Deconstructing the Almighty Russian Hackers Myth
by PATRICK ARMSTRONG
Sometimes things can be made more complicated than they really are. And such is the case with the story that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee so as to help Trump become president.
In July 2016 Wikileaks released a number of documents showing that the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president had been rigged. A month earlier the DNC had announced it had been “hacked” and the cybersecurity company it hired announced that the Russians had done it – one of the reasons they gave was that the hackers had helpfully left the name of the Polish founder of the Soviet security forces as a clue.
Since then, this story has been broadly accepted and it has spun on and on for eighteen months. But it doesn’t really make any sense.
Let us pretend that Moscow wanted Trump to win. Let us further pretend that Moscow thought that there was a chance that he could win despite the fact that almost all news outlets, pollsters and pundits were completely confident that he could not. And let us pretend that Moscow thought that, with its thumb on the scale, Trump could make it. And, the fourth if, let us pretend that Moscow decided to put its thumb on the scale.
How to do it? Let us pretend (number five) that the strategy was to try and discredit Clinton. Let us further assume (this assumption is the one that’s probably true) that Moscow has very good electronic intelligence capacities. So, we imagine the scene in headquarters as they look for an approach; they quickly find one that is very good, a second that is pretty good and a third area that is worth digging around in.
The Russians would know all about the Uranium One matter where, as even the Clinton-friendly NYT admitted, “a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation“. It would be very easy for them to package this as a case of Secretary of State Clinton selling US policy for personal profit. Russian intelligence organisations would have a great deal of true information and would find it easy to manufacture material to fill in any gaps in the story. Presented as a case of corruption and near treason, the story could have done a great deal of damage to her. And, given that it had happened six years earlier, all the details would have been known and ready to be used. It would have been a very powerful attack that even the complaint media would have had difficulty ignoring.
We know, and it’s very likely that the Russians did too, that she ran a private e-mail server on which there were thousands and thousands of official communications. The server was very insecure and we can assume that Russia’s signals intelligence (and everyone else’s, for that matter) had penetrated it. Think of all the real material from that source that could be revealed or twisted to make a scandal. That would make quite a campaign. Further, it is a reasonable assumption that Russian intelligence would have some of the thousands of e-mails that were “bleached”. There would be enough material for a months-long campaign of leaks.
Finally, Hillary Clinton has been in public life for many years and there would have been ample opportunities, and, many would say, ample material in her scandal-plagued career, for the construction of many campaigns to weaken her appeal.
So, a preliminary look would suggest that there were several angles of attack of which Uranium One would be the easiest and most effective. But, failing that, or as a supplement to that, there was plenty of embarrassing and incriminating material in her illicit private server. Now we have to pretend (number six), contrary to the universal practice of security organs in all times and places, that the (always assumed in the story to be implacably hostile) Russians would decide to forgo the chance of compromising a future POTUS in favour of a harebrained scheme to get another elected.
But we’re supposed to believe that they did. The Russians, the story goes, with all this potential material, with a solid hit with Uranium One, decide instead to expose the finagling inside the Democratic Party structure. And to expose it too late to make any difference. As I said at the beginning, sometimes things are easier to understand when you, as it were, turn them upside down.
In the middle of June 2016 the DNC admits that its documents have been obtained – a “hack” they insist – and almost immediately, “Guccifer 2.0” pops up to claim responsibility and the DNC’s experts (Crowdstrike) claim Russia was behind it. A month passes before Wikileaks releases the first batch of DNC documents showing the extent of the manipulation of the process by Clinton – who had, according to most counts – already secured the nomination about two weeks before. A couple of days before the release, Trump gets the Republican nomination and a couple of days after that Clinton easily wins the Democratic nomination by a thousand-vote majority.
So, the first thing that should have occurred to the observer (but didn’t) was, if the Russians had had this incriminating evidence that the Democratic Party nomination had been fixed in Clinton’s favour, wouldn’t it have been more useful to put it out at a time when Sanders who was, after all, the swindled one, might have been able to do something about it? Instead those supposedly clever Russian state hackers dropped the news out at a time when it made very little difference. No difference in fact: Clinton got the nomination and there was no comeback from Sanders’ people.
So, the “Russian hackers” made their arrow, shot it, hit the target and… no one cared. The people who devoutly believe in the Russian hacking story now have to explain (but don’t) why the Russian state, apparently so determined to bring Clinton down, didn’t immediately hit her with the Uranium One documents and anything else they had that could feed the flames of scandal.
But, as we all know, they didn’t. While long rumoured, and even briefly reported on, we only learned of Uranium One in a big way in October 2017 and the fact that her server contained Special Access material (the very highest classified secrets) was confirmed authoritatively only in November 2017. If the Russian had really had this sort of information and the hostility to Clinton that we’re incessantly told that they had, two years earlier would have been the time.
So, on the one hand we are supposed to believe that the Russian government is so clever that it can hack anything, has innumerable social media trolls that influence elections and referendums around the world (“control the American mind“), drives a “fake news” campaign at a fraction of the cost but with far greater effectiveness than the massed legions of the Western media, is a threat to practically everything we hold sacred… but is too stupid to get it right. Possessing great and powerful secrets and a stunningly powerful machine to spread them, it chooses to fire a damp squib too late to make any difference and passes up the chance to have a compromised US president for it to control.
In other words, it’s nonsense: we don’t really need the forensics of VIPS; we don’t need to argue with people who say it’s fake news about Seth Rich, or that Assange is a Putinbot, or carefully ignore Murray. Those efforts are useful enough but they’re not necessary. In any case, the Russia story is a Gish gallop and a whole academy of wise men and women couldn’t keep up with the latest. (Robert Parry bravely attempts to list the most prominent ones from the Vermont power facility, through all 17 agencies to 14th not 4th.)
Just common sense will do it: if the Russians had wanted to bring Hillary Clinton down, they had far more powerful charges which they could have detonated much earlier. It is not plausible that all they had was the rigging evidence and that they then deployed it too late to have an effect.
Or, maybe they’re not so all-competent in which case all the other stuff we’ve had shoved down our throats for months about “Russian information warfare” is even bigger nonsense.
TLB published this original article from Strategic Culture Foundation with our sincere thanks for making it available.
About the writer:
Patrick Armstrong was an analyst in the Canadian Department of National Defence specialising in the USSR/Russia from 1984 and a Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow in 1993-1996. He retired in 2008 and has been writing on Russia and related subjects on the Net ever since.
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