Despite Being Taken as Fact, 'Case Against Russia' Rests on Insufficient Proof

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Despite Being Taken as Fact, 'Case Against Russia' Rests on Insufficient Proof

'Do we want to make major foreign policy decisions with a belligerent nuclear power based on suggestions alone, no matter how strong?'

"[O]ne can't be reminded enough that all of this evidence comes from private companies with a direct financial interest in making the internet seem as scary as possible," writes The Intercept's Sam Biddle. (Photo: Kjetil Korslien/flickr/cc)

The case that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network and interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections—such as that laid out Tuesday by the New York Times—is plausible, but the American people deserve hard proof that has yet to be provided, The Intercept's Sam Biddle wrote Wednesday.

While calls for declassification of the evidence have thus far gone unanswered, "the refrain of Russian attribution has been repeated so regularly and so emphatically that it's become easy to forget that no one has ever truly proven the claim," according to Biddle, whose colleagues Jeremy Scahill and Jon Schwarz demanded such proof this week. (The Times's headline: "The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.")

Biddle argued:

The gist of the Case Against Russia goes like this: The person or people who infiltrated the DNC's email system and the account of John Podesta left behind clues of varying technical specificity indicating they have some connection to Russia, or at least speak Russian. Guccifer 2.0, the entity that originally distributed hacked materials from the Democratic party, is a deeply suspicious figure who has made statements and decisions that indicate some Russian connection. The website DCLeaks, which began publishing a great number of DNC emails, has some apparent ties to Guccifer and possibly Russia. And then there's WikiLeaks, which after a long, sad slide into paranoia, conspiracy theorizing, and general internet toxicity, has made no attempt to mask its affection for Vladimir Putin and its crazed contempt for Hillary Clinton. (Julian Assange has been stuck indoors for a very, very long time.) If you look at all of this and sort of squint, it looks quite strong indeed, an insurmountable heap of circumstantial evidence too great in volume to dismiss as just circumstantial or mere coincidence.

But look more closely at the above and you can't help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates. It's impossible (or at least dishonest) to present the evidence for Russian responsibility for hacking the Democrats without using language like this. The question, then, is this: Do we want to make major foreign policy decisions with a belligerent nuclear power based on suggestions alone, no matter how strong?

He went on to pick apart some of the "evidence" and assumptions put forth by the U.S. intelligence community and parroted by lawmakers and corporate media alike.

For instance, Biddle wondered of the so-called Russian intelligence units behind the DNC hack, codenamed APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) 28/Fancy Bear and APT 29/Cozy Bear: "[H]ow do we even know these oddly named groups are Russian?"

He wrote:

[Private security firm] CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch himself describes APT 28 as a "Russian-based threat actor" whose modus operandi "closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government" and "may indicate affiliation [Russia's] Main Intelligence Department or GRU, Russia's premier military intelligence service." Security firm SecureWorks issued a report blaming Russia with "moderate confidence." What constitutes moderate confidence? SecureWorks said it adopted the "grading system published by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence to indicate confidence in their assessments. … Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence." All of this amounts to a very educated guess, at best.

What's more, Biddle noted, "one can't be reminded enough that all of this evidence comes from private companies with a direct financial interest in making the internet seem as scary as possible, just as Lysol depends on making you believe your kitchen is crawling with E. Coli."

And considering the stakes, this "proof" just isn't enough, Biddle said.

"What we're looking at now is the distinct possibility that the United States will consider military retaliation (digital or otherwise) against Russia, based on nothing but private sector consultants and secret intelligence agency notes," he wrote. "If you care about the country enough to be angry at the prospect of election-meddling, you should be terrified of the prospect of military tensions with Russia based on hidden evidence. You need not look too far back in recent history to find an example of when wrongly blaming a foreign government for sponsoring an attack on the U.S. has tremendously backfired."

As Scahill and Schwarz said Tuesday: "Let's have the proof."

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Tuesday that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) "has not endorsed" the CIA's claim of Russian hacking to benefit Trump "because of a lack of conclusive evidence."

Edited to clarify the nature of the ODNI's non-endorsement.

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