More on the Russian Information Warfare Campaign

NBC News claims to have learned that the CIA now believes with a high level of confidence that Putin directed much of the information warfare campaign aimed at the US elections. That of course makes perfect sense: were the United States to direct an effort to alter a democratic election, as it has done from time to time, it would probably be reported to the President on a regular basis (and likely be based on a Presidential Finding).

Of great interest is the insight as to the aims:
Putin's objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a "vendetta" against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to "split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore," the official said.
Great powers don't do vendettas, but they do punish their enemies in ways that are useful to them. The DNC hack was useful to Putin at home because it defused the force of the Clinton charges against his own electoral system (which he will face again, to whatever degree of peril, in 2018). Showing that Clinton was herself the leader of a deeply manipulative, indeed rigged, primary system would make the presumptive President Clinton less powerful as a Russian critic.

So, in addition to her devotion to a "No Fly Zone" in Syria -- which we've discussed repeatedly -- here was an important enough interest to make this worth doing. If the leaks did nothing else, Putin could point to US media outlets' coverage of the DNC corruption as a defense against American criticism of his re-election campaign.

What is of importance here is that the leaks were anti-Clinton, rather than pro-Trump. Since the leaks began around the time of the DNC, when both primaries were decided, it is easy to become confused about that: the race was binary at that point. But the campaign seems to have been targeted at Clinton and at doing damage to what the Russians probably assumed (like everyone else) would be the incoming administration.

Further evidence along this line comes from a Newsweek report from before the election. The author is sure the Russians are 'favoring Trump,' rather than 'opposing Clinton,' but look at this:
By August, however, fears began to emerge within the Kremlin that the effort was falling apart. Trump’s attacks on the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier following the father’s speech at the Democratic convention created dismay in the Kremlin. Top Russian officials came to believe Trump would be forced to withdraw from the race because of his psychological state and apparent unsuitability for the presidency, according to information obtained by the Western intelligence source. In particular, Kremlin officials feared they could not predict what impact it might have on Russia should Trump step aside. As a result, the Russians decided to stop forwarding material through channels to WikiLeaks...

By October, “buyer’s remorse” had set in at the Kremlin, according to a report obtained by Western counterintelligence. Russia came to see Trump as too unpredictable and feared that, should he win, the Kremlin would not be able to rely on him or even anticipate his actions.
I've cut out a bit in the middle about an alleged Russian attempt to buy one of Trump's advisers, Manafort, who was forced to resign from the Trump campaign over the charges. The truth of the charges is contested, but the Russians wouldn't be trying to buy something they already owned -- and they wouldn't bother buying the adviser if they owned the candidate.

So it looks like Putin started off with the hope of damaging Clinton's credibility as President, and securing his own position. If he could beat her, he had a great deal more to gain in Syria.

However, Trump is just as much a roll-of-the-dice for the Russians as he is for us. He's his own man, for good or ill, and nobody's sure just what he might do. I'm not sure how much of a comfort that is, but it is at least not 'politics as usual' from here on.

UPDATE: An excellent discussion called, "When does a President become a National Security risk?" featuring John McLaughlin. It's a fair-minded look at the whole set of questions.


raven said...

Really a shame when your organization is a cesspool of corruption and someone leaks it to the public.

I have read the leak of the DNC info was from a disgruntled DNC staffer upset over Sanders being crushed and the info was handed off to wikileaks supporter.
Whether this is true or not I do not know.

Grim said...

See Cass' comment a couple of posts down for the links you're talking about.

It's hard to say if that's true, or if the "disgruntled DNC staffers" who handed it off really existed, or if there was a false flag move to present the appearance of Russian-hacked information coming from a DNC staffer, or if the whole claim was made up as part of the information warfare campaign. The trustworthiness of WikiLeaks is not so great that we can rely on their statements as dispositive.

Cassandra said...

I am highly skeptical of this whole Russian hackers story. First of all, the CIA has a long track record of being not just wrong, but spectacularly, massively wrong on major intel topics.

Secondly, the CIA's supposed conclusions rest on a highly circumstantial deck of cards-type argument that includes the conclusion that the RNC was also hacked (see this interesting video):

Key part: Priebus repeatedly states the RNC was not hacked, and they know this because they called in the FBI to help them and check their servers as soon as they learned the DNC had been hacked. If the “evidence” to support the theory that the Russians were trying to elect Hillary is that both the RNC and DNC were hacked, but only the DNC mails were released…. but the RNC wasn’t actually hacked…. Hmm. What are we supposed to think now?

Don't necessarily trust him either, but I think the real truth is that it's more likely to be an insider or not (it usually is - in most data breaches, *humans* are the main security risk, not technology - though that's not inconsiderable either).

Bottom line: if these people want me to believe a bizarre conspiracy theory over the (IMO) far more likely scenario of a disgruntled DNC insider/whistleblower who ALREADY had access (and knew where the bodies were buried), they're going to have to pony up some serious evidence.

Occam's raisin, and all that :)

Grim said...

Well, intelligence is about probability -- my sense of the probabilities is that Russian information operations are so likely as to approach certainty. :)

But as for the FBI not finding evidence of hacking, remember Comey's statement about whether or not the Clinton servers were hacked. "With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence."

So that's not dispositive either, though I take your point that a lot hangs on the question. Or maybe not: if only the DNC server was hacked, and the RNC's not at all, that might be suggestive that the Democrats were the target just as much as the RNC's server being hacked but the information not used.

raven said...

Seems to be a lot of concern about how the info was obtained, but nothing refuting the accuracy.

This is interesting--

It would be interesting who supplied the info and what side of the grass they are looking at now.

E Hines said...

Great powers don't do vendettas....

It wasn't a great power, or even a little power, that did this vendetta, if such a thing was done at all. It was a man who did it.

What is of importance here is that the leaks were anti-Clinton, rather than pro-Trump.

It's not necessarily one or the other. One way of deliberately plussing up Trump is to focus on attacking his opponent.

Lastly, I'm not sure why NBC or most of the other television or online "news" outlets should be taken seriously. As of this morning, the only news outlet that was talking about the intel community's refusal to testify before the House Intelligence Committee was Fox News. All the others appear to be spiking the story; it's not useful to their predetermined outcomes.

Eric Hines

Cassandra said...

Raven, that's the link I posted on one of Tex's posts, and I agree - it's interesting! It's also not new - Assange has said all along it wasn't the Russians.

That there are/were Russian info ops is - I agree - likely, Grim. That Russian info ops are the most likely culprit in these recent Wikileaks is not so clear. Leaks by insiders are common: Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Harold Martin, etc.

And we do know that there was a lot of hate and discontent in the DNC over the treatment of Bernie Sanders.

We're being sold an overblown story with all kinds of gaps in logic and no real evidence so far, and I remain suspicious.