The NYT and its anonymous sources don’t command credibility on Russian “hacking”

· July 19, 2018  
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Comey Clapper Brennan hearing
James Comey, James Clapper, and John Brennan. Joe Raedle | Getty Images

The public evidence appears to shows us that during the 2016 election, Russia ran a low-budget information warfare operation intended to sow general discord in the United States. But if you are to believe the latest from the New York Times, Vladimir Putin is lurking behind every corner, and he is a man powerful enough to throw a U.S. election one way or another.

The New York Times has published a viral new report titled: “From the Start, Trump has Muddied a Clear Message: Putin Interfered.” The report claims to confirm the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in “hacking” the election and that he ordered the operation to help Donald Trump become president. The supposed revelations in the report are based entirely on anonymous sources.

In tailoring its narrative, the Times attempts to resuscitate the tarnished credibility of three former Obama administration intelligence chiefs, James Comey, James Clapper, and John Brennan, who produced a controversial intelligence community assessment on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Before we go through the piece, it’s important to note that no serious analyst would suggest that Russia does not meddle in our domestic affairs or that Russia is not a U.S. adversary. It’s the degree to which Russia meddled — and the degree, if any, to which any Russian efforts had an impact on the election, for which no evidence has surfaced — that is being contested. Yet the New York Times now claims to have the evidence that the Kremlin ordered cyber attacks intended to push Trump across the finish line, if necessary.

From the very beginning, the New York Times piece is rife with exaggerations, half-truths, and misleading information through omission. The first paragraph states:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The massive exaggerations start right at the beginning. There is no evidence whatsoever that the cyber operations against the DNC and the Clinton campaign were “complex.” In fact, we know the very opposite is true. Democrat operatives were fooled by primitive spear-phishing attacks, which seek to trick email recipients into giving away passwords. The tactic is not cutting-edge in the least and has been used for decades by primitive actors and states alike. John Podesta and the DNC failed to uphold any semblance of very basic information security. They were not targeted by “complex cyberattacks.”

The article also fails to mention that Republican National Committee (RNC) officials were also targeted by spear-phishing operations. This calls into question the idea that the cyber attacks were designed to “sway the 2016 American election,” or that they were hyper-focused on targeting Hillary Clinton’s apparatus.

For all its economic and demographic woes, Russia is a Tier 1 cyber power. The Kremlin’s cyber program is believed to be on par with China’s capabilities. The New York Times piece presents no evidence that the Kremlin weaponized its more advanced cyber tools to home in on the Democrats or the American electoral system as a whole.

The NYT piece continues:

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Now we truly have a scandal on our hands. Someone in the intelligence community (or a former intelligence official) has apparently now revealed that the United States has a “top-secret source close to Mr. Putin.” The apparent disclosure of incredibly sensitive intelligence information like this could surely put clandestine operatives’ lives in jeopardy. This also sows doubt in the narrative being promulgated by the media that we must blindly trust the intelligence community’s findings. If the information is to be believed, such a leak has come from someone (or multiple people) in the intelligence community who prioritized taking shots at the president over the safety and security of the American people – and their own operatives.

The Times report continues, discussing a January 6, 2017, meeting at Trump Tower between then President-elect Trump and former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, and former National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.

These four men were the primary authors of the Obama administration’s intelligence community assessment, which was published that same day, just two weeks before Barack Obama left office.

“The four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference,” the NYT piece states.

The story fails to mention that the intelligence assessment was not at all unanimous, as many in the media have wrongly reported. In fact, the NSA under Rogers only expressed “moderate confidence” in one of its most controversial findings: That the Kremlin not only interfered, but “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”

The report sheds quite a bit of light on Brennan’s apparent thoughts and actions during that Trump Tower meeting, which may lead readers to believe that Brennan, or someone very close to him, was a source for the story.

Is Brennan a trustworthy source? This week, the former CIA director accused the president of committing treason. He’s a proud member of the anti-Trump resistance, and there is also a plethora of evidence that he was the point man for the Obama administration’s spy operation against the Trump campaign and transition team.

Former directors Comey and Clapper also make for bad sources. They too have become staunchly anti-Trump, to the point where both men have been calling for his prompt removal from office. They too played an integral role in the spy operation against Trump and the dissemination of the Trump-Russia dossier. Clapper reportedly attempted to bolster the Steele dossier by ensuring that the president was briefed on the matter by Comey. He then allegedly leaked the information to CNN, seemingly so that the media could use the Steele dossier to target the president.

On Thursday, Clapper came forward to “confirm” the anonymously sourced report that Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the election hacking.

Is the New York Times using extremely compromised, biased sources (such as Comey, Clapper, and Brennan) to provide anonymous “intelligence” that promotes an unproven, hysterical narrative intended to damage the president’s legitimacy? It sure seems like it.

 


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Author: Jordan Schachtel

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review and editor of The Dossier for CRTV. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.