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Throwing a Curveball at ‘Intelligence Community Consensus’ on Russia

By Scott Ritter, July 12, 2017 at The American Conservative

A January intelligence product has served as the basis for a series of Congressional hearings into the issue of Russian meddling into American elections—and has taken on a near canonical quality that precludes any critical questioning of either the authors or their findings. There is one major problem, however: the supposedly definitive assessment was not that which it proclaimed to be.

On January 6, the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (DNI) released a National Intelligence Assessment (NIA), Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. Billed as a “declassified version of a highly classified assessment” whose “conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment,” the report purported to be “an analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), which draws on intelligence information collected and disseminated by those three agencies.”

A National Intelligence Assessment, like its big brother, the National Intelligence Estimate, is supposed to reflect the considered opinion of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Products such as the Russian NIA are the sole purview of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), whose mission is to serve as “a facilitator of Intelligence Community collaboration and outreach” through the work of National Intelligence Officers (NIOs) who are the Intelligence Community’s experts on regional and functional areas—such as Russia and cyber attacks.

Although published under the imprimatur of the NIC, the cover of the Russian NIA lacks the verbiage “This is an IC-Coordinated Assessment,” which nearly always accompanies a NIC product, nor does it provide any identification regarding under whose auspices the Russia NIA was prepared. (Normally the name of the responsible NIO or identity of the specific office responsible for drafting the assessment would be provided.)

Simply put, the Russia NIA is not an “IC-coordinated” assessment—the vehicle for such coordination, the NIC, was not directly involved in its production, and no NIO was assigned as the responsible official overseeing its production. Likewise, the Russia NIA cannot be said to be the product of careful coordination between the CIA, NSA and FBI—while analysts from all three agencies were involved in its production, they were operating as part of a separate, secretive task force operating under the close supervision of the Director of the CIA, and not as an integral part of their home agency or department.

This deliberate misrepresentation of the organizational bona fides of the Russia NIA casts a shadow over the viability of the analysis used to underpin the assessments and judgments contained within. This is especially so when considered in the larger framework of what a proper “IC-coordinated assessment” process should look like, and in the aftermath of the intelligence failures surrounding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the lessons learned from that experience, none of which were applied when it came to the Russia NIA.

A Most Sensitive Source

Sometime in the summer of 2015, the U.S. intelligence community began collecting information that suggested foreign actors, believed to be Russian, were instigating a series of cyber attacks against government and civilian targets in the United States. The first indications of this cyber intrusion came from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British spy agency tasked with monitoring communications and signals of intelligence interest. GCHQ had detected a surge of “phishing attacks” targeting a wide-range of U.S. entities, and reported this through existing liaison channels to NSA, its American counterpart organization.

Among the targets singled out for this “phishing attack” was the Democratic National Committee; malware associated with these intrusions mirrored the operational methodologies and techniques previously used by Russian actors some cyber security analysts believed were affiliated with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Both the NSA and the FBI began actively monitoring this wave of attacks, tipping off entities targeted, including the DNC, that there computer systems had been compromised.

Separate from the phishing attacks, the DNC claims to have detected a separate cyber intrusion into its servers in April 2016. The DNC called in a private cybersecurity company, Crowdstrike, to investigate, despite the fact that it was in active discussions with the FBI about the earlier intrusion. Crowdstrike claims to have discovered evidence of a separate malware attack, which Crowdstrike concluded was being directed by Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). Curiously, the DNC made no effort to coordinate its findings with the FBI, or to turn over its servers to the FBI for forensic examination, instead opting to go to the Washington Post, which published the Crowdstrike findings, including its attribution of responsibility for the intrusions to Russian intelligence services, on June 22, 2016.

The Washington Post/Crowdstrike attribution took on domestic political import when, in July 2016, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention where Hillary Clinton was to be nominated as the Democratic Party candidate for president, the online publisher Wikileaks released emails sourced from the DNC that were embarrassing to the Democratic Party and considered damaging to the Clinton campaign. Despite claims by Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange that the emails did not come from Russia, the Clinton campaign immediately charged otherwise, and that the leak of the emails to Wikileaks was part of a Russian campaign to undermine the campaign.

According to reporting from the Washington Post, sometime during this period, CIA Director John Brennan gained access to a sensitive intelligence report from a foreign intelligence service. This service claimed to have technically penetrated the inner circle of Russian leadership to the extent that it could give voice to the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he articulated Russia’s objectives regarding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election—to defeat Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump, her Republican opponent. This intelligence was briefed to President Barack Obama and a handful of his closest advisors in early August, with strict instructions that it not be further disseminated.

The explosive nature of this intelligence report, both in terms of its sourcing and content, served to drive the investigation of Russian meddling in the American electoral process by the U.S. intelligence community. The problem, however, was that it wasn’t the U.S. intelligence community, per se, undertaking this investigation, but rather (according to the Washington Post) a task force composed of “several dozen analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI,” hand-picked by the CIA director and set up at the CIA Headquarters who “functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community.”

The result was a closed-circle of analysts who operated in complete isolation from the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. The premise of their work—that Vladimir Putin personally directed Russian meddling in the U.S. Presidential election to tip the balance in favor of Donald Trump—was never questioned in any meaningful fashion, despite its sourcing to a single intelligence report from a foreign service. President Obama ordered the U.S. intelligence community to undertake a comprehensive review of Russian electoral meddling. As a result, intelligence analysts began to reexamine old intelligence reports based upon the premise of Putin’s direct involvement, allowing a deeply disturbing picture to be created of a comprehensive Russian campaign to undermine the American electoral process.

These new reports were briefed to select members of Congress (the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprising the heads of the intelligence oversight committees and their respective party leadership) on a regular basis starting in September 2016. Almost immediately thereafter, Democratic members began clamoring for the president to call out Putin and Russia publicly on the issue of election meddling. These demands intensified after the November 2016 election, which saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Intelligence collected after the election, when viewed from the prism of the foregone conclusion that Putin and Russia had worked to get Trump elected, seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the intelligence analysts and their Congressional customers (in particular, the Democrats). Calls to make public intelligence that showed Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election intensified until finally, on December 9, 2016, President Obama ordered the U.S. intelligence community to prepare a classified review of the matter.

The review was completed by December 29, and briefed to the President that same day. Brennan’s task force did the majority of the analysis, which solidified the premise of Russian interference that emanated from the original foreign intelligence report that started this process back in early August. President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreation facilities the FBI believed were being used to spy on American targets, as well as levied sanctions against persons and entities in Russia, including those affiliated with Russian intelligence, in retaliation for the Russian meddling in American electoral affairs detailed by the intelligence review.

Remember ‘Curveball’

Any meaningful discussion of the analytical processes involved in the production of the Russia NIA must take into account the elephant in the room, namely the October 2002 NIE on Iraq, Iraq’s Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Iraq NIE will go down in history as the manifestation of one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history. The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, created under Presidential order in 2004 to investigate this failure, was unforgiving: “We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure.” The problem was more than simply getting the assessments wrong. “There were,” the commission noted, “also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policymakers”—in short, the NIE process had fundamentally failed.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2004, Congress mandated the creation of the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in an effort to encourage the free flow of intelligence information between the various agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community to prevent the kind of intelligence failures that led to the failure to detect and prevent the 9/11 attacks. While the ODNI was created after the publication of the Iraq NIE, and had as its impetus the intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 terror attacks, and not Iraq, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities believed that this new structure was a step in the right direction toward resolving some of the underlying systemic failures that led to the intelligence failure regarding Iraq. The Commission, moreover, made several recommendations regarding the organization of the U.S. intelligence community that were designed to forestall the kind of systemic failures witnessed in the Iraq case.

One of these recommendations was the need to create “mission managers” who would “ensure that the analytic community adequately addresses key intelligence needs on high priority topics.” One of the ways Mission Managers would achieve this would be through the fostering of “competitive analysis” by ensuring that “finished intelligence routinely reflects the knowledge and competing views of analysts from all agencies in the Community.” In this way, the Commission held, mission managers could “prevent so-called ‘groupthink’ among analysts.”

The Commission made other recommendations, including that the DNI build on the statutory requirement for alternative analysis and the existing “red cell” process that postulates speculative analytical positions in response to more formal assessments, and formally empower specific offices to generate alternative hypothesis and part of a systemic process of alternative analysis. In doing so, the DNI would ensure that the kind of blinder-driven analysis such as which took place with the Iraq NIE—such as not considering that Saddam Hussein would have gotten rid of his WMD stocks in 1991—would never again occur.

Most of these recommendations were approved by President Bush and subsequently acted on by the DNI. The heads of the National Counterintelligence Center, the National Counter-proliferation Center, and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center were converted into functional National Intelligence Managers, while the NIOs serving under the aegis of the National Intelligence Council became regional National Intelligence Managers. Cyber-driven issues took on a new importance, with a new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center being formed in 2015, following the creation of a new NIO for cyber Issues in 2011.

The CIA followed suit, embarking on a program that broke down the powerful regional divisions that had dominated the agency since its founding in 1947, and replacing them with new “mission centers” headed by “mission managers” drawn from the ranks of the most experienced senior CIA officers in their respective fields. There is no “Cyber Mission Center” per se; instead, the CIA created a new “Directorate of Digital Innovation” in 2015, whose officers support the work of the existing functional and regional mission centers.

The CIA was mandated to incorporate “red cell” alternative analysis processes into its work in the aftermath of 9/11; rather than replicate this activity, the DNI instead published new analytic standards in 2015 that required the incorporation of “analysis of alternatives”—the systematic evaluation of differing hypotheses to explain events of phenomena—into all analytical products.

All of these new mechanisms were in place at the time of the “phishing attacks” detected by GCHQ unfolded in the summer of 2015, emails stored on the computer servers of the DNC were compromised in the summer of 2016, and Brennan obtained his foreign-intelligence report directly attributing Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 Presidential election to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And yet none of these “lessons learned” were applied when it came to the production of the Russia NIA.

The decision by Brennan early on in the process to create a special task force sequestered from the rest of the intelligence community ensured that whatever product it finally produced would neither draw upon the collection and analytical resources available to the totality of the national intelligence community, nor represent the considered judgment of the entire community—simply put, the Russia NIA lacked the kind of community cohesiveness that gives national estimates and assessments such gravitas.

The over reliance on a single foreign source of intelligence likewise put Brennan and his task force on the path of repeating the same mistake made in the run up to the Iraq War, where the intelligence community based so much of its assessment on a fundamentally flawed foreign intelligence source—“Curveball.” Not much is known about the nature of the sensitive source of information Brennan used to construct his case against Russia—informed speculation suggests the Estonian intelligence service, which has a history of technical penetration of Russian governmental organizations as well as a deep animosity toward Russia that should give pause to the kind of effort to manipulate American policy toward Russia in the same way Iraqi opposition figures (Ahmed Chalabi comes to mind) sought to do on Iraq.

The approach taken by Brennan’s task force in assessing Russia and its president seems eerily reminiscent of the analytical blinders that hampered the U.S. intelligence community when it came to assessing the objectives and intent of Saddam Hussein and his inner leadership regarding weapons of mass destruction. The Russia NIA notes, “Many of the key judgments…rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior.” There is no better indication of a tendency toward “group think” than that statement. Moreover, when one reflects on the fact much of this “body of reporting” was shoehorned after the fact into an analytical premise predicated on a single source of foreign-provided intelligence, that statement suddenly loses much of its impact.

The acknowledged deficit on the part of the U.S. intelligence community of fact-driven insight into the specifics of Russian presidential decision-making, and the nature of Vladimir Putin as an individual in general, likewise seems problematic. The U.S. intelligence community was hard wired into pre-conceived notions about how and what Saddam Hussein would think and decide, and as such remained blind to the fact that he would order the totality of his weapons of mass destruction to be destroyed in the summer of 1991, or that he could be telling the truth when later declaring that Iraq was free of WMD.

President Putin has repeatedly and vociferously denied any Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Those who cite the findings of the Russia NIA as indisputable proof to the contrary, however, dismiss this denial out of hand. And yet nowhere in the Russia NIA is there any evidence that those who prepared it conducted anything remotely resembling the kind of “analysis of alternatives” mandated by the ODNI when it comes to analytic standards used to prepare intelligence community assessments and estimates. Nor is there any evidence that the CIA’s vaunted “Red Cell” was approached to provide counterintuitive assessments of premises such as “What if President Putin is telling the truth?”

Throughout its history, the NIC has dealt with sources of information that far exceeded any sensitivity that might attach to Brennan’s foreign intelligence source. The NIC had two experts that it could have turned to oversee a project like the Russia NIA—the NIO for Cyber Issues, and the Mission Manager of the Russian and Eurasia Mission Center; logic dictates that both should have been called upon, given the subject matter overlap between cyber intrusion and Russian intent.

The excuse that Brennan’s source was simply too sensitive to be shared with these individuals, and the analysts assigned to them, is ludicrous—both the NIO for cyber issues and the CIA’s mission manager for Russia and Eurasia are cleared to receive the most highly classified intelligence and, moreover, are specifically mandated to oversee projects such as an investigation into Russian meddling in the American electoral process.

President Trump has come under repeated criticism for his perceived slighting of the U.S. intelligence community in repeatedly citing the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction intelligence failure when downplaying intelligence reports, including the Russia NIA, about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Adding insult to injury, the president’s most recent comments were made on foreign soil (Poland), on the eve of his first meeting with President Putin, at the G-20 Conference in Hamburg, Germany, where the issue of Russian meddling was the first topic on the agenda.

The politics of the wisdom of the timing and location of such observations aside, the specific content of the president’s statements appear factually sound. When speaking on the issue of U.S. intelligence community consensus regarding the findings of the Russia NIA, President Trump commented, “I heard it was 17 agencies [that reached consensus on the Russian NIA]…it turned out to be three or four. It wasn’t 17.”

Trump went on to opine about allegations of Russian hacking: “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure…I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq—weapons of mass destruction—how everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong.”

On both counts, the President was correct.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. He is the author of “Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War” (Clarity Press, 2017).

Who Is the Real Enemy?

The White House is targeting Iran but should instead focus on Saudi Arabia by PHILIP GIRALDI, JULY 11, 2017, on The UNZ Review

It is one of the great ironies that the United States, a land mass protected by two broad oceans while also benefitting from the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, persists in viewing itself as a potential victim, vulnerable and surrounded by enemies. In reality, there are only two significant potential threats to the U.S. The first consists of the only two non-friendly countries – Russia and China – that have nuclear weapons and delivery systems that could hit the North American continent and the second is the somewhat more amorphous danger represented by international terrorism.

And even given that, I would have to qualify the nature of the threats. Russia and China are best described as adversaries or competitors rather than enemies as they have compelling interests to avoid war, even if Washington is doing its best to turn them hostile. Neither has anything to gain and much to lose by escalating a minor conflict into something that might well start World War 3. Indeed, both have strong incentives to avoid doing so, which makes the actual threat that they represent more speculative than real. And, on the plus side, both can be extremely useful in dealing with international issues where Washington has little or no leverage, to include resolving the North Korea problem and Syria, so they U.S. has considerable benefits to be gained by cultivating their cooperation.

Also, I would characterize international terrorism as a faux threat at a national level, though one that has been exaggerated through the media and fearmongering to such an extent that it appears much more dangerous than it actually is. It has been observed that more Americans are killed by falling furniture than by terrorists in a year but terrorism has a particularly potency due to its unpredictability and the fear that it creates. Due to that fear, American governments and businesses at all levels have been willing to spend a trillion dollars per annum to defeat what might rationally be regarded as a relatively minor problem.

So if the United States were serious about dealing with or deflecting the actual threats against the American people it could first of all reduce its defense expenditures to make them commensurate with the actual threat before concentrating on three things. First, would be to establish a solid modus vivendi with Russia and China to avoid conflicts of interest that could develop into actual tit-for-tat escalation. That would require an acceptance by Washington of the fact that both Moscow and Beijing have regional spheres of influence that are defined by their interests. You don’t have to like the governance of either country, but their national interests have to be appreciated and respected just as the United States has legitimate interests within its own hemisphere that must be respected by Russia and China.

Second, Washington must, unfortunately, continue to spend on the Missile Defense Agency, which supports anti-missile defenses if the search for a modus vivendi for some reason fails. Mutual assured destruction is not a desirable strategic doctrine but being able to intercept incoming missiles while also having some capability to strike back if attacked is a realistic deterrent given the proliferation of nations that have both ballistic missiles and nukes.

Third and finally, there would be a coordinated program aimed at international terrorism based equally on where the terror comes from and on physically preventing the terrorist attacks from taking place. This is the element in national defense that is least clear cut. Dealing with Russia and China involves working with mature regimes that have established diplomatic and military channels. Dealing with terrorist non-state players is completely different as there are generally speaking no such channels.

It should in theory be pretty simple to match threats and interests with actions since there are only a handful that really matter, but apparently it is not so in practice. What is Washington doing? First of all, the White House is deliberately turning its back on restoring a good working relationship with Russia by insisting that Crimea be returned to Kiev, by blaming Moscow for the continued unrest in Donbas, and by attacking Syrian military targets in spite of the fact that Russia is an ally of the legitimate government in Damascus and the United States is an interloper in the conflict. Meanwhile congress and the media are poisoning the waters through their dogged pursuit of Russiagate for political reasons even though nearly a year of investigation has produced no actual evidence of malfeasance on the part of U.S. officials and precious little in terms of Moscow’s alleged interference.

Playing tough to the international audience has unfortunately become part of the American Exceptionalism DNA. Upon his arrival in Warsaw last week, Donald Trump doubled down on the Russia-bashing, calling on Moscow to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran.” He then recommended that Russia should “join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”

The comments in Warsaw were unnecessary, even if the Poles wanted to hear them, and were both highly insulting and ignorant. It was not a good start for Donald’s second overseas trip, even though the speech has otherwise been interpreted as a welcome defense of Western civilization and European values. Trump also followed up with a two hour plus discussion with President Vladimir Putin in which the two apparently agreed to differ on the alleged Russian hacking of the American election. The Trump-Putin meeting indicated that restoring some kind of working relationship with Russia is still possible, as it is in everyone’s interest to do so.

Fighting terrorism is quite another matter and the United States approach is the reverse of what a rational player would be seeking to accomplish. The U.S. is rightly assisting in the bid to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq but it is simultaneously attacking the most effective fighters against that group, namely the Syrian government armed forces and the Shi’ite militias being provided by Iran and Hezbollah. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that at least some in the Trump Administration are seeking to use the Syrian engagement as a stepping stone to war with Iran.

As was the case in the months preceding the ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003, all buttons are being pushed to vilify Iran. Recent reports suggest that two individuals in the White House in particular have been pressuring the Trump administration’s generals to escalate U.S. involvement in Syria to bring about a war with Tehran sooner rather than later. They are Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey, reported to be holdovers from the team brought into the White House by the virulently anti-Iranian former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Cohen-Watnick is thirty years old and has little relevant experience for the position he holds, senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council. But his inexperience counts for little as he is good friend of son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has told the New York Times that “wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government,” a comment that reflects complete ignorance, both regarding Iran and also concerning spy agency capabilities. His partner in crime Harvey, a former military officer who advised General David Petraeus when he was in Iraq, is the NSC advisor on the Middle East.

Both Cohen-Watnick and Harvey share the neoconservative belief that the Iranians and their proxies in Syria and Iraq need to be confronted by force, an opportunity described by Foreign Policy magazine as having developed into “a pivotal moment that will determine whether Iran or the United States exerts influence over Iraq and Syria.” Other neocon promoters of conflict with Iran have described their horror at a possible Shi’ite “bridge” or “land corridor” through the Arab heartland, running from Iran itself through Iraq and Syria and connecting on the Mediterranean with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

What danger to the U.S. or its actual treaty allies an Iranian influenced land corridor would constitute remains a mystery but there is no shortage of Iran haters in the White House. Former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar sees “unrelenting hostility from the Trump administration” towards Iran and notes “cherry-picking” of the intelligence to make a case for war, similar to what occurred with Iraq in 2002-3. And even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster have pushed back against the impulsive Cohen-Watnick and Harvey, their objections are tactical as they do not wish to make U.S. forces in the region vulnerable to attacks coming from a new direction. Otherwise they too consider Iran as America’s number one active enemy and believe that war is inevitable. Donald Trump has unfortunately also jumped directly into the argument on the side of Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which would like to see Washington go to war with Tehran on their behalf.

The problem with the Trump analysis is that he has his friends and enemies confused. He is actually supporting Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the terrorism that has convulsed Western Europe and the United States while also killing hundreds of thousands of fellow Muslims. Random terrorism to kill as many “infidels and heretics” as possible to create fear is a Sunni Muslim phenomenon, supported financially and doctrinally by the Saudis. To be sure, Iran has used terror tactics to eliminate opponents and select targets overseas, to include several multiple-victim bombings, but it has never engaged in anything like the recent series of attacks in France and Britain. So the United States is moving seemingly inexorably towards war with a country that itself constitutes no actual terrorist threat, unless it is attacked, in support of a country that very much is part of the threat and also on behalf of Israel, which for its part would prefer to see Americans die in a war against Iran rather that sacrificing its own sons and daughters.

Realizing who the real enemy actually is and addressing the actual terrorism problem would not only involve coming down very hard on Saudi Arabia rather than Iran, it would also require some serious thinking in the White House about the extent to which America’s armed interventions all over Asia and Africa have made many people hate us enough to strap on a suicide vest and have a go. Saudi financing and Washington’s propensity to go to war and thereby create a deep well of hatred just might be the principal causative elements in the rise of global terrorism. Do I think that Donald Trump’s White House has the courage to take such a step and change direction? Unfortunately, no.

‘Russiagate’: The Stink Without a Secret

By Craig Murray, July 8, 2017 (on Antiwar.com)

After six solid months of coordinated allegation from the mainstream media allied to the leadership of state security institutions, not one single scrap of solid evidence for Trump/Russia election hacking has emerged.

I do not support Donald Trump. I do support truth. There is much about Trump that I dislike intensely. Neither do I support the neo-liberal political establishment in the USA. The latter’s control of the mainstream media, and cunning manipulation of identity politics, seeks to portray the neo-liberal establishment as the heroes of decent values against Trump. Sadly, the idea that the neo-liberal establishment embodies decent values is completely untrue.

Truth disappeared so long ago in this witch-hunt that it is no longer even possible to define what the accusation is. Belief in “Russian hacking” of the US election has been elevated to a generic accusation of undefined wrongdoing, a vague malaise we are told is floating poisonously in the ether, but we are not allowed to analyze. What did the Russians actually do?

The original, base accusation is that it was the Russians who hacked the DNC and Podesta emails and passed them to WikiLeaks. (I can assure you that is untrue).

The authenticity of those emails is not in question. What they revealed of cheating by the Democratic establishment in biasing the primaries against Bernie Sanders, led to the forced resignation of Debbie Wasserman Shultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee. They also led to the resignation from CNN of Donna Brazile, who had passed debate questions in advance to Clinton. Those are facts. They actually happened. Let us hold on to those facts, as we surf through lies. There was other nasty Clinton Foundation and cash for access stuff in the emails, but we do not even need to go there for the purpose of this argument.

The original “Russian hacking” allegation was that it was the Russians who nefariously obtained these damning emails and passed them to WikiLeaks. The “evidence” for this was twofold. A report from private cyber security firm Crowdstrike claimed that metadata showed that the hackers had left behind clues, including the name of the founder of the Soviet security services. The second piece of evidence was that a blogger named Guccifer2 and a website called DNCLeaks appeared to have access to some of the material around the same time that WikiLeaks did, and that Guccifer2 could be Russian.

That is it. To this day, that is the sum total of actual “evidence” of Russian hacking. I won’t say hang on to it as a fact, because it contains no relevant fact. But at least it is some form of definable allegation of something happening, rather than “Russian hacking” being a simple article of faith like the Holy Trinity.

But there are a number of problems that prevent this being fact at all. Nobody has ever been able to refute the evidence of Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA who designed its current surveillance systems. Bill has stated that the capability of the NSA is such, that if the DNC computers had been hacked, the NSA would be able to trace the actual packets of that information as those emails traveled over the Internet, and give a precise time, to the second, for the hack. The NSA simply do not have the event – because there wasn’t one. I know Bill personally and am quite certain of his integrity.

As we have been repeatedly told, “17 intelligence agencies” sign up to the “Russian hacking”, yet all these king’s horses and all these king’s men have been unable to produce any evidence whatsoever of the purported “hack”. Largely because they are not in fact trying. Here is another actual fact I wish you to hang on to: The Democrats have refused the intelligence agencies access to their servers to discover what actually happened. I am going to say that again.

The Democrats have refused the intelligence agencies access to their servers to discover what actually happened.

The heads of the intelligence community have said that they regard the report from Crowdstrike – the Clinton aligned private cyber security firm – as adequate. Despite the fact that the Crowdstrike report plainly proves nothing whatsoever and is based entirely on an initial presumption there must have been a hack, as opposed to an internal download.

Not actually examining the obvious evidence has been a key tool in keeping the “Russian hacking” meme going. On 24 May the Guardian reported triumphantly, following the Washington Post, that

“Fox News falsely alleged federal authorities had found thousands of emails between Rich and WikiLeaks, when in fact law enforcement officials disputed that Rich’s laptop had even been in possession of, or examined by, the FBI.”

It evidently did not occur to the Guardian as troubling, that those pretending to be investigating the murder of Seth Rich have not looked at his laptop.

There is a very plain pattern here of agencies promoting the notion of a fake “Russian crime”, while failing to take the most basic and obvious initial steps if they were really investigating its existence. I might add to that, there has been no contact with me at all by those supposedly investigating. I could tell them these were leaks not hacks. WikiLeaks The clue is in the name.

So those “17 agencies” are not really investigating but are prepared to endorse weird Crowdstrike claims, like the idea that Russia’s security services are so amateur as to leave fingerprints with the name of their founder. If the Russians fed the material to WikiLeaks, why would they also set up a vainglorious persona like Guccifer2 who leaves obvious Russia pointing clues all over the place?

Of course we need to add from the WikiLeaks“Vault 7” leak release, information that the CIA specifically deploys technology that leaves behind fake fingerprints of a Russian computer hacking operation.

Crowdstrike have a general anti-Russian attitude. They published a report seeking to allege that the same Russian entities which “had hacked” the DNC were involved in targeting for Russian artillery in the Ukraine. This has been utterly discredited.

Some of the more crazed “Russiagate” allegations have been quietly dropped. The mainstream media are hoping we will all forget their breathless endorsement of the reports of the charlatan Christopher Steele, a former middle ranking MI6 man with very limited contacts that he milked to sell lurid gossip to wealthy and gullible corporations. I confess I rather admire his chutzpah.

Given there is no hacking in the Russian hacking story, the charges have moved wider into a vague miasma of McCarthyite anti-Russian hysteria. Does anyone connected to Trump know any Russians? Do they have business links with Russian finance?

Of course they do. Trump is part of the worldwide oligarch class whose financial interests are woven into a vast worldwide network that enslaves pretty well the rest of us. As are the Clintons and the owners of the mainstream media who are stoking up the anti-Russian hysteria. It is all good for their armaments industry interests, in both Washington and Moscow.

Trump’s judgment is appalling. His sackings or inappropriate directions to people over this subject may damage him.

The old Watergate related wisdom is that it is not the crime that gets you, it is the cover-up. But there is a fundamental difference here. At the center of Watergate there was an actual burglary. At the center of Russian hacking there is a void, a hollow, and emptiness, an abyss, a yawning chasm. There is nothing there.

Those who believe that opposition to Trump justifies whipping up anti-Russian hysteria on a massive scale, on the basis of lies, are wrong. I remain positive that the movement Bernie Sanders started will bring a new dawn to America in the next few years. That depends on political campaigning by people on the ground and on social media. Leveraging falsehoods and cold war hysteria through mainstream media in an effort to somehow get Clinton back to power is not a viable alternative. It is a fantasy and even were it practical, I would not want it to succeed.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster, human rights activist, and former diplomat. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. The article is reprinted with permission from his website.

About the Sam Adams Associates

Sam Adams AssociatesSam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence is a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. SAAII confers an award each year to a member of the intelligence community or related professions who exemplifies Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth – no matter the consequences. Read more about the history here.

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance, former US Army Sgt; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks: Thomas Drake, of NSA; Jesselyn Radack, formerly of Dept. of Justice and now National Security Director of Government Accountability Project; Thomas Fingar, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director, National Intelligence Council, and Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency; Chelsea Manning, US Army Private who exposed (via WikiLeaks) key information on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as State Department activities; and to retired National Security Agency official William Binney, who challenged decisions to ignore the Fourth Amendment in the government’s massive — and wasteful — collection of electronic data.