The Senate Intelligence Committee’s final report on ‘Russian interference’ in the 2016 US presidential election is short on evidence and long on reheated assertions and innuendo from ‘experts’ exposed as actual election meddlers.
There is little new in the 85-page, partially redacted document released on Tuesday, that has not been made public by the committee previously – including the accusations that “Russia” focused on stoking anger and resentment among African-Americans, for example.
There is a reason for that. By the committee’s own admission, “much of this Volume’s analysis is derived from” the work of two Technical Advisory Groups (TAG), which produced two public reports back in December 2018, to the same kind of fawning press coverage the report is receiving now.
Not surprisingly, the report’s “findings” are being cited as conclusive proof that Democrats were right and President Donald Trump was wrong about 2016, Russia, Ukraine and the US presidential election.
The only trouble with that is that the committee provides no actual evidence for any of its claims – only assertions. For example, their description of the Internet Research Agency – the “Russian troll farm” – is basically copied over from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of a dozen of its alleged members. Yet a federal judge presiding over the case ruled back in May that allegations cannot be treated as established evidence or conclusion, coming close to finding Mueller’s prosecutors in contempt.
Another document presented as evidence is the January 2017 “Intelligence Community Assessment,” the disingenuously named work of a small group of people, hand-picked by the Obama administration’s DNI and chiefs of the CIA, FBI and NSA – all of whom, except for the NSA, have since been implicated in what seems to be a campaign to spy on Trump, delegitimize his presidency, and have him impeached.
The Senate report also quotes testimonies from Obama aides such as Ben Rhodes – helpfully redacted of course – Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO commander who tried to set off a war with Russia; professional “Russian bot” hunters like Clint Watts and Thomas Rid; and NATO’s “Strategic Communications Center of Excellence.”
The best part, however, has to be the reliance on New Knowledge, presented as “a cybersecurity company dedicated to protecting the public sphere from disinformation attacks.” In reality, New Knowledge was exposed by the New York Times as the outfit that actually ran bots and disinformation operations during the 2017 Alabama special election for the US Senate, targeting Republican candidate Roy Moore on behalf of Democrats – while blaming Russia!
In an internal memo, New Knowledge executives boasted how they “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”
The other TAG, led by British academics and researchers, found that the activity of ‘Russian trolls’ increased after the election – by 238 percent on Instagram, 59 percent on Facebook, 52 percent on Twitter, and 84 percent on YouTube. So it was influencing elections… retroactively?
Left unsaid was that the absolute quantity of “Russian” posts was minuscule, a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the billions of social media posts generated and consumed by the US electorate during the campaign.
These are the people who “significantly informed the Committee’s understanding of Russia’s social media-predicated attack against our democracy,” as this week’s report puts it.
Ever since Hillary Clinton blamed “Russian hackers” for the revelations of corruption within the DNC in July 2016, the Washington establishment has been eager to blame Moscow for all the ills of the US political system, real or imagined. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report seems to be nothing more than an attempt to reheat the long-cold corpse of a conspiracy that should have been buried with the Mueller Report and allowed to rest in peace.
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