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Russiagate: Pulling Apart the Threads Part 1


"The Democrats don't have control over Wikileaks, Putin, Donald Trump Jr.. They have control over their own party all the mistakes that they made. Why not focus on the things that actually have practical takeaways?"
-Katie Halper interviewing Aaron Maté

I want to start by stating very emphatically that I am a skeptic of Russiagate. I don't doubt that Trump has laundered money for Russian oligarchs, I mean the billionaire who's repeatedly gone bankrupt can't secure loans from domestic banks, the money to build has to come from somewhere. That's just putting aside the years of speculation on him laundering money for the mob. I don't doubt that the Russians infiltrated the DNC through phishing expeditions and are responsible for the document dump to Wikileaks. I also don't doubt that they have been testing the many well documented vulnerabilities of our infrastructure. When I say I don't doubt, that means I don't necessarily accept or reject the positions, and they are somewhat moot to my skepticism and not worth arguing. I am, however, extremely skeptical of the conclusions being drawn from Mueller's indictments in relation to the 2016 presidential race. I've been thinking about writing about Russiagate since Mueller's initial indictment of what amounted to a Russian clickbait farm and the breathless rush to judgement in the hope of Trump going down. That obviously didn't happen and that did nothing to temper the response to the most recent indictments. This Neo-McCarthyism, especially with our continued legitimization of fascism, is chilling and should cause everyone to pause.

Full disclosure, I haven't fully read either indictment. I start, get bored and start skimming. I can't effectively suspend my disbelief long enough to actually read either completely. I also lack the technical knowledge to truly be able to critically comment on the conclusions of Crowdstrike. Someone I know who does, says it's legit, there are others who question their conclusions*. Recognizing that my skepticism may be borne of ignorance of some pertinent detail I've opened myself up to challenge on this through Facebook and Twitter with very little pushback until I shared this tweet:
I should mention that the primary reason that I'm skeptical, and honestly shocked that so many people are willing to accept the indictments on face value because the assessment comes from the "Intelligence Community" is precisely because the assessment comes from the "Intelligence Community" and that was the line that led us into the last war based on a lie that killed and displaced over a million people and inflamed an entire region of the world. Not to mention that this story's "hero" played a role in the last mess.


In a sense I got exactly what I was hoping for in terms of an exploration of my skepticism through the lens of concerns that others find credulous. Although I haven't fully explored it, and it's anecdotally based on who responded to the post and the framing of their concerns, I think that there is a correlation between race and class and how one views Russiagate. The people who responded are white and I would say mostly economically comfortable. Unlike them I don't identify with the sense that "our" democracy was attacked or that "we" were attacked. I identify much more with statements from Green Party Vice Presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka:


Putting aside the hyperbole around the DNC hack (and the clickbait farm) being equated with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, you know, since no one actually died, it's worth asking how extraordinary the circumstances are:

So, at least according to Andrew Prokop, the hacking is typical, the only truly unusual thing was the actual release of so much material. According to Andrew Prokop.

 DNC Hack vs Internet Research Agency

One thing that I notice on Twitter is what seems to be a deliberate conflation of the two indictments. It's honestly the only way to tenuously connect Russia to the idea that Trump's win is illegitimate instead of what happens when your media creates a "viable" political campaign by elevating a person with no natural political constituency (and especially after the last Republican administration committed documented crimes with no consequences).  An important distinction needs to be made between the material referenced in the first indictment of the the Internet Research Agency and the material referenced in the second indictment said to have been hacked from the DNC. Regardless of how the DNC materials arrived at Wikileaks, there are no allegations that the released material has been manipulated and is anything other than what it has been reported to be: direct internal communications between people within and connected to the DNC. The material from the Internet Research Agency is completely fabricated. The Internet Research Agency is recognized as being a commercial enterprise, essentially a clickbait troll farm. Their efforts are reported to have been seen by relatively few people and mostly after the election. To believe that the badly worded facebook ads and somewhat bizarre memes actually impacted our election more than or as much as the domestic expenditures by both campaigns requires looking at these efforts without context. Aaron Maté giving some context:
The $46,000 in Russian-linked Facebook ads before the election amounts to about five-1,000ths-of 1 percent of the $81 million spent on Facebook ads by the Clinton and Trump campaigns combined. And beyond the ads, Facebook has also previously reported to Congress that News Feed posts generated by suspected Russian accounts represented “a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook…about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004 percent) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content.”
The indictment also cites the IRA’s previously reported efforts to organize political rallies that would inflame social divisions. One apparently aimed at catering to Islamophobes in Florida was called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims!” in July 2016. “It’s unclear if anyone attended,” The Daily Beast later noted. Another effort dubbed “Florida Goes Trump,” the following month apparently had similar results: “No people showed up to at least one of the proposed rallies,” The Washington Post reported, “and online photos of some of the other events reveal ragtag groups with Trump signs staking out patches of grass or traffic medians.” One online video features a crowd of eight people.
Despite these underwhelming results, Democratic staffers have even resorted to diminishing their own colleagues in the service of uplifting their shrewd troll-farm counterparts. “I hate to say it,” said Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon, “but it seems like the creative instincts and the sophistication exceeds a lot of the US political operatives who do this for a living.” Fallon may be on to something—while the Russians spent at least around $1,000 on Facebook ads in Michigan and Wisconsin in the months before Election Day, Clinton’s campaign was notoriously MIA there.
This is one of my favorite examples of what Clinton campaign spokesperson, Brian Fallon, notes as creative instincts and sophistication:


Looking back on what amounts to the biggest political upset perhaps ever, it's easy to see why Clinton spokespeople would need to make it about incredibly sophisticated targeted attacks instead of hubris and arrogance. To hold onto the idea that Russia bears any significant responsibility for Clinton's loss requires blinding ourselves to the broad substance of what we know to hold onto a very ephemeral thread. When one of my FB commenters pointed out that Putin's goal was to ensure Clinton's loss. I pointedly asked:

his response:


Bearing in mind that the IRA was a commercial clickbait farm, if one thinks their ridiculous output influenced people to not vote for Clinton, those people were never going to vote for Clinton. The emails published by Wikileaks, however, were authentic communications, and not in anyway disinformation.



The reason for the deliberate conflation of the two indictments is pretty clear. The DNC and the Clinton campaign are refusing accountability for the loss, which, according to their own emails, they essentially engineered. The two are deliberately conflated to give the impression that Wikileaks is as false as the memes, rather than just incredibly inconvenient and troubling. If the Wikileaks emails impacted the election it was essentially by verifying what many had already suspected due to vast voting irregularities and disparities between exit polling and early results; the primary was never meant to be competitive or much more than a coronation. For the vast majority polled whose distrust of Clinton made her the most distrusted nominee ever (even more than him, within the margin of error) it just left the impression that they were right. But most importantly the Wikileaks emails made it clear that Hillary and her campaign were willing to elevate a senile white supremacist fascist because they needed a monster to beat. They refuse to accept accountability because they failed utterly to vanquish the monster of their own making.

It should be noted that according to Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign the narrative blaming Russia for the loss was developed within 24 hours of the election. This has never been disputed. Oh yeah, that's right, another reason I'm skeptical about the "hacking of our elections" narrative is that I know it's an incredibly cynical invention of the Clinton campaign.  To that end, the narrative doesn't serve us, because it wasn't created with our needs in mind. "Our" democracy wasn't hacked. The DNC was hacked. And as they argued in court, they are a private organization, "The party has the freedom of association to decide how it's gonna select its representatives to the convention and to the state party," said Spiva. "Even to define what constitutes evenhandedness and impartiality really would already drag the court well into a political question and a question of how the party runs its own affairs. The party could have favored a candidate. I'll put it that way."

I want to be clear that I'm not making light of reported cyber-incursions into voting registration systems or electrical systems. That should absolutely be addressed, though it doesn't seem to be at present. The ephemeral thread seems to draw more attention than the balance of all that we know.

It's possible that the Russians gave the Trump campaign a magic bullet to take out her campaign, except he never did anything that left people believing her campaign was doomed. We may find that the Russians were able to change vote tallies, but so far there's no evidence. It's altogether possible that Trump is president through some conspiracy with the Russians OR there's the broad substance of what we know. The primary was rigged to ensure that Hillary was the nominee, despite her opponent consistently polling better against Trump, she was under FBI investigation, and her favorability was underwaterHillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the two most detested candidates in the history of polling. She ran a white supremacist dog whistle campaign against Obama in 08. As a result, she failed to maintain his voting coalition. She has a history of unapologetically supporting policies that have been harmful to the Black community. As one of the faces of free trade, she failed to appeal to rust belt voters. Her campaign focused primarily on Trump, he highlighted "policy" more than she did. In the end her candidacy drove more votes to Trump than he attracted. And her strategy, as told by Chuck Schumer, was to replace blue collar workers with suburban Republicans. Put simply, her campaign took for granted the votes of traditional Democratic constituencies while offering them nothing to pursue REPUBLICANS. If Putin engineered all of that, we should just surrender right now. The cost of their military is less than the increase the majority of Democrats voted to give Trump, our "existential threat".

Although it was not my intent to have a part 2, poor planning, in part 2, I will explain why I think Russiagate is essentially bullshit by highlighting how the response of Democrats to this threats to our well-being shows they think it's bullshit.


_________________
* source is attributed as former IBM IT executive, otherwise anonymous. The person alluded to with technical knowledge says, "I saw several errors and overall discussion that made it sound like the person isn't actually a cyber security professional. For example there was a claim that the NSA has the capability to "trace back" attacks, which is entirely unsupported. As far as anyone knows they don't have that capacity and it would be technically very difficult. "

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