On Wednesday, the New York Times published a banner article, covering five columns on its front page and four inside pages, purporting to be a definitive account of Russian government intervention in the US elections through the hacking of Democratic Party emails.
"Hacking the Democrats: How Russia Honed Its Cyberpower and Trained it on an American Election," by Eric Lipton, David Sanger and Scott Shane, is pure propaganda. It is full of unsubstantiated assertions, innuendo and unfounded conclusions, all of which serve one essential purpose: to pollute public opinion and create conditions for military aggression against Russia.
As intended, the Times article set the tone for a wave of war-mongering commentary in the American media. Lipton was interviewed on the cable news channels and the Public Broadcasting System's evening news program. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin declared on MSNBC that the US had been "attacked by Russia." He called for an independent commission, citing the bipartisan panel set up after 9/11.
CNN commentator Jake Tapper referred to Russia as the "enemy" and openly wondered, in the course of interviewing former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, whether President-elect Trump was "siding with the enemy." NBC News reported Wednesday evening that "top intelligence officials" have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in directing the hacking operation. No facts, of course, were presented to back up the claim.
As "news," the article by Lipton, Sanger and Shane does not conform to the most elementary standards of journalism. It is based entirely on unnamed or clearly partisan sources. By the article's own account, the authors consulted "dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response"--in other words, the Democratic Party officials and US intelligence agents who originated the story of Russian hacking. There is no attempt to present opposing opinions or challenges to statements in the article that are clearly absurd.
The unsubstantiated assertions are generally couched in the passive voice. There is, for example, the claim that one group supposedly involved in the hacking "may or may not be associated with the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, but it is widely believed to be a Russian government operation." Another group, according to the authors, is "believed to be directed by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency."
Believed by whom, and on what basis? The article does not say. Nevertheless, the conclusion proclaimed in the headline is asserted without qualification: the Russian government was responsible for what amounts to an act of war, and definite actions must be taken in response.
The claim that there is incontrovertible evidence of Russian state direction of the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the US presidential election is a fiction, but one the Times hopes will, if endlessly repeated, be established in popular consciousness as a fact.
The basic timeline, according to the Times account, is as follows: Sometime in September 2015, an FBI agent contacted the Democratic National Committee to inform it that at least one of its computers had been compromised by "a cyber-espionage team linked to the Russian government." Despite the explosive character of such a charge, the FBI agent inexplicably spoke only to a low-level, sub-contracted tech person, made no effort to contact DNC leaders, and did not even visit DNC headquarters, only a half-mile away from the FBI office that was monitoring the alleged hacking.
Nothing was done for several months. Then, in April of 2016, the DNC tech person found evidence that an unauthorized individual had gained access to DNC email servers. The DNC responded by hiring CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm run by former top FBI officials, to investigate. CrowdStrike immediately declared that Russia was behind two separate hacking groups. It called the groups Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear and claimed they were the same as two groups supposedly linked to the Russian government--APT 28 and APT 29. These groups, according to CrowdStrike, had gained access to DNC emails and the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
In mid-June, an individual calling himself Guccifer 2.0 announced that it was he who had hacked the DNC emails, and that he had given them to WikiLeaks, which would be publishing them.
The supposed facts the Times cites to justify the conclusion that Russia was behind all of this are highly circumstantial and clearly contradictory. Cited as evidence of Russian state involvement is the assertion that "The Russian hacking groups tended to be active during working hours in the Moscow time zone."
Guccifer 2.0, the Times writes, was really a Russian agent. The proof? While he claimed to be Romanian, a writer for tech site Motherboard contacted him in Romanian, using Google Translate to ask him questions. The responses, "according to a couple of native speakers," demonstrated that "Guccifer 2.0 had apparently been using Google Translate as well--and was clearly not the Romanian he claimed to be."
Moreover, Microsoft Word documents posted by Guccifer 2.0 had metadata showing that they were edited by someone calling himself "Felix Edmundovich--an obvious nom de guerre honoring the founder of the Soviet secret police, Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky." Also, "Bad links in the texts were marked by warnings in Russian, generated by what was clearly a Russian-language version of Word."
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