Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From Russia With Malice

Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek discovered that the Russians have been using his material published in Newsweek to try to manipulate the U.S. election.  The good news is that they are klutzes at it.

I am Sidney Blumenthal. At least, that is what Vladimir Putin—and, somehow, Donald Trump—seem to believe. And that should raise concerns not only about Moscow’s attempts to manipulate this election, but also how Trump came to push Russian disinformation to American voters.

An email from Blumenthal—a confidant of Hillary Clinton and a man, second only to George Soros at the center of conservative conspiracy theories—turned up in the recent document dump by Wikileaks. At a time when American intelligence believes Russian hackers are trying to interfere with the presidential election, records have been fed recently to Wikileaks out of multiple organizations of the Democratic Party, raising concerns that the self-proclaimed whistleblowers group has become a tool of Putin’s government. But now that I have been brought into the whole mess—and transformed into Blumenthal—there is even more proof that this act of cyberwar is not only being orchestrated by the Russians, but that they are really, really dumb.

The evidence emerged thanks to the incompetence of Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.

The documents that Wikileaks unloaded recently have been emails out of the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s election campaign. Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the Wikileaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal.

The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012. Sputnik even declared that the email might be the “October surprise” that could undermine Clinton’s campaign.

To understand the full importance of the story—and how much Putin and his Kremlin cronies must have been dancing with delight—I have to quote the top few paragraphs:

In a major revelation from the second batch of WikiLeaks emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta it was learned that Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal believed that the investigation into Benghazi was legitimate because it was “preventable” and the result of State Department negligence.

In an email titled “The Truth” from Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that “one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable” in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

Then came the money quote: “Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate,” said Blumenthal, putting to rest the Democratic Party talking point that the investigation into Clinton’s management of the State Department at the time of the attack was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.

Those words sounded really, really familiar. Really familiar. Like, so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.

The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000 word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the terror attack and by the former Secretary of State herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a Congressional investigation—the tenth inquiry into the tragedy.

Here is the real summation of my article, which the Russians failed to quote: “The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America’s past are rare. Richard Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army…The consequences, however, are worse than the manipulation of the electoral process. By using Benghazi for political advantage, the Republicans have communicated to global militants that, through even limited attacks involving relatively few casualties, they can potentially influence the direction of American elections.”

Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.

Donald Trump took the bait and ran with it, reading the article at a rally in Pennsylvania, inciting the crowd to start chanting “Lock her up!”  He’s been citing this story on the trail ever since.

This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment).

The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump? That is a topic for another time.

The bottom line is that the Republican candidate for President of the United States has been spouting Russian propaganda and his red-blooded America Fuck Yeah supporters have been eating it up.

3 barks and woofs on “From Russia With Malice

  1. A retired counter-terrorism expert whose name now escapes me was speaking to Rachel last night and his words have haunted me ever since. (Granted it’s now only 10:00 AM, but whatever.) He said that without doubt Trump has aligned himself with a couple of mega-rich Russian oligarchs who see themselves as the last bulwark against Islam. According to this fellow it is known for a fact that Russia has co-opted Trump for their own purposes. This is why you hear him doubting whether Russia is behind the hacks of various Democratic Party information sources despite the NSA and the CIA and President Obama accusing Russia of doing so. He expresses doubt as to whether the USA should stick with NATO, a long held dream of Putin to split up the alliance. Poor pitiful Donald Trump wants to play with the big boys and he chooses Russians because of ???

    • It was Malcolm Nance. I love his comment, “… that they (Trump and his advisors) are unwitting assets of Russia, what Lenin use to call useful idiots.”

    • It also reminds me of the build-up to World War II when Hitler promised Germany that he would be the bulwark against Bolshevism just before he signed the “Pact of Steel” with Stalin and then after the war started invaded Russia. He — Trump — will look for any excuse to build up his “Be afraid” quotient. Today it’s Islam, tomorrow it’s the Mexicans (again), next week it will be bicycle riders (because Spandex does not lie).