, indeed all democratic societies, need to understand that malign actors are using old techniques with new platforms to undermine our democratic institutions,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), the committee chairman.

“We’re all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary and we must engage in a whole of government approach to combat Russian active measures,” Burr added.

“Active measures” is the term used to describe asymmetric warfare activities that combine propaganda and media disinformation with cyber operations to achieve foreign policy objectives.

The Russian election campaign hacked key political figures and institutions, notably the Democratic National Committee. A U.S. intelligence community assessment of the influence campaign concluded in January that the Russians sought to discredit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and assist Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber attacks were carried out by the FSB civilian security service backed by hackers working for the GRU military spy agency.

Information obtained from the cyber attacks was leaked to Russian-affiliated news outlets DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks using a Russian online persona called Guccifer 2.0. Russian intelligence also exploited state-linked propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik to spread false information aimed at sowing discord in America.

The Russian government was able to manipulate key social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to cause topics favorable to Moscow’s policies to trend on the Internet. Russia employs thousands of Internet trolls and botnet computers to tilt social media trends in its favor.

Cyber security expert Thomas Rid said the Russians use Internet trolls and botnets to flood the zone with disinformation during influence operations.

“The Russians were able to flood the zone, actually not in a broad-based [way] across the whole country, but literally target it down to precinct levels in certain states,” he said.

The operations succeeded in fooling major mainstream media outlets into parroting Russian disinformation against the United States.

Russia is using many of the same tactics against American allies in Europe and is expected to resume its disinformation campaign in the United States ahead of future elections.

FBI Director James Comey disclosed to Congress on March 20 that bureau counterintelligence agents are investigating links between Trump campaign aides and the Russian government. So far, no evidence of such links has surfaced.

Eugene Rumer, former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia between 2010 and 2014, testified that it is not necessary to publicly disclose technical evidence of Russian election meddling.

“It is the totality of Russian efforts in plain sight to mislead, to misinform, to exaggerate that is more convincing than any cyber evidence,” Rumer said. “RT, Russia Today, broadcasts, internet trolls, fake news and so on are an integral part of Russian foreign policy to date.”

Rumer said Russia remains weak militarily despite modernization and a growing nuclear arsenal. However, he noted that “Russian leaders have embraced a different toolkit, information warfare, intimidation, espionage, economic tools, and so on.”

The Russian influence campaign is viewed by Moscow as an unqualified success, he added.

“The payoffs include but are not limited to, one, a major distraction to the United States, for the United States, damage to U.S. leadership in the world, and perhaps most importantly the demonstration effect: If the Kremlin can do this to the world’s sole remaining global superpower imagine how other countries see it,” Rumer said.

Other Russian influence campaigns have included efforts to skew online White House petitions, such as a petition calling for Alaska to be returned to Russia, spread false claims the military is preparing for martial law in the United States, and sow hatred and discord by backing the Black Lives Matter protests and land disputes in the western United States.

“Russia hopes to win the second Cold War through the force of politics, as opposed to the politics of forces,” Watts said.

He added that Russia’s goal is to topple democracies by undermining governments, fostering social division, and creating confusion about information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Russian disinformation has included political messages and propaganda aimed at tarnishing leaders and institutions, especially financial markets and capitalist economies.

The Russians also have used “gray” propaganda outlets that promote conspiracy theories and are financed and led by Russians.

Russian propaganda promoted a false story on July 30 that the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey, which stores nuclear weapons, had been overrun by terrorists. More than 4,000 tweets were used to promote the false Russian disinformation.

Watts said the U.S. intelligence community has failed to deal with disinformation and is overly focused on terrorism and counterintelligence.

“The U.S., in failing to respond to active measures, will surrender its position as the world’s leader, forgo its role as chief promoter and defender of democracy, and give up on over 70 years of collective action to preserve freedom and civil liberties around the world,” Watts said.

“The intel community in the United States is very biased against open source information,” he said. “And has been surprised repeatedly.”

Social media companies and journalists also are failing to deal with foreign disinformation.

“The media needs to improve. Our U.S. government institutions need to improve and we got to help Americans understand what the facts are, because if we don’t, we are lost,” Watt said.

“We’ll become two separate, maybe three separate worlds in the United States just because of this little bitty pinprick that was put in by a foreign country.”

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security need to create mechanisms capable of rapidly refuting disinformation, he said.

Watts said the Russians are winning at cyber and information warfare because they have “great propagandists” and hackers.

“We, on the other hand, worry a lot about who we’re going to bring into the cyber field because they might have smoked weed one day or they can’t pass a security clearance,” he said.

Kevin Mandia, head of the cyber security firm FireEye, said technical analysis of the Russian cyber intrusions revealed sophisticated malware and techniques used by Moscow in its cyber attacks.

“So there is a huge infrastructure, comprised of machines or false fronts or organizations that are used for these attacks,” he said. “And we found over 500 of those. We’ve analyzed over 70 lure documents written in many different languages. And these are the documents that you receive during a spear phishing [attack], and they’re armed documents.”

Alexander said the United States needs to engage Russia diplomatically while confronting it using intelligence capabilities.

“We have to come up with a way of sharing threat intelligence information at network speed and practicing what our government and industry do together and work that with our allies,” Alexander said.

“I believe we can do this and protect civil liberties and privacy,” he said. “I think we often convolve those two, but we can actually separate and show that you can do both.”

Warfare goes digital in the 21st century

Cyber Warfare Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Washington Times, b, March 29, 2017:

Russia’s intelligence service hacks Democratic Party computer networks and puts out stolen emails in a bid to influence the 2016 election. China says it owns 90 percent of the South China Sea and begins building military bases under a vague historical claim to the strategic waterway. Iranian hackers break into American banks and a water control computer network at an upstate New York dam. Welcome to the new form of conflict in the 21st century: information warfare.

American adversaries have found asymmetric ways to attack and are waging sophisticated information warfare operations — both technical cyber-attacks and soft power influence and disinformation campaigns designed to achieve strategic objectives.

The U.S. government remains completely ignorant of the threat and lacks ways to deal with this new form of warfare. The Cold War-era U.S. Information Agency (USIA), the last semi-autonomous agency used for promoting America was disbanded in 1999. Its functions were folded into the State Department and the result has been diplomacy-impaired information programs.

The government also remains stuck with the 20th century role of “telling America’s story” while adversaries are spending billions on cable propaganda and other outlets are seek discredit and denigrate the United States.

There also are no effective institutions for countering lies and deception by foreign states. When pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s Donbass region in 2014 launched a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile against a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet, killing all 283 people on board, Russia’s extensive propaganda Wurlitzer swung into action. RT, the state-run cable propaganda outlet successfully muted criticism of Russia by putting out sophisticated misinformation. The Russian narrative argued the jetliner was downed by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile or by air-to-air cannon fire. Moscow even supplied forged satellite imagery found to have been taken from a video game to bolster its false claim that an air-to-air missile took down the jet.

The disinformation sowed confusion and doubt in the West. To date, Moscow has paid no price for its role in the crime.

For the past eight years under President Obama, the U.S. government largely ignored these new and increasingly sophisticated information warfare threats. The Obama administration’s operating assumption was that in the cosmopolitan world, nation-state enemies don’t really exist. The only real foes are the extremist terror groups like the Islamic State.

Yet the entire U.S.-led conflict against terror groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State has relied heavily on kinetic military and intelligence strikes while farming out to questionable Middle East states the ideological counter-ideological warfare programs designed to discredit the Islamist political narrative motivating terrorists’ campaigns of suicide bombings, beheadings, sex slavery and other atrocities.

“Cyberwarfare and influence campaigns that are being waged against our country represent a national security challenge of generational proportions,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats. “Our core values of truth, democratic principles, and self-determination are under assault,” Ms. Stefanik said at hearing on information warfare earlier this month.

Experts at the hearing testified that the U.S. government lacks an understanding of the threat posed by foreign information warfare, and also has no strategy for countering it.

“Continuing to get this wrong is a threat to our national security, to our economic growth and to our very standing as a world leader,” said Matthew Armstrong, a former official involved in government radio broadcasting and associate fellow in King’s College Center for Strategic Communications.

Mr. Armstrong said he was told by a Russian information official that state-run RT broadcasts would have no audience in the United States “if the American media was doing their jobs.”

The failure of America’s news media in this sphere stems of the Balkanization of news outlets. Coverage by mainstream press outlets today is biased by three central liberal narratives of gender identity, racial issues and climate change, while the conservative media outlets are heavily weighted toward opinion and lack a needed hard news focus.

By contrast, authoritarian regimes suffer no similar fate. They are focused laserlike on promoting propaganda narratives to support strategic goals. For China, it is managing Beijing’s perceived decline of the U.S. superpower. Stealing 22 million records from the Office of Personnel Management supports a covert Big Data program to target the United States for both espionage and influence activities.

For Russia, America remains the main target of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s vision of pursuing a pan-Eurasian Russian power that is embattled on all sides by a U.S.-led liberal democratic international cabal.

North Korea’s 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment over the ribald film “The Interview” aimed at attacking the film industry and choking off American freedom of expression by threatening with terror attacks movie theaters that showed the film. Meanwhile, Pyongyang was given free rein to develop nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems unimpeded — to perpetuate its crimes-against-humanity regime with a growing arsenal of nuclear missiles.

Iran’s information operations are designed to further the strategic goals of the Islamist regime, the world’s deadliest state sponsor of global terrorism, as Tehran works to emerge from the chaos of the Middle East as the dominant regional power.

Social media have emerged as another platform in the forefront of information warfare as terrorists use Twitter, Facebook and other outlets to recruit terrorists and spread propaganda.

These foreign information warfare programs are growing in both scale and sophistication while American public diplomacy and counter-disinformation efforts remain minuscule.

The Trump administration urgently needs to recreate a new USIA for the digital age, something I call “Information America.”

This new institution can be established as a government entity similar to the USIA, or a nongovernmental organization funded by philanthropists. A third option would be set up Information America as hybrid government/private-sector organization.

Its mission should be to use truth and facts to counter lies and disinformation. Information America also must begin anew to promote fundamental American ideals and values.

Outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper agreed on the need for a new information entity, something he recently called “a USIA on steroids to fight this information war a lot more aggressively than I think we’re doing right now.”

The first step should be setting up a blue-ribbon panel of information experts — government officials, journalists and others — to quickly formulate a plan for Information America.

The task is urgent in a world filled with violence and hatred. Effective information-based capabilities should become a top priority of the new Trump administration. These programs offer the promise of solving some of the world’s most pressing problems through the use of information as a strategic tool to promote peace and freedom.

• Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and author of “iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age” (Threshold Editions, 2017).

Also see:

Vets say they were duped into helping Saudi Arabia dodge payouts to 9/11 victims

Former US Marine Sgt. Timothy Cord Kim Raff

Former US Marine Sgt. Timothy Cord Kim Raff

New York Post, by Paul Sperry, March 5, 2017:

Agents of the Saudi Arabian government are using US veterans as pawns in a scheme to gut a new law clearing a path for 9/11 families to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in the attacks, several vets complained in interviews with The Post.

“I joined the Marine Corps as a direct result of 9/11, so to be wined and dined by the very people I joined to fight against, that was sickening,” said Timothy Cord, who served as a Marine sergeant in Iraq.

Vets say the Saudi scam involves soliciting them to go on all-expenses-paid trips to Washington — including lodging at the posh new Trump hotel near the White House — to help pressure lawmakers into amending the recently passed bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

Trip organizers Qorvis MSLGROUP, however, are allegedly failing to disclose to participants that the Saudi government is funding the trips through some 75 paid foreign agents it’s hired across the US to oppose the law, which passed unanimously in September.

Vets complain they’re not only being misled but openly lied to. During one recent trip, an organizer denied any “Saudi involvement” in sponsoring the trip, even though federal filings show the organizer has a $100,000 contract with the Saudis and is a registered foreign agent for the kingdom.

In their recruiting pitch to vets, the Saudi lobbyists, who pose as veteran advocates, claim that JASTA exposes them as well as “150,000 [US] military personnel stationed in over 150 countries” to “retaliatory lawsuits” in foreign courts — even though international law experts note that JASTA deals only with the immunity of foreign states, and poses little if any risk to individuals.

Vets felt shock and anger when they found out they were duped into doing “the Saudis’ dirty work,” as one put it.

Thomas J. Hermesman, who was deployed in Afghanistan as a Marine sergeant, joined the Jan. 23-26 trip to Washington flown out of Durango, Colo.,with nearly 50 other vets. “The organizers were definitely keeping stuff from us,” Hermesman said. “We didn’t get the full story. It was pretty shady.”

He said organizers told the vets if they ever traveled again in Iraq or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, they could be stopped at a checkpoint and taken into custody as a terrorist thanks to JASTA.

A briefing paper for the DC meetings drew some suspicion. In tiny print at the bottom of the second page, it reads: “This is distributed by Qorvis MSLGROUP on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.”

Former Sgt. Cord said the trip leader, Jason E. Johns, shot down any concerns about Mideast sponsorship as soon as the vets arrived in DC. “He stood up the first night to announce that ‘there are rumors going around about Saudi involvement, and they absolutely aren’t [involved].’ ”

Johns’ bio describes him as president of No Man Left Behind Veterans Advocacy Group. But federal records also list him as a registered Saudi agent making $100,000 to mobilize vets to lobby against JASTA. The primary registrant on his disclosure form is Qorvis MSLGROUP, the Saudi government’s top PR firm in Washington.

“It really pisses me off that vets are being lied to by other vets that are in the Saudis’ pocketbook,” said Cord, who says he wants to alert others in the veteran community that they’re being targeted and set up by the Saudi government. Johns did not respond to requests for comment.

Cord calls the trips to Washington a form of bribery. All travel expenses were covered for his group’s four-day trip — including airfare and taxis, as well as meals and rooms at the $560-a-night Trump International Hotel, where the vets were welcomed with a “reception in The Patton Room.” Even “complimentary drinks will be provided,” the itinerary states.

In exchange, it says, vets were expected to storm Congress and “make members fully aware that veterans have serious concerns regarding JASTA and convince them that JASTA needs to be amended.”

Marine Sgt. David Casler, who was flown in from Sacramento, says a prime target was the House Armed Services Committee. Casler says he and the other vets were warmly received by lawmakers and their staff, some of whom expressed an interest in “fixing” JASTA. “Who is going to turn down a vet?”

President Trump, who strongly supported JASTA during his campaign, would have to sign any amendments into the law.

The head of Qorvis denies he or his Arab client are trying to hide anything from vets they’re recruiting. “My understanding is everything is fully above board and everyone is fully informed of the issues,” Qorvis Managing Director Michael Petruzzello said.

JASTA has cleared a path for two large lawsuits against the Saudi government that could end up in millions of dollars in Saudi assets being seized in a court settlement. The suits will be aided by the recent release of the classified “28 pages” documenting Saudi government officials’ funding and other support for the Saudi hijackers. Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir did not return calls seeking comment.

Sperry is the author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”

The ‘Trump Report’ Is a Russian Provocation

putin920x537It is part of Russia’s strategy to disrupt U.S. politics and institutions for years to come.

National Review, By David Satter, January 12, 2017:

Missing from the Intelligence Report: The Word ‘Podesta’

podestaDisclosure of embarrassing information should not be confused with disinformation.

National Review, by Andrew C. McCarthy, January 8, 2017:

There is a word missing from the non-classified report issued Friday, in which three intelligence agencies assess “Russia’s Influence Campaign Targeting the 2016 US Presidential Election.” The FBI, CIA, and NSA elide any mention of . . . “Podesta.”

Seems like a pretty significant omission — not just because of how the 2016 campaign played out but also in light of the intelligence community’s recent history of politicizing its analyses.

The report is replete with references to Russian “cyber espionage,” “covert intelligence,” “false-flag,” “propaganda,” and “influence” operations by which Vladimir Putin is alleged to have tried to put his thumb on the electoral scale. Very sinister stuff, to be sure. But when the public hears these terms, it thinks of spies, misdirection, disinformation campaigns — i.e., schemes intended to deceive the target audience. People don’t instantly think, “Oh, you mean an effort to publicize true but embarrassing information”; they don’t read “covert operation” and say to themselves, “That must mean they subjected only one side of a political contest to a high level of scrutiny.” That’s the kind of behavior people associate with the American media, not the Kremlin.

The three intelligence agencies’ report pointedly declines to tell us what specific information gives them such “high confidence” that they know the operation of Vladimir Putin’s mind. They plead that the nature of their work does not allow for that: To tell us how they know what they purport to know would compromise intelligence methods and sources.

Fair enough. The problem, though, is that if you’re essentially going to say, “Trust us,” you have to have proven yourself trustworthy over time.

Here, we are talking about a community whose own analysts have complained that their superiors distort their reports for political purposes. In just the past few years, they have told us that they had “high confidence” that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons programs in 2003; that the NSA was not collecting metadata on millions of Americans; and that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate, “largely secular” organization. We have learned that the Obama administration intentionally perpetrated a disinformation campaign — complete with a compliant media “echo chamber” — to sell the public on the Iran nuclear deal (and the fiction that Iran’s regime was moderating). We have seen U.S. intelligence and law enforcement complicit in the Obama administration’s schemes to convince the public that “violent extremism,” not radical Islam, is the explanation for terrorist attacks; that a jihadist mass-murder attack targeting soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan was “workplace violence”; that al-Qaeda had been “decimated”; that the threat of the ISIS “jayvee” team was exaggerated; and that the Benghazi massacre was not really a terrorist attack but a “protest” gone awry over an anti-Muslim video.

I can attest that the intelligence agencies overflow with patriotic Americans who do the quiet, perilous, thankless work that saves American lives. We can acknowledge this incontestable fact and still observe that, on this record, the intelligence community as an institution cannot very well expect that “Trust us” is going to get them very far.

Which brings us back to what the new report studiously avoids mentioning.

The vaporous assertion that Putin’s regime was up to “espionage” and “covert ops” in order to “denigrate” Mrs. Clinton might naturally be presumed to imply that Putin was promoting smears. Such an impression — if that’s what the agencies were aiming to create — would have been contradicted by mentioning “Podesta,” as in John Podesta, the top Obama White House and Clinton-campaign official whose private e-mails were hacked. To bring up Podesta might remind the public that this was not a disinformation campaign. What was revealed here was true information that Podesta and his correspondents would understandably have preferred to keep private.

As President Obama likes to say, let me be clear. I am not endorsing hacking, cyber-theft, and the publication of private information. Unlike some conservatives now infatuated with scoundrels like Julian Assange (and even Putin!), I continue to regard enemies of the United States as, well, enemies of the United States. They are not to be trusted, regardless of whose ox they happen to be goring as their allegiances and calculations twist and turn.

My point is that Putin did not plant a slanderous story that top Clinton aides were, say, spouting anti-Catholic bigotry. What he did was orchestrate the release of authentic e-mails, in one of which top Clinton aides were in fact spouting anti-Catholic bigotry.

I will give Democrats the benefit of the doubt that, if the shoe were on the other foot, they would condemn the theft — a benefit they probably do not rate given their praise of Edward Snowden and their historic efforts (the Carter administration, Ted Kennedy) to seek Soviet interference in the American political system when it stood to help their electoral prospects. But I am quite certain Democrats would have no sympathy for Republicans over any political damage if the latter were caught saying unsavory things. In such an instance, victorious Democrats would not tolerate a suggestion that the “the election had been hacked”; they’d say, “Republicans got caught being Republicans.”

The new report may be entirely right — I think it is — that Putin tries to meddle in American and European elections and that he has preferences about the outcomes. Yet it is written in a way that enables the Left to spin it as support for the fallacy that Putin “hacked the election.” It gives Democrats ammunition to continue prattling about how the Russians used “espionage” and “covert operations” “aimed at the US election” in order to “influence” the result; and that Putin wanted Trump to win, according to our “highly confident” agencies. The Left can even cite the agencies’ intriguing but inchoate conclusion that the Kremlin “accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards” — a conclusion that a cynic, believing the intelligence community might be just a teensy bit political, might figure was included in the report to undercut Trump’s refrain that the hacking had nothing to do with the electoral process.

The agencies, of course, would deny any political agenda. And perhaps they don’t have one — personally, I don’t have “high confidence” that I can read their minds as well as they can apparently read Putin’s. Nevertheless, when you read the report carefully, it is like a media report: It feeds the “hack the election” theme, but it does not actually say Putin hacked the election.

Indeed, when you look for the fire under all the smoke, you find the agencies saying, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” And while the report repeatedly asserts that Russia wanted to “influence” the election, it elaborates that Russia’s main aim is to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order” and “faith in the US democratic process” (an unremarkable finding that, by the way, is of a piece with the contention of Trump national-security adviser Mike Flynn that the Russian regime is anti-American principally because it opposes democracy).

The report concludes that while Putin appears to have been rooting for Trump, the Russians assumed Clinton was going to win and were mainly trying to undermine the effectiveness of her anticipated presidency, not swing the election to Trump. And even the conclusion that Putin was rooting for Trump is partially based on speculation (“Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because” he blames her for protests against his regime), along with heavy doses of hypothesis (Putin is said to have: liked “Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia”; seen Trump’s election as a potential pathway “to achieve an international coalition against the Islamic State”; “had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia”; etc.).

Note: all this agency guesswork appears to be based on publicly available information that you and I — without any access to super-secret intelligence sources and methods — could have done on our own. It doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, or couldn’t already have surmised.

And what about those dark suggestions about Russian penetration of “multiple state or local electoral boards,” and that “since early 2014, Russian intelligence has researched [ooh!] US electoral processes and related technology and equipment”? Well, if you read on, you find that the report is at pains to concede that the Department of Homeland Security “assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

In other words, Putin did not hack the election.

In light of the report’s emphasis on Mrs. Clinton as the “espionage” victim, it is worth noting a couple of other nuggets. The agencies acknowledge that Kremlin spies “conducted cyber operations against . . . targets associated with both major US political parties” (emphasis added). In fact, Russia “collected against” anyone and everyone “viewed as likely to shape future US policies” — including “US primary campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups.”

In making the concession that “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets,” the agencies are quick to caveat that, whatever Putin may have done to Republicans, it was not “comparable” to his “disclosure campaign” against Democrats. But is that necessarily because he wanted the Republicans to win?

Again, reading the report closely, we learn that while the Russians apparently “targeted” the Republican party, they actually succeeded in “gain[ing] access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks” — access they maintained for about a year. And note that, just as the agencies refrain from any discussion of the Podesta motherlode, they also choose not to tell us anything about the quantity or quality of the information obtained from Republicans. We’re just vaguely told that Russia’s Republican disclosures were not “comparable” to its Democratic disclosures. But that might be indicative of a motive only if the information acquired from each party was comparable. Isn’t it possible that the disclosures were not comparable because the stuff Putin got on the GOP was not nearly as copious or juicy as what he got on the Dems?

Or . . . let’s assume for argument’s sake that the information Russia acquired was comparable — let’s assume that they have something on Trump, or on some Republican as relatively high-level as Podesta, that would stoke the same kind of press frenzy as the tens of thousands of Podesta e-mails. If the report is correct that Putin was convinced Hillary would win and wanted to cripple her presidency from the start, wouldn’t it be logical that he’d more heavily disclose what he had on the Dems? What would be the point of trying to cripple the anticipated Republican loser? Wouldn’t Putin keep his powder dry on the GOP — hold whatever he’s got for future damage or blackmail purposes, save it for a time when it would be more useful?

I’m speculating about Putin’s motives, and I don’t have “high confidence” that I know what they were. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Before the agencies’ report was issued, most of us knew that Russia is an adversary obsessed with America, that it aggressively spies against us and endeavors to influence any aspect of American affairs that could advantage it. We also knew Russia did not “hack the election.” The underwhelming intelligence report on Russia’s meddling in our election changes none of that.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Also see:

U.S. Intel Report Says Putin Led ‘Cyber-Enabled Disclosure Operation’ to Help Elect Trump, Discredit Clinton

AP

AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, January 6, 2017:

The CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency concluded in a report made public Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a covert intelligence campaign to boost the election of Donald Trump while seeking to discredit Hillary Clinton.

The 23-page unclassified report is part of a longer secret study into a wide-ranging cyber and disinformation campaign similar to the activities during the Cold War of the Soviet KGB intelligence service.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the report said.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

The combined cyber and intelligence operation “reflected the Kremlin’s recognition of the worldwide effects that mass disclosures of U.S. government and other private data—such as those conducted by WikiLeaks and others—have achieved in recent years, and their understanding of the value of orchestrating such disclosures to maximize the impact of compromising information,” the report said.

The report warned that Russia will continue “cyber-enabled disclosure operations” to achieve foreign policy goals with relative ease and without causing significant damage to Russian interests.

“We assess Russian intelligence services will continue to develop capabilities to provide Putin with options to use against the United States, judging from past practice and current efforts,” the report said.

The report noted that immediately after the Nov. 8 election, Russia launched an email spearphishing campaign targeting U.S. government employees and Americans at think tanks and non-governmental organizations involved in national security, defense, and foreign policy.

“This campaign could provide material for future influence efforts as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration’s goals and plans,” the report said.

The report is based in part on top-secret NSA electronic intercepts and analysis of Russian spy tradecraft and other aspects of the operation by CIA and FBI intelligence analysts.

The report also states specifically that the three agencies “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

President-elect Trump, who was briefed on the top-secret report on Friday, stated on Twitter that he left the briefing convinced that Russian covert action had no impact on the election.

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.

He noted that Russian attempts to hack the Republican National Committee were unsuccessful as a result of better cyber security than used by the DNC.

The declassified report is titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections” and will likely fuel the political debate among some Democrats who have sought to discredit Trump’s election victory.

According to the report, Russia and Putin sought to influence the presidential election in a bid to “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.”

However, the effort in 2016 began with major cyber intrusions in the summer and “demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

Regarding Trump, the agencies concluded that Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for Trump, a judgment the three agencies gauged with “high confidence.”

U.S. officials familiar with the classified version of the report said intelligence indicated Russian officials celebrated Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 election upset, Reuters reported.

The influence program involved “discrediting” Clinton through leaking information obtained from hacks against the DNC and political figures like John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager.

The report also said the Russians “aspired” to boost Trump’s election prospects by discrediting and contrasting Clinton unfavorably with Trump. In that judgment, the CIA and FBI voiced high confidence, but the NSA said it had only moderate confidence.

The operation evolved over the course of the election campaign and intensified when it appeared Clinton was likely to win. The report said at that point the Russians’ influence campaign sought to focus on undermining her future presidency.

“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’” the report said.

The main conduits for Russian intelligence, specifically the GRU military intelligence service, were hackers using the online persona Guccifer 2.0 and the website DCLeaks.com. Another main conduit for hacked “victim data” was the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks that the report says cooperated closely with Russia’s main propaganda outlet, RT, formerly Russian Television.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News this week that Russia was not the source of the information published by the website. Assange did not reveal who the source was that provided the leaked information.

The report provides details on WikiLeaks close ties to RT.

Additionally, Russian hackers broke into multiple state and local election boards, but did not penetrate systems involved in vote tallying.

The entire influence campaign was orchestrated by senior Kremlin officials and disseminated to Russia’s state-run “propaganda machine,” a combination of both traditional media outlets and social media, including St. Petersburg group Internet Research Agency, to operate a troll network. The operation is funded by a Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence.

The report concluded that Moscow will use the lessons of the campaign in future influence operations worldwide, including U.S. allies and their elections.

The campaign to influence the election represented a “significant escalation” compared to past Russian influence operations in terms of directness, level of activity, and scope of effort over past election meddling.

Russian deep cover “illegal” intelligence operatives expelled from the United States in 2010 revealed Moscow’s bid to influence the 2008 election.

Also, during the 1970s, the Soviet KGB “recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter’s campaign and foreign policy plans,” the report said.

Putin’s motive for the campaign was part ideological and part revenge for what the Russian leader believes is U.S. backing for mass democratic protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012. Putin also “holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him,” the report said.

Putin in June avoided directly praising Trump as part of the campaign in order to avoid having the campaign backfire in the United States.

Still, Putin during the presidential campaign voiced preference for Trump because he believes the president-elect is more willing to work with Russia and because he perceived Trump would adopt policies more favorable to Russia related to Syria and Ukraine.

By contrast, Putin criticized Clinton for her “aggressive rhetoric,” the report said.

Moscow also believed Trump as president would assist Moscow’s plan to build an international coalition against the Islamic State terror group.

“Putin has had many positive experiences working with western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder,” the report said.

Russian diplomats also were employed in publicly denouncing the U.S. electoral process and were ready to question the results if Clinton had been elected.

On social media, pro-Kremlin bloggers also had prepared a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #DemocracyRIP on election night.

The disinformation and influence operation was based on “years of investment” by the Russians and based on experiences used in influencing former Soviet states that Moscow is seeking to control in what is termed the “near abroad.”

“By their nature, Russian influence campaigns are multifaceted and designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organizations, and false-flag operations,” the report said.

An example was the takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 that used a combination of military forces and information warfare operations.

In the presidential campaign operations, leaks from cyber attacks, intrusions into state and local election networks, and overt propaganda were used. Russian intelligence agencies “both informed and enabled the influence campaign,” the report said.

In addition to the DNC and Podesta’s email, the Russians targeted the primary election campaigns, think tanks, and lobbying groups likely to be involved in shaping future policies.

For the DNC, Russian intelligence gained access from July 2015 until at least June 2016, with the GRU launching aggressive attacks beginning in March 2016.

“By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC,” the report said.

The information was provided to Guccifer 2.0 who claimed to be a Romanian hacker who the report says was likely Russian and probably more than one person.

DCLeaks.com began spreading GRU hacked data in June.

Contrary to Assange’s claims this week, the report said: “We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.”

“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,” the report said. “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

The report noted that in September Putin denied state-level involvement in the Russian campaign to hack the election and stated publicly that it was more important to focus on the leaked data than the source of the leaks.

On Russian ties to WikiLeaks, the report said the Kremlin’s main international propaganda outlet, RT, “actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.”

“RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT,” the report said.

RT also had an exclusive partnership with WikiLeaks that involved access to secret information. Additionally, RT provided sympathetic coverage of Assange and “provides him a platform to denounce the United States,” the report said.

Sputnik, an online outlet, along with a network of social media trolls are also part of the Moscow propaganda machine.

According to the report, Russian media viewed Trump’s election victory as validating Putin’s advocacy of global populist movements and an example of Western liberalism’s “collapse.”

Negative Russian propaganda coverage of Clinton included highlighting her bout with pneumonia in August.

An RT interview with Assange in August also suggested that Clinton and the Islamic State were funded by the same money. Additional reporting by RT focused on the Clinton Foundation and how all of the foundation’s funds went to the Clintons.

***

Also see: