In his testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey said there was “no fuzz” regarding the claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
“The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle,” Comey said in his testimony. “They did it with purpose, they did it with sophistication, they did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government; there is no fuzz on that. It is a high confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and the members of this committee have seen that intelligence, its not a close call. That happened.”
Yet if there’s such “slam dunk” evidence, why can’t the public see it?
Surely Comey cannot be referring to the two Intelligence Community (IC) assessments released in December 2016 and January of this year—to date the most substantive official pronouncements on the matter—which by no means warrant such certainty from the former FBI director.
Retired CIA and DIA officer Phil Giraldi described both reports as “a lot of sometimes wild speculation and judgments based on fragmentary information,” and a “mish-mash of soft facts combined with plenty of opinion and maybe even a bit of good old Cold War-style politics.”
The first of the two reports, entitled “Grizzly Steppe: Russian Malicious Cyber Activity,” is heavy on accusations, but weak on proof. The report essentially tells readers to take the IC’s word that Russia hacked into DNC servers, and then proceeds to explain with cartoon diagrams how a particular hacking method is carried out.
This is akin to asserting “John Smith killed John Doe,” and as proof presenting a cartoon diagram explaining how one goes about firing a rifle. It does not at all implicate John Smith, but merely shows one way Smith, or somebody, could have committed the crime.
The disclaimer attached to the December report is also perhaps illustrative of its quality :
This report is provided ‘as is’ for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.
The closest the report comes to attributing responsibility to Russian state actors is the bare assertion that what the IC identifies as “Advanced Persistent Threat” groups 28 and 29 are somehow connected to Russian intelligence.
Indeed, as cyber security expert Jeffrey Carr has explained, attributing responsibility to a particular actor for a cyber attack is nearly impossible, especially in light of the knowledge that the CIA is able to fabricate fingerprints that point back to whatever actor they choose.
“Once malware is deployed, it is no longer under the control of the hacker who deployed it or the developer who created it,” Carr wrote in response to the December report. “It can be reverse-engineered, copied, modified, shared and redeployed again and again by anyone. In other words — malware deployed is malware enjoyed!”
One serious blunder regarding the attribution of a hacker came with a report from Crowdstrike, the private firm initially hired by the DNC to investigate the hacking allegation. Also published in December 2016, Crowdstrike’s report concluded that one of the same groups implicated in hacking the U.S. election on behalf of the Russians was also involved in hacking a smartphone application used by the Ukrainian military.
Crowdstrike’s claims were demolished by a March report from Voice of America, exposing the firm’s analysis as fatally flawed and sloppy. Yet Crowdstrike and the American Intelligence Community would build upon those conclusions, taking them as a starting point in the investigation into election-tampering.
It should be clear from this alone that intelligence assessments are not always what they seem.
The second IC report released in January, while much longer than the first, still fails to back its assertions with factual evidence. The report expands its scope beyond hacking to posit a full-blown influence operation, including the use of Russian state-owned media, such as Russia Today, to sway the opinion of American voters.
This comes off more as an attempt to throw everything at the reader besides the kitchen sink, offering distractions from the original allegation of cyber attacks directed at changing the outcome of the American election.
Soon after the January report was published, investigative reporter Robert Parry commented:
[T]he case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses”—as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”
The DNI report admits as much, saying, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”
So did Russia interfere in the 2016 election, as Comey asserts with such confidence? A neutral observer should regard this as a possibility—but where’s the proof?
The Intelligence Community ought to treat the American people as adults and present a sober, objective case detailing all the evidence that both supports and cuts against their conclusion of Russian guilt.
Until that day—which, sadly, may never come—the matter can only be interpreted as a farce.
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Contributed by Will Porter of The Daily Sheeple.