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.
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 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
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).
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”.
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…
- Is Trump a tool of Putin? See the story & the debunking.
- Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.
- Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia.
- Exposing the farcical claims about Russian hacking of the election.
- What Trump told Russia, why it matters, and why journalists ignore the smartest man in Washington.
- Trump and the Democrats stumble into a ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’.
- Debunking the Reality Winner leak about Russia hacking the election.
- Important: The GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better.
Books about impeachment in America – and the case against Trump.
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.”