Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fake News: The Russian Hacker Story

"If you can't maintain the dominant paradigm, at least you can subvert the emergent ones."


Jazz musician and iconoclast Harry Shearer observes that Donald Trump’s ability to openly lie and then deny he did and then move on to telling the same lie again is “profoundly transactional.

This trait is not new in US presidents, merely less concealed in our era by the RealPolitik that kept it more discrete before. We could go back and find examples from the very first presidency, but let’s just retrace to Franklin Roosevelt who, besides concealing his infidelities, of necessity had to dissemble about wartime secrets, as did Truman and Eisenhower when the wars grew cold. Nixon was profoundly secretive, arrogating to his office a false claim of constitutional authority, that, while it cost him his job, was kept around for his successors to use, more liberally with each administration.

To dissemble lubricates a slippery slope. Nixon was impeached for lying about the Watergate cover-up. Clinton was impeached for dallying with an intern. Mountains of lies invite being tunneled into and mined, and mining tools are getting better all the time. Is it any wonder then, that ‘secret’ lying by Reagan, Clinton, Obama, The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and others begat the baldface lying of Drudge, Fox, Trump and the new generation of fake news on steroids?

In the days before Christmas it easily escaped attention — certainly that of the mainstream echo chamber — that the US Lame Duck in Chief signed into law the LDNDAA (Lame Duck's National Defense Authorization Act) which legalized government propaganda — fake news — when deployed for national security against the citizenry of the US. The law gave the government sweeping powers to feed its minions — CNN, ABC, MSNBC — and covertly take down any competing news outlets that might dare to put out an alternative narrative or question the veracity of the fakes. RT Commentator Max Keiser called it a bailout for the bankrupt mainstream press.

If you can't maintain the dominant paradigm, at least you can subvert the emergent ones.

When our souls are mollified, a bee can sting.
— Cicero (Disp Tusc. II, 22)


[T]he Democrat / Prog coastal elite, hardcore Hillary, PC-and-unicorn crowd are moving through their post-election Kubler-Ross Transect-of-Grief from denial to anger….



Lately the Democratic Party in the US has adopted its own form of birtherism, which is using the “Russians hacked my homework” excuse for losing the last election. The evidence is flimsy, but that does not stop the handwaving, pompous haranguing, or other forms of smoke and mirrors. Lets look at the evidence.

According to the Obama spook estate, Russian hackers sent out volleys of phishing emails hoping someone would click. If you have email, you’ve seen this. They tell you that you won something, you qualify for a free trip, there is a bank error in your favor, or you have to upgrade some common piece of software like Java or Flash. Maybe, as in the case of a Russian hacker group that successfully phished Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party for 6 months in 2016, they’ll use un.org as their trojan domain. If you follow the link, they get your credit card info or your password. Maybe the password you are prompted for is the same one you use for gmail. That’s what happened to John Podesta.

He got a suspicious mail, sent it to an aide to look at, the aide thought it was legit and some lucky hackers in Moscow downloaded 60,000 messages from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s gmail account. So what do you do with 60000 messages if there is no money in it? Give it to Wikileaks.

At least one targeted individual activated links to malware hosted on operational infrastructure of opened attachments containing malware. APT29 delivered malware to the political party's systems, established persistence, escalated privileges, enumerated active directory accounts, and exfiltrated email from several accounts through encrypted connections back through operational infrastructure.


That was the normal part. Now comes the nasty part. Unnamed “security experts” in the employ of the Democratic National Committee but now cited by the White House and cyberwar apparatchiks within the beltway “believe two Kremlin-connected groups were behind the hack.” Take that apart: Two hyphen connected groups. For Kremlin, substitute Vladimir Putin, because surely nothing in the Kremlin happens unless he directs it (?). So boom: frontpage stories that Putin stole the US election and gave it to Donald Trump, and media cheerleaders go with that because, boy does that boost ad revenues. Soon to be a major motion picture. Saturday Night Live is having a field day.

The two groups were Moscow hackers known to Microsoft as APT (“advanced persistent threat”) 28, a.k.a. Fancy Bear, and APT 29 or Cozy Bear.

“We were shocked to find our names there,” Aleksey Gubarev [who alongside his IT company, has been listed in an FBI report as the cyberlink connecting Trump and Russian hackers, told RT-TV,  saying he had “never met” anyone listed in the report. “Nobody from the intelligence agency contacted me about this story... to verify this information,” he said. Neither did any journalists reach out to him.

The published report is “fake news,” Gubarev said. "I still do not understand why our names [are] there and we do not understand a reason of this report in general." It may not matter.

We are reminded of the Italian Memo. In a story for Vanity Fair in 2006,  Craig Unger recalled:
Though it may be unprepossessing, the Niger Embassy is the site of one of the great mysteries of our times. On January 2, 2001, an embassy official returned there after New Year’s Day and discovered that the offices had been robbed. Little of value was missing—a wristwatch, perfume, worthless documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. Nevertheless, the consequences of the robbery were so great that the Watergate break-in pales by comparison.

In his January 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush let this shoe fall: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” What came next is too horrible to recount, and it continues today, with each U238-mangled baby born in Fallujah. [Footnote: The new US Secretary of Defense is General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who ordered his marine tank corps to put a depleted uranium shell in every house in the city. More than 300,000 DU rounds are estimated to have been fired. The uranium dust in the air turned sunsets green. Birth defects are now much higher than those recorded among survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.]

The British government, of course, had learned nothing of the sort, although Tony Blair jumped on the Cheney bandwagon, calling it the “Dossier of Doom.” Within months, polls showed 90 percent of USAnians believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN, “There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Unger reported:

On the same day the “mushroom cloud” slogan made its debut, The New York Times printed a front-page story by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller citing administration officials who said that Saddam had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” Specifically, the article [planted by White House Aide Scooter Libby] contended that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.”

It was a clever hoax. Well, actually, not all that clever. Just repeated often, and loudly, from the bully pulpit. “That was their favorite bureaucratic technique —ruthless relentlessness,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell told Vanity Fair. The CIA had a mole inside Saddam’s war cabinet who told them there was no WMD program. The White House told the CIA that it no longer mattered and by the way they were the designated fall guy for the ensuing “intelligence failure.”

Disinformation of this kind was not new and the Italian bit players in the Niger ruse had entered the American political arena twice before. The first was during Reagan’s election campaign when embarrassing “facts” about Billy Carter, the President’s bubba brother, taking slush money from Libyan president Mohamar Khadafi to meet with Yassir Arafat. Never mind that Billy denied it, the news came out the last week in October, just before the election, and by then it was too late to track down the source: an Italian covert agency run by militant anti-Communists that had infiltrated the highest levels of Italy’s judiciary, parliament, military, and press, and was tied to assassinations, kidnappings, and arms deals around the world.

In 1981, the same covert network orchestrated a disinformation campaign saying Mehmet Ali Agca, the right-wing nut who shot Pope John Paul II, had been taking orders from the Soviet KGB and Bulgaria’s secret service. As Unger put it:

In light of the ascendancy of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the Pope’s homeland, the Bulgarian Connection played a role in the demise of Communism in 1989.

When Nixon stepped down in 1974, two individuals ascended to positions of almost unlimited power in the Ford White House. Donald Rumsfeld was the sixth White House chief of staff. Dick Cheney was the seventh. Cheney was House Minority Whip during the Reagan years, Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and later  the Ranking Member of the Select Committee to investigate the Iran-Contra Affair. He became Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush and Vice President under Number 43.

Did Cheney and Rumsfeld pull the Italian strings in Billygate and the Bulgarian Connection? No one is telling. What we know is that stationary stolen from the Niger embassy was used for a forgery and ultimately combined with other papers that were already in Italian secret service archives. A codebook and a dossier with a mixture of fake and genuine documents were delivered to Blair. Among the fakes, embassy stationery was used to forge a two-page memo purportedly sent to the president of Niger concerning the sale of 500 tons of pure uranium per year to Iraq.

The forged documents were full of errors. A letter dated October 10, 2000, was signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Elhadj Habibou — even though he had been out of office for more than a decade. Its September 28 postmark indicated that somehow the letter had been received nearly two weeks before it was sent. In another letter, President Tandja Mamadou’s signature appeared to be phony. The accord signed by him referred to the Niger constitution of May 12, 1965, when a new constitution had been enacted in 1999. One of the letters was dated July 30, 1999, but referred to agreements that were not made until a year later. Finally, the agreement called for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters—a spectacularly difficult feat.

* * *
Over the next two years, the Niger documents and reports based on them made at least three journeys to the C.I.A. They also found their way to the U.S. Embassy in Rome, to the White House, to British intelligence, to French intelligence, and to Elisabetta Burba, a journalist at Panorama, the Milan-based newsmagazine. Each of these recipients in turn shared the documents or their contents with others, in effect creating an echo chamber that gave the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.

A story by Seymour Hersh for The New Yorker suggested that retired and embittered C.I.A. operatives had intentionally put together a lousy forgery in hopes of embarrassing Cheney’s hawkish followers. If that was true it backfired. Never underestimate the gullibility of the press.

First Case in point: the fake National Guard documents that cost Dan Rather and Mary Mapes their jobs at CBS News.

Second Case in point: Russian hackers stole my election.

Another point we observe as we follow this thread was how language is used to frame subject. The “mushroom-cloud” and “smoking gun” visuals were so visceral they were repeated by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and became standard NeoCon talking points in the run-up to the Second Gulf War.

When RT says that President Obama leaves behind a “vast, unaccountable permanent warfare state,” or that levels of economic inequality in the West are “obscene,” or that Trump “terrifies European leaders,” it’s worth asking if it might be Russian disinformation. But it’s also worth asking if it might be true. Distrust but verify.
***
With the power to persecute and prosecute journalists, the American government is a dangerous media critic. Judging by the report on RT, it’s also a lousy one.
— Stephen Bates, Lawfare

The Russian hacking story gets reframed to appeal to different echo chambers. For the left wing it assuages the cognitive dissonance that comes when you try to wrap your mind around President… Donald… Trump. Never mind that what is said to have bent the election at the 11th hour was the content of the Podesta emails, not their source. For the right, it’s a chance to blame Obama for the “Cyber Gap” and the anticipation of another wondrous pot of gold at the end of a forthcoming defense authorization rainbow. Of course, neither side questions the veracity of electronic voting machines.

Next week we will look at how the same genetic program that allows us to swallow a yarn like the Russian hacker tale keeps us from doing the right thing about climate change. Later, we will learn how to turn that gene off. In the meantime, the best antidote to fake news is to take yours from as broad a spectrum of opinions as you can find and make your own judgment.

6 comments:

Robert Gillett said...

Albert,

We aren't as far apart on this issue as I feared. I do think your concerns over the NDAA counter-propaganda initiative are exaggerated. It seems like a prudent step. http://www.portman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=3765A225-B773-4F57-B21A-A265F4B5692C

Albert Bates said...

Robert we may have to agree to disagree on this. From where I sit one person's prudence is another person's pork.

"The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques."

This little K-Street bonanza will pay for many college educations and private boarding schools. We are well past the point where RT or CCTV's news wires resemble a press release from N Korea. Any dolt can recognize DPRK wordsmithing. For example:

“The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation. It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation. The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability." (http://www.lsiscan.com/North_Korea.htm)

This is something even an 11-year-old would be quick to parody.

On the other hand, I quite enjoy watching Sophie Shevardnadze get under the skin of Ralph Nader and ask hard questions that I know even Amy Goodman wouldn't. https://www.rt.com/shows/sophieco/375250-trump-impeachment-protests-us/

So, why do I need to be protected from Russia Today? And not the New York Times?

Will those who undergo NDDA training as journalists have to disclose that training or will they just be embedded like Judith Miller or Jackie Srouji?

Robert Gillett said...

Albert,

I noticed that Nader was careful to avoid his Russian host by making no direct reference to their propaganda campaign. The one good argument I have heard for watching RT is that you get to hear smart people like Ralph Nader and Jill Stein express their views, since U.S. media considers them fringe players.

If you don't want to screen out RT, you don't have to. However, it is important to know the source of information. A number of stories journalists are running with are of RT origin. The idea, I think, of the counter-propaganda effort is to educate less sophisticated local journalists to identify their true source and, as you say, verify.

Overall, I agree with your point that you can't put too much trust in corporate-owned media. There are a lot (not enough) of independent media sources available on the web to widen one's perspective. I found a partial list of these and included it in a blog post recently. http://marvalusmeanderings.blogspot.com/2017/01/truth-seeking.html

Much Respect,
Robert

Don Stewart said...

Albert
A little about RT.
Max Keiser and Stacey Herbert have a show on RT. Max's mother lived in my neighborhood. She was 92 when she went into the hospital, Max did a show with her from her hospital bed, but then she died. Max and Stacey have been visitors here quite a bit over the last couple of years. I see them sometimes in the coffee shop. They have done shows interviewing the local mayor in front of the City Tap. The local mayor was once the leader of the Democrat Party in North Carolina.

They filmed another session with the mayor a couple of days ago, sitting on a bench near the pond. If you are curious, you can look for the program.

After the witch-hunt about RT started, I joked with Stacey that I needed to make sure the hidden camera didn't catch me talking with Russian agents. Then I said something about censorship, and maybe they should go back to Europe (they have done a lot of programs from London). She said that the censorship problem is becoming severe in Britain, and that Britain is the only country that has tried to censor what they say.

But it can be impossible to have a reasonable discussion with Hillary supporters. I mentioned some of the postmortems Max and Stacey did after the election. I quoted Stacey's line 'the Democrats should be asking themselves how they lost to an imbecile, rather than trying to blame the loss on Putin'. A Hillary supporter said that Max and Stacey are Russian agents, and should go back to Moscow.

I don't think I have seen such a low level of public discourse since the glory days of Joe McCarthy.

Don Stewart

Steve Carrow said...

Head spinning......... This recursive, fractal rabbit hole is something I guess I should have a nodding familiarity with, but I will be focusing most of my energy on planting trees this coming year. Thanks for sniffing out what you can, but just know that I trust what you write here only a bit more than the average website, which is not much. I guess "their" plan is working.

Don Stewart said...

Anyone interested in hearing Max Keiser discuss political realities with the former head of the Democrat Party in North Carolina, and former mayor of Pittsboro, NC, can find it here. Go to the 9:45 minute mark:

https://www.rt.com/shows/keiser-report/375747-episode-max-keiser-1026/

Max is apparently going to run for Congress from this district. Near the end of the conversation, you will hear Max ask Voller when the Democrats are going to move beyond blaming Putin for everything.

Don Stewart

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