I keep waiting for the Putin hacked the election hysteria to finally crest, but it appears that this could be with us well into the new year. Now, according to NBC, U.S. intelligence officials believe with “a high level of confidence” that Putin became “personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election…Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used.”
As I’ve already discussed, I believe that the storyline of Donald Trump being a Manchurian candidate is preposterous, but it’s not impossible Russia is behind the hack of the Clinton campaign and DNC. I’ve had smart, informed sources on both sides of the issue tell me they were positive of their position and new stories come out daily offering fresh scenarios and details. In the Daily Mail yesterday, Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said he flew to Washington in September and “personally received Clinton campaign emails…after they were leaked by ‘disgusted’ whistleblowers – and not hacked by Russia.” So who knows?
Meanwhile, it’s sort of amusing to watch as the national media, including a notable section of the left press, ramp up into full-fledged anti-Russian rhetoric not seen since the Cold War. Even National Review, the old conservative stalwart, is amazed at the uproar. In a story yesterday, Andrew McCarthy wrote:
I feel entitled to be amused, having maintained, through a decade of bipartisan idiocy, that Putin’s thug-ocracy is an enemy of the United States: from the Bush-administration howler that Russia is our “strategic partner,” through eight years of the Obama-Hillary “reset”…Suffice it to say that if the American political class is suddenly worried about Russian aggression, deceit, cyber-espionage, and collaboration with Iran (in order to — get this! — fight terrorism), I welcome it to the club. And if the gray beards are fretting over Donald Trump’s potential coziness with our enemies, that’s good to hear . . . although it would have been nice to have a fraction of that fretting when it came to the Obama-Clinton operational coziness with our enemies.
So the world really has been turned upside down here, as conservatives urge calm and liberals stoke the conspiracy flames as a means of overturning the election results.
In terms of problems with the NBC story, beyond the lack of named intelligence sources, is that one of its key authors is Ken Dilanian, who formerly worked at the Los Angeles Times and AP. As I detailed in a story at The Intercept, when at the Times Dilanian “enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency” and “routinely submitted drafts and detailed summaries of his stories to CIA press handlers prior to publication.” This was in violation of the newspaper’s own policy and resulted in significant changes to stories.
“I’m working on a story about congressional oversight of drone strikes that can present a good opportunity for you guys,” Dilanian wrote in one email to a CIA press officer, explaining that what he intended to report would be “reassuring to the public” about CIA drone strikes. In another, after a series of back-and-forth emails about a pending story on CIA operations in Yemen, he sent a full draft of an unpublished report along with the subject line, “does this look better?” In another, he directly asks the flack: “You wouldn’t put out disinformation on this, would you?”
Dilanian, who is one of NBC’s top intelligence and national security reporters, has done good work from time to time but this makes it hard to have a great deal of confidence in this latest story.
I was talking to a very well informed foreign friend about the Russia story, which he is watching with a skeptical eye and general amusement. “When the U.S. overthrows Saddam or hacks China, we’re all supposed to applaud and be grateful,” he said. “When the U.S. is a victim, it’s not only insulting but immoral. States protect their geopolitical and security interests, that should be obvious, but somehow the U.S. is the only country that’s moral and decent.”
This doesn’t mean it’s perfectly fine if Russia actually hacked the campaign, but the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness is breathtaking.
Note: Direct and indirect media collaboration with the CIA is, of course, longstanding and no doubt relatively common. Here’s a declassified 1991 agency report that says the CIA “now has relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newsweekly and television network in the nation. This has helped us turn some “intelligence failure” stories into “intelligence success” stories. Thanks to JTB@TSentenil on Twitter for passing that on.