The verdict on the stories of Russian hacking in the 2016 election

By now we have enough information to draw conclusions about the claims of Russian hacking in the 2016 election: it looks quite bogus. Just like the many similar bouts of hysterical exaggeration in America during the past few decades. Drawing big conclusions is appropriate for this, post number 4,000 on the FM website.

Cyber Putin

Before Russia’s “hacking”, see previous similar incidents

The previous nine posts about Russia’s role in campaign 2016 examined the evidence. Now let’s look at the overall context. The claims that the Russian government did the various cyberattacks during campaign 2016 follow a pattern to readers of the US media during the past four decades. America has experienced repeated bouts of hysteria, each fed by experts, click-hungry journalists, and self-interested institutions. Many long authoritative-looking reports fed the fires.

Stories about satanic ritual abuse during the 1980s. See the FBI’s 1992 report debunking these stories, which describes how seriously they were taken by so many. “We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as part of organized satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative evidence.”

Horrific stories (often bogus) during the 1980s of child sexual abuse created by therapists using recovered memory therapy. See The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria.

The repeated bursts of panics during the past century about human trafficking. Slate has covered this well, with articles in 2006, in 2007, and in 2014.

The hysteria about the massive kidnapping epidemic during the early 2000s. Slate covered this well, with articles in 2007, in 2012, and in 2017. Also see Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern about Child-Victims.

These all exist as real problems in America. But they exaggerate their scale. Looking back, the flaws in these stories were reported by skeptics. Nonetheless they excited tens of millions of Americans at their peak. Afterwards we have amnesia, preventing any learning from our experience.

Time for another spin on the Merry-Go-Round

Russia cyber-bear
By Daniel Marsula/Post-Gazette.

The stories about Russia hacking our election follow the pattern of America’s panics. Especially in the way news stories about it are filled with red flags visible to careful readers. For example, see this October 6 article from Motherboard: “How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts” by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai — “New evidence proves Russian hackers were behind the hack on Podesta, connecting the dots on different parts of the complex hacking campaign.”

Much of this is nonsense, visible even to the non-expert reader. I’ll give two examples. First, look at this line.

“It’s unclear why the hackers used the encoded strings, which effectively reveal their targets to anyone.”

Let’s rephrase that. It’s unclear why a superpower — who has some of the best programmers and most effective intel agencies in the world — would stage an attack on the political system of the other superpower using cybertools that easily reveal their fingerprints. Very authoritative!

Following a thousand words of chained guesses, it leads to this astonishingly weak link: “pointing toward Fancy Bear, a notorious hacking group that’s widely believed to be connected with the Russian government.” The author gives no evidence for this leap of faith, more akin to transubstantiation at a Mass than journalism. As usual in these episodes, skeptics are ignored (e.g., see experts cited here, and this at The Intercept).

A picture of skepticism
Photo from Business Insider, 7 Dec 2009.

Other reasons to be skeptical

There are two larger reasons to be skeptical of these stories. First, the Russian hacking stories have far more government support than most bouts of American hysteria. They have provided only flimsy evidence supporting their claims (the story will change if they release hard evidence). But before we take the intel agencies’ assurances as gospel, look at the Big List of Lies by US government officials since 1960 (it is a big list, not remotely a complete list). How many times must they lie to us before we become skeptical?

Second, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. Saying that Russia has been conducting so many and such poorly constructed cyberattacks on the US — attacks in which they have little or nothing to gain — certainly qualifies as an “extraordinary claim”.

Lessons learned

Larger lessons

This is a relative small matter, but indicative of a larger problem for us. We have become a gullible people, making political reform difficult or impossible. Unless we fix this, the best we hope for is a change of rulers.

See this post for an explanation of why this is so. For more about this problem see the posts listed in section four on the How to Reform American Politics page. As for solutions, how to reawaken our skepticism… post your ideas in the comments (I don’t have any).

For More Information

Essential reading to understand these stories: “The Big Fat Compendium Of Russiagate Debunkery” by Caitlin Johnson.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about cyberattacks and cybersecurity, about Campaign 2016, about the Trump years in America, about ways to reform America, and especially these…

  1. Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.
  2. Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.
  3. Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia.
  4. Exposing the farcical claims about Russian hacking of the election.
  5. What Trump told Russia, why it matters, and why journalists ignore the smartest man in Washington.
  6. Trump and the Democrats stumble into a ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’.
  7. Debunking the Reality Winner leak about Russia hacking the election.
  8. ImportantThe GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better.

Books about impeachment in America – and the case against Trump.

The Case for Impeachment
The Case for Impeachment

One of the best introductions to impeachment in modern American politics is The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture since 1960 (2008) by the historian David E. Kyvig (deceased). For more background see these five books about the process and history of impeachment in America.

The latest and most provocative book on this subject is Allan Lichtman’s The Case for Impeachment, released in April. He is a professor of history at American University. From the publisher…

“In the fall of 2016, Lichtman made headlines when he predicted that Trump would defeat the heavily favored Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Now, in clear, nonpartisan terms, Lichtman lays out the reasons Congress could remove Trump from the Oval Office: his ties to Russia before and after the election, the complicated financial conflicts of interest at home and abroad, and his abuse of executive authority.

The Case for Impeachment also offers a fascinating look at presidential impeachments throughout American history, including the often-overlooked story of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, details about Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Bill Clinton’s hearings. Lichtman shows how Trump exhibits many of the flaws (and more) that have doomed past presidents. As the Nixon Administration dismissed the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “character assassination” and “a vicious abuse of the journalistic process,” Trump has attacked the “dishonest media,” claiming, “the press should be ashamed of themselves.”

“Historians, legal scholars, and politicians alike agree: we are in politically uncharted waters—the durability of our institutions is being undermined and the public’s confidence in them is eroding, threatening American democracy itself. Most citizens—politics aside—want to know where the country is headed. Lichtman argues, with clarity and power, that for Donald Trump’s presidency, smoke has become fire.”

Read the first chapter here.

 

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13 thoughts on “The verdict on the stories of Russian hacking in the 2016 election

  1. Nice summation of basic facts of the case.

    Agitprop is not limited to Russia as a tactic for attacking political enemies. The American news media will eagerly collude with plants inside the deep state to attack a president it did not expect and fiercely hates. Fake news is hardly a thorough description of what thoughtful citizens of the US must wade through every day. Excremental news is closer to the reality. Why go to such absurd lengths to fabricate news? Follow the money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bluenose,

      “Agitprop is not limited to Russia as a tactic for attacking political enemies.”

      That’s a powerful insight. We don’t adequately recognize many of fantastic innovations of the 1930s thru WWII. We see it as a period of extraordinarily rapid technological progress, but ignore the equally rapid progress of social “tech”. As in propaganda. In 1930 a crude art; in 1950 a mature science.

      As a fun exercise, look at today’s newspaper. How many of the events described are propaganda (agitation and propaganda)? How many of the stories are propaganda? Many and most.

      The more interesting and important question is why progaganda has such effect in America. You’ll find an explanation here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution” from Homeland Security and the CIA, January 2017.

    This came out of the US government, and I think basically shows their mindset. It has a tiny bit about the email hacking which has been gone over endless times, but also quite a bit on “Russia Today.” A lot of these points are basically RT echoing what was going on in American press during the election. RT is pretty openly the Russia-based news service. “Russia” is right in the name. They play the opinions, heaven forbid, of Russian officials. I don’t think this is a secret. It’s influence on American opinion is tiny, compared to something like Fox New and talk radio.

    “RT runs anti-fracking programming. highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”

    “RT’s coverage of Secretary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign was consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism. Some Russian officials echoed Russian lines for the influence campaign that Secretary Clinton’s election could lead to a war between the United States and Russia.”

    Like

    1. Cathryn.

      As you said, this report has been extensively dissected. Like most US intel reports, much of it consists of new clippings plus a superstructure of guessing.

      “It’s influence on American opinion is tiny, compared to something like Fox New and talk radio.”

      As you note, the claims that Russia Today has substantial affect on US public opinion is not just unsupported by this report — but absurd. How many Americans have even heard of Russia Today?

      But creating boogeymen is a classic tactic of propaganda.

      Like

  3. A well reasoned summation. I come back to the same point that all arguments lead me to since November. Trump is a deeply unworthy figure to be president, yet he was legitimately elected such and so, it seems, the right thing to do is let him govern while all our institutions embrace (i.e. smother) him to protect the nation. It’s a kind of Pillow/Protective Mother response. The Russia hysteria has rendered this option non-functional from the transition to today and perhaps for as long as the next 3 years. We are weakened and destabilized by the very people and forces who should be protecting us.

    My own theory is that the post-9/11 presidency has become far too powerful to be allowed by either party to slip into the hands of the opposition, and the result of this is an inherent and permanent destabilization of our democracy. The solution is to ratchet back the power of that institution. To the extent that the Trump presidency shines a spotlight on the problem, I welcome it (so long as it does not destroy us all in the process). But we must be able to see the forest for the trees. It is so much bigger than the parade of wretched bi-partisan personalities we have endured to date.

    Like

    1. Agreed. It should be painfully obvious to everyone my now that Trump is very much out of his depth as President-it isn’t even fully clear if Trump himself seriously wanted to win the office. But until we ask ourselves how many Americans became so alienated from our political Establishment over the past couple of decades that they’d take a gamble on *anybody* instead of coronating the epitome of that Establishment for four more years of power, we will get nowhere in bridging our political divides.

      As for Russia, relations with Moscow are bad enough as it is. A shrieking media making Putin out to be far more powerful than he actually is hardly helps matters. Putin is not some sinister genius acting according to a master alt-right plan, he only manages to look like Bismarck compared to Bush, Obama, and Trump. He’s your typical Russian secret police type: a far better tactician than strategist. (That’s one of the reasons the USSR lost the Cold War, given that the KGB was a state within a state by the 1960s.) His first and foremost priority isn’t engineering Western society, it is keeping the gravy train of corruption flowing at home so he can keep the various “turf captains” satisfied and he stays in power. WWIII would mess that up for him.

      Like

    2. Leaving,

      As before, nicely said. I agree on all points!

      Your point about the KGB being better at tactics than strategy is important. That’s also true of the CIA — their tactical victories overthowing elected governments and replacing them with US-friendly tyrants has left a legacy of mistrust and hatred towards the US.

      The most famous example of belief that tactical excellence can overcome strategic weakness or even errors: the German military. They tested this theory twice. That people still believe it is a testimony to human stupidity.

      Like

  4. Yes sir, another in a fairly long list of quick hitting Posts of significance. IMO the internal links like the Big List of Lies and For more Information are the meat. These demonstrate an internal cohesiveness to the Assertions and require a serious forcusing that is just too darn hard for many of us.
    This coup attempt we are witnessing is beyond ominous.

    As always or maybe mostly,
    Thx.

    Like

  5. I enjoy reading your work, but please be consistent with punctuation: See Chicago Manual of Style and place all periods and commas inside quotes (unless writing poetry).

    Like

    1. Mona,

      Thank you for the positive review!

      “but please be consistent with punctuation”

      I am consistent. I always do it that way. The standard format is absurd, imo. More broadly, I share T.E. Lawrence’s view of such things (being a genius and a scholar, he is a fit model for emulation). I recommend reading his replies to the publisher’s queries about Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Quite sarcastic, in an erudite way. For example, his response to the publisher’s question about various spelling of the same person (Sherif Abd el Mayin):

      “Good egg. I call this really ingenious.”

      Like

  6. You say you’ll change your view if hard evidence should emerge. But you forget what the evidence would concern: the truth about DNC efforts to undermine Sanders, shady Clinton Foundation deals, and some of what HRC said in her secret speeches to her richest donors. These are things that ought not to have happened, and having happened the public has every interest in knowing. If evidence emerges that Russia made the information available, we owe them our gratitude.

    Like

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