Jimmy Dore Gets the Last Laugh on Russia-gate

John Walsh recommends the YouTube comedian who tackles the establishment herd.

By John V. Walsh
Antiwar.com 

Jimmy Dore is a comic who has taken on Russia-gate, a deadly serious matter. He is one of those brave souls who count themselves as progressives but dared to call into question Russia-gate.

There are those who will tell you that President Donald Trump is a despicable human; and so, if Russia-gate tarnished Trump, the argument goes, what did it matter whether it was true. (The proposition that Trump is more monstrous than his predecessors, Obama, W or the Clintons is highly dubious to say the least – but that is a different topic.)

There is, however, a very good reason why it does matter whether the charges making up Russia-gate are true; for opposing Trump over his tax policies or stance on health care is quite a different matter from labeling him a Manchurian Candidate who colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016. Russia-gate put a U.S. president in a position where he was unable to negotiate crucial issues with the other nuclear superpower.

To do so invited charges of being a Putin puppet, as evidenced by the howls that went up from the Establishment and most progressives over the Helsinki Summit. 

What if the tensions between the U.S. and Russia were to spin out of control in hot spots like Syria, where troops from the two nuclear superpowers pass within a whisker of one another, or Ukraine or even Venezuela? To extract us from such a predicament, Putin and Trump would need to make concessions to one another, as President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev did successfully in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But with the cloud of Russia-gate hanging over his head Trump could make no such concession without being labeled a treasonous Putin puppet. So, Russia-gate took away from Trump the ability to negotiate his way out of an existential threat should one emerge. As such it should have been based on the highest levels of evidence. In fact, it was not based on any hard evidence at all – there was none for the central charge of collusion. And the Mueller investigation finally admitted this.

Given this, those who knowingly concocted Russia-gate owe us all a great apology, for they committed the most serious of crimes by creating a situation that potentially threatened the existence of the American and Russian peoples – and perhaps all of humanity.

Absurd from the Start

The absurdity of Russia-gate and the absence of evidence for it was evident from the start. But very few on the progressive side broke with the mainstream media and the Democratic Party political herd to say so. That carried the risk of being shunned in progressive circles. Or as one brave Russia-gate dissident said under his breath, “I don’t have much social life any longer.” That fact in itself is a sad commentary on what is called “progressivism” in the U.S.

Nevertheless, a handful of Russia-gate debunkers emerged on the left, including Robert Parry and others at Consortium News, Aaron Maté now at The Nation, Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, Michael Tracey, Stephen F. Cohen of EastWestAccord.com, Ray McGovern of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone, Craig Murray, and others.

They deserve enormous credit for poring over the detritus that the media dumped on us 24/7 for over two years and refuting it, one noxious bit at a time. 

A standout among these dissidents is Dore, a nightclub comic with a YouTube show run out of his garage in Pasadena, California. Dore took on Russia-gate just as he took on the Dem Establishment and backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016. He now offers high praise for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the peace candidate for 2020. Dore made the exposure of Russia-gate fun. 

He enjoys raising a simple question in the wake of the Mueller report: How did a “jagoff comedian,” as he calls himself, who claims on occasion to smoke marijuana when he gets out of bed in the morning, get Russia-gate right when grads of the Columbia School of Journalism and pundits like Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow and David Corn got it so wrong? 

Paid to Lie

Dore has the answer, taking MSNBC’s Maddow as an example who earns $30,000 for every single show. For that and the celebrity career that goes with it, she lies – simple as that. Dore even allows that he might be willing to lie at $30,000 an hour. But, he laments, the invitation has not been forthcoming.

And what is true of Maddow and the other cable “news” talking heads is just as true of the upscale propagandists who dump their extrusions into gilded receptacles like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and NPR. In contrast to be a Dore or any of the other truth tellers requires a considerable dose of courage, because swimming against the mainstream can be a career terminator as Chris Hedges once of the NYT and a number of others can testify.

It is very satisfying to watch Dore in action – and funny. At the gym I watch Jimmy on my iPad to save me from looking up at the omnipresent fake news on CNN. My cardiac health, as well as my mental health, over the past two years has depended on his show. If Dore were a physician, he could bill me.

You can best appreciate the Jimmy Dore show by going to YouTube and watching an episode. I recommend this one, “Mueller Report Drops! Aaron Maté Explains.”

Here Maté also names the names of the fake progressives who caved to the Establishment narrative and some of the heroes who did not. Dore expresses his usual sympathy for Mate’ for having to live among journalists most of whom compromise themselves whereas Dore gets to dwell among comics. 

For a dose of truth, sanity and fun – catch the Jimmy Dore Show. Beyond Russia-gate, Dore has the bogus basis for war on Venezuela and Iran – along with the 2020 election and its rich veins of hypocrisy — to mine.

 John V. Walsh can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com.  He writes about issues of war, peace and empire, and about health care, for Antiwar.com, Consortium News, DissidentVoice.org and other outlets.  Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently professor of physiology and cellular neuroscience at a medical school in New England. 

This article was first published on Antiwar.com.




Grenfell, Windrush & Skripal: Theresa May’s Tainted Legacy

The next UK prime minister inherits a divided nation, a reduced standing in the world and one of the worst periods in British-Russian relations, writes Johanna Ross.

By Johanna Ross
InfoRos

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s political career officially ended in tears last Friday, as the woman who declared that she would provide “strong and stable” leadership when she came to power three years ago, but who proved in the end to be not quite so strong or stable as she broke down in front of the press outside 10 Downing Street.

She had in fact, arguably one of the most disastrous records of a UK prime minister to date. A total of 50 cabinet resignations since she took office, far more than any of her recent predecessors; together with scandals such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, Windrush scandal, hostile environment policy and record levels of homelessness and poverty.  And that’s not to mention her inability to deliver Brexit, which effectively led to her demise.

Indeed however tempting it may be to feel sorry for May — she has been surrounded by political vultures all vying for her position for months now — one is minded of the words of British political commentator Owen Jones who, when asked recently if he felt sorry for the prime minister, noted that May’s tears were simply those of self-pity and were absent at times when they would have been appropriate, such as in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives.

‘Permanent Crisis’

One may be inclined to think that if she was so unsuccessful on the domestic front, then perhaps in the area of foreign policy May could have had a better record. No such luck. We only have to look at the considerable deterioration in relations with Russia to understand that under her leadership, Britain’s standing in the world has diminished. Prominent British journalist Patrick Cockburn has even gone as far to say that Britain is now “entering a period of permanent crisis not seen since the 17th century.”

But arguably back in the 17th century the U.K. was more competent in the art of diplomacy than it is now.  May’s defense minister, Gavin Williamson, with his comment that Russia should “go away and shut up” epitomized the extraordinary lack of finesse and savoir-faire the May government had when dealing with Russia. 

His bellicose tone unfortunately went hand-in-hand with a completely misplaced notion of Russia presenting to the UK some kind of genuine threat, as he argued earlier this year that the UK had to “enhance its lethality” against such well-resourced states, as opposed to concentrating its energies on Islamic terror groups. He was then accused by fellow politicians of “sabre-rattling” in what were widely seen as misguided and provocative statements.

However, Williamson was not alone in his anti-Russian stance. It was under May’s leadership that the controversial government-funded Integrity Initiative program really began to flourish. Designed to “counteract Russian propaganda” it instead deceptively engaged in spreading disinformation about Russia and even the UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by hiring journalists, academics and commentators who would all sing from the same hymn sheet when it came to discourse about Russia in the press.

What was most chilling about the revelations in the Integrity Initiative hacked documents was the extent to which policy makers within the inner workings of the establishment are apparently obsessed about an imminent “Russian threat” and are prepared to go to considerable lengths to persuade the British population of this.

Uncanny Timing

Even more unnerving was the discussion that there was need for some event to be staged in order to heighten the U.K. population’s awareness of a Russian threat. The timing was uncanny: this was not long before the poisoning took place of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which has, along with multiple discrepancies in the British narrative, led some analysts to ask whether the whole incident was indeed orchestrated by British secret services. 

Staged or not, May’s handling of the Skripal incident left much to be desired. Even her experience of handling the Litvinenko affair as home secretary hadn’t taught her a great deal. Before any concrete evidence was produced to implicate the Russian government in the poisoning, May was already issuing ultimatums to the Russian president. Her infamous phrase that the government concluded it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the poisoning even entered itself into the Russian vocabulary and became something of a household joke in Russia.

The decision to publicly accuse another state of attempting murder on British soil with evidence that only amounted to “a nerve agent of a type produced by Russia,” was utterly reckless, not only deeply harming relations with Russia, but undermining the credibility of the U.K. as a whole. And despite it being an attempt to bolster the PM’s position at a time when desperately needed to generate support for her upcoming Brexit white paper – this itself, given a delayed Brexit and divided country, proved fruitless.

So what can we expect from the next prime minister of the not-so-Great Britain? Whoever it is has their work cut out not only to unite the Conservative party, but the country. In terms of improving relations with Russia — as long as the Tories remain in power, and the “deep state” or civil service continues to push its aggressive anti-Russian agenda —, we are unlikely to see any significant change in policy.

One could hope that a certain Boris Johnson, himself named after a Russian émigré, and the leading candidate to replace May, could seek to build bridges in this regard, but his record on the Skripal case leaves room for doubt. The PM is after all a figurehead, and the UK civil service remains a driving force of policy-making.

As former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair once said: “You cannot underestimate how much they [the civil service] believe it’s their job to actually run the country and to resist the changes put forward by people they dismiss as ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians. They genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out.”  Says it all really.

This article originally appeared on InfoRos.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.




Election-Meddling Follies, 1945-2019

Coverage of the 2016 elections and the ensuing Mueller investigation provided a showcase of American exceptionalism, writes Tom Engelhardt.

By Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch.com

In this country, reactions to the Mueller report have been all-American beyond belief. Let’s face it, when it comes to election meddling, it’s been me, me, me, 24/7 here. Yes, in some fashion some set of Russians meddled in the last election campaign, whether it was, as Jared Kushner improbably claimed, “a couple of Facebook ads” or, as the Mueller report described it, “the Russian government interfer[ing]… in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

But let me mention just a few of the things that we didn’t learn from the Mueller report. We didn’t learn that Russian agents appeared at Republican Party headquarters in 2016 with millions of dollars in donations to influence the coming election. (Oops, my mistake!  That was CIA agents in the Italian election of 1948!) We didn’t learn that a Russian intelligence agency in combination with Chinese intelligence, aided by a major Chinese oil company, overthrew an elected U.S. president and installed Donald Trump in the White House as their autocrat of choice. (Oops, my mistake again! That was the CIA, dispatched by an American president, and British intelligence, with the help of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later BP. In 1953, they overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the elected prime minister of Iran, and installed the young Shah as an autocratic ruler, the very first — but hardly the last — time the CIA successfully ousted a foreign government.)

We didn’t learn that key advisers to Russian President Vladimir Putin were in close touch with rogue elements of the U.S. military preparing to stage a coup d’état in Washington, kill President Barack Obama in a direct assault on the White House, and put the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in office. (Sorry, again my slip-up and full apologies! That was President Richard Nixon’s adviser Henry Kissinger in contact with Chilean military officers who, on Sept. 11, 1973 — the first 9/11 — staged an armed uprising during which Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of that country, died and army commander-in-chief Augusto Pinochet took power.)

We didn’t learn that, at the behest of Vladimir Putin, Russian secret service agents engaged in a series of plots to poison or in some other fashion assassinate Barack Obama during his presidency and, in the end, had at least a modest hand in encouraging those who did kill him after he left office. (Oh, wait, I was confused on that one, too. I was actually thinking about the plots, as the 1960s began, to do in Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.)

Nor, for that matter, did we learn that the Russian military launched a regime-change-style invasion of this country to unseat an American president and get rid of our weapons of mass destruction and then occupied the country for years after installing Donald Trump in power. (Sorry one more time! What I actually had in mind before I got so muddled up was the decision of the top officials of President George W. Bush’s administration, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to launch a “regime-change” invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on fraudulent claims that Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, and install a government of their choice in Baghdad.)

No, none of that happened here. Still, even though most Americans might find it hard to believe, we weren’t exactly the first country to have an election meddled with by an intrusive foreign power with an agenda all its own! And really, my examples above just begin an endless list of events the Mueller report didn’t mention, ones that most Americans no longer know anything about or we wouldn’t have acted as if the Russian election intervention of 2016 stood essentially alone in history.

I don’t, however, want that to sound like blame. After all, if you lived in the United States in these years and didn’t already know the secret history of American intervention and regime change across the globe from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union, you could be forgiven for thinking that never had anyone done anything quite so dastardly as did the Putin regime in attempting to hack and alter the results of an American election. In the media, that Russian intervention has (with the rarest of exceptions) been covered as if it were an event unique in history. Admittedly, whatever the Russians did do in 2016 to lend a hand to Donald Trump, they didn’t plan a coup d’état; it wasn’t an assassination attempt; and it wasn’t, in the normal sense, what has come to be known as “regime change.”

World of Chaos Without End

Let’s start with one thing that should have been (but wasn’t) obvious since the first reports on Russian meddling in the election campaign of 2016 began to appear. Historically speaking, such a plan fits well with a classic Russian tradition. As scholar Dov Levin discovered in studying “partisan election interventions” from 1946 to 2000, the Russians — the Soviet Union until 1991 — engaged in a staggering 36 of them globally.

If, however, you jumped to the conclusion that such an impressive cumulative figure gave the Russians the world’s record for election meddling, think again. In fact, it left them languishing in a distant second place when it came to interfering in other countries’ elections over more than four decades. The United States took the crown with, by Levin’s count, a distinctly imperial 81 interventions! (USA! USA!)

Put another way, the two Cold War superpowers together meddled in approximately “one of every nine competitive elections” in that era in at least 60 countries covering every part of the planet but Oceania. Moreover, only seven of them were in the same election in the same country at the same time.

And elections are but one part of a story of meddling on a scale that has been historically remarkable. In her book Covert Regime Change,” Lindsey O’Rourke notes that between 1947 and 1989, a span of nine Cold War-era American administrations, the least number of “U.S.-backed regime-change attempts” per president was three (Gerald Ford’s administration), the most 30 (Dwight D. Eisenhower’s). Harry Truman’s administration came in second with 21, Lyndon Johnson’s third with 19, Ronald Reagan’s fourth with 16, John F. Kennedy’s fifth with 15, and Richard Nixon’s sixth with 10.

And keep in mind that, while such numbers remain unprecedented, despite a number of short-term successes from Iran to Guatemala, this was not generally a notable achievement record of remaking the world in the image Washington desired. Many of those regime-change attempts, especially against countries in the Soviet bloc, failed dismally. Others created chaos or regimes that not only did their citizens little good but didn’t end up doing much for Washington either. Still, that didn’t stop one administration after another from trying, which is why the numbers remain mind-boggling.

And then the Soviet Union imploded and there was but a “sole” superpower left on Planet Earth. Its leaders had no doubt that its ultimate moment had come and it was to be no less than the end of history!” The planet was obviously Washington’s for the taking. No more need for subterfuge, subtle election meddling, secret support for dissidents, or even covert regime change, not when the only opposition to an American planet was a few weak “rogue states” (think: the axis of evil,” also known as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea), a desperately weakened and impoverished but still nuclear-armed Russia, and a modestly rising future power in Asia.

And then, of course, came 9/11, that staggering act of blowback — in part from one of the great “successes” of CIA covert action in the Cold War, the decisive defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan thanks to the funding and arming of a set of extremist Islamist militants, a war in which a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden gained a certain modest reputation. On that day in 2001, the last superpower, the one exceptional nation, became the planet’s greatest victim and all hell was let loose (just as bin Laden hoped it would be).

In response, in a world without other superpowers, the country with, as one president proudly put it, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” no longer needed to meddle secretly (or at least in a fashion that allowed for “plausible deniability”). With the invasion of Afghanistan that October, open regime change became the order of the day. Iraq would come in 2003, Libya in 2011. The U.S. Air Force and the CIA’s drones would bomb and missile at least seven countries across the Greater Middle East and North Africa repeatedly in the years to come, helping reduce great cities to rubble, uprooting and displacing massive numbers of people, creating failed states galore, and setting in motion forces that, from Pakistan to Syria, Yemen to Niger, would in turn unsettle a significant part of the planet.

And, of course, it would all prove to be a militarized failure of the first order. And yet, with a potential new conflict ramping up in Iran and the U.S. still fighting in Afghanistan almost 18 years later, America’s wars show little sign of winding down. Only recently, for instance, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff assured a group of senators that the American military would “need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan,” which should be considered the very definition of a forever war. Think of it as a world of chaos without end and now consider again that Russian meddling in an American election.

Exceptional Meddling

By the way, whatever the Russians did in 2016 (or may do in the future to American or other elections) is deplorable and should be denounced, no matter how slapdash it might have been. After all, as Dov Levin discovered, it doesn’t necessarily take much to affect the result of an election in another country. Here’s his conclusion for election meddling in the Cold War era:

“I find that an electoral intervention in favor of one of the sides contesting [an] election has a statistically significant effect, increasing its vote share by about 3%. Such an effect can have major ‘real life’ implications. For example, such a swing in the vote share from the winner to the loser in the 14 U.S. presidential elections occurring since 1960 would have been sufficient to change the identity of the winner in seven of these elections.”

As we all know, a 3 percentage-point shift in the 2016 election in several states would have made a staggering difference. After all, as The Washington Post reported, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by “0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively — and by 10,704, 46,765, and 22,177 votes. Those three wins gave him 46 electoral votes; if Clinton had done one point better in each state, she’d have won the electoral vote, too.”

So, the issue isn’t faintly whether Russian electoral meddling was despicable or not. The issue is that it’s been covered here, like so much else has in this century, as yet another case of American exceptionalism (but never narcissism). As on 9/11 — forget that first 9/11 in Chile — we eternally stand alone in our experiences because, by definition, we are the special ones, the ones who matter.

In the case of election meddling, however, this country just joined a moiling crowd of the interfered with — and largely by us. It was a classic case of getting a taste of one’s own medicine and not liking it one bit. It should have taught us a lesson about our own global behavior since World War II. Instead, it’s simply continued us on a path of exceptional meddling that will prove someday to have been one of the great follies in history.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture.” He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).




Russia-gate’s Monstrous Offspring

Russia-gate has shed any premise of being about Russian interference, writes Daniel Lazare,  but the idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.     

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

Americans used to think that Russia-gate was about a plot to hack the 2016 election.  They were wrong.  Russia-gate is really about an immense conspiracy to do four things:

No. 1: Ratchet up tensions with Russia to ever more dangerous levels;

No. 2: Show that Democrats are even more useless than people imagined;

No. 3: Persecute Julian Assange;

No. 4: Re-elect Donald Trump as president.

This was the takeaway from Mitch McConnell’s devastating case closed speech last week in which the Senate majority leader jeered at President Barack Obama for mocking Mitt Romney’s claim (seven years ago now) that Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”  As Obama famously replied during that presidential debate: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

But that was so 2012.  Now, says McConnell, it looks like Romney was right:

“We’d have been better off if the administration hadn’t swept [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invasion and occupation of Georgia under the rug or looked away as Russia forced out western NGO’s and cracked down on civil society.  If President Obama hadn’t let Assad trample his red line in Syria or embraced Putin’s fake deal on chemical weapons, if the Obama administration had responded firmly to Putin’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in 2014, to the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015, and to Russia intervention in Syria — maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened, maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn’t have seemed so very tempting. 

“Instead,” McConnell went on, “the previous administration sent the Kremlin a signal they could get away with almost anything, almost anything.  So is it surprising that we got the brazen interference detailed in special counsel Mueller’s report?”

Lies and Distortions

Like so much out of Congress these days, this was a farrago of lies and distortions.  It wasn’t Moscow that started the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, but Tbilisi.  While Russia has indeed cracked down on U.S.-backed NGO’s, Washington has done the same by forcing Russia’s highly successful news agency RT to register as a foreign agent and by sentencing Maria Butina, a Russian national studying at American University, to 18 months in prison for the crime of hobnobbing with members of the National Rifle Association. The charge that Syrian President Bashar al Assad “trampled” Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons is hardly as clear-cut as imperial propagandists like to believe – to say the least – while the agreement between Putin and former Secretary of State John Kerry to rid Syria of chemical weapons was not fake at all, but an example, increasingly rare unfortunately, of diplomacy being used to prevent an international crisis from getting out of hand.

And so on ad nauseum.  But what could Democrats say in response given that they’ve spent the last three years trying to out-hawk the GOP?  Answer: nothing.  All they could do was try to turn tables on McConnell by charging him with not being anti-Russian enough.  Thus, New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer accused him of aiding and abetting Moscow while Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin accused him of running interference for Putin because he “feels the Russians were on the side of the Republicans in 2016 and just might be again in 2020.”

Democrats Feed the Super Hawks 

The result: a Democratic consensus that Russia can’t be trusted and that America must put itself on a war footing to prevent Putin from “toppl[ing] the mighty oak that has been our republic for two hundred years,” as Schumer put it. It’s an across-the-board agreement that the long-awaited Mueller report has only strengthened by regurgitating the intelligence-community line that “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and then cherry-picking the facts to fit its preconceived thesis.  (See Top Ten Questions About the Mueller Report,” May 6.)

Democrats claim to oppose National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, but the anti-Russian hysteria they promote strengthens the hand of such super-hawks.  It makes military conflict more likely, if not with Russia then with perceived Russian surrogates such as  Venezuela or Iran. 

Simultaneously, it backfires on Democrats by making them look weak and foolish as they argue that even though the Mueller report says “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” somehow “significant evidence of collusion” still exists, as an increasingly unhinged Rep. Adam Schiff maintains.  In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of congressional Democrats, no evidence does not mean no evidence.  In fact, it means the opposite. 

Voters are unmoved.  Ten times more Americans – 80 versus 8 percent – care about healthcare than about Russia according to a recent survey.  When CNN pollsters asked a thousand people in mid-March to name the issues that matter most, not one mentioned Russia or the Mueller probe. If they didn’t care when collusion was still an open question, they care even less now that the only issue is obstruction plus a phony constitutional crisis that desperate Democrats have conjured up out of thin air.

Trump the Chief Beneficiary

Besides Fox News – whose ratings have soared while Russia-obsessed CNN’s have plummeted – the chief beneficiary is Trump.  Post-Mueller, the man has the wind in his sails.  Come 2020, Sen. Bernie Sanders could cut through his phony populism with ease.  But if Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post succeeds in tarring him with Russia the same way it tried to tar Trump, then the Democratic nominee will be a bland centrist whom the incumbent will happily bludgeon.  Former Vice President Joe Biden – the John McCain-loving, speech-slurring, child-fondler who was for a wall along the Mexican border before he was against it – will end up as a bug splat on the Orange One’s windshield. 

Beto O’Rourke, the rich-kid airhead who declared shortly before the Mueller report was released that Trump, “beyond the shadow of a doubt, sought to … collude with the Russian government,” will not fare much better.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren meanwhile seems to be tripping over her own two feet as she predicts one moment that Trump is heading to jail, declares the next that voters don’t care about the Mueller report because they’re too concerned with bread-and-butter issues, and then calls for dragging Congress into the impeachment morass regardless.

Such “logic” is lost on voters, so it seems to be a safe bet that enough will stay home next Election Day to allow the rough beast to slouch towards Bethlehem yet again.

Assange Convicted in Eyes of Press

Then there’s Julian Assange, currently serving a 50-week sentence in a supermax prison outside of London after being ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy.  By claiming that the WikiLeaks founder was “dissembling” by denying that Russia was the source of the mammoth Democratic National Committee leak in July 2016, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has effectively convicted him in the eyes of Congress and the press. 

The New York Times thus reports that Mueller has revealed that Russian intelligence was the source while, in a venomous piece by Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger, The Washington Post declared that Assange “is neither whistleblower nor journalist,” but someone who helped Russian intelligence interfere in “the American electoral process.”

Schumer thus greeted Assange’s April 11 arrest by tweeting his “hope [that] he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government,” while, in a truly chilling statement, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia declared that “[i]t will be really good to get him back on United States soil [so] we can get the facts and the truth from him.”

Assange is guiltier than ever.  If Washington gets its hands on him, he’ll no doubt be hauled before some sort of Star Chamber and then clapped in a dungeon somewhere until he confesses that Russian intelligence made him do it, even though a careful reading of the Mueller report strongly suggests the opposite. (See The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report,” April 18.)

Assange languishing behind bars, war breaking out in Latin America or the Persian Gulf, Trump in the Oval Office for four years more – it’s the worst of all possible worlds, and the Democratic Party’s bizarre fixation with Vladimir Putin is what’s pushing it.

Ultimately, Russia-gate is yet a variation on the tired old theme of American innocence.  If something goes wrong, it can’t be the fault of decent Americans who, as we all know, are too good for our deeply flawed world.  Rather, it must be the fault of dastardly foreigners trying to hack our democracy.  It’s a deep-rooted form of xenophobia that has fueled everything from the criminalization of marijuana (smuggled in by evil Mexicans) to the 1950s Red Scare (a reaction to Communism smuggled in by evil Russians), and the war on terrorism (the work of evil Muslims).  The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.

But Russia-gate may be the greatest delusion of all.  After decades of celebrating Donald Trump as the essence of American flash and hustle, the corporate media have decided that the only way he could have gotten into the White House is if Putin put him there.  The upshot is a giant conspiracy to force Americans to turn their back on reality, an effort that can only end in disaster for all concerned, Democrats first and foremost.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.




Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate

Ray McGovern calls out the void of evidence at the heart of the Senate hearing with Attorney General Barr on Wednesday.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

George Orwell would have been in stitches Wednesday watching Attorney General William Barr and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spar on Russia-gate.  The hearing had the hallmarks of the intentionally or naively blind leading the blind with political shamelessness.

From time to time the discussion turned to the absence of a legal “predicate” to investigate President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia.  That is, of course, important; and we can expect to hear a lot more about that in coming months.

More important: what remains unacknowledged is the absence of an evidence-based major premise that should have been in place to anchor the rhetoric and accusations about Russia-gate over the past three years.  With a lack of evidence sufficient to support a major premise, any syllogism falls of its own weight.

The major premise that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and gave WikiLeaks highly embarrassing emails cannot bear close scrutiny. Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan has told Congress he does not “do evidence.” In the same odd vein, Brennan’s former FBI counterpart James Comey chose not to “do evidence” when he failed to seize and inspect the DNC computers that a contractor-of-ill-repute working for the DNC claimed were hacked by Russia.

Call us old fashioned, but we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) still “do evidence” — and, in the case at hand, forensic investigation.  For those who “can handle the truth,” the two former NSA technical directors in VIPS can readily explain how the DNC emails were not hacked — by Russia or anyone else — but rather were copied and leaked by someone with physical access to the DNC computers.

We first reported hard forensic evidence to support that judgment in a July 2017 memorandum for the president. Substantial evidence that has accumulated since then strengthens our confidence in that and in related conclusions.  Our conclusions are not based on squishy “assessments,” but rather on empirical, forensic investigations — evidence based on fundamental principles of science and the scientific method.

Bizarre, Medieval

All “serious” members of the establishment, including Barr, his Senate interrogators, and the “mainstream media” feel required to accept as dogma the evidence-free conventional wisdom that Russia hacked into the DNC.  If you question it, you are, ipso facto, a heretic — and a “conspiracy theorist,” to boot.

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Again, shades of Orwell and his famous “two plus two equals five.”  Orwell’s protagonist in “1984,” Winston Smith, imagines that the State might proclaim that “two plus two equals five” is fact.  Smith wonders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true?

Actually, the end goal is not to get you to parrot that two plus two equals five. The end goal is to make it so you’d never even consider that two plus two could equal anything other than five.

During the entire Barr testimony Wednesday, no one departed from the safe, conventional wisdom about Russian hacking.  We in VIPS, at least, resist the notion that this makes it true.  We shall continue to insist that two and two is four, and point out the flaws in any squishy “Intelligence Community Assessment” that concludes, even “with high confidence,” that the required answer is “five.”

Doubtful Dogma

Wednesday’s Senate hearing brought a painful flashback to a similarly widely-held, but evidence-free dogma — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. attacked that country. It gets worse: Many of the same people who promoted the spurious claims about WMD are responsible for developing and proclaiming the dogma about Russian hacking into the DNC.  The Oscar for his performance in the role of misleader goes, once again, to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose “credits” go back to the WMD fiasco in which he played a central role.

Before the war on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put Clapper in charge of analysis of satellite imagery, the most definitive collection system for information on WMD.  In his memoir, Clapper admits, with stomach-churning nonchalance, that intelligence officers, including me, were so eager to help [spread the Cheney/Bush claim that Iraq had a ‘rogue WMD program’] that we found what wasn’t really there.” [Emphasis added]

Last November as Clapper was hawking his memoir at the Carnegie Endowment I had a chance during the Q and A to pursue him on that and on Russia-gate.  I began:

“You confess [in Clapper’s book] to having been shocked that no weapons of mass destruction were found.  And then, to your credit, you admit, as you say here [quoting from the book], ‘the blame is due to intelligence officers, including me, who were so eager to help [the administration make war on Iraq] that we found what wasn’t really there.’”

“Now fast forward to two years ago.  Your superiors were hell bent on finding ways to blame Trump’s victory on the Russians.  Do you think that your efforts were guilty of the same sin here?  Do you think that you found a lot of things that weren’t really there?  Because that’s what our conclusion is, especially from the technical end.  There was no hacking of the DNC; it was leaked, and you know that because you talked to NSA.”

Evidence

Back to the Senate hearing on Wednesday: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), during a line of questioning about evidence of obstruction of justice, asked the attorney general if he personally reviewed the underlying evidence in the Mueller report.

 “No,” said Barr, “We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.  We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate.  We accepted it as accurate.”

Harris: You accepted the report as evidence?  You did not question or look at the underlying evidence?

Barr: We accepted the statements in the report and the characterization of the evidence as true.”

Harris: “You have made it clear that you did not look at the evidence.”

It was crystal clear on Wednesday that Barr had bigger fish to fry, as well as protective nets to deflect incoming shells.  He is likely to be preoccupied for weeks answering endless questions about his handling of the Mueller report. It is altogether possible, though, that in due course he plans to look into the origins of Russia-gate and the role of Clapper, Brennan and Comey in creating and promoting the evidence-free dogma that Russia hacked into the DNC — and, more broadly, that, absent Russia’s support, Trump would not be president.

For the moment, however, we shall have to live with “The Russians Still Did It, Whether Trump Colluded or Not.”  There remains an outside chance, however, that the truth will emerge, perhaps even before November 2020, and that, this time, the Democrats will be shown to have shot themselves in both feet.

For further background, please see:

VIPS Fault Mueller Probe, Criticize Refusal to Interview Assange

VIPS: Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, with special expertise on Russia, and prepared The President’s Daily Brieffor Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report

Like Team Mueller’s indictment last July of Russian agents, the full report reveals questions about Wikileaks’ role that much of the media has been ignoring, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

As official Washington pores over the Gospel According to Saint Robert, an all-important fact about the Mueller report has gotten lost in the shuffle.  Just as the Christian gospels were filled with holes, the latest version is too – particularly with regard to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

The five pages that the special prosecutor’s report devotes to WikiLeaks are essentially lifted from Mueller’s indictment last July of 12 members of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU.  It charges that after hacking the Democratic National Committee, the GRU used a specially-created online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 to transfer a gigabyte’s worth of stolen emails to WikiLeaks just as the 2016 Democratic National Convention was approaching.  Four days after opening the encrypted file, the indictment says, “Organization 1 [i.e. WikiLeaks] released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC network by the Conspirators [i.e. the GRU].”

Mueller’s report says the same thing, but with the added twist that Assange then tried to cover up the GRU’s role by suggesting that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich may have been the source and by telling a congressman that the DNC email heist was an “inside job” and that he had “physical proof” that the material was not from Russian.

All of which is manna from heaven for corporate news outlets eager to pile on Assange, now behind bars in London.  An April 11, 2019, New York Times news analysis, for instance, declared that “[c]ourt documents have revealed that it was Russian intelligence – using the Guccifer persona – that provided Mr. Assange thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee,” while another Times article published shortly after his arrest accuses the WikiLeaks founder of “promoting a false cover story about the source of the leaks.”

But there’s a problem: it ain’t necessarily so.  The official story that the GRU is the source doesn’t hold water, as a timeline from mid-2016 shows.  Here are the key events based on the GRU indictment and the Mueller report:

  • June 12: Assange tells Britain’s ITV that another round of Democratic Party disclosures is on the way: “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great. WikiLeaks is having a very big year.”
  • June 14: The Democratic National Committee accuses Russia of hacking its computers.
  • June 15: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the hack. “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks ,” he brags.  “They will publish them soon.”
  • June 22: WikiLeaks tells Guccifer via email: “Send any new material here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”
  • July 6: WikiLeaks sends Guccifer another email: “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.”Replies Guccifer: “ok . . . i
  • July 14: Guccifer sends WikiLeaks an encrypted file titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.”
  • July 18: WikiLeaks confirms it has opened “the 1Gb or so archive” and will release documents “this week.”
  • July 22: WikiLeaks releases more than 20,000 DNC emails and 8,000 other attachments.

According to Mueller and obsequious news outlets like the Times, the sequence is clear: Guccifer sends archive, WikiLeaks receives archive, WikiLeaks accesses archive, WikiLeaks publishes archive.  Donald Trump may not have colluded with Russia, but Julian Assange plainly did. [Attorney General Will Barr, significantly calling WikiLeaks a publisher, said at his Thursday press conference: “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.”]

Avoiding Questions

The narrative raises questions that the press studiously avoids.  Why, for instance, would Assange announce on June 12 that a big disclosure is on the way before hearing from the supposed source?  Was there a prior communication that Mueller has not disclosed? What about the reference to “new material” on June 22 – does that mean Assange already had other material in hand?  After opening the Guccifer file on July 18, why would he publish it just four days later?  Would that give WikiLeaks enough time to review some 28,000 documents to insure they’re genuine?

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“If a single one of those emails had been shown to be maliciously altered,” blogger Mark F. McCarty observes, “Wikileaks’ reputation would have been in tatters.” There’s also the question that an investigator known as Adam Carter poses in Disobedient Media:  why would Guccifer brag about giving WikiLeaks“thousands of files” that he wouldn’t send for another month?

The narrative doesn’t make sense a fact that is crucially important now that Assange is fighting for his freedom in the U.K.  New Yorker staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian sounded a rare note of caution last summer when he warned that little about Guccifer 2.0 adds up.  While claiming to be the source for some of WikiLeaks’ most explosive emails, the material he released on his own had proved mostly worthless – 20 documents that he “said were from the DNC but which were almost surely not,” as Khatchadourian puts it, a purported Hillary Clinton dossier that “was nothing of the sort,” screenshots of emails so blurry as to be “unreadable,” and so forth.

While insisting that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party, Assange told Khatchadourian that the source was not Guccifer either.  “We received quite a lot of submissions of material that was already published in the rest of the press, and people seemingly submitted the Guccifer archives,” he said somewhat cryptically. “We didn’t publish them.  They were already published.”  When Khatchadourian asked why he didn’t put the material out regardless, he replied that “the material from Guccifer 2.0 – or on WordPress – we didn’t have the resources to independently verify.”

No Time for Vetting

So four days was indeed too short a time to subject the Guccifer file to proper vetting.  Of course, Mueller no doubt regards this as more “dissembling,” as his report describes it.  Yet WikiLeaks has never been caught in a lie for the simple reason that honesty and credibility are all-important for a group that promises to protect anonymous leakers who supply it with official secrets.  (See “Inside WikiLeaks: Working with the Publisher that Changed the World,” Consortium News, July 19, 2018.)  Mueller, by contrast, has a rich history of mendacity going back to his days as FBI director when he sought to cover up the Saudi role in 9/11 and assured Congress on the eve of the 2003 invasion that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction pose “a clear threat to our national security.”

So if the Mueller narrative doesn’t hold up, the charge of dissembling doesn’t either. Indeedas ex-federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy observes in The National Review, the fact that the feds have charged Assange with unauthorized access to a government computer rather than conspiring with the Kremlin could be a sign that Team Mueller is less than confident it can prove collusion beyond a reasonable doubt.  As he puts it, the GRU indictment “was more like a press release than a charging instrument” because the special prosecutor knew that the chances were zero that Russian intelligence agents would surrender to a U.S. court.

Indeed, when Mueller charged 13 employees and three companies owned by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin with interfering in the 2016 election, he clearly didn’t expect them to surrender either. Thushis team seemed taken aback when one of the alleged “troll farms” showed up in Washington asking to be heard.  The prosecution’s initial response, as McCarthy put it, was to seek a delay “on the astonishing ground that the defendant has not been properly served – notwithstanding that the defendant has shown up in court and asked to be arraigned.” When that didn’t work, prosecutors tried to limit Concord’s access to some 3.2 million pieces of evidence on the grounds that the documents are too “sensitive” for Russian eyes to see.  If they are again unsuccessful, they may have no choice but to drop the charges entirely, resulting in yet another “public relations disaster” for the Russia-gate investigation.

None of which bodes well for Mueller or the news organizations that worship at his shrine. After blowing the Russia-gate story all these years, why does the Times continue to slander the one news organization that tells the truth?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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RAY McGOVERN: Unaccountable Media Faced with Dilemma in Next Phase of Deep State-gate

Now that the media has been exposed for wrongly siding with the intelligence agencies, how will it handle Devin Nunes’s criminal referrals in Deep State-gate?, asks Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Readers of The Washington Post on Monday were treated to more of the same from editorial page chief Fred Hiatt. Hiatt, who won his spurs by promoting misleading “intelligence” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and suffered no consequences, is at it again.

This time he is trying to adjust to the fading prospect of a Deus ex Mueller to lessen Hiatt’s disgrace for being among the most shameless in promoting the Trump-Russia collusion narrative.

He is not giving up. When you are confident you will not lose your job so long as you adhere to the agenda of the growing Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex (MICIMATT if you will), you need not worry about being a vanguard for the corporate media. It is almost as though Hiatt is a tenured professor in an endowed chair honoring Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who perhaps did most to bring us Iraqi WMD.

In his Monday column Hiatt warned: “Trump was elected with the assistance of Russian spies and trolls, which he openly sought and celebrated. But he did not (or so we are told) secretly conspire with them.” In effect, Hiatt is saying, soto voce: “Fie on former (now-de-canonized) Saint Robert of Mueller; we at the Post and our colleagues at The New York Times, CNN et al. know better, just because we’ve been saying so for more than two years.”

Times executive editor Dean Baquet said, about the backlash to the Times‘ “collusion” coverage: “I have no regrets. It’s not our job to determine whether or not there was illegality.” CNN President Jeff Zucker said: “We are not investigators. We are journalists.” (One wonders what investigative journalist Bob Parry, who uncovered much of Iran-Contra and founded this site, would have thought of that last one.)

Going in Circles

Hiatt’s circular reasoning is all too familiar. It is the kind a former director of national intelligence excels at when he’s not lying, sometimes under oath. For instance, James Clapper was hawking his memoir at the Carnegie Endowment last year when he was confronted by unexpectedly direct questions from the audience.

Asked about the misleadingly labeled, rump “Intelligence Community Assessment” (ICA) of Jan. 6, 2017, which he orchestrated, and which blamed Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, Clapper gave an ipse dixit response: The ICA simply had to be correct because that’s what he had told President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.

In fact, that “Intelligence Community Assessment” stands out as the most irresponsible, evidence-free and at the same time consequential crock of intelligence analysis since the National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 2002 claimed there was WMD in Iraq. Recall that that one was shaped by out-and-out fraudulent intelligence to “justify” an attack on Iraq six months later.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the main thrust of the committee’s five-year bipartisan report, stating, “In making the case for war, the [Bush] Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Hiatt was one of the media’s major offenders, feeding on what the Cheney/Bush folks told him. When no “weapons of mass destruction” were found in Iraq, Hiatt conceded during an interview with The Columbia Journalism Review that, “If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction … If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004] As Parry wryly observed at the time in a piece calling for Hiatt’s dismissal, “Yes, that is a common principle of journalism, that if something isn’t real, we’re not supposed to confidently declare that it is.”

The Morning After

The media set the prevailing tone the day after the ICA was published. The banner headline atop page one of the Times read: “Putin Led Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Says.” That put in motion more than two years of Dick Cheney-like chicanery in the media.

Buried inside the Times that same day was a cautionary paragraph written by staff reporter Scott Shane who noted, “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the [three] agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission.” Indeed it was; and remains so.

(Sadly, Shane was then given his marching orders and fell in line with many other formerly reputable journalists in what has been the most miserable performance by the mainstream media since they helped pave the way for war on Iraq.)

Clapper and Hiatt are kindred souls when it comes to the “profound effect” of Russian election interference. In his column, Hiatt asserted as flat fact that: “Trump was elected with the assistance of Russian spies and trolls …” At the Carnegie event in November, Clapper opined:

As a private citizen, understanding the magnitude of what the Russians did and the number of citizens in our country they reached and the different mechanisms that, by which they reached them, to me it stretches credulity to think they didn’t have a profound impact on election on the outcome of the election.”

Hiatt: Captain of Cheerleaders

Hiatt emulated peppy, preppy cheerleader George W. Bush in leading Americans to believe that war on Iraq was necessary. Appointed Washington Post editorial page editor in 2000, he still runs the page — having not been held accountable for gross misfeasance, if not malfeasance, on Iraq. Shades of Clapper, whom President Obama allowed to stay on as director of national intelligence for three and a half years after Clapper lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee about NSA surveillance of U.S. persons.

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That Obama appointed Clapper to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election speaks volumes. Clapper claims to have expertise on Russia and has made no effort to disguise his views on “the Russians.” Two years ago, he told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:

… in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Russians, who are typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique … we were concerned.”

It beggars belief that Obama could have been unaware of Clapper’s bizarre views on “the Russians.” Clearly, Obama was bowing yet again to pressure from powerful Deep State actors arguing that Clapper was the ideal man for the job.

And there is now documentary evidence that, from the Deep State point of view, indeed he was. In the text exchanges between discredited FBI sleuth Peter Strzok and his girlfriend, Lisa Page, a lawyer working for the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, it seems clear that Obama wanted to be kept apprised of the FBI’s behind-the-scenes machinations. In a Sept. 2, 2016 text to Strzok, Page writes that she was preparing talking points because the president “wants to know everything we’re doing.”

A Sweaty Pate?

Clapper is aware now that he is going to have to sweat it out. He may believe he can ignore White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who has said that he and other former intelligence officials should be investigated after special counsel Mueller did not establish collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

But recent statements by members of the House and Senate intelligence committees cannot be dismissed so easily. In his media appearances, the supremely confident, hero-of-many-liberals Clapper has been replaced by a squirming (but-Obama-made-me-do-it) massager of facts. He may find it harder this time to avoid being held accountable.

Devin Nunes (R-CA), the House Intelligence Committee ranking member, has gone on the offensive, writing Friday that committee Republicans “will soon be submitting criminal referrals on numerous individuals involved … in the abuse of intelligence for political purposes. These people must be held to account to prevent similar abuses from occurring in the future.”

On Sunday, Nunes told Fox News he’s preparing to send eight criminal referrals to the Department of Justice this week concerning alleged misconduct during the Trump-Russia investigation. This will include leaks of “highly classified material” and conspiracies to lie to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. It’s no-holds-barred for Nunes, who has begun to talk publicly about prison for those whom DOJ might indict and bring to trial.

Nunes’s full-speed-ahead offensive is being widely ignored in “mainstream” media (with the exception of Fox), giving the media the quality of “The Dog That Did Not Bark in the Night.” The media has put its ducks in a row, such as they are, to try to rip Attorney General William Barr apart this coming week when he releases the redacted text of the Mueller report that so disappointed the Democratic Party/media coalition.

But how will they cover criminal referrals of the “heroes” who have leaked so much to them, providing grist for their Russia-gate mill? They will likely find a way, eventually, but the media silence about Nunes is depriving oxygen to the story.

On Sunday, Nunes said,

“They [the Democrats] have lied multiple times to the American people. All you have to do is look at their phony memos. They have had the full support of the media, 90 percent of the media in this country. They all have egg on their face. And so the fact of the matter remains, is there going to be — is justice going to be served or is justice going to be denied? And that’s why we’re sending over these criminal referrals.”

Nunes is, of course, trying to project an image of confidence, but he knows he is fighting uphill. There is no more formidable foe than the MICIMATT, with the media playing the crucial role in these circumstances. How will the American people be able to see egg on anyone’s face if the “mainstream media” find ways to wipe it off and turn the tables on Nunes, as they have successfully done in the past?

Though the Democrats now control the House, they have lost some key inside-the-Deep-State allies.

By all appearances, House Democrats still seem to be banking on help from the usual suspects still on duty in the FBI, CIA, and the Justice Department. Lacking that they seem ready to go down with the Schiff—Rep. Adam Schiff of California, perhaps the most virulent Russia-gater that there’s been.

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Clapper is no long in position to help from the inside, and there’s no knowing how his sleepy replacement, Dan Coates, will react, if and when he wakes up long enough to learn chapter and verse about the machinations and dramatic personae of 2016.

Of course, there is a new sheriff in town running the Department of Justice. Attorney General William Barr, for better or ill, is a far cry from Jeff Sessions, who let himself be diddled into recusing himself. He’s not Rod Rosenstein either, whose involvement in this affair may have already earned him a prominent place on Nunes’s list of referrals.

What Did Obama Know, and When Did He Know It?

On top of this, Sen. Rand Paul (R, KY) has called for an investigation into the origins of Mueller’s probe, including on the dicey question of how witting President Obama was of the Deep State chicanery during the last months of his administration. Page did tell Strzok in that Sept. 2, 2016 text that the president “wants to know everything we’re doing.”

Sen. Paul has also tweeted information from “a high-level source” that it was former CIA Director John Brennan who “insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report… Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”

Vying for Media Attention

If, as expected, Nunes discloses the names of those being criminally referred to DOJ, and Barr releases a redacted text of the Mueller report, the “mainstream” media will have a fresh challenge on their hands. The odds would seem to favor the media covering the Democrats’ predictable criticism of Barr — and perhaps even of Mueller, now that he has been defrocked.

The Post’s Hiatt should be counted on, as always, to play a leading role.

At the same time, there are signs the America people are tired of this. It would be difficult though for the media to avoid reporting on criminal referrals of very senior law enforcement and intelligence officials. Given the media’s obvious preference for siding with the intelligence agencies and reporting on Russia-gate rather than Deep-State-gate, it would be even harder for the media to explain why these officials would be in trouble.

Things appear to be unraveling but, as always, much will depend on whether the media opts to remain the “dog that didn’t bark,” and succeeds again in hoodwinking too many people.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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Consortium News’ Record on Russia-gate—How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 6—‘How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of Russia Hacking US Voter Sites’

The narrative about Russian cyberattacks on American election infrastructure is a self-interested abuse of power by DHS based on distortion of evidence, wrote Gareth Porter on Aug. 28, 2018.

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites.  And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well. 

But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive. 

DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story. When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable.

The National Security Agency and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigating team have also claimed evidence that Russian military intelligence was behind election infrastructure hacking, but on closer examination, those claims turn out to be speculative and misleading as well. Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU military intelligence officers does not cite any violations of U.S. election laws though it claims Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

A Sensational Story 

On Sept. 29, 2016, a few weeks after the hacking of election-related websites in Illinois and Arizona, ABC News carried a sensational headline: “Russian Hackers Targeted Nearly Half of States’ Voter Registration Systems, Successfully Infiltrated 4.” The story itself reported that “more than 20 state election systems” had been hacked, and four states had been “breached” by hackers suspected of working for the Russian government. The story cited only sources “knowledgeable” about the matter, indicating that those who were pushing the story were eager to hide the institutional origins of the information.

Behind that sensational story was a federal agency seeking to establish its leadership within the national security state apparatus on cybersecurity, despite its limited resources for such responsibility. In late summer and fall 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was maneuvering politically to designate state and local voter registration databases and voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” Such a designation would make voter-related networks and websites under the protection a “priority sub-sector” in the DHS “National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which already included 16 such sub-sectors. 

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other senior DHS officials consulted with many state election officials in the hope of getting their approval for such a designation. Meanwhile, the DHS was finishing an intelligence report that would both highlight the Russian threat to U.S. election infrastructure and the role DHS could play in protecting it, thus creating political impetus to the designation. But several secretaries of state—the officials in charge of the election infrastructure in their state—strongly opposed the designation that Johnson wanted.   

On Jan. 6, 2017—the same day three intelligence agencies released a joint “assessment” on Russian interference in the election—Johnson announced the designation anyway.

Media stories continued to reflect the official assumption that cyber attacks on state election websites were Russian-sponsored. Stunningly, The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that DHS was itself behind hacking attempts of Georgia’s election database.

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The facts surrounding the two actual breaches of state websites in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the broader context of cyberattacks on state websites, didn’t support that premise at all.

In July, Illinois discovered an intrusion into its voter registration website and the theft of personal information on as many as 200,000 registered voters. (The 2018 Mueller indictments of GRU officers would unaccountably put the figure at 500,000.) Significantly, however, the hackers only had copied the information and had left it unchanged in the database. 

That was a crucial clue to the motive behind the hack. DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Andy Ozment told a Congressional committee in late September 2016 that the fact hackers hadn’t tampered with the voter data indicated that the aim of the theft was not to influence the electoral process. Instead, it was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information.” Ozment was contradicting the line that already was being taken on the Illinois and Arizona hacks by the National Protection and Programs Directorate and other senior DHS officials. 

In an interview with me last year, Ken Menzel, the legal adviser to the Illinois secretary of state, confirmed what Ozment had testified. “Hackers have been trying constantly to get into it since 2006,” Menzel said, adding that they had been probing every other official Illinois database with such personal data for vulnerabilities as well.  “Every governmental database—driver’s licenses, health care, you name it—has people trying to get into it,” said Menzel.

In the other successful cyberattack on an electoral website, hackers had acquired the username and password for the voter database Arizona used during the summer, as Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan learned from the FBI. But the reason that it had become known, according to Reagan in an interview with Mother Jones, was that the login and password had shown up for sale on the dark web—the network of websites used by cyber criminals to sell stolen data and other illicit wares.  

Furthermore, the FBI had told her that the effort to penetrate the database was the work of a “known hacker” whom the FBI had monitored “frequently” in the past. Thus, there were reasons to believe that both Illinois and Arizona hacking incidents were linked to criminal hackers seeking information they could sell for profit.

Meanwhile, the FBI was unable to come up with any theory about what Russia might have intended to do with voter registration data such as what was taken in the Illinois hack.  When FBI Counterintelligence official Bill Priestap was asked in a June 2017 hearing how Moscow might use such data, his answer revealed that he had no clue: “They took the data to understand what it consisted of,” said the struggling Priestap, “so they can affect better understanding and plan accordingly in regards to possibly impacting future elections by knowing what is there and studying it.”  

The inability to think of any plausible way for the Russian government to use such data explains why DHS and the intelligence community adopted the argument, as senior DHS officials Samuel Liles and Jeanette Manfra put it, that the hacks “could be intended or used to undermine public confidence in electoral processes and potentially the outcome.” But such a strategy could not have had any effect without a decision by DHS and the U.S. intelligence community to assert publicly that the intrusions and other scanning and probing were Russian operations, despite the absence of hard evidence. So DHS and other agencies were consciously sowing public doubts about U.S. elections that they were attributing to Russia.

DHS Reveals Its Self-Serving Methodology

In June 2017, Liles and Manfra testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that an October 2016 DHS intelligence report had listed election systems in 21 states that were “potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”  They revealed that the sensational story leaked to the press in late September 2016 had been based on a draft of the DHS report. And more importantly, their use of the phrase “potentially targeted” showed that they were arguing only that the cyber incidents it listed were possible indications of a Russian attack on election infrastructure.  

Furthermore, Liles and Manfra said the DHS report had “catalogued suspicious activity we observed on state government networks across the country,” which had been “largely based on suspected malicious tactics and infrastructure.” They were referring to a list of eight IP addresses an August 2016 FBI “flash alert” had obtained from the Illinois and Arizona intrusions, which DHS and FBI had not been able to  attribute to the Russian government.

The DHS officials recalled that the DHS began to “receive reports of cyber-enabled scanning and probing of election-related infrastructure in some states, some of which appeared to originate from servers operated by a Russian company.” Six of the eight IP addresses in the FBI alert were indeed traced to King Servers, owned by a young Russian living in Siberia. But as DHS cyber specialists knew well, the country of ownership of the server doesn’t prove anything about who was responsible for hacking: As cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr pointed out, the Russian hackers who coordinated the Russian attack on Georgian government websites in 2008 used a Texas-based company as the hosting provider.  

The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect noted in 2016 that one of the other two IP addresses had hosted a Russian criminal market for five months in 2015. But that was not a serious indicator, either. Private IP addresses are reassigned frequently by server companies, so there is not a necessary connection between users of the same IP address at different times.

The DHS methodology of selecting reports of cyber incidents involving election-related websites as “potentially targeted” by Russian government-sponsored hackers was based on no objective evidence whatever. The resulting list appears to have included any one of the eight addresses as well as any attack or “scan” on a public website that could be linked in any way to elections. 

This methodology conveniently ignored the fact that criminal hackers were constantly trying to get access to every database in those same state, country and municipal systems. Not only for Illinois and Arizona officials, but state electoral officials.

We got Russia-gate right. Help us to keep on going. 

In fact, 14 of the 21 states on the list experienced nothing more than the routine scanning that occurs every day, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Only six involved what was referred to as a “malicious access attempt,” meaning an effort to penetrate the site. One of them was in Ohio, where the attempt to find a weakness lasted less than a second and was considered by DHS’s internet security contractor a “non-event” at the time.

State Officials Force DHS to Tell the Truth

For a year, DHS did not inform the 21 states on its list that their election boards or other election-related sites had been attacked in a presumed Russian-sponsored operation. The excuse DHS officials cited was that it could not reveal such sensitive intelligence to state officials without security clearances. But the reluctance to reveal the details about each case was certainly related to the reasonable expectation that states would publicly challenge their claims, creating a potential serious embarrassment.  

On Sept. 22, 2017, DHS notified 21 states about the cyber incidents that had been included in the October 2016 report. The public announcement of the notifications said DHS had notified each chief election officer of “any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election.” The phrase “potential targeting” again telegraphed the broad and vague criterion DHS had adopted, but it was ignored in media stories.

But the notifications, which took the form of phone calls lasting only a few minutes, provided a minimum of information and failed to convey the significant qualification that DHS was only suggesting targeting as a possibility. “It was a couple of guys from DHS reading from a script,” recalled one state election official who asked not to be identified. “They said [our state] was targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”

A number of state election officials recognized that this information conflicted with what they knew. And if they complained, they got a more accurate picture from DHS. After Wisconsin Secretary of State Michael Haas demanded further clarification, he got an email response from a DHS official  with a different account. “[B]ased on our external analysis,” the official wrote, “the WI [Wisconsin] IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said DHS initially had notified his office “that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites.” But under further questioning, DHS admitted to Padilla that what the hackers had targeted was the California Department of Technology’s network.

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Byron Dean also denied that any state website with voter- or election-related information had been targeted, and Pablos demanded that DHS “correct its erroneous notification.”  

Despite these embarrassing admissions, a statement issued by DHS spokesman Scott McConnell on Sept. 28, 2017 said the DHS “stood by” its assessment that 21 states “were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.” The statement retreated from the previous admission that the notifications involved “potential targeting,” but it also revealed for the first time that DHS had defined “targeting” very broadly indeed. 

It said the category included “some cases” involving “direct scanning of targeted systems” but also cases in which “malicious actors scanned for vulnerabilities in networks that may be connected to those systems or have similar characteristics in order to gain information about how to later penetrate their target.” 

It is true that hackers may scan one website in the hope of learning something that could be useful for penetrating another website, as cybersecurity expert Prof. Herbert S. Lin of Stanford University explained to me in an interview. But including any incident in which that motive was theoretical meant that any state website could be included on the DHS list, without any evidence it was related to a political motive.

Arizona’s further exchanges with DHS revealed just how far DHS had gone in exploiting that escape clause in order to add more states to its “targeted” list. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan tweeted that DHS had informed her that “the Russian government targeted our voter registration systems in 2016.” After meeting with DHS officials in early October 2017, however, Reagan wrote in a blog post that DHS “could not confirm that any attempted Russian government hack occurred whatsoever to any election-related system in Arizona, much less the statewide voter registration database.” 

What the DHS said in that meeting, as Reagan’s spokesman Matt Roberts recounted to me, is even more shocking. “When we pressed DHS on what exactly was actually targeted, they said it was the Phoenix public library’s computers system,” Roberts recalled.

In April 2018, a CBS News “60 Minutes” segment reported that the October 2016 DHS intelligence report had included the Russian government hacking of a “county database in Arizona.” Responding to that CBS report, an unidentified “senior Trump administration official” who was well-briefed on the DHS report told Reuters that “media reports” on the issue had sometimes “conflated criminal hacking with Russian government activity,” and that the cyberattack on the target in Arizona “was not perpetrated by the Russian government.”  

NSA Finds a GRU Election Plot

NSA intelligence analysts claimed in a May 2017 analysis to have documented an effort by Russian military intelligence (GRU) to hack into U.S. electoral institutions. In an intelligence analysis obtained by The Intercept and reported in June 2017, NSA analysts wrote that the GRU had sent a spear-phishing email—one with an attachment designed to look exactly like one from a trusted institution but that contains malware design to get control of the computer—to a vendor of voting machine technology in Florida. The hackers then designed a fake web page that looked like that of the vendor. They sent it to a list of 122 email addresses NSA believed to be local government organizations that probably were “involved in the management of voter registration systems.” The objective of the new spear-phishing campaign, the NSA suggested, was to get control of their computers through malware to carry out the exfiltration of voter-related data.

But the authors of The Intercept story failed to notice crucial details in the NSA report that should have tipped them off that the attribution of the spear-phishing campaign to the GRU was based merely on the analysts’ own judgment—and that their judgment was faulty. 

The Intercept article included a color-coded chart from the original NSA report that provides crucial information missing from the text of the NSA analysis itself as well as The Intercept’s account. The chart clearly distinguishes between the elements of the NSA’s account of the alleged Russian scheme that were based on “Confirmed Information” (shown in green) and those that were based on “Analyst Judgment” (shown in yellow). The connection between the “operator” of the spear-phishing campaign the report describes and an unidentified entity confirmed to be under the authority of the GRU is shown as a yellow line, meaning that it is based on “Analyst Judgment” and labeled “probably.”

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A major criterion for any attribution of a hacking incident is whether there are strong similarities to previous hacks identified with a specific actor. But the chart concedes that “several characteristics” of the campaign depicted in the report distinguish it from “another major GRU spear-phishing program,” the identity of which has been redacted from the report. 

The NSA chart refers to evidence that the same operator also had launched spear-phishing campaigns on other web-based mail applications, including the Russian company “Mail.ru.”  Those targets suggest that the actors were more likely Russian criminal hackers rather than Russian military intelligence.

Even more damaging to its case, the NSA reports that the same operator who had sent the spear-phishing emails also had sent a test email to the “American Samoa Election Office.” Criminal hackers could have been interested in personal information from the database associated with that office. But the idea that Russian military intelligence was planning to hack the voter rolls in American Samoa, an unincorporated U.S. territory with 56,000 inhabitants who can’t even vote in U.S. presidential elections, is plainly risible.

The Mueller Indictment’s Sleight of Hand

The Mueller indictment of GRU officers released on July 13 appeared at first reading to offer new evidence of Russian government responsibility for the hacking of Illinois and other state voter-related websites. A close analysis of the relevant paragraphs, however, confirms the lack of any real intelligence supporting that claim. 

Mueller accused two GRU officers of working with unidentified “co-conspirators” on those hacks. But the only alleged evidence linking the GRU to the operators in the hacking incidents is the claim that a GRU official named Anatoly Kovalev and “co-conspirators” deleted search history related to the preparation for the hack after the FBI issued its alert on the hacking identifying the IP address associated with it in August 2016. 

A careful reading of the relevant paragraphs shows that the claim is spurious. The first sentence in Paragraph 71 says that both Kovalev and his “co-conspirators” researched domains used by U.S. state boards of elections and other entities “for website vulnerabilities.”  The second says Kovalev and “co-conspirators” had searched for “state political party email addresses, including filtered queries for email addresses listed on state Republican Party websites.” 

Searching for website vulnerabilities would be evidence of intent to hack them, of course, but searching Republican Party websites for email addresses is hardly evidence of any hacking plan. And Paragraph 74 states that Kovalev “deleted his search history”—not the search histories of any “co-conspirator”—thus revealing that there were no joint searches and suggesting that the subject Kovalev had searched was Republican Party emails. So any deletion by Kovalev of his search history after the FBI alert would not be evidence of his involvement in the hacking of the Illinois election board website. 

With this rhetorical misdirection unraveled, it becomes clear that the repetition in every paragraph of the section of the phrase “Kovalev and his co-conspirators” was aimed at giving the reader the impression the accusation is based on hard intelligence about possible collusion that doesn’t exist.

The Need for Critical Scrutiny of DHS Cyberattack Claims

The DHS campaign to establish its role as the protector of U.S. electoral institutions is not the only case in which that agency has used a devious means to sow fear of Russian cyberattacks. In December 2016, DHS and the FBI published a long list of IP addresses as indicators of possible Russian cyberattacks. But most of the addresses on the list had no connection with Russian intelligence, as former U.S. government cyber-warfare officer Rob Lee found on close examination.

When someone at the Burlington, Vt., Electric Company spotted one of those IP addresses on one of its computers, the company reported it to DHS. But instead of quietly investigating the address to verify that it was indeed an indicator of Russian intrusion, DHS immediately informed The Washington Post. The result was a sensational story that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. power grid. In fact, the IP address in question was merely Yahoo’s email server, as Rob Lee told me, and the computer had not even been connected to the power grid. The threat to the power grid was a tall tale created by a DHS official, which the Post had to embarrassingly retract.  

Since May 2017, DHS, in partnership with the FBI, has begun an even more ambitious campaign to focus public attention on what it says are Russian “targeting” and “intrusions” into “major, high value assets that operate components of our Nation’s critical infrastructure”, including energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.  Any evidence of such an intrusion must be taken seriously by the U.S. government and reported by news media. But in light of the DHS record on alleged threats to election infrastructure and the Burlington power grid, and its well-known ambition to assume leadership over cyber protection, the public interest demands that the news media examine DHS claims about Russian cyber threats far more critically than they have up to now.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Russia-gate’s Successor Gambit

Now the propaganda crusade has been initiated to defame the AG, writes James Howard Kunstler.

By James Howard Kunstler
Clusterfuck Nation

James Howard KunstlerHaving disgraced themselves with full immersion in the barren Russia-gate “narrative,” the Resistance is now tripling down on Russia-gate’s successor gambit: obstruction of justice where there was no crime in the first place. What exactly was that bit of mischief Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller inserted in his final report, saying that “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him?”

It’s this simple: prosecutors are charged with finding crimes. If there is insufficient evidence to bring a case, then that is the end of the matter. Prosecutors, special or otherwise, are not authorized to offer hypothetical accounts where they can’t bring a criminal case. But Mueller produced a brief of arguments pro-and-con about obstruction for others to decide upon. In doing that, he was out of order, and maliciously so.

Of course, Attorney General William Barr took up the offer and declared the case closed, as he properly should where the prosecutor could not conclude that a crime was committed. One hopes that the AG also instructed Mueller and his staff to shut the f… up vis-à-vis further ex post facto “anonymous source” speculation in the news media. But, of course, the Mueller staff — which inexplicably included lawyers who worked for the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee — at once started insinuating to New York Times reporters that the full report would contain an arsenal of bombshells reigniting enough suspicion to fuel several congressional committee investigations.

The objective apparently is to keep President Donald Trump burdened, hobbled, and disabled for the remainder of his term, and especially in preparation for the 2020 election against whomever emerges from the crowd of lightweights and geriatric cases now roistering through the primary states. It also leaves the door open for the Resistance to prosecute an impeachment case, since that is a political matter, not a law enforcement action.

Setting up the AG 

This blog is not associated with any court other than public opinion, and I am free to hypothesize on the meaning of Mueller’s curious gambit, so here goes: Barr, long before being considered for his current job, published his opinion that there was no case for obstruction of justice in the Russia-gate affair. By punting the decision to Barr, Mueller sets up the AG for being accused of prejudice in the matter — and, more to the point, has managed to generate a new brushfire in the press.

Barr could see this coming from a thousand miles away. I suspect he’s pissed off about being set up like this. I suspect further that he knows this brushfire is intended to produce a smokescreen to obscure the rash of grand jury referrals coming down in the weeks and months ahead against the many government employees who concocted the Russia-gate scandal. Personally, I think Mueller himself deserves to be in that roundup for destroying evidence (the Strzok / Page cell phones) and for malicious prosecution against General Michael Flynn, among other things.

The reason Mueller did not bring an obstruction-of-justice charge against Trump is that the evidence didn’t support it. He didn’t have a case. In a trial — say, after Trump was impeached or left office — the discovery process could bring to light evidence that might embarrass and even incriminate Mueller and his staff, and cast further opprobrium on the federal justice agencies. For instance: why did Mueller drag out his inquiry for two years when he must have known by at least the summer of 2017 that the Steele dossier was a fraud perpetrated by the Clinton campaign?

Now the propaganda crusade has been initiated to defame Barr. The idiots running the budding new congressional inquiries are going to pile on him, with the help of the news media. Though he is said to be an “old friend” of Robert Mueller’s, I believe they have become adversaries, perhaps even enemies. Mueller is not in a position of strength in this battle. He has now officially exited the stage as his mandate expires, so he has no standing to oppose further consequences in the aftermath of Russia-gate. What remains is a dastardly and seditious hoax as yet un-adjudicated and an evidence trail a mile wide, and no amount of jumping up and down crying “woo woo woo” by Democratic lawmakers Jerrold Nadler, Maxine Waters, and Adam Schiff is going to derail that choo-choo train a’chuggin’ down the tracks.

James Howard Kunstler is author of “The Geography of Nowhere,” which he says he wrote “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” He has written several other works of nonfiction and fiction. Read more about him here. This article first appeared on his blog, ClusterfuckNation.

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Consortium News’ Record on Russia-gate—How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 5—‘Spooks Spooking Themselves’

On Thursday Daniel Lazare wrote a review of a book about how intelligence agents set up aspects of the “collusion” story. But in May 2018 Lazare had already begun figuring out the story for himself.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

With the news that a Cambridge academic-cum-spy named Stefan Halper infiltrated the Trump campaign, the role of the intelligence agencies in shaping the great Russiagate saga is at last coming into focus.  

It’s looking more and more massive.  The intelligence agencies initiated reports that Donald Trump was colluding with Russia, they nurtured them and helped them grow, and then they spread the word to the press and key government officials.  Reportedly, they even tried to use these reports to force Trump to step down prior to his inauguration.  Although the corporate press accuses Trump of conspiring with Russia to stop Hillary Clinton, the reverse now seems to be the case: the Obama administration intelligence agencies worked with Clinton to block Siberian candidate Trump.  

The template was provided by ex-MI6 Director Richard Dearlove, Halper’s friend and business partner.  Sitting in winged chairs in London’s venerable Garrick Club, according to The Washington Post, Dearlove told fellow MI6 veteran Christopher Steele, author of the famous “golden showers” opposition research dossier, that Trump “reminded him of a predicament he had faced years earlier, when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and alerted US authorities to British information that a vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.”

Apparently, one word from the Brits was enough to make the candidate in question step down.  When that didn’t work with Trump, Dearlove and his colleagues ratcheted up the pressure to make him see the light.  A major scandal was thus born – or, rather, a very questionable scandal.

Besides Dearlove, Steele, and Halper, a bon-vivant known as “The Walrus” for his impressive girth, other participants include:

  • Robert Hannigan, former director Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, UK equivalent of the NSA.
  • Alexander Downer, top Australian diplomat.
  • Andrew Wood, ex-British ambassador to Moscow.
  • Joseph Mifsud, Maltese academic.
  • James Clapper, ex-US Director of National Intelligence.
  • John Brennan, former CIA Director (and now NBC News analyst).

In-Bred

A few things stand out about this august group.  One is its in-bred quality.  After helping to run an annual confab known as the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, Dearlove and Halper are now partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  Both are connected to another London-based intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co. Halper is also connected via two books he wrote with Hakluyt representative Jonathan Clarke and Dearlove has a close personal friendship with Hakluyt founder Mike Reynolds, yet another MI6 vet.  Alexander Downer served a half-dozen years on Hakluyt’s international advisory board, while Andrew Wood is linked to Steele via Orbis Business Intelligence, the private research firm that Steele helped found, and which produced the anti-Trump dossier, and where Wood now serves as an unpaid advisor.

Everyone, in short, seems to know everyone else.  But another thing that stands out about this group is its incompetence.  Dearlove and Halper appear to be old-school paranoids for whom every Russian is a Boris Badenov or a Natasha Fatale.  In February 2014, Halper notified US intelligence that Mike Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, had grown overly chummy with an Anglo-Russian scholar named Svetlana Lokhova whom Halper suspected of being a spy – suspicions that Lokhova convincingly argues are absurd.

In December 2016, Halper and Dearlove both resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar because they suspected that a company footing some of the costs was tied up with Russian intelligence – suspicions that Christopher Andrew, former chairman of the Cambridge history department and the seminar’s founder, regards asabsurd as well.

As head of Britain’s foreign Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, Dearlove played a major role in drumming up support for the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq even while confessing at a secret Downing Street meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [regime-change] policy.”  When the search for weapons of mass destruction turned up dry, Clapper, as then head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, argued that the Iraqi military must have smuggled them into neighboring Syria, a charge with absolutely no basis in fact but which helped pave the way for US regime-change efforts in that country too. 

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Brennan was meanwhile a high-level CIA official when the agency was fabricating evidence against Saddam Hussein and covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Wood not only continues to defend the Iraqi invasion, but dismisses fears of a rising fascist tide in the Ukraine as nothing more than “a crude political insult” hurled by Vladimir Putin for his own political benefit. Such views now seem distressingly misguided in view of the alt-right torchlight parades and spiraling anti-Semitism that are now a regular feature of life in the Ukraine.

The result is a diplo-espionage gang that is very bad at the facts but very good at public manipulation – and which therefore decided to use its skill set out to create a public furor over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It Started Late 2015

The effort began in late 2015 when GCHQ, along with intelligence agencies in Poland, Estonia, and Germany, began monitoring what they said were “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”  

Since Trump was surging ahead in the polls and scaring the pants off the foreign-policy establishment by calling for a rapprochement with Moscow, the agencies figured that Russia was somehow behind it.  The pace accelerated in March 2016 when a 30-year-old policy consultant named George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser.  Traveling in Italy a week later, he ran into Mifsud, the London-based Maltese academic, who reportedly set about cultivating him after learning of his position with Trump. Mifsud claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials,” according to prosecutors.  Over breakfast at a London hotel, he told Papadopoulos that he had just returned from Moscow where he had learned that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

This was the remark that supposedly triggered an FBI investigation.  The New York Times describes Mifsud as “an enthusiastic promoter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and “a regular at meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference held in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin attends,” which tried to suggest that he is a Kremlin agent of some sort.  But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange later tweeted photos of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a high-ranking British intelligence official named Claire Smith at a training session for Italian security agents in Rome.  Since it’s unlikely that British intelligence would rely on a Russian agent in such circumstances, Mifsud’s intelligence ties are more likely with the UK.

After Papadopoulos caused a minor political ruckus by telling a reporter that Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements, a friend in the Israeli embassy put him in touch with a friend in the Australian embassy, who introduced him to Downer, her boss.  Over drinks, Downer advised him to be more diplomatic.  After Papadopoulos then passed along Misfud’s tip about Clinton’s emails, Downer informed his government, which, in late July, informed the FBI.

Was Papadopoulos Set Up?  

Suspicions are unavoidable but evidence is lacking.  Other pieces were meanwhile clicking into place.  In late May or early June 2016, Fusion GPS, a private Washington intelligence firm employed by the Democratic National Committee, hired Steele to look into the Russian angle.  

On June 20, he turned in the first of eighteen memos that would eventually comprise the Steele dossier, in this instance a three-page document asserting that Putin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Russian intelligence possessed “kompromat” in the form of a video of prostitutes performing a “golden showers” show for his benefit at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.  A week or two later, Steele briefed the FBI on his findings.  Around the same time, Robert Hannigan flew to Washington to brief CIA Director John Brennan about additional material that had come GCHQ’s way, material so sensitive that it could only be handled at “director level.”  

One player was filling Papadopoulos’s head with tales of Russian dirty tricks, another was telling the FBI, while a third was collecting more information and passing it on to the bureau as well.   

On July 7, 2016 Carter Page delivered a lecture on U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow in which he complained that “Washington and other western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.”  Washington hawks expressed unease that someone representing the presumptive Republican nominee would take Russia’s side in a growing neo-Cold War.

Stefan Halper then infiltrated the Trump campaign on behalf of the FBI as an informant in early July, weeks before the FBI launched its investigation. Halper had 36 years earlier infiltrated the Carter re-election campaign in 1980 using CIA agents to turn information over to the Reagan campaign. Now Halper began to court both Page and Papadopoulous, independently of each other.

On July 11, Page showed up at a Cambridge symposium at which Halper and Dearlove both spoke. In early September, Halper sent Papadopoulos an email offering $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, his specialty. “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper asked when he got there, but Papadopoulos said he knew nothing. Halper also sought out Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, with whom he chatted about China for an hour or so over coffee in Washington.  

The rightwing Federalist website speculates that Halper was working with Steele to flesh out a Sept. 14 memo claiming that “Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and [are] considering disseminating it.”  Clovis believes that Halper was trying “to create an audit trail back to those [Clinton] emails from someone in the campaign … so they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”  Reports that Halper apparently sought a permanent post in the new administration suggest that the effort was meant to continue after inauguration.

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Notwithstanding Clovis’s nutty rightwing politics, his description of what Halper may have been up to makes sense as does his observation that Halper was trying “to build something that did not exist.”  Despite countless hyper-ventilating headlines about mysterious Trump Tower meetings and the like, the sad truth is that Russiagate after all these months is shaping up as even more of a “nothing-burger” than Obama administration veteran Van Jones said it was back in mid-2017.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted Papadopoulos and others on procedural grounds, he has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for corruption, and he has charged a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency with violating US election laws.  

But the corruption charges have nothing to do with Russian collusion and nothing in the indictment against IRA indicates that either the Kremlin or the Trump campaign were involved.  Indeed, the activities that got IRA in trouble in the first place are so unimpressive – just $46,000 worth of Facebook ads that it purchased prior to election day, some pro-Trump, some anti, and some with no particular slant at all – that Mueller probably wouldn’t even have bothered if he hadn’t been under intense pressure to come up with anything at all.  

The same goes for the army of bots that Russia supposedly deployed on Twitter.  As The Washington Post noted in an oddly, cool-headed Dec. 2 article, 2,700 suspected Russian-linked accounts generated just 202,000 tweets in a six-year period ending in August 2017, a drop in a bucket compared to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months leading up to Election Day.

The Steele dossier is also underwhelming.  It declares on one page that the Kremlin sought to cultivate Trump by throwing “various lucrative real estate development business deals” his way but says on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business were unavailing and that he thus “had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

Why would Trump turn down business offers when he couldn’t generate any on his own?  The idea that Putin would spot a U.S. reality-TV star somewhere around 2011 and conclude that he was destined for the Oval Office five years later is ludicrous.  The fact that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm Perkins Coie renders it less credible still, as does the fact that the world has heard nothing more about the alleged video despite the ongoing deterioration in US-Russian relations.  What’s the point of making a blackmail tape if you don’t use it?

Even Steele is backing off. In a legal paper filed in response to a libel suit last May, he said the document “did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications.”   The fact is that the “dossier” was opposition research, not an intelligence report. It was neither vetted by Steele nor anyone in an intelligence agency. Opposition research is intended to mix truths and fiction, to dig up plausible dirt to throw at your opponent, not to produce an intelligence assessment at taxpayer’s expense to “protect” the country. And Steele was paid for it by the Democrats, not his government.

Using it Anyway

Nonetheless, the spooks have made the most of such pseudo-evidence. Dearlove and Wood both advised Steele to take his “findings” to the FBI, while, after the election, Wood pulled Sen. John McCain aside at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let him know that the Russians might be blackmailing the president-elect.  McCain dispatched long-time aide David J. Kramer to the UK to discuss the dossier with Steele directly. 

Although Kramer denies it, The New Yorker found a former national-security official who says he spoke with him at the time and that Kramer’s goal was to have McCain confront Trump with the dossier in the hope that he would resign on the spot. When that didn’t happen, Clapper and Brennan arranged for FBI Director James Comey to confront Trump instead.  Comey later testified that he didn’t want Trump to think he was creating “a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation – I didn’t want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way.”  

But how could Trump think otherwise? As Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry observed a few days later, the maneuver “resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.”  

Since then, the Democrats have touted the dossier at every opportunity, The New Yorker continues to defend it, while Times columnist Michelle Goldberg cites it as well, saying it’s a “rather obvious possibility that Trump is being blackmailed.”  CNN, for its part, suggested not long ago that the dossier may actually be Russian disinformation designed to throw everyone off base, Republicans and Democrats alike.

It sounds more like CIA paranoia raised to the nth degree.  But that’s what the intelligence agencies are for, i.e. to spread fear and propaganda in order to stampede the public into supporting their imperial agenda.  In this case, their efforts are so effective that they’ve gotten lost in a fog of their own making.  If the corporate press fails to point this out, it’s because reporters are too befogged themselves to notice.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  

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