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The hysterical media/establishment/Deep State reaction to President Trump’s comments in Helsinki is based on a lie. U.S. intelligence chiefs, current and former, fire back at Trump—a sample offering from the NPR—quotes Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats as saying the U.S. intelligence community has been “clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” Former CIA director John Brennan went many steps further: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.” The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr of North Carolina said his committee has no reason to doubt the (alleged) intelligence community’s “conclusion that President Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 elections.” Und so weiter, and so on, ad nauseam . . .
Let us clarify this key issue with the help of Jack Matlock, a career U.S. diplomat who “served on the front lines of American diplomacy during the Cold War” and was U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union when the edifice collapsed. Did the U.S. “intelligence community,” asks he, really “judge that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election? Most commentators seem to think so. Every news report I have read . . . refers to ‘Russian interference’ as a fact.” In fact, Matlock points out—on the basis of freely available, unclassified evidence—that the “intelligence community” has done no such thing, ever. It has not been tasked to make a judgment, and its key members did not even participate in preparing the report which is routinely cited by Trump’s critics as proof of “Russian interference.” Unprecedentedly long quotes are in order because of the importance of this issue in making a judgment on what President Trump said on July 16.
Matlock starts by pointing out that after 35 years of government service with a top secret and later “codeword” clearance, ambassadorial rank, and previous experience as Special Assistant to the President for National Security, he had developed an astute “feel” for the strengths and weaknesses of the various U.S. intelligence agencies’ reports. It was with that background that he read the January 6, 2017 report of three intelligence agencies: the CIA, FBI, and NSA:
This report is labeled “Intelligence Community Assessment,” but in fact it is not that. A report of the intelligence community in my day would include the input of all the relevant intelligence agencies and would reveal whether all agreed with the conclusions. Individual agencies did not hesitate to “take a footnote” or explain their position if they disagreed with a particular assessment. A report would not claim to be that of the “intelligence community” if any relevant agency was omitted.
As Matlock points out, the “report” states that it represents the findings of just three intelligence agencies: CIA, FBI, and NSA. Even that is misleading, apparently, in that it implies that there was a consensus of relevant analysts in all these three agencies. In fact, Matlock stresses, the report was written by a group of analysts from those three agencies pre-selected by their directors—overseen by James Clapper, Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence (DNI):
Clapper told the Senate in testimony May 8, 2017, that it was prepared by “two dozen or so analysts—hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies.” If you can hand-pick the analysts, you can hand-pick the conclusions. The analysts selected would have understood what Director Clapper wanted since he made no secret of his views. Why would they endanger their careers by not delivering? What should have struck any congressperson or reporter was that the procedure Clapper followed was the same as that used in 2003 to produce the report falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had retained stocks of weapons of mass destruction. That should be worrisome enough to inspire questions, but that is not the only anomaly.
The DNI had under Clapper a National Intelligence Council, Matlock continues, whose officers could call any intelligence agency with relevant expertise to draft community assessment: “It was created by Congress after 9/11 specifically to correct some of the flaws in intelligence collection revealed by 9/11.” Yet Director Clapper chose not to call on the NIC, which was strange since its duty is “to act as a bridge between the intelligence and policy communities”:
During my time in government, a judgment regarding national security would include reports from, as a minimum, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) of the State Department. The FBI was rarely, if ever, included unless the principal question concerned law enforcement within the United States. NSA might have provided some of the intelligence used by the other agencies but normally did not express an opinion regarding the substance of reports . . . What did I notice when I read the January report? There was no mention of INR or DIA! The exclusion of DIA might be understandable since its mandate deals primarily with military forces, except that the report attributes some of the Russian activity to the GRU, Russian military intelligence. DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the U.S. intelligence organ most expert on the GRU. Did it concur with this attribution? The report doesn’t say.
The omission of IN, Matlock continues, is more glaring since a report on foreign political activity could not have been that of the U.S. intelligence community without its participation. When it comes to assessments of foreign intentions and foreign political activity, he says, the State Department’s intelligence service is by far the most knowledgeable and competent:
This is where due diligence comes in. The first question responsible journalists and politicians should have asked is “Why is INR not represented? Does it have a different opinion? If so, what is that opinion? Most likely the official answer would have been that this is “classified information.” But why should it be classified? If some agency heads come to a conclusion and choose (or are directed) to announce it publicly, doesn’t the public deserve to know that one of the key agencies has a different opinion? The second question should have been directed at the CIA, NSA, and FBI: did all their analysts agree with these conclusions or were they divided in their conclusions? What was the reason behind hand-picking analysts and departing from the customary practice of enlisting analysts already in place and already responsible for following the issues involved?
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research did, in fact, have a different opinion, according to Matlock, but was not allowed to express it. In the end, the January 2017 report was not one of the “intelligence community,” but rather of just three intelligence agencies, “two of which have no responsibility or necessarily any competence to judge foreign intentions.” The FBI exists to enforce federal law, NSA to intercept the communications of others and to protect ours. “It is not staffed to assess the content of what is intercepted; that task is assumed by others, particularly the CIA, the DIA (if it is military) or the State Department’s INR (if it is political)”:
The second thing to remember is that reports of the intelligence agencies reflect the views of the heads of the agencies and are not necessarily a consensus of their analysts’ views. The heads of both the CIA and FBI are political appointments, while the NSA chief is a military officer; his agency is a collector of intelligence rather than an analyst of its import, except in the fields of cryptography and communications security. One striking thing about the press coverage and Congressional discussion of the January report, and of subsequent statements by CIA, FBI, and NSA heads is that questions were never posed regarding the position of the State Department’s INR, or whether the analysts in the agencies cited were in total agreement with the conclusions.
Let’s put these questions aside for the moment and look at the report itself. On the first page of text, the following statement leapt to my attention: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”
Matlock righty asks how we can judge whether activity “interfered” with an election without assessing its impact: if the activity had no impact on the outcome, it could not be properly termed “interference.” This disclaimer has not prevented dozens of journalists and politicians from citing the report as proof that “Russia interfered” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
As for particulars, the report is full of assertion, innuendo, and description of “capabilities” but largely devoid of any evidence to substantiate its assertions. This is “explained” by claiming that much of the evidence is classified and cannot be disclosed without revealing sources and- methods. The assertions are made with “high confidence” or occasionally, “moderate confidence.” Having read many intelligence reports I can tell you that if there is irrefutable evidence of something it will be stated as a fact. The use of the term “high confidence” is what most normal people would call “our best guess.” “Moderate confidence” means “some of our analysts think this might be true.” Among the assertions are that a persona calling itself “Guccifer 2.0” is an instrument of the GRU, and that it hacked the emails on the Democratic National Committee’s computer and conveyed them to Wikileaks. What the report does not explain is that it is easy for a hacker or foreign intelligence service to leave a false trail. In fact, a program developed by CIA with NSA assistance to do just that has been leaked and published.
As it happens, retired senior NSA technical experts have examined the “Guccifer 2.0” data on the web and have concluded that its data did not involve a hack across the web but was locally downloaded. “Further, the data had been tampered with and manipulated, leading to the conclusion that ‘Guccifer 2.0’ is a total fabrication”:
“Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.” In other words, what was disclosed was the truth! So, Russians are accused of “degrading our democracy” by revealing that the DNC was trying to fix the nomination of a particular candidate rather than allowing the primaries and state caucuses to run their course. I had always thought that transparency is consistent with democratic values. Apparently those who think that the truth can degrade democracy have a rather bizarre—to put it mildly—concept of democracy.
Most people, hearing that it is a “fact” that “Russia” interfered in our election must think that Russian government agents hacked into vote counting machines and switched votes to favor a particular candidate. This, indeed, would be scary, and would justify the most painful sanctions. But this is the one thing that the “intelligence” report of January 6, 2017, states did not happen. Here is what it said: “DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.” This is an important statement by an agency that is empowered to assess the impact of foreign activity on the United States. Why was it not consulted regarding other aspects of the study? Or—was it in fact consulted and refused to endorse the findings? Another obvious question any responsible journalist or competent politician should have asked.
Prominent American journalists and politicians seized upon this shabby, politically motivated, report as proof of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election without even the pretense of due diligence. They have objectively acted as co-conspirators in an effort to block any improvement in relations with Russia, even though cooperation with Russia to deal with common dangers is vital to both countries. This is only part of the story of how, without good reason, U.S.-Russian relations have become dangerously confrontational . . .
Dixit. On this essential aspect of the Helsinki press conference, likely to be debated in history books and scholarly articles for years to come, I defer to the judgment of a man better informed than myself. I am satisfied that the ongoing corporate media/Deep State lynching of Donald Trump is based on a premeditated and consciously concocted falsehood. If this is true, and I believe it is, then God help us all . . .
I will comment on other important aspects of the Helsinki meeting tomorrow.
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