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Do Russiagate Skeptics Go Too Far?

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John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the author of numerous books including, most recently, Aftershock: A Journey Into Eastern Europe's Broken Dreams.

AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Mate'. At a hearing this week, the nation's top intelligence officials warned about Russian meddling in the upcoming midterm elections.

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DAN COATS: Frankly, the United States is under attack. Under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States. We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States. There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.

AARON MATÉ: The testimony prompted bipartisan complaints that president Trump is still not taking the purported Russian threats seriously. But that is a critique that is also being made against some parts of the left. In a new piece for LobeLog, John Feffer writes that some progressive critics are going too far in dismissing the Russiagate narrative. The piece is called "Russiagate or Deep State?" John Feffer is the editor of LobeLog and the Director of Foreign Policy and Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and he joined me earlier today to discuss his piece.

Now we recorded this just before news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for allegedly using social media to sow discord in the U.S. and support the candidacy of Donald Trump. So in this interview we do not address that indictment, but we do address the wider issue of Russiagate, Russia's alleged use of social media and Russian email hacking.

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Welcome, John. Lay out your argument for us.

JOHN FEFFER: Well, first, it's not just the United States. I mean, Russia has been involved in these kinds of operations, cyber operations against a variety of targets and the general purpose has been to improve the geopolitical position of Russia. So these operations of course have taken place in Europe against what are perceived as pro-UE positions. Here in the United States, they've been for a variety of different purposes, but I think the kind of overall goal is, as has been stated several times, has been to kind of create greater political confusion and polarization in United States, thus in some sense, handicapping the United States.

Russiagate, as it's been laid out, is one part of that, but it's not just election meddling, it of course extends to in particular economic relations between Trump and members of Trump's team and Russia. So my fear is that to progressives, largely because they are suspicious of the national security state, and for good reason, have dismissed Russiagate because it's been put forward by the FBI, members of the intelligence community and therefore they don't take it as seriously as they should.

AARON MATÉ: Okay, but John, my pushback to that is can you see why someone could argue that you're making a lot of assumptions there? I mean, we've been told, for example, that the Russians conducted this massive influence operation through email hacking and social media, but the evidence for it has been pretty thin. I mean, we were told the Russian government carried out the email hacking, but there's been no actual evidence of that yet.

What we know about the social media looks like it came from a Russian troll farm acting in a very crude and juvenile way, spending about a hundred thousand dollars, most of it after the election. And the same thing about Europe too, there's been claims about Russian meddling, but looking at the actual evidence, it's come up pretty thing.

JOHN FEFFER: Well, I would argue that the evidence is actually pretty thick. I mean, as for the social media, I wouldn't really consider that to be the more important aspect there, much more important of course is the hacking of the DNC and some personal emails and in terms of the evidence, well, okay you might want to dismiss what the U.S. intelligence community has put forward, but the Dutch intelligence community was basically surveilling the whole entire operation, was able to identify the people involved in the Russian hacking of that. We also have evidence from an actual Russian trial-

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AARON MATÉ: Well, John-

JOHN FEFFER: Yeah?

AARON MATÉ: John, let's break this down one by one. So you mentioned this Dutch report, this recently came out, I believe what you're referring to is anonymous Dutch officials told a Dutch, and also U.S. officials too, told a Dutch news agency, two actually, outlets, that they had actually surveilled Russian hackers and had even hacked into a surveillance camera at the Russian hacking site. But again, that's an example of where we have more than a year after this Russiagate thing has been going on, now this claim comes out. And if they have evidence, why not show it? So for example, why not give us a screenshot from this surveillance camera that they allegedly hacked into?

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